Lena had been calm during the incident, through the rescue, to the treatment at the DEO lab, and for quite a while after. She'd stared into the barrel of the unfamiliar weapon pointed at her with nothing stronger than a vague sense of disappointment; watched a bruised and bloody Supergirl placed onto a sun bed with an unadulterated, all-encompassing feeling of relief; looked Kara in the eye afterward with only gratitude and loyalty and love in her gut.
She doesn't know why it's this entirely unremarkable moment, sitting in her office going over budget reports, on this totally average Thursday at the perfectly mundane hour of four pm, that the wave of suffocating, overwhelming guilt finally hits.
There's no trigger for it, no apparent reason for this delayed response. One minute she's reviewing projected revenue, the next minute her chest feels tight, breathing is uncomfortable, she feels queasy. She blinks and suddenly the pen she'd been fidgeting with is out of her hands and her watch tells her it's eighteen minutes later.
She gathers her papers and tablet with shaking hands and mumbles something she hopes is intelligible to Jess, though she can't be sure, and heads out of the office.
Once safely in her apartment, Lena simply sits down on the floor, buries her face in her hands, and starts overthinking furiously. What could she have done to anticipate the attack, to diffuse the situation, to divert hostility away from Supergirl? Were her security protocols negligent? Why hasn't she taken the time to learn emergency aid yet? Did she really think an abbreviated CPR class would be sufficient? Why doesn't she spend more time and effort on getting into shape? If only she weren't so useless in a fight…
Her spiral is interrupted by three crisp knocks on her door.
"Lena? Sweetie, are you home?" Kara's voice filters through the thick metal. The sound fills Lena with a disorienting blend of elation and shame.
She picks herself up off the floor and shambles over to open the door for her girlfriend.
Kara visibly brightens up when she sees her. She looks happy, radiant, long since fully healed. Lena's stomach still turns. "Hey," Kara says softly, brushing her fingers across the back of Lena's hand.
"Hi," Lena croaks.
"Sorry for just showing up. I dropped by your office, Jess said you were out sick? I've brought you chicken soup. And leftover matza balls from Passover, cuz I know you love them for some strange reason."
Lena frowns. "They taste like being spoiled by a grandparent," she states defensively.
Kara shrugs. "I think they taste like dense chunks of wet paper," she says; Lena gasps in indignation. "But I'm glad you like them. Makes Eliza happy."
The mention of Eliza sends a jolt of pain through Lena's gut. Eliza, who loves her family so much, who'd welcomed Lena into her home like she belonged there; Eliza, who could have lost her daughter because of Lena.
"You should go home," Lena says quietly, her gaze skittering away from her face.
"Is this you telling me you want me to leave, or you being ridiculous and not wanting me to catch your germs? Your measly Earth bacteria are no match for me, you know."
"You shouldn't bring me chicken soup and leftover matza balls," Lena tells her. "You shouldn't come over to take care of me when you think I'm sick."
"Uh—so you're not sick?" Kara asks, sounding confused but so open. "Did you just want to be alone? I can go if you want."
Lena opens her mouth to respond, to tell Kara that she shouldn't care about Lena, that she should go, but all that comes out is a loud sob.
"Oookay." Kara steps past Lena to put the soup down on her kitchen counter, then gently grasps her elbow and leads her over to the couch. Lena instinctively curls into Kara's side.
Kara caresses Lena's shoulder and lightly squeezes her bicep. "What is this really about?" she asks softly. Lena sobs harder.
"You got hurt because of me," Lena forces out. Kara makes a face at her, and Lena's outrage flares. "You got hurt. Because of me."
"I didn't, though," Kara says. "I got hurt because of a group of assholes with smuggled weapons and no moral compass."
"If you hadn't stepped in front of me—"
"Then I'd have been even more hurt, because you'd have been hurt, and I love you," Kara states simply.
Lena shakes her head against Kara's side, smearing tears into her shirt. Kara's thought process frustrates and moves her in equal measures. "I don't know why you think I'm worth your time," she confesses, voice wet and blubbery. "But I'm terrified of the moment you finally realize that it's just a scam."
Kara rubs circles across her back. "Oh, it's a scam, huh?" she says lightly. "So I guess every moment we've shared, whenever you were there for me when I needed you, every time you made me laugh, you were just setting me up, huh? The flowers you sent me were an optical illusion? Every time you tell me you love me, you're lying?"
"No," Lena says miserably. "I love you so much, Kara. Please, you have to believe that."
Kara smiles at her. "I know, you big loser. That's my point."
"I love you more than anything," Lena continues, unable to stomach the prospect of Kara not believing her. "I would do anything for you."
"Yes," Kara agrees. "I feel the same way."
"Nooo," Lena wails.
Kara flicks her forehead. "Don't tell me how I feel, you butthead."
Kara is trying so hard to cheer her up, saying all the right things, the best things. Things anyone would be lucky to have said to them; infinitely luckier to have them said truthfully. And Lena knows Kara is truthful. Painfully, dangerously so. The sharp memories of Kara's awful cry of pain, the terrifying crumple of her form, the way she flinched away from Alex's touch, afterward…
Lena shudders. She has sufficient proof that Kara is sincere. Sufficient proof that, if Lena truly had Kara's best interest at heart, she wouldn't constantly strive to entangle their lives further as she does. If she truly would do anything for Kara, if she wanted to protect her, she would keep her distance.
Lena tries to take a deep breath, hiccups instead. Her tears dribble messily on. "We should break up," she says with as much conviction as she can muster. (Admittedly, it isn't necessarily a lot.)
Kara rolls her eyes at her. "All right, drama queen."
"No," Lena whimpers, forcing the words through the lump in her throat. "I'm serious. I put you in danger. I only drag you down. I cause you pain when I just want you to be happy. You should… you should be the happiest person on Earth, Kara, and—"
"And I am," Kara finishes for her, "when I'm with you."
Lena sobs and shakes her head, burrowing deeper into Kara's lap. "I have to let you go," she says, even as her grip tightens on Kara's shirt. She's such a hypocrite. A weak willed, worthless, selfish hypocrite.
"Then I'll hold on for you," Kara is saying,
"Why?" Lena sobs. "Aren't I needy? Don't I drain you? You're so good, so selfless, Kara, and all I do is take advantage of that. I just don’t know how not to do it. I don't know how not to be a horrible person, I—"
"Nope," Kara cuts her off. "Not gonna sit here and listen to you insult yourself. And I'm not gonna extol your virtues, either, as much as I'd like to, because that's not what you need right now." Kara springs to her feet, radiating that ceaseless, uplifting energy of hers. "What you need right now is to have some fun."
"I don't want to," Lena mumbles, simultaneously reaching out toward the warm firm presence she was deprived of when Kara got up. "I don't, I don't deserve—"
"No, shhh, nuh uh," Kara shushes her. "No deserving required. You need a fun, life affirming distraction, and that's what you're getting." Kara slides her hands underneath Lena's body and straightens up with a bounce, easily settling Lena comfortably in her arms.
A jolt of warmth runs through Lena at this familiar, comforting, endlessly intimate gesture. She feels terrible, she hates everything about herself right now, but she loves, loves, loves her girlfriend.
She snuggles closer to Kara's body, rubbing her cheek and nose against her chest, and Kara laughs at her softly and lifts her up to press a noisy kiss to her forehead. "Sooo, I'm thinking flying? Flying's a fun and endorphin-inducing activity, right?" Kara frowns and quirks her mouth adorably. "Now that I've said that, I realize sex was the much more obvious option. Want me to get you off instead?"
Lena closes her eyes and presses her lips above Kara's left breast, where she'd have been able to feel Kara's heartbeat if it weren't for her shock-damping supersuit. "Okay," she murmurs. "Let's go flying."
Kara performs some impressive human juggling in order to strip out of her normal clothes without putting Lena down, and Lena lets out a surprised little giggle. Kara bows her head to beam at her, and Lena is frozen in a moment of pure affection before Kara kicks off into the sky, going so fast Lena can hear a whistle.
They cut through what Lena guesses must be the clouds, though she can't say for certain as her face is entirely covered by her hair. She really should have redone her topknot before doing this. She can't see a thing.
Kara says something to her, but her words are swallowed by the wind. "What?" Lena shouts.
"I said, do you wanna have an emotional conversation while we're doing this?" Kara shouts back.
Lena can't help it; she laughs. "No!" she calls. Obviously.
Kara grins at her. "Okay! Just checking!"
And Kara is so ridiculous, so wonderful, and Lena feels so safe and comfortable in her arms like this, and most importantly, the adrenaline is kicking in; all in all, Lena is beginning to feel much more clear-headed.
"How about a loop-de-loop?" Kara hollers to her.
"No loop-de-loops!" Lena screams back.
Kara laughs; Lena can't hear it, but she feels the vibrations of it in her own body. It's a thrilling sensation.
Kara touches down on top of an unremarkable apartment building. Lena fears for a moment that she might set her down, but Kara only adjusts her grip on her to snake out a hand and push Lena's hair out of her face for her.
"Where do you wanna go next?" Kara asks her, her fingertips still lightly touching Lena's hairline. "We can go to the rescue center, help groom some dogs. Or to one of your workshops if you feel like building something. Or do you want me to take you to the Fortress of Solitude again?"
Lena takes a deep breath, closes her eyes for a moment, focusing on the point of contact between Kara's fingers and her skin. Her tears have stopped flowing, though she still feels clogged and puffy. "I think… I just want…" she starts, hesitant.
"Hm? Wanna go to the DEO, harass J'onn and Alex into having dinner with us?" Kara offers.
"No," Lena says quietly, opening her eyes. "I want… donuts. And Netflix."
Kara smiles widely at her. "And cuddling?"
"And cuddling," Lena confirms.
"Want me to take you home and order takeout, so I don't have to put you down?"
Lena sniffles pathetically. "Yes, please," she whispers.
And Kara looks at her like she isn't pathetic at all, or annoying, or horrible; she looks at her like she cares about her, like she's happy to have her in her arms, happy to make her happy.
Lena tightens her hold around Kara's neck and burrows closer to her gentle warmth. She may not deserve this, but Kara doesn’t mind. She even said so. She offers her love and care so freely, so unlike a transaction, and Lena allows herself to accept, at least for now.
"Thank you for loving me," she murmurs.
"Lena," Kara says gently. "You never have to thank me for that."
Lena doesn't necessarily agree; she can't imagine not feeling grateful for something like this, something so rare and incredible, something she'd never expected to have. But she doesn’t argue. Causing Kara any distress would be rather counterproductive.
"You're thinking about how you totally owe me for loving you right now, aren't you?"
"Yes," Lena admits, too drained to lie.
Kara chuckles. "All right. Here's a freebie, then." She leans down to press a sweet, diagonal kiss to Lena's mouth.
And Lena resolves to wrestle with her transactional issues later; right now she gives into the instinct to be prompt in paying off her debts, and draws herself up to kiss her girlfriend back.