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After it's all over, Lena plans a funeral.

(Kara buys a cottage on the Irish coast.)

Lena is busy, so busy. Busier, almost, than when the threat of total world domination had been the bread and butter of their days, when every to-do list had begun and ended with save the universe.

She's hardly ever in National City. The Luthor private jet sees more use now than it had even at the height of Lex's party days. Ever since the final battle Lena has flitted between Metropolis and Gotham and the frigid New England mansion a child with her face had once called home, signing handover papers and meeting with lawyers and investors and staring unseeing at the funeral director who asks for the fourth time this week if she might be ready to pick a headstone.

She flies further afield too, Kara knows. Knows because she listens out for Lena's heartbeat the way animals listen for danger, a radar forever scanning in the back of her mind. The normal range of her hearing fizzles out somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic and this auditory blind spot is where Lena goes, now, three times in the past two weeks. She doesn't volunteer her destination, and Kara doesn't ask. If Lena wanted her to know, she would tell her.

(There are so many things she wants Lena to know. One day, when they're both stronger, maybe she'll tell her, too.)

 

She stands beside Lena at the funeral home, gazing down at the coffin.

The mahogany gleams, polished to a blinding shine. Gold handles – for which Lillian had paid extra – are cool to the touch. Lena's fingers tremble as they trace the cream silk lining.

“I'll have to make sure her outfit matches the trim,” Lena says suddenly. Her voice doesn't shake. “Lillian would never forgive me if I let her spend eternity clashing with the décor.”

Kara huffs out a quiet laugh that's more a show of mercy than of humour. The breadth of her palm fits perfectly between Lena's shoulder blades.

“Forgive me,” comes a voice from the shadows. “But Mrs Luthor left strict instructions for her burial clothes. She was very— ah. Thorough.”

Something high and breathless shatters in Lena's throat, like the sound of glass breaking. “Of course.”

She smiles at the mortician, whose face is apologetic, though not nearly enough.

“That's my mother,” Lena says, her gaze upon the casket once more. “Still giving the orders, even at her own funeral.”

The room falls quiet, the silence stretching taut like thread frayed to breaking. The mortician clears his throat, excuses himself in a hush.

Lena's left hand joins her right on the coffin's rim, fingers curling around wood and silk until they're clawing, scratching, trembling. Her head drops, shoulders hunching, entire body bowing to curl over the casket as though shielding an open wound.

“I can't do this,” she gasps, dark hair falling over her face into the coffin's plush interior, ebony on ivory. Her spine shudders beneath Kara's palm. “I can't bury another piece of my heart.”

There are words, of course, words that could be said in a situation like this. But they feel trite and cheap and worthless in the face of such a heady rush of grief, so Kara closes her mouth and opens her arms.

Lena falls into them, all cold nose and warm tears and hot sobs. Kara holds her, swaying them a little on the spot, pondering the equally battered heart she might offer up in replacement of the fragmented, bleeding thing in Lena's chest. Wondering if anyone would ever want to exchange one set of damaged goods for another.

 

Outside the funeral home it's begun to rain, a heavy grey sheet of diagonal downpour. They wait on the sidewalk for Lena's driver to arrive, soaked to the skin. A semi thunders past, eighteen wheels catching the vast puddle forming atop the nearby storm drain.

Lena watches filthy water lap over the toes of her leather boots. Raindrops bead on the ends of her eyelashes. “Nothing I love is ever mine to keep for long.”

Kara's heart catches behind her teeth. She presses her fingertips to the hollow of her throat, to the pendant Mon-El had returned before he could go back to the future with another piece of Kara's past in his palms.

“I want you to have this,” she says, soft over the driving rain. Her fingers on the clasp are gentle. Her fingers at the nape of Lena's neck are gentler still. “It was my mother's.”

Lena traces the outline of the pendant now cradled in the dip of her own throat. When she blinks up at Kara, raindrops break free from her lashes and skate over her cheeks.

She knows that Lena knows what the necklace means to her. She knows that Lena will try to return it. She smiles, just a little, and that in itself is a promise.

(It will be months before Kara realises that she hadn't meant only to give Lena something to return. She'd meant to give her someone to return to.)

 

Lena's heartbeat disappears somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic that night. It's the fifth time this month that she'd flown east without a word to anybody.

Kara knows, knows, knows the way grief can hollow out the ribcage, can leave one so raw and gaping that the mere idea of allowing another person close enough to touch the wound is inconceivable. Grief is a jealous, covetous thing. It likes its victims whole, alone, the throb of their agony left unsoothed in the darkness.

Grief swells in the void left by loss, as intimate and possessive as a lover. Kara knows, and so she does not call. Does not track her, does not listen for her, does not follow.

But two nights later there's a text waiting when she emerges from the shower, towelling the ends of her dripping curls. I have something of yours. I'd like to return it.

Kara smiles, her first in seventy-two hours. You know where to find me.

She squeezes the terrycloth around her wet mass of hair, satisfied. An invitation without expectation; the ball placed firmly in Lena's court.

She'd been there for Kara through everything. The Phantom Zone and the Totems and Nyxly and Lex and the rest. Had put her own pain on pause to soothe Kara's. It's high time, she thinks, to return the favour. Do things entirely on Lena's terms.

It's a long time before her phone buzzes with a response. Kara swallows down her mouthful of leftover lo mein, heart a clenching fist behind her ribs.

I'd rather you came to find me.

 

The first time Kara touches down on the southwestern coast of Ireland, she hasn't bought the cottage yet, and so she stays where Lena’s staying. A quirky bed and breakfast in a tiny village perched atop a cliff overlooking the vastness of the churning Atlantic.

Lena tells her that this is where she's been coming, whenever she has the chance. To the village that had borne her mother, that had borne her, so many years ago. With Lillian's passing had come the release of certain documents, titles and deeds that had been entrusted to Lionel since the death of Lena's mother and that, at long last, had passed to her.

Lena has business here, she tells her, over hot stew and crusted bread in the dim warmth of the local pub. She has things to take care of. Things to consider.

Kara stays for three days. She lies on her narrow single mattress and listens to Lena's steady breathing through the old stone wall adjacent, tracing the smooth edge of her mother's pendant with the pad of her thumb. Lena had returned it almost as soon as Kara had touched down on Irish soil, pressing it into her palm with a quiet kind of gratitude.

On the third day, Kara wakes early to a call from Alex. A petrochemical plant is on fire back in National City, and Supergirl is needed at once.

Kara leaves, but not before slipping through Lena's bedroom window. She brushes a wisp of dark hair back from closed eyes, smooths her knuckles down the curve of a pale cheek tinted blue grey in the pre-dawn light.

She leaves her mother's necklace on the pillow.

 

With a single flick of her pen, Lena signs full ownership of Luthor Corp over to Sam.

The three of them are standing around the expensive white desk in the office that had started it all. It's as stark and indifferent as it had been that very first day, every last personal touch packed carefully into the cardboard box in Lena's hands.

“But are you sure?” Sam asks for the fifth time in ten minutes. “With your mother and brother gone you could do anything, Lena. Turn this company into a true force for good. Make it your legacy.”

Lena's eyes trace the contours of the room without a word. It seems to Kara that her gaze lingers a second too long on the low white couch along the back wall, but that might just be wishful thinking.

"This is not my legacy.”

Green eyes seek out Sam once more, pink lips quirking. “Besides, you're better equipped to make this place a force for good than I ever was. There's no one I'd trust more.”

The handsome planes of Sam's face soften. She reaches out, slips an arm around Lena's shoulders. Lena pushes into the contact with a look of serenity that's been missing for months. Kara wonders idly if there's a word for the opposite of jealousy.

“Want to know the first thing I'm going to do as CEO?” Sam asks. Long fingers squeeze Lena's bicep. "Buy a more comfortable chair.”

Lena huffs out a laugh. Strong fingers squeeze once more.

"But after that?” The look in Sam's eyes is kind, so kind. “After that, I'm going to rename this place L-Corp.”

 

Kara visits County Kerry twice more, at Lena's invitation.

Mrs Flynn, the owner of the tiny B&B Lena frequents during her stays, no longer seems surprised to see her. It's the off season, and persistently bad weather to boot, so she always has space.

Kara gets the same room every time. Learns the creaks of the mattress springs and the chill of the worn floorboards in the morning and the sound of Lena breathing through the wall.

There is a house here, if Lena wants it. Lena is not sure that she does.

It had been her mother's house, in the years before her death. Purchased by Lionel as a way to keep his mistress and illegitimate daughter comfortable and quiet, even this windswept cottage on the other side of the world is not free from the taint of Luthor poison.

“I remember sitting at this table while my mother made soda bread,” Lena says on one visit, tracing her nail along the ridged wood of the battered oak surface. “I remember the smell of it, how hot the kitchen used to get when the woodstove was burning. How the butter would start to melt even before we spread it on the slices.”

Kara smiles, taking it in. The house has stood empty for over two decades, vacant but well-maintained by a local couple paid to air the rooms and fix the leaks.

"The things this table must have seen,” Lena breathes, as if to herself, both hands pressed flat to the wood. “I clung to the leg of it when Lionel came to take me away. Wrapped myself around it and screamed bloody murder, not that it made a difference. He had his driver pry me off, and the next thing I knew we were touching down at Boston Logan.”

Lena pushes back from the table so sharply her chair scrapes across the floor. In the next breath she's gone, the yellow-painted door gaping behind her.

(If she had to pinpoint it, had to single it out, Kara thinks that would be the moment in which she vowed to herself she would prove to Lena, whatever it took, that love did not always mean loss.)

 

At Kelly's recommendation, Kara begins seeing a therapist. The nightmares have been paralysing ever since her victory tour of the Phantom Zone, and Lex and Nyxly's identical demise had done nothing to temper her unease. It's high time, she decides, for Kara at long last to take her healing into her own hands.

She tells Lena about it one Sunday afternoon when they're knee deep in boxes at the Luthor mansion. Green eyes jump from the endless belongings left for Lena to deal with to Kara's face, genuine happiness swelling in their depths for the first time in what feels like forever.

“I'm proud of you,” Lena whispers, the words swelling and expanding behind her ribs, slotting into the hollow shaped like a collapsing launchpad, a desperate farewell, a lonely escape pod. Filling it entirely, filling it to the brim.

Lena seals yet another box destined for donation with a flick of her tape gun. “Is it— is it helping?”

“I think so.”

The nightmares haven't stopped, not completely. But now, when they come, she has strategies. When she's ripped, sweat-soaked and trembling, from the depths of the darkness, she reaches for the stuffed zebra her niece had gifted her, identical to Esme's own. She makes herself a mug of hot milk, sprinkled with cinnamon and grated nutmeg the way her sister used to prepare it. She sits shivering on the edge of her mattress, staring at the photo on her bedside table – Lena, laughing loud and carefree at Kara's chopstick-walrus impression – until her eyes blur and her pulse slows and a gentler sort of sleep reclaims her once more.

“I'm— I'm not okay,” she admits, and for the first time in her life the anticipated rush of shame at the words does not materialise. “Not yet. But I think— I think that's okay, too.”

Lena smiles, and nods, and goes back to her packing.

(If this is the only way she can do it – baring her own deepest-seated vulnerabilities, self-soothing in front of an audience in the hope that a little of the gentleness and acceptance she's learning to show to herself will rub off on Lena, too – then this is what she'll do. A thousand times over. As many as it takes.)

They've done the communal rooms of the house already, then Lex's, then Lillian's. In Lionel's study Lena uncovers a framed photo hidden in a desk drawer. Herself, aged five, smiling at the camera in her straw sunhat and pink jelly sandles.

Kara peers at the picture over her shoulder. Lena's body is warm, so warm against her own. “I like your shoes.”

She watches the curve of Lena's cheek as her mouth quirks. “Those sandles were my favourite things in the world. My mother bought them for me, the summer before this was taken. I don't think I took them off for nine months.”

“I don't blame you. Pink glitter jelly? So cool.”

She tilts her head, chin brushing Lena's shoulder. “Are they here somewhere?” she asks, arms raising to encompass the stacks of boxes crowding the walls. “Lovingly preserved for prosperity? You never know when these things might come back in fashion.”

But instead of softening at the joke, Lena stiffens.

"Lillian threw them away. A few days after this photo was taken. She didn't even tell me, not for years.” Her face twists, bitterness creasing her brow and curling her lip. “I don't know why I was surprised.”

Kara's mouth purses, as if it could suck the words back in. “What do you mean?”

Lena's gaze is cool, distant as a frozen star. “I told you already. Nothing I love is ever mine to keep. To care too much about something only means that it will be taken away or destroyed in the end.”

She turns back to her packing, shoving files and folders roughly into boxes. Kara stares at the hunch of her shoulders, the bob of her throat as she swallows, and doesn't say anything more.

There's silence for a long time, and then, after the chiming of the grandfather clock in the hall strikes four— “I'm flying to Ireland tonight.”

“Want some company?”

An olive branch, cautiously raised.

“No.”

An olive branch, set aflame.

Kara's stomach twists. Her frown is unconscious and unavoidable. “Why?”

Lena turns to face her at last, the vast sea of her family's history, her family's hurt, spread out between them. Her eyes are the green of a lake beneath ice, the lure of the crystalline depths belying the inevitable crack, the inevitable drowning.

“I just told you why.”

 

Lena stays away for five days without contact, without a word.

On the third, Kara finds her mother's necklace stashed deep in the pocket of her winter coat. It had not ended up there by her own hand. Her fingers shake. It takes her three tries to put it on.

She tells herself the heat of the metal against her skin is a lingering remnant of Lena's warmth.

(Every day, the act of lying to herself gets that little bit harder.)

 

The fourth time Kara flies across the Atlantic, she buys a cottage on the Irish coast.

Cat Grant pays her new Editor-in-Chief a handsome sum, the exchange rate is favourable, and real estate is always a sound investment. Or at least, so she's heard.

Besides, the cottage is beautiful. White-washed and slate-roofed, a ten-minute walk from the centre of Lena's mother's village. It's nestled on a clifftop above a steep wave-slashed cove, the wild waters of the Atlantic a rich blue beneath the foaming spray. The air in the cottage tastes like salt and woodsmoke and in the mornings the ocean fog rolls right up to the Irish heather beneath the kitchen window. The last time Kara had been here, Lena had admired the pale purple and white buds carpeting the wild garden during their evening walk along the clifftops.

She announces her decision through the presentation of a key, old-fashioned and heavy, in the flat of Lena's palm. The cheerful reveal of the most recent expansion to Kara's investment portfolio is met with silence, wide-eyed and gaping.

It seems, despite the myriad questions warring behind her heavy gaze, that Lena does not know what to say.

The longer the silence stretches between them, the more the upturned corners of Kara's mouth begin to droop. But eventually, interminably—

“Is this the cottage at—”

Kara licks her dry lips. “Kilrelig. The one we always walk past.”

Lena's head tilts. “With—”

“The heather in the garden. Yeah.”

A smooth brow pinches. “Kara. Why?”

She bites down hard on the inside of her cheek. “I suppose I fancied a little permanence.”

“Permanence?”

Kara says nothing. Only folds her arms over her chest, leaning back against the thick stone wall of Lena's room at the tiny bed and breakfast, one ankle kicked across the other. Lena is nothing if not sharp. She's never needed help putting the pieces together.

Silence extends like the tug of a thread in the thick Aran sweater keeping Lena warm, unspooling into the empty space between them. Kara can hear the ticking of a pipe in the wall at her back. Can hear the television in the downstairs sitting room and the soft huffing of Mrs Flynn as she folds linen in the kitchen.

“Is it—” Lena's voice cracks. She clears her throat, cheeks dusted the palest pink, and tries again. “Is it as beautiful inside as it is on the outside?”

Kara grins. “Why don't you come see for yourself?”

 

On Friday morning, Kara holds Lena's hand as she buries her mother for the second time in her life, and on Friday evening, Lena invites her into her bed.

The funeral and wake had taken most of the day. Lillian had been almost as widely admired as she had been feared, and the business and social elite of National City and Metropolis both had flooded in to pay their last respects.

Lena had stood over her mother's grave, jaw locked, loose hair straightened into professional austerity. She had not shed a tear. Only clutched tight at Kara's hand all through the burial, through the rites and the ceremony and the memorial that followed.

If the cream of the country's aristocracy had noticed the inseparability of the sole surviving Luthor and National City's highest-ranking journalist and resident superhero, they had not seemed to care. Or perhaps it was Lena who no longer cared, heedless of the eyes upon them as she'd leaned heavily into Kara's side.

Either way, the commemoration at long last draws to a close and for the first time in weeks, Lena does not get on a plane. Instead, she tugs on the hand still in her own, cramping and sweaty after so many hours of entanglement.

“Will you stay with me tonight?”

As if she even needs to ask.

Kara follows Lena home.

(She would follow Lena anywhere.)

She brews her a pot of chamomile tea and makes sure she eats a healthy dinner. She unfastens the fiddly buttons at the neck of her black dress at Lena's request. Uses the granted access to slip her mother's necklace back around the regal column of Lena's throat.

And then they turn out the lights and crawl beneath Lena's sheets, beginning at opposite sides yet meeting in the middle, as if there were ever any other option. And Kara opens her arms the way Lena had opened her bed, and Lena falls into them without needing to ask.

 

Kara wakes the next morning with a warm weight on her chest that she hopes to be allowed to bear for the rest of her life.

The wan winter sun is peeking through the blinds for the first time in days. Above Kara's heart Lena sniffles, then sighs, then begins to roll away.

She tightens her arms, hands stroking Lena's back, soft and gentle beneath skin-warmed sheets. "No, c’mere. Stay.”

Lena sighs and it sounds not like frustration but rather, disappointment. “I can't.”

Unseen by the face nuzzling against her collar, Kara pouts. “Why not?”

“I have to go.”

After a long moment of quiet breathing Lena pushes up again and this time, Kara lets her. She rolls onto her side, bracing her head on one bent elbow. Her eyes trace the grooves of Lena's ribcage through her thin sleep shirt where she sits on the edge of the mattress. “Where?”

Lena freezes. Her jaw squares, chin rising incrementally. “Therapy.” Her gaze meets Kara's; sideways, circumspect. “Will you— will you still be here?”

Kara hears the question not asked, all the more vital for its lack of articulation.

She smiles. Melts back into the pillows, pulls the quilt up to her chin. “Always.”

 

Kara learns about the Lena Luthor Foundation in the kitchen of her cottage on the Irish coast.

Lena's expression is anxious and hesitant as she outlines her vision of providing humanitarian relief more efficiently through the use of cutting edge scientific and technological advances. As she talks about the office she's renting, the employees she's hired, the investors she's secured from New York, San Francisco, D.C., the look in her eyes is almost shy.

She certainly doesn't seem to be expecting the body that crashes into hers about as hard as a human could withstand, nor the hug that sweeps her off her feet in a breathless rush.

Her huff of surprise hits Kara's neck as she spins Lena round the kitchen in mid-air, careful to avoid the cast iron sweetheart stove, the freshly painted cupboards and reclaimed wood dining table that had only been delivered three days ago.

“What a wonderful legacy you will leave, Lena Luthor,” she says softly, slowing their embrace into lazy mid-air spirals as she guides Lena's feet to perch atop her own toes. “I am so proud of you.”

Lena ducks her head, as though trying to hide the tears that spring to her eyes. Once upon a time, Kara would have let her.

Now, though. Now, she uses the hand twisting in Lena's loose curls to guide her chin up. Presses her mouth to each crystalline drop of saline, soothes each tear with a lingering kiss.

(In a deep and secret corner of her heart, Kara finds herself selfishly, perversely grateful for the fact that Lena's tears do not stop, if only because it means that her lips against Lena's skin don't have to, either.

It's not until much later that she'll think to wonder whether Lena felt the same.)

 

Lena no longer stays in the quirky bed and breakfast during her frequent trips to Ireland. Mrs Flynn informs Kara of this fact with no small measure of nosiness when they run into one another in the village shop.

Kara only smiles, and reaches for the carrots she'd forgotten she needs for dinner.

The vegetables are steaming, the beef is slowly braising in its red wine sauce, and Kara is so wrapped up in the warmth of the knowledge that her new home in this country is now Lena's too that she doesn't think to knock before she pushes open the bedroom door.

“Dinner shouldn't be long, so I poured you a glass of—”

She freezes, the rest of her sentence sloshing weakly against her teeth as wine sloshes against the rim of the glass in her hand.

Lena is midway through changing her clothes after the windy walk they'd taken that afternoon. Her muddy leggings and thick green fleece lie discarded on the floor, the jeans and knit sweater she'd laid out for dinner still untouched on the bed.

She's dressed only in a lace bra the colour of sea foam and simple black panties, and Kara feels her mouth run dry. With neither permission nor executive oversight, her eyes skate the length of Lena's body, taking in the definition of her calves, the strength and fullness of her creamy thighs, the angle of her ribcage, the curve of her breasts.

In all the years of their friendship, of sleepovers and gym sessions and changing demurely in the bathroom, she's never seen so much of Lena's body. Heart pounding wildly in her ears, her gaze tracks the uneven constellation of freckles that runs from Lena's throat to where the usual softness of her belly now hollows out between the twin juts of her pelvis.

Though Lena had jumped at the initial intrusion, she makes no move to cover herself as Kara drinks her in. In fact, when she finally wrenches her gaze back up to meet Lena's she sees that her mouth is slightly parted, the green of her eyes near eclipsed by a darkening hunger.

Kara swallows hard. Darts out her tongue, wets the dry cracks of her lips.

“You've lost weight,” she says at last, pleased that her tone is only a little breathier than normal. “You should eat more.”

The ravenous intensity in Lena's eyes lessens by degrees. She reaches out, tugs her sweater over her head. When her face re-emerges her gaze is warm, her hair tousled. “Maybe you'll have to cook me dinner more often.”

Heart in her throat, tension pooling low in her belly, Kara sets the wine glass on the dresser by the door. “Maybe I will.”

 

The morning of the official unveiling of the Lena Luthor Foundation dawns clear and cold. Kara hovers high above the mass of reporters and photographers gathered on the building's steps, every cell in her body singing out with warmth and light and happiness.

Lena's voice is steady and strong as she recites her speech without so much as a prompt card. When the time comes to pull back the sheet that covers the plinth bearing her logo, Lena looks to the skies.

Taking her cue, Kara lands beside her, resplendent in Supergirl's finest. The quiet pride in Lena's eyes as the press take photo after photo warms her more than the brightest sunlight.

Lena pulls her close for a few snaps, professional yet decidedly familiar in the arm she slips around Kara's waist. She feels Lena's fingers play over the material covering her side, beneath her cape and above her belt, but it's not until she makes it home that night that she realises Lena has slipped her mother's necklace into the hidden pocket of her suit.

Two days later, pink-cheeked and windswept atop the Kerry Cliffs, Kara will reach out to wind the green knit scarf more securely around Lena's neck, deft fingers slipping the necklace back to its rightful place at her throat once more.

If Lena notices, she doesn't seem to mind.

(Someone to return to, Kara thinks, as she watches the sun set cadmium vermillion violet in the reflection of Lena's eyes.

She's been wondering more and more lately if maybe Lena's thinking the very same thing.)

 

One week after the successful launch of her foundation, Lena buries her brother in an unmarked plot, with none of the pomp and circumstance incumbent to a typical Luthor funeral.

There are no pallbearers, no hymns or blessings or flower arrangements that cost more than a small car. There are no mourners. Only she and Lena, shivering inside their winter coats in the freezing Massachusetts sunlight.

There's no grave, not really. The Luthor mansion has been sold to new owners but the woodland behind it is protected land, a nature reserve administered by the state. Lena chooses a large red spruce a short way back from the property line, kneels beneath it in the crackling frost.

There's no body, either. Lost somewhere in the farthest reaches of the Phantom Zone, there's no way Lex Luthor is ever coming home. Instead, Lena buries the last of his journals and with them, the idea of him.

“I lost you so long ago,” Lena whispers as she stands. Fresh earth cakes the knees of her expensive tailored slacks. She has a meeting in Metropolis with foundation investors this afternoon. Dead leaves cling to the toes of her leather boots.

“I've said goodbye to you so many times, Lex,” she says softly. Her fingers play absently with the pendant tucked beneath the collar of her black turtleneck. "This is the last.”

With her dirt-streaked fingers curled snug in the crook of Kara's elbow, Lena walks away from the grounds of the Luthor mansion for the last time. She doesn't look back.

 

A particularly big story hits National City and Kara is left with no choice but to crash Catco's cover mere hours before they're due to go to print. She ends up stuck in her office late into the night, tweaking copy and adjusting layouts and getting every last detail perfected mere minutes before the deadline.

The delay sees her touching down on a chill Irish clifftop as the rising sun is just about to break over the eastern horizon. Kara unlocks the door of the cottage she bought for the woman she loves, only to find that she's not there alone.

At the far end of the hushed house, the bedroom door stands ajar in silent invitation. Inside, Lena is sprawled across the king-sized mattress, sound asleep. Her boots are kicked off at the foot of the bed, phone and chapstick and three hair ties littered across the bedside table beside the key Kara had given her all those weeks ago.

Her heart stutters in her chest.

Kara had bought this cottage, bought this bed, for her and Lena. She doesn't need to admit it aloud for it to be true. But to see her here, now, open and unguarded in sleep; to see her treating this place like the home, permanent and perfect, that Kara had always intended it to be— it leaves her breathless.

Lena stirs, and even when her eyes blink open her face retains that same peace, that same contentment it had held in sleep. The serenity is all the more captivating for how long it’s been absent from her gaze.

“Mm, what kept you?” Lena asks into her pillow, eyelids already fluttering shut again. "Thought you'd be here hours ago.”

Kara smiles, toeing off her own shoes beside Lena's. “Nothing much. I'm here now.”

“Good.” One pale arm frees itself from the mound of covers, holding the edge of the quilt up in invitation. “Missed you.”

She slides into bed, skin moulding to warm skin. “I missed you too.”

Lena's arm wraps securely around Kara's waist as her head tucks beneath her chin, heartbeat sure and strong beneath Kara's palm. Everything about Lena is strong, Kara thinks. Far stronger than most people, including herself, ever give her credit for.

(There are things she'd wanted to tell Lena, when they were both stronger. Increasingly, she's running out of reasons why she shouldn't.)

 

When she's slept off the bulk of her jetlag and the sun is high in the sky, Kara slips out of bed. Fixes Lena's coffee the way she likes it, leaves the mug on the bedside table beside her sleeping form, and heads out to the garden.

The chunky knit of Lena's grey Aran sweater isn't enough to block the sharp sting of the Atlantic breeze, but Kara doesn't mind. She relishes the bite of it, the tang of salt on her tongue and the downy soft buds of Irish heather beneath her fingertips.

So absorbed is she in her pruning and planting that the soft press of fingertips to the juncture of her neck and shoulder almost, almost makes her jump. Lena's hair is unkempt in a messy bun at the nape of her neck, flyaway strands whipping past her cheeks in the wind. She'd retaliated against the theft of her sweater by appropriating one of Kara's, the long sleeves dwarfing her hands entirely.

Kara straightens, her smile the sudden crash of waves against the rock. “Good morning.”

“It is.”

Lena appraises Kara's rudimentary agricultural handiwork with a gentle smile, bending to inhale the fresh, earthy scent of the new buds. Her fingertips are playing with the necklace emerging from her collar. Kara's eyes catch there and stick.

“I seem to have something of yours once again,” Lena says, noticing the line of her gaze. “I think it might be time to return it.”

Her hand reaches up to the clasp at her nape but Kara gets there first, trapping Lena's fingers against the side of her neck, twining them with her own.

She shakes her head. “Some things are yours to keep.”

Their gazes meet, eyelashes fluttering in the swift sea breeze.

Lena's eyes are cautious. “Even when I love them?”

“Yes.”

(They're not talking about a necklace. They've never really been talking about a necklace, Kara knows. All that's left is to find out whether Lena does, too.)

The tips of Lena's fingers flutter anxiously against the back of Kara's hand. “Even when I love them too much?”

She takes a step closer, their hips meeting. “Especially then.”

Lena's jaw works as she swallows. Her voice is nothing more than a whisper on the wind. “How long?” she asks, soft and vulnerable. “How long will they be mine?”

Her fingers find Lena's free hand beneath the cuff of her sweater. She brings them both up, cups them in her own, presses them between Lena's heart and her own in reiteration of a promise six years in the making.

“Always.”

Green eyes brim with tears that glitter like diamond beneath the winter sun. “Kara,” Lena breathes, tremulous and awed. “Kara.”

“I know,” she says, hands sliding from Lena's fingers to her jaw, threading into the soft curls tucked behind her ears. “I know. I love you, too.”

And then she's leaning in, or maybe it's Lena, or maybe it's both of them. Either way, they meet in the middle, the way they always have.

Lena's mouth crashes against her own and there, in a kiss as passionate and wild and steadfast and beautiful as the ocean striking the cliffs at their feet, Kara forgets the taste of loneliness for the last time.

 

After it's all over, Lena officially moves into the cottage on the Irish coast that had really been hers all along.

There, in their bed, amidst salt-seared kisses and the heat of wandering hands, she and Kara plan not a funeral, but their future. And this time, they do it together.