Kara made a valiant effort to convince herself that she was not at all miserable about where she was going even as she located the elaborate dome of the venue and floated down beside the rented red carpet and valet parking. She was dressed as Supergirl and ready to appear as tonight’s special guest at the biggest fundraising event of the year in National City. She paused to meet two of the valets and waited with them to meet a third who returned. They were donating their time and being treated with the disregard of unseen support staff, so she made sure to thank each of them. That way, at least they could feel some degree of recognition during their evening. She was about to get far more recognition than she was wanting, and she got a deep breath into her lungs before pushing her way through the doors and making her entrance.
A clutter of journalists gravitated towards Kara even as she entered. She spotted Carolyn Reyes and made a beeline towards her. Everyone kept back, and Kara made certain that her surprise at this did not show. She had a way of commanding respect as Supergirl, and even hard-nosed, pushy journalists would often give her space if she projected the right physicality. Ms. Reyes led the beneficiary of this event, the Unchained Foundation, a major player in anti-human trafficking work, which had recently relocated its headquarters to National City. The two of them had met two weeks before, when the UF had explicitly added alien trafficking to its mission in a widely publicized event. Ms. Reyes caught sight of Kara and made a beautiful smile.
“Supergirl!” Ms. Reyes said, as she reached to take her hand.
She held onto Kara’s hand as the two of them said hello. A lot of people became weird when it came to touching Supergirl, perhaps wondering how they would be sized up by their handshake or having some anxiety over alien biology. Ms. Reyes had gone from being guarded with Kara to entirely open with her in the span of a single meeting. She offered her a rich welcome now, and she introduced Kara to her sister and her sister’s husband. Kara asked after the rest of their family that she knew still lived in France and Nigeria. Their welcome and conversation made Kara forget how uncomfortable she was being in the room for several minutes.
Then she heard from across the room that Casey Warren had spotted her. She felt her spine stiffen, as he broke off his conversation and crossed the room. He stood behind her for several, long seconds, before everyone’s attention came to him. Kara turned around. She let him shake her hand, and she tried not to smile at how hard he made his grip. Still, she could not quite find it within herself to quell the urge to let herself slowly increase the pressure of her grip to a firmer squeeze until she had taken the grin right off his face and he retracted his hand from hers first.
“The main event!” Casey said and clapped her on the shoulder.
Kara grinned and then felt her jaw grip. She and Mr. Warren had first met at the last UF event. Mr. Warren had retired from the NFL some years before and established himself as the foremost sports announcer in National City. This year, he had taken it upon himself to boost this annual fundraising drive to new heights with constant, free press and by bringing in astonishing donations for the top prizes. He had even secured this extravagant venue. The drive ran on bids, and nearly eighty prizes were up for bid that night. To make the event possible and lucrative, the auctioneers would offer the prizes in groups of five at once, and the five highest bidders would all settle into a place on a display board to claim one of the cluster of prizes. The model had allowed them to raise more than $400,000 the last year. Mr. Warren wanted to double that this year.
Kara was still not quite sure how he had managed to get her to agree on camera to donate a date with Supergirl as one of the prizes for the evening. Somehow, she had not understood then that the prize would be boasted on air everyday for two weeks. Still, she had regretted it even as she nodded, especially when he reached out to shake her hand in front of the cameras to lock in the deal. Over the DEO comm she was wearing at the event, Winn had remarked that Supergirl had just been bamboozled. Alex piped in to say to back off and let Supergirl make her own decisions. From her tone, Kara knew that she had, in fact, just been bamboozled in front of everyone. J’onn’s silence over the comm further instilled the fact. She had tried to play it off and remain a good sport for the sake of the UF.
“Are any of your people here, Ms. Reyes? I’d love to meet some more of them. Anyone who organized the event or solicited the lesser known prize donations?” Kara asked.
That got her taken away to talk to a handful of sweet people working for UF who Mr. Warren did not care about and so left him behind. As she was meeting people, across the room, Kara spotted Lena Luthor. Lena waved swiftly in her direction and went back to listening intently to the woman who was standing with her. When Kara made her farewell with a swift and highly photographed first hug with Ms. Reyes for the evening, she cut a line across the room to come to Lena, anchored by finding a friend.
“Fancy meeting you here!” Kara said.
She felt a little duplicitous and a twinge of coyness peaked in her chest, as Lena had asked her to this event as Kara Danvers several weeks ago. She had been obligated to decline the offer after originally accepting once she had gotten herself tangled up in this mess as Supergirl. Lena believed that Kara was off on CatCo business at this very moment.
“Likewise!” Lena said.
“I didn’t see you before. Did you just get here?” Kara said.
“No, I saw when you came in. I didn’t want to interrupt when you were talking to Ms. Reyes. You two are kindred spirits,” Lena said.
“You should have!” Kara said.
Lena smiled. Kara felt far more relaxed just standing near her. Lena seemed about as easygoing in this crowded, fancy room as Kara had ever seen her. She had weathered far worse, Kara estimated.
“So have you been to one of these before?” Kara asked.
“Four, actually,” Lena said. “UF is one of my favorite foundations.”
“How’d you find out about them?” Kara said.
“Oh, you know,” Lena said with a wave of her hand, and Kara kept looking at her and waiting for more. “The worst experiences in my life were all tied to losing my parents. When you look into commonplace issues among orphans, human trafficking comes up.”
Mr. Warren took the mic, and the room quieted. He was to give a summary of the prizes. Then folks would have time to collect their thoughts about their bids. He started at the bottom of the list and went up. Lena and Kara kept their voices low, as they turned and spoke more.
“I have to say that I’m surprised at the turnout. I think your involvement allowed them to draw quite the rare and distinguished crowd. This should go very well as far as the fundraising goes,” Lena said.
“People often care more than they let on,” Kara said.
“You’re our resident heroic optimist,” Lena said, “So I won’t offer you any of my salt as a jaded insider. Some of my least favorite people in this city are standing front-and-center. I suppose as long as they came ready to shell out cash, they are more than welcome. Though, I honestly don’t like to think whose company you’ll be forced to keep after tonight. Obviously, I am thrilled to have you here. Though I’m not quite sure how you let yourself get roped into this.”
“They offer nights out with celebrities every year, right? It’s not just a me thing,” Kara said.
“Yes, they always have at least one. Honestly, I hate the idea. I know it’s supposed to be light and humorous. It runs counter to the whole spirit of the organization if you ask me. Someone has asked me to offer a date every year for the past three years, and I’ve said no and not to ask me again. I’m not like you – not above all this silliness,” Lena said.
“It’s just dinner, right,” Kara said with a forced shrug.
Mr. Warren had gotten to the last handful of prizes. He announced the top prize of the evening, a night out on a date with Supergirl. The prize came in the form of a ten-course meal each with a suitable wine pairing for two people at a restaurant called Blue Mist. Kara did her best not to react when she heard that. Blue Mist was a recently opened five star restaurant that had received enormous press. They were rated the “Most Romantic” venue in the city. Their entire menu centered on aphrodisiacs. A five-course meal there cost more than $500 per person. When he finished, the room clapped and a few men let out whistles. He left the crowd to consider their bids.
“Wow,” Lena said.
Lena turned back to Kara, clearly astonished. Kara had grown almost completely distracted. She was trying not to use her powers to overhear the men standing near the stage, but flickers of their conversation were coming in regardless of her efforts at focus. She found herself fighting blushing.
“Yeah,” Kara managed to say. “Spendy. I wonder how he got the donation.”
“I don’t really like to think,” Lena said.
Another familiar voice caught Kara’s ear. She turned to see James Olsen coming into the room. He was shaking hands with a couple of familiar people. He made a nod at Kara to acknowledge her without being too obvious that they were close friends. Kara kept an eye on James until she could run into him. She made a quick goodbye to Lena, who was already being dragged off into another conversation.
James broke free from a second run in with someone he recognized mutually. He nodded towards the tables of food in the back of the room. Kara went to the other side of the food table across from James. She found herself conflicted. There would surely be dozens of photos of her eating and jokes about her super-appetite if she ate at this event. She gathered a few things onto her plate.
“How did I get myself into this?” Kara asked James across the table, through gritted teeth made to appear as a grin.
“Just keep breathing deeply and remember, you could fling literally any person in this room straight up and into deep space if you were determined. This nightmare has a run time of two hours tops. We are now… forty-six minutes in,” James said with a hard look at his watch.
“I’ll have a highly publicized date to manage on my own later. They’ll be snapping picture of me eating raw oysters and chocolate covered strawberries across from… who knows who,” Kara said.
“We’ll all crash the restaurant in secret and run interference – make it an adapted game night,” James said.
“It’s at Blue Mist,” Kara said.
James made a face that conceded to the fact that none of them could afford to crash the restaurant in that case, much less all of them.
“We will just have to… stage a call for you to come and save a burning children’s hospital or something along those lines. I’d commit arson to keep you away from Jim Schiller, the banker from US Prize, I promise you that. Although I’d probably be saving his life, and that’s… well, that is decidedly a moral ambiguity,” James said.
“Have I told you recently how much you mean to me?” Kara asked.
“Yeah, you have. You’re great about all that stuff. But I could always use hearing it more. And just as a reminder, you mean the world to me and probably half the people in this room, however degrading Warren’s circus turns out to be,” James said.
“It’s not the same with other people. You’re always looking out for me,” Kara said.
“I always try to remain a brother,” James said.
With those words, James stood up straight. He was satisfied with his filled plate and lost his excuse to linger. He gave Kara a wink and a generous smile before walking away. James had made Kara feel comfortable and even smile quite genuinely when she was still bristling with discomfort. She took a deep breath and gathered her own pile of food, determined now to eat enough despite all the press, consequences be damned.
Kara stood with a wide stance and ate with great stoicism, as the bidding for the night ran its course. The collective total reached $280,000. They were hoping to top the $400,000 mark with the last five, hottest prizes. From the buzz in the room, they were likely to manage this. James was standing nearby, and when it was time for her to go up, he came and took Kara’s all-but-emptied plate from her hand. She went up onto the stage and stood behind the auctioneer with the folks holding the other four, red prize envelopes. For whatever reason, the auctioneer kept the one associated with the date with her under his hands at the podium. She made herself grin with as much authenticity as she could muster. She nearly flagged when the auctioneer implied that she should be proud to be weighed against the other prizes that included a seat in the owner’s booth during the next Patriot’s game, autographs from the entire National City hockey team, three days at an exclusive spa in Fiji with a private beach, and a diamond pendant set by a famous jeweler in the 1950’s.
The bidding started at $10,000 and bids rang out all over the room. As the amounts rose, most of the bidding died out. Focus settled onto competition for the top prize. Three men in particular began to one-up each other. From the auctioneer’s announcements, Kara gathered that one was the owner-founder of a sportswear company. Another was some kind of investor. The two of them seemed to know one another. From the way they bantered, Kara could decipher whether they were rivals or friends.
An older man with a rather pinched expression and an somewhat unfortunate toupee would interrupt their bidding on occasion. He told the room he was bidding for his son, a Lieutenant Colonel and a war hero who was overseas and booked to return on leave in three days. The audience seemed to take him up as their favorite. A handful of people started to pool money to keep him bidding against the other two men.
The amounts rose so high that the auctioneer paused the bidding. He made sure that bidders understood that way the auction tonight worked. The five highest bidders were bidding on the five prizes currently on the board. He gave the bidders a long moment to reconsider their bids. The pause only rejuvenated the conflict.
Kara could only stand back and listen in astonishment as the top bids rose. The man bidding for his son relented near $100,000. The other two men were certainly focused on one-upping each other as much as anything. They started to really argue about who was a more suitable match for Supergirl, heckling each other openly in the room. The auctioneer did not know how to respond to this. He would pause and proceed as best he could. Their two bids rose all the way up over $200,000. Finally, one of the two broke and intended to the let the other have the win. Their bids sat at $250,000 and $225,000 concurrently. The auctioneer was ready to close the bidding.
In the profound stillness, Lena Luthor lifted her arm into the air and raised two fingers.
“A half a million dollars,” Lena called up to the auctioneer.
A murmur rose in the room. Many people shushed each other. The auctioneer appeared ready to lose his calm after all. He covered the mic with his hand a moment and held his composure.
“That is Miss Lena Luthor on the floor, ladies and gentlemen. We have a new bidder entering here near the end. Can I just confirm with you, Miss Luthor, you’d like to place a bid and – was that sum $500,000? Did I understand you right?”
Lena smiled and turned her face down as she gave him a sharp salute with two fingers to confirm. One man in the back of the room broke out laughing, and Lena turned over her shoulder to grin at him. They appeared to be strangers, and Kara had no idea what they were laughing about that no one else got. She heard one of the young women Ms. Reyes had introduced her also giggling into the sleeve of her blazer near the stage. Lena turned her face up and made her a nod, as well.
The auctioneer ran down a thorough search for final bids. Then he closed the bidding. All the room gave voice at once to their astonishment. Kara felt remarkably relieved. She could not even hide the tension held in her shoulders and stood with her arms crossed in front of her. This was maybe a little weird to be set up for a date with her friend incognito, but this amount of awkward felt entirely reasonable compared to how things were going before. She might even have a good time out that night.
The crowd in the room rose up what became a thunderous applause. The other bidders went up to receive their prizes, while Lena held back. Reporters were already dodging in to ask Lena whether she had bid for herself or for someone else. The room practically collectively parted to send Lena up to the stage. And she walked as casually as she might have on a stroll through Central Park. She waited patiently and carefully took the envelope that held the prize from the auctioneer’s hand in both of her own. Then Lena crossed in front of him and in front of the mic. She approached Kara there on the stage right in front of everyone.
With their sides to the audience, so they could see clearly, Lena handed Kara the envelope with the prize that she had just purchased. She simply smiled after Kara took it. Then Lena walked off the stage and back out into the crowd. Kara stood holding the red envelope, uncertain for a moment of what had just happened. Another round of applause filled the room, and Kara realized that Lena had relinquished the prize into her own possession. Mr. Warren came onto the stage to make closing comments.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “I believe – we’ll have the figures in a moment – but I believe that we have just raised well over a million dollars for the Unchained Foundation here tonight.”
Kara saw her opening and stepped down off the stage. She could barely hear the announcements. James was standing beside her grinning. The room was busy clapping for an incredibly long time. He leaned in closer to Kara to speak.
“That was amazing! She just snatched all the headlines!” James said in a calm voice, knowing that Kara could pick out his voice amidst the uproar.
Lena brushed off a number of eager reporters to approach James Olsen specifically. She gave him a knowing look, and he left Kara’s side to go and meet her. Lena gave Kara one last smile, before she became focused on James. Kara realized that Lena planned to give CatCo the exclusive, no doubt in honor of her friend Kara Danvers, who could not be there that night, and their former coverage. Lena ended up taking James’s arm, and the two of them left the room talking and smiling.
As they made their exit, Kara realized she was staring after them along with a room full of covetous journalists. Then the remaining press reps were crowding in around her. Kara realized slowly that her only two friends at the event had both just left the room. She dodged their questions about her relationship to Lena, what she thought was meant by the gesture, and who she planned to take out on her romantic dinner. Kara managed to keep her poise for a solid few minutes and then, miraculously, to brush the press off, since they were all of them a little thrown by the turn of events.
Kara might have ended up drowning in a sea of social discomfort, except that her phone buzzed. It was James asking if she needed a rescue. She texted a simple idk yet back to him. Not fifteen minutes after, she got a call from Winn. He said that James had texted that she could use a bail out and that he had something she was going to love. So she was able to speed off on official DEO business. Indeed, she had never been happier to receive a call about an armed group including a rogue alien trying to break into a secure building downtown in all in her life.
As Kara rose into the air and left the dome and the noise of the event beneath and behind her, she realized that she was actually free. Lena had both won and then handed over the prize to her. She did not owe a date to anyone. She was not even certain how to process her gratitude about the turn in events just yet, though she did let herself turn a few swirls in the air in inarticulate, potent, and simple celebration.