Chapter 1: Chapter 1
When danger finally finds Lena, she’s on the third hour of the quarterly board meeting. For once everyone is physically present, but the lack of web conferencing hasn’t shortened the meeting in the slightest. Lena feels the tension in her neck and spine, and contemplates calling another break when movement beyond the glass walls of the conference room catches her eye. At first glance the bodies dressed in the standard blue canvas janitorial coveralls are innocuous-- her gaze nearly slides right over them. Except that janitorial works five to a floor, not six, and never during business hours. Alarm sirens in her brain even before she even registers the weapons they’re pulling out of their cleaning carts.
The doors on the far side of the conference room burst open. Two men storm in, voices and pistols raised. Lena fingers the panic button under the edge of the table even as her mind catalogues facts. Eight men-- caucasian-- armed--unmasked. Lena registers the shock and outrage of the rest of her board, but before she can move to help the barrel of an automatic rifle is jammed in her face.
“Sit the fuck down.”
Lena freezes, and hands grab her shoulders from behind to shove her back in her seat. Out of the corner of her eye she can see her people being bound with household zipties-- their aggressors are rough, but as soon as one is finished they move on, without causing further injury. They are quick, and efficient. Lena doesn’t resist when the hands move from her shoulders to her wrists, pinning them in place while another threads the plastic tie around the arms of her chair. As the first tie cinches against her skin, the rifle in her face lifts. The man holding it turns to address the room.
“Take it easy, folks!” he warns pleasantly. “This can all go very smoothly without anyone getting hurt. Just do what we say and you’ll all get to go home to your families.” He casts a sidelong glance at Lena. “Those of you who still have family, that is.”
“Did my brother send you?” Lena demands. She doesn’t expect anything other than a yes, another taunt, but the man only smirks.
“Not at all. We’re from janitorial. Looking for a raise.”
At that, Lena’s shoulders tighten. “I know the faces of everyone who works in this building. I’ve never seen you before. What do you want?”
Another ziptie binds her ankles together and a fourth loops them to the base of her chair; she can barely twist, let alone find any traction to shove herself away. She’s also the only one to be bound to a chair. The others are all bound and arranged to sit across both doorways before their ankles are secured. She doubts these people would be above using hostage lives as incentive to capitulate, but it’s clear that their focus here is her.
“I’m glad you asked, Miss Luthor.” The man signals, and one of the thugs sets a laptop down in front of her. “It’s really very simple--”
“Boss!” the man still kneeling by her feet calls out sharply. He rises to his feet with a stormy expression. “There’s a panic button down here. It’s already activated!”
The boss sighed, and slings his rifle over his shoulder. “Plan B!” he announces, pulling two small canisters out of his pocket. He breaks the seal and tosses them both onto the carpet, the others following suit before resuming their watch of the hostages. Lena coughs as smoke quickly fills the room, but it doesn’t sting or burn-- the only thing distinctive is the new taste at the back of her throat, one that Lena knows in an instant.
“Kryptonite.” There’s no question or uncertainty. She knows it from the summers she spent in Lex’s lab, helping him run tests on the mineral. There is nothing like it on Earth, and the leader confirms it with a nod.
“Enough to coat every surface in this room, including me, including you. Supergirl is the only one who could interrupt us before we’ll be all finished here-- you didn’t think we’d come unprepared. Did you?”
A hazy mist hangs in the air, but Lena can see his face and window beyond. She scans the sky but sees no hint of an incoming superhero. Someone kicks her chair from behind, rolling her closer to the conference table and the laptop sitting open for her.
“You’re going to tell us your account numbers, and you’re going to wire $50 million to the account already marked.” He leans down to speak low in her ear, one hand drawing a handgun from the small of his back. “We’re going to release one wrist… any tricks, and I’ll kill one of your friends here. Understand?”
Lena nods, and the tie around her right wrist is snipped. She reaches for the keyboard.
“You can’t possibly be thinking about capitulating to these monsters!” Mark Bainbridge, her VP of sales calls out.
“It’s only money, Mark.” And already she thinks how she can initiate a worm to follow the transfer of funds.
“Smart woman,” the boss says. “But don’t worry folks, now we’ll know who to shoot first, if she changes her mind.”
“I’ll need to use two accounts,” Lena warns him. The slush fund has a built in program to trace unauthorized outgoing wires, but doesn’t hold enough to fulfill the $50m. The man nods.
“So long as you do it quickly.”
It would have been faster if she’d been allowed both hands, but working through meals has given her practice typing with one hand. 180 seconds later, it’s done. A man is waiting with a ziptie, and soon she’s bound again.
“Well done, Miss Luthor--”
A gunshot trips on his words. It’s a long moment before Lena realizes she’s the one who’s hit. Her ears ring, but she hears the muffled sounds of the board members shouting and whimpering. Then she remembers how to breathe, and her right shoulder erupts in flames of agony. A hand turns her chin up, and Lena struggles to open her eyes against the pain. She does, and catches sight of a blue and red blur zooming towards them. No.
“Kryptonite!” she cries out, struggling to find the words. The blur stops abruptly. “How did you aerosolize it?” she covers at the last moment, trying to keep their attention away from the windows. If Supergirl was on the scene, then the DEO would only be a short ways behind.
“The how isn’t important, really. There’s plenty of people who would love to see the Supers fail, or worse. Personally, we don’t care about them so long as they don’t interfere. You’re the star of this little show. Now,” he changes tactic, placing a video recorder on a short tripod in the center of the table, pointed at her, “let’s wrap this up so we can go home.”
He props up a notepad, and Lena scans the words printed in bold black marker. It’s anti-alien vitriol, and it reminds her so sharply of Lex that she presses her eyes shut. Her pulse pounds in her ears, and her shoulder feels like her arm had been severed. Lena’s brain rushes with medical probabilities of a ruptured blood vessel, of the bullet bouncing off bone to shred an organ deeper in her chest. A gun taps her chin.
“You’re live, sweetheart,” he says.
Her head feels heavy but she lifts it and reads the swimming letters again. “I’m not reading that.”
Even if the police confirmed it had been read under coercion, the press will play and replay this broadcast ceaselessly-- all her hard work since coming to National City, turning L-Corp away from the negative press of her family, will all be washed away in favor of whatever she says on camera right here, right now.
“You will,” he counters, “if you want to ensure all these folks get home tonight.”
“That power lies with you and only you. If I say this you’ll kill us anyway.”
The leader sighs, and shifts away from the table. “If that’s the way you want it. A public execution works just as well.” He stands with his back to the camera, but Lena glares at him. Supergirl is out there, right there…. So close and yet-- if she enters this room, she’ll die. Without her powers she couldn’t disable them all before they shot her. Lena sucks in one breath, then another. Kara. Kara is going to be so angry with her. She’ll forgive Lena eventually, though. When the question is Supergirl’s life or Lena’s… Kara will understand. Lena watches the man’s finger pull the hammer back, and--
Glass explodes in a blur of red and blue, and suddenly the man is thrown against the far wall, sending spider cracks throughout the entire pane. “No,” Lena cries. “NO!”
Already, Supergirl is too slow. Lena can hear her harsh breaths against the poisoned air-- or is that her own breathing? There’s the sound of more glass shattering-- black clad bodies bearing NCPD in bold letters stream through the freshly broken pane of the conference room wall. Someone bumps Lena’s chair, and the wheels catch on someone’s legs. She tips, slamming into the floor and jarring her shoulder. The impact explodes stars behind her eyes.
She hears voices now, swimming closer through the fog curling at the edges of her mind. Shock? Fingers press against her neck, and the voice attached to them feels familiar. “NCPD… Det-- Sawyer…”
“Kry--kryptonite,” Lena warns, stuttering as her lips lost feeling. “Need to get--” Her ears roar. Her heart races in her chest, but her breaths feel long and slow. Too slow. Is this what dying feels like?
“We know,” Sawyer tells her, her hand flattening to cup Lena’s cheek. “It’s okay, Lena. You did good.” Maggie Sawyer never calls her Lena. She is the one person in National City who doesn’t spit her last name like a slur, instead somehow making it sound like a badge of honor. Lena sounds long on the detective’s lips, like the too-calm doctor comforting a hemorrhaging patient. “Just stay with us, okay? Can you look at me?”
Lena’s eyelids don’t open, and she struggles to inhale. “Super…”
“We need some help over here!”
Lena’s awareness fades before she can hear any kind of response.
When the text alert comes in, the normalcy of the morning doesn’t shatter until Kara realizes that the message has Maggie’s name on it, not Alex’s. And that the ASAP address is one she knows intimately. L-Corp.
The sound of the staff meeting around her mutes to a indecipherable hum, as her senses snap outwards, through sounds of traffic and construction and food trucks to the one thing that’s out of place-- panicked voices muddled together, behind one crystalline voice.
“I know the faces of everyone who works in this building. I don’t know you.”
Lena’s tone is calm, but now Kara can hear the rapid staccato of her heartbeat, racing as she reacted to the emergency unfolding around her. She doesn’t remember what excuse she gives Snapper, if she gave any at all, but in moments she’s out the door and in her suit and in the air. Her focus narrows to the looming spire of L-Corp tower, broken only by Alex’s voice through her earpiece.
“Supergirl, NCPD and the DEO both have teams en route to the building. Do not engage until they arrive.”
“That’s an order, Supergirl.” J’onn’s gravelly voice joined in. “Anyone attacking L-Corp or Miss Luthor has the potential to be a significant threat.”
Kara hears them, and registers the orders… but then L-Corp’s silhouette stands sharply in her vision, and she hears the sharp retort of a gunshot. All reason evaporates at the sound of Lena’s cry of pain. Kara pushes harder, barely a heartbeat from crashing through the window when Lena’s voice sounds sharply in her ears.
Kara stops short, reeling back at the word. She scans the conference room, counting bodies and weapons but finding no lumps of green rock. She feels it, though, clear as day. It crawls over her skin… any closer, and she’d lose altitude and feel nauseous. But how--
“How did you aerosolize it?” Lena presses, her voice cracking with gasps of pain. The man pointing the weapon at her doesn’t answer. Kara zooms back out of sight, and presses a finger to her ear.
“They have kryptonite,” she reports back.
“Have you identified the source?” J’onn asks.
“No. But I have reason to believe it’s aerosolized.” An ominous silence follows. She keeps one eye on Lena and the man shoving a gun in her face. “Guys?”
“Supergirl, maintain your distance.”
“J’onn, they’ve already shot her! What’s your ETA?”
Alex is the one to respond. “We’re five minutes out. NCPD is less than three.”
“Guys, guys!” Winn interrupts. “We’re picking up a-- a live broadcast has just taken over every major news feed in National City-- and Metropolis. It’s coming from inside L-Corp, and… oh man…”
“I’m not reading that.”
Kara freezes, and peers closer to find Lena’s expression icy once more. No, no, no… please, Lena, just play along… but Kara knows that Lena wouldn’t dig in her heels unless it was for a good reason.
“I have to move now, Alex.”
“Supergirl, do not engage! If the kryptonite is aerosolized, it could kill you in minutes. Maggie is on site, just wait--”
“They have a gun to her head--”
“Kara, do not--”
Alex’s voice is lost when Kara hears the man speak again. “A public execution works just as well…”
Kara surges towards the tower at top speed, warnings and orders falling away as only one thought fills her mind-- Save Lena . Time seems to slow as the man’s thumb reaches for the hammer, and the prickling sensation of kryptonite presses harder, from needles to knives to shards of glass as she slams through the window pane and the glass wall of the conference room. The bullet fired towards Lena’s head burns hot against Kara’s fingers. Her bulletproof skin lasts just long enough for her to drop it from her palm. She slides to a stop against the far wall, her dwindling powers losing control of her landing. She takes out three before her knees give out.
Before she loses consciousness, she sees Lena. Her chair is tipped over, but it’s the blood that chills Kara’s veins. It’s not like the movies, no tidy circle of blood blossoming around an inconspicuous wound. It cascades down her front, slick and glutinous and pooling onto the carpet under her. Their eyes meet, Lena’s glassy with shock or blood loss or both. Her skin looks blue, her lips colorless. Kara’s last sight is of Lena’s eyes rolling before a boot connects with Kara’s skull, and everything goes dark.
“Hi, Kara, it’s me, again… I know I’ve left you a lot of messages, but I still haven’t heard from you, and I-- I’m getting worried. Please, just call me when you get this.”
“Alex called. She says everything is fine, but she didn’t sound fine. If everything was fine it’d be you calling me, and I just need to hear from you. Please call me.”
“Kara… they’re going to send me home in day or so. I really need to see you. Please... Please call me.”
Kara checked the timestamp on the last of the twelve voicemails on her phone. The final one had come in three days ago-- the day before Lena had been released from the hospital, according to Winn, who had hacked the hospital’s records to confirm it. Kara’s heart clenched as she flew towards L-Corp. When she’d asked about Lena upon waking at the DEO, none of them had been able to answer her beyond the fact that she was alive. Maggie only knew that much because she’d leveraged her position as a detective to get the information-- the security posted by L-Corp to protect Lena and her privacy in the aftermath of the assault had meant no visitors, no further information provided. So when Kara woke up she had the faces of everyone she loved around her, except for Lena-- and because they were there with her, she knew that Lena had woken up alone.
Flying now was a risk, but Lena’s voicemails pounded in her ears, urging her as fast as she dared. Her cells were fully restored, and the Kryptonite fully left of her system, but she still felt shaky. Alex had wanted her to stay at the DEO another day, but didn’t fight her when Kara changed into her suit and launched into the air, intent on seeing Lena that night. It was late, though, nearly midnight, and when she passed the L-Corp building she slowed only long enough to see that the executive floor was empty. Less than 90 seconds later she touched down on the terrace of Lena’s apartment, stumbling half a step in her exhaustion.
The french doors that opened onto the terrace were closed against the night air, but through the glass panes Kara could clearly see Lena’s living room, and the figure dozing within. The light of a single lamp bathed Lena in a soft glow where she lay on her couch, right arm in a sling and one leg hanging off the edge. Paperwork covered the coffee table in front of her, Kara could see the bulky bandage under her nightshirt, and a quick glance with her x-ray vision revealed the lines of the break in her scapula. It would heal, but it would take weeks-- longer, if she didn’t take care of herself in the meantime. Reaching out one finger, Kara tapped on the glass.
Green eyes opened blearily, scanning the room until Kara waved. The motion caught Lena’s attention, startling her before green eyes focused on the glyph on her chest. Her eyes widened, and she rose unsteadily, crossing the distance in quick, shuffling steps. Kara noticed the way her fingers fumbled at the lock, the desperate pull at the latch before the handle had fully turned. Then there was nothing between them but air. Kara couldn’t move.
They spoke at the same time and froze in the same instant. Lena’s eyes were huge and sparkling, her lips a trembling line even as she wordlessly stood back to give Kara room to enter. Lena’s eyes tracked her as she stepped inside, but when Kara turned back to face her, Lena turned away, focusing her attention on closing and locking the door behind her. Kara heard the lock slide home, but still Lena didn’t turn back.
Kara took in the sight of her, with the loose t-shirt slipping off one shoulder and legs bared by soft sleep shorts. There was something unsteady about the way she stood, even while still, like a breeze could knock her off balance. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders, tousled and tangled from sleep-- and a lack of hands to pull it back into something tidier. After a moment, Kara realized she was being watched… her eyes caught Lena’s in the reflection of the glass door, and when they did Lena pulled in a sharp breath of air.
“Lena?” Kara’s voice sounded thunderous in the quiet, though she was barely above a whisper. “Are you okay?”
Finally, she turned to face Kara. Her hand remained on the door handle, and the distance between them remained long. Lena’s lips briefly pulled into a mirthless smile. “Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that…?”
“Oh, no… I’m fine. Nothing a little sunlight couldn’t cure.”
Lena’s gaze flickered away, her face falling. “And…” Her voice caught. “And is-- is Kara okay?”
Kara blinked, and the second of hesitation was enough for the words to keep spilling out of Lena. “Because I’ve tried… She hasn’t returned any of my calls, and she-- I’ve spent days trying to figure out why… Either she was in trouble or she was with you, but Agent Danvers said she was fine.” Tears shook free of Lena’s lashes, and she took an unsteady step forward. “I tried to explain it away-- that you two were friends long before she met me, that it was only natural for her to be with you while you recovered.”
“But I know Kara, I know her, and I know that she would-- she wouldn't--" Lena pressed a hand to her stomach, to hide its tremble. "She wouldn't let me wake up alone." Lena's breath rasped loud in Kara's ears, and her eyes darted between Kara's face and the glyph on her chest. "The only reason she wouldn’t have been there with me, is if she... if you--” She cut herself short, as though the truth were too heavy for her tongue to speak. She swallowed thickly. “I need the truth.”
Kara held Lena's gaze. It laid her bare, silently begging, asking for the truth she already knew. Kara's eyes burned with tears that didn’t come, her throat locked around words that suddenly felt hollow. “Lena, I-- LENA!”
Lena listed forward, then reeled back when Kara suddenly appeared before her. She bounced off the door behind her. Lena’s hand fell to Kara’s wrist when Kara reached out to steady her, eyes studying her in concern. “Lena… you-- haven’t been drinking, have you?”
Kara couldn't smell any alcohol, but the haze she'd first taken for lingering sleep clung to Lena, and her eyes remained unfocused. Her words bordered on a ramble, stilted and not at all like her usual concise tone. Even after a long night of less than an hour's sleep, Kara had never seen Lena like this. Lena shook her head.
“No,” she said. She pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead, a grimace twisting her features. “I-- I’m not…” She staggered in place, and Kara tightened her grip.
“I’m taking you back to the hospital,” she decided finally.
“No!” Lena said quickly. “No, I’m fine. They gave me pills, for my shoulder. I--” Her brow furrowed, and she pinched the bridge of her nose with her free hand. “I don’t think I like them.”
“You should rest,” Kara told her. Part of her should be glad for the reprieve, for the chance to dodge the inevitable hurt that would have come from confirming the truth of her identity. But her heart tugged towards the woman listing in her hands. “Come on.” She gently nudged Lena towards the bedroom, but paused when Lena stiffened, her hand tightening into a claw on Kara’s arm.
“Lena, what’s wrong?”
“The room is… tilting.” Lena’s nose scrunched, and she lifted her hand from Kara’s arm to rub against her eyes. “Damn it. I don’t like this.”
Her voice sounded small, and Kara fought the urge to pick her up and carry her to bed. Instead she let her hand drop from Lena’s elbow to her hand, and gently steered her to where she knew the bedroom to be.
“Let’s get you to bed.” Kara prodded gently. “I think you’ll feel better if you sleep it off. Okay?”
Lena was already in her pajamas-- once they reached the bedroom it was a simple task to get her settled in bed, with a pillow tucked under her injured shoulder to discourage rolling. Kara chose to leave the brace in place, just in case.
“I had things I wanted to say,” Lena murmured as her head sank into the pillow. “But now it’s… Everything’s muddled.”
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” Kara promised. “You can tell me then.”
“You shouldn’t have come,” Lena sighed, eyes slamming. Kara’s heart hammered painfully in her chest. She rose to leave; she doubted Lena could explain what she meant, her thoughts so addled by whatever meds she took, but she could honor whatever truth bubbled up in its wake, and make herself scarce. As scarce as the living room, anyway. Kara doubted the doctors meant for Lena to stay here alone, if the drugs could affect her like this.
Kara paused in the doorway, acutely aware that she shouldn’t respond to that name while wearing her suit. But the sound of Lena’s voice was impossible to ignore, and she slowed, looking over her shoulder to find Lena blinking up at her. “Please… stay?”
Kara came back to the bed, and settled down next to it. She linked her fingers through Lena’s, and rested her head against the mattress. Just for now , she told herself. Until she falls asleep.
“I’m here,” she said aloud, even as she listened to Lena’s breaths even out into sleep. “I’m here.”
The next morning, Kara woke to a bedroom full of sunlight. Her body thrummed with power, but the sense of right that had been missing the night before when she left the DEO didn’t come from the sun; it came from the woman still sleeping on the bed next to her. Lena’s hair tickled her cheek, and for a moment Kara played it through her fingers. When she finally climbed to her feet, she took a moment to speed out of her suit and into a comfier pair of pajamas before she ventured out in search of breakfast.
One of the most surprising things about Lena’s apartment, Kara had learned weeks ago, was that she kept the pantry fully stocked. She’d assumed from Lena’s late nights and propensity for skipping lunch that her kitchen would be as barren as her office, but whenever she came over the cabinets were stocked to the brim, and the refrigerator remained full of meats and cheeses and fruit. Kara’s only complaint was that Lena preferred organic, and sometimes Kara just wanted a bowl of cheese puffs to snack on.
This morning she took out a slab of bacon, and started pulling the ingredients for pancakes from memory. Soon she was elbow deep in pancake batter, so engrossed in her task that she didn’t hear Lena rouse until she heard a soft inhalation of surprise coming from the doorway to her bedroom. “ Kara? ”
Kara spun on her heel and froze at the sight of Lena in her pajamas, gun in hand. “Whoa! Hey. Hi!” Lena’s brow furrowed, clearly trying to wrap her brain around the sight of Kara in her kitchen. Kara took a breath. “You… you sleep with a gun?” She hadn’t seen one the night before, but she hadn’t even thought to look for one.
“I keep it under lock,” Lena said. “Just in case.” She looked at Kara again, furrow of confusion not moving. “I’m going to go… put it away.” She sounded uncertain even doing that much, but when she re-emerged the gun was no longer in her hand. She paused again in the doorway, peering at Kara before looking back at the now empty bed.
“I made breakfast!” Kara announced. “Well, making breakfast. It’s not ready yet, but there’s some bac--” She ground to a stop when Lena’s hand lifted, her head swinging back around to face her.
“Kara, I…” Her hand gestured between them. “Did we....?”
Kara blinked. “What? Oh! No! No no no, not at-- I came by to check on you last night, and, ah-- you were a little out of it. I stayed to make sure you didn’t need anything.” Kara paused, waiting for Lena to wrap her head around it. When Lena didn’t say anything, Kara’s confidence faltered. “I… I could go? If you want--”
“No, no please, stay.” Lena ran a tired hand over her eyes, slumping against the doorframe. “I’m sorry, it’s just… They gave me these pills for my shoulder and I think they made me a little loopy.” Kara nodded. The night before had been alarming, but already Lena seemed ten times more like her usual self. As though sensing Kara’s thoughts, Lena gave her a weak smile. “I don’t remember getting to bed last night, and it’s a little unsettling.”
Kara nodded. “You don’t remember?” Her fingers itched to text Alex, to verify whether pills were supposed to unnerve someone as sharp as Lena. But she didn’t. Whether or not the meds were fully out of Lena’s system, she was holding a conversation better than the night before.
“I remember sitting down to work,” Lena waved towards the coffee table, still strewn with paper, “but after that, just-- vague snippets.”
Lena gingerly sat herself down at the kitchen island, hissing as the motion jostled her shoulder. Kara shot her a look. “How are you feeling? I can get your pills.”
“No,” Lena replied staunchly. “I am never taking those again.”
“You know the doctors wouldn’t have prescribed them if he didn’t think you needed them.”
“The directions say ‘as needed’,” Lena pointed out. “I can’t imagine I will ever again need to feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train.”
Kara grinned. “Coffee?” She froze. “No, wait. I saw that fancy tea you like…” Lena loved loose-leaf tea, and in the mornings especially. As it brewed, Kara tried not to notice the furtive glances Lena kept shooting at her, ones that danced away whenever Kara turned around.
“I’m making bacon!” Kara announced. She pulled out Lena’s favorite teacup and placed it on the counter in front of her, beaming when Lena shot her a grin.
“I can see that,” Lena returned brightly.
“And pancakes!” Kara frowned when Lena’s smile dimmed. “No pancakes?”
“I’m sorry,” Lena apologized with a wince. “I just don’t think I can stomach it after last night.” Kara waved her off.
“No, of course, I should have realized.” Lena didn’t really like sweets for breakfast, much to Kara’s consternation. She could suffer through them for Kara’s sake most days, but never asked for them if given a preference. To be honest, Kara had been on autopilot when she’d started cooking. “How about I eat all the pancakes, and I make you… eggs?” Lena’s eyes warmed. “Eggs it is.”
“You know, you don’t have to do all this.”
“Pfft. And let you starve?” Kara cracked three eggs and began whisking. “Besides, I like taking care of you.”
Silence grew between them, and Kara let the challenge of minding three cooking pans consume her attention, as though she couldn’t feel Lena’s eyes burning a hole between her shoulder blades.
“Last night,” Lena began, her voice suddenly soft. Kara slowed, sensing the turn the conversation was about to take. She’d expected it, hoped for it even, but couldn’t stop the lurch of her heart in her chest. “I was… pretty out of it. If I said anything that made you uncomfortable, or asked you to confirm something you weren’t ready to share with me… It’s okay. I probably imagined the whole thing anyway. So… you don’t have to worry about it, okay?”
Kara adjusted her glasses nervously, trying not to hear how Lena’s heart raced. She saw the out Lena was giving her, but the thought of taking it turned her stomach. She could deny everything, but Kara knew doing so would crack them apart, and all the hard work of getting back to normal after their big fight a few months ago would be undone. More importantly-- the secret wasn’t just a secret anymore. Somewhere along the line, it had become a lie.
Kara put the spatula aside and turned, wiping her hands on the apron she’d borrowed. When she turned, Lena’s gaze was locked on the countertop, her fingertip tracing tense patterns on the marble.
“Hey.” Kara sidled around the island and sat in the chair next to her. She took Lena’s hand in both of her own and gently turned her around until they were face to face. The contact anchored her, and kept her from levitating off the stool with nerves. “You didn’t imagine anything.”
Lena froze in her seat, only the slight jerk of her fingers betraying her surprise at Kara’s admission. She didn’t say a word; Kara could barely hear her breathe. “I never meant for you to find out like this. I’ve been trying to tell you…”
Lena’s lips twisted. “You don’t have to lie--”
“No, I’m not, Lena. I’m not. I told Alex three weeks ago that I was going to tell you. You remember that dinner at Lucio’s? We got all dressed up and we got that quiet table in the back by the window?”
Lena huffed a laugh. “You left halfway through.”
“I said Snapper wanted to see me, that there was some last minute assignment, but that wasn't true. There was an apartment fire--”
“Supergirl saved three families,” Lena filled in.
Kara nodded. “And then I tried to get you out of town…”
“And I had to cancel last minute because of the benefit--” Lena smiled, and some of the tension bled from her.
Kara grinned. “Yeah. It just never seemed like the right time. I didn’t want you to find out like this, but I did want you to know. I didn’t want to hide this part of myself from you anymore. It started as a way to keep you safe, but it didn’t feel right anymore. I'm sorry it took so long.”
Lena’s eyes welled with tears. She tore her gaze away, clearing her throat awkwardly. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Kara smiled.
“Okay,” Lena confirmed with a nod. Then her brow furrowed. “I think your eggs are burning.”
Kara yelped and sped to the stove, taking the pan off the heat and waving a dishtowel to clear the smoke that had begun to billow. When she was certain the smoke alarm wasn’t going to start screaming at them, Kara peered at the eggs and groaned. “Aw, man.”
She shot a sheepish smile at Lena, and won a full-blown grin in return. “Let’s try that again,” she chirped, dumping the pan’s contents into the trash bin. Before she got started with the eggs again, she slid the first plate of bacon across the counter, and poured Lena a cup of the ready tea. “Here, you can start on this…”
Lena fished a slice of bacon from the pile, and began to snap off bite size pieces. Crumbs scattered onto her plate, the habit made messy by the use of only one hand. Kara watched her for a long moment.
"Are you okay with all of this?"
Lena’s fingers paused. She shrugged, swallowing her mouthful of bacon. "I don’t know. Having the time to puzzle it out for myself helped, maybe, but… it’s a lot to process.”
"But you're not angry?" Kara asked, her voice weak with anticipation of what her answer would be. To her surprise, Lena gave a self-deprecating chuckle.
"How could I be?" Lena reached for another piece of bacon. "I've been replaying everything in my head and if I’m honest with myself... you weren't really all that subtle. I have a genius level IQ and I didn't see what was two inches under my nose."
"Subtle?” Kara scoffed. “I was too subtle!"
"You 'flew here on a bus' ?" Lena lobbed at her, smirking. Kara winced. Not one of her finer moments. "I'm sure I'll have a laugh at that one when I'm done feeling like an idiot."
Kara flushed at her own slip, now almost a year later. "You remember that?"
"I remember all of our meetings," Lena told her. "Especially the early days."
Kara smiled, a flush spreading over her neck. She busied herself with preparing the eggs for the next batch. "Do you really have a genius level IQ?"
"Mhmm," Lena hums. She’d never mentioned it before, but now Kara thought about it, she wasn’t surprised. Between the black body generator she used to thwart the alien-gun-toting thieves, her rapid success in turning L-Corp around, designing the alien detection device herself, well... there were signs, now that Kara knew what to look for. She reckoned Lena felt the exact same about Kara being Supergirl.
"Then I'm surprised you didn't notice earlier too," Kara delivered finally. "Why do you think you didn't?"
Lena didn’t respond. Kara turned to check on her, and found a cheshire grin curling Lena’s lips. "Because you took my breath away every time you walked in the room," she purred.
Kara's flush deepened, and so did Lena's grin. She munched on a slice of crispy bacon, unaffected by Kara’s incredulous stare. "You’re just teasing me now."
Kara rolled her eyes, but her hands shook when she stirred the eggs in the pan. "It does explain one thing though," Lena mused, fishing another piece of bacon from the pile.
"Why my stomach fluttered every time Supergirl smiled at me."
Kara jerked, sloshing egg over the edge of the pan and onto the stove. She yelped and scrambled for a wet towel before it started to burn. "You," she accused, as the towel steamed under her hand, "are taking this way better than I ever imagined."
“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet,” Lena confessed, her voice suddenly soft. Kara lifted her head, and watched Lena’s reflection in the window as she came around the kitchen island. The playfulness leaked out of her expression until only a solemn regard met Kara’s gaze in the glass. “And I can’t promise I won’t react badly down the road, but…” Lena took a deep breath. “Right now all I can think is how glad I am that you’re okay.”
Lena slipped her arm under Kara’s, pressing her cheek against Kara’s shoulder. Kara felt Lena shudder as she breathed, and in it she sensed the ache of the past week, the worry and the suspicion and the hurt of being alone. Kara twisted in Lena’s hold, mindful of her sling, until she could wrap her own arms around Lena’s waist. When she closed her eyes, she saw Lena in that chair again, dress soaked with blood. But Lena pressed warm against her, and Kara could hear her heartbeat, feel the breath in her lungs, proving second after second that she survived. They both did.
“I added you as my emergency contact,” Kara told her quietly. “Next time-- next time Alex will call you. I promise.” Lena nodded into her shoulder. “And you know,” Kara continued, sniffling softly, “you had a lot of people worried too. James and Maggie both tried to visit you, but they weren’t allowed.”
“Really?” Lena sounded surprised, and it broke Kara’s heart to hear it.
Kara nodded. She drew back just enough to meet her gaze. “Of course. They even tried to claim they were family.”
“Ah,” Lena leaned back in Kara’s arms, wiping her eyes. “No wonder they couldn’t get through. The protection plan explicitly forbids any family. They wouldn’t have even asked me to verify.” Kara flushed, giving herself a mental kick. Of course it did, considering her family were more likely to put her in the hospital than visit her in one. “I’ll talk to my attorney, make sure they get on the list of approved names.”
“Good,” Kara said, giving her waist a squeeze. “They care about you.”
Lena hummed noncommittally. “For the record… you were already on the list.”
Kara brightened. “Yeah?”
Kara’s insides warmed, pleased at the privilege. She only wished she’d been able to take advantage of it. Suddenly, Lena snickered. “What?”
“The eggs are burning again.”
To Be Continued...
Lena finally got her eggs, and Kara didn’t even bother to pretend like she wasn’t going to finish the two dozen pancakes she cooked. Lena looked at her sideways like she wanted to comment, but instead focused on her hard-won eggs. When they were both full, they sat back on the couch, plates on their bellies, and simply basked in the fresh air blowing in off the terrace. Kara almost dozed when she heard Lena speak.
“You shouldn’t have come.”
Kara’s heart lurched again, just as it had the night before when she’d uttered those words. Kara opened her eyes and twisted towards Lena. Lena’s features were heavy, her fingers tracing the edge of the plate in her lap.
“You said that last night too,” Kara said softly. “Did you not want me here?”
“What? No, of course I did. I do. I spent a week wanting nothing more than to see you.” Lena tore her eyes away from her empty plate and met Kara’s gaze. “ I mean you shouldn’t have come to L-Corp. That kryptonite could have killed you. I warned you, but you came anyway."
"They were going to shoot you in the head."
Kara couldn’t bring herself to soften the words. Her flight across National City the night before, she’d been unable to shake the images from that afternoon… of Lena bound to that chair, of Lena bleeding out. She still felt the heat of the bullet against her palm, and the heavy weight of realizing that had she hesitated just a heartbeat longer, Lena would be dead. That her last sight of Lena would have been her lying on the ground, a small hole in her forehead. Lena stared at her, and Kara didn’t look away.
"I'd make the same decision again,” she said truthfully.
“But Kara-- you made that decision as Kara, not as Supergirl.”
“If you’re going to say I was selfish--”
Lena’s jaw tightened. “I don’t need to say it. Just like I don’t need to tell you that Supergirl is far more important than I could ever be.”
“No, Kara. I’m doing what I can to make amends for my family, yes. And I’m succeeding, to some extent. But nothing I do could ever compare to Supergirl, or what she stands for.”
Kara took a deep breath. “I understand where you’re coming from,” she said carefully. “But what I’ve learned, since I became Supergirl, is that Supergirl is nothing without the people she cares about. I can’t do what I do without you. You give me strength, Lena. You, and Alex… If something happened to you, and there was even a chance I could have done something to stop it-- I’d never forgive myself.”
Lena’s lips twisted into an unhappy line. Kara smirked, and elbowed her gently. “And you can’t fool me-- you’ve got some hero in you too.”
“Yeah,” Lena snorted, “if you need someone to wire money and get shot, I’m your girl.”
“I mean it. I was there. You stayed so calm in there. If anyone had panicked it could have ended very differently. And you did warn me, without giving anything away…” Kara picked at the last of her pancake, her appetite diminished. “And when you refused to do their video-- my heart almost stopped, but I was so proud of you.”
Lena’s gaze softened, warming at the praise. “Yes, well… you’re not the only selfish one. If I’d said those things, I would have lost everything I’d gained since coming here.”
Kara brushed her fingers against Lena’s side. “Sometimes, that’s all it is, you know? Sometimes it’s just a question of what you’re willing to lose.”
Outside, the sound of life trickled in through the open french doors. A bird sang to its friend in the next garden over; an inflated ball bounced against the pavement, cueing a child’s laugh. Cars drove by at a lazy speed, without a single horn honking. “Lena?”
“Hmm?” Lena’s hand found hers, clasping it gently.
“Why didn’t you invite me here sooner? Not-- I’m not accusing you,” Kara continued quickly, when she felt Lena’s fingers tighten on hers. “And you don’t have to answer. You’re entitled to your privacy. I’m just curious.”
After a moment, Lena shrugged. “I don’t usually… I don’t like having guests. I don’t even bring dates home with me. Even when things between us got more serious, I hesitated. Part of it was the hassle of signing in, but I also wasn’t sure you’d even like it here.”
“What?! This place is so cool.”
Lena smirked. “I don’t have a television.”
Kara laughed, rolling her head to give Lena a look. “You know, I did notice that...” she teased. Lena lifted one eyebrow at her. “And yes it’s a little weird, but I still like it here.”
“Well, I’m not usually here long enough to watch anything,” Lena pointed out. “And you can find anything online now. Having a tv seems unnecessary.” Her thumb rubbed against Kara’s, suddenly thoughtful. “Growing up, the manor never really felt like home. I never wanted for anything,” Lena clarified, “but it always felt like a museum, and I was just living there. Especially after Lex left for school. And there was never any expectation of privacy.”
Kara gazed at her softly, giving Lena the time to speak. Lena felt her attention and offered a wan smile. “When I finally moved away for university, it was so surreal to have a space that was entirely mine. Once I had it, I didn’t want to share it. With anyone.”
Her expression darkened suddenly, then calmed a heartbeat later. Kara saw and gave Lena’s hand a squeeze. “I sense a but in there.”
“No. I just realized… even at school my mother always had a key to let herself in. This is the first place she’s never visited.” Lena’s lips pulled into a mirthless smile, almost a grimace.
Kara leaned forward, releasing Lena’s hand to take both their plates and slide them onto the coffee table. Now unrestrained by plateware, Kara carefully cuddled up against Lena’s side, hugging her uninjured arm. Lena’s hand settled on her thigh, and the warmth of it spread past the thin material of her pajama bottoms and soaked into Kara’s skin.
“Thank you for letting me in,” she murmured softly. Lena’s head came to rest against the top Kara’s, and they sat there for a long moment, letting the sounds of mid morning wash over them. Eventually, Lena heaved a deep, silent sigh. “What’s wrong?” Kara asked.
She felt Lena chew on her lip before her head lifted. “Is Kara Danvers even your real name?” Lena asked softly.
“Yes,” Kara replied truthfully. “As real as yours is. The Danvers took me in when I was twelve, they raised me. Alex is my sister. But my true name, the one my parents gave me… is Kara Zor-el.”
Lena’s breath sharpened, and the sound of it lanced through Kara. But when Lena released that sharp breath a heartbeat later, her head returned against Kara’s. “Nice to meet you, Kara Zor-el.”
Kara hugged Lena’s arm tighter, doing her best to pretend her eyes watered because of the bright morning light, and not at all because of the sound of her name on Lena’s lips.
They cuddled until well after lunch time, and when Kara’s stomach began making hungry noises, Lena assigned her to lunch detail as well. “But what do you want?” Kara asked.
“I don’t care,” Lena returned. “Just give me time to take a bath first, okay? Here, can you help me…”
Kara giggled when she carefully helped Lena out of the sling that kept her arm immobile. The effort of keeping it bent was too much for her shoulder, so Kara even gently lowered it until it hung straight against her side. “How bad is it?” Kara asked softly. Her brow furrowed with worry. “Did they say anything about nerve damage?”
Lena nodded. “They’re not sure how bad it is. Or how permanent. There’s still a lot of swelling, so once that goes down they’ll have a better idea. Apparently it came close to nicking an artery-- Kara? Hey…” Lena caught sight of the tears gathering in Kara’s eyes and pulled her close. “I’m okay.”
“I know,” Kara muttered. “It’s just… I forget how fragile you are sometimes.”
Lena raised an eyebrow. “I’m what?”
“Not… you. You guys…” Kara waved a hand, and with a jerk Lena realized she meant humans in general. And in the next moment it hit home that her girlfriend wasn’t human. Her heart leapt to her throat, but an instant later she forced it back.
“Oh. Yes, well, we can't all be made of steel,” she teased. “But if you can teach me that bulletproof thing, that would be a handy skill to have.”
Kara laughed, the sound punctuated by a soft sniffle. “Do you need help with your bandage?”
Lena shook her head no. She’d mastered the process the night she was released from the hospital, and in that regard the fact the bullet hadn’t gone all the way through was a definite advantage-- the only wound was in easy reach. “You just worry about getting food. Take my card, okay?” She smirked. “I’ll leave the doors open for you.”
Lena nodded towards the french doors, still open to the sun and breeze. “You didn’t exactly sign in last night, did you? It’ll probably be easier if you don’t go down through the front.”
“Oh, yeah. I didn’t even think about that.” Kara nodded. “Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. You sure you’ll be okay?”
“Yes. Now go! Your stomach sounds like you’ll be taking bites of me if you don’t get food soon.”
After Kara disappeared out the terrace doors, Lena took a moment to clear the breakfast dishes from the coffee table. She rinsed them and placed them in the dishwasher one-handed, but the pans she simply left to soak in the sink, carefully minding the slowly increasing throb in her arm and shoulder. It was manageable now, but evenings were usually worse. It was the reason she’d caved and taken one of the pills last night-- a mistake she would not be making again.
Patting her hand dry, her eyes caught on her wallet sitting untouched on the small bistro table in the breakfast nook. Almost as soon as she realized Kara had left without taking her card, Lena heard a familiar whoosh and the buffet of a breeze against her back. She turned with a smirk on her lips, fully prepared to tease Kara’s absent-mindedness-- but froze when the figure looming in her living room was most definitely not Kara.
“Superman,” Lena breathed. Every muscle in her body stiffened, sending a fresh arrow of pain lancing down her arm. Her expression cooled into one of professional neutrality. This was Kara's cousin, she thought. But more than anything else she saw the man who battled her brother into insanity. Superman saved your life, she reminded herself, but looking at him now, Lena would be hard-pressed to believe he’d do the same again any time soon. He eyed her with obvious distaste, and the sight of the familiar expression hardened Lena’s spine.
She squared her shoulders and addressed him directly. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked. Her arm thrummed with growing discomfort as it continued to hang at her side. She didn’t favor it, didn’t dare show weakness to the Super who destroyed her family.
“I heard about the incident at L-Corp.” His eyes scanned her apartment, as though he expected to find railguns lining the crown molding.
Lena waited for him to continue, and when he didn’t, she swallowed thickly. “If you were concerned for my well-being, a gift basket would have been more than enough.”
Pale blue eyes skewered her in place. Lena’s jaw tightened under his stare. “I’m not here for your well-being, Miss Luthor.”
Lena's eyebrow lifted. “I see.” His open antagonism surprised her, but she relished it. Dancing around negative opinion was tiresome. “What are you here for, then?”
“I’m here about Supergirl.”
Lena’s eyes darted to the terrace, wishing that Kara would appear to explain on her behalf. This was not a conversation she wanted to have, not today--
“Your… friendship,” Superman continued, his tone almost snide, “is well documented by the local papers. I thought it was sensationalism at its finest, but it seems they didn’t inflate the truth all that much.”
He stepped towards Lena, and as he moved away from the doors the breeze dropped away. His cape no longer billowed, and when it hung stiffly from his shoulders he seemed less ethereal. More tangible. More dangerous. It took all of Lena’s control not to step away from the intensity of his glare.
“She flew into a cloud of kryptonite. Because of you.”
Lena shook her head. “I tried to warn her--”
“You knew what it was.” Not a question. A fact.
“Of course I did,” Lena fired back.
Superman’s eyes darkened. “Then you know where they got it from.”
Lena froze. “Excuse me?”
“Lex Luthor salvaged most of the kryptonite that landed on Earth,” he continued. “Before he was arrested he hid it all away in bunkers-- bunkers you know abou, which only you can access.”
Lena shook her head. “I know of them, yes, but I don’t know where they are.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Superman’s tone pitched to a dangerous timber, chilling Lena to the core. Her thoughts jumped to her cell phone-- in the bedroom; to the landline-- next to the sofa, behind Superman; and the terrace doors, also beyond Superman, out of reach. Her heart raced, and adrenaline singed her nerves as she responded to the threat in his voice. “My cousin almost died.”
“I only learned of their existence when my mother used me to access one. One that was destroyed when Metallo destructed. I haven’t found any record of the others.”
“Not good enough.”
Lena retreated as the Super advanced on her, but froze when her back collided with the kitchen island. “Lex wasn’t the only one looking kryptonite,” she said, forcing her voice to remain even, all while her brain screamed that she was trapped. “The DEO--”
“The DEO surrendered their kryptonite to me months ago,” Superman countered. “It hasn’t been touched. Which leaves only you and your family.”
Lena grit her teeth. “Not only us,” she pointed out. “We’re just the easiest target. Countless others have spent years looking for kryptonite. But why look anywhere else when there’s a Luthor in reach, right?”
“If the 'L' fits.”
“It was my building that was attacked!”
Superman’s charming grin was nowhere to be found when his lips twisted into a cruel smirk. “If you think for one second I’ve forgotten the attacks Lex staged against himself, you’re not as smart as I gave you credit for.”
“And the fact you think I had anything to do with this means you’re less clever than I thought you were.”
“When you attack my family--”
“I didn’t do anything! If you even bothered to talk to Kara before you--”
Lena didn’t realize her slip until she saw Superman’s features freeze, then darken with rage. In a blink he’d closed the last foot between them and grabbed her by the arm to yank her up against him. Lena cried out in agony-- everything else fizzled out of her awareness when the right side of her body erupted into agony. Her legs threatened to buckle, all but hanging from his grip.
“Let her go.”
Lena pried her eyes open and saw she hadn’t imagined the new voice. Kara stood next to her, her hand locked around her cousin’s wrist, squeezing until her knuckles turned white. Lena saw the tension in her arm, and realized she’d locked his hand in place; the only motion he could make now was open his hand. Instead, he clenched tighter, pulling another cry from Lena’s throat.
“You’re hurting her.”
Kara’s voice was almost unrecognizable. The bright bubbly cadence of her voice was missing, and in its place was the steel of Supergirl. Superman seemed to sense the difference as well, and finally his fingers released her. Lena sagged, catching herself on the counter as tears burned at her eyes. When she lifted her head again, Kara had stepped between them, shielding Lena from view.
“What are you doing here?” Kara demanded. Her hands curled into fists, stiff at her sides. Like any wrong word from him would send her pummeling. Superman’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly, unable to answer her.
Lena drew herself up, clutching her shoulder. “He thinks I had something to do with the attack on L-Corp.” Her voice grinds in her throat, but the sharp whine of pain she wants to give remains silent.
Kara’s head cocked towards her, then snapped back to Superman. “Are you out of your mind?” she fired back. “They tried to kill Lena! She tried to warn me-- they were going to murder her on live television!”
“The only Kryptonite not accounted for are the caches her brother hid, which are still under LutherCorp control!”
“You are out of line, Kal.”
“L-Corp hasn’t found any records of the other caches,” Lena told them both. “I have no idea who those men were, who they worked for, or who aerosolized the kryptonite.”
“And you expect us to just believe you ?” He surged towards Lena, making her recoil before Kara pushed back.
“YES!” Kara shouted, checking Superman with two palms to his chest. He bounced back, shocked. “Yes, she does. Because she’s earned it! She has done more to earn our trust than we have ever asked of anyone. Why can’t you accept that she is not like her brother?”
“Because it’s not just Lex. It’s her mother, her father, and her brother.”
Kara’s left hand reached behind her, making contact with Lena’s hip. Her other hand lifted with a visible tremble, but with hurt or with rage, Lena couldn’t tell. “You need to leave.”
“She knows who you are!” Superman bellowed.
“Because I told her!!” Kara’s hand tightened on Lena’s leg, but her shoulders drooped. “Leave, Kal. Right now.”
Superman glanced between the two of them, anger and realization burning deep in his gaze. Lena met it head-on, lifting her chin in defiance. A Luthor never cowered, especially from a bully. Then she heard the flap of his cape and the next moment he vanished from her living room with only a billow of curtains to mark his escape.
Lena’s knees shook as she released her breath in a ragged sigh. This time the whine came unchecked, as pain replaced panic. Kara spun quickly to check on her.
“Oh my god, Lena, are you okay?”
Lena couldn’t respond past the agony arcing from her neck to her fingertips. She ground her jaw tight. She lifted her chin to nod, but then shook her head minutely. Kara cursed. “I’m going to grab your brace, okay?” She was gone and back before Lena could even think to respond.
“I’m sorry,” Kara rambled, voice shaking, “Lena, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into him. Here,” Kara spread the sling, and gently took Lena’s arm to lever it into the pouch of fabric.
“Augh! No, please…” Lena begged. Her face went white, and she staggered. “Don’t-- Don’t touch it.”
Kara hesitated, and when Lena was able to crack her eyelids open she saw Kara giving her shoulder an odd stare-- like it would up and answer her if she asked it a question. Then she blinked, and looked at Lena with wide eyes. “You need a doctor.”
Lena nodded wordlessly. Kara licked her lips nervously. “Okay. I’m going to take you to the DEO, okay? They have the best doctors, and specialized equipment, and they’ll be able to see you faster. It’s closer than the hospital--”
She reached to pick Lena up, and Lena shoved her hands away. “No! No, don’t… I’ll call a car.”
“It’ll be faster if--”
“I said no!” She couldn’t formulate the words to explain why the thought terrified her. No, no, NO, rattled around her brain and she could almost believe it had everything to do with her fear of flying and nothing to do with the fact that Kara’s gentle hands could tighten just a suddenly as Superman’s. “Dammit…” she cursed. She blinked and tears started to roll down her cheeks.
Kara took her hands away, but hovered, anxious. “Okay. I’ll ride with you.”
“Meet me downstairs,” Lena told her, voice rough as the tears continued to pour down her face.
“You still haven’t signed in, Kara,” Lena explained, trying to keep her voice soft. “Please, it’ll be faster if you just meet me outside.”
Kara looked on the verge of tears herself. She staggered back, but didn’t leave until Lena had called the car and gathered her keys. When Mr. Young called up to confirm the car had arrived, Kara zipped out of sight. Lena paused at the front door, then staggered back to the patio doors to close and lock them behind her.
In the car, Lena sat in silence. Kara watched her, fidgeting against the urge to touch her. Lena sat hunched with her hand pressed against her shoulder, misery radiating from every cell. She listed forward in her seat, careful to keep her weight off the broken bones of her shoulder. Kara’s x-ray vision confirmed the breaks in her scapula had deepened-- now the broad bone lay in pieces, and several smaller shards had separated from the greater mass. Lena’s lungs quivered as she took in one breath, then another.
When they pulled up in front of the DEO, Kara jumped out and ran as fast as humanly possible to open the car door. Lena didn’t budge. Her eyes remained clenched shut, and Kara wasn’t certain she realized they’d arrived. Kara steeled herself with a deep breath, and crouched next to her on the sidewalk. She reached for Lena’s hand but thought better of it at the last minute, touching her knee instead.
“Lena… we’re here.” Lena’s breath rattled in her chest. Her eyes opened, and she looked up at Kara with bloodshot eyes. “Are you… are you okay to walk?”
Lena nodded shakily, and levered herself to her feet. Kara steadied her, and walked with her up the steps into the DEO building. Alex waited for them just inside.
“I got your call,” Alex said, trotting forward to meet them. “So what happened exactly?”
“Kal… He was there, and he grabbed her arm.” Kara shot Lena a look. Lena didn’t seem to notice that Kara had answered for her. Her arm trembled under Kara’s hands. “There were hairline fractures in her scapula. They’ve separated.”
Alex’s lips thinned in concern. “Okay, let’s get to the med-bay,” she said. “We’ll take some scans and start talking next steps. We’ll get you something for the pain, okay, Lena?”
Lena’s head bobbed. She didn’t speak until they reached the infirmary, and even then she answered in short monosyllables while Alex examined her. When J’onn entered, his typically gruff tone softened congenially to address Lena.
“Miss Luthor,” he greeted, drawing her gaze up to his. “It’s a pleasure to have you here, though I wish it were under better circumstances.” Lena nodded, inviting J’onn to edge closer. “I’m--”
“Mr. Henshaw.” Lena’s eyebrow lifted warily, her eyes flickering briefly to Kara. “We’ve met.”
Kara looked at J’onn, and found him equally at a loss. She hesitated to assume Lena was mistaken, but then-- Lillian . Oh, boy. There was going to be a lot of explaining to do, but for now, J’onn chose to bypass it entirely. “I’m in charge of this facility,” he continued firmly. “Now, I understand Kara has told you the truth about her work with the DEO?”
Lena nodded shakily. “Some,” she confirmed.
“I’ve heard some about what happened this morning,” J’onn continued. “I was hoping you could help fill in the gaps.”
Lena’s head lifted sharply, meeting Kara’s gaze in alarm. Kara felt that same frisson of reaction. “Cl-- Kal is here? Where?”
“He arrived shortly before you did. I’ve asked him to keep his distance, out of respect for our visitor.”
“Lena didn’t do anything,” Kara said forcefully. “Kal just barged in, at Lena’s apartment, and started accusing her of, of…”
“Okay, Lena,” Alex interrupted softly. “I need to take a look at the wound site, and then I’ll take some quick shots of your shoulder okay?” Lena nodded her consent, then lifted her gaze to J’onn.
“He accused me of providing aerosolized kryptonite to the men who attacked L-Corp,” she said quietly. Alex delicately shifted the neck of Lena’s loose shirt until she could see the square bandage covering the entry wound. Kara saw the darkening pink of the thick gauze, and stifled a gasp when Alex peeled it away to reveal the wound itself. The bullet entry was smaller than Kara imagined it would be, smaller than a dime, but the skin surrounding it was angry and inflamed, extending twice as wide as the entry wound itself.
Lena's breaths shortened as Alex probed the tender area. Blood oozed sluggishly from the wound, which Alex dabbed at gently before it could creep into the fabric of Lena’s shirt. “Your stitches tore. I’m going to put them back in, the move on the scans.”
Lena nodded. As Alex gathered her supplies, Kara turned her attention away from the hole in Lena’s shoulder and back to J’onn. “He thinks she sourced Lex’s kryptonite to make the gas they used at L-Corp.”
Alex brought her tray to where Lena sat. “Can you sit any straighter?” she asked gently.
Lena stiffened, then shot Alex a terse look. “No,” she grunted.
“Well, Miss Luthor,” J’onn replied, “I can assure you that the DEO has found no reason to suspect your involvement in the events of this past week. We’ve been doing our best to locate the people behind it, but there’s been nothing yet.”
“What about the men you took into custody?” Kara asked.
“Poison pills,” Alex muttered, tying off Lena’s final stitch. “All of them were dead within 48 hours. We didn’t have time to get anything out of them.” She set her suture needle aside and reached for the scanner waiting off to the side. She positioned the lens behind Lena’s shoulder, and the machine hummed and clunked as it took several image frames.
A minute later she rolled the machine away and reached for her tablet. J’onn turned to address Lena directly. “Detective Sawyer mentioned that the L-Corp account you used to wire the funds had a tracker built in. Has anything come of it?”
Lena shook her head stiffly. “The worm got caught in a loop somewhere in the Caymans. We haven’t been able to pin down an account, let alone the name behind it. It’s possible we’ll get a break, but in my experience... it isn’t likely.”
J’onn nodded. “If you’d like, we could assign a few of our people to look into it.”
“L-Corp’s network is proprietary,” Lena responded curtly. “My people will handle it.”
“Sir,” Alex interrupted. “Could I get a moment alone please?”
J’onn shot her a glance, but acquiesced. “Absolutely,” he returned easily. “Miss Luthor, you’re welcome to remain here until you’re ready to leave. Our infirmary is at your disposal.”
“Thank you, Mr. Henshaw.”
When J’onn left, Kara hesitated. “Do you want me to leave too?”
Lena closed her eyes. “It’s fine.”
Alex nodded before coming around to face Lena, tablet tucked against her side. “Kara was right about the pieces of bone getting separated. There are several pieces now completely detached. I’d like to keep you here overnight to monitor you…”
When Lena’s head lifted, her expression was chillingly neutral. “I’ll pass.”
“There’s a lot of damage,” Alex warned her, “and a lot of internal swelling. If I--”
“I said no.”
Lena’s voice cut through Alex’s like a knife. Kara flinched, but Alex didn’t bat an eye. If Lena’s tone offended her, she didn’t show it. “Okay,” she accepted with a nod. “But if anything in your condition changes, we’ll keep a bed open for you.” She hesitated. “Did the hospital give you any kind of painkillers when they discharged you?”
Lena’s lips thinned in displeasure. “I’m not taking them.”
“Did they make you foggy?” Alex pursed her lips when Lena nodded. “I could administer a local anesthetic. Two injections at the site. It won’t last as long, but it’ll keep your head clear, and if you want to take the pills later at home, they won’t interact.”
Lena considered it, and ultimately nodded her consent. “Okay.”
While Alex collected the supplies she needed, Lena’s eyes closed, and Kara filled the silence by filling Alex in on what had happened. No one interrupted her, save for Alex’s soft voice as she let Lena know each step of the procedure. Through it all, Lena simply sat and allowed Alex to work on her, while Kara flitted between them both.
“...I cannot believe him! I mean, it’s completely ridiculous. If Lena knew where the kryptonite was, she’d have turned it over already! Right, Lena?”
Kara’s ramble trailed off as her gaze fell to Lena, looking for input for the first time since she started speaking. Lena’s eyes didn’t open, her jaw locked tight against any response. The only shift in her expression was the twitch of a muscle along her temple when Alex inserted the second needle into the back of her shoulder, and administered the last of the anesthetic. “Lena?”
The effect of the drugs was almost instantaneous. Lena’s eyes lost the pinch at the corners, and the next breath she took seemed to fill her entire body. Alex peeled the gloves off her hands and leaned in towards Kara. “Maybe this isn’t the best time to have this conversation,” she said in a low voice.
Glancing at Lena, Kara couldn’t help but agree. The pain seemed to be gone for the time being, but the drooping form left in its wake hardly looked like Lena at all.
“Lena,” Alex said gently, turning back to face her patient. “You’re going to need surgery to repair the separated pieces of your scapula. I have a friend from med school I’m still in touch with; he's one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country. With your permission, I can forward these scans to him, and get his input. The sooner it’s resolved, the better.”
“What’s his name?”
“Ryan Starratt, out of Chicago.”
Lena nodded. “I’ve worked with him before. That’s fine.” She lifted her gaze to look at Alex. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” Alex returned. “Call if you need anything. I’ll reach out as soon as Ryan gets back to me.”
As they left, Kara caught sight of James and Maggie lurking around Winn’s desk, all three of them solemn with concern. Kara gave them the barest of nods-- everything would be okay. The ride back to Lena’s was painfully silent. It reminded Kara of that first night she visited Lena’s home, except instead of exhaustion and hurt under the quiet, Lena bristled in her seat, the silhouette of her shoulders stiff in the setting sun.
Kara signed in with Mr. Young, and padded carefully next to Lena towards the elevator. As they rode up to the fifth floor, Kara tentatively reached out to take Lena’s hand, only for her Lena to pull her fingers away to run them through her hair, pulling the long strands away from her face. Kara chewed anxiously on her lip, watching as the floor indicator counted up. Once inside Lena’s flat, Kara hovered uncertainly near the door.
“You would turn over the kryptonite, wouldn’t you?” she asked quietly.
Lena twisted towards the small half-table just inside the door, and carelessly tossed her keyring into the shallow ornamental bowl on top. She refused to meet Kara’s eyes, leaving Kara to stare at the back of her head. “I don’t want to have this conversation right now.”
Kara bristled. “Why not?”
Lena turned her head, and Kara was granted the sight of her profile, all regal nose and sharp jaw. “Because you aren’t going to like my answer.”
“You-- “ Kara stumbled over her own tongue, shock zapping her where she stood. “You would keep it...”
Lena huffed, her head tilting back in frustration. “Why wouldn’t I, Kara?” She gave a cold smirk. “Because Superman asked oh-so-nicely?”
“Because it’s a poison, Lena! It kills us!”
Lena turned sharply to meet Kara’s gaze at last. Her eyes flashed, and for the first time, Kara saw what anger looked like in a Luthor.
“You know, it’s telling that you assume I’d use it in its most lethal form,” she ground out. “Though I can’t say I’m surprised…” Kara stared at her in confusion, and her eyes narrowed bitterly. “I saw Detective Sawyer at the DEO. And Winn. And James. Looks like I’m the last of your friends to know the truth. Again.” Lena’s eyebrow hitched. “I guess your trust only stretches so far.”
“That’s not fair,” Kara shook her head.
“No, what’s not fair is that I’m the one Superman came to harass, while you’re the one working for a man who spent years in my mother’s employ.” Lena rolled her eyes. “Can’t wait to see how you try to explain that one.”
Lena stalked into the kitchen. She slammed a cupboard open and reached for a water glass, hissing when it strained her injured shoulder. Kara sped to reach it first. “Here, let me--”
“I’ve got it!” Lena snapped, smacking Kara’s hand aside. She snatched a glass from the shelf and pushed past Kara to tug the refrigerator open. She slammed it shut a second later. “Do you even understand what it is he’s asking me to do?”
Kara’s breath caught in her chest. “Superman is asking you to turn over a poison valued for its ability to harm Kryptonians, before it falls into the wrong hands!”
“Kryptonite is the only known substance capable of neutralizing a Kryptonian’s superhuman abilities, and Superman expects me to hand it over without cause and without any kind of oversight as to where or how he stores it!”
“You might not intend to use it for nefarious purposes,” Kara argued, “but there a lot of people out there who do! The DEO has already turned their stores over--”
Green eyes rolled in derision. “And doesn’t that just fill me with an overwhelming sense of security…”
“Say I do as he demands,” Lena pressed, stalking back towards the living room, glass and kitchen forgotten. Her movements were stiff, bordering on frenzied. “What then? We hand the kryptonite over to the one being it’s meant to protect against and he puts it where no human can reach. What happens if he’s compromised? What if he suddenly decides humans no longer deserve to live on this planet?”
Kara barked a harsh laugh. “Now you sound like your brother.”
The line of Lena’s jaw squared, and when her eyes flashed Kara knew she’d made a grave mistake. Lena turned to face her, stalking towards her with barely constrained fury.
“Lex may have gone insane,” she growled, her voice rumbling with danger, “but if the Superman who grabbed me today is the one my brother met, I’m starting to see what drove him to it!”
Kara drew back, Lena’s words as palpable as any blow. The air whooshed from her lungs, and she stood there, breathless, as Lena’s eyes widened with shock, then closed as her shoulders slumped. “He was in my home, Kara. He hurt me.”
Her anger cracked, and in the chasm Kara could see the pain and fear still swirling, clamoring to be acknowledged, given voice. Just that morning Lena had confessed that her privacy had been tantamount-- that keeping this apartment unknown even to Kara had been a measure of preserving that her physical and emotional well-being. Clark had shattered that peace.
Kara swallowed thickly. “He didn’t mean to--”
“And how is that supposed to be any less terrifying?” Lena fired back, her vulnerability snapping out of sight as the fury re-surged. “Whether or not he actually intended to hurt me, he did come here with the express purpose of intimidating me into giving him whatever information he thought I had. He wanted to frighten me, and he did.”
Kara shook her head, but any words of denial stuck in her throat. She’d felt the strength of Clark’s grip, felt how he’d tightened it even after Kara intervened. Lena was lucky her scapula had been the only thing to break. Lena rocked back on her heels, realizing she’d found the higher ground. “Is that not enough for you? Fine. What if one day, Superman wakes up and decides he wants to, oh, I don’t know... throw Cat Grant off a balcony?”
Suddenly, it felt like all the air has been sucked out of the room. Kara’s cheeks tingled, and she realized that the blood must have drained from her face, because a moment later they started to burn as a heated flush came flooding back up her neck. “That-- I… How did you--”
“Do you honestly think the papers in Metropolis wouldn’t follow that fiasco?” Lena sniped, a mirthless smirk carving a jagged line across her features. “A Super gone crazy? My mother spoke of nothing else for six months.”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Kara said, her voice strangled by the sudden tightness in her throat.
“Maybe not,” Lena allowed, but her features hardened, and she took one angry step towards Kara. “But it happened. You and your cousin don’t get to pretend that just because you do good, you can’t do wrong. You can, and you have. The good you do may outweigh the bad, but it doesn’t erase it. It’s always there, and there’s always a possibility it can happen again.”
“That’s not true!”
Lena took another step towards her. “National City’s infrastructure was over budget by 1.6 million dollars last year due to damages resulting from or related to the presence of a Super in the city,” she told her. “But I’m the bad guy for wanting to develop a way to neutralize the powers that cause them.”
“You’re talking about who we are, Lena. Who I am! That’s not okay!”
Lena closed her eyes. “No. What’s not okay is that between us, I am the only one who has been completely honest, from day one. Any time you have asked me a question, I’ve been completely transparent with you. Meanwhile, you have hoarded your secrets and only dole them out as it suits you. But somehow I’m the one with a broken shoulder and the word villain stamped on my forehead.”
Kara stared at her, and Lena met her inch for inch. She wasn’t wrong, but Kara couldn’t find it in herself to admit it. L-Corp had no right to keep kryptonite, no matter how altruistic its purpose. But Lena showed no sign of backing down.
“Superman is no saint, Kara,” Lena continued, her voice low. “I understand that he’s your cousin, but at least I’m honest enough to admit my family is dangerous. And I am tired of being punished for the sins of my family while yours is lauded despite the damage you’ve done.”
Kara inhaled sharply. Lena’s lips quivered, but she didn’t apologize. She fumbled at the strap of her brace. “I’m going to bed.”
“I am exhausted, my arm hurts, and I have absolutely nothing else to say that you’re going to want to hear.” Lena’s fingers finally caught the clasp of her sling and unclipped it. She expelled her breath in a sharp sigh. “You can stay, or you can go. I just can’t talk to you anymore right now.”
Lena turned on her heel and stormed into the bedroom, closing the door with a sharp snap behind her. Kara stared after her, anger burning in her eyes and a scream of frustration stuck in her throat. How could she not see? Kryptonite-- it was a poison. Just the thought of it made her skin crawl and her heart lift into her throat with apprehension. Was Lena lying? What if Clarke was right and she’d already found some of Lex’s stores? L-Corp could be studying it right now, finding ways to make it more potent, how to weaponize it. Lena may not have had anything to do with the assault on L-Corp-- and Kara believed that much to be true-- but it didn’t mean she wouldn’t deny possession of any kryptonite with Clark looming over her.
Kara stalked the apartment, torn between wanting to leave and reluctance to leave Lena alone. And Clark… Clark had been wrong to come here, wrong to touch her in anger but-- he was not Lex. Lex hurt dozens of people. And Clark-- Clark helped people. Today was a mistake, he didn’t mean to. He’d been angry, concerned for Kara…. And yet Lena’s words refused to leave her. How was that any less terrifying? If Kara hadn’t been there, hadn’t picked up the sound of Lena’s raised voice, hadn’t gotten there so quickly-- how much more damage would have been done?
When Kara first started being friendly with Alex, when their sisterhood started feeling more natural than forced by circumstance, Alex had slugged her playfully on the shoulder. Caught up in the newness of having a friend, Kara had returned the buffet-- and gave Alex a bruise that lingered for months. That night Kara had tearfully clung to Eliza, who told her, gently, that people like her, like Clark, didn’t have the luxury of forgetting their own strength. Not when their strength could break bones and crush cars.
Clark had no excuse. And… though Kara hated to even consider it-- she couldn’t be 100% sure that Clark had forgotten anything. Clark may not have known of Lena’s injury, but his grip on her arm had been too tight. Slowing to a stop in her pacing, Kara stood fidgeting in the middle of the living room. She glanced towards the bedroom, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Through the walls Kara saw Lena hunched on the edge of the bed, face buried in her hand. Her hair had fallen forward to hide what her fingers could not, but Kara’s sharp hearing picked up the quiet sounds of Lena crying, and her heart lurched at the sound of it.
Kara dropped onto the couch, her anger cooling abruptly to leave her feeling like someone had scooped her insides out with a spoon. She stayed there, trying not to hear Lena’s tears calm, then subside completely. When Lena finally lowered herself down to sleep, Kara leaned back in her seat, boneless. Outside, the sounds of life faded as the sun dipped towards the horizon. As darkness fell, so did her energy, and Kara’s muscles seemed to melt. She barely felt when her eyes slipped shut, drawn into an uneasy sleep.
Kara woke to a strange sound. Groggy, she peeled open her eyes, only to squint at the unfamiliar surroundings. She was at Lena’s; now she recognized the shape of the furniture in the darkness. The quiet pressed in on her, until the sound came again.
Lena’s breathless croak was barely loud enough to be a whisper. Kara bolted from the couch, and froze in the doorway of the bedroom when she saw the dark stain of blood coating Lena's arm and shoulder. Kara turned on the light, and the blood remained, just as dark, now glinting wetly against the sheets. There was too much of it, Lena’s skin too pale. Kara scraped her glasses off, her fingers fumbling, and an instant later her own blood ran cold in her veins when her x-ray vision revealed the shadows gathering in Lena’s chest.
Panic clawed up Kara’s throat. She closed the distance in a blink, registering the flutter of Lena’s eyes as she fought to open her eyes. Lena gasped, struggling to breathe against the increasing pressure of blood pooling against her lungs. The sound of her heartbeat stuttered and skipped in Kara’s ears, panic and blood loss making it weak and irregular. Kara worked her arms under Lena and lifted her as gently as she could, leaving the brace forgotten in the bedclothes.
“Hang on, Lena,” Kara choked, “just hold on. I’m taking you to the DEO, okay?”
Lena’s arm dangled limply in front, and in the space it took for the blood to drip from her fingertips Kara stumbled to a landing in the foyer of the DEO, cracking the marble floor. Lena’s head lolled against her arm. Kara stumbled to her knees, her legs rubber in her panic. “Lena? Lena! Please… ALEX!!”
She looked up, searching for her sister, and saw people moving, rushing-- to help, to find help. Their voices were lost to the low, irregular pulse in Kara’s ears. Kara clutched Lena tighter, one hand pressing to stem the blood still pulsing sluggishly from her shoulder. “J’ONN! ALEX!”
“Kara!” Alex sprinted into view, taking barely a moment to register her sister’s distress and the limp body in her arms. “We need a medic!” She closed the distance between them, stripping off the cotton jacket she wore. She balled it up in her fist and shoved it against the wound in Lena’s shoulder, pressing with all her might. “Kara, I need you to tell me what happened.”
Her calm stole over Kara, and she could suddenly speak through the sobs in her throat. “I don’t-- I don’t know. She went to sleep, and then-- she was trying to call for me. I could barely hear her-- Alex…”
“It’s going to be okay, Kara,” Alex said. “Can you stand?” Kara nodded. “Okay, good. We’re going to start walking, so we can meet the medics halfway, okay?” Kara nodded again. “All right. And, up…” Kara climbed to her feet, Lena still secure in her arms. Alex led them deeper into the DEO, all the while keeping constant pressure on the wound. “Do you know Lena’s blood type?”
Kara opened her mouth, then closed it. “I-- I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“That’s okay,” Alex told her again. “We’ll test her when we get to the infirmary. You’re doing great, Kara.”
“Here, ma’am!” Medics appeared at the end of the corridor, wheeling a gurney between them.
Alex shot them a quick look, then locked eyes with Kara. “Okay, we’re just going to set her down gently on the gurney. Ready? Three, two, one--”
Kara relinquished her hold, carefully placing Lena on the stretcher. Strands of Lena’s blood-soaked hair clung to Kara’s skin, and soon the white sheets darkened with blood. Hysteria rose in Kara’s throat, eyes glued to Lena as Alex assessed her reactions to stimuli. Scraping at the hair congealed to her skin, Kara’s fingers shook and trembled. As soon as she stepped away, the rapid throb in her ears suddenly ceased, and in its absence the quiet deafened her.
“Alex,” Kara’s throat tightened. “Alex, her heart-- Her heart’s not beating! Alex! ”
Alex dodged her sister’s hands and swung herself on top of the gurney, straddling Lena’s torso to begin chest compressions. “Let’s go!” she barked into her comms. “Winn! I need Lena’s blood type, now!” Somewhere behind her, Kara registered Winn’s voice clipping off a response. “B-positive!” Alex relayed to the medics. “Get the OR ready and have three bags of B-pos standing by. Kara,” she directed at her sister, “you can’t come with us. Stay with Winn. I’ll come get you--”
“If you want us to save her life, you have to let us work!” Alex’s voice lifted, her focus not breaking from the compressions she counted under her breath. Kara’s cheeks chilled as she heard Lena’s ribs groan, then crack. “I promise,” Alex continued, a veneer of softness stretched over ironclad resolve. “I’ll come get you as soon as I can.” She turned back to the medics. “Let’s go!”
Kara drew to a stop in the corridor, staring until Alex and her team turned the corner out of sight. She stayed there until warm hands gently gripped her elbow and turned her away. She sagged onto Winn’s shoulder, clenching her eyes tight and pressing her hands over her ears to shut out the sounds of Alex pumping against Lena’s chest. Winn held her until her tears slowed, and slowly she came to focus on the platitudes issuing from him in a continuous stream. The words didn’t matter: his voice grounded her, pulled her senses from the urgent voices in the operating room and the sound of scalpels cutting into flesh. Eventually, with a gentle arm around her shoulders, Winn started guiding her back towards the atrium and the fresh air just outside its doors, and Kara let him.
When the bright light of the open space assaulted her swollen eyes, Kara registered three things. The first was the janitors already hard at work mopping Lena’s blood from the floor. The second was James striding towards her, his easy smile dropping when he registered Kara’s shellshock and the blood caked on her hands. The third was the broad-shouldered figure at James’ side, resplendent in his suit of blue and red, her family’s crest emblazoned on his chest for all the world to see.
All of Kara’s anguish flared white hot. With a scream she launched herself towards Clark, slamming into him faster than a freight train and kept going until they collided with the far wall. Her fists bludgeoned his face and shoulders without thought-- rage made her sloppy, but unrelenting. When the skin of his eyebrow split under her fist, Clark brought his legs up and kicked her away. The force of it launched Kara into the air, but she reversed direction in an instant and flew back to slam him back into the wall a second time.
“You did this! YOU!!” Her fist caught him in the solar plexus. Tears burned in her eyes. “You came into her home, you terrorized her! You-- you--” Her words evaporated, and she screamed. Heat shot from her eyes, nailing in him in the chest. He staggered to one knee, but before she could wind up again, arms hooked around her waist and threw her back. She whirled back to face this new threat, only to stop short at the sight of J’onn in his true form, standing between her and Kal.
“That's enough, Supergirl.” His voice resonated in the air, and at his tone Kara froze.
“This is not what Lena needs, Kara.” The sound of Lena’s name cracked through the haze of her rage. Her gaze fell to her hands, where her fingers were lined with blood. Lena’s blood. The same blood the janitors still scrubbed at, their mops squelching in her ears. “Go,” J’onn urged. “Get cleaned up and wait for Alex.”
Winn touched her shoulder, and without a backwards glance at Clark, she turned and leaned against her friend, letting him lead her towards the locker room. Clark’s voice called out.
“Lena Luthor is a threat to everything we stand for,” he called towards her back. “Everything our family stands for.”
Kara stiffened, and felt Winn shift away, anticipating another blow out. But Kara only felt ragged, too exhausted to do anything more than turn and look at Clark.
“That glyph on your chest doesn’t make you family, Kal-el. Our dead planet doesn’t make us family. A family is love and acceptance, and I have yet to see either of those from you. Lena is more my family than you have ever been.”
“Come near Lena again, and I will end you.”
If Kara dropped a pin on the ground, it would have echoed in the silence that followed. Without another word, she turned and finally rounded the corner out of sight with Winn at her side. In her wake the silence persisted, until people began to resume their business. J’onn levelled a look at Clark. “Do you need medical attention?”
Clark shook his head, already feeling his wounds starting to mend. The ache would persist for some time, but it paled next to the emptiness in his chest at Kara’s words. Satisfied, J’onn left, and Clark turned to the last figure still lingering in his periphery.
“What the hell just happened?”
Clark shook his head. “It isn’t what you think,” he started, but paused when James lifted one hand, head tilting in dismay.
“Did you lay hands on Lena?”
Clark’s jaw tightened. “That kryptonite had to come from somewhere--”
“Then it is exactly what I think.” James took a step towards Clark, and something about his stride was different. He hadn’t always seemed so… present. The easy humor Clark could usually find in James’ gaze vanished, leaving something hard and sharp behind.
“Some new kryptonite weapon shows up and of course it has to be the only Luthor in the zip code, is that it?” James snapped. “Lena Luthor has been nothing but good to this city since she got here, Clark. And you put your hands on a woman who was injured less than a week ago, who was almost murdered on live television? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“She’s a Luthor .”
“You’re a bigot.”
Clark stared at him like he’d sprouted a second head. James’ brow furrowed in consternation. “Your misgivings about the Luthor name is the same crap Lex Luthor spewed about you and every other alien. Lena doesn't deserve any of it, especially not from you--”
“Three weeks ago I received a note,” Clark told him. “It was laced with kryptonite.”
James eyed him carefully, surprised by the new information but unsure of what it meant. “Looks like you’ve recovered just fine.”
“It was just traces, no granules, no crystals. I couldn’t figure out how they pulled it off, until I saw the reports of what happened at L-Corp.”
“That still doesn’t give you the right--”
“It made Lois sick, James,” Clark cut in. James froze, his expression puzzled.
“What? Is she okay?”
"She's fine," Clark assured him.
James shook his head in confusion. "But why would kryptonite affect Lois? She's human--" His eyes widened a second later. “Wait-- Is she...?”
Clark nodded. It hadn’t seemed possible to him either, but the tests at the hospital confirmed it-- Lois was pregnant, and the baby, somehow, was Kryptonian. James sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Congratulations, man. That’s great.”
“Now you know why I had to come. Why I can’t afford to give any Luthor the benefit of the doubt.”
James' head shook again. “I’m sorry Lois got sick, but that still doesn’t excuse what you did. You have no reason to suspect Lena.”
Clark ground his teeth. “The postage mark traced back to National City-- Lois’ contacts determined that it originated from L-Corp's mailroom.”
“Still not good enough, man.” He shifted closer, pinning Clark with a hard stare. “You do a lot of good, Clark, and no one here is debating that Lex Luthor was a bad man-- not even Lena. But it’s people like Lena who make me believe the world can change for the better.”
“L-Corp is a huge company, man,” James told him. “Just because it came from an L-Corp mailroom doesn’t mean it came from Lena. And if it really was Lena, don’t you think she’d be smart enough not to let it trace back to her own damn building?”
Clark shook his head. “Why should I go hunting for a boogeyman when there’s one in plain sight?”
“Because Lena has saved the aliens in this city twice already, and earned herself plenty of enemies in the meantime.” James shook his head. “But I can tell you’re not going to believe me, no matter what I say.”
“Jimmy, just think about this--!”
“Stay away from Lena,” James warned, talking right over Clark. “And keep your distance from Kara, too. Because if you provoke her again, I can’t guarantee anyone is going to stop her a second time.”
With that, James turned and walked away, leaving Clark alone in the atrium. Clark watched him leave. James was his oldest friend, but here in National City he was barely recognizable as the man Clark used to know. He only hoped James came to his sense before his faith in the wrong person got him killed.
Kara’s head shot up, her drowsiness evaporating at the sound of her sister’s voice. “Alex! How is-- Is Lena--?” The panic that had dozed during the long wait woke with a vengeance, twisting her insides into knots.
“She pulled through surgery,” Alex told her. She sank bonelessly into the seat next to Kara, exhausted. “She’s stable.” Alex took Kara’s hand and squeezed it when Kara’s head bowed in relief. “She’s going to be okay.”
“What happened? We were arguing before she went to bed, but she was fine…”
“The hospital missed a small bullet fragment. It must have shifted when Clark grabbed her, or after she left the DEO, lacerating her subclavian artery. The internal bleeding that resulted pressed against her lung, partially deflating it. We’ve drained the fluid from her chest cavity, removed the fragment, and repaired the damage to the artery. We're transfusing her still, and there’s still a lot of damage from the initial injury, but she’s going to pull through. The rest is up to the ortho.”
Kara shook her head. “I don’t understand,” she whispered. “Last night she was fine .”
“It wouldn’t have taken much,” Alex told her. “A certain twist, or a pull-- it could have been anything. She wouldn’t have even noticed.”
“She could have bled to death, and I wouldn’t have known.” Kara scrubbed her face with her palms. “If I hadn’t heard her…”
“Hey, you got her to us in time. You saved her life.”
“Clark did this. It really was his fault.”
“Kara, listen to me--” Alex squared against her, meeting her gaze head-on. J’onn had told her about what happened in the atrium between her and Clark. “Clark is not what’s important here. Lena needs you. Leave the blame until she’s awake, okay?”
Kara nodded. She took a deep breath. “I want to see her.”
“Of course,” Alex promised. She sat with Kara until they received word that Lena had been cleaned up and settled into the infirmary. When Kara followed her sister to the medbay, she didn’t expect to see the respirator or the machines monitoring Lena’s vitals. She didn’t expect to see how frail Lena looked, how the machines dwarfed Lena’s frame. She didn’t expect to see the tubes extending from under the covers, gurgling as they drew fluid from Lena’s chest cavity, or the unnatural jerk that rocked Lena’s chest with each puff of the respirator.
Kara heaved a shocked sob, her own breath sharp in her throat. Alex wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Kara tore her gaze away from Lena and turned into Alex’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” Alex murmured, rubbing circles against Kara’s back. “I should have warned you. It’s all temporary. Lena’s okay.”
Kara nodded against her and pulled back, putting herself back together. Alex took her hand and gently guided her through the mess of tubes and wires to reach the chair waiting for her at the bedside. Kara sank into the plastic seat, and ever so carefully reached over to loop her hand around Lena’s. Lena’s hand felt small in hers, and paper-thin. Her skin felt like ice. Kara took a ragged breath, closed her eyes, and turned her chin into the hand Alex placed on her shoulder. “I almost lost her, Alex.”
Alex only squeezed her tighter. Together, they waited.
Lena woke gradually, in fits and starts. Even as awareness slowly came back to her, she lingered in a shapeless void. Slowly, murky sounds of the world filtering down to meet her. At first the sounds had no form, so shape, just muddled vibrations where she floated. Eventually, they coalesced into distinct voices, and the weight pressing her down narrowed to a phantom hand on hers.
“What the hell, Luthor... I didn’t pull your ass out of that conference room just so you could bleed out in bed.”
“Dr. Starratt has agreed to perform the reconstructive surgery, but not until she’s recovered--”
“I’m so sorry, Lena. I should never have let this…”
“And then whoosh! She just tips over backwards like she’s in the matrix, and of course, I freak out, but then a second later she’s flying back up to the roof-- as if one heart attack in a day isn’t enough. Y’know, what’s funny is that she told me that day she wasn’t gay-- but I think what she meant was that being gay wasn’t the secret. Because have you seen---”
“How much longer, Alex?”
“Maybe another day. This is a good thing, Kara. The more she remains still, the less her chances of an injury relapse.”
The voices came and went as she bobbed both weightless and heavy in the grey. When she finally, inevitably pried her eyelids open, the light blinded her. She clenched them tightly, and when she opened them next, seconds or minutes or hours later, she struggled to find her bearings. Then she recognized the top of Kara’s head, resting on the bed next to her hand, and the world righted itself. Her gaze caught on the sight of Alex Danvers propped against the far wall, eyes half-lidded until she noticed Lena was awake.
Alex roused, shaking off the fugue of waiting as she pushed off the wall. “Lena? Can you hear me?”
Lena opened her mouth, but her voice stuck in her dry throat. She nodded once, before letting her gaze return to the top of Kara’s sleeping head.
“She hasn’t left your side since you got out of surgery,” Alex told her, coming to stand on the other side of the bed. Her hand reached out to rest on Lena’s knee, the touch muted as though half-numb. “You haven’t been alone for a second.”
Lena wasn’t sure where she was, or what had brought her here, but the one thing she did know, as she drifted back to sleep, was that this was what family must be like.
“You scared me,” Kara said softly, tucking the plastic spoon into the cup full of ice chips she held in her hand. She’d been patiently spooning chips into Lena’s mouth for the past hour, and though Lena would have preferred to feed herself, having one arm bound to her chest and her other hand tangled in Kara’s fingers precluded that option.
Lena munched the chip in her mouth to clear it faster. “I’m sorry,” she rasped. The hoarseness she felt deep in her throat was from the intubation, Alex had told her. Totally normal, Lena was assured, and likely to pass within a day or so. Nothing to worry about except for the fact that the tube had apparently taken most of her voice with it when they tugged it out after surgery.
“No, don’t apologize,” Kara said, gripping her hand tighter. “I just-- If anything, I should be the one apologizing.”
Lena’s brow furrowed. “You didn’t shoot me,” she pointed out. The words devolved into another round of coughing, which sparked a fresh pain in her chest. Chest tubes aside, three broken ribs from CPR stabbed her like knives, despite the heavy drugs filtering in through her IV. Kara half-stood from her chair, ready to go get Alex, but Lena clutched at her fingers, keeping her in place. Sure enough, the pain passed a few moments later, and Kara settled back in her seat to ferry another spoonful of chips to her lips. Lena accepted them greedily, relishing the cool that coated her tongue and throat as they melted.
“Lena…” Kara hesitated, staring glumly into the half-empty cup of chips. “How much do you remember?”
Lena paused, then pocketed the remaining slivers of ice in her cheek to respond. “We argued.”
Kara nodded, cheeks flushing. “Alex says that your artery probably ruptured when you turned or twisted. It could have been while you sleeping, but I can’t stop thinking about the way you were moving around while we were fighting and--” Tears pooled in her eyes, and her breath came short. “There was so much blood…”
Lena tightened her grip on Kara’s hand, as best she could. Her limbs still felt mostly like noodles, and her eyelids felt heavy, but she gripped as tight as she could. “I’m okay.”
“Yeah,” Kara breathed. “You are. That’s what’s important.”
“Won’t scare you again,” Lena promised. Kara seemed to dim, but a moment later she realized that it was simply her eyelashes she was staring through. She forced her eyes to open wider, just as Kara set aside the ice cup and leaned in to press a kiss against her forehead.
“Rest,” Kara urged softly. “All you need to worry about is getting better, okay?”
Lena tried to nod, but was asleep before she knew whether or not she succeeded.
The next time Lena woke, someone else had taken ownership of Kara’s chair.
“Alex made her go get some food and put in some time under the sunlamps,” James Olsen told her, leaning forward to rest his long forearms atop his knees. Alarm flooded Lena, but he quickly continued. “Nothing happened, she just hasn’t been outside in five days. She was looking a little green around the edges.” A playful smirk curled his lips. “Looks like you could use a lamp or two yourself.”
Lena rolled her eyes. Losing half her blood volume was a pretty good excuse for looking like crap.
“Anyway,” he continued, “Kara didn’t want to leave you alone, and Alex wasn’t about to leave her alone, so I volunteered to hold down the fort for a few hours.”
The smile on James’ face never left his eyes, even as he spoke. Kara was lucky, Lena observed to herself, to have friends who cared so much for her. After a moment’s hesitation, Lena tilted her hand to brush her fingers against his. When their skin touched, James' eyes locked on hers.
“Thank you,” she croaked, “for being here for Kara.”
It was Lena’s turn to blink when James shifted closer, taking her hand in both of his. The warmth of his skin chased away the persistent chill in her fingers, and the tenderness of his grip made her breath rattle with a sudden emotion she couldn't quite put a name to.
“For you too, Lena,” he said solemnly. “You’re my friend, and I’m so sorry you had to go through this. This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
Lena knew of James Olsen from her years in Metropolis. Every time an article on Superman printed, it almost unfailingly accompanied a photograph courtesy of James Olsen. James witnessed firsthand the devastation Lex wrought against the city, and had been among the crowd during his trial, right next to Clark Kent in the press box. Yet here he was, calling her his friend. Oh, if Lex could see, he’d lose his mind. Again.
Gently, her fingers tightened on his. She nodded, accepting his friendship and everything that came with it. True to his word, James stayed with her until Kara blinked into view-- too anxious to walk at human speed. Human speed. A lump formed in Lena’s throat. Between the attack on L-Corp, Superman's appearance at her home, and the fight with Kara, she hadn’t truly processed the truth of what Kara being Supergirl meant. Kara and Superman were family… and unlike the Danvers, of whom Alex seemed to like her and Eliza apparently loved everyone, Superman believed her to be the devil incarnate.
Superman would likely never trust her. Certainly not while she held any vested interest in kryptonite. Somehow, that knowledge didn’t feel quite so heavy as it had that last day in her apartment. Stepping back into her flat with fresh stitches that night, Lena had felt like she'd lost something-- she didn't know what. But with James lingering in the doorway, and Winn’s familiar voice approaching down the corridor, and Kara leaning on the bed next to her… Lena wondered if maybe she’d found what she’d wanted all along.
Dr. Ryan Starratt arrived in National City a week after Lena woke up. By then, she was fully alert, and allowed to wear her own clothes-- a loose shirt and jeans Kara had retrieved from her apartment. The day she was to be discharged from the infirmary, Ryan stopped by the medbay to visit.
“It’s good to see you again, Miss Luthor,” Dr. Starratt greeted, earning a wide smile from Lena. She’d enjoyed working with him just after moving to National City, developing a lightweight polymer that could be used to manufacture prosthetic limbs at half the cost. It had been one of L-Corp’s first attempts at making good, and it paid off with first quarter sales that were beyond even their most optimistic projections after the re-branding.
“Lena,” she told him. He smiled at the rote reminder. Lena mustered one of her own in return. “Thank you for coming to National City on such short notice.”
Ryan’s smile widened, shining brightly enough for both of them. “Are you kidding? I couldn’t believe it when Alex told me you were the patient. I had no idea you two knew each other. Of course I wouldn’t say no.”
It still surprised Lena that Alex had gone to med school with Ryan, no matter how briefly. Her small world kept getting smaller. First Kara and Supergirl, now Ryan. His index finger tapped the folder he held, and she didn’t need to read the label to know it was hers.
“Now, I’ve reviewed your scans, and I figured you’d be looking for an update before you left.”
Lena nodded. She enjoyed Ryan’s forthright nature. He told it like it was, and back when she’d been a newly branded CEO it had been a refreshing change of pace after months of people telling her what she thought she wanted to hear. Now it was a balm, already easing some of her apprehension.
Kara had gone to shower in the locker room not long before Ryan entered, and Lena was glad for the privacy. One look at the tiny wrinkles between Ryan’s eyebrows told her more than enough. “It’s not good, is it?”
Ryan sighed. “It’s not ideal. In addition to the subclavian rupture, the damage to the scapula is severe. I’m optimistic that we can repair the bone through surgery, but any intervention will need to wait until we confirm the artery isn’t at risk of recurring.”
“I think we both know the bone is not our biggest concern, Ryan.” Lena lifted an eyebrow, daring him to disagree. He didn’t.
“You’re right,” he agreed with a nod. “The bone will heal, one way or another. Our biggest concern-- and biggest uncertainty-- is nerve damage. During the initial surgery to remove the remaining bullet fragment, your surgeon noticed some damage to the brachial plexus. What was seen wasn’t severe, but the continued paralysis in your forearm, hand, and fingers may indicate deeper damage we haven’t located yet.”
His tone offered no pity, no hesitation. Lena inhaled, shifting uncomfortably when the action tugged on her healing ribs. “So what’s the plan?”
Ryan’s mouth curved into another smile, revealing pearly teeth and an appreciation for her own direct tone. “I’d like to see you again in two weeks, to evaluate the arterial repair. If it’s healing as expected, we’ll take some scans, see what we can see in the brachial plexus. If nothing shows up, we’ll schedule the surgery for the scapular reconstruction.”
“How long?” The question was a foolish one, with so many unknown variables. Nerve damage could change everything.
“If we’re wrong about the nerve damage, and the only repair needed is for the bone, you could be out of the sling as soon as six weeks after surgery.” Ryan’s smile dimmed, but didn’t disappear entirely. “If there is nerve damage, healing time could be upward of an additional 3 months, depending on severity. Sensation and full range of motion may not return for a full year, if at all.”
Permanent paralysis wouldn’t be the end of the world. Lena knew that. Humans could adapt to nearly anything, including the loss of function in the dominant arm. Still, the prospect unsettled her. Lena shoved it aside, and focused again on Ryan, who remained quiet, respectfully granting her the chance to absorb the information. “Thank you.”
“Absolutely,” Ryan returned. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, which he offered to Lena.“If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. I’ve taken a temporary position at Memorial Hospital for the duration, so I’ll be staying local until everything’s resolved.”
Lena accepted the card with a wry smile. “I’ll compensate your time here in National City, Ryan--”
“Money’s no object. Memorial’s been after me for years,” Ryan told her. A sly gleam sparked in his eye. “I was hoping to cash in my chips another way.”
Intrigued, Lena tilted her chin. “Oh?”
“I’ve been working with a colleague on developing synthetic stem cells. We’ll be looking for funding in a few months. You think L-Corp might be interested in getting in on the ground floor?”
“Always,” Lena returned, without hesitation. She had a soft spot for medical technology-- it had been long enough since their last venture to be eager for something new. “Give me a few weeks to get up to speed, and we’ll talk.”
Ryan’s grin widened. He nodded. “Absolutely. It’ll keep.” His eyes caught on something over her shoulder, and he rose to his feet. “Looks like your entourage is back.”
Lena turned her head and saw Kara and Winn slowing to a stop outside the infirmary, deep in conversation. Their exchange seemed natural enough, but Lena couldn’t help but notice the strange angle of Kara’s chin-- and the ear swiveled in her direction.
She turned back to face Ryan, and gave him an honest smile. “I suppose that’s our cue,” she joked.
“So it would seem.” Ryan stuck out his left hand, which Lena accepted. They shook, and Ryan capped it off with an extra squeeze. “It really is good to see you again, Lena. We’ll know more at our next visit.”
Lena nodded. “You too. Thank you.”
Ryan passed Kara on his way out the door, and in moments Kara was at Lena’s side. “How’d it go?”
Lena lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t you already know?”
Kara’s cheeks flushed. “I tried not to listen. I just-- your heart rate picked up, so we came back a little early. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. I didn’t hear any details though, I promise.”
“He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already suspect.”
“So… when’s your surgery?”
Lena’s left shoulder lifted in a shrug. “We’ll know in a few weeks. For now it’s just hurry up and wait.”
“And until then, that means no strenuous activity,” Alex started in, joining them with a small paper bag. Inside, the familiar sound of pills rattling against plastic sounded. She turned her focus to Lena. “You’ll need someone to stay with you. I assume that will be…”
“Kara,” Lena confirmed. “Yes.”
Alex nodded. “Okay. I’d like her to stay with you for at least the next week. In that time, do not use your right arm, do not remove the sling for any reason other than bathing and dressing, and make sure you take your meds. You’re still healing, so don’t be surprised if you sleep most of the week. Your body suffered significant trauma. It still needs plenty of rest.”
Lena nodded. “Okay.”
“If anything changes, contact myself or Ryan immediately. That includes any expanded numbness in your arm, any sudden change of pain levels, or signs of bruising.” Alex turned on Kara, handing her a sheet of paper. “These are her discharge instructions. At the bottom of the page you’ll see the warning signs of internal bleeding. If she starts exhibiting any of these, get her back here.” She eyed Lena. “You should take a look too. And I mean it. You present with ANY of these, you come right back here.”
Lena nodded, accepting Alex’s conditions without argument. She and Kara left the building less than an hour later, and despite Alex’s warning, she wasn’t prepared for the sudden wave of fatigue that hit her halfway home. The driver took it slow, minding the corner turns to ensure she wasn’t jostled, and though she couldn’t quite rest her weight on the backrest, Lena almost felt comfortable. She suspected that was in large part due to Kara’s presence close beside her, her natural warmth a pleasant counterpoint to the evening sun that flashed between city blocks. It was enough for her to doze, which she only realized when she felt the car slow to a stop outside her building.
At Kara’s urging Lena waited until she came around to open Lena’s door, and when she offered her hand, Lena took it, grateful for the help climbing out onto the curb. Her ribs and chest still ached, and the brace that strapped her right arm to her chest unseated her center of balance. It left her feeling like she was continuously half a step away from listing over. The long trip upstairs zapped what little remained of her energy, and the final shuffle from her front door to the sofa seemed to take ages before she could finally sink onto the cushioned seat.
“You sure you don’t want to go to the bedroom?” Kara asked. Lena cracked one eye open, then closed it with a shake of her head. “Okay. You want anything? Water? Tea? Snack?”
This time, Lena opened both eyes. She patted the cushion next to her, giving Kara a tired smile. “Join me?”
Kara sat stiffly, fidgeting her hands in her lap. For a moment it looked like she would cuddle up against Lena’s good arm, but leaned back at the last second to stay precisely centered on her cushion. Lena stole a glance, and found Kara’s gaze stuck to her own lap, hands tucked between her knees to keep them from straying. Without a word, Lena reached out and snagged Kara’s arm, and pulled her closer until she could lean into Kara’s side. She wasn’t broken or fragile--just tender. The tension in Kara’s shoulder melted under Lena’s cheek, and her head tilted to lean against Lena’s.
“It’s good to be home,” Lena murmured, content and warm. The DEO topped every hospital in the area in equipment and privacy, but the one thing it lacked was quiet. The perpetual motion of people moving constantly, the muffled announcements from the overhead filtering in, all of it had buzzed at her through the walls. Even when she and Kara had been alone, Lena felt like she was in a fishbowl, with hidden eyes always watching. Here, in the comfort and privacy of her home, she felt her own tension dissolve as well.
In minutes, however, it was replaced with a new unease. The last time they’d been here, Lena had gone to bed angry, hurt, and in pain. Words had been said in anger, accusations thrown that were never answered. She felt the weight of those words now, settling in her chest and in the reticence she still felt in Kara.
“We need to talk, don’t we?” Kara asked, her voice quiet.
Lena opened her eyes. She nodded. “But not tonight.”
Kara found her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Okay.”
A few moments later, Kara fidgeted and Lena pulled herself up off her shoulder. “We will need to have one important talk tonight,” Kara warned, an unexpected mirth brightening the growing heaviness in the air. Lena’s only response was a skeptical lift of her eyebrow, a smirk pursing her lips.
“Alex left us very specific instructions,” Kara continued.
“Did she?” Lena returned, gladly sliding into the game.
“Oh, yes,” Kara countered, giggling. She took out a piece of paper from her pocket-- not her discharge papers. This was a page torn from Kara’s reporter pad, the perforations still jagged along the top. It crinkled in her fingers as she unfolded it. “Meds, obviously. We’ve gotta keep you hydrated, duh. Plenty of rest… Oh, and look here-- Absolutely no work whatsoever.”
“It does not day that!”
“Yes, it does!” Kara laughed, pulling the paper out of reach from Lena’s half-hearted grab. “See? Right here under ‘let Kara pamper you’.”
“Oh, it does, does it?”
Kara grinned, satisfied. “Mmhmm! And right after that is eat lots of ice cream, and --ah!” Lena jabbed a finger into ticklish ribs. “And under that is ‘do whatever Kara says’!” Kara escaped Lena’s repeated poking by jumping up from the couch, giggling. Lena let her go, then watched smiling as Kara lifted the paper and pointed to a non-specific line of scribbles. “See! Right here!”
Lena tilted her head back, putting on a smouldering smirk. Kara’s eyes darted to her lips, and Lena knew she had her attention. “I don’t know,” she teased. “If pampering me comes first, doesn’t that mean you should be doing what I say?”
Kara’s eyes widened, her throat working around a nearly audible gulp. “Normally, yes. But--” A loud, hungry grumble interrupted her, and her eyes locked on Lena’s stomach. “Whoa.” Her eyes lifted, her own eyebrow lifting to mimic Lena’s. “Not hungry, huh?”
Lena could only shrug, sheepish. Kara folded her list back up and tucked it into her back pocket before clapping her hands together. “All right, first order of business: what do you want for dinner? I saw pasta in the cupboard. I could make a carbonara…” she trailed off when she caught sight of Lena’s wrinkled nose. “What?”
“Pizza,” Lena requested. Just the thought of either of them cooking tired her out more, and honestly she would fall asleep before any pasta cooked. “Let’s order in pizza.”
Kara grinned, her eyes alight with mirth. “Has Mr. Young ever signed for a pizza?”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Lena yawned. “But maybe call down to give him a heads up.”
“You’re the boss,” Kara chirped. “Ooh! I wonder if Vito’s delivers all the way out here? Well, even if they don’t, I could always just pop over. Actually, that would be even faster. I should just order it for pick up--”
It took far too long for Lena’s muddled brain to catch on to the fact that Kara intended to fly to pick up pizza. The sharp reminder of Supergirl washed over her in an icy wave, chilling her good mood. Lena watched with new alertness as Kara bopped around her kitchen, and she struggled to reconcile the grin Kara shot her over the mouthpiece of her phone as she dialed Vito’s with the shock and betrayal of Kara’s stare when they’d argued. When Kara had finally, for the first time, looked at her the way the rest of the world did.
Lena pasted a smile back on as Kara hung up and trotted back up to plop back down on the couch next to her.
“Vito’s does deliver out here!” she announced. “Food is on the way, and Mr. Young has been warned.”
Lena nodded. Kara plunked down next to her, and Lena shrugged off her uneasiness. The fatigue returned quickly, and this time she didn’t fight it. She let her thoughts still, and dozed until the pizza arrived. She managed to get one slice down before yawning again.
“Okay,” Kara chirped. “Bedtime!” Lena only uttered a wordless groan, entirely unenthused by the prospect of moving. Her bed would be more comfortable than the sofa, but the chore of getting there outweighed any motivation to rise. Kara didn’t falter for a second. “I can carry you…”
The offer washed Lena’s lethargy away in an instant. “No,” she said quickly. She straightened, rising to her feet, but moved too fast. Her ribs twinged, and Kara saw her grimace. Kara popped eagerly out of her seat.
“Really, it’s no trouble!” She reached for Lena.
“I said NO,” Lena snapped, pulling away. Kara froze, hurt flashing across her features as she snatched her hands away.
“I know you’re trying to help, but this is not helping.”
“What--what do you mean?”
Lena ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know, Kara,” she huffed. “I meant what I said about not having this talk tonight. Just… please listen to me when I say that I don’t want to be carried, I don’t want to fly anywhere, so just please stop.”
“I--” Kara’s voice cracked. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...”
“I’m not angry,” Lena said, then sighed. Her fingers returned to her hair again, pushing it away from her face. “Or maybe I am. I don’t know how I feel about all this.” She saw Kara’s shoulders slump, and guilt clawed at her. “Kara…”
“No,” Kara waved it way. “You’re right. I should have realized it would bother you. I keep forgetting that you haven’t had time to process, with everything.”
Lena looked away, wrapping her arm across herself uncertainly. She could feel Kara’s almost palpable desire to talk, to make things right. Lena felt herself wanting to oblige her. She chewed her lip uncertainly. The last time she’d relented, only more hurt had come from it. And unlike that night, when anger and pain made her thoughts sharp, her mind now felt cloudy with exhaustion. If she said anything else, Lena knew she would only come to regret it.
“I’m really tired,” she said finally. “I think I’m going to go to bed.”
Kara nodded quickly. “Of course. I’ll clean up out here.”
Lena nodded too, moving towards the bedroom. Halfway there, she paused and turned back. “Hey.” Kara paused, tilting her head to look at Lena, hands full of plates. “See you in there?”
It was an invitation, one she hoped Kara would accept. Kara’s tension softened into a relieved smile. “Yeah. Absolutely.”
Lena got ready for bed as quickly as she could, and she told herself it was so she could sleep sooner, and not because she dreaded Kara’s inevitable offer to help. Being helpful was Kara’s reason for being there, and Lena would be accepting her help before the week was out-- to fix her hair, to button shirts, to cook and tidy and countless other things she hadn’t even considered yet. But she could handle brushing her teeth. Even if it meant struggling with the twist cap on the toothpaste, and devoting actual thought to not jabbing her gums with her off-hand clumsiness.
She could handle washing her face as well, even if it meant getting more water on the sink than on her face, and dripping cleanser on her shirt, and getting the straps of her sling damp by accident. As she dried her face she finally glanced in the mirror, only to look away sharply when her eyes caught on the edge of a well-defined bruise peeking out over the edge of the sling.
Lena gingerly lowered herself onto the bed, shifting for several moments until she found a position that worked. Her eyes closed only moments before Kara entered. She let her eyes remain shut, even as she tracked every sound coming from the bathroom as Kara freshened up, every dip in the mattress when she climbed into bed behind Lena.
She listened to Kara’s breathing as it evened out into sleep, and only then allowed her eyes to open. The dark room pressed in on her. Exhaustion deadened her limbs, but her mind raced, looping back to the afternoon Superman appeared in her living room.
Her memory replayed his slow advance into her kitchen. The phantom edge of the kitchen counter pressed against her spine. His suspicions echoed in her ear, his visible disdain for her grating against every nerve. Again she watched Superman’s rage shift into something darker, in that chilling moment Kara’s name slipped from her lips. Lena’s fingers traced the bruise lurking under the sling, clearly marking the outline of a broad hand in deep purple.
Lena pressed her eyes shut. Kara’s timely intervention had prevented greater harm, but what if she hadn’t been there? Lena had been helpless to stop him. She could blame part of that on her injury, but even at full strength what could she have done? When she first laid her eyes on Lex’s warsuit, the night her mother had forced her to open the vault, Lena had recognized the intention behind it, the desire to level the playing field. But to her it wasn’t an equalizer, but a destroyer. It was Lex’s descent into madness, it was her family ripped apart. Only now did Lena understand the need for it -- the deep fear of facing a threat so far beyond her own capabilities, of needing a defense that could withstand the might of Superman.
“Now you sound like your brother.”
Kara’s words chilled her even now. Lena couldn’t deny the truth of them, not anymore. It seemed she was one step closer to the Luthor legacy after all. If her mother ever learned of Lena’s thoughts, she might even be proud. She’d gotten lucky. Kara had placed herself between Lena and Superman. She’d defended Lena with all of her might--and with her next breath defended her cousin’s aggression as a mistake. Kal didn’t mean to.
Lena’s pizza dinner churned dangerously in her stomach. She abandoned the pretense of sleep, carefully peeling back the duvet to creep out of bed. The living room remained partially lit, thanks to the single lamp Kara had left on. Lena padded barefoot across the room, and something in her chest unclenched when she saw the lock on the french doors was fully latched. Still, she gave them a tug, even as she scolded her own foolishness for worrying about a simple lock when the person she wanted to keep out possessed superhuman strength.
“Idiot,” she muttered. She peered past the glare of reflected lamplight to peer into the night sky. The night seemed calm and clear, with no trace of the man of steel. Cold comfort, whispered a voice that sounded like Lex, when a Kryptonian can travel faster than the speed of sound. Lena sighed, letting her forehead thump against the cool glass.
“I’ll never forgive him.”
Lena jerked, looking up to spot Kara’s reflection in the glass. Lena turned, hand lingering on the door handle, registering the bright eyes that showed no trace of sleep, and the tight clench of Kara’s jaw. It seemed she wasn’t insomnia’s only friend tonight. Lena remained where she was, reveling in the chill coming off the glass. It grounded her, kept her mind clear. Lena recognized the anger in Kara’s uncharacteristic glower, the guilt and resentment. For a harrowing moment, Lena felt the sharp twist in her gut at the thought it would be directed at her.
Kara stepped further into the living room, crossing the threshold of the bedroom door. Her arms wrapped tightly around herself-- to ward off the negative emotions, or hold them in, Lena couldn’t tell. “I don’t expect you to forgive him either.” Kara paused, her gaze lifting to Lena’s. “Or me.”
Lena stared at her. “You?”
“I’ve been a really bad friend to you, Lena.” Kara crossed slowly to the sofa and took up a stiff perch at the far end. Lena didn’t think she’d ever seen Kara move so sedately. “When we came home that night, you had just been through something that scared you. That hurt you. And when I should have been supporting you, I could only think about how betrayed I felt.”
Kara nodded, pulling one of the sofa’s throw pillows to her chest. “It’s so stupid. There wasn’t even any kryptonite to speak of, but it was all I could think about. I should have respected that you weren’t ready to talk about it.”
“I’m still not ready to talk about this,” Lena told her.
“I know,” Kara confirmed. “And we don’t have to. But there’s something I need you to hear.”
A thrum of satisfaction warmed Lena’s chest as she realized that this must have been weighing on Kara since it happened. The satisfaction didn’t come from any sense of malice, but rather the surprise that Kara cared enough about her to feel that way. When Lena nodded, Kara continued.
“Everything you said that night was true. I’m sorry I tried to make excuses for Kal. I didn’t want to believe that he would do something like that, because if he did, then I could too.” Kara lifted her chin from the pillow, looking at Lena with watering eyes. “But no matter the reason, the fact that I put my fears above your own is inexcusable. I’m so sorry.”
Lena’s sharp intake of breath twinged her sore ribs. Her throat locked painfully, any response she might have formed trapped behind the sudden lump. When Lena remained silent, Kara set her pillow aside and rose to her feet. She met Lena’s gaze and held it.
“I promise you, Lena, I won’t make that mistake again. Anything I can do to help you feel safe, and comfortable, I’ll do it. I’ll stop using my powers around you, I’ll stop talking about what I do with the DEO… Anything.”
Lena dipped her chin, unable to hold Kara’s fierce intensity. From exhaustion or worry, her thoughts scattered to the winds, chasing fear and concern in a dozen directions until she couldn’t keep track of them. With concerted effort, she dragged herself back piece by piece, until she could focus on the here, the now. What did she need, right this moment?
When she raised her head, Lena felt some of her strength return. The lump in her throat disappeared, freeing her voice. “I need space.”
Kara jerked at the softly uttered words, quickly hidden behind a stoic mask. She hesitated. “Alex said you needed someone with you, for now.” Her glance shifted away in thought. “I could find someone else? James, maybe--”
“No--” Lena interrupted. “I don’t mean tonight. But before we talk, I need to think, I need to process what’s happened-- and I need to do it alone.” She took a deep breath. “So when I’m able to live on my own again, I need space, and time to work out what I need. And then we’ll talk.”
“Okay,” Kara said. Her chin trembled and she hid it by wiping her nose of her pajama sleeve. When her gaze next met Lena’s, her emotions had steadied, and her voice was calm. “How long?”
“I don’t know, a week? Maybe two.” Lena’s left shoulder rose in a shrug. “I don’t know.”
Kara nodded. “Do you want me to stay out here until then?”
Lena considered the offer. But… she didn’t want that. She didn’t want Kara to tiptoe around her for the next week, terrified of making things worse, while also helping with the mundane tasks Lena had yet to master. Braiding her hair, buttoning her shirt, changing the bandages on her shoulder-- all simple things made intimate by their relationship. Lena didn’t want the awkward silences or strained contact. She wanted normalcy. She needed it, craved it, if only for a week.
“No,” she said finally. “I want us to be our usual selves, as best we can.” Lena paused. “Unless, if you’d prefer…”
“No!” Kara said quickly. “No, of course not. You want normal. I can do normal.”
Lena could sense her insecurity, felt it in her own chest as she wondered how much time Kara would grant her before writing her off as a lost cause. “I promise we will have this talk, Kara.” Kara looked at her as though surprised. Lena swallowed. “I’m not trying to shut you out. It’s just… it’s too much for me to handle all at once.”
Kara smiled, and this time it felt real. “I understand.” She took a step towards Lena. “If you’re not ready to sleep yet, I could make us some hot chocolate?”
Lena smiled back, and pushed away from the terrace doors. “That sounds great.”
She followed Kara into the kitchen, and took up her usual seat at the island to watch Kara work. They didn’t say anything more. The only sounds were the clang of the pot as Kara removed it from the cupboard, the click of the stove turning on, the scrape of the wooden spoon against the bottom of the pan as the milk slowly heated. With her head propped on her fist, Lena’s eyes slipped closed, lulled by the slow, steady sounds. They didn’t open again until Kara gently touched her elbow. Lena blinked blearily, slowly focusing on a cold cup of cocoa sitting in front of her. She glanced at the clock, and saw almost an hour had passed without her.
“You should have woken me.”
“I tried,” Kara said softly. “You kinda hummed at me, but then you drifted off again. Figured you needed it.” She smiled at Lena, and Lena felt an embarrassed blush spreading up her neck and across her cheeks. Kara extended her hand, tilting her head towards the bedroom. “C’mon. Let’s go to bed.”
Lena accepted the offer, and Kara’s hand, without a second thought.
Kara didn’t have to fight Lena about Alex’s instructions after all. It turned out her ward required little wrangling when she spent most of the day asleep in bed. Kara had hoped that she could use the quiet time to clean, but quickly realized that Lena’s apartment didn’t need any deep cleaning. It barely needed a decluttering. All she had were the dishes they used and the barest amount of laundry-- much of which was hers, since Lena had yet to wear anything but pajamas since leaving the DEO.
So Kara read-- sometimes in bed next to a dozing Lena, sometimes in the living room or on the terrace, always with her senses trained on the bedroom. In the days they’ve been home, Kara noticed a new habit of Lena’s. Whenever Lena woke, in the morning or from a nap, Kara’s name was the first sound on her lips. She didn’t know if Lena realized she’d started doing it. Oftentimes she dozed off again as soon as Kara called back, but every time Lena blearily uttered her name, it filled Kara with a quiet joy.
She spent day three in the living room, engrossed in a hefty biography about Eleanor of Aquitaine, borrowed off one of Lena’s broad bookshelves. As Kara fell deeper into the court intrigues and politics of 10th Century France, she kept one ear cocked for the quiet sound of her name. Today, however, she picked up another sound. From outside the apartment, beyond the terrace and above the treeline, Kara heard the familiar snap of a cape, and air scraping over skin.
Suddenly on high alert, Kara tracked the sound, estimating speed and direction. Her blood ran cold when she realized the sound was headed directly for her. Alarm mingled with rage, waking her sleepy muscles and putting every instinct on edge. She hesitated only once, long enough to cast a thought to the woman still sleeping in the next room. Kara understood that using her powers here made Lena uncomfortable, not to mention that the suburban neighborhood ran a greater risk of being seen than leaving her own apartment did. But the whistle of Clark’s approach made her decision an easy one.
Kara sped into her suit and zoomed out the terrace doors, launching into the air faster than the human eye could track. She raced towards Clark, heart pounding hard enough to make her vision throb. Her ears roared, drowning out the sound of the wind. She spotted the black dot that was Clark within seconds. He slowed, but Kara picked up speed, letting her ire propel her faster and faster. At the last moment she flipped, releasing her rage in a wild scream as she slammed both feet into Clark’s chest.
She heard his grunt of pain, the puff of breath knocked out of him as the force of the blow sent him arcing through the sky. Kara chased after him, snatching the tail of his cape before he’d even stopped tumbling and racing on towards the desert. She pushed her speed until the sound barrier cracked against her skin, and they lurched forward. A heartbeat later they were miles from the city, with nothing but packed dirt as far as even Kara’s eyes could see.
Kara snapped them back under the speed of sound and yanked the cape she still clenched tight in her fist. Her momentum flung Clark into the ground, impacting the earth with enough force to release a pillar of cloying dust from the crater his body had made. Kara's own feet dented the ground when she touched down, eschewing any thought of damage control. There was nothing out here but them. No collateral damage, no structures or lives at risk. She let her anger pour out of every step, every muscle and tendon in her body. Clark slowly rose to his feet, dazed. He took one look at her stormy expression, and faltered.
“I warned you,” she growled, stalking towards him. More dust billowed up with every step she took, clouding the air around them as the ground quaked beneath her boots. Clark pushed himself into the air, either to rise above the dust or escape, but Kara grabbed him by the ankle and slammed him back down. She pinned him there, one hand curling into the neckline of his suit while the other pulled back to strike. “I told you what would happen if you came near her again.”
“I came to talk to you,” Clark gasped. He jerked to the left, and Kara's fist plunged into the ground where his head had been.
"I don’t believe you.” Kara let the heat build in her eyes. Before she could fire, Clark released a lungful of ice, blinding her. In the distraction Clark used his greater weight to flip them until he had Kara pinned beneath him.
“I’m trying to explain!”
“I’ve already heard enough!” Kara bucked her hips upwards, hooking one ankle around his neck. When she scissored her leg down, Clark could only let go or risk breaking his neck. He released her with a grunt. Her leg brought him down, and her other ankle came up to lock around his throat, pinning him. “You’ve said all I need to hear.”
Clark’s fingers found purchase on her ankle. He turned it just enough to slip out of her hold. Kara chased him with a kick, missed, and immediately followed it with a blast of heat vision. Clark caught it on his cape, but when she fired again he released a burst of his own, meeting her with equal force but not an ounce more. She could feel his reticence, his hesitation to do anything to hurt her. The knowledge burned at her. Where was this restraint when he grabbed Lena? When Lena had all but hung from his hand, agonized breaths scraping from her throat?
Kara roared, pouring more energy into the beams shooting from her eyes. Clark barely managed to meet the increased power, the force of it driving him back first one step, then two.
“Lois is pregnant, Kara!"
Clark’s voice barely registered, but when it did, it pierced Kara’s furious haze. She blinked, and her vision lost its heat. Clark looked away as well, leaving them both panting in the desert heat with nothing but dust between them. The news shocked Kara, but it didn’t erase her outrage. It lingered, sharp and cold in her chest. “That’s not possible.”
Clark sagged, struggling to reclaim his breath. “I thought so too,” he puffed. “But it’s true. She opened a note meant for me. It was laced with the same aerosolized kryptonite used in the attack on L-Corp. It put Lois in the hospital, because the baby got sick.”
Kara glowered at him. “And you think Lena sent it,” she surmised with a scoff. “How original. Tell me, did she shoot herself, too?”
“You’re a good person, Kara.” Clark straightened. At the very least, he had the sense to remain where he was, not moving a step closer. Kara’s fists clenched when his eyes narrowed. “I know you want to believe in her. I wanted to believe in Lex, and look at the monster he became--!”
“Lena is not her brother!” Kara’s voice carried high over the desert.
“The note came from--”
“You are done talking!” Kara bellowed, taking a single menacing step forward. Power and rage pulsed against her skin, begging to be released. “You want to talk monsters? Let’s start with you! You entered Lena’s home uninvited. You threatened her. You grabbed her, you shattered her bones and tore her artery open. That day at the DEO, while you were catching up with old friends like nothing was wrong, Lena’s heart stopped. You killed her, Clark. All because your prejudice refused to let you see the truth.”
Clark blanched, uncertainty clouding his gaze for the first time since he’d arrived in National City. “I didn’t mean--”
“Really? Then what did you mean? Tell me, what did you intend to do once you grabbed her? Go on. I’ll wait.”
Kara folded her arms and watched Clark fish for an answer. He couldn’t. Instead, he attempted to dodge. “Everyone in her family hates Supers!”
“That's not a crime, Clark!” Kara shook her head, dragging her fingers through her hair in frustration. She struggled to breathe, the anger in her chest strangling her. “Lex’s crime wasn’t that he hated Superman. His crimes were the lives he took in pursuit of destroying you. And right now you have more in common with that than Lena does.”
Her accusation rang out across the desert, loud and angry. Clark’s eyes flashed, his temper growing hot in the space of a heartbeat before it cooled once more. He schooled his features until not a trace of his anger showed. It lingered only in his eyes, tempered steel glinting in the desert sun. In that moment, Kara realized she was fighting an endless battle. Nothing she said would ever change his mind.
“Haven’t you already taken enough, Clark?”
Her voice was quiet, but Clark heard her easily. She felt his confusion, expected it. She smiled a cold, mirthless smile that carved her cheeks open and laid her bare.
“I envy you, Clark. You don’t remember. But I do. I remember my parents, and yours. And for years I wished I hadn’t been sent here after you. If it weren't for you, I could have died with them, and I wouldn’t have had to face a life without them.”
Clark’s face darkened. Kara felt the grief bubbling up from deep within her, the hurt that she worked everyday to cover with friends and tenderness and warm hugs from Alex. The hurt that never went away. This time, she didn’t stamp it back down. She called it up, channeled it into the words that had lurked inside her for so many years.
“But instead they sent me with you, and when I got here, you were grown up. You didn’t need me. And you didn’t want me. You left me with strangers! I didn’t have a reason to survive anymore. I eventually got why you left me there. I understood.”
Clark stared at her, disbelief stealing past his impassive expression to lift his eyebrows, parting his lips. It occurred to Kara that Clark didn’t know this part of her. She could count on one hand the number of times he spent more than one day in a row with her, and the visits so few and far between that every time he came felt like Christmas, leaving no room for anything more than excitement and babbled stories of all she’d learned and seen and done. It wasn’t until later, after each time he left, that the dark resentment reared its head.
“But understanding didn’t help with the loneliness,” she continued, “or the guilt, or missing a home and a life that didn’t exist anymore. I had no one, until Alex finally warmed up to me. And then it was her and me against the world. And when she met Maggie, I resented her! I was hurt that she suddenly didn’t need me anymore. I didn’t understand how she could belong with anyone else, when for so long it was just us. But then I met Lena. I got to know her, and at first I saw myself in her, but then I saw her and everything she is, and… I finally understand. I understand Alex, and why you didn’t immediately cling to me when I landed. I understand, because when I look at Lena... it feels like home.”
She finally understood why Alex had been so breathless when she talked about Maggie. Because suddenly, after a long day rest wasn’t just Kara's bed and a pillow. It was lunch with Lena on her office couch, laughing over Chinese food, or donuts on a late night. A weekend wasn’t just a break from work-- it was going to flea markets with Lena, it was a walk in the park with Lena looping her arm through Kara’s. Home wasn’t Hope Street or a fifth floor apartment in the suburbs. It was pale green eyes and a bright smile; it was the warmth that pooled in her chest when Lena texted her in the middle of a workday. It was a giggle in the morning while the coffee brewed; it was burnt eggs and a stack of pancakes all to herself.
Kara glared at Clark, a new desperation surging in her chest. “And now you stand there, telling me you think you know her better than I do. Like you claim to know the el-mayarah better-- as if you have any clue at all. You want to take my home away from me! AGAIN! ”
She marched up to him, fists clenched at her sides. Her hands shook, even as Clark balked, retreating as she approached to keep the distance between them. This time, Kara didn’t lash out. She met him, inch for inch, toe to toe, and glared him dead in the eye.
“The difference this time,” she snarled, “is that I have a choice. And I choose Lena, even if that means losing you. I won’t let you take her from me too.”
“We’re done here,” Kara told him. She backed off abruptly, putting several paces between them. She didn’t break eye contact. “Lena is off-limits. So is National City. I don’t want to see you again.”
Kara turned on her heel and launched herself into the sky. She heard a call start and die in Clark’s throat behind her. She watched from a distance as he stared after her, his eyes tracking the wide circle she flew over the desert. She didn’t peel away until Clark took off, heading away from National City. When she was certain he was gone, Kara turned, and headed towards home.
Lena woke to a quiet apartment. She rubbed her eyes, groaning at the grit that pulled on her eyelashes. “Kara?” she called. Unease stole over her sleep-blurred mind when no one responded. Carefully, she crawled out of bed, taking it in stages as sleep-stiff muscles tugged at her ribs and shoulder. Once she was steady on her feet, she shuffled out into the living room.
The terrace doors stood open, curtains billowing in the soft breeze. Lena spotted Eleanor of Aquitaine on the floor, and registered the shirt discarded across the back of the sofa, half inside out, and Kara's phone sitting on the coffee table. Kara’s jeans lay forgotten on the kitchen floor, as though a whirlwind had come and tossed the clothes to opposite sides of the room.
Lena swallowed painfully, exhaustion chased away by alarm. She picked up her phone and dialed the number she’d memorized from her discharge papers, sparing a glance for the equally empty terrace as she connected.
“Danvers,” Alex answered on the second ring.
“Agent Danvers, this is--”
“Lena. What’s wrong?”
Lena closed her eyes, feeling her panic rise. “I was hoping you could tell me.” She forced her voice to remain even. “Kara’s not here. Was she called out?”
Alex paused, and the background noise fell away. “No. Hold on…” Lena waited, and Alex came back a few moments later. “She’s not on comms.”
“And her phone is still here.” Lena sighed. There were few things Lena imagined would pull Kara away with no warning and no note, and only one that was likely.
“We can dispatch some units--”
“No,” Lena said quickly. She pressed her eyes shut. “This may be a… family matter.”
“Ah,” Alex caught on. “Last I heard, he’d gone back to Metropolis.” She paused. “Do you want me to come over?”
Lena’s breath hitched at the unexpected offer. She shook her head. “No. It’s fine.”
“Okay.” Across the line, Lena heard a disembodied voice call Alex’s name. “He won’t hurt her, Lena. She’ll be fine.”
“She’s not the one I’m worried about,” Lena admitted, her voice lowering.
She could almost hear Alex smile. “Check in with me if she’s not back in twenty, okay?”
“Sure,” Lena agreed. “Thank you, Agent Danvers.”
“Alex,” came the succinct correction. “And call sooner if you need anything. Maggie’s on standby.”
Lena chuckled. “Thanks. You’ll hear from us soon.”
When she hung up, Lena tapped the phone against her chin. The warmth Alex’s kindness had sparked in her faded quickly in the face of an empty apartment. She checked the kitchen again, collecting the jeans as she looked again for any trace of a note. She found nothing. She collected the t-shirt as well, folding both items and placing them on the coffee table before moving to the terrace. There she paced, anxiously checking the phone she held tightly in her fist. She scanned the horizon repeatedly, so caught up in worrying that she almost missed the whoosh and faint breeze of a body flying into her living room. She turned on her heel, catching sight of the billowing curtains that soon gave way to Kara Danvers, dressed once more in her jeans and t-shirt. Lena slowed, scanning for injury, and found nothing but a tight jaw and glum features twisted with guilt.
“I’m sorry,” Kara said. She didn’t say what for-- leaving Lena alone, not leaving a note, using her powers to leave the apartment in the middle of the day, for worrying her. Maybe all of the above. Lena didn’t care. She drew to a stop a few paces shy of Kara, nervously ducking her chin.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Kara blinked, as though surprised by the question, then nodded. Lena hesitated. “It was him, wasn’t it?”
“He didn’t come here,” Kara promised. “He never even got close.”
Lena closed the distance between them, wrapping her arm around Kara’s shoulders. Kara instinctively returned the gesture, delicately at first, then firming as she sank into the embrace. “I’m sorry,” Lena said softly. Kara’s arms tightened around her waist. “I never wanted to drive a wedge between you.”
Kara shook her head, pulling away. “You didn’t,” she told Lena forcefully. “He did.”
“I don’t want to be the reason you and your family--”
“You are my family, Lena. You and Alex and Winn and James and Maggie and J’onn. Kal was only ever my family by name. As if that means anything when he doesn’t even know what it is to be the House of El. You probably understand that more than he does-- to be the living legacy of a dying family.”
A shock shot down Lena’s spine, making her jerk. Kara saw it, and the storm clouds hanging over her evaporated into guilt. “Oh! Lena, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--”
“No, it’s okay,” Lena replied honestly. “You’re right. I just… never thought about it that way.”
A new ache settled in her bones, one that had nothing to do with her injury or the meds she was late in taking. She ached for her brother; for the Lex who'd held her hand and taught her to look at the world with scientific wonder. She wanted her father’s smiles, the ones that made her feel like the brightest thing in his world. She longed for the days when moments of affection meant nothing more than love-- before she learned to look for signs of manipulation and hidden agendas.
Kara grasped her hand. Lena met her gaze, and found understanding looking back at her. She cleared her throat. “You should call your sister,” Lena suggested. “I may have worried her when I told her you weren’t here.”
Kara nodded. “I need to tell them what happened anyway.”
“And I need to medicate,” Lena announced. She focused on the more immediate pain of her shoulder and side, letting her childhood retreat back into the past. She shot Kara a look. “Hungry?” When Kara nodded, Lena smiled. “Then I’ll make lunch while you call.”
“Want to go for a walk after?” Kara asked. Lena nodded. It was a beautiful day, now that she had the peace of mind to enjoy it. A light breeze carried the scent of blooming flowers, and the sun shone with the gentle warmth of spring.
“That would be nice,” she agreed, earning a bright smile in response. As Lena turned and went back inside, Superman’s looming shadow blew away in the breeze. Lena doubted he'd keep his distance for long; if he was anything like Lex, he wouldn't know how to let it go. But even with the lingering apprehension, a new realization filled her with something more like hope. The decision Kara had faced was one Lena knew all too well. But in spite of everything, despite their arguments and differences… Kara had chosen her, over the last blood relative she had left in the galaxy.
Lena watched Kara through the kitchen window as she made lunch, taking in the wan smile as Kara relayed the events of the day to Alex. She noticed the slump of Kara's shoulders, and the arm she tucked against her stomach as she spoke silent words into the phone. Lena's heart ached for her-- she knew better than anyone the pain of leaving family behind. But then Kara's eyes caught on hers, warming into a smile, and Lena felt something inside her click into place.
She was home.
The week passed too quickly. After Kara’s confrontation with Clark, things remained quiet, and by Thursday Lena was awake the entire day. Lena even honored their unofficial pact of no-work, checking in only once with Jess to be sure the office hadn’t burned down in her absence. Kara half-listened to Lena’s end of the phone call, her attention split between that and the Eleanor biography she still had yet to finish.
“Queen Eleanor is so interesting,” Kara remarked when Lena reentered the living room after hanging up with Jess. “On the one hand, all evidence points to her being this headstrong political leader, charging into Crusades and leading with an iron fist… but then in the next chapter she’s painted as this gentle soul who loves old songs and the legends of Camelot. I mean, she had a cult of love, for crying out loud!”
“Court of love,” Lena corrected distractedly, “and it’s existence is largely speculative.” Her eyebrows drew together in confusion as she finally lifted her eyes from her phone to Kara. “Kara, why did Jess ask me about my bedsheets?”
Kara blinked, surprised by the question, then flushed. “Oh, um--”
Lena stared at her, and then Kara saw the puzzle pieces click together behind Lena’s eyes. “Oh my god. They would have been ruined-- I didn’t even think...”
Kara swallowed thickly. When the bullet fragment tore Lena’s artery, most of the bleeding had collected in her chest. But enough had pulsed out of the wound in her shoulder to leave a body-shaped pool of blood on the bed. “Kara, what…?”
“They were. Ruined, I mean.” Kara pushed her glasses higher on her nose. “I called Jess, and she looked through your old credit card transactions to find out where you got them. Maggie and Winn bought a new set, and before we left the DEO I came back and changed everything out.”
Lena stared at her. Kara felt uncertainty steal over her, sensing that she’d overstepped some unspoken boundary. “I just-- you didn’t need to see that, and I know it’s important that things in here be yours, so I didn’t want to risk getting something you didn’t like...?”
She looked up over the rim of her glasses, and found a tiny smile curling Lena’s lips, her eyes suddenly damp. “Thank you,” she said. “That was really thoughtful.”
“Any time.” Kara swallowed around the lump in her throat. They were nearing the end of their mandated week, and things had been peaceful between them. Normal came easy, and Kara had almost been able to let herself believe that things were just fine. But the memory of the sheets stiff with blood served as a cold reminder that it was only the calm before the storm.
Lena settled on the sofa beside her, running her hand over her eyes. Her movements were more sure now, finally more accustomed to the heavy sling on her right arm. Day by day she seemed more like her old self. Soon she’d be ready to face the world again.
“Tomorrow’s Monday,” Kara said softly. Lena nodded. “I can tell Snapper I need more time…”
“No,” Lena replied emphatically. “You’ve already missed enough work. So have I.”
Kara nodded. Her gaze dropped to the open book in her lap, the words swimming in front of her eyes. “So… you still want me to go?”
Lena didn’t respond. When Kara sent her a glance, Lena’s eyes stared at her lap. “Lena?”
“Yes,” Lena said softly.
Kara nodded. She looked back down at her book. “Okay. After work tomorrow, I’ll go home.” Lena nodded. “You’ll call me? If you need anything?”
She probably wouldn’t. Lena had a knack for finding the tricks to living one-handed, and even now, Kara hadn’t done anything for her the entire day except braid her hair. She would be fine. Lena still humored her by nodding.
“Of course. And as soon as we’re both ready, we’ll talk.”
The next morning, Kara returned to CatCo. Lena texted her once, to confirm she’d made it to L-Corp. Kara didn’t need to reach to find enough work to keep her busy. Between the papers piled high on her desk and Alex’s text requesting Supergirl’s assistance in the lower wards near sundown, she could almost feel normal flying back to her own apartment. Right up until the moment she curled up in an empty bed, and went to sleep alone.
Nearly two weeks later, Lena swept into Ryan Starratt’s office with an apologetic smile. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Ryan shot back a grin of his own. He took a peek behind Lena. “No entourage today?”
“Not this time,” Lena replied easily. “Thank you so much for seeing me last minute.”
Jess had done an amazing job keeping the office afloat in Lena’s absence, but even so her return had been met with wall-to-wall meetings. Departmental meetings to catch up on the newest developments (and guide them back on track where necessary), investor calls and lunches and dinners to assure them that their investments in L-Corp were still sound.
On top of all that, even Lena’s time at home wasn’t safe-- any moment not at L-Corp she spent in her home office, working on another project altogether. In all the bustle, her original appointment with Ryan had been rescheduled twice, so when today’s lunch meeting had suddenly cancelled, Lena’s first call had been to Ryan’s office. Her second had been to Kara, but only got her voicemail. Lena learned why on the ride over-- some sort of Langaran battle-cat terrorizing workers near the piers had her full attention.
For all Lena didn’t say, Ryan only nodded in understanding. “I remember the life of a CEO is never quiet. How are things going now that you’re back at work?”
Lena set her briefcase on the visitor chair, rolling her shoulder to relieve the tension that had settled there. She’d attached a shoulder strap to her usual bag to keep her hand free to navigate doors and shake hands, and had yet to grow accustomed to the undistributed weight.
“I’m surprised the building is still standing, honestly,” she joked, though in the back of her mind she made a note to give Jess a raise. And a bonus, with maybe some extra time off for the next holiday.
Ryan waved her onto the exam table. Lena complied, but not without a roll of her eyes. She’d prefer to be examined in the visitor’s chair, rather than up on the table, but after twelve days of fighting battles at L-Corp, Lena saved her breath and climbed up.
“And how are you feeling?” he asked. He helped remove her brace with gentle fingers. As soon as the support was taken away, the ache in Lena’s shoulder skyrocketed. Most unsettling, however, was the way the pain faded distinctly as it trailed towards her elbow.
“The pain is manageable, mostly,” Lena replied with a grunt. The first few days of normal activity on her return to L-Corp had been the worst following her release from the DEO, but Lena had either adjusted or the injury healed more, because now the sharpness had eased into a low-key, continuous ache.
“You’ve been doing the exercises Alex gave you?”
Lena nodded quietly. With the near constant use of the brace, they’d both worried about muscle loss. To combat it, the exercises had focused on replicating flexion and pronation. Kara had helped at first, but when she left, Lena had been doing them alone.
“Let’s hear it,” Ryan prodded, taking Lena’s right hand gently bending her wrist. Lena watched his ministrations silently, as she did when she performed the exercises herself.
She took a deep breath. “The back of my arm is still numb,” Lena said. “And there’s nothing below the elbow.”
Ryan nodded. He pressed his thumbnail against her nail bed, and monitored the capillary fill. “Okay. The good news is that it looks like the artery repair is holding. Blood flow looks good, even in the extremities. The nerve damage found in the initial surgery was limited to the C6 nerve trunk, but the continued numbness you describe indicates the damage could extend through the T1 as well.”
He gently returned her hand to her lap before reaching for a pair of sterile gloves. Lena instinctively reached over to cradle her arm with her left. When Ryan turned back, he carefully pulled back the bandage on her chest to reveal the entry wound.
“This is healing nicely,” he remarked, carefully probing the skin around the sutures. “How does that feel?”
“Like a bruise.”
Ryan nodded. “Good.” He stripped off his gloves. “I’d say you can leave the dressing off. If you find the fabric of your blouse irritates it, you can cover it with a light bandage, but remove it at home if you feel comfortable. We want it to breathe.”
Lena met his gaze. “What’s next?”
“Surgery.” He didn’t waste any words. “The sooner the better. The quicker we get the scapula and nerves put back together, the greater the chance of regaining full function.” Lena closed her eyes. L-Corp was just starting to even out again. Another long absence would pitch it back into chaos. “The procedure itself will be extensive, and we’ll keep you overnight for observation, but barring any complications you could be home within 48 hours.”
Lena brightened, but Ryan lifted his hand to keep her hopes from rising too far. “You won’t want to move for a few days after that, and I’m going to enforce that with doctor’s orders. But the recovery period will be much shorter once everything in there is stabilized. Optimistically, I could see you back at work before the week is out. But do not overdo it.”
Ryan skewered her with a knowing look, making Lena tighten her jaw with annoyance. There were drawbacks to being treated by someone familiar with her work habits. Still, she hadn’t heard anything against working from home, so she filed that away for later and acquiesced with a nod. “All right.”
“Now, we can set up a date and time for the procedure before we finish, but I recommend giving it at least a few days, give you some time to--”
“It’ll have to be at least a week.” Her mind flashed back to the project tucked away in her home office. She’d have preferred a month to finalize her plans, but she doubted Ryan would grant her that long. Lena dragged a hand over tired eyes. There was just so much to do: complete her project, prepare L-Corp for another absence… and Kara. She couldn’t go into another surgery before talking with Kara. Even a week didn’t seem like enough time to do it all.
Ryan nodded, then paused. His expression grew uncharacteristically solemn. He sank back down onto his stool, spinning, to face her. “Lena, this is a relatively low-risk procedure, but any surgery carries its own danger. I assume you have a living will established?”
Her heart hammered in her chest as Lena nodded. First established when she turned sixteen, a living will was simply a matter of course for a Luthor. When she added Kara and Supergirl to her visitors list, she’d reviewed the rest of it as well to ensure it was up to date. Ice coursed through her veins at the thought of needing to use it. Lena made a note to review it again: one more task for the coming week.
“Then I recommend you take it easy in the next week,” Ryan suggested. “Spend time with friends and family, and come in relaxed. We’ll take good care of you.”
Lena creased into a heartfelt smile. “I know,” she affirmed. She trusted Ryan, a trust now reinforced by Alex’s esteem of him.
“Good,” Ryan warmed. “Now, let’s get those scans, and we’ll let you go.”
Lena smirked. “I came all this way for fifteen minutes?”
“The second they make the scanners hand-held, I promise you’ll be my first house call.” Ryan chuckled, but Lena didn’t join in. Her tired mind jumped into gear, and in the subsequent quiet Ryan took one look and his eyebrows arched towards his hairline. “Don’t tell me there’s already an app for that.”
“Not yet.” Lena tilted her head invitingly. “But there could be.” Ryan grinned, eyes glinting with intrigue. Now it was Lena's turn to chuckle. “I’ll add it to our list of projects to discuss.”
John nodded, helping her back into her sling. “After surgery…” he warned. “Then we’ll talk.”
Kara swooped into her apartment with limbs that felt like lead. What had started as one battle-cat eventually turned into four-- a mama protecting her cubs... which had all grown to full size in the space of an hour. The sun lamps had recharged her cells enough to get home, but her brain felt like it was wading through molasses, and somewhere in there the commands for movement seemed to get waylaid. She barely managed to fumble her way out of her suit before tipping over onto her bed in nothing but her underwear. Only then in the silence did she hear the chirp of a text alert emanating from her phone-- which had spent all day on the kitchen table after she blew out in such a hurry.
She ignored it at first, but when it chirped again, Kara’s thoughts jumped to Lena. Wakefulness returned to her with a start, jolting her out of bed and knocking over a lamp and a trashcan in her stumble to the kitchen. She fumbled her phone on, and saw she’d missed three calls, two voicemails, and a text message, all from Lena. Heart thudding in her chest, she started with the text message.
Lena: Surgery scheduled for next Tuesday at 8am.
Confusion batted at her tired mind. Surgery? But she was supposed to meet with Dr. Starratt first, and-- Kara groaned, keying up the first of the voicemails.
“Hey, it’s me. My lunch meeting cancelled, so I called Ryan and he said he could squeeze me in today. I know you wanted to be there, so call me when you get this.”
“I saw what happened on the news. I’m sorry I went to the appointment without you, but I wasn’t sure when I’d have another chance this week. Anyway, we’ve scheduled the reconstructive surgery for next Tuesday at 8am. Just wanted to let you know. Hope everything's okay by the time you get this. Talk to you soon.”
Kara clenched her eyes shut. Her fist smacked the table in frustration. She’d wanted to be there. Not only would it have been the first time she’d seen Lena in almost two weeks, but she knew Lena had been concerned about what might be found, the closer they got to the follow up appointment. And Lena had actually called her, only for her to be caught up in an alien rodeo trying to wrangle four alien cat beasts. Kara jabbed at her phone screen, ignoring the resulting cracks in the screen to pull up Lena’s number. Lena picked up on the fourth ring.
“I didn’t expect to hear from you until tomorrow,” came a distracted greeting. Kara heard the faint strains of a piano sonata playing from another room, underscoring the exhaustion in Lena’s voice. “Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine,” Kara said quickly. “What about you? Your appointment, Lena, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there…”
There was a pause over the line. The sonata quieted, and Kara heard the shift in Lena’s breathing as she rose from her seat and stretched. “It’s fine, Kara, really. It was a last minute thing, and besides… you had your hands full.”
Kara pinched the bridge of her nose. “But I wanted to be there,” she said quietly. There was another delay on the other end. “Lena?”
“Kara, really, it’s all right.” Lena’s voice sounded thin, exhausted. Kara looked at the clock again and grimaced.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“Hm? Oh, no.” But her voice sounded more alert with every word, and now Kara could hear her continuing to move around. There was a soft click and then the sound of a low wind. Lena had stepped onto her terrace. “Just a little preoccupied.”
Kara’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. he late hour. “I’m sure Dr. Starratt warned you about overworking?”
“Yes, mom , he did.” The bite in Lena’s tone tightened Kara’s spine. In the silence that followed, Lena sighed before issuing a tired apology. “Sorry. But this isn’t work.”
Then it can wait. Kara didn’t say it. “What is it then?”
“It--” Lena caught herself at the last minute. “I can’t say. Yet.”
Kara’s teeth ground together. She hated secrets, though she had no leg to stand on when it came to Lena keeping anything from her. Not after the debacle surrounding her history with James, and certainly not after having kept Supergirl from her so long. So she sidestepped around it, and returned to the reason she’d called in the first place.
“So what did Doctor Starratt say?”
A pause lingered across the line. “It’s-- not ideal.” There was a softness in Lena’s voice that hinted in defeat, making Kara’s heart drop to her knees. “Kara, I’m sorry, but I’m actually kind of in the middle of something,” Lena continued, clearing her throat. “And this is probably a better conversation to have in person anyway. Breakfast tomorrow?”
In an instant, Kara’s spirits lifted. After almost two weeks of daily texts-- sometimes only one a day-- she craved any part of Lena she could get. What she really wanted was the Talk. She wanted to hash out everything that still hung between them: the fight, Lena's misgivings about her powers, or her identity as Supergirl, their new boundaries, the secrets Kara had kept from her for so long... Then maybe finally they could start moving forward like Lena said she wanted to. But from the sound of it, Lena wasn’t there yet.
“Sure!” Kara said brightly. “What time?”
If they met that early, Lena would set her alarm for 5am. It was already nearing midnight. “I don’t think I’ll be coherent that early, after today,” Kara fibbed. It wasn’t quite a lie, but it wasn’t the true reason, either. “Eight or eight-thirty would be better, if you could swing it.”
“I have a conference call with London at 9:00.” Lena hummed thoughtfully to herself. “If we go to the bistro, I think eight would work.”
Kara beamed. “Sounds good. See you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Kara.” Then, more quietly, “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Pleasure thrummed through Kara’s entire being. “Good night, Lena.”
Kara made sure to get to the bistro early the next morning, banking on Lena’s punctuality to get here there right on the dot. This morning, however, 8am passed with no sign of Lena. Kara got seated and pulled out the biography she’d borrowed from Lena’s, still trying to work through the final chapters of Eleanor’s life. She read the same paragraph three times before Lena’s hand softly brushed Kara’s shoulder as she passed to take her seat.
“Still enjoying it, I see,” Lena remarked. “Eleanor is fascinating, isn’t she?”
Kara nodded emphatically, tucking her bookmark back into place. “I didn’t know Richard’s reign was so short. I mean, he’s depicted in all the Robin Hood stories as this just and grand king, but he was only in power for what, ten years? And two of those he was imprisoned abroad!”
Lena’s features creased into an enthusiastic smile. “Eleanor actually reigned longer than both of her sons combined. And that’s not even including her time on the French throne.” Her head tilted in caveat. “She was imprisoned as well, of course. For far longer than Richard. But the fact she ruled again after her release is inspiring.”
“Like someone else I know,” Kara only half-teased. Lena’s brow furrowed briefly before her cheeks flushed. She covered it by shrugging her coat off. Only one arm was threaded through a sleeve-- the other side merely draped over her shoulder, giving her the illusion of wearing a cape. That thought did dangerous things to the butterflies dancing in Kara’s stomach.
When Lena settled into her seat, her phone slid onto the table next to her plate.
“I’m so sorry,” Lena said, “I hate to deal with work while we eat, but things are so crazy right now, and with the surgery coming up, there’s a lot to get done.”
Kara nodded her understanding. She realized a long time ago that Lena’s habit of tucking her phone away while with Kara had been more than simple courtesy. As CEO, Lena’s phone was rarely quiet during work hours, with emails flooding in and texts from Jess reminding her of appointments or warning against an upcoming meeting. For Lena to devote her entire attention to Kara during their meetings-- even before they became dates-- told Kara just how much Lena cared for her.
“It’s fine,” she said, as the waiter came by to take their order. They both declined menus and ordered their favorites-- minus their usual round of mimosas.
“So, your appointment?" Kara asked. "How did it go?”
Lena straightened in her seat, diverting her gaze to where her fingers straightened and re-straightened the utensils poking out from her napkin. “Ryan took some scans and confirmed ruptures of the C7 through T1 nerves.”
“Still nothing below the elbow?”
Lena shook her head. They’d first assumed that her inability to complete the lower arm exercises had been a result of pain and the instability of her shoulder, but as the days passed, and the pain started to ease somewhat, it persisted, and Kara started to suspect it was something else. She also suspected Lena had come to the same conclusion far sooner.
“When I go under for the scapular reconstruction,” Lena continued, “they’ll repair the nerve trunks as well, and hopefully that’ll be it.”
The oversimplification wasn’t lost on Kara. She noted the crinkles at the corners of Lena’s eyes, the ones that meant the meds weren’t quite enough to dull the pain completely. She took stock of the dark circles lurking underneath a layer of concealer, and the distracted cast of Lena’s gaze as her phone vibrated against the table. When Lena lifted it, Kara filed away what limited information she’d been given and vowed to ask Alex what the procedure actually entailed.
“It’s hopeful news then,” Kara remarked as Lena typed a quick reply to an email and set her phone down again. Lena smiled, but the fact it didn’t reach her eyes told Kara she was more worried than she wanted to let on.
“You could say that,” Lena agreed. The waiter chose that moment to bring their food out. Lena smiled her gratitude, already tugging her utensils out of their napkin. The napkin went to her lap, and her fork readily dug into the omelette still gently steaming. “There’s another reason I wanted to meet in person.”
Kara paused halfway through cutting her first piece of waffle, heart leaping into her throat. Were they going to have the Talk after all? She barely refrained from glancing at her watch-- they couldn’t possibly have enough time remaining to talk now, could they? Or maybe the time constraint was deliberate-- an indicator of the brushoff to come. Kara started to shake her head, but froze before Lena could notice. Lena wouldn’t do that to her. Not in public. Not before at least trying to talk it out. She’d promised.
“I’ll be going under general anesthesia for the procedure,” Lena said, unaware of the darkening stream of thoughts running through Kara’s head. Her fork clinked delicately against her plate. “It’s supposed to be a simple procedure, but no surgery is risk-free. I wanted to-- I’ve taken the liberty of naming you my medical proxy.”
Kara’s first mouthful of waffles got stuck in her throat. She coughed, quickly sipping water to clear it before she choked. Lena’s neck flushed a pale pink, her gaze dropping to her plate.
“Really?” Kara rasped.
“I know it’s a little unorthodox, but if anything happens that my living will doesn’t address, there’s no one else I trust to make those decisions for me.” Now Lena merely picked at her omelette, her flush deepening as it crept up to her cheeks. “If you’re not comfortable with it, I’ll have my attorney change it before--”
“No!” Kara blurted. The eyes of the few other patrons on the patio glanced over at them briefly before returning to their own meals. “No,” she repeated more quietly. “I’m happy to be that for you.”
“Of course.” Kara smiled when the uncertainty in Lena’s gaze warmed into relief. “Is there--”
Lena’s phone buzzed again, this time more insistently in the familiar rhythm of an incoming call. Lena glanced at the ID, then grimaced in apology to Kara, who waved her on. Lena answered, rising from her seat. “Yes, Jess, what is it?”
Dragging another piece of waffle through the puddle of syrup congealing on her plate, Kara let her hearing trail over to where Lena found a quieter corner of the patio. She heard Lena accept a line transfer, and then lapse into what sounded like Japanese before tuning out. Without the distraction, her thoughts swirled with what Lena had told her. Medical proxy? The waffle turned to sawdust in her mouth.
Part of her felt honored by the responsibility. Lena could have easily left her will as it must have been for years-- but she’d named Kara to act in her stead should the will prove insufficient. Knowing Lena, she’d probably covered every possibility, but… that meant if Kara did have to make a decision, it wouldn’t be an easy one. Her stomach filled with dread, leaving no more room for waffles.
Kara’s mind began to race with all the things that could go wrong. But then she stopped, her fist tightening on her fork. It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t. Lena would have the best possible care on the planet. In the galaxy! Anything that could go wrong, the combined resources of the DEO and L-Corp and the Fortress of Solitude would be able to fix it. It didn’t matter how fragile the human body was, how temperamental it could be. It would be fine. Absolutely, completely fine--
“I’m so sorry about that,” Lena said, returning to her seat. This time, she tucked her phone into her pocket. “Those Japanese investors I mentioned last week are finally taking the bait, and we’re trying to get them to commit before I have to be out of the office--” Lena fell quiet as she noticed Kara’s expression. “Hey.”
She reached across the table and took Kara’s hand in hers, squeezing gently. Kara clutched at her fingers, fighting the sudden tears burning at her eyes. “Is it really that dangerous a procedure?” Kara asked quietly.
“No,” Lena responded firmly, “not at all. The proxy probably won’t even be needed. I just didn’t want it to be a surprise, in the very slim, off-chance that it was.” Lena offered her a careful smile. “Everything is going to be fine.”
Kara surreptitiously wiped at her eyes. “But you’re worried. I can tell.”
Lena’s eyes widened before she looked away uneasily. She moved to pull her fingers free of Kara’s, but Kara tightened her fingers, exerting the barest amount of pressure. Lena’s eyes flashed, but a moment later her palm opened and turned into Kara’s gripping it firmly.
“Not about that,” Lena confessed.
Kara rubbed her thumb against the back of Lena’s hand. “Then what?”
“The kind of damage Ryan found… Even with surgery, there’s no guarantee of complete recovery. This week has been insane, and I keep thinking how much easier it would be if I could use both hands-- if I could even sign my name properly! To think I might never get it back completely is… disheartening.”
Suddenly, Lena seemed to realize exactly what she’d said. She straightened, giving a capricious smile. “I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, that’s all. I shouldn’t be complaining. So many people are worse off, without even a hope for recovery, so, really-- it’s nothing.”
Kara shook her head. “I don’t care about other people, Lena.” She froze. “I mean, I do, but their pain, better or worse, doesn’t mean you don’t get to react how you need to. You could host a weeklong pity-party, and I’ll be the one bringing the ice cream.” She grinned, and was rewarded with a tiny, but genuine smile. “I mean it, Lena. How you feel is valid, no matter who else may have it worse.”
Lena’s eyes shone in the morning light, and her lips pressed into a thin smile. She nodded once, and when she next exhaled, the sigh felt like she was releasing the weight of the world. Then she blinked, and the tears that had been gathering in her eyes disappeared, and Lena was back on point. Her fingers squeezed Kara’s.
“Oh my gosh! You need to eat!” Kara released her fingers, freeing Lena’s good hand so that she could finish her omelette. Lena chuckled, and obediently reclaimed her fork.
When she took her next bite, Kara could finally release the death grip on her own fork, and it landed in her plate with a clank. Lena’s eyes widened in surprise, nearly choking on her omelette at the sight of the mangled utensil carcass. She laughed again when Kara sneakily wrapped it in a napkin and slid it into her purse. Kara struggled not to make eye contact, knowing that one look at Lena would send them both into fits of laughter.
When the moment passed, Kara finally glanced up at Lena, and warmed at the twinkling eyes that looked back at her. Lena quickly finished her omelette and wordlessly relinquished her fork to Kara, her lips again twisting into that familiar grin. But when Kara accepted the offering, their fingers brushed, and with a jolt, Kara’s mirth turned to a lead ball in her stomach.
“Lena?” A dark eyebrow lifted. “The damaged nerves…” Kara swallowed thickly. “It wasn’t the bullet, was it.”
Lena’s lips parted, but before she could answer, Lena’s phone came to life again, buzzing against Lena’s coat pocket as half a dozen emails and texts arrived in a flood. Lena pressed her eyes shut, then dug into her pocket. Kara doubted she’d answer now, but Kara didn’t need her to. The split second of startled green eyes locking on hers told her all she needed to know.
Lena took one look at the screen before sighing. “I have to go,” she said. “I’m so sorry to cut out early--”
“No, it’s okay,” Kara urged, pasting a smile on her face. She rose to help Lena back into her coat. “I’ll take care of the check.”
Lena hefted her briefcase onto one shoulder, then leaned in to press a kiss to Kara’s cheek. “This is new,” she teased, her voice low in Kara’s ear as her lips lingered on her skin. Kara blinked at the unexpected kiss, an unintelligible stutter popping out of her.
“How often do I get to be the one dashing off mid-meal?”
Kara flushed a deep crimson, but the smile that curled her lips resonated in her bones. “Go,” she said finally, turning her head to peck her own kiss against Lena’s cheek. “Do great things.”
It wasn’t until much, much later than Kara even thought to ask about the Talk. But even as Kara kicked herself, she couldn’t stop thinking about the bounce in Lena’s step as she’d left, and the smile still curling her lips under tired, but sparkling eyes. Giddiness galloped in Kara’s chest and she couldn’t shake her own grin, not even when Snapper did a double take and snarled all the more at the sight of it. In spite of everything, Kara had reclaimed her true superpower. She’d helped Lena feel lighter, without even trying to at all.
A tightness gripped Lena’s chest as she stepped out of CatCo’s elevator. Every better sense told her she shouldn’t be here-- that she shouldn’t have pushed her 2pm meeting to make room for the meeting James had invited her to. She’d initially declined the request when it first came in earlier that morning, but when James mentioned Kara would be joining them Lena had carved out time to make it happen.
She strode across the bullpen, fighting the urge to roll her eyes at Cat Grant’s decision to keep her executive suite on the same floor as the journalists. Every person on the floor seemed to notice her arrival, and the buzz of conversation dipped in volume as she waded through. Her frayed nerves soothed slightly at the sight of Kara bouncing towards her, but when Kara’s smile clouded with confusion, Lena fought the urge to sigh-- she’d been had.
“Why do you look surprised to see me?” Lena asked slowly.
“Uhh,” Kara stammered, slowing to a stop, “because… I am? I mean, it’s a good surprise! I’m always happy to see you, but--” Kara cut herself off. “Did we have lunch plans? I thought you were too busy this week.”
Lena felt her jaw slowly shift forward, lips twisting into a mirthless smirk. “Not lunch,” she replied curtly. “James called my office to arrange a meeting. One he said you were going to be part of.”
“Kara!” James’ call carried across the bullpen, catching their attention. They both turned and saw him beckon from the threshold of his office. Kara’s eyebrows hiked upwards.
She turned back to Lena. “I guess I am!” she chirped with a bright smile, already gravitating towards James’ office. After a moment Lena followed, trailing a few paces behind. Kara bounded into James’ office with long strides, her notepad held to her chest. Lena moved more sedately, but when James extended his right hand in greeting, she brushed past instead of awkwardly trying to return the handshake with her left. Her patience for unintentional oversights had worn thin hours ago.
James didn’t react to the brushoff except to tug the glass doors shut behind them. Lena slowed to a stop, giving the sour-looking man already waiting for them a sharp glance. From his dour expression, Lena presumed him to be Snapper Carr. James came to stand beside her, and gestured to the two sofas sitting empty.
“Thank you for meeting with us, Lena. Please make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything?”
Kara settled on the forward edge of the right hand couch, adjusting her glasses before opening her steno pad. Lena itched to sit next to her, but her irritation kept her rooted to the spot. “What’s this about?” she asked.
Kara’s eyes widened at the bite in her tone, and her gaze suddenly started to bounce between them. Lena forced attention away from Kara and focused on James. Her left arm twitched with the urge to fold her arms across her chest, and covered it by sliding her briefcase off her shoulder and depositing it on the sofa. James rested casually against the back of the same couch, regarding her with a steady gaze. “We’d like to discuss an interview opportunity.”
Lena’s lifted a single eyebrow. “An interview. With me.” James nodded. Lena tilted her head. “CatCo’s been interviewing me for months. Why does this one require a meeting beforehand?”
“Well, we’d like to make it a series, for one thing,” James responded. “And secondly, in the past we’ve framed our interviews with you around L-Corp. This time, we’d like to focus on you, personally.”
Apprehension stole into Lena’s chest and burrowed in deep, tightening around her lungs and threatening to strangle her. She swallowed to clear her throat, and forced a smirk onto her lips. “And here I thought CatCo was above ambulance chasing.”
Kara’s gaze flickered back to Lena, her confusion clearing as she connected the dots. Realizing she was the only one sitting, she stood as well, her expression smoothing into one of somber readiness.
“Just hear us out, okay?” James urged, lifting one hand beseechingly. “We don’t want to cover the attack on L-Corp… we want to cover you and how you’re adjusting.”
This time, it was Kara’s turn to express her reticence. “James, I don’t know…”
“Think about it. There are a lot of people who’ve experienced injuries like yours who could feel a connection to what you’re going through. I imagine someone living with any disability might get something from hearing what you have to say. This interview series would be a way to bring those experiences into the public eye.”
Lena shook her head. “I’m not an activist, James. Surely there are others more qualified to discuss what you’re proposing.”
“You may not be an activist," James countered, "but you are a public figure. A highly visible public figure. It could do a lot of good for people to hear their stories reflected in your experience.”
A tiny smile curled Kara’s lips, and Lena melted a fraction. She sighed, shifting uncomfortably in place. James wasn’t wrong. But at the same time, she just didn’t want to. With everyone’s eyes on her, she hedged her bets-- if nothing else, she could give it more consideration after the surgery. “I’ll think about it.”
But James grimaced, straightening from his lean against the sofa. “Actually, we were hoping to start on this quickly. At the moment, you straddle the line between abled and not. You have a unique perspective that could the disabled community a voice, and bend the ear of the abled. I know it’s a little soon, but I think it’s important that we get the first one published before your next surgery.”
Lena froze. How had he known about her surgery? If the press had already caught wind of it, and turned it into a media frenzy… the blow to L-Corp could be too great to recover from. How in the hell had James learned about the procedure? Ryan wouldn’t have--
“I submitted my vacation request yesterday,” Kara said quietly. “So I could be around if you needed it.”
The alarm jolting Lena’s system abated, then faded completely when she registered the flush to Kara’s cheeks. Clearly, she hadn’t thought it would result in this meeting, and if she had mentioned the surgery to James, it had certainly been as a friend-- not the acting CEO of CatCo Worldwide. Still, what little leeway she’d allowed evaporated.
“I don’t feel comfortable speaking for a community I’m not a part of,” Lena said finally. She also didn’t have time for an interview this week.
“What if we rotated in specialists?” Kara proposed. Lena stared at her, and saw the gears turning as Kara warmed to the idea. “Mobility specialists, ADA inspectors, disability advocates… one for each segment. We could balance it against your experiences, but shift the main focus onto the experts.”
James nodded. “That would work,” he agreed. “We could definitely make that happen.”
They both turned their attention back to Lena, eager for her response. Hesitation gripped Lena in a rare moment of indecision. She didn’t have time for it, she didn’t really want to do it-- but Kara looked at her with poorly concealed enthusiasm, and her desire to not disappoint weighed almost as heavily as her own discomfort.
“Oh, come on, we all know that L-Corp has dropped in the DOW since you got shot,” Snapper pointed out brusquely, speaking up for the first time since the meeting began. “We’re offering you free publicity here, and CatCo publicity is nothing to quibble over.”
Lena’s resolve hardened in an instant. She briefly registered the grimace Kara and James shared, and turned to regard the grizzled man in a wrinkled checkered shirt and khakis sporting the pink remains of a cherry danish. The Luthor in her wanted to sneer-- he looked like the personification of a day old cup of black coffee, but all she allowed herself was an arch eyebrow, and the dismissal of her gaze as she turned back to James without responding to Carr’s interjection.
“I’ll consider it,” Lena said finally. “But only if Kara is the one interviewing.”
It was a sneaky move, and she felt the weight of it as soon as Kara’s face fell. As she’d suspected, Kara’s long absence keeping her company at the DEO and then at home had outed them, insomuch as it affected Kara’s role at CatCo. She wouldn’t be covering L-Corp again. Lena banked on that fact now-- setting the caveat took the onus off her, and would hopefully have the same result.
“Well…” James hedged, unwilling to say as much with Snapper in the room. Snapper didn’t share his consideration.
“Out of the question,” Snapper grumbled. “The bias is untenable.” His tone and Kara’s resulting blush made Lena’s irritation boil over.
“You want a puff piece about my descent into disability,” she snapped over her shoulder, rising to the bait without granting him the satisfaction of her full attention. “What exactly are you hoping to dig up that would make bias an issue?”
When Snapper said nothing further, Lena turned back to James. “You’re asking me to share something incredibly personal. Either I talk to Kara, or not at all.”
“Lena…” Just the sound of her name was weighted with a heavier meaning, and Lena saw his gaze travel to where Kara stood quietly. When he looked back at Lena, it clicked. Her hackles lifted once more, and she squared her jaw against the newest threat.
“You want to feature her too,” Lena realized.
Kara jerked, startled. “Wh-- Wait. What?”
A scoff scraped from Lena’s throat, even as James raced to explain himself. “Her perspective is just as unique, Lena. For caregivers and people who act as support systems to their friends and loved ones--”
“You are unbelievable,” Lena told him, her voice low. She grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder. “I would expect something like this from someone like Snapper Carr--” the name dripped from her lips, and she made no effort to disguise her disdain, “but you should know better.”
“Hang on, Lena--” Kara’s voice mingled with James as they both jumped in to explain themselves.
“Lena, just wait a--”
“This conversation is over.”
Lena turned on her heel and stormed out, leaving all three of them behind. She ignored the stares her furious gait drew from the others in the bullpen, but couldn’t shake the burn of Kara’s gaze where she imagined it burned a hole between her shoulder blades. She made it to the elevator bay, and cursed inwardly when a sharp jab of the button didn’t immediately open the doors. She cursed again when James called out behind her.
“Lena, hey!” He dodged an intern with an armful of papers, and slowed to draw even with Lena. “What was all that about?”
Lena rounded on him. “Are you out of your mind?”
James lifted his hands in automatic surrender. “Whoa… you wanna fill me in here?” Lena turned away, her muscles locking tight with anger. “Lena, it’s just an interview.”
“You can’t possibly be that short-sighted,” Lena growled.
“James, I have less than five days to ensure my company doesn’t implode while I'm out for another goddamn week. Superman is still breathing down my neck and we still have no idea who attacked my building, who sent them, or what they were really after, and now you’ve pulled me here for--”
“Whoa, hold up.” James interrupted his brow furrowing. Lena paused, her stomach lurching at the sudden concern creasing his features. “Superman?” His voice lowered. “Has he tried anything since you got home?”
Lena shook her head, pressing her eyes shut in chagrin; she hadn’t meant to mention anything, especially not to James Olsen. A headache pulsed behind her eyes. “It’s nothing,” Lena said. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”
“I think it’s telling that you did.” James reached out as though to touch Lena’s elbow, but retracted his hand when Lena shifted uncomfortably. “Lena, if he’s done anything--”
“The damage is done,” Lena snapped, cutting him off. James jerked, and his gaze flickered to her sling. She waved him off when she saw realization start to dawn. She didn't want to have this conversation with James. He might be her friend, but he'd been closer friends with Superman-- and for longer. “Look, it doesn’t matter, because believe it or not Superman is about fifth on my list of concerns right now.” She stepped in closer, pitching her voice lower. “And right at the top of that list, above 'someone wanted me murdered on live television'... we have you, wanting to run an expose on how important Kara Danvers is to me.”
James froze. Evidently he hadn’t considered the implications of the attack on L-Corp. Lena couldn't bring herself to blame him, not entirely. Threats on her life were only par for the course for Lena. But as normal as they felt these days, none of them had ever come so close to succeeded. But this time, there'd been no indication that anything like this was being planned. She'd been completely unprepared for the assault on her conference room, and with no information gleaned from the perpetrators before they committed suicide, they had no leads on who had planned it all. They had come so close to succeeding. If not for Supergirl’s-- Kara’s -- choice to risk everything, Lena would be dead. She would not draw Kara into the line of fire again.
But suddenly James only grinned, making Lena’s temper flare once more. “Kara can take care of herself,” James reminded her.
“I'm aware of that,” Lena agreed sharply, “but tell me: what happens when the people who want me dead go after Kara Danvers the CatCo reporter... only to discover she’s bulletproof? ” She dropped her voice to near-inaudible at the last moment, until only James could hear her. She watched him carefully, and smirked when she saw the pieces come together.
“Aaand it clicks…” she drawled, tilting her chin in derision.
James lifted his hands, nodding to confirm her point. “Okay,” he agreed. “So we’ll think of something else--”
“My answer is no, James.” This time, Lena kept her voice firm, inviting no negotiation whatsoever. “No me, and no Kara.”
The elevators dinged open, disgorging a flood of people returning from lunch. Lena strode into elevator, joining the half dozen who had already boarded ahead of her. This time, James made no move to stop her. Just as the doors began to close, Lena thrust out her arm, forcing them to retract.
“Oh, and James," she glared at him where he stood, arms folded unhappily across his chest. He met her gaze. "The next time you drop Kara’s name to get me here sooner...”
Lena caught the barest hint of a wince flickering across his features, confirming her suspicions. He'd known exactly what he’d been doing by inviting Kara to join the meeting.
“You better make sure it's for something more urgent than a half-baked interview idea.”
Heavy thoughts tumbled in James’ mind as he rejoined Kara and Snapper in his office. Kara met his gaze hopefully, only to dim when James shook his head.
“Well, we can’t force her to interview with someone she’s not comfortable with,” Kara remarked.
Snapper harumphed noisily. “Her problem isn’t being interviewed,” he grumbled. “Her hardline was you being interviewed.”
Kara’s brow furrowed. “But--”
“But we’ll respect her decision anyway,” James interrupted. Both Kara and Snapper stared at him. “Lena’s right. We asked something too personal, and didn’t give it the consideration it deserved. That’s on me.”
Kara adjusted her glasses. “It was still a good idea. Can we do it without her?”
“Not a chance,” Snapper answered. “No one is going to care unless there’s a face they know on the front cover.”
“Oh.” Kara’s expression darkened. She looked at James. “So what’s next? Are we just going to scrub the entire thing?”
James considered his options. He’d thought the series would be a way to create something good out of what had happened, and give Lena another opportunity to be a figurehead for resilience and human empathy. He’d been so focused on that, in fact, that he’d failed to examine all the angles.
He'd thought the threat of the attach on L-Corp had died when the gunmen chewed poison, but is still lurked in the shadows, all while another threat floated above the city, even more alarming in its familiarity. Anger and dread mingled in a lead ball in his gut. This time, he'd heard what Lena said, and filled in the spaces of what she hadn't. Clark had caused the damage in Lena's shoulder. Whatever was being fixed in Lena's upcoming surgery, it wasn't the result of the bullet, but rather the angry grip of a man James called his friend.
“We’re still going to pursue the series,” he said finally. Kara took a breath to protest, but James waved her off. “I have to rethink some things, and when we’re ready I’ll be the one to discuss it with Lena. In the meantime, keep doing what you’re doing.”
“The series is worthless if we don’t get something before her surgery,” Snapper reminded him. James almost snapped back, but refrained at the last minute.
“I’ll keep you both updated.”
Snapper accepted the dismissal for what it was and quickly left, but Kara still lingered hesitantly. “Lena has a lot on her plate right now,” she told him. “If she said--”
“She didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” James assured her. He gave her a brief smile. “We’re good.”
Kara nodded, satisfied. “Lunch?”
“Actually, I have a phone call I need to make. Rain check?”
Kara smiled her acceptance and left James to himself. James waited until the door closed behind her before picking up his cell and dialing a familiar number. The bright voice on the other end of the line steadied him, and calmed his nerves.
“Hey, Lucy, you got a second? I’ve got some questions for you…”
“Alex you should have seen Snapper’s face! I mean, he always kind of looks like that, but the way Lena just-- she did this,” Kara mimed Lena’s flickering scan of Snapper before she’d turned her attention back to James. “And then when she utterly dismissed him, Snapper’s face just--” She scrunched her face into an unpleasant scowl. Alex snorted, coughing into her hand to keep from losing her mouthful of beer.
“Oh my god,” Alex laughed. “In front of James?”
“It was so perfect. It was a little mean, but Snapper totally went there first, and it was-- it was like she owned the room, you know? She didn’t even have to say anything to him. Lena was…” She trailed off, and Alex’s brow furrowed in concern.
“Lena was what?” Alex reached for another slice of pizza.
Kara sighed, her enthusiasm dimming as the finer points of the meeting came rushing back. Lena’s rigid posture, the way her eyes had warmed upon seeing Kara, then noticeably cooled when Kara hadn’t been expecting her. She didn’t smile once, the entire visit to CatCo. Kara didn’t mention that aloud, but she’d certainly noticed, and unease curled in her stomach.
“She seemed really stressed.,” Kara said finally. “As cool as it was, I’ve never seen her that... sharp.” She played with a glob of mozzarella dangling off her pizza. “I just worry that she’s letting it get to her.”
“That,” Kara waved her hand, pizza and dangling cheese flapping dangerously. “And L-Corp. She’s been worried about leaving it again so soon after a long absence. And there’s something else, something she hasn’t shared yet. I think she’s been using most of her off-work hours on it. Which is not healthy, but how can I tell her that without coming off like a, a--”
“Yes! Exactly.” Kara chomped a large bite of her pizza. “Thank you. And of course, that doesn’t even include on the Supergirl stuff.”
Alex picked at a piece of pepperoni, chewing thoughtfully. “Well, I don’t know about everything else, but I might have an idea what the secret plan is.”
Kara’s eyes widened. “What? How?!”
“Lena’s requested a meeting with the DEO for tomorrow morning. She’s requested the presence of the DEO director, Supergirl, and Superman.”
“And you were going to tell me when??”
Alex shrugged, plucking a slice of pepperoni out of the cheese and popping it into her mouth. “I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” She smirked. “It’s not like you’re going to turn down a chance to see Lena in the flesh.”
Kara swallowed, staring at her crust. Lena hadn’t mentioned anything about it. It hurt, for Alex to know before she did. “Do you know what it’s about?”
It was Alex’s turn to hesitate. Her features smoothed into careful neutrality. “The missing kryptonite.” She shrugged at Kara’s incredulous stare. “I don’t know what’s changed, but I know that Clark plans to get in early tomorrow morning.”
Kara’s mood soured even further. “I don’t want him there.”
“It’s not your decision this time, kiddo. Lena requested him specifically. And it does affect him--”
“Yeah, it makes him psycho,” Kara grumbled with a snort. She hadn’t seen or heard from Clark since their fallout in the desert, and she’d hoped to keep it that way as long as possible.
Alex reached over and fished a garlic breadstick out of the box. “So you’ll be there?”
“Oh, yeah,” Kara vowed, chuffing dramatically. “I’m not letting him get within six feet of Lena.”
Alex chewed warily, eyeing Kara from over her breadstick. “I’ll tell J’onn to reinforce the conference room. And post additional security.”
“You’ll be there?”
Alex nodded. “J’onn thinks having another human might help mitigate rising tensions when two Supers face off against a Luthor.”
“I’m not facing off against Lena.” Kara shot Alex a look, daring her to argue. Alex’s eyebrows lifted noncommittally. “I’m not.”
“You might want to wait to make that determination until you hear what she has to say,” Alex warned.
“Alex…” Kara groaned.
“I’m not saying you should assume the worst,” Alex hedged, “but you and Lena haven’t always seen eye to eye on things. And this-- this is a big one. So just, keep an open mind. Okay? Don’t let whatever break you’re on blind you to what’s best for you .”
Kara set her crust aside, her appetite gone. She did miss Lena, but enough to agree to anything she wanted about the kryptonite? Kara shook her head. “Even if I did, Clark wouldn’t let me get away with it.”
Alex pursed her lips unhappily. “Don’t let your anger for him make your decision either.” She nudged Kara’s knee with her foot. “You gotta do you. Okay?”
Kara nodded. “Okay.” Silence fell between them, broken only by the faint sounds of Alex chewing. When she swallowed, she nudged Kara again.
Kara lifted her gaze, her lips curling into a smile she only half felt.
“I’m proud of you,” Alex said.
Kara blinked, surprised. “Yeah?”
Alex nodded. “Yeah.” She scooched closer on the couch until they were shoulder to shoulder, and looped her arm around Kara. Kara leaned into her, reveling in the physical contact. “You know, sometimes I look at you and I remember that little kid who came to stay with us back in Midvale. You were so timid, and so careful-- like any loud sound would send you running for cover.”
“Which it did. Frequently.” Kara sighed. “Super hearing was not fun in the early days.”
“You’ve come a long way since then,” Alex acknowledged. “You’re confident, and you’re finding your happiness…” Kara nodded. Even now, when things weren’t perfect, when she hadn’t seen Lena regularly in weeks and Clark seemed a perfect stranger, a tiny kernel of warmth remained. “But a lot of times, when I look at you? I still see that same little girl, who cared so, so much about everyone else.”
Kara reached for Alex’s hand, taking it gently in hers. Their fingers laced together, forming a familiar seal. “Love you,” she said quietly. Alex kissed the top of her head, then smoothed Kara’s hair before leaning their heads together.
“I love you too, kiddo.”
The next day, Kara called in sick to CatCo and got to the DEO early to ensure she arrived before Lena. As anticipated, Clark already lurked in the atrium, present but declining to mingle with the other DEO personnel loitering until Lena’s arrival. Kara was surprised to see how many lingered; she wondered if J’onn had mandated their presence, or if they just wanted to get a glimpse of Lena. Or Clark.
When Clark saw her, his features lifted as though he wanted to talk, but when he approached, Kara turned away from him. She didn’t need to hear anything he had to say. Alex came to stand on her other side, a bastion of solidarity against the palpable excitement emanating from Winn.
“Do you think Lena would want to see the new array I designed?” he chattered. “I bet she’d like it. Ooh! Or the kryptonite shields! Aw, man, I should have put them back together last night...”
“Please refrain from showing DEO visitors any classified materials,” J’onn advised, but without any real bite. “We may find opportunities to work with Miss Luthor in the future, but for now we are here only to listen to what she has to say.”
Winn’s shoulders slumped, even after Kara nudged him playfully. “You’ll want to catch her on a different week anyway. She’ll be more likely to nerd out when she doesn’t have so much going on.”
“Oh yeah, she has her surgery coming up,” Winn remembered. “Is she doing oka-- Whoa.”
Kara almost missed the tail end of his sentence when the elevator doors opened and Lena stepped out. The foyer fell quiet, highlighting the crisp click of Lena’s heels against the marble floor. Her briefcase bumped her hip as she walked, drawing Kara’s gaze to the red pencil skirt she wore. If Lena noticed the stares, she didn’t show it, insulated by the official DEO visitor’s badge glinted at the first button of her cream silk blouse. Even with her right arm strapped into the familiar sling, everything about Lena Luthor commanded attention.
Kara blinked out of her fugue when Lena flashed J’onn a dazzling smile, extending her left hand in greeting.
“Director J’onzz, thank you so much for agreeing to my meeting on such short notice. I appreciate your offer to host our discussion.”
“It’s our pleasure. I hope this is just the beginning of future collaboration,” J’onn replied. He turned to present the line-up of agents behind him. “I believe you already know Agent Schott, and Agent Danvers. And of course, Supergirl, and Superman.”
Finally, Lena’s eyes met Kara’s. Her smile flashed again, disarming Kara entirely. “Of course. It’s good to see you again, Supergirl.” Her hand extended, and Kara accepted the off-hand handshake numbly.
“Yes!” Kara blurted when Alex nudged her gently. She squared her shoulders, taking on Supergirl’s stiff spine and upturned chin. When their hands released, Lena’s thumb brushed lightly over her knuckles, so quick Kara couldn’t tell if it was deliberate. Kara cleared her throat. “I was a little surprised to hear that you’d requested this meeting.”
J’onn shifted his stance, clearly eager to begin. “It was a surprise for all of us, but not unwelcome.” He gestured towards Alex. “I’ve asked Agent Danvers to sit in, if that’s all right.”
Lena nodded, shifting the strap of her briefcase higher on her shoulder, her gaze sliding towards Alex. “Of course. I would appreciate Agent Danvers’ input.” She then shifted her attention to Winn, who had managed to remain remarkably quiet thus far. “And I assume Agent Schott will be monitoring the meeting remotely?”
“Just for security purposes, I swear,” Winn said quickly, lapsing into a flustered smile. “You know, to push the panic button if something happens. Which it won’t, since you have both Supers in there--”
“Agent Schott,” J’onn cut in early, before Winn could get into full swing. Winn quieted, looking grateful for the save. J’onn then turned back to Lena. “If you’re ready, we can get started.”
Lena nodded, and walked shoulder to shoulder with J’onn towards the conference room. As they walked, Lena graced J’onn with another bright smile. “I apologize for how we last met, Director. Supergirl explained how you came to be a part of the DEO. I shouldn’t have assumed you were…”
“On the contrary, Miss Luthor. You made a perfectly reasonable assumption. I should have anticipated that you might have interacted with the true Hank Henshaw by way of your mother.”
“I imagine it must have been a challenge coming to live openly as yourself again.” Lena nodded her thanks as J’onn opened the door and stood aside for her to enter first. “I can certainly empathize.”
J’onn followed Lena into the briefing room, leaving Kara and Clark to trail behind. Kara reached for the door the same time Clark did. Their hands touched on the handle, and Kara jerked away as though burned. She shot him a glare, and swept into the room ahead of him.
Inside, a round conference table had been set up with six chairs placed equidistant around it. One wall sported a projection screen, but the only cameras present were Winn’s security lenses, and the only lights were the bright fluorescents overhead. Though objectively Kara knew that this meeting was about the kryptonite and therefore of a sensitive nature, she’d expected more. More publicity, more grandstanding. But Lena and J’onn both settled into their seats without fanfare, ready to begin. Kara claimed the seat nearest Lena, but lingered behind it before sitting when she noticed that Clark remained standing.
“Why have you called this meeting, Miss Luthor?” Clark fired off. Kara’s shoulders tightened at the anger in his voice, her eyes glued to him as she watched for any hint he was going to make a move. “Are you finally going to discuss the kryptonite your brother stole?”
Lena’s smile remained in place, but when she looked at Clark, it lacked the warmth it had held a moment ago. “While your definition of stole is broader than most, we are here to discuss the kryptonite, yes. As I’m sure Director J’onzz must have explained.”
“I most certainly did,” J’onn confirmed, his gaze narrowing in Clark’s direction, “so that we might avoid wasting time on exchanges such as this.”
Clark took no heed of the unspoken warning. His features hardened, every angle sharp where he stood with his fists propped on his hips. “So you admit you have it,” he accused.
Kara carefully allowed herself to hover, barely a centimeter off the floor, ready to intercept if Clark moved. Lena met his angry glare with a cool stare of her own. Her expression remained pleasant, but Kara sensed the steel behind it.
“The investigation into the locations of my brother’s bunkers remains ongoing,” Lena replied, “both my own, and I assume the DEO’s investigation as well.”
J’onn leaned forward on his elbows. “That’s correct. The DEO has performed a thorough search of what’s left of the bunker your mother took you to, but nothing was salvageable. We hesitate to abandon the search, but at the moment we’re effectively at a standstill.”
“We’ve faced the same struggle. I do have a recovery team working full time combing through old Luthor Corp records for any mention of another bunker, but the question remains of what is to be done with the kryptonite if any is found. That’s why I’ve asked you all to meet with me.” Lena reached into her briefcase and withdrew several bound reports. She rose to distribute them, only for Alex to step forward.
“Allow me,” Alex offered. Lena relinquished the proposals with a nod.
“Thank you, Agent Danvers. I’ve prepared one for you as well-- I’d value your input, as one of the DEO’s most experienced human operatives.” Lena cast a look around the table, her gaze lingering on Clark and Kara, who had yet to sit. Her eyes narrowed on Kara, studying her, then swiveled back to Clark. “Feel free to have a seat,” she invited, a smirk curling her lips. “I don’t bite.”
“Yes, Superman,” J’onn agreed, flipping through the pages of the proposal in front of him. “Please sit. This may take some time.”
“Director, I’m afraid I have something I need to bring to your attention,” Clark declared, as though he hadn’t heard either of them.
“Superman…” Kara warned him quietly. His eyes flickered towards her, but flashed away a moment later, checking for J’onn’s attention. Kara glanced at Lena, who rested her hand atop the report in front of her, her focus on Clark as though he had a right to speak.
“I agree with Supergirl,” J’onn replied. “This is not the time for grievances.”
“It is if it will affect how you feel about whatever Miss Luthor has planned for the kryptonite, Director.”
“I don’t mind,” Lena interjected, surprising them all. Alex’s eyebrows had slowly crept upwards as Clark had spoken, and when she met Kara’s gaze she gave a nearly imperceptible shrug. J’onn tightened his jaw, but ultimately yielded to Lena’s decision. He nodded to Clark.
“Let’s hear it then.”
“Two months ago I received a letter from an unknown sender,” Clark informed them. He turned a hard stare on Lena. “It was laced with aerosolized kryptonite. Further investigation concluded it was sent from the L-Corp mailroom.”
The room fell quiet, and all eyes slowly shifted to Lena. She didn’t seem to notice. Her brow furrowed, deviating from professional pleasantry for the first time since her arrival. “Which one?”
“L-Corp has over 100 facilities with mailrooms located in eleven countries,” Lena informed him. “Which one did the letter trace back to?”
Clark hesitated. Of all the reactions he must have anticipated-- denial, anger, sarcasm, disinterest-- Lena’s concern clearly wasn’t one of them. “National City.”
“Do you have it with you?”
“Of course not,” Clark fired back.
Lena didn’t even blink at his tone. “Can you provide copies? The original would be better if you can provide it.”
“So you can sweep it under the rug?”
“Because if someone is using my mailroom to send kryptonite, I want to know who.”
Clark regarded her solemnly. Kara knew he was trying to get a read on her, but she didn’t need to. She heard the sudden bite in her tone, recognized the anger simmering just under the surface. Not at Clark, but because Lena had made the connection that Kara had been contemplating for weeks. If someone used the L-Corp mailroom to send kryptonite, it meant it was most likely an employee. An employee who was somehow connected to the attack on the conference room, who could still be coming to work every day. J’onn interrupted the sudden silence.
“Seeing as you have no evidence to examine, Superman, there’s little we can do for this concern at the moment.” He gestured again to the seat Clark had thus far ignored. “Please have a seat, and we’ll begin.”
After a moment, Clark sat. He remained stiff in his seat, as though ready to fly at a moment’s notice, but it was enough for Kara to do the same. If he made a move towards Lena, he’d have to go through her first. Kara pulled her copy of the proposal closer, but only opened it when Clark began to thumb through his.
“Thank you, Director,” Lena said, her voice and features softening once more. She waited until everyone could glance through the first few pages before continuing. “As we all know, kryptonite has unique properties that has made it highly sought after by--”
“Kryptonite is the fragmented remains of Krypton,” Clark interrupted, snapping his folder shut with a snap. “Any kryptonite found on Earth belongs to us, as the only surviving Kryptonians.”
Clark’s clipped tone reminded Kara how completely he’d shut out the DEO earlier that year, refusing to bend until they’d relinquished their kryptonite stores to him. At that point in time, his stance had warmed her-- because he’d included her in the protection he was trying to secure. Now Kara knew better. Now, his unrelenting righteousness rankled her, and Kara knew it had everything to do with the bandage just visible under Lena’s sleeveless blouse.
For her part, Lena barely blinked at Clark’s interruption. “The federal government disagrees. They awarded finder’s rights to Lex when he located the kryptonite.”
“Wouldn’t ownership of the kryptonite have shifted to the government when Lex was arrested?” Alex asked, her brow furrowing in confusion.
Lena nodded. “If he still had ownership of the kryptonite at the time of his arrest, it would have.” Her lips pressed together briefly, the only hint of the turmoil churned by mention of her brother. She pushed on regardless. “However a year earlier he signed ownership of the kryptonite over to me.”
“I believe Lex knew his arrest was a possibility, and sought to prevent the government from gaining control of the mineral. He thoughtfully declined to inform me of the change, allowing him to retain access for himself as long as he remained free. The family lawyers found the supporting documentation when Lex was arrested. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter, as I didn’t have access to the kryptonite anyway.”
“You have no business keeping kryptonite,” Clark accused, planting one hand on the table as he leaned in. Kara tensed, ready to spring into action.
“I’m afraid that’s not your decision to make,” Lena returned evenly.
Clark glowered. “The threat you claim to need it for doesn’t exist!”
“I beg to differ.”
Suddenly, every eye in the room fell to Lena’s braced arm, and the purpled handprint pressed into the pale skin of her right bicep. Even now, weeks later, the bruise was only just starting to turn color, and stood as a poignant testament to her words.
J’onn shifted in his seat, drawing attention back to the matter at hand. “I’d like to hear your proposal, Miss Luthor.”
“Thank you,” she returned easily. “In the interest of saving time, I’ll summarize as best I can, and leave you to review the details listed in the report at your leisure.” Lena placed one hand on the proposal, resting on her fingertips. “My proposal is this: in the event any kryptonite is found in Lex’s vaults, I will agree to turn it over to the DEO--”
“The DEO has already surrendered its kryptonite to me--”
“I’m still talking,” Lena continued, her voice perfectly measured, as though Clark hadn’t spoken at all. Kara ducked her head to hide a sudden grin. How many men had tried to talk over Lena for her to perfect that counter? However many it might have been, Kara suspected it didn’t happen very often any more. Clark quieted, and Lena continued.
“The key factors of this plan stipulate that while the DEO will store and guard the kryptonite, the mineral itself will be secured in a way that will require authorization from three sources in order to access it for any use.”
J’onn tilted his head. “And those three would be…?”
“The President of the United States, the director of the DEO, and myself.”
The room fell silent. Lena simply sat, allowing them the time to process. Alex was the first to speak. “Are you serious?”
“I am.” Lena tapped her fingers on the report sitting in front of her. “In this proposal I’ve included redacted schematics for a secure off-site facility I’ve designed to store the kryptonite. Once completed, it will be completely inaccessible until all three access codes are applied.”
Clark leaned forward intently. “Miss Luthor, you’ve called both myself and Supergirl to be a part of these discussions, but with this proposal neither of us would have any input in the use of the kryptonite.”
“Surely you can recognize that granting an access code to the very person at risk of becoming a threat would nullify its purpose,” Lena returned. “Should the situation arise where only one of you is compromised, the advice of the remaining Super would be weighted heavily. However, we can’t risk that both be compromised and able to hold the kryptonite hostage.”
“But you would hold us hostage--”
“The three-point access system is designed to limit the risk of abuse--”
“--while a Luthor holds the final access code?” Clark glared at her. “And what happens when you’re ousted? The kryptonite falls into the hands of the next anti-alien CEO?”
“That’s enough, Superman,” Kara growled. But Lena lifted her hand, her gaze settling on Clark completely unintimidated.
“I didn’t say the head of L-Corp,” she said coolly. “Lex found the kryptonite using Luthor resources, and LuthorCorp was never granted rights to it. When he signed them over to me, he did so personally, between two private individuals. Regardless of my status at L-Corp, final approval rests with me.”
“The schematics here are...” Alex trailed off, flipping through the proposal in her hands. “Wow. You designed this?”
Lena broke into a pleased grin. “I did. I’ve personally secured the only copy of the completed schematics. L-Corp has no knowledge of its existence and will have no claim or access to it.”
Clark lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “And of course its designer would never think to add a back door, just in case.”
“Should the DEO agree to these terms, I welcome any suggestions they might have to improve the security of the kryptonite.” Lena’s smile flashed again, this time towards Kara. Kara quickly turned her focus back to the pages of Lena’s proposal, and absorbed the details contained within. The plans were precise, and though vital information was missing, Kara saw the intelligence in every diagram, every proposed line of code.
“I’m confident between all of us we can create parameters that are virtually impenetrable,” Lena concluded.
“Virtually.” J’onn looked thoughtful. “Has the President agreed to this?”
“It isn’t worth her attention without the commitment of the other involved parties. Once we have it, I’m certain she’ll be agreeable.”
“And if we say no?” From the tone of J’onn’s voice, Kara didn’t think he actually intended to decline. His interest was piqued, and his question seemed to be only more curiosity.
Lena tilted her head. “Then the kryptonite will remain in my custody, to be used at my discretion.”
Clark rose from his chair, and Lena’s eyebrow lifted stiffly. Kara rose as well, until she almost floated, the balls of her feet barely brushing the ground. J’onn glared at them both.
“By agreeing to this meeting, we all agreed to its terms, Superman,” he warned. “Any act of aggression will be met with extreme prejudice.” After a long moment, Clark turned away, declining to resume his seat but breaking eye contact, which was enough for J’onn to continue. “Agent Danvers, what are your thoughts?”
Alex lifted one shoulder. “At first glance, the plan looks solid. It bears further scrutiny, but it is a compromise that could work to our advantage. Security and access… best of both worlds.”
J’onn nodded. “All right, Miss Luthor. It’s too early to make any promises, but I can assure you we’ll take it into further consideration.”
Lena nodded, but while it was what she wanted, Kara could tell from the angle of her chin that it wasn’t enough. “That’s not all,” Lena said.
Clark turned back around, his arms crossed over his chest. J’onn also shifted, his expression cooling at the sudden change in Lena’s demeanor. “Please continue.”
Lena cast a glance towards Kara, her features creased with concern for the first time since arriving. “The agreement I’m proposing also stipulates that while the majority of any kryptonite found would be secured in the manner I’ve described, a small portion is to be retained for research and development.”
“And there it is,” Clark leveled, spinning back to face them. “You ask for trust with one hand, and hold kryptonite over our heads with the other.”
“It would be used only to devise a method of limiting its potency. As much as it might surprise you, Superman, I don’t want to use the kryptonite to kill either of you. Our goal in retaining this small amount is to find a way to neutralize a Kryptonian’s abilities without causing adverse health effects.” Lena’s eyes caught on Kara’s then danced away. She focused on J’onn.
“The research would be conducted under the direct supervision of the DEO, with a team I help select and monitor. With the right minds, we could make short work of it.”
Clark planted one hand on the table, leaning his weight against it until Kara could hear the wood start to groan. He levelled a hard stare at J’onn. “You can’t seriously be considering this.”
Lena ducked her head, before allowing her gaze to join Clark’s in watching J’onn’s reaction. Kara watched them both. J’onn folded his hands on the table, taking his time considering his options. “I believe I am.”
“You’re talking about handing kryptonite over to the one person most likely to use it!”
“And how is this proposal any different from the power you wield over us?” Lena shifted in her seat, her tone edging on sharp for the first time that day. “For years you have asked this planet to trust you-- and the majority of us have. Yet you do so without granting us your trust in return.”
The room fell silent. Clark glared at Lena, teeth grinding in growing anger. Kara took a deep breath. “This… is a good idea.”
All eyes flew to her. J’onn arched an eyebrow. “Supergirl?”
Kara stared at her hands, her stomach fluttering under the sudden scrutiny. “I’ve been compromised before,” she said carefully. “The red kryptonite Maxwell Lord created changed me into something-- someone I’m not. I hurt people, and destroyed things… I had no restraint, and when I was under its influence, I reveled in the fact no one had the means to stop me. In the end, it was too close. If the DEO had tools like Miss Luthor is describing at their disposal, a lot of harm could have been prevented.”
Clark turned his glare on her. “Supergirl--”
“Something like this… it’s fair. It protects both sides.”
“You can’t be serious…”
“And the DEO has both sides. It’s the only agency that has openly hired both humans and aliens. That’s why you chose the DEO as your ally in this, isn’t it?” Kara said to Lena directly. The small smile Lena gave her made Kara’s heart stutter in her chest. Lena nodded once in affirmation.
”One of the reasons, yes. It’s a compromise, designed to protect everyone involved, both human and alien.”
Kara smiled, and gave a single nod. J’onn gave the proposal a final glance-through, then looked to Alex, who nodded. “All right, Miss Luthor. We’ll give your proposal further consideration, but so far I like what I’m hearing. We’ll reach out when we’re prepared to discuss this further.”
“Thank you, Director.” As one, they both rose from their seats, joining Clark in standing. “I look forward to hearing your thoughts.” Lena flashed another smile as she extended her hand. J’onn took, and gave it a firm shake.
“Thank you , Miss Luthor.” J’onn returned with a nod. “You’ve given us a lot to think over, and let’s just say that your reputation for genius is well-earned.”
Kara noticed a slight flush creep up Lena’s neck, and she had to bite her lip to keep from grinning at the sight of it. Lena then extended a hand to Alex, who seemed surprised to be included as an equal. Kara watched Clark observe the exchange, and shifted her position to ensure she was the next in line after Alex followed J’onn out.
Lena’s gaze warmed to see her, and the corners of her eyes crinkled when Kara grew flustered at accidentally extending her right hand first, forgetting that Lena’s right was still in a brace. She quickly swapped in her left hand, which Lena accepted with a smile.
“Thank you for agreeing to hear my proposal, Supergirl,” Lena said.
“Of course,” Kara replied. “I wouldn’t miss it.” Their palms lingered in spite of themselves. Kara briefly registered Clark’s presence, hearing him shift unhappily then sweeping out of the room without a word. She wasn’t the only one who noticed his departure.
Lena’s shoulders relaxed, and she released a hard breath. “That honestly went better than I anticipated,” she confessed.
Kara smirked. “You could’ve fooled me.” She hadn’t picked up on a single ounce of uncertainty on Lena’s part. She could see now how L-Corp was able to perform so well even after Lex’s conviction.
“Walk me out?” Lena offered a hopeful smile, and Kara answered with a nod. Lena pulled the strap of her briefcase over her good shoulder, but didn’t protest when Kara held the conference room door open for her. “Thank you.”
They slid into the stream of DEO traffic, and when they reached the atrium Lena slowed. Like a moon pulled by gravity, Kara followed to join her off to one side. Lena turned to face her, and her eyes scanned Kara from head to toe, taking in Supergirl in all her glory. In all Kara’s glory. This was the first Lena had seen of Supergirl since learning the truth of Kara’s identity. She let Lena look all she wanted, allowing Lena to take the next step.
“So…” Lena said finally. “Supergirl.”
“Lena.” The night before, Kara had briefly debated returning to the formality of Miss Luthor, but Kara didn’t want to perpetuate the illusion that Kara and Supergirl were separate. In the safety of the DEO, she could be Kara Danvers and Supergirl. They were both one and the same-- they were both her. They both loved Lena Luthor.
“It’s good to see you,” Lena continued after a long moment.
Kara blinked in surprise. “It is?”
Lena’s lips tilted upwards in a small smile. “Yes.” She bit her bottom lip, unable to keep her nerves hidden entirely. “What do you think?”
Kara tilted her head. She’d already said her piece in the conference room, but now she sensed that Lena was asking for a different kind of approval.
“Is this what you’ve been working on?” Kara asked, opting to dodge the question for now. “What I couldn’t be around for?”
Lena nodded, lips pressing into a thin line. “Mostly.”
“That’s funny, because I thought you were thinking about us.” Kara couldn’t muster any bite, and the smile she couldn’t quite shake turned her words into something resembling a joke.
“This is about us.” Lena’s voice grew heavy, and Kara saw her smile dissipate. She met Kara’s gaze with solemn features. “Whatever comes next for us starts here. Without it, anything else we accomplish would be undone the moment the kryptonite is found.”
Kara swallowed. She hadn’t considered that eventuality. Since Lena’s injury, she’d thought in segments of days, a week, the far future a vague concept far from her mind. But Lena had looked ahead, and the realization made Kara’s chest fill with warmth.
“I’ll definitely feel better knowing the kryptonite is being held somewhere more secure than a DEO warehouse,” Kara told her, finally answering Lena’s initial question. “And it gives the people of Earth the means to protect themselves, if anything happened. I never would have thought of something like this. It’s brilliant.”
Kara’s praise made Lena’s unease melt away. She shifted in place, wrapping her good arm around her middle, carefully avoiding her sling. Inside her briefcase, Kara heard her phone start to vibrate. Lena made no move to answer it.
“So,” Kara continued, suddenly hesitant. “About us…?”
“I’m ready to talk,” Lena said. “If you are.” A wave of trepidation washed over Kara as she nodded numbly. “I have to get back to L-Corp for now, but if you’re free tonight?” Kara nodded. “Seven?” Kara nodded again, causing Lena to shift uncomfortably, lapsing into a thin smile.
“That’s the third time you’ve nodded instead of actually answering,” she pointed out, releasing a soft huff of a laugh. “You’re making me nervous.”
“Sorry!” Kara choked out. “Sorry, yeah. Yes! Seven tonight is fine. Where-- where do you want to meet?” She expected Lena to request her own apartment, the place she was more familiar with, and most comfortable. But Lena only shrugged, and in the motion Kara read what she didn’t voice-- Clark’s visit had taken her sense of security, even in her own home, and it had yet to return.
“How about mine then?” Kara supplied, giving no hint of the rekindled anger burning in the pit of her stomach.
“Sure,” Lena replied readily. Her eyes dipped once more to the glyph on Kara’s chest, then lifted to Kara’s face. Her smile didn’t waver.
“Sounds good,” Kara agreed. Lena’s phone started to vibrate once more. “Duty calls?”
“Supergirl!” Alex called for Kara from where she stood with J’onn, waving her over. Kara nodded, then turned back to Lena with a sheepish grin.
Lena cocked her head, one eyebrow lifting. “Duty calls for us both,” she remarked, eyes sparkling. She adjusted the strap of her briefcase. “Thank you for your time, Supergirl. I look forward to working more with you in the future.”
Lena spared her one last smile before heading for the elevators. Kara waited until the doors closed on her before turning back to Alex and J’onn. She made it two steps before Clark stepped in front of her.
Kara shouldered past him without slowing. Alex eyed her as she closed the distance, but didn’t comment. Her gaze passed between Kara and J’onn.
“Are we sure about this?” Alex asked.
“Miss Luthor’s proposal is an honest one,” Jonn supplied. “I sensed her mind all through the presentation, and her intentions are genuine.”
Kara shifted uncomfortably. She had told Lena of J’onn’s telepathic abilities, but she doubted Lena would have consented to having her mind read. Which meant that J’onn had likely scanned her without consent-- which was even worse. Lena’s privacy was too precious to be taken lightly.
J’onn saw her discomfort. “I didn’t read her thoughts,” he assured her. “Only her intentions, no more than I pick up from anyone on the street.”
Kara accepted his explanation, and finally nodded, propping her fists on her hips. “I agree that she isn’t trying to trick us. She’s trying to do the right thing, by everyone.”
Alex nodded. “I agree.”
“If she succeeds in implementing non-lethal forms of kryptonite, the DEO would be in her debt.” J’onn looked at Kara, his gaze deepening, growing more tender. “It’s never sat well with me that our only option was kryptonite bullets.”
Kara offered him a thin smile. “If anyone can do it, she can,” she repeated.
J’onn nodded, then sighed. “All right. I’ll brief General Lane.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “He’s not going to like any plan that doesn’t give him control,” she warned.
With Lena’s visit to CatCo fresh in Kara’s mind, she snorted. She would pay money to see Lena face off against the bluster of General Lane. The undignified sound earned a side-eye from J’onn, whose own eyes quickly crinkled into similar mirth.
“I get the feeling that Miss Luthor won’t care what the General does or does not like.”
By the time Kara opened the door to Lena later that night, Lena had changed out of her business dress and into a pair of nice jeans and a loose tank top. Kara let her in with a relieved smile, her gaze bouncing from her hair, now loosened from its earlier twist to fall around her shoulders in stiff waves, to her brace, always the same bulky thing she’d worn since leaving the DEO.
“How are you feeling?” Kara asked, closing the door behind Lena. Her answer came in the form of a terse nod. “Are you doing your exercises?”
Lena’s lips pulled into a grimace. “Yes...” she allowed, “but I didn’t come here to talk about my physio.”
“Right.” Kara flushed. “Are you hungry? I got pizza. And there’s leftover lasagna from that Italian place Winn likes? If you want…”
“No, thanks.” Lena shook her head. “Jess got me something at the office before I left.”
Kara blinked and glanced at the clock. Seven. Right. Way past dinner time. She really owed Jess a gift basket. She wrung her hands, and for several long moments they stood awkwardly in the middle of the kitchen. Finally, Kara turned towards the couch. “Wanna sit?”
Lena nodded with a weak smile. “Yeah.”
They settled on the couch, and Kara hugged a pillow to her chest with one arm while handing a second pillow to Lena. Lena accepted it, arching an eyebrow in question as she did so. “It’s a-- it’s a Danvers family tradition,” Kara explained. “Serious talk means serious pillow. You can hug it, or punch it, or whatever you want. The goal is to not throw it at anyone.”
“Ah,” Lena acknowledged. The pillow stayed on her lap, the fingers of her good hand curling into the edge seam. Kara let hers drop as well; this wasn’t a Danvers family talk. This was something new. She couldn’t rely on the comforts of old habits to get her through. She took a deep breath.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” Lena said softly. Her gaze locked on the pillow in her lap, unable to see Kara’s jaw click shut. “That night we got home from the DEO. About why you tried to excuse what Superman had done.”
Heat burned in Kara’s cheeks. Shame crawled uncomfortably in her chest, but she embraced it, no longer trying to deny what happened. Lena deserved better, and Kara vowed to not make the same mistake again. Lena looked at her with soft eyes.
“I wanted you to know that I understand why you did.”
Kara blinked. She hadn’t expected that. She’d hoped for forgiveness, but empathy? “Really?”
“If there’s anything that I can relate to in all of this, it’s the fear of being my worst self.” Lena propped one elbow on the back of the sofa, running her fingers through her hair. “When the newspapers first started speculating on Lex’s involvement in some of the attacks on Superman, I ran through every possible excuse to try and deny that he could ever do anything like that. But in the end, I had to face the truth. And that’s what you did.” She gave a self-deprecating grin. “And you came around a lot faster than I did with Lex.”
Kara nodded, accepting the forgiveness Lena offered. It didn’t make the crawling feeling in her stomach disappear, but that was okay. It helped just to know that Lena understood. Taking heart, Kara took a deep breath.
“I didn’t not tell you about Supergirl because I didn’t trust you.”
Lena shook her head, starting to wave it away. “Kara, you don’t have to explain--”
“I want to,” she insisted. “What you said that night about being the last to know was true, and I can imagine how awful that would feel, if it were me. But I need you to know that it was never about my trusting you.” Kara swallowed. Her leg bounced nervously against the couch cushion.
“You are the first person I’ve ever told by choice. James knew before I even met him, and Maggie figured it out for herself. When I told Winn, it was before I was Supergirl, when all I had was a crazy idea that I could use my powers to help people, before I really understood what it meant to be in the public eye. Even when I told Lucy, it was more out of necessity than actual trust, and I just-- I couldn’t afford to take it lightly, not with you. You’re too important.”
Lena didn’t respond. Her head had tilted as she listened, her expression soft with gentle understanding. Still, nervous energy made Kara jittery, and she rose from the couch and started to pace.
“For the first time I could control how I told you, and without an emergency forcing my hand… how could I bring you into something so dangerous? You’re already a target for reasons beyond my control-- your family, CADMUS, even some of your competitors… To willingly drag you into Supergirl as well--” Kara hugged the pillow to her chest. “I just couldn’t do it.”
Lena regarded her solemnly. “Something must have changed.”
Kara nodded, perching carefully on the corner of the coffee table. “When I realized I couldn’t pretend anymore. Whether I told you or not, you would be a target the first time someone saw you with Supergirl. And if you were going to be a target because I couldn’t pretend Supergirl didn’t love you like Kara Danvers did, then you deserved to know why.”
Lena’s gaze fell to the pillow on her lap. Her fingers worried the edges, scraping her nails against the striations in the fabric, silent to any but Kara, who heard the nervous energy behind it. Silence stretched between them, until Kara couldn’t take it any more. “Please say something.”
Green eyes flashed to meet her gaze, only to dart away, dropping back to her lap. “It wasn’t the secret that bothered me.”
“I mean, it did,” Lena corrected sharply. “But that wasn’t the reason--” She stopped suddenly, flashing an uncomfortable smile. She cast about for the right words, and tried again.
“People are allowed to have secrets,” she continued. “I had no right to expect you to share all of yours, especially one like Supergirl. Supergirl is bigger than both of us, and between my family and the fact we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on alien politics… I don’t blame you for keeping her a secret as long as you did. Even if those weren’t your reasons for doing so.”
“Okay,” Kara accepted, “but you were upset. You wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise.”
Lena’s fingernails began to pick at the pillow again. “I think-- it’s not that you have secrets, Kara. It’s more that I don’t.”
“I don’t understand,” Kara said with a cautious tilt of her head. Lena’s neck flushed, and her eyes searched the room for words.
“All my life, I’ve kept people at arm’s length,” she said slowly. “I prefer my privacy and the less people knew about me, the better. But you-- somehow you slid right in and stood right next to me. I didn’t even realize it had happened until you told me about you and James. I was gutted, and it wasn’t even that you’d hidden it from me. It was that I suddenly realized that even though you had become this fixture in my life… it reminded me that you might not--” Lena’s voice cut short with a click, and her eyes suddenly sparkled in the low light before she turned them to the pillow in her lap, out of Kara’s sight. “I don’t know if you feel as strongly as I do.”
Kara stared at her speechless.
“After your history with James, and now Supergirl... I felt more and more adrift, and… It’s been lonely.” Lena scrubbed at her eyes. “And it’s not your fault I feel that way,” she warned, before cracking into a half-smile, “but it is your fault that I’ve gotten used to not feeling lonely.”
Her joke failed to register. Kara sat, stunned, as Lena’s attempt at mirth faded into thin apprehension.
“That’s what those secrets bring up in me. I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling like I’m in free fall, not knowing whether you’re there with me.”
And there it was. Kara knew that was what had truly been bothering Lena, because as soon as the words tumbled out in a rush, Lena seemed to deflate. Her shoulders sagged, and her breaths tightened in her chest. Even her fingers stilled, waiting for Kara’s response.
Kara scooted closer, shifting her weight onto one leg to lean forward. She took Lena’s hand firmly in her own, and looked her dead in the eye. “I’m incredibly lucky,” Kara said. “I have Alex, and Winn, and James… I have a family that loves me, and friends that accept and support me.
“But for all of that, Lena... You are the reason I wake up with a smile on my face. You are the one I want to spend every spare moment with. I know what it’s like to fly and it pales in comparison to what I feel when I’m with you. You make me want to be my very best. As Kara and as Supergirl.”
Kara smiled, cheeks straining to contain it. She forced her fingers not to grip Lena’s hand any tighter, lest any more bones break, but she wanted to clutch it with all of her might, as though it could communicate everything she couldn’t find words in English to describe.
“And I promise you--” Kara’s voice cracked. “I am right there with you.”
Lena’s lips quivered, her chin bobbing as she nodded faintly. Kara cupped the side of her jaw. “I love you, Lena Luthor.” Green eyes flashed to hers, before closing to rest her forehead against Kara’s. “I’ve never been more excited than to share all of me with you.”
Lena huffed, a weak laugh pulling her lips up into a true smile. “Me too.”
Her fingers squeezed Kara’s and Kara took it as her cue to pull back. Lena may need the space but her eyes didn’t darken. They glowed in the soft lamplight, highlighting the planes of Lena’s face and haloing the loose braid laying against her shoulder. And again her gaze was drawn to the bulky sling keeping her arm tucked against her chest.
“I won’t use my powers at home, if you don’t want,” Kara offered. Part of her had dreamed that she wouldn’t need to hide her abilities from Lena. That she wouldn’t have to mind how she said things like Rao and my planet, or worry about accidentally outing herself to Lena. But if keeping that part of herself tucked away, known but unseen, helped Lena feel safer, then Kara would do it gladly. To her surprise, Lena shook her head.
“No,” she said firmly. Kara stared at her. “You shared Supergirl with me so you wouldn’t have to hide who you were anymore. You have to be careful in public, at CatCo… I don’t want you to do that with me.”
“It might take some getting used to, and we definitely need some ground rules,” Lena smiled. “But yes, I’m sure.”
Kara licked her lips nervously. “What kind of ground rules?”
Lena tilted her head. “No more using the terrace to fly in, for one thing,” she said. “It’s too exposed. I don’t mind if you use your abilities in the apartment, but don’t use them on me.” When Kara’s brow furrowed, Lena elaborated. “No lifting, carrying, or flying me anywhere without my express permission, every time.”
“Oh.” Kara’s gaze dropped back to the pillow in her lap.
“You are always so eager to help,” Lena said, easing the ultimatum with a gentle smile. “And I love that about you, but I don’t feel comfortable with being manhandled, no matter how gentle you are. And when you ask, you need to accept whatever answer I give you. I don’t want to have to explain why I don’t want to be carried, or feel guilty for declining.”
Kara nodded. “I understand.” She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “What if it’s an emergency?”
“If it’s a ‘we need to get to the DEO ASAP’ emergency, I’d still like to be asked,” Lena responded. “If it’s a ‘Lena’s fallen off her balcony again’ emergency, by all means skip the asking.”
Kara couldn’t help the laugh that popped out of her. She clapped a hand over her mouth, but continued giggling as Lena beamed at her, eyes sparkling. She scratched her head, trying to hide the sudden flush rising to her cheeks. She scraped her teeth over her bottom lip. “I figure anything else we can address on a case by case basis.”
“Okay,” Kara agreed, still chuckling. An easy quiet fell over them, and Kara felt the weight of the last few weeks without Lena lift away. She gazed at Lena, taking in the lingering smile, and the way the hair laying loose against her shoulders softened her face, revealing the woman she’d first glimpsed months before, when they’d discussed the article Kara had written about the alien detection device. That was the day their relationship had approached something like friendship, Kara realized, and the first time Kara had seen the woman behind the business.
“We do need to talk about one more thing,” Lena said softly, her smile replaced by a grim line. Kara waited for her to continue. Lena took a deep breath. “You shouldn’t have come to L-Corp.”
Kara stiffened. “Lena…” They’d discussed this, the morning after Kara was released from the DEO following her exposure to the aerosolized kryptonite. “I already told you, I wasn’t willing to stand by and watch you die. Not while there was a chance I could save you.”
Lena nodded. “And that’s your decision to make, this time. But what if it’s not just a matter of you and me?”
Kara shook her head. “Lena…”
“You said it yourself, being with Supergirl carries a risk,” Lena pointed out. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take, but if that risk is realized and someone leverages my life against a bus full of kids, or the city itself, then it’s not just your decision anymore. It’s mine.”
Ice poured down Kar’s spine. “No, it’s not--”
“I will not be the reason Supergirl falls.” Lena’s voice hardened, making every one of Kara’s muscles locked. Lena’s expression softened a moment later, her mouth pulling into a half-hearted smile. “Supergirl’s duty is to the city, not to me. If it comes down to me against the greater good, if you’ve exhausted all of your options and you aren’t able to save us all-- then you choose them.”
Kara shook her head, climbing to her feet once more. She paced furiously. “No.” She slashed her hand through the air in front of her. Lena’s eyes followed her back and forth across the living room, unrattled by Kara’s reaction. “No way. You can’t ask me to make that kind of decision.”
“I’m not,” Lena returned softly, her voice a gentle cadence that stilled Kara’s pacing. “I’m asking you to honor mine.”
Tears burned against Kara’s eyes. She didn’t want to think about this. “No, you’re asking me to, to… to say goodbye before we’ve even really started! How-- how could you--”
She whirled away abruptly, resuming her anxious pacing, but this time she had to watch every footfall, lest each step plunge through the floor. Her hands curled and uncurled, clenching to relieve the tension suddenly coursing through every inch of her body.
“I’m not saying it’s bound to happen,” Lena tried to explain.
“No, just that it could. Do you really think that I would let that happen in the first place?”
“Kara, you have amazing gifts, but there are some things even you can’t prevent or control. Can you really tell me that it hasn’t happened before? That no one has ever tried to manipulate a Super through their loved ones?”
Kara opened her mouth to bark a negative-- of course not! But in the split second it took to take the breath to speak, her mind flashed to Kelly. When Non used Myriad to pitch Winn, James and Kelly off CatCo tower, Kara hadn’t been able to save them all. And how many times Lois been threatened to get to Superman? Kara wasn’t even able to save Astra. She hadn’t saved her parents, or her planet.
Kara’s shoulders sagged, her eyes burning as tears welled in her eyes. “Don’t… don’t try to pretend you know anything--” Kara’s attempt to deflect fell short as her breath started to tighten.
Lena knew exactly what she was getting into, more so than even Kara considered. Pressing her eyes shut, a tiny writhing voice deep in her chest told her to let go now. If she wanted Lena safe, she should let her go now, before they went any further. But… even if Kara hadn’t considered all the consequences of their relationship, Lena had. And she was still here.
“I’ve already almost lost you,” Kara accused her, strangled to a whisper. “You can’t… you can’t make me…”
“Kara.” The sound of Lena’s voice pried Kara’s eyes open, spilling the contained tears down her cheeks. Lena’s wavering form looked at her with empathy and understanding, and when she reached out her hand Kara gripped it as tight as she dared. She couldn’t sit; tension kept her rigid, frozen in place with her hand in Lena’s, like her next move would take out a wall. Instead, Lena rose to meet her, their hands still linked.
“I’m sorry,” Lena murmured, her thumb stroking the back of her hand. “I know things are… raw, right now. After everything that’s happened recently, I shouldn’t have made it sound like an ultimatum. But I needed you to know.”
Kara stepped into Lena, pressing her face into her shoulder. Lena received her with a strong pull of her good arm, which wound around Kara’s shoulders and held her tight.
“I can’t lose you too,” Kara gasped against Lena’s skin. As the words escaped her more tears leaked from her eyes, soaking into the fabric of Lena’s shirt. Kara hugged her with both arms tight around Lena’s waist. She hadn’t intended to cry tonight. She’d promised herself that she would be mature, and an adult… but the instant they started, the dam wouldn’t close again. No matter how hard she clenched, her eyes continued to fill, and the sobs crowded in her throat. Lena felt her trembling and turned her head in to press a kiss against her hair. It tickled Kara’s ear, as did the whisper that filtered in a moment later.
“It’s okay,” Lena told her.
The moment the words registered the first sob scraped from Kara’s throat, followed quickly by a second. Then the rest came pouring out. And Lena let her cry, let Kara press her fingers into her sides, as though feeling the living skin and muscle under her hands could banish the memory of Lena’s body lying limp in her arms, of blood dripping from Lena’s fingers to the floor of the DEO.
When Lena lowered them back onto the couch, Kara went willingly, neither of them relinquishing their hold on the other. Lena’s thumb rubbed back and forth against Kara’s shoulder. When Kara’s tears finally petered out, her eyes felt hot and swollen. She pressed them briefly against the cool skin of Lena’s neck, then slowly pulled away.
“Sorry,” Kara croaked, rubbing the tears from her cheeks. Lena let her go, her face gentle with understanding. She took back her arm, only lace her fingers through Kara’s. Kara swallowed painfully. “I don’t know if I can agree to that, Lena.”
“You don’t have to.” Her eyebrow lifted. “It wasn’t meant to be a debat. I’ve told you what I want. That’s all that matters.” She blinked, and Kara suddenly saw the exhaustion in the slow motion, and the heavy-lidded gaze that followed. She gave Lena’s hand a squeeze.
“Do you have anything else to do tonight?” she asked.
Lena shook her head. “No, but I should probably get home soon. I’m starting to fade.”
Kara kept her face carefully neutral. One look was all it took for her to know that Lena would be asleep long before she made the ride home. “Could you stay for just a few minutes?” Kara asked. “I can make tea...”
Lena’s eyebrows shrugged sluggishly, followed by lopsided smile. “Sure.”
“Be right back.” Kara left her on the sofa, and as she proceeded to put the water on to boil, she made sure not to bang any cabinets or drop the tea tin on the counter. Her success was realized when she turned back to the couch with two mugs of tea in hand and found Lena right where she’d left her, eyes closed and breathing deep, with her head tilted against the back cushion.
In sleep, her features slackened, revealing what her smile had masked. Dark circles hung under her eyes, and maybe it was the sling, or the soft curls of her hair, but Kara would stake her journalistic career that she’d lost weight. Still, Kara’s plan had worked-- Lena wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight. Kara set the mugs down on coasters before carefully unfolding the afghan and draping it over Lena shoulders.
When Lena’s eyelids fluttered, Kara gently sat down behind her and wrapped her arms around Lena’s waist. She took care to position herself so that when Lena leaned back against her, her weight rested on her good shoulder. Lena’s hand pressed against Kara’s arm through the blanket, until Kara slipped one hand under the fabric to lace their fingers together. Lena sighed, pressing their hands against her stomach.
“Sorry,” Lena murmured.
“It’s okay,” Kara whispered back, unwilling to disturb the quiet. “Do you want to go to the bedroom?”
Lena shook her head. “No,” she slurred, eyes already slamming closed. “This’s good.”
Kara smiled into Lena’s hair. She inhaled the familiar fragrance of Lena’s hairspray, still lingering after the long day at the office. Pressing a kiss to Lena’s shoulder, Kara felt her relax even more, relinquishing to the warmth of the blanket and Kara’s body, and the comfort of home.
“Good night, Lena,” Kara whispered.
Lena didn’t respond, already deep in slumber. When Kara closed her eyes a moment later, the warmth burrowed through her chest, and settled in her heart, chasing away the ache Lena’s final capitulation had brought to the surface. No matter what Lena said, she wouldn’t have to make that choice. She’d meant what she’d said to Clark in the desert that day. Kara had already lost one home. She wouldn’t lose another.
Two days after Lena stormed out of CatCo, James walked into L-Corp armed with nothing more than a note pad full of talking points and two coffees. Securing a visitor’s pass was easy. Getting past Lena’s assistant was not.
“I’m afraid Miss Luthor is not taking any unscheduled appointments this week,” Jess told him. Her tone was terminally polite, but firm.
James nodded. “I understand, but see, we’re personal friends, and I’ve been trying to follow up regarding a previous meeting we had earlier this week.”
Jess’ lips pressed into a terse line. “Miss Luthor has only granted unrestricted access to one CatCo employee, Mr. Olsen, and you’re too tall to pass for Kara Danvers.”
He almost laughed, in spite of himself. “I know I’m not Kara,” he told her, “and I don’t want to make things difficult for you, but it’s really important that I see her today. If it’s easier, I can wait out here until she’s available.”
Dark eyes narrowed at him from across the desk, and James almost took a step back. He was suddenly acutely aware that the floor was otherwise empty, and absolutely no one would bear witness to his murder. The beep of the intercom cut through the quiet, likely saving his life.
“It’s all right, Jess,” Lena’s disembodied voice allowed. “Let him in.”
Jess scowled. “Yes, Miss Luthor.”
The intercom beeped off, and Jess rose from her seat, stalking over to open the door to Lena’s office. James offered his most winning smile. “Thank you, Jess.”
Jess simply blinked, thoroughly unimpressed by his charm. He slipped past her into the office beyond, and stopped just inside the door. Lena’s office was smaller than Cat’s, almost clinically clean, and significantly more intimidating. The early afternoon sun turned Lena into a dark silhouette against the window, vague and indistinct.
“You’re the last person I thought I’d have to warn against harassing my assistant,” Lena remarked drily. James stepped closer to her desk, and Lena came into stark relief as she leaned back in her chair, setting a folder aside. A silent eyebrow lifted, inviting him to sit. He relinquished his extra coffee as a peace offering before claiming the same seat he’d used the last time he’d visited. Lena accepted the coffee, but set it aside without taking a sip.
“Sorry about that,” James said honestly. “It’s just really important that I saw you today.”
“I’m curious as to what part of our exchange at CatCo suggested I had time to see you this week.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, eyebrows scrunching in discomfort. James recognized the tell-tale signs of a budding headache, and kicked himself for not thinking to pack a bottle of aspirin with him. “I’m not doing the interview.”
James licked his lips nervously. “Just... hear me out? If you don’t like it, I’ll leave. I promise.”
Lena regarded him solemnly, weighing against some unspoken measure. Finally, she relented with a sigh. “You have…” She leaned over to glance at the time on her laptop. “Seven minutes. Go.”
“We would still like to do the interview. Kara--” James lifted a hand to head off her next question, “won’t be interviewing you. But we wouldn’t interview her either. She’ll be covering the specialists we bring in. Which actually works out better; she’ll be a major collaborator, and get a listing on the by-line. It’ll really help her career if enough eyes get on it.”
James thought he saw Lena’s lips twitch, but couldn’t tell if it was with mirth or derision. He continued on, mindful of the seconds ticking away. “And we’d still like you as our focal point.”
“And who would you have covering my interview?” she asked curtly. “I’m not working with Snapper Carr.”
“I didn’t realize you and he had issues…”
“I have a problem with anyone who uses journalistic integrity as an excuse to be an asshole,” Lena returned, unrelenting. “I’ve met plenty of his type in Metropolis, skulking around for any scoop on Lex they could find. Kara may have to work with him, but I don’t.”
Carr was certainly an acquired taste, and one that James still sometimes struggled to palate. He knew Kara had mostly found an equilibrium with Sanpper, but even she sometimes left the building fuming over something he’d said. James didn’t worry about her temper-- criticism sometimes had a way of motivating Kara.
“Well, it wouldn’t be Snapper.” James wouldn’t do that to a friend. Lena’s eyebrows lifted expectantly, waiting for him to continue. “I’d be the one performing the interview, if you agree.”
James nodded. “I didn’t want you to feel like you were talking to a stranger. I know I’m no Kara Danvers, but I do like to think that we’re friends.”
Lena chewed her lip. “Look, James. I admire what you’re trying to accomplish with this series, truly. But I’m not your person.”
Examining her closely, James tilted her head. “Why not?”
“Why don’t you think you’re the right person?” he asked again. Lena blinked. “If it’s because you really don’t want to do it, fine. I’ll leave and we won’t ask again. But if it’s because others have it worse, and that somehow disqualifies you from having a voice on this, then….”
“There’s a difference between having a voice and using a newspaper to shout across the rooftops,” Lena countered. “There’s got to be someone who’s more affected by this, someone who knows more about the struggles of the community.”
“There are, and Kara will be interviewing them. But Lena, you and I both know that the nature of our business is the face behind it. People don’t know the experts-- they’re just more talking heads like they see on any television program. We need someone familiar to bring it all together into a package people want to see and here. And here in National City, that person is you.”
The concept didn’t seem to sit well with Lena. She dropped her gaze, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. James understood her reticence. Agreeing to the interview could open her up to criticism or worse, and ultimately, her company would take precedence over all else. If there was a risk its prospects could be damaged, James had no chance of winning her over.
James leaned forward in his seat, eager to put her mind at ease. “Okay, how about this? You get veto power.” Lena’s eyebrow lifted incredulously. “I mean it. You’ll get a read before it goes to print, and if there’s anything you don’t like, we yank it, no questions asked.”
Lena’s lips curled into a smirk. “That sounds suspiciously like bias, Mr. Olsen.”
“There’s no scoop here other than what you’re willing to give us, Lena. You haven’t opened up to any news source about what happened here at L-Corp. Other than that, it’s a social commentary. I agree that bias doesn’t carry much weight with what we’re proposing.”
“You make an enticing offer,” Lena allowed, “and it’s more leeway than I thought you’d ever agree to. But I just don’t have the time. I know you want to start before the surgery, but I only had seven minutes free this week, and we’re using them now.”
James lifted his hands. “We’ll wait until after you’re back.”
“But you said…”
“I know what I said. And I think we were wrong. It’s not your job to straddle the invisible line. It‘s our job to connect the dots to get you there regardless of where you are in the recovery process. And we will, if you agree to work with us.”
“I’ll think about it,” Lena promised. “That’s the most I can give you right now.”
James grinned. “Great!” Lena gave a tight smile, and reached for her file again. “There’s one more thing I was hoping to talk to you about.” Lena took her hand back, settling in her chair once more in expectation. “After our meeting at CatCo, I reached out to a friend of mine, and Supergirl’s.”
“Ah,” Lena said. “The mysterious Lucy.”
James paused, surprised that Kara would have mentioned his ex. “Yeah,” he confirmed. “Well, she’s a JAG lawyer, and I explained a little about what happened.” His eyes shifted to her sling, causing Lena to shift uncomfortably in her seat. “I didn’t name names, but she put me in touch with some attorneys who would be interested in helping you press charges against Superman, if you wanted.”
Lena froze, distrust darkening her gaze as she stared at him. James knew that look. He’d seen it on Superman more times than he could count. Clark always looked for the hidden agenda, suspecting ill intent behind any overture of help. Though it felt odd seeing it now reflected in narrowed green eyes, James weathered it gamely.
“What happened was wrong, Lena. You deserve the right to seek justice if that’s what you want. If it’s something you need in order to move forward.”
“And seek what?” She smirked, but it was devoid of humor. “Damages? Jail time?”
James shrugged. “Even if it’s just a slap on the wrist, it would show that he doesn’t get a pass just because he’s Superman.”
“That’s exactly what he gets,” Lena said quietly. Her fingers reached for her pen, tapping it against the desk in distraction. “You know, a few years ago I might have taken you up on that without hesitation. But now…?”
Her cheeks flushed, and from the way she chewed at her lip, James knew that it wasn’t just about Superman anymore. She inhaled sharply.
“Suing Superman would put L-Corp in the ground,” she said. “And as soon as I file charges, every bozo with a grudge will do the same. Superman could stand to learn he’s still accountable, but any flood that comes his way will come for Supergirl too.” Lena shook her head. “I won’t be the one to open that door.”
James leaned back in his seat. He couldn’t say he was surprised… but he was, a little. In his chest, he felt the last bit of reticence break away. He’d accepted Lena was a good person a long time ago. But the little part of him that still cared too much for Kara had held back, waiting for some kind of sign that Lena wouldn’t do to her what Kara had done to him. And now he had it. In the silence, Lena’s phone beeped.
“Miss Luthor?” Jess’ voice came over the intercom. “Your next scheduled appointment has arrived.”
James’ eyebrows shot skywards, picking up on the ever so slight emphasis on scheduled. Lena’s lips pursed, fighting a smile. “Thank you, Jess. I’ll be just a moment.”
She clicked the intercom off, then started to laugh. James joined in with a chuckle. “I guess I’m on her shit list,” he surmised aloud.
Lena nodded, still grinning. “If you really want to make it up to her, she likes those chocolate dipped strawberries you can get in the mail. The big ones.”
“I will definitely do that. Thanks, Lena.” James rose, and Lena stood with him, extending her left hand.
“Just maybe call ahead next time,” she warned. “And about the interview…”
“Let me know what you decide after your surgery,” James said, waving it off. “You’ve got enough on your plate right now. It’s not urgent. And hey,” he pulled her attention back up to him. “If you or Kara need anything next week, just let me know, okay? Winn and I are on standby.”
Lena’s eyes softened, and she nodded. “Thank you.”
James smiled. She didn’t hesitate so much any more when people offered to help. Kara had quite a lot to do with that, he knew, but he’d noticed it extended to him as well, after the technology symposium. This time, however, he sensed it had to do with the fact he’d moved against Clark, in a way. He’d chosen Lena, and probably hadn’t been expected to.
“See you around,” he said.
Lena nodded. “Count on it.”
Kara certainly noticed when James left his office in the middle of the day. She had half a mind to follow him-- she’d bet a double order of potstickers that his outing had something to do with Lena and the interview she’d declined just days before. Just as she reached for her purse, her phone rang. Her eyes continued to track James’s path towards Cat’s private elevator, even as she blindly reached for her phone.
“Kara Danvers, CatCo News,” she reported distractedly.
“Wow, don’t you sound official!”
Kara blinked, drawing the phone away from her ear to check the incoming number. She didn’t recognize it. She put the phone back to her ear. “Um,” she stuttered. “Thanks??”
“Kara,” the caller laughed. It sounded like a woman. Maybe. “It’s Lois. Lois Lane?”
“Lois!” Kara surged to her feet, banging her knee on her desk as she went. Eyes flew to her, but not because of the commotion-- there was only one Lois of note in the world of journalism, and every reporter in the bullpen knew it. “Hi!” Kara continued more quietly. She maneuvered around her desk. “Actually, could you hold on a sec? I’m gonna try and find someplace a little quieter…”
“Caught you in the bullpen, didn’t I?”
“Uh huh,” Kara muttered vaguely.
Lois laughed again. “Sorry. I apologize in advance if anyone asks you for my phone number.”
“I don’t even know your number.”
“You do now!” Lois waited then, until Kara slipped out onto James’ balcony. He’d given her a free pass to use it, and though she didn’t like to abuse it, desperate times called for desperate measures.
Finally, she was stepping out into the sun, phone clamped to her ear, finally out of sight of her colleagues. “Okay, thanks for waiting. Is--is everything okay?”
She and Lois had never been… close. As a kid she’d loved to ask Clark about the woman who’d won his heart, how he’d found love on this huge planet of billions of people. So many people, and you had to choose your own person to marry? The prospect had been so incredibly daunting, but also left her breathless with excitement.
The excitement died out somewhere in high school, but even so she yearned to hear more about Lois. They didn’t actually meet until Kara was in college, and even then it had been as awkward as meeting a cousin-in-law could be. It wasn’t until Supergirl that Kara realized Clark had protected Lois from everyone-- including her. She couldn’t fathom why Lois would be calling now.
“Yeah, everything’s fine here. The doctor said everything was okay--”
“Doctor?” Kara’s nose scrunched, then she gasped. “Oh my gosh! You’re pregnant! And the baby--”
“I’m so sorry! Clark had mentioned, but I’d forgotten, and then-- I wanted to call but I didn’t want Clark to think…”
“No, it’s fine, really,” Lois assured her, tinny voice bright across the connection. “It’s still pretty new. Sometimes even I forget.” A quiet silence passed. “I hear things have been kind of… rocky, over there for you.”
Kara inhaled unsteadily. “Clar-- Clark told you?”
Lois barked a laugh. “Hah! No, not exactly. But apparently James Olsen called Lucy to ask how someone could go about pressing charges against a Super, and well, since there’s not that many Supers, she called me to find out what the hell was going on.” Lois exhaled. “I didn’t know what to tell her.”
Clenching her eyes shut against the sun, Kara tilted her head back in frustration. Now she knew what James had really left the building for. “James shouldn’t have done that.”
“What’s going on, Kara?”
Kara couldn’t find a single shred of journalistic inquiry in Lois’ voice. Only the concern of a worried wife, and expectant mother, tired of being on the outside. Still, Kara hesitated. “Lois, I don’t know if I should be the one telling you about this… It should really come from Clark,” she sighed.
She heard Lois swallow thickly. “Yeah, it should,” Lois agreed. “And I hate to make your situation more difficult, but…”
“But what?” Kara perked up, alarm zinging across her senses. “Did something happen? Besides the letter?”
Lois scoffed. “He told you about that?” She sighed. “Of course he did. No, nothing else, it’s just… Ever since it happened, he hasn’t spent much time at home. At first I thought it was just the usual stuff, but his trips away have only gotten longer, and more frequent. When I ask, he says he’s either been in National City, or the Fortress of Solitude. And I don’t think he’s lying, Kara.”
Kara rubbed her finger on the stone balustrade. Her teeth ground tight, growing more uncomfortable by the second. Every word she heard felt like a violation. Clark had never let her enter very far into his life, and now Lois was just spilling everything. “Lois…”
“I think he’s scared, Kara. This was never something either of us planned on. Jeremiah told him it could never happen. He’d come to terms with being the last of his kind--”
“He was never the last,” Kara ground out tersely, a familiar bitterness rising to the surface.
Lois fell quiet. “Of course. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-- I just meant, he didn’t ever think there would be another generation. And now he’s panicking over how to pass on a history and a culture-- an identity -- he's never really lived. So when he said he was visiting National City, I thought he was talking with you, trying to figure out whatever he felt was missing. But then Lucy called, and... I’m worried, Kara.”
Kara chewed her lip, conflicted. Then finally, she huffed softly. “He didn’t ask me anything about Krypton.”
“But then why--”
“He thinks he knows who sent that letter,” Kara admitted. She glared out at the city, letting her anger wash over her and onwards like a wave. “He’s wrong, but he won’t listen to us.”
“What? But, who?”
She hesitated for only a second. “Lena Luthor.”
Lois paused. “Oh.” Then, “That… seems unlikely.”
Kara blinked. “Really?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, Perry White has been trying to run a story on her since Lex went to prison. But she’s been, what did he say? ‘Nauseatingly kind-hearted’, I think. She’s kept her nose clean, donating tons of money, investing even more into medical research. She discontinued LutherCorp’s weapons manufacturing division when she rebranded, and as far as I know, the company hasn’t suffered for it in the slightest. And Cat Grant interviewed her back when she graduated university. It was Cat’s professional opinion that she was wasted on the Luthors… too compassionate to be in the same basket as them.”
“Oh.” Kara hadn’t known Cat knew Lena at all.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s as cutthroat as it comes about things she commits to, but she had a ethical boundaries Lex and Lionel lacked, even back then.” A sound like papers shuffling sounded across the line. “I find it hard to believe she’d risk the bad publicity of being found out she was experimenting with kryptonite, or bother mailing an envelope of it to a reporter.”
“Well,” Kara said, “you’d be right. She didn’t do it. But Clark is convinced, and--”
Lois sighed, a tight, strangled sound. “So Clark did hurt someone,” she filled in the blanks, confirming the suspicions she’d called with. Kara remained quiet. “He hurt Lena?”
Kara adjusted her glasses. “Yes,” she said softly.
“Oh my god. Is he out of his mind?”
Kara frowned. Lois may not believe Lena would send a letter of kryptonite to them, but her tone clearly suggested she believed Lena would retaliate. Maybe she would, Kara acknowledged. Maybe she should . Supers above all should be held accountable. But Lois didn’t know Lena. She had no business assuming anything.
“Is she okay?” Lois continued a second later, her voice softening.
The unexpected concern threw Kara for a loop. “She’s out of danger. But there’s damage-- we don’t know if it’s permanent yet.”
The line went very quiet. “We?”
Kara pressed her eyes shut. Crap . Confirming her relationship with Lena Luthor to one of the country’s most renowned journalists hadn’t been on her list of things to do today. She briefly considered denying it, but knew doing so would only make it worse. “Yes,” she confirmed.
“Kara, I’m so sorry.”
Clearing her throat, Kara straightened. “I’m sorry, Lois, I have to go. Snapper has an assignment for me.”
“Right, of course,” Lois said quickly. “Absolutely.”
“I don’t know where Clark is right now. I last saw him two days ago, but we didn’t speak.”
“I understand. Thanks, Kara.” Lois hesitated. “I truly am sorry.”
Kara’s eyes started to burn. For the years she’d thought about Clark and Lois, Lois and Clark against the world, Kara always thought of herself as Clark’s counterpart. She assumed that when she found someone she could share her life with, she would be like Clark in every way. But now she wondered if she might have more in common with Lois than she thought.
“Thank you,” Kara rasped. “And congratulations, really. I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine--”
“And if,” Kara sniffled, despite her best intentions not to. “When the baby's born, if you want-- I’ll tell them about Krypton. If they ever ask.” Tears blurred her vision, and she struggled not to blink. “I’ll tell them everything I know. I promise.”
This time, the sniffle she heard wasn’t her own, but Lois’, echoing across the connection. “Thank you, Kara. That means a lot.”
Kara cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
“I hope we can talk again soon.”
“Me too.” And to her surprise, Kara found that she meant it. She liked Lois. And somehow Lois had provided the most human connection she’d had in weeks. With Superman’s shadow hanging over her head, and the aftershocks of her talk with Lena about Supergirl, she’d missed having normal. In the few minutes of conversation with Lois, Kara felt more like Kara Danvers than she had since the attack on L-Corp.
After she ended the call, Kara took a few more minutes to get herself back together. When she finally returned to her desk, the others had all thankfully returned to their work. If they wondered whether she’d been speaking with THE Lois Lane, they’d been distracted by the next story, for now.
Fifteen minutes later, James returned. She almost rose to interrogate him, but her own words to Lois just minutes ago echoed in her ears. Her answers shouldn’t come from James-- they should come from Lena. Kara pulled out her phone and pulled up her conversation with Lena.
Kara: Did James just come to see you?
She stared at the sent message for a long moment, hoping to see the ‘sent’ indicator turn to ‘read’. It didn’t. It took Lena over an hour to respond, and when she did, Kara’s phone rattled loudly on her desk. She snatched it up quickly, stealing a furtive look at the screen.
Then, a few minutes later--
Lena: I’ll be working late tonight.
Kara’s eyebrows drew together in concern. The response sounded distracted, and while it wasn't troubling enough to warrant an immediate visit to L-Corp, Kara clocked out precisely at 5pm to investigate. When she arrived, she flashed Jess a smile as they passed in the lobby. “Boss still upstairs?” she asked.
“Yes,” Jess huffed. “She sent me home. Which is ridiculous because her surgery is in three days and we are nowhere near ready. I offered to stay and help, but she wouldn’t have it. Maybe you can convince her to call it an early night too?”
Kara smiled. “That’s the plan!” she chirped, even as a buzz of alarm started rattling around her brain. Something was up, and Kara didn’t have the slightest idea what it was. She impatiently waited for the elevator to climb, then almost ran to Lena’s office, slowing just enough to knock before poking her head in.
Lena’s head lifted, and a broad smile curled her lips. “Kara! I didn’t expect you to stop by.”
“Well, when my girlfriend says she’s going to be working late the week before her surgery, I wanted to make sure she ate.” Kara scanned the room, taking in the papers spread out across the coffee table and Lena’s desk, and the various windows Lena had just been scrolling through on the wall monitor. “What’s going on?”
For a second, Lena hesitated, and Kara sensed she wasn’t going to share. But then she sighed, rolling her neck to stretch out the kinks that had settled there. “Your cousin sent over scans of the letter he received.” Lena clicked her mouse, bringing up a photo and enlarging it.
Kara peered at the image, taking in the big block letters inscribed at the center of the paper. “ Death to Supers .” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s… vague.”
“I think it’s safe to say the real threat was the kryptonite, not the message itself.” Lena sighed, rubbing a hand across the back of her neck. “The lab that initially examined the letter forwarded their data, and so far I can confirm that the letter originated here. From the meter stamp to the paper, it’s a match to this building.”
“So now all that’s left is the who,” Kara surmised. Lena nodded. “Is the pool really that big?”
Lena gestured widely, the motion stiff with frustration. “I couldn’t ferret out all the people who sympathized with Lex's actions when we re-branded. Doing so would have been illegal, and also impossible. I tried to hire only the people who seemed to share our new purpose, but I couldn’t do much for the ones already employed.”
Kara frowned. “Well, is there any way to rule out anyone who simply wasn’t here the day it was stamped?”
“I double checked with the department heads, and in a building of over three thousand people, only six people were out sick or on vacation that day.” Lena sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.
“I’ve been staring at this for hours. I just don’t know where I should be looking.”
Kara swallowed the urge to recommend an early night; even if she managed to convince Lena to come home, she wouldn’t rest. Kara stepped closer to the monitor, and grinned when she saw the date. “Huh.”
Lena perked up. “What?”
“Oh, nothing,” Kara waved away. “Sorry. I was just looking at the date.”
“What about it?”
“I noticed that it was just a few days after I blogged my article. It definitely couldn’t have been me that sent it, since I was moping on my couch for the third day in row.”
Lena’s eyes warmed at the joke, then hardened suddenly, flashing with realization.
“Uh oh…” Kara warned. “What did I say now?”
“The night you blogged that article… that was the night I was pushed off the balcony.” Lena pushed off her desk, crossing to sit behind it and open up her laptop.
“You think it was one of those guys?” Kara cringed at her own suggestion. “But they weren’t employees. And they wouldn’t have been able to come back days later to mail it. That was a stupid question.”
“But you’re on the right track. One has to do with the other. It’s not a coinci--” Lena froze, blinking sharply before her expression darkened. “Shit.” She shoved her chair back so she could stand directly behind her desk as she reached for the phone. “I can’t believe I missed it. Right under my nose--”
Kara crossed quickly to join her. “Lena, what--”
Lena snatched up the handset of her desk phone and jabbed the numbers for an unfamiliar extension so hard the phone nearly pushed off the edge of the desk. Whoever was on the other end picked up immediately. “Marcus, we have a Code Orange in Accounting. Take a team to lock down the workstation of Alana Farra…. Unknown. Alert the front station, if she is, she does not leave this building.”
Lena hung up, and immediately dialled another extension. Her hand tapped on the desk as it rang, the phone cradled between her her cheek and shoulder. “ Come on, come on-- Yes! This is Lena Luthor. Is Stuart still there?… Please run and catch him. This is urgent. I’ll wait.”
She put the phone on speaker, then pressed mute. “Goddamn it! She was right under my nose. I should have known...”
Kara stared. She’d never heard Lena swear before. “Lena, who’s...?”
“Hello, Miss Luthor?” A voice came over the phone. Lena turned off the mute, and Kara’s mouth closed again. “I’m sorry for leaving a little early, but I had an appointment--”
“Yes, Stuart, of course,” Lena dismissed his concerns. Stuart’s attendance wasn’t even a blip on her radar. “I apologize for keeping you, but I need to know whether Alana Farra reported to work today.”
“Uh-- Alana? No, she didn’t,” Stuart replied, sounding confused. “Miss Farra submitted her resignation last month. Her last day was three weeks ago.”
Lena grimaced silently, eyes pressed tightly shut. When she spoke, though, her voice was as calm and level as if she were speaking about the weather. “Has her workstation been reassigned?”
“No, not yet. We’re still interviewing candidates for a replacement.”
“Thank you, Stuart. That station is now under quarantine. A team will be arriving shortly to secure it. Please alert your staff to provide anything they ask for, and to not impede them in any way.”
Stuart was quiet for a long moment. “Yes, Miss Luthor. I’ll reschedule my appointment to assist them myself.”
“Thank you. I’ll be in touch.”
Lena ended the call with a snap, then dialled out again, this time lifting the handset again. “Hamid? We have breach. Capture anything associated with org ID A_Farra. Two R’s. I want to know every file she accessed, every search she made, every keystroke.” Lena paused. “Since her hire date. I want everything.”
Lena gently replaced the phone in its cradle, and stood silent for a long moment, bracing herself on her desk with her good arm. Her eyes closed tight, her lips tightening even as her heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest. Kara reached to comfort her, only to snap her hand back when Lena suddenly pounded her fist against the desk, twisting out of reach to start stalking back and forth across the carpet.
“I should have known-- I should have seen it sooner.”
Kara stepped forward to intercept Lena’s pacing. “Lena, I’m not sure I understand what just happened--”
“ALANA! When I was looking through LuthorCorp records for traces of CADMUS, Alana helped me pull the files! She knew-- she knew exactly when I found what I was looking for. She’s the one who made the call. Those men-- Damn it!” Lena resumed her pacing, this time to the couch and back. “She must have had a direct line to my mother!”
“How long has she been with L-Corp?” Kara folded her arms in front of her. Lena’s agitation seeped into Kara’s bones, making her itch to pace right along with her, but she remained rooted to the ground, the solid counterpoint to Lena’s anxious energy.
“Since the move,” Lena snarled. She scrubbed a hand over features that trembled. “My mother has had her claws in her from the beginning.”
Lena braced herself against the counter that held the water service. Kara thought she would pour herself a drink to occupy her hands, but once her back was to Kara, Lena simply stopped. Kara could see her trying to calm herself-- the measured breathing, the white-knuckled grip on the ledge, tension so tight Kara could almost hear Lena’s bones creak. But then suddenly, a switch flipped. The tension bled out of Lena in a single exhale, and when she tipped her head back, Kara found no anguish, no anger… nothing but heavy resignation.
The shift was so quick, Kara felt a jolt of alarm.
“This could destroy L-Corp.” Lena’s voice was low and measured, as placid as her earlier outburst had been erratic.
Kara moved then, taking Lena’s hand in hers. “No. We are not going to let that happen.”
Lena tugged free, the motion as wooden as her expression. “Through her Lillian has had access to everything. All it would take is one move to stand against her, and she could release our project list to our competitors. She could trigger an audit, or a federal investigation...”
“Let her. You have nothing to hide,” Kara reminded her.
Lena looked at her, and her eyes seemed distant, though she stood only two feet away. “It doesn’t matter, Kara. Even if there’s nothing to find, just the implication of wrongdoing would damage L-Corp for years.”
“You told me once Lillian couldn’t care less about L-Corp. Maybe she only wanted to keep an eye on what you were working on. Like the isotope she wanted for the Medusa virus.”
Lena shook her head. “Maybe right now, but if she finds out I’m working with you? With the DEO? If she finds out that you and I--”
A bolt of lightning lanced through Kara’s chest, white hot and searing every nerve in her body at the mention of their newly mended relationship. For months, Kara has wondered what would happen if Lena had to choose between her family and their relationship, and never worried. How could she, when Lena had already demonstrated her morals by thwarting Medusa and helping the police build a case against Lillian? But she’d never had to consider Lena would have to choose between them and L-Corp, and in the quiet that followed, Kara’s certainty disappeared. Her stomach churned uneasily.
After a moment, Kara forced her voice to work again. “I know you’re worried,” Kara said softly. Lena didn’t respond. She barely looked at Kara, and when Kara stepped closer to cup Lena’s good elbow, Lena let her.
“You’re also stressed,” Kara continued. “Really, really stressed. Lena, your surgery is in three days, and for the past week you’ve done nothing but work . ” Lena’s gaze slid away from her. Kara tightened her grip on her elbow, and moved closer to let her free hand rest against Lena’s hip. “Please listen to me. I’ve tried not to say anything because I know how much this company means to you, but you’ve been working yourself to the bone, and I’m worried about you. Dr. Starratt said you were supposed to relax-- ”
Kara’s grip tightened on Lena’s hip, urging Lena to look at her. After a long, long moment, Lena did. She blinked, then shook her head. “I’m going to call Ryan to reschedule.”
“If I go out of the office three days after the biggest breach in L-Corp’s history, I will be ruined, with or without my mother’s influence.”
“Whatever damage Alana did is done,” Kara pointed out. “And she’s been gone for weeks!” Lena didn’t respond. “If you reschedule this surgery, you risk the paralysis becoming permanent. Is that what you want?”
“It won’t matter, if I lose this company in the process.” Lena shook her head. “I can’t lose L-Corp, Kara. It’s all I ha…” Her voice trailed into a nearly silent exhale.
Lena suddenly looked down, as though realizing for the first time that Kara’s hands still rested against her. Her hand came down to rest against Kara’s bicep, her grip gentle at first but soon tightening as seconds passed. Life returned to Lena’s eyes as they widened, a shaking breath rattling her chest. Her tongue wet her lips, but when she opened her mouth, no words came. Her gaze lifted to Kara, damp and sparkling. Kara smiled gently.
“No,” Kara corrected, giving voice to the realization she saw dawning in Lena’s eyes. “It’s not all you have. Not any more.”
Tears filled Lena’s eyes, and slowly spilled over without so much as a blink. Kara reached up and wiped them away with her thumbs. “What happened isn’t good,” Kara allowed, “but it won’t ruin L-Corp. Or you. L-Corp is the strongest it ever was as LuthorCorp. Whatever happens next, you will lead L-Corp through it, and we will help you,” she promised. “But right now, I’m worried that if you don’t slow down, L-Corp will be without its greatest asset for longer than just a week.”
Lena took a breath to respond, only to be interrupted by the shrill ring of the telephone. Lena stiffly detached herself from Kara. It took her only a moment to clear her throat and use the very tips of her fingers to dry her eyes without smearing her eyeliner before she was as tidy as she’d been when Kara arrived. When she answered the phone, Lena’s voice betrayed none of the uncertainty of a moment ago. She listened briefly before confirming she was on her way.
“Security has quarantined Alana’s desk,” she relayed. “I need to go speak with them.”
“As soon as I’m done there, we’ll go home,” Lena promised softly. Kara nodded her acceptance. “Are you okay to stay here?”
Kara nodded. “I’ll tidy up.” Lena wouldn’t need the mess of papers anymore, now that they knew who sent the letter. Lena nodded her thanks, and smoothed her skirt. She crossed to the door, but paused with her hand on the doorknob.
Lena couldn’t quite meet her gaze, but her head turned to speak over her shoulder. “Thank you.”
Kara offered a single nod. “Always.”
Lena squared her shoulders and strode from the room. When the door closed behind her, Kara sagged against the side of Lena’s desk, as though Lena had sucked the air out of the room with her as she went. She’d never seen Lena so agitated. Ever. But most unsettling of all was the way her distress had fallen away so suddenly.
As she quickly busied herself with clearing the papers from the coffee table, Kara reminded herself that Lena was exhausted. Anything that happened tonight couldn’t be assumed to be a pattern. But the hazy detachment in Lena’s eyes continued to haunt her, no matter how Kara tried to explain it away.
When Lena returned almost an hour later, she was true to her word. They lingered only long enough for Lena to collect her computer and briefcase before locking up. Dinner was pizza from the parlor on the way to Kara’s, a slice for Lena and five for Kara, all eaten on the walk before they even hit her front stoop. Within minutes Lena was sprawled on her back on the bed with her legs dangling off the edge, her long fingers pinching the bridge of her nose. She declined the aspirin Kara offered.
“I said no.” Lena remained adamant, and the snap in her voice reminded Kara of the talk they’d had barely two days before, about accepting answers the first time they’re given.
Kara sat on the edge of the bed next to her. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I just hate seeing you hurting when you don’t have to.”
Lena sighed, pushing herself back into a sitting position. “It’s not a headache,” she said. Her shoulder brushed Kara. “You were right: I just need to sleep.”
But an hour later, Lena still stared at the ceiling, jaw tight with worry. Kara watched her quietly in the dark for several long minutes. She could feel Lena’s chaotic thoughts, and saw the gears turning in her head even through the shadows. Carefully, Kara reached out and brushed the back of her fingers against Lena’s neck, smoothing strands of hair away from sweaty skin.
“I can hear you thinking,” she murmured quietly.
Lena sighed, drawing her hand through her hair. Long locks spread across the pillow and tickled Kara’s nose. “My brain won’t turn off.”
A smile pulled at Kara’s lips. “C’mere…”
Lena turned over and scooted backwards until her back met Kara’s front. Kara kicked the covers away as she looped her arm around Lena’s waist. “When I couldn’t sleep, on Krypton?” Her voice caught on the name, acutely aware that it was the first she’d ever spoken of it to Lena. Lena stilled in her arms. “My mother held me like this, and told me to close my eyes, and count how long I could keep them closed. That I should just listen to her breathe, and count.”
“I’m assuming it worked?” Lena whispered.
Kara nodded. “Every time. Next time I opened my eyes it would always be morning.” Lena didn’t say anything more. Slowly, Kara felt her breathing slow until it matched her own, and together they breathed. In, and out. Minutes ticked by, and with each one Lena’s tension dissolved by fractions, until her breathing deepened and Kara was certain she’d fallen asleep.
Smiling, Kara buried her nose in Lena’s hair and let her eyes slip shut. “Every time.”
The next morning, Kara woke before Lena for once. Even though Kara often rose with the sun, Lena was usually up an hour before, seemingly able to operate on only the barest minimum of sleep. Kara sighed, nuzzling deeper into the nest of hair under her cheek. She was glad that wasn't the case today. This week had been proof that even Lena Luthor had a limit-- and that she was close to reaching it.
Almost as soon as she thought it, she felt Lena stir. A low groan vibrated Lena’s chest, as she brought up one hand to scrub the sleep from her eyes.
“Good morning,” Kara murmured quietly. She pressed a kiss to the bare skin of Lena’s shoulder, hiding a grin when another groan came, this time low enough to be a purr. “How are you feeling?”
“Like a truck hit me.” Then, “Your mother’s trick worked.”
Kara smiled. Every time. “We could always sleep in for a few hours,” she suggested, careful to keep her voice gentle. A suggestion, not a plea or expectation.
“I can’t,” Lena replied, as expected. Disappointment stole over Kara, but she tucked it away.
“Okay.” She accepted the response without fuss, and felt Lena relax in response, having clearly anticipated more of a fight. When Lena sat up, Kara followed, smoothly climbing out of bed while Lena lingered on the edge of the mattress. “I’m going to freshen up real quick, and then I’ll make breakfast. Eggs okay?”
“Sounds great. Thank you.”
When Kara re-emerged a few minutes later with clean teeth and scrubbed cheeks, she found Lena still sitting in the same position, lost in thought. Yet again, Kara found herself at a loss for words when she tried to find something to say that wasn’t old territory (please, please take it easy today) or a platitude (everything will be fine, I promise). She felt helpless, again.
“Yeah?” Kara pushed off the door jamb, coming fully into the room.
Lena’s head lifted, and their eyes met. “I’m sorry,” Lena said softly. “Last night…”
Kara sat on the bed next to her. “It’s okay,” she replied. “Anyone would have been stressed after learning an employee was spying on them.”
But Lena’s gaze darkened. “No, that’s not what I--” She scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Not that I’m particularly proud you saw me like that, but… I mean what I said about L-Corp being all I had."
“You’re so important to me, Kara. I don’t want you to think that I don't value you, or that you mean less to me than L-Corp.” Lena’s hand found Kara’s and clasped it tightly. “I believe what you said that night on the couch-- that you’re in this relationship as deep as I am. This week has been proof of that, if nothing else. You have been so supportive and caring; knowing that I have you shouldn’t have come as any sort of revelation. I’m sorry if I made you feel anything short of amazing.”
Kara gazed at Lena with a watery smile. She leaned in, and kissed Lena on the mouth, reveling in the gentle pressure of Lena returning it. “You didn’t,” she promised. When she drew back, she scooted closer on the bed until their hips touched. She pressed another kiss to Lena’s temple. Lena tilted her head to receive it, as though craving the contact. “I’m sorry things are so crazy right now.”
Lena's lips thinned anxiously. Kara felt Lena’s shoulders sag, and knew there was more bothering her. “James came to see me yesterday.”
“Oh, yeah,” Kara remembered. In the chaos of the night before, it had slipped her mind entirely. “What did he want to talk about?”
Lena sighed. “He still wants to do the interview.” Her throat clicked as she swallowed, and she brought her hand up to comb the hair away from her face. “I… don’t want to do it.”
“Then don’t.” Kara ground her teeth, hating the agitation slowly creeping back into Lena’s frame. And this time, it wasn’t an injury beyond her control, or a fled employee making her tense. It was James.
“He agreed to all of my terms and then some, even to wait until after the surgery to decide,” Lena rambled, “and I know he’s trying to do something good. And he’s right, my being involved would get eyes on the series, and more eyes could bring more attention to the disabled community, but… I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to talk about this,” she gestured to her sling, “and I don’t want to talk about the attack on L-Corp.”
Kara swallowed thickly. Whether he’d meant to or not, James had hit on Lena’s kryptonite-- her need to help. The past few weeks had been case in point of Lena’s inability to stand by and do nothing. Instead of relaxing in preparation for her surgery, she spent hours on a plan to secure kryptonite she didn’t even have, and worked longer and longer days just to make her eventual absence from L-Corp easier for everyone else. And now that desire to help clashed with her need for privacy, during a week she needed as few moral quandaries as possible.
“Then don’t,” Kara repeated. Lena blinked up at her. “I mean it. I don’t care how many terms he met-- he missed the most important one where you said no.”
Instead of bolstering her, Kara’s words seemed to deflate Lena further. She let her head drop, studying crumpled duvet still bunched in her lap.
“He said you’d be interviewing a lot of people. Your name would be included on the by-line. I don’t want to take that away from you.” Lena's voice cracked to a whisper.
Kara’s gut clenched at hearing another decision James had made without telling her. When Lena reached up to swipe at her eyes, surreptitiously clearing her throat to disguise a congested sniff, the last of Kara’s good morning mood evaporated. She tamped her ire down, focusing instead on Lena.
“Look at me,” she urged. Lena obeyed, and green eyes stared at her through a film of tears. “My career will not be made or broken on this series. You are allowed to decline interviews. You can even refuse to do them with me!” In all the months CatCo had been sending Kara to collect sound bites from L-Corp’s enigmatic CEO, Lena had never turned her away. Not once. Now Kara wondered how many of them had been agreed to just to make her happy.
Kara reached up and cupped her cheek. “You are allowed to do what’s right for you. Even if it was a matter of earning it, you’ve done that in spades. You’ve helped so many people…” Kara smiled. “But it’s not about earning anything. You are allowed to put yourself first. Period.”
Lena’s lips trembled as she took an uneven breath. Kara wrapped her arm around her waist, wishing not for the first time that she could go back to throwing an arm over Lena’s shoulders. But the brace Lena wore, even with her pajamas, served as a loud reminder to be gentle.
“Ever since we’ve met, you’ve bent over backwards to help other people,” Kara continued, “even without them asking, or getting a thank you in return. The one person you seem to forget about is yourself.”
Sniffling, Lena wiped at her eyes again. “I’m sorry.”
Kara nudged her knee against Lena’s, earning a tiny smile. “You don’t have anything to apologize for.”
They sat together for a long moment, letting the quiet wash over them. Then Kara repeated her nudge. Green eyes slid towards her, one eyebrow cocking. Lena returned the nudge, creasing into a smile when Kara giggled. Lena sank against her, releasing a long, quiet sigh.
“Can I ask you a favor?” Kara asked. Lena nodded, not bothering to lift her head from Kara’s shoulder. “For the next two days, could you not work late?” With Lena tucked under her chin, Kara couldn’t see her expression shift, but she felt it. “I understand you can’t take off completely, but after what happened last night… I’m worried about you.” Lena didn’t respond. “Please? For me?”
After a long moment, Lena nodded. “Okay.”
“Thank you.” Kara breathed a soft sigh, taking the win. She pressed one last kiss to Lena’s hair and straightened. “Now, I promised you eggs, and you need to get ready for work. Let me know if you need any help.”
Lena climbed to her feet, clearing her throat as she let her features curl into teasing smirk. “Don’t burn the eggs,” she lobbed over her shoulder as she headed for the bathroom.
“Hey!” Kara protested. “That happened once!”
“Twice,” Lena pointed out with a grin. This time, the smile reached her eyes. “In one morning. But who’s counting?”
“You, apparently,” Kara grumbled. She put on her cutest pout, earning herself a chuckle before Lena shut the bathroom door behind her. As soon as she heard the shower water start running, Kara pulled out her phone and pulled up a familiar contact. “Jess? Hi, this is Kara…”
When Kara arrived at CatCo an hour later, she stormed to James’ office, pausing just long enough to confirm with Eve that he was taking visitors. She could have barged in, and was tempted to do just that. But she wasn’t here as a friend, and this wasn’t informal enough to warrant a casual saunter in like she did some days for lunch. Determined to show him the courtesy he’d denied Lena, Kara waited for Eve to nod before marching inside and tugging the glass doors shut for privacy.
“How could you?!” Kara threw her purse down on the couch as she passed it, slowing only when she got close enough to slam her hands against James’ desk.
James’ head lifted sharply, taking one look before rising. “Let’s take this outside, shall we?” He motioned to the balcony. Kara glared for a long moment, then stomped after him. Once they were out of sight from the main office, James turned to placate her. “Now, Kara, I was going to tell you--”
“Jess said you tried to browbeat her into letting you see Lena yesterday,” Kara accused. Her call to Lena’s assistant didn’t take long that morning. Jess had told her everything, still audibly incensed by how James had arrived without an appointment and refused to take no for an answer. That only Lena’s intervention had kept the situation from turning unpleasant, because she’d granted him exactly what he wanted.
James lifted his hands. “It wasn’t like that…”
“Oh, really? So Jess lied, and you really did leave when she told you Lena wasn’t taking unscheduled appointments?”
“Then it was exactly like that,” Kara fired back. “James, I thought you were her friend.”
James pulled back, hurt flashing behind his eyes. “I am!”
“Then you have a funny way of showing it!” Kara stepped in close, tilting her chin up to glare at him. “She told you no. She said she was too busy--”
“And I told her there’s no deadline. It can wait until after her surgery!”
“And you think that’s helpful? Now she just has something to dread for after her surgery too!”
“She can say no, Kara, no one is forcing her hand here.”
Kara’s chest felt fit to burst, filling with hot, red anger. “She did say no! Twice! But you keep asking! You come back with new terms, hitting all the soft spots you knew would catch her attention. Like doing good, and ‘it’ll help Kara’s career’ and, and-- how dare you use my career as a bargaining chip!”
James’ eyes widened. “Kara, no, I swear, I didn’t! I just mentioned that getting your name on the by-line for a series like this would be good for you. It wasn’t a bargaining chip--”
“But you knew it would be one more point in your favor.” This time, he didn’t deny it. Kara scoffed. “Unbelievable." She started to pace, sharp, jagged steps that took her the length of the balcony and back. You should have come to me first.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what I should have done,” James countered, folding his arms over his chest. His voice turned bitter, clearly uncomfortable. “Because then I would have been going behind her back, right? Letting someone else make her decisions for her?” He shook his head. “No, Lena can decide for herself, thanks. I’m not going to be that guy.”
Not that guy, Kara thought to herself. No, but he’d be the guy to hound Lena, manipulate her. His intentions may have seemed good, but that didn’t hold any weight with Kara. Not this week. Not after last night. How much of her anxiety last night had stemmed from James? How much of her distress could have been mitigated if James had simply waited?
“Of course she can make her own decisions, James,” Kara sighed impatiently. “But the point is that you took advantage of her good nature and her friendship to get what you wanted.”
“This series is about Lena too,” James told her. “I thought it could help her heal--”
Kara slowed to a stop. "Going in front of the world isn’t going to heal her of anything. You’d have known that if you’d bothered to ask either of us. You might have started this series with the best of intentions, but all that went out the window when you chose to badger her.”
“You’re a CEO, James. If someone pushed their way into your office, what would you do?”
His eyebrow lifted. “Like you just did?”
“I checked in with Eve first, thank you very much.” Kara crossed her arms, rocking back on her heels as she glared at him. “Tell me, did you notice whether Lena had a headache yesterday? She hasn’t been all that good at hiding them lately.” James froze, and Kara knew her answer. “When she was last here, did she tell you all the things she had on her plate this week, over there by the elevators?”
Kara knew for a fact that she had-- she hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but that had been the one thing she caught before Snapper had ordered her to get back to work.
“And,” she forged ahead, “if it’s no longer imperative that the series start this week… what was so important about your pitch that it couldn’t wait until after the surgery? Why did you have to talk to her yesterday?”
James’ mouth worked to respond, but no words emerged. His gaze darkened, and the fight bled out of him. Kara’s anger banked slightly at the sight of it. “You were only concerned about yourself, James, and you tried to take advantage of Lena to do it.”
With that, Kara turned on her heel and headed for the door, snatching up her purse on the way.
“Kara, wait--” James called after her.
She did pause, but then surged back towards him, fresh anger boiling in her gut. “And you had NO RIGHT sharing personal information with Lucy!” Her voice lifted, and she forced herself to bring it back down to a volume no one outside his office could hear. “Why would you even think Lena would be okay with that?”
James stepped back, hands lifting in surrender. “I didn’t give Lucy any names, okay?”
“And you honestly thought that Lucy Lane the brilliant JAG lawyer and sister-in-law of Superman wouldn’t put it together? Seriously??” Kara glared at him. “She called Lois, James."
He sighed, what little fight he had left draining out of him. “It was with the best of intentions, Kara, I swear. Lena deserves justice if she wants it.”
“And you think she doesn’t have her own roster of overpaid attorneys just itching to take a shot at Superman?” James’ gaze fell away, cheeks darkening with an uncharacteristic flush, and Kara felt her fury dim once more.
“I understand you may have wanted to help, James, to play the hero. But the truth is Lena doesn’t need a hero. She needs a friend. And that’s the one thing you failed to give her this week.”
James opened his mouth to respond, but Kara waved him off. She’d gotten her concerns of her chest, but the anger didn’t dissipate. She needed to get out of town, cool off. Punch some mountains if she found them.
“Lena hates disappointing people,” she told him, “especially her friends. So if she says no again, just let her... Okay?”
Kara held his gaze until James nodded, lips pressed into a chagrined line. This time, she almost made it to the door before James’ phone buzzed with a new text.
“Kara,” he said softly. Something in his tone made her slow, then stop. She turned to face him. He showed her his screen, and even from that distance Kara could clearly see Clark’s name at the top of the window. “He’s on the roof, says he wants to talk.”
“I don’t think so,” James replied. He shook his head. “But I’m not cool with what he did to Lena. If there’s a side to choose, I’m on hers. If you think it’ll be better if I don’t talk to him, I won’t.”
Kara almost smiled. “You know what? I think he could stand to hear you say that,” she said. “Might mean more coming from you than it did from me.” She paused, a new idea popping into her head. “Actually, could you give me a few minutes head start? There’s something I need to tell him.”
James nodded, and Kara slipped out of his office, pulling up her call records from the day before as she paused in front of Eve. “Eve, can I borrow one of your phone message sheets?”
A minute later Kara landed on the roof, stalking towards Clark before he even registered that she’d arrived instead of his friend Jimmy. She slapped the phone message sheet against his chest forcefully, Lois’ number emblazoned with ASAP in big block letters below. The self-adhesive strip kept the note stuck to his chest even after Kara took her hand away, barely making eye contact with her cousin before turning to leave.
“Call your wife!” she called over her shoulder.
Then she pushed off into the air and zoomed out of sight, scanning the horizon for the biggest mountain she could find.
Lena kept her promise. That night and the one after, she came home on time with minimal homework. Kara was happy with the compromise; Lena worked while reclining on the couch, in leggings and a t-shirt, and getting out of the office did wonders to mitigate the worst of the growing apprehension for her upcoming procedure. The final night before the surgery, they didn’t talk about the next morning, aside from determining what time to get up in order to make it to the hospital on time. But Kara noticed as Lena grew steadily quieter, and the way Lena leaned into her more when Kara sat next to her on the couch.
When the morning came, they rose and got ready with dedicated efficiency. The ride to the hospital remained quiet and the silence persisted even as Kara sat with Lena in the pre-op waiting room. Lena’s leg bounced anxiously, until Kara settled her palm against her thigh.
“Your sister said she’d be here, right?” Lena asked with a sigh.
Kara nodded. “Yes, she did, and it’s still early.” Lena had relinquished Alana’s personnel records to the DEO, certain that they would be the best equipped to locate this newest link to CADMUS. Alex had agreed to meet them this morning for a status update regarding the search. When Kara had relayed Lena’s request to meet, Alex had given her a strange look.
“Two days isn’t a lot of time for us to make much headway on a missing persons,” Alex had warned. “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to tell you guys.”
“I know that, and I think she does too,” Kara acknowledged. “But if it’ll give her peace of mind, it’s gotta be worth it right?”
Alex had groaned then, entirely unenthusiastic about the prospective early hour. “The things I do for you, kid…”
“And I should probably mention that Alex isn’t much of a morning person,” Kara warned. “So if she’s a little crabby… Hey! Alex!” Kara brightened enthusiastically when her sister turned the corner into the waiting room with a large coffee in one hand and Maggie in the other. “You guys made it!”
“Of course we did,” Maggie responded. Alex’s face contorted in a grotesque yawn, but Maggie was as bright and cheerful as ever. “I may have plied this one with a triple espresso, but there was no way we were going to let you go under without checking in.”
Maggie reached to give Lena a hug, which Lena accepted with only the slightest of hesitations. “I’m sorry to ask you here so early,” Lena apologized. “I just… I need to know if you’ve found anything.”
“You were right that Alana Farra was her real name,” Alex offered, reaching out for her own one-armed hug. “Your vetting process also rivals most federal agencies. I had to check to make sure some of that stuff was legal for private companies.”
Lena lapsed into a half-smile. “We take security very seriously,” she explained. “You can see why.”
“Uh huh,” Alex yawned again. “Crap, sorry. Anyway, Alana Farra is definitely her real name, but the problem is that Alana Farra dropped off the grid. It’s like she disappeared the day she left L-Corp.”
Lena paled. “Do you think my mother had her killed?”
“That’s possible,” Maggie allowed, “but it’s more likely that she’s using a new identity. She canceled her lease, sold her car, the works. That screams ‘on the run’, not ‘brutally murdered’.”
Kara felt Lena deflate with relief. There was no love lost between Lena and her mother, but so far Lillian had managed not to cross that thin line from attempted murder to actual murder, and for that Kara was exceedingly glad. Learning that line had been crossed, learning today of all days, would have ruined everything. Not only that, Kara of all people understood the connection between family who have done awful things. She lifted one hand to rub Lena’s back in soft circles, and felt the tight muscles there relax even further.
“Thank you, Detective,” Lena said. “Agent Danvers, I--”
“Ugh, Agent Danvers is still asleep,” Alex groaned. “Didn’t I tell you to call me Alex?” Lena froze, eyes wide as she searched her memory, lips frozen mid-word. “Well, I’m telling you now. It’s Alex. Maggie, tell her.”
“You’re part of the family, kid,” Maggie said, lightly slugging Lena’s good shoulder. Then she brightened, catching sight of another newcomer. “Oh, and would you look at that-- so’s this nerd.”
Winn scoffed as he bounded towards them, breathless. “You will answer for that next game night, Sawyer,” he warned before bending at the waist, trying to catch his breath. “I made it! You’d think the buses would be more on time this early in the morning, but I think the driver was more asleep than I was.” He straightened, grinning. “Hey, Lena. I just wanted to say good luck before your surgery. And also give you a hug if you wanted one. Do you? Want one, that is? I wasn’t sure how you'd feel--”
Lena grinned, and lifted her arm to loop around his shoulders. “Thank you, Winn.”
Kara watched as the hug lingered longer than she anticipated it would, and realized that however routine this procedure was meant to be, Lena hadn’t been as unaffected by it as she’d claimed to be. Maggie seemed to notice it at the same time.
“I think it’s time for a group hug,” she announced, but didn’t move until Lena grinned her approval. Kara carefully positioned herself to protect Lena’s bad shoulder, as Alex and Maggie moved in to wrap their arms around Winn and Lena. She could feel Lena laughing under her, and when their eyes met, the last of her apprehension had been chased away by warmth. She silently kicked herself. She should have called in reinforcements sooner.
“Mind if I join?”
Kara bristled when her eyes landed on James, but Lena’s hand on her shoulder kept her temper in check. “It’s okay,” Lena said softly. Their eyes met in a meaningful glance. “Give us a minute?” Kara nodded, stepping back to give Lena room to slip through in front of her. Kara watched her go, and sighed for sympathy when Alex sidled up next to her.
“Why are you mad at James?” Alex asked, taking a long swig of her coffee.
“He’s been hounding Lena to do an interview series for CatCo,” Kara grumbled.
Alex rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t that woman have enough on her plate?”
Warmth pooled in Kara’s stomach at the vindication. “That’s what I said. Yesterday! When I specifically told him to lay off.” She paused. “I may not have been very nice about it.”
“Who cares about nice? We both know how stressed Lena’s been, and this hasn’t been a cakewalk for you either,” Alex pointed out. “She seems okay with him here, though. Maybe he wants to mend fences.”
Kara let her gaze travel back to where Lena and James spoke softly off to one side, and resisted the urge to listen in. “Maybe…”
Lena gave James a tight smile as she pulled away from the group. She tucked her hand into her jeans pocket, slowing to stand stiffly in front of him. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” she offered by way of greeting. “Or Winn.”
She hadn’t expected Maggie to come either for that matter. Yet here they all were, devoting an ungodly hour of the morning to see her off. James shifted his feet, and Lena let her gaze slide away as their attempt at conversation ground to a halt. Her fingers curled in her pocket, digging into her hip as she took a breath to steady herself.
“I’m not doing the interview, James.”
To her surprise, he nodded. “I know. It’s one of the reasons I’m here. I wanted to let you know we’re not pursuing the interview series after all.”
Lena felt a familiar unsettling churn in her stomach. Here it came: the backhanded blame for removing any public interest in a story that couldn’t gain traction without her.
“We-- I should have pulled it sooner," James continued. "I thought this would be an opportunity for CatCo do something new, a tangible result of my time serving as Cat’s fill-in. But in the process, I wasn’t a very good friend. You tried to tell me how uncomfortable you were, and I didn’t listen. I should never have put that burden on you, especially not right now.” He held her gaze, and in it Lena sensed his sincerity. “I’m sorry.”
Lena felt her smile widen, relaxing at the apology. “Thank you.”
“I do count you as a friend, Lena,” he affirmed, “and I’m going to do a better job showing it.”
“Yeah, me too,” Lena agreed. She craned her neck observe the group behind her. “I could probably start by stop being surprised when this happens.” The smile on her lips wouldn’t leave. She didn’t know what she could say to thank them, but their presence helped distract her from thinking about the procedure ahead.
James grinned back. “Yeah, Danvers & Co. are good people.”
“I got the ‘Alex’ green-light just now.”
James tilted his head, eyeing her. “You had that already.”
“Yeah, that game night we played poker, Mario Kart, and… Apples to Apples? I think.” James smirked, waving away her confusion. “I also think that was the night Kara was trying to get you drunk, so it’s not surprising if you don’t remember.”
Lena’s brow furrowed. “I don’t remember much of anything from that night… except the hangover the next morning. Hard to forget that.”
The waiting room quieted as a young nurse stepped into the room, clipboard in hand. Her gaze focused on Lena almost immediately. “We’re ready for you and your partner to come back to the prep area.”
Lena nodded, stepping away from James.
“Hey.” James reached out one hand, and Lena briefly clasped it. “Good luck. We’ll see you on the other side.”
Lena nodded. “Thanks.”
As she passed the others, they each offered her a smile. Alex even gave her another hug, while Maggie patted her on the back. When she took Kara’s hand to follow the nurse, Lena found she wasn’t so uneasy as she’d been the night before, or even that morning when she first woke up. It wasn’t that her brain didn’t automatically jump to the worst possible outcome-- oh no, she had that and more. It was that even that worst possible scenario didn’t seem so daunting, now that she knew she wasn't facing it alone.
Over an hour later, Kara traveled back to the waiting room-- a different one from where they’d been that morning. Everyone perked up when she entered, and she offered them all a weary smile. “She’s in the OR now.”
“How was she doing?” Maggie asked, leaning forward in her seat.
Kara nodded. “She was in good spirits. I think seeing you all really helped.” She smiled against the sting of unwelcome tears. “Thank you for coming.”
Alex rose from her seat, and wrapped Kara in a tight hug. “Of course,” Alex said, rubbing circles on her back. Kara gasped softly against her shoulder. Now that the procedure had finally started, a clamp loosened in her chest, and her hands started to shake against Alex’s back. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay…”
Kara nodded. Still, she kept hold of Alex until the tremors faded. When they pulled apart, Alex rubbed her shoulder. “I’m going to get some more coffee. Want some?”
“Thanks,” Kara accepted with a nod.
When she left, Maggie took her spot. “It must be nice to finally be doing something, yeah?”
Kara nodded, clearing her throat. “Yeah. If nothing else, it’ll help with the pain. She hasn’t complained, like at all, but I know that it’s been bothering her. And yeah, finally doing something about it is a good thing. I just hope it works out like they hope.”
James came to sit on Kara’s other side, cautiously laying his hands in his lap. Kara swallowed. “I’m sorry I snapped at you yesterday,” she said quietly.
“No, Kara, you were right. I thought the series was the thing I’d been looking for, to leave a mark on CatCo. But I was so focused on that that I didn’t see how much Lena was struggling. You reminded me what was really important.”
Kara nudged him. “You’ll find another way to leave your mark, James.”
“Actually,” James countered, “I’m not so sure I want to.”
“What do you mean?”
James spread his hands. “I never wanted to be Cat Grant,” he told her. “I never wanted to be editor-in-chief. Of anything. I thought I might warm up to it, but now I realize… it’s too far away from everything. From everyone. The reason I became a photographer was because I enjoyed finding the soul of things, and capturing it on film. But up in that office, I don’t see anything but numbers.”
Kara gave him a gentle nudge. “Sounds lonely.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah. A little bit.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Kara stared at him, and felt a knot of unhappiness untie itself when James smiled at her.
He shook his head. “You guys have enough going on without me adding to it,” he responded. “But calling me out when I need it always appreciated.”
“Oh, well,” Kara scoffed, giggling despite herself, “that I can do.”
James grinned briefly before growing solemn. “How about you? Are you okay?”
Kara took a deep breath, eyebrows lifting. “Yeah,” she said, not entirely truthful but not quite a lie. “This is good, it’ll be good for Lena's shoulder to finally start healing. And maybe things will calm down a little now.”
“I’m sorry, Kara, really.” James looked at her in sympathy. “I tried talking to Clark, but he didn’t stay long. Whatever you said seemed to rattle him.”
Kara shifted uncomfortably. She hadn’t heard anything else from either Clark or Lois. She hoped Clark had gone back to Metropolis, but the uncertainty of his whereabouts made her uneasy. James seemed to sense her disquiet because he soon shifted the conversation to his latest communication with Cat Grant, who last touched down in the Himalayas somewhere, and then into a comfortable silence.
The hours passed, and Kara’s calm stretched thin as the hours passed. Ryan had estimated six hours, and as hour four rolled into five, she started to fidget, and by hour six she was pacing. But still another hour later no one had come to update them.
“Something is wrong,” Kara muttered. She pivoted on her heel and marched the other direction.
“You don’t know that,” Alex said, rising from her chair to intercept Kara mid-stride.
Kara shook her head. “Dr. Starratt said six hours. Why haven’t we heard anything? They would have sent someone by now.”
“That still doesn’t mean anything bad ,” Alex pushed. “They could be taking their time, or fixing something they didn’t see in the scans… there’s a lot of hands involved in her surgery, Kara. It could even just be a communication issue. Just give them a little bit longer before you jump to your own conclusions, okay?”
Her only response was an anxious glare. She didn’t like it. Here in the hospital she had no power to do anything but wait. Unless…
Alex’s hands covered her ears. “Do not use your hearing,” Alex muttered. Kara flushed at being found out so easily. “I know it’s tempting, but what will listening in do except make you more stir crazy. Let them work. Ryan’s the best--”
The nurse who had led them into the prep area earlier that morning stepped breathlessly into the waiting room, drawing every eye in the room. Kara gripped Alex’s hand so tightly she a quiet ‘ow’ escape her sister. She forced herself to relax her fingers.
“What is it? What happened?”
Around her, Kara felt her family come together. Maggie put a hand on her shoulder, and with James and Winn at her back, Kara struggled to keep her composure.
The nurse smiled. “The surgery went great.” They all breathed a sigh of relief. Kara sagged, the sudden release of tension leaving her boneless. “I’m so sorry for keeping you waiting. Miss Luthor has been settled into her private room. If you’d like to come with me, Miss Danvers, I can take you back to see her.”
Alex rubbed Kara’s arm. “Go ahead. We’ll be here in case you need anything.”
Kara nodded, and joined the nurse on wooden legs as she led the way out of the waiting room. As they walked, Kara found her voice. “So everything went okay?”
“Oh yes! Miss Luthor did really well.”
Kara swallowed. “Do you know why it took longer than Dr. Starratt expected?”
The nurse hesitated, then took a deep breath. “It was busy in surgery today. They actually finished ahead of time, but no one realized no one had sent the order to notify family until Dr. Starratt noticed no one was with Lena yet.”
“Has she woken up yet??” Kara’s stomach twisted uncomfortably.
“Oh, no! Not at all, she’ll be sleeping off the anesthesia for a few hours yet. But Dr. Starratt likes to brief family on the outcome of the procedure before the patient wakes, so that there’s no surprise. Since Miss Luthor has a private room, he planned to speak with you there.”
Relief poured over Kara. She swallowed and made a note to thank Alex for being right. Nothing went wrong. Rao had smiled on them by granting that small blessing. But as they continued to walk, Kara noticed that the rooms they passed were no longer packed as tightly together. “Where are we going?”
“Miss Luthor is a high profile patient-- the patient coordinator felt a more secure room would help her feel more comfortable, and as a donor she was assigned a room in what we call our quiet ward. It’s more intimate, and helps keep the outside noise to a minimum. It’s a little further than our normal post-op wing, but she should be more at ease there.”
Kara hadn't expected that, and she didn't like the deviation from her expectations. Her instincts itched, and her senses began to reach out of normal range, hunting for any hint of a threat. She didn’t relax until the nurse opened the door to a comfortable room and Kara could see Lena installed on a bed inside. Kara's eyes bounced from Lena to the mauve-painted walls to the lamps on the walls-- currently off, in favor of the bright sunlight spilling in through the wide windows on the far wall. Translucent curtains cut the worst of the glare, illuminating Lena in a soft wash of light.
Lena lay motionless in the bed, shoulder swathed in a new bulk of bandages. Her face was heavy in drugged sleep, and her pale skin highlighted the dark circles under her eyes. Kara wrapped her arms around herself, fighting a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. “She’s okay?” she asked again.
The nurse didn’t seem to mind repeating herself. “Absolutely. We’re just waiting for her to sleep off the sedatives. Dr. Starratt wanted to give you a few minutes to get comfortable, but will be in shortly to give you more details. He wanted to do it personally.”
Kara nodded her thanks. When the nurse left, Kara took a deep breath. She crossed to take a seat in the seat provided. The plush cushioned seat was far more comfortable than what had been in the waiting room. In fact, it would have been more at home in an office or study, save for the wheeled casters it rested on.
“Hey,” Kara said softly. She watched for any sign Lena heard her, even though she didn’t expect any. She rolled her seat closer to the bed, careful not to disturb any of the tubes and wires connecting Lena to the machines monitoring her condition. She reached out and took Lena’s hand in hers, gripping it just firmly enough for it to feel less weightless in her palms.
“You did so good, Lena.” Her voice sounded hoarse even to her own ears. Lena didn’t stir. Kara reached up to wipe the moisture clouding her gaze. “You’re going to be okay.”
“Yes, she is,” Dr. Starratt confirmed from where he stood in the doorway. He gave her a reassuring smile, unfazed by the tremble in Kara’s lips as she cleared her throat. “Hello, Miss Danvers.”
“Dr. Starratt…” Kara nodded to him. “Please, come in.”
“Thank you,” he returned, closing the door behind him. He rolled a stool from a small nook in the far corner and pushed it closer until he could sit at the foot of Lena’s bed. “I apologize for the mix up in updating you about her status. But the procedure went perfectly, and Lena remained stable throughout the entire surgery.”
Kara sighed. “Thank you.”
“We completed the repairs to the scapula,” he continued, “and then moved on to the damaged nerve trunks. Now, we did run into a little snag when the artery re-tore slightly, which--” Ryan assured her when he saw Kara's alarm, “we anticipated might happen, so we were prepared and patched it up quickly. She was never in any danger. We’re giving her a little extra blood to top her off, but that’s it. She’s fine,” he assured her.
“Good,” she breathed. “That’s good. That’s really good?”
“Yes. It is. Now, she’s probably going to be asleep for the next few hours, and when she wakes up she may be pretty out of it. Everybody reacts a little differently coming out of sedation, so don’t be alarmed if she doesn’t seem her usual self. We’ll be checking in pretty frequently until she does wake up, just to make sure nothing changes, but once we get her awake long enough for some quick cognitive tests, we’ll let her sleep as long as she needs.”
“You said she would be released later today?”
Ryan nodded slowly. “I did. That was the near end of the window, but I also know Lena probably didn’t relax very much this past week, did she?”
Kara grimaced, shaking her head. “No, she did not.”
“So, we’re going to let her sleep as long as she needs to.”
“Is-- Is that okay? With the hospital, I mean?”
Ryan grinned, nodding. “Lena is their single biggest donor. They’d let her use this room as a motel if she wanted to. Don’t worry about her stay. She has all the time in the world, and if you need anything, just let us know.”
Kara nodded. “What-- what about… the paralysis? I know Lena has been worried about it.”
“I think there’s a strong chance she’ll get some use back,” Ryan responded after a short breath. “We won’t know for sure until she heals more, and it might not be right away, but nothing I saw in there poses any reason to give up hope.
Dropping her head in relief, Kara brushed her thumb across the back of Lena’s hand,
“Thank you, Doctor Starratt.”
“You’re welcome,” he returned, his voice warm. “You’ve already met Hannah, who brought you here. Tamieka is the other nurse on this unit. You’ll meet her in a bit when she comes in to take vitals. This,” Ryan handed her a small business card, “is my contact info-- my cell number is on here, so if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call.”
Kara accepted the card with a smile. “I will.”
“Try to get some rest yourself if you can,” he advised. “I know it’s been a tense couple of days, but we’re in the homestretch. Lena shouldn’t start to wake for at least a few hours.”
“I’ll try.” It was the most she could promise, and Ryan accepted it with a nod.
“I’ll leave you guys to it,” he said, and then he was gone, leaving Kara alone with Lena once more. Kara sent Alex a brief text outlining the news, then tucked her phone away. She leaned closer to the bed, propping her elbows on the mattress to clasp Lena's hand to her lips. Though the light warming her back wasn’t Rao's, it warmed her as she issued a silent prayer of thanks she remembered vaguely from her childhood. Her memory stumbled over some of the verse, but the language of her home soothed her, until her heart kept time with the steady beat of Lena’s.
Lena slept for three days. She slept so deeply, in fact, that Ryan had to reduce her pain meds in the hopes the discomfort would bring Lena to wakefulness. Which it did, for the harrowing few minutes they needed to confirm that Lena was free of the sedation. But even then it was only a few minutes before she fell asleep again. If Kara wasn’t so worried, she’d have smiled at how astute Ryan’s predictions had been. Kara waited, and watched as Lena’s features grew more restful as the hours, then days, passed.
Her eyes opened around noon on the third day, eyelids sticking from the long rest. However, they focused on Kara almost immediately, which they had not the few times Lena had stirred since her surgery.
“Hey,” Kara said softly. She tucked her book away, and reached out to take Lena’s hand. “How are you feeling?”
Green eyes blinked at her blearily. “Good?” Lena croaked. “I think? Is that normal?”
“Maybe not after surgery,” Kara maneuvered, “but after a long nap, I should hope so.”
Lena’s eyes started to droop again. “What? How long…?”
Kara grinned. “Three days.” Lena’s eyes flew open, and Kara stroked her hand with her thumb. “It’s okay. You obviously needed it.”
“S’weird,” Lena observed, licking her lips as her eyes began to slam.
“What’s weird?” Kara asked, scooting her chair closer.
“I' dunn’t hurt.” Lena’s eyes drifted shut, before Kara could say anything more. She shifted unhappily in her chair. Lena hadn’t complained one bit about the pain in her shoulder, but Kara had been right when she told Alex it had been bothering her. The good painkillers were likely what allowed her to sleep so well now.
The next time Lena woke, only a few hours later, her eyes were fully clear. This time, her rousing felt as though she were waking up from any other nap. “Kara?”
“Yeah, I’m here," Kara answered quickly. "You okay?”
Lena struggled to scoot herself into a more sitting position, and Kara rushed to help, careful not to move too fast or too forcefully. “I think I’m okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“No. I’m not supposed to feel good, am I?”
Nothing about the past few days had been anything like what Kara had expected. But after this much sleep, it didn't surprise Kara that Lena felt better. She told Lena so, and almost kicked herself when Lena’s eyes narrowed. “How long have we been here?”
Lena groaned, covering her eyes with one hand. “What? How--? Oh god, Kara, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean--”
“All right, you listen to me, Miss Luthor.” Kara stood and leaned intently against Lena’s bed, planting her hands on the mattress to lean in close. Lena leaned back to keep her in focus, brow furrowing warily at her sudden seriousness. “You clearly needed that sleep, and I’m glad you got it. I might even agree to not be angry that you didn’t get that sleep when you needed it last week, if you agree to not apologize for it. Deal?”
Lena blinked in shock. “Deal.”
Kara smirked. “Good. Now, Dr. Starratt wanted to speak with you before you drifted off again. Do you mind if we page him?”
At Lena’s head shake no, Kara pressed the call button on the long remote wired to the bed frame. Dr. Starratt and Tamieka the nurse arrived within minutes. Ryan smiled broadly at the sight Lena awake, while Tamieka immediately got to work taking another round of vitals.
“Lena! How are you feeling?”
“Good,” Lena replied. “Which is surprising. How did it go?”
“Excellent,” came the warm reply. “Everything went according to plan. We’ve pieced everything back together, so you’ll be feeling a lot less discomfort in the next few weeks. I think you managed to sleep through the worst of the post-surgery aches, so that’s a plus.”
“How long until we start seeing results?” Lena asked.
Ryan nodded at her brace. “We want you to continue wearing that for a few more weeks while we up your physio, get your arm back into shape. If by then you’ve regained sensation and/or mobility, then we can talk about removing it for longer stretches until you don’t need it any longer.”
Lena swallowed, and Kara didn’t need to read her mind to know that Lena had latched onto if and not let go. “What happens if the sensation or function doesn’t come back by then?”
“Well, as we discussed before, it could take up to a year to get full nerve function back, so if we don’t see it in the next few weeks, it doesn’t mean it won’t come at all. It’ll just mean we do some more scans and tests to see if we can figure out what’s going on in there.”
With a huff, Lena’s mouth twisted into an unhappy bow. “More wait and see,” she grumbled. “My favorite.”
Kara stared at her, shocked, but Ryan’s grin only spread wider. “We have options if nerve recovery is delayed,” he said. “We might even get to play with some cool tech if you end up needing it.”
That got Lena’s attention. Her eyebrows crept upwards, and interest sparked deep in her eyes. Kara’s gaze bounced between her and Dr. Starratt, and only just caught the conspiratorial wink he sent her way. Kara smiled in response.
“In the meantime, I’d like to keep you one more night, and if everything still looks good we’ll let you go in the afternoon, get you home in time for dinner. How does that sound?”
Kara met Lena’s gaze. “Oh, I think we can make that work.” Lena nodded her assent.
When Ryan left, Kara turned to Lena. Optimism filled her chest with bubbles. She wanted to either bind onto someone or else fly free from the stays of gravity, and settled in between by leaning forward to press Lena’s lips with her own. When Lena’s hand tugged on the hem of her shirt, pulling her closer, Kara let her hands lift to frame Lena’s face. After a few moments Kara drew back, then shifted to carefully work her arms around Lena in a soft hug. She buried her face in Lena’s neck, inhaling the smell of her, clouded by iodine and sweat.
Lena sighed contentedly. “I felt really awful last week.”
Kara chuffed, covering a sniffle. “I bet.” She drew back to perch on the bed next to Lena's legs, careful to mind her own feet too close to the nest of wires connecting Lena to the machines monitoring her.
“I didn’t even realize.” Lena snaked her hand across the top blanket to cover Kara's hand with her own. “I’m sorry I worried you.”
“It’s okay. I’d worry about you no matter what.”
Lena shifted. “Have you been here the entire time?”
Kara hesitated before answering, sensing the sudden discomfort in Lena’s tone of voice. Still, she answered honestly. “Yes, I have. Alex has been in a few times to keep me company and deliver food, but otherwise it’s just been me.” She paused, then broke into a grin. “The others have been taking shifts in the waiting room.”
“Yes, really,” Kara squeezed Lena’s hand. “They care about you, Lena. But I hear that Winn’s been working on his Rip Van Winkle puns, so be prepared. They’re going to be awful!”
Lena chuckled, and then for a few minutes, quiet filled the room. When Kara looked up, she found Lena studying her. She cleared her throat. “Are you up for visitors? I could go let them know you’re awake.”
“I’d really like to shower before I see anyone,” Lena grimaced. She squeezed Kara’s hand. “How about this: you stretch your legs while I get washed up, get some food, and then when you come back you can bring the rest in for a short visit?”
Kara considered it, pressing her lips into a thin line. “Are you allowed to get up and around without help?”
“A nurse would help,” Lena assured her. When she saw Kara still hesitate, she continued. “And if you’re nervous about leaving me unattended, why not at least let Alex spell you? Just for a few minutes… I don’t care how plush those chairs are, after three days they might as well be concrete, right?”
She did have a point there. Kara had walked the room when she needed to expend energy, but it wasn’t enough. And now that they had one more night… it might be good to stretch out the kinks. She nodded, and pressed the call button.
“Okay. I’ll send Alex in once the nurse gets here. But I’m only going down to the cafeteria, all right? And I have my phone if you need me to come back sooner.”
When Tamieka entered a few moments later, Kara slipped out. Stopping by the waiting room on her way downstairs. To her delight, Maggie and Winn were both there with Alex, and they joined her on the quest for food and leg-stretching while Alex peeled off towards Lena’s room. Kara’s smile remained in place throughout, her heart truly light for the first time in days.
When Lena emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later in a fresh hospital gown and cotton dressing robe, Alex was already there waiting for her. “Hey,” she greeted breathlessly. The few shuffling steps to and from the bathroom had sucked away more energy than Lena thought possible, and she gladly settled back on the bed.
“Hey, yourself,” Alex returned, helping straighten the bed linens over Lena’s legs as she got settled. “You’re looking good.”
“Apparently three days of sleep did the trick,” Lena drawled, still kicking herself over how exhausted she’d let herself become. To her chagrin, a yawn pulled at her chest. How could she still be tired?
Alex nodded, taking up residence in the chair Kara had vacated. “You had a lot of people worried, you know.” Her tone was too gentle to be a scold, which Lena may have actually preferred. She didn’t like the way Alex looked at her, like she knew something Lena didn’t.
“I know.” She plucked at a loose thread in the blanket on her lap. Then she straightened, and looked Alex dead in the eye. “There’s something I need to do, and I don’t have a lot of time before Kara gets back. Will you help me?”
Alex’s eyebrow crept upward as she leaned forward, intrigued. “Maybe,” she hedged, eyeing Lena carefully. “What do you have in mind?”
Lena grinned. “First, I need your phone…”
Dr. Starratt released Lena the following afternoon as promised. Kara hovered anxiously as the orderly wheeled Lena to the waiting town car. She flushed when Lena assured her she was fine, but when her nervous energy didn’t abate, Lena simply accepted her help climbing into the backseat with quiet thanks. As the vehicle pulled away from the curb, Kara caught sight of Lena typing a message on her phone.
“Just checking in with Jess.” Kara tried not to look unhappy that Lena was already thinking about work. “It’s not work,” Lena elaborated, sensing her displeasure anyway. “I told her I’d check in when I left the hospital-- which should have been three days ago. She’s probably been out of her mind.”
“Oh,” Kara fidgeted. “I texted her already. I didn’t want her to worry.”
Lena’s eyebrows rose when her phone dinged with the arrival of a response. “Which must be why she’s scolding me via text message.” She smiled at Kara. “Thanks.”
Lena dashed off one final message before the car pulled to a stop in front of Kara’s apartment building. Kara quickly came around to offer Lena a hand in climbing out, which Lena again accepted without protest. When she was steady on her feet, Kara turned to lead the way inside. She was so focused on Lena without seeming like she was focused on Lena that she didn’t see what made Lena’s heartbeat surge suddenly, only felt the sudden staccato against her eardrums even as Lena pulled back, hand slipping out of Kara’s.
Kara whipped around in concern, eyes scanning first Lena then the faces passing around them. “What? What’s wrong?”
“N-nothing,” Lena stammered, swallowing loudly. Kara struggled to bring her hearing back down to normal level. “Just tripped on air, that’s all. I’m sorry.” She gave a lopsided grin. “I can blame that on the medication, right?”
Kara blinked. “Yeah,” she said, lapsing into a grin as she looped her arm through Lena’s. “Sure, we can blame the meds if you want.”
The rest of the trip upstairs was uneventful, and Lena didn’t stumble again. She slowed as they neared Kara’s door, allowing Kara to pull ahead and unlock the door. Kara didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary when she pushed the door open and turned back to make sure Lena didn’t bump her arm crossing the threshold. Not until Lena stopped just inside the door, a coy smile on her lips.
It was then she noticed her apartment wasn’t quite dark, and an unfamiliar smell bloomed in her nostrils. Kara turned sharply-- and froze at the sight of the dozens of flowers covering almost every square inch of her apartment. Interspersed among them were candles; some on unfamiliar stands, some colored, some white, all burning with a gentle glow that filled her apartment with light and warmth. A tiered trio of thick, white candles clustered adjacent to the two plates sitting kitty-corner on her kitchen table, completing the picture of quiet intimacy.
Kara inhaled deeply, this time sifting through the fragrances filling her apartment. She could identify three of the different kinds of flowers, the rest unknown to her, but more intriguing was the savory aroma of the meal waiting for them. Lena stepped in close behind her, wrapping her arm around Kara’s waist and propping her chin on Kara’s shoulder. “Did you do this?” Kara breathed. Lena nodded. “But-- how…?”
“I made a call while you went to the cafeteria yesterday,” came the soft reply. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind? Lena, it’s-- it’s beautiful.” Kara continued to stare, taking in the different colors of the flowers, and the ethereal cast of the candle glow. And now she smelled the food sitting on the plates, warm and succulent in her senses. “But… why?”
“It’s a thank you… and an apology.” Lena tugged on her hand, turning Kara until they faced each other. “When I woke up yesterday my mind felt clear for the first time in weeks. I didn’t realize how much I’d been struggling-- or what that struggle had been doing to you. I am so sorry.”
Kara met her gaze squarely. “That’s not your fault,” she told her. “There’s been so much going on…Once things calm down, we’ll be better.”
“There may never be a time when things calm down. Supergirl isn’t going away, and the attack on L-Corp is what started all of this. My life is no calmer than yours.” Lena took a deep, breath to steel herself. “I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I can’t remember the last time I checked in with you, just to find out how you’re doing. I don’t want to lose the little moments like the ones that made me love you.”
Kara nodded. “I want to keep them too.” She smiled. “Especially if they’re moments like this.” She turned and led the way to where the food waited for them. “Rao, this smells good.” She shoved her nose close to the plate, inhaling deeply, and blushed when she noticed Lena watching her. “What?”
“This is a thank-you as well.” Lena stepped closer. The light from the candles softened her features, making her eyes glow.
Kara straightened and reached out for her hand, which Lena delivered without hesitation. “There’s no need to thank me for caring about you.”
“Yes, there is,” Lena corrected. “And not just that. I want to thank you for telling me about Supergirl. For trusting me with a truth I know must not have been easy to share.” Lena shook their hands gently, setting them to swinging. Her eyes smiled in the candlelight. “You’ve saved my life, Kara. You’ve been my best friend, and my staunchest supporter. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but the thing is... you never make me feel like I have to. Instead, you’ve accepted all of me, without question. And now you’ve given me the chance to do the same.”
Kara stepped in towards Lena, drawing her world down to the two of them. Lena’s heartbeat thumped wildly, shaking all of Kara’s senses with each pulse. “Lena…”
“I love you, Kara Zor-el. All of you. This next step isn’t going to be easy, or calm, but it’ll be with you, and honestly…” Lena flashed a smile that made Kara’s heart stutter. “I can’t wait.”
Before Kara could even think about what she was doing, her lips were on Lena’s, and Lena’s arm wrapped around her waist, tugging her closer. Kara deepened the kiss when Lena’s teeth tugged on her lower lip, and for an all too-brief moment Kara lost herself in Lena. Her taste, the sound of her breaths in her chest, the scent of her shampoo-- there was nothing but Lena.
Kara’s hands reached for the hem of Lena’s shirt when Lena yelped sharply. Kara sprang back, heart in her throat. “I’m sorry! Are you okay?” She swallowed, inching backwards until Lena reached out and snagged her by the wrist.
“I’m fine! I’m fine, it was my fault.” Lena smiled, though tears gathered in her lashes. “I bumped the damn table.”
“O-oh,” Kara stuttered. She pressed her fingers to her tingling lips, which curled into a smile. “Between tripping on air and bumping tables, you are on fire tonight.”
But Lena’s grin only grew more sheepish. “I didn’t actually trip,” she confessed. “We almost ran into Alex and Maggie on their way out.”
“Alex and Maggie?”
“They agreed to let in the flowers and the chef, and babysat the candles until we got here. They're the ones I was texting in the car. Not Jess.” Lena grinned. “When I saw them I thought the surprise was ruined.”
Kara sighed, hanging her head at her own laser-focus on Lena that had obscured even Alex from her awareness. “So that’s why your heart did that.”
“If you mean almost have a heart attack, then yes. I really wanted it to be perfect.”
Kara stared at her, taking in Lena’s rumpled shirt and smudged lip gloss, and felt her heart jump again. “It is,” Kara said softly. “Perfect.”
Lena’s eyes flickered down to her lips, and Kara licked them nervously, forcing her feet to remain locked in place against the urge to close the distance between them again. “We should probably put this on hold,” Kara recommended, clearing her throat.
Lena chuckled. “Yeah,” she agreed, “that’s probably a good idea.” Her hand slid down to lace her fingers with Kara’s. “Sorry.”
“No, don’t be, I shouldn’t have--”
“Kara,” Lena laughed again. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” Her thumb stroked Kara’s. “Why don’t we eat?”
“Yes!” Kara agreed readily. “Yes, that’s-- that is a good idea.”
“And afterwards, I’ll probably be dead to the world,” Lena prepared her, which Kara knew wasn’t hyperbole. Dr. Starratt warned that Lena’s energy would come in waves for the next few days, and would likely wane without warning. “But in the bathroom I asked them to leave some of those bath salts you asked me about.”
“The kind you have that comes from Israel? Lena, that’s too much!”
Lena lifted a single eyebrow. “No, it’s not. Look, I know how stressful the past few weeks have been for me. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you,” she said gently. Her features darkened in self-recrimination. “I dropped the ball, making sure you were okay. I wanted to do something now that you could use to relax. So if I do end up passing out on you, I thought maybe you could draw a warm bath, and take some time just for you. Those salts always help me relax, so I-- I just--” She exhaled sharply. “I’m sorry if it’s stupid. You don’t have to--”
Kara squeezed her hand. “No, it’s not stupid. It’s really, really thoughtful. All of this--” she gestured to the room around them, “is so beautiful. And I’ve always wanted to try those salts.” She grinned mischievously. “In fact, if you want to skip dinner, and go straight to bed, I wouldn’t say no…”
Lena laughed, pecking a kiss to her lips. “As tempting as a real bed sounds right now, I’m actually starving so I really do want to eat.”
They let the candles burn as they ate, and for once Kara took her time savoring every morsel. No matter how many times she asked, Lena wouldn’t tell her who had cooked for her, admitting only that it was an Iron Chef. The bottle of wine left for them got set aside, since Lena couldn’t drink with her meds, and Kara didn’t want to drink without her.
“You should save it for when you’re in the bath,” Lena suggested. Her voice dropped to a rumble. “There’s nothing better than a glass of wine while lying in a warm bath. And you could have the whole bottle without any ill effects, so… bonus.”
Lena’s grin teased her in the flickering light. The food quickly disappeared, and when they set their forks aside, Kara saw Lena’s eyelids start to droop. “Time for bed?” Kara asked.
Shaking her head, Lena wiped her mouth with her napkin, tilting her head towards Kara’s fridge. “Not yet.”
Kara rose, pegging Lena with a curious stare as she crossed to open her refrigerator. Glancing inside, she gasped. “Whaaaaaaaaaat is this?!”
She reached in and pulled out the most glorious chocolate torte Kara had ever seen in her life. Lena grinned knowingly, pleased at her reaction. “It’s their speciality,” she said. “For close friends only, and luckily for you, I’m one of those friends…”
“Lena Luthor, you are full of surprises.” Kara set the torte down between them, kissing Lena again before hunting for a knife to slice it with. Triumphant, she whirled around and started the first slice. “Tell me when,” she said, angling the knife outward.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa...” Lena reached out and caught her hand, gently pushing it back towards the starting cut. “Like, half of that.”
“Gotcha.” Kara expertly balanced the slice onto Lena’s plate, then cut her own slice. Before she could get it onto her plate, a forkful of chocolate appeared in front of her face.
“Here,” Lena offered. Kara accepted the morsel, and almost dropped the knife in her hand as chocolate melted over her tongue. She moaned, eliciting a chuckle from Lena. “Good?”
“Omigod, so good!” She bounced in place excitedly. “Mm, mm, MMM!” She opened her eyes to beam at Lena, and nearly swallowed her tongue as Lena licked a smear of chocolate off the tip of her finger.
Lena blinked at her. “What?”
“You-- you’re--” Kara flushed, ducking her head to hide it. “You’re pretty awesome,” she finished lamely.
“You’re pretty amazing yourself, Kara Zor-el.” Lena smiled at her, completely oblivious to the sudden churn in Kara’s stomach. Kara reached out to cover Lena’s hand with hers. “What?”
Kara met her gaze, feeling suddenly like her chest had split open. “Can you say that again?”
Green eyes studied her, and in the flickering light of the candles Lena’s features softened. She brought Kara’s fingers to her lips. She kissed them, then brushed her thumb over her knuckles so tenderly that Kara almost melted, right then and there.
“I love you, Kara Zor-el.”
Kara’s breath caught in her chest. She held Lena’s gaze, and tightened her grip on her hand. Tears clouded her vision, warping Lena’s delicate smile. But she swallowed the lump in her throat, and somehow found the breath to speak.
“I love you, too.” It was little more than a whisper, but Lena's eyes lit up like Christmas. "I really, really love you too."
Clark soared over National City with one ear open for any hint of Kara. Lois had warned him to tell Kara of his intentions, but Clark knew Kara-- she wouldn’t agree to anything he had to say. As he neared the five-story apartment building in the suburbs, he heard the faint sound of humming, the tune low and smooth. He scanned the interior of the top floor and saw only a single figure sat at a small table in the kitchen. The slightly out-of-tune humming told him it couldn’t be Kara. The sling bracing the figure’s right arm confirmed it to be Lena Luthor.
Slowing carefully, Clark dropped soundlessly onto the immaculately groomed terrace. One half of the stone veranda was home to more than a dozen large leafy potted plants, dotted with the bright colors of spring flowers. Their scent drifted to him on the breeze that fluttered his cape.
The french doors leading inside stood open, allowing the fresh spring air to circulate inside the spacious apartment. Clark neared the threshold just enough to be in plain view-- he didn’t cross it. The apartment’s occupant didn’t notice his arrival until he cleared his throat.
Lena startled at the sudden interruption. Her eyes darted up from her paperwork, and her heart rate spiked sharply at the sight of him. But her expression quickly shifted to one of exasperation, and she sighed sharply. “I need to move,” she muttered under her breath. She pushed to her feet, removing her glasses and setting them aside as she crossed into her living room.
“If you came here to shake me down again, I wish you’d done it a week ago,” she delivered coldly, hand fisted at her side. “It would have been nice to only need the one surgery.”
“I came to apologize,” he confessed. A dark eyebrow crept upwards. Her skepticism was well-deserved, and Clark swallowed. “May I come in?”
For a long moment, Lena didn’t respond. Then, with a silent tilt of her head, she gave him leave to step into her living room. He entered carefully, closing the distance between them until he sensed Lena starting to draw back. There he stopped, and when Lena still didn’t speak, Clark realized she expected him to continue.
“I hear the DEO has agreed to your proposal,” he started. He glanced around the room, taking in the heavy wooden furniture and soft fabrics. It surprised him, how little it looked like Lex’s apartment when they’d been in school together. Lex’s arrangements had been the bare minimum, sparse and pale. It didn’t need to be anything more, as he spent most of his waking hours at LuthorCorp or in the labs. “I suppose it’s not surprising,” Clark continued, “given that you had Supergirl’s support from the start.”
“That’s a strange apology,” Lena answered with a roll of her eyes. Still, she indulged his non-sequitur. “It could be they recognize that it’s not the policing measure you believe it is, but rather a worst-case contingency.”
Clark turned aside, scanning the pictures lining the mantle over the fireplace. His eyes caught on one in particular. A young Lena lying on a checkered blanket, long hair spread in a dark halo around her head, beaming as she tilted her chin to look at the young man lying next her. Clark recognized Lex immediately, despite the full head of floppy curls immortalized by the image.
“Someone reminded me recently of what it was like when I first met Lex,” Clark began.
Lois had been waiting for him when he’d returned to Metropolis following Kara’s delivered message on the CatCo rooftop. She started in on him the second he landed, and didn’t stop until hours later. The fight had been the worst in their history, in large part because Lois had no qualms resurrecting the taboo Luthor name. To her, Lex was just a man-- incredibly dangerous and full of hate, but human. Sometimes villains aren’t born, Clark, Lois’ voice rang in his ears. Sometimes they’re made.
Lex’s sister gazed at him now, withholding her words and her judgement in complete silence.
“I counted him as a good friend,” Clark continued, turning away from the childhood photograph. “We were close, once. I regret we became enemies. I count it as my greatest mistake.” He met Lena’s gaze squarely. “I don’t want to make the same mistake with you.”
Though he hoped his words would soften the glare in her eyes, Lena merely lifted a haughty eyebrow. “Is that why you assaulted me?”
Clark’s gaze flickered to the brace on her arm, and hated what he saw. One glance with his x-ray vision revealed the pins in her shoulder blade and the nerves painstakingly stitched together. He hadn’t meant to hurt. He hadn’t even meant to touch her. But the moment Kara’s name passed her lips, Clark had reacted. One impulsive act in the space of a heartbeat had damaged Lena for months to come.
“I never meant for that to happen,” he started, only to fall quiet when Lena’s gaze lifted away, as though bored.
“And yet I still haven’t heard an apology.” Clark took a breath to follow-through, but Lena cut him off with a lift of her hand. “Save your breath. It’s worthless to me anyway.”
“And you can save your sob story about how difficult it was for you to throw my brother in prison. I’m not interested.”
Clark ground his teeth together. “I tried to get through to him--”
“Don’t you mean you lied to him?” Lena’s voice remained level, but suddenly it sounded like it could cut sharper than any knife. Green eyes skewered Clark in place. “Clark Kent came into my brother’s life, accepted his friendship, and all the while you kept putting on that suit and fought him, time after time… You’re a liar, and a coward.”
Every muscle in Clark’s body locked tight in alarm. His hands curled into fists, but he disguised it by propping them on his hips. A haughty stance, but not a violent one. Lena didn’t waver, certain in her knowledge. She’d guessed the truth of his identity, and knew she was right. “How did you know?”
“Once Kara revealed she was Supergirl, her disguise struck me as familiar. And then I realized where I’d seen it before.” She smirked. “You were on Lex’s list of possibilities for a long time.”
Clark watched her carefully. “So he included you on those conversations, did he?” He searched her features for any hint of sympathy for her brother, any suggestion that she thought Lex was in the right.
“At first, briefly. Before he got tired of hearing my lectures.” Her lips curled into a mirthless smirk as her chin tilted. “And then I heard barely anything at all until my mother called me to tell me my brother had been arrested. Until I had to sit in that courtroom and watch my life be torn apart. Until every night I saw Superman on the television assuring the world how much safer it will be now that there’s one less Luthor on the streets. Until Clark Kent eviscerated my family in the papers, opening the door for every reporter in Metropolis to do the same.” She shifted her stance, rolling her eyes in derision. “But by all means, tell me how hard all of that was for you.”
Clark didn’t take her up on it. “What do you intend to do with this information?”
Lena scoffed. “Will you believe me if I say nothing? I may hate you for what you did to my family, Mr. Kent, but I have no quarrel with you. All I want to is be left alone.”
“I won’t stand by silently and watch what happened to me and Lex happen to Kara.”
Green eyes flashed dangerously. “You are the only one here who has posed any kind of threat to anyone,” she fired back, gesticulating sharply with her good hand. “You entered my home uninvited. You made unsubstantiated claims against me. You put me in the hospital. As for Kara, she can handle herself.”
“Kara is young. She’s reckless.”
“Kara has compassion. She may be an alien, but she has more humanity than most humans I know.” Lena blinked, her features softening into true understanding for the first time since Clark arrived. “And you can’t fathom that, can you? No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you pretend to be human, you will never measure up to her standard.”
Clark bristled, hating the way his temper rose to the bait. “Kara trusts too easily...”
“You save people because you think humans need to be saved,” Lena continued, as though he hadn’t spoken at all. “From themselves, from a galaxy you believe they’re not ready for. Kara saves people because she believes humans are worth saving.”
“I fail to see the difference.”
Lena drew back, a smirk curling her lips. “And that,” she said slowly, “is exactly my point.”
Clark had nothing to say to that. To escape the intense focus of Lena’s gaze-- so like Lex-- Clark counted the cars passing on the street outside. He pinpointed the models, the fuel type, and by the time he turned his senses back to the room around him, he knew that whatever in road he’d thought he’d had with Lena was no good. He sighed.
“Will we ever have trust, Miss Luthor?”
An angry flush colored her cheeks. “That’s a question you need to ask yourself, Mr. Kent,” came the terse reply. “I’ve already shown you more trust than you’ve earned-- you’re standing here in my apartment, despite having assaulted me the last time you were here, and accusing me of attempted murder the last time we spoke.”
Tense silence fell between them, until Lena cleared her throat. “As pleasant as this has been,” she drawled, the roll her eyes clearly communicating just how pleasant it was, “Kara is due back any moment. She’s mentioned she doesn’t want to see you, and I’d prefer if the next Super showdown doesn’t occur in my living room.”
Clark nodded, glad for the out. “Thank you for your time Miss Luthor.” He turned to leave.
“One more thing, Mr. Kent,” Lena called after him. Clark paused, and turned back to face her. Sharp eyes pinned him in place. “As of this moment, the slates are clean. But if you hurt Kara, or if you so much as think about touching me again, I promise you that will change.”
The air between them seemed to crackle with tension, and Clark’s senses buzzed with apprehension. Lena’s face smoothed into a mask of dark determination, her eyes never once breaking from his.
“And if you think making an enemy of Lex was a mistake…” Lena’s chin lifted, taking advantage of every inch in her 5’6’’ frame. She didn’t need it. “I promise that making one of me will be the last mistake you ever make.”
Clark held her gaze. Part of him burned to answer the threat with one of his own, to face this specter of Lex Luthor with as much force as he had her brother. But Lois’ voice echoed louder. Everyone is expected to protect their own, Clark. What do you think Lex was trying to do?
Clark merely nodded. “Have a good day Miss Luthor.”
He stepped backwards onto the veranda, and lifted off, with Lois’ words still in his ears.
Sometimes they’re made.
Clark left without so much as a whisper of sound. The fist around Lena’s heart unclenched, and she sank onto the sofa on shaking legs. She let the breeze off the terrace wash over her like a balm. Her hand trembled, and she flexed to chase away the leftover adrenaline. But it wasn’t just adrenaline, this time. Anger burned deep inside of her, and threatened to burrow its way out of her chest. And-- she pressed her hand against her mouth. She’d just threatened Superman. In the space of minutes she’d claimed to not be her brother and then proceeded to fulfill every expectation Superman had for a Luthor.
For several minutes, she simply focused on breathing, reclaiming the breath that Superman seemed to have sucked out of the room in his wake. She focused on the scent of the flowers growing on her terrace, on the rustle of the wind in the leaves, and struggled to find her center. But as her breath returned, Lena’s gaze slid to the photograph that had captured Clark’s attention. She’d almost put the photograph away when Kara had started spending time in Lena’s apartment. Even before she knew Kara was Supergirl, Lena knew it was a risk leaving any trace of her affection for Lex in plain view. Now she wished she had taken it down after all.
Lena shoved to her feet and crossed to the fireplace mantel, snapping the photograph face down. Rage and shame and hurt and hate churned deep in her gut. Clark Kent had no right invoking Lex’s name… claiming him as a friend as though Clark hadn’t lied to Lex for years. She’d met Clark herself in the rare moments she and Lex had been at the manor at the same time. After Lex took over Luthor Corp and she started grad school those times had been few and far between, and at the time she’d resented the reporter for infringing on what could have been private moments with her brother. But that resentment had turned to hate the moment she read Kent’s first article about the danger Lex posed. That hate had festered into utter loathing as the public gutting expanded to include her entire family.
And now she knew the truth. The whole truth, and she wanted to hate Clark even more. If he had even a shred of Kara’s courage-- if he had told Lex the truth, if Lex had gotten the chance to learn of Superman’s humanity, would the outcome have been the same? Would knowing-- being friends with-- an alien made Lex more understanding? If his good friend Clark Kent was the one wearing that symbol and flying around Metropolis, would Lex have doubted his intentions? Or would he have understood, or at least wanted to understand, that Superman only wanted to help?
Lena would never know. She scrubbed a hand over her face, swallowing her bitterness. Clark had cheated her of that by continuing to lie every time he stepped back into Lex’s life and home. But even though Clark had never told Lex the truth, now Lena wondered if Lex didn’t know regardless. Lena knew Lex; he would have planned that final battle in Metropolis for months. Superman had brought nothing new to that fight, nothing Lex couldn’t have anticipated and engineered defenses against. And yet Lex was in prison, and now… now Lena wondered if maybe, just maybe, Lex had pulled back. There was one moment, the moment the news outlets had replayed over and over for months, where the tide of the battle had turned, when Clark had been at Lex’s mercy, before gaining the upperhand. Had Lex hesitated, suspecting that the face under his gauntlet belonged to that of his friend?
Wishful thinking, Lena thought bitterly, snorting softly to an empty room. She turned away from the downed picture frame and a resumed her seat on the couch, leaning her elbow heavily on her knee. She came to terms with the fact her brother was gone a long time ago. No amount of what-ifs would change the fact that the man who grew from the boy in the photograph now wanted Lena dead.
Lena sat in silence until the latch on her front door rattled and turned, pushing open to reveal a beaming Kara. With food bags and boxes piled high in her arms, Kara craned her head around it to see where she was going, apparently forgetting she had x-ray vision that could scan right through.
“I’m back!” Kara announced happily.
Lena struggled to reclaim her barriers, to put the turbulent emotions about her brother out of her mind. “So you are,” she greeted, forcing a smile.
The food plopped down on the coffee table, and Lena saw her shove a small box into her coat pocket before peeling the jacket off and draping it over the armrest. Then Kara filled Lena’s vision completely, fists propped on her hips as she fixed Lena with a stern glare. The sight of her eased some of the uneasiness in Lena’s chest, but the hurt lingered, even as she leaned back and pulled her expression into a self-satisfied smirk. “Yes?”
“Funny thing happened on my way up,” Kara said. “Mr. Young refused to take my ID.”
Kara’s head tilted. “Uh-huh. And then the elevator accepted my fingerprint.”
“No…” Lena said in mock disbelief.
“Oh, yes.” Kara inched closer, until their knees bumped. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
Lena tried to keep a straight face, but utterly failed when Kara put one knee on the couch, and then the other, straddling Lena’s lap. “Maybe I do,” Lena murmured. “Maybe I don’t--”
Kara captured her lips in a kiss. Pleasure shot through Lena from sternum to groin, chasing away the last of her apprehension. She reached to pull Kara’s hips closer, but Kara didn’t budge.
“Your sling,” Kara reminded softly. Lena bit back a groan. She let her head fall back against the couch, and Kara followed, touching her forehead to Lena’s. “Thank you,” she murmured as she stroked the side of Lena’s neck.
“My home is yours, Kara.”
Kara beamed at her with damp eyes. With her walls still fragile after Superman’s visit, Lena felt new emotions bubbling up, this time warm and soft and enough to bring the sting of tears to her eyes. She covered quickly by shifting her gaze to the mountain of food on her table. “What’d you bring?” she deflected.
“From Barcelona?” Since learning that Kara apparently had the tendency to make trips overseas for food runs, Lena couldn’t take anything for granted.
“That--” Kara cocked her head thoughtfully. “...is good to know for next time. Tonight, however, is your favorite from National City.” She paused. “Well, favorites , because I didn’t know which you would want more. So I got your favorite lo mein, and your favorite alfredo, and your favorite brick oven pizza from that artisan pizzeria you like, and… there’s a little of everything.” She winced. “I may have gone a little overboard.”
“Looks like it.” Lena rubbed her palm against Kara’s thigh. She was no longer surprised by the hard muscle she found there, especially now that she knew that they had nothing to do with somehow sneaking in gym time around a reporter’s schedule. “We could just skip to dessert.”
“We are not letting this food get cold,” Kara countered, levering herself off Lena to start dishing out food. Lena immediately missed the warmth, but didn’t pull her back. Instead she sat back and listened as Kara rattled off the names of dishes, and accepts the loaded plate handed to her. When Kara settled next to her with a loaded plate of her own, Lena leaned into her, letting Kara’s voice wash over her with the story of how the Thai place gave her not one extra pork bun, but two.
“...I told them I didn’t need it, but apparently their mother’s third cousin’s daughter was one of the people Roulette abducted and tried to sell on Slaver’s Moon. Small world, huh?”
“Definitely,” Lena concurred, twisting a noodle around the tines of her fork. As their conversation fell aside in favor of eating, Lena’s thoughts wandered. No, they scattered, to half a dozen memories at once… of Lex introducing her to bombas in Barcelona before heading in for a long night of lab work; of sneaking Chinese food into the manor when Lillian was away and eating from the cartons on the floor of his bedroom; of sitting shoulder to shoulder with him when they both slipped away from the family holiday party, sick of schmoozing and inane questions from family friends who were little more than strangers. Of Lex’s eyes boring into her during his trial, burning with rage and hate that had suddenly turned on her.
“Is everything okay?”
Kara’s voice startled her out of her dive, and Lena realized that while Kara had eaten the entirety of what had been loaded onto her plate, she herself had only managed a bite or two. She set her fork aside, suddenly aware of the bitter taste in her throat.
“Yeah,” she said, shaking her head to clear it. “I guess I’m just not very hungry.”
“Oh.” Lena knew she didn’t fool Kara for a second, but Kara didn’t press her. They sat in silence for a few minutes before Kara tried again. “Would you… do you want to go for a walk later?”
Lena set her plate aside, surrendering to her lack of appetite. The smile she offered Kara was thin, but honest smile. “That would be great.”
They didn’t go far, just down the block to the community gardens. In the days following her second surgery, Kara had discovered that Lena’s affinity for flowers went beyond the mere filling of offices. Their doctor-mandated daily exercise walks usually took them here, to where long paths wound between beds of flowers and green, leafy plants, and in their strolls, Lena revealed little by little that she knew the names of every single one.
They had the paths all to themselves tonight, the usual families and children turned in for the evening. As they walked, the small box in Kara's jacket pocket thumped against her thigh, reminding her with every step of the conversation she’d planned to have with Lena tonight. Kara hoped the familiar paths and the bright colors of the blooming flowers would help alleviate the gloom that had settled over Lena during dinner, and pave the way for an opening into the subject she needed to breach.
The setting sun caught on the flowers’ petals, lining their path with a glow that reminded Kara of Krypton. One in particular caught Kara’s eye. “Oooh,” she hummed, breaking away from Lena to sniff a white, tubular flower with swirling petals. “These are gardenias, right?”
Lena nodded, reaching out to stroke one of its leaves. “Did you know that gardenias are actually evergreens?”
Kara looked at her, reveling in the tentative grin that spread across Lena’s lips. “Really?”
“Yeah. They’re also part of the same family as the coffee plant.”
“They’re pretty. And they smell good.” She nudged Lena gently. “You know, I never figured you to be one for plant trivia.”
Lena chewed on one lip, cupping a bloom with long fingers. Kara ran her fingers over glossy leaves, watching Lena from the corner of her eye. She gave her time, sensing that Lena was on the verge of sharing something.
“There was this book,” Lena said finally, her voice soft and hesitant, rasping in her throat. Her eyes remained glued to the flower whose petals she continued to gently stroke. “In my father’s study. It had these beautiful full page photographs on one side, and facts about each plant on the other.”
Lena flashed a deflective smile, as though sensing Kara’s concern. It was brief, though, and didn’t banish the melancholic shadows gathering in her eyes. “Those first few months with the Luthors were… overwhelming. Photographs and interviews and parties to introduce me to their friends. Apparently I used to slip away, and Lionel said he would always check his study first and there I’d be, with that book in my lap. I remember one night he picked me up and put me on his lap, and he flipped through the entire book with me, picking out our favorites…”
Damp eyes tore away from the gardenias, darting everywhere but at Kara. She took a shuddering breath. “And at first it was the bright colors, and the intricate details of the petals,” she continued, gesturing vaguely towards an image she saw in her head, “but soon I was memorizing the names, and then the facts… I knew that book by heart.”
Kara smiled. Though she didn’t like the sound of how the Luthors seemed to have treated Lena more like a centerpiece than a four year old girl, this memory in particular didn’t seem as sharp as the others Lena had shared already. Her eyes glowed with tenderness-- it was a good memory.
“Is that where you learned about plumerias?” Kara asked softly.
“No, not that book. On our first trip overseas, I got separated from my parents at the hotel. I found the garden, and they had plumerias everywhere. Just… everywhere I looked, flowers. I’d never seen so many before. That’s where Lionel found me, surrounded by plumerias and talking the ear off the gardener, who didn’t speak a lick of English,” Lena laughed, cheeks flushing as she tucked her long hair behind her ear.
“I can hardly imagine it,” Kara remarked, nudging her playfully. “Little baby Lena, enticed out of her shell by a pretty flower.”
Lena flushed more deeply. “After that, any time Lionel came home from a trip he brought local flowers back for me, right up until I went to boarding school. But for my birthday, no matter where I was or what he was doing… he always sent plumerias. Even after he died-- I still keep getting them, every year on my birthday, like clockwork.”
“That’s so sweet,” Kara said.
Slowly, Lena’s smile faded. Her eyes filled again, and her lips twitched tremulously. When her eyebrows creased, and her features started to crumple, Kara finally let herself reach out, taking Lena’s hand in hers. Their eyes met.
“My family was never perfect, Kara,” Lena uttered softly, almost a whisper, “but we weren’t always what everyone makes us out to be.”
Kara squeezed her hand, edging closer until their shoulders brushed. Lena dipped her chin, hiding the bitter edges creeping back into her features. Kara reached up and cupped her cheek. “You’re allowed to miss them, Lena.” Lena shook her head. “Yes, Lena, you are--”
“You mean a brother who killed over thirty people and wants me dead too?” Lena muttered bitterly. “Or a father who, who lied -- who--” Lena pressed her eyes shut, dislodging the tears that had hung there so precariously. “He didn’t want me, Kara.”
Kara shook her head. “No, no, that’s not true.” Kara pressed her forehead against Lena’s. “Hey, he came for you, Lena. When your birth mother died, he came for you, brought you home. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t want you, if he didn’t love you.”
But Lena pulled away, tugging her hand free to wipe at her face. “But he knew, and he still let me believe--” She shook her head. “I can’t count the number of times he came to comfort me after Lillian reminded me how I should be grateful they took me in at all, or told me that I could never be a real Luthor. So many times he could have told me the truth, and he never did. He never corrected her, not once. He just let her--”
Lena stopped stiffly, propping her hand on her hip. Her head bowed as she struggled to get herself under control. She did. Only a few heartbeats later, Lena sighed, wiped her cheeks, and when she lifted her chin her eyes were tired but free of anguish, and tears.
“I’m okay,” she said softly. Lena wiped her cheeks again, nodding sharply. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, please.” Kara reached out hesitantly, then pulled her hand back sharply when she sensed Lena bristling. But a moment later, Lena took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze-- as though Kara was the one needing comfort. “I’m sorry, too,” Kara murmured. “You deserved better.”
Lena gave her a thin smile, which this time reached her eyes. “Now I have better,” she said. “I have you.”
Kara took the invitation for what it was, and threaded their fingers together as she closed the distance to walk next to Lena. She tilted her head to rest against Lena’s shoulder, albeit awkwardly to accommodate their height difference, and just soaked in all the physical contact she could get. And slowly, as the sun slowly disappeared behind the buildings and they wound their way out of the park, Lena’s muscles slowly relaxed.
As they neared the apartment building, Kara paused, pulling Lena to a stop with her. “Wait.” She turned and faced Lena. “Does that mean-- That day my first article was published: was that your birthday?”
Lena’s brows lifted, lips parting soundlessly in surprise. Her silence persisted, even when her shoulder lifted in a wordless shrug, unable to deny it. “Lena!”
“Okay, in my defense, we barely knew each other at that point.” Lena’s features split into a sheepish grin. “And given your reaction to my detection device, I wasn’t sure you’d even want to see me after that, so…”
“But I wouldn’t have left so quickly if I’d known!”
Lena shifted, lifted her shoulder in a shrug. “It really isn’t a big deal, Kara. The past few years, spending the day alone has actually been… nice. Getting the flowers can bring up memories, so it’s turned into way for me to reflect, you know?”
Lips pursing unhappily, Kara studied her, but couldn’t find a trace of subterfuge. “Fine,” she accepted after another long moment. She made a mental note to check the publish date of her article for next time. “But next year anything goes. Deal?”
Receiving Kara’s peck on the cheek, Lena chuckled. “Deal.” She squeezed Kara’s hand. “Thank you, Kara.”
Kara’s heart swelled in her chest as Lena leaned into her as they finished the last few meters to the lobby. Kara managed to nod at Mr. Young as they passed, pretending as though the box in her pocket didn’t grow heavier with every step. Lena didn’t move to pull her fingers from Kara’s until the apartment door clicked shut behind them, and when she did, Kara gripped them tighter.
Lena turned back to look at her in worry. “What’s wrong?”
Cheeks flushing, Kara swallowed against the sudden tightness in her throat. “Can we talk for a second?”
Lena’s brow furrowed in concern. “Okay.” Kara pulled her over to the couch, and they sat stiffly for a few minutes as Kara tried to gather her words. “Kara, I’m sorry if I ruined our walk by mentioning my family. I shouldn’t-- I shouldn’t have said anything…”
“No,” Kara said quickly. “No! No, you didn’t I swear. This isn’t about that. Well, I mean, I guess it kind of is…” Lena’s features smoothed into a mask of wary expectation, and Kara released a nervous breath. “Let me start over...
“Lena, these past few months have been some of the best, and, hah--” Kara pushed her glasses up further on her nose, “honestly, some of the most harrowing, of my life. Between your family, and mine, it’s been a complete roller coaster, but it’s also shown me how much I care about you, and I just--” Kara felt herself becoming tongue tied, and the way her fingers shook. “Ahhh, this would be easier if I just showed you…”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out the small box that had been burning a hole there since she got home. The smile on her lips froze when she heard Lena’s heart skip and stutter, before long fingers curled over Kara’s, stilling her fully.
“Kara,” she said, her voice shaking. “I, uh-- I’m… God--” She licked her lips, struggling to find the right words. “I don’t want to mess this up, but… Look, I’m so honored, and I really love you, so I’m not saying-- There’s been a lot of change, lately, so whatever you’re going to say next… could we just-- put it on pause?”
Kara blinked. “Oh. Okay.” She tugged the box and her hands free of Lena’s fingers, pulling them back into her lap.
“I’m sorry,” Lena said quickly, color staining her chest and neck and cheeks. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, or imply I don’t-- I just… I’m not saying no not ever, but-- I’m sorry, I just can’t, right now. I’m not ready. I’m so, so sorry.”
Kara’s eyebrows lifted, and she plastered a smile on her face. “No! No, it’s fine, you’re right. Tonight wasn’t the best night to do it. It can absolutely wait. I’m sorry if I put you on the spot.” She tucked the box back into her pocket, confusion roiling in her mind. She was surprised Lena had figured out what she was trying to say, but Lena had a genius level IQ, so she really shouldn’t be. What puzzled Kara more was why she would turn it down. Lena took her hands in hers, squeezing them gently.
“I do love you, Kara,” Lena said softly. “I promise you that. And I hope one day we revisit this, but after everything that’s happened lately, it just doesn’t feel like the right time.” Kara nodded, even though she couldn’t fathom when the right time would be, if not now. Lena looked at her from beneath her eyelashes. “Are we okay?”
“Yeah!” Kara chirped. “Of course.” She leaned in and pecked Lena on the cheek before popping to her feet. “I’m a little tired. What do you say to an early bedtime?”
“...Sure,” Lena replied, her tone sounding defeated and sad. Unsure what else she could say, Kara ignored it in favor of disappearing into the bathroom. As she brushed her teeth and scrubbed her face, Kara ran through the past few weeks, wondering what had made it feel like the wrong time. If Lena didn’t want it, then Kara wouldn’t force the issue, but after everything that happened-- why wouldn’t she?
She puzzled it over in her brain as she crawled into bed, and while Lena readied herself and climbed in next to her. She pondered it more after they turned the lights out, and Lena’s breathing evened out into slumber. Then, in the pitch dark, it clicked.
“Oh my god!” Kara bolted upright, startling Lena awake. She flicked on the light and turned to Lena, who winced and rubbed her eyes.
“What?” Lena asked, scanning the room for danger. “What’s wrong?”
“You thought it was an engagement ring!”
Lena blinked, waiting for her thoughts to catch up. “It… It wasn’t?”
Kara flung the covers off her legs and scrambled to fetch the ring box. When she returned with the box in hand, Lena had sat up on the edge of the bed. Kara settled next to her on her good side and opened the box, with no speech, no fanfare. Inside, a black ring with a rounded, oblong face nestled on a cushion inside.
“Oh,” Lena said. “It isn’t.” Her brow furrowed in confusion. “But your speech… I thought…”
“I can now see how it must have seemed like a, a proposal,” Kara acknowledged, stumbling over the word, kicking herself for the oversight. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize.” She’d seen enough proposals in movies and on TV that she should have noticed what it would have looked like. “I was trying to explain how important you were, and how I didn’t want you to be helpless if someone tried to target you. This is an emergency beacon.”
Kara removed the ring from the box and carefully slid it onto Lena’s left index finger. It fit perfectly, and looked like nothing more than a normal piece of statement jewelry. “If you put your thumb on it like this...”
Kara pulled Lena’s thumb up to press against the smooth black facing, and held it there for three seconds. It then vibrated silently against Lena’s skin, and then an instant later Kara’s phone illuminated with a new alert.
“It pings me with your GPS coordinates instantly. It also serves as communications device. I can listen in on my comms, and you can talk to me if it’s safe to do so.”
Lena blinked up at her with wide eyes.
“I thought wearing the same watch everyday would be too obtrusive, and a necklace wouldn’t be helpful if your hands were bound, so a ring seemed like the perfect compromise. And it actually reads your fingerprint, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally bumping it or something. As of tomorrow it’ll be keyed into the DEO systems as well, so they’ll get a ping too.”
Lena studied the ring with a critical eye, and tested the facing again. Kara’s phone vibrated again. “Neat,” she said, a slow grin curling her lips. “Does it recognize only my thumbprint?”
“Any finger,” Kara said with a shake of her head. “And from any orientation. We tried to think of any contingency where you might need to contact us in a hurry, or if there’s a struggle.”
Nodding, Lena slipped off the ring and held it up to the light, twisting it to try a get a look at the inside band. “It’s all internal… I’m surprised you were able to maintain such a minimal design with so many components. There aren’t even any seams. This is beautiful.” She paused then, looking at Kara with eyes that were suddenly solemn. “But why were you so nervous to give it to me?”
Kara gulped, feeling the disquieted feeling creeping back into her stomach. “Because it means accepting that your life is going to be in constant danger,” she admitted. “And I hate that. I hate the idea of you being in a situation where you have to use it. We really did try to think of everything, and it really brought home the risk you’re taking, to let me stay in your life. It… there’s a heart rate sensor inside it too. So we can tell you’re--”
The words caught in Kara’s throat. Rao , she hated this. She didn’t want to think about it, but she didn’t have the luxury of ignoring it. The ring could mean the difference between life and death for Lena. “We’ll be able to monitor your status while we get to you.”
“Kara…” Lena reached out to take Kara’s hand. “Please look at me.” Kara obeyed, and found warmth smiling back at her. “I was already in danger. My brother and mother have both tried to kill me, and there’s plenty of people out there with old scores to settle with my family that will inevitably find their way to me. Whatever risk being with you brings, it is far outweighed by how much safer I am now that I have Supergirl watching my back.”
In spite of herself, Kara felt the knots in her stomach untie themselves, and her shoulders slumped. It was true. “That’s how we met.”
“Your brother tried to kill you on the Venture,” Kara reminded her. “That’s how we first met.”
Lena blinked, then started to laugh. Kara smiled and rested her forehead against Lena’s bouncing shoulder. Lena’s hand cupped Kara's cheek even as mirth continued to pour from her. “God, we are a mess, aren’t we?” Lena wiped moisture from her eyes, catching her breath.
Kara straightened, looking her in the eye. “Yeah. But I like our mess.”
Lena leaned forward, giving her a quick kiss. “Me too.” Long fingers stroked Kara’s cheek. “Thank you, Kara.”
“I love you, Lena Luthor.” Kara gripped Lena’s hand tightly, running her finger over the ring. “Giving you this scares the crap out of me, but I’m more scared of losing you.”
“You won’t lose me any time soon,” Lena promised. “I hope we never have to use it, but if we do… I have faith in you.”
Their lips met, and Kara’s senses filled with Lena. The scent of her body wash, the mint of her toothpaste, the pulse of her heart, which picked up as their kiss deepened. Kara only pulled away when she heard Lena’s breath tighten in pain as her shoulder protested.
“No,” Lena moaned plaintively when Kara pulled away, making her giggle.
“One more week,” she promised. “Give it one more week.”
“The week from hell,” Lena muttered. But when Kara settled back against the pillows, Lena joined her, fidgeting to find a comfortable position that maximized physical contact. When she find it, she sighed in contentment. For long moments they lay there, tangled in each other’s arms, before Lena broke the silence. “Your cousin came to see me today.”
Kara stiffened. “What.”
“He knocked and everything,” Lena joked.
“Did he touch you?”
Lena shook her head, her cheek pressing against Kara’s shoulder. “No, I’m fine. I think we may have even come to an understanding.”
Kara ground her teeth, feeling the familiar anger spark deep in her gut. He’d come knowing she wasn’t there. He’d deliberately avoided Kara, to get Lena alone. Again. She exhaled slowly. “He had no business coming here, when you were here alone. If he tries to make contact again, use the beacon. Okay?”
Now Kara understood where Lena’s earlier gloom had come from. Whatever Clark had come to talk about, it had chipped away at the walls Lena usually kept around her childhood memories, and thrown her emotions into turmoil. She wanted to fly out right now and find Clark to put a fist in his face… but the form growing heavy heavy with sleep against her kept her in place.
Lena’s lips pressed a sleepy kiss against Kara’s collarbone, and the fight bled from Kara in an instant. With Lena’s soft breaths tickling her skin, her warmth enveloping Kara in the most secure blanket of comfort she’d ever known, Kara found she pitied Clark. She snuggled closer into Lena, burying her nose in Lena’s hair, eliciting a gentle hum. Clark could have a hundred Loises, and never know a love like this.