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it's just me

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Kara climbed up the steps of the subway station at 5th Avenue, wishing she’d brought a warmer hat. She’d worn the thickest one she could find, knowing that Boston would be cold at this time of year, but she hadn’t checked the weather before she’d left California, and she’d forgotten gloves altogether. She hadn’t counted on a storm.

Thankfully, she’d packed light, bringing only her backpack, meaning that her suitcase wouldn’t get lost in transit between cities or in an airport thanks to cancelled flights. It was heavy, though, and she shifted it around on her back until it sat a little more comfortably.

The wind whistled through her coat, which she’d unzipped on the subway, and she hastily did it back up. Shivering, she looked around at the street signs until she found one that said Central Park. She’d been to New York before, but not during weather like this. The streets were practically deserted even though it was a Friday night. Kara reckoned that most people were sensibly at home, not wandering around while the snow fell thickly around them. It was already collecting on the flaps of her coat pockets.

She made her way as quickly as she could to the corner of Central Park. She was so full of energy, so keyed up, that she felt she could’ve run there, heavy backpack and all, in a few seconds flat.

Lena would be at the bridge already, she was sure of it. Lena lived on the Upper West Side, which bordered the Park, and Lena said she’d just walk through it; it wouldn’t take her very long. She was also sure that Lena would be a lot more sensibly dressed than she was, what with her having lived a long time in both Ireland and New England. She’d be used to the cold. She’d admitted to Kara that winter was her favorite season, even.

To Kara’s surprise, when she got there the Park was busier than the streets had been, and there were a lot of people walking around with cameras. She looked around as the buildings gave way to open space: it was beautiful. There were Christmas lights in the trees, tinsel and other decorations wound around some of the lampposts, and of course there was the famous ice-skating rink. There were people having snowball fights, even this late, and quite a lot of dogs playing in the snow. Kara smiled at their antics, tails wagging frantically as their owners threw snowballs for them to catch.

As happy as the images made her though, Kara was still nervous.

She was so nervous. Because this was Lena.

Lena Luthor. Her penpal, her best friend, her … her everything, if Kara was honest about it. She’d done a lot of soul-searching in the past few months, ever since that phonecall after Lena had sent her the blanket. She’d even talked to Alex, who’d been very serious for a few minutes and then laughed herself silly and told Kara that she’d felt like she’d been third-wheeling their relationship every time she’d come home to visit. Kara had been annoyed for a few moments, but then Alex had turned serious again and said that Kara had been acting like she’d been in a relationship with Lena almost since the very beginning: writing to Lena, talking about her, finding a way to shoehorn a mention of her into every conversation just so she could talk about her some more.

When Lena had gone off to MIT and met someone called Jack, Kara had not thought anything of it. Lena was gay, after all. But when Lena had started mentioning a woman named Sam, who was apparently bisexual, she’d felt an instant jolt of sickness. Ridiculously, almost selfishly, she felt ill at the thought of Lena maybe falling in love with Sam; that was, in the end, what had prompted Kara to truly be honest with herself.

Sat at her dorm desk one evening, she’d forced herself to be as blunt as possible with her thoughts by asking herself why after every statement she wrote down. She started with I’m jealous of Sam. Why? Her eventual answer, after several hours of throwing balled up papers over her shoulders and pacing, was the following:

Because I want it to be me.

She wanted to hold Lena’s hand. She wanted to officially be the one Lena came to at the end of a hard day. She wanted to know whether Lena one day might possibly, maybe, perhaps, love Kara in a different way, in a way that was more than friendship.

Kara felt things for Lena, and she wanted to see whether Lena felt them, too. And if they both felt things, she wanted to see what they wanted to do about it.

Because right now, the thought of Lena falling in love with Sam made her feel so sick that she thought she might very well be sick into the nearest snow-filled trash can.

Or maybe that was the nerves.

Maybe it was both.

She wanted Lena to know that Kara would absolutely throw her hat into the ring for her. She wanted Lena to know that Kara was an option, if she wanted her.

Kara walked through Central Park, past the happy couples, past the dogs, past the people taking photos of the Christmas lights and the tall buildings on the edge of the Park. She crunched through the snow that was deepening by the minute, her shoes soaked through and the bottom of her jeans dragging on the ground. This wasn’t going to be the best first impression that Kara was ever going to make, but it was still one of the most important to her.

She couldn’t stop her feelings from bouncing from elated to terrified with almost every step she took. Left. Right. Happy. Afraid. Excited. Nervous. Joyful. Scared.

But when Gapstow Bridge came into view, and when she stood at the edge of it, everything seemed to vanish except for the person standing alone in the middle of it. She’d only seen two photos of Lena. She’d never seen her in motion; she didn’t know how Lena stood, how she moved, how she walked, how she did anything. She didn’t know how Lena would reach up to adjust a bobble hat, or how she’d pace back and forth a few steps before coming to a halt again. And yet, somehow, she knew—she knew—that the person she was looking at, that the person standing on the bridge, was Lena.

Everything melted away like mist on a summer morning. The snow-muted sounds of the city. The distant shouts of the people skating on the rink. The cold that had soaked through her shoes. The nerves in her stomach and the breath in her lungs. Everything but the pounding of her heart and the sight before her.

Lena was standing in the middle of the bridge, wearing dark jeans and winter boots, a thick woolen coat, and colorful mittens that matched her bobble hat. Some of Lena’s long, dark hair had worked itself free of her coat because of the wind, and as Kara watched, Lena tried to brush it off her pale face with snow-covered gloves. She shivered when it presumably left a streak of cold water behind, and Kara couldn’t help it, she laughed.

The sound of it rang out in the silence surrounding the bridge, and Lena, her best friend, looked up and met Kara’s eyes for the very first time.

And for the very first time, Kara got to witness the slow growth of Lena’s beautiful smile as it spread across her face. And Kara knew herself. She knew how she felt, and she knew it would be okay, because this was Lena, and she was here.

Kara took several steps towards Lena and dropped her backpack on the snowy ground. She rushed the last few steps and held her arms out, and to her joy, Lena practically threw herself into Kara’s embrace. She wrapped her arms around Kara’s back and nudged her cold face into Kara’s neck, and Kara could feel the sigh she let out, warm against her skin. Kara hugged Lena close to her, feeling her own body practically vibrate with excitement and happiness, and she loved how Lena felt in her arms.

She almost couldn’t believe this was real. Lena was real. It was a glorious thing to be able to hear Lena laughing into Kara’s neck, to be able to feel Lena’s arms tightening around her, to notice that Lena was slightly shorter than she was and therefore to know how perfectly she fit into Kara’s hug.

They swayed together there on the bridge for what felt like both seconds and hours, for long endless moments where neither wanted to let go of the other.

Eventually though, Lena leaned back slightly and looked up at Kara. The wind blew some her hair across her face again, and this time Kara was the one to brush it away. To Kara’s amazement, Lena almost melted into the touch, until Kara was cradling Lena’s face with her hand.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Lena said softly, and it was wonderous, hearing Lena’s voice so clearly. No static on the line, no lost connections. There was nothing between them but the frozen air as they held each other on the bridge.

“I can’t believe I’m here either,” Kara replied, and then she huffed out a laugh that had the corners of Lena’s mouth curving upwards into another smile. “Well, I can believe it, because I planned it, but … still, at the same time, I can’t believe I can really see you and—” Kara swallowed, “and hug you. You’re really real.”

Lena continued to stroke her hand up and down Kara’s spine, and it made Kara want to press closer into her, so she did. She slid her hand around the back of Lena’s neck until her arm was wrapped around her shoulders, her other around her waist, and pulled them even closer together. Lena let out a quiet sigh into Kara’s shoulder.

“I don’t want to let you go,” Kara admitted, her voice a near whisper.

“I don’t want to let you go either,” Lena replied, and Kara could hear the smile in Lena’s voice, “but home is a lot warmer, and it has food.”

Chuckling, Kara loosened her hold and stepped away. She kept her eyes on Lena while she retrieved her backpack, seemingly unable to tear her eyes away for that long. Lena watched her with an amused expression on her face. “Was that all you brought?”

“Mm,” Kara replied, leaning the bag against the side of the bridge next to her feet. “I didn’t pack a suitcase because I didn’t want to … presume, I guess. You might not have liked the fact that I’ve just shown up with no warning.”

“Kara,” Lena murmured, reaching for one of Kara’s hands with both of hers. Kara let her take it, and stepped closer. “Kara, you’ll always be welcome with me, whether you’d given me advance warning or not. Always. And I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for so long!”

“Me too! This isn’t how I planned it out, obviously, but,” Kara indicated their surroundings with a head tilt, “I don’t think this could be any more perfect, actually. The first photo you sent, this is where you were standing. It’s the first time I ever saw you. And now it’s also the place where I’ve met you for the first time. This is so much better than me showing up in Boston in the middle of the night with a bunch of no-doubt frozen flowers.”

Lena snorted a laugh. “I would’ve loved it anyway, but did you really not book anywhere to stay?”

Kara shrugged. “I had, and originally I was going to come see you tomorrow morning, but with the flight delays and things, I would’ve missed the check-in at the hotel I booked. So, maybe they wouldn’t have let me in. I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do. I could’ve wandered around until I found a hotel that was accepting visitors that time of night, but I don’t know Boston as well as I know New York, so … so yeah, I don’t know. The only addresses I know in Boston are your dorm room and Paul Revere’s house.”

Lena laughed again, a full, bright sound, and Kara was thrilled at being the cause of it. “I don’t think they’re taking bookings at Paul’s, to be honest!”

“The bed might be missing a few springs.”

“I don’t think it had springs in the first place.”

“Just as well I’m not knocking at the door and asking if they’ve got a bed for the night then, eh?”

Lena tilted her head and gave Kara a soft smile. “So if you’re homeless for the night, I might know a place. Want to see where I live when I’m in New York?”

“Ooh, can I see your bedroom?” Kara asked, then slapped her forehead, mortified. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded, I swear,” she added, seeing Lena’s eyebrows rise. “I just mean, you wrote to me from there, right? So I’ve kind of … imagined it over the years, not in a creepy way, just, you know, you’re my best friend and I want to see what you’ve seen, you know? Feel free to stop me rambling at any time.”

“It’s cute,” Lena said, then blushed as though she didn’t mean to say it. “Anyway,” she tugged on Kara’s hand, “this way. And, it’s not creepy, or at least it’s not any creepier than me wondering what your bedroom is like. Or, anywhere you’ve written to me about, really. It’s one thing to have things described to you, and quite another to really see them for yourself, you know?”

“Yeah,” Kara said, “I do know what you mean.” And she did. She’d seen Lena’s face in the photos, had read her words describing herself and her life a thousand times, but nothing compared to really seeing Lena in front of her.

Kara kept glancing at Lena as they walked through the snow. More of Lena’s hair had escaped her coat, and it fluttered around her face as she walked. Her face was as pale as she’d thought, but the cold, or her blush, had turned her cheeks pink. She was beautiful in the photos she’d sent, but here, walking next to Kara, she was even more so, more than Kara could ever have imagined. She knew her wonderful heart, her boundless kindness, her curious mind, and her intelligence.

She knew that Lena had a heart of gold, beautiful inside and out, and Kara loved her.

But now Kara knew how Lena felt in her arms, had seen the way she smiled, she knew that she was more in love with her than ever before.

The love she felt for Lena bloomed in her chest like roses in springtime. It settled inside her, a warm, soft thing, and Kara thought how wonderful it was for her to know how it felt to love another person like this.

They walked through Central Park, the snow falling around them. Lena was holding Kara’s hand as tightly as she could while still wearing her mittens, and Kara couldn’t stop looking at her. Her eyes were just drawn to her, but she wasn’t exactly fighting it. She welcomed Lena’s gravity pulling her in.

“Do I have something on my face?” Lena asked eventually after she caught Kara looking at her for the Nth time. She raised her free hand self-consciously to her face, but Kara caught it with her own.

“No, you don’t,” Kara replied with a smile. “I’m … I’m still just amazed that I can really see you, you know?”

Oh,” Lena said, and gave Kara a radiant smile of her own that made her heart thunder in her chest. Lena gave a gentle tug on her hand; they stopped walking for a moment, and Lena just … just looked at Kara. She felt it like a physical touch, even though it wasn’t. And when Lena’s eyes lingered on her lips, Kara had to suppress a shiver. “I feel the same,” Lena said, reaching up with the hand that wasn’t currently tucked in Kara’s to touch her shoulder again. “I keep looking at you and wondering whether I’m having a really vivid dream.”

“Just as long as it’s not a nightmare,” Kara replied jokingly, but the look Lena gave her was so unexpectedly serious that Kara swallowed the rest of what she was going to say.

“You’re really anything but a nightmare, darling,” Lena said, her voice quiet but heartfelt. Snow settled on her hat and shoulders as they looked at each other. “I’ve wanted to meet you for so long and I— I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad. I’ve never felt so— I want you to know that nobody’s ever done anything so wonderful for me in my whole life, and I don’t think that I’ve ever been happier.”

Lena,” Kara whispered, then pulled her into another hug. Lena buried her face in Kara’s neck again, and they stood together as the snow fell around them, wrapped up in nothing but each other. When they broke apart, Lena pressed a shy kiss to Kara’s cheek with her own blushing furiously.

Lena tugged gently on her hand again. “Come on. We’re nearly home.”

Kara followed Lena through the park, taking winding paths through trees until they made it through a gate and hit the sidewalk the other side. The whole time, she was conscious of Lena’s hand in hers. As they walked, Kara gave in to desire and experimentally swung their hands a little, looking over at Lena to see what her reaction would be. The butterflies in Kara’s stomach did a giddy little dance when she saw that Lena was smiling.

Not a few moments later, Lena fished her keys out of her pocket. “We’re here,” she said, pointing up the stoop at a door with 305 on it. There was a letterbox, and it gave Kara a funny feeling to think of how many letters and parcels she’d sent to this very address in the last two and a half years. Many to Ireland, of course, and to Boston, but quite a few here too. She walked up the snow-covered steps carefully but eagerly, ready to see the inside of Lena’s home.

“I’ll warn you now,” Lena said conspiratorially as she fit the key in the lock, “I didn’t decorate. Lillian did. Don’t bump into any of the ugly paintings unless you want her to send you a several million-dollar bill.” When Kara shot her a worried glance, Lena gave her a small smile. “I’m only half joking. I live on the top floor, and I promise that it’s much more normal than what you’ll see straight away.”

They’d talked about Lena’s family wealth before, and while Kara knew that Lena was technically an heiress and not rich in her own right, it was still a little intimidating when Lena pushed the front door open and she was confronted by what looked like a museum.

Wow!

“I’m both pleased and embarrassed by this place,” Lena said, taking her coat off and revealing a soft-looking wine-coloured cashmere sweater. Kara instantly wanted to hug Lena again, see how soft their hug would be without Lena’s coat on, but she resisted. She shrugged her backpack off and took off her own coat, hanging it happily next to Lena’s. She took her shoes off, and waved off Lena’s protests when she rolled the legs of her jeans up.

“They’re soaking, Lena, I can’t drag the hems all over this shiny floor!”

Lena gave her the tour, and at once Kara could see why Lena both liked and didn’t like living here. It really was like a museum, and although she knew that Lena appreciated historical houses and objects, it didn’t fit with the Lena that she knew. The Lena that liked to listen to heavy metal, go for long walks, and play video games. The Lena that was soft and relaxed, that was unpretentious and not at all like an heiress.

She was shown the enormous kitchen in one of the basements, and Lena laughed while Kara gathered up snacks. She hadn’t eaten dinner, and Lena made them both a thickly filled sandwich while Kara ate a Mars bar. They carried their food up the stairs to Lena’s apartment, and straight away, it was more Lena. Still expensive, but definitely more Lena.

There were framed landscapes of Ireland hanging on the walls, a CD player with a large sound system surrounded by tall stacks of CDs, worn leather sofas, and a long table that Kara knew was a single, solid piece of old oak just by looking at it. There were books piled on almost every surface, and Kara resisted the urge to run her finger along the spines. In her office area were even more books, blueprints of complicated science-y things, and an expensive-looking computer with post-it notes stuck to the monitor frame. The bathroom was spacious and warm with underfloor heating, which Kara appreciated very much when she stood on it in her socked feet.

It was when Lena hesitantly pushed open the door to her bedroom, though, and stood in the doorway while she watched Kara take it in, that she really understood something. Something that stole the breath from her lungs, and that didn’t need words to explain.

The room was Lena: quiet and understated, cosy but bookish, but it was also Kara. She took a step into the room and stopped. All around the room she saw herself, and Lena, and their friendship. On one of the walls was a framed collage of many of the envelopes that Kara had decorated, arranged in concentric circular patterns. Above her desk was another collage, this time of the beer mats and business cards of the places Kara had sent her, covered in her little notes with short reviews of each place. There were more landscapes of both Ireland and New York, and some of Boston, with postcards of various places in Ireland tucked into the edges of the frames. In a nook near the queen-sized bed was a built-in bookcase stuffed full of books and trinkets that Kara recognized from Lena’s descriptions in her letters. Above the envelope collage was an MIT pennant, proudly displayed. On the desk was a small CD player with a pile of CDs, obviously Lena’s favorites, and Kara reverently picked up the copy of Talk on Corners which was sitting right on the top.

And then she noticed the letters. They were in a near pile in the corner, stacked up against the wall. They were in bundles held together with strings, and Kara gaped at it. She hadn’t realized that she’d written so many letters, sent so many postcards. She had all of Lena’s letters too, of course, and there were just about as many as here, but they were spread out in files and drawers. Not piled up like this in what looked like a veritable wall of paper.

Seeing their friendship in the collages like that, seeing how much she and her letters clearly meant to Lena … really seeing it in front of her eyes and not as an abstract thought in her head, it gave Kara hope like nothing before.

She turned to look at Lena, who was standing shyly in the doorway and fiddling with her fingers. It was obviously a nervous habit that Lena hadn’t told her about, and when she saw Kara notice it she pulled her hands apart, but then seemed not to know what to do with herself.

“Hey,” Kara said, walking over to Lena and taking her hands in her own, intertwining their fingers for the first time. Lena’s hands were shaking a little, and Kara gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Hey, it’s just me.”

And when Lena met her eyes once more, the expression on her face was nothing less than adoring and the final piece of a puzzle clicked into place. She could see it in Lena’s eyes, feel it in the way Lena’s thumb stroked the back of her hand.

Kara felt herself flush. This close, she could see the vivid green of her eyes, the dimples in her cheeks, the darkness of her eyelashes. She could see her high cheekbones and her sharp jawline, her soft skin, and the holes in her ears from her piercings. She watched as a slow, nervous smile crept across Lena’s face, watched the way her eyes crinkled, and Kara was lost. Utterly lost.

“You’re so pretty,” Kara blurted out. “It’s such a trite word but, you really are. And I love your room and the collages you’ve made from the envelopes and beer mats. And I love just being able to hold your hand like this—” Kara squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip before she spilled all her feelings, even though she really wanted to. “Ugh, sorry, that was … that was—”

“I think you’re really pretty too, Kara,” Lena said quietly, and the nerves in Lena’s voice gave Kara enough courage to fight through her own embarrassment. She opened her eyes to find Lena’s cheeks dusted pink with a blush, her expression shy but earnest. “I’ve always thought you were, from your photos. And now, seeing you here in front of me at last, and …” Lena ran one of her hands slowly down Kara’s arm before taking her hand again, “it’s just … I can’t not tell you. You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.” By now, Lena’s cheeks were getting redder by the second, and Kara felt her heart beat the truest and most hopeful rhythm yet in her chest. “But it’s more than that. I … I feel—”

And Lena tentatively raised her other hand, gently brushing a tendril of hair away from Kara’s face, before she closed her eyes and shifted from foot to foot. When she opened her eyes again, Lena looked both determined and terrified.

“Sam says that I should tell you something, but I’m nervous about saying it. In case … in case it ruins things between us,” Lena said, her voice thick, as though she were speaking around a lump in her throat. “And I don’t want it to, because you mean so much to me, Kara. I couldn’t bear it if it I lost you.”

Kara could practically hear the blood thundering around in her head at Lena’s words. She could feel their hands shaking and was no longer sure whose hands were the calm ones, hers or Lena’s. Here was Lena, her beautiful, heartfelt, thoughtful best friend, failing to be clear with her words for the first time since they’d started writing to each other.

But Lena didn’t need to be clear with her words in order for Kara to understand them. The look in her eyes, the collages on the walls, the blanket that she’d sent her. The way she’d always stayed up into the small hours listening to Kara work through her articles. A thousand tiny things over the two and a half years they’d known each other. Each tiny piece part of the whole that was Kara and Lena.

When Kara had gone to sleep last night, she wasn’t sure. When she’d got on the plane that afternoon, she still wasn’t sure. But when she’d seen Lena on the bridge, she’d been sure. And now, standing in the entrance to Lena’s bedroom, looking into Lena’s eyes, she knew.

Kara cleared her throat and grabbed the bull by the horns. “I suppose that now would be a good time to say that the second photo you sent of yourself took my breath away,” she said, watching Lena carefully. She could almost see the exact moment that the realization sunk in. Lena’s nerves vanished instantly and her eyes shone with joy, tears sparkling in the corners. “And now is also a good time to tell you that every time I see you smile now makes my heart feel like it’s going to leap right out of my chest.”

She let go of Lena’s hands, settling one lightly on Lena’s hip and sliding the other into her silky hair. She pulled Lena against herself, shifting her hands around to the small of Lena’s back and to the back of her head. Her fingers traced the hem of Lena’s sweater before slipping underneath it, her fingertips stroking the bare skin of Lena’s lower back. She felt Lena shiver at the feeling, and her arms tightened around Kara’s back.

“I didn’t know how I felt,” Lena mumbled into Kara’s hoody, and she pulled back a little so that she could look at Kara. “I didn’t want to confuse how I felt about our friendship, about how much you mean to me, with possible … feelings for you. How could I know what I felt until I met you? Until we’d spent time together?”

“I know,” Kara replied, smiling when the slow circles she was drawing on the soft skin of Lena’s waist with her thumbs caused her best friend’s breath to hitch and press herself closer. “It makes total sense. It was this … this strange feeling of knowing that I loved you as my best friend, but not knowing whether the other things I felt were part of our friendship or something more. Like …” Kara felt herself blush again, “like I didn’t know why the thought of you and Sam together made me feel so sick.”

“Me and … Sam?!” Lena asked, her lips twitching into a smile. “She’s the one who encouraged me to say something to you. I wasn’t sure, like you, whether I was conflating our friendship with something more. But when I imagined you going to a Christmas party and meeting someone under the mistletoe, I was jealous. And I knew we had to meet, so I would know where my feelings came from. And—”

“And then I showed up out of the blue,” Kara supplied. “Like a Christmas miracle.”

Lena dropped her forehead onto Kara’s shoulder. “Ugh. I knew you’d say something that I’d find both cheesy and charming.”

“You know me so well,” Kara said, lifting one hand and trailing her fingers through Lena’s hair. She kept the other on Lena’s back, holding them together in an intimate half-hug.

“I do,” Lena replied, her voice muffled.

“And I know you.”

“You do. Better than anyone else has ever done.”

“Lena?” Kara whispered.

“Mm?”

Lena tilted her head up, and Kara touched her forehead to Lena’s. She traced her fingers across Lena’s lower back again, a silent, intimate question. When Lena let out a gentle sigh against Kara’s lips, pressing herself closer, Kara got her answer.

And when their lips finally came together in the softest kiss Kara could have imagined, their friendship ticked over into something new, something more, something deeper. With Lena in her arms, the world made sense. Kara made sense. This was always where she was going to end up. In a bedroom in New York surrounded with the history of their friendship, one hand in Lena’s hair and the other gently cradling her exquisite face, Kara was home.