"I don't think I can do this anymore," Lena says almost tearfully. "I feel like I'm going to die."
Kara flicks the piping bag at Lena causing some of the icing to flick on to her face.
"Stop being a baby and eat the cookie."
"Kara," she whines, wiping at her face but only further smearing the icing along her chin. "This is the tenth cookie you've made me eat in the last hour. They're all good, they're perfect! Now can I please leave?"
"Absolutely not! This cookie-" she holds her most recent one (It is shaped like a triangle and decorated as a Christmas tree) up like a sacred artifact, "- is the most important cookie I've ever made in my life."
"You said that about the last nine," Lena groans even as she takes the cookie from Kara and takes a bite.
Kara watches, stares deep into her soul as Lena chews. She wants to catch every expression, every moment of the entire process.
Lena stares back looking thoroughly unimpressed.
After what has to be a decade of chewing she finally swallows and speaks,
"I mean, it tastes fine. Like a cookie."
Kara's nod is frenetic as she grabs her flour-covered notebook and jots down notes.
"Mmm hmm, okay, that's okay. But what did you think of the decorating?"
"I thought it was beautiful and wonderful and the best cookie design I've ever seen," Lena says, like a desperate liar trying to escape her impending torture. Which, as far as Kara's concerned, is a bit dramatic. None of this is really that torturous - surely she's endured much worse things than eating few dozen cookies, right? What with her brother being a serial killer and all.
Regardless, Kara takes her opinions as they are and decides to let Lena have a small ten minute break before subjecting her to the next batch.
Kara’s never been much of a baker, but her current artistic endeavor requires an edible canvas and it costs a lot less to batch cook cookies than buy them from a store, so Kara’s been churning them out like she’s opening her own cookie place - a joke she accidentally made in front of Miss Grant, which resulted in her being cut four hours early.
Some people have no humor.
Regardless, Kara’s first massive batch had cooled enough that she could begin the true work of her day: decorating. It's easily her favorite part of her job and, if things go well, it will be the primary part. And thus with so much at stake she approaches this task with the utmost attention and care.
A big client has funneled down the pipeline looking for a cutesy culinary creation for an upcoming office party, and while this would usually be a task Miss Grant would handle herself, she has deemed Kara’s piping and stylization “adequate” enough to finally, finally take on her own ticket. Miss Grant told her to just make the cookies day-of without extra preparation, but there is no way Kara can do that. What if she gets it wrong? What if her rainbows and cloud designs are inadequate? What if she discovers after repeated effort a better, more efficient way to pipe that icing? No. Kara needs to practice, so she’s been making, decorating, and then stress eating cookies all day.
Then Lena made the mistake an hour ago of wandering into Kara's line of view and has regretted it ever since.
She knows this is all a bit ridiculous. It’s not that big of a deal. She’s just decorating cookies for some corporate party, not creating masterpieces for a fancy art gallery. She knows this, but the logical part of her brain is outweighed by the amazement inside her whispering “someone thinks your art is worthwhile” over and over again.
Silly or not, Kara's will be the best damn cookies any of these suits have ever seen, and to create that she needs lots of practice.
She also may need to loosen her belt a notch or two.
Her contemplation of culinary domination is interrupted by Lena's elbow shaking the table, thus causing a chain of events ending with a massive glass of water dumped across the entire counter and coating Kara's cooling cookies completely. Lena gasps and gives her that look she gets sometimes like she's terrified of how Kara will react. Like she thinks Kara is going to scream at her for fucking things up.
"Well, that's certainly one way to cool them down," Kara says instead, and smiles when Lena visibly relaxes. Kara counts that a win, cookies be damned.
"I'm sorry, I'm a bit clumsy today," Lena says.
Lena rubs her hands together and - now that her mind is temporarily cleared of sugar-centric musings - Kara realizes something is decidedly off about her today. She's been biting her lip to the point of bleeding in some places, and she keeps ringing her hands together like there's filth she can't quite scrub off. Kara doesn't totally know what is going on, but she knows this: Lena has a secret and she’s terrible at keeping it.
One would think someone so used to bad press and attention would be capable of acting chill for even a few minutes, but alas.
“Alright, weirdo. Spill,” Kara says, before quickly adding, “and I don’t mean anymore water.”
“Ha ha,” Lena replies with heavy enunciation. “So clever. You should be doing standup. We actually could make that happen, you know, if you-“
“No deflecting!” She cuts in. “You’re being super weird and it’s killing my creative cookie vibes. Tell me what’s up or I’m gonna have to assume the worst.”
“Oh? And what would that be?”
“God, you don’t wanna know, but it’s rough. Something with ball gags and mimes, probably. So tell me!”
Lena, who had giggled throughout the conversational divergence, tapers her laugh off into a resigned sigh and shifts nervously again until finally saying,
“There’s a Christmas party this weekend at an old schoolmate’s place. I’m expected to go, but I haven’t seen any of these people since,” the since Lex is unspoken, “and this guy, Jack. He’s gonna be there, and I’m kind of just,” she flails her hand a bit.
Lena laughs, shudders.
“To put it lightly.”
“Do you want me to come along?”
The look Lena gives her then can only be described as desperate.
“Would you?" she asks, words rushed, "I really don’t know if I can face the hyenas alone.”
"Of course! But if it's freaking you out so much why not just skip? We can stay home," she shakes the sloshing baking sheet, "make cookies."
That gets a laugh out of Lena at least.
“It’s expected. I have to keep up appearances, even if everyone there hates me. Not showing up would only make them hate me more, but, well." she shrugs, "I don’t think I can do it alone.”
Kara wraps her into a flour-caked hug, presses a powdered kiss to her cheek.
“Well then you don’t have to!" she promises, "I’ll come with you and help you navigate.”
Lena's smile shines brighter then, accented by the flour kiss and icing beard, though it dims a bit in nervousness.
“There is one thing I need you to do…” she says slowly.
“Oh, of course!”
“It’s a Sinclair party, so you’ll need a certain type of dress.”
"Beyond an ugly sweater? I thought you said it was a party at her house."
"It is," Lena says slow, smile tight, "but I imagine we have very different ideas of what constitutes a house party."
The way Lena laughs nervously at that is, to say the least, deeply concerning.
Kara feels a bit of deja vu as she checks, then rechecks the address Lena gave her for the dress shop.
She had been ready for something ridiculous, of course - this is Lena, after all - but this boutique in front of her now is, well.
"Fucking hilarious," Lucy says, so loud they gain stares from the sharp dressed clientele milling about in the courtyard. "This is fucking hilarious. I mean, is this for real?"
It took them nearly thirty minutes to even find the shop. Its location was off the highway, away from the outlet mall Kara assumed where Kara assumed it would be and instead in its own building with a cottage style structure and garden courtyard in front. If not for the small sign bearing the exact address Lena had sent her, Kara would have thought they were at some spa resort. But no, this is the place where she will find her dress for the party. Kara's pretty sure there's a rainbow peeking out over the hills.
Lucy is still laughing as they walk in the doors, much to Kara's discomfort. Everyone is looking at them and Lucy is making it worse. It doesn’t help that she came straight from work today, wearing her stained CatCo shirt with flour still in her hair. She told Lucy to dress up a bit, which in her world apparently means cargo pants and a raggedy US army shirt. Kara kind of wants to die.
“You know, I was joking when I said you had a pretty woman vibe, but come on,” Lucy continues, plucking at the few dresses actually on display.
The entire room is sparse, only a few items hanging from a handful of racks. Everyone in the room is watching them. Lucy reaches to touch something else, and one of the staff hone in on them like a heat seeking missile and practically wedges herself between Lucy and the clothing rack.
“Can I help you?” She says in one short, clipped exhale. Kara means to speak but Lucy is already talking,
"Yeah, we're here to find a prom dress."
"I'm sorry, this isn't-"
“They’re with me,” an agitated voice calls from just out of sight, and Kara is immediately filled with a new wave of anxiety as Jess strolls into view. Jess glances over them with the expression of someone observing road kill on the side of a highway.
“This,” the staffer gestures at Kara, “is the Luthor appointment?"
“Unfortunately,” Jess answers, which earns a snort from Lucy. The woman, to her credit, regains her professionalism quickly.
"Alright then! And which of you is here to be measured?"
Lucy shoves Kara towards her.
Kara has never really dressed up for an event before, nothing bigger than a graduation ceremony or collegiate award. When she first went to college, her essay on adoption and loss secured her a full ride scholarship that included a fancy dinner party. She and Eliza had gone to five different department stores in the mall to find the best dress for her to wear and spent nearly $150 on it in the end.
"It's an investment," Eliza had said. "You can wear it for all your future awards, and graduation."
She never made it to graduation, of course, but she still has the dress.
Buying that dress then was a fun if somewhat stressful experience, but it could never compare to this.
A half dozen strangers buzz about her grabbing and prodding while she stands in her underwear before them. They pull her arms out to measure, wrap tapes around her throat and arms, call out numbers to a small man with an iPad standing nearby who clicks away at his tablet. They pull various fabrics over her and use pins to make makeshift shifts that drape and fold around her curves, highlighting features she never even notices about herself. It feels almost as if they are building a dress on top of her, albeit one made of scraps. No one speaks to her beyond requests to move limbs, stand straighter, take a deep breath. All the while Jess stands in the corner scowling at her, Lucy beside her trying to win her attention and affection.
Eventually, the chaos fades and the cloth is removed, and she is allowed to dress again. The small iPad man shows his screen to Jess, who nods her approval, before bringing it to Kara. She can't help the gasp that escapes.
On the screen is a sketch of herself, simplified but recognizable, wearing the most beautiful red gown she'd ever seen. It clung and hung loose on her illustrated figure in stylized, deliberate places, and the skirt of it flowed around her ankles like moving water. It was breathtaking, and it was terrifying, and Kara wanted to go home.
Luckily they seem to be reaching a stopping point, however, as the man takes his sketch and one of the attendants tells her she may get dressed again. She dresses quickly and starts to go meet Lucy in the parking lot only to realize she left her phone back in the dressing room. She ducks back in to grab it and catches the tail end of a conversation happening on the other side of the thin wall.
"I'm not one to gossip, Frederic. Especially about my boss," Jess is saying.
"Of course, of course. I just wonder if this girl, is she Miss Luthor's new..." he lets it hang in the air. Jess scoffs, says,
"Of course not. She's just a new," she pauses, then says, "project. A temporary distraction. She'll be gone soon, I think."
Kara leans back against the wall, her hand pressed to her chest. That shouldn't hurt to hear. They're just talking, and she knows Jess hates her. It's just talk.
"Mm, and so no permanent prospects then? I heard Mr. Spheer will be attending the party as well."
"Lena's biggest prospect needs to be herself, right now." Jess says, firm, only to say in a softer tone, "Though I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't like to see her and Jack Spheer try again. He was good with her, before everything. He's better company for her than this."
The man hums at that, and by the sounds of it they both move away.
Kara stays pressed against the wall with her hand pressing absently to her chest before wiping at a tear she didn't even realize had fallen.
After a few more moments, she pushes off and heads outside.
That night, Kara can't sleep.
She was exhausted after her traumatic dress experience and every bone in her body ached, yet still she's awake.
It's been hours since she got home and she's done all the necessary steps; washed her face, laid in bed, closed her eyes. She didn’t even use her phone for the last thirty minutes before she got into bed. According to common wisdom, she should be halfway to snoozeville by now.
And yet she can’t stop replaying Jess's words again.
Granted, there is no reason for that to stick to her brain; Jess has never hidden her disdain for her, and talking up someone Lena knew before isn't that unusual. It's just interesting, hearing them discuss this Jack Spheer. Before this week Kara had never heard of him, and now talk of him is everywhere. Even Lena mentioned him, this guy Jack, she'd said. An old prospect becoming new.
It’s just that the way Lena said that coupled with the overheard conversation - it almost sounds like she and Jack have a romantic sort of history. Which just doesn't make sense to Kara, for some reason. Which is of course ridiculous! It shouldn’t weird her out so much knowing Lena might have dated before. She’s a beautiful girl, sharp and funny in the strangest ways. Of course she had boys interested in her.
It shouldn’t bother her, yet she finds herself awake long into the night tossing and huffing and fully conscious.
There's something about knowing the unknown of this man that makes her stomach turn. Then again, Kara always likes to be prepared for whatever challenges she may face, so perhaps her discomfort is from not knowing who exactly this guy Jack is to Lena. Maybe, then, a little research will help her sleep.
So now it’s nearly three AM and she’s somehow found herself “doing research” eleven pages deep into Lex Luthor’s still somehow active instagram (which continues gaining followers every day despite his multiple lifetime sentences) and she scrolls with no idea who half the people are until finally, suddenly, she sees Lena. A much younger, happier looking Lena sitting with Lex and a third person she sees tagged as Jack Spheer.
This guy Jack.
She barely pays attention to him at first, too captivated by just how youthful and free Lena looks. The picture is only a few years old but somehow it’s like seeing a completely different person. The three of them are sitting on what looks to be a yacht, Lena in the middle with Jack’s arm around her shoulder, her arm wrapped around his waist. They’re all laughing together. They look happy.
Looking at it makes her chest feel tight.
The photo is captioned with "another night out with my favorite pair". She hasn’t looked at many photos of Lex outside of his courthouse photos, so it is almost shocking to see him look normal. He has hair, for one thing, which is a shock. He shaved his head bald for his trials, even taking off his eyebrows, but apparently he once had a full head of black slicked back hair. The baldness with the grey suit left a striking, haunting impression on the court room photos, yet in this he just looks like a young man hanging out with friends. He’s kind of handsome, even, especially with his cocky half-smile. He looks like someone who might cut you off in traffic, sure, but not someone who would murder and systematically dismember a few dozen people. It’s jarring to consider.
And Jack, well. Kara supposes he’s nice looking, if you’re into ruggedly handsome bearded men.
Which Lena is, apparently. Or was at least.
Kara stares at the picture for a while, long enough for her phone to fall asleep, and she sits in the darkness for a few moments more before tossing the phone back on the side table. For some reason, putting a face to the name only made things feel worse.
It takes a long while after that for her to sleep.
The dress and the day of the party arrive and Kara feels terrified to move.
"What if I spill something on it?" she says, standing petrified in front of the mirror in Lena's bedroom as people flutter about. The dress is even more beautiful than she expected, made of silk and velvet and finely stitched laces that scare her half to death. Lena refuses to tell her the cost, but she feels confident it's more than she makes in a year at CatCo, maybe more.
"Then we get it cleaned," Lena says absentmindedly from her perch as her makeup is applied. "Or we get you another one."
Kara guffaws at that, hard enough displace some curlers in her hair and earn an agitated look from her stylist. She has a stylist - two, if you count Frederic who delivered his handmade dress himself and helped her slip into it. It fit her like a glove and he seemed pleased, though Kara feels a bit restrained. If she slouched even the slightest it tightened around her chest and restricted her breathing. But Lena had stared at her for a moment before looking away, red-faced and stuttering. That made it worth it, and if she weren't struggling to maintain her stance and airflow she would tease her for it.
"This dress feels one of a kind, I don't think we can just get another one."
Lena laughs at that before realizing Kara is in fact serious.
"Well, if you're really concerned it might be safe for you to just not eat anything tonight."
"Yeaahhh, you know, I think it'll be fine. I mean, worst comes to worst we can always get it cleaned."
"Mmm, that's what I thought."
When they arrive Lena has to pause a moment at the door and just breathe. She clenches her fists rhythmically, closes her eyes against the cold. Kara reaches over and gently pries her fist open to lace their fingers. Lena opens her eyes to meet Kara's, and Kara whispers,
"It's not too late, you know. We can just go. I'm pretty sure there's a bowling alley nearby that's open until 3, I think bowling shoes would go good with our dresses, don't you think?"
Lena laughs and squeezes her hand back even as she shakes her head.
"No, I really don't think so. I don't think I can hide anymore."
Then it’s like watching her slip into a jacket. The weight her role with its burdens and implications just glides across her frame, straightening and smoothing out all the expressiveness until she’s someone else entirely. Poised, unreadable, she’s Lena Luthor of the Metropolis Luthors, acting CEO of Luthor Corp and arguably the richest person on the planet.
It makes Kara’s stomach shift in the strangest of ways, seeing her fall into that.
"Shall we?" Lena asks with a twitch of her eyebrow, and Kara tries not to gulp.
If not for the soft jazz playing throughout the hall, Kara is sure the entire room would be silent the second they enter the colossal great room. It’s like every conversation ended the moment they were within ear shot. It strikes Kara then that this is likely the first social event Lena has attended since the trials, and she places a hand on the small of her back instinctively, protectively. Lena smiles at her, though it is dimmer than usual by far, and leads her into the main hall. There are a dozen or so tables, set before a small stage with a live band playing. She no longer feels overdressed in her gown.
"Are you sure this is a house?" she whispers to Lena, who smiles.
"This is one of her winter houses, and not even her favorite."
Kara mimes gagging, pulling a full, actual laugh from Lena which in turn garners them more attention but also helps her relax so, you know. Worth it.
"Lena Luthor," a gruff voice says from behind. "Aren't you a sight."
Kara can feel Lena full-body clench and she rubs her thumb soothingly against her back.
"Morgan Edge," Lena says in return. "I'm surprised to see you this far north. Don't you spend your holidays in the Caymans with all your money?"
His laugh is joyless and cruel.
"Well, when I heard our beloved Lena was gracing us with her presence I had to come."
She can practically hear Lena's teeth grind, so Kara pulls Lena the slightest bit against her till they stand frame-to-frame, and she can feel the other woman relax slightly in her grip.
"Mmm. Always a pleasure, Morgan. If you'll excuse us," she says, and guides Kara away. Kara waits until they're just barely out of hearing range before whispering,
"He looks like a toe."
"Yes, and his personality matches. He isn't the worst we'll probably meet."
"Joy! At least there's food at this shindig, right?"
Lena snorts at the look Kara must have in her eyes and gestures over to a table she hadn't seen before, one that is stacked high with goodies she can't see but can already smell. She grips Lena's arm with an (only somewhat) exaggerated gasp.
“Lena,” she says, a little desperate. Lena rolls her eyes.
“I know, I know. I’ll meet you at the table,” she shoos Kara with a smile, “go grab a plate!”
Kara grabs two.
She packs them to overflowing and what can't fit she stuffs into her mouth to chew on the journey, and just as she turns to leave she finds herself stepping into a terrifyingly beautiful woman suddenly standing beside her. She jumps back a bit only to bump into another equally terrifying beautiful woman and she realizes belatedly that she's been cornered.
“Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met,” says the first one, who bears intricate tattoos and a confusing smile. “I’m Veronica Sinclair, and you are?”
Kara chews furiously, swallows and speaks,
“Oh, hello!" there is still food chipmunk'd in her cheeks, "I’m Kara, I'm a friend of Lena. Luthor!" she adds, "Lena Luthor.”
The other steps in, smiling like the canary-catching cat.
“Mercy Graves,” the second greets as she extends a hand for Kara to take. “Lovely to meet you. Lord knows any friend of a Luthor is a friend of ours.”
Their words are kind and their postures imposing, and Kara finds herself stumbling back a bit in an attempt to create space. None is available.
“So you know Lena well?” Kara asks, and their smiles grow almost in unison.
“Oh yes. People like us tend to run in the same circles. I’ve known just about everyone in this room my entire life. Except you, of course.” She smiles, wide enough to show her canine teeth. “So tell me, how do you know Lena?”
“It’s a funny story, actually! We kind of just stumbled into each other’s lives-”
Before she can elaborate a bell rings out overhead with a soft call of "dinner". Veronica excuses herself to play hostess just as the sharply dressed staff begin to bring out platters of food. Kara eyes the food she already has in confusion, earning her a bemused grin from Mercy.
"Those are just the hors d'oeuvres. Come, sit by me, I want to know all about you."
And as Mercy places an arm around her to pull her towards her table Kara can't help but feel like an animal whose foot has fallen into a snare.
It doesn't take long for Kara to learn the names of their table mates. She's always been good with names and faces, quick to learn and long to remember. She knows Mercy and Veronica, who are a CEO and an art curator respectively. She meets two software engineers - Beth and Eve - as well as Siobhan, who describes herself as a 'social influencer' whatever the hell that means. She meets Imra, who does not give a job description beyond a coy smile that even Kara knows better than to question.
And she knows Lena, who smiles softly at her, even as she devours her food like a starved monkey, and refuses eye contact with anyone else. Not that they notice, really; all of their attention seems to be on Kara.
"So are you an owner there?" Eve is asking, genuinely confused. Kara laughs through her mouthful before pausing long enough to swallow.
"No, I'm just a delivery girl, although I do make and decorate the cookies sometimes. I actually have a pretty big job coming up for a company, gotta design a few hundred cookies for a party. Our apartment is overflowing with test batches now."
She and Lena share a warm glance.
"So you live together, then?" Mercy asks, and Lena's eyes are downcast once more.
"Kind of? It's.. a confusing situation, right now."
They seem to wait for an elaboration but Kara provides none.
"How thrilling," Veronica finally says after another moment. "Well, maybe next time I'll hire your company to cater dessert."
Her words are not meant to be nice but Kara smiles anyway and nods.
Lena, who hadn't spoken in ages, chimes in,
"Kara's an artist actually. You should see some of the things she creates," she smiles again at Kara, "even her cookies are art."
"Well Veronica owns several art galleries in the city," Mercy says, and Veronica adds in,
"Yes, perhaps I can look at some of your work sometime and see if it fits our current exhibit run."
They're all smiling at her but Kara knows deep in her chest that this is a mockery. Her heart hurts in its embarrassment, and she takes a bite to avoid talking for a while.
She glances over at Lena, who has finally started to loosen up under Eve's intense but affectionate questioning. It seems Eve is a fan of Lena's work and has a lot to say. There are various topics thrown across the table that Kara can barely follow.
Everyone is charmed by each other, laughing and exchanging jokes Kara doesn’t quite understand, and she finds herself zoning out for a moment before Imra catches her eye.
"So Kara," she says, politely trying to include her, "are you in school?"
"I was! I'm not anymore. I went to the university in Midvale, but I didn't finish."
"Oh Midvale? That’s where my husband went to college," Imra says, lighting up.
"What a small world!" Kara says, "Maybe we knew each other."
"Wouldn't that be something."
They smile at each other for a moment before Mercy loudly calls,
"Oh, Jack! I was wondering when you'd get here!"
Kara and Lena freeze at that exact same moment.
This guy Jack.
"Sorry I'm late, loves. My pilot's still learning how to land."
They laugh, charmed by his clearly relatable humor, and Kara takes him in.
Jack Spheer looks just like he did in the photo, tall and handsome and well-groomed with a smile that probably has girls swooning. A smile Lena swooned at once. He presses a kiss to the side of Beth's head and takes a seat beside her, smiling at them all in greeting until his eyes land on Lena.
They sit and stare at each other, equally frozen, until Beth speaks.
"Jack, this is Kara. She's Lena's friend," they all hear the slight inflection. "And of course you know Lena."
He nods and says, "hello, Kara," without taking his eyes off Lena. Then, in a softer voice, "Lena."
"Hello, Jack." Lena's reply is stiff, forced. They both deflate in the other's presence.
Kara hates every second of this. She instead tries to hone in on the quiet conversation between Siobhan and Eve.
"Did I hear someone say jet skis?" she cuts in, loud and aggressive, and the two look at her in a mix of surprise and annoyance.
"Yes! We're going on Siobhan's yacht this weekend, jet ski around and shoot fireworks," Eve says, glancing at Lena pointedly. "Would you like to come?"
Lena makes that face she does when she's trying to be polite but firm in her refusal, so Kara takes the initiative:
"Absolutely we do! I've always wanted to jet ski! What do you say, Lena?"
Lena looks dead inside at the thought.
"Sure.. sounds fun."
"I'm not sure you'd like it, Lena," Eve says with a sympathetic smile, "It'll be crowded and loud, and I know how you get at things like that. And my yacht is the biggest at the lake, obviously, but with all the people already going and my extensive wait staff there will probably be a good hundred people onboard."
"That does sound like a yacht of people," Lena says quietly to herself, unintentionally causing Kara and Jack to both laugh out loud, much to Kara's annoyance. In the midst of his laughter Jack reaches out and places his hand gently atop Lena's, leaving it there for a moment.
“God, I've missed you,” Jack says with a smile. Lena pulls her hand away.
"You two sure are cozy for exes. How nice," Beth teases, though Kara can hear something harder under her tone.
Jack seemingly does not, however, and instead continues to smile softly at her.
Lena just looks down at her plate, head heavy and eyes filled with conflict Kara knows nothing about. The conversation moves on but Lena does not look up again, and a few minutes later quietly excuses herself.
Twenty seconds later Jack stands up to follow her. Kara's ten seconds behind him.
"Lena," he calls, and she slows to a stop. Kara doesn't mean to pry (okay, yes she does), but it's her job to protect Lena at this and making sure she's okay when her ex corners her in a hallway seems part of the job. She loiters just out of sight but close enough to hear. "I'm so happy to see you."
There is so much depth to his tone whereas Lena's reply is flat.
"You look well."
"I've been trying to take care of myself lately," he says. "I hope you have as well. I've missed you."
Lena crosses her arms and looks away.
"What do you want, Jack?"
He steps closer.
"I want to talk to you, before the lake trip," he says with subdued affection. "Is there any way you and I could catch up? Alone?"
Lena shifts in discomfort and it takes every ounce of Kara's self control to not intervene.
"I don't know-" she starts, but he cuts in,
“I fucked up, Lena. I know that, and I don’t expect you to forgive me. I don’t expect anything from you. All I’m asking for is dinner, nothing else.”
Lena's shifting from foot to foot and Kara's already starting to step into their view when she hears Lena's reply.
“One dinner," she says, quiet, "Just to talk.”
Kara can't see Jack's answering smile but she can feel it in her chest.
The night finishes strong, and the days pass, and soon enough Lena is twitching about nervously preparing for Jack's arrival. They opted to have their dinner chat in Lena's apartment, catered by the still limping Hector, and Lena had very gently suggested that perhaps Kara go somewhere else for most of the night.
And she tried to, she did. She tried going over to Alex's place but accidentally walked in on her and Lucy going at it on her couch (the same one Kara slept on, for goodness sake!) and at this point there are no places she can go that don't cost money. So really, can she be blamed for coming back to the apartment twenty minutes into their dinner?
Of course not!
"Kara," Lena greets, genuinely surprised by what was really an inevitable return. "You're home early."
"Oh my God," Kara says in a completely natural and believable tone, "was tonight your dinner? I thought- oh wow, I'm so sorry guys! Okay well don't mind me, I just need to," and she gestures uselessly towards the kitchen before walking in with a confidence she does not feel. She fiddles around with cabinet drawers.
"Sorry about that," she can hear Lena say.
"No worries. I remember what it's like to have a roommate. It can be hard to find time alone."
Kara slams a pot down into the sink and sprays it full blast with the hose. It's loud.
"So as," Jack says, then raises his volume as Kara aggressively scrapes a pot and hums, "so as I was saying, I'm excited for this next chapter here in National City."
Kara drops the pot with a clatter and goes over to the stacks upon stacks of cookie-packed Tupperware they have as she hears Lena say, "What do you mean by that?"
She's already halfway in the dining room when Jack replies.
"I'm moving here, actually."
She sits down beside them with a huff, shaking the table and almost knocking Jack's glass into his lap.
"Hey guys!" she chirps, "Do you mind if I join in? I'm starving."
And she peels back the lid and grabs a cookie in each hand and shoves the first one in her mouth while staring ahead, pretending like she doesn't see the shocked looks they're both giving her. It's worth it, she thinks, to give Lena a second to process what Jack just said. He's looking at Kara with nothing short of disdain whereas Lena is still frozen in shock, though she thaws enough to mumble,
"Why would you do that? Metropolis has better infrastructure for your work."
He stares at Kara, who is glaring at him with a face full of cookie, before looking to Lena.
"I was working on a major project a few months after everything happened, and nothing I did was working right, and that's when it hit me and I realized," he leans forward, face sincere and vulnerable, and says, "I've made a terrible mistake. I shouldn't have left her. I'm no good without her." He leans back, takes a drink. "At that point I knew there was nowhere else in the world that would work for me except here."
There are a few quiet moments then when they just stare deeply into each other's eyes, and the moment feels like something from a romance novel up until Kara starts choking on the cookie conglomerate she's collected in her mouth.
Lena ends up doing the Heimlich on her for a solid minute before she can breathe again.
Everyone loses their appetite after that.
Kara puts the dishes away while Lena walks Jack to the lobby, and she can't help but feel like this was a success. Not for Jack, obviously, and perhaps not for Lena if you asked her, but Kara felt confident that this will ultimately be good for all the members of this household in time.
She's pulled from her self-congratulations by a firm knock on the door.
“I told you not to forget your key,” she calls as she goes to let Lena in.
Only it’s not Lena standing outside. It's Jack.
“Well," he says, stepping into her space, "I heard you’ve got a mean kick when men suddenly appear in your home, and I’m quite fond of my manhood so I didn’t want to risk it.”
Kara does her best to laugh, though it comes out mostly as a breath. Jack steps around her and walks towards the living room, tall with his hands held delicately behind his back.
"Where's Lena?" she asks, slow and confused.
"Talking with your doorman right now about security. I gave her a few suggestions that I knew would get her going, so she'll likely be a while," he's been walking slowly around Lena's living room but pauses to turn and grin at her. "Which is good as I was actually hoping to speak to you.”
The hairs on Kara's arms stand on end at the look he gives her.
“About Lena, of course. How is she?"
If ever there was a trap, this conversation would be it.
“She’s good," Kara says slowly and she finds herself circling parallel to him. "It’s hard still, for her. People think they know who she is from what they’ve read in the news.”
“People have always been very unkind to Lena,” Jack says almost wistfully, staring off for a moment before coming back to this. “But I really want to know how Lena is doing, what she’s doing.”
“I don’t understand," she says.
“You know, is there anything new in her life I might not know about.”
“I think Lena would tell you if there were things she wanted you to know.” She feels nervous, ansty, and she moves to grab her water from the counter. She sips at it and pretends her hand isn't shaking.
“Of course, of course,” Jack’s looking about with an intensity she does not care for, letting his fingers drift over the surfaces of Lena's things. “What I’m really asking is if there are things you know that she would not want me, or anyone else, to know.”
Kara is almost impressed by his audacity.
"I think you should leave," she says with a voice of steel.
“This is a very nice apartment, Miss Danvers,” Jack says instead. “Do you pay for it yourself?”
“No, no of course not. I checked the deed, it’s in Lena’s name. And I’d imagine you don’t have the means to get an apartment like this, hm?”
“- not with a credit score like yours. I didn’t even know scores could go below 400, but you, Miss Danvers, are just full of surprises, aren’t you?”
“How do you-“
“- delinquent student loans, multiple misdemeanors, nearly half a million in unpaid medical expenses? You are so much more than you seem. But I wonder, does Lena know?”
“What do you want?” she snaps as her circles her like a predator cocky and sure of its prey.
“I want information. I want to know everything there is to know about Lena Luthor’s life right now, every little secret. And in exchange,” he smiles at her, though it never meets his eyes. “I can make all of that go away.”
"Fuck you," Kara says, quiet, and he just laughs.
“Do you think Lena will let you keep living in her house if she learns about your past life? I doubt it, not after what she went through with her brother. But Lena doesn’t have to know, and I can make that criminal record just,” he snaps his fingers, “vanish. Money can make anything happen, really, and I’ve got enough to spare. What I don’t have is information. So here is my offer: You can keep living in her house, letting her dress you and feed you like a dog in her hand bag. I’ll keep your secrets, you can share with me hers, and we’ll all live happily ever after."
He stops in front of her.
“What do you say?”
Her response is instantaneous - she throws her drink directly into his face.
“How,” her voice shakes, and he's gasping in shock, “dare you,” she attempts to throw the cup down dramatically, but as a plastic solo cup it practically flutters down. She steps over it, steps into his space, presses her pointer finger aggressively into his chest while he wipes to clear his eyes.
“Lena cares about you, you fucking piece of shit!” Jack steps back, eyes wide and a bit terrified. “Do you know how hard this is for her? Everyone her whole fucking life has shit all over her and you think you can just swoop in and add more shit to the pile? Fuck you! How dare you try and hurt her through me!”
Jack stumbles a bit more but every space he vacates Kara immediately fills.
“Lena deserves so much more than shit faced fuckers like you, and I swear to God if you ever try to hurt her like this again I will come to your house and I will rip your throat out with my teeth!”
Jack manages to stumble around her and towards the door.
"Wait," she calls, and he freezes, looks back at her with wide eyes.
Furiously she asks, "Do you want to take some cookies? I have so fucking many. Let me make you a doggy bag."
She tells Lena the second she walks in.
Not everything, not the details (he knows, the voice in her mind taunts, he knows all about you) just the overall offer.
"He's a bad guy, Lena," she says. She really is apologetic, as much as she kind of hated him. Lena needs more people in her corner.
Lena sits and listens and taps her phone against her lower lip before saying, "that explains his text, then."
She shows Kara.
Jack Spheer [9:03 PM]
She's a good one. I like her.
Kara just stares.
"Okay, I am very confused."
Lena grins with sad eyes and says,
"Growing up a Luthor you're always surrounded by vultures just waiting for a pay day. When we were kids, Jack and-" she stutters, she always stutters, "and Lex, they would always try to bribe anyone who tried to befriend me. Offer them money or fame, whatever they thought would work. And if they agreed, I'd cut them out."
"That's.. pretty fucked up," Kara says. Lena laughs.
"That was their way of protecting me. It hurt, but I knew they did it out of love. What's fucked up is I can't think of a single person who didn't take the money, other than you."
There's nothing she can do then but hug Lena tight, try to press the overwhelming feelings into her skin. Lena holds back just as tight.
Finally, Kara whispers against her hair,
"You're allowed to miss your brother, you know."
Lena lets out a shuddery breath.
“I don’t miss actual Lex," she whispers back, "because actual Lex is a sociopath who killed people because he could. I miss the Lex I thought I knew. I miss him so much sometimes it hurts just to breathe.”
Kara can't hear her cry but she can feel it in the little shakes against her. She holds tighter.
“I missed Jack like that, too, I think," Lena continues. "There is a lot of hurt between us, but I think it might be worth trying. He really is a good guy.”
Every instinct in Kara's body disagrees, but she just squeezes her again and suggests they get ready for bed.
And later that night as they cuddle in Lena's bed Kara can't help but pull out her phone, pull up that old Instagram photo of the three of them.
She sees young Lena, leaning forward and laughing without a care while the two boys surround her and share a secretive, knowing smile.
"Oh my God," Kara gasps out as they approach the dock, "this is not a yacht. This is the Godzilla of yachts. This yacht ate all the other yachts and absorbed their powers."
Lena just tugs her along with a giggle, and soon they find themselves amidst the revelry.
They mingle for a while, talking with everyone she met at the party before. Kara's proud at how much better she's fitting in with this group already as she makes jokes that actually get laughs every so often. Jack nods at them and thankfully doesn't say a word, not that it stops Kara from glaring at him with a white hot intensity that could melt steel.
Eventually, they decide to hit the water.
It's fun. Kara grew up near a beach but they only surfed and swam. She had never been on a boat like this before or even ridden jet skis, and she loves every second of it.
They spend the entire day on the water, only boarding ship when the sun sets.
Fireworks launch from the other boat nearby, and she and Lena end up snuggled close together on the ship's stern watching them go.
"I think I need some more water," Kara says after a while, standing. "Want anything?"
Lena shakes her head no and Kara wanders off to find the kitchen she was told is on this vessel somewhere.
She finds it deeper inside but pauses at the door at the sound of her name inside. They're discussing her, she realizes.
"Not even funny," the voice is saying, and she recognizes it to be Mercy. "I wonder what Lena is getting out of her."
There's a sharp laugh from Veronica, mean and condescending, who says,
"I think it's more about Lena getting off on her," there is a round of laughter at that, "No, I don't think she's much of anything. Just another gold digger chasing the Luthor fortune. No, I'm sorry. She's an artist," they all laugh. "We'll probably never even see her again."
And oh, that burning sensation in her chest is back, and she rubs at it as if she can even begin to soothe an ache so deeply set inside her.
They are laughing still as she stumbles away, down the hall, away from their laughter and Lena and the sounds of music still playing across the water.
She ends up at the ship's bow without intention or realization, and she freezes where she stands when she realizes what she's seeing.
Jack hadn't left earlier, it seems, as he is now sat atop the ship's edge with his feet dangling over the bow. That in itself would not be too concerning, if they were not idling among rocks that are visible from this deck some four stories above. Kara gulps and steps forward slowly.
“Miss Danvers,” Jack greets the second she's within view, and she can hear the slur in his voice. “Have you come to throw more drinks on me?”
She takes another cautious step towards him.
“It’s not very safe for you to be up here alone. Come over here,” she responds. He laughs, tilts away from her a bit. She takes another step, close enough now that she can smell the alcohol on his breath.
“Are you worried about me? Worried I might,” he leans back dramatically, causing her to gasp and reach out, “fall overboard?”
She manages to get a firm grip on his shirt and arm but he resists her pull inward, all while smiling that sad drunk smile.
“That isn’t funny. Please come back here."
“You could push me over if you want. I’d let you.”
Instead she braces and tugs, resulting in them both falling to the ship floor safely away from the railing. He flops on top of her with a huff, then laughs and rolls off.
“Wow," he says, "you really are a good person.”
Kara shoves him away and sits up, furious.
“Because I didn’t let you fall off a fucking boat?”
He scoffs but makes no move to sit up.
“Don’t act like every person on this boat wouldn’t jump to off me if it could profit them in some way.”
He smiles at that though his eyes glint with unshed tears, and he sits up on his elbows to look at her.
“No, you’re right. Lena wouldn’t. She’s the only good one there is.”
They stare at each other another moment before he falls back down.
"The fireworks are lovely tonight, don't you think?" he asks, and they both turn to look at the sky just as another one explodes above in bright oranges and reds. Kara takes a moment working through her words, grinding her jaw.
“She deserves better than this," she finally says, "Better than you.”
He lets out a slow sigh.
“That she does,” he agrees before reaching into a nearby cooler and grabbing a drink. "She deserves the world. And someone who doesn't use her."
It feels for a moment like another gold digger insinuation, but Jack keeps talking in a long ramble,
"You know, I did use Lena. When we met we were barely teenagers and I immediately decided I had to seduce her. I knew that if I could win her affection, I’d get what I’d always wanted.” He pauses to take a long sip, then adds, “I’d be close to Lex.”
Kara can't help but jolt in shock, not that Jack notices. He's lost in his memories, staring at the bursts of color above.
“The moment I saw him I was in love. He was just so charming, and not in that backhanded way like so many of our peers. He’d talk and it was like the whole world was brighter. He was.. perfect, and I had to be close to him. So I came on to Lena. Again and again. And every time she shot me down. Eventually we both got so frustrated we ended up in a yelling match and I accidentally confessed that I was in love with her brother. And she just - accepted it. Said ‘okay, we can date’ just like that. She was always an odd one, still is I suppose. We ‘dated' on and off from fifteen onward and because of her I got to be a part of everything. If Lena was there, I was there, and most of the time Lex was too. And every second I fell more and more in love."
Tears have started to fall on his face but he doesn't notice or just doesn't care. He takes a long drink, then continues.
“Lena was the first to notice. I just didn’t see it, or maybe I didn’t want to. She’d ask me if I thought something was off about Lex and I’d just laugh and say anyone raised in our circles is going to be a little off. She said it years before they caught him. If I hadn’t brushed her off again and again, maybe-“ he hiccups, unable to continue. Kara puts a hand on his shoulder.
“When she turned him in it was like the entire world ended. I couldn’t process it, I couldn’t let myself believe that any of it was true. How could the man I'd loved half my life be a monster? It was like the light in my life had gone out."
He pulls himself up fully and wipes at his eyes and turns to Kara. He looks sunken, empty.
"Everyone turned on her. Everyone. She was completely alone, and she needed me, and I ... I couldn't even look at her. I couldn't see Lena; all I saw was the person who took my light away." his voice cuts off with a wet sigh. He takes a long moment to dot at his eyes, regain some composure.
"I thought I couldn't live without Lex, I thought he was what made life shine, but God," he laughs, swallows, "It was her. It was always her. She was my truest friend, and when she needed me most I abandoned her."
He levels a steady stare at Kara, who so far has done nothing but gape in amazement.
"I'm moving to National City, and I am going to try and win a place in her life again. I don't deserve one, but I have to try," he smiles, "I'm glad she's found you. Keep being good to her. Remember, I'm very wealthy and could very easily dispose of your body."
He said it as a tease but ends up groaning and falling back down on to the deck, covering his face with his hands.
"Oh my God," he says. "Lex used to make that joke all the time."
There are no words for Kara to say in a moment like this. The air buzzes with the weight of drunken secrets and shame.
A massive firework bursts overhead, filling the air with sound and raining blues and golds down over the water.
"Well," Lena says later that night as they get ready for bed. "That really wasn't that bad!"
Her smile makes Kara's heart feel full, and when they climb in together she pulls her close against her chest until Lena drifts to sleep.
Sleep escapes Kara. She lays there staring unseeing at the wall until the urge to look again nearly overwhelms her, and she pulls out her phone.
She stares at the photo again, stares until her eyes go out of focus and begin to water. No matter her effort it's like she can't fully breathe.
Lena, Lex, and Jack, sitting on a yacht so similar to the one they rode today.
Jack with his arm wrapped tight around Lena, smile bright with easy affection and love. His hand on the back of the bench, fingers extending out towards Lex sitting poised and just out reach. Teasingly close, but never close enough.
How did no one realize they were in the presence of a monster? The news had demanded over and over again.
“We see what we want to see,” Kara whispers back.
Lena jolts a little in her arms, murmurs, “what was that?”
Kara wraps around her more tightly and breathes in the smell of her shampoo, says, “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”
And together they slip into the darkness.