Hi, everyone. A quick note to tell you the mature rating is for later chapters, but for now, we’re chastely starting around early season two, after the Medusa episode. Enjoy the softness :)
Lena presses a palm to the nape of her neck to shield her skin from the relentless sunlight flooding into her office. She misses the mansion, its shadows.
She clears her throat, shifts on her chair and squints at her screen. Has she put on a bit of weight, lately? Her dress feels tight. Lillian was always the thin, statuesque one. Always made her feel chubby and wrong, somehow.
Lillian and Lex are in prison, now. There’s nobody left. Her phone buzzes. She braces herself for some terrible news and glances at the screen.
Kara Danvers [10:33 AM] Hi Lena. These past couple of weeks must have been intense, so I get it if you’re busy or if you need some me-time this weekend. But if not, would you like to go to brunch on Sunday? I know a place. It’s very lowkey, so I don’t think anyone will bother you. (ps: it wouldn’t be a work thing, just a friends thing)
Lena exhales. She can’t remember the last time she was approached with gentleness, or at the very least, thoughtfulness. Does Kara Danvers have many friends? Does she often make new ones? Either way, she’s right. The past couple of weeks have been intense. The prospect of testifying against her mother is intense. Damage control for the company is intense. Everything is intense. She stops herself from massaging her eyelids. It would smudge her eyeshadow. She hopes Kara’s offer of friendship is sincere. She can’t take another sycophant. She feels... fragile.
Lena Luthor [10:39 AM] Brunch would be lovely. I’m sure I’ll love the place. Text me the details?
There. Stilted, but... she’s out of practice. Has she ever been practiced? Some days, she doesn’t feel human at all.
She sits a little straighter. Composes herself, focuses on the spreadsheet in front of her. The trick is to act as if a camera were recording every move, every tremor.
Kara focuses on her keyboard and doesn’t let her gaze crash into the windowless walls. Her phone vibrates on her desk and she flexes her fingers before picking it up. She can only afford to replace a cracked screen once a month.
“Oh, you sound weird.”
Kara rubs her thigh. “I’m still getting used to my office. There’s no window.”
Alex hums. “Could you ask James to assign you a different one? Like the empty one you were using to meet up with him and Winn, a year ago?”
“Ms. Grant said it could be my next promotion. An office with a window.” Kara touches the framed picture of on her desk, angles it differently.
“Sure. But she would have given you a different one if she’d known about the claustrophobia.”
“Maybe.” Kara wrinkles her nose. “Anyway, what’s up?”
Alex sighs. “I’m bored. Winn’s playing chess with himself. Do you want to hang out tonight? I’ll get dinner.”
Kara was planning on painting something, tonight. It’s been hard to touch things, brushes and canvases. “Maggie busy at work?”
“Yeah.” Alex is quiet. “But honestly, it’s been too long since we had a sisters night. It’s fine if you have plans. Or want to make plans.” Her voice turns conspiratorial. “A date with James?”
Kara smiles a bit. “I don’t think so.”
“Why not? It’s Friday, you’re free, he’s probably free. Have you even been on a date since that first one you had to cut short?”
Kara takes her glasses off, runs a hand over her face. “Before the Venture went down... I really wanted to watch the launch, you know.”
“Oh, I do know. Space nerd.”
“He had the same reaction. He was so nice about it. He told me I could put it on while we ate.”
“Okay. I sense a ‘but’ coming.”
Kara’s shirt feels constricting. “It’s over. James and I.”
“Oh. Okay. Hm... wow. You all right?”
She pinches the skin at the back of her neck, to feel something. “He seemed disappointed, but not heartbroken. We’re still friends. It’s fine. It’s been weeks. We’re both fine.”
“Weeks?! Kara, why didn’t you tell me?”
She frowns, rubs her ear. “You’ve been busy, with Maggie and everything. You don’t need me to complain about my love life just when yours is picking up. And I felt like a failure, I guess. My first boyfriend, and we didn’t make it past one date, which lasted two minutes because Supergirl had somewhere to be.”
Didn’t make it past one past a single, bizarre kiss, really. What if an alien body, alien lips, aren’t meant to touch a human’s? How does Kal do it, if he pours all of his focus and energy into not breaking Lois? How does Lois do it, when she can make him feel so little? Do they even kiss, and more? Perhaps they don’t, perhaps they’re a chaste couple. Or maybe Kal is different, for having lived almost all his life under this sun. Has part of him grown to be of this world? Kara doesn’t say that, tucks it in the most alien, yearning part of her heart.
“Is that why?” Alex says slowly, “Because Supergirl has places to be and that makes it hard to date?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s Supergirl and Kara, you know? Who have a hard time dating people. It wasn’t fair to him, for me to feel so confused.”
“I’m sorry. I wish it were easier for you. I wish I could give your first boyfriend the shovel talk.”
Kara snorts. Alex always makes her smiles. “Yeah, you can be scary.”
“Thank you,” Alex says, breezy. “Hey. Look at me, almost thirty years of age and only now experiencing what romance and relationships can be about. You have time. You know that, right?”
All the time in the world, Kara thinks. Lifetime after ageless lifetime. She runs a hand up and down her thigh again, trying to rub some of the tension away. “Yeah. Thank you.”
“You still sound bummed out.”
“No, I hear you. All in good time. It’s just— I don’t want to become complacent. Maybe feeling like you don’t have all the the time in the world makes you more... proactive.”
“Okay. But you’ve been proactive, right? With James. It didn’t work out, but you worked for it.”
Kara touches the little succulent on her desk. Will it die, if it gets no sunlight in this office? Its leaves are smooth, soft. It’s a nice texture. Kara loves textures. So often, they’re the only thing she can feel.
“Remember when you came to rescue me from Slaver’s Moon, and you threw that sun grenade?”
“Yeah. Seeing it power you up was amazing.”
Amazing. Kara tries to remember what she felt on that planet. Hot wind on her skin, gravity pulling her down, everything real, solid. Tiredness, thirst. Quiet. The remnants of those sensations are slipping through her fingers. She feels so helpless.
“Sorry.” She takes a silent, steadying breath. “Being under a red sun was... something. It made me think of that time, a year ago, when I solar flared.”
“Oh, yeah. That sucked. You were cute, though. All sneezy,” Alex teases.
Kara tries to smile. “Right.” She’s not sure she gets to complain about what life is like with those powers. Not when they help so many every day. Not when a day off for her, a day of normalcy and a shower raining hot on her skin, and objects not shattering in her hands, and real hugs, would mean one less fire extinguished, one less smiling child, one less car crash prevented. And yet, she wishes, and wishes again, for days like these. Wishes she didn’t have a choice, wishes she would solar flare more often, not just this one time back when she was inexperienced, hadn’t built the mental muscles, carved the neural pathways required to use her powers with ease.
“Hey. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Alex almost always knows. “Oh, you know, with Ms. Grant leaving and Snapper giving me a hard time,” Kara deflects, “it’s been stressful.”
“I hear you. Transitions are hard for everyone, but I know they’re harder on you. And I haven’t been present the way I should have.”
“No, no. You should focus on your own relationships. Enjoy your time with Maggie, guilt-free.” Kara straightens up. “Besides, I’m making new friends.”
“New friends? At work?”
“Not exactly. And friend, singular, actually. Lena Luthor. We haven’t hung out since she invited me to her gala a couple months ago, but we’ve been in touch— not for work, just... I called her to ask if she was holding up okay after the Medusa shenanigans and sending her mother to jail. We’re having brunch this Sunday. I’m taking her to my book café.”
“That’s not something you’d do with just anyone. You must have hit it off really well.”
“I’m not sure yet. But she’s nice. She takes me seriously, you know? Me, my job. She’s never made me feel like I wasn’t worth her time. And she helped with me with the fighting ring, always has something kind to say about my irrelevant articles.”
“They’re not irrelevant, you’re just starting out. But I don’t know, Kara. I hope you’re right, but keep in mind she’s in dire need of good press right now, and you’re a newly minted reporter who can give her that. I’m not saying that’s what it is. Maybe she’s a genuinely nice person who could use a friend like you. But... keep it in mind.”
“Okay, I will,” Kara murmurs, deflated. It all seems silly, now. But it felt so real. The grateful weariness in Lena’s voice when Kara called her after her mother’s arrest. The text to congratulate her on her first, non L-Corp-related byline. Her eyes lighting up when she spotted Kara among the press corps at a recent conference.
“No, you know what? Don’t listen to me. We’re both allowed to branch out, choose new people to spend time with. Just... follow your heart. Your big, big heart. Okay? Seriously, forget I said anything.”
Kara chuckles, chest tight. “Okay. Thank you.”
Lena’s eyes wander over the hundreds upon hundreds of used books stacked all around her. She touches her fingertips to a few cracked spines, pulls out a book. Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, by René Girard, and opens it at random.
Every time a bus pulls over at the stop across the street, she looks up and searches for Kara’s familiar silhouette. Kara mentioned she’d taken the bus to get to L-Corp, once. Was it just a one off, or does she not drive at all? What kind of driver is she? She seems intent on doing things the right way. With her little notepad and tucked in shirts. She was Cat Grant’s assistant, so she must be organized, meticulous. A careful driver, perhaps.
Lena has a drink of water, wipes the light smudge of lipgloss off the glass. When she looks out the window and over to the bus stop, there Kara is, crossing the street hurriedly, looking preoccupied. Before entering the café, she stops to check her reflection in a car window, touches her fingers to her hair. It makes Lena smile.
She watches Kara’s eyes flit across the room, waves at her to catch her attention. Kara lights up, waves back before making her way to her. Lena doesn’t know what to do. Should they shake hands? Kara must be wondering the same thing, because she stands awkwardly by their table.
“Sorry I’m late.” She gives a harried smile. “I had to take care of something, and I missed my bus.”
Lena waves it away. “Don’t worry about it. Everything okay?”
She sees Kara exhale, shoulders relaxing. “I think so.” Kara hangs her messenger bag on the back of her chair, takes a seat. She seems unsure. “You look so lovely without the—” She gestures at her own face. “Makeup and business outfit. I mean, you’re beautiful in those, too, but... casual suits you.”
It throws Lena off. The earnestness of it. It’s not a compliment, it’s an observation. “Thank you.” It comes out smooth and polite. Lena touches her napkin and tries again. “It’s funny. When I’m at work, the makeup and business attire are my armor. But in my own time? The glasses, the lack of makeup... that’s the armor, you know? Hardly anyone recognizes me.”
Kara nods slowly. “Do you ever feel like there’s no armor?”
Lena has another drink of water. “When I’m alone. But even then, I feel watched. What about you?”
“Mm. When does Kara Danvers feel most like herself?”
“I’m not sure.” Kara tilts her head to read the title of the book Lena plucked off the shelves. “I think... loving, and feeling loved, makes me feel closer to something true about myself.”
Lena offers a tentative smile. “That sounds almost spiritual.”
Kara mulls it over for a long time, staring at her own glass of water. “It is. I guess you could say I feel watched, too. Or watched over.”
Lena’s never had much of a relationship with God. She wonders what it’s like, to feel like something, someone out there has your back, no matter what. Before she can formulate her thoughts, Kara lets out a short, embarrassed chuckle.
“Sorry. I don’t usually talk about it.”
Kara shrugs. The sun streaming in from the window catches in her hair. “I’m adopted, too. I feel... possessive, when it comes to my life before the Danvers took me in. My faith was part of that life.”
Lena’s afraid to ask the wrong thing. “How old were you? When you were adopted.”
“Thirteen.” Kara casts her an uncertain look. “You were four, right?”
Lena nods. She wants to reach out, take Kara’s hand, but they don’t know each other nearly well enough. Still, it’s been a long time since Lena’s wanted to touch someone else.
“I was. I remember that day, it—“ A waitress stops by their table to take their order. Lena gives her a polite nod and turns to Kara, hesitant. “This is one of your haunts, right? What would you recommend?”
Kara bows her head. “When my sister and I come here for brunch, we usually order a bunch of things and share. She loves the scones, and I can vouch for the prosciutto salad and the bagels... The coffee’s great, too. Does that sound okay? A little bit of everything?”
Not for the first time, Lena notices how soft-spoken Kara is. She seems to make herself small in so many ways.
Lena leans in a little to meet her eyes. “A little bit of everything sounds perfect.”
“Okay. Do you have any allergies?”
Kara looks so serious. Lena doesn’t know what to do with that. She bites back a smile, afraid it would be mistaken for condescension. “Yes, actually. Peanuts.”
Kara nods, turns to the waitress and orders for the two of them. The sun has warmed the worn, cracked leather of Lena’s armchair. It feels like a hot hand on her back as she relaxes into it. Jack used to order for her, too.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” Kara says once the waitress has left, a hint of playfulness to her voice, so gentle Lena almost misses it. “People don’t often trust me when it comes to my taste in food. In anything, really. Ms. Grant hates about ninety per cent of my wardrobe.”
Lena crosses her arms on the table. “Well, Cat Grant’s fashion sense is nothing to sneeze at, but as someone who’s made the cover of Vogue a few times, to my own dismay, I hope my opinion holds some sway, too. And I think your style is quite endearing.”
Was that inappropriate? Oh, god. Lena holds her breath. Things get blurry, sometimes. The ease and smoothness she practices twelve hours a day at work bleed into the rest of her life.
But Kara looks at her with harmless amusement, and her heart settles.
“I never know what to wear. My sister has to pick my outfit for me when I go on a date. It’s that bad.” Kara shakes her head, eyes crinkling. “But thank you. You’re good at this.”
Lena cocks her head. “Good at what?”
“At building people up. You’re so supportive. I was telling my sister—” She scrunches her nose. “Gosh, I should stop mentioning her all the time. But, um. I was telling her just that, the other day. That not many people in your position would have given me the time of day.”
Lena’s toes curl. It’s the only thing she can do that Kara won’t see, won’t interpret as fidgeting. Can anyone be that sincere? Is this all a joke, a ploy? She searches Kara’s face. “You make it easy. You’re kind. Considerate.”
Kara smiles a little. “Thank you. What were you going to say, earlier?”
Dropped topics and smooth subject changes, Lena can deal with. Circling back to intimate questions? Not so much.
“Right. Uh… Not many people know I wasn’t always a Luthor. I don’t remember much, it was just my mother and I. I’m—” What is she doing? Kara is practically a stranger. Is that all it takes, a minute of kindness for everything to spill out of her? “I’m not sure whether what I remember are true memories or fantasies I made up later on.”
“You were so little.” Kara frowns. “I wasn’t. I remember a lot.”
“I imagine it’s a different sort of burden,” Lena says, feeling herself flush in embarrassment.
Kara nods. “I have a cousin. He was a baby when we lost our family. He doesn’t remember anything. Sometimes, I envy him.”
She has a drink of water. Lena notices the way she holds her glass, like she’s afraid to touch it. Is she a germaphobe? Lena remembers the way Kara shook her hand when she came by for that first interview, barely there, her hold weak and warm.
“Can I ask what happened?”
“Sure. They all died in a fire. My parents, my cousin’s parents...” She looks up at Lena. “What about your mom? What happened?”
Lena traces the length of the knife on her side of the table. “She drowned. I was there, but I don’t know if it was an accident, or—”
They both startle when their waitress appears by their table. “There you go!”
Lena pushes the glasses and cutlery aside to make room for the food the waitress unloads from her tray. She leaves them to it with a cheerful Enjoy! and they look at each other, at a loss.
“Well,” Lena deadpans. “Her timing was impeccable.”
Kara laughs. A real laugh, bright and sudden.
Kara breathes out a sigh of relief when Lena doesn’t make a fuss about letting her pay.
They stand outside the café, and Lena seems thankful. She doesn’t say anything about returning the favor next time, and that makes Kara feel better. She can never tell if that’s just the expected line in the Hanging Out script, or if there really is going to be a next time. Her brain feels like cotton between her ears. She can deal with the café’s usual brouhaha, but after almost two hours, it’s a bit much. It’s better outside, although traffic is its own kind of background ruckus.
“That was nice.” Lena smiles, and Kara tries to focus on her. “How did you find this place?”
Kara scratches her forehead. “I like walking. Going on walks, I mean. To clear my head. Last summer, I ended up here. I spent an entire afternoon reading and drinking lemonade and eating scones. Then, I took Alex here for brunch the next weekend, and— ” She cuts herself off. tShe thought she’d become pretty good at limiting the word vomit to a minimum, or to Alex, Alex. But Lena is sweet, and attentive, and gentle, and it’s so easy to overshare. “Anyway. It became my little hideout. Good food and books, that’s the way to my heart. I think.”
“I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent huddled in libraries, growing up. At school, at university, in my family home.” Lena says with a lovely smile. “The Luthors have a mansion with a remarkable library. A cabinet of curiosities, really, full of rare editions. It was my favorite room.”
“Was?” Kara asks. “Do you not go there anymore?”
Lena shrugs. “With my brother and my mother in jail, I’ve pretty much inherited it, but... no, I haven’t gone back in a while. It’s not a happy place.” She makes a face. “Sorry. I know it’s grim.”
Kara shakes her head. “It’s okay. I’m no fun, either.” An ambulance blares its way down the avenue a couple of blocks away. She rubs her ear with her palm. It usually helps, makes these violent sounds recede into the background. “It comes with being an orphan, I guess.”
“You’re fun enough for me.” Lena seems to hesitate, gestures to her own ear. “Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes. My ears are just a bit... sensitive.” Kara feels mortified. She takes a breath, tries to sound casual. “It was pretty noisy in there. I don’t usually stay that long when I come here with Alex. But it’s fine, I promise. I had a good time.”
Lena nods, eyes narrowed, and Kara wonders if she feels embarrassed. The way Alex used to, whenever Kara got twitchy and weird.
“If there’s a next time, we could go somewhere quieter? Or get takeout, go to a park.”
Kara’s first instinct is to downplay it, play it safe, play it normal. But it moves her, seeing Lena shift gears immediately, even though she doesn’t know the truth, doesn’t know the why of things.
She stuffs her hands in her jacket pockets. “That’d be great. I’d love it if there was a next time.”
Lena smiles, warm, and so focused on her that Kara feels like a usurper. “Me, too.”
Thank you for the kudos and kind comments on the first chapter :)
Kara peels her suit off her skin. It lands on the bathroom floor with a wet thump. Most of the blood and grime was sheared off by the speed of her flight back from Azerbaijan, but the smell clings to the fabric.
She closes her eyes and exhales, trembling. It’s her bathroom. Her sandalwood candle, the scent of olive oil and laurel drifting from a bar of Aleppo soap. And the air, caressing her naked skin. Sometimes, when she comes home after a long day, that’s the only touch she can stand.
Slowly, the nausea recedes, her breathing evens out. She picks up her suit, shoves it in the laundry basket and turns the shower on. As she waits for the water to warm, she goes through her ritual, recalling the face of every person she saved today, and every person she couldn’t save. She commits them all to memory. Earthquakes are always a mixed bag.
Steams begins to rise. That’s her cue to steps into the tub. She has no other way of knowing when the water is warm enough. Can’t feel it. She starts scrubbing herself off. Last year, when she solar flared, taking a shower had been her favorite experience. The hot water draining the tension out of her, her fingers getting all pruny… It was weird and funny.
When she steps out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her waist, the air feels heavy. It smells like a rainfall. She hopes it does rain. It’s a sound she treasures. It doesn’t assault her eardrums like other noises, like the incessant cacophony of the city, with its cars and AC units and the rumbling of the subway, and the people, everywhere, talking and eating and laughing, or screaming and hurting. Rain is harmless.
She slips on a pair of sweatpants and a well-worn tee-shirt, the cotton faded and kind to her skin. She flew out before dawn, and she’s not sure what time it is, now. She stands in the middle of her living room, at a loss. She’s not tired, exactly. Not physically. But she feels weary, sometimes, when she comes home from work, or from further away.
She blinks at her kitchen. She should make herself something to eat. She can’t remember what hunger feels like. Solar radiation permeates everything, fills her up relentlessly, but she tries not to skip meals anyway. Tries to cook a little. The passing of time gets messed up, without those rituals.
She resists the pull of the couch, of an hour spent lying down, doing nothing, with her noise-cancelling headphones filtering out some of the ambient noise and offering her a modicum of peace. Eat first, then rest. But only for a bit. She has articles to work on. She’s going to get fired if she keeps missing deadlines. Anxiety settles in her belly.
Maybe she can make some mac and cheese. She’s not sure it even is lunchtime, though, so she looks around, spots her phone on the coffee table. Oh. Almost 3:30PM. There’s a bunch of emails. A text from Alex with a link to an article in Greek about Supergirl rescuing a boatful of refugees stranded off in the Mediterranean two days ago. It makes Kara smile. There’s also a missed call from Lena, from five hours ago. She left a voicemail.
It’s still a bit surreal, seeing the name Lena Luthor pop up in her texts or call history. They’ve met a couple of times since their brunch at Kara’s book café. True to her word, Lena suggested lunch in a park. They bought shawarma and Kara picked the spot where they ate, on a bench by a koi pond. A few days later, Lena sent her a picture of a 19th century etching she’d seen on a business trip to Japan, depicting a koi swimming up the Yellow River with such courage and perseverance it turned into a dragon. It was beautiful, and Kara made it her phone background. And then, a few weeks later, Kara brought her donuts at work to cheer her up during her mother’s trial. She assumes they’re officially something like friends, now.
She sits on the stool by her easel and listens to the voicemail.
“Hey, Kara. So, L-Corp donated to the Bay Aquarium to fund their renovations a while back. They’re up and running again, now, and they’ve offered me a behind-the-scenes tour. I know it’s a bit last minute, but it sounds like something you might be into. If you’re free this afternoon, we could go? Let me know. Bye.”
Kara frowns, googles the Bay Aquarium’s opening hours. It closes at 5:00 PM. She lowers her phone, runs a palm over her stomach. She’s never really missed out on things because of who she was before. Mainly because she had no friends. She had Alex, but Alex has always known about her. And by the time Winn became a real friend, not just a work buddy with a crush on her, he already knew, too. She didn’t have to explain why she was late, or had to cancel previous plans. She stares at the canvas on her easel. She hasn’t touched it in weeks. Is this going to be this way, with Lena? Excuses and missed opportunities, until the friendship peters out before it had a chance to take off, because Kara isn’t as available as she should be?
She rubs her tummy again as she calls Lena back. Holds her breath.
“Kara.” Lena’s voice is warm. “Hi.”
“Hey.” Kara has an excuse ready, but she can’t go through with it. “Hm. I’ve been working all morning. I just listened to your message. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Kara feels the childish urge to ask Lena to believe her, not to lump her in with people who ghost their friends. Because it’s the truth. “I’d really, really like to go on that tour, sometime. I know it’s too late for today, but… perhaps another time, if that’s still an option with the aquarium people?”
“It was an open invitation. I’m sure we can go whenever you like.”
Kara wishes Lena was less considerate, would push more, ask her questions about what kept her so busy this morning, so Kara could tweak the truth and make herself feel better, say she had to write an article about some earthquake in a little Azeri village.
“Great,” she says instead, heart pounding, and tries not to breathe too hard into her phone. She hates it when people do that. “Work-life balance isn’t something I’m good at. I’ve never really had friends to make plans with on the weekend.” She clears her throat. “Well, for a while there was kind of a game night tradition with my sister and some friends from work, but they’re busy, this year.” Playing vigilantes in a van, risking their lives for nothing. Stupid boys. “It was every other Friday, so I didn’t really have to make plans, it was just… a thing. In my planner. And every Wednesday, I’d have a sisters night with Alex, but she’s busy too, now. I guess I’m just used to having a routine, when it comes to my social life. I didn’t mean to ignore you. I didn’t check my phone. I’d really love to go to the aquarium with you,” she finishes lamely.
Awesome. She overcompensated, overshared, justified herself, and that probably made her sound even more like she’s trying to make excuses. She wishes the earth would swallow her whole as seconds stretch and Lena says nothing.
“I get it.” Kara hears her take a quiet breath, hears her hesitation. “From now on, less impromptu invitations, more planning things in advance. If that’s more your speed, I mean.”
Kara bites her tongue. People don’t often talk to her like that. Like she’s worth adjusting to. Alex and Eliza adjust, but they know about her. They know why she is the way she is. Ms. Grant only became nicer to her after threatening to fire her if she didn’t come out to her as Supergirl. Winn only started seeing her as more than a nerdy girl from work he wanted to date after she told him who she was. James never even knew her as human.
But Lena only knows Kara Danvers. It’s Kara Danvers she finds interesting, Kara Danvers she respects. It’s the first time. The only time.
“Thanks.” Kara wishes she were normal, and braver, wishes she could stop relying so much on routine. She stands, starts pacing. “Next Sunday, maybe? For the tour.”
Lena hums, and there’s a smile in her voice. “That works. Pencil me in.” A beat. “Do you really have a planner? An actual planner.”
Kara laughs, relieved. “Yes, I’m afraid I do. I’ve tried using apps, but it’s not the same. With a planner, everything is tangible. As long as I have it, time makes sense.” She curls her fingers. “Hey. I was going to stay in and relax today, and, hm. Do you want to come over? It’s not as thrilling as an aquarium tour, but we could watch a movie or something?”
Lena doesn’t answer right away. Was that not okay? Did she overstep?
“Come over to yours?”
Kara sits, braces herself. “Yes?”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry, I’m just… nevermind. Yes, absolutely. I’d love to come over.”
Kara sinks into her couch. “Thank you. I mean, great.” She looks around, tries to see her place through a visitor’s eyes. What’s Lena’s place like?
“I don’t usually get invited to casual hangouts, so I’m not sure what the protocol is. Should I bring anything?”
“Just you.” Kara runs a finger along a flower petal embroidered on a throw cushion. “Oh, there’s one thing, actually. If that’s okay, I prefer it when people take their shoes off inside. But it’s rude to take them by surprise in case they have a hole in their socks or something, right? So, uh… wear nice socks?”
“Socks I’m not ashamed of. Got it,” Lena replies without missing a beat.
Kara smiles weakly. Lena’s so good at this. “Thanks. I’ll text you my address, then.”
Lena glances at the apartment number. It’s definitely the right one. She raps her knuckles against Kara’s door for the third time. There’s no music, no sound coming from inside that would explain why Kara didn’t hear her. She clutches the gift she’s brought to her chest. Has something happened? Has Kara’s connection to Lena already made her a target? Has her brother ordered a hit from the prison he’s rotting in? Her mother? Is she paranoid? Hopefully, Kara just went out to make a last minute purchase. Or fell asleep with ear plugs in. Something. Anything. Lena knocks again, as loud as her education permits. Nothing.
“Kara?” She tries softly through the door, feeling stupid.
She holds her breath. Seconds trickle down like drops out of a leaky faucet. Should she call— she hears footsteps on the other side. The door opens to a smiling Kara, a pair of headphones around her neck. Large, top-of-the-line ones. Oh. That explains it.
“Hi! I’m so sorry, I was…” She gestures to her headphones. “I didn’t hear. How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” Lena lies. Kara’s hair is tied in a loose ponytail, she’s wearing a tee-shirt and sweat pants. Fuzzy socks with sunflowers on them. When was the last time someone radiated that kind of welcoming casualness around Lena? It throws her off, but she offers her warmest smile and nods to Kara’s headphones. “So you’re a music buff, huh?”
Kara steps aside to let Lena in, touching hesitant fingers to her headphones. “Not really. Eliza— my adoptive mother, gave me those for Christmas. They have a good noise-cancelling function, so I mostly wear them when I want to relax for a bit. I was just resting.”
Lena wonders what it’s like, for Kara, to need noise-cancelling headphones even at home. Can she wear them at work? It can’t be easy to focus on writing an article in an open-plan office when you have hyperacusis. She almost apologizes for disturbing her, almost offers to reschedule, but that would only lead to Kara scrambling to reassure her, or feeling self-conscious because Lena’s making a big deal out of it. So she just nods and comes in.
“Noise-cancelling tech blocks out background noise, right?”
Kara casts her a curious glance. “Yeah. Can I take your coat?”
“Sure. Thank you.” Lena puts her handbag down on the floor and shrugs out of her coat.
Kara takes it, hangs it delicately. “From what I understand, the mics inside pick up low-frequency sounds, then generate an opposite sound to cancel it out. It works okay.” She bites her lower lip. “Do you want to try them out?”
Lena blinks. “Is that all right?”
Kara nods, a flush to her neck, and takes the headphones off with great care. There’s something touching about it. Like they’re a treasure, something precious and fragile. Lena makes sure to handle them just as carefully as she places them over her own ears.
Abruptly, the rumor of the city drifting in through the open windows dies down, replaced with silence so loud it feels like static. She swallows, and it echoes inside her skull. She touches her fingers to the wall, gives it a gentle tap. Nothing. She glances at Kara, eyebrows raised.
“No wonder you didn’t hear me knock.”
Her voice sounds distant to her own ears. She looks around, settling in her quiet bubble. Kara’s apartment is surprisingly spacious. Her furniture is colorful, mismatched, and light floods in. Gauzy curtains separate what Lena assumes is Kara’s bedroom from the rest of her apartment. They billow in the breeze.
It’s restful. This place, this silence. She takes the headphones off. Sounds rush to her ears. “I could get used to that,” she says softly, not wanting to add to the noise of the world, and hands them back to Kara. “If they’d been a thing ten years ago, when I was in college? I would have used them way too much. People whispering in the library drove me crazy.”
She worries Kara will be offended, think she’s making light of things. But Kara nods, sheepish, as she turns the headphones off. “I think I use them too much.”
Lena ducks her head to meet her eyes. “And I thought my addictions were shameful.” She sees the moment her gentle teasing lands, and Kara smiles helplessly. Lena’s used to being surrounded by sharks, every conversation a battle, but Kara’s sweet. It takes the bite out of her humor. There’s not a lot Lena likes about herself, but the softness Kara brings out of her makes her feel steadier on her feet. She stoops to pick up the gift peeking out of her handbag. “Here. I know I wasn’t supposed to bring anything, but I didn’t want to show up empty-handed. Thank you for having me over.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Kara takes it like it’s made of crystal. “Can I open it?”
Lena hides her perplexity. “If you'd like?”
“Sorry. I watched this documentary about Japan, recently. There was a part about the etiquette of gift giving, over there. Apparently, it’s rude to open a present in front of the person who gave it to you. It’s better to do it in private, so you don’t have to pretend to like it if you don’t, and everyone can save face.” She frowns. “Oh gosh, that came out so wrong.”
“It didn’t,” Lena chuckles. “You know what? I like it. I’m all for saving face. So, I take it back, you may not open it just yet. Do it when I’m gone.”
Kara grins. “Okay.” She puts the gift on the kitchen island nearby. “Do you want anything to drink? I have juice, coffee, tea…”
“Oh, tea would be lovely. Thank you.”
Lena takes her shoes off, neatly places them on the rack next to a pair of sneakers. She catches Kara glancing down at her sensible socks.
She joins her in the kitchen area, leans against the counter as Kara fills the kettle. She feels out of place. Being invited into someone else’s space, into their privacy. watching them make tea. It’s overwhelming.
But when Kara looks her way, Lena gives an easy smile. “I like your socks. I feel underdressed.”
Kara looks down, wiggles her toes. “They’re not even my most garish pair, you know.”
Lena wants to tell her that she can’t wait to see what other marvels her sock drawer holds, or that sunflowers suit her, but it might sound like she’s inviting herself into Kara’s life, or making intrusive assumptions. She feels like she’s walking on eggshells, and any wrong move might cost her moments like this.
“Well, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers have nothing on your socks,” she says instead, and gestures towards the easel across the room. “I didn’t know you were a painter.”
Kara follows her gaze. “I tidied up a bit before you came, and I almost hid all of it in my closet. The easel, the paintings.” She rubs the back of her neck with a small, weary smile. “I haven’t painted in a long time and leaving it all out there feels… disingenuous. Like a set piece.”
“Can I take a closer look?”
Kara gestures for her to go ahead. Lena goes to the easel, crouches beside it to look at the stack of paintings on the floor. Empty seashores. A strange tree. Black birds flying. Lena trails a light fingertip along a thick brush stroke.
“I hope it doesn’t come off as presumptuous, but they’re very… you. Are you self-taught?”
“Yeah.” Kara joins her and folds her arms loosely. “When the Danvers took me in, I didn’t talk much. I felt…” She plays with the hem of her short sleeve. “Like I wasn’t really in my body anymore, and I had to relearn everything. So, Eliza tried to find ways for me to express myself. A lot of it didn’t stick, but art did. I was so clumsy. Still am. But it helped me focus.”
Lena looks at the remainder of the paintings. Pigeons pecking at the ground. Something abstract and vast that makes Lena think of a desert. She places the canvases back against the wall with great care. She’s beginning to think volunteering these intimate anecdotes is Kara’s way of offering something to relate to. Stories as conversation. She tries to respond in kind.
“It’s a little different, but when I came to live with the Luthors, there were a few hobbies I was expected to pick up. You know, chess, ballet and the like. Not for the purpose of self-expression, I’m afraid, but… still. I think piano was what resonated with me the most.” Her eyes wander across the unfinished painting on the easel. “I wasn’t particularly good at it. Just enough not to embarrass my family during recitals. But it brought me joy. I haven’t played in years, not since I moved out of the mansion to go to university. ”
Kara nods in her peripheral vision. Seconds pass in silence before she speaks.
“Did your parents come to your piano recitals?”
Lena glances over at her. That’s an odd question. “Well, my father was always away on business. But sometimes, he’d call to wish me luck. My mother, though… she never missed a performance. I couldn’t tell whether that was to make sure I wouldn’t slack off, or to support me.” She massages her palm with her thumb. “She was a bit stingy with the compliments, but she did show up. That’s the thing, with her, you know? It’s always both. Or the illusion of both.”
Lena hears Kara’s soft intake of breath, and she’s surprised when she feels her hand on her shoulder, light and gone in a second.
“I’m sorry I encouraged you to visit her when she was in jail,” Kara says quietly. “All I saw was that part of you wanted to give her another chance, and in my experience, I’d rather give people chances and be proven wrong than close the door and never know. For my own peace of mind. But that was short-sighted. There was a lot I didn’t take into account, and you had to suffer as a result. I’m sorry. If you ask me for my opinion about this again, I’ll do my due diligence. I promise.”
Lena tries to smile. “I think I would have gone anyway, with or without your input. She always pulls me back in. But thank you. For your thoughtfulness, then and now.”
Kara nods. “Of course.” She seems like she’s about to say something else when the kettle starts whistling on the stove. “Sorry. I’ll be right back.”
Lena watches her head back towards the kitchen. She casts a lingering look at the painting on the easel, before wandering over to Kara’s bookshelves. Art, history, photography… Caravaggio. The Silk Road. Islamic Architecture. Perceval, or the story of the Holy Grail—
“What kind of tea do you like?” Kara calls out from the kitchen. “There’s a bit of everything. Green tea, oolong, earl grey…”
Lena picks up a framed picture off a shelf. A black cat, nestled in the arms of a younger, smiling Kara, without glasses. She doesn’t look much older than twelve or thirteen. The picture must have been taken not long before her family passed away, or soon after. Lena gently sets the frame back on the shelf and joins Kara in the kitchen. There’s a wooden tea box on the counter. Kara opens it and angles it towards Lena. It’s divided into a dozen of neat compartments, with handwritten labels.
Lena peers into it and breathes in the mingling aromas. “It’s beautiful. Where did you get this?”
“I found this tiny tea shop on one of my walks. I think it was struggling a bit. A lot. But the owner was so knowledgeable and passionate, I offered to write something about her shop. CatCo magazine is popular enough that any place we write about becomes trendy for a hot minute, so…” She touches her glasses. “It must have worked, because a week after the issue came out, the owner sent me this box to thank me. I think it’s all from her shop.”
Lena shakes her head fondly. “Kara Danvers, rescuing Fortune 500 CEOs and small business owners alike, one article at a time.”
“Food reviews are the only thing my boss lets me write, these days, so I thought I’d use my limited powers for good.” Kara nods at the box, smiling. “What strikes your fancy?”
“God, I don’t know. I’m a big green tea fan, but there’s so many good options. What are you having?”
Kara chuckles faintly. “I was going to go with whatever you picked. But let’s see… hm. I’ll be honest, I’ve sampled a bit of everything and the only one that doesn’t taste too strong for me—” She points to a compartment. “Is this one.”
Rooibos. Huh. Lena nods slowly, eyes flitting over the labels to figure out what sets rooibos apart. “Because it’s herbal.”
“Herbal?” Kara repeats. “Isn’t tea always herbal? Sorry, I don’t know much about it.”
Lena smiles. “No, you’re right. Technically, it’s all plants. But the difference is, regular tea blends are made out of, well, tea leaves, and herbal teas come from different plants or fruits. Like rooibos. There’s no caffeine in herbal teas.”
“Oh.” Kara frowns thoughtfully. “Well, that explains it. I always thought tea tasted so bitter.”
Lena cocks her head, intrigued. “What about coffee? You had some when we went to brunch.”
Kara smiles sheepishly. “With a ton of milk.”
Lena nods. “True. What about broccoli?”
Kara seems surprised, but she plays along good-naturedly. “It’s not that I dislike broccoli, but… it still has that taste, you know? That really strong taste.” She chuckles, embarrassed. “I told you, nobody trusts my taste in food. I’m pretty picky.”
Lena hesitates. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Are you a supertaster?”
Kara blinks, swallows. “Sorry, what?”
Oh, God. Has she stuck her foot in her mouth? Offended or hurt her in some way?
“A supertaster?” Kara just looks at her, brow furrowed. “Some people have a heightened sense of taste. It’s not that uncommon. Tea and coffee are usually high on the list of foods that taste too strong for them. Certain vegetables, too. Brussel sprouts, broccoli…” She offers a small smile. “Supertasters are often mistaken for picky eaters.”
“Oh. I’d never heard the term before. That would make sense.” She fiddles with the tea ball. “When I was adopted, I couldn’t eat anything Eliza cooked for me. It took her a long time to figure out what I liked. She was so patient with me.” Her eyes are distant. “The first thing she made me that I could keep in was a PB&J sandwich, and she was as proud as if she’d made me beef bourguignon.” She shakes her head. “Sorry. I’m just rambling.”
“No, I love your childhood stories. I know it must have been a difficult time, but your adoptive family sounds wonderful.” Lena wishes she had some of her own childhood stories to share. Hopeful ones. She clears her throat gently, folds her arm over the kitchen island and nods to the tea box. “So, rooibos, then?”
“Rooibos it is.” Kara opens a cupboard and pulls two mugs out. One is a beautiful, handcrafted one, and the other has a sad-looking donkey and a Disney logo printed on it. Kara sets them on the island, looks over at Lena for a bit. “Hey. It’s probably bad hosting etiquette, but do you mind prepping the tea? It sounds like you know a whole lot more about it that I do, and I always make a mess.”
“Of course,” Lena says, rolling up her sleeves. She goes to the sink. “So, educate me. What’s a PB&J sandwich?”
Kara chuckles. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I’m guessing you’ve never had one.”
Lena squirts a little hand soap onto her palm, starts washing her hands. “I’m afraid not. I had my first and last peanut when I was… five, I think. I woke up in a hospital room. I take it I’m missing out on something?”
Kara leans against the counter next to her. “Yep.” She hands her a clean dish towel to dry her hands. As Lena takes it, Kara looks away, over to the large windows, and seems distracted for a few seconds. Lena can’t hear anything, so she averts her eyes and pretends she didn’t notice. Dealing with sensory issues must be hard enough, she doesn’t want to add to it. “Sorry. What was I— oh! So, I read up on peanut allergies when you told me about yours. I felt like I’d put you in danger just by being near you, because most days, I pack a PB&J sandwich for lunch. ”
“As long as you don’t hand me a napkin that’s been in contact with it,” Lena says as she dries her hands, shooting Kara a playful look, “I might survive.”
“Nope. Too big of a risk. There’s not enough room for both Lena Luthor and peanut butter in my life. So, peanut butter had to go. Turns out, almond butter is just as good. It sticks to the roof of your mouth, just like peanut butter. Texture is everything.”
“That’s…” Lena trails off, folds the towel because she doesn’t know what to say. “You don’t have to give up peanut butter on my behalf. I mean, I’m touched. Really. But it’s fine. I’m used to being careful.”
Kara nods slowly. “I know it’s too much. But I don’t want to take chances, not with that. I don’t have a lot of people left. You know how high-risk my sister’s job is. Sometimes, I’m so sick with worry I can’t get out of bed. And I’ve only known you for a few months but you’ve been targeted so many times since I met you. It’s not worth the risk, I don’t care how silly it sounds.” She touches her glasses, pushes them up a little. “I don’t want us to worry about what spoon has touched what when you come over, or if I’ve left deadly crumbs somewhere. I don’t want you to be careful around me.”
Lena focuses on Kara’s fuzzy socks. People who give and give before anything has been earned are like creatures out of a fairy tale. She wishes she’d met Kara earlier. Had had her in her life longer.
“Okay. No peanut butter, then.” She turns to the stove, switches it back on under the kettle once she figures out how it works. Swallows hard. “Thank you. No one’s done that for me before.”
Kara nods. “If you’re hungry, I could make us an almond butter and jelly sandwich? It tastes great. You won’t feel so bad about me giving up peanut butter once you’ve tried it.”
Lena feels light-headed. “All right. Dazzle me.”
Kara takes a jar of almond butter out of an overhead cupboard, and Lena busies herself with the tea. Soon enough, the kettle is whistling again, and Lena drops the tea ball full of rooibos into it. As she waits for it to infuse, she watches Kara. The careful way she pulls two slices of bread out of the toaster, how she opens a jar of strawberry jam, so carefully. Lena is used to telling herself she’s overthinking things. But there’s something to the way Kara occupies space, awkward and gentle, that moves her.
Kara looks up and catches her staring, smiles. “What?”
“You’re…” Lena hesitates. “Very gentle with everything. It’s something I’ve noticed about you.”
Kara doesn’t look up as she spreads almond butter over a slice of bread. “I’m careful because I’m a klutz.”
“No,” Lena blurts out. She feels a flush creep up her face. “I didn’t mean it like that.” She thinks of some of the books she saw on Kara’s shelves. “You make me think of an archeologist. You handle everything like it’s precious.”
Kara smiles faintly. “That would explain why I love Indiana Jones so much.” She shrugs. “The truth is, I really am clumsy. It’s a problem. Before I was hired at CatCo, I worked as a waitress for a few years. I broke so many plates I thought they’d fire me for sure. I think they would have, if customers didn’t like me so much. I was terrible at waitressing, but I guess I made up for it by being friendly.”
She’s so touching. Ten different replies spring to Lena’s mind, light and easy, kind and flattering. But— “When you say it’s a problem,” she says instead, “do you mean… spatial awareness issues?
Kara’s knife stills, halfway to the jar of almond butter. She nods and makes a noncommittal little sound.
Lena takes a deep breath, fills her lungs, heart pounding in her chest. She curls her fingers, feels her nails dig into her palms. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
Kara laughs, and it’s heartbreaking. She finishes buttering the slice of bread, places it on top of the jam covered one. “No, it’s fine. Not many people are that curious about me.” She cuts the sandwich in two. “I like your questions. I’m just not used to talking about my… difficulties, I guess.”
Lena nods. She thinks of Kara’s sensitive ears. Her heightened sense of taste. And now, this. What is navigating the world like, for her? “It’s not the same, but…” She picks the kettle up and fills their mugs. “I was considered a pretty odd kid, too.”
“Oh, yes. The Luthors homeschooled me until I was eight, old enough for boarding school. When they sent me there, I was ahead in a lot of ways, and so behind in others. I didn’t know how to make friends, how to talk to children my age, play with them. It never really got better. I had a hard time not living in my own head. They said I was gifted, but that’s not how it felt at all.”
Kara cautiously sets their plate and mugs on a small tray and brings it over to the coffee table. “What was it like?” She sits on the couch and pats the seat next to her. “Inside your head?”
Lena sits, gathers her hair over her shoulder. She sees Kara has angled the tray so that Lena gets the sad donkey mug.
“It was crowded. I was never bored, there was always something to notice, to analyze, to learn. A pattern to spot, a problem to solve, a question to ask. Everything was… infinitely interesting.”
“And now? Do you know how to make it less crowded?”
Lena watches Kara pull her legs up on the couch and grab a cushion as she speaks, absently hugging it to her chest. The weight of the moment settles over her. She sees it, as if it were a scene in a movie. Their steaming mugs of tea on the coffee table. Kara’s fingers idly tracing the branch of the cherry tree stitched into the cushion she’s hugging. Her own body, sinking into the couch.
She blinks slowly. “I don’t think so. I know how to compartmentalize better, but it’s never really quiet, in there.” She smiles over at Kara. “Maybe a little bit like you, when you’re somewhere noisy.”
Kara picks their plate off the table and sets it between them on the couch, takes her half of the sandwich and nudges the other one towards Lena. “That could be L-Corp’s next hit product. Noise-cancelling headphones, but for inside noises, busy thoughts.”
It’s such a kind, awkward joke, Lena can only look away, to stop herself from doing something affectionate, physical. Instead, she hums pensively, picks up her half of the sandwich and takes a small bite out of it. It’s sweet and filling, the way home-cooked meals are. “I think you just invented meditation.”
Kara chuckles, a self-conscious hand over her mouth as she chews. “I guess you’re not the only genius in town.” She nods to Lena’s sandwich. “How is it?”
Her apprehension goes straight to Lena’s heart. “Decadent. I like it. You were right, I don’t feel bad about depriving you of peanut butter.”
Kara smiles as she takes another bite, playing with the corner of the pillow she’s holding. She looks at Lena with interest. “Do you meditate?”
Lena shakes her head. “Not really. I have… little mind games I play, sometimes. When I can’t sleep, when my my mind’s going in circles. Maybe they’re a form of meditation.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh…” Lena, eats a little to give herself time to think. She hasn’t told anyone about that. But Kara’s been so open with her. She draws in a breath. “Nothing too elaborate. Counting. Reciting things. The first one hundred digits of pi, poems I’ve learned…” She shakes her head. “It’s something our English teacher asked us to do, back in boarding school. Memorize a poem every week. I still do it.”
Kara looks at her with that steady intensity that makes Lena want to run away. “What poem are you learning, this week?”
She tucks her hair behind her ear. “I’ll send it to you.” She licks her lips, puts the rest of her sandwich back on the plate. “What about you? Do you meditate?”
Kara hums, eyes downcast. Lena’s noticed Kara never looks at her when she’s thinking, like she can’t do both at the same time.
“I used to. We didn’t call it meditation, but my family and I, we’d pray together, recite scripture. I felt… connected. To the world, to others.” She shakes her head. “I haven’t done it in a long time. Since I was adopted, actually. Half my life,” she murmurs, and gives Lena a small smile.
Lena wants to reach out to her, touch her hand. “What were you like? As a child.”
Kara sighs softly. “I was… sheltered. An only child. I spent a lot of time by myself, reading, studying. The rest of the time, I’d be with my parents, or my aunt and uncle. They were all so… attentive. Always happy to talk with me, teach me things.” She makes a face. “When I was adopted, I was a mess. It was so different from the life I’d known. Like a different planet. It was hard on everyone. Alex felt abandoned, because her parents spent all their time and energy on trying to help me. And by the time I was well enough to go to school…” She shrugs. “I’d never even been to a normal school before. It was overwhelming. Alex had to take care of me all the time. She lost all her friends, and I pretty much remained the school weirdo until I graduated." She smiles. “Sorry, that was… a lot. It wasn’t all bad, though. There were happier times, too.”
Lena turns towards her, plants her elbow on the back of the couch and rests her chin in her palm. “Tell me about one of those times.”
Kara looks at her for a moment, uncertain. Lena keeps any playfulness from her gaze, in case Kara’s afraid she’s being made fun of.
“Well… there was the first time Alex and I did something together. She helped me put up glow stars on the ceiling above my bed. We shaped them like my favorite constellations.”
Lena adds this fragment to the portrait coming to life in her mind. “What were they?”
Kara tilts her head, amusement dancing in her eyes. “You really do have an inquisitive mind.”
“Guilty as charged.” Lena hesitates. But then, if she can’t admit it to someone as accepting as Kara seems to be, she’ll never say it. “To be honest,” she ventures, “I think asking questions is also a way for me not to talk about myself. It’s not that I don’t want to, but there’s nothing inviting to any of my own stories.” She finishes her half of the sandwich. “I’m not complaining. But heartwarming anecdotes over tea? I’m coming up empty. When you tell me about how hard things were for you after your family passed away, it’s still… you ended up with people who supported you, you know? Who cared, tried to help. I don’t have anything like that. It’s all… gloomy.”
Kara nods slowly. “You were very little when your mom died. Who took care of you, when your father and Lillian took you in?”
Lena shrugs. “No one, everyone? My tutors, the cook, the maid, the gardener… If I wandered over to their part of the mansion, they’d babysit me for a bit. There was a nanny for a few months, but she left, or was let go, I’m not sure. I’m not ungrateful, I lived in luxury But I was mostly by myself.” She sucks in a long, quiet breath. “Anyway, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m happy to just learn all about you while giving you nothing personal, it’s just— I don’t feel like I have much to offer.”
Kara drinks some of her tea. “I don’t mind.” She licks her lips thoughtfully. “You know, my sister and I weren’t always close. The first few years were rough. She watched over me, but like I said, it cost her a lot of friends, a lot of experiences she didn’t get to have, a lot of attention from her parents. She resented me for it, resented her mom. Still does, I think. You should see our Thanksgiving dinners, they’re…” She puffs her cheeks. “Tense. Still, over the years, it got better. Alex has helped me with so many things, to the point I’ve sometimes felt I couldn’t function without her.” She smiles, half-hearted. “She’s used to me. To my… weirdness. And she ended up feeling comfortable in that role, too. The helper, the one with all the answers.”
“Like what to wear on a date?” Lena prompts gently.
Kara chuckles, pushes her glasses up with the heel of her palm. “Ah, you remember that. That’s one of the least embarrassing things she’s helped me with. But this year is a bit different. She’s met someone. She came out, actually.”
Came out? Oh. Lena nods, takes a drink of tea. “That’s a big step.”
“Yeah. I’m so proud of her. She’s spending a lot of time with her girlfriend, now, as she should, and a lot less time with me. I miss our nights, picking each other up from work, but I also feel…” She hugs her pillow closer. “Independent, for the first time. I can make room for other things in my personal life. Like this, with you,” she gestures to the space between them. “I’m really glad I met you when I did.”
She looks at her with her big blue eyes, steady and clear, and Lena thinks it’s no wonder Kara’s sister grew to love her as fiercely as she seems to. She tightens her hold around her sad donkey mug. “And here I was, wishing I’d met you much earlier.”
“Yes, but you’re right.” She clinks her mug to Kara’s. “To every thing, there is a season.”
Kara looks at her curiously “And a time to every purpose under heaven.” She props her chin on the cushion she’s clutching to her chest. “Are you religious?”
She’s always fidgeting, or idly toying with something. Lena wonders if she’s aware of it.
“Not really. My mother— my biological mother, was catholic. She was Irish. I guess reading the Bible made me feel closer to her, growing up. It’s just a passage I like. I figured you’d know where it’s from.” She sets her empty mug down. “Not that I’m assuming you were raised christian, or jewish, but you mentioned scripture, and—” Oh, god.
Kara’s kind smile washes Lena’s embarrassment away. “No worries. I think all sacred texts are worth studying.”
Lena’s gaze drifts to Kara’s books, her easel. “Your interests are so varied.” You have such a rich inner world, is what she wants to say, but it sounds too intimate. “I don’t mean to be rude, but you’ve said you didn’t have a lot of friends, and I wonder why. You’re so lovely. Smart.”
“You know how, when you see someone at work every day, and you get along, you consider them a friend after a few months, but you don’t feel like you’ve really chosen them? I made a couple of friends like that after I was hired at CatCo,” Kara says softly. “You’ve met one, actually. At your gala. Winn Schott. The other is James Olsen.”
“CatCo’s new acting CEO?”
“Yeah. The three of us, we’d hang out at work, or on game nights. They’re great guys, but I didn’t get to know them like this. Here, on my couch. Just talking.”
Lena’s mouth is dry. She wishes she hadn’t finished her tea. “I hope I turn out to be the friend you deserve. I don’t have the greatest track record.”
Kara searches her face. “Did I come on too strong?”
“No, no. I’m saying this all wrong.” Lena suppresses a shiver as a gust of wind wafts in from the open window. “You intimidate me a little. I want to make you feel even half as appreciated and wanted as you’ve made me feel today, but I’m not sure how.”
Kara smiles, disarming. “You’re doing just fine.”
Lena’s insecurities press behind her lips, demanding to be let out, to ruin this before it has a chance to begin. She swallows them back, tries to smile. “I’ll take your word for it.”
Kara rests her head against the back of the couch, looks at her like she knows something Lena doesn’t. “I’m glad I’m not the only one fumbling my way through this.”
She sets her pillow aside, stands without waiting for a reply and goes to close the window. When she comes back, she takes the blanket folded over the back of the couch, drapes it over Lena’s legs before sitting back down, slipping under it, too. “Do you want to watch a movie?”
They’re not touching, but it’s not a big couch. “I’d love to.” Lena feels Kara’s body heat along her arm and thigh. Jack is the only person she’s ever been casually close to. But they were a couple, and things were rocky towards the end. Kara’s a friend. It’s safe. Restful. Lena pulls the blanket a little higher up her chest and snuggles into the cushions, earning herself a soft look from Kara.
“What are you in the mood for? I’m game for anything, except horror movies.”
Lena nods thoughtfully. “You mentioned Indiana Jones, right? I’ve never seen any of the films.”
“I didn’t grow up watching television, or going to the movies. I’m afraid pop culture passed me by.”
"I knew nothing about pop culture when I got adopted,” Kara muses. “Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park? Never heard of them. Alex had to educate me.” She smiles a giddy little smile. “I’d be honored to pass that sacred knowledge on to you.”
It’s not that Kara’s jokes are devastatingly witty, no. It’s their sheer harmlessness that leaves Lena elated. Joyful. It’s a foreign, buried feeling. Outside, rain starts lashing at the windows.
Anxiety pools in Kara’s stomach as she fumbles to open the umbrella without breaking it. She glances at the mailboxes in an attempt to distract herself from how claustrophobic the lobby feels.
If Lena watches her snap the umbrella in half, then what?
Kara smiles. “Sorry. Butter fingers.”
Lena gives her that look, that relaxed one Kara hadn’t seen before today. A few more awkward seconds pass and Kara catches a small movement, as if Lena were about to reach out and help. But she doesn’t. Kara’s grateful.
Relief washes over her when the umbrella finally springs open, intact. She meets Lena’s eyes, who smiles and holds the building door open for her. “After you.”
They step outside, Kara making sure to shelter her. They huddle together as they wait for the cab Kara insisted on booking for her. Just like earlier, on the couch, Lena’s perfume surrounds Kara. It’s heady, earthy. She recognizes the scent of frankincense and jasmine, musk… She wants to ask what it is, but maybe that’s rude, like asking a woman to reveal her beauty secrets.
Kara wonders if she could be a nose for a major perfumer, given her heightened sense of smell. But then, manipulating fragile ingredients and glass vials all day would probably be a problem. A lot of things are a problem.
“Thanks for waiting with me.”
Kara smiles over at Lena. “My pleasure. Besides, I’d rather make sure no one bothers you. This isn’t the safest neighborhood. It’s one of the reasons I can afford this apartment, actually.”
“One of the reasons?” Lena asks with that gentle playfulness that puts Kara at ease.
She’s caught a glimpse of Lena’s quick, biting wit, the day she visited her at L-Corp with Clark. But never since, never with her.
“I have a pretty great landlady. She lives in another apartment in the building. She’s old, so I bring her groceries or leftovers, I walk her dog…” Kara shrugs. “I hope that’s not why she keeps the rent low, though. I like think we just appreciate each other.”
Lena looks her over, brow furrowed in thought. “I bet you make a lot of people’s world a little brighter. Kinder.” She sighs. “I had a lovely day. Probably the best since I moved here. Thank you.” She smiles, rueful. “I wish I could return the favor. Invite you over to mine, cook you my comfort food of choice and show you a movie I love… But alas, I’m still staying at a hotel.”
Oh. Kara rubs her ear without thinking, because a bus pulled over at the stop down the street, and the brakes always shriek so loudly. “Do you want to get your own place eventually, or…?”
“I’m not sure,” Lena says softly, slipping her hands in her coat pockets. “I’ve been here for months but I still feel like it could all fall apart. I think I’m afraid of putting down roots. On the plus side,” she adds, her tone lighter, “I picked a hotel near L-Corp, so my driver works about an hour a day, tops. It’s a pretty cushy job.”
“I bet. So you do have a driver. I was beginning to wonder.”
Lena chuckles, sheepish. “Just for work. Monday to Friday. I don’t go out on weekends, anyway, so it works out. Or used to work out, I suppose, now that you’ve managed to get me to venture out a bit.” She bumps her shoulder to Kara’s, and Kara doesn’t feel it, but she can tell it was a soft, careful bump, and it does something to her. Nobody treats her like she’s fragile.
“I really enjoy your company.” Kara tells her, sincere.
Lena looks at her for a while, eyes searching. “You’re killing me with kindness, you know,” She sucks in a breath. “I told you over the phone, I’m not sure what the protocol is, friendship-wise, but… can I give you a hug?”
Kara’s stomach ties itself into knots. She doesn’t really hug people. Only Alex and Eliza, because she trusts them to tell her if she’s hugging them too hard. James, a couple of times. But she generally tries to avoid it. She could hurt people, get it wrong enough to give herself away if they don’t already know about her.
She wonders if Lena gets to hug and be hugged often. Probably not, because she doesn’t have a lot of friends, or a loving family, and it doesn’t sound like she’s seeing anyone. Kara knows, intimately, what it’s like to feel untouched, to never touch others the way she wants to. She wouldn’t wish it on anyone, least of all someone like Lena, who seems to have a lot to offer and nobody to give it to.
So she swallows her anxiety, nods, and channels a little bit of the confidence she uses as Supergirl into keeping her smile and her gaze steady. “Of course.”
Lena turns towards her but then looks past Kara’s shoulder, squinting, and drops her head with a small smile. “Ah. Great timing, as always. My ride’s here.”
Kara shrugs, doesn’t take her eyes off of her as a car pulls over next to them and Lena gives the driver a nod. “So? He can wait.” She scrunches her nose playfully. “I’ll leave him a giant tip through the app.”
Lena chuckles faintly. “Of course you will.”
Kara carefully moves the umbrella out of the way when Lena hugs her, but makes sure to keep it above her. She feels awkward, scared she’ll do it wrong, too hard or not tight enough. It’s so hard to gauge. She ends up wrapping her free arm around Lena’s waist, as lightly as she can. There’s not a lot she can do without leaving a trail of bruises. No squeezing, no rubbing. Sometimes, she feels like a monster. But she still wants it to be a good hug for Lena, so she comes closer, erasing the little distance Lena had left between them. Lena’s hair tickles her ear.
It’s different from Alex’s tight hugs. She couldn’t tell with her eyes closed, but looking at the way Lena keeps her arms around her, it seems different. A loose, enveloping kind of hug. Gentle, just like the shoulder bump, earlier. Again, Kara feels this violent emotion, heart in her throat at the thought of someone thinking of her like that, as a person to be held gently, carefully. The urge to rest her head on Lena’s shoulder and stay like this for a little while grips her.
Lena pulls back, keeps her hands on Kara’s shoulders for a second and gives them what seems to be the softest squeeze.
“Thanks again for today.”
Kara swallows thickly. “Anytime.” She goes around Lena to open the car door for her. “I’ll see you next week, right? At the aquarium?”
Lena gets in and smiles up at her, warm. “I can’t wait.”
“Great. Well, then…” She almost tells her to get home safe, but she’s not sure Lena thinks of her hotel room as home. “Have a good night.”
“You, too. Bye, Kara.”
She makes sure Lena’s coat is safely tucked inside, closes the door and waits until the car disappears from view to make her way back inside her building. She closes the umbrella with less difficulty than she had opening it. Being watched makes her even clumsier than usual.
She climbs the stairs to her floor, in a daze. It’s been a surprising day. She’s not sure how she feels. She needs to think about it.
Back in the safety of her apartment, she takes her shoes off, picks up their empty mugs and plate off the coffee table and brings them over to the sink. It was nice, that’s for sure. Better than nice. Lena’s the first girl— woman, that Kara’s befriended. It’s new. Maybe that’s why it feels different, why vulnerability feels easier. Winn was her friend before he knew she was an alien, too, but she’s certainly never invited him over to have intimate conversations on a rainy Sunday.
She washes the mugs. They’re tricky, easily broken when you try to scrub the bottom. Does vulnerability truly feel easier, around Lena? When Kara told her all those things about herself, it still made her heart race uncomfortably. But in Lena’s eyes, Kara’s problems are human problems. Manageable. Smaller than they are.
She sets the mugs on the rack, watches them drip.
What does it matter, though, if Lena interprets her problems in a human way? She picks up Lena’s gift off the kitchen island where she left it, and goes to sit on the couch.
It does matter. Lena thinks she has sensitive ears, and she’s not wrong, but she’s not right, and she speaks so softly to her, like she doesn’t want to be loud around her. She’s so accommodating. She thinks Kara is a supertaster, and it’s not wrong, but it’s not right, and she makes Kara feel normal.
Maybe that’s why it feels different. All these firsts. First time making friends with a girl. First time being asked about what food tastes like, to her. First time being asked what she was like, as a kid. First time being asked if she wants to be hugged. First time being hugged like she’s made of glass. First time seeing someone run her fingers over one of her paintings, along the spines of her books.
She opens her gift. Her clumsy fingers make a mess of the wrapping paper, but the book inside stays intact. It’s a worn, well loved one. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Verse Narrative.
She opens it carefully, noting the yellowed paper and musty scent. It’s a first edition.
You told me books were the way to your heart. Here’s one that found its way to mine, long ago. - Lena
Is that Lena’s own copy? She stares at Lena’s handwriting, loopy and free on the title page. She skims the preface. The earliest surviving literary text, it says. She draws in a soft breath as she turns the pages, stops when they fall open naturally, as if someone had cracked the spine right there. She whispers the words to herself as she reads, like she used to as a child.
Gilgamesh was king of Uruk,
A city set between the Tigris
And Euphrates river
in ancient Babylonia.
Enkidu was born on the steppe
Where he grew up among the animals.
Gilgamesh was called a god and man;
Enkidu was an animal and man.
It is the story
Of their becoming human together.
Again, thank you for your kind comments. Knowing some of you find the story comforting and warm means so much to me. Thank you, thank you. I hope this new chapter is worth the long wait.
We’re skipping over a year of Kara and Lena befriending each other slowly, which takes us to early season 3 (Sam, Alex and Maggie will make an appearance next chapter!). We’re also deviating a bit from canon, as in, Kara and Mon-El didn’t date, though I like to think she was still fond of him and of the connection to her culture that he represented.
If anyone’s interested, I’m at Laetare-9 over on tumblr. I don’t reblog a lot of fandom stuff, mostly pretty pictures, but if you’re in need of therapeutic beauty, or want to ask me anything, you’re very welcome. Have a lovely, peaceful end the year, friends. El Mayarah.
The tour is over, their questions have been answered, so the realtor steps out of the apartment to give them some time alone. Kara’s pretty sure he thinks they’re a couple.
Lena looks around. “I must be the first Luthor to ever visit a one-bedroom apartment.”
They’ve visited a few places before this one. Vast, sprawling apartments Lena looked lost into. So, Kara suggested she give a smaller place a go.
“Do you like it?” She asks gently.
Lena nibbles on her bottom lip. “What if you want to spend the night? There’s no guest room.”
“I don’t have a guest room, either, but you sleep over at mine anyway. Just get me a comfy couch and I’ll be golden.” Kara steps closer, until their sleeves touch. “Does it bother you? That it’s pretty much a one person apartment.”
Lena gives Kara’s scarf a soft, absent-minded tug. It scared her, at first, how affectionate Lena turned out to be. What if Lena sensed something was off when Kara didn’t reciprocate? But Lena surprised her. Her touches never seem to call for any kind of reciprocation, as if she were tailoring them to the person she perceives Kara to be. She never touches her skin, always her sleeve, the strap of her bag, her scarf. It makes Kara emotional, that someone who doesn’t know the why of things loves her enough to invent a tactile language with her, as limited as it is. It makes the world around her feel a little more solid.
“I don’t even know why it bothers me.” Lena frowns. “I’ve been living in a hotel room for a year, now, and it’s not like I’ve ever wished I had a massive apartment to host lavish parties in. But picking a place like this one? It feels like I’m making it official. What a solitary life I live, I mean.”
Kara imagines taking her hands in hers to comfort her, imagines breaking her fingers in the process, pushes that staggering thought away. “Hey. It doesn’t have to be forever. If you feel good here, at this point in time? Go for it. You can always get a bigger place if things change. If you meet someone, or… or adopt a bunch of kids. Or a big dog.”
Lena smiles. “I have a feeling you’d move in, too, if I got a dog. And then we’d really need a bigger place.” She draws in a breath, looks around again. “Do you like it here?”
Kara’s eyes drift over to the open kitchen, the small balcony, the airy emptiness of the living room around them. Light flooding in, shaped like the promise of a home. “I can picture you here.” She trails her fingers over the soft lining inside her coat pockets. “I love it.”
Lena huffs, pushes another cardboard box against the wall. She stands, hands on her hips, and tries to visualize her future bookshelves. There’s so much to do. She’s starting to get a better sense of this new space of hers, energized by the fact Kara spent her whole Saturday hauling boxes with her.
She checks her phone. Kara left a while ago to get takeout, so they could have dinner and unpack some more boxes. Make the most of the weekend. Lena sits on a crate, checks the news and smiles when she sees several outlets reporting on Supergirl’s latest exploit, helping a disabled lady get home after her wheelchair ran out of battery in Toledo, Spain.
She looks out the window. It’s not a towering view like the one from her office or her hotel room. It’s a human-sized view. From a human-sized apartment. The sun hangs low, casts its last rays across the floor.
She tilts her head back, closes her eyes. How long until this is home, and the way the sun hits her bed in the morning becomes second nature, and her place takes on a unique scent, a scent that would cling to Kara’s clothes if she spent the night, the way Lena’s clothes smell different after she’s slept over at Kara’s?
The sound of wind chimes pulls her out of her reverie. She realizes it’s her new intercom and goes to buzz Kara in, opens the door. It’s nice, waiting for someone at the door. Her door.
She peeks out into the hallway. The elevator remains still, but soon enough, Kara emerges from the stairway fresh-faced and alive, glasses akimbo.
“Sorry, I got a call from work on my way to the pizza place.” She lifts a shopping bag. “I got us a bottle of wine to make up for it. I thought we could have our own little housewarming party.”
Lena leans against the doorframe, smiling. “Oh, I’m excited. I’ve never had one.” She rights Kara’s glasses on her nose. “Everything okay at work?”
Lena can’t tell whether Kara enjoys physical affection or not. She seems… sensitive. Lena is always careful, so careful. But there’s something genuine to the way Kara responds to her, like now, as she mirrors her position and rests her shoulder against the doorframe. Their foreheads almost touch.
“I think so,” Kara whispers, as if not to disturb the quiet of the darkening hallway. Her breath ghosts over Lena’s lips, and she’s silent for a while. “I miss my old job.”
Kara’s been struggling with her job as a reporter for as long as Lena’s known her, always getting calls in the middle of the day to cover this, or that, always anxious about deadlines, missing some, briefly fired when she covered the alien abductions on her personal blog. She has long been relegated to writing puff pieces.
Lena gives her forearm a soft squeeze, takes the takeout bag off her hands and motions for her to come in. “Being Cat grant’s assistant can’t have been an easy job, though.
Kara follows her inside, closes the door. “No, it sure wasn’t.” She sounds tired. Takes her shoes off and shrugs out of her coat carefully.
Lena loves her awkward gentleness. “Here.” She holds out a hand and Kara gives her the coat with a small, thankful smile. Lena folds it neatly, puts it on an unopened box. There’s no coat rack, yet. There’s hardly anything, yet.
“It was more… structured, though. I had a routine.”
They make their way to the living room. “But you’ve told me Cat Grant asked you to pick a new position precisely because she thought you should get out of your comfort zone.”
Kara hums in assent as she pushes a couple of boxes together. “I used to feel so frustrated. Like I was meant for something bigger than fetching coffee or fielding calls.” She shakes her head. “But being comfortable isn’t such a stagnant thing, right? You can still grow.”
Lena sets the pizza on their makeshift table and they sit on the floor, across from each other. Lena pulls the bottle of wine out of the shopping bag. The label is in Spanish, clearly imported, and not a domain she’s ever heard of. And a 2003 vintage? Kara must have splurged. Generous, wonderful Kara. There are also paper cups and a corkscrew.
“You’ve thought of everything.”
“Mm-hm. I figured you might not have glasses yet.” Kara cautiously lifts a slice of pizza, puts it on a napkin and nudges it towards Lena.
“Thank you.” Lena sets about opening the bottle. “So… you don’t think journalism can become your comfort zone, down the line?”
“I’m not a very good reporter,” Kara says softly. “I’m coming to terms with that. I thought I’d be able to make more of a difference, to be of service. But I was helping, as an assistant. I was making Ms. Grant’s life easier, making sure she could focus on what mattered. It wasn’t fancy, but it was enough.”
Lena keeps the kind things she could say about Kara’s work as a journalist to herself. The cork comes out with a pop. “All right, as soon as my current assistant turns out to be a corporate spy leaking prototypes to Lord Industries or Edge Global, you’re hired.”
It makes Kara smile, and Lena is thankful she gets to part the clouds of Kara’s sadness, even briefly.
Kara’s grin softens. “We’d have lunch together every day. Best part of the job.”
“That’s sorted, then,” Lena quips. For a moment, the only sound is that of wine being poured into paper cups. She looks over at Kara. “I mean it, though. If you ever decide reporting isn’t for you anymore, and you’d rather illustrate children’s books, or be an assistant, or a dog walker, or go back to college? I’ll support you in whatever way I can.”
She braces herself for polite rejection, but Kara only nods. “I know. Thank you.” She takes the cup Lena is handing her, huffs out a decisive breath. “Sorry for being mopey. This is your night. Our housewarming party.” She smiles and lifts her cup. “To your new home.”
“And to your beautiful future.” Lena says, raising her own and clinking it to Kara’s. She takes a sip. “Christ, it’s good. Where did you get this?”
“Somewhere beautiful. I’ll take you there, one day.”
And Kara’s trademark, serious earnestness is water, Lena thinks. Meeting Kara has shown her how parched she was for clarity, how long she’s been struggling in a desert of lies and half-truths, in the labyrinth of her own, terrifying mind. But here is Kara, who says these monumental things and means them, and follows through, who never says anything bad about anyone, never swears, never makes Lena feel like there is something to be figured out. Kara, who gives Lena’s mind a break. Water.
Lena looks at her until Kara pushes her glasses up her nose. She wants to reach out and draw her hand away from her glasses, tell her how lovely she finds her. “You’re full of secrets,” she says instead.
“People usually find me predictable.”
Lena sets down the slice of pizza she was about to take a bite out of. “When I was with Jack, we struggled with… communication. He found me unreadable. Emotionless, at times. But my family? They always treated me like an open book, like nothing I did could surprise them.” She runs a hand through her hair. “We’re many things to many people. For me, you’re…” It’s one of those times, when she wants to give Kara the keys to the kingdom, take her into her heart, but she’s afraid to come on too strong. “We’ve been friends for almost a year, and you still surprise me all the time. With your interests, your knowledge. Your worldview.”
Kara take a deep, silent breath in. It always moves Lena, how intently Kara listens to her.
“I like that I surprise you,” Kara says softly, rubbing her thighs. “That’s why I keep you to myself. Why I’ve never formally introduced you to my sister or my friends. It’s not that I don’t think you’d fit in, or because of your name.” She picks up her own slice of pizza and eats, in that slow and careful way of hers, like even food deserves gentleness. “You know, I met you around the time Alex met Maggie. I think those relationships were the first that truly felt like they were ours. Something we didn’t want to share.”
Lena watches her. She’s been wondering why she was being kept on the periphery of Kara’s inner circle. The thought that someone wants to keep her to themselves, that she’s worth being selfish over, lodges itself between her ribs, uncomfortable and present. The last rays of light make Kara’s hair glow, and Lena lowers her eyes.
She drinks some wine. “They’re different kinds of relationships, though.”
“Yeah. Alex went through a whole… romantic and sexual awakening with Maggie, but they connected in other ways, too. It brought a joy, a lightness out of her. Being your friend has brought a lot of good things out of me, too.” Kara seems to hesitate, but her gaze is steady. “I feel a little closer to the person I could have become, if I hadn’t lost my family. It’s a first, for me.”
Lena clears her throat, tries to collect her thoughts. She has another drink of wine. “Feeling irreplaceable is a first for me, so I suppose we’re even.”
“Do you remember the first thing you ever said to me, when I came to your office with Clark Kent?”
Kara was wearing a pink cardigan, that day. She was the only touch of colour in this blinding office. “I asked you who you were, I think.”
“Yes,” Kara laughs. “You did. It was… just right.”
Lena twists her fingers absently. “I tend to see people as riddles to be solved and then moved on from. It’s a cold way of interacting with others, I know.” She still doesn’t know who Kara Danvers is. Fragile, curious, quiet, strong, unsure, charming, confident, unassuming and strange, and so many more things. “I didn’t know I could love without wanting to understand. I mean, I’m always curious about you, but knowing how to make tea or porridge the way you like in the morning, all those ordinary things… It’s enough.”
Kara touches her fingertips to Lena’s sleeve. Lena picks the most appetizing pizza slice, removes the black olive on top because she knows they taste too strong for Kara, and slides it towards her. Kara accepts it with a smile, takes a bite.
“When Alex introduces Maggie to other people,” Kara says, carefully wiping her fingers on a napkin, “the intimate parts of their relationship are just theirs. But us? What’s stopping you from becoming Alex’s or Maggie’s best friend? I wanted to keep feeling like something was just mine. It’s silly, I know. Insecure. You deserve to have more friends. But that’s why I’ve just… kept you apart.”
Kara’s hand ghosts over hers, warm and hesitant. Lena takes it as gently as she can. She feels Kara’s hand relax in hers. She has very soft skin. “I’d keep you to myself, too.” If she had family and friends to keep Kara from. She smiles, playful. “You know, there is someone I could have introduced you to, but I didn’t because I knew you’d hit it off and I’m insecure, too.”
“Oh?” Kara asks as she refills their cups with her free hand. “Do tell.”
“Her name’s Sam. She’s not a friend, exactly, more like… a friendly colleague. She’s been working at L-Corp in Metropolis for a few years. She just moved to National City to take over as our new CFO. She’s great at her job. Funny, charming, a dream to work with.” Lena swirls the wine in her cup. “I was thinking of giving you the exclusive, actually, when she officially steps in next month. If that’s something you want to cover.”
“Really? That’d be great.” Kara sighs softly. “L-Corp getting a new CFO would pretty much be the biggest story I’ve covered since I got fired.”
Lena strokes Kara’s thumb, once. “You make people so comfortable during interviews. When it first occurred to me to ask you to talk to Sam about her promotion, I immediately thought, what if they get along great and become friends like you and I did, and I’m overshadowed by my more charming CFO?” She doesn’t smile, because Kara might think it’s a joke, or an attempt to make her feel better. Lena’s taken to Kara’s language, stripped her own of all the usual, unnecessary layers. “You’ve taken up a lot of space in my life.” She pushes through all the restraint and guardedness she usually operates on. “You’re not the only one feeling possessive over our friendship.”
Kara searches her face. “I have something for you. Just, hm.” She scrambles up. “I’ll be right back.”
Lena watches her pad over to the door to get her bag. She pulls out a thin package, and Lena knows it’s a painting. She just knows. Her heart starts galloping in her chest.
Kara comes back and sits close to her. “Here. My housewarming gift.”
Lena just looks at her. She wants to say her name, thank her, but nothing comes out. She nods stiffly, opens her present without tearing the wrapping paper. An abstract image. No— the sky? She’s not sure. The blues are soft, and the whites are warm. It’s a small canvas, a window hinting at something vast and peaceful.
She props the painting against the cardboard box and wraps Kara up in a hug. She loves her so much. She loves that it takes Kara a while to get comfortable with a hug, to figure out where to place her hands, and how she won’t let go until Lena does. She loves that when they go to a museum, Kara can silently contemplate a painting or a sculpture for twenty minutes. She loves watching her brush her hair before going to bed. She loves everything. She holds her close, makes sure to keep her embrace loose, not constricting. Shuts her eyes tight when Kara sags in her arms and rests her head on her shoulder.
“It’s beautiful.” It should be odd, holding someone like that, without them hugging you back. Who cares? She presses a kiss to Kara’s temple. “You’re painting again, then?”
Lena wonders what life is like for Kara, for people like her, with dyspraxia and other issues. People made for a softer, quieter world. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“I’m glad I’m doing it.” Kara’s breath warms Lena’s neck. “But sometimes, I can’t hold a pencil, or paint the way I want, and it makes me sad.”
Lena runs a gentle hand up and down her back. “It’s a different kind of helplessness, but I’ve suffered from vertigo since the day my mother drowned. I remember the sky and the clouds reflected on surface of the lake, like you could fall into it. Now, when I’m on a plane, or even just a wide, open space, the world often starts spinning. I feel faint, I sweat, I try to stay so, so still. I fall into it.”
“Why didn’t I know about that?” Kara asks, draping a shy arm around Lena’s waist.
Lena shrugs. “My mother— Lillian. She thought I should be able to get it under control. She even sent me to therapy. It didn’t work, but the shame stuck.” She turns her face, her cheek resting against Kara’s soft hair. “Besides, it’s unsettling. I’m not afraid of falling. I’m afraid of how much I want to fall. That says something about me. Something I was afraid you’d find… distasteful.”
Kara pulls away and looks at her, warm and serious. “I haven’t studied philosophy, literature, or any of the humanities, really. Just marketing.”
Lena nods along. She trusts Kara’s unusual mind, even when she has no clue what she’s getting at. For all of her own solid, classical education, she’s the one who has to keep up around Kara. It’s new and wonderful.
“I’m trying to make up for it,” Kara continues. “There’s this philosopher— Emil Cioran?” She stares at Lena questioningly. “Am I pronouncing his name right?”
“Oh, um.” Lena clears her throat. “I’ve heard it pronounced more like Tchoran.”
"Tchoran,” Kara repeats, and she seems so grateful for the correction that Lena wants to disappear. “I was reading something he wrote about vertigo. He described it as this unbearable longing to fall, to be lower than down. Is that how it feels?”
Lena takes in a long, steadying breath. It’s like a burn, Kara’s sincerity. She nods again, unmoored. “Yes, it is.” Finishes her slice of pizza. “Can I ask you something?”
Kara puts her paper cup down immediately. “Of course.”
It’s the wine, speaking. “You’re such an avid learner. I know you relate to the world through all the beautiful things you’re interested in, but…” The wine— “Do you relate to me? Not through a writer’s words, just… me.”
“Hey, what brought this on?” Kara asks with a softness that hurts as she scoots closer, frowning.
“Sorry.” Lena shakes her head, stares at the bottom of her cup. “I’ve had too much to drink. All of my insecurities are bubbling up.”
Kara glances at the bottle, more than half-full. “The first time we had wine and you got tipsy after, what, a couple of small glasses?” She smiles fondly. “I was so surprised. I’ve seen the bottles of hard liquor in your office, I was so sure you could drink anyone under the table.”
Lena rubs her eyelids. “Those bottles are for show, mostly. The truth is, my father drank too much. When he was home, working in his study, he’d always have a drink next to him. He’d get into fights with Lillian, priceless antics would get thrown against the wall. He even hit Lex a few times.” She shrugs, pours them both a little bit of wine. “So, I drink sparingly.”
“Alex has a drinking problem,” Kara says, quiet.
“Oh. Is she trying to get sober?”
Kara shakes her head, plucks an olive off a slice of pizza and sets it on Lena’s napkin. “Before she was recruited by the government, she was a mess. Flunking her medical degree, partying all night, getting arrested. The more concerned Eliza and I grew, the harder she went for it, so I’m not even sure I should bring it up.”
Lena pops the olive into her mouth. “Hm. There’s no easy way out of this.”
“I guess not. Either wait until it gets bad enough for her to want to get better, or talk to her,” Kara murmurs, gaze lost somewhere beyond the window. She smiles when Lena folds her napkin into a floppy paper crane and pushes it towards her. “Anyway. Listen. I don’t need a philosophical go-between to relate to you. It’s just that you’re my closest friend, so I see you in the books I read, the paintings I see, the movies I watch. I think about you a lot. Because I love you. Okay?”
Lena swallows inelegantly. “Okay.” For once, she’s the one folding herself into Kara’s embrace, head on her shoulder. She breathes, takes in Kara’s comforting scent. She always smells nice. Warm and clean. She never wears perfume. It must smell too strong for her.
It’s a while before Kara breaks their comfortable silence. “I had panic attacks, too, after my parents died. I couldn’t stand tight spaces. It’s better, now, but I always feel… constricted.”
Lena lifts her head to look at her. “Not always. Sometimes, you’re different, you seem… comfortable and strong.” She pretends to squeeze Kara’s bicep playfully. “You did most of the heavy lifting, today, come to think of it. You haven’t been working out without telling me, have you?”
“Maybe I have.” Kara looks at her, eyes crinkling. “Maybe I wanted to impress you, today.”
“Well, mission accomplished.”
Kara giggles. She’s adorable. “I’m just kidding. I haven’t done anything past my usual, therapeutic walks. Speaking of not doing things, when are you going to pick up piano again?”
“Oh, you’ve given me a painting, so I should play you something in return, hm? All right, that’s fair.”
“Would you? Play me something, I mean.”
“I’ve never played for a friend. Only professors, or a faceless audience at a recital. But I’d fumble my way though a half-remembered piece for you.”
“Yeah?” Kara smiles a little. “I guess you’ve watched me fumble my way through a lot of things.”
It’s true. A shattered bowl, as they tried out a new recipe. A dropped champagne flute the night they celebrated Snapper Carr’s first kind words to Kara. Trembling fingers when Kara hugs her. A cracked phone screen. A heartbreaking tentativeness all around.
“Have you ever tried playing an instrument?”
“Kind of. Alex went through a punk rock phase, about a year after I was adopted. She got a guitar for her birthday. She let me try playing it, but I was too clumsy. I broke two strings.”
Lena rubs Kara’s arm. “What about singing? I’ve heard you in the shower, when I stay over. You have a beautiful voice.” She pauses dramatically. “Had you been born a few centuries earlier? You would have been a singer in a remote medieval convent, drawing in crowds of pilgrims. Provided you didn’t get married to a handsome knight, that is.”
The delight on Kara’s face is worth every silly, mischievous little joke Lena comes up with.
“Given a choice between marrying a handsome knight and living in a monastery, studying and praying and singing all day, copying manuscripts, tending to the garden? That’s a no brainer. The monastery it is.”
Lena draws her closer. She’s never shared that kind of intimacy with someone who isn’t a romantic partner, and even then it was most Jack. This is different. “A contemplative lifestyle would agree with you.”
“You’re the only one who thinks of me that way. As the monkish type. I mean, perhaps my parents did, too. But thank you. For seeing me.”
“Thank you for letting me in.” After a last, delicate squeeze to Kara’s shoulder, Lena pulls back, drinks the last of her wine.
Kara does the same, watches her over the rim of the cup. “Don’t go back to your hotel. Come over.”
Lena smiles, touched. “I’d like that. Thank you. On one condition, though. I sleep on the couch.”
“Nope. You’re taking the bed, as usual.”
“I really can’t say no to you. You win.”
Kara nods decisively. “Great. We’ll come back here tomorrow morning, get an early start and power through. We’ll go shopping for basic necessities so you can move in as soon as the bed and the fridge have been delivered. No more impersonal hotel rooms for you.”
Lena takes Kara’s hand briefly, now that she knows it’s allowed. “I love you, too, you know that?”
“I do,” Kara grins. She gets up and dusts invisible crumbs off her thighs. “Come on. Let’s unpack a couple more boxes before we call it a night.”
And who are you, exactly? Kara runs her fingertips over her fuzzy blanket. Lena is showering a few feet and a thin wall away. Kara can hear the water hitting her skin and the porcelain enameled steel of the bathtub.
She props herself up on her elbow, reaches for the mug on the coffee table and drains the last of the jasmine tisane Lena made her earlier. The simple fragrance lingers on her tongue. Lena goes out of her way to accommodate her, to find out what she likes, what doesn’t taste too strong for her. She always warns Kara that it’s hot when she hands her a mug. It’s everything.
Who wonders about Kara Danvers? Her dreams, her paintings, her thoughts? Those who already know about her losses, her struggle to adapt to a life under earth’s sun, that’s who. Lena wonders about a nobody, and it’s nice, knowing someone can love her just like that, as the ordinary person she would have been on Krypton. Lena held her in her arms, tonight, drew her close, unknowing, and it was nice, too. To be held her with such gentleness, to feel like a fragile human being. Yes, it was nice. Devastating.
She wants to be touched like that, to be taken care of. So what if she can hardly feel it? She wants someone to think that she can, she wants to drink from that cup, from someone else’s belief that she’s of this world.
She shifts on the couch, gazes at the ceiling. Would Kara Zor-El truly have been a regular person, on Krypton? Why is she so strange? Loss doesn’t explain everything.
The sound of the bathroom door creaking open draws her back to the present.
She smiles as Lena walks over to her, sits on the floor by the couch. Her hair is wet, she smells like Kara’s homemade soap, and remnants of the perfume Kara loves so much cling to her skin.
Lena tugs the blanket over Kara’s shoulders. “Were you asleep?”
“No. Just thinking.” Kara touches Lena’s worn-soft shirt, almost traces the floppy ear of the stylized dog on the front, the curve of the space rocket behind her. “That’s my favorite sleep shirt.”
“When I saw it in your drawer, I imagined you as a kid, learning about Laika the space dog. Maybe saying a little prayer for her.”
She tries to return Lena’s smile. “To think she’s still up there, in orbit, in her pod. What was it like, you know? To be lost in space and suffocate there, far from everything she knew and loved. What went through her mind? What could she understand?”
Lena brushes the hair off Kara’s face and Kara’s heart seizes. Her aunt used to do that. She closes her eyes, wishes she remembered that delicate tug, the warmth radiating from a palm close to her face.
“Do you believe in heaven?” Lena asks softly.
Kara lets out a weak chuckle, watches colors swirl behind her closed eyelids.. “For dogs? Oh, yes. For people… I hope so. For every person who’s ever had a kind thought, who’s ever suffered. Even it was just once.”
“So… everyone, then?”
Kara opens her eyes and finds Lena looking at her with so much tenderness she almost closes them again. Lena folds her arms on the couch and rests her head there. She always does this. Always makes an effort to catch Kara’s gaze. It’s the sweetest thing.
“Damn it.” There’s a mischievous glint in Lena’s eyes. “Does that mean I have to spend my afterlife with my family?”
Kara snorts, turns so they’re facing each other. “I’ll be there to distract you. I bet heaven has all the best restaurants. We’ll have to try them all out. Dinner date every day.”
Lena hums. “Now that sounds like heaven.”
Kara sees her own joy reflected in Lena’s eyes, bright and loving. She chances a hesitant touch to Lena’s wrist. “Speaking of dinner dates… are you free, next Friday night?”
“Sure.” Lena covers Kara’s hand with her own. Every time Kara tries something physical, Lena seems to sense her awkwardness, her unease, and compensates for it, takes the lead. "I won’t be able to leave work before… eight, at the earliest, though. What are we doing?”
Kara runs her thumb over Lena’s wrist, so focused on keeping it feather-light and harmless that her thoughts get jumbled. “Um. Alex and Maggie are coming over for dinner. Be my plus one?”
“Okay,” Kara parrots. She licks her lips. “I don’t want to keep our friendship separate anymore.”
“Are you sure? I’ve only crossed paths with Alex a handful of times, and the only time I met Maggie? Well.”
Kara shifts closer to the edge of the couch. “What happened, that night?”
“Oh, it was all very sordid,” Lena sighs as she strokes the back of Kara’s hand. “We got into the car. Maggie put her hand over my head, the way they do in the movies. Once we got to the facility, they searched me. I had to take my clothes off.” She huffs out a mirthless chuckle. “Maggie stuck around for a bit. It made me feel safer. She’s very professional.”
Kara nods. “Would being around her bring back bad memories?”
“No, no. I’m just nervous. Two law enforcement agents, one who arrested me, the other a very protective older sister… What if I don’t make the cut, you know? It’s silly, but I face so much hostility at work, I don’t think I could bear it in my private life, too. Besides, I’ve never really been one for group hangouts.”
Kara moves so her cheek touches the back of Lena’s hand. “We can have our own girls night, if you’re not up for it. Our own Christmas, soon. Our own everything. But… for the record? You don’t need to make the cut. Alex is protective, sometimes too much, but she can tell having you in my life makes me happier. And Maggie? She takes her job so seriously, but once you get to know her, she’s warm and charming. You have nothing to worry about. I promise.”
Lena cups Kara’s cheek. “You know what? I want to believe you. I’m in. I’ll be your plus one.”
Kara sighs, buries her face into her pillow. “You’ll dazzle them with your cooking.”
Lena lets out a theatrical gasp. “I have to cook, too? That wasn’t part of the plan.”
“It was part of my plan.”
The way Lena engages with her, makes her laugh, blunts her sharp wit into harmlessness for her sake, it can’t be random. It has to be a blessing.
“Let’s invite your friend, too,” Kara offers. “Sam. She’s new to the city, she probably doesn’t know a lot of people yet, right?”
“She’s not really my friend.”
“Could she be? You’ve been getting along professionally for years. The way you talk about her… she sounds great.”
“She is. I’m just bad at making room for other people in my life. I could blame it on my upbringing, on a fear of rejection, but honestly? I enjoy solitude more than most people’s company. Even with Jack, it was a problem. He found me… emotionally unavailable. He was right.”
Kara leans into Lena’s palm. “A lot of people assume I’m an extrovert because I’m friendly. But I need a lot of time to myself. Time to think, to create, to rest.” She’s had so little of it since becoming Supergirl. “Even Alex can be a lot, sometimes. But you’re always so calm. I can be around you for hours and hours and it’s not exhausting at all.” She smiles. “But, as much as I’d love to keep you all to myself, I want you to meet Alex and Maggie properly. And to be comfortable, so… would bringing a friendly acquaintance to our girls night even the playing field, make you feel less outnumbered?”
Lena nods slowly. “Maybe. Besides, she could use a night off in with nice people. She’s a single mother who works a lot. I get the impression she doesn’t have much of a social life.”
“She has kids?”
“A daughter, Ruby. About twelve years old. Last week, we both stayed late at work, and I found Ruby asleep on the couch in Sam’s office. There was homework all over the floor. Her babysitter couldn’t make it that night.” Kara hears the smile in Lena’s voice. “Sam was beating herself up over it. She doesn’t know what a wonderful mom she is.”
“I hope you put things into perspective for her.”
Lena chuckles. “I did. I’m the expert when it comes to horrible mothers, after all.”
Kara thinks about the day Lena gave her a tour of L-Corp, showed her around the daycare floor. A little toddler tripped right in front of them while playing, hurt her knee. She remembers the way Lena picked her up, so very gently. The kid buried her face in the crook of Lena’s head, her little hand clasping her necklace. Kara wishes she had a picture of it.
“Do you want children?”
“Oh…” Lena murmurs, absently tugging the blanket a little higher up Kara’s shoulders. “I do love them. Their brilliant little minds, their openness. I think I’d do all right, you know? Taking care of a child.” She’s silent for a while. “But would I be painting a target on their back, given who I am and the kind of danger I’m regularly in, the interest my mother and my brother would inevitably take in them?” She shakes her head.
“I’m sorry. It’s unfair.” Kara brushes the most careful hand to Lena’s elbow. “You’d be such a good mom. Your kids would be so happy. So loved.” She lets out a shallow laugh. “I’d love them, too.”
Lena tucks herself closer to the couch. “You’re the only one I would trust with a child of mine.” She rubs a hand up and down Kara’s arm, over the blanket. It must feel light, warm. “What about you? Do you want children?”
Kara smiles faintly. She remembers those lazy afternoons, on Krypton, babysitting Kal. His soft baby hair against her cheek, his weight in her arms, his toothless smile when she made him laugh with silly antics. She can never get pregnant, on this planet. Can’t adopt a baby, because she’d never be able to hold them safely, or kiss them, rock them to sleep. She wants to cry.
“I don’t think I’ll have kids.”
Lena searches her face. “Can I ask why?”
”There are too many basic things I struggle with, I don’t trust myself with a baby. Besides, I’d want a partner to raise and love that child with me.”
“You would? So, if you met someone who…” Lena pauses, seems to search for the right words. “Who loves you so much that they’d support you through whatever difficulties you think you might have raising a child, would you want that?”
Kara imagines having a human partner, a human child, imagines watching them age, wilt, suffer and die, while she remains. Imagines someone holding their baby as she watches, unable to touch that little human, lest she break their bones. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” She frowns, heartbroken. “Whatever good work I put out into the world, that’ll be it. What I leave behind.”
Lena looks at her with a foreign, questioning kind of intensity. “And you’re putting out a lot of good into this world. Into my life, the lives of others. But you don’t know what good will come to you. I know it feels safer to assume there won’t be any, but…” Her smile is so soft. “If meeting you has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t know what the world has in store for you.”
Kara isn’t used to being challenged. Alex sidesteps those questions, because she knows. She knows Kara will live as long as the sun shines, she knows the extraordinary things Kara can do, and the human things she can’t. But Lena pushes back, until Kara finds a deeper kind of truth to offer her. Would she still do that, would she still be her Lena, if she knew who— what Kara was? Or would she demure, stop asking the right questions, stop touching her so gently because what’s the point, right, if she can’t feel it? Her stomach tightens just thinking of all she could lose if she told Lena.
And yet, Lena’s words sink in. Familiar, somehow. Calming. It reminds her of Krypton, that innate trust and belief in something more. She blinks slowly, focuses on Lena instead of the ceiling. She’s so thankful Jeremiah made her those glasses. They protect her, even now, from accidentally seeing through people. A mess of veins and bones and organs, instead of her loved ones. She can safely look at Lena’s beautiful face, her clear eyes.
“You’re right,” she whispers. “Thank you for reminding me.”
“I may have had a wonderful teacher.” Lena touches her shoulder, barely squeezing. “A teacher who should get some sleep.” She smiles. “You carried a lot of boxes today. My hero.”
A sadness overtakes Kara, but a genuine smile finds its way to her lips, anyway. “Anytime.”
They look at each other for a silent moment, the air between them brimming with affection and ease.
“All right,” Lena says as she stands up, before leaning in to tuck Kara in further. “Need anything before I turn in? A bottle of water for the night, a book?” A beat. “Your headphones?”
Kara breathes slowly. She has a friend who’s so comfortable here, in Kara’s private space, her little home, that she knows where everything is, and how Kara’s old oven works, and that she keeps mineral water in the pantry because tap water tastes like chemicals. A friend who knows she needs her noise-cancelling headphones to rest, sometimes. A friend who takes all that in about her and makes her feel normal, and respects her, and Kara feels dizzy.
She shakes her head into the pillow she’s brought over to the couch. “I’m good. Thank you.”
“Okay. Sweet dreams, hero.”
And with one last touch to Kara’s arm over the blanket, she turns away and starts towards the bedroom area.
“Hey,” Kara calls. Lena turns around, all softness. “It might sound weird, but thank you for— for pampering me. You make me feel really cared for. I love that you warn me about how hot the tea is every time you hand me a cup. And you’re always so gentle with me.” Her heart is beating so, so hard. “I didn’t know I wanted that before you came into my life.”
To be fussed over, like she’s as fragile as she feels. To be reminded that once, long ago and beyond countless stars, she was human.
Lena seems to hesitate, but then she’s walking back towards the couch. She crouches by it and wraps an arm around Kara, presses a small, lingering kiss to her forehead. Kara exhales, it comes out shaky, and she reaches a tentative arm up, wraps it around Lena’s waist without pulling her, just enough to feel the soft, faded cotton of her shirt along her palm. Lena hugs her closer in return.
“Can I tell you something a little strange, too?”
Kara nods. Up close, Lena’s scent surrounds her. Her slightly damp hair brushes along Kara’s collarbone.
“You’re the only person I’ve ever wanted to be that affectionate with. I mean, I was close to Jack, but only after we started dating. The years before that, I’d ruffle his hair or give him a back rub after a long day in the lab, but I didn’t want more.” Lena pulls back a little to look at her. She’s frowning. “There’s something about you that moves me. I know you can handle anything life throws at you better than most, you’re resilient and strong, but… I always want to make sure you’re all right. Comfortable.” A beat. “Dotted on.”
Silence settles between them. Kara wants to curl up and burry her face into her pillow. Instead, she watches Lena look up at the ceiling, feels her chest rise and fall quickly against hers.
“You struggle,” Lena says quietly. “When we’re out and about, and you can’t hear what I’m saying because it’s noisy. When you drop a plate. When you eat something that tastes fine to me but way too strong for you. I know it’s hard for you to paint. To write. I’ve noticed you’d stopped using your notepad for work.” She takes a long, wavering breath, doesn’t look Kara in the eye. “I thought I knew what being alienated from the world felt like. I’m too smart, you know? It hurts. Nothing fits my mind, it’s banging against invisible walls, never giving me a moment’s peace. But you?” She looks at Kara, finally. “You experience that in such a tangible way. The… the dyspraxia, the sensory difficulties. I just want the world to adapt to you, for once, instead of the other way around. I want to bring you gentleness, comfort.” She smiles, a fragile kind of smile. “That’s why.”
Dyspraxia, and a host of sensory issues? Lena has it all wrong, and yet, she couldn’t be more right. Kara couldn’t feel more naked than she does now. It’s not the self-conscious, icy feeling that claws at her when she breaks a glass in front of Alex, or when Kara doesn’t hug her back because it’s one of those days when she doesn’t trust herself and her horrible strength. She feels humiliated, then, pitied, even though Alex does a great job of brushing it off, of pretending this doesn’t remind her that Kara can never have a normal life, hug a puppy or safely touch a human. It’s a tragedy they don’t talk about, because Earth’s sun will mercilessly shine on Kara, either way.
So what if Lena translates her issues into real, human ones, shared by millions of people? So what if, to Lena, Kara’s problems are understandable, something that can be accommodated, instead of a heartbreaking, cosmic joke? It feels closer to the way Kara sees herself. Like a person struggling with certain things, not an alien turned into a cursed, godlike figure.
“You make me feel normal.” she murmurs. The thought crosses her mind, harmless and heartwarming, that she’s never been in such a prolonged, intimate embrace with anyone, as loose as it is. She tries to smile. Their noses are almost touching.
“Oh, Isn’t that the dream? To be normal.” Lena actually brushes the tip of her nose to Kara’s, playful and sweet. Kara can’t fathom it. That someone she hasn’t grown up with, who doesn’t know her secret, and isn’t angling for anything more than friendship, could want her like this. “You make me feel normal, too,” Lena says softly. Kara shuts her eyes tight. “Hey. Look at me.” Kara does. “You like chocolate pecan pie and romcoms, you love your sister, you’re stressed out about your job. You’re normal, sweetheart. You’re ordinary. Don’t worry.”
“See? You understand,” Kara sighs drowsily. “Come on, go get some rest. We have to get up early.”
“In a minute.” Lena slips her other arm under her head, drawing her close. Kara feels more cradled than hugged. “Thank you for helping me build a home, here.”
Kara exhales, slow and controlled, lest her breath be strong enough to bruise Lena’s delicate neck. It’s difficult to gauge how closely she can hug Lena, or how much she should lift herself up not to crush her arm. It makes her anxious, so she disentangles herself gently, lies back down. “You’re going to get so many plants, and you’ll be amazing at taking care of them.”
“How do you know?” Lena asks, taking her hand.
And Kara loves her for it, for trading a dangerous touch for a harmless one, for maintaining contact and not minding the way Kara’s fingers sit limply between hers.
“I think the physical world is a comfort to you. Because your mind is loud and frantic, and you feel trapped in it, sometimes. So, you love things. Tinkering with materials and ingredients, in the lab, in the kitchen. You love how real they feel.”
Lena presses the back of Kara’s hand to her forehead. “You see me, too.”
It’s an innocent, loving gesture, and it fills Kara up with such want, such a desire for closeness, for contact, that it hurts. She’d rather not know what she’s missing.
She lets out a brief chuckle, rubs her ear to shake off the loud sounds coming from a television on the second floor of the building. “The first time you came over? You touched one of my paintings, and my books. I could tell, then. That the texture of things mattered to you.” She hesitates. But Lena’s never misinterpreted her clumsy words before. “You’re a very sensual, nurturing person, you enjoy the… physicality of everything. Your place is going to reflect all of that, I know it. It’s going to be so homey. I’m going to love it. I know that.”
Lena looks down at her thoughtfully, cheek smushed against the back of Kara’s hand.
“What am I going to do with you?” she whispers. “My calm, gentle, observant Kara."
Who else would describe Kara that way? Her aunt, maybe. Her parents. How strange, that the one person who brings out her most Kryptonian traits, should be the one that also makes her feel the most human. She laps it up, all that care, all that love for the person she sees herself as, not the person she is. Sometimes, she doesn’t even feel like a person. Just a bull in a china shop. She smiles faintly, takes in the sight of her peculiar friend, whose genius mind alienates her in ways Kara understands. And Lena looks so lovely without makeup, her hair free, and a tiredness about her.
“Will you make me breakfast, tomorrow? Your Irish porridge.”
Lena made it for her, one Sunday morning. It’s bland by most people’s standards, but I like it. I think you’ll like it, too. And Kara did. It was soothing to her sensitive tongue buds. Thoughtful Lena.
“Absolutely. I’ll go to the store first thing in the morning.”
Kara shakes her head. “No, I’ve got everything here. The oats, the honey, the milk. Whole milk, too. The brand you like.”
Lena brushes a swift, fervent kiss to Kara’s knuckles before releasing her. “Okay.” She gets to her feet a little stiffly, a day of carrying boxes around probably catching up to her, smiles down at Kara as she stretches lazily, gaze steady, like she doesn’t mind letting Kara know how much she loves her. “I can’t wait to stock my new fridge with what you like.”
Kara’s gaze drifts over to her bookshelves. He began to dream of the long yellow beach and he saw the first of the lions come down onto it in the early dark and then the other lions came and he rested his chin on the wood of the bows where the ship lay anchored with the evening off-shore breeze and he waited to see if there would be more lions and he was happy. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was the first human novel she ever read, for her English class. It had been a balm on her raw heart, whispering to her that this world, too, could be tangible and beautiful.
“Will you come, Friday night?”
Lena sticks her hands inside the pockets of the shorts she’s borrowed. Kara’s eyes trace the little bruises on her shins, from bumping into boxes and furniture, from being so pale even a breath could mark her skin. Her eyes wander over to the soft curves of Lena’s body, the swell of her tummy, the little scar near her eyebrow and the tired shadows under her eyes.
“I’ll be here. And you’re right, I’ll ask Sam if she wants to come, too.”
“Great. You know, it’s the first time Alex is with someone she actually loves. She’s happy. She’s always hugging Maggie close, when they sit on the couch. Kisses her cheek. I love seeing her that way, but… it makes me feel like a third wheel, sometimes. So, it’ll be nice to outnumber the happy couple, for once.”
Lena sits on the coffee table. They always need more than one goodbye, Kara thinks.
“We’ve been friend for a year,” Lena muses. “But we’ve never really talked about romance, exes, the relationships we’ve had.”
Kara shrugs. “There’s not much to talk about on my end.”
“Not much on mine, either.” Lena pouts. “Do you wish you had a partner? Is that why you feel like a third wheel around Maggie and Alex?
“Oh, not really,” Kara sighs gently. She rubs her cheek to her pillow. It scratches against her skin, and it settles her a little. “It’s just how easy it looks for them, that casual intimacy, physical contact. It’s a language I don’t speak very well, and I guess I feel left out.”
Lena props her elbow on her knees, cups her chin on her palm, unreadable and warm. “I know it won’t make things easier, but for the record? You give the best hugs.”
Alex told her that, once. She was back from college for the summer. Kara was still in high school. She knew Alex wasn’t joking, that she’d never be so cruel as to make fun of that. Alex had said that Kara’s hugs were so tight, it made everyone feel cared for. Kara thanked her, pretended to go for a walk, and cried for an hour on the beach, wishing she’d never made it out of Krypton, never became this anomaly that hugs people tight because she can’t help it, because everything is wrong and brittle and breaks.
“Do you remember, when I first I came over and I told you I loved the way you handled everything with so much care, like it was all precious?”
Kara nods, fist clenched under the blanket to contain the wave of emotion she feels building up.
“Well, there you go,” Lena says simply. “I know it’s hard for you. Handling things, touching people. But you put so much heart into it, more than anyone I’ve ever met. You love people the way you hug them, you know? Like you’re holding something worth being careful for. It means so much to me.” She brushes Kara’s hair from her face, gets to her feet, touches a finger to Kara’s glasses. “You fell asleep with these on, last time. May I?”
Blood rushes past Kara’s eardrums. It’s violent, the fear that slams into her. She nods, her breath shallow, and Lena slips the glasses off her face and Kara almost shuts her eyes tight, almost pulls the blanket over her face, anything to prevent Lena from seeing someone other than her best friend.
She doesn’t. Lena slips her glasses off her face and Kara sees colors humans have no name for, colors her lead-lined glasses were hiding from her. What names would Lena’s beautiful mind come up with, if she could see them?
Lena rubs the lenses clean with the hem of her shirt, folds the glasses neatly and sets them down on the coffee table. “Do you mind if I stay up a bit?”
Kara shakes her head, in a daze. “No, of course not. Are you okay?”
Lena runs a hand through her hair. “Do you ever feel like your body’s tired, but your mind can’t settle down?”
“It’s the opposite, for me. My mind is tired, but my body won’t power down.” It can’t. Kara tries to picture her cells sucking in solar radiation and neutrinos day and night. Whatever. She focuses on the space dog printed on Lena’s sleep shirt, looking to the stars with wide-eyed wonder.
“Really? What’s that like?
Lena’s gentle curiosity pulls her out of her reverie. She blinks up at her. “It’s just hard to tune out the noise. Tune out how the sheets feel. I want to drift off, but I can’t. It’s okay, though. It’s been that way for a long time, I have workarounds.” When Lena only nods, Kara clears her throat. “For example, mentally going through every body part, consciously relax each of them. I’ve been doing this intuitively since I was a teenager, I only figured out much later that it was actually this whole yoga technique. Or sometimes, I visit places I love in my head. Go through every room, visualize them. It helps. You know,” she muses, frowning, “now that I’m saying it out loud, it doesn’t sound too different from your mind games, when things get too hectic in there,” she taps her own temple, “and you count things or recite poems.”
The thought of it consoles her a little, makes her smile as she pictures a young Lena coming up with little tricks to make the world a bit more tangible, same as Kara.
“Birds of a feather,” Lena murmurs fondly. She narrows her eyes. “So what kind of sheets should I get you, once my new couch gets delivered and I coerce you into sleeping over more than you should?”
Kara chuckles. “I’m a willing victim. But, uh… either really cheap thrift store ones that have been worn so, so soft, or the scratchy kind. Like linen, hemp? No silk, please.” She shudders theatrically. “It feels terrible.”
“Oh?” Lena teases. “And how often have you slept in silk sheets?”
“I had an affair with a celebrity.”
Lena blinks. “I see.”
Kara snorts into her pillow. “I was joking. Sorry.” She rubs her nose. “When I was adopted, I couldn’t sleep because the sheets made my skin crawl. So Eliza had me try a bunch of different ones, including silk ones, until we found something that worked.”
“Pragmatic. I’m not surprised she’s a scientist. She sounds like a wonderful problem solver.”
“It really was that way. My problems always seemed less important to her than whatever solution she could find. It was the kind of support I needed, I think.” Kara inhales deeply, brow furrowed in thought. “Hey… um, she isn’t coming over for Christmas, this year. She’s got some kind of symposium she wants to attend across the country. But maybe I could take you to Midvale for a weekend? You could meet her. Nerd out with her over some obscure research paper.”
“You want me to meet your mother? Sorry, adoptive mother,” Lena backtracks quickly, wincing. A long pause. “Do you call her mom? Obviously, don’t answer if that’s—”
“I call her Eliza,” Kara interrupts gently. “What do you call Lillian?”
“Mother, for the most part. Lillian, when I’m mad at her. If I called her mom, I’d have to deal with the fact she doesn’t love me, you know? If she’s just mother, it doesn’t feel as personal.”
Kara runs a finger along the seam of her pillow, feels the rough fibers. “I called my parents mother and father, too. It didn’t feel distant, though, it’s just how I was raised.”
Lena wets her lips. “I know it’s deeply personal, and it’s all right if it’s something you’d rather keep to yourself, but I’ve been wondering…” She picks up Kara’s empty mug. “ Were you born in the US?”
Kara shifts on the couch, lies on her back. “You’re the first person who’s ever asked me that.” There’s a stray dog in a couple streets over, digging through a trash can. If Kara were alone, she’d suit up, go find it, and if the dog wasn’t scared of her? She’d scoop it up carefully, bring it home, feed it, and bring it to a shelter in the morning. “And, no. I wasn’t.” She swallows thickly.
Lena nods tentatively, cradling the mug. “Europe?”
The panic Kara expects to bloom in her chest, her throat, her stomach, doesn’t come. She stares at the ceiling, tries not to see the layers of material and, beyond, the sky. “I’ve been to a lot of places.” The memories of all the people she’s helped wash over her. “Afghanistan, Sweden, Palestine, France, Iran… The call to prayer from the muezzin is the most beautiful sound. I visited the Pink Mosque, in Shiraz. It has these stained glass windows that create a magical kaleidoscope when the sun rises.” She lets out a shaky breath. “I feel like I could be from anywhere.”
“A citizen of the world, then. It suits you,” Lena says, eyes soft. She heads over to the kitchen, runs the water and washes Kara’s mug. “Do you want some more tea? I’m going to make myself a cup.”
“No, thank you.” Kara watches her back as she sets the mug on the rack, fills the kettle. “You can borrow my computer and my headphones, if you want to watch something on Netflix.”
Lena smiles at her over hers shoulder. “I think I’m just going to read for a little bit. Pick something out for me?”
“One of my books, you mean?”
Lena turns the stove on, hums. “Something enchanting to fall asleep to.”
Kara puts her glasses back on, pushes the blanket off and heads over to her bookshelves. Her fingertips hover along the spines of her books, uncertain. What would Lena love? What kind of story would lull her into a peaceful sleep? The gentle sound of water being poured caresses Kara’s ears, the scent of jasmine tea wafts over to her.
She is a rose, a jasmine flower, from head to foot, and her face is as radiant as Canopus shining over the Yemen.
Yes, this will do. Ancient stories of love, kings, devotion and the fragrant gardens of Persia. She pulls out the Shahnameh, pads over to the bedroom area and leaves the thick tome on the bedside table. She lights the little scented candle that she made herself, the one she lights every night for a few minutes to reflect upon the day’s events before going to sleep.
She turns around and almost bumps into Lena on her way back to the living room. She reaches out to steady the mug Lena is carrying. It’s the Eeyore one. Kara smiles, takes her in.
“What?” Lena asks, smiling right back.
Kara shrugs. “It’s nice. You, here.”
Lena’s eyes shine bright and unsure in the dim light. “Making myself at home, you mean?”
“I’ve never lived with anyone, other than my parents, and Alex, Eliza. I’ve never shared my place for more than a game night or a dinner with friends. I need to be alone, a lot. It stresses me out when people… invade my space, I guess.” Kara rubs her forearm. “ I never feel like you invade my space. I love having you over. I love that you know where everything is, that you’re going to bed with a mug of tea and a good book. So, yeah.” She nods, once. “It’s nice. You, here.”
Lena steps into Kara’s personal’s space, keeps her steaming mug out of the way and draws her into a one-armed hug. She doesn’t say anything.
It’s a strange feeling, Kara thinks, when someone wants just what you’re offering. Not more, or less. She hugs Lena back hesitantly, rests her palms on on back, hovering just close enough to feel the fabric of her shirt. Without thick coats or sweaters in the way, she’s moved by the softness of Lena’s body against hers. She often hugs Alex, but Alex is thin, solid, all wiry muscles and decisive gestures. Lena’s different, new. If bodies were landscapes, Kara believes Lena’s would be made of forgiving hills and inviting valleys.
They stay like that for a long time.
In the end, Lena pulls back, looks at her with naked affection. “The best hugs.”
Kara lowers her eyes, but Lena ducks her head a little to catch her gaze again, and Kara can only smile. She doesn’t know what to say. Lena just smiles back, pushes Kara’s glasses up her nose. With a satisfied nod, she goes to set her mug of tea on the nightstand, picks up the book Kara left there with interest.
Kara watches her read a page from the introduction, hair falling over her shoulder, the glow of the candle behind her. A painter’s dream.
“The first time I came over, and I looked at your books… it was like a little glimpse into your inner world.” Lena shakes her head, pensive. “Especially because the first place you ever took me t”eo turned out to be a book café.”
Kara rubs her forearm again. “When I got there, the first time we hung out, and I saw you’d picked a book to read while you waited? I was curious. It was a glimpse into your inner world. And I feel that way every time you send me whatever poem we’re learning, this or that particular week.”
Lena nods, looking down at the book. She gently sets it back on the nightstand. “That’s the secret ingredient to our friendship, huh?”
“Our own little bookclub?” Kara chuckles. “Speaking of which, you haven’t sent me this week’s poem, and it’s Saturday already.”
Lena climbs into bed. “Sorry. Between work and moving places, I’m lagging behind. Still learning last week’s poem. But I’ll find us something nice and short to keep our streak going.”
Kara touches her glasses. “Actually, could I pick this week’s poem?”
Lea perks up. “Oh, I’d love that! Actually, why don’t we make it a thing? Taking turns picking our weekly poem.”
“Yeah?” Kara feels a little intimidated. “I’m not really… I mean, I do read poetry, but I haven’t studied the classics, and you’re—” She stops her babbling. It’s Lena. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
They look at each other for a bit, and Kara knows that look, it’s the one Lena gets when she’s thinking at light speed. “When you say you haven’t studied the classics when it comes to poetry… is that something you’d be interested in?”
“Oh, for sure.” Kara resists the urge to sit on the bed. They’d end up talking all night. “I just feel a little lost without that framework. You know, literary history, and the tools you need to really analyze a poem critically, beyond your emotional reaction to it.”
Lena hums. “If that’s okay with you, we could go over the poems we pick together? You’re going to love learning all about iambic pentameters.”
Kara rubs her socked food against the hardwood floor, tries not to dig into it. “I would, actually.”
“I know,” Lena says, looking perplexed.
“Oh, sorry. I thought you were being sarcastic.”
Lena shakes her head with a lovely smile. “I’m afraid you’ve stripped me of my biting wit.” She pauses to take a drink of tea. “I’m even softer in the boardroom, now, and I don’t mind one bit.”
“No,” Lena says, absently cradling the mug, until she seems to find it too hot still and puts it back on the nightstand. She rubs her palms together, in that elegant way she does when she puts on hand cream. “I suppose I’ve always used it as armor, a defense mechanism. With my family, with obnoxious men who thought I had no business running a company…” She smiles, bashful. “But I never feel the need to protect myseIf, around you, and I think that’s rubbed off on other aspects of my life. I don’t feel so threatened all the time, anymore.”
Kara nods slowly. “Last year, when you told me you didn’t know who you would be when you start feelings things again. Well, it turns out I quite like that person.”
Lena breaks eye contact, looks down at her hands, and Kara sees her take a deep, filling breath, before releasing it in one big, cleansing exhale. “So do I.” She looks back up at Kara, and she’s not quite smiling, but she looks… so peaceful. “So do I.”
“Good.” Kara commits the sight of Lena in her bed, with her book, her mug of tea, her candle and her shirt, to memory. “Sleep well.”
“You, too. Oh, and don’t set an alarm. I’ll wake you up.”
Kara nods with a smile and turns away, draws the curtain separating the bedroom area from the living room. She crouches to pull out a thin book from the bottom shelf, finds the page she’s looking for. It’s dark, the only light source coming from Lena’s part of the loft, so she turns on the flashlight at the back of her phone before she takes a picture of the page. She texts it to Lena after writing her a quick message.
She snuggles under the blanket on the couch, puts her phone away and rolls onto her back, stares at the ceiling through her glasses. It’s safer, that way. No more risk of accidentally seeing through the roof, seeing bugs crawl all over the piping, the rust, the dirt, the bacteria. Alex, Eliza… they think she has it all under control, by now. But that’s not how it works. There’s no once and for all.
She takes a deep, conscious breath, releases it slowly. Hears Lena turn a page.
That’s what matters. Lovely little things. And tomorrow, she’ll wake up before Lena, or she’ll hear her get up, but she won’t move, or open her eyes, and Lena will come and so very gently stir her awake, and ask her if she’s had nice dreams.
Kara feels herself starting to drift off, so she takes her glasses off, closes her eyes.
When Lena wakes her in the morning, Kara will get up, fetch a soft hoodie and thick socks from her closet, make sure Lena is comfortable on this chilly morning. Lena will make her porridge for breakfast, the way she likes it, tasty but not too tasty. It will all be normal. Safe.
Hears Lena take a sip of tea.
Jasmine flowers. Light, refracted through the stained glass windows of the Pink Mosque. Through her bedroom windows, back on Krypton.
Lions on the beach.
There has to be more.
Lena’s eyelids grow heavier and heavier. She looks around, but there’s nothing that can serve as a makeshift bookmark. She’ll just have to remember what king she was reading about, what divine garden and heavenly perfume.
Every time Kara recommends a book, a movie, a song, it seems designed to quiet her frenzied mind.
She turns off the bedside lamp, leaves the lovely little candle Kara lit for her to shine through the night. She picks up her phone to set an alarm, scrolls through the notifications that have accumulated throughout the evening. She almost always puts her phone on silent when she spends time with Kara.
Kara, who sent her a text half an hour ago. Lena smiles, opens it.
Kara [11:07 PM] Next week’s poem, by Arseny Tarkovsky.
There’s a picture, below. A page from a book. Lena wets her lips, zooms in.
Now summer is gone
And might never have been.
In the sunshine it’s warm,
But there has to be more.
It all came to pass,
All fell into my hands
Like a five-petalled leaf,
But there has to be more.
Nothing evil was lost,
Nothing good was in vain,
All ablaze with clear light
But there has to be more.
Life gathered me up
Safe under its wing,
My luck always held,
But there has to be more.
Not a leaf was burned up
Not a twig ever snapped
Clean as glass is the day
But there has to be more.
She closes her eyes, lets herself fall back against her pillow, phone clutched to her chest. She wishes she could see the world through Kara’s eyes, understand it through her beautiful mind, and experience her belief that in every creature, there has to be more. There has to be something sacred.
Each and every one of your comments makes my day. You’ve all been unfailingly kind and supportive despite the long wait.
This chapter is my spin on the early season 3 girls night (episode 304). It’s going to give us the opportunity to see Kara and Lena through other people’s eyes, so we’ll be switching points of view fairly often (but don’t worry, we’re still getting some quality emotional intimacy between our girls), and lay the groundwork for the next couple of chapters. Happy reading :)
(I'm on tumblr at Laetare-9 if you want to chat or just enjoy lovely art and photography)
Kara probably heard her the second she set foot inside the building. How does Alex deal with having a sister who hears so much, sees so much?
Maggie stares at the door. Her stomach tightens. An evening with Kara, her billionaire best friend whose first and last interaction with Maggie involved a trip to county jail, and a total stranger. Great.
Hopefully, Alex’s already here. Maggie’s never been alone with Kara. They haven’t even talked all that much.
As a detective, she likes to think she knows how to read people. Besides, she usually feels more comfortable around aliens. But Kara eludes her. She’s so many things, to so many people. A journalist, a superpowered alien, a vigilante, a beloved sister… And Maggie’s, what? A cop who gets in Supergirl’s way, someone Kara tolerates because she’s Alex’s fiancée?
She scuffs the tip of her boot against the floor, knocks on Kara’s door. It’s unfair. Kara’s been nothing but nice. Not friendly, exactly, but… nice. Maggie’s insecurities are flaring up, that’s all.
The door opens a moment later. Kara’s wearing an apron, she’s smiling. Was she expecting Alex? Lena?
“Hi.” Maggie feels awkward. “Sorry I’m late, I got held up at the station.”
“Don’t worry about it. Come on in.”
Maggie steps in and a quick, embracing glance tells her they’re alone in the apartment. Wonderful. She shrugs off her leather jacket, wishes she could keep it on.
Kara holds out a hand. “Here, let me take this.”
When was the last time someone offered to take her jacket or coat for her? Ah, right. That awful night when Alex insisted they make friends with Maggie’s ex, invited her to that nice restaurant, and she didn’t show up. What a fiasco. But the waiter who took her jacket seemed kind, at least.
Kara takes it, but makes no move to hang it. God, she’s so strange.
Kara seems to pick up on her discomfort. “Sorry. Alex always gets the door when you get here, I’ve just realized this is the first time I welcome you here myself. It’s nice.”
It’s… sweet. Maggie doesn’t know what to say, nods to the jacket. “I had no idea you were that gallant.”
It comes out wrong, like she’s making fun of Kara’s gesture. But Kara just smiles, hangs the jacket like it’s a precious fur coat. Maggie notices the pair of expensive-looking high heels on the shoe rack. Not Kara’s style.
Kara follows her gaze. “Lena’s here. She’s showering.” Maggie’s confusion must be written all over her face, because Kara fidgets with her glasses. “She rescheduled a couple of work things so she could get here early and help me cook. We’re having a crêpe party.”
Okay. What? Maggie wishes Alex were here to help her make sense of Kara’s… idiosyncrasies.
“Great.” She hopes she doesn’t sound too weirded out. Lena’s shoes. Kara’s socked feet. “Um. Should I take my shoes off, too?”
“Oh, I’d appreciate it. Thank you.”
Holy shit, you could cut the awkwardness between them with a knife. Maggie bites her tongue, crouches to take her boots off and places them by Lena’s heels. She’s been here a few times with Alex, and they never took their shoes off. Kara never asked. But then, they never offered, either.
“Alex is on her way from work, and Sam— Lena’s coworker, she should be here soon, too.” Kara gestures towards the open kitchen. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Sure.” Maggie follows her. It’s different, having Kara’s full attention without anyone else around. She seems so harmless. “I would have brought a bottle of wine, or something, but Alex said she had it covered.”
“Really? But I told her— nevermind.” Kara shakes her head, peers into the fridge. “So, I’ve got lemonade, cold green tea, tomato juice… Oh, and beer from the last time you and Alex came over.”
Maggie remembers that night. Alex had brought a couple of six-packs, and Kara had nursed half a beer all evening. No wonder, if sodas and vegetable juices are what she actually likes. Maggie wants a beer. Does Kara prefer alcohol-free drinks? Alex hasn’t said anything about it.
“Tomato juice sounds great.”
Kara takes a bottle out of the fridge. It’s a brand Maggie doesn’t recognize. Kara fetches a glass from a cupboard, flexes her fingers, opens the bottle with a small wince. Maggie sees her relax as she pours her a glass. What is life like for someone who could crush a diamond between their fingers?
Kara tentatively pushes the glass towards Maggie.
Maggie takes a polite sip. “It’s good.” Another sip. “Really good.”
“Yeah?” Kara fiddles with the hem of her sweater, and Maggie’s struck. She looks nothing like Supergirl. “When I have time, I like going to the farmers market. That’s where I bought it. The lady selling it gave me a sample and I really liked it. It’s made from Black Crimea tomatoes.”
“That’s neat.” Maggie drinks some more, because how is she supposed to respond to this? This warmth, these random anecdotes. She clears her throat. “So… a crêpe party, huh?”
“Yes! It was Lena’s idea. It’s a tradition in Brittany, apparently. At first, I thought she’d said Britain, but no. Do you know Brittany?”
Maggie shakes her head.
“Me, neither. It’s a region in France. In ancient times, they thought of it as the westernmost end of the world. The very tip of it is called Finistère. From Finis terrae, in Latin. The end of the earth. It looks beautiful. I’d like to go, one day. It looks beautiful.”
It throws Maggie off. “Why don’t you fly there?”
Kara lowers her eyes. “It’s not the same. Traveling takes time, it changes you. You don’t get that experience when you can just break the sound barrier.”
“Sorry. I’d never about it that way, but you have a point.” Maggie attempts a smile, resists the urge to hide behind her drink again. “Where did you learn all that? The Latin names…”
“I like looking up the etymology of—” Kara glances away sharply.
A Supergirl emergency? Maggie tenses up.
Kara seems to shrink in on herself. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No problem. Everything okay?”
Kara nods. “Yeah. Just, um…” She looks away again, this time with a tiny smile.
Lena Luthor emerges from the bedroom area. Maggie takes a breath. Okay, she can do this. Lena walks up to her, clad in an immaculate blouse and a pencil skirt, holding an empty bottle in one hand and extending the other.
“Detective. Long time no see.”
Maggie shakes her hand, and she knows handshakes, what a power move they can be. Lena’s hold is on the gentle side of firm.
It’s so fucking bizarre. Maggie remembers taking her to jail, staying longer than she should have. Lena had seemed so… absent. She hadn’t put up a fight, hadn’t threatened to bury anyone’s career with her billions, her army of lawyers. She’d just shut down.
“I know you don’t know each other very well, and you didn’t meet under the best of circumstances,” Kara butts in, and it makes Maggie’s skin crawl. She doesn’t know how to deal with this painful, nervous earnestness. “But I know there are no hard feelings on either side, and you’re both important to me, so… No detective or Ms. Luthor tonight, okay? Just Maggie and Lena.”
You’re both important to me. Where is this even coming from? Maggie’s never felt important to Kara.
Lena nods slowly. “Maggie and Lena it is.” She gives Maggie a small smile. “If that’s all right with you, of course.”
Maggie knew, in an abstract way, that they were close friends. But the attentiveness written all over Lena’s face, the quiet affection in her voice… Those two know each other. They care. Maggie wishes Alex were here already, even though, sometimes, seeing her with Kara makes Maggie feel like the odd one out, again.
The silence between them thickens, until Lena turns back to Kara, lifting the empty bottle. “In other news, you’re out of body wash. Sorry.”
Kara shrugs. “Help me with the next batch?”
“Well,” Kara says, a playful glint in her eyes, “It’s a bit like lab work, so I guess you’ve got the right credentials for it.”
Lena pokes her gently with the bottle. “I’m honored.”
Maggie feels unmoored. It’s all just so… loving.
“Kara makes her own soap,” Lena explains, seeming to mistake Maggie’s wistfulness for confusion. "Which I steal when I come over, because I feel disgusting after a twelve-hour day at the office.”
Maggie takes it for the olive branch that it is, forces out a smile. “Oh, yeah? Try a twelve-hour day at the station.”
Lena winces in sympathy, opens her mouth to say something, and this is finally starting to resemble a conversation Maggie feels comfortable navigating, but—
“You’re welcome to use my shower, too, when you come over,” Kara blurts out, timid. “I mean, you look fine, I just— I know you had a long day, and you came straight from work.” She bites her lip. “So. The option’s here.”
Maggie keeps herself from fidgeting. “I’m good, but thank you. I might take you up on it one of these days.”
This is awful. This level of sincerity. It’s like getting burned, and Maggie doesn’t know what to do with herself.
“Anytime?” Lena puts her hands on her hips. “I thought that was one of my many best friend privileges.”
“Ah, but what about Maggie’s sister-in-law privileges?”
Lena pretends to consider it. “Fine. I’ll allow it.”
“Thank you,” Kara says, too soft for it to be part of the joke. She takes the empty bottle. “I’m going to go wash this.”
Maggie watches Kara’s retreating back. She feels like an idiot. They’re barely more than strangers to each other, after almost a year. As far as Maggie knows, she met Kara around the same time Lena did, but their relationships couldn’t be more different, and it’s obvious Lena is positioning herself as a buffer to ease everyone’s discomfort. The worst part is, it seems to be working.
She should have tried to get to know Kara better.
“So… Kara told me we were having a French crêpe party.” That’s a start. “I’m not sure what that is, but she seemed pretty excited.”
“And so am I.” Lena smiles, joyful and free. “We wrote up menus, and everything.”
“Menus? Damn. I can picture you as an overachiever, but Kara?”
“Oh, she’s the worst. Everything has to be just so. But really, we’re making it sound more elaborate than it is. You pick what goes into your crêpe, and Kara and I will get to work.”
“I didn’t know Kara cooked. We usually get takeout when Alex and I come over.”
In fact, Maggie recalls Alex alluding to Kara’s less than stellar cooking skills once or twice.
“We used to, as well. Back then, I was living at a hotel, and I missed cooking. So, when Kara and I became good friends, I took advantage of her kindness and kitchen. It turns out we make a pretty good team. I just got my own place, but I think it’s going to stick.” She crosses her arms loosely. “To be honest, I think asking me to help tonight was Kara’s way of making sure I had a safe space to retreat to throughout the evening.”
Maggie nods. “Because of our… history.”
“No, no. You were just doing your job. But I told her was nervous about meeting her inner circle.”
She’s so open. It’s like gearing up for a fight and getting hugged instead.
Maggie searches Lena’s face. She’s wearing the barest hint of makeup. She takes a breath, hopes Kara isn’t listening in on them. “Come on. Kara’s inner circle is literally just Alex. I’m as much of a borrowed piece as you are. Besides, don’t you have a friend coming over?”
“A coworker. Another attempt by Kara to make sure I don’t feel outnumbered.”
“Ah. She’s quite the bodyguard.”
“Oh, you know Kara. She looks out for everyone. Case in point,” Lena says lightly, “One of the dessert options on our little menu tonight includes ice cream, and I’ll have you know Kara made sure she had a couple of vegan flavors available for you.”
What? Since when does Kara know Maggie prefers vegan ice cream? And even if Alex told her, since when does she care?
She hides her bewilderment. “That’s nice of her.”
Lena hums. “She didn’t buy it, she made it herself.” She drops her voice down a whisper. Her eyes are so clear, Maggie can’t tell whether they’re blue or green. “I think it would make her night if you picked that option when we get to dessert.”
Maggie bites the inside of her cheeks. “Sure. Ice cream it is.”
She must suck as a detective, because she sure is starting to feel like she’s misread a lot of things. She looks away, focuses on Kara’s back as she washes the dishes. How careful does she have to be, handling pots and pans that feel as thin as paper, to her? How—
Maggie feels a light touch on her arm. She turns back to Lena, who drops her hand, hesitant.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pressure you into anything. It’s just that…” She offers a rueful smile, nods towards Kara. “When I met her, she was convinced she was a terrible cook. She’s getting a little more confident, now. I want to encourage her.”
“Right,” Maggie says weakly.
Genius billionaire Lena Luthor, oblivious to Supergirl’s identity, trying to make sure lousy reporter Kara Danvers doesn’t feel bad about her cooking skills.
She wasn’t prepared for that. Wants to be anywhere but here.
She rubs her forehead. “So, is there anything I can help with before everyone else gets here?”
“Let’s ask the chef.”
“And I’m thinking, Okay, well, he’s going to invite me up to his room.” Lena picks up her glass of wine, because she has a tendency to speak with her hands when she’s nervous and she needs something to hold on to. "So, I’m considering my answer, when he turns around and asks me if I’m baptized.”
Sam gapes at her. “No!”
Everyone expresses various levels of disbelief and outrage, except Kara, who just studies her. Lena gets it. Kara’s never seen her like this before, putting on a show for other people.
She takes a drink, nods emphatically. “Apparently, he only sleeps with good catholics.”
Alex hums in agreement with Maggie and draws her closer. They’re wrapped around each other on the couch. It’s sweet. Kara told her Alex only came out last year, when she met Maggie. It’s not the same, but in some way, Lena feels like she’s found someone who’s helped her nurture parts of herself she’d neglected, too.
She reaches out for a piece of warm flat bread, dips it in hummus. “I don’t know. I found it kind of attractive that he believed in something.”
Kara looks away, smiling a little.
“What about you, Kara?” Sam asks, pulling her legs up on her seat. “Are you seeing anyone?”
Kara runs her palm over the fuzzy carpet, shakes her head no. Sam looks at her expectantly, but nothing else comes. Lena’s about to say something to take the heat off Kara, but Alex beats her to it.
“So, what about Ruby’s dad, is he still in the picture?”
“Nope.” Sam takes a drink of wine. “It’s just me and Ruby.”
“Wow. Raising your daughter by yourself? That’s incredible.” Alex huffs out a laugh. “I mean, how do you do that?”
Lena catches Kara’s glance at Alex, the intensity of it. What’s going on?
“Uh… Not very gracefully.” Sam rolls her eyes. “Always behind on something. You guys will see when you have kids.”
“Well, actually, we’re not—” Alex shakes her head, shrugs. “We’re not gonna have kids.”
So, that’s what’s going on. Unresolved tension about whether Alex and Maggie want children. Lena hates her mind, the way it puts pieces of information together, steals secrets from people. Her mother, her brother… they can sometimes twist her intelligence against her, and it’s a perverted sort of relief, to not be ten steps ahead, for once.
And then, there’s Kara, who presents like an open book, but one written in a language Lena isn’t quite fluent in.
She blinks at Kara. Did she just tune out? Everyone is staring at her. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
Kara looks at her with fondness. “Should we get started on dinner?”
Kara nabs a cherry tomato and stands up. “I’ll go get you-know-what.”
Sam turns and watches her disappear into her bedroom. “How mysterious.”
“When I came in,” Alex says, looking straight at Lena as she reaches for an appetizer, “I tried to guess what you guys were cooking up from the spread of food over there, and I have to say, I have no idea. Kara tells me you’re quite the chef, so it better be good.”
Half a dozen witty retorts come to mind, but Lena settles for the truth. “Yeah. I wouldn’t want to disappoint Kara.”
Alex chuckles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes, and Lena knows she’s being evaluated on much more than her skills in the kitchen.
She hears Kara’s footsteps behind her and feels relieved. Kara has a giddy little smile and stands awkwardly with a few sheets of paper in her arms, pressed to the big dinosaur on the front of her sweater.
“Uh, so. We are having a French crêpe party.”
She pauses and, mercifully, Sam has the good sense to look excited and intrigued, and Kara’s smile grows enormous. Lena makes a mental note to do something nice for Sam. Maybe ask her assistant to get her tickets to some fancy soccer game. She remembers Sam mentioning something about Ruby being a fan.
“Yep,” Kara continues. “It was Lena’s idea. They’re large, savory buckwheat pancakes, and it’s tricky, because they have to be really thin and crispy, and folded in a certain way, and you can’t make them in advance. You all get to pick what you want to fill yours with. Traditionally, you drink French apple cider along with them. It has a little alcohol in it, but not much at all.” She bounces on the balls of her feet. “Lena got a few imported bottles.”
“Well, look at you, getting all fancy.” Everything, from Alex’s voice to her posture, has gone softer. Her gaze shifts to Lena. “It figures, with the company you keep.”
She doesn’t say it unkindly, so Lena forces herself to relax. “Kara is rapidly out-fancying me. She’s quite the gastronome.”
When a light, confused frown appears on Alex’s forehead, Lena has the distinct impression she just spouted some kind of enormity. She glances at Kara, who’s studying her own socks with great interest.
Alex seems to take pity on her. “I think you meant glutton. Although, she’s certainly an expert when it comes to pizza and potstickers, I’ll give you that.”
It’s Lena’s turn to be confused. Kara, a glutton? She loves gourmet food, foreign cuisines, absolutely killed it at that wine-tasting Lena took her to for her birthday. And sure, they sometimes have pizza or get takeout from little holes in the wall, but glutton is the last word Lena would associate with Kara.
“Anyway,” Kara says, visibly uncomfortable and flushed. “We made little menus, so you know what your options are and so Lena and I can keep track of who wants what in their crêpes.”
She hands them over to everyone.
“Jeez. You really went all in.” Sam studies her menu, throws Kara an appreciative glance. “You have amazing penmanship.”
A smile finds its way back on Kara’s face. “Lena wrote them down. My handwriting is terrible.”
Alex reaches across Maggie to poke Kara in the thigh. “No, it’s not. Just… squiggly.”
Kara nods half-heartedly, and Lena has to stop herself from glancing at the easel behind the couch.
“My handwriting is awful, too,” Maggie sighs, putting her glass down on the coffee table. “Thank god I can type my police reports, now.” She takes another look at her menu. “Did you study calligraphy, or something? This is unsettlingly good.”
The compliment surprises Lena. She’s about to answer, but Kara does it for her.
“Yes, she did! For four years, right?”
Lena nods, touched. Kara never forgets anything she tells her. “Not formally. I’m self-taught,” she tells Maggie. “It was just a therapeutic hobby for my frazzled mind back when I was working on my PhD. I went to school in Ireland, as a kid, and they’re pretty big on wondrous illuminated manuscripts, over there, so I guess it was always on my radar.”
“Ruby used to love this animated film when she was little… Gosh, what was it called?” Sam frowns. “It’s about an Irish manuscript.”
“Oh, I know it! It’s The Secret of Kells, right?” Kara grins. She looks so happy. “It’s gorgeous. It made me want to check out the actual Book of Kells. The real thing, I mean, not the digitized version. It’s in Dublin, right?”
“Yes it is.” Lena smiles up at her. “You’d love it. I went to see it years ago, it’s incredible.”
“Okay, I get why you’re friends, now. You’re both huge nerds. And far be it for me to drag you down from these lofty intellectual highs, but.” Alex holds out her hand towards Kara. “Give me a pen.”
Kara pulls four pencils out of her back pocket and distributes them.
“We’re supposed to tick whatever ingredients we want, right?” Maggie asks. “Is there a limit?”
She seems a lot more relaxed than she was earlier on. Lena wonders if it’s the wine Alex brought, but Maggie didn’t drink much.
“No, but you don’t have to put everything you like into one crêpe. We’ve made enough batter for a second, or even a third round, so…” Kara smiles over at Maggie with a soft shrug, puts an eraser on the table. “You can try as many combinations as you like.”
Maggie nods dutifully. Ah. That must be it. Kara’s charm claiming another victim.
They all spend a minute filling out their menus, before Lena pushes herself off the floor to collect them.
“All right, Kara and I are off. Does anyone want anything before we ban you from the kitchen for the foreseeable future?”
Sam and Maggie shake their heads, but Alex points out to something behind them. “Just get us the rest of that bottle of wine, please.”
“Here you go.”
“Thanks.” Alex proceeds to refill Maggie and Sam’s glasses, then her own.
Lena joins Kara in the kitchen. She’s arranging the menus on the counter so they can get a clear view of everyone’s choices. Lena touches her shoulder. “I didn’t get a chance to ask you, earlier, but did you know about the wine?”
“No. I did tell her not to bring anything…” Kara touches a fingertips to a big, loopy capital letter on one of the menus. “Coming up with a meal that doesn’t go with alcohol seems silly, now. Alex will do whatever she wants. Always has.”
“I’m sorry.” Lena rubs her arm. “For what it’s worth, I think she knows.”
For a second, she thinks Kara’s about to lean into her, and her heart catches in her throat. It’s an open kitchen. Everyone can see. But Kara only ends up touching her sleeve.
“If she does, do you think I’m making it worse?”
“Kara.” Lena gives her shoulder a soft squeeze, considers her words carefully. “You want to help her without hurting her dignity. The rest is up to her, but that means something. We can look up statistics about whether addicts fare better when they have supportive friends or family, if you want, but I think I know the answer.”
Kara smiles, and it’s a dim one, but she inclines her hand to touch her cheek to Lena’s hand on her shoulder. “Thank you. Stats would make me better, actually.”
“That’s the most…” Lena gazes at her, doe-eyed. “Erotic thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
It achieves the desired effect when Kara gapes at her in shocked delight.
“Right, Casanova’s my middle name.” She snorts. “Gosh, I once— no, twice, walked in on coworkers doing naughty things in the copy room and let me tell you, I did not react smoothly.”
“Ah. That happens at L-Corp, too, every now and then. Or so I’m told.” Lena nods to the dinosaur on Kara’s sweater. “Life finds a way, I suppose.”
Kara grins. “And woman inherits the earth.” Her smile grows softer. “Thank you for cheering me up. You know, I used to find Alex so controlling. I still do, sometimes. But maybe I’m the same, and I have to learn I can’t fix everyone’s problems.”
“And that is one of the things I admire most about you. Your capacity for self-reflection.” Lena tickles Kara’s nose with a sprig of parsley. “Come on, let’s get cooking.”
Kara nods with renewed vigor. “How do we proceed?”
“Here’s my battle plan. You pre-heat the oven, I’ll worry about the batter. You’ll pass me whatever ingredients I need, and we’ll put everyone’s crêpes into the oven to keep them warm until we can all eat together.” Lena straightens, looks at Kara sternly. “Understood?”
Kara does a little salute. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
They look at each other, serious as can be. Kara plucks another cherry tomato from a bowl and drops it into Lena’s palm. She breaks into a smile when Lena gobbles it up with gusto.
“Um, before we get started, can I ask you something?”
Kara turns away to open the fridge and carefully pulls out the big bowl of batter. “All the things.” She wavers a bit, like she’s carrying a baby and is afraid to drop them. Lena gently takes it from her, sets it down on the kitchen island.
“Something’s been bugging me. I don’t understand why Alex called you a glutton. Pizza and potstickers? What was she talking about?”
“Oh.” Kara pulls her sleeves over her hands. “Alex is used to seeing me eat a lot.”
Lena tentatively tilts Kara’s face to meet her eyes. “Hey. I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Kara shakes her head. “It’s okay. I just feel embarrassed.”
Lena’s probably imagining it, but it feels like Kara is pressing her cheek into her palm. She drops her hand. “Why?”
“You know how growing up, it was hard for me to find things I liked to eat. I gravitated towards junk food. The flavors are simple, it’s always the same. For years, I basically lived off, well… Potstickers and pizza. I don’t really put on weight, so people didn’t notice, but that was my only comfort. Food that didn’t feel awful. That, and harmless romcoms and musicals. I guess I didn’t want you to know about that less than flattering version of me, because it’s different with you.”
“Different.” Lena wets her lips absently. “The Kara I know takes me to obscure little restaurants. She goes to the farmers market to pick ingredients for whatever elaborate recipe she wants us to try out. She cried during that screening of Come and See at the Institute of Modern Russian Culture.” Lena tries to give her question a lighter spin. “When do I meet the Kara who lives off potstickers and romcoms?”
“Don’t you see?”
Kara can be adorable one second, and make Lena feel like she might buckle under the weight of her attention the next.
Lena swallows. “See what?”
“Who else wants me to discover a seminal work of anti-war Soviet cinema? Who wants to learn a poem with me every week, who takes me to an oenology class for my birthday because… Because they understand food and drinks can be fun for me, even though I can’t eat a lot of things? Who?”
Lena has no answer. She stares at Kara, wordless.
Alex nods knowingly. “Not into the thick of puberty, yet.”
“Thank god, no.” Sam has a drink of wine. “For now, her interests include soccer and Supergirl, and that’s fine by me.”
Maggie’s gaze drifts towards the kitchen. Kara and Lena seem to be in some kind of serious conversation, but there’s nothing argumentative about it. She can’t see Lena’s face, but Kara is listening to her with a smile. She wonders what they’re talking about. They seem so close.
“— ever need a baby sitter in a pinch, I volunteer.”
Sam laughs. “Careful, I could take you up on it.”
“Oh, Sam. I spent my adolescence baby-sitting this one over there,” Alex says, pointing her thumb at Kara. “And let me tell you, there’s no way Ruby could ever be as much of a handful.”
Maggie looks into her almost full glass. She liked the conversation better when Kara and Lena were nerding out about Irish manuscripts.
“Seriously?” Sam looks over at the kitchen, then back at Alex. “Your sweet, lovely sister was a demon as a teenager? Damn, now I know what to get ready for.”
Alex swirls her wine, thoughtful. “I wouldn’t say that. She was sweet and lovely, just… had a hard time fitting in. When my parents adopted her, the whole family changed gear. I went from being an only child to being asked to care for a little sister who was facing a lot of challenges.”
“Oh.” Sam frowns. “I’m sorry, I had no idea.”
“Don’t worry about it. All I’m saying is, I have a lot of experience dealing with confused teenagers.”
Sam responds with a wicked grin. “All right, challenge accepted. The next time I have to stay late at work and her usual baby sitter can’t make it? You’ll have the privilege to deal with a hungry, grumpy Ruby and her homework.”
Alex raises her glass. “Bring it on.”
Okay. Maggie’s had enough. She squeezes Alex’s thigh and stands. “I’m gonna go see if they need help in the kitchen. So far, they seem to be doing a lot of talking and very little cooking.”
Alex looks up, searches her face. “Sure.”
Maggie leans in for a small kiss before heading over to the kitchen. She’s willingly walking into some kind of intimate conversation between close friends, because she’s running away from watching her girlfriend swoon over someone else’s parenting skills, after telling Maggie they could build a life and a family without— well, it doesn’t fucking matter. Maggie has to get over it.
Kara spots her first, over Lena’s shoulder.
“Hey. You need anything? Or did you come to join the kitchen brigade?”
Maggie puts her glass on the counter, tucks her hands into her back pockets. “The latter, if you’ll have me.”
“I’m sure Lena could use a second assistant.”
Lena places a cast iron pan over the stove, turns it on. “I do love bossing people around.”
“She doesn’t. She’s a huge softie,” Kara informs Maggie.
There’s such lightness, such welcoming warmth to all of this. Something within Maggie… uncoils.
She leans against the kitchen island. “For a CEO, that’s unfortunate.”
“Very.” Lena drops a slab of butter into the pan. It sizzles. “I like to think I fake my way through it well enough, though.”
Maggie watches her swirl the pan with practiced ease. “You’re obviously not faking your way through cooking. You said you’d just gotten your own place, earlier?”
“I did. With some help.”
Kara hands Lena a ladle. “I just tagged along during apartment visits.”
Lena looks at Maggie pointedly as she scoops up some batter. “She made me feel welcome enough that I’m willing to put down roots here, and she made sure I got the place I actually liked, not the ridiculous penthouse I thought I was obligated to get.”
Maggie’s never really had close friends, especially female ones. Every time she’s befriended a girl, they either got scared upon finding out she was gay, or wanted to date her. It looks nice, that kind of affection and support with no strings attached. She has a drink from her half-forgotten glass of wine.
“Seems like you’re a good friend to have,” she tells Kara. Lena’s pouring the batter into the pan. “So, if it’s not a fancy penthouse, did you pick, like… a huge house overlooking the bay?”
Lena laughs. “Something like that.”
Maggie sees Kara give Lena a funny look. “I got it wrong, didn’t I?”
“I’m afraid so,” Lena concedes good-naturedly as she flips the crêpe with a spatula. She turns back towards them, folds her arms. “Maybe you’ll all come over for dinner, some time, and you can see for yourself what kind of dwelling I’ve chosen for myself.”
Normally, Maggie would dismiss this kind of offer as conversational filler. But for the first time since she and Alex got together, she finds herself envisioning being part of something. She can picture familiarity, shared meals, and being appreciated. She can picture, perhaps, making friends.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“Good.” Lena turns back to the stove. “So, according to what I’ve read, the first galette is always a bit off texture-wise, so we’re not going to fill it. It’ll just be our trial run.”
Kara hands her a plate. “Can I try it?”
Lena slides the crêpe, or galette, or whatever French word she just used, onto the plate. “Careful, it’s really hot.”
Oh. Somehow, for a strange moment, Maggie had forgotten all about Kara being Supergirl. It’s all just so… normal. And Kara doesn’t seem bothered by the fact Lena thinks she can burn her tongue on a hot pancake. What a mess.
“Do you want some, too?”
Maggie blinks, takes in Kara’s smiling face. “Sure.”
Kara painstakingly cuts up two strips. “Here you go.” She pushes one towards Maggie with a fork.
“Thanks.” Maggie picks it up, nibbles on it. It does taste good. Rich, buttery. Not too salty.
Kara chews on her own piece thoughtfully. “I was expecting buckwheat to taste a lot lot stronger than wheat. Kind of like rye, you know? But it’s just more flavorful.”
Lena nods, already working on the second crêpe. “Buckwheat’s an ancient grain.”
Kara leans over the counter, chin propped on her palm. “Tell me about ancient grains.”
“Let’s see.” Lena swirls the pan to even out the batter. “After the Second World War, agricultural practices shifted toward a more production-driven industry. They created wheat that grows a lot faster. The stems are shorter, so the finished product is too high on gluten and doesn’t taste as good as older varieties. Buckwheat, though? It’s been cultivated for thousands of years.”
If someone had told Maggie that she’d be lulled into a pleasant drowsiness by listening to Lena Luthor talk about wheat and gluten while making crêpes…
She clears her throat, has a tiny sip of wine. “So, do you have a specific interest in the history of agriculture, or can you just do an exposé on any topic we could ask you about?”
Lena throws her a sly, mischievous glance. “Perks of having an annoying brain. It’s a sponge for useless facts.”
“Not useless,” Kara chimes in. She smiles over at Maggie. “A lot of it is my fault. I ask her about random things and on the rare occasion she doesn’t have a bit of trivia handy, we look it up.”
“She’s the worst enabler,” Lena opines before tapping the tip of her wooden spatula to Kara’s nose. “Anyway, what should I put in your crêpe? You didn’t fill out a menu.”
Kara shrugs, going cross-eyed for a second. “You know what I like.”
They’re cute, together. Playful and sweet in a way Maggie hadn’t anticipated at all. She knows Kara had a lonely childhood, and she can’t imagine Lena had many friends, either, given her last name. It must be nice for them, catching up on what they missed out on. She wishes she, too, could have—
“The Kara Special it is,” Lena says gravely as she flips the crêpe. “This one is yours, Maggie. You wanted prosciutto, comté cheese, and…”
Kara takes a look at the menus. “Leek fondue, and an egg.”
“Got it. I need the prosciutto first, then.”
Kara hurriedly brings her the cutting board with charcuterie on it. Maggie watches their little dance, until Lena asks her to get her an egg, and sea salt, and can she please wash the spatula, and— She knows what Lena’s doing. Kara looks so happy, and Maggie has to admit she feels included, too.
She looks over to the living room. Alex is gesturing animatedly as Sam laughs at whatever she’s saying. Tonight is… odd. Sad, maybe. She went in thinking Alex would be her only anchor among unfamiliar and unfriendly faces, and here she is, finding safety with Kara and Lena, of all people.
Kara holds out a hand like she’s about to touch Lena’s arm, but doesn’t. “You okay?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing. I just caught a splash of hot butter.”
“I’ve got some aloe vera gel. I’ll go get it.”
Lena nods gratefully. She cracks an egg over the rest of the ingredients. It whitens slowly, the yolk sitting on top, while she sprinkles a little cayenne pepper over it. Her movements are fluid, unhurried.
Maggie leans against the kitchen counter. Lena folds every side of the crêpe inward, until only the yolk is visible at the center. It’s pretty. Like a simple flower. Maybe that’s why Kara likes being around her. A sense of peace.
Lena leans down to slide the plate into the oven. “All right, yours is all done. Next up… Alex’s.”
“It looks delicious.” Maggie hesitates as she watches Lena drops another slab of butter into the pan. “So… you and Kara seem really close. Whenever we have dinner with her, she’ll mention all sorts of people, but she never talks about you.”
Lena nods, a slight frown creasing her brow. “We’ve talked about how… insular, our friendship’s been. Good things often feel private, I suppose.”
Maggie pushes the bowl of batter a little closer to the stove. “Alex and I had a big bridal shower, last month. Her mother insisted on it. It was weird, sharing our relationship publicly like that.”
Lena pours in the batter for the next crêpe, glances at Maggie with a kind smile. “I’m sure the actual wedding day will feel better. You know what you’re in for, it’s less of a… nebulous celebration.”
Maggie’s about to answer when Kara bounces back into the kitchen, brandishing a tube of aloe vera. Why does she even have it? It’s not like she’ll ever need it.
“Sorry it took me so long. I couldn’t remember where I’d put it. I bought it last year, so it’s about a month out-of-date, but it smells fine, so… I think we’re good?”
Lena takes the tube. “I think so, too. Thank you.” She squeezes a little aloe vera onto her palm, rubs it against the back of her hand.
It’s unnecessary. It was just a tiny droplet of butter. But Maggie sees Kara’s smile, and… how could she know? She can’t feel pain. Maybe that’s the point. She keeps first aid supplies on hand in case her friends need it. Lena indulges her. For someone who doesn’t know Kara’s Supergirl, she sure seems to get her.
“So, how long have you and Maggie been together?”
Alex has a drink of wine, tops off Sam’s glass. “A little over a year.” She glances towards the kitchen. They’re all huddled together, fussing over the stove. Maggie nods to something Lena said and turns back to grab a bowl from the kitchen island. She meets Alex’s eyes and smiles.
“You make a really cute couple.”
“Thanks. It’s the first time I’m in a relationship that actually makes sense to me, so… better make sure to tie the knot before she finds out I suck at Monopoly or something.” She frowns. “Actually, I don’t suck at Monopoly. I dominate.”
“Ha! I’m pretty good at it myself.” Sam pops an olive into her mouth. “Of course, I lose on purpose against Ruby because what’s a mom to do, but I wouldn’t say no to a worthy opponent.”
Alex narrows her eyes. “Oh, it’s on. We used to have these game nights here every couple of weeks. Maybe we should resurrect that tradition.”
Sam looks at her a bit as she reclines in her seat. “Thanks for having me over, by the way. Between my job and Ruby, it’s been ages since I’ve had a night to myself, and with good company, to boot.”
Alex clinks her glass to Sam’s. “I’ll drink to that.” Her gaze drifts over to the kitchen again. Lena pushes a plate into the oven, Maggie is chatting with Kara. Alex can’t recall seeing them ever have a real conversation before, but suddenly they look like buddies. Weird. She turns back to Sam. “From what I understand, Kara’s the one you have to thank for that.” She glances at her sister. “She once invited a friend over for Thanksgiving despite the fact he had a huge and very unrequited crush on her, just because she’d heard he didn’t have anyone to celebrate with.”
Sam snickers. “Was it awkward?”
“Terribly.” Alex shrugs. “But that’s who she is. She hears about someone who just moved to National City and hasn’t made friends yet, and she’s on a mission. She’s a much better person than I will ever be, and a pretty good judge of character. You’re officially adopted.”
“Wow.” Sam has a drink, and Alex sees the faint blush on her cheeks. “Speaking of taking in strays, I’m sorry about earlier. I had no idea Kara was adopted.”
“It’s all right. It’s been hard for everyone, but I can’t imagine my life without her, now.”
Sam nods. “I’m adopted, too. Besides Ruby, my adoptive mom is my only family, but… she didn’t take kindly to, you know, teen me getting pregnant. Kicked me out. So we don’t have much of a relationship.”
Oh, shit. Alex sits closer to the edge of the couch. “You’re a great mom and a treasured L-Corp employee, so obviously you turned out great, but… that’s messed up. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Yeah, me too.” Sam shrugs. “It looks like you have a great family. Your mom, your sister, your fiancée… My goal is to make sure Ruby has that, too. The support network I didn’t have.”
Alex nods slowly, has a drink of wine. “Kara and Lena are both adopted, and Maggie was taken in by an aunt after her parents kicked her out, so… I’m pretty sure if anything happened to you? Ruby would have all the support she needs. All the cool aunts.”
“Perfect.” Sam says with a soft chuckle. “You’re going to have to meet her first, though.”
“Anytime. I love kids.”
“Wait until she talks your ear off about soccer for forty-five minutes.” Sam bites her lip. “She actually has a big game coming up. If you want to attend, you’re more than welcome.”
“Sign me up. I love that she’s into soccer, by the way. Not… ballet or whatever. Not that there’s anything wrong with— God.” Alex rubs her brow. “I’m digging my own grave, here, aren’t I?”
Sam snorts. “No, I get it. She also has some kind of school play or recital coming up where she’ll be performing a little Supergirl-themed solo, and I want to die. It’s going to be excruciating.”
“Oof. I can be there as moral supp—”
“Public service announcement!”
It’s Kara. What a dork.
Once Kara has everyone’s attention, she clasps her hands together. “So, Lena’s starting up on the last crêpe for this round. And, um…”
With a barely contained smile, she turns to Lena, who takes it as her cue steps forward.
“I have made the grave mistake of promising Kara I’d attempt to flip at least one crêpe the old fashioned way. The time has come. I’ve watched half a dozen tutorials, but I’ve never done it before, so this might end in disaster.”
Sam whistles. “Look at you, boss, getting all adventurous. Someone record this so I have some good blackmail material.” She pats her pockets. “Where’s my phone?”
“We can use mine,” Maggie offers, pulling it out of her pocket.
Lena throws her a look of betrayal, and Maggie gives a smug half-shrug.
Alex sees, clear as day, that Lena is unnervingly good at figuring out what makes people tick. She’ll be a dork along with Kara to make her laugh, she’ll be whatever got Maggie to go from having to be dragged to this dinner because Lena Luthor would be there, to clearly warming up to her. A chameleon.
“Is that okay? To record it?” Kara asks Lena, with the painful sincerity Alex knows from experience will get straight to your heart.
But Lena seems utterly unfazed. She gives Kara’s sweater a little tug. “It’ll be a good memory even if goes sideways, right?”
Alex can’t figure her out.
Kara smiles, bright and sunny. “Maggie, can you send me the video, afterwards?”
“Sure thing. All right, let’s do this.”
Lena makes sure the underside of the crêpe isn’t sticking to the pan before lifting it off the stove. “Are you recording?”
Maggie nods. “Yep.”
“Okay. Can I get a countdown?”
“Yes!” Kara looks around, almost bouncing with excitement. “Three…”
They all join in. Alex can’t remember the last time she’s seen Kara like this. So carefree.
Lena flicks the pan up, the crêpe flies, and for a fraction of a second, Alex is convinced it’s going to end up on the floor. Lena lurches forward and Alex thinks that she, too, might end up on the floor. Good thing they’re recording the moment for posterity.
But the crêpe falls into the pan in a graceless heap, and Lena steadies herself. “Oh, dear. Crisis averted.” She puts the pan back onto the stove. “It’s not pretty, but… it’s technically a win?”
Kara touches her glasses. “Yes, it is.” She seems to make up her mind and brushes a small kiss to her cheek. “You’re the best.”
Sam claps and cheers, and Lena pulls Kara into a side hug with casual, obvious familiarity.
It’s tentative, and loving, and nothing to write home about. Friends can be affectionate with each other and that’s fine. But what the fuck. Kara hates touching people, hates the risk to the point of paranoia. She’ll return Alex’s hugs in a limp, perfunctory way so she doesn’t risk breaking her spine. She never initiates physical contact.
“And… cut!” Maggie exclaims. “It’s in the box.”
Oblivious to Alex’s concerns, she seems to be having the time of her life, too.
“Well, now that you’re all disappointed you didn’t get to record my abject failure,” Lena quips, “how about helping Kara and I set the table?”
Sam stands. “Absolutely.”
Kara and I. Well, that’s nothing to write home about, either, is it? Friends making dinner for friends. It’s just that for the past fifteen years, it’s been Kara and Alex. And now, Kara’s forging deep and solid relationships with people who aren’t her. Alex won’t lie to herself: it sucks and she’s jealous.
She drains her glass, pushes herself off the couch.
They settles into an oddly comfortable rhythm, Maggie passing them plates and cutlery from the kitchen, while Alex and Sam set the table, making small talk. Kara is no help at all, elbows on the counter, chin on her palms, watching Lena cook the last crêpe.
Alex sees Lena offer her a slice of mozzarella, and Kara eats it just like that, dangling from Lena’s fingers.
“Earth to Alex?”
Sam is handing her a bottle of cider to place on her end of the table. “Oh, sorry.”
The bottle came straight out of the fridge and it’s starting to sweat. Alex studies the label, but it’s all in French. She glances back to the kitchen. Lena picks up Maggie’s almost full, discarded wine glass, says something as she nods towards the table, probably asking Kara to bring it over. Kara visibly hesitates.
Alex’s stomach tightens. Oh, no. She knows that look, she knows what this means. Kara’s afraid to take the glass, to touch Lena’s fingers, to break them, and Lena doesn’t know she should have held the glass differently in order for Kara to take it safely, and fuck.
Alex puts the bottle down, circles the table hurriedly, but she’s too late. She watches Kara reach out for the glass, watches her awkwardly try to take it without touching Lena’s hand, and—
The inevitable happens. It all spills out on Lena’s immaculate blouse, before the glass slips from Kara’s weak grasp and shatters on the floor.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“Sorry, sorry,” Lena says with a quick smile to the rest of the group. “We’re fine, I’ve got it.”
Lena casually grabs a roll of paper towels and crouches to pick up the glass shards. She gently pushes Kara’s hand away, only handing her some paper towels once all the glass has been removed. They both end up scrubbing the floor.
Alex can’t believe what she’s seeing. Lena, on all fours behind the kitchen island, reaching out to rub Kara’s arm. Kara nods to whatever she’s telling her, until she finally smiles, and Lena playfully tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
Alex has seen Kara sink into depression because she broke some guy’s nose when he tried to kiss her. She’s seen her remain unconsolable after snapping a paintbrush in two. Over the years, she’s seen her withdraw from any attempt at physical contact.
And now… this?
Lena throws the dirty towels into the bin, smiles over at the group, gesturing at her blouse. “I’ll go clean this up. I’ll be right back.”
She disappears into Kara’s bedroom. Alex moves to the kitchen.
Kara is washing her hands. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine. You okay?”
Kara nods, but Alex sees that veil of sadness over her. She knows platitudes won’t help, so she keeps her reassurances to herself and tries to broach the trickier topic. Before she can, though, Kara finishes drying her hands and says, “I’m going to go get Lena a clean shirt.”
She heads off to her bedroom. Alex runs a hand through her hair, takes in a sharp breath, and follows after her.
“Kara. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Kara stops rummaging through her clothes. “Sure.”
She’s not making eye contact, so Alex knows she doesn’t actually want to have that conversation. But it’s one of the things she loves about her sister. She’ll have the hard conversations, anyway. She always does the right thing.
Alex comes closer and lowers her voice to make sure Lena can’t hear them through the bathroom door. Her heart is pounding.
“Does Lena know? About you?”
This time, Kara does looks at her, puzzled. “No, of course not.”
Relief floods Alex’s system. “Good.” She licks her lips. “So… you break a glass, and she doesn’t bat an eye. Why?”
“Oh,” Kara murmurs, and Alex feels like an asshole. “She’s used to it. She just thinks I’m clumsy. I mean, I am, you know? In a way. You don’t need to worry about it.”
“Okay. Thank you for telling me. But… Kara. I know she’s your friend, and it’s obvious she adores you, but suspension of disbelief only goes so far. If you keep putting yourself in those situations, you’re going to slip up, and she’ll figure it out. Please, please be careful.”
Kara nods, despondent.
Alex wants to scream, shake her, protect her from the world. She hates herself for putting Kara through this, for taking the sliver of normalcy she thinks she’s experiencing away from her. But she has to. She has to.
“Yeah?” She puts her hands on Kara’s shoulders, squeezes. “You’ll be careful?”
Kara nods again, looking at the floor. “I promise.”
Alex grits her teeth, pulls her into a tight hug that Kara returns weakly. “It’s hard. It’s unfair. But I just want to keep you safe.”
“I know. Thank you.”
Alex pulls away first, because she knows Kara won’t. She’s too afraid to hurt her.
“All right.” Alex swallows thickly. “You get Lena a fresh shirt, I’ll keep the others entertained. This afternoon, I had to check out this dead alien body that turned out to be an empty sleeping bag covered in bird shit, so… I’m full of funny anecdotes, they’ll love it.”
Kara smiles faintly. She looks miserable, and Alex feels a lump in her throat.
Alex leaves. Kara watches her round the curtain separating the bedroom from the living room.
A shirt for Lena.
She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, heads back into her small walk-in closet. Yes, she’ll be careful. Very careful.
Everything’s going to be all right.
A shirt for Lena.
Is she tempting fate? What is she going to do, if Lena figures it out? If she never warns her against how hot the tea mug is anymore? If she never hugs her like she’s fragile again?
Please, let it be all right.
She touches one of her button-ups, a soft baby blue shirt. That color would look so lovely on Lena. But it would be a tight fit on her. Kara doesn’t want her to feel self-conscious.
Her fingertips drift over to a flowy white shirt she bought on a whim a year ago because it reminded her of Kryptonian clothing.
Lena’s mind would have blossomed in unimaginable ways, on Krypton.
They would have mattered to each other there, too. Kara’s sure of it.
She carefully slips it off its hanger and goes to stand in front of the bathroom door. She hears the water running, and Lena humming to herself softly. She listens for a moment.
She can’t knock, can’t risk punching a hole through the door. “Lena?”
“I’m almost done!”
“No, it’s fine. I just came to bring you a clean shirt.”
“You angel. Thank you.”
Kara wipes her eyes again because her chest constricts, and she wants to sit down against the door, pull up her knees and bury her face there.
She wants in. She wants to see herself in the eyes of someone who— She lays a trembling palm against the door. “Can I come in?”
It opens. Part of her shirt is soaked, the wine stain still visible, but Lena’s smiling.
And it’s everything, being looked at that way. With lightness. It’s almost violent, the way Kara feels herself dropping into her body, into her life. Into the space someone believes she can inhabit.
Lena tugs her in by the sleeve. Kara comes in, dazed.
As a child, Lena was mostly left to her own devices back at the Luthor mansion. There was no nanny, no babysitter to take care of her, but because she was so little, the staff sometimes kept an eye on her. She’d wander into the garden, and the gardener would tell her about flowers, show her how to prune a lemon tree. The cook would let her watch as she baked.
One of her favorite things was when the maids folded the laundry. It smelled so clean, so warm in that room. She remembers sitting on the floor by a big laundry basket while a maid shared little cleaning tips to entertain her. Wine stains are tricky. If you catch them early enough, just pour a good amount of salt on them, it’ll absorb most of it.
Lena rubs the bar of soap against her sleeve. Salt would have worked better, but she wasn’t about to get half-naked in front of everyone. If it had only been her and Kara, then maybe.
She can’t remember the last time someone other than a doctor saw her body. Jack, probably, but even then, she wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.
Kara’s voice pulls her out of her memories. “I’m almost done!”
“No, it’s fine. I just came to bring you a clean shirt.”
“You angel. Thank you.”
Lena hastily wrings the soapy water out of her sleeve and turns to the door, expecting it to open just enough for Kara to pass her the shirt, but all she gets is silence, and then a small, “Can I come in?”
Ah. Kara must need a breather from the party. To be honest, Lena’s glad to be away from it for a minute, too. She opens the door.
Kara’s smiling, but she looks… tired. Pale. Lena pulls her inside by the sleeve, avoiding her skin, in case she doesn’t like being touched when she’s upset.
She closes the door. “You all right?”
Kara shrugs, still smiling. “Alex kind of cornered me. She wanted to talk.”
“About what? The broken glass?” Or their friendship?
Kara sits on the edge of the tub. “Yeah. I’m so fortunate to have someone who loves me enough to worry about these things. But it feels a little… oppressive.”
“From what you’ve told me, she was expected to take on an almost… parental role, when you were adopted. It must be hard to shake it off, even after all these years.” Lena sits next to her. “Have you tried talking to her about it?”
“Not really. I guess I feel guilty, deep down. She had to give up so much because of me. I should talk to her. Maybe that’s the next step for us, as sisters. For her to stop… infantilizing me so much. And for me to be more open about what bothers me.”
“Speaking of acting like a mom, what’s going on between her and Maggie? About wanting children.”
Kara looks at her, intrigued, but not surprised. “What do you mean?”
“When Sam mentioned them having children one day? Alex looked rather crestfallen when she said they weren’t going to have kids.”
“Crestfallen,” Kara repeats.
Lena scoots closer. “Chagrined. Disconsolate. Forlorn.”
Lena can’t wrap her arm around Kara’s waist, because her sleeve is dripping wet, so she just bumps their shoulders lightly.
“Let me think… downhearted? In the doldrums?”
“You’re my favorite thesaurus.” Kara sighs. “The long and short of it is, Alex wants kids, Maggie doesn’t. I think it’s going to be be a problem between them down the line.”
“Now you look forlorn,” Lena teases. “Woebegone, even.”
It gets a small chuckle out of Kara, who rests her head on Lena’s shoulder. “I’m not looking forward to seeing a heartbroken Alex, is all.”
“But they’re engaged. What makes you think they’re not working on it?”
“I don’t think they ever talked about it properly before getting engaged.”
“Oh.” Lena pulls back a little to look at her, regrets it when it causes Kara to lift her head. “Really?”
“Yeah. Alex only expressed an interest in having kids recently.” Kara massages her eyelids under her glasses. “I think coming to terms with her sexuality opened up a world of possibilities she hadn’t considered before.”
Lena rubs her back, slow and gentle. “You both worry a lot about each other.”
Kara nods, idly running her fingers along the seam of her jeans. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Our relationship has been bordering on codependent for a long time. It’s better now that she has a connection to someone that has nothing to do with me.” She side-eyes Lena with a little smile. “And now that I do, too. And if they do end up going through a rough patch, or even parting ways over this issue… I’ll be there for her, of course. But— this is going to sound so selfish, but I’m just starting to find a different balance in my life. I don’t want to go back to having no room for anyone but Alex.”
Being privy to Kara’s inner world always makes Lena feel so privileged. Emotional. She can’t always find the words right away, but Kara never seems to mind those long silences between them.
“Are old patterns sneaking up on us necessarily a bad thing? We change in fits and starts, and you said it yourself, things are changing between the two of you.” She keeps running her hand up and down Kara’s back. It feels nice. “I’ll be there to remind you you have a life outside of being her wonderful sister, either way.”
Earlier, Kara had pressed a barely-there kiss to her cheek. It was new. Sweet. Jack’s casual kisses were scratchy, because of his beard, but Kara’s skin is soft, and she’s always so hesitant. Somehow, that makes it even more loving.
So, Lena hopes it’s okay as she leans in to kiss Kara on the cheek. It must be, because Kara looks at her with unbearable warmth afterwards, and their faces are so close, and she says nothing for such a long time, that Lena has to look away.
For once, Kara is the one to duck her head to meet her eyes. Lena tries to hold her gaze. She can stare down millionaires in the board room, but Kara’s something else.
“Sometimes, I afraid I make you uncomfortable. I worry about that a lot.”
Lena takes her hand in both of hers, heart in her throat, and brushes her thumb to the back of Kara’s fingers as delicately as she can. “I’ve never felt uncomfortable around you. I’m so sorry that I’ve given you that impression. I just don’t know what to do with myself when you look at me like that.”
“With…” Kara invites complete openness, but it’s still hard. Lena’s never talked to anyone like that. “With so much love.”
“But that’s how you look at me all the time.”
“How could I not? But the difference is, you’ve been looked at this way all your life. Your parents, your adoptive family, your friends… you get it. It’s all new, for me.”
Kara’s fingers twitch, but she doesn’t withdraw her hand. “I think you’re mistaken.”
She says it so softly, Lena almost misses it. “I am?”
“I’m not used to this, either. You—”
There’s a loud knock on the door, startling them both. “You all right, in there?”
It’s Alex. Kara winces. “We’re good. Sorry. We’ll be out in a few minutes.”
There’s a long pause, and Lena can feel Alex’s perplexity through the door. “Okay.”
Kara exhales slowly. She looks exhausted. Lena strokes her fingers, and Kara rubs her free hand up and down her thigh.
“Um. What was I— oh, right. So, I know how it feels to be looked at with love. But…” She looks down at their joined hands. “I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. It feels different, with you. Heightened. You don’t just look at me with love. You touch me with love, too. And not only love, but interest, curiosity, respect. That’s what’s new. The whole package.” She shakes her head, carefully pulls her hand free from Lena’s. “Anyway. I’ll let you get changed.”
She stands and hands Lena the shirt. Lena doesn’t take it. She looks up at Kara, here in this warm, dim light. She hasn’t ever witnessed a light that wasn’t kind to Kara. Blinding sun, candles or harsh neons… light always falls on her like a benediction.
She wraps her fingers around Kara’s wrist in a loose hold. “Stay.”
“Are you sure?”
Lena’s never had a good relationship with her own body. Too many curves, too many stretch marks, too many pounds, too sharp a jaw, too critical a mother. It’s funny, the way she happened to develop a friendship with someone like Kara, who radiates athletic healthiness, yet retains a softness about her. She’s perfect, and Lena feels anything but.
Still, she nods. She stands, takes her wet blouse off. It feels like ripping off a bandaid.
Kara doesn’t look away, but her gaze remains solely on Lena’s face. She offers her the clean shirt again. Lena trades it against her stained one.
“I’m so sorry about this. I’ll get it dry-cleaned.”
Lena knows it’s not about money, so she fights the impulse to protest. “Thank you.”
“It’s the least I can do.” Kara unfolds the blouse, looks at the stain. “Red on white, like this… it reminds me of something.”
Lena is dimly aware that that she’s still standing there, half-naked, Kara’s clean shirt in her hands. She makes no move to put it on. She feels wobbly, attempts a smile.
“What, Snow White?”
To her surprise, Kara nods. “Almost. It’s an older tale though, a twelfth century legend about one of king Arthur’s knights, Perceval. One of the first times these colours were associated in literature.”
“Tell me about it.”
Kara looks back at the shirt, traces the outline of the wine stain. “Perceval is young and foolhardy, rushing from one adventure to the next. He never stops to think, or to get to know anyone. One day, he sees a falcon diving into a flock of geese, striking one. It falls briefly, takes flight again. Perceval sees that it’s left three drops of blood on the snow, and it reminds him of a woman who loved him, once. For the very first time, he focuses inwards. It goes something like… Gosh, I used to know it by heart.”
Lena lives for moments like this, when her frightening mind can lose itself in someone’s more peaceful one. “Try to remember.”
“Let’s see…” Kara frowns, takes a breath. “Perceval saw the disarray / Of the snow, where it had been / And the blood still to be seen, / Where he lay upon his lance. / He well-nigh fell into a trance, / As it revealed the fresh color / That graced the face of his lover.” She lets out an awkward chuckle, puts Lena’s shirt away.
“How come I didn’t know you were the kind of person who memorizes verses from medieval romances?”
Kara pushes her glasses up her nose. “It’s just a modern translation.”
“Just a modern translation.” Lena brushes Kara’s hand off and adjusts her glasses for her. “It means so much to me, every time you choose to share something about yourself. I hope you know that.”
Kara swallows audibly. “I’m going to tell you more, then.” She has that serious little crinkle she gets, sometimes. “You already know I’m not from the US, but English isn’t even my first language. After I got adopted, I started spending all my time at the Midvale library. Reading felt like a safe way to learn. One of the librarians took me under his wing and he’d point me to books he thought I’d enjoy. This was one of them. Perceval, the story of the Grail.”
Lena tries to imagine it. Working in a public library, and a child like Kara coming in, the picture of earnestness and grief, and a mind working with such vibrancy. She sees herself, too, curled up in that old leather armchair by the window, in the mansion’s library.
“Why do you think people like us we find such comfort in stories?”
Kara smiles like it calls for the simplest answer. “Because we know it’s going to make sense. Life only makes sense looking back, if ever. It’s daunting.”
“But you believe in a higher power, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t it make it easier to trust that life makes sense, then? Even if you can’t see how?”
Kara takes a long breath in. “It’s different. Hope is a choice, you know? Not a feeling. It’s like love, you have to make that choice every day. I try to do it consistently, but I slip up.”
For the first time since Lena took her blouse off, Kara’s eyes drift over her body. It grips Lena harshly, intimately. It’s nothing like the first time she took her clothes off in front of Jack. She’s not even naked, not really. She fights the urge to wrap her arms around herself.
It could be hope, too. Letting someone you love look at you. Her pulse quickens. That’s the difference. Jack wasn’t an artist, he couldn’t draw her into existence.
“Anyway,” Kara murmurs. She puffs her cheeks. “This is a really nice bra.”
Lena looks down at her bra because she doesn’t even remember which one she’s wearing. The charged atmosphere pops like a bubble, and Kara’s gentle smile tells her this was the idea.
Kara nods. “So… I’m aware that I’m conventionally pretty.”
“I’d say you’re selling yourself a tad short, but all right.”
Kara puts her hands on her hips, thoughtful. “I meant that… I fit certain criteria when it comes to modern beauty standards, but I don’t always feel good about my own appearance, or how my body… I don’t know, fits into space, maybe.”
Ah, here it is. The devastating point Kara inevitably makes when she appears to go on a tangent.
“When your mom called you after you testified against her, you joked about her wanting to criticize your outfit and tell you to get a makeover. And I don’t know what that’s like, to have someone make you feel insecure about the way you look, but I do understand feeling… inadequate, and trapped in your own body. I know it’s not something you can shake off with compliments, so I’ll just say that—” She flexes her fingers. “That I love looking at you. The shape of you, the way you move. There’s a harmony to it. It calms me.”
Lena unfolds the clean shirt with trembling hands, hastily puts it on and wishes she could stay hidden it in forever. It smells like Kara. It’s linen. It’s too much. But she has to emerge, eventually. “I’ve never seen you in this shirt. Is it new?” Her voice in hoarse. When was the last time she let herself cry?
“It was an impulse buy. I’ve never worn it.” Kara searches her face, looking even more distressed than Lena feels. “Did I overstep? I’m so sorry.”
Lena lets out a watery laugh. “Don’t be silly. Come here.”
Kara steps into her open arms, and Lena pulls her close. When Kara returns her embrace in that light, unobtrusive way of hers, Lena allows herself to close her eyes.
“The first time you slept over,” Kara whispers, her breath ghosting over Lena’s hair, “I was in the kitchen, and you came out of this bathroom, wearing my old Nasa tee-shirt. You’d just showered, brushed your hair. You were perfect. You are perfect.”
Alex wipes her mouth, drops her toothbrush back into its cup and pads over to her bedroom. Maggie’s spread out on the bed like a starfish, a hand on her stomach.
“Maggie Sawyers, in a food coma?”
“Shut up. I’m in pain.”
Alex puts her hands on her hips, nodding. “Yep, I’m diagnosing a severe case of Pigging Out.”
Maggie groans, throws the duvet open. Alex climbs in, pushes Maggie’s hand away and rubs her stomach for her.
“It’s the dessert that did me in. Can you blame me?” Maggie asks with doleful eyes. “A caramelized crêpe with a scoop of avocado ice cream, drizzled with melted chocolate?”
“Gross.” Alex pecks her on the lips.
Maggie turns on her side and slips an arm around Alex’s waist. “Did you know Kara made it for me? The ice cream.”
“Are you serious?”
“I couldn’t believe it. Lena told me on the down low because she wanted to make sure I’d pick that option to make Kara happy.”
Alex pulls back, flops on her back. “Jesus.”
“What? It’s sweet.”
Alex stares at the ceiling. “I can’t wrap my head around tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
How to even begin to explain it? “Kara used to tell me everything. But she’s been slipping away, ever since she became Supergirl. I guess she’s taking her independence, but… I didn’t recognize her at all, tonight.” She pinches the bridge of her nose. “Can you believe how long they stayed together in the bathroom before dinner? What the hell was that about?”
“It’s just their thing, I think. When they went to the kitchen to get started on dinner? They didn’t start cooking at all until I went over there. They were just talking.”
“See?” Alex sighs, frustrated. “It’s weird. Kara’s a huge dork who stuffs her face and doesn’t cook, and tonight, she nerds out about illuminated manuscripts, swoons over fancy French crêpes and has long, soulful conversations with her BFF in the bathroom?”
Maggie gives her an amused, slightly knowing look Alex doesn’t like one bit.
“Different people bring out different parts of you.” Maggie strokes Alex’s arm. “Lena’s the one she enjoys fine foods and high-brow hobbies with. That’s fine, you’re still her favorite person.”
“Are you seriously saying Kara dumbs herself down with us mortals, but rich and cultured Lena Luthor brings out the refined Kryptonian out of her?”
Maggie turns away to switch off the bedside lamp. “I always get it wrong, when it comes to you and Kara.” She curls up under the covers.
Crap. Alex bites her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Maggie sighs. “Come here.”
Alex crawls into her arms. “It’s not fine, I shouldn’t have snapped. I guess you just hit too close to home.” She presses a little kiss to Maggie’s neck. “So, I’d say you get it pretty right, actually.”
Maggie pokes her in the stomach. “Danvers, are you saying I’m good at my job? You know, as a detective.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. Remember when I told you about the Black Mercy?”
“When you had to pull Kara out of her fantasy life on Krypton?”
“It was… I don’t know how to describe it. I felt like I’d walked in on a family of aristocrats, Kara was so— so different. The Black Mercy draws from your deepest desires and that is how she saw herself. Someone surrounded by elegant, artful shit and having gentle, polite conversations with her family. And what did we see tonight?”
“Ah.” Maggie is quiet for a while, idly stroking Alex’s arm. “So you think Lena, with all of her… poise, her education, her intellect, reminds her of her old life?”
“Uh-huh. Nailed it again.”
"Is that so bad, though, if Kara gets to be that version of herself with her?”
“No, I guess not. It’s just weird to see. At least their friendship makes a little more sense, now.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s part of it, but… there seems to be more to them than that. They’re really interested in each other, from what I saw tonight.”
Oh, no. “Maggie Sawyer, if you tell me my as-of-yet straight alien sister has a crush on Lena fucking Luthor, my heart is going to stop and you won’t inherit all of my stuff because we’re not married yet.”
Maggie snorts, cups her cheek and kisses her on the lips. “Kara having a crush wouldn’t be the worst thing, either, but no. I just meant that they find each other interesting. Like… they seem to click on a personal level. Before you got there, tonight, we were having the most awkward time, Kara and I. Then Lena came along, smoothed it over, made her comfortable. Made her laugh. And Kara did the same for her. So… I don’t know, Krypton or not, sounds like Kara’s found her best friend.”
Alex groans, grumpily shifts to rest her head on Maggie’s thigh. “I’m kind of jealous. I don’t get to see that side of Kara much. Maybe it’s my fault. I treat her like a baby, sometimes. I don’t ask what books she’s read lately, or if she’d like to go to the museum. But Lena does, I guess. Still, it sucks that she’s never felt comfortable sharing that part of herself with me.”
“Hey,” Maggie says, softly scratching her scalp. “I’ve known Kara for a whole year, and I could never figure out what to make of her. It took me seeing her tonight with Lena to find out she’s the loveliest, kindest person I’ve ever met. Present company excluded. Maybe we’re both morons.”
“Wow, thanks.” Alex kisses Maggie’s thigh. “When we adopted Kara… she couldn’t lift a spoon without bending it, couldn’t sleep because she doesn’t get tired on earth, couldn’t stand all the noises in the house, let alone outside. It was horrible. We had to help her with every single thing. Not to mention the language and cultural barrier. She was like a newborn, or— or a special needs kid. I’m not complaining, it must have been a hundred times harder for her. But seeing her so comfortable and happy around someone who knows nothing about her past and how hard it’s been, wasn’t there to help her through it all…” She frowns. “Like, what did I miss? And fuck, when Lena left and Kara gave her a goodbye hug? Unbelievable.”
Maggie looks confused. “Aren’t friends supposed to hug now and then?”
“Sure, but—” Alex huffs, suddenly full of restless energy. “The first time Kara allowed herself to hug my mom? She hurt her back so bad she had to stay in bed for two weeks. And I was there when it happened, I know Kara was so, so careful. But careful isn’t enough, not when you can wreck a wall just by leaning against it. That’s her life. It fucking sucks. That’s why she’ll barely hug you back, now. But she was the one initiating the hug with Lena.”
Maggie is quiet for a long time. “Maybe… maybe she loves being around someone who has no idea it’s this hard for her?”
Alex closes her eyes. “What happens when Lena finds out, though? Because she will, sooner or later. It’s going to be a disaster, and they’ll both get hurt, especially Kara.”
“Does it have to be a disaster? What if Lena loves her just the same?”