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A Taste from Away

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“I’m so sorry, Professor Fox!” Kara babbles as she flies into class five minutes late, trying desperately not to drop her books for the fifth time that morning. She slides into the empty seat beside Starfire, sending the more precarious parts of the pile tumbling to the floor. As she scrambles to recover them, she happens to glance up, and freezes as she realizes who is actually standing at the front of the room.

“Hurry and settle in,” says Principal Waller, with just the slightest trace of irritation. “As I was just telling the rest of the class, Professor Fox is on sabbatical. Fortunately, this gives us a chance to bring in a very special guest instructor.” She steps aside as a statuesque blonde dressed in a white pantsuit with a keyhole top and red and blue accents floats in, and stands behind the podium like she owns it. “I’d like to introduce your Super-Entrepreneurship 101 professor for this semester: Karen Starr, CEO of Starr Enterprises, and proud Super Hero High alumna.”

The Karen Starr?” For once, Ivy sounds interested in a topic that isn’t biology. “According to the Eco Enquirer, her company’s head and shoulders above the rest on setting environmental standards.”

“She came to Themyscira for a conference on leadership once,” Wonder Woman says. “It was very impressive.”

“Lena’s going to be so jealous when they hear about this at Belle Reve,” snickers Bumblebee.

As the rest of the class continues to applaud, Kara feels a tug on her sleeve, and turns to find Starfire staring at her. “Supergirl,” she whispers. “Are you and the professor knifsters?”

Kara takes a second to translate this, then shakes her head, no less confused. “There’s only one other Kryptonian I know of in this dimension, and I’m pretty sure she’s not him.”

“Oh,” says Starfire, sounding slightly disappointed. “I thought...but perhaps it is just the hair.”

“Yeah, you’d have to do a lot of growing first,” Beast Boy chimes in, before Star Sapphire punches him in the arm. “What? All I meant is she’s taller.”

A loud throat-clearing noise from Principal Waller silences the chatter. “Professor Starr will be walking you through the basic principles of business, culminating in an opportunity to demonstrate what you’ve learned. I expect you to show her what the current crop of Super Hero High students can do.”

“Thank you, Principal,” says Professor Starr above the redoubled cheering. “I look forward to getting to know you all better over the coming weeks. This won’t be an easy class, but I’ve no doubt you’ll find a way to exceed expectations.” Her eyes scan the crowd. For reasons Kara can’t explain, they seem to linger on her a few seconds longer than the others.

She also can’t explain why this makes her so nervous.

~

“All right,” says Professor Starr, as the class files back in from mid-session break. “Who would like to explain the concept of marginal utility?”

Kara shrinks down in her seat. She doesn’t expect it to do any more good than it has over the past several weeks. No matter who volunteers, Professor Starr always seems to single her out for the most difficult questions, then proceeds to use the rest of the class period building the lesson off her mistakes.

Sure enough, the professor’s gaze skips past Batgirl, Cyborg, and Vixen, and lands on her. “Supergirl? How about you?”

“I--I’m sorry, Professor,” Kara stammers. “I don’t know.”

Professor Starr’s eyes narrow, and she lets out a disapproving sniff. “That’s unfortunate, considering it’s one of the most important concepts in economics, and a key component of our next unit. Now, as those who have taken the initiative to prepare for this lesson already know…”

“I do not remember the reading of that section, either,” Starfire tells her quietly as the lecture continues, accompanied by a comforting pat on the shoulder.

“That’s because it wasn’t in Chapter Eight,” says Batgirl, frowning. “The textbook doesn’t even bring it up until Chapter Ten.”

“I’m sure Professor Starr just got confused,” Wonder Woman hastens to reassure her.

“Yeah,” says Kara, deliberately ignoring Starfire and Batgirl’s still-dubious expressions. “That must be it.”

“Quiet down, please,” Professor Starr announces, with a particularly pointed look at Kara. “Before the period ends, I’d like to make sure you all have your partners sorted for your final project.”

Kara perks up in spite of herself. If she can’t pass the professor’s personally targeted pop quizzes, she can at least redeem herself by designing the perfect product and building the case for it. Or rather, she can pick a partner capable of doing that, and hope she doesn’t prove too much of a liability during the presentation.

“All right,” says Professor Starr, interrupting Kara’s fantasies of a “well done” or “good job”. “When I call your name, please go sit with your assigned partner.”

Kara slumps again. She’s pretty sure Professor Starr’s powerset doesn’t include reading minds, or that she wouldn’t change her plans just to make her the teensiest bit more miserable, but she’s not prepared to rule out the possibility.

~

“Oh, what about this idea?” exclaims Starfire, for the fifteenth time in as many minutes. Somehow, despite Kara’s total lack of response, she has yet to lose her enthusiasm. “To banish terrors...the solar-powered nightlight!”

“Mmm,” murmurs Kara, more focused on Starfire’s linoleum pattern (completely identical to the one in her dorm) than the conversation.

“Supergirl?” She interrupts her investigation to find Starfire staring down at her with sorrowful green eyes. “Do you not wish to be partners?”

“No!” Any lingering regrets Kara might harbor over not having wound up with Batgirl or Bumblebee, or anyone else whose tech-savvy and attention to detail might cancel out her own failings vanish in the face of Starfire’s evident distress over this possibility. “It’s not that. It’s not you at all.”

Starfire frowns. “Is it that Professor Starr is being the royal zorrgnarg toward you?” Seeing Kara’s confusion, she attempts to clarify: “The...what is the word? Jerk?”

“Exactly,” says Kara, startled into honesty by Starfire’s bluntness. “If we get a bad grade, I’m sorry.”

“That is not a concern,” Starfire declares. “Because we are going to do such an exemplary job, we will knock the socks off of her!” Her expression turns thoughtful. “Or is it the pants? I can never remember.”

“Don’t look at me,” Kara shrugs. “I can’t always keep Earth idioms straight myself.”

“Of course.” Starfire suddenly looks sad again. “I forget sometimes you are not from here, either.”

“It’s all right.” Truth be told, sometimes Kara forgets Starfire is as much a refugee as she is. “Kal and the Kents helped me acclimate, and school has helped even more, but...it’s nice to have people know what you mean when you talk about a favorite place or food, isn’t it?”

Starfire’s nod of understanding slowly transforms into a delighted grin. With a squeal, she sweeps Kara up into a hug. “That is it! Supergirl, you are the genius!”

“Um, thanks,” says Kara, blushing: half from the praise, half from the warmth of Starfire’s ongoing embrace. “Mind telling me why?”

As Starfire explains, Kara begins to feel...well, not quite like a genius, but at least more of her usual cheerful self return.

~

“...And in conclusion, we hope you will agree that A Taste from Away is the tasty, cost-effective option for sampling the best that extraterrestrial cultures have to offer,” Starfire ends their presentation, as Kara brings up the end slide and hopes she can smooth out the dent her shaky hands have left in the controller later. “You may now ask the questions.”

“Is there a maximum number of subscriptions per person?” Beast Boy calls out. “Because I want all the boxes.”

The class laughs, but Kara can see a handful of other nods, and the rest of the smiles look friendly rather than mocking. For the first time, she dares a genuine smile of her own as she allows herself to believe there might be a good grade in her future.

“I have a question,” says Professor Starr, without warmth. Kara can feel her smile wither. “How do you plan to source so many exotic ingredients?”

Starfire gives her a nudge. Kara swallows. She’s practiced this exact response dozens of times, but under Professor Starr’s critical glower, she can barely eke out, “Um, well, local substitutes are always an option…”

“Really.” Professor Starr folds her arms. “You’re not concerned about that affecting quality? Or customer trust?”

“That. Is. Enough.” Starfire steps forward, arm extended as though shielding Kara in combat. “I do not care that you are the teacher. You do not get to pick on my partner this way!”

“Excuse me?” asks Professor Starr, with what sounds to Kara’s ears like dangerous calm.

“Starfire,” she tries to caution her partner. “It’s...it’s fine.”

“No, it is not the fine!” Starfire’s eyes and balled fists blaze with energy as she stares down Professor Starr. “Our project was Supergirl’s idea. She came up with the name. She knew the manufacturing considerations. She was the one who thought to include a plan for risks. She has worked so hard to please you, and yet you never give her the credit, just as you never ask her the fair questions! Professor Starr, you are the--the jerk!

With that, she blasts the door and rockets out into the hall, leaving a dumbfounded Kara to choose between going after her or staring awkwardly at her sneakers. She opts for the latter. Professor Starr probably can’t fail them hard enough to turn every grade they’ve had, have, or will ever receive into an F, but she’s not eager to risk it.

A hush falls over the classroom, followed by nervous buzzing - and not just from Bumblebee. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her that angry,” Cyborg murmurs to Beast Boy, who’s transformed into a mouse. (Miss Martian, seated in front of them, has gone invisible.) “Have you?”

Beast Boy squeaks confirmation he hasn’t, accompanied by a shake of his tiny rodent head.

“All right, let’s end things a little early today,” announces Professor Starr. She has to raise her voice to be heard, but it isn’t yelling. If anything, she sounds tired. Sad, even. “Wonder Woman, Vixen, we’ll pick back up with your presentation tomorrow. Class dismissed.”

Before Kara’s feet can leave the ground, Professor Starr’s hand comes down on her shoulder, surprisingly firm. “Wait here, please. I need to go retrieve your partner.”

She returns much more quickly than Kara expects, though Starfire doesn’t appear to have put up much of a struggle, judging by the way she bows her head as she floats in front of the professor’s desk. “I apologize, Professor. It was not right for me to call the names. Or damage the classroom.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Professor Starr’s expression softens from Principal Waller levels of disapproval to something much more manageable. “But you were standing up for your friend, so...go tell Parasite the door needs fixing and consider this a warning, all right?”

Starfire nods, and with a single, worried glance back at Kara, flies off again. Kara longs to follow, but the professor clearly isn’t done, so she waits in agonizing anticipation.

When Professor Starr does open her mouth again, though, it is with a long sigh. “Supergirl, Starfire is right. I owe you an apology. The truth is, I have been demanding more of you than the other students.”

“Oh.” Even with all the evidence she’s been accumulating, Kara’s still startled to hear Professor Starr admit this out loud. Startled, and angry, and relieved to finally silence the voice that’s been trying to tell her she’s imagining things...but mostly confused. “Why?”

“Because I see a lot of myself in you.” Now Kara’s really confused. “I know you have the potential to be great at this, and I thought pushing you to your limits was the best way to unlock that potential.” Professor Starr sighs again. “But you’re not me. And even if you were, I have the benefit of being able to look back on how all the criticism and doubters I faced when I was starting out just made me stronger. I’d forgotten how many times I almost gave up because of it, or how many of my friends who would’ve been ten times the CEO I am decided it wasn’t worth all the grief they’d have to endure to get there.” Her eyes look almost pleading as she studies Kara. “I just hope I haven’t ruined everything for you before you’ve even gotten started.”

Emotions still churning, Kara takes this in. “The truth is, I don’t know that I want to be an entrepreneur,” she admits at last, hoping this admission won’t make the professor angry in a whole new way. “But I did like working on the project.”

Thankfully, Professor Starr smiles. “Then I guess we’ve both learned a lot from this. I’m still going to expect your best on the final exam. But I promise I’ll try harder to keep in mind that it needs to be your best.” She holds out her hand. “Deal?”

Kara returns the handshake, and isn’t entirely surprised to find that Professor Starr’s grip matches her own. “Deal.”

~

No sooner has Kara set foot outside the classroom than Starfire comes zooming up to her. “You are all right? I did not earn you the detention?”

“No, I’m fine,” Kara assures her. “We talked, and...I think things are going to be better now.“

She means the words as she says them, but they’re somehow easier to believe when reflected by Starfire’s look of joy. “That is the relief!” she exclaims, throwing her arms around Kara.

With some reluctance, Kara eventually pulls back. “Starfire…” Superhero names don’t seem quite appropriate for the conversation, though, so she starts over. “Kori, why did you stand up for me?”

“Because you would do the same for me. Or anyone.” Kara starts to object, but Kori presses a warning finger against her lips. “No, do not argue! It is only yourself you have trouble defending. You do not see that you are brave, and smart, and good, and that anyone would be lucky to call you ‘friend,’ or..or--”

Before Kara can finish processing this litany of compliments, Kori surges forward and kisses her fiercely. Then, just as quickly, she pulls back, leaving Kara dazed...and more than a little disappointed at the sudden loss of contact. “Oh.”

Unfortunately, judging by her mortified expression, Kori seems to take this as a very different type of disappointment. “I am so sorry! I should not have done this without the asking. If a pit to the underworld appears, I will throw myself down it at the earliest possible opportunity. Or perhaps the void of space will suffice.”

“Kori!” Kara grabs her wrists before she can continue babbling apologies, let alone do anything more drastic. “It’s okay.” She thinks for a minute about her friend, who is also brave, and smart, and good: whose smile always reminds her of sunny days spent with friends back in Argo City, or the fire that warms the Kents’ hearth over the holidays, and for whom she would face any danger or fear to see that happiness restored should anything threaten it. Slowly, she feels a smile of her own beginning to spread. “More than okay.”

“Oh!” Kori flushes, pleased. “Then...may I do it again?”

In response, Kara cradles her cheek gently and leans in. “I think it’s my turn to show a little initiative.”