once-and-future queen: the package just arrived. thanks.
ex-kal-ibur: you’re most welcome
once-and-future queen: I’M SO NERVOUS, KAL
once-and-future queen: do you think she’ll like it
ex-kal-ibur: she will
once-and-future queen: rao i hope so
Kara makes a mental note to send Tala a special gift, for she has truly outdone herself. But that is not to say that it is a good thing for Kara’s general peace of mind.
On one hand, the dress is a work of art.
On the other, it makes it very difficult for Kara to focus.
She is so not prepared for this sort of thing.
Kara is pretty sure she must have choked a little when Lena comes out of her room wearing the dress, and to be fair to herself, it’s actually a remarkable feat that it is the only thing she does, because she’s pretty sure she’d be drooling if she were a little more of a doofus than she already is.
The dress looks both classic and chic, with long sleeves made of delicate lace and the skirt like a fiery waterfall, shimmering every time light touches it, and it makes Lena look like she’s on fire—much the same as Kara’s insides—whenever she moves, a flame god blazing on her own path.
The effect it has on Kara is amplified by the fact that Lena is now clad in the colour of the House of El—the red of Rao—for the simplest way of declaring one as a member of one’s house is to wear one’s house colour.
And it takes every ounce of self-control in Kara’s body to keep from throwing herself on and wrapping herself around Lena.
She must have been staring at her for quite a while, for then Lena clears her throat and Kara nearly screams off her head.
“I’m sorry, you look pretty, the dress suits you, it’s wonderful, you’re wonderful, I knew you’d look good in this shade of red but whoa, this is too much,” Kara babbles, before clapping a hand over her mouth, evidently mortified.
Lena just looks pleased, though, and she sends Kara another one of her playful grins that could totally end wars, honestly. “Pretty, you say?” She winks, and Kara almost whimpers. “I wouldn’t have thought.”
Kara mumbles some murdered form of shut up (though it wouldn’t surprise her too much if it came out more like an I love you but please stop being so pretty because it’s killing me), and Lena only laughs, as she is wont to do in the face of Kara’s suffering.
“So is it okay?” Kara asks, keen on changing the subject.
“You tell me.”
Kara glares at her, but seeing as her cheeks are probably as red as the dress, she can’t imagine it working to the effect she wants. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Yeah, I know.” Lena slowly twirls, and Kara watches the skirt flare and glimmer. “Tala did it perfectly, and unless I gain too much weight in two days, no adjustment will be needed.”
“Okay. I’ll tell her so.” Kara hesitates for a second, before picking up the small box lying on the sofa and offering it to Lena. “Here, I was actually supposed to give this to you before we tell anyone of our, uhm, engagement, but our whole situation’s a bit of an extenuating circumstance in itself, so. It’s only just arrived.”
“What is it?” Lena asks even as she takes the box. She squints at Kara. “It’s not some sort of jewelry, is it?”
“Well . . .”
“Kara!” Lena glares, and how is it so much more effective when she does it? Not fair. Not fair at all. “We said no unnecessary trinkets!”
“It’s not unnecessary!” Kara asserts, crossing her arms defensively. “Just—Just open it, okay, don’t resist me on this.”
Lena glares at her some more but does open the box, and she gasps when she sees what is inside. “Oh.”
Nestled on the velvet lining is a necklace, the metalwork exquisite and sublime. It is made of delicate interwoven threads—crimson through silver—while the pendant is a bird with its wings outstretched, the details painstakingly engraved with utmost precision, hues of red and yellow and orange creating a beautiful mix.
“What—” Lena shakes her head, fingers lightly touching the pendant, awed. “Kara, this is—”
“It’s a flamebird,” Kara says, “one of the species indigenous to Krypton, as well as one of the royal family’s representative beasts.” She waves a hand towards the necklace. “It appears on our coat of arms and on many a House of El heirloom.”
“It’s—This is an heirloom?”
“Yes.” Kara swallows a lump of nerves. “It is customary that the necklace be bequeathed to the heir’s intended before announcing the betrothal in Krypton’s court.”
“God, Kara”—Lena looks at her with suspiciously wet eyes, both disbelieving and overwhelmed, she thinks—“this is too much, I can’t possibly accept this!”
“You have to,” Kara tells her, finding a certain kind of calm with the thought that one of her family’s most precious artifacts will be at the hands of the one to whom she has given her heart. “You’re my betrothed.”
Lena looks conflicted. “You know that’s not—” she starts to argue, but Kara swiftly cuts her off.
“No, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re to present ourselves as such soon, in front of my people.” She curls her hands over Lena’s, which have begun shaking. “This is part of our tradition, Lena, so please, wear it.” She smiles, trying for reassurance and unsure if she is successful. “You’ll be doing me a massive favour.”
Lena groans, but she does smile back. “Here you are, giving me a stupidly beautiful necklace, and yet I can’t even thank you. You must think me a proper fool.”
“Not really, no,” Kara denies, her smile growing. “As far as fake fiancées are concerned, I’m pretty sure I’ve hit the jackpot with you.”
On the day of the gala, Lena insists on taking care of travel arrangements herself.
(“You took care of the dresses and the bling, Kara, so let me do this,” she said with wide puppy eyes, and Kara begrudgingly acquiesced.)
“Fine, but if you could refrain from saying bling again, that would be great.”
“Your elitist side is showing.”
And so they enter the back of a limousine, driven by a Luthor family chauffeur, and settle in for the ride.
Lena’s shoulders are bare, giving more attention to the ivory column of her neck, now adorned with the El heirloom. Her hair falls in soft waves that Kara desperately wants to thread her fingers on. Instead of giving in to the urge, however, she reaches for Lena’s hand, and when Lena squeezes in silent support, Kara knows it’s the right thing to do.
They spend the ride in a warm sort of quiet, their entwined fingers the single point upon which the universe seems to exist.
The Luthor gala is a highly publicised affair that is attended by progeny from old-money families, celebrities, and public officials. As soon as Kara steps out of the limo, the blinding lights from the cameras assault her vision, and it is only Lena’s hand in hers that grounds her and steadies her grasp of reality.
It is not that Kara is unused to this type of events, though she admits it has been a while since she’s last been on one, and not to this scale. The sheer opulence surrounding them reminds Kara that for all the jokes Lena makes about gold-digging, she is herself filthy rich.
“I thought you said it’s a small crowd,” Kara whispers with a smile that feels plastered on her face.
“I said the crowd will be smaller,” Lena says. “And compared to what we’ll face in Krypton, I assume I’m right.”
“Oh, come now. Try not to look like you’d bolt at the slightest hint of danger.”
“. . . Will there be danger?”
Lena shoots her an amused look, lips curving up in a smirk that usually spells trouble. “The only one in danger in this place is my brother, because once I see him I’ll probably murder him for forcing me to attend this stupid thing.”
Lena is immediately accosted by a large group of people all eager to greet her, and Kara can only watch as she works on them a natural charm that makes her seem like a whole new person to Kara. Lena easily directs the conversation, controlling what is said and what is implied, and leaving people satisfied but not giving too much away. It is fascinating to see her like this, in an environment Kara knows Lena has been raised in—the embodiment of a businessman’s daughter whose actions are governed by a logical, cutthroat mind.
(“No wonder you kick ass at Monopoly,” Kara said, after Lena first opened up about her family, “you’re from a family of tycoons.”
“Okay, first of all, Monopoly merely requires a huge streak of luck when rolling the dice, and second of all”—Lena huffed—“it’s so not my fault that you keep selling me all your property.”
“You’re like a shark when playing!” Kara defended herself. “I can’t not accept the deals you make!”
“See, that right there is an excellent third point! You’re a bad negotiator!”
Kara just shrugged at her, smug smirk in place. “Which brings me to my original point—you’re a good negotiator!”
Lena threw her hands up. “I can’t win with you!”
“Actually,” Kara pointed out helpfully, still smirking, “I believe that we are having this conversation because you always win with me.”)
It leaves Kara all the more captivated—seeing Lena like this, when she knows just how far the real Lena is from the image she presents to the public—for she reckons that she is capable of loving each and every facet of Lena Luthor.
It doesn’t take long before they run into Lena’s mother, and it is as nerve-wracking as Kara imagined.
(And she has imagined this moment, countless of times, since Lena first suggested they set up this ruse.
And each and every scenario does not end well.)
Lillian Luthor stands tall and proud and where her daughter exudes warmth and friendliness, she, in stark contrast, exudes coldness and conceit. Except for the way she holds herself with inherent grace, she is everything else her stepdaughter is not, and the disparity between them is jarring to behold.
Lena’s grip tightens for a second before releasing Kara’s hand, and she walks forwards to kiss her mother on the cheek. “Hello, Mother.”
“Lena.” Rao, even her voice is cold. Kara can almost imagine icicles forming around each word. Lillian turns to look at her, jutting her chin with subtle authority. “Who might this be?”
Lena clears her throat before sidling next to Kara, wrapping an arm around her waist. Kara is not sure if the contact is for her or for Lena herself. “This is Kara, my girlfriend. Kara, this is my mother.”
Kara smiles and extends a hand. “It’s good to meet you, Mrs. Luthor.”
“Hmm.” Lillian takes her hand, shakes it once, before dropping it. “Good to meet you too,” she says, though her tone says a wholly different story. “You’re a student in NCU?”
“Yes, I am,” Kara confirms. “Journalism.”
“A journalist?” There’s a derisive glint in her eyes, now. “In this day and age, whatever would you hope to accomplish with that kind of degree?”
“With all due respect, I think journalism is even more important in this day and age. People are often fed false information, and it leads to a culture that supports harmful ideologies, leading to a society in which ignorance becomes normal and critical thinking both moot and stigmatised.”
Lillian studies her with narrowed eyes, and it feels like the entirety of herself is being weighed on some invisible scale. It makes Kara want to, like, step back and bury her head in the sand, maybe. But this woman is the source of many of Lena’s heartaches (as evidenced by countless late-night conversations wherein Lena pretends not to be affected by her stepmother’s constant disappointment while Kara convinces her that it is okay to show vulnerability sometimes—no matter that the Luthor family motto states otherwise), and Kara would not give her this victory too. So she doesn’t back away, instead meeting Lillian’s gaze with her own. Finally, Lillian says, “You should be warned that my daughter is known to be high maintenance.”
Lena’s fingers dig into Kara’s skin, unconsciously, perhaps preparing for a defense or an exit strategy, but Kara just shoots Lillian a serene smile. “So I’ve been told, Mrs. Luthor,” she says before turning to Lena, and her gaze doesn’t leave Lena’s worried one as she continues, her tone entirely too adoring to qualify as a mere act, “but I’m perfectly certain I can handle it.”
Lena exhales loudly as soon as her mother is out of earshot. “That could have gone worse,” she mutters, leaning against Kara more heavily.
Kara can actually believe that. “Yeah?”
“I’m like totally sure your mom hates me though.”
“She doesn’t . . . probably.”
“That’s not reassuring at all, just so you know.”
“At least the worst has passed. My father and brother are a lot more genial.”
Lex Luthor, just as Lena claimed, is affable and a thousand degrees more welcoming than their mother. His grin is infectious, like a poster boy for the dentist’s office, and his booming laughter echoes when he catches sight of his sister. He is tall, Kara thinks maybe six feet and two inches, broad-shouldered, and athletically built. He reminds her of Kal El, for some reason.
(Maybe it’s the general big-brother-y vibe.)
And he looks good too. Maybe it’s a Luthor thing, no matter that he and Lena share just their father’s blood. He has sharp cheekbones and a strong jaw, just like his sister. His blue eyes shine bright beneath the lights, all the more emphasised by the tailored navy suit that makes him look as urbane and well educated as his name implies. His red-gold hair is coiffed to the side, perfectly styled to that “just got out of bed” look that most could only dream of achieving.
(Kara can kind of get where Lena is coming from, with wanting to mess with that hair. Like, seriously, it’s so . . . luscious? Kara wonders if maybe each individual strand of Lex’s hair bounces when he’s angry or something. It’s probably worth seeing.)
He hugs Lena tightly, even lifting her feet off the ground, heedless of her indignant yelling.
“You’re such an oaf,” she tells him when he finally releases her.
“I missed you too, sister dearest,” he says, beaming, his voice like the rain. Then he notices Kara, standing to the side, and his smile grows impossibly wider. “And who is this lovely girl?”
“She’s my girlfriend,” Lena answers, and Kara hides a laugh at his astonished expression.
“You were actually telling the truth?” His eyes are wide.
Lena scowls at him. “The fuck does that mean?”
“I just—Whoa.” Lex regards Kara then, tilting his head to the side, like a puppy staring at a new human. “What kind of magic did Lena use to date someone like you?” he asks, much to her sister’s annoyance.
“You underestimate your sister,” Kara replies, not missing a beat. “She didn’t need any magic at all to put me under her spell.”
At that Lex barks out a laugh, and he offers her his hand. “I like you!” he declares. “I’m Lex, Lena’s brother.”
“So I gathered.” Kara shakes his hand. His grip is strong, sure, and she appreciates that. “I’m Kara, Lena’s girlfriend.”
“So I gathered,” Lex returns, his grin not faltering.
Lena sighs. “Please tell me you’re not actually becoming friends, because that’s the last thing I want,” she says.
Lex smirks at her. “Oh, shut it, this is going to be fun!” He puts his arms around each of them, stirring them through the crowd with practised ease. “Now come, let’s get Dad!”
Lionel Luthor is a couple of inches shorter than his son, but he still has a commanding presence. He is bald, now, though Lena told Kara that he once had hair as rich as her brother’s.
(“It’s why Lex is extra careful with his hair regimen these days,” she said with a slightly-evil-enchantress grin. “He’s deathly afraid he’s going to end up like Dad.”
“Shut up, Lena,” Lex told her grumpily, “I am going to beat this genetic anomaly.”
“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”)
He hugs his daughter perhaps as tightly as Lex did. “I can’t believe Lena actually brought a girl around to introduce to us,” he says, and the smile he gives Lena is approving and warm. “She always says no one’s good enough to meet me.”
“To be perfectly honest, Dad, I think it’s the other way around with this one,” Lex tells him with a laugh. “I think we’re the ones being measured here, if we’re good enough to be introduced to Kara.”
“You’re not wrong.” Lena shrugs, and the look she sends her makes Kara’s head spin. “And I guess I finally found the right one, huh?”
Kara stares at the floor when Lionel looks proudly at his daughter, and guilt settles heavily in her chest.
(Lies. Lies. Lies.
This is not supposed to happen.)
Quite some time later, Kara seeks out some fresh air—there are too many people, and Lena’s too close, and she needs to regroup—and she finds herself in the museum’s private garden, looking at the stars. There’s no snow, but it is cold enough that she can see each breath she takes, and she mentally berates herself for not getting her coat.
“You’re going to die of hypothermia if you stay there,” calls a voice from inside, and she turns around to see Lena by the glass doors.
Kara shrugs. “The cold never bothered me,” she tells her even as she can feel her limbs going numb.
Lena shakes her head, but she’s smiling. “Settle down, Elsa,” she says. “I can’t have my girlfriend dying of the cold.” Then she steps towards Kara, and Kara realises that she’s holding a bundle of something in her arms.
“What’re you doing?” A blanket. Lena’s settling a blanket over Kara’s shoulders, tugging the edges in front of her.
“Making you warm again,” she replies.
“It’s a blanket.”
“I’m aware.” Lena scrunches her nose. “Found it in a gallery while I was looking for you.”
Kara looks down at what Lena’s trying to accomplish. “Classy.”
“It’s a fashion statement, Kara.”
“What’s the statement?”
“Health is more important than aesthetics.”
“Hmm, never mind, I’m getting cold too.” Lena tugs again, moving the sheet so that they are both wrapped in it. Her face is so close to Kara’s, their noses almost touching, and her warmth permeates every inch of Kara’s skin. “They like you.”
“Dad and Lex, I mean. They like you.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Lena shuffles closer, and Kara’s arms band around her waist beneath the blanket. Kara’s pretty sure she hasn’t just imagined Lena’s gasp. “And my mom sort of tolerates you, I think.”
“That, I don’t know what to make of.”
“It’s good,” Lena says. “Most people she hates, so toleration is a pretty huge step-up.”
“How about you?” Kara asks, before her brain catches up to what her mouth is saying. Her focus is on some locks of Lena’s hair that are dancing in the breeze.
“Do you like me?”
Lena stills in her arms, before she relaxes again, bumping their foreheads together once. “Of course I do. I wouldn’t be here freezing my ass off if I didn’t.”
“Makes sense,” Kara says.
“I’m a pretty likable person.”
Lena huffs, her breath tickling Kara’s neck. “Yeah, yeah.”
“No, I’m serious, my likability is the stuff of legends.”
“I know, Kara.”
“Wait, you do?”
“Sure, it’s a part of my criteria for selecting the perfect girlfriend.”
Lena shrugs. “Potato, po-tah-to.” She edges back, tilting her head up a bit, eyes on the starlit sky. Kara’s arms loosen their hold, but she doesn’t break contact. She traces Lena’s face with something close to reverence, and she has never felt more at peace.
And she has never wanted to bridge the gap between them as much as she does in this moment suspended in tranquility, with only the moon, the stars, and the muted sounds of the earth bearing them witness.
Don’t! screams a voice in Kara’s mind—the one to which she listens to keep herself from doing something spectacularly bad.
This will probably end terribly, and you won’t forgive yourself if you did anything to jeopardise your friendship with her, another voice says, reasonably but no less urgently, sounding like the perfect combination of Alex’s and Eliza’s voices.
What do her lips taste like, and are they as soft as they look? asks a third voice, full of curious wonder, and in a moment of reckless stupidity, that is the one to whom Kara chooses to listen.
She takes a small step forwards, akin to a giant leap of faith, and she kisses Lena Luthor.