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lip drawn constellations and pen marked kisses

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i.

The first time Kara kisses her, it is largely unimportant.

It happens simply enough: Kara’s mouth pressed to Lena’s cheek mid-pose for the group photo that Nia insists on taking during a particularly rowdy game night. In the grand scale of things, it barely even registers. Kara’s lips are there and gone in the time it takes for an iPhone camera shutter to open and close, and the only lasting reminder of it lives on Nia’s Instagram page, in a world of social media that Lena does not frequent.

She doesn’t really think about it.

ii.

The second kiss, too, had felt natural enough in the moment. In retrospect, it was maybe intimate in a way that warranted additional consideration, but Lena wasn’t exactly in a place for making sociological analyses of where her friend chose to place her lips at the time. Rather she had been half shell-shocked, shaking violently in Kara’s arms and freezing down to her bones in the aftermath of Lex’s most recent (failed) attempt on her life.

Her driver, as it was, had defected to the party of the more wicked Luthor, and taken it upon himself to reroute her morning commute in order to put Lena’s Escalade-- with Lena inside it-- into the bay. He had lowered his own window and raised the partition just before they veered into the water, giving himself an easy escape and effectively trapping Lena into what quickly became the high-pressurized cabin of her SUV. She had cycled rapidfire through the stages of grief (or something like them): denial, anger, brief acceptance, anger, denial a second time, more anger, because Jesus Christ if I had known all it took to buy off my driver was an extra $250k I would have just paid it and considered it a security expense, she had thought. But somewhere between anger three and anger four, before the water had reached her neck or Lena had even had the opportunity to start pleading with a higher power, Supergirl arrived.

A fist had broken through the rear windshield with strength like a bullet, and strong arms pulled Lena, confused and sputtering, to the surface. She was fine, she had insisted to Kara’s concerned face, but then her body had started shaking of its own accord, and tears had started welling in her eyes even as she swore “it’s nothing, I’m used to it,” and Kara had simply ignored the brunette’s words, stepped into her, and pulled the red cape around them both like a refuge. It was this-- Kara holding Lena tight with an arm around her shoulders and one around her waist-- that had ultimately brought her back to the present. And maybe it had been Kryptonian body heat reflected against the otherworldly material of the cape, or maybe it had been the gentle way Kara’s thumb rubbed slow circles in the small of Lena’s back, but it had warmed her into something more tangible than the near-drowned, frozen thing that Supergirl had hauled out of the bay.

“It’s okay, you’re okay,” Kara had said, chin hooked into the space above Lena’s shoulder, and their pieces had fit together so beautifully in that moment that Lena felt, for the first time in a while, like it was true.

“Thank you,” Lena whispered.

“Of course. I’ve always got you,” Kara replied softly, and the arm around Lena’s shoulders had loosened to allow Kara’s hand to slide to cradle the brunette’s face instead. Kara’s fingers pushed wet tendrils of Lena’s hair away from where they were stuck to the pale skin at her temple, and Lena had frozen for a second, unsure of what was next-- but then Kara leaned forward and pressed her lips to Lena’s forehead like it was nothing at all.

They stayed like that for a long moment, curled into one another and sheltered by the cocoon of Supergirl’s cape, Kara’s lips lingering tenderly on Lena’s skin. And maybe that should have been the end of the hug, but Lena was cold, and Kara’s body was warm, and there was a safety in the lock of her friends’ arms that she wasn’t quite ready to surrender, so they stayed that way until the first sirens of emergency services arrived and forced them back into reality.

And if Lena could feel the heat of something nervous fluttering in her at that moment, and if maybe it felt like it was blooming from the place just above her left eyebrow where Kara’s lips had touched her, then, she thinks, it was probably all just a coincidence.

iii.

The third time Kara kisses Lena, Lena begins keeping a log.

It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it, caught-up-in-the-moment kind of kiss. A mid-day lunch at Noonan’s turns into a late-afternoon lunch at Noonan’s, and then that turns into a happy-hour at a Noonan’s, and suddenly it’s evening and Kara and Lena have occupied at least three separate seating areas of the restaurant in six and a half hours. Alex calls, teasing Kara the first time around with “You’re still there?!” and “You better make Lena tip your server like, 300% for dealing with you guys all day,” but Kara just rolls her eyes and smiles and promises that yes, she’ll be back to her apartment in time for movie night. But then another hour rolls by before either of them realize it, and when Kara’s phone vibrates the second time, she jolts to her feet before answering.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m on the way! I’ll be there in literally 10 seconds,” she says quickly into the phone as she winces an apologetic expression toward Lena. Lena only barely contains a laugh at the sound of Alex huffing on the other end of the line, and she’s just about to open her mouth to apologize for stealing Kara’s entire day away from her when she feels soft lips against her temple.

“Gotta run, so sorry to rush out,” Kara says as she frantically grabs her jacket from the booth. “Today was lovely! See you tomorrow!” She calls over her shoulder, and she’s gone before the blush even reaches Lena’s cheeks.

The scientist in Lena wants to launch a full-blown scientific inquiry, and she nearly does. After years as the figurehead of L-Corp, it’s been quite some time since she’s been able to really own an experiment start to finish, and she gets excited at the prospect, already planning several steps ahead: she could collect data points kiss by kiss (assuming-- hoping-- there would be more of them), plot them according to location, proportionality to length of friendship, environment, number of witnesses-- but that’s weird, she knows, and maybe not the kind of thing you’re supposed to do in friendships. But she can’t let her repeated questions go, so instead she sticks to something simple: when she arrives home from Noonan’s, she marks ||| on a blue sticky note and tacks it to the door of her refrigerator.

iv.

Eight days later, Kara kisses Lena’s neck, and it awakens something so visceral in her that she thanks God she didn’t launch an experiment after all; the string of obscenities that run through her mind are not observations she’d ever be caught dead recording on paper.

Kara’s drunk. They’re all drunk, really, but Kara gets drunk far less often than the rest of the Superfriends, so there’s something especially amusing about watching her wiggle around in excitement at (multiple) children’s movies. She’s roped them all into watching a Disney original double-feature to include both Hercules and Aristocats, group agreement to which has only been secured because Alex has come prepared with a long list of drinking game rules as accompaniment to each film. The first musical number has Alex tacking a catch-all rule on to the night-- “No, ‘Drink when Kara sings too loudly’ is not bullying,” she insists-- and blood alcohol levels rise fast.

Kelly cuts Alex off halfway through Aristocats, arguing that “waterfalling whiskey for an entire song will put you in the hospital, babe,” and Nia gets sent home with Brainy after she nearly falls asleep right there on Kara’s living room floor. Kara and Lena soldier bravely onward together, Lena meeting Kara’s alien cocktails one for one with glasses of white wine, and as soon as the final credits start rolling, the room lets out a collective sigh of relief.

“Hey,” Kara slurs, slamming her empty glass down on the table and feigning hurt. “I heard that.”

“You’re just… so, so loud, Kara,” Alex says, rubbing at her temples as Kelly and Lena bite back laughs.

“Mmmm, I don’t think so,” Kara says, flopping backward against her couch and throwing her arms loosely around the shoulders of the women on either side of her. She turns to her right, face far too close to her sister’s as she speaks teasingly to Alex. “I’m the one with super hearing, after all,” she says. “So I think I’d know if I was too loud.”

“Then you should be super aware of the way we all groan when you out-sing the movie,” Alex retorts, grumbling as Kelly slaps at her knee and admonishes her to be nice.

“Rude, Alex. You’re just mad because we didn’t watch The Mummy again and you couldn’t stare at Rachel Weisz,” Kara says smugly, before swiveling to her left. “Do you hear this Lena? She’s being so mean. You’re the only one who is never mean to me, did you know that?”

Lena bites her lip to repress a smirk, barely stopping herself from correcting Kara and reminding her of not two hours earlier when Kara had accused her of being “a monster” for daring to correct the mythological inaccuracies in Hercules. “Uh huh,” she laughs, agreeing. “Of course.”

“Mmm. No more Alex,” Kara sighs dreamily, resting her head on Lena’s shoulder. “She is too mean. Kelly will be my sister now instead.”

“Ooh okay! I will be the nicest sister you have ever had,” Kelly laughs from the far side of Alex, ignoring her girlfriend’s dramatic groans of ‘oh my God,’ in the background.

“Uh, excuse me,” Lena says, mock-defiance in her tone as she speaks into the mass of blonde hair resting heavily on her shoulder. “Everyone is your sister now? And what does that make me?”

Kara responds by scooting closer and throwing an arm dramatically across her friend, pressing her face clumsily into the space of Lena’s neck and smiling wide, “Same as you’ve always been! You’re my Lena.”

“Ah yes, her Lena,” Alex repeats seriously, nodding sagely toward the brunette. “A noble role to fill. Getting her to eat kale is rivaled in difficulty only by fighting her in hand-to-hand combat, I’ve heard.”

Lena laughs out loud at the joke, wrapping her own arm around Kara and pulling her closer in a half-drunken attempt at a hug. “Yes, well, somebody has to do it.”

“No they don’t,” Kara asserts loudly, voice muffled against Lena’s shoulder. Then, quieter, just to Lena, she says, “I’m glad it’s you, though,” and the softened movement of her mouth against the tender skin of Lena’s neck sends tiny currents of electricity from the point of contact straight through the brunette’s bones. Lena just hums in response, not trusting herself to speak as a curious kind of spark tickles its way up the back of her neck and turns her ears hot. It’s nothing, Lena thinks, she’s just talking, but then Kara absentmindedly presses her open mouth to the skin under her lips in some kind of half-smile half-kiss, and every nerve ending in Lena’s body blinks alive all at once. She’s suspended in a moment of shock, letting waves of whatever this thing that Kara is causing to wash over her like electrical currents, when the blonde suddenly jumps to her feet.

“Speaking of not-kale!” Kara exclaims as she pulls away, completely unaware of the way Lena’s body is undergoing the slowest of nuclear meltdowns. “Let’s order pizza!”

Lena spends the rest of her night severely flustered, hands clutched tight tight tight around her drink. She’s worried that if she allows them free reign they may just find their way back into the soft of Kara’s shirt of their own accord, because God, she can’t think of anything except lips on her neck and breath on her ear and how much she wants to be touching Kara, and this is not something she was even remotely prepared for when she showed up for game night tonight. If Kara notices the uptick in Lena’s breathing every time they so much as brush on the couch, or the way Lena subconsciously brushes at her own neck like she expects to find some physical reminder of Kara’s mouth against it, she doesn’t show it.

When finally Lena gets home that night, she clicks her door closed and has to rest her head against the inside of it for several moments. She feels the warmth of “I’m glad it’s you,” play across her ear like Kara’s breath is on her again, and the phantom touch of lips against her neck nearly makes her legs go weak. She falls asleep drunk and heavy and loose, the unmistakable buzz of arousal across her skin and thoughts of Kara’s kisses embedded in her dreams.

When she wakes up, she marks the note on her fridge to read |||| .

 

v.

The fifth kiss is nothing especially ground-breaking, but by nature of it being the fifth of its kind with absolutely no explanation, Lena begins to get annoyed.

She sighs as she types out a text canceling lunch with Kara for the third day in a row. The technology she thought was ready to launch by the end of the week had malfunctioned on Tuesday morning, and it’s now mid-day Thursday: she’s got exactly 26 hours to fix L-Corp’s newest venture before the concept prototype goes live. Tech reporters will be demanding demonstrations, and she’ll be damned if she doesn’t give them a good one.

She hits the send button and Supergirl arrives 40 seconds later, strolling into the lab like it’s a second home, cape billowing behind her and all.

“Still trying to get that thing to work?” She asks as she approaches the workbench Lena’s been hunkered down at for the past two days.

Lena doesn’t look up, hyperfocused on the project in front of her. “Unfortunately, yes. But I think I’m close.”

Kara hums in response, circling around the workspace, sliding behind her friend and dropping her chin directly onto the bone of Lena’s shoulder, peeking around her at the minuscule wires Lena is carefully manipulating. “Well it looks like it’s going great to me,” Kara jokes.

“Okay, ow,” Lena replies, “I promise that I’ll be done much quicker if you aren’t impaling me with your bony chin.”

Kara scoffs in mock-indignation at that, tilting her head to knock it gently against Lena’s. “Ugh, you humans are so fragile,” she jokes, and she can practically feel Lena rolling her eyes. “Have you eaten at all today though?”

“Mmmm, not that I can remember,” Lena says distractedly, eyes scanning her workspace. “Have you seen my---? Ah, nevermind.” She shifts her weight to reach across the table for a tiny set of pliers, Kara’s head still attached to her shoulder, and as the blonde tries to follow the movement, she unintentionally presses the full of her body against Lena’s back. Suddenly she’s close and she’s firm behind her and she’s hot and Lena’s breath hitches, loud and unmistakable in the silence of the lab. The flames of something hot ignite across her skin as goosebumps erupt across the surface of her arms, and there’s a tense moment in which Lena doesn’t move, frozen in place by the thunderstrike of arousal that branches through her and whispers an obscene dare to press back against Kara even further. She almost does, all thoughts of reason most of the way out of the window, when--

“Well, good luck!” Kara chirps cheerily. As she pulls back, she presses a chaste kiss with a dramatic mwah to the back shoulder of Lena’s lab coat, and then Supergirl is halfway out the door, calling out, “I’m going to leave lunch with Jess for you. Please eat. And let me know how the work goes!”

Lena lets out a long, shaky breath once she knows that Kara is gone. She wills the staccato of her heartbeat to slow and tries not to relive the feeling of Kara’s body molded against her own, because God, Kara is solid and if she wanted to pin Lena to this table, she could do it so easily, she could bend her over it and ----

Lena slams her eyes shut and grips at the edge of the metal tabletop until her knuckles go white. She grits her teeth, sincerely regretting the foolish decision to dismiss her entire engineering team for the night, having been confident in her assumption that she’d be able to find a solution to this prototype malfunction better and faster if she were working alone. Left with the responsibility of singlehandedly having 25.5 hours to solve a deceptively complex problem with millions in funding riding on it is difficult enough, but fuck, how is she supposed to focus when she could feel the plane of Kara’s abs pressed against her back, when Kara had kissed her again, for a fifth time in as many weeks?

It takes a long while for the lingering intensity that Kara left on her skin to fade, but Lena does, eventually, get the prototype fixed. She makes it home before sunrise, drawing a shaky line through the hashmarks on her fridge and stumbles, exhausted, into bed; she sleeps dreamlessly, and the note on her fridge reads |||| .

vi.

The sixth kiss almost ruins everything.

Spending time with Kara quickly becomes a minefield. They have lunch, they have brunch, they have game night; they see each other almost a dozen times without incident, and things are normal for long enough that if not for the sticky note on her fridge screaming ink marks at her, Lena can almost forget the kisses. There are other things, of course, but she’s dead-set on barrelling past the way her stomach flips when Kara holds her gaze for a second too long, or how her fingertips twitch hot with the desire to touch when Kara offhandedly bites her lip. Those are… unrelated, probably. Those are things that she feels, so they’re things that she can bury, Lena tells herself. And she does just that, to varying degrees of success, until Kara kisses her thigh.

It is the third game night since kiss four, and Lena sits crosslegged on the floor next to Kara, watching with some mix of horror and wonderment as Alex is forced to sip a shot of vodka as punishment for refusing to share her most embarrassing first date story.

“Jesus Christ,” Alex cringes her way through the drink and allows herself a tiny shiver upon finishing it.“What the hell are we playing?”

“It’s the next best drinking game when nobody has cards,” Nia insists. “We played it all the time at Georgetown. Okay, next!”

Please let it be another musical challenge, I have so many good songs to make you guys sing,” Kara says, tongue caught between her teeth as she smiles in anticipation.

“Okaaay,” Nia drags out, tapping at her phone and waiting through cheesy sound effects as the app spins a virtual wheel and lands upon the next round’s rules. “Let the person to your right send a text message to anybody in your phone, or kiss the person to your left,” Nia recites the auto-generated line from her phone, and then glances up at the group. “Kara starts.”

Kara looks to her right, where Alex sits on the couch, and upon seeing the wicked smirk on her sister’s face, promptly makes up her mind. She spins to her left instead, not even bothering to look at Lena before she leans down and presses an unthinking kiss to whichever part of Lena’s body happens to be in reach. Had Lena been sitting normally, this would not have been world-ending: Kara’s mouth might have ghosted over the edge of Lena’s shoulder, or her elbow, or somewhere that Lena could reasonably muster up the mental fortitude to be cool about. But as luck would have it, Lena is sitting cross-legged, and when Kara bends down, her lips press hot to the bare skin of Lena’s thigh, just high of the inside of her knee, and Lena only just manages to bite back an honest-to-god whimper.

Kara pops back up, oblivious to the effect she’s left, and turns back to Nia. “Easy,” she says. “Next?”

Nia’s eyes flick toward Lena, and then toward Kara. She’s got a curious look on her face, but if she notices anything out of the ordinary, she elects to stay quiet. Instead she purses her lips and urges Kelly to continue the round, and the room segues naturally into the next round of the game without giving Lena a second thought.

Lena, who sits quiet and still and tries very hard to quell the sensation that she is detonating in slow motion, right here, seated on Kara’s living room floor. The game continues around her, but her focus slips away to the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears and the way her body lights up in the wake of Kara’s unexpected kiss. Something radiant ripples through her, a bright thing of nerves and touch that angles from the point of contact on her leg and carves its way toward somewhere deeper, sending her physical perception of Kara skyrocketing.

She’s dimly aware of the goings-on around her-- Alex laughs at a joke, Nia refills a wine glass-- but she is rooted to the spot with an excruciating recognition of each of Kara’s movements next to her. There’s a physical presence to it, the acute feeling of awareness of the blonde’s body near her own, and Lena feels it so intensely against her skin that even the scientist in her stumbles a bit.

“Lena?” Kara asks, and when Lena turns to look, the Kryptonian’s face is just a centimeter too close for comfort and painted in gentle colors of concern. “You good?”

Lena blinks dumbly for a second, trying to unstick her brain from the inside of her head before offering, “Yeah! Yeah, great,” and reveling in the small miracle that Kara believes it. Three more rounds pass in a blur before she is clear-headed enough to take stock of the facts, and when she lines them all up they begin to take the shape of something that plucks irritatingly at her nerves.

Lena is more than aware of the very specific kind of friendship that she and Kara have inadvertently cultivated-- one that has been defined by charged energies and heavy glances since the moment a new-in-town-CEO locked eyes with a not-yet-reporter over a minimalist desk. And at first it was inquisitive flirtation over appetizers, and then it was profound and intimate on Lena’s couch, but it was never really something tangible, and so somewhere along the line they had made a home for themselves in this state of limbo and settled in. This is familiar for Lena: she has learned how to cushion words that make Kara blush with laughter that implies joking, how to look away from the blue of Kara’s eyes a half-second before gentle intimacy evolves into something that sighs romance and breaks the rules of their unspoken flux.

Lena has spent years pressing careful fingertips against the soft edges of their friendship without daring to cross the threshold of it, and now Kara has kissed her-- is kissing her, continuously-- barreling through silk-thin boundaries they’ve been stringing up since they met, and it leaves Lena reeling. Nobody warned her that the rules had changed, and now her body is collecting Kara’s kisses like pushpins on a map, lips wandering cheek to forehead to shoulder to thigh in a journey that leaves Lena dangerously breathless and drives far more questions than answers.

“You sure you’re alright?” Kara’s saying it softly now, tucking her head down low to be sure that Lena knows she’s only speaking to her. A not-quite smile touches the soft of the blonde’s lips as she reaches out to knock the back of her hand against Lena’s knee.

And maybe Lena can’t ignore the way her friend’s touch curls goosebumps around the delicate skin of her neck, but it’s also reckless and confusing and annoying, because what is she supposed to make of this? That this is, apparently, something they do now-- easy touches graduated into easy kisses and now suddenly Lena is supposed to be able to smile and fake composure even when the spot where Kara kissed her feels like it’s glowing so brightly that the rest of the room should be blinded by it.

“I’m fine,” Lena replies, but it’s one degree sharper than she means it to be, and it makes Kara’s eyebrows draw together in confusion before she’s got the chance to school her features.

“Okay,” she replies quietly, and she purposefully injects a note of understanding into her voice that makes Lena clench her jaw, because she’s confident that Kara doesn’t understand, not in the slightest. And which is worse, Lena wonders? That Kara may have finally worked up the nerve to shatter the thinnest pane of glass between their hearts and not said something, or that Kara very well may be completely oblivious to the effect she’s causing? “You’d tell me if something was wrong, right?” Kara asks then, and she allows her hand to slide a bit and rest gently against Lena’s leg in a gesture meant to be comforting.

It’s a bizarre sensation, to look directly into the heartfelt blue of Kara’s eyes and simultaneously attempt to fight a full-body shiver strong enough to ripple the wine in her glass; Lena only half-succeeds at both. Her brain maps and remaps exactly the points where Kara’s skin connects with hers as the blonde’s fingertips drift across her leg: pinky, ring finger, middle finger, thumb. When Kara’s palm lands firm and pliant, Lena bolts from her sitting position.

“Of course!” she says far too enthusiastically, steadfastly ignoring the peculiar look that Kara gives her from her seat on the floor. “More wine?” Lena adds quickly, and she hopes to every higher power that Kara will let this go, because she really needs more alcohol, an excuse to escape, and for Kara to stop touching her so she can finally catch her breath.

“Sure,” Kara says, smile brilliant and natural and so blissfully unaware that it makes Lena want to scream.

She spends much of the rest of her evening willing her brain to please, God pay attention to the cards in her hands, or the Jenga tower in front of her, or the gone-too-quick bottle of red that’s been refilling her glass, or really anything except the way Kara’s hands sometimes hover near her leg, sometimes land on the ground just centimeters from the skin of Lena’s thigh. The night becomes one long, torturous attempt to avoid allowing any part of their bodies to touch, the memory of Kara’s lips on her leg flaring through her psyche over and over, like the revolving beam of a lighthouse warning her not to get too close.

Lena’s mind does right itself, eventually. It’s not until hours later; after she lets out a long-held breath in the quiet of her own home, after she adds a crooked tally to the tiny paper on her fridge, after she staggers into bed and grinds against her hand to the thought of Kara’s hands on her hips and Kara’s lips on her thighs and Lena nearly feels bad, but she’s drunk and God she feels good.

When she wakes the next morning and pads into her kitchen, the |||| | on her fridge triggers rapidfire memories of the night before, and she’s struck with a combination of annoyance and guilt and the telltale thrill of remembrance all in quick succession. The next time, she swears to herself, she’s going to have a plan, because she can’t sustain this… whatever it is that’s going on now.

vii.

The seventh one comes when Lena burns herself. She does not have a plan.

She’s distracted by something Kara’s saying from behind her as she slides a tray of unbaked cookie dough onto the bottom rack of Kara’s oven, but as she moves to pull away, the skin just below her elbow grazes the heated metal of the top rack, and it hurts.

Shit,” she hisses, yanking her hand back toward herself and sucking a breath in through her teeth in an attempt to stifle further curses.

“What happened?” Kara appears over her shoulder in the blink of an eye, and Lena startles a bit. It’s one thing to see Supergirl launch into flight from the edge of her balcony, but it’s another, more jarring thing entirely to see Kara-- her Kara, Kara in jeans and a soft white sweater-- move about the inside of her apartment faster than the human eye can process. The whole effect still stuns Lena sometimes, so when the blonde moves from across the room to close close close in less time than it takes for Lena’s pain receptors to finish activating, she fumbles.

“I--” Lena tries, blinking through a wave of searing pain on her arm. “Just, the, uh…” she trails off, struggling to regain her thoughts. Kara looks at her expectantly, wide-eyed and growing more concerned by the second, until finally Lena opts to simply hold her arm out for Kara to see. “It’s fine,” Lena presses out through her teeth just as Kara’s eyes drop to an angry red mark seared several centimeters across Lena’s skin below the crease of her elbow.

Oh,” Kara gasps, taking Lena’s forearm carefully in the palm of her hand and leaning in to look closer. “Lena, this is bad.”

“It really isn’t,” Lena replies, wincing slightly even as the first bursts of pain are beginning to dull. “I just need to get it under some cold water.”

Kara cocks her head a bit. “I bet I can do you one better than that,” she says, and before Lena’s brain can process what that means, Kara’s gingerly lifting Lena’s arm to just in front of her lips and exhaling a current of ice-cold air across her skin.

“What--” Lena starts beginning to ask, but then the sensation hits her, and the rest of her question gets swallowed in her own stuttered gasp. It’s mesmerizing, watching tiny ice crystals form and melt across the surface of her skin all at once, and the relief of it is incredible on the burn, but Kara’s breath on her skin like this is something else, too. It ignites goosebumps across Lena’s entire body, and sends a shudder so intense through her that she feels every moment of the fire of it as it runs from the blush of her cheeks all the way down to her toes. “Oh,” she says dumbly.

Kara pulls back a bit, holds Lena’s arm aloft like she’s surveying her work triumphantly. “Does that help?” She asks, looking up to meet Lena’s eyes and looking almost a bit nervous. “Too cold?”

“Um,” Lena says. She tries to meet Kara’s eyes when she answers, she really does, but there are still phantom shivers that have nothing to do with the cold ghosting down her spine, and with Kara’s fingers still closed around her wrist, Lena feels like she’s seconds from ignition. She glances away from the blonde, her gaze alighting on the source of pain that Kara’s now chilled numb. “Yeah. I mean, no. It’s great. Fine. Great, thank you,” she says too quickly, and then she moves to pull away.

She almost manages to get her own arm back, nearly gets the chance to take a deep breath and try to quell the livewire Kara’s exposed in her, and then it happens. Kara reaches out and catches her fingers between Lena’s to tug her arm closer again, and then she leans down and presses her lips fully to the pale of the brunette’s forearm, just below the wound.

“Ta-da,” she says, dropping Lena’s wrist and smiling wide. “Now it’s healed.” Lena stands silent in shock. A moment of silence passes and when Lena doesn’t react, Kara’s smile falters a bit. “I mean, not that it’s really healed, I don’t have healing powers or anything, but you know, ‘kiss and make it better’ and all that---” Kara continues, explaining herself.

Lena’s whole body thrums as she stares back at the woman in front of her. She’s frozen still: Kara’s long since let go of her arm, but Lena keeps it held aloft between them like she’s preserving evidence, like the darkening line of her burn marks the start of a series of Kara’s actions that have finally become impossible to ignore.

She knows how she must look--- lips parted, pupils blown out, breath held in her lungs from when she stopped breathing at the touch-- she wonders if Kara could hear her heart flipping over itself at twice its normal speed, if she’s listening even now as it slows and Lena finally comes to a decision. There are moments to be subtle and moments to demand action: if Kara’s going to spend weeks setting the rules for a high-stakes game, then Lena’s finally going to take the opportunity to beat her at it.

Her pulse beats loudly in her chest. It’s a risk Lena’s been on the edge of taking for years, and there’s never been a better time to push it over the edge. “What if that’s not the only thing that hurts?” she asks, tilting her head a bit as she fixes Kara with a level stare.

“What do you mean?” Kara replies, stepping swiftly around Lena to push the oven door shut with her foot.

“What if there are other things that I need kissed and made better?” Lena interrupts, nearly smirking into the empty space over her shoulder where Kara’s disappeared to. It’s unbearably cheesy, she knows, but she glows hot every time Kara touches her and she’s not sure how many more of these confusing encounters she can take before she implodes. There’s not a word of this that can be misinterpreted, so when she hears Kara’s movements stop behind her, she thinks that maybe, maybe, this is the moment that she puts an end to this thing going on between them so they can start something else-- something better.

Kara steps out from behind her, turning to face her friend with such worry in her eyes that for a moment, Lena almost asks her if she’s okay. And then Kara speaks, and the moment comes crumbling down. “What do you mean? Are you hurt? What can I-- do you want me to call Alex and see if she can have the DEO check you out?”

“I-- what? Kara, no,” Lena insists, bewildered, but now Kara’s concerned, and she’s reaching for her phone while she mutters about how Alex isn’t technically a doctor, but she’s almost sure she can talk her into looking into whatever Lena needs, if Lena can just hold on a second. “Kara,” Lena tries, but it doesn’t get through-- she’s scrolling through her contact list for her sister now. “Kara.”

The blonde’s head snaps up at that, meeting Lena’s gaze. “Yeah?”

“I’m fine,” Lena insists, and the reality of the rejection she’s just experienced starts to settle in. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--”

“Oh,” Kara replies. “Okay. It sounded like maybe you were…”

“I just meant-- hypothetically, I guess.” Lena replies. “I was... kidding. Kind of.” It’s been a long time since she’s been so thoroughly shut down, and embarrassment begins to color her cheeks as she stutters through an attempt at walking back what she said. “Anyway! Sorry,” she laughs emptily, and reaches desperately for somewhere else to direct attention. “Oh, I completely forgot to set the timer on the cookies!”

“Not to worry,” Kara smiles back. She saunters over toward her couch, flopping onto it sideways as she points toward her eyes. “We’ll take them out early, and if they aren’t done I’ll just zap ‘em.”

Lena laughs because she knows she’s supposed to, but just like that, apparently, the whole thing has passed. A burn, a kiss, a moment that Lena thought could nearly have hurled them over the edge-- and then it’s pushed behind them in favor of underbaked chocolate chip cookies and chats about CatCo and a million other things that do absolutely nothing to distract her from the excruciating sting of such a thorough dismissal. She makes it through an hour before she pulls an excuse out of her phone, apologizing profusely and tossing vague references to L-Corp work as she hurries to leave. She has to get away from this-- from Kara-- for her own sanity. Kara’s smile is too bright and Lena’s ego is too bruised, and she stands to leave with an arm still stinging and a confusing ache pressing deep in her chest.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Kara chirps as she follows Lena to the door.

“Sure, maybe,” Lena replies, and if it sounds halfhearted, Kara doesn’t seem to notice. “Busy day at work, so I’ll let you know.”

“Great!” Kara smiles, but then her face goes more serious. “You’re sure your arm is alright?” She reaches for Lena’s hand, and Lena, against all better judgment screaming at her to get the hell out of Kara’s apartment, lets her. The blonde intertwines their fingers, using the leverage to flip Lena’s arm over and pull it closer for inspection. “It looks a little better,” she says, hovering, and for a brief, horrifying moment, Lena thinks Kara’s going to blow on it again and that she’ll melt right into this very floor.

“It’ll be fine,” Lena whispers, and fuck, she hates the way her voice lilts soft and breathy every time Kara touches her.

viii.

“Okay, if you say so. But for extra healing luck, then,” Kara replies, and the goofiness in her tone is contrasted sharply by the care she takes when she bends down and presses a lingering kiss-- the eighth one, to be exact-- to the inside of Lena’s wrist.

It’s ridiculous, Lena knows, for this moment, of all of them, to be the one that breaks her. Because Kara has kissed patterns across her body, has left scorching declarations of affection at point after point after point, connecting one to the next in a way that leaves her with the distinct feeling that Kara is pulling drawn-out constellations from her skin. And it’s bad enough, this prolonged cosmic stamp of her friend’s lips upon her, but this-- this one is different. There is something profoundly intimate about Kara’s fingers tangled gently within her own, about the delay of Kara’s mouth when it touches slow and sentimental to the blue channels of Lena’s veins. Tiny shivers radiate outward, hummingbird wings across the still surface of the orange duskglow in Kara’s apartment, and Lena’s heart skips once, quick, toward something that feels almost like--- but then the reality of the moment slams into her like a freight train, and fury has her speaking before she even realizes she’s opened her mouth.

“You can’t fucking do this to me Kara,” Lena snarls, tearing her hand from Kara’s grasp. “You can’t just-- you--” She stumbles halfway through the sentence, words that she didn’t plan to say out loud sticking to the inside of her teeth and daring to choke her up. She takes a defensive step backward, bumping into Kara’s door and shaking her head to herself like maybe the last six seconds can still be erased.

“What?” Kara says, immediate, confused. And then, “What did I do?” and it’s so quiet, so small, that it snaps Lena back to attention and forces her to meet the blonde’s eyes. Lena may have been surprised by the force of her own anger, but Kara looks like she’s just been wounded.

“Kissing me,” Lena says, but there’s a bit less condemnation when she sees Kara’s face. Lena’s flustered and she’s angry and she’s confused, but she’s also still treading the surface of a feeling of tenderness beneath Kara’s lips so soft that it aches, and seeing the hurt on the Kryptonian’s face gives her pause. “You can’t... you keep kissing me.”

Kara blinks once, baffled, and then she lets out a laugh, and all traces of vulnerability are gone at once. “What?” she asks, half-smiling in complete bewilderment. “What are you talking about?"

“What do you mean what am I talking about?” Lena shoots back, and the near-amusement in Kara’s tone rekindles her anger. “You’ve been kissing me. And then I just tried to--” she stops, unable to repeat the embarrassment of her rejection. “But you made it very clear that you’re not interested in me, but then you kissed me again, so what am I supposed to--”

“Lena,” Kara interrupts, a genuine smile on her face now, like she’s just realized that this is the silliest argument she’s ever had and not like every aspect of Lena’s life is being stripped bare and laid out exposed between them. “I’ve never kissed you.”

Lena’s dumbstruck. “You’re kidding me right now.”

“I haven’t--” Kara’s eyebrows draw together in confusion, the matter-of-factness in Lena’s tone giving her pause. “Don’t you think I’d know, if we… if I kissed you?” Her voice lowers at the end of the question like she’s telling a secret, like it’s a controversial new thought that requires special care as she coaxes it out of her mouth.

“You’ve kissed me eight times in six weeks,” Lena deadpans. The effort it takes to keep her voice level pays off immediately as she watches Kara’s mouth drop open in shock.

“What? No,” Kara hurries to respond. Her hands fly up in front of her, moving animatedly as she takes a nervous step backwards into her kitchen and bumps into her island, reaching quickly behind to steady herself on it. “I haven’t--- eight ti-- Lena, what? No I haven’t.” Her sincerity makes Lena’s head spin: for the briefest of moments, she second-guesses herself, wonders if there’s any way that she could be mistaken. But then she remembers the blue of the sticky note on the metal of her fridge, the nights she’d come home to pen mark after confusing mark, and it renews her fervor.

“You have, though,” Lena presses, and she lifts her arm offhandedly to drive her point home. “You just kissed me--”

“You had a burn!” Kara interjects. “It was a joke--”

“--on the wrist,” Lena finishes, soaking emphasis into the last word. “Nowhere near the burn mark, Kara. You held my hand and kissed the inside of my wrist.” It’s not as satisfying as Lena hoped it would be, to say it out loud like this. She hears the accusatory tone in her own voice, but the words don’t hold even a fraction of the weight that the moment itself had held, and Lena doesn’t have the bravery or the language to describe why Kara’s mouth on the delicate skin of her wrist had sent something in her chest into a fluttery tailspin.

“Oh,” Kara says. Then the argument leaves her, and she bites at her lower lip pensively. “Okay. I guess I did do that.” Lena watches as Kara loses herself briefly in concentration, her mind piecing things together several weeks too late. “Oh God, and I kissed your arm earlier today too,” Kara adds quietly. She looks embarrassed, and it strikes Lena that, up until this moment, Kara must genuinely and truly not have realized what she was doing.

And it’s such a uniquely Kara thing, Lena thinks, that providing ceaseless acts of love to the people around her comes so naturally that she doesn’t even notice when she’s doing it. It also lands heavy in Lena’s stomach, the knowledge that while Lena has been knocked so off-kilter, has felt like she’s only just barely survived these eight moments of collision of their bodies, Kara has felt so much of nothing that they didn’t even ping on her radar. It’s rejection on a higher, more fundamental level, and the warm feeling at the thought of Kara’s loving personality coincides with the squeeze of sharp fingers into Lena’s heart, striking a blush of shame across her cheeks when she remembers the repeated intensity of her reactions to Kara’s lips.

“Yeah, you did,” Lena says drily. Kara’s sudden nervousness, the embarrassment-- the energy shift between them puts Lena back in a place of power, and when her frustration starts mounting again, she leans into it. “And on my leg before that,” she accuses, starting to count off on her fingers-- she can’t bring herself to say my thigh, she just can’t-- “my shoulder in my lab, my forehead, at least once on my cheek, my neck--”

“What?” Kara squeaks, but Lena’s picking up steam now, she doesn’t pause to see Kara standing wide-eyed and nervous, doesn’t see the blush high across her cheeks.

“--and it’s been all I can think about for weeks now, and then I tried to figure out what it’s all been about,” she waves a hand vaguely toward the kitchen, thinking about where she’d crashed and burned earlier, “but then that didn’t work, and I--” she sighs, letting her hands fall back to her sides as she finishes. “I don’t understand it, and it’s making it really fucking hard for me, Kara.”

“Okay, well I didn’t mean to...” Kara rebuts, a note of defensiveness in her voice and her eyes landing everywhere except Lena as she tries to explain to herself. “Maybe I just-- I don’t know, we’re best friends, so,” her hands float out to gesture in front of her again, like she can mold the nebulous point she’s trying to make out of the air between them. “So if I just enjoy kissing you, like platonically, or on the cheek or whatever, and that’s… we’re friends, so… it’s fine.” Her voice loses gravity as she speaks, like the logic behind her words is escaping her as she speaks them. Then her brain catches hold of Lena’s words, and her eyes snap up to meet the brunette’s. “Wait, what do you mean it’s making it hard for you?”

Lena falters. She could probably find a way out, a way to write that admission off, but the image of the tally marks floats behind her eyes and she decides once and for all to drop whatever pretense is left between them. “It’s hard, Kara,” she says, stepping forward purposefully, and her voice is strong where her nerves aren’t. “Because we’re best friends,” she emphasises that, pushing Kara’s words back at her. “And then you kiss me so casually, like it’s nothing at at all, and it’s-- I can’t focus for the entire rest of my day, I can’t think of anything else for hours, but to you...” Lena bites at her tongue, shaking her head in something like annoyed amusement, “you think it’s just some nice platonic thing, apparently.”

“Is…” Kara starts to ask, but then she pauses for a second. She looks down at her hands before glancing back up at Lena, bottom lip caught between her teeth as she tries to decide whether or not to say something. When she does speak, it’s a whisper, curious: “Hours?”

“Do you remember last week’s game night?” Lena asks in response. She takes another step forward, and their nearness causes her heart rate to spike.

“Yeah,” Kara replies, unsure and quiet. “What about it?”

“You kissed my leg,” Lena says to her, noting how suddenly Kara can’t meet her eyes. “And I…” Images of the night flash back to her-- of what she’d done when she got home-- and her ears go pink with embarrassment. “... had some decidedly not-platonic thoughts.” It’s an admission that takes everything in her to make, and she follows up with a dry laugh, trying to deflect. “And it didn’t even register for you.”

“That’s not true,” Kara’s reply comes quick and strong.

“What?”

“Of course it registered. Did you think I didn’t…?”

“You just said it was platonic,” Lena argues. “You said--”

“I don’t know!” Kara exclaims, throwing her hands in the air. “It just felt right at the time, okay? I don’t know what that means!” Her right hand grabs at her left, wringing like she’s trying hard not to bolt.

“It just ‘felt right?’” Lena questions. She steps closer again, putting herself in Kara’s space.

“Yeah, like...” Kara replies, not making eye contact. “It just-- touching you comes naturally. I don’t know.” Her blush blooms visibly hotter.

“And kissing me? Is that natural too?”

“I mean… yeah,” Kara mumbles, embarrassed.

“Platonically, though,” Lena breathes, and there’s a sarcasm to it that clearly isn’t a question, but she dips her head down in an attempt to harness Kara’s attention all the same. The blonde’s eyes finally, finally, draw back up to Lena’s, and when their gazes connect again, there’s an undeniable thickness in the energy between them, crackling hot and dangerous.

“Platonically,” Kara repeats in agreement, but her lips are parted and her pupils are dark and the tension between them swallows the word into a whisper so hushed that they both know it’s not true the second it falls between them. They stay like that for a second, eyes locked, before Lena makes her final move.

“And what about now?” She asks, pressing forward a last time and invading Kara’s space in a way that demands response. She tilts her head gently, ignoring the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears for the satisfaction of watching Kara’s breath catch when she leans close and whispers. “What feels right?”

Blue eyes fall to Lena’s lips, hanging there for so long that Lena starts to think that maybe she’s misjudged it. Kara bites hard at her bottom lip, a tangible moment of self-doubt, before leaning forward to press her lips to Lena’s, careful and quick. It’s featherlight and imperceptibly soft: there’s no fanfare to it, and Lena doesn’t even get the chance to close her eyes before Kara pulls away.

“Was that--” Kara tries.

“Kara,” Lena breathes it against the blonde’s lips, cutting her off. One hand comes up, fingers sliding into the soft waves of Kara’s hair as the other buries in the cashmere of the front of her sweater. And then Lena meets blue eyes straight on, six weeks of desperation in her tone. “Please.

Something sparks behind Kara’s eyes at the plea, and when she pushes forward to meet Lena, pressing her into the countertop and fitting their bodies together close and intimate and hot, there’s not a second of uncertainty left in the way their lips collide.

-

At the start, that’s what it is for Kara: a series of oh moments and unraveling revelations and retroactive embarrassments. Lena just laughs and kisses her again, because Lena gets it: she knows this game-- she played it long, long, ago-- and she knows that victory is hard-won and comes to everyone differently.

Later, it’s more: it’s Kara’s tongue hot in her mouth and Kara’s hands soft on the inside of her thighs; it’s “you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this,” whispered in the heat of it. It’s the tease of “what was ‘platonic kissing’ supposed to mean, Kara?” giggled into hollows of necks, and it’s “oh thank God, finally,” at game nights. It’s “how could I ever have not known” said like revelry into Lena’s skin in golden morning light, and it’s a scrapbook run out of pages, filled start to finish with sticky notes scored until they’re more ink than blue.