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In cold blood

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Kara is the first to admit that her reaction isn’t the best, but as always, there's scarcely any benefit in hindsight.

She isn’t sure what prompted her to flee. Shock, maybe. But, honestly, how else was she supposed to react? 

She’d swooped inside L-Corp’s parking garage the second Lena’s racing heart blotted out every other sound, ready to throw hands, even spoiling for the fight. Instead, Lena’s car was already on fire, and as Kara watched, feet rooted to the blistering concrete, Lena had climbed out of the raging flames, suit burning, hair aflame. 

It was eerie. The overall silence of the scene. It wasn’t quiet , not by a long shot; the car’s bodywork groaned and twisted in the heat, a siren wailed shrilly in the distance. The building’s fire alarm had gone off too, and water sprayed down on them from above. But Lena wasn’t screaming. She burned alive without a sound. 

And then she’d moved, so fast that all Kara perceived was a dark shadow. Flown across the parking lot to grab a man Kara hadn’t noticed and lift him by his throat. When the night finally  filled up with screams it was almost a relief, a long needed wake-up call.

Still, not a single one had come from Lena.

Three weeks later, Kara stares at her phone’s blinking LED light, knowing it’s Lena trying to contact her again without having to look. There have been messages. Missed calls. Her voicemail is full, but she can’t bring herself to listen through it. She’s too afraid of what she’ll hear.

If she could go back to that parking lot, she would not run. She’d stay, try to understand. Now it feels too late to. This last voice message; it’s probably Lena giving up.

Kara .” She doesn’t realize she’s grabbed the phone and opened Whatsapp until the device is pressed to her ear, Lena’s voice cool but frayed at the edges. “ I understand you may not want to… associate with me any longer, but I wish you’d hear me out first. I can explain, if you just— ” A sigh, heavy with a mix of emotions Kara can’t even begin to untangle. “I ’d like to meet and talk about what happened. Let me know if you want to. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll— I’ll just assume we’re done.

Okay .” She types back a reply before doubt has a chance to settle in. That Lena wants to talk is a good thing. Kara hadn’t expected that. Maybe, their friendship can be salvaged. “ Tomorrow night, L-Corp’s rooftop? ” 

I’ll be there at sundown. ” Comes the immediate reply. 

Like Lena’s been waiting, phone in hand, for some sort of acknowledgement. Kara wonders whether she’s been waiting the same way all the other times for a reply, after all the other messages she sent. 

She feels like shit.

Her fingers are shaking so badly, it takes her three tries to hit send.

See you then .” 

 And that’s that.

***

The sun hasn’t quite set when she gets to the rendez-vous point. To their spot. There’s a part of Kara that thinks she should have chosen neutral ground, that she’s put herself at a disadvantage, perhaps in danger, coming here alone. And then, there’s the part that spots Lena already sitting on the roof close to the edge, and it aches. That part of Kara knows the rooftop isn’t their spot anymore. Used to be— past tense. 

Watching a friend commit murder has a way of putting things into a different perspective. 

She touches down with a swish of her cape and, behind her the sun dies —  a blaze of red extinguished in the waters of the bay. 

“You came.” 

Lena doesn’t look at her as she speaks. Her eyes are closed, her face tilted to the heavens as if to absorb the last of the day’s warmth. Kara is violently thrown back to the last time they have seen one another, and the fire devouring her. It’d be easy, seeing as Lena bears no scars — not even a singed eyebrow — to dismiss it for a dream.

“I did.”

“I wasn’t sure you really would.”

“I’ve brought food too,” Kara lifts the bag of takeaway she picked up on the way, and shuffles her feet a little awkwardly, “I’m just not sure if you— that you—” There isn’t much Kara is sure of, right now.

“I’ll have some wine.” Lena says. She gestures to the neck of the bottle sticking out of the plastic bag, and Kara hands it to her. When her eyes finally meet Kara’s after she’s examined the label, they’re as green and human as they’ve always been. It comes as a shock.

“Sit down, Kara.” Lena’s mouth quirks up, the beginning of a smile perhaps, but her gaze is guarded. “I promise, I won’t bite.”

“That’s… not funny.”

“It’s very funny.” She opens the wine, and with a flick of her wrist the cork is sent sailing over the edge of the roof. “You should see your face right now.” 

Kara tries and fails to smooth her features down.

Eyes narrowed, Lena brings the bottle to her lips and takes a swig. She seems nonchalant, uncaring even, but her body is closed to Kara. Her shoulders slouch, on the defensive, and the short pause in conversation becomes a full-blown silence, rife with tension.

Kara should defuse the situation before they end up in a fight, but instead what comes out of her mouth next is the wrong thing to say in every way possible.

“You wanted to talk. So. Talk.” She plops down next to her but miles apart, grabs the first food item she can fish out of the bag and stuffs it in her mouth so that she doesn’t have to be the one to start. 

“Well—” Shrill cries cut Lena off. A flight of swallows, using the last of the light to hunt. The birds call intricate melodies to one another, then just as fast as they've appeared, descend toward the trees of the nearby park, disappearing in the foliage. 

They are a sign summer is coming, Kara was told once, but right now she's not sure what they're supposed to mean. 

“It depends,” Lena resumes once the birds have gone, and all other sounds around them died. “Mainly on where you want to start.”

Licking crumbs off of her fingers, Kara considers. She’d hoped warm food in her stomach would help settle her nerves, but it hasn’t. She forces herself to take another bite, to bide for time. There are so many questions to ask, none of them easy. Some she’s not convinced she wants an answer to.

In the end, she begins with what she does know, and it sounds so much harsher coming out, more judgemental than she aimed for.

“You killed a person.”

“I did.” Lena doesn’t flinch away, but has got the bottle clutched to her chest with both hands — another degree of separation. “I’d like to point out, though, they tried to kill me first.”

“We don’t hurt people, Lena!” 

“He put a bomb under my car.” Fingers bleached white around the wine, Lena bites back. “Do you know why nobody else got hurt, Kara? Chance. It was past 6 so the office was already empty, and Dan’s little girl is sick with the flu, so he took a day off. Otherwise he’d have been there to drive me home. He would have blown up, because of me—” Bitterness seeps into her tone, “—and his daughter would grow up without a father.” 

“Lena—”

“So yes, Kara. I killed a man. I’d do it again. Frankly, I feel better knowing he’s not around to try and hurt anyone else!” 

Lena’s voice climbs to a shout near the end, and when she’s done she’s panting hard, hanging to self-control by a thread.

Okay. Kara really did start from the wrong thing. 

“You’re right.” 

It scares her to admit it, but the only reason Lena killed the guy is because she didn’t get there first. “You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just—” The image of Lena, arterial red drizzling down her face as she drank from the man’s neck, flashes through her mind, and Kara flinches. “It’s— I—”

“Kara.” There’s pain in Lena’s eyes, the kind Kara can relate to. A fear of not belonging, of never fitting in. They are both different. Alien in their own unique way. “Just because I did it, it doesn’t mean that I enjoyed it. I—” She sets the bottle down with care, and clasps her hands together in her lap, so tight that if a bone snapped, Kara would not be surprised. “I was so angry . I lost control, and I’m ashamed of that.”

“Okay.” Kara makes herself shift and close some of the gap between them. “Okay, so… You don’t have to answer that, but I gotta ask; how?”

“How come I’m a vampire, you mean?” 

Her throat is too dry to speak, and Kara simply nods.

“A virus. It was a virus."

“A— oh .”

"You sound disappointed." Kara's protests die on Lena's teasing smirk. "I'm sorry. I know it doesn't make for a compelling story."

It makes for a sad one, Kara thinks. A virus is an accident of fate. There’s no intent behind it. Lena caught it and got sick, and Kara doesn’t like to think of her dying, but she must have, right? She thinks how it would feel, to be sick with something nobody understands, to get worse instead of better. To wake up one day, irreparably changed. Kara locks her jaw tight, to keep the food she just ate from coming back up.

The next question she should ask, the obvious one, is how Lena got infected. But she can’t, can she? How do you go about asking something as personal as that right after you’ve accused your friend of murder? Speaking of, how in Rao’s name is she going to ever bounce back from that? 

Biting the inside of her cheek, Kara does her best to choose her next words with more care. "I suppose… I suppose whatever you’re comfortable sharing? I’m here. I’ll listen."

Vampires. 

They are, apparently, a thing, and nothing like Kara expected. 

She reaches into the takeout bag between them and pulls out a fistful of fries, but they taste like cardboard on her tongue, and when she gulps them down half-chewed, reflux rises in her throat. 

Next to her, Lena is completely still, save for her hands. She tugs the sleeves of her blazer over her fingers like she’s cold, then rolls them up to her elbow. Smooths them back down with a frown, only to repeat the cycle anew after a brief pause. If she was into smoking, she’d be lighting up a fresh cigarette with the embers of her last one.

Kara says nothing, hoping Lena will interpret her silence for what it is. 

Space; a chance to put order into her thoughts, to process what she’s feeling. Eventually restart the conversation. If she wants. If she doesn’t, Kara is okay with that too. She is curious, but not to the point of hurting Lena more than she already knows she has. 

“I’m not sure where to start.” The admission is a whisper so soft that if she were relying on human senses, Kara would have missed it. 

Lena had put on a brave, challenging face before but now, haloed in shimmering starlight, she isn’t meeting Kara’s gaze. “There’s so many things… And I know what I said in my voice message to you, that all I wanted you to do was listen. That it was going to be okay if after you wanted to be… done,” she has to force the last part out, shuddering as though it physically hurts. “But I lied.”

Kara’s first instinct is to pull Lena in for a hug. Were the circumstances different she would. One look at her though, at how stiff she holds herself, lower lip trembling, tells Kara that maybe it’s too much. 

Maybe that isn’t the right call. 

Setting aside what’s left of her fries, she places her hand, palm up, in the empty space between them. Only a small swathe of weathered concrete separates them, but it feels so much wider than that. A gulf, echoing with her accusations.

Kara moves slowly, shallow breaths and eyes intent, like Lena is a wild thing that might otherwise bolt. So, she lets her hand rest there, and calls out, keeping her voice low, the tone gentle.

“Hey. Take your time. It's okay."

Lena blinks back into herself; her eyes drop to Kara's outstretched hand then refocus on her face. 

Slowly, her hand flattens next to Kara's. Another millimeter and their fingers will be touching. 

Holding her breath, Kara watches Lena's fingers tremble across the rest of the distance and carefully thread through her own. The tendrils of dread that had been squeezing tight around her heart release their hold, and she heaves a relieved sigh that Lena echoes.

They stare at their joined hands, and the moment becomes heavy. Pulses with a kind of… possibility Kara felt around Lena other times. It's an illusion, but the night feels unbelievably quiet, and she can't rid herself of the thought that she's supposed, expected maybe, to do something. That there’s something else to this. Not for the first time, she imagines the two of them at a crossroads, a million paths in front of them branching in as many directions. And the one they’ll inevitably walk is bound to change them — their lives — forever. So, as she’s done every other time this happened, Kara pushes the odd feeling down. Talks herself into putting the choice off. 

Then, Lena clears her throat and the world moves on with an almost sickening lurch. 

"Thank you." It's only after she's gently freed her hand that Kara registers how cold her skin is. It's always been this cold, she reckons, but until now she didn't have a reason to really think about it.

"It was scary, in the beginning." Lena lifts the bottle to her lips, and after a sip, offers it to Kara. Even though she can’t get drunk on wine Kara accepts it, and the warm swirl of alcohol in her belly is a welcome distraction. "I couldn't control my strength. I was afraid of hurting people accidentally. But I guess you know about that."

 "I did hurt Alex when I was a teen." Kara says softly. "We don't really tell the story. She finds it funny now, I think it's still upsetting. But, we were playing football in the backyard and I grabbed her too hard. Broke her arm."

A sunny afternoon. Kara squeezes her eyes shut against the brilliance of the memory. The sun blazing against the perfect canvas of the sky. Laughter turning into screams.

The heel of her free hand presses into her eyeball, kneading, walling off the tears, and a flash of white erases the image of a younger Alex crying, arm bent at an unnatural angle. Kara can feel the fingers of her other hand shake against the concrete. The anxiety that had been her constant companion during her first months on Earth returns like it never left, but at least she had someone to turn to for guidance. Eliza and Jeremiah did their best to teach her how to handle her powers.

Lena had no one. 

A lump forms in her throat. All of a sudden, Kara thinks she may cry.

“So, anyway, there’s my strength.” Lena speaks quickly, filling the uncomfortable silence. ”And I heal from nearly everything. Almost as fast as you do. But I can’t fly.” Slight wistfulness colors her tone. “Which sucks, because I always envied you for that.”

“You can’t ?” Kara grasps her cape at opposing corners and spreads her arms wide to give the idea of wings. She goes as far as to flap her arms a couple times. “Well, that’s a bit lousy, sorry to say.”

“Look at you, five minutes in and you are already a vampire expert.”

“Okay, fair. But what about the other stuff?” 

“What stuff?”

“You know.” Kara draws her cape back around herself. “The movie stuff. The stuff we read about in books.”  

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Lena .”

Lena sighs. “There’s a lot of stuff in the books, Kara. You’re going to have to be specific.” 

Her voice is flat, but her mouth twitches with stifled laughter, giving her away. Kara smiles back, heart unclenching. She’d been scared she’d be met by a stranger, but Lena is still Lena. 

Hopefully, they’re still friends.

"What about crossing thresholds? Garlic? I’ve never seen you voluntarily sunbathe, so I’m just going to assume that hasn’t changed.”

“I wait to be invited in, but that’s just being polite, not a requirement. As for the rest… if there’s something that is… that’s like Kryptonite for me, I haven’t come across it, yet.” Lena’s shrug is heavy, tired. The words drag out of her. “Believe me, I’ve tried.” 

Has she looked for weaknesses in order to avoid them or… Kara can’t, doesn’t want to complete the thought.

“Alright.” 

She’s never been particularly good at reading people, but it doesn’t take her much to read the room. No matter the approach, this is a sensitive topic, and will remain so for a while. It was stupid to think she could come here and talk everything out in a few hours. Fix things in the space of a night. 

Inwardly, she curses herself. 

She should have come up with a better plan, a plan involving more than let’s talk and see what happens . Usually, she would have. She doesn’t think she’ll ever be as smart as, say, Lena, but under pressure she reacts better than this. She can keep a clear head in a crisis but not, it seems, when said emergency involves Lena Luthor.

“You know what? No more questions.”  

“No?”

“Uh-uh.” Kara gathers their trash inside the bag and stands, reaching for Lena’s hand again. “I can throw this out and then—” What Lena said earlier sticks out from the jumble that her mind currently is. “Then I can fly us somewhere where we can watch the stars.” 

The idea is silly, but it’s a beautiful night for it. The moon is just a waning sliver, a narrow band that barely gives light, and the stars take centerstage. Constellations that are hard to see at any other time jump to the forefront, hanging so low on the horizon they give the illusion of being close enough to touch.

“I’d like that.” Lena takes her hand, allowing Kara to pull her to her feet. Steps closer, so that Kara can slip an arm around her waist. They exchange a look, knowing that there are things left to say. This conversation is just postponed. 

“I’d like that very much.”