We fall in love with three people in our lifetime, but of course, when she falls in love with Andrea Rojas, Lena doesn’t know that.
Going by the mysterious laws that rule over friendships at sixteen, they should not be friends.
Lena shouldn’t be the one Andrea cuts class with, the one who sneaks out with her after lights out. She doesn’t know how to be wild. She breaks a rule, she spends the rest of the day looking over her shoulder. Tense, waiting for retribution to come.
If anything, Andrea should be Lena’s villain origin story.
These are her thoughts as they sit next to one another on the damp grass behind the school gardener’s tool shed. That she doesn’t really know why she is here, why Andrea picked her to be best friends with when Lena’s never been anyone’s first choice.
She also thinks she wouldn’t trade this moment for the world, although dampness has transferred from the grass to her skirt and now her behind is wet, and they really ought to be more careful about class. They’ve skipped roll call twice this week; someone’s bound to notice.
“I wanna go into town tomorrow.” Andrea says, lighting a fresh cigarette with the hot embers of the last. “I want to buy shoes. And sushi. There’s a new sushi place that I’ve been dying to try.”
Lena would do anything for Andrea, and that’s part of the issue.
It was easier, in the beginning, when Lena could still lie to herself. Could pretend that her crush was simply the result of Andrea paying attention to her. Something that’d go away on its own, the sort of feeling everyone experiences at least once in their life. Something that you're bound to feel for your best friend. Love, the lines blurring until it's near impossible to tell what kind of love it is.
Except her crush is not going away. And Lena can't ignore it anymore, can't suppress it, can't store it somewhere at the back of her mind to gather dust alongside all the other emotions she doesn't want to deal with.
She's tried numerous times, but all it takes for love to burst right out of the place she locked it in is a brush of Andrea's hand. The warm shock of her shoulder bumping against Lena's and—
"Did you hear a word I've said?"
Andrea's doing it right now. She leans in until they're almost nose to nose, the hand that's not holding the cigarette resting on Lena's knee for balance.
"Shoes." Andrea is so effortlessly pretty, Lena thinks with a bit of envy. So pretty and so charming, and close enough to kiss. God. "You want to go get shoes."
"You sure you're alright? You’re staring. You’ve been staring at me all morning."
Lena dry swallows.
She's fine, really. It's just hard to string her words together when Andrea is this close. Looking soft and kissable in the gentle light of early morning, unbound hair falling down her shoulders in a waterfall of brown locks Lena wants to run her fingers through.
"Fine. Yeah. I'm fine."
Her cheeks feel hot. Her whole face actually is, from the tips of her ears to the back of her neck. A tingle of red that makes her skin itch despite the bracing morning air.
Without thinking, Lena plucks the lit cigarette from Andrea's fingers and sucks on it, the tip glowing cherry-red. Too long a drag: the smoke curls unpleasantly at the back of her throat, grates the lining of her lungs on her way down. She sputters, eyes watering, and doesn't resist when Andrea takes the cigarette back.
“Whoa, easy there.” All of a sudden, Andrea has her arms around her, is easing her down until Lena’s lying with her head in Andrea’s lap. The smoke — she isn’t used to it. It must have gone right to her head.
“I love you, y’know?” Why are her words slurred? “I mean— I love this.” Lena corrects before Andrea can laugh. “Being here with you.” The cigarette, she thinks. It tasted odd. Too sweet to be only tobacco. 'S why everything she’s ever thought about Andrea seems to be coming out of her at once. Oh, no.
“I didn’t mean— Andrea, I was just—”
“Hush.” One finger is pushed against her lips to shut her up, and then Andrea is pulling her close, hands soft at Lena’s waist. She doesn’t say “I love you” back, but when they kiss it is with tongue. It’s answer enough.
(Except it isn’t, and months later, when she finds Andrea clinging to Russell in what’s supposed to be their spot, hands at his belt buckle, Lena understands why.)
Lena falls in love with Jack. She’s in love with him. She’s sure about it.
Andrea was a lesson. Lena knows now what she wants and doesn’t want from love. What’s good for her, what isn’t. Jack is stable, he’s kind. He makes her laugh, but never laughs at her expense. For the first time in her life, Lena doesn’t feel like she’s the butt to the cruel joke played on her by another.
She doesn’t need to hide behind a shed or wait until they are alone to kiss him. And if Jack’s hands on her waist don't send her heart racing the way Andrea’s did, if the beard he refuses to shave makes his kisses just a bit too scratchy, well, Lena will learn to love that too the way she loves the rest.
Jack is kind. He’s steadfast, he’s familiar , and on any given day Lena will choose the risk of boredom over the heartbreak Andrea caused. She’s learned her lesson well. Passion dies, fires eventually burn down to cold ashes, but Jack is solid and real and here , and he’s calling her over to the microscope with clear excitement in his voice.
That settles it, Lena decides as she walks across the lab to join him. Tonight she’ll tell him that she loves him.
“We’re close.” He starts as soon as she’s in reach. “Lena, the way we blended the virus the last time. It’s working.” He talks so fast the words pile on top of one another, Lena struggling to follow.
She can’t go on.
It’s been three years. That’s how much time they’ve been at this. Three years of long hours, of nights spent inside the lab they carved out in his parents' garage. Three years of failures and frustration and chasing yet another grant to keep themselves afloat. They’re both aware they’re scraping bottom. Either they have a breakthrough now, or they will have to quit. There’s enough money left from the last grant they secured to keep them going for a few more weeks, but all the applications they’ve sent out in the meantime have been refused, or went unanswered.
“You can’t— It’s not—”
“Well, it’s not perfect, obviously.” He takes her by an elbow and pulls her the rest of the way to the microscope. “Cellular replication is only slowed, for now. The cancer is still there, but I think if we tweak our formula a little more—”
“— the virus may actually attack the cancerous cells, and not just slow down reproduction.” Lena completes, and how can she not be in love with Jack, when they finish each other’s sentences like this?
“Exactly.” He fiddles with the microscope’s settings, then steps aside so she can look. “See for yourself,” He urges, eyes suddenly intense. “This is what we’ve been waiting for, Lena. No way they’ll deny us another grant, now.”
Anticipation racing through her body, Lena leans in. Presses one eye to the ocular, and—
And nothing. No slide, no sample to look at. Only the incandescent brightness of the specimen stage
“I don’t understand.” If this is Jack’s idea of teasing, then it isn’t fun. Dread wraps cold fingers around her spine. Maybe she misjudged him. Maybe she’s not learned anything at all. “Jack, I don’t—”
“Lena Luthor.” There’s a soft rustle to her right, and Lena knows without having to look that he’s gone down on one knee. She recognized the inflection of his tone. The way he says her name — it’s full of hope.
“Lena Luthor,” he says again, and something forces her to turn, to stare down into his eyes even though she doesn’t want to, even if the floor opening up beneath her feet to eat her whole would be better for them both. Don’t say it, she thinks with all her might, silently pleading with her own gaze. For him to wait. For the universe to stop, to give her a little time.
He can’t be saying it, not when she’s just realized that she’s in love, not when it just bloomed inside her chest, so new. So fragile.
He stares directly into her eyes, but doesn’t hear a thing.
“Will you marry me, Lena?”
Jack holds a blue box in his hands, and it opens with a click. Inside, nestled in velvet, a band of white gold gleams, unadorned, but no less beautiful for it. “Will you be my wife?” His blush is evident despite the beard crawling up his cheeks. “I— I know we’re skipping over the engagement bit, here, but I love you. I love you so much, Lena. Will you say yes?”
He beat her to it, is the first thing that tumbles through her mind. The second is that she’s not ready. She should say no. She can’t. She loves him, but she can’t. This is insane, it’s a leap taken in the dark without knowing what lies at the bottom of the jump.
She did that once and—
Something swells inside her chest. Something very close to panic, but tasting of shock, that grips so hard around her lungs Lena becomes dizzy from not breathing. She’s supposed to have an answer — Jack’s expecting one, and the more she waits the more his face goes from happy to concerned — but she can’t talk. Can’t think, really. She opens her mouth to try, and all that comes out is laughter.
Loud, convulsive laughter.
She clamps a hand over her mouth, hard enough to leave a bruise, but laughs behind it anyway. When she tries to keep it in — to stop it — tears spring to her eyes.
Jack’s smile falls the rest of the way, and he starts to pull back.
“You could have said no.” His hands close around the ring, hiding it from view. “There was no need to laugh at me. You could just have said—”
“Yes!” Lena bursts out, horrified. “Yes! I will! I want to! It’s just— I’m—”
She doesn’t know what else to say. This is not what she had meant to say to start with.
Jack doesn’t let her.
He sweeps her up in a hug, and twirls her round and round until she’s breathless and dizzy all over again.
After he sets her down, as he reverently slips the ring onto her finger, Lena’s cheeks are wet with tears. But that’s normal. It’s alright. At least Jack acts like it is when he gently kisses each and every one away. She can learn to love this the way she already loves so many other things about him.
Tears are not always tied to sorrow.
They can be a sign of joy.
(They don’t get married. They don’t cure cancer. Jack dies of it, though, and after she’s buried him, Lena flees Metropolis, wishing she had never learned anything of love.
The engagement ring she’ll wear around her neck for years — like an albatross.)
Lena’s twenty-eight and she’s got it figured out. She doesn’t need love, doesn’t even want a family. She had one, and she lost it, and the one they got her as replacement isn’t all that great. So.
She’s married to her job, and anyway past experience proves — if there was still some doubt — that she’s better off alone. It’s been like running an experiment. Lena did try, adjusted the variables, collated all the data. It didn’t pan out, and she’s okay with that.
It took some time, and more bottles of scotch than she cares to remember, but she’s gotten here. Here, where Sam warns she may actually die of loneliness.
If Lena was a different person, if she was brave enough to say the words out loud, she’d tell Sam that’s exactly what she’s been trying to do.
But it’s fine. Really, it is. She has her own company now, and while sometimes she struggles with sleep — all the time — because her bed’s too big, too cold, too empty, that’s her choice. Lena Luthor; she could have anyone she wanted. She’s just not interested.
Then, on a day that starts exactly the same way every other day starts for Lena, Kara Danvers comes into her life.
It is an accident. Two strangers crashing into one another as they hurry off to work. Hot cocoa spilling all over her white blouse, and startlingly blue eyes widened in apology. It could, it should end there, right on the curb, with Lena cursing and Kara — who’s still a stranger then — offering to foot the bill to the dry-cleaners.
But it doesn’t.
It doesn’t because Kara invites her out for another coffee — “not today, because obviously you’re in a hurry, and I should really get going too.” — and Lena foolishly says yes.
Later she’ll tell herself it’s nothing, that she’s just being polite. She even believes it for a while, as the one coffee turns to lunch in her office every Thursday, then takeout and a movie on weekends with the occasional sleep over thrown in.
“She’s just a friend.” She says over the phone to Sam, somewhat defensively, and Sam snorts the way she does when she thinks Lena’s saying something very stupid. When she knows that Lena’s lying. “She is!”
“I am your friend, and I’m sure you don’t get all flustered when you talk to her about me.”
Sam is wrong.
She is jealous, maybe hurt. She is still Lena’s best friend — at least by Lena’s standards — but when she moved away she left Sam too, and now they’re lucky if they get together twice a year. It’s the distance talking; they’ve grown apart, they’ve grown , and Sam doesn’t know Lena as well as she used to.
Or perhaps Sam understands Lena better than she does herself. Well enough to see that Lena’s in love when she’s still blind to it. It just. It isn’t sudden. It’s not a lightning strike. The day Kara ran into her — quite literally — Lena hated her a little. Hated her for burning her with hot cocoa, hated her for ruining one of her favorite shirts.
She had been mad, but couldn’t stay mad at her for long.
Thing is, Kara’s crept inside her heart like a drip of water from a faulty tap. And, same as water, wore at her defences, worked her way through. So glacially slow, so incremental Lena didn't feel it until one day she woke with her heart full. Now there’s nowhere else for all the love to go, but out.
Now she’s sitting on Kara’s couch, another evening together, wearing a pair of pajamas that’s too big for her frame, with Kara pressed so close their bodies are one giant point of contact from shoulder to ankle.
It’s scary movie night, which Lena hates, but also is her favorite because it is the only time she can justify sitting this close to her friend. Kara loves scary movies, so it’s also the only time when her attention is entirely focused on the TV. And Lena can pretend, for just a second, that she has a shred of courage, and Sam’s right. Can imagine her fingers smoothing down the flyaways at Kara’s temple, trailing lower to brush across her cheeks, to take her glasses off, and when Kara will turn, surprised, when she turns Lena could —
“Do you want to go on a date with me?”
Lena’s been so caught up in this world of her own making, she’s missed the fact the movie ended. She glances at the TV, and yep, the screen is black, the credits rolling.
“Yeah.” Kara’s eyes seem to be tracing over every inch of her face, searching for something. On her lap, her hands worry themselves into knots. “A date. You know, that thing with dinner and wine where at the end of the night I take you home and try to kiss you.”
“Kiss me?” She’s repeating everything Kara says. Lena feels so stupid. “You want to kiss me?”
“I mean.” Kara’s cheeks flush a pretty shade of pink. “I want to do more than kiss you, but that would be too much for a first date, wouldn’t it?”
Lena wouldn’t know. She’s never been on one date in her life. Even with Jack. It was never official. They just… hung out.
“What if this was our first date?” Kara lets out a soft gasp, and Lena pushes on, worried she will lose all momentum if she stops. “We had popcorn, we saw a movie. I’m sure it counts.”
“Then you could kiss me.” Kara’s hands are now attacking the corner of a pillow, and Lena grabs them on impulse, mainly to have something to hold on to while she ruins their friendship irreversibly. “And you could do more than kiss me after you take me out to dinner. Cause you know, that’d be our second date.”
“So you mean I can kiss you now?” Somewhere in the midst of their discussion Kara has leaned in, and now her lips are brushing Lena’s, her breath — warm and smelling faintly of caramel popcorn — washing over her mouth.
“Yeah.” Both of Kara’s hands rise to her face, fingers working to free her hair from its bind as if she’s been waiting to do it for the longest time. Maybe she has. It’s possible that Lena’s not the only one who’s dreamt in hypotheticals.
Her eyes flutter shut.
“You can kiss me now.”
They kiss, and while they do Lena searches — truly looks — for the all too familiar pang of doubt within her chest. There’s nothing.
Lena’s found her answer; it sits on Kara’s tongue, and tastes of caramel too.
(“Lee, are you ready to go?”
They’ve been dating for six months, and they’ll be moving to a place together before Christmas. Just this morning, Kara called her at work to let her know the paperwork has gone through.
“I’ll be down in a minute!”
Kara says something about holding their cab, and her footsteps recede. All is quiet as Lena slips inside her bedroom, fingers working at the chain around her neck. In front of the mirror she pauses, lets the ring swing freely in front of her eyes. Watches it spin, flash in the moonlight.
The day Jack proposed feels like forever ago, feels like it happened to another person.
She kisses the cool metal once, pulls a worn blue box from the bottom drawer of her dresser, and sets the ring inside.
Wherever it is that good people go after they've died, Jack’s there. And he is smiling.
Lena’s sure of it.)