Lena Luthor does not dance.
For the sake of specificity, it’s not that she’s never danced; in fact she’s been enrolled in no less than 5 different types of dance classes in her life, from tap to jazz to ballet. Her mother had tried in vain to make Lena a dancer like herself from age 5, never accepting no for an answer, and had only yielded when Lena’s poor harried ballet teacher had requested a special meeting to assure Lillian that her daughter had ‘not a single stitch of rhythm in her body’.
So when Lena says that she doesn’t dance, she truly means that she can’t dance. Not for the life of her. A fact which nobody seems to be understanding as they try to coerce her into what has the potential to be the most humiliating mistake of her life.
“It would majorly boost public opinion, you can’t deny that,” Jess argues, following Lena even as she spins her desk chair towards the windows. “What’s stopping you?”
There are about 30 things stopping Lena, and she truly hopes she doesn’t have to unravel each of them individually today. Therapy was last week, and she’s still tired.
“All you’d need to do is be visible and likeable,” Jess finishes with a flair of her arms. Lena glares at her assistant, folding her arms and finally coming to a stop in front of her desk again; Jess stops too, her tablet in the crook of her arm and an annoyingly earnest look on her face.
“I really don’t think you understand how difficult that is for me,” Lena says drily.
Jess frowns, as she always does when Lena self-deprecates. “You’re perfectly likeable, Miss Luthor. You just need to show it to the world!”
“I’m not a star, Jess,” Lena says, gesturing vaguely at the office around her. “I’m just a CEO. Sort of undermines the whole purpose of Dancing with the Stars.”
“But you are!” Jess insists, tapping on her tablet with a stylus until several magazine covers come up. Two of three have Lena on the cover, all desperate attempts by her long-suffering PR department to conjure up some goodwill for the newly renamed L-Corp. “You’re the most powerful businesswoman in National City. There have been three articles about you just this month.”
“There are articles about me because of my brother,” Lena scoffs, waving Jess off. “Having a family member infamous due to a very public act of violence is quite different than being a celebrity.”
Jess, apparently, is not to be deterred. Even when Lena’s office door opens and Sam strides in for their 3pm meeting, third-quarter expenditures in hand, Jess remains in place.
“You’re a household name in your own right,” Jess says, and Sam takes a seat with an intrigued expression. “I’m sure Miss Arias would agree. If Tamar Braxton can be considered a star, so can you.”
“I have no idea who that is,” Lena deadpans.
“What’s this about Tamar Braxton?” Sam asks, settling comfortably into her seat and tossing the paperwork, unopened, onto Lena’s desk. Jess seems relieved to have a possible ally, and turns to Sam excitedly.
“The new season of Dancing with the Stars is casting, and I think Miss Luthor would be perfect.”
Looking to Sam in her desperation, Lena grasps at her last remaining point. “She’s dead wrong, and she’s forgetting the biggest obstacle – I can’t dance. Right, Sam?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Sam says, in the single most egregious act of betrayal she’s ever enacted in their years-long friendship. “I’ve seen you fence. You’re one of the most graceful people I’ve ever seen. Total control of your body.”
“Dancing is completely different!” Lena protests loudly. The walls are closing in around her, now - she’s outnumbered, and Sam looks quite interested in the whole idea in a way that makes Lena nauseous. “It requires rhythm, not reflexes. And performance.”
It’s Jess’ turn to wave Lena off, now. “That’s what the professional is for! They teach you.”
“I don’t really feel like having to fake chemistry with some random male dancer,” Lena says, looking to Sam with an expression that clearly says help me. “You both know how uncomfortable that would be for me.” Her voice rises in slight panic as she lays down her trump card. Her final bid at getting out of this ridiculous fool’s errand.
Sam, thank god, finally chimes in in her defense. “You know what, that’s a fair point. Who was the professional who won last year?”
“Mike Elis,” Jess says distractedly, tapping on her tablet again. “He was paired with that city councilwoman, something Rankin - hold on, let me look up the performance.”
If this entire conversation hadn’t already convinced Lena this was a bad idea, the video cements it. The dance is some ballroom type performance, and the male dancer – Mike, apparently – seems absolutely insufferable. He guides his partner well, and even with her limited interest in dance Lena can tell he’s talented, but he’s too touchy. Too forceful. Exactly the last type of person she’s ever want to spend weeks on a reality TV show with.
“He seems perfectly nice, but he’s so…straight. Hypermasculine,” Lena says with distaste. “Smarmy. I dated enough men like him before I came out, I’d rather not spend time with one again.”
On screen Mike takes a bow, kissing his partner soundly on the cheek, and Lena wrinkles her nose. His vibe is so horribly similar to the men her mother used to pressure her into dates with that Lena has to look away, looking instead to Sam who is watching the screen with more rapt attention.
“You can request a female partner!” Jess says, and Sam perks up with interest at exactly the same time as Lena’s stomach sinks to her toes. “And if you were the only female duo, you’d make an even bigger splash. Imagine the press!”
“Why are you so stuck on this?” Lena finally asks, her patience wearing thin with the stress of being tag-teamed. She adores and respects Jess, she really does, but it doesn’t make any sense how quickly she’s latched onto this harebrained scheme.
Jess’ response is frank. “Robert Herjavek’s stocks went up 7 percent after he was on the show, and he only came in 6th.”
It’s no secret that L-Corp could use the positive publicity. It’s still mired in her brother’s reputation, bogged down by a board who doesn’t want to listen to the changes she’s trying to implement. Half the reporting outlets are still calling it LuthorCorp, and almost every article comes with an addendum about exactly why the company is rebranding. It’s getting better in tiny increments, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be to improve their standing. Not fast enough for the shareholders.
But, god. The idea of being in front of all those cameras, dancing, with a stranger, all while being judged by a tally of national votes – it’s too stressful. And besides, she’d have to move to National City for however long she’s on the show, and poor Sam would have to take over and run the company in her place. It just isn’t a good fit.
About a week later, when her audition tape is being sent off to the production company, she’s seriously regretting the day she decided to hire Jess.
It all happens so fast.
Lena had hoped that bombing her audition tape would save her. But Sam had the audacity to both work hard at making her look good and graciously accept the possibility of picking up Lena’s slack while she films, and it’s only when her PR department informs her that she’s been accepted into the cast – and that her request for a female partner has been approved - that Lena starts to accept reality.
It’s a whirlwind after that. Contracts are signed, press announcements go out, and it all feels like she’s just offered a juicy steak to a pack of wolves. The headlines range from wondering if she’s doing it to cover some dirty L-Corp secret to predicting that she’ll be the most controversial contestant in history, and it doesn’t help that Lena refuses almost every interview opportunity she’s offered post-announcement. While the rest of the cast takes to social media and various outlets to talk about how excited they are, Lena remains stubbornly silent. She barely even looks at the list of names she’s given for her castmates – which means, unfortunately, that when the first wave of articles comes out and she sees Andrea Rojas’ headshot next to her own, it comes like a slap in the face.
She calls Sam up to her office the minute she hangs up the phone.
“Was anyone going to tell me that this godforsaken show also cast my ex-girlfriend?” Lena demands the second Sam crosses the threshold. “My very estranged ex-girlfriend?”
Jess, hearing Lena’s raised voice through the open door, hurries in as well.
“I assumed you would actually read the brief before the media got their claws in it,” Sam drawls, hands on her hips. “I thought Andrea would have been the first thing you noticed.”
“Andrea Rojas is your ex-girlfriend?” Jess says curiously, not at all rattled by Lena’s tone. “Is that why you won’t let me put her news channel on the TVs in the lobby? I always liked her as an anchor. She’s very no-nonsense.”
“She and Lena got up to plenty of nonsense,” Sam chuckles, throwing her hands up when Lena glares at her. “What? So you had a messy college breakup, who didn’t? It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“We haven’t spoken in years, and now this,” Lena says, pointing accusingly at Jess. “This show is a plague on my life already.”
“Does it help to know your partner is the hottest dancer on the cast?” Sam says, waving a sheet of paper enticingly in front of Lena’s face. Lena pauses, her frustration hitting a roadblock.
“What are you talking about?”
Sam straightens the paper, tapping at the name in question with a knowing grin.
“Kara Danvers?” Lena says, reading the unfamiliar name with a frown. Sam nods.
“Jess, if you could?”
Jess is already at it, bringing up a YouTube video almost as soon as Sam finishes the question and putting the tablet in front of Lena’s face. Lena rolls her eyes, watching the first few minutes of the video with intentional disinterest, but when the first performance wraps up with her future dance partner sweaty and panting during a backstage interview it doesn’t take long for her to take the tablet from Jess’ hands and click next video.
Sam was right, as much as it pains Lena to admit it. Kara Danvers is very pretty. It’s in a TV-appropriate, put-together sort of way, all blonde hair and heels and sequined dresses, but there’s something appealing about her energy. Onstage she’s mesmerising in the same way that most art is – but offstage, her charisma is more personal. Her smile makes Lena want to smile right back at the tablet screen. Bright and sunny, oozing enthusiasm.
She’s one of the lower-billed professionals on the show, according to the research Sam apparently did as soon as Lena was cast, but not for lack of talent. She’s a clear powerhouse with a flair for expressing emotion in her movement, but Lena can see the problem in each of the videos she continues to watch even when Jess and Sam leave her alone in the office. Her partners are terrible. A hulking sports player with two left feet one year, a wiry male figure skater almost a foot shorter than her the next, and last year the worst of them all; her partner had been a social media influencer who was prone to improv, and they had been eliminated in the very first week when he ignored part of the choreography.
Lena is pretty sure she can’t be worse than that, at least.
“Who else was cast?” Lena asks, half her attention still on the screen.
“There’s you and Andrea,” Jess lists, ticking each one off on a finger, “and Siobhan Smythe.”
“The singer?” Sam says, looking impressed. “She’s more famous than most people they manage to cast.”
“I’ve never heard of her,” Lena says. Jess shrugs.
“You don’t listen to anything recorded after 1998. I’ve seen your vinyl collection. There’s also Leslie Willis, that radio DJ, and Morgan Edge.”
“The real estate guy?” Sam scoffs, shaking her head. “Clearly a PR stunt.”
“You say that as if this isn’t a PR stunt,” Lena points out. Sam blows a raspberry at her, but doesn’t try to argue.
“Oliver Queen and Barry Allen,” Jess continues, rolling her eyes, “the yearly sports players. And Max Lord.”
“I hate that guy,” Sam says with a shudder. “I know he does environmentally friendly tech and everything, but he gives me the creeps.”
“I met him at a tech conference a few years ago,” Lena agrees, clicking mindlessly on the next video of Kara Danvers. “Your instincts are correct.”
The partnerships being announced triggers a tidal wave of media attention that even Lena can’t ignore. There was a both-male pair on the show a few years ago, but they were eliminated almost immediately; yet somehow, Lena being paired with a woman for the first time in the show’s history is making waves that supersede L-Corp’s bad press. The articles stop talking about how likely Lena is to fail but instead about how the show is apparently stopping homophobia one dance pairing at a time, and Lena knows that if she doesn’t at least provide a few vague quotes, the bad PR will make this whole stupid venture futile.
It's almost a relief when the time comes for Lena to fly across the country. At least once the season starts, the media is tightly controlled by the production company and Lena doesn’t have to worry about reporters camping outside her condo building anymore.
She doubts it’ll last for long, since she’s probably going to be sent packing the moment she steps foot on stage. But it’s a nice reprieve, however brief.
Lena’s mood takes a turn for the worse when she steps out of the airport to find that the cool September air of Metropolis does not translate to the West Coast. It’s hot, she’s overdressed, and there’s no air conditioning in the cab; by the time she gets to the hotel, she’s sweating and miserable.
If Lena had thought her schedule was hectic at L-Corp, she knows better after being sent the daily itinerary for the next few weeks.
“Rehearsal every day?” Lena rants to Sam once she’s settled in her room, spread out on the bed in her underwear. She’s going to have to get some new clothes, or she’ll probably melt on the way to the studio tomorrow. “And only a week to learn the routines? Why didn’t anyone tell me that?”
“I think most people assume everyone has seen the show at least once rather than just watching every Kara Danvers performance that exists on the internet,” Sam quips, and Lena can hear the shuffle of papers in the background. “Besides, you work every single day when you’re here. How is this different?”
“Because I can handle it at L-Corp. This is 7 days a week of dancing and interviews,” Lena groans, rolling over and burying her face in the too-soft hotel pillow. “Why did I agree to this?”
“To make America fall in love with you.”
Lena snorts, rolling back over. “No, that’s Jess’ pipe dream. I’m a realist.”
“Well then, realistically, you agreed because the positive press is already helping us. Stick it out for a little while, and then you can come home. No harm, no foul.”
“It’s done plenty of harm already,” Lena snipes, but she hangs up the phone feeling at least a little bit better. Sam is right – she likely won’t be here for long. She just has to wear the mask of an enthusiastic participant for a week or two, and then the ordeal will be over. She might even thank Jess, if their stock prices actually do go up.
Kara Danvers turns out to be a much bigger problem than expected.
For once, Lena means it in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Not only is Kara’s demeanour wildly different than she seems on stage, but she’s genuinely just big. She’s taller than Lena thought she would be, her shoulders wider, her hands bigger. She meets Lena at the door to their studio room not in designer activewear such as what Lena bought just for this occasion, but in joggers and high-top sneakers. Lena can see a brightly-coloured sports bra through the arm holes of her low-slung tank top.
“Lena! It’s so great to meet you!” Kara says the moment Lena walks into the studio, radiating genuine warmth as she shakes Lena’s suddenly sweaty hand. Her blonde hair is piled in a messy bun at the base of her neck, and her face is devoid enough of makeup that Lena can see the dusting of light freckles that covers her nose and cheeks. “I’m really excited to work together. We’re doing a Tango this week - before we start, do you need anything? Water, bathroom, a snack?”
Kara Danvers is not just the airy, bubbly woman she’s portrayed as on all the episodes Lena has seen. She’s a tall, slightly masculine, charismatic and very well-built bubbly woman, and Lena’s brain can’t quite seem to re-calibrate.
“Yes,” Lena says, blinking up into Kara’s friendly, excited face and trying to find her bearings among the three separate conversation starters she was thrown. It’s hard enough to concentrate when Kara plants her hands on her hips, showing off her arms like they shouldn’t be classified as deadly weapons. “I mean, no. I don’t – I don’t need anything. And it’s nice to meet you, as well. Tango?”
Kara grins, leading Lena to the wall-length mirror to introduce her to a short, delicate brown-skinned woman named Imra. Imra’s job is apparently to run through the choreography with Kara to show what the dance will look like until Lena feels like she has it down, and she nods at Lena, her smile nice enough but a little fixed. Her energy is what Lena was assuming Kara would be like, only to have her expectations turned upside down.
“Tango! It’s Argentinian,” Kara says, bouncing on the balls of her feet while Imra does some stretches. “Have you ever danced it before?”
“I haven’t danced since I was 9,” Lena says honestly. Kara’s eyebrows raise.
“Like…at all? Not even alone in your own house?”
Lena shrugs self-consciously, setting down her purse. “I’ve never been very good at it.”
That doesn’t seem to bother Kara, which is somewhat alarming considering the circumstances. Having your dance partner on a competitive dance show tell you they are not good at dancing should be a cause for worry for a normal person. But Kara just shrugs, giving Lena a charming lopsided grin and rubbing her hands together with something close to excitement. Like she’s accepted a challenge.
“Lucky for you, I love to teach!”
It's then that Lena notices she’s wearing a rainbow thumb ring, and her mind kicks into overdrive.
Lena has never seen a tango before. She knew it was some kind of South American ballroom dance, but not much else – and as soon as Kara and Imra start up the music, Lena regrets not doing more research. She’s not sure whether it’s the nature of the style or just Kara’s choreography, but the dance is sensual. It’s slower and more intimate in places than Lena expected, all hips and intertwined legs and dips that end in being pressed together from thigh to forehead, and it turns out that Kara is even better at leading than she is at following. She was always talented, in all the performances Lena watched; now, it’s infused with a casual confidence and powerful stage presence that she must have been repressing before so as not to overshadow her male partners.
As good as Imra is, Lena hardly spares a glance at her despite the fact that it’s Imra’s steps she’s supposed to be learning. Kara draws her eye. She’s so fluid and yet controlled, every hand placement and extension of her body perfectly executed, and she seems to understand exactly where Imra will be at any given moment so that she’s there to catch her. They look amazing together. Lena loses herself in just watching their first run-through, watching Kara’s muscles flex and the way they move together through the choreography and feeling almost like a voyeur.
It’s so engaging that she almost forgets, for three whole minutes, that she’s expected to replicate it in a week. Almost.
The music ends with a flourish that perfectly fits the final dip, and Kara pulls Imra back up to standing effortlessly as soon as it’s over. She turns to Lena, her breathing heavy and her face flush and alight with enthusiasm, and brandishes her arms in a ta-da! motion.
Lena is so screwed.
“What do you think?” Kara asks, while Imra leans against the mirror and checks her phone like she hasn’t just done a three-minute sprint. Lena, if she’s being honest, is torn between clapping for the performance and running outside to throw up at the expectation that she could ever be capable of doing what she just saw.
“You two looked amazing,” Lena says, going for the truth even if it isn’t the whole truth.
“You will too!” Kara says, with absolutely no proof. “Trust me. Here, take a seat and we’ll run through it again from the top so you can get used to the flow.”
Lena sits on the offered stool, tightly crosses her legs, and recites the periodic table in her head while Kara throws her tank top across the studio to dance in just her sports bra, her skin glistening in the florescent light. When Kara whirls Imra through the air in a series of low lifts Lena shifts slightly, pressing her thighs together.
Kara makes it look so easy.
“I know the lifts look intimidating, but I promise they’re easier than they seem,” Kara says when the music stops for the second time, jogging over to the speaker to queue up another run. “They’re about trust more than anything else.”
“Trust is easy when your partner is a waif,” Lena mutters, mostly to herself. Imra is a few inches shorter than Lena, more compact, less solid. Lena has always been pretty confident with her overall appearance, but physics are physics. Imra is just lighter, and as strong as Kara seems Lena isn’t entirely sure the lifts will execute the same way when the partners switch.
“Did you say something?” Kara says, frowning. Lena sighs.
“Imra is…petite,” Lena says haltingly. “I’m a little sturdier. We might need to scale the lifts back a bit.”
Kara seems to take that as a challenge. Her frown turns into a grin so confident that it’s almost convincing, and she leans against the table the speaker is on to level Lena with it.
“I can lift you, you know.”
“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Lena maintains. Kara’s eyes narrow – but instead of fighting any further, she holds up a single finger.
Striding over to the door, Kara opens it and disappears down the hallway.
“Where is she going?” Lena asks Imra. Imra just chuckles, taking a long drink of water and shaking her head as she swallows.
“Mike!” Kara’s disembodied voice shouts down the hall, carrying back into the studio, and Lena jumps a little at the volume. “Get in here, I need to borrow you!”
Kara appears in the door again a few moments later with a shirtless man in tow. He’s taller than Kara by a few inches, well-built, and Lena recognizes him from the press images as Mike Elis, last year’s winner. He looks confused, but gives a friendly wave to Imra and Lena.
“What’s up, Danvers?” he asks, giving her a boyish smile. It disappears as soon as Kara answers.
“Dirty Dancing lift.”
Mike groans, his shoulders sinking immediately.
“Aw, man,” he whines, throwing his hands up. “Come on, Kara, please don’t make me do this again. Not in front of my girlfriend.”
He looks to Imra for support, but Imra seems fully entertained by the whole business. She nods her head towards Kara who just gestures silently at him, opening up her stance, and Mike gives a long-suffering sigh before taking a few steps backwards.
“What the hell is she doing?” Lena whispers to Imra. Imra just holds a finger to her lips, and then points at the show being put on.
After a few seconds of hyping himself up, Mike runs straight at Kara and jumps into her arms. And Kara, against all reason, catches him smoothly and lifts him fully above her head.
“See?” Kara says, only a hint of strain in her voice as she turns a little so she can meet Lena’s eyes. Mike wobbles a bit, his face screwed up in concentration, but he stays aloft. “You don’t need to worry. I’ve got you.”
Lena is pretty sure there’s no force in the universe that could keep the image from embedding itself in her brain for the rest of time.
By some miracle, Lena manages to get through the first day without actually dancing. Instead she just watches Kara and Imra, asking Kara to break down each move for her slowly so she can memorize them. And to be fair, by the end of it she does have the dance memorized – she just knows she won’t be able to make her body do it. It’s going to be an absolute fiasco.
Imra packs up and leaves with a polite wave as soon as the rehearsal time ends. But Kara takes her time, humming to herself as she sweeps the space with a little broom and munches on a chocolate chip protein bar, and Lena hovers in the doorway for a few uncertain seconds before she steps back in.
“Is cleaning part of your job description?”
Kara jumps a little, whirling around and hurriedly swallowing her mouthful of protein so she can smile.
“Hey! I thought you’d left.”
“I’m not in a hurry,” Lena says, trying for nonchalance. “Does the show not provide cleaning staff?”
Kara nods, folding up the remains of the protein bar in its own wrapper and shoving it in her pocket, apparently uncaring of the danger of having melted chocolate in her pants. “They do, yeah. But Samson’s daughter has a recital tonight, and I thought I could make his job a little easier so he doesn’t risk being late.”
“Samson?” Lena asks, leaning against the doorjamb. Kara nods, emptying the dustbin into the trash and tying off the bag. She crosses the room in a few quick steps to set it near the door, and her sudden closeness makes Lena’s stomach do a strange sort of nervous pirouette.
“The janitor. We eat lunch together during the off-season, when everyone is here doing prep choreography.”
“Do you work year-round?” Lena asks. The image of Kara making friends with the janitor when her job is to rub elbows – literally and figuratively – with celebrities is disarmingly endearing. Kara nods.
“Most of it. We get a couple months off after the show airs, usually, and then come back in the summer to get ready for the season. So we aren’t all scrambling to choreograph 15 routines at once. Can you grab the lights?”
Lena switches them off, caught up in Kara’s routine, and follows Kara down the stairs. Their footsteps echo loudly in the stairwell, but Kara keeps talking over the noise.
“What did you think of the routine?”
“You and Imra look beautiful doing it,” Lena says honestly, averting her eyes from the back of Kara’s neck. There are wisps there that have escaped from her bun, and Lena can’t look at them without wanting to smooth her hand over them. “You’re a talented choreographer.”
“Creating the dance is the best part. And I’m really excited to lead, for once,” Kara says, taking the last three stairs in a jump and landing on both feet. Lena follows at a more moderate pace. “Getting thrown around gets old – I’m finding that I like doing the heavy lifting better.”
Once in the lobby, Kara opens a small door just to the left of the empty reception desk – a janitor’s closet, it looks like – and wheels out a brightly-coloured bicycle.
“You bike to work?” Lena asks, surprised yet again. Kara is so far the opposite of what Lena expected that she’s having trouble adapting herself to it, and it’s wavering Lena’s resolve to be the first person eliminated. Horrifyingly, she finds that the idea of spending more time with Kara is actually preferable to going home. She's like a puzzle Lena wants to solve. An experiment she hasn't quite mastered yet.
“When I can!” Kara says cheerfully. She walks the bike through the front doors, keeping pace with Lena all the way. “Traffic in this city sucks so much, it’s usually faster than driving.” Once they’ve both hit the sidewalk outside Kara slips on a pair of blue Ray-bans from her pocket, and points at the waiting town car.
Lena nods. Kara gives her a two-finger salute, putting a foot on the pedal.
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow, bright and early. Imra will be here in the morning to help you out, but in the afternoon I want us to be running through it together, okay?”
Kara’s gentle yet undeniably sure tone makes Lena’s knees a little weak. She watches Kara bike away until she turns a corner a few blocks away, and the moment she gets the partition up in the town car she’s dialing Sam’s number.
“How could you not tell me Kara Danvers is like that?” Lena says in lieu of a hello. Sam takes it in stride. Lena can hear keys clacking in the background, and as always she’s impressed with Sam’s multitasking skills.
Lena sighs, pressing her forehead to the cool glass of the car window. “Like that, Sam. Attractive.”
“I did tell you,” Sam retorts. “That is literally the first thing I told you about her.”
“I mean, that type of hot,” Lena clarifies.
Sam snorts loudly. “What the hell does that mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean,” Lena says, a little more calmly. As stupid as it seems, Kara being both attractive and charming feels like a trap. Like her mother is somehow reaching out from prison to tempt her into humiliating herself on national television, and Kara is the handsome bait. “You know. She’s – she – I mean, she danced in sweats and a sports bra all day. She lifted a man above her head. She wears a rainbow thumb ring.”
“I thought big lifts weren’t allowed on the show?” Sam says distractedly. The tapping continues.
“It was to prove to me she could support my – Sam, that’s not the point!” Lena says, her voice raising until she can see the driver turn his head a little even through the partition. “The point is –”
“You’re finally seeing her gay vibes,” Sam finishes, as if she’s been waiting all along for Lena to come to that conclusion.
Lena deflates, falling back against the seat with a weary sigh. “Does everyone see it but me?”
“Sometimes you need to actually meet a person,” Sam says fairly. “I clocked her from her first episode, though.”
As Sam has always had a spectacular knack for this kind of thing – she had known Lena was gay long before Lena had let herself accept it – Lena isn’t surprised that she picked it out from a few appearances on television.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” Lena groans. “I can’t work with someone I could potentially be attracted to.”
“Potentially? You’re talking as if you haven’t already picked out the colour of your shared strap-on.”
“Absolutely not, Sam,” Lena says firmly, sitting up straight as if better posture can somehow reinforce how serious she is. “She’s not my type.”
Sam, as always, blasts through Lena’s defenses with ease. “I don’t even know what your type is, besides ‘emotionally distant’.”
“That’s not – it’s more complicated – she’s just not!” Lena sputters, the car suddenly feeling very cramped. “She’s gorgeous, fine, but not for me. I’m not going there.”
“And it’s not at all because emotional investment in another human being terrifies you?”
Lena knows, now, that she’s getting Sam’s full attention. The typing has stopped, and Sam has thrown a metaphorical gauntlet on the floor between them – for years Sam has gently questioned Lena’s aversion to making so much as a new friendship, and lately it’s gotten less and less gentle.
“That’s a low blow,” Lena mutters. Sam sighs, and her tone afterward is much less accusatory.
“I’m not saying you have to get married, Lena,” Sam says, more mildly. “You don’t even have to sleep with her. You get to spend a couple weeks getting felt up by a hot girl. Consider it a reward for your pain and suffering. I know you tie yourself up in knots like a repressed Catholic over every passing attraction, but maybe this is your sign to just let yourself feel it, for once. Ignore expectations and pressures – just have fun with it.”
As brutal as it is, Lena can’t deny that it’s a completely truthful summation of her pattern. While Sam has always been comfortable with herself in that way, turning friends into friends with benefits and back again with hardly a second of guilt, Lena has always had trouble turning off the part of her brain with her mother’s voice in it. And ever since the unmitigated train wreck that was her relationship with Andrea, dating has been firmly off her list of priorities.
“I suppose it won’t be so bad to just look,” Lena reasons, and Sam sighs loudly on the other line. “We can be colleagues. Friendly colleagues. I just have a harmless work crush. Not even a crush, an…appreciation. A respectful appreciation.”
“Who are you trying to convince, exactly?” Sam drawls. “You’re talking to the queen of respectful appreciation.”
“You’re never respectful!” Lena points out, intensely grateful for the conversation turning away from her trust issues. She waves a thank-you to the driver when he pulls up at her hotel, stepping through the revolving doors much more confidently. “A week ago you told me my ass looked slappable.”
“It did look slappable, and that was completely respectful by the standards of our friendship. I stand by it.”
Lena hangs up feeling much better than she did before. But even a good best friend pep-talk can’t shake off the terror of knowing that tomorrow, Kara is going to see just how terrible a dancer she really is.
She tries not to think about why that thought seems so much worse than it did before they met.
The first few hours of their second rehearsal are, just as Lena knew they would be, an unmitigated disaster.
True to her word Kara has Lena doing the choreography right away, and even with Imra’s help Lena struggles from minute one. Despite having the choreography memorized objectively, having seen it so many times yesterday, she can’t seem to make her body move the way Kara is asking her to. No matter how many times Imra tries to direct her hips and get her to hit the beats, Lena is stiff. Lifeless. It’s like she turns to wood every time the music turns on, and no amount of reassurance from Kara is helping.
“One more time,” Kara says encouragingly after about six lackluster attempts at a combination of steps. She’s perched cross-legged on top of the table next to the speakers, barefoot but thankfully wearing a shirt today, and she re-starts the music with a flourish. “You’ll get it.”
“You have too much faith in me,” Lena says tightly. Imra huffs a little behind her in quiet frustration as Lena moves off-beat again, and Lena stops in her tracks to press her palms over her eyes before she blows a fuse.
The music stops.
“You’re not nearly as bad as you think, Lena,” Kara says into the sudden quiet, and her voice is so gentle that even in her distress Lena finds it comforting. Kara slides off the table, her basketball shorts bunching momentarily around her thighs, and Imra moves away to let the blonde take her place. Kara’s larger frame is visible around the edges of Lena’s, her face peeking around Lena’s shoulder.
“Are we looking in the same mirror?” Lena asks, trying to keep the edge out of her voice. Somehow Kara, perpetually sunny, just chuckles.
“Yes, we are. You’ve got the choreography down already, which is amazing,” Kara says, apparently determined to maintain eye contact in the mirror. “You know what to do and when, you have rhythm –”
“Debatable,” Lena interrupts.
“You do,” Kara insists, her hands landing on Lena’s hips. She squeezes gently, and Lena’s entire body seems to seize involuntarily. “You’re just so tense! You can’t dance when you’re tense, especially not the tango.”
Lena’s tenseness only gets worse with the unexpected physical touch, and Kara seems to sense it. Her hands move away, and paradoxically as soon as they do Lena wishes they hadn’t. She’d been surprised by it, but Kara’s strong grip felt nice, as brief as it was. Reassuring.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not been tense,” Lena admits. Kara smiles.
“That doesn’t surprise me. Let’s try again, okay? I’m right here.”
Lena doesn’t have the heart to tell her that having her near is actually worse.
Instead Lena tries. And she tries again. Each time Kara watches intently and gently redirects her, but without fail on the next run Lena finds somewhere else to screw up. Finally, when she rolls her ankle after catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror trying to move in unison with Imra and sees just how awkward she looks in comparison, she snaps.
“Son of a bitch,” Lena hisses, pushing Kara away when the blonde tries to catch her. Her chest is starting to tighten with the telltale pressure of an anxiety attack; it’s hard to breathe, and she’s shaking too much to keep herself fully upright. Instead she leans back against the mirrored wall, pressing her hands to the cool glass and slides down until she’s on the floor.
“Imra, can you take off for the day?” Kara says quietly, switching off the music. Lena closes her eyes, taking deep breaths through her nose, and by the time she opens them again Imra is gone and Kara is beside her in an awkward half-squat that would be hell on the legs of anyone besides her thighs-of-steel partner. She looks deeply concerned, but unsure what to do.
“I can’t do this,” Lena chokes, pressing her now-cooled hands to her face. “I can’t. I’m – god, I’m awful, and my failure is going to be televised nationally. I look ridiculous.”
Her voice cracks on the last word, and it takes serious effort not to let a sob escape. She’s has never broken down like this before in front of someone she knows so little - Jess briefly saw her cry a time or two after she took over L-Corp, and Sam once or twice in college, but losing control like this in front of Kara is a special brand of humiliating.
Kara, though, doesn’t look at her with pity. She doesn’t look disappointed, or even worried. She just looks understanding, and with an easy nod, she calms half of Lena’s anxiety.
“Okay,” Kara says easily, pressing her back to the mirror and sliding down in the same way that Lena did until they’re on the floor together, shoulder to shoulder. “Then we don’t do it.”
Lena frowns, finally moving her hands away to look at Kara directly after furiously wiping at her eyes.
“What, just like that?”
“I’m not going to force you, Lena,” Kara says, as if that was somehow a given. “If you don’t feel comfortable, we’ll just forfeit. People drop out all the time with scheduling conflicts. It’s okay.”
“And you’d just be okay with that?” Lena says, surprised when Kara shrugs.
“To be clear, I think you can absolutely do this,” Kara says, her increasingly familiar confidence unwavering. “But I’m on a contract with the show. They pay me no matter what – we just get a bonus if we make top 3, and a raise if we win. And I’ve never done either, so it’s not like I’d be out money or anything. They might even have time to find a replacement, although I’m sure they wouldn’t be nearly as fun.”
Kara ends with a wink. She thankfully breaks off the slightly-too-intense eye contact after, letting Lena reel in peace – marvelling, for probably the first time in her life, at being given a genuine choice. She can’t remember the last time she made a decision where she didn’t feel like she was being held at gunpoint. Kara is just…accepting her no.
She feels inspired, suddenly.
“I want to try again.”
Kara turns back to her, brow furrowed. “Lena, I was telling the truth. You don’t have to.”
But Lena stands, her legs feeling a little stronger now. She holds out a hand, and Kara uses it to pull herself up – Lena almost stumbles, surprised with how heavy Kara is, but she manages to stay upright. “No, I – I want to. I really do.”
Kara regards her with narrowed eyes. She folds her arms, tapping her fingers on her forearm a few times, until she seems satisfied that Lena is telling the truth.
“We try for today. Okay?” Kara finally says, her voice so firm that it makes Lena feel more sure in her decision. “And if you still hate it, we stop.”
Lena nods silently.
With that, Kara’s firm demeanour evaporates. She claps her hands together, rubbing them and looking around with a thoughtful expression. Rather than call Imra back she steps to the windows on the opposite wall, closing the blinds, and dims the lights.
“Are you comfortable taking your sweater off?” Kara asks as she fiddles with the switches, trying to find the perfect light level. Lena plucks at the baggy fabric, thinking of the tank top she’s wearing underneath.
“Why do you ask?”
“Maneuverability,” Kara says vaguely. She seems to find the level she’s looking for, the lights dim and intimate but just enough to see their movements in the mirror, and turns back to Lena. “Again, only if you’re comfortable. But it’s a lot easier for me to keep my grip on you when I can actually feel your body.”
The phrase feel your body said in Kara’s voice rattles around in Lena’s head like a pinball machine, but she manages to shrug the sweater off and throw it somewhere behind them before she can second-guess herself. Kara herself is in a loose white t-shirt, and when she takes Lena by the waist and puts Lena’s hand on her shoulder the texture of it is light and soft.
“Let’s start from square one,” Kara says, so kindly that her next words take a few seconds to register in Lena’s brain. She tightens her grip on Lena’s waist, and says with full confidence:
“Dancing is a lot like sex.”
Lena, unsure for a moment if she’s heard correctly, blinks up at Kara’s smiling face. She’s pretty sure she just hallucinated Kara talking about sex, and the blush that fires up across Lena’s face is completely involuntary.
“Okay, I know that’s a weird statement,” Kara says, laughing, “but it’s true! It’s a two-person thing. A give and take. It doesn’t work if one person spends the whole time thinking they’re doing it wrong.”
She says it pointedly, her eyebrows raising, and heat creeps further across Lena’s cheeks. With her sweater off, she’s sure Kara can see how it covers not only her face but most of her neck, hot and embarrassing.
“I am doing it wrong,” Lena retorts, averting her eyes down to their joined hands. Kara seems to have moved closer since they’ve been talking, and every place where they’re touching feels more alive somehow. Warm and tingly.
“You just haven’t been taught properly. Some people need a gentler introduction,” Kara says, low and close. A tingle climbs from the base of Lena’s spine all the way up her back, ending in an unconscious shiver. “A slow climb.”
“I don’t really care how long I last on this show,” Lena says, cursing how breathy her voice sounds. It’s just an unconscious reaction to physical closeness with another person, she’s sure. She hasn’t had this level of intimacy, platonic or not, in a long time. “All I want is to not make a fool of myself.”
“That’s fine,” Kara replies, and someone up above must be looking kindly down on Lena right now because she takes a half-step back, letting Lena breathe a little. “But I care about you not feeling awful about yourself while you’re on stage. Can I try something?”
Lena nods, and lets herself be pulled tight against Kara’s front again after Kara hits the music. But instead of starting the complicated steps of their dance Kara just moves her hands down to Lena’s hips, pushing gently side to side until Lena starts to move them.
“Step one is finding the rhythm,” Kara explains, guiding Lena to the beat. “You have it in you, I know you do, you just need to let it take over you.”
“I’m not good at letting anything take over me,” Lena says stiffly. Kara laughs to herself, clearly feeling that exact phenomenon in the heavy resistance Lena is putting up to her guidance. She moves behind Lena instead, pressing fully against Lena’s back and getting a firmer grip on her hips – she guides Lena not just with her hands now but with her own body, and it has the unfortunate consequence of leading to Kara murmuring her next piece of advice directly in Lena’s ear.
“This is a good time to learn how to surrender.”
If there’s one thing Lena has always prided herself on, it’s her composure. She remained composed and controlled on the witness stand at her own brother’s trial; she kept the mask up when she deposed half of L-Corp’s board, and at every press conference and speech full of protestors and threats of violence since. She’s been called an uptight bitch, an ice queen, a control freak; and no matter how much Sam and Jess suggest it, she has staunchly refused to see anyone to help with the resulting muscle tension.
Ten murmured words from Kara Danvers, and all of that disappears.
“I think part of what you’re struggling with is that you’re seeing the steps and the music as too separate,” Kara continues, as if she hasn’t just shifted Lena’s entire perspective on movement. Lena’s hips seem to have taken on a mind of their own and stopped their struggle, perfectly content to be guided in figure-eights, and Kara’s hands spread wide like she’s trying to fit as much of Lena’s body underneath them as she can.
Lena has to clear her throat before she can answer.
“They depend on each other, actually,” Kara explains, kindly not mentioning how raspy Lena’s voice suddenly is. “If you really feel the music, understand how it persuades the body to move, everything gets a lot easier. You’re doing great, by the way.”
Lena can’t help it. It’s not often that she gets any kind of validation, and Kara’s easy praise seems to settle something in her. She leans fully back, her head tipping back onto Kara’s shoulder, and she can feel Kara’s breath on her skin – it’s heavier than it has been at any point so far, hot against the side of Lena’s neck, and it’s almost jarring when Kara suddenly steps back. Lena’s back feels cold without her there; she turns to see Kara fiddling with her ponytail, her face red with what must be exertion.
“How do you propose I feel the music?” Lena asks, pressing a hand to her chest.
“Um,” Kara says, sounding surprisingly flustered. She walks in a quick circle, looking lost, before she strides over to restart the music. “Right. Yes, okay, we’ll…uh, come over here and step on my feet.”
“Step on your feet?” Lena says, letting out an unintentional scoff. “Like a child?”
Kara nods absently, pulling the neckline of her shirt to wipe her face. It leaves a sliver of her stomach showing at the bottom, the hint of a boxer-brief peeking over the waistband of her shorts, and Lena almost closes her eyes.
“Like, get into the starting position, and then put your feet on top of mine so yours don’t touch the floor,” Kara explains, mercifully dropping the shirt to lace herself into a pair of sneakers. Once affixed she comes back over to where Lena is standing and opens her arms up in invitation, but Lena stays put.
“Won’t that just mean you can’t move?” Lena asks, but Kara laughs a little, her confident grin coming back like the sun peeking through clouds.
“Don’t worry about that. Just take your shoes off.”
Tentatively Lena steps forward, toeing out of her flats and placing her socked feet on top of Kara’s shoes. Kara wraps an arm around her waist to stabilize her, somehow holding all of her weight even with her other hand occupied holding Lena’s aloft, and once she’s secured Kara does a little wiggle that moves Lena’s body too.
Rather than relax her, the movement only makes Lena more tense. She clings even tighter, her grip on Kara’s hand turning death-like, and breathes slowly through her nose. “I don’t really know how to do that.”
“Start with your shoulders,” Kara says, her firm hand on Lena’s lower back never wavering. “Feel the tension there, the tightness, and take a deep breath. As you’re letting it out, let your muscles out with it. Feel them release. Trust that I’m here to keep you upright.”
“Trust isn’t my strong suit,” Lena quips. Kara smiles, her thumb rubbing a comforting little pattern on Lena’s back over her shirt.
“Just try it.”
Against her better judgement, Lena does. She breathes, and she trusts Kara, and little by little the tension seeps out of her body until she’s feeling more boneless and calm than she has in recent memory. She’s almost limp in Kara’s arms, and when the song loops and starts again Kara starts to move.
At first Kara doesn’t move her feet much, just swaying and shuffling to the beat with Lena held against her in a loose and basic interpretation of their choreography. It’s soothing, strangely, with Lena’s cheek pressed to Kara’s chest listening to her even heartbeat in one ear and the music in the other, and it only takes a few steps for Lena to understand what Kara is trying to show her.
“Feel how I experience this song,” Kara murmurs, doing a basic twirl and four steps holding Lena’s weight without losing her rhythm. “Listen to the music, and pay attention to my movements.”
“You’re moving on different parts of the beat than I thought,” Lena answers, closing her eyes. She can feel the shifting of Kara’s muscles this way, can detect how much hidden work goes into each step, and Kara hums in agreement.
“Every movement starts long before anyone sees it with their eyes. Do you feel it?”
“I think I’m getting there.”
It feels good to be held like this, Lena can’t lie to herself. She’s never really known anyone with this kind of physical strength who she would ever allow to touch her. It’s almost like a meditation, hearing the undertones in the music that she hadn’t paid attention to before and memorizing how Kara interprets them in her body. Kara is warm and solid and smells like an unfamiliar but fascinating mixture of fruity shampoo and men’s deodorant, and after a while she’s so attuned to Kara that she can hear the uptick in her heartbeat just before she speaks again.
“I looked you up, you know. When I got you as my partner.”
Lena’s stomach drops. She stumbles, her feet slipping off of Kara’s, and Kara manages to catch her just before she falls on her ass.
“Woah! Careful. You good?”
“I’m fine,” Lena says, waving off Kara’s concern. She shakes out her hands, shifting from foot to foot and feeling suddenly self-conscious about the last few minutes. “I just wasn’t expecting to be Googled.”
“What, you didn’t Google me as soon as the pairings were announced?” Kara says, setting her hands on her hips with a cocky, knowing expression. Lena glares at her.
“What did you find about me, exactly?” Lena says, artfully shifting the subject. They’re not dancing close anymore, and somehow not being pressed against Kara makes her feel more vulnerable than she did before. Having the details of her life available for anyone to peruse through news articles is one of the worst parts of taking over L-Corp, and having Kara privy to that information is even worse than the general public.
What did she find? My psychopathic brother? The news articles calling me a heartless shrew?
“I found videos of your fencing championships.”
If Lena had been asked to make a list of the most likely things for Kara to say, that would have been dead last.
“I didn’t mean to be creepy,” Kara says immediately, holding her hands up in surrender. “We’re encouraged to learn about our partners so we can gauge what they can do. And I’ve seen the way you move. You’re insanely graceful.”
“Fencing is completely different,” Lena argues, crossing her arms. Kara mirrors her posture.
“It really isn’t. It’s all about being aware of your body, having control of your movements down to the minute details,” Kara says, entirely too reasonably. “Reflexes and instincts. You have all of that! All you need is to direct it to something different. You need to find the emotion in your body, and let it out.”
“I don’t have emotions in my body,” Lena grumbles, already feeling herself relent to Kara’s logic. “Or rhythm.”
“You move like water, Lena,” Kara says, with such soft, genuine admiration that it takes a sledgehammer to Lena’s resolve. She can feel it crumbling with every moment spent here, with every compliment paid with no ulterior motive. “It’s beautiful. Truly. I think you can do this. All you need is a little guidance and some confidence.”
Kara holds out a hand.
It’s a gentle invitation. A request for Lena to make a choice – commit fully, or walk away. Kara’s face betrays nothing, and Lena drums her fingers on her arms, gnawing at her lip before she remembers what Sam always tells her about skin damage. Her crossed arms are a wall, a defensive barrier against Kara’s relentless optimism, and when she finally unfolds them and reaches out a hesitant hand that optimism shines through again in Kara’s smile.
As soon as their hands touch Kara spins her confidently one, two, three times and ends it in their starting position, right hand raised and joined with Lena’s and her left on Lena’s waist.
“Tango is all in the hips and legs,” Kara says without skipping a beat, her breath warm on Lena’s face. It smells like cinnamon gum, spicy and sweet. “It’s partly about precision, getting your footwork right, but it’s also about being fluid. Sexy. We need to show everyone how hot we are, through movement.”
“Speak for yourself,” Lena scoffs, adjusting her feet to the position Kara showed her earlier. When she manages to sort it out without help, Kara beams.
“Hey! You’re like, the hottest person I’ve ever met. You just need to tap into that on stage.”
Lena has never been more grateful to jump back into the routine right away, purely so that her second vicious blush of the day can more easily be blamed on exertion.
Kara never ends up bringing Imra back. She spends the rest of the morning working on Lena’s hip movement until Lena can manage it without guidance. Every time Kara spins or dips her without breaking a sweat, Lena feels it in her whole body; they manage to get a solid third of the routine without major stumbles, at least, but in that time Lena also gets to experience the uncomfortable and unrelenting force of Kara’s vocal approval of her progress.
Lena is still reeling from it when they leave for the day; and almost as soon as they lock up the studio room the simmering heat of the afternoon turns to ice in Lena’s veins.
Lena had hoped, perhaps naïvely, that she might be able to get through this experience without actually having to speak to Andrea. They parted on the worst possible terms almost 10 years ago, and it was shortly afterwards that Lena made a promise to herself not to let people close enough to hurt her that badly. It’s bad enough accidentally flipping past her news channel sometimes – seeing her here, 10 years older but in the flesh and looking elegant in spotlessly clean and sweat-free workout clothes, is much worse.
“Andrea,” Lena says, her voice far more confident than she feels as she turns slowly towards the stairwell where Andrea is descending. “I heard you were cast, as well. Congratulations.”
Andrea smiles, taking the last few stairs and coming close enough that Lena thinks for a moment that she might actually try to hug her. She stops before she gets in arm’s reach, thankfully, but the threat remains. “What are the chances, right?”
“Right,” Lena says stiffly.
A terrible silence descends on the hallway, and Andrea’s partner – James Olsen, Lena remembers from the media release – seems hesitant on whether he should leave without her. He hovers near the stairs going down, sharing a confused look with Kara.
“It’s really good to see you,” Andrea says, her hands twisting together in a familiar way. “You look great.”
Lena knows that she in fact looks like she’s been working out all day, and she quirks a brow. Andrea always was a good liar. It’s the reason they broke up, after all.
Andrea takes a step forward. “You know, I’d love to catch up. Maybe we could grab coffee after rehearsal?”
Involuntarily, Lena tenses. Andrea seems to notice – she stops in her tracks, rather than coming any closer – but so does Kara, coming in close behind Lena and putting a gentle hand on her lower back. Rather than make her feel claustrophobic it actually makes Lena feel better to have Kara near, backing her up even though she has no idea what the situation is, and with a renewed strength Lena shrugs.
“Things are a little chaotic right now, with the show and everything. Maybe another time?”
Andrea looks disappointed, but she nods and takes her leave – but not without a long, appraising look at Kara. Once she’s out of earshot Kara lets out a long, low whistle, stepping back and giving Lena space again.
“Old friend?” Kara asks quietly, once Andrea’s footsteps have disappeared. Lena sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose.
“Ah,” Kara says, nodding. She looks in the direction Andrea disappeared in, her brow furrowing. “That’s…intimidating.”
“Oh, I just imagine she…I mean, she seemed a little territorial,” Kara stammers, her voice suddenly erratic. She seems uncharacteristically thrown off by the question, and Lena can’t imagine why. “It would probably be intimidating to be your – you know what, nothing. I don’t know why I said that. I take it things didn’t end well?”
Kara heads for the stairs, rubbing at the back of her flushed neck. Lena follows.
“That’s an understatement,” Lena admits. “Things ended…explosively.”
“Oof,” Kara winces. She takes the stairs two at a time again but waits for Lena at each landing, leaning against the railing while Lena takes them at her usual pace. “It must be hard to see her, then. At least I’m friends with all my exes. Work would really suck if I wasn’t.”
“Work?” Lena says, pausing on the last stair. “Have you dated people on the show?”
“James and I dated long before we were ever hired together,” Kara says, ticking off one finger. “But we didn’t end up having much chemistry, so it ended pretty amicably. And then there was Mike,” she continues, holding up a second, “right at the beginning. That was a huge mistake. He’s much better as a friend.”
Kara pauses to dig her bike out of the janitor’s closet, and Lena descends the last stair with a sinking heart. She doesn’t want to assume anything, of course, but Kara has listed only men. It’s not like Lena has any intention – let alone any chance – of ever dating Kara, but somehow the idea of her not being interested in women at all is a devastating one.
“And more recently I dated Lucy,” Kara continues once she’s emerged from the closet with her bike over her shoulder, to Lena’s great and confusing relief. “But she ended up being really into James. We tried the poly thing for a while, but it wasn’t really for me. They’re super happy together now, though, so it worked out.”
Professional relationship, Lena tells herself as Kara buckles her adorable tie-dye bike helmet. Strictly professional.
“Does the whole cast inter-date like that?” Lena asks, trying to keep the obvious interest out of her voice. Kara chuckles.
“Pretty much. Except Kelly, she’s married to my sister Alex.”
Kara pushes the front door open with the wheel of her bike, holding it for Lena and walking her to her waiting town car just like yesterday.
“Is Alex a dancer?” Lena asks, wanting childishly to extend the conversation even when it’s at its natural end. Even when she’s going to spend all day every day with Kara for an unspecific amount of time. Kara, at least, seems willing to humor her – she shakes her head, swinging a leg over her bike.
“She’s the stage manager. You’ll meet her once we start dress rehearsals. See you tomorrow?”
“Bright and early,” Lena chimes, before Kara can get to it. Kara laughs. It’s infectious, that laugh, full-bodied and loud, and Lena feels almost as accomplished for bringing it out as she did when she took over L-Corp.
“Bright and early. Try to wear something with a little more texture tomorrow, if you can – spandex is hard to keep a grip on during the lifts.”
With an enthusiastic wave Kara takes off into the sunset, leaving Lena standing next to her town car wrestling with the word lifts. Tomorrow, Kara will be lifting her bodily into the air.
The second Lena crosses the threshold of her room, she leaves her sticky clothes on the floor and steps directly into an ice-cold shower.
Ding dong, the bitch is back (the bitch being my inspiration)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By the time the camera crew rolls in to film their rehearsal a few days before the live show, Lena at least feels like she can stumble through the dance in small increments.
It’s not good by any stretch of the imagination – she still stumbles on the dismount of every lift, her limbs seeming to lose all control of themselves after Kara has whirled her through the air, and though she’s finally (mostly) on rhythm she still feels like her movements are much stiffer than they should be. She doesn’t have Kara’s flow, her effortless movement. But it’s passable, and Kara helpfully reminds her that the crew only needs snippets at a time to cut together with their interviews anyways.
“They won’t be able to manufacture any drama if we don’t give them anything,” Kara says quietly, sitting next to Lena on the window ledge away from the crew before they get mic’d. “Just keep a smile on, and focus on me. Pretend they aren’t here.”
Kara punctuates it with an encouraging grin, bumping her shoulder playfully against Lena’s until her mood breaks a little.
“Easy enough for you to say. This is your job,” Lena retorts, shoving Kara’s shoulder right back, but she can’t help the smile that Kara brings out in her. It’s an infectious sort of thing, spreading out from the blonde like ripples. Kara’s energy lights up the whole room.
“Come on, the cameras love you,” Kara says easily. She slides off the ledge and offers a hand to help Lena as well - Lena’s feet only dangle a few inches off the ground, so she doesn’t need it, but it’s a sweet gesture anyways. “Remember the other day at the studio?”
Two days ago Lena had spent the morning filming her 10-second intro snippet, which she’s told will play at the beginning of every episode she’s on the show. The snippets are highly staged and choreographed, little tidbits meant to introduce the audience to who each of them are and what they’re famous for, and Lena’s had thankfully been light enough on the dancing aspect that she could fumble through it. Just her behind a desk full of bits of machinery and paperwork – meant to symbolize L-Corp, she’s sure, but mostly looking like a set from a cheap 80s sci-fi movie – until Kara bursts in, pulls her out of her chair, and spins her exuberantly out the door.
It had been utterly absurd, and if today is going to be anything like it Lena would rather hide in the bathroom.
“I felt ridiculous,” Lena mutters. Kara makes a face.
“You have nothing to feel ridiculous over. You’re like, 360 degrees of good angles.”
It isn’t the first casual compliment Kara has given her, but Lena still isn’t quite used to the way it makes her feel. She also never knows exactly how to respond, so thus far she’s defaulted to deflection. She might be blushing as she does it, but Kara never says anything about it.
“360 degrees only covers two dimensions,” Lena says matter-of-factly, crossing her arms over the swooping sensation in her belly. “Unless we get into solid angles. But I doubt that non-Euclidian geometry has much to do with television.”
Kara blinks silently at her for a second, still holding her hand out even though Lena has let go.
“You just know that? Off the top of your head?” Kara asks, genuine wonder in her voice. She’s looking at Lena like she just spoke another language, and Lena shrugs.
“I’d do physics all day if it meant I never had to do a smooth weight change again.”
Kara laughs at that, finally moving her arm and instead throwing it over Lena’s shoulder as they head over to the interviewers. She gives Lena a brief squeeze, whispering her next comment in Lena’s ear so the crew doesn’t hear it.
“Let’s get the torture over with, then.”
Distracted as she is by the tickle of Kara’s breath, warm and cinnamon-sweet, Lena hardly notices that although they can’t possibly pick up what was said without mics, the cameras are trained on them for the whole conversation.
The filming doesn’t go nearly as badly as it could have, all things considered. Kara manages to make Lena look like a much better dancer than she is, spinning things to look like every stumble and mistake is her own fault instead of Lena’s, and bit by bit Lena loosens up enough to give an interview that she thinks is at least moderately personable.
When the camera crew has finally packed up and left the rehearsal space it’s just after lunch, and Kara insists on taking a long break to get celebratory ice cream. She leads Lena to a hole-in-the-wall place near the beach about ten minutes from their studio, and once she’s gallantly paid for both of their scoops – a cup of mango sorbet for Lena, and three scoops of peanut butter chocolate for Kara – she finds them a shady bench to relax on.
“Two more days,” Kara says when they’re settled, somehow managing to work her way efficiently around the base of her massive cone without dripping all over her hands. Lena gets the idea she does this often. “And a half, if you count this afternoon. How are you feeling about it?”
“I’m not sure,” Lena admits, taking a much more moderate spoonful. “Petrified, obviously. But I don’t feel as hopeless as I did a few days ago.”
“You did great in the interview. You’ve made incredible progress, honestly,” Kara says, her praise coming out effortlessly. As if it doesn’t give Lena a kind of validation she’s never experienced before. She just keeps on eating her ice cream, having no idea that Lena has never gotten compliments so easy and genuine in her life. “Like, light-speed. I kind of can’t wait to show everyone what we can do. I’ve never really had a partner that I clicked with before.”
“You didn’t get along with any of your other partners?” Lena is fishing, she knows it, but knowing it doesn’t mean she can stop herself.
“I got along with them fine,” Kara clarifies, pausing to add an addendum. “Except Cisco last year, he was annoying. Spent every rehearsal updating his Instagram stories.”
Lena snorts, and Kara continues talking, unaware or uncaring that her ice cream is starting to melt. “Everyone else was fine. But that’s the problem – they were just fine. Fine doesn’t win this show.”
Kara trails off, distracted by a line of melted chocolate slowly making its way down her fingers, and with no warning she leans forward to lick it from her own wrist with no regard for how it might make Lena feel.
There’s no reason Lena should be made breathless by someone making a mess of their food, but apparently Kara bucks all expectations.
Friendly colleagues, Lena reminds herself, but her inner voice is much quieter than it should be. Respectful appreciation.
Lena crosses her legs carefully. There’s a few mouthfuls of sorbet left in her cup, but she’s suddenly far from hungry for sweets. “Okay, so what does win this show?”
Kara just flashes a slightly chocolatey smile, her ice cream finally reduced down to the cone.
The sensation in Lena’s stomach certainly feels alarmingly close to that. Lena smothers the sparks with another bite of sorbet, and spends the walk back to the studio thinking about anything but.
The rest of the afternoon is spent not rehearsing the basic steps like they’ve been doing previously, but getting Lena comfortable with a whole other part of dance she hadn’t considered before - the flourishes. The moments where it’s important that Lena do more than just the prescribed moves. The most important part of the routine according to Kara isn’t the lifts, isn’t the twirls or the lightning-fast foot movements, but the details.
One such detail is near the beginning, where the song starts to crest into the real beating heart of the routine – the choreography has them pressed together, Kara holding Lena’s bent leg up around her waist, and until now they’ve been doing the simplest possible iteration of it. The song has a few beats of silence, then comes back in with an intense drum kick where they roll their bodies together before springing apart into separate spins.
So far, they’ve been doing it with a respectable distance between them. A solid, comfortable few inches that Lena is perfectly happy with. But today when Lena kicks her leg up, Kara doesn’t just catch it – she pulls Lena close, pressing their bodies flush and holding Lena fast. Their faces are less than an inch apart, Kara’s pelvis pressed tight between Lena’s slightly spread thighs, and all the breath gets sucked out of Lena’s lungs.
“This is what it should look like on stage,” Kara says, her face entirely too close to Lena’s. Lena’s world narrows to her soft, confident voice, and Kara’s next words don’t carry the impact that they rightfully should. “This dance is all about passion. Even if it isn’t true, the audience needs to believe that we want each other.”
Lena has no reply to that. Her mind is caught in limbo, something struggling beneath the surface that she has to put all her mental energy into wrestling back down to the depths of her mind, and Kara continues through her silence.
“That’s half of dancing, really,” Kara says, still holding Lena’s leg aloft. Her pupils look bigger and darker than usual. “Emotion. Using your body to make people feel something.”
Lena’s heart hammers in her chest.
She doesn’t protest. She doesn’t complain. She just nods, swallowing hard and flexing her hands where they’re bunched into the front of Kara’s shirt.
“Putting on a show?” Lena says, and it comes out in a whisper. Her voice is lower than usual, she can hear it, and Kara nods a little absently.
“Yeah,” Kara whispers back. Her blue eyes go a little glossy for a second, drifting downwards, but they flick back up so quickly that Lena almost thinks she imagined it. They’re wide and alert, now, and she drops Lena’s leg unceremoniously.
“Yeah!” Kara says again, much more loudly this time. Too loudly – it makes Lena flinch, and Kara clears her throat, lowering it back to a more normal tone. “Putting on a show. Yes, exactly. From the top?”
Lena follows her back to the starting position, but even the music Kara re-starts isn’t enough to drown out the singular thought that won’t leave her.
Lena hardly sleeps the night before the live show.
It doesn’t matter how much encouragement or assurances Kara has given her in the last two days. The thought of showcasing her horrifying lack of dancing talent in front of both a live audience and a hundred cameras makes her stomach turn to liquid, and she tosses and turns for hours before finally getting up and pacing the room until her alarm goes off.
The towncar that picks her up from the hotel an hour later drives her not to their familiar rehearsal space, but to a massive filming lot on the other side of town. She spends the ride biting at the skin around her nails, not bothering to curb the nervous habit in her stress, and it’s a small blessing when Kara is waiting for her with a to-go cup of herbal tea almost as soon as she arrives.
“Excited?” Kara asks when Lena falls into step with her, letting the blonde lead her to the sound stage while she takes small sips of tea and tries to settle her stomach. She’s wearing loose jeans and a hoodie, looking comfortable and entirely too good for Lena’s sleep-addled brain to compute. “Your first taping!”
“Terrified,” Lena replies shortly. Kara takes it in stride, giving Lena’s hand a quick squeeze.
“Wait until you get on stage. Adrenaline will take over – you won’t have time to be scared.”
Lena seriously doubts that, but she doesn’t have the time or energy to argue. An important part of the day’s process is apparently a cast meeting, and she’d rather not talk about exactly how much she’s panicking when everyone else is within earshot.
Once everyone has gathered, the low-level chitchat dies down only when a serious-looking woman holding a clipboard steps up onto a chair to address the crowd. She’s short in comparison to the crowd of dancers but well-built, her short auburn hair held down by a large headset and mic.
“Listen up,” the woman says, her voice clear and businesslike. “For our new cast members this season, my name is Alex Danvers and I’m going to be your stage manager. On filming day, all things go through me. Understand?”
“Our fearless leader, everyone!” James calls in his booming voice, and while Lena assumes at first that it’s a sarcastic jab, it becomes clear pretty quickly that it’s completely genuine. The other dancers erupt in a loud round of applause, some of them cheering or whooping, and Lena is startled when Kara lets out a loud whistle with her fingers next to her. Kara’s grin is affectionate, and Lena’s sleep-deprived brain finally catches up to understand that the woman on the chair is probably the sister she’s mentioned a few times.
“All right, okay, calm down,” Alex calls over the din, but she’s clearly resisting a smile. It’s obvious that despite her brusque manner Alex is well-loved by the cast and crew; and on top of that, Lena is inclined to like her simply for her relation to Kara. “You can cheer after you get your schedules.”
Alex goes over the basics of the night’s itinerary, handing out a schedule and stage directions to everyone present and reiterating that knowing it is the only thing that will let the show run smoothly.
“We’re only going to run through it from top to bottom once, so it is imperative that you look over it on your own before 6pm,” Alex says, with an almost military efficiency. “You’ll have time over your lunch break, and after hair and makeup. This show is filmed live, and I cannot stress enough how important it is that we all know our parts to play.”
Kara catches Lena’s gaze as Alex strides by, rolling her eyes good-naturedly at her sister. The whole thing sounds rather life or death, and it’s a woman that Lena hasn’t met yet who pipes up to tease her about it. She has warm brown skin and striking eyes, and Alex softens the moment she speaks.
“But we should all make sure we have a great time too, right sweetie?” the woman – probably the Kelly that Kara mentioned earlier in the week, Lena assumes by the pet name – says pointedly. “The audience picks up on that.”
Alex blushes, her hand going to her wedding ring. No matter how hard an exterior she wants to put on, it’s clear that all of it comes secondary to her wife.
“Right. Obviously,” Alex says, laughing a little self-deprecatingly at herself. “Yes. Uh, fun. Make sure you have…fun.”
Kelly gives Alex a kiss on the cheek as she passes, filing out towards the stage with everyone else, and it takes Alex a second to pull herself back together. It’s sweet, the way she absently rubs her face where Kelly kissed it with a little smile. Kara ribs her for it, making a whip-cracking sound, and Alex punches in the arm her before she answers an urgent-sounding call on her headset and goes into business mode again.
After a quick tour of the backstage areas, everyone is shuttled off to final wardrobe fittings in pairs. They’d taken her measurements earlier in the week and Lena has already seen mock-ups of what her costume was going to look like – a red and black dress with a frilly hem that isn’t as revealing as she expected, but certainly a little shorter and tighter than she’s used to – but what she hadn’t been shown was Kara’s fit.
She’d assumed, naively, that Kara would be wearing a dress too. She has no idea why she hadn’t considered otherwise; maybe because she’s only ever seen Kara perform in one, in all the YouTube research she’d done before she flew to National City. Kara in comfy sweats and sports bras in the rehearsal studio is one thing, but surely it would be different on the big stage.
When Kara emerges from her own fitting in tight black pants, a buttoned shirt, and red suspenders, her feet not consigned to heels like Lena’s but instead looking comfortable and stylish in shiny black dress shoes, Lena almost turns her ankle.
“Woah! Careful,” Kara says, catching Lena’s elbow and helping her upright. Her hair is in its usual ponytail right now, but Lena wonders in a detached sort of way how it’s going to be styled later. For purely aesthetic reasons, of course. “It’d suck to have put in all that work just to get an injury backstage.”
“Right,” Lena says, quietly letting Kara kneel down to stretch the ankle out and make sure it isn’t sprained. There’s something terribly intimate about it, Kara’s head bowed and her hands gentle as she lifts Lena’s foot like she’s Prince Charming about to slide on a perfect glass slipper, and Lena wobbles a little on her narrow heels until Kara finally deems her unhurt.
They zip through the choreography quickly on stage after the fitting, running a rushed and lift-free version of their dance purely so the lighting operators know the patterns to follow to make sure they’re always in the spotlight, and the unfamiliarity of the format makes Lena misstep more than she’d like. She wishes everyone else wasn’t milling around them, watching her fuck up continually - but Kara gives her murmured instructions as they go, reminding Lena of what the next move is in a low voice nobody else can hear, and it helps.
It's all so fast and intensive that Lena doesn’t really have time to be stressed out; it's only when she’s separated from Kara in a different hair and makeup trailer that she has a free moment to really panic.
It doesn’t help that of the three other people sharing her makeup trailer, one of them is Andrea.
“I can’t wait to have this trailer to myself when you all go home,” Siobhan Smythe says as soon as they’re all seated, the confidence practically coming off her in waves. Neither of the other two seem bothered by her attitude, but it makes Lena’s stomach twist. Clearly everyone else is much more self-assured with their upcoming performances, and Lena is the odd one out.
Leslie Willis, the fourth member of their unfortunate little grouping, snorts.
“With that squirrely little twig you’re paired with? Sure, princess.”
Winn Schott is Siobhan’s partner, Lena recalls, and she has to admit that Leslie is right. He’s one of the smallest dancers, and while she’s sure he’s quite talented he doesn’t exactly exude a strong stage presence.
Siobhan’s face twitches, and her makeup artist sighs quietly when it makes her eyeliner uneven. “As if yours is any better?”
Leslie shrugs. “Yeah, Mike is an idiot. He’s a hottie, but there’s nothing going on in that pretty little head.”
“Does there need to be?” Andrea asks, sounding amused. Leslie fires back immediately.
“If he’s the one making up the stupid choreography, there sort of does.”
“Winn is pliable,” Siobhan says, tossing her hair a little to the obvious annoyance of her hairdresser, “but he is a little boring. It’d be nice to have someone with a bit of spirit.”
“James has too much spirit,” Andrea chips in, dutifully tilting her head so that someone can put her hair up in a big clip. “You should have heard him at rehearsal the other day, waxing poetic about moral philosophy. He’s gorgeous, but a little holier-than-thou for my tastes.”
All three heads turn to Lena, then, and the weight of their sudden expectation feels choking.
“Well?” Siobhan says, gesturing for Lena to speak up. “How’s your pro?”
Lena unclenches her jaw, and in the most disaffected tone she can muster she offers a neutral response.
“Kara is a good partner. And a great dancer.”
Leslie scoffs loudly. It startles Lena internally, but if there’s one thing she knows how to do after a childhood of living in the Luthor household, it’s hide her fear. So she straightens her back, and puts on her best Luthor mask.
“As if we care about that,” Leslie says with a careless hand-wave. “She’s also hot. What’s it like having her throw you around?”
“I suppose she’s…objectively attractive,” Lena says tightly. This is the last conversation she wants to be having with probably the last three people she wants to be having it with, but she has to suffer through it to come out on the other side. “And I’ve never felt unsafe during a lift.”
Siobhan rolls her eyes.
“If you’re not going to cut yourself a slice, at least hand her off to someone who will.”
“Kara isn’t a cake,” Lena says, much more hotly. To her left, Leslie snickers.
“I think she’s got more cake than all three of our partners combined.”
Everyone but Lena titters a little at that, mostly smothered laughs or noises of agreement, but Lena frowns. The comment feels mean-spirited, but the reaction makes her feel like it was a compliment, and she doesn’t feel comfortable joining in.
“Her ass,” Leslie clarifies condescendingly, obviously seeing Lena’s confusion. “She has a nice ass, Luthor. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. Aren’t you the one making the big ol’ sapphic statement, here?”
“I’m just capable of being a professional,” Lena fires back, but it only seems to stoke Leslie’s fire. Lena should have known – she’s hear Leslie’s radio show before, and the woman seems to get off on argument. Lena has played right into her hands.
“A prude, you mean,” Leslie says, but this time she’s cut off by the last person Lena expected.
“Shut up, Leslie,” Andrea says shortly, and Lena can’t help her knee-jerk instinct when it comes to her ex.
“I can speak for myself, thank you,” Lena says coolly, ignoring the stab of guilt at the way Andrea stiffens. She shouldn’t feel guilty – Andrea should feel guilty, for trying to step in and play hero after everything she put Lena through. After throwing their entire relationship in the trash just to get an internship and ride her intimate access to Lena’s personal life all the way to a career in the newsroom. “And for that high-school insult, it’s really not necessary.”
Andrea’s lips purse, but she doesn’t argue. It’s Leslie that answers, letting out a low, amused whistle.
“Oooh, the claws come out. I smell some history. How long ago did you two fuck?”
Lena is spared the indignity of replying by Alex poking her head in the door, tapping her watch and then her clipboard and sending the makeup crew into a whirlwind. The trailer lapses into blessed quiet, and they’re all shepherded back to the studio before any more arguments can erupt.
The whole discussion is unsettling, but it does do one positive thing – no matter how confident the other women are in their routines, after hearing about the lackluster connections they have with their dance partners Lena leaves with confidence in one thing. If she had to go through this experience with anyone but Kara, she’d have dropped out days ago and sparked a flood of bad press.
The nausea starts almost as soon as she steps outside of the hair and makeup trailer. There’s a brief pause when she first sees Kara in her full show look, her hair down in loose golden waves that contrast beautifully with her black outfit, but after sound check and one full top to bottom run-through the theatre starts to fill up with audience members, and the only thing that keeps Lena from sprinting to the bathroom to vomit is the fact that Kara grabs her clammy hand and doesn’t let it go.
“That’s Brainy over there, he’s the host,” Kara points out in an attempt to distract her, pulling Lena to a secluded corner away from the backstage chaos. With only a few minutes left until broadcast time things are moving at light-speed, and Kara clearly senses that Lena is getting a little overwhelmed. The person she points to is a compact, handsome man with well-coiffed black hair that falls almost to his shoulders, wearing a neat suit and a bright green tie.
“He looks a bit intense,” Lena says, looking him over. He’s talking to Alex at the moment, probably going over logistics, and his expression is deeply serious.
“Only until you talk to him a few times. He’s great – you should see him with his girlfriend, they’re adorable. Have you met Nia?”
Lena shakes her head, swallowing down her nausea. The talking is actually a welcome distraction, and Kara keeps it up.
“She’s one of the other dancers – Barry Allen’s partner, this year. We’ll have to get a drink with them at some point. Oh, and over there,” Kara points to the left, where a small well-dressed blonde woman is being attended to by three different hair stylists as she checks her phone, “that’s Cat Grant, one of the judges.”
“I do know Cat Grant,” Lena says, straightening her back a little. She’s never met Cat personally, but there isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t know the Queen of All Media. “I’ve never seen her as a judge though. Is she harsh?”
“Sometimes,” Kara admits, with a wince. “She tends to be brutally honest. William is the nice one, and Jonn is usually in the middle. He’s really focused on technique.”
“Who are they?” Lena asks, lulled by Kara’s voice. Kara points again, this time at the backstage lounge area where a tall, stocky Black man with a kind-looking face is reading a book with a ballerina on the cover.
“That’s Jonn. He’s sort of a legend – he worked for the National Ballet for 20 years. He’s a bit of a stickler for form, but he’s a good guy.”
“And William?” Lena says, stepping closer and leaning against Kara a little when someone rushes past with a lightbulb the size of Lena’s head. “You said he was the nice one.”
“William Dey. He’s only started judging in the last few seasons, but he’s done the choreography for pretty much every headlining pop tour in the last 5 years,” Kara explains, peering around but not finding William in the crowd. “He’s young, but he knows his stuff. He must be up in the judge’s booth already, he likes talking to the crowd.”
“It’s nice to know the names of the people who will be tearing me to shreds,” Lena mutters. Kara puts an arm around her shoulders, giving her a gentle squeeze, but before she can offer any platitudes Alex’s voice cuts through the noise in an amplified shout.
“Five minutes to showtime! Cast, I need you in your places!”
Lena has never been more grateful for Kara. Lena’s higher functions seem to shut down once that announcement is made, and Kara is the one who guides her to their place in the back-middle of the stage and makes sure she puts one foot in front of the other. The lights are so bright that Lena can’t see any faces in the crowd, but the low-level noise is enough for her to know they’re there en masse, just waiting to watch her make a fool of herself.
Lena’s grip on Kara’s hand turns vise-like, and Lena is sure that it must hurt her fingers but the blonde never complains. She keeps holding on while the lights brighten and focus on them, while Brainy emerges to stand at the side of the stage, and while Alex counts down silently from 10.
The moment the live broadcast starts, the crowd erupts into a wall of noise. Part of the rhythm of the night is that a group of paid dancers does a small number at the front to entertain the live crowd while small introductory snippets play for each cast member on a huge jumbotron, and Lena actually watches them with some interest – she’s curious to know if they’re all quite as ridiculous as hers. As it turns out, some of them are worse, and it makes her feel a little better.
She’s sure that his mic is picking up everything he’s saying for the TV audience, but from where they’re standing it’s almost difficult to hear Brainy talking over the cacophonous cheers.
“Good evening, and welcome to the season premiere of Dancing with the Stars!” Brainy booms, in a voice far louder and more colourful than Lena was expecting. His face remains mostly in the same stoic expression, but his voice is wonderfully expressive. The crowd screams louder, and Brainy starts a slow stroll across the stage that Lena remembers from the run-through. “Join me in a huge welcome to our three judges – Cat Grant, Jonn Jones, and William Dey!”
The crowd continues to cheer to the point where Lena knows her ears will be ringing for the rest of the night as the judges stand, acknowledging the crowd and Brainy before sitting again. After that it’s right into the thick of it, and Brainy swings an arm around to present the first couple up – Oliver Queen and the professional paired with him, a short but athletic blonde woman Lena hasn’t met named Sara Lance, dancing the Foxtrot.
As their rehearsal video starts on the jumbotron, the activity on the stage is like clockwork. Everyone files off to stand stageside and a quick, quiet group of crew members sets out all the necessary props for their number, and by the time the video finishes up Sara and Oliver are in the starting position waiting for the music to queue.
The more couples that take the stage, the less confident Lena feels. Even some of the couples who get middling or slightly negative reviews seem to know their stuff far more than she does, and as the fifth couple takes the stage – Kelly and Maxwell Lord, doing a surprisingly spirited Jazz routine – Lena tries to go over the choreography in her head. She tries to remember what the music sounds like, tries to run through the moves that she’s done 100 times in the last week, but her brain seems to skid to a halt after the first few steps.
“Come on,” Kara says in Lena’s ear as Kelly and Max’s routine ends and the pair heads over to stand in front of the judges with Brainy, “We’re up next.”
“I can’t remember the steps,” Lena says in a low, frantic voice, dragging her feet the whole way backstage in her near-panic. “Kara, I can’t do it. I can’t remember the steps!”
“I know it feels that way, but I promise that muscle memory will kick in as soon as you’re on stage,” Kara says, straightening her suspenders and then taking Lena’s hand again. Lena can hear the crowd cheering, and then quieting as the next judge starts their critique.
“There’s no way you can possibly know that,” Lena snaps desperately, knowing that Kara doesn’t deserve her temper but knowing without a doubt that she’s walking into a disaster. Kara squeezes her hand again.
“I do,” Kara says encouragingly, but when Lena very visibly has not calmed down she steps into Lena’s space and takes her firmly by the shoulders so she can’t brush her off.
“I’ve watched your progress this week,” Kara says, low and close and radiating an earnestness that Lena can’t help but absorb. “You’ve grown more in a week than some people do in an entire season. As someone who has been dancing for most of my life, I have complete confidence in you. You can do this.”
Long before Lena is ready Alex appears in her periphery, waving to get their attention and pointing furiously to where they’re supposed to be standing, and Kara pulls her there as their rehearsal video starts on the stage just beyond.
The angle is slightly awkward from where they’re standing, but Lena can see herself and Kara on the jumbotron acting out a fake first-meeting as the crew directed them to do. Lena is thankful that their real first meeting wasn’t filmed – she’d rather not see her actual real-life reaction to seeing Kara for the first time on a giant screen. Seeing herself in these awkward structured scenarios is humiliating enough.
The screen switches to a rehearsal clip of Kara trying to lift Lena up in a spin that ends with them both on the floor, and Lena can see that Kara’s strategy worked after all – while Lena knows that the lift failed because she panicked and went stiff at the apex of it, Kara kicked her leg out when she noticed Lena stiffen up. The result is Kara lying on her back, laughing about her own clumsiness, to the generic background music while a voice-over by the interviewer starts.
“What’s your biggest challenge?” the interviewer asks, and Kara’s voice answers.
“Getting Lena to relax! She has an incredibly high-stress job, and she deserves to chill out and have fun,” Kara says, and the screen shows her in a one-on-one interview as she continues. “We’re working on loosening up her movements. But as for our partnership, I have zero complaints. Lena is awesome.”
Even Lena’s panic isn’t all-encompassing enough to stop the calming warmth of Kara’s praise. It’s one thing to have it directed at her in private, but now she’s being sweet on a national platform and making Lena look likeable by association; maybe, Lena thinks distantly, Jess’ plan isn’t so crazy after all.
“I’m used to sitting at a desk all day,” Lena hears her own voice saying, and she looks back up at the screen to see herself talking to the camera. She’s in her rehearsal clothes, all the designer pieces and makeup she usually uses as armour totally gone, and it almost doesn’t feel like herself at all. “This kind of movement isn’t exactly familiar to me.”
Kara pops into frame behind her, shouting at the camera.
“She’s doing great, though!”
“She’s being far too nice,” Interview-Lena drawls, and real-Lena is happy to see that she managed to seem confident in the moment rather than absolutely fucking terrified. Kara pops in again, in the same spot.
“No, I’m not!”
The crowd laughs at Kara’s shenanigans, and Lena glances around at the sea of faces. She wasn’t exactly expecting the editing team to keep this sort of thing in – she assumed they would focus more on the dancing, rather than the goofing off that Lena would classify more as outtakes. But the scene continues.
“Is this my interview or yours?” Lena fires back on-screen, twisting around to face Kara with her arms crossed. Kara appears in frame one final time, grinning.
“Both! We’re a team!”
The whole exchange makes Lena look far much better than she thought she would. On the stage the crew is finishing up switching over the setpieces and props, and Alex ushers them both out of the wings as Lena’s voice plays over a montage of consecutively better lifts.
“What’s the best-case scenario for week 1?” the interviewer asks, and Lena hears herself chuckle self-deprecatingly as real-life Kara pulls her close in their starting position.
“That I don’t fall on my face?”
The crowd laughs at that, too, to Lena’s surprise. Overall the video seems to have gotten a positive reception, and they get a round of applause just as loud as every other couple when it ends. Nobody is booing, nobody is throwing vegetables at the stage, and just before the music starts Kara leans close to speak low in her ear.
“They already love you.”
When the music starts, everything else fades away.
Kara had told her when they started out that once the dance began the adrenaline would carry her through it, and Lena hadn’t believed her. But now, with the song pulsing in her ears and Kara’s solid arms guiding her through the first steps, she finds that it’s absolutely true. She almost doesn’t have to think about the choreography she was so convinced she had forgotten – the little foot tricks she’s screwed up a hundred times happen as if someone else is piloting her body, and her apprehension about needing to put on a show dissapates.
Her dress whirls around her legs, her hair and Kara’s fan into contrasting black and blonde curtains every time they twirl together, and Lena can’t deny it. This is exhilarating.
She knows she could be performing better than she is. Whenever she and Kara are touching Lena forgets to be nervous, caught up in the music and the way Kara guides her body, but whenever she’s left on her own to perform while Kara plays to the crowd she turns to wood. Like she’s some kind of warped dancing Pinocchio and Kara’s hands hold the magic that keeps her animated.
But even so, she also knows that she’s doing much better than she thought she would. When the key moment comes and she and Kara are pressed together, their faces an inch apart and her leg held aloft by Kara’s strong grip, for at least a moment Lena feels it; she feels what Kara is always talking about when she talks about dance. The spark, the buzzing energy between them that makes a series of random body movements into art. Kara’s eyes are bright and alive, excited to be showing their routine to the world, and Lena can’t help but feel the bleeding effect of her passion.
The cameras and the audience might as well not be there at all. Her whole world narrows to Kara and the music, to the surety of Kara’s hands whirling her around the stage and the notes that seem to sing in her chest like they never did in rehearsal; so when they finish in a dramatic dip, Kara’s face pressed into the crook of Lena’s neck and her arms secure around her waist, the cheers that bleed back into Lena’s consciousness are deafening.
Kara pulls her back to standing a few seconds after the music ends, and immediately wraps Lena in a crushing bear-hug.
“You did it,” Kara is saying in her ear, half-laughing in wild delight. “You freaking did it, Lena!”
Lena’s feet leave the ground for a moment as Kara lifts her into the hug, and it feels a bit like flying.
“Well that was certainly steamy!” William says as soon as Kara sets Lena down again and leads her over to the judging panel, his gestures wide and enthusiastic as he turns towards the audience. “Right? How do we feel about that?”
The response is a wave of sound. William nods, clapping along with the crowd.
“What a way to start off a partnership! A wonderful effort from both of you,” William says kindly, and the crowd dies down enough to let him talk. “Lena, I could really see you coming out of your comfort zone there. It made for some rough patches while you figured yourself out, but an absolutely beautiful finish. And Kara, that choreography! I could feel the passion.”
“Now, there were some technical problems,” Jonn says in a deep, fatherly voice, and William cedes the microphone to his colleague. “Your footwork was impressive, but you could have been tighter in your spins, and I could tell you had some trouble keeping up in your solo moments. It definitely could have been smoother overall.”
It was when she was left on her own that Lena remembered the crowd and cameras, so she can’t exactly argue that they were the worst parts of the routine. But Jonn is still smiling, and he ends with a positive.
“But for a first effort…very well done.”
The crowd cheers to end Jonn’s critique, and Kara squeezes Lena again, laying her cheek on the top of Lena’s head. And then Cat Grant leans forward, and the crowd quiets to let her speak.
“There is something more important to dance than technique,” Cat says, imperious and enigmatic. “More important than steps or tempo or posture. Do you know what it is?”
She leaves a moment of silence after the question, the crowd and Kara hanging on her every word. It’s impressive, the way Cat conducts the crowd as if she’s the one who choreographed this entire night, and everyone else is simply a puppet. When she speaks again it’s quiet, but powerful.
That simple statement gets the biggest applause yet. William and Jonn clap along with the crowd, nodding their agreement, and Cat doesn’t join in but she seems quiet pleased with herself for crafting such a dramatic moment.
“Chemistry is the ingredient you simply can’t manufacture,” Cat continues, her voice authoritative and pointed as she looks down at Lena and Kara from her judging throne. “And you two have it in spades. So congratulations – despite any technical flaws, you made us feel it. Use that to your advantage, and you could be a powerhouse pairing in this competition.”
Lena might have collapsed from pure relief if Kara wasn’t holding her up. Even coming out in the middle of the pack is far better than anything she expected, and Brainy turns to them with the microphone.
“How are we feeling about that critique?” he says, offering them the mic. Kara is the one who leans forward, thankfully – Lena isn’t sure she’d be capable of basic speech right now – and addresses the judges.
“I want to sing Lena’s praises for a second,” Kara says, her smile wide and her arm secure around Lena’s shoulder. “She worked so hard this week, and it definitely paid off. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to bring the number to life.”
Like she’s been possessed, Lena feels herself opening her mouth against every previous instinct.
“No,” Lena says, wrapping her arm around Kara’s waist and tucking herself securely against her body, as if Kara can shield her from the embarrassment of speaking in public. “No, it was all Kara. Kara is the only reason I didn’t quit on day 1. She’s been amazing.”
The dazzling smile Kara points at her makes the whole thing worth it, in the end.
“All the better for us!” Brainy says, in that showman’s way of his. “For our viewers at home, don’t forget to send in your votes for Lena and Kara before the end of the show. The number is on your screen.” He turns to address the camera directly, now, and starts to stride across the stage again. “And after this break, stick around to see their scores from the judges, and then enjoy a rousing Charleston with Leslie Willis and our own Mike Elis!”
The cameras go to commercial, and the stage becomes a flurry of activity again. Lena gets shepherded backstage with Kara to get their sweaty makeup touched up, and Mike and Leslie bustle past them in the opposite direction – they aren’t even looking at each other while they warm up, Mike jumping up and down on the balls of his feet and Leslie haughtily cracking various joints.
“That was good, right? Those didn’t seem like bad critiques,” Lena says when they’re both seated, and her makeup artist sighs and holds her jaw still while she applies lipstick to keep Lena from continually looking over at Kara. Kara laughs.
“Those were great critiques for our first time out!” Kara says, her joy infectious. “I mean, chemistry? From Cat? That’s a comment I’ve never gotten. That’s the kind of thing that can take you right to the end of a show like this.”
The high of Kara’s exhilaration carries Lena through the rest of the show.
The strip of space between the stage and the first row of audience is reserved for the pairs who have finished their performance, and Lena files down there with Kara to await their scores when the show comes back from commercial. They’re projected onto the big screen - 8 from Cat, 7 from Jonn, and 7 from William for a 22 total. When the cameras close in on them to get their reactions, Lena looks to Kara – the numbers seem decent, but she hasn’t been paying enough attention to anyone else’s scores to know if they’re good enough.
Kara grins, wide and genuine, and pulls Lena into a tight side-hug. She leans down to Lena’s ear in the process, murmuring something away from the microphones just for the two of them.
“That’s already higher than three other pairs. We’re made in the shade,” Kara whispers, to which Lena giggles (giggles! She hasn’t giggled since she was a teenager. Camera nerves are turning her into a monster) and presses her forehead, briefly, to Kara’s shoulder.
The rest of the taping flies by. She has to admit (grudgingly) that Siobhan does quite well, followed by a surprisingly good Quickstep number by Barry Allen and Kara’s aforementioned friend Nia. Morgan Edge is mediocre, even Lena can see that, but his dead weight is pulled by his charismatic partner Lucy Lane. Kara’s ex-girlfriend, Lena remembers with a slight twinge. Andrea and James come out pretty clearly on top, Andrea of course executing the choreography to perfection, although Cat mostly notes that they need to connect with each other more – they don’t meet eyes even once during the entire number. Lena can’t imagine dancing with Kara without eye contact. It would be like trying to do it with her ankles tied together.
Once again, Lena is grateful for whatever proverbial dice roll landed her with Kara.
When the votes have been tallied, all the couples line up across the stage in the final moments to hear the announcement of the bottom 3. Even with their good scores, Lena knows, they could still go home based on audience votes – the percentage system used to decide the bottom pair is complicated, and Kara explained earlier in the week that it sometimes causes huge surprise eliminations – so when the three lowest scoring couples are announced and she and Kara aren’t included, Lena couldn’t care less who actually ends up going home. She just goes backstage with everyone else, and collapses on the closest piece of furniture as 2 hours worth of adrenaline leaves her all at once.
“What a night,” Kara exclaims, dropping right to the floor next to Lena’s chair and letting everyone else walk around her. “Filming days always take it right out of me.”
“I regularly pull all-nighters at L-Corp and this is still the most exhausted I’ve ever been,” Lena drawls, leaning against the back of the chair and letting her head drop. Her shoulders are slowly releasing their tension, and she only turns her head when Kara’s pops up in her peripheral vision.
“Usually we all go out to celebrate not getting cut,” Kara says, heaving herself back up to her feet. “There’s a club nearby that gives the cast half-off drinks. It always helps me unwind. You up for it?”
Lena winces. “I’m not sure I can handle a large social gathering right now.”
“What about just you and me?” Kara suggests, offering a much more tempting alternative. “I can take you somewhere small. Just a couple drinks, to celebrate neither of us making idiots of ourselves. Maybe some appetizers. I think we deserve a celebratory basket of deep-fried pickles.”
Lena chuckles, letting Kara pull her out of her chair. “I don’t think I’ve ever had deep-fried pickles. It sounds horrifying.”
“What?” Kara exclaims, looking at Lena like she’s just admitted a cardinal sin. “Okay, you have to come out with me. You need this life experience.”
It’s then that Lena discovers how truly difficult it is to say no to Kara Danvers. One minute she’s claiming she’s exhausted and the next they’ve changed back into their street clothes and Kara has her in a cab heading to one of her favourite restaurants downtown, and Lena isn’t entirely sure what happened in between.
The place Kara takes her to isn’t what Lena expected. It’s less a restaurant and more a dive bar, with heavily graffiti’d walls and a small stage with a live musician playing a song Lena doesn’t recognize, but the staff seem to recognize Kara instantly. They tuck into a tiny booth near the back, and Kara sets to ordering them half the appetizers on the menu and two glasses of Guinness.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you as a Guinness girl,” Kara comments when the waitress leaves, pulling her hoodie off and slinging an arm over the back of the seat. Her hair is still in its soft waves from the show, and paired with the black tank top she’s now left in the effect is casually devastating. “More like expensive wine and single-malt.”
Only slightly offended by Kara nailing her preferences so easily, Lena raises a brow.
“They didn’t have any adequate Burgundies. I had to make do.”
Kara laughs, kicking her feet out under the table and crossing them at the ankle. They rest right next to Lena’s, and almost unconsciously Lena shifts so that their calves brush.
“They have some good liquor I think,” Kara says, glancing over at the bar. “Maybe not to your standards, but I’m sure some of it is okay.”
“Why are you so shocked that I actually like Guinness?” Lena drawls, leaning forward and bracing her elbows on the table. It’s scattered with doodles and inscriptions in a rainbow of permanent marker colours, and she traces over a set of initials with a fingernail. “I am Irish, you know.”
Kara tilts her head, her brow furrowing. “Are you really?”
“Did you not find that in your intensive Google search?”
“I wouldn’t call it intensive,” Kara says, her cheeks turning a bit pink. “But no, I didn’t. You have a tiny bit of an accent, but I just guessed you had an English parent or something. Or were doing that whole Transatlantic affectation thing.”
“I feel like I should be offended by every part of that,” Lena says drily. Kara nods, feigning seriousness.
“My lack of knowledge about accents is offensive, I wouldn’t blame you.”
“I suppose it isn’t public knowledge,” Lena admits, leaning back as the waitress sets down their drinks and hurries away after a quick wink at Kara. “I haven’t been back there since before I was adopted.”
The moment her glass hits the table Lena grabs it and takes a healthy gulp. It settles warm and substantial in her belly, and it makes sharing a small but intimate detail about her life with someone other than Sam go down a lot smoother.
Kara, of course, is instantly curious. She sits forward, her attention squarely on Lena. “You were adopted?”
Lena nods, staring resolutely at the descending bubbles in her glass. “When I was four. The product of adultery loses her mother and has to go live with the absent father and the step-mother who hates her for looking like her husband’s mistress, tale as old as time.”
Kara’s eyebrows raise, and she takes a sip of her own drink, wiping at her foam moustache. “Can’t say I’ve heard that one before.”
Lena shrugs, taking another long swig. She’s downed half the glass in only a few minutes, but she feels like more alcohol will be needed if she’s going to keep spilling her life story.
“Lex was the only one who treated me like family, and look how that turned out.”
They’ve spent almost every waking moment together for a week, but it’s the first time the subject of Lena’s family has been broached between them and Lena can’t help but be terrified that it’s going to rip a gulf that can’t be fixed. The only people who stuck by her through the circus of trials and media were Jess and Sam; even Jack, one of her oldest friends, drifted away from her when she stopped working at his start-up to take over L-Corp instead.
Her family did horrendous things, and while so far Kara has treated her just like anyone else who doesn’t have a family name associated with mass destruction Lena knows from experience that that can change in an instant.
But as always, Kara surprises. She puts a soft hand over Lena’s, her expression sympathetic.
“Did you know I was adopted, too?” Kara says, her voice so soft that Lena can hardly hear it over the music. Lena shakes her head.
“Well, I was. Alex is my adoptive sister,” Kara says carefully. “I was 12 when my parents passed away. I always wanted to put them on a pedestal, you know? They were scientists, and I always thought they were saving the world. Turns out they were involved in some…pretty shady stuff.”
Kara’s grip tightens a little, and Lena lets go of her glass to put her cool hand on top of Kara’s. It’s like a strange, comforting hand-sandwich, and Kara smiles a little.
“I didn’t find out until I was in my 20s. My cousin Clark is a journalist and he did some digging on his own parents, and in the process…” Kara trails off, her smile fading. “He wasn’t sure whether he should tell me, but I’m glad he did. I’d rather know. But I still have all these great memories of them, and I still love them, even knowing all the things they did. The bad things.”
“You do?” Lena asks, her voice cracking on the second word. Kara nods, and there’s something deeply comforting about her surety.
“I do. I can’t help it. I have to hold both things in my mind at once. And it’s hard, but it isn’t wrong to do that. To try and reconcile a person you loved with who they turned out to be.”
Lena swallows hard, willing herself not to cry in public. If she managed to get through Lex’s trials and the public haranguing she went through in the media afterwards, she can get through one intense conversation. “Nobody has ever put it that way.”
It’s an incredibly profound thing to say in the cramped and sticky booth of a dive bar to the tune of an acoustic Billy Talent cover song, but Kara has never once followed Lena’s expectations.
“I won’t ever judge you for your family, Lena,” Kara says, low and earnest. “I don’t care what your brother or your stepmom did - I care about who you are. And it turns out you’re pretty great.”
Thankfully, the food arrives before Lena can start sobbing into her cocktail napkin. Kara moves away, her hands leaving Lena’s and instead setting to re-arranging their 8 baskets of food and dipping sauces, and Lena has a moment to collect herself.
“Anyways, enough heavy stuff,” Kara says, her smile sunny again. It’s a little more tempered, now, but she seems ready to put the subject to rest and Lena is happy to play along. “I’m about to show you the magic of fried mac and cheese balls, and I need you in the best possible frame of mind to experience it.”
Lena ends up putting away 5 beers and a truly shocking amount of the food, and the night passes into the early hours without Lena noticing it passing. Her exhaustion from earlier bothers her less and less with every minute she spends with Kara, sharing laughter and listening to the blonde's endless stories about the difficulty of working with entitled celebrities, and it’s only after last call when the staff starts shooing the straggling customers out that Kara lends a tipsy Lena her sweater and they head back out to the street, leaning heavily on each other.
Neither of them sees the single paparazzi across the street, snapping a few opportunistic photos as they hail a cab together.
Kara is a perfect gentleman. She insists that the cab drop Lena off first despite the hotel being further away than Kara’s address, and when they arrive and Kara sees how wobbly Lena is getting out of the car she offers to help Lena get back to her room. But at Lena’s insistence the cab finally pulls away, and as soon as she’s stepped out of the elevator Lena fumbles her phone out of her pocket and calls Sam.
It picks up on the fifth ring, and Sam’s groggy voice accompanies her down the hall to her door.
“The fuck, Lena? It’s 4:30 in the morning.”
Lena winces, holding the phone against her ear with her shoulder as she fishes for her keycard. “I forgot about the time change.”
“Even with the time change, it’s still way past your bedtime,” Sam grumbles, but she doesn’t hang up. Lena, finally finding the card in her back pocket, manages to slip it into the lock after only 3 very wobbly tries.
“I went out with Kara,” Lena mumbles, and Sam immediately sounds more alert.
“On a date?”
“No!” Lena says hurriedly, throwing her bag and keycard onto the dresser and flopping backwards onto the fluffy bed. “No, of course not. Just as friends. Colleagues. To a bar.”
“That explains why you’re slurring your words,” Sam quips. Lena tries to sit up again, but when the ceiling starts to spin she settles back down.
“I am not,” she says petulantly. Sam has no regard for her protests.
“You are, and none of this is explaining why you called me at the asscrack of dawn.”
Lena turns over, picking at a loose string in the bedspread until it unravels all the way to the edge. She’s going to have to ask for a new one, tomorrow.
“Did you watch the show?” Lena finally says, her voice small and quiet.
“Of course I did. And I called you after, but clearly your hot new friend is more important than me.” Sam is clearly not actually upset about it, using it as yet another reason to tease her, and Lena groans at her wording.
Sam snorts. “Thank you for finally admitting the former.”
“But it doesn’t matter, because we’re friends,” Lena says insistently, finally managing to struggle back to her feet and start stripping out of her clothes. She has to pull Kara’s hoodie off in the process, and she protests Sam's observances even as she pauses to inhale the calming scent of it. “Coworkers. Work friends. Whatever. Not…you know? Not going to happen.”
“Who are you trying to convince at 3 in the morning, Drunky McGee?”
Lena grumbles wordlessly, kicking out of her pants and letting them fly halfway across the room. She ends up crawling under the covers in her underwear, and Sam continues blithely.
“Besides, I saw your dance. You might as well have laid a blanket out on the stage and let Kara ravage you.”
“We were putting on a show,” Lena protests, but it sounds weak even to her own ears. Her eyes drift closed, and Sam lets out a sharp laugh. Sam has always known her too well - apparently well enough to tell when she’s starting to nod off even from 3000 miles away.
“You certainly were. Go to sleep, honey.”
Lena is unconscious before she can hang up.
Lena doesn’t generally sleep well when she’s been drinking – usually it makes her sleep light and restless, waking up every 2 hours with a dry mouth and roiling stomach. But this time she sleeps solidly until 9, deep and dreamless, and when she wakes up the only trace of her night is a slight headache and 9 texts from Kara.
The first two are from late last night, asking Lena if she got to her room okay and then letting Lena know that she got home safe, which Lena clearly slept through. But the rest are links to articles posted early this morning about the premiere, and Lena clicks each of them with trepidation that ends up being completely unfounded.
Most of them cite the episode as going well, and each and every article that Kara sent her calls the two of them out specifically with a positive comment. From a passing mention of their routine to direct headlines – ‘Luthor’s clear nerves were balanced by sizzling chemistry with Danvers’ is the last one Kara sends her, along with a slew of emojis – and Lena rolls over in bed, letting the reviews sink in.
I hate to say I told you so, Kara texts her once she’s finished every article, and Lena laughs a little, quickly tapping her answer.
In a fit of affection that she’s sure she’ll regret later, she follows it up with a heart.
The dance is vaguely based on the vibes of this one, but I changed quite a bit about it, took out the props and added some flourishes:
Lena has no idea that her friendship with Kara has progressed to the ‘casual phone calls’ stage until Tuesday, when she pulls her vibrating phone out of her purse expecting Sam’s contact photo only to see Kara’s number flashing across the screen. She hesitates for half a second before answering, her heart picking up a little for no real reason.
Lena has hardly gotten out a tentative hello before Kara jumps into the conversation.
“Morning! How do you like your coffee?”
“I’m…more of a tea person,” Lena says slowly, still calibrating to the abruptness of the question. “Why?”
She can guess why Kara is asking based on the ambient noise of what sounds like a coffee shop in the background of the call, but Kara doesn’t answer the question.
“Okay, how do you like your tea?” Kara corrects, a smile clear in her voice. Lena can’t help but smile back, even if Kara can’t see it.
“Earl Grey with a bit of honey. Again, I ask why?”
Kara hangs up before Lena can insist on paying for her own drink.
Lena still has a five-dollar bill waiting the moment she steps out of the car to find Kara leaning against the outside of the studio building next to her bike, but Kara just folds the bill and tucks it into the sleeve around the cup before handing it back to Lena with a proud grin.
“You went through the effort of getting it for me, at least let me pay for it,” Lena insists, trying to hand over the bill again, but Kara shakes her head.
“Nope! My treat,” Kara says cheerfully. One hand holds her own coffee and the other casually lifts her bike up and through the door, slinging it over her shoulder as she heads to the maintenance closet to store it for the day. Lena sighs, tucking the money away and vowing to slip it into Kara’s bag later.
“How did you even get these here without spilling them?” Lena asks, as Kara expertly navigates through the lobby without so much as tilting her cup. “Surely you need at least one hand to steer.”
Kara hefts her bike back down and points to the little basket on the front, and Lena peers in to see two makeshift cup-holders lining the bottom.
“What if you go over a bump?” Lena challenges. Kara just shrugs, leaning her bike against the wall inside the closet and shutting the door soundly.
“Then I get half a coffee.”
Lena doesn’t get to take her first sip of tea until they’re climbing the stairs, and she hums a little at the comforting taste. The tea itself is a brand Lena isn’t used to, but it’s still good, and it’s just the right amount of honey. She’d have tipped the barista double if she’d ordered it herself; as it is Kara is uncharacteristically silent as they exit the stairwell, and Lena turns in front of the studio door to find her looking nervous and expectant at the threshold. Like she’s waiting for a review.
“It’s perfect. Thank you,” Lena says honestly, holding the warm cup with both hands. Kara seems to glow, and the praise finally propels her fully out of the stairwell and into the hall. “But you really didn’t need to.”
“I stop most mornings anyways,” Kara says, all smiles now as she leads them both into their now-familiar room and sets her backpack down in the corner. “I might as well get us both something nice.”
Lena hums again, taking another sip – this time, though, she notices something at the edge of her vision as she raises it to her mouth. She moves the paper sleeve a little, revealing a scrawled inscription on the waxy cup that makes her heart sink.
“Yeah?” Kara calls back, busy swapping her outdoor shoes for her indoor ones. It’s a quirk that Lena noticed on their second day – Kara seems to have a special pair of sneakers just for rehearsal, which she changes into the second they get inside. They’re the same ones she wore the day they had their little breakthrough last week, and Kara has worn them every day since - Lena had asked about it a few days ago, but Kara had just claimed that they’re her lucky shoes.
Lena clears her throat. “May I ask why Charlie wants me to call them?”
Kara freezes mid-way through tying her laces.
“Oh,” Kara says, her neck and ears flaring an impressive shade of crimson. She finishes tying quickly, pulling just a little too tight so that the loops of the laces brush the floor. If Lena weren’t so preoccupied keeping her face emotionless, she’d worry about Kara tripping over them. “Shoot. One of the baristas there does that sometimes. Sorry, she uh…she usually puts it on my cup.”
“A regular occurrence, then,” Lena says, trying to sound nonchalant and teasing even when something horribly uncomfortable is twisting in her belly. “Are you going to call? Charlie seems pretty into you. She even drew some kisses.”
Those little x’s under Charlie’s name seem to burn into Lena’s vision, but Kara shrugs, nonchalant. She turns her eyes away from Lena, busying herself with the Bluetooth speaker. “I dunno. She’s sweet, but I don’t really have time right now.”
Lena can’t tell if what she feels is relief, or disappointment. She’s never been terribly good at distinguishing emotions without Sam there to talk her through it.
The subject changes as soon as Imra arrives, to Lena’s relief. They were assigned the Cha-Cha this week, and Kara can’t contain her excitement for long. The song is an upbeat remix of a pop song Lena only somewhat recognizes, and while she’s a little bit less intimidated this time around, the knot of anxiety still forms in her chest as she watches the two of them fly through the routine. It’s fast and high-energy, featuring a dizzying chain of spins and a lot of movement around the space, and she feels a little nauseous just watching the sheer number of rotations.
Even worse somehow is the fact that unlike last time, Lena is already going through the movements in her head, mindlessly confident in her ability to do them (with Kara’s help).
She might be here longer than she thought.
Kara greets her at the door with a tea and a smile again the next morning, and Lena foresees many hidden five-dollar bills in her future.
“Where’s Imra?” Lena asks, once they’re settled in the studio and Kara is guiding her through some light stretches. Kara, her legs splayed out on the floor as she leans forward to grab her rainbow-socked feet, just shrugs as much as she can in the position.
“I told her not to come today. She’s just going to be coming the first day of every week to show you the routine, and we’ll do one-on-one for the rest of the week from now on.”
Lena pauses. She can barely reach her own toes without a truly embarrassing amount of sedentary-lifestyle-pain, but Kara has assured her time after time that just trying will help her not to be so sore every day.
“Is that standard?” Lena asks, sitting up straight again and rolling her shoulders. Kara follows, not quite meeting Lena’s eyes.
“There isn’t really a standard! We each do whatever works for us.”
It’s not difficult to tell that Kara is lying. At this point Lena understands the basic structure of this machine she’s been thrown into, and it isn’t known for its flexibility; Kara has made an exception to the rules for her. The camera crew turns up before she can give Kara a proper thank-you, but she tries to convey it as much as she can by putting extra effort into making Kara look good for the video.
Last week, Lena had taken her lunches mostly alone. Kara had offered to eat with her every day but Lena had always refused, instead grabbing a wilted salad from the catering truck in front of the building and finding a secluded corner to have an hour to herself. She isn’t really sure what’s different about today – maybe the knowledge that she might actually be here a while, maybe the effect of four straight hours of Kara spinning her in tight circles until she feels like she’s been strapped into a fairgrounds teacup ride – but this time when Kara asks to grab lunch together somewhere else, Lena says yes.
They bypass the catering truck entirely. Kara leads her on a surprisingly nice walk through the neighbourhood, past the ice-cream place they went to last week and down a few blocks to a restaurant Lena wouldn’t have looked twice at were she by herself. It’s so small that there aren’t actually any tables, just a counter with a grill behind it and a line a mile long out the door waiting for what Kara describes as the best sandwiches in town.
“The line goes pretty fast, so don’t worry about the time,” Kara assures her, and true to her word the line moves forward. “You haven’t had a banh mi until you’ve had one here. I mean, they’re probably better in Vietnam, but this has to be the best one in the city.”
“I’ve never had one at all, so I won’t have a frame of reference,” Lena says, and Kara looks at her with the same shock she did when Lena said she hadn’t danced since childhood. “I’m sure it’s going to blow my mind.”
“Wait. You’re not vegetarian, right?” Kara says, looking suddenly panicked. “I’m realizing just now that I’ve only ever seen you eat salads.”
“I’m not vegetarian,” Lena says, chuckling as Kara mimes wiping her forehead in relief.
“Oh, good. I’d have to eliminate like, 80% of my usual lunch places if you were.” They take another step forward with the line, and Kara starts to bounce on the balls of her feet in obvious excitement.
“How many of these places are you going to be taking me to?” Lena asks. Kara doesn’t even hesitate.
“All of them!”
Lena only notices in the moment before they step into the actual crowded storefront that there are more phones pointed at them than is normal for her everyday life. She can even hear shutter sounds as people snap their photos, and across the street she spies three people with huge cameras sporting long-distance lenses pointed in their direction.
The last time she was the subject of this kind of media attention it was a deeply unpleasant experience, and she moves a little closer to Kara.
“Kara,” Lena says in a low voice, staring straight ahead, “have you noticed -”
“Yeah, that’s going to be normal as long as the show is airing,” Kara says smiling and waving at the paparazzi across the street and talking through her teeth. “They just want something interesting to print. Be boring, and they’ll mostly leave you alone."
Clearly Kara is used to it, and Lena realizes that this must be something she deals with all the time. The life of a minor celebrity. Kara sticks close to her as they order their sandwiches, and guides her quickly out of the restaurant with a protective and oddly comforting hand on her lower back, shielding her from the photographers like a pro without looking intentional.
They head back to the same area they sat to eat their ice cream last week, sitting on the same shady bench to enjoy what Lena has to admit is a pretty phenomenal lunch, and Kara has finished before Lena has even gotten through half of her sandwich. The blonde crumples up the wax paper it was wrapped in and throws it with a flourish, pumping her fist when it sinks into the garbage can perfectly.
“You missed your calling in the WNBA,” Lena says, daintily wrapping up the remaining half of her sandwich for later. It’s gigantic, and she has no idea how Kara put the whole thing away in one sitting. Kara laughs a little.
“I did pay basketball in college, but my teachers were worried I’d get myself injured and ruin my dance career. I still play for fun, though – Alex and I are in a local league when the show isn’t airing.” Kara sits up a little, looking excited. “You should come watch a game!”
“I’ll be back in Metropolis by then,” Lena says quietly, and Kara’s excitement dies down a little.
It’s strange – Lena feels like she should comfort Kara, somehow, even though all she did was tell her that the show is a limited time bubble that will burst as soon as she’s sent home. Kara just looks so disappointed, and Lena can’t deny that the reminder makes an uncomfortable feeling settle in her own stomach. She reaches out to touch Kara’s shoulder, unsure what’s appropriate, but they’re interrupted before she can fumble her way through an apology.
Standing a few feet away from them is a girl in what looks to be her late teens, wearing a dark sweater despite the National City heat and looking terribly nervous. She turns bright red the moment they both look at her, and holds up her phone like a shield.
“I’m so sorry – could I get a picture with you? I’m such a big fan.”
Kara stands up and nods immediately, her melancholy mood tucked away and replaced by her usual friendly demeanour, and Lena settles back on the bench to let Kara’s fan get her photo.
“I can take it for you, if you want?” Lena offers, but the girl frowns, looking confused.
“Oh, no – I meant, with both of you? Like, a selfie?”
Lena blinks, her hand still outstretched in its offer. The girl looks totally earnest, but what she’s saying doesn’t really make sense.
“You want me in the picture?” Lena asks, and the girl nods enthusiastically.
“Yeah! You guys were amazing last week. You’re my favourite pairing. On the show, I mean.” The girl blushes harder, and tugs the cuffs of her sweater over her hands. “It’s really cool to see yourself represented in the dance world. I do ballet, and that basically never happens.”
Kara waves Lena over with a grin. She’s clearly thrilled; Lena, on the other hand, is shocked. Nobody, literally nobody, has ever asked for a photo with her in public. Once a man recorded himself screaming abuse at her over her brother’s actions and it was picked up by the news cycle, but it’s never been anything she could reasonably call a fan encounter.
“You’re sure you want me in the picture?” Lena confirms, hesitantly standing up. The girl nods again, holding her phone up in a selfie position, and Lena steps into the space beside Kara.
In the first two photos Lena looks as stiff and awkward as she feels, but for the third Kara nudges her right in the ticklish spot in her side – a weakness she found last week when she accidentally grabbed Lena there to steady her after a spin – and the photo gets snapped mid-laugh, their eyes fixed on each other.
The second time Andrea catches her in the hallway after rehearsal, Lena feels much more prepared.
It helps that Kara is with her again, standing behind Lena like a bastion. It also helps that she’s been a bit desensitized to her presence after last week; either way, the terror that paralyzed her last time doesn’t hit quite as hard when Andrea touches her elbow and asks to talk to her privately after rehearsal early in the week.
“I’ll be right here,” Kara says quietly, leaning against the wall with an encouraging smile. Lena nods, swallowing hard and following Andrea a few steps away.
“Lena…I don’t think there are words to express how sorry I am,” Andrea says, her voice low and repentant. “For everything. I am so sorry.”
Not long ago, Lena probably would have brushed her off. Even last week she could barely handle having a surface-level conversation, let alone this one that she’s gone over imaginary versions of a hundred times since the moment Andrea broke her heart. But this time, she lets it sink in.
“Thank you,” Lena says, a little stiff but trying her best to be as genuine as Andrea is trying to be. It comes out like a platitude, but she’s surprised to find that she means it. “I appreciate that.”
“I know you already shot me down, but…could we have coffee sometime?” Andrea asks, glancing almost imperceptibly fast at Kara and back again. “No ulterior motives. I just think some closure would be good for both of us.”
Lena considers her options. She could refuse, and get some small pleasure out of hurting Andrea; she could even be rude. It would probably be warranted. But some part of her, however small, knows that Andrea is right. Maybe if they can have a real conversation, Lena can stop having minor anxiety attacks every time Andrea is near.
Lena hates real conversations.
“Okay,” Lena finally says, crossing her arms tightly. “I think I can do that.”
The joy on Andrea’s face almost manages to tug on the heartstrings she used to have such a tight grip on.
“Great. Are you free tonight?”
Lena’s hands clench around her arms.
She does want to settle things with Andrea. But the idea of doing it so soon, with no time to prepare herself, makes her heart race. She flounders, her mouth opening to spit out an excuse but her brain coming up with absolutely nothing, and when Kara steps in the relief is so palpable that she almost sinks back into the blonde like a comfortable chair.
“Lena and I actually have plans tonight. I’m sure you guys will find another time, though?”
“Yes,” Lena says in a rush, and Andrea’s expression closes up as soon as Kara inserts herself into the conversation. “Yes, we have plans to…”
Lena trails off, looking back at Kara, and Kara puts a friendly arm over Lena’s shoulders. Her smile is wide, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“We’re going hiking,” Kara says easily. Andrea raises a brow, perfectly plucked into a shape to facilitate judgmental looks.
“Lena is going hiking,” Andrea says, doubt practically dripping from her words. “You’re joking.”
Lena has never been hiking a day in her life, and Andrea knows it. In fact she’s borderline adverse to the outdoors most of the time – a combination of fair and easily-burned skin, seasonal allergies, and a general distaste for pointless exercise when she could be doing better things with her limited days. It’s as true now as it was when they were together. But Lena plasters on her own smile.
“New city, new hobbies,” Lena says, her teeth clenched. “Maybe next week?”
To Lena’s relief, Andrea backs down gracefully.
“Sure. Another time.”
Andrea disappears down the stairs, and only when they hear the stairwell door swing shut does Kara let out a long breath, blowing a raspberry that ruffles the loose hairs that have escaped her ponytail.
“Wow. Awkward. Sorry for eavesdropping, but you looked like you were about to have a panic attack.”
“Hiking?” Lena hisses, smacking Kara on the arm. She should probably be thanking her, but Andrea’s face when Kara said the word is seared into her retinas. “I appreciate the rescue, but that has to be the least believable thing you could have said.”
“I’ll just post pictures on my Instagram, she can’t exactly doubt you then,” Kara says, dancing away from Lena’s hands. She doesn’t seem bothered – in fact she looks excited, starting down the stairs with a spring in her step. “Come on, we should get there before dark!”
“We should…hold on, you don’t think I’m actually going hiking, do you?” Lena calls down the stairs, leaning over the rail to watch Kara descend. “I thought that was just an excuse!”
“We don’t want her to find out we lied, right?” Kara calls back, her voice echoing all the way back up to Lena. “We’ll do the beginner trail, take a few pictures, and go get tacos. You’re already in activewear, it’ll be great. Come on!”
Much like ending up at a bar when she’d insisted she was too tired last week, it takes an embarrassingly small amount of convincing for Lena to end up climbing what feels like half a mountain after a full day of rehearsal. At this point, she’d probably agree to skydiving without a parachute if Kara told her it would be a good time.
The view is just as good as Kara promised, she has to admit once they’ve reached the apex of the hike. She’s panting for breath and has at least 3 bug bites, but the sunset over the sprawling city below is gorgeous, and Kara finds a rock for them to sit on to take it in.
“If that’s the beginner trail,” Lena says between labored breaths, taking a big gulp of the water bottle Kara bought at the base of the hike, “I don’t want to know what the expert trail is like.”
“It isn’t really a trail so much as a series of markers to follow through the brush,” Kara says, laughing at Lena’s horrified expression. “Don’t worry, I’ll never take you hiking again. I’ll come up with a better excuse next time.”
“I do appreciate you stepping in,” Lena says, fiddling with the cap of the water bottle. “And I want to sort things out with her, just…not right now. I’m not quite ready.”
Kara nods. She frowns, seeming to work something over in her head before she finally speaks.
“Do you mind me asking what happened between you two?”
Lena had been expecting the question, but it still carries a spike of anxiety that she presses a hand into her belly to quell. Kara immediately fills the silence.
“You don’t have to, obviously. But it seems like it might help to talk about it before you hash it out with her.”
It takes a few tries for Lena to work herself up to replying. Kara just waits patiently with her body angled towards Lena, one foot up on the rock and the other making little patterns in the dry dirt.
“Andrea was my first girlfriend,” Lena finally says, clearing her throat when it comes out as a sort of croak. “She was my best friend from the second I got to boarding school, and around 11th grade we…well, classic story, right? We were inseparable until grad school.”
“Sounds like it had to be something pretty serious to break that up,” Kara says quietly. Lena nods, taking a deep breath.
“My brother was starting to get some notoriety in the business world, and…not for good reasons. But he was intensely private about what he was doing,” Lena explains, the details of one of the worst periods of her life bleeding out of her with hardly any effort. “Everyone wanted the exclusive story to crack open the Luthor vault of secrets, but he refused to give interviews at the time.”
“And Andrea is a journalist,” Kara says, her voice heavy with dawning understanding. Lena closes her eyes to keep them from watering, the sunset making her vision pink behind her eyelids.
“She was desperate for internship opportunities. She’d assumed she could easily get into her father’s company, but they were going bankrupt and nobody else wanted to give her a shot. I didn’t even consider it as a potential issue, I trusted her so implicitly, but she…” Lena swallows again, her throat dry and thick. “I don’t know exactly how it went. All I know is that one day she was encouraging me to vent to her about my doubts, about everything my brother had shared with me, and the next there was a breaking story full of personal details only she would know with her name on the byline.”
She can’t see Kara’s reaction, but she can hear her let out a slow breath.
“Oh, Lena,” Kara says softly, with such gentle empathy that Lena has to take a few shaky seconds before she can continue.
“My family treated me like a traitor after that,” Lena finishes, her voice a little unsteady. Even so, she has to admit that Kara was right. Having finally aired out the thing she’s kept a secret from even Sam, she does feel better. “It turned out for the best in the end, but at the time it was…difficult. I didn’t even really break up with her. She called a few times and turned up once trying to apologize, but I just left her things at the door. We never saw each other again.”
“Until now,” Lena confirms.
“Jeez,” Kara says quietly, digging her toes into the dirt and erasing the random shapes she’s been tracing. “No wonder you’re so tense.”
It’s the most Kara response she can imagine, all understanding wrapped in levity, and Lena’s laugh is so unexpected that it bursts out of her in a rush. She finally opens her eyes again to see Kara smiling kindly, both her legs pulled up under her chin.
“One of many reasons,” Lena says, and Kara nods in understanding. For a few minutes they just sit quietly together, watching the sun sink down over the orange horizon; it is nice, as much as it was a pain in the ass to get up here. She’s not at all looking forward to the walk back down.
“Come on,” Kara finally says, standing up and dusting off her pants. She holds a hand out to help Lena up, and gives it a now-familiar tight squeeze before she lets it go. “Let’s get some tacos. They’ll change your life.”
Kara posts the promised picture on the way back – a close-up of the top of her face with the camera angled to capture Lena on the trail behind her, captioned with several nature-themed emojis – and then subsequently insists that Lena start a personal Instagram account so she can be tagged. Kara has to do it for her, Lena being completely unfamiliar with the platform, which is why when she gets almost 10 thousand followers between then and her arrival back at the hotel at 10:30 the first thing she does upon opening the app to a tidal wave of notifications is call Jess in a panic.
“Kara started you…an Instagram account?” Jess says carefully, sounding a little groggy. Lena can hear the rustle of bedsheets, and she realizes with a pang of guilt that she’s woken Jess at 1:30am eastern time.
“Yes. I’m sorry for waking you, Jess, feel free to take a paid day off to make up for it, but I really need you to -”
“And you let her?” Jess interrupts. The words die in Lena’s mouth, and she frowns at Jess’ shocked tone.
“Miss Luthor, I’ve been trying to convince you to use social media for three years.”
Lena groans, rolling over in bed and pressing her face into the pillow before she answers. “Kara caught me in a weak moment. The point is, we need to delete it. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
“But Kara was right!” Jess says, sounding much more alert. “Everyone has social media now – it actually might help with this whole positive PR angle we’re going for. That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
“How so?” Lena says into the pillow.
“It makes you more accessible,” Jess explains patiently, with the air of a parent showing a petulant toddler why they need to eat their vegetables. “More relatable. Getting that many followers in a few hours isn’t average - people obviously want to see you on a day-to-day level.”
“That sounds horrifying,” Lena deadpans.
“It’s super parasocial, but that’s the world we live in,” Jess says breezily. “This whole venture was meant to rehabilitate your image, after all. I was actually going to send you something later this morning, hold on –”
After a moment Lena’s phone chimes in her ear, and she puts Jess on speaker to check the email notification.
“I’ve made an indexed list of all the articles about you since the show aired, ranked by their positivity. And most of them are great!” Jess says, clearly fully awake now. “It’s working, Miss Luthor. And there are even a few about you and Kara going hiking last night. Posting more about your time on the show could have a positive effect.”
Lena hasn’t looked at much press coverage since the few articles Kara sent her last week, but Jess is right. They in fact quite positive, although most of them feature photos that make Lena do a double-take. There are photos of herself and Kara eating together, snapshots of their lunchtime walks, even a few of their hike last night. One even sports a few images of herself and Kara leaving the bar together last week. The headlines vary, but most seem to fall in the ‘look at these unlikely friends’ category.
Lena scrolls through them, frowning. “Have they been photographing us in every public place we’ve been in for the last two weeks?”
“That’s how paparazzi usually work,” Jess points out. Lena shakes her head.
“I just don’t see how we’re an object of interest for them.”
Jess lets out a quiet laugh. “Well you wouldn’t, would you?”
“You sound like Sam,” Lena grumbles, closing all the tabs. She’s a little unsettled by looking at countless photos of herself in the wild, and a few of the articles bring up their on-stage chemistry more times than she’s comfortable with.
“Sorry, Miss Luthor. I know you’re worried, but don’t forget that you thought going on the show in the first place was a bad idea, too.”
Jess has a point, to Lena’s annoyance. She’d practically had to drag Lena onto the plane to get her here, and it’s turned out to be exactly the PR boost Jess claimed it would be. So far, at least.
“No need to apologize, I trust Sam for a reason. It’s not a bad comparison.” Lena sighs, swinging her legs out of bed and starting to prepare for the day. “I’ll give it a week. If in that time nobody sends me a death threat, I’ll consider keeping the account.”
Despite the intimidating amount of spinning involved, Lena picks up the cha-cha faster than she did the tango. Maybe it’s the choreography – her hand barely leaves Kara’s for the entire number, the emphasis on Kara spinning her and steering her momentum across the floor, so she has less time alone on stage to freeze up. It almost feels like she isn’t dancing at all, just being twirled and thrown around by Kara and occasionally throwing in a flourish or a kick, and there’s no lifts to trip her up. Maybe it’s even that she’s just loosened up since last week. But by their fourth day of rehearsal Kara is claiming that they’re practically show-ready, and while Lena is sure she’s just trying to be encouraging, apparently she is also embarrassingly gullible because it works exactly as intended. Lena feels confident about it, a sensation that’s just as unfamiliar as Kara’s unfaltering faith in her.
It means that they don’t need to spend quite as much time in rehearsal as last week, and Lena actually gets formally introduced to some other people on the cast besides Kara. Nia and Brainy join them for lunch on Friday, both of them just as charming as Kara promised, and during the wardrobe fitting on Saturday (a full two days before the show, in contrast to last week) Lena is only alone for a few minutes while she waits for Kara in the hallway. Someone Lena vaguely recognizes from last week emerges from an adjacent room, and when she sees Lena she approaches her with a friendly smile.
“Hi! Kelly Olsen,” she says, offering a hand. “I don’t think we’ve actually met yet.”
Lena shakes it with a practiced smile. She makes sure to ease up her grip a little – Kelly isn’t a middle-aged man she’s trying to intimidate, after all. “Lena Luthor.”
“Yes, your reputation precedes you,” Kelly says lightly. Lena stiffens, but Kelly is persistently gentle. “Because Kara has been raving about you nonstop.”
“Oh,” Lena says, trying her best to relax again. She’s so used to getting her hackles up at the slightest provocation, and this is a good reminder that not everyone is out to insult her right off the bat. “Yes, you’re…married to her sister? Alex?”
Kelly nods, confirming Lena’s hypothesis, and her smile is so warm and affectionate that Lena can practically feel her love for Alex in the air. “That’s me. I’m sorry you had to meet her for the first time on filming night – she’s the most wonderful person I know, but it takes all her focus to keep the show together. It makes her come across a little severe.”
“I was impressed, honestly,” Lena says, and she smiles a little when Kelly looks skeptical. “If there’s anyone here who understands needing to be severe, it’s me.”
Kelly makes a sympathetic face, leaning against the wall next to Lena and making herself comfortable. “Right. I can’t imagine being a female CEO is easy.”
“If Alex weren’t so invaluable here, I’d hire her to wrangle my boardroom.”
Kelly laughs. It’s a welcoming sound, and it puts Lena instantly more at ease. “I’ll be sure to let her know she has a backup job ready.”
Lena usually dreads silences in conversation, feeling pressured to keep up inane small-talk to fill them, but with Kelly it feels oddly comfortable. They simply stand together, leaning against the wall and watching the wardrobe staff rush around holding garment bags and bolts of fabric in relative quiet as they wait for their partners to finish their fittings – it’s Kelly who finally breaks it, nodding her head towards the door Kara is behind.
“How are you liking working with Kara?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Lena says, laughing under her breath. Kelly leans in like she’s sharing a secret.
“We can’t help but be curious. After your performance last week, everyone is a little jealous of your connection.”
Lena swallows, fighting against the urge to fidget with her hands. She laces them tightly together instead, settling on neutrality. “We…we work well together. She’s good at getting me out of my comfort zone.”
“She’s very fond of you,” Kelly says, all kindness. If it were anyone else Lena would disregard it out of pure disbelief that she could be that important to someone like Kara, but Kelly is Kara’s family. She has no real reason to lie about it, and she seems like someone who has Kara’s trust.
It takes every ounce of Lena’s self-control not to grab Kelly by the shoulders and demand to know exactly what Kara has said about her. Instead Lena smiles tightly, digging her nails into the palms of her opposite hand. “I’m fond of her, as well. She’s a good partner. And…friend.”
Kelly looks like she wants to say something else, but she’s interrupted by her partner emerging from his fitting room. Max Lord whistles, making a wrap it up gesture and pointing to the exit, and Kelly rolls her eyes.
“I think he assumes I’m also his assistant,” Kelly says quietly, giving Max a clearly fake smile and wave. “I should head back to rehearsal. Max needs all the practice he can get this week. I almost wish I’d fought Kara harder to get you as a partner.”
With that Kelly excuses herself, leaving Lena alone in the hallway trying to work out that last sentence.
It sticks with her through rehearsal that afternoon, and the whole car ride back to the hotel. It echoes in her head as she’s trying to sleep – fought Kara harder to get you as a partner. Had Kara really fought to be partnered with her? It doesn’t make much sense – Kara didn’t know her at all when she’d been selected. Unless Kara just wanted to be part of the first female pair on the show? Lena wouldn’t blame her – she hadn’t even heard of Kara Danvers before this, and now people are writing gossip columns about their friendship. Maybe, like Lena, Kara sees this all as a publicity opportunity.
That should be a comforting thought. If they’re on the same wavelength, there’s far less chance of having messy misunderstandings. This can be a fruitful business relationship – it’s what Lena is most comfortable with, after all. This should be the best-case scenario. A mutually beneficial public friendship.
There’s absolutely no reason for her to feel hurt by it.
She sleeps fitfully that night, and it shows in their final pre-show rehearsal on Sunday. Lena is distracted, missing cues she’s had down all week, and only an hour into it Kara stops the music with a concerned frown.
“Hey. Are you okay?” Kara asks softly, stepping close as if their conversation needs to be private, even with nobody else in the room. “You seem off. Are you nervous about tomorrow?”
“Surprisingly, no,” Lena admits, turning away from Kara and pacing a little. The blonde had been just a little too close, just a little too intense to have this conversation. “But I had an interesting conversation with Kelly yesterday.”
Kara, thankfully, doesn’t follow her. She leans back against the mirrored wall, watching Lena’s path. “Oh, good! I’ve been meaning to introduce you. Isn’t she great?”
“She’s lovely,” Lena agrees distractedly, steeling herself. She twists her fingers together, keeping them in front of her stomach so Kara can’t see. “But she’s a bit sick of Max, by the sounds of it, and she said that she wished she had…fought you harder, to be my partner.”
Kara laughs easily. “Yeah, fat chance. I practically had to wrestle Lucy for it, and she’s surprisingly savage for her size. But in the end they decided I have the better physical strength for it.”
Lena finally stops walking, turning back towards Kara to frown in her direction.
“You really wanted to be my partner that badly? Why?”
“Who wouldn’t want to be part of making history?” Kara says, confirming Lena’s anxious thoughts with a breezy smile that doesn’t make it sting any less. “Easy decision to make.”
“Right,” Lena says, nodding tightly. One hand grips the other so tightly that her knuckles crack, and she starts to turn away again. “Of course. You’re making a name for yourself.” She expected to be relieved to have her theory validated, or happy to confirm that she and Kara have the same goals. But instead she just feels rather…cold. Like a frozen hand is resting on her sternum, pressing down on her lungs.
“But I also saw your audition tape.” Kara continues, and when Lena turns back to look at her there’s a noticeably softer expression on her face. A bit more vulnerable, maybe. “You were so clearly nervous, and I could see that doing this wasn’t really your decision. I thought…I don’t know. I thought maybe I could help better than the others could. I just had a good feeling about you.”
The cold hand eases, and instead something warmer spreads through Lena’s chest. It still feels tight, but the tension is different. More pleasant.
“A good feeling?” Lena says, raising a brow. Kara nods as if her statement was completely self-explanatory.
“Yeah. Is that what’s been bothering you? You thought I just wanted to get famous?”
“It would be a good strategy,” Lena shrugs, approaching Kara and leaning against the wall next to her. The mirror is bracingly cool against her back – it helps her sweep away the cobwebs of doubt she’s been fighting with since yesterday. “I’m doing this whole thing for good press, and the more of a household name you become the better your opportunities are. Mutually beneficial. It makes sense for us to be seen together as friends.”
“I mean…I guess so,” Kara says, frowning thoughtfully. “I hadn’t really thought of it like that.”
Lena would probably find that statement disingenuous, if it weren’t so very Kara.
Kara excuses herself to go to the bathroom not long after, emphasizing as she jogs backwards out the door that when she comes back they’re going to really get down to brass tacks, and in the almost unsettling quiet that follows her departure Lena realizes the opportunity she’s been presented – she’s been trying all week to pay Kara back for the tea she’s taken to bringing Lena every morning, but she’s been foiled in every attempt. Kara keeps avoiding taking the money, but now Lena can dart over to where her bag sits under the table and tuck a 20 into the front pocket.
When she unzips the pocket and drops the folded bill in, though, she finds something else. Alongside Kara’s brown leather wallet and two opened packs of cinnamon gum is a little plastic squeeze bottle shaped like a bear, half-full of honey.
Lena doesn’t hear Kara enter until the blonde clears her throat. Lena whirls around, the bottle in one hand and the bag in the other (and both in the metaphorical cookie jar), and when Kara sees what she’s holding her cheeks turn pink.
“What?” Kara says almost defensively, rubbing the back of her neck under her ponytail. “The café I go to doesn’t have honey.”
Kara shrugs like it’s nothing, like Lena has an abundance of people willing to carry around a jar of honey in their backpack to dutifully and secretly mix into her tea every morning because the coffee shop doesn’t have any. Like anyone has ever shown her that kind of simple care in her entire life.
“Sorry,” Lena says, her voice cracking on all the things she can’t find words for. She hands over both items and Kara puts the bottle back in her bag, digging out the $20 in the process with a confused look. “I just…wanted to pay you. For the tea.”
And after all that, Kara still refuses to take the money.
Lena wouldn’t by any means say she’s comfortable on show day. She’ll probably never fully get used to the manic energy of it, dashing between trailers or desperately trying to memorize stage directions between dress rehearsals. But she isn’t actively nauseous this week, which is such a dramatic step up from last time that it might as well be night and day.
Even so, when Kara grabs her hand again to comfort her before they go on stage, Lena doesn’t let go.
Since she isn’t quite as paralyzed by nerves, Lena is more able to take in everyone else’s performances. Kelly and Max’s Broadway routine is surprisingly good – as much as Max seems like an egomaniac, his attitude fits the character Kelly has him playing. Lena suspects it was strategic, and it pays off in the judge’s comments. Leslie and Mike, however, take a steep decline with their contemporary routine – what was clearly meant to be a romantic dance comes off as almost competitive, with Leslie seeming angry about the slow choreography. Sara and Oliver pull off a decent waltz, Siobhan and Winn’s flamenco gets mostly positive feedback, and Barry and Nia end up doing a phenomenal and energetic disco routine that has the audience dancing along with them.
Kara cheers extra hard for them, and Lena spots Brainy whistling loudly along with the crowd just out of sight of the cameras.
She and Kara are second to last, and it’s difficult to be terribly nervous when Kara is exuding confidence from every pore. Their hands are still joined, and Kara gives her customary squeeze while they wait in the wings for Alex’s signal to take the stage.
“You good?” Kara asks, looking comfortably handsome in a simple black v-neck and slacks, her hair in a tight low bun. Lena’s costume is clearly the focus, her skirt all red and black ruffles in a pattern meant to emphasize the spinning of the routine, and despite the noise of the crowd and the overwhelming brightness of the stage lights Lena nods.
“I think so.”
“See, you’re practically a pro yourself already,” Kara grins, her eyes sparkling.
“Fantastic job, Lucy and Morgan!” Brainy is saying at the front of the stage, wrapping up the critique of their lindy hop. Lena didn’t see most of the dance, but she does see the way Lucy’s smile immediately drops the moment they’re off the stage, and she makes sure to keep significant space between herself and Edge.
“Next up we have Kara and Lena, giving us their take on the cha-cha!” Brainy continues, and Alex waves to get their attention and points to their mark. As they get there as unobtrusively as they can their weekly video starts up on the big screen. “Let’s see how things went in rehearsal this week!”
Lena has no idea if it’s noticeable to the audience, but she can see just in the first few seconds how much more comfortable she looks in front of the camera just by the contrast of footage. It starts with the highlights from last week, Kara’s huge scooping hug at the end of their tango and Cat’s glowing comment, and then transitions into Kara raving about how much Lena has improved since last week. Lena’s interviews are shorter and interspersed with more of the kind of footage that Lena was surprised by last week. It’s the sort of moments she never sees between the other pairings – small bits of camaraderie between them, the laughter and ease that Kara always brings out in her. Kara walking into rehearsal and handing Lena her now-daily tea, and Lena taking a sip with a little smile before they start to warm up. The gentle, simple way Kara breaks down the choreography for her, making little jokes along the way to keep her from getting discouraged when she doesn’t grasp it right away.
Kara doesn’t whisper anything in her ear this time – they’re starting further apart, their arms outstretched with hands loosely joined. But just before the lights come up and the music kicks in, Kara’s grip tightens and relaxes one last time. A wordless encouragement.
Lena can tell less than halfway through that their performance is good. Perhaps even better than last week, with most of the onus on Kara to make sure Lena is hitting her marks – Lena is simply an instrument to be steered and try not to get too dizzy. Kara’s hands are sure, always finding Lena’s before she can even think about needing them, and the upbeat song has the crowd cheering enthusiastically before the routine is over. Lena is the centre of attention - she can feel every eye in the theatre on her, and for the first time that doesn’t feel like the worst thing in the world.
Over the last week she’s gotten the hang of keeping upright through the whole routine, but with the extra adrenaline of the cameras and the audience when they end with a grand flourish it’s only Kara’s grip that keeps her from pitching over as the world tilts and spins. Kara feels, at that moment, like the only solid thing in the universe.
“And you’ve done it again,” William says once they’ve approached the judge’s table, clapping along with the audience with a broad smile. “Sometimes when a pair starts with a bang they have trouble living up to it in week two, but it looks like they’ve avoided that, haven’t they?”
He addresses the question to the audience, and they raise up a massive cheer in response. William laughs, nodding encouragingly at the ruckus he’s started. Lena remembers suddenly Kara’s comment last week, about how William likes to talk to the fans – it’s clear that she was right. Everything he says seems designed to get a reaction.
“The cha-cha can be quite challenging in terms of balance, but you two had no trouble. That much was clear. Not a wobble in sight, Lena!” He continues, consulting his notes. “And Kara, the control you showed there – there wasn’t a single second where you weren’t right where you needed to be to catch your partner.”
Jonn nods in agreement with William, waiting for the audience to quiet again before he chimes in.
“Absolutely. However,” he says, and the Kara laughs good-naturedly at what Lena is coming to understand is a classic aspect of Jonn’s critique – the ‘but’. “Lena, I’m noticing that you focus entirely on Kara while you perform. It does wonders for your chemistry, of course, but you need to learn to play to the audience. Showmanship is an important part of any routine.”
“Oh, let them look at each other, Jonn,” Cat interrupts, waving dismissively. The crowd seems to agree – they cheer again, and Cat smiles in a way that might seem smug if it were anyone but Cat Grant. On her, it just seems confident. “This routine required a great deal of blind faith, and you both put in the work to make it happen. The trust you two have built in each other in only two weeks is something very special. Well done.”
As Lena suspected, their scores are even better than last week. Jonn still gives them a 7, apparently caught up in Lena’s inability to play to the crowd, but William and Cat both award them a 9. Their total of 25 is second only to Barry and Nia with a 27, even after James and Andrea finish the show with an impressive salsa.
Being in the top three at any point is wildly outside Lena’s expectations, let alone being ranked second in only week two, and it’s all because of Kara.
The cast filters backstage once Brainy has signed off the live broadcast, and while the audience empties out they disperse to trailers and dressing rooms. She and Kara had been among the first to de-wardrobe last time since Kara was so keen on dragging Lena to her favourite bar, but this time she’s not in so much of a rush; so when Leslie Willis bumps hard into Lena’s shoulder and mutters must be nice to not put any work in, almost sending her sprawling, half the cast is still there to see it.
“What the hell?” Lena says, mostly under her breath as she rubs the spot Leslie shoulder-checked.
“You heard me,” Leslie replies immediately, her turning towards Lena with her arms held out like she’s ready for a fight. The effect of it is slightly ruined by her costume – she’s much less threatening in a nightgown. Lena rolls her eyes, turning away with full intent to ignore the whole display.
Kara has other ideas.
“Excuse me?” Kara says, stepping in front of Lena like some kind of bodyguard. She looks incredulous, like someone attacking Lena in a public place is unheard of rather than having been a weekly occurrence for several years, but when Lena grabs at her forearm to assure her that it’s perfectly fine and she’s taken worse abuse on an average Tuesday at work Kara seems surprised.
“Don’t act like you aren’t the only reason she’s still here,” Leslie sneers, stepping forward. Kara seems to have activated her fight instinct, and she looks happy to have an opponent. “You’re the one carrying her through every week. You should know how little she does.”
“Lena is working just as hard as everyone else, if not harder,” Kara says, her voice raising to meet Leslie’s. Lena, not entirely sure how to handle the unfamiliar feeling of someone standing up for her publicly, is silent. “Just because you bombed doesn’t mean you can take it out on her.”
“Of course you’re the first to lick her boots,” Leslie says, all snide confidence. “What’s she giving you on the side to make her look good? A little Luthor payoff cash? Or maybe hush money isn’t the only thing she gives out like candy?”
“Woah, woah, come on now,” Mike says nervously, putting his hands up when Leslie glares at him, but Kara doesn’t need the intervention. She takes another few steps forward until she’s staring down at Leslie directly, speaking low and serious in a way that sends a shiver down Lena’s spine.
“One more word, and you and I are going to have a real problem.”
Leslie tries to scoff it off, but Kara doesn’t let her. She has a few inches on Leslie, and her tone mixed with her stature means that she radiates a sort of quiet anger. A warning, almost. Everyone around them seems to sense it, and Lena can see the moment that Leslie backs down.
“Whatever,” Leslie says, clearly trying to play the whole thing off. “Have fun fucking your way to the top.”
Lena isn’t sure which one of the two of them Leslie was directing that at.
It’s only when Leslie leaves that Lena realizes the rest of the dancers – besides Mike, who had been behind Leslie looking about ready to grab her if she lunged – have formed a sort of semicircle behind them. Like they were ready to jump in if Leslie had actually escalated. Obviously it was to support Kara and not her, but it still feels nice to be on the side with backup, for once. They disperse slowly once Leslie is gone, and Kara turns back to Lena - she puts a solid hand on Lena’s arm, and Lena is again very aware of Kara’s physicality in a rather stirring way. Her height, specifically, and how it makes Lena want to press her face into the solid cradle of Kara’s shoulder.
“You okay?” Kara asks, all the intimidation of before replaced by soft concern. “Sorry for stepping in, but she shouldn’t talk to you like that.”
It’s strange. Kara has proven time and time again that she’s willing to stand up for Lena, to have her back without a second thought, and Lena has no idea what she did to deserve it but she can’t deny the sense of relief it brings. The only other person who has ever interceded on her behalf was Andrea, who turned around and betrayed her in the worst way; ever since then Lena has been fighting alone, brushing off every insult lobbed at her by random strangers and peers alike and convincing herself it didn’t bother her. Having someone else step up and say she doesn’t deserve the vitriol she gets feels like a revelation.
“It’s fine,” Lena says, swallowing hard. “Leslie just likes to talk to hear her own voice.”
“If she ever bothers you when I’m not around, you let me know,” Kara says easily, dropping her hand and stepping back towards the dressing rooms. “I’ll beat her up for you.”
Lena isn’t usually one to condone violence. But in this case, she can’t deny that she’d pay a large sum of money to get a front row to that show.
Just like last week Kara invites Lena to get half-priced drinks with everyone after the show, and this time Lena agrees. The bar is much bigger than the last one Kara brought her to, with slightly more of a club vibe and a massive private table at the back that the group immediately takes over in what is clearly a weekly occurrence, and after Kara has ordered them both drinks and settled them in the booth Lena looks around with a frown.
“Did nobody else invite their dance partners?” Lena asks Kara, her eyes roaming around and only finding dancers and crew. “I don’t see anyone else.”
Kara shakes her head, washing down a handful of bar pretzels down with her beer. “No, this is usually crew-only.”
“Crew – Kara, why didn’t you tell me that?” Lena says, sinking down in her seat a little. It’s silly, but it feels suddenly like she could be kicked out at any second. “Should I go?”
“No, of course not! I want you here,” Kara says, looking at Lena like she’s asked a silly question. “It’s fine, everyone knows you’re cool.”
Lena has never once in her life been cool, but true to Kara’s word nobody says anything about Lena’s presence. That could easily be because Kara is sitting right beside her and came quite publicly to her defense less than an hour ago, but still.
It seems like the whole cast is here, besides Nia and Brainy who went home together after the broadcast. Even Alex is here, seated on the other side of the table with a beer in her hand and Kelly in her lap, looking more relaxed than Lena thought was possible. She’s listening with a deeply affectionate expression as her wife talks animatedly to the group, and Lena tunes into the conversation.
“He is without a doubt the most entitled person I have ever met,” Kelly is saying, her martini spilling a little as she gestures with her hands. Alex wordlessly hands her a napkin. “And he has such an inflated sense of his own talent – just because he can build an efficient train doesn’t mean he can dance!”
“Does he hit on you at every opportunity, too?” Lucy chimes in, accepting a drink from James. He leans against the back of the booth seat, his hand drifting down to Lucy’s shoulder and tangling with hers. “Morgan does nothing but use the choreography as an excuse to grab my ass.”
“I don’t think Max is interested in women older than 25,” Kelly says, grimacing.
“If he even tried it, I’d have him fired,” Alex says, kissing Kelly’s cheek. Winn plops down beside them, a shot of tequila in each hand, and after downing both in succession he leans forward until his forehead hits the table.
“Can you get Siobhan fired?” he groans, slightly muffled. Alex shakes her head, looking pityingly at Winn’s prone form.
“Not without cause.”
Winn sits up again, a cocktail napkin stuck to his forehead. It drifts down past his face after a second, dislodged by the pure force of his pout. “She’s mean to me.”
The whole table laughs, and Winn only seems to find comfort in another shot – something amber-coloured, this time – being set on the table in front of him by a sympathetic Mike.
“What? She is!” Winn says, pausing to take the shot. He coughs, his eyes watering, and Mike pats him soundly on the back. “She’s too good at looking nice in front of the cameras. As soon as they leave, she’s a nightmare.”
“At least she’s not a sociopath,” Mike says sagely. “Every rehearsal I worry that Leslie is going to murder me as soon as I turn my back.”
“I think she’s more likely to kill Kara at this point,” Imra chuckles, tucked cozily into the corner of the booth with Sara Lance. Mike seems totally unbothered by the fact that they’re clearly holding hands, just nodding in agreement with his girlfriend.
Lena wonders, not for the first time, if half the crew is actually just some kind of barely-functioning polycule.
Through the whole conversation Kara is silent, her arm draped over the back of the booth just behind Lena’s shoulders; and when Lena glances at her to see her reaction, she sees that Kara is smiling.
“Oh, don’t look so smug,” Lucy says when she too spots Kara’s grin, tossing a balled-up napkin in their direction. “Just because you won the lottery this year doesn’t mean you get to brag about it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kara says, her smile even wider. Her stance is a little smug, Lena notices now – she’s leaning back into the booth seat, her legs sprawled confidently under the table, and almost imperceptibly her arm drifts down to actually rest on Lena’s shoulders.
“I’m sure she’d be complaining about me too, if I wasn’t here,” Lena says, taking a demure sip of her drink. Winn snorts loudly.
“Yeah, right,” Winn says, clearly well on his way to heavy inebriation. “She talks about you at staff meetings like you’ve single-handedly cured cancer.”
“Lena’s company is actually working on curing cancer,” Kara pipes up, and the entire table rolls their eyes as if this is a common occurrence. “So…”
The conversation moves on easily to the topic of off-season audition listings, and Lena spends the rest of the night tucked more and more comfortably into Kara’s side. It feels completely unfamiliar, but she isn’t just being tolerated – she’s included in conversation whenever it’s relevant, and once or twice she even gets in a quip that makes the whole table laugh. Lena actually feels liked, not just by Kara but by all of her friends as well.
She preferred last week, when it was just her and Kara in a cozy dive bar getting to know each other. But it feels undeniably good to win the approval of the people Kara respects, and when Lena finally looks at her phone on the cab ride home to see a text from Sam that reads killed it again!!! Proud of you!!, for once she doesn’t deflect the praise.
Thanks, she texts back, smiling to herself. Excited for next week.
The dance in this chapter was vaguely inspired by this one:
Yes the first two dances are Meryl Davis THEY HAD GOOD CHEMISTRY
'But Jazz,' you've all been saying, 'if this is a fake dating au, where's the fake dating?'
RIGHT HERE IS THE ANSWER
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Good morning, what can I get started for you?”
“Sorry,” Lena fumbles, halfway through a furious text to Kara demanding that she is under no circumstances allowed to buy her own coffee this morning. The line apparently shuffled forwards without her noticing, and she hits send before shoving the phone into her purse and wincing at the barista. “So sorry. Um, can I get a medium Earl Grey tea, and an extra large vanilla latte with oat milk, whipped cream, three extra pumps of hazelnut syrup, and a sprinkle of cinnamon?”
The barista pauses, giving Lena a strange look mid-way through scribbling the order on two paper cups, and Lena laughs under her breath. She chose the café that Kara goes to every morning, intentionally leaving early so that she’d beat Kara there, and she should have expected the ultra-sweet order to be infamous.
“It’s for Kara.”
“I thought so,” the barista says, smiling. She’s quite pretty, with rich dark skin and a multitude of colourful strands woven through her braids, and her friendly, accented voice puts Lena at ease. “I wondered who she’s been getting that second drink for.”
As the barista gets to work on making Kara’s complicated latte, Lena can’t help but seek out her nametag; it reads Charlie, with a little bisexual flag pin underneath in the shape of a heart.
Lena tries to keep her mouth shut. She pays for the drinks, moving into the line in front of the busy counter and trying not to ask the question that’s hammering at her frontal cortex. She looks anywhere but at Charlie, even pressing her lips together for the entire time that it takes to put together the latte – Charlie is pouring the hot water for Lena’s tea before the burning question finally climbs up Lena’s throat like acid reflux.
“Are you the one who gave Kara your number?”
Charlie laughs, flashing a sweet smile as she fastens the lids on both drinks and nods. She seems completely unbothered by the inquiry. “Yeah, it’s sort of an inside joke at this point. I’ve been doing it for months. But clearly she’s now spoken for, so don’t worry, it won’t happen again.”
Lena’s intention had been to ask if Kara had actually taken the barista up on her flirtation; instead Charlie’s comment throws her off, and Lena takes the cups, blinking in Charlie’s face in a way she’s pretty sure is rude. She’s holding up the line, but before Charlie can move on to the next order Lena is blurting out a follow-up question.
“Kara’s dating someone?”
Charlie pauses, much to the annoyance of her next customer. She stares at Lena for a second, her brow furrowed, finally laughing to herself and shaking her head in disbelief.
Lena is not-so-gently pushed out of the way by three people waiting behind her, and soon Charlie is too caught up again in the morning rush to be questioned any further. Lena heads back to the towncar, puzzling over the interaction in her mind, and it’s almost a relief when she slides into the leather backseat and digs through her bag to find her phone ringing.
“Good morning!” Jess chirps as soon as Lena picks up, and Lena puts her on speaker for sheer lack of free hands – as nice as this car is, it’s seriously lacking in the cupholder department. “I’m calling to confirm your Good Morning National City appearance next week.”
Lena groans, letting her head loll back against the upholstery. “Right. I was hoping that if I didn’t think about it, it would disappear.”
“It’s only a talk show, Miss Luthor,” Jess says, as if Lena has no reason to be nervous. Just another day at the office.
“I don’t do talk shows,” Lena says, struggling to hold her purse, both cups, and her phone as they approach the dance studio. “Especially not live talk shows. Press conferences and TED Talks are more my forte.”
It’s not like Lena is unaccustomed to public speaking, sure. She’s been doing it her whole life, posing for photos and putting on a mask. But her persona has always been cool and disaffected. The tech industry allowed for it, marking her as an ice queen but one with a brain that made up for her lack of warmth – using that comfortable persona in the context of an interview for a reality TV show is a recipe for disaster.
“It’s not so different from a press conference, really. It’s still just people asking you questions.”
“There’s a different expectation,” Lena argues, frowning when Kara’s gigantic coffee almost tips over as the car turns a sharp corner. “One I don’t think I’ll measure up to.”
Jess sighs, a long-suffering sound that speaks to the amount of pep talks she’s had to give in the last few weeks. “I think we’ve learned by now that you can be extremely personable when you need to.”
“With Kara there, maybe,” Lena says, finally figuring out a configuration to hold everything at once. It involves her phone being shoved into her sports bra with the microphone end peeking out of her shirt, but it gets the job done. “Certainly not alone.”
“Is that Lena?” Sam’s familiar voice chips in distantly, and Lena can hear the quiet click of Jess switching to speakerphone.
“No,” Lena drawls. Sam barrels onwards, unconcerned.
“I’ve been meaning to ask – when are we going to meet Kara? I want to ask what her intentions are with you.”
Lena rolls her eyes. “Friendship, Sam. Her intention is friendship.”
“You two are still all over the media together,” Jess says, something sly in her voice that Lena has never heard before. “I’ve seen two more pieces just today.”
“There’s nothing strange about that anymore,” Lena says, trying to wave a thank-you to the driver when he pulls up to the curb and rather sweetly jumps out to open the door for her, clearly seeing her lack of hands. She succeeds only in raising her tea to him in a strange sort of cheers motion, but he seems to understand it, tipping his ballcap with a smile. “The one you sent me called us gal pals.”
“Sure, the articles say that because we live in a hetero world. Clearly you aren’t reading the comments,” Sam chuckles. “Or checking Twitter.”
“I never read the comments on anything,” Lena says drily. “That was your advice.”
“That’s why I read them for you!”
Kara is just dismounting her bike at the door when Lena’s driver pulls away, a big set of headphones over her ears and scrolling through something on her phone, and Lena lowers her voice even though Kara clearly can’t hear her. They aren’t saying anything particularly scandalous, but it still feels like it’s a conversation Kara shouldn’t hear.
“I have to go,” Lena hisses, walking slowly towards Kara. Kara notices her, her face immediately brightening in a way that makes Lena’s heart stutter a little, and Lena’s answering smile is like a reflex. It’s on her face before she realizes it’s happening.
“So go,” Sam says, laughing a little when Lena huffs impatiently.
“My phone is in my bra.”
“Can you just hang up, please?” Lena whisper-yells, trying not to let her annoyance show on her face. Sam sighs overdramatically. The very thing that Lena has always appreciated about her – her irreverent disregard for the politeness and social norms that have always paralyzed Lena – is now backfiring, and the thought of Sam saying something Sam-like in Kara’s earshot is mortifying.
“Fine, fine,” Sam says, to Lena’s relief. The relief disappears mere seconds later when she follows it up with, “we’ll get back to the grind, and you get to go grind on Kara.”
Naturally Sam says it just as Kara is lowering her headphones, and Kara looks quizzically at Lena’s chest where the sound came from. Almost as soon as her eyes land there she blushes, her eyes darting away.
“Sorry. My assistant called,” Lena says, handing Kara’s coffee over and unsuccessfully trying to look like she isn’t mortified. Kara takes a big gulp, swiping her card to open the front door and holding it open for Lena.
“Your assistant talks to you like that?”
As always Lena follows Kara to the closet to store her bike, heading up the stairs when it’s safely put away. It’s a comforting routine after two weeks, and Lena lets it sweep her up easily. It almost feels more natural than the routine she left in Metropolis, which would probably be disconcerting if Lena let herself think about it for too long.
“No, that was my best friend. Sam,” Lena explains, and Kara skips a few stairs to catch up with her. “She’s a menace.”
Lena sighs as they enter their rehearsal room and Kara throws her bag onto the table, starting to dig through it. “No, she’s a good friend. The truest one I’ve ever had. She’s just…cheeky.”
“I think everyone needs a little cheekiness in their life,” Kara says, sounding quite cheeky herself as she pulls out her lucky sneakers from the large pocket of the backpack and the bottle of honey from the front zipper. Lena meets her grin with a raised brow.
“Perhaps just not this much.” Lena stirs the honey into her tea, handing the bottle back to Kara; she could buy her own bottle, of course, and keep it in the communal lunchroom down the hall, but that would mean losing this tiny ritual. “So what new torture are you going to put me through this week?”
“Oh, this week won’t be torture. It’ll be a blast,” Kara says, her grin getting wider as she throws her arms out like she’s announcing something terribly exciting. “It’s Disney Week!”
“Right,” Lena says, taking a measured sip of tea with a placid expression. “And Disney Week is…”
Kara deflates a little. Her arms drop, and she tilts her head with a little laugh. “You’ve really never watched the show before this, have you?”
“No,” Lena says shortly, tactfully not mentioning the hours of Kara-Danvers-specific clips she watched on YouTube after the partners were announced.
Kara launches into a description of Disney week – it’s fairly self-explanatory, as it turns out, simply a week where everyone’s dances are Disney-themed and set to songs from the movies – and while Kara waxes poetic about the 90’s Disney renaissance versus the ‘classics’, Imra arrives to run through the routine. Kara puts on a song Lena doesn’t recognize, continuing her excited explanation.
“So it’s a Cinderella thing, obviously,” Kara says over the music, as if Lena is supposed to know that intrinsically. “It’s a cover of the original, nice and slow so it fits the Viennese waltz.”
“I’ve never watched Cinderella, but I’m sure once I see the dance I’ll figure it out,” Lena says, frowning at her cup – the string of the teabag is all wet, and she tucks it into the cardboard sleeve to keep it from brushing against her fingers. She looks up from her task to see Kara staring at her incredulously.
“You’ve never…seen Cinderella?” Kara asks, as if she can’t quite believe that it could be a possibility. Lena shakes her head.
“What about Snow White?” Another shake. “Sleeping Beauty?” Lena shrugs, and Kara throws her arms out again. “The Little Mermaid?”
At Lena’s third confirmation in the negative, Kara looks flabbergasted. “Do you have something against princesses?”
“I didn’t exactly have a Disney childhood,” Lena says, with a tight smile. Kara looks more understanding of that explanation, and when the song ends she turns off the speaker to explain in more detail.
“Last week was about energy, right?” Kara says, gesturing with her hands to illustrate her point. “And the week before was about passion.”
Lena, feeling a little warm at the reminder, nods shortly. Kara continues with a renewed excitement.
“This week is about romance.”
Lena’s stomach sinks. Kara looks so eager, so exuberant about her latest choreography, and Lena isn’t sure how to break it to her that romance is even less manageable for her than passion.
“Romance. Not my strong suit,” Lena manages to say with a tight laugh. Kara, as always, is undeterred by Lena’s negativity.
“You said that in week 1, and look how that went!”
“Kara, I haven’t been in a real relationship since I was 23. And you know how that ended,” Lena says, a little more seriously. At the tone change Kara softens, coming closer and talking a bit more quietly away from Imra.
“Do you remember how it felt, though?” Kara says earnestly, her eye contact unfaltering. “The infatuation, the exhilaration, the butterflies? The rush of being near someone you’re in love with?”
Lena does remember. It’s perhaps more immediate to her than she’d like to admit, but she quickly forces the lid back onto that particular box.
“I’m pretty sure Cinderella is a story about a girl who marries the first man who could get her out of a terrible home life. Not exactly the height of healthy relationships,” Lena says instead, and she’s quite proud that it comes out in a confident, teasing tone and not a breathy whisper. Kara laughs.
“Only you could find the logic in a fable.”
“What can I say,” Lena says, oddly fascinated by the way Kara’s eyes crinkle at the corners. “I’m a pragmatist.”
Kara smiles more gently, now, looking down at Lena from what she now realizes is a miniscule amount of space. They’re intimately close, Kara leaning in so she can hear what Lena is saying; she puts a hand on Lena’s arm, rubbing it softly.
“We’ll find the romantic in you before the week is out.”
Lena’s breath, caught up in her chest, leaves her all at once when Imra clears her throat pointedly from the other side of the room.
“Sorry to interrupt, but we should probably get to work?” Imra says, her brow quirked in amusement. Kara practically jumps back, laughing in a way that’s much less genuine than it was before, and she strides back over to the speaker.
“Yeah! Of course, yes. Okay, let’s run through it.”
It’s right back to business after that, Imra and Kara going through the routine from top to bottom, and even in the first run Lena can see what Kara meant when she said romance. The routine is slow and elegant, like the first dance at a perfect fairy-tale wedding, and Kara seems so proud of it that Lena can’t help but put her best foot forward when Imra starts to guide her through the individual movements.
The last thing in the world Lena would ever want is to disappoint Kara.
Kara continues their tradition of sending Imra away after the first day and having gentler private sessions for the rest of the week, and as the days progress they see each other outside of the studio with even more frequency. Lena does her best to juggle helping Sam run L-Corp in her absence remotely and learning a third routine, and Kara insists on getting her to relax by taking Lena for lunches and, increasingly, dinners at her favourite places in National City. Kara’s tastes range from chic bistros to cheap pizza places to roving food trucks they have to track down through social media, and Kara is even more excited than usual to show Lena what she calls her number-one favourite restaurant in the city on a balmy Thursday night after a particularly tiring rehearsal day.
“Hard rehearsals require creative rewards,” Kara says with an air of seriousness as she pulls her bicycle out of the oversized trunk of Lena’s towncar. Kara had originally intended for them to walk here together, but after hearing that it would take nearly 45 minutes Lena had insisted on calling her driver. “We need noodles, and we need them now.”
She parks the bike with an easy familiarity in the alley next to the restaurant when the car drives away, wrapping her chain around a pipe and locking it like she’s done so a hundred times. The restaurant is in yet another part of National City Lena has never been to, a vibrant and brightly-lit corner of Chinatown, and inside it looks much like the other establishments they’ve been frequenting – small and unassuming, with a big menu and a staff that clearly knows and loves Kara. The older woman behind the till brightens the second they enter, introducing herself to Lena as the owner and leaning over the counter to kiss Kara on the cheek and ask where she’s been the last few weeks, and she seems unsurprised when Kara orders enough food for at least six people.
“These are the best potstickers in the city,” Kara says confidently when they sit down at a table near the window, handing Lena a pair of disposable chopsticks and pouring them both a glass of water from the sweating jug on the table. It’s warm in the restaurant, most of the ventilation coming from a fan directing the hot air out through the open front door, and it smells incredible.
“Is that why you ordered three servings?” Lena asks, still amused by the sheer volume of food Kara requested. Kara nods.
“Trust me, we’ll need them. Alex and I always order four and we still end up fighting over the last one.” Kara takes a long gulp of water as soon as her glass is full, throat flexing with every swallow – Lena should turn her attention to the chopsticks she’s unsuccessfully trying to separate, but a cold droplet is sliding down Kara’s neck on a determined path towards the edge of her sports bra, just visible above the line of her tank top, and Lena watches its progress like it’s a nail-biting Olympic ski run. Kara is sweaty from the exercise and heat, messy strands of hair plastered to her face and neck, and yet none of it is at all off-putting.
Lena’s chopsticks snap open just as the droplet soaks into the fabric with so much force that a few splinters fly off and litter the tablecloth, and Kara finally puts down her empty glass to help Lena brush them away and ask the waitress for a new pair.
Lena is spared the embarrassment of having to explain her chopstick catastrophe by Kara pulling her phone out, lining up what is clearly a photo of the menu with Lena in the background.
“Smile,” Kara says, flashing her own lopsided grin when Lena immediately covers her face.
“I’m all sweaty,” Lena says, muffled by her own hands. “I haven’t even changed out of my rehearsal clothes.”
Kara, as always, argues the point. “Neither have I. Besides, you look amazing.”
“Why do you need me in the picture?” Lena asks, peeking out from between her fingers. Kara is still pointing the phone at her, and her grin softens a little.
“I want stuff to remember you by.”
Lena’s heart does a pirouette more perfect than her body has ever managed, and it’s only then that she finally lowers her hands and lets Kara take the photo. She even tries to smile naturally, assisted by Kara making a funny face as she hits the shutter button; Kara posts it to her story as naturally as anything, her ease with social media as pronounced as Lena’s unease with it, and as she’s typing the caption she gestures at Lena’s phone sitting facedown on the table.
“Oh, hey! We should post to your Instagram too. Your assistant wanted you to try it out, right?”
Lena concedes the point, seeing as she did promise Jess she would give it at least a tiny bit of effort before abandoning it completely. She takes a picture of Kara pretending to bite the giant cartoon bowl of rice printed on the front of the menu, with a simple caption: about to watch subject eat her weight in crab rangoon. Will report findings asap. Kara suggests she adds a few science-ey emojis, so she adds a microscope and a beaker before she hits post.
“Are you sure it’s not too serious?” Lena asks, second-guessing the decision as soon as she puts the phone back down. As if she can sense Lena’s instinct to pick it up again and delete the post, Kara puts a hand over Lena’s before she can raise it.
“No, it’s funny! You have a dry humour. It’s one of the many things I like about you.”
There’s a quiet, needy voice in Lena’s head, one that whispers what else do you like? when Kara gives her hand a gentle pat, but Kara’s attention soon turns to the food that starts to arrive in bulk. Their conversation is light and easy while the table is heaped with dishes that steam even in the hot air, but Kara is only on her third bite when their table is illuminated by a bright white camera flash.
Kara pauses, a potsticker half-raised to her mouth, and frowns through the windowpane. Two more flashes go off in succession, each from a different spot on the other side, and when they fade Lena can see that there’s at least 6 photographers camped outside the restaurant - they seem to be crowding each other to get a shot of their table, and Kara puts down her chopsticks with a baffled expression.
“Wow. I’ve never had them be this persistent before,” Kara says, giving an unenthusiastic sort of wave as more flashes go off. “What the heck are they so interested in?”
“No idea,” Lena says, fighting the urge to cover her face again. She’s still not used to being photographed while looking less than perfectly put together, and the attention is making her feel overheated and self-conscious.
“Shoot,” Kara mutters, drumming her fingers on the table. “Note to self – next time I post something, don’t tag the location.”
“It’s not your fault,” Lena assures her, suddenly not hungry at all. “Maybe if we ignore them, they’ll go away.”
Kara purses her lips. She looks unsatisfied with the wait-around-and-hope strategy, and she stands up abruptly – the cameras follow her movement. “I have a better idea. Stay here for a sec.”
Kara heads to the counter to talk to the owner, and without someone else to focus on Lena’s anxiety only worsens. She tries to look natural – the flashes stop, so clearly the photographers are only interested in seeing them together, but she still feels like a zoo animal with them all peering at her through the glass. Thankfully Kara returns quickly, and tugs on Lena’s sleeve.
The paparazzi shift as soon as they both stand up, stampeding over to the exit in a herd – they don’t enter the restaurant, perhaps cowed by the scowl the owner is pinning them with through the open door, but they seem to be laying in wait for when she and Kara leave. Rather than heading to the front door, though, Kara instead pulls Lena down a narrow hallway behind the counter and into what appears to be the kitchen. It’s cramped between the stoves and the prep station, with only enough room for them to walk single-file to the exit on the other side, and Kara reaches behind to grab Lena’s hand and lace their fingers together as if Lena might somehow get lost in the 8 feet from one door to the next.
Lena’s palms, already damp from the heat, feel even sweatier than before.
“Where are we going?” Lena asks, her voice low even though they’re in an entirely separate room from the paparazzi. Kara grins, looking back over her shoulder.
“Out the secret way!”
Kara leads her through the space, past a line of hot woks and one single person chopping scallions with lightning speed who pays them no mind. Lena follows her unquestioningly through two more doors until they finally spill out into a familiar alley, the still-warm night air feeling comparatively cool after the stifling temperature of the kitchen.
“Shh,” Kara whispers, holding a free finger to her lips and pointing with their still-intertwined hands towards the mouth of the alley where Lena can hear the murmur of waiting voices. “The front door is over there.”
“That’s where my car is picking me up,” Lena points out, her voice lowered. “How are you suggesting we get past them?”
Wordlessly Kara points just behind them, where her bike is still locked to a pipe.
“…you’re joking,” Lena says, but Kara doesn’t seem to see the issue. She’s looking quite proud of herself, pulling her keys out of her pocket to unlock the chain.
“You can ride on my handlebars!”
“I really don’t think that’s going to work,” Lena says, eyeing the bike nervously. It’s not exactly a sturdy thing – it looks well taken care of, but quite old, like Kara got it second-hand and painted it herself. “I’d rather they get photos of me upright rather than facedown on the sidewalk.”
“We’ll be past them before they even realize it’s us! Come on, Alex and I used to do it all the time,” Kara says, winding the unlocked bike chain around the middle of her bike and swinging her leg over it. “It’s easy!”
“I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a child,” Lena protests, even as she’s letting Kara pull her forward by the hand towards the increasingly small-looking handlebars.
“Well it’s a good thing you won’t be doing the riding,” Kara says with a wink that makes all the heat in Lena’s body head stubbornly south. “You just have to sit here and let me do all the work. Hop up.”
The hopping-up process takes a few tries, but with Kara’s help Lena manages to find a perch that isn’t too wobbly. It relies pretty heavily on leaning back into Kara, her hips cradled between Kara’s forearms and her back braced against her chest, and Kara’s chin sits perfectly on Lena’s shoulder.
“Ready?” Kara says, low and confident in Lena’s ear. Lena swallows hard, her grip tightening on the small area of handlebar not taken up by her thighs or Kara’s hands.
“This is a terrible idea. I don’t know what to do with my legs.”
Lena can feel Kara’s smile. “You can trust me, Lena. I won’t let you get hurt.”
Lena can’t help it. After weeks now of learning to trust Kara intrinsically with her physical safety, those words are like a trigger phrase seared into her brain – she relaxes, leaning more heavily into Kara and letting her legs hang on either side of the front wheel.
Kara gets the bike moving with a hard kick-off, standing up on her pedals to gain speed faster and faster until Lena can’t help the half-terrified, half-thrilled noise that bursts out of her in a crescendo. Kara, rather than slowing down, joins in - together they careen towards the street, yelling and laughing so loudly together that the a few of the paparazzi finally notice they they’re coming. Three of them move into the alley, holding up their cameras, but Kara is going too fast; before anyone can so much as hit the shutter button they’re zooming past the unsuspecting photographers in a blur, jumping the slight curb and veering into the bike lane with a hard jostle.
“Kara!” Lena shouts, her legs curling up defensively even as she laughs in pure exhilaration. “This is crazy!”
Kara takes it in stride.
“Hold on tight!” Kara grunts, ignoring a car that honks at them for their erratic steering and determinedly pedaling them down the street. She keeps Lena steady through it all, arms firm on either side of her body, and despite the danger of her perch and the lack of helmets Lena feels completely safe in Kara’s hands. At the edge of the next block Lena spares a look backwards, and a few of the photographers seem to have tried to give chase – but Kara is too fast for them, and they shrink into the distance until Kara turns a hard corner onto a bike path that cuts through a darkened public park.
Lena can’t help but laugh. Against all odds, Kara’s ridiculous plan actually worked.
Now that the initial adrenaline has ebbed, Lena can admit that it’s sort of nice coasting along on Kara’s handlebars. The air is cooler at this speed, the noise of the city muted by the park’s trees and grass – the whizz of Kara’s tires over the pavement is closer than the sound of traffic, and even louder is Kara’s hard but even breaths behind her as she pilots them through the park and onto the sidewalk in another neighborhood. She’s solid at Lena’s back, and for a minute Lena simply closes her eyes, tips her head back and lets herself commit the feeling to memory. She can see the appeal of cycling, if this is what it always feels like.
After a block or so Kara slows, dragging her feet along the concrete until they finally come to a stop. Once she’s balanced she holds out an arm palm-up for Lena to take.
Lena laughs, dismounting a little shakily with Kara’s assistance. “How chivalrous. All you need now is a dragon to slay and you’re practically a knight of the round table.”
“You can laugh, but I take my duty as Lena Luthor’s Transportation Officer very seriously,” Kara says, getting off the bike and walking it beside her. Lena keeps pace - she isn’t entirely sure where they’re going but Kara seems to know the area, and Lena takes her lead. Even if her legs are aching, she doesn’t want the night to end yet.
“You got me here in one piece, so I guess you should be commended,” Lena concedes. “That was less terrifying than I thought it might be.”
“Oh, stop it. You’ll make me blush,” Kara says, deadpan. Her face cracks into a grin when Lena nudges her, chuckling.
“Okay, fine,” Lena says, rolling her eyes while Kara playfully feigns injury from Lena’s elbow. “Genuinely, thank you for that. I really didn’t want to deal with all those cameras.”
Kara frowns at the reminder, standing upright again and moving closer to Lena as they walk. “That’s the first time they’ve ever been so aggressive. With me, at least. It was weird.”
Lena has dealt with plenty of paparazzi in her time who scaled fences or snuck into her building through emergency exits to shove a camera in her face and ask if she feels guilty for her brother’s crimes, but it doesn’t feel like the right time to bring it up.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t actually get to try the food you were raving about,” Lena says instead, glancing around them to get her bearings. The streets are quiet, lined with upgraded industrial buildings that Lena assumes must hold retrofitted apartments, and Kara seems to know exactly where she’s going. “I barely got a bite in before they interrupted.”
“Oh, I asked them to send it to my place by delivery,” Kara says cheerfully. “It should be there soon!”
“Don’t you need to be there to receive it?” Lena asks, but Kara is undeterred. She stops them in front of a red brick building, pointing at the door where a delivery person is waiting patiently.
“We’re here! Want to come up and finish dinner?”
Thrown off by the abruptness, Lena hesitates. Something about the idea of entering Kara’s space feels intimate in a way she can’t explain, like seeing behind a curtain she’s been trying to keep closed. But Kara looks so earnestly excited to share dinner with her that Lena agrees and follows her up, watching Kara haul the bike over her shoulder and climb four flights of stairs with an armful of paper delivery bags like it’s nothing.
Kara’s apartment isn’t exactly what Lena imagined it would be. With Kara’s salary from the show Lena assumed it would be trendy and upscale, or at the very least large. But it’s the opposite. It’s a small but homey bachelor, an open-concept with exposed brick and warm, well-worn wood furniture and a bed separated from the living space by a gauzy curtain. It feels nothing short of welcoming, but Kara looks a little self-conscious as she gives Lena the brief tour.
“Sorry about the mess,” Kara says, setting her bike down near the door and grabbing at a sweater and a pair of shorts slung over the back of the couch to toss them into the laundry basket. There’s a plate and a glass on the kitchen island, probably from her breakfast, and Kara puts them in the crowded sink with a wince. “I never have much time to clean during filming.”
“I’ve been living in a hotel for 3 weeks, so anything with a kitchen in it looks great to me,” Lena admits, and Kara looks placated. Abandoning her tidying Kara grabs the food and heads over to one of the large windows in the bedroom area, opening it with gusto.
“Let me show you the best part!”
With no other explanation Kara disappears through the window into the darkness, and Lena makes a startled noise.
Obviously there’s something outside for Kara to stand on - she can hear scuffling, a metallic sound, and almost immediately Kara pokes her head back through to beckon Lena after her onto what she can now see is a fire escape.
“Come on! The roof has a great view.”
The fire escape is horribly rickety, but it’s only two flights to get to the roof and once Kara has pulled her up and she can see the view in its entirety, she understands why Kara brought her here. They’re pretty far from the downtown core, so Kara’s six-storey building is just high enough to see over most of the others in the neighborhood and gives an unobstructed view of the lit-up buildings of the city proper in the distance. Rather than the skyscrapers of Metropolis, National City sprawls low and wide over the valley it’s nestled in all the way to the coast, and with the flickering lights and the movement of cars it looks like a vibrantly lit anthill.
“There’s no stars this deep in the city, but on clear nights you can see the moon,” Kara says, setting the food down on a slightly rusty patio table and pulling up two nearby chairs. “The whole building kind of shares the roof. Sometimes we have potlucks up here.”
“That’s got to be the only thing I miss about living outside the city,” Lena admits. “I used to have a telescope in my window.”
Kara pauses midway through piling a plate with a little bit of everything, looking surprised by that revelation. “You grew up in the country too? I had you pegged for a city girl, through and through.”
“I wasn’t in a small town or anything,” Lena clarifies, taking the plate heaped with still-warm food from Kara. “My family had a massive property in upstate New York. An estate, really. I went to boarding school as soon as I was old enough, but I spent summers there.”
Kara settles in with her own plate, somehow maneuvering her long limbs to sit cross-legged in her chair. “An estate? How big was it?”
“Just over 500 acres.”
A lone dumpling falls from Kara’s chopsticks.
“…Five hundred?” Kara says, lowering her food to let it sink in. “That’s…that’s bigger than the entire town I grew up in.”
Lena shrugs. “In my family, possessions meant power. Half the land was vineyards and orchards, but there were lots of outbuildings. Pools, tennis court, guest houses, stables – “
“Stables?” Kara says, her voice rising an octave. Lena laughs, finally tucking into her food – each thing Kara put on her plate is delicious, and it’s hard not to talk with her mouth full.
“The only thing it didn’t have was anyone to talk to besides my brother.”
Kara laughs, too, and for a while they eat in companionable quiet. The conversation is light, mostly about the food and the view, and while Lena has to tap out halfway through her plate Kara takes second and third helpings without slowing down. She can see why the restaurant owner wasn’t surprised by the size of Kara’s order – she’s seen Kara eat a fair amount in the weeks they’ve been having lunch together, but it appears that dinner is a whole other order of magnitude.
The night is overcast, but over the course of the meal the clouds start to shift until the bare outline of the moon can be seen through the haze, and Kara stares up at it with a serene sort of smile.
“Couldn’t you afford to live outside the city, where you could see some stars?” Lena asks, looking up at the moon with Kara. The pale light of it makes Kara look a bit ethereal, even surrounded by half-broken patio furniture.
“Technically, yeah. But I dunno,” Kara says, a crinkle forming between her brows. “I’ve lived here ever since I moved to this city. Maybe if I ever moved in with someone I’d look at bigger places, but just for me, I don’t need anything more. I like it here.”
“I like it, too,” Lena admits quietly.
“Really?” Kara says, sounding skeptical. “I know it probably looks like a shoebox next to wherever you live.”
“Really,” Lena insists. “It feels like an actual home. My apartment in Metropolis is nice, but it’s…a little sterile.”
“Did you have a decorator fill it with pristine white furniture?” Kara asks, hitting entirely too close to home for Lena’s comfort. She thinks about her apartment – clean and modern, but barely-used with the long hours she usually works – and purses her lips.
“…it’s not all white.”
Kara snorts, somehow managing not to choke on her mouthful of rice. “I’d be terrified to visit you! There’d be stains on all your furniture by the second day.”
Kara doesn’t seem concerned about what she’s said, but Lena’s mind stutters on the concept. The idea of Kara, after the show is over, actually coming to Metropolis to visit her – seeing all of Lena’s routines, eating at her favourite restaurants. Staying in her guest room, even.
“You’d visit me?” Lena asks. Kara pauses mid-chew.
“If you wanted,” Kara says, suddenly even more casual than she was before. Almost performatively. “We’re friends, right? And I’ve never been to Metropolis. It could be fun.”
Lena blinks at her silently.
“I don’t want to impose, though,” Kara says, starting to backpedal at Lena’s silence. “I didn’t mean to just assume you’d want me to visit, I was just saying – “
“I’d like that,” Lena interrupts loudly, forcing Kara’s panic to a halt.
When Lena nods, Kara’s beaming smile is even brighter than the moonlight now peeking out fully from the cloud cover.
Lena heads home after dinner, and the street is still blessedly empty of photographers when her car pulls up to the curb outside Kara’s apartment. Kara sees her to the door, ensuring that Lena goes home with some leftovers to put in her minifridge, and for the whole ride back to the hotel Lena’s eyes stay trained on the moonlit sky.
The next morning is their weekly filmed rehearsal day. It’s the first time that the sight of the cameras and interviewers hasn’t filled her with dread; they almost feel like part of the backdrop now, and she can instead put all her focus on Kara and the routine. It isn’t just Kara hamming it up for the cameras this week, either. Lena is having fun too, poking fun at Kara when she almost drops her during a dip and taking her own small mistakes in stride instead of getting into her head.
She even has a good handle on the steps. The Viennese waltz is sweeping and almost ballet-like at times, and the emphasis on posture, precision, and lines rather than looseness or rhythm means that it almost feels like fencing. There are no major lifts, and this time it seems less like Kara is steering her and more like the dance is shared between them. The actual give-and-take that Kara claimed it was on their very first rehearsal day together. The song is a little silly in that Disney-cartoon sort of way, but Kara takes such delight in the nostalgia that Lena has come to be quite fond of it.
Just before the cameras pack up Lena is asked her most-deflected question for the thousandth time, and after the easiness of the day the honest truth spills out of her with no prompting.
“Are still you enjoying working with Kara?”
Lena’s eyes find Kara across the room – she’s sitting cross-legged on the table as she does so often, talking to a camera operator and sharing a big bag of Skittles with the crew – and smiles.
“Very much. Working with Kara is…perfect.”
The stress of Disney Week on the wardrobe department is clear as soon as Lena arrives at the studio for the live show on Monday.
Much like week 1, there was no fitting earlier in the week – in fact some people’s costumes are still being stitched together while the cast is in hair and makeup, and the bodice of Lena’s own outfit has to be mended while she’s still wearing it after a last-minute rhinestone catastrophe. Despite that, and despite how silly it might seem, Lena feels quite pretty in her cheesy Cinderella dress. The skirt is poufy and swirls in a satisfying way when she spins around, and she can imagine how fun it’s going to look on stage.
She’s still swirling it back and forth to amuse herself when Kara emerges from the fitting room.
Kara looked good in her previous two costumes. Lena isn’t sure if it’s a production decision or if Kara has any input on her wardrobe, but she’s been outfitted exclusively in tight pants and stylish menswear since the beginning, and it undeniably suits her. From the very first week Lena has felt a basic magnetism, an undeniable but easily smothered physical reaction to an attractive woman; she’s come to terms with the fact that that reaction is likely never going away. Kara is beautiful, and Sam is right in that there’s no reason she shouldn’t notice it.
The feeling this costume evokes is a little different. Kara of course looks handsome in her suit, the very image of a Prince Charming complete down to the gold buttons and shoulder tassels, but there’s something silly and fantastical about it that makes it almost dreamlike. Her hair is slicked back into a low bun, her white jacket fitted perfectly to her frame, and even though together they look like they should be standing on a float at a Disneyland parade Lena’s heart still flutters. Kara looks like the kind of silly childhood romantic fantasy Lena always thought she didn’t have.
It's a brand-new feeling, and Lena isn’t sure what to do with it yet.
Kara’s face is unreadable when she first catches sight of Lena. She’s quiet, simply looking her over slowly, for just long enough for Lena to feel a little nervous – but quickly she smiles that familiar sunny smile and dips into a deep, goofy bow, kissing Lena’s hand in such a dramatic fashion that Lena has to stifle an honest-to-god giggle.
“How’s this for a knight of the round table?” Kara says once she’s let go of Lena’s hand, stretching her arms out and giving a little twirl. “Pretty dashing, right?”
“I think you have the wrong era,” Lena says, straightening one of Kara’s tassels and smoothing a hand over her collar. “Cinderella is 19th century – the round table was Medieval.” Kara looks quizzical, and Lena crosses her arms defensively. “What? I watched the movie this week.”
“I thought you didn’t like Disney?”
“I said I didn’t watch Disney when I was a child,” Lena clarifies. “I never said I didn’t like it.”
A slow smile takes over Kara’s face, and when she puts an arm over Lena’s shoulder Lena can see the gears turning in her head. She’s probably planning an excruciatingly long animated movie marathon, and Lena strangely doesn’t hate the idea. “Oh, we are so watching the entire catalogue this week. Get ready for a full-on Disney education. A Disney-cation. Disney-ucation? Edu-Disney?”
Kara is still testing phrases when Alex arrives to usher them both to their places before the show begins, and as they pass some of the other dancers Lena catches the eye of Leslie Willis. She’s glowering at them, dressed up as the Jane to Mike’s Tarzan for a campy Jazz routine, and as soon as she catches Lena looking Leslie tucks something Lena can’t quite see into her purse with an insincere smile that feels more ominous than it is friendly.
Leslie and Mike’s routine ends up being as mediocre as their costumes. It doesn’t live up to the Phil Collins song it’s set to, and Leslie practically stomps to her place beside the stage with Mike trailing timidly behind her after the judges tell them as much. The other routines range from impressive to cringey, and once again she and Kara are situated near the end of the roster.
“How you feeling?” Kara asks when they’re in the wings, waiting for their intro video to start so they can take their starting position. The stage has been illuminated with blue and white lights to match Lena’s dress with a huge fantasy castle projected onto the wall behind where they’ll be dancing, and all of it dims when the jumbo screen flickers to life to play the footage of their rehearsal and interviews.
“Okay, I think,” Lena says, and when Kara raises an eyebrow she chuckles. “Honestly. I feel okay about this one. For once, my persistent stiffness comes in handy. You’ve taught me well.”
Alex waves them forward, and while the video plays Lena finds her mark. She and Kara are starting fairly separated this time, facing each other with about 10 feet between them so that they can move to each other dramatically in the first few moments of the routine, and Lena misses the comfort of Kara’s touch. It grounded her in those first two weeks, feeling the tight squeeze of Kara’s hand before the music started. She needs to find that grounding herself, now – but Kara is holding her gaze, giving encouragement with her eyes, and it helps.
“Kara is…perfect,” Lena hears herself say on screen, and she only has a moment to note that they seem to have cut out the first part of that soundbite; the video ends on that comment, and soon the lights are up and the music is starting.
The camera starts on Kara, focusing on her face during the soft opening notes before swooping around in an arc to show Lena’s position and then going wide to capture the breadth of the stage, and as much as Lena knows it’s only for broadcast the close-up it’s still so terribly easy to imagine that the achingly romantic, longing expression on Kara’s face isn’t a performance.
The audience always fades into the background when she dances with Kara, at least enough that she can now perform without paralyzing stage fright. It becomes like white noise, still there but not quite so obtrusive. But tonight, the second they start their waltz, she and Kara aren’t on stage at all – in Lena’s mind they’re alone in a bubble, in their rehearsal studio or even in an actual fantasy ballroom where they can shut the door to the rest of the world. Her eyes are locked on Kara’s for every step, and without really trying her mind obeys what Kara has been trying to get her to do all week and lets emotion guide her. She doesn’t dance with her body – she dances with something deeper, as ephemeral as that sounds, pouring her confusing emotions into every sweeping movement. Every time they move away Lena aches for closeness; every time they come together again, they fit like puzzle pieces.
It’s an act, the logical part of Lena’s brain helpfully tries to remind her. You’re both acting. But that voice is being smothered, and the larger part of her is falling into the fantasy headfirst.
When they finish in a dip and the noise of the crowd and sparkle of the lights leeches back into her consciousness, it’s the first time since the show began that the reality-tv aspect of this whole thing has felt completely unwelcome. A bucket of ice-water has been dumped over her overheated body, clearing the dreamy fog, and Lena feels frozen by it. Kara’s eyes are bright and wide, her cheeks flushed even under her layers of stage makeup, and maybe Lena’s unregulated endorphins are projecting her own desires but she could swear that Kara pulls her closer when the music fades out. Like Kara doesn’t want to let her go any more than Lena wants to move away.
She wants to keep Kara to herself. She wants this to be real.
It’s Brainy that finally breaks them apart, leading them as a unit towards the judge’s table for their critiques. Lena is on autopilot – her legs are operating separate from her body, and the only place she can process sensation seems to be where Kara’s arm sits on her shoulders. All her cognitive function is apparently focused on the very inconvenient realization she’s just had, and when William’s voice cuts through the fog it feels like an intrusion.
“Now that,” William says emphatically, tapping the table hard with his pointer finger, “is Disney Week.”
The statement isn’t particularly impactful to Lena. In fact it’s so vague that it’s almost meaningless, but the crowd goes wild for it. Some of the people with floor seats are even jumping up and down, the ones closest to their part of the stage reaching their arms up like they’re hoping to get close enough to touch.
“If we ever write a manual on how to excel in the first few weeks on this show, we know whose photo will be on the cover,” William continues, charming as always. “Like Cat said so eloquently, you two bring chemistry like nobody else I’ve seen on this stage. Brilliant, ladies. Just brilliant.”
“With every week you two improve your technique,” Jonn adds, his usually stoic face showing some excitement for once. “Last week you guided Lena with confidence, Kara, and it paid off. Tonight you were just as strong, but she didn’t need you.” His focus turns to Lena, and Lena struggles not to squirm under the microscope. “Lena, you are truly growing into a skilled dancer. Your lines, your frame, the grace in your movement – fantastic job. I’m very eager to see what else you have to show us.”
Kara is beaming, thrilled with such a positive critique from Jonn, but Lena is having trouble absorbing the praise. The heartbeat pounding in her ears is louder than their voices.
When Cat leans towards her microphone, the whole theatre takes in a breath of expectation.
“There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said - perfectly to theme, perfectly executed,” Cat says simply, giving her third consecutive week of uncharacteristically positive comments. “It’s not often on this show that we see two people who so clearly love to dance together, and it makes all of us want to keep watching you.”
Jonn and William agree vocally, clapping along with the crowd, and Cat continues.
“There was something different on stage tonight,” she says, steepling her fingers together and staring down at them rather pointedly. “Something very promising. Whatever it is, keep it up.”
The crowd roars again, and Brainy steamrolls on to read out the phone number for fan voting. As the camera sweeps back to catch a shot of them for the background, Kara grabs Lena in what feels like a purely instinctive hug, lifting her up and twirling her in a few dizzying circles.
“You were incredible,” Kara says breathlessly in her ear, setting Lena’s feet gently back on the ground. “Incredible. I’m so glad you’re my partner, Lena.”
Lena’s stomach twists, and it has nothing to do with the spinning.
Their scores are read while the stage gets prepared for Sara and Oliver to perform a Jungle Book themed routine, and even with their good critiques it feels unreal.
10, 10, 10.
“A perfect score,” Kara breathes, and Lena barely hears it over the cacophony. “I’ve never gotten a perfect score before. Never.” She turns to Lena, her smile disbelieving but getting wider by the second.
“Where have you been all my life?”
She pulls Lena close with an arm over her shoulder like she always does for the rest of the show, as if she hasn’t just said something that makes Lena feel more valued and worthy than she ever has in her life, and together they watch Sara and Oliver perform their second lacklustre routine in a row and consequently get eliminated to close out the night. The cameras turn off, the theatre empties, and all the while Kara is blissfully unaware of how desperately Lena is struggling to keep the lids on all the little boxes she’s been packing away for weeks.
Lena momentarily considers sprinting out of the building without saying goodbye while Kara is getting changed just so she can have a second to think, but the idea of Kara being hurt by the abandonment glues her feet to the floor.
“Everyone is going to the bar again later,” Kara says once she’s out of wardrobe, falling into step with Lena towards the parking lot. “Want to join us?”
“I can’t,” Lena says shortly, thankful for the first time of the commitment she made a week ago. She doesn’t have the stamina to socialize right now, especially not with the one person causing her so much confusion. “I have a morning show appearance tomorrow, remember? I need to be up at 4am to get there for hair and makeup.”
“Oh,” Kara says, her face falling. “Right. Maybe next week?”
Lena nods distractedly, but gives no real confirmation. The rest of the walk to Lena’s towncar is quiet, and there’s a new tension in the air when Lena opens the car door and throws her bag inside.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, though?” Kara asks, a thread of insecurity coming through for the first time since Lena met her.
Kara knows that Lena will be at rehearsal tomorrow, albeit a bit late because of the interview. They discussed it days ago. There’s no reason for her to need to confirm it. Even in her frazzled state Lena can tell that Kara has probably picked up on her mood, and is trying to ask something else without actually saying it. She can see it in Kara’s big, expressive eyes - are we okay?
“Tomorrow,” Lena says, doing her best to give Kara an encouraging smile. Kara looks slightly soothed by it, and with a little wave Lena ducks into the car and into sweet, blessed solitude.
Unsurprisingly, she tosses and turns for most of the night.
Sure, maybe she has feelings for Kara, Lena ruminates as the clock ticks down the dwindling time she has left to sleep. Tiny feelings. Something slightly more than a physical appreciation, magnified by the endorphins and adrenaline of their performances. But that doesn’t change the most important fact – Lena doesn’t want a relationship with anyone. The idea of complicating the friendship she’s built with Kara by adding sex, or god forbid romance, is unacceptable. She’s been down that road before, and it was the most catastrophic mistake of her life.
She and Andrea can barely look at each other without tension, even years later. She can’t let that happen with Kara. Not ever.
Lena is groggy and a little nauseous when she gets into the car a few hours later, but at the very least she doesn’t have to bother with her own makeup. She’s handed a large Earl Grey the moment she enters the building, and she sends a silent thank-you to Jess for keeping her rider updated – Lena had rejected the idea of even having one when she started the show, but Jess had suggested a few simple things like this and right now she couldn’t be more appreciative.
Her phone goes off three times in her purse while she’s dozing in the makeup chair, and she gets as far as seeing Sam’s name on the notifications before she drops it back in her bag. She doesn’t have the energy or wherewithal to make conversation when all she can think about is the social gauntlet she’s about to run. It’s odd for Sam to message so early, but they’re only texts. If it was an emergency, Sam would call.
The show’s set is blindingly white and professionally-made, and both hosts have teeth to match. They’re an attractive duo in a perfectly average way, broadly palatable, and as the intro music plays and the cameras go live Lena finds herself missing Kara’s warm, crooked grin. It’s always put her at ease, and she could use a little ease right now.
Lena never has any reason to read trashy magazines full of speculation on the relationships of minor celebrities. She’s been victim to too many smear articles in her time to give tabloids any consideration; which is why, when the hosts ambush her with questions about her friendship with Kara from the moment the get-go, she’s so thrown off that she doesn’t think terribly hard about her answers before they come out.
“So, Lena,” the female host says – Lena is fairly sure her name is Barb, but she was formally introduced only seconds before they were all seated at the table – and her smile is wide but not at all natural. Lena is reminded unnervingly of the Cheshire Cat. “Your chemistry with Kara Danvers has been all anyone is talking about!”
“Has it?” Lena says, trying to look friendly without grimacing. The male host, Dean, chimes in without missing a beat.
“No need to be modest! We all saw your Disney performance last night. Can we play that, please?”
A projection flickers to life on the stark white wall behind them, and Lena knows that the audience at home is seeing it on screen. Lena hasn’t even seen it herself yet, since she usually only watches her own performances in clips that Sam sends her – the waltz she and Kara are doing is just as slow and elegant as it felt, and Lena clenches her hands together under the table. The clip shows the ending of the routine where Kara whirls her in a complicated move that felt easy at the time, before dipping her almost to the floor and lifting her slowly back up until the song ends with them pressed closely together, faces an inch apart, staring into each other’s eyes with matching smiles.
It evokes exactly the story of longing, whirlwind romance that Kara wanted, and Lena has to turn her gaze away.
Being faced with the visual is different than how it had felt to perform. In the moment, it was intimate and personal – from the outside, it feels voyeuristic. She’s being forced to stare at the expression of absolute adoration on her own face while a faceless audience consumes what she wishes could be kept between herself and Kara, and she tries to swallow down her discomfort as the projection flicks off and the hosts look at her expectantly.
“Talk about a classic Disney romance,” Dean says, giving a flashy wink at Lena. Lena tries again for a smile, and deflects.
“Well, that’s what Kara’s intent was, so the choreography did a lot of the work for us. Kara is very talented –”
The screen lights up again, and Lena’s words tangle in her mouth when she realizes what’s being shown on it. It’s two photos of herself and Kara backstage, slightly blurry but unmistakeable. In the first Kara is bent over in a bow with her lips brushing Lena’s knuckles; the second shows Lena straightening Kara’s shoulder tassel, standing far closer than she needs to. There’s nothing particularly damning about them, but they’re still somehow difficult to look at.
Nobody is supposed to take photos backstage. Not even silly social media things – on show day, all media needs to be pre-vetted queued posts. They all signed a contract when the show began to follow the studio’s disclosure rules to avoid spoilers or show drama getting out, and she’s sure the crew has signed one too.
So who the hell took these?
“You and Kara have been photographed together quite a bit offstage as well,” Barb interrupts, her smile somehow even wider than before. Lena wonders how it hasn’t consumed her entire lower face yet. “Rumour is, you two are close. Do you have any juicy tidbits for us?”
“No – uh, yes. I mean. Kara and I are close, yes,” Lena stutters, thrown off by the interruption. There's an undertone to the question that Lena can detect but can't quite parse, and more than anything in the world she wishes Kara or Sam were here to point out whatever social clues she's missing. She can feel her voice getting unsteady, and she has to focus her eyes on the wall behind Barb’s head to keep the pictures out of her field of vision so she can pull herself together. “She’s…wonderful, and a much better partner than I deserve. I’m lucky that she puts up with me.” Self-deprecation has usually worked for her in the past, but these people are inexplicably more intrepid than even the hardened journalists that usually hound her at L-Corp.
“That’s what I say about my wife!” Dean chuckles. Lena laughs nervously with him, feeling like the floor of the conversation is lurching underneath her – she has bad metaphorical sea-legs to begin with, but every sentence of this damnable interview makes it worse.
Barb, terrifyingly, looks like she’s just unearthed something valuable.
“So, is that a confirmation I hear?” Barb says slyly, putting a heavy hand on Lena’s arm in an approximation of a friendly gesture. “Would you say you’re giving us an exclusive?”
“Exclusive?” Lena parrots, her mouth dry.
“About you and Kara!”
Lena frowns. She’s running on 2 hours of sleep, and though she’s functioned that way many times at L-Corp she’s gotten used to getting the full, restful nights of sleep that only days full of dance rehearsal can bring ever since she got to National City. She’s not firing on all cylinders, and the strange phrasing of the question is causing a traffic jam in her brain.
“I’d hardly say it’s news. We haven’t exactly been secretive about it, have we?” Lena says hesitantly, a knot forming in her belly as Barb’s eyes widen.
She knows immediately that she’s made a mistake.
Her answer should be fairly simple to understand. She and Kara haven’t been hiding their friendship at all – in fact they’ve been photographed together far more than she’d prefer. There’s nothing to confirm. Why on earth everyone is so interested in her friendship with Kara she still has no idea, but her answer seems to cause something of a tizzy.
The interview ends with some excitement, Barb rushing off to talk to a producer and Dean immediately ignoring Lena as soon as the show is over, and she heads back to her waiting car with a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. It echoes in her head - would you say you’re giving us an exclusive? She answered without thinking, a purely logical reaction to the question, and it felt wrong in a way she can’t articulate without more caffeine.
An exclusive what?
When she finally pulls her phone out of her bag in the backseat, her message notifications have gone from 3 to 17. All of them are from Sam, and the final two missed call notifications are what spur Lena out of her funk. She hits redial, and Sam picks up after a single ring with five words.
“Did you have a stroke?”
“What are you talking about?” Lena says, immediately defensive. Sam, as always, gets right to the point.
“You told the press you’re dating Kara before you told me?! I’ve been telling you for weeks to go for it -”
Lena’s stomach roils. It feels like it’s trying to climb up her throat, and she cuts Sam off before she can gather a head of steam.
“I’m not dating Kara, and I didn’t tell the press anything. At least tell me what you’re talking about before you scold me.”
“Did you black out during your morning show segment?” Sam says incredulously, her voice a little shrill. “They asked if you were giving them an exclusive, and you confirmed it. That’s universally accepted tabloid code for a relationship announcement. I’ve already seen like, 7 headlines, and not all of them are gossip rags.”
“No,” Lena whispers, thinking back with a sinking sensation to that horrible conversation. She’s barely out of the parking lot, and already she wishes she had never let Jess book it. “No, I – I never said we were dating, Sam. We aren’t, and I never said that.”
“Oh, Lena,” Sam sighs, her voice turning heavy. “Oh, honey.”
“Sam, I never said that!” Lena says again, her voice getting shaky. She feels frantic, desperate, and Sam’s understanding isn’t making it any better. “Why would they think that? I answered the question they asked me, that’s all. They can’t just -“
They can’t just lie like that, she wants to say. But all her previous interactions with the press really should have prepared her for the fact that they can, and will. This mistake was her doing.
“You said she’s a far better partner than you deserve.”
“Dance partner!” Lena almost yells, and even behind the partition she can see her driver flinch at the noise. She’s panicking, and the walls are closing in. “Why the hell would anyone think I’m dating Kara? So far they’ve just been saying we’re friends!”
“Are you kidding? Have you been asleep for the last 3 weeks? Those pictures alone were enough.”
“Okay, why would anyone think Kara is dating me?” Lena specifies, pressing a trembling hand to her stomach. “She’s a beautiful person with a perfect reputation, and I’m still a Luthor. It doesn’t make any sense!”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Sam says, her friend-voice receding to be replaced with her business-voice. Lena isn’t sure which she needs more right now, but the no-nonsense tone is helping a little. “It’s what they’ve inferred, and they have their claws sunk into it. You can’t un-ring that bell.”
Lena swallows past the lump in her throat. “So, everyone thinks I’ve confirmed that…”
“That you’re in a romantic relationship with Kara Danvers, yes.”
Sam sighs loudly. “Yeah. Gotta love live TV.”
“Oh god,” Lena repeats, the nausea rising again. She wonders if she shouldn’t ask her driver to pull over so she can throw up, but there’s an even more pressing issue coming to the forefront of her mind. “Oh, god, I need to call Kara. She’s going to hate me when she hears – “
There’s a quiet beep in Lena’s ear, and she almost throws the phone across the car when she sees Kara’s name on her call waiting.
“She’s calling me,” Lena says, her heart pounding urgently. Kara’s name isn’t going away, and Lena doesn’t’ have a damn clue what to say to her. “Fuck, Sam, what am I supposed to say? I just put her in the worst position imaginable!”
“Tell her the truth,” Sam says, patient in the face of Lena’s frenzy. She’s a rock, and Lena takes strength from her surety. “Kara will understand. If you guys come at this as a united front, it could smooth over in a few weeks. The rumors will persist, but it’s better to dispel them as a unit.”
“Okay. Okay.” Lena takes a deep breath, hovering a shaky thumb over the green icon. “Okay.”
“Good luck, honey.”
Lena picks up Kara’s call, and her voice falters on the hello. It comes out in a croak, but Kara rolls right into the heart of the matter.
“Did you see the news?”
“Sam did, and she called me,” Lena admits, clearing her throat and taking as deep a breath as she can get. “Kara, I’m – I’m so sorry. It was a complete misunderstanding, they trapped me in a corner and I had no idea they were talking about you being my partner instead of just my dance partner – it’s a disaster, but I’ll clear it up with my publicist, I swear. I will fix this.”
“Disaster?” Kara says, inexplicably still sounding like her sunny self despite Lena possibly ruining her life on a Tuesday morning. “Everyone is thrilled! I mean, have you actually seen any of the coverage?”
“…no?” Lena says weakly, falling back against the seat. Moments ago she was so full of anxiety that it felt like she was going to burst, and Kara just breezed in and deflated her like it was nothing. “I just got off the phone with Sam, I haven’t gotten a chance.”
“They love it, Lena,” Kara says, her familiar exuberance bleeding through the speaker, and though it seems impossible Lena could swear that she sounds excited. “They’re calling us a power couple! None of them have even mentioned your brother, they’re just talking about us. If you wanted good PR, you’ve got it in the bag.”
“At the price of everyone thinking you’re shackled to me,” Lena counters.
“That’s not even close to the word I’d use. Why wouldn’t I want to be linked with you?”
“Because not long ago the media was calling me the tech world’s patron bitch,” Lena says flatly. She’s shaking still, but it’s more leftover adrenaline than acute panic. “It’s only a matter of time before the tide turns again. I won’t be responsible for dragging your name through the mud.”
“That’s not what’s happening at all!”
“It’s going to happen once they catch wind that we aren’t actually dating,” Lena points out, rubbing at the slowly-forming migraine gathering behind her eyes. In the rush of her terrible morning she forgot to bring her sunglasses, and the blinding California sunshine is making it hard to think. “They’ll probably start spinning stories about how I viciously used you to get ahead on the show.”
Kara’s reply might as well be in another language, for the amount of sense it makes.
“So, we don’t tell them.”
The phone line crackles in the silence that follows.
“…I don’t understand,” Lena says, frowning into her hand. It’s always been hard for her to infer tone over the phone, and she wishes more than anything right now that Kara was in the car with her so she can tell her just how absurd she sounds. Instead Kara talks on, her words coming out faster as she goes.
“I mean, this is working, right? Why not keep going with it?”
“You mean…pretend to date?” Lena says hesitantly, sure that she’s misinterpreted Kara’s intent. The car rolls to a slow halt in front of her hotel, and before she gets out Lena sits where she is for a few beats, trying to figure out just how wildly out of control her day has spun in only a few short hours.
“Yeah!” Kara says, inexplicably. Like deciding to launch a fictional relationship is as easy as deciding what kind of pizza she wants for dinner. “Just for a while, that is. After the show, we can have an amicable break-up where I talk about how great you are and that I just couldn’t handle long-distance. Easy peasy, and you get the reputation boost!”
It’s presented like it’s the most logical option, but Lena can only laugh.
“You can’t seriously be suggesting a showmance.”
Kara laughs too, and even if it’s a little higher and less easy than usual it still puts Lena more at ease. “I prefer the term strategic publicity.”
“This is a big deal, Kara,” Lena says, stepping through the hotel’s revolving doors and lowering her voice. It’s unlikely that anyone here cares about her at all, let alone enough to eavesdrop, but the backstage photos she was ambushed with earlier have her feeling paranoid. “You don’t have to do this just because my company needs good PR.”
“No, I want to!”
“Why?” Lena asks, finally getting to the crux of her disbelief. Kara has every right to be livid with her for starting such a media storm – instead she’s on board, seemingly without a second thought. It’s not rational.
Kara hesitates just long enough for Lena’s elevator to reach her floor. She steps out of it quickly, wanting nothing more than to get into bed and pull the covers over her head for the rest of the day, but instead she needs to get ready to meet Kara at rehearsal and that slows her pace a little. Her day has been long enough as it is.
“To help you,” Kara says simply.
Lena shakes her head, fiddling with her keycard. “This is a massive effort just to help me with a situation that was my fault to begin with.”
“Well, it’s…” Kara fishes for a second before landing on an answer. “It’s good for me too?”
Lena scoffs. “How so?”
“Well, like you said last week,” Kara says with slightly more confidence. “This is the first time my name has been in headline news. Maybe with more visibility, I can move up in the business! Get into choreography for real, or onto another show where I don’t have to depend on the lottery to get a good partner like you. And this way, we do it together.”
Finally in the safety of her room, Lena sinks onto her bed slowly. “This seems like a bad idea.”
“I live for bad ideas,” Kara says cheerfully. Lena, too frazzled to remember that she’s been trying to quit the habit for 2 years, raises a hand to her mouth and starts to chew nervously on her thumbnail.
“Are you absolutely positive you want to do this?”
“Without a doubt.”
Kara’s answer is unequivocal. Lena can picture the look on her face, that easy sureness that convinced Lena not to drop out of this competition on her first day. Now, it seems, it’s leading her down even more dangerous roads – and again, against all reason, Lena follows.
Sam is going to have a field day.
Ohhhh we're really in it now huh
The dance in this chapter was of course inspired by this one, which is what originally sent me into a spiral to write this fic: https://youtu.be/fMeN5bc4EEU