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Good Enough to Eat

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“I’m Lena Luthor, and today on Tested, I’ll be showing you how to put together the perfect charcuterie plate. It’ll not only be gorgeous enough to make all your friends jealous- and really, that’s the point, right?” She aims a two-eyed wink at the camera with a sly half-smile.

The camera guy, Winn, snorts loudly.

“- but it will also be scientifically designed to be delicious. So! First, what we want to do is get a platter or serving board that fits the aesthetic you’re going for- most of the plates I do are more rustic, so I generally use this wooden board I got at a thrift market, because it’s got all these fantastic cuts and gouges- loads of character. Then, we’re going to figure out what cheeses we want to use, because the cheese is really the star, here. I always suggest having the softest, mildest cheese at the top of your board, so for us today that’s going to be the Chevré from Vermont Creamery- it’s soft and beautifully fresh and bright, and it’s rolled in herbs for just a little extra savoriness. And we’ll go clockwise, arranging the cheese from softest to hardest, and ending on some tangy blue- because not everyone likes it, so we try to keep it off to the side."

"Heathens!" someone hollers, and Lena grins.

"Agreed. So! For the cheeses, we should always try to use products that were made by individual farms rather than mass produced ones- they taste better, they don't contain the same chemicals and preservatives, and they benefit small businesses. For our cheeses today, we have this nice Chevré, a Brie, some Manchego, an aged Gouda, and finally, a nice funky Roquefort. And we’ll get into why I’m choosing these ones later, and why we’re pairing them with the charcuterie items I’ve picked.”

She sets about arranging the cheeses clockwise on the board. “For the Brie, I’m going to cut a little wedge out and just rest it just apart, like this, so people can see how it’s supposed to be cut- I feel like a lot of people are nervous around cheese boards because they don’t know what to do with anything besides cheese cubes and crackers, so if you show them how they’re meant to do it, it’s less intimidating.” She looks up into the camera, face utterly serious. “However, if you want it to be intimidating, give them no utensils to use except for a single large spoon and a honey wand.”

There’s a loud laugh off-camera, and the feed cuts out.

 

The first time they meet is a fucking disaster. 

It starts off fine, just a normal Friday morning, the staff getting or pitching their assignments for next week. Lena's already wrapped her quick video (her first feature), and so she's planning to coast through this meeting, see if anyone needs an extra pair of hands, and then futz with her sourdough starter for the rest of the morning before heading home.

Lena’s liking it here so far- three weeks in and she’s just completed her first feature piece which will essentially introduce her as the newest cast/crew member on CatCo’s incredibly popular webseries Tested. Her specialty is in food science- between her degrees in Chemistry and Pastry Arts, Lena is uniquely qualified to explain exactly why food does what it does, which is the entire reason Cat Grant had hired her in the first place. Explaining the enzymatic and acidic properties of various cheeses and cured meats while assembling a very good looking charcuterie board is her idea of a good time, and apparently Cat wants her to be the next Alton Brown- provided, of course, that she can handle herself on camera.

Which, to be honest, is the real test here.

“-and Joel, if you can try not to burn the sugar onto another $90 saucepan, I would be very grateful.”  

Joel rolls his eyes and accepts the jeering from his coworkers with a moderate amount of grace and minimal raising of middle fingers as James grins and motions at them to quiet down. Their director is a nice enough guy, Lena thinks, always willing to let them 'get weird with it', as Winn so often says, without being a total pushover. 

"Okay, okay, uh… Lena! I wanted to say nice work on your first feature! All of the science was palatable-"

"Ha!" someone yells, followed by booing and scattered laughter.

"-and easy for a rube like me to follow. Nice work. You're on 'Sourdough Six Ways' next week?"

Lena nods the affirmative. "That's the plan. I even brought my baby to work with me to do a few tests."

"Excellent. Okay so Jess-"

"Please no more potato chips…"

"Well… they're not potato chips…"

Jess groans and drops her head onto the formica table with a thud as everyone laughs.

 

"Six ways, six ways…. Bread, obviously. Pizza crust. Pancakes… pretzels…" She rubs her thumb against her mouth thoughtfully. "Two more."

"Dumplings!" 

Lena turns to see Winn hovering nearby, ostensibly overseeing filming on a bit Rika is doing on layering cakes but in actuality peering over Lena's shoulder as she works. She cocks an eyebrow at him as her eyes narrow. "As in, boiled-in-soup dumplings?"

Winn shakes his head, keeping an eye on his camera's viewscreen. "No, like the fried kind. Like potstickers, or gyoza. Or potstickers."

Lena frowns thoughtfully. It would admittedly be fairly simple to do. "Why potstickers?"

He grins conspiratorially. "Because my friend loves them and I wanna rub it in her face that I get to try the food down here and she has to stay upstairs."

Lena snorts. "Fair enough. Sure, why not."

"Maybe you should whip up a test batch…? Just to make sure it works, you know?" Winn asks leadingly, eyes big and smile too-innocent.

“Oh, of course.” Lena rolls her eyes. "Fine. But only because I have nothing else to do and I have some discard to use."

She reaches into her lowboy and pulls out a large jar with the appropriate care and reverence owed to a 96-year old starter.

It'd been a gift from her mentor when she'd finished at the CIA and she's loved and cared for it for over 6 years now.

Winn eyes it with unabashed interest. "Is it stinky?"

Lena cradles the jar to her chest and shoots him a look. "She smells perfect, thank you." She gives the jar an absent pat. "Don't listen to the nerd with the camera, he doesn't know what he's talking about," she soothes.

Winn huffs at her and turns back to his camera. "Chefs," he murmurs, rubbing the tripod it’s standing on absently. "They're all nuts."

 

They turn out fairly well, for a makeshift recipe.

She’d managed to get a jump on all of her various test projects while the dumpling dough rested, and Winn insisted on taking pictures of her progress every step of the way.

“Who knows? Maybe they can get used in the video- dude, maybe you’ll even make it to the magazine!”

Lena scoffs lightly, taking a small rolled-out circle of dough and plopping some of the filling into the middle. She wets her fingers and strokes around the edge before deftly folding it in half and crimping the edges together. “I doubt that- you need a writer to sign on to a piece like that.”

“Or you could write it.” Winn’s work for the day is long done, but he seems perfectly content to perch on a nearby stool and watch her play with dough.

Lena shakes her head with a small smile. “A creative writer, I am not. Unfortunately, I think I spent too many years writing clinical findings and lab reports- not much room for prose in that.”

Winn hums, watching as a pile of dumplings slowly starts to accumulate at her nimble hands. “You’re good at that,” he notes.

“Years of practice.”

“Fair enough.” He raises his phone and snaps another shot, grinning as his fingers fly over the screen. “I sent that to my friend- she’s gonna be so mad she can’t come down here.”

Lena’s brow furrows. She’s certainly seen writers down here before… but then, she may be elbow-deep in her own projects. “Why don’t you just bring her some?”

Winn shakes his head. “Can’t. This is petty revenge, and I want her to suffer as I have suffered.”

“O-kay. And what did this writer friend do to deserve this?”

“She blue-shell’d me in Mario Kart.”

Lena snorts. “Did she at least win -”

“No! She was in last place! I almost lapped her!! She just wanted to hurt me and make me suffer through her sister taunting me for the rest of the night.”

Lena laughs outright, settling a heavy cast-iron pan on the stove and drizzling a bit of oil in it. “Seems you’re a sore loser.”

“No, Alex is a sore… winner. Look, it’d- stop laughing!- it’d make sense if you ever met her, trust me.”

Lena shakes her head. “I’ll take your word for it. Do you want some shots of the dumplings going into the pan?”

“Heck yeah!” He scrambles down from his seat and takes a few careful shots of her placing the little dumplings into the pan just-so. He flicks through his shots and gives her a thumbs up and a grin to signal he’s satisfied with them. Seeing her grab her container of slurry, he pulls a face. “Why that stuff?”

“Makes the bottoms crispy and helps them steam,” she explains absently. “This chef I worked with at my last place showed me.”

Winn watches her dump the contents into the pan and set a lid over it with interest. “Now what?”

Now I spend five minutes checking my other projects- I’m hoping to get the dough for the pretzels prepped to freeze, so we don’t have to wait a full day next week for it to rise.”

“As the designated camera guy, I would appreciate that.”

“Noted.”

Lena tidies up around her station, stacking the few dishes she’s accumulated to drop off at the dish tank in a few minutes and poking at her pretzel dough a bit, satisfied with its progress. She grabs her recently-fed starter and turns to return it to the lowboy before smacking directly into someone.

She sees it all happen in slow-motion, almost an out-of-body experience; the way the solid object- or rather, solidly-built person - reaches out to catch her as she starts to fall. The firm grip of warm hands on her biceps jerking her to a sudden stop.

The feeling of the glass jar of her starter slipping through her arms. The sound it makes as it shatters across the floor.

“Ooooh shoot, are- are you okay?”

Lena’s ears are ringing, louder and louder the longer she stares at the sad, gooey, broken remains of her baby. She can feel a rush of tension and heat quickly spreading up the back of her neck and forward over her skull. “What,” she asks calmly, still staring at the floor, “the fuck.”

The hands swiftly release her arms.

“Uh-oh,” Winn murmurs. “K, don’t-”

“I- gosh, I am so sorry, is- that was important, wasn’t it?”

Lena is seething, doing her level best to avoid having a Luthor-level meltdown right here in this kitchen. “Yes.”

“Crap. Crap, um, I’ll just- a broom? Where- Winn where are the- I’m so sorry.”

Lena’s jaw works as she fights back a few choice words (and maybe a few tears- she will not cry over trashed starter in front of her new coworkers, no matter the sentimental value). Finally feeling that if she stares at the broken jar for any longer she really will snap, she turns her attention to the destroyer of precious things.

And it’s like running into a solid wall all over again, because what the actual fuck is this?!

Worried, guilty eyes swirling with every shade of blue Lena’s ever seen or dreamed up dart over her face as their owner bites her lower lip. A faint smattering of freckles dust across suntanned, beet-red cheeks. Features that, when together, form a singularly handsome face. Lena blinks a few times and takes a half-step backward so the rest of this person can come into focus.

This does not improve things, because this woman is also tall, broad-shouldered, and has arms that seem to be actively rebelling against the constraints of her shirtsleeves. A shirt patterned with little cherries. And too-tight chinos to match the too-tight shirt.

Which… fuck. Fuck if she isn’t alarmingly exactly Lena’s type. Lena’s only saving grace is that she happens to be blonde, and also on the verge of tears.

And also apparently talking.

“...and I didn’t expect you to turn so fast- I was just talking to Winn, and oh my god this is all my fault- I know I’m supposed to say ‘behind’ down here and I forgot and now your... important goo is all over the floor, and-”

She’s clearly working herself up to a point of panic, and Lena can’t think of anything to do but say, “Starter.”

The woman looks at her, startled out of her self-deprecating rant. “I- what?”

“Starter. For my sourdough. It was… old."

A beat passes before the blonde blinks at her, seemingly very confused. “How old is old?”

Old,” Lena repeats, looking down at the congealing mess on the floor. “It was very, very old.”

“I am… so sorry, again, I just- I forgot to say that I was behind you and then I was so focused on catching you that I totally missed your, uh. Jar of goo.”

Lena takes a deep, calming breath. “I know. It’s alright. Could you just… find a broom, or something?”

“Yeah! Yeah, of course I ca-”

Danvers ! You’re not supposed to be down here!”

She visibly flinches at the bullhorn-esque voice that rips through the kitchen. “Oh, crap…”

“Let’s go! You know you’re not allowed in here anymo- oh, god, what did you do this time?”

Lena turns toward the door, spotting a balding man whose face is an alarming shade of purple, bordering on puce. James is hovering behind him, kneading his brows and sliding a hand over his face until it’s cupping his jaw. And sure Lena’s only been here for a few weeks, but she’s never seen her boss look so frustrated. He sighs heavily, looking between Baldy and the girl- Danvers, apparently- as she hurries across the kitchen.

It doesn’t escape Lena’s notice that people fairly leap away from her. Or cover projects with towels and glare as she passes. 

“C’mon, we’ll talk in my office. Lena, do you need any help cleaning up?”

“I- no. I’ve got it.” Already, a few of her fellows are moving to help clean up the mess, clearly commiserating with her about her lost treasure.

“Are you hurt?”

“No.”

“Good. I’ll talk to you in a bit.” Seeing that everyone has essentially stopped working to watch the spectacle, James frowns and claps his hands together loudly. “We still have a series to make people. Back on the ball.”

They shift back into motion as the three of them leave the kitchen/studio.

“Tough break- how old was it?”

Lena looks down to see that Leslie- a fellow pastry nerd and popular series regular known for her dramatic flair and sarcastic persona- is carefully sifting through the mess to toss the shards of jar into the broken glass bucket.

Lena sighs. “96.”

Leslie winces. “Ouch. Heirloom?”

“Graduation present from my mentor.”

"Well that fuckin' sucks. Can you get more?"

"I hope so."

Leslie rises, snagging a towel from Lena's station and meticulously swiping away the caked-on starter. "Look, I don't mean to be a dick, here, but… stay away from Danvers."

Lena's brow furrows. "Why? She- wait, you don't think she did that on purpose, do you? Because if so-"

"What? No. Did you see that girl? She’s one singing chipmunk away from starring in an impromptu Disney movie. I more meant the whole other thing."

“Other thing?”

"Leslie, c'mon," Winn protests.

"Uh, yeah, no, you don’t get to say anything Schott. It was probably your fault she was even down here in the first place!”

Winn opens his mouth to object, finger raised, before he deflates. “Kinda, yeah.”

“I thought so. Look, honestly Danvers is nice- hell, she’s sweet. But the thing is… bad things happen whenever she comes down here." 

"Bad things," Lena repeats. 

Leslie rolls her eyes and tosses the rag into the linen bag by the dish tank. "Look, there's not a nice way to say this, so I'm just gonna say it-"

"Leslie, don't-"

"The girl's a jinx. 

Lena blinks. Blinks again. “I’m sorry, what?”

“She’s a jinx. Bad luck.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Lena scoffs. “There’s no such thing as a jinx.”

“You think that now, but just wait- you’ll be singing a different tune soon enough.”

“Unlikely, since there’s no such thing as a jinx,” Lena scoffs

“Sure. Oh, and Luthor?” Leslie nods over Lena’s shoulder with a pointed smirk. “Your pan is on fire"

Shit!

 

Lena, at first, was certain that she was hearing things.

And then she was certain that it was a joke, some strange sort of hazing ritual new hires had to undergo to ‘belong’, and honestly, in her years working in kitchens Lena’s been through stranger.

But, apparently, no.

Her new coworkers, including, it seems, her boss, are all very much of the opinion that one Kara Danvers is an actual legitimate jinx.

And the stories supporting this superstition abound; Kara has apparently been responsible for the melting of one of Winn’s camera lenses (accidentally elbowed it into a deep-fryer, which also then broke when the plastic and rubber melted), caused Bo to dump a pot of marinara all over the kitchen (evidenced by a still-faintly-visible orange-pink splotch on the ceiling ), been responsible for a different fryer disaster (accidentally knocked a bottle of water into it, which caused the oil to explode in a geyser all over the kitchen- Jess was all too willing to show off the speckling of grease-burn scars that Lena did not ask to see), was blamed for setting a work table on fire when someone had been making creme brulee and she’d sneezed and scared them into dropping the blowtorch, and finally somehow causing the blast chiller to self-destruct when she’d accidentally left a spoon in it and it was sucked into the motor.

There were also more controversial accusations, such as her bad luck causing Dave’s infallible sausage recipe to combust and trash the inside of one of the drying ovens ( “The best oven, Luthor.” ) just by standing near them, having somehow caused Frieda to lose an eyebrow (there’s much debate on this point, as Kara herself was not in the kitchen, but her jacket was, so the consensus is split as to whether her possessions are capable of the same streak of bad luck and ill-fate as their owner, or if it was due to the fact that Frieda was cooking with whiskey), and Stacia stepping on a pen that is suspected to have belonged to Kara- which caused her to slip and bruise her tailbone.

And through every wild accusation and baseless claim, not one of them wavers in their conviction that Kara Danvers is their own personal black cat. And this belief seems to be backed by senior management, who after several thousand dollars in damages and numerous complaints/threats to quit, have barred Kara from the test kitchen and restricted her to restaurant reviews and promo material.

Lena seriously considers getting the water tested for toxins. Or psychotropic drugs.

Because while she may well consider pastries to be an art, she is first and foremost a woman of science.

And she absolutely, positively does not believe in jinxes.

 

It’s later than Lena would like by the time she finally manages to track Kara Danvers down in a print room several floors up. She leans against the doorjam, watching with very scientific interest the way Kara moves with an easy grace, scanning and swapping out documents without any apparent disasters occuring and without breaking the flow of her practiced movements. Finally when it seems she’s finished, Lena makes herself known.

“So I heard a rumor about you.”

Kara whips around like she’s been caught doing something terribly wrong, rather than working late at her job on a weekend. When her eyes land on Lena, she seems to shrink in on herself. “Oh?” she asks, voice high and cracking. “What, uh, what’s that?”

“I hear you’re bad luck,” Lena says, never one to beat around the bush. “It’s the talk of the test kitchen, it seems. And you destroying my 96-year old starter-” Kara’s eyes widen to the size of saucers as she turns a brilliant shade of red “-seems to be another nail in your coffin.”

“That- oh my god, of course it was old and irreplaceable,” Kara moans, leaning back against the wall and sinking miserably to the floor. “God, I’m so-”

“But here’s the thing,” Lena continues, walking into the room and pulling up a chair so she can sit in front of Kara’s ball of human angst, “I don’t believe in jinxes.”

A sliver of one of Kara’s eyes peeks out from between her fingers. “You- what?”

“There’s no such thing as a jinx,” Lena says matter-of-factly. “The fact that they’ve let a little kitchen superstition get this overblown to the point that it’s affecting your career is insane. So I think we could help each other out, Kara Danvers.”

Kara’s hand has dropped away from her face now, and her eyes are fixed on Lena’s. “How?”

“We’re going to disprove the jinx. I’m going to collaborate with you on a series, and you are going to get to write real articles again."

"Hey, I'm writing real articles now!" Kara protests halfheartedly.

"I've read your work- you're talented, and clearly passionate about food, and you're being wasted writing about kitschy restaurants in the hipster district.”

Kara opens her mouth, likely to defend the honor of reviewing the newest fusion restaurant in whatever neighborhood has been most recently gentrified, but Lena's knowing look causes her mouth to snap closed. “Really?” she asks, voice small. “You’d really do that?”

Lena’s practiced air of confidence softens and she smiles, just a little. “Yes.”

“But I- you don’t even know me,” Kara argues. “Why would you want to help me anyways?”

“Maybe I just like proving people wrong, maybe I want the exposure- honestly, do you really care why?” Lena asks. 

After a moment’s thought, Kara shakes her head and sighs. “At this point? I’m getting kinda desperate. If I have to go review one more ‘authentic’ restaurant owned by some millionaire who just wants to impress their friends… I seriously might lose it.”

“Well, then,” Lena says, standing and holding out a hand to Kara. “Do we have an agreement? I prove you're not a jinx, and you get me some exposure in the magazine.” Kara studies her warily, but in her eyes is a spark of hope. After only a brief moment of hesitation, she accepts Lena’s extended hand and allows herself to be hauled to her feet. Upon seeing just how close they are, and just how much she likes Kara looming over her and smiling at her like she single-handedly hung the moon, Lena coughs and steps back. “So, when do you want to start?”

“Well-”

The fire alarm suddenly starts blaring, and Kara’s face goes ashen. “My burrito,” she whispers.

Lena has a distinct, sinking feeling that she may be outside her depth.