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you light my morning sky (with burning love)

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Your kisses lift me higher

Like the sweet song of a choir

You light my morning sky

With burning love

-Burning Love, Elvis Presley

 

It starts with a prickle on the back of her neck.

Lena clinks her champagne flute gently against Kara’s, looking away with a small smile, and as the glass touches her lips something feather-light brushes against her skin.

It’s barely noticeable, like the tickle of baby hairs fallen loose from her bun, but it's enough to make her pause, blinking at the unfamiliar sensation. At her expression, Kara reaches over and squeezes her arm, her sunshine-bright smile dampening slightly with concern.

“Everything okay?”

Lena ducks her head, swirling the champagne in her glass, and manages a soft mmhm.

Kara’s brow crinkles, her gaze flickering across Lena’s face, but after a moment she lets it pass, reaching instead for the champagne bottle to top up Lena’s glass.

“Have you congratulated Kelly and Alex yet?” she asks, tilting her head towards them. “They’re probably expecting a big engagement present from you. Though I don’t think you could ever top buying me an entire company, so who knows if it’s even worth trying.”

“I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, now,” Lena says, forcing a chuckle. “Not a CEO anymore, remember?”

“Right, right, I keep forgetting.” Kara sighs. A new song on the playlist begins, something slow and romantic, and both of them watch as Alex tugs Kelly into the center of the room by the arm, grinning. The corners of Kara’s lips tilt up at sight, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “And I’m not a reporter anymore. Times change, huh?”

“Yeah...”

Kelly and Alex begin a slow-dance to whatever Ed Sheeran song is playing, the happiness radiating off them nearly tangible in the warmly-lit air of the tower. Alex spins Kelly, both of them laughing, and then pulls her in close again. They stay that way, swaying, tucked against each other’s chests and lost to the rest of the world as the music croons on. Lena doesn’t think they’ve taken their eyes off each other once since she walked in.

Her fingers toy absently with the stem of her champagne flute, her mind wandering unbidden into a daydream, the kind that’s consumed her thoughts in quiet moments more than once before. Where Kelly and Alex sway in a slow waltz, her imagination substitutes two other familiar figures into their spaces, and for a moment it’s Kara’s hand brushing a strand of hair behind Lena’s ear, Lena’s head resting against Kara’s shoulder.

She has to spare a quick glance at Kara out of the corner of her eye to confirm the vision isn’t real, that Kara’s an observer on the outskirts as much as she is. She looks back to the newly-engaged couple. They look so in love it makes her stomach hurt, makes longing pang up between her ribs. It's the type of feeling she’s always pushed down before it could truly surface, a self-indulgent hypothetical she could never bring herself to entertain.

What if that were us?

The back of her neck burns, sharp.

She inhales through her teeth, her empty hand shooting up to the spot. Kara’s hand reaches out to follow, but she stops just short of the space before Lena’s shoulder, hesitant to touch. The endearment aimed at her sister and Kelly moments before is gone, written over with concern for Lena.

The burn fades as quickly as it comes, back to a barely-noticeable tingle, and Lena drops her hand, embarrassed.

“I’m fine,” she says, before Kara can ask. “It’s nothing.”

“Lena, hold on—” Kara starts to say, hand shifting down from its floating spot by her shoulder to reach for Lena’s arm. The moment her fingertips graze Lena’s wrist, the burn on the back of her neck flares white-hot, and Lena yanks her arm back. She can’t bring herself to meet Kara’s eyes, suddenly afraid to see the concern and hurt in them, lest it turn into something even worse like pity or betrayal.

“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, and before Kara can get another word in, Lena turns her back and flees the room.

~

There’s a fucking rose on the back of Lena’s neck.

The lighting in the tower bathroom is harsh, sure, and unflattering, yes, but the good thing about the fluorescent glare is that it provides decent enough illumination for any number of activities: patching up wounds, reading in relative silence, and, of course, investigating mysterious burning tattoos on the back of one’s neck.

And Lena is sure—certain, in fact—that the mark sitting right below her hairline, taunting pink against the paleness of her skin, is a rose, in the exact same swirling pattern as the love totem.

So that’s not ideal, really.

Lena knows what it means. Other than being a massive multiversal joke, the marking of a rose is symbolic of one thing—insuppressible, deeply-rooted, devastating love, the kind that’s been growing beneath the surface for longer than she really knows. The timing of the love totem’s imprint is no mystery, either. Not with the first prickle appearing after Kara’s heartfelt toast and the gentle clink of her glass against Lena’s, not with the burn setting in at her envy towards Kelly and Alex and the surfacing of her deeply repressed longing, definitely not with the way it went white-hot at the soft brush of those fingertips against her wrist.

As clever as it may think itself, the love totem’s smug imprint tells her nothing she doesn’t already know; Lena knew she loved Kara far before any totem got involved.

Lena twists so she can partially see the rose in the mirror, and appraises it with a doctor’s hands: her fingertips prod at the marking, checking for ridges, abrasions, or elevations. She feels nothing; the skin where the image rests is completely unblemished, like the mark itself is implanted directly beneath the skin.

She knows it probably won’t work, but she tries anyway—Lena takes one of the towels and scrubs away at the spot with soap and water until her skin is nearly as red as the rose. She even grabs the bottle of isopropyl alcohol off the shelf, swabbing her neck with rigor. It doesn’t work. The marking stays.

Right as Lena is considering the possible applications of laser tattoo removal for a magic artifact brand, she hears a knock at the door.

“Lena? You okay in there? You’ve been in there a while.”

Fuck. Kara.

“Yes!” Lena calls, voice unnaturally high pitched as she scrambles for something, anything, to cover the mark. Kara can’t see this. There is no way Lena can let her see this. “I’m fine! Everything’s fine!”

Has no one ever thought to hide concealer in here, or something? Not even for a post-battle touchup? Lena scours the shelves and finds bandages and painkillers, ointments and antiseptics and not a single drop of makeup.

She exhales slowly, gripping the edges of the cold porcelain sink with white knuckles, and stares at her reflection in the mirror. What the hell is she going to do? She could flip up the collar of her shirt to hide it… but no, that would be too obvious. She could… she could...

“Are you decent?” says Kara through the door. “Can I come in?”

There’s no way she’s going to be able to hide this from Kara, is there?

Lena sighs again, sparing herself one last pitying glance in the mirror before turning and opening the door. Kara bounces on her toes, face lighting up, though her smile drops slightly when she sees Lena’s defeated expression.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?” she asks again.

“Yeah, fine,” Lena says, waving a dismissive hand and turning back to the mirror. “It was just… It just all got a bit... much, is all, I needed a second. I’m okay.”

“Oh,” Kara says, hands fidgeting in the mirror's reflection. “Well, if you’re feeling overwhelmed we could go sit out on the balcony for a bit? Or I could fly us up to the roof or something? Or if you just need a second alone I could—” She stops, frowning. “Hey, what happened to your neck? Is that a burn?”

Lena claps a hand over the mark, stiffening. She could say it was a curling iron burn. That might be believable. But no, then Kara would want to look at it and would probably offer to patch it up for her. There’s really no getting around this one. Not this time.

Her shoulders slump in defeat, and she slowly lowers her hand, revealing the mark to Kara’s curious eyes.

Huh,” says Kara, tilting her head for a better look, eyebrows furrowing.

“It just kind of appeared. It’s… I don’t know what it is.” It’s her last hope—that maybe Kara won’t recognize the mark.

Kara reaches out a hand, poised to touch, but hesitates a moment before she can reach Lena’s skin. “May I?”

Lena nods, heart pounding in her throat. She watches the focused set of Kara’s eyes in the mirror as Kara’s fingers brush the back of her neck, her touch careful and methodical. It’s as gentle as a breath against her skin, raising tiny hairs, and it sends a shiver down the length of Lena’s spine that she has to fight to conceal.

“This symbol,” Kara says, voice hushed. “That’s… that’s the love totem, isn’t it?”

And well. There goes Lena’s last hope.

“So that means, what?” Kara asks, leaning in closer to get a better look. Her free hand grips Lena’s shoulder, steadying, and she’s standing so close that Lena’s not sure she remembers how to breathe. The mark burns under Kara’s touch, not painful, but hot in a way that permeates through the layers of her skin.

“Whoa,” Kara whispers, retracting her fingers gently and then placing them back on the place on Lena’s neck the heat radiates from. “It’s hot. Can you feel that?”

“Your fingers or the mark?” Lena says, her mouth moving before her lagging brain can catch up.

Kara, to Lena’s surprise, actually hesitates for a moment. “Uh. The mark. It got hotter when I touched it.”

“Right,” Lena nods. Her mouth has gone dry, her tongue made of sandpaper and too big to fit. Is the bathroom getting smaller? “But what does it mean?”

“It means the love totem wasn’t destroyed.” Kara’s fingers still trail the edges of the rose, drawing cyclical patterns Lena is glad she can only feel and not see. “Maybe the object was destroyed, but it’s magic went to you.”

Lena takes a step forward, pressing her hands against the sink. Kara doesn’t chase after her, her hands dropping back down to her sides, and Lena both mourns the loss of touch and is grateful for the reprieve from trying to ignore the way it makes her lungs constrict and her heart flip over in her chest.

“So what, I can… control other people’s love, now? Kara, even if I didn't have serious moral qualms about that sort of thing, I can barely control my own magic as it is.”

Kara shakes her head. “I’m not going to tell you how to use it. But the love totem must have chosen you for a reason. You’ve got this new family, and you’re coming into yourself, and you’ve got me again…” She trails off, drumming her fingers against her thigh, lips pressed together in thought. After a moment she gasps, clapping her hands together. “Or! Or maybe it’s because you’re in love with someone!”

Lena chokes. She’s able to play it off as a cough quickly enough, which only seems to pique Kara’s curiosity even more.

“Oh my god,” Kara gasps. “You are, aren’t you?”

“No! No, I can assure you, Kara, even if I was in love with someone, I wouldn’t— it’s not something I’d spend a lot of my time worrying about. We have… you know, work things. Duties to the city, and whatnot.”

Extremely subtle, Lena. Just hope Kara hasn’t noticed how actively you’re avoiding her gaze in the mirror.

Kara hums behind her. “I don’t believe that.” Her hand slides down and takes Lena’s, and Lena is so tense she actually jumps, her pulse skyrocketing again. Kara must be able to hear it. Or at least feel it. “Here, why don’t we…” She tugs Lena away from the mirror and sits down against the bathroom wall, pulling Lena down with her, and Lena follows mindlessly. “Easier to talk this way.”

“What’s there to talk about?” Lena asks, pulling her legs in close to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.

“Lena, this could give us a one up on Nxyly! She still thinks the love totem is destroyed. If we can pass the test before she even notices it’s back, that's another totem under our belts. Maybe you just have to confess to whoever you’re in love with in order to pass the trial. Easy.” She smiles, though something about it is a little plastic.

No, no, no. That cannot happen. Play dumb. “Yeah, only one problem,” Lena says, toying with her fingers in her lap. “I don’t exactly know… who I’m in love with.”

Fuck, not that dumb.

“You don’t know? How do you not know?

“I’ve been a little busy lately! We have a fifth dimensional imp trying to take over the city and I recently learned I can do magic, as if that’s something that should be possible. Forgive me for being a bit distracted from my—from my feelings, okay?”

“Okay, okay!” Kara raises her hands, defensive. “That’s fine. That—that makes sense, it’ll just make it a little more… difficult to figure out, that’s all. Um, hm.” She scratches her ear. “I could help you. Figure it out, I mean. If you want?”

It’s a wild goose chase, when Lena knows that the person she’s in love with, who she’s been desperately in love with for years, is sitting in front of her, offering her help and staring at her with those hopeful blue eyes. She feels a little bad agreeing to it but... what else is she going to do?

“Right,” she sighs. “Sure. Yeah.”

“Cool!” Kara says, a little too enthusiastic. “Great! That’s awesome. We’ll do that. We can—we can figure out who you’re in love with, and then you can confess to them, and then we’ll have the love totem, and everyone”—she swallows—“everyone will be happy.”

“Right.” Lena mutters to herself, nodding as she looks away. “Everyone will be happy.”

It feels like a promise of the exact opposite.

~

It doesn’t come up again for several days.

Despite the fact that they definitely need to pass the love totem’s test before Nyxly can figure out that they have it, Lena is kind of hoping that Kara has forgotten about it. It’s probably a naive wish; Kara has been acting strangely around her since their heart-to-heart on the bathroom floor. She can’t seem to meet Lena’s eyes for more than a few seconds, though Lena keeps catching her staring when she thinks Lena isn’t looking. Everytime Lena has a conversation with someone while she’s in the room, Kara freezes in whatever she’s doing, not looking over but standing tense and on alert until the conversation ends. Yesterday she stood in a doorway with her back turned, halfway through leaving the room, for an entire conversation between Lena and Nia, and then all but sprinted away when Nia called out to ask why she was eavesdropping.

But she doesn’t bring up the totem, even if she’s thinking about it, and Lena starts to think that maybe she isn’t going to. Maybe they can just pretend it was destroyed, and no one will notice otherwise, and Lena can live happily in unrequited love with her best friend for the rest of her days.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Lena is in the lab when it happens, analysing one of the chemicals isolated from a recent biomatter leakage in one of National City’s water treatment plants. The contaminated water was sealed off before any could travel to the surrounding neighborhoods, thankfully, but Lena and the Superfriends have been working non-stop to create some kind of reaction inhibitor for the chemical while it’s properties are still yet unknown. Lena takes the sample of the liquid, safely contained and transported by Kara to the lab, and as she adds a few droplets from her pipette of a decomposition solution to try and separate the matter in the biochemical, William steps in and asks to take a picture for his weekly Superfriends journal.

Lena, fully engrossed in her work, simply nods and listens for the click of the camera. After the photo is taken, William shys up to the edge of her desk and shows it to her—it’s not half bad, actually, with Lena backlit by the dim fluorescent lights of the lab, safety goggles pulled on, the collection of beakers and bubbling liquids surrounding her making her look much more professional than she truly feels. Her face is set in an expression of stern, focused determination. You can even see Kara slightly out of focus in the background, hands on her hips in a classic Supergirl power stance and observing the entire process, having never left after delivering the samples.

“It’s lovely, William,” Lena admits, reaching a hand up to squeeze his arm affirmatively. “Andrea will certainly enjoy the dramatics of it.”

“I sure hope so,” William chuckles, a bit self-deprecatingly. He shakes his head slowly, turning the camera back towards him to flip through a set of recent photos. “Andrea hasn’t been very happy with my articles on you lot lately. She doesn’t think all the low-level, suburban threats sell as well. I told her I can't just call up a world-level threat in the phone book.”

Lena laughs. “Well, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe you should bring her some of those cookies you made for Esme last month and she’ll lighten up?”

“Oh! That reminds me—” William suddenly reaches for his shoulder bag, rooting around inside for something. With an exaggerated flair, he produces a small glass tupperware filled with, what look to be, fresh chocolate chip cookies. “For you. Since I forbade the consumption of any of Esme’s.”

Lena gasps, snatching the container from his hands to look inside. Then she remembers her manners and clears her throat, placing it gently down on her desk and giving William a respectful nod. “Thank you. I… really appreciate it.”

“Anything for our mad scientist,” William stage-whispers with a conspiratorial wink, before turning around and heading back out the door.

Lena turns back to her vials, humming quietly as she works. She’s vaguely aware of Kara still standing somewhere behind her and quietly watching, her foot tapping against the linoleum floor. She’s on the verge of a breakthrough, holding a vial up to so the fluorescent light of the lab shines through the solution, when Kara sidles up beside her.

“It’s William,” she hisses, planting both hands on the table. “It’s gotta be.”

“What’s William?” Lena asks, distracted. She swirls the vial around, watching the way the separated particles spin through the liquid.

“The person you’re in love with!”

What?” Lena drops her test tube. It shatters on the table, and they both watch as the splattered green liquid burns a hole through the metal.

“Don’t act dumb, I saw the way you were flirting a minute ago.”

“What are you talking about? We weren’t flirting,” says Lena, looking around desperately for something to clean up the mess with.

“Oh come on, Lena. The arm squeeze? That thing with the cookies?”

Lena touches her own arm, self-conscious. “That was not flirting. I don’t know what he was doing, but I was definitely not flirting with William, I can assure you of that. Kara, could you—”

“I mean, it would make sense,” Kara interrupts. “A pattern of you being a rebound to my ex. It worked with James.”

“It did not work with James. And I was not your rebound, you and James broke up ages before that! William is barely even your ex!”

“Well. Still.” Kara crosses her arms. “You’re in love with someone. If it’s not—I mean, it has to be William, doesn’t it? If it’s not… someone else in the group.”

“Kara, I barely know the man!”

“Fine, okay, here, what if we...” Kara takes her by the shoulders and turns her away from the table so they’re facing each other. Lena stares at her, incredulous. “Pretend I’m William.”

“What are you—”

“Shh, just like. I’m going to pretend to be William, and you try and imagine how you would feel if it were William saying these things to you, and how you would react, and then maybe you’ll be able to tell if you’re in love with him, okay?”

“Kara, I—” she starts, but before she can finish objecting Kara levels her with a look. Lena rolls her eyes. “Okay, okay fine.”

“So, I’m William.”

“Yes.”

“Imagine I’m William, and I’m saying, um,” Her face suddenly shifts, turning serious, and she stares into Lena’s eyes with such intense focus that it sends a shiver down Lena’s spine. “I’m in love with you, Lena. I’m truly, deeply in love with you, and I would like for you to be my girlfriend.”

She starts the sentence attempting a British accent in a poor imitation of William’s voice, but gives it up halfway through. By the end she just sounds like Kara, and something about hearing those words in Kara’s voice, low and earnest, makes Lena’s heart stutter. They stare at each other, Kara’s hands tight around Lena’s biceps, warm though the thin material of her blouse, nothing but the sound of too-rapid breathing magnified through the lab. The totem mark on the back of Lena’s neck burns in time with her heartbeat.

This is a scene she’s never going to be able to get out of her head, isn’t it?

“How did that make you feel?” Kara whispers.

Lena swallows. “I’m, um. Having a bit of a hard time imagining that you’re William.”

“Oh.” Kara drops her hands, and Lena blinks at the loss of contact. “Darn it. I guess we’ll just have to try something else then. Okay, what if—”

Kara,” Lena interrupts, fed up. “I can assure you, whoever—whoever I’m in love with, it’s definitely not William. I know that for sure.”

“You’re sure?” frowns Kara. “You’re really sure? But he brought you cookies.”

“That doesn’t mean that I’m in love with him! Giving me food is not how you make me fall in love with you, Kara.”

If anything, this only serves to make Kara’s pout deeper. “It isn’t?”

“I—” Lena hesitates, thinking of potstickers on the tower’s couch and laughing as Kara shoved them whole into her mouth with greasy fingers, thinks of pie at Kara’s apartment and brunch at Noonan’s and Kara brightening a stressful day with a bag of Big Belly Burger in her old L-Corp office. “Well, maybe it—not on it’s own, I mean. There have to be other… factors.”

“Oh.” Kara nods. “Okay. Other factors. We’ll have to look for someone you have other factors with then, if you’re absolutely certain you’re not in love with William.”

“I am. Trust me, I absolutely am.”

“Okay. That’s fine then, we just have to figure out who you have other factors with. That shouldn’t be too hard! You have close relationships with lots… well some… well, a few people.”

“Thanks, Kara.” Lena deadpans.

“And, uh.” Kara stares at a spot under the table, looking concerned. “We should probably clean that up.”

The solution that Lena dropped has burned it’s way through most of the way through the thick metal table, and is now dripping steadily onto the floor, beginning to eat a hole in the linoleum.

“Fuck.”

~

The next time it comes up, Lena is in the midst of finishing a technological errand for Brainy. She’s typing away at her laptop when Kara swoops in through the balcony door, hair windswept and cheeks pink, and her fingers pause on the keys as Kara crosses the room, shoulders relaxing from Supergirl to Kara. She tries not to watch the flex in Kara’s calves as she squats down backwards onto a desk chair and starts scrolling through her phone. She fails, monumentally.

“Any progress, Lena?” Brainy asks, shaking Lena from her distracting thoughts. Lena notices the way Kara’s absentminded scrolling pauses, her head cocking just slightly to the side.

“The data on the hard drive should all be decrypted, Brainy,” Lena says, placing the large plastic hard drive in Brainy’s outstretched, grabby hands. “Make sure you double check all the cloaked files next time.”

“Thank you, Lena,” Brainy calls out, spinning away in his desk chair back to his personal monitor. “I could have done it myself, of course, but the process was much accelerated with your help.”

As Brainy spins away, Kara pulls her chair up in the space he previously occupied. She rests her elbows on the table, leaning conspiratorially over Lena’s spellbook. Her hair sways around her face, and Lena resists the urge to reach out and tuck it behind her ear.

“Is it Brainy?” she whispers, glancing over at him to make sure he isn’t listening. “That you’re in love with?”

It’s the first time she’s brought it up again since the William incident, but Lena’s expecting it this time. Kara’s intense analysis of her every conversation has only gotten more blatant. She feels Kara’s eyes on her every time she enters a room, the way her gaze barely leaves Lena for a second unless she’s caught at it. It makes Lena clumsy and hyper-aware of her own body, and she keeps knocking things over and dropping things. The totem mark on her neck tingles almost constantly, an itch she can’t quite scratch.

Brainy? No, it’s not Brainy,” Lena whispers back, sparing him a quick look as she opens her spellbook and flips through yellowed pages. She’s been trying to figure out if there’s some way she can remove the totem tattoo by magic, or transfer it to an inanimate object, but no such luck so far.

“How do you know? You have other factors with Brainy. You’re both really smart, and you spend a lot of time together working out the science and technology components for the group, and I know you’re good friends. It just makes sense.” Then her face falls. “Oh no, but you can’t be in love with Brainy. He and Nia are so cute together.”

“Well, I’m not in love with Brainy, so I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”

“Are you sure? You don’t know who you’re in love with, so how do you know who you’re not in love with?”

“Oh, for fuck’s—hey Brainy!” Lena calls across the room.

“Yes?” Brainy says without looking over, hands typing furiously at the computer.

“I’m in love with you.”

Brainy freezes. “What?” he says, looking over his shoulder, baffled. He stares at them for a moment, looking mildly alarmed, then his face relaxes into understanding and he nods, chuckling. “Oh, I see. You’re being facetious. Yes, very funny joke, Lena. We all know the statistical probability of that being true is extremely low.”

Lena raises her eyebrows at Kara, gesturing in Brainy’s direction as if to say see?

“Okay, okay, It’s probably not Brainy.” Kara concedes, then her eyebrows skyrocket to the top of her forehead. “Wait. What did he mean by the probability of that being true? Does Brainy know who you’re in love with?”

Before Lena can answer, the elevator dings, and Nia steps out with a bag swinging by her side, returning from a drink-run. She walks over to the table and starts unloading cups of boba—Jasmine milk tea for Lena, matcha latte for Brainy, and some bright red fruit smoothie combination for Kara. “What’s up, guys? Oh hi Kara, I thought I heard your voice, but I didn’t think you were back yet. What are you yelling about?”

Kara takes the boba Nia hands her and slides it over to Lena, who impales it with the straw easily on her first try before passing it back to her.

“I just told Brainy I'm in love with him,” says Lena.

Nia spews out her mouthful of tea. A loud laugh rips from her chest, which quickly is overtaken by a hacking cough. As she doubles over, Brainy reaches up a hand to pat her back. She comes back up cackling, wiping off her mouth. “Yeah, right, fat chance.”

Kara whips her head back around, towards Nia this time. “Wait, Nia! Do you know who Lena is in love with? Nia? Nia!”

“Sorry Kara, can’t hear you!” Nia yells, already stepping back into the elevator to head down to the sparring room, Alex and Kelly’s boba order (tiger boba latte and iced thai tea, respectively) in hand.

“Well that didn’t help,” Kara mutters, taking a forlorn sip of her smoothie before dropping her head onto the table.

Lena pats the top of her head gently. “There, there, darling. We’ve already crossed two off the list.”

“But we still don’t know who you’re in love with! And that is crucial if you’re going to pass the totem test.” Her head pops again from the table, and her face is flushed, her ears red. “I’m going to figure it out. I promise. I want us to have the totem, and I want you to be happy. I want you to be happy with whoever it is that you’re—that you’re in love with. I want to see that happen.” She nods, resolute. “We’re going to figure it out. I know we are.”

Lena forces a smile and nods and thinks, That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.

~

To say Kara’s efforts become incessant would be an understatement.

It seems like every conversation, every text or call, every interaction and every waking moment now is consumed by Kara’s need to figure out who Lena is in love with, and Lena hates it. She hates that things between them have changed, again. She hates the way Kara treats her like a task to solve and not a friend. Mostly, she hates that almost all of their interactions have been reduced to this:

“It’s Alex.” Kara corners her in the stairway, hissing this blatantly incorrect observation out through clenched teeth. “I’m certain. You smiled at her when she held the door open for you.”

“Oh my God.” Lena wants to rip out her hair and strangle herself with it. “It is not Alex. I smiled because it’s a perfectly normal, polite thing to do! Plus, she’s practically like a sister to me.”

“Oh,” Kara mumbles, cheeks flushing with a slight pink of embarrassment. It brings Lena a quiet kind of satisfaction to watch Kara sheepishly try and backtrack her way out of this one. “Sorry. It’s just, the totem activated at the engagement party, and so I thought—well, I thought maybe you were jealous of Kelly, seeing her and my sister together so I—wait.”

Oh no. Lena’s breath catches in her throat. Kara’s eyes flicker over Lena’s expression, observing her closely, thoughtfully, and she’s so close to getting it, Lena is certain she's been caught—

“I was wrong. You weren’t jealous of Kelly.” Kara steps forward, and instinctually, Lena steps back, fumbling a bit on one of the stairs. She barely catches herself on the railing, pressing herself flat against the wall, and she prays that Kara just lets her down easy instead of drawing out this heartbreak more than she must.

“You were jealous of Alex, weren’t you?” Kara finally finishes. “You’re in love with Kelly.”

Wait. What?

“What?” Lena accidentally verbalizes aloud.

“It all makes so much sense. You’re always touching or hugging, you and Kelly met before, through James, and Kelly is so noble and kind, of course it makes sense—”

“Kara.” Lena interrupts, voice seething with anger. When Kara finally stops and looks at her, really looks at her instead of just talking at her like she’s been doing for minutes, the look on Lena’s face is enough to make her freeze in place. Good. Lena is very much not in the mood for this right now.

“I’m not in love with Alex, or Kelly.” Lena snaps, turning away from Kara to continue her descent down the stairs. “Now if you’ll excuse me, J’onn needs me down in the lab.”

“It’s not J’onn, is it?” Kara calls after her.

“I’m literally not even going to dignify that with a response,” Lena yells back.

“Technically, that counts as a response!” she hears, as she rounds the corner and the door swings shut behind her.

For a moment, Lena lets herself slide down the wall in the hallway, wrapping her arms around her knees and dropping her head down and trying to control the way her breath shakes around the lump that’s formed in her throat. She’s not sure how much longer she can handle this, Kara being so oblivious to what’s right in front of her. She doesn’t want Kara to know, is petrified of the havok it would wreak on their friendship and her entire life, but at the same time… it hurts that it’s never once occurred to her.

Lena allows herself thirty seconds to breathe. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. When she reaches zero, she stands up, brushes herself off, and continues on to the lab.

~

When Lena enters the restaurant, Kara is nowhere to be seen.

She was surprised when Kara asked her to join her for dinner a few nights after the stairway incident. They’ve been dancing circles around each other for days, and between the nervous glances Kara is constantly shooting her across rooms and the way she’ll flatten herself against the nearest wall to let Lena pass whenever they cross paths in the hallways, Lena is half certain that Kara has caught onto her ruse and has given up on her altogether, cutting herself off from Lena to postpone the self-immolation of their friendship. Truthfully, though, Lena doesn’t have half a clue what Kara is doing. Kara never stays in a room with her long enough for Lena to find out.

So the invitation to dinner is a surprise, to say the least, and when Kara’s text inviting her first came through, Lena stared at it for so long that her phone turned off and she was blinking at her own reflection in the dark glass. She’s still not completely convinced it isn’t a joke. But she spends over an hour getting ready anyways, showering and twisting her hair up into a tidy bun, doing her makeup with careful precision in front of the bathroom mirror. At the last minute, she applies the same shade of dark lipstick she wore a couple weeks ago, the day that she’d caught Kara looking at her every time she glanced her way.

She runs her fingers over the many dresses in her closet, lingering on one in particular that she hasn’t had reason to wear in months: a black cocktail dress, one she’s worn in front of Kara before, years ago. One that Kara had spent an entire night staring at her in. She shimmies into it and turns in the mirror, then gives her reflection an approving nod.

She still has no idea what Kara thinks or knows, but an invitation like this has to mean something, right? There has to be a chance that Kara has finally figured out. That maybe… maybe she feels the same. Regardless, Lena pulls out all the stops, just in case.

But there is no Kara when she arrives at the restaurant, a low-lit, upscale place. Instead a different familiar but distinctly un-Kara-like form leans gracefully over the maitre’d booth.

“Andrea!” Lena calls out, the word coming out half a question. She lifts a hand in greeting as the familiar figure turns around at the call. A smile slowly eases it’s way onto Andrea’s face as she recognizes the owner of the voice, her eyes raking over Lena in an all-too-familiar way.

“Lena,” Andrea says, stepping towards her on six-inch heels. She opens her arms into a cordial hug, and Lena only hesitates a moment before walking into it.

“What a lovely surprise,” Andrea purrs, pulling back to smile once again at Lena in greeting. “I had no idea you had a reservation here tonight.”

“It’s sort of a last minute thing,” Lena tells her. “I’m just waiting on a friend.”

“Reservation, ma’ams?” The maitre’d interrupts, flipping through a book on the table.

“Danvers?” They both reply, simultaneously. Lena and Andrea whip their heads around to look at each other, and Lena sees her own surprise and confusion echoed back in Andrea’s face. Andrea clears her throat awkwardly. Lena looks towards the door and calculates the time it would take for her to sprint to it in these heels.

“I don’t suppose you know Alex?” Lena asks, finally breaking the drawn out silence.

“No, no, I don’t.” Andrea shrugs, letting out a heavy sigh.

The maitre’d, oblivious to whatever trap Kara has pulled on the both of them, just ushers Lena and Andrea to a table in the corner of the restaurant. As they approach, Lena notices that there are only two chairs pushed up to the small table, and judging by Andrea’s confused glances between the table and the maitre’d, she’s just noticed the same thing.

“I’m sorry,” she says, catching the attention of their server. “Will anyone else be joining us tonight?”

The server shakes his head. “No ma’am. The table was reserved under Danvers, party of two. Is there an issue?”

Lena looks helplessly at Andrea, who, to Lena’s comfort, looks just as conflicted and uncomfortable as Lena feels. After a pause, Andrea shakes her head.

“It’s fine, thank you.” She addresses the waiter, then, turning to Lena, says, “I won't lie and say I wasn’t expecting different company tonight, but I’m certainly not disappointed to see your face.”

Lena gives her a stiff nod, lips pressed together, unsure if she can say the same.

“You do look stunning,” Andrea says, taking a step closer. She runs her fingers down Lena’s bicep, a hint of her fingernails scratching at Lena’s skin in the kind of gesture that would once have turned Lena’s knees to jelly. Now, it just leaves something hollow in the pit of her stomach.

“Thank you,” Lena breathes out, stepping away from Andrea and moving to the other side of the table to take a seat. Andrea beats her to it, sliding the chair out in a chivalrous move that really just leaves Lena picturing what it would look like had it been another set of hands inviting her to take a seat instead. The pit in Lena’s stomach grows a little bit deeper.

When they’re both seated, Andrea takes the time to begin scanning the restaurant’s extensive wine menu for something adequate to her tastes. Lena has to admit, Kara picked well—the place is fancy, with a dark, romantic ambiance and a menu that doesn’t even list the prices next to it’s entrees. There are candles and intricately folded napkins on the tables, and there’s soft jazz playing underneath the sound of chatter and clinking cutlery. Lena realizes with a slow shock that this is one of the places she offhandedly recommended her and Kara try out weeks ago.

“I have to ask.” Andrea suddenly startles her out of the well of thoughts she’s spiralling into. “How did Kara convince you to meet me here? I don’t mean to sound harsh, but, well—I know things are still...healing, between us, and I wasn’t certain you’d be up to having dinner so soon.”

Lena glances away from Andrea, and begins to play with the straw in the ice water in front of her. When did a server come by? She hardly even noticed.

“Kara offered to take me out to dinner tonight,” Lena admits, albeit hesitantly. This information feels too personal to share with Andrea, especially considering their shared history, but aren’t she and Andrea supposed to be friends again? Or at least something akin to it. “Things have been… strained, lately, between us. I was hoping this was a sign things were changing.”

Andrea watches her closely as she speaks, appraising her, in a way, with low-lidded eyes and the barest teasing of a smile on her lips. A long time ago, it was a look that made Lena heated and pliant beneath Andrea’s gaze. Now, it just makes her sad.

“Kara offered me a meeting with one of the Superfriends here. A going away present, she called it,” Andrea explains, leaning forward with an affectatious coyness. Lena almost laughs. Yes, Andrea, you certainly got it, too, your meeting with a Superfriend. “But since you’re here instead, why don’t we make the best of this night?”

As Andrea says those final words, her hand, which had previously been resting harmlessly on the tablecloth, inches across the table and begins to toy with the tips of Lena’s fingertips, eventually sliding into a smooth grip. Lena tries not to flinch.

“You know what she’s doing, right?” Lena asks, desperation at the situation leaking into her tone. If Andrea is taken aback by Lena’s frantic and sudden confrontation, she does a damn good job of not showing it.

“Kara set us up. It was a trick. Aren’t you upset?” Lena rambles on. She pulls her hand away from Andrea’s, brings it up to her face to rub at her tired eyes, and tries to determine if the new pressure between them is a migraine coming on or, even worse, exasperated tears.

“Honestly, Lena,” Andrea says, softly, placating, “I don’t mind so much because it’s you. Can’t we just… have dinner together? Make a nice night of it?”

Lena glances away once again. She can’t. She knows she can’t.

“I’m sorry,” Lena sighs.

“Why?”

“Kara only set this up because she thought I was in love with you. And I was, once, but I’m not…” Lena trails off, shaking her head. She doesn’t really have anything left for Andrea, does she? The reason for leaving her behind is as simple as it can be, and it’s exactly what she’s sure Andrea doesn’t want to hear. She starts to gather her things.

“Hey, wait,” Andrea says, reaching out for Lena again before stopping herself. She places both of her hands, palms down, on the table before them. “I’m not asking you to love me, Lena. I’m just asking you to stay. Just for dinner, at least.”

It’s tempting. Andrea is familiar, and comforting, and Lena knows her like an old song. Best of all, she really, really likes Lena and Lena knows it. She isn’t stuck in limbo around her, vying for attention in any form it comes. It would be easy for Lena to agree, to seek warmth from one of her oldest sources of it.

But Lena’s been lying for so long now. She’s tired of it.

“I’m sorry, Andrea,” she repeats, pushing her chair back to stand. “I didn’t want things to go like this.”

“It's because I’m not her, isn’t it?” Andrea asks, plain and simple, and then it’s out there in the open. “I’m not Kara Danvers.”

Lena doesn’t respond. She doesn’t need to. Andrea has always been able to read her like an open book.

“Goodnight, Andrea.” Lena squeezes her shoulder softly on the way out, a friendly gesture she hopes will help Andrea forgive her for this in time.

“A word of advice, Lena?” Andrea calls out, and Lena pauses. She doesn’t respond, but Andrea continues anyway. “She doesn’t know. Don’t fault her for that.”

Lena shoulders her purse, exhales a heavy breath, and exits the restaurant.

~

It smells like rain.

Lena stands outside the restaurant and stares up at the sky, trying to catch her breath. The mark on the back of her neck is stinging in a way that feels like tears on raw skin, in a way that feels like anticipation concentrated. She’s not sure how much longer she can handle this, all the guessing, Kara guessing wrong again and again, like the idea of them, together, is the least believable option. Less believable than William, or Brainy, or Andrea, even Alex and Kelly.

She thought it would be easier, to let Kara keep guessing, to keep the secret tucked safely away.

It’s not.

Dark patches begin to appear on the concrete, the first fat raindrops falling from the sky. Lena steps out from under the restaurant awning and hails a taxi.

~

Kara is clearly not expecting company.

She’s wearing sweatpants when she opens the door, and a worn blue t-shirt with the House of El symbol printed on the front that Lena knows Alex got her as a joke for Christmas a few years back. Normally, Lena would find the sight of Kara wearing her own merch endearing, but she’s had a whole taxi ride to work herself up, and a whole set-up date before that, and a whole week before that. Kara blinks at her, frozen, not even moving aside to let Lena in as she usually would.

“Lena!” she says, taking in Lena’s low-cut, form-fitting dress, her rain spattered shoulders, the almost murderous expression on her face. “You’re—it’s still early, I thought you would still be out with Andrea. Did it… did it not go well? I thought—”

“Why the hell did you do that?” Lena interrupts, her voice low and dangerous. The totem mark pulses on the back of her neck, a smaller heartbeat.

“I—what?” Kara says, looking bewildered. “What do you mean? I wasn’t expecting to see you tonight, I thought you would be—I thought—”

“You didn’t think at all,” Lena says. “You haven’t been thinking since the moment this fucking totem burned itself onto my neck.”

Kara’s still standing in the doorway, gaping slightly. Her hand moves from the doorknob towards Lena’s arm, and then she seems to think better of it and pulls it back again. She swallows, and her voice is faint when she says, “Would you, um. Would you like to come in?”

What Lena really wants is to bite her head off, but she nods once, curtly, and storms her way past Kara and into the apartment.

“You set me up with Andrea?” she says, whirling back around. Kara shuts the door with a quiet click and stares back, wide-eyed. “You told me that we were going out for dinner and you set me up with Andrea? Why, Kara? What the hell would possess you to think that was a good idea?”

Kara still looks alarmed and almost queasy, but she tilts her chin up and takes a step away from the door. “I figured it out. I was thinking and thinking and I’d gone through everyone that you know, and none of it seemed to make sense! But then Andrea… you have history with her. You’re close to her, in a way that you aren’t with any of the others. It had to be her. There wasn’t anyone else it could be!”

“For fuck’s sake,” Lena says, covering her face with her hand. The mark burns a little more with her every word, etching deeper into her skin. “I’m not in love with Andrea, Kara! Anything between us has been over for a long time. I’m not in love with Andrea, or Brainy, or William, or your fucking sister, okay? Just stop. Please stop. Stop guessing, and stop… I know who I’m fucking in love with, okay?”

“You… what?” Kara stumbles slightly to the side, has to grab the table to steady herself. “You figured it out?”

“No, I didn’t figure it out. I’ve known since the moment this stupid mark appeared on my neck. I knew long before it ever showed up.”

“Then you… you lied to me?” Kara’s eyes narrow, confusion and betrayal falling over her face. She steps away from the table, approaching Lena with an angry determination that almost makes Lena stumble back. Almost. The love totem flares hotter on her neck, like it’s straining towards Kara. “I’ve been running around for days trying to help you figure out who you were in love with, and you knew the whole time? Why? Why would you lie to me about that?”

“Of course I knew! I’m not that fucking stupid Kara! Maybe I grew up emotionally… stunted, but I at least know when I’m in love with somebody!”

“Then why—”

“Because I thought it was obvious! Because I thought you would see through me in a second! Because everyone else clearly knows! Everyone else sees it and I thought if you don’t it’s obviously because you don’t want to! So what do you expect me to do?”

“I obviously didn’t know, Lena. So please, just…” Kara takes a shaky breath, and for the first time it registers in Lena’s anger-hazy brain how pleading her eyes look, tinged red, the delicate skin underneath them slightly puffy. She’s leaning forward, hands outstretched. “...just tell me, because I don't understand.”

The mark burns white-hot again, running through her veins like ice, around her neck and down through her chest and into the marrow of her bones. Say it. Say it.

“Who do you think?” Lena says quietly. She shakes her head. “It’s you, Kara, obviously it’s you. Who else would it be? Who else could it be?”

The TV is playing faintly in the background, something cheerful and musical, and it echoes in the silence between them. The kitchen tap drips steadily, and there’s a distant shout followed by laughter from the apartment above. Every breath Kara takes shakes, and Lena’s whole body is electric with totem energy, burning through her to the core. They stare and stare at each other for what feels like minutes, hours, lifetimes.

“Me?” Kara finally whispers.

Briefly, Lena considers running. Sprinting out the door and grabbing a taxi to the airport and taking the first available flight out of the country and never seeing Kara again. But her chest is heaving and she’s not sure her legs are working properly anymore, so all she succeeds in doing is taking a few shaky steps over to Kara’s couch and collapsing onto it, burying her face in her hands.

“Of course it’s you.” Lena smiles softly into her hands, and the words catch on something between a laugh and a sob. “Ever since I met you, it’s always been you. Everything else has just been… obstacles. My heart has always been yours, Kara.”

The couch beside her dips, and Lena peeks through her fingers as Kara perches onto the cushions, sitting on the very edge of the seat as if poised to flee if necessary. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’re my best friend,” Lena says, wrapping her arms tight around her ribs, afraid they might fall apart if she doesn’t hold on. “And you said it earlier, you’re my family. The whole group is my family, and I’ve never had a family like that. And you—you’re the reason I’m a part of that family. You’re the person who saw something worth salvaging in me, and kept seeing it when no one else did, and made sure I was a part of something bigger than myself, and convinced people to care about me. And I thought, when I told you and you didn’t feel the same, I would lose everything. My whole family, and the love of my life, and my best friend, and… and I would be alone.”

“I didn’t convince people to care about you, Lena,” Kara says. She squeezes Lena’s knee, palm warm through the fabric of her dress, and the totem mark hums its approval against her neck. Lena thinks she’s starting to understand its language. “You did that all on your own. And you know if anything… happened between us, you wouldn’t lose them, right?”

Lena shakes her head. “They were your friends before they were ever mine. It was your family before I was ever a part of it.”

“That’s not true. You’ve been my family almost since I met you. That’s longer than I’ve known Brainy, or Nia, or Kelly. And your relationships with them aren’t built on mine. They’re their own thing. They have strength of their own that I couldn’t break if I tried.”

“Were we family when we hated each other?” Lena asks, bitter. “When I was trying to destroy you?”

Kara shrugs. “Families fight. Best friends fight. It doesn’t change anything in the long run.”

“So what, we’ll get past this? We can get through whatever this is without it messing up our friendship?”

“Get past… did I not—?” Kara lets out a laugh, a sharp medley of disbelief and joy, and leans forwards to pull both of Lena’s hands into hers. “We don’t have to get past anything. I’m in love with you too, Lena. I’ve been in love with you for… Rao, I don’t even know how long. It feels like always.”

“You’re—what?” Lena blinks. This isn’t happening. Surely, she’s stumbled into a dream. Her brain whirls, struggling to understand if she’s heard correctly. “You are?

Yes!” Kara bounces slightly, beaming so wide it looks like her cheeks are going to split. “I am so stupidly, ridiculously in love with you that it’s not even funny.”

“But, but…” Reason after reason that it couldn’t be true, it couldn’t possibly be true, flood to the forefront of Lena’s mind, too much for her to voice all at once. “You’ve spent all week telling me that I’m in love with other people! You just set me up on a date with my ex!

“Because I thought it was her that you were in love with! Rao, don’t you know how hard I’ve been beating myself up over this the whole time? I was trying so hard to figure out who it is was you were in love with, and trying to convince myself that I wanted it to be every new person I thought of because I knew we needed the love totem, but also really, desperately hoping it wasn’t any of them because the idea of you being in love with anyone who wasn’t me hurt so much that I couldn’t breathe. I don’t think I’ve breathed properly in a week.”

“Oh my god,” Lena breathes. “But you never… you never guessed yourself. All that guessing and you never once guessed yourself.”

“I thought you would know if it was me. I thought if it was me, you wouldn’t have to think about it, you would just know. But you didn’t know, so I thought it couldn’t be. I couldn’t let myself believe that it was and risk being wrong.”

“I did know,” Lena whispers. “I always knew.”

“Well, I know that now.”

They sit there for a minute, quiet in the pleasant silence of their shared confessions. A faint noise catches Lena’s attention, and she looks over at the TV. It’s on, the voices coming through at a barely audible level—Kara must have lowered the volume when Lena knocked instead of pausing it. The Wizard of Oz is playing, and Lena watches Dorothy surrounded in the brilliant green of the emerald city as the Ozians flutter around her, giving her a makeover and singing cheerfully. Then, with a strange sense of comprehension, Lena notices the small pile of crumpled tissues on the coffee table, and the cold, abandoned mug of tea, and puts two and two together.

“Kara… were you crying to The Wizard of Oz in here, alone, until I showed up?” Lena asks. “Because that’s kind of what it looks like.”

Kara chuckles nervously, scratching the back of her neck. “Kinda, yeah.” Lena raises her eyebrows, a grin spreading across her face, and Kara rushes to defend herself. “I told you, I was so sure you were in love with Andrea! I thought you would go to that dinner, realize your feelings, confess your undying love for her, and I was just gonna sit here like a big idiot and mope about it. I wanted to be happy for you but I was just—god, I was just so miserable.”

Lena shakes her head, laughing to herself. She lets her forehead fall forwards onto Kara’s shoulder, shaking with quiet laughter, and Kara’s fingers land tentatively on the top of her head, confused but trying to comfort.

“You okay?”

When Lena finally comes up for air, she smiles fondly at Kara, squeezing her hands. “What a pair of fucking morons we are.”

“That we are,” Kara says, smiling. “We really are. But hey—” She cups Lena’s face in her palm, thumb tenderly stroking her cheek, and Lena leans into the touch like a cat, her totem mark buzzing happily. “At least we’re two morons in love with each other.”

“That’s something,” Lena agrees. “I’d rather be two morons in love than two geniuses alone.”

“And yet somehow, you’re both genius and moron.” Her thumb grazes Lena’s bottom lip, dragging it slightly down and letting it bounce back, and Lena stares at her lowered blue eyes, the soft reverence in them.

“Are you going to kiss me?” she whispers.

“Would you like me to?”

“I would. I really, really would.”

And Kara bites her lip like she’s holding back a smile and leans forwards.

She’s still smiling when her lips meet Lena’s, and Lena can taste it on her tongue, feel it against her lips. Her hand slides into Lena’s hair, and she smiles and smiles and kisses her and kisses her and it’s better than anything Lena could have dreamed, like every moment she’s stared at Kara and longed for something more concentrated into a single kiss. Lena holds Kara’s hand tight in hers and cradles Kara’s cheek in her other hand and thinks this, this is good, I’m not letting this go.

On the back of Lena’s neck, the totem mark glows bright pink, flooding Kara’s dim apartment with fuschia light that illuminates them like the glow of a neon sign. As Lena kisses the pink-tinged features of Kara’s face—her cheeks, her eyelids, her nose, her lips, her lips—the voice of the totem booms out, echoing through the space around them.

You have performed admirably.