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time there was and time there will be (where does that leave me and you?)

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I heard her sing in tongues of silver
I heard her cry on a summer storm
I loved her, but she did not know it
So I don't think about her anymore

Buckskin Stallion Blues, Amy Annelle

___

Lena Luthor hates surprises. She’s hated them since she was a child and Lex threw her a surprise birthday party and she’d been overwhelmed that she just cried. Right there, in front of all of her friends and her mother, who never let her have a party for her birthday again for as long as she’d lived in that godforsaken house. She’d called Lena a traitorous, sensitive child. Lena believed that she was right and still believed it as she grew into a traitorous, sensitive adult.

And how could she hide that fact when surprises robbed her of her most fundamental ability to put a safeguard in place? It was an intolerable thought. In that sense, this had been the most hateful year of Lena’s adult life, full to the brim with the unexpected, like Kara Danvers, like her move to National City. She’d felt joy so acutely that it at times it was physically unnerving. The idea that she, who could not keep it together at a childhood birthday party, would ever be good enough to have a friend like Kara Danvers only seemed like her reality during select moments. When all was said and done, she realized that she’d played herself for a fool again for ever having believed it at all.

Kara hasn’t tried to contact her in just under a month. She reaches out exactly once to say that she’s ready to talk whenever Kara is. She never receives a response.

Lena’s effort not to focus and refocus on that reality, that she’s living in a universe where Kara doesn’t respond to her texts, takes different forms. She drinks, of course, and flirts with smoking for the first time in nearly 5 years. Novels get picked up and discarded, she becomes semi-notorious on a subreddit for bioengineers. Jess signs her up for a wine-oriented pottery throwing class to get her out of the house. She recoils but relents when her assistant reminds her how good she looks in overalls.

What comes of it is strange, misshapen thing. It’s glazed a periwinkle blue, much lighter than she’d imagined it would be when she first applied the coating, and has a clay heart pressed right in the center of it. Being bad at something is a bizarre feeling although Lena thinks that maybe she should be more used to it by now. Fighting the urge to throw it in the garbage, she places the piece into her cabinet amongst the matching set of glass mugs there. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

She’s teetering on the edge of her own self-pity and coming around the bend to a place where she might consider not falling asleep with an empty bottle of merlot on her nightstand when it happens. In all of her machinations, her self-defensive shower conversations where she plots out what she might say to Kara, if Kara ever did decide to reach out to her, she’s never predicted an outcome like this. Which makes it, of course, a surprise in the most fundamental sense of the word.

There’s a knock at her door around midnight on a Tuesday that sounds too timid to be a mercenary or a hitman. Lena is curled up on her couch, legs tucked underneath her, scrolling through her Twitter mentions with half-interest. The noise makes her perk up. She hasn’t ordered any take out this evening, been expecting any visitors. She supposes it could be a neighbor, but most people on the hill tend to keep to themselves. Phone gripped in one hand and wineglass in the other, Lena unfolds herself from the couch and pads to the large bay window, peeling back the curtain to crane her neck outside. She ducks down immediately.

Kara is on her step, unmistakable. Lena’s heart is thundering so hard in her chest that it’s making her lightheaded. She’s still crouched on the floor of her living room like an idiot, hiding from the woman currently knocking for the second time at her front door. Saying that Lena’s been taken off guard is an understatement--she’s about to greet Kara, frequent visitor in her dreams and shower conversations with herself, in a Stonewall Volleyball T-shirt and leggings. Lena glances down at her feet.

Oh, and enormous puffy socks.

Swearing, Lena stands on wobbly legs and moves toward the door before she can talk herself out of it. The Kara standing on the other side of the door is not the same Kara she’d last seen over a month ago, she knows this immediately upon laying eyes on her. There’s nothing discernibly different about her appearance; her eyes are still blue, hair still blonde, and Lena thinks she sees the collar of a crew-neck sweater peeking out from her coat. But in that way that people recognize each other’s sadness through the tug of a thread shared between them, or energies touching on a different plane, Lena knows that something is not right. That, at least, is basically in line with her expectations.

“I’m sorry to come so late without calling.” Kara says, foregoing pleasantries. “But I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Come in.” Lena’s voice sounds like it’s being spoken by another person standing directly over her shoulder. She steps aside, knowing that her face and haphazard appearance must betray some of what she’s feeling. Her stemless wineglass and phone are clutched in one hand, the other wrapped around her middle. Inexplicably, she says, “Long time, no see.” And immediately winces. Kara’s brows knit together and her mouth tips into a frown.

“Yeah.” Kara stands inside the foyer of the house, hands shoved in her jacket pockets, peeking around. Her posture is stiff. “This is the first time I’ve been in here.”

“Well,” Lena says. “Welcome.”

Kara smiles tightly and says nothing.

“Would you like a glass of wine?”

“No, thanks.”

“Water?”

“I’m okay.”

Lena stands, at a loss. She’s not sure whether she should guide this impromptu party back into the living room or if she’s supposed to ask Kara directly what’s going on. The other woman doesn’t seem like she’s about to provide clarity. She just keeps soaking in her surroundings, looking clenched.

“A snack?”

Kara’s eyes brighten. “Oh. Sure.”

In the kitchen, Kara sits at the island still wearing her jacket and Lena fixes her a plate of peanut butter crackers. She does accept a glass of water when Lena asks her a second time, pointing out that peanut butter has a way of making your mouth too sticky.

“I’m sorry, it’s all I have right now.”

“Are you kidding? This is my favorite meal.” Kara smiles cheekily around a mouthful of saltine, crumbs dotting her lips. Lena finds herself dangerously close to being pulled into a false sense of security, where this is the world she lives in again and not the one where she and Kara haven’t spoken in months. She has to physically school herself back into indifference. Kara’s smile wavers when Lena says nothing and turns to stand at the sink, back to Kara, pretending to clean the one empty mug that rests at the bottom of the basin. “You said that I could come to you when I was ready to talk.”

“Are you ready?”

“No.” Kara admits. She stares down at her cleaned plate. “Things have been so different lately. Without you and without--” She clears her throat. “It’s been strange.”

“It has been for me, too.” Lena says. It’s easier to admit things like this, counting the water drops in the bottom of your sink basin and pretending like it’s somebody else talking and not you.

“I’ve been so lonely.” Kara’s words drop into the room like a 100-ton anvil. There’s a wobble to her voice, a sad kind of certainty. “It’s been such a long time since I was in my apartment alone, and for the last month I’ve been--” There’s a heavy pause. Lena has long since abandoned play-acting cleaning the mug, just holds it in her hands uselessly. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“What was your idea?” Lena places the mug in the sink and turns back to look at Kara. “I’m not really sure why you’re here, to be honest.”

“I was going to ask you if I could spend the night. I haven’t--I haven’t slept in almost a month.” Kara says quietly. “But now that I’m saying it out loud, I’m realizing how stupid it sounds, like...in real time. Okay. I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I’m just going to--” Red-faced, Kara stands from the stool and begins to re-button her jacket with shaky hands. She’s muttering something to herself and it sounds like stupid, stupid.

“Wait, Kara.” Lena takes a deep breath, questioning her own sanity. “Of course you can stay. I have a guest room.”

Kara stares back at her, blinks once. “Oh. A guest room.”

“Yes.”

She ceases fumbling with her jacket, her fingers still playing with one of the middle buttons. “I didn’t bring any pajamas.”

“I have those, too.” Lena wonders exactly how well cooked this plan was. Kara’s mouth is hanging open and her arms are crossed. One more deflection and Lena will let her go, she decides. She’s old enough now to know when people don’t want to stay. But surprise of aching, loathsome, incredible surprises; Kara smiles. Her head faintly nods. She stays.

___

She finds the bedroom empty the next morning. This is unsurprising, Lena thinks as she observes the rorschach test of tangled sheets in front of her, and the expectedness of it should be comforting. Instead, it’s a well-source of bottomless disappointment. In the kitchen, she has a cup of coffee and texts Jess to let her know she’s going to be late into the office. Then, she ascends the stairs back into the guest room.

There is a housekeeper that comes twice a week to tidy up. Lena remakes the bed anyway. She strips it of it’s flat sheet and comforter and builds it up again from scratch with the kind of precision she learned in boarding school. Tight corners, clean lines on the side. She skims a hand over the top of the finished product, smoothing out any wrinkles, then replaces the pillows one by one with great ceremony. The last piece, the throw blanket, she folds on her lap as she sits at the foot of the bed. When it’s a finished square, she holds it to her chest for a moment, then her face, and inhales. It smells like nothing. She rubs her cheek into it anyway.

___

“Jess?” Lena presses her finger onto the intercom. “Can you come in here for a moment please?”

It only takes Jess half a moment before she’s in Lena’s office, hands clasped in front of her, looking expectant. She’s always like this, prompt as if she’s been waiting outside Lena’s door, and yet it still takes her by surprise. Lena shuffles some superfluous papers on her desk and clears her throat. “Is something wrong, Ms. Luthor?”

“You can stand down.” Lena says. “I need your advice on something. Personal. Something personal.”

Jess releases some of the tension in her shoulders and moves to sit at the chair in front of Lena’s desk. She’s an excellent assistant, but she’s an even better confidant, and probably the second best thing to having an actual therapist. In this moment she’s leaning forward slightly, clearly eager to hear whatever Lena is soliciting her council on.

(Jess is also a bit of a gossip hound, not that Lena minds. She’s always happy to throw her bits and pieces about the sordid lives of National City’s elite, even if that occasionally happens to be her).

“I have a hypothetical scenario.”

“Okay.” Jess draws the word out, tilting her head slightly to the side and regarding Lena through one eye.

“So, say you have a friend.”

“What kind of friend?”

“What?”

“Like, a best friend, an acquaintance? Same gender? Age, height?”

“Oh. Uh.” Lena glances down at her papers, as if she’s going to find a suitable enough answer to her questions in the text of a quarterly report for R&D. “Best friend. You think. You’re both women in your mid-twenties. She’s...maybe an inch taller than you.” Jess nods her head, satisfied and urging Lena on. “So you and your friend have...let’s say, a falling out. Over a boy. And you don’t talk for about a month.”

“Ugh.” Jess wrinkles her nose. “Is this hypothetical scenario going to end up passing the Bechdel Test?”

Lena gives her a look and continues. “Then, after a month, she shows up at your door in the middle of the night. She’s not ready to talk but what happened--the boy, and everything--but she does want to...spend the night.”


Jess’s face goes on a formidable journey from confused to enlightened to eyes narrowed with suspicion. Lena should have known that she was going to pick up on the scent of something off with her story. She’s not in the habit of hiring idiots. “Lena.” She says slowly. “This hypothetical scenario wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain blonde woman who’s name rhymes with Shmara Schanvers, would it?”

Lena’s face boils. She puts her hands on the desk and interlaces her fingers. “Didn’t I say it was hypothetical, Jess? I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Okay, well. If I were to give you hypothetical advice on this hypothetical scenario, it would be to tell this friend to hit the road until she’s ready to open up the second lane of this hypothetical two-way street.”

“Hypothetically, let's say I--sorry, you--let her spend the night.”

“One time isn’t the worst, as long as she hypothetically slept in the guest room and you hypothetically didn’t let her do it again.” Lena is quiet, growing hotter by the second. “Oh Jesus Christ, Lena.”

“What?” Lena huffs. She picks up a pen, drops it, leans back in her chair with her arms crossed like a petulant child. “It was only a couple times.” She pauses, then concedes: “In the guest room, at least.”

“What do you mean ‘only a couple times in the guest room’?”

Briefly closing her eyes, Lena can see it as if it’d only happened minutes ago. Kara’s silhouette in her bedroom door, dressed in Lena’s pajamas (she’d never gotten it together to bring her own). She doesn’t need to ask, not in so many words, she only has to say ‘It’s strange to sleep in such a big bed all by myself’ and Lena is peeling back her comforter and welcoming her into the empty spot at her side.

Lena doesn’t say this explicitly to Jess, nor does she mention how that was the only morning that Kara had stayed. She had gone downstairs to find her in the kitchen pouring coffee into Lena’s favorite takeaway mug, sun pouring through the windows and touching her in all the right places. Her hair, the side of her face, and Lena is momentarily starstruck by it all. How do you express that feeling in words, anyway? Finding the person you thought would never stay in your kitchen, making you coffee.

“This is hypothetically ludicrous.” Jess asserts, pulling her out of her own fantasy. Lena crosses and uncrosses her legs, scolded. “But it was only that one time, right? You only let her sleep in your bed once.” After a second’s pause she throws up her hands. “Come on! Are you serious?”

“There’s more.” Lena murmurs.

Kara has slept in her bed a total of three nights. There had been a mutual discovery somewhere along the crooked line they’ve been walking: it’s easier to share your feelings a little drunk and in the dark. Kara talks to her in a watery voice about the nature of her loss. She tells her about Mike and how he fits into the larger picture of things she’d loved, or convinced herself that she did, sent down the river never to be seen again. She wonders aloud about what might be next to go and her suspicion that she may have cared more for the idea of Mike, or what he could represent, rather than the man himself. There are multitudinous things Lena wants to say, things that regard her own immovability in Kara’s life. Instead, she reaches out and strokes her friend’s hair, feeling her shudder with relief. “I’ve missed you.” Kara sighs, reverent. “I thought I could stay away--give you space, but I couldn’t.”

“I never wanted that anyway.” Lena murmurs, hand continuing to work over Kara’s hair. “I never wanted you to stay away.”

So Kara comes to her again, and she comes to her a third time. Lena tells her a story about her mother giving her favorite pair of shoes, jelly sandals she’d gotten from her father, away to the Goodwill because they were cheap looking. She talks about the unique pain of her mother, always with her like an extra, cancerous limb. How prolonged and awful it had all been, the trial, and everything. Kara wraps her up in her arms and places a trembling kiss on her forehead, right at her hairline. Her lips linger there for a moment and Lena’s stomach twists when, instead of pulling away, Kara places another sure kiss at the corner of her eye. She parts her lips just enough to inhale a shaky breath before she migrates over to press her mouth next to the lobe of Lena’s ear. Lena has her hands fisted in the fabric of Kara’s sleep shirt, hanging on for her life. She’s both unsure of what’s happening and unwilling to move and break whatever spell they’re under. Even as Kara stills Lena finds it difficult to believe what she thinks is going to occur next. It must all be some kind of strange misunderstanding. But then Kara kisses the corner of her mouth and all of her breath rushes out accompanied by an embarrassing whimper.

“I hate that you’re hurting.” Kara says against cheek. Her lips are a little chapped and her breath is damp and sweet. She has her hand on the back of Lena’s neck, not gripping, but present. Firm. It’s like she’s burning her palm print onto Lena’s skin. “You’re my best friend. I would do anything for you. You know that, right?”

“Yes.” Lena manages to bite out. It’s a miracle because Kara has shifted just so, and her lips are now parallel with and ghosting over Lena’s mouth. Lena doesn’t realize that she’s trembling until Kara gently squeezes the back of her neck, steadying her.

“Let me help you feel better.” Kara’s lips brush over Lena’s so gently that it sends a tremor from the tips of her toes all the way to the crown of her head. “Can I kiss you?”

 Lena’s responding please is swallowed into the wet press of Kara’s mouth. The first kiss is gentle, asking. The second, Lena pulls Kara closer by the front of her shirt and then wraps her arms around her shoulders, pulling her so close that a feather couldn’t be slipped between their bodies. Their lips part with a wet sound, Kara cups Lena’s cheek with her free hand, sighs faintly into her mouth. The third kiss is all urgency. They come together again, mouths open and slanted. When their tongues touch Kara makes a desperate sound and breaks them apart, panting quietly.

That’s all it takes. Three kisses.

When the story is finished, Jess is standing and has most of her entire fist shoved into her mouth.

Girl.”

Lena grimaces. “Is it that bad?”

“I’m clearing your schedule.” Jess says. “We’re both taking the rest of the day off.”

___

Jess gives her advice. Lena doesn’t take it, but it’s there. She finds it more blissful to ignore the easier roads she could be walking and keep beating her way down this path through uncharted territory. There’s something about having said it out loud that’s freeing. Not because she needed Jess’s council, but because she needed a clearer picture for herself, or to speak it into reality. The whole day her body is buzzing as if with some intuitive sixth sense. When Kara texts her asking her what kind of wine she should bring that night, something inside her pangs like the snap of a rubber band.

When they don’t even make it halfway through the movie of choice before Kara is nuzzling her neck and stroking her side under her shirt Lena is hardly surprised. She softens into her touch but doesn’t make any move to escalate things just yet. It’s enough to feel Kara’s thumb glance against the underwire of her bra and her mouth placing barely-there kisses at her jaw. Lena knows from the knot in the bottom of her stomach that she’s already wet.

“God, you’re soft.” Kara hums. “You feel like my shirts after I take them out of the dryer.”

She takes Kara’s face and pulls it toward her own, meeting her in a kiss. It’s all tongues and teeth and none of the first-time luck of their first encounter. Kara’s movements are less coordinated, too. She grapples against Lena’s body for purchase, touching at every exposed stretch of skin she can find as if she’d never had her hands on anything so precious. The skim of her fingers on Lena’s bare sides, her stomach—she’s bursting open at the seams.

Lena pulls back just enough, against Kara’s protests, to talk. “Let me help you feel better.” The echo of her own words doesn’t seem lost on Kara. She trembles like a leaf in Lena’s arms.

“I just want to feel close to you.” Lena’s center of gravity shifts as she’s guided down to the couch by Kara, who’s regained some of her slickness. There are hands everywhere on her body, there’s a mouth open and needy at the place where her tank top dips into her chest. “Is that what you want?”

“Yes.” Lena’s sweatpants tent to make room for Kara’s hand. Fingers press urgently through her underwear. She twists, groans. “Yes, yes, yes.”

“I don’t know what I would do without you.” Kara’s voice is breathy, like it’s being strained through something else before hitting Lena’s ears. Her fingers flutter over the center of her underwear like butterflies, or a heartbeat. “Is that stupid?”

“It’s not stupid.”

“Sometimes I feel like I could just crawl inside you and live there.”

“Kara—“

But Kara already understands. She has her hand in Lena’s underwear making messy, uncoordinated circles around her clit before another coherent thought can pass through her mind. Lena’s turned on enough that it doesn’t really matter, anyway. She comes slapping her open hand against the back of the couch and sobbing Kara’s name.

Kara clings to her in the aftermath, delivering an earnest kiss to her mouth. Her hand is left pressed against Lena’s center. When she says I love you it’s quiet enough, precious enough, that Lena could almost mistake it for something else. Her eyes fall to the TV screen where Steve Carrell is sitting alone at a bar, then to the light, frizzy hairs stuck to Kara’s temple. She feels her weight pressing her body into the couch cushions, warming her.

This isn’t at all how she’d imagined somebody saying “I love you” to her for the first time in several years, but she takes it. In this universe, Kara is still her best friend, and there are no surprises. She folds herself into Kara’s chest and releases a deep, long held breath.

____

Heavy with suspicion that this might be her last chance, Lena spends the rest of the night letting Kara search for what she needs in her body. And God, Lena’s always thought Kara was a touch strange, how could she not? But there’s something especially peculiar about the way she handles her—like Lena is a baby bird she’s cupping in the palm of her hands.

“Go a little harder.” She urges, bucking her hips up. Kara stutters a little in her already precarious rhythm—Lena wonders if this is her first time or if she’s just nervous—and seems unsure of how to proceed. “I’m not going to break.”

Kara barks out a little, shattered sounding laugh and starts to move again, more vigorously. Lena grows used to, and then fond of her ministrations. There’s something sweet about them. There’s something sweet about everything that Kara does--the way she kisses her, overflowing and eager to please, the way she looks struck stupid when Lena unhooks her bra and exposes her chest. It evokes something dishonorable in Lena that begs her to try and unravel her. But every time she tries to turn the tables, to reach out and touch Kara, she’s rebuffed. She doesn’t ask. When finally she has to tap out, sore from Kara’s constant attentions and covered in a thin sheen of sweat, Kara lays on the bed beside beside her and peppers kisses against the damp skin of her temple and neck. She’s squirming; the kisses feel like stalling.

“Are you sure there’s not anything I can do for you?” Lena ventures. “We don’t have to but...there’s not a lot I wouldn’t do, if you wanted it.”

“Could you…” Kara pauses, squirms again. She voices her request in a small murmur and it’s so simple that Lena wonders at her reticence to ask for it. One of Kara’s hands is between her own legs, moving, the other is gripping at the pillow behind her head. Lena makes a show of mouthing at her neck and shoulders but it’s half-hearted and almost cruel feeling. She can see the slickness on the inside of her thighs. She licks one of Kara’s nipples into her mouth and traps the other between her thumb and forefinger, twisting it. Kara comes almost immediately, channeling her release into the pillow and then relaxing, boneless.

Kara also falls asleep almost immediately, only taking the time to roll halfway on top of Lena’s naked body before her breathing evolves into cute little snores. Lena chuckles because of course Kara would be that girl. In a different world, that thought is clinging to the middle of a thread that stretches onward and outward forever and not at the very end of one. Lena sighs and looks at Kara, her tangled hair and fluttering eyelids. There’s no different world, not for her. Only this one.

____

She’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little shocking to go downstairs the next morning and Kara standing in her kitchen, wearing one of her t-shirts and cradling her handmade mug in her hands. She looks up at Lena, trying to suppress her smile. “Do you have a niece or a nephew I don’t know about?”

Lena frowns. She knows when she’s being teased. “No.”

“A baby cousin?”

“Kara.” Lena moves to grab the mug from her hands but Kara pivots to keep it out of her reach. Their bodies press together in the process, Lena’s front to Kara’s back. Neither make an effort to move.

“Thanks.” Kara clears her throat. “For last night. It felt good. You’re—a really good friend.”

Not even that’s enough to douse Lena’s high. Maim it a little, maybe, but not fatally. Because Kara Danvers is in her kitchen, and she’s insisting she drink her coffee out of a mug Lena made, and she’s saying bye, love you as she dashes out the door to catch her bus. This is everything Lena’s ever dreamed of—of course, in her dreams, her and Kara had been at least dating. In her more elaborate fantasies, married. But she supposes she’ll take what she can get.

The pretense shifts and they begin a new rhythm in their relationship, one that involves Kara staying every night and taking her on her bed with that same clumsy gentleness. In the grander taxonomy of things, Lena would put it closer to making love than fucking. And during the rare moments that Kara lets herself go, when she’ll move hard enough that the headboard clashes with the wall or Lena’s toes curl into the sheets, she’ll say it. I love you, I love you, I love you. Into Lena’s chest, her hair, the pillow. To the rhythm of the bed shifting. Never just once, always a mantra.

It always ends and Kara remembers herself, slows, lets her words linger in the space between them. She occupies her mouth in other ways and Lena’s not sure if she’ll ever grow used to the sight of her blonde curls in a quick bun bobbing between her legs, or if she would even want to. The closest Lena ever gets to touching her is a night when she brings herself to climax straddling her, chest pressed into her face and hand working between her legs with a kind of brutal urgency. She feels it against her stomach and when Kara comes, it leaves a wet spot just below her navel.

The next morning Lena notices a large fissure on her wooden headboard. She doesn’t make the connection between that and the placement of Kara’s other hand until a week later when it’s already been replaced, but it’s a passing notion. She’d already blamed it on shoddy craftsmanship.

Lena makes her peace with it over the intervening weeks. It’s like a frankensteinish happiness, created out of bits and pieces of things that she wants but not altogether cohesive. Still, she gets the things she gets—the comfort of Kara’s intimacy, the warmth of her presence, the humanizing power of her love. Who is she, a complete novice in the art of person to person connection, to challenge how it presents itself in her life?

So she doesn’t. But it gets challenged all the same, in the form of Alex Danvers showing up in her office with a bouquet of flowers. Gardenias, specifically. Jess is behind her looking exactly as puzzled as she feels.

“Agent Danvers.” She says, conveying what she hopes to be a good aping of togetherness. “What a surprise. Does Officer Sawyer know you planned to show up in another woman’s office with flowers this afternoon?”

For her part, Alex looks uncomfortable. The bouquet is comically large in her hands and especially in contrast to the hard set of her face. Her features scream woman on a mission. Her posture is conveying I would rather be anywhere but here. “They’re not from me, they’re from my sister.” Lena’s heart picks up. In the background, Jess’s eyebrows raise and she edges out of the room, shutting the door softly behind her. Alex moves closer to the desk, and extends the flowers. “Here.”

Lena stares at them for a beat. “Gardenias.” She says.

Alex nods once. “They didn’t have anything that meant ‘I’m a stupid fucking idiot’, so these are the next best thing.”

Gingerly taking the bouquet from Alex’s iron grip, Lena inspects the attached card with a raised eyebrow. “It just says Best regards, Kara Danvers. That doesn’t really sound like something Kara would wri—“

“She wants to know if you’ll see a movie tonight. With her.” Now relieved of the flowers, Alex crams her hands into her pockets. “They’re playing some French movie at The Strand. That’s your whole thing, right?”

“I guess.” Lena is still staring at the gift, uncomprehending. “Why didn’t Kara text me herself?”

“Phone’s dead.” Alex mutters. “So, you in? Seven, at The Strand.”

“I—uh, yes. Yeah. I guess.” Lena is bobbing her head without realizing she’s doing it.

“And just to be clear,” Alex says before she departs the room. “She’s asking you on a date. The gay kind. Not the friend kind.”

Lena continues to bob her head on autopilot. “Understood.” She doesn’t understand. She’s so far from understanding that she’s on a different continent. Once Alex leaves she slumps back in her chair, hand over her thundering heart. She tries for almost a half hour to focus on her work, but when Jess’s voice filters in over the intercom it’s a welcome relief.

“Are you alright Ms. Luthor? Do you need anything?”

Lena presses the button with shaking fingers. “I’m fine Jess, thank you.” She pauses, shakes her head, presses the button again. “Actually, Jess, can you get Kara Danvers on line one?”

There’s a long silence before Jess responds, sounding weary. “Of course, Ms. Luthor.”

When the light flashes indicating that Kara is on the other end, Lena scrapes the bottom of the barrel for courage and picks up the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi Lena!” Kara sounds chipper. “What’s up? Jess said you needed to talk to me about something.”

“Yes. Well, um.” Lena’s gaze drifts to the flowers resting on her desk. “I just wanted to thank you. For the flowers. And say that I’m looking forward to tonight.”

“The what? Wait, hold on. Alex is here.” There’s a pause and then some shuffling about, the sound of a muted greeting. Kara puts the phone back to her mouth. “I’m sorry, did you say the flowers?”

Lena wavers. “Yes, the ones Alex brought on your behalf. Gardenias. They’re lovely.”

“Huh. Could you hang on for just a sec?”

“Sure.” Lena responds, bewildered. The phone makes a static sound when Kara sets it down. Lena can still hear the muffled noise of what reads like an argument. First, Kara’s voice, tinny and agitated. Then, another woman who Lena presumes to be Alex. They shout, and then Alex talks for a long time in a low, dangerous tone. Lena thinks she hears her call Kara a dunderhead, but is sure she must be mishearing something.

Lena?” Kara’s voice is more timid. “Sorry about that. You’re welcome for the flowers. Alex helped me pick them out.”

“She has good taste. And tonight?”

“I’ll see you at The Strand.” Kara says. “At 7.”

___

Kara is waiting outside the theater when she arrives, a light bomber jacket thrown over her work outfit. Lena has the pleasure of seeing her before she herself is seen, observing as she fidgets from foot to foot, checking her phone every two seconds. The collar of her coat is twisted askew. Lena aches to reach up and fuss with it, smooth her hand over the fabric at her shoulder and let it stay there for a second longer than necessary.

“Hey!” Lena smiles, caught. Kara is waving at her. She speeds up into a little half-jog for the rest of the block. “I already got the tickets.” When Lena comes to a stop in front of her Kara holds them up, puffing out her chest. “I couldn’t pronounce the name of the movie, but I managed.”

All at once Lena realizes what a fool she’d been to think that it was enough for her to just exist in Kara’s orbit. She remembers Kara’s words, sometimes I feel like I could just crawl inside you and live there. She gives in to the urge and rights her jacket collar, while Kara chews on her lip and tries to mask her suddenly ruddy cheeks by making a comment on the cold weather.

The movie is fine. It’s hard to pay attention when she can feel Kara’s eyes on her and not the screen. They also happen to be the only people in the theater, giving Lena an excuse to break a personal rule of film watching etiquette: “Kara.” She whispers. “Pay attention, you’re missing everything.”

“Really. Tell me what’s happening right now.” Unable to answer the question, Lena stifles a giggle behind her hand. Kara is with her, sliding down in her seat and snorting. Kara Danvers snorts when she laughs. Lena considers herself a woman of discovery and has seen the wonders of the world both large and small, but this revelation feels enough to convince her that there are still miracles in the universe left for her to find.

When it’s over they go spilling back out onto the sidewalk and into the cold night—it feels like it’s dropped 10 degrees since they went into the movie—chattering and laughing. Kara pulls her jacket tighter around herself and pivots to face Lena. Her collar is again askew and Lena notes with a warm pang of affection that there’s a little smear of chocolate at the corner of her mouth.

“I had a really nice time tonight.” Although Alex has told her explicitly that this was a date, the gay kind, Lena finds herself not really believing that it is until this moment. Kara’s voice and the way she’s looking at her, wide open and glassy-eyed, have an astonishing power to convince a person of the impossible. But Lena’s eyes keep moving to the smear of chocolate near Kara’s mouth and it’s only later on that she realizes what kind of message that it must’ve sent. In that moment she’s only focused on leaning up and wiping at it with her thumb, right as Kara leans down to kiss her.

Their faces collide with a hard crack and Lena stumbles back, shocked. On instinct her hands fly up to her nose, now throbbing, and come away bloody. Kara is looking at her horrified.

“Not to be a buzzkill,” Lena says after a beat of silence. “But I think we need to go to the ER.”

____

She finds Kara fidgeting in a plastic bench seat between a woman in a leg cast and a man with his entire hand wrapped in a dishtowel and cinched with a rubber band. She’s jiggling one thigh and biting at the fingernail of her left pointer finger, eyes darting around. When they see each other Kara stands, visibly tries to school her expression, but giggles a little anyway. She slaps a hand over her mouth.

“It’s really not that bad.”

“Well, the doctor says it’s not broken.” Which doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a black eye or the entire bridge of her nose covered in bandages. “Just a little janked up. Those were the actual words he used--janked up--this is why I don’t see new doctors.”

Kara waits while Lena goes to the pharmacy window with a script for an obscene amount of oxycontin that she’ll take one of tonight and then dispose of. “She says it’ll be a couple minutes.” Lena remarks when she sits down beside her, between the dishtowel man and the broken leg woman. Kara has returned to biting her nail and frowning, leg moving almost impossibly fast. Lena puts her palm on it.

“Kara--”

“Lena, I am so sorry. I can’t believe I did that, I ruined--”

“It’s not your fault. It was an accident.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t end up with--” Kara makes a vague motion around her face. “A janked up nose.”

“Yeah, what’s with that? No offense, by the way, but you have a freakishly hard head.”

“I ruined everything.” Kara says again, and presses the heel of her hand into her forehead in a staccato rhythm. “I was gonna ask you--but I ruined it.”

“You didn’t ruin anything.” Lena takes her hand away from her face, folds it into the warm envelope of her palm. “But be honest, did you buy those flowers?”

Kara chews on her lip. “No. It was Alex.”

“And did you want to ask me on this date?”

Instead of averting her eyes, Kara looks at her dead on. “That was Alex too, at first. But. I mean, I wanted to.” She’s biting at her fingernail again. Lena soothes a thumb over the back of her captured hand. “I was scared. I still am. But the way you make me feel--when we’re together, when you kiss me, when we, we,” her voice trembles, drops a discernible octave, “make love. It’s like, sometimes I feel like I’m just up there floating around in the stars and then...somehow you pull me right back down to earth. How could I not want that?”

There’s nothing left for Lena to do but kiss her. It’s closed-mouthed and chaste, as if their first. The thought of it is funny. “You didn’t ruin anything.” Lena says, at a loss for anything else. Kara erupts in a giddy little laugh and makes to kiss her again, but dishtowel man picks that moment to loudly cough up an alarming amount of blood and over the intercom the pharmacist drones: “Ms. Luthor...Ms. Lorna Luthor?”

Lena looks over her shoulder as she gathers her pills and watches Kara use a handful of wadded up napkins to help dishtowel man stymie the flow of blood from his nose. Her whole body lights up like a gaudy christmas tree and she thinks, distinctly and clearly, who would have guessed?

Lena Luthor hates surprises. Yeah, right.