Kara’s painting when Alex comes home.
This in itself is not an unusual or surprising event, of course, but it does cause her to pull back from the meditative state she had only just managed to reach. Her painting is nearly done she thinks, its swirls of reds and yellows and chunky greens stretching out from the center mass. She wants to add black to it, feels like that is what will make it really complete, but she hasn’t had access to black paint in a while. She can hear Alex place her keys in the bowl by the door and step up behind her.
Maybe she can swipe some black food coloring from work. Miss Grant is strict on having employees there at the right times but loose with everything else. It’s not a well-kept secret how much of the store’s products both she and Winn consume throughout the day. If she’s being honest, Kara’s pretty sure CatCo is a money laundering front.
“Yeah Alex?” she realizes she hadn’t responded. Alex is right behind her now, watching her paint over her shoulder. Kara traces her thumb through the yellow smudge she’d made, causing it to swirl alongside a particularly bold streak of red. Her insides feel like fire, all the time. This painting kind of feels like fire, too.
“Is there a reason you’re smearing condiments all over that piece of cardboard?”
Kara glances down at the half squeezed out tubes of mustard, ketchup, and relish collecting beside her and tries not be offended.
“I don’t like the way you said cardboard just now, young lady. I’ll have you know my canvas is very significant, artistically. It’s commentary on the disposable nature of art in today’s society-"
Alex just looks at her with skeptical sisterly eyes.
“-Not to mention my decision to use condiments! Obviously I’m making a statement on how media is consumed like fast food.”
"So," Alex drawls, “You can’t afford art supplies.”
“Yeah no I’m like, crazy broke.”
Kara puffs her chest out a bit, jumping up to go wash the smears off her hands, but not without first licking at her palms to get some of it. She washes the muddied colors down the drain. Her hands feel extra smooth now, at least. Totally a bonus.
“Ah. Well please throw out your social commentary when you’re done with it. I really don’t want to deal with ants right now.”
Kara fake gasps, clutching her chest like Alex’s very words have strangled her.
“You want me to throw away my masterpiece?” she all but shouts at her now retreating sister, who has ducked into her bedroom to change.
“You’re the one who said it was about disposability,” Alex shouts back, “what better way could you honor it?”
Damn. Well played.
Kara notices then the huge stack of groceries Alex has deposited on the counter - way more than she usually buys for the two of them. Even with Kara’s colossal appetite she doesn’t need this much in a week. Then, Kara remembers.
“Oh my god, Alex!” she shouts, sprinting through her tiny one bedroom apartment and all but barreling her sister over, “LUCY IS COMING HOME!”
Alex laughs and hugs her back. Her face relaxes in a way it almost never does these days, not unless Lucy’s involved. That alone is reason enough for Kara to love Lucy endlessly.
“I know! I can’t believe her flight in is next week! You’re still gonna drive us from the airport right?”
They move to the kitchen to start putting away groceries. The small space barely holds their foods, so adding enough for a third has pushed it to overflow. They end up just stacking bags of chips and bread on the floor beside the counter.
“Yep,” Kara says, searching out an empty space for a particularly large can of diced tomatoes to go. Maybe she could balance the flower pot Eliza gave Alex when she moved in on top of the can? Mmm seems risky. “I’ll drive so you guys can mount each other the whole way home.”
“We’re not gonna mount each other, Kara. We aren’t horses. I mean we might fondle a bit, but-”
“Ok gross,” Kara gags out, earning a bark of a laugh from her sister. She remembers then the topic she’d been avoiding all week, the one she really has to broach sooner than later. She clears her throat, but Alex cuts her off.
“Hey, Kara, is there any way you could maybe go crash at Winn’s house for a few days? Just at first. We haven’t, you know, seen each other really in over a year, so-“
“So you wanna bang without your baby sister sleeping one thin wall away?”
Alex makes a hilarious choked sound.
“Okay, now who is being gross?”
Kara shoves Alex playfully, shoves a bag of spinach into the barely there space left in the fridge. This apartment is barely enough space for one person, and soon three are going to be here. Kara has to tell her.
“I, uh, wanted to talk to you about that, actually.”
Alex looks at her in horror and Kara stumbles out, “Not about your sex life, you weirdo! About,” she clears her throat, looks away, “about maybe getting my own place, soon.”
She’s pretty sure she could hear all the air being sucked out of the room then, and she doesn’t have the nerve to look at Alex but she just knows she’s frozen in place. This is a hard subject to broach, no matter how much mental preparation she’s done for it. After a few more loaded seconds, Alex finally manages a quiet, “Oh?” It’s invitation enough.
“Yeah! I just, I’ve really appreciated you letting me stay here for so long, but Lucy’s coming, you know? She’s gonna be here for- for forever, maybe! I mean, have you guys even spent more than a few months together since high school?”
Alex looks conflicted and like she’s about to argue so Kara barrels on.
“No, you haven’t. And I know you want to spend time with your girlfriend - who you never get to see - and me sleeping in your living room isn’t gonna make it all that fun for any of us. And I really just,” she looks at Alex now, catching her concerned eyes, “I really think I’m ready, now?”
“How do you know?” Alex asks, and her voice breaks a little bit. Kara lets out a self-deprecating laugh, shakes her head.
“I don’t think we ever really know. Sometimes we just gotta do it anyway and hope for the best.”
Alex is crying a bit now, a tear slipping down her face before she could wipe it away with a sniffle.
“You are always welcome here, Kara. No matter what.”
Kara smiles softly at her, grabs her hand with a soft squeeze.
“I know I am. But it’s been almost two years, you know? I just really think its time.” Alex is nodding, not because she believes what Kara is saying so much as she just needs to react in some way that isn’t crying. “I’ve been looking at places, too. I’m talking to a landlord right now about a place on third.”
Alex lets out a wet laugh, surprised.
“You’ve been thinking about this for a while, then.” Kara nods. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Kara shrugs, looks away.
“I guess I knew you’d react like, well,” she gestures to Alex’s tears. Alex huffs, face scrunching in teary annoyance.
“I don’t need to be coddled, Kara,” she teases, but Kara just tilts her head a bit, gives her a serious look.
“Neither do I.”
Alex seems to accept it then, at that. She knows her sister, knows that when her mind is made up there is no changing it. It’s just so hard, when you want to hold tight and protect someone who only ever wants to fly.
They smile at each other then - Kara with relief at having told the secret weighing on her soul and Alex with sad pride at the strong woman her sister has become - and hold each other’s gaze until Kara’s phone beeps an alarm.
“Ah! Well,” Kara clears her throat that had mysteriously thickened a bit during this sisterly moment (she wasn’t gonna cry! she’s not a baby like Alex) “looks like it’s time for work! I have a big delivery today, like three cakes or something to a party?”
Alex makes a small noise of disapproval.
“That sounds like a lot,” she says, because even after all this her first instinct is always to protect her sister, “Are you sure you should be carrying all that? The doctor said-”
“I know what the doctor said, Alex, and I’ll be fine! See you later!”
She sprints out of the apartment before Alex can say anything else.
Kara slams the tiny scoot trunk shut with her hip, just barely balancing her delivery in her arms. Somehow all four of the fairly large boxes she’s delivering fit into the scoot. She’s so proud.
There’s no way she can carry them all at once, though, despite her bravado. She has two in her hands now and plans to come back for the others. Hopefully she doesn’t have to walk up a lot of stairs, that’d suck. Belatedly Kara realizes the building she’s now entering is the same one that fun weird girl Lena works at now. Maybe they’ll run into each other. That'd be nice, Lena seemed nice.
Kara’s thoughts are cut off the second she steps in to what has to be the most extravagant building she’s ever seen. Even the floors look expensive, and they're so shiny Kara can even see the small cluster of acne happening on her temple from where she’d sat her face against her hand for too long. She’s pretty sure if she squints she’ll be able to see her eyelashes.
She approaches the massive front desk but can’t even get a word out before she’s being ushered to a much less extravagant hallway where she and the boxes are poked, prodded, and scanned. She steps through her fourth metal detector and tries not to whimper in horror when a guard takes a knife and chops into her carefully made cakes, checking for weapons or explosives or surprise chocolate filling. It’s more thorough than the TSA, and nearly twice as invasive if she’s honest. Does the pope work here or something? she wonders as her now murdered cakes are shoved back into her hands and she’s directed to a golden elevator.
The inside at least looks normal, with plain walls and disinterested looking people in business attire. Kara squeezes her way in, cakes delicately balanced in her arms, and is relieved to see the floor she’s headed already pressed. It’s kind of awkward and more than ever Kara is aware of how bright her CatCo top is, how there are holes in the soles of her shoes that squish every time she walks. The watch the man next to her is wearing probably costs more than everything she owns combined. Granted she doesn’t own that much, but still. It’s the principle of the matter.
So Kara does what she always does when faced with an uncomfortable social situation: she starts to talk.
“How’s everybody’s day going?” she says, breaking the smothering silence. No one even blinks in acknowledgement. The floors tick by at a sluggish pace. She thinks about the cakes in her hands that say “Congratulations Jerry! Happy Retirement!”
“So your boss is retiring, huh? That's fun!” Kara continues, never one to back down from a challenge. “Do you guys know who is taking their place?” That, finally, somehow gets a reaction. Every person in the elevator immediately flinches or groans or scoffs. Some do all three at once.
“You mean the witch?” One chimes in.
“God, I can't believe,” Another starts.
“Does she really think a new city will help her reputation?” Someone from the back adds.
“-think is gonna happen?” someone’s mumbling, words only just filtering to Kara’s ears.
“They should have just arrested all the Luthors and thrown away the key.”
Everyone seems to agree with that, as a chorus of affirmations echo throughout. Not quite the kind of conversation Kara was aiming for, but at least its something. Kara waits just a few beats hoping an answer will come without asking, before finally inquiring,
“I'm sorry, who are the Luthors?”
And just like that the tiny box is filled with shock and annoyance and disdain, now all directed at her rather than this allegedly evil woman.
“What, have you been living under a rock for the past year?” the woman who’d first responded sneers.
“Um,” she says, and thinks of her hospital bed.
the woman continues before she could possibly respond,
“They're all evil, and just because she’s never been caught doing something doesn’t mean she’s innocent. We all know she’s not gonna be any different.”
That doesn’t quite sit right with Kara.
“Well, sometimes people can surprise you, if you give them the chance.”
That just earns her more scoffs and, oh thank god, they’ve almost reached their floor. The elevator stops then to pick someone else up and Kara silently prays this will be the last one before their floor.
Then the doors open, and Lena is there.
Kara feels her entire spirit lift up at the sight of her.
“Lena!” She yells a bit too loud for a cramped elevator, not noticing the universal flinch across the elevator. “I was hoping I'd see you!”
Lena for her part only looks surprised for a few moments before giving Kara a muted grin.
“Hello again. Fancy meeting you here.”
Everyone on the elevator shuffles back to let Lena on, practically pressing themselves to the walls around them to give her space. If Lena notices she doesn’t react, her eyes still soft and on Kara. For her part, Kara’s just glad she finally found a friendly face in this elitist hellhole.
“Wow it is so nice to see you! Are you going to the retirement party? That’s so cool. You must be very smart to get a job here.”
Kara doesn’t really notice the shocked looks of horror all of Lena’s coworkers are throwing them. Really all she sees is the red tinge in Lena’s face, the barely there smile creeping up at the corners of her lips.
Soon the doors open to the floor they’re all headed towards and Kara is nearly bowled over by the rush of everyone trying to escape at once. Lena shoots her a sympathetic look before guiding her to the small kitchenette to set up her first two desserts. It’s almost overwhelming, how much incredible food is already set up for this party. Lena must notice the downright lustful look in her eyes because she laughingly says, “you can eat some if you’d like.”
Kara stutters, shaking her head in an exaggerated way.
“What? No! I, I couldn’t. I’m not,” there’s already a tiny sandwich in her hands, “well I mean if you really insist I guess I could just,” she grabs a cluster of grapes and slinks after Lena as she walks away.
Employees are milling about, sipping on sodas and looking uncomfortable. Lena is hovering, flattening and re-flattening her shirt while skittishly looking from person to person. No one is talking to her, no one is even looking at her. It looks for a second like she might talk to a small cluster near the punch bowl, but all that really happens is the group laughs at a joke and Lena quietly chuckles from afar despite not being close enough to hear.
It’s… really painful.
“Hey Lena,” Kara calls, and its like every conversation in the room stops at once. A little startled but determined, Kara continues, “I still have some stuff I need to bring up. Wanna come help me get it?”
Suddenly everyone is talking at once, practically clamoring over each other with loud exclamations of “oh no I can help! Don’t worry, I’ve got it! No I can” before Lena quietly but confidently says that yes, she’d love to help Kara. Everyone shoots them desperate little looks as they get on the elevator together, not speaking again until the doors close. God, this is the weirdest office Kara has ever been in in her life.
“Felt like you needed a rescue there,” Kara finally says, and Lena lets out a loud sigh.
“Thank you for that.”
“Don’t sweat it. The first couple of weeks on a job are always painful, plus your coworkers kind of seem like assholes.”
“No I’m sure they’re not all that bad. They just don’t know how to act around me. It’s understandable.” Kara can’t help but scoff at that.
“How would they need to act? Just talk to you like you’re a person. It’s not that hard.”
Lena just gives her a look that she can’t decipher, one she seems to be getting more and more with every interaction they have. It really feels like everyone in this building is speaking a language Kara just doesn’t quite understand. Kara tries to change the topic.
“So, are you excited about the new boss?” she tries.
Lena snorts so hard she chokes for a minute, and she shakes off Kara’s amused pats to her back. After regaining some control, she laughs, says,
“As excited as I can be, I guess.”
Okay, not a rousing cheer but much better than the witch burning vibe Kara’d felt from the others.
“That’s the spirit! Everybody else has such a bad attitude, but I think it’s great you guys are getting a new lady boss. Although she’s a Luthor, which is also apparently a bad thing.”
Kara has literally no idea what she’s talking about, but she wants to be relatable and at least seem like she’s in the know. Everyone else seems to know something so she can play along too, right? Only maybe she isn’t doing so well at it, because Lena’s amused smile has started to look a lot more like a hurt frown.
“Are you making a joke right now?” she says with pain her voice, and yep! Kara definitely fucked up. She really needs to get caught up on cultural references before she just starts talking about stuff.
“Er, no? Or I’m not trying to, at least,” she finally says, looking down, disappointed in herself a bit. Lena touches her shoulder then to bring her attention back and wow is she giving Kara an intense look.
“Kara,” she says slowly, earnest, “Do you not know who the Luthors are?” She asks like it’s the most important question she’s ever asked before in her life. God, Kara needs to catch up with society.
“Is it terrible if I say I don’t?” she finally says, rubbing her neck sheepishly. “Everybody else seems to, though. Sorry if I’m kind of socially stunted.”
She pulls her phone out at that and pulls up a browser, manages to just type LUT into her search before Lena slams her hand down over the screen with a shout of NO!
Her eyes are a bit frantic when they meet Kara’s and she seems to take a moment to regain some control, clearing her throat and letting go of the phone.
“No, don’t, it’s not,” she clears her throat again, “they’re not important. Just the people who own the company. That’s why everyone here knows them, but it’s not a name you’d need to know.”
“Ohhh! That makes me feel a lot better!” Being out of the corporate loop is not worth sweating.
Lena seems to visibly relax when Kara slips her phone back into her pocket instead of continuing her search, and Kara makes a small mental note to look the name up later. It still feels important.
“Well, what about you? Do you like this Luthor lady?” Kara asks.
Lena seems struck by her question and takes a long while to think on it. Kara appreciates that; people don’t always take her seriously and having someone put genuine thought into her questions is validating.
“I’m not a huge fan,” Lena finally says, slow and careful, “but I think she’s trying her best. I think she wants to do the right thing for everybody.”
Kara can’t help but smile at that.
“That’s such a great outlook!” Lena is a breath of fresh air in this stifling environment, “Well, I like this Luthor lady too, then. All we can ask is for people to do their best, right? And try not to judge them too much on who they were before.”
Lena’s looking at her in that peculiar sort of way that Kara can’t quite distinguish, and it makes her a bit uncomfortable so she just shrugs and mumbles, “I’m a big fan of giving people chances, I guess.”
They step off the elevator and approach the lobby. Weirdly they are waved through without hesitation; guess the guards don’t check as thoroughly when you’re leaving.
There seems to be an internal fight happening in Lena’s eyes at that, and it seems for a moment like she might be about to say something when Kara’s phone chirps.
She glances down to see an email from the landlord she’s been going back and forth with, and she can’t help but sigh at the subject line of “LISTING NO LONGER AVAILABLE”
Lena is immediately on alert. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?” she asks incessantly, glancing nervously around the lobby they’re walking through like maybe a threat lurks nearby.
“No, it’s fine. I just,” she sighs again, “An apartment I was looking at is gone. It was basically the only one in my price range. It’s so hard to find a place to live in this city.”
They reach the CatCo scoot and each grab one of the boxes. She’s running a little late now, hopefully Miss Grant won’t notice. Besides, she likes talking to Lena. She’s nice.
“There are empty condos in my building,” Lena says as they walk into the lobby. “You can have one if you’d like.”
The words slip by unnoticed mostly, as Kara is a bit distracted by the security, or rather lack thereof, as they walk back in. The same security guard who murdered her beautiful sheet cake not even an hour before waves them through without so much as a scan, just nodding in deference. Honestly, Kara only half heard what Lena said.
“Nah, any place that calls itself a condo is way out of my budget. Thanks for thinking of that, though.”
She’s trying to contain the anger building inside of her on behalf of her murdered sheet cake. Lena huffs a bit, shaking her head.
“No, that’s not what I-“ she pauses, then says, “Okay, what is your budget?”
“Honestly? I could pay maybe $300 a month, which in this town would barely get me a floor to sleep on. At this rate I might just have to move back home. Maybe National City just isn’t for me.”
Lena reaches out to grab her then, a look of pure panic in her eyes.
“Don’t move back! The condos,” she clears her throat, calms her words down to a steadier pace, “They’re actually a special deal. Only $200 a month.” Her words sound confident but her face looks a bit constipated.
Kara just looks at her skeptically and exits the elevator as they arrive back on their floor.
“Where do you live that condos are only $200? A dump?”
A woman standing near them suddenly chokes into her drink, causing soda to dribble all down her chin and top. Lena walks determinedly on.
“I know the building owner, and I can guarantee that price.”
Lena’s shaking now, she realizes, nervously trembling with fire in her eyes. There really is no way Kara could say no outright to this.
“Tell you what,” she says instead, smiling, “what if you and I went and did a tour of the place and maybe talk to the owner?”
Pure joy seems to rush over Lena at that, and immediately Kara knows she made the right decision.
“Perhaps tomorrow?” Lena’s voice is so hopeful and nervous in equal measures.
“Sure! Let me see your phone.” Lena barely hesitates to hand it over - after all, if Kara wanted to steal her tech she’d have stolen it in the bathroom. Not that she would. She’s not a monster, gosh. Kara types in her phone number real fast and sends herself a text from Lena’s phone. She feels good now, even if this doesn’t work out. Even just hanging out with Lena for a day would be fun.
“Thank you, Lena,” she says, “For trying to help me like this. You barely even know me.”
Lena laughs at that, disbelief shining in her eyes.
“I know enough,” she finally says. Kara feels a tug at her heart.
“Can I tell you something kind of weird?” Kara asks. Lena just nods, and Kara takes a moment to fully compose her thoughts.
“I feel like my entire life was a puzzle, right? And I didn’t really love the picture it was making but I was still really good at putting it together. And then one day the whole thing just got… knocked right off the table, and all the pieces broke in half. And I just don’t know if I have it in me to start putting it back together again, you know? I’m not even sure if I want to anymore.”
Lena lets out a shuddery sigh, and Kara only just then notices the slight watery sheen to her eyes. Wow, she’s two for two at making ladies cry today. Killing it, Danvers.
“I can understand that,” Lena finally says with a sad smile. “Sometimes life gives you a puzzle that looks nothing like what you want, but you’re not sure you’re even allowed to pick a different one.”
“Right. But anyway, the reason I say that is, well. I always feel like games are better with friends, you know? So maybe we can figure out our crappy puzzles together.”
Lena really looks like she might burst into tears on the spot there so Kara decides its probably best to leave now. She smiles at Lena and walks backwards on to the elevator, never looking away even as she fumbles to press what she hopes is the lobby button.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Lena!” she calls, and only just hears Lena’s reply as the doors slide shut.
“See you tomorrow, Kara.”
Kara is stopped by security on the way out and forced to go through a five minute search.
She forgets to look up the name Luthor.
Kara’s asleep on the couch when Alex stumbles home. She doesn’t wake until her sister slams the door just a bit too hard. She blinks her way back into consciousness to the sounds of Alex cursing quietly under her breath. This is the second time this week Alex has stumbled home drunk like this. Kara’s concerned, but she keeps her eyes closed and breathes slow.
She can hear Alex fumble with her shoes, hit the coffee table, nearly fall to the ground. Can feel the way Alex leans over her to hold her hand in front of Kara’s face. Drunk Alex always checks her breathing. Sober Alex might, too, she’s not sure. She may just be better about not waking her.
Kara lets out a slow, controlled breath, and she can hear the relief in Alex’s sigh at the feel of it.
“Still good,” Alex murmurs quietly to herself as she stumbles to her room, “still alive.”
Kara doesn’t fall asleep for awhile after that.