Lena is engaged to be married at twenty-four, and she runs away to Paris the next day.
The marriage was not her idea. Morgan Edge was a polite enough fellow to the faces of her family, but behind closed doors he would grip her arm and threaten filthy things, spittle grazing her cheeks. His whole being repulsed her. He stank of greed and impotence and rage.
Her mother didn’t care though. The Edges were new in society but not new enough to be gauche . They were acceptable at the Montgomery Club. With the Luthor’s name, they might even graduate to the St John’s. Socially acceptable, without the humiliation of being higher class. Moldable, easily manipulated.
Of course, what her mother liked most about the Edges was their money. That went without saying. Lena quietly and privately believes that Lillian would marry her off to a family of apes if they paid high enough for the privilege. That’s how penniless they have become.
After Lionel died, Lex assumed control of the finances, and oh , assume he did. Lex invested in risky ventures, but lived like a king before seeing proceeds. Before long, her elder brother was dining out each night, attended by his sycophantic friends, and placing huge bets at all the biggest tables in London. It did not last long. Canasta and Blackjack dealers all over town soon began to grumble and knock on doors.
Lex merrily avoided talking about it for at least six months.
When, at last, his debts became too great, and all of the tongues of London society were set wagging, he fled to Barbados—leaving Lillian and Lena to sort out the mess. Lillian had taken the reins with brutal efficiency, and stripped their palatial Hyde Park home to its barest necessities, firing staff and selling heirlooms as fast as she could. But it was still not enough. She began to make inquiries among ‘fine young gentlemen’ of a certain age, stature and breeding—as well as wealth—and lo and behold, Morgan Edge was only too eager to offer his assistance.
“You are a woman.” Lillian hissed, pinching her waistline as she held her arms out miserably for the tailor to fit her bridal gown. “What other worth could you possibly you offer our family? Be sensible, Lena. This is your duty .”
Duty. Loyalty. Ambition. These are the traits that Luthors prize. She knows them well, knows what pain these words can inflict. Her mother wields them like swords.
She flinches but says nothing when the tailor carelessly sticks her with a pin.
The signing of the engagement is done at the St John’s Club— where the Edges are now newly-minted members, and the Luthors can regain their standing after Lex spent away their credibility. Morgan Edge slides a glittering diamond on her finger and Lena makes appropriate noises of false admiration.
It’s an ugly, squat-looking thing. Lena would never pick it out herself.
While the notary talks with Lillian and the elder Edges, Morgan Edge grips her wrist roughly, and guides it to the front of his pants. She tries to jerk away, but he only grins at her, digs into her wrist and rubs himself against her pinned hand. She can feel him pressing into her, moving the band of the ring up and down on her finger with his movements, and she wants to scream.
“Just picturing our wedding night, dear wife.” He whispers at her before he lets her go and straightens, smiling beatifically just as the notary turns around.
Lena holds her wrist, feeling her skin burn as if she’d touched heated metal, and thinks she will never be able to scrub the feeling of his touch away.
Every impulse in her body rejects what Edge plans for the wedding night.
She lays awake, in her childhood bed, that night. Her wedding is in three days. The bridal gown is hanging in her wardrobe, austere and ivory-white. Lena hates it. She hates her ring, which her mother insists she wears, and she hates that the servants have already taken to calling her ‘Missus Edge’.
Lena swings her legs over the side of her bed. The floor is ice cold, but she doesn’t feel it. She looks at her desk. There is a checkbook there. Morgan had made a show of presenting it to her today, explaining candidly that she could withdraw any amount she wanted, under a certain limit, without his permission. ‘To pay for any little sundries you may need before the wedding.’ His magnanimous smile had all been for Lillian’s benefit.
The monogram on the little leather booklet spells out L. K. E in gold. She traces it with her fingers, and thinks.
In the morning, at first light, she puts on her favorite dress. The green one that flatters her eyes and has sensible traveling shoes to match. She lightly packs a small bag—only her favorite books and a few toiletries, and then she eats a light breakfast of dry toast, kisses her favorite former nanny goodbye, and goes to the bank.
She has a charming little chat with Mr. Lord, the banker. The act she puts on is one of her finest. Why, she’d only received this account yesterday from her fiancé, and silly thing , she’d quite forgotten the cashing limit, and Morgan Dear was expecting her to meet him today at the club for a fitting. Wasn’t there anything kind Mr. Lord could do to help her?
Mr. Lord was only too keen. “The cashing limit for this account is three thousand pounds, Miss Luthor.” He explains, leaning a bit too close to her neckline for comfort. “Rather generous of Mr. Edge. But I wouldn’t advise you to take that much out at once, Miss Luthor. It’s quite dangerous for a woman to travel with such large sums of money, alone.”
“That won’t be a problem.” Lena informs him, silkily. “I have my man waiting in the carriage. He’ll present Morgan Dear with the funds. All I have to do is sign your little paper!” She lets out a faux-gay laugh, and her eyes brighten at Lord with intent.
He gets on with it, thankfully, and asks very few further questions, dazzled by her smile and the way she allows him to touch her arm. Which is good, because Lena has no carriage waiting, nor a servant, and if Lord followed her to the curb he’d realize that in a hurry.
But he does not, and so Lena leaves Lord’s Bank with three thousand pounds in her purse.
There’s a nervous spring in her step when she boards the train. She’s sure any moment someone will come running after her, calling her name and demanding she return. But no one comes, and the train whistles away in a puff of steam and smoke to the ferry, and she gets on the ferry to France at noon with very little fanfare.
On the ride over, she stands beside the railing, cold wind whipping at her face, and drops the ring into the Channel.
It leaves no splash in the blue-black surf, but it’s satisfying all the same, and after she does it, she feels much lighter. As if a noose has been lifted from around her neck. She stares out across the choppy white waves and thinks about her brother in Barbados, and if he felt like this. She’s doing the same thing, after all. She can hear what Lillian would say already—that’s she abandoning her responsibility to the family. Her duty.
But it’s not the same. She tells herself, fierce and quiet. Not the same at all.
It’s only by the time she reaches Paris that she wonders where she ought to stay.
A hotel is out. No single women allowed. She doesn’t know of any reputable boarding houses (‘ Boarding houses are repositories for spinsters’— says Lex in her memory) and she hasn’t any friends in Paris— or anywhere, for that matter.
It’s only after dusk, sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens with her valise on her knees and her feet sore from walking, that she remembers Madame du Corday.
Madame du Corday was an elderly spinster, and one of her father’s oldest friends—perhaps, also, a one-time mistress. Her name was a complete fiction—she was as English as a Yorkshire pudding, as Lionel would say, fondly—but she was obsessed with the days of the Terror and enjoyed naming herself after the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat. The very villainess who stabbed the scab-ridden Sade in his site bath! She would say, eyes bright as dark diamonds.
Her home on the St Germaine du Pres was a salon of all the finest minds of the day. She’d always liked Lena, and shared sweets from her bag. Come to Paris, darling, she’d entreated one afternoon, holding Lena’s sixteen-year old hand in her already-wrinkling palm. You would feel so at home there. The City of Light is a home to all wayward souls.
But that was years ago. After Lionel died, Lillian had shut the home to outsiders. Especially that Francophile whore, she’d said, with no small degree of relish. Lena had no idea if she would be remembered fondly, or if at all, or if the old woman was even still alive.
As it turned out, all three were correct.
Madame du Corday remembers her instantly. “Little Lena! How you’ve grown!” She embraces Lena, and Lena, unused to such evocative displays of affection, allows herself to be drawn in, albeit stiffly. “But what brings you to my doorstep at this hour, and all alone?”
Haltingly, Lena tells the whole story. It comes out over biscuits and tea in Madame du Corday’s sitting room, then a bit more over dinner, and reiterated again as the servants make up a spare bedroom for her. Madame du Corday is by turns horrified, aghast, and then delighted. Mostly about Lena’s trick with the banker.
“You are a devilish little poppet!” She giggles, sounding almost girlish for a woman her age. They’re sitting in the drawing room now, and Lena’s meager valise has been brought upstairs. “When I was your age I wasn’t half so clever. But then again, I suppose, I never had your mother to worry about.”
Her hand comes across to take Lena’s once more and it’s warm. Pleasantly so. “You are safe here, my darling. For as long as you need to stay. I’m an old woman and I could always use the company.”
Lena blushes, and stammers out thanks, and manages not to cry over it until she’s excused herself to her room. After a brief, shaky sob, she feels better and stretches out on the bed, looking at the ceiling, which has cracks and is patterned with age. It’s perhaps the nicest view she’s had all day.
Lena spends the next few weeks with Madame du Corday ( ‘Charlotte, dear,’ the Madame corrects her, fondly. ‘You must call me Charlotte.’) , shopping at Les Halles or attending parties on the Left Bank. She tries to pay for everything Charlotte puts in her basket, but the old spinster is sly and evades her proffered cash with dexterous ease.
Eventually, she begins to branch out on her own, with Charlotte’s insistence, but not too far. Mostly she walks along the St Germaine, looking at the fountains and chapels and flowers and into shop windows.
One night, hunched over their game of Bridge, Charlotte asks her what she’s looking for in Paris. “Is it love? A man?”
Lena shakes her head too fervently. “No. No men.”
Charlotte’s lips turn up and she looks like has a brief understanding. Lena is red-faced. “Not like that. I mean. I’m not.”
“Darling.” Charlotte is soft but firm. “There’s no need to explain. It’s perfectly natural.”
Lena stops. “It is?”
“Of course.” Charlotte is writing something on a scrap of paper. She presses an address into Lena’s palm, smiling broadly. “Some old friends of mine quite enjoyed this place. You might as well.”
Lena doesn’t understand what she means, but it’s an intriguing enough quest, so the next evening she follows the directions down a side street, to a little tavern with a mermaid on the sign. At the door, she tells a gruff doorman the word Charlotte wrote on the paper, just below the address. He lets her in, and Lena wonders at the security of this dingy little bar.
Once she gets inside, she knows.
It’s all women, in the bar. Some are dressed in pants, some in skirts. The ones in pants have jauntily-cocked hats, suit jackets, ties. Some are indistinguishable from men. Some of the women in skirts are clearly actresses, or prostitutes, but some could be schoolteachers, nurses, nuns , even. She would never have known.
There’s a woman sitting on the lap of another closest to the door, and as Lena watches in quick glances, they begin to kiss.
It’s like a Peter Pan world, opened before her. Never-Never Land. Her fingers tremble with it and her knees shake. She doesn’t know what to make of it, other than she’s never wanted something like this before but now that it exists it’s all she knows she needs.
So she flees. Predictably.
It’s a panicky quick jaunt to the alley in her new stylish lace-up boots, which is sure to leave blisters. She almost vomits. The voice of Lillian in her head is like a clamoring roar. She shakes her head until it’s gone. Then she calms herself, breathes, and goes home.
She goes back the next night, however.
And it truly is Never-Never Land.
Lena settles herself into a quiet booth with a sloe gin fizz, and tries not to stare. Everywhere she looks there are female bodies touching. A hand on arm here. A finger-twist of hair there. Sly eyes, slow blinks, rapturous expressions. It’s dazzling. She loves it all.
She goes back every night, after that.
She never speaks to anyone, but after a while, she starts to develop a pattern and the staff know her well. She always orders her gin fizz, sits in her booth, and takes out a little black sketchbook Charlotte had given her for their Christmas, just two weeks prior.
(Lena hadn’t ever had a better one, actually. She and Charlotte sang drunken caroles and the butler joined in as he carved the turkey. The maids giggled over their tots of sherry and the house was warm and bright.)
She takes the charcoals out of their little velvet bag, and she begins to draw.
Night after night, she draws the faces, hands, hips. Women smiling and sobbing, women dancing and drinking. Women in suits, with bowler hats and ties. Women in short dresses. Women in the arms of other women. Women kissing.
Lena is painfully in love with every one of them, but she’s too shy to interact, intervene. So she draws them. It’s easier. Contained. She can take the sketches home at night, safely contained within her neat little book, and feel that same dizzy feeling in her chest as she thinks on what it would be like to kiss a girl.
Lex was the only one who appreciated her drawing. Lillian wanted her shunted into ballet, horseback riding, elocution and manners. She complained that artists were whores, and art dealers all pimps. She said nothing when Lena pointed out the Rembrandt in the hall, but instructed the servants to burn Lena’s drawings anyway.
Lex didn’t say a word, but he always managed to show his approval. He gave her colored pencils from his school bag and scraps of paper, even after Lillian forbade it. It isn’t a fool’s errand if you’re good, Lena. He told her, all schoolish seriousness. And you’re good enough. You’re a Luthor, after all.
She loves that memory of Lex. She cherishes it, even when the adult version of him tarnished the child he was. In some ways, she knows Lex will always disappoint her, but the memory of him does not.
Now, with him gone and Lillian probably still frothing at the mouth over her departure, the act of drawing feels like a defiance. A revolution. Seems fitting that she’s in France. It’s at her fingertips and in her control and she feels free, when she sketches. Unattached to anything but the image.
She doesn’t realize she’s drawn the same woman over six times until she’s flipping through the sketchbook by gas lamp in her bedroom. The broad-shouldered blonde, dapper in her suspenders and shirtsleeves, grinning as she challenges a friend to arm wrestle. And again, smiling around an orange wedge, her teeth edging into the bitter rind. And again—her hands this time, thick-fingered and heavy with callouses.
Another is just her eyes, crinkling in laughter. Another is the serious, studious look on her face as she bends to inspect the billiard table, lining up her shot. The pole is in her long-fingered hands, and they’re splayed almost lovingly on the wood.
Lena flings her book away, flushed. She feels quite the Peeping Tom.
“No more of the blonde.” She tells herself, aloud in her attic room. “You’re incorrigible.”
But, of course, that doesn’t stop her.
She goes back to the bar the next night, and heads for her booth as usual. But there’s someone in it.
And of course, it’s the blonde.
“Hello.” She’s grinning lopsidedly. “Is this your favorite spot?”
Wordlessly, Lena nods. She clutches her bag, unsure of whether to sit or stand.
“It’s a very nice booth.” The blonde runs her hand over the table, close to the spilled wax of the wavering candle. “Would you mind sharing it tonight?”
Lena doesn’t quite get her meaning until the other woman coughs. “With me. I mean. Sharing it with me.”
“Oh.” Lena’s lips are dry, so she wets them. The blonde follows the motion with quick tracking eyes. “Yes, I suppose so.”
She sits down, quickly, because her knees are suspiciously wobbly, as if she’s suddenly transformed into a newborn colt. There’s a strange comfort in the way the other woman is looking as nervous as she feels, smoothing her thumbs over the table and fidgeting.
“I—“ Lena begins, but the blonde speaks at the same time.
There’s a pause, and Lena laughs. She can’t help herself.
The blonde gives her a sheepish smile. “I was going to tell you, my sister and I have a bet about you.” She jerks her thumb and Lena follows her point to where a dark-haired bargirl is laughing with a tall auburn-haired woman.
“Oh? Do tell.” Lena’s intrigued. She always assumed no one ever noticed her.
“We think you must be a famous artiste , scouting the Mermaid’s Tale for inspiration from the Tom side of town.”
The woman’s accent is unfamiliar, probably American. She sounds roguish and her smile isn’t helping. Lena’s heart does a small thump into her rib cage when the blonde leans in, conspiratorially.
“But I told my sister artistes don’t usually look as clean as you do. Or smell as nice.”
Lena’s heart does a series of flips. “I’m not sure which part of that was intended to be a compliment, but thank you.”
“All of it, actually. I’m Kara Danvers.” The blonde puts her hand out like she intends for Lena to shake it.
“Lena Luthor.” The name still rolls easily off her tongue, as does her ingrained habits. She puts her fingers in Kara’s palm and, after a beat, the blonde looks surprised and raises them to her lips. The brush of her mouth is damp and hot and Lena suppresses a shudder.
“So, which is it, Miss Luthor?” Kara releases her fingers quickly, almost guiltily, and Lena tries not to sigh at the loss. “Renowned artiste or slumming socialite?”
“Neither, I’m afraid.” She gives a thin smile. “Just a girl looking for an evening of entertainment, and this is cheaper than the Moulin Rouge.”
Kara barks out a startled laugh. “You’re spry. I bet you tell all the girls that.”
“I bet you tell all the girls that you and your sister made a bet about them.” Lena parries back, but there’s no bite in her words. An unhurried smile is making its way across her face, despite her best efforts to arrest it’s progress.
“No!” Kara raises a hand to God, as if offended, and then leans in, winking. “Just the pretty ones.”
Lena laughs again, and she feels her lungs inflate for perhaps the first time since stepping off the ferry. The air is sweet and the booth is warm. Heating her inside and out.
Kara Danvers, as it turns out, is quite the charmer. Also, quite interesting. She’s twenty-six, brawny and well-muscled from her days working in the trainyards with her sister after they were orphaned at a young age. She writes for a contemporary socialist reform paper, penning out her radical missives in the tiny garret that she shares with Alex, her sister, in the Latin Quarter, and suffers through hearing the same sister’s ill-concealed lovemaking every night while trying to finish her articles. The way she tells it, it’s more farce then tragedy, however, and she has Lena giggling like a schoolgirl.
Lena doesn’t tell her about her family, or the failed engagement. She listens to Kara charm her instead, and deftly avoids more serious lines of questioning with vague, noncommittal answers. Kara, thankfully, doesn’t press her, but she does lean closer and closer with each new bawdy story of her life in the Latin Quarter until the bar staff begin meaningfully sweeping around their feet.
Kara walks her home—gallantly offering an arm that Lena takes with internal delight—under the flickering new electric lamps, which shine like the glow of the seductive unfamiliar—and smiles at her the whole way.
She whistles when they arrive at the Corday townhome. “Say, you never mentioned you were living in a mansion.”
“Stop.” Lena pushes at her arm. “Madame du Corday is an old friend of my father’s. It’s not my home.” My home was twice this size. She bites her tongue. Blushes. “Well, goodnight.”
Kara looks at her as if she wants to say something more. Her eyes are a little dreamy. “Yes. Goodnight,”
Lena flees before she can give into the impulse to lean in and kiss her.
It goes like that for several more nights.
“Why a mermaid?” She asks Kara one stormy night, as they wait out the rain beneath the swinging tavern sign with it’s jaunty little fish-woman smiling down at them. “I can’t imagine what Hans Christian Anderson has to do with all those women kissing women.”
Kara laughs delightedly at her expression. “Not much, probably.” She looks up at the sign, squinting in the rain. “They’re mutable things, I suppose. Neither land nor water. Changeable, yet untouchable. And besides.” She winks at Lena. “They’re slippery little devils, aren’t they?”
Lena blushes so hard that her ears turn red and Kara laughs all the way home as the rain clears.
The cold in the evenings is biting. She can’t be blamed for shivering in her boots. But when Kara offers her coat, she walks alongside Lena in her shirtsleeves and bluffs the whole way as if she’s not even chilly. “Really, Lena, I’m not cold, I promise.”
She won’t even let Lena give her coat back as they arrive at the house. “Take it.” Kara’s eyes are mischievous, twinkling. “You may be cold on your way to your front door.”
Lena tries throwing the coat at her but Kara only presses it back, skips gaily out of the way, and blows her a kiss. Lena tries not to shiver at the way she feels the imprint of those invisible lips. The landing of her mouth.
She puts Kara’s coat about her shoulders and watches Kara walk back to the bar, rubbing her arms in the grey chill. Lena stands by the window on the third floor landing, and thinks, fondly; what a foolish woman.
She takes Kara’s coat upstairs and sleeps with it tucked below her pillow until she sees Kara again.
Sometimes, at the bar, it’s not only just her and Kara now. It’s her and Kara and Alex, and Alex’s ladyfriend Maggie, and sometimes Imra, Lucy, Sarah—all friends of Kara and Alex. The tables get boisterous and crowded with beer and the spilled peanut shells from the bowl, and Lena sometimes is jostled when Kara rises to challenge Sarah or Alex over the billiard table, but she doesn’t mind.
“You ran away from home.” Alex says to her, one evening, as they wait for Sarah and Kara at the bar. Maggie is at work. She says it without malice, without ill intent, but Lena still stiffens, instinctively.
“Don’t worry.” Alex takes her arm—gives her a light squeeze. “My sister likes you. You’re always welcome here.”
Lena nods, quickly, and has to duck away to hide her grateful tears.
It was hard to smile and laugh with them, at first. But Lena’s surprised at how easy it becomes, after a while. She’s surprised at how easy everything feels here, where before everything in her life was like a staged series of obstacles, each more tiring than the last. She’s afraid she’ll want to grow old like this.
She’s afraid of how much she wants it.
It takes her another two weeks before she starts to think maybe Kara is the main source of this wanting. And that she wants to kiss her. But it takes another two weeks after that to get up the courage to ask her in for a nightcap, after another late walk home along the St Germaine.
“Would you, perhaps, come into the sitting room? I could show you my drawings. If you’d like.”
She realizes the obviousness of what she’s offering only too late, as the words slip from her mouth. But Kara just gives her a level, searching stare, and then breaks into a tentative smile. “Yes. I’d love that.”
They go in through the kitchen. Madame du Corday is a light sleeper, at her age, but she resides on the second floor. As long as they stay quiet, she shouldn’t wake.
Kara steals a handful of candied fruits from the jar on the counter and Lena swats at her, giggling. “ Fiend .”
“Can’t help if I’m always hungry.” Kara pops another into her mouth and winks at Lena, and—damn her knees—she almost crumples right there.
“Shh,” she warns, as they leave the kitchen for the sitting room. “We musn’t wake my hostess. I don’t doubt your charms, but not, perhaps, at this hour.”
Kara pouts. “I assure you—my charms are applicable at any hour.”
Her roguish grin is too knowing—Lena looks down and away to hide her blush. Her thighs are trembling as they sit side by side on the divan, her be-skirted knees brushing Kara’s trousers. She removes the sketchbook from her bag and hands it over, fingers numb and cold.
Kara takes it with something akin to reverence. She opens the first few pages, and her brow crinkles. Her lip tucks into her mouth. She breathes out, slowly. “Lena, these are…”
Silly, stupid drawings. Lena thinks immediately, curling her nails into her palms. Useless, worthless—
“ Brilliant.” Kara almost whispers. She looks up, in awe. “Lena, these are so good they should be in galleries all over France.” Her expression is one of wonderment. “You really were an artiste, all along.”
“Flatterer.” Lena is blushing now. Her stomach twists in knots. “So, you like them then.”
“ Like them?” Kara sputters. “I love them! I think I—is that me?”
Kara has spotted her likeness, in the far corner of a page. Lena thinks it would be impossible to flush any redder, but she does. “Yes.”
The sketch is one of her favorites, actually. It was quick—Lena remembers scribbling frantically to capture the moment—but the lines are clean, at least. It’s Kara in the middle of a discussion with Alex, thumbs hooked in her pockets, and sleeves rolled up her elbows. Her mouth is quirked and her eyes are cheeky, as if she’s just delivered a good ribbing.
Kara looks down at the page and then up at Lena. Then back at the page. “You’ve made me look the way I feel.” She says, softly, as if to herself.
“Or the way that I feel.” Lena offers, quietly, hardly daring to breathe.
There’s a long, thickly-felt moment.
And then Kara twists on the divan and surges into Lena’s mouth, lips pressing and seeking, and she’s knocked back onto her elbows with the force of it.
The sketchbook flies from Kara’s lap and thuds to the floor, but Lena hardly notices. Kara’s mouth is warm and firm against her own and her hands are molded to Lena’s shoulders. She opens her mouth to gasp, and Kara, taking it as an invitation, slips her tongue inside. The electric wet heat of it stirs something coiling and heavy low in her belly.
When she flicks her own tongue, tentatively, against Kara’s, the blonde lets out a moan and presses her hips down into Lena in a way that sends shudders through her spine.
Something is invoked, there in the sitting room with the gas lamp flickering behind them. (Madame du Corday is staunchly against the advent of electricity.) Something feral and untamed. Something that can’t be taken back, cannot be undone. Their kiss goes on and on. Kara’s glasses are askew but she doesn’t fix them, doesn’t take her eyes off Lena.
Lena is sliding her hands against Kara’s back, feeling her spine and the heavy arch of her body, while her tongue explores Kara’s mouth, licking into her with inexperienced fervor. Kara keeps bearing her hips down in that singular, heated spot between Lena’s legs and oh Christ the way it feels—
“Lena?” Madame du Corday’s voice trails down the stairs and Lena tenses below Kara, eyes flying open.
The back of the divan faces the door. Lena pulls away from the kiss and presses a finger to Kara’s lips. They lay, in an inelegant heap against each other, heavy with ill-concealed panting and lingering lust. There is something firm and large pressing into the join of Lena’s thighs. She shuts her eyes. Tries to focus. “ We have to be quiet.”
Kara nods, eyes wide and dark, and she flattens herself against Lena as they hear the stairs creak.
“It’s alright, Charlotte!” Lena calls out, desperately aware of the croak in her voice. “I’ve just taken a notion to stay up and read. Knocked over a book. You can go back to bed.”
There is a rustle on the stairs and for one brief, heart-pounding moment, Lena thinks Charlotte will decide to come down for a nightcap or to sit and chat. Kara stiffens against her, and there is a fierce tension in her loins. She appears to be holding herself very still, her breath coming in harsh, quick bursts.
“Alright, ma petite .” Charlotte sounds almost entirely aware of the situation, and perhaps she is. “Enjoy your...book.”
“I will, goodnight.”
There is a shuffling sound as Charlotte returns to her room on the second level, and Lena almost lets out a giddy laugh at the narrow escape. She presses her lips to Kara’s still shoulder instead, shaking with suppressed relief, anxiety and mirth, mingled as one. She expects Kara will make a joke now, to ease the tension, but the woman hardly stirs. Her eyes are wide and staring into the fabric of throw pillow behind Lena’s head.
Lena is concerned. “Kara.” She cups the rounded edge of her face. “It’s alright. She wakes easily and I—“
Kara looks down at her and her eyes are nearly all pupil. Lena is taken aback, and then by surprise, as Kara plunges down onto her mouth, fairly devouring her with the kiss. Her tongue stabs into Lena’s mouth, and Lena lets out a tiny moan at the intense demand of it.
There seems to have been a goad in Kara’s side after that. She groans into Lena, shuddering, and her hips press down again, and again. She shifts Lena, huffing with impatience, and draws one leg up around her hip, rucking up Lena’s chemise and overskirt in the process. The roughness with which she does it is like a brand on Lena’s overstimulated senses—burning, possessing, scathing with heat.
Kara’s rough woolen trousers are scratchy on Lena’s bare thighs, abrading her, but she doesn’t care. She breaks away from Kara’s mouth to gasp, and the blonde only takes that as an invitation to start marking up Lena’s neck with suckling bruises and snaps of her panting, huffing jaws. She can feel Kara inhaling her scent at her pulse, where the blood beats the strongest, and her insides quake and heave.
“ Kara ,” she breathes, hands pacing wildly over Kara’s hunched back. She doesn’t know what else to say.
Kara doesn’t seem to hear her. Her hands are on Lena’s hips, positioning and holding firm, and her own hips are moving. Rocking. Thrusting. She’s panting and her eyes look dark and wild. There is a flood between Lena’s thighs, clinging to her in damp patches, and she knows that the instinctual demand in Kara’s eyes is the cause.
She is growing wet , and nothing has ever made her feel like this before.
Kara’s body is moving faster against hers, and the pressure is building and building, tensing along her limbs and holding her breath in her chest. She clings to Kara’s back, feeling on the precipice of some strange abyss, but then Kara’s hips start to seize and shudder. The sharp, agonized noise Kara makes as her back arches and she presses down into Lena sends a thrill through her whole body.
“ Lena ,” she groans, breath rolling out of her in heavy puffs. Her lips brush against the sensitive skin of Lena’s neck, no doubt already purpling from Kara’s ardent attentions earlier. She sighs. “ Lena .”
It’s soft, and the feel of Kara’s weight is soothing. Lena almost forgets the cry of need between her legs. She sighs, too, and twitches below Kara, stroking her spine.
Then Kara’s eyes fly open, and she inhales a short, panicked breath.
“Oh God .” She whispers. “Lena, I am so sorry, I’m so sorry, I—“
She looks down at Lena with eyes rounded in absolute shame and fear, and Lena frowns, confused, but then Kara is tearing herself off of Lena’s body and stumbling away from the divan. Kara casts one desperately apologetic look back at her, and then she’s gone, darting back through the door to the kitchen entrance.
There’s a damp, distinctive stain on the woolen trousers that is visible in the gaslight as she leaves.
“Kara, wait!” Lena hisses after her, but she daren’t wake Madame du Corday a second time. She tries to get up and follow, but her body is limp and limbs unyielding. Her knees feel weak and her thighs are still trembling. She manages to marshal her reserves, but by the time she totters after Kara, the street is empty and silent in the fog of early morning.
Kara is gone.
Lena goes to bed frustrated, confused, and a little heart sore, but her dreams are shifting, sensuous things. When she wakes, the sheet is twitched between her legs and she’s damp all over. She shivers, and looks into the cold morning dew on her windowpane, wondering what last night was all about.
Luckily, Kara is there, at the Mermaid’s Tale, that very night.
Her hands are fidgeting guiltily, but she sits in Lena’s favorite booth—their favorite booth now—with eyes downcast. Alex and the others are nowhere to be seen. Lena takes a breath, then clears her throat to announce her presence.
“Lena!” Kara looks surprised. She fairly flies up to stand while Lena sits down, banging her knee on the table in the process. “ Ow . Damn it. I mean, how—how are you?”
“As well as can be expected for someone who was abandoned in the middle of a very good kiss.” Lena sees no reason to belabor the point. She folds her hands neatly and levels Kara with her best Luthor stare.
“Yes.” Kara reddens. Her eyes flick to Lena’s lap, almost imperceptibly. “ Ahem . I want to apologize for that.”
“For the kiss?” Lena keeps her voice as calm as she can. “Or for leaving afterward?”
“For….for the.” Kara seems to be struggling, somewhat. She drops her voice. “For the way I violated you.”
“Violated me?” Lena is perhaps a touch too loud—a few heads swivel in their direction. She can’t help it. She’s confused, or perhaps a little hysterical. “Kara, what in God’s name are you—“
“On the sofa.” Kara won’t look at her. She’s blushing too hard. “When I...when we laid down and I….”
“Oh.” Lena is quiet, absorbing. “Do you mean to tell me you think I didn’t enjoy that?”
Kara’s head shoots up. She meets Lena’s arched brow with a grunt of surprise. “I didn’t really ask your permission.” She says, finally, after some time.
“I enjoyed it.” Lena repeats, tilting her chin. Her neck is still layered in bite marks and bruises and Kara’s eyes zero in on the exposed skin.
“I—-“ Kara’s mouth works. She leans forward and drops just above a whisper. “I spent in my trousers .”
There is a ripple of heat spreading through Lena’s lower belly. “I know.” She purrs. “I rather liked the feeling of it. But I’d prefer with clothes off , next time, if that’s alright with you, darling?”
“Next time.” Kara echoes her, slow realization dawning on her face. “Oh my. Oh yes. Yes , I’d like that.”
“So would I.”
Kara meets her eyes with absurd gratitude. “It’s not really how I pictured kissing you for the first time.” She admits, rubbing at her neck with a shy smile. “But I suppose it’ll have to do.”
“How did you picture it?” Lena is aware she’s leaning half across the table, just looking at Kara’s lips.
“Like this.” Kara breathes, and then she touches Lena’s lips to her own so sweetly, so gently, that Lena nearly cries with the implied weight of it.
It’s a very good kiss.
And there are more, as they walk along the moonlit streets.
This time, their path leads to Kara’s garret overlooking the Sorbonne. Alex is gone with Maggie to a holiday retreat in Nice, Kara explains, as she leads Lena by the hand up a set of stairs that are rickety and nearly vertical. Their thighs brush, often, in the close confines of the stairwell. The air between them is thick and hot.
It only takes the moment of the door closing for them to spring upon each other like loosed wild animals.
“I want you.” Kara confesses, mouth trembling along Lena’s bared shoulders. She is removing the stays of Lena’s chemise, one by one. Lena’s dress is laying in a puddle over an upturned chair. Kara’s shirt and jacket are on top of it. “ Oh , Lena, I want you so badly that my body hurts with it.”
“I want you in the same way.” Lena promises, hands pressed to Kara’s bare chest. She pauses, though, and cups Kara’s chin with her other hand. “I’ve never done this before, though, and I may be awful at it.”
“Lena. You would never be awful at it.” Kara groans, but her eyes are round. “Are you truly a virgin?”
When Lena nods, abashed, Kara lets out an animalistic sound and holds her closer, mouthing at her neck. “ Christ , but that doesn’t make sense. You’re as gorgeous as Theda Bara.”
“Who?” Lena gasps out as Kara’s lips graze her pulse.
“Doesn’t matter.” Kara’s fingers push the stays away and her chemise drops down. Lena is bare in the dim light from the garret window, but she doesn’t feel ashamed. On the contrary, Kara’s sweeping gaze makes her feel hot. Wanted . Desired .
They end up on Kara’s narrow little bed, the iron frame creaking with age under the strain of their desperate ardor. Lena can feel that strange heat coiling inside her again, just from the whispering touch of Kara’s fingers against her nipples, and the wet mark of her mouth, rapidly cooling in the chill air. The twin sensations make her shudder and twitch as Kara lays over her, kissing a line down her chest to take her nipples into the damp furnace of her mouth.
The kiss she lays there is suckling sweet and tugs on Lena in a primitive, needy way. She curls under Kara and arches for her attentions, unsure of what she needs, only that she needs it, and Kara is the only one who can deliver.
Kara seems to sense it too.
“Easy. Easy , sweetheart.” She murmurs in that broad American accent of hers. Lena shudders to feel her lips brush against the trapped beating of her heart, just below her breast. “We’re going to take this slow. Don’t want to hurt you.”
“Kara.” Lena’s voice is already a breathy whine and she shifts her hips below Kara’s body.
“Easy.” Kara tells her again, lowly, and Lena stills.
Kara smiles at her, and her lips drop down to kiss a trail past Lena’s belly button.
At first, Lena doesn’t understand. She’s impatient and twitching with newfound lust and she can’t figure out why Kara is kissing all around her hip bones and into the flesh of her thighs. And then Kara’s tongue parts her like the Red Sea, and her back bows into a gasping moan.
“I’ve got you.” Kara assures her, placing a soft kiss on her mound. “Just breathe and tell me if it’s too much.”
It is. It is too much what Kara is doing to her, licking into her cunt as if with a single purpose. But Lena doesn’t want it to stop so she only whines desperately and clings to the sheets, fisting handfuls of Kara’s threadbare linens as she pants and twists until one of Kara’s hands comes up to hold her hip bone and keep her steady.
It’s grounding, and she needs it when Kara’s persistently seeking tongue hits a spot at the top of her cunt that makes her whole body sizzle.
“Oh God .” She weeps, shaking under the onslaught of pleasure as Kara tongues over that spot again and again, twirling out waves of heady sensation. She’s seeking, looking to find all the ways Lena gasps and shudders and twitches under her attentions, and she finds them, indeed.
Lena has never imagined finding such pleasure from between her legs. There was never anything but the barest hint of sensation there before. Only nuisance and monthly inconvenience. Never pleasure. But Kara draws it from her, flicking with her dexterous tongue and murmuring encouragement into Lena’s sex, messily wet against her chin.
Everything in her is clenching and drawing tight. She needs something more, she needs to crest that precipice and plunge into the abyss beneath. She doesn’t understand her body’s urges, doesn’t understand what’s about to hit her, only that she needs Kara to do it, to push her there.
And, in a matter of minutes, that’s exactly what Kara does.
“Oh, oh— !” Lena cries out, struck by the sudden shock of it. Her toes clench against the sheets and she bears down against the feeling of it, riding through a wave like her body has become the Channel—choppy, unreadable, mysterious.
When it’s done, she lays panting, tumbled into a sudden new awareness of her body and its purposes as Kara kisses her thighs and slips up her torso.
“Was it good?” Kara asks, and the question is so inconceivable that Lena wants to laugh, but she has no breath.
“It was marvelous .” She attests, pulling Kara by her cheeks into a kiss that tastes of her own salt. She is struck by how much she likes it. She wants more.
When she pulls away, she strokes along Kara’s leg, feeling bolder. “Can I do that for you?”
Kara shakes her head. “Not yet.” Her smile is tight but genuine. “I want to touch you again. Would you like that?”
Lena nods, captivated by Kara’s searching, intent gaze.
“Can I…” Kara is suddenly bashful, drawing her fingers up and down Lena’s body. “Would you like if I used my hand?”
Lena doesn’t know what she means until Kara elects to show her by slipping her middle and index finger through Lena’s soaking lower lips until her body quivers and the sweet pressure begins again. She hadn’t thought it possible, to feel the way Kara is showing her. She thought she was in Never-Never Land before, but now she knows the way.
Second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning.
Kara rubs around the swollen flesh of that devastating button she found before, and Lena moans to feel it, twisting in her lusts.
“I’m touching your clit.” Kara tells her, and Lena thrills to the gruff, filthy sound of her voice. “Do you like it?”
“ Yes .” Lena is sure her lungs will collapse in breathless, blissful ecstasy. “ God , Kara, what are you—-“
“Shall I go inside?” Kara asks her, low and whispering, and Lena bucks hard into her palm.
“Whatever you want, I don’t, I— oh .”
Kara’s index finger curls, and slips inside her opening—a place she has only the vaguest knowledge of, herself, but Kara seems keen and confident as she plumbs Lena’s depths, brow furrowed in concentration. The feeling of it is like a gate being opened. Kara is inside her, questing into her wet, and her whole self tightens and pulses around that single, seeking finger.
“Is it alright? Does it hurt?” Kara’s breath is warm against her cheek, damp with urgency. Her eyes are dark with concern. “You’re so….tight.”
“Keep going.” Lena nods in encouragement, tilting her hips up in a shameless way.
Kara rubs at her clit and fucks her with one finger, curling in and out, and before long, Lena has her hips rocking up for more. When Kara slowly adds a second finger—biting her lip and looking into Lena’s sweat-streaked face—she comes undone, sobbing and moaning at the sharp, sudden stretch.
Later, they lay pressed as close as sardines in Kara’s little bed, and Lena rests her head on Kara’s shoulder, listens to the steady thump in her neck.
“Tell me about why you came here.” Kara entreats, stroking her hair. “I know you don’t want to talk about where you came from, but I just want to know you, Lena. I want to know everything about you.”
There is a sweet calm in Lena’s limbs—a lassitude to her heart. She sighs into Kara’s neck.
“I was supposed to be married.” She begins.
In the grey dawn, Kara walks her back home along the mist-covered streets.
“I want to see you again.” She tells Lena, holding tight to her fingers at Madame du Corday’s door.
“Tonight?” Lena asks, laughing at her own impatience.
“Every night.” Kara says, all seriousness and Lena laughs again and pulls at her shoulders until they kiss.
That afternoon, Madame du Corday surprises her over lunch by slyly asking if Lena were still enjoying ‘that book you were reading late the other night.’
Lena nearly drops her soup spoon. She blushes, but recovers well. “Very much so.”
Laying in bed with Kara in the garret room, Lena soon learns her body has many ways to fall apart. Some with Kara’s fingers, some with her mouth, but all uniquely pleasurable and sating to the wildness in her that seems to prowl whenever Kara is near.
After, as Kara leans, half-naked from the small, oval window to smoke a cigarette, Lena stretches and rolls over to her sketchbook. She wants to capture Kara like this, lean and chest bare against the thin light of a grey afternoon. Her breasts are small and high, nudging her suspenders, and her hips are narrow, like a glass of water. She contains so much.
Lena loves all of her, in that moment. Heart and soul.
“You know.” Kara begins, almost shyly. The air is blue from smoke, and swirling, so it adds a mystic halo to her blonde head as she looks at Lena work in her book. “You could sell your drawings on the Seine. Alex has been making inquiries, and Madame Laurier has space available. She’s one of us—a confirmed spinster.” Kara explains, eyes locked to Lena’s. “She would rent to you for a very reasonable rate.”
She fidgets, nervously. “If it were something you wanted to try.”
“Oh.” Lena is stunned, for a moment. She rolls over, naked, and draws the sheet up to her waist. “Kara, I don’t know if my drawings are good enough to sell.”
“They are.” Kara stubs her cigarette on the sill and comes over, taking Lena’s hands. “Don’t let your mother’s opinion stop you from trying. You deserve to be happy, Lena. This would make you happy, I know it would.”
All Lena wants to do in that instant is throw her arms around Kara and kiss her madly until the breath is gasping out of both of their lungs. She does.
“You make me happy.” She murmurs into Kara’s neck. Her heart is overflowing.
Kara says nothing, only stroking her hair, but Lena feels effusive.
“Kara, you’re so kind . So wonderful. You make me feel such things… .” Her hand strays down to the button on Kara’s trousers, thumbing it back and forth. “I wish I could do the same for you. Oh, won’t you let me try? I want to touch you, to...to make you feel good.”
“You do.” Kara draws in a tight breath and takes her wrist, gently. She smiles and shakes her head. “I don’t need that, Lena, honest.”
Lena thinks to protest but then Kara distracts her with another kiss and soon she’s led back down onto the bed with a seeking, insistent hand pressing between her legs.
She goes to Madame Laurier the next day, to make some inquiries of her own, and before long, she has a space.
At first, she doesn’t sell anything and despair creeps into her stomach. Her mother’s words seem a portent and she fears to tell Kara that she’s failed.
Kara only shakes her head and smiles. Lena wonders where she gets her absurd confidence, her surety in Lena’s talent when Lena doesn’t seem to have it, herself.
But then, at Madame Laurier’s instruction, she takes to painting and sketching on the bank, with the others, and her little stand starts to flourish. Her secret horde of pounds begins to flush with francs, and Lena counts them each night, feeling a fierce sort of pride under a flutter of disbelief.
After her first big sale—a blustering English businessman buys her largest painting of the Channel for his wife—she goes running to Kara and catches her, breathlessly in the patisserie below her garret. Kara stops midway through her almond croissant to throw her arms around Lena in delight, spraying her with crumbs.
They go upstairs, and Lena spreads the francs out in a wide fan on Kara’s desk.
“Let me take you to dinner.” She begs, kissing Kara’s arms as they slide around her waist. “I want to celebrate with you. You did this.”
“ You did this.” Kara corrects, mildly, but she stiffens when Lena presses her rounded rear end back into her lap. She lets out a small, strangled sound. Lena finds it fascinating, so she does it again.
“Lena.” Kara’s hands land on her hips, warning, softly.
“Let me touch you.” Now Lena turns in Kara’s arms, a sudden raging fire within her. “ God , Kara I just want to touch you, please , won’t you let me?”
“It’s not that simple.” Kara tells her, and holds firmly on her wrist when she tries to snake her hand down.
“How is it not simple?” Lena whines in frustration, twining against Kara’s grip. “Are you worried I won’t be good enough? Couldn’t you teach me? Kara, I promise, I’ll—“
Kara drops her wrist, and in one movement, presses Lena’s palm to her groin. There is something there. Something stiffening against the fabric. Lena’s felt it before, but assumed it was a muscle, a twitch of fabric. This is not either of those things.
Lena’s eyes fly up to Kara’s face in shock.
“ Oh .”
“Do you understand now?” Kara looks pained. She wrenches away from Lena’s touch, and goes to stand by the door, rubbing her shoulders.
There is a silence in Kara’s body that is so miserable that it can only be the oldest wound she carries.
After a time she speaks. It’s low and distant. “I don’t blame you if you want to leave. It’s happened before—enough that I’ve grown used to it. And I’ve been deceiving you, after all.”
“Kara.” Lena is struck still, but she doesn’t want to leave. She knows that. She blinks, clearing her head. The idea of before is still ringing around her brain. “But you’re a…”
“A girl?” Kara laughs, harshly. It’s an unpleasant noise. “Try telling that to my parents.”
Kara has the far away look of someone who has perhaps never told this particular story out loud before. “My real parents are alive. Alex isn’t my sister. My real family tried to sell me to a sideshow man when the circus rolled through our town, because I was born with….extra parts. They beat me. Called me a freak.”
There are tears in Kara’s eyes—Lena can see them glittering—but she won’t let them fall. She brushes at her face, angrily, instead, as if she could force them away.
“I found Alex on the train tracks as an orphan, and we sort of lumped along together ever since. Not easily, no. Never easily. But I’ve survived. By hook or by crook.” She looks at her hands, bitterly. “I’m not who you think I am, Lena. Not at all.”
Lena sits with this information for long seconds. Her shoulders straighten. She crosses to Kara, takes her hands away from her face. She wants to tell Kara she loves her, but those are perhaps not the right words. She searches for a while until she finds them.
“But you are .” She says, softly. “You’re my Kara. Just who you’ve always been.”
Kara makes a choked noise, and the tears break free from her eyes as Lena kisses her. She moves as if to wipe them, but Lena only kisses her and kisses her until Kara goes slack against her and stays quiet.
“You don’t hate me?” She asks, when she’s broken free from Lena’s kiss. Her cheeks are still dewy, but her eyes are shining with something like hope. “Truly?”
“I could never hate you.” Lena says, because it’s the truth. And kisses her again.
She has to kiss her a long time before Kara stops crying, and while she does, she curses Kara’s so-called family. Curses them as creatively as she knows how. She hopes she can give Kara the comfort they so readily denied her, but some part of her will always be damaged by it, in the same way she was damaged by Lillian. That’s alright, though.
If Lena knows about anything, it’s about starting over. Rebuilding. Becoming whole again. She knows because she’s doing it now.
“We are both orphans, of a kind.” She tells Kara later, as they lean against each other, wiping her cheek. “We shall have to find our own place to belong. Together.”
Kara nods at her, and smiles softly. “Mermaids.” She says, quietly.
Later, after more tears and whispered words of gentleness, Lena manages to get both of them undressed, all the way, and laying together in Kara’s bed, tangled limbs and stroking hands.
After a while, the stroking starts to get more urgent. Tense kisses prolong into agony. Kara’s hips begin to rock and press into her own, and Lena breaks away.
“What do you like?” Lena asks, breathy and nervous. Her fingers itch to trail down Kara’s thighs, but she knows the blonde may shy away from too much contact right now. So she waits. “How can I pleasure you?”
Kara bites her lip. She looks pained, but her hand guides Lena’s fingers down. Lena feels silken, steel-hard skin, and a length that she can barely wrap her fingers around. She draws in a breath.
“F-fuck.” Kara curses, softly.
“Does that feel good?”
“ Yes .”
Lena keeps her eyes firm to Kara’s frantic blue gaze, even as her lashes start to flutter. Her hand slips up and down, and when she licks her fingers to aid the slow motion of her fist, Kara throws back her head and moans so deep it rattles Lena’s bones.
“Faster.” Kara pants. Her hand wraps again around Lena’s forearm, but she’s aiding and abetting this time, not preventing. Lena’s strokes increase, and Kara grunts, biting into Lena’s pale shoulder with sharp teeth.
After only a few minutes of this frenzied pumping, Kara comes with a hoarse shout and a slick burst that splashes over their twined, tensing bodies. It covers Lena’s fingers, and she’s surprised by how much she enjoys it. She’s done it. She’s made Kara come.
She wants to do it again.
She kisses Kara as the waves of pleasure leaves her limp and gasping, and starts moving her hand again, purposefully. Kara doesn’t quite know what’s hit her by the time Lena has her hard again.
“Can I use my mouth?” She asks, all innocence, and the groan that Kara lets out is almost a whimper.
“ Christ .” Kara whispers. “You can, if-if you want.”
In lieu of answer, Lena lowers her lips down to Kara’s belly button and starts kissing toward her goal.
It’s strange, doing this for Kara. She never thought it would be something she’d enjoy, but she does. She loves the taste of her, the stiffness, the way she can feel Kara’s quivering heartbeat pulse through the shaft. Her lips graze up and down, and Kara’s hips try to follow her. The noises she makes are almost like sobs. Lena takes pity on her, and fastens her lips around the tip, taking Kara into the heat of her mouth. .
When Kara comes again, it’s in her mouth this time, with Lena greedily swallowing to contain as much of it as she can. Kara’s length is broad and thick and hardly fits in her lips, but she lathes it with her tongue and swallows around the tip as much as she can. It’s messy and it’s shameless and absolutely perfect. She’s making Kara happy—she can tell by the noises coming out of her, unceasing in pitch and volume—and it drives her on like a lash.
She keeps going. Kara comes again. And again.
“No more.” Kara pants, after Lena eagerly tries to get her hard for the fourth, or perhaps fifth, time. “Hell, you call me a fiend. Come here, you.”
Kara pulls her close, and kisses the remains of her release from Lena’s cheeks. Lena bides her time and waits. And when Kara is ready, she dives back in, greedy as ever.
Despite Kara’s earlier protests, Lena spends that night learning all about the body of the woman she loves, and how best to please her, until Kara is dazed and sated and dizzy with her attentions.
As Paris begins to thaw, Lena takes a small apartment in the Latin Quarter, over Madame du Corday’s objections. The old woman insists she can stay forever, if she so chooses, and Lena believes her, but she takes the wrinkled hands warmly in her own and promises to visit every week for Sunday dinner, and that mollifies Charlotte, to some degree.
She still insists on paying movers to furnish and prepare Lena’s new apartment, however.
Lena doesn’t mind. The furniture is better than anything she could afford and Charlotte lets her pick all the fabrics. The colors she pick out sing of springtime and new life—fresh greens and yellows, faint blues, light pinks and oranges.
When the movers have gone (and been generously tipped), Kara flops on her back onto Lena’s spacious new bed, sending up a flurry of down and pillows. “My God. I don’t think beds like this exist on the usual artist’s salary.”
“Lucky me to have such a generous patron, then. Although I doubt Madame du Corday bought it with you in mind.” Lena giggles when Kara grabs for her, and allows herself to be tugged down.
“You never know.” Kara’s eyebrows are waggling in that silly suggestive way that makes Lena think inevitably of bad Pierrot imitators. “The Madame is wiser than she may appear, for one so frivolous.”
“I don’t want to think about dear Charlotte knowing what we do in this bed, thank you.” Lena hits Kara with a decorative pillow—but a small one.
“Why not?” Kara catches the pillow and her hand, drawing her giggling, squirming form close, half across her lap. “I want all of France to know what we do in this bed. God knows you’re good enough at it.”
“ Kara .” Lena feigns exasperation, but her cheeks aren’t the only thing that’s heating up. She shifts on Kara’s lap, experimentally, and feigns a pout. “I shall leave you for a mute with a clear conscience.”
“No, you wouldn’t.” Kara declares confidently, and something in Lena seizes when she realizes that no, she would never willingly leave Kara. Jape or no, the concept is foreign to her. She’s never had something that she would cling to so fiercely before. But Kara’s fingers are stroking into her hair, and she’s inching her breath closer to Lena’s neck with each nudge of her chin, and Lena doesn’t need to know how much she loves Kara to know she would be a fool to leave this.
“Well.” She murmurs and twists in Kara’s lap, until they are nose to nose. She arranges her hands on broad shoulders. “No one would love me as well as you do, that’s for certain.”
It’s said casually, without thinking. The words were on her mind, so they left her lips. This would have never happened in the Luthor manse, with its dark walls and suppressed secrets. Lena nearly slides off Kara in shock at her own tongue.
But Kara’s hands are still on her lower back, and though her eyes are wide, she nods, carefully. Her gaze is frighteningly honest.
“I would never love anyone more. Couldn’t.” Her eyes are pressing into Lena’s when she adds. “And neither could you, I imagine.”
It’s a hope, not a statement. And oh , isn’t this a funny way of telling each other they’re in love?
Lena bites her lip at the silliness of it, but she nods back at Kara in confirmation, noting the distinct joy that swells in her blue gaze before she leans in and kisses her, once, quickly. “I don’t think so, no.” At Kara’s wide, wonderous eyes, she grows bolder. “I love you too much to consider whether I shouldn’t.”
“Then don’t.” Kara is breathing into her lips now, and her hands tighten on Lena’s spine. “I love you too much to let you.”
“ Kara— “ Lena begins, heatedly, her eyes damp, but then Kara is pressing into her lips and slipping her tongue into her mouth and she cries out her words of love into the kiss. It’s muffled, but Kara understands. She knows it.
She knows many things, as they lay back on the quite-frankly-ridiculous-pile of pillows and kiss more, saying softer things to each other. She knows that she has loved Kara since perhaps the moment she sat in Lena’s booth, or maybe earlier, and that she has never been so happy. There is a stab of fear remotely as she considers whether or not Lillian would ever find out, but it's gone and banished by the time Kara finishes a watery-eyed explanation of her trajectory into Lena’s arms.
“I have always been with girls—with women , who professed to love me but only wanted to love me above my belt. Women who were displeased and a bit disgusted at my body. My arousal.” Kara looks down in shame, grimacing, but lets Lena tilt her chin up with soft fingers. “I have never been loved as I am with you. You touch me as if you treasure me.”
“I do.” Lena confesses, lips seeking and finding Kara’s. “Oh, Kara, I do.”
Kara breaks away after a heated, almost frenzied moment. “Lena, there’s something I—-well, there’s something I want. And I don’t even know if I—-if I can. But I do want it, and I’m afraid to ask.”
“Anything.” Lena strokes Kara’s spine, curling closer. She’s lost in how warm the blonde hairs are on Kara’s nape. “Anything, my love.”
“I...well…” Kara is blushing crimson from her chest to her ear-tips. Lena is half amused, half concerned. “Could I...could you let me—-Could I be inside you?”
At first, Lena doesn’t understand. “Kara, you were inside me last night.” She reminds her, gently, smiling at the memory of two fingers that slipped into her and made her sore.
“No, I—“ Kara shifts, again, uncomfortably, and all at once Lena catches her meaning. “I mean, with my—“
“Oh.” Lena is contemplative, for a moment.
She’d never considered this act in a pleasurable way before. Morgan Edge had made the prospect rather daunting, and so had the stable boy who had pressed himself on her after a lesson, one hot day in the barn. She’d wrenched away from both and considered herself lucky.
But they were not Kara. Kara is gentle. Kara never tries to rush or hurt her. It took her a month before she’d even put a hand in Lena’s hair when Lena used her mouth to pleasure her—and that was after several weeks of pleading and guiding.
And she does love the way Kara shudders and moves against her sometimes, when they kiss. The heavy feeling of her. The pressure between her legs. The rough, hot splay of her breath.
She makes up her mind in an instant. “Yes. We can do that, if you’d like.” Lena feels even more confident about her decision as soon as she sees the nervous crinkle in Kara’s brow lighten. “I think I’d enjoy it.”
She can see determination settle into Kara’s face. Her shoulders straighten, and her jaw sets. It’s lovely to behold. “I’ll see to it that you do, never fear.”
Her eyes soften, though, when she looks at Lena. “I’d never hurt you. Do you know that?”
“I know.” Lena tells her, stroking her face.
They wind up undressed in the most unhurried way possible. Kara seems to enjoy taking her time, kissing along each patch of Lena’s revealed skin as she strips her bare. Lena is breathy with the anticipation of it, expecting Kara to just undo her trousers and get on with it, but Kara is as slow as an ox cart and twice as unyielding.
Her hands keep gently pinning Lena’s seeking, impatient ones to the bed, but Lena tries, as always, to wiggle free and sometimes she succeeds. She pinches at Kara’s exposed nipples, through the buttons of her nightshirt. She strokes between her legs, finding Kara already silkily hard and pressing into her palm. She pulls at Kara’s pants until they come tumbling off.
“Lena.” Kara groans at her frenzy. She rips her own shirt off, panting, and slides her naked body over Lena’s own, so at last they are skin to skin. Lena can feel Kara between her thighs and it makes her quiver.
“We must go slow.” Kara cautions her, even as Lena tilts her hips up in wild, heedless welcome, and her thighs begin to part below the weight of Kara pressing into her. “ Lena , I mean it. You could be hurt if we rush. Let me—“
She slides down Lena’s writhing, impatient body before she can be stopped and pushes Lena’s slender thighs open with her shoulders. Her tongue slips out to make contact, and Lena jumps, crying out.
“You’re already sodden.” Kara murmurs into her, as if in awe, and Lena can only gasp in agreement.
But Kara makes a mess of her, anyway, and her new sheets. She laps through Lena’s slick with a purpose, and it’s only until Lena is wailing and arching through her third arrival that Kara finally relents and puts her fingers inside again.
It’s good, the warm, pleasant stretch of the two familiar fingers—but it’s not enough. Lena knows what she wants now. She can tell Kara wants it too, by the heady way the blonde is looking at her cunt—like she wants to crawl inside and live there. It sets Lena on fire.
“Kara, please .” She pulls at a blonde-haired forearm, tugging. “I want to have you inside me.”
“I am inside you.” Kara grins wickedly, mimicking her earlier tone. Lena groans in frustration and pitches her hips forward, trying to take more.
“Do you need me to spell it out? Fine.” Lena is well past patience, now. She huffs and uses the hand not occupied in gripping the sheets to pull at Kara’s hair. “I need you to fuck me. Will you do that, please? And cease this infernal torture?”
“Yes, my love. Anything for you.” Kara grins down at her, and nips a kiss onto her lower lip. But then her eyes grow serious, and, as she slips back up Lena’s body, laying lavish, circling kisses on Lena’s dark nipples, her breath is hot and heavy.
“Are you ready?” Kara asks, her voice quiet. One of her hands is playing still between Lena’s legs, poised to guide herself inside. Lena feels the heightened tension of the moment rise and rise between them like it will never burst open.
“Yes.” She nods. Her arms arrange on Kara’s neck, lightly. “Please.”
Kara takes a deep breath, one of her hands bracing and flexing on the bed beside Lena’s cheek. Her other hand moves between them, positioning, and then—
Lena feels it. The blunt nudging, slipping between the slick lips of her cunt. The tentative, exploratory feeling of something pressing and pressing, seeking into her. She clings onto Kara’s neck and holds her breath.
The first press in is painful, and her breath comes out in a rush. The nudging grows into a firmer push, and it feels like something sharp is entering her. The stretch burns in a way that is unfamiliar, and harrowing. She’s not sure she can do this. Kara seems far too big to fit.
“ Kara— “ Her breath is a whine, and she clutches at Kara’s neck, suddenly panicking. Her body clamps, painfully and she hisses. “I can’t. It’s too much, I—-
“I know, my love.” Kara presses their lips together, and another sharp movement inside makes her cry out into Kara’s mouth. “ Shh . Easy . I wish it were smaller, but it’s all I’ve got, and I’m sorry. You can take it, though. I know you can.”
The encouragement steadies her, and she nods, shaken. There is a tear slipping down her cheek, but when Kara’s lips brush it away, she sighs, and something in her lower belly relaxes. Her body loosens, and she instinctively understands her fear will make it painful if she lets it. She musn’t give in. She trusts Kara to show her how.
And Kara does.
Whispering words of love softly, Kara rubs her clit until she’s slick again, and keeps her own hips still, not pressing further into Lena. Until Lena tries to open her thighs wider for Kara’s body and the tip of her length slips fully inside, broad as it is. Lena gives out a cry of surprise, but there’s very little pain. She’s surprised at how easy it was, after all.
“Are you—“ Kara pants, and shudders, clearly sustaining a serious effort to hold still. “Was that—“
“It doesn’t hurt anymore.” Lena tells her, shaking her head. “It’s okay now, darling, go ahead. Give me the rest.”
“Oh, Lena .” Kara leans down to kiss her again, and another inch slides forward. They both moan, this time. Her cunt is slick, and, as she is made open for the passage of Kara, she feels each twitch and shudder of Kara’s length inside her.
It’s intimate, and it’s new. She’s surprised at how much she loves it. The feeling of being hewn open. Hollowed out so that a new piece can be made to fit.
When Kara is finally all the way inside, pelvis bumping into Lena’s, and they are slotted together as firmly as puzzle pieces, she kisses Lena again, and stills, letting her adjust. But Lena has been burning up with the newfound pleasure in the stretch, and she’s ready for more. She rocks her hips against Kara, slowly.
“Eager.” Kara’s breath is a grunt, but she smiles. Her other hand takes hold of Lena’s hip, holding her steady. Her fingers are damp from Lena’s cunt. “Let me do that, please.”
“So do it.” Lena is puffing and impatient, willing Kara to move. Her nails dig into the blonde curls at her neck. “ Damn you, Kara, I want—“
And then Kara thrusts firmly into her and takes her words away.
Her hips slide forward confidently, and her length pushes deeper, bridging the gap between pleasure and pain with such ease that it takes Lena’s breath almost entirely away. She is filled with such assurance and fervor that she can only moan brokenly until words come back to her.
“Oh.” Lena breathes out air with each jarring thrust. “Oh. Oh . Oh God —!”
“You’re taking it, Lena. I knew you could.” Kara encourages her, breath damp on her neck, where the blonde head rests. Her other hand clenches at the sheets for purchase, steadily increasing her pace. “You’re taking me so well —
The filthy way she praises Lena sends a shock directly to her clit, faster than Edison.
She can feel Kara so deeply that she imagines she’s directly inside her heart, pressing away at her organs. The stretch is blessed now, the farthest thing from painful. Kara starts to move faster, and her expression is almost pained. When she pulls out suddenly only to roughly sheath herself again, Lena nearly screams.
“Did I hurt you?” Kara is all panting concern. “Did I—“
Lena silences her with a fervid, messy, off-center kiss. “ Do it again .” She breathes.
The wetness between their joined bodies is spilling everywhere, splashing across Lena’s thighs and up her belly. She’s painted in it, covered. Her hips are jostling back at Kara now, heedless, trying to match her rhythm, and it brings her clit rocking against Kara’s damp curls of pubic hair, and then more firmly against her base.
Lena feels her climax first, clutching at Kara’s neck and shoulders for anchorage as the tide sweeps over her, curling from her toes to her eardrums. She tries to tell Kara she’s going to come, but the words fail her and she just sobs instead, barely managing to breathe out. Luckily, Kara seems to know, sweaty-faced and grunting down at her, and her whispers of encouragement send Lena over the edge.
“Come for me, Lena. There’s my girl. Come for me, that’s it, that’s it, there you are—“
It breaks over Lena with a scream she hardly recognizes as her own. She holds onto Kara as the well inside her body breaks open and floods her senses.
It only takes a half a minute before Kara is starting to cry out brokenly into her neck, and Lena, still riding the waves through her body, knows Kara is going to follow her into the pleasurably abyss. She closes her eyes and waits for the welcome rush inside her, the spill. She wants Kara to release inside of her, fully.
But Kara jerks against her and withdraws, gasping open-mouthed. Her hand drops from Lena’s hip and she works herself, hurriedly, without any grace, until her seed spills onto Lena’s belly. It’s warm and searing on her skin, but that wasn’t where she wanted it. She whines and tries to lift her hips to invite Kara back inside, but the blonde shakes her head no.
“We can’t— “ Kara explains, in between gulps of air and stammers, as Lena wiggles below her, discontent. “I could...There’s a ch-chance I could give you a baby.”
I’d let you. Lena wants to say, but not with Kara’s panicked expression so close. She soothes instead, biting her lip. “It’s okay. Shh.”
It’s only after a long moment of soft breathing and closeness, that Lena admits. “I’d let you get me pregnant, if you wanted me to.”
“Oh Lena .” Kara looks overcome. She kisses Lena, torrid and deep. “I’d love that, someday.”
“Perhaps after the wedding.” Lena says, casually enough that Kara nods along before her eyes widen.
“Perhaps?” Kara echoes her, rounded in delight.
Lena nods. “I won’t have you making a scandal out of me. Well,” she amends, thoughtfully, “more than we already are.”
“I love you.” Kara tells her, tugging her impossibly closer. “God, but I do love you so.”
It’s a funny way to propose, Lena thinks, but then again, isn’t that just the way of things?
They are married on a glorious spring day at St. Germaine.
A tailor provided Kara with a suit. Lena wears her favorite dress. The rings Alex finds at a cluttered thrift shop.
Madame du Corday arranged for a false birth certificate with a fake male name—say, Clark Danvers—and for a doddering old priest who is half-blind and doesn’t even look up at them as they stand before him, hands joined while he drones over the service. The priest signs the marriage license with hardly a second glance.
The pretense doesn’t matter. When Lena looks at Kara, smiling shyly out from under her new haircut in the fitted suit, hands shaking in hers, her heart swells and she knows she will love this woman for the rest of her life. Beyond, perhaps. There are many lifetimes, Sarah sometimes says. Perhaps this is only one of them.
Alex and Maggie cheer as they kiss, and Madame du Corday weeps into the arms of Jess, her faithful maid. Lena throws the bouquet—a ragged thing of stolen flowers from the Luxembourg Gardens—into Maggie’s arms, and Alex grins at her for it. Maggie makes a face, but she kisses Alex anyway.
That night, in their wedding bed, Lena waits for Kara to be settled fully inside her before she lifts her lips to her wife’s earlobe and whispers: “I want you to release inside me.”
And Kara does. Many, many times. Crying Lena’s name so loudly and driving the headboard into the wall so firmly that the neighbors next door give Lena the evil eye every morning for a week...but she’s smiling too broadly to care.
Married life shapes out rather well for them, after all.
It’s five years later before she sees her mother.
Lena has graduated from a stall, to a stand, to a shop along the Siene. Madame Laurier has long since passed on, and Lena has taken on her role, passing out stalls to blushing new artists who remain in awe of her presence. She runs a brisk, successful trade at her shop, and now has enough income to own a home on the St Germaine, close enough to call on Madame du Corday—who is aging rapidly now, sadly—at least once or twice a week.
Lena has been interviewed for a few magazines. She’s shown her work in galleries. Sometimes she sells, sometimes she does not.
She’s been asked, many times, to sell the painting of the blonde woman in suspenders looking out the window, but she won’t. Not for any price.
She is looking out her shop window one afternoon, looking for Kara. Her wife will usually bring her lunch in the basket of her bike, cuffs rolled up and stained with ink from her job at the paper, where she is now writing long treatises extolling the virtue of the worker. They will sit and eat together in respective silence, leaning against each other on the concrete wall, with Kara occasionally reading articles out loud. Then, Lena will close up and they will walk home and make love on the big brass-framed bed.
Lucien, their young son, will return home with his nanny around dinner time, and they will all eat together while Lucien sits on Kara’s lap and steals bites from her plate, talking of the lions at the zoo or the picture show he saw with Emelie.
Lena looks forward to it, as she does every day.
When she sees her mother, she freezes, standing in the window. Lillian is frozen on the other side, looking in, her hands clutched to her purse. Lena? She mouths, almost forlorn.
Lena opens the door. The cheerful little bell jangles, and her mother walks in.
Lillian is dressed in furs. She looks well-fed, with rosy cheeks. She fumbles a cigarette from her case, hands shaking. “Well. I never expected to see you again.”
“Hello Mother.” Lena leans against her shop desk, hands braced on the wood. She feels strangely calm. “I didn’t expect to see you again, either.”
“You ran away.” Lillian stabs at her with the cigarette, meaningfully.
Lena nods, doesn’t rise to the bait. “I did.”
Lillian pulls her coat tighter about her. “I had to marry in your place. Luckily, Mr Lord was very understanding, despite your clever little trick.” She draws in a large lungful of smoke. “Of course, he did pass away unexpectedly shortly after the wedding, but no matter. I’m quite secure now.” She looks almost smug before she narrows her eyes at Lena. “And you left me to deal with that alone.”
“I did.” She doesn’t add because it was never my responsibility to be your broodmare but she thinks it.
“I expect you had some lover here.” Lillian sniffs, clearly put out by Lena’s refusal to engage. “I hope it was worth abandoning your family.”
“She is.” Lena says, with a simple smile.
“ She ?”
Lillian smokes for a few more moments, looking furrowed. Lena only leans against her desk and smiles. The boats on the Seine go by in the window, and the light begins to fade along the water, drawing the tourists together in tight clumps as they head back to hotels and rented flats.
Lillian says nothing. Her face is unreadable. She presses out her cigarette in her gold case and slips it back into her purse.
At last, she says, almost too quietly: “But you’re happy here.”
“I am.” Lena tries to express with her face how much she means it.
Lillian doesn’t say anything.
At last, her mother sighs, as if she’s come to some heavy realizations at once. “Well, perhaps, you’d consider giving your old mother a hug.”
It’s the only apology she’s ever going to get. Lena goes into her arms and closes her eyes. Smells her mother’s perfume.
It’s not forgiveness or apology, not quite, but it’s enough. They don’t promise to write. They don’t offer to meet again.
Her mother leaves, casting one lingering look over her shoulder as Lena waves goodbye, and just as she’s gone, Kara comes around the corner on her bike, tootling her silly little horn.
The aa-ooga noise makes her laugh, loud and uproarious, and she nearly knocks Kara off the saddle in her haste to kiss her.
“Gee.” Kara says, breathless and smiling. “What’s gotten into you?”
“I’ll tell you at home.” Lena says, eyes bright, and they leave together, walking with Lena’s hand in Kara’s coat pocket as she rolls the bike along.
The city lights bathe them in warmth, as they go on, one by one, lighting their way home.