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the camera flashes make it look like a dream

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            “Isn’t it strange how it all happens? All my life I dreamed about ... the bright lights, the big city. You know, they tell you it’s going to be glamorous, and that you have everything … they tell you that you’re lucky. But no one tells you how lonely it’s going to be. And they don’t tell you, when you’re twirling in front of the mirror as a child, what the papers are going to say about you someday. ‘Cause they don’t tell you they’re building you up, just to try and knock you down. But they haven’t yet.”

 

            She spoke mostly to herself, aware of the movement behind her, the crowded room full of cameramen, a makeup team, assistants and sound technicians. Her publicist was there, and her manager, everyone chattering as they called out orders, checked mics, made sure the blinding lights were bright enough to light up the comfortably staged looking area set up for the interview. Two brown wingback leather armchairs were angled towards each other, a low table set before it with two mugs of water, and a vase of freesias adding some colour. A Persian rug sat beneath it all, with the backdrop of one of Lena’s built-in bookshelves giving it a cozy feeling. It was the perfect setting to give off a natural air of ease once the cameras got rolling, but so many people in her apartment was making her antsy.

 

            No one even paid her any attention as their voices filled the room with a loud cacophony, the voices indistinct as they melded together, and she put her back to it all, staring out of the tall window, taking in the miserable grey skies outside. It was due to rain, and already a few stray speckles wet the windows as she watched, dressed casually in a plain white shirt tucked into stonewashed jeans. Even the outfit was intentional, to give off a relaxed vibe, down to the thin silver necklace with the paper plane charm, the two rings on the middle finger of her right hand, and the neutral makeup. Her dark hair waved slightly, not quite her trademark curls from her younger days, but making a return from the short, chemically straightened style she’d been sporting.

 

            “Hm?” her assistant asked, acknowledging that she’d spoke, “were you saying something? Do you want more water?”

 

            Turning away from the sight to give her a thin smile, Lena shook her head. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

 

            Wringing her hands, she looked down at them, taking in the neatly cut nails for her guitar playing, painted with a clear nail polish, and the rings on her right hand, nervously twisting them as she waited for everyone to finish setting up. Drawing in a shaky breath, she turned back to her assistant, giving her a strained smile.

 

            “Hey, Eve, actually, do you mind getting me some water? Thank you.”

 

            Giving her a warm smile in return, the shorter woman gently touched her on the arm, before walking off to get a bottle from the fridge. The camera crew had their own with them, but Lena stocked a specific brand for herself, and she gratefully took the bottle from Eve when she reappeared a moment later. She wasn’t particularly thirsty, but her mouth was dry with nervousness, and she needed to do something .

 

            “Lena? Where is- oh, Lena, it’s time for a mic test, can you come here?” her manager, Mercy Graves, called out, waving her over as she located her over in the corner, far away from all the activity.

 

            Sighing, she handed Eve her unopened bottle of water and gave the assistant a grateful smile as she wished her luck, before walking over to her manager. Arm going around her shoulder, Mercy ushered her towards a man holding a tiny little mic. It was a lapel mic, which would clip onto the collar of her shirt and snake underneath it, connecting to the black transmitter clipped onto the back of the waistband of her jeans. She stiffly stood there as she let the man clip it onto her jeans, while she attached the mic to her collar and slid the wire inside her shirt, untucking the bottom and pulling it out the other end.

 

            Letting herself be hooked up, she bit back a sigh as her makeup artist came over to run a brush over her face again for a few finishing touches, while her hair stylist ran a wide tooth comb through her dark waves. It was getting quite long again, Lena mused to herself as she let herself be poked and prodded by numerous pairs of hands. It didn’t even bother her anymore; she was so used to it that she sometimes forgot what it was like to have some resemblance of privacy.

 

            Her interviewer was loudly laughing with the guy attaching a mic to her as well, her platinum hair waving down to her shoulders, the black suit oozing easy confidence, and Lena found her stomach twisting uncomfortably. Leslie Willis was one of the most high profile talk show hosts for the time being, having started out an early career on radio, before picking up traction and earning herself her own screen time on cable TV. Lena had been a guest on her show nearly every year since the show had been airing, sometimes even twice a year, and was friendly enough with Leslie to entrust her with the interview. The other woman was witty, with a dry sense of humour and the ability to carry someone through even the most awkward interviews, and Lena felt a little bit better knowing that no matter what, at least this one wasn’t being aired live. They could always cut things, she’d been assured of it. Part of her terms for doing it had been the final say in what was included and what was edited out.

 

            Still, she found a cold sweat prickling the back of her neck and her lower back, her heart hammering in her chest as she drew in shallow breaths to keep herself calm. Her mother’s voice seemed oddly distant as she asked her if she was okay, and Lena numbly shrugged. It didn’t matter now anyway, she couldn’t back out now. Well, she could , but so much effort had gone into readying everything, starting with a five o’clock wake up for Lena, although it wasn’t like she’d slept much anyway. The shadows beneath her eyes that the makeup couldn’t quite completely cover were a testament to that.

 

            “Just … remember your interview lessons,” Lillian quietly told her, a troubled look on her face as she looked down at her pale daughter.

 

            At the wide eyed look of worry on Lena’s face, Lillia softly sighed, reaching out to pull her into a hug, and Lena buried her face in her mom’s shoulder, smelling the familiar fragrance of the perfume that stretched all the way back to her childhood as she limply wrapped her arms around her and hugged her back. Her mother had a way of making her feel small again, and Lena wished in some ways that she’d never grown up. She’d been the victim of such a crime for a while now, as was everyone else at some point, and there were days when she wished more than anything that she was still seven, still naive, drinking chocolate milkshakes and still needing her mom. She’d learnt that growing up didn’t mean that she had to give those things up, that she had to stop loving the things she’d loved, but there were days when she sprayed the perfume she used to wear in high school and revived a flood of memories from those times when things had been easier. From days before the fame.

 

            Letting go, she gave Lillian a warm smile, and stepped back, giving Mercy a nod and walking over to one of the sofas. She opted for the one on the right, having been told on numerous occasions that it was her good side, and her publicist, Rhea, shadowed her, speaking in a quiet voice as she ran over a few things with Lena. It was the same as always, things that had been reiterated hundreds of times over the years, at press events, in interviews, on red carpets. As Lena relaxed into the soft leather of the armchair, one of her favourites to read in, she nodded, Rhea's hand on her shoulder as she hovered over her, speaking in a low voice.

 

            “If she says anything provocative, don’t lose your temper, don’t be snarky, just give yourself a moment to come up with something witty, something dismissive. You’re in charge here, if you need a break just give me a nod and I’ll get them to cut. Remember; nothing is off the record, and even when the camera’s are off, they’re all looking at you. Anything you say - anything - will be published if it’s something worth selling. This isn’t a puff piece, I know you have a lot to say, but just … be conscious of your words.”

 

            “Right,” Lena murmured.

 

            Giving her shoulder a squeeze, Rhea gave her a convincing smile as Leslie took a seat in the other armchair. “You’re going to do great,” Rhea told her, a slightly anxious look on her face as she pulled back, retreating beyond the well-lit space for the interview, to stand in the shadows with Lillian and Mercy.

 

            Sitting still in her chair, Lena let her makeup artist ensure that her nude lipstick was perfect, swiping a little bit more blusher on her pasty cheeks so she didn’t look too washed out beneath the lights, while Leslie made a quip about all the hard work being done to make them look good as her own team fussed over her too. There were a few quick tests with the mics, camera tests and adjustments of lighting angles, before they were finally deemed ready to begin. Feeling her palms turn clammy, Lena ran them over the thighs of her jeans, conscious of all the people in the room, despite the illusion of privacy everyone else would see on screen.

 

            It was like being in a bubble, just her and Leslie inside the spotlight, ready to enjoy a nice afternoon chat while rain pattered against the window, giving off the ambience of a peaceful autumn day. But beyond the two isolated chairs was a row of shiny lenses, blinking lights and dark figures hunched over screens and soundboards, standing behind the various cameras, holding the fluffy mic boom above them and large halos of light making her eyes water. At least two dozen people were crowded into the spacious living room, some of them spilling out into the hallway, other lingering in dark corners as they waited to be summoned for a task. It was all achingly familiar to Lena, and she found herself tired before they’d even properly begun.

 

            “Nervous?” Leslie quietly asked, leaning across the arm of her chair to give Lena a curious look, a smile playing on her dark red lips.

 

            “A little,” Lena admitted, a sheepish smile flitting across her face, before rearranging back into a blank mask.

 

            Waving her concerns aside, Leslie pulled back, lounging in her chair as she stared at the camera, even though her words were for Lena. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine once we get the ball rolling.”

 

            “That’s easy for you to say,” Lena said, giving her a sidelong glance as she smiled, “you’re not the one spilling all of your darkest secrets for the whole world to hear.”

 

            With a quick laugh, Leslie gave her an amused look, before the director got their attention. Both of them sat up straight, trying to look composed, yet relaxed, and Lena listened to Leslie go into her spiel about Lena, talking about her accomplishments, her critically acclaimed career so far, her young success and world renowned fame, before she looked at Lena, a genuinely warm smile on her face as Lena met her eyes.

 

            “So, this is exciting!” Leslie said, a glimmer of eagerness in her eyes as she shifted in her seat, getting comfortable, “this is the chance to ask you all the questions that people have been asking you for years .”

 

            Quietly laughing, Lena gave her a wry smile, easily slipping into the familiar rapport of being interviewed by Leslie. “If you’re lucky, I might answer them too.”

 

            “I’ll go easy on you, I promise,” Leslie assured her, “but first, how’re you feeling about this? I mean, this is … well, you came to me about this interview and pitched it as a tell all, and that’s something that you’ve never done before. What happened to make you want to be so candid with the world?”

 

            Softly sighing, Lena bit her bottom lip, a thoughtful look on her face as they lapsed into silence. She was highly aware of the sounds of other people in the room, the bright lights and shifting cameramen out of the corner of her eyes, and she looked down at her lap, frowning slightly as she tried to pick her words carefully. With a tight lipped smile, she looked up and gave Leslie a steady look.

 

            “The thing I’ve learned about people over the years is that … we think we know them, but the truth is that we only know the version of them that they present to us. To every person they know, they’re different. They’re different to their best friend, their lover, their mum. We might hear rumours about them and choose to believe them, and then when we meet them, we feel stupid for believing baseless gossip. I’ve been in the public eye since I was fifteen years old. On the lovely side of that, I’ve been so lucky to make music for a living, and look out at the beautiful crowds of people supporting me, and I’ve always wanted one thing in life, and I’m not going to be that person who gets it and then complains, but … on the other side of the coin, my mistakes have been used against me, my heartbreaks have been used as entertainment, and my songwriting trivialised.”

 

            She paused for a moment, a serious look on her face as she frowned slightly, fiddling with her fingers in her lap, even though she knew that Rhea would scold her afterwards for fidgeting. “I guess I just- … I wanted to tell my side of things. Not the made up stories in the media, or slanderous comments off people who don’t like me. This is my chance to be honest, to tell everyone who I am, and then-”

 

            Pausing, she bit her lip, and Leslie gave her a prompting look, an intrigued look in her eyes. “And then?”

 

            With a tight smile, Lena tilted her head to the side, a satisfied look on her face. “And then … there’ll be no further explanation.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Leslie gave her a suspicious look, thinking hard as she pursed her lips slightly. “There’ll be no further explanation … you’ve said that before, haven’t you?”

 

            Lips curling up into a smile, Lena nodded, “in the letter on my last album. There will be no further explanation. There will be just reputation.”

 

            “And what does that mean for you, now, in this context?”

 

            Slowly breathing in, Lena licked her lips, a pensive look crossing her face as she let her eyes wander around, before she let out her pent up breath, seeming to deflate slightly in her seat. She took pride in being an honest person, even if she was as private as her high profile life allowed her to be, but this was the true test of her candour. This interview was the moment of complete transparency for her, to rid herself of all the guilt, fear and wrongdoings she'd wrought to keep her secrets. There was almost an air of relief about her as she relaxed slightly into the familiar rhythm of the interview, the standard question and answer relationship, and she laced her fingers together as she stilled.

 

            “I think for me … it means that I’ll come clean, be honest and truthful, from my own perspective, and then … it’s up to everyone else what they make of it. It’s up to them what reputation they give me. I’ve had many of the years. The good girl, the slut, the liar, the heartbreaker. But none of them know the truth. Not really. Once I present to everyone the version of myself that I see myself as, then I won’t have to explain myself any further, and the reputation that honesty gives me … well, that’s a matter of everyone else’s opinion.”

 

            Falling into silence for a few moments, Leslie let the effects of Lena’s words sink in, for the benefit of the audience who would watch it in the future, before she gave her an expectant look. “So, where do we start?”

 

            Nervously laughing, Lena rubbed the back of her neck as she shrugged, giving her a sheepish smile, “well, I’m a storyteller by heart, and like all good stories, you have to start at the beginning.”

 

            “And where’s that? Where does your story begin?”

 

            “I think for me … there’s three beginnings to my story. There’s the day I was born, the day I got signed for a record deal, and the day I met the love of my life.” She watched as Leslie leant in at the last part, feeling the tension in the room as everyone registered her words, the silent eagerness to hear more, and she smiled a coy smile to herself, having caught her listening audience, hook, line and sinker. With a gentle sigh, she let her eyes wander off to a far point, watching rain quietly batter the windows as the storm rolled in. “But to understand completely the series of events that led up to this moment, to fully explain all the things that’ve happened in my life, it’s important to go back to the very beginning.”

Chapter Text

            “I was born on December the thirteenth,” Lena said, a glazed look in her eyes as she spoke, staring at the grey sky outside, thinking about how best to explain the beginning of her life. There were very few people who knew the truth about her birth, and the circumstances surrounding the early years of her life, and it was most definitely not public knowledge, which left her feeling a little uneasy as she spoke about it.

 

            “In nineteen eighty-nine, right? Your album …”

 

            A quick smile flitted across Lena’s face as she focused on Leslie for a moment, “yeah, exactly.”

 

            People had always talked about the eighties with a fondness. Good music, outlandish outfits, and a nostalgia for better times. Lena had missed all of that. She’d been born nearly halfway through December, spending a little over two weeks in the eighties, before the decade rolled over to the nineties, yet the way that people spoke about the eighties had left a profound impact on her. She’d spent countless hours listening to the music from that decade, and that music had shaped the path for her when she’d made the switch from country to pop music. It had felt right to name it after the year she’d been born in, being, in a sense, reborn into a different genre of music.

 

            Softly sighing, she closed her eyes for a moment, before drawing in a deep breath and opening them again to face the view outside her windows. It had been a long time since she’d spoken about her childhood, although much of it was documented in her earlier albums, before she’d been dealt harsh life lessons and learnt a little bit about love. She’d changed a lot since then, and in a way, it was because of the childhood that she’d had that had led her through the series of events leading to the big changes in her life. If it hadn’t been for the way her childhood had played out, she would never have become famous. Sure, she would’ve written - songs, poems, stories - but she wasn’t so sure she would’ve become famous. That alone stood on the shoulders of the fact that she’d been raised by the Luthor’s.

 

            She hadn’t been born into the family, although she was her father’s daughter. For the first four years of her life, she’d spent it with her mother - the one that had given birth to her. Lionel and Lillian had known about her existence, of course, and paid off her mother to keep her quiet when she’d shown up with a baby, but four years later, she’d died. They’d been visiting relatives in Killarney when her mother had drowned, and her father had come for her, taking her back to Wexford with him. Lillian had accepted the arrangement, and that had been it. As far as everyone they knew was concerned, the Luthor's had adopted her, and no one knew of her father’s affair with another woman. To the rest of the world, she had been born to both of her parents, a decision that had been made at the start of her career to protect her image. 

 

            It was a well-kept secret, one that had never been questioned. Out of both parents, most people would agree that she took after Lillian. It had become such a hushed-up fact, that it had never been spoken about outside of their family, and Lena felt almost guilty as she revealed the fact to Leslie, as if she was snubbing Lillian as her real mother. Aside from a few snatches of memories, she couldn’t remember the woman who had given birth to her at all. All she had were vague recollections of water splashing as she watched her drown, the smell of her perfume, and a fuzzy image of a woman giving her a teddy bear.

 

            For all intents and purposes, Lillian had been her mother, and it had never made a difference to Lena. Growing up, she’d wanted to be just like Lillian. Over the years, her mother had been her greatest comfort, although there were times when they disagreed on things, argued and fell out. But her mum was her mum, and she always had Lena’s best interests at heart. Even before all the fame, the invasion of privacy, the rumours spreading lies about her, smearing her name and painting her as the villain. Lillian had always been there, kissing her bruises better when she was younger, holding her close when she came home from boarding school, crying her eyes out because of her friends who were mean to her, encouraging her when she’d play the guitar for so long that her fingertips were bloody and calloused from practising. Lillian was an ever-present supportive figure in the shadows of Lena’s story, and her heart was full of love for her. The unwavering love her mum had for her had been one of the only things that had gotten Lena through some of the worst parts of her life. Lillian had always been there to pick her up and set her back on the right path with a stern word and an encouraging push.

 

            She turned to glance over at her mother, taking in the impassive expression on Lillian’s face as she watched on, listening to Lena talk. Blinking slightly as she realised her daughter was looking at her, Lillian’s lips curled up into a slight smile, and she nodded encouragingly. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Lena turned back to Leslie, a tentative look on her face as she ran her palms over the thighs of her jeans. It was more nerve-wracking to talk about her personal life than she’d originally thought, and she was beginning to wonder if perhaps she’d made a big mistake, thinking that she could come clean about everything. It was too late now though, in Lena’s mind. There was no point cancelling the interview when it had already begun, so she steeled herself for the next question.

 

            “You were raised in Ireland, weren’t you?”

 

            Nodding, Lena let out a pent up breath. That was an easy question to answer, in some regards, and she cleared her throat, leaning across to the coffee table to pick up the cup of water that had been placed there for her, holding it tightly in her hands so that she’d stop fiddling.

 

            “I was, yes. Until I was fourteen. I don’t have the accent much anymore,” she said with a wry smile, rolling her eyes slightly, “too much time spent in London, I suppose.”

 

            “But Ireland is home?”

 

            Letting out a soft sigh, a wistful look dawning on her face, Lena nodded, thinking about the place she’d grown up. Looking back, she realised how much she’d taken for granted, never truly appreciating the freedom that her childhood had offered her, or the comfort of home, until it was gone. As much as she’d wanted to go to London, it had never truly taken the place of the farm she’d grown up on. It had given her everything, in a sense. London had been the place that had launched her career, but that career had come with its downfalls. People would always tell her how lucky she was, and Lena knew that, but it wasn’t all good luck.

 

            A part of her sometimes wanted to go back to Ireland, to hole up in the ivy covered manor house she’d grown up in, and spend the rest of her life tending to rose bushes and reading at her favourite window seat that looked out at the tree in the driveway. A fond smile graced her lips as she thought of that place, thinking about how much she’d love to go there now. It had been nigh on a year since she’d last gone there, and it hadn’t been under good circumstances then.

 

            “Yes. Yes, it’s home. It’s the place I can see myself settling down.”

 

            “With a husband? A few kids, perhaps?”

 

            Letting out a snort of laughter, Lena struggled to bite back a smile. “All in good time. First, I think I should finish telling you everything.”

 

            “Right. So … your childhood?”

 


 

            Her father had been a stockbroker for the Central Bank of Ireland, while her mother had been a homemaker, who had worked as a mutual fund marketing executive before meeting Lionel. During the early years of her life, Lena grew up on an estate just north of Wexford, in southeast Ireland. A seventeenth century manor house sat on a four hundred acre piece of land, which functioned as a working farm, and it all seemed so picturesque to Lena now.

 

            They’d owned horses, which she’d ride across the acres of land, and in the summer, the house would turn green with ivy and the gardens bright with colourful flowers. In the summer, they’d go on holiday; skiing in Switzerland, staying at a vineyard in the south of France, a small town in Tuscany known for its cheese and olive groves. There had never been anything she’d wanted for, as a child. Her parents showered her love, and she forgot that she’d ever lived without them, growing used to their comfortable lifestyle in the countryside. Looking back, she knew she’d been lucky.

 

            The first time she recalled showing any interest in music was with her grandmother on her father’s side. She’d been an opera singer, for a time, and Lena used to sit on her lap in front of the upright piano, four years old, and she’d clumsily press down on the keys as the old woman played and softly sang, her voice no longer as rich as it had been in her youth. There were videos of those moments, showing Lena what she’d been too young to vividly remember. There was the distinct memory of those hands with the veins and papery skin pressing down gently on the keys, the smell of rose water and talcum powder, and the nagging feeling of remembering her sing. She’d died shortly before Lena’s fifth birthday.

 

            It was her grandmother who had introduced her to music, and it had never left Lena since. Those stolen moments spent at the piano with the old woman had ignited something inside her; a love for music that she just couldn’t shake. One of the earliest videos of her singing was at the beach, when they’d taken a trip to Cork, on the south coast. She’d run up to strangers and sing for them, her hair a fuzzy cloud so blonde that it was nearly white. In that specific home video, she was singing I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, from The Lion King, and she recalled it with fondness. At that point in time, it was just a childish love of singing, watching Disney movies and putting on performances for her parents as she grew older. But the thought of her being a singer had never even occurred to them. Even when she was enrolled in piano lessons shortly after her grandmother’s death, showing a clear talent for it, it was nothing more than a respectable hobby for someone in a well-to-do family.

 

            By the time she was nine though, she was performing in local theatre productions and local events on the weekend, and was taking singing lessons after school on Wednesday’s. Still, it was nothing more than a talent that could be showcased at church on Sunday’s, where she was forced to stand amidst the other kids in the choir and sing hymns. But by that age, Lena knew that she wanted more, that she wanted to be a singer.

 

            After discovering Enya, Lena became enraptured by the celtic twang to the folk music, and was firmly determined to do what she did. To this day, she’d never managed to shake the way that Enya’s music had made her feel the first time she’d listened to it. It was like being lost in a daydream, and with the rolling Irish countryside around her, Lena spent hours lost in fanciful thoughts listening to the music. It was that music that inspired her later on, when she took the sound of celtic folk music and melded it with pop, making a name for herself with her unusual sound and lyrics that thousands of young girls connected to. For the time being though, it was a mere wish, and she loved to let her mind run free as she enjoyed the music, dreaming of the day when she’d be make her own.

 

            The September after she turned eleven, Lena was sent away to a boarding school run by Catholic nuns. As much as she hated it, it gave her a stubborn determination to become a famous singer and leave school. It was a childish thought, but she had her heart set on it, thinking that she’d leave math class behind and go on tour instead. She was given detention on more than one occasion for singing inappropriate songs when she performed for some of the other girls at the school, envisioning herself on stage. Away at boarding school, her music was the only thing that made her feel less homesick. Eleven was a young age to be away from her parents, especially her mum, and she turned to her music when she didn’t have anyone there for her. It was the one thing she had, and she wanted to be that one thing for someone else one day.

 

            Over the Easter holidays the following year, shortly after she turned twelve, she pestered her mother into taking her to Dublin, after watching a documentary about Damien Rice, so that she could busk on Grafton Street. She had it in her head that she had to go there, see all the places where Irish singers had performed, go to the small museums, and pursue her own career in music. Lillian finally caved, and they went for the weekend. She was only twelve, wild blonde curls, small for her age, but filled with so much confidence as she sang on street corners and ran into record labels, handing out demo CD’s of her performing Sinead O’Connor and Mary Black karaoke covers. They never called her back, but she never took it as a failure, only a reason to look for something to make her stand out. Everyone was doing traditional Irish music at that time; Dublin thrived off of it, with tourists pouring in to hear some real, live music, so Lena needed to think of a way to be different.

 

            A strange stroke of luck occurred over the summer holidays that year. Experiencing some troubles with their computer, her father had called a computer repair technician to come to the house, and he turned out to be a local musician. Lena had asked for a guitar the previous Christmas, intent on teaching herself how to play. In the time it took him to repair their computer, the repairman had taught her a few basic chords, and left her with the means to write her own songs. The first one she wrote was called Lucky You . It never made it onto her first album, but she was proud of herself. She’d written a song, all by herself, and it was just the first of many.

 

            Seeing potential in her songwriting, her parents started to take it more seriously, her dream to be a singer. Before she knew it, Lena was attending meetings with a few small record labels in Dublin, set up by a London-based music manager that her father had found. After performing some of her original songs at a showcase for a record label called Rubywork Records, Lena was given an artist development deal.

 

            It was the single most happiest day of her life in that moment, given just the faintest flicker of hope, and she’d been ecstatic about it. For a while. She’d thought that she was about to get her big break and follow in the footsteps of the Irish singing legends she’d worshipped growing up. She’d been wrong, but in the best possible way, because while she never go that break with Rubywork Records, she found it elsewhere, and she wasn’t quite so sure she would’ve risen quite so high if she’d stayed. Even after all these years, she’d never had a reason to ever regret rejecting their offer.

 


 

            “But you didn’t stay with them though, did you?” Leslie asked.

 

            Bringing herself back to the present, Lena gave her a faint smile, shaking her head. “No. I was fourteen when I chose to leave. My parents weren’t so sure that I should, but I just- I knew I was running out of time. Those years of my life … so much happened. I was young, I was still in school, and there was that feeling that if I didn’t bring out an album then, I’d miss out on sharing those experiences with people. You know, the first love, first heartbreak, first dates and kisses. All of my friends were going through these things at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. I wanted to capture all of that on a record, but they wanted to essentially put me on a shelf until I was eighteen. They wanted me to work on my vocals, have people write songs for me, and then when I was older, they’d reevaluate.”

 

            “That took a lot of guts, to walk away from a contract with an established record deal.”

 

            Nodding, Lena grimaced slightly, “I think for me … songwriting has always been the crux of what I do. Singing about mine, and other people’s, experiences. Without that … I don’t think I’d be a singer. I’ve always been a writer first, so for me, it wasn’t a hard decision to make, and I’ve always been glad that my parents supported all of my decisions.”

 

            “So you walked?”

 

            “I walked,” Lena said with amusement, “and then I asked my parents to move to London. It sounds crazy, thinking about it now, that they were so supportive of me that they just up and moved to help me start my career. I was too young to truly understand it then, but I just- yeah, I asked to move to London to sign a record deal, and they said okay. So we packed up all of our things, my father got a new job as a broker, I was pulled out of boarding school, and we moved to London. Just like that. And it was there that I met Morgan Edge.”

Chapter Text

September saw a month of tears

And thankin' God that you weren't here

To see me like that

But in a box beneath my bed

Is a letter that you never read

From three summers back

It's hard not to find it all a little bitter sweet

And lookin' back on all of that, it's nice to believe

 

-

 

            At fourteen, they made the move to London, buying a house in Kensington, the Edwardian terraced house hosting five bedrooms, a white facade and a few short steps leading up to the polished wood of the black front door. It had a gold knocker and a black wrought-iron fence, the wide streets lined with Audis and BMWs, and in complete contrast to the farm that Lena had grown up on. She was enrolled in a private school for girls in Barbican, in the centre of London, the annual fees an extortionate price, and Lena was thrust into the middle of upper-class girls, most of whom looked down on the daughter of a stockbroker. It was a competitive environment, and although Lena was comfortably wealthy, with enough talent to make some of the girls jealous, and pretty enough to be a threat, she found that she wasn’t all too popular there. She only made one friend, but that was enough for her.

 

            On her first day, towards the end of the school year, she was sat next to an American girl in English class. Her name was Jess, the daughter of an American politician, and soon enough they became best friends. She wanted to be a swimmer, hoping to make it to the Olympics one day, and Lena was likewise just as ambitious with her music, her sights set on making it to the big stage. Jess was to Lena what she imagined a sister would be, and they were inseparable, at school and outside of it. It was Jess who first introduced her to country music, the Nashville-born girl a huge fan of the likes of Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks, and Lena found that it held the same feelings as the traditional Irish music that she loved so much. It never quite meant as much to her as the music she’d adored growing up, but there was something reminiscent about the Irish music in it, the high keening of a fiddle used in such different ways, but there nonetheless, and Lena loved the connection it brought her to her friend. After a trip back home to Nashville during the summer holidays, Jess brought her back a pair of cowboy boots.

 

            Looking back on that, so much had changed. It was a different life entirely, and not a bad one either, and sometimes Lena would think back on how naive she’d been, and how she’d wished that things had stayed as simple as they had been. When she was fifteen, the most pressing concerns in her life were whether she would pass a Math test, if the field hockey team she played on would win their next match, and writing songs about love. It seemed silly to her when she was older, that she ever thought she knew what love was when she was barely a teenager. Most of the songs she wrote back then were largely based on the girls in her class, gossiping about boys they knew, about their heartbreaks and first dates, and Lena found herself completely on the outskirts of those conversations. In a school full of girls, she never had much experience with boys, so she made it up, from movies, from wishful thinking, and anything else that struck her as something worth writing about.

 

            It wasn’t all about boys either. She wrote songs about her family, about friendship and school, of all the times she was bullied and ridiculed for her music. She wrote every day, about the trivial things that were so important to her at the time, and she played her guitar for hours at a time, until her fingertips bled and blistered. Yet, she never gave up. She played the songs for her parents, and over the phone when Lex called, and for Jess. The four of them were her biggest supporters, and Lena found herself settling into London nicely. School was hard sometimes, but not as bad as it’d been at the boarding school in Ireland, and there was a sense of purpose, with all the record labels and people dabbling in music crowding the city.

 

            But still, she heard nothing, and she was beginning to wonder if maybe she’d passed up her only opportunity to sign a record deal. She knew that she’d been right to turn the offer down though; she wasn’t made to sit on a shelf until other people deemed her ready. Lena was ready now, she just needed to make someone listen. Jess listened to her though, and was endlessly supportive, soothing Lena’s frayed nerves when she fretted about the future, her eyes set on one prize, while she worked at her own. Lena spent hours at the school’s swimming pool, sitting on the benches lining the shimmering turquoise water, the smell of chlorine strong in the air, writing new songs as she watched her friend swim laps.

 

            She wasn’t sure at what point she found herself feeling something more for Jess, but slowly, Lena found herself fancying her best friend. Just a little. It confused her at first, with the fluttering feeling in her stomach, and the way that she loved her laugh so much, and Lena found herself writing about those feelings, realising that those songs weren’t about boys - they were about a girl. Those songs held more conviction to them, yet for some of them, she couldn’t bring herself to put she and wrote them under the impression that they were about boys. It helped her stamp down the confusing thoughts and feelings, playing it off as nothing, even though she knew it was more. She never told Jess, of course, and she never had the chance to. After the summer holidays were over, Jess came back to school for a few weeks, before she was pulled out, her father moving her back to America. Lena lost her only friend, her first crush, and one of the only people who supported her. She cried for the rest of September and wrote the song that would become her first hit, based on nothing more than a schoolgirl crush and her heartache. Looking back, she wasn't even sure what those feelings were, whether they were real or it was just the first time she realised that she was attracted to another girl. It never changed anything anyway, and Jess had been one of her closest friends for years, no matter where they were in the world.

 

            Over the summer holidays, she had handed in demos to as many of London’s record labels as she could, from the big American labels with offices in the UK to the small independent ones geared towards folk music and smaller music demographics. It was how she first came into contact with Morgan Edge. Over that summer, her mother had pushed her towards modelling at the recommendation of one of her father’s friends, and she took part in a campaign for Gap, her wild curls straightened as she posed in sweaters and dresses for the winter season. When she sent in a demo of her music to Elektra Records, she sent in a copy of her modelling work too, and by some stroke of luck, managed to catch the eye of one of the executives at the label. Within a matter of days, she found herself in Morgan Edge’s office in Kensington, not too far from her own home, her guitar in hand as she was seated on a leather sofa and made to play some of her songs.

 

            The first she played was one called Picture To Burn, and she’d never forget the moment that Morgan Edge pointed his finger at her, his eyes burning with triumph and greed, as he smiled and said: “that’s a hit song.”

 

            Pausing, Lena’s fingers had come to a halt on the guitar strings, and she’d looked up at him with raised eyebrows, an uncertainty creeping up on her. “That? Really?” she’d asked in disbelief.

 

            But in his Armani suit, with his plush, executive office, she believed him. He was an American, from Texas, and it was clear that he knew what he was talking about. For the first time, Lena started to think that perhaps something could come of her music. With Morgan Edge’s belief that she could turn her words into hits, she found that herself with plans for him to come and see her perform.

 

            It was November 4th, 2004, when she performed at Hammersmith Palais and Edge showed up to watch her. It was a small venue in London, a notorious place known for its music, and had hosted more than a few big names in the industry, and been the starting point of a few musicians, and Lena had finally gotten herself a slot to play a short set. She was a month shy of her fifteenth birthday, her blonde hair in wild curls, wearing stonewashed jeans and a rust coloured sweater paired with the cowboy boots that Jess had given her. A Taylor guitar, crafted from spruce and rosewood, was nestled in its velvet-lined case, and she nervously sat amongst the crowd, near the back wall. Her father was away on business, Lex was still away at Trinity College in Dublin, so she sat beside Lillian, who looked out of place amidst the crowd of people drinking and smoking, listening to the acoustic sets of singer after singer.

 

            Patiently awaiting her own turn, Lena looked around, taking in the audience, trying to judge how well they’d receive the songs she was about to play. All of the other singers were older, by more than a few years, and she was nervous, feeling like perhaps her parents were encouraging her out of their love for her, rather than the confidence that she could actually do something with her talent. Yet she had to prove herself, and when it reached 9 o’clock and her slot opened, she pushed her doubts away and climbed to her feet. Lillian gave her hand a quick squeeze, and Lena carried her guitar case up to the small stage, bright yellow spotlights making her feel a little warm beneath the collar of her sweater as she took a seat.

 

            Surrounded by the speakers and mics, wires and leads snaking across the stage, she found some peace in the familiarity of it. It wasn’t the first time she’d performed in front of an audience, although such a notorious music venue held more weight to it than the local county fair in Ireland, and Lena unclasped the leatherbound case and pulled out her guitar. Slinging the strap over her shoulder and balancing the guitar on her lap, she smiled out at the audience, squinting slightly through her bad eyesight, and greeted the crowd of men and women who had paid to be there. The tickets were four pounds, and as cheap as that was, Lena was determined to give them a show that they wouldn’t quickly forget.

 

            With a quick quip, a wry smile and as much confidence as she could muster, she put her fingers to the strings and started to play one of the songs she’d written. Her music was her strong point, the self-written lyrics holding more weight as she sang them with such earnest that no one could doubt that they meant something to her, even if it was only from wishful dreams that she’d feel that way about someone one day. The lyrics were written by her, and it was plain to see that she’d put her heart into them. She sang three songs all together, finishing with one she’d written not even a month ago. It was written for Jess and her love of country music, and she called it Tim Mcgraw, after the hours they’d spent listening to the country singer. She didn’t know it at the time, but that song would be the one that launched her career.

 

            Lillian watched the whole set from her seat near the wall, and once she finished singing, shyly thanking everyone as she glowed with happiness at the applause, Lena nestled her guitar back down in its case and rushed back over to her mum. Giving her an excited smile, Lena hugged her and couldn’t keep the adrenaline coursing through her body at bay. And then Edge interrupted them, a determined look in his eyes as he stared down at her like he’d uncovered some rare treasure. And then he took a seat at the small table they were occupying, ordering a whisky for himself, a glass of Chardonnay for Lillian, and a Coke for Lena, and he gave her a rare smile.

 

            “Here’s the deal, Lena,” he said, a shrewd look on his face as he unbuttoned his suit jacket, “if you want to get signed with Elektra Records, I’ll introduce you to all of the executives and try and help you get signed … but you need to know something; I’m not going to be there. I’m leaving to start my own label in America, and the only promise that I can make you tonight is that, if you wait, you’ll have a record deal with me.”

 

            Lena looked at him with wide eyes, before turning to Lillian, who was giving him an incredulous look. Their drinks were untouched, and Lena felt her stomach twist with nervous excitement, although so much was uncertain in that moment. Lillian was polite but evasive as they spoke, making no promises and trying not to instill any false hopes in her daughter. Edge drained his whisky and said goodnight after that, and a bleary eyed Lena hummed with the thrill of the evening as Lillian drained her wine, sliding the glass of Coke out of Lena’s reach with a stern warning about how unhealthy they were.

 

            She’d gone home after that, and Lena couldn’t think of anything else. Lillian wouldn’t talk about it that night, and Lena was left tossing and turning all night, her mind reeling with thoughts of a record deal, and the uncertainty trusting in Morgan Edge would bring. The next morning, she had school, and she went with weary resignation, sitting alone in class, scribbling lyrics in the margins of her workbooks, her mind still turning over the options in front of her. She trusted Edge, and knew that he would help her even if she didn’t choose to sign with him, but there was a part of her that was a dreamer, and she wanted to believe in the dreams of the man who’d been in the industry for years. After much deliberation with Lillian, who warily let Lena decide for herself, she called Edge herself, and with as much self-control as she could manage, nearly bouncing in her seat, she waited for him to the answer the phone, filled with excitement as she told him, “I’m waiting for you.”

 

            And then started the waiting game. Edge was thrilled that she’d chosen to make a deal with him, and Lena knew that to him, she was a golden opportunity that he wanted to capitalise off, but it was everything she’d ever dreamed of, and he was promising it to her. What more could she had wanted? In the long run, she’d owe everything to him, to that spark of faith that he’d had in her, even if things hadn’t gone the way she’d wanted them to. But at that moment, at the very beginning, Lena felt like the whole world had been made available to her. Everything was falling into place.

 

            It wasn’t until September the following year that Morgan Edge managed to get his new record label up and running though, with all the planning and effort needed to be put into it. Lionel bought up three percent of the shares to get the label on its feet, and eventually, Edge Records came into existence. Lena was the first signing to the label, and she knew she’d never forget how it felt in that moment. She signed a six album deal, and was offered more money than she’d ever dreamed of having. Her parents had lawyers read over the contract, and it was only with Lillian’s agreement that Lena signed her name on the dotted lines and closed the deal.

 

            The record label’s headquarters was set up on Music Row in National City, and the following March, a few months after she turned sixteen, Lena was accompanied by Lillian on a trip to the States, shown around the sunny city, with its palm trees, celebrity scene, and high-end bars and restaurants. It was partly a vacation, and partly for the purpose of business, and in between trips down Sunset Boulevard, taking in the most famous landmarks in the city, and relaxing around the rooftop pool of the hotel they were staying at, Lena met with Edge at his new office, was introduced to more people than she could keep track of, and was on the hunt for a manager.

 

            That led her and Lillian to find themselves seated at a table near the wide windows of an expensive restaurant called The Black Orchid, all whiteness and chrome, with hints of black marble and velvet, waiting to meet the latest woman that they’d been put into contact with. They were bound back for London in three days, and Lena was anxious to find herself a manager, someone who was on her side, who wanted her to succeed as much as she wanted to. She needed someone with a clear vision of who she was going to be, and so far Lillian had disapproved of everyone they’d met with. Lena had to admit that none of them had felt right either, and she watched with interest as a brunette walked towards them, her clothes stylishly understated, reeking of money, with an aura of business about her as she stopped by their table and gave them both a forward smile.

 

            “I’m Mercy Graves,” the woman introduced herself, holding a hand out to Lena, who meekly shook it, a little thrown off by the forwardness of the woman.

 

            “Lena,” she introduced herself, giving the woman a polite smile.

 

            “Lillian Luthor,” her mum introduced herself.

 

            The two women politely conversed as they all sipped on glasses of sparkling water, neat slices of lemon flavouring the water, as they basked in the sunshine slipping in through the windows of the rooftop restaurant. Lena listened in, following the conversation back and forth as they discussed what Mercy could do for Lena. So far, Lillian had essentially acted as her manager, ensuring that she got to the small gigs she booked on time, helping her make those bookings and advising her on what to wear, but if she was going to take the chance of making a real career for herself, Lena needed someone who was a seasoned professional at this. Asking around town, as well as the help of Morgan Edge’s own contacts, had led them to Mercy Graves, and now it was just a matter of finding if they were compatible.

 

            Eventually, Lena found herself brought back into the fold of the conversation as Mercy made her stand up, oblivious to the other clientele in the restaurant, and she made a slow circle around Lena, before sitting back down and lounging in her chair.

 

            “First things first, I’ve listened to the demos you sent me, and I have to say, it’s promising. If this record deal with Morgan Edge pays off, I imagine that you’ll find yourself a niche with the folk people, and maybe even the country music folk in the southern states. But the real question is, do you want to just be a small town star, or do you want to be a household name? Because I can help you make that happen, but it’s going to take some changes.”

 

            “Like what?” Lillian asked, a suspicious note to her voice.

 

            With a quiet smile, Mercy moved over to the chair directly across from Lena, reaching across to cup her chin in her hand, and Lena let her tilt her head up slightly. Gently twirling a strand of straightened blonde hair around a finger, a thoughtful look crossed Mercy’s face, before she dropped Lena’s chin and plucked the black frames from her face.

 

            “First of all; no glasses.”

 

            The glasses were set down safely out of reach on the table top, and Mercy cocked her head to the side, arms folded over her chest and lips slightly pursed. “The hair.”

 

            “I straighten it nearly every day,” Lena quickly assured her, her cheeks warming slightly at the fact that her hair was never quite straight; it always had a stubborn kink in it, and a frazzled look that spoke of its natural curliness.

 

            “Don’t.”

 

            “Oh.”

 

            With a small sigh, Mercy took a sip of her drink and fixed her with a scrutinising look, her brown eyes hard. Setting her glass down she leant towards Lena, her hands flat on the table as she gave her a serious look. “Listen, Lena, there’s a million other girls who want to be a singer. There are dozens of blonde haired little angels who’re desperate for a record deal. None of them are special, and if you're going to be just like them, then you won't be either. No one’s going to take notice of another one, unless you make them. You need to be special. You write your own songs, that's great, that sets you apart and makes you relatable. Now we just need to give you an edge so you can beat out the rest of the competition.”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, Lena nodded, and Lillian gave Mercy an expectant look. “Well? What do we do?”

 

            “The hair. Darker would suit you better - those dark eyebrows would make even Brooke Shields jealous - and curly, no more straightening. You want mysterious. You might be hoping to charm the rednecks off their tractors, but you’re not an all American sweetheart. Use that. Be different, be you.

 

            “Morgan Edge-”

 

            Mercy gave Lillian a wry smile as she cut her off, “is trying to sell music. I’m trying to sell a person. Trust me, Lillian, I know what I’m doing. Lena needs to create her own brand. Folk music has an older demographic, and so does country music, and normally I’d run at the first sight of a client trying to break out into either of those genres. It doesn’t offer the biggest exposure, if I’m being honest. But someone this young and fresh? There’s potential there, and I’m going to do my best to make sure that I don’t let it go to waste.”

 

            “Well,” Lillian murmured, an air of approval around her as she picked up the menu before her, “shall we order food while we talk?”

 

            They walked away from that meeting with a nearly closed deal, both parties seeing the perks of Lena being a client of Mercy’s, and by the time they were back in London, Lena found herself with a new manager. Shortly after that, with a trip to London to visit her, Mercy had her dying her hair brown, with her natural ringlets starting to come back. Then came a trip to the optometrists for some contact lenses. More went into creating her image than Lena thought, with the dentist visits to bleach her teeth, the wardrobe makeover, leaving her desperately clinging to her well loved pair of cowboy boots, in fear that they’d be tossed out with the rest of her things. Slowly but surely, the clear image of a country-born girl, with a guitar and folk music in her heart came to life, and Lena found herself a brand new person.

 

            In between the makeover and the trips to National City, spending hours in a recording studio, reciting lyrics she’d written herself, she accumulated a PR agent named Rhea, and the beginnings of a band. Slowly, everything fell into place, and by the time that June rolled around, she released her first single, Tim Mcgraw . In Ireland, it was labeled at folk and traditional music, and in the States, Edge released it as a country song. It was an instant hit.

 


 

            A lost look in her eyes, Lena came back to the present, a faint smile on her lips, holding the slightest bit of bitterness to it, and she let out a soft sigh, blinking away the endless stream of memories. At the time, the meetings had been new and exciting, the new clothes had been like playing dress up, hearing her song on the radio for the first time had been a source of a hour of crying, filling her with so much pride and satisfaction that she didn’t think anything would ever feel better than that.

 

            “And that was the beginning,” she said, letting out a wistful sigh, “it took so much effort. Two years of waiting, before I even put out my first album, but with that one single … it changed everything.”

 

            “Do you ever regret it?”

 

            With the slight quirk of her lips, Lena shrugged, a hard look in her eyes. “I don’t have many regrets, and no, that’s not one of them. The regrets came later on. Back at the beginning, it was like living in a dream. It was everything I’d hoped for. Not many people can say that they did what I did, and I’ll never regret that, not for a single moment. It’s just … well, relationships always complicate things.”

 

            Eagerly leaning towards her, Leslie gave her an urging look, a spark of greed in her eyes at uncovering the secrets that Lena still held at bay. “And which relationship is that?”

 

            Scoffing slightly, Lena slumped in her seat, chewing on her bottom lip as she ran her fingers over the leather upholstery of the armchair she sat in. “People have always thought that I’ve fallen in love too much, too quick, dated too many men, exposed too much in my songs and bad mouthed good people. The truth of the matter is actually very different, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to be patient a little while longer. I’ll get there eventually, but it’s the story that matters; not the ending.”

Chapter Text

I love you, family. Dad, because you are my biggest fan, and I'll never get tired of the way you smile when I pick up a guitar and play. Mom, for being my best friend and most trusted companion, even in times when you were my only friend. That was just fine. Lex, my big brother, for being so much more brave than I could ever hope to be. I love my friend. Jess, I love you because you are my best friend in the entire world. Can't wait to room together when we're 65 and wrinkly and living in Paris. I love everyone who helped put this album together. Morgan Edge for believing in me and actually DOING something about it. Bob Taylor and Bob Borbonus at Taylor Guitars for believing in me and making perfection in the form of guitars. I love Tim McGraw for making such inspiring music. I love Enya for being the most graceful woman in the world. I love you, Mary Black. If at any point in my life, I ever amount to being HALF as cool as you, I will throw myself a party. I LOVE RADIO because I haven't met one person I don't consider a friend. I love all of my myspace friends for taking such an active role in what I do, I will never forget how you all rallied for me from the beginning. I love everyone who's inspired me to write a song, whether you know it or not. I love anyone who has ever turned the volume up when my song comes on the radio, anyone who has bought this album. Anyone who can sing along to my songs when I play them live. Anyone who's ever requested my song on the radio, or even remembered my name. If you ever see me in public, I want to meet you. I will thank you myself. You have let me into your life, and I will never be able to thank you enough for that. I love YOU, and I love God for putting you in my life

 

Love love love

 

-L-

 

-

 

            “I put out my debut album later on that year. I think … I didn’t realise the impact that it would have. None of us did. I mean, who knew that Irish traditional music would resonate so well with other teenage girls? And the country music industry in the states too. That was unexpected, but it was what we’d hoped for at Edge Records. It all came together so perfectly, that I think all of us were stunned by how well it did. To this day, I don’t think we ever thought I’d end up where I am now.”

 

            “Is this where you want to be? I mean, you just wrapped up your reputation world tour and announced a new record deal with a different label since you signed that contract with Edge Records all those years ago. It must be a big change, but is it something you always planned on doing?”

 

            Pressing her lips together in a thin line, Lena slowly shook her head. Things had gone far from how she’d always planned it happening. In the beginning, she’d trusted Edge, he’d believed in her and she’d been loyal to him, and they’d been great for a few years. And then it had all changed, and she’d realised that she was nothing more than a show pony. In the beginning, just after her self-titled album was released, he would introduce her to every one of note he knew. She felt like his most precious jewel, being shown off to all of his friends, all of the connections he knew, getting radio stations to air her music, small interviews with local newspapers in America and Ireland. It wasn’t until she was older that she realised that she wasn’t a precious jewel, but a prize pig. Edge was happy to show her off, watching her grow bigger with fame and her fortune, her name splashed across the headlines, sometimes on a near-daily basis, massive worldwide tours and notoriety, until she grew so big that she was nearly untouchable. Only then did she realise the threat of the slaughterhouse looming over her, the tight grip that Edge had over her with her career tied to his label. He essentially owned her, for those six albums, at least.

 

            Still, Lena couldn’t bring herself to regret signing that contract. There had been moments where it had ruined everything for her, left her broken-hearted, angry, an obedient client in the grip of the record label, but at the end of it all, without Edge, without his label, she would’ve still been waiting for other people to believe in her. They hadn’t been on good terms for years now, but Lena found that she couldn’t quite hate him completely. He’d taken a chance on her, and she’d let him groom her for the industry. He’d done what he thought was best for his business, and she’d had to swallow her thoughts on what was best for herself, stay quiet about the things she’d wanted that were out of reach for her, but now it was all within reach.

 

            She should’ve done this a long time ago. Opened up about everything, spoken the truth when the media was rife with lies about her, been bold and shameless in the face of scandal, but she’d never been allowed. Her public image was tied to Edge Records, reflecting back on them, and if she’d stepped out of line, ruined the good girl persona that they’d all spent years cultivating for her, they would’ve shelved her. Lena would’ve found herself out of the studio, unable to make a new record deal, while still tangled up in one that was essentially useless. She could’ve lost her career. At so many points in her life, that hadn’t seemed like such a bad idea, the thought of leaving it all behind, fading into nothingness in the middle of the Irish countryside, yet she couldn’t bring herself to give it up. There were moments where she would’ve been quite happy to be shelved, to take the money and her dignity and deny Edge the massive sales her remaining albums would bring him. Still, she stayed.

 

            “No,” she finally answered, her voice a quiet murmur.

 

            A troubled look crossing her face, Lena fiddled with her fingers as she stared down at the pattern on the Persian rug, thinking about how derailed things had become at times. There was an easier way to have done it all, she knew that. She could’ve given it all up, and she definitely wouldn’t have been where she was now. She could’ve killed her career as suddenly as it had started. With a bitter smile twisting her lips, she looked back up and met Leslie’s eyes.

 

            “At the beginning, I thought I’d stay with Edge Records forever. I was in love with everything it brought. It was all like magic. It was all a dream come true … but I was just a kid. A headstrong kid, but still naive. I didn’t know how the industry worked, I didn’t know that I’d become an actor too, or that I’d have to keep so many secrets, hurt so many people, give up so much of myself. Back then … I was just excited. So excited by all the new things, so in love with everything and everyone.”

 


 

            The release of her first album was the biggest moment in her life at that point. Leading up to it, there were countless hours spent in the studio, listening to other people bring her music to life as she was given her own band. The sound of the fiddle, tin whistle, 4 string tenor banjo, flutes, harps and drums all coming together. It was everything she’d ever dreamed of, and she spent all of her free time at the studio, the band members humouring her as they taught her a little of their instruments. Lena loved the lessons, her love of music and her obvious talent making her a capable student as she waited for the approaching date of her album release.

 

            A lot of preparation went into it, and it wasn’t all fun, but there were surreal moments. The day the album photoshoot was taken stood out vividly in her mind. It was one of the few times she’d had her makeup and hair done professionally, her new dark curls creating a mane of ringlets as she knelt in front of a river of greenish water, bringing out the colour of her eyes as she stared piercingly into the camera. It was a long day, with hours spent near the freezing cold river, wearing the white dress that had been picked out for her, giving her an innocence that everyone agreed would help sell her image as a sweet young girl. Then there were the photos in the yellow sundress, her trusty cowboy boots on, with her guitar and a rusted car, which she leant against, while the photographer snapped away. It was the first of many photoshoots that she’d never expected, and although the day seemed to never end, she was filled with excitement the entire time, barely able to keep a smile off her face for the serious photos as she posed. Lillian was there the whole time, looking proud from the sidelines, looking at the photos on the monitor as the photographer blinded Lena with flash after flash. The end results were better than Lena had hoped; a real album cover, with her face on the front of it.

 

            She was back in London the day the album dropped, months after the photos had been taken and the songs recorded. It had been a long process, and she’d had to drop out of school and finish online to make herself available for all of the travelling, interviews and meetings that she’d endured of the past few months. Graduating at sixteen was almost a relief to Lena, having never had a good relationship with school, and it made her feel mature to be jetting back and forth America to sort out things with Edge Records. It wasn’t until October 24th that her album ended up being released, and she woke in her bedroom in her home in London to the unbridled joy that came with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. No matter what happened from there on, she’d released an album, and that was everything she’d ever dreamed of.

 

            Much to her surprise, if she was being honest, the album debuted at number nineteen on the Billboard 200 two weeks later, after selling 40,000 copies, and was well received by a number of critics, who all praised her talent and her songwriting. She remembered those weeks with fond warmth, remembering the giddiness she’d felt as Edge read her reviews over the phone, praising her to no end for the success of her album, even though Lena knew he was really happy about the amount of money she’d made him. Lena Luthor ended up being a commercial success in America, peaking at number five on the Billboard 200 and topping the Top Country Album Charts for twenty-four weeks. It was certified four times platinum, broke the record for the longest album to stay on the charts for that decade, and charted in a few other countries, including Ireland, doing slightly better there due to the celtic undertones of the music.

 

            It was such a success that she found herself promoting her album by performing at multiple venues. Much to her disbelief, she found herself opening for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in the southern states of America, managing to get Jess’ parents to let her come with her, the two of them starstruck by the country singers - Jess more so than Lena - and she cultivated an image of herself as a guitar-playing, cowboy boots wearing country singer for the hordes of country music fans that flocked to see the big musicians. In the UK, she opened for Sinead O’Connor and Snow Patrol, travelling from Dublin to Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast, and back to London again. She spent weeks on end travelling all over the place, performing in small performing arts centres, big music bars, stadiums and other venues. She signed her first autograph for a fan, and then a dozen more, took photos with the people who wanted to meet her afterwards, found out what stage fright could really feel like after facing her first big crowd of a few thousand. It was like living in a dream, her life revolving around music, her own entourage of hair, makeup and wardrobe. She glided through those first few months as if her feet couldn’t touch the ground, her head in the clouds as her wildest dreams came to fruition. If only it had stayed that way, and she’d stayed so optimistically naive. Still, those first few months were the moment that Lena Luthor was born. Not as an aspiring singer, but as a star in her own right.

 


 

            “My debut album was like a diary into my life at that point in time. All of those songs I wrote, I wrote them as I experienced them, all that young love, insecurity and teenage angst. It’s funny though because some of those songs were from when I was twelve, thirteen, when I’d first started writing my own songs, and you listen to it and it sounds like I’ve had a hundred boyfriends, but that wasn’t the case at all. I found out a long time ago that you don’t need to date someone to write a song about them. I was going through quite a rough time in school, facing a lot of rejection, losing my best friend, feeling alone and kind of on the outside looking in. They didn’t really talk to me, and in the process of coming to the realisation that I was on the outside, looking in on these discussions, I started developing this really keen sense of observation. Of how to watch people and see what they did. From that sense, I was able to write songs about relationships when I was thirteen and not in any relationships. I think that a lot of albums have worked that way, and people may have misconstrued the meaning of the lyrics to think that they were about certain people when they weren’t.”

 

            “But some of your songs are about your relationships? Not a hundred of them, but a few.”

 

            Quietly snorting, Lena shifted, turning slightly in her seat, drawing one leg up onto the comfy leather cushion, slinging one arm around the back of the wingback armchair, and lounging comfortably. It was going to be a long interview, and they were in her own apartment; she might as well make herself feel at home in her home, especially with what was to come. Despite how easy it was to talk about all this earlier stuff, she could feel the nervous tension roiling within her stomach, making her feel quite nauseous whenever her mind strayed towards the topics that had been taboo for so long. All in good time, it would be told, and for the time being, she could at least relax throughout all the easy foundation laying of her long and winding tale.

 

            “Of course they are. But relationships aren’t always romantic. I have songs about my mother, my parents, my brother, my friends, my enemies, my love. Songs about my relationship with myself, relationships with growing up, with moving cities. Relationships don’t have to always be between two people in love. Or even two people. I think for me … the biggest lie the media has ever spread about me is the narrative that I’ve written hundreds of songs about my hundreds of boyfriends.”

 

            “Haven’t you?”

 

            With a playful smile on her lips, Lena gave Leslie a level stare, almost as if urging her to see the hidden meaning to her words, “no.”

Chapter Text

This album is called "FEARLESS," and I guess I'd like to clarify why we chose that as the title. To me, "FEARLESS" is not the absence of fear. It's not being completely unafraid. To me, FEARLESS is having fears. FEARLESS is having doubts. Lots of them. To me, FEARLESS is living in spite of those things that scare you to death. FEARLESS is falling madly in love again, even though you've been hurt before. FEARLESS is walking into your freshman year of high school at fifteen. FEARLESS is getting back up and fighting for what you want over and over again … even though every time you've tried before, you've lost. It's FEARLESS to have faith that someday things will change. FEARLESS is having the courage to say goodbye to someone who only hurts you, even if you can't breathe without them. I think it's FEARLESS to fall for your best friend, even though he's in love with someone else. And when someone apologizes to you enough times for things they'll never stop doing, I think it's FEARLESS to stop believing them. It's FEARLESS to say, "you're NOT sorry", and walk away. I think loving someone despite what people think is FEARLESS. I think allowing yourself to cry on the bathroom floor is FEARLESS. Letting go is FEARLESS. Then, moving on and being alright … That's FEARLESS too. But no matter what love throws at you, you have to believe in it. You have to believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after. That's why I write these songs. Because I think love is FEARLESS.”

-

 

            Over the next two years, she worked on her second album. It was filled with songs she wrote all by herself again, covering her years in high school and the more recent events in her life. There were songs about the beginnings of her career, about the relationships she built and broke during that time. She wrote about her mom, she wrote about Jess, and about school, and how she’d loved her and lost her - without naming her, of course - she wrote about a song about Romeo and Juliet in twenty minutes on her bedroom floor, after reading the play over that summer, imagining a happier ending for them and unknowingly creating the song that would launch her career into worldwide stardom.

 

            And then there were the songs about her first girlfriend, the moment that she met someone and thought that it was love, and was left heartbroken. Her first relationship was with a singer called Veronica Sinclair. To Lena, she was Ronnie. At thirty-two, it should’ve been a warning sign that the singer took an interest in Lena, only eighteen, still young and naive, too inexperienced in the world of love to even know how a relationship properly worked. Still, Lena was too young and too flattered by the attention of the older woman, and when they met at one of Veronica’s shows in National City, Lena found herself enamoured by the woman. It was a surprise when she was invited backstage, finding herself shy and bashful in the company of the older woman, and even more of a surprise when she found herself being picked up by Veronica’s driver a few days later.

 

            Quicker than she had time to think about it, she found herself dating for the first time in her life. She didn’t tell her parents, or Edge, or even Mercy or Rhea, keeping it to herself as she accompanied her new girlfriend around the city, under the guise of a budding friendship. She watched Veronica play in bars, strumming her guitar and wooing the crowds, the girls in the front row screaming her name and igniting jealousy within Lena, an unknown emotion up until that point. They went to late night red carpet events, our to lavish dinners with Ronnie’s entourage, and were followed by paparazzi whenever they were in public.

 

            But it was a whirlwind romance. Lena thought she understood love, had written enough songs about it and watched enough movies, with the passion and the drama, to think she knew what it was supposed to be like. When Veronica ignored her for a week, Lena chased after her, showing her that she was interested, that she was there and eager to please her. When Veronica was in a dark mood, too drunk to even stand on her own two feet, pupils dilated from some drug or another, and Lena would tiptoe around her, an uneasy feeling building in her chest as she waited for her girlfriend to snap at her. She’d call her, wondering which version of her she was going to get, whether it was the sweet Veronica, who would tell her about her day and tell her that she’d bought her a gift, or the drunken one who would hurl nasty words at her, put her down and walk all over her, just because Lena was too young to know any better.

 

            Then there were the photos with other women, seemingly innocent, but holding more than the eye could see. She’d been the girl in those photos with Ronnie, looking like two friends posing, but the closeness of them betraying the nature of what was really going on. Her girlfriend denied it though, calling her paranoid, delusional, a whiny child. Lena stopped picking up after a while, avoiding the phone when it rang, ignoring her mother when she accused her of losing her mind, taking in the weary look about her with concern. She should’ve listened to her mum. It was a lesson she learned gravely. In the end, she saw that it was all wrong, and she suffered alone, with her secret relationship, too scared to even tell Lillian the truth. How was she supposed to tell her that she’d been dating a woman twelve years older than her? Had let her manipulate her and use her, had been too naive to see it at the time. She felt like a stupid little girl, and she should’ve known better.

 

            It was a hard lesson to learn, but she learnt it nonetheless, and then she wrote some songs about it, channelling her feelings into the lyrics, pouring out her anger, her heartbreak, her devastation. By November 11, 2008, she had her second album out, and she named it Fearless. Fearless for her fears, that she braved anyway, for her doubts that she overcame, for her courage to leave a person who was wrong for her, and her bravery to admit to herself that she loved women, with no shame and no regrets.

 

            Fearless was an international breakthrough in commercial success for her. It topped the Billboard 200 for eleven non-consecutive weeks, breaking multiple records, and launched her to worldwide fame. It was an even bigger success than Lena Luthor had been, and critics raved about it, praising her songwriting and her candidness, and she felt her heartbreak soothed by the knowledge that at least she had her music. People might not have been there for her, but music was. It was a constant outlet, and it turned out that there were millions of young girls who could relate to all of the feelings she let pour out of her.

 

            With the success of her album, they started planning for her own tour shortly after her nineteenth birthday. The Fearless Tour was an extravagant show, with ballgowns and a castle on stage, with the magical whimsiness of a young girl who still believed in fairy tales and true love, and Lena found herself standing in front of crowds of thousands of people there purely for her. She wasn’t the opening act; she was the star. It was everything she’d ever dreamed of, and on the night of her first show, she was shaking so badly that Edge had slipped her a glass of whisky and all but pushed her out onto the stage, before the concert could be delayed any further by her stage fright. Over the following months, she played 105 shows in 4 countries, travelling across the States, finding herself recognised as she walked the streets of London on a visit back there to see her father, met young girls wearing t-shirts with her face on them, signed autograph after autograph, and broke sales records in less than a minute. Within her heart, she carried the secret of her love for women and her broken heart, trying to heal the cracks as she travelled the world, seeing the change she’d made in the lives of young people who’d had their hearts broken, just like she had. It was a bittersweet success for her.

 


 

            “Fearless was … it was a hard album for me. It was full of the notions of fairy tales, of love and growing up. When I was a little girl I used to read fairy tales. In fairy tales, you meet Prince Charming and he's everything you ever wanted. In fairy tales, the bad guy is very easy to spot. The bad guy is always wearing a black cape so you always know who he is. Then you grow up and you realize that Prince Charming is not as easy to find as you thought. You realize the bad guy is not wearing a black cape and they’re not easy to spot; they’re really funny, and they make you laugh, and they have perfect hair.”

 

            “It was the album that really cemented you in the music industry. Love Story was such a hit, in America and overseas. It was the album that earned you your first Grammy nominations too, wasn’t it? And wins too.”

 

            “It was,” Lena said with a small smile, “I was the youngest artist to win Album of the Year. I was only twenty then. It was something I’d never expected.”

 

            “Surely you hoped you’d win awards for your music though.”

 

            Laughing, Lena shrugged nonchalantly. “Of course I hoped. I was young, I had big dreams and a bigger ambition, so yeah, I hoped and I dreamed and prayed for it all. But at the end of the day, I was just trying to put my songs out there. I’ve always been a songwriter first and foremost, and that’s what’s always been important to me. The things I put into the songs. I just wanted to make someone stop and listen to the things I put into them, the little pieces of myself and my stories. For Fearless, I really tried to write more about what I felt, and people and love, because that’s what fascinated me more than anything else - love and what it does to us, and how we treat people, and how they treat us. Pretty much every song on that album had a face that I associated with it. Whether it be good or bad, or sometimes both.”

 

            “Would you say that you have faces for all of your songs?”

 

            “I do. Yes, I have faces for them all. Some of them are people I love, some are people I dislike, people that bullied me, people that broke my heart and turned their backs on me. There are so many faces and so much overlap. The thing is that everyone wants to brand me as a whore, a slut, a bitter woman who’s out for revenge, who eats up men and tosses them aside, who uses them for songs and then cries about how heartbroken I am. The truth is that most of my songs are about one person. And even some of the other ones, they overlap. Some songs have the same face, it’s just the feelings that are different. And it’s not all in a direct timeline. I try, I do, but sometimes a song just doesn’t fit on the album, so I save it for the next one, and then people try and fit someone I might’ve been seen with during that time between albums into the puzzle of the song, and the truth is that it’s the person who was there from way before.”

 

            With a smile playing on the corners of her mouth, Leslie gave her a suspicious look, eyes narrowing slightly as she pursed her lips. She tapped her nails on the arm of the chair, tilting her head to the side as she gave Lena a searching look. “I’ve always wondered, you know. Who they’re about. The people behind the lyrics. Even the ones you named people in, they’re not very clear. You’ve never been linked to a John or a Stephen. You’ve never dated someone with blue eyes and tattoos. It’s kept your fans guessing for over a decade, just how honest you’ve really been, or how much of yourself that you’ve truly given them.”

 

            Letting out a quiet snort of laughter, Lena nodded, amusement warming her as her eyes softened with affection at the mention of her fans. The truth was that she’d been more honest with them than most people in her life. They owned pieces of her that no one else did, even if they didn’t even know what the pieces she gave them meant. She gifted them her songs, and they took those snapshots of her life and moulded her into this person that she was, and also wasn’t. She’d never lied, not in the blatant, outright way that could be called lying. But there was a lot that she omitted. For her own protection, as well as those she loved, giving them what little privacy she could in a life that was riddled with invasions and prying and rumours. She gave them as much of herself as she could, without giving up who she was to please them, and now she was ready to give them more. All of it. The person she was in her mind, and the missing pieces that she’d kept hidden away all these years.

 

            “I’ve been very selfish about my songs,” Lena mused, a flicker of mirth in her jade green eyes, “I had this dream of this project - my debut album - coming out for so many years, that I just … stockpiled. And I’m happy that I did, because I had a second album full of songs, and a third album full of songs, and I didn’t have to lift a finger. I did, of course. I couldn’t help but write about what was happening in my life, especially while I was on tour. Have you ever been to Arkansas? I mean, what else is there to do, right?” she laughed, shrugging slightly as she relaxed in the armchair, running her fingernail over the leather of the armchair.

 

            “And there are hundreds that people have never heard. I think I’ll always be selfish with some of them, but there are others that might make it onto an album one day. That’s the thing; when I write songs about someone, they don’t stop existing when I move onto someone else, or when my feelings towards them change. They’re always there, and it doesn’t matter how many people I love, those songs will always be there. And it doesn’t mean that if I love someone else, I’m not going to put a song about a different person on the next album. Maybe it fits better than another song. Maybe it’s a piece of my past that I’m ready to share. I’ve learned through love that it’s most often about timing, more than anything. Timing can make or break a relationship, and I think that it’s important in my songwriting too.”

 

            They fell into a comfortable silence for a few moments, Lena lost in a whirlwind of memories, almost drowning her with the weight of them bearing down on her, while Leslie contemplated what she’d said and thought up her next question. So far, there hadn’t been many scandals, and Lena had been hesitant to talk about her relationships. There had been no names as of yet, not even for Veronica, only shadowy figures she mentioned, that Leslie interpreted as one of the many men on her list of presumed ex-lovers.

 

            “How many people have you loved?” Leslie eventually asked, breaking the tenuous silence of the moment.

 

            “How many?” Lena laughed, her eyebrows rising in surprise as her lips curled up at the corners, her green eyes sparkling with amusement. “Hundreds! I love everyone and everything. I find it hard not to. I’m a romantic at heart, even if I’m a little cold sometimes. People mistake my apparent endless stream of boyfriends as me being a cold hearted bitch, who just uses them and abandons them, before writing an album about them. But no … I have loved so many people. My friends, my family, my dog. I love everything. My guitar, my books, a good cup of tea, the Irish countryside, discovering a new album and going for hikes. But if you’re asking me how many people I’ve been in love with, then the answer is just one. Only one person and I knew from the moment that I met them that I’d fall in love with them and that I’d never love anyone again.”

 

            A knowing smile softened Leslie’s face, “love at first sight?”

 

            Snorting, Lena waved a hand and laughed good-naturedly. With a roll of her eyes and a quiet chuckle, she tossed her dark hair and paused for a moment, a thoughtful look on her face. “No. No, not love at first sight. I don’t think I could bear to bring myself to believe in anything so fanciful anymore. When I was younger, definitely, but I’m more cynical now than I was when I was a teenager. It was more like … I was enchanted. There are no other words to describe it. I was in a bad place then, eight months out of a relationship that wore me down into someone I’d never wanted to be … and then I met this person. This wonderful person and the best part was that I never even saw them coming. And they were beautiful and witty, and just looking into their eyes was like … it was like coming home.”

 

            “And this person … do you still love them?

 

            “Well of course. I’ve learned that you can’t predict love, or plan for it. For someone like me, who is obsessed with organization and planning, I love the idea that love is the one exception to that. Love is the one wild card. And I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, and that life is wildly unpredictable, but the lesson I've learned the most often in life is that you're always going to know more in the future than you know now. And right now, I know I love them, and, I think for me, it’s not the kind of love that ever goes away. I’ve loved them from the moment I met them, all those years ago, and I think I’ll love them every day for the rest of my life. And maybe I’m wrong, and that’s what I’ll find out in the future, but I just know that I don’t want to hide anymore, because I’ve kept this a secret for years, and it’s never made love any easier.”

 

            “Years? Weren’t you in a relationship with James Olsen, up until June two thousand and sixteen?"

 

            With a wry smile, Lena nodded. “Of a sort. But the relationship I’m talking about predates that. And Jack Spheer. And any other man I’ve been linked to.”

 

            “So which man is it?”

 

            Letting out a strained laugh, Lena sat up straight in her armchair, spine straight, hands gripping the leather arms, palms sweaty and her heart racing as she braced herself for the moment it had all been leading up to. This was going to be the shocking moment. Not who she loved, in a sense, but the fact that it wasn’t who they’d be expecting. Many men had been linked to hers over the years, all of them fake, in the truest sense of the word, even if a few had been arranged by their managers. Leslie would be expecting to hear the name of some bigshot star, an Oscar-winning actor, a Billboard Hottest 100 singer, a high paid model from Italy. Instead, Lena would be giving her something far more shocking. Something that had been whispered about, to no avail, garnering traction a few years back, before it was nipped in the bud, so that more fuel couldn’t be added to the smoldering flames. Lena was giving her her best kept secret. One that had been buried beneath a mountain of men, a hundred songs about boys and love, blackmail and threats, and no small amount of hatred, towards herself and other people. The fact that she was in love with a woman would be on every tongue the moment that she uttered the name of the woman she loved. And it wouldn’t have mattered who it was, or if there was even anyone she was with, but the fact that it was who it was would only cause such an uproar that she was terrified of the news that would be circulating within the next few weeks.

 

            Still, she’d set up the interview with the intention to come clean, and so she bolstered her courage and set out to do it. There were a hundred things she could talk about, some of which she’d already slowly woven into the story, but this was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that would leave them all shocked by the admission of it. Perhaps not those who lived through the rumour mill, coming up with theories and trying to make more of things than was actually there to begin with. Some of those people, the fans who were desperate for their ships to happen, the people who read too much into things, happened to be right this time. With a deep breath, she shakily exhaled and gave Leslie a tight smile, thinking about how right she'd been about her thoughts on what being fearless meant. It wasn't the absence of fear, because she was terrified in that moment, one of the most daunting moments of her entire life, and she had doubts, doubts that it could ruin her career, ruin her image and her life, but she was ready to jump anyway. She was ready to fight for what she wanted, the person that she wanted, and be brave enough to love her, in spite of all times she'd been hurt before. Her voice was soft as she replied, a wry smile on her lips, almost smug with the knowledge that it was going to be a shocking blow.


            “Her name is Kara Danvers.”

Chapter Text

There I was again tonight forcing laughter, faking smiles

Same old tired, lonely place

Walls of insincerity

Shifting eyes and vacancy vanished when I saw your face

All I can say is it was enchanting to meet you

 

Your eyes whispered "have we met?"

Across the room, your silhouette starts to make its way to me

The playful conversation starts

Counter all your quick remarks, like passing notes in secrecy

And it was enchanting to meet you

All I can say is I was enchanted to meet you

 

-

 

            “Kara Danvers?” Leslie echoed, a stunned look on her face as she broke the long stretch of silence that had followed Lena’s admission of the truth. “You’re dating Kara Danvers? Academy Award-winning actress Kara Danvers. Your best friend?”

 

            A smile twitched on Lena’s lips as she shrugged nonchalantly, “no, we’re not dating, but yes, it’s her. It’s always been her.”

 

            “I- you- wha- I don’t even know what to say!” Leslie exclaimed, her eyes wide as she leant towards Lena, pale eyebrows rising high on her brow, lips parted slightly in surprise. Letting out a low chuckle, Lena steepled her hands and slumped back in her chair, watching the other woman with amusement as the interview paused for a moment. Pressing her lips together, Leslie narrowed her eyes slightly. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

 

            A slow, wide smile spread across Lena’s face, and she tried to bite it back as she nodded, shifting in her seat so that she was sitting with one leg beneath her, chin propped up in her hand, and elbow on the arm of the wingback chair. “I am. I’ve kept this part of my life a secret for my entire career; give me a few moments to enjoy it.”

 

            “So this is you coming out? As … bisexual?”

 

            Snorting with laughter, Lena shook her head, her dark hair spilling around her shoulders, “no, no, that’s the whole point of what I’m trying to say. All those men I’ve supposedly dated? They were nothing more than PR. Fake relationships to trick people into thinking I liked men. Of course, there are lesbians that have dated men in the past, before figuring out their sexuality, and that could’ve been the case for me, but it’s not. For me, I’ve only ever been attracted to women. And there’s only ever been one woman I’ve ever loved. Completely and wholeheartedly.”

 

            “Kara Danvers,” Leslie said, her eyes burning with greed as she dug deeper into the story, finally realising the kind of treasure that Lena was giving her, with all of her secrets and stories waiting to be spilt.

 

            This interview could hurl Leslie to the top spot of celebrity talk show hosts, and the secrets that Lena intended to tell her could sell for millions. Of course, Lena hadn’t picked her out of kindness, with the intention to help boost her career, but as a personal choice, for someone who had a knack for countering her dry humour and someone she felt comfortable enough spilling all of this too. There weren’t many female talk show hosts, and none still that were around Lena’s age, which made Leslie a perfect candidate to help steer her through this interview. It was going to be lengthy, and they were barely scraping the surface on all the things Lena had to talk about, which meant that she needed someone who could ask the important questions, while not dismissing any of the smaller things that Lena had to say. There was so much in her past that had led her to this moment, and she wanted to make sure it was all portrayed exactly as she had lived it. Whether it be good, bad or downright ugly, whether it painted her in a bad light, or whether it made people pity her. She just wanted to be honest.

 

            “Yes,” Lena softly said, her chest aching slightly. “Kara. To the second beginning.”

 


 

            She’d been in the spotlight for a few years now, her increasingly successful career skyrocketing her up into the very top reaches of fame, her face on the front of every magazine, her songs playing non-stop on the radio, her album sales maintaining a steady sale rate, and even more surprising, four Grammy nominations for Fearless . It won many more awards, at a number of different ceremonies, from the Country Music Awards in America to the Celtic Music Awards back in Ireland. Only a few months prior to the Grammy’s, Lena had won Entertainer of the Year and cried on stage as she’d given her acceptance speech, as everything she’d ever dreamed of doing came true. She hadn’t imagined that she’d win a Grammy too, let alone four on the same night. And she’d never imagined she’d meet the person she would love more than anyone else.

 

            In February 2010, she showed up to the Grammy’s in a sparkly emerald green KaufmanFranco mermaid dress, off the shoulder and tightly fitted, until it flared out around her calves and fell to the floor. She won Album of the Year that night, becoming the youngest person to win it at just 20 years old, and she went to the Vanity Fair after party once the ceremony and endless interviews were over. Rubbing elbows with the best in the music industry, whether it be producers, singers, musicians or songwriters. Lillian went back to The Beverly Hills Hotel, taking advantage of the luxurious rooms, the famous restaurant and bar, and leaving her daughter to celebrate her night with Jess, who had flown in to accompany Lena to the red event. It seemed like Jess was enjoying herself more than Lena, gushing over every celebrity she liked or were famous enough to be easily recognisable.

 

            “Oh my God, that’s Kara Danvers!” Jess squealed, grabbing Lena’s arm and squeezing it tightly. “I loved her in The Romantics.”

 

            Turning towards the direction her best friend was looking in, Lena’s eyes widened slightly at the sight of the young blonde chatting to a dark-haired woman a few years older than her. Lena knew her, of course, with the blonde’s career growing with each movie she was in, a successful franchise under her belt, as well as a stint on the stage in New York and a few indie movies that showed off her range. She was only a few years older than Lena, sipping at a glass of champagne as she chatted to the other young woman, and Lena couldn’t help but stare at her. At the way she laughed, effortlessly brushing blonde curls off her shoulder, or the way her eyes scanned the room, looking mildly interested, yet unwilling to step into the middle of the throngs of people milling about.

 

            Lena, on the other hand, was thrust into the middle of the party, camera flashes momentarily dazzling her as celebrity after celebrity introduced themselves and dragged her away from Jess to have their photo snapped with her. They congratulated her and made the same small talk, about how they loved her music and how she loved theirs too, most of it lies, before they let her fall back to the company of her friend, only to be torn away from her again. It was a never-ending cycle, and Lena was grateful from the reprieve, giving charming smiles and polite waves to those who glanced in her direction or met her gaze from across the room.

 

            She hadn’t even noticed Kara Danvers was there, having blended into the fringes of the after party for most of the evening, and Lena was shocked that she could ever have overlooked her. Not because of her fame, but because of how beautiful she was. Yet it was an understated beauty, and Kara shunned the attention sent her way as if she didn’t even notice it. Yet it was there, the adoring looks of the guests accompanying celebrities, the constant inching attempts to approach by minor leeches who wanted to use Kara to advance their own fame. Lena knew all about people like that, and she watched with interest, now that she knew Kara was there. She watched as the blonde manoeuvred her way around the edges of the party, straying towards the dark, empty end of the bar, stood in the shadows with the woman with the long, dark hair, found a seat at an abandoned booth as people clustered in the middle of the venue to dance.

 

            As the night wore on, Lena grew tired of the congratulations, although she was still brimming with excitement over her awards, a proud look on her face as she smiled and basked in the attention. It was strange for her, even after a few years of growing fame, and it was that night that she truly realised just how far she’d made it. It was a different kind of attention to the crowds of thousands of screaming fans that she’d performed to, night after night on the Fearless Tour; the room of people who should rightfully have been her peers, yet clamoured at her feet for her attention as if she was above them. It was unnerving to feel that way, and as the party progressed, she found herself retreating more towards the fringes of the guests. She was wary to let her feet come unstuck from the ground, to let herself grow used to the false flattery and think herself bigger than she was. With her newfound accomplishments garnering her more attention than she’d bargained for, Lena knew that fame could be a dangerous thing, too easy to slip into arrogance and get a big ego.

 

            More than anything though, she was bored. Everyone that approached her said the same thing, made the same compliments and asked for a photo, and she forced laughter and faked smiles until they left again, growing tired of the insincerity. She was like a prop, a new toy that everyone wanted to play with, and although it made her feel terribly grown up to have people flock to her and give her the attention and popularity she’d never had in high school, it also made her uncomfortable. As her discomfort grew, she started edging away, towards the edge of the party, finding a seat at the bar and leaving Jess to bask in the wonder of so many celebrities mingling about.

 

            Across the room, Lena’s eyes found Kara Danvers again, and she froze for a moment as she watched the blonde turn, her eyes scanning the crowd, and land on her. Quickly looking away, not wanting to seem as if she was staring, Lena leant across the shiny bar, smiling at the bartender.

 

            “Can I get a whisky? On the rocks, please.”

 

            She watched the man hesitate for a moment, before nodding, grabbing a glass and walking away. He must’ve known that she wasn’t legally allowed to drink in America, but either he was used to having to deal with stuck up young stars that he knew it was easier to just give them their drink, or he didn’t care and was happy to oblige in letting Lena enjoy her night and her wins. Thanking him and slipping him a generous tip for the sly drink, she sipped it and looked up, eyes looking around, before realising that a certain young blonde was making her way towards her, gliding through the crowd as she looked towards Lena was a curious glint in her dark eyes, even as she shyly ducked her head down.

 

            Looking away, Lena fiddled with her glass of whisky, eyes scanning the bottles of top range liquor lining she shelves, and unintentionally tensed at the sound of the stool beside her being drawn out, a figure in a grey satin slip taking a seat and quietly ordering a drink in a quiet voice.

 

            “Can I get an Old Fashioned, please,” she softly called out to the bartender, before giving Lena a sideways glance, her lips tugging up into a small smile as she caught her sneaking a glance. “Make that two.”

 

            Draining her whisky, feeling it pool in her stomach, the expensive liquor spreading through her and making her feel warm inside, Lena set her glass down, ice cubes clinking in the tumbler, and she pushed it away, turning in her stool to face the blonde. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

 

            She watched as the blonde swivelled on her stool, a smile curling her lips as she held out a tanned hand, “no, I don’t believe we have. I’m Kara.”

 

            “Lena.”

 

            “Oh, believe me, I know who you are. The youngest person to win Album of the Year. They’ll be asking you about that for the next six months, at least,” Kara said, as Lena slipped her hand into hers, giving it a small shake.

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Lena smiled, “you sound like you know what it’s like.”

 

            The bartender came back and set down two glasses in front of them. Picking up the short, round tumbler, Lena looked down at the amber liquid with the curled orange rind floating in it and took a tentative sip, as Kara picked hers up and tipped it towards Lena. “You’re looking at the youngest nominee for an Academy Award. I didn’t win, but I had to hear about it for two years.”

 

            “Hm.”

 

            “What?”

 

            Shrugging, Lena smiled around the rim of her glass as she eyed the other woman, taking in the brassy shine of her blonde hair in the dark light. She thought her eyes might’ve been blue, but they were dark in the dimness of the airy room. “Nothing,” Lena said, letting out a quiet laugh, “I was just thinking about how boringly predictable people are. Obviously, we’re so boring that the only interesting things about us are our achievements.”

 

            “Obviously,” Kara said, rolling her eyes and giving Lena a shy smile. They were silent for a few moments, both of them angling their stools towards the party, watching the guests dance, laugh and shout over the music, enjoying themselves as they drank and had their photos taken. “Congratulations, by the way.”

 

            Raising her eyebrows slightly, Lena turned her head slightly and gave Kara a smile, “you know, I think you’re the last person here to congratulate me. I think it’s the only conversation I’ve had all night.”

 

            Snorting with laughter, Kara set her glass down, “sorry to be so unoriginal.”

 

            Elbows resting on the bar behind her, Lena quietly chuckled as she spotted Jess in the crowd, chatting with a well-known music producer that Lena had met earlier on in the night. Satisfied that her friend was okay, Lena pressed her lips together and narrowed her eyes slightly as she cast Kara an appraising look. Brushing dark curls off her shoulder, Lena flashed her a perfect smile. “Somehow it doesn’t sound insincere when you say it.”

 

            “Probably because I’m not jealous,” Kara loudly whispered, leaning in close to make herself heard over the thumping bass, her breath tickling Lena’s neck. “You took home a lot of awards. Just think about how many people you beat. Twenty years old and already more successful than them.”

 

            “But not more successful than you, is that what you’re saying?” Lena asked, cocking one eyebrow as she gave Kara a slight smirk.

 

            Face flushing slightly red, Kara opened her mouth, eyes widening slightly as she jerked back. “No, I- that’s not what I meant! I just- I meant that I’m not a singer. I’m not your competition.”

 

            Laughing as she watched Kara get flustered, Lena reached out and gently rested her pale hand on Kara’s arm, giving her a soft smile. “Don’t you sing? I thought you were on Broadway.”

 

            “I was,” Kara said, looking a little embarrassed about it, “I did my first show when I was fourteen. I’m not a singer though. Not like you.”

 

            Leaning in closer, Lena tilted her head to the side and gave her a small smile, “hey, can I tell you a secret?”

 

            “Sure,” Kara shyly replied, shifting slightly on her stool, leaning towards Lena with a mild look of surprise in her eyes.

 

            “Sometimes … I don’t feel like a singer either. I mean, it just- it feels like a big misunderstanding sometimes. Like I wasn’t supposed to end up here, and any minute, the other shoe’s going to drop. Do you get that too?”

 

            Her brow creased as she frowned, heavy eyebrows drawing together as she chewed on her bottom lip, a troubled look on her face. Kara let out a surprised laugh, giving her a gentle nudge as she gave Lena a kind smile. “Every day. Every time I get cast in a new role, I show up to set and I feel like I accidentally ended up there, and any minute they’re going to tell me they cast the wrong person. But hey, four Grammy’s in one night? That’s not a mistake.”

 

            One side of her mouth twitched up into a smile, and Lena reached behind her for her drink, taking a slow sip, savouring the bittersweet taste of sugar, bitters and whisky, with a faint citrus tang to it. Giving the blonde a sidewards glance, Lena held her glass tightly in one hand, a mild look of surprise on her face as she took in the sight of Kara lounging beside her.

 

            “No, I don’t believe tonight was a mistake at all.”

 

            They spent the next hour talking, in between shy bouts of silence on Kara’s behalf, and Lena found herself enraptured by the woman beside her. She was smart, witty and terribly kind, and Lena could’ve stayed there all night. When a photographer approached and asked to take their photo, she eagerly obliged for the first time all night, leaning closer towards Kara, a soft smile curling the corners of her mouth as she smiled the first genuine smile in a photo all night, the smell of Kara’s sweet perfume enveloping her as they posed for it. Kara didn’t say a lot, but when she did, it was surprisingly funny, and Lena found herself laughing easily, all thoughts about anyone else in the room fading into the background as she wondered how she could have ever overlooked someone like Kara.

 

            Before the night was over, Lena gave her her number with the hope that Kara would call her. Eyes prickling with tiredness, Lena found exhaustion creeping up on her, and with Jess partying hard all night, it wasn’t long before she had to take her friend and leave. She loathed to leave her conversation with Kara, but with much regret, she bid her goodnight with a charming smile and watched as the dark haired woman sidled up and took Lena’s place on the bar stool. Fetching their coats from the cloakroom on the way out, a troubled look clouded Lena’s face, even as she forced smiles for the paparazzi waiting outside, hounding her like dogs as security ushered her towards a town car to take her back to her hotel. Thoughts of who the unfamiliar dark-haired woman was crowded her mind as she cast a backwards glance towards the closing doors of the venue, leaving Kara inside as the party raged on.

 

            Climbing into the back of the car, Lena collapsed on the soft leather seats, her head swimming with thoughts of the woman she’d just met, and she pressed her hands to her chest, right over her heart as the car lurched into motion. Biting back a smile, she ran over the events of the night, the thrill of the conversation with Kara, of the way her eyes seemed to see right through Lena, and not in a way that unnerved her, but a way that made her feel seen, and the way she shyly ducked her head as she laughed. There was a quiet, gracefulness to her, and Lena had watched her with wonder, trying to imagine her on the set of one of her big movies, standing boldly before a camera as she gave her performance. It was like trying to see another person, and Lena couldn’t help but be intrigued by her. Here was someone only a few years older than herself, with an impressive number of diverse films already under her belt, with nominations of some of the most prestigious awards, and she was so shy that she’d barely spoken all night, and only to counter Lena’s witty remarks, a secret smile curling her lips as her cheeks flushed pink.

 

            Lena admittedly didn’t know much about Kara. She’d watched one of her movies with Lex, a few years back, and had thought it good, but she didn’t know much about her. Only about her career; not about Kara as a person. Was she dating someone? Was it the dark haired lady? Had she been subtly flirting with Lena all night? Did she even like women? Surely Lena would’ve heard if one of the biggest actresses had come out as liking women, or even if it was only a rumour that passed between the stars and was kept out of reach of the media. All Lena knew was that the feeling that filled her was wonderful, and she blushed the whole car ride home, recounting the things they’d talked about, the way that Kara’s neck arched as she drank the amber cocktails she ordered, the Bulgari diamond rings winking on her fingers, the way she gently brushed her long curls off her shoulders as she softly spoke.

 

            They made it back to the hotel in relative silence, Jess slumped in a drunken haze beside her, and Lena humming with adrenaline as she thought about Kara. It was in the early hours of the morning, a little before 2 am, and Lena was helped out of the car by one of the valets outside the hotel, propping up her friend and guiding her towards the front doors of the hotel, walking along the red carpet towards the lobby. She was staying in the Presidential Bungalow, the most expensive suite at the hotel, and a hidden paradise away from the rest of the city. She didn’t like Los Angeles much, but the suite was surrounded by acres of greenery, and it felt like she was somewhere else. It was booked for a week, and she planned on enjoying the comforts of the hotel before she left. Tonight, she was too giddy with excitement to appreciate the wealth dripping from the walls of the hotel and was just looking forward to getting out of the skin-tight mermaid dress. Security escorted her all the way to her door, and she bid them goodnight outside, before stepping into the suite.

 

            The floors were light hardwood, the sofa and matching armchairs were all upholstered in seafoam velvet, and a wall-length window was covered by heavy curtains. The suite was decorated in soft, neutral tones, but the wealth was obvious in it all, in an understated way, as Lena kicked off her heels and helped guide Jess towards her bedroom. Lillian had her own room elsewhere in the hotel, and Lena was sharing with Jess, the king size bed big enough for them both. In the bedroom, she helped her friend to bed, leaving her in her dress and slipping her heels off for her, before shedding her own dress and slipping on a fluffy bathrobe she took from the massive white, marble bathroom.

 

            Stepping out onto the patio, an infinity pool sparkling in the darkness of night, Lena found herself restless, pacing back and forth as she looked up at the tiny pinpricks of stars, the gentle lapping of the pool a comforting presence. Her mind was full of wishful fantasies, of Kara turning up at her door, of the thought of someone liking her back. Perhaps actually liking her, and not in the twisted was that Veronica had claimed to with her games. With a troubled mind, she paced back and forth, the night growing later as she was left alone with her thoughts. Eventually, she came to a stop, her phone vibrating gently in her pocket, and she pulled it out, the light washing her face out as she took in the unfamiliar number and the text message. Opening it, she held her breath for a moment.

 

            Hi, it’s Kara. I just wanted you to have my number.

 

            Smiling, Lena read the short message and bit her lip, the warm feeling inside her that was growing coming to a pause as her phone vibrated in her hands, another text appearing beneath it.

 

            Sorry I was so quiet. I was just wonderstruck meeting you.

 

            Letting out a quiet laugh, Lena pressed her phone to her chest, her cheeks flushing pink with the words as she tipped her head back to the cool evening and span around in a circle, feeling her stomach flutter with butterflies. The warmth she felt in that moment, the inkling that perhaps this could be something more, that perhaps Kara had noticed the spark as much as she had, was everything to Lena, and she held onto it for the rest of the night. Finding sleep hard to come by as she lay on one of the sunbeds lining the pool, staring up at the sky as the night dragged on, she held her phone against her heart and let thoughts of the mysterious shy actress wander across her mind. If she’d known then just how complicated things would become, how much they’d hurt, and how much she’d love Kara, she would’ve done that whole evening again anyway.

 


 

            “I wrote a song about that night, you know,” Lena murmured, a lost look in her eyes, “called Enchanted. It was about meeting this person, and you just know they’re special, and you hope that they’re not in love with someone else, because you want them to like you. I remember getting home from the Grammy’s after party, after spending the last few hours of it talking to her, and I just- I had to see her again. I gave her my number and I was praying that she’d message me, and I spent the whole car ride home thinking about her. I still believed in fairy tales then, and I was just filled with this idea of romance, of wonder, of her just being this … this person for me.”

 

            She laughed, her face softening as she looked up at the rafters of her apartment for a moment, remembering that feeling of spinning around in a daze, her phone pressed to her chest as she read the message that Kara had sent her. Letting out a faint sigh, she smiled at Leslie.

 

            “And I got back to my room, and I already had a message of her. And that was that moment for me. The one where it all started. It’s been years now, and so much has happened, but I think about that night … and everything changed for me at that moment. For good or for bad, I met her, and I loved her, and I kept that a secret inside me for years. So, I’m saying it now, for all the times I should’ve said it when I didn’t, and all the times it hurt her when I wouldn’t. I have a lot of regrets in my life, but none of them has ever hurt so much as hiding my love for the only person that’s ever owned my heart.”

 

Chapter Text

Walked in expecting you'd be late

But you got here early and you stand and wave

I walk to you

You pull my chair out and help me in

And you don't know how nice that is

But I do

 

And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid

I think it's strange that you think I'm funny 'cause he never did

I've been spending the last eight months

Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end

But on a Wednesday in a cafe I watched it begin again

 

-

 

            “Are you okay?” Leslie asked, “you look a little … nervous.”

 

            “Nervous?” Lena laughed, feeling slightly faint as her hands trembled in her lap, one leg curled up beneath her as she curled in on herself as if she would go unnoticed if she made herself smaller, “I’m bloody terrified. I’ve kept this a secret for thirteen years. I don’t even know what I’m feeling right now.”

 

            Looking towards the cameras, Leslie waved dismissively, a small smile curling her lips, “let’s take a break.”

 

            Nodding, Lena pushed herself to her feet with relief, stretching out her stiff muscles as the sound of noise and commotion filled the room. Leslie climbed to her feet and gripped Lena’s arm as she walked part, telling her that she was doing great, and Lena gave her a faint smile, feeling slightly shaky as she curled her hands into fists. Taking a slow breath, she walked away from the scene of the interview, stepping over snaking black leads and around camera and sound equipment. Lillian was standing off to one side, with Mercy, Rhea and Eve next to her, and Lena made straight for them.

 

            Giving them a nervous smile, she accepted a bottle of water off Eve and took a tentative sip. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest and her palms were clammy, but there was an overwhelming feeling of relief as well. She’d finally been honest with the world. It was a good feeling, to be able to be herself, even if there was an undercurrent of fear at what everyone would say. But the people she cared about knew already, and they loved her and accepted her, so Lena was less frightened than she’d been the first time she’d come out. It hadn’t been easy, all those years ago, and she doubted it would be now, but it was something that she had to do. For too long, she felt like she’d been living a double life, and she just wanted to let go of some of the secrets weighing heavily upon her.

 

            “I’m proud of you,” Lillian firmly told her once Lena had managed to calm herself down slightly. “That was … very brave.”

 

            Letting out a surprised laugh, Lena raised her eyebrows and gave her mum a wry smile. “Brave? What, waiting thirteen years to come out?”

 

            Reaching up to cup her daughter’s face in her hands, Lillian smiled down at her with faint amusement in her green eyes. “Whether you came out when you were fifteen or fifty, it’s still a brave thing to do.”

 

            A brooding look crossed Lena’s face and she gently pulled back from her mum’s touch, taking another sip of water and looking over to the camera crew. Running a hand through her hair, Lena pressed her lips together in a thin line. An exasperated sigh made her turn back to the group she stood with, and Mercy reached out and started fiddling with her hair. “Don’t do that,” she chided her, “you need to look perfect for the cameras.”

 

            “And you need to sit properly, Lena,” Rhea scolded her, “don’t curl your feet up beneath you, it’s inappropriate. And your posture is atrocious.”

 

            “Yes, yes,” Lena flippantly agreed, knowing that it was better to take their advice than try and argue that it was uncomfortable and she wanted to do as she pleased. After all, they’d been hired to make her look and act the part of a celebrity, to pose as someone who could navigate her way through interviews, wearing the latest fashion trends, to always be ahead of the game and keep people talking about her. Lena didn’t think it mattered how she was sitting or what her hair looked like in this interview. Everyone would be too busy listening to what she had to say to worry about appearances. Besides, it was all pageantry anyway, and not at all the real version of herself. In Lena’s opinion, appearances mattered very little in the grand scheme of things.

 

            She bit back a sigh as Mercy waved over her hair and makeup team, and her bottle of water was taken off her as a fresh layer of lipstick was applied and her dark curls were fixed back into shape. Lillian gave her a stern look when she caught the irritation in Lena’s eyes, and she bit back a smile as she gave her mum a pointed look. As the hair and makeup team retreated, giving her space to breathe again, she took a deep breath and tried to force the tension out of her shoulders. Lillian reached out and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

 

            “What … what do you think she’ll say?” Lena hesitantly asked, anxious look on her face.

 

            “Kara?” Lillian asked, eyebrows rising slightly, “I think she’ll be proud of you too. I know how hard this always made things for the two of you.”

 

            Grimacing, Lena ducked her head down as a frown drew her heavy eyebrows together. Cupping her face in her hand, Lillian stroked her cheekbone and urged Lena’s face up. “Hey, it’s going to be fine.”

 

            “Yeah,” Lena said with a small smile.

 

            Her gaze wandered over to one of the rosewood bookshelves lining the wall. There were clothbound classics and the complete leatherbound set of Encyclopædia Britannica neatly arranged. Antique photo frames, trinkets and candles were dispersed amongst the books and Lena felt drawn to them as she tuned out the conversation of the women gathered around her. Wandering over to the wall of built-in bookshelves, she let her fingers skim the spines of the books, and paused at a photo frame. It was tarnished silver and wrought it whorls, bought at the flea market where her and Kara had first been photographed together in public. There was nothing particularly profound about that day, and they’d been with a group of friends, but being photographed together in public had been enough to make Lena’s heart pound, knowing that they lived in a secret world that they’d built themselves, and no matter how it looked to everyone on the outside, they’d never known the truth. Until now.

 

            Reaching out, she picked it up and stared down at the black and white photo inside it. It was from the trip that her and Kara had taken to Big Sur a few years ago. Lena’s hair was shorter then, and straight, and Kara had her chin on her shoulder. The photo was just of their faces, but Lena remembered the way it felt to have her arms around her waist, being hugged from behind. Tracing the curve of Kara’s face behind the glass, Lena’s lips twitched slightly before she set the frame back down on the shelf and turned away from it.

 

            Looking around the place, at the Persian rugs, the dozens of photos scattered around the place, the large chess board over in the far corner with the curved sofa, the books stowed beneath the coffee table in the main living room, there were memories of Kara everywhere, and it was astounding to Lena that no one had picked up on it before. They’d spent hours playing chess together, some of the books were ones that Kara had left over, and the photos were so blatantly obvious that she was surprised that everyone that came into her apartment didn’t pick up on it in an instant. But then again, those she trusted already knew, and she wasn’t prone to letting strangers into her home. Books were just books, they didn’t know about the memories made on the deep leather sofas, about the songs written for Kara on the upright piano tucked away in an alcove, or the rose pink geraniums in the terracotta pot that she’d been cultivating for a few years, because Kara loved them so much. They’d died of thirst a few times, but she’d always replaced them, and Kara had always come back.

 

            Scanning the crowded room, she spotted Leslie’s platinum head leaning over to peer at the monitor, nodding as the director said something to her. Resolve strengthening, Lena let all the tidbits of her and Kara’s tumultuous relationship reinforce her iron-willed determination to sit through the interview, and she took a step forward.

 

            Moving across the room, she approached Leslie, who looked up at the looming sight of her. After a few minutes of conversation, another cautious sip of water and touched up make-up, and she found herself sitting back in her armchair. The positioning of her chair gave her a nice view out of the window, streaks of rainwater sliding down the glass window panes, and Lena idly thought about permanently keeping it there. Her furniture had been somewhat rearranged to accommodate the interview setting and the accompanying equipment necessary for it to take place, and she was enjoying the view of red-bricked buildings of varying sizes, the grey sky and the glimpses of green plants crowding balconies, and the hints of colourful flowers still clinging to life.

 

            “Ready to continue?” Leslie asked, shaking her out of her thoughts.

 

            Blinking herself back to the present, Lena gave her a small smile, nodding as she fixed her posture, sitting up straight, legs crossed at the ankles, hands demurely placed in her lap, and became hyper-aware of the camera lenses reflecting the warm light of the room, the muffled shuffles of people moving and the tension in the room rising as everyone tried their best to be quiet as the cameras started rolling. The director signalled to let them know that they were filming, and Lena looked back towards Leslie.

 

            “So, you were telling us about the night of the Grammy’s, where everything changed for you. You said you had a message off Kara,” Leslie prompted.

 

            One side of her mouth lifting into a smile, Lena tilted her head to the side, a spark in her green eyes as she fiddled with the cuff of her shirt. “Yes. I suppose that it’s silly of me to say that everything changed for me that night. I didn’t know her. I was just … starstruck, but not by the fact that she was a celebrity. Kara just … well, she’s just herself, and I was completely blindsided by her. I remember her messaging me and saying that she had been wonderstruck meeting me, and I think that it’s the most perfect word for how I felt meeting her too. Wonderstruck. I’ve created my whole career from songwriting, and there’s never been such a word that’s left me with such a profound feeling before, but that night, reading that message, and feeling all the things I felt … it’s stuck with me all these years.”

 

            “Seeing as you said yourself that this is the second beginning of your story, it’s safe to assume that you saw each other again. What happened next?”

 

            Lena smiled as she was enveloped in another memory, a warm feeling blossoming inside her chest, and she let out a small sigh as her face softened, a tender look in her green eyes.

 


 

            She’d been consumed with thoughts of Kara for days following the Grammy’s after party, and although she had her number, they hadn’t messaged each other again. Lena was only in town until the following Saturday, before she had to go back to National City. She was in the midst of trying to buy an apartment there, to make things easier for her career, and she was a little disappointed at the fact that she probably wouldn’t see Kara again unless they happened to be at the same party or ceremony. Lena had thought that there had been a spark there, but perhaps she’d been wrong and reading too much into things.

 

            But then she’d received a text. A message off Kara asking her if she’d like to go for coffee on Wednesday. Lena had to stop herself from letting out an uncharacteristic sound of delight, hugging her phone to her chest as her cheeks flushed pink with a glow of happiness. She’d messaged back shortly afterwards, trying not to sound too eager, and they’d set a time and a place. Lena looked it up and found that it was a small place, discreet and away from the typical celebrity hotspots. It was a place they wouldn’t be photographed.

 

            On Wednesday, she made an excuse to her mum and to Jess that she was going to do some light shopping by herself, taking some time to enjoy the city before they left. They didn’t question it, and Jess was left beside her private pool, while Lillian enjoyed cocktails at The Cabana Cafe. It was a mild day outside and she dressed down in an olive green pleated skirt and a thin cream sweater, trying to look nice but not wanting to draw attention to herself. She wasn’t sure if this classed as a date, but still, if anyone saw them together and rumours started to circulate, she’d have a lot of explaining to do.

 

            A valet had already brought her rental car out front for her, and as she walked out of the hotel, she thanked him with a few folded bills and slid into the front seat of the black Range Rover. Following the route shown to her by the car’s navigation system, she drove herself through the city, making her way towards the cafe and parking a block away as a precaution. With a nervous feeling in her stomach, she made the walk back the way she’d come, until she found the name of the cafe Kara had given her.

 

            Pausing outside for a moment, she hesitantly pushed open the door of the small establishment, finding it well lit and stuffed with small round tables, low sofas and wingback armchairs. It was cosy, and Lena looked around, blinking in surprise when she saw Kara on her feet, waving her over. She was early. Biting back a smile, Lena made her way through the maze of tables and chairs, taking in the few other customers, who were too preoccupied to pay her any attention, and she neared Kara. The blonde had her hair up, a pair of glasses on and was dressed down in light washed jeans and a striped navy and white sweater.

 

            “Hi,” Kara warmly greeted her, rounding the table to pull Lena’s chair out for her in a surprisingly nice gesture, helping her sit before claiming her own again.

 

            Caught off guard by the fact that Kara had gotten here early, and had pulled her chair out for her, Lena found herself suddenly shy. That was a rare thing for her, and she felt her cheeks grow warm as she started to get flustered. The more she tried not to let herself get flustered, the more flustered she became. “Hi.”

 

            “How are you?” Kara asked, her face softening with a warm smile. Her eyes were incredibly blue in the daylight and Lena could barely bring herself to meet her gaze.

 

            “I’m good,” Lena said, giving her a shy smile, “and you?”

 

            “Great! Coffee?”

 

            Quickly climbing to her feet, Lena gave her an expectant look, meeting Kara’s slightly wide-eyed look. “Sure. Um, my treat. How do you take it?”

 

            The mild look of surprise softened into an eye-crinkling smile, and Kara propped her chin up in her hand as she gazed up at her. “A maple latte, please. With almond milk.”

 

            Nodding, Lena grabbed her bag and made her way up to the counter. There was a selection of cakes and tarts on display in the fridge, and she debated wondering whether or not to order something sweet for them to eat. She wasn’t confident in ordering something that Kara would like though, and, if she was being honest, ordering something a while later meant that she could prolong her time with Kara. Deciding that just coffee, for now, was the safest option, she recited Kara’s order to the barista and ordered a caramel latte for herself. Winding her way back through the round tables, she sat back down in her seat, and Kara gave her a warm smile.

 

            “You look lovely by the way,” Kara said, causing Lena’s cheeks to turn pink. “I didn’t get a chance to say.”

 

            “Oh, um, thank you,” Lena said, her stomach fluttering as a ball of warmth pooled in her stomach, “so do you. I like your glasses.”

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly, Kara self-consciously reached up to touch the plastic frames, a smile flitting across her face as she straightened up, looking almost pleased. “Yeah? I usually have to wear contacts because of my work.”

 

            “Me too,” Lena said with a wry smile, “my glasses were the first to go. Then the blonde.”

 

            “Blonde?” Kara exclaimed, a look of intrigue in her blue eyes as she leant closer, “hm, I can’t quite envision it. Brunette seems to suit you so well. It gives you an air of mystery.”

 

            “Mystery?” Lena snorted, giving her a coy look, “I’ve always thought I was rather an open book. With my music at least.”

 

            Laughing, Kara leant back in her seat and gave her an appraising look. “Oh, no doubt about it. You definitely wear your heart on your sleeve with your lyrics. But I wonder how much of them are the truth.”

 

            Shrugging noncommittally, Lena gave her a furtive glance, feeling somewhat exposed under Kara’s searching gaze. She so rarely revealed the truth behind her songs or made them obviously misleading so that people didn’t look in the right direction, and it hit a little too close to home that Lena’s honesty in her words wasn’t always entirely true. She’d built her career off of writing songs about other people’s relationships, and some of her own that wasn’t necessarily romantic, but the fact of the matter was that she didn’t have much in the way of her own experiences with love.

 

            Her most recent hurtful relationship with Veronica - if it could even be called a relationship, as it had been nothing more than a few dates and Lena being strung along like a lovesick schoolgirl - was the first time she’d ever had any firsthand experience with romance. Over the past few months, she’d come to have a rather cynical opinion of love, writing heartbroken songs as she pieced herself back together and got over the manipulative mind games Veronica had played with her. It had left her with a wary opinion of love, and the idea that relationships were built to fall apart and end. And never in a good way, or so it seemed.

 

            But sitting in front of Kara, feeling anxious butterflies riot around in her stomach as she followed the wood grain pattern on the scarred tabletop, Lena found herself wondering if perhaps she’d been too rash in her thoughts. She wouldn’t call what she had with Veronica love, which left her with little else to base her opinions on. Kara was completely right in her curiosity about Lena’s lyrics.

 

            Removing her hands from the tabletop, Lena hid them beneath the table and splayed her fingers on her thighs, biting her lip as she met Kara’s curios gaze. Letting out a shaky laugh, Lena seemed to deflate slightly and ran a hand through her haywire curls. “You know … people always seem to take them quite literally. I’ve supposedly dated every boy I’ve interacted with. And I wouldn’t say that my songs are dishonest - they’re all quite truthful - but if I’m being honest … none of them are about my relationships.”

 

            “Oh well now that’s interesting,” Kara said, leaning closer as she smiled slightly.

 

            The barista brought over their coffees and set them down in front of them, both women murmuring their thanks, and Lena watched as Kara stirred in sugar and took a tentative sip. Looking down at her own latte, Lena stared at the pattern in the foam, feeling a little nervous under Kara’s interested stare.

 

            “Are you a romantic then, Lena?”

 

            Looking back up, Lena shrugging indifferently, picking up her spoon and scooping up some foam. “I suppose. Isn’t everyone? Every singer sings about love in some regard. Me, Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, James Taylor.”

 

            “You make a fair point. Although not all of them are particularly romantic. I Was Only Telling A Lie could hardly be called a love song.”

 

            “Oh, a Taylor fan?”

 

            Raising her eyebrows, Kara gave her a reproving look. “You sound surprised. Do I not strike you as the type?”

 

            “No, I just- well, he’s not quite so popular with our generation, is he?”

 

            “I’ll have you know, I have all of his albums on vinyl,” Kara triumphantly replied.

 

            Lips curling up into a smile, Lena rested her cheek in her hand as she propped her elbow up on the table, eating the foam off her spoon. Setting it back down on the saucer with a clatter, she arched an eyebrow. “So do I.”

 

            “All of them?”

 

            “All of them.”

 

            “Hm. I’ve never met anyone who had all of his records.”

 

            Letting out a light laugh, Lena raised her coffee cup halfway to her lips. “Well, I do.”

 

            “Interesting.”

 

            “How so?”

 

            Pausing, Kara shrugged slightly, pressing her lips together as she tried to hide a smile. “I don’t know. I just- well, someone I dated once told me that he didn’t “get” why I liked his songs so much. I guess it’s just nice to know that I’ll never have to justify that to you.”

 

            She spoke as if the thought of them seeing each other again was without argument, and Lena felt a warmth spread through her as she took a sip of coffee. It was so easy to feel charmed by Kara that she found herself growing increasingly flustered and shy, even as they traded stories back and forth. Before long their cups were empty, and before Lena’s hopes could be snuffed out, Kara suggested another cup, and Lena quickly offered to get them again, feeling a little bolder as she ordered a slice of coffee cake and a slice of lemon tart, reasonably assuming she had her bases covered.

 

            Delighted by the cakes, Kara revealed that she had a bit of a sweet tooth, and they shared bites of them both, the tart lemony flavour complementing the richness of the coffee. Lena would’ve been content to stay there forever, sharing cakes over coffee as she hung onto Kara’s every word, but before long it became apparent that time had slipped by rather quickly. With inevitability, they finally had to leave, and Lena found herself wanting to linger inside the cafe a little while longer as she watched Kara put on her coat, wanting to prolong the moment for as long as possible.

 

            Sooner than she would’ve liked, although the sun had gone right past its midpoint and was following its trajectory behind the taller city buildings, Lena found herself outside on the sidewalk, unsure of what to say or do next. Oblivious to her inner turmoil, Kara flattened the collar of her denim jacket and fished her keys out of her pocket, stepping towards the sleek black car parked out the front. She sighed as she took in the parking ticket stuck under the windscreen wipers and stepped forward to free it, before giving Lena a helpless shrug and shoving the ticket into her bag.

 

            “I swear I get at least one a week. You’d think I’d have learnt by now to throw in a few extra quarters. Did you drive yourself?” Kara asked, glancing around as if looking for Lena’s car, although she’d have no idea what it was anyway.

 

            Giving her a sheepish smile, feeling a little bit silly for being so paranoid now, Lena nodded, “I, um, I parked down the block. Just in case.”

 

            Throwing her head back as she laughed, Kara’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she closed them, a look of pure hilarity on her face before she looked down at Lena. It made her stomach twist slightly, a rush of warmth filling her as Kara laughed in such a childish manner as if she’d said the funniest thing. Lena couldn’t even bring herself to care as a passerby cast them a look of irritation at the loud disturbance of Kara’s rich laughter.

 

            “What, you don’t want to be seen with me?”

 

            Opening her mouth to protest, Lena felt her face flush with embarrassment, and Kara quickly reached for her hand, her fingers warm to the touch and making Lena’s stomach flip at the casual contact. “I’m joking, Lena. Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.”

 

            Nodding, Lena ducked her head down, sunglasses hiding her face as she matched Kara’s pace, passing by boutiques and bookstores, little cafes and thrift stores, and felt herself growing nervous as time quickly slipped away from her. She’d been too quiet over their brunch, feeling flustered as she tried to make a good impression, now that they weren’t in the confines of a party, and she worried that Kara wouldn’t want to see her again. Lena didn’t have much experience with this kind of thing, and Veronica had left her hurt and wary of love. Her idea of it was misconstrued now, having spent months thinking that nothing good would come of it, yet she’d felt that spark with Kara, and now she was worried that it would end all too quickly. Before they’d even had a chance to see if there was something there.

 

            All she knew was that she’d been captivated by Kara that first night, and it went deeper than her looks. As quiet as she’d been over their coffee, Lena had enjoyed getting to know Kara. She felt like she owed her an explanation for being so aloof though, and as she opened her mouth to tell her about Veronica, Kara started to talk.

 

            “So do you live here?”

 

            “LA?” Lena asked, eyebrows rising slightly, before her expression softened into a smile, “no, I just flew in for the Grammys. I spend most of my time in National City, but I live in London. Not that I get to spend much time there though; I just finished touring not too long ago.”

 

            “Did you get to go back for the holidays?” Kara asked, looking down at Lena with her kind eyes.

 

            “Mhm. My dad’s still there but my mum’s with me most of the time, so we thought it’d be nice to go home and spend Christmas there. My brother came back too. It was … nice.”

 

            “I’ve always loved Christmas,” Kara said with a touch of fondness in her voice, “I’m Jewish, but I wasn’t adopted by a Jewish family, so I kind of grew up celebrating all holidays. It was good though, you know, having that kind of family feeling again for the holidays. They tried for the Jewish holidays, and God, their latkes were awful, so I tried for theirs too. We still watch Home Alone every year.”

 

            Lena let out a quiet laugh of surprise, trying to bite back a smile as she glanced up at Kara. The blonde woman was staring straight ahead, squinting slightly against the sun, and quickly looked down at Lena, catching her staring. The serious look quickly softened and she tilted her head to the side, narrowing her eyes as she smiled.

 

            “What?”

 

            Hesitating for a moment, Lena bit her bottom lip and shook her head. “Nothing.”

 

            “Am I babbling too much?” Kara asked, giving her a sheepish look, two spots of colour appearing on her cheeks, “sorry, I-”

 

            “You’re not babbling,” Lena gently assured her, reaching out to touch her hand, just for a brief moment. “I just … I don’t quite know what to say.”

 

            Laughing, Kara ducked her head down, “neither do I. Sometimes I talk too much when I’m nervous.”

 

            Arching an eyebrow, Lena gave her a curious look, “and what about the other night?”

 

            “It was too loud at the party,” Kara shrugged, “thank God, or I would’ve made a complete idiot out of myself.”

 

            “Why, are you trying to impress me?” Lena lightly teased her, feeling a little more at ease now that she knew that Kara was still a little nervous around her too. It made her feel like she wasn’t being silly to be so timid.

 

            Cheeks turning red, Kara scratched the back of her neck and let out a tense laugh, “well I- I mean … I wouldn’t say I’m not. I’m just … not very good at … this.”

 

            She waved a hand between the two of them, and Lena cocked her head to the side. “Talking to someone?”

 

            Rolling her eyes, Kara gave her an exasperated smile. “The beginning of things. I’m not very good at small talk, but it’s not very polite to start asking the hard questions when you don’t know someone very well. It tends to scare people off. That and the job. Sometimes I get too … invested. I have a bad habit of reading into things too much and rush in too quickly.”

 

            Lena was silent as they walked the rest of the way to her car, her heart hammering in her chest as she was filled with hope. Was Kara saying that she liked Lena? Did she feel that same spark? Was she trying to figure out whether Lena felt the same way too? There could’ve been a misunderstanding where the other had confused their coffee date as the two of them starting a friendship, finding someone in the industry that they could trust and be themselves with, with no worries about whether they were being used for money or fame. If that was the case, Lena would happily be her friend, but she’d connected with her so easily that she would be lying if she said that she wasn’t already enamoured by Kara.

 

            As they neared the black Range Rover, the lights flashing as Lena unlocked it, she set her shoulders and lifted her chin slightly, standing near the front of the bonnet as she looked up at Kara. The blonde was a few inches taller than her without heels and standing quite close, and Lena had to take a moment to collect herself, before giving her a nervous smile. Even still, Kara beat her to it, looking just as nervous.

 

            “Would you- would you maybe … want to go out again?” Kara asked, a hopeful glint in her blue eyes.

 

            “I’m going back to National City on Friday,” Lena told her with a grim smile.

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly, Kara gave her a bright smile, her tone delighted as she replied, “I live there. I know it’s got a big music scene, but there’s a lot of jobs for well-established actors. Not like LA, with all the hopeful souls. Maybe I could see you again. If you're not too busy.”

 

            Stomach twisting itself in a way that was good, Lena bit her lip as she looked up at Kara, fiddling nervously with her fingers. “Yeah, sure. I’d love to. I’m actually in the middle of trying to buy an apartment there, so I’m not sure-”

 

            Waving aside her concerns, Kara reached out and touched her arm, her fingers warm through the thin knit of Lena’s jumper. With a relieved smile, she cut Lena off mid-worrying. “There’s no rush. Let me know when you’re free and we’ll go from there.”

 

            “Okay,” Lena murmured, a warm feeling in her chest as she met Kara’s kind eyes.

 

            “Thanks for the coffee,” Kara said, rounding the bonnet of the car and opening the car door for Lena in a gallant gesture. “The next one’s on me.”

 

            Climbing into the cool interior, she quietly laughed, her cheeks dimpling, and nodded. “I’ll see you soon.”

 

            “Drive safe.”

 

            Kara gently shut the door and rounded the car, lingering on the sidewalk for a moment as Lena turned the car on. She waved as she pulled out into traffic, and Kara waved back, before taking a few slow steps backwards as she watched Lena drive off down the street. The last glimpse Lena got of her was her blonde ponytail swishing from side to side as she walked back the way they’d come. With her phone connected to the car, Lena turned on James Taylor and drove home in a daze as Hourglass hummed through the car’s speakers. In hindsight, she couldn’t remember the drive home. Past block after block, through busy streets and backed-up traffic on the highway, she made her way back towards The Beverly Hills Hotel without any awareness of her surroundings, her mind utterly consumed by rose-tinted thoughts of Kara.

 

            She’d been shy, and Lena wanted to kick herself for being so reserved, for wasting her time with Kara. Worrying that perhaps she’d made a bad impression, although the fact that Kara was so keen to see her again should’ve banished her doubts, Lena was distracted for the rest of the day. Despite her initial weariness with National City, her resigned agreement to move there out of necessity, Lena suddenly couldn’t wait to go back there. The sunny city with its palm trees and muggy air didn’t seem quite as depressing as she’d grown to find it over the past few years.

 

            In fact, over the following few years, Lena found herself coming to love the city, or rather, what it brought her. A close proximity to Kara, an anonymity that Hollywood didn’t quite bring, although she had her fair share of paparazzi and invasions of privacy while there, and it was with bitter anger and heartbreak that Lena eventually moved away from the city. She still held fond memories for it, and still had her home there for the frequent visits that were necessary for her career, but it had been years now since she’d moved away from there. Over the years, so many things had changed, but the beginning of things with Kara had been so magical. It had felt like she was living in one of the fairytales she’d written about so hopefully in the earlier years of her career. Consumed with thoughts of her, messaging back and forth non-stop with witty comments and subtle flirting, and anxiously awaiting the moment that she’d see her again, Lena was trapped by her secrecy.

 

            She’d been trapped for years. Not by everyone, as she’d slowly come out to those closest to her, but it wasn’t until this moment, or rather until the moment her interview aired, that she would truly be free from the secrets that had weighed down on her so heavily. Central to most of those secrets was the fact that she had been in love with one woman for nearly nine years, but it was a heavily tangled net, with small and large knots alike, and as she slowly undid each one, with each step in her story, with each small snippet of information she’d locked away inside her, things started to straighten out. The complicated tangled mass that had weighed down on her for so long was slowly starting to come undone at the edges.

Chapter Text

Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room

Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home

Remember the footsteps, remember the words said

And all your little brother's favorite songs

I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone

 

So here I am in my new apartment

In a big city, they just dropped me off

It's so much colder than I thought it would be

So I tuck myself in and turn my night light on

 

-

 

            “We didn’t see each other again until after I moved into my new apartment in National City.”

 

            The thought of how long ago that was, nearly nine years now, made Lena feel a twinge of nostalgia. While she’d been starting to garner a reputation for herself at that point, with each man she was pictured with being her new boyfriend, each song she wrote a guessing game as to who it was about, the sweet girl who was always left heartbroken, her reputation was far from the notoriety that it had eventually became. Back then, she was tentatively stepping out on her own, on the cusp of falling in love for the first time, even if she didn’t know it, and she had no idea about the success and fame that was yet to come.

 

            The level of fame she’d had then was enough. It offered her a certain sense of anonymity if she was careful enough, with the means to do what she loved. Lena didn’t know back then that just the simple act of telling stories through her music would wear her down so much, that it would give people a reason to start a witch hunt, that she’d come to resent everything she’d built, after a fashion. There was only so much that one person could take. Only so many rumours and lies, power-hungry nobodies clawing at her skirts so that she’d drag them along with her. It all got to a point where it had become too much for her, but back then, she was still naive to the nastiness lingering behind the scenes in Hollywood. She was still living in the fairytale dreams her mind conjured up, and her life had seemed to be perfect at that point in time.

 

            It all went downhill quite rapidly, a sharp descent into a strained relationship with her family, finding herself essentially trapped in her contract with Edge Records, and most parts of her private life crumbling apart before she could even scramble to fit the pieces back together. And all of that seemed to pivot around the fact that Lena had decided to move out. It was a matter of convenience, more than anything, but in the end, it was a decision that she deeply came to regret. Even at the time, it was hard for her, and it took her a while to warm to National City and living alone.

 

            “How was that?” Leslie asked, a note of curiosity in her voice as she leant closer to Lena. “I mean, moving out of home is always a big step, and you got to do it in the best way, with a successful career and a nice, expensive apartment, right?”

 

            “Oh, I hated it,” Lena laughed, “I missed out on the whole university thing. I think it’s a common thing in America for most kids to move away for college, and it’s kind of similar in the UK, but I didn’t do either of those. I was twenty and working on my third album when I moved out of home.”

 

            “Well, that’s no small achievement.”

 

            “I know, I know,” Lena said with a small smile, “but in the years that most people were at college, I was crammed onto a bus or a plane, touring or going to award shows with my mum, and my band, and sometimes my brother and my dad. And then … I wasn’t. I was in a completely different state to all of my band, I was half a world away from my family, and I was in a city that I didn’t really like. National City is like Los Angeles in the way that everyone’s looking to release the next big thing, except that all of the friends I’d made in the industry were in LA, and I was working in a smaller music scene up north with all the actors working on serious roles.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Leslie gave her a curious look, “you made the change to pop music a few years back. Do you regret not jumping straight into that genre? I mean, as you say, National City’s known for its more indie music and film tastes. If you’d started out as a pop star instead of traditional Celtic and country music, you would’ve been able to make more of headway in Hollywood.”

 

            Letting out a snort of laughter, that wasn’t very attractive and was full of scorn, she gave Leslie a bitter smile. “I wouldn’t want to live within a hundred miles of Hollywood. National City was bad enough; it’s like an annexe of it. Full of paparazzi and fame hungry leeches trying to ride on my coattails. No, I don’t regret not making the move into pop faster. I don’t think I needed to be a pop star straight away; my Celtic country music did well enough all on its own, surprisingly enough. I think I could’ve stuck to my roots for my whole career and still had the career I do. If I’d made the change purely to advance my fame in Hollywood, then I never would’ve made the change.”

 

            “You don’t like the fame?”

 

            “People always say that it’s good if people are talking about you, it doesn’t matter what they’re saying.”

 

            “Any press is good press.”

 

            “Exactly,” Lena snorted, rolling her eyes, “except it’s not. Any press gets twisted into some tall story, into lies and rumours, and you get hounded by reporters yelling at you when you’re trying to leave a restaurant. That’s been my life for over a decade now. Can you imagine wanting more of that? No, I moved to National City to be closer to my record label and to record my music. And that was good. It was great, but I was so lonely and I felt very unprepared for what a constant spotlight would look like, and what moving would bring in the future.”

 


 

            She went to National City the following week, as planned, with Lillian in tow, and the two of them holed up in a luxury hotel for three weeks. It took that long for them to visit a whole list of apartments that were suitable for Lena’s needs, crossing them off one by one as they turned out to be too old, further away than Lena liked, too small, in need of too much work, until they found the perfect one. It was a new condo that gave a sweeping view of the National City skyline through floor to ceiling windows, just off of Music Row. It was spacious and open and perfect for her needs.

 

            It had taken a week for her offer to go through, and she’d spent a week with Lillian, picking out furniture for her new condo. Her mum had stayed the whole time, and Lionel even flew over after shipping Lena’s containers she’d packed up over Christmas to her. It was exciting for her, and her parents helped organise delivery for new sofas, for a massive bed and helped her pick out the best TV. They barely spoke to each other, and Lena remembered the fights over Christmas and the uncomfortable CMA’s ceremony a few months back where they hadn’t spoken a word to each other, but they were as doting as ever on their daughter.

 

            In short order, she had a new apartment with new furniture and moved out of home. It was quick and a little bit frightening, if Lena was being honest, and the day her parents were set to go back to London, she found that she wasn’t quite ready to be left alone. They ate a light afternoon tea at Clementine and Lena packed up all of her belongings into the suitcase she’d been living out of for the past few weeks before her parents drove her to her new apartment. She had to fight back tears as she hugged them both goodbye, trying to laugh off her mother’s fussing and her father’s stern words to call if something was wrong. Sooner than she would’ve liked, they were gone, and she was left alone in her apartment.

 

            That first night was one of the longest that Lena could remember. The apartment felt cold and lonely with just her inside, without the personal touches to make it homely and warm, and it made strange sounds, the fridge rumbling, the pipes hissing on occasion, and she tucked herself up into bed, sitting in the glow of a lamp as she stared up at the tall ceiling. Sleep was hard to come by and she felt homesickness creeping up on her as the long night stretched into the morning. She’d been away from home so much over the years that it felt stupid that she should miss London, but she’d always had Lillian with her, and with the quick removal of her mum from her life, Lena found herself missing home terribly.

 

            And it wasn’t just home, it was having people she was close to around her. Since she’d broken into the industry, she’d found herself running in the same circles as other celebrities, who typically, if they were British, lived in London, and if they were American, lived in Los Angeles. National City was more of a place for actors who’d already signed onto a film or show, so they could film there, or for up and coming musicians and singers who were still trying to make it big. None of the friends she’d made were in National City; it was the kind of place they flew into for filming or awards shows and fashion events, and in their downtime, they went home. The only person she knew who was in town was Kara, and it was another few weeks before they saw each other again.

 

            With the intention of releasing an album in the fall, Lena spent most of the following few weeks working on songwriting. She’d bought herself an upright piano and had acquired a drum kit too, and along with her various guitars and banjos, she holed herself up in her new apartment, as she had been doing in her hotel room too. Morgan Edge had his record label’s office in National City and she found herself frequenting his office, holding meetings with him and music producers, rejecting his offers to bring in writers to assist her, as he so commonly did, playing snippets of songs for him on her guitar. She even made time to record a few tracks she’d already finished, and he’d accompany her to the recording studio where she’d sit in the sealed room and repetitively sing the lyrics she’d written.

 

            It was months before the album would be released though, and she was only just beginning to amass songs for it, which left her with plenty of time to herself if she wanted it. The only problem was that she didn’t have anyone to spend it with . She went to flea markets and homeware stores, buying lamps and bookshelves, antique rugs and cooking supplies, and tried to give her apartment the false illusion of a home, and she talked to her mum every day, and her dad on occasion, but Lena felt lonely. She quickly learned that work wasn’t a substitution for socialising.

 

            And then she had the idea to call Kara one day, realising that their exchanging of messages had slowed over the weeks as she threw herself into her music and moving, and with the memory of their promise to see each other again soon, Lena decided to call her. It wasn’t exactly soon , like they’d promised, but she’d thought about Kara a lot over the weeks, letting herself get distracted when she was writing songs, thinking of blue eyes when Veronica’s had been brown, or of the warm butterflies in her stomach instead of the emptiness that had been left in her heart. Where she should’ve been writing about heartbreak, Lena wanted to write about hope.

 

            In a spur of the moment decision, although it had been nagging at her mind for days now, and she just hadn’t had the courage to pursue it, Lena finally called her. It rang four times before Kara answered, her voice cheerful and full of familiar warmth as she spoke.

 

            “I was wondering when you’d call.”

 

            Lena let out a shy laugh, her cheeks turning pink as she stood in front of one of her tall windows, staring out at the hazy blue skyline, tall palm trees swaying in the breeze down below as weak sunshine reflected off a dozen windows, making her eyes water. Turning back around, she blinked rapidly as she ran a hand through her messy curls.

 

            “Hi, Kara, um, yes, I was just- I, uh, I’m sorry I never called-”

 

            “No need to apologise. How’ve you been?”

 

            Exhaling softly, Lena’s brow puckered into a slight frown, and her mouth tugged down at the corners. “I’m … okay?”

 

            There was a pause on the other end. “Yeah?”

 

            “Yeah,” Lena said with more conviction than she felt, “hey … are you busy?”

 

            “Right now? I’m completely free, why?”

 

            “Would you … maybe want to come over?”

 

            With barely enough time to shower and change into clean clothes, Lena was soon walking down that hall to answer the knock at the door, taking a moment to make sure her hair was laying flat and the cuffs of her shirt were evenly rolled up. Opening the door, she was met with the sight of Kara and a tree.

 

            “Hi,” Lena slowly greeted her, with some confusion.

 

            “Hi!” Kara warmly replied, her eyes crinkling behind her glasses as she peered out from behind the round green shrubbery of a small potted tree she was carrying.

 

            She leant forward with one arm open and reaching for Lena, and after a moment of confusion, Lena realised that she was leaning in for a hug. Trying not to look too eager, Lena stepped into her one-armed embrace, breathing in the fresh vanilla and freesia smell of Kara’s perfume and felt her stomach flutter nervously. Pulling back, she stepped back and took in Kara’s black Adidas track pants with the trademark white stripes down the side, the white sneakers and the azure blue hoodie with the Adidas trefoil logo on the front. She looked comfortable and at ease as she stepped into Lena’s sparsely furnished apartment.

 

            Shutting the door behind her, Lena stepped around Kara and walked down the hallway, stepping out into the open area. Making towards the kitchen, Lena glanced at Kara over her shoulder and gave her a small smile. “Tea? Coffee?”

 

            “I’ll have what you’re having.”

 

            Nodding, Lena put the kettle on and pulled out a box of Irish breakfast tea. One of the first things she’d bought for her new apartment was a bone china tea set from the Royal Albert collection. It had been a small splurge for her, and she’d loved the dusty pink fading into the white, the little rose patterns and the gold rim. She set the cups and saucers down on the island counter, where Kara was already perching on a leather bar stool, elbows on the marble tops and a faint smile on her lips as she looked around.

 

            “Nice place,” she said as she met Lena’s eyes.

 

            “Thank you. It’s still a bit empty.”

 

            Kara’s smile brightened as she nudged the tree set on the counter towards Lena. “Hopefully this will help brighten things up then. A little housewarming gift for you. It’s a Calamondin orange tree; they make great unconventional indoor plants.”

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly in surprise, Lena’s face split into a smile as she reached out to touch one of the green leaves. “Thank you! It’s wonderful,” Lena earnestly replied, the heaviness in her chest easing up at the thoughtfulness of the gift.

 

            Brushing aside her thanks, although she looked somewhat pleased with herself, Kara watched as Lena picked up the kettle, which had just finished boiling, and filled up the teapot. Setting it all in the middle of the kitchen counters, she picked up the plate of cookies she’d baked earlier and set them down alongside them, before rounding the counters and taking a seat on the stool beside Kara.

 

            “How’re you settling in so far?” Kara asked as Lena filled a cup with amber tea for her.

 

            Lena started to fill her own as she watched Kara pull the saucer towards her, spoon rattling against the bone china. She dropped a sugar cube into it, stirring the lump in, but didn’t take any milk. Adding milk but no sugar to her own, Lena softly sighed, a grim look crossing her face.

 

            “Not well, I’ll be honest.”

 

            “No?” Kara asked, a look of concern sparking in her eyes.

 

            “Just a touch of homesickness,” Lena shrugged. “I’ve never been so far away from my family. And it’s a little bit eerie, being in my own place. There are so many noises. The ice machine in the freezer nearly gave me a heart attack the first night, I swear. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.”

 

            Laughing, although not in an unkind way, Kara raised her cup to her lips and took a scalding sip. She set it back down on the saucer and swivelled her chair around so that she was facing Lena head on. Resting her elbow on the marble countertop, and propping her chin up in her hand, she gave her a searching look.

 

            “It’s getting easier,” Lena assured her, “I’ve got work to keep me busy.”

 

            “Working on a new album?” Kara asked, pale eyebrows rising slightly as she reached for a cookie, eyeing it before taking a small bite. She looked mildly surprised and smiled at Lena. “Did you make these yourself?”

 

            Nodding, Lena’s lips curled into a faint smile, “yes on both counts.”

 

            Humming with appreciation, Kara took another bite. “This is really good. I’m supposed to be doing this whole vegan diet with my housemate, Lucy, but I’m not very good at it. This is why.”

 

            She smiled as she held up the cookie, and Lena let out a snort of laughter, picking up her cup and saucer as she ducked her head down, cheeks turning pink as she glowed with satisfaction. Taking a small sip, she set her tea back down, feeling shyness creep up on her again as Kara twirled her stool around slightly, enjoying her tea and the freshly baked cookies as she studied Lena’s apartment.

 

            There were only a few scattered personal belongings around, a couple of framed photos of her family and friends, her upright piano off to the right of the hallway, antique rugs and decorative pillows, but it was bare for the most part. There was no artwork on the walls, no books on the polished walnut bookshelves, and it wasn’t quite a home. It was somewhere in between, and Lena was appreciative of the little orange tree to help brighten the place up. She was sorely lacking in plants and flowers too.

 

            Finishing off her cookie and dusting off the crumbs, Kara looked at her with a spark of excitement in her blue eyes. “Could you play me a song?”

 

            “A song?” Lena asked, her voice coloured with surprise as her eyebrows rose up towards her hairline.

 

            “Yeah. Maybe a sneak peek at your new album,” Kara suggested, a coy look on her face as she smiled.

 

            Wrinkling her nose, Lena found herself nervous at the thought, but for some reason, she couldn’t say no. Despite the nervous lurch of her stomach at the thought of letting herself be vulnerable with someone she’d only met twice before, she found herself trusting Kara. It felt like she’d known her a lot longer, and although she felt shy, Lena was comfortable. There was a natural ease to Kara, a charming quality that made you feel as if she knew every bit of you, and Lena found herself unable to say no. Just the hopeful look on Kara’s face was enough for her to hesitate for no longer than a second, before giving her a tentative smile.

 

            “Um, sure.”

 

            “Really?” Kara blinked in surprise.

 

            Shrugging, Lena slid off her stool, “I guess so. Why not?”

 

            Walking over to the upright piano across the room, Lena took a seat on the cushioned bench, while Kara trailed after her, a look of eager interest on her face. She leant against the top, casually lounging as she towered over Lena, and Lena felt her heart fluttering in her chest as she pushed up the fallboard and exposed the slightly yellowed ivory keys. Peering up at Kara, she met her eyes and was stunned once more by how incredibly blue there were. It reminded Lena of the sea at the little beach in Ireland that her family used to go to on the weekend during the summer. So blue and clear, as if she could read every emotion in Kara’s eyes. Lena imagined that Kara would be a terrible liar; her every thought seemed to shine in her eyes.

 

            “This one, um, well, it’s not finished, but it’s the one I’m working on at the moment. This is kind of the bridge, I suppose.”

 

            “Okay.”

 

            Playing out a few chords, her fingers easily finding the right keys, Lena silently went over the melody that had been stuck in her head for the past week. It was a light-hearted melody with a melancholic undercurrent, a song that held all of her gratitude for her band, who’d been there on her first tour, and on stage with her at the CMA’s and the Grammy’s, and all of those firsts for her. It was a thank you to them, and to the fans. A precautionary song, full of apprehension, because Lena was still a little dubious about how long her luck would last. Surely the other shoe would drop at some point. Everything seemed to be going so well for her, everything she’d wanted to achieve in life coming remarkably early, and she wasn’t sure how much longer it was last. If it didn’t, she wanted there to be a song for those who had been there with her during the best times.

 

            Feeling a little self-conscious, a hollow, nervous feeling in her stomach, she nimbly played out the melody and tried to focus on the piano keys instead of Kara, a hard task, given the fact that Lena was hyper-aware of her presence standing off to one side, waiting patiently.

 

“Hold on to spinning around

Confetti falls to the ground

May these memories break our fall

 

Will you take a moment,

Promise me this

That you'll stand by me forever

But if God forbid fate should step in

 

And force us into a goodbye

If you have children some day

When they point to the pictures

Please tell them my name

 

Tell them how the crowds went wild

Tell them how I hope they shine

 

Long live the walls we crashed through

I had the time of my life, with you”

 

            She played a few more chords before the music trailed off into silence, and she finally mustered the courage to glance up at Kara and see her reaction. Silently folding the fallboard back over the keys, she gave Kara a meek smile and was graced with a brighter one in return.

 

            “That’s beautiful!” Kara softly exclaimed, a soft look in her eyes as she cupped her cheek in her hand, elbow propped up on the top of the piano, “you wrote that yourself?”

 

            Tucking a curly lock of hair behind her ear, Lena shyly nodded, pushing herself to her feet and biting back a smile at the praise. Fiddling with her fingers, she walked over to the leather sofa and took a seat at one end, while Kara joined her at the other.

 

            “May I ask what the song’s about if that’s not too personal?” Kara hesitantly ventured.

 

            A smile flitted across Lena’s face. “My band and my fans. It’s a thank you. I’m still working on it, but I think I’m going to call it Long Live.”

 

            “I like it.”

 

            Lena let out a quick laugh, a wry look on her face as she smiled, “it is one of the nicer songs so far.”

 

            Kara winced slightly, a sympathetic look in her eyes as she gave her a grim smile, “right, I remember hearing about one of your relationships.” Lena stiffened slightly where she sat, a jolt shocking her as her palms instantly started to sweat and her throat went dry. “Adam, right? From that boyband?”

 

            Choking on an incredulous laugh as relief washed over her, Lena had to press a hand to her mouth as her eyes crinkled at the corners. Her cheeks hurt from smiling so much by the time that she stopped laughing, and she looked at Kara with amusement.

 

            “Adam? God no. We took one photo together at the Teen Choice Awards two years ago and then we supposedly dated for a few months before he broke my heart,” Lena scoffed, looking mildly offended by the mere notion of it, “ apparently half of the songs on my second album are about him.”

 

            “I’m sure that’s a flattering compliment to him.”

 

            Lena snorted with laughter and rolled her eyes good-naturedly, “apparently not. I’ve started to develop quite the reputation as a little bit of a serial dater. Not a good reputation, in my opinion. Besides, he’s two years younger than me and far too immature.”

 

            “Hey, I’m two years older than you.”

 

            “Yes, but you’re different.”

 

            “Why, because I’m mature?” Kara asked, eyebrows rising slightly.

 

            Fighting back a blush, Lena cleared her throat and raised her chin slightly, “well … yes. I’ve always preferred someone older. I say always, but, well … once.”

 

            Raising one eyebrow, Kara gave her a questioning look, “hm, and who is this mysterious older person you dated? Your songs give absolutely no clues. Stephen? Cory? I don’t know anyone by those names in Hollywood, and I doubt they were at that all girls school you went to in London.”

 

            Lena paused for a moment and gave Kara a pointed look, “have you been googling me, Kara? I don’t remember telling you about my education.”

 

            Cheeks flushing red, Kara gave her a sheepish smile, looking embarrassed as she scratched the back of her neck, “I might’ve been a bit curious.”

 

            “Yeah?”

 

            “Yeah, you’re very … mysterious. I asked my friends if they’d met you, and I listened to your albums, and they didn’t really tell me much about you , so I might’ve, possibly, maybe checked your Wikipedia page.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Lena gave her a suspicious look, “what exactly were you looking for?”

 

            Pausing, Kara pressed her lips together into a thin line and shook her head, looking serious for the first time, and the lightheartedness of the moment seemed to vanish as Kara shifted uncomfortably. A slight frown wrinkled Lena’s brow as she gazed at the blonde, and she found herself anxious to diffuse the sudden tension that had grown in the moment.

 

            “Sorry,” Kara suddenly blurted out, turning to meet her gaze, “that was actually very rude of me. I didn’t mean to pry-”

 

            “Veronica Sinclair,” Lena blurted out at the same time, nervously hoping to break the silence and answer Kara’s unasked question. She’d already hinted at the fact that none of the boys Lena had written songs about were celebrities, and although they could’ve been boys from high school, Kara had gotten it right again, that none of them had been at her all-girls Catholic school or at boarding school.

 

            Blinking in surprise at the interruption, Kara’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Sorry?”

 

            “You asked who I dated. It was Veronica Sinclair. The singer.”

 

            “Oh.”

 

            “I mean, we dated but I don’t think- it wasn’t serious. Not to her anyway. And it wasn’t very fun for me to be toyed with. It’s been ages now, but … well, some things leave a lasting impression,” Lena said with some bitterness, giving Kara a tight smile.

 

            A brooding look on her face, Kara frowned slightly, a crease forming between her eyebrows. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push you-”

 

            “It’s fine,” Lena offhandedly replied, waving aside her concerns. “I just … well, nobody knows. That’s not on my Wikipedia page.”

 

            “You’re not … you know, out?”

 

            Letting out a snort of laughter, Lena gave her a pointed look. “Catholic, remember.”

 

            “Right.”

 

            They sat in silence for a moment, before Kara fixed her with an unwavering stare, “I know how you feel, by the way.”

 

            Pulse quickening, Lena felt hope blossom in her chest, and she perked up slightly as she gave Kara a small smile, “yeah?”

 

            “Yeah,” Kara softly replied, a tender look of sympathy on her face.

 

            The coy playfulness returned after that, and Lena felt marginally better having got it off her chest and simultaneously uncovered the same truth about Kara as well. They dropped the subject after that, and Lena went to make a fresh pot of tea and brought the plate of cookies back with her too, but it stayed between them like a comforting thought, and Lena felt like perhaps National City wasn’t quite so bad after all. Things might not come of anything between her and Kara, but she found herself with a friend, and she didn’t feel nearly quite so alone as she walked Kara to the door a few hours later.

 

            Clearing up the dishes, she eyed the orange tree sitting on the counter with a warm feeling in her chest and thought about the promise they’d made to see each other again soon. Lena had promised that it’d be sooner this time, and Kara had reached out to give her hand a gentle squeeze. It had set Lena’s pulse racing, and she found herself incapable of thinking of much else for the rest of the day. Her mind whirling with thoughts of Kara, she ended up sitting on her bedroom floor with her guitar in her lap and a pen and notebook sitting beside her. All thoughts of heartbreak and endings gone, she started to write about the sparks between them, trying to put her thoughts into words as she thought about something as small as a squeeze of her hand and how just her company was enough to take away the ache in her chest. She couldn’t help but think that it had been no accident that she and Kara had met.

Chapter Text

The way you move is like a full on rainstorm

And I'm a house of cards

You're the kind of reckless

That should send me running

But I kinda know that I won't get far

 

And you stood there in front of me

Just close enough to touch

Close enough to hope you couldn't see

What I was thinking of

 

Drop everything now

Meet me in the pouring rain

Kiss me on the sidewalk

Take away the pain

'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile

 

Get me with those green eyes, baby

As the lights go down

Give me something that'll haunt me when you're not around

'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile

 

-

 

            “Looking back on it now, do you think that you were meant to meet then? Like it was fate?”

 

            Laughing, Lena shook her head, amusement flickering in her green eyes. “No, no. Nothing of the sort. I was just … I was going through a rough patch. Love had essentially been ruined by me by my ex-”

 

            “Who you still haven’t named.”

 

            Pausing for a moment, Lena’s eyes widened as she froze before a slow smile spread across her face. “Ah. I suppose I didn’t. Veronica Sinclair.”

 

            “The singer?”

 

            “The very same.”

 

            “She’s much older than you,” Leslie said an incredulous look on her face.

 

            Giving her a bitter smile, Lena nodded. She’d written a song about everything that had been wrong with that relationship. How her mind had been messed with, how she’d been drained by the constant games, how her mother had worried about her and how she’d been so naive that she’d ignored the whispered rumours that followed Veronica and all of her exes. In hindsight, it was all so obvious, and Lena had wished she was able to pass on the warning. She’d been lucky to get out of that relationship before it had turned into anything serious, although now, after years of reflection, she doubted Veronica was the kind of person to ever let anything get serious with another person. Everything about that relationship had been wrong.

 

            “Well … let’s just say there was a lot that was wrong with that, the age difference the least of them. It took me some time to get over that, and then there was a period of about eight or nine months where I just … I lost that magic. You know that rosy-coloured idea of love? I realised that it wasn’t all a fairy tale or straight out of a movie, and it took meeting Kara to accept that.”

 

            “Oh. She didn’t bring back that magic?”

 

            Blushing slightly, feeling like the young woman she’d been back then, barely twenty years old and enamoured by Kara and everything she’d brought, Lena let out a soft laugh. Her expression turned tender and she fiddled with the rings on her fingers.

 

            “No, she did. It just wasn’t the fake kind that you see in old films. It was confusing to me at first because I was completely taken with her, but it wasn’t the shiny new feeling of love - or rather the idea of it that we romanticise because that’s all we ever see - but I just- I knew. I knew that there was some magic there. It was in the calm that she brought. With how crazy my life had gotten, and how broken I’d felt after Veronica, and how homesick I was in my new apartment, she was just this calm presence in my life. It was like I’d stumbled into the eye of a tornado, and everything was falling apart around me, except with her. Of course, not right at the beginning; but things slowly got worse and it was because of Kara that I managed to bear it.”

 

            “I’ll admit, I’m still a bit shocked by this,” Leslie said with wry amusement. “You were publicly known to be friends with her, but not until a while later, if my information is correct.”

 

            Scoffing, Lena rolled her eyes, “well, of course we weren’t parading ourselves around in front of everyone before there was even anything to cause a fuss about. We were careful. I think, actually, the media only caught wind of our relationship the second time around. I was very strict about us being secretive.”

 

            “The second?”

 

            “I think it’s common enough in the industry to let work and distance and other things get caught in the middle. It wasn’t any different for us. We were just another celebrity couple that couldn’t make it work with the life that we chose to have.”

 

            “So quite a few of the heartbreak songs are about Kara?”

 

            Smiling, Lena nodded. “Of course. More than quite a few. Almost all of them, from Speak Now onwards. I remember it being very important for me to write about those bad moments too, because although we did get back together, quite a few times, those moments happened. But in those moments my feelings were important to write down, to capture, and to remember because one day I was heartbroken over her, but tomorrow I would be in love with her again. It was a whirlwind of so many emotions and problems- anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.”

 


 

            Over the following month, Lena saw Kara a couple of times a week, and they messaged each other constantly, leaving Lena’s cheeks hurting from smiling too much as she read the messages and her face slightly flushed at the flirty undertones. It was an unusual feeling for her, to have someone show such a pure interest in her, making her laugh as a warm feeling blossomed inside her chest, taking her to antique stores and flea markets to help her pick out gilt photo frames and old chandeliers for her apartment.

 

            Kara felt too good to be true, sometimes turning up in the early hours of the morning after she’d finished shooting, a cup of coffee for Lena and her car parked outside, waiting to take her for a drive. It was the first time Lena had ever had someone shower her with attention for the sake of it, treat her to unlimited kindness, without any catches, call her to hear her voice because a message wasn’t good enough.

 

            It rekindled some of the magic that she’d lost, and Lena felt like she had some of her colour back. She’d been so washed out by Veronica, feeling like she had to paint her face on every day so that no one would realise that she’d been whittled down to fit the mould that the other woman had made for her, but slowly, over the ensuing weeks, she recaptured some of the person she’d been before. It was like new life had been breathed into her; a different kind of life. The shyness dissipated and she found herself becoming an accomplice in Kara’s recklessness, risking being spotted together by paparazzi just so that she could spend more time with her. The homesickness started to fade too, and Lena felt comfortable with where she was in her life.

 

            Of course, it was all too good to be true, but that didn’t matter at the time. She bought into the idea that her life was perfect, and she found herself giving in to her better judgement and letting her heart fall. It happened quickly. Not right away, of course, but the walls fell away and the possibility was there. Both of them knew that there was more to their outings than just two friends hanging out; it was like they were playing a coy game, dancing around the truth and each other, avoiding bringing up the matter at hand. The best part was that Lena was enjoying herself too much to care about what the future would bring between the two of them, but she’d be lying if she said that she didn’t want Kara.

 

            Sitting in the cool interior of the blonde’s Audi as they drove through the city at night, up through the sandy foothills on the outskirts, the windows cranked down and the warmth of the day lingering on the mild breeze, Lena would feel the energy humming almost palpably between them. When Kara turned up at her house late after filming, curling up on Lena’s sofa in a pair of sweatpants, her eyes half-lidded with tiredness and her hair carelessly thrown up into a sloppy ponytail, Lena found herself looking at her lips as Kara mumbled about her day. The most all of her secret wishes had amounted to was their hands gently grazing sometimes when she handed Kara a cup of tea, or Kara touching her back for a brief moment as she slipped around her to open the passenger door for her to get in, or her fingers lingering on Kara’s hand as she took half of the shopping bags off her. It sent a thrill through her, but Lena found herself wanting more. The sparks were undeniable.

 

            On a rare rainy night, Lena found herself alone in her apartment, a cup of tea that had long since gone cold sitting beside her, her ganjo resting across her knees and a frazzled look to her curly hair as she continuously ran her hand through her hair, staring down at the words on the page, which were starting to swim on the lined paper. She’d been at it for hours now, scribbling out words, playing with the melody, which had a distinct country twang to it, given the background of the person it was about, and trying to vent her anger and embarrassment. Her mind was distracted though, and she couldn’t solely focus on her songwriting with her scattered thoughts, no matter how hard she was trying.

 

            When her phone buzzed on the floor beside her, it was almost a relief for an excuse to have a break, and her face lit up at the name that lit up the screen. Feeling the tension fade from her body, she answered the call and pressed her phone to her ear.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            “Hi, I didn’t wake you did I?”

 

            Softly laughing, Lena carefully moved her ganjo aside and set it down on the floor, the strings vibrating slightly with the movement and making a quiet, morose sound. “No, no, I was up writing.”

 

            “Do you have plans to sleep any time soon?”

 

            “That depends.”

 

            “Well, it’s raining out tonight, and there’s a great spot out in the desert to experience it. I snuck coffee from set too, just in case.”

 

            Looking down at her half-written song, her freezing cold tea and her stripey pyjama pants, Lena hesitated for a moment. “Sure. How long will you be?”

 

            “I’m outside.”

 

            Blinking in surprise, she quickly scrambled to her feet and rushed over to one of the windows, peering out through the sheets of rain to see a car idling on the curb, two headlights shining brightly in the darkness. No one or thing stirred outside, the city already fast asleep in her suburb, and Lena’s mouth curled up into a slight smile.

 

            “I’ll buzz you up.”

 

            She hung up after that and wound her way around the clutter of furniture and decorative plants and lamps that she’d acquired through the help of Kara, and walked down the hallway to let her in, lingering just inside the doorway until a quiet rap of knuckles on the wooden door signalled the actress’ arrival. Opening the door, Lena gave her a small smile, feeling suddenly self-conscious about her awry curls and her pyjamas as she let Kara in. The blonde was wearing a puffy navy coat over jeans, her face free from the makeup that she’d been wearing all day and night, and she gave Lena a tired smile as she reached out to hug her.

 

            Cherishing the warm embrace, Lena stepped back a moment later and led Kara down the hallway as she asked her about her night. It had been a long shoot, but despite the fact that she was tired, Kara insisted that she was too awake for her mind to slow down enough for her to sleep. It was almost becoming a habit for her to come to Lena’s on such nights as this one, and Lena didn’t mind; she was normally awake and writing anyway. Although, a small part of her had started to fight back at her tiredness on the off chance that Kara would call her to see if she was awake.

 

            “How’s the new song coming along?” Kara asked, spying the mess sprawled across the floor near the circular sofa and coffee table.

 

            Letting out a sound of frustration, Lena’s brow crumpled into a frown. “Not too good. I’m too annoyed to make it all come out right.”

 

            “What’s annoying you?” Kara asked, cocking her head to the side as she drifted closer to her, reaching out to grab her arm in caring gesture. Her fingers were warm against Lena’s bare skin and she had to duck her head down under Kara’s intense gaze.

 

            Grimacing, Lena shrugged slightly. “I try not to Google myself, you know, for obvious reasons. I have fans, but not everyone’s a fan. Well there was a critic at the Grammy’s who said a few hurtful things, and it made it's way back to me and it’s just … I don’t know, it’s rubbed me the wrong way. It was just … mean. Sure, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but a critic should show more professionalism than just outright saying I can’t sing, right?”

 

            “Ouch,” Kara winced slightly, “that’s rude. And a complete and utter lie. Trust me, I, myself, am a bit of an expert on Lena Luthor. She even played a private show for me once.”

 

            Kara winked as she let go of her arm, drifting towards the ganjo and the journal and sinking down to her knees beside it. Lena let out a snort of laughter, her cheeks warming slightly as she trailed after her. “Oh yeah? I hear she’s not prone to giving people private shows.”

 

            “I guess I’m just lucky.”

 

            “Oh it’s more than that,” Lena muttered.

 

            She dropped down to her knees beside Kara, crossing her legs and reaching for the journal, reading over her loopy handwriting, before looking up to meet the blonde’s warm blue eyes. Kara was wearing her glasses today, and Lena found herself wanting to push them further up her nose as they slipped down slightly.

 

            “So, what’ve you got here?” Kara asked, her eyes sparkling eagerly as she jerked her chin towards the journal that Lena held in her hands.

 

            Arching an eyebrow, Lena smiled slightly. “I thought we were going for a drive. I have to get dressed.”

 

            “We can spare a minute for a song, and you look perfect the way you are. It’s just a drive.”

 

            Rolling her eyes, Lena bit back a smile and reached for her ganjo, comfortably balancing its round head on her hip as her fingers found the strings. “Fine. I’ll sing what I have.”

 

“And I can see you years from now in a bar

Talking over a football game

With that same big loud opinion

But nobody's listening

Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things

Drunk and grumbling on about how I can't sing

But all you are is mean

All you are is mean

And a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life

And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean.”

 

            Kara laughed as she listened, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms hugging them tightly as she balanced her chin on top. Her eyes crinkled at the corners and Lena found herself trailing off as she sang, laughter bubbling up within her as Kara laughed.

 

            “Remind me never to get on your bad side,” Kara said.

 

            Setting the ganjo aside and shutting her journal, Lena gave her a hopeful look, “do you like it?”

 

            “I think it’s the perfect revenge for a loud-mouthed idiot.”

 

            Smiling brightly, her dark mood already forgotten as if Kara was the sunshine that had swept away her storm clouds, Lena climbed to her feet and reached down to pull Kara to her feet. Finding herself almost nose to nose with her, Lena quickly turned aside and brushed past her, clearing her throat slightly.

 

            “I’ll just grab a coat and some shoes.”

 

            “Sure.”

 

            Slipping on a pair of trainers and a grey quilted parka, Lena softly swore as she tried to comb her hair with her fingers, her reflection in the hallway mirror giving showing a frightful mess of curls. Kara was oblivious to her fretting as she opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, while Lena patted down her pockets to make sure she had her keys and her phone.

 

            They made their way downstairs, shoulders hunched and heads ducked down against the downpour of rain, which still managed to find its way beneath the collars of their coats and snake down the back of their necks, and quickly bundled themselves into the black Audi parked on the verge. Belting themselves in, Kara turned the engine on and Lena relaxed back against the cool leather. A coffee cup was nudged into her hand a moment later and she took a grateful sip of the warm, rich latte as she stared out at the darkness lit up by two beams of light following the twists and turns of the road.

 

            Fleetwood Mac played softly from the speakers and Lena was wrapped in soothing comfort as she sat in the passenger seat, head resting against the door as she nursed her coffee. They didn’t say much as they drove away from the city, leaving the mansions and expensive condos behind, through the blocks of apartments, shops and cafes crammed in together, and out towards the flat expanse of desert beyond the skyline.

 

            It was pitch black once they left the city behind them, and Lena could see a dim haze of yellow light saturating the dark mass behind them in the wing mirror as they drove into the unknown. The occasional flicker of lightning and barely audible rumble of thunder escorted them across the border of the city. The road grew bumpy and rough as they took a side road through low shrubbery, the wheels digging up wet furrows of sand as they followed the rocky path deeper into the darkness. It was eerie being so far away from the city - they usually drove up through the foothills, driving up to one of the low peaks to take in the view spread out below them - but Lena felt perfectly safe with Kara, and she could imagine that they were the only two people left in the world.

 

            The sheets of rain lashing the car made for a cosy setting as they eventually came to a slow, grinding halt. With their lukewarm coffees in hand, they sipped them in silence, staring out past the watery tracks snaking down the windscreen, and Kara turned the headlights off, plunging them into near total darkness. It cast a shadow over the blonde’s face as Lena turned towards her.

 

            “Do you come out here often?”

 

            “Sometimes. It’s good for a storm. It should hit properly in a minute; you can see the lightning in the distance.”

 

            She gestured off into the distance, and the dim lights that Lena caught flickering every few moments became more distinct as forks of lightning as she looked out the window. As she watched, a peal of thunder sounded closer than any before, and Lena found it oddly comforting in the confines of the car, the windows cracked open slightly to let in the damp, earthy smell of the desert, sweet with a surprisingly warm breeze. She breathed it in deeply, a soft smile curling her lips as she felt peace settle within her.

 

            They watched the storm roll in while they made whispered conversation, almost as if they were too afraid to speak too loudly in case they disturbed the spectacle before them. Blazing white lightning tore a ragged arc across the sky, followed by a crack of thunder and a deluge of rain, and Lena found herself listening to Kara talk about her family, about her parents who died when she was young, about her new mother and her sister who was a photographer. Kara made an off-handed suggestion that Lena should come to her house sometime and meet her. In return, Lena regaled her with tales of boarding school and the Irish countryside or teaching herself to play the guitar and her worldwide tour for her last album. She never once felt like she was boring her, and she listened with rapt attention whenever Kara spoke, finding herself laughing often.

 

            It wasn’t until their conversation hit a natural lull, the storm raging on around them while they enjoyed the light show, courtesy of the lightning, that Kara tentatively broke the silence. There was an anxious note to her voice that made Lena turn to look at her, tearing her eyes away from the darkness as after images of the fork of red lightning stayed printed on her pupils.

 

            “Hey, Lena?”

 

            “Mm.”

 

            “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it,” Kara slowly said, “but … you haven’t mentioned you being … well, you know, since that one day.”

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly in surprise, Lena gave her an owlish look, grateful for the darkness inside the car as she felt her cheeks warm. “Oh, you mean how I’m- how I like girls?”

 

            “Yeah,” Kara said, her voice barely audible in the pattering of rain, “that.”

 

            “I guess there’s nothing else to say,” Lena shrugged.

 

            “But you haven’t told your parents? Anyone?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “Oh.”

 

            Turning to look at her, a wariness in her eyes, Lena swallowed thickly, her mouth feeling suddenly dry. She took a sip of coffee that had turned cold, grimacing at the taste but craving something to combat the dryness. “Why? Did you say- have you told someone?”

 

            She wouldn’t be mad at her if she had, but Lena would be lying if she said that she was terrified at that moment, afraid that Kara had let it slip, that there could already be rumours circulating about her. Her heart pounded loudly in her chest and her palms went clammy around the paper coffee cup clenched tightly in her hands, almost buckling under the pressure.

 

            “No,” Kara quickly said, her voice sharp and loud in the confines of the car, before it softened again as she reached out to touch the back of Lena’s hand for a brief moment. “No, of course I didn’t. I would never- I just … well, I was wondering why not.”

 

            “It’s not easy , you know,” Lena said, sounding mildly peeved as her brow drew together in a frown. “You wouldn’t understand-”

 

            “I came out to Eliza when I was fifteen,” Kara interrupted her, her voice a murmur and her face stern as she looked out the windscreen, briefly illuminated by a flash of lightning.

 

            Freezing for a moment, Lena’s heart rate didn’t settle at all. In fact, it leapt in her chest, her suspicions confirmed, the flickering embers of her hopes stoked as she realised that perhaps she stood a chance, and she had to pause for a moment as she scrambled for something to say. “So you’re …”

 

            “I like men and women,” Kara quietly replied, “I recently got out of a relationship with my co-star, Adam Foster. He’s my manager’s son. She picked me over him in the breakup. A harsh decision, but I guess I brought her more business than him. It was mostly PR anyway, but … well, I think it’s fair to be honest with you when you’ve been honest with me. And to let you know that you’re not alone.”

 

            “Are you completely out?”

 

            Kara laughed, her lips quirking up into a half-hearted smile as she turned to face Lena. “No, not yet. I hope I will be one day, but I have my career to think about.”

 

            “Yeah,” Lena said, the air rushing out of her as she slumped in her seat. She understood that completely, yet it wasn’t comforting to know that Kara was struggling with the same dilemma. At least she’d come out to her family though; Lena had yet to do that.

 

            “Are you ready to go?” Kara suggested after a few moments of brooding silence on behalf of them both.

 

            Murmuring her agreement, Lena leant her head back against the door for the bouncing ride back towards the city, tiredness making her eyes itch as she struggled to keep her eyelids open, and the dull rumble of thunder a comforting sound that threatened to lull her to sleep. They barely spoke on the drive back home, and Kara turned the music up to a comfortable level, softly singing along to Dreams. Lena watched her sing, a look of wonder on her face as she traced the lines of the woman’s profile, finding her heart stumbling over a few beats as she watched her. Desire gripped her once more, and she turned away, feeling flushed and hot beneath the collar of her coat as her heart ached in an almost painful way.

 

            It was almost a relief when Kara pulled up outside of her apartment building, killing the headlights and the engine as she put the car in park. Lena expected her to stay in the car, but Kara was opening her door and climbing out a moment later. Assuming that she was going to come upstairs for an early morning coffee - the horizon was already starting to lighten to a deep blue, the storm clouds dissipating - Lena climbed out of the car and stood in the early morning downpour as it plastered her curls to her face. She took a few steps towards the door of the lobby before a warm hand reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her back around.

 

            Face to face with Kara, she blinked raindrops out of her eyes and looked up at her, those few inches seeming so big this close up, and she felt a lump form in her throat as she was frozen to the spot by a hand cupping her cheek. With an uncertain look on her face, Kara hesitated for a moment, before Lena reached up and cupped one of her cheeks in her own hand. It was an unspoken command, and a moment later Kara’s lips were pressing against hers, hot and soft, and Lena felt her hand tangling in her dark curls, while her own hands gently cupped Kara’s wet face, drawing her closer. The ache in her chest vanished as a fire spread throughout her, warming her from the inside out. And then Kara was pulling back, a nervous smile flitting across her lips, before she ran the sleeve of her coat across her wet forehead, the lenses of her glasses fogged up and speckled with raindrops.

 

            “I’ll call you tomorrow,” Kara said, taking a few steps backwards, prolonging the moment for just that tiny bit longer.

 

            Lena didn’t want her to go, and she had to fight the urge to follow after her. If she wasn’t still rooted to the spot, hand reaching up to clumsily touch her lips, she probably would’ve. Instead, she watched as Kara climbed into her car, and numbly waved to her as she watched her drive away, before trudging up towards her front door and making her way up to her apartment. Falling back against the wooden door, she let out an airy laugh as her face split into a wide smile of disbelief.

 


 

            “You know, there have been moments where I’ve regretted writing a song,” Lena mused as she smiled, her fingers gently resting against her bottom lip and chin as she sat there with a lost look in her eyes. “Well not writing it, but writing it when I did. I wrote a song called Fearless and there were a few lines in it about a first kiss. About how flawless it was and how fearless it was, and at the time I didn’t even know that a first kiss could be like that. I wanted to kick myself for writing that song then, being so naive about such things, because it wasn’t until I kissed her for the first time that I realised that I’d been right about it, and I wished so desperately that I’d written it about her. I’d never felt more fearless than at that moment.”

 

            “Did she make you feel that way often?”

 

            “Oh all the time,” Lena laughed. “Every moment that I was with her I felt fearless. I said once that fearless wasn’t the absence of fear, but being afraid and doing it anyway, and with her … I was terrified . I was so scared that someone would find out about us, and I fought so hard to keep us a secret, but there was always that chance that someone would find out. But I loved her anyway. How could I not? And I’ve never stopped for a moment. My only regret now is that I made her stop loving me. In a sense, I was the one who ruined us in the end; the only thing Kara was guilty of was loving me too much until even that wasn't enough. I did it all myself.”

Chapter Text

'Cause all I know is we said, "Hello."

And your eyes look like coming home

All I know is a simple name

Everything has changed

All I know is you held the door

And you'll be mine and I'll be yours

All I know since yesterday is everything has changed

 

Come back and tell me why

I'm feeling like I've missed you all this time, oh, oh, oh.

And meet me there tonight

And let me know that it's not all in my mind.

 

-

 

            “So you still love her?”

 

            Sighing, Lena shifted in her seat as her expression darkened, a troubled look in her eyes as she struggled to find the words. “I think … well, yes. Yes, of course. I’ll just start with that. But it’s more than that because I think we both knew it from that very first moment that it was something . We were on and off, in love and heartbroken, and we just- I think we knew that for each other, this was it. So yes, I still love her, and I know she still loves me, and it’s not so much that we’ve ever stopped loving each other, but we’ve just been out of love. I think that’s a very big difference. You can love someone but not be in love with them. In rough patches, we would lose a little of that love, but that’s the thing about when you know; you know that you’ll always come back. It’s always inevitable.”

 

            “So is this a big romantic gesture to win her back?” Leslie asked, a look of amusement in her eyes as she gave Lena a look of thinly masked excitement. A tell-all interview was a big thing on its own, but a public declaration of love would garner even more attention, and Lena almost laughed at the thought.

 

            “No, no,” she quietly chuckled, before letting out a faint sigh, “that ship has already sailed.”

 

            “So this is the end?”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Lena pressed her lips into a flat line as her brow crumpled slightly, “in a sense, yes. But I’m getting ahead of myself again. We’re only at the beginning.”

 


 

            The rest of the week passed by in a blur and Lena spent most of her time lost in daydreams, thinking of Kara and that kiss. All she could envision was Kara’s smile, the freckles dotted across her nose when she wasn’t wearing makeup, and her incredibly blue eyes. She found herself washing the dishes and thinking about sitting in the darkness of the car, rain lashing the window and thunder rumbling in the distance as they spoke in hushed voices, the air charged between them. In the late hours of the night, when she couldn’t sleep, she found herself pacing back and forth, wondering if Kara had wrapped filming and had collapsed into an exhausted sleep. A few times, Kara called and they’d quietly talk about their day, while Lena made herself tea or scribbled lyrics in her journal, testing out soft melodies on her piano while she told Kara about the song she’d been recording that day.

 

            They didn’t see each other again until Saturday morning. Lena had been up for a couple of hours already, dressed in a loose cream shirt and a pleated skirt, watching the news as she mixed cake batter in a large bowl. She was making a Victoria sponge cake to pass the time, and staring out of the full-length windows, eyeing the grey sky of the cool day outside.

 

            A golden sponge cake was cooling on a rack in the kitchen when a knock sounded on the door, and Lena climbed to her feet and quickly rushed down the hallway, a hopeful look on her face as she fought back a smile. There weren’t many people who had her address in National City, and there was only one that she was hoping it would be. Pulling the door open, she couldn’t fight back a smile any longer when she realised it was Kara, and her body deflated slightly as she leant against the doorframe, a warm look on her face.

 

            “Good morning, you’re up early. I thought you’d still be sleeping off filming.”

 

            “I had to go to Temple,” Kara said, giving her a tired smile before she leant in and kissed her on the cheek.

 

            Blinking in surprise, Lena felt a warmth pool in her stomach as her cheeks flushed slightly, surprised by the tender act, and she gave Kara a smile back as she stepped aside to let her in. Kara was wearing a grey overcoat over jeans and a blue shirt, and she shook one arm out of her sleeve while balancing a drink tray in the other hand.

 

            “Oh, juice,” Kara said, switching the tray to her other hand and freeing herself of her coat, which Lena relieved her of and set up on the coat stand beside the door. Plucking a green juice from the tray, Kara held it out to her. “I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I just got you a green one. Apple; celery; cucumber. That kind of thing.”

 

            A slow smile curled Lena’s lips as she reached out for the drink, her fingertips gently brushing against Kara’s. “Oh. Thank you, that’s really thoughtful.”

 

            Waving aside Lena’s gratitude Kara took a sip of her own juice and trailed after her down the hallway. They sat down at the dining table in the middle of the open apartment, and Lena sipped at her juice as she eyed Kara from across the polished wood.

 

            “How was work?”

 

            Kara stifled a yawn, her eyes screwing shut behind the lenses of her glasses before she stretched her arms out wide and groaned. “Long. I wrapped at eleven, but I was there from four that morning.”

 

            Rubbing at her eyes, she blinked quickly and smiled at Lena. Feeling nervous, Lena gently bit her bottom lip as she stirred her straw around in the cup. It was the first time they’d seen each other since Kara had kissed her, although she’d called, as promised, but they hadn’t talked about the kiss, and Lena wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. She’d imagined that it was all in her head, but now she wasn’t sure what to think at all.

 

            “So, how’ve you been? Busy week?”

 

            Laughing, Kara gave her a dry look, “yeah, how was yours?”

 

            Shrugging, Lena ran a hand through her hair, “uneventful, mostly. I’ve just been in and out of the studio.”

 

            “Are you going there today?”

 

            “Not today.”

 

            Hesitating for a moment, Kara gave her a hopeful look. “I’m supposed to be having breakfast with my sister today. I was wondering if you’d like to come.”

 

            Her voice was steady and slow, no uncertainty making her voice tremble, and her blue eyes were calm and confident, a deep blue that made Lena’s stomach flutter. Biting back a smile, she cocked her head to the side and gave her a searching look.

 

            “You want me to meet your sister?”

 

            Blushing slightly, Kara nervously smiled, “of course! But only if you want to. She’s one of my best friends and she knows we’ve been hanging out for the past few weeks. We can wait a few weeks if you think it’s fast, but I like you, and I want her to meet you.”

 

            “And what about Alex?” Lena anxiously asked, trying not to let it show that her heart had lurched as Kara admitted that she liked her, “is she okay with me coming to breakfast?”

 

            Laughing, Kara’s eyes crinkled at the corners, “it was her idea. It’s nothing fancy, just at her house; when we’re both in town we do pancakes at her place on Saturday after I go to Temple.”

 

            “Oh,” Lena murmured, before smiling as a warm feeling filled her, “I’d love to come. What time should we be there?”

 

            Kara glanced down at her watch. “In about an hour.”

 

            That gave them time to drink their juice and catch up on what they’d missed out on telling each other over the phone. Kara told her what little she could about the film she was shooting, talking mostly about behind the scenes drama and a few of the co-stars she wasn’t very fond of. In turn, Lena told her about the long hours spent holed up in the recording studio, eagerly working with music producers to find the right feeling for her songs, the right amount of stringed instruments to make them reminiscent of Ireland, the undercurrent of a banjo that paid homage to the country music industry that had so graciously welcomed an outsider into their midst. They both listened to each other with rapt attention, and although they were both working in different areas, there was a shared excitement between them as they spoke passionately about their work.

 

            After half an hour of conversation, Lena cut a decent sized chunk out of her cake, wrapped it up and grabbed her coat and a scarf. Stepping out into the hallway, Lena wound one end of her scarf around her neck as they set off towards the elevator, and she stood shoulder to shoulder with Kara inside as they made their way downwards. The back of their hands brushed, and Lena glanced sideways at Kara, catching her lips curling up at the corners as she tried not to smile. Lena let her fingers lightly trail across the back of Kara’s hand a moment before the elevator dinged and they stepped out into the lobby.

 

            Kara’s car was parked outside and they walked towards it, Kara opening the passenger door for Lena before rounding the bonnet and climbed in beside her. Being back in the car with her made Lena feel like their world had shrunk to just the two of them, her heart fluttering in her chest as they sat in easy silence. The sky was grey outside the windows, the threat of rain looming close and it was cosy inside the car, just warm enough to be comfortable as they pulled away from her apartment building.

 

            Music played faintly in the background and Kara’s fingers occasionally drummed on the steering wheel as she looked around with a stern look on her face. Lena gave her sidelong glances as she sat back in her seat, taking in Kara’s profile, the slope of her nose, the angle of her jaw, the perfect pout of her lips. Heat pooled in her stomach and she clenched the box with the cake in her lap, her mouth going dry as she closed her eyes, feeling the air in the space between them hum slightly.

 

            “You okay?”

 

            Her eyelashes fluttered slightly as she opened her eyes, turning to look at Kara, who had her eyes fixed on the road. She smiled, her cheeks dimpling slightly. “Yeah.”

 

            A hand reached out, slender fingers golden with a faint tan, and warm as they brushed against the back of Lena’s hand, and Lena glanced down at it, her stomach fluttering before she looked back up at Kara. Briefly meeting her eyes, Kara gave her a faint smile.

 

            “Nervous?”

 

            Shrugging slightly, Lena gave her a sheepish smile, “a little.”

 

            “Why?”

 

            “Well … I guess I just … don’t know what this means.”

 

            Kara was silent for a moment, huffing and gesturing in silent outrage as someone pulled in front of her before she made a right turn at the traffic lights and trailed slowly behind the car in front of her. When they came to a stop at an intersection, Kara turned to look at her.

 

            “What, meeting my sister?”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            “It means that I want her to meet you.”

 

            “But why?”

 

            “Because I kissed you.”

 

            “So you take everyone you kiss home to meet your sister?”

 

            With a bemused look, Kara let out a laugh of surprise, her eyes sparkling as she turned to face Lena. Arching a slender brow, she gave her an amused smile. Softly sighing, Kara pushed her glasses further up her nose and her expression softened as she reached out to turn the music down further. Turning to face her again, she bit her lip as she paused for a moment before her shoulders slumped slightly.

 

            “No. No, I don’t. But … that’s the thing. I want you to meet my sister. And I just- I feel like things have changed, very quickly, and maybe it’s all in my mind, but I like you and I want my sister to like you too. I’m sorry, am I being too presumptuous?”

 

            Lena opened her mouth to reply, but a car honked behind them and Kara let her attention turn back to the moving traffic in front of her, softly swearing as she accelerated. Quietly chuckling, Lena eyed her with appreciation, feeling relieved by her honesty. It was refreshing and made her feel a little less worried about the fact that she’d spent the past few weeks feeling like she was making it all up in her head. Reading too much into things, even after the kiss.

 

            “It’s not presumptuous,” Lena said after a moment. “And it’s not … it’s not all in your mind. It’s in my mind too.”

 

            “Hm,” Kara said, her lips twitching at the corners as she fought back a smile, making a right turn and sliding into a parking space outside a building with a red brick facade. “Then I’d like to get to know you better if that’s okay with you. And I want you to know me too. So … my sister.”

 

            Laughing, Lena opened the passenger door and climbed out of the car, cake cradled in her arm as she walked over to the parking meter and slipped in a few coins, adding a few extra, knowing that Kara had a bad habit of getting parking tickets. She knew that already, even after a short while of being around her.

 

            As Kara stepped onto the sidewalk, Lena gave her a bright smile, bundled up in the warmth of her coat and her scarf. A fine drizzle started to mist in the cool air as the sky darkened to a deeper shade of grey, and she glanced around quickly, finding the street empty of anyone paying them any attention before she reached out for Kara’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

 

            “I want to get to know you better too,” Lena quietly said.

 

            Eyes shining with a pleased look, Kara squeezed her hand in return, before she led Lena up to the door a few buildings down and let herself in with a key. It was a large, squat building, made with red brick and large loft windows. It looked like it had once been a factory or a warehouse in the last century, but had been renovated into a series of apartments. They climbed up three flights of dark wooden stairs until they reached a black door, the paint peeling slightly, and Kara knocked.

 

            It was only a moment before it was pulled open to reveal a brunette - Lena recognised her immediately as the woman that had been accompanying Kara to the Grammy’s after party - and she hung back as Kara gave her sister a tight hug, before turning to face Lena, a happy smile on her face.

 

            “This is Lena,” Kara said, beaming as she took her coat off and left her shoes on the rack inside the door.

 

            After introductions were made and she shook hands with Alex, feeling surprisingly at ease, Lena followed suit and left her coat on a hook and her leather brogues sitting beside Kara’s sneakers. Kara’s hand brushed her arm and Lena gave her a reassuring smile as she followed the two sisters into the apartment. Looking around, she took in the modest size of the loft, the red-bricked walls and the shelves of cameras, lenses, the white backdrop with the tripod set in front of it, the photography books on the coffee table.

 

            It was homely and functional, and she was made comfortable on a low grey futon, Kara next to her and a cup of strong, black coffee cradled in her lap. Her scarf lay abandoned over the back of the futon, too warm to be needed inside, and her cake had been placed in the fridge by an appreciative Alex. As she looked around the place, taking in the framed photos and the studio ring lights and boxes of equipment stacked around the place.

 

            “Do you like photography?” Alex asked as she took a seat on a circular ottoman, noticing Lena’s interest in all of the equipment.

 

            Turning towards her, Lena smiled, “I’m not much of a photographer myself, but I appreciate the art of it.”

 

            “Of course you do,” Alex said with amusement, “you’re an artist yourself.”

 

            “After a fashion.”

 

            “She’s being modest,” Kara said, laying a hand on Lena’s knee as she gave her a warm smile, “you should hear some of the stuff she’s got for her next album.”

 

            Alex laughed, raising her eyebrows slightly, before climbing to her feet again. “I guess we’ll leave that for another day; I doubt you want to sing in front of someone you just met. I expect that it’s a very personal thing for you, especially given the lyrics you write.”

 

            Relief washed over her as Alex quickly assuaged any attempts to get her to sing, which Lena was grateful for, although she wouldn’t have minded at all. It was personal for her though, and singing to crowds of a few thousand people was already nerve-wracking enough for her, and even softly singing to Kara in her apartment made her pulse race, especially under her intense stare.

 

            “I suppose you feel the same way about your photos,” Lena said with a wry smile.

 

            Shrugging, Alex walked over to the kitchen and started pulling things out of cupboards. In a large mixing bowl, she measured out flour, dusting her black t-shirt white, and took a sip of her coffee.

 

            “Kara doesn’t though. She thinks that art is made to be shared with everyone.”

 

            “I’m an actress!” Kara exclaimed, “I act. I perform on a stage or in front of a camera. What would I be if I didn’t share myself with everyone?.”

 

            Lena let out a snort of laughter and Alex sighed from the kitchen, craning her neck to give her sister an exasperated look. “Well you were born to be seen, I won’t argue with you there.”

 

            “I wasn’t born for it, but I was definitely pushed towards it,” Kara laughed, rolling her eyes before she looked at Lena, “I was kind of … being used to fulfil my mom’s dreams. You know, child star pushed towards acting because their parents are living vicariously through them.”

 

            “Oh.”

 

            She laid a hand on Lena’s arm and gave her a lopsided smile, “not to say that I’m not doing it for myself now. I love what I do. But yeah, I was too young to even really understand it at the beginning. When my parents died, I kind of … felt closer to my them - my mom especially - and acting kind of gave me an outlet for my grief. That and having the sister I’d always wanted.”

 

            Alex snorted and gave her sister a dry look from across the room, the click of a stove being turned on before blue flames bloomed beneath the frying pan. “Which part was the outlet? The constant arguing?”

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly, Lena gave Kara a mild look of surprise. “You didn’t get along?”

 

            “Not at first, but Eliza was too busy with work to take me to all of my auditions and stuff, so Alex would get sent along with me and Cat, my manager, on the weekends. We didn’t really have much to do in all the downtime except learn to get along.”

 

            “You have a brother, right?” Alex asked, ladling pancake batter into the pan, “what about you two?”

 

            Lena shrugged slightly, “he’s my biggest fan. I mean, he’s a few years older than me, so of course I was his annoying little sister and he was my mean older brother, but then he went to university and … I missed him. We don’t get to see each other much anymore, so we’ve learnt to appreciate each other, now that we’re older.”

           

            “And what does he do?”

 

            “He works in finance.”

 

            “In Ireland?”

 

            Shaking her head, Lena took a sip of coffee. “London. Lex was already at Oxford when we moved to London, and he stayed there after graduating. So did my parents.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Kara gave her a searching look, “do you miss it there?”

 

            Pressing her lips together in a line, Lena shrugged slightly, “I do, and in Ireland too, but it’s not so bad here, and my work’s important to me. America is … different, but I guess you have to make sacrifices to achieve your goals.”

 

            “Mhm,” Kara hummed in agreement around the rim of her coffee cup, before setting it down on the coffee table and climbing to her feet, her hand resting on Lena’s shoulder for a moment. “I hear you. Travelling so much can be a pain, but it’s worth it to see the finished film at the end of it all. Spending months in a new place can be exciting though, you must love touring.”

 

            Kara wandered towards the kitchen as she spoke, easily falling into place beside Alex as she grabbed plates and cutlery. Quickly climbing to her feet, Lena went to help her set the table, relieving Kara of the stack of plates and setting a place for three on the round wooden table.

 

            “Touring is fun. I opened for a few different people around America in my earlier days, but I just finished my own first tour and we went to a few overseas places. Even made it as far as Australia.”

 

            “Oh, I love Australia,” Alex wistfully replied, “I went there on vacation after college to expand my portfolio. The reds and oranges in the Outback make for such beautiful photos.”

 

            “Yeah? You’ll have to show me sometime.”

 

            “I’d love to go to Ireland too. I hear the countryside there is beautiful to shoot.”

 

            Lena smiled, thinking about her home there and the acres of land around them. She missed it there sometimes. Missed the green and the drizzly days under greys skies, the ivy-covered house and the flowering fields in summer. It was perfectly idyllic, and she was sure she remembered those memories with more fondness than they’d been born from, but she was fond of her home and couldn’t help but feel wistful about it.

 

            “Mm, I think you’d love it there. There’s this place we used to vacation in the summer sometimes, just for the weekend, not too far from the beach. It was such a lovely little spot. Sometimes I wish we’d never moved to London, but, well, I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”

 

            “Do you go back much?”

 

            “To Ireland? Very rarely. Only three, four times since we left.”

 

            She found the conversation flowing so easily as they set about getting breakfast ready, slipping from one topic to the next. Kara and Alex spoke of their childhood in Midvale, of their work in acting and photography, of the places they’d been and of their mom, while Lena told them about her music and her family too, swapping stories and asking questions with eagerness. It was nice, and it felt so normal to Lena that she was left with a pang of homesickness. She spent so much of her time alone that seeing the two sisters laughing as they botched flipping pancakes made her think of her brother, and their talk of Eliza made her think about her mother and all of their travels together as Lillian supported her through the early days of her career.

 

            Yet it was a nice feeling of homesickness, the kind that made her grateful for all of those memories she had with her family, and as they all sat down to eat, coffee cups refilled, Lena found that she was glad she’d come. Not only did she already feel like she knew Kara better, just from seeing the way that love seemed to spill out of her around her sister, or the way that her kindness was so obvious in the way that she pulled out Lena’s chair for her and made sure her glass of orange juice never strayed beneath half-full, and she felt warm and welcomed in the cosiness of the loft.

 

            After she’d finished helping Kara wash the dishes, the two stars side by side in front of the sink, washing and drying, she helped her make tea, while Alex cut the Victoria sponge cake into three slices and they settled back around the coffee table. Rain lashed at the large windows, trailing down the square panes, and Lena hugged her tea to herself, leaning back against the sofa as she listened to Alex tell a story about one of Kara’s auditions that she’d accompanied her to. By that point, Kara had already dozed off, leaning against the cushions on the futon with her hand still curled around the handle of her mug, dregs of tea cooling as she slept.

 

            “She’s always worked too much,” Alex said as she finished her story and stared at her sister for a moment, prompting Lena to look at her. Her cheeks were rosy and blonde hairs curled around her hairline, and Lena found herself thinking how sweet she looked with her glasses askew and her lips parted as she breathed softly and slowly.

 

            “She loves what she does,” Lena murmured.

 

            “I guess you have to in your industry, right? I can’t imagine it’d be worth all the effort if you didn’t love it. All the four o’clock starts and long nights. All the invasion of privacy.”

 

            Lena quietly laughed, “yeah, that last one would definitely not be worth it.”

 

            “She’s too giving with that sometimes,” Alex murmured. “Too open and honest.”

 

            “They’re not bad qualities to have.”

 

            “Not at all, but it can become a problem. Especially where relationships are concerned.”

 

            Lena felt her face flush slightly, “ah.”

 

            She hurriedly took a sip of what was left of her tea, and Alex quietly laughed. “Don’t worry, I don’t think she’ll be too eager to broadcast this one.”

 

            “She said that she’s not … you know, out out.”

 

            “No,” Alex softly said, grimacing slightly, “apparently she’s not critically acclaimed enough to pull something that could be considered career suicide. Ridiculous, of course, but necessary.”

 

            “Right.”

 

            It bothered Lena that it was seen as necessary, for her as well as Kara, but it was a relief to know that they would be afforded some small amount of privacy because of their secrecy. While Lena had every intention of keeping everything as far away from the public eye as possible, even if they were seen together, at least everyone’s first assumption would be that they were just friends. It would be simply harmless. No one would suspect a thing, not with Kara’s recent break up with Adam Foster and the rumours circulating about Lena and a boyband popstar. It was almost amusing to see everyone speculate, while they couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

            It didn’t matter how far from the truth they were though, Lena was still wary about letting rumours spread about her - the bad ones, that was - and she was conscious of the fact that she’d let Kara drive her there and hold her hand in the street. A silly, trifling matter, but worrisome nonetheless, and she found herself feeling a little bit exhilarated as she enjoyed her morning at Alex’s apartment, knowing that if they’d been followed it would be so easy for someone to spill such a small, yet significant thing to the press. She imagined what the papers would look like tomorrow, what the gossip sites would be saying.

 

            When they left a short while before noon, Lena found herself a little warier when they stepped outside. She’d thoroughly enjoyed herself at Alex’s, and the time she’d spent with Kara, with the fleeting touches and playful jokes, but she opened her own car door and scanned the streets nervously as Kara drove her back to her apartment. No matter how badly she wanted to, Lena didn’t kiss her goodbye outside.

 

            Instead, she settled for gently brushing the back of Kara’s hands with her fingertips, murmuring a thank you for inviting her and opening the car door. She shivered as the wind tugged at her long curls, and her hand went up to touch her bare throat as she waved goodbye to Kara on the sidewalk, realising that she’d left her scarf at Alex’s place. Filled with the pleasant warmth that Kara’s company left her with, she smiled as she walked towards her front door.

 

            Kara wanted to get to know her better, she liked her, and Lena knew that she was falling fast, perhaps a little too fast, and all she knew was that it didn’t matter if she’d left her scarf at Alex’s because this was the start of something. She had all the time in the world to get her scarf back. As she stepped through the door of her apartment, the feeling of home washed over her, and it wasn’t because she was home, but rather the way that Kara’s eyes made her feel when she looked into them, and Lena let out a longing sigh as she fell back against her door.

 


 

            “That scarf,” Lena sighed heavily, mirth flickering in her eyes as she shook her head, her dark curls fanning out around her face. “You’d think that something as small as a scarf would be the most insignificant thing, even to a celebrity writing a song. But I wrote two lines about that scarf in one song, and my fans have never let it go.” She laughed, light and bemused. “I’m not even sure why they became so fixated on it, but it became this thing. Did I get that scarf back? Who took the scarf?”

 

            “Your fans have been known to be quite, ah, investigative.”

 

            “Of course, I can’t blame them. I leave clues in all of my songs, in the lyric books, in the symbolism of things in my music videos. There are a thousand references in them. But the scarf was just … this big thing that they’ve never let go. It’s been nearly nine years since I left it at Kara’s sister’s house, but they just formed this massive attachment to that one piece of clothing.”

 

            She sat there in silence for a moment, thinking about that scarf, and how unintentionally meaningful it had become. Not just to her fans, but to her as well. After all, she’d put it into a song. It had seemed like such an inconsequential thing at the time, forgetting that scarf at Alex’s apartment, and she’d forgotten to get it back half a dozen times afterwards. And then things had gotten hard and bad, and she and Kara had separated and she remembered that she’d never gotten her scarf back. Lena had found that scarf in one of her drawers at a later date.

 

            It had been funny then, how Lena had been so fixated on it, and on how Kara had kept it, and even after they’d gotten back together, she still let her keep that scarf. There had even been photos of Kara wearing it, and no one had even realised it. The thought that someone might’ve realised was what had made their relationship so thrilling though. As terrified as Lena was, especially about Kara’s recklessness, there was always that excitement and rush of adrenaline as they snuck about, hiding in the back of restaurants, flying around the world to steal a single night at an award show, where they’d brush hands in the crowded room, trying not to draw attention to themselves. There was a rush of exhilaration in the simple fact that Kara had kept that scarf after all those years, had worn it publicly, almost as if daring someone to take notice. And they never had; not about that.

 

            “Did you ever get that scarf back?”

 

            A droll smile curled one side of Lena’s mouth, a sentimental look softening her green eyes, and she gently shook her head. “No. No, I never did. She’s had it longer than I ever did, and I think for me, it just felt … well, there was always a part of me that thought that no matter what happened, no matter how many times we fell apart, how many memories we tried to suppress or belongings we gave back … there was always that one thing that she’d have of me. And I think she felt the same way because she never tried to give it back.”

 

            “She still has it?”

 

            “She still has it. And even though, as I said, I wanted her to keep it so she’d have just this one little, insignificant piece of me to remember me by, she has so much more of me than just a scarf. She has every bit of me; she always has.”

Chapter Text

This is looking like a contest

Of who can act like they care less

But I liked it better when you were on my side

The battle's in your hands now

But I would lay my armor down

If you say you'd rather love than fight

So many things that you wish I knew

But the story of us might be ending soon

 

Now I'm standing alone in a crowded room

And we're not speaking

And I'm dying to know

Is it killing you like it's killing me?

Yeah, and I don't know what to say

Since the twist of fate, when it all broke down

And the story of us looks a lot like a tragedy now

 

-

 

            After that first week, they fell into an easy routine. Lena wrote her songs and holed herself up in her apartment or the recording studio, Kara spent nearly every day and most nights on set, and they stole moments together in the early hours of the morning, both of them fighting to stay awake as their eyes itched and they pumped themselves full of coffee just so that they could spend more precious, secret moments together.

 

            It never felt hard, although it was frustrating a lot of the time, wanting to be around someone all the time, wanting to step outside in broad daylight and walk down the balmy streets while they soaked up the Californian sunshine. Instead, they had to stick to shadows, both of them knowing that even a whisper could turn into a lavishly spun tale about them stepping out together. With the pressure put on Lena to maintain her pristine public image, they couldn’t even venture out at night to dark clubs with private rooms at the back, and so they spent most of their time going for late night drives to breathe in some fresh air, instead of staying cooped up in her apartment.

 

            They’d drive all night, picking up coffee and roaming the streets while they listened to old tracks. Sometimes they’d find an abandoned place outside of the city limits to park the car, sitting in silence on the bonnet of the car while cool, dusty air swept in from the desert. They would hike up the rocky foothills and sit shoulder to shoulder on the sandy ground, amongst the scrub, looking up at the velvety sky as they counted stars and Lena occasionally recited new lyrics. One time they found themselves up river, sitting on a bench along the wooden boardwalk, taking in the city lights on the other side of the rippling water, and Kara had put her arm around Lena’s shoulder as if it had been the most natural thing in the world. It had taken her by surprise and she grew still for a moment before a smile broke out on her face and she pressed herself up more closely against Kara’s side. It was one of the small things they could allow themselves, under the cover of darkness, without a soul in sight.

 

            By the time the sun rose again, Lena would be back in her apartment, tired and happy, her eyes drooping shut and her lips slightly swollen from the urgent kisses they stole before dawn arrived and Kara had to go again. It was a patient game of longing and waiting, made only more exciting because of it, constant texting and phone calls building the anticipation of their next secret encounter. Every time Lena opened her door to Kara, finding her standing there, all blonde and cozy in her sweatshirt and jeans, makeup half rubbed off and weariness about her, she felt her stomach drop as she was struck again by how infatuated with her she was. She couldn’t help but be shy.

 

            Despite the fact that she suddenly found herself dating Kara, Lena was still very much putting out the image that she was single, to the world and to her family, and although she felt guilty every time she lied and said she was enjoying her freedom whenever she spoke to her parents and her brother on the phone, it made things less complicated. She didn’t tell Jess either, the person who had been her best friend since before she’d stepped into the limelight, not even when she flew to Texas one weekend to be her friend’s date to the wedding of a guy Jess had dated in college. They stood at the back, Jess an uninvited guest and Lena trying in vain to remain inconspicuous, and Lena was so amused with the whole affair that she wrote a song about it on the flight back to National City. She wrote a second one too, about Jess breaking up with that guy a few December’s back, finding it to be a bittersweet story that fit the tone of her album perfectly.

 

            While she was only gone for the weekend, when she came back, she invited Kara over immediately, and found herself relieved to see her again, the two of them stretched out on the wide sofa, a blanket draped over their legs as they listened to quiet traditional Irish music drifting from the speakers of the record player in the corner. Lena traced the bumps of Kara’s knuckles with her thumb as they lay there, quietly enjoying each other’s company and the feeling of their bodies pressed up against each other. They fell asleep there in the early hours of the morning, their voices grown hoarse with tiredness and their eyelids helplessly sliding closed, no matter how stubborn they were.

 

            It was the first night that Kara had ever spent at Lena’s place. The next morning, Lena jerked awake as yellow sunlight cut across her face, cursing as she struggled to sit up, eyes streaming as she blinked back black spots and a frown puckering her brow. It took her a moment to realise where she was, and she blinked slowly as she looked down at the blonde hair splayed across the decorative pillows, her heart leaping in her throat. She felt panicked for a moment, shading her eyes against the harsh sunlight streaming in before she carefully climbed to her feet and padded over to the window staring out at the eggshell blue sky and the sun that was already starting to peek over some of the shorter blocky buildings on the skyline.

 

            “What time is it?” Kara grumbled behind her, and Lena whirled around to face her, hand going to her messy curls as a sheepish look dawned on her face.

 

            Her eyes darted down to the leather watch on her wrist, although she already knew from the angle of the sun that it was too late for Kara to slip out the front door and pretend that whatever happened under the cover of night was less than it was. Neither of them had mentioned anything about it being serious between the two of them, but they didn’t have to say it to know that their moments with each other were a sort of relief. There was no pressure, no expectations and no need to pretend to be the people they had to be in front of the cameras.

 

            “A little after nine.”

 

            “Oh,” Kara said, shifting into a sitting position as she rubbed her eyes and ran a hand through her hair.

 

            Lena warily glanced down at the street below, at the slow-moving traffic and parked cars, and wondered if perhaps there was anyone waiting around outside to snap photos of her comings and goings. Over the last year, she’d had enough hits, front covers, headlines and awards to warrant at least a few paparazzi loitering outside her home on the off chance to catch her. But they’d catch Kara too, and what reason would someone she’d been photographed with once at a public party at the start of the year - one of many people she’d been snapped with that night - someone she wasn’t friends with, have for leaving her apartment building in rumpled clothes from the day before?

 

            Slowly climbing to her feet, Kara hesitantly cleared her throat and gave Lena a wary look as she took a slow step towards her. “So, um, I should probably go,” Kara said, shifting uncomfortably as she righted her lopsided glasses. “I have to be on set in a couple of hours for hair and makeup. I’ve got a night shoot.”

 

            “Sure,” Lena said, giving her a warm smile.

 

            “I’ll call you later?”

 


            “Okay.”

 

            Kara gave her a smile in return, tidying up the pillows and folding the blanket back over the back of the sofa, while Lena took their stained coffee cups to the kitchen and rinsed out the dregs. She cast furtive glances at Kara as she watched her tie the laces of her sneakers and pull a National City Sharks cap down low to hide her face. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but Lena couldn’t help but smile as she watched Kara hunch her shoulders slightly, her hands in her pockets in her customary way, trying her best to look inconspicuous as she walked down the hallway.

 

            She kissed Lena goodbye at the front door, a lingering, soft peck that made her insides flutter nervously, and they said goodbye with the promise of seeing each other again soon. Pushing aside worrying thoughts that she was going to be the next big scandal with photos of Kara leaving her place splashed on the front of every news outlet tomorrow morning, Lena softly sighed and went to cook herself breakfast. The apartment felt suddenly quiet and empty without Kara’s company to fill the space, and she ate her toast and drank coffee at the table, jotting down a few notes as she chewed thoughtfully, before she went to change into her sports gear and went for a run.

 

            Sweaty and exhausted, she stepped into her apartment and showered, slipping on a t-shirt and jeans as she idly passed the time. While the morning passed by slowly, she made pastry from scratch and set about making a pie with the berries in her fridge, her flour-covered fingers absentmindedly drumming a beat on the marble counters as she stirred the pot of berries, her thoughts drifting off. She thought of Kara mostly, and her abrupt departure that morning, telling herself that it was nothing to worry about, but scared that perhaps it was.

 

            The afternoon wore on and she was curled up on her favourite reading chair, reading a book of poems when there was a knock on the door. Glancing down at her watch, she set her book aside with interest, the carpet soft beneath her feet as she moved towards the door, wondering who was at her door. It was too early for it to be Kara, and she rarely turned up before the sun was fully set anyway. Quickly walking down the hallway she opened the door to reveal her mother.

 

            “Mum,” Lena said with surprise, her eyebrows rising as she stared up at Lillian, a bewildered look on her face as she took a step back.

 

            Her mother brushed past her, a leather suitcase in hand and a defeated stoop to her shoulders as she walked inside. Lena hadn’t seen her in a couple of months and Lillian hadn’t so much as mentioned visiting her daughter on the other side of the world.  

 

            “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Is dad here?”

 

            She followed after her mother like a puppy, asking questions at her heels and gravitating towards the kitchen. A window was open, letting in the mild breeze outside and her little orange tree grew steadily beside the large window pane. Setting the kettle on to boil, she grabbed two bone china teacups and cut up two slices of pie.

 

            “Your father’s in London,” Lillian flatly replied, dumping her case by the foot of a stool and climbing up onto a seat. She shed her coat with a flourish and abandoned it over the arm of another stool before she fixed her daughter with an unwavering stare. “Your father and I are separating, Lena.”

 

            Her stomach lurched as dread filled her, leaving her spluttering wordlessly as her mouth opened and closed. Feeling the blood drain from her face, she took a small step back, a wariness in her eyes, and silently stared at her mother. Water came to a boil behind her and neither of them moved for a moment as Lillian let her daughter absorb the information, while Lena had trouble doing so.

 

            “Separating?” she asked, her voice hollow and hoarse to her own ears. “No, you can’t- what? What do you mean you’re separating?”

 

            Lillian gave her a pitying smile, sliding off her stool and rounding the kitchen counters to cup her daughter’s face in her hands for a brief moment before she turned towards the kettle. Filling the rose-patterned teapot with steaming hot water, Lillian set everything in the middle of the counter and walked back around to her seat.

 

            She picked up a fork and took a bite out of the pie, softly laughing at the devastated look on Lena’s face. “Oh, darling, don’t worry. We’re not getting divorced.”

 

            “You- you’re not? What do you mean you’re not getting a divorce. You just said-”

 

            “We’re separating,” Lillian said with a wry smile, “we’ll sell the house in London and buy two smaller townhouses. One each. Don’t worry, we’ll still be at every event of yours. No one will know that we’re living apart.”

 

            Eyes wide and a sick feeling rising inside her Lena gave her a cold look. “This is about me, isn’t it? You won’t get divorced because of my career.”

 

            Sighing, Lillian set her fork down and gave her a soft look, “I’ve spoken to Rhea and Morgan and we all agreed it was for the best if we kept up the appearance that we’re married. Your father agreed too. It’s- well, your fanbase is made up of a lot of country fans and Irish-Catholics. They have a traditional sense of things. If word got out that your parents were divorcing, well … it would cause a scandal. It’s the same reason why we buried your father’s … liaisons.”

 

            Biting back her anger, Lena made a low sound of frustration at the back of her throat, while her mother made two cups of tea, stirring a lump of sugar into her own. Taking a scalding sip, Lillian paused for a moment, before her shoulders slumped slightly and she gave her daughter an apologetic look.

 

            “I’m sorry, Lena. I know this is hard for you, but … it’s not sudden. Your father and I have barely spoken in months, and when we have it’s been about you. We haven’t lived as a married couple in years. I’ve been touring with you and helping you with your career, and he’s been off on his business trips and helping Lex with his career. It’s for the best, love.”

 

            Lena felt like a small child as everything came crashing down on her, her breathing shallow as she struggled to breathe, a lump firmly lodged in her throat as she swallowed thickly, her eyes shining with tears. Her parents had fought, of course, and they’d spent months apart, most of it to help advance Lena’s career, that was true, but they’d never so much as whispered about separating before. The last time she’d seen them together had been at the Country Music Awards when she’s won multiple awards and they’d stood in the crowd clapping. But now, upon reflection, she could remember that they’d barely spoken a word all night, hadn’t so much as looked at each other as they’d mingled at different ends of the room at the after party. At the time she’d just brushed it off as a disagreement, but now she wondered how many signs she’d missed that their marriage was falling apart around her.

 

            “For the best?  Best of what, my career?” Lena laughed, the sound hollow and absent of any humour. “Is that all you care about? How successful I am?”

 

            “Lena,” Lillian tensely replied, a low warning in her voice, “you know that your happiness is more important to me than anything else. But I’m doing this to protect you too. Your father and I love you so much, before anything else.”

 

            “I don’t need your protection!” Lena snapped, “and you don’t need me for an excuse. If you want a divorce, then get a divorce. I really don’t care.”

 

            She picked up her tea and drained the cup, slamming the china down with more force than was necessary, before she angrily attacked her slice of pie. The berries were the perfect balance of sugary sweetness and tart sourness but it was like ash in her mouth and she pushed the plate away with a scoff, fork clattering uselessly against the worktop, her lips pressed together in a flat line as she braced herself against the edge of the counter.

 

            “We can’t just … get a divorce. We’re Catholic, we go to the same church.”

 

            “Catholic, right.”

 

            She rubbed a hand over her forehead, eyes squeezed shut as she silently fumed. There was silence for a moment as she tried to sort through everything, through the news, the reasons, her feelings for Kara, and all she felt was frustration. Every part of her life now hinged on what the public thought about her. If she had a negative public image it could harm her sales, if her next album didn’t sell well then she’d grow stagnant, and if her career came to a standstill, her record deal would be shelved for the next new thing to come along. And she cared about her career - of course, she did - but that didn’t mean she had to be okay with all of the restraints it came with. Her parents shouldn’t have to lie for her benefit, even if they used their religion as an excuse, and she shouldn’t have to hide the fact that she was dating a woman from everyone .

 

            “So you’re okay with separating? That’s not a sin? And you barely even blinked at dad’s affair. You could excuse that too - even take in me . That’s not a sin to you either. But you won’t get divorced?”

 

            “Lena-”

 

            She banged a hand against the counter, “I like girls. Is that a sin to you too? Or can that one be excused because you feel like it? Hm?”

 

            Her mother froze, the cup of tea clinking on the saucer as she put it back down, her lips parting with surprise as her eyes widened. There was a momentary pause and wariness lurked in Lillian’s eyes, before her mother’s face relaxed into a look of humour as she smiled and gave her daughter an exasperated look.

 

            “Very funny.”

 

            Lena was rigid as she stood across the counter from her mother, a dark look on her face as she ducked her head down and looked at her mother through her lashes. Embarrassment washed over her as she realised her mum thought that she was joking, and her cheeks flushed pink as she hunched her shoulders and rounded the counters.

 

            Lillian’s hand fell on her arm, stopping her in place as she walked past her, rushing to escape the uneasy tension of the conversation. “Wait,” her mother softly said, her voice full of quiet accusation and dawning realisation, “you’re serious.”

 

            “It doesn’t matter,” Lena stiffly replied.

 

            “God, Lena, no. No, no, this isn’t funny, you can’t just-”

 

            “What, be gay?”

 

            Her voice was full of snark as she rankled at her mother’s tone, pulling her arm away from Lillian’s touch. Without another word she stalked off to her bedroom, leaving her mum sitting at the kitchen counters with her cooling tea and the pie she’d baked. Lena had to resist the urge to slam the door shut behind her as she was wont to do when she’d been upset when she was younger, and her eyes prickled with tears as she thought about what a mess everything had become in such a short amount of time. Kara had left quickly that morning as if she’d suddenly gotten cold feet after spending the night, her parents were separating because they couldn’t bring themselves to get divorced, for appearance's sake, and she’d tried to come out in a fit of anger and had been dismissively brushed aside by Lillian.

 

            Bundled up beneath her blankets, a thousand angry words bursting to break out of her as she scribbled messy lyrics in her journal, none of it making sense but helping her release some of the roiling tension inside her. She still felt as if she was going to explode, her eyes burning with the threat of tears as she wallowed.

 

            It was an hour before she was disturbed, the sky softening to pinks and purples, before darkening slightly as time slipped by, and she sat on her massive bed with the upholstered headboard and dull gilt trim, lounging on a mountain of pillows with crumpled pieces of paper littered around her. There was a gentle rap on the door and she sullenly stared at the white wooden door, studiously ignoring her mother standing outside. Lillian respected her privacy enough to leave her alone when she didn’t answer her knock, but after a series of banging pots and pans, the sound of a knife on a chopping board and drawers and cupboards opening and closing, her mother called out her name for dinner.

 

            As much as she wanted to stay holed up in her room, Lena had skipped lunch and her stomach was starting to growl, so she grudgingly climbed off her bed and stalked out of her room, dropping down onto a seat at the table and looking down at the dinner in front of her. It was beef hotpot and a pang of homesickness struck her as she stared down at it, at the dish that reminded her of when she was young. A lump rose in her throat and she had to swallow thickly so that she could force down a mouthful, wishing that she could enjoy it more. She’d always loved her mother’s cooking, and despite how hungry she was, Lena didn’t have much of an appetite.

 

            “How long?” Lillian eventually asked as she took a seat across from Lena and started to eat.

 

            Lena glanced up, a bemused look on her face as she stared at her mum with wonder, her spoon raised halfway to her mouth. “How long? What do you mean, how long? My whole life perhaps?”

 

            “How long have you known?”

 

            Awkwardly clearing her throat, Lena frowned down at her food, unable to meet her mum’s questioning stare. “I-I don’t know … fifteen, maybe.”

 

            “But you’ve always loved boys ,” Lillian said, grasping for anything to try and reason with herself, “all of your songs-”

 

            “They’re not all true, mum. They’re stories.”

 

            “But how do you know?”

 

            “Because it’s who I am!”

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Lillian reached for a glass of water and took a sip. “It could just be a phase.”

 

            Lena bit back a huff of annoyance, a flicker of irritation crossing her face as she fished a potato out of the broth. “It’s not a phase . I am who I am, and quite frankly, I don’t need your acceptance, mum.” She let out a nervous laugh, running a hand through her curls as her eyes stung with tears and she ducked her red face down again. “It’d be nice, but I don’t have to justify who I am to you.”

 

            “But … we’re Catholic.”

 

            “Enough with the religious make believe shit!” Lena snapped, her chair legs grating on the tiles as she pushed her chair back. “You can’t pick and choose when it’s convenient for you to follow the bible. You can’t put your marriage on hold and let your husband have an affair and act as if that’s any less of a sin in some old book.”

 

            “Lena-”

 

            “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she interrupted, “I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

 

            She left her mother to finish eating alone, leaving her food cooling in a bowl on the table, feeling flushed with anger and close to tears as she walked back to her bedroom and shut herself back inside. Changing into her pyjamas, she crawled back beneath the blankets and switched on a lamp, sitting in the dim, golden glow of the room as she picked up a paperback off the nightstand and opened it to a random page. It was To Kill A Mockingbird , her favourite book, and she’d read it at least a dozen times already and was comforted by the familiar words as she distracted herself.

 

            Her mother brought in a cup of tea for her, leaving it on her nightstand and mumbling a quiet apology, before leaving her alone for the rest of the night with a backwards look of regret. Lena didn’t so much as look up from the page as she tensed, waiting for Lillian to try and talk to her again, and her body went slack with relief when Lillian left. With a cup of tea balanced precariously in her lap, she read long into the night, her eyes growing leaden as tiredness crept up on her. It was a little after midnight when she got a message off Kara and she was still brooding too much to reply. Kara was still at work anyway, and Lena was tired. She turned the lamp off shortly after that, the paperback thumping on the nightstand as she abandoned the book and rolled over. Despite her troubled mind, she fell asleep easily but slept restlessly, and when dawn came again she found herself in an even darker mood. And she still had to face her mum again.

 


 

 

 

            “Have you ever been in love?” Lena suddenly asked.

 

            It caught Leslie off guard, and the interviewer paused for a moment, eyebrows rising slightly before she let out a quiet laugh. Cocking her head to the side, the blonde thought about it, briefly, and grimaced. “I suppose so.”

 

            Letting out a quick laugh, Lena gave her a tight smile, her eyes shining with mirth. “Horrible isn’t it? It makes you vulnerable, to let someone get inside you with the power to mess you up. It’s beautiful but dangerous. But there’s something worse than that; letting the people who have raised you, loved you, nurtured you your whole life have such an influence on you makes you a lot more vulnerable than love ever will.”

 

            She paused for a moment, her eyes straying towards her mother. Lillian stood at the back of the room, where she’d been for the duration of the interview, standing with Mercy and Rhea near the row of neat bookshelves. Her arms were folded over her chest and she stood impossibly tall in her heels, proud and cold as her expression turned stony. Even from across the room Lena could see the regret flickering in her mother’s eyes. What she was talking about now was old news in their family, a squabble that had been short-lived and put to bed a long time ago, yet it wasn’t Lillian’s proudest moment and Lena felt a stab of guilt for bringing it back up.

 

            But it had been a devastating moment for her, a time where she’d been more vulnerable than ever before, more vulnerable than her music had ever left her, and it had hurt her more than she’d ever said for her mother to reject her so quickly, even if she’d eventually come around to the idea. It had driven her and Lillian apart for a while, made things tense and uncomfortable, even more so hindered by the fact that her parents had separated and Lena didn’t know what to say.

 

            “It’s hard when you look up to your parents, idolise them so much and want to do everything you can to make them proud. And then you disappoint them. I’ve always told my mum everything, and so I told her that I loved women, and I just- I’d never felt more vulnerable than in that moment. And she didn’t accept me, and that hurt so much. The worst part was that it wasn’t me that had changed, just how she saw me.”

 

            “Aren’t you afraid of getting that reaction from the rest of the world?”

 

            Lena laughed, her eyes crinkling at the corners, and she shrugged carelessly. “I was . That’s why I kept it a secret for so long, but now … what else do I have to lose? I’ve lost my pristine reputation, I’ve been branded a whore for dating too many men, I’ve proven that my career is anything but over. The only thing I have left to stake is my love. And I’ve learned through many trials and errors that at some point, you have to do things for yourself, and not for everyone else.”

 

            “So you’re doing this for yourself? Why?”

 

            “I don’t know. To absolve myself of my guilt. To be completely honest. Because I want to be known for my intelligence, my kindness and bravery, not for some slanderous comments and a string of failed relationships. I want people to see me for who I am, and be true to myself. Unapologetically. And I know that I don’t have to defend myself to the world, and I don’t owe anyone any explanations - I could just as easily parade myself around with a woman and let everyone make their own deductions - but I just want to speak openly for my own sake.”

 

            “So this isn’t about Kara?”

 

            Lena tilted her head to the side and smiled, her cheeks dimpling as her eyes crinkled. “Of course it’s about Kara. Haven’t you been listening?”

 

            Leslie laughed, delightfully surprised and gestured towards Lena as she smiled with amusement. “Please, continue. I’ll do my best to pay attention.”

Chapter Text

And I remember that fight, 2:30 AM

As everything was slipping right out of our hands

I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street

Braced myself for the goodbye

'Cause that's all I've ever known

Then, you took me by surprise

You said, "I'll never leave you alone."

 

You said, "I remember how we felt, sitting by the water

And every time I look at you, it's like the first time

I fell in love with a careless man's careful daughter

She is the best thing that's ever been mine"

 

-

 

            With her fitful sleep, Lena found her temper short and her eyes gritty with tiredness as she slinked about her apartment, trying to avoid bumping into Lillian, who she could hear moving about the place from behind her closed bedroom doors. Instead, Lena sat on the floor, back against the foot of her bed, one of her guitars cradled in her lap and a melody running through her head as her fingers picked it out and applied it to the lyrics scrawled in the journal laying open in front of her. She’d been up since the crack of dawn and had spent all morning writing it, crossing out words with so much frustration that she’d torn the paper with the nib of her pen, her fingertips stained with blue ink and the threat of tears just below the surface.

 

            She wrote for five days. Her phone rang off and on, all texts and messages unanswered, she barely ate a thing, and the only time she left her room was for coffee and to shower. In that time, a song about her parent’s separation formed beneath her fingers, about all those times they’d ignored each other right in front of her, in a room crowded with people, avoiding each other right under her very nose. She was angry that she hadn’t realised it. Lena had been so involved in her own career, soaking up the limelight and the success, mingling with other artists and singers and models, that she hadn’t even realised her family was falling apart around her.

 

            Shortly after midnight in the early hours of the morning on the sixth day, she was brimming with so much frustration that she couldn’t stop herself from pounding away at the drums. Kara had called her that first day and hadn’t messaged her since, hadn’t come over too, and her mum was still living at her apartment trying to catch her in one of her quick dashes to the percolator. Lillian wanted to talk. Lena wanted to do anything but talk. Despite her exposed openness in her songs, she’d never liked to be vulnerable in person. Her music was her outlet, to say the things that she was afraid to say in person, to be honest as much as she was willing to be, without having to face the repercussions of her words. In a song, she could make up whatever story she wanted to to hide the real truth, but there was always the raw emotion in the lyrics, whatever it meant.

 

            So she avoided her mum, and Kara avoided her, and she vented in the only way she knew how. A room in her apartment had been sound proofed for that purpose, a baby grand piano tucked away in one corner, three different guitars, a banjo and a ganjo on stands or in heavy leather cases along one wall. And a drum kit. The room was like her own personal studio, without all the equipment and perfect acoustics that a studio had, but it was always her starting place. It was littered with amps, recording devices, spare drumsticks and trailing wires snaking across the floor.

 

            It was in that room that she holed herself up in in the early hours of that morning, no windows and a single light keeping the darkness at bay, and she sat down in front of the Tama drum kit, mahogany wood polished to a rich shine, thin shells resonating quietly as she gently bumped the snare drum as she took a seat on the low stool. The guitar was her forte, and the piano, having spent hours pouring her blood, sweat and tears into perfecting her techniques with those instruments, but over the years, with lessons from the drummer in her band, from curious questions asked in the quiet moments in the recording studio, she’d picked up some knowledge about drums. The rest she made up herself.

 

            Time slipped by quietly and uninterrupted as she pounded at the drums, brassy cymbals crashing, her curls sticking up on end near her hairline while tendrils snaked down out of her bun, the Metropolis Meteors football jersey she was wearing as a nightdress clinging to her chest and lower back as she put every pit of herself into the music. It wasn’t even about the music really - when she took the song into the studio, they’d work off the guitar piece she’d written and her music producers would work with her and her drummer until it sounded right, with little regard to the racket she was causing in the room - but she felt better as she created a cacophony of noise.

 

            It was a little after two when she stopped, her phone buzzing on the floor beside her as Kara’s name lit up the screen. It was the first time she’d called in days and Lena warily stared at the screen, before answering the call. “Hello?”

 

            “I’m at the door.”

 

            Without another word, Lena hung up and walked out into the dark apartment, her footsteps quiet as she snuck through the place like a thief, careful not to wake her mum. She was relieved that Lillian was too deep asleep to have heard Kara’s knock as she made her way towards the door, a little out of breath, cheeks rosy and forehead damp with sweat. It was too late to primp and change so she went as she was, dishevelled and messy, and opened the door to reveal Kara waiting patiently outside.

 

            There was a momentary pause as they looked at each other before Kara gave her a sheepish smile. “You weren’t sleeping, were you?”

 

            “No. I was working on some music.”

 

            “Good, I thought maybe my call had woken you up,” Kara softly said, reaching out to touch her arm as she leant in to kiss her.

 

            Jerking back as she flinched, Lena felt her cheeks turn red as guilt immediately washed over her. It wasn’t Kara’s fault, and she silently berated herself before stepping forward and planting a featherlight kiss to her cheek.

 

            “Is everything okay? You haven’t answered my texts or calls.”

 

            “Oh everything’s grand,” Lena said with bitterness, giving her a wry smile.

 

            There was a momentary lapse as Kara shifted uncomfortably outside Lena’s door, eyes darting around to make sure no one was lurking about after midnight, while she waited for Lena to let her in. But Lillian was inside and Lena was highly aware of the fact that her mother could appear at any moment, and she cringed at the thought of a woman at her daughter’s door in the early hours of the morning. It was one thing for her to tell Lillian that she liked women, but another thing for her to bring one back to her place and introduce them. Lena stayed where she was, blocking the doorway as Kara gave her a bewildered look.

 

            “What’s wrong? Is it because I stayed the other night? Because I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that-”

 

            “Can we do this tomorrow?” Lena asked, squeezing her eyes shut as she rubbed her forehead, a headache starting to come on as she got herself worked up. She felt hot and tired, and suddenly spent after whaling away on the drums until she’d exhausted herself. All she wanted was to sleep and pretend that everything was okay for a few more hours. Her voice was hoarse and her eyes were ringed with dark circles from her restless nights.

 

            Kara frowned. “ Tomorrow ? You’ve been ignoring me for days ; will you even answer the door tomorrow? I just- I thought everything was going perfectly and now it just … it all feels like it’s slipping right out of our hands. You won’t even look at me.”

 

            Raising her eyes, Lena gave her a pointed look, but her eyes started to fill with tears as she thought about how wrong everything had suddenly gotten, and how Kara could feel it too. With looming certainty, she knew that this was the last thread of the carefully constructed net she’d built that was about to come undone. They’d had their fun, but Kara had tired of the secrecy and sneaking about.

 

            “Of course it’s slipping out of our hands. Everything is. My mum turned up out of nowhere and told me my parents are separating. I told my mum that I’m gay and now we can’t even be in the same room together.”

 

            “Wait, what. Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” Kara quietly asked, reaching up to cup Lena’s face in her hands.

 

            Turning her head to the side, slowly pulling herself away from Kara’s touch, Lena felt her eyes fill with tears as she let out a shuddering breath, anger burning slowly inside her. “How could I tell you? You just- you left the other day. You woke up and it was like you couldn’t get out of here fast enough. It’s not my fault you fell asleep on my couch, it didn’t mean anything. You didn’t have to shut me out; you could’ve just told me.”

 

            “Told you what?”

 

            Frustration welled up and hot tears spilt over, tracing their way down her cheeks, and Lena blushed with embarrassment, her face turning red as she cried in front of Kara for the first time. She felt silly and childish, crying about her parents and being ignored, but there was so much going wrong that she almost felt sick, her stomach twisting itself uncomfortably every time she was reminded of the mess of things. Rejection was one more that she didn’t want to deal with right now, and she couldn’t bring herself to stay at her apartment and argue with Kara in hushed voices while her mum slept a few rooms away, oblivious but so close to waking up and finding them together.

 

            Stepping out into the hallway, almost pressing up against Kara as she shut the door behind her, Lena walked away, bare feet slapping against the marble floor as she swallowed thickly. The elevator was just a few metres away and she jammed her finger into the button as she blinked back more tears, listening to Kara’s damp sneakers squeak on the floor as she walked after her in a daze. “I’ve been left before. I’ve gone through it all already, the cold feet, the distance, being ignored. I don’t want to play games with you.”

 

            The doors slid open and she stepped inside the left elevator, pressing the button for the lobby and watching Kara lunge forward a moment too late to stop the doors from closing, a look of understanding lighting up her face as she gave Lena a panicked look. It was only as she stood in the elevator, amidst the marble and polished, expensive wood, the gold railing along the mirrored wall at the back, that she realised she was barefoot and swimming in a football jersey, no keys and no phone, with nowhere to go. But she had to go somewhere .

 

            Stepping out into the lobby, she paused as she looked at the street glistening in the faint mist of rain before the elevator behind her dinged and she stepped through the automatic doors.

 

            “Lena! Where are you going ? You’re not wearing any shoes!” Kara called after her, arm shielding her eyes from the light drizzle as her sneakers pounded on the concrete.

 

            Shivering slightly in her nightdress, a fine mist coating her hair and skin, Lena swallowed thickly as she blinked back tears. Her shoulders were hunched and she let out a shuddering breath as she braced herself, coming to a standstill on the damp pavement, just outside the doors. Kara’s hand landed heavily on her shoulder a moment later, as if she was afraid that Lena would take flight again and disappear before she could stop her. Slowly, Kara drew her around to face her.

 

            Looking up, Lena met her blue eyes, her own swimming with sadness and heartbreak as her bottom lip trembled. Tutting, Kara palmed a tear off her cheek before cupping Lena’s face in her hands.

 

            “Hey, hold on,” Kara breathlessly said, a pleading look in her eyes as she looked down at her, brow wrinkled with concern. “Wait, wait, wait. You’ve got it all wrong. I’m not leaving you.”

 

            Kara’s voice cracked slightly with panic, and her shoulders slumped as she softly exhaled. Choking on a small sob, Lena gave her a confused look,

 

            “Listen to me,” Kara said, her voice growing hoarse and her eyes burning intensely in the darkness. Streetlights brightened the night to a dark grey, shadows forming shapes out of the darkness as halos of white light split the inky blackness, and Lena ducked her head down as Kara cradled her cheeks in her warm hands. “We are not your parents. Okay? We’re not going to make the same mistakes as them; we’ll make our own. And I’m going to stick around to make them. I just- do you remember that night, by the water? I’ve never felt more safe or more peaceful in my life. I feel like that all the time when I’m with you, and I look at you and … it feels like I’m seeing you for the first time all over again. I know that you’re careful and scared about what this could mean if other people find out, and so am I, but we can’t be over yet. We haven’t even gotten to the good part.”

 

            “No?”

 

            Kara’s eyes crinkled at the corners as a breathtaking smile flitted across her face, and Lena felt her stomach lurch as she peered up. “Not even close. Because I’m falling in love with you, and that’s only the beginning. I don’t have cold feet, and I’m not ignoring you, and … I want to stay over and have it mean something the next morning, and, well ... you’re the best thing that’s ever been mine.”

 

            And then Lena kissed her. Crushing herself against Kara, her fingers knotting in the grey sweatshirt, she kissed her boldly, until the tears in her eyes dried up and the coldness inside her warmed beneath Kara’s gentle touch.

 

            She kissed her until there was more happiness inside her than sadness until they were both shivering in the midnight air, Lena barefoot and damp, Kara’s eyes bright with the thrill of admitting the truth, her eyelashes beading with the spring rain as they stood in the silence of the early morning. Lena’s cheek was pressed against the soft fabric of Kara’s sweatshirt, the faint echoes of her heartbeat audible as she closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh smell of rain, the crispness of the damp air and the smell of motor oil and dust on the pavement, feeling her body relax against Kara’s.

 

            Eventually, they both came out of it in a daze, blinking slowly as they stood in the shadows of the building next to Lena’s, Kara’s fingers tracing the curve of Lena’s cheekbone as they stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. Under the cover of night, stars shining like flecks of dust sprinkled across the sky and rain steadily dripping off gutters as drainpipes gurgled, it felt like they were in a dream, everything so calm and serene. It was like magic, and Lena was entranced by it, never wanting it to end.

 

            Afterwards, she couldn’t bare the thought of going home, back up into her apartment, shamefaced and unable to meet her mother’s eyes, so she let Kara bundle her up in her car, a worn denim jacket slipped on over her jersey, and drive her across town to her apartment. They held hands over the console the entire drive home, and Lena was blindsided by humour as she wondered for a moment how she could’ve thought that they were anywhere close to being over, because it was true that they hadn’t even made it to the good part yet, and her heart lurched every time that Kara ran her thumb over the back of Lena’s knuckles. A few months was a relatively short amount of time, and she wanted more. She wanted everything with Kara, and it scared her just how intensely she felt about her.

 

            It scared her when Kara brought her up to the third-floor apartment she shared with her friend and co-star, Lucy Lane, introducing them so easily at three o’clock in the morning as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Lucy didn’t so much as bat an eyelid, greeting her warmly before she left, on her way to set for an early hair and makeup call. Lena wanted to be able to so openly introduce her to all of her friends too, to have them act as if it was normal and expected. It scared her when Kara led her towards her bedroom, their hands linked as Lena trailed after her, and she shut them into the dark bedroom, streetlights turning the room grey as Kara quietly moved around in the darkness, before she found a lamp switch and bathed the room golden. It scared Lena because she so desperately wanted Kara, and she told her as much as she slipped off the denim jacket, tossing it over the back of a round wicker chair, and shed her damp jersey.

 

            She woke on Sunday morning to sunlight slashing across her face and pooling on the oriental rug taking up most of the hardwood flooring. Amongst a sea of heavy blankets, some woven in silk with exquisite flowers stitched on it, others made with soft velvet in rich, dark shades, Lena emerged in a mess of curls, her skin bare against the satin sheets and body aching ever so slightly. She was alone and she lay against the pile of pillows for a moment as she let herself wake up slowly, taking in the bedroom. There was an old vanity made out of dark wood, with an antique chair pushed in and a clutter of glass perfume bottles and makeup on top. A large gilt mirror sat behind it, spotted with black dots and holding polaroids and other memorabilia. A changing screen stood half folded behind the wicker chair she’d thrown Kara’s denim jacket over and she spotted her jersey flung over the top of the screen, her face flushing as she recalled stripping it off and tossing it aside.

 

            At the sound of gentle singing drifting through the heavy wooden door, she slipped out of the comfortable bed and grabbed a silk robe hanging amidst shawls and coats on a rack, tied it on and poked her head out of Kara’s bedroom. Sunlight streamed into the airy apartment, and she looked around at the exposed beams, the collection of rugs and paintings, mismatched furniture and general clutter, smiling as she found a few things clicking into place. Over the past couple of months, she’d never set foot inside Kara’s apartment, with Lucy usually home and Lena’s apartment offering more privacy, and she found that a few more things about Kara clicked into place as she looked around.

 

            Wandering over to the kitchen, where Kara was scrambling eggs in a pan, Lena leant against the counters as she watched her, the pile of messy blonde locks on top of her head, the strands trailing down to the nape of her neck, the willowy gracefulness of her movements as she seemed to sway back and forth in the kitchen, fetching a sprinkle of pepper, stirring the eggs, lost in the tune she distractedly sang. Lena had made enough noise for Kara to be aware of her presence, and she was content to sit in silence, eyeing the terracotta floor tiles and the overwhelming amount of plants that sprung to life around the place, until a plate was set down in front of her and Kara rounded the counters to kiss her hard, pressing a cup of coffee into her hands.

 

            “Good morning,” Kara smiled, her fingers delicately smoothing Lena’s curls down.

 

            “Morning,” Lena said, her eyes softening as she looked up at her.

 

            They ate in silence, Kara sneaking in some eggs while Lucy wasn’t home - she was trying to stick to their vegan diet, but she found herself cheating at it whenever her friend wasn’t home to lecture her - and Lena was happy to let the morning slip by as she enjoyed to calmness of the morning, feeling more relaxed than she had in days. Kara lounged in an armchair, reading the newspaper, her legs crossed at the knee and the bicycle tattoo on her foot illuminated by a shaft of sunlight as she sipped at her coffee. Lena would’ve been happy to stay there all day, eyeing the delicate bones of Kara’s feet, before they gave way to her slender dancer’s calves and soft thighs, the hip bones that jutted out slightly and the ripples of her ribs with the black words written across them. She’d fallen asleep last night to Kara reading excerpts of Alice In Wonderland to her, while her fingertip idly traced the letters of the quote from it inked onto her ribcage. We’re all mad here.

 

            Eventually, she had to go home though. Kara had the rest of the day off and she drove her home in a borrowed pair of clothes, the white blouse hanging a little too loose on Lena’s shorter stature, the jeans rolled up slightly and the sneakers a size or two too big, but they smelled like Kara’s perfume and laundry powder, and she breathed in the smell as she sat in the front seat of the Audi, her fingertips idly trailing patterns over the back of Kara’s hand as she stared out at the window. It was like the weather was attuned to her moods, last night’s downpour reduced to a cloudless sky and muggy heat as National City bloomed in full spring.

 

            When they pulled up outside of the rise of condos, Lena stayed in her seat, looking up at the windows reflecting harsh sunshine and feeling her stomach roil nervously. Kara laid a hand over hers and gave it a gentle squeeze, cracks radiating from the corner of her eyes behind her sunglasses as she smiled. “Do you want me to come up with you?” she asked, so much care and determination in her words that Lena knew that she would do it if she asked her to.

 

            “No, it’s okay,” she sighed with resignation.

 

            “Are you sure? I’ll come up with you and face your mom and tell her that she’s wrong.”

 

            Lena let out a choked laugh, feeling some of the tension inside her dissipate as a warm feeling kindled in her chest. “Yeah? Well she’s not home anyway. She’ll be at church. Probably praying for her gay daughter’s soul.”

 

            Kara snorted and leant over, pressing a quick kiss to Lena’s mouth, before pulling back too quick for Lena’s liking. They’d been sitting outside for long enough to have realised they were alone at the moment, but they weren’t willing to be too careless. Still, she wished that she could kiss Kara properly, brazenly on the sidewalk, and not a chaste peck behind the tinted windows of her car. With a soft sigh, Lena said goodbye and climbed out of the car, trudging back inside the building and up to her apartment. She had a spare key above the doorframe - a terrible habit for her safety - and she let herself into the empty apartment, feeling better than she had when she’d left. But there was still her mum to worry about.

 


 

            “I remember that night vividly,” Lena murmured, “I was angry and half in love with her and sorry that I was being so cold, but I was hurting so much that I didn’t know how to be around someone else. I’ll admit, I was embarrassed. I liked to be vulnerable on my own terms, in my own words, after I’d had the time to edit them and to fix it until the meaning was clear ... but when you’re angry and sad and heartbroken, you don’t have the luxury of perfecting everything before it goes out into the world. All I have are my words. They’ve defined and created my career, but there are moments when they’ve utterly failed me and I’ve said the wrong thing, and I blamed her for this idea that I’d created in my head, that everyone left and she was just like my ex. It’s been in those moments that Kara’s always known exactly what to say. I was the writer, but she was the actress who always hit her mark, delivering the right words at the right time.”

 

            She fell silent for a moment, and the room was so quiet that all she could hear was her own heart beating and the gentle patter of rain on the window. There was a sombre feeling descending on the room as if the grey skies and her sad story had infused the day with a drab lifelessness, and Lena almost wished that it would pour down. There was something so comforting about rain lashing the windows that had always made her feel safe, and she found herself growing antsy as the tension in the room grew to almost be too much for her in the flat silence. The only thing she could do was keep talking, fill it up until there was nothing else left to say, and she could escape the stares that pinned her to her seat.

 

            “I don’t think Kara was even aware of how much that moment meant to me, with what she said. To have grown up with no friends, to be bullied all the time and rejected and abandoned. Even my own birth mother gave me up willingly, and it just- well, that really affects the kind of person you grow up to be. All I had was my mum and dad and brother, and our family quite literally fell apart, and then here was this beautifully kind woman, telling me she was staying and that she loved me. No one had ever told me they loved me before.”

 

            “But it didn’t last.”

 

            With a sad smile, Lena met Leslie’s blue eyes and despite the sadness of the moment, there was a tender look on her face. “Nothing ever does.”

Chapter Text

And it's not theirs to speculate

If it's wrong and

Your hands are tough

But they are where mine belong and

I'll fight their doubt and give you faith

With this song for you

 

'Cause I love the gap between your teeth

And I love the riddles that you speak

And any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos will be ignored

'Cause my heart is yours

 

-

 

            Lillian ended up staying in a hotel after that first week, and Lena felt like she could breathe a little easier, without feeling like she was doing something wrong just for existing in the same space as her. Still, she was in a strange mood over the following days, happy with how things were with Kara, but feeling like there was suddenly a wall between her and her mother. She’d always been able to tell Lillian everything, but now she had secrets from her - big secrets - and she was starting to regret letting her anger get the better of her because somehow, her honesty didn’t make her feel better.

 

            That didn’t stop her from seeing her mother though, going out for late dinners at fancy restaurants, trying to diffuse the tension between them as they made stunted conversation about Lena’s upcoming album, about how she was liking the city and how Lex was thinking about going to Berlin for his birthday. She never mentioned Kara, and she was happy to keep sneaking around at night, keeping her a secret from her family as well as the world, but the secrets weighed down heavily on her.

 

            As happy and in love as she was, Lena wished that she could share that part of her life with her mum. When she spoke to Lex on the phone she wanted to be able to tell him about Kara, and she wanted to tell everyone the truth in her songs. Lena wanted to introduce Kara to her parents, fretting that they’d dislike her because she wore the wrong sort of dress or was too overly American, even for her American mother, not because she was a woman. She wanted a lot of things that she was too afraid to do, and this was one instance where being fearless despite her fears wasn’t quite within reach.

 

            So she stayed silent and told herself that she was taking baby steps, letting her family adjust to the idea of her loving women before she showed up with one on her arm and caused an even bigger rift between the splintering remains of her parents’ ruined marriage. She’d thought that everything had settled down for the most part though, her mother just taking her time to come to terms with the news, while Lena took some time to get used to her parents separation, but on Thursday morning, she was playing a few notes at her upright piano out in the open living room when her phone buzzed on the kitchen table.

 

            Climbing to her feet, she covered the keys with the fallboard, closed her journal and padded across the room, hoping that it was Kara messaging her in between takes. Her hopes sank slightly as she looked down at the message from Edge, and she quickly read over the contents of the text, calling her to a meeting at Edge Records’ headquarters in an hour. Biting back a sigh, she wondered what pressing album matters couldn’t wait and walked towards her bedroom to fetch her things. It would take her nearly an hour to make it to the office building in the congested inner city traffic, and she wasn’t dressed to leave the apartment.

 

            Rushing to change her clothes, she jammed her feet into a pair of sandals, grabbed her bag and a light denim jacket, and was out of the door a short while later. Sitting behind the wheel of her Porsche, she hummed out a vague tune and set her phone to record, making memos as she tried to piece together the music for her latest song. Over the past few days, she’d written four songs, and one showed real promise as a potential candidate for the album, which was nearly finished and just needed a few more tracks and some final polishing. The album shoot was scheduled for two weeks’ time, her and Edge had already had three different arguments about the album title - she’d wanted to call it Enchanted, for the night she’d met Kara, but he thought it wasn’t meaningful enough and she couldn’t tell him why it was so she’d settled on Speak Now - and she was stubbornly insisting that she would be able to finish off the album herself in the next couple of months.

 

            They were planning on releasing it in autumn, following the precedent of her last two albums, which meant that she’d need to release her lead single in a few months’ time and wrap everything up. It wasn’t even halfway into the year yet, but she could feel the pressure surrounding this album. Her fame was growing with each day, with each hit, and she needed to keep the ball rolling before she faded back into nothingness and let her career snuff out with a dull album that didn’t sell. But Lena was too wilful and headstrong to not put every ounce of herself into her work, and she had faith that the album would be a success. A part of her was determined to make sure it was because, for the first time in her life, it was personal. Too personal. It was about her and Kara, and her family and Veronica, and how all of these new changes in her relationships were affecting her. A part of her wanted it to succeed just so that she would know, deep down, even if only for herself, that her budding love for Kara was universal, that nothing changed just because she loved a woman, and that no matter if she changed the small details, her love was real to her and everyone else.

 

            But when she pulled up at the office and breezed in through the lobby, smiling at the receptionist and spending a few moments talking to a few of the employees crowded in the elevator, she stepped out onto Edge’s floor and found herself staring at the back of the CEO, who turned and gave her an easy smile as he beckoned her forward.

 

            “Hey kid, how’re you feeling?”

           

            She shrugged indifferently as he slung an arm around her shoulder. “I think I might have a new song for the album.”

 

            “Fantastic! You can play it for me after the meeting and we’ll see.”

 

            Giving him a warm smile, she let him guide her towards the conference room, and he opened the door before ushering her in to find three women already sitting there. Lillian, Rhea and Mercy. Pausing just inside the door, Lena blinked in surprise as suspicion crept up on her, and she realised that this wasn’t an album meeting. Her publicist and manager didn’t concern themselves with the tiny details about her songs and how they were produced and whether she needed to amp up the folk music aspect in one song and the country in another. Her mother wouldn’t have been called in either. With dread, Lena felt the blood drain from her face as she met Lillian’s eyes with an accusing look on her face.

 

            “You told them?!”

 

            “Take a seat, Lena,” Edge softly ordered her from behind, and she found herself stumbling forward, feeling numb as she took a seat at the end of the long table.

 

            She all but collapsed onto the chair, her hands trembling as she balled them in her lap, and she watched as Morgan Edge walked to the other end and sat down, staring down the length of the table as he reclined in his chair with an unreadable expression in his eyes. The room was dimly lit with yellow lights and bright sunlight streamed in through the wall of windows behind him, giving a glimpse of palm trees and dusty foothills on the horizon. She’d spent hours in that room, on both of her previous albums and the upcoming one, poring over possible album covers, debating track listing and discussing the details of her first tour. It had always been filled with passion and voices clamouring as they tossed ideas back and forth and hashed out their disagreements.

 

            Never had the room felt so quiet and tense and left her feeling cold inside as she stared down at the wooden grain, unable to bring herself to speak. It was a relief when the door opened again a few minutes later, and she eagerly looked up, hoping that it was some kind of business emergency that would mean that Edge had to rush off and she could postpone this meeting until another day, giving her some time to pull herself together. As she looked at the tall man that stepped in, she jolted with surprise in her seat as she took in the sight of her father.

 

            “Dad? ” Lena exclaimed, quickly climbing to her feet and rounding the conference table to hug her father.

 

            The smell of his expensive aftershave brought back memories of her childhood, and she pressed her cheek against the collar of his grey Italian suit jacket, unable to hold back a smile. It had been months since she’d seen Lionel and a long time since she’d spent any regular time with him. His arrival was completely unexpected, but she found herself glad for it and smiled up at him as she pulled back.

 

            “What’re you doing here?”

 

            “Your mam’s been up in arms about you being a wee lesbian and all, so I was summoned to come and sort out this business before it gets nasty.”

 

            Lionel looked down at her and gave her a quick kiss on her cheek, before he took a seat at the long table, leaving a considerable distance between him and his wife. Lena stood there spluttering for a moment, her cheeks turning red before she pressed her lips together in a flat line and sat back down at the table.

 

            “Shall we crack on? I had to cancel two business meetings for this,” he dad grumbled as he unbuttoned his jacket and lounged in the chair.

 

            “Two meetings ,” Lillian coolly replied, “well I’m sorry that your daughter’s life and career is an inconvenience to you.”

 

            Her father didn’t deign to reply, much to Lena’s relief, and they all sat in the heavy tension as they waited for someone to broach the subject. Morgan Edge was leaning back in his chair, legs crossed as he stroked his moustache, while Rhea gave Lena a shrewd look and tapped her pen. Mercy was looking at her vivid red nails, a bored expression on her face and Lena was nearly sick with worry as she sat stiffly in her chair, palms sweating and a lump stuck in her throat.

 

            “Well, to put it simply,” Edge drawled, clapping his hands down on the arms of his chair and pushing himself up in his seat, “we have a problem, and that problem needs to be extinguished.”

 

            “Problem?” Lena spluttered.

 

            “Yes, a problem. That is what it is, Lena.”

 

            She opened her mouth to protest, but Rhea held up a hand and gave her a grim smile, begging her to just listen for a moment. “What Morgan means is that … well, publicity-wise, it would be a big mistake if … this was to get out.”

 

            “It’d be a fucking PR nightmare, is what it’d be,” Edge bluntly cut in.

 

            “We just want what’s best for you, Lena,” Mercy soothingly replied, “we’re all a team here, and our primary focus is making sure that your albums sell and you don’t do anything to jeopardise that happening.”

 

            Her lips curled up into a tight, bitter smile, her green eyes flashing with anger, and she crossed her arms over her chest as she swivelled in the leather office chair. “And my being gay would kill my career. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?”

 

            Shrugging helplessly, Rhea gave her another grim smile, “well, yes. Essentially.”

 

            “Your demographic is deeply religious folk who want a good girl who’s all moony-eyed over boys and sweet and naive,” Edge said, waving a hand in a vague gesture, “that, I can sell. I can sell your love songs and all those teenage girls drink up all those relatable heartbreak and secret crush stories you spin. What I can’t sell to a bunch of tractor loving hillbilly’s and a bunch of Catholics is some lesbian love songs about you kissing other girls. And if I can’t sell that, your career goes down the drain.”

 

            Blanching, Lena opened and closed her mouth uselessly, angry tears pricking her eyes as she sat there and let them tear her down with the harsh truth. She knew it was the truth, of course, which was why she’d never told anyone before, even though she’d known she’d liked girls since she was a teenager herself, but it still hurt to have them rip apart the small shred of hope that perhaps they’d jump on board and support her. They could’ve pushed this angle, used her sexuality to push some progressive agenda that could help her sell more albums to a different group of fans. But clearly Edge didn’t think there was a market for it, and Rhea didn’t think that it would be good for her public image.

 

            “To put it plainly, Lena,” Edge said, “either you put out an album I can sell - one about boys and fairytale romance and heartbreak - you put out four more of those albums, or I shelve you and you stay locked in a contract with Edge Records until your career is so dead that no one would even want to sign you anyway.”

 

            “Okay, that’s-” Lillian interjected, an irritated look flitting across her face, but she trailed off as Edge waved her silent, leaning forward as he stared at Lena from the far end of the table.

 

            “I’m not being cruel. I’m not,” Edge continued, “but it’s the brutal truth. Everyone here knows it, and so do you, Lillian. It’s why you told us to begin with. You know it too, Lena. I know you do. And I don’t care who you love - by all means, do what you want in your own time - but in public, for the cameras and in your music, you’re playing a part, and I expect you to play it well. There’s millions invested in you, and it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I took a chance on you, and now you have to decide if you want the career you’ve always dreamed of, or if you want to walk away from it all.”

 

            Lena swallowed thickly, her mouth dry and her voice hoarse as she replied. “I’m seeing someone.”

 

            “What?” Lillian blurted out.

 

            “Who?” Rhea asked, pen poised in her hand as she looked expectantly at Lena, waiting to write down the name so that she could get ready to do damage control and spin whatever lies necessary to make a story disappear or seem harmless. There was nothing for her to worry about yet, but in this industry, it helped to be prepared.

 

            Grinding her teeth together, Lena closed her eyes, panic welling up inside as she struggled with how much she should share. Telling them that she was seeing someone, that her feelings were real and existed and weren’t just some faraway idea for the future, was one thing, adding another layer of complication to their predicament, but roping Kara in with her name made it very real. Rhea would reach out to Kara’s team, they’d go into panic mode, trying to do damage control without even knowing what they were trying to control, and Lena wasn’t sure if she was ready for the panic that would come crashing down on her relationship. It was precariously balanced between her and Kara’s careers and steeped in secrecy and she could already envision it all coming apart at the seams.

 

            “I won’t tell you,” she haughtily replied, arms folded over her chest as she stubbornly raised her chin, “you already micromanage my life so much - dye your hair dark, no more glasses, you have to stick to this diet because no one likes a fat popstar, don’t talk about politics - I won’t have you meddling in my relationships too.”

 

            She pushed her chair back and climbed to her feet, giving them all a sulky look before she stormed towards the door. Yanking it open, she stepped out into the cool hallway and walked towards the elevator. Jamming her thumb into the button, she hunched her shoulders and clenched her jaw, fighting back her anger and frustration as she forced herself to take shallow breaths. She felt exposed, having been led into a trap like that unprepared, and she couldn’t bring herself to sit in that room any longer and have them fill her head with their doubts. Lena already knew the risks, and she was walking a tightrope, but she was managing it. None of them have any idea what she’d been up to for the past couple of months; they had no idea about her and Kara, and it wasn’t up to them to speculate or make decisions for her for the sake of her career. It seemed so unfair to Lena that she had to pick.

 

            Heels clicked on the tiled floors and she willed the elevator to come faster, but a hand fell on her shoulder as it dinged and she was pulled around to face Mercy. There were pity and understanding in her publicist’s eyes, and Mercy gave her a small smile, before jerking her head towards the low leather bench set against one wall.

 

            “Let’s sit down for a minute and talk,” Mercy softly told her, steering her towards the bench.

 

            Body tense, Lena sat rigidly with her back against the wall, arms folded across her chest as she tried her best not to look like a petulant child. “I won’t let them tell me how to feel,” Lena bristled, “I signed a contract for music , not to have my life dictated by someone else.”

 

            Mercy rested a hand on Lena’s arm. “Your contract has a clause that you have to stick to the image that the label is trying to sell. Anything you do to jeopardise that gives them the right to terminate your record deal, or … well, shelve you. Look, I know it’s not ideal, but … well, no one in that room is asking you to change who you are.”

 

            “They are!”

 

            “No, no, Lena, they’re not. You can be whoever you want to be in your own time, but in front of the cameras, you need to be someone else.”

 

            “I’m not an actor , I’m a singer. If I wanted to pretend to be other people, I would’ve gotten a career in the film industry.”

 

            “Just … come back inside. Everyone in that room is on your side, okay? We all want to help you and do what’s best for you. Come back inside and we’ll talk through your options there.”

 

            She sat in sullen silence for a few minutes, the silence tense and uncomfortable, her eyes shut as she tried to focus on calming herself down. And then she sighed, deflating slightly as the tension bled out of her shoulders. Running a hand through her mass of curls, she nodded. Mercy gave her arm a gentle squeeze as she smiled, before she climbed to her feet and left Lena to follow after her. Stepping back into the room, she felt a little more subdued and took her seat at the end of the table again while Rhea settled herself back down on hers.

 

            “Right, so, as I was telling Lena, we all want what’s best for her, right? So let’s discuss how we’re going to manage this,” Mercy said, laying her hands flat on the tabletop and giving everyone pointed stares as her eyes roamed from one face to the next.

 

            Clearing her throat, Rhea lounged in her chair, legs crossed at the knee as she twirled a pen between her fingers. “It’s just not going to work unless we know who we’re trying to keep stories away from. Whether they’re high profile, if they’re going to cross paths in public, whether they’re already out are all things we need to know to try and come up with a good enough plan.”

 

            Lena considered that for a moment and realised that Rhea was right. If she wanted to make sure that she could still keep seeing Kara in secret, with no repercussions in her career, she’d have to give them everything so that they knew what kind of lies to spin to keep people from catching wind of their relationship. They were doing okay themselves, but there was only so long that Kara could keep sneaking into her apartment in the early hours of the morning, and disappearing before the sun came up before they were caught. And if Lena was being honest, sneaking around was starting to get a lot less enjoyable than she’d first found it. The thrill was wearing off and she wanted to be able to go out for breakfast and lunch and dinner, to introduce her to her friends and go bowling together or visit a museum. The most they’d ever done together was go to old antique stores staffed by people who were lucky if they’d turned on a TV that was in colour in the past twenty years.

 

            “Okay, I- just give me a minute,” Lena slowly said, “I need to make a call.”

 

            It wasn’t up to her to decide whether she told them about Kara, knowing that very few people knew that Kara was attracted to women as well as men, and she didn’t want to out her to a room full of people just to make it easier for herself. Slipping her phone out of her bag, she stepped out of the room again, this time with nervous anticipation instead of anger, and she let herself into the glass-walled office of Morgan Edge, taking a seat in a brown leather armchair and letting out a shaky breath before she dialled Kara. Lena knew that she was on set today, but she was hoping she would catch her in between takes or during a short break, her teeth worrying at her bottom lip as she listened to it ring. It wasn’t a decision she wanted to make without Kara’s approval, and she closed her eyes as her heart raced in her chest.

 

            “Hey, you.”

 

            She was almost breathless with relief as her eyelids fluttered open, and the worry in her heart was brushed aside by the simple act of hearing Kara’s voice. “Hi.”

 

            “What’re you up to today? I thought you’d be busy writing.”

 

            “I’m, uh, I’m in a meeting. It’s … well, everyone knows about me. Me and you. But they don’t know it’s you.”

 

            There was a brief pause. “Okay. Are you okay?”

 

            Blowing the air out of her lungs, Lena let out a shaky laugh and ran her fingers through her hair, slowly growing more and more dishevelled looking. “I mean … yes, but no.”

 

            “What can I do? Do you want me to leave-”

 

            “No, no,” Lena hurriedly assured her, “you can’t just leave set. You’re the star.”

 

            “I know, but-”

 

            “They’re making a plan. Damage control and public image and all of that. And they want to know who I’m seeing. I didn’t tell them your name. I didn’t- well, you’re not out-out, and I-”

 

            There was a quiet laugh on the other end of the line, and Kara softly sighed, “it’s okay, Lena, you can tell them. I just- well, I guess I’ll have to let my publicist know so they can get in contact with each other and sort this out between them. J’onn already knows about me, maybe they can coordinate.”

 

            Smiling slightly at her optimism, Lena softly sighed. “Sure.”

 

            “Sorry, I have to go,” Kara hurriedly replied, “we’re about to start shooting. I’ll see you tonight? I’ll bring Chinese food.”

 

            “Okay.”

 

            “Try not to worry your pretty little mind too much, okay? I know this all makes love look hard, but it’s simple really; I love you.”

 

            Laughing, Lena felt a warmth spread through her chest as she leant back in the chair, her cheeks turning pink with happiness, and she couldn’t help but smile. “I love you too. Have a good day.”

 

            She lingered in the office for a few more minutes, taking the time to collect herself, before she walked back into the room and firmly told them all Kara’s name and watched them flounder for a moment before everyone erupted into conversation. It was almost a release to tell someone Kara’s name, to admit that they were dating and make it real. If it was under different circumstances, she might even have felt happy about it, but at the very least, she was proud of herself and she resolved not to let anyone make her feel ashamed for it.

 

            It was a long meeting. They went back and forth for so long, debating the best way to manage how they were going to present her public image while she snuck around with a girl in her private life. That much was very clear, that there would be no publicity allowed. Not even so much as a whisper about them being friends. Edge was almost cruelly blunt with his strict instructions, leaving no room for misunderstanding as he made it obvious that if she failed at keeping her relationship a secret, that would be the end of her career. Lena loved Kara, but music was her life, and she knew that she would have to put it first, even if it made things harder for them.

 

            And then came the suggestion of a PR stunt in the form of a fake relationship manufactured by Rhea and someone else who was in the spotlight and looking for more fame or trying to hide their own secrets. Lena objected at the mere thought of parading around with someone else, forcing herself to pretend with some other man for the rest of the world, while she loved Kara in private, but the idea had already been put out, and everyone else was eager to take that pathway.

 

            But Lena already have enough buzz about her dating other men, even from so much as breathing the same air as them, and she stubbornly fought to keep that as a backup plan. If things progressed, if she was given an inch with her relationship with Kara, perhaps allowed to masquerade as friends, then perhaps she’d consider having a fake boyfriend. But it was already too much, and too much pressure with an upcoming album to finish, and she was weak with relief when Edge begrudgingly agreed with her and the matter was put to rest. For the time being, she was walking on eggshells and they were all acting as a flimsy wall to balance her when she stumbled. It was made very clear that she wouldn’t be allowed to fall very far.

 

            After what felt like the longest few hours of Lena’s life, the meeting ended, and she felt shaky and hollow as she walked from the building with her parents in tow. Her father was staying at a nearby hotel and kissed her on the cheek and insisted that he’d walk there and change, before coming to her apartment, which left her alone with Lillian as they both climbed into her car. Her mother had asked if she might come to Lena’s apartment for a cup of tea, and as much as Lena craved some time to herself, to muddle through what had happened and vent her feelings in the form of a very angry song, she relented and found herself sitting behind the wheel as she buckled herself in. The silence didn’t last very long.

 

            “Why didn’t you tell me you were seeing someone?” Lillian quietly asked, sitting in the passenger seat of Lena’s car. She had her eyes closed and was clutching her handbag in her lap, her shoulders tense and an air of sadness about her.

 

            Lena turned her key in the ignition and the car purred to life and she found herself unable to explain it delicately. She didn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings, to make her feel like she didn’t trust her with the truth. The truth was that Lena had been scared. She’d been scared that it would all be too much for Lillian, that the idea of having a gay daughter was already too much, without the added element of another woman in Lena’s life. A very real woman who she loved and wanted to bring home for dinner and take to family events. Her mother had barely looked her in the eye for the past week just at the mere mention of her liking women. And it wasn’t that Lillian meant any harm in it, and she was trying her best to come to terms with it, but it had left Lena scared that her mum would reject her in the worst possible way. And all she could think was that it was a good thing that she had her own money. It would break her heart to lose her family over this, but she could look after herself and she’d already put up the walls around her heart and tried to steel herself for the rejection.

 

            “Because it’s been hard for you,” Lena said, her voice low and shaky as she gripped the steering wheel hard. “And it’s been hard for me too. And I didn’t want to make it any harder.”

 

            “This is your life , Lena. And this makes it harder whether you want it to or not.”

 

            “Well I’m sorry for being such a burden,” Lena snapped, “I’m sorry that I’m such a disappointment because I’m dating a woman. And I wish I could make you feel better about it, but it’s not up to me to do that. I can’t help it. I can’t just … change how I feel. Trust me, I spent years trying to convince myself that they weren’t real feelings, but … they are.” Her voice cracked embarrassingly and her eyes were glassy with tears as her frustration grew, but the words just kept tumbling out of her. “And I’m sorry that you care more about what God says on the subject than me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to what an old book says is right and wrong over my own intuition. And it wasn’t up to you to decide who should know about my private life; you shouldn’t have called this meeting.”

           

            Making a sound of frustration, Lillian gave her a stern look, “but it wasn’t just  about your private life. This affects your career. I just- I don’t want you to make a mistake and ruin the rest of your life over the way you think you feel right now. You’re young and you might-”

 

            “Do not say I’ll change my mind,” Lena snapped, colour rising in her cheeks as she turned the corner a little aggressively and accelerated, “it’s not a phase, it’s not-”

 

            “I’m not saying that! I just mean that … maybe you should wait until you find someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with. She might be your first love, but she might not be your last, love. Is it really worth staking everything on her when you’re both so young?

 

            “I think it is,” Lena stiffly replied.

 

            “Well … okay.”

 

            They drove the rest of the way in silence, Lena brimming with resentment and her mother sitting there in discomfort, unease emanating off her in waves as she tried to accustom herself to the fact that her daughter was dating a woman and was ready to risk everything for her. Perhaps Lena was foolishly naive, but she really did think at the time that Kara was everything she wanted and that nothing could tear them apart unless they let it. And they were happy and in love, and Lena refused to let a wedge be driven between them. For now, she was at a fragile stalemate with her record label and her team, and with an album to finish, she didn’t have time to hash out the finer details of what they could and couldn’t make her do concerning her own relationship. She just hoped that this wouldn’t all blow up in her face before she had time to try and smooth it all out.

 

            It was clear that there would be a lot of smoothing with her mother though. It wasn’t exactly anything Lillian did, but there were connotations to her words and some of them were bluntly honest with her thoughts, and while she hadn’t rejected her daughter yet, there was an undercurrent of disapproval in everything from her looks to her posture. Lena wasn’t sure how she could fix things there, and there was the snarky self-righteous part of her that didn’t want to. Why should she have to fix her mother’s feelings for her? It wasn’t her with the problem; Lillian should figure it out herself and decide whether her daughter was worth setting aside her prejudice, steeped in religion, or not. In the meantime, the best that Lena could do was keep her love life to herself.

 

            She drank tea with her mum at the dinner table, warm sunlight pooling on the table as the faint smell of oranges and rich earth stemmed from the potted tree near the windows, and the afternoon slipped by easily. Her father came over a couple of hours afterwards, wearing a freshly pressed linen shirt with his customary suit, rolling the sleeves up and discarding his jacket as he drank black coffee near the open windows. It was a warm day, the sky cloudless and a mild breeze flooding into the apartment as they all sat around together, but it was a strained atmosphere, and Lena didn’t like it.

 

            Her parents were stiff, but cordial for her sake, knowing that they would be forced together upon occasion for the sake of her career and wellbeing, and they all stepped around the conversation of their separation and Lena’s sexuality, while all being overwhelmingly aware of the elephants crowding the room. Lena secretly wished that Lex had been there to diffuse the tension. He’d always been good at that, and he’d already phoned her over the past week to see how she was holding up, and it would’ve been nice to have someone on her side. Her father hadn’t said much, but she sensed his disapproval, even if he seemed to be taking it a lot better than Lillian.

 

            As the day wore on, she was expecting them to leave. Both of them had their own hotel rooms and the days had been exhausting enough, but her parents stayed where they were as if trying to soak up as much time with her as they could. A pang of homesickness struck Lena, and she realised just how much she’d missed them now that they were there with her, and she wished it had been under easier circumstances. She wished that they were a real family together, playing scrabble and winding each other up like they had when she’d still been living at home when she’d play them songs in front of the fire and her dad would make hot chocolate on cold nights. She almost wished that they would go so she could hold onto those memories, instead of tainting them with these new aloof ones. Whatever other people thought, there was a certain sense of comfort in naivety, and she almost found herself resenting Lillian for ever telling her that they were separating.

 

            But things never quite worked out the way she intended them to. Lena loved to control her life, she loved to feel like things were her choice, like she was the one orchestrating it all - although she gave love its freedom, knowing that it could be fickle and unexpected - and she hated to lose that control. And there it was, happening again a little after seven o’clock, dusk nearly consumed by darkness and a knock sounding on her door, making her freeze up. Her parents were still there, bickering about something or another, and Lena’s frustration had built and built and built that she’d completely forgotten that Kara was supposed to be coming over. She had a relatively short day of filming - only fourteen hours - and Lena hadn’t expected her parents to come to her apartment after the meeting, let alone stay well into twilight. And now here they were, sitting at the table, with Lena’s girlfriend outside the door, unbeknownst to them, and Lena felt control slipping out of her grasp as she ran through the two outcomes of this situation. Either she went to the door and told Kara to go, or this was the moment that her parents would finally meet her.

 

            Neither of them was high on her list of preferences. She didn’t want to dismiss Kara so flippantly, even though she knew Kara would understand. Lena had agreed that she should come over after work, and she knew that she was standing outside with an armful of Chinese food, and she didn’t want to give up the night that she’d been anticipating with her. They spent so little time together as it was, and she cherished those moments in their secret world they built together. But her parents had only learned about her existence in Lena’s life a few hours ago, and she didn’t want to push it too far by inviting her in and pretending that everything was all okay.

 

            “Ah, that’ll be the fish and chips. Lovely stuff,” her dad said, clapping his hands together and climbing to his feet.

 

            Lena didn’t remember them agreeing on ordering fish and chips, too preoccupied with her own thoughts, and she quickly leapt to her feet. “I’ll get it.”

 

            Her dad settled back down on his chair, shrugging indifferently as he slipped her the notes he’d pulled from his wallet, and she gave him a wan smile as she took them and quickly rushed towards the door. Her heart was pounding as she tugged the door open, and as she had expected, Kara stood there, all golden and warm, the smell of spices drifting up from the bag she held and faint circles under her eyes. She was wearing a thick knitted cardigan over a baggy t-shirt and faded jeans, and she leant in to gently kiss Lena.

 

            “Hey, you look exhausted,” Kara said, giving her a grim smile as she reached up to tenderly stroke her cheek.

 

            “Yeah,” Lena murmured, rubbing her forehead, “yeah, I’m actually knackered. It’s, uh, it’s not really a good time right now.” She watched as Kara’s face dropped with disappointment, and Lena felt guilt well up. “I’m sorry, I know I said to come, but- it’s just-”

 

            “You got enough change there, love?” her dad shouted after her as Lena winced, a sheepish look on her face as she met Kara’s surprised crystalline blue eyes.

 

            “My parents are here.”

 

            Her voice was barely above a whisper and she half-stepped out of the doorway, closing the door slightly behind her as she felt her stomach lurch. Kara took a step backwards, a look of understanding on her face as she nodded. “Oh. Okay, I, uh, I’ll call you?”

 

            “What’re you doing, girl? Catching the fish yourself?” her dad asked, his voice closer now, and Lena softly swore as she found herself caught between her two choices. “Lena?”

 

            She had to push the door open further to step back inside, and she glanced over her shoulder at her father, who hovered halfway down the hallway, his forehead wrinkled with a slight frown. Kara was in plain sight behind Lena, and Lena closed her eyes as she let out a soft sigh. His eyebrows flew up and she could hear movement further inside the apartment, the sound of chair legs scraping on the floor as her mother eavesdropped. She felt her stomach drop even further as everything rose to a point of no return. There was no choice but to introduce them to Kara now, and she quickly turned to give Kara an apologetic look, before stepping inside and leaving the door open in a silent invitation as she faced her father.

 

            “Dad, this is Kara.”

 

            “Kara, is it?” he said, his brogue rough around the edges of her name, and he gave her an appraising look as Kara took a measured step inside, looking slightly put on the spot and mildly bewildered at the fact that Lena was letting her stay.

 

            Blinking in surprise, she took a quick step forward, juggling the bag of food in her arms to free up a hand, which she held out. “Yes sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Luthor.”

 

            Her father laughed as he looked down at Kara’s hand before he reached out and gave it a gentle shake, eyeing the blonde with amusement. “Well, best get yourself all the way inside before that food gets cold. Do you like fish and chips? We’ve got some coming.”

 

            She gave him a tentative smile before nodding, and Lena quietly shut the door behind them, her heart beating quickly in her chest as her palms went clammy. She mouthed an apology at Kara as she gently ushered her down the hallway, although there was a part of her heart that was soaring with happiness as a warmth spread throughout her; Kara had met her father, had shaken his hand, and she found that she loved that. She was nervous and scared about how the rest of the night was going to go, but there was a feeling of pleasure in the simple act of watching two parts of her life meet.

 

            As she neared the end of the hallway though, she took in the sight of her mother standing near the table, a startled look in her wide, green eyes as she stared at the newcomer. Lena took a hesitant step forward, a wary look in her eyes, and swallowed her nerves. “Mum, this is Kara.”

 

            “Kara,” Lillian said, giving her a thin smile, “it’s lovely to meet you. Lena’s been telling us all about you.”

 

            “It’s lovely to meet you too, Mrs Luthor,” Kara said, her smile slightly subdued.

 

            Taking the food off her, Lena set it down on the table, “Kara brought Chinese food.”

 

            “Oh, well, that’s … lovely. I’ll set the table.”

 

            Lena weakly sank down onto her chair as Lillian hurried into the kitchen, her back stiff, and pulled plates and cutlery out of cupboards and drawers. Her father found wine glasses and a bottle of Shiraz and brought them over. It was a few minutes of silence before the door knocked again, and Lena handed the crumpled bills in her sweaty hands over to her dad to go and fetch the fish and chips this time.

 

            In a few short minutes, the four of them were sitting at the round table, plates filled with their preference of food, and Lionel was pouring them wine. Uneasiness coiled in Lena’s stomach, and her shoulders were taut as she was coiled ready to spring to her or Kara’s defence, should her parents make any too judgement jabs. Lena drained her wine quickly and wolfed down her food, trying to end the night before it got too embarrassing for her. Sooner or later her mum or dad would say something that was a little too sensitive for Lena, who was already exhausted, and she didn’t want to cause any more tension between them. She was tired and irritable, and she just wanted them to go so that she could spend time with Kara.

 

            “I see you have a tattoo,” Lionel continued, his eyes trained on the hint of black ink of Kara’s bicycle tattoo showing from beneath the band of her sandals. “You know, in the bible, it’s considered a sin.”

 

            Kara speared a piece of fish on her fork, “I did know that, yes. I don’t really follow the teachings of the bible though.”

 

            “Oh, you’re not Catholic then?”

 

            At the shake of Kara’s head, Lionel’s mouth turned down slightly at the corners, and Lena gave him a sharp look from across the table. Lillian was quiet as she ate her food, leaving the conversation to her husband as she bottled up her criticisms. No doubt she would speak her mind to Lena on another occasion.

 

            “Would you like some sweet and sour pork, Lena?” Lionel asked, picking up the white box on his left and offering it across the pile of food to his daughter. Lena scooped some out onto her plate and mutter her thanks, before handing it back to him.

 

            He offered it up to Kara, who gave him a polite smile and shook her head. “No thank you. I’m, uh, I’m actually Jewish.”

 

            “Jewish?” Lionel blurted out, his eyebrows rising in surprise.

 

            “I don’t think her religion is the most pressing concern here,” Lillian dryly replied.

 

            “I’m didn’t say it was a concern , I just- well, I never thought that Lena would bring home someone who was … Jewish.”

 

            “You mean gay,” Lena blurted out. “Let’s not mince our words. I’ve already told Kara how you feel about it, and it doesn’t really change anything, so there’s no need to walk on eggshells.”

 

            Kara hesitantly cleared her throat, a strained smile on her face as she reached for her glass of wine. “I understand that it’s a bit of a surprise and that it might be hard for you, especially with the whole, ah, Catholic thing. And I’ve dealt with this before, so I get it, I do, but I love your daughter, and … well, I think that’s one thing we can all agree on, right?”

 

            Everyone looked at her for a few moments, before her parents shrugged and nodded, mumbling vague agreements, and Lena watched as Kara’s shoulders went slack and she smiled with satisfaction as she carried on eating. The rest of their dinner was by no means any less awkward or uneasy, but the tension was alleviated slightly and Lena could tell that her parents were trying to get to know Kara, even if it was only for her sake, making stunted conversation as they tried to find anything to talk about.

 

            By the time that her parents left for the night, both of them leaving separately in private cars, Lena was glad for the night to be over. She walked them both to the door when it was time for them to go, mumbling a goodnight and letting them both kiss her on the cheek, and when her mother had left last, she fell back against the door and let out a loud sound of frustration, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

 

            Kara called her from the kitchen a few moments later, and Lena sighed as she slouched towards her girlfriend, feeling so many things at once that she wasn’t even sure what to make of it. Things had gone far from how she’d planned it, and it hadn’t been as horrible as she’d expected, but it had by no means went perfectly.

 

            “I feel like screaming.”

 

            Turning with a teapot of boiling water and brewing tea in hand, Kara let out a quiet chuckle and carefully poured out a decent measure of amber liquid into the teacups she’d arranged on the counters. Stirring in some milk for Lena, she pushed the cup towards her.

 

            “That would ruin your angelic voice though. Here, have some tea instead.”

 

            “I won’t have a career to worry about needing an angelic voice if this all goes arse up. I’m going to end up as a judge on X-Factor, or worse , a contestant on Dancing With The Stars.”

 

            Laughing, Kara wrapped her in a warm hug, squeezing her tightly as she pressed a soft kiss to her dark curls. “It’s not going to be as hard as they’re making it out to be. People throw rocks at things that shine, and you shine so bright that they’re just … trying to be realistic, and that feels like they’re tearing you down, but really they’re just … well, being realistic. The world isn’t a kind place, and they want to protect you from that.”

 

            “And my parents?”

 

            “Look, I’m not going to pretend that it’s any of my business, and I know it’s different for everyone, but … they can’t hide behind their religion as an excuse. Eliza was so supportive of me and Alex, and I know that we were the incredibly lucky ones, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept that your parents aren’t so open to that. Is it a shock for them? Yes, completely. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be understanding, if not supportive. Talk to them. I’m sure tonight, meeting me, brought up a lot more concerns for them, and they probably have questions too. It’s not up to you to make them feel better about it, but you can maybe help them understand it a bit better.”

 

            “Right,” Lena mumbled, digging the heels of her palms into her eyes as Kara gently grasped her shoulders and held her close.

 

            “Tea,” Kara reminded her with a quick kiss on the forehead, “I’ll run you a hot bath.”

 


 

            “I’ll be honest, I lost my link to my religion there. You listen to my earlier albums and there’s a smattering of references to it, and I’ll be honest, I was never this devout Catholic, but I grew up with that. You know, I went to a Catholic boarding school with nuns, I went to mass all the time, the whole thing. It was kind of expected where I grew up in Ireland. I didn’t really have much faith in it all, but I remember that I used to love the church at boarding school.”

 

            “The church?”

 

            “It was really old and the acoustics were just perfect . I’d stand on the pulpit and sing songs by The Cranberries, pretending I was Dolores, and the words would just echo off the vaulted ceiling and it was the only time I ever really felt at peace in a church. Music had a way of making me feel this strong presence that connected everyone a lot more than believing in some God did, and I just- well, I built my career off of that. Of creating something real that connected us all. And then when my parents had trouble separating their religion from my personal life, it kind of … it put an even bigger rift between me and what I’d grown up believing. And I know that a lot of people have gone through a lot worse with this, with their coming out, but when you’re suffering through something, you don’t think that you’re lucky because you don't have it the worst, you don't think about other people because you're hurting and you just want it to stop. So I’ve always tried to do right by being so open with my love, because sometimes there are people who need just a little bit more of it than someone else. And just the idea that there were kids out there being told that their God hates them for their love just made me feel sad . I’ve never quite gotten my faith back because of that. Instead, I threw myself even deeper into my music, so that I could make that connection with the thing that brings me peace.”

 

            “You used your music to cope?”

 

            “Of course! I think for me, music has always been such a big outlet for everything I’ve felt. And everybody has that point in their life where you hit a crossroads, and you’ve had a bunch of bad days and there are different ways you can deal with it, and the way I dealt with it was, I just turned completely to music. I learned that there were two ways you can get through pain; you can let it destroy you, or you can use it as a fuel to drive you. To dream bigger, work harder.”

 

            Leslie gave her a knowing look. “Well given the sheer amount of success you’ve had, I guess I don’t need to ask where you channelled all that pain. Your songs … I mean, some of them are so personal about your heartbreaks. Did you ever stop and think that maybe you didn’t want to share something with the world?”

 

            Laughing, Lena gave her a wry smile. “All the time. Especially when it was about Kara. Sometimes … well, there are moments when I think I’ve been unfair in my songs, and maybe painted her in an unflattering light. Or there were moments where I lied about her appearance, made out as if she was another guy I was seeing with green eyes or a gap in their teeth, or wrote something that was ultimately small as if she'd done this unforgivably bad thing to me, and just, well, I acted like she was this idea, rather than a person. But I made the decisions to put those songs out, over and over again, and it wasn’t always easy, especially with the ones where I poured my entire heart out, but I always chose to do that. And I’ve never regretted doing that. Maybe how I did it, I suppose, and how difficult it made things sometimes.”

 

            “Did you ever fight about your music?”

 

            Screwing her eyes shut, Lena tipped her head back as she let out a loud laugh, clapping her hands to her heart as she trailed off into a groan. “Oh God, yes. So many times. I’d write about a fight and she’d ask me to play it for her, and then we’d fight again about how wrong I’d gotten it, and I just- I loved it. I loved how we pushed each other with our work. She’d make me rewrite things she didn’t like the sound of, I’d tell her that she was reading a line wrong, and we made each other better for it. We were always brutally honest with each other, sometimes at the expense of each other’s pride, but it was what we needed. We were good for each other, we just … we fit. Until we didn’t.”

Chapter Text

So I'll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep

And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe

And I keep up with our old friends just to ask them how you are

Hope it's nice where you are

 

And I hope the sun shines

And it's a beautiful day

And something reminds you

You wish you had stayed

You can plan for a change in weather and time

But I never planned on you changing your mind

 

-

 

            “I told you my story had three beginnings, right? But not every beginning coincides with a breakup. But if there are three beginnings, I suppose there are also three endings, and they are the breakups.”

 

            “Three breakups?”

 

            “Essentially, yes. We’d argue and call it off and come crawling back the next day, but those were just in the moment kind of things. They were never serious. But there were three serious endings, and I guess that this was the first.”

 


 

            As smoothly as everything had been going - for the most part - of course it didn’t stay that way. Lillian and Lionel went back to London after a few more days, and Lena kept Kara clear of them for the rest of their stay, and was filled with relief when they went. She missed them so much, but she couldn’t help but feel nervous when they were around, as if she was doing something wrong, even though she knew that she wasn’t. It was going to be hard for her to feel comfortable around them, but she hoped that distance would give everyone the time that they needed. Space would be good for them.

 

            But a week later Kara wrapped her movie and was going to Seattle to shoot a new film for three months. Lena had known about it, but it had seemed like such a distant thought, something that was so far away and outside of the bubble that her and Kara created. They were doing the best that they could with their light night visits and the occasional secret outing to an antique store or a coffee shop, but distance would be the real test. In their industry, nothing made or broke a relationship more than distance. Of course it was expected - Lena would be off touring after her album dropped anyway - but she was desperate to hold onto the moments that they had and silently hoped that the day would come slowly.

 

            It didn’t though, and sooner than she would’ve liked - a lot sooner - she found herself standing in her doorway with Kara, hugging her tightly and fighting back a wave of sadness. Loneliness welled up inside her, and Lena’s eyes burned with the thought of curling up in her bed alone, of pacing her empty apartment in the early hours of the morning, knowing that Kara wasn’t about to turn up after a long day of shooting. The knowledge weighed heavily in her heart and she clung to her a little bit tighter.

 

            Sensing her sadness, Kara pulled back and rested her forehead against Lena’s, her hands coming up to gently cup her face in her hands, her warm breath ghosting against her lips, and Lena closed her eyes as a lump formed in her throat. “I’m going to miss you,” she softly admitted, her voice cracking slightly.

 

            “It won’t change anything,” Kara gently assured her, “not for me and you. You can- you’ll visit. And I’ll be back for premieres and interviews. It won’t be so long.”

 

            “I know,” Lena sighed, her shoulders deflating as her eyelids fluttered open and she pulled back, a small smile curling her lips. She didn’t mention that when Kara finished shooting, she’d be getting ready to tour, and when she came back, Kara would be shooting again. It was a never-ending cycle. Instead, she cradled Kara’s upper arms in her hands and gently squeezed as she gave her a more convincing smile. “It’s going to be great. Seattle’s great. You’re going to crush it.”

 

            Kara quietly laughed, an anxious look in her deep blue eyes as the corners of her mouth quirked up slightly. She was nervous, but there was excitement brimming beneath the surface, and Lena was excited for her. They both knew that their careers were tricky, constantly requiring travelling and long times spent apart, and they’d stumbled upon each other in a good time when there were both in the same place at the same time for a solid block of time. Now was the real test, and Lena’s stomach tied itself into knots at the thought.

 

            Giving her another smile, she reached up and tenderly brushed a lock of hair out of Kara’s face, “go on then, you don’t want to miss your flight.”

 

            Ducking down slightly, Kara kissed her, her lips warm and hard against Lena’s, and she lingered for a moment, both of them savouring it before she pulled back. “I love you.”

 

            “I love you too,” Lena said, her eyes crinkling at the corners, “let me know when you land.”

 

            “Of course.”

 

            Stealing one more kiss, Kara stepped out into the hallway, and Lena lingered in the doorway as she watched her go, giving her a small smile and a slight wave when Kara glanced back over her shoulder as the elevator doors opened. Kissing her fingertips, Kara gave her a small wave in return as the doors slid shut and hid her from sight.

 

            Closing her eyes, Lena slowly breathed out and sagged against the doorframe, her heart weighing heavily in her chest, and she went back inside to her empty apartment. Pottering about in the kitchen, she tidied up and stared out at the pinpricks of light amidst a sea of darkness, sadness lying heavily on her as she brooded until there was nothing else to do but go to bed. She lay on the right side of the bed, pummeling the pillows into shape and feeling the coldness emanate from the empty space beside her. Over such a short period of time, she’d gotten used to having Kara curl up beside her, always a warm and solid presence, and it felt strange to go to sleep and not have to set an alarm to shoo her girlfriend out into the early morning darkness before they got caught.

 

            That first day was the hardest, knowing that things were different rather than feeling it. They didn’t get to see each other every day, even when they wanted to, so Lena didn’t so much feel that it was different to not see Kara, but the knowledge that she couldn’t was a constant nag at the back of her mind. It made her broody and irritable over the following days, as she went longer without seeing Kara. They talked as often as they could, and she fell asleep on the phone to Kara more than once, her eyes burning as she stayed up as late as she could to prolong their time together, but it wasn’t the same over the phone. She wanted to hug her, to run her fingers through her soft hair, kiss the underside of her jaw and trace her cheekbones with a soft touch. She’d never missed anyone before, not like that, and Lena realised it’s because she’d never had anyone to miss like that. It wasn’t like missing her family or Jess; it cut deep to be away from Kara, and as proud of her as she was for chasing her dreams, it didn’t make her miss her any less.

 

            They were only apart for three weeks though, before they saw each other again. It was Alex’s birthday at the start of June and Lena flew to Seattle to visit Kara. They were having a party for Alex out there, seeing as she’d joined Kara out there for a few weeks to shoot a few projects, and Lena had leapt at the chance to sneak out of town for the weekend and enjoy Kara’s company. She’d missed her more than she’d thought possible, and she was brimming with excitement as she packed her things and was picked up by a sleek black car and driven to a small, private airstrip on the outskirts of the city. Her bodyguard was accompanying her and she’d invited Jess too at Kara’s suggestion, both of them having become a little more open with sharing their relationship with those they trusted. Jess had taken it well, and she’d eagerly agreed to meet her in Seattle when Lena extended an invite. She was excited to see her friend too, but the thought of seeing Kara again made her heart soar.

 

            The flight wasn’t long, and the plane was tiny and all for her as she stretched her legs out in front of her, absentmindedly twirling a pen as she stared out the window and thought of new lyrics. She sipped sparkling water as she occasionally burst into a flurry of writing, crossing things out, humming a melody and then scribbling out more words, until a song started to take shape beneath the nib of the pen. It helped calm her down, and the flight passed by quickly.

 

            Before she knew it, they were descending, down through the puffy white clouds, while a mass of green and small mountains spread out below her, Seattle a grey sprawling maze beneath her, buildings winking in the sunlight as they sank lower, bypassing skyscrapers that jutted up from the urban mess of the city. Buckled in, she gripped the armrests and bit her bottom lip as she tried not to smile, peering through the oval window as her heart soared. Kara would be waiting for her, and that was all that Lena could think about.

 

            Wheels grazed the tarmac, bouncing and jostling the small plane until they came to a screeching halt, and as soon as it was safe, she threw off her belt and scrambled for her belongings with ink-stained hands. Handbag over her arm, her bodyguard grabbing her case and guitar, Lena was standing by the door, waiting for stairs to be brought over for her. She was jittery with anticipation, her heart racing in her chest, and as the door opened, she stepped out into weak sunlight and a mild breeze.

 

            The smell of rain hit her and she registered the figure climbing out of a rented grey Lexus, blonde hair turning to spun gold in the sun, and Lena’s face split into a wide smile as she ran down the metal stairs. Her feet pounded on the pavement and Kara met her halfway, catching Lena as she threw herself at her, and Lena’s stomach lurched at the quiet, familiar chuckle in her ear as she buried her face in the side of Kara’s neck. She could feel her heartbeat jumping through her shirt and she let out a faint sigh as she relaxed in Kara’s tight embrace.

 

            “Hi,” Kara murmured, her lips brushing her hair, and Lena couldn’t help but smile into her shoulder.

 

            Pulling back, she gripped her arms tightly, eyes shining with happiness as she looked into Kara’s blue eyes, creases radiating out from the corners as she smiled back down at her. The wind ruffled their hair and the air smelled of petrichor from the greenery surrounding the airfield, and Lena wanted to kiss her, in plain sight of the few airfield officials and the pilot, but she settled for looping her arm through Kara’s and eagerly walking towards the parked car. Her bodyguard followed behind and stowed her luggage in the trunk, before settling into the back seat. Lena made herself comfortable in the front, and Kara gave her an excited smile as she ran a thumb over the back of her knuckles.

 

            Lunging into an excited babble, Kara talked non-stop the entire way back to the rented apartment that she was staying at, and they were careful sneaking Lena up, although Kara assured her that they had so many people coming and going that no one would even notice. Alex was there, along with a few unfamiliar faces, who Lena was quickly introduced to. There was Winn Schott, an actor mostly known for his back to back stints on Broadway, Thara, Kara’s childhood best friend, Imra Ardeen, an English fashion model, two women called Pam and Susan, who were introduced as Alex’s friends, and Lucy Lane, who she already knew.

 

            She was quickly made welcome, a glass of wine handed off to her while Alex made a jibe at her being underage, and Kara laughed as she walked up behind her and wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging her from behind and resting her chin on her shoulder. Lena perked up at the casual gesture, loving the feeling of how normal it felt, with no one ogling them or making snide remarks about their relationship, and she leant back against her solid chest, smiling softly to herself as the comforting smell of Kara’s perfume enveloped her.

 

            They weren’t actually staying in Seattle, and after that first night, cuddled up against Kara’s side and waking to her arm thrown heavily across her waist, the small gathering of friends bundled into a few waiting cars and were driven back to the airstrip Lena had landed on. Jess has arrived that morning and Lena was all smiles as she nervously introduced Kara to her best friend, a glow of happiness about her as they all sat in the back of the car, chatting away as they drove through Seattle. A small jet was waiting for them on the airstrip, and they were all flown out to Ocean Shores, a small coastal sand-blown town on the waterfront. A few cabins had been rented for the weekend, and that night they all made it to the beach, Lena wrapped up in a sweater and faded jeans as she padded barefoot over the sand, breathing in the briny sea air as the wind tousled her hair. She felt peaceful as she rolled her jeans up and let the salt water ripple over her feet, listening to the shouts and laughter behind her as everyone made themselves comfortable on the skeletal trunks of bleached trees washed up on the sand. They had a cooler full of beer and they all lounged about on the sand as they watched the sunset.

 

            Kara wrapped an arm around Lena’s shoulder as they sat on the sand, leaning back against a log, a faded navy and white mehina cotton throw tossed over their legs as staticky music crackled out of a portable stereo and the sun faded into darkness and a smattering of silver stars. She didn’t get to talk to Kara much, but she was content with the feeling of her shoulder beneath her cheek, the steady beat of her heart and the swirling circle's Kara drew on the back of her hand as they listened to everyone talk. Whenever Kara laughed or spoke, Lena felt the deep reverberations of her voice in her chest, and it made her stomach lurch, reminding her again of how much she’d missed her.

 

            The short trip didn’t last long, and before she knew it, she was saying goodbye again. It had been a fun weekend, spent playing blackjack at one of the old casinos, horseback riding along the beach, listening to gulls wheel about above them, visiting the garish seafood themed restaurants lining the shorefront, and she found herself wishing that it could be like that all the time. But she had work, and so did Kara. Back in Seattle, they said goodbye, and she’d thought it would only be for a few more weeks - two months at the most - but it ended up being a lot longer than that.

 

            As she hugged her tightly, holding her for as long as she could while they swayed back and forth, memorising the feeling of Kara’s arms wrapped around her, Lena didn’t know that it would be a while before she felt them again. When they kissed goodbye, fingertips caressing jawlines and cheekbones, and their eyes drank in the sight of each other, there wasn’t even a shred of doubt in their touches and stares. Only sadness and love. Their goodbye was filled with the promise that they’d see each other again soon, not with a note of finality, like this was the last time. But the thing about the last time was that, at the time, you didn’t know it was the last time. And when Lena climbed onto the plane with a heavy heart, it was still whole - aching but very much intact - and it hadn’t been broken yet.

 

            She fell back into her familiar pattern upon her return to National City, spending her day's fine-tuning songs, debating whether the piano should be more prominent in a song, if the pitch was right, whether more backing vocals were needed. Each day she came home drained, her mind spinning with new melodies and debates about what the track listing should be. She was kept busy, and it grew harder to find moments to talk to Kara in between her shooting her film. But Lena missed her more than ever, finding herself leaving voicemails when her calls weren’t picked up, feeling frustrated as she tried to find the right moments to call Kara. Their schedules were fluid and constantly changing and packed, and in the brief moments they managed to catch each other, all of Lena’s troubles would fade into the background. It was just her and Kara in those moments, and the rest of it went away, the ache in her heart would recede and she’d look out of her apartment window and bite her lip as she smiled.

 

            Even when it grew harder, she never saw the ending coming. There were no warning signs. The two of them were still trying their best, they were falling more in love with every passing day, and they were counting down the days until they could see each other again. Kara had an interview with a late night talk show host for an upcoming movie and would be in town for the night next month, and Lena held onto that thought when she was overwhelmed with loneliness. They never made it to that night.

 

            It was late June when Kara called her in the early hours of the morning. Lena was still awake, trying to work out the chorus for a new song, and she dropped everything as her phone lit up in the dimly lit kitchen. Smiling, she answered the call and pressed her phone to her ear, her heart softening just with the anticipation of hearing Kara’s voice.

 

            “Hey, you.”

 

            “Hi. I, uh, I didn’t think you’d be up.”

 

            “I’ve nearly got this chorus sorted out. I just can’t quite get the melody right, but I’ve nearly got it. I can feel it,” Lena said, letting out an exasperated sigh, even though she loved the challenge of getting a song out.

 

            There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “Oh, yeah, that sounds great.”

 

            Lena hesitated for a moment, her brown wrinkling slightly, “is everything okay?”

 

            “Everythings … everything’s just- it’s hard. I miss you.”

 

            “Yeah, I miss you too,” Lena slowly replied, her frown deepening.

 

            Kara let out a shuddering breath on the other end of the phone, “I miss you, I do. I need you to know that. And I love you - I love you a lot.”

 

            “I know,” Lena murmured.

 

            “But it’s hard. I’m sorry, I just- it’s not a good time for me. It’s all … a bit much.”

           

            “Yeah,” Lena whispered, “I know, but you’re nearly done there. You’ll be coming home soon and-”

 

            “It’s not working , Lena. You and me … the distance is too much.”

 

            Realisation hit Lena like she’d just plunged into ice cold water, shocking her and numbing her all at once. Lips parting, the air in her lungs was forced out as her eyes widened, and her stomach filled with dread. Confusion washed over her as she stood there in silence, with silence on the other end of the phone, and she frowned as she swallowed the lump in her throat, trying to make sense of things. Everything had been fine. She’d spoken to Kara yesterday; they’d been laughing about something that had happened on set, and Lena had played her a new song. It had all felt normal. It had felt okay. But she felt sick as she realised how wrong she’d been.

 

            “What- what are you saying?”

 

            “I can’t do this anymore,” Kara said, her voice cracking with tears. Lena’s eyes prickled with her own tears at the pain in Kara’s voice, and a hollow emptiness opened up inside her. “I’m sorry,” she breathed, her voice hitching on a sob, “I know that I said- I said nothing would change, but that wasn’t true. And it’s not that you- it’s nothing anything you’ve done, it’s just- it’s not a good time for me. I can’t do this distance thing. It’s just … not working. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, really I-”

 

            Lena hung up, feeling her heart shatter as she stood there in the dim light of her empty apartment, numb with shock, but knowing that she hurt. Swallowing thickly, she squeezed her eyes shut, drawing in a deep breath and exhaling in one slow, shuddering gasp. Tears prickled her eyes and her phone buzzed in her hand, which was tightly clamped around it, and she felt her face flush with warmth as humiliation and betrayal washed over her. Letting out a choked sob, she forced her fingers to loosen and her phone clattered to the floor as she stood stiffly near the window.

 

            Another sob worked its way up her throat, and Lena slowly sank down to her knees, wrapping her arms around herself as she shook, a deep pain cutting into her heart as her bottom lip trembled. She knelt on the hard floor for what felt like forever, swallowing sobs as she sniffled, her eyes closed to the world as she tried in vain to keep her heart in one piece. Out of everything she’d imagined, she’d never thought that Kara would end things so suddenly, with no warning, no attempt to even try and fix it, and it left Lena feeling hurt and devastated and too drained to even feel angry.

 

            A small part of her mind softly intruded on her wounded thoughts, murmuring that maybe it was all a big mistake, maybe Kara would call her in the morning, when a new dawn shined down on the day, and she’d realise that her words in the early hours of the morning had been a mistake. Perhaps she’d regret it and confess that she was stressed about work, upset at the distance between them, but still so in love with her that she couldn’t possibly have meant what she said.

 

            But dawn came, painting the room in weak yellow sunlight as the sky turned tangerine orange on the horizon, and Lena sat with her back against the wall, eyes hollow and ringed with dark circles, red and puffy from crying, and she clutched her phone in her hands and waited for a phone call that never came. As in disbelief as she was, it was over, and Kara hadn’t even given her a proper reason. She’d never imagined that of all the ways that things would end between them, that it would be like that, and she just kept thinking about their last goodbye, about their last kiss, which she’d taken for granted at the time, full of reassurance that she’d see Kara again soon. She hadn’t realised that it would be the last.

 


 

            “It’s so devastating to come to terms with speaking of someone in the past tense when you used to see them as your present and your future. Of course, that was only the first time we’d broken up. I was devastated, of course. Completely crushed. But … well, I think that was actually the easiest time. We were only together for a few months, I’d only had a taste of what it felt like to be in love with someone, and it hurt, a lot, but I didn’t- well, I was still young. I was twenty and I’d made so many steps forward with her. I’d been hurt before, and I was afraid to be honest to even the people closest to me, and then I met Kara and she was so giving with her love and she made me feel proud to love her. And then it was all just … gone. Over.”

 

            “You didn’t see it coming?”

 

            “No, I was completely blindsided. And that’s always the hardest thing, when someone completely has you fooled so much, that you think they’re never going to hurt you, and then they do. That’s when you get the worst heartbreak. It was … crushing. I didn’t even see it coming, and that’s what hurt the most, because I thought we were fine - it was getting harder, but we were fine - and then it was just … over.”

 

            “Did you feel like she’d let you down?”

 

            Lena laughed, her eyes shining slightly as a sadness brimmed there, forcing a lump to get stuck in her throat as she recalled all of those painful memories. Somehow, even after all this time, it still hurt sometimes. She’d think about how sad she’d been, how broken - not just the first time, but all of the times it had ended - and her heart would ache. Even when they’d patch things up again, there were always those fractured pieces that had healed into scars. They were still visible, even if they’d mended, and old wounds could ached from time to time, not matter how much time passed.

 

            “No, no, she didn’t let me down. A letdown is worth a few songs; a heartbreak is worth a few albums. God, I could’ve written albums just on that time alone. Of course, I threw myself into my music, going through the stages of sadness, grief, anger, confusion. There were so many emotions, I didn’t even know what to think. And I had an album coming out! I wrote furiously for weeks, and a couple of those songs made the album, in the end. All I had left was my music. With my parents separating, and things tense at the label because they were trying to cover up my sexuality, and then Kara leaving me … everything sort of felt like it was falling apart, and I was trying so hard to keep it together.”

 

            “Were there ever moments where you wanted to fall apart?”

 

            She gave her a grim smile. “Of course. It was like I was constantly reminded of her. You know how it is when you’re going through heartbreak; a heartbroken person is unlike any other person. Your time moves at a completely different pace. It’s like this mental, physical, emotional ache and feeling so conflicted. Nothing distracts you from it.”

 

            Pausing for a moment, Lena sighed heavily and gave her another smile, this one a little more genuine. “Then time passes, and the more you live your life and create new habits, you get used to not having text messages every morning. You get used to not calling someone at night to tell them how your day was. You replaced these old habits with new habits, texting new friends and hosting dinner parties and going on tour to new places and having new adventures, and then all of a sudden, one day you’re in London and you realise you’ve been in the same place as your ex for five days and you’re fine. And you hope she’s fine.”

 

            “Is that how you dealt with it the last time?”

 

            Tilting her head to the side, Lena pressed her lips into a thin line as she deliberated, “in a way. Except, I didn’t get to the point where I was fine, and I don’t think she did either.”

Chapter Text

I know people change and these things happen

But I remember how it was back then

Wrapped up in your arms and our friends were laughing

'Cause nothing like this ever happened to them

Now I'm pacing down the hall, chasing down your street

Flashback to the night when you said to me

"Nothing's gonna change, not for me and you"

Not before I knew how much I had to lose

 

-

 

            “It was actually a while before I felt fine that first time too. I had this white shirt of hers - this shirt, actually,” Lena said, plucking at the soft fabric of the shirt she wore, just a little too big, with the sleeves rolled up, and her eyes crinkled faintly at the corners as she smiled slightly. “I used to put it on and sit on the floor and it would smell faintly of her, and I’d think about what I’d done wrong. About how I could make her miss me enough to come back. She had my scarf and I had her shirt, and we never gave them back to each other. Eventually the shirt stopped smelling like her.”

 

            Gently trailing her fingertips over the front of the shirt, feeling the soft fabric and thinking about all of those times she’d worn it, sitting on the floor and missing Kara, and wished that she could still smell the hints of sandalwood, bergamot and lotus blossom from the fresh perfume Kara wore. It reminded Lena of late nights, out in the dry desert or up in the dusty foothills, the warm breeze ruffling Kara’s hair and sending the scent of it drifting towards her in an intoxicating cloud. She swallowed thickly, before giving Leslie a wan smile. Her interviewer looked at her with pity, catching Lena off guard as she sat back in her seat, her stomach twisting uncomfortably as she was reminded once more of how much she was revealing.

 

            Nervously clearing her throat, she ran a hand through her hair, giving herself an even more disheveled look, which she knew would irritate Rhea to no end, and gripped the arms of her armchair as she squared her shoulders and raised her chin. “I said before that loving her didn’t feel like a movie, and it didn’t. It was quiet and comforting and warm, just so … peaceful. But when she left … I wanted it to be like an old film, or a silly romantic comedy. Because in those films, they always come back. And I knew that I would’ve taken her back. If she said she was sorry, I would’ve taken her back in a heartbeat.”

 

            “You didn’t?”

 

            Lena quietly chuckled. “No. No, I didn’t. Not straight away. Weeks went by and I suffered in silence, too embarrassed to tell my mum that we’d broken up, because she’d warned me that I was making a mistake putting all my faith in a relationship at twenty years old. She’d call and I could tell it was uncomfortable for her to ask about Kara, but she’d ask anyway, trying in her own way, I suppose, and I couldn’t- I couldn’t tell her it was over. I lied for weeks . And a part of me lied because I didn’t want to believe it was over. But it was, and I was hurt, so, of course, I wrote about it.”

 

            “Of course.”

 

            “And the more I wrote, the angrier I became. I was still hurt, of course, and, well, my skin has never been quite as thick as I’ve pretended it was - although I’ve been forced to toughen up a bit over the years - and so I cried a lot. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. I’ve always loved that big, grand idea of love and romance, and I thought I had that with Kara. So I was completely gutted, and I had to put the pieces back together. And when you’re picking up those pieces and looking at how you’ve been broken, how carelessly your heart has been shattered, it just makes you angry. So I was angry, and the more time that passed, the angrier I became, until I stopped crying and I got on with it, because I’d made the decision to put my career first anyway, and that’s what I was going to do.”

 

            “Did that help you move on? Focusing on your music?”

 

            Sighing, Lena shrugged defeatedly, “in a way, I guess, but also, not really. They say that time is the best healer, but I didn’t so much as heal but get used to it. And I had no choice but get used to it, because what was my alternative? Not write songs about her? Stamp those feelings down into little boxes and put my career on hold because of one woman? I knew there was another alternative too. I knew it, of course, I did, but I wasn’t ready for that.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Leslie gave her a questioning look. “Coming out?”

 

            Nodding, Lena gave her a grave look in return. “I won’t say it was cowardice - that’s not what it was - but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t think that things had become that bad between us that it warranted her breaking up with me over the phone, but I knew it was getting hard. Of course it was; we were in different states, working non-stop on our own projects, going weeks without seeing each other, and it was far less than ideal. So I said that I didn’t see it coming, and I didn’t, truly, but I could see what she meant when she said it was getting hard. And if I’d cared less about my career, I could’ve come out then. I could’ve gone to Seattle, written a few songs there and been at her apartment to cook us dinner at two o’clock in the morning when she got home from set. We wouldn’t have had to sneak around, we would’ve been able to be together and stepped right over all those barriers we placed between us. But instead, I built a wall.”

 

            “Did she try and call you again?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            “How did that go?”

 

            Letting out a laugh, Lena gave her a wry smile. “I never answered.”

 


 

            Weeks slipped by and Lena finished recording the last song on her album, feeling so completely drained and relieved that she holed herself up in her apartment for days afterwards. It had been a long few weeks, and they’d been hard. It was hard because she was endlessly working on her album, it was hard because things were stilted with her parents, hard because she was lonely and hardest most of all because she didn’t have Kara. After that night, Kara called her three times over the next couple of days, but Lena was angry and upset, and she ignored them, unable to bring herself to listen to Kara try and explain why. After that, there weren't any more, and that hurt almost as much as Kara breaking her heart to begin with. A part of her had been expecting a call, a text, anything, but there had been nothing until she’d gotten so angry that she was glad that Kara didn’t call. It made it easier in a way, forcing a distance between them that hurt, but forced Lena to confront her new reality. Kara had broken her heart, and she had more important things to pour her attention into.

 

            It didn’t make it easy though. She’d wake up in the grey pre-dawn light, reaching out for the cold side of the bed, even though she knew Kara wasn’t there. There was a box of Kara’s favourite peppermint tea that gathered dust at the back of a kitchen cupboard. In a bad spell, she wore Kara’s shirt three days in a row, feeling the soft fabric caressing her skin and thinking about how Kara would touch her. How they’d dance in the kitchen, even though Lena would laugh and her cheeks would turn pink as she insisted that she couldn’t dance. For the longest time, it had felt like time had stood still with the two of them. Too often, Lena felt like time stopped at night, just for them, and it was like she’d been shocked back to reality, where time slipped by at an alarming rate, and everything blurred into one monotonous block of time.

 

            At the start of August, she released the lead single of Speak Now two weeks ahead of schedule when the song leaked online. Mine left a bitter taste in her mouth by that point. A song that she’d written about herself running away from love, only to find the exception, was nothing more than a fanciful dream. The music video was hard for her to look at, to see the young girl they’d found to play her watch her parents fight, to meeting a blonde guy and falling in love with him, through the ups and downs of their relationship, and to the scene where Lena had worn a wedding dress and worn a fake baby bump, to the two blonde kids at the beach with her. It was a sharp reminder that Kara hadn’t want that with her, and if Lena was being honest, she’d never saw that as a reality either. It had taken her a few weeks to face that fact, and while she still felt incredibly sad and bitterly angry, she knew deep down that it would never have lasted.

 

            By the time September arrived with fiery leaves and clear skies, the weather mildly warm and the air filled with cinnamon and maple as she visited coffee shops and old book stores, she found herself letting go of some of her anger. It was a month for change, for new beginnings and she felt like it was the season of the soul, more than anything. Lena had always liked autumn, the way that everything changed, including herself, and it was partly why she always released an album during that season. Every two years, it was like shedding an older version of herself and emerging as someone new. A new look, a new sound, and a fresh leaf for winter.

 

            Her growth was painful, but not as painful as the realisation that she couldn’t stay where she was. Dwelling in her heartbreak and unhappiness would consume her, so she decided to embrace the change that came with autumn, and fall in love with life the way she always had. For Lena, there had always been so much to love. A new book, a new recipe, a new friend, or even a newfound love for an old song from her childhood. There was so much for her to love, that it emboldened her to steel her heart and move on. These things happened; people grew up and they grew apart and they broke up. They changed their minds and moved on, and she was trying to do the same.

 

            And then Kara called her.

 

            It was mid-October, a little over three months since they’d last spoken, and Lena had known that Kara was back in National City. She’d gone to one of Winn’s Broadway performances a few weeks ago, and she’d met him backstage, finding herself feeling surprisingly comfortable around him, and she’d hesitantly asked him about Kara. He’d looked at her with pity and kindness and told her she’d wrapped up filming at the start of last month. Lena hadn’t so much as heard a whisper off her in all that time. It stung, just a little. It was also the final push she needed to let go of the threads of hope she was holding onto, to be honest when her mum asked about Kara, to tell her best friend and rely on her for comfort. It was hard to do, but it was even worse when she finally got that phone call.

 

            Late in the night, the clock ticking towards midnight as she stirred milk into her tea, the city a sea of darkness and a smattering of silvery nights outside her kitchen windows, she was watching Grey’s Anatomy from across the open space when her phone rang. Picking up her tea, she quickly padded across the room, paused the TV and picked up her phone, hesitating when she saw Kara’s number on her screen. After pausing for a moment, finger hovering above the screen, Lena closed her eyes and accepted the call, pressing the phone to her ear.

 

            She didn’t speak, she just stood there, her heart pounding in her chest and her breathing loud to her own ears as she waited.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            And there it was, Kara’s gentle, wary voice sending a shooting pain through her heart and making her throat close up as a lump lodged itself in her throat. The prickling feeling of tears beneath Lena’s closed eyelids just made her angry, and she grit her teeth as her cheeks flooded red with embarrassment. It was embarrassing that after a couple of months, just a single word could have such a reaction on her when it was said by that voice. That voice that had whispered nonsense in the darkness, just for the two of them to hear, that had assured her so sincerely that nothing would change, that she’d never leave. It made Lena angry.

 

            “I know you probably don’t want to hear from me,” Kara said, her voice scratchy as if she’d been crying, “I just … I really miss you, and I wanted- I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

 

            A sudden ache flared to life in Lena’s chest, so strong that it was almost physically painful, and the air rushed out of her as she was left speechless with anger simmering just beneath the surface. It had been months and now Kara missed her. And the worst part was that Lena missed her too. But there had been a window for an apology, for Kara to doubt her decision and come back to Lena, to show up outside her door and beg for her to take her back, and that window had closed.

 

            “You’re sorry?” Lena hoarsely repeated, her words laced with anger. “That’s all you have to say? After months.”

 

            She heard the quiet, shuddering breath on the other end and regretted the harshness of her tone and reined in her anger slightly. She still loved Kara, that was the fact of the matter, and she’d been hurting for a while now, and just when she was starting to mend those pieces of her heart, get back up on her feet and focus on her upcoming tour, she was blindsided again. Before, it had been Kara leaving her, and now she was unexpectedly reaching out to her.

 

            “I know. I know there’s no excuse I can give you that’ll make it okay, but I am sorry. I wish I had something better to give you, but I just- I haven’t been feeling like myself lately. Not for a while. This film … it was hard for me, and I … well, anyway, I just … really miss you.”

 

            “Yeah, I miss you too.”

 

            “You do?”

 

            “Of course I do,” Lena choked on a laugh, the sound hitching slightly in her throat as she wiped at her damp eyes, “and I wish that I didn’t. It’s been … hard.”

 

            “I know,” Kara whispered.

 

            Closing her eyes, Lena swallowed thickly as her stomach dropped. She’d missed her voice. She’d missed the way it had felt like home, so safe and warm, so full of love. It had never made her doubt Kara’s feelings for her, but now she was full of doubts. Someone who could vanish so suddenly made her wary, and she let out a shaky breath as she blinked back tears.

 

            “I have to go. I hope you’ve been doing okay.”

 

            “Wait, Lena.”

 

            The sound of her voice falling from Kara’s lips made her pause for a moment, against her better judgement, and there was a pause of silence.

 

            “Can I see you again? I’d really like to talk properly.”

 

            “I’m sorry, I can’t. I wish we could work it out, but it’s a little too late. My album’s about to come out and I don’t have time …”

 

            “Right.”

 

            Sadness bloomed in her heart, and Lena found herself wanting to ask her to meet her for coffee, wanting to agree to a chance to work it out. But if Kara had wanted to work it out, she’d had weeks to reach out, to apologise and take back her words, when she said it wasn’t easy. She hadn’t and there was too much wariness instilled in Lena’s heart for her to be that trusting again. It had been foolish of her to let herself get so wrapped up in the idea that someone could love her without saying goodbye, especially after having learnt her lesson with Veronica, and it filled her with bitter regret to have learned that lesson twice.

 

            “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you, you know,” she admitted, her voice soft and trembling.

 

            “Neither have I. I’m sorry.”

 

            “So am I,” Lena murmured.

 

            Misery welled up inside and threatened to overwhelm her as she stood beside her sofa, one hand gripping the back of it as she hunched her shoulders against the heavy weight bearing down on her. She wished that she was at a place where she could forgive Kara enough to try again, but she was caught in an in between. If Kara had called her weeks ago, she would’ve taken her back in a heartbeat, and perhaps if they’d crossed paths in the future, in a few months time, she would’ve taken her back then too. But not at that moment.

 

            “I have to go.”

 

            “Right. It was good to hear your voice.”

 

            Swallowing thickly, Lena shut her eyes again. “Yours too.”

 

            She hung up after that, a wretched feeling bubbling up inside as she switched the TV off and left her cup of tea to grow cold, sinking down onto the sofa and drawing her knees up to her chest. Sitting in the dimness of the apartment, she felt cold and alone and the looming thought of how the timing was everything hung heavily over her.

 


 

            “One thing I’ve learned is that timing is so important in a relationship. You can meet someone at a perfect time, but then the timing of work gets in the way. You can break up with someone when that timing clashes. They can try and win you back, and if it’s at the wrong time, then it’s never going to work out. Timing is critical. With Kara and I … we missed each other so many times. Sometimes I believed that she was one of those people that were never meant to stick. I would think that she was just one of those people that were meant to come into my life, but only for a short amount of time; she was never meant to stay. And it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that just because it hurt when she left, it didn’t mean that I needed her back - it just meant that what I felt had been real.”

 

            “It must’ve been difficult though, knowing that timing never worked out for you.”

 

            “It was, but that wasn’t the extent of our problems. Perhaps that first time it was just timing, but the longer you’re with someone, the more problems develop, even small ones, because there’s more at stake then. Especially when you’ve broken up before, because it almost feels like you have to make it work the second time around, because twice is fine, but when it’s off and on, it almost feels like it’s never going to work. But that’s not necessarily true. I was cautious though, after that first time, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to take her back, but rather that I needed some time to learn how to be okay by myself.”

 

            Giving her a small smile of sympathy and understanding, Leslie nodded, “did that time give you the space to heal? I mean, obviously, you made it back to a point where you two reunited again, from what you’ve already told us.”

 

            Softly sighing, Lena frowned slightly, a stern look on her face as she looked out of the rain splattered window, trying to articulate her thoughts. “I wouldn’t say I healed. It just gave me more of a new perspective, and I could think about all the things I missed about her without crying. I’d think about how she had a habit of interrupting me with a kiss when I was halfway through a sentence, and I’d be able to smile about it, or I’d see something I knew she’d like, and it wouldn’t hurt to think that. But it left me wary of love, and not for the first time. It’s like, well, the first time you didn’t know any better, but then you meet someone else and they hurt you too, and it just makes you feel so naive. I think for me, I’ve always been a trusting person, but being with two people and having both of them leave … it makes you sceptical of love.”

 

            “But you trusted her again.”

 

            “I did,” Lena said, giving her a rueful smile, “against my better judgement, I would say, but if I’m honest, I don’t regret it at all. By the time the second time came around, I knew well enough that love could vanish as quickly as it came, but I accepted that risk because I didn’t want to be afraid of love. It’s always been such an integral thing in my life; every relationship, whether it be with myself, others, or things, revolved around love.”

 

            Leslie laughed, giving her a puzzled look, “you say against your better judgement, but you still did trust her enough to give her a second chance. And a third.”

 

            Shrugging helplessly, Lena gave her a sheepish smile. “What can I say? Each type of love is never the same, even when it’s with the same person, giving it a second chance. Things were different the next time, because we’d already been through one breakup and that inherently makes things different. It wasn’t the same as before, and I think we were a lot more serious that time, knowing that things hadn't really changed, feelings-wise and that we would have to make a conscious effort to make things work that time. The biggest thing for me to overcome though was that feeling of unworthiness.”

 

            “Unworthiness?”

 

            “Yeah, you know, when two people have left you it makes you doubt yourself. There’s a sort of lack of confidence there, making you unsure of whether or not you deserve to be loved. Like, surely there must be something wrong with you if no one wants to stay, right? It was a while before I grew to learn that love wasn’t something you had to deserve. It was a choice, and Kara and I made that choice to love each other again. And of course, it didn’t work out that time either, but I would make that choice again. I did.”

Chapter Text

'Speak now or forever hold your peace,' the words said by preachers at the end of wedding ceremonies all over the world, right before the vows. It's a last chance for protest, a moment that makes everyone's heart race, and a moment I've always been strangely fascinated by. So many fantasize about bursting into a church, saying what they'd kept inside for years like in the movies. In real life, it rarely happens.

 

Real life is a funny thing, you know. In real life, saying the right thing at the right moment is beyond crucial. So crucial, in fact, the most of us start to hesitate, for fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But lately what I've begun to fear more than that is letting the moment pass without saying anything.

 

I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life, and looking back regretting the moments we didn't speak up. When we didn't say 'I love you.' When we should've said 'I'm sorry.' When we didn't stand up for ourselves or someone who needed help.

 

These songs are made up of words I didn’t say when the moment was right in front of me. These songs are open letters. Each is written with a specific person in mind, telling them what I meant to tell them in person. To my first love who I never thought would be my first heartbreak. To my band. To a mean man I used to be afraid of. To someone who made my world very dark for a while. To a girl who stole something of mine. To someone I forgive for what they said.

 

Words can break someone into a million pieces, but they can also put them back together. I hope you use yours for good, because the only words you’ll regret more than the ones left unsaid are the ones you use to intentionally hurt someone.

 

What you say might be too much for some people. Maybe it will come out all wrong and you’ll stutter and you’ll walk away embarrassed, wincing as you play it all back in your head. But I think the words you stop yourself from saying are the ones that will haunt you the longest.

 

So say it to them. Or say it to yourself in the mirror. Say it in a letter you’ll never send or in a book millions might read someday. I think you deserve to look back on your life without a chorus of resounding voices saying ‘I could’ve, but it’s too late now.’

 

There is a time for silence. There is a time waiting your turn. But if you know how you feel, and you so clearly know what you need to say, you’ll know it.

 

I don't think you should wait. I think you should speak now.

 

Love, Lena

 

PS: To all the boys who inspired this album, you should've known.

 


 

            Speak Now was released on October 25th, 2010. It sold over a million copies in its first week. It debuted at number one of the Billboard 200 chart and received generally positive reviews from music critics. There were congratulations all around, and sighs of relief at Edge Records , everyone smiling with happiness at the success, and Edge a little more insufferably condescending than usual as he plainly attributed its success to the fact that they’d spun the album as being centred mostly around boys. Of course, Lena knew that in reality they were for Kara, and knew that no matter how other people interpreted it, the album was successful because she’d written those songs about Kara. Not anyone else.

 

            But she let everyone make their assumptions, and she had her fun with them decoding the secret messages hidden in the lyrics, slipping in false leads and names that meant nothing, while she purposely misled people with her lyrics, writing about heartbreaks six months ago and brown eyes. Despite her fun, the lyrics were still painful though, each word holding an echo of memory with Kara. It hurt even more when a bouquet of blue hydrangeas turned up on her doorstep with a congratulation note off of Kara. She knew they were one of Lena’s flowers, and there was no bitterness or resentment in the note about the songs that she’d written about Kara.

 

            As well as her album sold, in some ways, it felt like a hollow victory. Her career was doing better than ever - arguably better than anyone else in the industry - and she was all alone. In the morning, she woke up and ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch alone, she baked a cheesecake for herself and read To Kill A Mockingbird four times over the following weeks, while praises flooded in and everyone applauded her songwriting and candour. Lena went to endless parties, found herself surrounded by people clamouring for her attention, paparazzi hounding her whenever she was out in public, but it all felt distant like she was removed from it all. It was like she was in her own bubble of isolation, and it left her feeling cold inside. She should’ve been overjoyed, and she was, in a sense, with something she’d worked so hard for coming to fruition, a world tour on its way, and the world at her feet, but there was a hole.

 

            She filled her time with preparing for her tour though, rehearsing choreography, finalising costume adjustments and choices, giving her approval on stage props. It was almost like one giant fairytale, with sparkly dresses and curving staircases and floating balconies. The only thing missing was a princess and some true love. Lena was severely lacking in that at the time being, and it still hurt.

 

            December arrived quickly, and Lena took a break from tour planning to go to London. She hadn’t heard from Kara, aside from the flowers, but they were in the same city, and she found herself thinking about her more often than she would’ve liked. It bothered Lena to be so caught up on her, after months. Surely she should’ve been moving on by now. Yet there was a piece of her that didn’t want to, no matter how hard she tried, and just before her birthday, she decided to put some distance between them.

 

            London was bitter cold and grey, the streets filled with rumbling traffic and the city sparkling with Christmas lights, alive with last minute shopping and tourists clogging popular sights. She got a car to her mother’s new townhouse and felt the tension bleed out of her as she was out from under the magnifying glass of fame. Things were more reserved in London, and unless she was attending an event, it was easier for her to evade the cameras.

 

            Her birthday was a small affair. They had dinner as a family at a Michelin Star restaurant in Mayfair, Sketch, dining in a private room while the four of them sitting in tense silence for the most part, while Lex tried his best to keep the conversation flowing. As far as twenty-first birthday parties went, it wasn’t the liveliest affair, but the food was divine, and Lena savoured the macerated prawns and red quinoa, the lamb cutlets with grilled polenta and peppers, and a desert of apricot meringue and caramelised almond parfait.

 

            Christmas passed by with little event. She had breakfast with her mother and brother, lunch with Lionel, and the four of them had dinner together. It was strange, not spending the whole holiday together as a family, and it really struck her for the first time how real her parents’ separation was. Ordinarily, her mother would pick all of their gifts and the tags would say they were from mum and dad, but that year, they gave them separate gifts, they split their time between both London townhouses, and there were only three stockings at her mother’s house, and no decorations at her father’s. It was strange, and it left Lena feeling troubled as she tried her best to enjoy the holidays. It turned out her trip home was less of a relief than she’d originally thought, and she’s just exchanged one problem for another. She might’ve been bothered less by people on the streets, and managed to escape constant thoughts of Kara, but it brought all of her family problems to the surface.

 

            The only thing that felt normal was Lex. She’d always gotten along with her brother in most things, the age gap between them giving them more space to have grown up without squabbling like kids. By the time Lena’s birth mother had died and her father had taken her to live with the Luthor’s, her brother was already eleven and far too old to be bothered by a child, and once Lena had become a teenager, Lex was already at university. In a way, it had made them closer. Her brother had always had all the answers, had always been annoyingly good at getting under her skin about all of her problems and then lending an ear for her to vent, and she relished the time she got to spend with him when she could. One of the things she missed most about home was her brother.

 

            Over the holidays, she spent most of her time with him, going to the places they used to visit together when she’d first moved to London and he’d been home on break, and on a bitterly cold Sunday, they were walking the streets of London, in Camden, heading towards the famous marketplace with eagerness.

 

            A number of adjoining retail markets created a sprawling mass of stalls and narrow shops selling everything from fast food, vintage curiosities, handmade chocolates and natural soaps, and Lena and Lex spent most of their Sunday morning strolling through the stores, eyeing up vintage men’s shoes and obscenely patterned shirts, old fashioned cameras and Turkish lamps. Lena always enjoyed coming to the markets, finding new stalls squirrelled away, and browsing through old records in the urban music store that you could hear blasting Reggae music from before you even saw it.

 

            Her brother carried an armful of bags she’d splurged on, with antique photo frames and a leather Scrabble board, amongst silk scarves and elegant shirts, and they moved away from the bustling markets, the sound fading to a hum behind them as they fell into quiet conversation, passing by people who occasionally did a double-take or held their phones up in the most obvious way. The conversation quickly turned to Kara - a sensitive topic for Lena - and she found herself becoming increasingly frustrated.

 

            “Och, wise up, Lena,” Lex sighed, gently bumping his shoulder against hers as she tried to nip the conversation in the bud, “you still love her, you dolt.”

 

            “That’s beside the point,” Lena bristly replied, pouting slightly as she stubbornly jutted her chin forward.

 

            Her brother scoffed, letting out a deep chuckle as he raised his eyebrows. “What is the point then? Are you trying to be one of those tortured souls for the sake of your art?”

 

            “I don’t think I have to try,” Lena snorted, bumping him back.

 

            “I thought you liked this one? She sounded nice.”

 

            Shrugging, Lena opened and closed her mouth, her hands deep in her pockets as she tried to voice her conflicted feelings. “She is nice, and I do like her, I just- well, she didn’t even do it face-to-face, Lex. She was expecting me to be asleep. She was going to break up with me in a voicemail. And she says she misses me and wants to meet up for coffee, and I just … I don’t know if I want to risk being hurt again.”

 

            Quickly darting in front of her, Lex gave her a pointed look as he started walking backwards, taking long strides as he easily kept pace with Lena’s hurried steps. He held up a long finger, a flicker of amusement in his eyes, and one side of his mouth curled in a smile.

 

            “But aren’t you already hurting? I mean, if you’re going to hurt anyway, isn’t it worth being happy for a while first.”

 

            Scoffing, Lena rolled her eyes as she reached out to bat his hand aside, “that’s exactly what someone who’s never been in love would say.”

 

            Pressing his hands to his heart, Lex smiled as he turned back around and fell back into step beside her, “I’m just trying to help you, love. No need to get snippy with me.”

 

            I don’t need help!” Lena protested, choking on a laugh as she looked up and gave him an earnest look, “I’m doing fine. I’m getting ready for my tour, I’m too busy for anything serious anyway. And just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean you have to be together. Just like just because you’re married to someone, it doesn’t mean you’re in love. Clearly.”

 

            Lex sighed, wrapping an arm around her shoulder as they walked down the damp pavement, passing by pharmacies and tattoo parlours, barber shops and antique stores and boutiques until the stopped outside a cosy cafe a short walk away from Camden Market. Her brother reached out to open the door for them and waved her in ahead, both of them squeezing into a spare table near the window.

 

            Lena was left with her pile of bags while Lex ordered them coffee and cake. He was back shortly and a waiter set down a cappuccino and a slice of warm fruit cake in front of her, while Lex bit into a mince pie and stirred lumps of sugar into his tea.

 

            “Mum and dad are hardly a normal case,” Lex continued.

 

            Rolling her eyes, Lena stabbed at her fruit cake and crammed a mouthful in, crumbs scattering across her lap as she impatiently brushed them off. “Because of me. If it wasn’t for me, they’d probably just get divorced like a normal couple.”

 

            Humming in agreement, Lex lifted his cup and saucer and took a sip, the ankle of his left leg resting atop his knee as he leant back in his seat, coat unbuttoned and scarf hanging loosely around his neck. “Have you forgotten about God?”

 

            Snorting with laughter, Lena gave him a droll look, “of course, how could I ever forget they care more about what some invisible man in the sky thinks.”

 

            “You’ve become a lot more cynical since you started dating women,” Lex replied, his eyes sparkling with mirth and appreciation as he eyed her.

 

            Shushing him with a hasty glance around the packed room, her shoulders falling as she let out a relieved sigh, she realised that no one had taken any notice of her, or heard her brother’s careless words. Giving him a grim look, she made a sound of annoyance at the back of her throat. “Perhaps I’ve just realised that the world is a lot meaner than I thought and that people are hateful and ignorant, and there’s no point trying to convince myself that something’s going to work when it’s not.”

 

            “Well, now you’re just being positively pessimistic.”

 

            “That’s a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it?”

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Lex rolled his eyes and set his tea down. “You know what I mean.”

 

            “Lex,” Lena morosely replied, a brooding look on her face as she picked apart her cake, “she’s a Jewish, bisexual woman. And she’s American. What part of that are mum and dad going to approve of? Let alone the rest of the world.”

 

            Shrugging indifferently, Lex gave her a wry smile, “the American part shouldn’t be too hard; mum’s American. The rich kind, of course, but it’s something at least.”

 

            Lena let out a sharp laugh and shook her head, scooping chocolate and foam off the top of her coffee as she looked out the window at the grey sky, thinking about Kara and wondering if she was enjoying her Christmas and if she’d watched Home Alone and drank peppermint schnapps with her adoptive mother. She knew that Eliza and Jeremiah had divorced a year after adopting Kara, shortly after her adoptive father’s diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, and she wondered if Kara was spending the holidays travelling back and forth. From what Lena had gathered, she wasn’t all too close to Jeremiah, with Eliza having sole custody of her, but she visited him with Alex from time to time. Perhaps she was struggling to get through the holidays too.

 

            The matter of Lena’s dating life was put to rest after that, and they ate their sweets and drank their drinks while making light conversation and planning for the New Year. It was approaching award show season, and while Speak Now wasn’t a contender for most things, missing the cut-off date for nominations, she was still one of the most anticipated guests at every event and was planning on bringing Lex and Jess along with her. Her tour was getting ready to get underway, and a few weeks of partying with the best in the industry was just what she needed to take her mind off of her still mending heart and the cause of her heartbreak.

 

            She was home shortly before the Golden Globes, in January, attending the ceremony in Los Angeles in between rehearsals. All of her time was packed full of practising numbers in full costume, testing the mechanics of the rising stage floor while she was waiting beneath the stage, floating in a balcony she was strapped to and testing out all of her new instruments, breaking them in before opening night. The rare moments in between hours building her endurance, vocal practice and trying to cram in as much rest as she could, Lena cherished her freedom with her brother and Jess, going out for dinner with a few friends she’d made in the industry, getting them into exclusive bars and restaurants, while they were photographed everywhere they went.

 

            By the time she was on a plane bound for Singapore, it was almost a relief to know that her months of preparation were about to pay off. There would be no more practising; she was about to start the real deal. Her first show was at the start of February in front of nearly nine thousand people. The Asian leg of her tour came first, and was over quickly, rekindling a thrill that quickly became addicting, listening to thousands of people chant her name every night and sing back the lyrics she’d poured her heart into. Each night she wrote a line from a song down her left arm in her loopy writing, and a glittery thirteen on the back of her hand, and she slowly felt herself come back to the person that she was. Her mother was there every night, of course, handing out backstage passes and guitar picks or watching her from a reserved spot near the B-Stage.

 

            After each show, she met with some of her biggest fans, the ones her mother and team had picked during the concert, and she took photos with them and ate pizza and played table tennis. It made her feel closer to the people who already felt close to her through her music, and it helped her forget the ache in her chest, which was all but gone in the presence of so much happiness as she basked in her success.

 

            She was back in National City near the end of February though, enjoying a week’s break in between the legs of her tour, and she caught up on lost sleep and tried to overcome her jetlag, while she squeezed in a photo shoot and an interview and met with her stylist to plan her outfit for the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. She barely had enough time to fit it all in, as well as attending the party at the end of the month, but she found herself wearily sitting in the back of a luxurious black town car, holding a clutch tightly in her lap as they made their way through the cordoned off barricades surrounding the event. She didn’t actually go to the Oscars, having no reason to, but she’d been invited to the after party, and it was never one to miss.

 

            She showed up on the red carpet in a gold and silver beaded strapless Zuhair Murad dress, her curls tamed into a wave and pinned up, her lips painted red and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s adding a few extra inches to her height. Camera flashes blinded her as she posed for the crowd clamouring for her attention, in front of the green hedge, while people milled about and reunited with each other before she made her way into the party.

 

            It was packed and she was greeted with the bass of loud music, strings of lights cutting through the red light as people danced and drank, Oscar winners the centre of attention as they were swarmed by actors, celebrities and other industry somebody's alike at the large, round tables. Lena paused just inside the doorway with the memories of that feeling rushing back to her, of the thrill of winning such a prestigious award, of the way it felt to be overwhelmed by people vying for your attention, and the never-ending congratulations. It was a rush, but she was glad that she could slip through the crowd relatively easy on this occasion.

 

            At the bar, she ordered an Aperol Spritz, clinking ice cubes with the orange peel inside as she kept her back to the party. The drink was a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, and she was content to linger at the bar instead of finding her table, but soon found herself wrapped up in conversation with a few familiar faces and casual friends, laughing and chatting about upcoming projects, as well as her album. They posed in the photo booth, she was snapped by the professional photographers, and she finally unwound enough to circulate properly, talking to producers and directors, writers and musicians. It wasn’t until she was on her third drink and talking to one of the latest pop stars dominating the charts, a woman named Alana, a few years older than her and her apparent competition when she first spotted Kara.

 

            The room was lit a dark red, the music too loud in the thick of the party to hear anything aside from raucous bursts of laughter and the loudest shouts as the night grew late, and it was by chance that she saw Kara. A flash of blonde hair in a brief moment of illumination by a sweeping beam of light, the familiar profile and a deep blue dress with a plunging neckline. Lena would’ve recognised her anywhere.

 

            She stared at her for a moment, taking in the easy laughter as she stood with Alex and Lucy Lane, oblivious to the fact that Lena stood less than a dozen feet away. Kara looked well. For all her talk of missing Lena, she didn’t look miserable at all, and it hurt Lena to see that she was fine without her, when she didn’t feel fine at all. Perhaps that was selfish of her, to want Kara to feel as bad as she did, but it hurt to know that Kara had meant more to her than she had to her. Turning her back on her as if she’d never seen her, Lena raised her glass to her lips and drained it.

 

            Excusing herself from Alana’s company, she made her way to the bar and grabbed herself another drink, this time a vodka and Diet Coke, and she hunched her shoulders as she sat on a bar stool, her whole body tingling as her heart pounded in her chest. Palms slick with sweat, she tried to ignore the fact that she knew Kara was there, but it was hard. They hadn’t seen each other in half a year, had only spoken once, briefly, since then, and now here Kara was.

 

            And Lena wanted nothing more than to walk up to her and throw her arms around her. She wanted to wrap her in the tightest hug she could, feeling the way Kara fit in her arms, breathe in the clean smell of her perfume and stroke her soft hair, remembering all those times she’d done just that, in the early hours of the morning when they were alone. Her eyes burned as she blinked rapidly, toying with her glass in front of her as she tried not to think about all the memories, as they came rushing back anyway. With her eyes closed and the loud sounds of the party fading into the background, she could almost hear Kara softly calling her name, her lips shaping the sound as she had so many times before, with such love and tenderness. Lena felt like her heart was in a vice, a squeezing pain in her chest as she breathed shallowly.

 

            Draining her drink, she wound her way through the party, her eyes always darting towards where she’d last seen Kara, and she avoided her completely. They didn’t say a word all night, and she couldn’t even say whether Kara knew she was there or not. If she did, she didn’t so much as glance at Lena, let alone try and speak with her. Although she’d told Kara she didn’t want to see her last time they’d spoken, for some reason, Lena felt disappointed.

 


 

            “The next time I saw her was at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in February. I’d just kicked off my tour, and I was in a good place. It was exciting. I was there with a few friends, Kara was there with her sister. We didn’t speak to each other.”

 

            “What was that like?”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, Lena shrugged vaguely as she avoided meeting Leslie’s eyes. “Hard. It’s hard when you want to go up to someone and hold them close. When it brings back so many memories of them that it’s all you can think about. I spent months wondering how she was doing, whether she’d given up on being a terrible vegan by now.” She laughed as she smiled down at her lap, fiddling with her fingers. “If she still curled up in that old wingback armchair by the window around midnight, drinking jasmine tea as she’d always used to. If she still missed me.”

 

            Pausing, Lena took a deep breath in before she softly sighed, shaking her head forlornly. “And there I was, and I couldn’t even bring myself to ask her any of those things. I think perhaps I was a bit hypocritical naming my albums Fearless and Speak Now when I couldn't even bring myself to pluck up the courage and go over to her. I was too afraid. Afraid she’d moved on already, that she didn’t miss me - that would’ve hurt to hear - that she was doing just fine without me. She looked fine. And I didn’t know it at the time, but she knew I was there. She saw me there too. And she ignored me too. We spent the whole night sneaking glances at each other, and neither of us knew just how much we missed each other. I think that’s the worst way to miss someone too when they’re right there, and the only thing keeping you apart is wounded pride. And all I wanted at that moment was for the pain of missing her to leave as quickly as she did so that I could move on for good. I sat there for the rest of the night, feeling the loneliness and the lack of her. And it quickly became clear to me that she was the person in my life that I’d miss forever.”

Chapter Text

Two headlights shine through the sleepless night

And I will get you, and get you alone

Your name has echoed through my mind

And I just think you should, think you should know

That nothing safe is worth the drive and I would

Follow you, follow you home

I'll follow you, follow you home

 

-

 

            “The European leg of my tour came next. I played in Belfast and Dublin in March, and you have no idea how good it felt to be home. I’d never really thought of National City as home, and London was, in some respects, but Ireland … it was where I truly felt peaceful and normal, and it made me so happy to be home. I was in London a few days later, which was just as comforting, and it was good for me, to be around so many things that reminded me of home. Of course, I wasn’t really okay, and I missed Kara more than ever.” Lena laughed as she frowned slightly, a confused look on her face. “Do you know how much you have to miss someone to be on world tour for a critically acclaimed album, to be home in Ireland, at all the places you’d played at before you’d even so much as been looked at by a record label, to realise that you had everything you’d ever wanted, and feel … nothing.”

 

            “You went back to her,” Leslie guessed, her voice a low murmur as she gave Lena a pitying look.

 

            Giving her a half-hearted smile in return, Lena shrugged, “not until May.”

 

            “What happened in May?”

 


 

            The second leg of the Speak Now World Tour ended late March, and Lena was offered a two-month reprieve before the North American leg began. Her last show had been in London, and she lingered for another week in the city, going for tea with her mother, played tennis with her father and had lunch at his golf club in Wimbledon. After a week, she went back home to National City.

 

            With nothing to do and weeks of spare time on her hands, Lena found herself restless in her penthouse. She spent hours pacing back and forth, cooped up and irritable because paparazzi were camped across the street, she wrote a few songs and made homemade jam, she spent hours on the phone with friends, making plans to see them when their schedules lined up. It was all boring. To compensate, Lena bought herself a new house.

 

            House was a generous term because the Cape Cod Colonial stood on an acre and a half of land with a long, gated driveway and a guest house out back. It was all white clapboard with French doors that opened out onto vine-draped pergolas shading balconies, porches and patios. It even had a tennis court.

 

            She spent hours shopping for furniture, filling the farmhouse-style kitchen with vintage crockery and expensive kitchenware, the glossy countertops lined with cookbooks and small potted plants, copper saucepans hanging over the industrial stove and fresh flowers standing in a vase each day. Her orange tree stood in the corner, in the patch of sunlight that streamed in through the windows, and she would drink coffee at the breakfast bar in the mornings and stare at it deep in thought.

 

            Lena bought books for the cypress wood built-in bookshelves, oriental rugs for the living rooms and antique lamps for the end tables in her bedroom. At dawn, she sat out on the patio, staring out at the view of the canyon, and at night, she lit a fire in the stone outdoor fireplace, breathing in the woodsmoke as she drank wine and softly strummed her guitar in the comforting orange glow of the fire. But with four bedrooms and bathrooms, the place felt empty and removed. She was lonely.

 

            Weeks slipped by in peaceful isolation, and there was a sense of peacefulness in her new estate in the hills. Nobody bothered her, the paparazzi were held at bay behind a long driveway and thickly treed surroundings. It wasn’t that Lena didn’t have any friends - she had an endless list of people to spend her time with - it was the fact that she didn’t feel close to them. They would meet up at red carpet events or fashion shows, movie premieres and glamorous parties, but most of the time they were all off working on their own careers. The singers were on tour or bust recording new music, the actors were all around the world filming for TV and film, and the models were at the fashion capitals of the world, opening runways and posing in the latest styles.

 

            If she was being honest, it was nice to spend most of her time alone anyway. After a few weeks on tour, constantly surrounded by people and always on the move, from hotel to hotel, it was nice to have a permanent home. It was nice to have quiet moments to herself, to think out loud and do whatever she pleased without being recorded or photographed. She preferred her trysts into the spotlight to be on her terms.

 

            She made a few appearances over the weeks, but the biggest one wasn’t until the start of May. After a month of idle relaxing, she was attending the Met Gala, one of the most highly anticipated events of the year, and an impossible invite to refuse.

 

            Arriving on the red carpet in a custom J.Mendel gown, she posed for photos on the red carpet outside the museum, while artists of all kinds milled around, posing in extravagant outfits that matched the theme for that year. It was Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. Skipping her usual saccharine sparkles and ballgowns sweetheart style, Lena chose something a little darker and stronger, a one-shoulder gown in gunmetal and peach, with the requisite sparkle and frill, but without the princess feeling to it. Her hair held her customary curls and her lips were her signature bright red, but a smoky eye gave her a darker, more alluring look than usual. It felt good to stray from the usual and ordinary.

 

            Inside, there were McQueen garments through the exhibit, sparkling like jewels upon their plinths as they winked in the dim lighting. The Temple of Dendur was the site of the dinner, the place transformed into a lush garden covered in roses and other pastel flowers, while round, unfinished wooden tables dotted the room. She knew Kara was there, but she hadn’t seen her on the red carpet and couldn’t see her inside the packed room either.

 

            When they were seated, Lena found herself at a table with a few unfamiliar faces and found herself a little apprehensive as she introduced herself, knowing that the seating charts were planned with perfect precision, trying to match people up for an interesting night at the biggest fashion night of the year. To her left was a dark-haired man, wearing a black, silk Armani suit, his hair perfectly slicked back and beard neatly trimmed. He gave her a bright smile as he twisted in his seat, recognition lighting up his brown eyes.

 

            “Oh, you’re Lena Luthor,” he said, his voice coloured with surprise.

 

            As she looked at him, Lena cocked her head to the side with the nagging feeling that she knew him from somewhere. “I am,” she said with a wry smile, “I feel like I should know you.”

 

            He let out a deep chuckle, his eyes flickering with amusement, “we’ve never met, but I believe you know my music. My manager told me you had my lyrics written on your arm at one of your concerts. I’ve been begging her to set up a meeting for weeks now. I’m Jack Spheer.”

 

            Recognition jolted her memory, and she gave him a sheepish smile as she held her hand out, “of course! Lego House! It’s a brilliant song.”

 

            He ducked his head as he pressed a hand to his chest, “that means a lot coming from someone as talented as you.”

 

            “Yeah?” she replied, eyebrows rising slightly, as one side of her mouth curled up into a smile, “doesn’t the fact that I write silly songs about boys and heartbreak diminish me a little bit?”

 

            “As someone who writes silly songs about girls and heartbreak, not at all,” he said, reaching for his champagne flute and giving her a quick wink. He held his dainty glass up with slender fingers and Lena quickly scooped hers up, gently clinking them together with a quiet chime. “To real talent.”

 

            Lena gave him a coy smile as she eyed him, taking a sip of golden champagne and leaving a red lipstick mark around the rim. While she was praised for her songwriting, there was always the undercurrent mocking of her frivolous songs about boys, of childish love and romance and heartbreak, and while people weren’t openly rude to her face about it, she knew she was garnering a reputation for it. Jack Spheer placed himself on the same side as her, and it was refreshing to have someone else on her side. And he sounded like he was being honest too, which was also rare in their industry. She couldn’t count the number of times people had told her they loved her album while knowing deep down inside that they wouldn’t have been able to name any tracks aside from her singles.

 

            Her evening turned out to be a lot more eventful and fun than she’d thought, and after a night spent worrying about her appearance, and eyeing everyone else’s fashion choices over courses of exquisite food, she found herself at Crown for the after party. All at once, it was like everyone let loose as soon as they stepped into the marble foyer. Alcohol ran freely, old music drowned out quiet conversation and everyone fell onto leather sofas and cosy armchairs or rushed to the dancefloor.

 

            Jack became her unofficial escort for the evening, and Lena found that she was enjoying herself more than she had in a long time. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed so much, drinking mineral water and chatting as the party raged on around them. He was from London and they spoke at length of their favourite places and acquaintances they had in common. She told him about Ireland and he told her about his Indian heritage, they shared stories about their passion for music and both of their latest albums. He was handsome in a way that would’ve been arrogant if he hadn’t been so sincerely charming and effortlessly polite, coaxing her onto the dancefloor with suave moves. By the end of the night, they had plans for a songwriting session together.

 

            As much fun as she was having though, her night took a quick turn when she finally spotted Kara. Instead of her usual sweet, demure look, she’d opted for a vivid red - a perfect match for Lena’s bold lipstick - wearing a Michael Kors bandeau halter gown. Her blonde hair was back in a sleek ponytail and she wore a gold metal cuff around one wrist. If it wasn’t for the vivid shade of her dress, she would’ve looked like a Greek god, all golden and tanned, and a pang of heartache seized Lena as she spotted her from across the room and subsequently ignored her as she averted her gaze.

 

            Escaping to a cool corner of the room, away from the packed dancefloor, she fetched herself a glass of water and felt sweat prickle her skin as her heart hammered in her chest. Jack was still dancing away, his suit jacket long since abandoned, the sleeves of his Italian silk shirt rolled up over his forearms, and Lena realised that no matter how many friends she made, there was always going to be a piece of her heart that they couldn’t touch, because it belonged completely to Kara.

 

            Leaning against a pillar, she cradled her water in her hand and watched the party unfold before her, the hour growing late and the guests becoming increasingly drunker. She was still sober, having barely taken a sip of her champagne, and some of the thrills of the night was wearing off. The night had felt so magical, so full of fun and excitement, dancing with strangers and laughing all night long, but now she just felt drained. It was like she’d come out from underneath a spell. Standing there in an expensive, custom made dress, with some of the most famous people on the planet, Lena found herself tired.

 

            And then she felt someone come up behind her. She didn’t hear their footsteps over the music, or see them by looking over her shoulder; she felt them. And she knew it was Kara. She didn’t have to look to know it was her; a shiver ran down her spine, Lena’s stomach lurched and she felt a lump form in her throat as she raised her glass to her lips and took a sip. Her whole body went tense and an ache strongly flared up in her heart. She didn’t have to look.

 

            “Hi,” she quietly said, just loud enough to be heard, keeping her eyes trained forward.

 

            “I’ve missed you,” Kara said from behind her, her voice trembling slightly as she softly replied.

 

            Lena’s bottom lip wobbled as she let out a shaky breath, feeling a knot of tension unwind inside her. Her eyes prickled slightly and she didn’t have the courage to turn around. She couldn’t look at Kara, or she knew that she would cave. Tears would well up and fall and the fragile threads keeping her together would snap, in front of this room full of people who didn’t know that she was heartbroken over the woman standing just behind her. The woman that was supposed to be a complete stranger.

 

            “I’ve missed you too,” Lena mumbled. She bit her lip, just hard enough to be painful, her heart fluttering in her chest, and she swallowed thickly.

 

            Standing there in silence for a few moments, the music pulsing around them, bodies writhing on the dancefloor and people milling about with drinks in hand, they pretended that they weren’t even aware of each other. But Lena was so aware of Kara that she could feel her. She could feel the rush of being around her, the anticipation of her next words, Kara’s voice punching right into her and leaving her speechless as she listened to the way her lips shaped words and her warm voice brought them to life. Missing her had never felt so painful, longing had never gripped her so tightly in its vice, and it was all she could do to stand rigidly beside the pillar she’d claimed and pretended that she wasn’t aware of the woman she loved standing behind her.

 

            And Lena realised at that moment that there was only one thing left for her to do, and that was decide. But there was a part of her that wasn’t sure if she even had a choice. Was it up to her to choose whether or not she forgave Kara, or was she already in too deep that there was nothing else to do but let herself get swept away and caught up in their tumultuous relationship all over again. All she knew was that if it was a choice, she was finding less and fewer reasons to fight against what her heart was telling her. There was a part of Lena that was still wounded, still hurt from the casual dismissal of their relationship, but she had the capacity to forgive Kara. She could let her heart heal, she could let her make amends and try again.

 

            She was tired of following the routine of her life with no feeling. As exciting as touring was, and visiting new places and going to endless amounts of parties, she wanted more, and Kara was the one beautiful thing she’d gotten stuck on. It was like she was a rock, jutting out of the gently flowing river of her life, blocking the way and causing friction in the natural order of things. Everything had been running smoothly until they’d met until she’d been so caught up in a fairytale romance and hadn’t been the same since. Not for the first time, Lena wondered how much simpler things would’ve been without her, how grey her life would be without the colour that Kara brought to it. It would’ve been smarter to walk away, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

 

            Drawing in a shuddering breath through trembling lips, Lena closed her eyes, swallowing her nervousness, and heard herself speak before she could even stop herself. “Can we go somewhere?” Lena asked. “Just you and me? Somewhere private?”

 

            Her eyes snapped open at the gentle brush of a hand against hers, and she had to fight the urge to look down as a jolt of electricity ran through her. “I’m staying at the NoMad hotel. Until tomorrow.”

 

            Dipping her head in a quick nod, Lena strode off without another word, her heart pounding with anticipation, and the feeling that she was making a mistake banished to the back of her mind as she slowly wandered back through the crowd. It wouldn’t do to be seen leaving too early, or in a rush, and she took her time, pausing to talk to people, nursing a drink that was procured for her by someone at one point, feeling jittery and anxious as she lingered at the party.

 

            Eventually, she decided to leave. Cheek kisses were exchanged, promises to get brunch or attend their next party were made, and she slipped out of the hotel to a chorus of her name being shouted by dozens of paparazzi held back from the door by barricades, camera flashes leaving white spots dancing across her eyes as she was hustled towards a waiting car by her personal bodyguard.

 

            She was driven back to her hotel, before having a valet bring her rental car around to the front of the hotel and slipping into the front seat, relieving her bodyguard for the night as she drove off still wearing her dress. The Rolls Royce was steady beneath her touch, smoothly passing down busy New York streets as she followed the directions towards Kara’s hotel, the city alive around her, despite the fact that it was after midnight. New York famously never slept, and for the first time, she realised that she and Kara weren’t alone in their world of night. She couldn’t go into her hotel, not with the risk of someone lurking about in the lobby. In hindsight, Lena realised that she should’ve changed.

 

            But when she pulled up outside of the tall building just north of Madison Square Park, she messaged Kara and told her that she was outside, and smiled softly at the sight of the blonde woman quickly exiting the hotel in a red halter gown. When the door opened and a soft yellow light winked on, she turned to look at her, meeting her gaze as Kara ducked down and peered into the car. Sliding in, she shut the door and buckled herself in in silence, and Lena pulled out into traffic.

 

            “Where are we going?” Kara quietly asked after a few moments, and Lena swallowed the nervous lump in her throat as she glanced in her side mirror and overtook a yellow cab.

 

            “I thought we could head out of the city. Somewhere private.”

 

            “Okay.”

 

            They drove in silence, for the most part, the radio quietly playing as Lena drove out of Manhattan and headed north out of New York City. Driving thirty miles out of the city, she headed towards Harriman State Park, an hour’s drive away and offering the seclusion she craved and the secretive blanket of night. Two headlights shone through the darkness as she hit the beginnings of the park, and she quietly cleared her throat.

 

            “I haven’t heard from you in a while,” Lena hesitantly started.

 

            Shifting in surprise, after such a long gap of silence, Kara let out a loud, shaky laugh, breaking the tension slightly as she gave Lena an astounded look of disbelief, a yearning in her deep blue eyes. “Because you told me not to call. But I really wanted to; I missed you every day.”

 

            Eyes flickering towards Kara, Lena felt hope blossom in her chest, while a sharp pain cut through her. “Yeah?”

 

            “Yeah,” Kara whispered, her voice sad and full of longing and apology. “I’m sorry, Lena. Really. I know it’s … it’s not a good enough word to describe how deeply I’m ashamed of how I treated you, but … I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just- I wasn’t in a good place, but I’m looking after myself better now.”

 

            “That’s good,” Lena slowly said, her voice low and uneven as her stomach fluttered with nerves, “I’m glad that you’re taking care of yourself. I’m glad you’re okay.”

 

            Letting out a shaky laugh, Kara tipped her head back against the headrest, and Lena turned to look at her, taking in her closed eyes and the angle of her jaw, and the way her parted lips pouted slightly as she breathed slowly through them. She had the sudden urge to kiss her, knowing how soft those lips were, and had to clamp her hands down tighter on the steering wheel, navigating her way through the hills and switchback roads of the state park. It was too dark to see anything but the blur of briefly illuminated trees forming a seemingly solid wall on either side of them, but it reminded Lena of their drives through the foothills of National City, of the hushed quietness of the night and the peacefulness of someone else’s company.

 

            “That’s the thing; I’m not okay. I’m more myself now, and I just- I miss you. Everything got a bit messed up there in Seattle - the role I had was just- it didn’t put me in a good headspace - and now that I’ve had time to get back to where I was, I feel so alone without you. I’m me again, but there’s still a piece missing. You.”

 

            Coming to a slow break in the middle of the road, with no concerns about anyone else driving along and disturbing them at three o’clock in the morning, Lena closed her eyes, sitting stiffly in her seat, hands braced against the steering wheel as cool leather pressed up against her back. The truth was that she felt like that too. Kara’s name had repeated itself in her head over and over again, a constant train of thought in her head, and she knew that she wouldn’t be able to think about anyone else in that way. And it was a dangerous game they were playing, risky and unreliable, but she wanted to take that chance.

 

            Car idling, headlights shining two bright beams of light into the darkness as her eyes burned with tiredness in the late hours of the night, both of them wearing expensive dresses from a night that seemed like another world away from where they were parked, up in the hills on a sloping curve above the sparkling glint of the Hudson River, Lena slowly turned to look at Kara. They were all alone, worlds away from prying eyes and any problems that would inevitably try and wedge themselves between them, and Lena wanted her. She wanted her so badly that she forgave her. And she told herself it wasn’t worth it if it was safe. If there were no risks, nothing to lose, then it wouldn’t have been worth it.

 

            Slowly putting the car into park, she let herself get wrapped up in the daydream that it would work this time, hope filling her as she unbuckled her seatbelt and twisted in the driver’s seat. Reaching out in the dim light from the sliver of moonlight filtering through the tinted windows, she cupped Kara’s cheek in her hand, gently smoothing her thumb over her high cheekbone and cherishing the warm feeling of her soft skin beneath her touch. Leaning in closer, Lena paused, and Kara was pulled closer to her, as if by gravity, until they were so close that she could feel Kara’s warm breath on her lips. And then their foreheads were resting against each other’s, and Kara’s face swam out of focus until their lips were just out of reach, and Kara’s hands lightly traced the bare skin of Lena’s shoulders, the curve of her neck, the line of her jaw and curve of her ear. At that moment, she would’ve done anything Kara asked her to. She just wanted to be touched by her, the way she’d missed being touched for months.

 

            After a brief moment of hesitation, in which alarm shot through Lena’s mind and was quickly brushed aside, she made her decision, and as if she couldn’t bear to not feel the touch of Kara’s lips on hers for even a moment longer, she closed the small space between them, her mouth hot and urgent on Kara’s, feeling her fingers gently dig into her arms and neck as the car suddenly felt small.

 

            Pulling back slightly, her chest heaving as she breathed heavily, Lena blinked back the burning sensation in her eyes as tears welled up, held at bay by her sheer stubbornness, and her voice cracked as she heard herself speak. “Stay,” she softly pleaded in the quietness, the radio nothing but fuzzy static at their height, and she felt her heart ache as she was filled with so much hope that she couldn’t bear the thought of being left again. “Please stay.”

 

            “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            Sleep was all but forgotten about as they sat in the car, parked in the middle of the road with the stillness of the night around them, kissing and laughing in disbelief, their fingers tracing the lines of each other’s faces, their eyes drinking in the sights, their ears cherishing the sound of quiet laughter and the way their lips formed words. It was like a bubble of unease had popped inside Lena, and she suddenly felt as light as air, as if she was about to drift off in her euphoria as Kara whispered how much she loved her and missed her against her neck, making her skin ripple with goosebumps.

 

            It was nearly a two-hour drive back to Manhattan and to the restored Beaux-Arts building that housed the NoMad hotel, and Lena followed Kara inside, feeling bold and unwilling to let the rest of the night slip through her fingers. The lobby was empty, the front desk unmanned as the night manager was off in some back room, and Lena trailed after her in a daze, up to Kara’s hotel room, where she found herself alone with her. It felt different after the confines of the car, a different kind of solitude, and Kara moved slowly with a dancer’s grace, kicking off her heels and reaching for her zipper.

 

            The room was spacious, with a king-size bed covered in down comforters and an embossed leather headboard, maple hardwood floors and a vintage Heriz rug beneath the bed. A damask patterned folding screen stood in one corner, with a large freestanding claw-foot tub. It had a homey feeling with the mahogany writing desk, the carefully curated artwork dotting the walls, and the simple act of being there with the only person that had ever felt like a home to her. Of all the places she’d been and people she’d met, it was only Kara who had offered that comfort of a safe harbour when things were getting hard. They understood each other completely.

 

            Moving up behind her, Lena’s hand gently brushed against Kara’s, moving it aside as she cupped her back and felt the hummingbird fluttering of her heartbeat. With her heels on, she was the same height as Kara standing barefoot, and Lena pressed a kiss to the side of her neck, smiling as Kara rolled her head to the side, baring the expanse of lightly tanned skin. Slowly unzipping her dress, Lena took a step back and released her, swallowing thickly as Kara turned, her blue eyes filled with wariness.

 

            “I don’t want to take it slow,” Lena admitted, her voice low and hoarse. “I forgive you, and now I just want you.”

 

            Hesitantly nodding, Kara moved towards her, her dress pooling to the floor as she stepped out of it, and she gathered up Lena’s hands in her own, skimming her thumb across the knuckles. “I want you too, but I want to do it right this time. I want us to be serious, Lena.”

 

            “I know,” she mumbled.

 

            But she didn’t want Kara to tiptoe around her and try and make amends for things. Lena wanted everything to go back to the way it was before. She wanted that easy love, for the cracks in her heart to close up under Kara’s gentle touch, to feel warm and understood by someone that she understood too. There was so much she’d been missing, and she didn’t want to dance around the truth, which was that she wanted Kara. She didn’t want to play a slow game, where they both played coy and pretended that they weren’t already in love, where they spent weeks with Kara trying to woo her with grand gestures in apology. That wasn’t Lena, and she knew her heart well. She just wanted the soft, quiet love she’d stumbled upon with Kara.

 

            But there were glaring obstacles, and she hands shook as Kara’s hand trailed over her shoulder as she stepped around Lena, carefully undoing her dress for her too. Balling her hands into fists, Lena let her dress crumple to the floor and was handed a fluffy guest robe, while Kara went to make them tea. Making herself at home on the big bed, Lena watched her move around in her underwear, her shoulders slightly taut with tension, although she moved around with the easy comfort of someone who was trying hard to diffuse the tension. A small smile twitched at the corner of Lena’s lips and she hugged her knees to her chest as she waited for Kara to join her.

 

            With a fragile cup in hand, Lena let the warmth seep into her body as steam curled up from the tea, perfectly made to how she liked it. Kara hadn’t forgotten. She took a scalding sip to calm her nerves as the bed jostled and Kara slipped beneath the covers, wearing a silk chemise, and she turned to look at her.

 

            “I’m halfway through a tour,” Lena blurted out.

 

            “I know.”

 

            “I leave at the end of the month, and I won’t be back in National City much and-”

 

            Kara gently laid her hand on Lena’s, her expression softening as her eyes swam with apology and a tinge on sadness. “I won’t leave you again. We can- we can make it work this time if you give me a second chance.”

 

            “Okay.”

 

            They drank their tea and spoke in small bursts, filling the silence with anything and everything they thought of that had happened while they’d been apart until tiredness crept up on them and it was an effort to keep their burning eyes open.

 

            Pre-dawn grey light was slanting through the parted curtains by the time they finally drifted off to sleep. Too tired for her usual caution, Lena nodded off in Kara’s bed, on a mountain of soft pillows and a warmth pressed up against her, and when she flung one arm out across the bed, it fell against the solid figure sleeping beside her.

 


 

            “You forgave her, just like that?”

 

            “Just like that.”

 

            Leslie’s eyebrows rose slightly and Lena could almost read her thoughts through the mild surprise on her face. Smiling, she gave her a knowing look, arching one eyebrow slightly.

 

            “I know that I’ve been painted as this vindictive woman who loves to get revenge on those who’ve wronged her, but that’s … well it’s not always true. And there seems to be this whole culture about not being allowed to forgive people. People act as if anyone who’s ever done anything wrong in their life has to spend the rest of it atoning for their mistakes, and it’s just- it’s not realistic. And it’s funny to me because growing up Catholic, you have to do penance for everything , and we’re taught that we’re all sinners and you have to be punished and make amends before you’re absolved of your sins … but that’s not how real life works. People make mistakes, and you can decide whether you forgive them or not.”

 

            “So you decided to forgive her?”

 

            “I did. I gave her a second chance and I didn’t regret it for a moment. Was I still mad? A little. Was I still hurt? Yes, but enough time had passed that I was at a place where I could forgive her. I loved her, completely and wholeheartedly, and I chose to forgive her and love her, despite the mistakes that she made. And God knows she forgave me and loved me for mine. And I think that’s what it comes down to; a choice. I think it says more about love that you choose to commit to something, no matter the obstacles, no matter the temptations and risks, over and over again, every day, than never having a choice at all. People have mistaken love for passion, and they can go hand in hand, but love isn’t just a feeling , it’s not a strong, uncontrollable emotion. It’s something you have to work at, and Kara had messed up, and she was sorry, and I wasn’t about to punish her for that. I wanted us to work at fixing what we’d broken, and you can’t do that when you’re throwing people’s wrongdoings back in their face all the time. There has to be trust, there has to be acceptance and forgiveness for each other’s flaws.”

 

            “Has there ever been a time when she’s broken that trust?”

 

            Softly exhaling, Lena pressed her lips into a flat line, a brooding look lurking in her eyes. “Yes and no. I’ve always trusted her to love me, and she always has, and I’ve always trusted in that. But sometimes she’s broken my heart in the process, and that leaves doubts in your mind. No matter how many times someone tells you they love you, the instant that they leave, for what feels like good, it essentially nullifies all of that comfort and warmth. It’s like in a heartbeat you doubt whether they ever truly meant it. Words carry weight to them, and being careless with your words can scar you for years.”

 

            “But you trusted her each time.”

 

            Giving her a crooked smile, Lena nodded, “I’m a trusting person. I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt; it hasn’t always been the smartest decision. The way I see it though, I can either let people change me, make me distrustful and distant and suspicious, or I can be the person I am and learn from my experiences. And I know which version of myself I prefer.”

 

            “Doesn’t it hurt though, to be betrayed by people you trusted? I’m not speaking of Kara in this instance, but there was a time when you trusted people who abandoned you in a rough patch. Didn’t that make you want to not trust anyone?”

 

            “Of course, and I have become a lot warier. Even back then, giving Kara a second chance, I was a lot more naive and inexperienced, but I’ve grown since then. I prefer to grow , not change , and I think that’s a natural process of growing up, and it never made me want to not give Kara another chance, it just gave me the experience to know what worked and what didn’t in our relationship.”

 

            “What didn’t work?”

 

            Lena let out a surprised laugh at Leslie’s straightforwardness, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she shook her head slightly in a bemused fashion. “Distance, for one. I think that we’ll focus on that for now, because that was the first problem, and the second time around, it was still a problem. As I said, I was on tour, and we had to try and work visits back to National City to see each other again. Sometimes I’d only be back for a few hours before I flew out again. It was hard, but I knew by then what Kara needed in her relationship, and that was affection. She needed that physical intimacy, and I think being so secretive was hard for her too because we couldn’t just hold hands in public. Not then. But we worked hard to see each other as often as possible, without anyone finding out, and we were managing.”

 

            “What did you need?”

 

            “Ah, see, that’s the thing. I didn’t need anything. Despite what people say, I’ve never been the kind of person who needed to be dating someone. I’ve apparently dated every man in Hollywood - an endless string of them - but for me, I never had to have someone to love. Some people do, and that’s fine, but for me, I was fine by myself. I would be heartbroken in the off-periods with Kara, but I had my life, and I had my career, and sometimes I’d chosen my career over her, and I was content with that. I was happy with my songwriting and connecting with all of my fans and living the life I’d always dreamed of for myself. It didn’t mean it didn’t hurt and I didn’t want more, but that’s the thing; it’s never been about what I needed , but what I wanted , and she’s all I ever wanted. It’s always been the same since I met her.”

 

            She paused for a moment, her eyebrows drawn low over her jade eyes as she ran a thumb over one of the rings she was wearing, a sort of lost and troubled look on her face, almost as if she’d quite forgotten where she was, and the audience of the crew were invisible beyond the small bubble her and Leslie’s conversation had created. Lena felt so far removed from the space in her apartment, from the interview, as the story built up inside her. She’d been speaking for what felt like forever, so caught up in a flood of memories, of conflicting feelings as old wounds reopened and old kisses were remembered as ghostly touches against her pale skin. There were a thousand memories she didn’t reveal, the small things that seemed so insignificant to the tale she was weaving together but had been so consequential at the time. Those memories utterly consumed her as she sat in the armchair, and thought back on all those decisions she’d made with Kara. It would’ve been easy to walk away at any point, but she’d committed herself to the woman she loved, and she chose to stay at every point. She would always make that decision.

 

            “I think,” Lena suddenly said, breaking her quiet moment of deep thought, her voice low and soft, “I think … perhaps we weren’t really committed the first time around. It was so short-lived that I don’t think we had time to really figure anything out, aside from how we felt about each other.  We loved each other when it was convenient for us to, and when work got in the way, it was an inconvenience . This time around, we were committed. We didn’t make excuses, we just worked harder to make it work, and it was easy because loving her was always so effortless.”


            She hesitated again, swallowing thickly before she let out a flat laugh, a stab of pain in her chest. “It didn’t matter though; it ended, as all things do, in heartbreak. To me, the worst part about being human is that we can’t go back. We can’t change what we did, what we said, the decisions that we made that we would come to regret. I think we could’ve loved each other forever if I’d been able to go back, change my mind and fix things, but I couldn’t, and we’d hurt each other too much to mend it easily. All I hoped was that if I came across that moment again, I’d do it the right way. But I didn’t.”

Chapter Text

So you were never a saint

And I’ve loved in shades of wrong

We learn to live with the pain

Mosaic broken hearts

But this love is brave and wild

 

I never

Saw you coming

And I'll never be the same

 

This is a state of grace

This is the worthwhile fight

Love is a ruthless game

Unless you play it good and right

These are the hands of fate

You're my Achilles heel

This is the golden age of something good and right and real

 

-

 

            “Obviously, at that point we were convinced that we’d make it work this time. We worked so hard at it. Even an hour stolen together when I was in National City for a talk show was precious time to us. It was harder, being on a North American leg, because so much of my time was spent on a tour bus, and I couldn’t go anywhere. I’d be sitting on my bunk, Facetiming her before shows and then going on stage that night and singing all those songs I’d written about her. There was something so … relieving, I suppose, about singing those hard songs, knowing that things had changed since I’d written them. At the start of the tour, I’d be trying so hard not to cry on stage, and I did cry, more than once, but on the third leg … I was happy. I was singing songs about heartbreak and I was more in love than ever.”

 

            “This distance wasn’t a problem?”

 

            “It was. It’s always problem, but that doesn’t mean it has to ruin things. It just taught us how to miss each other, how to communicate better and put our trust in our commitment to each other. The first time, distance was the thing that did ruin us, but the second time around, we didn’t take the easy way out. We figured out how to make it work. ”

 

            “Of course, there are a lot of celebrity couples that do make it work, but I’m assuming there were a few extra barriers for you. Especially keeping it a secret.”

 

            Lena laughed, giving her an exasperated look, “it was the hardest thing in the world. When you love someone, you don’t want to be afraid to love them, and we had to be. We had people on both sides telling us that the moment we slipped up, our careers would be over. I think that was more so on my side, and Kara wasn’t as strict about keeping it a secret as I was. When we got back together, I actually kept it from my team for a while, just so I didn’t have to go through all of that panic again. Love is never easy, but it’s even harder when you have people instilling that kind of fear in you, especially at such a young age. It was almost like they were trying to convince me that my feelings weren’t real.”

 

            “How did that feel?”

 

            “It made me feel awful the first time around like I was pretending, and that made me embarrassed because I thought it was all so real and they were telling me it was a phase. But of course, real love happens, and it’s not just something we make up when we’re nine. I had to believe that, and so I loved her anyway. I realised that as much of myself as I put into my music, no one else really had any clue how I was feeling. It just made it easier to love her without all of their rules, and it was difficult enough being on tour for so long.”

 


 

            At the end of May, Lena went back on tour. The past few weeks had been a rose-coloured dream with Kara, just the two of them in the privacy of Lena’s estate, making up for lost time. In so many ways, it was like Kara had always been there, but there were moments where it was glaringly uncomfortable to be reminded of it.

 

            The first time was when Lena had bought almond milk for her, only for Kara to tell her that she’d given up on being vegan. She’d given Lena a sheepish look full of apology and Lena had laughed it off, with a small twinge in her heart, the ghost of her heartbreak being gently reminded of the cracks that had mended in a messy mosaic of broken pieces. She’d learnt to live with the aching over the past few months, but there was a part of her that didn’t think she’d ever be the same because of it. And it wasn’t that she blamed Kara either. It wouldn’t have been fair to blame her for her imperfections, and Lena was okay with the fact that she’d given her heart to someone flawed, and chose to love her anyway. In her opinion, loving Kara was a worthwhile fight, because it felt so right and she’d never felt anything more real, and she didn’t need Kara to apologise over and over again to know that she regretted her decision.

            Instead, she focused on the good parts. She decided to dwell on how it felt to sit on her back porch, surrounded by the fresh smell of plants and the warm desert air swept in on a summer breeze, with Kara curled up beside her under a heavy knitted blanket. How peaceful she felt, sitting by the fire, strumming her guitar while Kara read over her scripts, both of them consumed by their passions while they quietly supported each other.

 

            Kara would drive to hers at midnight and they’d make breakfast together when the sun came up, scrambling eggs in a pan while one of them buttered toast. Brewing coffee and sitting along the kitchen bar, the little orange tree hanging heavily with tiny tangerine fruits near the French doors opening out to the sheltered porch. They played Scrabble at night, and Kara taught her how to make Matzo for Pesach Sheni. In the late hours, when the city was asleep and the night was impenetrably dark, they went for long drives, drinking coffee as they sat on the bonnet, shoulders brushing and stared up at the stars in the middle of the desert. Lena had found that quiet love again, she held on so tightly that she imagined there would be claw marks if Kara was ever pried away from her.

 

            When her tour started back up again at the end of the month, it was with apprehensive excitement. While Lena loved touring, loved to perform for crowds of people who sang the words back to her and took the time to come and see her show, she couldn’t deny that there was a part of her terrified that if she left again, Kara wouldn’t be waiting for her when she got back. Kara hadn’t been able to withstand the distance when she’d left, and this time she was the one leaving.

 

            She said goodbye to her in the grey dawn, standing in the doorway of Kara’s apartment, a nervousness to her movements as her eyes swam with worry. Giving her a sad, knowing smile, Kara cradled her face in her hands, regret flickering in her blue eyes, and she kissed her softly, tenderly stroking her face with the soft pads of her thumbs.

 

            “I’ll see you in two weeks,” Kara earnestly promised.

 

            “Two weeks,” Lena murmured in agreement.

 

            She had a few days gap between her Detroit and St. Paul shows, and was coming back to National City, just for two days. Two days seemed like a pitifully short amount of time, but it was the most that she could give them, and they both clung to it like a lifeline. This time, they wouldn’t let the line tethering them together snap. Lena knew how much it hurt, and she knew that she could bear that pain and come through it on top, but she also knew that she would miss Kara forever, and she didn’t want to miss her like that. Not again. This time, they were both determined to outlast her tour, but just because you wanted something to happen, it didn’t mean it would. Lena was full of doubt.

 

            “I know you’re unsure,” Kara haltingly said, “I know you’re worried that we- that I’ll-”

 

            Lena’s grave expression softened and she let out a quiet laugh, her shoulders going slack as she met her blue eyes. Reaching up, Lena brushed her fingertips against the back of Kara’s hand, still pressed against her cheek, and she smiled slightly. “No,” she whispered, “no, that’s not it. I’m just going to miss you too much.”

 

            Kara quietly laughed as she pressed a kiss to Lena’s dark curls, wrapping her in a gentle hug. Breathing in the smell of her laundry detergent, Lena brought her arms up to hold her close, pressing her face into her shoulder.

 

            “I’ll miss you too,” Kara whispered, her warm breath tickling Lena’s ear.

 

            Slowly pulling back, Lena gave her a grim smile as she looked up at her, carefully brushing a lock of blonde hair out of Kara’s face, before firmly pressing her lips against hers. She kissed her again, and again, before pulling back and inhaling deeply. Running a hand through her curls, Lena sighed heavily.

 

            “I have to go.”

 

            “Call me when you get there.”

 

            “I will.”

 

            “I love you.”

 

            One side of Lena’s mouth lifted into a half-hearted smile. “I love you too.”

 

            Kara smiled and leant down, gently kissing her as she cupped the back of her neck. “Go and give them a show they won’t forget.”

 

            Letting out a choked laugh, Lena blinked back tears. “I’ll see you soon.”

 

            The first show of her North American leg was in Omaha, and she put every bit of herself into the show. She felt like she owed it to herself and Kara to be the best she could, to make the distance between them worthwhile. If it wasn’t for the tour, she’d be in National City, sleeping beside Kara and waking up with her in the morning. But she loved her job, she loved performing and bringing out albums full of songs other people echoed back to her in a seat of faceless people, night after night. She knew that even if she had the chance, she wouldn’t have given that up for a moment. Her career was everything, every bit as meaningful and important as Kara was, and Lena wouldn’t give it up easily. And Kara wouldn’t ask her to either. They both respected each other too much to ask them to put their careers on hold for a fragile relationship. As intent as they both were to make it work, they were still both so young, and so much could change so quickly. But for now, they kept the dream alive that they could have everything.

 

            Her tour progressed with infrequent trips back to National City, some barely an hour stolen at coffee shops near the airport, but they made it work and held onto the fact that the tour wasn’t forever. As much as Lena loved performing, it became exhausting after a while, and she was looking forward to a real break. Some time to rest and write new music, to start the cycle all over again. But the tour wouldn’t be over until March the following year, so they cherished what time they could steal.

 

            She played four shows in LA at the end of August, and Kara came to all four of them. At the first show, she bought a t-shirt and cried, and after the show, Lena held her tightly in her arms in her dressing room, cherishing the familiar feel of her after so long without seeing her. Lena hadn’t even known that she was going to be there, or at the other shows, and she shone on stage for those four nights, brimming with joy and love as she sang about devastating heartbreak while the woman she loved watched on from a sea of faces. It didn’t feel real anymore, the darkness that had hung around Lena like a cloud and been the source of the sadness she’d poured into her songs. It didn’t feel real when she was with Kara. All she knew was love and a soothing calmness. There was nothing sad and tragic about it; it was just beautiful.

 

            It wasn’t until early that September that they made a public outing together thought. Not just by themselves, but with their friends too, but it was an event that kickstarted a much greater publicity stunt than either of them had been anticipating. Lena had played in Sacramento two nights before and had come home to surprise Kara. Feeling so exuberated, they’d even been willing to risk a tryst out into the daylight with each other, and the company of a few friends to provide some fodder if any rumours arose.

 

            A nice afternoon at a flea market in Downtown National City with Alex, Imra, Jess and Winn turned into a disaster the moment that Lena saw the first camera flash. She didn’t physically react to it, but she caught it out of the corner of her eye and dread made her stomach clench. They’d thought that they could stay unnoticed at a flea market, of all places, but with a few recognisable faces in one place, it was only a matter of time before someone realised who they were.

 

            “We’ve been spotted,” Lena mumbled through numb lips.

 

            Kara kept her smile in place, sunglasses hiding her eyes, and slung an arm around Winn’s shoulders, “relax, it’s nothing to worry about. We’re allowed to be friends.”

 

            Making a small sound of irritation and panic at the back of her throat, Lena glanced in the direction the flashes were coming from, before huddling closer in their small circle. She wasn’t thrilled by the arrival of the paparazzi, but she knew that Kara was right, and she smiled slightly as she eyed the blonde holding a red, paper parasol. They’d been having such a good day, browsing old leather-bound books and moth-eaten lace dresses from sixty years ago, eating street food and laughing amongst themselves as they enjoyed the early autumn warmth. The weather was still quite mild in National City at that time of year, and the leaves had barely started turning from yellow to orange. It was still warm enough for Lena to feel comfortable in her emerald green sundress, her brooding eyes hidden behind the lenses of her sunglasses as she tried not to let her mood turn sour.

 

            They left not too long after, Lena and Kara climbing into their separate cars parked a block away from each other, before driving to Lena’s house. The moment that she was behind her gated walls, the tension bled out of her, and she gave Kara a soft smile when she showed up ten minutes after her, a pot of coffee already brewing and fresh slices of blackberry pie plated up for them. Sitting outside, they basked in the weak sunlight and breathed in the slight smell of decay as they stared out at the fiery trees surrounding them.

 

            “I’m sorry I’m being so paranoid,” Lena eventually said.

 

            Eyebrows rising in surprise, Kara’s expression softened and she took a bite of the pie as she reached across the table for Lena’s hand, running her thumb across the pale knuckles of her hand, smiling around her fork. Lena gave her a faint smile in return, feeling a little silly for letting her fears agitate her after such a good day, but it wasn’t just the public she was worried about seeing them together. She knew that Rhea had alerts for news articles about her, and the moment that photos of her and Kara appeared together on the front of a trashy gossip site, she knew she’d find herself being hauled into Morgan Edge’s office for another talk.

 

            “Hey, no, don’t be sorry. I know it’s risky, and scary - for both of us. But it was nice to get out of the house, right? Nice to do something normal. We should do it more often.”

 

            Lena’s heart softened as her stomach gently fluttered, love warming her chest as she watched Kara’s face light up in delight. And she was right, it had been nice to go out and do something normal. They so rarely got to go out with each other, but they’d been with their friends and they’d had fun and it had made Lena feel ordinary. She hadn’t felt like an international popstar, none of them had, and it had been nice to spend time with people who understood and didn’t treat her like she was special, after weeks of looking out at adoring crowds. She just felt like herself, completely herself, and Lena wanted to feel like that all the time.

 

            “We should,” Lena murmured in agreement, a relieved smile flitting across her face as she picked up her coffee cup.

 

            “So I was thinking … I know that we’re supposed to be a secret, but I thought that maybe we could be friends.”

 

            “Friends?” Lena slowly said, bewildered amusement dancing in her eyes as she arched an eyebrow.

 

            Shrugging, Kara set her fork down, brushing crumbs off her lap and leant forward, forearms braced on the table, sleeves rolled up to her elbows to reveal the lightly tanned skin and the spider web of pale blue veins tracing their way beneath her skin as she reached out to Lena, fingers splayed as she held her hand open. Placing her hand in Kara’s, Lena traced her thumb lightly across the tendons of her wrist, a small smile curling her lips.

 

            “Think about it,” Kara insisted. “Nothing was wrong about today. We were seen together, the world didn’t end, no one thinks we’re together. We could be friends in public. No one would have to know. Not at all.”

 

            Uneasiness filled Lena as she pressed her lips together in a hard line, brows furrowing together and doubt filling her mind. Understanding bloomed on Kara’s face and she smiled, squeezing Lena’s hand for a brief moment, before pulling back, her fingers lightly tracing across her palm, before her warm touch vanished. She picked up her fork again, taking another bite of pie, and her eyes crinkled at the corner as she looked at Lena from across the table.

 

            “You don’t have to decide anything now. Just think about it. Imagine what it would be like if we could just … go for coffee. To the movies, or shopping, or just … go to the park.”

 

            Lena thought about it. She thought about it in silence for the next few hours, enjoying the afternoon warmth, watching as the azure sky began to purple as dusk approached, bringing a bite to the wind, making her shiver. They retreated inside to the kitchen, and she parked Kara down on a stool along the kitchen counters and set about cooking them dinner. Meatballs simmered in a tomato sauce, and they fell into easy conversation as Lena sprinkled herbs in the sauce, adding an extra dash of wine from the bottle she opened, grating parmesan in a small bowl and putting their conversation to the back of her mind.

 

            Fetching a thick cardigan for herself and a blanket for Kara, she lit a fire in the brick pit, filling the air with the comforting smell of woodsmoke and the orange, soothing glow. Refilling their wine glasses with the opened bottle of Merlot, she carried them outside to the candlelit table, where Kara was arranging their bowls of food. Lena had put on an old vinyl on the record player inside, and soft, staticky music crackled through the open porch doors as they basked in the hushed quietness of the early autumn evening.

 

            Hours later, they found themselves curled up beneath the blanket she’d given Kara, looking out at the velvety blackness of the night sky, a smattering of stars visible through gaps in the vine-draped pergola. There was an effortlessness to the night, the easy way they fit together on the wide outdoor sofa, the way that they didn’t have to say a word but could feel the love radiating off each other and the comforting sound of Kara’s heartbeat beneath her ear as she lay with her head on her chest. She could’ve stayed there forever, but the sound of her phone buzzing on the table broke the peacefulness of the moment.

 

            Softly sighing, she extracted herself from Kara’s warm embrace and reached for her phone, her stomach lurching as she took in the name of her PR manager and quietly groaned before answering. Delaying wouldn’t make it any easier.

 

            “Rhea, hi.”

 

            “Lena. Hi, I’m just looking at some new photos of you. From today, actually.”

 

            “Today? Oh, well I wasn’t up to much today.”

 

            “No, just some shopping it looks like. With Kara.”

 

            “And friends,” Lena added.

 

            Rhea let out a snort of laughter and sighed, the clipped curtness of her voice warming as she replied. “Is there something you want to tell me? Something that Mercy and Morgan should know?”

 

            Slowly climbing to her feet, Lena ran a hand through her curls, guilt creeping up on her as she padded away from the sofa and stepped out of the glow of the fire. Standing at the edge of the verandah, she looked out at the darkness and sighed. “I was going to tell you all. I just- I don’t want to make things any harder, and you know what Morgan’s like.”

 

            “I know, I know. But we’re on your side. We need to know these things so that we can help you.”

 

            “Help me how? I know none of you like this. It’s a problem. You’re supposed to fix my problems.”

 

            “There are options. We talked about them before, remember? If you’re going to be reckless, you should consider them.”

 

            “Reckless?! We were at a flea market. With friends. Who’s going to think we’re dating from that? At most, people will think we’re friends.”

 

            Rhea softly sighed on the other end of the phone. “But you’re not friends, Lena. Don’t you see how damaging this can be? One wrong word from one of your friends who knows, and it’ll be known throughout the whole world. One wrong move at a private party and it’ll be known throughout the entire industry. You need to be serious about this.”

 

            “I am serious,” Lena bitingly replied, bristling slightly as she felt the embers of anger slowly burning to life inside her. “But I don’t want to be cooped up at home all the time because I’m not allowed outside with her. Please. Trust me. I’m not stupid, I’m not a kid, Rhea.”

 

            “Just … come to the office tomorrow, okay? We can talk then. I promise you I won’t let Morgan bully you.”

 

            Biting her lip, Lena hesitated for a moment, before the tension bled out of her shoulders and she ducked her head down, letting out a defeated sigh. “Okay. Tomorrow.”

 

            “Thank you,” Rhea quietly replied, her voice full of relief, “have a good night. Try and get some rest; you’re back on tour in a few days.”

 

            “Yeah, I will,” Lena murmured, “goodnight.”

 

            Hanging up, she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, the bracing coldness and the smell of petrichor and woodsmoke filling her senses as she stood at the edge of the porch and felt her insides clench with worry. A moment later, she exhaled sharply and tipped her head back, eyes snapping open to stare at the snaking vines above her. Quiet footsteps padded up behind her and warm arms wound around her waist, and Lena leant back against the reassuring solidity of Kara’s body.

 

            “Everything okay?”

 

            “You’d better hope that being friends will work or we’re both fucked.”

 


 

            “I went back to National City as much as I could while on tour and I was just swept up in this dreamy romance. Months had passed and I’d already forgiven her, but Kara really tried her best to do what she could to make it up to me. We couldn’t go out for romantic dinners or kiss on sidewalks or anything like that, but it was the little things. They’ve always meant more to me than any big gesture. That was always more her kind of thing, and I’ve always regretted the fact that I couldn’t give her that. She always said writing albums about her was a bigger gesture than anyone else could even dream of getting.”

 

            Lena smiled faintly, her eyes softening slightly as a tenderness coloured her voice.

 

            “I’d be cooking us breakfast in the morning and she’d come up and hug me from behind. She’d bring me a flower she’d picked from the side of the road on her drive over. We’d go on dates to the park where we’d just walk around in baseball caps and sunglasses, trying to go unnoticed. Sometimes when we were out late with friends, and we wouldn’t get home until late, she’d kiss me underneath the lampposts. Pull me closer while we slept, and dance with me in the middle of the living room at three o’clock in the morning. We did whatever small thing we could, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”

 

            “You’ve already said that you broke up again. Twice more, in fact. And it sounds like it was Kara each time … but you don’t sound as if you hold it against her at all. Why not? Aren’t you mad? Doesn’t remembering all of these sweet moments and knowing it’s all gone make you upset? You sound like you still care about her.”

 

            “I do. I do care about her. I love her, in fact, and I want the best for her, regardless of what she’s done to me. I was complicit in some of our problems too, you know. We just haven’t quite reached that part of the story yet. But yes, some of it was my fault, and when I get there, I’ll tell it as truthfully as I can, because she’s not the villain in this story, and I owe it to her to be honest.”

 

            Amusement coloured Leslie’s features and she gave her a questioning look, a slight hint of suspicion in her eyes as she cocked her head to the side. “Are you going to be honest about everything? Or just her.”

 

            “Oh everything,” Lena said, blinking in surprise, “I’d assume. It’s a long story, and she’s so central to it, so of course, I’m going to be truthful about everything that happened with her . I’m not innocent by any means. We fought and we argued, and I got jealous and mad, and she broke my heart, but that doesn’t mean we were ever bad people. It just made us human. Like I said, this story doesn’t have a villain. It’s not a fairytale. It’s the harsh truth of what growing up is like, and how true love isn’t always rosy perfection. Sometimes it hurts and they might not be able to love you the way you need them to, even if they do love you. I think we were like that. Never quite able to love each other in the way we needed to be loved.”

 

            “Can I ask you one question?”

 

            Quirking an eyebrow, Lena gave her a droll smile. “Isn’t that why you’re here?”

 

            “Does Kara know that you’re doing this?”

Chapter Text

Before you I'd only dated self-indulgent takers,

Who took all of their problems out on me.

But you carry my groceries, and now I'm always laughin'.

And I love you because you have given me no choice but to...

 

Stay, stay, stay.

I've been lovin' you for quite some time, time, time.

You think that it's funny when I'm mad, mad, mad.

But I think that it's best if we both stay, stay, stay, stay.

 

You took the time to memorize me:

My fears, my hopes, and dreams.

I just like hangin' out with you all the time.

All those times that you didn't leave;

It's been occurring to me I'd like to hang out with you for my whole life.

 

-

 

            “Does Kara know?” Lena laughed, her eyes creasing at the corners, fine lines radiating outwards as her face was etched with amusement. She couldn’t help but laugh; the thought of being so honest at the expense of Kara’s trust in her was unthinkable. “Of course she does!”

 

            “She does?” Leslie incredulously asked.

 

            Nodding, Lena smiled faintly. “What, you think I'd reveal all of this without her permission!? It’s what she’s always wanted. To be honest; for me to be honest. Of course, she came out … what is it, six years ago now? But me … well, I took my time.”

 

            There was a pause for a moment before Leslie furrowed her eyebrows and gave her a perplexed look. “Why wait so long? I mean … you two were together on three separate occasions, and I’m assuming at least once after Kara came out, so … why …”

 

            “We were, yes. It was hard for me, that time around. The last time. Kara was out, she was free , and I was scared. I think there’s a big difference in the way that people view actors and singers. For Kara, she played a role, and people cared about that character she played on-screen, and they could look past who she was outside of her roles. For me … my songs and myself were intertwined. I put all of my personal life into my songs, and I was judged for that. Kara could go out and star opposite as many men as she wanted to, and everyone could ignore the fact that she liked women as well, but for me … I knew that if I came out as a lesbian,” she paused for a moment, swallowing thickly, “if I put her and she into my lyrics … that could be the end of my career. So I kept it to myself. And now I’m not.”

 

            “So you told her you were doing this interview?”

 

            “I did. She thought it was a great idea. We trust each other enough for her to know that I would never twist the truth so that it could be misconstrued as her being the bad person in this. I think she was just relieved that I’d finally reached a point where I could be honest. There was a time where she thought I’d never be ready, and that was too much for her. Too much for us both.”

 

            Trailing off, Lena let her gaze wander back to the window. The sky was slate grey and the rain had lightened to a slight drizzle, and it perfectly matched her mood in that moment, the bleakness weighing heavily in her heart as she recalled all of the doubt and hardships. It had all been so hard. There was a time when Lena wouldn’t have been able to admit to any one of the things she’d already revealed so far, when she would’ve stayed up all night arguing with Kara about why it was better for her to stay in the closet, her own voice repeating the words drilled into her by Morgan Edge. She’d been afraid of him, in a sense. The power that he had over her, the monopoly he had on her career and her freedom. But even if he’d given her the option to be free to take those risks with her career, she wasn’t sure she would’ve been ready anyway. It was a big decision, and it had taken her years to get to this point. Years of heartbreak, of loneliness and people trying endlessly to pull her down from her perch at the top of the industry. It had all been too much.

 

            “And now … it’s not enough. I spent a long time being scared, pushing her away, and my biggest regret now is that I let someone else frighten me into silence.”

 

            “That someone being Morgan Edge?”

 

            Letting out a weary sigh, Lena anxiously ran a hand through her hair, “look, I’m not going to slander him if that’s what you’re expecting. He wasn’t an evil person; he was a businessman. But I won't deny that I was manipulated as a child, and then bullied as I grew into myself, into my career. The record label came first, in everything, and I was a part of that. I was that. The record label has never been anything without me, and it just … it took me a while to realise that I was just an investment. Nothing more. I’m sure it’ll come up later on, but he did what he thought was best for himself, at the expense of what was best for me, and I was stuck, and now I’m not."

 


 

            The talk at the office didn’t go down well. While not angry at the fact that she was back with Kara, it was clear that it was an inconvenience for Rhea and Mercy, with extra work piled on top on the off chance that any rumours started circulating. She wasn’t warned off Kara again, having already had that conversation, but the warnings were there. Subtle, but there. In the end, the circled back around the same old argument about her partaking in a publicity stunt with an up-and-coming actor, a new singer with a recent hit trying to scrabble for more popularity, perhaps a good looking model she could pose with on the carpets. Lena refused, and her tour was back on the road, and the matter was put to rest for the time being.

 

            October breezed in with a burst of red leaves and cold nights, and Lena found herself back in National City again for two nights. With a little under two months left on her North American leg of the Speak Now world tour, Lena was used to the constant comings and goings, the late nights, the endless crowds and after show meet and greets, and she basked in her success, somewhat smug about the fact that she’d proven all of the negative critics wrong. Her album had sold a million copies in its first week, she’d written all of those songs herself, she played those songs night after night while people sang the words back to her and enveloped her in their devotion. It was almost enough to go to her head. Not quite - she was too grounded for that, too careful to expect things to last - but almost.

 

            As soon as she’d been dropped off at her house by a black town car, carrying a small bag and a leather guitar case inside, she called Kara, a smile in her voice as she tiredly told her she was home. It was already late, past midnight, Lena having flown in straight from a show, glitter still speckling her skin and a faded ‘13’ staining the back of her hand where she hadn’t been able to wash it off. Her face was freshly washed, bruise coloured half-moons beneath her eyes and lethargy to her movements.

 

            By the time she’d changed into a pair of sweatpants and a jumper, the kettle was on and the heating had taken the edge off the chill emanating through the empty house, and there was a knock on the door and Lena’s tired expression softened as comfort rushed through her at the mere thought of Kara’s arms and her gentle voice. It had only been three weeks this time, but it had still felt like an age. No matter how long they were apart, it was always hard, and it always felt like coming home when they were back together.

 

            Pulling open the door with a smile already gracing her face, she stepped out onto the cold bricked porch and threw her arms around Kara, feeling arms wind around her and lift her off her feet, her laughter warm in her ears and rumbling deep inside her as Lena held her tightly. Feet settling back down onto the cold floor, Lena suppressed a shiver as cold wind snatched at her hair, fanning it out around her face as she held Kara by her shoulders, smiling up at her.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            “I’ve missed you,” Kara sighed, a tender look in her eyes as she ducked her head down and pressed her lips to Lena’s, cradling her face in the featherlight touch of her fingertips as she smiled into it. “Come on, let’s go inside. It’s freezing.”

 

            Giving her a look of adoration, Lena wound her fingers through Kara’s and pulled her into the warmth, before letting go and walking down the hallway, leaving Kara to shrug off her coat and kick off her shoes. The kettle had finished boiling by the time that they made their way further into the house, the night an impenetrable blackness outside the windows as they huddled in the golden warmth of the kitchen. Lena felt relieved to be back with Kara, happy and content as she pulled out fine china cups and saucers, carefully bringing out a teapot and filling it with peppermint tea and topping it up with boiling water.

 

            “Are you hungry? I’m sure I have biscuits around here somewhere. I got Mercy to make sure I had some groceries-”

 

            “I’m going to Luxembourg,” Kara blurted out, a tautness to her shoulders as she braced herself.

 

            Lena paused, a look of confusion flitting across her face as she opened and closed her mouth. Setting the teapot down, she breathed in the soothing aroma of peppermint tea as she pressed her hands flat against the kitchen counters.

 

            “What do you mean you’re going to Luxembourg?”

 

            “I’ve been offered a role,” Kara hesitantly said, a wariness brewing in her blue eyes as she shifted uncomfortably on the spot. “In Luxembourg. And France. Shooting starts in five weeks.”

 

            Choking on a sound of surprise, Lena’s face fell. “Five weeks? I go on break in four weeks. I thought that you- we were going to spend the holidays together.”

 

            “I know,” Kara murmured.

 

            “Luxembourg?”

 

            “It’s far, I know.”

 

            Letting out a shuddering laugh, Lena gave her an incredulous look, “far? Kara, it’s on the other side of the world! You’ll be gone my entire break.”

 

            “It’s a good offer, Lena. A good role.”

 

            “What about us?” she asked, her voice quiet and trembling and full of sadness and heartbreak.

 

            Kara exhaled sharply, running a hand through her hair as she looked at Lena with wide, mournful eyes. She screwed her eyes shut for a moment, her throat bobbing as she swallowed thickly, fiddling with the cuff of her baggy Gucci sweater, looking uncharacteristically small and faded. Kara was so like the sun in so many ways, warm and luminous, radiating comfort and light as if she was made from it, but it was subdued as her eyelashes fluttered and eyelids opened to reveal pleading eyes.

 

            “It doesn’t change anything. I can- filming will pause for Christmas. We’ll still spend it together.”

 

            “And what about the rest of the time?” Lena snapped.

 

            Shrugging, Kara gestured helplessly as she spluttered wordlessly, “what do you want me to do? Not work? Put off jobs so that we can hide in your house? You’ve been on tour for months , Lena. Months. And I’ve never once begrudged you that.”

 

            Making a sound of irritation at the back of her throat, Lena scowled, “I don’t begrudge you this, I-” she faltered for a moment, the urge to cry creeping up on her, and she curled her hands into fists. “I don’t want you to go!”

 

            “I don’t want to go, but-”

 

            “If you didn’t want to go, you wouldn’t!”

 

            “You’re not being fair, Lena.”

 

            “Fair?”

 

            Her phone in hand, Lena gripped it tightly as anger flickered to life inside her, her shoulders growing taut as her stomach roiled uncomfortably. As her anger flared up, burning in her chest, she threw her phone across the room, striking the wainscoting to the right of Kara, whose eyes widened slightly, before Lena’s mouth fell open. Her stomach lurched and words failed her for a moment, before she squeezed her eyes shut, digging the heels of her palms into her eye sockets as she fought back the urge to cry.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she quietly said, her cheeks reddening with shame as she turned away from Kara, who was still rooted to the spot.

 

            Wiping at her face, Lena crossed over to the counters lining the wall and reached out with a shaky hand to straighten up the trinkets arranged in a row, while she waited for Kara to leave. She was expecting her to go, to leave in anger and ignore her apologetic calls the next morning when Lena had calmed down, but she heard her moving behind her, reaching down to pick up Lena’s phone, slow footsteps crossing over the island and setting it down on the counter, before moving towards the door.

 

            “I think I’m going to go to bed,” Kara quietly said, her voice hoarse and soft before she left.

 

            Lena’s shoulders sagged as the tension bled out of her, bracing herself against the counters as she fought back the burning feeling in her eyes. Clearing her throat, she ran a hand through her curls and let out a forceful sigh. Guilt threatened to overwhelm her and the house felt unnaturally still and quiet, two cups of tea cooling on the counter, untouched.

 

            Turning around, she quietly padded over to her phone, picking it up and looking down at the cracked screen with embarrassment, before she walked to the door, switched the lights off and plunged herself into darkness. Fingers brushing against the walls, she followed the familiar path to her bedroom and stepped into the cold room, the air still and undisturbed.

 

            Padding over to the bed, she sank down onto the edges and reached out for the lamp, illuminating the scene she already knew she would find. The bedsheets were smooth and neatly made, throw pillows messily piled up and her bed empty. Reaching out, she shoved the pillows off the bed one by one, exhaustion and regret washing over her, before she slipped beneath the covers.

 

            It was lonely and cold and night seemed to stretch on forever. Lena didn’t sleep much, and the moment the sky lightened around the edges of the curtains she climbed out of bed, restless and upset, remorse choking her as she made her way towards the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, filling the kitchen with the warm aroma as she slipped back out into the hallway. Hugging her bathrobe to herself, bottom lip trembling half with cold and half with fear, expecting the worst, she made her way towards one of the guest rooms - the one where Kara kept a few of her things - and paused outside, before hesitantly knocking. Kara would be up. Lena knew that if her mind was heavy with their argument, if she was restless and sleep was hard to come by, Kara was feeling that too.

 

            Sure enough, she heard the blanket rustle inside and she swallowed thickly, hand pressed against the wooden door as she bowed her head, finding herself nervous. “Hey. I was- I thought maybe we could talk … about last night.”

 

            “I’ll be out in a minute.”

 

            Nodding to herself, Lena turned and walked back towards the kitchen, pulling two mugs out of the cupboards and filling them with strong, bitter black coffee. She stirred two sugars into Kara’s and added milk to hers, before setting them down on the counter and hurriedly cleaning up the embarrassing cups full of tea from the night before, while she heard the sound of footsteps on the hardwood floors, growing closer.

 

            And then Kara stepped into the room with a vivid red Metropolis Meteors football helmet on, folding her arms over her chest as she stopped just inside the door, blonde hair slipping out from underneath the massive helmet, while her crystalline eyes sparkled with amusement and lips twitched with a smile.

 

            “Okay, let’s talk.”

 

            Lena burst into laughter, worried expression softening as the tension inside her unknotted and her shoulders slumped. Her heart ached with so much love that it was almost painful, and she pressed her hands to her heart, head tilting to the side as she stared at Kara with adoration swimming in her green eyes.

 

            “I love you.”

 

            “I love you too,” Kara breathlessly replied, shoulders slackening as she slowly moved towards the island counter, reaching out for her coffee.

 

            “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. You were right; I’m not being fair. I just- I don’t want to lose you again, and I feel like if you go again … you won’t come back. But I’m sorry for losing my temper.”

 

            Kara gave her a half-hearted smile from behind the wire face guard, reaching up to rap her knuckles against the polished and signed helmet. It had been gifted to Lena by the football team when she’d gone to a game on her last visit to Metropolis and had been tucked away in a guest room ever since. She sighed as she shook her head slightly.

 

            “Well, just in case you throw anything else in my direction, I’m all sorted.”

 

            “I didn’t mean to- I wasn’t aiming for you.”

 

            Reaching across the counters, Kara softly smiled at her and took Lena’s hands in her own, a look of gentle understanding in her eyes. “I know,” she murmured, “I know how you feel. I feel it every time you go again. I’ll feel it again in a few days.”

 

            She sighed as she reached up and pulled the bulky helmet off, sitting her joke down on the counter beside her cup of coffee and leant forward on her forearms, lips pressed together in a flat line as the corners curled up slightly. And then Kara laughed, and Lena felt like she’d been kicked in the stomach, the air rushing out of her lungs at the pure sound of it. There was nothing else quite like Kara’s laughter, so pure and effortless and full of joy, and it hit her with a pang of loneliness and the sudden urge to make her stay.

 

            “It’s quite funny when you’re mad,” Kara said, flashing her a smile as her eyes crinkled at the corners. “You’ve never been mad at me before.”

 

            “Oh, believe me, I have,” Lena darkly muttered, before swallowing and giving her a grim smile, “but I was wrong to this time. I just- I want you to stay.”

 

            “I want to stay too, but this is my career. It’s important to me.”

 

            Looking down, Lena let out a pent up breath as she swirled the coffee around in her cup, sadness welling up inside her. “I know, which is why I want you to go. I want you to go, but ... stay. Don’t leave now. You could’ve left all those other times I was gone, so … don’t go and not stay. God, this is all coming out so wrong, I just- last time you left, you didn’t come back.”

 

            “I’ll stay,” Kara quietly promised, a spasm of pain flickering across her face. Slowly rounding the end of the counters and reaching out to cup Lena’s face in her hands, Kara ran her thumbs gently across Lena's cheekbones, her eyes soft and full of love. “I love you too much to not come back. Just promise me you’ll stay too.”

 

            “I love you too,” Lena said, voice hoarse as she wrapped her arms around Kara and buried her face in her shoulder, hugging her tightly as she let out a shuddering breath, body going slack in Kara’s arms. “You’ve given me no other choice but to stay.”

 


 

            “What I’ve learnt is … sometimes it is my fault. As much as I didn’t want to admit that I was wrong, sometimes I was. And people have made the joke that I should write a song called ‘maybe I’m the problem’ about a million times over the years, because I only ever blame everyone else, but that’s not true. I know when I’ve been wrong, and it’s okay that I'm wrong sometimes, because it’s human and my emotions get the best of me at times. I think what was important to me was accepting my mistakes and trying to learn from them. I’ve never changed, but I’ve never stayed the same either. I always grow, and that comes from learning and improving myself. And I wasn't always good at that. Sometimes I was selfish. Jealous. Angry. All the ugly things that no one ever wants to admit that they are.”

 

            Pausing, she bit her lip as she stared down at her lap, a frown creasing her brow as she felt her heart leap into her throat. Letting out a shaky breath, Lena looked up, a sad smile curling the corners of her lips as she met Leslie’s stare with glassy eyes, the warning prickle of incoming tears threatening to rise to the surface as she fought to stamp down her feelings and painful memories.

 

            “I was wrong. I was wrong so much when I was with her. And this is sorry. Sorry for all the mistakes I didn’t own up to at the time because I was too proud to admit that I was wrong. I’ve always protected myself when it comes to love, because I know what the fallout looks like. I’ve felt that before. But I think … I was too cautious. I took risks with Kara, but I was never quite so reckless as she was. I think that was part of the problem. By keeping a huge part of my life to myself, I made it so that the fallout was a thousand times more painful than it had to be. I let myself fall so deeply in love that it rippled into a much greater pain at a later date. I wanted to love someone who would stay; stay and be there, always. But everything in life is just for a while; I just tricked myself into thinking that it was forever. And nothing has ever hurt quite so much as realising that nothing lasts forever. Even when they promise that they’ll stay.”

Chapter Text

Taxi cabs and busy streets,

That never bring you back to me,

I can't help but wish you took me with you...

 

And this is when the feeling sinks in,

I don't wanna miss you like this,

Come back... be here, come back... be here.

I guess you're in London today,

I don't wanna need you this way,

Come back... be here, come back... be here.

 

This is falling in love in the cruellest way,

This is falling for you when you are worlds away.

 

New York... be here.

But you're in London and I break down,

'Cause it's not fair that you're not around.

 

-

 

            A week later, after four more shows, she was home from Memphis on Halloween, and on an impulsive urge, she found herself getting her driver to pull in at an animal shelter they passed by. The woman behind the counter was wearing a pair of cat ears for Halloween, a tiny kitten curled up in a bed behind the counter, and her eyes widened slightly with recognition as Lena stepped inside, pushing sunglasses up onto her dark curls.

 

            Moments later, she was walking down the middle of a long room, dogs of varying sizes and breeds and ages held back behind chain-link cage doors, rattling as dogs pawed at them, yipping and barking for attention as the woman led Lena past them. Her heart grew heavy seeing old dogs laying down, abandoned and defeated, the unwanted puppies that had been dropped off, and the mangy strays with a starved look to them. Lena wanted to take them all home.

 

            But then she saw one. A tiny puppy in a pen with a massive Labrador nursing an assorted litter, it was sitting in the corner, softly whining, barely bigger than Lena’s palm, and her heart melted at the sight of it. It was a French Bulldog. Beige velvety fur and black around the nose and feet, ears pricking up as she crouched down. All of the other puppies were busy with the Labrador, who lay there calmly observing Lena, but the bulldog tottered towards her and licked at Lena’s fingers as she poked them through the fence.

 

            “This one,” she said, a smile curling her lips.

 

            She left the shelter with her new puppy cradled in her arms, her bodyguard carrying an armful of supplies, and a cheque left inside to cover the costs of the shelter for a couple of months. In the back of the car, she held the puppy up to eye-level and smiled as it waved its small paws in a paddling motion, dark liquid eyes looking at her with sadness, and she cradled it back against her chest, thinking of names as she was driven back to her home in the foothills.

 

            The sky was a pale blue, burnt orange leaves were blown down streets as trees lining the sidewalks clung to summer, and she smiled faintly to herself as she was driven towards home, the warm, decaying smell of autumn in National City rushing in through the windows. At the end of her driveway, she climbed out of the car with her puppy cradled in her arms and a thank you for the driver, leaving her bodyguard to bring her bag and guitar in, and walked in to find Mercy in her kitchen, drinking coffee and reading the business pages of the newspaper. She glanced up as Lena walked in and gave her a wide smile, eyebrows rising slightly as she took in the dog.

 

            “Hey! What’s this?”

 

            “Some company,” Lena said, handing over the puppy to her manager, giving her a tired smile as she ran her fingers through her hair. “Anything important?”

 

            “Vogue wants you for their February cover,” Mercy casually said, holding the puppy up high as she beamed up at it.

 

            Lena spluttered as she pulled a mug out of the cupboard, hand halfway to the coffee pot and a wide-eyed look on her face. “Vogue? Which Vogue?”

 

            “US Vogue.”

 

            “Really?”

 

            “Mhm. With Mario Testino. We were thinking December. You’ll be all wrapped up from the American leg by them and it’ll give you a week to rest and get in shape for the shoot. Kara won’t be here so maybe you’ll actually get some sleep. Nt that they won’t be able to photoshop out your bags, but you really do look awful, Lena. Jesus, you need to take it easy. You can’t get sick again; we can’t postpone more shows.”

 

            Sighing, Lena waved her concerns aside, pouring coffee into her mug and setting it back down with a little more force than necessary, her eyebrows furrowed as she turned to look at Mercy. “I know, I know,” she exasperatedly replied, “I’m fine though. Just a long flight. I’ve got a few days before Houston though. I’ll rest up, I promise.”

 

            Rolling her eyes, Mercy set the puppy down on the floor as Lena’s bodyguard walked in, setting a tiny round bed down on the tiles, which the puppy wandered over to, sniffing at it before it clumsily climbed over the lip, walked around in circles and settled down. Lena quietly laughed as she leant against the counters, Mercy sitting back down on the stools lining the other side, smoothing out the newspaper and resuming her reading.

 

            “Tell Vogue I’ll do it,” Lena said after a few moments, eyes sparkling excitedly as she took a sip of coffee.

 

            Setting her mug down, Mercy flipped a page with a rustle and eyed Lena over the edge of the paper, “good.”

 

            Mercy stayed long enough to fill Lena in on a few inquiries about photoshoots and meetings, remind her of her flight itinerary for a few day’s time, and then left with strict orders for Lena to eat and sleep. Used to being micromanaged, Lena rolled her eyes good-naturedly and promised her that she would and then phoned Kara straight away.

 

            An hour later, her girlfriend was letting herself into the house and appeared in the doorway to the living room, following the sound of gently plucked strings and the hum of the TV, to find Lena sitting on the sofa, sunlight streaming in at a slant and highlighting the scene spread out in front of Kara. Her blonde hair was down, spilling around her shoulders, and she was wearing one of her vintage dresses with a fringed kimono, a paper bag of groceries in her arms and she cocked her head to the side in a way that made Lena’s insides get all twisted as her heart leapt slightly.

 

            “What’s this?”

 

            “A puppy,” Lena beamed.

 

            “A puppy?”

 

            Looking up, Lena radiated happiness as she met Kara’s bemused eyes, her fingers stroking the velvety fur as the puppy curled up in her lap, head on its paws. “I realised that I’ll have no one to come home to for a while, and it’s nice to not come home to an empty house. So I got a puppy. How cute is he?”

 

            Kara let out a snort of laughter, shaking her head as she crossed the living room and dropped down onto the sofa beside Lena, setting the groceries aside and reaching out to stroke the dog’s head. “Very cute. What is he? A bulldog?”

 

            “French Bulldog.”

 

            “Have you thought of any names.”

 

            Lena gave her a crooked smile, shoulders shaking slightly as she let out a quiet laugh. “Mhm. Krypto. You know, like the dog in your film.”

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly, Kara’s eyes sparkled with amusement, but the corners of her mouth twitched in a smile, and Lena could tell that she was pleased. She’d starred in a film about aliens that had been released at the start of the year, and there’d been a dog in it called Krypto. They hadn’t been together at that point, but Lena had watched the film anyway, sitting in the back of a movie theatre, her heart twinging slightly every time Kara had come on screen, golden-haired and blue-eyed, smiling charmingly at Adam Foster’s character. Lena would be lying if she said that she’d felt a pang of jealousy at seeing the way Kara looked at her ex but calmed herself with the knowledge that she had no right to be jealous. She hadn’t been Kara’s then.

 

            She was now though, and naming her dog after a character in one of Kara’s films was liked keeping a piece of her with her when she left in a few weeks time. Waking up in a cold bed, with no one home to fill the emptiness. Having a puppy scrambling around the place on clumsy paws would help liven up the big house, and Lena gave Kara a pleased smile as she leant over to kiss her. It had been a little over a week this time. A manageable amount of time, where they were apart enough to miss each other without getting antsy and irritable about being so far apart. Nothing to get any warning signs flashing.

 

            Leaning over, Lena kissed her slowly, smiling into it as she felt Kara’s cool, soft palm against her cheek and reached out to caress the back of it with her fingertips, calloused from years of playing the guitar. Pulling back, she reached out to gently stroke Kara’s hair, a soft smile curling her lips and a tenderness in her eyes.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            “I missed you,” Kara quietly replied, a smile in her voice as she stroked Krypto in Lena’s lap.

 

            “I missed you too. There’s not much longer left now until you go. I’m going to miss you a lot more then.”

 

            Clucking her tongue slightly, Kara gave her a grim smile and shifted to reach for the bag of groceries, before climbing to her feet. “Don’t think about it yet. Let me make you breakfast.”

 

            Eyes creasing as she quietly laughed, Lena gave her a bewildered look, “I have groceries, you know.”

 

            “Yes, but I’m making you the best french toast you’ll ever have in your life, and I wasn’t sure if you’d have everything.”

 

            “That’s a very confident statement.”

 

            “Trust me.”

 

            Setting the ball of fur down on the floor, Lena rose to her feet, songwriting forgotten about, and followed Kara to the kitchen. She made a pot of fresh coffee while she watched Kara whisk cinnamon and eggs, whip fresh cream and reduce a mountain of berries into a sweet compote. Lena made fresh orange juice and laid the table in the dining room, warm sunlight filtering in through the windows, tinted green by the ivy-covered pergola, and cracked open the window to let in the mild breeze of the foothills, bringing the smell of dust and flowers with it.

 

            They ate breakfast in the sunshine pooling on the polished wooden table, talking quickly as if they’d been holding back everything over the phone and they couldn’t hold back the floor of conversation any longer. Krypton wandered in at the start and sat at Lena’s feet the entire time, tiny tail wagging back and forth in a blur as he whined for food and Lena had to be scolded a few times by Kara to not feed him bad food. Breakfast was perfect and they lingered in the spacious room until it was nearly lunchtime, drinking far too much coffee and eating until they couldn’t bring themselves to move. Lena wished that they could spend every morning like that. She wished that Kara was always around.

 

            Yet as rose coloured as it all was, she knew that they were ticking down to Kara leaving again, and Lena being left behind. The worst part was that Lena would be home, doing nothing, and if it had been anyone else - a man - she would’ve been able to go to Luxembourg, huddle up in a hotel with Kara and go sightseeing on her days off and enjoy her downtime with the person that she loved. If she showed up in Luxembourg though and spent her days wandering the streets, side by side with Kara, staying at the same hotel and eating dinners at dark restaurants together, it would cause a stir. There wouldn’t be too much attention in Luxembourg, but someone would notice and someone would take photos, and once they got wind of that in the States, they’d run with it until they ran Lena’s reputation into the ground. It was with bitter resignation that they accepted that they were just going to have to weather through the distance. Again.

 

            And so they said goodbye again a few days later, and Lena left with Krypto to perform in Houston, and Kara was left in National City. There were a few days after her Houston show, and she went back home again, both of them glued to each other’s side at Lena’s house, trying hard to fly under the radar of the paparazzi that sometimes camped outside the fence and passing the time by playing tennis on the court hidden in a thicket of trees. They watched movies and Lena tried teaching Kara how to play the guitar. Their friends came over for dinner parties and they hosted as a couple, all smiles and gentle touches as they sipped wine and sat side by side on the sofa on the back porch while a fire crackled and they all played Uno .

 

            They cherished those secret moments in a world they’d built for themselves, and it was almost enough for them to trick themselves into thinking that they could be like that all the time. Almost. They didn’t risk venturing out very often, and only for quick trips to dusty boutiques and local coffee shops, breathing in freedom and fresh air and menial tasks before Lena was whisked off for another week-long stint touring the country.

 

            And then the American leg came to an end three weeks into November. It was bitterly cold in New York by that time of year, the skies grey, puddles forming on the sidewalk and Central Park littered with yellow leaves. There was something about New York that always seemed to breathe new life into Lena, with its soaring buildings that were always lit up, no matter what time it was, the bustling streets and the crowds of tourists that were crammed in, looking around with wonder. She’d been to New York more times than she could count, and walking down the streets bundled up in an overcoat walking past street vendors and performers always made her feel so small. It was like she could vanish in that city. She and Kara had managed to vanish there once.

 

            They decided to have their last goodbye there. There was a week in between Lena’s last show at Madison Square Garden and Kara’s flight to London, and they spent it driving out of the city, taking in the colours of late fall in the surrounding state parks, walking Krypto through piles of shrivelled up leaves while the puppy dragged massive sticks along with him. They tried to remain inconspicuous at their hotels, alternating between each other’s rooms, staying at a different hotel each night so no one realised it was a regularly occurring thing. They’d order room service and lounge around in the provided bathrobes, dance around the suite to quiet music in the early hours of the morning, the hours meant for them , and their hearts grew heavier with every day that passed.

 

            A week wasn’t a long time. Not in the grand scheme of things. The day of Kara’s departure came all too swiftly, and it was with a lump in her throat and stinging eyes that Lena held her in a crushing hug and pressed her face into Kara’s shoulder, finding herself not quite ready to say goodbye. It was one of the longest periods of time they’d spent together since Lena had started touring for Speak Now , and she didn’t want their time to end. She had three months off, and it was soul crushing to know that she couldn’t spend them with Kara because of the strict rules Morgan Edge had put in place to protect his investment. And because Lena wasn’t ready for people’s perceptions of her to change. She was climbing higher and higher, achieving every goal she’d strived for, and it would be a long way to fall.

 

            It was only for two weeks - Kara would be coming back for her birthday - but the goodbye was devastating. Kara left in the early hours of the morning, long before the sun rose when the streets were empty and the darkness was a deep blue amidst the glow of the city, lit by a thousand lights. Up in Lena’s hotel room, they said goodbye, holding each other tightly, peppering tear-stained cheeks with featherlight kisses, tenderly stroking hair and cheeks and shoulders while they murmured promises and reassurances to each other. It wouldn’t be that long. They’d call every night. They’d look after themselves. Lena would get out more. Kara would have fun.

 

            And then they pulled apart, after one last kiss, and Kara picked up her leather valise and Lena went downstairs with her. The tension in the elevator was heavy, making Lena’s skin prickle with anticipation as she held back stinging tears, her eyes already bloodshot, hugging her arms to herself so that she could keep it together. Just long enough for her to say goodbye and make it back up to her room.

 

            Despite the fact that the hotel foyer was empty, the streets quiet and the city as silent as New York ever got, they allowed themselves nothing more than a hug on the sidewalk, cherishing the warmth of the contact and the savouring the way they fit and the smell of their perfume, while Kara’s driver stowed her case in the trunk and opened the door for her.

 

            “I’ll miss you,” Kara whispered.

 

            “I’ll see you soon.”

 

            Lena lingered outside, shivering in the cold air of the late November night as she watched Kara climb into the back of the car, sinking into shadows. She smiled a faltering, sad smile as Kara rolled down the window, her eyes shining with visible tears, and pressed her fingertips to her lips, before fluttering her fingers in a quick wave. Letting out a choked laugh, Lena pressed her hands over her heart and nodded, pressing her lips into a flat line as she watched the car pull away, taking a piece of her with it.

 

            Upstairs in her room, she let out a shuddering breath and promptly burst into tears as she braced herself against the round dining table, a sealed envelope waiting for her with her name scrawled in Kara’s loopy writing. Making herself a cup of tea, she wiped at her eyes, picked up the letter and walked to her bed, collapsing onto the foot of it and bending down to ruffle Krypto’s velvety fur, before opening the letter and reading the words that Kara had written to her. She’d slipped one into Kara’s case too, unbeknownst to her, and she smiled at the thought, sniffing as her eyes scanned the page.

 

            Afterwards, she’d crawled under the covers and slept the night away, waking bleary-eyed and sad to face the afternoon. It was only going to be two weeks, but it felt so long to Lena. They’d been parted for far longer before, but she’d been on tour, her mind kept busy as she toured foreign cities and countries, poured all of her energy into her nightly concerts and met endless streams of fans, but it felt different this time. It was different because this time she was waiting, and she had nothing to do. Her tour didn’t resume until the beginning of March, and the stretch of time before her without Kara felt lonely, even from afar. And all she could think was that she wanted Kara to come back to New York. She didn't want to miss her while she was off in London and Luxembourg and France; she wanted her to be there with her, in bed, messing up chords on the guitar as Lena grew more and more frustrated until they'd order food service and watch old movies until the day was over.

 

            In the end, Lena did what she did best. She pulled herself together and wrote a song.

 


 

            “I missed her. I missed her so much, I could just- I felt it every moment that we were apart. But feelings … they’re so fleeting. I missed her when she wasn’t there, and when she was back, the feeling went away. But I loved her always. That wasn’t a feeling, that was, ah ... an emotion . That was deep and primal and lingering. It didn’t matter where we were or what was happening, that called from inside. It’s always been there, in my chest, from the moment that I first met her. It’s like … it just hits you. You listen to a song and it’s like you’ve been kicked in the chest because there’s an ache of love screaming inside you, and it leaves me breathless sometimes. Even now. Because I love her. I love her, I love her, I really do.”

 

            She cut off, letting out a breathless laugh, almost dizzy with relief. Lena’s eyes were bright with surprise as if she couldn’t quite believe that she’d said it. As if she couldn’t quite believe that she’d admitted it, said it aloud for a relative stranger to hear, on film, to be released into the world. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, the thrill of her admission thrumming through her veins as she clutched the arms of her armchair, chest rapidly rising and falling.

 

            “God , you have no idea how good that feels. To just say it,” Lena laughed again, falling back in her seat as she pressed a hand to her chest, feeling her heartbeat solidly against her palm. “I’ve dreamt about saying it a thousand times. Saying it to a crowd of thousands while I sang songs about her, posting photos of her on my Instagram where we didn’t have to pretend we were just friends, saying it to people that we met, you know, introducing her as my girlfriend, not just my best friend.”

 

            She trailed off as bitterness consumed her, curling her fingers into fists, gritting her teeth as she gave Leslie a tight smile, and then blew all the air out of her lungs as she deflated. Her voice was soft and there was a fondness in her green eyes as she gently shook her head and resumed talking.

 

            “Because I love her. I always have, even when we weren’t together, even when she broke my heart, because that never made her a bad person. Too often people paint their exes as these bad people for breaking their heart, but I could never see her that way. She hurt me, but I was always grateful for her courage to be honest with me. I loved her, and I wanted her to be happy, and there were times when she wasn’t happy and wasn’t in a place to be in a relationship, and I was always glad that she took the time to look after herself first. People don’t do that often enough. Not that I wasn’t angry, or heartbroken; I was. Unbelievably so. I just- I never blamed her for that. It’s such a human thing, to outgrow things, people, places. We both grew, and sometimes that tore us apart and sometimes it brought us back together, but it’s never inherently a bad thing for two people to grow apart. I firmly believe that some people come into our lives just to teach us how to let go, no matter how painful it is. And I know it was painful for her. Sometimes I think it ate at her more than it did me, that the guilt was too much, that she felt like she was a bad person for hurting me. But everyone hurts each other, and that doesn’t mean we weren’t meant to be together, it just made it difficult at times. But I loved her, and I don’t think I ever learnt how to let go of her. I’m still caught up on the space that she’s always occupied in my heart; I think I’ll love her forever.”

Chapter Text

And it was like slow motion

Standing there in my party dress

In red lipstick

With no one to impress

And they're all laughing

And asking me about you

But there was one thing missing (missing)

And that was the moment I knew

 

What do you say

When tears are streaming down your face

In front of everyone you know?

And what do you do

When the one who means the m ost to you

Is the one who didn't show?

 

-

 

            “The next day I got bangs . God. The bangs, ” Lena laughed, covering her face with her hands as she shook her head. “That American Vogue photoshoot was big , and on the first of December, I was there, on set, and they’re talking over me about how my hair’s going to be styled and what outfit is going with that look, and whether I should have a bolder eye, and I was sitting there and I couldn’t have cared less. I was knackered, I was heartbroken. I missed Kara.”

 

            She rolled her eyes as she dropped her eyes and gave Leslie a sheepish smile, her cheeks slightly pink. “And they were talking about how to give me these awful fake bangs which just did not look good, no matter how they tried to clip them in, so I told them to cut it. There’s something very cathartic about changing your hair when you’re going through some emotional struggles, and I think every woman figures that out at some point in their life, so I got a fringe.”

 

            “And straight hair, right?”

 

            Wrinkling her nose, Lena nodded, “I did. They straightened it for the shoot and tried the clip-in bangs, and then after they cut it in properly, I called my hairstylist and got her to chemically straighten it all. At the time, it was like I was reliving the teen version of me who straightened my curls all the time because everyone else had straight hair and I wanted to fit in so badly, and it felt good. It was a nice change, and I didn’t feel like me. I kept the straight hair for a while. Went through a whole range of fringes too. And now I’ve got my curls back.”

 

            “And you’re you again?”

 

            Letting out a quick laugh, Lena shrugged. “I suppose I’m more me than ever here, right now. And that feels better than any hairstyle.”

 

            “So we won’t see you with a different hairstyle when this interview drops?”

 

            Running a hand through her dark curls, Lena smiled. “Who knows. It’s the start of a new era for me. An honest, open one. And that’ll come with its own emotional struggles. I don’t think I’ll be bleaching my hair again though; that was … an experience I’m not too eager to repeat.”

 

            “Ah, bleachella. That was …”

 

            “Rough. Not my finest moment, by far, for more than just the hair. But we’ll get to that later.”

 

            “Right, but for now?”

 

            Giving her a crooked smile, Lena leant back in her armchair, legs crossed at the knee and fingers steepled in front of her as she rested her elbows on the leather arms.

 

            “I was about to turn twenty-two.”

 


 

            The day after Kara flew to London, Lena had her Vogue photoshoot. They straightened her wild curls and cut in a fringe and dressed her in vintage clothes while she lounged on sofas or draped herself against walls with guitars. It was exciting and stifling. It was Vogue. There we constant touch-ups with her hair and makeup, dozens of people scrambling around the set, dragging racks of rejected clothes, adjusting sets and calling out loudly the entire time. Mercy and Rhea were both there, watching silently from the sidelines or answering phones calls for other magazines, for other events and offers.

 

            It was a long day of dazzling camera flashes, tense posing while trying to make it look effortless, constant toying with her new hair and missing Kara. More than once, Lena found herself drifting away into some stray thought about her girlfriend as she stared blankly at the camera lenses, resisting the urge to blink as her heart was seized with a painful ache. She hadn’t slept much after saying goodbye to Kara, and she was oddly glad that they’d be photoshopping her face anyway, smoothing out her flaws and the dark circles under her eyes. It left her free to wallow, knowing that as long as she showed up, everyone else would do the work for her.

 

            Still, it was a long day. She still enjoyed herself though, picking her favourite pieces of clothing, getting to pick the music that was blasted on set and basking in the admiration of the people that crowded around her. Photoshoots were always fun; it was akin to a red carpet or an interview, being made up to be someone new, someone different.

 

            Lena would’ve been lying if she said it wasn’t a relief when she flew back home to National City though. Rhea and Mercy accompanied her and opened a bottle of wine while Lena excused herself to the bathroom. Taking her time in the shower, she let her body relax and scrubbed the makeup from her face, feeling refreshed and a little less irritable as she changed into comfy clothes and groaned at her hair, which has started to frizz and curl in the steamy bathroom, leaving her fringe ruffled.

 

            Anxiously patting her hair down, she made her way towards the kitchen and accepted a glass of Riesling, perching on a barstool and leaning on the marble counters as she listened to Mercy and Rhea’s conversation. From what she could gather, it was about her birthday in two weeks. Lena was turning twenty-two.

 

            “I heard that Orange County has a nice yacht club.”

 

            “Orange County?” Mercy scoffed, “no, no, that won’t do. There’s a new club opening in town and they’re offering half a million to host the party. Open bar. Fully private. Imagine.”

 

            Lena gave them a sheepish look as she cleared her throat. “I was just going to have something small here, actually. Kara’s flying in, and so is Jess and my mum. They’re all going to be knackered-“

 

            “Well you can’t plan your party for other people, Lena,” Rhea disapprovingly replied.

 

            Taking a sip of wine, Lena rolled the floral and peachy taste around her mouth as she shrugged half-heartedly. Setting the glass down on the counter with a small chime against the marble, she gave her publicist an uneven smile.

 

            “I know, I just- I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, you know?”

 

            “Oh … well, that’s fine, I suppose. We can decorate the place and hire a few caterers. And I’ve managed to get Sylvia Weinstock on the phone to bake a cake for you. Isn’t that cool?” Mercy smiled.

 

            “Who?” Rhea asked, her brow creasing with confusion.

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Mercy reached for the bottle of wine and topped her glass up, before taking a sip. “She’s famous for her cakes. Cost an absolute fortune, but you’re only twenty-two once, right?”

 

            Lena sipped at her wine and traced the marble pattern with her fingertips as she let the conversation and planning wash over her without any input from her. She idly let her mind wander while occasionally murmuring an agreement whenever a question was thrown her way, the next topic already being attacked before she’d even made a vague hum, lost at what was happening. All she really wanted for her birthday was a quiet night. A few friends, people she loved, good music and drink. She’d had big parties before, and she imagined she’d have many more to come, but she was exhausted and wanted to relax on her break. 

 

            Eyes fixated on the high kitchen ceilings, Krypto running circles around the legs of the barstool, and buttery warmth flooding the kitchen and making it feel cosier than it was with the draft worming its way in from outside while the French doors were buffeted by the wind. Hugging her sweater to herself, Lena picked at the cheeses and fresh fruits that had appeared in her fridge upon her return, which had in turn been ransacked by her manager and publicist. 

 

            Tired, her body slumped on her stool, Lena blinked back the burning feeling behind her eyes as she spread cheese over crackers and ate olives and grapes, waiting for Kara to call. She knew that Lena had been shooting Vogue that morning, and Lena knew that Kara would’ve been exhausted after her flight, but she was hoping they’d get to squeeze in a few minutes over the phone before Lena crashed for the night.

 

            It was past midnight when she was left alone, waving goodbye to her publicist and manager as they stepped out onto the long driveway, huddled against the wind. Stepping inside and locking the door, Lena rubbed a hand over her weary face and walked through the house, the wooden floor sending cold radiating up through her bare feet. 

 

            Making herself a cup of tea before bed, Lena traipsed towards her bedroom, puppy in tow as she tried not to spill any tea, and set the saucer down on the end table. Softly whistling, she coaxed Krypto into his basket with a few gestures, before crawling into bed and switching on a lamp. Bathing the room in light, she fetched her laptop and video called Kara. She was taking a tentative sip of steaming tea when the call was answered.

 

            “Oh!” Lena softly exclaimed, teacup clattering against the fine china as Kara’s face came into sight. “Hi!”

 

            “Your hair!”

 

            Eyes widening slightly, Lena clapped a hand down on her curling fringe, her cheeks turning rosy in the warm light her lamp exuded.

 

            “Oh, right. Is it awful?”

 

            “Well take your hand away, silly,” Kara laughed

 

            Gingerly smiling, Lena removed her hand and her teeth gently bit into her pillowy lower lip as she waited for a reaction. Kara’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she slipped on a pair of glasses to see better, and her lips pressed together as she tried to hide a smile.

 

            “It suits you.”

 

            “It’s bad,” Lena laughed, “you’re being nice.”

 

            “No, no. I think it looks good. Different. A nice change. What brought it on? Was it my leaving?”

 

            Scoffing, Lena rolled her eyes as she reached out for her tea, pulling a heavy silk blanket up higher and settling against her pillows.

 

            “Oh please . I’m not that dramatic. I just have fifty new song ideas about that.”

 

            “Anything new for me?”

 

            “Not yet. A few lines maybe,” Lena smiled, raising the cup to her lips and drinking, feeling warmth pool in her stomach as the ache in her heart lessened. “How was the flight.”

 

            “Boring.”

 

            “How’s London?”

 

            Kara shrugged, running a hand through her blonde hair. “Not as good as New York with you. I’m having lunch with Lex tomorrow, did he tell you?”

 

            Lena made a choked sound of surprise, “no. The last time I spoke to him was four days ago; he was telling me that he’s flying here in two weeks for my birthday. But you should feel honoured that he’s got enough time to fit you into his busy schedule.”

 

            They both laughed for a moment before Kara sighed and Lena drank her tea, and they both drank in the sight of each other’s faces. There was the puffiness of sleep to Kara’s face as if she’d just woken up from a nap, while Lena’s was hollowed and lined with exhaustion, the urge to sleep pressing behind her heavy eyes.

 

            Shortly after placing her teacup back on its saucer, she drifted off to sleep, Kara’s eyes tenderly watching her nod off as she wrapped herself up in bed, the light making her sleepy. 

 

            When she woke, Lena slowly sat up, taking in the dark screen of the laptop as she stretched out sore muscles and groaned softly. Digging the heels of her hands into her eyes she yawned wide enough to make her jaw click and then reached for her phone, her tired expression softening at the message off Kara waiting for her.

 

            After that, Lena fell into a routine of songwriting, aimless adventures around the city, brief calls with Kara and dinners with whichever friends were in town at the time. Time dragged by and the weather was mild enough for Lena to take Krypto on walks through leaf-strewn parks under steely grey skies. She had a lot of downtime to think, to relax after her whirlwind trips across the globe, and she was brimming with excitement at the thought of Kara being back soon. It would only be for a few days, but then she’d be back again for Christmas and the New Year.

 

            Regardless, Lena couldn’t wait for her birthday, if only to see Kara again. It felt a long time coming, but that morning, she woke to a pale sky and an empty, frigid house. Her phone was already lit up with dozens of messages from various time zones and she smiled as she was greeted with the happy tramp of paws on the herringbone floors of her bedroom, ruffling her hair as she smiled down at the puppy wagging his tail.

 

            Making her way towards the kitchen, she grumbled at the cold floor beneath her bare feet and sluggishly turned the coffee machine on, the sound of beans grinding disturbing the quiet, gloomy morning and filling the room with its rich, earthy smell. 

 

            Steaming cup in hand, Lena opened the French doors to the chilly morning air and shoved her feet into a pair of brown rain boots sitting just outside the door, hugging her fluffy robe to herself as she waited for Krypto to follow her outside. Shutting the door behind herself, Lena moved to the edge of the brick patio and leant against the white wooden pillar holding up the pergola with the bare vines. Brown leaves skittered past as she breathed deeply, ice finding its way down her throat while the smell of damp earth and rain made Lena relax.

 

            Twenty-two. She didn’t feel any different as she stood in the cold, wisps of steam rising from her cup of coffee as she was left alone with her thoughts. To Lena, it felt like any other day, and she assumed that was one of the downfalls of growing up. Smaller parties, if any, less excitement and a sort of weary resignation that another year had passed. She would’ve been content to stay at home with Kara all day, but Kara wouldn’t be flying in until later and Lena had a long day of planning to come yet.

 

            Whipping up some scrambled eggs, she slowly ate her breakfast and drank another cup of coffee, warmth pooling in her stomach as she came alive under the caffeine before she was disturbed by the sound of the door opening.

 

            “It’s only me!” Mercy’s voice drifted through the still house, the sound of heel clicking on the floor moving through the hallways.

 

            Softly sighing, Lena stood from the table, carrying her empty plate and dusting crumbs off her lap, and walked out of the cosy dining room. 

 

            “In the kitchen!” she called back, dumping her dirty dishes in the sink and filling a cup with butter black coffee for the woman who emerged from the dark mouth of the doorway.

 

            Her manager gave her a bright smile as she deposited a large bouquet of flowers on the counters and a large box alongside it.

 

            “Happy birthday!”

 

            Smiling, Lena ran a hand through her messy fringe, “yeah, thanks.”

 

            She was given a brief hug and a peck on the cheek before she handed off the coffee to Mercy and was directed towards the box.

 

            “Go on, open it.”

 

            Biting her lip apprehensively, Lena's eyes darted from her manager to the box and back again, while Mercy sipped her coffee with satisfaction. Eyeing the bouquet of peach roses, pink hydrangeas, little salmon coloured carnations and white lilies. She was enveloped in the sweet smell of fresh flowers and greenery as she stepped towards the counter.

 

            Pulling the lid off the box, Lena stared down at the cream linen bag and gently pried the top open, revealing tan leather. Her curiosity piqued, she slowly managed to get the bulky item out of the cover and found herself holding a soft leather bag with gold finishings. The Togo leather had a small grain, two rolled leather handles and a flap held shut with two belted straps held together with a lock. The saddle stitching was tiny and the leather was embossed with Hermés.

 

            “A Birkin bag?” Lena slowly asked, her eyebrows rising in unconcealed surprise.

 

            Shrugging languidly with an air of smugness around her, Mercy smirked. “From the latest collection.”

 

            Opening and closing her mouth, Lena held the bag up slightly, eyeing it closer. Even for celebrities, a Birkin bag was a rare thing to come by. People were put in waiting lists for years, and they had to dish out thousands and thousands for them when one became available. They were a rare sight and she felt a rush of excitement at the fact that she owned one. 

 

            Carefully setting the bag down, she turned and wrapped her manager in a tight hug, full of gratitude, and Mercy gently patted her back as she tried not to spill any coffee.

 

            “Thank you,” Lena said as she pulled back, a genuine look on her face as she smiled.

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Mercy gave her a tender smile. “No problem, babe.” Glancing down at her watch, she set her mug down on the counter. “Right, the cleaning staff will be here in an hour. The caterers will be here at one, and the florist will be here at three.”

 

            Blinking in surprise, Lena listened to her manager rattle off a list of things she’d organised for the party. Hair and makeup would be there at four, a rack of dresses in Lena’s size would be showing up at some point, and security would be at the gate to make sure unwanted guests didn’t show up.

 

            With everything planned out, Lena was quick to make herself scarce shortly after Rhea appeared with a pair of Louboutin’s and a case of French wine imported from Provence. Changing into dark gym clothes, she retreated to a sparsely furnished room holding a treadmill, plugged in her earphones and started to run. The familiar pounding of her feet on the tread was soothing and distracting as she was left to her own devices while people came and went from the house.

 

            It wasn’t until three hours later that she stopped, breathing heavily as sweat beaded on her pale skin. Slowing to a walk as the machine wound down, she grabbed her bottle of water from the holder and squirted some in her mouth. Legs aching and unsteady beneath her, she grabbed a small clean towel from a stack of identical ones and ran it across her brow as she sipped her water and felt her heart settle in her chest. On tour, Lena was an avid runner to ensure that she was in good shape for hours of running up and down the stage, and it never failed to help her vent some of her pent up frustration or agitation.

 

            Feeling less doubtful about the party, and about her house being overrun by a score of strangers, she showered in her ensuite and holed herself up in her bedroom for a while, scrawling in her journal and penning a few lyrics, before voices disturbed her. There was a knock on the door, which was opened at her permission, and her mother stood illuminated in the doorway, a smile on her face.

 

            “Happy birthday.”

 

            “Mum!”

 

            Lena beamed as she scrambled up from her position on the floor at the end of her bed, guitar letting loose a few morose notes as it banged against the floor, and she quickly crossed the room to meet Lillian halfway. Her mother hugged her gently, towering over her and making Lena feel childlike, and she breathed in the lily of the valley perfume that she’d grown up with and associated purely with her mother.

 

            “I didn’t realise you’d landed yet,” Lena said when they parted, fingers jumping up to her messy fringe as she self-consciously ruffled it.

 

            Lillian gave her an appraising look as she reached out and flattened the fringe, before toying with Lena’s straight dark locks. “Hm, you look younger like this. It reminds me of when you were fourteen, fifteen. I’m surprised you didn’t ruin your hair with how much you straightened it.”

 

            “It’s chemical this time.”

 

            Face softening with a smile, Lillian gave her daughter’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “I like it. You look good. More … rested.”

 

            “Yeah, it’s been nice to have some time off.”

 

            Letting out a quiet scoff, Lillian rolled her eyes as she gave Lena an unconvinced look. “You wouldn’t know what time off is, love. I bet you’re itching to perform.”

 

            Shrugging slightly, Lena gave her a small smile, “that’s not a bad thing. I like what I do.”

 

            “I know it’s not a bad thing, but you should take more time for yourself. I know you’ve got a few months off now,” Lillian said, waving a hand dismissively, “but you should go to Bora Bora for a month. Go shopping in Paris. Go to Prague. I’m not stupid, Lena, I talk to your team. They’ve barely seen you since your Vogue shoot.”

 

            “I’m working on the new album.”

 

            “You’re moping over Kara. Speaking of Kara, shouldn’t she be here by now?”

 

            Shaking her head, Lena stepped out into the hallway and ushered her mother out, before securely shutting the door behind them and glancing warily down the hallway at the sound of footsteps and voices, wondering whether someone would try snooping. It wouldn’t be the first time - there had been an interviewer that she caught rifling through her handbag once - and she was a little apprehensive about letting new people into her home. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a trusting person, but Lena had more than enough reason to distrust people. There were too many money hunters and fame-seekers desperate to claw their way into the spotlight and they’d take advantage of her in a minute. Still, under Mercy’s watchful eyes, she doubted anyone would stray down a wrong hallway.

 

            Softly sighing, Lena led her mother towards the kitchen, which had been overrun by the first few catering staff, banging trays and unloading boxes of fresh groceries. The cleaning staff had already swept through the living room and dining room, and Lena felt out of sorts in her own home as she stepped aside for a dazzled chef that ogled her on her way past with an assortment of mixing bowls in her arms.

 

            They were intercepted by the Head Chef, who was all too willing to bring coffee out to the back porch for them so that they didn’t have to squeeze into the busy kitchen, and they quickly backpedalled back down the hallway. Taking a different set of French doors outside, they sat down opposite each other at a long wooden table, and Lena breathed in the smell of winter. Or as wintry as California got during December.

 

            “Kara’s flight gets in at around four, so she’ll probably be a little bit late. You know, customs and getting ready and stuff.”

 

            “You spoke to her this morning?”

 

            Lena shrugged as she ran a finger over the pattern of the grain, the air cool on her skin as she hunched her shoulders to the wind. 

 

            “No, she had a full day of shooting before her flight. She messaged me though, and she’s halfway here by now.”

 

            Their coffee was brought out to them by a nervous-looking young man, and Lena gave him an encouraging smile as he set the mugs down on the table. Thanking him, she wrapped her hand around hers and closed her eyes as the warmth seeped into her skin. 

 

            Sitting outside in the fresh air, dampness and greenery, with the comforting aroma of coffee and her mother’s company, Lena fell into easy conversation with Lillian. Leaving the army of workers to set up for the birthday party, they enjoyed the uninterrupted view of trees in the midst of losing their leaves and winter flowers in full bloom.

 

            Sandwiches and a pot of green tea were brought out in the early afternoon, shortly after Lex and Jess showed up, one after the other. Lionel was stuck in the midst of a mountain of work for the holiday season and was staying in London. The four of them were happy enough to sit outside, with Lena feeling light inside as happiness bubbled up. It was going to be a good day. Her best friend was there, her mum and brother, and soon Kara would be there too.

 

            By the time hair and makeup showed up at the house, Lena was stepping into the shower, a fluffy towel wrapped around her and water beading on her skin. Quickly drying and slipping into a bathrobe, she was swept up into the familiar bubbly chatter of her beauty team. Finding herself parked in front of her vanity, her hair was blow-dried and straightened, her face was primed and covered in a layer of makeup, and by the time her lips were being painted red, a rack of dresses were being wheeled in.

 

            She chose an off the shoulder one in a vivid red to match her lips, paired with heels and understated diamonds. As the hour drew closer to her party, Lena grew nervous. Excited, but nervous. The smell of food drifting from the kitchen was intoxicating, making Lena’s stomach rumble, and after ducking her head inside quickly, she found every surface covered with food. Miniature quiches and deviled eggs, stuffed mushrooms and Swedish meatballs. Platters were heaped with cheeses imported from Switzerland, mountains of German and Italian sausages, and an assortment of seasonal fruits. A four-tiered cake covered in pastel flowers that matched the bouquets Lena had seen in the living room and dining room. 

 

            The massive fridge was stocked with every type of alcohol imaginable, and Lena snuck in to pull a bottle of white wine out of the fridge, snagging a few glasses, and made her way to the living room, where her brother and mother were already nursing tumblers of golden scotch. Opening the wine with a quiet pop, Lena poured a generous amount into four glasses and handed them out to Jess, Mercy and Rhea, while keeping one for herself. With music suffusing the house from the expensive speakers, they all relaxed on sofas and armchairs, chatting and drinking while chefs clattered about in the kitchen and the smell of food had them all impatient for the party to start.

 

            First to arrive was Alex, with her new girlfriend, a DJ Lena soon found out, Maggie in tow. Niceties and introductions were made, Lena was handed a gift, and both women were given drinks, and the cycle was repeated as more and more people showed up. Given the nature of Hollywood parties, there was a constant flow of people showing up late, and Lena’s cheeks were hurting from smiling so much. Winn showed up with a friend of his, James, a loud, brash up-and-coming DJ who made his presence known. Lucy arrived shortly afterwards, and Jack arrived with flowers and his guitar. Other famous friends, from actors to singers to writers came in droves, along with models and producers and photographers. Some of them she didn’t even know, but they’d arrived with her friends and she was happy to let them in. The person she was really waiting for was late.

 

            It was still early, only a little after six and just starting to fade to night outside, while Christmas lights sparkled brightly inside. The smell of pine and cinnamon created a cosy aroma in the crowded house as guests swept from room to room, sampling foods from the array of platters and plates set out on the long dining room table. Music was loud enough to dance to while still giving them the opportunity to talk over it, and Lena made the rounds as she caught up with people, keeping one eye on the door as time passed by slowly. 

 

            By seven, Lena knew that Kara’s flight had definitely landed. Kara had plenty of time to make it through the busy inner-city traffic during rush hour too, and time to get ready. But she still wasn’t there, and Lena was tired of repeating the same conversation with people, already four glasses of wine into the night and a rosy tint to her cheeks. Her glass was ringed with red lipstick as she took another sip, eyes sweeping across the room as she took in the sight of everyone laughing and enjoying themselves, while Lena hugged her arm around herself, feeling troubled at the fact that Kara wasn’t there yet.

 

            Giving it a while longer, she pushed thoughts of Kara aside and found herself wrapped up in conversation with Jack. By the time she was tugged away by Jess, who was bright-eyed and a bit unbalanced, Lena and Jack had already been coerced into performing a few songs together, with Lena fetching her guitar and perching on the arm of the seat Jack occupied. They’d already planned to get together for a writing session at some point. 

 

            After a few shots, she was starting to feel hollow inside, despite the warmth. Her skin felt unseasonably hot as the alcohol flushed her skin, and Lena realised she hadn’t eaten anything yet. Her mind had been occupied with thoughts of Kara, or trying not to think of Kara. A glance at the clock told her that it was nearly eight o’clock. Three hours after the party had officially started. There was fashionably late, and then there was so late that Lena was starting to doubt whether Kara was coming at all.

 

            Tiredness crept up on her as her heart sunk in her chest, and Lena suddenly found herself wanting to be alone. The party was for her, but she didn’t want to be there anymore. Yet she couldn’t leave, it was her house, and she couldn’t kick everyone out mid-party. Instead, Lena set her wine down on the mantelpiece decked out with holly and stockings and Christmas ornaments and slipped out of the room. Just a little way down the hallway, the opposite end to where everyone was gathered, the air was cooler and less stifling and she fished her phone out of the pocket on her dress. Swallowing her irritation, Lena dialled Kara’s number and pressed the phone to her ear. It rang and rang and rang before going to voicemail, and Lena closed her eyes as she let out a shaky breath.

 

            “Hey, it’s me. I was just checking to see where you are. I thought you’d be here by now. Call me back.”

 

            Clutching the phone in her hand, Lena was staring down at it with a troubled look on her face when she felt a gentle touch on her arm. Brows pulled together in a heavy frown, she looked up into Alex’s pitying brown eyes, and felt her stomach drop. Pulling away from her touch, Lena turned away and stalked off down the hall, hearing the quiet footsteps hurrying after her as Alex called her name.

 

            Ducking into the bathroom, Lena slammed her phone down on the counter and ran her hand through her straight hair. Lucy followed Alex into the bathroom and locked the door behind her. Blinking back the burning feeling behind her eyes, Lena stamped down a feeling of anger as she rounded on Alex. And then the anger gutted and died and her shoulders slumped as she gave Alex a look of confusion.

 

            “She said she’d be here.”

 

            Her voice was small and pitiful even to her own ears, and Lena sank down onto the closed lid of the toilet. Arms crossed over her chest, Lucy’s glance towards Alex didn’t go unnoticed by Lena, who looked up with sorrowful eyes, swimming with puzzlement. Letting out a soft sigh, Alex sank to a crouch in front of her and gently reached out to rest her hand on the back of Lena’s.

 

            “I don’t think she’s coming,” Alex softly admitted.

 

            Tears pricked her eyes and Lena blinked rapidly to keep them at bay as devastation hit her hard. “But … why?”

 

            “Kara isn’t always … okay.”

 

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Lena asked, her voice slightly hoarse with emotion as she tried to keep herself from falling apart. People weren’t supposed to cry at their own birthday party.

 

            A flicker of hesitation ran across Alex’s face as she turned to look at Lucy, who drifted closer. There was a sad look to Alex’s brown eyes as she faced Lena again, a grim set to her mouth as she softly sighed. “Ever since her parents died, she’s … well, she struggles sometimes. It comes and it goes. It’s always worse when she’s away from home, or under a lot of stress. I just- I think that she’s going through a bad spot right now.”

 

            “What? I don’t- what’s wrong with her?” Lena stammered, “she’s stressed and alone so she just … didn’t come home?”

 

            “I know it’s confusing; I should let her explain it to you herself. It’s just not something that you should take personally. Sometimes she needs to be alone.”

 

            Climbing to her feet, Lena wiped at her cheeks, where tears had traced their way down them, and Alex rose in front of her and gently reached out to give her shoulder a squeeze. Turning away, Lena braced herself against the edge of the sink and let out a shaky breath as she hunched her shoulders, trying to swallow a sob. Alex said it wasn’t her fault, but it didn’t make it hurt any less to know that Kara had purposely missed the party because she hadn’t felt like it. And that seemed like such a flimsy excuse that Lena couldn’t help but feel like it was worse than that. She didn’t know what it was, but it left her feeling cold and wrong as she looked at her ghostly reflection, feeling helpless and alone.

 

            Alex and Lucy stayed with her while she collected herself in the bathroom, slowly breathing and putting in eye drops to make her eyes less bloodshot until Lena was composed enough to leave. She couldn’t be gone for too long without people wondering where she was, and so she stepped out into the hallway, pushed her slumped shoulders back and plastered a fake smile on her face as she swept back towards the sound of voices, music and laughter. The worst part was that no one even realised that anything was wrong, aside from Alex, Lucy, Jess and her family, and only the latter because they knew Kara should’ve been there and she wasn’t.

 

            The party wore on as the hour grew late and Lena drank and drank and drank to stifle the ache in her chest. No matter what Alex said, how could she not take it personally that her own girlfriend didn’t want to come to her party? And it wasn’t just that; Lena missed her too. She wanted to see Kara more than anything, and the opportunity had been missed.

 

            By the time the cake was brought forward to be blown out, Lena was drunk enough that she couldn’t even bring herself to care. Everyone was crowding around her in the parlour, the table she and Kara would eat breakfast at, and she was sitting at her usual place with everyone singing to her, and it was like Lena wasn’t even there. Their voices washed over her as disappointment, and no small amount of worry, threatened to swallow her up.

 

            Jumping at the sound of cheering, Lena blinked herself back to the present in time to half-heartedly blow out all the candles and cut into the cake with the knife Lillian handed her. Miserably picking at her own slice, she hid in the corner with Alex and Winn.

 

            The party didn’t wind down until gone midnight, and Lena resisted the offers to venture out to the most desirable partying spots in the city. There were underground clubs and high-end bars that celebrities frequented, but she refused the offers as she said goodbye to everyone leaving in small groups. It was nearing two by the time she shut the door on everyone but her mother and brother. Alex and Lucy had left last, with looks of pity as they said goodbye.

 

            “Well, out with it,” Lex said as he sipped at a glass of water.

 

            “What?” Lena wearily replied as she collapsed onto a sofa, kicking off her heels and closing her eyes to the light overhead.

 

            Sighing, Lex stepped away from the mantlepiece and perched on the arm of the sofa near Lena’s feet, staring at her with a knowing look in his eyes. Lillian was in the kitchen, talking to the caterers packing up their platters and packing up the leftovers to be donated to a soup kitchen in the morning.

 

            “Did you and Kara have a row?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “Well you were surely miserable all night, and she was nowhere to be seen.”

 

            Shrugging, Lena moved a throw pillow beneath her head to make herself more comfortable. “No,” she said in a clipped tone. “We didn’t have a row. She just … didn’t come. Work. She’s busy with work.”

 

            Her brother made a sound of acquiescence low at the back of his throat as he pushed his shirtsleeve up with one hand and then took another sip of water. He looked as tired as Lena felt.

 

            “You should go back to the hotel,” Lena murmured.

            

            “And miss out on quality time with my favourite sister?”

 

            Giving him a dark, unamused look, Lena pushed herself up onto her elbows as her brother chuckled. Setting his glass down on the crowded coffee table, Lex climbed to his feet and ran a hand over his neatly trimmed beard.

 

            “I’ll see you at the hotel for breakfast.”

 

            Climbing to her feet, Lena gave him a hug and lightly kissed him on the cheek, realising how much she’d missed her big brother. Breakfast would be good, she silently agreed. Surely her mother would have a lot to say though, and Lena gave Lex a grim smile as she pulled back.

 

            “Please make sure you take mum with you.”

 

            He laughed and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, before turning and heading towards the door. Following after her, Lena listened to his rumbling voice as he found Lillian in the kitchen and coerced her into leaving the caterers alone and going back to the hotel. Luckily it didn’t take much; it was already late and everyone was worn out from the long day and longer night.

 

            Lillian gave her a searching look, before hugging her tightly and giving her a kiss on the cheek, and Lena was overwhelmed with relief as she waved goodbye to her family from the doorstep. The caterers were soon to follow them, and Lena plastered on a bright smile as she thanked them all and left a hefty tip on top of Mercy’s already generous sum, and was finally, mercifully, left alone.

 

            After so much noise, the house was shockingly quiet, but Lena didn’t want to sleep. Her eyes were burning with tiredness, but she didn’t want to go to bed. There was a sliver of hope inside that Kara would turn up late, bursting with apologies and an endearing smile that would dissolve Lena’s anger in a heartbeat. So she went back to the mess of a living room and flopped back down on the sofa to sit with her thoughts.

 

            The clock was inching towards three, the mess of the party strewn around her house, and Lena was curled up on the sofa in her red party dress, smudges of mascara under her eyes and a freshly poured glass of red wine in hand. The house was deafeningly silent, the night still, and she was consumed by her loneliness as she stared at the blank TV screen. The house was dark, the sitting room dimly lit by light spilling in from the kitchen, and Lena was left alone with her doubtful thoughts and a panicked feeling growing in her chest.

 

            She finished her wine and refilled it from a half-empty bottle standing amongst the empty ones littering the coffee table and took a sip, her eyes unfocused and her cheeks already flushed with drink. It hadn’t been the worst birthday party she’d ever had - at boarding school, she’d always had classes, and no friends to so much as wish her a happy birthday - but there was something more upsetting than having no one to spend her birthday with, and that was having someone, and them not showing up anyway. Kara had promised she’d be there, reiterating it again only that morning, and yet it was past midnight, the party had fizzled out as Lena had grown increasingly upset, and Kara was nowhere to be seen. She hadn’t shown up.

 

            Too disappointed to even be angry, Lena nursed her wine and listened to the wind outside, the house feeling cold as her arms were bared to the room. The night felt impossibly long, her party a lifetime ago instead of a few hours, and her excitement that morning another world away. It was funny, how fast things changed. Everything that she’d dreamed of for that night - slow dancing with Kara, being wrapped up in her arms as they laughed, falling asleep beside her - had all turned to nothing in no time at all. 

 

            It was late, hours past midnight, and Lena was considering going to bed. She was exhausted, empty and there was no word from Kara. Nothing. And just as she was about to call it a night, her phone vibrates in her pocket. Wine dangerously sloshing in the glass, Lena bolted upright from her sprawled, lounging position, cheek flushed from drink and eyes bright with panic and hope. And there it was, Kara’s name lighting up the screen, and Lena suddenly found herself apprehensive as she accepted the call.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            There was quiet static on the other end for a few moments, before Kara’s hoarse voice came through. 

 

            “Hi.”

 

            Lena’s heart ached at the sound of her voice and her eyes slid closed as her shoulders slumped with weary resignation.

 

            “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.”

 

            “Yeah,” Lena whispered, a lump getting caught in her throat as her eyes burned, “I’m sorry too.”

 

            And deep down inside she felt her stomach twist uncomfortably with the knowledge that something was wrong. Alex has said it wasn’t personal, but it was. She wasn’t sure what it was, or how she knew it, but suddenly, she just knew that something had gone amiss. Things between them felt off, throwing Lena off guard as she was struck with the sudden realisation that somehow, this was the beginning of goodbye. And Kara didn’t even know it. 

 

            “We’re still spending Christmas with my mom though, right?”

 

            Feeling her chest ache, Lena’s cool facade broke as her face twisted with confusion and hurt. Softly clearing her throat she opened and closed her mouth, trying to find the reassurances they both need. 

 

            “Wha- I- yeah, of course! Of course we are. I can’t wait, it’s going to be so fun!”

 

            “Good, good.”

 

            She sounded tired, and relieved, and Lena’s expression softened slightly as yearning slammed into her. The urge to see Kara was so strong that she had to fight back the burning feeling of tears as she struggled to keep her voice even. She missed her. Missed her so much that it hurt to have the chance to see her torn away. It had only been a couple of weeks, but now it would be a couple more.

 

            “You’re okay though, right? You’re looking after yourself? Getting enough sleep?”

 

            “I’m- yeah. I’m doing okay. I miss you though.”

 

            Climbing to her feet, Lena walked to the kitchen and set her wine down on the counter, before her shoulders slumped as she leant back against the wall, slowly exhaling as she shivered in the mid-December Californian winter. Her arms were bare in the red dress she was wearing and goosebumps rippled across her skin as she hugged her arms around herself, trying to give herself some comfort as she was enveloped in loneliness and sadness. On her birthday, no less.

 

            “I miss you too. It won’t be too long now,” she slowly replied, her voice light as she forced as much optimism into her words as she could manage. It sounded fake even to her own ears.

 

            “Just a couple more weeks. I’ll give you your birthday gift then too. I wanted to do it in person, and I thought I’d be there-”

 

            “I’m sure I’ll love it,” Lena said, her eyes prickling as tears sprang to her eyes, unbidden. Clearing the lump that lodged itself in her throat, she sniffed and ran a hand through her limp curls. “Well, uh, Krypto’s probably chewing up the furniture so I should probably go and put him to bed,” she lamely continued after a silent pause.

 

            “Oh, right. Sure.”

 

            “Goodnight.”

 

            “Hey,” Kara softly murmured, “happy birthday, Lena.”

 

            Squeezing her eyes shut as she listened to the affectionate way Kara said her name, craving the moment when she’d hear her whisper it in her ear - it never felt the same over the phone - Lena let out a weak laugh, disappointment weighing heavily in her heart. It wasn’t even her birthday anymore.

 

            “Yeah. Right. Thanks.”

 

            “I’m sorry again.”

 

            “I love you.”

 

            “Love you too.”

 

            Lena hung up the second Kara finished talking, holding the phone tightly in her hand as she swallowed the urge to cry, her throat painfully thick with emotion. She’d already cried over it, over her , there was no point crying herself to sleep over it too. Lena was so exhausted that she didn’t think she even had the energy to do so anyway. 

 

            Instead, she glanced at the puppy curled up in his bed in the kitchen, already lightly dozing, and made her way towards her bedroom. Shedding the red dress, she slipped on warm pyjamas and climbed into the cold bed, streaks of makeup staining her face and her eyes slightly bloodshot. 

 

            Emptiness swallowed her up as she reached out to Kara’s side of the bed, breathing in the smell of clean sheets instead of her familiar perfume, and feeling like something was wrong. It nagged at her for hours as sleep evaded her, and somehow Lena felt like she was watching a train fall off its tracks. She didn’t know what had derailed them, only that crashing was inevitable. 

 


 

            “And you forgave her for that?”

 

            Lips twitching into a hint of a smile, Lena shrugged, “I don’t expect people to understand. What happened between us was between us, and there are things about Kara that I won’t talk about because it’s not for me to say, but yes, I forgave her. Even at the time, as hurt as I was that she didn’t show up, I knew there was a bigger reason for it. She’s not the kind of person that intentionally hurts people if she can help it, and breakups aside, she never did. But even then, I could never hate her for not stringing me along, because I think that would’ve hurt a lot more. So yes, she missed my birthday, and I was upset and I forgave her.”

 

            “And you’re not going to say what that big reason is?”

 

            Lips pressed into a flat line, Lena silently struggled for a moment, eyes closed and shoulders tense, before she sighed and deflated in her seat. “No. No, I just- I don’t want to people to misconstrue what I’m saying without hearing it from Kara too. But this industry wears you down. It makes things hard, especially when you’re living in fear with skeletons in the closet, and that doesn’t put you in a good place. There were times when neither of us were … okay. It’s hard being so isolated from the people you love for the sake of your career, and exhausting to put on a show constantly . It was never surprising that things happened the way they did.”

 

            Bitterness coloured her voice as her lips twitched into a tight smile. “It’s why I knew. After that night, I knew . It wasn’t just the fact that she didn’t show up, it was just … a feeling. I’ve always been very intuitive, and sometimes that’s made me wary because I trust my gut instinct. I had a gut instinct that I should sign with Edge Records. I had a gut instinct the night I first met Kara. And I had one that night, while I was speaking to her on the phone, a thousand miles away. I just … I knew. I can’t say how, or why, but I knew that suddenly we weren’t okay. And I don’t think Kara even knew it.”

Chapter Text

I guess you didn't care

And I guess I liked that

And when I fell hard

You took a step back

Without me, without me, without me

 

And he's long gone

When he's next to me

And I realize the blame is on me

 

'Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in

So shame on me now

Flew me to places I'd never been

So you put me down oh

I knew you were trouble when you walked in

So shame on me now

Flew me to places I'd never been

Now I'm lying on the cold hard ground

 

-

 

            The week and a bit until Kara got home for Christmas seemed to drag. It wasn’t just the fact that they had to wait longer to see each other again, but the fact that every time they spoke on the phone, their conversation was stunted and uncomfortable. Yet, even still, the day that Kara flew in, Lena was waiting with a packed bag and nervous anticipation. She was excited, yet she couldn’t deny that a part of her was worried. More worried than she cared to admit.

 

            But there was the eventual sound of tyres on the gravel driveway, and Lena was on her feet in a heartbeat. Smoothing the fine knit of her sweater, running her fingers through her hair and quickly turning the coffee pot on, before rushing through the house and opening the door a moment before Kara knocked. Hand half-raised, she blinked in surprise at the sight of Lena suddenly before her, and Lena felt her worry dissipate at the smile that spread across Kara’s face. She wanted to throw herself at her, but as excited as she was, something held Lena back. 

 

            Kara was reserved too, hovering in the doorway with an apprehensive look on her face, a backpack slung over one shoulder and a bulky guitar case in hand. Her expression darkened for a moment as she brooded on the porch in the mild December weather, the wind snatching at stray strands of her blonde hair before her expression softened into a small smile.

 

            “Can I come in?”

 

            Lena choked on a laugh, before she stepped aside and let Kara in, watching as the blonde’s face lit up as Krypto came running down the hallway, tail wagging and tongue lolling as he sniffed Kara’s boots. She laughed quietly, bending down to pet the puppy while Lena stood there watching her with a tender look in her eyes, cold air blowing in from outside as she held onto the door handle. 

 

            When she straightened up, Lena blinked herself out of her stupor and shut the door, hand pressed against the wood as she made eye contact with Kara. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, which it should’ve been, Karaa stepped forward and cupped Lena’s cheek with a cold hand and pressed her warm lips against hers. Lena melted into her touch and felt the lingering worry fade as her body relaxed and she smiled into it.

 

            “Hi,” she whispered against Kara’s lips when they pulled back slightly.

 

            Forehead resting against hers, Kara let out a quiet laugh as she smiled, her nose gently bumping against Lena’s. “Hi.”

 

            “Coffee?”

 

            Pulling back, Kara let out a heavy sigh, running a hand through her limp hair and giving Lena a tired smile. She had dark circles under her eyes and Lena wasn’t sure if that was due to the long flight, or the fact that she had been working too hard and sleeping too little. Without commenting on it, Lena reached out and gently touched her arm, before walking down the hallway, whistling softly for Krypto to follow after her. 

 

            In the kitchen, Lena pulled two mugs out of the cupboard and poured coffee into them both, adding milk and sugar to them both, while Kara set down her bag and the leather guitar case. Lena glanced at it as she set the mugs down on the counter and folded her arms on top, raising one eyebrow in question.

 

            “You didn’t tell me you’d taken up guitar.”

 

            Mouth curling up into a lopsided smile, Kara hefted it up onto the counter and pushed it across to her, propping her chin up in her hand. “It’s for you.”

 

            Curiosity getting the better of her, Lena reached out and opened the brass clasps, raising the sturdy lid of the case and looking down at the guitar nestled in the deep emerald velvet bed. It was deep, polished mahogany, shining in the yellow light of the kitchen, and Lena stared down at the black scrawl on the wood. Peering down at it she tried to make out the signature.

 

            “It was Stevie Nicks’,” Kara quietly murmured.

 

            Lena’s eyebrows rose in surprise and she quickly pulled the guitar out of the case, slinging the leather strap over her head and cradling it in her arms. Her fingers absentmindedly plucked a few notes on the bronze strings. She let out a quiet laugh, full of delight as she strummed, closing her eyes as she let the gentle sound of music wash over her. It was a perfect gift. They both loved Fleetwood Mac, and Kara knew that Stevie Nicks was one of her idols growing up. It was thoughtful, and she opened her eyes to find Kara staring at her with a soft expression on her face.

 

            Setting the guitar back down in its case, Lena shut the lid on it and did the claps back up, before setting it down on the floor, resting against the kitchen counters. Rounding the end of it, Lena gave her a smile and reached out to grip her shoulders in her gentle touch. Kara’s arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer.

 

            “Thank you,” Lena murmured, leaning up to place a delicate kiss to Kara’s mouth. “I love it.”

 

            “I’m glad,” Kara murmured. 

 

            She softly stroked Lena’s hair, and Lena buried her face in Kara’s shoulder, breathing in the smell of her perfume and holding her tightly. Eyes closed, she let herself be held in return, realising just how much she’d missed Kara. It was easy to forget how her touch felt, how warm she was, and the sound of her heartbeat, no matter how hard Lena clung to those things when she was gone. And the sound of her voice - Lena missed that more than anything.

 

            “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for it,” Kara whispered into her hair, and Lena could hear the strain in her voice and hugged her that little bit tighter. 

 

            There was something off, and she didn’t know how to broach the subject. For now, she resolved to let it go and just enjoy the fact that Kara was home. Whatever it was that was bothering Kara would come up, inevitably, but Kara was obviously keeping it to herself for a reason. Lena just wanted her to be okay. She wanted her to enjoy her time home, to get some rest and forget about work for a few days. It was Christmas in a few days, and the least they could do was set everything aside and just spend time together. They so rarely had the chance.

 

            Finally pulling back, Lena gave her another kiss, this one lingering and needy, before they took their coffee into the sitting room. She’s lit a fire in the grate earlier, and the room was comfortably stuffy as orange light spilt out of the fireplace and the air was full of the smell of woodsmoke. Curling up at opposite ends of the sofa, they drank their coffee, while Kara stroked Krypto’s fur as he dozed in her lap. It was peaceful, normal, even comforting, yet Lena was occupied with her own thoughts, absentmindedly circling the rim of her mug with a finger as she thought about all their phone calls over the past week. Perhaps even further back. It felt easy to ignore them all, now that Kara was back, but there was that nagging feeling at the back of her mind. The feeling that had made itself clearly known on her birthday; something was wrong.

 

            Turning to Kara, Lena smiled softly at the sight of her struggling to keep her eyes open. The sky was deep indigo outside, dusk having arrived early, yet Kara was so jetlagged that she looked like she was about to nod off any second now. Setting her cup down on the coffee table, Lena reached for her arm and gave it a gentle squeeze, watching as Kara blinked rapidly and gave her a bleary, squinting look.

 

            “You should go to bed.”

 

            “Mm,” she mumbled, rubbing at her eyes and opening her mouth wide in a jaw-clicking yawn before she sighed and deflated in her seat. “Early start in the morning.”

 

            Tilting her head to the side, Lena’s lips twitched with the barest hint of a smile, feeling a little bit anxious about the thought of tomorrow. “Are you sure you want to drive? We can fly.”

 

            Shaking her head, Kara set her coffee cup down and lifted Krypto down to the floor, before climbing to her feet. Stretching her arms, back arching slightly, her brow gently furrowed. “Fly? And be seen? I’m sure that won’t ruin the trip at all.”

 

            There was an uncharacteristically bitter edge to Kara’s words that made Lena’s eyebrows rise imperceptibly. Shoulders rising and falling in a small shrug, Lena climbed to her feet and scooped up both of their cups, briefly touching Kara’s arm as she stepped past her, and gave her a small smile.

 

            “Fair point. Sleep in though; you need your rest.”

 

            Dumping their dishes in the kitchen, Lena let Krypto outside for a moment, standing in the doorway as she shivered, before locking the house up, hefting her new guitar case off the ground, and made her way to her bedroom. Kara was changing into a sweatshirt, her long legs bare and pale from the European winter, and Lena set her new guitar down just inside the door, before quietly shutting it behind her. 

 

            Walking up behind Kara, she gently reached out to grab her waist and placed a featherlight kiss to the back of her neck, feeling Kara’s shuddering breath and the ripple of goosebumps radiating from her touch. Her skin was warm, and Lena wrapped her arms around her completely, pressing her face into the soft fabric of the sweatshirt and feeling the sharp bone of Kara’s shoulder blade beneath it.

 

            “I missed you.”

 

            Turning in her grasp, Kara planted a kiss on top of Lena’s head and reached out to brush her bangs out of her eyes. “I missed you too,” she said with a soft smile, before delicately kissing her on the nose.

 

            That night, Lena fell asleep with her arm thrown across Kara’s waist and her warmth radiating across the few inches separating them. She slept soundly, burrowed beneath the blankets with a slight smile softening her face, and didn’t wake up until weak sunlight was streaming in through her open blinds. 

 

            Mind fuzzy, Lena blearily pushed herself up slightly and reached out for the empty side of the bed, finding it cold. But the covers were rumpled, and it hadn’t all been a dream. Rubbing at her tired eyes, she listened to the sound of banging and clattering drifting from the kitchen and smiled to herself, before climbing out of bed and donning a thick robe. Running a hand through her frazzled hair, making her fringe stand slightly on end, Lena yawned and fumbled for her glasses, before she made her way out into the hallway.

 

            A chill seeped through the house and her fingers were cold as she buried them in her pockets, bare feet padding against cool floorboards and the smell of coffee beckoning her. Upon reaching the open door to the kitchen, Lena leant against the doorframe and took in the sight of Kara haphazardly chopping chives, while eggs sizzled in the pan. She was already drinking coffee, but Lena spotted the extra mug sitting on the counter, waiting to be filled.

 

            Stepping into the room, she made herself noticed and her head twinged at the smile Kara cast her as she looked up. “Morning.”

 

            “Morning,” Lena mumbled, sidling up to her and ducking behind before she wrapped her arms around Kara’s waist and rested her cheek against her shoulder blades. “You’re up early.”

 

            “Long drive. I thought we should get an early start. Coffee?”

 

            Lena hummed in agreement as she pressed her face into the soft fabric of Kara’s pyjamas, feeling the muscles shift beneath it as Kara reached for the coffee pot and poured a steaming stream of bitterly strong coffee into the cup. Pulling back, Lena snagged a carton of milk from the fridge, added a splash to her coffee and stirred in two lumps of sugar, before pressing a kiss to the back of Kara’s neck and mumbling her thanks.

 

            “Breakfast will be ready in a minute,” Kara informed her, smiling over her shoulder as she scooped up a handful of chives and sprinkled them into the pan.

 

            Fetching cutlery from the drawer, Lena carried knives and forks in one hand and carried her coffee with her to the bright dining room, the weak sunshine filtering in without the green tint of the pergola, which was shrivelled up for the winter. The air was cold, but the room was homely, and Lena quickly set the table, before going back to the kitchen to help with the rest of breakfast.

 

            They ate omelettes in full view of the wintry garden, taking in the brown leaves of the trees held in the throes of winter, and made quiet conversation as they ate slowly, savouring the morning. Kara read yesterday’s newspaper, the gentle rustle disturbing the peaceful quietness of the morning every so often, and Lena fed Krypto scraps of the bacon that Kara had cooked specially for her. 

 

            After they’d finished, they washed up in the kitchen, before making their way towards the bathroom. Shedding her pyjamas, Lena ran the hot water in the shower and gratefully stepped beneath it, heat slamming into her as her skin rippled with goosebumps. Hair plastered to her face, she brushed her fringe back and watched as Kara undressed and stepped in too, lips trembling as the chill of the bathroom seeped into her before the hot water chased it away.

 

            Lingering longer than they’d intended, they gently washed each other’s hair and took their time tracing the lines and curves of each other’s bodies under the guise of slowly scrubbing each other with sweet-smelling soap, before finally washing the last suds away and kissing underneath the stream of water, their mouths hot against each other’s. Stepping out, they wrapped themselves in fluffy white towels and shivered as the cold tiles fought to keep the steamy heat of the shower at bay.

 

            Dressing in a thin deep green sweater and jeans, Lena quickly dried her hair off in the bathroom, and then sat Kara down in front of the fogged up mirror to blowdry hers for her, interrupting herself frequently to place chaste, featherlight kisses to her neck and shoulders. It was by no means late when they were finally ready to leave, but they’d taken as long as they could stretch it out for before leaving, and with a final scramble to make sure she had everything - puppy, guitar, journal - Lena climbed behind the wheel of her black Range Rover, while Kara settled down with Krypto curled up in her lap.

 

            With the nervous anticipation of meeting Kara’s mother looming in the near future, Lena worried at her fringe and checked her makeup in the mirror, before turning the key in the ignition and backing them out of the garage. They’d settled on the Range Rover for relative anonymity. It was expensive and hulking, but no one would guess that two A-list celebrities would be in it as they made their way upstate to Midvale. It gave Lena a sense of security to be hidden behind the tinted windows, backed up by the sheer size of the big car. 

 

            It was a four-hour drive up the northern California coastline to Midvale, and Lena drove for the first three hours while Kara dozed in her seat. They’d planned to switch halfway, but after looking over and seeing the peaceful expression on Kara’s face as she slept quietly in the weak sunlight, Lena didn’t have the heart to wake her. She looked relaxed and her face was slack, without the worn lines of tiredness she’d come home with last night, so Lena let her sleep as the miles passed by. The heating warmed the car to a comfortable level and Lena was content to watch the sights pass by, enjoying the white caps of steel grey waves over the edge of cliffs, the forest of fir trees that sprung up in the rural stretches between towns and cities. 

 

            Eventually, Kara stirred and they pulled over at a gas station. Sunglasses on, caps pulled down low and warm scarves wrapped around their necks - Kara was wearing Lena’s one that she’d never gotten back - they stretched their legs, and Kara watched Krypto run around in the grass on the side of the road, while Lena bought them cheap coffee and filled up their gas tank. Climbing back into the car, they switched sides, and Lena lay back in her seat, absentmindedly stroking the velvety fur of the puppy while Kara fiddled with the radio.

 

            The last hour dragged by, and they amused themselves by singing along together with the radio, laughing and casting smiling glances at each other whenever they caught each other’s eyes. Autumn leaves that had forgotten to fall still clung to trees and blew past them on the wind, and Lena drank in the vibrant colours of the Californian winter as nervous excitement kindled in her chest at the thought of Christmas with Kara. Eventually, they reached the outskirts of the small seaside town and Lena saw Kara visibly brighten, her shoulders going slack as she gripped the steering wheel and looked around at her old hometown. Reaching out, Lena gave her knee a gentle squeeze and smiled at her.

 

            “Excited?”

 

            Quietly laughing as they drove through the main street of the town, Kara looked over at her, a bright smile on her face, and Lena’s eyes widened as she glanced at the street and suddenly braced herself against her seat.

 

            “Red light!” 

 

            Eyes whipping back to the road, Kara cursed as she slammed her breaks on, tires screeching quietly as the big car came to an abrupt halt. Mouth open in surprise, Lena looked at her with owlish eyes and a laugh worked its way up her throat. Clapping a hand to her mouth, she shook her head as she laughed, shoulders shaking and eyes creasing at the corners, and the startled look on Kara’s face softened into a sheepish smile as a hysterical laugh fell from her lips. 

 

            “You really are a terrible driver, you know that, right?” Lena laughed.

 

            Scoffing, Kara smiled as she shrugged, the light turning green and the car lurching forward as Kara slammed her foot down on the gas. “I was distracted.”

 

            Reaching out to pick Kara’s hand up, Lena pressed a gentle kiss to the thin knuckles and pressed it to her warm cheek as she gazed at Kara with adoration in her eyes. “You’re by far the most distracting thing here,” Lena mumbled, gently stroking Kara’s skin with her fingertips, watching a slow smile spread across her face. “You’re beautiful.”

 

            “You’re making me feel all flushed,” Kara laughed, reaching up to tug at the collar of the plaid shirt she was wearing. 

 

            At Lena’s spluttered protest, she clamped her hand back down on the wheel and laughed, before Lena relinquished her hold on Kara’s other hand. Reaching for the button, Lena wound the windows down slightly, letting a cool breeze ruffle her hair as it chased away the stuffy warmth inside the car. Leaning her head against the doorframe, she closed her eyes and relaxed into her seat, basking in the fresh air and the wind’s gentle caress.

 

            Shortly, they were climbing up the steep driveway in the big car, Kara easing off and on the pedal at jerking intervals, while Lena groaned and tried to offer advice, before they rolled back down the driveway or Kara ended up shooting straight through the front of the white clapboard house she caught a glimpse of. Eventually, they made it safely to the top, and Lena took in the big house, catching sight of Christmas decorations through the windows before the front door opened and a blonde woman stepped outside.

 

            Killing the engine, Kara opened her door and climbed out, her long legs crossing the distance to the front steps as Eliza walked down the steps, both of them meeting in a hug. Slipping out of the car, Lena set Krypto down on the gravel, watching him sniff about, and slammed the door shut behind her as her stomach nervously lurched. Rubbing her hands over the thighs of her dark jeans, she hesitantly smiled as she slowly trailed after Kara.

 

            “Eliza, this is Lena,” Kara said, turning as she spoke, excitement brimming in her blue eyes.

 

            “Of course! Lena,” Eliza smiled, a wariness in her eyes as she neared her, trying to gauge her. 

 

            Giving her a smile, Lena moved past Kara to greet her, and Eliza gently put her arm around her shoulders, laughing as Krypto sniffed at her feet. “Come on in, you must be starving.”

 

            It was already lunchtime, and Kara waved Lena on ahead while she went to fetch their bags from the car. Krypto followed Lena up the front steps and into the spacious house. It was homely and comfortable, and Lena felt right at ease. It had the feeling of an old farmhouse, with its white kitchen cupboards and wooden floors, but it had the sea in it too, and she loved it immediately.

 

            Letting Eliza usher her down onto a comfortable sofa, she politely relayed her coffee preferences upon request and was left to admire the place as Eliza shifted around in the kitchen and Kara tramped upstairs. Sunlight streamed in through the large windows overlooking the water, and the smell of salt and freshly cut grass drifted in through an open window. After a few minutes of sneaking glances around the place, a cup of coffee was set down on the coffee table in front of her and Kara was sitting down beside her.

 

            “Here comes the inquisition,” Kara quietly joked, a sheepish smile on her face, moments before Eliza joined them, setting a plate of sandwiches down in the middle of the coffee table, along with a plate of fresh cookies. Kara went straight for the cookies.

 

            “How was the drive?”

 

            “I slept through most of it,” Kara shrugged, taking a large bite of chocolate chip and nodding appreciatively. “I didn’t get in until last evening. The jetlag has taken it all out of me.”

 

            “How’s the shoot going?”

 

            Kara shrugged, and Lena angled herself towards her, trying to hide the anxious look on her face as she reached for her coffee. She’d avoided the topic last night, and all morning, and was relieved that Eliza had broached it so that she didn’t have to. Things had felt a little strained since her birthday, and she didn’t want to stir up more trouble if it was unwarranted.

 

            “It’s been good. Absolutely freezing, mind you, but it’s so beautiful there. And the film’s been great. There hasn’t been a lot of training though.”

 

            Eliza let out a quiet laugh, her eyes crinkling at the corners with amusement, “so no tee-ball practice?”

 

            Cheeks turning pink, Kara groaned, leaning her head back against the couch pillows, “I’ll never live that down, will I?”

 

            “What’s this?” Lena asked, a curious look on her face.

 

            “Kara had a role as a high school student when she was … what, eighteen? Nineteen?” Eliza started, glancing to the blushing blonde as she spoke. “Of course, she was homeschooled practically her entire education - going back before she was adopted, even - so she didn’t have much experience on the matter. So one day, we’re having dinner, and Kara tells me she’s going to school tomorrow. So I called the school, we sorted it all out, and she came home the next day with a shiner after she’d joined the tee-ball team for after school practice.”

 

            Wincing slightly, Kara gave Lena an exasperated look, brushing cookie crumbs off her lap as she leant forward for her own coffee. “That was the last time I ever played a team sport.”

 

            Muffling a laugh, Lena pressed her lips together as she tried not to smile. Kara handed her a sandwich and Lena quietly thanked her, before turning her attention to Eliza, who was climbing to her feet. “I actually have photos, I think. Let me get the album-”

 

            “Eliza,” Kara groaned, “can you wait longer than five minutes before you embarrass me?”

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, the older woman rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly, you were an adorable child. I’m sure Lena would love to see some photos of you when you were younger.”

 

            Perking up, Lena couldn’t fight back a smile as she eagerly turned to watch Eliza go. “Oh, please do.”

 

            Kara shot her a pointed look and Lena shrugged, giving her an innocent look as she took a bite of the sandwich. Eliza returned a few minutes later and set a box down on the coffee table, before pulling out a stack of albums and setting them down. Picking up the first one, she flipped open the cover and quietly laughed.

 

            “Oh, look at you! You were so sweet.”

 

            Cheeks reddening, Kara folded her arms over her chest and sank back against the pillows, embarrassment written all over her face. Lena gave her knee a reassuring squeeze, before leaning towards Eliza and tilting her head so she could see the photo. Kara was sitting cross-legged on a narrow bed set against the wall, a window creating a halo around her blonde hair, and she was sporting glasses beneath a heavy fringe. Lena couldn’t help but laugh, her expression softening as she smiled over at Kara.

 

            “Look how cute you were.”

 

            Softly sighing, Kara set her cup of coffee down and pushed herself to her feet. Bracing herself against Lena’s shoulder, she craned her neck to stare down at the photo staring back at her. “Okay, that one’s not that bad.”

 

            They flipped through several albums full of photos of Kara at various ages, some of them with another man and woman, who Lena took to be her parents, and others with her new family, her adoptive father present in them, although Lena had yet to meet him. She found herself relaxing, and Eliza took to her like a charm, the three of them laughing and stories swapped back and forth until Kara was red with mortification and Lena took pity on her. It made her feel warm inside, listening to tales of Kara’s past, hearing about things that had happened to her, no matter how small and inconsequential they seemed. 

 

            The day passed by quickly, and as the sun started to sink low on the horizon, over the sparkling water, Alex arrived with a bag slung over one shoulder and a camera over the other, greeting Lena warmly with a hug. 

 

            It was the first night of Hanukkah that evening, and Eliza pulled a worn menorah out and opened a packet of new wax tapers, leaving Kara to light it, while Lena watched on with interest. She knew it was more about tradition than anything else for Kara, but it was sweet seeing how much her family cared about the holiday for her. After dusk had passed, Kara showed her how to make latkes, and they drank wine over dinner, before bundling up in big coats to sit out on the deck, drinking warm apple cider and watching the stars. A fire flickered in a pit, casting an orange glow over them, and Lena was curled up beside Kara, feeling content for the first time in weeks. She’d missed her; it was as simple as that.

 

            When the hour grew late, they went upstairs, and Kara showed Lena into the guest room where she’d put her things. Grabbing a bag of toiletries, Lena retreated to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wipe off her makeup, before changing into warm pyjamas. 

 

            Emerging a few minutes later, she put her bag back in her room and found Kara in her old childhood bedroom. It had the same bed from the photograph pushed up against the wall, and another one along the opposite wall for Alex. Lena smiled at the thought of her as a child star, coming home to share a bedroom with her new sister, while the whole world fell in love with her. Hovering in the doorway, she took in the shadowy form of Kara by lamplight, until Alex realised she was there and Kara broke off mid-conversation to turn to her.

 

            Her expression softened and she climbed to her feet. “Hey, are you off to bed?”

 

            “Mm,” Lena murmured, running a hand over her face, “long day.”

 

            “I’m going to stay up a bit longer,” Kara said, crossing over to the door and stepping halfway out into the hallway, pulling the door partly shut to block her sister from sight. Leaning in, she gently kissed Lena, her lips soft and warm, making Lena’s insides squirm slightly before she pulled back and gave her a slight smile. “Goodnight.”

            

            Reaching out to graze her knuckles over her cheek, Lena furrowed her brow slightly as she gave her a solemn look. “I love you.”

 

            Lips curling up more at the corners, Kara quietly laughed, “you too.”

 

            Walking back down the hallway, Lena slipped into bed alone, and woke up alone the next morning, the other side of the bed empty and unslept in. Kara had fallen asleep in her old bed in the room she shared with Alex, and as Lena sat propped up against the pillows, running a hand through her rumpled fringe, she couldn’t help but brood.

 

            Kara found her that way a while later, after quietly knocking on the door. Blankets drawn up to her chin, with just her head and hands exposed, Lena was scribbling lyrics into her journal with reckless abandon, caught up in the moment. She barely even acknowledged the blonde as she came into the room and set a cup of tea down on the nightstand.

 

            “Did I do something wrong?” Kara laughed as she craned her neck to look down at the page of looped writing, leaning down to kiss Lena on the top of her head when she scowled and hid the page.

 

            “It’s not finished yet.”

 

            “What’s it about?”

 

            Shrugging, Lena clamped the pen beneath her teeth and flipped to the next page. Her brows were furrowed together in a heavy frown and Kara reached down to smooth it out. Removing the pen, Lena sat upright and tilted her head up, lips pursed slightly, and smiled as Kara kissed her.

 

            “It’s about you.”

 

            “Now I’m definitely nervous.”

 

            “It’s not a bad one.”

 

            Snorting, Kara sat down on the edge of the bed and raised her eyebrows slightly. “What, no scathing song about how I missed your birthday?”

 

            “Not yet.”

 

            “Yet.”

 

            Rolling her eyes, Lena capped her pen, bookmarked her journal with it, and snapped the elastic strap in place to close it, before tossing it aside running her fingers through her hair. Reaching for her cup of tea, she blew on the steam and cradled it in her hands.

 

            “Well, I suppose it just depends on whether or not I was inspired.”

 

            “And you’d just … put it on the album?”

 

            Shrugging, Lena took a sip and felt the tea pool in her stomach as a slow warmth seeped into her. “If it was good enough.”

 

            “Right,” Kara muttered.

 

            “What?”

 

            Shaking her head, Kara shrugged one shoulder and raised her eyebrows slightly. “Nothing, it’s just- well, I don’t particularly want everything aired to the world. All of our dirty laundry.”

 

            Quietly chuckling, Lena reached out and gently squeezed her shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, they won’t even know it was you.”

 

            Scoffing, Kara climbed to her feet, her shoulders taut and a dark look on her face. “That makes me feel so much better.”

 

            Blinking in surprise, Lena set her tea down and threw back the covers, her bare feet landing on the cold wooden floorboards as she started to rise. “I-”

 

            Looking down at her, Kara gave her a soft smile, reaching out to brush Lena’s fringe out of her eyes. Heavily sinking back down onto the mattress, Lena gave her a searching look.

 

            “Breakfast is ready. I thought we could go for a walk afterwards.”

 

            “Oh. Okay.”

 

            Struck by the sudden changes in Kara’s moods, Lena let it go, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it as she picked up her tea and followed Kara downstairs. She seemed fine, if a little quiet and preoccupied, which Lena had put down to tiredness, but Lena wasn’t used to the irritability.

 

            Breakfast was normal though, and Kara was positively charming as she helped Eliza make pancakes, singing to the radio in the kitchen while Lena quietly sliced strawberries and watched her from the corner of her eye. When Lena was dressing in the bedroom, slipping on one of Kara’s faded plaid shirts, Kara stepped in with a towel wrapped around her and water beading on her skin and kissed her roughly, before slipping out again. She picked winter pansies from the side of the road when they took Krypto for a walk along a winding tree-lined path, handing the small punch of deep purple flowers to Lena with an endearing smile. They made sufganiyot after Kara had lit the second candle on the menorah for Hanukkah, and she teased Lena as she fed her the little round doughnuts, getting icing sugar everywhere. In the quiet hours of the night, when they were both still up, they’d raid the fridge for snacks and Kara would pull her close and spin her around in dizzying circles as they danced in the pale light of the refrigerator. 

 

            Her mood was unpredictable for the entire trip, and they only had eight days together. Sometimes, Lena would be chatting away to Alex and catch sight of Kara sitting outside in the bitter wind blowing in from the ocean, all alone as she hugged her sweater to herself, and something inside her would twist uncomfortably. Lena couldn’t quite say how she felt, or what it was, but it left her feeling cold inside, worried and confused. But then Kara would be smiling brightly and casually sling her arm around Lena’s shoulder as they sat beside each other on the sofa, watching TV late at night with her family. 

 

            Christmas morning was slow and quiet, and Lena didn’t think Kara had slept at all as she took in the dark circles ringing her eyes when she was given her gifts. They consisted of an expensive diamond bracelet, a Montblanc fountain pen and imported coffee beans from Hawaii. Lena bought her a custom made Italian leather portfolio to carry her scripts and phones and necessities on set, a first edition of Alice In Wonderland and Lewis Carroll’s vintage James Hammond typewriter. Afterwards, Kara took a nap, and Lena helped peel potatoes and carrots.

 

            As far as the holidays went, it was one of her most relaxing ones since finding herself in the middle of the spotlight, with no pressure from her mother to stick to her diet and exercise plans her dietician had dictated for her, or the uncomfortable tension that suffused all of her family’s latest gatherings since her parents marriage had essentially ended. Lena was in a small town where nobody even knew she was, with no cameras and no publicists or managers about - although they’d checked in enough times to warn her to remain inconspicuous - and just her and Kara. It would’ve been perfect, if not for the fact that Kara was obviously struggling.

 

            By the time they left on the eighth night, Lena was almost scared to go. Dusk was just settling in, and Kara was lighting the last candle on the menorah before they left, and Lena watched from the doorway, taking in the silhouetted shape lowering the ninth candle to the last unlit one, before replacing it. There was a tautness to Kara’s shoulders, and an air of frustration and her voice was quiet as she rattled off a prayer in Hebrew. It rolled off her tongue with ease, and Lena grimaced as she pushed off the doorframe and went to make sure she’d packed all of her things.

 

            With a final cup of coffee to keep them going through the night, they packed their bags in the trunk of the car, and Lena thanked Eliza as she hugged her goodbye. Alex was snapping photos from the illuminated porch, adding to her collection from over the past few days, and she gave Lena a small smile and a one-armed hug as she said goodbye. Alex was staying a few more days for a project, but Kara was flying back the next day, which meant this was goodbye to her family too.

 

            Picking Krypto up, Lena carried him to the car and set him on the floor of the passenger side and slipped behind the wheel. Kara seemed even more so broody, and Lena figured that she could sleep for a while. Turning the key in the engine, she switched on the headlights and buckled herself in, taking in the figures near the front door as they hugged goodbye and made a few last-minute comments.

 

            Gravel crunched as Kara finally made her way towards the car, silently climbing into the front and slamming the door shut behind her. As Lena carefully backed them down the steep driveway, they both waved at the two shadowy figures watching them leave, before they were out of sight and Lena fixed her eyes on the road, her contacts bringing everything into sharp focus as the narrow beams of light kept the darkness at bay.

 

            The return trip felt longer, quieter, tenser. Kara didn’t sleep, but she didn’t say much either, and the only sound was the engine and the quiet flow of heat flooding out of the vents. Neither of them switched the radio on, and Lena gripped the wheel tightly as she kept her eyes trained on the road, trying to convince herself that there was nothing to worry about as Kara silently dwelled in her own mind.

 

            Stopping halfway, Kara drove them the rest of the way back to her apartment, parking the car around the corner and grabbing her bags from the back. Lena cracked the window slightly for Krypto, with the distinct feeling that she wouldn’t be staying the night. Relieving Kara of the heavy typewriter and one of her bags, they walked side by side to the entrance to the building and quietly made their way upstairs. 

 

            Lucy wasn’t in when they stepped inside, the apartment dark and quiet, and Kara softly sighed as she dumped her bag down on the floor. Moving towards the table, Lena set the bulky box with the typewriter down on it and gently set the bag down on the floor, before turning to face Kara.

 

            She didn’t say anything as she reached for the kettle, and Lena finally caved. The nervous anticipation of waiting for the other shoe to drop was too much, and she couldn’t take it any longer. It was driving her mad, the feeling that perhaps she was just being paranoid making her doubt herself when she knew there was something wrong. It wasn’t just a sudden feeling; Lena had felt it for weeks now. The uncomfortable nagging at the back of her mind that she just couldn’t shake, no matter how hard she tried.

 

            “Please tell me what’s wrong,” Lena eventually wearily begged, the tension hanging heavily between them, having steadily built over the past few days together until it had worn her down so much that she couldn’t stand it any longer.

 

            Turning around, Kara looked at her with mild surprise, pale eyebrows rising and kettle in hand as she stood in front of the sink. “Nothing’s wrong.”

 

            Biting back her impatience, Lena sighed heavily and threw her keys down on the table, before running a hand through her hair in frustration. Grinding her teeth together, she exhaled sharply. “Well, there clearly is . I don’t think you’ve been happy all week.”

 

            Spluttering, Kara slowly set the empty kettle down on the counter and braced her hands against the edge of the sink, standing in silence for a few moments. “You’re right, you’re right,” she quietly said, rubbing at her forehead as she hunched her shoulders. 

 

            “Then tell me what’s wrong so I can help you,” Lena softly replied, the fight draining out of her as her whole body sagged.

 

            The urge to cry threatened to overwhelm her as she stood in Kara’s kitchen in the middle of the night, seized by panic and worry, and too in love to be able to bear Kara’s sudden change in personality. This wasn’t her, and Lena didn’t know what to do to help her. It was maddening, slowly eating away at her until she couldn’t help but broach the topic, out of fear and worry, and concern for Kara. She looked tired, rundown and just defeated. Christmas was supposed to be a break for her, yet she hardly looked better off for it, and Lena blinked back the stinging feeling in her eyes.

 

            “You can’t help me,” Kara quietly replied, her voice bitter and low.

 

            Crossing the gap between them, Lena reached out and took her by the elbow, turning her so that they were face to face. Pale moonlight mingled with the dim buttery light from a lamp, casting off shadows over Kara’s face as she refused to meet Lena’s eyes.

 

            “Let me try.”

 

            “You don’t get it!” Kara quietly exclaimed, her voice cracking as she tilted her head back, staring up at the ceiling as she raked her fingers through her hair. Drawing in a shuddering breath, she gently deflated. “It’s you , and me. It’s us.”

 

            Jerking back slightly, Lena took a small step back as her face crumpled. She didn’t want to admit it to herself, but she’d known that things had slowly been derailing with them. Of course she’d known. She’d realised it herself on her birthday. It wasn’t something she could put her finger on, but the feeling had been there nonetheless. It had nagged at the back of her mind for weeks; it was the reason she’d been so anxious over the past few days, treading on eggshells around Kara, trying to figure out where and when exactly things had started going wrong.

 

            “Us?” Lena numbly echoed, her lips barely moving as her heart spasmed in her chest. Just that simple word, in that context, was enough to painfully cut into her. 

 

            Letting out a short laugh, Lena gave Kara a tight smile and turned around, walking a short way away. Breathing in the green scent of so many flowers, she ran a hand over her tired face, her hand shaking and a hollow feeling opening up inside her. 

 

            “I’ve been trying to figure it out for the past few weeks,” Lena finally murmured to the darkness, just outside the halo of lamplight, her eyes fixated on the vintage armchair by the window, on the pattern scrolling along the edges of the Turkish rug, anywhere but on the woman standing behind her. “What went wrong with us . And I can’t think of anything. The only thing I can think of is … you’re not here.”

 

            “It’s not the distance-”

 

            Whirling around, Lena felt anger flare up inside, her cheeks flushed red as her eyes shone with burning tears. “No, it’s not the distance . You just- you’re not here. I talk to you on the phone, and it’s like you’re not even there. And I’ve been trying to figure out why , or what I did but-”

 

            “You want to know why? I’m tired, Lena. I’m so tired. Of this, of what we’re doing. I just-” Kara trailed off as she dug the heels of her palms into her eyes, shoulders taut as she stood tall and still in the kitchen, before exhaling sharply. “I don’t like it. I don’t. Being back here doesn’t feel any better. I feel trapped.”

 

            “Trapped.”

 

            “I want to talk about you to people!” Kara exclaimed, “I want to hold your hand, and- and take you out for breakfast. I want to go grocery shopping with you. Go to events with you. I want to go out . I want to come out.”

 

            Wariness flickered in the depths of Lena’s eyes as she gave Kara a cautious look. They’d been through this before. They’d been in agreement that it was an impossible situation, a death warrant for their careers, and Lena’s mouth felt dry as she tried to think of something to say. She wanted to help Kara, but she couldn’t help her with this

 

            For all their sneaking around and stolen moments, and even their openness around their family and friends, there could never be anything more for them. Not without consequences. And if Lena was being honest, she wasn’t ready to face those consequences yet. Perhaps not ever. It wasn’t just the fact that her record deal was dependent on her keeping this part of her life a secret, but the fact that her life was already so publicised and scrutinised that the thought of revealing such a bit secret and having to deal with the fallout of it was daunting. Her life as she knew it would be over and all she’d have was the flimsy guarantee of a future with Kara.

 

            “You know that I can’t,” Lena softly told her, voice trembling and eyes swimming with sadness and pleading as she begged Kara to understand.

 

            “But I can,” Kara whispered. “I can, for myself.”

 

            Feeling as if she’d been punched in the stomach, the air rushed out of Lena’s lungs and her face dropped, a look of unabashed shock smoothing out her features. “So that’s it? You just- you’re going to leave me for this?” Lena asked, her voice wavering as she tried not to cry, not to shout, not to fall apart. “And then what? When you’re out. What would be the point? You won’t be able to have me, not in the way you want.”

 

            “I don’t know.”

 

            “Then what?”

 

            “I don’t know!” Kara exploded, a panicked look in her dark eyes as she stood half in shadow, the thought of tea long since forgotten about. She clenched and unclenched her hands into fists, her frustration evident in the restlessness of her movements. She was stuck, confused.

 

            Squeezing her eyes shut, she shook her head, before turning around. One hand on her hip, she covered her mouth with her hand and stared out the window, silver moonlight pouring in and washing over her slender form. Lena felt her heart in her throat, beating loudly as fear shook her body; she didn’t want to lose Kara. Not again, not ever, and not when there was a very real chance that this would be it. If she came out, it could ruin any chance that they had of ever getting back together again after this. Lena felt sick.

 

            “I’m just … not happy,” Kara eventually said, her voice hoarse and hitching, and so pitifully sad that Lena felt the anger bleed out of her. “And it’s not your fault, but I can’t- I don’t think I can do it anymore. I just-”

 

            “You’re just running away again,” Lena said, the words pitiful as they came out as a breathless sob. “What is it? Am I asking too much of you? Did we- did we misunderstand each other? Because I thought it was good- I thought it was all fine until my birthday-”

 

            “It wasn’t fine , Lena! We were trying, but you can’t honestly tell me that you’ve been happy with how things have been.”

 

            Making a low sound of frustration at the back of her throat, Lena averted her gaze, taking in the room so she didn’t have to look at Kara. “I … no, I- it hasn’t been ideal, but I love you. We said we’d make the distance work this time.”

 

            “But it’s not the distance! Don’t you get it? I’m going to come home in a few weeks, and we’ll finally be able to be together - no more long-distance - except that we won’t . I don’t want a relationship I have to hide.”

 

            “Well you knew this when you came back,” Lena hotly replied.

 

            Letting out a cold, short laugh, Kara gave her a pained look. “I knew we wouldn’t be able to be together publicly, but … we’re not even allowed to be friends . We have to sneak around like what we’re doing is wrong, and I don’t see an end to this. I really don’t. And I can’t let you pick me over your career so …”

 

            The lapsed silence as Kara trailed off was deafening and full of unspoken meaning. The air forcing itself out of her lungs, Lena pressed her lips together, fingers threaded through her hair as she cupped the back of her head, eyes shining with tears that quickly spilt over. As they traced their way down her wan cheeks she let out a quiet laugh, thick with emotion and not at all humorous, before she sniffed and wiped at her cheeks.

 

            Clearing her throat, she shoved her hands into her coat pockets, head ducked down as she stared at the worn wooden floorboards beneath her feet, waiting, praying, for Kara to say something.

 

            “Well … I guess that’s it then,” Lena finally said, her tone flippant as she made for the door.

 

            Yanking it open, she heard Kara softly call out her name, and stepped out into the hallway before pulling the door shut behind her. Standing in the hallway, she drew in a deep, shuddering breath, her body seeming to inflate slightly as if she was drawing herself up to her full height, regal and proud. But then she covered her mouth with her hand and the air was pushed from her lungs, hot against her palm as she deflated, sagging against the wall as she reached out to balance herself with her free hand. 

 

            She broke down in the elevator, after stumbling into it, cold and shaking from the shock of it, and cried the whole way home. Her lips trembled and her heart broke, and there was nothing Lena could do about it. She just drove, Krypto curled up on the passenger seat, tears running down her face and devastation written all over her.

 


 

            “What did you do?”

 

            Letting out a sad laugh, one side of Lena’s mouth tugged into a slight smile, her cheek dimpling as she slowly blinked, sadness weighing heavily in her chest. “I cried all night. And then the sun started rising, and I was so cold , so I poured myself a glass of wine, put on my red lipstick, and had a bath.”

 

            “A bath?”

 

            “Mhm.”

 

            “Why?”

 

            Lena let out a quick laugh, her lips twitching slightly as her eyes danced with amusement. Shifting in her seat, she sat up straighter and shrugged, running a hand through her hair. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

 

            “Hang on,” Leslie said, a frown creasing her brow as she leant towards Lena. “This was the second time. The second time she just … left you.” At Lena’s curt not, Leslie gave her an incredulous look. “And you just … went back to her again?”

 

            A lump lodged itself in Lena’s throat as she looked down at her hands in her lap, twisting the rings as she bowed her head. A dull ache twinged in her chest and she let out a shaky breath. She hadn’t come here to paint Kara as a bad person; she’d come here to be honest. So far, that honesty wasn’t painting Kara in a good light, and a stab of guilt struck Lena as if she was betraying Kara. Of course, she was hoping by the end of things she would’ve explained it all properly, would’ve shown just how many bad decisions she’d made too, how many people she’d hurt - including Kara. It wasn’t the fault of any one person, no matter how the story was currently unfolding. Lena quickly tried to set the record straight.

 

            “Don’t judge her, please,” she softly said, her face spasming slightly with pain as her voice came out hoarse and low.

 

            Closing her eyes, Lena clenched her hands into fists and breathed in slowly, before exhaling sharply. She wasn’t quite sure how to explain. How to make everyone understand her and Kara’s relationship. Because it hadn’t been full of heartbreak and difficulty - not all the time - but it was important that they know those parts too. It was important that they knew how hard it was for them, the constraints placed around them, putting them in such an impossible position.

 

            “I know I’m not painting her in a very good light at the moment, but that’s because that was when it was hard. We were young, we were scared. Things got easier after that. I just- I’m not here to blame anyone for anything, least of all Kara. And I didn’t come here to point the finger at anyone but myself. I played a part in everything I’m telling you.”

 

            “You blamed yourself for this too?” Leslie gently asked, a pitying look in her eyes.

 

            Swallowing thickly, Lena nodded. “I couldn’t ask her to pick me, to stay when she was so unhappy , but I didn’t pick her either.”

 

            They were silent for a moment, and she could feel the urge to cry welling up inside her. Rain gently pattered against the windows and the room was silent except for the sound of machinery and the quiet sound of shifting people. Clearing her throat, Lena opened her mouth, raking a hand through her curls again, before she ran it wearily over her face.

 

            “Can we take a break? Yeah, just cut the cameras. Cut.”

Chapter Text

Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much,

And maybe this thing was a masterpiece 'til you tore it all up.

Running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well.

 

Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise.

So casually cruel in the name of being honest.

I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here

'Cause I remember it all, all, all too well.

 

Time won't fly, it's like I'm paralyzed by it

I'd like to be my old self again, but I'm still trying to find it

After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own

Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone

 

But you keep my old scarf from that very first week

'Cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me

You can't get rid of it, 'cause you remember it all too well, yeah

 

-

 

            Abruptly getting to her feet, Lena stepped away from the armchair the room silent for a moment, before voices started clamouring over each other, the cameras cutting, mics being shut off and someone calling for a break. She stepped over wires, quickly made in the opposite direction of her mother, publicist and manager, and slipped into the spacious kitchen. Bracing herself against the island worktop, she ran a shaky hand through her hair as her shoulders slumped with exhaustion. It was harder than she thought to talk about her relationships, her heartbreaks and the bad moments with Kara. Harder than she thought to bare her mistakes and personal life, in a way that was more brutally honest and exposing than in her music.

 

            It was taking its toll on her and she felt her stomach knotted with discomfort as her heart ached from old wounds. They didn’t bother her much these days, but diving headfirst into them wasn’t enjoyable. It left her feeling sort of off-kilter, unbalanced in a way that she hadn’t felt in so many years now. Not in this way, at any rate. 

 

            The air rushed out of her lungs as she deflated, feeling worn out and vulnerable, and she ran a hand over her face. There would be hours of storytelling to go yet. It would take up most of the day, she imagined, and it was with weary resignation that she accepted the fact that it would only get worse from now on. What use was it letting old memories get to her? She would have to wade through years of them still, before time caught up with her, and not all of them were pleasant. 

 

            As she brooded for a few moments, the sounds outside the room seeming faded and far away, she felt her throat close up as the burning feeling behind her eyes intensified, before the sound of voices grew louder behind her. She knew who it was without turning; it was almost impossible to get away from them, Lena thought with some bitterness. For her entire career, wherever she had gone, the trio of women had shadowed her. 

 

            Still, as her mother’s arms wrapped around her from behind, her chin resting on her shoulder, Lena felt some of the tension dissipate. With a soft sigh, she closed her eyes and reached up to give Lillian’s hand a squeeze. 

 

            “You don’t have to do this. You know that.”

 

            With a quiet laugh, Lena straightened up and her mother let go, but she still didn’t turn around. “Don’t be silly, of course I do. I’ve been trying to do it for years.”

 

            “Yes, but you don’t have to do it this way. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

 

            That was true, but Lena couldn’t help but feel like she owed it to herself. There were so many bad rumours about her, the industry rife with them and the press ferreting them out even if they weren’t true, and she just wanted to clear her name of all the things people thought she was guilty of. It would be a weight off her shoulders, a chance for her to be free and unburdened by the lies that had piled up one by one over the years.

 

            “I need a drink,” she blurted out, rounding the marble countertop of island and heading towards one of the white cupboards.

 

            “You can’t have a drink,” Rhea scoffed, “it’s still the morning. And you’re supposed to be cutting down.”

 

            Flexing her fingers and then curling them into fists, Lena closed her eyes for a moment, before turning around and giving her a wan smile. “I am. I have. I just- it’s going to be a long day.”

 

            Rifling through her handbag, Mercy pulled out a plastic pill bottle, shaking it slightly as she shrugged half-heartedly. “I have some Diazepam.”

 

            “I’ve stopped taking them,” Lena said with a heavy sigh.

 

            “How about some coffee?” Lillian suggested.

 

            “Where’s Eve?”

 

            All she really wanted was a bit of time to herself, but with the apartment crowded with people, she found herself sitting on one of the barstools, staring up at the cedarwood beams stretching across the ceiling of her Metropolis penthouse, while her personal assistant brewed coffee for them. Leslie came in, followed by her own agent and the director, and Lena made small talk with them, pouring them some coffee from the french press and asking a few questions about the production part of the interview. 

 

            It helped calm her nerves to just sit there, drinking coffee, which she knew was already decaffeinated, her beans having been swapped out by Mercy to help her sleep better, and talking about how things operated behind the scenes. One of the cameramen took her to look at the equipment, brimming with excitement as she asked her questions and listened with rapt attention. It was interesting yet mindless, and she sipped her coffee and banished the thought of calling Kara as she watched the crew snack on the spread of food that craft had set up. 

 

            Calling Kara mid-interview would only make things harder for her, but Lena wanted to tell her about it. She wanted Kara to be proud of her, to know that she had done it, had finally come out, even if the interview wouldn’t be aired for a few weeks. It was on film, the words pouring from her own mouth. Surely that was something worth celebrating, something to call her and gush over the phone about. But she knew that she wouldn’t pick up, and it would only make Lena more high-strung afterwards, with all the brimming anxiety and excitement. It was better to leave that well alone for now.

 

            Instead, she drained the rest of her drink, allowed Eve to shove a bottle of water into her hand and eat the carrot sticks and hummus brought over to her, before hair and makeup fussed over her again, touching up her lipstick and fixing her disheveled hair. Camera-ready, Lena rolled her shoulders and pressed her lips together in a grim line, ignoring the words of her team as they gave her yet more instructions, before making her way back towards the armchair and settling back into place.

 

            “Ready?” Leslie asked, arranging herself on her own armchair at an angle to Lena, an assistant making adjustments to her clothes and hair, before stepping behind the circle of crew that watched on. 

 

            Nodding, Lena gave her a rueful smile, “as ever.”

 

            “Okay, and we’re on in three, two, one …”

 

            Leslie trained her blue eyes on Lena, who smiled politely back at her, waiting for the next question with a relaxed look on her face. Yet her stomach was still twisting uncomfortably, knowing they had to pick up where they’d left off. 

 

            “So … the bath?”

 

            Letting out a snort of laughter, Lena gently shook her head, eyes flashing with amusement. “Yes, well, as you can imagine, I was not in a good place. It was the new year, you know, a time for a fresh start, and I just … I didn’t want it. I didn’t want things to change, but they had and there was nothing I could do about it. My options were to ruin the career I had spent six years building, or pretend that she’d never existed.”

 

            “You chose the latter.”

 

            With a strangled sound, Lena let out a shaky laugh, eyes bright with pain, and she nodded. There was a bitterness to her words as she smiled grimly. “I chose the latter,” she murmured in agreement.

 

            “And it didn’t make it any easier. I hurt so badly that I couldn’t even bring myself to move. I went through the motions when I had to, feeding my dog, drinking some water, but those first few days I just stayed in bed most of the time. I felt … paralysed. I just kept thinking about how it had all felt so perfect - perfect to me - and I kept trying to figure out where it had gone wrong before she’d brought it all crashing down on us, but I just couldn’t. Even when I’d had that inkling over Christmas, I hadn’t thought that she would leave .”

 

            “And it being the second time …”

 

            “Well, yes, that too. I was almost still in some ways childishly naïve about love, still kind of had one foot in the door of fairytales and true love, and you know, you hear about people being the victims to the circumstances of life and meeting at the wrong time, and I truly thought that’s what had happened to us the first time around. It was just our jobs, it had nothing to do with us. So the second time around, I was full of this blind faith that this was it. We’d beat the odds, overcome the struggles because we were meant to be together … only for us to break up again.”

            

            Lena let out a light laugh, a faint look of embarrassment on her face as she smiled, giving Leslie a rueful smile. “So you can imagine how humiliated I felt that time. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell anyone at first. Half out of embarrassment and half because I thought it wasn’t real. I thought she’d call and apologise and we’d go right back to missing each other while she was gone.”

 

            “Did she call?”

 

            “She did.”

 


 

            The sound of her phone ringing jerked Lena out of her misery, her eyelashes fluttering as she sluggishly sat up, looking around. Her room was a mess of blankets and pillows, empty glasses and crumpled tissues, clothes spilling out of the chest of drawers and abandoned on the floor. She’d barely moved in three days, bundled up beneath the blankets as she cried and slept and cried some more.

 

            Rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, feeling puffy and congested, she looked around for her phone, catching sight of it on the nightstand. Raking her hands through her birds nest of hair, she reached for it and slowly drew it back in, staring down at the name that lit up the screen. Her stomach twisted and her heart ached, and she was suddenly wide awake, softly clearing her throat and sniffing, before she answered the phone.

 

            “Hello?”

 

            “Hi,” came Kara’s faint voice, barely a weary sigh on the other end. “It’s me.”

 

            Lena found herself tongue-tied, not knowing what to say next. Hope flared up inside her chest, and there was a strange release within her at the soft sound of Kara’s voice. She’d wanted her to call, hoping that she had changed her mind, and Lena wiped at her cheeks as she let herself believe that was the reason for Kara’s call.

 

            “I know,” Lena said, with a shaky laugh.

 

            “Listen, I- well, I’m back in Luxembourg now. I just … I wanted to call and tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry how we left things, I just- I don’t know how to do this.”

 

            Breath catching in her throat, Lena’s chest constricted painfully and her eyes welled up with fresh tears as she realised that this wasn’t Kara come crawling back to her. It was her guilty conscience making sure that Lena was okay. Lena didn’t say anything as she felt her heart break just a little bit more, mouth hanging open speechlessly.

 

            “So you’re not even going to try?”

 

            “I have tried!” Kara exasperatedly replied, “don’t you see? I’ve tried, and there’s just- there’s no way to make this better for us, Lena. I want you.”

 

            “I’m right here!”

 

            “You’re a secret! I can’t be with you, you can’t be with me. What’s even the point in all of this if we’re just going to be trapped? I’m not ashamed of who I love-”

 

            Choking on a sound of indignation, Lena bristled slightly as anger burned within. “Neither am I. You’re acting as if I want-”

 

            “No. No, I’m not,” she replied with weary resignation. “I know you don’t want this anymore than I do. And I love y-”

 

            “Don’t say it.”

 

            She closed her eyes, letting out a shuddering breath as deep pain cut through her chest. 

 

            “I do, you know I do. I just- I’m not in a good place to be with you, because it only makes me feel worse knowing that I have you, but can never have you. They offered us a scapegoat for this and you said no so-”

 

            “So this is my fault?”

 

            “Of course not,” Kara diplomatically murmured, “I’m just saying that … if neither of us can make sacrifices to make it work … well, it’s not going to work. At the very least I want to be able to be your friend in public, but they won’t- unless we … look, I’m not going to make you do something you don’t want to do. But you can’t ask me to stay when it’s just not good for either of us. It’s taking its toll, and I know you feel that too. It’s hard , Lena. I feel so sad all the time, and there’s just no end to it. I love you and I want to be with you, but not like this.”

 

            Digging the palm of her hand into her eye as tears pricked them, Lena grit her teeth as she fought back the urge to cry, phone still pressed to her ear and a pounding headache at her temples. “What do you want me to do? Tell me and I’ll- I’ll do it. I’ll get Mercy to help and-”

 

            “Lena.” There was a gentleness to Kara’s voice, and it filled her with misery, a note of finality to the sound of her name. “I don’t want you to do anything. It’s already over. I just- I didn’t want to leave things the way they were. I know you’re hurt, and I’m sorry-”

 

            “Don’t. I don’t want you to apologise, I want you to come back.”

 

            There was a pause on the other end for a few moments, before Kara replied, voice thick with suppressed emotion, wavering slightly from the pain she couldn’t quite conceal. “Alex has your things. She’ll send them to you so you don’t have to pick them up.”

 

            With devastation smashing into her, Lena sat on her bed, tears spilling down her cheeks as she opened and closed her mouth, feeble pleas and a desperation to do anything, beg if she had to, filling her. And she didn’t say anything, couldn’t find the strength to do it, knowing that Kara had already made her mind up. What good would it do? 

 

            So she hung up instead, sitting in the oppressive silence of her bedroom as Krypto snoozed in his basket, realisation settling in as it became overwhelmingly clear that Kara wasn’t coming back. She had gone without even saying goodbye, and if that hadn’t been a clear sign, a phone call to break Lena’s heart all over again was.

 

            Swallowing a sob, she slowly laid back down and pulled the covers back up over her head, shutting the world out as she wallowed in her misery. It stung and she couldn’t stop her cheeks from flaming with embarrassment at her own foolish hope that Kara would come crawling back. Lena just didn’t want to lose her; she loved her. Her heart felt full with Kara around, and it made her feel less cynical about love and the world. It was like a piece of herself had been ripped out of her chest, and she felt that loss keenly.

 

            A week came and went, but it could’ve been minutes for all Lena noticed. She filled the dog bowl up with a mountain of food, shuffling around the apartment in a zombie-like state, wearing days old clothes as she poured herself orange juice and blinked owlishly with sore eyes. It seemed like all she did was cry. Cry, sleep and wallow. She didn’t eat, she write songs, didn’t leave the house or pick up her phone.

 

            As it crept towards two weeks, Mercy came to her house, letting herself in with the remote at the gate and then into the house. It was mid-afternoon, the sun streaming in weakly, and she found Lena in bed, staring up at the ceiling from amidst the mess of her bedroom, which had only gotten worse. Lena had sent the maid away when she’d let herself into the house the other day.

 

            “Lena?”

 

            At the sound of her voice being called, she stirred, pushing herself up and rubbing at her bleary eyes, her body leaden and weak. Her eyebrows rose in mild surprise as she looked at Mercy, her lips twitching in the semblance of a smile, and she cleared her throat as she brushed her messy fringe out of her face.

 

            “Mercy. I didn’t know you were coming over.”

 

            “You haven’t answered any of my calls all week,” her manager said, tone cool and short.

 

            But then her expression softened and she lost her hard edge, stepping into the mess of a room with the stuffy air and general uncleanliness. It was so unlike Lena, and not just because of the fact that she had a housekeeper and maid to tidy up after her. She just never laid around in bed until mid-afternoon, or went so long without answering calls. It wasn’t like her.

 

            “Is everything okay?”

 

            “Grand,” Lena weakly chuckled.

 

            A wariness in her eyes, Mercy neared the bed and settled down on the edge of the mattress, jostling it slightly, and reached out to touch Lena’s arm. Jumping at the gentle touch, Lena looked up, her vision fuzzy without her glasses or contacts, and her brow furrowed into a deep frown. Hollow-eyed and sunken cheeks an unhealthy pallor, Lena pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, perching her pointy chin on top. She looked tired, despite all of her time spent sleeping, an air of exhaustion weighing down on her, and she couldn’t bring herself to look as her manager took it all in.

 

            “Is there something I should know about?” Mercy softly asked.

 

            Shrugging cluelessly, Lena raked a hand through her hair and yawned widely, jaw popping, before she stretched her arms out in front of her and rolled off the bed. Bare feet hit the floor and she padded barefoot over to Krypto to pet him.

 

            “When was- have you eaten? Do you want a sandwich? I’m starved.”

 

            “Maybe,” Lena murmured, shrugging indifferently as she ran her fingers over the French bulldog’s velvety fur. 

 

            “How about you shower while I make?”

 

            She shrugged again, and Mercy lingered for a moment, before leaving the bedroom. With a weary sigh, Lena resigned herself to the fact that she was going to have company today, straightening up and fetching clean clothes from the closet. She picked the first things her hands touched, before dragging herself to the bathroom and stepping into the shower. 

 

            Standing beneath the stream of scalding water, she stared blankly at the tiled walls, barely even feeling the heat. Going through the motions of washing her hair and scrubbing herself clean, for the first time in nearly a week, Lena climbed out of the shower and roughly dried herself, before changing into the clothes. She’d pulled one of Kara’s plaid shirts out her cupboard by accident, and as if in a dream or a terrible nightmare, Lena jerkily brought the soft fabric to her face and inhaled the faint smell of Kara that still clung to it.

 

            Her body sagged and she fell to the tiled floor with enough force to inevitably leave bruises, shoulders bowed with devastation as she was wracked with silent sobs, forehead pressed against the shirt. She cried until it hurt to, until her chest ached and her throat was scratchy and her eyes were raw and red. And then she wiped her face and put the shirt on with the Mossimo red pleated skirt. It clashed horribly with the navy and white plaid, and wasn’t exactly a fashion decision, or suitable for moping around the house in, but Lena left the bathroom in her mismatched outfit and slipped out into the hallway.

 

            She entered the kitchen to the sound of Mercy instructing the maid to come and clean up the apartment and met her gaze as her manager turned to look at her. Her eyes travelled over Lena’s clothes with bewildered surprise, before she poured coffee from the pot and moved to set a cup down in front of Lena. A sandwich was waiting for her too, made from what little was in her fridge that hadn’t spoiled yet, but she ignored it, going right for the coffee. If she was going to be interrogated, which was undeniably going to happen, she needed caffeine for it.

 

            Hanging up, Mercy pursed her lips for a moment, before she fixed Lena with a flat stare. “What the hell happened?”

 

            “Oh, you know,” Lena airily replied, waving a hand dismissively as she let out a strained laugh, “Kara broke up with me.”

 

            “Again?”

 

            Lena flinched at the exclamation, part outrage and part unbridled surprise, and ducked her head down as she nursed her coffee. Taking a tentative sip, she blinked back the stinging feeling in her eyes and sniffed, before clearing her throat.

 

            “Yes, again.”

 

            “Oh, Lena, I’m so so-”

 

            “Don’t say you’re sorry,” Lena bitterly interrupted, taking another swig of coffee. “Won’t make any difference. It won’t make her change her mind.”

 

            With pity in her eyes, Mercy moved towards her as Lena hopped up onto a stool, weak afternoon sunlight streaking in at an angle. She hadn’t been outside in weeks now and she looked like it. Pale-faced, thin and tired, she looked bad.

 

            “Let’s go outside,” Mercy softly suggested.

 

            As much as Lena just wanted to go back to bed, to bask in her heartache and shut out the rest of the world, she slid off her stool and walked to the back door. Krypto eagerly ran towards it, tail wagging, and she let him outside first, before stepping out onto the cold stone of the patio, suppressing a shiver as it spiked up the soles of her bare feet.

 

            Mercy brought the sandwich out for her, and as Lena seated herself around the table beneath the dead ivy twisting around the pergola, staring at the ashes in the outdoor red brick fireplace with a blank look in her eyes. The sandwich was pushed toward her and Lena blinked, before looking up.

 

            “When was the last time you ate?”

 

            She shrugged, raking her hands through her damp hair, breathing in the chill air, the smell of petrichor strong as if it had just rained or was about to - she couldn’t be sure which - and she eyed the sandwich, taking in the stale bread and peanut butter. Her stomach was hollow and hunger gnawed at her, but she hadn’t felt much like eating lately. The last thing she remembered eating was hummus, straight out of the tub. It could’ve been days ago for all she knew.

 

            “Eat.”

 

            “I’m not hungry.”

 

            “Eat anyway.”

 

            She sullenly picked up the sandwich, taking a bite and swallowing the thick lump without tasting it. It was hard to choke down and she took a sip of coffee and pretended to pick at the rest as Mercy watched her closely.

 

            After a few moments, Lena took another bite and gave her a dour look. “I’m fine. I don’t need a babysitter.”

 

            “I’m not babysitting,” Mercy curtly replied, before biting her lip for a moment and giving her a grim look, “but you look like shit.”

 

            With a snort of laughter, Lena leant back in her chair, knees drawn up to her chest, and closed her eyes. Drawing in a deep breath, she tipped her head back against the back of the chair, before exhaling sharply, feeling some of the tension bleed out of her. Eyes itching with tiredness, she dug the heel of her palm into one of them, before shaking her head and sighing softly.

 

            “Yeah. Yeah, I know.”

 

            “Maybe you should- it might be nice to get away for a bit.”

 

            Opening one eye, Lena fixed Mercy with a cautious look. “And go where?”

 

            “Go home. Go and visit your parents. It might do you some good to be back in London; it’s been a while.”

 

            Lena was silent for a moment, lost in her thoughts as she considered it. It would be nice to go home, to spend time with Lillian, see her brother and father, even if they would be busy with work. There were fewer memories of Kara there; they’d never been in London together.

 

            The more she thought about it, the more she warmed to the idea, sitting up straighter and chewing on her bottom lip before she nodded. “You know what, maybe I will.”

 

            “Yeah?”

 

            She nodded more convincingly this time, draining her coffee and abruptly climbing to her feet. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll just pack a bag.”

 

            “Wha- now?”

 

            “Mhm. Can you sort out a flight for me please?”

 

            Slipping inside, she made her way to a closet and pulled out one of her suitcases, wheeling it into her bedroom and laying it open on the closet floor. In a careless fashion she pulled coats, sweaters and pants off shelves and hangers and threw them into the bottom of the case, before scrambling for other necessities. 

 

            In a whirlwind of activity, she crammed the suitcase full, fished her passport out of the safe in her closet, and made her way out to the foyer, setting her case against the wall, before going off in search of Mercy. She was talking quietly on the phone with someone as Lena stepped back outside, looking like she hadn’t moved from her seat, and she quickly hung up as Lena stepped outside, goosebumps rippling on her legs as her skirt flapped around her legs.

 

            “You should change into something warmer. London’s going to be cold.”

 

            “You booked it?” Lena asked, an eager look on her face.

 

            Mercy nodded, and she gave her a wan smile, before sitting back down. It wasn’t until that evening, which gave her plenty of time to get ready. In the meantime, she sat with her manager and talked about nonsense. It was hard not to pick a subject that was somewhat related to Kara, and more than once, Lena found herself trailing off mid-sentence, changing the topics immediately with a spasm of pain running across her face.

 

            London was definitely a good idea. Not that she imagined much would change in a couple of weeks; her heart hurt and there was no stopping it. A change of location wouldn’t bring Kara back, and there were more than enough thoughts of her in Lena’s mind for her to trip herself up on them, even if London was void of any painful memories. 

 

            It was almost with relief that she collapsed down on the seat in First Class later on that evening, accepting the glass of champagne and then sitting there in silence for the rest of the flight, undisturbed. She pretended to be sleeping whenever the air hostesses came past, leaving her bed, but she couldn’t sleep. For weeks, she’d done nothing but sleep, but now she felt wide awake and brimming with tension. She didn’t eat, didn’t read, didn’t listen to music or watch movies. Lena just sat there and endured the long flight in silence, listening to the engine as she breathed in the stale, cold air of the pressurised cabin.

 

            A car was waiting for her at the other end, and she was taken straight to her mother’s townhouse in central London, feeling herself unwind as she breathed in the frigid air and looked out at the drab greyness of the city, enveloped in a haze of moisture. It was a quiet drive from Heathrow airport, but she realised that she didn’t actually feel any better. She just felt tired and hollowed out. She didn’t feel like herself.

 

            Lillian was waiting for her when she was dropped off outside the house, and Lena let her mother wrap her in a tight hug as soon as she stepped into the foyer of the house. Burying her face in her mother’s shoulder, Lena knew with certainty that Mercy had called her and told her what had happened, what kind of state she was in. She knew it in the way that Lillian held her for just a little bit longer than their reunion warranted, although it had been a month since Lena had seen her. 

 

            Pulling back, she looked up and gave Lillian a strained smile, as her mother held her at arm’s length, eyes full of concern as she took in the haggard look to Lena’s thin face. “I’ve missed you.”

 

            “Oh, Lena,” Lillian softly sighed.

 

            And just like that, Lena felt tears spring to her eyes, ducking her head as she pressed her hand to her mouth, swallowing a sob. She let herself be pulled into another hug, her face crumpling with anger directed at herself for letting her hurt control her before she pulled back again and quickly wiped her tears away.

 

            Clearing her throat, she mussed up her bangs and ducked her head slightly, feeling small and young again in the looming presence of her mother. “I’m okay. It’s just- it’s been a rough few weeks.”

 

            “Go and put your bags in your- where’s your guitar?”

 

            “I … I didn’t bring it.”

 

            Lillian stared at her with a mild look of incredulity in her eyes. Lena never went anywhere without a guitar. She lugged a battered leather case around with her wherever she went, ready to lock herself in a room and spend hours figuring out a new melody whenever it came into her head. But she hadn’t brought one with her this time. 

 

            The truth was, she couldn’t bring herself to even think about writing new music. Not at the moment. She felt all used up, like her purpose had been fulfilled and she’d been tossed aside, so casually and carelessly. The worst part was that Kara really didn’t mean to hurt her, didn’t want to, but there had been no other way around it. 

 

            But Lena didn’t feel like herself anymore, and she couldn’t even fathom picking up a pen and letting her heartbreak rush out of her at that moment. Sometimes it was like that. Sometimes it just hurt so much that she felt numb and didn’t even know what she was feeling. When some more time passed, she’d be able to sort her feelings out, to turn them into lyrics for the world to hear, but she didn’t know how to make what she was feeling seem relatable in that moment. It felt like time had come to a standstill for her, each moment dragging on, and she felt alone in her sadness. So utterly alone that she thought that no one could ever relate to what she was going through.

 

            “I’ll pop the kettle on,” Lillian said, reaching out to give her arm a gentle pat before she made her way towards the kitchen.

 

            Lugging her suitcase upstairs, Lena set it in her bedroom and took a few moments to sit on the edge of the bed and take a quick pause. She wasn’t in the mood for drinking tea with her mother and answering her questions and talking about the holidays, when she’d spent the holidays with Kara. Even the mere thought was exhausting, but a few moments she climbed to her feet and went back downstairs before Lillian came searching for her.

 

            They sat in the living room, a fire in the hearth and the room stuffy in a comfortable way, and there was a cup of tea waiting for her on the coffee table, made just how she liked it. Stretching out on the wide leather sofa, she held it between her cold hands and watched as Lillian flipped through the TV channels and settled on the news.

 

            Neither of them spoke for the longest while, the grey morning stretching towards the afternoon as Lena lounged about and pretended everything was fine. It was comforting, being with her mother, even if they didn’t say anything. It took Lena back to the times at school when she’d been bullied and come home crying and been held close by Lillian, not having to say a word for her mother to know exactly what she’d needed to be okay. Back then, they’d gone window shopping to take Lena’s mind off things; now, they watched TV and drank copious amounts of tea.

 

            Her mother made her a sandwich for lunch, and Lena ate it all under her scrutinising stare, her stomach aching as she ate a proper meal for the first time in days. Afterwards, she escaped upstairs and lay on her bed for a while, before pulling her laptop out and turning it on. Lena couldn’t be bothered to unpack her case, she just wanted to watch something to take her mind off Kara, before Lillian finally started asking questions.

 

            She ended up watching Grey’s Anatomy until she was called down for dinner. It was quiet in the house as she slowly made her way downstairs. Most of the doors were shut, the open rooms in the dark, and she felt even worse when she thought about how they’d always eaten dinner as a family. Now, it was just her and her mum, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Lillian was lonely too. Perhaps coming home wasn’t just good for Lena.

 

            But Lillian seemed fine. Lena understood that her parents’ marriage had been over long before they’d ever told her and that Lillian had time to get over it before they’d even properly separated, but she watched her closely anyway, wondering how her mother had been able to just move on. Lena didn’t think that she’d be okay even in a year’s time.

 

            “So, what was it this time?” Lillian asked as they cooked side by side.

 

            Apparently, heartbreak wasn’t a good enough excuse for Lena to not help out with cooking dinner, so she dutifully peeled potatoes while Lillian browned mince in a pot for shepherd’s pie. Slowing, Lena hunched her shoulders slightly, avoiding Lillian’s gaze.

 

            “What do you think?” Lena scoffed, her voice flat with a slight accusation to it.

 

            It wasn’t fair for her to blame her mother, but Lillian hadn’t argued against her staying in the closet. For all of her trying to come to terms with Lena’s sexuality, which had been uncomfortable and still held a strain of awkwardness around the topic, Lillian didn’t want her daughter to be heartbroken though. She’d been happy that Lena was happy, but Lena couldn’t help but feel some bitterness about the circumstances. If her mother hadn’t cautioned her, along with the rest of her team, she might’ve been out instead. Her and Kara might’ve been out together.

 

            “Well, your career is obviously important to you if you let her go.”

 

            “Of course it’s important to me, but you think I wanted an ultimatum? She’s important to me too. But no, I only get to have one.”

 

            “Then pick her! Forget about your career.”

 

            With a snort of laughter, Lena tossed the peeled potato into a large pot and reached for another one, angrily peeling it as she clenched her teeth. “Is this reverse psychology? You know I won’t do that. I’ve spent years working on my career, and if she can just- if she can leave that easily then maybe- well … maybe it wasn’t supposed to last.”

 

            “Lena-”

 

            Shrugging, Lena swallowed thickly. “It’s fine. I’m barely twenty-two. I doubt I even know what love is.”

 

            Wooden spoon clattering against the side of the pot, Lillian moved towards her and wrapped her arms around her shoulders from behind and kissed her temple, before stroking her hair. “You know what love is. You have so much of it to give, and when the right person comes along, they’ll be so lucky to have found you. But there’s no rush. Just … take some time to look after yourself. You’re always in a rush.”

 

            Nodding, Lena continued to peel the potato, and Lillian released her from her embrace with a soft sigh. They made dinner in silence and then made small talk as they ate at one end of the long table in the dining room. Lena offered to wash the dishes afterwards, and then escaped up to her room once she was done.

 

            They fell into a sort of routine after that, and in some ways, it was better for Lena. Lillian made her eat with her, watching with a disapproving look on her face as Lena picked at her food. She made Lena make her bed every morning and shower and didn’t complain as Lena watched hours upon hours of Grey’s Anatomy . She’d knock on Lena’s door at four o’clock in the morning, bleary-eyed and voice full of sleep, and to tell her to go to bed. 

 

            Lena didn’t listen of course, and barely slept at all, until her eyes were constantly ringed with dark bruises, but it was nice to have someone there with her to help regulate a routine. If it wasn’t for her mother, she imagined she’d still be wallowing in her bed in National City, all alone. Instead, she was in London, watching TV and occasionally leaving the house.

 

            She had dinner with her father one night, met Lex for brunch and to go to the Camden markets. Lena went to London zoo by herself, bundled up in a maroon coat as she was led on a tour by one of the staff members. There were camera flashes from other visitors or tourists, and paparazzi quickly caught wind of her outing, but she ignored them all and left not too long afterwards, earphones in as she went back home.

 

            After two weeks she went back home. Lillian tried to convince her to stay a big longer, but Lena assured her that she was fine. The Grammy’s were just over two weeks away and she was performing there. Lena had three nominations too, but she couldn’t bring herself to really care that much about them. She wasn’t that enthusiastic at the thought of rehearsals either, but there would be no getting out of it without the press spinning wild tales about why she was dropping out of her performance.

 

            So near the end of January, she flew back to National City, tired and brooding. She came home to Mercy in her house and dropped to her knees to fuss over Krypto as he bounded over to her. She laughed and let him lick her face, feeling some of the tension inside her dissipate for the first time in weeks, and scooped him up in her arms, leaving her suitcase on the floor.

 

            “How are you?” Mercy asked, coming over to give her a gentle hug, which Lena returned with one arm, the puppy twisting in her arms.

 

            “I’m okay.”

 

            “Yeah? Feeling more refreshed? Ready for the Grammy’s?”

 

            Lena shrugged halfheartedly, mouth pulling down slightly at the corners. “Sure.”

 

            Giving her a bright smile, Mercy waved her through to the kitchen. The fridge had been stocked for her by the housekeeper, and Lena poured them both glasses of orange juice, her eyes burning with tiredness as she sipped it and raked her fingers through her hair and flattened her fringe back down.

 

            “I’ve met with the stylist already. We’ve got a few dresses picked out for you to look at. Maybe we can arrange that for Saturday?”

 

            “Okay.”

 

            “You’ve been booked in for your full rehearsal next Thursday. The band has already been rehearsing with the choreographers and the set’s all sorted. We’ll just need to fit you in and go over it a few times. Will you be able to get started on that tomorrow?”

 

            “Sure.”

 

            “Rhea’s also been smoothing over a few things with the press. Trying to drop a few hints at new music to get them to back off with the buzz about where you’ve been. There was also a, uh, a tweet.”

 

            Eyebrows rising, Lena cocked her head to the side, “a tweet? About what?”

 

            With a sheepish look, Mercy pulled out her phone and opened Twitter, typing away for a few moments, before she held the phone out to Lena. Slowly reaching out to take it, Lena’s brow furrowed with apprehension as she looked down at the screen. 

 

            “You didn’t take your phone with you so I didn’t know if you got the notification. Rhea already got in contact with J’onn to shut down anything else like this. I know that you two aren’t- well, just in case anything did come to light now. We thought it’d be better to get ahead of her tweeting anything else.”

 

            Lena held a hand up to quiet her as her eyes scanned the tweet, a painful ache in her chest as sadness blossomed inside her, and she felt her heart leap into her throat. With a shaky breath, she held the phone back out and braced herself against the edge of the table, the words turning themselves over in her mind.

 

@KaraDanvers: Lena looks all kinds of 70’s beautiful….and love a hat! Great job @voguemagazine & @lenaluthor13 .

 

            She knew immediately that it was about the February issue of Vogue that she was covering. The photos must’ve been released while she’d been in London, teasing the new issue, and Lena reached up to muss the bangs that she’d let them cut for the photoshoot. Kara had just gone back to filming before that shoot, and Lena had been upset then too, and let them talk her into making a change with her appearance. Kara had liked the bangs. Apparently she liked the photoshoot too, and the cover with the wide-brimmed hat and Lena's incredibly green eyes.

 

            It made Lena’s throat close painfully, and she slowly inhaled, feeling as if she couldn’t breathe. It hurt to see the tweet, knowing that they were over and that now was the time when they could post things like that about each other. As far as the rest of the world was convinced, they’d met once at a flea market. They weren’t even friends in their eyes, and now, in Kara’s they weren’t anything but exes. In a way, the tweet was the last nail in the coffin for Lena, because Kara never would’ve tweeted anything like that before, out of fear of getting them both into trouble. 

 

            Yet Lena knew it wasn’t meant maliciously. She knew Kara would never tweet her to twist the knife in her heart, and that only made it hurt more. Lena missed her. She missed her more than she’d thought it was capable to miss someone, and it was ever harder to lose her the second time around. It was all so clear in her mind, all of their moments spent together, and she couldn’t make them go away. They were branded into her memory and she was powerless to stop her mind from stumbling into a pit of them. 

 

            “This came for you too.”

 

            Swallowing thickly, Lena looked up to watch as Mercy pushed an open box towards her. It would’ve been screened by security before making it to her, but Lena knew what it was anyway. There was only one parcel she’d been expecting, and her shoulders stooped with heartbroken resignation as she reached out to pull it closer to her.

 

            Nestled inside the box were a few of Lena’s books, a polaroid camera she’d left at Kara’s apartment. There was one of her red lipsticks, a pair of her glasses and an oversized sweater Kara must’ve accidentally packed in her bags when they left Midvale. All of her things she’d forgotten at Kara’s in her scattered visits to her place, some of them possibly even from last time they’d been together, and Lena felt her eyes prickle with tears as she looked down at in.

 

            With a sudden jolt of surprise, she realised something was missing. Digging through the handful of objects inside the box, Lena felt the air rush out of her lungs at the sudden realisation that her scarf wasn't there. And it hit her stronger than she would’ve thought it was possible to. From the very first week of their relationship, Kara had had that scarf Lena had left at Alex’s place, and even now, after everything, she still kept it. She still had that one piece of her, after all this time, and if felt like a tiny sliver of hope.

 


 

            “That damn scarf again,” Lena sighed heavily, lips twitching in a small smile. “Every time we broke up and she kept it, it was like a part of me knew that it wasn’t really over. I said once that I’d had a relationship where I felt like they were the person who was going to interrupt my wedding, and I'm not sure who everyone thought I was talking about, but it was Kara. It didn’t matter how many times she broke my heart, and how many times I broke hers … it was never really over . There was always just … so much left between us. And when she sent all of my things back to me and didn’t put the scarf in, I just knew I couldn’t let go.”

 

            “How could you possibly have still had faith?”

 

            With a choked laugh, Lena gave Leslie a lopsided smile, one shoulder rising in a languid shrug. “I didn’t. At that point, when it was all so fresh - I mean, we hadn’t even been broken up for a month then - I didn’t think we were going to get back together. I really thought that was it this time. I mean, I wanted her back, but wanting something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. So I didn’t have faith, exactly. I just knew there was still too much between us left unfinished.”

 

            “And you couldn’t let go of that?”

 

            “I’m not the kind of person who leaves things incomplete. But I couldn’t face her, couldn’t talk to her on the phone or answer her texts. And I’ll be honest, I think that was because it meant finishing something that I didn’t want to end. For Kara, I assumed she’d already felt like she’d put it to rest, with her apology and reasons. But for me … I’ve never been good at letting go.”

 

            “I’m assuming you were apart for a while?”

 

            Inclining her head in a solemn nod, Lena pressed her lips into a grim, flat line. “We were. We didn’t go running back to each other after a few weeks. She was still filming anyway, and I was working on my album.”

 

            “Clearly you did still keep writing, even if you took a few weeks off.”

 

            With a quiet laugh, Lena slowly closed her eyes and sat back in the armchair, head resting against the back as she tipped her chin up slightly. Drawing in a deep breath that seemed to fill her, she exhaled forcefully, before shaking her head, eyelids fluttering open to stare up at the exposed beams of the apartment.

 

            “Clearly,” she said with wry agreement. “I remember opening that box of things, realising the scarf wasn’t there, and just being so fixated on it. It was such a trivial thing - I think I wore it once, twice maybe - but it just felt so poignant to me.”

 

            Chewing on her bottom lip for a moment, Lena paused. Her expression was softened with faint amusement, and there was a distant look in her eyes as she remembered that day.

 

            “I left my manager standing in my kitchen and I went to my music room. I’d been on a plane all day and hadn’t slept a wink in days , but I was just so overcome with emotions. For the first time in weeks, I could feel that loss, and everything it made me feel, and I'm sure I would've looked out of my mind if anyone had been there watching me. I shut myself in that room with my diary and a piano and I didn’t come out for three days. And when I did, I was a sobbing mess, and I had a ten minute song of everything I missed about her, but Kara was still gone and I just broke down again.”

 

            “What song was it?”

 

            Arching a perfect brow, Lena gave her a droll look. “All too well.”

Chapter Text

In dreams, I meet you in warm conversation

We both wake in lonely beds, different cities

And time is taking its sweet time erasing you

And you've got your demons

And darling, they all look like me

 

'Cause we had a beautiful magic love there

What a sad, beautiful, tragic love affair

 

Distance, timing, breakdown, fighting

Silence, the train runs off its tracks

Kiss me, try to fix it, could you just try to listen?

Hang up, give up, and for the life of us we can't get back

 

-

 

            “That song was about remembering all the things we’d done together, those small moments that stuck out. It’s not until you lose someone that you think about how much you miss dancing in the kitchen with them at midnight, or making their coffee for them just how they like it. And I thought it’d get easier with time … but it didn’t.”

 

            “How did you manage it? I mean, as you said, the Grammy’s were coming up and you that’s one of the biggest events of the year, and you were nominated, performing. Obviously, you showed up. But what was that like for you? To be going through so much in your personal life and having to hide it.”

 

            Blowing the air out of her lungs, Lena shrugged helplessly as she shook her head, unable to articulate it.

 

            “I don’t know,” she softly said, a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes curling one side of her mouth, “I just- I knew I didn’t have a choice. It was … hard. Breakups are always hard. And being in the spotlight with such a big secret … well, it was- I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t just put my career on hold to curl up in bed as I’d already spent a month doing. They don’t care about things like that; they only care that you show up to your scheduled events and cash-in on whatever project you’ve agreed to for even an ounce of publicity.”

 

            “I imagine it made you resent your life, just a little,” Leslie hedged.

 

            With a laugh, Lena looked up towards the ceiling as she rubbed at her forehead, wishing she’d taken the Diazepam when it had been offered to her. She was starting to get a headache and was so keyed up with tension as she dwelled in painful memories that she could feel it taking its toll on her.

 

            “Just a little,” she murmured in amusement, “or perhaps just the circumstances of my life. If I’d been anyone else, if she’d been anyone else, we would’ve been in a very different position. And I can’t say that we would’ve been better off, because I don’t know what struggles we would’ve had then, but I know that this wouldn’t have been one of them. We wouldn’t have had to hide from the whole world.

 


 

            Day in and day out for the next two weeks, Lena rehearsed. She spent countless hours going through the limited choreography of Mean , the song she’d chosen as a sly dig at a critic who’d slammed her before, catching up with her band and finding some sense of comfort with them. She’d toured with most of them since the Fearless tour, and they’d been like her family in the earlier years of her career, splitting up and coming back together every era for the next tour or performance. 

 

            In a way, Lena was glad that they were there because it gave her an excuse to be distracted by other people. She realized how much she’d been isolating herself, even back in London, and it struck her as a good idea to perhaps call some of her friends who were in town. Perhaps surrounding herself with the company of other people would help her forget about Kara, just for a few hours here and there.

 

            But for the time being, she rehearsed and trained. Lena hadn’t even finished her album yet, but it was clear that she’d be touring for it, which meant that she spent hours on the treadmill every day, when she wasn’t practicing her performance, trying to maintain her fitness levels to be able to parade up and down a stage for a couple of hours. It gave her an outlet for her emotions, feet pounding on the machine as she ran until she couldn’t think until she felt like she was going to drop. And still, she didn’t sleep and barely ate.

 

            It was with weary resignation that the day of the Grammy’s came around, and after a sleepless night, Lena was sitting outside on the balcony of her hotel room in Los Angeles, watching the sunrise with a cup of strong coffee in her hands as Krypto sniffed at wilting magnolia petals strewn across the patio. Her mind was fuzzy and she was slumped with exhaustion, unable to even bring herself to care about her performance that evening.

 

            Her team would be here soon, hair and makeup tutting over the state of her as they tried to cover her bags and cut her bangs back so that her hair stopped falling in her eyes. She wondered what they would say when the dress that had been tailored for her was just a little too baggy in all the wrong places, what Rhea would have to say about her glum attitude. Lena wasn’t looking forward to a lecture about her media training, a repeat of everything that had been drilled into her since she was a teenager, warnings to not make mistakes or slip-ups and another hundred things weighing down heavily on her to remember as she walked the red carpet. 

 

            But in that moment, it was just her, alone. She breathed in the crisp early morning air, the grey clouds parting to reveal the salmon dawn over the busy city as it came to life below, and she closed her eyes as she basked in the cool breeze on her face. It was mid-February, and she felt no better after six weeks without Kara. It felt like a piece of her was missing, and when she slept, she woke in her bed all alone, knowing that Kara was doing the same on the other side of the world, and there would be no end to that cycle. She wasn’t coming back in a few weeks to be with her like they’d planned; the only time she ever came back was in dreams. It was why Lena didn’t sleep.

 

            There were just so many different emotions inside her that she couldn’t even comprehend what she was feeling. With a little bit of time to reflect on, she was angry at Kara, so angry , but she missed her and was devastated at the fact that she’d lost her. And Lena wanted to forget that she’d ever met her, but it was impossible. She was considering buying another house, just to get away from the confines of her current one, where she felt drowned by memories of Kara, even though she’d only spent brief moments there with her. They were painful enough.

 

            Brooding for most of the morning, Lena eventually made her way back inside her room, stiff and fatigued and too full of thoughts to be able to ignore them. She ended up with her guitar in her lap, lying on the floor of her hotel room as she stared up at the white ceiling, tapping a pencil against her lip as she ran over some new lyrics. They weren’t lighthearted lyrics of love songs; they were darker, sadder, bittersweet, and Lena felt like crying as she filled pages with stray sentences, venting all of her frustration.

 

            She wasn’t disturbed until early afternoon, when there was a knock on the door and Lena groaned as she climbed to her feet, running her hand through her tangled hair as she made her way to the door. Rhea was already letting herself in with the spare keycard by the time she reached it, giving her an appraising look as she took in the haggard look of her client. 

 

            “Well I hope you’re not going to be carrying yourself like that tonight,” Rhea said as she took in Lena’s stooped shoulders and morose expression.

 

            “Don’t worry, I’m sure the dream team will work magic on me,” Lena drily replied.

 

            “Best get in the shower before they get here. Mercy’s already on her way with the dress.”

 

            Nodding, Lena left her to help herself to the contents of the fridge and made her way towards the marble bathroom. Lingering beneath the steam until her skin was reddened and cheeks flushed, Lena finally emerged when she knew someone would be banging on the door soon to tell her to hurry up. Drying herself off, she wrapped herself in a fluffy bathrobe and made her way out to the kitchen.

 

            Mercy was there with Rhea, both of them drinking sparkling water at the breakfast bar, a black garment bag hanging up nearby. Lena ignored it and gave her manager a small smile, looking over at the beauty team setting up in the light of spilling in through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the living room.

 

            To her exasperation, Lena soon found herself sitting on a chair while her hair was trimmed, dried and sprayed with a dozen products and then slicked back into a bun. Her makeup artist clicked her tongue as she covered Lena’s face with concealer, especially beneath her eyes, while Lena sat still and let the conversation wash over her. She was used to this routine, and while usually would be an animated addition to the conversation as they laughed and bantered in a familiar way, but she was tired, feeling her eyes struggling to stay open as her face was beat and contoured until she looked like a new person.

 

            She put her heels on and then stood in her underwear, leaning on Rhea and the hair stylist, while Mercy helped her into the dress. It went on easily, as she’d suspected, a little loose around the waist and hips, but it wasn’t noticeable over the embroidery. It was a golden embellished high-collared dress by Zuhair Murad, made of nude silk and thousands of sequins. There were cutouts at the back and it made her seem taller than she was, the look accentuated by the thinness of her wiry arms.

 

            “You look like you’re about to drop where you’re standing,” Rhea huffed as Lena stood in the kitchen with them, trying not to smudge her nude lipstick as she drank sparkling water and blinked back the burning feeling in her eyes.

 

            Rifling through her handbag, her publicist came up with a white plastic pill bottle and shook out two of them, holding out the white pills in the middle of her palm. “Here, take these.”

 

            “What are they?” Lena hesitantly asked.

 

            “Modafinil. They’ll keep you alert and enhance your mood. Quick, the car will be here soon.”

 

            Glancing out the window, taking in the first streaks of dusk as the sky darkened and the city lights glistened, Lena put the pills in her mouth and knocked them back with the sparkling water, the taste of black cherry and powdery chemical taste of the pills mingling on her tongue. She didn’t question their safety, knowing that it was Rhea’s job to make sure she was at the top of her game for interviews and wouldn’t give her anything that could impair that. 

 

            In fact, as Lena found herself being bundled out of the hotel room, Mercy carrying her purse, a long camel coloured cashmere coat being thrown over her shoulders against the chill air-conditioned hallway, her mind felt less sluggish and she felt more alert as she blinked owlishly. They made their way down from the penthouse to the lobby of the luxurious hotel, people stopping to stare as she swept across the floor with her team of people rushing her along. Sliding into the cool interior of the black town car parked on the verge outside the front doors, Lena was brimming with sudden energy and elevated mood, her mind running faster than her body, and she felt a little off-kilter at the sudden change in her mood. 

 

            She listened with rapt attention to the lectures and reminders off her team as they drove towards the venue, night falling quickly as they wove in and out of traffic. Anticipation was heavy in the air in the car, and Lena allowed herself to sit back and relax, turning over her thoughts with a new perspective on them. She’d been so exhausted and heartsick thinking about Kara, but she felt refreshed and somewhat detached from her heartbreak as the pills came into effect. 

 

            It didn’t change her feelings, but she found herself looking at them from a different angle, before coming to the conclusion that she missed Kara more terribly than ever. What they’d had had been beautiful, and it was one of the greatest tragedies of her life to have let it slip through her fingers, and it saddened her even as the pills warred against her feelings.

 

            By the time her car was waved through the barricades closing off the street for the event, she found herself bolstered by the pills, restless and eager for the night to be over. There was an after-party, of course, which she’d be making an appearance at, but Lena wasn’t expecting anything great from the evening. Except for perhaps a few drinks of the sly when there were no photographers around to try and spin her into a party girl. 

 

            The car door was opened for her and Rhea climbed out first while the clamouring of reporters and paparazzi suddenly overwhelmed Lena. Mercy followed suit and then Lena slipped out, hidden by the two women as they made quick work of arranging the skirt of her dress before she was left to face the length of red carpet running towards the doors.

 

            Plastering a smile to her face, Lena raised her hand in a wave as a photographed called out to her, and with her shoulders back, swept along the carpet, making her towards the backdrop where other celebrities in the music industry were already posing. Her team left her to it, holding her coat and purse as she posed for the camera flashes, a smile on her face as she slowly made her way down the line. Lena waved at people she knew, meeting them halfway as they hugged and exchanged polite cheek kisses, and allowed herself to get dragged into more than one interview for popular celebrity networks and news sites.

 

            And then she ran into Morgan Edge. Lena had known he would be there, to sit beside her as the man who had signed her, taking her wins as a personal win for himself, and Lena had to keep the smile on her face as she hugged him. It had been a while since she’d last seen him, and there was a tension in the charged air between them, a sort of bitter resentment lingering inside Lena. In so many ways, she blamed him for her inability to come out. It was his contract that kept her silent, and she found it hard to play along with the charade of niceties as cameras flashed and they chatted.

 

            She’d gone to the pre-telecast award show a few days beforehand, wearing a Dolce & Gabbana dress as she accepted two of her awards, and she got to pose with them both on the red carpet, cradling the golden gramophones as she smiled for the cameras. Giving them back, she rejoined her team and they made their way inside, and a short while later the show started.

 

            Sitting in the dark, the proceedings washed over her, and Lena was content to wait for the last category she was nominated for to be called, enjoying the performances and smiling at the jokes. It was long, but she was wide awake, thrumming with energy as she shifted restlessly in her seat. Eventually, she had to slip out of her row to sneak backstage and get ready for her own performance. 

 

            In her dressing room, she shed her golden gown in exchange for a loose vintage floral dress with a petticoat, her hair let down and plaited to the side and her heels kicked off for brown heeled oxfords. Bangs messily arranged in artful disarray, her lipstick was touched up and Lena was left to wait a short while, before walking through the backstage hallways to wait in the wings of the stage.

 

            Her band was all there, wearing homespun vintage clothes that made them all look like country folk, and they huddled together for their usual pep talk before a performance before an electric guitar banjo was slipped over Lena’s head and they all stepped out onto the dark stage to take their places.

 

            She performed Mean on a raised platform, against a rustic backdrop of broken shutters, doors, ladders and planks, milk pails and barrels and broken furniture lying around for band members to artfully arrange themselves on. A vintage microphone stood before her, and Lena was illuminated by a bright spotlight as she sang the words she’d performed a hundred times before, a wry smile on her face as she changed up the lyrics, her fingers finding the frets with familiar ease. Adrenaline coursed through her, amplified by the pills, and she felt so alive as she performed, eyes almost feverishly bright.

 

            That was what she was here to do. Performing was who she was. It made her heartbreak the tiniest bit more bearable to find herself on stage after so many weeks off, knowing that this was what she was good at, what she’d chosen over the flighty romance with Kara. In a few weeks, she’d be in Australia to wrap up the Speak Now World Tour and Lena felt emboldened by the knowledge as she sang and played along with the bluegrass music of her band. 

 

            As the song came to a close and the stage was flooded with light, she was greeted with the sight of a standing ovation and couldn’t help but glow with pride, eyes creasing at the corners as she smiled brightly, cheeks pink flushed with happiness. The rush of performing never got old, and as she made her way off stage, trembling as her pulse raced and her chest heaved breathlessly, she couldn’t wait to do it again.

 

            The rest of the night passed by quickly, and Lena didn’t even feel the loss of her other nomination as she dwelled in her state of euphoric alertness. For weeks now, she’d been sluggish and cocooned in her heartbreak, but she emerged for that night and found herself eager for the after-party. She shook her babysitters at the event hosted by InStyle at the Chateau Marmont, the placed crowded with the early arrivals and made her way deeper inside.

 

            At the bar, she ordered herself an Aperol Spritz, draining it quickly in the gloom of the fringes of the party, feeling the liquor burn her throat and warm in her stomach, before ordering another drink and draining that one as well. Not much of a dancer, Lena fell into conversation with a few people she knew in the industry, kissing cheeks as introductions were made and photos were taken. At one point, she thought she saw Kara in the crowd, and her stomach lurched before she realised it was just another blonde woman.

 

            Her head was spinning from the rush of alcohol on her empty stomach by the time she bumped into a tall figure in a dark suit, stumbling slightly before big hands steaded her. Laughing as she thanked the person, she looked up to see a familiar face looking down at her with surprise, her own eyebrows rising swiftly before she reached out to grip Jack’s shoulders.

 

            “Jack!”

 

            “Lena,” he warmly greeted her, leaning down to kiss her cheek, “you look lovely. How’ve you been?”

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Lena laughed again, eyes bright with pain and alcohol, and smiled up at him. “How were the holidays?”

 

            “Good. I went back to London for a bit.”

 

            “Yeah? I just got back.”

 

            “I guess we missed each other. Drink?”

 

            Readily accepting the offer, Lena let him usher her towards the bar and order two Cosmos before they clinked glasses and he congratulated her on her wins. They fell into easy conversation, and Lena was nearly overcome with relief at just how easy it was, laughter spilling from her lips as they sipped their drinks and watched the dancefloor writhe with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

 

            He’d been working on some new songs, playing small gigs over Europe and some in America, his fame rapidly growing, and Lena smiled fondly as she recalled days like that. It was good to talk to someone else who understood, who was in a place she’d stood a few years ago, in the same shoes in terms of the amount of freedom and pressure. Jack didn’t know about her and Kara, or even just about her, and Lena didn’t tell him in the crowded bar, but she felt as if they were kindred spirits at that moment as they drank and laughed and talked about the places they’d been and the songs they wanted to write.

 

            “I’m flying back to National City tomorrow,” Lena blurted out. “You should come to my house to write with me. If you want.”

 

            Dark eyes widening slightly in surprise, Jack blinked and stood there for a moment, mouth opening and closing, before he laughed. “I- yeah. Yeah, that’d be amazing. I’m flying back there too on Tuesday for a photoshoot. Shall we call it Friday?”

 

            “Friday,” Lena said in agreement, raising her glass to clink it against his.

 

            He smiled and they stood at the bar, leaning against it for a few moments before he suddenly looked down at her.

 

            “Want to dance?”

 

            Hesitating, she bit her bottom lip, swirling the dregs of her drink around in her glass. She didn’t like dancing, had never been one to go out of her way to dance, and the only person she’d ever danced with of her own volition, had loved it even, had been Kara. Yet Kara wasn’t there, and Lena paused for a moment as confusion welled up within her, before she decided to accept his offer. 

 

            It didn’t matter if she only wanted to dance with Kara, spinning each other around in the glow of the fridge in her kitchen or moving the furniture aside as they blasted old music, because Kara wasn’t there, but Lena had the urge to just toss all her troubles aside. She’d dance despite everything they’d been through, she’d dance with Jack as if Kara was jealously watching from the shadows, and she knew it wouldn’t make her feel better that it wasn’t Kara she was dancing with, but at least it was something.

 

            They danced all night, laughing and jumping around as the DJ’s played track after track until Lena’s skin was covered in a damp sweat and her makeup was smudged and her bangs had started escaping the slicked back bun. It was mindless fun and a welcome distraction.

 

            She left long after midnight, her cashmere coat thrown around her shoulders, Mercy rushing her past the lingering paparazzi and throngs of fans as she gave them bright smiles, and was quickly bundled into the back of the waiting car. Despite the fact that she hadn’t slept in days, the pills were still in her system and Lena blinked owlishly in the dark as she adjusted to the gloom, sinking back in her seat, wide awake with no intention of slowing down just yet.

 

            “Well … that all went better than expected. Well done,” Rhea said, shoulders slumped with exhaustion as she finally let her guard down. 

 

            She was like a watchdog at events, waiting to drag Lena out of an interview at the slightest hint of a misstep, and she ran a hand over her face as she finally relaxed. Lena gave her a wan smile as she hugged the coat around herself, watching the glow of the city race past as they headed back to their hotel. 

 

            “You and Jack Spheer seemed to be having a lot of fun.”

 

            “Mhm.”

 

            “He’s handsome too.”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            “Have you thought about-”

 

            “If you’re about to ask if I’ve thought about dating him, you might want to revisit the meeting we had a while ago about the fact that I’m a lesbian. You know, how I only like women. But seeing as I’m sure you weren’t about to say that, go ahead.”

 

            Rhea fell silent for a moment, lips pressed together in a flat line as she was chastened, and Mercy gave Lena a hard look, quickly checking to make sure the partition was up. Sighing heavily, her expression softened into one of exasperation.

 

            “You know, he’d make a good PR stunt.”

 

            “Ah, so you are trying to pair us up.”

 

            “It’s just something to think about,” Mercy soothingly explained, “for the next time you get into a relationship. It’ll allow you some … freedom.”

 

            Letting out a derisive snort of laughter, Lena rolled her eyes, shaking her head as she reached up to brush stray hairs out of her face. “It’s not freedom, it’s just a different sort of lie. Besides, he’s my friend; I wouldn’t want to use him like that.”

 

            Pausing for a moment, Lena glanced sideways at her manager, “he’s coming to my house to write on Friday.”

 

            “Oh. Oh, well that’s- that’s good! I’ll make sure no one interrupts.” 

 

            Nodding cordially, Lena leaned against the door and watched the streets flash by until they eventually came to a stop outside her hotel. It was early hours in the morning, the night dark and interrupted by the glow of hotels and take-outs and bars, and she murmured her goodnights before making her way upstairs to her penthouse.

 

            Krypto greeted her at the door with excited circles run around her and Lena smiled as she shed the cashmere coat, heading further into the suite and tossing it over the back of an upholstered chair. Kicking off her heels, she dropped down to her knees in her embroidered gown and scratched the puppy beneath the chin, feeling some of the tension inside her dissipate.

 

            Ordering coffee from room service, Lena shed her dress, throwing that over a chair too, and dressed in a pair of monogrammed pyjamas and silk slippers and took her makeup off, before she retreated to the balcony. Sitting at a table overlooking the soaring skyscrapers lit up against the velvety blanket of night, she felt drained yet wide awake. It wasn’t a physical exhaustion, but the feeling of spending too much time around other people, and she ran a hand over her face, looking ashen and drawn.

 

            A man in a white tuxedo wheeled a tray into her suite after rapping on the door and being admitted by Lena’s shout, and she sat outside, legs up on the railing of the balcony, drinking rich Turkish coffee from the French press and waited for the sun to rise. It was quiet and Krypto lay curled up on another chair beside her, and Lena thought about Kara as she sat wide awake, knowing that she’d already be awake in Europe. 

 

            On a whim, she checked her phone, scrolling through the endless notifications of congratulations off friends and family alike. There was a missed call off Lillian, another off her father too, and a text off Lex. And there, another at the bottom off Kara, and it made her heart clench painfully in her chest as she opened it to stare down at the single word.

 

            Congratulations x

 


 

            “I was awake for forty hours after that,” Lena sighed heavily, looking worn and small at that moment as she curled up on the armchair. “The pills helped to an extent, but the comedown was … hard. They don’t really have much of a side effect, except that you’re going to need a good long sleep, but the way my emotions were all over the place … it was rough.”

 

            “Did you take them often?”

 

            Lena shook her head, giving Leslie a droll smile. “No. No, nothing like that. Not often at all. Only when I was in a bad place and I needed to be at the top of my game for interviews and the like. It wasn’t often things lined up badly enough for that. But that was a long few days for me. I flew back to National City, although I couldn’t tell you a single moment of that trip, and I passed out for nearly two days. I was just … exhausted. Heartbreaks are tiring.”

 

            “Was it just the heartbreak? I mean, it sounds like you were under a lot of pressure anyway.”

 

            “I was,” Lena admitted, chewing on the inside of her bottom lip for a moment, “but it didn’t help that I couldn’t help myself process this properly. And it wasn’t the kind of thing that warranted getting help for, because everyone goes through breakups and the like, but I felt like I was falling apart, but they wouldn’t let me.”

 

            Leslie gave her a sympathetic look, mouth set in a grim line as she propped her chin up in her cupped palm, elbow on the arm of her own armchair. “They did a good job of keeping it under wraps. Clearly.”

 

            With a sharp laugh, Lena arched an eyebrow as she smiled sardonically. They’d kept it so tightly under wraps that not even a whisper of it had managed to get out. No one knew about her ended relationship, about the insomnia, the lack of appetite or how she holed herself up in her house. As far as the rest of the world was aware, Lena was just resting after holiday excitement and rehearsals to get back on tour.

 

            “I was devastated, you know. A complete wreck. And all the headlines were saying was how good I looked. I was barely eating, barely sleeping, and all they cared about was that I looked thin on the red carpet. Dolled up in so much makeup to hide how bad I looked, wearing gowns that distracted them from the fact that I’d lost so much weight, and how I wasn’t behaving like myself because I was on mood-enhancing pills. No one even knew how much pressure I was under to not fall apart; no one even knew how badly I was suffering.”

Chapter Text

Touching him was like

Realizing all you ever wanted was right there in front of you

Memorizing him was as

Easy as knowing all the words to your old favourite song

Fighting with him was like

Trying to solve a crossword and realizing there's no right answer

Regretting him was like

Wishing you never found out that love could be that strong

 

Losing him was blue like I'd never known

Missing him was dark grey, all alone

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you've never met

But loving him was red

Oh, red

Burning red

 

-

 

            Lena slept for two days and then slept some more, making short trips from her bed to scrounge up cookies or chug a glass of water, sometimes catching sight of the housekeeper or maid, before she went back to sleep. It wasn’t until mid-morning on Friday that she was awoken by the sound of her phone buzzing loudly on the end table. Groggily sitting up, she rubbed at her tired eyes, a frown puckering her brow, and fumbled for the phone.

 

            “Hello?”

 

            “Hi,” a deep voice rumbled through the other end, and Lena paused for a moment as she tried to place it, “I’m at the gate. No one, uh, no one’s answering the intercom.”

 

            “Jack! Hi,” Lena said, suddenly alert as she swung her legs over the side of the bed, stumbling slightly, “um, just a second.”

 

            She hung up and quickly made her way toward the intercom near the front door, opening the gate for him, before she quickly scrambled back towards her bedroom, shedding the clothes she was wearing and pulling on a maroon pair of chinos and a black and white striped sweater. Her hair was a dishevelled mess and Lena quickly pulled it up into a ponytail and tried to flatten her bangs down as she made her way back out to the foyer.

 

            The sound of wheels crunching on gravel reached her ears, followed by the sound of a door slamming and footsteps walking towards the door. A moment later there was a knock on the door, and she moved to open it, smiling sheepishly as she blinked back the stinging feeling in her eyes as sunlight streamed in. She didn’t have her contacts in but the blurred figure before her was unmistakable.

 

            “Hi!” Lena smiled, reaching out to hug him before standing aside to let Jack in.

 

            He carried a guitar case in his hand and was dressed down in dark jeans and a thin sweater. As Lena shut the door, he rounded on her, and although his expression was blurred, she heard the accusation in his voice.

 

            “You forgot, didn’t you?” he chuckled.

 

            A laugh worked its way up Lena’s throat, and she smiled gingerly as she shrugged, “I’ve been crashed out since Tuesday.”

 

            Laughing, Jack followed her further inside, and Lena quickly excused herself to go and grab a spare pair of glasses, before making her way into the kitchen, where he was leaning against the counters.

 

            “Tea? Coffee? Anything?”

 

            “I’ll have what you’re having.”

 

            Setting the kettle on to boil, Lena grabbed two mugs and two bottles of water from the fridge, moving around the kitchen with ease. “So, how was the hangover the next day?”

 

            Jack quietly laughed, “not the worst I’ve had, but it wasn’t fun. And you? You had a flight the next day, right?”

 

            “Mm. I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember it.”

 

            She made them both cups of tea and they sat in the parlour adjoining the kitchen to bask in the weak sunlight filtering in through the windows, plants filling the air with their sweet smell, and they chatted about how things were going, without the sound of music drowning out their words.

 

            It felt good to talk about anything and everything, to someone who Lena did have to worry about repeating anything, there being an unspoken code between artists in the industry. It was nice to have someone who didn’t really know Kara, only of her, to be able to put some distance between how she was feeling about her, and Lena was relaxed as they drank tea and chatted away until they were left with the dregs.

 

            “Right, shall we do this?” Jack enthusiastically asked.

 

            “Sure. Let me get my stuff. Do you want to go outside? Get some fresh air?”

 

            He readily agreed, making his way outside with Krypto as Lena went off in search of a notepad, some pens and her guitar. She ended up coming out with the one Kara had bought her for her birthday, slipping outside to find Jack with the puppy in his lap, taking a sip of water as he waited. 

 

            It was a mild day, the sky white and a gentle breeze rippling through the trees enclosing Lena’s property. February would be coming to a close soon, and spring was right around the corner. The fresh air did Lena some good too, and she breathed deeply as she flipped through pages of scribbled lyrics.

 

            “Nice guitar,” Jack said, eyeing the one she balanced in her lap.

 

            “Thank you,” Lena smiled slightly, “it was a birthday gift. It was Stevie Nicks’”

 

            “Ah, I thought it looked familiar. That’s quite the gift.”

 

            Lena furrowed her brow as she stared down at it, taking in the deep red colour as memories of Kara giving it to her came rushing back. It hadn’t been that long ago, and Lena hadn’t even realised that things were about to take a sharp turn after that. Of course, there had been the nagging thoughts about something being wrong, but she hadn’t thought Kara was going to leave again.

 

            Swallowing thickly, she looked up and gave Jack a wan smile. “Shall we get started?”

 

            They lounged around outside, swapping ideas and getting wrapped up in their writing, creating hooks and bridges. It was exciting to work with someone else, someone to bounce ideas off and have them snowball off of each other’s snatches of lyrics, creating something bigger and better from it. Time seemed to fly by, and by the time they came to a stop, they’d already written two songs and nearly had all of the melody figured out.

 

            Stomach rumbling with hunger, Lena called a halt to their session and ordered them food from a nearby café. They ate paninis and fries in the filtered shade of the pergola, drinking peach iced tea and lazily tossing ideas back and forth. It was thrilly for Lena to find someone so like-minded in their writing, to be able to spin ideas out of nothing and push her to try new things. 

 

            With the scraps of their lunch left on the table, they lounged in the shade for a bit while it digested before they found themselves jumping on Lena’s trampoline like kids. It felt good to laugh, being launched up into the air with the added weight of Jack sending her higher, her hair coming undone and her cheeks flushing as the wind whipped around her face. 

 

            She was breathless with laughter and flopped down onto her back, face turned toward the sky with her eyes shut as she felt her heart pound in her chest. It had been a while since she’d felt so lighthearted, unwinding in the company of a good friend, and she realised that Jack was a good friend. He was someone she knew she could trust, after only a few times spent together in person. It made her feel less alone to be reminded of the fact that she had other people in her life, and she felt guilt stir inside her as she thought about how she’d neglected their friendship lately.

 

            Laying down beside her, Jack was silent for a few minutes, before he sighed softly. “So, where’d you come up with all that stuff back there?”

 

            Quietly laughing, Lena shrugged against the trampoline, “experience.”

 

            “Ouch.”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            “With, uh, Dick Greyson right?”

 

            Lena’s face went taut as she stiffened on the springy surface, a frown darkening her expression, teeth grinding together with annoyance. “No,” she curtly replied, a little sharper than she intended.

 

            “Sorry, I just- you hear things.”

 

            “We took one photo together at an event, so of course we had to have been dating,” Lena bitterly said, before scoffing. “You’ll be next.”

 

            “It’ll be an honour to shut those rumours down,” Jack quipped.

 

            With a wry smile, Lena shook her head, a short laugh falling from her lips before she trailed off into a faint sigh. The gentle breeze caressed her flushed skin and they listened to the trees rustle in silence for a few minutes, springs groaning as they shifted.

 

            And then Lena’s head lolled to the side and she opened her eyes to stare at Jack’s profile, feeling nervous as she bit her lip and hesitated. “It was a woman.”

 

            His eyes snapped open and his head rolled to the side to meet her gaze. Surprise coloured his expression and a slow smile of satisfaction spread across her face as she watched realisation dawn on his face.

 

            “I didn’t know-”

 

            “No one really does,” she softly replied, looking back up at the sky, squinting through her glasses at the harsh whiteness above. “I won’t tell you who; neither of us are out. And I tell you about me because I trust you and-”

 

            “I’d never tell anyone.”

 

            The corners of her mouth curled up into a smile and she shaded her eyes against the weak sunlight. A heavy sigh forced its way out of her lungs as she laid there, lost in her own thoughts, running over the lyrics again with some bitterness. 

 

            “You don’t have to name her but … if you want to tell me about her, you can. You can tell me what she’s like.”

 

            “What she’s like?” Lena mumbled with amusement, “God, she’s everything.”

 

            Jack laughed, shifting his arms beneath his head as he made himself comfortable, “everything, huh?”

 

            “She, uh, she bakes the best cookies and she loves show tunes - she’s not a singer, exactly, but she has a beautiful voice. Her favourite book is Alice In Wonderland and she loves Christmas films, even though she’s Jewish. She’s broken her nose twice and likes to write screenplays in her spare time and she’s really bad at being vegan and doesn’t like it when her food touches on the plate. When she was little, she, uh, she was raised in hotels because her dad was the manager, and her favourite animal is an elephant. Her favourite number is thirteen as well, and she hates needles.”

 

            He was silent as he let Lena rambled on, listing random facts about Kara, or things that she’d observed and picked up on, a warm feeling spreading throughout her as she talked, gesturing with her hand and getting wrapped up in the memories. There was a slow, burning ache inside her too as she went through it all.

 

            It was like she was experiencing all the emotions again, feeling anger at Kara for leaving, her vision red as her cheeks flamed, the blue feeling of knowing that she was gone, and the oppressive cloud of grey that had fogged Lena’s mind for weeks, wrapping her up in loneliness and misery. There were a thousand ways to describe how she was feeling as she thought about Kara, about all the things she loved about her, and all the things that were endearingly irritating. 

 

            She felt like a walking contradiction, at odds with herself even. Frustrated and in love, she told him about how she loved to dance and how she’d interrupt Lena mid-sentence to kiss her. About her tattoos and her love of photography, how she wore vintage dresses and loved the colour black, even though you’d never know it by the all-American sweetness of her. All of the exasperated fights and how Lena didn’t want to forget about them, about her, because Kara had been able to make her feel so much. Lena had never felt more alive than when she was with her, and it cut deep into her to speak about all she’d lost. Eventually, she stopped speaking.

 

            “You still love her,” Jack quietly said after a pause.

 

            Lips twisting into a rueful smile, Lena felt tears prick her eyes. “And I still love her.”

 

            “How did you meet?”

 

            “At an after-party. You know when you just meet someone and it’s like … it’s like everything’s changed? It was like that. I went home and she was all I could think about. She was so smart and funny when we met, and beautiful , just like- God, you know when you just want to get to know someone? And it wasn’t even like I was creating this image of her in my head; she was everything I thought she was. I guess … it just wasn’t meant to be.”

 

            They were silent for a moment before the trampoline jostled and Jack sat up, scooting towards the edge and climbing over the springs. Pushing herself up, Lena’s brows pulled together as she gave him a bewildered look.

 

            “Where are you going?”

 

            “To get your guitar,” Jack called over his shoulder as he jogged towards the table where they’d left everything. “So you can write all that down and show her how wrong she was.”

 

            Snorting with laughter, Lena’s eyebrows shot up and there was a spark of mirth in her green eyes as she watched him grab their guitars by the necks and jammed the notepads under his arms. Hurrying back to her, two pens clamped between his lips, Jack carefully passed her red guitar to her and set the other on the trampoline, before tossing the notebooks on and clambering back on.

 

            Wiping off the pens, he handed one to Lena and flipped the notebook to a blank page, speaking aloud as he started to scrawl something along the first line. “Everything … has … changed. Lena Luthor and … Jack Spheer.”

 

            Setting the pen back down, he gave her a bright smile, his eyes shining with hope and excitement, and shifted his guitar into his lap, the strings striking a desolate chord. “Right, are you ready?”

 

            Spluttering for a second, Lena choked on a laugh, before shrugging helplessly and throwing her guitar strap over her head. “Okay, let’s go.”

 


 

            “And just like that we were best friends,” Lena said, spreading her hands as she smiled.

 

            “There’s always been speculation between you and Jack Spheer, and I suppose that must’ve been where it all started.” 

 

            Nodding in agreement, Lena gave shifted in her seat, folding one leg beneath the other as she leant on her elbow, cupping her cheek in her hand as she mimicked Leslie’s pose. Lena could almost feel the dozens of questions she knew were on the tip on the blonde’s tongue, waiting to delve deeper in her relationship with Jack, and she suppressed a sigh. It would all come up later, but she may as well give her a hint of it now.

 

            “I feel like it must be very clear by now that I’ve never shown any interest in men, despite what the media has said,” Lena explained with a wry smile, “and that’s partly my fault. I started garnering this reputation for myself through my music, and that was unintentional. But as it grew bigger, and as I grew older, with the media painting me as this vindictive succubus, it took on a life of its own, and I was powerless to stop the rumours. Instead, I gave into them.”

 

            “Meaning what exactly?”

 

            “I fanned the flames,” Lena laughed, rolling her eyes exasperatedly. “Of course, there have been relationships I paraded to the public, and it was my choice. Jack was one of them, for a while. But he was never anything other than a friend, and it was his choice too.”

 

            A bewildered look on her face, Leslie gave Lena a confused smile. “You were already at the peak of your game by then - well, it was like you kept out-peaking yourself - so it wasn’t like you needed the attention or fame. Why did you choose then to date one of your best friends? You’d already established a dating life with other men, even if some of them were lies by the media, so why?”

 

            “Because my team was still afraid. They’d shut down the rumours of Kara and me with PR stunts by that point. Well before that point. But then I had new friends - well, a friend - that had them worried when I was single and rumours started circulating again. I’ll get to that later, but there was never a time when my team weren’t worried about my attraction to women coming out.”

 

            With a heavy sigh, Lena’s mouth turned down at the corners as her shoulders slumped. It was almost laughable now, how far they’d gone to keep the secret over the years. How many times they’d had to quickly smooth something over, or how often they’d release something in contradiction to what the media said to flip the story in their favour. Anything and everything to hold the cards in their hands. It had been exhausting, yet necessary, but that didn’t mean Lena had ever looked on it as a good thing. 

 

            “I suppose that’s why they let the media spin Jack and I into a modern-day Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. I was the woman with a string of failed romances, and he was the young, roguish star, a bit of an underdog, and the kind of person a superstar would never fall for. I never understood the parallels, to be quite honest. At the very least, it should’ve been James Dean and Pier Angeli, but I guess I went through too many men to suit the angelic persona my label tried to cultivate.”

 

            Lena let out a derisive snort of laughter as she shook her head, a patronising smile on her face as she fixed Leslie with an almost smug look.

 

            “Still, I don’t think they knew how wrong they were to equate me with a woman who married seven men when I’ve only ever been in love with one woman.”

Chapter Text

I remember when we broke up the first time

Saying, "This is it, I've had enough," 'cause like

We hadn't seen each other in a month

When you said you needed "space" (what?)

 

Then you come around again and say

"Baby, I miss you and I swear I'm gonna change, trust me"

Remember how that lasted for a day?

I say, "I hate you," we break up, you call me, "I love you"

 

-

 

            “And I know how it sounds to go through all of this heartbreak and still love her. But I did - I do. I’ve loved her for nearly ten years, and I know it sounds … pathetic but it’s the truth. I’ve never even thought about another person in all the time we were apart, and that wasn’t because of her. It’s just- despite what the rumours have said, I’ve never needed to be dating someone, but I wanted Kara. And I didn’t feel that urge to be with anyone when we were apart. Those moments were for myself. Honestly, we weren’t even apart long enough for me to even fully mend my broken heart to consider dating someone else. But … it was just always Kara.”

 

            “Did it make you angry to see all the lies in the media about your love life, knowing that none of it was true?”

 

            Mouth turning down at the corners, Lena shrugged half-heartedly, “I was complicit, to an extent, as I said. But yes, when I’d take a picture with some guy at an award show who’d I’d just met and said three words to, it was infuriating to see people saying we had a secret romance going on the next day. At the same time, it was almost a blessing. Everyone was too fixated on the men to even consider a woman. Well, when Kara was there for them to consider.”

 

            “Were you ever actually together for a good length of time?” Leslie asked after a moment, a brooding look on her face as she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes slightly at Lena, trying to uncover some more details. “I mean, so far it sounds very off and on, and I can’t imagine that made for a good relationship.”

 

            “It didn’t, but I’ve always thought Hollywood relationships moved quicker than ordinary ones anyway. My friends have gotten married inside a year of dating. It’s like everyone is making up for a lack of time, squeezing four dates into a week and then shooting off to film or tour, maybe seeing each other on weekends away. Kara and I were no different. The whirlwind nature of them can make you feel like you have whiplash, and it’s like- well, it feels longer than it actually is. I’m sure you understand.”

 

            Leslie nodded in silent agreement, leaving Lena to carry on her train of thought.

 

            “I think that’s why it always hurt so much. Even if it only lasted a few months, we poured so much of ourselves into the little time we did have together, perhaps more than ordinary couples would in that small window, so if felt like there was a bigger attachment. God, I remember being so in love, like just blinded by it like I was a teenager watching all those old classics. And then just as quickly it’d be gone again.”

 


 

            A few weeks later, Lena was back on the road to finish up her tour in Australia and New Zealand, spending hours on the treadmill in preparation for her performances, getting her costumes tailored again when they were found to be a bit loose at their rehearsal to make sure the show would run seamlessly after their break. It was exhausting, and it was almost a mercy that Lena was so tired that she couldn’t even bring herself to dwell on Kara.

 

            She flew out at the beginning of March, flying straight to Perth in the comfort of First Class. It was hot and she was jet-lagged and exhausted, passing out in her hotel suite in the middle of the day as her team rushed around ensuring that all of the equipment had made it and that her band were all accounted for and settled in their rooms.

 

            The concert passed in a blur, and then it was another flight and another show, another city and another sleepless night. But she felt the thrill of performing again, the jolt of being awake, of feeling like everything was right in the world, even just for a couple of hours. In some ways, it felt like acting, like she miraculously became this other person on stage, feeling the energy inside the venues infuse her with so much fire that she felt like she was drunk off of the feeling.

 

            It was early hours in the morning of her second show in Sydney, and Lena was puffy-eyed and disheveled from a late night meeting fans after the first concert. She’d come straight back to the hotel to have a shower, washing off the sweat and glitter, the adrenaline fading and leaving her stooped and weary. Dressed in the comfiest pair of pyjamas she’d brought with her, she’d made herself some coffee with the kettle and sachets left in the kitchenette and sat on her bed with her mug, picking up her phone to call her brother.

 

            “Alright?” Lex greeted her as she pressed the phone between her ear and shoulder, pushing decorative pillows off the bed as she slumped down with her mug cradled in her lap.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            “How’d the show go?”

 

            Lena’s mouth turned down at the corners in a grimace, a brooding look clouding her face. “Good. What time does your flight get in?”

 

            “Nine your time. Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be in bed?”

 

            “Can’t sleep,” she curtly replied. “Jet lag.”

 

            “Mhm.”

 

            Rolling her eyes she let out a heavy sigh, a flicker of irritation flaring up at her brother. “What?”

 

            “You’re brooding again. I’m not an idiot.”

 

            Scoffing, Lena’s brow furrowed into a scowl, her green eyes stormy as she pursed her lips. Rubbing at her tired eyes, she found herself regretting the call. She should’ve just drank her coffee and wallowed by herself. Lex was right; she was brooding, but she didn’t like to prove him right.

 

            “I’m not … brooding. I just- I have a lot on my mind.”

 

            “You have a person on your mind. I’m your brother, you know. I know you better than you think I do.”

 

            Huffing, Lena took a sip of coffee and resisted the urge to roll her eyes again, although there was a warm fondness in her chest. She’d always been oddly close to her brother, despite their age difference, and he did know her well. They might not always get to spend much time together, especially since her career had exploded to worldwide stardom, but she cherished their brunches whenever she was in London.

 

            “I didn’t say she wasn’t on my mind,” Lena snippily replied, bristling slightly, “you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be dumped though, would you? You’re the one who does that. It makes people feel shitty, and worthless and bad about themselves, just for the record. So take that into consideration the next time you break some poor girl’s heart.”

 

            “Och, Lena, stop doing this to yourself! Do you know how amazing you are? Any woman would be lucky to have you. There are people just waiting to drape themselves at your feet, to shower you with love, who’d kill for a secret romance.”

 

            Scowling, Lena ground her teeth together in frustration. She didn’t care how other people felt about her, what other women would do for her - she only cared about Kara. And perhaps she was a fool to be dwelling on her heartbreak, but she was young, and it felt like the most important thing in the world to her at that time. How could it not be? How could she just be okay with the fact that Kara was gone and she was just supposed to move onto the next person as if she wasn’t completely undone by it?

 

            “And I mean, she doesn’t look too cut up about it, gallivanting around Paris with Lucy Lane. Get back out there-”

 

            “Wait, what?” Lena hoarsely asked, a jolt running through her.

 

            There was a pause on the other end, and she could almost feel her brother wincing as he put his foot in his mouth. “You didn’t see?”

 

            “Well I don’t sit here googling her, do I?” Lena scoffed, “but what do you mean?”

 

            “There were just some photos. It’s nothing. Probably some downtime from filming.”

 

            “I’ll call you back,” Lena slowly said as she reached for her laptop.

 

            Hanging up before Lex could protest, Lena opened the laptop and turned it on, setting her coffee onto the nightstand before she hunched over cross-legged on the bed. Her brow was drawn into a deep frown as she squinted at the screen, her contacts already having been taken out, and she quickly did exactly what she said she didn’t do and googled Kara.

 

            The latest articles from gossip and celebrity news sites were full of photos of her and Lucy Lane, and Lena leant close to the screen as her eyes roamed over the photos, shock and sadness slamming into her as she took in Kara’s drastically changed appearance, feeling her breath catch in her throat as she sat there in the dimness of her hotel room and felt the wound rip back open again.

 

            She looked at the photos of them in Paris and felt her stomach twist with so much jealousy that it was overwhelming. There were photos of them down side streets at markets, hanging out in cafés as they ate ham and cheese baguettes, photos of them at night with Kara’s hair dyed pink and chopped off short, drinking white wine on the verandah of a restaurant with a cigarette between her fingers and the flushed cheeks of someone who was at least a little bit tipsy.

 

            Of course, Lena knew that Lucy was her best friend, and that Kara’s life was different with her friends, uncomplicated and easy, but it still stung to see how carefree she looked. And it filled her with anger too, to see her out and about with Lucy, unable to stop herself from reading too far into the way they walked arm-in-arm with smiles for each other. It made her eyes burn with the beginnings of tears, and she slowly shut her laptop as her stomach dropped.

 

            Suddenly, the coffee wasn’t enough, and she shoved her laptop away in frustration before she climbed to her feet and padded over to the mini bar. It was fully stocked with little bottles of whisky, vodka, tequila and piccolo bottles of wine and Lena swept it all up into her arms and carried it to her bed. 

 

            They went down easy, one by one, empty glass bottles strewn around her on the bed as she lay on her back, head pleasantly swimming as her eyes grew heavy. The alcohol made her sleepy and Lena let her mind wander as she drifted, and eventually fell asleep, arms spread out wide and hair splayed around her in a dark halo. 

 

            She woke to harsh sunlight and a loud banging on the door late the next morning, wincing as she put a hand to her head and sat up. It was hot and her skin was clammy and flushed. Stumbling out of bed, Lena lurched out of the bedroom and towards the door, blearily blinking through her terrible vision and the drunken fog of her mind. Fumbling for the handle, she yanked the door open with a scowl on her face. The dark hair indicated it was either Mercy or Rhea.

 

            “Did you just wake up?” Mercy asked a moment later as she pushed her way into the room.

 

            Lena screwed her eyes shut at the loudness of her manager’s voice, a throbbing headache forming behind her eyes, and she gingerly shut the door as softly as she could to spare herself the spike of pain through her head. Turning around, she found Mercy looking at her, features a blur, and Lena blinked owlishly, before running a hand over her face as she tried to shake herself awake. 

 

            As the figure before her took a step towards her, and then another, slow yet unnerving, Lena leant back slightly, until she was nearly pressed up against the door, a wary expression on her face as Mercy leant right in. Her manager audibly sniffed, before jerking back.

 

            “Are you drunk?”

 

            “No!” Lena spluttered, cheeks turning red.

 

            It wasn’t a lie exactly. She might’ve smelled like the contents of her entire mini bar, but she’d consumed it all in the early hours of the morning, and most of it had worn off by now. Perhaps tipsy was a better word for her current state, or hungover. Either way, Lena felt slightly queasy as she pressed a hand to her mouth, realising that Mercy could smell the liquor on her.

 

            Her manager strode purposely through the suite, and Lena rummaged through a bag and pulled out her glasses, her eyes bloodshot and dry as she blinked rapidly. Mercy was in her room, shoulders taut as she quietly cursed and grumbled, gathering up the empty bottles. Hovering in the doorway, Lena watched, grey-faced and haggard, giving Mercy a sheepish smile when her manager turned around.

 

            “I-”

 

            “Save it,” she snapped, and Lena swallowed the rest of her words as she shrank back, looking properly cowed and chastened by the sharpness of the other woman’s words. “Get the door for me.”

 

            Quickly following the orders, she moved ahead of Mercy and pulled open the door as her manager swept past without a word. Letting it shut, Lena ran a hand through her hair, her bangs sticking up slightly as she slumped and dragged her feet as she made her way back inside.

 

            Flopping down on the bed, she turned away from the sunlight seeping in through the wide windows and lay an arm over her eyes. And then there was another knock and she let out a low groan as she pushed herself back up and went to answer the door.

 

            This time it was Mercy and Rhea and Lena suppressed another groan. They swept through the room with bottles taken from their own mini bars, or so Lena assumed, and made straight for her raided one, replacing the drinks with the disapproving precision of two people who were pissed. 

 

            “You. Shower,” Rhea ordered her when she spotted Lena lurking nearby.

 

            Suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, Lena made her way into the bathroom and turned the shower on, making sure the water was tepid as sweat beaded on her forehead, a combination of her hangover and the Australian heat. Leaving her team to restock her fridge for her, Lena shed her clothes and stepped beneath the cool stream of water, goosebumps rippling across her skin as relief washed over her.

 

            Still, her stomach twisted with nausea and she was regretting her hasty decision to clear out all of her liquor, and sank down to the floor of the shower as water soaked her hair and ran down her back. Cheek pressed against the cold tiles of the wall, she closed her eyes and dwelled in the shower until there was a knock on the door.

 

            “Lena!”

 

            Lurching to her feet, bracing herself against the wall for her balance, Lena quickly reached for the soap and shouted over the sound of water to let Rhea know she’d be out soon. Much too soon for her liking, she was turning the water off and stepping out into the mercifully cool bathroom, wrapping her hair in a towel and donning a hotel bathrobe. Feeling only marginally better, Lena made her way back out to the living room of her suite, where Rhea was making coffee in the kitchenette and Mercy was lounging on a loveseat reading today’s newspaper.

 

            She was met with their disapproving glares as she stepped into the room, pouting slightly as jerked her chin up in a stubborn gesture, a slight crease puckering her brow. Rustling the paper, Mercy folded it and tossed it onto the seat beside her, while Rhea tapped the spoon against the rim of her mug, setting Lena’s teeth on edge at the high tinkling sound.

 

            “What’re you playing at, Lena?” Mercy eventually sighed, leaning forward, elbows on knees and hands clasped as she gave her client an exasperated look.

 

            “I was just … unwinding,” Lena said after a slight pause. 

 

            Making a sound of irritation at the back of her throat, Rhea moved to stand behind the loveseat Mercy was sitting on. “You should’ve been sleeping. We’ve got paparazzi going to Bondi Beach at twelve to take photos of you, and you’re far from ready. God, look at your fucking eyes.

 

            Blinking and then widening her eyes, Lena tried not to rub at them, the gritty feeling making them sore. Contacts would be out of the question. Biting back a sigh, she rankled slightly at the scolding and folded her arms over her chest, water drying on her pale skin.

 

            “Well sorry to keep the paparazzi waiting,” Lena snorted.

 

            “By all means, go ahead, mock them,” Rhea snapped, “but they’re the ones who’re going to tear you apart when a maid leaks the fact that you raided your mini bar. You’re lucky no one had come in here before us; they’d already be talking about you taking a stint in rehab.”

 

            Scoffing, Lena rolled her eyes, “well that’s a bit melodramatic now, isn’t it?”

 

            “Not at all,” Rhea bitingly replied, taking a sip of coffee as she gave Lena a cold stare, “Edge will have your head if you get yourself wrapped up in a scandal we can’t spin to our advantage. An alcohol problem at twenty-two is not a good look. Especially when you’ll be doing promo for the new album soon. It’s really not that hard to keep it together for a couple of hours without supervision.”

 

            “I don’t need supervision,” Lena huffed, “and I’m twenty-two, I’m allowed to drink.”

 

            “Not as Lena Luthor, you can’t,” Mercy cut in, a wry smile on her lips, “in your own home where no one can see? Have at it. On tour? In hotels? Don’t even think about it, babe. Now, get dressed. Your brother’s waiting for you.”

 

            Biting back a sharp retort, Lena turned on her heel and stalked back into her bedroom, shutting the door with a little more force than necessary to make a point, although that just made her feel even more childish. But she hated how they treated her like a child, micromanaging her whenever she was in the public’s eye. Everything from what groceries were delivered to her house to what she was allowed to wear were screened, all of her tweets went through Rhea, all of her friends were vetted by Mercy. It was too much sometimes.

 

            In the midst of her heartbreak, Lena felt like she should’ve been allowed to drink and wallow and cry and not be okay. In fact, no one seemed to care much about how little she was eating or sleeping, as long as they could dress her up and feed her pills to keep her functioning. It was all for show and she felt sick and angry as she pulled on a floral dress and moved towards the bathroom.

 

            She did her hair and painted on her signature red looks, feeling slightly bolstered by the armour of her lipstick, yet she stared at her reflection with bloodshot eyes. Her complexion was ashen and she swallowed thickly, her throat dry, even if the taste of alcohol was gone from her mouth. 

 

            Emerging from the bathroom, she found room service waiting for her by way of plain whole-grain toast and sparkling water. She chewed on the dry toast as Rhea gripped her chin and put eyedrops in for her, her irritation growing every time Lena blinked or flinched. Everyone was crabby and annoyed by the time they were all bundling out of her suite, and when she met her brother in the lobby, briefly hugging him, Lex knew better than to comment on the tense atmosphere.

 

            Sunglasses covering her eyes from the harsh sunlight, Lena stepped out of the lobby and into the heat, immediately seeking shelter in the cool backseat of a waiting car, while her entourage joined her. Brooding, Lena sat in the back, making quiet conversation with Lex about his flight and how hot it was. 

 

            In relative silence, the four of them were driven to Bondi Beach where Lena was coaxed out of the merciful shade of the car and set to walking along the beach with Lex. Mercy and Rhea made themselves comfortable at one of the coffee shops overlooking the curve of golden sand packed with tourists. Trying not to scowl at the unfortunate turn of events, Lena fell into step beside Lex, stopping along the promenade to take their shoes off before they stepped onto the sand. Lena had already spied the telltale sign of camera flashes and forced herself to not look in their direction. 

 

            “So, what did you do to piss off those two?” Lex conversationally asked as they strolled across the beach, his voice low as he made sure not to be overheard.

 

            Scoffing, Lena looked up at him, her eyes sharp behind her sunglasses. “What makes you think I did anything?”

 

            He laughed and threw an arm around her shoulders, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows and his leather boat shoes in his other hand. “Because you’re always in trouble.”

 

            Sighing heavily, Lena pursed her lips for a moment, before she smoothed her expression out into something a little more photo-friendly, in case the paparazzi were circling around. The sand was hot between her toes and the warm salt air blowing in off the sea was refreshing against her flushed skin. She still wanted to be back in her hotel room though.

 

            “I may have, ah, borrowed from the mini bar. They’re not too happy about it. Apparently the chances of a maid finding the bottles would spell impending doom for my career. Something about rehab. I don’t know. They’re being very dramatic.”

 

            “You should take them to a lock-in next time you tour in Dublin,” Lex laughed. 

 

            With a snort of laughter, Lena flashed him a quick smile, “God, can you imagine? They’d have a nervous breakdown if anyone found out I was there. I’ve even practically had to smuggle in biscuits to have with my tea; my dietician is on strict orders, apparently.”

 

            “I’ll send you some from Marks and Spencer.”

 

            “The all-butter ones, ta.”

 

            With a soft chuckle, her brother smiled, gazing out to sea with a stern look on his face. The water sparkled with sunlight dancing on the crests of the blue waves, and they made right towards the shore, where the sea was rushing up the wet sand.

 

            “Are you alright, Lena?”

 

            “‘Course,” she said with more conviction than she felt, a strained smile spreading across her face. “You know me; nothing keeps me down for long.”

 

            He sighed and pressed his lips into a flat line, before dropping his arm from her shoulders and stepping into the water. Lena took a tentative step in afterwards, the shock of the cold quickly becoming a pleasant coolness as she wriggled her feet in the sand. Waves washed over her calves as she waded in a little deeper, following after Lex.

 

            “I shouldn’t have told you about the photos-”

 

            Waving his concerns aside, Lena gave him a small smile, full of sadness as she put her back to the direction she’d caught a flash. “It’s fine. I figured she was okay. I mean … she left, right? And I’m glad - that she’s okay, not that she left - because at least one of us is happy.”

 

            He frowned as he held his shoes safely above the water, a few days worth of dark stubble covering his jaw. “You should be happy.”

 

            “I am!” Lena lightly laughed, spreading her arms slightly as she turned, her side profile in view of the cameras as her pale skin shone in the sunlight. The wind ruffled her hair as she stood there, breathing in the briny smell and fighting back the roiling feeling in her stomach. “Or at least I feel a bit better. I even have a new song idea; I’ve already got the title picked out. Came up with it this morning; want to hear it?”

 

            “Sure.”

 

            “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. You can probably guess who it’s about,” she bitterly said.

 

            Lex sighed and shook his head slightly, before reaching out to nudge her, a small smile curling his mouth. “That’s … actually quite catchy.”

 

            A wide smile split Lena’s face as she beamed up at him, a self-satisfied look on her face. “I thought so too.”

 


 

            “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together was … vindictive and petty and I almost regretted it, by the time the album came out.”

 

            “Almost?”

 

            With a small smile, Lena gave her a sheepish smile, “it almost became sort of a joke between Kara and I. I hated the reasons I wrote it, but the song itself was just a catchy, mindless single to convince people to buy the album. That’s the method of selling records. But the reason I wrote it ... I’m not proud of it.”

 

            Sighing heavily, Lena ducked her head, feeling somewhat embarrassed as she thought about that late night googling photos of Kara and that hot prickling jealousy knotting inside her. She’d hated that feeling; Lena had never considered herself a particularly jealous person before, and it had been an uncomfortable revelation. 

 

            “The truth is, I was angry and ... that anger was directed at- at myself. I was angry that I was locked into the situation that didn’t allow me to be with Kara the way I wanted to - and I’ll admit, I was scared at the thought of coming out regardless of the contract - and there was no way out of my predicament, so I turned that anger away from myself and put it onto Kara. Because she’d left, so I could blame her for it and almost absolve myself of the guilt, in a way.”

 

            Lena paused, tipping her head back as she stared up at the beams above her, shoulders drooping as she deflated slightly. 

 

            “But I couldn’t even be mad at her. I looked at those photos and I … I was happy for her. She looked okay. That’s all I wanted for her, and I was upset with myself for not being able to give that to myself. She looked better than she had in awhile; I could see it in her face. It made me wonder if perhaps we were good for each other.”

 

            “You must’ve thought you were because you got back together.”

 

            Smiling faintly, Lena inclined her head in agreement. “We did. It wasn’t- I didn’t exactly … run right back into it. I mean- I did- we, well, we’ll get to it, but I put us on pause right at the start and had to take a step back and reevaluate. There comes a point in life where you have to look after yourself first, and I wasn’t even over my heartbreak before she was back again! I was … more wary this time. You know, fool me once, fool me twice.”

 

            “And three times?”

 

            A wry smile curled Lena’s mouth as she rolled her eyes good-naturedly and waved a hand in a vague gesture, “well by the third time, things were very much different. I was hesitant to walk straight back into it, and I’d had this idea that Kara was just leading me on again, because she was good! She was fine. I’d seen the photos, what more proof did I need? Only that she wasn’t actually fine; neither of us was.”

Chapter Text

I bet you think I either moved on or hate you

‘Cause each time you reach out, there’s no reply

I bet it never, ever occurred to you

That I can’t say hello to you

And risk another goodbye

 

And I just want to tell you

It takes everything in me not to call you

And I wish I could run to you

And I hope you know that

Every time I don’t

I almost do, I almost do

 

Oh, we made quite a mess, babe

It’s probably better off this way

And I confess, babe

In my dreams, you’re touching my face

And asking me if I want to try again with you

And I almost do

 

-

 

           “I think, really, I just saw what I wanted to see. I wanted Kara to be fine, because at least that way I’d know it was worth it. There had been a point to her leaving and my sadness. So I looked at those photos and I saw what I wanted to see - and the rest of the world saw it too - but really she was hiding it like I was.”

 

           “Obviously you didn’t know that at the time. Did it make it better or worse when you realised that?”

 

           Chewing on her lip with a thoughtful look on her face, Lena paused for a moment, deliberating. Shifting her legs out from underneath her, she changed positions and leant against the arm of the armchair as she brooded. There was a solemn look on her face, her green eyes grave and troubled.

 

           “Of course it made me feel worse. I’ve never wished her anything but so much love and happiness. How could I not? When you love someone, you never want them to be hurting, and despite my own inability to move on, I still wanted her to be happy. I thought she was. And I guess that’s one of the hardest parts of heartbreak too, knowing that someone else is doing great when you’re not fine at all without them. I had this whole picture built up in my head, and it was just … wrong. It was shocking to realise how wrong I was.”

 


 

           Venting her frustration through a new song, Lena felt marginally better as she wrapped up the end of the Speak Now World Tour. Her last show was in New Zealand and it almost felt bittersweet to say goodbye, knowing that it was the last time she’d be performing regularly for a while. Although, Lena was excited to record the rest of her new album, it wasn’t quite the same as the rush from performing them live. It would be a while before she felt the rush that came from performing for a massive crowd and as she sang her last encore, she almost felt like crying.

 

           The rest of the trip had been uneventful, with Lena on her best behaviour as she let herself be forced into excursions where photographers were waiting, feeling brief moments of joy as she met fans and stopped for people asking for photos on the street. She’d spent most of her time in her hotel room though, writing songs as she vented her jealousy and found that she was actually angry at herself and not Kara. It could’ve been her in Paris with her, instead of Lucy. Yet, Lena was glad that Kara had a friend there to be with her. 

 

           Likewise, when she went back to National City, she threw herself into her friendships. Imra Ardeen was in town, and although they’d met through Kara, it didn’t feel strange for them to get dinner while she was there for a fashion show. Then there were all the hours Lena was putting in at the studio, where she met Querl Dox for the first time. She was immediately struck by his mind as they hung out on the leather couches, talking about the music he was producing. They quickly became fast friends. 

 

           It made her feel better to be surrounded by people, throwing herself into new friendships in all areas of the industry, to throw dinner parties for them all at her house, drinking wine as she played them some of her new music. She found that she was happy with the new people she surrounded herself with, less lonely, although she still spent her nights pacing around her quiet, dark house instead of sleeping.

 

           The album was coming along well, with more than half of it finished now, as well as dozens of other songs stockpiled for the time being. Things felt like they were getting better, and Lena could almost start to believe that it was shaping up to be a good summer for her, but the stinging reminders of Kara always pulled her up short of letting her enjoy herself.

 

           It didn’t matter what she was doing, the memories would come out of the blue like a punch to the gut. At dinner with Winn after she went to see one of his performances, she found out that Kara was back in town, and it kept Lena up at night, envisioning her sitting in that wingback armchair in her apartment with Lucy late at night, looking out at the city as Kara was wont to do. She’d be buying her groceries and think about the time they’d snuck out together to go to Wholefoods, without telling their managers and publicists, and Kara had walked home with her. Or she’d think about how Kara brushed her hair off her shoulders and realise with sudden surprise that she’d chopped it all off and wouldn’t do that anymore.

 

           It took everything in her not to call her and find out how she was doing, to ask how the filming had gone and whether she’d missed her. To tell her that she’d finally read Slaughterhouse-Five while on tour and to tell her what she’d thought about it, that she’d held a koala in Australia and hadn’t been able to think about anything other than Kara would’ve loved to hold such an uncommon animal. Of course, Lena didn’t call her and tell any of that; she didn’t call her at all. Instead, she kept her thoughts to herself, until they filled her up and consumed her.

 

           And she didn’t hear from Kara at all, which only further validated Lena’s belief that she’d moved on. It hurt to think, but it only fueled her own efforts to move on herself, as futile as they were. With no tour to keep her going, to bring on the next high, she was left trying to find ways to keep the warm buzz going without jeopardising her career in her team’s eyes. They were overbearing at times, constantly checking in on her and keeping her busy with photo shoots and interviews, business meetings and deadlines for her album, and Lena was too tired to even think about Kara much when she was alone.

 

           Still, the night her phone lit up with Kara’s name for the first time in months, she froze. Lena swallowed thickly as she stared down at it, the temptation to answering it rising so strongly within her that she had to look away from the buzzing phone to stop herself from reaching out to answer it. She closed her eyes, letting out a shuddering breath.

 

           The phone eventually stopped ringing, and it vibrated a few moments later with a text for a voicemail. She hated to have to ignore it, but she couldn’t bring herself to answer it. There was a part of her that was convinced that it would only lead to another goodbye, and Lena knew herself well enough to know that she couldn’t face that again. It would only break her further, and she was already so lost.

 

           And she knew that Kara probably thought that she hated her, but Lena couldn’t bring herself to tell her why she couldn’t speak to her. Even answering to tell her that, hearing her voice, would be enough to weaken what little resolve Lena was clinging to. It was like she was walking a very thin tightrope, the threat of falling off either side such a very real threat that Lena knew it would only take a small nudge to toss her right back into heartbreak of love again. She wasn’t sure she really wanted either.

 

           The truth was that she was tired. If she didn’t know Kara wasn’t a malicious person, she would almost be able to believe that she was trying to lead Lena on, giving her just enough time to start moving on, to get over her feelings, only to pull her right back into another whirlwind romance and subsequent heartbreak. Logically, Lena knew that wasn’t true, but she couldn’t bring herself to risk it again. It was too painful to keep losing her, especially after knowing how perfect everything could be with Kara. They just fit. It was so easy, so effortless when they were together, wrapped up in their own bubble. It was when they realised they had to step out of that bubble that the problems occurred.

 

           Lena couldn’t foresee a way out of their problems - not for a long while - and she knew that she wasn’t strong enough to answer a phone call off Kara and not go running right back. She just loved her too much; it was that simple. It was hard for her to hold that love inside her with nowhere for it to go, and Lena found herself irritable and quiet much of the time, especially when she was alone. There were days when she couldn’t stand to be alone with her thoughts.

 

           Still, after an hour of reorganising her office and tuning all of her guitars, she couldn’t stop herself from making her way towards her phone on the kitchen counter. Standing a few feet away, Lena paused, teeth worrying at her bottom lip as she stood in the dark kitchen, going back and forth between talking herself out of listening to the voicemail and biting the bullet and playing it just so that it didn’t linger at the back of her mind for the next week. 

 

           Eventually, her curiosity and hope won out and she snatched up the phone with her heart in her throat, fingers trembling slightly as she unlocked the phone and quickly called her message bank. Pressing the phone to her ear, she listened to the options and pressed the correct series of numbers before there was a brief moment of static and then a shuddering breath that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up on end. It was such a visceral and strong reaction for something so small, but Lena felt jolted awake, heart pounding loudly in her chest.

           

           “Hi. I know you probably don’t want to hear from me. Obviously.”

 

           There was a slight pause as Kara let out a strained laugh.

 

           “I just- I wanted to talk to you. I hope you’re well. Oh! Congrats on the tour as well. Right … well ... bye.”

 

           The sound of her voice made Lena’s throat close up as she was struck with a wave of longing. The temptation to call her was so strong that as she opened her contacts, she had to physically force herself to keep scrolling, desperate for anyone that would be awake for her to call that late at night. Her options were slim, consisting of friends overseas at the moment, and then she stopped near the end of the list and paused at a name, before pressing it and waiting as the phone rang.

 

           “Hello?”

 

           “Querl, hi, it’s Lena. What’re you doing right now?”

 

           “I’m working on some music.”

 

           “At the studio?”

 

           “My home studio.”

 

           “Oh.”

 

           There was a pause as Lena’s hopes deflated, and she drew in a shuddering breath, running a hand through her hair as she started to say goodbye.

 

           “Okay, have a good-”

 

           “Do you want to come over?”

 

           Eyebrows rising slightly, she hesitated, before a small smile curled her lips and she felt the knot of tension inside her unwind slightly. “That’d be great.”

 

           “I’ll text you my address.”

 

           He hung up after that, and Lena watched as a text came through a few moments later. Pushing thoughts of Kara aside, the urge to call her under control, for the time being, Lena made her way to her bedroom to change, before scratching Krypto beneath the chin and grabbing her car keys. 

 

           Behind the wheel of her car, she started the engine and rolled down the long driveway, driving out through the parting gates, and waiting until they shut behind her before she drove off, following the instructions on her phone. The roads were quiet, given the lateness of the night, and she drove in silence as she did when she was recording a new album. Lena hated it when she was writing a song, only to find out that she’d been influenced by something she’d heard on the radio and had to scrap the idea and start over. She’d learned a long time ago that it was better to avoid music when she was writing a lot.

 

           Which left her alone with her thoughts as she drove through the darkness, halos of light flashing across the bonnet of her car as she past street lights, brooding over Kara. It was hard not to think about what Kara wanted to say to her, to stop herself from calling her to find out, but Lena didn’t cave in. Both hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, she drove all the way to Querl’s townhouse without pause, killing the engine once she’d parked on the side of the road.

 

           Climbing out, she locked the car and walked up the front steps, standing on the stoop as she pressed the doorbell. Waiting outside in the mild evening, the smell of warm stone and the threat of rain hanging heavily in the air, Lena glanced around at the street, taking in the neat lines of townhouses and the fancy cars parked along the street. The door was abruptly jerked open a moment later and she found herself staring at an alarming Hawaiian shirt.

 

           “Evening,” Querl greeted her, waving her inside.

 

           “Hi,” Lena said as she slowly stepped inside, unsure what she was expecting.

 

           He was a little eccentric, which only fuelled his creativity with music, and as she followed him toward the kitchen, she found that his house was exactly like she’d imagined it. Each wall was a different colour and everything was steel and concrete, framed Andy Warhol paintings on the walls and strange patterned furniture that looked like it belonged in the art deco time period. She looked around with bemusement, finding that she was oddly comfortable in the strange house.

 

           Offering her a drink, Lena took a glass of kiwi juice with some trepidation and Querl babbled about what he was working on as he led her up through the levels of the house. One of the rooms on the third floor had been converted into a tiny recording studio, the soundproofed walls covered with acoustic foam tiles, while an upright digital piano, a few guitars - acoustic and electric - a drum kit and a few other instruments were crammed in. One corner had a mic just below the window, and Lena was waved down onto a stool as Querl moved around the cramped space with ease.

 

           “I was just fitting some writing in.”

 

           Lena nodded as she sipped at the juice, finding that it was actually quite nice. She knew that Querl and his band, Legion, had released an album last month. They were new and up-and-coming, although he’d been working in the industry for years, and their album had created a buzz with their first hit.

 

           “For the band?”

 

           He shrugged, waving a hand dismissively, “no, no, just a personal project. Who knows. What have you been working on?”

 

           Shrugging, Lena gave him a small smile, “oh, you know, just more break-up songs of course.”

 

           With a grave look on his face, he glanced over at her as he shoved a lead into an amp, the static crackle of electricity filling the room for a moment. “I didn’t know you were dating anyone.”

 

           A spasm of pain ran across Lena’s face as she ducked her head and let out a strangled laugh, the sound hitching in her throat. “Haven’t you heard? I’m screwing the whole industry.”

 

           He paused behind the amp, fixing her with a confused look as he cocked his head to the side. “Well … that’s obviously not true.”

 

           “Far from it,” Lena quietly laughed, giving him a grim look.

 

           “It bothers you though.”

 

           Opening her mouth, Lena quickly shut it again, lips pressed into a flat line as her brow furrowed. A troubled look crossed her face and she raised one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, crossing her legs as she nursed her drink.

 

           “Yeah,” she murmured, “I think it does.”

 

           Settling down on the stool in front of the piano, Querl fixed her with his dark eyes, a curiously soft expression on his face as he watched her. “Why?”

 

           “Because it’s not true!” Lena exclaimed, burning anger inside her, “I don’t like it when they trivialise my music because they made their own assumptions. I don’t only write break-up songs.”

 

           “Then write a song to prove them wrong.”

 

           “They’ll just ignore it because it doesn’t fit their narrative,” Lena bitterly replied, “they don’t care about my love songs unless I’m blaming someone in them. And okay, maybe I do in some of them, but so does everyone else! It’s not-”

 

           Pulling herself up short of sounding like a petulant child, Lena pursed her lips as she slumped on her stool. She knew that she was lucky, but it didn’t always feel like that. It had all felt so wonderful and unbelievable when she’d first been shunned into the spotlight, a literal dream come true for her, but after a few years in the industry, it felt less and less like a dream and more like a nightmare that she couldn’t quite escape.

 

           When she’d signed her contract, she’d never imagined it was going to cause so many problems in her life. How would her public image be if everyone knew that she’d only ever dated two people and loved one of them? What would they say about her then, that she and Kara kept falling in and out of love? Lena was sure it wouldn’t be good; the media never had anything nice to say. Anything and everything would be twisted, and she wasn’t entirely convinced that she’d been wrong to refuse to give up her career to come out. She wished it could be easier.

 

           “You write your own songs,” Querl slowly said, “they’ll never be able to take that away from you. No matter what anyone else says, at least you don’t need fifteen writers to write a mediocre song for you. And if it’s a heartbreak song? Write it anyway. Write it as an open letter to the person it’s about. It’s not for the media; it’s a conversation between you and the other person.”

 

           “I wish I could just say it to them,” Lena muttered, frustration welling up inside. “I want to call them, but …”

 

           “Why don’t you?”

 

           “We made such a mess of things,” Lena sighed heavily, running a hand over her face and taking a sip of juice. “Twice. And I feel like if I call … I’ll go running back to try again. And I want that, but-”

 

           “But …”

 

           “I don’t know,” Lena said, her lips twisting into a rueful smile.

 

           There was pain in her eyes and pain in her heart, and she couldn’t think of a good reason not to call Kara back, other than the fact that Lena was scared she’d throw herself back in with such reckless abandon that she was only going to hurt herself when it didn’t work out again. But there was that sliver of hope that it would work the next time that kept her clinging to the thought. 

 

           “I almost do. Every time. But then I … don’t.”

 

           Leaning back on his stool, Querl reached for a stack of notebooks and picked one up off the top, fumbling around in a pot of pens and pencils on top of the piano, and then held the two items out to Lena with a stern look on his face.

 

           “Write it down. What you want to say.”

 

           “I don’t-”

 

           “Write,” he ordered, pushing them into her hands and then climbing to his feet. “I’m going to make a sandwich.”

 

           Sitting there alone in his little studio with a notepad in one hand and her juice in the other, Lena blinked in surprise, watching as the door shut, leaving her with her thoughts and feelings. Slowly, she put her glass of juice down on the floor and opened the notepad, holding the pen poised in her hand.

 

           She didn’t even know what she would say to Kara if she had the chance. There was so much. And then as if in a daze, Lena started writing, because what she really wanted to tell Kara was why she didn’t call her to tell her everything she wanted to say. She just wanted her to know that she didn’t hate her. That every time she called, Lena was just a little bit closer to answering, to begging her to try again. Putting pen to paper, she let the words pour out of her.

 


 

           “I said once that people haven’t always been there for me but music had, and nothing has ever been truer in my life. When I lost people, or when I was fighting with them, or dying to speak to them, sometimes all I had was my music. And it would be a relief to be able to say the things I couldn’t say to their faces through music. It was a way for me to bare the parts of me that I hid, to show my hand and let myself be vulnerable, without having to have that conversation. Especially when I knew that having that conversation might not be what was best for me.”

 

           “You and Kara were seen together before your album, Red, came out though.”

 

           Nodding, Lena gave her a faint smile, “we were. And she heard those songs before the album came out, heard it before I thought she would, and it still had the same effect. It was a way for me to put all of my cards on the table for her to understand what I’d felt and thought, and I think … it’s always been easier for me to be honest that way. For someone who writes for a living, my mouth has the terrible habit of saying the wrong thing. At least writing it down gives me the chance to articulate my meaning properly. I think sometimes that’s helped solve the problems my mouth has gotten me into.”

 

           With a wry smile and a sheepish look, Lena shifted in her seat and let out a quiet laugh. Reaching for the mug of water, she took a sip and gently cleared her throat, leaving a red lipstick stain on the rim before she set it back down. Gesturing with her hand, she shifted in her seat again.

 

           “So of course, she listened to those songs when we reunited, way before the album actually came out.”

 

           “Did that help?”

 

           Nodding, a thoughtful look crossed Lena’s face. “I think so. I mean, it’s everything I couldn’t tell her when we were apart. And I’m sure the fans will go back and listen to the album again in a new light, and I’m sure they’ll come up with another timeline for our relationship - they like to do that, they’re like detectives - but it really did help shed some light on what we both needed in our relationship.”

 

           She paused for a moment and gave Leslie a soft smile.

 

           “Like I said, music has always been there for me. It’s one of two constants in my life.”

 

           “What’s the second one?”

 

           Fixing her with a piercing stare, a ghost of a smile curled the corners of Lena’s mouth.

 

           “That my heart has never belonged to anyone except Kara Danvers. And that it never will.”

Chapter Text

You find yourself at my door,

Just like all those times before,

You wear your best apology,

But I was there to watch you leave,

 

And all the times I let you in,

Just for you to go again,

Disappear when you come back,

Everything is better

 

Right before your eyes,

I'm aching, no past

Nowhere to hide,

Just you and me

 

This is the last time I'm asking you this,

Put my name at the top of your list,

This is the last time I'm asking you why,

You break my heart in the blink of an eye, eye, eye

 

-

 

            “I know you’ve said you still love her, even now, but has there ever been a point where you’ve just wanted to give up?” Leslie asked, looking so perplexed that Lena couldn’t help but laugh.

 

            Tilting her head to the side, she gave her a searching look, brow puckering faintly as a warmth blossomed in her chest. “Of course. I’ve wanted to, and I have . But that doesn’t change the simple fact that I love her. For better or worse, I just- I’ve never been able to stop. And I don’t know what that says about me, but … haven’t you ever loved someone so much that you just can’t stop, no matter what you do?”

 

            Eyebrows raised and mouth curling into a smile, Leslie shook her platinum head, eyes shining with amusement as she let out a sharp laugh. “I can assure you I’ve never loved anyone that much.”

 

            With a snort of laughter, Lena shrugged and gave her a droll look. “I suppose that’s just the hopeless romantic in me that life still hasn’t managed to stamp out.”

 

            “God, it sounds like it’s tried.”

 

            Shoulders shaking with quiet laughter, Lena’s red lips twitched and she arched a brow as she gently shook her dark tresses. With a faint sigh, she blinked slowly, deflating in her seat. “It’s tried so hard that I think it’s blind faith that’s kept me going after all this time.”

 

            “And how’s that working for you?”

 

            “Blind faith?” Lena said with a droll smile, “oh, well I’m here, aren’t I? I never would’ve imagined this is where I’d find myself all those years ago. It almost felt like an impossibility.”

 

            “Would you have done something like this back then, if you could?”

 

            Pausing, Lena opened and closed her mouth, her expression darkening as she sat there in the leather armchair, thinking carefully about her answer. It was a slow time coming, and she let out a hesitant laugh as the silence dragged on, feeling everyone’s eyes on her with such scrutiny that it was unnerving. Interviews always managed to have that effect on her in the moments where Lena became hyper-aware of the attention. It felt magnified in the intimate setting of this one.

 

            Slowly, she shook her head, a thoughtful look on her face. “No. No, I don’t think that I would.”

 

            “No?”

 

            “I think … I mean, I was only twenty-two, and I think for me … there was so much pressure on me at that point in my life that I don’t think I would’ve been mentally equipped enough to endure whatever reaction this interview will bring on. I didn’t know then that the pressure I was under would be nothing to what I’d go through later on, and I think my experiences later on, with the whole world against me … I think that was when I realised that I really had nothing to lose. What else could they do that hadn’t been done to me before?”

 

            “But surely that backlash isn’t something you want after this interview airs.”

 

            A thin smile crossed Lena’s face. “Of course not, but I know not to expect anything more from people. For some inexplicable reason, they just love to attack me. And I get it, I’m an easy target with my love songs, and oh I’m rich and have a long list of ex-boyfriends because I’m such a slut. But none of that’s true, and I hope that this shows that and it might make people stop and realise that they really don’t know me at all. So I’m hoping the response will be positive, but if it’s not, I know I can handle it.”

 

            “And your career can.”

 

            Gesturing offhandedly, Lena made a sound of contempt low at the back of her throat, a cynical expression on her face as she met Leslie’s stare.

 

            “It’s funny because when I finally realised that I didn’t care about my career, about if people wanted to see me cancelled and over, I also realised that I think it will be able to withstand this. My new album is going to be the most open and honest one yet, and I’m going to own it, and I think that even if it doesn’t sell as well as the others, that’s all that matters to me now. I don’t want the money, I don’t want the awards. I’m not here for more fame. I’m here to be who I am, and if this is the last album I ever bring out, then I think it’s a perfect ending for my career.”

 

            “And is it about Kara?”

 

            “Oh, of course!” Lena exclaimed, her face lighting up with delight. “It always comes back to her, and I spoke to her about what my plan was with this interview and played her the album, and she wholeheartedly agreed with my decision.”

 

            “That decision being?”

 

            “To be honest. She agreed that if I wanted to bare all of my dark secrets and ugly truths to the world, then I should. That I should tell everyone about me and her and everything that happened. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this, be this honest, without her permission because I’m talking about stuff that is so very private and personal for both of us. But she agreed, and if this is the last time I bring out an album, we both agreed that it would be fitting that it was about us. It’s always been about us.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Leslie looked at her with mild surprise, her blue eyes widening as she listened. “Do you want it to be the last album you release?”

 

            Lena quickly shook her head, a fierce spark in her eyes as she straightened up, fixing the cuff of a rolled-up sleeve. “No. I would never stop releasing them if it was up to me, and I’m hoping that it’s a while yet before I stop. But if worst comes to worst, this isn’t a bad place for me to stop. At least it’ll be on my own terms, with a label who’s supportive and without the veiled lyrics full of boys and half-truths.”

 

            “You’ve been writing about Kara Danvers for years now; this is the first time we’re going to hear an album knowing that it’s about her. How does that feel for you?”

 

            “I’m just relieved,” Lena said, slumping as she sighed heavily, her features relaxing into one of peaceful contentedness. “I think that’s all I can say; it’s just … a relief. I feel like a weight has been lifted off me. For too many years it was like an albatross around my neck, and I carried that big secret around with me everywhere I went, and it caused so many problems between Kara and me. And it’s not just about me and her, it’s about getting to be me. The me I’ve always been. I hope that’s something that people understand when they watch or listen to the album; this is who I’ve always been. The version of me that they know is a person that has never existed. Not completely.”

 

            “Is this your way of overcoming that last hurdle in your relationship with Kara. Like … what comes next for the two of you?”

 

            Shrugging helplessly, Lena spread her hands and gave Leslie a wide-eyed look of mystification. With a quiet laugh, she laced her fingers together in her lap.

 

            “I couldn’t say. I’m not doing this to win her back or for some ulterior motive other than honesty, and I guess she’ll let me know what she thinks of it when she watches it. But timing is a fickle thing, and maybe the future holds something good, and maybe not. I’ve learnt that you can never read too far into the future, and you just have to take each moment as they come. Especially in this industry. I mean, I went back to her a third time and I never could’ve accounted for how it went that time.”

 

            “So … the third time …”

 


 

            She’d been home from tour nearly two weeks and had barely had a moment to herself in that time, filling her days with brunches and dinners, recording sessions and shopping trips, and everything else in between with people who were in and out of town. Ordinarily, she would’ve taken a bit of time for herself after wrapping up a tour, getting her sleeping schedule back on track as she overcame the massive jetlag and let her body and mind wind down, yet Lena was afraid that if she slowed back down, she’d end up stuck in the rut of her heartbreak again.

 

            So she kept going. Filling her time with too many distractions to give her much time to think, Lena was sent out on shopping trips so paparazzi could snap photos of her browsing Gucci and Prada stores, grabbing brunch with Jess, who she flew in for the weekend just so she wouldn’t have to be alone, doing everything she could think of to make sure she was never alone. But there was always the nights.

 

            No matter how busy her days were, how tired she was, she always went to bed alone in her big house, feeling the cold emptiness beside her as she stared up at the ceiling, thinking about Kara and wondering if she was thinking about her too. Alone, in the long stretch of the night, Lena couldn’t escape her and she would find herself wanting Kara to show up at her house as she’d always done.

 

            The night had been made for them. Under the cover of darkness, they could do everything they couldn’t in the day, and she found herself aching for one of their long drives out to the desert, leaving the city behind for the dust and stars as they sat side by side on the hood of the car. What she would’ve given for one of those nights now. 

 

            And almost as if her prayers were answered, it was late on a Tuesday night when her phone rang as she stood in the darkness of the kitchen, eating hummus in the refrigerator light as the house stood silently around her. It was midnight and she jumped at the sound of her phone buzzing, her brow creasing with confusion as Lena wondered who was calling her so late at night. She was typically always awake, but there were few people who would’ve known that and called her at that time.

 

            Slowly shutting the fridge, the back of her neck prickled as she drifted towards the countertop, and she couldn’t say how or why, but she knew it was Kara. Kara would’ve known to call her at that time, Kara had sporadically left her voicemails and texts that late at night, and Lena felt her stomach clench as she moved in a daze. Instead of the usual sadness and stubbornness that filled her as she tried to distance herself from the urges to reach out to her, Lena felt a calmness within.

 

            Reaching out, she picked up the phone, reading the name off the bright screen and felt no qualms about answering the call. It was almost like she knew she needed it, and that Kara needed it too because it was always inevitable that they’d have to put things to bed once and for all if that’s what it had come to. For too long now, Lena had been clinging to a shred of hope that she wouldn’t have to say goodbye, but she knew that if it was what Kara wanted, she’d have to. A serene look on her face, Lena drew in a deep breath and answered the phone.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            There was a long stretch of stunned silence, and Lena’s calm facade shattered as her heart leapt into her throat with the anticipation of hearing Kara’s voice building. She’d thought that she would be able to stay steady and unruffled, that enough time had passed to stop her from feeling the giddy rush that Kara made her feel, but just like that, it was all back. In the split of a second, Lena felt breathless with the building suspense.

 

            “I didn’t think you’d answer.”

 

            Lena came to a pause at the sound of the quiet voice on the other end, and she swallowed thickly as she stood there in silence, looking out at the darkness beyond the windows of her kitchen. Her pulse was racing, adrenaline coursing through her as if she couldn’t believe that she was on the phone with Kara after so long spent avoiding her calls. It took her a moment to collect her thoughts before the air rushed out of her lungs.

 

            “Neither did I,” Lena truthfully replied.

 

            She chewed nervously on her lower lip as she waited with bated breath for the reply. It was a long time coming, nothing but staticky silence on the other end, and she was like a statue in the dark, unable to so much as breathe as she waited.

 

            “I’m outside.”

 

            “What?”

 

            “I’m outside your house. At the gate.”

 

            Lena opened and closed her mouth for a moment, processing the news as she stood there. And then her feet were moving of their own accord before she could even think it through properly. It all felt like a vivid dream, like all of her hopes that Kara would show up at her door again were coming to fruition, and she was helpless to stop herself from watching it all play out. Moving towards the front door and the panel set into the wall in the foyer, she kept the phone pressed to her ear. 

 

            “Okay.”

 

            “I wanted to see you.”

 

            Pressing the button for the gate, Lena hung up the phone without replying. The parting gates would be all the answer Kara needed, and Lena wasn’t sure whether or not that it was the right answer but she knew she had to see her again. For better or worse, she needed to talk to Kara, to know that after a few months reflection whether it had been the right decision. She wasn’t holding out too much hope that they’d magically fall back together - although she’d be lying if she said a large part of her wasn’t hoping for that - but she just had to see her and put all the unsaid things between them to bed.

 

            It was agonising carrying on with so much to say and no one to say it to, and no way to say it unless it was through songs that Kara might never listen to. Enough time had passed to take the edge off the pain of her broken heart, even if not quite enough time for Lena to have gotten over it, and she felt like she was strong enough to make it through at least one conversation with Kara without breaking down completely. The fact that she’d brought herself to answer the phone was a testament to that.

 

            Yet at the sound of a car approaching her house, all thought went out of the window, and Lena opened the front door to look out at the darkness. She couldn’t see Kara’s car - she had the headlights off - and she stood on the threshold of the dark house, her heartbeat loud to her own ears, feeling her body ripple with goosebumps as anticipation hung heavy in the air around her. 

 

            As her eyes adjusted to the blackness outside, she made out the shape of Kara’s car near the end of the driveway and watched as she brought the car around, throwing it into park outside the front door. Lena’s heart leapt at the sound of the door opening and then slamming shut, and she felt a lump in her throat as she watched a shadowy figure crunch across the gravel towards her. 

 

            A sensor suddenly lit the front porch up as Kara neared the door, and she came to a stop as Lena was illuminated in the doorway. Breath catching in her throat, Lena took in her short hair, dyed blonde again and slicked back, and her heart twinged painfully at the look on Kara’s face. Her blue eyes were swimming with longing and it made Lena’s stomach clench, taking in the way the white t-shirt she was wearing clung to her body beneath the coat Kara was wearing.

 

            “Hi,” Kara softly said, her voice little more than a sigh as her shoulders sagged.

 

            Eyes roaming over her face, Lena took in the weariness about her, the dark circles ringing her eyes and slumped, defeated way she stood before her, illuminated by the naked bulb of the porch light. It came as a shock to Lena to realise that Kara didn’t look okay. With no makeup to hide the haggard look to her face or copious amounts of French wine to loosen her up and redden her cheeks and make her eyes shine, she looked worn and stooped and Lena’s mouth went dry.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            The air rushed out of Kara with such force that Lena thought she was going to curl in on herself as her shoulders hunched forward. Raking her fingers through her short hair, Kara tipped her head back and swallowed thickly, her throat visibly bobbing, and she blinked quickly a few times.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she quietly said after a few moments, voice cracking, and Lena felt her stomach lurch as she looked at the woman before her and felt worry prickle her spine.

 

            She didn’t know what to say, watching the pitiful sight of Kara standing before her, and somehow it didn’t feel right to invite her inside with so much tension between them. It felt too intimate, and Lena knew she was likely to get in over her head and forget herself. She’d let Kara in too many times, only to watch her leave, and she couldn’t bear to see it again. But Lena was afraid that if she turned her away now, she might lose her for good. She didn’t want to let her go. 

 

            Stepping into the foyer, she grabbed her keys from a small table set just inside and then stepped back outside, her skin prickling with how close she found herself to Kara, and she shut the door behind her and locked up. Turning to look up at the blonde woman, Lena’s brow furrowed as she gave her a grave look full of worry.

 

            “Let’s go for a drive.”

Chapter Text

So it goes, he can't keep his wild eyes on the road

Takes me home, lights are off he's taking off his coat

I say "I've heard that you've been out and about with some other girl, some other girl"

He says "What you've heard is true but I

Can't stop thinking about you" and I

I said "I've been there too a few times"

 

'Cause you got that James Dean daydream look in your eye

And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like

And when we go crashing down, we come back every time

'Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style

You've got that long hair slick back, white t-shirt

And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt

And when we go crashing down, we come back every time

'Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style

 

-

 

            They didn’t speak as their footsteps crunched gravel underfoot, and Lena climbed into the passenger seat of Kara’s Audi as Kara climbed behind the wheel, and they sat in darkness as she started the engine and turned the headlights on, illuminating the driveway and wall of trees. Music started playing from the speakers and Kara automatically reached out for it as she turned to look at Lena, her face half in shadow.

 

            “Are you still writing for the album?”

 

            Lena nodded, and Kara immediately turned the music off. The small gesture made Lena shrink back into the soft leather of her seat, her stomach lurching as she glanced sideways at Kara. It was such a small thing to remember that Lena isolated herself from music when writing, but it had been second nature for Kara, and Lena felt unsettled by how normal it felt. She couldn’t help but wince slightly, biting her lip as she turned her attention to the two beams of light shining through the darkness of the middle of the night, feeling wide awake as the tension between them hung heavily.

 

            They made it down the long driveway and through the gates, turning right onto the wide streets lined with gated estates and ghostly palm trees. Neither of them spoke and Lena was growing restless as her heart pounded in her chest, until she couldn’t stop herself from speaking, from saying anything , no matter how trivial or boring.

 

            “How’ve you been?”

 

            She jolted forward against the seatbelt as Kara brought the car to a sudden halt, shouldering hunching as she hung her head and started to cry. Falling back against her seat, Lena stared at her wide wide eyes, listening to the quiet sobs as Kara’s shoulder shook. And she wanted to reach out and feel the shifting muscles and slender bones beneath her jacket, to rub her back and ask her what was wrong, but she already knew. And her eyes prickled with tears as she forced herself to sit there, at a standstill in the middle of the road as the engine purred.

 

            “Let me drive,” Lena quietly said after a few moments.

 

            And she knew that it was an excuse to stop herself from breaching the gap across the centre console and wrapping her arms around Kara, pressing her cheek against her shaking shoulder and holding her as she cried. Because that’s what she so badly wanted to do, but they weren’t in a place where she felt like she could do that. She didn’t know where they stood.

 

            Straightening up, Kara exhaled forcefully, angrily wiping at her damp cheeks as she shook her head. “No, no. I’m fine, I just-”

 

            “Let me drive,” Lena repeated, her voice soft yet firm, hesitating for a moment before she glanced at Kara. “You’re a terrible driver anyway.”

 

            Choking on a laugh, Kara nodded, sniffing as she threw the car into park and unbuckled her seatbelt. The interior flooded with light as she opened her door, and Lena unbuckled her own belt and climbed into the driver’s seat, watching as Kara passed in front of the headlights and slid into the passenger seat. Adjusting the seat for her shorter legs, Lena glanced in the rearview mirror and then started driving. 

 

            The silence in the car was stifling, with Kara’s shuddering breaths as she tried to get herself under control, and the charge in the air was almost palpable. Driving through the night, Lena felt her heart fluttering anxiously in her throat as she kept going. Neither of them had to ask where they were going; they left the city far behind in a haze of yellow light in exchange for the dusty stretch of scrubland and the speckled starry night blanketing the heavens like rich velvet. 

 

            Winding the windows down to let the mild night air into the stuffy car, they breathed in the dry smell of the desert and as soon as they were far enough away from any sign of life, Lena put the car into park and switched the engine off. They both stared out at the stretch of flat land lit up in front of them before Lena turned the headlights off too and got out of the car without a word.

 

            Slamming the door shut behind her, she buried her hands in her pockets and stalked away from the car, shoulders taut as she listened to the car door open. She didn’t go far, just a few steps, standing with her back to Kara, running her hands through her hair in a familiar anxious habit. Her skin prickled with the keen awareness of Kara standing nearby, and Lena swallowed thickly as she stared out at the monochrome night, feeling so many warring emotions that she didn’t know whether to be ecstatic, furious or sad.

 

            With a heavy sigh, she turned, crunching sand underfoot, and peered through the silvery moonlight to fix Kara with a bewildered look. Her expression was severe, eyes dark and brooding, and Lena looked at the figure leaning against the hood of the car with just plain confusion.

 

            “What’re we doing here?” Lena quietly asked.

 

            “I just- I miss you.”

 

            With a quiet snort of laughter, Lena hung her head as she scuffed the toe of her shoe through the sand. “You’ve said that before.”

 

            “I wanted to apologise.”

 

            “You’ve said that again too.”

 

            Kara took a lunging step forward, and Lena looked up with mild surprise as she watched her cross the distance separating them, a yearning look on her face that made Lena’s insides twist, and not in an unpleasant way.

 

            “Lena, I-”

 

            Cutting off, Kara let out a shaky breath, before she covered her face with both hands, tipping her head back as her short hair spilt around her. Raking a hand through her hair, she fisted a handful and swallowed thickly, giving Lena a mournful look, her eyes silver in the night and swimming with regret.

 

            “I’m sorry. I made a mistake that night and I’ve regretted it every moment since. I wanted to call you - I tried - I just- I thought I was making the right decision for myself … but I wasn’t. And you were right; what’s the point if I can’t have you?”

 

            “God, Kara! Don’t do this,” Lena said in a low voice, unable to stop the tremble, her hands balling into fists. “Please. Don’t get my hopes up again.”

 

            Taking another step forward, Kara’s fingertips just managed to graze Lena’s cheek before Lena quickly stepped back out of arm's reach, watching as Kara’s arm fell limply back to her side. She looked small standing in front of her, worn down and burdened with her troubles, and Lena couldn’t help but pity her. 

 

            “I still love you. You know I do.”

 

            “I know,” Lena murmured, “I never doubted that.”

 

            “Lena, please-”

 

            “You said you weren’t happy,” Lena accusingly told her, her tone sharper than she intended as she gave her a hard look, brow furrowing heavily over her eyes. “That’s what you said. That you didn’t like it and I made you feel trapped.”

 

            “I know, but-”

 

            “But what? Nothing’s changed! So what? You miss me now, but what about in a couple of months when you realise all the things we can’t fix are still there? I’m just supposed to let you leave me again?”

 

            They descended into silence as Lena felt herself brimming with so many unsaid things she wanted to hurl at Kara, a burning pressure building behind her eyes as she swallowed thickly, watching the other woman’s mouth open and close without any words coming out. 

 

            The desert breeze ruffled their hair as they stood apart, Lena taut like a coiled spring while Kara stood stooped with defeat, cowed by her anger. They both knew that nothing had changed, that there was only so much they could hope that things would be different this time without changing anything, and Lena’s expression softened into one of wounded longing as she let out a pent up breath.

 

            “Look, I-” she cut off and swallowed the lump in her throat as she closed her eyes. Exhaling sharply, she ruffled her bangs and shoved a hand in her pocket, trying again. “I want to believe you, and I want to believe that it’ll be different this time. I just- every time I let you in … you just turn around and leave me. And it hurts. Once? Okay, perhaps the timing was wrong. But twice? And then to come back again?”

 

            Wincing, Kara closed her eyes and turned her head, as if she couldn’t bear the pain of the words. The muscles in her jaw twinged as she clenched her teeth, and Lena was painfully reminded of all the times she’d kissed the underside of it. And she hated that she wanted to kiss her right there right now.

 

            “I know I fucked up,” Kara said, face twisting as she turned even more, “I just- sometimes I’m not- I’m not happy. And I don’t know how to be around people when I’m like that. I know you think I was pushing you away … I was , but I- you have to know that it wasn’t you.

 

            “I know it wasn’t me!” Lena exclaimed, an incredulous look on her face, “and I don’t blame you for not wanting to hide, I just- you didn’t even try. You didn’t even try and figure this out with me. You didn’t hesitate to just … go.

 

            Lena gestured her hand around vaguely, her expression darkening with anger as she looked at Kara, who had her head tipped back as she slowly turned her back on her. Her hair was like spun silver in the dark and she breathed slowly with her face upturned to the moon, skin washed a ghostly white as strange shadows pooled in the hollows of her face.

 

            “You just left.”

 

            “I know,” Kara said, her voice full of pain and thick with tears, “but I’m doing better, I just- I miss you. God, I can’t stop thinking about you, Lena. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I just keep thinking about how badly I messed this up, and I’m not asking for you to give me another chance. I just- I don’t want you to hate me. I know I hurt you, and I’m so sorry, and I know that’s not enough, but I … I am.”

 

            “What do you want?”

 

            Blinking in surprise, Kara jerked back slightly, eyes widening. She was quiet for a beat as if the question caught her off guard, and Lena was restless, brimming with energy as she flexed her fingers, resisting the urge to start pacing.

 

            “I- nothing. I don’t want anything. Except to see you.”

 

            “And then what?”

 

            Opening and closing her mouth, Kara shook her head as she spread her arms, a grim look of resignation on her face. “I don’t know. I just don’t know, Lena. I want you, I know that much, but I can’t ask you for something I don’t deserve, because you’re right - nothing’s changed.”

 

            A spasm of pain ran across Lena’s face and she cupped the back of her neck, tipping her head back as a faint sigh escaped her parted lips. Everything felt so hard, so confusing, and she just wanted it to be simple. Why wasn’t it enough that she loved Kara and Kara loved her back? Nothing else should’ve mattered, but it did.

 

            “I wish I could tell you it had,” Lena murmured, cool air caressing her skin as they stood in the middle of the desert, lost and longing for each other. “I wish I could say that it would be easier if we did it all again, but I just don’t think it will be.”

 

            The fact that she’d driven them all the way out to the desert to have that conversation was all the proof that she needed to know that they would just fall back into their own ways, and she wasn’t entirely convinced that it would be enough for Kara. If things were different, they could’ve gone to a coffee shop in the middle of the night, slipping into an empty booth and talking things over lattes without any fears of someone catching them, but that nagging worry was always at the back of her mind when she was with Kara. 

 

            They had to drive out of the city in the dead of night out of paranoia. Lena couldn’t bring herself to fault Kara for finding it too difficult to love her, because it was difficult. It was hard sneaking around, knowing that if they got caught it could be the end of everything. Every glance, every brush of their hand and secret smile would be analysed by the world, and it was terrifying to imagine their relationship being put under a microscope. Lena didn’t know which was worse, because she wanted to be able to openly love Kara, but not with the pressure of being in the spotlight.

 

            “I don’t care,” Kara said, her voice a low plea as she stepped toward Lena.

 

            Lowering her head, Lena looked at her, taking in the desperation and panic written on Kara’s face, and deflated. With a sad smile, Lena crossed the rest of the gap dividing them and reached up to cup Kara’s face in her hands. Her skin was cool and soft to touch, and Lena felt a lump lodged itself in her throat as her mouth went dry.

 

            “You do, and that’s okay,” she hoarsely replied. “But I do love you. I miss you and I want you and I love you. But I don’t know how serious you are, and that frightens me.”

 

            Bottom lip trembling as she let out a shaky breath, Kara reached up and covered Lena’s hand with her own, slender fingers wrapping and giving it a gentle squeeze. “I’m serious.”

 

            Dropping her hands, Lena ruffled her bangs and sighed heavily, jerking her head back towards the car. “We should go.”

 

            She trudged back towards the car, rounding the hood to climb into the passenger side, and Kara stood outside in the dark for a few moments, silhouetted against the starry sky as she bowed her head. Her face was grave as she climbed behind the wheel, moving the seat back and quietly shut the door behind herself. Gripping the wheel tightly in her hands, she stared straight out at the stretch of nothingness ahead.

 

            “So this is it?”

 

            “I don’t know,” Lena whispered, feeling her heart break a little bit more.

 

            Nodding, Kara silently turned the car on, the engine purring to life and the headlights illuminating the desert. She brought the car around back the way they came, wheels sending up clouds of dust as they breathed in the dry, cool air, and Lena felt regret well up inside her as they made for the hum of yellow lights far in the distance.

 

            She was restless the entire length of the drive, neither of them saying much as they joined the highway, the sound of other cars heading toward National City a comforting drone as they sped past. As they wound their way through the city centre and out to the lavish suburbs of the rich and famous, Lena felt time slipping through her fingers, her opportunity fading quickly as the miles disappeared beneath the wheels. She was suddenly scared that this was goodbye and it made her dig her heels in, reluctant to let go.

 

            Kara was solemn and quiet, the muscle in her jaw occasionally clenching, her throat bobbing as she swallowed thickly, and Lena watched the ghostly profile of her face, taking in the familiar curve of her nose, the angle of her jaw, the way her eyelashes dusted her cheekbones. It was all so familiar that it made her chest ache. She would know her anywhere; Kara was etched so deeply into her mind that she couldn’t see anyone else. With absolute certainty, Lena knew that she’d never be able to say goodbye, no matter how the night ended.

 

            Eventually, they reached the gated driveway of Lena’s estate and she passed Kara her set of keys and let her scan the chip to let them in, before they started slowly rolling down the gravel path, their time creeping to a close. And still, it felt so wrong to Lena. How could it feel right to give up on someone she wanted? If it was right to say goodbye, why didn’t it feel like she was making the right decision? All she felt was heartbreak and a hollow emptiness, bitter regret and the urge to grab hold of Kara and never let her go. Every inch of her felt wrong about it.

 

            As they came to a halt outside the front door Lena made no move to get out of the car. Sitting in the front seat, she wrestled with her feelings for a moment, her mind already made up without even thinking about it, and she turned to look at Kara with a wary expression on her face. 

 

            “Do you want to come in?” Lena found herself asking, despite her reservations earlier on in the night. 

 

            Blinking in surprise, pale eyebrows rising slightly, Kara opened and closed her mouth as a flicker of hope ran across her face. “I- yeah, sure.”

 

            Turning the car off, plunging them into darkness, Kara stepped out of the car and Lena followed suit. Heart stumbling over itself in her chest, Lena walked on ahead, breath caught in her throat, and jingled her keys in her hand as the porch light turned on at her approach. 

 

            The house was still as she opened the door, hinges squeaking and shadows gathering inside. The lateness of the hour was somewhat more noticeable as she stepped inside, nothing stirring as if the world was sleeping, and she quietly shut the door behind Kara as she joined her in the foyer.

 

            Keys rattling loudly in the silence, Lena set them on the table and padded through the still house, listening to the slow footsteps behind her. Each one made her stomach twist just a little bit more, anticipation hanging so heavily in the air that Lena almost couldn’t bear it. She wondered if Kara could feel it too, the thick tension between them, the suspense of wondering what came next, even though Lena could already see it.

 

            She stepped into the kitchen and stopped beside the counters, leaning against the marble as she watched the tall shadowy figure take off her coat and toss it over the back of one of the barstools. Moonlight filtered in through the french doors but the dim light made a blur of Kara’s features as she stood in the middle of the room, uncertain.

 

            “Can I get you something to drink?”

 

            “If you like.”

 

            Lena nodded but made no move to fetch anything. She was scrambling for more time, putting off the inevitable, and they both knew it. Glancing down at the veins winding their way through the stone, Lena chewed on her bottom lip, opening and closing her mouth a few times before she looked up at Kara through hooded eyes, taking in the fitted white t-shirt and the way she ran her hand through her hair, slicking it back. 

 

            “I, uh, I heard that Lucy was in Paris with you,” Lena hedged, her heart fluttering in her chest as she balled her clammy hands into fists, her throat dry as she looked at the shadowed figure standing in her kitchen.

 

            “I- yeah, she came to visit. To check up on me. But I … well, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You and me.”

 

            Letting out a quiet, breathless laugh, Lena felt a lump in her throat as she felt a nervous tug in her stomach. “Yeah, I know the feeling. I’ve been doing some thinking about us too.”

 

            “Yeah?”

 

            Kara’s voice was soft and hopeful and it melted Lena a little as she felt a strong pining for her rise up within her. It was almost painful how badly she wanted her, her heart aching as her brow furrowed slightly with a grave look, and it was like she was watching an old movie she’d already seen before because Lena knew exactly what was going to happen next, and she didn’t even try to stop it.

 

            With the slow suspense of someone who knew how this played out and was waiting for it all to come crashing down, Lena drifted towards Kara, anticipation heavy in the air as she let her fingertips glide over the marble counter. It was cold beneath her touch, solid and grounding, and Lena was keenly aware of the decision she was making. It was no thoughtless lack of strength, and perhaps it would end up becoming a lapse in her judgement, but it didn’t feel like that at the time. There was only burning desire and the firm resolution that she’d get what she wanted.

 

            “Yeah,” she murmured as she moved even closer to Kara.

 

            Scant inches separated them and Lena could feel the heat radiating off her, feel Kara’s warm breath ghosting her lips, and she paused for a moment, the air between them charged and weighted with all the things still left unsaid between them. But she didn’t want to talk anymore. In a way, she’d made up her mind the moment she’d asked Kara if she wanted to come inside.

 

            Reaching up, she gently ran her knuckles across Kara’s cheekbone, lips twitching with a small smile as she felt her lean into the touch, so warm and soft. Raking her fingers through Kara’s short hair, she balled her hand in it at the nape of her neck as Kara lowered her head. Her hands came up to carefully cradle Lena’s face with such tenderness that it was almost like Kara was afraid that she’d break her with just one touch. Her thumbs gently pressed against Lena’s temples, fingertips splayed on the underside of her jaw, and she tipped her face up until they were so close that Lena felt a searing heat rush through her.

 

            The breathless lead up to the kiss was nothing compared to how it felt when Kara’s lips slowly came down on hers, her mouth hot and firm, and Lena tightened her grip in Kara’s short hair as she pressed herself closer. All of the tension inside her unravelled as Kara kissed her slowly, and Lena only grew impatient, the need for more so strong and urging that she could feel the warmth radiating from Kara from how close she was. 

 

            Her hand was fisted in Kara’s white t-shirt as Kara’s lips fell to her neck, and Lena closed her eyes as she let her head loll to the side, her skin rippling with goosebumps as a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She found herself hoisted up onto the countertop a moment later, her legs wrapping around Kara’s waist, and she broke off the kiss to stare down at Kara, taking in her bruised lips and wide eyes.

 

            “Bedroom,” Lena murmured as she leant back in, crushing her lips back to Kara’s.

 

            Humming against her lips, Kara lifted her in a deft movement, hands gripping her thighs as her biceps strained against her t-shirt. Lena’s nose bumped against hers as she kissed her softly, laughing against Kara’s lips as the blonde lurched unsteadily, scrambling for the wall to catch herself.

 

            In the hallway, Lena slid out of her grasp, kissing her chastely before tugging on the waistband of her jeans. Kara came willingly, eagerly, and Lena felt flushed and giddy as she rushed to her room. Her sweatshirt was off before she even stepped into her bedroom, hitting the floor with a soft thump, before warm fingers closed around her wrist and pulled her around. 

 

            Hands cupped her cheeks and Kara pressed a bruising kiss to her lips, bearing down on her in a way that made Lena’s toes curl as she scrambled to tug her top off. Kara shed it willingly and the rest of their clothes followed suit until they were twisted up in the bedsheets and all talk and worries ceased for the time being.

 

            The sky was the dark grey preceding dawn when they finally found themselves laying spent, side by side as sweat dried on their skin, and Lena could barely keep her eyes open. For the first time in a long while, she felt tired in the best kind of way, her limbs loose and mind pleasantly sluggish. Kara’s fingertips gently glided over the pale expanse of her back above the sheets gathered at her waist and Lena smiled faintly as she buried her face in a pillow.

 

            “So … does this mean you’ve made up your mind?” Kara eventually asked, voice low and uncertain, yet full of hope.

 

            Muffling a quiet sigh in the pillow, Lena turned onto her side, facing away from Kara as she looked out at the approaching dawn. “I … don’t know.”

 

            “Once is a mistake,” Kara said, pressing a kiss to her shoulder, “twice is a decision.”

 

            She pressed a kiss to the side of Lena’s neck, smiling against her skin at the goosebumps that rippled across her skin. Lena closed her eyes against the feeling as her eyebrows drew together. 

 

            “Three times is-”

 

            “Three times is just asking for trouble.”

 

            She wasn’t just talking about the sex and they both knew it. Lena felt weariness slam into her, burning behind her eyes as she lay there, and it wasn’t all physical. Of course, she wanted to give in to the part of her that overwhelmingly wanted Kara, but there was that small voice of doubt, and Lena couldn’t help but listen to it. It wasn’t a no, as per se, but she knew that she wouldn’t be so naïve walking back to Kara. 

 

            There were serious problems they needed to talk about first, and Lena had her reservations about jumping back into bed with Kara - in a serious way - without sorting through things first. Her concerns weren’t unfounded; she’d been right when she’d said that nothing had changed. Lena was apprehensive about getting ahead of herself again without at least trying to come to some sort of middle-ground for them both. It was the only plausible way she could see them getting back on track and recovering from the burning wreckage they’d become.

 

            “I need some time to think.”

 

            “Time I can do,” Kara quickly agreed. “As much as you need.”

 

            Rolling onto her back, Lena glanced at her in the early morning light, giving her a strained smile, “I do trust you, Kara. I just-”

 

            “I know,” Kara murmured, her brow furrowing with a serious look. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not fair for me to come back again and beg you to take me back. There’s no rush, really.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

            Giving her a small smile, Kara rested her chin in her cupped palm and stared at her for a few moments. Reaching up, Lena brushed a bluntly chopped lock of hair out of her face, twisting it through her fingers as she thought about how different it made Kara look - still beautiful, just different, less soft and youthful - before tucking it behind her ear. Sighing softly, Lena gave her a grim smile.

 

            “You should go.”

 

            “Right,” Kara whispered, pushing herself up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

 

            She stretched her arms out in front of her, spine curving and the bumps of vertebrae visible beneath her skin, and Lena wanted to kiss her way down Kara’s back. Instead, she climbed out of bed and put a robe on, watching as Kara scrambled for her clothes, dressing quickly and running a hand through her dishevelled hair.

 

            Catching her staring, Kara smiled slightly before running a hand over her face. She looked as tired as Lena felt, and her footsteps were slow as she walked through the house. Krypto emerged from the sitting room, tail wagging as he scrambled toward them, and Lena hung back as she watched as Kara crouched down to scratch him beneath the chin, cooing as she shoved her foot into one of the shoes she held.

 

            Giving him one final pat, she straightened up, shoes squeaking against the floor as she pushed her foot into the other one, and then picked her keys up from the table near the door. With a hesitant smile, she opened the door and glanced at Lena, who drifted closer, leaning in the doorway as Kara stepped outside.

 

            They paused for a moment, uncertainty and desire hanging between them, and Lena’s cheek dimpled as she gave her a lopsided smile. “I’ll call you.”

 

            Twisting her car keys in her hands, Kara nodded, hesitating slightly before she leant in and pressed a soft kiss to Lena’s cheek. “Okay. I’ll see you soon then.”

 

            “Yeah,” Lena agreed.

 

            “Right. Bye.”

 

            Turning, Kara quickly made her way to her car, the sky lightening to the first streaks of violet and grey wisps of clouds, and she climbed into her car, yellow light flooding through the dimness of the morning as the headlights cut through it. The tinted window lowered and she gave Lena a small wave, which was returned from the doorway before the Audi’s taillights disappeared down the driveway.

 


 

            “And that was it? That’s how you got back together again?” Leslie asked, eyebrows raised with mild surprise.

 

            With a snort of laughter, Lena shook her head. “No. Not at all. As I said, we had some things we really needed to talk about. I was so sure that, if we could work things out, this time would work. I mean, we knew what the problem was, surely we could find a fix for it, right? But, as I said, three times is just asking for trouble.”

 

            “But it must’ve been worth the trouble for you to go back in the beginning.”

 

            “Oh, definitely!” Lena laughed, “I think it’d be worth it every time. She’s just- that’s the kind of person Kara is. She’s beautiful, just such a beautiful, beautiful soul, and you can’t help but love her. And that’s exactly the problem because no matter what, I’ll always come back to her. And I won’t regret it for a single moment.”

 

            “Ever?”

 

            “Never. She’s the only person who has ever truly known me, and from the moment I met her I’ve never been able to shake the thought of her. I’ve never looked at anyone else, because, well, how could I? There’s always been that sense of inevitability between us; it was always inevitable that we’d fall back together, and it was always inevitable that we’d fall apart. It’s always been her, and I think it always will be.”

Chapter Text

Spinning like a girl in a brand new dress

We had this big wide city all to ourselves

We blocked the noise with the sound of 'I need you'

And for the first time I had something to lose

And I guess we fell apart in the usual way

And the story's got dust on every page

But sometimes I wonder how you think about it now

And I see your face in every crowd

 

Cause darling, it was good never looking down

And right there where we stood was holy ground

 

Tonight I'm gonna dance for all that we've been through

But I don't wanna dance if I'm not dancing with you

Tonight I'm gonna dance like you were in this room

But I don't wanna dance if I'm not dancing with you

 

-

 

            “So you never even tried to date anyone in between. Or since?”

 

            With a grim look of ire, Lena shook her head, “no. And I know perhaps that might seem strange to most people, that I’m so sure when I’ve never really given anyone else a chance, but … well, the first person I dated messed with my head so much that I lost that spark of romance. And Kara’s the only person who’s ever been able to bring that back.”

 

            Lena let out a hesitant laugh as she bit her bottom lip for a moment, before giving Leslie a sheepish look.

 

            “I’ve had crushes; I know what they feel like. I’ve had my friends try and set me up with beautiful women, and it just- it’s nothing in comparison. They’re some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, but none of them have ever held a candle to Kara’s flame. She makes me feel … everything. I spent so much of my life struggling to accept myself, hiding it, and then being manipulated, and then I found her and it was like a light came on. It was just … it was that small realisation like oh it’s you!”

 

            Her cheeks reddened slightly with embarrassment as she struggled to explain, recalling all of the ways that Kara had ever made her feel warm and understood, the way she’d laughed at all of Lena’s jokes and knew every inch of her. It was a feeling that no one else had ever given her, no matter how well they knew her. It was more than who she was; it was just Kara.

 

            “And it’s not like I spent all this time waiting for her to come back. I had my own life, my own career to focus on, and life went on when she left. But I wasn’t interested in looking for anyone else, and not always because I was holding onto the hope that she’d come back - even though she always did - it was just the fact that I wasn’t interested in anyone. There were women I could’ve taken home, could’ve enjoyed the company of, but I wouldn’t have been able to love them. It was like that light would just switch off and I’d feel so alone. I’d be in a crowded room with all of my friends and my family, people who knew me so well, but there was the knowledge that they’d never know me like she did.”

 

            “It can be an isolating industry sometimes.”

 

            “It really is,” Lena faintly sighed, “the restrictions, the rules, the dieting and exercising, the PR stunts and calling the paparazzi. It can all feel like you’re a puppet being controlled, while no one actually takes an interest in who you are. They’ll congratulate you with fake smiles on their faces, you get asked how you are but no one really cares about the answer because it shouldn’t be anything less than positive because you’re just so lucky. A lot of my life has felt like an ongoing act. Constantly being in the spotlight since sixteen can be very damaging, and I think the fear of disappointing everyone was one of the main factors that kept me in line. I wasn’t at liberty to be like a Disney star who went off the rails, or one of those boyband stars who were arrested for drugs and photographed in an absolute state coming out of bars. Being a woman already puts so much pressure on you to behave perfectly, to never mess up, but then there was the different demographics that Morgan Edge wanted for my fanbase.”

 

            Leslie nodded as she listened, her eyes lighting up as she seized the last part of Lena’s sentence before she could keep talking.

 

            “That fanbase being partly made up of Republicans.”

 

            “Yes,” Lena admitted, her mouth turning down at the corners. “And that was difficult for me to come to terms with. Of course, country music has always been very popular in the south, and I suppose my brand of folk music was comparable to that. And it wasn’t just the Republican part, but the fact that religion goes so strongly hand in hand with those people. And on top of that, I was Irish-Catholic. It was very clear to me from the start that there was a part of my fanbase that would hate the real me. And that mindset, that knowledge, can be very damaging, especially when trying to come to terms with the fact that I could never love who I wanted to without impacting my career.”

 

            “Obviously that’s less of a concern for you now.”

 

            With a rueful smile, Lena arched an eyebrow. “It was never my concern. I wasn’t allowed to talk about politics, and that included my existence as a lesbian woman. Being myself would’ve been a political statement and would’ve alienated a lot of fans. I was contractually obligated to keep quiet about anything that could harm the reputation they made for me, and I think the fear about my career failing didn’t come from myself; it was instilled in me by Edge and people at my label. My team tried their best to accommodate both sides, but it was still very clear to me that I couldn’t mess it up. Kara and I had the entirety of National City at our disposal, but we were left searching for the little spots to hide away with each other. Our own little secret places set aside for us to escape prying eyes. Until we broke that rule.”

 


 

            No matter how hard Lena tried, she couldn’t shake the thought of Kara. After she’d left early that morning, Lena had gone straight to bed, collapsing on top of the rumpled covers, arms and legs splayed out and promptly passed out for much of the day. 

 

            When she woke, it was from a dream about Kara’s lips pressed to her shoulder, reaching out for the ghost of the person occupying her dream, and finding herself disappointed upon discovering the bed empty. Yet the smell of her clung to the pillows, and Lena buried her face in one of them, feeling oddly well-rested. 

 

            Days passed in a daze and she couldn’t concentrate on anything. She was haunted by the ghostly feeling of Kara’s lips on her skin, the memories of how soft her skin felt, by the coat that Lena found abandoned in her kitchen the next evening. As much as she said she needed time, Lena was almost desperate to see Kara again. If it wasn’t for the small voice of caution at the back of her mind, she might’ve called her again immediately, asked her out to talk things over, but she didn’t. It was almost painful, the longing that seized her heart and twisted her stomach uncomfortably. Just like that, she was back in Kara’s thrall.

 

            And it wasn’t anything to do with Kara’s influence on her; Lena was just in love with her. Kara hadn’t asked anything of her, not in as many words, yet Lena was almost at the tipping point of throwing her lot in with her again and letting her ruin her. It seemed worth it. 

 

            As it was, she went for long walks to try and clear her mind, to subdue the restless urges to call Kara, to shake the evocative feelings burning hotly within her as she thought about Kara’s bruised lips and blown pupils as she hovered over her. She walked down sidewalks, thumbing her bitten lips as she thought about how she’d kissed her, catching glimpses of blonde hair in the throngs of people going about their day, and each time it made Lena’s stomach lurch as her heart stumbled, thinking that it was Kara for a brief moment.

 

            She was distracted to the point where she couldn’t even write, and not because she had nothing to write about, but because she couldn’t concentrate. And all Lena could think about was how they’d fallen apart and what Kara thought about it because they hadn’t really gotten to the point the other night. They’d vented their frustrations and regrets, but they’d never made it to the serious conversation, and then they’d stopped talking altogether. 

 

            It was late Sunday evening when she finally plucked up the courage to phone Kara. To resist was futile, and the sooner they got to the bottom of things, the better. Lena couldn’t think straight, and it was the only way she knew she’d be able to get a grip. So she stood outside in the grey day, feeling the nervous fluttering of her heart in her chest, and pressed the ringing phone to her ear. She couldn’t say why she was nervous, after all, they’d been through so much together already, but she was.

 

            “Hello?”

 

            “Hi,” Lena said, her voice soft and light, a smile involuntarily curling her lips, “it’s me.”

 

            “How’re you?”

 

            “I’m good,” Lena murmured.

 

            Pausing slightly, Lena let out a shaky laugh and smoothed down her bangs as the wind ruffled her hair.

 

            “Actually, I’ve, uh, I’ve been thinking about you. A lot. It’s driving me a bit mad, to be quite honest.”

 

            Warmth bloomed in her chest at the sound of Kara’s laughter, followed by a soft sigh. 

 

            “Yeah, me too.”

 

            “I was wondering if you wanted to get coffee with me?”

 

            “Coffee? Like at a café.”

 

            “I’ve heard they’re the best places to get coffee.”

 

            “Like … now?”

 

            Eyebrows rising slightly, Lena smiled to herself as she leant against the wooden post of the pergola. “Are you busy right now?”

 

            “No, I just- well, it’s still pretty early.”

 

            Staring out at the deep grey sky and the approaching dusk, Lena pursed her lips for a moment, a clouded expression in her green eyes. “Yes, it is.”

 

            “And … we’ll be in public.”

 

            “Well, I haven’t booked out a café for us, if that’s what you’re wondering. So yes, I’m assuming there’ll be other people drinking their coffee.”

 

            “Lena, are you sure-”

 

            “Something has to give, Kara,” Lena said with a faint sigh, “you’re right; we can’t keep doing it as we have been.”

 

            There was silence at the other end of the phone and Lena pushed off the wooden post and paced the paved patio as she listened to the rustling sound of what she thought were bedsheets. Teeth worrying at her lower lip, she felt nervous, wondering if perhaps she was being too presumptuous with bending their careful rules. Lena thought it was what Kara wanted, and she was trying to be brazen, to show that she wasn’t quite so set on what her team told her, but what if Kara was worried about them being seen together too? 

 

            What if she worried like Lena did, and didn’t actually want to change anything, just didn’t want to be with Lena? The other night it had sounded like she wanted to be, but in all the time they’d been apart, Kara hadn’t once tried coming out. Lena would’ve heard any whispers potentially before the press announcement, but there had been nothing. Even her jealousy about Lucy was unfounded because there were no sly hints from their mutual friends at all the dinners and events she’d attended with them. Nothing at all. So perhaps Kara wasn’t ready. 

 

            “What time?”

 

            Letting out a pent up breath, Lena’s shoulders slumped as she allowed herself a pleased smile. “I’ll pick you up now.”

 

            “See you soon.”

 

            They hung up and she ran her hand over the beige sweater with colourful geometric triangles knitted into it and realised it was Kara’s. She’d avoided wearing it for so long, keeping it hung up in her closet, but she hadn’t even hesitated that morning when she’d pulled it on with her maroon chinos, enveloping herself in the faint smell of the perfume clinging to it. 

 

            Smiling to herself, she hurried inside and grabbed Kara’s coat, slipping it on with the intention of returning it, before lacing on a pair of brown oxfords and grabbing a handbag. She was behind the wheel of her Range Rover five minutes later, driving through the bluish light of dusk as her heart leapt with excitement.

 

            It wasn’t a long drive to Kara’s apartment, and she texted her as she pulled up outside, car idling at the curb, and waited patiently for her to emerge. The way her body reacted to the sight of Kara stepping out of the lobby was so strong that it caught Lena off guard and she had to tighten her hands on the steering wheel as her stomach clenched and she straightened in her seat. Quietly clearing her throat as Kara opened the door to the passenger side, she turned and gave her a strained smile.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            “Hi,” Kara greeted her, her voice breathless and low, and she quickly buckled herself in before giving Lena an appraising look. “Oh, my coat! And … is that my sweater?”

 

            “I brought the coat back for you,” Lena said, her eyes sliding sideways to peer at her as she put the car into drive and indicated to pull out into traffic, and the corner of her mouth curled into a smile.

 

            Hand behind the headrest of Kara’s seat, she craned her neck to check for oncoming traffic and pulled out into the street, her eyes darting to Kara every few moments as they drove through the city. The sky was gunmetal blue, the streetlights orange starbursts breaking through the gloom, and Lena flicked her headlights on as they drove in the comfort behind the tinted windows of the hulking car.

 

            There was something about driving that was always a relief for them. No one knew it was them behind the dark windows and they were free to drive anywhere and everywhere they wanted to, without the risk of being seen - as long as they didn’t stop anywhere and get out. Lena would’ve been content to drive them around all night, but the whole point of this was to put herself out there, to take a risk to see whether it was what she wanted with Kara.

 

            “How’ve you been?” Lena asked after a few moments, taking a left.

 

            “Oh, yeah, good. It’s nice to be home.”

 

            Lena nodded in agreement, feeling somewhat shy as she drove them through the city in silence, the radio off and the sound of honking horns and traffic muted in the small space. It was ridiculous that she should feel shy, especially given all of her history with Kara, but there was a part of her nervous for this talk. She wanted so badly for them to be able to work it out, to find their way back to the blissful heaven of how it felt to be with Kara, to know her in every sense of the word, but she was scared that it might be too much to work through. Sometimes, it didn’t matter how hard you tried, some things just wouldn’t work.

 

            They made small talk about work and how Kara’s birthday was next month and how Lena’s album was progressing, and it all felt so easy. Laughing like they used to, the tension between them dissipated and Lena couldn’t keep the smile off her face. It was almost enough to fool her into thinking that things hadn’t changed at all, that Kara had just been away filming and the couple of months of heartbreak hadn’t happened at all. It was like she’d found a missing piece of herself, and it was frightening at how quickly she came alive in Kara’s company. Lena loved the person she was around her, how Kara just put her at ease, made her feel warm and giddy. It felt like falling in love all over again.

 

            Eventually, they came to a stop at an open parking spot lining a street full of restaurants and bars and boutiques. Shopfronts were lit up in the fading light and they climbed out of the car and met on the sidewalk, where Kara was thumbing quarters into the parking metre. They were standing outside an old cinema, showing the latest movies and the smell of fresh popcorn was blown out onto the street.

 

            Beside it sat a comic book store and then a sushi bar. They fell into step beside each other, hands buried in their pockets, heads down, passing by ramen restaurants, bars advertising happy hour drinks and pizza parlours. Lena guided them toward a small coffee shop she liked to come to and write sometimes. 

 

            It was a small healthy joint, tucked away between a Himalayan restaurant and a bakery that specialised in French desserts that tasted like they were straight off the streets of Paris. It was one of her favourite spots in National City, crowded with small tables, always warm from the steaming coffee machine as it churned out bitter espresso from the dark roasted beans imported from Hawaii. She loved to go there on difficult days and hide in a forgotten corner with a book, drinking tea and vegetable juices for hours, until she couldn’t recall what was bothering her.

 

            She knew it wasn’t the kind of place where paparazzi would be lurking. In fact, she’d never encountered them anywhere near the neighbourhood before and knew that they’d be safe unless someone recognised either of them and took photos on the sly. But it was late and the shop was half-full with a smattering of college students and a few hopefuls writing novels or screenplays. 

 

            They made their way far away from the windows, a bad habit picked up from too many times photographed by people hovering outside waiting for them, and they tucked themselves away in the shadow of a framed painting of wild horses. Kara eyed the decor with a dubious look on her face and Lena quietly chuckled as she shed her coat in the warmth. They were close to the coffee machine, offering them cover for their conversation, and the hum of the coffee shop and the meditative sounds of instrumental music washed over them.

 

            “Coffee?”

 

            “Oh, um, yeah, sure. I’ll have a maple-”

 

            “Latte with oat milk.”

 

            Kara gave her a small smile, and Lena shrugged slightly before she climbed up from her seat and made her way over to the counter. 

 

            They were familiar with her infrequent appearances at the coffee shop, and always subtle with their reaction to one of the world’s biggest celebrities popping in for coffee, and clandestine with Lena’s stolen moments in the safe haven. Not once had she had an issue with her privacy while she was there, and she owed the barista’s for their sealed lips about her stolen moments in the back corners of the place. 

 

            She was always polite enough to linger for a few moments and talk to them, feeling a flicker of warmth at the delight in their eyes, and as she ordered their coffees for them, along with a vegan muffin to share, she made small talk with the tattooed woman behind the counter. Lena also ordered two wheatgrass shots for them, dropped a twenty in the tip jar, and reclaimed her seat across from Kara a moment later.

 

            The coffee machine started churning loudly, the sound of milk being steamed drowning out their conversation from at least a few tables away, and Lena laced her hands together on the scarred surface of the table. 

 

            “So, um, where should we start?” Kara hesitantly asked.

 

            Bowing her head, Lena sighed, and she peered up through her lashes to watch Kara anxiously ruffle her chopped hair. “I don’t know. I just- what can we do? I don’t know how to fix this, us, while I’m locked in a contract. It might be easier for you , but not when it’s with me. I think we made that very clear.”

 

            She gave Kara a faint smile, her expression clouded with her dour humour, and she sat back in her chair. Lips pressed into a thin line, Kara looked down at the table, a brooding look on her face as her shoulders curved forward. She kept her head turned toward the wall they were sitting beside. 

 

            “I know it’s not going to be easy,” Kara softly replied, her eyes closing, “I’m not asking for easy. I just want a chance for us to try . I want us to be able to do this. Go out for coffee without being scared that our careers will suffer because of it. People have friends! We should at least be able to pretend to be friends.”

 

            “But we’re not friends, Kara. We’ve never been friends. It’s- well, they have good reason to be worried. What if we slip up? We can go out with our friends as much as we want, but I’m not in love with my friends. One look at you- God, they’d know, and I don’t know how to not look at you like that. I just-”

 

            Cutting off as the waitress appeared with two wheatgrass shots, eyes darting between the two of them as she set them down, both of them murmuring quiet thanks before she retreated. Kara eyed the vivid green juice and raised her eyebrows at Lena, who shrugged and drained her own in one gulp.

 

            Kara followed suit, mouth turning down at the corners as she grimaced with distaste. “That goes down about as easily as battery acid.”

 

            “It’s good for you,” Lena softly chided her with mild amusement.

 

            A shiver of revulsion ran through Kara as she shook her head, before meeting Lena’s sparkling eyes and giving her a sheepish smile. The barista was back a moment later, balancing two cups of coffee and the muffin, setting them down and whisking away the small empty shot glasses. Lena nudged the muffin toward Kara and added some sugar to her coffee.

 

            “Okay, so,” Kara said, skimming the foam off the top of her latte and giving Lena a hooded look as she ate it, “we’re not friends, we’ve never been friends, and you can’t look at me in a friendly way. So we just need to distract them from who we’re really looking at.”

 

            “You mean a PR stunt,” Lena sighed heavily.

 

            It wasn’t the first time they topic had been broached to either of them, but it was the first time one of them had proposed the idea. Lena shouldn’t have been surprised; it was the most logical choice with the least amount of fuss about it. Of course, there was the acting, but Lena had been pretending for her whole career, and holding hands with another man seemed a small exchange for the opportunity to date Kara outside of the confines of their homes. All it would take was holding hands too, because she couldn’t so much as take a photo with another man without a dating rumour being sparked. It would be all too easy.

 

            But the thought twisted Lena’s stomach. So far, she’d avoided putting herself into any public spotlights with relationships, letting her music be the source of her romantic speculation, and she wasn’t exactly eager to be put in the spotlight further with someone she didn’t know, let alone love. Kara would have to be sure this time for Lena to be on board with such a taxing plan.

 

            “I know it’s not ideal, but I act for a living. It won’t be any different to my job, really, so-”

 

            “Wait, you don’t want me to do it?” Lena asked, brow furrowing with confusion.

 

            Eyebrows rising, Kara paused, hand extended toward the muffin as her eyes widened. She slowly broke off a piece and retracted her hand. “Oh!” she murmured, voice coloured with surprise, “I mean, I feel like it’s a lot to ask of you, especially seeing as this is all for my benefit.”

 

            Closing her eyes, Lena exhaled slowly, before she fixed Kara with a dour stare. “This is supposed to be mutually beneficial. That’s the whole point in it. I don’t-” she cut off, swallowing thickly as she gathered her thoughts, “I mean, I don’t want to make you do something that I wouldn’t do myself. We both have to be committed to this, or it’s not going to work. I think it’s unfair to put all the work onto you.”

 

            “I have some making up to do,” Kara said with a droll smile.

 

            “I think … I don’t think my team will be on board unless I do it too, or instead,” Lena said, her brow puckering slightly as she spoke slowly. “You know how they are. With my fanbase and everything, it’s … well, they’ll want to make sure our relationship is airtight.”

 

            Kara nodded slowly, a thoughtful look on her face. “Would you be comfortable with both of us? I mean, you’ve never had a jealous streak, I don’t- I don’t think you do because you know what my job is like. And I wouldn’t get jealous either!”

 

            Lena couldn’t help but quietly chuckle at her earnest speech. “I don’t think I’ll get jealous,” she said, her voice coloured with amusement before she narrowed her eyes slightly and pursed her lips. “But I think it might be a little too on the nose if we both have public relationships at the same time. If I go first, if we give it a couple of months, we can- we can see if it works. If it’s what we want - both of us - then we can add another layer to the lie, I guess.”

 

            With a sceptical look, Kara gave her a small smile, “you’re still unsure, aren’t you?”

 

            Biting back an impatient sigh, Lena grit her teeth for a moment, averting her gaze as she picked up her coffee and took a sip, looking around the cosy coffee shop and out into the night beyond. She primly set her cup back down and hung her head, splayed her callused hands on the tabletop as she tried to keep her frustration under wraps.

 

            “Of course I’m unsure!” she quietly exclaimed. “You left me twice , and I believe you when you say you want me and you love me, but that doesn’t mean I want to rush in again. It hurts too much. I want to take it slow and-”

 

            “Slow is fine,” Kara softly said, reaching out to brush her fingertips against Lena’s, before reaching for the sugar and pulling back.

 

            It was a small gesture, quick and casual, and Lena had to admire the sneakiness of it as she watched Kara add sugar to her already sickly sweet coffee. She curled her fingers into a fist and swallowed the lump in her throat.

 

            “I want you to promise me something,” she hoarsely said, meeting Kara’s deep blue eyes with her own anxious ones. “You don’t just get to leave this time. If there’s something wrong, if there’s something we can at least try and fix, you tell me. We decide together if that’s what’s best. You don’t just- you don’t get to leave without trying, without warning me. Because I can’t take it-”

 

            She let out a shuddering breath, flinching slightly at the sharp ache in her chest. Closing her eyes, she sat back in her seat, tipping her head back as she breathed in slowly, trying to steady the trembling feeling that washed over her, filling her with a sudden faintness.

 

            “Don’t leave,” Lena said, her voice a small plea as she gave Kara a doleful look. “Not like that again.”

 

            Swallowing thickly, Kara nodded, her eyes shining with tears. “If it’s not working - if -