At 5:30am, the alarm clock that belonged to Kara Danvers did not go off. By 6am, she was still buried beneath her duvet, curled up around a large pillow, and completely unaware that she was already horribly, disastrously late.
At 6:47am, her cell phone rang. She groped under her pillow for it as best she could in the dark, and smiled when she saw her colleague Nia Nal’s face on the screen. She sleepily swiped to answer it.
“Mornin’ Nia,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.
“Where the hell are you?!” Nia hissed down the phone, forgoing any pleasantries.
“God, Nia, I’m in bed, where do you think I am?” Kara whined. “It’s the crack of d-”
Nia cut across her. “It’s ten to seven! The witch is going to be here by seven forty-five for a meeting at eight!” Nia whisper-shouted down the phone. Kara sat up suddenly and tried to ignore the way her stomach rolled at the movement. She looked over at her alarm clock and the time did, indeed, say 6:47am.
“Shit! Shit, shit, shitting shit,” Kara cursed rapidly, throwing the duvet off herself and leaping out of bed far faster than her body would’ve liked.
“Did you forget? Fuck, Kara, you need to get down here fast.”
Kara hung up the phone without as much as a goodbye to Nia, shed her pajamas as she rushed across her apartment, and jumped into the shower as quickly as she could. Her stomach protested violently at the movement, and a moment later she had rocketed out of the shower and was kneeling on the floor with her head in the toilet, throwing up the last of the bourbon and tequila shots that she had downed last night for Nia’s boyfriend’s birthday. She barely had time to flush the toilet before jumping straight back in the shower, gargling mouthwash at the same time as she washed the stink of last night’s bar off herself. Damn Brainy for having a birthday on a Thursday when they all had to work the next day.
The last thing she needed was to turn up to work at CatCo Magazine as Lena Luthor’s personal assistant, late, reeking like a dive bar, and her breath practically radiating tequila. She was pretty sure she had already made a terrible impression on her boss, just like everyone else who ever crossed her path seemed to, but there was no sense in making a bad situation worse.
She lived in a small apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Alex was always trying to get her to move because she thought there were better areas for her sister to live in, but there was something that Kara loved about being able to take the ferry into Manhattan in the mornings if she chose to. Zipping past the skyline of New York City on a boat was a feeling that the small-town girl in her had never tired of. Her apartment was, admittedly, very small; her favorite quirk to it was the fact that the shower and the toilet were both in the kitchen at opposite ends, each in their own cubbyholes. The whole apartment was one room separated by small half-walls and glass doors. However, it was comfortable, it was warm, and it had good transport links. In the evenings, she could hear the sounds from the bar next door, and she grew to love the country bands that played there. She often headed down to the bar after a long day’s work just to enjoy the chilled-out atmosphere and chat with the bartender Leslie, who had become a friend.
This morning though, the warmth of the apartment just made her feel worse, and the thought of the boat bobbing along the waves in the East River made her jaw clench against the nausea that threatened another trip to the toilet.
Kara had found the job at CatCo Magazine fairly quickly, thanks to her cousin Clark. His best friend James Olsen worked at CatCo, and as they’d met several times, he’d vouched for her to Lena Luthor herself. When Kara had shown up for her interview, Lena had actually been out of the country, so the decision on whether she would or wouldn’t get the job was left up to Lucy Lane, who was overseeing personnel in her absence. Lucy was nice, though, and Kara was given the job before she’d even left the building. Miss Lane had seemed a little apprehensive when she offered the job, and although Kara had heard the horror stories of working for one of the Luthors, she’d paid it no mind at the time. She needed a job, and here was one that was very highly paid for a personal assistant role. She didn’t stop to think that there might be a very good reason for that high salary.
Now, though, as she clutched the guard rails of the NYC ferry in the light rain to Pier 11 and struggled not to heave, having run all the way from her apartment to the dock to catch the 7:06am ferry, she knew what that reason was.
You were not late when you worked for Lena Luthor. Not even by one second. Lena had never specifically insisted on that point, but if she demanded excellence of herself, then she demanded excellence of her employees as well. You showed up to work on time and worked your hardest throughout your day, or you didn’t come to work at all. It was simply understood.
Oh, she was certainly an intelligent, accomplished, brilliant woman; she was the CEO of two Fortune 500 companies at the young age of 26, a certified genius, and she held six degrees, two of which were PhDs, making her a doctor twice over. She was also a national chess champion, and a North American champion fencer; the only reason she hadn’t gone to the Olympics was because she claimed in an interview that she “didn’t have time” because of her dual CEO roles.
She had, almost single-handedly, dragged LuthorCorp out of the swamp it was languishing in after her brother Lex Luthor had decided using L-Corp as a front for viral weapons development with the intent of testing them on several isolated communities in Texas. He had already begun the testing on subjects he had no doubt bribed deep in the LuthorCorp labs. Lena herself had been the primary witness for the prosecution, providing a wealth of LuthorCorp documents, and it had ultimately been her testimony that led to his sentence of 31 consecutive life sentences.
LuthorCorp should’ve drowned under the controversy, but as soon as Lena Luthor took over the helm, she renamed it L-Corp, did away with any departments touched by the taint of the scandal, redistributed the scientists to other roles or phased them out altogether if they were too much like Lex, and dragged the company up by its bootstraps into one of the country’s leading STEM research and development companies. It now had almost unmatched philanthropic donations to progressive causes as well as sponsoring quite a few STEM scholarships at various universities throughout the country.
Strictly speaking, magazines usually didn’t have CEOs. However, Cat Grant herself had hand-picked Lena Luthor to take over the overall running of CatCo when she left to become Presidential Press Secretary, and so the role had been created for her. Despite not knowing much about running a media empire, Lena had famously thrown herself into learning everything she could about doing it. She didn’t have anything to do with the day to day running nor with the editing itself, but all content went through her, and she had the final say over everything, including the covers.
The list of Lena Luthor’s successes was certainly long. But the woman’s reserved, even glacial, persona was even more legendary. In fact, the words cold, hard bitch were thrown around more often than any other. She always got her way in the boardroom, and her dismissive attitude was infamous.
Kara had always thought that it wasn’t that Lena was rude, exactly; it was just that she didn’t seem to have time for people. She was simply too busy. She walked around the office with her phone glued to her ear constantly, or she was scrolling through something important on a tablet while walking between meetings. She made it her business to know what everyone was working on at all times, was on top of all of the directors of various departments at both CatCo Magazine and L-Corp, and came in to work on weekends. She never missed a board meeting for either company, never let an issue run late, never let a single thing slide.
If you got in her way while she was walking through the office, you moved. It was as simple as that. If Lena Luthor was coming in your direction, you got out of the way, because she sure as hell wouldn’t move out of yours. If you weren’t doing your job efficiently, you had one stern warning, and if you didn’t improve, you were out. It made her seem a little… heartless, sometimes.
Lena seemed almost robotic to most people. No mistakes, no downtime, no sick days. She never raised her voice, never got emotional, and never let anyone walk all over her. Lena Luthor did not suffer fools gladly. She might not be blatantly rude, her poised refinement preventing her from being so, but she didn’t need to be. Her evident intelligence, business clout, and her dual high-level positions automatically set her apart from most mere mortals. She was intimidating without being frightening; she knew it, and she used it to her advantage.
Kara wasn’t scared of her, exactly, but Lena made her nervous for many reasons, not the least of which was the embarrassing crush that Kara had been nursing on her boss since her very first day as her assistant.
And now, Kara was late. Her ferry docked at Pier 11 and she bolted off it as soon as she was able to, moving as fast as she could towards the coffee shop near CatCo as she could in her heels and with her headache pounding behind her eyes. She’d downed two painkillers on the ferry, but they hadn’t kicked in yet. It was already close to 7:30am, and she was still two blocks away from CatCo in the heart of the Financial District. The rain was far heavier now, bouncing off the dirty sidewalks and splashing into her shoes. She sidestepped around people and tried to keep her umbrella from poking people in the eyes as she dodged puddles and rushed across crossings before she was meant to. More than one horn was blasted in her direction as she threw up a hand in apology.
By the time she got to the office at 7:35am, she was sopping wet. Kara dumped the umbrella in the umbrella bin by the door and apologized to the security men for the water she was leaving all over the floor as she dashed through the lobby. By the time she arrived at the elevator, she knew she was sweating under her clothes, and as they passed floor after floor, all her quick movements caught up to her and her hungover stomach. She swallowed hard as the elevator dinged on the correct floor and she rushed out of it towards her desk outside Lena Luthor’s office.
She dumped her soaking coat on her chair before hurrying to the bathroom and emptying her stomach into the toilet once more, hoping against hope that that was truly the last of it. As she came out of the stall wiping her mouth, Nia pushed through the door and handed her some saltines, a packet of mints, and a bottle of water.
“You’re a lifesaver,” Kara moaned, rinsing her mouth out several times and wishing she had a toothbrush. The mints would have to do until she could bribe someone to go out on their lunch break and pick one up for her. “The next time Brainy has a birthday, I’m vetoing the tequila.”
“You’ve got, like, two minutes before she gets here. She’s probably already in the lobby,” Nia said, shoving her bodily out of the door and back into the office. Kara bustled over to the small kitchen in the corner of the open-plan office to make Lena’s drink. A silly part of her job, but it was part of it nonetheless. Lena was unlike most other corporate workers in preferring to drink hot chocolate over coffee, but she was no less particular about what she drank. They’d imported a hot chocolate machine from the UK and every morning, she had a cup of 100% strength Honduran hot chocolate with a teaspoon of blackberry and cherry syrup mixed into it. Kara had tasted it once; it was bitter and tasted like a black forest gateau.
The joke in the office was that the hot chocolate was as bitter as Lena’s soul was.
She made the hot chocolate and had just placed it in Lena’s favorite mug on her desk when there was a flurry of activity outside the office room. Kara looked up to find everyone straightening their clothing, clearing takeaway coffee mugs off their desks and into the trash, and the chatter died down from raucous to barely audible. Kara could actually hear people typing, and was that Janet on the phone over there, calling the talking clock again, just to pretend she was on the phone? Yes. Yes, it was.
Kara went and sat at her own desk after hanging her wet coat up, and powered up her work laptop. She had just enough time to drop her throbbing head into her hands before the elevator dinged and Lena Luthor herself stepped into the room.
Her boss swept through the room like the world’s most expensive hurricane. Kara recognized the dress she was wearing as one Lena had got her to order last month; a black shirt dress with a red accented sash. She’d paired it with her signature black Louboutins and deep red lipstick, and her brunette hair was up in her usual severe ponytail.
She was talking on the phone, as usual, and beelined directly to her office. She didn’t seem to notice that as she passed, any in-progress conversations stalled. Jess Huang, her executive assistant at L-Corp, followed behind her, carrying what looked like a heavy box of files. Lena passed Kara’s desk in a cloud of pricey perfume and without sparing her a glance, but Kara didn’t let it get to her. She was far too used to it to be offended that Lena paid her no attention while her focus was clearly elsewhere.
“Can’t this wait?” Kara heard Lena say to whoever was on the phone, her voice as clear as a bell. “I have a very important meeting in ten minutes, and I don’t have time for government officials to be taking up my time whenever they please with no consideration for the damage they’ll cause in their wake.”
Kara raised her eyebrows as Jess laughed to herself behind the box. “She’s going to get herself in trouble one day if she keeps going like that.”
“Somehow, I doubt Lena Luthor would let something as insignificant as the US government inconvenience her in any way,” Kara replied with a quick smile.
“And I really don’t care for your tone of voice, Mr. Peters. If you wish to speak about this civilly, please feel free to make an appointment with my assistant. Good day,” Lena said crisply in her office, hanging up the phone. “Jess?” she called through the door.
Jess jumped and carried the box through to her, shutting the door with her foot behind her.
Kara busied herself with sorting out Lena’s calendar for the day. She had a meeting with the senior editors at 8am, which would last for an hour, and had another hour-long meeting with the Editor in Chief, at 10am.
When the senior editors arrived and Jess left Lena’s office, she stopped by Kara’s desk once again.
“What kind of mood is she in today?” she asked her.
“Oh, you know, she fired Siobhan Smyth at L-Corp this morning before coming over here. To be fair, she was posting confidential information on Facebook. So, Lena’s the same as usual, but maybe in a bit more of a sour mood than usual,” Jess replied, smiling down at Kara. It was well-known that Jess was absolutely invaluable to Lena and Lena knew it, and Jess knew her well enough to joke about her personality. She generally explained away their boss’ moods. Of the two of them, Jess was the one who spent the most time with Lena, because L-Corp required exponentially more of her time than CatCo did. Lena usually came in to CatCo for the last week or week and a half of every month, so that she could be on-site for any issues and conduct all of her meetings then.
On the one hand, it was nice having a boss that was away most of the time, but on the other, it wasn’t working out in Kara’s favor, because-
“Are you going to bring it up to her today?” Jess asked.
Kara shivered involuntarily. Asking your boss to let you change jobs within any company was a daunting task, but asking Lena Luthor? Terrifying.
The truth was that Kara wanted to be a journalist. She had wanted to be a journalist for her whole life, and held a masters degree in it from UC Berkeley, but she’d never been able to write for anything other than the local Midvale newspaper. Midvale was a small, seaside town in Alaska, and there wasn’t a whole lot to be said for hard-hitting journalism up there. Recently, CatCo had been dipping its toes into current affairs, and its large print runs and huge audience guaranteed that their opinion pieces were heard. Kara was desperate to move into the bullpen, felt that desire like a fire inside her, but in her way was Lena.
Even when Lena wasn’t at CatCo, she relied heavily on Kara. Being Lena’s personal assistant, Kara hardly ever had time off. When Lena was working, Kara was working. She was very well-paid, but she was lucky if she managed to get a couple of days off in a row at any one point. Kara knew that this was part of the role, it had been right there in the contract, but she had been dismayed at how often her vacation days had been denied. Essentially, Kara could only take extended time off when Lena did.
Lena almost never took time off.
Since she spent most of her time at L-Corp, Kara’s and Jess’ roles were balanced accordingly. Technically, as Lena’s PA, she had a contract at both companies; although she spent the majority of her time at CatCo, she did have to make regular trips to L-Corp. Jess’ role was heavily weighted in favour of the corporate world. The responsibility for all of Lena’s travel fell to Kara, as did organizing meetings, booking restaurant reservations or any corporate events, sorting out any issues that Lena had with travel to and from either CatCo or L-Corp, or any of L-Corp’s branches across the country. All of Lena’s work-related calls went through to Kara before they went anywhere near Lena, which meant that Kara was the one getting earfuls of complaints about Lena’s supposed disrespectful attitude.
Kara wasn’t so sure that Lena was disrespectful. More… forthright, and unwilling to waste words on something that didn’t require them.
She looked up at Jess. “Yep. She’s got an opening at 9am and I’m just going to- I’m going to ask her then. And I have to remind her about the time off I wanted next week…” Kara trailed off.
“I don’t think-” the phone on Kara’s desk rang. “Sorry, Jess,” she apologized, gesturing to it.
“Say no more! See you around, Kara,” Jess said, giving her a quick salute and heading towards the elevator.
Kara pulled her headset on and pressed the flashing numbered incoming call button.
“Lena Luthor’s office, Miss Danvers speaking. How can I help you?” she said into her headset.
“Oh, look, it’s you again,” a sardonic voice drawled. Kara sighed inwardly. “I suppose if you’re picking up the phone, my daughter is in yet another meeting and too busy to talk to her mother.”
“Hello, Mrs Luthor,” Kara replied as politely as she could. Lillian Luthor, Lena’s mother, called several times a week. They were some of the most unpleasant moments each week. “I’m afraid that Lena has meetings all day today, and won’t be taking any calls un-”
Lillian cut her off with a put-upon sigh. “Spare me the corporate spiel, Miss Danvers. If that girl can’t pick up the phone to her own mother more than twice a year, I’m just going to have to come in to see her. And don’t tell me that I have to make an appointment to do that. I simply wish to see her. Can’t you tell me where she’s going to be having lunch today?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mrs Luthor,” Kara said, rubbing her temples. This was a conversation they had at least once a week. Kara had never met Lillian Luthor, but she had seen her on TV during Lex’s trial. She was a haughty woman, constantly wearing an expression that said she thought everyone around her, other than Lex, was beneath her.
“I know you have some little contract that says you can’t tell me anything, but she’s my daughter, Miss Danvers, and I will see her.”
“I’m afraid that I have to go into a meeting with Miss Luthor in a moment, Mrs Luthor, but I’ll tell her that you called.”
“You do that. I’m sure it’ll be as fruitful as the last fifty notes you left her,” came the reply, before the line clicked quietly and a dial tone rang in Kara’s ear.
Kara huffed out a sigh. Kara had been instructed by Lena to never put her mother through on a call, but all that meant was that she had to deal with the calls every week, and as far as she was aware, Lena never returned any of them. Kara wished that she would, even once, just so that she could get a reprieve.
She had no such meeting with Lena, of course, as Lena was still in the meeting with the senior editors, so she busied herself with answering as many emails as she could from Lena’s inbox. Another part of Kara’s job was to deal with essentially everything below executive level. Any invitations Lena got to any events, for example, were dealt with by Kara. There was a list that Kara referred to – there were companies she was to always accept invitations to, some that she was to only accept during certain times of the year, and some which she was to always decline. The list of companies that she was to decline was the longest of all of them.
Kara tapped away at her laptop while the meeting went on behind her, steadily growing more and more nervous. She tried to tell herself it was only a question about a job. Lena could say yes, or she could say no. And it was only a question about a vacation. She could say yes, or she could decline it. And then Kara could go back to her life with an answer either way.
And let her family know that she wasn’t coming to the little party they had every year to celebrate the date she was adopted and became a Danvers. Again.
She’d missed out on quite a lot of things since starting this job three years ago. Birthdays, games nights, weekends away, even dates, if whatever Lena needed her for was later in the evening.
It wasn’t like Lena was an ogre or anything; if she ever needed time off for something like a wedding, a funeral, or a major life event, her time off was approved without question or explanation. But sometimes, Kara just wanted a long weekend. And she never got them.
The door to Lena’s office opened with a tick and various senior editors came trickling out, discussing the next month’s stories and other editorials that they’d be working through with their teams. Eventually, Lena was the only one left in her office.
Kara gave it a minute before wiping her hands surreptitiously on her trousers and pressing the call divert button on her work phone.
It was just Lena Luthor. No big deal. She’d always been polite to Kara. Professionally distant and extremely aloof, maybe, and she knew absolutely nothing about Kara’s life outside of the office, but she was polite. No big deal.
Kara tapped on Lena’s door with her knuckles and pushed the door open when Lena looked up from behind her desk.
“Miss Luthor, I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you have a moment?” she asked.
“Certainly. Please close the door behind you,” Lena replied, before leaning back slightly in her outrageously expensive ergonomic chair.
Kara closed the door as requested and turned back to face her boss, before sitting down in the chair opposite her.
You could say what you liked about Lena Luthor, but never could you say that you never had less than 100% of her attention when she chose to focus it on you. It made Kara feel somewhat like an ant under a microscope. Lena’s full attention had a way of making the rest of the world non-existent.
Lena gave her a politely professional look while she waited for Kara to start speaking.
Right now was not the moment for her crush on her boss to rear its head. Kara felt slightly irritated with herself for thinking it, but for the umpteenth time, the thought crossed her mind that Lena was quite possibly the most mind-stutteringly beautiful woman she’d ever seen. Today was no different. Lovely green eyes that reminded Kara of an evergreen forest in winter. Pale skin that would probably look ethereal in the moonlight, silky dark hair that Kara just knew would be soft were she to run her fingers through it. A sharp jawline that begged for lips to trace it. Kara thought that Lena’s bone structure was so perfect that if she were spiritually inclined, she would shake the hand of whichever god was responsible for the artistry they’d displayed.
Nobody had any business walking around with a face as stupidly beautiful as Lena Luthor’s.
She was absolutely striking, effortlessly elegant, and everywhere she went, she drew eyes.
The one thing Kara had never seen on Lena’s face was a genuine smile.
“Um,” Kara said.
Lena sat in the chair across from her and looked distinctly unimpressed. She raised an eyebrow at Kara and crossed her arms over her chest. “I hope this isn’t going to be as articulate as you’re going to get today, Miss Danvers. I have several things that I need to be doing.”
“Oh, um,” Kara repeated, and then mentally cursed herself. Damn Lena for having that low, attractive voice too, just to top it all off. She decided to just plunge right in with what she had to say. “I was wondering whether you had had a chance to look over the articles that I wrote and sent to you last month.”
There went that eyebrow again, before Lena reached over to move her delicate finger over the mousepad of her laptop. She narrowed her eyes at her emails. “Articles?”
Kara deflated. “Yeah, the articles I wrote last month? I asked you whether I could try and become a journalist here at CatCo and you asked me to write a few articles about topics you-”
“Yes, I remember them,” Lena said, continuing to scroll through her emails. “I just wanted to check if you did. You haven’t mentioned them for a whole month. You must not have thought very much of them if it took you this long to bring them to my attention once again.”
“What?” Kara spluttered. “You never said-”
“It wasn’t up to me to say anything about the articles you sent me, Miss Danvers,” Lena interrupted. “A good journalist believes in what they write, even if they were about the ridiculous topics that you were given. I believe that if you were confident in what you’d produced, you would not have waited until now to ask me whether I had read them. If they were articles that were to be published, you would have long missed the deadline.”
Kara felt all the wind go out of her sails. Lena was right, of course. Maybe politely waiting for Lena to bring them up to her herself wasn’t the approach she could’ve taken. They didn’t have that kind of relationship.
Lena sat back in her chair and appraised Kara, and if she didn’t know better, she would’ve sworn that she saw a spark of compassion in her eyes before it was gone, as Lena’s professional countenance reasserted itself. She sighed.
“Look, Miss Danvers. I think you should give it another six months and try again. I’ll send you the topics closer to the time, and this time, make sure that you make the best use of the opportunity.”
“Than-” Kara started, but she was silenced by a cool look that Lena shot her. She shut up.
“In addition, I would like to know why you wish to leave the position that you currently hold. Is there something unsatisfactory about your role? Becoming a journalist would, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, decrease your salary by nearly half.”
Kara swallowed audibly. Before she could reply, Lena was speaking again.
“If I’m going to need to replace you after those six months, you need to let me know and provide me with a formal letter of resignation. I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that the role you have is demanding and I need to find someone who could adequately fill it. Training them will take time.”
Kara felt the panic rush through her as she scrambled. She leaned over the desk. “That’s not what I meant, Miss Luthor, I-”
“You have six months, Miss Danvers.”
Kara slumped back in her seat. She felt sicker than she had at any other point this morning, except this was a different kind of sick. This was worried sick. Lena was still sitting there, poised and looking as calm as anything, as if she hadn’t just handed Kara an ultimatum for her own job. Kara felt a wave of irritation rise up and she fought to keep her expression neutral.
“Was there anything else?” Lena asked, picking up a pen and looking down at the documents that she had on her desk.
“Yes,” Kara ground out, causing Lena to raise her head and level an impatient look at her when she caught Kara’s tone of voice.
“Well, by all means, spit it out.”
Kara took a deep breath and tried to control herself. “I requested Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off next week because I need to go home for a family event, but I haven’t received a response for my request yet.”
Lena looked at her for a long moment, and Kara dug her fingernails into her sweating palms. “I’m afraid the business just can’t spare you next week, Miss Danvers,” she finally said.
Kara forced herself to stay calm. “Thank you for your time, Miss Luthor.”
Lena hummed in response, and the next thing Kara heard was Lena’s pen scratching across the paper she was working on. She recognized the dismissal for what it was, and stood up and left the office.
Lena never looked up.
* * * * *
Kara tried her best not to stomp back to her desk. It was, after all, in full view of Lena’s office thanks to the glass walls between them. She sat down at her desk, took a deep, steadying breath, and pulled her laptop towards herself.
Her hands were shaking with adrenaline and she took several deep breaths once she was ducked down behind her chair. It didn’t help that she was still hungover and felt like death warmed up, either.
Had that really all just happened? Had Lena Luthor really just told her that she would have six months to prepare to write for articles that would make or break not only a journalism role at CatCo, but also that she would lose her job as her personal assistant if she didn’t face up to the challenge? Surely, that wasn’t so. Rock, meet hard place.
But it was. Kara couldn’t see how Lena could’ve possibly meant anything other than what she’d said.
Fuck. She needed to talk to Alex as soon as possible. Before she could pick up her cell phone, though, the office’s internal instant messaging app dinged on her laptop screen.
Nia Nal: You look like someone threw up on your chair and you just sat in it naked. What’s up?
Kara threw Nia a disgusted look across the office before she typed out her reply.
Kara Danvers: That’s seriously gross, Nia
Nia Nal: I just saw you come out of the witch’s office looking like you wanted to punch someone
Kara Danvers: Okay first of all, don’t freak out
Nia Nal: You can’t say that and not expect me to freak the hell out Kara, shit
Kara Danvers: I think she just gave me an ultimatum for my job
Across the office, she saw Nia shoot out of her chair, looking furious. She gestured at her to sit back down before she caused some kind of scene.
Kara Danvers: Calm down!
Nia Nal: I will NOT do you need me to punch the bitch for you
Kara Danvers: No! She basically told me that in six months she’s going to give me another shot at the journalism thing and that if I don’t take it seriously, then I can look for another job, since I clearly don’t want to be her personal assistant any more
Nia Nal: Fuck’s sake, that’s such a reach. We’re getting drunk tonight and talking about this
Kara Danvers: No, really, I get where she’s coming from, sort of
Nia Nal: Seriously?
Kara Danvers: Yeah. Do you want to get lunch later? I’ll tell you everything
Nia Nal: Sure! Noonans at 1pm!
Kara held a thumbs up to Nia and waved when Nia acknowledged it, before looking back down at her laptop.
The words on the screen in front of her meant nothing to her, thanks to the minor confrontation in Lena’s office just now.
There was nothing much she could do about anything now except get on with things. Apparently, her job was up in six months if she made a second mess of the articles. She wasn’t sure whether she’d even made a mess of the first articles, since she’d received no feedback from her boss whatsoever. Although, technically of course, she had never asked her for it. She shook her hands out in an effort to get the adrenaline out of them, and closed her eyes.
Kara did not like confrontation; it didn’t sit well with her. She knew that technically Lena wasn’t in the wrong for wanting to know why she wanted to leave her job, especially since she was her boss. She also wasn’t wrong with her comments about the articles, but Kara couldn’t help but feel like she was a little hard done by, nonetheless.
She also knew that Lena wasn’t one for interpersonal relationships at work. Aside from Samantha Arias over at L-Corp, she didn’t appear to be friends with anyone else at work. In various articles about galas that Lena attended, Samantha was usually Lena’s plus one, sometimes with her young daughter Ruby if it was something a child could reasonably attend. Samantha, who preferred to be called Sam whenever Kara had talked to multiple times in order to arrange Lena’s schedule, was very polite and friendly. Kara hoped to bump into her someday and say hello properly. She was curious about the woman who had captured Lena’s affection.
Kara dropped her throbbing head into her hands and moaned against her palm. The painkillers were doing absolutely nothing, and she didn’t want to eat too many mints. The saltines were sitting in her stomach like rocks. She cleared her throat and took a sip out of one of the new bottles of water she kept stashed in her desk cupboard, and thanked her past self for having the foresight to store a few there.
The time passed as Kara slowly calmed herself down. It wasn’t going to help panicking about everything now, when nothing was even going to happen for a good few months yet. Like the last time, Lena would give her the topics with a few weeks’ notice so that she could work on them the same way everyone else would. Her boss was nothing if not fair. She would just have to let today go and take it as a lesson learned. She shoved her anger into the back of her mind and tried to get on with her work. She prided herself on doing a good job as a personal assistant, and wasn’t going to let her feelings get in the way of it. Even if the woman did drive her mad at times.
Lena’s hour-long meeting with the Editor in Chief at 10am came and went, and she worked quietly by herself in her office, without asking Kara for anything. Thankfully, by lunchtime, Kara’s stomach had finally settled and her head was feeling much better.
The low hum of chatter filled the office, the administration assistant was xeroxing documents, and several people were on the phone. The postman came and delivered a huge pile of mail, but as he pressed the call button for the elevator, the doors opened.
Everyone in the office watched as a tiny brunette woman marched out of the elevator and into the middle of the office. She looked about as mad as Kara had felt earlier, which was quite something. Her face would’ve been pretty if not for the anger that twisted it, and Kara felt herself shrink into her seat at the sight of it.
There could only be one reason someone was storming angrily into the office.
“Lena Luthor!” she woman suddenly yelled, before she started charging over to towards Lena’s office.
The door behind Kara clicked open and Lena poked her head out of her office. “Miss Danvers? What’s-”
“You… bitch!” the woman shouted as she reached Kara’s desk, just as Kara frantically felt for and pressed the silent alarm button that every employee had installed at their workstation.
Siobhan thrust her hand out and pointed straight towards Lena’s face, and her arm was trembling with rage. Kara stood up in shock, feeling like she wanted to do something, although she wasn’t quite sure what.
“Miss Smythe,” Lena said, her voice deadly calm. “What can I do for you?”
Ah, Kara thought. The woman that Jess mentioned this morning. The woman Lena fired from L-Corp.
“What can you do for me? Are you fucking kidding me right now? You fired me and you have the fucking nerve to ask me what you can do for me?”
By now, everyone in the office had stopped even pretending to work. Behind Siobhan, some people had even stood up to watch the show. As put out as Kara still felt, she also felt a little sorry for Lena. If Kara could see that people were standing up to watch Siobhan yell at her, then so could Lena.
She turned her head to look at Lena, who was watching Siobhan with a penetrating look in her eyes, seemingly not bothered by the hand shoved practically into her face.
“Do you feel that the termination of your job was unfair?” Lena asked.
“Do I- yes I feel it’s unfair! I was on my own social media accounts, which have nothing to do with L-Corp, CatCo, or you!”
“Yes, quite, but you were posting confidential information to your Facebook page, which had a detrimental impact on the company and,” Lena added, raising her voice ever so slightly when it looked like Siobhan was about to say something else, “aside from the fact that the information was confidential, posting anything whatsoever on your social media accounts about the company or its projects is in direct violation of the contract you signed, as you know. As everyone else here knows. Therefore, we had no choice but to terminate your contract, effective immediately. Please feel free to take this further if you wish, to either HR or to Legal, but I think you’ll find that you have no leg to stand on.”
During Lena’s reasoned speech, Siobhan’s face had been getting redder and redder, and Kara was afraid that she was going to crack one of her teeth if she clenched her jaw any harder. For her part, Kara understood Lena’s defense. And clearly, so had the company’s legal team.
Both of them watched the other for a moment, and the rest of the office stood still as if waiting for the storm to make landfall.
“Do you know why you’re so unhappy, Lena Luthor?” Siobhan said, her voice loud and carrying right across the silent office. “Because your job is the only thing you’ve got in your sad, pathetic, little life. Your brother’s a terrorist, your mother is a royal fucking bitch, and who the fuck knows when you’re going to go off the deep end just like the rest of your insane family? You don’t give a shit about the little people, firing people who don’t deserve it left, right, and center, or whenever the fuck you feel like it. You’re at work all the damn time. Well you know what? I bet that’s just to compensate for the fact that nobody in their right mind would want you in their life. I bet you haven’t had a decent fuck in years. Nobody would want you,” Siobhan spat, her voice full of venom, “anywhere near their bed. No wonder you’re such a stuck-up bitch – you’ve got nobody in your life to release any of that tension. You’re going to end up still here when you’re fucking old and decrepit, a dried-up husk of a woman, alone and miserable, and you’d deserve it.”
The silence rang out after Siobhan’s tirade. Kara was shocked. Even in the multiple calls she’d had to deal with regarding someone’s displeasure with Lena, nobody had ever stooped to quite this level of pure hurtful nastiness. It was awful to witness, even when it wasn’t directed at her. At that moment, she couldn’t imagine how Lena must feel.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Nia across the room, peering over the desk divider with her eyes wide. She wasn’t the only one.
Lena, to her credit, looked the very picture of calm. Her back was ramrod straight, her hands were clasped together loosely in front of her, and nothing about her looked cowed. Only Kara was close enough to be able to see that the skin behind Lena’s left ear was a dusky pink; whether from anger or embarrassment, Kara wasn’t sure.
Siobhan was breathing heavily, and she made a sudden movement towards Lena. Kara swiftly took a step closer to Lena, even though she wasn’t sure what that was going to achieve. Siobhan stopped when she was standing only inches from Lena, and she gave Kara a quick once-over, a smirk flashing across her face, before she turned her attention back to Lena. Siobhan was taller than Lena, even in her heels, but Lena didn’t move a muscle. At that moment, Kara’s boss was dignity personified. Kara was more than impressed at Lena’s refusal to quail under the onslaught.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Luthor,” Siobhan hissed right into Lena’s face. “One day you’re going to end up just like your brother.”
Behind everyone, the elevator dinged, and CatCo security men rushed out of it towards Siobhan.
When the security men reached Siobhan, she didn’t resist when they took her by the arms to escort her from the building. The only thing that she did was to smirk over her shoulder across the office full of astounded employees as they took her back into the elevator. At that moment, Kara understood what this whole harangue had been for; Siobhan had already known she had no legal leg to stand on. Her only goal was to humiliate Lena, to twist the knife as horribly as she could, knowing that Lena still had to work with the people who’d witnessed this.
The doors closed, hiding Siobhan from view.
Lena was still standing stock-still by her office door. Kara stood next to Lena, unable to move. The office seemed to hold its collective breath.
After a moment, Lena seemed to slump in on herself infinitesimally. Kara doubted that anyone other than her would’ve been able to see it.
“Alright everyone. Please go back to your work,” Lena said, her voice steady, before she headed back into her office and closed the door behind her. The glass walls didn’t hide her from view, and Kara watched as she strode towards her desk and sat down behind it, picked up her pen, and started making notes on a piece of paper.
She sat shakily back in her own chair, and looked at her laptop once more.
Nia Nal: And you thought you were having a bad day, huh? Lunch?
Kara Danvers: Yeah, let me just get these last few emails sent off and I’ll be right over
Kara clicked through Lena’s calendar and made sure that everything was lined up as it should be; she only had one meeting with Cat Grant at 1pm, which Lena had entered into her calendar herself and labeling it a personal matter, and then a meeting with Andrea Rojas at 2pm. Kara got down to replying to the emails that had come in during the whole… what on earth was that anyway? Kara couldn’t remember the last time something like that had happened. Security was usually pretty tight.
That whole incident just now had been decidedly… uncomfortable, to say the least. As she looked up across the office, she could see that quite a lot people were only pretending to work. More than a few of Kara’s colleagues were making no pretense of working at all, instead leaning around the desk dividers and talking to their neighbors, or typing on their cell phones. There were lots of surreptitious glances towards Lena’s office, and more than one person sent a thumbs up in her direction when Kara caught their eyes. She sent a small smile, but didn’t return the gesture. There was no way she was going to participate in, or delight in, what had happened to Lena today, even if she was not currently best pleased with Lena herself.
A lot of people had it out for Lena, thanks to what her brother had done, but nobody had tried to storm an office that she was in for quite a while. Unfortunately, Lena’s less-than friendly demeanor and her unwillingness to conduct interviews with various talk shows had caused the media to wonder whether she was indeed somewhat like her brother. Her stern, almost standoffish way of managing the companies hadn’t won her any friends in the workplace either, and the media ate that drama up. Kara had to field quite a few media requests for contact with Lena, under instructions to turn every single one down.
After all, she was still a Luthor, the media loved to argue, raised by people who were either criminals or certainly the wrong side of shady. Lena had no desire to attempt to continually defend herself against the public opinion of her that, no matter how much good she did, never changed.
Kara had decided to form her own opinion of Lena based on her own interactions with her, rather than base them on what the media loved to say. While she often found her boss cold and at times indifferent, she had never voiced an opinion that caused Kara to worry that she was anything like her family. Instead, while the woman drove her nuts sometimes, she greatly admired Lena and her drive to be a force for good. She was sure she wasn’t the only one who nursed a crush on her. Lena was kind of a force of nature.
Although it was earlier than she and Nia had arranged, they decided to go to lunch early. Kara finished up what she needed to and she stood up, turning around to take her coat from the coat stand just behind her. As she touched it to check whether it was still wet, she chanced a look into Lena’s office.
Lena was sat at her desk, but unusually, she wasn’t working. She looked like she was, but Kara had been working for her boss for long enough to know that whatever Lena was thinking about, it wasn’t what was on the screen in front of her.
If Kara was honest with herself, if she were truly honest with herself, some of what Siobhan had said wasn’t entirely dissimilar to what Kara hadn’t thought herself in her worst moments. She felt awful about it, especially since Siobhan had been particularly nasty; it wasn’t in Kara’s nature to be rude, but when driven to actual anger, less-than charitable thoughts had crossed her mind. Her boss was an impassable glacier who had ruined Kara’s plans more often than Kara wanted to think about.
She mentally shrugged her thoughts away as she pulled her slightly damp coat on, and headed out for lunch with Nia. Kara was really feeling like eating a giant pretzel after the morning she’d had, so they went to a restaurant a few blocks away that served giant pretzels with multiple dips. As they sat down, Kara slumped so far back in her seat that Nia had to lean over the table to see her.
“This has just been the worst day,” Kara started, before telling Nia all about her desire to be a journalist rather than a personal assistant, and all about the articles that she’d written. Up until this moment, Kara hadn’t told anyone about what she wanted out of her career. Nia herself had started at CatCo as a journalist fairly recently, made friends with Kara the same day, and was full of sympathy for Kara’s predicament. Nia, however, had gone through the normal channels. Kara was already employed by CatCo and felt responsibility towards the job she already had.
The fact that she had gone to Lena to ask for her opinion on her writing instead of to the people who actually managed the journalists was something she tried not to think about. The opinion of her boss mattered to her more than she thought it should, and she refused to delve deeper into that feeling, knowing where it ended.
“If it’s what you want Kara, then you need to go for it,” Nia said as Kara nodded glumly, tearing off another piece of warm pretzel and dipping it in the bowl of mustard. “And she denied your vacation request to spend time with your family on your adoption anniversary.”
“I know, and I’m really annoyed about that. It’s really important to my family that we celebrate that and... ugh. In terms of the articles, that’s kind of my fault. I never followed up with her. I shouldn’t have assumed that she would just come to me about it. I mean, she’s only at the office for like, one week out of the month. But still, I could’ve sent her an email or something-”
“Stop trying to excuse her shitty behavior, Kara, seriously,” Nia interrupted. “Like yeah sure, it was your job to bring it back up to her, but she could’ve just, you know, been nice about it and reminded you about it. I’m so worked up on your behalf. And if you’re not going to say it, I will. She’s so inhuman that she’s basically a robot, and not one of those good ones that cleans your house for you or anything. Would it have been so hard for her to just be nice once in her life? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that witch smile. She just comes in to work, works, and leaves. I mean, I have hardly any interaction with her at all, but I don’t think I’ve heard her be friendly to a single person since I started. What’s with that?”
The truth was, Kara didn’t have a clue. Nobody except for Sam Arias knew much about Lena Luthor other than what was reported in the press, and what was there was either not very complimentary or just the bare bones facts about her life. Personal information about Lena was virtually non-existent. Kara, of course, knew more facts about Lena because her job involved dealing with Lena’s life as far as was necessary. Kara knew what food Lena liked to eat, because she was the one who arranged the food deliveries once a week. Kara knew what kinds of clothes Lena had in her closet, because she had to order most of it from fairly exclusive shops across the city. She knew whatever small details Lillian Luthor happened to mention on the phone, which wasn’t much, but was more than the average person on the street would know.
In addition, of course, she had access to Lena’s calendar, which gave insights here and there into the impressive woman who ran her companies with a silk-covered fist.
“I don’t know,” Kara replied to Nia, choosing not to think too much about it anyway. She picked at her nail under the table. It’s not like she would be allowed to talk about Lena’s private life with a colleague, or with anyone. She’d be fired before she even got back to the office, never mind after the six month mark that Lena was giving her. It wasn’t worth the risk. The only person Kara could talk to about anything to do with Lena was Lena herself, and it’s not like she could do that; the one time she’d mentioned the dog shelter in Lena’s calendar in a casual manner, she’d been politely, but firmly put in her place. Kara immediately understood that while she was privy to certain items in Lena’s calendar, she was certainly not at liberty to ever mention them, not even to Lena herself.
When Nia gave her a look that clearly said she wanted more information, Kara huffed out a breath. “I don’t know Nia. There’s a wall there. Do I wish she was friendlier? Absolutely. Do I think she could do with a week off in Mexico being massaged by some oiled-up muscleman? Definitely,” she said, smiling as Nia snorted into her glass of lemonade at the image Kara had painted. “That woman’s so tightly wound it would take a chainsaw to cut through the knots. I feel a bit sorry for her actually.”
“Why?!” Nia asked incredulously.
“It must be a damn lonely life at the top,” Kara said, swallowing a few more painkillers from her bag just to kill off the remainder of the headache. “Oh well, it’s not really my problem anyway. It has nothing to do with me. I just make sure she gets where she needs to go and has no added stress in her life.”
They finished up their lunch, Kara ordering a second pretzel when she remembered that she’d eaten nothing but saltines all morning, and then they both had a slice of cake for dessert before heading back to the office.
As soon as she glanced into Lena’s office, she knew something was up. Lena looked a little… disturbed, which was certainly not an emotion that Kara had ever seen on her face before this morning. There was a blonde woman sitting in the chair opposite her. Kara frowned, before hanging her coat back up and settling into her chair. The blonde woman must be Cat Grant. Kara didn’t know why the Presidential Press Secretary would be doing here since she’d sold 33% of the shares of the company to Lena, making them equal, and the other 33% to the current board. Considering that this was marked in the calendar as personal, instead of digging any deeper, Kara turned her back to Lena’s office and started answering the emails that came in.
When Andrea Rojas arrived at 1:50pm, Kara sat her down in the empty corner office next to Lena’s, which was used as a waiting room. She offered tea or coffee, with Miss Rojas declining both. When 2pm came and went with no sign of Cat Grant leaving, Kara decided to give them another five minutes before interrupting them. She apologized to Miss Rojas, who looked only slightly annoyed, and sat back at her desk to wait.
At 2:15pm, Kara knocked timidly on the door of Lena’s office before she entered.
“Miss Luthor? Miss Rojas has arrived for her meeting and is waiting in the room next door. What time should I tell her you’ll be ready for her?” Kara asked.
Lena shifted uncomfortably in her chair before looking up and seeing Kara as if for the first time. Her green eyes grew slightly calculating as she looked at her, and for the second time since she’d come back to the office, Kara frowned. She didn’t know what that look meant, but Kara knew she didn’t like it.
Just as quickly as it had arrived, the look disappeared as Lena seemed to come to a decision. Unexpectedly, Lena stood behind her desk.
“Kara,” Lena started, and the sound of her first name in Lena’s voice seemed very strange, almost alien. Lena had never called her by her name before, and Kara stood by the door with the steel of the handle cold in her palm. “Could you please close the door and come over here?”
Kara gave her a quizzical look, but did as she requested before walking over and stopping by the corner of Lena’s desk. Before she could ask what she could do to help, Lena took a step towards her and stood next to her.
“Kara, darling, have you met Cat Grant?” she asked in a tone of voice that Kara had never heard her use before. It was almost… gentle.
If hearing her first name from Lena had been a shock, suddenly being called darling by her boss floored her. What the fuck was going on?
“I- uh, no, I haven’t,” she replied, desperately floundering in confusion at the look on Lena’s face, which was now as soft as her voice was, and Kara didn’t know what to do with that. She turned instead to Cat Grant and held her hand out. “I’m very pleased to meet you. I’m a big admirer of yours, and of this magazine.”
Cat extended a prim hand to her. “A pleasure, Kyra,” she said in a shrewd voice. “I can’t say that I’ve ever heard Lena mention you before,” she added, and Kara had the feeling that she’d walked into the middle of a very important conversation somehow. A conversation that she’d need to do an exam on without ever having seen the notes beforehand.
Kara found herself at a total loss. “Uh, well, that’s because-”
“We didn’t want people to know,” Lena interjected.
Know about what?
“Well, that makes sense given that she’s your personal assistant, Lena. I thought you had a little more sense than that. But,” she continued in an airy voice, “a woman has needs, I suppose.”
“I guess I… just couldn’t help myself,” Lena said slowly, before moving slightly closer to Kara. Cat’s eyes followed her, and then focused on Kara.
Was Lena actually telling Cat Grant of all people that she was in a relationship with Kara? Why? As Kara’s mind spiraled, she felt Lena’s toe pressing firmly down upon her own, out of the sight of Cat. Kara tried her best not to wince, before she decided to just play along.
Trying to ignore the fact that everyone in the office would be able to see what she was doing if they happened to look in their direction, she looked down and reached out with her right hand, taking Lena’s left in hers, hoping that that was the right thing to do.
The skin of Lena’s hand was much softer than Kara expected, and she felt a swoop low in her stomach that had nothing to do with her nerves, especially when she felt Lena slot her fingers between hers and hold on tight. The moment seemed to stand still in Kara’s head as she tried to ignore how well their hands fit together.
“We felt our engagement-” Kara’s hand tightened around Lena’s at her words “-might make people uncomfortable, especially given our working relationship. So we tried to keep it as quiet as possible, and we haven’t told anyone. Until now, at least,” Lena finished, squeezing Kara’s hand back as tightly as she could. “In fact, we’re spending next week with Kara’s family.”
Cat raised both of her eyebrows, and Kara tried valiantly not to. “Well. I suppose there’s nothing for me to do but wish you both the best, but you know this doesn’t change anything, Lena. You’ll need to make this relationship known to Immigration, and I suggest you head down to their offices as soon as possible, today if you can, but under federal law, you know you’re not allowed to work for a US company while this is sorted out.”
“But-” Lena started, before she took a tiny step backwards. Kara’s own eyes widened. Immigration? What on earth was going on?
“No buts, and no ifs either Lena, the law is clear,” Cat cut across the brunette, and as serious as this conversation seemed to be, Kara was, even in a small amount, amazed to find someone that seemed to intimidate even Lena Luthor. “You aren’t allowed to leave the country while your visa application is being processed.”
Beside her, Kara watched as the little color that Lena had in her cheeks drained out of it. “But-”
Cat held her hand up. “Didn’t I say no buts? You weren’t allowed to leave the country. I understand that there were some issues at L-Corp in Paris, but they could’ve been handled by Sam Arias. No, don’t, Lena. I know it’s only France,” she said, waving her hand in the air in the manner of a queen dismissing her subjects, “but it’s still a foreign country. You still left the US. And you shot yourself right in your expensive little foot.”
Kara could feel Lena’s palm sweating slightly in hers, and all she could do was hold on while Lena’s world seemingly crashed around her.
“And because of that, you can’t work for a US company while this is sorted out. You know that includes L-Corp as well,” she stated when she saw that Lena was about to protest, “so while this is all… handled, you will need to take a step back. Consider yourself on paid leave.”
“I understand,” Lena said in a voice that sounded like it cost her a great effort to say the words. “And… who is my replacement to be?”
Cat straightened up even further in her chair. “Andrea Rojas.”
Oh. The woman who was sitting out there in the waiting room while Kara was in here holding Lena’s hand. Kara saw Lena stiffen in recognition of the name, and Kara did the only thing she could to comfort the woman (why was she even thinking of doing that?), and rubbed her thumb across the back of Lena’s hand. She felt Lena relax very slightly, but her voice was cold when she spoke.
“Andrea Rojas will ruin this company in my absence.”
“The board wanted her,” Cat said. “Her reputation as an editor-in-chief preceded her. I know you have history with her, but there was nothing I could do. Now,” slapped her hands on the armrests of the chair. “I have many, many things that I need to be doing. And frankly, you two need to get yourselves down to the Immigration office as soon as possible so that you can… let them know about this…” she swung her pointed finger between the two of them, “relationship.”
And with that, Cat Grant swept out of the office in a flurry of air kisses and Chanel perfume. As the door closed behind her, Kara could see the whole office staring at her, standing there and holding Lena’s hand. She dropped it immediately and ran her hands rapidly through her hair, pacing back and forth in the office, not caring how it looked. She heard Lena sit in her chair, heard the squeak of it as she twisted it towards her desk. She heard Lena pick up a pen. The scratch of the writing on paper, as if nothing untoward had just happened, broke Kara out of her silence.
She didn’t even know where to start, but she figured a good place was-
“You told her we were engaged?!”