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Build Up

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Lena is used to being alone. It's not that she enjoys it, she doesn't necessarily seek it out, but it always seems to end up that way. She was a weird kid and a weirder teenager and then she was a Luthor, spelled in big block letters on 24 hour news networks and only ever spoken in a certain tone of voice. So she's grown accustomed to solitude, cultivated habits to circumvent loneliness, developed persistent patterns of thought that seemed invaluable at the time, even if her therapist isn't too fond of them nowadays.

She's really not the sort of person who goes out of her way to court someone's attention. She's never asked for a stranger's number in a bar, never sent a flirty text unprompted, never stalked exes on social media (or, well, ex, singular). She's never actively pursued anyone at all in her life.

Never, that is, until Kara Danvers.

It all started, as things tend to do these days, with another one of Lex's old assassination attempts. A tapped call, a series of engine modifications, a nail bomb here and there; nothing too elaborate or ambitious. Still, Lena managed to get herself a little hurt. Her memory of the event is a bit fuzzy, from the concussion, and the blood loss, and the surgery, and such—but she does remember one thing rather clearly: the fateful ambulance ride that finally, finally got her to start working out.



Lena didn't feel much as she was being strapped onto the ambulance stretcher and lifted inside. She was bleeding, she could tell that much, her hand was bloody and so was her leg, but it didn't hurt at all. None of her senses appeared to be working properly, in fact; she felt loose and vague and not even particularly concerned.

Around her were loud noises and frantic movements, directions and questions and people with gloves doing things with her body. It didn't seem worth the effort to try to parse them all.

And then there was a face, still very hazy but sort of magnetic, something that instinctively draws the eye, a lightning bug, a sunrise, something shiny in the distance. The face had its teeth bared, but in a nice way, smiling down at Lena. The last time Lena had been smiled at like that, direct and genuine… she'd rather not recall.

Several suddenly motivated blinking session revealed the face was attached to a large woman in an unflatteringly cut dark uniform, hands covered by blue surgical gloves, forearms covered in shiny golden hairs. Her body language, her simple presence were improbably soothing.

"Hey," she said, voice lowered but clear, feeling as if it were meant for Lena's ears alone. "You're going to be okay, ma'am."

"What? Ma'am?" Lena asked dazedly. "Who are you?"

"I'm your emergency care provider, ma'am," the beautiful, blurry woman said. "Breathe with me, okay? Eyes open."

Again with the ma'am. "I'm only twenty four," Lena mumbled. It seemed very important to let this mesmerizing stranger know that she was certainly too young and cool and fun to be a ma'am.

The woman laughed at her. Her hair bounced around with her movement. It was short and looked soft and twirled into captivating curls. Her lips were a little chapped. She had both her nice firm hands on Lena's body now. One in the wound in her thigh and one on, on her neck.

"Eyes on me, ma'am, okay? I'm gonna put this oxygen mask on your face now, don't stress. Look up at me, please. Breathe in. Now out. "

It wasn't very hard to look at the woman's face, because she was very beautiful. Lena was sleepy and her vision was hazy, but she thought looking at this woman was perhaps more important than anything she's ever accomplished in her entire life.

"You're doing great, ma'am. You're going to be just fine, aren't you?"

"I—I don't know," Lena said. She felt ill-equipped at that moment to wrestle with such an existential question. "Depends on your criteria, I think."

The woman laughed again. It made Lena feel a little proud. She rarely got the chance to make people laugh, especially in such a nice and musical way. She hadn't even realized she was making a joke at all. How lucky. "My criterion is you not dying on the way to the hospital," the woman said cheerfully. "Think we can manage that?"

She didn't say ma'am that time. She had broad, relaxed shoulders. The impulse to touch them, feel their rounded firmness struck, insistent. Lena's throat worked, but she had no saliva to swallow. "I'm Lena," she croaked.

The woman's eyes flicked up from Lena's bleeding thigh, squeezing her arm briefly. She held Lena's gaze. Lena felt, for a blurry, heady moment, completely and singularly seen. "Kara Danvers," the woman said then. "A real pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lena."



Lena was released from the hospital the next day, stitched up and badly rested and trying very hard to ignore the headache pounding along to the beat of her heart. She took most of the morning off to get showered and changed and to look at old pictures of Lex and wallow a little, then headed back to work. Fortunately, her office was only partially destroyed and still perfectly functional; most of the debris had already been cleared away.

She is proud to report that she resisted the urge for a full 28 hours, but by 23:15 she was two non-doctor advised glasses of whiskey in and six years deep on her phone's photo app, and typing 'Kara Danvers' into google seemed like a perfectly sensible idea.

It took three pages of irrelevant facebook profiles and apparently two separate divorce lawyers, but eventually Lena uncovered two pertinent results: an employee profile from NCMC's Ambulatory Services Department, and… a gym membership.

Lena clicked through to see a picture of Kara, laughing, locked in an arm-wrestling match with a tall, handsome man. She was wearing a ribbed tank top, damp with sweat and clinging tight to her body, her hair in a slightly distressed bun, strands of it sticking to her forehead and nape. Her arms and her neck and her back were tensed, muscles starkly outlined, tendons standing out in her hand and throat and forearm. She looked… glowing, radiant, transcendental.

Lena closed the tab, clutching her wide glass in a hand that was suddenly clammy and beginning to slip, blinking against the bright light of her laptop. Glancing down at her desk, she realized she'd scribbled down the gym's number and address, completely without conscious thought.

It was quite apparent to her then, if it hadn't been before, that she was in deep, deep trouble.



And so now here she is, just barely fully recovered, with a yearly membership to Hunk-a-Beef Gym, chafing in her brand new, violently colorful running shoes, struggling to bring her knees together against a couple of 40lb weights on the least sweaty machine closest to the corner of the small room. A folksy, intimate workout environment, the website had advertised, as if plucked straight out of Lena's worst nightmare.

Two men are lifting comically large free weights on the other side of the room, looking at each other through the wall-wide mirror. A man with not a single hair anywhere on his mostly exposed body is working one of only six treadmills, his muscles glistening with sweat that might have been placed there by an artist's hand. Another man, proportioned similarly to the Red Bull mascot, is performing enthusiastic lunges, his pants looking ready to tear at the thighs, listening to Kesha loudly enough for Lena to hear through his earphones.

Not a single gently curled dirty blonde strand of hair anywhere in sight.

And, honestly, Lena has always been rather soft and then the estradiol hasn't particularly contributed to her muscle mass; as for her relationship with physical activity, it turned intensely adversarial in elementary school and never really recovered. A gym is the last place she'd voluntarily spend her free time.

If it weren't for the undeniable, omnipresent, almost tangible gay vibe permeating this place, sticky and damp and familiar, Lena certainly would have abandoned this ridiculous quest by now.

She focuses on that, thinking of Jack, a little bit, and does her stupid leg exercises.


Not fifteen minutes later, the front door creaks open, letting in a sliver of streetlight and a burst of street noise and, and—Kara Danvers, in faded multicolored shoes and loose shorts and exposed arms and that damn smile

"Hey, Tobias, Tony, Tomas, James," Kara greets each one of the cartoonishly fit men, receiving familiar hellos all around.

She doesn't seem to notice Lena, legs apart and breathing heavily in the corner. Lena watches as Kara claps James on the back, then wipes her sweaty hand on her sleeveless shirt before gripping its hem and tugging up, up, up.

Lena gets barely a glimpse of golden, dimpled lower back before she's off the machine and stumbling out the door on wobbly legs, shiny spotless gym bag clutched to her chest.

She shuffles over to the nearest street bench, plonking her very heavy bag onto it and leaning her hands on her knees, wheezing noisily for a minute. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn't necessary to carry quite so many bottles of Gatorade as well as spare shoes, jeans and a nightgown, just in case.

She fishes the nightgown out of the bag and wipes her face with it. Might as well make use of it somehow. Then she calls a cab.

This was a bad idea. What does she think she's doing, skulking in corners and practically ogling unwary and unwilling, half-naked goddesses? In a gym that she's only found through cyber espionage, no less. This is despicable, and if Kara Danvers, gentle and kind, who takes the time during the most stressful part of her stressful job to reassure babbling patients and laugh at their unintentional jokes—if she found out, she'd surely be disgusted.

Lena doesn't even like exercise. And she has plenty of email-related activity to occupy her free time that thankfully requires the participation of less than 5% of the muscles in her body. She is definitely never going back to Hunk-a-Beef gym again.



Lena goes back to Hunk-a-Beef gym again.

She manages to hold out for nine whole days (partially because her thighs and calves were so cramped she could barely get up from her chair without grimacing and making various embarrassing noises; physical therapy was pure torture).

But, eventually, her willpower wears thin, and her loneliness, which has been so much sharper since the ambulance incident, flares up, and her muscle cramps go away.

So she goes back.



The first day back she doesn't see Kara at all. She shuffles around between all the lesser used upper body machines for 35 minutes, watches Tomas leg press a weight larger than his body, drinks approximately her body's blood volume in electrolyte water, and thoroughly neglects her stretching exercises.

Needless to say, the next morning she is unable to bend, lift or swing either of her arms. She walks around like a rusty robot between her desk and the conference room, and, at the end of the day, falls asleep on her office couch with all her stupid clothes and makeup on.

"I'm going home, Ms. Luthor," Jess informs her at an indeterminable hour while Lena's face is pressed into a pillow. "Thanks for the overtime."

Lena mumbles affirmatively and goes back to sleep.



Attempt number 2 goes marginally better. Better, because Kara Danvers is there this time. Marginally, because Lena makes a complete fool of herself.

Kara is already there when Lena walks in, attempting to psych herself up by reciting amino acids in her head, clutching her big duffel bag to her chest for comfort. She's done a little bit of research; she's just going to stick to some mild cardio, warm up properly beforehand, avoid the highly specialized machines. She's here to exercise! Whether or not she bumps into any sort of light made manifest in human form or the like is completely immaterial.

But Kara is already there when she enters, already sweaty and flushed and glistening, her hair sticking artfully to her forehead, a triangle of sweat soaking her shirt right between her breasts; and she puts down her dumbbells and wipes her hands on the butt of her shorts and grins at something someone says to her, and then she raises her arm to push her damp hair out of her face, and her bicep stands out in clear relief, its graceful arch half obscured by her sleeve; and Lena is barely two steps inside when she promptly drops her bag (filled to the brim with essential gym equipment, naturally) directly on her foot and has to bite down on the side of her hand and hop back out to the busy street where she can curse as loudly and lengthily as she is fucking well able.



Lena avoids the gym for nearly a week. On day five, she receives a call from a blocked number; it traces back to Veronica Sinclair. The next evening, she grabs her gym bag on her way out of the office.



Lena trudges away on the ski machine, sneaking occasional glances at the free weights side of the room where Kara is breathing rhythmically, eyes closed. She finishes a series of reps, takes a break to drink some water. Lena finds herself watching Kara's throat work, mesmerized.

All right. This is ridiculous, and getting a little too furtive and creepy for comfort. Lena takes several deep breaths, wipes ineffectually at the perfect circles of damp, darkened fabric around her armpits, and approaches her otherworldly handsome and gentle savior.

"Excuse me," she says, modulating her voice as she would for oversea investors, consciously restraining herself from gnawing on her lip. "Kara?"

Kara half turns, her loose curls bouncing, and looks Lena up and down.

"Uh, hi!" she says, screwing her plastic bottle shut and wiping her mouth on her arm. "Do I, um, know you from somewhere? Sorry. You look familiar."

Lena's chest jolts. "Yes! You saved my life, on October 15. We had a brief conversation in the ambulance. You called me ma'am."

"Oh!" Kara's face lights up with recognition. Warm and wonderful. "I remember you. You were funny. Are you okay?" She touches Lena as she says this, casual and sure, grasping her arm, running her thumb over the sensitive underside of it.

Lena's pulse rushes under her skin as if to greet Kara's fingers. She swallows. "Oh, yes. It wasn't really a very life-threatening situation. That was hyperbolic. I'm perfectly fine now."

"That's fantastic. I could tell you were a fighter. I didn't know you were a Hunker, though." Kara laughs self-consciously, slides her hand down to Lena's wrist, squeezes and lets go. "I mean. I've never seen you here before."

"No, I… Actually, I should tell you, I only joined because of you."


"You are just… so beautiful, and you were so kind, and inspiring, and I remembered the curl of your hair," Lena babbles, attempting honesty, going perhaps just slightly overboard. "And then I googled you, and this gym was one of only two results for you, and I just bought a membership on a whim."

Kara is touching her again, reaching out to take her hand this time, running her thumb over Lena's knuckles. Again, that thumb, hyperactive and soothing. "Wow, that is… Really?" Kara scrunches up her face quite adorably. "Well, you're very—very beautiful too, you know. Do you have much experience with physical activity? Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't seem to."

Lena shakes her head silently, focused on Kara's expressive face, on the tingling path her thumb is tracing across Lena's skin.

"I could help you start out right," Kara offers. "It'd be a shame if you hurt yourself, after I've saved your life so heroically."

Lena breathes in through her nose, squeezes Kara's steady hand in hers. She feels real. "I'd love that," she says, voice miraculously steady.

"Can you give me your phone? I'll put my number in, so we can coordinate gym time."

Lena drags Kara by the hand over to her bag rather than let go. Kara follows her easily, laughing.

What an unlikely person she is.

"Here you go," Kara says, handing the phone back to Lena. "I sent myself a message so I can save your number too. What should I put you down as? Sorry, I forgot."

Lena freezes up, bent over with her hand still in her bag. How could she be so careless, to go and get excited and develop expectations and forget completely about this, the most pertinent thing, the reason to be fucking cautious in the first place. "Lena," she says, already sinking into resignation. Whatever this could have been, that's okay. It was nice enough just as it was. "Lena Luthor."

"Lena Luthor," Kara repeats, tone perfectly neutral. "Great, thanks. Promise I won't forget this time."

Kara gives Lena's hand a beautifully firm squeeze and lets go. She's smiling shyly; Lena can only stare. "Well," Kara says, scratching at the back of her neck. "See you around, Lena Luthor."

She smiles again, walks away; stops, turns around, shoots Lena yet another smile and a little wave.

Lena isn't completely sure what happened between her kneeling by her gym bag and her sitting back in her office, filling the space with the smell of old sweat. But only one thing really seems important to her at this moment.

She takes out her phone, unlocks it, stares at the new, improbable, unnecessarily long contact on her list: Kara Danvers (from the gym+ambulance)