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You flicker like a fluorescent light (an intermittent strobe in a lonely night)

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"You are a million different little things
Just like me
But above all of these little things
You are the greatest thing you’ll ever know
You are you
And
You are OK"
- You are OK
, John O’Callaghan

Kara doesn’t reconsider her decision once during the whole journey, not one time. Not during the tense and teary car ride to National City’s airport, not during the six hours plane ride during which she reads an old copy of Jane Eyre cover to cover, not even during her layover in New York when her next flight is delayed and she can’t even get a drink to pass the time. No, not even once during these long hours does she second guess her decision. When she boards her last plane however, the uncomfortable seat digging into her back and the belt pressing on her too young scars, she starts to feel a bit queasy. When the flimsy machine takes to the sky with great difficulty, she knocks herself out with two painkillers.

She's shaken awake a couple of hours later when the plane makes contact with the ground on a landing strip that is more of a long and narrow clearing in the woods than anything else. A cabin sits at its end with an old sign on top, which, for some reasons, is missing all of its -R- and reads AI PO T. It takes another two hours bus ride after that to reach her final destination, Metropolis, Maine.

Metropolis, Maine, is a city only by its name, and it is precisely the reason why Kara has chosen to hide here. Well, not hide per se, just remove herself from the world for a little while. The town consists of one street that opens directly on a grey pebble beach. A couple of houses are splattered in the woods, and that’s it. No journalists here, no fans ; only silence and probably more than a few bears. 

It’s almost night time when she gets out of the bus and the sunglasses she’s kept on her face for most of the journey are useless now. She swaps them for her new prescription ones, the strong correction on the right eye the only thing that differentiates them from the ones that were smashed right into her face. In the process, her hand catches on the jagged scar running down her cheek and she shivers. She hopes people here don’t have any access to television, because that scar has been plastered on every news outlet for the past six months and it would be a dead giveaway. Well her whole face is a dead giveaway, she’s Kara Danvers after all, but that scar, that scar is her newest most recognisable attribute. Not her biceps, not her well defined calves, but the scar that runs from her hairline down her neck to wrap around her torso and spread in a painful web all the way down to her right foot. That’s who she is now, a scar. 

Realistically speaking, they probably have televisions here, after all, they have enough phone service for her to shoot a reassuring text to Alex, so TVs aren’t too far out of the realm of possibilities. The message she sends is short but reassuring. She misses her already, fiercely, but for the past few months, her sister has treaded around her like if she were a ticking bomb, and Kara really, really, needs a break. She’s tired of people treating her like glass, tired of fans approaching her in the street with caution, calling her a hero when all she has done is ruin her fucking life. She’s given one, and only one, interview on Cat Grant’s talk show, and she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. What’s the point really ?

The house she’s rented is on the far end of the town, a bit removed from it but not cut off entirely. Sturdy, and two storeys high, it’s surrounded by thick trees on one side and the dark ocean on the other. The landlady has left a light on in the living room, and a yellow stream illuminates the porch where a dark cat is sitting, its bright eyes fixated on Kara.

"Hey," she croaks at the animal, her voice hoarse from disuse. "Whatcha you doing out there buddy ?"

As could be expected, the cat doesn’t say anything back. But it does follow Kara into the house, and she doesn’t deter him. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, pain flaring up in her side, the creature is sleeping soundly at the foot of the bed.

The next day sets the tone immediately with unrelenting rain, and Kara does something she usually doesn't and lays in bed for an hour, flipping through an old book she found on the bedside table. She finds it hard to concentrate on the words ; it could be because it's not a great book, but really, she hasn't been able to concentrate on much for the past few months. Bundled under the covers, she grows restless, antsy, finding it hard to breathe, hard to even exist. With worried energy, she opens every window in the house, letting the clean smell of the outside permeate every room and sets to unpacking, something that again, she never does ; when she's not at home, her things usually stay in her suitcase. But this is home now, isn't it ?

She spends the next few days avoiding the outside world entirely, not only keeping to the confines of the property but to the inside of the house as well. She's not scared, Kara Danvers doesn't get scared, she's just, just not ready for people. And in any case, it's not like there is anything to do or see out there, which is precisely why she chose Metropolis in the first place. The town's website hasn't been updated since 2005, and the only thing that can be found on it is a notice about the next AA meeting and the bus timetable. Kara doesn't drink anymore, so she has no use of the former, and she already knows the latter is out of date. Or maybe the bus just runs late, it wouldn't be surprising in a place like that. She won't be using it much anyway ; the closest town has a soccer pitch, and she doesn't want to get anywhere near a soccer pitch. She even closed her eyes when the bus drove by the other night.

Just thinking about the word "soccer" now makes her feel nauseous, so she avoids it at all cost, hasn't watched a match in months, deactivated her Google alerts and her Twitter. The last time she turned on a TV she heard that the governor of California intended on passing a safety law titled after her. It's a good thing she still couldn't raise her arm properly at the time or Alex would have needed a new television.

She can raise her arm now, all the way up, she can bend down and almost touch her toes, she can run, albeit not for very long, and on very bad days, she's out of breath just walking up the stairs. She can do chin ups again and hold her two minutes plank with almost perfect form ; there's just no point to it. There's no point to anything at all.

She knows she sounds whiny, she just doesn't care. That's what Cat told her off mic during the commercial break. "You're whining Kiera. You did the best you could now get over yourself and back on your feet." Considering that Kara was in a wheelchair at that point, she found the statement particularly disagreeable, if well intended. Which is Cat's whole persona anyway, mean but well intended. On camera she'd call her a hero, and the whole studio had erupted into applause. In her tell all ghost written biography, she thinks she'll single this moment out as the moment she started loathing the sound of applause. She knows it'll sell well, pity stories always do.

Most days, she feels utterly pathetic. Not pathetic to the point that she would lower herself to asking Alex to come pick her up or even cry on the phone, but enough that she realises how deplorable she must appear to everyone else, shuttered away in the middle of nowhere, eating ramen because the grocery store is too far from her house. It's a good thing she's deleted Instagram too, or in one of her spirals, she would risk posting a poorly centred selfie displaying her curry stained sweatshirt and pitifully caption it "do I look like a hero to you ?" Come to think of it, she might have done it a few times before Alex deleted the app for her and explained at length why she shouldn't mix off-brand whiskey with her medication. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

By the end of the first week, she runs out of ramen, and most of the groceries that had been delivered to the house prior to her arrival have gone to waste. As she cleans up mouldy fruits, and something that looks like fancy cheese that has been left outside, she feels a little bad about it. Mostly, she's annoyed that she has to go food shopping.

The grocery store is the largest building in town, which means it's still a tenth of a usual grocery store's size, and half of it has been colonised by hiking gear, which, now that Kara thinks about it, makes a lot of sense. Walking in the woods is the only available activity here. The low stocky and drab concrete building is adjacent to a disaffected tourism office and its automatic doors don't work particularly well. It's still pissing rain, and, drenched and attracted by the fluorescent lights like a moth to a flame, Kara walks into the faulty glass panels like an idiot. Thankfully, no one but the cashier is around to see it and said cashier is too mummified to care.

The inside of the store is no less depressing than the outside. In fact, it's so dispiriting that Kara considers climbing inside of one of the freezers and just lay here until someone finds her corpse. She doesn't, but only because she's pretty sure Eliza is tired of seeing her on the news for increasingly dismal reasons. She roams around for a long time, long enough in fact, for another fossilised cashier to replace the first one and ring up her groceries ; enough ramen noodles for a small army, protein bars, because they taste like nothing and she often feels like eating nothing, apples, because they're healthy and she needs to show Alex that she's trying, and cat food, lots of cat food. Before she exits the store, she catches a glimpse of her reflection in the dingy automatic doors and a small dreary laugh escapes her. Wet sweatpants, muddy sneakers, stained hoodie ; she looks like she just crawled out of a hole. Which she did, six months ago.

Kara is very good at self-deprecation. It's her one skill apart from playing soccer and now that she can't play soccer anymore, it's her only skill at all. Apparently, it's a bad coping mechanism, and from thirteen upward, she's talked about it at length with the various therapists Eliza kept sending her to. None of their advice ever really stuck ; not that she didn't try, just that after a point, it became easier not to change.

She drags her wet leadened body all the way back to the house, grocery bags digging into her arms, feeds the cat that is now apparently hers and, after swallowing two sleeping pills, embarks into a twelve hours long void-like sleep.

The next morning is surprisingly different, not in the sense that she feels any better, but because the lid that has smothered the town since her arrival seems to have dissipated during the night and it is actually sunny. Not California sunny, but still, it's something.

It could almost put her in a good mood. In fact, she feels mostly not disgusted with herself until she notices the three missed calls on her phone. It was one of the rules of her coming out there, never miss a phone call. And she loathes, absolutely loathes that she has to abide by a certain set of rules like she's a child again ; but after what she put her sister through, even she is forced to admit that she owes Alex some peace of mind.

After fixing herself some instant coffee and selecting a chocolate covered protein bar that looks even less tasty than when she purchased it, she sits down at the sturdy kitchen table, the chair that she favours falling, for the first time, right in a bright ray of sunlight. She closes her eyes, throws her head back, and smiles ; then immediately stops once she realises she's doing it. Instead, she lets her head fall on the wooden table with a hard thud, groans, and picks up her phone to call her sister back.

Alex answers on the first ring, her face filling the screen entirely before she adjusts her position, probably propping her phone up against something just like Kara did. In typical Alex fashion, she's already dressed and ready to go, and Kara can picture the scene like if she were here with her. Her sister, sitting at her kitchen counter, her lab coat draped on the back of the stool, the phone propped up against an orange juice carton. The air must smell of freshly brewed coffee and faintly of car exhaust because she just opened her window ; suddenly, Kara misses her terribly.

"I'm sorry I missed your call," she says, taking a sip of her own coffee. It doesn't taste nearly as good as Alex's.

"Figured you went to bed early," her sister grumbles, not unkindly, but with a hint of worry.

"I did," Kara replies, happy that it isn't a lie. Appearing from out of nowhere, the cat jumps and settles on her lap. "I went to the grocery store," she adds, "and then right to sleep. I wasn't feeling, I wasn't feeling very good."

"What did you buy ?" her sister asks, eyeing her somewhat critically.

"Food."

A beat passes during which Alex waits for her to add something and Kara persists in not saying another word.

"Fine. Do you have any plans for today ?"

"Not really. Maybe I'll go for a walk." She most probably won't.

"Good idea." Fresh air will do you good is the next logical part of this sentence but thankfully, Alex refrains from adding it. "There's a lot to see around here."

"I beg to differ," Kara mumbles, rolling her eyes as she recalls the run down and closed tourism office.

"Google maps begs to differ," Alex fires back, mimicking her words in a quite annoying way. "There's a coffee shop, a library..."

"That's two things," Kara remarks half-heartedly.

"... the hiking trail passes right by your house, there's a beach," Alex continues like there's been no interruption, "the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in the next town over."

"The museum of what now ?"

"Sardine history," Alex repeats, glancing at her watch, draining her coffee and grabbing her lab coat in one fluid practised motion.

"There's no way that's a real thing."

"It is, and you should definitely visit it. Listen, I have to go, but I'm calling you back tonight and I expect a full report on sardine history, okay ?"

"Okay," Kara replies. Okay for the phone call, definitely not for the museum of sardine history.

"Love you."

"Love you," Kara echoes, and less than a second later, her reflection peers back at her from the blank screen of her phone.

She remains unmoving for a long moment, staring at her cheap black coffee with the haunting feeling that the beverage is staring back at her. She should have bought milk.

She makes her decision in a split second, not fully conscious that she's made a decision at all. One second, she's staring down at her breakfast, too low to even question her life choices, the next, she's at the door, arms shoved in her jacket, feet firmly secured in her favourite mud stained sneakers.

"Sorry buddy," she calls out to the outraged cat, "I'm going out."

The coffee shop Alex mentioned turns out to be just that, a coffee shop. Nothing exceptional but it does its job of offering warmth, food and companionship, and serves what the astonishingly lively barista swears is the best apple pie in the county. Kara takes her at her word.

She stays there most of the morning, sitting by the window underneath a faded SAFE SPACE sticker that's peeling off at the corner, staring outside at the shit hole of a town coming alive under the sun.

A little after ten, a red pickup truck sputters by the shop, coming to a stop a little further down the street. The woman that emerges from it is unreal. She isn't particularly tall, nor is she noticeably small, but she is imposing, appears larger than life even from a distance. She stands outside her truck for a moment, looking at the sky with a contemplative curiosity, then, she sheds her heavy rain jacket, throws it on the driver seat and makes her way to the coffee shop.

The doorbell jingles when she comes in, like it's done for every other customer but with her, it sounds different. She stands on the threshold for a moment, wipes her brown leather boots on the mat, then strides in with determination and a hint of haste, her slick black ponytail flying after her in her hurry.

"Hey Lena," the barista calls out to her, "the usual ?"

"Good morning Nia, yes, but to go please, I'm a little late this morning."

The woman, Lena, chuckles warmly, like nothing could make her happier than being late. She leans against the counter, her maroon sweater disappearing against the dark wood, and gazes around the room. She's got a pleasant smile for everyone and Kara almost vibrates with expectation as she waits for her eyes to fall upon her. But when said eyes reach her, light and colourless in the distance, the woman startles, and her face melts into a gentle frown.

Kara is out of the shop before she can figure out if she's been recognised or not.

The remainder of the day passes by slowly and Kara hauls her body around in a state that she can only describe as wistfulness. She attempts to read one of the numerous heterosexual romance novel that has been left on the living room bookshelves ; but she's not heterosexual, and she's never been a fan of romance anyway. She manages to make herself presentable enough for her facetime appointment with her therapist, another one of the rules, never miss a phone call from her shrink ; but ends up falling asleep halfway through the movie she's watching with Alex only to wake up disoriented around 3 am with a text that sends her right to the bathroom where she spends the next hour hunched over the toilet.

If you need me to fly here to take care of you, all you need to do is ask.

Kara is so tired of being herself.

She doesn't intend on moving at all the next day, but she's promised everyone time and time again that she would try and it's sunny once more, the warm weather calling out to her like a compass to the North. She goes back to the coffee shop and orders the exact same thing, a slice of apple pie, and a cappuccino with extra cinnamon. The warm beverage makes her feel strangely soft, almost untethered. She sits in the exact same spot too, right under the rainbow sticker and gets ready to leave as soon as she sees the red pickup drive by the window. She drains her coffee, brings her plate and cup back to the counter and exits the shop with a little polite nod. She even hides her scar with her hair on the way out which, she realises with a delay, is not the most conspicuous thing she could do considering that everybody here has already seen her bare face the day before.

No one seems to be giving her even a second glance. What they do find weird, and with reason, is the way she freezes on the threshold, accidentally blocking the woman, Lena, on her way inside the shop. They stand like that for a few seconds that stretch on and on into an infinity, Lena trying to get inside, and Kara desperate in her attempt to find the right name for the colour of her eyes. Does such a name exist yet ? If not, she'll have to invent it.

Kara feels her body triple in size to fill the whole doorway and she doesn't know what to do with herself, can't remember how to move. Sometime during this small apocalypse, she finds herself out of the way and the shop, back into the sunny street.

She doesn't go back to the house right away. She intends to, but her feet lead her in the opposite direction, back to the grocery store where she purchases a soggy sandwich that she waits until an acceptable lunch time to eat on the beach, the humid grey pebbles soaking her sweatpants. It's not until then, shivering and twisted in an uncomfortable position on the ground, that she finally answers her sister's message.

I know. Thank you.

Then, I'm okay though, with a picture of the beach. In this short second, in this arrested moment in time, it's the truth.

The next day brings unrelenting rain again but Kara finds herself outside anyway, the questionably waterproof hood of her jacket shoved deep on her head. She wants, or rather needs, her slice of apple pie, and the coffee she's got in the house is not worthy of that name. The cat accompanies her to the door, the sound of his little paws on the floorboard drowned by the intense pattering of the rain, and before leaving the house, she bends down to pet him for a long minute.

"No going outside for you buddy," she mumbles because somewhere between almost dying and moving here, she's become the kind of person who talks to animals. She'll admit it's not the worst personality trait to develop.

She gets the exact same breakfast as the day before, and though it's only the third time she comes here, the barista greets her by name. She also serves her coffee in a black and gold promotional Bailey's mug that Kara now ridiculously sees as her own. The coffee shop feels different today, almost blindly bright faced with the rain that rages outside, and overwhelmingly warm. She leans back on the cool window, and lets her hearing disappear beneath the combined sound of chatter and the storm. There's a television above the countertop but it's mercifully off.

Lena shows up half an hour before ten along with a mystical ray of sunshine. She's wearing the same maroon sweater than the first day and takes her coffee at the counter, back turned to Kara. Unsure of why she's doing it and vaguely conscious that it categorises as creepy, Kara stares at her from behind the strand of hair she's plastered to her face. She'd like to see her eyes again, to see how they contrast with the colour of her sweater ; she is sure the result is otherworldly. 

Driven by a deep irresistible pull, she rises from her chair and makes her way to the counter, noticing halfway that there's a stain on her sweatpants and that she really, really needs to do her laundry. Lena doesn't see the stain. She doesn't see Kara at all because she stuffs the last of her pastry in her mouth, drains her coffee and makes her way out before she has the time to arrange her words in the right order to justify her presence by asking for another slice of pie. 

She feels like an idiot ; and that second slice of pie tastes like wet cardboard.

Kara wallows there until noon, lost in an absence of thoughts, and is then given the option of trying the coffee shop's homemade potato soup or to get another shit sandwich from the grocery store and eat somewhere else. She gets the potato soup ; and though she's never had potato soup before she likes it instantly, if only because the dish is exactly as advertised, a simple potato soup.

While she's eating her lunch, the weather definitely clears up and the afternoon opens before her with infinite possibilities. Or as infinite as things are in this town. The thought briefly frightens her. She needs a fixed schedule again, a set of things to do in her day at precise hours and for a set amount of time otherwise she's going to lose it. Except she's, well she's already lost it, hasn't she ? Her shrink told her that it's a good thing, that she can only build herself up now. Kara is utterly convinced that she'd have no trouble digging herself deeper. She's done it before.

When her own pathos starts outweighing the warmth and care that exude from the coffee shop, she makes her way out, somewhat aware that the tip she left amounts to three time the price of her meal. She doesn't care much for her change ; she has more money that one needs and look where that lead her.

She can feel herself spiralling, which is a good thing ; she's made enough progress in therapy that she's now at least semi aware of when she's starting to go down the wrong path. She checks her watch, which is no use because she hasn't changed the battery and is wearing it only has a habit, then her phone, which tells her exactly what she needs to know. With the timezones, it's much too early for Alex to already be on her break ; she's on her own.

The air is crisp outside, it burns the inside of her throat with each intake, and feels like liquid nitrogen in her lungs. She's going to melt from the inside, she's going to die there, in the middle of the street. The world blurs at the edges, she can't see anything she can't breathe she can’t-

A loud horn startles her and she comes back in focus motionless in the middle of the street, a car bumper inches away from her.

"Hey ! HEY ! Whatcha doing here ?! Get off the road lady !"

She feels her body take a step back, and the car tears away from her, leaving her in a trail of dust and gravel. That's one thing she'll be keeping out of her daily phone call with Alex.

She stares in the direction the car disappeared in for a long while, how long exactly, she's not really sure, but definitely long enough that it becomes strange and concerning and she can feel several pairs of eyes staring at her from inside the coffee shop. She can't blame them ; it's not everyday you get a new weirdo in town.

She goes back to the house after that, though she can't really remember how she got there. She's in the street one second and the next she's curled up in an armchair in her pyjamas with the cat and the most boring book in the history of books. Her hair is wet, so she supposes she must have also taken a shower.

It's too early still to call Alex, though she knows that if she really needed her, her sister would pick up her phone in a heartbeat, so she sets to making herself some dinner instead, boiling water for her ramen and repeatedly washing her apple in the sink until her fingers cry for mercy.

Alex calls her at eight on the dot, she's so punctual in fact that Kara suspects she left work early. Her greeting is drowned in the sound of traffic but at the barest hint of her sister's voice, Kara already feels better. They spend their respective evening in each other's remote company, and Kara once again falls asleep to the sound of her voice, feeling like a tiny little girl in her big empty bed.

Because here's the thing, Kara might have been fed up with Alex when she left National City, but from the moment she was adopted in the Danvers' household, she's very rarely been away from her sister, and the few times she was, she was surrounded by so many people that she didn't have the room to miss her. It's different here, now that she's all alone, even if it's by her own design, and when she wakes up in the middle of the night from a forgotten nightmare, pain twisting at her insides because her body suddenly decided to tell her to fuck off again, she wishes she hadn't pushed Alex away all these times she was here to wipe the sweat off her forehead.

She doesn't go to the coffee shop the next morning. She does throw up her protein bar in the kitchen sink.

She firmly intends on not setting a foot out of the house ; but the sudden break in her three days old routine ends up making her feel worse than getting out would have and so a little after one, she finds herself sitting under the peeling sticker in front of a hefty serving of warm potato soup. The barista doesn't comment on her outfit, she still hasn't done her laundry, or on her late arrival, but there is something, Kara wants to think, in the fact that no one was sitting in her spot when she got here.

She stays for a long time again, but this time, she’s brought a book with her, if only to appear like she somewhat has her shit together. She grabbed it at random before leaving the house, hoping against reason that this one might be good. It starts with a predatory description of a woman's body, and only goes downhill from there.

"Guessed I'd peg you wrong," a voice says sometime during the afternoon.

Kara raises her head to find the barista standing before her, a critical eyebrow arched so high it almost disappears into her hairline.

"Can I get you some more coffee to go with your, um, book ?"

"It's not my book," Kara finds herself replying very fast, the words tumbling against one another in a woeful jumble.

"Ooh," the barista says, Nia, Kara now remembers Lena calling her a couple of days ago, "you're the one who's renting Mrs Morrison's house. Nice lady, but notorious heterosexual."

"I figured as much," Kara whispers, lowering the book down without marking her page. It really isn't good.

"The library's really well stocked if you're looking for something a little more up your speed," Nia adds. "Coffee's on the house. You look like you need it." Which is rude, but, and Kara has to give her that, accurate. "Tell her I'm sending you, she might spare you the outrageous registration fees."

Kara thanks her for the coffee and files away the rest of the conversation for later. Alex did suggest she check out the library but this interaction, albeit short, has depleted her social resources for the day. She wants to go back to the house, cuddle to the cat, and call her sister. Plus, it’s not like she’s successfully read one book since she touched down in Maine.

Unfortunately for her, the sky opens the moment she steps out of the coffee shop ; and she still doesn't have a proper rain jacket. She's got three options then, get back inside and wait for the rain to stop, catch pneumonia on the way back to the house, or check out the library. The coffee shop is as inviting as ever but Kara's always felt weird about backtracking ; as for going back to the house, she's sure Alex would find a way of reviving her to kill her again if she were to catch a cold and die. Library it is.

The library is situated a little further down the street and Kara speed-walks towards it, ineffectively trying to pass between the raindrops. She finds herself in front of a low building, a little like a house that has been cut in two and is missing a floor. The light pools out into the street from the windows, warm and enticing, cutting yellow rectangles on the wet pavement. She's quick to take refuge inside, stopping long enough only to take note of the SAFE SPACE faded sticker stuck to the door.

The heat blasting inside instantaneously fogs up Kara's glasses and she's temporarily blinded and has to fumble and wipe the lenses for the room to come into focus. It's homely, is the first thing she notices. The inside is as stubby as the outside, like the walls and ceiling are huddling close for warmth. Somehow though, a second floor has been fitted under the thick beams supporting the roof and it opens on the central room via a balcony crowded with plushy armchairs. Everywhere that isn't occupied by these very inviting chairs, which is to say most of the room, is packed to the brim with overflowing dark bookshelves and at the beginning of each row is a little display with selected books.

Surprisingly, the room is devoid of any living soul. Kara would think that with a weather like that, a lot more people would gather in such a welcoming space. But then again, it's also a weekday. The librarian is also missing, and the circulation desk is empty, the sole indicator that the library is open being a piece of paper stuck to the back of the computer reading : I'm in the back, yell if you need me ; which, Kara feels compelled to point out, is in glaring contradiction with the sign just above that reads : Enjoy the quiet, respect the space.

Inside the library, the patter of the rain mixes in with the humming of the vents and the resulting white noise is so soothing it almost causes Kara to fall asleep on the spot, still in the entryway. It’s supernatural, the way her heartbeat and breathing both slow down to match a relaxed rhythm previously undiscovered and she wonders if she can get locked inside after-hour and just stay here forever. She doesn’t have any snacks on her, so probably not.

Like in a dream, she wanders between the shelves, letting her fingers run on the dark wood as she peruses the titles, occasionally picking up a book with a bright coloured spine for the simple pleasure of holding it in her hands. Her ultimate destination however is one of the displays. She spotted in on arrival, it’s impossible to miss the bright flag hanging above, but somehow felt like taking the long way there for no other reason that she has the time to do so. Being inside the library makes her feel strangely okay.

Where all the other displays are neatly arranged, this one is crowded and overflowing with precarious stacks, like the librarian couldn’t decide what to pick and just shoved all the available queer books on this ten square foot table. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone. Kara spots comic books, graphic novels, biographies, romance novels, fantasy books so thick she can’t think of them as weighting anything less than ten pounds and an interesting array of self-published essays. She doesn’t recognise half the names and suddenly feels like she’s missed out on a lot. Every book is accompanied by a little sticky note with hand drawn pride flags and Kara doesn’t think she’s ever felt as loved and accepted than by this unknown mysterious librarian.

After a short but intense moment of deliberation, she picks up a thin book with birds on the cover and and a graphic novel excitingly titled Cosmoknights ; which in this moment is the only thing she’s ever wanted in life. Satisfied with her choices, she turns away from the display and starts walking back to the circulation desk. That’s when she sees her, the librarian ; and it’s Lena.

In the moment it takes for her to finish taking a step forward, in the second it takes for her feet to touch the ground again, she feels like she’s tumbling endlessly in an infinite void. Her breath gets knocked out of her lungs, and she doesn’t understand why. It’s just Lena, a random woman that she’s seen from afar a handful of times and who happens to look like God decided to take a human form and walk amongst humanity. She thinks about putting the books down and making a hasty exit but she's been spotted. The librarian raises her head from her computer and beacons her forward with a little wave in a way that Kara can't ignore for multiples reasons. She feels like she's caught in a strange time loop as her body moves excruciatingly slowly and her head advances at full speed and quite suddenly, she's standing before the desk without having had time to rehearse what she needs to say.

Lena is wearing a dark blue sweater today, with a checkered flannel peeking from under the round collar. Thick rimmed glasses are perched on top of her head and her hair has been tied back in a low bun. Kara forgets how to speak entirely. Instead, she thrusts her books in Lena's general direction and utters a syllable that could be "Hi," or could be "Help."

"Good afternoon," Lena says, and her voice is the most pleasant sound Kara has ever heard. She's going insane, that must be it. She must be fully hallucinating right now because there is no way anyone just speaks like that. "I don't remember seeing you around," she continues in a husky tone, the words rounded by the hint of an accent. British ? "Are you registered ?"

"I'm not," Kara croaks. She's very proud of herself for upgrading to two words but she's on the verge of passing out so it's not that much of an accomplishment.

"In this case, I'm going to need your name and your email address. You can borrow up to seven books for three weeks renewable twice unless the book is on hold for another user. The registration fees are five dollars unless you're unemployed, under eighteen or over sixty. How does that sound ?"

"Nice," Kara replies. She hasn't listened to a single word.

"Can I get your name then ?" Lena probes.

Kara stares at her, she blinks, watching as the librarian disappears from sight every time she closes her eyes. Fuck. Shit. Fuck. "Zorel," she says in a panic. "Kara Zorel." She hasn't used that name in years.

"Zorel ? That's an interesting name." A frown slips on Lena’s face as she types it on her keyboard. Kara absolutely cannot remember if she's ever mentioned it in an interview.

"It's French. Derivates from Sorel. I'm from Montréal." Come to think of it, she's most definitely mentioned it more than a few times. Especially at the beginning of her career when her sob story was the only thing everyone wanted to know about.

Lena hums noncommittally. "Nice city," she says. "Email ?"

"KaraZD@Luthorcorp.com," Kara says, racking her brain for her old email address, hoping that it hasn't been deactivated. "My school was sponsored."

A shadow passes on the librarian's face and Kara would swear the temperature drops a couple of degrees. All attempt at friendly conversation ceases after that for a reason she doesn't understand. Did she say anything wrong ?

She exchanges a crumpled five dollar bill for her books and a shiny plastic card with her birth name on it and makes a hasty retreat, stepping out under a wet and weak sun. The rain must have stopped while she was inside.

The afternoon is on its last leg by the time Kara makes it back to the house and she occupies her time until Alex's daily phone call by reading the graphic novel and making dinner. She's surprised to find her favourite ramen tastes good again. She's surprised enough actually that she feels the need to report it and it makes her sister laugh a small strangled laugh that's halfway to a cry.

Lena isn’t at the coffee shop the following day ; nor is she at the library. A piece of paper has been stuck to the door, hastily, or perhaps it's simply been pushed aslant by the wind, apologising for the unplanned closing and directing readers to the Dream House for returns with no lateness fee. Now that it's been spelled out in front of her eyes, it seems evident that the coffee house would indeed have a name, but Kara hasn't given it much thoughts before. She spends a good part of her day reading her second book, and the remaining hours walking around in the woods behind the house because walking is a thing healthy people do to clear their heads. Though she has a feeling healthy people don't overthink about complete strangers suddenly disappearing.

The library is still closed the following day. In fact, Lena doesn't resurface for an entire week, and Kara starts walking in the woods a lot more, with what she's aware is akin to a certain manic energy. She's got half a mind of just asking Nia where the librarian is but she can't bring herself to do so, afraid that she'll unbalance the strict customer/barista relationship she's managed to establish with the girl. She does realise her need for consistency is starting to border on ridiculous. On one of their evening conversation, Alex kindly reminds her that she's always been that way or at least that she's been that way since she was ripped away from Québec at thirteen after seeing her house, and her parents, go up in flames. Alex reminds her to be kind with herself ; Kara spends a good portion of the night throwing up in the bathroom. She doesn’t tell this to her sister of course. There’s no need to worry her more than she already is.

Lena reappears the next Monday. Kara only knows it's Monday because for once, the coffee shop's TV is on ; there's been a terrorist attack somewhere in Europe and one of the patron asked to see the news. Kara is staring at her coffee a bit too intensely for it to look even remotely casual when Lena makes her way in with a gust of cold air. Her face is obstructed by her hood, and when she removes it, droplets of rain flicker all around her. She's wearing her hair down today, and it curls around her shoulders, part of it disappearing in the collar of her heavy rain jacket.

Her boots are muddy, the bottom of her jeans is stained, but she doesn't look particularly bothered by it, and when she raises her head after carefully wiping her feet on the doormat, her cheeks are rosy from what Kara sees as happiness rather than simply the cold weather. Maybe she's projecting.

"Shite weather innit ?" Nia shouts when Lena starts making her way to the counter.

Lena laughs. It's a short sharp sound, musical in its simplicity. "Don’t try so hard darling."

"Bothersome weather amirite ?"

Kara has no idea of how Nia managed to produce a complete sentence. If Lena were to call her darling, she thinks she'd spontaneously combust.

"How was Portland ?" Nia asks, hands already at work to make Lena's usual order. The question sounds weird to Kara's ears ; like Nia isn't really asking about Portland at all but about something greater that she has no understanding of.

The librarian shrugs, and in the continuation of this motion, sheds off her jacket and drapes it over a stool. "Unvarying," she says, the word in her mouth sounding like an everyday saying and not a strange agglomerate of letters. "Sam and Ruby say hello."

"Did you pick up anything new ?"

Lena takes a sip of her mug before answering. Hers is a tall somewhat square cup of a creamy non-colour. "Yeah, I found quite a few things. Gonna have a lot of work in the stacks. I've got that book you wanted, I'll put it on hold until you can pick it up." She takes another sip, closes her eyes as she savours the flavour of the drink Kara hasn't been able to identify yet. When she finds herself mimicking her unconsciously, she looks away.

If Alex were here, Kara knows she'd tease her to hell and back for this. And it's not like she doesn't know that staring at strange women to the point of mild obsession is creepy, but she can't help it. It's not just that Lena is startlingly beautiful, but that there's an air to her which makes Kara want to strip her apart to see what's inside. She plays the part, dresses in sturdy jeans and thick sweaters, but Kara still gets the eery sense that she hasn't alway been part of Metropolis' landscape, and she wants to understand why she's here and what's different about her. Except she can't just walk up to the librarian and ask. "What's up ? You're weird. Care to explain ?" She'd certainly get chased out of town and would need to find another place to hide. Plus, it wouldn't be fair of Kara to probe, considering that if anyone were to even hint at a question about herself, she would go running the other way.

She's still surprised that no one has recognised her, not because she's full of herself and expects everyone to just know who she is, but because she has a very recognisable face, which isn't exactly her fault. Or at least not entirely. She wonders sometimes if it's because no one here gives a shit about soccer, debatable, or if they simply just don't care. The latter is strangely heartwarming. From thirteen, upward, she hasn't had the right to an ounce of anonymity. First, she was the survivor of Argo street, then the orphan prodigy, then the rising star of soccer, then the brightest hope of the national women's soccer team ; and finally she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She's been on the news on varying degrees for more than half her life. Here, she gets to be just Kara. No epithet.

She goes back to the library after breakfast, counting down in her head until she's reached an acceptable amount of time after Lena's departure, refusing to watch as the librarian carries out an enormous box of books like it's nothing lest she appears like a schoolgirl with a silly crush.

Her rain jacket proves to be continuously inefficient and once she finally makes her way inside the library, she spends a good five minutes standing very still on the doormat as she waits to stop dripping water everywhere. Lena is in the back again so she drops her books in the wooden return box and makes her way through the shelves slowly, perusing titles and letting her fingers trail on the spines. Her destination is the same as the previous time, but she appreciates the simple yet extremely valuable fact that she's in no rush.

Once she reaches the display and its explosion of rainbows, the table acting like a gay beacon, she retrieves from her pocket a washed out piece of paper on which she scribbled all of Alex's recommendations because she had nothing better, or frankly else, to do. Her sister has deemed this time of respite as the perfect moment to catch up with all the books she's missed out on and Kara is inclined to agree. She can't just reread Jane Eyre for the rest of eternity.

At the top of her list is Gideon the Ninth, a book that Alex helpfully described with very few words. "It has swords, it has lesbians. What more do you want Kara ?" Which is fair. It's still raining heavily, the sheets of rain switching the day to night and Kara has no interest in going back outside. Instead, she chooses the most comfortable of the armchairs, and falls into the book for the rest of the day. A few people come and go and occasionally Lena's voice rises over the patter of the rain, but that's about the extent of what Kara notices outside of her book. At some point, night falls, but inside the library it doesn't make much of a difference and she barely registers the passage of time until a shadow falls over her.

"Bold choice," Lena says looking down at the cover from where she stands. From Kara's much lower position, she looks mythically tall.

"My sister suggested it," she replies, clearing her throat halfway to smooth her wonky voice. After hours of disuse, her vocal cords are rebelling violently.

Lena hums in reply, and Kara is unsure of what she can add to keep the conversation going. She's having trouble concentrating when Lena's slightly rough voice manages to make two simple words sound like an enchantment, while she herself sounds like a chain smoker on a gravel diet.

"I'm closing up," Lena says eventually. "You might want to take the sequel home with you."

"I'm sorry," Kara says, hastily clambering up to find that she's taller than the librarian by a good few inches. The realisation fills her with a burning intense warmth.

"Don't be. We've all gotten lost in a good story at one point or another. It happens to me all the time. Happened while I was reading this one actually."

Kara follows her downstairs and through the shelves blindly, keeping her eyes on her tense shoulders beneath her sweater. She's wearing the blue one again ; it suits her well.

Lena doesn't say anything else while she grabs the book without looking and leads her to the circulation desk. She seems to be mulling over something, if the slight frown on her otherwise smooth and marble-like forehead is any indication, and Kara fails to muster the courage to ask as the librarian scans the books, slips a ticket with the return date in one of them and slides them smoothly her way with the evident ease of years of practise. It's only when she puts her jacket on that Lena's thoughts unlock.

"Do you live far ?" she asks in a tone too casual to be what it pretends to be. "Because it's pissing rain outside," she continues before Kara can say anything, "and that jacket of yours is an insult to outerwear. I can drop you off."

"I can walk," Kara's mouth replies while her brain lags behind, struggling to catch up with the offer.

Lena shrugs, a flitting expression that Kara doesn't manage to interpret passing on her face. "Suit yourself."

"I'm renting Mrs Morrison's house. Across town."

"That's on my way. But you gotta promise you'll buy a proper jacket. Or you'll die from pneumonia."

Kara only nods. The librarian asking her not to die feels too important to make a baseless promise to stay alive. She retrieves her books, and Lena puts on a thick rain jacket that looks like it could shield her from a hurricane and leave her completely dry. Keys jingle in her pocket.

The truck is parked a little further down the street and they run to it, launching themselves in its dry cabin the moment the doors are unlocked. The rain on the hood is deafening, but Kara is grateful for the shelter. "Thank you," she says, barely louder than the patter of the storm when she realises she's being impolite.

Lena doesn't reply, the light inside of the cabin fades out and they are left in the dark, whatever light might be coming from the street lamps swallowed by the rain. Kara looks at the window ; she can't distinguish the sky from the ocean, and she wonders if she's about to get murdered.

Lena doesn't speak again until the engine is rumbling, making all attempt at conversation an ordeal. "Why Metropolis ?" she asks. "It's not exactly a prime holiday destination."

"I could ask you the same question."

"I asked first." In the headlights of a passing car, a hint of a smile appears on her face.

"I needed a quiet place," Kara replies. There's no harm in this small truth. "You ?"

"What makes you think I'm not from Metropolis ?" Lena asks, deflecting again.

"You look," otherworldly, "bigger than this place."

"I like this place just fine." Kara can picture the frown on her forehead with a disturbing clarity.

"I didn't mean that in a bad way," she corrects hastily. "At all."

"I needed a quiet place."

Kara doesn't press. And the remainder of the short trip is spent in silence. Or as silent as a rumbling truck in a storm can be. It's not uncomfortable. In fact, Kara finds herself surprised that she does not feel the need to fill the silence at all. She's just happy to exist next to another human being for a while. She feels strangely at peace, in a way that she's only ever felt around Alex, and she should be freaked out by this but she doesn't have the energy. She thinks that if the journey back to the house wasn't so brief, she'd have fallen asleep in the car. She doesn't get the opportunity, because much too soon Lena comes to a stop at the edge of the dirt path and it's time for Kara to go.

"Thank you," she says again, hand on the door handle.

"Don't mention it. I told you, it's on my way." The car unlocks, and the light comes back on, basking Lena's face in its warm yellow glow. "Buy a proper rain jacket alright ? I'll see you tomorrow."

"What makes you think you will ?" Kara asks, a leg already out of the car. The musky scent of earth and rain fills the cabin, mixing in with something lighter, something she cannot identify and that is probably unique to Lena.

"You'll need someone to talk to after you finish that book. And you're always at Nia's in the morning. Goodnight Kara."

Kara gets the distinct feeling she's being dismissed and, not wanting to overstay her welcome, she fully exits the car and runs to the house. She turns back when she reaches the porch and unmistakably sees Lena making a U-turn.

Roughly thirteen hours later, Kara storms the Dream House looking haggard and disheveled, even compared to her usual self. Nia takes one look at her and at the books in her hands, smacks her lips together and says with a hint of annoying amusement : "I suppose you've got beef with Lena ? She's not here yet. Coffee's on the house."

Kara abandons her usual spot in favour of sitting at the counter and spends the next half hour eyes glued to the clock, leg anxiously bouncing up and down and fingers rhythmically tapping on the cover of the thick hardbacks. She's awake only thanks to the magic of spite and caffeine and she would be in bed right now if she were only a little bit reasonable, but she doesn't need sleep, she needs answers. Lena comes in at her usual time, striding in casually with her jacket slung over her shoulder. Contrary to Kara, she looks like she's had a perfectly restful night of sleep and not a hair is out of place on her silhouette. She makes her way to the counter, frowns at Kara sitting on her usual stool and drags the one next to her to drop on it instead. "Good morning Kara," she says. "I take it you've finished the book ?"

"Tell me there's a sequel," Kara replies in lieu of a polite greeting. "Please tell me there's a sequel."

"You're holding it in your hands right now," Lena says, accepting a cup of plain black coffee from Nia with a grateful smile. She takes a careful sip. Fog covers the glasses that rest on top of her head.

"Already read that one," Kara murmurs, somewhat rabidly. Her voice doesn't seem to want to go any higher in range and volume. "I need a sequel to the sequel."

"2022," Lena says casually, like that's not the worst news ever. She goes to take another sip of her death coffee but freezes, mug halfway to her mouth, and turns to Kara in mild horror. "Wait. Did you sleep at all ?"

"No," she whispers.

That's the short answer. The long one is that she botched her phone call with Alex last night so that she could finish reading the first book and then spent the rest of the night frantically making her way through the second, cried on seven separate occasions and barely took the time to shower and feed the cat before running out of the house without her jacket and with her least exercise appropriate shoes. She feels like the world has been pushed off its axis and she both wants to repeatedly smack the librarian on the head with the book and maybe kiss her a little.

"My condolences," Lena says before taking a large bite of a super-sized turnover, causing applesauce to leak through the opposite side. "Swing by the library later," she adds, "I'll let you nap in my best armchair as an apology." The offer is made to sound casual, but it comes out a bit strangled and Lena is not looking at her. Kara thinks it's because she might have a crumb stuck in her throat.

Because of the phrasing of the invitation, "swing by the library later," Kara isn't sure of what she's supposed to do in the meantime. Well, she has a list of things she needs to do, laundry, finding the actual timetable for the bus so she can go buy appropriate clothes somewhere that isn't that harrowing grocery store, and in fact going to said grocery store for food, but none of this sounds particularly appealing right now. Picking at her customary slice of apple pie, she starts making a mental list, ranking her tasks in the least depressing order. All of her hard work is undone when Lena beacons her to follow her with a weird little gesture of the hand and later turns out to mean now.

She follows the librarian to her domain, alternating between walking beside her and behind her because she's unsure of the etiquette and now that she's thought about it, she can't stop. In a reverse situation from the first time Kara came to the library, light is streaming in from the outside and while Lena opens up she stands very still in the entryway trying to discern if the room looks different in this light. Dust flies in a ray of sunshine, disturbed by their arrival and she loses track of her previous analysis to instead stare at this graceful ballet of filth. The shrill sound of the barcode reader booting up tears her away from her sleepy contemplation and mechanically, she makes her way to the counter, drops her books in the return box and stands there, unmoving, half groggy half lost in the sudden revelation that Lena's eyes are two different colours.

"Sorry about that," Lena mumbles, motioning towards the scanner. "I still haven't found a way to lower the sound. Maybe it's for the best. It gets so silent here that I sometimes wonder if I've gone deaf."

Kara means to say that she doesn't mind, that her shattered eardrums are of no concern at all, but the gay and tired part of her brain briefly takes over and she hears herself saying something entirely different in what might actually be slow-motion and will in any case be listed on her grave as the cause of her death. "Did you know your eyes are different colours ?"

"I." Lena raises her head abruptly and stares at her with her heterochromatic eyes and an unreadable expression. "Yes," she says, her accent lilting more than usual. "I see myself in the mirror everyday."

Her words don't sound like a rebuff, or harsh in any way, but rather like a sad statement, like she's resigned to having the face she has. Kara finds her face, and eyes, strikingly beautiful and so before the smart part of herself can catch up, she tells her as much. "I think your eyes are beautiful." And because this isn't even close to the truth, she adds, brazen, all hesitancy lost to her sleepless night, "it's like you have a river running through your face and the sun is unsure of how to best shine on it."

And okay, this is definitely too much and borderline absurd, but in an interesting turn of events, Lena's face bursts into flames. A deep blush takes over her cheeks and Kara would swear she radiates heat. She's feeling a little warm herself.

"Sorry. Was that, was that a little too much ?"

"Yes," Lena says, struggling to articulate this one syllable. She seems to shake herself, and once she's schooled her features, face still thoroughly red, she rounds the counter and motions for Kara to follow her. "Come. I'll show you the best seat."

Lena's premium spot turns out to be a gigantic high-back armchair that looks like it's been scavenged from a forgotten era for the sole purpose of being tucked away in a corner of the library next to a radiator that has been cranked a bit too high. Kara falls asleep in a minute, and the last thing that grazes her consciousness is the retreating figure of the librarian stopping to look at her.

She's woken up abruptly a handful of hours later by a swarm of children storming the library, the constant shushing of their teachers the only thing that manages to be louder than them. Startled, and lost, she blinks heavily and gazes around frenetically like a broken weathercock, trying to assess her surroundings. A plaid blanket is pooling around her waist, one of its corners still slowly slipping from her shoulder and she grabs at it sluggishly to tuck it higher again. The blanket seems as old as the chair, but it's incredibly soft and smells of a flowery laundry detergent. Someone, presumably Lena, has left a thermos on a low table, along with an organic granola bar and a thick graphic novel with a gorgeous starry cover that reads On a sunbeam. A post-it has been left with this, askewdly stuck to the book and covered in an elegant but hurried handwriting. Thought you might like this one. Sorry about the kids, they're loud but they're harmless.

Kara eyes the book hesitantly, wondering if she's going to get her heart broken by this one. Considering that Lena and Alex's tastes seem to align and her sister is incapable of reading happy books, it seems likely. She gets it though. There is something about bittersweet stories that makes one feel less alone, and she can understand why Alex seeks those out purposely ; she's starting to like them too.

It's harder to concentrate with the children's assault on the library and so she delays her reading by eating the welcome but ridiculously healthy snack. It's not bad, just a bit dry, and she washes it down with what turns out to be a soft and warm herbal tea in which a touch of honey has been mixed. Kara has never been a fan of tea, but this is the best thing she's ever tasted.

Once she feels settled, and a tad less frazzled, she picks up the book. It's heavy, and her wrist bends painfully and abruptly at an awkward angle causing it to drop to the floor, thankfully not on her feet. She twists and squirms, trying to retrieve it without leaving the armchair and its warmth cocoon. It's a failure like few have ever been witnessed and to avoid face planting on the floor, she has to slide from the chair like a weird muscular potato sack. There is a small miracle in the fact that no one is around to witness this.

She considers staying there, on the ground, for a second or forever. It's not exactly comfortable, but she's suddenly very tired again. But as she's laying there, trying to become one with the floorboard she hears a low, barely audible voice. Sometime during her graceless fall, the children have stopped messing around and someone has started reading a story. With all the agility of a newborn fawn, she scrambles to her unsteady feet and creeps closer to the banister to peer over it. The children and their teachers have assembled around Lena in a semi-circle on a heap of pillows, and the librarian is reading upside down from a small book in a terribly husky tone.

"Because I am no prince !" she says, "my name is Princess Amira, and I have a grappling hook." She marks a short pause then continues, in a slightly different higher and lighter voice : "Oh, sweet."

The children are enthralled, and they're not the only one. It's a good thing the banister is sturdy, because with the way Kara is leaning over it, it's the only thing preventing her from tumbling down and crashing right on the gremlins crowd and their enchantress.

Lena ends up reading two more books after that first one and then the children are let loose in the library again. Soothed by Lena's godly voice, or at least that's what Kara thinks is safe to assume, they are much more subdued now, and quietly go peruse the titles of an age appropriate section with lower shelves. Kara herself doesn't move. Her whole body has turned into a cramp.

"I know you," a bratty voice suddenly says somewhere in the vicinity of her waist. "You're the lady from the TV. You play ball."

Kara's entire body seizes. She can't move, isn't even sure she'll manage to breathe if she tries to. It takes a humongous effort for her to peer down at the child ; it's such an intense act that she can practically feel her bones cracking as she puts them in motion. A very small girl is staring up at her. She's got dried snot on her face and stars in her eyes.

"Are you okay ?" the little girl asks, tugging at her sleeve.

Her voice is grating to Kara's ears. She wants to throw up, manages to hold it in and takes a step back.

"It's a secret," she whispers hoarsely. She sounds so alien to herself that she isn't sure she's the one who spoke. "You can't tell anyone that I'm here."

"Okay," the girl replies cheerfully. "I promise I won't say anything. I love secrets !"

And just like that, she skips away, ignorant, like only a child can be, to the fact that she just single handedly wrecked Kara.

Her teacher comes to pick her up at the top of the stairs with a gentle chiding. She looks at Kara with unbridled curiosity for a long second then shakes her head sadly, and follows the little girl down. Kara watches, mesmerised, as her mop of curly blond hair bounces out of view. She knows she's in danger, she knows she needs to move ; that's what her brain is telling her. But her body has locked up again ; she's lost control and she can't make herself bolt out.

She remains like that, frozen, in this strange state of non-being and yet being too much until Lena comes to find her, leaning on the banister beside her. "Enjoying children's stories Miss Zorel ?" the librarian teases with a tired but happy smile.

Kara startles at the name, turns to look at Lena with what she can only assume is a deer in the headlights expression.

"Don't worry," the librarian continues, "I won't tell anyone. Your reputation as a broody coffee shop patron will remain untouched."

"I need to go."

"Okay," Lena says hesitantly, hit out of left field by something she doesn't even know happened. "Do you want to check anything out ? Is everything okay ?"

"I need to go," Kara repeats, and then, because she can't fathom Lena like that, she adds, "I'm okay. Just feeling a bit unwell."

"Do you need anything ?" Lena presses on. "Should I call a doctor ? Do you want me to drive you home ?"

"I'll walk," Kara whispers, already halfway to the stairs. "Healthy people walk."

She has absolutely no idea of how she makes it back to the house.

She doesn't come out again for an entire week. Give or take a few days ; she isn't sure the passage of time is worth noting anymore. She shutters herself inside the house, closing all the curtains and keeping away from windows with a frenzy that would be worrying if she still had it in herself to care.

She can't stop thinking about the little girl. Her teacher saw her too, and there was a glint of recognition in her eyes, but it's the little girl Kara can't forget about. It's the blond braided hair, the fair face and the light eyes, it's the small stature but the already larger than life set of her petite shoulders ; it was like looking into a mirror. So much so that she spends the first few hours sitting in the dark, trying to convince herself that the little girl was nothing but an hallucination. It's not exactly reassuring but a part of herself still sees it as a better outcome than being recognised.

She doesn't really sleep anymore. Crashes a few hours at a time and wakes up with a start ready for a fight that never comes. Sometime during the third day of her retreat she hears someone shuffling at the front door and she hides herself farther into the house, spending five hours in the windowless washroom. She only comes out because her pills are in the kitchen and she swore to Alex she wouldn't stop taking them.

Days and hours bleed into each other she feels sick, can't keep her food down ; all of her energy is rerouted to the simple herculean act of breathing. She misses several of Alex's phone calls and on the days she manages to pick up, she has nothing to say.

She attempts to shower one day but the sight of her naked body in the mirror has her screaming her throat raw, the sight of the scar making her want to gouge her eyes out just like at the beginning. She doesn't, but only because she could die from the resulting blood loss and she thinks her sister finding her dead body half eaten by a cat would be a tad traumatic for her. It's also why she continues feeding herself, even if the sight of her dwindling reserves makes her feel nauseous. She's going to have to go outside.

She's in the kitchen, half-heartedly munching on a protein bar and not really listening to a mental health podcast Alex recommended when it happens. It, being a car turning in the alleyway and coming to a stop in front of the house. She doesn't register it at first. The wind has picked up a lot lately, creating all sort of noises that her brain has trouble understanding ; and this is why it's too late to escape by the time a key turns in the lock and the door opens.

She grabs the first weapon she can find, her vision swimming before her as she retreats behind her chair, turning the furniture in a meagre barricade. She sees a flash of auburn and her heart skips a bit. Ready to defend herself, she brandishes her-

"Drop that spoon Kara. You look ridiculous and it’s just me."

It's a wonder she doesn't hit her head on the table as she goes down.

She wakes up in a cotton cloud under a heavy blanket. The first thing she notices is that her hair smells like shampoo. The second, is that she's not alone.

"I swear to God Kara do not make me do that again. Do you have any idea how heavy you are ?"

"Alex ?"

"You’re lucky it’s not Mum."

Kara snorts. She doesn't know if she intended on laughing or not, but she snorts, then chokes a little. Alex is at her side in an instant, jumping from an armchair that has been dragged next to the bed to come help her up. Once she's propped her against her pillows, she stares at her with an expression close to despair that took a semi-permanent residence on her face sometime after Kara fell off a cliff.

"Just say the word," Alex says, "and we're going home. No judgement. Nothing. One word, and we're going home."

Kara remains silent.

"Otherwise," her sister continues, I'm here for the week. I want to see that sardine museum."

This time, Kara laughs for real. It surprises her, washes over her like a tide but instead of dragging her down, it lifts her up and up until her head breaks through the surface and she can breathe.

"Do you think it’s open right now ?"

"Well it’s midnight," Alex says after checking her watch, "so no, but we can go tomorrow. Do you want something for sleep ?"

Kara shakes her head then decides that words are nice and says, "no. Come to bed ?"

"Let me freshen up. I’ll be here in five."

Kara is asleep again the moment her sister slips under the covers next to her.

She wakes up on the tail-end of the next day's morning to the sound of a car door slamming. She creeps downstairs to find Alex in the kitchen unloading a bunch of groceries on the table. The entire space is overrun with brown paper bags to the exception of a small square on which breakfast has been laid.

"Morning," Kara mumbles. "What are you doing ?"

"Feeding you," Alex replies. "Obviously."

"I’m not really hungry for all of these things," Kara says, vaguely motioning to the various vegetables picking out of the groceries bags. She sits down at the only available spot and finds a slice of apple pie and a takeaway coffee cup. She has to move a battered cardboard box to free her chair.

"I know you’re not. But if you get scurvy, Mum will never let me hear the end of it. I'm gonna make you soup, pie and applesauce, and freeze it. Eat it however you want whenever you want but please don't die. I'm pretty sure you lack every type of vitamin."

"Okay." There’s no real point fighting this, so Kara doesn’t. She can always go back to her protein bars when Alex leaves.

"This was on your porch when I came in yesterday," Alex adds, pointing to the box Kara put on the floor. "No idea how long it’s been here but it definitely rained on it at some point."

Abandoning her excellent breakfast, Kara crouches down to peer inside. The box has taken a storm or two but what's inside has been wrapped tightly in an old plastic bag, successfully shielding it from the elements. From it, she extracts a box of herbal tea, a pot of honey and the graphic novel she left behind at the library. There's a note too, a yellow post-it covered in Lena's elegant script. Hope you'll feel better soon. Let me know if you need anything. Followed by a phone number and a loopy signature. She barely resists the want to cradle the note to her chest.

"The museum closes for the season tomorrow," Alex says, tearing her away from her contemplation. "I thought we could go once you're done with your breakfast. I went to that coffee shop you like. The barista's worried about you."

"What did you tell her ?" Kara asks, mostly because she needs to say something or she won't be able to stop herself from asking if Lena was there too.

"That you’re garbage at taking care of yourself."

"I’m sorry I scared you," Kara whispers, toying with her apple pie.

"I’m used to it," Alex replies, which is just about the worst thing she could say. She’s got her back turned to her and Kara would do anything to both be able to see her face and never know what she looks like right now.

"That doesn’t make it okay."

"I know. But you’re my sister, and I’m always going to look after you."

Barely an hour later, Kara, diligently fed and showered, settles in the passenger seat of a muddy rental car. The cabin smells strongly of mint gum and faintly of vomit.

"You know we could have taken the bus, right ?" she asks, fidgeting with a seatbelt that has seen better days. She cranks up the heat, then cuts it immediately when it blasts a third unidentifiable smell into the car.

"I don't trust that thing," Alex mumbles, not quite grumpily but almost, in a way that is unique to her. "I took one look at it and it looks like a literal death tr-"

She stops, quite abruptly and glances furtively at Kara before staring straight ahead and putting the car into gear.

"You can finish that sentence you know," Kara whispers. She stares at her hands, one of her thumb running idly along a still red scar.

"You know I can’t."

They don't speak again for the rest of the journey, filling the silence with radio static and the occasional odd early 2000's punk-rock song. The ride isn't tense per se, but this is exactly why Kara left in the first place. The carefulness, the tiptoeing ; it was driving her mad. She was caught between complete strangers adulating her ad nauseam and her own sister not even looking at her. There was no space for healing in such circumstances. Not that she's done much healing here either, but at least, it's quiet.

They drive south in a mixture of woods and winding cliff roads, and surprisingly, manage not to get lost, despite the car's GPS being so out of date it tries to drive them straight in the water. They end up in a town not dissimilar to Metropolis to the exception that this one seems inhabited by more than ten people.

They arrive right in time for the opening of the museum and Kara is astonished by how interesting it is. She peers attentively at every display, making her way through the exhibit with Alex until they reach a sardine can wrapping machine that is so fascinating she remains planted in front of it for ten good minutes trying to learn its inner workings until her sister's stomach starts growling. They're the sole patrons of the museum, and to atone for her mockery, she buys a thick book about Maine's canneries history and a few, read a dozen, chocolate sardines boxes.

They get lobster sandwiches after, and Alex presses for ice cream in an aggressive -let's make everything feel normal- manner that doesn't, in fact, makes anything feel normal at all. Kara is tired again, she wants to go to bed. She comes to the realisation, sitting alone on a pier in Jonesport, Maine, while her sister is in line at a small coffee shop for a warm beverage, that nothing will ever be normal again, or that at least, normal will never feel like what she unsteadily built brick by brick from the moment her parents died. Surprisingly, it doesn't make her feel bad ; in fact, it feels a lot like letting go.

"I got you a hot chocolate," Alex says, dropping down on the pavement next to her. "I’m sorry about the ice cream. That was dumb."

Kara cradles the cardboard cup to her chest for a moment before taking a sip. The chocolate is perfect, rich and sugary. "It’s okay," she says. "I understand why you did it."

"Thank you."

"But I need you to understand something," Kara continues. "This is my life. Now, or for now, I don't know yet, but I think I need to build something new and different, something that will make me feel okay again. I'm really trying Alex, but I need time."

"Okay," Alex whispers. She straightens up, going rigid for a moment and then slowly, she shifts to lower her head on Kara's shoulder. "I’m just really scared."

"I know. I am too."

"Do you wanna go now ?" Alex asks, gesturing in the general direction of where Kara’s home is now.

"Yeah. I just need to do something first."

"What ?"

Kara drains her chocolate like a shot, coughs and sputters and gets up in a jerky movement, leaving her sister stranded on the ground.

"Buy a rain jacket."

They end the day huddled on the couch, a pint of ice cream melting on the coffee table and an old movie playing on the TV. The rest of Alex's stay goes much more smoothly. She cooks and freezes food daily, they take long walks in the woods behind the house and Kara promises to never stray from the hiking trail. They go to the coffee shop together too and Kara wants to see meaning in the relief on Lena's face when she sees her again. Alex eyes her curiously before shaking her head in disbelief and weirdly, understanding, but she doesn't care to investigate. Whatever this is, she's sure she'd rather not know.

Alex, like the good physiotherapist she is, makes Kara go through her disjointed and half abandoned workout routine, to make sure she performs everything correctly and doesn't make anything worse. Kara tries to impress her with her plank form but Alex only grumbles and corrects the arch of her back. Begrudgingly, Kara has to admit she's grateful for the intervention.

Alex checks on her scar too, deems the healing process satisfactory and then dumps a truckload of lotion on her, threatening to check in daily to make sure she's applying it correctly. Her sister's fingers are cold when she runs them on her face, from hairline to temple to jaw then under the chin until the angry line disappears in the collar of her sweater.

They talk a lot, more than they have in the past six months, putting balm on new and old scars alike and tending to their scabs because this is how they move on. This is how Kara forgives herself for what she put her sister through, and this is how Alex forgives herself for the way she acted around her. They pour their own water under the bridge.

Alex leaves on a dreary morning with no fuss. Apparently, the rain is only going to get worse from now on, but Kara doesn’t mind it anymore. She likes how it mutes everything, and how, more than her injuries and early retirement, it gives her the excuse to do nothing and curl up with a book and something warm ; something that she rarely allowed herself before. Today, it’s the graphic novel that has been on her coffee table since Alex brought it inside, with a cup of Lena’s tea. It’s not as good as when Lena made it, she struggled a bit with the honey to leaf water ratio, but it’ll do for now.

Alex left her a blanket. A thick red knitted throw that smells like her laundry detergent, chemical apple and cleanliness. She feels drowsy, courtesy of the white noise of the rain, but she doesn’t want to fall asleep. Alex fixed her sleeping schedule with a hammer, and it would be a shame to ruin it so soon. Instead, once she’s finished her book with minimal loss of focus, she slips it into her new waterproof backpack, puts on her new walking boots and her new rain jacket, and makes her way into town. She allowed herself her favourite hoodie, a thick burgundy one with thumb holes and her name on the back from her high-school days, but otherwise she’s wearing jeans and even new underwear because her sister insisted she can’t just wear the same ratty things forever and she feels a bit like she’s playing dress-up. After wearing sweatpants for so long, the jeans feel strange against her skin and she’s reminded of the first time she wore a suit. Reflexively, she goes to loosen her tie before she remembers she’s not wearing one.

Before going to the library, Kara makes a pit stop at the coffee shop for some of that excellent potato soup and a slice of fresh bread that could fix everything that’s wrong in her life by itself. Nia brings it to her with some salted butter, a knowing smile and a squeeze of the shoulder that she isn’t really sure how to interpret.

Lena is busy somewhere in the bookshelves when Kara makes her way inside the library. She hangs her jacket in the designated place, happy to find herself entirely dry underneath, drops her book in the return box and starts walking through the stacks. She finds Lena in the back of the room, pushing a half-full cart and putting books back in their rightful spots. She hovers behind her creepily for a moment, then, when she realises she’s doing it, clears her throat to draw her attention.

Lena whirls around with an annoyed expression that morphs into a bright smile the moment she clocks in on her. "Kara ! You’re here. Are you feeling better ?"

Kara blinks, having had zero intention to answer a question that was obviously coming. Nia asked the same one earlier and saying yes was incredibly easy but with Lena, it’s different, with Lena she feels like taking a leap of faith and so she does, swatting away all concern and fear of consequences. "I had an accident," she says. "Sometimes, I’m not okay."

She fumbles on her wrist for a moment to retrieve a tie then brings her hair up in a ponytail, exposing what she’s taken to hiding remarkably well with the less than artful placement of a strand of hair. She knows what she looks like, she knows what people see when they look at her, when they zero in on the angry line that runs down the side of her face, she knows that in most cases it becomes the only thing they can see. But not Lena. There’s no trace of pity in her eyes, and mercifully, no sign of recognition. She just stares at her for a long moment, studious for her, tedious for Kara, then asks, with an unchanging smile, "do you want to talk about it ?"

Kara hesitates for a second. Her heart is already trying to beat out of her chest, it would be too much. "No," she says, "but maybe some other time."

"Okay. Well never hesitate if you need anything alright ? You have my number."

"Okay," Kara echoes. "Thank you."

"I’ll be with you in a minute," Lena says as she starts pushing her cart again. "I’m glad schools around here have a reading program, but teenagers can be handful and if I don’t sort this out now, I’ll never do it."

"Do you need any help ?"

Lena turns again to eye her critically. "Have you ever worked in a library ?"

"No," Kara replies tentatively.

Lena’s eyes narrow briefly. "You can push the cart then if you really want to help," she says. "I can’t let anyone mess with this or else I’ll never find the books again."

Kara nods, strongly feeling like she’s being berated by a teacher for her ineptitude. She supposes that in a way, it’s the case.

She remains silent for a while as she follows Lena around, carefully pushing the cart between the shelves. It quickly becomes evident that she’s arranged them in the order she needs to put them away which appears to Kara as very clever but is probably nothing more than everyday work for her. "That’s a call number," she says at one point, showing her a little sticker with a bunch of numbers and letters on the side of the book. "I mostly have fiction here, so I don’t use the Dewey decimal system. I sort them by genre, that’s the first number, then by author last name, that’s the three letters, and then the last number is just the order they’re registered in the system. Here, you’ll like this one." She extracts an orange hardback from the shelf and drops in on top of the cart.

"Alice isn’t dead. Is it incredibly heartbreaking ?"

Lena shrugs. "You’ll have to see for yourself."

"Isn’t that your job ?" Kara asks, a little teasingly, a little mockingly. She drops to push the cart with her forearms, using her now free hands to pick up the book. "Why did the chicken cross the road ? Lena, what is that book about ?"

"Trust me," the librarian says. "You'll like it. I think I'm starting to have a good read on you."

Kara wants to ask what that means, wants to know what Lena sees when she looks at her ; but a part of her doesn't, a part of her wishes to never know and to stay tucked away in this singular moment in time in which Lena says "trust me," and Kara indeed trusts her. So she doesn't say anything, and instead follows Lena around until the last book has been put up on the last shelf and all there is left to do is roll the cart back to the circulation desk and go home or find something else to do.

She decides to find something else to do, she doesn't really want to go. Not just because the house seems far away and cold now that Alex isn't there anymore, but because her brain as suddenly deemed unfathomable to be in a place Lena isn't. She retreats to the second floor and finds the small non-fiction section from which she grabs a self-published book from a local artist full of eerie paintings of landscapes that are becoming familiar.

This section of the library is set up on a platform, cut off from the rest by a low dark wooden fence and Kara is its only patron, though a few people come and go in the fiction section, disproving the short lived ludicrous thought that she might have been the only adult reader around here. There's a blackboard right across from her labelled : listen to something new ! on which Lena has listed several podcasts and once Kara has found one that interests her, she falls into it for the remainder of the afternoon.

The library closes around 6pm. Give are take ten minutes depending if someone decided to bust in at the lest second to return a late book with an onslaught of apologies. From where she’s hiding at the back of the library, Kara notices Lena doesn’t make them pay any lateness fee. She does however, jokingly threatens to make Kara pay rent for all the time she spends here.

They walk out into the street together after Lena closes. It's quiet except for the soft sounds of the tide and the distant noise of someone walking on gravel. Kara is following her absentmindedly, not fully conscious that she's walking in the opposite direction to the house when music and laughter briefly fills the air and she turns around to find the coffee shop fuller than she's seen it, life and light spilling into the street. Apparently, it turns into a bar at night.

Lena ignores it, but Kara can’t, as quite suddenly, an idea takes root in her mind and keeps growing until she can't think about anything else. "Do you want to get a drink ?" she spurts, stopping dead in her tracks when she realises what she said.

Lena stops too, right under a street lamp, and turns around to look at her, a delicate eyebrow arching high on her forehead. Even under the grotesque artificial light, she looks like an apparition. "What ?"

"Do you want to get a drink ?" Kara repeats. "Right now ? With me ?"

She can feel her cheeks growing hot to the point of combustion and apparently Lena notices it too because her brow furrows in consternation and she says, "are you asking me out ?"

"What ?" Kara sputters, "no ! Well, I mean, technically yes, I suppose. Do you want me to ask you out ?"

Miraculously, she manages to shut her mouth after that, but Lena looks sad asudden and she hangs her head in contemplation of her scuffed boots. "I'm sorry," she says, still looking at the ground, "I'm not-"

"Into women ?" Kara finishes for her, managing to put her two feet in her mouth and shove a third one in for good measure.

Lena laughs, somewhere between a yelp and a shriek and raises her eyes to look at her with a puzzling expression. "No," she says, "no. I'm very gay. I'm just, I'm just not really looking to go out with anyone at the moment."

"Okay," Kara says casually, astonished and relieved that she's managed to hide the fact that her stomach and heart have just switched place. At least the rebuffing is clear, and her silly little crush on the librarian can now evaporate on its own.

"That being said, I’m not against getting a friendly drink, if that works for you."

It works for Kara, unfortunately, maybe, and so they make their way inside what all things considered is a bustling bar. The TV is on, showing a football game that Kara pays little attention to and a bartender has replaced Nia behind the counter. The woman introduces herself as Megan and gets Lena her usual, a dark beer in a tall pint glass while Kara sheepishly orders a coke.

"I don't drink," she says, feeling the need to explain though absolutely no one asked.

"Do you mind if I do ?" Lena asks, lifting her glass a couple of inches to catch her attention.

The pint is big but her hand, somehow, is bigger, and Kara gets so caught up in the sight of her fingers gripping the glistening glass that she forgets to answer. She feels eyes on her, not so much insistent as careful and eventually manages to shake her head, no.

Lena takes a sip, Kara looks away.

They enjoy their drink in silence for a while. It's not disagreeable, but rather the kind of silence one can only enjoy with one's perfect counterpart. Lena drinks her stout in big precise gulps, leaving a clear foam line on the pint after each sip. She makes it look like an art form, much like everything she does. As she looks at her, not exactly inconspicuously, Kara gets the distinct and unavoidable feeling that her crush isn't going to go away at all. It's growing with each minute she spends with her but she's willing to accept her fate ; she has no intention of stopping.

When she starts feeling a tad too creepy, just staring at her like that, she presses her brain to think of anything to say, and she circles back to one of the first thing she ever wondered about her. "Where are you from ?"

"That question again ?" Lena shoots back, putting her glass down and wiping at her lips.

"No." Kara shakes her head. "No. I mean, you have an accent and I can't really pinpoint it."

Lena laughs huskily. She throws her head back slightly, her sharp profile cutting a terrible and enticing silhouette in the orange glow of the bar. "I could be faking it," she says.

"Well, are you ?"

"I'm Irish," Lena answers instead. "But I haven't been there in a long time. My adoptive mother tried to polish the accent out of me, and I doubled down on it. So in a way, I am faking it."

She speaks quietly, in acute contrast with her earlier bout of laughter and her words sound like a secret, one that the recipient has to treasure at all cost, and Kara makes the promise to herself right there to cherish and protect everything Lena will trust her with.

"I’m adopted too," she says. "My parents died when I was thirteen."

A beat passes, a brief moment during which Lena seems to turn the bitter information in her mind over and over again. "Do you miss them ?" she asks eventually. It's an obvious question, but one that Kara is glad she asked.

"Everyday," she says. "When they say it gets easier it’s a lie. You just learn to live with it." She stops, take a large gulp of her coke to wash the sour taste in her mouth. "But I got lucky," she adds, feeling a small smile stretch on her face. "I got adopted by a very good family, I got another shot."

"Your sister seems nice," Lena hums. She looks forlornly at the bottom of her pint, seems to muse over something for a second then gesture for another and asks for a basket of fries.

Kara takes it as a sign that she can continues probing. "Do you have any sibling ?"

Lena takes a fries, dips it in a dark brown sauce, pops it into her mouth and sucks her fingers, because this is somehow allowed, and only after does she answer. "A brother," she says. "But he's not really around anymore."

"I'm sorry."

Lena's face hardens almost imperceptibly and relaxes just as fast. "I'm not."

"What about your adoptive mother ?" Kara asks, taking her own fry from the offered basket, "does she ever visit ?"

"No. But she does call twice a year to remind me that I’m wasting my life. I usually put her on speaker and go do something else."

"What does she have against librarians ? It’s a beautiful calling."

"Not capitalist enough." Her words sound like an insult and her mouth twists as she says them, separating the orifice from the rest of her face in what could be an ugly snarl if she weren't so celestial.

"Why did you became a librarian then ?"

Silence stretch in between them like a deep uncrossable ocean and Kara wonders why, after all of the others that seemed much more personal to her, this is the wrong question.

"I like books," Lena replies after what feels like an entire lifetime. "And helping people. There’s a right book for everyone, I want to help them find it."

"What’s the right book for me ?"

"I haven’t found it yet," Lena says quietly. "Come on," she adds rather abruptly. "I’ll drive you home."

"Lena ! You’ve drank a litre of beer."

"I’m Irish," Lena says drily, slipping her heavy jacket on.

"And ?" Kara retorts just has sharply, "I fail to see the correlation."

They eye each other for an intense second, Kara trying her best not to fall into Lena’s eyes and Lena half disinterested from the situation.

"Fine," Lena huffs, like not driving while inebriated is the worse thing she's ever been asked to do. She turns away and leans over the bar. "Is John around ? Kara doesn't want me to drive."

Megan laughs. "Does she know you’re Irish ?"

Lena rolls her eyes. "She can't be reasoned with. The drinks are on me."

Kara feels the need to interject, she's being perfectly reasonable thank you very much, but all words escape her when she sees Lena sliding a mat black credit card over the counter. Librarians don't usually have Amex Centurion Cards, do they ?

She doesn't get to ask about that however because without looking, Lena drops her keys in the hand of a burly man who rounds the counter after dropping a kiss on Megan's cheek, and then they’re on their way. John drives her home first then Lena ; and Kara gives her her number with the reasonable demand of being warned when she's home safe which Lena does by sending a sarcastic thumb up.

Thus begins a beautiful routine.

They get breakfast together five times a week, Tuesday to Saturday, when the library is open, and Kara spends most of her afternoons there, reading or listening to podcasts and occasionally gently trying to pry details about Lena's life. On Wednesday's evenings, they get drinks, and Megan's husband drives them home.

Kara gets to know the regulars. There's Brainy, who's real name she doesn't know, a high-school teacher who comes work on his thesis here every Friday. He starts his day by ordering an elaborate drink at the coffee shop, always a different one, and Kara thinks he has a bit of a crush on Nia. There's Eve, an elementary school teacher who comes with her students one Wednesday a month and by herself every Thursday evening when the library closes a bit later. Vasquez, the county sheriff comes on Tuesdays and Barry, the postman, comes on Saturdays after his last delivery. It's the only day of the week Kara doesn't see him running.

She learns quickly that they rarely get a new face around here. Even the local frat boy, Mike, is a permanent fixture. Kara assumes he just got lost here one day and never left. He's rarely in the library, she isn't even sure he can read, but when he is, Kara is cautious to remain in Lena's sightline to deter him from bothering her. For some reason, she scares him.

By the time November rolls around, the rain eases up a little, and Kara is definitely part of the landscape. She likes it ; more than she thought she would. She likes her routine, she likes her cat and walking through the woods and on the beach. She likes the town and its inhabitants, she feels like she's part of something again, even if that something is very different from what she knows. Nia knows her order and so does Megan, and she's started being friendlier with the dreadful cashier at the grocery store. She never sees him outside of the shop, but his skin is grey and creepy enough for her not to question it. She's starting to be more comfortable, now isn't the time to unleash a dormant curse.

They're a week away from Thanksgiving, and it's not raining, by the time Lena finds Kara's "right book." She's a little late. Not too late that she won't be able to open the library on time, but late enough that Kara's heart is beating a tad too fast as she waits for her to appear or at least answer her message. She's sitting by the window, under the faded rainbow sticker, in the spot that has become theirs over the course of the past month.

"You look sad," Nia says in place of a greeting when she comes to drop her usual order. "Don't be, I'm sure Lena's on her way."

Kara thinks about rebuffing this statement, she could be forlorn for a variety of reasons ; but in this instance, Nia is right, she is thinking about Lena. She's not about to give this to the barista though, and so instead of offering a mature answer, she sticks her tongue at her and turns her back in a childlike and deliberate manner. Her eyes land on the sticker again, and below it, Lena exiting her truck in a hurry. Her heart grows at the sight, and she can't help but feel warm all over when she remembers how mere weeks ago, she was sitting in this exact spot lonely and broken and she's now starting to find a new place, with new people. And it's not just Lena, but Nia too, and to some extent, Megan and John, she's not alone anymore.

"See, she's here already," the barista sing-songs. She pulls on her ponytail and retreats just out of reach, trotting back to her counter with a playful wink. Kara would be mad, but considering Nia is often on the front row seat when it comes to her making a fool of herself all over Lena, she supposes she doesn't have much ground to stand on.

A short minute later, Lena barges in, face flushed, a strand of hair plastered to her forehead. She waves in Nia's general direction, tumbles on the chair opposite Kara and slams a small paperback on the hardwood table.

"I found your book," she says with the brightest smile Kara has ever seen on her face.

She looks, well Kara is running out of words to describe her. Lena's beauty is beyond human understanding. She's blushing, and biting her lip, and her eyes, wide open, are fixed on her like the future of their friendship rests entirely on this book. She would like to read something else in her eyes, but her attraction is one sided, and she knows it.

Kara takes her time turning the book over to read the title, not so much teasing, as because she's afraid of what Lena might have unearthed for her. She steadies her trembling hands, pushes her sleeves up, instead of pulling them down to cover her scar like she often does, and drags it closer to her. The book is small, a little battered, probably second hand, with a soft cover of a pretty pewter grey. It seems familiar, and when she reads the title, she understands why. Alex complained about it for an entire trimester in high-school, and as a result, she herself never dared to so much as open it."

"Breakfast at Tiffany's," she reads aloud, testing the title on her tongue.

"Here me out," Lena starts, "you might have read it already but-"

"I haven't."

"Great. Then I don't know how to say this with any sort of tact so I hope you can forgive me but," she marks a pause then, mulls over her words despite preemptively apologising for them. "You seem sad, often, and I think this book can teach you a thing or two about despair. There's a really good quote actually-"

"The one about blues and reds ?" Kara interrupts again. "My sister moaned about it for three months in high-school," she adds at Lena's confused look.

"That's a good one, but no, not this one." She falls silent again, a small absent minded smile stretching on her lips. She looks down at her coffee then up at her again and as she does so, Kara gets the peculiar feeling that Lena wants to share more than what’s she saying. It disappears as soon as she looks away, just when a sharp gust of wind blows wet leaves on the window. "It's a cookie cutter quote," she continues, "of the kind you print on an inspirational poster and hang in your bathroom. But I like it, it rings true to me."

"Share it with me ?" Kara asks, her voice lower than she intends it to be.

"Aprils," Lena says, "have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring."

"It's autumn," Kara remarks in what she will agree isn't a very smart way.

"Great time for beginnings."

And then, she does something so unfathomable that Kara knows she will never be sure it truly happened, because what the everloving fuck can such a gesture mean ?  She reaches out, and lays her hand on top of hers, squeezing it briefly, for barely a second before retreating to her side of the table. Kara probably dies, is atomised and reformed to encompass in herself this small inconsequential gesture. Lena's hand is warm from having been pressed on her mug, and her palm is calloused yet soft in a way that defies comprehension. She would have liked for it to remain on hers for just a moment longer, a mere nanosecond, so she would have had the time to catalog and understand everything about it.

"Has Nia told you anything about Thanksgiving yet ?" Lena asks, her voice muffled, like it sounds from far away. "She usually hosts a free diner here and everyone is invited. I thought you might want to come."

Kara hums in response. What are words when Lena's skin has touched her skin ? Anger flares in her for a short all consuming instant. She's been trying to get her crush on the librarian under control yet here she is, already more than halfway in love with her.

"It's very casual. Good music, good wine, good people. There'll be that apple pie you like. And my best friend and her daughter are coming from Portland." The last words are a quiet addition, but to Kara, they sound louder, more important. Lena sounds hopeful and hesitant and she isn't sure why ; this is nothing but a town wide party that someone was bound to invite her to at some point.

"I'll be there," she says, discarding with no regrets her plans for turkey flavoured ramens and Alex's frozen applesauce. "I mean, if there's apple pie, I can't really say no."

Lena's mouth is hidden behind her coffee cup, but her smile lights up her face all the way to her eyes.

The week that leads up to Thanksgiving is a weird one. For starters, Breakfast at Tiffany's has her in the doleful for an entire day. She feels like she's been slapped in the face multiple times and then pushed into a small black box but it gets better after talking with Lena, maybe because the librarian squeezes her hand again, and she ends up having a strange optimistic vision of the story. Then, it's the whole town coming to life. Kara sees more people during this week than she has her entire stay, and someone seems to take the approach of the holiday has a sign to deck Metropolis in Christmas lights because she comes out of the library one night only to be blinded by strings upon strings of tacky fairy lights. She loves it. She's on a high. Lena drives her home every night and they even meet up for brunch on Sunday, which they don't usually do, and she gets her to eat black pudding and try breakfast tea which Kara has to agree isn't completely disgusting though it's a peculiar combination. Her therapist remarks that she's smiling on their weekly session, Alex points it out too, and this, she surmises, is the reason why she stops paying attention.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Lena is already at the coffee shop when Kara arrives at her usual time. She's wearing her hair up today, a rare treat that exposes her chiseled jawline, and a knitted grey sweater that makes her look impossibly soft. But she also looks strangely nervous, her leg bouncing up and down under the table and her truck keys jingling in her hand. Her mug is already empty before her and she's got pastry crumbs on the corner of her mouth.

"Are you alright ?" Kara asks when she sits down opposite her. Her own coffee mug and apple pie materialise in front of her before she's even seen Nia move and truly, the barista is a God send.

"I'm perfectly fine," Lena says, her tone bordering on snappy.

Kara hesitates to push, but just when she's about to let it drop, Lena's leg bounces so hard that her knee knocks on the underside of the table, causing Kara's coffee to slosh over her mug.

"You don't look fine to me. Can I do anything to help ?"

Lena sighs, the corners of her lips pulling low on her face. "We often have a big storm around Thanksgiving and this year's changed course. It's going to come early and Sam and Ruby just left Portland. I'm afraid they won't be here on time."

"When are they due ?" Kara asks, taking a giant leap to grab Lena's hand. She holds it gently between her own, effectively stopping the maddening sound of the keys. Lena looks down at their hands, then up at her face with an undecipherable expression, but she doesn't pull away.

"They should be here around noon."

"I'm sure they'll be fine," Kara says, though she's fully aware that this is a baseless statement. "Does Sam have a good car ? Did she check her brakes and tires ? Is Ruby old enough to operate a phone ?"

Lena blinks at her, slowly, hazily.

"Sorry," Kara adds, realising she might have been talking a tad too fast. "Too many questions in one go."

Lena sighs. She glances behind her and Kara finally notices that the television is on, the screen showing the weather alert.

"No," she says. No you're right. Sam is a responsible adult and Ruby will keep me posted. They're meeting me at the library, I'll close it as soon as they arrive."

"Good idea," Kara whispers, trying to infuse reassurance into her voice. She squeezes Lena's hand once and considers setting it free, careful of not encroaching on her boundaries, but just as soon as the thought has crossed her mind, Lena holds onto her a little tighter. Out the window, she can see the storm's front rolling into the distance, almost disappearing, in some places, into the darkness of the ocean.

It starts raining a little before noon, when Lena's friend ETA is no more than thirty minutes. It's not too bad yet, or no more than usual, but as rain batters the library's windows, a certain sense of dread takes hold of Kara, and she can't shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen.

She's in the back, checking to make sure they won't accidentally lock up anyone behind when they leave, something that apparently happened to Brainy during the last storm, when Sam and Ruby enter the library. She walks to the front to find a tall brunette in a tan jacket embracing Lena and a drenched, but excited, teenager draped in a slightly too big grey and sky blue scarf. Somewhere far at the back of Kara's brain, a metaphorical light bulb turns on.

Grey and sky blue.

Sky blue and grey.

Still, she advances through the shelves, happy to meet Lena's friends. She takes note of the firm set of Sam's shoulders, the slender build of her strong body, the unmistakable protectiveness that radiates from her when she turns away from Lena and to Kara. She doesn't notice the exact moment Sam clocks her in, and it takes her a second to understand the way Ruby's mouth falls open ; but everything that happens after, she sees with a terrible clarity.

She continues walking forward as Sam leans towards Lena and elbows her with a teasing grin, she's still walking when Ruby squeals and presses her hand to her face to contain her joy, she's still walking, and she's too far to hear all of what Sam says, but her own name she hears and recognises.

"... Kara Danvers."

Her whole body locks up and freezes mid-step and she stumbles gracelessly, her foot hitting the floorboard with a loud creak that resonates in what is now a dead silence.

Grey and sky blue. Of course. The colour of her own damn uniform. National City's Women Soccer Team.

Lena and her guests are standing between her and the door but she needs to get out of here. She has to ; she can't stay. If she'd been paying attention, if she'd recognised her own damned colours, she could have gotten out by the backdoor, pretended to be sick, avoided this disaster ; but she became complacent in Lena's friendship, and now everything is ruined.

She doesn't wait to see what will inevitably happen ; she runs.

She runs past Lena and her friends, runs out into the street and the storm, runs faster than she's ever had on any soccer pitch. She's drenched to the bones after only a few strides, the wind pierces her skin like thousands of frozen spikes and she can't see two feet in front of her, but she runs. She hears shouts behind her, refuses to stop, ducks behind the coffee shop and starts running up the trail that goes around town. It's muddy, slippery, she can't see shit and she falls twice, splitting her knee open on a protruding root. She reaches the house on the back side, but of fucking course, doesn't have the key to the kitchen door. On the other side of the house, she can already hear Lena's truck, and its headlights are illuminating the whole house. She bolts again, rounds the house in a hurry, trips on her own feet and gets to the door at the exact second Lena cuts off her engine. Her hands are numb, she drops the keys, Lena exits the car. She bends down, gets the key, rises up, hits her head on something, fumbles in the dark for an endless second, rips the door open and slams it right when Lena steps on the porch.

The house is caught in the storm, she can hear the wind raging against it, shutters clapping ominously and windows vibrating with the force of the rain. It all comes to her muffled, but Lena's voice calling out for her is crystal clear.

"Kara ! Kara open that door !"

Her legs give out from under her and she sags against the wall, her heart savagely beating out of her chest. Of all the things that haven't managed to kill her, is this really going to be the one ? Lena bangs on the door, she hears a muffled curse. She needs to get away, move out further into the house, but she doesn't even manage to crawl. 

"Kara ! Kara I swear to God !"

She needs to call Alex. Alex will know what to do.

To her nauseous mind, this idea suddenly seems highly comical, and a strangled laugh escapes her at the thought of her sister rappelling out of a helicopter in the middle of a storm to get to her.

"Kara !"

The banging stops, and soon after follows thunder, a loud yelp and the sickening sound of a body hitting the ground. Adrenaline clears her mind like a whiplash. She's up in a flash, unlocks the door in a second and steps out into the storm before she's fully processed it. 

It's dark outside, and she hasn't bothered turning on any light inside the house so not even the barest gleam spills out into the garden. She wants to call out to Lena but her voice refuses to produce the smallest croak. She can't be far though, and she's proven to be right when another flash of lightning turns the world a bright white and she finds her on all four in the mud, her ponytail awkwardly stuck to her face. She's grabbed her under the armpits before she realises she has any intention of doing so, and the door slams behind them safely before thunder has the time to crack.

They remain silent for an eternal moment, sitting side by side in the hallway, Kara drenched to the bone, Lena covered in mud on her entire front, face included. Only when the cat comes to worm his way between their legs, butting his head against her, does Kara manage to speak.

"Do you want to take a shower ?"

"What ?" Lena's reply is almost inaudible ; she might have swallowed some mud.

"Shower. Do you want to take one ?"

Lena nods, or maybe it's simply a nervous twitch. Either way Kara pushes herself off the ground and helps her up, her arm shaking from the effort even if she weighs nothing at all. They find themselves very close to one another, would be face to face if Lena wasn't shorter. Lena eyes her in a strange way, but through her full face mud mask, her expression is a bit hard to discern. Kara leads her to the bathroom in silence, and somewhere between the bottom of the stairs and the first floor, she abandons all pretences ; the hoodie she gives her to change in has her name on the back. They switch places after fifteen minutes or so, Lena exiting in a trail of steam to make space for Kara to scrub her skin clean and raw.

Lena is in the kitchen when she comes out. She's helped herself to a cup of tea but it's sitting untouched on the table while she's slouched with her head between her hands. Two full minutes tick by loudly on the clock before she acknowledges her presence, straightening up and leaning back on her chair.

"What was that about ?" Her voice is husky, bitter, but Kara wouldn't be able to tell if she's truly angry.

"Did you google me ?" Kara asks, cowardly answering her question with another question. She steps nearer to her, fully conscious that she's standing too close yet not moving one inch back.

Lena narrows her eyes at her. "At what point does me running in a storm after you makes you feel like I've had time to do that ?"

"I..."

"I wouldn't have done that anyway," Lena sighs, interrupting her with no qualm. "Sam made it sound like you're some sort of legend but the only thing I know about soccer is that Ruby plays it and she's happy when I come to a match. If you want to share something with me, I'm all ears. If not, I understand. Just don't do stupid shit like running out into a storm."

Kara looks at her. She can't fathom doing anything else but look at her. Wisp curls up from her mug, blurring part of her face.

"Listen," Lena continues, "I like you. A lot. I don't want to like you, but I do, and right now, I'm very worried. Do I need to call someone ? Your sister ? Emergency services ?"

Something breaks inside of Kara then, wholly fractures alongside her jagged scar. 

She's so tired. 

Her legs shake violently and she catches herself on the side of the table, Lena's hands shooting up to briefly steady her before retreating like they've been burnt. 

"Kara please, what's going on ?"

She can't bring herself to answer. Instead, she takes off her glasses, turning the world mercifully blurry, and fumbles until she can get her sweater over her head.

"Kara, that confession was not an invitation to sex." 

Lena's voice fades on her last words, and, even before the return of her glasses clarify her expression, Kara knows that she's seen it ; the scar.

"I told you I had an accident," she says hurriedly, cutting short to all attempt at pity before Lena can even start talking. "But that's not all of it."

"You don't have to explain anything," Lena interrupts nonetheless, somehow talking even faster than her.

"I know," Kara whispers. "But I want to. What do you know about Argo Street ?"

"Argo Street ?" Lena repeats. "What does that have to do with... Oh. I knew your name reminded me of something."

"My aunt worked for the city council," Kara begins, wondering for a second if she should sit down before deciding it's easier to avoid Lena's gaze if she stands. "She campaigned for months to bring awareness to the dilapidated state of the neighbourhood's gas conduct. All for nothing. I was at school when it happened. I waited for a full hour after soccer practice for someone to come pick me up and when no one came, I decided to walk home. There was no home to go back to. I arrived just in time to see them extract my parents' charred corpse from the house's carcass."

"Kara I'm so..."

"Sorry ? Yeah," Kara mumbles bitterly, "I know. Everybody's always sorry about that. And that's just the beginning."

"If you want to tell me, I'm here," Lena says. "I only know about Argo Street because it was all over the news but I don't know anything about what happened to you after. You don't have to share anything you don't want to, and I'm not here to judge, just to get to know you."

Kara glances down then, and there's no trace of pity in Lena's eyes. Instead, she finds a strange openness, something akin to a raw thirst.

"I was adopted by the Danvers, and I moved to what was basically a different world." She stops, clears her throat in an attempt to steady her voice. "I wasn't doing very good. I went to therapy a lot. Group therapy, solo therapy, grief therapy, art therapy. It wasn't helping me, and it wasn't helping them, so I decided to fake it. I think they could see right through me, especially Alex, but in the end, it was better for everyone. The only moments I felt good were when I was playing soccer. There's something about running, focusing, strategising, that helps. You can't think about anything else when you're playing."

"I wouldn't know," Lena chuckles, "I can't run to save my life."

Kara welcomes the interruption, takes it in, swallows Lena's laugh and makes it her own before she continues. "I kept playing all through high-school, then college, and I was good, very good. I got noticed, and I went pro. With National City's Women Soccer Team."

"That's the team Ruby likes," Lena remarks, mostly to herself.

"I was told a lot that I could have played anywhere, but I wanted to stay close to Alex. I also thought that I could avoid scrutiny and fame. I just wanted to play soccer." Her voice breaks a little, and she clears her throat again. "But the media loves a sob story, and mine sold a lot. I was under the spotlight constantly and it was fucking exhausting. It became worse after I joined the national team, I couldn't go out for a drink without everyone wondering if I was an alcoholic. Because you know, tragic backstory, I have to be fucked up, right ? But I pressed on because I just wanted to play, and that's the opportunity of a lifetime." She realises that she's crying then, and has to mark a pause to wipe her face. Now comes the hard part.

She clears her throat again. Maybe it's the infamous pneumonia Alex has been raving on about. "A few months ago. Or. God, how long have I been here ?"

"About two months," Lena interrupts softly.

"So that would be, that would be eight months ago. God. We invited a bunch of six years old girls to tour our training facilities in the mountain range. Me and two teammates went to pick them up, and it was the three of us, their PE and science teachers, the bus driver and fifteen six years old girls." She glances at Lena again. She can see it already, the slow horrified realisation, like running at full speed towards a brick wall, fully knowing the consequences but not being able to stop.

"The bus was a bit old. I remember joking about it, I remember turning to Siobhan and joking about it. The brakes gave up in a 180 bend. The bus went over the railing and down on the road below, the driver died on impact, but the bus didn't stop and we kept jumping down and down until we reached the cliff edge directly over the city and we skid to a stop. I don't even know how it happened. I don't understand how the bus just stopped falling. But at this point, I had two fully unconscious adults, two severely injured but aware one, and fifteen terrified kids. It was just, it was just-"

"It was just you," Lena finishes for her. "Just you against all of this. Kara, Kara whatever happened next, you did your best. I know you did the best you could."

She ignores the interruption. She has to keep talking or she'll never be able to start again. "I started getting them out. I think I had a broken leg, but I could barely feel anything from the waist down anyway. It unbalanced the bus, and when it was just me and one little girl caught in the tangle of her seatbelt, it tipped forward." She stops again, fails to swallow the rocks clogging her throat. "She was very brave you know. Didn't scream once. There was only a little gurgle when the handrail went through her tiny body. I hear it every night in my dreams."

"Kara..."

"I don't faint," she spits falling into an all too familiar self-loathing. "I don't get that luxury. I was fully conscious until the rescue team found me and had to knock me out because I was screaming too much. I should have died. It's a sixty feet fall."

"But you didn’t," Lena says much too gently. "You didn’t. You’re alive, and you did everything you could."

"But it wasn’t enough. It wasn't enough, and there's a little girl who didn't get to go home to her fathers because of that. And some days I wish they'd just left me at the bottom of that hole instead of trying so hard to stitch me back together. I didn't come here because I have an undying love for shitty coastal towns, but because I couldn't take a step outside without everybody adulating me. I don't want to be a hero with a tragic backstory. I hate myself, and I just want to be left alone."

Silence stretches on after what she decides are her final words. She's starting to get cold, courtesy of her freshly showered hair dripping on her mostly naked body. Her sport bra is already completely soaked through and disgustingly clinging to her skin. She considers covering herself, but stops midway through retrieving her sweater when she notices Lena is still looking at her. There's still no trace of pity in her eyes, just maybe a twinge of sadness that slips into her voice when she says, "it was an accident. I wasn't your fault."

It sounds strange, a little rehearsed, just enough for Kara to get caught up on it and wonder who Lena has had to say it to before. She opens her arms and when Kara nods to her silent question, she wraps them tight around her. She's still sitting, and her head comes rest on Kara's naked torso, the tip of her nose landing on the edge of the scar. "It wasn’t your fault," she repeats.

"I know," Kara replies, and though it's far from the first time she's said it, it seems to her like it's the first time she believes it.

They go to bed after that. It's barely the middle of the afternoon, but they're both exhausted. They nap until dinner time at which point Lena's internal clock wakes her up and Kara unfreezes some of Alex's soup. They don't talk much, but they do so easily, and for a short moment of pure contentment, Kara can see herself in this same kitchen, in ten years, with Lena. The storm is still raging outside, the power goes out twice before they give up and go back to bed where they spend the night tangled tight in each other.

Both wind and rain abate suddenly during the night and the disappearance of the noise rouses Kara from sleep rather brutally. She awakes pinned to the bed by Lena's body and has to wiggle awkwardly to free the parts of her own body that still hurt sometime. After that however, she sleeps soundly until morning.

Breakfast consists of two cups of instant coffee and pancakes from a premix box that Kara has absolutely no recollection of buying ; she’ll have to thanks Alex for that. The storm has left behind a thin sheet of treacherous ice and they spend a good hour chaining Lena's tires after what, numb from the cold, they go back inside for a second coffee. Kara's glasses fog up instantly but it makes Lena laugh so gleefully that she doesn't have the heart to be annoyed by it. Instead, she removes them and sticks them on her face, effectively rendering them both half blind until Lena shoves them back on her face, blinking owlishly.

The playful gesture lands them standing much closer than anticipated, chests touching with each intake of breath, heads leaning towards each other as if their lips are magnets. Lena takes a step back. "Your eyesight is shit," she mumbles before making her way further into the house.

Kara gets the sudden uncomfortable urge to make a bad joke about hitting her head after a sixty feet dive but she shakes it off with a shudder and instead toes her boots off and follows after Lena. "Is it like that every year ?"

"More or less," Lena shrugs. "The first winter is the hardest. After that, you get used to it. The temperatures usually pick up in late April."

"April ?" Kara croaks.

"May at worst. Though there’s this one time we had a snow storm in June," Lena muses. "Anyway, you grew up in Montréal, you won’t have much of a hard time getting used to it."

"I just spent thirteen years in California," Kara whispers, mildly horrified, wrapping her hands around her newly refilled cup in search of substitute warmth.

"We'll hold a ceremony to burn your tank tops and then we'll crowdfund to buy you a really good flannel. This way everybody will be able to wonder if you’re gay or just really into sensible clothing."

"Oh I'm gay," Kara replies, smirking into her coffee. "You'd know that if you'd googled me."

"I’m not going to google you," Lena grumbles, but she still smiles at their little inside joke.

Because they have that now, a slightly traumatic inside joke, a semi-confessed mutual attraction, and Lena's legs crossing the gap under the table so her feet can come rest on Kara's lap.

They leave around noon, Lena in yesterday's washed and dried clothes with Kara's old NCWST scarf wound tight around her neck and Kara in her best flannel and thermal underwear because if she gets sick she'll never hear the end of it. She found the scarf by accident, certain that she'd left it in National City. It was in her entryway closet, neatly tucked under a less controversial one, with a note stuck to it. In case you get cold. Love, Alex. Another thing she'll have to thanks her sister for.

Lena drives them skilfully to the Dream House where they find that most everyone is already here. The inside of the coffee shop is warmer than usual and smells like mulled wine, an indication that the people bustling in and out of the kitchen started early on the booze. Sam and Ruby are on potato duty, sitting at the counter in front of a massive pot that by Kara's estimation could fit several small child. They drop their knives and abandon their stools when they spot them, Sam coming to hug Lena while Ruby hangs back nervously, her eyes fixed somewhere on the recently dusted floor.

She's tall, clearly taking after her mother and she stands awkwardly, clearly ill at ease in her lanky limbs. Kara wonders if like her, she comes alive on the pitch. Her heart thundering in her chest, she steps closer to the teenager, her own awkwardness radiating in waves from her own taller and fuller body. If she could pass out, she's pretty sure she would be on the floor already, but it's a step in the right direction, and after swallowing the lump in her throat, she says, somewhat stiffly, "so, Lena tells me you play soccer ?"

A dazzling smile breaks on Ruby's face but she rapidly gets it under control, replacing it with a contrived frown. "I do," she says in a comically polite tone. "I play forward like you."

"We should do a little one on one someday," Kara offers, refusing to acknowledge the fact that her breakfast is trying to make a return trip through her mouth.

Ruby's eyes go so wide that Kara fears they're going to burst from her head. The teenager looks like Santa Claus himself came down from the North Pole to announce Christmas is coming early. Her mouth hangs agape and she remains in suspended animation until her mother clasps a tender hand on her shoulder.

"Thank you," she mouths to Kara, then, extending her free hand she adds, "I’m Sam Arias. I wanted to apologise for yesterday."

"No harm done," Kara answers, though the truthfulness of this statement remains to be evaluated.

Sam leans forward a little and Kara mindlessly mirrors her. "Great," the other woman says. "Then you should know that no matter how much my daughter likes you, if you hurt my best friend, I'll hunt you to the confines of Earth."

"Duly noted Ma'am," Kara gulps taking a nice and safe step back. Somehow, she has no doubt that Sam Arias could follow through on that threat.

An arm wraps itself around Kara's bicep and Lena appears next to her, the length of her body flushed against her side. "Play nice Sam," she says. If spontaneous combustion were a thing, Kara is sure she would be naught but ashes right now.

It's while she's pondering on her mortality that Nia makes her apparition, two mugs in hand. "Mulled wine for Lena, non-alcoholic spicy concoction for Kara," she says much too happily for someone who looks like she's been in the kitchen for several hours already. Her face is bright red and sweaty, her hair plastered to her forehead and there's an unidentified stain on her apron that looks a little too much like blood for Kara's comfort.

She freezes when she sees them, something that is beginning to become a trend in Kara's life, and eyes Lena's neck curiously. She points at her, then at Kara, then at Lena again and says, too sassy for her own good, "so this is out in the open now ?"

"Which part are we discussing exactly ?" Lena asks, tightening her hold on Kara’s arm.

"You knew ?" Kara whispers, her hand lifting of its own accord to rearrange the scarf around Lena’s neck.

"Contrary to Lena here I own a television so yes, I recognised you."

"Oi ! That’s a lie, I do have a TV."

"She’s got a point," Sam interjects, "you never watch it."

"But you never said anything," Kara croaks. "No one said anything."

Nia shrugs. "Figured you’d want to be left alone. I know I would. Now tell me, have you ever shoved a duck inside a turkey ? I need help but Brainy's squeamish."

As it turns out, shoving a duck inside of a turkey isn’t the easiest thing in the world ; especially if a chicken has been shoved inside of said duck, and a quail inside of said chicken, and the whole thing has been slathered with butter. It also takes six hours to cook, and by the time it finally comes out of the oven, most guests have already discreetly dipped in the mashed potatoes. The delay on the bird seems to be a yearly occurrence.

To Kara, it feels like the entire town is here, but to be fair, she has no idea of how many people live in Metropolis. She sticks close to Lena for the entire evening, feeling somewhat ashamed for it, but reluctant to mingle when she hasn’t been in such a packed room in so long. Lena is more than happy to be at her side, but when more people start filling the coffee shop, she lets go of her arm, putting an illusionary distance between them. She can still feel her heat radiating from her body.

Before everyone is either too drunk or too full, a wonky circle is arranged so gratefulness can go around. Kara remains silent on her turn, not feeling much like spewing generic things that will sound fake no matter how much conviction she puts into them. Instead, she stares at the back of Lena’s head and thinks as hard as she can, I’m grateful for you.

Later, much later, when Lena and Sam are both drunk, Kara carries an unconscious Ruby to the car and gets behind the wheel. She does have her driving licence, but was shuttled everywhere on the team’s bus in National City, and never has had much opportunity to drive, especially on ice. It takes them almost an hour to reach Lena’s house fifteen minutes away, but she refuses to take all the blame, especially considering the GPS isn’t working and Lena is half asleep, drooling against the window.

It’s hard to see what the house looks like in the dark, but in the narrow headlights it appears to be at least as big as Kara’s, two storeys and an attic high, with tall antiquated windows and a large front porch. Ruby is still out for the count, Kara wouldn’t be surprised if she had come a bit too close to the mulled wine while they weren’t looking, but Lena has regained enough wit to find her keys, open the door and shepherd them inside before she goes face plant on the couch. Once she’s sure Sam can take care of Ruby, Kara goes to sit next to her, daring to comb her hand in her hair.

"Do you have pain killers somewhere ?" she asks. "You’re going to need that and some water."

"Shhhh," Lena whispers. "Shhhhh. I’m not drunk, just tired. Will you stay the night ?"

Kara is taken aback by the question, though on insight, it was to be expected. She stammers, then says, "sure. Anything you want."

At her answer, Lena springs up the couch, narrowly avoiding Kara’s head, and grabs her hand to drag her upstairs.

"Where you faking it ?" Kara asks with a chuckle.

"Not at all."

Lena’s tone is neutral enough that Kara allows herself to doubt it, but she doesn’t press. Her life has taken a turn for the better, and she’s afraid that if she pushes too hard, she’ll jinx it. Just the thought of it makes her nauseous, and she stops dead on the landing, almost ripping Lena’s arm of its socket in the process.

"Are you alright ?" Lena asks, her concerned backlit by the light spilling from the guest room.

"I’m okay," Kara whispers. "I think," she adds, even lower and mostly to herself. "I’d just, I’d like to call my sister before bed if that’s alright with you."

"Of course," Lena says, "of course. My room’s this way," she points to a door a little further down the corridor, "and this is my office," she continues, pointing to the door opposite that, "you can go in there for privacy if you want."

She lets go of Kara’s hand and walks away slowly, but not before laying a tender kiss on her cheek. This should make Kara ecstatic, but instead, she has to force a couple of deep breath to prevent the quail-chicken-duck-turkey from redecorating the carpet.

Lena’s office is spacious, with anthracite walls and a strange array of rather modern furniture that contrast with the rest of the house. She goes to sit behind a desk of solid dark wood on a chair that wouldn’t be out of place in a corporate office. Alex answers on the first ring.

"Hey Kara," she says, her voice a bit distorted by the phone. "Isn’t it a bit late for you ?"

"We just left the party."

"How was it ?"

She hears something clink, the telltale sound of a glass being put down on Eliza marble counter. She thinks back to the party, its warmth, the sheer happiness that emanated from all present, and she thinks about her own anxiety, the pit in her stomach, the nausea that doesn’t want to go away. "Loud," is what she settles on.

"Did you make it home okay ? Did John drive you ?"

"I’m at Lena’s," Kara answers hesitantly. She knows Alex won’t judge her, but it feels a bit like sharing a secret, one that she would rather keep close to her chest.

"Oh," her sister says. Kara can picture her expression from here, the glint in her eyes, the subtle rise of an eyebrow. She misses her.

"She knows," she adds, not needing to say more for Alex to understand.

"How did that happen ?" Alex asks softly.

"It’s a long story," Kara sighs.

"I have all night if you need me."

Kara settles further into the chair, and talks. She talks about Lena and the library, about Sam and Ruby, about the storm and about finding Lena on her doorstep anyway. She talks about the confession, the fear, about taking of her sweater and the feel of Lena’s face, so close to that thing she hates. She talks about waking up next to her, about the absence of pity in her eyes, about the anxiety and the nausea ; and Alex simply listens.

Lena is still awake by the time Kara joins her in her room. She waits for her to strip down to her boxers and undershirt, and then puts aside her book, a thick hardback with a green and black cover that bears a call number from the library. They don’t speak, they don’t need to ; but simply lay on their sides and look at each other, their skin turned amber in the glow of the bedside lamp.

Now that she's in bed, Lena looks tired again, but she also seems intent on fighting sleep, blinking heavily every so often to keep herself awake. There's a hazy look to her, something eerie and almost otherworldly in the way the light reflects on her face that reminds Kara of what she felts the first time she saw her. She blinks again, smiles softly and a flash of burning warmth runs through Kara at the thought that this smile is just for her.

"I had a really nice evening," she says, a bit because she doesn't want to fall asleep yet either but mostly because she needs Lena to know how much she enjoys her company.

"Really ?" Lena asks, arching a delicate eyebrow. "You stayed with me the whole time."

"Exactly." And then, because she suddenly feels rather self-conscious, she adds, "I apologise if I annoyed you. I don't do so well with crowds anymore."

"You didn't bother me," Lena replies, slowly shaking her head in disbelief. "I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving with you, and I had a really nice time too." She marks a pause there, a silence that Kara doesn't fill. "This year," she adds eventually, "I'm grateful for you."

The confession, thought quite simple, also seems weirdly loaded, and Kara wishes she could measure the vastness of what Lena hides behind these words. It's different to when she admitted to liking her, but it adds on to it in a way Kara refuses to ignore. She wonders if she should kiss her. If she can. If it would be welcomed, if it would be too much, if she can herself handle it. Lena takes the decision out of her hands.

"You know," she whispers, "I can see the way you look at me."

Kara averts her eyes immediately ; fixing her gaze on a weird looking pattern in the paint behind Lena. "Sorry," she murmurs, feeling compelled to apologise.

"Don't be daft," Lena continues, her voice still low, borderline husky. "Not just right now. I can see the way you look at me everyday, you're not exactly subtle. I like it."

"I thought you didn't want to like me," Kara says, matching the volume of her voice though hers sounds much more like gravel. "Or want to go out with anyone."

"It seems like I have no choice in the matter." She reaches to push a strand of Kara's hair away from her eyes ; her skin burns in the path of her fingers. "I want to be alive again," she whispers, which to Kara, sounds like a peculiar thing to say.

Still, no matter how strange and removed Lena sounds right now, she asks, tentatively, "can I kiss you ?"

But Lena is already one step ahead, already so close to her face that her words disappear against her lips when she speaks. "I'm going to kiss you know."

It's nothing at first, but the simple press of lips on lips, two mouths slanted against each other in the semi darkness of a foreign room. To Kara, who hasn't kissed anyone in a long time, it's already overwhelming.

Lena draws back with a chuckle, the hint of a teasing smile tugging at her lips. "Wouldn't have pegged you for shy," she whispers, still so close to Kara's face that she feels her words more than she hears them.

"Not shy," Kara mumbles timidly, even as a rising blush turns her cheeks warm.

At that, Lena laughs in earnest before clamping her hands on her mouth to muffle the sound. She stares at Kara, eyes wide and full of mirth and holds back another bout of laughter, her whole body shaking from the effort.

"I'm not shy," Kara persists, this time speaking a little louder. "It's just been a while, and you're really beautiful."

Lena’s body lights up red like a beacon, the bright flush disappearing down the collar of her soft sleeping shirt. Kara raises her hand slowly and sets it down there, right where the skin vanishes under the fabric. Her skin is warm to the touch, almost burning.

"But I’m going to kiss you again," she continues, "if that’s okay with you."

Lena muses over it playfully for a second then nods with a crooked smile. "Come here," she whispers, hooking her fingers in the waistband of Kara's boxers, something for which she is doubtlessly unprepared. It sends a bolt through her body, lighting all her nerves ending with a thirst she cannot quench.

Lena is surprisingly strong, which Kara supposes was to be expected since she carries books around all day long, but she still goes willingly until their bodies are pressed against one another on their entire length, Lena going as far as hooking a leg around hers. "Well," she says, "show me how 'not shy' you are." She slips a finger in between their mouths. "Quiet though," she adds, "or Sam will never let me live it down."

They don't go farther than kissing, though there is a moment when Lena splaying her hands on her stomach erases every single gentlewomanly thought that has ever crossed her mind ; but they keep at it until the early hours of the morning, when the sky brightening outside brings to them an awareness of the day to come. When Lena's tongue slips inside of her mouth, and her hand runs down the length of the scar on her face, it occurs to Kara that maybe she could love herself again.

Kara doesn't notice falling asleep, she does however register in all parts of her body and mind the adult sized gremlin jumping on the bed a mere second after she's closed her eyes.

"Ruby go away," Lena mumbles, burying her face in the crook of Kara's neck. "It's too early."

"Not Ruby," someone sing-songs irritably. "But she’s awake and hungry and I still can’t work your dumb gas hob."

Lena groans and Kara decides then and there that this is the cutest sound in the world. It's cute enough to compel her to open her eyes which is a grave mistake if she ever made one. Sam is hunched over them, hag-like in expression and hairstyle, eyes narrowed in two scrutinising slits.

"Go away," Lena groans again, still beyond adorable.

"I'll go away in two days. In the meantime I want to spend some time with my best friend before I have to surrender her to her soccer player girlfriend."

Lena's whole body goes rigid in a split second, and in another, before Kara has had any time to catch up at all, she's sprung up to sit, ruffled, with the covers pooling around her waist. "If you stop talking right now I'll show you how to work the gas hob. Otherwise, you can eat cold food until Sunday."

"I'm not the one ditching my friend for a hot soccer player."

"She’s got a sister. I’ll introduce you if you just give me five more minutes."

"Deal."

Kara wonders if they've just plain forgotten she's here but it seems they haven't because the second Sam is out the door, Lena is back snuggling against her. "Sorry about that," she whispers sleepily. "She's got the maturity level of a twelve years old."

Kara’s mouth stretches into a smile. "I know the type," she sighs, wiggling on the bed to get comfortable again. "You didn't correct her," she adds, the sound of her voice almost covered by the sudden pick up of her heartbeat, "when she called me your girlfriend."

"I didn’t," Lena confirms just as softly. "What do you think about it ?"

Kara shuffles to sit up, leaving Lena stranded lower on her torso. She needs to clear her head. "I don't know," she says after a long moment. "I'm not, I'm not sure I'd make a good girlfriend."

"Because you're a little crooked ?" Lena asks, which has to be the best euphemism to say Kara is completely fucked up. "I'm a little crooked too. And I'm not saying we should get married tomorrow and buy a white picket fence house." She stops to let out a strange strangled laugh. "I wasn't lying when I say I didn't want to go out," she continues, "but I've changed my mind. I like you, and I really want to try. I think it could be nice, you and I."

"You and I," Kara repeats.

She must say it too slowly, or not enthusiastically enough because Lena pushes herself up and away from her with a frown. "Forget it," she mumbles, "I shouldn't have said anything."

Kara grabs her wrist quickly, keeping her in place until she can gather her thoughts. "No. Please. You and I sounds great."

Lena freezes, and turns back to look at her somewhat reluctantly. "You're not saying that just for me, right ?" she asks in a tone that Kara has trouble deciphering. It sounds a little, but not quite, like her own brand of self-loathing but it's so strange in Lena's mouth that she isn't sure she heard her properly.

"Of course not," Kara says gently. "I want to try too. But I'm not always in a good place and I, I need you to be patient with me."

Something flashes in Lena's eyes. She looks at her curiously, then smiles briefly, and for a peculiar reason, sadly, and leans forward to lay a small kiss right at the corner of her mouth. "I will."

The gas hob as it turns out is really easy to work. But it's also quite antiquated and exactly the sort of appliance Kara wouldn't touch with a ten feet pole and she understands why Sam might feel queasy about it. She stands back with her, on the other side of the kitchen, while Lena produces an open flame with no apparent fear of the whole thing just blowing up in her face.

"I told you to just change the damn thing," Sam mumbles under her breath, eyeing the death trap with a weary gaze.

Lena turns around with a glint of annoyance in her eyes and a probable retort on the tip of her tongue but whatever she was about to say dies down when her stare stumbles on Kara. She wonders what she looks like, thinks she might be pale and sweating but Lena makes no remark on it. Instead she says, with a somewhat casual shrug, "I've been thinking about switching to induction. I'm too old to carry gas cylinders." Her statement sounds final, and that’s indeed the last that is said about the issue.

Breakfast is a strange affair, but not for the reasons Kara would have expected. Wether Lena briefed her or not, Sam Arias gives approximately zero shit about Kara's "big heroic gesture." She presents herself as a soccer fan, via Ruby's own interest, but doesn't thank her profusely for saving a bunch of kids, and doesn't tiptoe around the mention of her injuries ; her only concern is that she's kind to her daughter and it's incredibly refreshing.

The other reason why breakfast is so peculiar, is that Sam doesn't seem to be equipped with a filter. She's also incredibly talented at innuendos, and one in two comments that leaves her mouth is both incredibly racy and flies entirely over Ruby's head. By the time several stacks of pancakes have been consumed, Lena is halfway to an aneurysm and Kara is considering branching into science to find a way of harnessing her blush as a source of sustainable energy.

Fortunately, Kara manages to escape the worst of it by roping the teenager in a one on one soccer match in Lena's gigantic garden. Garden being the word Lena uses to describe it but to Kara it seems to be closer to a humongous patch of land roughly delimited by the woods on three of its sides and the road on its fourth. The low morning sun has begun to melt the thin sheet of ice on the grass, turning the whole thing in a vast pool of mud that in some places goes up past Kara's ankles.

Two goals have already been marked by displaced rocks and Kara wonders who usually plays with Ruby. Lena doesn't look like the running type so it's probably Sam, who looks much too happy to be on the sidelines right now, bundled up in a thick scarf and with a mug of something hot held tight in her hands. "Go Ruby !" she shouts when her daughter runs past her with an old and patched up soccer ball tucked between her arm. Kara makes a note of getting her a new one and then proceeds to be absolutely destroyed by the teenager.

It's freeing, waddling into the mud after a crusty ball with no consequences, and Kara finds herself years back, running in Eliza's back garden with her sister when things might not have been simpler, but were at least a different brand of complicated. She manages to keep most of her anxiety at the thought of playing at bay, and the fact that she hasn't played in a long time means they’re pretty evenly matched and she doesn't crush Ruby's hopes and dreams in less than a minute. It might have annoyed someone else, but she's just happy that the sight of a soccer ball doesn't tear a gap in her chest.

Ruby is more used than her to running around in the mud and Kara gets too distracted by the slurping sound of her boots and the flickers of dirt on her glasses to remain focused on the game for long. They call it a day after she plunges after the ball and face plants in the mud, close enough to one of the makeshift goal posts to worry Lena. Sam lifts her daughter off the ground in an exaggerated show of victory but it doesn't matter, because Kara played, and she had fun. Also because Lena proceeds to tenderly wipe the mud from her face and unnecessarily check her for injuries.

"You look like you need a break," she whispers in her ear. "Come on, I'll drive you home."

Kara does need a break, a moment alone to recharge, and she's ever grateful for the way Lena seems to pick up on it with no prompting. She's grateful too for the warmth of the truck's cabin, the kiss she gets on the cheek on her doorstep and the hot cleaning stream of her shower. She facetimes Alex and Eliza later in the afternoon, falls asleep on the phone with them and wakes up on the edge of the evening to a screenshot of her relaxed face squished against the cat.

Sam and Ruby leave on Sunday morning and after that, everything is different. Life gets easier. It's not all rosy and sunshiny of course, but there's a definitive spring in Kara's steps that has little to do with the amount of mud caked under her soles that even her self-lambasting mind can't ignore. A heavy weight has been lifted off her chest, and the air tastes cleaner with each breath.

She didn't think it would feel so good, Lena knowing about her, and though she feels mildly embarrassed for not having realised that most everyone else knew she was retired and busted soccer superstar Kara Danvers, being out in the open feels like finally making progress. She should have realised it sooner, how much it was holding her back the constant hiding and fear, the elaborate hairstyles to hide her face, the perpetual skirting around "what happened." But to be fair with herself, her life has been nothing but layer upon layer of anxiety for quite some time now, and it's become a tad difficult to really pinpoint what's causing her major stress.

Her next video session with her therapist is spent allowing herself to celebrate her progress and setting new reasonable goals for herself. Lena rewards her in her own way by kissing her senseless in her kitchen that night. Their dinner is a little burnt as a result but neither of them cares much about it. Which is a victory in and of itself ; a mere month ago a failed dinner would have sent Kara spiralling into self-loathing at an interesting speed.

Slowly but surely, Kara realises how deeply ingrained Lena is in her life. It's not a bad realisation, Kara has never had any trouble anchoring herself to other people before, but it certainly is startling when after swearing herself to a lifetime of loneliness, she realises she's organised her entire routine around her.

Their days go as follow : when the library is open, they meet up for breakfast, earlier than they used to, and eat their respective food, legs tangled under the table in private tenderness. Afterward, Lena goes to work and Kara slowly drives herself home in the borrowed truck to run tentative drills in a cleared up portion of the garden. She then takes a shower and a quick lunch and drives back to the library where she spends the rest of the afternoon catching up on all the books she's ignored in the past few years and basking in Lena's presence. Wednesdays are different. On Wednesdays, she doesn’t exercise, preferring to spend the whole day in the warm building so she can be there when the librarian reads her usual stories to her tiny visitors.

Mondays could be the worst because they don't see each other, devoting their days to various house chores and catching up on personal things. But Kara loves Mondays, loves the solitude because she knows it has an end date, loves briefly missing Lena because she knows she'll see her again.

Sundays are the best. They spend Sundays at one or the other house, mostly in bed save for a walk in the afternoon, sharing slices of their lives that feel like secrets even in their banality. Sundays are when Kara learns that Lena's favourite colour is purple, and that her favourite movie is critically acclaimed sapphic masterpiece Carol. Sundays are when she tells her about touring Europe with her team and about the love of her life, an ice-cream seller in Rome that she only ever saw once. Sundays are the days Lena tries to remember Ashford so she can describe her birthplace to her and they are the days Kara talks about her mother without crying. Sunday is also the day Kara catches the mother of all colds, a week before Christmas.

"I told you you shouldn't have been outside in a t-shirt," Alex's pixelated silhouette sighs through the phone.

"Don't be bean to be, ab dying," Kara sniffles before dramatically blowing her nose and adding the ruined tissue to the growing pile on the bed.

"You're not dying Kara. I've seen what you dying looks like and believe me, you're fine," Alex says which is harsh, but, Kara reckons, probably deserved. Her sister sighs, and her blurry hand comes wipe at her face. The cell phone reception is shit from the bed. "Is Lena around ?"

Kara sniffles gracefully again. "Went to pick up sobe bedicine."

"Good, that means I don't have to change my plane ticket to be here five minutes ago."

Alex's sarcastic retort is barely out of her mouth that Lena enters the room, the door and floorboard creaking in her wake. Kara didn't even hear her make her way into the house.

"The cat is fed, the door is locked, and I closed the window in the bathroom. I don't think healthy you will be happy if you accidentally flood the house. Hi Alex." Lena plucks the phone from Kara's limp grasp and props it on the bedside table.

"Thank you for making sure my sister isn’t actually dying," Alex says, her voice coming muffled through the speaker. "I’m hanging up now Kara, I’ll see you on Wednesday, please don’t die."

Once the screen has gone black, Lena helps her waddle through a bowl of chicken soup, some painkillers and a terrible inhalation that clears her sinuses for several generations. She gets berated only twice for being terribly melodramatic and gets a handkerchief with little soccer balls on it that Lena found in a gas station on her way to Jonesport.

"You’re by fabourite," she sighs.

She isn't sure if Lena blushes at her croaked confession or if it's her eyesight giving up on her ; she goes with the blush, it's better for her ego.

The rest of the day is fuzzy, though her headache abates a little when the sun goes down. After a second round of spicy chicken soup Lena picks up a book and starts reading aloud to her, Kara taking the opportunity to block out the affronting light by closing her eyes and pillowing her head on Lena's chest.

Lena's chosen read turns out to be historical fiction full of sapphic sex and Kara hears herself saying distantly and with mild horror, "if my brain wasn’t leaking through my nose right now I’d go down on you."

She falls asleep sometime after Lena answers, carding a soft hand through her hair, "thanks, that's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me."

Kara feels better by Tuesday and on Wednesday is fully ready to borrow Lena's car again to pick Alex and Eliza at the airport, refusing to let her sister, for whom ice is nothing but a concept, drive on these roads. She's getting better at driving, but she's still a bit over cautious and arrives late to find her family grumbling and freezing in the airport lobby. Apparently, they do not turn the heating on during winter around here.

They look strangely out of place in the dilapidated hangar, Eliza in her beige trench coat and smart slacks and Alex in her "week-end" clothes, which is to say she looks like she climbed out of a 90's dumpster. It forces Kara to consider her own silhouette, to take stock of the muddy boots she's given up on cleaning and the jeans so thick they could probably withstand a nuclear winter. She's wearing her now customary rain jacket with a sleeveless puff one underneath for added warmth and she's tucked her ponytail in the hole of a baseball cap to keep her hair out of her face. She looks like a caricature, she looks like she belongs.

Eliza engulfs her in a bone crushing hug the moment she's within reach and Kara breathes in the reassuring smell of home, baked goods and a lingering scent of hand sanitiser. After Eliza comes Alex's turn and if her sister were strong enough to lift her off the ground, Kara knows she would. They look healthy, both of them, and it's even more glaring in Eliza whom Kara hasn't seen for longer. Her permanently concerned frown hasn't departed, but she looks less tired, and more open.

She leads them to the car in a constant stream of chatter, happy that it's easy again to talk to her foster mum, and before long, they're on the long winding road home. It starts hailing halfway there which is not exactly a surprise, it was on the weather report. Kara thought she would be able to beat it but the sky disappears behind dark clouds and soon enough, it's midnight at noon.

"Fuck," she mumbles under her breath. "Fuck."

Thankfully, Eliza doesn't say anything. She doesn't need to though, Kara has vivid memories of being chided over and over for swearing as a teenager.

"Alex ? Can you reach in my pocket and put Lena on speaker ? Let her know we’re gonna be a little late ?"

She focuses hard on the quickly disappearing road while Alex all but sprawls on top of her to reach her left inside pocket. Somewhere distantly in her mind, a little voice that sounds suspiciously like Lena's tells her she should park on the side of the road and let the brunt of it pass. The promise of a warm meal and dry home keep her foot steady on the gas pedal.

"Is your password still my birth- Kara. Kara, brake !"

With no time for second guessing Kara obeys swiftly, all remembrance of driving lessons exiting her mind when she needs it the most. The wheels lock beneath the car and they skid over the ice until the car comes to an abrupt stop in a screeching sound of metal hitting metal. In the glow of the headlights, she catches sight of a deformed guard rail and the picture imprints itself on her eyes even as she looks away.

"Is everyone okay ?" she manages to ask. She's positive she gets answers, but the words come to her muffled and inaudible, taking a backseat to the beating of her heart.

She feels sick. Hot and cold at the same time. Is it sweat coating her face, or blood ? She's shaking and wheezing, what little she can see blurs before her. The seatbelt cuts into her, splitting her open. She can't feel her legs. She needs to get out of the car before it pitches off the cliff.

She fumbles with the belt then with the door and falls outside on her knees, what is now melted ice battering on her back. Eliza is beside her in a matter of seconds, then Alex. They haul her up and she throws up on their feet. The world is spinning, her brain is not tethered to her body anymore.

A bright light cuts through the rain. The sun, or headlights, she isn't quite sure and she doesn't care. The sound of car doors slamming reaches her ears and with that a worried voice that pierces through the fog enveloping her.

"It’s Kara ! Mum ! It’s Kara !"

Footsteps clatter on the wet road and a tall billowing silhouette comes shield her from what are definitely headlights.

"Don't worry. I'm a friend," a voice that she knows but can't place says. "What happened ?"

"I think something crossed the road, a deer maybe," Alex says from Kara's right side. "She lost control of the car."

"Happens to the best of us," the previous voice says. "I completely totalled Lena's old car the first time I drove on that road. She wasn’t even mad. If the truck's in working order I can drive before you. We're not far from Metropolis. I’m Sam by the way, Lena’s friend."

Kara feels her sister shift, presumably so she can clasp an offered hand. "Thanks. That’d be a huge help. I’m Alex, Kara’s sister."

Someone swaddles her in an itchy wool blanket and helps her into the back seat, supporting most of her weight when her legs refuse to respond. Her entire side hurts to the point of tears but that isn't the sole reason why she starts crying. The rumbling of the engine covers the sound of her tears but when Eliza starts humming a quiet song, she knows her foster mother noticed.

The journey home is non existent to Kara. She surmises the exhaustion that followed the scare must take her because she's startled awake by the sound of the truck's tires on the gravel of her alleyway. Her head is pillowed on Eliza's damp shoulder, her face tight with dried tears. She figures someone must have called Lena because she flings the door open to extract her from the car before they're even parked. Thankfully, Sam isn't far behind, because Kara weighs much more than a box full of books.

The hail has subsided into a soft cool drizzle that mutes everything around her, shapes, colours and sounds disappearing behind the thin rain. Kara feels better now. If she's home, if Lena is here, it means the car didn't tip over the edge, it means they are all alive and safe. It means she isn't alone at the bottom of a hole, cradling a tiny dead body in her arms. The knowledge that she's safe helps settle her heart, but it does nothing to settle her body, and she drags herself up the stairs, leadened, upright only thanks to the silhouettes framing her.

Lena and Sam lead her to the bathroom, and then Lena helps her out of her clothes and into the bath. She thinks they're alone now. She also thinks Lena is talking, but she can't make out her words properly.

She's so tired.

Sam reappears sometime later to carry her to bed where someone puts a bowl of hot soup in her hands. She realises the world is blurry only because she's not wearing her glasses anymore, and not because she's going blind, not because a tall and scruffy doctor is going to carry her away to surgery to reattach her retina.

Someone is talking again, she thinks this time it might be Eliza but again, the words have no meaning to her. A hand is brushing damp strands away from her forehead, and then this same hand and its counterpart help tuck her under the cover. She knows these hands, they're hardworking, and constantly smell of store brand lotion. Her sister pulls the cover all the way under her chin, then kisses the side of her head.

"You are okay."

Kara sleeps through the afternoon then the night, and awakes early on Christmas Eve to find that everyone has crashed at her house. Lena is bundled in a plaid on top of the covers next to her, and Alex is sprawled in an armchair on the other side of the room. When she walks past it in the corridor, she sees Eliza sleeping soundly in the guest room through the sliver of the open door and downstairs, Sam and Ruby are sleeping on her couch.

It takes her by surprise. She had a suspicion Lena would stay by her side, and Eliza and Alex were going to spend the week with her anyway, but not Sam and Ruby. The plan was for Lena and her to spend Christmas with their respective family and to meet up for New Year’s Eve. She guesses this went off the rail when she got closely acquainted with a crash barrier.

She can't help but to gaze upon Sam and Ruby, mother and child reminding her of who she was a long time ago, when her house hadn't yet exploded and she could still climb into her mother's bed when she was awake too early. She looks at them, and she realises, both quietly and with an intensity that knocks the wind out of her, that by welcoming Lena into her life, she’s also welcomed these two, and that her family got that much bigger.

It's barely 6am, and it's still darker than dark outside, but Kara feels alive, and feels the need to share it. Soundlessly, she reaches for the box of brand new Christmas decorations and tangles in the tree a single string of light. Sam and Ruby wake up when she plugs it in, because it's admittedly not the smartest thing she's ever done, but they don't complain, and join her in her enterprise. The living room is decked in lights by the time Alex joins them downstairs, followed closely by Lena, both of their hair sticking out in odd places. Eliza is the last to arrive, and by the time she's here, only a few baubles remain to be hanged. With Sam's help, mother and mother, she sets to prepping breakfast, and so it's Alex who lifts Ruby up to put the star on top of the tree.

"I suppose there's been a change of plan," Lena whispers in her ear, coming behind her to wrap her arms around her. The air is filled with the smell of pine tree but if she focuses, she can catch a whiff of something unique to Lena, laundry detergent and white flowers. Kara sink into her embrace. "Are you okay ? With this, and yesterday ?"

Kara takes a moment to think it over. She looks at Alex and Ruby sitting under the tree, at the odd pair they make, and gets a funny feeling in her chest.

"I think I am."

They don't move, and Kara looks as Ruby shows something on her phone to someone who was a complete stranger not twenty-four hours ago.

"Is this okay with you ?" she asks after a stretch of silence. She briefly motions to the scene before her, her gesture implicitly encompassing Eliza and Sam in the kitchen.

"It is," Lena replies softly. "I've been alone for far too long."

It's another one of these strange things Lena says from time to time and that Kara lets pile up at the back of her mind for later analysis, or for when Lena will want to talk, if she ever does. It's in little moments like this, when it's the two of us in their bubbles and Lena lets little things slip that Kara realises she doesn't know that much about her, that for ten things she's shared about herself, Lena has only shared one. But it's Christmas now, and it's not really the time.

The rest of the day passes by in a slow and easy manner. Kara finds musty board games in the back of a cupboard and they spread on the living room floor with freshly baked cookies. Alex is still unbeatable at Clue, and Lena, as it turns out, is very good at Monopoly. The next day is much of the same except they have presents to open, and Kara and Lena slip out in the afternoon for a long walk that takes them down a path she has yet to explore and up a cliff that surveys the town and ocean. She kisses her on that cliff. Because she can, and she really likes her. She tells her as much and Lena laughs, then blushes. It's a really good Christmas.

The following week isn't as nice, nor is it as easy. It's not that Kara is unhappy about Alex and Eliza's presence, but them being here upsets her routine at a time where she desperately needs it and she piles poor nights of sleep over poor nights of sleep that feed a simmering anger to the point her sister has to pull her aside.

They take advantage of a lull in their activities to meet up at the coffee shop, just the two of them, Kara selecting a Christmas special drink and Alex ordering a no-nonsense and sad black coffee.

"How are you doing ? No bullshit," Alex asks, cutting straight to the chase as soon as they're sitting in Kara's usual spot.

Kara takes her time answering, basking for a moment in the familiar glow of the coffee shop. She listens to the rise and fall of conversations, glances around at the explosion of fairy lights and garlands, then takes a sip of her drink. It's sweet but not too much ; enough to fill her with childlike glee but stopping short of hurting her teeth. "It's a bit much," is what she settles on, grateful for her sister's patience. She could lie, say she's fine, but Alex specifically requested no bullshit, and she's alway seen through Kara crystal clear anyway.

"Figured you’d need a time out," Alex muses in her coffee mug. "You haven’t been sleeping well, have you ?"

"Not really," Kara admits quietly.

"You know, just because Mum and I are here doesn't mean it has to interrupt you and Lena u-hauling. If you need her to stay the night, we won't mind."

"We're not u-hauling !" Kara sputters, immediately making a mountain out of Alex's mostly casual remark. "We spend a reasonable amount of time together and a reasonable amount of time apart. Like reasonable persons."

Alex eyes her critically and, behind the counter, so does Nia. Kara's cheek burn flaming red. "Just saying," her sister shrugs. "If she helps you sleep better."

"My routine has been a bit bulldozered. But I'm very happy you're here !" She adds the second part quickly but there's no need for it, Alex's eyes are full of quiet understanding, like they often are.

"Bulldozered is not a word," Alex grumbles. "But promise you’ll sleep once we’re gone ?"

"Promise. For an entire week."

"As a doctor I feel compelled to tell you this is not a good idea."

"You've lost the right to play the doctor card the day you told me you'd considered injecting coffee intravenously," Kara says drily.

Alex chokes on her coffee which is strange, considering that what she said did not necessitate such a reaction. She gets a tiny hint as to why when she follows Alex's gaze over her shoulder and finds that Sam has just entered the coffee shop.

New Year's Eve is not unlike Christmas Eve ; albeit significantly more alcohol is consumed by the people who drink. They play board games again, with the addition of a card game Alex got last minute for Ruby and from which they have to remove all the slightly too sexual cards. A little before midnight, they all bundle up in their thickest clothes and gather with half the town on top of a cliff that looks out into the open, and from there, they look at the fireworks show of the closest town.

It's the first time Kara sees fireworks without having to sacrifice her hearing for it ; it's nice. She's learned to love Metropolis in the past four months, she's grown less critical of this shabby place ; still, she wonders why they don't have their own fireworks show. She's about to ask when Nia, who's standing a little further away with her hand delicately clasped in Brainy's catches her inquisitive eyes and mouths, "veteran," while pointing at John. She remembers how her aunt Astra used to flinch at loud noises when she came home from her final tour with the Blue Helmets and her appreciation for the town grows tenfold.

The light show doesn't last for long, and once the sky return to its usual splatter of bright stars, the inhabitants scatter back to town with the promise of a hot drink concocted by Nia and Megan ; apparently, it's a yearly tradition and there's a twenty-three percent chance it will be poisonous according to Brainy's most recent statistics on the matter. Kara hangs back, and by force of circumstances, as Kara as an arm tightly wound around her waist, so does Lena. It's not that she doesn't look forward to being poisoned, but she'd rather have Lena to herself for a minute or so before taking the plunge.

"Stay with me ?" she asks in her ear, easily moving her so she can fully wrap her in her arms.

"We're going to freeze to death," Lena replies, her breath indeed coming out in a small puff of steam with her words. She doesn't, however, show any intention of moving away.

"I’m wearing thermal underwear."

"I’m not," Lena grumbles.

"You’re not ? That’s not very practical of you," Kara says, her tone light and teasing as she nudges Lena playfully. "I thought you were accustomed to the ins and outs of coastal living."

"Sam may or may not have convinced me to buy matching lingerie," Lena replies matter-of-factly.

Kara's arms tighten on reflex around Lena. and she shakes her head vigorously from side to side. "Eliza will be sleeping next door."

"Shame," Lena says, her tone still flat in what appears to be a deliberate manner, "this thing itches and I was looking forward to taking it off."

"We could always go back to your house," Kara suggests, dropping a kiss on her shoulder. She probably won't feel it through her jacket and two sweaters, but it's the intention that counts. If they were in a warm place and not slowly freezing on top of a windy cliff, she'd slip her hand under her shirt, like she sometimes does when Lena is cooking and Kara has decided it's hugging time.

Lena barks out a laugh, briefly exposing the pale slope of her neck when she throws her head back and her scarf slips off. "What are we ? Horny teenagers ?"

"At least part of this statement is true."

"I haven't seen nearly enough of you this week."

Her words come out in a rushed husky whisper and it's enough for Kara to relax her hold sufficiently for Lena to turn in her arms, grab her by the collar and slot their numb lips against one another. The kiss does a quick job of warming them up, in part because Kara is so eager that she deepens it immediately. Her hands drop to frame Lena's hips, the tip of her gloved fingers slipping just under her jacket, and Lena's wide palms spread on her cheeks, her own fingers sliding under the beanie Kara has shoved all the way to her eyes.

Her glasses fog up instantly when they come apart and she doesn't give them enough time to clear up, leaning in to kiss her again because if she can't see her, she might has well feel her ; the suppleness of her skin under her fingers even through layers of closing, the lingering taste of whiskey on her lips from the drink she had before leaving the house, the warmth of her bold tongue in her mouth. She feels her own body too, acutely. Each and everyone of her nerve ending has been cranked up to eleven and she knows, without having to linger on it, that she hasn't been more alive than she is now, kissing Lena under a sky so perfect it might as well have been painted by a lovesick artist.

They gasp when they part for the second time. Kara still can't see anything through her glasses so she pictures in her mind what Lena might looks like while she waits for her vision to clear up. She thinks her cheeks might be flushed bright, their redness emphasising the green of her eyes. There is no doubt a wisp of black hair escaping her hat, and she knows her lips are still parted.

"Come on," Lena murmurs, "let's go try that drink."

The bar is louder than it usually is, though it's not particularly full. Someone has put on some music and the speakers play a mix of contemporary pop songs and the odd belated Christmas hit that contrasts with what can usually be heard around here. Kara thinks it might be ironic. She tries the iconic yearly drink, taking a sip out of Lena's glass out of curiosity. It tastes, well she isn't sure what it tastes like. There's apple in it for sure, but not just apple. Maybe dirt ? Lena gulps down the rest of the drink in one go, makes a face then asks for a beer to chase the taste. Nia isn't disappointed by her failings, she's too busy finally making out with Brainy. They stay until much later than intended, part of the evening involving line dancing to a Beyonce song. Kara, who's the proud owner of two left feet anywhere outside of a soccer pitch, doesn't mind dancing too much if it means Lena presses against her back to show her the steps.

It's snowing when they step out of the bar, not much, just a few flakes here and there, dancing in the glow of the street lamps, but the air still smells distinctly different because of it. Kara smiles, whispers joyfully, "it’s snowing."

Lena looks up at the sky quizzically, then at the pavement, where snowflakes are not sticking yet. "That's January for you," she says with the characteristic lilt of someone who isn't particularly moved by weather.

"I don't think it snowed even once while I was living in National City," Kara continues, a wonder she doesn't care to mask seeping into her voice.

"And in Montréal ?" Lena asks.

Kara sighs, she can feel her eyes on her, inquisitive, but kind. "Up to the knees every winter," she says, smiling at the recollection.

"You’re gonna love it here then." Lena threads their gloved fingers together and tugs gently, signalling that she’d like to go home.

"I already do," Kara whispers. She prides herself in keeping her eyes firmly on the falling snow, her gaze not even faltering sappily to the woman on her right.

"I do like snow," Lena says when they've walked further up the street and are away from the noise spilling from the bar. "I like the quiet."

Their boots crunch softly in the mixture of mud and ice that coats the ground. The snow is falling more heavily now and Lena is right, the world around them dampens, it becomes gentler ; and though Kara knows she'd freeze to death, she wants to lay down and experience this hug of nature.

"Did it snow a lot where you grew up ?" she asks. It sounds like she's fishing for information, though she isn't, and she understand why Lena doesn't really answer.

"I don’t remember."

Kara lets it drop and kisses the side of her face, cold lips on a numb cheek. "Come on, let's go home."

They trudge carefully all the way to the house, Kara slipping only once, and Lena not at all. She fiddles with her keys on the porch for a minute, overly careful of not making any sound because the lights are off and Eliza and Alex are probably already asleep. All her precautions are for naught however because the moment she steps in the hallway, she's met with angry meowing and realises, a little too late, that where there should be floorboard under her foot, there is actually something squishy and very much alive.

She yelps and leaps back, bumping into Lena who staggers back into the door with a heavy thud.

"Fuck, the cat."

The cat, completely invisible in the darkness meows from further and further into the room until Kara hears the telltale sound of his tiny paws in the stairs. When she manages to turn on the light, he’s already disappeared.

She turns it off again quickly, mindful of not bothering anyone even if the brief illumination of the room isn't enough to make sure her sister really is under the bundle of blankets on the couch or if they've been artfully arranged to make one believe she's here. Alex has always been particularly crafty in that aspect.

She toes her boots off and wiggles out of her jacket in the greyish darkness brought by the porch's lamp feebly shining through the window but behind her, she doesn't hear Lena do the same. In fact, she's not moving at all, and once she's herself stopped filling the room with her rustling, the only thing she can hear is Lena's steady breathing. She turns around to find her still leaning on the door, hands tucked inside her pockets and eyes glued on something somewhere in the general area occupied by Kara's silhouette.

Kara approaches cautiously, like one would with a wild animal. She raises one hand hesitantly, feels silly for it but does not back down. "Are you okay ?"

Lena hums in reply, then pushes on the door to get upright again. "Just thinking about something," she says.

"Anything you want to share ?" Kara probs with the strange impression that she's standing on the edge of something she cannot decipher.

"I just really like you is all."

Out of a weird twisted reflex, Kara chuckles. "Is that a new realisation ?"

Lena shrugs in a casual way that still seems to bear a lot of weight. "Not at all," she whispers, "I just felt like saying it."

There is a lot of things Kara could reply to that ; most of them would be too much. Instead, she continues her approach and tugs at Lena's arm until she slowly unsheathes her hand from her pocket. Her eyes are on her, heavy and questioning. Kara pulls her fingers free from her glove and brings them to her lips, the cold skin a thrilling contrast on her warming body. She does the other hand, then undoes the jacket's zipper and pushes it off Lena's shoulders, leaving it on the ground after it lands in a crinkling plastic sound.

A vague nondescript alarm bell starts ringing somewhere in her brain and she can sense her body's urge to lock up. She refuses to let it, but she knows her own will doesn't have much to do with the fact that she manages to keep going ; all credit can go to Lena leaning in to press a lingering kiss on her jaw. They remain like that, in silence, Lena's lips pressed to her skin, until she lets her fingers run down the length of her torso so they can slip under her sweater, under-sweater and under-shirt where she finds soft skin and lace. She attempts to draw back, though she’s unsure of why, but as she does so, her head bumps against Lena's and she kisses her instead. It's a much more desirable outcome than being away from her, and she anchors herself to her body, hands tightening around her supple hips, thumb slipping under her lacy waistband.

Lena laughs in the kiss, sending a low chuckle that reverberates through their bodies. "You're not going to undress me in your entryway, are you ?" she whispers against her lips. "Let’s go upstairs."

The steps creak under their combined weights as they go up to her room. Kara's heart beats fast enough to carve a way through her chest but not, she notices, in a bad way. The door to her bedroom has been left ajar, but she closes it as soon as they step inside, backing Lena into it with a boldness she hasn't felt in a long time.

"Oh," Lena whispers, "is this how this is going to go ?" She kisses the side of her jaw again, lower than the first time, then lower again, just where it joins her neck. "No pressure, okay ?"

"What ?" Kara laughs, "was the lingerie not an invitation to sex ?"

"You’re an ass," Lena says, weakly swatting at her arm. Her gaze softens, and she bites her lips ; she appears to melt into a strange form of hesitation. "I know I was teasing you earlier," she murmurs, "but I hope you know I'm not trying to pressure you into anything. If we never ever have sex, I'll still be happy to be with you."

"I know," Kara replies, leaning in to press a long kiss to her lips. "And I hope you know you don’t have to wear lingerie to appeal to me. You're attractive as you are, and always. Lacy thongs or long johns."

As she says this, her hands return to their previous position, under Lena's multiple layers, and she lets her thumbs dip in the space cloth meets skin. Lena lets out a breathy gasp, and she hurries to swallow it with her own mouth, pressing in to part her lips with her tongue and revelling in the way she's welcomed there. After that, not much more is said. Lena moulds herself to her body, arms tight around her neck so her hands can thread themselves in her distraught and half-undone ponytail. Kara pushes herself harder against her, eager to feel her completely and in every part of her body. Lena moans, swiftly erasing every other sound Kara has ever heard, and she lifts herself off the ground, relying entirely on the door and Kara's upper body strength to hold her up as she snags her legs around her hips. On automatism, Kara's hands drop to hold her, settling on her ass in a happy accident. This, she decides, is the physical manifestation of Heaven on Earth.

Spinning around, she carries Lena to her bed, lays her on it gently. But she hasn't yet settled on top of her that Lena, legs still snatched around her body, has them flipped so she can sit on her, legs bracketing her hips. She grins dangerously, in a manner that has Kara both fearing she's going to be eaten alive, and desiring it fiercely. In a move that is frankly impressive she removes her three layers of clothing in one swift motion revealing underneath a lacy bra of a dark purple that cups breasts Kara had yet to lay her eyes upon. She wonders if she should say something, but seems to have forgotten the very function of words and it's no use anyway, because Lena picks up on her struggle and, after bending down to lay a finger on her lips, kisses her into oblivion.

The whole experience is almost surreal, yet Kara has never felt things so tangibly. When she lifts her torso and removes her own upper layers, albeit not as elegantly as her companion, Lena's eyes go wide and forest green with want and she immediately latches on the new naked planes offered. Kara’s skin burns in the path of her kisses, her body born anew so it can feel things better, brighter.

Several notable things happen afterward. She finds out that Lena isn't afraid to laugh during sex and will do so freely, especially when she struggles getting rid of her complicated lingerie ensemble, and when Kara falls off the bed afterward trying to take off her jeans. She becomes closely acquainted with the way Lena clenches around her fingers, with the feel of her on her tongue, her taste. She discovers the way she tenses and arches when she comes, how she glistens beautifully even under the shitty ceiling light. But most of all, as Lena decides to map her body, her scar, with her lips, she falls in love ; not with Lena, but with herself.

The next morning, they are woken up much too early for their liking by the successive sound of a car door slamming, the house’s door opening and someone loudly swearing after, Kara supposes, tripping on the cat. Lena languidly stretches beside her, which causes the parts of their body that are still intertwined to glide deliciously against each other. She produces a sound that is halfway between a moan and a groan and mumbles, "it’s too early."

Someone goes up the stairs, lingers there for a moment then treks downstairs with the characteristic noises of someone who is trying to remain silent. Clearly they’re failing, because a moment later, something bangs in the kitchen.

Lena wiggles a little, popping her head further outside of the covers. A bird nest has taken residency in her hair. Kara stretches her arm out as best as she can, fumbles around for her glasses, and when she pops them on her face, is welcomed by all the glory of Lena’s morning pout.

"It’s too cold in your room."

"Come here then," Kara whispers, a little afraid to break the spell that has taken hold of them. She tugs at Lena until she’s fully settled on top of her, breathes in the smell of her hair and sighs, content.

"Are you okay ?" Lena asks quietly.

"I’m happy," Kara replies in an exhale.

"Good. I’m happy too."

They don’t get up until the smell of coffee and pancakes wafts upstairs and even then, they let Eliza go first, waiting until her steps have creaked past Kara’s bedroom before submitting their naked bodies to the temperature. Despite cursing the cold, Lena is the first one out of bed, skipping the short distance to the window to open the curtains then to take a peak at Kara’s wardrobe from which she extracts the Danvers hoodie, thermal underwear and Kara’s fluffiest pair of socks. Kara watches her get dressed, noticing with no alarm that the collar of the hoodie will absolutely not hide the hickey on her neck. On its own accord, her hand come to the juncture of her jaw and neck ; she’ll need a particularly high turtleneck to hide hers.

Downstairs, they find Alex cooking up a storm under Eliza benevolent gaze. She's both frantic and strangely relaxed, and, for some reason, wearing a scarf in the overly warm kitchen. From her frenzied rambling, Kara gathers that Sam and Ruby are supposed to join them for breakfast and indeed, Sam's SUV starts making its precautious way up the snowy alley at the exact moment Kara pours Lena her first coffee of the day.

Breakfast is a mess. It's loud and verging into lunch and Alex and Ruby make a chorus of gagging noises when Sam drops on the table a couple of things from Lena's fridge including her well loved morning black pudding. She also brought baked beans that Lena hurries to spread on a piece of toast and Kara might really like her but this is a bit too much, even for her. Lena looks blissfully happy though, so she's not going to question her diet choices.

The weather is a bit more clement now, with a bright sun piercing through the clouds, but it snowed all night, and her garden is covered in a white soft inviting blanket. She drags Alex out before they've had any time to digest, her new soccer ball firmly tucked under her armpit. If the decision to run after a ball in snow right after they've finished eating is questionable at best, no one says anything against it, but it feels different from the over cautiousness that surrounded Kara in the months before she left National City. It's closer to "do what you want but I don't want to puke in the snow" than "I should absolutely not contradict you poor injured thing."

And in any case, Alex is thrilled to play with her again. Ruby is a little bit disgruntled at being asked to stay on the sideline until her breakfast has completed its intended journey but she smiles brighter after Alex whispers something in her ears and Kara witnesses something that she would have rather not witnessed, her sister's pinky lingering on the back of Lena's best friend's hand.

They play until they're soaked to the bone, even getting Sam and Lena to join in with disastrous results. Kara thinks she might have caught that infamous pneumonia by the time they make it back into the warm living room, but she'll gladly stay ill in bed for a couple of days because it means she got to play with Alex again. It means she got to see that exhilarated rosy cheeks smile on her sister's face again, it means she got to carry her on her back whooping and running all around the garden because they're not sure who won and they don't care. It means things are better, maybe for good.

The two weeks that follow are absolutely dreadful. The moment Kara gets home from driving Alex and Eliza back to the airport, she feels the brunt of everything crashing down on her. The near car crash, the break in her routine, the consistent noise levels of the past few days, and, in the lingering cough at the back of her throat, the act of rolling around in the snow.

She spends three days stuck in bed, pain flaring up in her body in places where it had finally started to subside. She throws up twice, including once on Lena and it's not until plans are made to have her transported to the hospital via helicopter, though how would Lena get her hands on a helicopter, she isn't sure, that she starts feeling marginally better. She still sleeps a lot, hauls her body around for the next dozen days in a headache inducing limbo, but this time she knows there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Once she's sure she's not going to relapse into something terrible, and once Lena has agreed to let her out of her sight for longer than it takes to go to the bathroom, she takes up to running every morning before breakfast, slowly clearing up a path in the snow around the house. Lena who's just here more days than not now always wait up for her before they drive down to the Dream House for coffee and pastries.

A month passes like that, during which they're snowed in twice, which according to Lena is not particularly exceptional. Now that Kara has regained some semblance of a sexual confidence, they make good use of the time they're stuck inside ; including a memorable afternoon when Lena has to close down the library because of a storm threat. Kara blushes for a week straight afterward every time she sits in what has become her armchair on the second level.

February comes and goes, Nia decks the entire coffee shop in pink and hearts and Kara finds glitter in places glitter should not be for two weeks after that. March rolls around, it rains ice non-stop for a week and they find refuge in Lena's house where Kara undertakes to fixing her fire place so they can stop wearing two pairs of socks. Then it's April, bluebells start flowering, the temperatures marginally go up and Lena surprises her by building a goalpost in her garden. Alex sends her her old cleats so she can stop running around in inappropriate sneakers and she watches her first match in more than a year. Then it's May, and Kara wakes up one morning to the warm and tingly realisation that she's in love with Lena.

It's not a stark realisation. It's not a slap in the face or a punch to the gut. She doesn't go to bed unaware of her feelings to wake up assaulted by them. No, it's nothing but a pit stop in her journey with Lena, one that has been on the map since the very beginning and that she's been treading towards at her own pace. She comes to realise she is in love with Lena like one realises they’re out of bread. It doesn’t have no consequences, but it also isn't life destroying. She is in love with Lena, and it’s okay.

She doesn't tell her right away, keeps it close to her chest and adds it to each and everyone of their interactions a bit like an afterthought. She carries it around like a stack of heart shaped gold stickers that she affixes to all the little moments they spend together. She loves her when she laughs and the sun shines in her hair, and when she drinks her tea too fast and burps. She loves her when she complains about mud in the driveway, and when she mumbles in her sleep.

She loves her when she watches her practise, perched on the stone bench in the garden, when she picks up smooth pebbles on the beach for no other reason than they’re pretty, when they go for tiring walks in the wood, when she's got crumbs on the corner of her mouth. She loves her at home, at the coffee shop, at the grocery store, at the library. She loves her when she's making breakfast, when she's pushing her book cart around, when she's downing her beer quarter by quarter at the bar, when she comes, writhing underneath her.

She loves her in loud silence until one morning on the very edge of June, and Lena does not say it back.

It's a morning like most morning, except maybe that Lena hasn't been sleeping well lately. She's in the kitchen, wearing Kara's t-shirt and no pants, with an empty glass of water in her hand. She just pointed out that the bellflowers are early this year when Kara comes up behind her to wrap her tight in her arms. She relaxes instantly in that strange manner one does when they haven't realised they were tensed in the first place, and she leans back in the embrace. Kara kisses the side of her head, just a soft press of her lips on her temple and says, simply, "I love you."

Lena does not tense up again, but Kara can feel her fighting against it, can sense very acutely the way her muscles struggle to stay relaxed. A tiny little painful crack appears on her heart. She doesn't mind at all that Lena did not say it back, but the reaction she's trying to hide leaves little doubt.

The rest of their morning is standard, but for the fact that Lena keeps on zoning out while they're having breakfast. She's fidgeting too, legs bouncing up and down under the table and fingers tapping an insane rhythm on the wooden top. When Kara tries to grab her hand, gently, like she often does when Lena is running in loop in her mind, she draws back sharply. She waves away her concern with a dismissive kiss on the cheek and runs to go open the library, leaving her stranded in the coffee shop under the peeling rainbow sticker. It starts raining then, but it's not a particularly notable event.

She's distracted during her workout, ends up falling and splitting her knee open. It's not a bad injury by any mean, but she falls back on her ass on the damp grass, staring at the thin trickle of blood running down her leg and wondering where she want wrong. She considers calling her sister, then doesn't because Alex is very well capable of taking a flight to come put a bandaid on her split skin, but when she still picks up her phone, she's got two missed calls and an onslaught of texts. The calls are from Sam and Nia, and the texts from Sam only.

Today's not a good day for Lena.

Sorry, that's a weird text.

I'm usually here this time of year but I couldn't take the day off.

Can you stay with her ?

I'll call after work.

She won't tell you what's wrong.

And she won't tell you that she needs you.

But she does.

Need you that is.

Let me know if you need anything.

Kara stares at her phone until her eyes hurt from not blinking. She thinks about the way Lena was this morning, realises, a little too late, that it might very well have had nothing to do with her. She's running before she's had the time to make a real plan.

She didn't take the truck back with her this morning, which on insight was a bad idea ; though she couldn't have known she would need to rush back. Her lungs are burning by the time she arrives at the library. It's closed. The truck is gone, but there are two pieces of paper stuck to the door. One is the standard plain white sheet Lena usually sticks on the window when she has to close without notice and the other is a flashy yellow post-it with Kara's name on it. It simply reads please don’t, in a very scrawny version of Lena's handwriting.

Kara hovers in place for a warped moment in time. She feels dizzy, nauseous, and her lungs still burn with each intake of breath. What the fuck ? She considers respecting Lena's wishes and just going home. She could call her later, see if there's something she can do, try to occupy herself otherwise in the meantime. But she thinks back to Sam’s text, the peculiar desperation of Lena's best friend. She won't tell you that she needs you. But she does.

In the end, it's not a hard decision to make. She takes off in a light jog towards Lena's house, her clothes clinging to her skin under the light drizzle. It cleans the cut on her knee, washes off the blood. In return, it also makes her look like she crawled out of the woods. She can barely see through her glasses, but, drenched and tired, her trip is rewarded by the sight of Lena's truck in the driveway and the lights spilling out through the windows. The air smells distinctly of an upcoming storm.

She takes the time to wipe the mud on her shoes before she starts knocking on the door. The answer is immediate, a croaked, "go away," sounding through the thick wood panel.

"Lena please."

"Go away Kara."

Kara doesn’t move a muscle. She’s starting to get cold, but she will not leave. A shadow passes behind the tiny frosted window cut out in the door.

"Go away Kara, please." She hears some rustling, can picture Lena putting her hand on the door. "You can’t love me."

"That's bullshit !" Kara exclaims quasi-immediately, only half-surprised by her outburst ; it's been a tough morning. "You don't get a say in that. If you don't love me back, that's fine, but you don't get a say in whether I love you or not."

"You have no idea how much I love you," Lena whispers from behind the door. "But I'm not a good person. Please, go."

"I'm not leaving," Kara says, her voice trembling but not from the cold. She hammers Sam words in her mind, repeats them over and over to herself. "You didn't leave when I wanted you to go and needed you so much. I'm not leaving now that it's you who needs me."

A beat passes, a terrible moment of silence during which the first thunder of the predicted storm crackles in the distance ; but it seems like it was the right thing to say, because on the other side, the chain rattles, and the door opens, spilling light on the front porch. Lena collapses in her arms she moment Kara slips inside, burying her face in the crook of her neck with a frightening anguish. "I do need you."

They stay like that, Kara dripping water on the carpet until the first flash of lightning. They part then, and Lena's face is red and blotchy, her eyes weirdly emotionless. "There's something I need to tell you," she says after clearing her throat, "and it might make you hate me so if you need to go, if you want to leave me, I'll understand."

"I couldn't hate you," Kara answers without missing a beat, but Lena doesn't hear her words, because she's already spoken.

"I killed a man."

Kara hears what she says, the meaning of her words register quite clearly in her mind. But she has no idea what to make of them.

"Do you want some tea ?" Lena asks. "I'll make some tea."

Kara follows her to the kitchen mindlessly, grabbing on the way a warm and dry sweater that she slips on after shrugging off her shirt. Lena prepares the tea silently, putting bags into their respective mugs, adding water, and stirring in some sugar and milk for Kara. She retrieves some biscuits from the cupboard, lays them on the table and everything about this is surreally normal.

"I killed a man," Lena repeats.

Kara wants to tell her she heard her perfectly the first time, but speaking right now seems to be a very bad idea.

"You wanted to know what I was doing in Metropolis, why I'd come here and this is the answer. I killed a man." I doesn't seem any less absurd the third time around. "Did I ever told you my name ?"

"No. But it's on your credit card. Lena Kieran."

"That’s my birth name," Lena says quietly. "The name I carried around for many years after being adopted is Luthor."

This does ring a bell in Kara, very very distantly. She mulls over it for a moment, and Lena doesn't say more, letting her catch up instead. "Like Luthor Corp ?" Kara asks finally, a little hesitant.

"Like Luthor Corp," Lena confirms, her mouth twisting in disgust. "The former CEO is my brother, the current one is my adoptive mother."

"Do you...?" Kara starts asking, a little unsure of if she’s going to ask if Lena needs a moment or if she needs a push to keep talking.

"I’m a certified genius," Lena cuts rather abruptly. "I have one of these little diplomas they give you after poking at your mind to determine your IQ. So like everyone in the family, I went into science. Studied genetic engineering at MIT. My thesis is out there if you feel like reading something dreadful and complicated. Fresh out of school, and I was already working with Lex. We were trying to cure cancer." She smiles as she says it, but catches herself quickly and schools her features in a blank mask.

"I was overworked. That’s what my therapist said. That's what everyone said. But I knew I could do better, push myself further. We were so close." Kara reaches out to take her hand, this time, Lena doesn’t pull away. "Lex told me we had FDA approval to move on to human testing and our first candidate was the most brilliant mind of our era. And my best friend. Jack. He had stage 2 brain cancer, would have survived without my treatment. He came out of my lab in a body bag. At 3pm today, it will have been four years."

Lena looks down at her cup then up at Kara with a steel-like expression. Kara wants to say something, anything, but what exactly can she say to that ? "You know, I went to the police myself. I asked them to arrest me. I didn't even spend one night in jail, but it triggered an investigation against Lex. Turns out it wasn't the first time he’d bypassed necessary approval and I hadn't even noticed. Even if he gets a sentence reduction for good behaviour, it won't be enough to get him out of prison before he turns ninety. And he deserves this. God, does he deserve it. But it was my treatment that killed Jack."

Kara goes to open her mouth, but Lena catches her and cuts her short.

"Don’t," she says. "Don’t tell me it wasn’t my fault. I went over it hundreds of time. It took me months to catch what the problem was. If I'd only pushed back against Lex, if I’d ask for more time, if I'd try harder, then no one would have died because of me."

"Okay," Kara whispers, "okay. Is there anything you need then ? Anything I can do to make today a little bit easier for you ?"

"No," Lena replies, almost spitting the word. "Just," she adds, a little quieter, "if you're going to leave me, make it quick."

"I'm not going to leave you," Kara hurries. She can't say it fast enough, and realises as she speaks, that she's half-risen from her chair, ready to launch herself at Lena.

"Why ?" Lena asks, harsh enough that Kara lowers herself back to a sit.

"Because the fact that someone pressured you into making a mistake four years ago doesn't change the way I see you."

"It should. I killed someone."

"No offence, but I don't understand why. You made a mistake, and you atoned for it. You're still Lena to me. You're brilliant and you're kind. You read stories to children and you single handedly support the entire Maine LGBT community. You eat weird stuff for breakfast and you grumble in your sleep. Lena Kieran or Lena Luthor, it doesn't make a difference to me, I love you."

Lena sighs, not in defeat, but out of an exhaustion Kara knows well herself.

"What can I do to make today better ? And tomorrow, and the day after ?"

"Stay ?"

"I will."

This time, when Kara rises, she does it fully, and she rounds the table to gather Lena in her arms. The hug is a bit too tight, and Lena is sobbing in her neck, fingers clawing at her sweater in a sorrow that breaks Kara's heart.

"I will," she repeats. "I will stay today, and tomorrow, and everyday after until you kick me out because you can't stand seeing my face anymore."

"That's not going to happen," Lena hiccups. There's snot dripping from her nose ; it makes her voice roughs and coats the sweater Kara borrowed.

"Good," Kara says firmly. "Because I like having my face in vicinity of your face."

Lena laughs, or gargles. She half-chokes too and Kara things she hears her say "you're dumb."

Later, when they've both taken a long shower and changed into clean clothes, when a movie is playing in the background and Kara has made them too sugary hot chocolate, she dares to ask, "would you have ever told me ?"

Lena stiffens, and Kara rubs a gentle hand up and down her arm. "I don't know. I like to think that yes, eventually, but..."

"You're allowed to move on. We can never talk about it again and I won't mind. But if you ever want to tell me about Lex, or about Jack, I want you to know you always can, at no condition and with no judgement."

"Thank you," and then again, a mere whisper, "thank you."

Sometime during the afternoon, Lena falls asleep on her, face tucked against her stomach and arms draped on her lap. Outside, the rain lets up and the sun pierces the clouds again, landing perfectly on Lena's dark hair to make it shine brighter than any star. Kara cues up another movie ; and she texts Sam, she’s okay.

Things are good. Sometimes, this is the simple extent of Kara's thoughts. Sometimes, as June turns into July and Kara gazes at Lena's eyes shining under the sun, all that she can muster is that things are good. More often than not now she's at Lena's or Lena is at hers. In the month that follows Lena's confession, they only spend one night apart, to the point that Kara starts seriously considering terminating her lease on Mrs Morrison's house to just move in. More than half of her things are already there anyway, some of her books, the clothes Lena scavenged month after month and she's only finding again now, her back-up toothbrush, her good soccer ball. Even her gaming system that she had Alex ship over is hooked on Lena's TV instead of hers ; though there's a good reason for that one, Lena has an amazing flat screen and it would be a shame not to take advantage of that. In the end, there is only one thing that holds Kara back, one tiny little detail, an email that sits unopened in her inbox ; an email from her former coach.

The day the email arrives is the one day they sleep apart. Kara needs a moment to herself, Lena does not question it. She doesn't know why she doesn't just tell her ; after all, it's nothing but an email. But she doesn't, she keeps it to herself and this for a reason that is both outlandishly complex and ridiculously simple. The subject line reads : Season 2021-2022 ; and the beginning of the message that pops up in her notifications is as follow, Hello Kara, I'll be frank with you, I need to know if you're coming back [...]

She keeps it even from Alex, spends three hours that night staring at the notification on her phone before she swipes it away and decides to sleep on it. As these sorts of things usually go, she spends the night tossing and turning until her body aches from it and she gives up around five am, getting up to do some stretches having made absolutely no decision.

She doesn't want to go back to National City. The very thought of it is unfathomable, and if she thinks about it, staying here has always been her plan. She can't leave Lena behind, cannot even picture a life in which the librarian isn't. Nor does she want to leave her friends and this quiet town. But she is also deeply aware that she hasn't made a life for herself here, all she has is Lena and though for herself, it is enough she can't shake away the fact that for everybody else, it might not be worthwhile. What would her parents think, what would aunt Astra think, if they knew Kara had been offered to pick back up where she left, to get her career back as is, and said no ? Then there's the much more simple fact that she misses soccer. She misses being part of a team, misses the feel of a real pitch under her feet, even misses being yelled at during training. The applause, the fans, the drama, she couldn't care less about, but the game, God, she misses the game. So she chooses the middle ground, ignores the email, pretends that she never even saw it in the first place, and gets on with life in Metropolis.

Summer in Metropolis is two parts rain and one part hikers. On the fourth of July, John and Megan host a chaotic barbecue that ends with everyone crammed in their kitchen. Kara spills sausage grease on her button-down and is fondly reminded of team parties. Sam and Ruby drive from Portland, and Alex flies in for the occasion. Commercial, she insists, after Lena offers to land her a jet she apparently has lying around somewhere. The last detail is both strange and thrilling. Now that all is in the open, Lena doesn't bother hiding her wealth anymore, but it does give Kara whiplash every time she's reminded that her lovely small town librarian is in fact a millionaire. Few people are in on this. Nia knows because Nia knows everything, and so does Megan because Lena's credit card is not of the kind one just doesn't notice. Sam knows, because they've been friends for years, and now so does Alex, because Lena offered to lend her a plane which was bound to raise some questions.

Because Alex is here, and her "Kara bullshit" radar is finely tuned, she catches on what Kara is not mentioning fairly quickly. It's rather unfortunate, as Kara had managed quite well to shove the whole thing down. Alex is due to leave in two hours, Sam having offered to drive her to the airport, when Kara finds herself dragged outside by the metaphorical scruff of the neck for a sisterly talk.

"Spill the beans," Alex says, rather roughly.

"There are no beans to be spilled," Kara, whose brain seems to have chosen this moment to give up, replies.

"Crinkle," Alex says plainly. "You might have been able to hide it from your girlfriend, but I have a diploma in Kara Danvers lingo and several more years of experience."

She briefly considers not saying anything, she doesn't want to give unnecessary hope to her sister that they might be in the same city again. But it would be plain and simply a stupid thing to do. Out of the two of them, Alex has always been the wisest. And with the exception of that one time Kara took a dive off a cliff, she's always known what to do ; there will be no exception now.

"I received an email."

"An email ?"

"From Coach Stone."

Something flickers on Alex's face, but the emotion disappears before Kara can get a good read on it. "What did it say ?"

"I haven't opened it yet," Kara sighs, "but there's this preview thing in the notifications, you know ?"

"Yeah. It gives me anxiety."

Kara laughs, though it sounds more like she's choking. "She wants to know if I'm planning on coming back."

"By the look of it," Alex says, "you haven't made a decision."

"I have. Sort of."

"And ?" Alex probs, gently, and a little bit like she already knows what Kara is going to say.

"I want to stay here, in Metropolis. But, but don't you think I'm wasting my time ? I mean I'm not doing anything here, is it a waste of what I can do ?"

"I don't think so," Alex says bluntly. "I think if you're happy here, then you're not wasting your time. Being happy, working on your own joy and peace, is never a waste of time." She marks a pause, goes to wrap her arm around Kara's shoulder and gives it a tight squeeze. "That being said," she continues quickly before Kara can slather on a good dose of the familiar self-loathing rearing its hideous head, "there are plenty of things you can do here. Any local team would be lucky to have you if you want to play again. You can coach. You can go back to school if you feel like it. You can take your time."

"You wouldn't be mad if I didn't come back to National City ?"

"I can always visit," Alex shrugs a little too casually. "I'm sure Lena will buy me a plane if I ask nicely. And we can always call, and work on something for you, together. I heard Jonesport High School is looking for a coach."

Kara's eyes narrow in suspicion. "How do you know Jonesport High School is looking for a soccer coach ?"

"Oh. Well you know Sam is thinking of moving closer to Lena since she works from home a lot and doesn't actually need to be in Portland and Ruby would have to transfer here."

"Well no I do not know," Kara says slowly, a weak light bulb going off at the back of her mind, "as neither Sam nor Lena told me about it."

"Well Sam and I are friends," Alex says, accompanying her statement with a very un-Alex sound, almost like a giggle, "we discuss these sorts of things."

"You are friends," Kara enunciates, "as in you have Zoom lunch dates once in a while, or you know the colour of her strap-on ?"

Alex chokes on air, and Sam, who was just getting out of the house, trips and runs down the stairs, on her ass.

"I can't believe you just," Alex sputters. "It was only one time !"

"In front of my teammates and it was embarrassing. The awful things you say wouldn't come back to bite you in the ass if you didn't say them in the first place."

Sam groans from where she landed on the ground and Alex rushes to help her up, tripping on her own feet to everyone's delight.

Kara intends to tell Lena about everything, the email, her decision to stay in Metropolis, though it's unclear in the first place if Lena ever thought she would leave, as soon as Sam's SUV has disappeared down the road. She really does, cross her heart and, well, not hope to die but something slightly less lethal, intend to tell Lena about her little lie by omission the moment they're alone. The fact that she doesn't tell her cannot under any circumstances be held against her when Lena just looks the way she does.

She comes back into the house after walking the car all the way to the end of the driveway, something that, as a countryside person, she now does, only to find Lena standing still in the middle of the hallway, already enraptured by the book Sam brought her from "the city." She's peculiarly ethereal, sublime in a way Kara still cannot comprehend after all these months spent at her side. How they both cohabitate on the same plane of existence is something Kara does not understand. Her relationship to God has been on the rocks since her house exploded, but often, she can't help but to see Lena as a gift, as an angel sent to walk amongst humans. She thinks back to that first day, when she was so lost and sick, and saw Lena getting out of her truck. If she's being honest with herself, and she tends to be nowadays, she's been hanging on to her since then.

She walks up to her quietly, though she has a feeling she could trample up to her right now and Lena would notice, and lays a soft long kiss on the nape of her neck. Lena startles, then laugh a small musical sound, and leans back against Kara, closing the book but keeping a finger in it to mark her place.

"Sorry," she says. "I just got caught up in it."

"I saw that," Kara hums quietly. "What is it about ?"

Lena straightens up and whirls around, a somewhat devilish grin stretching on her face. Slowly, she brings the cover to eye level and Kara reads, at first without understanding any of the words though they are very familiar, "Alecto the Ninth, advanced reader copy." Lena's grin widens, and just when Kara catches up with what she just read, she jumps back out of reach.

"H-how," Kara stutters, "how did you get your hands on this ?"

"I know people," Lena answers, too casually for someone who admitted crying over the previous tome of this trilogy.

"Gimme," Kara says, absolutely not caring about the whine that accompanies the word. "Please."

Lena mulls over it exaggeratedly. "No."

There are several tactics Kara could employ to distract Lena and get her hands on the damn book, but Lena is still standing in a ray of light, skin shimmering in the dance of dust particles, and so Kara gets her hands on her instead. She forgets what her primary intention was the moment they touch.

She's wearing a soft grey flannel today, one that Kara thinks might be one of hers because of the way it hangs low on her shoulders. She pushes it off entirely, rejoicing in the expense of creamy skin left on display by the t-shirt Lena chose to wear underneath. She runs her fingers down her arms, ghosts over her hands and grabs at her waist to both press her against her and back her up against the wall. A split second before she leans in to kiss her, Lena mumbles, "I'm still not giving you the book," but Kara doesn't care.

Kissing Lena now is just as novel and thrilling as it was the first time ; she wonders if it will ever stop, she doesn't want it to. Lena drops the book and her hands come twist themselves in her hair, her arms resting firmly on her shoulders. Kara uses the leverage to lift her up slightly, running her tongue on her bottom lip and slipping it in when she's greeted by a low moan. Lena's noises run through both of them, reverberating in their intertwined bodies, and so do, a moment later, the vibrations of Kara's phone. Lena bucks uncontrollably against her, something that she files away for later use, and she presses harder, intending, or so it seems, to absorb her inside of herself.

The phone stops ringing, then picks up again with more vigour only a short moment later. Lena sighs against her mouth, Kara shivers. "I should answer."

"You should," Lena whispers, abandoning her mouth to pepper an array of kisses down her throat. "Could be important."

"Could be important," Kara repeats though she does not pick up the phone. Instead, she throws her head back, allowing Lena more access to her thrumming and sensitive skin. Her hands slip under her t-shirt, fingers dipping slightly in her waistband, Lena bites in reply ; the phone starts ringing again.

"Fuck," Lena groans. "Fuck. Pick up and tell them to fuck off."

"I'll do that," Kara frees one of her hands, leaving the other solidly in its warm enticing place, "I'll do that."

She fumbles for a moment, struggling to extract the phone from her pocket, and answers without looking at the caller ID. She doesn't say anything, giving free reign to her interlocutor as she tries to make herself sound less breathy and ridiculously turned on.

"Ah Kara," a familiar voice sounds on the other side, "this is Coach Stone, is now a bad time to talk ?"

"Coach Stone ?" Kara repeats weakly, blood pumping in her ears at the sound of her old coach's voice. 

She lets go of Lena entirely, takes a trembling step back and runs her hand through her hair. Fuck. Coach Stone. The email.

Most of what comes through the phone is gibberish, she's not focused on it enough to truly catch what's going on. She gets the gist of it though, but only because she knows why Coach Stone is calling. The harsh tone of her coach's voice used to be reassuring, but now it's making her feel nauseous, and she only manages to remain standing thanks to the hand Lena comes to press on her sternum, inches away from her heart.

"I'm not coming back," Kara whispers in the phone when it's finally her turn to speak. "I'm not coming back to National City. I'm sorry for leaving you hanging Coach but, but," she stammers, grounds herself in Lena's eyes. "I'm doing good here. I'm not giving up on soccer, but it'll be in my life differently from now on."

"You're really doing good Kara ?"

"I am, really." Before her Lena smiles. "I'm always gonna have a soft spot for you and for the team Coach, but Metropolis is where I'm at now."

"Metropolis," Coach Stone grumbles. "Well, I hope the girl's pretty at least."

Kara chokes, but doesn't answer.

"Leslie's been playing in your spot. Can I send you her stats ?"

"Of course," Kara answers softly, her heart finally calming down, "I'm always available for that. She needs to work on her pivot. And watch out for her outside hook, but she's good."

"She's not you."

"But she's good," Kara repeats firmly. Lena eyes her quizzically, but Kara cuts short to any question by softly kissing the side of her head.

"She is," Coach Stone concedes begrudgingly. "Tell me, what have you been up to ?"

"I'll go make some tea," Lena whispers, laying the ghost of a kiss on the corner of her mouth, "take your time."

Kara spends a good portion of the afternoon perched on the armrest of the couch while Lena reads beside her, headphones firmly planted on her head. During the entire discussion she keeps her hand on Kara's thigh. Coach Stone puts Leslie on the phone too, and then Siobhan, who after insulting her for five minutes straight starts crying. Kara thinks she'll invite them here someday, when she's ready.

She's exhausted when she hangs up, feels like crying a little, and after Lena mouths "later," when she attempts to speak, she allows herself to nap on her lap instead for the remainder of the afternoon, Lena's free hand gently carding through her hair.

"I was going to tell you," is the first thing she says upon drowsily opening her eyes to the setting sun.

"Tell me what ?" Lena asks. She's put her book aside while Kara was asleep, but her thick rimmed reading glasses are still perched on her face. Kara decides to believe this is what clouds her eyes.

"About a month ago," Kara starts, regretfully rising to a sit, "I got an email from my former coach. She wanted to know if I was planning on coming back to National City."

"I knew something was off," Lena whispers to herself. "I wonder why it never occurred to me that you could leave," she adds, to Kara this time. She chuckles, but it's not a happy sound. Her laugh is closer to a sudden dejected realisation.

"I didn't know how to tell her that I wasn't going to come back. I didn't know how to tell anyone. But I'm not leaving," Kara says, grabbing her hand with barely concealed desperation. She won't suffer Lena doubting her for even a second. "I'm not leaving," she repeats. "It might have been an option when I first arrived, me going back to my former life, but I don't think I ever truly wanted it, and in any case, it became out of question after I met you."

"I don't want to hold you back," Lena says, a deep frown creasing her forehead. She looked pained, but resolute.

"You're not holding me back, I want to be here." She squeezes her hand a little harder, channeling through it the urge to make Lena understand. "There are plenty of things I can do here, and most of all, I get to do them with you. The only things I'm leaving behind are paparazzi, harassment, and severe depression."

"Are you sure ?"

To Kara, who has spent many hours turning this over and agonising over it before attempting to bury the very thought of it, the answer is in the end rather simple. "Yes."

She's still holding Lena's hand, so she brings it to her lips, and lays a soft kiss right in the centre of her palm. "I know I make fun of it a lot, but I love it here. Metropolis has brought me only good things and yes, one of these good things is you. I'm not going to lie to you, you account for a lot of why I'm staying, but this is not a sacrifice."

"And leaving Alex ?"

"I have a feeling she's going to move here very soon," Kara replies, repressing a frown at the memory of their earlier conversation. "I think Sam and her are-"

"Please don't finish that sentence," Lena cuts with a groan. "I've been trying to suppress the knowledge of what they do in bed for weeks. Sam talks too much when she drinks."

"Oh God," Kara groans, squeezing her eyes shut. "God."

"Let's read instead, alright ?" Lena hurries, haphazardly grabbing for the book. "I'll even do all the voices."

"See, that's why I'm staying," Kara says, mushier than intended. All thoughts of Sam and Alex's bedroom activities rapidly pushed aside, she takes the book from Lena's hands and opens her arms so she can settle in them.

"Because I do the voices ?" Lena asks, the sarcastic rise of her eyebrow slipping all the way into her voice.

"Because you do the voices." Kara confirms, kissing the top of her head. She closes her eyes and decides this is the perfect spot to rest as Lena starts reading.

She moves in with Lena in early September, a week before she's supposed to start coaching Ruby's soccer team at Jonesport High School. It's the first and only time she sees her landlord, a short woman with a kind voice but permanently scornful expression. The cat follows her and she doesn't deter him ; she supposes he's her cat now. Often from now on, she finds him napping in Lena's office, curled up in her unnecessarily expensive chair. Sometimes, Lena is with him, reading with him on her knees ; it's a beautiful sight.

Alex visits again in October, and in November, she comes back with a moving truck. She's here for Ruby's first big match and when she wins, she offers to buy the whole team pizza. With Lena's credit card sure, but it's the thought that counts. She settles in easily, starts working at a hospital a little further north and joins an amateur soccer team. After a little bit of reflexion, so does Kara.

Her first real game in almost two years is played on an icy pitch in front of a bundled up crowd. It starts snowing halfway through and Kara has to wear straps to keep her glasses on her face, but it's worth every second spent in the Women's National Team. Probably because when her team wins, Lena runs up to her and kisses her dramatically.

They get coffee and apple pie at the Dream House after that ; she even gets a free slice. Lena is wearing her hoodie, collar drawn tight around her neck to keep out the chill. She's absurdly beautiful, especially when the snow lets up and the sun decides to pierce the clouds to shine only on her. She squints in the light, her whole face crinkling delicately, and Kara cannot help but smile at the sight.

"What ?"

Kara shrugs then takes a sip of her coffee. "Nothing. You're beautiful."

I'm going to marry you. The thought is sudden, but not surprising, and she does not reconsider it, not one time.