“You about ready to head out soon?” Winn asked as he peaked out from over their desk privacy divider. “I have a crock pot of hot chocolate and a bottle of peppermint schnapps waiting for us back at my place.”
“Um,” Kara bit her lip. “I still have a few more articles to go over.”
“But Kara, it’s already past five!” Winn whined. “And it’s almost Christmas! Everyone else has already head on out.”
“Christmas is still over a week away. And some of the reporters were late getting their articles in and most of them need complete rewrites.”
“Then send it back to them!” Winn threw up his hands. “It’s not your job to write the article for them. You’re only supposed to proofread them and check their sources.”
“But if I ever want to make it as a reporter, I have to prove that I’m worth it,” Kara insisted with an adjustment of her glasses. “Besides, it’s definitely improving my writing.”
Kara had only been at this job for a few months, and she knew that she just had to stick with it for a few months, maybe even years, to prove her worth as a copy editor before she got her break. That was how it worked when she got promoted from assistant to copy editor. It just took patience and hard work. Even if that meant rewriting most of the articles and working later nights than the CEO herself on the rare occasion.
“All you’re proving right now is you’re a pushover that other people can rely on to do their own work,” Winn said as he flopped back down in his chair and grabbed his bag. “I’m going to run to the breakroom for some coffee before I head out. Do you want anything?”
“Some tea would be nice,” Kara said, her focus already falling back to the article before her. From the looks of the piece in front of her, she would need several more cups of caffeine before the night was over.
“You got it!”
As she read the lead and preceding paragraph of the article, a headache festered in her temple as she spotted five errors before even making it to the third sentence. Just when she thought about rewriting this article from complete scratch, her phone buzzed. She fished it out of her back pocket to see her sister’s face lighting up the screen.
“Hey, Alex,” Kara said, leaning back in her chair as she rubbed her eyes behind her glasses.
“Hey, sis! I just wanted to know when you thought you’d be making it over to Midvale.”
“Uh, it looks like it’s going to be awhile,” Kara eyed the pile of articles on her desk. “I’m hoping I can be out there a day or two before Christmas.”
“That late? Kelly’s going to be coming down tomorrow from National City, and I thought you two could ride together.”
Kara scoffed. “Yeah, no, I definitely can’t make it that soon. Ms. Grant would kill me.”
“Really?” Alex groaned. “You’ve been working almost seventy-hour weeks lately. You deserve a nice holiday break.”
“That’s not how it works in journalism. The news never sleeps.”
“Still ridiculous if you ask me.” Alex gave a small grunt. “Also, do you know where the box of my old handmade Christmas ornaments is? Like the ones I made in preschool and elementary school?”
“Um, no,” Kara frowned. “I didn’t know you had any.”
“Yeah, you did. They were on the tree when we were kids. Those reindeer made out of popsicles and pipecleaners or those wreaths made from green ink and thumbprints?”
“I don’t remember them.” Kara was sure of it. She remembered everything about when she first came to live with the Danvers, especially their first Christmas. “Huh, maybe they were before you. Anyway, I’m in the attic looking for them now and, my gosh, Mom and Dad have a ridiculous number of boxes up here. And I swear half of them are different sorts of Christmas ornaments or lights, but none of them are the right ones. Not to mention all these ridiculously old cards. Why do people still hold on to these things?”
Kara pinched the bridge of her nose and pushed back against the sour twist of her stomach. “Why are you looking for them?”
“Because I want to show them to Kelly when we decorate the tree tomorrow.”
The sour twist turned into a knot.
“You’re decorating the tree tomorrow?”
Decorating the tree had always been one of Kara’s favorite parts. It was the tradition that officially kicked off all the others. Drinking watered down Swiss Miss hot chocolate while reminiscing of the holidays they had shared before it or sharing stories triggered by different ornaments and Eliza insisting on decorating the back of the tree even though no one would ever see it. All those things always gave Kara’s soul a much-needed recharge.
“Well, yeah. I mean, I know it’s your favorite, but Christmas is almost here, and we can’t wait much longer. I hope that’s okay.”
“Uh, yeah,” Kara said even though her tone betrayed her words. “That’s fine.”
“It doesn’t sound fine.”
“I swear, it is,” Kara plastered on a fake smile hoping it would mask her lie. “I hope you and Kelly have a great time decorating the tree tomorrow.”
“We can leave a couple for you to do when you get here.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Kara told her. Nothing would be more awkward than her having to decorate the tree with a handful ornaments alone while everyone else watched.
“Alright. Oh, and hey, also,” Alex huffed, probably moving another box. “I don’t think we’re going to have the Pirozhki with Christmas dinner this year.”
“What?” Kara’s face immediately fell, erasing her fake smile completely.
“Well, it just makes sense. Kelly’s a vegetarian and with how busy you are with Catco and how you’re arriving late, it just doesn’t make sense to make them this year. Not to mention, Mom’s been pretty busy anyways so we’re ordering most of the food in.”
“But… we could just fill them with mashed potatoes or vegetables or something to make them safe for Kelly to eat. It doesn’t have to be filled with meat.”
“You know that’s not the same. Look, I’ll just throw in an extra order of pot stickers from that place you love to make it up to you. How’s that?”
“Alex—” but Kara was cut off by a load crash from the other end of the phone line.
“Ah, crap!” Alex groaned. “The bottom of the box just fell out. I’ll have to call you back. There’s all this broken glass and bits of plastic covering the floor now.”
“Talk to you later, sis,” and then the line went dead.
Kara lowered the phone and stared at the now black screen as she felt her throat grow thick. Pirozhki had been a holiday tradition of the Danvers ever since Kara came into their life. Simply put, it was just a meat stuffed bun that they ate for Christmas dinner, but it was so much more to Kara than that. It was one of the few things that kept her childhood alive. One of the only traditions that she had brought with her. And she always thought Alex understood that. But apparently, Kelly meant more. And why shouldn’t she? No one had made her sister so happy since her break-up with Maggie. It was great that she had found someone to begin a new life with. It just seemed this new life involved less and less of Kara each day.
“Hey,” Kara looked up to see Winn drumming on her desk. “Ms. Grant wants to see you in her office.”
“Really? What for?” Kara asked, her spine stiffening.
“Beats me,” Winn shrugged before furrowing his brow in concern. “Hey, are you alright?”
“Yeah,” Kara said as she wiped her nose with the back of her hand as she stood up. “I’m fine.”
Kara walked away before Winn could pry more. The last thing she needed was to get on Ms. Grant’s bad side with either her tardiness or her tears; both things that the Queen of Media despised more than trashy tabloids and comma splices. Smoothing out her cardigan as she walked, Kara did her best to hold her head high and shove the thought of no more meat buns or tree decorating down to dwell on later.
Cat Grant was the founder and CEO of Catco, one of the world’s largest news publishers, who had been righteously nicknamed “The Queen of Media” and her office testified to that claim. From the wall of windows that showcased a spectacular view of National City from one of the top floors of the buildings, sunlight cast illuminated the room’s spotless couches and interior design. Screens with scrolling headlines and different news outlets lined the back of the wall behind Cat’s expansive and elevated desk, but no sound came from the office except for Cat’s typing and occasional shrewd demand at one of the many assistants she went through regularly. Kara certainly didn’t miss that.
“Um, you wanted to see me, Ms. Grant?” Kara announced as she crossed the threshold to her office.
“Tell me, Kiera,” Cat looked up from her computer, her reading glasses perched on the edge of her nose, “What do you know about Thorul?”
“Um,” Kara gulped, pushing her own glasses up. “It’s a country in Europe ruled by a monarchy…”
“A monarchy that has been rocked with scandal in the past years,” Cat continued for her. “With the great king passing, the handsome prince being convicted for treason, and the criminal queen on the run, the young princess has catapulted her way to the throne. A throne she is to be coronated for in the coming weeks.”
Kara blinked and shifted her weight to her other foot. She was familiar with the princess: Lena Luthor. Anyone who has paid any attention to the news lately was. The tabloids loved her, especially after King Lionel passed away, then again when the press got wind of the criminal charges the Throulian Parliament pressed against her brother, the then King Alexander. The princess, a woman who had attended a variety of prestigious graduate schools, although never for the time it took to obtain a degree, was a tabloid favorite. She had been seen exiting the apartments and cars of many known celebrities at early hours of the morning, always immaculate with never a hair out of place. Daily Mail even referred to her as the “Pansexual Princess” although Kara suspected it was more for the alliteration than actual sexual preference since none of the relations were ever confirmed. One of Taylor Swift’s latest hits had been rumored to be about her and some even claimed she was the first royal Meghan Markle ever got a taste of.
Of course, these were all just rumors. When asked in interviews, any of her supposed sexual escapees denied it, claiming that the princess was simply a good friend. But when did that ever stop tabloids or their headlines? If anything, the only confirmed relationship the princess ever had was an on and off again relationship with another European royal: Duke Jack Speer. While there weren’t any sneaky pictures or hot gossip about them, they had plenty of public appearances together under their belt with barely more than handholding between them.
“Yes, I am aware,” Kara nodded shortly.
“Good. I need you to cover the upcoming press conference at their palace,” Cat said, already settling down to work on her computer once more.
“The upcoming press conference?” Kara blinked. “In Thorul?”
“I don’t believe I stuttered,” Cat said, her eyes still focused on her computer as she typed.
“Are you sure, Ms. Grant?” Kara faltered as she twisted her fingers. “I’ve never covered anything that big. I just do copy edits.”
“I was under the impression you wanted to be a reporter,” Cat slowly said as she looked up. “I don’t give out these kinds of opportunities very often and certainly never more than once to one person.”
“Well, yes, of course,” Kara continued to stammer. “I’d be happy to go.”
“Good,” Cat said as she returned her focus to her screen. “I see a lot of potential in you Kiera. That and no other reporter wanted to cover it because they would potentially miss the holidays.”
“I’d miss the holidays?”
The Queen of Media raised an eyebrow, but Kara swiftly answered her own question, fearful to get anymore on her bosses’ bad side. Especially this close to Christmas bonuses.
“Yes, of course, that’s not a problem!”
“Good,” Cat said. “My assistant will email you the plane tickets. You leave tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, thank you, Ms. Grant,” Kara said but her boss was already waving her out of her office.
Kara hastily made her way out of Cat Grant’s office before slowing her gait as she returned to her break. Kara hadn’t left the country in years. Thankfully, she had a passport from back when Alex and Maggie talked about getting married in Mexico. Even if that relationship had fallen through, her passport thankfully hadn’t. Still, she had too much to do to be prepared for flying to another country tomorrow. There was packing, research, scheduling. Who would water her house plants?
“Congratulations, girl!” Winn exclaimed, holding his hand up for a high five.
“You were listening?” Kara asked.
“Well, yeah. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t giving you anymore crazy work,” Winn waved his still high hand. “You’re not gonna leave me hanging are you?”
“But I could be missing Christmas now!”
“But it’s your big break! Besides, weren’t you just grumbling about being a third wheel with Alex and Kelly the other day? This is perfect!”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for this, Winn.”
“Hey,” Winn’s hands fell on Kara’s shoulder as he looked her square in the eye. “Yes, you are. No one in this office besides Cat Grant herself works as hard as you do. You’re going to do great.”
Kara sighed. He was right. This was as ready as she would ever be. And her boss even told her that she wouldn’t be getting an opportunity like this again. It was now or never if she wanted to be a reporter and that was what she had working towards for years. This was her big break, and she was ready for it.
“Thanks, Winn,” Kara said, giving him a small genuine smile.
“Anytime,” Winn patted her shoulder. “Now let’s go drink hot spiked chocolate and pack!”
Full disclosure: I don't know French and it's all courtesy of Google Translate
Kara knew it was too much to hope that Cat Grant had splurged for a business class ticket, even if this trip was for business. Alas, Kara had to spend the nine-hour flight in economy, sandwiched between a screaming baby and old woman who kept leaning on Kara’s shoulder as she drifted off to sleep all while Kara impatiently waited for the slow plane Wi-Fi to load articles about the country of Thorul and their royal family.
Thorul was ruled by a constitutional monarchy sandwiched between France and Germany with a small amount in the south boarding Switzerland. From what Kara could see, the country was absolutely beautiful, in both culture and landscape, and it even ranked in the top ten list of the world’s happiest countries at one point. However, that seemed to be before the royal family scandal. While public opinion had been very favorable for the late King Lionel, it soured like milk under his son’s reign. Now stripped of titles, the once King Alexander seemingly descended into madness as he began to only focus on eugenics and supremacy. While reports were unclear if he ever carried out any experiments or risked the lives of others, he definitely had plans to do so. Thankfully, the courts arrested him on treason among other things. The Thorulian people cried out in betrayal and anger, and Parliament ensured that he would never see life from behind a cell. The country still thirsted for justice from the prior Queen Lilian who had been in cahoots with her son but had the awareness to flee the country before anyone caught on. The only reason the public seemed to tolerate his other sister for the throne was because she had been the one who had turned him into the police and provided plenty of evidence for Parliament, even going as far to wear a wire.
Princess Lena, or soon to be Queen Lena, intrigued Kara more than anything else. None of the articles she had read about this woman seemed to line up. In tabloids, she’s painted as a well-sexed and irresponsible player, but then in court transcripts, she is a well-spoken and bold activist. On her Instagram feed, she was a pensive philanthropist, but news shows labeled her a passionate philanderer. She was seemingly generous but also materialist: a genius but inconsiderate. There were photos and other evidence that seemed to align with whichever story line one wanted to follow. Behind those emerald green eyes, raven black hair, and porcelain skin was a mystery; one Kara desperately wished to solve.
After landing in Thorul, Kara did not unboard as quickly as she hoped. The elderly lady next to her needed help removing her baggage from the overhead compartment, then when in the terminal, Kara rushed after her after realizing that the woman was headed in the opposite way that she needed to be. Once Kara felt safe that the older woman had the proper luggage and was paired up with another woman who claimed to be her daughter, Kara finally devoted the time to reading her instruction CatCo had given her. Just like in the states, there were plenty of cabs waiting out in front of the airport for her flag, and they should all know the way to the palace where the press conference was taking place.
With her suitcase in one hand and her carry-on in another, Kara braced for the cooler air outside of the airport. Patches of snow covered much of the ground and the scent of pine mixed with jet fuel tickled her nose, triggering an old memory from her childhood she had long since forgotten. In a way, this country made her homesick for her life before the Danvers in such a way that she hadn’t felt in years. So much so that when she saw a cab pull up right in front of her, Kara hesitated ever so slightly.
But that wasn’t what made her miss the cab.
No, that was because of the lumbering man’s bicep that clipped her shoulder, pushing her off balance so Kara stumbled to the side as the large man and dark-haired woman behind him jumped into the cab. The woman ducked her head, but her face was hidden by large black sunglasses and a curtain of dark hair. Kara barely got a glimpse of her burgundy pant suit before the larger man overshadowed her.
“Hey!” Kara shouted. “That’s my cab!”
Her only reply was the slamming of a car door.
“Selfish jerk!” Kara called out after them as the cab pulled away.
The crowd of other people around her waiting for their own rides nodded and murmured in agreement. With a frustrated sigh, Kara raised her hand to flag down another cab as she did her best to not dwell on the fact that she was already running behind. After several minutes, Kara was finally able to flag down a driver who unfortunately only spoke French. Using her translation app on her phone and her poor memory of French high school lessons, Kara was finally on her way to the palace. Of course, traffic was terrible, and Kara was too busy thumbing through her translation app to fully understand what her driver was saying as they sat in bumper to bumper traffic under a chorus of car horns.
“Je connais un raccourci,” the driver told her as he turned off the crowded main road down an empty single lane road.
“Uh…” Kara typed on her phone the best phonetic spelling she could. Raccouri = shortcut. Oh gosh, the last thing she needed was for her cab driver to get her lost in a foreign country. “Uh… Non? We go…” she quickly typed in the word straight. “Tout droit?”
“Oui, nous allons tout droit,” the driver gestured forward with his hand and a smile as if he was proud that he understood, but Kara had meant straight down the road that they were previously on.
Kara just let out a sigh and put away her phone as the battery was nearing its five percent mark. Data fees were going to be a nightmare later, but for right now, her main goal was to simply focus on her surroundings so she could potentially make her way back to the main road if necessary.
The road wound its way up the mountain, the trees growing ever thicker the higher they went. Kara would be concerned about the snow on the ground if her driver had seemed to be. He continued at the same speed, even pointing out different trees, birds, and signs as they went. Of course, it was all in French, so Kara understood little, but the enthusiasm was much appreciated. When he rounded the final bend, she let out a gasp as a massive castle suddenly came into view. Her eyes bulged as she took in the impressive brown gray stonework and towering burgundy spires. It was not only massive and immaculate but also intimidating. Even the evergreen garden and landscape surrounding the castle were prestigious and perfection under the snow. The fact that Cat Grant told Kara that she was ready for this made Kara question everything her mentor had ever told her.
“Bienvenue au chateau,” the driver announced as he pulled up to a parking lot hidden in the back of the palace. From the lack of other cars or members of the press, Kara wondered if she was even in the right place, but also, how many palaces could there be in this country?
“Merci,” Kara said as she passed the driver some foreign bills.
As she was about to exit, the driver grabbed her hand back and placed several of the bills back in her hand.
“Non,” the driver said with a nod. “Merci.”
Her cheeks colored as Kara realized she must have just massively overpaid the driver. She nodded another thanks before getting out of the cab, paying attention to make sure that she had both her suitcase and carry-on as well as her phone in her back pocket. Soon the driver was pulling away, leaving Kara alone and cold in a foreign country with a dying phone standing before the most intimidating castle she had ever seen. It was also the only castle Kara had ever seen but she decided now was not the time to split hairs.
Not sure of what else to do, Kara approached the rear entrance. When she tried the door, she found that it was unlocked. Assuming that this had been the way that the rest of the press had gone in, Kara did the same, certain that the press conference was already well underway.
If the palace had looked intimidating from the exterior, it was nothing compared to the interior. Tiles laid across the floor in a vast intricate pattern while the walls were hung with paintings that Kara was sure cost more than she’d make in a lifetime. Colored light filtered in through hidden stain glass windows and massive crystal chandeliers hung down from the high vaulted ceilings. Kara was so busy trying to get her mouth up off the antique floor that she didn’t even notice the woman behind her until she cleared her throat.
“And who might you be?” the woman asked who wore a black power suit with her hair in a severe dark bun while holding a tablet and a gaze that cut through Kara like a hot knife to soft butter.
“Um…” Kara gulped when she realized her own throat was dry. She felt like a toddler caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
“Are you a member of the press?” the woman demanded. “Because the press were given very explicit instructions to come through the main gate. Anyone caught violating those instructions would be tried for trespassing and for crimes against the crown. As the Chief of Staff, I will not hesitate to press charges.”
“No,” Kara gasped, her eyes wide as she put her hands up automatically, her bags falling to the floor. “I wasn’t… doing that.”
“No?” The woman narrowed her gaze as she looked over the blonde. “Fortunately, I don’t see a press badge.”
Kara’s heart stuttered as she realized she had forgotten her press badge in the cab. Ms. Grant was going to kill her, but at the moment, she could only be grateful.
“Wait,” the woman strode up, bent down and pulled forward to unfurl the luggage tag on Kara’s suitcase. “You’re from America. Are you the new tutor?”
The word slipped out before Kara could stop it. Oh gosh, she was in so much trouble. But it’s either take it back or go to jail, and right now, anything sounded better than jail. Or the dungeon that she would be surely locked in.
“Explains why you used the back entrance,” the woman said as she stepped back. “But you’re over two weeks early.”
“I… finished with my last assignment early,” Kara said slowly as her mind whirled. “And with how important education is, I thought it was important to get here as soon as I could.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “You Americas are always so arrogant. You’re fortunate though as the Duchess was recently expressing her desire for her daughter to have more schooling through the holidays. Now follow me, and I’ll show you to your room.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kara said, bending down to pick up her bags and then jog after the woman. For someone wearing heels, she walked surprisingly fast, especially up the stairs.
“Now I expect that you are knowledgeable about royal etiquettes such as that you are to curtsy in the presence of any member of the royal family.”
“Um, yes,” Kara said, making a mental note to do a deep Google dive when her phone was charged as she stumbled over the steps and down the hall after her.
“And that you are well-versed in the curriculum that we sent over.”
“Uh, actually, I, um, accidentally left that on the plane… when I was studying it and all.”
The woman let out a dramatic sign and made a note on her tablet. “I will bring another copy by your room later this evening. There have been some additions to it. The Duchess now wishes for her daughter to learn Russian as the country has become a large trade partner with us. I hope that won’t be a problem.”
“Yes!” Kara excitedly perked up before faltering down to a meeker state when the woman looked at her. “I mean, no. That won’t be a problem at all.”
“Wonderful,” the woman made one last note on her tablet before opening a door. “This will be your room.”
A small gasp escaped Kara’s lips as she looked around the massive room that could easily fit her whole apartment in National City and then some. The bed was massive and covered in pillows and blankets, all situated across the room from a fireplace that would surely keep a drafty castle like this warm. From the several open doors, Kara could see that she was given access to her own private bath as well as extensive closet. There probably wasn’t a thing in the room that Kara wouldn’t need installment plans to pay off and just the thought of that made her simultaneously want to touch everything and also sit on her hands.
“Are you serious?” Kara gasped, spinning around to stare at the impressive forest view her large window granted.
“Quite,” the woman said solemnly as she turned off her tablet. “I will leave you now for a little bit to get settled in before I come to retrieve you later to introduce you to your student and the Duchess. Again, my name is Jessica Huang, the Chief of Staff, and if you need anything, please ask someone else. Have a good day.”
“Oh wait, I was wondering if you could…” the door shut before Kara could finish. “show me to the press conference.”
Taking a deep breath, Kara spun around and leaned against the door. Looking around at her room, she suddenly found it a little more difficult to breathe.
She had barely been in a foreign country for two hours, and Kara was already in impossibly over her head.
To say Kara was panicking would be an overstatement. In fact, Kara felt strangely calm for someone now living under a fake identity in a massive castle in a foreign country thousands of miles away from anyone she knew. Really, the thing that bothered her most was the fact that she was missing the press conference. She stared at her wristwatch, watching the time tick by as dread sunk deeper in her stomach with every passing second. Her phone was now charging but had also been turned off. The last thing she needed was a chew out session from Ms. Grant, a lecture that would surely trigger the panic attack that mysteriously laid dormant for the time being. She would have to call Alex soon though, or at least send her a message of some kind since it looked like she would be extending her stay even longer now. Perhaps, she’ll just send an email. That way, she’ll know she won’t be interrupting any sleep or holiday activities with Kelly and she won’t have to hear the disappointment in her sister’s voice.
Some time later after darkness had already fallen on the sprawling hillside outside her window, she heard another knock at her door. Springing to her feet, Kara scampered to the door, throwing it open to find an unamused Ms. Huang on the other side.
“Hi!” Kara greeted with a skip to her step.
“Good evening,” the stone-face woman replied before doing a quick scan of Kara’s outfit. “You did not change into fresh clothes after your flight? Somehow, that does not surprise me. Tuck in your shirt. No one needs to see those shirt tails.”
“Oh right, of course.” Kara glanced down at the ends of her light blue button-up and immediately began stuffing them into her tan pants. When she looked up, she saw that Ms. Huang was already walking off, so the reporter quickly scrambled after her.
“I trust that you’ve found everything to your liking,” Ms. Huang said, not bothering to look behind her towards Kara.
“Oh yes, absolutely!” Kara said, stumbling slightly over her own feet. “This whole place is gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That is not surprising; however, I did see that you hadn’t unpacked yet.”
“Um, yeah,” Kara pushed up her glasses. “I just thought it would be easier to live out of my suitcase for now.”
Actually, Kara had attempted to unpack earlier, but not realizing her own strength or the fragility of antiques, the dresser knob had fallen off in her hand. Fearing lifelong debt and possible jail time (because who knew how things worked in Thorul), Kara shoved the knob back in and made it so it looked normal under the casual eye. Of course, the breeze of an air conditioning unit compromised its structural integrity, but Kara decided that that was a problem for later. Perhaps she could blame it on a ghost if she got lucky. Learning her lesson, Kara decided that living out of her suitcase was probably her safest choice.
“Well if you’re anything like the last couple tutors, that might be a good idea as you probably won’t last more than two weeks.”
“Wait, what?” Kara asked her head snapping up from her waistline.
“Lady Ruby is an exceptional student even if she doesn’t have a knack for pushing the rules. Due to her special needs, we have found that it can be rather difficult to find someone who suits those needs. The agency assured us that you would be the perfect candidate for the job.” Ms. Huang stopped to eye Kara over her tablet. “Was I misinformed?”
“No,” Kara squeaked before clearing her throat and shaking her head. “No, not at all.”
“Splendid,” Ms. Huang spun on her heel down the hallway once more.
Kara let out a sigh as she shook her head before moving to catch up. This tutoring job was becoming far more demanding and difficult than she had expected. And what had this woman meant when she said special needs? Kara wracked through her mind for any mention of a young Lady Ruby and she recalled the late King Alexander having a child born with some sort of birth defect. But since Kara couldn’t recall what it was, she couldn’t expect that it had much to do with the child’s ability to learn.
“Now, I expect for you to be on your best behavior when meeting the Duchess,” Ms. Huang continued through the marbled hallway with her heels clicking and her head held high. “The press has put all of us on edge. They are nothing but parasites.”
“Of course,” Kara nodded, her head hanging a little low, almost not noticing that the Chief of Staff had already stopped before a large ornate wooden door.
“Here we are,” she announced, her hand finding the handle. “Now don’t forget to curtsy.”
When Ms. Huang opened the door, Kara wasn’t quite sure what she had expected, but it certainly wasn’t a young teenaged girl and her brunette mom standing before the largest decorated Christmas tree Kara had ever seen. The woman, who must have been the Duchess, looked more like a businesswoman than royalty with her gray slacks, suit jacket, and perfect flowing hair. Kara couldn’t remember if Duchesses wore crowns, but the only kind of jewelry Kara saw were simple gold necklaces and bracelets. Her daughter sat next to her in a red plush chair looking much more laid back than the Duchess, but still carrying a sense of power and authority in her young face. They had the same hair, hazel eyes, and narrow nose, but if Kara didn’t know any better, she would have assumed they were sisters as the Duchess didn’t look near old enough to have a daughter that age.
Immediately, the Duchess crossed her arms, triggering Kara to remember what Ms. Huang had told her only moments ago. Slotting one heel behind the other, Kara bent her knees and bowed her back into easily the most appalling curtesy anyone this side of the Atlantic had ever seen. Thankfully, the doorjamb caught her as she started to tumble, and she was able to immediately right herself, only hitting the ornate vase ever so slightly before frantically straightening it. Of course, this did nothing to ease the prejudice etched on the Duchess’ face.
“Lady Ruby, Duchess Arias,” Ms. Hunag said, performing a near perfect courtesy for them. “I would like for you to meet to meet Lady Ruby’s new tutor, Karen Starr.” Ms. Huang paused before adding, “she’s from America.”
“I can see that,” Duchess Arias said, her arms still firmly crossed in front of her. “While you are two weeks early, I think it would be wise for my daughter to have someone keeping her busy over the holidays. Besides, she is already behind due to her knack of running out her tutors. Especially the last one who was barely here a week.”
“She said she liked mice,” Ruby said with a shrug and sickly-sweet smile. “I was only trying to let her play with it.”
“By putting it in her bed while she was sleeping?” the Duchess asked with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s not my fault it crawled into her mouth.” Ruby insisted, but her mother just shook her head with a sigh.
“So, what shall we call you?” the Duchess asked Kara.
“Oh, Kara’s fine!” Kara said with a smile, but the Duchess only frowned.
“Not Ms. Starr?” the Duchess asked
“What? Oh!” Kara’s eyes widened as she remembered she was anything but reporter Kara Danvers here. She was Karen Starr. A tutor. A tutor who was already making the worst impression possible. “Yes, Ms. Starr is also fine. Kara’s just a, uh, nickname. You know how much slack the name Karen has the days…”
“Right,” the Duchess said slowly, her brows growing ever more creased.
But just before anything else could be said in this ever becoming more uncomfortable of a situation, the doors along the other side of the wall opened revealing several large burly men shadowing a somehow familiar pale, raven-haired woman in a burgundy pantsuit.
“Where’s my favorite royal?” the woman grinned as she immediately locked eyes with Lady Ruby who lit up instantly.
“Auntie Lee!” she squealed standing up to throw her arms around the other woman.
It was then that Kara caught a quick glimpse of what made the young girl supposedly “special needs” as her dress pulled up in such a way that exposed the metal prosthetic above her ankle. A fact from her research floated back up to Kara, and she remembered that the child had been born without a left leg. Definitely not something classified as a learning disability in Kara’s book, but she can’t imagine it had been easy growing up in a world of such decorum as she had.
“And Sam,” the woman continued as she pulled the Duchess in for her own hug. “It’s good to see you too.”
“And you as well,” the Duchess said, returning the hug. “It’s been too long. We were beginning to worry if you would make it at all.”
“I would have been here sooner, but my flight was hung up at the airport,” the woman said as she stepped back. “Those leeches of the press made it all the more difficult to get through even to the palace. I almost missed my own press conference.”
Just as the woman spun around to face her, Kara’s gaze caught those emerald eyes and lost thought for just a moment before realization hit both of them and their faces dropped. This was the woman who stole her cab outside of the airport. This was the woman who she had furiously yelled at. This was the woman who was to take the Thorulian crown in just a matter of days.
“You,” Princess Lena said to Kara after a moment.
“You two know each other?” the Duchess asked, her gaze flicking between them.
“You could say our paths have crossed,” the Princess said as her hands moved to the suit jacket pockets and her eyebrow tugged upwards while her gaze kept even with Kara’s. “Selfish jerk at your service.”
“I, I am so sorry,” Kara flustered as the true weight of her actions earlier weighed down on her. How had this day gotten so much worse? “I had no idea…”
“No, no, no,” Princess Lena assured her with a gesture of her hand. “It is I who should apologize, Ms…”
“Oh, forgive me, your majesty,” Ms. Huang said, stepping forward. “May I present to you, Ms. Karen Starr: Lady Ruby’s new tutor.”
Remembering her royal etiquette, Kara put one foot behind the other again and bent her knees, her arms fluttering beside her as she blanked on just what their purpose was in a curtsy.
“Please don’t do that,” Ms. Huang told her out of the side of her mouth.
Kara quickly shot up, just narrowly avoiding a Ming vase on the table next to her and eliciting a strained gasp and flinch from Ms. Huang. With a slightly stressed grin, Kara attempted to play the ever-growing awkwardness in the room by directing her attention to anyone but the dark-haired woman with the piercing green eyes and intimidating stance in front of her.
“I’m excited to be your new tutor, Lady Ruby,” Kara said with a smile and a little wave.
“You are only allowed to call me Your Royal Highness,” Lady Ruby told her as she leaned against the back of the plush red chair and rolled her eyes. “Really, don’t they teach you anything in tutor school?”
“You’ll be starting your lessons right away,” the Duchess told her daughter.
“But Mom,” Lady Ruby whined. “It’s almost Christmas.”
“They are to start tomorrow morning at the standard time,” the Duchess said with a pointed look at her daughter before her sights flickered over towards Kara. “I can only hope that Ms. Starr lasts longer than your previous tutors.”
“Place your bets everyone,” Lady Ruby said with a smirk.
“Please be on your best behavior,” her mother continued. “Consider it a Christmas present to me.”
“I’ll consider it,” the young teenager said with a smirk that meant anything but. It was a look that reminded Kara all too much of Cat Grant’s. And if Kara could be the longest withstanding assistant Cat Grant had ever known, how hard could this young adult be? Of course, this young adult could actually throw her into the dungeon without breaking any sort of laws.
“I look forward to it,” Kara said with still a strained smile.
“Well, it was a pleasure to meet you Ms. Starr,” Princess Lena said. “But I hope you can excuse us now as I have a lot of catching up to do with my niece.”
“Of course,” Ms. Huang said. “It’s been a pleasure, Your Majesty.” She punctuated her farewell with a proper curtsy before nodding at Lady Ruby and the Duchess.
“It was good seeing you again, Jess,” the Princess said. “And you as well, Ms. Starr.”
Kara couldn’t help but give a little wave as Ms. Huang ushered out of the room, closing the door swiftly behind them. As terrible as that could have played out, Kara didn’t think it could get much worse. She was already too stressed to even think about eating dinner tonight. Not to mention she was about to have to pull an all-nighter just to get a firm grasp on this royal etiquette and the curriculum she was supposed to already know. If the castle wasn’t surrounded by snowy woodlands, Kara might actually consider running for it, but then again, she was in far too deep now to even consider turning back.
“May I ask how you know Her Majesty?” Ms. Huang asked as she led Kara back to her room.
“I, uh,” Kara rubbed the back of her neck, “I kind of yelled at her when she stole my cab at the airport.”
“Of good heavens,” Ms. Huang sighed, placing her head in her hands. “You really are going to be the shortest time serving tutor we’ve ever had here.”
And Kara couldn’t help but believe it.
So yeah, this is basically just a very loose retelling of Netflix's A Christmas Prince but like a lot gayer. I'm shooting for daily updates throughout this month, so fingers crossed nothing happens that messes that up! Thank you all again for reading!
Kara fell asleep on her keyboard with a half-typed email for her sister up on her screen. The one to Cat Grant had been surprisingly easy in comparison since Kara kept it short and vague with the promise of a great Catco exclusive by the end of it. That is if she wasn’t arrested first. Really her plan as of right now was to just leave before the other tutor arrived and prayed that no one bothered to come looking after her. Her boss would probably be even more impressed that way. Alex, on the other hand, was different. She needed direct answers, time frames, and contact numbers when Kara was away for long periods. Of course, she would be worried with Kara extending her stay abroad at an undisclosed location. If anything, it sounded almost like the plot of an action movie, so Kara was sure to include pictures of herself giving a smile and a thumbs up in hopes to sway any anxiety her sister had. Still, that hadn’t made writing the email any easier.
When a knock at the door woke her up, Kara groaned at a certain stiffness in her neck that only came from sleeping on one’s keyboard and cracked her back. She staggered to the door when she heard another knock, opening it slightly to peak out bleary eyed at the all too chirper woman standing on the other end.
“Hello, Ms. Starr!” the lady beamed. “My name is Nia, and I’ll be attending to you this morning. What would you like for breakfast this morning?”
“Breakfast?” Kara instantly perked, her stomach grumbling.
“Yes, ma’am! We have overnight oats, hard boiled eggs, homemade oatmeal, Belgian waffles—”
“Waffles!” Kara cleared her throat. “I mean, waffles would be great.”
“Alright, what kind would you prefer?” Nia asked, grabbing her notebook. “We can add strawberries, blueberries, chocolate chips, or pecans.”
“All of them sound great!”
“Yes, ma’am, but which would you like?”
“Um, all of them,” Kara repeated more slowly.
Nia blinked. “All of them?”
“Yes, please. If that’s an option.” Kara quickly added. “And maybe another one covered in syrup if that's okay.”
“Of course. I just didn’t think…” Nia cleared her throat and put her notepad back in her pocket. “I’ll have that up to you shortly, Ms. Starr.”
“Thank you so much!” Kara said, closing the door as Nia walked off.
Perhaps this palace life would be better than she thought.
When Kara first arrived in the study, she feared she was late. The palace had far more doors and hallways than Kara expected and, of course, she had gotten lost in them as the paintings and vintage interior distracted her. When she finally did stumble into the massive study that her tutoring lessons were to take place, Lady Ruby was already sitting at her desk with colored pencils in hand absorbed in her work, not even acknowledging Kara’s presence, her desk and work illuminated by the massive window before her. With a quick glance at her watch to assure her non-tardiness, Kara cleared her throat and placed her feet at the almost proper curtsy points.
“Your Royal Highness,” Kara greeted with a quick slanted bend of the knee and her elbow hitting against the now closing heavy oak door with a loud bang.
“I am missing half a leg, but I still curtsy better than you,” Lady Ruby said with a raised eyebrow and shrewd frown. The white winter light from the window behind her only made the teen look more regal, and Kara pushed down the rising anxiety in her chest as she rubbed her now throbbing elbow.
“To be fair, I think it's the hips that hold the key,’” Kara looked down and shook her hips slightly with the hopes of earning a smile, but Lady Ruby’s frown only deepened which only made Kara’s face redden.
“That is the saddest excuse I’ve ever heard.” Lady Ruby then slid her drawing towards Kara, flashing a suspicious grin. “I also drew you. As a welcome present of sorts.”
“Oh, how sweet,” Kara said, taking the photo. Perhaps she had misjudged and this girl wasn’t so bad after all.
Her smile quickly dropped when she saw that the drawing was a horrific one of her with green skin, red eyes, and atrociously massive mouth lined with pointed teeth overlapping one another. The impressive eye for detail and shading caused Kara’s eyes to linger on the stringy hair and warty cheeks. As disturbing as it may have been, Kara couldn’t help the chuckle that slipped out once the alarm had subsided. At least with this girl, she didn’t have to worry about flattery or lies. That and the girl did have talent.
“What?” Lady Ruby asked, clearly not happy with the sudden turn in her tutor’s demeanor.
“Oh nothing,” Kara assured her. “You just forgot the horns, that’s all. Nice shading by the way. Not many people understand shadows like that. Did you take lessons?”
Lady Ruby’s eyes narrowed, but Kara just shrugged the glare off. Working for Cat Grant had steeled her enough for unrefined glares from a teenage girl. And this was just a teenage girl, when the crown, the money, and family were all taken away. Kara just prayed that this teenage girl didn't have the power to throw her into the dudgeon.
“Alright,” Kara clapped her hands as she flipped open the curriculum Ms. Huang had given her the night before. “What shall we start with today? Some science, perhaps?”
“My previous tutors always started with math in the morning.”
“Well, I guess we can start with math then,” Kara said as she flipped to that tab in the curriculum binder.
“Alright, well I just started third level Calculus not too long ago and I had some questions,” Lady Ruby said, turning her own notebook over.
“Third level Calculus…” Kara lost her train of thought as the vectors and derivatives merged together in a mess on her piece of paper. “But you’re like 13. Shouldn’t you be on like Algebra still?”
“I’ve consistently placed in the 98th percentile or higher in the state exams,” Lady Ruby said, her chest puffing out slightly. “I’m only a year off from where my aunt Lena was at my age.”
“You’re aunt Lena…” Kara repeated slowly. Of course there wasn’t something that that gorgeous woman couldn’t do.
“That’s Princess or Queen Lena to you,” Lady Ruby snapped with narrowed eyes.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Kara rubbed her temple as she stared wearily at her notes. “Alright, is there any other subject you need taught to you? Something that doesn’t hurt my brain so much this early in the morning?”
“ Мы можем попрактиковать мой русский ,” Lady Ruby said with an impossibly smug grin on her face.
“Этого нет в твоей программе до следующего года ,” Kara groaned as she flipped through the binder hunting down the language section she didn’t have time to look over the night before.
“Wait, you actually speak Russian?” Lady Ruby asked, her head cocked back as she looked up at her flustered tutor.
Kara paused in her flipping and blinked, unaware that she had just switched languages. Despite just doing probably the first correct thing she had done all day, she couldn’t but feel like she had just made the biggest mistake.
“Yeah, kind of,” Kara said, rubbing the knot forming at the base of her neck. “I thought you... didn’t.”
“I’ve picked up a few things from the ambassadors my mom’s dragged me over to meet,” Lady Ruby said with a shrug.
“Well you picked up a lot,” Kara said. “Your accent isn’t very noticeable.”
“How would you know?” Lady Ruby asked, crossing her arms. “You’re American.”
“I, ugh,” Kara spun around to face the chalkboard. “I had very good teachers.” Kara cleared her throat. “How about we start off the day with science then?”
“We left off discussing the clean energy uses of the Particle Accelerator,” Lady Ruby said, eyeing the blonde tutor with a smug smile.
“Oh!” Kara perked up. “You mean like the one at S.T.A.R. Labs.”
“Wait,” Lady Ruby’s face dropped. “You know about the Particle Accelerator?”
“Well, yeah, I’ve seen it,” Kara said, looking up from her notes. “I interviewed Harrison Wells about it.”
Lady Ruby’s eyes got even wider, tilting her head forward as she gripped the desk tighter.
“You interviewed the Harrison Wells?” she gasped.
“Uhhhh…” Kara cleared her throat as she spun around.
She had interviewed the real Harrison Wells when rewriting one of the sloppy articles a writer from the science and technology department of Catco sent in. The quotes and research had been too poorly laid out and sourced for Kara to use them properly and decided to simply rewrite the entire thing. It had actually been rather enjoyable and one of the few experiences that gave her hope for her future as a reporter, especially since Ms. Grant had even told her it was fine which was a high compliment coming from her.
Of course, she couldn’t exactly explain that if she was supposed to be exclusively a tutor.
“I read an interview from Harrison Wells,” Kara corrected swiftly, rubbing the back of her neck. “Yeah. Read an interview. About the particle accelerator.”
“Oh,” Lady Ruby sighed. “My aunt always told me that she would take me to see him one day when I was older. She even mentioned it could happen for my next birthday, but with everything going on, I don’t think that’s going to happen. She rarely has time for anything anymore.”
“Oh.” Kara dropped her hand from her neck as her whole body hunched in a mirroring empathic defeat. This young teen may be rather skilled at playing a bratty royal, but even bratty royals suffer when their family falls apart. And Kara knew that feeling all too well.
“Well,” Kara said as she leaned against the chalk board to face her student. “I know it may not be the same, but I do have a friend who works at S.T.A.R. Labs. He’s not exactly Harrison Wells, but he could possibly give us a virtual tour of the lab some time soon.”
“Really?” Ruby perked up. “Do you think he could get Harrison Wells in it too?”
“Um, well, Barry’s kind of just a lab tech right now. But he’s pretty fast so I’m sure he’ll work his way up in no time.”
“I guess that’s better than nothing,” Lady Ruby said as she slumped back down in her chair. “It’s amazing what a girl has to do to just get the attention of one of her favorite modern day scientists.”
“One of? I didn’t realize people had more than one of their favorite modern scientists.”
“Only those who are serious about science do.” Lady Ruby crossed her arms and raised her chin.
“Really?” Kara crossed her arms to match but included humor in her smirk. “And what are yours?”
“Somya Spears, Ray Palmer, Harrison Wells,” Lady Ruby rattled off with a flick of her hair. “But of course, my aunt would be at the top of the list.”
“Really?” Kara’s eyebrows shot up. “She’s a scientist?”
“Yeah,” Lady Ruby rolled her eyes. “Who do you think is responsible for the recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology?”
Kara blinked. “What?”
“God,” Lady Ruby scoffed. “What are they even teaching you tutors these days?”
It slowly clicked in Kara’s mind that perhaps the reason why the soon to be Queen never stayed long enough to finish degrees in graduate programs was because she didn’t need the average time to complete them. If she was finished with schooling as quickly as Lady Ruby said, then this woman would have multiple degrees at this point. But surely she should have heard of her work with nanotechnology before, especially in her research. Unless, of course, it was under a fake name.
“Hm?” Kara shook her head out of her thoughts. “What did you say?”
“I asked what are they even teaching tutors these days?” Lady Ruby said, eying her tutor with a disappointed glare.
“Well,” Kara’s eyes drifted to the snow falling outside. “Perhaps we can go outside and I can show you.”
Again, I don't have the privilege of knowing the Russian language so all of that came from Google Translate (also shout out to Red Daughter cause I just watched that season and dang that girl just needs a hug):
Мы могли бы практиковать мой русский = We could practice my Russian
Это не в твоей программе до следующего года = It's not on your agenda until next year
“I cannot believe that you made me walk down all those stairs and put on my winter gear just to look at the snow,” Lady Ruby grumbled as she rubbed her arms. “Especially when we could see it just fine from inside.”
The housekeeper who had seen them exiting the castle had insisted that the teen put on multiple layers of coats, hats, and boots despite the royal’s grumbling. The attendant paid much less attention to the tutor and simply threw a scarf at Kara and a glare, clearly not happy that this tutor was adding to her already busy workload. Her own National City winter attire wasn’t quite up to par with the Thorulian season, but she was sure she could push through it as long as they didn’t spend too long outside.
Besides, the outdoors here were absolutely stunning, and Kara would have had to have been a fool if she were to pass on them. Between the castle walls and forest line, everything was prestrinely trimmed and landscaped to human perfection. Even the snow appeared to hang on the tree perfectly, the added weight bending the birch trees down as if even nature was honoring their upcoming new Queen. Red cardinals and brown sparrows trilled as they flitted along the evergreen branches in the pines and squirrels chattered as they chased one another around the thick trunks of oaks. The snow dusted the palace walls that watched over them while the paths and benches were freshly cleared and inviting. Everywhere Kara looked, she saw images from post cards and travel guides. How could anyone not want to spend all the time they could out here?
“Fresh air is good for you!” Kara insisted as she inhaled deeply, doing her best not to cough on the tickle of cold air.
“And the warm air inside isn’t?”
“Oh, please, this winter weather isn’t going to kill you.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of hypothermia? Frostbite? Heart attack?”
“All valid points, but,” Kara clapped her now gloved hands. “On with our lesson!” Kara scooped up a handful of snow from the grass besides them. “Can you tell me what snow is exactly?”
“Frozen water,” Lady Ruby said with dead eyes.
“Not exactly,” Kara explained as she spun around to gesture at the snow covered garden around them “See, snow is actually ice crystals. That’s why it takes the form of a snowflake. If it were actually frozen water, it would be considered sleet or frozen rain-- oof!”
Kara’s lecture had been so rudely interrupted by a clump of snow hitting her in the back. Turning slowly, Kara saw a smirking teen with her hands hidden behind her back.
“Did you just throw a snowball at me?” Kara asked slowly.
“Who me?” Lady Ruby feigned innocence. “I’m just crippled royal who is much too proper for that. I probably wouldn’t even know how to make one.”
“You literally just hit me with one.” Kara grunted as the teen revealed what was behind her back and launched another snowball that hit her in the chest. “Hey!”
Lady Ruby only laughed as she bent down to scoop up another handful of snow, but Kara beat her to the throw this time with a hit that glanced the teen’s shoulder.
“You dare hit a member of the royal family?” Lady Ruby demanded with a scoff as she stood up, her own snowball in hand.
“And I’ll do it again,” Kara said, raising her arms as she dared the young woman to throw the snowball she was packing together in her hands.
“Oh, you’re so on.”
Kara spun out of the path of Lady Ruby’s snowball with a laugh, but wasn’t quite able to return fire in time before she was hit by another snowball in the back. Sliding to the ground, Kara gathered a large clump of snow together and managed to sling it into Lady Ruby’s direction before the royal took shelter behind a large stone statue of some patriarchy of the past. Vulnerable, Kara sought shelter behind a pine tree, but that didn't prevent her from getting hit in the face once she peaked out behind it. When Kara launched her own retaliation snowball, it barely hit the teen in the foot. Apparently all her training with Alex in her childhood had worn off.
“Is that the best you can do?” Lady Ruby taunted.
“Oh, I’ll show you,” Kara muttered to herself as she knelt down to begin constructing the legendary Davner’s ball. With a pinecone as the center, the Danver’s ball was able to be packed and made much larger than a normal snowball and held its shape even better through the use of the fresh soft snow and the colder hard snow underneath. It had been the ball that Alex had pelted her with growing up before Kara had learned the trick to them. It was the ultimate snowball to win this battle. Who needed aim with a snowball this big.
After a quick construction, Kara jumped out from behind the tree and heaved the massive snowball towards Lady Ruby with a triumphant grunt.
Unfortunately, the one that was hit with the Danver’s ball wasn’t Ruby.
“Ms. Huang!” Kara gasped, jumping up to attention and covering her mouth with horror.
“Ms. Starr!” Ms. Huang started slowly, her chest heaving and eyes seething as white clumps of snow dripped down off her face and shoulders, her hair now wet and splayed against her forehead and cheeks. “Just what exactly are you and Lady Ruby doing out here when you should be inside in the study?”
“Um, well, I was just teaching Lady Ruby about the composition of snow,” Kara answered hastily. “Things got a little out of hand.”
“Clearly!” the woman huffed with a jerk of her head, triggering more snow and slush to fall to the ground around her.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Huang,” Kara continued, lowering her head more in embarrassment as she noticed the bits of pine cone now clung to Ms. Huang’s wet blazer. “It won’t happen again.”
“I’m counting on it. And stick to the curriculum I gave you,” Ms. Huang said as she haughtily brushed the snow off her clipboard. “Just count yourself lucky that you didn’t hit Her Majesty.”
“Her Majesty?” Kara blinked and suddenly realized the woman next to Ms. Huang was the soon to be Queen herself in a burgundy scarf and matching jacket. “Her Majesty!” Kara exclaimed as she threw herself into a clumsy curtsey bow. She could almost hear Lady Ruby roll her eyes next to her.
“Good morning, Ms. Starr,” her majesty nodded, unsuccessfully holding back a smirk. “Jess, why don’t you run inside and get out of that wet coat? I’ll be in in just a minute.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Ms. Huang grumbled before shooting another glare at Kara and sulking away, her heels clicking against the wet sidewalk.
“That’s quite an arm you have there, Ruby,” Princess Lena smirked as Ms. Huang stomped her way up the path towards the door. “And some impressive aim. Although I do hope you weren’t aiming at me.”
“Oh, that wasn’t me,” Lady Ruby said and nodded her head towards Kara. “That was all the tutor.”
“Really?” Princess Lena arched an eyebrow as her smirk grew which only caused Kara’s face to turn even redder especially as she saw the soon-to-be Queen’s eyes flick over her in evaluation. “Quite the arm indeed, Ms. Starr.”
“Thank you,” Kara mumbled as her own gaze fell to the ground, embarrassment robbing much of her voice.
“I see you’re enjoying your new tutor,” Princess Lena said, her gaze switching to her niece.
“She’s alright,” Lady Ruby eyed Kara with a playful smirk. “Let’s see if she lasts any longer than the last couple ones though.”
“Let’s hope she does,” Princess Lena said, flashing a smile at Kara.
From the way her heart pounded in her chest, Kara feared that her student wouldn’t be the only life threatening aspect of this Christmas.
“What do you mean you can’t tell me where you are?”
Finally out of her wet clothes and swaddled her in National City University sweats and the fleece blanket she found in the closet while laying in the guest suite, Kara had reluctantly decided to answer the video call from her sister that interrupted her attempting to grade Lady Ruby’s class work. While at first it seemed like a nice distraction from the scribbles and squiggles labeled as math, Kara soon regretted answering when she saw just how mad her sister looked on the other end.
“It’s just kind of complicated,” Kara tried to explain.
“What do you mean it’s complicated?” Alex snapped. “It’s not that hard. Is it a hotel? A hostel? Someone’s house?”
“You could say it’s someone’s house…” Kara said looking around her room and frowning when she saw the ornate sconces on the ceiling and the hand painted detail along the trim. The label of “house” insulted this museum. She didn’t even want to know how old or expensive this bedside table that currently held her dingey laptop.
“Are they holding you for ransom or something?” Alex demanded, crossing her arms. “Blink twice for yes in case they’re listening.”
“No one is holding me for ransom!” Kara said, throwing her hands up and doing her best not to blink. The last thing she needed was her sister attempting a one woman assault against the Thorulian crown. “I swear, I’m fine.”
“Then why are you deciding to spend your Christmas in an entirely different country than your family’s?”
“It’s not the first time,” Kara muttered.
“What?” Alex said, her eyes narrowing.
“Look,” Kara sighed, “an opportunity came up, and I couldn’t just pass it up.”
“So this opportunity is more important than us? Your family?”
“Alex,” Kara sighed, losing any of the fight in her voice. “Please, this isn’t easy for me. Just try to understand.”
“How can I understand if you’re not telling me anything?”
“It’s just…” Kara bit her cheek as she thought. “There’s this young girl I’m working with. And she… she reminds me a lot of me when I was close to her age. She needs someone who understands. I think I might be able to make a difference.”
Kara watched Alex’s hard eyes soften. While Kara knew it was a cheap tactic going for the emotional route, but it was the truth. Beneath it all, Lady Ruby was just a kid in pain going through something she didn’t understand. Even though Kara wasn’t a royal or living in a palace, she knew all too well what kind of pain it was like to go through family trauma and change over the holidays. She lived her life surrounded by grown ups and procedure, and while she could get everything she ever wanted brought to her with a snap of her fingers, there were some things that couldn’t be. She just needed someone to see her for what she was: a kid.
“What’s her name?” Alex asked. “The kid’s.”
“She got a last name?”
“Oh my gosh, do you really not know the last name of this girl you’re staying with in a foreign country?”
“No, I mean I do,” Kara rubbed the back of her neck. “I just don’t want you to use your resources to track her down and harass her.”
“Oh please,” Alex scoffed. “When have I ever harassed anyone?”
“Like any and everyone I’ve ever shown any sort of romantic interest in.”
“Oh?” Alex sat up straighter and tilted her head as she looked into the webcam. “Who said anything about romantic interest?”
“I…” Kara stuttered, her cheeks instantly flaring in color. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It was just an example.”
“No,” Alex wiggled her eyebrows as her grin only grew. “My little sister’s got a crush on someone.”
“I don’t have a crush on anyone,” Kara replied too quickly.
“Is it the girl’s dad? Mom? Older sibling?” Alex leaned in even closer to the camera. “Tell me, tell me, tell me.”
“Okay, first of all, it is not a crush,” Kara hastily answered, holding up a finger to silence her sister. “If anything, it’s barely an acquaintance and tolerance of one another. We’ve hardly had much interaction and most of that time has been either embarrassing or frustrating. She stole my cab when I got here and made me late to my first assignment, for goodness sakes.” Kara ran a hand through her hair as she let out a puff of hair before she noticed the impossibly wide smirk on her sister’s face. “What?”
“You said ‘she’.”
Kara covered her face with her hands and groaned. “Ugh, please don’t start acting like you did when I told you I thought I had a crush on Lana Lang in high school.”
“Is it so wrong for a woman to encourage another woman to pursue her queer identity?” Alex asked with a raised eyebrow. “Isn’t that the gay agenda anyway? Besides, I’m just glad you’re finally over Cat Grant.”
Kara choked on air. “Excuse me? What are you talking about?”
“Oh please,” Alex rolled her eyes. “You worship that woman. Why else would you work all those insane hours with those crazy tasks she had you do?”
“Because I care about my job?” Kara said, staring at her sister questionably.
“Okay,” Alex said in a way that Kara knew her sister didn’t believe her. “Whatever you say.”
“Ugh, you’re impossible,” Kara said, rolling her eyes this time.
“Alex, honey?” Kara heard someone call off screen on Alex’s end. “You in here?”
“Oh yeah, Kelly, over here. I was just talking to Kara,” Alex called, scooting over and adjusting the camera so Alex’s girlfriend came in view and Kara’s mood and chest deflated.
“Hey, Kara!” Kelly said with a wave as she slid onto the couch next to Alex, wearing some atrocious looking snowman sweater that Kara instantly recognized as one of her own. “We miss you!”
“I miss you all too,” Kara said, hating how strained her smile became. “Is that my sweater?”
“Oh yeah,” Kelly said looking down at it. “Midvale is colder than I expected and I didn’t bring enough warm clothes so Alex said I could borrow this one. I think it makes Eliza happy too seeing it around the house on the holidays. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh yeah,” Kara forced down the lump in her throat. “Of course I don’t mind. I’m glad someone’s getting some use out of it this season.”
“Yeah, well, it’s really comfortable,” Kelly said with another smile. “Thanks for letting me wear it.”
“Anytime.” Kara faked a look at her phone and picked it up as if it were ringing. “Oh gosh, I have to take this. Thanks for talking with me guys. I’ll talk with you later.”
Kara could have sworn she saw Alex’s brow crease ever so slightly in disbelief, but that didn’t stop her nor Kelly from saying their own goodbye before Kara quickly shut off her laptop screen and let out a deep sigh.
What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she just be happy for her sister? Kelly was a very kind and sweet person who treated Alex better than anyone else her sister had ever dated. But just something about it made her chest hurt and stomach twist. She hadn’t felt like this around the holidays since she first came to live with the Danvers. Now it seemed like Kelly was taking her place. And why shouldn’t she? She was the partner of Alex who was a Danvers by blood. Kara just carried the name. Even though the thought robbed the breath from her lungs, maybe it was time she moved on.
Kara didn’t sleep well that night. Her mind flashed through memories she had long since buried: ones of her parents, their home together, the fire that consumed it all. Despite the cool winter weather, Kara woke up gasping for air, her hair and clothing damp and clinging to her from her sweat. The unfamiliar surroundings of the palace guest suite did little to soothe her anxiety as Kara attempted the breathing exercises Eliza taught her as a kid when the panic would set in then. Inhale through the nose for five seconds and out through the mouth for another five. And that it was okay for Kara to bring her knees to her chest, wrap her arms around them and rock if she needed. She was safe. She was okay.
When Kara’s breathing and heartbeat finally slowed, Kara peaked at her phone. 2’o’clock in the morning. She’d have to fall back asleep if she wanted to be well rested for the morning but sleep was the last thing on her mind. Her throat felt thick and sore as if she had been shouting. For the sake of the palace staff, she hoped she hadn’t been too loud, but in a castle this size, she doubted anyone would have heard her.
Sliding out of the bed, her bare feet touched the cold wooden floor, but she didn’t flinch. While she probably should have found her socks or slippers to wear, she relished the frigid temperature. It was nothing like the heat of the flames from her memories. Padding over to the door, Kara grabbed her coat and slipped out of her room, only flinching slightly at the cooler tile of the hallway.
While she hadn’t been in the palace for very long, she didn’t really have a plan on where to go. As long as she remembered how many different turns she had made and which corridors she walked down, she should be fine. Her phone lit her way as she did her best to let her mind wander down pointless paths and tire itself out. It crossed her mind slightly that she looked suspicious wandering around this late, but then again, she could say the same about anyone she ran into this time of night too. There wouldn’t be security guards within the palace, would there? Outside, yes, but inside? Of course, the soon to be Queen would probably have some sort guard posted outside her bedroom. What if she were to run into her? Kara shook her head as she pushed the forming bubble of hopeful anticipation aside. Alex must have gotten more into Kara’s head earlier than she realized.
For the most part, the palace was dark but still lit enough to see where one was. Kara used the flashlight to shine against the pictures and portraits around the hall. Most seemed to be former rulers of Thorul and their families that Kara knew embarrassingly little about. Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any mention of Thorulian history in the teaching curriculum, but it would still be good to know for any article that may come from this. Muttering the names on the plaques underneath the portraits softly to herself, Kara walked slowly down the hallway before one name made her stop: King Lionel Luthor.
Kara’s first thought was that he had surprisingly long hair. Almost like a lion’s mane with dark brown curls framing his face and neck and the ornate crown jewel sat atop them. He sat in a more modern crisp black suit with a green cape draped around his shoulders in a wooden throne with one hand on a jeweled scepter and another held a golden orb. While his face was solemn and his beard trimmed, Kara immediately recognized those green eyes. Behind him stood a beautiful woman with calculating eyes and a controlling grip on the King’s shoulder: his wife Lillian Luthor. From the smudge of the paintings, it looked as if at one point, there was a crown on her head as well, but it had since been freshly painted over. Then standing on either side of the throne was a young teenage boy with his hair slicked back with gel with a smaller crown atop and proudly standing tall in his suit: Alexander Luthor. He looked so innocent and even smiled for the portrait, unlike anyone else. Then there was the young girl, no more than twelve, standing blank and emotionless in a black dress next to her father. A delicate crown graced her head: Lena Luthor. Kara’s eyes lingered on the young girl. She looked almost scared and it frustrated Kara that she couldn’t just climb into the portrait and give the girl a hug like she so desperately looked like she needed.
The portrait next to this one was the one King Alexander Luthor and his family. Gone were the days of the young happy prince. Instead, a bald man took his place wearing a gaze so vile Kara took a small step back. It looked as if his crown had also been painted over too, leaving his smooth head bare. Behind him stood the young woman she had met before: Duchess Arias. A crown still sat on her head, but it looked as if it had been painted to be much smaller. Unlike the previous painting, she didn’t have her hand on the King’s shoulder, but her daughter’s: Ruby. Seeing the mirroring solemn and almost fearful expression on both the mother and daughter’s face, Kara couldn’t help but take a step towards them. Remembering what she had read before about King Alexander’s refusal to accept his daughter’s disability, Kara’s gaze dropped and her heart broke all the more when she saw that Ruby’s legs were both painted in the flesh and blood.
Swallowing back the lump in her throat, Kara turned away. There was nothing she could do to help the young girl in that portrait, but there was still the girl in the palace now that she could. And that would be a lot easier with some sleep in her system. Perhaps the kitchen had some sleepytime tea or something to help because this walk around the castle was doing absolutely nothing to calm her down. With a deep breath, Kara gave a small promising nod to the young Ruby and walked away in search of the kitchen.
Perhaps it was her stomach’s sense of direction, but the kitchen turned out to be a rather easy fine for Kara. Thankfully, the thick wooden door stood unlocked and she easily pushed it open, finding that the lights in the room were already turned on. Assuming that it was a safety procedure of some sort, Kara pocketed her phone flashlight and scanned the room for any sort of optimal stress snacks or soothing chamomile tea. Unlike the rest of the palace Kara had seen, the kitchen appeared to be state of the art with shiny new appliances and massive white cabinets as if it were a restaurant. Not really sure where to start, Kara just opened the cabinet closest to her, groaning when she saw only ornate bowls and fancy plates.
“Wow, you just go right for it, don’t you?”
With a thud and a winch from her shoulder slamming into the cabinet door as she spun around, Kara whipped her head around to see Duchess Arias sitting on a stool as the kitchen island with a mug of tea in her hand watching her intently. Her wave brown hair from before was done up in a quick updo and a navy nightgown peaked out of her tied gray robe. Despite all of that, she still somehow looked just as regal as she did in her pantsuit before.
“Duchess Arias,” Kara gasped, gripping her now throbbing shoulder. “I didn’t see you there.”
Immediately, Kara attempted a curtsy but somehow only slammed her knee into the counter before the woman waved her stop.
“Oh, please don’t,” the Duchess insisted as she slid off of her stool. “I don’t want you somehow hurting yourself even further tonight.”
“Thank you,” Kara said as she rubbed her now sore knee. “Could you, uh, tell me where the tea is? And mugs? And possibly kettle?”
“Sit down and I’ll make you some,” the Duchess said, gesturing to the stool next to her.
“Oh no, you don’t have to do that,” Kara swiftly assured her before she was cut off with a look.
“I don’t need to see you somehow injure yourself anymore tonight,” the Duchess told her as she strolled over to the cabinets. “Now sit. Is chamomile okay?”
“It’s great, thank you,” Kara said as she awkwardly sat down on the padded top of the stool, careful to avoid hitting her now sore knee against the island. “So, um, what are you doing up?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” the Duchess replied as she filled a red kettle with water. “But I have a feeling it’s for a similar reason: couldn’t sleep.”
“Yeah,” Kara rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s kind of strange being in a palace and all.”
“You get used to it quicker than you think.” the Duchess leaned her back against the counter next to the stove. “I still remember my first couple nights here when I was too anxious to sleep.”
“Tell me about it,” Kara groaned as she put her elbow on the counter. “Everything is so expensive, and I’m so nervous I’m going to break something els- something.” Kara bit her tongue as she thought about the dresser knob that had fallen off when she tried to unpack on her first day.
The Duchess smirked as she let out a single chuckle. “I hate to say but that never crossed my mind.”
“Yeah, well, things that are fragile and delicate things do tend to break more easily and this place is full of them,” Kara continued to ramble, hating herself for just simply shutting up especially with how the other woman was staring at her. “And I’m sure there are plenty of ghosts here that have broken plenty of fragile things.”
“Ghosts?” The Duchess asked, the corner of her mouth curving ever so subtly that Kara wasn’t sure if she was just giving herself false confidence.
“Well, like, this is a castle and don’t all castles have ghosts? Isn’t it like a requirement for all castles to be haunted? Like something to blame for the bumps in the middle of the night and for things moving around?”
The Duchess’s smirk only grew. “I can assure you that there are no ghosts in this palace.”
“Oh…” Kara twiddled her thumbs and thought it just best to steer this conversation in literally any other direction. “So what were you anxious about then whne you first came here then?”
“Well,” The Duchess said, crossing her arms as she leaned back against the counter to study the blonde before her, “I was sixteen and pregnant with the crown prince’s child,”
“Oh,” Kara blinked, her eyes widening. “ Well, uh, I can see how that would be a tad anxiety inducing.”
The Duchess laughed as she reached for another mug from the shelf. “Oh yeah, just a bit. Gosh, I still remember the way Lillian looked at us when we told her. I thought she was going to have me killed. Or thrown in the dungeon or something.”
“Wait, there actually is a dungeon here?” Kara asked, leaning forward as her eyes widened even more.
“Oh no, of course not,” The Duchess assured her with a wave of her hand. “We just tell outsiders and people from the press that in order to scare them sometimes. But rather than killing me thankfully, Lillian attempted to ‘leak’ our engagement to the press and told them that we had been secretly engaged for several months and would be getting married the next. She even pressured us to hide Rudy for a few months after she was born and fake her date of birth.” The woman rolled her eyes more. “Of course, that didn’t happen and the public put the pieces together in no time. But that was Lillian. Always concerned about public image over everything else.”
“Sounds like a bitch,” Kara said as she leaned her head on her hand.
The Duchess barked out a laugh. “Oh, I can’t think of a better word for that woman.” The whistle of the kettle cut her off, and she turned to remove it from the burner and poured the hot water over the tea bags. “You know, most people who are well-versed with Thorul know about that. I’m quite surprised you don’t. Especially with how highly recommended you are from the agency.”
“Uh…” Kara gulped as her gaze dropped to the counter. “To be honest, I haven’t really had much experience with royalty or anything like that.”
“Oh, I could tell that from your first curtsy.” The Duchess set a steaming mug of tea down in front of each of them.
Kara swallowed. “You’re not going to fire me, are you?”
“Of course, not,” the Duchess scoffed. “You’re the first tutor to actually leave my child in a better mood than when you found her. I haven’t seen my daughter so excited and talkative at dinner since before Lex went…” She gestured with her hand as her smirk curved into frown and her forehead creased. “Anyways, I wanted to thank you for that. I know Ruby can be a lot sometimes, but it meant so much to me to see her so happy today. It’s been far too long.”
“I’m glad she had a good day,” Kara smiled as she reached for her tea. “I’m not sure Ms. Huang would say the same though.”
The Duchess threw her head back, her laughter filling the kitchen. “Oh, I heard about that. I don’t think I’ve seen that woman in such a sulky mood when I passed by her dripping wet in the hall. She looked ready to kill someone.”
Kara grimaced. “I’ll probably try to avoid her then.”
“Please, Jess is harmless,” the Duchess assured her. “She can be rather particular and intense sometimes, but she really just cares about keeping the crown and Lena safe. That’s the main thing any of us care about, really.”
Kara nodded. “Ruby seems rather fond of her. Princess Lena, I mean. She talked about her a lot.”
“Oh, yes, they really are quite close or well used to be before all our lives became insanely more complicated,” The Duchess said as she dipped the tea bag in and out of her tea. “Even when Lena was at school, she would always find time to call Ruby. And then when everything came out with Lex,” she gripped her tea tighter as she let out a small sigh, “she convinced Parliament to let us stay in the palace and keep my former title. With my parents gone, I didn’t have anywhere else to go.” She shook her head slightly and smiled. “Lena even apologized for not helping keep my title as Queen, but god, I know that woman will run this country far better than I ever could.”
“Wow,” Kara said as she stared at the Duchess over her tea. “I had no idea.”
“Don’t listen to anything that those vultures in the press say about Lena. That woman is a saint.”
“Yeah,” Kara mumbled as she looked down at her tea. She was slowly getting a feeling that any article she did write about Thorul for Catco wouldn’t be nearly as scathing or critical as Cat Grant would like.
“Enough about myself,” the Duchess said as she set down her tea. “Tell me about yourself, Ms. Karen Kara Starr.”
Right, Karen Starr. Besides that this woman was supposedly a highly respected tutor, Kara knew next to nothing about her. She had even tried to find her on social media and came up with nothing. Some reporter she was.
“There’s not much to tell,” Kara shrugged. “The past two days have been packed with probably the most excitement I’ve had in awhile.”
“Well, Ruby tells me you can build an impressive snowball.”
“Yeah,” Kara snorted. “I guess that’s an exciting part about me. However, your daughter can throw a snowball faster than anyone I know.”
“Oh yeah, never underestimate that one,” the Duchess laughed. “She and Lena used to get into snowball fights all the time. It drove me and Lex absolutely crazy.”
“Really? Huh." Kara pursed her lips as she thought. There always seemed to be more to the future queen than met the eye. "I know my sister and I used to drive our parents nuts with ours especially since they were often caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately for them, our aim never seemed to improve.”
“So, you have a sister,” the Duchess took a sip of her tea. “What’s her name?”
“Alex,” Kara said, fiddling with the tea bag once again as she started to feel a little uneasy.
“It must be hard not spending the holidays with her,” the Duchess said slowly, watching the blonde’s face intently over her mug as she spoke.
Kara shrugged. “Kind of. It’s sort of complicated. Besides, it’s her first Christmas with her partner and everything so I don’t want to pull her away from that.”
“I see,” the Duchess said with a small nod. “Well, I can sincerely say that you are very much more than welcome to spend the holidays here and we would be very happy to have you here as our guest, Ms. Starr. Or Kara as you prefer.”
A small warmth budded in Kara’s chest that wasn’t from the tea. “Thank you, Duchess Arias.”
The Duchess scoffed. “God, please don’t call me that unless members of the Parliament are around. Sam is just fine.”
“Okay, Sam,” Kara smiled. “I’ll do my best.”
“So, about this thing a ghost supposedly broke…”
“Okay, I swear, the knob just fell off in my hand when I touched it!”
Thankfully feeling surprisingly well rested after her evening castle adventure, Kara showed up to class chipper and excited despite the more gloomy day outside. Lady Ruby was already waiting in the study with a pencil rapidly smacking against her desk while she stared at a book splayed open on her desk. The girl barely acknowledged her tutor’s presence, even as Kara readied her materials on her own desk in front of her before the blackboard that had been scrubbed clean from the class the day before.
“Good morning!” Kara smiled as she victoriously held up two travel coffee mugs. “I brought you some hot chocolate!”
Lady Ruby’s eyes flicked up from her book to Kara's cheerful grin and her own face twisted in disgust.
“What? Do you think I’m eight years old? Why would I drink that?”
“Because it’s hot chocolate, duh,” Kara replied, doing her best to remain as chipper as she was when she first entered the room. “It’s the beloved universal winter drink. Besides, it’s specially made!”
“Please don’t tell me you made it with love,” Lady Ruby sighed and rolled her eyes.
“What? No. I just asked Nia if she could throw in a splash of vanilla coffee creamer and a lot of whipped cream,” Kara said as she placed the extra travel mug on Lady Ruby’s desk anyways. “It’s how I usually make it back home. It’s nothing super fancy but I like it. I will say that I don’t think she used those instant packets like I do because this tastes way better.”
“You know, I already had a cortado this morning,” Lady Ruby said as she crossed her arms, stantly refusing the drink.
“And I had five belgian waffles,” Kara replied, walking back to her desk where she then took her laptop out of her bag. “What’s your point? Hot chocolate doesn’t need any room. It’s magical that way.”
“Wait,” Lady Ruby said, sitting up in her chair and finally closing her book. “You mean the massive ones that Nia makes?”
“Yep, those are the ones!” Kara smiled and her mouth watered just at the thought of those warm, fluffy, sweet discs. “They’re just so good.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever finished one,” Lady Ruby stared at Kara with a concerned awe.
“Well, we all need goals in life,” Kara said smiling as she took out and flipped through the math textbook to the previous night’s homework. Just looking at it made Kara regret even getting out of bed this morning. She’d need a lot more hot chocolate to make it through this morning.
“Oh yeah?” Lady Ruby asked, leaning forward on her elbows. “What are yours?”
“Mine?” Kara’s smile dropped as she looked up at her student and blinked. "Like my goals?"
While she knew she was supposed to be playing the role of Karen Starr, tutor extroidar, Kara wasn’t really entirely sure what Kara Danvers’ goals were. Sure, she longed to be a reporter, but what about beyond that? After she worked up to that position, she had no desire to go higher to an editor role. She didn’t want to write her own book, at least not right now. Even outside of her career, Kara wasn’t any more certain of her goals. Hobbies came and went as not many of them ever seemed to really stick. Dream destinations and wishlists changed usually by her mood. Kara wasn’t even entirely sure what she wanted in relationships. Sure, marriage would be nice, but she still wasn’t entirely sure how many or even if she wanted kids. In most things, Kara had considered herself a rather driven person, but she wasn’t entirely sure just what she was driving towards. Really, she just wanted consistency. The security in the constant. Then she could really do something. But to do that she'd first have to figure out just how to make those around her happy and not feel like a total waste.
“I guess to help people?” Kara said slowly after several seconds.
“Is that why you became a tutor?”
“Well, it kind of just happened.” Kara rubbed the back of her neck. While her current role as a tutor had just happened, in a sense, so had her reporting job. She just so happened to get a job as Cat Grant’s secretary and just so happened to get on her good side so Cat Grant moved her up. The cookie crumbled that way and Kara simply let it.
“But it wasn’t your dream.” Lady Ruby tilted her head. “What is? Like what did you dream about being as a kid?”
Kara’s gaze drifted so she was focusing on nothing as thought back. Before the fire, maybe someone in law enforcement like her mom or a scientist like her dad. She was like any kid who’s adulthood aspiration changed on a whim: an astronaut one day, a professional saxophone player the next. The world held nothing but possibilities and promise. But that had all changed when she came to live with the Danvers. In a different country, with different people, different culture, different language, different world. Nothing remained the same.
“I guess about being normal,” Kara said softly.
“Well, you look normal to me,” Lady Ruby snorted.
“Looks don’t tell even half of a story,” Kara frowned as old memories resurfaced. “I didn’t come to the United States until I was almost a teenager. Everything was so different and I automatically became the outcast because of course no one in my school wanted to be friends with the strange foreign girl who talked funny and didn’t understand any pop culture reference or song.”
Memories of her classmate’s laughter and cruel nicknames flooded back to her. Alex always threatened to beat them up for her, but Kara had never let her. If it wasn’t for her, Alex probably would have been one of the cool jocks, but instead, she the foster sister of that girl who didn’t know who the Backstreet Boys were or the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and sometimes cried in the bathroom because she just missed her old life, family, and homeland. Even now, Kara still felt a sting in her eyes when she thought about it.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Lady Ruby said slowly, fiddling with the handle of the travel coffee mug she now held in her hands. “I mean, you sound completely American to me. Clearly, it wasn’t that permanent.”
“I tried, but it didn’t matter,” Kara sighed. “Everyday after school, I would watch the talk shows and new channels, memorizing names and faces while I mimicked how they spoke their words until eventually I lost my accent. But even after that, still no one wanted to be my friend because I was still that weird foreign girl. Even in college, I still remained that weird girl despite sounding like everyone else and knowing all the members of NSync. I guess there are some things you just can’t learn. God help the outcasts after all.”
“Oh,” Lady Ruby said quietly, fidgeting with the pages of her book. After a moment, she spoke up again. “Is that why you treat me differently?”
Kara’s forehead wrinkled as she blinked back into reality. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re the only person who has ever spoken back to me or not constantly been on edge around me,” Lady Ruby explained. “And you don’t freak out whenever I stand up or hover around me when I move around like you’re just waiting to catch me when I fall as if I’m a china doll.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because I’m the daughter of the former queen and I have a fake leg.”
Kara rolled her eyes. “That doesn’t mean you’re not a kid like everyone else your age.”
Lady Ruby stared at Kara, studying her intently as their gazes locked, and Kara softened when she saw the eyes of the scared little girl next to the cruel of the portrait from last night, but now, Kara could see a spark of something else dancing just beneath the surface.
“You’re really strange Ms. Starr,” Ruby finally said.
“I’ve been told that most of my life,” Kara sighed as she turned back to the curriculum. “Weren’t you listening? Now where did we leave off yesterday?”
“Would you like to come to dinner tonight?”
Kara looked up and blinked. “What?”
“Dinner. Tonight.” Lady Ruby’s cheeks colored while she ducked her head. “We’re having this small state dinner with a bunch of dignitaries and statesmen. It’s always really boring and I know things are going to be really uncomfortable and awkward this year with everything… and yeah, well, my aunt and I usually hang out, but with her taking the throne and all, I was wondering if you’d like to possibly go with me. It's going to be a drag, but there will be plenty of food there. I can even ask Nia if she could make those waffles you like.”
“Um… yeah,” Kara said, barely catching her book as it slipped out from her grip. “I mean, yes. Yes, I would love to go with you.”
A small smile stretched across the teenager’s face and for one of the first times in a long while, Kara finally felt like she had done something right.
I promise this isn't just a Ruby & Sam & Kara bonding fic. Lena's definitely leveling up in her appearance after this chapter
Kara frantically smoothed out her dress as she walked through the halls to the state dinner would be taking place. She had thankfully over packed liked usual and had crammed several more formal outfits in her luggage. Unfortunately, the least wrinkled outfit she had was a dress from Target several years ago and if anyone were to ever notice a dress out of season, it would be here. She was an assistant turned copy editor: she was lucky she could make rent on her salary, let alone buy clothing that wasn’t off the clearance rack. If she just kept quiet, hopefully no one would look too hard at her.
By the time she made it to the state dinner, the event was already in swing. Many people in suits and cocktail dresses milled about in the impressively large ballroom adorned with lights, garland, and a large Christmas tree off to the side. Kara’s flats thumped dully on the marble tile as her head tilted back to admire the high vaulted ceilings and sparkling chandeliers overhead while a small band played instrumental Christmas carols. She spun around as her eyes danced from one window to another, turning around the room as she admired the different stained glass setting in each panel and wondered how beautiful this room must look in the day time when the sunlight shone colorful streaks through them.
Of course, this spin and gaze of awestruck on her face did little to deflect unwanted attention. When a particularly snotty older man next to her wearing a military jacket shot her a look, Kara swiftly duck her head and made her way over to Lady Ruby who was sitting in one of the plush chairs along the side of the room looking impressively bored as she picked at her nails.
“About time you made it,” Lady Ruby said, glancing up at her tutor as she approached.
“Well, some of us didn’t grow up in a home with this many rooms or hallways,” Kara replied. “Like seriously, how do you even know where the bathroom is in this place?”
“You memorize it quicker than you think,” Lady Ruby shrugged before looking over Kara’s outfit. “Nice dress.”
“Sorry,” Kara said, tugging her navy cardigan closed over her beige dress as she looked around at the other women in the room wearing floor length evening gowns and pearls. “I don’t really have the same kind of budget for these kinds of things as everyone else here does.”
“No, I meant it,” Lady Ruby said, surprising Kara by her sincerity. “It looks very comfortable. Far more comfortable than the stiff gowns my mom always insists that I wear to these things.”
Kara looked down at the light green evening gown Lady Ruby wore. While it looked nice on her, Kara could tell it didn’t look very comfortable. The poor teen probably couldn’t even raise her arms past her shoulder if she wanted to. And the lace around the collar and sleeves appeared suspiciously itchy. Still, Lady Ruby looked like she fit in here, while Kara looked like nothing more than a chambermaid.
“I can always show you Target’s online catalog sometime,” Kara suggested. “It’s not super classy like this, but I still like it. And most of their dresses have pockets!”
Shoving her hands in her hidden pockets, Kara only grinned broader at Ruby’s excited gasp. She jumped to her feet to get a better look at them, completely flummoxed that such a simple perk was possible in a dress.
“So wait, you just have two hidden pockets that you can fit your phone and still have space for more things?” Lady Ruby asked. “And for the most part, people don’t even notice because the folds of the dress hide it?”
“Yep! That’s it exactly!” Kara laughed.
“You know what this means?” Lady Ruby grabbed Kara’s arm. “We can fit so much food in there!”
A grin lit up Kara’s face. Perhaps this dinner wouldn’t be as bad as she thought.
So the state dinner turned out to be more of a mingle and snack kind of event. Tables of holiday food and drink lined the room while wait staff milled about the room, offering drink and food to anyone’s beck and call. Different food had been brought out as the night went on and there were even several bartenders available mixing any drink asked of him. Uncomfortable taking the food off the tray of one of the servers or asking for anything in particular, Kara loaded up her plate with as much food she could stack. Unfortunately, oyster rockefeller didn’t stack as well as the pigs in a blanket or pizza rolls did back home, but Kara somehow managed. At Lady Ruby’s insistence, Kara would continually sneak a few mini quiches in her pockets because apparently Lady Ruby felt judged asking a server past her second serving. Balancing her plate in one hand and her water glass in the other while mini quiches weighed down her pockets, Kara navigated through the crowds and clutters of people to make it back to Lady Ruby who kept to herself along the side of the room.
“Thank you,” Lady Ruby said as Kara dumped several more mini quiches onto Lady Ruby’s plate. “Truly. I’m not entirely sure what I would be doing here without you.”
“I’m sure you would have been fine,” Kara said. “Any one of these servers would be more than ready to get you more mini quiches.”
“But would they have talked to me?” Lady Ruby asked as she sipped her punch.
“Maybe,” Kara shrugged her shoulders.
“Last year’s diner, there were so many people coming up to talk to me and try to butter up their country’s princess. Now after everything that happened with my father this year, everyone just keeps far away from me as if I’m the palace pariah.”
“I’m sorry,” Kara sighed. “That really isn’t right that you’re having to pay consequences for his actions. You’re worth more than that.”
“Oh, I know,” the teen flashed a smile. “I just get so bored at these things now. But I do get to leave earlier so that's a plus.”
“Well, there you are!” Kara looked up to see Sam approaching them in a modest red cocktail dress. “I was wondering where you have gotten off to, Rubes. And Ms. Starr, lovely to see you again.”
“Nice to see you again, Duchess,” Kara nodded.
“Please, we’re out of earshot of anyone,” she said with a wave and a flip on her luxurious and finely styled hair. “Sam is just fine.”
“Wait, since when did you two get so close?” Lady Ruby asked, eyeing the two of them.
“I caught Kara raiding the kitchen last night,” Sam said, noticing the place of quiches her daughter was holding. “Wait. Just how many quiches have you eaten tonight?”
“A little bit more than last year,” the teen said, moving her plate slightly so she could better shield it with her body. “I don’t want to risk them running out.”
“Surely all that dairy can’t be good for you,” Sam narrowed her eyes at Kara. “Have you been encouraging this?”
“Well, my pockets are perfect for sneaking food…” Kara said, pulling out a cracker from her dress pocket to demonstrate.
Sam rolled her eyes. “I’m starting to see why you two get along so well.”
Lady Ruby grinned only wider. “At least we’re not getting in trouble.”
“Not yet anyway,” Sam added and her daughter only stuck out her tongue. “Oh yes, that’s very lady like of you.”
“I try,” Lady Ruby replied, munching on one more quiche. “Have you seen Aunt Lena anywhere?”
“Yeah, Mike’s been doing his best to monopolize her time,” Sam rolled her eyes. “You how much that man likes to flirt.”
Kara’s ears perked up and she forgot about her plateful of food. Mike? A man? Flirting? With the Princess? Throughout this entire night, Kara hadn’t even spotted the soon-to-be Queen, but of course she was here at the dinner in her own palace, probably hidden behind the many diplomats and politicians swamping her. Looking around the room, Kara finally found Her Majesty looking as regal as ever in a long sleeve, floor length, elegant green dress that hugged her arms and curves in a way that Kara’s gaze couldn’t resist lingering before she tore it away with a small shake of her head. She deserved better. Especially when she was putting up with a frat boy in a suit standing far too close for comfort. Even though the Princess was nodding along to whatever the man, Mike apparently, was saying, her body language was far from engaged as she leaned away and looked anywhere but his face.
“Of course,” Lady Ruby rolled her eyes. “That man will never take a hint. And of course, he’s anything but her type.”
“Her type?” Kara asked, her mind flipping back to the Daily Mail and other gossip columns about the soon-to-be Queen’s love life.
“I mean saying Lena has a type is kind of generous,” Sam shrugged.
“I just meant she doesn’t like dick.”
“Ruby!” Sam smacked her daughter’s shoulder.
“What?” Lady Ruby held up her hands. “It’s true!”
“That does not mean we say it like that,” Sam said, whipping her head around to make sure no one was paying any attention to them. “Especially when it has to do with the soon to be ruler of our country.”
“Wait…” Kara said slowly. “I thought she was dating a guy.”
“What? Oh, you mean Jack?” Sam laughed. “Honestly, I think they’re both bearding for one another. Lillian always insisted that they were a couple to the media, but I’m not sure many people were fooled when they saw them in person.”
“Personally, I’m thrilled to soon be serving under a lesbian queen,” Lady Ruby said, popping another quiche in her mouth.
“Aren’t we all?” Sam laughed. “It looks like they put out some desserts. I’ll go grab us a plate.”
“I’ll come with you!” Lady Ruby said, jumping up.
“Oh no you won’t.The last thing I need is for you to be squirreling away anymore quiches.”
Kara laughed at Lady Ruby’s exaggerated pout as they watched Sam disappear into the crowd of people once more.
“I’m sorry, Lady Ruby,” Kara said, feeling her empty pockets. “I should have grabbed you more when I had the chance.”
“Oh please,” the teen rolled her eyes. “If you don’t even call my mom Dutchess, don’t worry about calling me Lady. And don’t worry about the quiches. The kitchen makes these Christmas sugar cookies that are to just die for.”
Kara smiled. “I can’t wait, Ruby.”
Ruby smiled back before her face quickly fell into a frown.
“Oh no,” she groaned. “I made eye contact with him. Quick, make it seem like we’re talking about something important.”
Kara’s mind went completely blank as she blinked. Twisting around, Kara saw the frat boy in a suit, Mike, coming towards them in a stagger. From his balance, the drink in his hand was far from his first and the blatant look over he gave Kara made her skin crawl, but of course her mouth failed her when she tried her best to make conversation with Ruby to avoid any further interaction with him.
“Hello there, little Ruby,” Mike smirks as he sauntered up to them, his martini sloshing along the sides of his glass. “Don’t tell me it was you that ate all the mini quiches again this year.”
“I’m sorry, did you want more in your stomach this year to puke out on the palace steps as your chofer steers your drunken ass to the car?” Ruby replied with a frosty glare up at him from her chair.
“Tsk tsk, little girl. Didn’t your parents teach you better manners than that? What would your mother say?”
“I would say that I’m proud of her for speaking her mind,” Sam said as she walked back to Kara and daughter with a plate of small sugar cookies.
“Oh, forgive me your majesty-- wait,” Mike’s fake horror curled into a sick grin. “That’s not your title anymore is it, Duchess.”
While Sam may not hold the Queen’s title anymore, her hard gaze still held the power to make Kara’s own eyes fall. Her prim posture, steely gaze, and high chin only amplified Mike’s own inebriated sloppy stance. Sam was posh; Mike was plebeian.
And Mike knew it. Which was why he turned his sights to a new victim, and happened to land on Kara, the blonde wearing a crumb covered dress off the clearance rack.
“Oh so you must be the new tutor,” he smirked, raising an eyebrow as his gaze flicked over the blonde, eyeing the napkin sticking out her dress pocket.
“Uh, yes,” Kara pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before holding out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mike.”
With a disgusted scoff, Mike’s lips curved into a frown as his nose stuck itself up high in the air, ignoring Kara’s outstretched hand. His cold brown eyes locked with Kara’s as he attempted to stare her down, but Kara didn’t even so much as flinch.
“How dare you leave off my title,” Mike said. “You shall address me as Lord Matthews.”
“Oh,” Kara let her hand fall. “I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Personally, I find that nobility who insist on using their titles are the same as those who drive Ferraris. They’re overcompensating.”
Kara blinked when she saw her majesty Princess Lena now standing in between Sam and Mike. A smile graced her red lips, but those green eyes wielded a power that robbed the smirk and ego off Mike’s own face. His jaw moved once before any sound successfully left and his drink sloshed out of his glass as he snapped his shoulders and spine in a much proper posture.
“Your majesty, I--” Mike flustered, but Lena refused to let him continue.
“I can tell you’ve started celebrating a bit early, Michael,” Princess Lena nodded towards his martini glass. “Perhaps you better chase that with a glass or two of water.”
“Right now would probably be best.” The soon-to-be queen finished with a tight smile.
“Uh, of course your majesty,” Mike gave a quick bow that splattered more of his drink on to the tile floor before making a hasty exit. A member of the wait staff quickly approached to clean up the now wet floor with a towel before Princess Lena offered her thanks and the weight staff member quickly retreated.
“Those poor people,” Princess Lena said as she watched the wait staff member return to scanning the room from their post. “I bet they’ve had to be watching that shrew of a man like a hawk. He always creates such a mess at events like this.”
“I just can’t wait for him to be banned from the palace,” Ruby said, crossing her arms.
“Trust me, I’m just waiting for the perfect excuse,” the princess shook her head before eying the plate of cookies in Sam’s hands. “May I? I haven’t gotten a chance to eat anything yet with all these people hounding me, and I am starving.”
“Be my guest,” Sam held out the plate of cookies. “If you want something with more sustenance, Kara’s probably hiding an extra quiche in her dress.”
Immediately, a blush colored Kara’s cheeks and it only deepened when the princess’s gaze flicked towards in curiosity. With a slight cough as nerves closed up her throat, Kara put her hands in her dress pockets both in explanation and unease.
“My dress has pockets, and they’re the perfect size for finger foods,” Kara mumbled.
After one brief moment of silent tension, Princess Lena threw her head back as she laughed.
“You just continue to surprise me, Ms. Starr,” the princess said, still chuckling as she turned to her niece. “And I take it you have become rather fond of your tutor if she brought you here tonight. Or was the invite just to abuse the dress pocket advantage?”
“It’s certainly been a nice perk,” Ruby smirked. “She doesn’t know science quite like you, but she has about half of your excitement.”
Kara’s brows shot up. As someone who sought to be a reporter at Catco for their science and technology department, she had never been told she lacked excitement for the field. Except maybe in comparison to Barry. He was just too fast for her to keep up with.
“Oh really?” the princess arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow towards the blonde and Kara’s stomach fluttered. “I’d love to hear more about that.”
“Could you tomorrow?” Ruby asked, blinking her wide, hopeful eyes up at her aunt. “Like maybe a lunch? You have to get lunch.”
Princess Lena hesitated. “I think I could pencil you in tomorrow.”
“Really? Yes!” Ruby exclaimed before breaking out in the widest grin and jumping up, spilling some of her punch on her dress. “Ah, dang it. I can clean that up real quick. But that sounds great. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!”
And then the girl was off, almost skipping as she walked towards the bathroom to treat the pink punch stain now on her dress. Kara couldn’t help smiling for the young girl as this was clearly more excited than Ruby had been in days, but her smile quickly fell when she saw the worried look on the Duchess's face.
“Lena,” Sam murmured to the princess, gently touching her arm. “What about--”
“I’ll figure it out,” Princess Lena said, shrugging off her sister-in-law’s hand. “There’s the prime minister over there. I need to discuss the upcoming trade proposal with Parliament to him. If you all would excuse me.”
Sam sighed as Princess Lena walked away, lacking the same smile she wore naturally just seconds earlier. While she still looked elegant and powerful, Kara couldn’t help but think she also looked sad. Of course that could always be from the Duchess standing next to her with her arms now crossed.
“I worry about that woman sometimes,” Sam said with another deep sigh. “She tries to carry the weight of everyone on her shoulders and doesn’t always realize her own limits. I just hope she learns to pass that burden off before she breaks.”
Ruby couldn’t keep still in class the next day. Her leg bounced underneath her desk through the entirety of the morning math lesson while her eyes darted to check the time every other minute. She gave answers that were short and unfocused as her pen continually banged against the side of her desk. If Kara hadn’t known better, she would have thought Nia had slipped a few extra shots of espresso into the teen’s coffee that morning, but Kara knew differently: Ruby had lunch plans with her favorite aunt.
“Are you sure I can’t just let you go early for lunch?” Kara asked after the third time Ruby didn’t hear the question Kara read aloud from the textbook.
“Nah, she’s got a schedule to keep and I don’t want to interrupt it,” Ruby said as she bounced in her seat. “Gosh, I’m so excited though.”
“Really?” Kara said with mock shock. “I couldn’t tell.”
“You don’t understand. This past year, with everything going on with my father, I haven’t gotten a chance to speak with her one-on-one in months. And we used to do it all the time. She’d take me to lunches and museums and parks. We had so much fun, and I’d tell her everything.” Ruby frowned. “I really miss that.” A smile quickly took over her brief frown. “But now she’s back and it can be like old times! Just in time for the holidays too!”
Sam’s words from the night before floated through Kara’s head as she pulled the open textbook tighter to her chest.
“Ruby,” Kara hesitated. “I hate to say it, but things will probably never be like the old times.”
“No.” Ruby shook her head. “I know my aunt. You’ll see.”
With a small nod, Kara held out her textbook and did her best to resume the chapter, ignoring the sour feeling stirring in her chest. However, just fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at the door and Ms. Huang entered with a short curtsy towards the teen.
“Jess!” Ruby jumped to her feet. “Did Aunt Lena finish up early? Can I go meet her now?”
“I’m sorry, Lady Arias,” Ms. Huang said solemnly. “But plans have changed and her Majesty will be unable to attend lunch today and sends her deepest apologies.”
“But…” the spirit deflated from Ruby’s chest, leaving her body limp as her mind scrambled. “She promised.”
“Unfortunately the Prime Minister of Bulgaria had no compassion for those plans,” Ms. Huang explained matter of factly even though her throat bobbed. “I do hope you understand.”
“I guess,” Ruby mumbled as she sagged back into her seat like a deflated ballon.
“Now if you excuse me, I must be getting back to her,” Ms. Huang spun on her heel before hesitating at the door. “I really am sorry, Lady Arias. She was really looking forward to lunch today.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Ruby mumbled in a voice weaker than before as she hunched over her desk, turning her head away from the door and to the snowy window outside.
Kara’s eyes met Ms. Huang and they exchanged a brief nod before Ms. Huang went on her way, shutting the door behind her. Placing her textbook to the side, Kara squatted down next to Ruby’s desk, not quite in her line of sight but eye level. She wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but this always seemed to help when Eliza would do it for her when she was acting like Ruby so hopefully this translated.
“I’m sorry, Ruby,” Kara started gently.
“It’s whatever,” Ruby mumbled, still not taking her focus off the window.
“We can always get lunch together,” Kara suggested, rocking forward on the balls of her feet.
“It’s not the same,” Ruby grumbled.
“Yeah,” Kara rubbed the back of her neck. “Look, I’m sure she’s pretty bummed about this too. Maybe you two can just reschedule.”
“She’ll only cancel again.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Dad always did.”
Kara froze. It was all too easy to forget who she was talking to or who the kind of person her father was. As much as Ruby tried to pretend that the events of this whole year were behind her, the tears forming in her brown eyes told a much different story.
“Hey,” Kara said softly, gently placing her hand on Ruby’s arm. “Your aunt isn’t the same person. And never will be.”
“You don’t know that,” Ruby said, her voice now hoarse. “They are siblings, aren’t they? What’s to stop the same thing from happening to her?”
“Because people, regardless of who they are related to, make their own decisions and follow their own individual unique path based on their values. And I’ve seen your aunt around you and she really cares about you.”
“Clearly not as much as you think.”
“Hey, give her a chance,” Kara squeezed her arm. “This is new territory for her too.”
Ruby swallowed thickly as she blinked hard.
“I just miss them.”
The teen wasn’t just talking about Princess Lena, but also her father. Still, that didn’t stop Kara one bit from pulling her into a hug and holding her tight even when her shirt became stained with tears and snot.
The rest of that day’s class mellowed out, but an aurora of gloom hung over them. When Ruby gave her seventh one word answer in a row with no follow-up fun fact or question, Kara decided to end the class early, blaming a nonexistent stomach ache. Ruby didn’t offer any concern and instead simply packed up her back and shuffled out of the classroom with her shoulders hunched and her eyes lifeless.
It wasn’t until the door shut behind the teen that a dangerous mix of inspiration and motivation struck Kara. Without much thought, Kara left her school bag in the classroom and headed off in the direction she believed to be the source of this whole mess: her Majesty.
In a castle with numerous corridors and dozens of doors, Kara found her way surprisingly easily to the Princess’s office. Of course, the number of guards lining the hallway were a definite giveaway as well. Being the palace tutor, most of the guards didn’t bother to give her a second glance. Besides, what sort of threat could a clumsy blonde in corduroy and glasses be to a royal figure anyway? Flashing a smile at them when she made eye contact and offering a small wave when she could only further cemented her nonthreatening persona. As far as they knew, she could simply just be delivering a message to one of the royal staff. Still, Kara made a mental note to bring up the lax security to someone who could do something about it. Sure, they had weapons and cameras, but Kara still found herself in the heart of the palace with her own private room. Heck, they hadn’t even checked her ID once, Kara suddenly realized and crossed her fingers that it wouldn’t be anytime soon.
Her completely impulsive almost nonexistent plan was going quite well until she bumped into Ms. Huang as she walked out of the tall ornate oak doors that Kara knew immediately to be the way to the soon-to-be Queen’s office. Ms. Huang hung her head low as she scribbled away on her tablet, almost not even noticing Kara until their elbows touched as they passed.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Kara instinctively apologized.
“Do watch where you’re going, Ms. Starr,” Ms. Huang said before skidding her feet to an abrupt stop and whipped her head back. “Ms. Starr! Just what are you doing over here?”
“Um, I kind of just need to talk to the Princess,” Kara said, pointing at the oak doors. “It’s important.”
“I do not care how important it is! That is not how protocol works here! You need to leave at once!”
“Okay,” Kara replied, seemingly relaxing in her stance.
But not even three seconds later, Kara darted to the door. While she may not have been faster than a speeding bullet, she was still faster than Ms. Huang. Her hand found the handle and yanked, thanking the Lord when it revealed it wasn’t locked and swung open before her. Tripping in over her own feet as she dodged Ms. Huang’s claws swiping at her sweater, Kara stumbled into the Princess’s office with the Head of Staff right behind her.
Immediately, Kara lost her breath. The room’s tall walls only gave way to massive windows that casted natural light from the snow and sun, lighting up the golden frames of Romantic masterpieces and leather spines of literature classics aligning the opposite wall. Hundreds of more books remained tucked away on the towering bookcases while antique and foreign trinkets sat on the shelves and tables boarding the walls next to stretching potted plants. While the room held an ornate older vibe, it meshed with a much newer one as Kara’s gaze drifted towards the back of the room where a sleeker sizable desk sat with the latest computer and technology perched on top of it. And sat behind that desk was the real reason Kara momentarily lost her breath, the princess herself.
The raven haired woman stood up automatically, her green eyes flashing as she cocked her chin up high. Not even an ounce of fear hung on her face as she placed her hands on her desk as she was clinging to it, protecting it. In her black pinstripe pantsuit and tight updo, Kara’s resolve wavered. This woman was royalty and she knew it. Kara was just barely a reporter turned tutor. Heck, she hadn’t even remembered to curtsy and it was far too late now with Ms. Huang hot on her tail.
“Excuse me, you can’t go in there!” Ms. Huang called after Kara as she stumbled in after her, frantic and looking about ready to hit the blonde with her tablet before she turned to the princess. “I swear, I just blinked and she got right past me.”
“I’m sorry,” Kara said automatically, taking a step forward to be out of reach of Ms. Huang’s swing. “This is my fault.”
“She’s really fast.” Ms. Huang added, her eyes darting over Kara’s flats and button down shirt.
A small sigh slipped of frustration out before Kara could continue. “I just need to talk to you.”
The air turned thick as Kara’s pleading blue eyes met Princess Lena’s bemused green. Kara’s thoughts turned to Ruby just hours before and she prayed her face carried that. If this was a woman who loved her niece so fiercely, hopefully she would recognize someone who felt the same.
“Jess,” Princess Lena said, her gaze drifting to the frazzled woman still gripping her tablet tightly, “can you make a note to security that Ms. Starr is to be shown in whenever possible.”
“What? You can't just-,” Ms. Huang bit her tongue before bowing her head. “Yes, your majesty.”
Kara’s head spun as she turned to watch Ms. Huang quietly retreat out of the office, shutting the door behind her as she left. This wasn’t part of the plan. Sure, there wasn’t much of a plan to begin with, but this definitely wasn’t it.
“Really?” Kara asked, spinning to face the royal once more.
The soon-to-be queen gave a single nod and a slight eyebrow raise as if in warning. This was already unprecedented; Kara knew better than to push her luck.
“Um, thank you,” Kara said as she fiddled with her glasses while she took one small step forward.
“Now,” the princess said, sitting back in her chair and twisting the pen cap of her pen, “how can I help?”
“I, uh,” Kara cleared her throat, “I wanted to talk to you about Ruby.”
Princess Lena’s forehead wrinkled. “Is she not doing well in her classes?”
“No, no, not that. She’s actually doing great.” Kara rubbed her hand on the back of her neck as the weight of the situation began to settle. “She just, well, she misses her favorite scientist.”
“Her favorite scientist?” Princess Lena repeated, arching an eyebrow. “And who would that be?”
The princess blinked, her mouth falling slightly open before she quickly shut it.
“Ms. Starr,” Princess Lena started as she adopted a more regal tone, “I know you don’t intend to discuss situations you don’t understand--”
“But I do understand,” Kara cut her off as a strange sensation gripped her. “She’s a scared child who is hurting.”
“What would she have to be scared of in this palace?” the princess demanded, staring Kara down but Kara refused to be moved.
“She’s only ever been hurt in this palace,” Kara snapped before holding her tongue. She was boarding on projecting and she knew it. If she didn’t reign it in before the reigning before her, she would only cause more harm to herself and possibly Ruby. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she continued. “I’m sorry. I’m out of line. I just needed to know that Ruby had an advocate for her feelings.”
Her majesty’s glare softened just a bit, but still remained steadfast.
“As I’m sure Jess told you earlier, something came up and I had a meeting run late. I didn’t have a choice.”
“Then don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Kara replied.
The princess cocked an eyebrow, but her green eyes held an intrigue that wasn’t there before.
“You’re rather bold, aren’t you, Ms. Starr?” the princess said as she leaned back in her chair. “I think you’re the only person to talk to me like that in well over a year.”
“I really don’t mean any disrespect towards you by it,” Kara said, swallowing as her throat had seemingly become dry under the raven haired woman’s particular gaze. “But I just care about Lady Ruby.”
“Enough to risk being thrown in the dungeon by storming into the royal office and then criticizing the actions of the princess to her own face?”
“I, uh, I really thought she was kidding about the existence of the dungeon,” Kara said with a short nervous laugh.
Princess Lena smile as she breathed out a laugh.
“You really do never cease to amaze me, Ms. Starr,” the soon-to-be queen said. “I’m glad my niece has a tutor like you in her life. She most certainly needs it.”
“But she really needs you,” Kara insisted. “Especially with the holidays coming up. She deserves to be with her family.”
It was at that moment that Kara realized not a single decoration hung in the royal office. Everything was devoid of any notion of the holiday season just days away. Really any personal touch was absence. Not even a picture on her desk. Apparently the princess wasn’t too much of a sentimental type.
“I’m sorry but that’s just not possible,” Princess Lena sighed. “I have new responsibilities each day. Sacrifices have to be made--”
“She’s worried you're going to turn into her father.”
As soon as the words came out of her mouth, Kara wished they hadn’t. The posture of the princess immediately became stiff and her nostrils flared as the knuckles on her pen turned white and shook. But that all passed within a few seconds as the princess slowly exhaled and set her pen down on her desk.
“She told you this?” Princess Lena asked softly, all aspects of the royal tone from earlier stripped away.
“Earlier today,” Kara nodded as she fiddled with her cardigan sleeve. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have said anything…”
“No, it’s good you did,” Princess Lena assured her with another sigh. “I… I had no idea. Thank you for telling me.”
“Anytime,” Kara shifted the weight on her feet as the tension weighed heavily on her shoulders. “I know you’re busy and have to get back to work so I can just let you go.”
“Uh, yes, work, right.” The princess said as she sat up and pulled her papers and pen closer towards her.
“Have a good evening, your Majesty,” Kara said with a nod and a wave.
“You as well, Ms. Starr,” Princess Lena nodded, scribbling away on a paper for a few seconds until she lifted her head just as Kara was about to open the door. “Ms. Starr.”
Kara’s hand froze on the door handle as her head turned to look behind her. “Yes, your majesty?”
“Thank you for looking out for my favorite scientist.”
Ruby was late to class the next day.
Kara would say she minded, but really, she was late to class herself. Her nightmares had continued to plague her in the night, keeping her tossing and turning in the creaky bed. Images of orange and red flashed through her mind, drenching her arms and face in sweat as if she were back in the heat of the flames again. But each time, she’d wake up shivering and with a hoarse throat. If only the foreign environment of the palace brought her any sort of comfort.
The lack of sleep had started catching up with Kara and Nia had apparently noticed enough to add an extra shot of espresso into her coffee that morning. With Ruby not waiting at her desk like she normally did in the morning, Kara savored every extra second of peace she had. Flopping down in her desk chair by the massive window featuring a clear view of the currently falling snow, Kara pulled up her legs to her chest and curled up, balancing the hot cup of coffee on her knees as she let the falling morning snow lull her into a more gentle state of mind.
This was familiar. The falling snow, the white blanket across the ground, the young pine trees heavy and bent with snow. Even the smell of the air sent a rush of nostalgia and warm feeling through her. This wasn’t like the snow of National City or Midvale. This was like the snow of her homeland.
Of course this gentle state of mind didn’t last for long and a loud bang had her jolting out of her seat, spilling her hot coffee and pouring it all down her sweater and jeans.
“Sorry I’m late!” Ruby announced with a grin, swinging her leg as she walked to her desk. “Our breakfast went long.”
“What? Our breakfast? What breakfast?” Kara asked, pulling her now hot and wet sweater off her skin as the coffee soaked into it dripped to the floor as she desperately searched for anything to clean up her mess with.
“I was with her,” an all too familiar voice said.
Whipping her head towards the door, Kara saw the soon to be queen herself in a purple business suit that Kara couldn’t help but notice hugged her curves so nicely. Realizing her mouth was hanging open not two seconds later, Kara hastily raised her arms to push her glasses up with her bicep before blushing fiercely when it donned on her that she probably just flashed the princess her stomach as her hands were still holding the hot, wet fabric of her sweater off her skin.
“Your majesty,” Kara blubbered.
Frowning, the princess tilted her head as her eyes roamed over the blonde which only made Kara’s blush deepen. Finally, Lena spotted the partially empty and dripping coffee cup on the desk and her brows suddenly shot up.
“Did we startle you?” Princess Lena asked.
“Uh,” Kara went to push her slipping glasses back up her nose but stopped herself. “Kind of.”
“It looked like you were sleeping,” Ruby said. “And there’s drool on your cheek.”
“Really?” Kara quickly rubbed her bicep against her cheek before she stopped with horror when she realized she was once again pulling her shirt up and her face only burned brighter.
“I’ll send for a maid to clean the spilled coffee,” Princess Lena said with a small smile. “And another to fetch you a new sweater and cup of coffee.”
“Thank you,” Kara mumbled, wanting nothing more than to pull her sweater up over her face and hide.
“I need to get back to work, but it was lovely having breakfast with you this morning, Ruby. I hope to do it again soon,” her majesty smiled as she nodded towards Kara. “Lovely to you again Ms. Starr.”
“Kara,” Kara corrected automatically. “I mean… nice to see you again too.”
“Right, Kara,” the princess said slowly as if she were savoring the taste, but Kara was certain it was all in her mind as the royal was soon walking out of the classroom and down the hall with the same confidence and regality only a queen could manage.
“So did you drink any of your coffee before you spilled it?” Ruby asked.
“Hm? Oh!” Kara gripped her sweater tighter triggering new drips to fall down to the floor and shoes. “Uh, not really. I kind of didn’t get a chance to.”
“Because you fell asleep,” Ruby said, looking smug as she leaned back in her chair.
“Yeah,” Kara confessed with a nod. “It’s just one of those mornings for me, I suppose.” Kara let out a yawn. “But your morning seems like a very different story.”
“Yeah!” She leaned forward as she talked with far more energy than Kara had ever seen and was definitely not prepared for this morning. “Lena came to me last night and asked if we could do breakfast this morning to make up for lunch yesterday, and I said sure, but I wasn’t sure if she’d even show. So I got up early and went on down anyway because I figured worse-case scenario, Nia would let me eat an extra chocolate chip muffin out of pity. But she was already there! Like she had gotten up early too! So we got like an extra thirty minutes to talk and Nia still gave me an extra chocolate chip muffin!”
Kara blinked slowly. She forgot how fast teenage girls could speak when excited. Even with the lack of coffee ingested that morning, Kara was able to put together the long string of words after a few extra seconds and grinned.
“That’s amazing!” Kara exclaimed. “I’m so glad she was able to make it up to you.”
“Me too!” Ruby bounced in her seat as she smiled. “It was so nice getting to catch up with her again. Did you know she got offered up a trip to the International Space Station? Like the actual space station.”
“Wow,” Kara leaned back against her desk. “I didn’t know they just offered people those sorts of things.”
“They do when you’re Aunt Lena,” Ruby crossed her arms. “I asked if I could go in her place but she said she already turned them down.”
“Wow, the audacity of some people,” Kara said with a mock roll of her eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, you sound like my mom,” Ruby grumbled.
“Well, on that note, let’s go ahead and get this class started,” Kara wiped her wet hand on her pants as she opened up her book. “I think maybe English will be the least likely subject that I’ll make more of a mess with until that new sweater arrives.”
For how exciting Ruby’s morning had been, she spent the day as almost a perfect student. She answered everything Kara or the textbook through at her correctly and even thought provoking questions of her own that stumped Kara repeatedly. Of course, that became much more bearable when Nia arrived with a replacement sweater for her: obviously, she had chosen the gaudy red one with a massive sparkling Christmas tree on the front. But the biggest thing that Kara noticed was that the girl’s grin never subsided. Perhaps it was part of a holiday miracle or Ruby was just simply having a great day. Regardless of the reason, Kara couldn’t help but smile and even laugh along with the young royal.
Just as Kara was about to wrap up the lesson a little early for today, there was a knock at the door. Looking up from her plans, she smiled as she saw the Duchess opening the door to the classroom.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Sam said as she walked into the room.
“Not at all,” Kara replied, closing her textbook. “I was actually just about to end class early.”
“This day just keeps getting better and better!” Ruby’s grin grew impossibly more as she slammed her book closed too.
“I hope you’re not ending early on my intrusion,” Sam quickly added even though her daughter glared at her.
“Oh no, not at all,” Kara insisted. “It’s just been such a beautiful day outside with the snow and all, I thought it would be nice to get some fresh air for a bit. It just gets so dark so early, you know?”
“Well, if that’s the case, would you possibly want to join Ruby and I for a ride around the grounds?”
“Ride?” Kara frowned.
“On horseback!” Ruby explained as she heaved herself from her desk to her feet. “Oh, you would be so great with Streaky!”
“Streaky?” Kara frowned only deepened. Perhaps she should just take that nap instead.
“Streaky would be perfect!” Sam said, touching Kara’s arm in assurance. “She used to be really fast and feisty when she was young but she has just mellowed out into the calmest horse with age. She’s absolutely the perfect temperament for you. Really any beginner.”
“How did you know I haven’t ridden before?”
“Because you’re American,” Ruby said as she zipped up her bag
“Well, that’s a stereotype. I’ll have you know that there are plenty of Americans I know that can ride a horse.”
“Yeah, but are they as clumsy as you?” Ruby asked with a smirk.
“Well… you have a point.” Kara reluctantly conceded.
“Don’t worry,” Sam rolled her eyes as she smiled. “We have an extra helmet you can borrow.”
“And knee and elbow pads!” Ruby said, squeezing past her mom and into the hallway. “Race you to the stables!”
Ruby won the race obviously because she actually knew where they were, however, when Kara pointed out this fact, Ruby insisted that Kara was simply just a sore loser who couldn’t admit defeat to a poor, helpless handicapped girl. This didn’t stop Kara from throwing a snowball at the young royal who immediately sent a volley in return before Sam scolded them for risking spooking the horses.
As they said before, Streaky seemed to be a very calm horse. Other than the white hairs speckled around her mussels, her thick coat glowed a rusty orange while her long blonde mane and tail draped across her body. While she towered above Kara’s more so than she thought any horse could, she barely batted an eye as Sam saddled her up and Kara swung her leg over to sit. Gripping the saddle tightly as Sam led the horse out of the stable for her, Kara couldn’t help but realize just how high up she was.
“You sure you weren’t kidding about those knee and elbow pads?” Kara asked.
“Oh, you’ll be fine,” Ruby said as she trotted out of the stables over by Kara. “Just sit up straight and don’t look down. If you look down, the greater the chance you are going to go there.”
“Then where am I supposed to look?” Kara asked, her eyes suddenly forgetting how to look anywhere but down.
“In front of you, duh,” Ruby said, prancing her own gray horse in circles around Kara.
“So like driving a car,” Kara said, straightening her back and staring straight ahead towards the grove of trees in the distance.
“I wouldn’t know,” Ruby said pointedly at her mother who approached her own white stallion.
“You’ll know when I think you’re responsible enough,” Sam said. “Besides, you have drivers who will take you where you need to go.”
“It’s not the same,” Ruby grumbled.
Sam sighed before she turned back to Kara. “We usually ride the same path through the woods around the palace. Streaky knows it by heart and will follow so you don’t have to worry about anything besides falling off.”
“See, that’s just what I’m most afraid of,” Kara said, feeling her eyes drift downward again.
“You’ll get the hang of it sooner than you think,” Sam laughed.
And Kara did. Once she was used to the heavy cadence of Streaky’s footfalls and swaying of her step, Kara actually began to enjoy the ride. Beside and in front of her, Ruby and Sam told stories from their past rides and memories connected with certain sites in the distance. Ruby pointed to the tall tree she used to love to climb over the summers and her favorite hill she would sled down in the winters, while Sam pointed at the lake her and Lena once swam and skipped rocks in. It was also the lake that they tried fishing in once but only returned with empty nets and bleeding thumbs which they couldn’t stop laughing about now.
Kara simply just took it all in. The cold air on her face, the light snow falling off the tree branches around them, their laughter and voices bouncing off the forest around them, the breathing of her horse below her. It was magical. She felt as if she were riding through a dream as the white snow highlighted the tones of green from the pine trees they layered. Their scent wafted up Kara’s nose and she promised herself she would never waste money on the fake scent of the car air fresheners she used to buy, their scent criminal when compared to the real thing. If she had it her way, Kara would stay here, outside, forever.
But alas, forever never comes.
“Dang it, I just remembered,” Sam groaned. “Ruby has a dress fitting this afternoon and we can’t miss it.”
“But Mom,” Ruby whined. “Why not?”
“Because it’s for your aunt’s coronation,” Sam explained. “We have to be there and be looking presentable.”
“But I have other dresses!”
“Ruby,” Sam said, her voice stern.
“Fine,” Ruby grumbled as she crossed her arms.
“So I guess we just turn around?” Kara asked, pointing to the path behind her.
“Oh no, you can stay,” Sam insisted. “Please, I don’t want to cut your ride short. This can give you a chance to explore the grounds and all.”
“Are you sure?” Kara asked, eyes widening slightly. “I mean, I don’t really know my way around.”
“Don’t worry, Streaky will take care of you. Besides, the trail’s a loop and you’re already riding like a natural. Just stay on this path and you’ll find your way back in no time.”
“I mean, I really don’t think that’s a good idea…”
“Nonsense, you’ll be fine,” Sam pulled the reins up on her horse. “Come on, Ruby, we can’t be late.”
She clicked her heels into the side of her horse and it took off in a gallop down the trail with a sullen Ruby following after, leaving a dumbfounded Kara behind on a horse who seemed more keen on nibbling on a pine cone than leading Kara back to the stables.
“Uh… Streaky?” Kara gulped. “Can you help me out here?”
Streaky ignored her and continued on her merry way, nibbling on a pine cone before bringing her hoof down on top of it with a loud crunch. Kara couldn’t help flinching, but that fear was nothing compared to the one developing as Streaky began to wonder off trail, no doubt in search of more pine cones to crunch underfoot.
“No, Streaky, please,” Kara groaned, pulled on the reins slightly.
With a loud puff through her nose and a shake of her mane, Streaky relunanctly returned to the trail at her slow steady pace. However, the pace wasn’t nearly as calming as it had been before. Now, every slow hoof clump against the ground felt like nails on a chalkboard as the once peaceful forest turned sour around her. Birds squawked from the skys behind her while squirrels scratched at the branches above her. The cold wind now blew icy daggers at her face, triggering her teeth to chatter as she held herself tighter. All of the brightness around her began to fade as the sun began it’s all too hasty retreat down below the earth, robbing the snow of its once radiant glow. Her nightmares from the nights before began floating through her head, and while the images were very different, the feeling was very much the same.
Kara was alone.
“Streaky,” Kara whispered to her horse. “Please get me out of her.”
But the horse didn’t hear her and it continued on it’s slow cadence. A particularly loud bird screaked in the distance, causing Kara to flinch, squeezing tighter against the horse.
Unfortunately, Streaky took this as a sign to run.
With a gasp, Kara found herself in the air and then the ground as the horse beneath her took off in a gallop. Thankfully, she had been given a helmet to protect her in the fall, but that hadn’t helped her stay on the horse any better. Looking up, Kara saw Streaky disappear down the trail at a fast pace that no doubt gave her that name.
With a groan and a swear, Kara pushed herself back up, noting a soreness in her arm that she prayed was only a bruise. Feeling a wetness on her face that she knew weren’t from tears just yet, Kara looked up and realized that a fresh snow had started to fall. She pulled her coat tighter with a shiver and felt around her pockets for her phone which she suddenly remembered leaving in her room to charge.
Alex was going to kill her.
Zipping her coat up as high as it will go, Kara bit her lip as she pressed onward down the trail, following the hoofprints of Streaky and prayed that the horse would circle back to her before it became much darker or the snow fall picked up anymore. What were Sam and Ruby thinking leaving her alone like that? With an annoyed huff, Kara kicked at the ground. Could this evening get any worse?
A cold chill ran down her back as she heard a low harsh growl come from beside her. Whipping her head to the side, she made out the beady yellow eyes and wrinkled snout of a large gray dog. No, wolf, Kara realized with a blink.
“Easy boy,” Kara said slowly, raising her hands up, but that did nothing stop the slow stalk of the canine.
A shadow darted off to the side of her and Kara spun her head just in time to see another wolf in the distance eyeing her. Then another behind the tree next to him. With a gulp, Kara shuffled backwards, her mind reeling as she attempted to remember any of the survival tips Alex had told her when she was younger. One thankfully came to mind.
“Back!” Kara shouted, clapping her hands together in front of her with as much force as she could.
The wolf in front of her wavered in it’s growl, stepping back to eye her, its teeth still bared and glistening. It gave Kara hope.
“Back! All of you!” Kara clapped louder this time, her arms eye whistling in the wind as she swung them.
But even with the loud show and great movements, some of the wolves continued to stalk forward, surrounding Kara in a cacophony of growling and gnashing teeth.
The wind howled around her, slinging sludges of snow off tree branches above and mixing with the already falling flakes, further distorting Kara’s already weak vision in the darkening night. However, that didn’t mean she couldn’t see the wolves circling and closing in around her or hear their snarls and snaps. Her throat cracked from shouting and her hands stung from clapping. She was losing her edge. Even the adrenaline jolt from the nip at her boot and following kick wasn’t enough to give her hope. There wasn’t anything she could do. Kara was going to die alone.
But then, through the trees, a bright light shone upon her. Squinting against it and raising her hand to shield her face, she heard the wolves’ growling momentarily cease. Could this be? An angel here to save her?
A shot fired in the air. Kara’s hands immediately clapped over her ears as she ducked down; the wolves around her now whimpering. With the bright light, she could now see just how many there were - easily half a dozen. The large dark gray one in front of her now faced away from her with his tail now tucked behind his tail as he faced the source of this bright light. Kara could barely make the saving angel’s outline. Someone on a horse? A palace guard sent out to find her perhaps.
Another shot rang out. The wolves scattered as the figure road up on a horse, still holding the gun high in the air. As they approached, the light dropped lower from Kara’s line of sight and she could now see a woman extending an arm to her, but the light had left spots dotting Kara’s vision. Did the palace have women guards? How progressive.
“Get on!” the woman on the horse shouted.
Kara didn’t need to be told twice. Gripping the arm tightly, Kara leapt onto the back of the horse, slotting in neatly behind the woman who she immediately latched on to. Not a moment after Kara was on, the horse let out a long whine, rearing as it turned sharply under it’s rider’s commanding reins and shout. Fearing falling back into the wolve’s clutches again, Kara wrapped her arms tightly around the waist of the woman and curled her body around hers. Despite the layers of clothing, the body was soft but strong, and Kara immediately felt safe. Even her hair and clothing smelled nice. Like lavender.
A somewhat inappropriate thought after the recent events, Kara shook her head, but continued to hold fast as the horse galloped deeper into the woods. The forest blurred in the darkness as Kara laid her cheek against the back of the mystery woman, letting the sense of calm washover her even as the snow began to fall harder. Everything was okay. She was safe with this woman. Her hero.
Kara hadn’t quite realized her eyes had fallen closed until the rhythm of the horse below her slowed and the woman whom her face was pressed against leaned back. With a quick look around, Kara realized they weren’t back at the palace but instead a cabin in the woods. While the one story cabin wasn’t necessarily small, it was still smaller than the barn adjoining it. A strong gust of wind blew the fast falling snow at Kara’s face and she ducked her head, resisting the urge to bury her face into the woman’s back again.
“We’ll stay here until the storm passes,” the woman shouted over the now howling wind. “Go inside. It should be unlocked!”
Kara nodded and dismounted the horse, pulling her scarf up to protect her face against the piercing cold wind. The other woman led the horse to the stable as Kara pushed open the cabin door and then shut it quickly behind her. With a shiver, Kara stomped the snow off her boots at the entrance and rubbed her arms, surprised to find the inside of the cabin not much warmer than outside. At least there wasn’t any wind here, but she couldn’t see anything. Her hands slid along the wall, searching for a switch, but found none. Frowning, Kara patted her pocket once again for her forgotten phone, of course not finding it. A heavy stone of dread formed in her stomach. Perhaps the woman hadn’t been her heroine afterall.
Kara jumped as the door opened again and a light filled the room as the woman came in, shutting out the now much louder wind behind her. By the cast of lights from her flashlight, the place looked as if it were a hunting cabin of sorts with furs on the wall and antlers mounted above a stone fireplace.
“Sorry, I should have known you didn’t have a flashlight,” the woman said as she stomped the snow off her boots. “There’s a generator outback, but it only keeps the stables warm for the horses. But don’t worry, I’ll have a fire started in no time.”
That voice… it was all too familiar. Squinting in the darkness, Kara just barely made out those cheekbones and green eyes her dreams knew all too well.
“Princess?” Kara gasped.
“Of course,” Princess Lena said as she shined the light into the fireplace and inspected the old ashes with a poker. “Who else do you think would know how to find this cabin?”
“But…” Kara gaped as she realized with horror that had hugged and smelled the soon-to-be ruler of Thorul like her life depended on it just minutes ago. “Oh god.”
“What?” Princess Lena swung the flashlight over to Kara causing Kara to squint at the brightness as Princess Lena rushed over. “Are you okay? Were you injured?”
“What? No,” Kara answered swiftly as she ducked her head down. The last thing she needed to be was a gay mess in front the literal ruler of a country. “It’s just… how did you find me?”
“I heard someone clapping and shouting in the woods as I rode back to the palace, so I thought I’d investigate,” Princess Lena explained as she looked over Kara for any wounds. “Good thing I did too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen wolves act like that. Some of the staff thought they had seen some wolves driving to and from the palace, but I didn’t think any of them would hunt so close. I wonder if the sudden snow storm had anything to do with it.”
“Yeah, that was weird,” Kara said, pulling her jacket tighter as the wind howled against the door.
“These storms are pretty common this time of year, especially in these woods, but it shouldn’t last too long,” Princess Lena swung the light towards a leather couch in the middle of the room. “Please, sit down. I’ll get the fire started.”
“I can help you with that,” Kara said, nodding towards the fireplace.
“Thanks, but I’ve been lighting fires since I was child. This will only take a minute. Oh and there are matches on the side table if you want to light any candles to give this place more light.”
“Candles, right,” Kara mumbled.
She spotted the matchbook lying next to the candles on the side table next to the couch. Her hands were almost numb with cold as she struck the match against the side, but it didn’t spark. After another try it broke in her hand. She tried again but with the same result and she let out a groan as the princess laughed.
“I swear, I’m not usually that bad at this,” Kara promised as she took out another match.
“Had me fooled,” Princess Lena said, stacking kindling in the fireplace.
“Ha!” Kara cried out in victory as the match finally lit, but of course, the flame burnt out before it ever successfully lit the candle. “Are you sure these aren’t faulty matches?”
“Perhaps,” the Princess murmured. “Or perhaps the fault lies with the user.”
“Very funny,” Kara said with a roll of her eyes. Thankfully, the next match lit when struck and successfully passed the flame to the candle. “Who’s faulty now?”
“Very impressive, Ms. Starr,” Princess Lena said. “I don't know where we’d be without you to light the candles for us.”
Kara snorted. “I see where Ruby gets her sass from.”
The princess flashed a smile. “It’s a family trait. Could you throw me those matches? I think the fire is ready to light.”
And of course, the soon-to-be queen lit the match on her first try, smirking as she did which only made Kara roll her eyes with a laugh. Soon, a fire was roaring and Kara’s lit candle looked like nothing compared to the light and heat coming off of the fireplace. Princess Lena switched off her flashlight and grabbed a red flannel blanket off of the trunk by the window.
“Mind if I slide next to you? And share a blanket?” she asked as she held up the blanket. “Sorry, this cabin was mostly just for my father’s use so it doesn’t exactly have a lot in it.”
“Yeah,” Kara cleared her throat as she scooted to the side of the couch and made room. “Yeah, you can sit next to me, your majesty.”
“Oh god, no,” the princess said as she sat down to Kara, spreading the blanket over them. “Lena is just fine.”
“Sorry,” Kara breathed, doing her best not to think about how warm the royal felt next to her or how she still smelled wonderfully of lavender despite the roaring fire.
“And you prefer Kara, right?” Lena asked with a tilt of her head. “Even though your first name is Karen.”
“Yeah,” Kara said, deliberately looking anywhere but Lena. “It’s a fun nickname.”
“I see,” Lena nodded before falling silent.
While snow fell quietly around them, the wind howled against the windows and shook trees outside as the fire now crackled within the cabin. Unsure of what to say to the royal leader, Kara let her eyes wander and linger on the different mounted heads and pelts of wildlife along the walls and mantle.
“So were you hunting?” Kara asked.
“Pardon?” Lena asked, her delicate eyebrows lifting in surprised.
“Hunting,” Kara repeated. “I mean you had a gun and everything.”
Lena breathed out a laugh. “I can assure you not many experts would advise hunting with a pistol. I only had it on me because it’s the only way to convince the palace guard to let me go on my afternoon ride alone.”
“That’s cool,” Kara said. “I mean, that they trust you with a gun to protect yourself and all.”
“Until any of them can score higher than me on the marksmanship exam, that’s our understanding. Who knows how long they will honor that understanding though with the upcoming coronation,” Lena said with a shrug.
“Marksmanship exam. Cool, cool, cool.” Kara nodded. “I guess you hunt a lot then.”
“No,” Lena turned to look at Kara questioningly. “I served in the military. I’m technically still on active duty if a war were to break out.”
“Ohhhhh,” Kara’s eyes went wide with realization. “Because you’re royal and all royals serve in the military. Like in England.”
“Yeah, like in England.” Lena a snort and a shake of her head. “Wow, Ruby was right. You really are a bit slow when it comes to our customs and etiquette.”
Kara ducked her head with a blush as she fought the urge to hide underneath the blanket. “I’m sorry. This is all just so new to me. I really don’t mean to offend. ”
“No, no, you haven’t,” Lena swiftly assured her with a touch to Kara’s arm that made Kara resist a shiver. “It’s quite refreshing really. It’s nice having someone different and genuine around. Ruby definitely seems to enjoy your company.”
“Not nearly as much as she enjoys having you around,” Kara said with a smile as she looked into those royal green eyes.
The compliment seemed to have the opposite intended effect though as Lena’s smile and hand soon dropped and her gaze returned to the fire.
“For now anyways,” Lena sighed. “It’s only a matter of time before I hurt her again.”
“Hey, don’t talk like that,” Kara said, shifting on the couch so her body was now completely facing the princess. “She loves you. And you love her. That’s all that really matters.”
“It’s not that simple,” Lena shook her head. “The crown demands certain responsibilities and duties that complicate my priorities. There isn’t such a thing as a work life balance with it. I won’t have much of a say in what I do with my freetime if I even have any. It doesn't matter how much I love my niece; things won’t ever be like they were before.”
“That doesn’t mean your relationship has to end,” Kara assured her. “Sure, it will change, but all that really matters is that you continue to try to make it work and be honest.”
“You make it sound so simple,” Lena said with another sigh.
“Maybe it is,” Kara shrugged. “Ruby’s a pretty smart girl. She understands probably more than you know. And you’re pretty smart too. I’m sure the two of you can figure something out.”
Lena finally turned her head away from the fire towards Kara with a small smile that made Kara’s heart flip.
“You know, it’s been awhile since I’ve had anyone believe in me.”
“Really?” Kara frowned, finding it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t believe in the woman before her. “I thought the Thorulain people were happy you were taking the throne.”
“They’re happy my brother’s in jail and his mother is out of the country,” Lena said falling back against the couch with a groan. “The tabloids and press have been attacking me for weeks, calling me everything from ungrateful daughter, heroine, and bitch. I doubt they’ll ever be happy with me as their new Queen.”
“I’m sure they’ll warm up to you,” Kara said quickly. “You’re smart, nice, personable...”
“Except when I’m stealing your cab.”
“Well… that was an isolated incident.”
“You’re too kind really, Kara,” Lean said with a small laugh. “But you weren’t at my last press conference. Those reporters were like vultures.”
“Oh, I know, trust me,” Kara mumbled.
Those kinds of reporters were looking for something that would sell rather than tell the truth like any lazy reporter does. She was all too familiar with having to copy edit stories with wild accusations but no valid sources to them and having to rewrite them to save Catco from committing slander and other subsequent lawsuits.
“I just miss how it was before all of this,” Lena said. “Back when no one cared about the youngest child of the great king, and I was free to do just about whatever I wanted. Things were just so much simpler then.”
“Yeah,” Kara sighed, understanding her wish all too well. “Life is so often cruel that way.”
“But hey,” Kara brushed her knee against Lena’s, “I think you’re doing great so far. And I have complete faith you’ll be a wonderful Queen.”
Lena gave her a small smile. “Thank you, Kara. That’s very kind of you.”
“It’s the least I can say after you saved my life,” Kara smirked. “So did you ride horses in the military like in a cavalry? Because you really did look like a pro tonight.”
Lena breathed out a laugh. “Thorul has actually retired the cavalry militarian position like most countries have in the past sixty years except in ceremony. What you saw tonight was simply the result of decades of equestrian training.”
“Oh cool,” Kara nodded. “Well, it was still very impressive.”
“If you want impressive you should fly with me next time I go,” Lena flashed a smile. “I was a pilot in the military.”
Kara’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Oh, I’d love to go. I love flying.”
“I’ll let you know next time I plan on it and we can schedule something together,” Lena smiled.
“I’d like that,” Kara said, smiling right back.
They both watched the fire dance before them, its crackling filling the silence between them. Kara did her best not to think about just how close the Princess’s hand was to hers or about how soft her palm would feel against hers if their fingers were to intertwine. Underneath the blanket, her knee brushed against Lena’s and she froze, holding her breath as she waited for the Princess to move, but she didn’t. Instead, Kara could have sworn Lena leaned her knee more against Kara’s. Was this flirting? Or was this just Kara simply overthinking nothing.
“It looks like the storm has finally died down,” Lena said, standing up and leaving Kara’s knee alone and cold. Yep, definitely just Kara overthinking nothing.
“Are we going back to the palace?” Kara asked.
“You’re free to stay here if you’d like, but I would prefer eating dinner tonight and I don’t think there is any food here besides decades old deer jerky,” Lena said, the coals hissing as she poured water over the fire.
“Well, when you put it that way,” Kara jumped up from the couch as her stomach growled. “I’m ready to go whenever you are.”
True to her word, the storm had in fact seemingly died down just as fast as it had blown in. A nice extra foot or so of snow now covered the ground, but Kara suspected much of that had blown off the now bare tree branches above them. Still, it wasn’t anything Lena’s horse couldn’t easily trot through. Careful not to cling to Lena’s waist nearly as tightly as she did before and to resist the urge to press her face against Lena’s back, Kara sat stiffly on the back of Lena’s horse as the princess guided them back to the path that Kara had lost before. Even in the dark woods, Lena knew the woods too well to ever be lost in them and soon, they were back at the palace stables. A stable boy was waiting to take Lena’s horse after they both dismounted, and he watched Kara intently as Lena led the two of them back to the palace entrance, but Kara chose to ignore it.
“Well, I best be getting to my office,” Lena said, as she glanced at her wristwatch as the walked into the foyer. “I’m sure Jess already has a mountain of work for me waiting on my desk.”
“Yeah, and I have papers to grade,” Kara said, shoving her hands into her coat pocket. “Thank you again, by the way. It was pretty scary out there earlier. Thank you for coming to my rescue.”
“It was my pleasure, Ms. Starr,” Lena said with a smile that shouldn’t have had quite the impact it did on Kara’s heart rate.
“And I had a nice time talking with you in the cabin,” Kara’s gaze fell to her feet as she kicked the floor. “Maybe, we could do it again sometime?”
The princess barely blinked before her smile fell ever so slightly and immediately, Kara’s gut twisted into the tightest ball that robbed her of her breath. She had overstepped her bounds. Of course, Lena, the soon-to-be freaking Queen of a freaking country, didn’t have any interest in her, some dumb American tutor who didn’t know anything.
“As friends, I mean,” Kara swiftly added.
Kara could have sworn that that made Lena’s smile drop further, but she couldn’t be sure as in half a second, a different smile took over Lena’s face.
“I’d like that,” Lena said, finally.
“Cool,” Kara said, doing her best not to look nearly as excited she felt. God forbid she scare off the cute royal now. “Well, goodnight, Lena.”
“Good night, Kara.”
Nia brought Kara a large bowl of beef stew for dinner that night as Kara kicked off her boots at the door and sought out fresh dry socks to change into. She sat it at her desk as she propped herself up at her desk to grade Ruby’s latest homework and classwork assignments. She found it hard to sit still despite how cold she was as a strange spirit of giddiness had taken hold of her since her and Lena had parted ways. Near death experience aside, today had been a very good day, and she couldn’t wait for the next.
Just as she situated herself to be sitting on top of her cold feet to warm them in their now fresh layer of socks and positioned herself to dive into Nia’s scrumptious smelling soup, her phone started ringing. Her once starving stomach sank when she saw just who’s name popped up on screen.
This was going to be bad. But after being her assistant for so long, Kara knew better than to continually dodge calls from the Queen of all Media, so, reluctantly, she answered.
“Hello, Ms. Grant,” Kara greeted, clearing her throat after her voice cracked.
“Is this someone at the morgue?” Cat demanded. “Or the embassy perhaps?”
“No, this is Kara--”
“Because Kara Danvers better be either dead or arrested after not responding to any of my calls or messages for the past three days.” Cat continued, sending Kara only into a deeper spiral of dread.
“Uh, actually about that Ms. Grant--”
“I did not send you to Europe for a holiday vacation, Ms. Danvers,” Cat interrupted, venom seeping from her words, paralyzing Kara’s mouth as it sagged open. “I sent you there on an assignment. An assignment that you failed to complete.”
“And now,” Cat cut her off, her voice now near shouting through the phone. “You are missing days of work, dodging calls and emails, and neglecting your duties as a Catco employee all because of some exclusive that you refuse to provide any details about. I will not be paying for your return flight and if you are not here by the end of the week to collect your things from your desk, I will be throwing all of it personally into the street.”
“Just where the hell even are you?!”
“I’m in the palace.”
For the first time in what Kara believes to be Cat Grant’s entire life, she’s stunned to silence.
“Excuse me?” Cat asked after a moment, the vicious tenor now gone.
“I’m in the Thorulian palace,” Kara explained swiftly, not sure when Ms. Grant would cut her off again. “There was a mix up when I came for the press conference and they now think that I am the new tutor.”
“A tutor…” Cat drummed her fingers along her desk as she pursed her lips. “For who?”
“Lady Ruby, Ms. Grant. She’s the soon-to-be queen’s niece.”
“The daughter of the psychopathic former King.”
“Um, yes, technically. But--”
“Have you had a lot of contact with her?”
“Well, yeah, I’m her tutor so I see her about seven hours each day for our lessons, and then some times in the evening. Like today we out for a horseback ride with her mom--”
“The disgraced Dutchess who used to be queen.”
“Um, yeah. I mean, she’s a lot more than that too--”
“Interesting,” Cat paused, but Kara knew better than to try to interrupt. “Have you had much communication with the Princess?”
“Uh, kind of. We actually spent some time together today.”
“So you’re telling me you have developed a direct connection with the three main women centered in one of the biggest European scandals of this century and you failed to mention it to me sooner because...?”
“Well, it all happened so fast.”
“Get me that exclusive, Kara. I don’t have time to play games. The coronation is almost a week away, and I want you to make sure that Catco is the only one with the exclusive inside look on all of this.”
“Ms. Grant, I’m just not sure I can do this.”
“You’ve gotten yourself this far; you can figure out the rest. Follow those reporter instincts I know you have buried down beneath those bland Target cardigans and cheap thrift store pants.”
“Yes, Ms. Grant.”
“Now chop chop. I expect updates on this. And do not dodge any of my calls again or I will throw one of your dying desk plants at Winslow’s head.”
“Yes, of course, Ms. Grant…. Does this mean I’m not fired?”
“Not yet, Ms. Danvers. Not yet. Now I expect a summary of what you’ve found so far by morning. You know the format I expect it in.”
“Yes, Ms. Grant. Wait, your morning or my morning?”
“Figure it out, Ms. Danvers,” Cat said dryly. “Use those reporter instincts.”
“Your morning - got it.”
“I see a lot of potential in you, Ms. Danvers. Do not disappoint me.”
“Yes, Ms. Grant,” Kara said, but Cat had already hung up.
With a deep sigh, Kara tossed her phone on to the bed beside her and buried her face into her hands. What had she gotten herself into? Of course, she would write the truth; that Ruby, Sam, and Lena were all wonderful, kind, genuine people dealing with the most unfortunate circumstances as of late and who actually wanted the best for their people despite what the tabloids said. Unfortunately, that might not be what Cat Grant wants to hear. Even if it is, she’ll most likely be thrown in jail or at least be faced with a lawsuit once Sam or Lena discover who she actually is. And what will Ruby think when she learns her first new friend in a while was actually just using her. Of course, she could just not turn in an article at all, but then there goes Kara any hope at a career in journalism. Cat Grant had destroyed people’s career for lesser reasons. Either way, Kara was absolutely screwed.
Nightmares infected her dreams again. They always did when stress was involved and that had been Kara’s default state since her conversation with her boss. Why couldn’t she just go back to the giddiness she felt before that phone conversation ever happened?
She had stayed up later than planned writing up the demanded summary of her past few days to Ms. Grant. As much as she considered herself to be an honest reporter, Kara still left out some of the more damning or embarrassing details. While yes, Kara’s cab was stolen, Cat didn’t need to know by who. While yes, Kara had engaged in a snowball fight, Cat didn’t need to know that Ms. Huang had gotten hit in the crossfire. And then there were details that Kara wasn’t entirely sure what to do with such as when she stormed into Lena’s office. The reasoning and discussion felt too private to share and Kara found herself deleting it out. It was biased journalism at its highest degree and she knew it. Her only hope was that Cat didn’t notice. If anything, the entire process had left her stomach in knots and her conscience heavy on her shoulders.
Rolling over to check the time, Kara groaned when she saw that had barely been asleep for an hour, but her stomach growled it’s demands for more food. The beef stew had done little to quell the appetite stirred up from her eventful day of being rescued by a soon-to-be Queen followed by being chewed out by a Queen of all Media.
The floor is cold against her bare feet, but Kara doesn’t mind as she shuffles out of her room and down the hall towards the kitchen. Like a few nights before, Kara could see a light on underneath the door to the kitchen from where she stood in the dark hallway. Perhaps Sam was awake this night as well too. When she neared the door, Kara could hear her voice, but just before she was about to open the door, she heard another voice that made her halt midstep.
“I just don’t see why you left her alone in the woods!” Lena snapped.
The princess? What was she doing up so late? Especially after her early morning with Ruby. When did she ever have time for some much needed rest?
“How was I supposed to know she’d get lost, fall off her horse, and the wolves would come?” Sam snapped back. “Honestly, you act like we haven’t let Ruby out on the trails on the very same horse when she was only seven.”
The hair on Kara’s neck stood up as she realized that they were talking about her. Kara pressed her back against the wall, but didn’t dare near the door anymore. She knew she should just simply turn around and forget this all happened, but her feet wouldn’t let her move. It was often one was privy to what others said behind their backs and if anything, maybe something would be said that she could use for her article.
“But we never did so close to dusk or when there was so much snow on the ground. Let’s not forget it’s blizzard season!”
“Oh please, that storm earlier is hardly enough to be classified as a blizzard.” Kara heard a metal spoon tapping against a tea cup before Sam continued. “Look Lena, I never intended to put Kara in danger. She just looked like she was having such a nice time and I didn’t want it have to end it because of some dumb dress fitting for Ruby. Neither of us wanted to go but I didn’t see any reason to drag Kara away from something she actually seemed to be enjoying. I didn’t realize she would possibly get hurt.”
Lena sighed. “I know you didn’t, Sam. It’s just… I don’t know- seeing her in danger, surrounded by all those wolves. I just felt responsible for some reason. Like I owed it to her to protect her.”
“You feel that way about everyone. It’s one of the reasons why you’ll make a great queen. But you have to remember that you can’t protect everyone. And that it’s not your fault if someone gets hurt.”
“I know, I know,” Lena grumbled and Kara heard the squeak of a chair as if Lena were leaning back against hers. “There’s just something different about her, Sam.”
“Oh.” Sam paused. “I didn’t know you had a thing for blondes.”
Kara smacked a hand over her mouth to muffle to her gasp. No. Absolutely not. There was no way this beautiful goddess of a woman could have any feelings for a nobody like herself. But still, her heart dared to hope.
“Unless that Taylor Swift rumor is true of course.”
Kara heard a thud as if Lena had smacked Sam in the shoulder.
“Oh, shut it. I ran into her at one dinner and, of course, the tabloids had a field day with it. Nothing ever happened between us.”
“But would it?”
“My god, Sam. How were you ever Queen with such a dirty mind?”
“Like yours is really that better.”
“I typically have the self control not to vocalize it.”
“For now anyways.” There was a pause and Kara heard soft clang of someone setting down their tea cup. “But seriously. Is something going on between you and the tutor?”
The silence that followed was impossibly long and Kara worried her heart would give out at the rate it currently pounded in her chest.
“No,” Lena finally answered. “There can’t be.”
Kara had to lean against the wall for support as her knees gave out and she slid down the wall to the cold tile floor. Her eyes stung but she ignored it. Of course, it was all in her head. Why did she always have to be so foolish and fall for all the impossible girls?
Sam scoffed. “And why not?”
“Because I’m ascending the throne in a matter of days. Because she’s my employee. Because she’s not Thorulian or even a royal. Should I continue because the list is quite long.”
“Oh please, like any of that actually matters.”
“Sam,” Lena’s voice broke in a way that broke Kara’s heart even more. “You know I can’t marry a woman.”
“Yes, you can. Lex legalized gay marriage as soon as he took the throne-”
“And you saw as well as I what kind of backlash some of the Thorulian people had and that an unfortunate amount of our people won’t stand for it. Some are even calling to reverse all the laws and orders put in place during his reign. And I can’t legalize it and then marry - people will assume that the law was passed simply for myself and not actually for the progessive party. Besides, I’m already on shaky ground as is.”
“You don’t know that for certain though,” Sam insisted. “Rumors of your sexuality as the Pansexual Princess have been floating around for years. No one has tried to strip your title because of that before.”
“Not yet anyways. Look, even if I did date her, the press would tear her to shreds. I can’t in good coincidence do that to her.”
“So you do want to date her…”
“Look Lena. I get where you’re coming from in some sense. I mean, I married Lex as a teenager and then had a kid. The press tore us to shreds for years. Anyone you date or marry is going to be criticized. But you at least owe it to yourself to be happy with whoever it is you’re with.”
“I just don’t think I ever will be able to Sam.”
“Can we just talk about something else? Please.”
Kara couldn’t listen to anymore of it. She pushed herself off the wall and softly walked back to her room, ignoring the growls of protest from her stomach. Lena may actually like her too, but it didn’t matter. It was out of her control. Kara would be lucky if they could even just be friends. Worst of all, this was exactly the kind of story Cat Grant wanted. Actual confirmation at the Thorulian’s Princess was indeed queer. It would be the sort of scoop that would solidify Kara’s career as a reporter, maybe even a respected one since she had found confirmation of a fact that so many other reporters before her had been clamoring for.
But Kara would rather lose her career than out someone. Especially if that someone was Lena Luthor.
Sleep failed to provide solace to Kara’s anxiety that night. Her blankets became matted and her sheets pulled off the mattress as she tossed and turned all night, only catching sleep in brief stints. When her alarm went off in the morning, she welcomed it with relief. Thankfully, the combination of her glasses and concealer covered up the ever darkening bags underneath her eyes. Perhaps she should ask Nia if the palace had an melatonin she could take. Or even a Benadryl if things grew worse. For now, coffee was most welcome.
She was three minutes late to class that day. It was harder to motivate herself to walk in the cold palace as she nursed her still too hot to drink coffee. Ruby probably wouldn’t mind. With it being the day before Christmas Eve, she doubted Ruby would even be up for much teaching today. Maybe they could just end early and Kara could sneak away for a long much needed nap before dinner.
Kara definitely didn’t expect to be bombarded by a fierce hug as soon as she walked into the classroom.
“Oof,” Kara gasped, her hand flying to ensure her coffee lid remained secure. She definitely didn’t need a repeat of what happened yesterday. “You okay, Ruby?”
“I’m so sorry,” Ruby said, her voice muffled as she spoke into Kara’s shoulder.
“For what?” Kara asked, slowly patting Ruby’s back as she scanned the room, assuming the young royal had broken something.
Ruby pulled her head back to look at Kara with a furrowed brow and frown. “Because we literally left you to the wolves.”
“Oh!” Kara’s eyes widened. Yeah, that did happen. Why had so much been allowed to happen in barely twelve hours? “Well, you didn’t do it intentionally.”
“But like you could have died!” Ruby said, her eyes still wide and frantic as she held onto Kara tighter. “And you were all alone in a forest you didn’t know. And when Streaky came back to the stables without you, we feared the worse. Then there was that snowstorm and--”
“Hey, hey,” Kara twisted to put down her coffee on her desk so she could hug Ruby more properly back. “I’m fine. Nothing bad happened to me.”
“But it could have! And--”
“Hey,” Kara ducked down so she was eye level with the now tearing up teenager. “It didn’t happen though. And I’m fine. You’re fine. Everyone’s fine. And even if I weren’t, you didn’t do anything to intentionally hurt me. If anything, it’s a learning experience. You’ll know now for next time.”
“But nothing,” Kara squeezed her tighter. “Everything is okay.”
“I’m still so sorry,” Ruby mumbled.
“You’re forgiven and then some,” Kara replied. “Also, I’m sorry too. I think I may have spilled some coffee on you.”
Ruby gave a watery laugh as she shook her head and let go of Kara.
“You’re too much. Oh also, don’t get too close to the window,” Ruby sniffled as she wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Aunty Lee is practicing archery.”
“Archery? Why?” Kara asked, peaking out towards the window.
In the snow, the princess stood alone with a bow in her grip and her arm drawn in the slumbering, ice covered garden outside of the window. When she launched her arrow, it fell short, landing in the ground just short of the target. Despite the wall between them blocking any sound, Kara could almost hear the loud groan of frustration from Lena as threw her head back and stomped her boot against the cold ground. A smile tugged at Kara’s lips. The royal looked pretty cute when she was frustrated.
“As part of the coronation ceremony, she has to shoot a flaming arrow to light the coronation ring and symbolize the eternal flame of her reign,” Ruby explained as she grabbed a tissue and sat down at her desk. “It’s just like the one thing she’s not good at no matter how hard she tries and she despises it. I’m pretty sure she broke a window or two last week. We’re all dreading when she has to start using the flaming arrows to practice. The staff have ensured all fire extinguishers are in working order.”
“Huh,” Kara said, noticing the litter of arrows surrounding the target and the very few that actually hit somewhat close to their mark. “At least she’s determined.”
“Yeah, she can obsessive that way sometimes,” Ruby balled up her tissue into the trash. “Alright, I’m ready to start learning whenever you are.”
“Ah, yes about that,” Kara said, tearing her head away from the window. “I was wondering, since tomorrow’s Christmas Eve and all, if you wanted to do something a little different today, maybe more in line with the holiday.”
Ruby looked up at Kara, her face curved into a grimace.
“Please don’t make me go caroling,” she said.
“What? Oh god, no,” Kara shook her head. “I thought we could go sledding, make Christmas cookies, buy ugly sweaters online or something like that. You know, something that’s festive and fun.”
“Oh! I’ve always wanted to make a gingerbread house!” Ruby said, her eyes beaming. “I bet Nia would let us use the kitchen if we asked!”
“Yeah, that sounds perfect! We can say it’s for architectural design or something like that. I’m sure I can find a protractor somewhere.”
“Let me go put up my things and I can go ask Nia!” Ruby said, slinging her bag over her shoulder and swinging her leg out as she walked.
“I’ll see you in the kitchen then!” Kara laughed as she reached for her coffee, but Ruby was already gone.
Taking a sip of her coffee, Kara snuck another glance outside the window to Lena just in time to see her miss the target once again and sag her normally proper shoulders in defeat. As cute as the princess looked when she was frustrated, perhaps it was time she received a little help. After all, that’s what a friend would do.
“I thought you were an expert marksman,” Kara smirked, crossing her arms as she leaned against the rustic gate to the garden which provided her a perfect view of the princess in her burgundy winter coat and thick black pants. “Or markswoman I should say.”
“Ha,” Lena scoffed as she ran her fingers through her raven hair before snatching another arrow from the quiver on the stand and placing it in her bow. “Firearms is one thing; archery is another.”
Lena gritted her teeth as launched the arrow. This time, it missed the target completely and disappeared into the hedges behind it as Lena let out a loud groan in frustration.
“I can see that,” Kara said, unable to stop her smirk; the princess only looked cuter close up in frustration.
“Is that really how you should talk to someone who is armed?” Lena asked, with a quirk of her brow.
“If their aim is like yours, I see no harm,” Kara grinned wider.
“Oh, do you want to try?” Lena asked, holding out her bow. “I can assure you that it’s much harder than it looks.”
“Actually, I would love to.”
Kara propped herself off the gate and made her way through the crunching snow and over by Lena all while doing her best to ignore those green eyes that watched her oh so closely or the lovely prickle they triggered in her stomach. Clearing her throat and pushing up her glasses, Kara held out her hand palm upwards to Lena.
“May I?” Kara asked.
“Be my guest.” Lena passed over the bow and took a step back.
The bow weighed heavy in her hand as Kara gripped its smooth wooden finish. Unlike any bow she had used before, this one carried the markings of the Thorulian crest above the grip, narrowing the site window every so slightly which could have explained Lena’s struggle with aiming, but it should be no issue to Kara. Picking up an arrow and slotting it in its place, Kara pulled back the bow string, testing its tension. With one brief roll of her shoulders, she took aim, inhaled, and released. The arrow whipped off the bow and sailed through the air, landing center on target.
Kara couldn’t help her smug grin as she turned to look at a wide eyed, baffled Lena.
“How?” Lena gaped.
“My sister and I went through an archery phase together,” Kara shrugged as she handed the bow back to the princess. “Our goal was to be like Merida from Brave, so our practice level was insane. Obviously, neither of us ever got to be that good, but we picked up some skills along the way.”
“I wish I went through a similar phase,” Lena grumbled. “Archery itself is an archaic practice and only exists for ridiculous reasons such as this. A crossbow would provide the same result with exceptionally less stress, but outdated patriarchal tradition demands it.”
Kara bit her lip and shook her head.
“Would you like some help?” she offered.
Kara chuckled as she offered the princess an arrow. As Lena placed the arrow on the rest and string, Kara stood at her back watching Lena ready herself. Her raven hair collected along her back in a very loose ponytail and as she moved, whaffs of lavender filled Kara’s nose and once again, she felt the urge to bury her face in it’s delicious scent and hold its source close to her, but she shook her head and resisted. They were just friends. And friends didn’t fantasize about each other like that.
“Ready?” Kara asked.
“Mmhm,” Lena said, with a quick clearing of her throat.
“Then take your stance,” Kara said.
“Okay,” Lena breathed as she pulled her arm and the arrow back taunt against the string..
A light chuckle escaped Kara’s lips as she witnessed Lena’s stance. While it certainly wasn’t a bad attempt in the slightest, Kara had just never seen someone look so tense and determined all at the same time. It was a wonder why no professional had ever tried to lend their advice before.
“You’ll want to lower your elbow a little bit,” Kara said, gently touching Lena’s taunt arm and guiding it to its ideal position. Despite the layer of clothing between them, Kara found touching the other woman just as addictive and electrifying as it had been the day before.
“Right here?” the princess asked, her green eyes eager and flickering between the target and the blonde.
“Perfect,” Kara said softly, her hand lingering on Lena’s arm before she slid it off. “Now, use your mouth as an anchor.”
Lena hesitated, her head cocking and mouth dropping as she blinked in almost offended bewilderment. “Excuse me?”
“I mean, touch your hand to your mouth,” Kara said with a slight laugh, turning her head and running her hand back along Lena’s taunt forearm to ensure it was in the correct place again. With a slight breath, Kara’s head and lungs filled with that delicious and intoxicating lavender scent and Kara found herself taking a step closer to the princess. “Now, you’ll want to relax this hand,” Kara instructed in a softer tone as she placed her hand over Lena’s on the bow grip.
Feeling Lena’s skin on her own was both intoxicating and dizzying. She was just so soft and beautiful. The way her forehead wrinkled in concentration, her eyes sparkled with precision, her lips pursed in dedication. She was just simply exquisite. Kara’s hand on the princess’s forearm slid up to her shoulder, curving around it as she longed to pull her body flush with her own.
“Now breathe in,” Kara instructed gently into Lena’s ear, her hand on the princess’s shoulder raising with them as they both inhaled together. “Release.”
Lena obeyed, and the arrow flew before sinking into the bullseye of the target. With a delighted gasp, the princess covered her mouth and relaxed her posture as Kara let her hands slide off the royal’s body, but neither of them made an effort to greater the distance between them.
“How’d that feel?” Kara asked, her eyes lingering on the place her hand once laid.
“Wonderful,” Lena answered breathlessly, her gaze turning to catch Kara’s.
Their faces were mere inches apart. The world around them fell away and only the two of them remained. Kara couldn’t help but smile as she smelled the mint on Lena’s breath as she bit her lip. She was so close and so beautiful and so so tempting. Unable to control herself, Kara could feel herself leaning forward, wanting nothing more than to get lost in those emerald eyes and taste those ruby lips. And from the way the princess’s own eyes fluttered closed and her lips parted, it appeared the same force had taken control of her..
But then a squirrel chattered and a bird took flight with squawk, and the world crashed back into them. Their eyes flashed open once again and Lena turned her head as she cleared her throat while Kara automatically took a step back and shoved her hands into her pants pockets.
They were friends. Nothing more. Not ever.
“I, uh, I should get going,” Kara said as she cleared her throat and looked towards the palace. “I promised Ruby we’d make gingerbread houses together.”
“Gingerbread houses,” Lena nodded, ignoring the way her voice squeaked. “How academic.”
“Yeah, if anyone asks it’s supposed to be a lesson on structural and exterior design,” Kara said with a breath of laughter as she kicked at the snow underfoot. “I just thought with tomorrow being Christmas Eve, we’d have a little bit of fun.”
“I’m sure she’ll love that,” Lena smiled.
“Yeah. Well, uh, I guess I’ll let you get back to it,” Kara said nodding towards the target.
“Oh, yes. That is probably what I should be doing.” Lena tucked some loose strands of her dark hair behind her ear as she looked down.
“Well, I’ll see you later then,” Kara spun on her heel back towards the palace, her shoulders hunched as her boots crunched through the snow.
“Kara?” Lena called out.
Kara swung her head back to look at the princess who stood watching her with her bow held in front of her with both hands as she fidgeted with it.
“Yeah?” Kara blinked as she pushed her glasses up her nose.
“Thank you,” Lena said with a small smile that made Kara’s heart flip.
“We have to chill the dough for three hours?” Ruby groaned. “Who has time for that?”
When Ruby and Kara finally tracked down Nia in the kitchen, Ruby immediately pulled out her phone to find recipes even though Nia insisted that there was a recipe that the royal kitchen had used for decades, but Ruby insisted on using the recipe she found on an American suburban’s mom website. After all, this gingerbread cookie recipe allegedly saved this woman’s family Christmas so it clearly was good enough for them to use. However, from the way Nia rolled her eyes after peaking at the recipe, Kara doubted that the cookies would barely be anything above mediocre.
“I mean, it’s still morning,” Kara said as she craned over Ruby’s neck to look over the recipe pulled up on her phone. “We can just make it, let it chill, and then make them after lunch.”
“But I wanted to do it now,” Ruby whined. “What if we just don’t chill it?”
“Then you’re going to have cracks in your dough,” Nia said, her arms crossed as she watched the two women from across the counter. “It won’t hold as a gingerbread house and will crumble. Not to mention the flavors won’t have time to absorb with one another.”
“We could burn it,” Ruby suggested. “That should harden it and make it more stable. We probably won’t eat it anyways.”
“You are not burning anything in my kitchen,” Nia said, her eyes narrowing. “Don’t think I won’t ban you from this kitchen again, Ruby.”
“Forget to add water to the instant mac n’ cheese one time,” Ruby grumbled as she crossed her arms and pouted.
“Alright, well, what if we mix it and then go sledding as we wait for it to chill?” Kara suggested.
“Are you sure you want to go sledding?” Ruby asked, looking down at the floor. “I mean, we can always just have another snowball fight or something.”
“But have you seen the hills here?” Kara asked. “Sledding will be so much fun. And then we can snowball fight afterwards.”
“I guess that works,” Ruby shrugged before her face lit up. “Oh, we get to use molasses! And the standmixer! Nia, you never let me touch that!”
“Maybe I’ll just make the dough,” Nia sighed.
Kara easily found a sled in a gardening shed just off the castle. While the wood held a rustic look and it was covered in cobwebs, Kara deemed it sturdy and perfect since it was large enough for them both to ride on. Lugging it with her, she rejoined Ruby outside of the courtyard and led her over the hill outside of her window that she thought would be perfect for sledding.
“Here we are!” Kara announced as they finally crested the hill next to the palace.
“You sure we won’t hit those trees?” Ruby asked, eyeing the forest in the distance.
“Nonsense! There’s that giant field in front of it where it levels out,” Kara explained putting her hands on her hips. “We’ll stop way before we hit anything.”
“Okay,” Ruby mumbled as she sat down on the sled, her left leg still sticking straight out in the snow.
“What’s wrong?” Kara asked, squatting down next to the teen. “I thought this would be fun.”
“Do you really think I can do it?” Ruby asked quietly as she picked at the fuzz on her purple mittens.
“I think you can do anything you want to,” Kara assured her. “You’re not a china doll. You got this.”
“I don’t know.” Ruby hesitated before looking away. “What if I end up even more broken than I already am?”
“Ruby,” Kara touched the young royal’s arm. “You’re not broken. You never have been. You are nothing but wonderful and complete. No matter what anyone says.”
Ruby beamed at the blonde before pulling her prosthetic leg in, bending the metal knee to make it fit like she wanted. “Dibs on the front then.”
“Okay,” Kara grinned as she climbed on the back of the long sled and tucked her feet in next to Ruby. “You ready?”
Ruby nodded as she pulled her red beanie down tighter around her ears.
“Here we go!” Ruby said as she placed her hands on the snow outside of the sled and pushed.
“Woah!” Kara cried out as Ruby pushed them down the hill much faster than she had expected.
She had expected a slower start, but Ruby apparently had other ideas. They gained speed quickly, the old sled sliding across the snow much more easily than the old metal legs led them to believe. Ruby squealed in delight as Kara could hold tight to her as they bumped and scooted their way down the hill and into the field below.
However, Kara hadn’t expected the amount of force or speed generated on the hill would be so great and the field that she thought would level them out before they hit the tree line was rapidly depleting. The trees only grew in size the closer they neared and the howling of the wind in Kara’s ears sounded all too similar to the howling of a wolf.
“Turn!” Kara shouted.
“I don’t know how!” Ruby exclaimed as the forest line raced towards them.
In desperation, Kara shoved out both her feet in an effort to either stop or slow them down. Unfortunately, Kara’s left foot found much better footing than her right, causing the sled to slow down, but also whip them to the side. The mound of snow Kara’s left foot kicked up held on to her, pulling her off the sled and leaving Ruby on the sled alone for a few feet until she too fell off and rolled on her side.
“You okay, Ruby?” Kara asked, slowly pulling herself up to her feet and shaking out the snow and ice that had gone up into her pants.
But Ruby didn’t respond.
“Ruby!” Kara cried, frantically trudging through the thick snow to the young royal’s side. How had she let this happen? They should have just stayed in the classroom and none of this would have ever happened.
Yet, just as Kara neared, she could hear giggling and noticed the teenager’s body shaking.
“Ruby?” Kara asked, slowing in her frantic pace.
“Let’s do that again!!” Ruby laughed as she rolled over, her eyes bright and eager.
“Oh, you punk!” Kara exclaimed as she threw a handful of powdery snow at the royal. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”
The young royal only laughed harder as she laid back in the snow and held her stomach as she laughed, but Kara could only shake her head and laugh with her. The girl who considered herself broken was actually like any other teenage girl: a punk. A punk with an infectious laugh and dedicated spirit.
“Do you need me to help you up?” Kara said, offering her hand to Ruby.
As Ruby took the outstretched hand, the whine of a horse from behind them caught their attention, and the two of them turned just in time to the princess dismount from her black horse still wearing her burgundy coat and matching black winter pants and boots, but with a gray beanie now on her head covering her raven hair.
“This doesn’t look like gingerbread houses,” Lena said as she walked towards them, pulling her gloves tighter on her hands.
“Aunty Lee!” Ruby grinned as Kara pulled her up to her feet. “Did you see me?”
“I did,” Lena laughed. “And I saw that tumble the two of you took and thought I should come check on you.”
“It was sweet!” Ruby exclaimed, her hands fist bumping the air in front of her as she talked. “We were going so fast and then we couldn’t turn and then we went sliding! And it was just so much fun! We gotta do it again! Have you ever done it?”
“Not in a long time,” the princess replied with a short laugh before noticing the sled and frowning. “Where did you get that?”
“Oh, over in one of the gardening sheds close to the courtyard,” Kara explained, biting her lip as she realized she didn’t exactly ask anyone’s permission first. “I promise I’ll put it back when we’re done. I hope that’s okay.”
“Yes, of course,” Lena said with a slight shake of her head. “I just haven’t seen that sled since I was kid… Lex and I used to ride it together.”
“Oh,” Kara mumbled.
“It was a long time ago,” Lena waved it off with her hand. “I see it still works pretty well though. You two did achieve a rather impressive speed.”
“Do you want to ride it with us?” Ruby asked, her eyes bright.
“I… I don’t think so,” Lena said finally. “I have a meeting with the prime minister in less than half an hour and I wouldn’t have time to change clothes.”
“Oh,” Ruby frowned, her head falling down to the snow at her feet.
“But…” Lena drew out with an ever growing smirk as she bent down to the snow. “That doesn’t mean I don’t have time for other things.”
“What--oof!” Ruby gasped as a snowball hit her shoulder and she saw her aunt’s grin. “Oh, that’s so not fair!”
Despite her fears of her limitations due to her legs, Ruby was easily the fastest snowball maker Kara had ever seen. She had a retaliation throw ready for the princess in seconds, barely giving Lena any time to prepare before she was hit in the chest.
“Ha!” Ruby shouted out, but Lena certainly wasn’t about to admit defeat.
“Ha yourself!” Lena exclaimed as she threw a weaker clump of snow back at her niece. Sure, it wasn’t the same defined snowball as before, but she could launch the clumps of snow on the ground far faster than she could make it.
“Ah!” Ruby laughed as she held up the sled in front of her as a shield.
Lena only laughed as she continued her volley of clumps of snow at the young royal, dancing around Ruby as she successfully blocked most of them. The princess was in fact so absorbed that she didn’t notice Kara until a snowball hit her in the back.
“You turned on me?” Lena asked Kara with a mock gasp.
“I’m Ruby’s teacher,” Kara shrugged. “Someone has to teach her how to make a decent snowball.”
“Hey!” Ruby called out as she packed snow together in her hands. “I’m not sharing my sled shield with you then.”
“What’s going to protect you now, Ms. Starr?” Lena asked with an evil grin and eyes gleaming as she held up a snowball.
“Oh no,” Kara muttered.
She ducked and covered her face just as a snowball glanced off her leg. Lena nor Ruby showed her any sympathy as they both began their assault of snow, barely giving Kara time to retaliate as she did her best to dodge them. With her sled shield held high, Ruby circled both women as she successfully blocked most of the throws of snow her way. Kara stayed mostly low to the ground as she attempted to craft more of an arsenal while Lena instead tried her hand at catching most of what was thrown at her, but proved to be about as successful in it as she was with archery. Unfortunately, the princess was so focused on her task that she failed to notice Kara next to her and stumbled into her, causing Kara to slip and pull Lena down to the ground with her.
“Oof,” Kara said, as the breath was knocked out of her by Lena landing on top of her.
If it weren’t for her own gray beanie or the snow underneath padding the landing, Kara would have thought that she had received a concussion or knocked unconscious since she had to be dreaming.
Above her, the princess gazed down on her with concern as the sunlight glowed behind her like a halo. Flakes of white snow stuck in her long, loose raven hair and her cheeks and nose were red with cold. And with her warm body lying on top of her, Kara felt as if she’d never be cold again.
“I am so sorry,” Lena started. “I didn’t see you there. I should--”
“It’s okay,” Kara said softly, cutting her off with a small smile as her fingers brushed some of Lena’s hair away from her face. “I don’t mind.”
Their faces were so close. All Kara had to do was pull her closer and she could finally taste those sweet lips.
“Hey!” Ruby called out, kicking snow their way. “No fraternizing with the enemy!”
Lena rolled off Kara with a slight yelp, turning her back to both of the women as she packed more snow in her hand. Kara frowned briefly as she suddenly felt cold at the loss of warmth, but she pushed it aside and joined Ruby’s front against Lena as they both began lobbying snowballs at the princess until she raised her hands.
“Stop, stop!” Lena shouted as she dodged another snowball that just missed her boot. “I yield.”
“Victory is ours!” Ruby cheered, fist in the air.
“Yeah, high five!” Kara exclaimed, holding out her hand to Ruby.
“What?” Ruby frowned, looking at the hand and back at Kara’s face.
“High five…” Kara repeated. “You know when people hit their hands together to celebrate something.”
“Like this?” Ruby gently hit her gloved hand against Kara’s, barely making a sound.
“Uh, we’ll work on it,” Kara noted before turning to Lena. “How does it feel to lose, your majesty?”
“Like it’s been a long time coming,” Lena laughed as she brushed the snow and ice off of her. “Serves me right for starting an unfair fight.”
“Well, you did have home turf advantage,” Kara shrugged.
“So does Ruby,” Lena pointed out with an arched brow.
“Oh yeah, true,” Kara bit her lip. “Um, element of surprise?”
“That one, I’ll give you,” the princess said as she pulled herself back up on her horse. “I have to go prepare for my meeting with the Prime Minister, but thank you for the fun break, both of you. Maybe I’ll be able to sneak some of your gingerbread cookies later.”
“Yeah, definitely!” Ruby called out.
“Oh, and Kara,” Lena said, pulling up on the horse's reign as she turned back towards the castle. “I’m sure Ruby’s already told you about this, but I would like to extend a formal invitation to the Christmas Eve Party I’m hosting tomorrow evening. I can assure you that there will be plenty of quiches for both of you to enjoy.”
“Uh, yeah,” Kara replied with a slowly growing grin. “Yeah, that would be great.”
“Splendid,” Lena smiled. “Well, I’ll see both of you later.”
With a flick of the reign, Lena was off, her horse kicking up snow as it galloped back towards the palace. Kara’s eyes lingered as the princess grew small in the distance before she turned back to Ruby who still held up sled excitedly beaming.
“Ready to go again?” she asked.
“Why didn’t that blog say anything about gingerbread cookies taking the whole day to do?” Ruby groaned at her stool in the kitchen. “Are they at least cool enough to decorate now?”
After their morning of sledding, Kara and Ruby parted ways briefly to take hot showers to unthaw and change into some dry clothes. Since then, the baking and cooling of the gingerbread cookies took up most of the afternoon. Nia had been right though, and the chilling of the dough had definitely made the cookies taste much better. Additionally, despite all of her other work around the kitchen and the palace as the chef, Nia kindly brewed another pot of coffee for Kara and crafted a crock pot pull of rich hot chocolate for Ruby. During their time waiting for the cookies to cool, Kara discovered the delightful mix of the two with a generous helping of whipped cream and marshmallows to top it off. She prayed that the caffeine this late in the day wouldn’t keep her up this evening, but hopefully, the caffeine crash would knock her out until morning.
“I think so,” Kara replied, picking up one of the gingerbread people, noticing that it was roughly room temperature and it should be cool enough for the icing not to melt off.
In addition to all the patience and enabling Nia had done for them today, she had also let them raid the palace pantry for all sorts of icing and other sorts of candy that could be used for decorations. For Ruby being the only child in the palace that Kara was aware of, a surprising amount of sweets filled the shelves. Apparently, the princess insisted on keeping it well stocked for the palace guards and staff for a treat throughout the day as well as keeping a secret stash of peppermint bark of her own well-hidden in the corner behind the liquorice and circus peanuts.
“Oh sweet,” Ruby picked one cookie up and inhaled. “They smell amazing. It has to be that molasses.”
“If you keep eating them, you’re not going to have enough left for your gingerbread family,” Kara laughed.
“I’m short, we’ll just say one is sleeping in the house or something like that. Now what kind of candies should we use to decorate?”
“You can use the pretzels as logs on the house,” Kara suggested as she sorted through the piles of candies now strewn across the table in front of them. “Oh, and of course gumdrop buttons are a classic. Maybe marshmallows for snow?”
“Ooo, I can use M&Ms for the eyes,” Ruby said as she dumped out a mini pack of them on the table. “The brown can go for my mom and me since we have the same eye color, but I’m not super sure about the others. Do you know what color Lena’s eyes are?”
“Green,” Kara answered automatically.
Ruby cocked her head to the side and arched an eyebrow at the blonde. “Oh?”
“I, um, just notice these things sometimes,” Kara mumbled as she reached for her coffee.
“Uh huh,” Ruby hummed, her fingers drumming against the counter, waiting for more, but Kara definitely wasn’t about to divulge that sort of thing to a teenager.
“So have you picked everyone out yet?” Kara asked, peaking over her coffee mug at Ruby’s assortment of cookies and candies.
“Well, this one can be mom,” Ruby said, holding up a cookie with a wonky head. “I kind of nibbled on it already, but her head’s big enough already so it’s probably a good thing that I trimed it down a bit for her.”
Kara snorted. “Wow, you’re lucky she’s not here to hear that.”
“Psh,” Ruby said with a way of her hand as she down the cookie next to her others. “I say it with love. If she’s really bothered by it, I’ll just cover it up with more icing hair.”
“Sounds like a solid plan to me,” Kara laughed. “Hey, can you pass me those Twizzlers? I think they’ll make good hair for Alex.”
“Who’s Alex?” Ruby asked, passing over the red strings of candy.
“She’s my sister,” Kara explained as she pulled apart the Twizzler.
“Oh, cool. Who are the other people?”
“That’s Jeremiah and Eliza,” Kara said, straightening them out on the plate in front of her. “They’re my parents. Well, adoptive parents anyways.”
“Oh, cool,” Ruby said, nodding.
“What about you?” Kara asked looking over to Ruby’s plate and the line of gingerbread people already in place.
“Well, we have me, of course,” Ruby said with a flick of her hair. “Then mom and Aunty Lee. And also Jess and Nia since it never really feels like the holidays without them. Like I know we hire them and we give them the day off and everything, but I don’t know, with everything going on this past year, they’ve just felt more like family than anyone else.”
“Well, family isn’t determined by blood after all,” Kara said, taking a sip from her coffee. “We’re allowed to choose who we want.”
“Not always,” Ruby mumbled as she picked at a burnt piece of cookie on the pan.
Kara pursed her lip into her coffee. In a way, she didn’t exactly have the right to say anything. She hadn’t followed the details of the late king’s crimes or much of the impact that it had on the country or his family. If anything, Kara didn’t know enough about Thorul or their culture to really give an adequate response or even understand. But in a different way, she did understand. Not exactly since the only one who would ever fully understand Ruby’s hurt and experience is Ruby herself, but some of those emotions she probably felt right now, Kara could relate too. And sometimes letting someone know they’re not alone is all anyone really can do.
“So my father, uh, my real father, was a scientist.” Kara cleared her throat; after all the years of not talking about him, the words now stuck in her throat. “As a kid, I thought he was the smartest, greatest man ever. I looked up to him. But then, as I got older and started looking into my family’s history, I learned that he wasn’t quite the perfect man I thought he was. He created some, uh, very questionable inventions that ended up hurting a lot of people. And like I know that that probably wasn’t his intention when he made it, but that doesn’t take away from the harm he’s done.”
Kara pushed up her glasses as her voice shook ever so slight. She hadn’t told anyone about that before, not even Alex. While Eliza and Jeremiah probably already knew since they had helped her look, she didn’t want Alex to know. Even if logically she knew it was irrational, a part of her worried that Alex wouldn’t want to call her her sister anymore if she knew just what Kara came from.
“Everyone comes to the point where they realize that their parents aren’t perfect,” she continued, gripping the red vines tighter. “And sometimes that point is much more painful for some people than it is for others.”
Beside her, Ruby remained silent, not looking at anything but the gingerbread cookies in front of her. They sat in silence for a little while; Kara unwinding the Twizzlers while Ruby ebbed away the black piece of gingerbread stuck to the pan.
“You know, my dad never really acknowledged that one of my legs is missing,” Ruby finally said. “When people would mention it, he’d argue with them. He’d tell them that I had two and then point to my real one then my prosthetic. He’d say it with so much conviction that no one ever dared argue with him. Even in our family portrait from his coronation, he had the painter paint my leg as real next to him. And I don’t think he ever meant to hurt me when he would do that, but it always did. Like I was broken and needed to be fixed.”
Ruby’s words from sledding earlier rang in Kara’s ears: broken. Being a teenager was hard enough especially with body image issues. Who knows what kind of painful mess this girl had been through. Leaving the candy on the table, Kara placed her hand on Ruby’s shoulder. While it wouldn’t replace the years of damages, a few kind words couldn’t hurt.
“You’re not broken,” Kara told her.
Ruby scoffed, her nail finally popping up the burnt piece and flicking it to the floor.
“It’s not easy to believe when you’re different from everyone else,” Ruby replied. “No one else has to worry about chafing from their prosthetic or sock, or have to worry about losing their balance and falling all the time. It’s not fair.”
“Yeah, that really does suck,” Kara nodded, pushing up her glasses again. “But to be fair, everyone struggles with something. And yes, while they may not be the same kind or severity as your issues, that doesn’t necessarily make them much easier. Like I have the constant fear that I’m going to pronounce something wrong or... that I’ll forget the world I came from.”
Kara sniffled as she found herself admitting fears she hadn’t told anyone. She was forgetting and she knew it, especially around the holidays. All of the holiday traditions she grew up with had all fallen away. There weren’t any Russian Orthodox churches in Midvale. And Eliza and Jeremiah had tried in the beginning when the memories were still fresh and crucial, but over the years, convenience won out, and now nothing remained of the traditions besides her. Her homeworld and motherland were completely gone.
“Sorry, I guess it bothers me more than I let on,” Kara said with a watery laugh as she shook her head. “But I guess my point is that everyone’s different from everyone else. Sometimes those differences are more apparent than others. Either way, that doesn’t mean that the differences are a bad thing. And sometimes it's better to just embrace those differences so you can move on.”
“Yeah,” Ruby mumbled, crumbling a bit of leftover cookie in her head.
“I say that like it’s easy, but it’s not,” Kara snorted as she wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Lord knows that I’ve been trying for years and am still dealing with it. But I like to think the more I try, the easier it gets. I mean even just talking about it helps. Baby steps.”
Ruby hesitated. “I just wish it was easier, you know? Like I just want to move past it and get on with my life, but it keeps coming back up in a different way right when I think I’ve got it dealt with.”
“Yeah, trauma’s a bitch like that.” Kara sighed.
While it may have been inappropriate to swear in front of her student, it only seemed appropriate. Ruby a nose that smelled out bull shit from a mile away. Besides with pain, Kara always considered it best to be honest. So much pain came from lies anyway; why continue it? If she really wanted to help Ruby, she’d have to tell her the truth.
“Here, could you, uh, pass me one of the smaller sides put aside for the gingerbread houses?”
“Yeah, sure.” Ruby passed a small rectangle of cookie over. “Why?”
“So I can make a baby step in addressing my differences by labeling it,” Kara said.
She placed the cookie in front of her and mapped out what she wanted to write on it in her head before she picked up the white icing bag. It had been a while since she thought of the name her parents gave her. The one she carried and identified as for so long. Kind of funny how easy something so important for thirteen years of her life could be replaced. However, it was much longer than that since she had written in Russian, and, of course, now she had to have an audience when she did. Any errors, she’d just blame on the icing medium.
“What does that say?” Ruby asked, cocking her head to the side as she tried to interpret Kara’s finished project.
“Красная Дочь,” Kara replied softly, savoring the syllables on her tongue. “It was the name my parents gave me. I had it changed when I came over to the states. No one would have been able to pronounce it otherwise and I didn’t want to be anymore of a freak than I already was.”
After not seeing her name spelled out for so many years, Kara couldn’t help but stare. Her heart tingled as her eyes traced the letters that almost now seemed foreign to her, but she knew they were closer to forgotten and oh, how she missed them.
“So,” Ruby said after a minute, “you’re from Russia?”
“Kaznia actually. It’s like right next to Russia and Siberia.”
“Cool,” Ruby said.
They both stared at their gingerbread cookies, each deep in their own thoughts as they let the silence stretch on. Simply saying the name of her birth country bubbled a strange sensation in Kara’s chest. Most times if the topic ever did come up, she just said Russia, eager to get the conversation on to a different topic since not many people had heard of her small homeland. But just admitting it and saying its name aloud made Kara feel lighter. As if she’d been holding her breath this entire time and finally learned to exhale.
“So are you going to make name labels for other gingerbread men?” Ruby asked.
“I thought I could just put the first letter of their name on their torso. Seems like it would be much easier.”
“Dang it. Because if you did, we wouldn’t have enough gingerbread to make the house, and we could eat more of it now.”
Kara laughed. “I mean, I won’t stop you if you want.”
“Nah,” Ruby shook her head. “I think making the house will be more fun. Even if we are missing part of a wall.”
“It was symbolic,” Kara argued. “Besides, the gingerbread house should still stand without it. We’ll just throw in some extra pretzels for support.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m just teasing. Although, speaking of symbolic.” Ruby reached over to her gingerbread cookie of herself and broke the left leg off. “Is it wrong, if I eat this?”
“I don’t see why not.”
Unfortunately, all the sugar and caffeine failed to really cause a crash of any sorts for Kara until late in the night after lying in bed for several hours, waiting. Perhaps the added anxiety from the recently broken bird figurine in the bathroom held part of the blame. It wasn’t her fault someone had placed it so close to the sink. Kara prayed it wasn’t a family heirloom, but when she saw Tiffany stamped into the bottom, she thought she might vomit. Now the shattered parts laid folded up in a towel underneath the sink, and Kara added it to her mental list of all the other wrongdoings she had committed in her time here.
In short, Kara knew she would be fired. Ms. Grant said she would be if she didn’t come back with an exclusive. After her day with Ruby, she couldn’t write one now. She wouldn’t. This was just a family trudging through a trauma with tabloids trashing them at every turn. Who knows how Kara would have handled it if her own father’s misdeeds had been in the public eyes such as this. And still, this family worked to provide the best for their country.
Lena, Sam, and Ruby deserved nothing but respect and compassion, and Kara would give them nothing less. Catco be damned.
The first streaks of sunlight rosed Kara out from her bed. With a groan, Kara realized that today was Christmas Eve, and she was all alone. If she had just gone home when Alex had asked, she’d be waking up to a cinnamon roll breakfast with her parents and Alex… and Kelly; the girl wearing her Christmas sweaters and filling her role in all the family Christmas activities. Perhaps she’d be just alone there as she is here.
With no class to teach this morning, Kara wasn’t entirely sure what to do with her day. Grabbing her Kindle, Kara ventured out into the hallways of the palace. As long as she didn’t stumble into Ms. Huang, Kara hoped a bit of exploring would help her find a nice nook to read and escape in.
However, Kara never realized just how busy a palace was. Dozens of people, some dressed in staff uniforms and others in business attire flitted in and out of the hallways, each on their own personal mission, none of them bothering to notice the classical art or careful decor around them. Someone shouted behind her and Kara ducked in just the nick of time for a man with an expansive centerpiece in his hands to make it through, followed by several men carrying a freshly cut Christmas tree through the hallway. Didn’t this palace have enough trees already? But it wasn’t until Kara noticed a woman wheeling a standing harp down the hallway did Kara realize that all these people were simply preparing for this evening’s Christmas Eve party.
Kara ventured further into the palace, intentionally choosing the paths and stairways with the least amount of sound and someones in the way. Hurrying up the stairs, Kara finally found herself in an empty, quiet place that held a very different feel than the rest of the palace she’d seen. Here, less decor centered around the holidays and the royal family and instead focused on a more neutral vibe with houseplants and landscape paintings lining the walls and windows. With a quiet sigh, Kara thanked her good fortune. This exactly what she needed.
That’s when she heard it, the notes of piano drifting down the corridor, penetrating the silent santuracy Kara just found, but the sound was far from unwelcome. On the contrary, Kara was drawn to it.
Perhaps this had been what had led her this far in the first place. With her feet following her ear, Kara shuffled down the hallway, quietly padding her feet so as to not disturb the notes in their beautiful song. She wound down the hallway and into an open room where she saw another door cracked open. The closer she neared, the louder the siren song became. Nudging the door open softly, Kara peaked through into the room and couldn’t help but gasp.
The room itself appeared to be an ornate parlor of some sort, but a more relaxed vibe than the other rooms she’d seen in the palace. The couches here actually appeared comfortable rather than antique with cozy blankets folded across them and the end table actually appeared to be a classy mini fridge. Over the fireplace, an impressive television hung with several different video game consoles attached along with a basket of controllers tucked underneath the coffee table. On the other side, in front of the impressively large bay window, stood a decorated Christmas tree littered with small gifts underneath all while next to a baby grand piano. And behind that piano sat the soon-to-be-queen, the source of Kara’s siren’s song.
“You know what amazes me?” Lena said, her fingers halting in their music as she turned to face Kara with a playful smirk. “How you always somehow make it past my guards. I suppose it’s my fault giving you free access and all, but still," Lena shrugged, 'you always surprise me.”
“I’m sorry,” Kara said automatically, pushing up her glasses as she held her Kindle tighter to her chest. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. I was just looking for a palace to read.”
“Well, it appears you found a place,” Lena smiled, her hands resting on her lap.
The princess only wore light makeup, her lips a pale pink and eye lashes long. Rather than the normal formal business attire, she wore simple olive fitted pants and a red striped button up, but Kara couldn’t help the flutter in her chest. When she saw that soft smile and sparkling eyes, Kara thought that perhaps she had found exactly what she was looking for.
“I, uh, I really didn’t mean to intrude,” Kara said, taking a hesitant step into the room. “But you play very well.”
“Thank you, but really I’m nothing but a novice,” Lena said, brushing her raven hair behind her ear. “If you really want to hear someone play, you should hear Sam. She’s actually the one who bought this piano.”
“Well, it’s very lovely.” Kara nodded at the shiny black baby grand piano that she knew probably cost more than everything in her tiny apartment.
“Do you play?” Lena asked.
“Oh, nothing like you do,” Kara said, shaking her head.
“Well, I’ll be the judge of that,” Lena smirked as she scooted over on the piano bench and patted the new room for Kara. “Show me.”
Kara hesitated. Lena herself said she didn’t, well actually couldn’t, be in a relationship with a woman right now, and every second spent with her, Kara fell impossibly more for this beautiful woman. If she had any decency, she’d just leave now to make it easier for the both of them. But Kara’s feet refused to listen to her head but rather her heart, and Kara approached the now open seat in the piano.
“I don’t think I’ve ever sat a piano this nice,” Kara said, gawking at the ivory keys and velvet seat. “On the piano I learned on, half the keys either stuck or didn’t work unless you slammed them really hard.”
“Then I’m sure whatever you play me will be that much more impressive,” Lena chuckled, intently watching Kara’s hands glide across the keys.
“Prepare to be underwhelmed,” Kara said cracking her fingers in front of her dramatically.
Kara hunched over the piano keys with her arms and fingers spread wide over several keys, her arm definitely nudging against Lena’s personal space, but the princess showed no signs she was bothered by it. With a deep breath to prepare herself, Kara lifted her arms as if to slam herself down on the keyboard, but just before her fingers could collide, she relented and with one finger, started playing the beginning notes of Jingle Bells with one finger. Thankfully, Lena laughed.
“All that just for Jingle Bells?” Lena covered her mouth with her hand as Kara continued in her song.
“I told you to prepare to be underwhelmed,” Kara grinned. “I didn’t really learn much in my lessons. Like I said, the piano wasn’t super great so we had to work with what we had which definitely limited
our song options.”
“You know I could teach you more songs if you’d like,” Lena offered.
“Really?” Kara stopped playing Jingle Bells.
“Of course,” Lena told her. “They won’t be the most consistent lessons, but you’re always welcome to practice up here. It’s the royal family suite so you won’t be bothered here.”
“This is the royal family suite?” Kara gasped, her eyes wide. “I swear, I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. I can leave--”
“Relax, Kara,” Lena put her hand on Kara’s shoulder and the blonde instantly froze. “I gave free access, remember?”
The way those emerald eyes looked at her made Kara’s mouth go dry so she could only nod in response.
“Alright, we can start with an easy one,” Lena continued. “Have you ever heard of Pachelbel’s Canon in D?”
“Uh, I can’t say I have.”
“You’ll probably recognize it when you hear it. It’s pretty simple though. Here.”
Lena placed her hands over Kara’s on the keyboard and Kara instantly couldn’t focus on anything else. The bright electricity of the touch, the soft warm of her hands, the firm power of her movements. It took everything in Kara’s power to not flip her hand over so their hands could interlace. All her senses suddenly tuned into nothing but the princess: her lavender perfume in Kara’s nose, the silky fabric of her sleeves against Kara’s forearm, her knee knocking against her own. In that moment her world was Lena and it was divine.
But then Kara blinked and shook her head, calming herself down. Why did she have to turn in to such a gay mess around this woman? Thankfully, Lena seemed completely oblivious and solely focused on the task at hand.
“So it starts off pretty easy,” Lena continued as she placed Kara’s hands where she wanted them across the keys. “We start with this note, an E.” Gently, Lena pressed Kara’s finger beneath her against the note and the low note rang out. “Then after a half note, go up a note to F for another half note. And then here’s where the fun comes in; this hand plays a B note while this hand,” Lena squeezed Kara’s left hand and Kara repressed a sigh, “while hand plays an A.”
“How do you remember all of this?” Kara asked, unable to help but smile at Lena’s pale hands on top of her own. “Like I’m already lost.”
“You get used to it sooner than you think,” Lena assured her.
“Well, I’ll trust you with that,” Kara said, turning her head towards the princess.
However, when Kara did, she realized that with how close the royal was now to her, their faces were only mere inches aways. So close that their noses actually brushed when Lena turned her head towards Kara. Even up close, the princess captured the beauty of a goddess. Kara watched those emerald eyes fall towards her own lips and Kara couldn’t help but do the same. Did she feel the same intensity between them as she did? Did she also crave the taste of her lips or the press of her body against hers?
But just as Kara leaned in, Lena pressed just too much weight against Kara’s hand, triggering a note to play, jolting through them both. Just as the moment came, it slipped away. Kara cleared her throat just as Lena turned her head away, her hands falling off Kara’s, leaving them cold and inept.
As much as Kara wanted to kick herself or even just pull Lena back into their little bubble once again, she knew this was for the best. Lena needed a friend, not a lover. It was time Kara got that through her thick head of hers and stopped putting them in positions like this.
“So,” Kara cleared her throat, cutting through the now thick air. “Do you know any Christmas songs?”
Lena scoffed. “No. Christmas was never quite that big of a deal in my family. It was just another day of press events and obligations. We didn’t see any need to make more of a deal out of it past what tradition and decorum required.”
“Well, uh, that’s kind of sad,” Kara said, eyeing the Christmas tree in the corner.
“I take it your childhood Christmas was different?” Lena asked, arching an eyebrow.
“I mean there weren’t any press events or fancy parties we’d go to, but we still had a nice time,” Kara couldn’t help but smile as she thought back on long past memories of her family. “There was also so much baking and feasting. Then of course caroling, where we’d all get together and sing. That was alway so much fun. Oh and then my aunt Allura would always bring out the rice bowl Christmas Eve for us all to make our wishes.”
“Rice bowl?” Lena frowned.
“Yeah. We’d all make a wish and then we’d stick our hand in the bowl and take it back out to count the grains of rice we had. If it was an even number, our wish would come true, but it were odd, it wouldn’t for a while.” Kara couldn’t help but laugh because of course it didn’t sound nearly as strange until she said it out loud. “I promise it’s not as crazy as it sounds.”
“No, it’s not crazy at all. Just unexpected,” Lena chuckled. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an American doing that especially around Christmas.”
“Yeah,” Kara’s laughter died down as she rubbed the back of her neck. “It was actually something I did with my family before I was adopted. Back in Kaznia.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lena’s face immediately falling as concern clouded her gaze.
“No, no, it’s fine. Really.” Kara insisted. “My adoptive family is great. They really are. Just different.”
“I’m sure that was still a pretty hard change.”
“Definitely a culture shock. But they tried. Eliza, my adoptive mom, used to make these really great Pirozhkis. Ugh, it tasted so much like my mom’s.”
“Used to?” Lena frowned.
“Uh, yeah,” Kara sighed. “I mean, things got busy and she just didn’t have time anymore. Which yeah, it kind of sucks, but that’s just how things go sometimes. They were my tradition - not hers. I get why she let it fall away.”
When Alex told her that Eliza wouldn’t be making the Pirozhki this year, it really had crushed Kara. It was one of the last traditions she had left from her homeland and she didn’t want to see it go. But also that tradition revolved around making them and enjoying them together, so if there wasn’t that motivation behind it to begin with, then there wasn’t much of a need to do. Besides, they just did it for her to make her more comfortable. Kara had been in the states now longer than she had been in Kaniza. It was probably time she adopted more of the American holiday tradition rather than try to pull people into her own.
“I’m sorry,” Lena said, her knee brushing against Kara’s. “Holidays can be really rough like that sometimes.”
“It’s okay, really,” Kara assured her, pushing up her glasses. “It’s all part of growing up I suppose.”
“Seriously.” Lena leaned her head back as her gaze flickered up in memory. “When I was kid, Lex and I begged my parents for a sled. My mother refused, claiming that they were too dangerous, but my father still got us one anyway for Christmas. After that, we would constantly be sneaking out of the palace to go sledding. It must have been every night without fail for one winter. My mother would get so mad at us for wrecking the beautiful blankets of fresh snow while the maids would scold us for bringing in so much dirt and ice. But that never stopped us.
“Then one day, my brother decided he was too old for sledding. I begged him to join me, but he simply refused. I tried going by myself, but it just wasn’t as fun alone. So we both just stopped using it. Mother got her smooth snow back and Lex found something else to do while I just did my best to forget.”
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry,” Kara said, her brow wrinkling in concern as she fought back the urge to hug the woman next to her.
“It’s just how it happens sometimes,” Lena shrugged. “Time moves on, people develop, interests change. It’s not always fun, but that’s life sometimes. Everyone has their own path in life and sometimes they don’t stay as crossed as we would think.”
“Yeah,” Kara sighed before adding with a small smile, “but hey, at least our path crossed.”
Lena returned the small smile with one of her own. “I’m glad they did.”
On the way back to her room, Kara stuck her hand in a candy dish she ran into in the foyer. Mumbling a silent wish to herself, she pulled back her hand and counted the number of candies in her hand: six. They may be hard candies instead of rice, but Kara prayed that they held the same power. If so, maybe this would be a great Christmas after all.
“Come on Alex,” Kara groaned. “Just tell me which you think looks nicer: the green or the red?”
“You know, I really don’t understand why you just can’t wear the blue dress.” Alex replied, shaking her head at the two outfit options in Kara’s hands. “Blue is such a better color on you. It really brings out your eyes.”
For the first time since high school, Kara had found herself stressing out over what to wear to a party. Of course, her suitcase contained very limited clothing selection and every outfit that popped to mind all happened to still be in her closet in National City. Why did she waste so much valued packing space in her luggage on cardigans? Now she paid the price as she desperately tried to smooth out the wrinkled clothing with her flat iron and a prayer. She definitely needed to invest in one of those garment bags if she ever were to go out on assignment again.
“Well, it’s a Christmas Eve party,” Kara sighed as she flopped down in her chair in front of the camera with her red headed sister pondering the choices. “I kind of have to wear red or green to stay on theme.”
“I feel like blue could be a Christmas color if you wanted,” Alex argued as she tilted her head to the side. “I mean, isn’t the song a Blue Christmas?”
Kara rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and that’s about a man who misses his lover.”
“Well, then it’s a statement piece then.”
“Come one, Alex,” Kara groaned. “Please just tell me: red dress or green pant suit?”
“Hmmm,” Alex pursed her lips. “Probably best to go with the green pant suite. You know, you gotta make it clear to your crush that you’re queer after all.”
“Oh my god, Alex, no,” Kara gasped, dropping the two outfit options on the floor to bury her face in her hands. “You can’t say those things to me.”
“And why not?” Alex demanded shifting forward, closer to the camera. “You have a crush on the girl. Make it known to her. Pursue her for Christ’s sake.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“And why not?”
“Because…” Kara hesisted. There was only so much she could say before completely outing who just her crush was and what country she happened to rule. “She’s under certain obligations.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Alex asked before her eyes widening and her mouth became an O. “Oh, no. She’s not out yet, is she?”
A flash of heat flooded Kara’s cheeks as she ducked her head down and rubbed the back of her neck. While everyone close to Lena all seemed very certain about Lena’s sexual preference, no one else seemed aware besides the tabloids. From what Kara had heard, it was mostly the work of Lena’s mother, Lillian, who had fabriced that story and force fed it to the press. Now, with Lena on the very short path to the throne, she didn’t have nearly as much of a say as others.
“It’s, uh, complicated,” Kara finally said.
“Oh my god, Kara, bail now,” Alex urged her, her face leaning ever closer to the screen. “Trust me, this isn’t going to end well especially with the country apart from you all. Just shove those feelings down right now and wait for them to pop up with some else. Someone who is preferably out already and accepting of who they are.”
“You say that like it’s simple.” Kara snorted, running her finger through her hair.
“I never said it was, but trust me Kara, dating girls who aren’t accepting of who they are can be very draining especially on the relationship. There will always come a time when they have to pick between you and their fake life that they’ve worked so hard to build, and they will always pick that fake life over you and everything that the two of you built together.”
“Wow,” Kara blinked. “Someone’s bitter. Sure you’re not projecting?”
“Yeah, well I guess Maggie left a bitter taste in my mouth so sue me.”
“Lena’s not Maggie though,” Kara told her. “Our situation is nothing like what the two of you had.”
It was probably nothing like anyone ever had.
Alex smirked. “So it’s Lena.”
Kara groaned. “You’re so missing the point right now.”
“Kara, look, I’ll be honest with you.” Alex took a deep breath before looking seriously in the camera. “Dating women who aren’t completely out yet can be more difficult than you’d expect especially when you’re already out. Is it impossible? Absolutely not. But you have to make sure communication is solid. Obviously, don’t ever rush anyone into coming out, but be mindful that when someone has had to hide a part of themselves for so much of their life, they tend to be pretty good liars.”
A bitter laugh escaped Kara’s throat. “Trust me, Lena’s not the dishonest one in this relationship.”
Alex narrowed her eyes. “What is that supposed to mean?”
That Lena wasn’t the one living in the other’s home under a fake name. Lena wasn’t the one claiming to be a tutor. Lena wasn’t the one hiding in wait of an exclusive that she hoped would save her a job and actually promote her from copy editor. Lena wasn’t so ashamed of how she’d lived the past several days that she couldn’t sleep at night.
But of course, Alex couldn’t know that. No one ever could and the longer it stayed like that, the better.
“It’s nothing,” Kara shook her head and she felt her eyes prickle. She needed to change the subject before this continued any further. “How’s Kelly?”
“She’s doing great actually!” Alex said, instantly perking up. “We’ve done all sorts of holiday things together: decorated the tree, string popcorn garlands, went caroling. Oh, we’re even going to decorate sugar cookies tonight! Kelly even brought her own cookie cutters so we have a variety of reindeers this year!”
“That’s great,” Kara said, forcing her smile to be bigger than it was.
“And we’re talking about all the things we can do next year together,” Alex continued. “Apparently James makes a great eggnog that Kelly’s dying for me to try.”
“Wait, James?” Kara frowned.
“Well, yeah, James, her brother.” Alex rolled her eyes. “You two work together, remember? Anyway, since we’re at my place this year, we’ll be at her place the next just to make sure things stay even.”
Kara’s heart dropped. “You’re not going to be in Midvale next Christmas?”
“It’s only fair to Kelly that I go home with her next year,” Alex shrugged. “It was always going to come to this Kara. I mean, it’s part of growing up. Hell, you’re already missing Christmas this year. And apparently spending it with a babe.”
“This is for work though, Alex,” Kara’s mouth worked before more sound came out. “What, are you just going to leave Eliza and Jeremiah alone?”
“I’ll see them at Thanksgiving.” Alex cocked her head to the side. “And it's not like I’m leaving them alone. They still have you.”
“But you’re their daughter.”
“So are you.”
“Not really, though.”
Alex jerked her head back as if she’d be bit. “Excuse me? Uh, yeah, you are. You’re their daughter just as much as you’re my sister.”
“You know what I mean, Alex,” Kara said, her eyes prickling again as she stared down at her keyboard.
“Family isn’t determined by blood. We choose who we want to be a part of it.” Alex leaned forward. “I chose you to be my sister just like Jeremiah and Eliza chose you to be their daughter. And if you don’t like that, then you’re just going to have to deal with it because I have invested too much time in this sibling bond to let it just go by the wayside.”
With a sniff, Kara pushed up glasses and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. Alex was right; she saw her sister. Even if they had missed so many years of childhood together or came from different countries, that didn’t mean the past thirteen years didn’t mean anything. Alex had been the one who was willing to get in fights for Kara in highschool and Kara was the one that held Alex as she cried after she called off her engagement with Maggie. And Eliza would always be the one that Kara would run to when she was scared and Jeremiah would always be the one she called when she had car trouble or needed advice. They were crucial to each other’s lives at this point. If Kara lost any of them, tears and therapy would be the only way she’d be able to carry on.
“I’m sorry, Alex,” Kara said, her voice now hoarse with the threat of tears and emotions. “This place… it just reminds me so much of Kaznia. I didn’t realize how empty I felt or like how much I was missing until I came here. It’s making me confront a lot of issues I didn’t know I was still dealing with.”
“It’s okay, Kara,” Alex assured her with a small smile. “I know this time of year is really hard for you, and I wish I could do more to make it easier. But I promise, I’m always here for you and I know Mom and Dad will say the same.”
“Thanks,” Kara sniffed again. “And trust me, after this trip, I’m definitely going to need it.”
With a sudden frown, Alex tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at her sister.
“What do you mean by that? What’s going to happen?”
“It’s complicated…” Kara hesitated as the urge to just spill it all surged.
But just as Kara opened her mouth to say more, another incoming call popped up on her computer that twisted Kara’s stomach into a knot in an instant.
“Oh shit, it’s Ms. Grant,” Kara gasped, frantically wiping her eyes with her shirt sleeve and smoothing her hair back. “I gotta take this. Talk to you later, okay?”
“Okay, but Kara-”
Kara didn’t let her sister finish with a rapid click of the green accept call button. She was already on thin ice as it was with her job. The last thing she needed was another Cat Grant lambasting. Hopefully, Ms. Grant wouldn’t be able to see any evidence of tears in Kara’s eyes either. She absolutely despised displays of emotional outbursts unless she caused them.
“Ms. Grant!” Kara greeted in a voice much higher than she meant to when her blonde boss’s perfectly maintained face popped up on the screen. “How are you today?”
“I’ll ask the questions here Ms. Danvers,” Ms. Grant said, crossing her legs. “Such as why was your report so lackluster?”
Kara gaped. “I’m sorry?”
“You’ve been living in the palace for several days now and the best you have for me is a teenager’s report on the importance of particle accelerators and the location of a private royal hunting cabin. This isn’t news Kara.”
“Well, I thought it was important to show how impressive their educational system is.” Kara rubbed the back of her neck.
“Their current tutor is an unqualified woman who has assumed a fake identity. Clearly, their educational system needs work.” Cat paused to take off her glasses so she could then glare at Kara with one less boundary. “You’ve been with three of the most talked about women in Europe this month and this is all you have? I told you I wanted an exclusive.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Grant,” Kara flustered. “I can keep looking, but--”
“I don’t want apologies, Ms. Danvers. I want a story.” Her voice cut through Kara like butter and Kara could only do her best to push back the new tears brimming.
“Yes, Ms. Grant.” Kara swallowed hard.
“Good,” Cat flipped open her notebook in front of her and slid her reading glasses back on in place. “Since you’re clearly struggling with this basic assignment, I jotted down a few topics that I strongly encourage you to look into. Number one: does the Duchess Arias show any similar favor to eugenics or white supremacy like her husband?”
“No!” Kara gasped, her head jerking back appalled. “Why would you even ask that?”
“Think like a reporter, Ms. Danvers,” Cat’s eyes flashed up in warning. “She married a man with those very beliefs after all and never divorced him. There may be pressure on royal couples to stay together, but that didn’t stop Princess Diana in ending her marriage with Prince Charles. So why didn’t the Duchess do the same?”
Kara knew the answer. Fear. Princess Diana died under very suspicious circumstances after her divorce, and she wasn’t the one who was ending her marriage with a man who was found guilty against Parliament for crimes against humanity. But of course, Kara couldn’t say that her boss.
“Number two: how has the former Princess Ruby Arias handled the strip of family power and change of life in the palace. And please only include mentions of her missing leg unless it’s relevant to the scandal. This isn’t a puff piece.”
Kara’s face grew hot as her hand curled into a fist at her side.
“I will not--”
“Number three!” Cat cut off Kara with a glare. “Any mention of the above topic or any other scandal. There is always a scandal when it comes to royal families before coronation and with a family that has had this many skeletons in the closet, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was one more.”
With a silent sigh, Kara nodded. It was just one more week. Perhaps she would find something of worth for an exclusive that wasn’t so damaging to the royal family, but Kara seriously doubted she’d find anything. Beside Lena's sexuality, there didn’t seem to be anything else they were hiding, especially with how open they seemed to be.
“Oh, and speaking of the closet,” Cat continued as she closed her book. “Find out if the future Queen is in one.”
Kara blinked. “What?”
“Daily Mail has speculated for years. I want Catco to actually confirm it. We would go viral within minutes of posting.”
“But, but privacy,” Kara said. “We can’t just go outing people’s personal lives like that. Especially about that. They’re allowed to come out in their own time.”
“There is no such thing as privacy when you're a leading public figure.”
“No. Let me make myself very clear, Ms. Danvers,” Cat Grant said slowly staring down Kara in such a way that her skin crawled. “If you do not bring me that exclusive bNew Year’s Eve, you will not have a job come New Year’s Day. Understood?”
Kara gulped. “Yes, Ms. Grant.”
Her laptop screen went blank as the call ended, leaving Kara with a sickening twist of her stomach and still undecided what to wear to the Christmas Eve Party.
Kara ended up settling with the green pant suit. Not because of why her sister said so, rather due to the fact that it was easier to get the wrinkles out of the fabric with her flat iron. While there were probably ironing boards or steamers available, Kara didn’t want to risk breaking anything else of value or pull any of the staff away from the party that they were all clearly stressing over based off their mad dash from this morning. Besides, this way, the flat iron was already heated when Kara attempted to curl her hair with it.
Pulling her green suit jacket over her white blouse, Kara stared at herself in the mirror and willed herself to keep her breathing even. Everything would be fine. Even if Cat Grant, her boss and idol, ended up despising her by the end of this week, everything would be just fine. She’d still have her morals. And who knows, perhaps there was an actual story of scandal lurking behind the closed doors of the palace. Maybe Kara would actually get to keep her job and her morals and call it a good day. But of course, that wasn’t true. At least, more of Kara wished it wasn’t. Despite her short time here, she already looked at Ruby like a sister and Sam like a dear friend. And even if nothing more would ever happen with Lena, Kara doubted her heart would ever dull in it’s adoration.
In all its possible outcomes, Kara would be left in tears, so she might as well do her best to enjoy tonight and whatever few days she had left of happiness after.
When Kara thought of Christmas parties, she thought of white elephant gift exchanges, candy swaps, and tacky sweaters in varying shades of red or green. However, the Thoralian palace did not apparently believe in any of those things.
Every guest wore either a well fitted tuxedo or an evening gown Kara couldn’t comprehend how anyone besides models found practical. Their long trains swooshed the floor behind them as their tight corset waists robbed their breaths while the drinks in their hands made their heels wobble. No one held a wrapped box or bag in their hand and no tree collected presents underneath. The buffet table in the corner had barely looked picked over as the servers waited to be of use. On the opposite wall, a man with painfully rigid posture played the piano while a woman next to him in a black cocktail dress sang in French to the couples dancing in the middle of the floor. Really, if it weren’t for the tall brightly lit Christmas tree looming in the corner, Kara wouldn’t have known it was a Christmas party.
Just looking around, Kara considered herself to be in over her head. The state dinner the other night had been one thing, but this; this should be something she knows. Instead, it just made her feel all the more foreign and like a fraud. She shouldn’t be here. Lena probably wouldn’t even have time for her and Sam and Ruby probably would want to turn in early for the night. Besides, she didn’t run any more risk of screwing things up even further.
“There you are!”
With a jolt, Kara slammed her knee into the chair beside her. With a low swear, Kara rubbed her knee, grateful nothing broke skin, just before she looked up to see a bemused Sam walking towards her.
“My apologies, I forget how jumpy you are,” Sam chuckled. “I’m honestly surprised you’re not covered in bruises by this point.”
“It’s okay. They usually fade pretty quickly.” Kara looked around her. “This is definitely quite the party you have here.”
A piece of jewelry caught light from the dance floor, and Kara noticed for the first time the future queen among those dancing. The light glinted off her crown as she glided through the floor in the arms of some greasy hair royal, her graceful movements matched her graceful smile. The way her blue dress clung to her curves and swung as she moved had Kara mesmerized and she only managed to tear her gaze away when she realized she was gawking.
“Hm? Oh, yeah, the Christmas Eve party is tradition, and Lena thought it would be best to go through all the stops this year,” Sam said with a wave of her hand. “Really, I think she’s just trying to prep herself and all the staff for the coronation ball. That one is going to be a nightmare with all the dignitaries and such visiting. Thankfully, she doesn’t have to dance with all the men tonight.”
Kara’s concerned eyes widened. “All the men?”
“Well, just the eligible bachelors since she’s single. It’s another one of those traditions.” Sam’s gaze flicked over Kara’s suit with a smirk. “Nice suit by the way.”
“Uh, thanks,” Kara coughed. “Where’s Ruby?”
“Oh, she’s waiting for you by that table over there,” Sam gestured with her champagne glass towards the table with the very bored looking teenager nodding along to two older male dignitaries talking at her. “She’s very excited to show you where the really good food is in the buffet.”
Kara’s stomach growled as she grinned. “That sounds perfect.”
But just as Kara turned towards the teen, Sam’s hand came on her shoulder to stop her.
“Hey, Kara,” Sam hesitated when Kara turned to look at her. “Thank you. You’re probably the best tutor we could have hoped for.”
“I don’t know about that,” Kara shrugged with a laugh. “That girl is whipping my butt when it comes to Calculus.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Sam told her, her eyes teary as she smiled softly. “It’s just been really nice having my daughter back these past few days. Thank you.”
“Oh,” Kara breathed.
This was too much. How could Kara let her say this to her when she herself wasn’t the real tutor? The real Karen Starr was probably spending Christmas with her family, telling them all about her upcoming job opportunity with royalty; exactly the place where Kara herself should be and most certainly not here. This was all a lie. And for a woman who had been lied to for some much of her life, Sam deserved the truth.
“Sam, there’s something I need to tell you,” Kara started, but was cut off by a suck of Sam’s teeth.
“Oh damn it, it’s the Spain Ambassador. He’s been such an ass since Lex’s arrest. I’ve got to butter him up for Lena’s sake.” The Duchess blinked rapidly as she breathed in deeply. “Do I look okay? Not too emotional, right? I definitely can’t be giving away just how much champagne I’ve already had this evening.”
“You look great,” Kara said, genuinely meaning it.
“Wish me luck.”
With a nod, Sam turned off her friendly mom persona and replaced it with true royalty. As she walked away, Kara almost thought she was watching another person entirely. No longer was she the person Kara enjoyed sharing late night tea with, rather a woman who once wore the crown. She seemed almost untouchable, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
“Alright, so Nia didn’t make any of her insanely good waffles tonight, but she did whip up some crepes which are somehow even better,” Ruby said, hopping slightly in front of Kara as she spun around to face her. “Oh and be sure to save room for dessert tonight. They always have this cherry cheesecake that tastes absolutely divine! And of course, there are those sugar cookies again!”
Kara carefully balanced her tower of food on her ornate porcelain Christmas plate as Ruby continually pushed more and more on it. While her stomach welcomed it and more, Kara’s heart pushed her focus over to the ballroom floor. The princess was going on her third dance in a row and had somehow yet to break a sweat. Kara thought back to the state dinner just a few nights ago and how she hadn’t gotten a chance to eat then; would the same thing happen again tonight?
With a slight jump, Kara whipped her head back from the dance floor over to the young royal in front of her wearing a judgemental frown. “Hm?”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “How can a girl who eats five belgium waffles in the morning not even care when I show her the best food of her life?”
“My bad, Ruby,” Kara sighed with a sag of her shoulders. “I guess I just got distracted.”
“Yeah, I could see that,” Ruby said, raising her eyebrow suggestively.
“I swear, it’s not like you think,” Kara started, but Ruby cut her off with a snort.
“Oh please. I have one leg, but I still have eyes. You had the biggest crush on her since you arrived.”
Kara cringed, her face blushing red. “Is it that obvious?”
“Oh yeah,” Ruby said as she popped a grape in her mouth. “But if you ask me, I think she likes you too.”
Her blush only grew as her heart soared in her chest before crashing down in her stomach. What did it matter? They most certainly wouldn’t be talking to each other in the next few weeks. Especially when Lena learned the truth.
“It would never work,” Kara sighed, her head hanging as she admitted it.
“Why not?” Ruby nodded towards the dance floor. “You certainly stand a much better chance than any of them.”
Even after her next dance ended, several men were already strutting their way over for Her Majesty’s hand and while a polite smile remained plastered across Lena’s face, Kara saw the exhaustion in those green eyes. Why wouldn’t the men give her a break? If this was to be like anything like the coronation ball where the dance was required, Kara prayed that either the guest list or the songs were kept short.
“We’re just from different worlds,” Kara sighed. “And I don’t think either world is ready.”
“Then just run away to Kaznia together,” Ruby shrugged. “The moose out number the human population there so I’m sure people have more things to worry about than your or anyone else’s love life.”
A different warmth grew in Kara’s chest as she looked up from the floor to her student. “You looked up Kaznia?”
“I look up everything,” Ruby said with a pointed look. “Also did you know moose attack more people worldwide than any other mammal besides the hippo? It’s absolutely crazy. Oh gosh, and those hippos! Just stay away from them.”
Kara couldn’t help her laugh.
“Oh, I know. With the moose I mean. My parents in Kaznia used to have this apple tree in their backyard and these moose would occasionally wander over to eat the ones that fell on the ground. Unfortunately, some of the ones they ate had fermented and some days we just couldn’t go outside because of the drunk moose outside. And take my word for it, a drunk moose is an angry moose.”
Ruby blinked before laughing herself. “Okay, so I now have so many questions for you about drunk moose.”
The party creeped slowly on and Kara found herself counting the hours by the number of drinks Mike had which seemed to be about three per hour. Thankfully, the people he mingled with seemed to do a decent job at directing him to the tray of appetizers and snacks the wait staff always seemed to have on hand readily around him. From the way they seemed to hover, the wait staff clearly didn’t want to have to deal with the usual mess. Kara only rolled her eyes at him, but that wasn’t who she really had her focus on.
About two hours in, the piano player and the singer finally announced a short break and someone turned on Christmas background music to fill the void as they awaited their return. The dance floor died down as people turned to mingle instead, and Lena apparently saw this as the perfect opportunity to slip away. Watching her intently, Kara witnessed the future queen slip out through a side door and away from her view.
“She’s probably going to the balcony,” Ruby said.
“Who?” Kara asked, her focus still on the door that Lena had gone through.
“Aunty Lee. She always goes to the balcony to be alone.” Ruby snapped her fingers, finally pulling Kara’s attention back towards her. “Give me your plate. If you go through that door behind us and keep left, you should run into her.”
“Really?” Kara asked, but Ruby only shooed her away.
“Be quick. Who knows how long she’ll actually stay out there.”
“You can’t be serious. I… thank you,” Kara finally stammered with a slow smile.
“Just think of it as my Christmas present to you. Now go!”
With a dash, Kara pushed through the door behind them into one of the many hallways in the palace. Keeping left like Ruby had said, Kara jogged down the hallway. The hallways were brightly lit, obscuring the view of the dark night from the windows around her as they reflected back their glare. Her eyes darted around for any sort of clue to the princess’s whereabouts until she finally caught a glimpse of a door moving in front of her and heard a soft click of it closing.
Swift to follow, Kara rushed through to the door, opening it as soon as she gripped the handle. A blast of cold air hit her, shivering her spine, but what really took her breath away was the sight of that gorgeous raven-hair woman standing with her back to her in front of the vast snow covered landscape of Thorul; each of their beauties somehow enhanced the other. If anyone ever belonged to a country, it was Lena to this one.
With a cautious step forward, Kara stuffed her hands in her suit pocket, relieved to find them empty of quiches this time, and approached the princess, ignoring the cold and the party, as Lena suddenly became her whole purpose. When Lena turned her head to the side to see who her new companion was, the smile she gave made Kara’s heart cartwheel.
“Nice party,” Kara said as she took a stand next to the princess.
“Thank you,” Lena replied, her head still held high as she looked out to the forest along the property. “I noticed you and Ruby seemed to be having a good time. Should I expect any appetizers in that suit jacket of yours?”
“Not tonight,” Kara laughed before beginning to slide it off her arms. “Although, it’s pretty cold, and while that dress is stunning, it doesn’t seem to do much to keep your arms warm.”
While the cold rippled out a wave of goosebumps on Kara’s arms as soon as she took the jacket completely off, Kara’s white button-up kept them covered. Besides, this woman was a princess and even if she wasn't, she deserved to be treated like one.
“You don’t have to do that,” Lena told her, but she readily accepted the green suit jacket as Kara draped it over her shoulders, her fingers ever so lightly brushing Lena’s exposed skin there.
“Please, I insist,” Kara replied with a smile as she slid her own hands back into her pockets and leaned against the stone railing of the balcony.
They fell into a soft silence. The muffled noises from the party behind them still carried, but not enough to overpower the owl hooting across the courtyard or the bubbling of the fountain below them. When Kara turned her head upwards, she found so many stars looking back at her and with fuzzy warmth in her heart, Kara realized she hadn’t seen a sky like this since Kaznia. And there was no one she would rather be under the familiar night sky with.
“I was hoping I would get to see you tonight,” Lena finally said.
“Me too,” Kara said, kicking the ground softly as the cold railing dug into her side. “I just didn’t realize just how busy you would be tonight. Every time I saw you tonight, you were dancing with another guy.”
“One of the several downfalls of royalty I’m afraid,” Lena rolled her eyes and chuckled. “You’d think that at least some of them would be good dancers. With how many times I’ve gotten my foot stepped on tonight, I doubt I’ll be able to get my shoes off from the inevitable swelling.”
Kara laughed, her hand rubbing the back of her neck as she kicked at the ground with the toe of her shoe behind her.
“You know,” Kara said slowly. “I’ve been told that I’m not a bad dancer.”
Those green eyes flitted towards her own blue and Kara feared her heart would beat out of her chest when she saw that smile on the future queen’s face as she shifted her body away from the view and towards Kara.
“Is that so?” the princess asked, her head tilting as her gaze flickered over the blonde’s figure in front of her.
“I can show you if you’d like,” Kara offered her hand to Lena, then relished in the warmth which washed over her when Lena took it.
When Alex had insisted Kara learn how to dance for her high school prom, Kara thought it had been the most ridiculous prospect especially since she didn’t even have a date. But now, Kara raked through her memory to the lessons in their basement where Alex insisted Kara lead so Alex could dance with her then boyfriend. Fortunately as Kara now took Lena’s hands in hers, settled her other hand on her hip, and their bodies stood just mere inches apart, Lena didn’t seem to mind if Kara led. If anything, she seemed to encourage it. With a deep breath, Kara leaned to the side and took a step, leading the smiling royal along with her.
“Who would have thought someone so clumsy would actually be a good dancer?” Lena laughed, her sweet breath tickling Kara’s face as that lovely sweet lavender filled her lungs.
“I mean, I’m not that clumsy,” Kara insisted, her gaze now falling to the ground to ensure her feet didn’t step on the royal’s as they stepped in tandem.
“Tell that to the Ming vase you almost knocked over when we first met.” Lena smirked, her warm hand squeezing Kara’s.
“Well, that’s fair. In my defense, I’m fairly certain my left foot is larger than my right.”
“Really? Wow, you are just full of surprises tonight,” Lena smiled before pulling away for a spin which Kara awkwardly attempted to guide to Lena’s bewilderment.
“I actually have one more,” Kara rubbed the back of her neck. “I don’t really know how to do anything besides the step.”
Lena laughed. “I can work with that.”
The princess slotted herself into Kara’s arms once again, her evening gown brushing against Kara’s dress pants and Kara had to fight the urge to not hold the princess tighter. Her hand on Lena’s waist slid against the sequins on her dress, revealing in its texture and the warmth that shot up Kara’s arm and pooled in her stomach. In the moonlight, Lena’s raven hair glimmered and looked so soft that Kara wanted to bury her face into it and see if it was the source of that delightful lavender that tickled her nose as they swayed back and forth. Kara could have sworn she was in heaven.
“Thank you for coming outside with me,” Lena told her. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a better dance partner.”
Kara leaned her head back and laughed. “Now I know you’re humoring me.”
“I am not!” Lena insisted, her feet coming to a halt as she grinned up at Kara.
“I find that kind of hard to believe.” Kara couldn’t help but grin back at the beautiful woman in her arms, refusing to let go of Lena’s hand in hers.
“Why?” Lena asked as she cocked an eyebrow.
“Because you’ve probably danced with all sorts of men all across the globe with far more experience than a girl who learned in her basement with her sister.”
“I guess your sister was a really good teacher,” Lena smirked, leaning in close. “Or maybe you’re just born with an enormous natural talent. Perhaps it's the suit.”
As Lena leaned further in, Kara’s mind clouded with lavender and desire, and she found herself leaning forward. “You sure it’s nothing else?”
“Well, maybe something else,” Lena whispered, the distance between their lips growing ever smaller by the second.
Kara lost herself in a way of desire and longing as she tightened her grip on the princess’s waist to pull her closer, relishing in the small gasp it elicited from Lena. All thoughts fell out of her mind as her heart swelled and overtook her body completely. This was it. This was the point when the title of friends was thrown completely out the window and something more took its place.
But just as their lips ghosted one another and Kara caught just a taste of Lena’s sweet breath in hers, the door to the balcony flung open with a crash and the two women jumped apart.
“I guess this is where the life of the party got off to!” Mike shouted as he staggered out onto the balcony with a champagne flute sloshing in hand.
Clearing her throat, Kara shoved her hands in her pockets and turned away from Lena who herself was busying herself in smoothing out her hair and dress. Both their faces held a red glow that wasn’t from the cold, and Kara prayed that Mike was too drunk to put any of the pieces together himself, but that appeared to not be the case.
“Oh!” Mike exclaimed with a cheeky grin as his drink sloshed out onto the concrete floor. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
“Not at all,” Lena swiftly answered. “Ms. Starr and I were just talking.”
“Sure,” Mike said as she staggered over to the balcony to lean on. “Nice jacket.”
With a hot blush of her cheeks, Lena swiftly slid out of the green suit jacket and passed it back to Kara without a word. Kara’s head hung low as she did her best to shove down the lump in her throat as she took it back.
“Well, if you would both excuse me,” Lena said, her head held high as she threw back on her unfazed royal demeanor she had only let slip over the past few minutes. “I have a party to return to.”
Lena’s heels clicked against the payment as she brushed past a now very offended looking frat boy drinking from his glass.
“You’re leaving?” Mike threw his hands up in disbelief. “Just as I got here?”
Lena barely even bothered to turn her head as she addressed him.
“Good night, Michael.”
And then she was gone, returning back inside to the party she hosted in the palace she owned, leaving Kara out in the cold with probably the only person she had met in Thorul she didn’t like. Without addressing him, Kara slipped back into her jacket and flipped out her blonde hairs as she prepared to follow Lena’s lead even though Mike failed to notice.
“What a self righteous jerk,” Mike grumbled into his champagne flute.
“Excuse me?” Kara demanded her hands curling to fists at her side. No one spoke to Her Majesty like that in front of her.
“She acts like she’s really meant to be queen,” Mike rolled his eyes as he slurred his lips, his champagne sloshing in its flute. “As if the rumors aren’t true.”
Kara paused. “What rumors?”
“That she’s not from the Luthor line, duh,” Mike tilted his glass upside down as he drained the rest of his champagne. “She’s adopted.”
“What?” Kara gasped.
Mike only burped in response. “Oh hey, waitress, can you refill this for me?” He asked as he shoved his flute into Kara’s awaiting hands.
“Uh,” Kara held the glass awkwardly in her hands. How was it so sticky?
“You’re a doll,” Mike gave a kiss to Kara that made her want to vomit before he stumbled back into the palace.
Rumors of the future’s queen adoption hadn’t surfaced in any of the tabloids or research Kara had read through over the past several days, but if it was well enough circulated in royal circles that some buffon like Mike knew, it was only a matter of time. This could be the scandal that the press had coming for Lena and if Kara could get to the bottom of this before anyone else did, Kara could possibly clear Lena’s names and still get her exclusive for Catco.
Perhaps she had found a story afterall.
Or perhaps not.
Kara had assumed that since her computer was already connected to the palace wifi, she would have access to certain records and other privileges, but that appeared to not be the case. Each article she read held the same anonymous sources or false leads that she was beginning to wonder if there were any truth to really base any of the claim around. However, Kara was able to pull up some public birth records and such of the royal family so that definitely helped.
In a private word document, Kara had an ongoing list of reasoning why the adoption rumor was indeed false: the similar features in past King Lionel and Lena such as the eyes, the coronation portrait, the same rare blood type. That evidence alone should have been enough to prove that the princess was indeed who she claimed to be.
But there was one thing that still nagged her: the lack of publicity and pictures from Lena’s birth.
A part of Kara wanted to believe that since Lena was the second born, the press hadn’t hyped it up like they had with the first born, Lex. That perhaps the excitement had worn off; however, that didn’t mean that they would have ignored it completely. The former queen Lillian had drastically decreased her time in the public eye during that time as she claimed she sought privacy during a difficult pregnancy, but that didn’t quite explain why she had kept her daughter hidden until she was over two years. Someone had to have gotten a whiff of that sooner. Not to mention the photos the palace released of infant and toddler Lena were nothing quite like the amount or quality of the ones released of the then prince Alexander. While it all seemed very odd, Kara knew there had to be some sort of explanation for it. She just didn't know what.
As she raked through more and more of the articles and photos online, Kara almost didn’t notice the knock on her door.
“Come in!” Kara called out, raising her head towards the door.
“I was wondering where you got off to,” Ruby said as she walked in, a plate in her hand. “You missed out on Nia’s sugar cookies, so I brought you some.”
Kara couldn’t help but smile as Ruby set them on her desk. “Sorry, something came up, but thank you Ruby. That was so sweet of you.”
“Everything okay?” Ruby frowned.
“Oh yeah, just a research project,” Kara said with a wave of her hand as she pushed up her glasses. “Not a big deal.”
“Oh, I love research!” Ruby perked up, rounding the desk much quicker than Kara expected. “Let me help!”
“No really, I’m fine!” Kara exclaimed, swiftly clicking out of the royal family’s birth records, but with the amount pulled up, Kara wasn’t able to close them all out before Ruby got a good look at her screen.
“Um…” Ruby paused and Kara’s spine immediately stiffened. “Why do you have my mom’s birth certificate pulled up on your computer?”
“It’s uh, it’s for a project I’m working on,” Kara said slowly, her heart now hammering in her chest as her fingernails dug into her palms.
“What kind of project would involve that?” Ruby asked, her eyes still wide.
And Kara couldn’t take it. This girl had swiftly become the closet thing Kara would ever have as a little sister in just a few short days. After their conversations, snow adventures, and feasting with one another, Kara just couldn’t bear the thought of lying to her anymore even if she hadn’t done so much already. Still, a lie by omission was still a lie. To think that Ruby had been so worried that Lena would hurt her by turning into her father, but really the true traitor lay elsewhere. The thought alone made Kara’s stomach twist and threaten to heave. But Ruby deserved the truth.
“Look Ruby,” Kara sighed as she sagged her shoulders. “I need to be honest with you. I’m not who you think I am.”
Ruby blinked and took a small step back as her forehead creased.
“What are you talking about?” the young royal asked.
“My name isn’t Karen Starr, and I didn’t come here to be your tutor,” Kara took a deep breath. “My name is actually Kara Danvers and I work for Catco Worldwide Media.”
For three seconds, they each stood in silence, watching each other before Ruby’s eyes widened and she stumbled backwards, banging her back into the dresser behind her. The knob Kara knocked off days earlier fell to the floor, but Kara didn’t even notice. Instead she immediately threw out her hands to help steady the teenager, but Ruby simply swatted them away.
“Don’t,” Ruby told her, her hands clenching the dresser as she favored her right leg as she stared at Kara with saucer round eyes. “You’re a reporter?”
“Copy Editor technically,” Kara explained weakly.
“But you’ve been spying on us,” Ruby said, her brow growing ever the more furrowed. “Spying on me.”
“No!” Kara swiftly assured her, throwing her hands in the air. “I really wasn’t! I swear.”
“But then why did you lie?”
“I promise it was all just a huge misunderstanding,” Kara explained. “I was dropped off at the wrong entrance and I was just trying to stay out of trouble, but things got out of hand, and no one ever asked for my identification so I just figured I’d go along with it until something happened. And then I met you and your mom and aunt and my emotions got involved…”
“Then why were you searching for private information about my family?” Ruby demanded, her hurt gaze slowly hardening.
“If my I don’t turn in something, my boss will fire me and that will be the end of any good career and then Mike mentioned the adoption rumors and I thought I could--”
“You could profit off those rumors too?” Ruby glared.
“No!” Kara squeaked before clearing her throat. “Of course not. I just thought I could clear Lena’s name.”
“That’s Her Majesty to you.”
Kara’s shoulder sagged as she dropped her head. She deserved that. She deserved that and more. What was she even doing here?
“I’m sorry,” Kara whispered. “I swear I never meant any harm in any of this. You all have been so kind to me. I haven’t felt this much like myself since Kaznia. I just wanted to return the favor and try to help.”
“How am I supposed to believe that?” Ruby’s brown eyes tore Kara’s heart. “How am I supposed to trust you when everything you’ve told me is a lie?”
“It was never a lie,” Kara mumbled. “Everything besides my occupation. Everything else was true. I even told you my name the first time I saw you.”
And Kara had. If anything, she had been more honest with Ruby, Sam, and Lena than she had with even Alex. There had just been something about this country from the moment she stepped foot outside of the airport turmoil that felt right, like it was home and she was safe. These people in the palace had been nothing but kind and helpful to her, even when she had been nothing but complicated. Nia whipped up the enormous breakfast orders, Sam brewed her tea at night, Ms. Huang printed off so many different curriculums, and even Lena spared time out of her day for her. But Ruby had done something far greater than Kara could have ever done at her age: Ruby listened and opened up. When they first met, Ruby held up a distant and brazzen armor to protect herself, but she had slowly lowered it around Kara and revealed her true self - worries, fears, and all. But now, Kara saw all of that armor that had fallen away lock firmly back in place and her heart only broke more
“Please believe me,” Kara pleaded.
Ruby paused. “Give me your computer.”
Kara blinked. “What?”
“I need to know if you’re telling me the truth,” Ruby told her. “Your computer can’t lie.”
Kara paused, thinking it over before nodding. Sure, she ran the risk of Ruby ruining her career and relationship with Cat Grant with this power, but it wasn’t as if that wasn’t already ruined already.
“I’ll write down my passwords for you,” Kara offered, leaning over her desk to grab a pencil.
“And your phone.”
“What?” Kara’s heart skipped a beat as she instinctively covered her hand over the pocket holding the device. “But it’s…” Kara sighed in defeat before handing it over to Ruby. “Just if anyone named Alex or Eliza texts me, please tell them Merry Christmas for me.”
“If they exist,” Ruby said, her eyes narrowing.
The way Kara’s throat tightened, she couldn’t give a response beside shaking her head as her eyes teared up. She deserved that. Even if it did hurt.
“I’m sorry,” Kara whispered hoarsely, her head turning away as she desperately tried to hold back tears.
Ruby’s armor and glare wavered. For a few moments, Kara saw the scared desperate teen she knew Ruby to be, but it didn’t stay for long as she pulled Kara’s laptop and phone closer to her chest as she slowly backed out of the room.
“I’ll look these over tonight,” Ruby said, as she opened the door. “But I would recommend packing your things now if you know what’s good for you.”
Kara forced down a swallow as she nodded. Then the door closed and Kara found herself living the fear that she had had ever since the fire that took her parents all those years ago.
She was alone, forever.
Kara hadn’t spent a Christmas Eve night sleepless since she was a child and still believed in magic and miracles. When she was high on excitement and sugar as she waited impatient for sunlight to warm the dark sky before dragging her parents out of bed and into the living room. They’d sit together by a fire with their hot mint tea in hand and laugh and share love. Those were always memories Kara cherished.
But now, they only made the hole in her chest feel all the more hollow and her skin all the more cold despite the several layers of blankets she had thrown over herself. Her head and throat hurt from crying while her knees ached from being curled in a ball just so. She deserved this, Kara thought. If only she had been honest. If only she had told Ruby who she was sooner. If only she had told Ms. Haung who she was from the start. If only she had told Alex how she really felt about the Christmas changes that year, none of this would have happened. She only ever hurt those she cared about. Perhaps it was time she simply embraced the solitude meant for her and just left everyone alone before she hurt anyone else.
If sleep had come through the night, it came in short dreamless blinks. Eventually, the stars in the night sky faded and the world warmed with light as the sun breached the horizon, but Kara simply rolled over so she wouldn’t have to witness it. This was her day off and if she intended to spend the entire day in bed wallowing in her guilt, the sun couldn’t stop her. Perhaps if she laid still enough, sleep would finally take her.
But when a knock came from the door, Kara stirred.
“I’m not hungry this morning, Nia,” Kara called out hoarsely, her throat dry and cracked.
It should have been Nia’s day off. Most common palace workers were off except the handful of maids and guards. Even Ms. Huang had the day off. No one should be bothering Kara, especially Nia, but that didn’t stop the door to her room from opening.
“You? Not hungry?” Sam asked as she walked in. “I never thought there’d be the day.”
“Sam?” Kara’s voice cracked again and she cleared her throat as she attempted to sit up even though the blankets cocooned around her made it difficult.
The Duchess currently wore a very sensible red and green Christmas sweater with alternating reindeer and Christmas trees as the pattern and earrings that flashed different colored lights. Her feet shuffled across the floor in her penguin slippers with a mug of tea in her hand and if anything, she looked more like a mom than royalty to Kara. But as soon as Sam saw Kara still in bed with a deep bags beneath her eyes, blotchy cheeks and matted hair, her bright smile fell.
“Are you not feeling well?” Sam asked, her scanning the rumpled tissues littering the bedside table and floor and the blanks pulled out of their place on the bed and her frown only deepened more.
“I… I think I’d just rather be alone today, Sam,” Kara murmured, sagging once again against the pillows, knowing full well just how disgusting and pathetic she looked.
“Oh, Kara,” Sam sighed as the pieces clicked, but when she reached out a hand to offer the blonde comfort, Kara turned away.
“Please,” Kara whispered, hanging her head as she looked at the corner of her bed. “I think I should just be alone.”
“Okay,” Sam said softly. “I made you some tea; I’ll just put it on your bedside table. And if you feel up for company later, Ruby and I would love for you to join us.”
Kara couldn’t help her scoff. Ruby hated her now - almost as much as Kara hated herself.
“I’ll leave you alone now.” Kara heard Sam’s slippers shuffle across the bedroom floor again before stopping at the door. “I know holidays can be hard. They’re usually hard on everyone in a different way. But I do find that it’s a little bit easier with other people around.”
Kara curled herself tighter into a ball underneath the covers, but didn’t reply.
“I hope you feel better soon, Kara.”
Then the door shut and fresh tears fell down Kara’s face.
When the sun reached its peak overhead, another knock came at the door, disturbing Kara’s restless slumber with a groan. Another knock rang through the room more persistent than the last one and Kara attempted to free herself from the cocoon of blankets and pillows on her bed but the sheets twisted around her waist and legs never slacked in their grip, pulling the blonde to the floor with a thud. Now on the laying face down on the floor, Kara let out a louder, more pitiful groan of frustration as she heard someone open her bedroom door.
“I thought I was rough when it came to getting out of bed.”
Kara whipped her head up and pushed her matted hair out of her face to see Ruby now looking down at her with almost a playful smirk. Could this be a dream? Where was that timid posture or hard glare from just hours before? Or had that been a dream? Or had Kara just banged her head in the fall from the bed?
“Ruby?” Kara croaked, her voice sounding worse than before. “What are you doing here?”
Ruby shrugged and leaned against Kara’s bed post, the cheer in her face fading. “Mom sent me here to check on you. I thought she was just being dramatic when she said it looked like you had been hit by a truck, but now I see she was just being generous.”
Kara frowned as she started to untangle her legs from her sheet. “I’m sorry, but it hasn’t exactly been the easiest past twenty four hours for me.”
“Because you admitted you were lying to me?” Ruby asked, the cheer now gone from her face.
“Partially,” Kara’s shoulders sagged as she stared down at her socks that were now partially off her feet. “I also just don’t always handle being alone very well.”
“Oh yeah,” Ruby scoffed. “And severe abandonment issues where you like to push people away before they can do the same to you.”
Kara blinked and looked up from the floor to the young royal now sitting on her bed. She wasn’t exactly wrong, but to hear someone say it out loud robbed any sort of words from Kara’s tongue and throat.
“I mean, you’re definitely in good company,” Ruby shrugged. “My therapist has been telling me that for years. It’s just kind of nice to see it in someone else for a change, you know?”
Kara continued to blink as she slowly stood up, straightening out her twisted shirt and pants as she did. “I don’t understand.”
“Your journals,” Ruby said as she held up Kara’s laptop. “They aren’t updated very often, but I think you definitely have a knack for prose. Your poetry though definitely needs work, but there’s some promise.”
Kara sighed as she sat down on the opposite end of her bed than Ruby and resisted the urge to bury her face in her pillow. Of course, Ruby had found those. Along with every other scrap of her private writings. What better fate to have those be turned against her too?
“Can we not?” Kara asked as she rubbed her eyes. “It’s already been a rather rough morning and I really don’t have the energy for this.”
“But I came to get you,” Ruby said. “My mom told me I had to.”
“Look, I’m not going to ruin your family Christmas or anything else,” Kara sighed as she ran her hand through her tangled hair. “I’ll just stay here and you can say I don’t feel well. Please, just go.”
“But then how else are you going to write about us?”
“I told you, I’m not.” Kara rubbed her temple at her ever growing headache.
“But I want you too.”
Kara froze in her movements, turning her head ever so slowly to the side to look at Ruby who looked back at her with a straight face.
“What?” Kara asked.
“I went through everything on your computer and you didn’t have a terrible thing to say about anyone here, even Jess who comes off cold to most people,” Ruby explained with her eyes now pleading. “Even the email you sent to your editor with the summary of your week was favorable of all of us. You didn't even include how Aunty Lee stole your cab or how much of a brat I was. And like I said, you have a knack for prose. If there would ever be a reporter who would actually write a kind story about us, it would be you.”
Kara shook her head. “I don’t know, Ruby. You were right; I lied and I was using you-”
“Not very well,” Ruby cut in. “Like come on, I’m pretty sure you’re not getting paid for any of this. Even your tutoring money is going right to the real Karen Starr and it doesn't look like your boss is buying you a return trip back.”
“Wait, she’s not?”
“And, I’m sorry,” Ruby continued. “I overreacted and should have heard you out better rather than leaving things as I did. It’s just, it’s hard to make friends when you have one leg and everyone knows your father’s insane.” Ruby let out a deep breath. “Usually I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop and I forgot about that with you until it crashed back into me. I’m sorry.”
“Ruby…” Kara hesitated. “It’s okay. I’m the one that hurt you. I shouldn’t have treated you like that and lied to you. It’s my fault and I’m sorry.”
“We both could have probably handled it better,” Ruby gave a small smile. “But I think if we can both do our best to stay honest and level headed, maybe we can keep this up.”
Kara returned Ruby’s small smile with one of her own. “I’d like that.”
“And write a great story about my aunt or I’ll have you thrown in the dungeon.”
Kara let out a small laugh. “I thought there wasn't a dungeon here.”
Ruby shrugged. “There’s a small dank broom closet in the basement that could work.”
Kara laughed again. “Alright, deal.”
With a quick shower and a change of clothes, Kara followed Ruby up to the private family suite that Kara had stumbled upon just the day before. This time however rather than just Lena sitting alone at the piano, her and Nia shared a couch while Ms. Huang and Sam shared another while piles of wrapping paper littered the floor around them while the coffee table was now cluttered with different mugs and other knick knacks. When the two finally entered the room, Kara’s cheeks colored as they all turned to her.
“Look who finally decided to join us!” Sam announced which of course only made Kara’s cheek turn redder.
“Merry Christmas, Ms. Starr,” Ms. Haung said with almost a playful smirk that caught Kara off guard. “I was beginning to worry Ruby had finally run you off.”
Ruby grinned. “Not yet.”
Sam rolled her eyes. “Oh please, don’t remind her of that now especially when she’s finally catching up on her studies.”
Nia stood up. “Here, you can take my seat, Kara.”
“Oh no, I can sit over there,” Kara said, nodding towards the empty couch.
“Nonsense,” Nia insisted with a wave. “I want to get started on a new batch of hot chocolate too. Can I get you some?”
“Um, sure,” Kara said as she slowly took a spot on the couch next to Lena who looked rather cozy in a green sweater and her knees curled up to her chest as she balanced her mug of tea on them. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Lena smiled, tucking her long raven hair back behind her ear. “I was worried you wouldn’t make it.”
“Ah, well you know how convincing Ruby can be,” Kara said with a slight laugh.
“I actually have a surprise for you later,” Lena smiled. “I can’t play them super well yet, but I found some Kaznia Christmas carols that I thought I could play for you later.”
“Really?” Kara’s eyes and smile widened as leaned forward. “I haven’t heard any of those since I was kid!”
“Don’t get too excited,” Lena laughed, a blush coloring her cheeks. “I can’t assure that they are any good.”
“Oh please, Aunty Lee,” Ruby rolled her eyes. “When have you ever not played a song perfectly on the try?”
The princess’s cheeks reddened even more as she ducked behind a curtain of hair, but Kara couldn’t take her eyes off her or the stupid grin off her face. Surely it didn’t mean nearly as much as Kara’s heart insisted it did with Lena’s being the master pianist she was, but still, the idea she even thought about it warmed Lena’s heart.
“Oh, I can finally give you your present!” Sam exclaimed as she jumped up and grabbed a wrapped red box beside her on the floor. “This is for you.”
“Oh,” Kara’s face dropped. “I didn’t get you anything though.”
“Well, that’s not the point of Christmas,” Sam insisted as she pushed the present at Kara. “Now open it up!”
Reluctantly, Kara took the gift and slowly pulled the bow off carefully as suddenly all she could think about what exactly was the proper etiquette to unwrapping a present in front of other people, especially when they’re royal. Popping the tape open, Kara slid out a large shoe box from the wrapping and opened it to reveal a pair of large moose slippers with their head and antlers sticking out smiling up at her.
“We hope you like them,” Lena said next to her as Kara picked them up out of the box. “Ruby said you liked moose and these were one of the only ones we could get delivered on such short notice.”
“I love them,” Kara insisted as she held them tightly in her hands as she looked up at Lena. “Thank you. All of you.”
“It was no trouble,” Lena said as she touched Kara’s arm. “Ruby also said you had a great story about drunk moose…”
Kara laughed. “Oh yeah…”
The hours that followed were filled with laughter, stories, and hot chocolate. While the hot chocolate wasn’t the watered down Swiss Miss packets Kara had grown accustomed to over the years, Kara couldn’t find fault with Nia’s. With the added splash of Baileys, one sip warmed Kara’s body to her toes, but it was Lena’s occasional touch to her arm and thigh that really unthawed the walls around Kara’s heart.
After insistent prompting from Ruby, a pictionary game kicked off. Ruby demonstrated her artistic talents while Ms. Huang showed her competitive fire. Together they were unstoppable, and they only conceded when Lena drifted over to the piano. With a small smile and nod to Kara, Lena began to play the notes that hadn’t been played for Kara in well over a decade. While no one sang along, Kara found herself drifting off to the soft notes reminiscence of carols from the motherland as she found herself feeling completely and utterly happy.
Amid the dreams of nothing that only exhaustion in front of a fire could bring, something jostled Kara’s arms, jolting her awake with a snort. Blinking away the grogginess, Nia slowly came into focus in front of her in the dark room only lit now by fire.
“Nia?” Kara asked as she sat up on the couch and a blanket someone had lain across her bunched on her lap. “What’s going on? Is it breakfast time already?”
“No, it’s just late,” Nia laughed before glancing over her shoulder. “I know this isn’t my place, but I strongly suggest that you go to the kitchen this evening. There’s something waiting for you down there.”
“The kitchen?” Kara asked, whipping the dried drool of her cheek with her sleeve.
“Yes, but I didn’t say anything,” Nia winked before leaving Kara alone on the couch in front of the fire.
As her brow crinkled with thought, her stomach let out a loud growl. Perhaps the kitchen wouldn’t be such a bad idea. With a stretch and a groan, Kara stood up, pulling her arms above her head. How odd that a couch half the size of her bed provided such a better resting place. Rubbing her eyes as she yawned, Kara slipped on her new moose slippers and shuffled down the hallway, thankful to no longer feel the cold floor beneath her feet. While it wasn’t Christmas Eve anymore, perhaps Nia had left out a private place of sugar cookies for her.
However, it wasn’t sugar cookies in the kitchen waiting for Kara, but a princess covered in flour and oil. Lena’s dark hair was done up in a messy bun with white streaks of flour and possibly salt in her hair as she whipped her hands along her green apron over her red shirt and leggings. Kara’s heart flipped as she saw Lena bite her lip as she stared down at her open tablet, streaking more flour in her hair as she pushed back the loose strands that fell in her face.
“Do you need any help?” Kara asked, laughing breathlessly as she rounded the counter towards Lena.
“Oh, no!” Lena quickly threw arms out on the counter, feebly attempting to block the mess of ingredients strewn out on the counter. “You’re not supposed to see this. Not until tomorrow morning!”
“Oh really?” Kara teased with a raised eyebrow and her gaze dropped to the tablet screen left open and on in front of her on the counter. Her mouth instantly dropped open. “You’re making piroshkis?”
“Ah!” Lena snatched up her tablet, switching it off with a swipe. “That was supposed to be a surprise!’
Kara’s heart took off in a frightening pace, thundering it’s beat in her head. This couldn’t be real. This was something she had said goodbye to long ago. Her traditions didn’t matter here- not in the palace of another country, especially one as wonderful as this one. They didn’t need her. Why would they even care about her? Why would this goddess do this? It couldn’t be for her.
“I know they probably won’t be very good and nothing like your mom’s, but I thought I could try,” Lena explained as she nervously wiped her hands on her apron. “I mean, you’ve been really great and I love, I mean, we love having you here, and I wanted to do something for you. And I know you said you missed having them so I just thought maybe… it’s dumb, isn’t it? I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean after the Kaznia carols earlier this is probably just too much. I’m sorry -”
“Lena,” Kara took a step forward, Lena’s normal lavender now mixed with yeast and salt filled her nose as the toe of her slipper brushed Lena’s.
“Yeah?” Lena breathed, looking up at Kara’s face now only inches away.
“I love it,” Kara whispered.
The world slowed and fell away so nothing but the beautiful woman standing before her not looking an ounce like the royalty she was, but every bit as stunning and desirable. Everything in her called to the woman before her and Lena’s body seemingly reacted the same in turn. Kara’s hand ghosted up Lena’s hips and shoulders to her cheeks, caressing them as those soft pinks lips lured her own towards them. The gentle touch of the royal’s hands on Kara’s own hips pushed her over the edge and suddenly Lena’s mouth was on hers.
It was everything and nothing like Kara had ever dreamed or experienced. Her chest swelled as her pulse radiated throughout her entire body, curving her spine down to better shape her body against Lena. All her mind could comprehend was the delightful taste of the woman before her and the craving for more. Her fingers slipped into the messy bun of Lena’s hair, groaning at the soft moan her touch elicited from the other woman as one of Lena’s hands slipped around Kara’s neck and the other into her back pocket. She needed more. She never needed anything else.
This was one Christmas Kara could only hope would become a tradition.
As the sunlight began to pour through the windows stirring Kara awake, the blonde only groaned and rolled over, burying her face into the cool pillow next to her. Sometime throughout the night, her covers had fallen off, but when she went to pull them back over her, she felt resistance. With a grunt, she tugged harder before she let go when she heard soft laughter next to her.
“Wow, you’re really not a morning person, are you?”
Blinking as she lifted her head from her pillow, Kara could only grin at the raven haired royal next to her with her finger holding her place in a book. Even in the first lights of morning, Lena looked beautiful: her hair shiny if a little untidy, her face stunning if a little red, and her attire impeccable even if her shirt a little eskew. Absolutely beautiful. Kara wouldn’t even pinch herself because this definitely wasn’t a dream she wanted to wake up from.
“I guess I’m not used to sharing the covers,” Kara blushed. “Or a bed for that matter.”
Nothing had happened the night before. Well, certainly not nothing, but in some sense of the word, each of their virtues had stayed in tack for the time being. When the hard counters of the kitchen had become uncomfortable against Lena’s back, the princess simply suggested they move to somewhere more comfortable, and Kara was more than happy to oblige. However, rather than the heat the kitchen had brought, Lena’s bedroom brought a sincere, cuddly side out. The evening passed with nothing but kisses and sweet nothings passed between them as Lena snuggled deeper into Kara’s arms as the snow fell gently outside the window, lulling them into a pleasant sleep in each other’s grasp.
“Same,” Lena said as she marked her place in her book and set it down on the table next to her. “I was worried I would wake. However, I’m glad you’re at least moving now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sleep quite so soundly as you. I almost feared you had somehow slipped into a coma.”
“Really? Huh,” Kara said with a yawn while pushing herself up. “I suppose your bed is just more comfortable than mine.”
Last night had been the soundest Kara had slept in over a week, perhaps months. No strange nightmares, no tossing and turning, no cold sweats. If anything, Kara’s neck and back were stiff from staying so still.
“I’m glad you think so,” Lena laughed before placing her hand on the blanket covering Kara’s thigh. “I had a really nice time last night.” Lena’s bit her lip and ducked her head as a small blush colored her cheeks.
Kara grinned back as her heart fluttered with glee. Her fingers twitched at the blanket she was holding, eager to replace its touch with the feel of the silk of Lena’s hair or the softest of her skin as she held it tight. But if she were to hold the woman tight against her, how would she see that memorizing way Lena’’s nose scrunched when she smiled or the bend of her pale pink lip as she held it in her teeth.
How could she have gotten so lucky to wake up next to this goddess?
“Me too,” Kara told her, her hand covering Lena’s. Her heart only flipped again when Lena turned her hand and laced her fingers into Kara’s.
“I have a meeting at eleven, but I thought perhaps I could have Nia bring us some breakfast,” Lena said, her green eyes flicking over Kara’s blue. “Should I send her any special requests or do we have faith she’ll bring us something appetizing on her own?”
“Hmm, I think we can trust her,” Kara hummed as she leaned into the hypnotic gaze of the woman with her and pressed her lips to her rudy cheek.
“No,” Lena pulled away with a laugh. “I haven’t brushed my teeth yet!”
“I don’t mind,” Kara grinned, her hands coming to loosely hold Lena’s sides attempting to hold the woman with her on the bed..
“You’re incorrigible,” Lena murmured as she slid her arm around Kara’s neck and pulled the blonde’s mouth back to hers.
“Are you sure those poached eggs are enough for you?” Kara asked, in between bites of her scrambled eggs and chocolate chip waffles.
Nia had certainly not failed them on the spread she had wheeled up to the room. While Lena stuck with her normal order of two poached eggs and an orange slice, Kara was greeted with a scrumptious array of assorted waffles, eggs, and bacon. Her plate had piled high in gourmet breakfast and Kara’s stomach sang in delight. Lena could only laugh as she watched the blonde load her plate with an impossible amount of food.
“Quite. I don’t usually have much of an appetite in the morning,” Lena said as she took a sip of her coffee and leaned back in her chair to study the blonde sitting before her at the little table in her room. “I see that the opposite is true for you.”
“It’s the most important meal of the day,” Kara stated before she crammed a much larger than suitable piece of waffle into her mouth.
Lena blinked. “I just didn’t know anyone could eat an entire waffle of Nia’s. Let alone eat it that quickly. Not to mention where does it go? If anything your stomach defies science.”
“We all have our special talent,” Kara winked.
“Some have many,” Lena said with a much coyier wink that made the blonde almost choke. Of course, her thin top and short sleep shorts she wore underneath her robe certainly didn’t help Kara focus.
“So,” Kara said after she could successfully breath steady again. “What do you have planned for today?”
“Meeting with the Prime Minister at eleven, meeting with the King of Spain at noon, press conference at one, visiting the children’s hospital at two thirty, attending a session of Parliament at four, then preparing for my coronation speech and duties after that.”
“Coronation duties?” Kara tilted her head to the side. “Is that just more archery practice?”
“I’m trying to fit all the archery practice I can get in the next few days. I have to light that coronation ring with the flaming arrow somehow.’”
“But I thought your aim had improved?”
“Thanks to your help,” Lena flashed a toothy smile. “But I still can’t take any chances. I can’t afford to risk missing my shot then. I’m hoping to fit in another hour or two of practice today.”
“Oh,” Kara blinked slowly. “But it’s the day after Christmas.”
Lena shrugged. “It’s just another day in the world of politics.”
“But when will you eat lunch?” Kara asked, her frown growing deeper. “Or dinner?”
“That’s what the coffee is for,” Lena held up her cup before filling it again with the dark liquid. “Besides, Jess usually has a salad on hand that she makes me eat a few bites of on the way to the next event.”
“But that’s not fair,” Kara said, setting down her fork on the plate, leaving her waffle abandoned.
“Is it fair that I was born into royalty and others not?” Lena countered as she took a sip of coffee. “I have a duty to my people and country.”
“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have time for a break.”
“Isn’t that what I’m having right now?”
“You also deserve a break at lunch and dinner time,” Kara countered. “You need a chance to each. Like an actual meal.”
“Where is the productivity in that?” Lena said in a poor attempt at dry humor.
“Actually, a lot. Studies show people are more productive during break. And even more so when they are just six hour days.”
Lena scoffed. “Those studies didn’t account for a position like mine.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Kara threw up her hands. “What about proxies?”
“Proxies aren’t an option for a woman who is trying to prove she’s nothing like her homicidal brother,” Lena snapped.
The harsh tone hit Kara with enough force that she flinched. Her gaze dropped to the floor and her hands fell back into her pocket. No longer was she talking to the soft, teasing Lena of last night and this morning. Now it was the soon-to-be Queen.
“I’m sorry,” Lena said softly as she set down her coffee and reached her hand across the table, her palm open in peace. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. These past few weeks have probably been the most stressful of my life, and I haven’t exactly handled that in the best way.”
“I’m sorry,” Kara replied, her head still down. “I shouldn’t have been so pushy.”
“No, please be pushy,” Lena told her with a slight laugh. “That’s one of the best parts about you.”
Kara looked up with a raised eyebrow. “That I’m pushy?”
“No,” Lena chuckled as she shook her head. “That you speak your mind. I don’t get that very often from people, and I like to keep those who do very close.”
“I guess that’s good news for me?” Kara cocked her head to the side as she slid her hand into Lena’s.
“Very,” Lena smiled as she squeezed her hand.
“I can work with that,” Kara returned Lena’s smile with her own and squeezed her hand.
“I can assure you, Ms. Starr, there is nothing you need to work on,” Lena smirked with a raised eyebrow.
Ms. Starr. The wonderful bubble Kara had been floating along in all morning popped and realization hit her like her face into a concrete wall. This beautiful woman before her thought of Kara as nothing more than a sweet tutor from America who came to teach the troubled royal. She knew nothing of Kara Danvers or her real reasoning for coming. She was a lie. And Lena deserved far better than lies even if they were sweet and easy.
“Look, Lena,” Kara sighed as she let her hand in Lena’s fall slack. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Actually, there’s something I needed to talk to you about,” Lena said, her grip tightening around Kara’s now limp hand. “About this.”
“This?” Kara frowned before Lena squeezed her hand again. “Oh this.”
“Yeah, this,” Lena smirked before the corners of her mouth drooped. “This isn’t going to be easy. It has to stay between us. Sam and Ruby probably have deduced something by now is going on between the two of us as well as several of the other close palace staff, but it has to stay quiet. I don’t think my country is quite ready for this and I doubt our trade partners are either, especially with how the press would use it to crucify me.”
“The press?” Kara whispered, suddenly noticing how sweaty her palm was against Lena’s.
“They’re parasites,” Lena sneered. “They haven’t had a good thing to say about me or my initiatives since the day Lex ascended the throne. I’m nothing but a joke and ploy to them.”
Kara gulped as she felt her cheeks grow hot. What was she doing here? This woman would have her strung up by her toes in the courtyard if she knew the truth. Worse if she thought about what had happened between them last night. She had to get out of here. Now.
“You know, I should probably let you start getting ready for your meeting,” Kara said, standing up and pulling her hand out of Lena’s. “It’s getting kind of late and all.”
Lena frowned but stood up with her. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Kara replied with a squeak before she cleared her throat. “I just have some things to take care of, that’s all.”
“Kara,” Lena touched the blonde’s arm, halting her in tracks. “Talk to me. If this arrangement is too much for you, I’m sure we can work something out. I can assure you we can make something work. But I need for you to talk to me if that is to happen.”
“I know and I want to. It’s just…” Kara hesitated before a knock at the door cut them off.
Both women snapped their heads up to see the door opening and a busy Ms. Huang, her hair tight in its usual bun, tapping away at her tablet with her head down as she walked in the room.
“Your Majesty, the Prime Minister arrived early in hopes of starting your meeting sooner--”
Ms. Huang's eyes widened as she looked up and saw Kara standing in front of her in the royal bedchamber. Perhaps Kara was wrong earlier when she had refused Lena’s offer of a robe as Lena was now swiftly pulling her own close while Kara was left standing in her gray boxer shorts with little dogs on them and an MIT t-shirt that didn’t belong to her.
“Ms. Starr. I wasn’t expecting you here.” Ms. Huang cleared her throat and shut her gaping mouth as her eyes darted over to Lena before back to the blonde with a raised eyebrow. “I will leave you two to get ready then. And I shall be adopting a clearance for entry policy when it comes to this room.”
“Thank you, Jess,” Lena called out as her assistant spun on her heel.
“I shall see you in the lobby in half an hour, Your Majesty,” Ms. Huang told her, not turning her head to address them or bother with a departing curtsy as she closed the door behind them.
“Well, uh, that was awkward,” Kara said.
“She means well,” Lena assured her with a pat to her arm. “I need to be getting ready though. Would you be free for a late dinner this evening?”
“Not too late I hope,” Kara said, her stomach growling despite the several waffles it currently contained.
“Don’t worry,” Lena laughed as she opened up her dresser drawer. “I could never keep you waiting for long. How about I come by your room this evening to pick you up?”
“Sounds great, but --”
“Then it’s a date,” Lena grinned as she pressed a kiss to Kara’s check. “I really need to take a shower real quick, but we can talk this evening, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” Kara’s shoulders sagged but Lena flitted off towards her private bathroom.
“Wonderful! I’m looking forward to it!”
Then the bathroom door shut and Kara was alone in her room with her chocolate chip waffles and suffocating secret.
With tutoring off her agenda for the day, Kara turned her attention to her other job: journalism. Kara told herself that perhaps if she wrote a story honoring Lena and showing just how wonderful of a queen and person she was, maybe then she would forgive her when the truth did finally come out. Afterall, if the princess wanted the press to paint her in a better light, Kara may be the perfect one for the job. Convincing Cat Grant to publish it would be another matter entirely, but maybe, just maybe, she could sway her and therefore the press in Kara’s favor.
And Ruby just so happened to agree with her. After the initial betrayal and anger, Ruby had forgiven Kara enough to trust that she didn’t have any ill intent with the royal family or Thorul. Instead, Ruby now insisted that Kara had to write an article about Lena. Someone had to show just what kind of great person her aunt was and Kara was the only person who she knew who could do it. When Kara had asked if Ruby had any resources to disprove any of the adoption rumors or anything else to help Kara’s positive expose, Ruby eagerly provided.
“Oh, you should talk about all the work she’s done for the field of nanotechnology,” Ruby said as she sat on Kara’s bed, flipping through one of the many folders she had swiped from her mom’s desk and the royal archives. “She’s done a lot of great work there. And it would emphasize that she actually has several degrees and isn’t the party girl the press paints her as.”
“Okay, so you said that before,” Kara sighed as she pushed up her glasses and looked up at Ruby from her desk, “but I have found no mention of Lena Luthor ever mentioned with that or any other kind subatomic field work or even a dissertation.”
“That’s because she goes by Lena Kieran in scientific journals,” Ruby explained as she stood up from Kara’s bed and swung her leg out to walk over towards Kara. “It’s kind of like her alter ego. If she went by her title, her work would potentially be discredited or more heavily scrutinized and delayed rather than be praised and be built upon by others like breakthroughs should be.”
Kara's eyes bulged as her mouth dropped open. “Lena Kieran? Like the scientist pioneering the way for nanobots to cure cancer?”
Ruby grinned as she set down a stack of thick paperback books on Kara’s desk. “I guess she’s one of your favorite scientists too, then? Here’s some copies of the journals her work has been published in.”
Kara gaped as she immediately began flipping through the top one. “The science and technology section of Catco published an article about nanotechnology and its potential future advancements to medicine, and they mentioned her a lot in it, but I had no idea… Why hasn’t she come out about this?”
“She’s had to kind of leave that life behind. It’s not like she can be both queen of a country and an expert in an experimental field of technology. She barely gets enough sleep as it is.”
“But… this kind of technology could change the world,” Kara sighed as she sagged on it on her desk.
“I’m pretty sure it still will,” Ruby told Kara as she leaned against the desk. “She wasn’t working alone; she had a team, and they’re all still working on it. And not to mention the biggest hurdle in any science experiment or development is often grants and funding, but now with Aunty Lee about to be Queen, she can make sure they and the other sciences actually have the funding they need rather than dealing with constant budget cuts. She's already diverted a lot of funds their way even as just a Princess.”
“Still, that just doesn’t sound fair,” Kara sighed as she leaned her head on her hands as she stared down at the journal open to an intricate blueprint of a nanobot.
“That’s just how it goes sometimes,” Ruby shrugged. “And I know it’s dumb, but sometimes I like to tell myself that maybe I can follow in her shoes and be a scientist like her one day. Even if not a princess anymore, maybe I can still change the world.”
Kara lifted her head at Ruby’s tone and words. How could a girl as smart and determined as Ruby not believe in themselves? For the past week, Kara had been on a mad dash just trying to keep up and understand just what Ruby was studying and if anything, Ruby had taught Kara more about her schoolwork than the other way around. Anyone with half a brain could see that this girl would change the world and she didn’t need a crown to do it.
“Hey,” Kara said softly, placing her hand over Ruby’s. “You’re one of the smartest girls I know. Of course you’ll change the world.”
“You’re just saying that because you’re my tutor,” Ruby rolled her eyes.
“And because it’s the truth,” Kara said, giving Ruby’s hand another squeeze before Ruby pulled her hand away.
“Yeah, right,” Ruby smirked before laying a few other folders on top of the open stack of scientific journals in front of Kara. “Also, these are those files about the royal family birth certificates and what not. I haven’t really gotten a chance to look through them, but I’m sure they’ll be all you need to prove those adoption rumors are fake. Just get them back to me soon so I can put them back on my mom’s desk desk before she notices.”
“Oh thank you,” Kara looked up and frowned. “Where are you going?”
“My mom wants us to go sledding,” Ruby explained as she walked towards the door. “Apparently, she’s upset that she wasn’t invited last time we went. You wanna come? She definitely needs a better teacher than me.”
Kara chuckled but shook her head. “No, I have plenty of work laid out in front of me as it is. Tell Sam I wish her all the luck though! And you too!”
“Thanks, we’re definitely going to need it,” Ruby said as she opened the door. “Good luck to you too!”
With the door shutting behind the young royal, Kara switched on her researcher mode and began pouring through the information in front of her. With the archives and the journals all existing in paper print only, Kara lacked the luxury of a quick word search. Instead she scanned the journal articles for thesis statements and supporting claims, all while highlighting any direct quote from Lena as well as making note of the year in hopes to assimilate some sort of timeline. Despite Kara’s own experience and desire to work in the technology and science department of Catco, many of the theories and terms went over Kara’s head and she continually turned to her computer to find the most basic definition she could understand. The more Kara read, the more evident it became that Lena was nothing short of a genius.
When the words began to blur and the sentences became jumbled, Kara rubbed her eyes and decided to take a break from the academia and turn towards the royal archives. Taking out a separate note pad to ensure she didn’t accidentally mark up any royal documentation in her note taking, Kara flipped open the folder and thumbed through the documents while she chewed absentmindedly on her pen cap; however she almost swallowed it when she came across one document in particular.
Right behind the birth certificate for Lena Luthor was another for Lena Kieran.
With a quick google search, Kara had been able to easily pull up a scanned copy of Lena Luthor; it was the one the royal family had released to the press and it matched the paper one Kara held in her hand, but there was no mention of the birth certificate for Lena Kieran that Kare also held. Besides the difference in surname, the two were nearly identical including birth dates, height, and weight, but the parents' names were smudged out in Lena’s Kieran’s. Kara bit her lip as the horror hit her: were the rumors actually true and was Lena Luthor, the soon to be queen, actually adopted? Had there actually been a cover up like the media suggested? She was the one reporter not looking for a scandal yet she had somehow found the only valid one.
Cat Grant would never know. No one would.
Kara shoved the papers back into the folder and shut it before pushing it the farthest end of her desk as she could. Ruby could just sneak it back into her mom’s office before anyone knew it was missing and Kara would simply do her best to forget. Afterall Lena had done for the people of Thorul and the constant scarfrices, the last thing she deserved was to be faced with accusations about her bloodline when bloodline provided no sort of credentials to rule a country. No, Lena’s heart, mind, and perseverance had proven her right and ability rule in tenfold. Journalism be damned. If Cat Grant didn’t like it then she could just fire her. Kara didn’t care anymore.
Just as Kara was crumbling up her notes, she heard a knock at the door. Hastily, Kara shoved several of the journals into her desk draw and threw open her school textbook to a random page just before the door opened.
“May I come in?” the princess asked with a coy smile as she peaked her head in. “Or should I adopt the same clearance for entry that Jess now has for my room?”
“Lena,” Kara said breathlessly as she stood up. “Hey. I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“Well, it is seven o’clock,” Lena smiled as she shut the door behind her and walked into Kara’s room. “Don’t tell me you’re secretly a workaholic too.”
“Sometimes,” Kara admitted as she stepped around her desk, intentionally cutting Lena off before she could really see what was on Kara’s desk. “How was your day?”
“Fine,” Lena shrugged as she stepped into Kara’s bubble and Kara instinctively lifted her arms to wrap around the soon-to-be queen and hold her close. “Nothing of much excitement. Although my archery has certainly improved. Barely a single arrow missed the target today.”
“Oh, that’s great!” Kara grinned as she squeezed Lena lightly. “I’m so proud of you. You’ll be ready to move on to the flaming ones in no time!”
Lena laughed. “I think you’re the only one who has confidence in me with that. With how often the palace staff is checking the fire extinguishers, I’m sure they’re convinced it’s only a matter of time before I burn down the place.”
“Don’t worry,” Kara said as she placed a kiss on Lena’s head. “You’ll be shooting flaming arrows like a pro in no time.”
Lena smiled as she pressed her lips against Kara’s cheek.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I’m not accustomed to having people believe in me.”
“I’ll always believe in you,” Kara promised. And she had never meant anything more in her life.
Lena’s lips found hers and they kissed slow and softly as Kara poured everything she could into it, desperately trying to show Lena just how much faith and trust Kara’s heart had for this other woman. Nothing else had ever quite filled and flipped Kara’s heart and she knew nothing ever would again. It was if she had been unknowingly living her whole life with a Lena shaped hole in herself her entire life and now that that hole was finally filled, Kara doubted she would ever be able to go on living without it anymore. All her life she had been so lost. Now she was finally found.
And when the kiss did slowly end and Lena’s green eyes looked into Kara’s blue, for a moment, Kara believed Lena felt the same way about her. Maybe if she did, she would find it in her heart to forgive her.
“So Nia has kindly made us actual piroshkis that I can assure you taste far better than the ones I attempted last night,” Lena smirked as she leaned her head against Kara’s shoulder, her lavender scent making Kara’s head spin.
“I’m sure the ones you were making last night would have tasted great,” Kara said, pressing a soft kiss to the raven hair. “Probably the best in the world.”
“You’re humoring me.” Lena turned her head so she could look Kara in the face with her raised eyebrow that made Kara’s heart flutter.
“Only a little,” Kara grinned before pressing her lips to Lena’s.
Would there ever be a kiss with a woman that didn’t take Kara’s breath away? Or even a look that didn’t make her knees weak? Or a touch that didn’t make Kara’s stomach clench? If anything the reactions only seemed to grow with each hit and lingered ever so longer. The princess was swiftly becoming Kara’s drug of choice and Kara couldn’t quite shake the effects long enough to stay what she had been meaning to say for so long.
“Come on,” Lena laughed, pulling away after the quick kiss started to turn into something more. “I’m hungry so I know you have to be starving.”
“Maybe just a little,” Kara admitted, her stomach giving a small growl in protest which only triggered more laughter. “Let me just grab my coat. Also, there was something I wanted to talk to you about..”
Reaching over her desk, Kara grabbed her coat off the back of her chair and pulled it towards her; however, she didn’t quite lift the jacket high enough in the air and the tail end of the jacket caught the files and papers on her desk, pushing some of them on to the floor where the fell open and everywhere.
“Shoot,” Kara groaned as she knelt down to the ground to grab some of the papers that had slid underneath her bed and dresser.
“I hope it wasn’t anything important,” Lena said, bending down as well to gather the papers up in a certain file open in front of her.
“It’s mostly just Ruby’s school work,” Kara explained as she shimmied on her belly to grab a stray paper underneath her bed, just narrowly missing her head from hitting the frame. “That girl has a tendency to go above and beyond in her homework especially when it comes to word counts and projects.”
“Like projects on the royal family.”
“What? Oof!” Kara slammed her head on the bed frame.
With a grunt, she pulled herself out from underneath the bed to look at Lena who was now standing and staring intently at a file open in front of her. The file Ruby had brought her just a few hours ago.
“Why do you have a copy of my birth certificate?” Lena asked slowly, her green eyes lingering on the open file in front of her.
“Um,” Kara’s tongue suddenly felt too big for her dry mouth as she rubbed the now throbbing spot on her head.
“This isn’t the birth certificate Lillian provided to the public,” Lena continued, her emerald gaze darkening as her nostrils began to flare. “This is my original one. The one only my mother should have. The one that should only exist in the royal archives.”
“I can explain,” Kara said, raising her hands to her sides, her palms facing outward.
“Please do,” Lena’s gaze flicked away from the open folder and towards Kara and the gaze that moments ago caused Kara’s heart to flip now turned it to ice. “Please explain how you were sneaking around behind my back.”
“I wasn’t sneaking,” Kara insisted. “Ruby actually brought me that file-”
“So you manipulated my niece,” Lena seethed, her lip curling in anger and disgust.
“No, she was helping me write an article--
Kara’s throat immediately went dry. Her head both throbbed and spun and she wasn’t sure if it was the confrontation or possible concussion. Still, that was furthest from her present state of mine. Instead, all she could think about was the woman before her that she had grown so impossibly fond of the past few days and immense pain she had managed to cause in just a few seconds.
But she deserved to know the truth. Lena always deserved to know the truth.
“My name isn’t Karen Starr and I’m not a tutor,” Kara said slowly, swallowing useless mouthfuls of spit through the dry mouth and throat. “My name is Kara Danvers and I’m a journalist for Catco Worldwide Media. Cat Grant sent me here to cover your coronation.”
A second of silence passed between them and then two. Lena’s grip on the folder tightened, crinkling the paper as her knuckles whitened and shook. For a brief moment, Lena looked almost as if she would faint, but as soon as Kara took a step towards her, the royal steel returned and Kara knew she was no longer looking at a lover or a friend, but a princess and predator.
“How dare you,” the princess growled.
“Lena, I swear, I didn’t--”
“No,” Lena cut off Kara with such a force that the blonde flinched. “I welcome you into my home. I trust you with my family. I open myself up to you and this is how you repay me?”
“It’s not like that, I swear--”
“You use me to investigate rumors?” Lena demanded with growing gusto. “You play with me for your own personal gain?”
“You want to know the truth? Fine!” Lena threw the folder on the floor and it slid on the wood floor to Kara’s feet. “I am not the daughter of Lillian Luthor. She legally adopted me after my mother died and changed the birth certificate before she released it to the public. I have not a drop of that woman’s blood running through my veins but I do have Lionel’s. He fathered me with a commoner only a few years after Lex was born. Lilian just so happened to find out about the affair after my mother died not long after my birth and brought me in to avoid a scandal. So yes, the rumors are true and I am adopted, but I am still of the daughter of a royal bloodline. I just so happen to the bastard daughter who was never supposed to amount to anything.”
“Is that enough for you?” the princess demanded as she stalked towards Kara. “Is that enough for your precious exclusive?”
“Get out,” Lena snarled, her face only inches away from Kara’s but with a look that made Kara’s skin crawl. “Get out of my palace. Get out of my country. Get out of my life.”
“Please, let me explain--”
“You have half an hour. If you are not gone by then, you will be arrested.”
“It is Princess to you,” Lena told her with a turn of her head. “Fail to call me by my proper title again and I will send the guard in now.”
“Please, just wait--”
“We have nothing more to talk about.” The princess opened the door. “And we never will again.”
The door slammed on her way out and Kara’s heart stopped with it.
“Just what exactly do you want me to do with this?”
The past fifteen hours had been a blur for Kara. She barely remembered packing or the cab ride to the airport. Her savings account was now almost empty as she paid for her own return flight to National City. When writing the article on the plane ride home, she spent nine-hours fluctuating between wanting to write a piece that was the non-bias, positive article she promised herself and then another as a pleading, emotional apology to the princess and family she loved that her heart craved. Now standing in her boss’s office, she couldn’t be certain of which one she had handed in.
“Publish it,” Kara said, her voice sounding as dead as she felt.
Cat Grant narrowed her eyes at Kara and flickered over the young blonde’s rumpled clothing, sagging shoulders, and dark shadows underneath her eyes.
“Where is that bubbly young reporter I sent out?” Cat demanded. “The one that was so eager to bring me back a story that she’d fly halfway across the world to get it.”
Kara shrugged, but for the life of her, she couldn’t find an ounce of her that cared. About anything for that matter. She was numb. Even her boss, the Queen of Media, the one who had made countless white rich men cry, the one who had canceled a Kardashian, the one who once threw her coffee at Kara when a reporter missed their deadline, she couldn’t stir up anything in Kara. She was nothing but smoke in Kara's now desolate world.
“Are you going to publish it?” Kara asked.
Cat’s narrowed eyes soften into ones of concern. It wasn’t in her character to show much sympathy and certainly not so blatantly, but the fact that it was so late at night and they were the ones in the office probably played to Kara’s favor.
“What happened to you, Kara?”
Kara blinked. For the first time, despite the years of work, her boss had called her by her actual name. It was almost enough to stir something in her.
“Just tell me if you’re going to publish it,” Kara said, her gaze falling.
Cat sighed. “I asked you for an exclusive and this isn’t it. You failed to address any of the prompts I gave you. If anything, this sounds more like a five-star Yelp review of Thorul than an expose. It’s a puff piece and nothing more. And Catco doesn’t do puff pieces. It’s not our brand.”
“But it’s the truth,” Kara insisted.
“Those aren’t the stories that sell,” Cat said as she dropped the article on her desk. “You had the opportunity of a lifetime and you spent it making gingerbread houses and sledding. You blew it.”
Kara’s hands clenched into fists at her sides as her nostrils flared as the nothing within her roared into something.
“No,” Kara told her. “You did.”
Cat’s eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”
“You blew it not supporting her from day one,” Kara said, meeting her boss’s challenging gaze for the first time in her life. “She is a strong, self-made woman. Just like you. And you take so much pride in that, but God forbid you let anyone else be.”
“A princess is hardly a self-made woman, Kiera,” Cat told her, leveling her gaze with the young report as she crossed her arms.
Kiera. She was trying to undermine Kara, remind her who was the boss. But Kara didn’t care. No one was her boss anymore but herself. No one would silence her now.
“She made herself into something no other princess has,” Kara snapped. “A scientist, a philanthropist, an advocate. Her mother and brother sought to sacrifice their own people for themselves but she has done nothing but sacrifice herself for her people. Did you know she has degrees in Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering? Hell, she probably has several more. She lived her life as if she were never going to rule but stepped up as soon as she was called and has not backed down since. Every blow Parliament throws at her, she takes it in stride and adapts. Did you know she has channeled more funding into Thorualian scientific research than any other country? And that because of that, Thorualian research institutions are projected to find cures for cancer and alzhermiers by the end of the next year? No other country is near that close. Or that she has appointed the most diverse group of people to her cabinet and judicial system because she believes her people should be governed by their own people rather than the rich white man who doesn’t know the cost of a banana. Is anyone talking about that though? No, because it’s easier to ignore that and throw dirt at her rather than see her as an actual person and give her a chance!”
Kara hadn’t realized she was yelling until she was done. Her chest heaved and she worried she had broken the skin of her palms from where her nails had dug into them. But she finally felt free. For the past fifteen hours, she had been trying to be angry at Lena. To return her own anger with her in kind, but she just couldn’t. Now she realized it wasn’t her who she was furious with, but everyone else.
“Are you done?” Cat asked, tilting her head to the side as she tapped her fingers against her forearm.
Kara took a deep breath. “I quit.”
“What?” Cat’s palms slammed on her desk, but Kara didn’t even flinch.
“I refuse to work for an institution or industry that fuels hatred and bigotry rather than promoting the actual truth,” Kara explained with a quick clear of her throat as it started to feel thick.
“Kara, you can’t tell me you believe that,” Cat said.
“But I do,” Kara swallowed. “I thought we were better than the tabloids, but now I can’t see any sort of line drawn between us and them. I can’t morally do this job anymore. I want to help people. Even if it means starting over.”
Cat studied Kara with a gaze that once made the hairs on the back Kara’s neck stand on end, but now, Kara simply stared back. What was the point? There wasn’t anything Cat Grant could do that would hurt Kara anymore than had hurt herself.
"You feel that strongly about this?" Cat pursed her lips. "Fine. Tell me more about this Thorualian research funding.”
Lena’s aim with a bow and arrow drastically fell once Kara left. Now, she was lucky if her arrows landed anywhere close to the target or she was able to go through a quiver full of arrows without hitting the palace wall or windows. Some of her staff had even started to don helmets when they heard she was practicing even though no one had thankfully been injured just yet. Unfortunately, with her coronation only two days away, she was forced to start practice with the flaming ones. After the tenth or so scorched bush or tree in the garden, Lena stopped apologizing to the staff and mentally noted that she owed her gardener a hefty year end bonus this year.
Pulling her last arrow in the quiver back, Lena took aim, held her breath, and released. With a defeated groan, the arrow sailed through the air and over the target into the thicket of trees of now blackened evergreens behind it. As she lowered her bow, two awaiting staff members with helmets securely fastened to their chin scrambled to collect the arrows while Lena kicked the snowy ground with her boot in frustration.
“You look tense,” Sam commented from the archway leading out to the garden where Lena stood.
“You would be too if you had to perform an archaic ritual that held no grounds in proving someone’s credentials to rule,” Lena grumbled. “It doesn’t seem to matter how much I practice either. It’s almost hopeless at this point.”
“You seemed to improve a lot with the help of a certain tutor,” Sam smirked as she walked over next to her sister-in-law.
Lena shot Sam a glare that made the returning staff members with the arrows back away in silence, but Sam only rolled her eyes and shoved her hands in her pocket.
“Have you read the Catco article?” Sam asked as Lena strung another arrow from the now filled quiver.
“No,” Lena gritted her teeth as she pulled back the arrow. “Prepare my legal team for a defamation suit. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to ban all of Catco from entering the country and set an example for all the other press parasites.”
“Cat Grant has endorsed your reign.”
The arrow snapped off the bow and sailed through the air, completely missing the target and landing in a bush far left of it. Thankfully, it hadn’t been lit, but that hadn’t stopped the staff from cringing.
“She what?” Lena asked, turning to face Sam as the bow hung limp in her hand.
“She said she was proud of your decisions you’ve made so far with your limited power and has faith you’ll continue to impress her as well as any Thorulian and progressive when you become queen. She’s even asking for people to look at you as a separate person from Lex.” Sam held up her phone. “You're even trending on Twitter.”
“Are you serious?” Lena demanded as she dropped her bow next to her arrows and snatched Sam’s phone out of her hand.
“Yeah.” Sam smiled and shook her head. “You really must have done a number on Kara if she were able to sway Cat Grant.”
Lena glared. “I told you not to bring her up.”
“Well, she brought herself up,” Sam shrugged. “She gave you an endorsement no one could have bought, especially not at a better time. And have you seen your approval numbers? You’ve shot up higher than Lex ever was in his reign. You should be thanking her, not banning her.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that she lied,” Lena’s nostrils flared. “She used us. Me, you, Ruby. We were nothing but a cash grab and a way to build her career.”
“Then why did she quit Catco?” Sam smirked wider at Lena’s furrowed brow. “According to her LinkedIn, she’s now unemployed and her Twitter and Instagram bios no longer mention Catco or journalism at all. Ruby’s been keeping an eye on them ever since she found out.”
Lena shook her head with a sigh. “It doesn’t matter. She’s out of our lives. It’s best to just forget about her.”
“But do you want to?”
Lena’s eyes narrowed. “Just what are you insinuating?”
“Oh please,” Sam threw her head back in exasperation. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you practicing those Kaznia Christmas Carols on the piano after the Christmas Eve party or when you didn’t show up in the kitchen for our nightly tea Christmas night. Admit it: you have feelings for that woman.”
“So what?” Lena barked as she threw her hands up. “She used me; I kicked her out of the country. What’s done is done. It’s easier this way anyways. I don’t need someone like her as a distraction. I don’t need any more distractions in my life.”
The Duchess took a step back at Lena’s tone and Lena instantly flinched. Of course, she was hurting someone else she loved. It was what she did best. Was it really so wrong to try to save herself from doing that to anyone else?
“You know,” Sam said slowly. “I’m a distraction. You’d still be shooting arrows and practicing if it weren’t for me talking with you right now. Ruby’s a distraction. She’s the reason you don’t get to sleep in a little longer in the morning or have to delay getting started on work because of the breakfasts you share together. Jess is a distraction since she’s always making sure you eat in between meetings and you aren’t able to get the prep in that you’d like. Nia’s a distraction since she always insists that you stay hydrated and drink something other than coffee. Some of the best things in your life are distractions, but you don’t call them that. You call them family.”
A lump formed in Lena’s throat as she swallowed against it and fought back against the tears forming in her eyes as she stared down at the kicked up snow beside her feet. Of course Sam was right. She always was. And while a part of Lena desperately sought out to mend what she had with Kara, a louder part told her it was pointless. Lena cherished the distractions in her life, but who’s to say she felt the same way especially after what had been done?
“It doesn’t matter,” Lena sighed. “I’ve ruined it. She wouldn’t want to talk to me anyhow.”
“You don’t know that,” Sam told her. “Have you tried?”
“Sam, please,” Lena whispered as she wiped away a tear with her sleeve. “Just stop. I can’t handle this right now especially with everything else. Please.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Sam said softly as she put her hand on Lena’s arm. “I’ll stop. But Lena, you deserve to be happy.”
Lena scoffed bitterly on her tears before Sam pulled her into a hug. Despite Sam’s consistent urging, Lena knew she didn’t deserve that. She already didn’t deserve Sam and Ruby or even Jess and Nia. It was only a matter of time before that realized that for themselves, but for now, she could just hold Sam tight and do her best to not cry like a fool in front of her staff.
Despite her orders to her staff to wash her bed sheets three times and scrub down the carpet and drapes, Lena could still smell Kara in her room. Perhaps it was because she kept her old MIT shirt Kara had worn that night still unwashed in her bottom dresser drawer. Sometimes when she felt especially weak, she would kneel down on the ground and inhale that musky vanilla scent that had enraptured her since the first day their paths had crossed. But on nights like this one, Kara’s scent still linger in the air and trickled into Lena’s thoughts and dreams. Every time she closed her eyes, all she saw was the sparkle in those blue eyes or the crooked tooth in her grin. Even if she had banned the woman from her palace and country, there was no escaping her.
So Lena did what she normally did when she couldn’t sleep: she went down to the kitchen for some tea. After their conversation earlier, Lena prayed Sam didn’t have the same idea. She doubted she had the energy to fall into the same fight once again. But the kitchen wasn’t empty when Lena arrived; however, it wasn’t Sam who occupied it.
“Ruby?” Lena blinked, unsure if her eyes deceived her. “What are you doing up so late?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Ruby shrugged. “From the way you and Mom talk, I’m supposed to come down here and drink tea when that happens.”
“I suppose it is my preferred method for dealing with insomnia,” Lena said as she opened the cupboard for a tea cup. “Is there water still in the kettle?”
“Oh yeah, and it should still be hot,” Ruby told her, dipping her tea bag in and out of the tea.
Lena poured herself a cup of tea and sat down on the stool next to Ruby. Gripping her hands around the tea cup firmly, Lena sighed as she let the warmth of the liquid seep into her aching finger joints caused by several failed practice hours of archery.
“So what has you up tonight?” Lena asked as she took a slow sip of her tea.
“I’m trying to figure out how to convince you to invite Kara to your coronation.”
Lena choked on her tea.
“Excuse me?” Lena heaved after her brief coughing fit.
“You have to invite her, Aunty Lee,” Ruby pleaded, eyes wide and lip pouting as she stared up at the princess.
“That’s not possible, Ruby,” Lena stared back at her, doing her best to ignore her niece’s puppy dog eyes. “She lied to us. She's not welcome here.”
“A story she didn’t even publish!” Ruby leaned forward, pushing her tea aside. “You know she could have published a story about your adoption scandal, but she didn’t even mention it! Did you read her article? She had nothing bad to say about any of us! Not even Jess!”
Lena had read her article. Multiple times in fact. And Ruby was right: not a single negative thing had been said about any of them. Instead, it was a poetic rendition of the Thorulian landscape and the people working within the government to ensure the best of their people with Lena herself as the fearless leader. Even Sam and Ruby had been included, but not as accomplices or victims like the press had portrayed them in the past, but as warriors and visionaries working towards a better life for themselves and others. Other news outlets had even followed Catco and published their own support for the soon-to-be queen and even gone so far as to compare Lena as a phoenix rising from the ashes of her brother. All very cliche, but definitely a welcome change of pace.
“That doesn’t change the fact that she lied to us,” Lena sighed. “And we don’t still don’t know how much she lied about.”
“I believe her,” Ruby replied. “And so should you. I looked through her computer and besides her occupation, she was truthful about everything.”
Lena frowned. “Why did you look through her computer?”
“Because she said I could,” Ruby said with a wave. “My point is that she didn’t take advantage of us when she could have. She helped us. If anything we owe her now.”
“Ruby,” Lena closed her eyes as she sighed. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think I can.”
All of her life, Lena had feared someone exactly like Kara would show up. Someone who was beautiful, caring, smart, and had a heart so big that Lena believed she may actually have a spot in it. Then when Lena had finally let down her guard and surrendered herself completely to the angel of a woman, the halo would turn into horns and Lena’s heart would be crushed under her cloven foot. She had walls up to prevent that exact betrayal from happening, but Kara had found her way around that and drug her family into the pain as well. Yes, Kara hadn’t betrayed them as Lena expected, but what was to stop her from doing it again if she had the chance?
Kara had simply used her, just like everyone else in her life. Why should she bother deluding herself now?
Beside her, Ruby picked at the tag on her tea bag and bit her lip as she stared down at her tea. Lena knew that look and she knew to prepare herself.
“You know what makes you so different from dad?” Ruby asked as she turned her attention back to her aunt. “He only ever saw the worst in people, but you always see the best in people. You’re the one who taught me to believe in others. To have hope.”
Lena swallowed the lump in her throat as she broke off the gaze with Ruby. With anyone else, Lex was her weapon. No one dare bother the sister of a man like him. It kept the cowards and weaklings back. They kept their distance and she remained safe and unbothered. But with Ruby, it was her greatest weakness.
“If you really believed she was a threat to us, you would have had her arrested on the spot,” Ruby continued. “But you didn’t. Because you care about her. And I know she cares about you too.”
Lena’s lip quivered as her teacup shook in her hands before she set it down with a deep breath. She never talked about her feelings. It was so much easier to shove them into boxes to go through in private later. But of course, her niece knew exactly how to drag them out.
“She’d never forgive me,” Lena whispered.
“You’ll never know unless you ask her.”
Despite having her first article go viral, Kara still quit her job. Perhaps the world of journalism wasn’t quite as jaded as she believed, but she had already done enough harm in it and no amount of positive viral articles would make up for that. She figured her upcoming pay check would last her a month or two before she had to find a new job. Her lease on her apartment in National City would be over in about the same time frame, so if she didn’t find a new job, she could always simply move back to Midvale. Eliza would probably like that. Maybe Kara could actually give them a chance this time and vocalize just how much her traditions and past mean to her rather than sitting in the corner and not saying anything like she normally did.
Even with the goals she set mentally for herself, Kara still struggled to find any sort of motivation. Ever since her lash out at her boss and packing up her desk after working on edits on her article, Kara had barely left her couch since she collapsed on it. She knew she should eat, but she wasn’t hungry. She knew she should go for a walk, but she didn’t want to see the decorations that would remind her of the days past. Instead, she laid curled up in a ball under blankets with the curtains drawn and let sleep drift her in and out of consciousness as she played Golden Girls on the television.
“Are you kidding me?”
Kara jolted awake and squinted against the sleep stuck to her eyes to see her sister standing in front of her with crossed arms and jaw clenched.
“Alex?” Kara croaked, her voice still thick with sleep. “What are you doing here?”
“I call you twelve times and you don’t answer,” Alex told her, the vein in her forehead bulging. “I thought you had died, but here you are asleep!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Kara sat up with a yawn.
“You send me the most cryptic text of your life: ‘Returning to National City now. Don’t wait up for me,’ and then just ignore all my responses. I thought someone had killed you and was trying to cover their tracks!”
“It wasn’t that cryptic.”
“You’ve never sent me a text without an emoji in it in your entire life!”
“Look, I’m sorry, Alex, I didn’t know,” Kara sighed as she rubbed her eyes. “I put my phone on Do Not Disturb. Ever since Ms. Grant posted my article, my social media has been blowing up.”
“And that’s another thing!” Alex continued, still steaming. “You interviewed the Queen of another country and then you quit your job?! What the hell, Kara? After everything you’ve given up for that place, you just quit like that?”
“It wasn’t worth the cost,” Kara explained as she rubbed her temple as a migraine started to form.
“It apparently was a week ago when you blew off Christmas with your family for it.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I was feeling pushed out and--”
“Pushed out? Why on earth would you feel-”
Kara’s shout stunned them both into silence. Alex’s mouth hung open but nothing came out and Kara for the first time that day, Kara felt like she could breath. It was time she finally said what she had been holding in for years.
“I love spending the holidays with you and Eliza and Jeremiah,” Kara started, taking a deep breath. “I really do and you all are a wonderful family. But every year you cut out a different tradition I brought over from my homeland. And I know that you didn’t grow up with them and they’re strange because no one else you know does them, but they’re mine. The pirozhki, the rice fortune-telling, the Kazina carols; they not only make me feel close to my family that’s passed, but they also make me feel close and loved by my family now. And with Eliza not making the pirozhkis this year, Kelly wearing my Christmas sweaters, and you all decorating the tree without me, I just took that as you not wanting me around anymore. So when Ms. Grant asked if I’d go on an assignment that would potentially cause me to miss the holidays, I took it because I thought it would make it easier on all of us.”
A silence hung in the air after Kara finally finished. Her heart beat a bit easier in her chest now. For years, she had been harboring that in and just letting the Danvers have their own Christmas with her just following along. Still, hearing it aloud almost made her want to cry because heard just how ridiculous she sounded.
“Kara…” Alex started slowly, her brow creased in concern.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything,” Kara sniffled, wiping the back of her hand against her nose. “That was dumb-”
“No, no,” Alex quickly assured her as she sat down next to Kara on the couch. “Your feelings aren’t dumb. They are completely valid. I just wish you had something sooner. I had no idea.”
“I’m sorry,” Kara blubbered as she felt more tears come. “It’s just been years since I lost my parents I feel like I shouldn’t talk about them since it’s been so long and I don’t want to be anymore of a burden--”
“Hey, hey,” Alex slid her arm around her sister’s shoulder and held her tight. “You’ve never been a burden. You’ve always been a blessing, okay? I’m so glad I get to call you my sister. And I’ll celebrate any holiday however you like as long as I get to celebrate it with you.”
Being the emotional wreck she had been for the past forty eight hours, Kara could only cry more.
“Thanks, Alex,” Kara mumbled as she blew her nose into a tissue.
“That’s what sisters are for,” Alex squeezed Kara tighter.
Throwing her tissue into the trash can, Kara leaned back into her sister, waiting for the bubbling emotions within her to return back to their numb self that they had been for the past few days as the muted screen of the television danced in front of them. If anything, this had been one of her most favorite traditions of all: sharing a couch with someone she felt loved and safe with while they both watched tv. Why did it take her so long to just say that?
“So,” Alex pursed her lips. “I don’t mean to pry, but does this change of character have anything to do with certain someone you met in Thorul?”
Kara sighed. “Can we please not talk about it, right now, Alex?”
“That’s fine,” Alex insisted as she pulled an envelope out her pocket. “I just wondered if it had anything to do with this fancy envelope someone had slid underneath your door.”
Kara’s eyes widened as she saw the thick cream colored envelope in Alex’s hand and the Thorulian royal crest stamped into the red wax seal. She snatched it out of her sister’s hand and sat up and hunched over the letter, letting out a small gasp when she saw that it was not addressed to Karen Starr but rather Kara Danvers.
“It’s addressed to me,” Kara whispered.
“Well, duh, you do live here,” Alex rolled her eyes.
Forgoing an explanation, Kara tore through the seal and opened the envelope to reveal an immaculate piece of parchment with the Thorulian royal crest on even larger display as the header. Underneath written in thick black calligraphy said: Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Lena Luthor of Thorul. By command of the Queen, the Earl Marshall is directed to invite Kara Danvers to the present at the Thorulian Palace on the 31th day of December.
The letter shook in her hands. Kara thought she might throw up.
“You’re invited to the freaking coronation of the freaking queen of Thorul?!” Alex gasped. “Oh my god. Just who the freak were you crushing on over there? The Queen’s chamber maid?”
“The princess,” Kara squeaked as she did her best to take deep breaths and reign in her thoughts before they thought too much into this like they already had.
“No, like seriously, Kara,” Alex grabbed her sister by the shoulders so she would face her. “Just what the heck is going on?”
“I kind of…” Kara gulped. “I kind of lied and pretended to be a tutor for the royal palace to find an exclusive on the princess, but then accidentally fell in love with her instead.”
Alex creased her brow and blinked, studying Kara’s face as her mouth moved several times before she finally spoke.
“You did what?”
With a cringeful sigh, Kara explained it all more in detail to her sister who’s mouth and eyes only grew larger the more she continued. Most of her feedback had been gasps and groans as Kara relayed as quickly as she could just what exactly had been doing the past two weeks, leaving her sister a mess on the couch with her hands covering her face.
“How are you not in jail right now, Kara?” Alex asked, her hands still pressing the sides of her face. “How did they never check your ID?”
“I honestly have no clue,” Kara shrugged as she stared down at the invitation. “They probably just sent this to me as a mistake. I should just throw it away.”
“Like hell you are,” Alex snatched it out of Kara’s hands and held it out of reach. “It’s addressed to you, Kara Danvers. You’re going.”
“Be serious, Alex,” Kara groaned as she reached for the invite but Alex only moved it further away.
“Oh I am,” Alex insisted with raised eyebrows. “This woman still has feelings for you, and royal or not, I’m going to help my little sister find true love.”
“It’s not true love, Alex,” Kara sighed.
“Please,” Alex rolled her eyes. “You haven’t been able to say her name without getting all dreamy eyed. And I read your article. Cat Grant may have cut a lot of it out or edited it, but I know when you have it bad for someone and you have it bad.”
“Alex,” Kara gritted her teeth as she crawled over her sister who only blocked her from getting back the invite by putting her hand in her face. “Give it back!”
“No! You’re going!” Alex stood up higher on the couch as Kara clawed her extended arm and tugged on her clothes. “End of story!”
“No, I’m not!” Kara growled, her exhaustion working against her as shoved Alex’s hand off her face and lunged for the invite before Alex's knee blocked her.
“Because she doesn’t love me back, okay?!” Kara slumped back on the couch as a sob caught her throat but she forced it back down. “She doesn’t love me. She kicked me out of her country for heaven’s sake. She doesn’t want to send me. I don’t know who sent me that, but it wasn’t her.”
Out of all of this, that had been the hardest pill to swallow. The girl Kara loved didn’t love her back. Why had she ever been so foolish to think she could have? She was a goddess who could have anyone she ever wanted: why would that someone be her? She was nothing but lowley Kaznian peasant girl faking her way through daily life in National City with no real idea of who she wanted to be. Who would ever find that desirable? Certainly not anyone as perfect as Lena.
It was best she just accepted that moved on despite whatever ridiculous notions floated around in her head.
“Oh Kara,” Alex sighed as she slid back down on the couch. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Kara sniffled as wiped her nose on the sleeve of her shirt. “I was a fool for thinking anything ever could have happened anyways.”
“Well if you ask me,” Alex bumped her shoulder against Kara’s, “any woman would be lucky to have you. Royal or not.”
“Thanks, Alex,” Kara said with a small watery smile.
“Anytime, sis,” Alex said with a pat on her sister’s thigh as grabbed her a tissue. “Although I will say that this may not be the time to ask, but my curiosity is killing me, but who’s Nia?”
Kara froze mid blow into her tissue. “What?”
“Nia,” Alex said as she read from the back of the coronation invite. “Apparently she’s making piroshkis?”
Kara’s heart both stopped and did a cartwheel all at the same time. All she could do was scream.
“My God Kara,” Alex clamped her hands over her ears. “What is wrong with you?”
“Don’t you see?” Kara jumped up on the couch, her feet sinking into the cushions as she swiped the invite back from her sister and stared down at the fine cursive writing that Kara recognized immediately. “She loves me back!”
“What?” Alex gasped.
Soon she too was jumping on the couch with the blonde, hands waving at their sides as they both screamed in delight. The couch creaked as it scooted slowly back underneath them and possibly scratched the hardwood floor beneath, but Kara didn’t care. Lena still cared about her
“Oh God,” Alex grabbed Kara’s hands, stilling them both. “What will you wear?”
“Oh God,” Kara’s eyes bulged. “What will I wear?”
She had barely touched her luggage since she got home. When she first tried to unpack, she found the tiny knob from her dress tucked down in one of her shoes as an unwanted stowaway. Seeing it unleashed another wave of emotion that Kara simply shut her suitcase and retreated back to the couch. Now all of her best clothes still laid in wrinkles within it, and there was no way she could show up to a coronation ball in her normal slacks and cardigan.
“The next flight for Thorul leaves in two hours,” Alex said as she scrolled through her phone. “There’s that boutique on the way. We’ll just swing by there.”
“Alex, I don’t have the kind of money for that,” Kara told her.
“Consider it a late Christmas gift from me then,” Alex said as she pulled on her coat. “Or you can just pay me back when you’re married to the literal queen of a country.”
“We’re not…” Kara stopped herself with a sigh. “Thank you, Alex.”
“What are sisters for?” Alex shrugged with a smug grin. “I'm definitely keeping the KitchenAid Mixer I got for you though now. Now come on. We have a plane to catch.”
The Thorulian airport was even more crowded than when Kara had first arrived for the press conference. With the coronation only an hour away, the press now flocked through the airport in droves as they drug their expensive equipment along behind them. The time change had not been kind to Kara and she now found herself running much later than she expected. Checking her phone for the time, Kara raced outside to the turmoil, bypassing the baggage claim by wearing her new blue suit and leather shoes her sister had just bought her nine hours earlier. What better way to break in a new outfit than by pushing past crowds of journalists all waiting ahead of her in line for a cab?
“Taxi!” Kara cried out as she waved her arm frantically into the line of cars idling.
Kara turned and beamed at the familiar face grinning back at her from the front seat of the cab, the very same cab driver who had come to her aid last time she was in this turmoil.
“Hey!” Kara flung open the car door and climbed in, cutting through a line of very disgruntled reporters who shouted at her. When Kara noticed their press badges were that of a tabloid, her guilt faded. “Au palais monsieur!”
“Je connais le raccourci,” the driver said with a bigger grin towards Kara through the rearview mirror and put the cab in gear.
Even with the shortcut the cab driver took her on, Kara was still running short on time. Her leg jumped restlessly in the back seat of the cab as they pulled off the main road and on to the familiar windy single lane road through the snow covered forest. When the palace did finally come into view, lines of cars blocked their previous entrance to the palace from the back.
Impatient and running dangerously close on time, Kara threw what she now knew as a far too generous tip at the driver and opened the door to head out on foot to the palace. The driver yelled at her french as she trudged through the snow in her leather loafers and the wind blew at her hair, but she didn’t care. She simply tugged her coat tighter and pressed on despite the fact that her shoes were now soaked and the damp fabric of her slacks clung uncomfortably to her calves. It took several steps before Kara realized she now climbed the hill that her and Ruby sled on only last week. Just yesterday, she thought she’d never see this hill again, but now she had a sliver of hope that she might just sled on it again.
Kara’s route seemingly bypassed the guards standing by the palace entrance and the passenger unloading area, but that didn’t mean she had free entrance into the castle. With the coronation already underway, most of the guard stood at the ready by the closed doors and Kara couldn’t help but suck her teeth as she realized just how late she was despite her shortcut. And of course, making her entrance out of the dark snow covered landscape in a now damp stained suit and coat rather than a limo did little to ease her anxiety as several guards reached for their weapons as they saw her crunch through the snow in her approach.
“Hey,” Kara cleared her throat awkwardly as she did her best to ignore the fierce gaze of the armed guards around her and made her way to the smallest, least threatening looking one. “Sorry, I’m a little late. Could you tell me how to get to the coronation?”
“No entrance without an invitation,” the guard said gruffly, his hand not leaving his holster. “Otherwise you will be escorted off the property.”
He nodded his head at the other guards who began to close in around Kara before she threw up her hands.
“Wait, I have an invitation!” she exclaimed, doing her best to ignore the rather large rifles they carried as she rifled through her coat pockets to pull out a now rather wrinkled invitation. “Here!”
The guard eyed it suspiciously and gingerly took it out of Kara’s hands and held it up to the light of one of the lamp posts around him. He frowned as he turned it over and inspected the boarders. Kara could only hold her breath and bite her lip as she watched. Why hadn't she just brought a bag she could have kept it safer in than just shoving it into her pocket?
“This has been crumpled up,” the guard finally said, holding the paper delicately between his thumb and forefinger.
“I can smooth it out if you want,” Kara told him as she wiped the accumulating sweat off her forehead. “Just with the plane ride and then the traffic, I wasn’t able to keep it as pristine as I would have liked.”
The guard studied her intently for several moments before relenting.
“Her Majesty has most likely gone to light the coronation ring by now,” the guard said as he handed back the invite. “Go through these doors, down the hall and to the courtyard. Everyone should be there.”
“Thank you so much!” Kara exclaimed, grasnatched the invite back and dashed through the now open door.
Her wet loafers slid and squeaked on the tile floor of the palace, but that didn’t slow Kara down. Of course, this probably wasn’t the best look to have as an already suspicious looking guest to the guards as she now sprinted down the hallway, but Kara couldn’t bring herself to care. As soon as she found Sam or Ruby, they’d clear her. Maybe even Nia or Jess if they had happened to have forgiven her. Actually, now that Kara thought about, Sam might hold some resentment against her too. Ruby was really Kara’s only hope besides Lena. Unfortunate for Kara was that Ruby just so happened to be about a head shorter than all the other guests milling about tonight.
Finally, Kara found the archway that led out to the courtyard, but of course, it was already crowded with people, all their black tie and evening gown. In her wet loafers, Kara couldn’t see a thing over them and all they gave her in return were dirty looks as she scrambled around them, searching for some kind of opening she could peak through.
That was when she remembered the balcony.
Leaving the crowds behind, Kara scrambled through her mind to the night of the Christmas Eve Party and just what door she had followed Lena through. The different circumstances and starting points threw her off, but Kara trusted her gut when she found it directing her up the stairs and to another door. If she were wrong, perhaps she could find a staff member to direct her to some spare dry clothes. Hopefully all those nights wandering instead of sleeping would finally pay off.
And they did. The cold gust of air that hit her as soon as she opened the door, rippling her skin with goosebumps as Kara rushed out on to. Feeling the cold stone against her feet or the chill in her air brought back the memories of Lena dancing in hers and the heat of her body pressed against hers in longing. The memory tugged at her heart, but she pushed it away with a shake of her head and shiver as she searched through the crowds below for the one her heart called for now.
Beneath her, a flame was lit and the crowd parted, revealing the regal figure of the one Kara longed for and Kara’s heart shuttered. Lena stood tall in her coat of black furs as she readied the bow with a flaming arrow, the fire reflecting against her intricate, bejeweled crown and casting shadows behind her against the crowd. Kara’s mouth went dry. Even at such distance, how was she more beautiful than Kara remembered? Gripping the railing tight with anticipation as Kara leaned dangerously forward, she watched as the now Queen Lena Luthor pulled back her arrow with a deep exhale, take aim while using her mouth as an anchor, inhaled slowly, then released just as Kara had taught her.
The flaming arrow sailed through air, landing on a podium that lit a large standing circle: the coronation ring.
Despite knowing it was a lack of decorum, Kara whooped loudly, throwing her hands in the air as she cheered on Lena. Of course, her girl had done it. There had never been any doubts that she wouldn’t. Thankfully, no one seemed to be able to hear her over the thunder applause from the crowd below as Lena turned to the crowd and offered a polie bow, but Kara could see the smug grin on her face. She was the expert marksman she proclaimed after all. When the staff came to take the bow, Kara put her fingers to her lips and whistled loudly, but the sound unfortunately echoed around trees and exterior palace walls around the courtyard, so while Lena looked up, she didn’t look at Kara.
With a sigh, Kara remained on her perech as she watched the guards escort Lena through the crowd and back into the palace. While she wasn’t entirely sure what would happen next, Kara knew that she would be following Lena. Shivering in her cold and hating herself for not insisting that Alex had bought her a warmer outfit, Kara shuffled back inside, stomping her feet against the carpet as she attempted to regain the feeling in them that the cold had robbed.
As she descended the stairs, she was met with a crowd of people all rushing back inside the palace from the courtyard to the ballroom. Apparently, Kara had missed most of the coronation ceremony in her later arrival and it seemed to already be time for the dance. Ridiculous as it seemed, Kara had hoped she would reunite with Lena in a more private setting. The idea of embracing her and professing her love to her in front of an assortment of dignitaries and journalists in her now cold wet suit made Kara consider just running off to her old bedroom and waiting it out there. The party had to end sometime. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Unfortunately, one studious bald guard crushed that notion before Kara could act on it as she ran into him at the bottom of the stares.
“Just who are you exactly?” He asked her, his arms crossed as he stood far too close in her personal space.
“Um, Kara,” Kara squeaked, pulling on her shirt collar. “Kara Danvers.”
“Where is your press badge?” He demanded as he effectively blocked the entire bottom of the stairs with his stance.
Really, Kara thought, where were these people when she got into the palace in the first place?
“I’m actually not with any press affiliate at the moment,” Kara explained weakly as her face grew hot while she reached for her coat pocket. “The Queen actually invited me. I can show you the invitation actually.”
But unfortunately, the guard didn’t bother even glancing at the wrinkled paper in Kara’s hand as he reached for his holster.
“You’re going to need to come with me Miss.”
Almost sliding on the carpet with her wet loafer, Kara whipped her head back to see a very elegant Sam rushing towards her in a golden evening gown and elbow length white gloves and the guard automatically steps to the side for her. Behind her, Ruby trailed behind, struggling to walk quickly in her stiff, red, floor length dress with golden fringe and little bits of snow clinging to the hem. Just seeing them in person again made Kara want to cry.
“You know this woman, Duchess?” the guard asked.
“Of course,” Sam quickly replied as she looped her arm through Kara’s and pulled her down the last step to the ground floor. “She’s a personal guest of the Queen. Now, if you would excuse us, we need to freshen up.”
“Of course, Duchess,” the guard took a step back with a bow, clearly still not used to addressing Sam as anything but royalty. “My mistake.”
Sam nodded and quickly, but somehow still gracefully, pulled Kara to the side away from the crowds of press and royals up the stairs to the more dimly lit hallway upstairs. Even in the dim light, her large golden necklace and heavy earrings twinkled as she darted her head around, ensuring they were alone as Ruby joined them at the top of the stairs.
“Sam,” Kara breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s so good to see you.”
“Just what do you think you’re wearing?” Sam gasped as she took a step back to baulk over Kara’s outfit. “Did you swim across the Atlantic and then trek through France? Haven’t you ever heard of planes?”
It wasn’t until now that Kara really had a chance to look over herself, and even with the dimmer light of the hallway, Kara’s mouth dropped. Her slacks had somehow tore the knee and the mix of dirt in the wet and dry fabric on the blue fabric along the calves resembled a poor tie dye job. Her once shiny loafers now appeared faded and cracked as clumps of dirty ice still clung to the toe. The eager woman in new clothes that stepped off the plane was gone and a scraggly mess who was now panicking had taken her place. How on earth had she been let in?
“The cab got held up in traffic and blockades,” Kara stuttered as she stared at her once nice shoes. “I had to walk some of the way through the snow and woods along the property. I haven’t gotten a chance to freshen up.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Ruby smirked as she too looked over her old tutor. “The determination anyway. The appearance is a little questionable.”
“Do either of you have a compact or something?” Kara asked, attempting to wipe off the dirt on her thighs. “Maybe even a change of pants?”
“We have a change of everything,” Sam said, checking her gold watch. “Come on. Lena’s dancing with all the eligible bachelors right now, but we may just be able to squeeze you end towards the end.”
“Eligible bachelors… right,” Kara gulped as she remembered the requirement of all unwed queens being required to dance with all the eligible men in the kingdom. Perhaps then wouldn’t be the most opportune time to make an entrance.
Kara’s developing doubts were soon cut off by a pair of arms suddenly wrapping around her in a vice and a quick squeeze.
“I’m glad you came back,” Ruby said as she hugged Kara tightly.
“Me too,” Kara smiled. Even if Lena did reject her, at least she got to see Ruby and Sam one last time.
“Alright, so I’m loving the suit vibe on you, but I unfortunately don’t have as many as I’d like to choose from. How would you feel if it had a slight floral pattern?” Sam said as she pulled out a black suit with gold and white sunflowers on it from her closet. “It might be a bit of a gamble, but I think it would look great with your hair.”
“It’s not bad,” Kara said slowly. And it really wasn’t. But was it something someone would wear to a coronation? Now that Kara looked at her own suit and thought of the outfits Ruby and Sam wore as well as everyone else downstairs, she felt under dressed.
“Go with the dark blue one, Mom,” Ruby called out as she nudged Kara’s side. “It’s kind of like the one you’re wearing now. And it’s one of Thorulian’s national colors.”
“Good idea, Rubes.” Sam pulled out a navy suit with golden buttons and a white collared shirt underneath and pushed it into Kara’s hands. “And it would match well national color wise with Lena’s red dress. Oh and I have the perfect earrings and shoes to go with it!”
“You really don’t have to,” Kara insisted as she felt the soft silk of the suit fabric beneath her finger tips and felt the ever building anxiety tighten in her chest. “Both of you have already done far too much as it is.”
“You’re giving me an excuse to get out of a boring party,” Ruby grinned. “I’d say we’re about equal.”
“Oh hush, Ruby,” Sam rolled her eyes. “But really, Kara. It’s no trouble at all for us. You’re making a bigger deal out of this than it really is.”
“But I lied to both of you,” Kara said, holding the outfit tighter in her hand. “And I haven’t even had a chance to apologize to both of you yet. Doesn’t that bother you?”
Sam let out a deep sigh as she closed the jewelry box on her dresser and turned to look at Kara with sincere, but tired eyes.
“You weren’t the first person to lie to me, Kara,” she said. “And you certainly won’t be the last.”
“But that doesn’t make it okay.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Sam told her as she leaned against her dresser. “But also not all lies are the same. Yes, you lied about who you were outwardly, but you remained true to the person you really are. And despite your lies, you didn’t use them to intentionally cause harm, even if you did in the end which I am ashamed of you for.” Sam swallowed as her eyes tracked down to her bedroom floor. “But I’ve seen and experienced just how devastating some lies can be. I still carry some of that pain to this day. What you did though, I believe I can look past, which is why I’ve encouraged Lena to do the same.”
“I…” the words caught in Kara’s throat. A relationship to someone like the former king of Thorul was enough to strip anyone of trust or good will for a lifetime, but Sam somehow still managed to keep her heart through it all and still try to help those around her and see the best in them. It was enough to make Kara want to cry. “Thank you.”
“But make no mistake,” Sam continued, her eyes flicking to Kara with a certain power that rose the hair on the back of Kara’s neck. “If you ever lie to Lena or my daughter again, I won’t be so forgiving.”
Kara gulped. “I-I swear…”
“Oh my gosh, Mom, you’re so embarrassing,” Ruby rolled her eyes and pushed at Kara’s shoulder. “Go get ready Kara. You have a coronation to crash!”
Technically, it wasn’t crashing if one was invited, but as soon as the doors opened to the ballroom, Kara felt crashing was the closest thing she was doing. She was a fish out a water when it came to country and culture already, but now class was thrown into the mix. Even the corsets and coat tails some of the guests wore made Kara think she was even wrong the century. Everyone here knew how to hold their head high and pinkies higher as she roamed and socialized throughout the large room while Kara simply shoved her hands in her pockets and hunched her shoulders, hoping it would make her look smaller and insignificant in the sea of people even if on the surface, Kara looked as if she did fit in.
Ruby’s stylings had done wonders to her figure even if she insisted tearing off the sleeves of the suits would be the only way Kara could adequately show off her toned biceps she claimed Lena would fawn over. Sam’s quick work with mascara, a pale lipstick, and hair spray turned Kara’s face into one that was almost unrecognizable to Kara. Of course, that could have just been her lack of glasses and poor adjustment to the new contacts she wore. Still, Kara insisted she carry her glasses in her inside jacket pocket just in case. Who knew what the night might bring afterall.
Now as Kara walked into the ballroom with Ruby and Sam on either side of her, no one spared her a second glance. Despite the effective disguise, Kara still couldn’t help the thundering pulse of her heart. She had felt more calm at the state dinner in her Target dress and pocket full of quiches only a little over a week ago. How she longed for that simplicity.
“Roll your shoulders back,” Sam told Kara with an elbow to the side. “Slouching does nothing for your looks or posture.”
“Oh right,” Kara puffed out her chest as she straightened her spine.
“Oh gosh, not that much,” Sam said with a slight cringe. “I can’t have you busting through one of my favorite suits now.”
“You looked fine just the way you were, Kara,” Ruby insisted. “Mom just gets anxious and nags at these sorts of events.”
“Yeah, she’s the anxious one,” Kara murmured as she herself worried the pit in her stomach would swallow her whole any second.
“I do not nag,” Sam told her daughter with a threatening narrow gaze.
“Sure, you don’t,” Ruby agreed although her tone dripped in sarcasm.
“Oh look, there’s aunty Lee,” Ruby said loudly, pulling Kara along with her forward to the edge of the dance floor.
If Kara thought she was anxious before, it was nothing to how she felt as soon as her gaze landed on the woman dancing in front of them. Her dark furs and the sparkle in her eye of earlier gone, and a red evening gown and a polite smile took its place as Lena sashayed around the dance floor gracefully in the arms of another. Her partner’s frown creases in his forehead and the snobby upturned nose caused Kara’s own face to wrinkle slightly in disgust, but Lena only nodded along with a tight smile as he spoke to her as they danced. Her shoulders held a tension that Kara’s fingers ached to work out and her green held an exhaustion that Kara longed to soothe. Kara shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she fought the irrational urge to run out onto the dance floor and whisk Lena away to the night of relaxation and sleep she deserved, but of course, that wasn’t possible. Especially not with the line of men surrounding the dance floor as they awaited their own dance with the now Queen of Thorul who, by tradition, was required to give.
“My god could these dances be any longer?”
Kara turned her head and disgust fell across her face when she saw the man she and Ruby now stood next to was none other than Lord Mike Matthew, the partying Lord himself. From the way he nursed the champagne glass in his hand, the coronation had not dampered his intake of spirits. And of course, he was an eligible bachelor waiting for a dance. With his personality, Kara doubted if he would ever find himself not in that state.
“Really,” he continued after a generous gulp. “If you have the audacity to have a coronation on New Years Eve, you should at least be respectful of your guests' time. Some of us have places to be before midnight.”
“And where exactly would that be?” Ruby asked, crossing her arm.
“My own party for starters,” Mike told her before he let out a small burp. “I throw a rager every New Year. Of course, this had to be planned during it.”
“I apologize that my ex-husband couldn’t have delayed his arrest to another day,” Sam said coldly.
Mike scoffed his drink. “Sure, I bet you are.”
“Excuse me?” Kara started as she felt Ruby stiffen besider her and her fists clenched, but Sam’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Now isn’t the time or place,” Sam murmured to her.
Kara nodded reluctantly, but her fists remained closed at her sides. Just then, the song ended and Mike perked up as Lena’s dance partner separated with a bow and Lena turned towards them.
“Well, it’s about time,” Mike said, passing his glass off to Kara. “Take this for me, would you? It’s my turn to dance.”
Not sure what else to do, Kara took the glass, holding it away from her as she didn’t want it any closer than necessary, but she longed for something to do as her heart hammered dangerously fast in her chest as Lena approached them. Kara was unable to take her eyes off her, but Lena seemingly hadn’t noticed her. Did she not recognize her in this attire and accessories? Had she given up on Kara already? She had missed most of the coronation after all. Why hadn't she just gotten here sooner?
Mike flashed a crooked grin at the Queen as their eyes met and she approached while he offered her an exaggerated bow.
“Lord Matthews,” Lena said calmly as her gaze lingered on the drink stain on his shirt collar. “I see you’ve been indulging yourself tonight.”
“How could I not, your Majesty?” Mike said in a brown nosing way that made Kara’s skin crawl. “It is a night of great celebration, after all.”
Lena’s red lips curved in a poorly guised fake grin as her exasperated eyes darted over towards Sam, Ruby and Kara.
“I do hope you all have just as much fun as this gentleman,” she said with a slight laugh. “I cannot promise the night will be as enjoyable as-- Kara?”
The proper face of the once princess fell and one of shock took it’s place. Those emerald eyes that haunted Kara’s dreams were now wide and those lips that haunted Kara’s fantasies now hung open. And Kara only knew she looked the same. Despite her planning and the mental preparation the trip had given her, she doubted she would have ever been ready for this. In her hands, Mike's glass slipped before Kara caught it, spilling his drink on her shoes, but she didn’t care. She was finally standing in the presence of the woman she called beloved.
“Hi,” Kara breathed.
“You came,” Lena whispered as her the most beautiful grin slowly overtook her expression as she took a small step forward.
“Yeah,” Kara couldn’t help but grin back, her hands automatically taking Lena’s hand in her own. “Sorry, I’m late. Time zones can be a real pain sometimes.”
“It’s okay,” Lena told her with a squeeze of her hand in hers. “I’m just so glad you made it.”
“Yeah?” Kara asked in a choked whisper as heart swelled impossibly large in her chest.
“Hey,” Mike barked, ripping both of them out of their bubble. “I’m supposed to be your next dance. Not this waitress.”
Lena’s jaw clenched before she took a sharp deep breath, her hand gripping Kara’s tightly before she spotted the glass in Kara’s other hand.
“I do not dance with the intoxicated, Lord Matthews, especially those who cannot keep track of their own glasses,” Lena told him as she took his drink out of Kara’s hand and shoved it back into his own. “I suggest you either sober up or get out before my guards escort you.”
“Excuse me?” Mike bawled.
“I am your Queen and I will not tolerate that tone,” Lena snapped, her nostrils flaring. “Take your drink and leave. Now .”
Mike’s jaw worked up and down several times before he finally relented and took his drink back before turning and pushing his way through the crowd. Whether that was to leave as Lena told him or to go back to the bar for another drink, Kara didn’t know nor did she care. Her focus remained solely on the woman in front of her who’s hand she finally held within her own.
“Wow, the power has gone to your head that fast I see,” Sam smirked.
“I think it was brilliant!” Ruby laughed. “Did you see his face?”
“Sorry about that,” Lena told Kara. “I hope he didn’t bother you for too long.”
“Not at all,” Kara smiled. “I mean, not too long. Especially now that you’re here.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Lena said, returning Kara’s smile.
They stood now only a foot apart from each other and Kara longed to both close the gap between them but also stay in this heavenly world where only the two of them existed. Lena's new crown only looked larger now this close, but Kara barely noticed it especially with the way those green eyes looked back at her. If she could, she'd stare into them forever.
“Well are you going to ask her?” Ruby demanded as she rocked back and forth on her feet.
“I was getting to that Ruby,” Lena chuckled as she bit her lip. “Kara Danvers, would you do me the honor of a dance?”
“Yes!” Kara squeaked before clearing her throat. “I mean, yeah. Yes. Please.”
The corner of Lena’s mouth crooked upwards as she pulled Kara out onto the dance floor with her. As soon as Lena's feet touched the floor, the band began to play again, and Lena’s hands drifted so one was on Kara’s shoulder and the other holding her hand in the air. Kara’s hand placement followed as she soon fell in step with the song and attempted to lead Lena through it.
“Remember, I only know the steps and none of the spins or dips,” Kara said, suddenly very aware of her feet squeezed in Sam’s too small shoes.
“I remember,” Lena laughed, giving Kara’s hand a squeeze. “Still the best dance partner I’ve ever had though.”
“How you love to humor me,” Kara grinned as they moved together along the ballroom floor.
“It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite pastimes,” Lena admitted before her eyes balanty flicked down to check Kara out. “Especially when you wear suits.”
“You can think Sam for this one,” Kara said, blush tingeing her cheeks. “The sleeves are a little too short.”
“I certainly don’t see any problem with it,” Lena gave a sly smirk.
“Well that’s good because there are definitely a lot of people staring at us.”
And there were. As much as Kara had tried to ignore it, almost every head in the room had turned towards them when they stepped out onto the dance floor, and their dance ability had nothing to do with it. If it weren’t for Lena finally being in her arms, Kara would have longed for when she was either invisible or mistaken as a waitress. Lena, however, only shrugged them off.
“It’s a bit unprecedented for a a recently crowned royal to be dancing with the same sex on the night of her coronation especially when there are other eligible bachelors who have yet to be danced with,” Lena explained. “Actually, it’s a bit unorthodox, I believe. Maybe even a first.”
“Isn’t that a problem, though?” Kara asked hesitantly. “I thought you said we wouldn’t ever be public and all.”
Lena gave a soft sigh. “Let’s just say I’m learning to do better to manage the distractions in my life. That is if you’re willing to be patient with me. It’s not exactly going to be the easiest learning process, but I’d love it if you joined me.”
“Of course,” Kara assured her with a grin. “Anything for you.”
“It also definitely helps that the media is suddenly much more fond of me,” Lena said with a tilt of her.
Kara faltered in her step as her smile fell. “I’m so sorry--”
“No, no,” Lena said, urging her partner to keep moving with a loving squeeze of her hand. “I’m thanking you. And also apologizing to you. I reacted rashly and impulsively by saying things I shouldn’t have.”
“You had every right to,” Kara swiftly assured her before Lena shook her head.
“Reacting to pain by causing more is not excusable and is no way to live,” Lena told her. “I accept your apology and only hope that you accept mine.”
“Of course,” Kara said softly. “I’ll always forgive you.”
“I really do need to thank you again though for what you said in your article. I don’t think you fully understand just how much of an impact that had on my approval rating. People actually seem to want to give me a chance now.”
“It was only a matter of time,” Kara told her with a small smile. “Who wouldn’t want you as their Princess?”
“Well, I’m Queen now,” Lena smirked with a tilt of her head. “And theoretically, I can do whatever I want.”
“And what is it you want, my Queen?”
“You.” Lena’s smile softened. “If you’ll have me.”
Kara’s eyes drifted closed as Lena’s hand on her shoulder glided to hold her neck as Kara pressed her pale lips against Lena’s red as they grinned so wide their teeth clicked. But Kara didn’t mind. She didn’t mind as the cameras flashed around them as she pulled Lena’s hips flushed with her own and cupped Lena’s soft cheek as she lost herself in the kiss she poured every ounce of love and respect in that she could because Lena deserved nothing less.
This was what she had been searching for. This was what filled the hole in her heart. This was her dream in life: to love and support and care for this incredible woman in her arms. She was the home Kara had been searching for all along. And Kara couldn’t wait to spend the rest of her life loving it with her new found home and family.
I deeply apologize for any and all grammar and spelling errors. My goal was to publish this story on a daily basis leading up to Christmas and when I missed that goal, I shifted it to New Years Eve. I did manage to hit that, but at a little more of a cost than I liked. I hope it’s not too bad before I’m able to go through and edit it like I’d like tomorrow.
Thank you everyone for the wonderful time I had this month. 2020 was hell on my mental state and it was really nice finding joy in writing once again. Thank you all for that. I wish you all the best and a wonderful new year