Lives are on the line. That's how Kara reassures herself as Winn photoshops a grainy picture of Supergirl and Kara Danvers—and there is no better word for it—canoodling.
Kara puts her hands on her hips, squinting. The dim lights of the DEO don't exactly hinder her Kryptonian senses, but squinting seems appropriate. "Does my hand really need to be on my butt?" Supergirl is respectful. Supergirl is appropriate. Supergirl is decisively not handsy.
"Um," Winn says. "I can change that?"
"Please," Kara says. "You're going to scar Alex for life, Winn, come on."
Alex walks in, takes one look at the image on Winn's screen, pivots and walks out.
Kara cringes. "Too late."
"You, uh… you sure you want to do this?" Winn side-eyes her as he adjusts Supergirl's straying hand. "Working as Cat Grant's assistant is insane enough. You sure you want Cadmus trying to kill you on top of that?"
Kara does not want to do this, no, but—lives are on the line, and the clock is ticking. They need the location of that Cadmus base before innocents pay the consequences. Kara wouldn't have put on the suit if she wasn't willing to make sacrifices. Sometimes sacrifice means getting kidnapped on purpose. No big deal.
Besides, if Kara doesn't do it, Vasquez has already volunteered to be "Supergirl's number one squeeze," as Vasquez had enthusiastically described it. There's no reason to endanger Vasquez when Kara Danvers is the obvious best target to be put in the proverbial crosshairs, being, you know, literally invulnerable.
So instead of saying no, Kara shrugs and says, "Working for Ms. Grant is already a lot like being attacked by terrorists. Besides, it'll be something to finally spend my sick days on."
And it's not like it'll be a permanent thing. If the operation goes well, Cadmus will be on the back foot for once. It's the first step down the road to an Earth without xenophobic monsters terrorizing the alien community. It'll be worth it.
They slip the relationship rumor to a few known Cadmus moles, and the next day Kara Danvers has a bag over her head in the back of a van. Alex employs an alien tracking device that can hone in on Kryptonian DNA, enabling the DEO to mobilize on the hidden compound. Cadmus doesn't have time to so much as turn on the camera for the ransom video before flashbang grenades are rolling and bullets are flying.
When Alex kicks down the door to her cell, Kara cheers through a sock and duct tape. Alex throws her a duffel bag containing her supersuit and Kara changes in a blur of superspeed.
Long story short, butts are kicked, lives are saved, sick days are spent.
Cat Grant and the rest of Supergirl's adoring public remain none the wiser.
Thankfully, it's just the one time.
It's not just the one time.
It ends up being such a success, they just sort of… keep it going.
It works out surprisingly convenient, to be honest. The first six months, the DEO can hardly keep up with the number of times Kara gets kidnapped and hauled to one of Cadmus's blackout bases, only for the DEO to magically "discover" the site and tear it to shreds. Even Cat Grant becomes concerned over the amount of emergency sick days Winn calls in on her behalf, though Cat doesn't express it except in hard looks over her glasses and veiled hints about the importance of doctor visits.
Any time Cadmus gets frustrated enough to arrange a hit on poor, innocent Kara Danvers, something goes wrong. She hears the trigger pulling and ties her shoe at the right moment, or smells the poisoned latte and dumps it, claiming it tastes weird. Easy peasy.
It's not like anyone outside of Cadmus is in on the misinformation, so it doesn't put too much of a damper on Kara's daily routine, minus the fact that she's unable to pursue a relationship. Which, yes, that sucks. A lot. But in a way, it's stress relieving. It's like Earth is in one big rush to match everyone with a partner at any given moment. It gives Kara time to focus on supporting Alex while strengthening her friendships with Winn and James.
In the grand scheme of crazy events that make up Kara's day-to-day life, on a scale of one to ten on the craziness meter it registers at like a two, two-and-a-half tops.
In short: not a big deal.
In the space of a year, the DEO quadruples its arrest record and Cat shoves Kara into Snapper's cantankerous umbrella of management. Cadmus reels. Kara writes. Snapper swears. So it goes.
And then Lena enters her life like one of the bright temple beacons of Argo City, radiant and purposeful.
Lena respects Kara. Whatever Lena says about Kara's selfless friendship and genuineness and blah blah blah, that's the real reason Kara comes back to her. With Lena, Kara's opinions matter. With Lena, Kara's job matters—the "noble profession," as Lena calls it, even if Kara writes an awful lot of articles about zoning laws. It doesn't matter that Lena's a bigshot CEO in a fancy office and Kara's a nobody reporter sharing a desk with a sports columnist who announces when he's about to fart.
"That can't be true," Lena says when they discuss it over dinner at Kara's apartment.
Kara swallows a mouthful of pasta and sits straight up. "Oh my gosh, do you want to come see it?"
Lena recoils the way she did when she heard about pizza-flavored ice cream. "Why on earth would I want that?"
"Visit me during lunch, he'll totally do it!"
"I'll pass, thank you."
(Lena visits the next day. He totally does it.)
Lena laughs when Kara mixes up simple English expressions. Sometimes people laugh at Kara fumbling her words and there's a tinge of mockery they don't think Kara notices, but it hurts. Lena's laughter, though—Lena laughs like Kara mixing up Benjamin Franklin and Aretha Franklin is an exclusive benefit of Kara's friendship rather than a humiliating reason to abandon her right there in the L-Corp lobby. It makes Kara feel worthy.
Most importantly, Lena tries. For someone who grew up teetering on the edge between Lillian's cold shoulders and Lex's hot-boiling hate, there's something to be said for Lena who gets out of bed every morning determined to be better. Kara mainly wakes up because she's excited about breakfast.
Lena gives flowers and tentative smiles, and in return Kara tries to be worthy of her friendship.
One lovely Sunday morning, Lena invites her to brunch at their favorite Greek place, and for once in her life Kara arrives on time despite the best efforts of a rowdy Xudarian starting fights downtown. Lena's already there, dressed in a killer outfit and—makeup?
"Hi," Lena says, white-knuckling a mimosa and strangely breathless.
"Um," Kara says, feeling distinctly underdressed. "Hey. They still do bottomless raisin bread here, right?"
"You know it."
Earth's obsession with socially hierarchal clothing aside, Greek food is still amazing, and Kara has a great time stuffing herself silly. Lena barely touches her salad.
"You know, I don't think I've known you to date anyone since we've met," Lena says, toying with her napkin.
Kara dumps feta cheese on top of an omelette, considers, then adds a bit more. "Nope."
"You're not seeing anyone now, are you? No secret boyfriends?" Lena accompanies her words with a smile, but her gaze remains fixed firmly on the table next to them. "…Or girlfriends?"
Kara shrugs. "Nope. No boyfriends, no girlfriends, just me. Single and free!"
Lena gulps the last of her mimosa. She opens her mouth—
"But I'm not really looking right now," Kara says.
Lena's mouth snaps shut.
"It's just nice not dealing with romance for a while," Kara continues, "you know?"
"Mm," Lena says.
"Focusing on my job."
"Right," Lena says.
"Can't work on a relationship when I'm still working on me, you know?"
"Of course," Lena says.
"I mean, people make fun of the whole 'learning to love yourself' idea, but it's helped me a lot. When I was adopted—" Kara frowns and derails that train of thought before it can reach its natural, self-pitying conclusion. "Well," she she pushes her plate away, unhungry, "you know how it is. And I'm in such a good place right now and I don't want to ruin it."
Also, she needs to ensure a terrorist organization continues to believe Kara Danvers to be involved in a secret relationship with Supergirl. It's pretty weird.
"Kara," Lena says, eyes softening. "I didn't mean to sound critical. You do what you need to do to be happy, okay? And it sounds like you're doing just that. I'm proud of you."
Lena speaks so earnestly Kara resists a mighty urge to sweep Lena from her chair, fly out the window and bolt into the clouds for the sheer joy of it. Instead she says, "thank you so much, Lena," and Lena gives a bashful smile.
They finish their brunch and round out their Sunday with a Netflix binge, during which Kara could not be more grateful for a light like Lena in her life.
As months fly by with Lena and turn into a year, the only negativity tinging their friendship is the ever-present splinter of Kara's identity as Supergirl. It's nerve-wracking, living a half-life with Lena Luthor with all the lies Kara's dumped between them, but she's working on convincing J'onn and Alex to ditch the facade. It's only a matter of time before they admit the deception has evolved to become more trouble than it's worth. And if they don't, maybe Kara will accidentally-on-purpose "slip" and absentmindedly warm up her leftovers with heat vision, or levitate to reach something on a high shelf, or something, and rip off the band-aid because it's getting ridiculous.
The only facade more ridiculous is the one she's pulling on Cadmus, though she has to admit that unlike the Lena situation, it gets results.
Luckily, Lena is not a part of that particular deception. That level of absurdity will never happen, and for that Rao has Kara's eternal gratitude.
In Kara's defense, she likes to think her universe's spiral into madness stems from the fact that her disguise is just that good, thank you very much.
The facts are as follows.
It's 3 AM, so Kara's hair is loose and free. She had treated herself to a super-fast hundred brush strokes, but hours of rolling in bed have mussed it. Nonetheless, her hair is down.
Her glasses are off. Enough said on that matter.
Finally, no one knocks on Kara's door at 3 AM except Alex. So when the knock stirs her from sleep and she registers the feminine hitch of breath in the hallway, she throws on a sweatshirt and panties and floats to the door, half-asleep.
Lena Luthor's on the other side. The thousand-and-one times Alex has pestered her about not floating around the apartment take on a sudden relevance.
"Supergirl?" Lena's eyes are red and puffy. She huddles in an oversized MIT hoodie and sweatpants, and—a dagger to Kara's heart—she is crying.
Correction: Lena is crying while her mouth opens and closes like a fish.
"Ms. Luthor," Kara says and stops there, because she honestly has no idea what to say. Or do. Or anything. She wants to wrap her arms around Lena and let her cry her heart out, and then destroy whatever monster has committed the sin of hurting Lena Luthor. Supergirl, unfortunately, can only provide the latter.
Lena swipes at her tears with a sleeve, taking on a sudden professionalism that makes Kara's head spin. "I am so sorry. I didn't—is Kara here?"
Kara floats down to the carpet. "She's asleep," she says, glancing back into the dark apartment. Her fingers twitch with the need to adjust a pair of glasses. "I'll, uh, go get her for you."
"Oh g—actually," Lena says, shaking her head with sudden vigor, "no, no, don't bother her, please."
"It's no problem." Kara's already edging backwards, eager to slip into something more Kara Danvers-esque and provide some classic TLC, because who in Rao's light dared make Lena cry?
The word comes out hard, biting. Kara freezes in her tracks.
"Ms. Luthor? I—Kara would kill me if I let you leave. Please, come in. I'll grab Kara—"
"Supergirl, please." It's the raw vulnerability in Lena's plea that makes Kara reconsider. Lena straightens her back, and all the force of will and steel that surrounds her as a CEO swirls around her now, sweatpants be damned. "I shouldn't have dropped by unannounced. I apologize in the strongest possible terms. I'm clearly intruding and—and I don't want to bother Kara. Not like this. It was… a moment of weakness. Please, just tell her I stopped by. Tell her in the morning, and, ah, I'll call her. I—thank you."
Kara stands in her doorway, gaping. Rao.
It takes her an embarrassingly long time to figure out her next step, which is obviously to follow the crying woman. Honestly, she berates herself. She doesn't try to pull a Kara Danvers switcheroo because Lena's asked her not to. Kara doesn't want Lena's trust to erode any further (which is uncomfortably ironic, considering).
She slips on a pair of sleep shorts and flies out the living room window, descending to knock on Lena's car window just as Lena's inserting the key in the ignition.
Their eyes meet through the tinted glass. Tears flow freely down Lena's cheeks. Her hand leaves the keys and—trembling—fumbles for the gear shift, like she needs it to ground herself.
Kara tugs on the passenger door handle. It's locked, but after a metallic click she tries again and the door swings open. She slides into the car and shuts the door.
"Tell me?" Kara asks.
Lena weeps. Kara eases the keys from the ignition to stop the incessant beeping, wanting more than anything to pull Lena into a hug and never let go. Instead, Kara settles for taking her hand and holding it in her lap. They sit in Lena's car in the dark at 3 AM, and Lena cries and Kara wishes to take away the hurt more than anything.
"Want to talk about it?"
"No," Lena says.
Kara sighs, because what else can she say? "That's alright."
"It's not you. It's… just something I'm dealing with." Lena squeezes Kara's hand impossibly tight. "Though I strongly suspect you would not like it."
"Oh," Lena says with a choked laugh, "I really doubt that."
Kara rubs Lena's palm. Lena cries harder.
"Oh Lena," Kara says, forgetting her Supergirl persona for a moment. She moves so she's half-sitting, half-floating over the emergency brake and holds her arms open, tentative, allowing Lena to make the choice. Lena stiffens, and Kara thinks she's about to be rebuffed, but slowly, oh so slowly, Lena sinks into her.
"Let me take you home," Kara says. "You shouldn't drive."
Lena doesn't answer. Kara's honestly not sure if Lena heard her, but she tightens her grip and gently maneuvers Lena from the vehicle, careful not to jostle her precious cargo.
"Just hold onto me, okay?" Kara says. Lena has gone quiet, her tears gone dry. She doesn't respond nor acknowledge Kara in anyway, besides the fact that she's not squirming to leave Kara's arms.
Kara flies slow and threads her way over the darker parts of the city where the clouds block the moonlight. When they reach Lena's apartment, Kara is forced into the open. She checks on her passenger to find Lena alert, her eyes starlit and focused on Kara's face. Kara presses her lips together to prevent herself from saying something stupid.
They land on Lena's balcony.
"Don't worry about your car," Kara says. "I'll bring it over and leave it in your spot. You get some rest."
Lena holds out her keys, to which Kara shakes her head with a smile.
"Oh," Lena says, having forgotten that Supergirl can tote her BMW across the city like an empty shopping bag. It's rather adorable. "Right."
Lena rubs her arms, holding herself at a distance. Her shoulders hunch. It's body language Kara's witnessed before, when Lena becomes a little too exposed and shuts down, and any closeness Kara attempts to initiate is seen as an attack.
Hugs are out, so Kara does the next best thing. "Ms. Luthor," she says as Lena's unlocking her balcony. "Is this about your family?"
Lena pauses mid-key turn, eyes boring into the ground. "Yes. My family. Just a little overemotional tonight, I think. I really appreciate the lift, Supergirl."
"Whatever it is you're feeling, or doubting, you're a good person. Never doubt that, okay? You're the best. Even I know that, and I'm just a weird alien in a cape. You've saved the world, what, twice now? Three times? I can't even keep track."
Lena hovers at the threshold. Her shoulders sag. "You sound like Kara," she says, and it's not the positive response Kara was hoping for. It's tired.
"You should talk to her," Kara says. "She's a good listener. And she knows what it's like to have parents who were, you know…" She gestures vaguely, unable to come up with a hand signal for responsible for keeping a dying planet living in ignorance and also a genocidal virus designed to wipe out non-Kryptonian life. And that's not even mentioning Aunt Astra. "Morally dubious," she settles on.
"I wouldn't know. Kara doesn't like to talk about her life before the Danvers. I assumed…" Lena trails off, then her brow furrows, eyes red-rimmed but hawk-like. "You shouldn't have told me that. That's her business. I don't think she'd appreciate you sharing her personal business with the world."
Hoh boy. Lena is not the rest of the world, Kara wants to say. Lena is Lena, and deserving of trust and love and understanding.
"You're right," Kara says. "I'm sorry, that was a violation of her privacy. But I've known her a long time. I honestly don't think she'll mind. She's a good person to talk to."
Lena's expression hardens, and Kara has the feeling that whatever relationship she's built with Lena as Supergirl is on shaky ground. It's out of Lena's strong defensive streak over Kara Danvers, though, so she can't be too upset about it.
"Talk to Kara," she says, and flies away.
She flies back to Lena's parked BMW and rests her fists on her hips. From the well-polished hood, her reflection peers back at her. "Yikes," she says to herself.
In any other context, in any other circumstance, Lena's visit would not be a big deal.
Unfortunately, it is a very big deal which has her brain running rapid fire. She hefts Lena's car over her shoulders and launches herself into the air over National City.
If Lena assumes what Kara prays to Rao she doesn't assume, will it be yet another lie added to the pile of growing untruths their friendship is based on?
No, it would be normal for Kara to correct Lena's misconception, right? If the idea is that it's a secret relationship, it makes sense for Kara to keep it secret. Kara won't need to lie about this, too, for once in her life.
She arrives at Lena's apartment building and delicately guides the car into the underground lot, saluting the security guard at the gate. It's a mess, is what it is. But Lena's a rational woman, not one for making wild assumptions.
She sets down the car in Lena's designated spot and looks directly upward. Dozens of floors and people and furniture blend together in x-ray vision. At the top of the tower, Lena's heart beats the slow, steady thrum of sleep. It'll all be fine.
The next morning, her phone vibrates with a new text.
Supergirl 's probably already told you, but I stopped by late last night (or early this morning I suppose?). I saw something I wasn't meant to see and I'm sorry. I know how much danger something like this getting out would put you in. I want you to know that your secret is safe with me.
Then a minute later, while Kara is processing the first message:
You two make a great couple. It certainly answers a lot of questions, though. :)
"Crap," Kara says, staring at her phone mid-flight to the DEO for a weekend briefing.
As your friend I think I 'm required to say something uncouth like nice catch or damn but I think I'll just go with I'm happy for you. I can't think of anyone better who can treat you the way you deserve.
"Double crap," she says, because if this situation isn't worth a double crap she's afraid to find out what is. She swerves, neatly dodging a building, then taps out a response. Can we talk about this? Maybe over lunch? And we can talk about whatever it is you wanted to talk about last night?
Lena doesn't respond right away. Kara figures she's in a meeting or engrossed in work, as usual (and on a Saturday morning, yuck). Of the many shenanigans that have ensued from the necessity of maintaining her secret identity, this is by far the most bizarre. Lena will get a laugh out of it, at least, when Kara explains that Supergirl had just fallen asleep while visiting, or whatever story she devises between now and lunch.
But what would be the point? Lena is too intelligent not to take it one step further and figure out that her best friend and Supergirl are one and the same. It may take some time, but after what she saw last night, the puzzle pieces have got to start clicking together soon. The cat's out of the bag, and Kara doesn't want to put it back in. She does a little corkscrew as she approaches the DEO building. No, she's not feeding her friend an insulting sleepover story. This is the perfect opportunity for her to convince J'onn to permit an NDA and finally get everything out in the open with Lena.
"No," J'onn says.
"But I haven't explained why yet," Kara says, sagging into a chair. She's pulled J'onn and Alex aside in a conference room after the briefing, hoping that the briefing's ritual coffee and donuts would have softened J'onn up. (There is no softening Alex up, so she doesn't bother.)
Alex crosses her arms and exchanges a look with J'onn. "Is it because she saw Supergirl at your apartment last night and assumed you two are romantic partners?"
"How did you—?"
"Lucky guess," Alex says.
Alex and J'onn have a silent conversation, the usual wrinkles forming in J'onn's forehead when he's about to tell Kara something she doesn't like. An uncomfortable pressure settles in Kara's stomach.
"Kara," J'onn says. He puts his hand on her shoulder. "There's something we need to tell you."
Kara slumps over the balcony's safety railing, staring at the oblivious foot traffic fifty floors below. Lena's out there, somewhere, probably coordinating building a hospital in Africa or something. And here Kara is, working with the DEO, spying on her. Tapping her phones. Bugging her office. Reading her texts and emails. Defiling the privacy of a woman who throws every ounce of her time and willpower into making the world a better place.
And Kara's about to commit worse.
The glass door slides open behind her, then shuts. Familiar footsteps approach, then hesitate. Kara doesn't turn around.
"Kara," Alex says.
"I already said I'd do it. You're wrong, but I'll do it."
Alex shivers. Her breath comes out in smoky puffs in the cold. "This is why he kept you out of the loop, you know. You're too biased in favor of your friends, you always have been. I know you want to see the best in people, it's not a bad thing, it's just… we can't take risks on this kind of thing based on instinct."
Evidence carries more weight than feelings. Kara knows this, logically.
"Think, Kara. Why would she be using tech that prevents J'onn from reading her mind?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe all the aliens trying to take her down out of some sick sense of justice over her brother's actions?" She twists to face her sister, whom she loves dearly, but Rao can Alex get her blood boiling. "There have been four bomb threats this year, Alex. It's freaking April, that's one a month. And I know there's probably a bunch of other stuff she doesn't tell me about because she doesn't want me to worry. Of course she's paranoid about that sort of thing. There are more telepaths out there than just J'onn."
"And working with known Cadmus operatives?"
"People known to be operatives by the DEO. That doesn't mean she knows. We don't know that she knows."
Alex steps closer. "And the files on her private server? Designs for an alien detection device? Synthetic kryptonite?"
"Okay, yes, I hate the entire idea behind that detector, but that doesn't make her evil, and if she's doing anything with kryptonite it's so she can figure out a way to help Supergirl."
Alex's jaw works. "You have answers for everything, huh? What's it going to take for you to admit something fishy is going on with that woman? 'Cause this is just another nail in the coffin, and believe me, there are a lot of nails. How many people have to get hurt?"
Kara's fists clench. She's hovering a few inches off the ground, but she doesn't care. "Why are you so determined to turn her into a bad guy?"
"Damn it, I don't—" Alex runs her hands through her hair, tugging at it in precisely the way Eliza tells her not to. A tuft of hair sticks up in back and Kara falls to the ground, strangely calmed by the familiar action. Kara resists the urge to smooth it, knowing Alex would bat her hand away.
"Lena's a good person," Kara says. "She's just afraid."
Alex exhales. "I want her to be who you think she is," she says, sagging against the railing. "I really do. For you. But it's a stretch for her to find Supergirl in your apartment and assume you're banging. I don't know if you've noticed but the world is a heteronormative shithole and people don't just naturally jump to that kind of conclusion. She knew before she showed up at your apartment, J'onn and I both agree on that one. Or maybe she was confirming it for herself. Whatever her reasons, she's clearly up to something. She's definitely appealing for sympathy."
"She can't possibly be that open-minded, so she must be running a terrorist organization. She can't possibly be that sad, it must be an appeal for sympathy. Wow, gosh, Alex, your logic is flawless. She was shocked when she saw me, you can't fake how shocked she was."
"The hell she can't."
"Because she's a Luthor so this must be part of some nefarious plot, and I'm too naive to see it, right?"
Alex looks down at her hands. "I know you don't want to believe it. But Lex pulled a lot of the same stuff over your cousin. You have to accept it as a possibility."
Kara's phone buzzes and she pulls it out of her boot, thumbing the passcode. "It's from her," she says, reading Lena's message. "Lena wants to meet with both me and Supergirl. She says it's urgent."
"Good." Alex tangles her hands through her hair again, leaving it more mussed than before. "Good. Great. I'll grab J'onn, scramble the team. This could be her move. And Kara… thank you for going with me on this. I know it's hard."
Unable to resist any longer, Kara forcefully extracts Alex's hands from her hair and smooths it out. Alex fidgets.
"El mayarah," Kara says, exhaling long and slow. "Of course I'm with you."
"Let's go, sister," Alex says in Kryptonian.
Kara pulls her into a hug. "You're wrong about this. You'll see."
Alex sighs, leaning into it.
The facts are as follows.
First fact: Cadmus's dogs—no, what's a better term? Dogs are too fluffy and lovable to be associated with a rot like Cadmus. Cadmus's thugs have been renewing their attention toward harming Kara Danvers, reporter extraordinaire. At least, that's what Alex has squeezed out of a few choice interrogations after their latest sting operation.
No one, not even the captured Cadmus goons, knows exactly who's directing the terrorist organization these days. It sure isn't Lillian Luthor. After her latest failed coup, J'onn had squirreled her away in the deepest, darkest DEO cell he could find. Lillian had been overjoyed in exploiting the "knowledge" that Kara and Supergirl were lovers, though why she hadn't divulged it to her daughter remains a mystery. She'd practically glowed with the knowledge, smug and secure that the revelation would ruin Lena. Maybe that's why Lillian's kept the secret, for the twisted joy of watching her daughter's only friendship shatter into a million pieces. Kara wouldn't put it past her.
But Lillian doesn't know Lena like Kara does. It's not going to be the massive betrayal nor the Shakespearean tragedy Lillian expects. Maybe Lillian thinks it will drive Lena to the brink and push her to joining Cadmus. Lena's too good for that. Lena might be hurt, and maybe she'll need a little time and space, but she'll understand that it wasn't about her last name. Sometimes Kara's affection for her friend is so strong it hurts. Lena will see that. Hopefully. Probably.
Second fact: the DEO considers Lena prime candidate for Cadmus's newest director, mostly due to Cadmus sightings at L-Corp. Lena's use of a telepathy blocking apparatus that is currently mystifying the DEO puts more nails in the coffin (Kara's pretty sure it's in the bracelet Lena's started wearing religiously, but she's not telling J'onn that). Also, Cadmus inside L-Corp, hello? Obviously that means Lena's in danger, not the danger. ("Well it's a good thing we're watching her then, isn't it?" Alex had said, to Kara's consternation and reluctant agreement.)
Third fact: this has led to Kara's current predicament. Namely, pretending to be dating herself for Lena. Alright, yes, if hypothetically if Lena were the super evil leader of Cadmus, it's the smart move to ensure the facade continues. Kara's big enough to admit that. But Alex is wrong if she thinks Lena's been playing the long con, or that Lena's been driven to the brink by one too many alien attempts on her life, or any of the other million theories Alex holds for why Lena Luthor could be a cat-stroking, alien-hating villain like her brother. Therefore, there is no reason at all for Kara to be doing this.
This involves allowing a transformed J'onn to carry her onto Lena Luthor's balcony, bridal style.
"You're going to feel very dumb when this is over," Kara tells him as he gently sets her on her feet.
J'onn picks nonexistent lint from his Supergirl uniform as Lena's silhouette approaches the sliding door to the balcony.
"Oh, I don't need to wait for that, I assure you," J'onn says, his rumbling, masculine voice a stark contrast to his girlish figure. Before Kara can respond with something witty, the door slides open.
Lena rocks a cutting power suit with striking dark make-up. She is cool, collected, and very much the opposite of bawling her eyes out, thank the eternal glory of Rao. Kara's heart can't take much more of that, Kryptonian constitution or no.
Lena blinks at her, hesitating for some reason and oh, what the heck. Kara hugs her anyway. Lena is eminently huggable.
Lena's stiff, the way she usually is when Kara hugs her, like she's not quite sure what the next step is. Kara squeezes patiently. Eventually Lena, also as usual, remembers the purpose of hugs and relaxes into it with a whoosh of exhalation.
"Kara," Lena breathes into her shoulder.
It makes Kara hurt a little bit, to think what kind of childhood a young Lena experienced that hugs were as alien to her as English is to Kara. Actually, it hurts Kara a lot. She squeezes a little bit harder. Lena pulls away and Kara submits gracefully, mindful of Lena's need to set the pace. Lena nods at J'onn and ushers them inside.
"Supergirl, Kara, thank you for coming. Please, have a seat."
Lena leads them to the couches at the back of her office and sits, gesturing for them to do the same.
"I had Jess set out some tea," Lena says, fiddling with a tray of cups and saucers. The scent of raspberries wafts from a teapot, Kara's favorite flavor (she had smelled it two blocks away, but hadn't homed in on the source). "But I can have her bring in some coffee, Supergirl, or whatever you like. I have scotch, whiskey, red wine…"
"Tea is fine, Ms. Luthor, thank you," J'onn says, scanning the room like he's expecting Lex Luthor to burst through a wall in his old mechanized war suit at any moment. "What is it you wanted to speak to us about? Kara said it sounded urgent."
Lena spends an inordinate amount of time pouring their cups. In fairness, Kara's rarely witnessed a nervous Lena so it takes her a hot minute to identify it.
Kara's dam bursts before Lena can get a word in edgewise. "I am so sorry. I wanted to tell you forever ago. We wanted to tell you. But there are all these stupid rules and legal agreements. And Supergirl's government handler is a psycho when it comes to this stuff."
"What Kara means, Ms. Luthor," J'onn says, "is that it's nothing personal against you. My handler and the people she works for are very careful. As they should be."
Kara begs to differ. Each time Kara accidentally reveals she's Supergirl to another person, Alex gets another step closer to having a nervous breakdown, she's pretty sure, and Lena Luthor of all people finding out would probably send poor Alex into cardiac arrest. Kara looks meaningfully at the manila folder in J'onn's lap, which contains a 30 page nondisclosure agreement that Alex spent hours tailoring to Lena. It's completely bogus, given that it's an NDA forbidding Lena from talking about the obviously-100%-true relationship between Kara Danvers and Supergirl, but still. Not how a healthy person spends their Friday night.
Kara catches Lena's eye and shakes her head. "I definitely mean she's a nut."
"It's her job," J'onn says.
"A professional nut."
Kara hopes the light banter will relax Lena, who looks as tight as a guitar string about to snap, but Lena doesn't laugh or join in or do much of anything besides bite her lip and look away.
This is a conversation among friends, right? Lena is best friends with Kara, and sort of… friendly… with Supergirl. You don't cry in the arms of someone you're not friendly with, not like how Lena cried last night. Perhaps she senses the different mood from Supergirl. J'onn's body language is as tense as Lena's.
"I know you will be discreet, Ms. Luthor," J'onn says, "but we would appreciate it if you signed a non-disclosure agreement."
Lena grips her teacup a little too hard. "It's quite alright. I understand the need for discretion." She fixes J'onn with a hard look. "I'd never want to put Kara in harm's way, and that's exactly what this sort of secret would do if it got into the wrong hands."
"I know," Kara says. She reaches for Lena's free hand. "That doesn't mean you're not allowed to feel hurt." Their eyes connect. "I'm sorry."
Lena sets her teacup down and cradles Kara's hand in her lap, her soft thumbs running over Kara's knuckles. Lena swallows. "I—"
J'onn rests his hand on Kara's shoulder. It's a fatherly, comforting gesture that J'onn gives to Kara and Alex when emotions run high. Lena's eyes tug downward, she pulls away from Kara's touch, and the moment ends.
Kara frowns at the response. "Hey, you know this isn't going to change anything between us, right? You're still my best friend. That's not going to stop. I mean, so long as you want me as a friend."
"I'll always want that, Kara," Lena says, a true smile finally pulling at her lips, brittle though it may be. She shifts in her seat, uncharacteristically fidgety, then crosses her legs. "Listen, Kara. And… Supergirl. Speaking of Kara's safety, that's the reason I wanted to talk." She threads her fingers over her knee. "I had an encounter with a few individuals I believe might be connected with my mother's old network."
"When was this?" J'onn asks sharply.
"A few weeks ago, at a dinner my CFO held to attract investors for our clean water initiative. I wasn't paying much attention to the conversation, to be honest. They didn't show interest in the project, but they did ask quite persistently about my work with Supergirl."
J'onn's eyebrows twitch in a distinctly non-human way. "What kinds of questions?"
Lena stares into her teacup. "If we were close. If I knew how to contact you. If I thought you were involved in any relationships with a human. I told them no, then they started asking about you, Kara. If I thought you two were close. How often you two met. I shut it down, I wrote them off as fanboys with a crush on Supergirl who might've read a few of your CatCo articles, and I didn't think about it again. Until…" Her gaze flickers between the pair. "Last night. When I realized what the… situation… was, and realized that they might have been on to something. I had my private investigator do some checks on them first thing this morning. He found the connections to my mother's old contacts and I asked you two here."
Lena slides a thumb drive across the coffee table. J'onn takes it, expression inscrutable. Told you you'd feel like a fool.
J'onn tucks the thumb drive into his boot. "If they were questioning your connection to me, they're likely planning on targeting you, too."
"Cadmus is always targeting me." Lena rubs her face. "It's Kara. I mean, everyone knows Lois Lane is married, but the second she breathed in Superman's direction… I don't need to tell you the hell she went through before Lex was put behind bars. They like doing this, using loved ones against their enemies. It's what they do, and they don't even need to know what I know. Kara's the only reporter in the world you talk to. Once they've set their sights on her…" Lena's gaze lands on Kara, pleading forgiveness like it's somehow her fault, like a part of her expects Kara to curse her out for it. "I'm so… so sorry you're being dragged into this."
J'onn stands, all business. "I need to get this to my team. We'll haul them in, see what we can shake out. Thank you for this, Ms. Luthor. I really appreciate it."
He heads toward the balcony and Kara stays seated, not sure if J'onn wants to leave with her or not, but determined to have a private conversation with Lena somewhere without the DEO's bugs. She lowers her glasses. X-ray vision reveals a device buried in the spindly lamp on Lena's desk.
"Oh, and Ms. Luthor," J'onn says, stepping outside. "I'll be assigning you a twenty-four seven security detail. I know you have a private team, but my people are highly experienced in dealing with Cadmus. They'll keep you safe." And keep her under the DEO's ever-mistrustful surveillance, J'onn doesn't say.
Lena mouths one minute to Kara and follows him outside, then slides the glass door shut. Kara adds sugar to her tea, pretending she can't hear the hushed conversation outside. She's pretty good at giving people privacy, but they're right there. They might as well be standing on either side of her, shouting at the top of their lungs.
She hears Lena's hesitant shuffle toward J'onn. "Supergirl," Lena says, "Kara's getting a detail too, yes? She'll have people looking out for her?"
"She has me," J'onn says dismissively. "I wouldn't worry, Ms. Luthor. It's you I'm concerned about. You're a high profile target." Even if Kara weren't actively trying to be abducted, the DEO is undermanned and no one's wasting a security team on Kara. Kara is her own security team. Unfortunately for J'onn, it turns out that is precisely the wrong thing to say.
"Excuse me?" Lena's blood pressure skyrockets, a rumbling thunder in Kara's ears, followed by an incredulous scoff. Her head cocks in that dangerous, sexy sort of way. "I'm sorry, you can't possibly be saying you're leaving Kara to fend for herself while you're out… Supergirling, are you? And what about when she's at work? She travels all over National City chasing stories. Are you going to follow her everywhere?"
"Ms. Luthor," J'onn says. He's trying to be gentle, Kara can tell. J'onn's more of an upfront, harsh truths kind of Martian, but he's making an effort to be more… well, more Kara-ish. "I can hear her from a dozen miles away. I can fly from one end of the city limits to the other in less than four seconds. She's in good hands, I promise."
"That's your game plan? You're—" Lena catches herself mid-scowl, noticing that Kara is looking her way through the glass door. Lena flashes Kara a strained smile.
Kara gives a cheerful wave. Nope, no way she can hear Lena and Supergirl arguing. No, sir.
Lena leans into J'onn's space, her teeth grinding like sand paper. J'onn lifts his chin and stands his ground, which impresses Kara. She's intimidated and she's not even part of the conversation.
"Have you met Cadmus?" Lena says through her teeth, smiling presumably for Kara's benefit. The effect is kind of terrifying. "My brother wrote the handbook for these pieces of shit. They're going to do something insane, like hide bombs all around the city, or send that freak cyborg into a nursing home, or something. And that's when they'll make a move, while your back is turned. That's when they'll hurt Kara."
"Or me," Lena says. "But I have a private security team, and a penthouse with a hundred thousand dollar security system. Kara doesn't. She has some crappy little studio in the worst neighborhood," (Kara stiffens - hey!) "the locks on her windows are broken," (the landlord's getting around to it,) "her neighbor is a drug dealer," (it's just pot, it's not a big deal, gosh,) "and the police might as well be nonexistent for all the good they do."
"It's not that bad," J'onn says, though Kara detects a tinge of guilt. The DEO pays her little more than a food stipend.
"Would anyone in that building call 911 if they heard screaming?" Lena presses. "Or gunshots?"
Alright, now Lena's really overselling it. For one, Mrs. Ennerstein across the hall has called 911 because Kara's TV was too loud. For another thing, it's not the absolute worst neighborhood. East Heights has a higher B&E rate. So… yeah. Not the worst. And the proximity has enabled Supergirl to do a lot of good there.
"Have you considered Kara's opinion?" J'onn asks. "She doesn't want strangers hovering over her twenty-four seven. She told me herself."
Kara did no such thing, but J'onn knows she's listening and that she'll verify his claims, if asked.
"If you won't do your job and protect Kara, I will." Lena's voice lowers into a dangerous register. Kara shivers. "You can keep your GI Joes. I don't want them anywhere near me unless it's to protect Kara. I'll hire my own damn team to watch her."
J'onn works his jaw. Lena has him trapped, though she doesn't realize that her act of ultimate friendship would, in fact, severely endanger the sanctity of the all-holy Kara Danvers secret identity.
"Alright," he says, "how about this. She'll have a team of two. Myself and a friend. He's an alien with similar abilities, and Kara trusts him. If I'm pulled away, he'll have her back."
"Similar abilities," Lena says, raising a disbelieving eyebrow. "As strong and fast as you?"
"Not quite, but almost." J'onn shrugs. "But he also has access to other abilities I don't. Strength isn't everything. One might say he's objectively more capable."
This old argument again. Beat a Martian in an arm wrestling contest once and you'll never hear the end of it.
But he catches Lena's lip worrying beneath her upper teeth, and his expression turns somber. Perhaps for once he's considering the outrageous possibility that Lena maybe, possibly, could be Kara's actual friend. "She'll be the safest person on the planet, Ms. Luthor. I assure you I mean that literally."
Lena deflates like a sad, beautiful balloon. "I'm sorry. You were so kind to me last night—this morning. I know you're doing everything in your power to keep Kara safe."
And keep you safe too, Kara thinks, mentally willing J'onn to say it. But he doesn't, because he's not Kara and he doesn't understand how little Lena values her own life. Sometimes Lena needs to hear that she's worth saving. Sometimes Lena forgets.
"You're a good friend," J'onn says. "If you think looking out for Kara is going to put you on my bad side, Ms. Luthor, you're mistaken. Quite the opposite. I'm glad she has you in her corner."
It's the most Kara-esque statement he's made yet. The stiff set to his shoulders tells Kara that it's superb acting rather than actual belief in the power of Lena's friendship. Nonetheless, Lena sighs like she's re-assured. She doesn't have the benefit of knowing J'onn's tells.
Kara drains the dregs of her tea as the pair exchange stilted farewells. J'onn leaves Lena with the manila folder containing NDA: a novella by Alex Danvers, Ph.D.
J'onn has to be reconsidering this zuurt-brained plan. Lena has demonstrated a vested interest in working with the DEO to stymie Cadmus. She's provided J'onn a flash drive of information, and risked angering Supergirl to keep Kara safe. Kara will hang on until he's regained his senses and learned to trust that Lena isn't a card-carrying member of the Lex Luthor Cabal of Evil.
She loses herself to her thoughts, contemplating the bottom of her teacup, until Lena clears her throat.
"Food?" Lena asks.
Kara's smile is as fake as the one Lena gave her through the sliding glass door. "Always."
Food turns out to mean holing up in Lena's board room, because Lena is "sick of looking at the walls of this office." Kara pretends not to hear Lena giving Jess directions to have her office windows replaced with bulletproof glass. Instead she follows Lena to the board room, hoping that Lena values her own safety and is not just bulletproofing her office because of Kara's frequent visits. The fact that Lena had yet to give a damn about snipers firing into her office before today tragically suggests otherwise.
The board room isn't a better view, in Kara's humble opinion. It's windowless, its only decorations a white projector screen (presumably for super important powerpoint presentations about stocks, or synergy, or whatever it is business people talk about) and a painting of a bowl of fruit. An intern delivers Chinese food and a beefy bodyguard with a bluetooth in his ear analyzes samples with a handheld scanning device.
"Mr. Burke," Lena says, "will you please arrange to have one of our spare prototypes delivered to Ms. Danvers office? It's L-Corp design, Kara. It obviously can't detect every poison in the world and R&D is still having a hard time detecting alien substances, but it would make me feel so much better if you would use it."
"Poison?" Kara squeaks. To be fair, Cadmus has tried to poison her. Key word: tried. "I mean, Supergirl says she can smell if anything bad is added to something."
"But she's not with you every single meal, is she? Surely she doesn't eat lunch with you in the office every day, even if she's," Lena stumbles her words a bit, "with you at breakfast or dinner."
Kara sighs, eyeballing the ungainly device. She supposes she can keep it in her desk drawer at CatCo. "Fine. But only for you, Lena, and only because I worry about how much you stress out sometimes."
Lena rewards her with a resplendent smile.
"Clear," the bodyguard announces.
By the time all is said and done, the food is cold. Kara and Lena hunch over take-out boxes at the far end of the conference table. It's a lot like eating in a bank lobby, except if Kara accidentally cracks the table here, she'll owe like a million dollars.
"It seems so obvious in hindsight," Lena says, picking at her beef and broccoli. "The late night coffees. The way you two talk about each other. The way you bickered, just earlier, about Supergirl's handler? God, like an old married couple." Her nose scrunches, and she gives Kara the side-eye. "Remember when you told me you flew here on a bus?"
"Yes?" Kara cringes. "I kind of hoped whenever I say something embarrassing and you don't acknowledge it, you're doing me a favor and erasing it from your memory?"
"Nope." Lena pops a broccoli into her mouth. "Remember every time. So that was—did Supergirl give you a lift that day?"
Kara stuffs two potstickers into her mouth, not meeting her gaze. She nods. It's technically not a lie.
"And that was two years ago. Supergirl did say she'd known you a long time. " Lena sets down her chopsticks to rub her temples. "It's all coming together. God."
Kara swallows the potstickers a little too fast. She doesn't deserve to taste them.
"There's something else," Kara says. "Something I, um, I want to tell you, but I can't."
"Then don't," Lena cuts her off. "I work with government contracts and classified information all the time. I know how sensitive these things can be."
"It's not like that. I mean, it is. But it's also personal. A lot of people, um, they have an agreement, Supergirl and the government agency she works with. They all have to agree if she's going to reveal, um, certain things. For safety reasons. There's so much that I—that both of us—want you to know. But not everyone agrees yet. And Supergirl's working on convincing them—"
"—and if you're asking me stuff about me and Supergirl, I might have to talk around some things. Because I'm so sorry I ever lied to you, and I just want to stop. But this whole stupid situation means I have to keep hiding some things. Well, like one really, really big thing."
Lena takes Kara's hands in hers. "I understand."
"It's… I wish… When you find out… you're going to be like, why, Kara, why? Why didn't you trust me? But I do trust you. So much."
A brilliant smile spreads across Lena's face, a pink tinge rushing her cheeks like Kara's giving her a compliment. It crushes Kara's soul. "Kara, I understand. I know what my name means to most people. I don't blame you. It's okay."
"It is not okay." She forces herself to take a breathe and meet Lena's eyes, which are soft with far too much understanding. Her gut twists. Kara wrenches her gaze to her beef and broccoli.
A dozen more platitudes and premature pleas for forgiveness flit at the back of her tongue, but she swallows them. This conversation isn't a verbal insurance policy protecting her from Lena's wrath down the road. Lena will have every right to feel hurt and betrayed. Until then, Kara will be the best friend she can be. Lena deserves that much.
As they continue eating, Kara steers into a complaint about Snapper, desperate to leave the topic behind as quickly as possible. Their conversation lapses into a more comfortable pace, spending the rest of lunch trading small but easy smiles. Lena doesn't bring up why she visited at 3 AM, weeping and desperate, and Kara doesn't push. She has time. She can give Lena that.
Lena's first test, for lack of a better term, comes after a brainstorming session at the DEO during which Kara stands as a staunch advocate for giving Lena Luthor a chance to prove herself. Alex, of all people, throws in her support, and a plan is made.
The DEO contacts Lena to request assistance narrowing down potential Cadmus sympathizers that could do with a closer look by authorities who don't necessarily need a warrant (the irony slaps Kara in the face, given the bug currently planted in Lena's desk lamp). The trick, however, is that the DEO already knows who the Cadmus sympathizers are, given that these particular sleazeballs are already bugged and monitored 24/7, some of their primary intelligence gathering resources.
Lena agrees in a heartbeat and Alex directs her to one of their phony FBI satellite offices kept for public relations.
"Kara?" Lena's eyebrows shoot up as she emerges from the dingy service elevator that leads to their phony office space. "And Supergirl? What are you two doing here?"
Warm and fuzzies zip over Kara's skin at the thought that Lena would focus on ordinary Kara Danvers before Supergirl. Kara bounces over to her. "We're here for moral support!" She shoots Lena two thumbs up, then nudges J'onn with her toe. J'onn gives the most awkward thumbs up in the history of thumbs.
Lena relaxes a fraction of a percent, displaying a small but genuine smile of appreciation. "Well, alright then."
J'onn takes the lead and they file into the office to find Winn at a computer console pulling up images. He spins in his chair, grin widening as his eyes bounce from J'onn to Kara.
"Oh my god," Winn says, whose expression can only be described as manic glee. "Please kiss."
"Winn," Alex hisses, thumping him on the back of the head.
Alex gestures at Lena, who's taking in the drab decor and ironic motivational posters Kara's sure Winn is responsible for.
"Oh, please," Lena says, hovering by a filing cabinet, "don't mind me. Mr. Schott and I have worked together before."
Lena grants him a wan smile and Winn gives her that heavy metal "rock on" hand sign. Kara lights up at the realization that Lena has not one but two friendly faces to support her in "enemy" territory. She would count J'onn as a third friendly face, but even at his best friendly Supergirl impression, he's, well... intimidating.
"I am not a whore on this planet for your sexual gratification," J'onn says.
Winn goes pale. "Of course not, sir—ma'am. Oh, god. Sorry, ma'am."
Kara snorts, bopping J'onn in the arm. "You tell him, babe."
Everyone bursts into laughter, including Alex's surly self. Even J'onn cracks a smile. Everyone except Lena, that is. She stares hard at a poster that's one of those cheesy pictures of a mountain with some quote about determination.
It can't be easy on Lena, the outsider surrounded by friends. She wears her CEO persona like armor, like she's in a board room waiting for a meeting to start and it's all bad news. A wave of bitterness rocks Kara. When this is all over, Lena's going to have so much friendship. So much.
Kara pushes past J'onn and squeezes Lena's wrist. "Ready, Freddie?"
Winn drags over one of those cheap plastic chairs that come in stacks of ten. He pats it invitingly and Lena settles on it like a queen on her throne.
"Ready," Lena says.
Alex and J'onn cross their arms and lurk in the back while Kara sticks to Lena like glue. Winn cycles through about fifty photos of varying size and quality, typing notes on information Lena provides: business ties, investments, known associates, et cetera. Lena starts out stiff as a board but Kara and Winn keep up a running commentary ("I bet this guy collects stamps! Total stamp collector." "Oh my god, Kara, you can't just throw out an accusation like that. Terrorism? Okay, maybe. But stamps, whoa there, buddy. Just whoa.") and by the end of it, Lena seems simultaneously exasperated and touched.
Once the identification is said and done, Kara walks Lena to the door and it's Lena who initiates the hug. Kara nearly vibrates with affection—but of course doesn't, because wow, what a non-human thing to do.
"Thanks for being here, Kara," Lena says. Then over Kara's shoulder, "And thank you for bringing this together, Supergirl."
J'onn nods. "If you think of anything else that could help, please let us know immediately. Kara, would you mind staying?"
Lena bites her bottom lip, squeezes Kara's hand, then leaves.
The door shuts and like a curtain is being drawn, the pleasant expressions fall from Alex and J'onn's faces.
"Well?" Kara says. "How'd she do?"
Winn scrolls through his notes. "Thirty-eight out of fifty were Cadmus cronies that we know of. Twenty of them work at L-Corp or deal with L-Corp in one form or another. She identified three as a hard yes, plus ten maybes."
"She didn't finger the most influential of them, either." Alex sits on the edge of the computer desk and crosses her arms. "If we were to arrest the ones she identified, Cadmus wouldn't exactly be crippled. They're mid-level goons, max."
"It's not like she pretended she didn't recognize them," Winn interjects, swiveling his chair. "She just couldn't say for sure if they seemed ideologically aligned with her brother. I mean, are we expecting her to be psychic? Her brother's trying to kill her. Who's going to come out and say, hey, I'm a big fan of him, loved working with the guy, let's discuss it over wine and cheese?"
"Her brother hasn't tried to kill her since last year," Alex says. "So let's say she agreed to head up the family terror business and he called off the assassination attempts, cool, I can follow. But then why spend so much time getting on our good side? Lillian never did that. The lines in the sand were clear with her. Lex too. I'm not saying Lena's innocent here, but I can't exactly suss out what her motivation would be. It doesn't make sense."
Rao bless Alex Danvers.
J'onn glows red, and Supergirl reshapes into Hank Henshaw. "If we gather enough evidence, her motivation will reveal itself in due time. We just need to know if she's playing us. I don't like being played."
"Or," Kara says, "or she's a good person who wants to help."
"Or," Alex puts her hands on her hips, "Lex and Lillian were nutjobs, and she's the only Luthor intelligent enough to play the long game without taking the heat herself. Lex flew around in a crazy purple war suit, planted bombs, and worked from a literal lair. Lillian was a little better, but still a fruitcake. Lena's a natural politician. She could get out of anything with money in the right hands, whispers in the right ears." She pauses meaningfully. "The DEO's ear. Supergirl's ear. The ear of a reporter who writes for a popular national magazine."
Kara throws up her hands. "You just said it doesn't make sense! Like ten seconds ago!"
"Am I not allowed to hypothesize? This is how an investigation works, Kara. We make educated guesses and try to prove them or disprove them according to the evidence. Not feelings. Not gut instinct. Data collection, maneuvering, and exploitation."
Kara hypothesizes that Alex is a jerk-face, but she keeps that to herself. "I'm here, aren't I?" Her shoulders slump. "I'm lying to her. A lot. Even though I know it's going to hurt her. But our friendship, that's real. And that's evidence, too."
J'onn and Alex exchange looks, and Kara knows, just knows they're thinking how she'd never be able to tell if Lena were faking. Kara's too naive. Kara's too close to be objective. And on and on.
It's a strange thing, earth culture. Humans consider optimism to be naive while they associate pessimism with age and wisdom. On Krypton, a culture that had survived hundreds of thousands of years of war, it was pessimism that had been associated with naivete. The wisdom of the angry, they'd called it. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps there's something to be said that Krypton ended in ashes, and the Green Martians have but J'onn left to carry their mantle, but Kara can't let go of it. It's in her soul.
It's hard to imagine a more awkward situation than sitting in the park at midnight, eating a picnic-for-two alone. Kara leans her back against a tree, legs splayed on a flannel blanket as she chews a ham sandwich (yuck, but she's hungry).
A blanket of stars twinkles overhead. The collective hearts of National City beat around her, soft drums thrumming from the inky landscape. Couples often come to the park for a bit of moonlit romance, though certainly not as late as this. Kara's, unfortunately, is the only heart beating in the park, not counting the Cadmus agents lurking in pairs as they stalk Kara Danvers, Supergirl's highly vulnerable, highly kidnappable girlfriend.
Actually, she can imagine a more awkward situation. It happened an hour ago, when J'onn was posing as her Super date. Awkward might be too weak a word, honestly, as J'onn kept enough space between them to fit a car, then gruffly poured himself a glass of rosé while avoiding eye contact. More like mortifying. Cringe-inducing. Never to be spoken of again.
The whole thing is staged, obviously. This kind of operation hadn't been necessary back in the early days when Kara was being kidnapped left, right, and center. J'onn and Kara have led Cadmus to the park for a romantic interlude beneath the stars only for J'onn to receive an "emergency call" and whoosh off to save the night, or whatever.
Now if Cadmus could just straighten their spines and kidnap her already… It's never been this hard before. She crams a sixth sandwich into her mouth. What does Lois do to make herself a target? Besides, you know, hard-hitting journalism. Because Kara's article on National City's top ten Chinese restaurants isn't exactly—
A flashlight shines directly into her eyeballs.
Kara chokes on a chunk of ham. "What—how—Lena?"
Lena sits cross-legged in slow motion, as though Kara is actually a show horse liable to spook. "Hey," she says gently.
"Um." Kara chews, then swallows. "Hi? What are you doing out here? It's like, almost one in the morning." Then she remembers the Cadmus agents prowling the park. She lowers her voice, hand snaking to find Lena's in the dark. "Are you okay?"
Lena squeezes Kara's hand. "I'm okay," she says with a strained laugh. "I'm the one that's supposed to ask that question, I think." She gestures to the flannel blanket, the abandoned picnic basket, and the graveyard of crumpled saran wraps from the sandwiches. A bottle of red lies on its side, unopened. Kara scoots to block the half-empty rosé, not wanting to appear like a lush.
"I'm alright," Kara says, off-kilter. "You're alright?"
Lena gives a tremulous smile. "I'm alright if my best friend's alright."
"Well alright then."
Lena scooches her back against the trunk, shoulder brushing Kara's. She's wearing socks with flip-flops. Kara bites her lip not to smile.
"Jess was out with her fiance," Lena says, jerking her head toward the lit cobblestone trail a ways off. "She saw you walking into the park alone in the middle of the night and got worried. She called me."
Kara vaguely remembers a surge of people meandering in twos and threes, talking softly amongst themselves, following the lit path. The movie crowd dispersing from the last showing of the night, she'd figured, trickling from the theater that sits caddy-corner from the park.
"Oh, wow, I didn't even notice her or I would have said hi. I was perfectly safe, though. Supergirl was already here setting up" —or J'onn was, anyway— "and she can hear me from like, a million miles away. And, you know." She rubs the back of her neck. "We can't exactly go out to a fancy restaurant for a night out, and definitely not during normal dining hours… so we kind of have to resort to extreme measures, sometimes. Middle of the night sort of extreme. We're so secret I'm afraid to tell myself half the time, ha ha."
Kara cringes at her own joke. Lena doesn't laugh. Instead, Lena's eyebrows furrow as though the weight of the world is on her. She smooths nonexistent wrinkles from her jeans.
"Date didn't go well?" Lena guesses, surveying the scene.
Kara hugs her knees to her chest. "It didn't really go at all. Supergirl heard someone in trouble, and she wanted to get back but one emergency led to another and…" She shrugs, giving Lena an assuring smile. "It's karma, probably, for all the times I've had to abandon you on our lunch dates. I've basically had this coming."
Lena's jaw sets. "Kara Danvers, don't you ever tell me to my face that you deserve something bad happening to you."
"Um," she says, eyebrows shooting up. "Sorry?"
Lena pulls Kara's hand into her lap. "Apology accepted, so long as you promise to remember you deserve every happiness, next time you're thinking thoughts like that." Lena waits for Kara to nod before she continues. "And do not get me started about how dangerous it is for you to be alone in a park this time of night."
That's kind of the point, she thinks, while glancing in the direction of the lurking Cadmus operatives. "You know, I'm actually extremely safe. Supergirl is like, two seconds away if anything bad happens, and if she's not there then she has a friend listening out for me."
Lena's face goes curiously blank. "Yes, she told me."
In fact, J'onn is in a DEO safehouse a block away listening to this very conversation, murmuring with Alex over some nonsense about how suspicious it is that Lena's shown up to an operation they've designed to draw in Cadmus. Honestly. Kara twists blades of grass with her free hand. "Not that I'm not, um, super grateful you got out of bed to find me, but I was kind of… enjoying some alone time."
"Yeah, you know, watching the stars…" After one thing, Kara's list of activities to do at night alone in a park runs dry. "…Eating sandwiches?"
Lena nudges the bottle with a foot. "Drinking wine?"
Kara beams. "Exactly. Uh, alone with my thoughts, you know?"
"Moping," Lena decides.
"No, not moping at all! Just…" She casts for a word that doesn't make her sound pitiful. "Indulging in introspection. Peacefully, not… sadly, or whatever. Just some me time, you know? So you don't have to worry about little old me—"
Lena's gaze turns hawk-like. "I know you're not about to send your best friend away so you can throw yourself a pity party and get drunk in the park in the middle of the night, alone."
"I'm…" Kara swallows. "Nevermind?"
In the distance, J'onn grumbles harder.
"Now," Lena says, patting her knees. "I think between you and me, we can salvage this night into something worth remembering." She smiles. "How about a date with Lena Luthor instead? A… friendship date. It's no night out with Supergirl, but I think we can figure something out. There's a twenty-four hour coffee place near here, if you're up for it."
"Um… okay, I'm up for it, yeah." She pulls away from Lena's warmth. It leaves her feeling cold despite being resistant to temperatures well below freezing. She makes to collect the trash she's produced before Lena can count just how many sandwiches Kara has eaten by herself.
Lena kneels in the grass, ostensibly helping, but moving like she's in slow motion. She picks up J'onn's dirty wineglass and fiddles with it. "We don't have to, if you don't want to. I—am I being too forward? I am, aren't I?"
Kara stashes the wine bottle in the picnic basket, glancing over her shoulder with a burst of x-ray vision. The Cadmus agents haven't moved.
"I just," Lena says, "I'm not very experienced with the friendship thing." She packs the wine glass in the basket and closes the lid, then hesitates. "This seems like something I should be doing, cheering you up. But if you really want to be left alone, of course I'll give you some peace and quiet. I could just… drive you home?"
Were Kara as mission-oriented as Alex, she would seize this opportunity to salvage the operation. Luckily, Kara is Lena-oriented.
"Oh, Lena," Kara says, pulling her into a hug, their awkward positions kneeling in the grass be damned. "A hot chocolate with my favorite person in the world sounds amazing. You're the best friend a girl could ask for."
Chest to chest, Kara's hypersensitive ears follow the minute vibrations from Lena's heart. Kara's skin is impervious to external vibrations, but she swears she can almost feel Lena's booming heart radiating through her skin.
"This is a very long hug," Lena says.
Her breathe is strangely shallow against Kara's hair. Lena's heart pounds like wild. Maybe Kara's squeezing too hard, like she always does, dang it. She releases Lena and climbs to her feet.
"Sorry," she says, rubbing the back of her neck, then she offers her hand. Lena takes it and Kara pulls her to standing position. Lena's hand is warm. Kara decides she'll hang onto it as long as Lena will let her. She gives it a swing. "Shall we?"
Lena smiles again, this time genuine. They walk together, Lena's flip-flops making soft pitter-patters in the grass. Lena doesn't let go, all the way to the coffee shop.
It's two days after Kara's impromptu friendship date with Lena, yet the tingles from Lena's goodbye hug still warm her skin. Speaking of Lena, there she is, cool as a cucumber in the midst of the most recent destruction wrought upon the street outside L-Corp.
"Kara?" Lena's beautiful green eyes bug right out of her head. She brushes past the throng of DEO agents, heels clacking.
Kara pauses her note-taking and flashes her a beaming smile. "Lena! I'm so glad you're okay!" As soon as Lena enters hug-range, Kara lunges.
Because she knows Lena's not okay, not really. Lena's quite good at pretending in situations like these, but it's definitely a facade. Kara can tell by the way Lena trembles—ever so briefly—in her arms, and presses her face into Kara's hair.
"You'd think I'd be used to threats on my life at this point, but every time's like the first time. If it weren't for Supergirl…" Lena pulls away and rubs her arms, looking lost. "I don't want to think about what might've happened. Now, not that I'm not happy to see you, but what on earth are you doing here? The FBI said there could be more of those aliens nearby, and I—" Her eyes latch on to Kara's messenger bag. "Is that an acid burn? Are you hurt? Oh my god, Kara, were you here when it attacked?"
Kara looks down. Sure enough, there's a splattered pattern of holes gaping in the fabric. She turns her notebook over. It's missing the back cover, which has melted off at some point. Oh gosh.
"Well, Supergirl was already on her way, and I was right there when she got the call, and Snapper's just trusted me with covering alien-related violence in National City, so it was sort of convenient?"
"Supergirl brought you here?" Lena says, smile fossilizing on her face. "To the middle of a battlefield?"
Battlefield's a little harsh. Alright, there's a metallic puddle that used to be a mini-van, but the Honchi had only been trying to communicate. He couldn't help being an enormous, acid-oozing slug.
"It added, like, milliseconds to her trip, tops," Kara says, fueled by a sudden fire. "And sadly I'm the only reporter in this stupid city full of stupid newspapers who'll actually report what happened, instead of 'another alien attack, everyone be afraid.' Or whatever will sell papers, I guess."
Lena blinks. "Was it not… another alien attack?"
"Oh, uh, not really." The fire dies as soon as it was born, replaced with a blush. "Sorry, I didn't mean to come off strong, it's just—" She gestures helplessly toward the mobile containment cell, where the Honchi is getting a stern telling off via interpreter. "From what I've learned so far, his friend was captured and killed by, uh, your brother." She fiddles with her glasses, politely pretending she doesn't see Lena stiffen. "His planet is driven by family dynasties. He thought maybe his people had offended your family somehow. So he showed up to L-Corp to ask if he could make amends to keep the rest of his friends safe. It just, uh… didn't translate very well, I think."
"Oh. That's…" Lena looks uncertainly at the steel containment cell. The DEO crowd around it, a scaly interpreter from the Quolan system making guttural sounds through a slit in the metal. She's quiet a long moment. "I don't think many reporters would report that, no. I don't think they'd even think to ask." She fiddles with her bracelet. "What's going to happen to it? Him? They're not going to…?"
And not everyone would think about the safety of an alien who just melted your front doors, Kara wants to say. She refrains because complimenting Lena when she's feeling guilty never turns out well. "Oh, the FBI said they're going to let him go after some mandatory human culture training. He's been registered with them a while, thanks to the amnesty act. He'll be okay."
A DEO agent—Jensen, nice guy, always getting cheez-its out of the vending machine—approaches with a side-eye at Kara, whom he likely recognizes. "Ma'am," he addresses Lena, "the perimeter's clear. Building's safe to come out of lockdown. We'll be out of your hair."
Kara harasses a few witnesses for quotes while Lena engages the agent in conversation. Her superhearing catches Lena lowering her voice to deadly levels and she loses her train of thought.
"What you told that reporter over there, about releasing that alien… If I find out that was some line, and that poor alien is trapped in a blackout base somewhere, the FBI will regret it. You tell your superiors they cannot fathom the depths of the political shitstorm I'm capable of creating."
The witness Kara's interviewing frowns, and Kara realizes she's grinning at a very unfortunate point in the witness's testimony. "Um, wow, that must've been terrifying," she says, screwing her face into something appropriately sympathetic.
As Kara finishes up her interview, Lena catches her eye and smiles through the crowd. It's one of those tiny, genuine smiles, like Lena's just happy that Kara exists. Kara smiles back. I'm happy you exist, Lena Luthor.
Lena ends up glaring at Supergirl the rest of the week, but all in all, it's an okay day.
Strangely, while Lena's relationship with Supergirl cools, Lena's simultaneously launching a one woman campaign to ensure their everlasting love and happiness. Her text initiation trickles to a halt, leaving it up to Kara to initiate any kind of conversation, and when asked Lena merely sends a thumbs up emoji and tells Kara she knows how busy CatCo can be and to use the free time to catch up with her other half.
That's another thing: Lena decides it's too much of a security risk to refer to Supergirl by name over text, so she takes to calling her Kara's 'other half.' Hope your other half isn't too hurt, Lena texts one evening after Supergirl has a nasty tussle with a xenophobic Farfarmniflatch. Let me know if there's anything I can do.
From anyone else, Kara might think it passive aggressive, but the thing with Lena is she's the exact sort of person to actually think of herself in terms of how much she's a burden to Kara's social activities, as if she isn't an equally important and equally pleasant part of Kara's life. At one point, they have an exciting exchange of texts in which Lena suggests a fancy dinner in some high-security private room that costs a zillion dollars, Lena's treat. Finally, Kara thinks, quality Lena time. Lena then follows it up with a balcony chat with Supergirl, requesting a dinner with her at the same time and location. Of course, it's all a set-up, with Lena intent on gifting them a surprise dinner for two somewhere the staff won't broadcast Supergirl's location to the world.
Kara thinks it's adorable. J'onn thinks it's a security threat.
Undercover DEO agents lurk around the perimeter, assault rifles hidden under long coats as Kara and J'onn eat a delicious meal. It's still awesome, though, because she gets to catch up with J'onn and it's been ages since they've talked in a non-work capacity. The only bummer is that Lena's not there to share it with her.
It's as though Lena thinks she has to be the perfect friend, and for some awful reason Lena thinks being a perfect friend means her importance in Kara's social circle needs a downgrade.
It's a miracle when on a Wednesday, Lena swings by CatCo for a surprise visit to discover Kara in one of the old, unused breakrooms, diving into a pile of thirty soft tacos.
"Um," Kara says with her mouth full, two tacos in. Then, because it's Lena and she's amazing, Kara hurriedly chews and gestures wildly for Lena to come in.
Lena seems stunned for a long moment, taking in the dusty breakroom, the flickering light bulb, and finally the giant pile of taco-y goodness.
Lena's face breaks. "Oh, Kara." She sets her purse on the table and slides into the seat next to her, then pats Kara's wrist. "She got called away?"
"Mm," Kara says, then swallows. Right. If there are thirty tacos, they must be for Supergirl. She shrugs. "Duty calls. More for me, I say!"
Lena looks her in the eye, dead serious. "You know if she could choose, she would choose to stay with you. Every time. I know she would."
Awwww. "Oh, don't worry, she'll make it up to me tonight," Kara says. She's going to eat the crap out of these tacos for dinner with no audience to judge her, no offense to Lena. And she's going to buy herself ice cream, because she deserves it for not eating every single one of these right this second.
"Ah," Lena says, voice unnaturally high. She shifts in her seat. "Good."
"And now I get to hang out with you!" Kara continues, perking up at the prospect.
Lena stumbles at that. "Well, I—surely Supergirl will return—I wouldn't want to intrude—"
But Kara's already putting a taco in front of her. Kara wiggles it. "Eat me, Lena," she says, deepening her voice. "Eat meeeeee."
"I'm sorry, I refuse to have a conversation with a taco."
"Hang out with Karrraaaaaa. She's cooooool. She misses yooooooou."
Lena blushes so hard Kara's almost concerned for her blood pressure. "I—oh, alright," she says. "I suppose."
Their lunch becomes Kara's favorite memory of the week, minus the part where Lena makes her use that fancy poison detector on every taco they eat. And Lena's so happy, sitting with Kara explaining how L-Corp designed the contraption in the first place, that Kara doesn't even mind that.
On an otherwise uninteresting weekday, Lena's private security team arrests a man who follows Kara into L-Corp. On his person they find chloroform, a rag, and a knife the size of Kara's forearm made of an alien steel invisible to metal detectors. Lena goes pale at the report and insists Kara attend when security gives a detailed briefing of how they plan to upgrade the metal detectors, squeezing her hand all the while like Kara will drift away like a balloon if she lets go.
Lena hires ten additional security staff and begs Kara to be more careful.
Lena abandons her previous strategy of pulling away and shifts gears to visiting Kara as many times as Kara's heart desires… which is amazing! The best! Kara loves it… except the parts where Lena hugs her as if through the sheer power of her friendship she can single-handedly prevent anything bad happening. There's little Kara can do but hug back.
Similar incidents happen two more times. Kara's pleased that Lena's security team is on the ball, for sure, but she wonders if she should start avoiding L-Corp because honestly, she just needs to get kidnapped already. The quicker it happens, the quicker the DEO can get better intel on who might actually be leading Cadmus.
Then Lena randomly decides to host a team of CatCo's reporters at the L-Corp building, Kara included, and Kara's plan to avoid L-Corp falls apart. The move is ostensibly to work on a special issue for an international technology expose that Lena absolutely did not throw together just for the excuse of moving Kara to her high security building.
And then Alex and J'onn take it as an excuse to lose their minds, hypothesizing it to be some kind of power play on Lena's part, and the DEO goes on full alert, and Supergirl's patrols double. Rao.
"Did you know," Lena says, popping out like a gremlin when Kara's searching the L-Corp hallways for the nearest vending machine, "there's no holiday specifically for reporters?"
"Um," Kara says. "World Press Freedom Day."
"Oh." Lena's eyebrows furrow. "Do I give the day off for that? For the people at CatCo?"
"No, we definitely keep reporting that day. That's kind of the point."
"Ah, of course," Lena says magnanimously. "Well, in that case, I'll say these gifts are in honor of that sacrifice. Here. For my favorite reporter."
Lena holds out a delicately wrapped gift box.
Kara squeals. "A present! For me? Oh gosh, Lena, you shouldn't have. I don't have anything for you!" She accepts it gently, turning it over, inspecting the high quality silver paper. It smells like Lena's perfume, and the tape is a little uneven. "Did you… did you wrap this yourself?"
Lena stares at a fixed point on the wall. "Of course I did."
Kara's heart feels like it might burst. She shreds the wrapping paper into a million pieces, right there in the hallway, and tears the box open. "Wow, a… taser?"
"With a few modifications," Lena says, smiling. Kara gets the feeling the modifications aren't to make the taser more victim-friendly. "Keep looking," Lena urges.
Also in the box, Kara finds a key chain that doubles as a set of brass knuckles and a can of pepper… "Gel?"
"More effective than pepper spray," Lena says, hovering over her shoulder. "Longer range, as far as twenty feet, and the wind can't blow it back at you. There was supposed to be a tracking device, too, but I want the signal to be detectable ten feet underground, minimum, and I'm running into problems with the power source. I don't know, I'm still brainstorming, but I should have something together eventually." Lena's rambling and it's Rao-damned adorable. "That can be your welcome to the building gift. If you want it."
"Lena…" Kara's voice trembles. Lena tenses, clasping her hands in front of her. "This is… the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me."
"Oh," Lena says, blinking, apparently surprised that her gift has received any appreciation at all. Honestly, what kind of ogre does she think Kara is? "Ah… you're welcome?"
Kara will not cry. She will not. "I want to hug you so bad right now."
Lena looks everywhere but directly at Kara. "If you must," she mumbles.
"No," Kara insists, "I don't want to force a hug on you if you don't want it. I just want you to know that I'm totally hugging you in my mind right now."
"Kara Danvers," Lena grinds out. "For god's sake, do you want a hug or not?"
They hug. Lena relaxes into it, then says "I'm so worried about you" into Kara's shoulder. It's simultaneously the best and worst feeling in the world.
A week later, Alex directs Supergirl to a suspected bomb threat at one of L-Corp's med tech factories that Lena happens to be inspecting at the time. Kara zips to the factory, hovering briefly over the crowd of evacuated employees and scanning for Lena. Their eyes connect. Kara gives a reassuring nod; Lena scowls.
"False alarm, Ms. Luthor," Kara reports after verifying exactly that, floating down to where Lena is pacing in the designated evacuation zone across the street.
"Is Kara here?" Lena says, a darkness coloring her voice. "You brought her, didn't you?"
"Oh." Kara guesses she shouldn't be surprised Lena would prefer talking to Kara over Supergirl. It's just a downer sometimes, not having the open communication they otherwise enjoy whenever she's in the suit. "No, she's right here, I'll grab her."
Lena's eyes flash with unholy rage, so Kara zips away before she can unleash it.
"Lena! Hey!" Kara jogs up behind her in full Kara Danvers get-up, causing Lena to turn around.
"Kara! What on earth are you doing here?"
Kara waves her pen and notebook, which is a new one to replace her previous, acid-digested one. "Chasing stories!"
"Ah," Lena says. Her mouth moves in what might be an attempt to smile.
"Yep, shame about the false alarm, but at least I get to see you." Kara catches herself. "Of course, I didn't want the bomb to be real, oh my gosh. I'm super happy everyone's safe."
Lena shifts, rubbing her arms even though it's not cold. "Are you sure it's a good idea, flying toward a bomb? What if it had been real and it had gone off? It's not safe, Kara."
Kara appreciates what Lena's feeling, really, she does. It's what Kara feels every freaking day when Lena and Alex are out prancing in front of bullets for the giggles, giving Kara's poor Kryptonian heart a heart attack most the time. "No one in this city is safe. It's part of my job, Lena. When National City's safe, I'll be safe. That's the deal, you know?"
"But is it necessary?" Lena presses. "Does the story really suffer if you're not physically in danger?"
Kara shrugs. "Yes?"
Lena looks like she's about to pass out. "And the alien attack last Monday? And the teenager with the enlargement gun creating spiders the size of houses? And the thing with the lasers coming out of its fingers? Was it absolutely necessary for Supergirl to bring you along to those, too?"
Kara beams. "Yep!"
"I need a drink," Lena says.
Kara takes her hand. That, Kara can fix.
"Supergirl. Can you hear me? If you can hear me, I want to talk. Please."
Across the city and buried in a cocoon of blankets, Kara opens her eyes. Her clock says it's a little after ten. She groans. She literally went to bed an hour ago. Who in Rao's name is—
"Supergirl? Are you out there?"
Lena. Kara sits straight up. Three seconds and a sound-barrier-splitting crack later, she's in her suit hovering above the L-Corp balcony, scanning the building with x-ray vision. "Ms. Luthor, are you in danger?"
Lena jumps straight out of her skin. "Supergirl! Jesus Christ!"
"Sorry," Kara says, not really sorry because Lena could have a gun to her head and still talk like she's having a polite discussion with a church group, so she's not taking any chances. "Are you in danger?"
"No! No, I am not in any kind of danger, I…" She tucks in some stray hairs behind her ear. "Can we talk?" She gestures to her office. "In private? It's sort of a… sensitive subject. But it's very important to me what we establish an open communication about it."
Kara's hackles slowly calm down. She scrutinizes the environment for clues, finding Jess gone but one member of Lena's DEO detail sitting calmly behind the administrator desk, the other stationed outside Lena's office door. Just a talk, then. Wait. "Are you sure this isn't something you'd rather be discussing with Kara?"
"It's about Kara."
Kara lands on the balcony. "Oh. Alright then." A curious smell draws her in like a stage hook. Cups, saucers, and a kettle sit beside Lena's couch, a tendril of blue smoke trailing from kettle to ceiling.
"It's some kind of Daxamite tea," Lena says, lacing her fingers together in front of her. "Rhea left it. I know Krypton and Daxam are different, but—"
But it's so thoughtful Kara could do a loop-de-loop on the spot. She doesn't, because she's a professional, but still. "This is amazing! Thank you, Ms. Luthor."
Kara alights to the kettle and pours them both cups. Lena settles into the far side of the couch, crosses her legs and folds her hands over her knee.
The tea tastes like… hm… like Kryptonian oregus mixed with Earth chamomile. A good tea to drink at night with a friend. There are even those weird salt pellets Daxamites love so much, also from Rhea, Kara presumes.
"I'm worried about Kara," Lena says, not touching her tea.
Kara sips. When is Lena not? "What makes you say that? Beyond the obvious."
"She cares a lot about using her job to help elevate those who are in rough circumstances." Lena rotates the tea cup in her hands. "Aliens, especially."
Kara frowns. "Yes."
"Not just them. Anyone she thinks deserves help." Lena worries her bottom lip. "God knows why but she counts me among them."
"I agree with her, but go on."
"The point is that when she's helping these people she tends to throw her personal safety out the window." Lena abandons all pretense of drinking tea and sets the cup down, un-sipped. "May I be frank with you, Supergirl?"
Whenever J'onn has used that phrase, it has not turned out well. Kara steels herself. "I welcome it, Ms. Luthor."
"Bringing Kara to the front lines in the midst of a fight is… incredibly irresponsible. You're putting her in danger every time you do it and maybe you forget just how vulnerable humans can be."
Kara stiffens. Images flash before her eyes. Lena plummeting off her balcony. Alex drowning, writhing in that tank. Winn shaking, tied to a chair. Broken bodies, never to move again because she was too slow to save them. "It's difficult for me to forget how vulnerable humans are, Ms. Luthor."
"I think if we present a united front, approach Kara together, we can convince her to be a little more cautious. At a minimum the area needs to be deemed safe by the authorities before she even thinks of diving in headfirst. I would have approached her sister, but I get the feeling Agent Danvers doesn't approve of me, so I'd appreciate it if you could get her on board too. James Olsen, her supervisor, is another—Supergirl?"
Kara's not sure what slipped from her stoic Supergirl expression, but it can't be good, because what in Rao's name does Lena expect Kara to do? Wait for the story to come to her?
"If Kara waits for 'the authorities' to tell her she's allowed to go anywhere, they control what story they let her see. She's the only reporter covering those kinds of stories in a way that treats aliens like people."
Lena sits ramrod straight. "You can't be serious. At the cost of her life?"
Kara stays seated, trying to keep a semblance of calm over the situation. "I don't like it, of course I don't like it. But at least I'm there to protect her. She'd do it with or without me, and I prefer with, always. She has to do what she believes in. I'm not about to tell her to stop risking her life to do what she thinks is right. Not unless I plan on taking off this cape."
"You're invulnerable," Lena hisses, whatever calm Kara was trying to convey bouncing off her. She rises from the couch, propelled by her own indignation. "You can fly. You have goddamn laser beams that come out of your eyeballs, for Christ's sake. What does Kara have? An eighty words per minute typing speed? How was that supposed to have helped her this morning if that bomb had gone off, huh? Riddle me that, Supergirl."
Deep breaths. Calm. Kara folds her hands in her lap as Lena paces. "I'm not a hypocrite and she's not mine to tell her what to do. I have to respect her decisions."
"You're supposed to care about her. You're supposed to be on my side." Lena slows, hand shooting to her mouth, then swivels mid-step. "How can you say you care when you're throwing her into a firing line every other day? How?"
How on earth is Kara supposed to respond to that? She understands Lena, to a point, but… isn't Alex a version of the same situation? Horribly, vulnerably human, yet determined to charge in at Kara's side? "It's terrifying," Kara says, measuring her words. And it is terrifying. Her nightmares of Alex dying will never permanently leave her, and every operation gone wrong adds another dimension, another scene of horrors. "But it's because I love her that I have to let her follow her own path. Be her own hero. If I didn't… maybe she'd still love me. But she'd resent me. Forever."
"Yes," Lena says, thoughtful and deadly. "And is that what you'd have said at her funeral, if she had died this morning? If she dies tomorrow? Because they're pretty words but at the end of the day, she'll be gone and those words will be all you have."
Kara's throat constricts, and she tries not to think about it, but then she is. Alex drowning. Alex face down in the dirt, bleeding out. Alex in a coffin, only it wouldn't be her Alex, but an old piece of meat where her beautiful sister used to be. Her eyes burn and she blinks it away, because damn it, Supergirl is not supposed to cry. Even Lena looks taken aback, unsure of herself.
"That is what I would say," Kara says, tensing her jaw. "At the funeral. And I would be proud."
Blood drains from Lena's already pale face. "Then we have nothing left in common. Get the hell out."
"Come on, Alex, how much benefit are we really getting from this?"
"If Lena's Cadmus?" Alex pummels the DEO's gym punching bag like it's—well, whoever Alex is imagining it to be, it's clearly someone who's offended her greatly. "Thousands of lives, if not more. Not a big deal or anything."
Kara floats on her back, circling the chain at the top of the bag. "Call me crazy," she says, running her fingertips along the ceiling, "but what if... What if we tested Lena's loyalties with an identity reveal? Like I jump out, take off my glasses, wah! 'I'm Supergirl, FYI! I betrayed you! I hate Luthors!' Say there's some kryptonite conveniently nearby. She lunges for it, boom, bad guy. But of course she won't, and then, yay! Friendship!"
Alex lays into the bag somehow harder and faster, which frankly Kara didn't think possible. "Because if she's Cadmus, she'd kill you." She huffs, then haymakers, uppercuts with a left, and continues in a flurry of moves Kara doesn't know how to identify except in how sorry she feels for the bag.
Kara tilts her head back and groans. "Okay, but why else?"
"You need more than one reason that's a terrible idea?" Alex says, flabbergasted, bent over with her hands on her knees and panting.
"The point," Kara charges onward, "is that this whole thing is stressing her out! It's stressing me out! But Lena, she's stressing way out. Half the time she thinks Supergirl's some jerk taking advantage of me! The other half the time she's forcing herself away from me, like she's not worth hanging out with anymore. Can we at least drop the relationship angle? I'm her only friend, and she gets a little insecure sometimes. I don't think competing with Supergirl for my friendship is the healthiest environment."
"You're right, Lena Luthor's mental health is the priority here."
"Exactly. Wait, was that sarcasm?"
"Not at all," Alex says, sounding suspiciously sarcastic.
Kara glowers. "Be serious, Alex. Alright, maybe my idea's completely ridiculous, but still, something's got to change. You know what? Here's a better plan." She drops to the floor, adjusting her cape, then puts her hands on her hips. "I need to break up with myself."
"Is this real?" Winn asks, who is lying on his back on the sit-up mat but not really doing much of anything. "I mean, this feels like real life. But I just saw this movie where this guy's in a mental hospital but he thinks he's in World War II, and sometimes I wonder."
"Kara, you will do no such thing." Alex puts her hands on her hips, matching Kara's pose but somehow coming off way more intimidating. "Listen to what everyone else is telling you for once in your god damn life. You're in a loving, long-term relationship with yourself until the DEO says otherwise and that's final."
"You are not helping my whole 'is this real' crisis," Winn says. "I mean wow. Like, really not helping."
It's a fruitless argument, not that Kara thought it would go anywhere. Nonetheless, she hugs Winn and Alex before she leaves, even if Alex is ridiculously sweaty.
"You okay?" says Alex when the hug goes on a little long. Alex pulls back and takes Kara by the shoulders, strong and brave and alive. "You're worrying me, weirdo."
But Kara doesn't want to think about the images Lena dug up in her mind last night, so she doesn't. "Can't I just remember how much I love you and want to express that?"
Alex's face scrunches like a chipmunk's. "I guess?"
"Cool," Kara says, sweeping in for another bone-crunching hug.
Alex sighs. "Cool."
Kara spends the rest of the afternoon on mundane tasks: armed robberies, a few police disputes involving aliens, one brief moment of excitement involving grand theft auto. She sends Lena a litany of texts between rescues. Nothing hard-hitting, just little texts about her day, asking about Lena's day, basically making sure Lena knows she's still an important part of Kara's life. Making sure Lena remembers she's loved, because sometimes Kara worries she doesn't. Lena's responses are brief, to the point, but Kara persists, and by the end of the night Lena's gone so far as to use an emoji. It's no smiley face—it's a moon Lena sends alongside her goodnight, but Kara takes what she can get.
The next morning, Kara is rolling out of bed to get ready for a long day of reporting when her phone vibrates.
can we talk? it 's important, please. worried about you. lunch at noonan's tomorrow?
Something about how it's written makes Kara think Lena's spent some time thinking about how to word it. It's not normally how Lena texts. Usually Lena utilizes appropriately adult compound/complex sentences, and definitely with correct capitalization. Lena's message here is closer to how Kara texts. And Noonan's… Lena knows that's a place of comfort for Kara. Sometimes Lena's so thoughtful and considerate it makes Kara just want to squeeze her.
She texts back a confirmation and rolls herself back under the covers, turning herself into a burrito. "Unnnf," she says into a pillow.
Kara's not looking forward to the topic of the conversation, at any rate, based on Lena's last encounter with Supergirl. Maybe Kara can agree to making some concessions. She's not sure where—it really is critical to her reporting that she's on scene as soon as possible given the NCPD's tendency to cover up and shut up, especially when it comes to aliens. Given that she's an invulnerable sun sponge there's no excuse for her not to be there, or at least none that will square with Kara's sense of morality.
This conversation is not going to be fun… but Lena is only doing what a good friend would, Kara reminds herself. For someone who claims to have never had a best friend before, Lena's doing quite well. Kara can't hold that against her.
Stuck at meeting across town, won 't be able to walk with you from the office. Will still be there by 12.
It's possible Lena is lying to avoid the blundering conversation sure to accompany said walk, in which they are both awkwardly anticipating the serious talk Lena wants to have. Or maybe the meeting is legit, but either way, it ends up being convenient because Kara's pretty sure she's about to be kidnapped. Finally.
A white van follows Kara from L-Corp on her way to Noonan's. It's nondescript, no business markings, bearing an out of state license plate, a driver vaping something grape-flavored, and four angry men with guns in the back. Kara listens to them pump themselves up as she threads through the mid-day sidewalk crowd. "Grab and go," the driver keeps saying, "grab and go." Make sure to cover her scream. Shoot anyone who busts out a cellphone. That sort of thing. Kara can't help but think of how futile that is on an open street until she realizes they intend to storm Noonan's, which, alright, the fact that they're reasonably confident that's where she's going makes her very predictable and boring. One of them refers to her as "the alien's whore." It's all very rude.
No way Kara's letting them ruin Noonan's with Lena at her table, vulnerable and likely to try all sorts of heroics. It's clear Cadmus isn't expecting Lena to be there, nor Lena's heavily armed, plain clothes private security team alongside a detail from the DEO, tinder for the flame in what could turn into a mass casualty shoot-out. There's only so many times a year Kara can go missing during a crisis and have Supergirl conveniently swoop in at the same time.
Kara fishes out a paper from her purse, then frowns at it, pretending it's important. Her lips part oh-so-slightly and "the wind" blows it from her hand and into an abandoned alley.
"Darn it!" she says for the benefit of passerby, who don't give a fig and keep walking. She scurries after it.
She blows the paper a few more times, chasing it halfway down the alley. The van sidles to the entrance, waiting, debating. They murmur amongst each other. Oh, for the love of…
Kara breaks her heel, trips, and falls over.
"Ow," Kara says, this time for the benefit of a nearby rat gnawing on a pizza crust. It glares at her. Aww. Reminds her of Alex.
The van turns and reverses into the alley, taking up nearly the entire width with its girth.
"Sure hope they don't kidnap me," Kara continues her dialogue with the rat, newly dubbed Alex Junior. "What with my weak human ankle so injured and all." She makes an attempt to get up, putting weight on her ankle, hissing and collapsing in the effort. Alex Junior skitters away. "Nice meeting you!" she calls after it while dialing 911, which should send Alex an automatic alert that their next operation is a go. She hits dial just in time for four guys in balaclava masks to pile out the van and bodily haul her up, knocking her cell phone down to clatter onto the pavement.
"Nine-one-one, what is the nature of your emergency?"
One of them stomps it, crushing it beneath the heel of his boot, and the call cuts off.
It's going very well, in Kara's opinion.
Then a door at the back end of the alley swings open, a middle-aged man in a chef's apron shuffling out, a bag of garbage in each hand. The garbage bags drop to the ground. "Oh Jesus!"
Then: "Joyce! Joyce, call the cops! Quick!"
One man snaps out of it. The muzzle of his gun raises, the buttstock tightening against his shoulder. No. Nononono—
Kara headbutts him. Then she tazes another guy, who shrieks and convulses his way into a pile of garbage. Then she pepper sprays—no, pepper gels the other two, who fall to the ground screaming and rubbing their eyes and wow, that is the opposite of what they should do. Her superhearing catches the driver scrambling out of the driver's seat, accompanied by the familiar mechanical pump of a shotgun.
"Sir!" Kara cries, limping and falling onto her broken cell phone. "Run! Get help, please! Lock your door!"
There's something to be said for the bravery of humans in that moment.
Their eyes lock, hers and the middle-aged man, and he's not going anywhere. No, he's running right for her, hand held out and screaming for Kara to get up, get up sweetheart, and for Joyce to stay back and for Supergirl to help, please, help, and—
Cold metal presses into the back of Kara's head. The driver.
"Back the fuck up," the driver says, "or I'll blow her fucking brains out."
His hands rocket straight up. "Hey, it's cool man, it's cool."
"Back up! Back the fuck up!"
"I'm going, man, I'm going."
The man Kara headbutted stumbles to his feet while clutching his nose and Kara tenses, ready to catch a bullet because her secret identity isn't worth a man's life.
"Everyone back in the van," the driver says, and they stagger and help each other get up, tumbling in. He yanks Kara by the hair and the familiar bag goes over her head. "In you go, bitch." He shoves her and crawls in after. The double doors slam, blocking the middle-aged man from sight. The driver pushes past the others, sliding into the driver's seat. Duct tape wraps around her wrists. The van eases itself into traffic like nothing happened.
Kara's x-ray vision follows her would-be hero, who is yelling for Supergirl. Lena's taser and pepper gel lie on the ground near Kara's purse and smashed phone. 'I'm so worried about you,' Lena had said when she'd gifted them, murmuring into Kara's hair as they hugged. She imagines Lena sitting at Noonan's doing that nervous thing with her hands as she practices the conversation in her head, waiting and waiting for Kara who never shows up.
I'm so sorry, Lena. It will be worth it, though, when these people are behind bars and the world can breathe safely—when Lena can breathe safely.
An eight hour drive later and things get exponentially worse.
They drag her through a compound housing a good thirty men or so (nine are women—yay for equal opportunity). Kara memorizes the layout using her x-ray vision through the bag, listening to conversations and hushed whispers, making note of specific names and which among them seems to have authority. Kara will have about four or five days to observe and listen as planned by the DEO, a lot longer than usual but they're desperate to figure out the identity of Cadmus's latest leader and this is their best bet. After that, though, all bets are off and J'onn, Alex, and the gang will be storming through, tagging bad guys and seizing computers.
They seem like a chatty bunch, at any rate. Kara's optimistic until they show her to her holding cell.
It's not that bad compared to her previous accommodations as an abductee. There are a lot of pipes, giving her something to look at, even if they're leaky and forming an enormous rust puddle. A steady drop plinks a soothing rhythm, forming the orange, swirling puddle that takes up over half the available space, angry with rust and bits of discarded metal.
A security camera scrutinizes her from the ceiling, a stark bit of high-tech gadgetry in a room that wouldn't feel out of place in one of Winn's 90s cult horror movies. It follows Kara as she moves. 'Nosy motherfucker' is what Alex would say under her breath, if she were here. It's not that particular piece of technology that's transforming Kara's world into a bad time, however.
It's the other thing.
It's the angry white wound in her x-ray vision, the kryptonite-carrying device that hunches inside one of the overhead pipes like an enormous machinated beetle.
It's the key component to their nefarious plan, clearly, whatever it does. Vents on the side make her think it might be an attempt at kryptonite-infused poisonous gas, an emitter triggered upon Supergirl's imminent arrival. It lurks above the only dry part of the room, so Kara chooses to huddle caddy-corner from it in the coveted real estate otherwise known as the shallow end of the rust puddle.
It can't have been easy getting ahold of kryptonite after the past few years of the DEO zealously scrubbing the black market. It can't be a lot, however much is in there, because Kara's not writhing in excruciating, mind-bending pain. Trace amounts, she estimates, no more than a pebble's worth of Krypton salvaged and desecrated for the purpose of harming the planet's last few remaining children.
But it's enough. It's a splinter under her skin, a steady stab behind her eyes digging bits of her away until her x-ray vision fades, and her view of the emitter along with it. She debates using her powers to escape while she still has them, but decides against it—the second she does, they're sure to activate it, possibly to her death. Her hearing goes next, then her strength, then her impervious skin.
It's a hilarious situation she's gotten herself into, she realizes, knees pressed to her chest, wet and cold for the first time in years. In an interesting reversal, it's the Kara Danvers identity protecting her now.
All of which means she should probably be a little less catty, given the circumstances.
It's not her fault. It's Alex's, really, for being such a strong role model. Kara defaults to Alex levels of sass when she's scared.
Not that she's scared. Or hurt. What's a little pistol whipping? And kicking, and punching, and stomping on her head? Pfft.
What would Alex say if she were curled into a little ball getting her head stomped?
"You're a jerk," Kara says.
The driver drags her up by the collar and slaps her. Blood splatters the wall. Again, absolutely Alex's fault.
Driving around kidnapping people isn't his only hobby, turns out. He's also really into physical violence. The disturbing thing is how he doesn't acknowledge Kara's words in any way whatsoever. He's calm when he hurts her, like she's a child having a temper tantrum and he's the world's most patient father.
On the third day he squats down and says, "Are you ready to record an apology for whoring yourself out to an alien?"
"No," Kara says, face down in a mess of blood. "She's really hot." Then she giggles.
He turns her head and wipes her mouth with a wet rag. "I hope you know I don't like doing this," the driver says. "You'd be a good kid if the media hadn't brainwashed you."
The worst part is his devotion.
"It's Kryptonian this," he goes on, dunking the rag in a bucket, "Martian that. Like they're gods. Like we're lucky to lick the dirt from their feet." He wrings out the rag, twisting it, releasing a slosh of pink water. "But they don't care about us, not really. Not like humans care about other humans, anyway. Maybe like how I cared about my gerbil when I was a kid."
Kara senses an imminent monologue. Her head lolls.
"I named it," he says, "I loved it, blah blah blah. Built a little obstacle course, taught him tricks. I taught him to wave at me, can you believe that? But you know what? One day I left the cage open. And I stepped on him. And I cried a whole five minutes, and my dad buried him in the backyard, and I was playing Nintendo an hour later. I don't even remember the damn thing's name. Now I want you to think about that when you're wondering why Supergirl's not here. She don't even remember your name, kid."
It's the reality that no matter what Kara says, no matter what she does, she can never convince him otherwise.
"Listen," he says, continuing his gentle wash of Kara's face, "if the people above my head had their way, you'd be dead in a ditch somewhere. But I asked them to give you a chance because I don't believe in killing humans. Not young ladies with a future as bright as yours. But you're forcing me to take desperate measures here, kid. If your tune doesn't start changing real quick, I'm going to have to start cutting things off. Your tongue tomorrow, probably."
He nudges her with the tip of his boot onto her other side, then adds another few layers of duct tape to her bound wrists, as if she's strong enough to break through it in the first place.
She's so lost in the horror of losing her freaking tongue that she doesn't notice the driver leaving until the metal door shuts, heavy locks sliding into place. She slumps, closing her eyes. Ice cold rust water can't be good for her health. Then she remembers tetanus is a thing she could definitely get and actually die from, given her open wounds. She groans.
She half-crawls, half-rolls onto the dry section of her cell, directly beneath the kryptonite in the pipe. It feels a lot like having to vomit and somersaulting at the same time. Masochism.
Wow, fuck that guy. Like, really.
Can't be nauseous if she's asleep—now that's a plan. Nothing wrong with a nap, maybe longer. It's been hard sleeping more than an hour at a time given the fear, and paranoia, and visits from violent nutjobs ranting about aliens and the traitors depraved enough to love them. Rao, Kara's always harassing Lena about getting enough sleep, so she might as well listen to her own advice.
Thoughts about sleepy Lena leads to Kara to thoughts about cuddly Lena, a great distraction from stuff she'd otherwise like not to think about.
Cuddly Lena, of course, denies being cuddly and takes great pains to maintain a distance during movie nights, keeping a gap between them that could fit a full-grown fanged yagrum beast. On those nights, Lena's fingers would twitch in her lap and she'd cast side glances the gap, contemplating it, perhaps wondering why she put it there. Naturally, as soon as Kara started making noises about being cold, Lena would roll her eyes and lift her blanket, letting Kara sidle up like a koala, then pretend to be aggravated. In exchange, Kara would pretend not to notice how Lena's muscles would relax, how her heartbeat would slow and how Lena would lean into her touch.
There haven't been any movie nights recently.
Kara curls into the corner, shivering. How anyone could think Lena capable of doing anyone harm… was beyond her… Her eyes close…
Kara jerks awake.
The ceiling is gone. Blown away.
Above her, she glimpses a room full of computers and bright lights before it becomes too much. Another rocket whistles and BOOM.
Her ears ring.
A cacophony of shouts and scuffling boots from a dozen scrambling Cadmus goons overwhelm her senses. She clamps her hands around her ears, struggling to regain control. She separates the sounds in her mind: the whistle of a rocket, the hitched whimper of a man, a whir of pistons and a feminine grunt.
When the next rocket explodes Kara's ready for it, finally able to suppress the sound and breathe again. The cell door groans, then twists off with the shredded violence of a can in a can opener. In the doorway looms Lex Luthor's massive war suit. Kara's insides ice over. How—oh Rao—he's supposed to be in prison.
Kara steels herself. He's got another thing coming if he's expecting Kara Danvers, mild-mannered reporter.
An over-sized gauntlet lifts the faceplate, revealing Lena, eyes wide with panic. "Kara?"
Kara's jaw drops.
"Kara? Are you—?" Lena pauses, taking in the scene. "Oh god." The suit stomps forward, a cobweb of cracks splitting the cement with each step. Lena drinks her in like Kara's a glass of water in a desert. Lena blinks rapidly, tears welling. "I thought you were—I was worried you were—oh god, Kara, I'm so glad you're okay."
Kara wants to sink into the ground from shame. She squeezes her legs to her chest, giving Lena a shaky smile. "I'm alright. I was hoping Supergirl would show up eventually," Kara musters a self-deprecating shrug, hopefully hiding the pain she's in, "but you're a much better surprise."
Lena pilots her war suit to its knees, gears grinding and metal whining. Kara twists, allowing Lena to gently pull apart the duct tape.
"Thanks," Kara says quietly.
Lena holds out her arms. "May I…?" She bites her lip, as if fully expecting Kara to deny her for some reason. "Supergirl should be here soon if you'd rather—"
Lena halts because Kara's already in her arms. Kara hugs her. It's ridiculous, hugging this monstrous mechanical war machine with a tiny Lena Luthor pilot inside, but the half-sob, half-laugh Lena chokes out makes it worth it.
Kara exhales, casting a parting glance at the gaping hole where the pipes used to be, the puddle that's pink with rust and the splatters of blood marring the wall. What Lena must think… Kara squeezes harder, knowing Lena can't feel it but trying to communicate her confidence in Lena all the same. "Up, up, and away, Superwoman."
Lena swallows. "Hang on tight, please. I don't know if I could catch you if you fell off."
Then Lena is carrying her past fallen goons, blackened craters, and blown-up walls. Glass crunches underfoot. Groans fill the air, punctured with the occasional cry for help. Kara twists her neck, scanning with her x-ray vision. Those who are most seriously injured don't look like they're dying, but…
"My sister," Kara says. "If you call her she'll come scoop these guys up. Give them medical treatment and stuff."
Lena looks at her like she's speaking Chinese. Kara braces for an argument, or hot questions demanding why they deserve it, or something, but instead Lena sags. "I will."
"And there's kryptonite. Tell her that, too. It was in the pipes above my cell, so you kind of—exploded it away? But it's out there."
"I'm so sorry," Lena says, horrified. "I was—the schematics didn't show another level beneath that room. It could have fallen on you—you could have died—"
"But I didn't," Kara cuts her off with a smile. Then, over Lena's giant mechanical shoulder, she spies the driver. He's face down in a pile of rubble, bone peeking through the flesh of his leg. A human beat you, you piece of shit. Humanity is not you. They're better than you.
She looks at Lena, who's scared and angry and beautiful all at once. She's perfect.
They arrive to an enormous crater in the midst of a laboratory, smoking computer parts strewn along its edges. An open, starry sky peeks through a matching hole in the ceiling. Lena shifts Kara's weight. The suit's leg thrusters ignite, and then they're airborne, cutting across the night sky.
Rao bless the moon. She can feel its reflection of sunlight on her skin, jump-starting the healing process.
Lena frowns, haloed by stars. Her eyes trace over Kara's blood-soaked hair, her swollen face covered in black and blue, her blood-smeared nose and mouth, down to her ruined sweater. Kara suspects her face looks a lot like roadkill. "I need to get you to a hospital."
"Oh, pfff," Kara says. "I'm not even bleeding anymore. It doesn't even hurt, there's a few bruises, it's basically nothing. I'm just a bleeder, you know? Always have been. One little cut and I bleed all over the place, believe you me. Like a water fountain, or a geyser. Just a big, bloody geyser. Yeah. So, not a big deal. Hey—hey, seriously." Tears slide down Lena's cheeks and Kara's alarm skyrockets. She presses her palm to Lena's face, wiping a tear with her thumb. "I'm okay. It just looks really bad, I promise."
"You need a doctor, Kara. You look—God. You are not okay. I have a private physician on call. He can meet us anywhere. Please, Kara. For my peace of mind."
Kara bites her lip.
"At least let your sister treat you? A full examination. And you tell her everything they did to hurt you. Everything. Promise me that."
"I can do that."
They land at an abandoned railway station a good distance from civilization, which, as it turns out, is a disguised high-security facility in which Lena stores many of her brother's old projects. That's not to mention the secondary benefit: not causing a panic from flying Lex's war suit above National City.
Lena sets Kara down with the gentleness of those dogs on the internet that hold eggs in their mouths without breaking them. Lena opens the passenger door of her car, which is parked in the pitch black, and guides Kara into it like she's afraid Kara will collapse on the spot.
"Thank you," Kara says, to which Lena says nothing. "I mean, not for putting me down, though thanks for that too. But holy cow, you just, can you even believe what you just did? With the war suit? And the rockets? And the flying? Oh my god. I was toast in there! I mean, things were not looking up. But you! You were so awesome!"
For a second Lena actually looks proud of herself, but it collapses like a house of cards.
"I thought you were dead," Lena says, then walks away.
While Lena disappears past three layers of security to store the war suit in the facility, Kara collapses into the car seat, giving a long sigh. Crumpled papers litter the normally pristine car, interspersed with empty Starbucks cups. An iPad lies on the passenger side floor, cracked as though hurled in anger.
A weight settles on Kara's chest. Her bottom lip trembles.
From inside the facility, her superhearing catches a phone dial, then a ring, then a click.
"Agent Danvers?" Lena says.
Alex's tinny voice belts from Lena's cell phone. "Where the hell is my sister?"
"She's with me, she's safe, I swear. Listen, I found her location through a Cadmus server and used my brother's old war suit to—"
"I know what you did, Luthor," Alex bites out. "I know because you ruined a carefully coordinated rescue operation. I thought I told you not to fucking interfere. You could have gotten Kara killed."
"Wh—if you had accepted my help then maybe I would have known that! But you didn't. And you know what? I did your job better than you, and I sure as hell did better than Supergirl. You tell her that for me, will you? Then ask her where the hell she was when Kara was taken."
"Put Kara on the phone. I want to hear it from her that she's safe."
Alex's intonation reeks of paranoia, which of course Lena latches onto like a bloodhound.
"…Why?" Lena's frown translates through her voice. "What are you implying, exactly?"
A protracted silence ensues.
"I'm sorry," Lena says, "let me clarify. Do you think I arranged for Cadmus to kidnap her so I could, what? Rescue her and look good? Or are you implying I kidnapped her from Cadmus for my own purposes? Because I really can't tell what level of bullshit you're operating at, Agent Danvers, if you could please clarify."
"I know your corporation is filled with Cadmus agents. I know you asked Kara to meet you at the cafe where she was kidnapped a block away. I know you lied to the government when you told them that war suit was destroyed. What the hell am I supposed to think?"
Another silence stretches in which Kara stares at her shoes. Pink stains mar the white rubber soles.
"Here's what's going to happen," Lena says. "I'm going to drop Kara off at her apartment in approximately one hour. You will be there to give her a medical examination. She's going to insist that she's fine, but you're going to do it anyway, because she's lying and I know for a fact they… they hurt her. I watched the recordings on their server. It was—they—it was bad. So you're going to ignore whatever she says and help her. Then you're going to ensure those Cadmus assholes receive adequate medical attention, because for some ungodly reason Kara cares that they're treated humanely. Because she's a good fucking person, and you're going to do that for her. There's kryptonite in the wreckage somewhere, take care of that too. Or better yet, let Supergirl choke on it. End of discussion."
The call cuts off—Lena hung up? Kara's x-ray vision can't pierce the facility given some strategically placed lead lining, so she has to rely on her hearing. Lena exhales long and slow. Fabric brushes against skin, perhaps from squatting or sitting.
"She's okay," Lena says to herself. "She's going to be okay." Then, "I'm going to be okay."
By the time Lena's collected herself and made it out the facility, Kara has stumbled out of the car and is full-on crying. Lena halts in her tracks. "Kara? What's wrong?"
Kara falls into her arms. "I'm sorry," she says, throat closing as tears stream uncontrollably. "I'm so sorry I worried you. I was so stupid. I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Lena says into her hair. Her hand makes soft, soothing motions up Kara's back. "It's okay."
It's a long drive home.
"She's not with Cadmus," Kara says, lying on Alex's couch with her feet in Alex's lap. "She's a good person."
"Yeah," Alex sighs, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. "I think I'm figuring that out."
It's 2 AM and they've just returned from the DEO after a debriefing, Kara wanting to sleep close to Alex after her captivity and the (totally minor) worry Kara might never see her sister again.
"You were a jerk to her."
Alex picks at the label of a sweating beer bottle. "I'm a jerk to a lot of people. But you know what J'onn said. She's still not in the clear, not in his mind. There's still a lot of evidence weighing against her, even if I'm starting to think you might be right."
"Might be right?"
Alex rolls her eyes. "Okay, probably. You're probably right. But Cadmus is still out there, being led by god knows who. The operation continues." She takes a swig and shoots Kara a hard look. "It's too risky, Kara. If she's in charge of Cadmus, she's going to try to exploit the relationship sooner or later, and so long as she thinks you're Supergirl's vulnerable human girlfriend... I mean, the worst that could happen is she tries to kill you, fails, and then her jig is up. If she's innocent, her name will be cleared in due time. It's the best way to do things."
Kara tightens her blanket around herself. "Yeah, sure."
"Kara." Alex nudges her foot. "Promise me."
Kara looks her in the eye. She hates herself a little bit. "Yeah. I promise."
Life goes on.
Kara heals pretty much instantaneously after that, so for Lena's benefit they come up with the cover story of Supergirl stashing her away at the Fortress of Solitude for expert care at the hands of Kryptonian artificial intelligence. If Lena's put out that Supergirl convinced Kara to accept medical care where Lena couldn't, she doesn't show it. Lena's soft sigh of relief over the phone is unselfish, grateful, more than Kara deserves.
Kara uses the opportunity to sort through the various space junk Kal's collected over the years, some of which is genuine, actual garbage. The Fortress is kind of a mess. When she's not organizing, she's zipping south and patrolling National City, desperate to fill the time on her hands she's not used to having.
They talk on the phone every day, Lena calling Supergirl's DEO-issued satellite phone the moment she gets home. Lena's gentle, and warm, and doesn't push when Kara doesn't want to talk about it. When Kara finally does talk about it—how she tried to pretend she wasn't scared but it only worked some of the time, how creepy that guy was, how she still panics about waking up without a tongue—Lena doesn't think less of her. According to Lena, that's "ridiculous, Kara, come on," who then follows with, "you're the bravest person I know."
Kara doesn't know about brave. She flops onto a cushion clearly meant for a species two classes larger than Kryptonian. "You don't have to say that," Kara mumbles into it, phone pressed to her ear. "Not just to make me feel better about myself. You can be honest. It's just an act, you know?" It hits her then, hard and burning, and her eyes tear up. "My whole life's an act."
"Oh, Kara," Lena says over the phone, soft and tender. "I'm my most honest self when I'm with you. You make me honest. Now believe me when I say bravery isn't about not being afraid, it's about being afraid and surviving in spite of it. Trust me on this."
And Lena makes it a little bit okay.
"I love you," Kara says.
Then Kara can hear Lena's smile through her voice. "Love you too, super-reporter."
Unlike her previous kidnappings, which largely went unnoticed and resulted only in Kara wasting her sick leave, one ill-placed security camera and an over-excited teenager bust the story wide open. The kidnapping of Kara Danvers becomes the talk of the town. The grainy CCTV clip of her head-butting, tazing, and pepper gelling a crew of Cadmus agents before being bagged and unceremoniously thrown into a van goes semi-viral. The man who tried to save her gets a medal from the mayor and a personal thank you from Supergirl. The DEO just barely has enough strings to pull to keep it from hitting national news.
When Kara shuffles into the writer's pit at Catco after two weeks of "recovery," everyone claps. James leans in the doorway of his office, arms crossed and grinning, the smug jerk. On her desk she finds a cupcake and a framed photo of the now-infamous head butt. All in all, it only makes her feel sort of like a fraud. Then Lena sends her a paragraph-long text asking, only if it's convenient for Kara, and only if Kara has time, if her injuries aren't too much and Kara can say no if she wants to, to have lunch at L-Corp. Kara grins like a fool and volunteers to bring something green and leafy. The bitter clouds hovering over her head dissipate.
Kara spends the morning socializing and getting nothing done, mostly because all her stuff is still at L-Corp for the tech expo project that finished without her during her kidnapping. Lena has yet to come up with another random project that requires Kara to work inside her high security building again, but Kara suspects it will only be a matter of time. That or the downfall of Cadmus, whichever comes first.
When Kara takes the cupcake and a bag of otherwise disgustingly healthy food to L-Corp, Jess gets out from behind her desk and hugs her. Kara accepts it, awkward cupcake-and-bag situation and all, because free hugs, hello.
"She was so worried about you," Jess says.
"I hate so much that I put her through that. But she's my hero."
Jess releases her with a sigh. "Now if you could only convince her of that."
"I'm doing my best," Kara says, wondering how much Jess knows about Lena's impromptu rescue.
The DEO guards are conspicuously absent. Kara's brow furrows. Lena must have ditched them.
She slips into Lena's office. Even though Lena is expecting her, she doesn't notice Kara's entrance, nose buried in her laptop. Kara dangles the cupcake and lowers it in front of Lena's monitor.
"Jesus!" Lena startles. "You almost gave me a heart attack."
"Sorry," Kara says, only Lena's self-conscious blush and sparkly eyes make her not sorry. She lays out the rest of their meals on Lena's desk, sparing a glance for the work Lena had been so involved in, but the desktop Lena had been lost in is blank, no programs open. "It's a welcome back cupcake from Catco. I figured its only right to split it with the person who rescued me and brought me back in the first place."
A pained smile flashes on Lena's features. It might pain Kara more.
"Yes, well," Lena says, "who am I to deny dessert food from Kara Danvers?"
"That's what I thought," Kara says.
And like that, the tension in Lena dissolves. Kara forces salad into her mouth and after that torture, Lena allows herself to indulge in half a cupcake once she's scraped off the frosting and added it to Kara's half. As they talk, Lena's mood grows lighter and lighter, until Kara mentions an article she's brainstorming on about Supergirl and the atmosphere turns stale.
"How is she?" Lena sips from a coffee mug, looking far too interested in a paperweight on her desk. "Supergirl, I mean."
Kara taps her fingers together. "Not, uh—not doing so good. Feeling guilty for what happened. You know."
Lena contemplates her coffee. "I suspect I may be to blame for that. I'm sorry."
Kara cringes. She had tried to thank Lena as Supergirl for the daring rescue, but it had… not turned out well. There had been a lot of shouting on Lena's part. And throwing. And threatening. "I mean, she was feeling pretty guilty before that, uh, conversation, so let's downgrade it to maybe partial blame. Like twenty percent blame."
"I didn't mean what I said to her. Not really." Lena bites her lip, shoulders hunching in on herself. "I blamed myself and projected it onto her. She didn't deserve any of it. I know if there was anything more she could've done to protect you, she would have. I was just feeling very… frustrated. And helpless."
"Sounds about the same to how she feels."
"Right." Lena chortles darkly into her coffee. Kara's never heard a laugh so self-defeating. "We have a lot in common in that regard, her and I."
Lena's phone buzzes. "Ms. Luthor?" Jess's voice rings over the intercom. "Your one o'clock is here."
Kara hops up and begins clearing away the food. She looks up to find Lena frozen like a statue, clutching her coffee mug like it's her anchor to this world. Her eyes pierce Kara, searching. She's terrified.
"Lena?" Kara reaches an unnaturally high pitch. "What's wrong?"
"Can we talk? About, ah… something?"
Kara sits her butt right back down. "Lena, you can tell me anything. I won't judge you. I promise."
It hurts how much Lena looks like she doesn't believe her.
Lena thumbs the intercom. "Jess, move my one o'clock to tomorrow. No, actually, clear my schedule for the rest of the day. And call Mr. Olsen and tell him Kara will be delayed coming back from lunch, if that's okay?" She directs that last bit to Kara, who nods.
"On it, Ms. Luthor."
Kara glares at the lamp that's hiding a DEO bug. Oh Rao, what if Lena's about to say something incriminating? What if Lena's being blackmailed and needs a way out? What if—?
"Kara?" Lena says hesitantly. "If this isn't a good time…?"
Kara breaks away to take in Lena—good, noble Lena Luthor, steeling herself as if expecting Kara to throw a chair at her head.
"Maybe we could go for a walk in the park?" Kara suggests. "We can talk and get away from the office?"
Lena pauses, uncharacteristically hesitant. "I think I'd be more comfortable in an environment that I feel in control of, if that makes sense? Is that… would it be better if we're on equal footing?"
Well, now Kara just feels like an asshole. "No, no, that's cool, just… maybe feeling a little claustrophobic here. And we're high up with that big window, and you know, heights, yikes. Maybe there's a different office we could borrow, or—"
"I'm in love with you."
"—like, one of the labs, or… or…" Kara trails off. Synapses fire off in her brain every which way, and none of the connections make sense. "I… what?"
Lena folds her hands on her desk like they're having a business meeting and she's briefing Kara on L-Corp's performance on the stock market. "It's very important to me that you understand that I don't mean that in a superficial way. I'm not confused. I'm not fixating or creating an emotional bond out of nothing due to stress. I'm not compensating for emotionally unequal relationships with my mother and brother. I have not put you on a pedestal and I'm keenly aware of your flaws. I am not in love with the idea of you." Lena's throat bobs. "I am in love with you in the worst way possible."
The synaptic fireworks display sizzles out until her brain is blank, as useless as a rock, unable to think or feel.
"And I'm not saying this," Lena charges on, "to ask you to end your relationship with Supergirl, or to get between you two in any way, though I realize my feelings will make things more complicated between us. She makes you happy and—and that's important to me. I don't care if you spend the rest of your life with her, so long as you're happy. You deserve someone like her who can take care of you and—for all our differences, she's a good person. I know that. And you deserve that more than anyone."
"You're good," Kara manages to stutter, a small portion of her brain activating, the part that is defensive of Lena always. "You're so good, Lena. You're a hero. You save people. You saved me. You try so hard."
Lena's trembling, now. "I would have killed every last one of the monsters who took you. I would have ended their lives, do you understand that? The only reason I spared them is because I knew you would hate me for it. Because I was selfish."
Oh Rao, Lena. "And my sister would've barreled in there with a team of people and a bunch of guns, and she would've shot everyone. That doesn't make her any less of a hero. And I definitely don't hate her—"
"Please," Lena begs. "Let me talk. I have to get this out of me. If I stop I don't know if I can start again."
Kara nods once, sharply.
Lena takes a deep, shaky breath. "I don't want to get between you and Supergirl, but I also don't want to spend the rest of my life regretting not telling you. And I can't be the person agonizing over 'what if' the rest of my life when you never even knew I was here. But I am here. I'm a possibility. Me. I'm here, and I'm in love with you, and I—anyway. I thought you should know."
Every interaction they've ever had re-frames itself in Kara's memory. A desk full of flowers. Lena's nervous invitation to a gala. Their first lunch when Kara had proclaimed herself to be taking a break from the dating scene, and the fallen expression Lena had quickly hid.
Every conversation. Every lingering look. Two years' worth of blood, tears, and fear, faced together. And these past months, everything that's happened since Lena knocked on Kara's door at 3 AM to find Supergirl wearing nothing but a pair of panties and Kara Danvers' hoodie. A memory from that night floats to the surface: Lena in tears refusing to say why she had come, and then… 'I strongly suspect you would not like it.'
"Oh my gosh," Kara says, very intelligently.
Lena, who has been staring at her with the intensity of a thousand yellow suns, looks away. "I know this complicates things between us, and, ah…" Her voice quivers. "If you think maybe we need a little space, that's okay. That's reasonable. Or if you think it's best to sever our friendship, I—I understand. I wouldn't have any hard feelings, or begrudge you whatever you need to do to live a, ah, emotionally healthy life. And—"
Lena continues on for quite some time, coming up with reasons for Kara to abandon her. Kara wants to stop her, really she does. But she's thinking. Oh Rao, she can't stop thinking.
Her thoughts swarm and buzz together until it's a dull monotone, growing louder and louder until she can't hear anything else, and all that's left is Lena with all of Kara's lies dumped in between them, along with the promise Kara made to Alex and that stupid, stupid lamp with the DEO bug nestled in its stem.
Lena's still rattling on when Kara unplugs the lamp, takes it out onto the balcony, ensures no one is standing below and drops it.
"Ah," Lena says from the sliding glass door, make-up streaked and looking absolutely bamboozled. "Wow."
"Can I see your phone?"
Lena fishes her phone from a pocket in her dress, then hesitates. "Are you going to drop it over the balcony?"
Lena hands it over. Kara drops it.
"Wow," Lena says again, because apparently it bears repeating.
"That secret I told you about," Kara says, trying very hard not to cry. "The one I couldn't tell you but I wanted to. I've been lying to you. A lot."
Lena's expression gentles. She reaches a hand as if to touch Kara's shoulder, then pulls back. "Kara… you don't have to tell me."
Alex, I love you, but I can 't be this person.
"There is no relationship between me and Supergirl," Kara blurts. "It's all fake. It started off forever ago, as a way to throw off Cadmus and I agreed to it because I'm a complete freaking idiot. I'm supposed to be kidnapped." She gesticulates wildly. "I've been kidnapped like ten times!"
Lena's mouth falls open. Kara doesn't look at her, doesn't know if she could stand it if she did. Instead she paces, bouncing from railing to railing.
"And you know what, it works! I mean, this last time went horribly wrong, but honestly! So it kept happening. And I kept doing it, and my sister kept catching bad guys, and people were safer, so it was okay if I was sacrificing a little bit. Who am I to complain when those jerks are getting thrown behind bars? If they weren't, how many people would they have hurt by now?"
Lena chokes over a variety of emotions and words. "You, Kara!" she settles on. "You were hurt! That doesn't make any sense! You can't be serious. Why on earth—I can't believe—Supergirl—your sister—"
"And then you were so worried about me. I hurt you and I never wanted that to happen, ever, I swear. And this whole time you've been kicking yourself over it, blaming yourself for everything, but it was me. I let it happen on purpose, without any thought to how it would hurt you, or how much you would hurt yourself. And I'm so, so sorry. And I understand if you're mad about it, but you should also know that…"
Kara swallows, collecting herself. Lena looks like a stray wind might topple her over.
"I've shut people down for so long because of this thing," Kara says. "I was miserable about it, but there was this part of me that was relieved that I didn't have to deal with relationships or caring about someone new or someone caring about me. Our first lunch, at that Greek place? You asked me if I was involved with anyone. You were going to ask me out, then, weren't you?"
Lena wraps her arms around herself, holding herself, then nods.
"I would have said yes." The moment Kara says it, she can feel its truth in her bones. "I'd never met anyone like you. Someone who was so fiercely herself. You were afraid of so many things, but then, all of those things, you faced them, and you didn't apologize for it. A little part of me wanted to be like you, but mostly I just wanted to be around you. I was so used to being alone that I had stopped thinking about people in those terms, but I swear, Lena, if you had asked me, I know I would have said yes. I would have stopped this craziness the moment I realized you were even a possibility for me. Because you would've been worth it."
And then it's out there, sitting between them, waiting to see what Lena will do with it. Rao, what a vulnerable feeling, a more stripped exposure than kryptonite has ever wrought upon her.
Belatedly, Kara wonders if she chose the wrong wording, because Lena has always had trouble believing herself to be "worth it" in regards to anything. But as Lena's soft breath puffs the air, Kara starts to think that Lena might actually be allowing herself to consider the possibility.
"Do you…" Lena starts, then re-starts. "Would you… do me the honor of accompanying me on a date?"
And like that, Kara's world resets itself on its axis. She can breathe again.
Kara breaks into a smile. "I would love that."
"A walk in the park? Like you wanted to earlier?" Lena suddenly looks unsure of herself. "Or another day, if you prefer. I don't want you to feel pressured to rush into anything you're not comfortable with. What do you think about Saturday?"
For someone who's in charge of like a billion things, Lena definitely should not be put in charge of this. If Kara lets her have her way, Lena's likely to reschedule their date all the way to next year, maybe a decade if she's feeling particularly apprehensive.
Kara takes Lena's hand and leads her through her office to the elevator, waving to a surprised Jess along the way. They file in and Kara hits the button for the ground floor.
The elevator hums into motion. They look at each other, then look away.
"Why on earth did you throw my lamp and my cell phone off a sixty story building?"
"Oh," Kara says. Well, there's no easy way to say this so she'll just—okay. "My sister thinks you're the head of Cadmus and she bugged your office." Kara pauses, letting that news sink in, and then fear propels her further. "And your phone. And your emails, probably, but emails aren't listening devices. How would you even throw an email off a balcony? Gosh, I guess that'd be your laptop. But it's so expensive, I wouldn't do that. I already feel kind of bad about the phone."
Kara snaps her mouth shut before she can ramble any longer. They continue holding hands. The floors tick down. The silence stretches.
Lena stares straight ahead, an inscrutable expression flickering on and off, but then it's like she can't stop smiling.
Kara frowns, unable to translate this particular bit of Lena's facial nuance and frankly quite close to panicking. "You okay?"
Lena squeezes her hand, then bursts into laughter, light and vibrant like nothing in the galaxy could phase her. "You know what?" she says. "Never better."
A thought nudges in the back of Kara's mind that she's forgetting something important—something absolutely crucial—but then the elevator dings, Lena stumbles out clutching Kara's hand like she's not sure if she's in a fever dream or not, and the thought vanishes from her head.
It's not important.
The facts are as follows.
Her first date with Lena is something Kara instinctively recognizes in the moment as a time she'll carry deep in her soul until the day she dies.
The park is full of dog poop, and Lena's heels are too high so her feet hurt after an hour, and Kara drops her ice cream cone in the dirt. Kara promises to never, ever sign up for voluntary kidnapping again at least four times (Lena looks like she's going to have apoplexy every time the topic arises, vowing that the conversation is not over). They rent bikes and it takes a full three minutes of falling before Lena is forced to admit she has no idea how to ride a bike and they settle on pushing them. And Lena is beautiful. Lena's tentative, daring smile is more beautiful, like she can't believe she's won.
Kara's phone vibrates with a fifth missed call from Alex, followed by a string of text messages. Kara glances to make sure she's not missing a Supergirl emergency, but otherwise doesn't read them.
It's the start of something. Kara feels it in her gut, and she hopes that if Lena feels it too, she believes in it. And if Lena doesn't, Kara will believe enough for both of them until she does.
Above all, Kara is overwhelmed with relief. She's glad it's all out in the open, finally and forever.
And yet… she can't shake the feeling she's forgetting something. The quandary puzzles her.
They walk toward a pond far from the usual park-goers, hand in hand. The boughs of the trees move up and down as if the very earth is breathing. Lena's palm is warm. Kara squeezes it and Lena meets her gaze with a brilliant smile. It's a curious thing when Lena has these smiles, because they're always followed by fleeting surprise, like Lena can't believe she's feeling such a thing as happy.
A lost balloon floats by bearing the crest of the House of El, Supergirl style.
"You're better than a dozen Supergirls, you know," Kara says, quick to head off any self-doubt on Lena's part.
But Kara needn't have worried, because Lena's smile turns smug, or perhaps just high off of life. Kara can relate. "Mm… I can't believe I thought you chose that pompous ass Supergirl over me."
Oh. That thing Kara was forgetting. Right.
"Um," Kara says. "Oh, also I'm Supergirl?" She glances around for bystanders, then does a little hover in the air to demonstrate.