Kara blushes. That single, tiny heart has been Lena’s sign off since their first text after the cafe, but for some reason it makes her blush every time. Her fingers stutter, typing out a smiley face to match her own expression, as she walks back to where J’onn and Alex are chatting in the living room.
“And this one,” Alex says, hand abandoning her drink to gesture at exhibit A, Kara. “Off texting Mystery Moron, instead of spending quality time with us.”
It’s said with a smile and hits its mark of teasing Kara into a deeper blush. “I wasn’t texting them, I’ll have you know.” She flops down on the other end of J’onn’s couch, setting down her phone and replacing it with her own mug of Now-Cold Chocolate.
“Nah, I know that look. That was pure Smitten Kara. Unless you're saying you’ve finally ditched Anonymous Asshole for someone else?”
“Why are we talking about this? Don’t we have something better to talk about?- J’onn, how was your trip home?”
“It was good,” He says, deep voice cutting through the steam as he sips his tea. The cup looks so delicate in his large hands. “I was just telling Alex I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I returned. The red cliffs, deep canyons, there’s no place quite like it.” He turns over his own phone, holds it out to show Kara the new picture adorning the lockscreen. “That’s home.”
“God, it looks like Mars,” Kara breathes. “Beautiful but… desolate.”
“You’re not the first to say that,” he says, quiet laugh escaping as he tucks the phone away in his sweater pocket. “There’s a lot of life in that part of the Southwest actually, if you know where and how to look.”
“I’d love to see it someday,” Kara says. She takes a sip and as it turns out, cold hot chocolate is still pretty good.
“Well you can come visit anytime.”
“Visit?” Kara nearly drops her mug. “You’re moving away?”
“It’s always been my plan to retire there. Now just seems like the right time finally.”
“Now that the store is gone.” And god, just when she thinks she’s finally gotten a handle on things, her world crashes down again. “I’m losing you too…”
“Like I said, it was always my plan,” J’onn says gently, always gently. “I’m only a phone call, a short flight away, Kara. You’re not losing me.”
She nods, understands logically, but feelings are a different story.
“Well I’m excited for you,” Alex presses, tone chipper in a way that’s clearly trying to lighten the mood. “And yeah, we’ll definitely come and visit. I hear there’s some really cool stuff down there. Indigious ruins, petroglyphs, awesome backpacking trip potential. Maybe we’ll make a road trip out of it, right Kar?”
She elbows her sister and yeah, Kara needs to spin this around. Pity party can wait ‘til she’s on her own time. She rights her smile, an effort but if anyone is worth it, it’s J’onn. “Yeah, you’re right. Totally.”
“I’d certainly love to have you.”
“What are you going to do with this place?” Alex asks, chewing at a raisin scone she’s been working on since they first arrived. “Rent? Sell?”
Kara looks around. J’onn’s apartment- condo really- has been as much her home as the store ever was. She grew up here, played with action figures on the worn afghan carpet, spent hours examining the bookcase of old books and exhotic artificats, and took naps with her teddy bear on this very couch. The dark green walls always reminded her of a lush jungle, the items and art from his travels, like priceless artifacts someone from her Adventure stories might hunt for, protect, collect. Saying goodbye to this place feels almost unbearable.
“Well I was going to offer it to Kara actually.”
“J’onn,” Kara gasps, nearly speechless. “I’d love to, but I can't afford this. You know I can't afford this...”
“You won’t have to, I own it. I’d love for you to take over the place when I’m gone. Free of charge.”
“You can afford to do that?” Alex asks, taking a swig from her Monster energy drink.
He laughs at this, but in a way that they’re both in on the joke too. “I bought Intel at 6. I think I’ll be okay.”
“Shit,” Alex laughs, and it’s infectious. Kara joins in, part relief, part joy and pain too. Change really is closer to that metamorphosis NatlCity98 talked about all those months ago. Not a razing and rebuilding, but a restructuring. The foundation holds even if the setting, the trappings change. Not a loss, just a change, and there’s something comforting in that thought. That she might keep something as it’s been, and at the same time make it her own.
“Hey, you’ll be on the good side of town for once. Rubbing elbows with a whole new crowd,” Alex bumps Kara’s shoulder lightly. “WHICH, reminds me,” she swipes Kara’s phone off the table, Kara grabbing for it just a second too late.
“What are you- “
“-Finding out if you’ve been holding out about Enigmatic Emailer.” Alex punches in her sister’s passcode with ease.
“How do you know my code?!?” Then to J’onn, “Are you condoning this?”
He shrugs and Alex just rolls her eyes. “I’m a detective and you’re terribly predictable,” Alex rolls her eyes. “So let’s see who you’ve... been…” She frowns, mouth opening, closing, curling into a question for a long moment. “Lena Luthor?” She looks to Kara. “That’s who has you all giggilly?”
J’onn raises his eyebrows too and Kara sits up a bit straighter, caught between the urge to run or deny it. “I’m NOT giggly,” she takes advantage of her sister’s surprise to swipe the phone back, right of her hands. “And this is a violation of my civil rights. Search and seizure or something.”
“Hi, I’m still stuck on how you’re flirting with the woman that destroyed your entire life.” Alex frowns.
“We are not- why do you keep saying that?” She looks to J’onn, “We are not flirting. We’re just... talking.”
“Talking,” J’onn nods, thoughtful.
Kara looks back and forth between them and decides to to plead her case in the most calm, totally neutral way possible- because they’re just not getting it. “It’s nothing. I ran into her at the farmer’s market last week, we had coffee, now we text once in a while. It’s, it’s really nothing.”
“You already said that,” Alex crosses her arms. And when did this become an interrogation?
“Well it’s not.”
J’onn looks to Alex, exchanging a look that says Kara is definitely not explaining this right. “Really. It’s no big deal. Trust me, I haven’t forgotten what she did, it’s just- she’s just- she’s different than what I thought is all.”
“What do you talk about, when you do?” J’onn asks, less shock and more gentle inquiry than Alex’s still agog face.
Kara shrugs. “Nothing really important, just how our days are going, the weather, what we had for lunch. She's got the weirdest taste in... food…” Alex and J’onn just stare at her. “What?”
J’onn folds his hands, fingers weaving and settling in his lap. It reminds Kara of when she was six and he had to explain why she couldn’t play with Nerf guns in the store . “We just want you to be happy Kara.”
“Yeah,” Alex adds, face still stuck between confusion and concern- but working hard towards something less judgemental. “And if dating the woman that killed your family business makes you happy…”
“I'm not dating Lena.” They blink at her. “I'm not.”
“I have never known you to smile like that when communicating with just a friend,” Alex shakes her head. So much for not judging.
“Well you just have. Because Lena and I are just friends. So drop it.”
“Fine. Whatever,” Alex downs the rest of her energy drink. “I mean, I guess it’s good you’re even exploring friendships again. After getting so hung up on Mike and that Internet Interloper.” She sets the can aside, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “Whatever happened to them anyway?”
Kara shrugs, “We haven’t spoken much recently. I’d still want to meet them but… I dunno. It feels like they don’t want to meet me.”
“Ugh, fuck ‘em them.”
“Language,” J’onn chides, getting up to collect empty cans and cups.
“Fine, screw them then. You’ve wasted enough time on idiots like that. You need someone that is crazy about you, right?”
“I agree,” J’onn nods, before shuffling into the kitchen.
Kara nods as well. Sits back into the couch, letting the soft cushions swallow her some. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I should tell them that.”
“I was going to suggest just ghosting them, but sure that too.” Alex stands. “You need any help in there J’onn?” She makes her way to the kitchen leaving Kara alone with her thoughts.
They’re right of course- about moving on (not the Lena thing). Kara’s come too far, worked too hard to get her life up and running, to pause it for anyone else anymore.
The rest of breakfast floats on easily enough, but something niggles at her still. Eventually they bid goodbye with plans to talk about the condo, about the future, next week. As she walks home, closes her apartment door behind her, she comes to a conclusion of sorts.
Looking around the apartment, she sees little of her own. Most of the furniture was stuff Mike had brought, a bit sterile and far more pleather than she prefers. No, this place hasn’t been much home either, unlike the cool comfort of J’onn’s (or the warmth of Up, Up, and Away).
It’s time to make her life and the things in it the way she wants them to be. The time for waiting is over, this is a time for action. She sits at the dining table, opens her email, and types.
[ Dear Friend,
I find myself wondering what happened between us, and if it was my fault. That somehow I did something wrong, some misstep… and I hate that. It feels too close to the way I used to think, the habits I’m working hard to break. I do still want to meet- when you’re sure you do. What we’ve shared has been special, IS special still, but I’m done working harder than the other person, putting their comfort before my own, putting my life on hold for someone who doesn’t show they’re willing to do the same. I hope you understand and, if you’re the person I think you are, if you know me the way I feel that you do, then I’m sure you will.
She hits send with a stab of finality. Who knows what happens next, but Kara is done waiting. It’s time to move on.
“Oh don’t you dare.” Lena’s hand hovers over her phone, its most recent notification trill remains unanswered. Cat continues to glare at her, “You’ve been texting like twitterpated tween all morning.”
“Hey, I resent that,” Gen says, looking up from her own phone, across the table.
“I have not,” Lena crosses her arms, but both sets of expressions aimed at her clearly beg to differ.
“You have,” Cat says. “I know you’ve been into the whole ‘divorcing your upbringing’ thing lately, but let’s not lump basic manners in with that shall we?”
Across the table Gen sniggers and Lena shoots her a look before addressing her friend. “You’re right, I’m sorry.”
Cat Grant nods, satisfied. She leans back in her chair and stirs her coffee as though there was something in it other than 4 shots of straight espresso. “At least give us the courtesy of explaining who or what you find so much more interesting than the present company…”
“She’s texting Kara.”
Lena’s head whips to the child in question, then to Cat, and considering that absolutely THRILLED look on the media mogul’s face, Lena is in serious trouble. “It’s nothing,” and Lena can feel the heat in her cheeks already.
“They’ve been texting like constantly since they had coffee last week.” Gen shrugs, thumbs flying along her own phone, barely looking up.
Lena glares and wonders if the foster agency has a return policy.
“Now, I’m really insulted,” Cat says, actually looking a bit miffed. “I can't believe you didn't tell me you finally grew a pair and told her.”
And now Gen looks up.“Wait, told her what?” Geezus.
“Nothing,” Lena glares at Cat, which Cat pointedly ignores- clearly punishment for earlier.
“That Lena is her anonymous internet beau she’s been obsessively emailing back and forth with, for the better part of a year,” she notes to Gen before smirking at Lena, knowing exactly the shit storm she’s stirring up.
“KARA IS LOVE LETTERWOMAN?!!” Gen drops her phone, smacking the table with both palms so hard Lena her whole balcony rattles.
“Oh god,” she looks up at the sky- far too blue for the lighting strike she’d prefer at the moment.
“Yes and thankfully, now that Kara knows, they can both live happily and disgustingly ever after,” Cat mumbles into her drink. “I assume?”
And here it comes. Reckoning. Lena inhales lightly through her nose before exhaling the words as evenly as she can. “Kara doesn’t know.”
“WHAT?!” Cat drops her spoon, Gen her phone, yelping in sync like some perfectly timed movie scene.
Lena would greatly appreciate being struck by lighting, or perhaps aliens coming down and abducting her. Something, anything. But no. Instead the two people she cares about the most continue to stare at her uninterrupted, waiting for an explanation when Lena has none.
Gen pipes up. “You’ve been texting her nonstop and she doesn't know you're the Love Letter woman?”
“Lena, that’s just sad,” Cat frowns, setting down her mug entirely.
“It is,” Gen nods to Cat in agreement. “You guys are M.F.E.O. Get it together.”
“Made For Each Other,” Cat clarifies. “Do keep up.”
“Excuse me but would you two like me to leave so you can gossip behind my back instead?” Lena crosses her arms. “I'm handling it.”
“You are so not handling it,” Gen shakes her head.
“I’m agree with the half pint,” Cat says, ignoring the huff from Gen. “This is getting truly out of hand, Lena.”
“That's it,” Lena says, her own palms smacking the table. “I'm taking a walk.”
“So she can text Kara more. Without our judgement,” Gen grumbles, crossing her arms.
“Clearly,” Cat hums.
Lena stands, purposely leaving her phone on the table to spite them. “I’ll be right back.” She leaves her balcony, cutting straight through the apartment and out to the elevator. Down to the lobby, she steps outside under her building’s red awning, and prays for death.
It’s an absolutely stunning day and despite the warm wind that brings a hint of summer on its tail, Lena shivers.
They’re right of course, Gen and Cat. Lena most definitely is NOT handling it. If the few dozen times they’ve texted over the last week or so is any indication, Kara is starting to warm to her, yes, but that brings Lena zero percent closer to the synergy of identity that needs to happen.
The whole situation is horrible and deeply unfair to Kara and she knows it, KNOWS it, but…
… but there’s a part of her that is absolutely sure Kara won’t want her. Because no one has ever really wanted her. Other than the two people sitting on her apartment balcony right now Lena has been systematically rejected, used, and ignored by every human she’s encountered.
It makes perfect sense that Kara would want NatlCity98- flaws and all. Not Lena Luthor.
Maybe, in the years of delaying and denying herself, of reticence in stepping out of the shadow of her family, she let this happen. Let her hope for something better keep her from taking the brave steps she should have taken months ago. Whatever the reason, it’s clear the seeds of self-doubt have been watered and tended to well over the years got in her way majorly here and now her own garden of Gethsemane fully in bloom.
And now her hour has come, the betrayal waiting to be revealed.
Lena takes a deep breath, the spicy, baked scent of summer already hinted in the warm May breeze. She should go back inside, it doesn’t do her any good to put off the inevitable.
She’s barely back on the balcony before Gen starts in. “We’ve formed a High Counsel, conferred, and now this is your intervention.”
“Oh is it now,” Lena mumbles, sliding the chair out to sit in.
“Yes,” Gen nods, gravely serious. “You need to tell her. Today. “
Gen’s smug and serious business demeanor (Lena should really give her some pointers on that) falters. “We- we are?”
“Yes. I’m seeing her for dinner later. I’ll tell her then.”
“Well that was... easy,” Gen looks at Cat. “This is a really good High Counsel. What else should we make her do?”
“Let’s table the other demands for a moment,” Cat hums, eyeing Lena as she finishes the last of her coffee. “You say you will, but how will we know you’ve done it?”
“Well, I anticipate I’ll be fairly miserable and depressed for the next few eons so that’ll be a clue,” Lena sighs.
“Maybe she’ll be cool with it?” Gen tries. “You never know.”
“And if she’s not, what’s the point?” Cat grumbles. She tucks her wallet into her purse, clearly done with the scene for the day. “Do keep me updated for once? I’m sadly, unfortunately, invested in this melodrama now.” She stands, prompting the others to do as well.
“I have to go too,” Gen says, Lena giving her a quizzical look. “Jubilee and I are going to the skatepark? Remember?”
“Yes, yes of course,” Lena shakes her head. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay,” she stutter-steps, pauses, then turns to give Lena a hug.
This is not their first hug, nor the last, but it gets Lena in the chest every time. She squeezes back, brief but firm. They part, Gen looking up, “You got this. Be brave.”
“Good. See you later!”
Both guests file out and suddenly Lena’s left sitting at the table, alone. Fingers and mind itching for something to fill the void, she reaches for her phone. The new notification apparently was for an email- ShopGrl09!
Lena holds her breath, opens it.
It seems everyone in the world got the memo it’s ‘Give Lena an Ultimatum Day’ but her.
Maybe this is good though. Rip it like a bandaid, rather than holding on to (possibly) false hope. Kara will meet NatlCity98 tonight. Yes, the woman she’s fallen in complete and total, movie-style, epic love with, is going to know how Lena feels by the end of the day.
Dread sits as heavy as a stone in her chest, the enormity of taking her breath away. And this all started with an email. A simple email.
She abandons the balcony, dish and mugs and all, and heads to her darkened bedroom. She needs a break, for just a moment, from the glare of reality. She’ll have to step back into it soon enough tonight and then, she’ll have a whole new world to deal with.
Massis Bakery and Bistro is more... romantic than Kara remembers. She came here with Mike a year or so ago and, yeah, she remembers it being cozy.... but this?
The atmosphere is definitely intimate, the majority of the restaurant lit by candlelight. That, plus the white tablecloths, the menu of suggested wine pairings, not to mention the strangely erotic abstract art on the wall, all give the place a distinctive romantic vibe to them.
“I don't remember this place being so, uh, date-like.”
“National City Gourmet Review would disagree.” Lena points to the plaque adorning the wall, touting the restaurant as the 2019 winner of just such an accolade.
"That isn’t why I picked it.”
Lena looks up from her menu. “Should I have assumed it was?”
"No. Of course not. No. I just…” she searches the room for a clue or at this point, anything to avoid Lena’s gaze. “Maybe they redecorated or something? I'm sorry I know how you like those snazzy places with the big windows more... "
Kara sneaks a glance back across the table and wishes she didn’t. That damnable eyebrow is raised, that perfect mixture of teasing and suggestion that always makes Kara’s cheeks heat (and how does she even do that?). Flickering light around them lends an almost dreamy sepia filter to the room, edging the entire scene into Medieval and/or Lesbiaan romance movie vibes- neither which Kara appreciates considering the company.
In fact, there is very little Kara appreciates about this moment. Ever since Alex and J’onn talked to her, she can’t stop thinking about it- her and Lena Luthor. As an item. She can’t blame them of course, she freely admits that objectively, she’s been acting like someone with a crush. Maybe even an infatuation, if you squinted. However, there are a LOT of other factors to consider. Or more accurately just one important one- that the person in question is Lena Friggin’ Luthor: Destroyer of dreams and small businesses alike.
So why does that very small, very stupid part of her brain insist on whispering So what? everytime she thinks about it?
Across the table Lena, Bookstore Tycoon, shrugs lightly. “The company is what I enjoy the most about our meals together, not the lighting,” replying to a thread of conversation that Kara has, due to the deep rumblings of her inner mind, almost completely forgotten about it
Kara clears her throat. “So, uh, what looks good to you?"
“Everything, to be honest." And Kara swallows hard and definitely does not imagine the way Lena eyes her up and down at that. “What are you hungry for?"
What. In the hell. Is even happening right now. Is… is Lena Luthor, Bringer of Flowers and Bestower of Snarky Comebacks, flirting with her suddenly? Is this the Twilight Zone?
Kara resists the urge to rub her eyes like a cartoon character, to clear them. She can feel her face flush and god, how many times has she made a fool of herself in front of this woman? Say something, anything!
“The stuffed grape leaves are good!” And god, it’s too loud, so loud. The couple at the next table stare at her. Even Lena winces a little.
“Okay, uh, Dolmas it is,” Lena says and thankfully their waiter appears, someone else to take the attention off her while she takes a moment to re-evaluate her life choices.
“Have you made a decision?”
“Yes, an order of stuffed grape leaves and some hummus for the table please,'' Lena replies, smooth as butter. Like an actual functional member of society. “Also, the lady will have a wine and Lagavulin neat for me, please.”
“Very good, I’ll get that started for you.”
Kara frowns as he walks away. “I wasn’t planning on ordering a wine.”
“I think you need one,” Lena shifts back in her chair, appraising Kara once again- though with less heat this time. “You seem really… nervous? Is something the matter?”
“No. No. Nope.” And yes that was two no’s too many to be convincing. “Can’t say there is.”
They stare at each other for a moment, a stand off.
"I just- "
"There's something I-"
Both stutter into silence.
“Go ahead,” Kara says, plucking at a string from the tablecloth.
“No, please, I insist.”
Her mother once told her the power of naming what scares you, how doing so defuses it. Ever since then she’s named the monsters under her bed, talked to her college essays, and now is faced with the task of telling someone to their face, just how confusing they are.
Kara takes a deep breath, and dives in. “So, I had lunch with Alex and J’onn the other day.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yeah, it was,” Kara looks down for a moment, following the flickering flame of the tea candle between them. “They thought it was, uh, notable. How much we've been talking…” she shrugs. “That we talk at all.
When she looks up, Lena is unreadable. She sits in her seat, upright but not ridgid, expression neutral but not cold. It’s as though she’s paused, weighing where to fall on something.”Oh?”
The waiter reappears, setting their drinks and appetizers down before them. “Have you decided on dinner?”
Lena looks across to Kara, “We’ll need another minute I think.”
“No problem, be right back.”
Alone again, there’s a beat that feels like an eon. They size each other up, waiting, until “And how do you feel about it?”
“I don’t know to be honest,” Kara replies, exhaling a breath she didn’t even know she had been holding, yet that pressure in her chest doesn’t seem to dissipate a bit. Her heart hammers, but she continues on the best she can. “I mean, I like spending time with you, the few times we've met up, most recently. When you're not being a jerk, or bogarting the garnish cherries at a bar."
That garners a slight smile from her companion.
“And it's nice to have someone to share my favorite restaurants with again…” Kara trails off, eyes dropping to the plate in front of her a moment.
“But isn’t it weird?” She lays her hands on the table in front of her, as if laying out these cards she’s held onto, confusingly, far too long. “I mean, shouldn't it be, I don't know, taboo or cursed or something? I mean my mother's store, her legacy…”
“ ‘Should’ is such a tricky word…” Lena looks down, the barest edge of her lip tucked under her teeth. Her fingers fiddle with the barest edge of the cloth napkin, much the way they did in the cafe the week before. What seems like an eternity passes before she answers, eyes still averted, and voice a strange staccato like she lined all the words up in order and is reciting them to avoid error. “lf you don't want to spend the time together anymore…”
“No!- I mean I don't think that's what I want.” she runs a hand through her hair, tries to find the words. “I like your company, I guess I’ve just been feeling a little bit weird about it. Guilty almost. Like, it’s only been 6 months since the store closed and seeing you...
“... is like a constant reminder.” Lena nods. “Yeah.”
Kara picks up a grape leaf, nibbles at it, but her stomach feels sour. “I’m sorry, I just, I had to name the elephant in the room. My mom always told me doing so makes it smaller. And I've been wanting to make it smaller because,” she inhales, huffs. “Because I do enjoy your company. That's all I was doing. I didn't mean to-”
“- It's fine,” Lena says, butter knife pushing around her plate in a manner far too aggressive for hummus.
Kara sets down her own fork. “No, you're pissed. Or sad. I can tell by your wrists.”
Lena finally gives Kara her eyes. “What?”
“Your wrists,” she gestures with her fork. “You get all stiff in the wrists, but your fingers start to fiddle with things. You’re doing it right now.”
Lena sets the knife down. "I do nothing of the sort.” She puts her hands in her lap, frown deepening. “Now you on the other hand, you absolutely have a tell.”
“Oh do I?” Kara rolls her eyes.
“You do. You bite your cheek when you want to avoid saying what you're really thinking.”
She snatches a grape leaf from the plate.“No I don’t.”
“Oh?” Lena edges forward, face almost underlit by the candle, making her smirk feel a tinge more illict than it’s meant. “Then what do Alex and J’onn really think about us talking?”
Kara’s molars barely graze the inside of her cheek before backing off, but it's enough that Lena catches it. "Ha! I knew it."
Kara sets down the food, crosses her arms, holding in the harumph. “Well you make a million substitutions in your meal orders and it’s super annoying.”
“Oh we’re doing this now?” Lena scoffs. “Well you smile too hard at the waitstaff and it’s super awkward.”
“You have a friggin’ sailboat! Legit the most pretentious snooty thing a person can own!”
“You think listening to James Taylor and Joni Mitchell- the world’s most depressing singers- iis a good time and that, in itself, is sad.”
“You drink too much when you’re nervous.”
“You stutter over your words when you’re nervous.”
The waiter looks like he’d rather be anywhere but here as he steps up to the table, both women leaning over, growling at each other. “Have we, uh, made decisions on entrees ladies?”
Lena huffs through her nose, like a bull about to charge. Instead, she sits back a bit, slams the rest of her drink, and sets the tumbler down with a heavy thud. “Yes,” she answers the poor waiter, though continues to stare down Kara as she does. “She would like your #4. Extra rice, extra meat, because she herself is quite extra and loves to flaunt how she somehow still has the metabolism of a 7th grade boy.”
“And- and- Lena,” Kara draws out the ‘e’. “Would like the Mshosh, but instead of couscous she’d like the side that goes with the Lamb, she’d like the sauce that goes with the chicken, and if you could add something special not even on the menu, she’s happy to flaunt her wealth by paying something extra for that as well.” Lena’s eyes narrow at her. “Also, she’d like another Scotch too I’d imagine.”
“Okay. Uh, yes. I’ll just get that all in...now…” The waiter doesn’t even touch his order pad, simply slinks off towards the kitchen.
It’s strange to be known, both good and bad. Kara can’t think of the last person who could call her out like that. It’s just little things they’ve noticed about each other, but the fact that they were noticed…
Both women stare at each other, but neither can seem to hold the vitriol. Like a tightened muscle fatiguing, it slowly fades and both are left more fatigued than furious.
Lena is the first to break, giving a dark huff of a laugh, looking down at the table, the dinner back up again. “I was just going to order the Mshosh, actually. As is,” she begins. “… but what you said sounds way better. I didn’t even know I wanted that, but I do.”
“I order the #4, extra everything, every time I come.” Kara lips tighten the slack, a shrug of the face, her giving in to the strangeness. “It’s really good, you should try some when it gets here.”
“I’d like that.”
There’s a light trilling noise, Lena’s phone is ringing. The CEO rescues it from her pocket with a quick, “Excuse me a moment,” before disappearing towards the back of the restaurant.
“Geezus,” Kara breathes to herself.
What the fudge is going on?
Lena skitters into the bathroom as quickly as she can. “FYI, this could not be a worse moment for you to call, so congratulations.”
“Hmft. I go out of my way to check on your wellbeing and this is the response I get?”
Lena sighs, pinches the bridge of her nose, “Sorry Cat, I just… I’m directly in the middle of it right now.”
“The middle? How? It’s one sentence! ‘I’m the anonymous idiot you’ve been pining over email with for the past year’. What’s more to say?”
“Cat…” Lena pleads. She catches her reflection in the mirror. She looks wan, exhausted.
“I’ll make this brief then. I was just calling to say that I’ve invited Gen to my penthouse for the night,” there’s a slight pause, almost pitying and very un-Cat-like. “In case things happen to go well, I wouldn’t want your celebratory infractions to scar the poor girl.”
“I have a feeling there will most definitely not be anything celebratory, but Cat,” Lena sighs. “That is very thoughtful of you.”
“Try not to dwell, you’ll definitely owe me. The girl has already requested something called Mr. Chang’s for dinner, stating you get it all the time. Honestly I’m not entirely sure how you’ve kept her alive this long. Any more sodium and she’ll probably contract scurvy.”
“Thank you. Really.”
There’s a pause, as if she's considering adding something more to the conversation, but thankfully doesn’t. “Good luck.”
Cat hangs up, and when Lena glances at her phone, the last screen open- Kara’s email to her- is what’s left in its wake.
“Ugh,” she tucks the phone back into the pocket of her slacks, and rests her head against the bathroom wall.
“Geezus I’m fucked,” she says to the cool but likely unsanity tile.
Righting herself once more, she walks to the end of the two stalls, and turns. Repeats. It’s too short to be considered pacing and is something more akin to a caged animal mid- Fight or Flight.
She’s angry. Angry at herself mostly. None of this was intended. She never meant, never anticipated... “Absolute fucking insanity,” she mumbles, the haggard reflection in her periphery, agreeing with the accessment.
Even if her heart insists on holding out for a Nora Ephron twist, in reality the whole thing reeks of Shakespeare- sad and ironic. One minute Kara will blame her for ruining her life, the next she’ll laude her for her honesty. Tell her she likes spending time together but then feels guilty about it. It’s like without even knowing Kara is interacting with two entirely different personas of Lena and sadly the one she is aware of… doesn’t seem so favorable.
Lena pulls out her phone again, the email from ShopGrl09 sits front and center. She stares at it a long moment before hitting reply.
Maybe it's her affection for the literary (or those RomComs she’ll never admit to loving). Maybe just a leftover masochistic streak not fully extinguished. Either way, she suddenly knows there's only one way for this entire affair to end. So there, leaning against the sink in a Women’s bathroom, Lena types words she’ll likely regret for the rest of her life.
And hits send.
Walking back to the table feels like a funeral march, and when she arrives she finds that the food has as well. Kara’s eyes are fixed on her plate, fork poised in hand- but not moving.
“You didn’t need to wait for me,'' Lena says, sliding into her chair.
Kara eyes her, as if uncertain the tone to pick up with. She settles on the side Lena wishes she wouldn’t. “Some of us didn't need to go to finishing school to be able to mind our manners.”
“Back to this again are we?”
Kara takes a hyperbolic bite of her gyro, chewing with almost comic fervor. “Back to what?” She mouths around lamb and tzatziki.
“To fixating on our differences.”
“Well there are a lot of them,” Kara swallows. “Completely different worlds, different species practically.”
“I don't think that's true and I don't think you do either.” Lena doesn’t touch her silverware, her plate. Her mouth is dry, sterile with purpose. “We have more in common than I think you care to admit for some reason.”
Kara takes another giant bite, eyeing Lena warily a moment. “Like what?”
“We both like tea,” Lena begins slowly. “And having mindless TV noise on in the background when we're sick.”
She licks her lips, truth tasting bitter and sweet at the same time as she continues. “We both like the way the daffodils seem to smile, the way tulip’s kiss the sky when they’re fresh, and that hollow but satisfying feeling after finishing a good... book. " She snaps her eyes up at Kara at this, and gets a pale grey joy the way Kara swallows roughly at the insinuation.
“We both work hard, but work for others too much, and learning to do otherwise is like rewriting our own code. But, we’re doing it.”
She pauses to take stock of her companion. Kara is frozen, just… staring. Not good, nor bad. “We can do anything,” she continues. “And everyone but us knows it, and maybe we do too but we're too proud to be proud.” She licks her lips. “We keep comparing ourselves to our family, but forget that they’re not us and that that is a GOOD thing.”
“We both care fiercely, we love almost blindly, ” Lena takes a deep breath. “And we both would rather destroy ourselves than admit what we most truly want and need.”
She pauses, almost out of words, and watches as Kara just stares and stares. For moment- just a moment- she allows herself to hope, before laying it all out there. “The point is, I do know you Kara,” she hovers. “I know you. And I think you know me too. So why are you so intent on denying that?”
Kara opens her mouth to reply, but there’s an electronic chirp that cuts her off. It’s Kara’s phone notifying her of what Lena knows intimately, is an email. Kara blinks, awakening from their strange standoff, and picks up the device. “Sorry, I just…” she unlocks it, reads, then her mouth falls open.
“What?” Lena asks, full well knowing the answer already.
“NatlCity98. They... they want to meet. In an hour. 6pm in the park.” Kara looks up, wide-eyed. “I sent them an email earlier… Lena, I think this is for real. It’s happening. We’re really going to meet finally...”
“So that’s it?” and she can’t help the way her fists curl into balls, taking the napkin into them as they do. “They show up, and what? You’ll get married and it’s happily ever after?” Her lips press into a hard, thin line. “You’re running full speed towards someone you barely know, when there are people right in front of you…” She can’t finish it. Won’t.
“I…” Kara looks up, sees Lena, faces twisting into something mildly pained.
Kara opens her mouth a moment, closes it. Lena notes the way the blonde bites her cheek.
“Well, I'm happy for you,” Lena continues, uncaring how obviously flat her own voice has gone. She follows Kara’s eyes as they wander down to where Lena’s hands are, apparently, fiddling with her napkin once again. She sets it down. "Why don't I go get us boxes, settle the tab, so we can get you home and ready in time for your big moment of truth.”
It’s not a question, so Lena doesn’t stick around for an answer. She’s up and headed to the waitstaff booth before Kara can formulate a response.
She asks for boxes, manages to slide her platinum card across the counter by muscle memory alone, and debates downing a third whisky while she’s here. I’d be pointless anyway, If the first two didn’t even touch her current state, a third certainly won’t. Her own phone trills, she opens it. An email from ShopGrl09, entailing nothing but a curt, “Dear Friend, See you then,” and Kara’s signature sign off.
Lena signs the receipt with half a flourish and zero fucks before making her way back to the table. She doesn’t sit again, opts to stand behind her chair instead, hands afixed on the back rest, waiting. “All set.”
Kara sits, phone still in hand. She looks up, that adorable crease in her forehead furrowing further. “Lena… I… “
Lena shakes her head. She has no time for pity when there’s so much more hurt still left to go today. Hell, Lena hasn’t even gotten to the full reveal. Maybe they’ll cruise past hurt and Kara will punch her. Who knows. The night is young. “Shall we? I’ll walk you home.”
Kara frown deepens somehow. “I… okay.”
It’s still light out, the summer sun working hard to build up its tolerance even as lazy shadows stretch from the corners towards the horizon. Silence yawns out before them, collects and seems to multiply as the distance to Kara’s building decreases.
“They could be the zipper guy.”
“What?” Kara turns her head, seeming to emerge from her own haze.
“The guy on Amsterdam and 4th who repairs zippers,” Lena continues, pressing on, speaking in that casually, futile way one can only describe if one’s been there. “You’ll never have to buy new luggage again.”
“Stop teasing,” Kara says, smiling only a flicker before fading once again.
“You know, timing is everything,” she crunches a stray leaf on the sidewalk under her shoe, almost enjoying the way it crumbles. “This person waited until you primed, until you knew there was no other person you could ever love…”
“They did,” Kara nods, though seems less than convinced.
“You know, sometimes I wonder…” She stops walking, Kara follows suit. They turn to each other and Lena leaps off the proverbial cliff. Let herself fall. “If I hadn’t been LuthorBooks, and you hadn't been Up, Up, and Away, and we’d just met...”
Kara shakes her head, looking strangely almost pained. “Don’t.”
But Lena does. Has to. “I would have asked for your phone number. And I wouldn't have been able to wait 24 hours before calling and asking, ‘How about coffee, drinks, dinner, maybe a movie’…” She takes a deep breath. “...’for as long as we both shall live?’ "
Kara closes her eyes, lip quivering slightly. “Lena…”
“…And we would never have been at war…”
Kara shakes her head, a tear slipping out.
“…And the only fight we'd ever have,” she sighs. “Is what movie to watch on Saturday night.”
Kara looks up, a watery smile emerging from a well of sadness. “Who fights about that?”
Lena can feel the salty sting behind her own eyes give way before tracking down her cheeks. She shakes her head slowly. “Some people. Not us.”
“No. We would never.”
A long beat, a lifetime ticks in that moment, hangs, before Lena finally resigns. “If only.”
“Lena,” Kara starts, stops, devours her cheek from the inside out. “I have to go.” She doesn’t move though.
“Let me ask you something?” She reaches out to touch Kara’s elbow a moment, and it feels so natural she wants to cry. Kara makes a small noise, half hitch in breath, half sigh. Lena forces a retreat, lets her hand fall, drops it back to her side.
“How come you'll forgive them, this mystery person, for standing you up,” she bites her lip. “And you won't forgive me for a little, tiny thing, like putting you out of business?”
Kara looks at her, shakes her head. Wordless. Speechless.
Lena’s words are barely a whisper, a breath. “Oh how I wish you would.”
Kara looks down, tears flowing freely, silently, before she answers. “I really have to go.”
“Yeah,” Lena nods, swiping at her own cheeks with the back of her hand. “You don't want to be late.”
Kara looks at her, eyes pleading for something Lena can’t give, something that’s not hers to have nor provide. If it were, if Lena could, she’d do it. She’d give anything, everything. She feels like she already has.
And it’s too much. It’s done. It’s over. Lena turns, and starts walking and doesn’t look back, can’t. She left it all there, all of herself bared raw. She said it all, and now the rest is up to Kara.
Lena heads in the direction of the park. She has a date.
Kara paces her bedroom.
In a moment she’ll be on her way to meet NatlCity98. She should be happy, ecstatic, but instead all she feels is a gnawing, guttural sense of dread. She convinced herself that this is all she’s wanted, for so long now, but..
But every time she thinks about this person, about meeting someone who could be everything she’s ever wanted, all she comes up with is dark hair, green/blue eyes, a clever smirk, a witty retort and- NO.
She rubs at a spot over her sternum, at the point directly in the middle of her chest. It’s been hurting, a blunt pulse of muted pain that thrums every time she thinks about this meeting. A meeting she should be elated about.
Maybe it’s a curse that whenever she takes a step towards what she wants, it ends up just… hurting. Disappearing. Not being what it seems. She thought NatlCity98 was everything she’s wanted but now somehow that’s… just not satisfying.
Who is NatlCity98 anyway? Hot dog messes and quirky takes on day-to-day society. They’re The Daily Show, a meme, junk food that’s so delicious but is never truly sustaining. What she has (had?) with NatlCity98 always felt perfect because it was. It’s easy to make it that way, to script it, when you take your time to write perfect fairytale responses. No matter how true, it will always be fiction because of that.
Kara pauses in front of her dining table, eyeing the computer with a new mistrust. Does she even want that anymore? That perfect, eloquent, call and answer, back and forth? No. No, she wants… she wants a real conversation. One full of suttersteps and pauses, as human and unique as the souls engaging in them. Where the line between agreeing and disagreeing is as potent as it is blurry, where the untangling of communication is just as rewarding as the spots it sails smooth. She wants a fight, a disagreement, that feels as comforting as a salve- that is real. It’s passion not prose. It’s daring to step away from the simple and safe. It’s exactly what she has with...
No. Lena Luthor ended her business, ended Kara’s dream for pete's sake! But…
...but was that Kara’s business to begin with? Was it really her dream? And was it really Lena’s intention to crush it?
Was it fate?
That same damnable, contrary voice inside her whispers (shouts), Does it matter?
She should hate Lena Luthor. She should run the other direction. She should refuse to speak to her, delete her phone number, and despise her from the bottom of her soul.
‘Should’ is an awfully tricky word.
Kara grinds the heels of her palms into her eyes, willing the tears away.
If I hadn’t been LuthorBooks and you hadn’t been Up, Up and Away…
“No,” she argues to her reflection in the mirror next to the door- complete lack of conviction apparent even to her own ears.
She can’t be considering this, considering something more with Lena. Lena is stubborn and haughty. She says what she wants, even if it’s not what someone wants to hear and she always has a comeback. She fights for what she thinks is right, no matter what the cost.
She’s also patient with Gen, and gracious with waitstaff (always important), and has been thoughtful, considerate, kind to Kara… when Kara’s not provoking her.
And yes, she made some good points about what she and Kara do have in common but… but the grass is always greener isn’t it, on the path less traveled? Kara would be absolutely insane to actually consider ditching NatlCity98 for Lena. To even consider Lena, what it would be like to be with her…
Oh how I wish you would.
“Insane,” Kara mumbles. She picks up her keys. They’re cold, weighty, iron, real. At this very moment Kara has a chance at something special. Something clean and tidy, like the black words on a whilte computer monitor background. Solid.
… For as long as we both shall live.
She grabs her messenger bag, slings it around her shoulder. She marches to the door pointedly avoiding her own reflection in the small mirror there, and locks it behind her. Stairs, lobby, steps, and she’s on the street heading to the park, where her fate awaits.
May is tricky. It’s Spring and Summer, both denying themselves and pointing to the other. It is damp earth and hot sky, and Kara feels the menopause between seasons every step on the way there, mirroring her own discontent.
She tries to quiet her mind, to surf the cresting wave of emotions, but they crash down relentlessly just the same. By the time she arrives at the location, just to the south of the arborium, she can barely comprehend the roses, let alone stop to smell them.
A glance at her watch reveals it’s 5:55. Her heart ticks with the second hand. She waits.
A jogger crests the hill to her left, looking worse for the wear, her glassy eyes dissociating dead ahead. A man walks his pitbull on the other side of the garden, letting the dog stop to pee, but continuing on.
It’s not them.
The world ends, not with a bang but a whimper, slowly disintegrating underneath her. She wants to cry- no- she’s numb. Or frozen. Or something. All she knows is that it’s over. Ended. Like so many other things have this past year.
She’s about to turn to leave, when she sees…
Lena Luthor is rounding the rose bushes, weaving towards the entrance to the arboretum, carrying a hot dog in each hand.
Kara is vaguely aware she’s crying when Lena finally arrives in front of her, setting down the dogs (piled high with every condiment known to man) on the brickwall to their side. She’s wearing that same magnificent plum colored suit from earlier, and from the breast pocket she pulls a handkerchief, leans in. With the utmost gentleness, she dabs away the stray tears from Kara’s cheeks.
“Don’t cry, ShopGrl09,” Lena whispers, as if she can’t bear her own voice, as if the lightest wind could break her.
Kara laughs, laughs as fresh tears spring up, flow freely. “I wanted it to be you.” She shudders, takes in a happy, elated breath. “I wanted it to be you so badly.”
Lena steps forward into her space, her hand moves slowly, tenderly, to cup Kara’s jaw. She tips her chin up ever so slightly in askance.
Their lips meet, the kiss soft for the way it rocks them both to their cores. It happens simultaneously, equal, magnets pulling each other flush in beautiful symmetry.
When they break, Kara opens her eyes. Lena’s flutter delicately, carefully, open as well.
Lena blushes, smile shy and soft, and so far from the cold moguel Kara once thought of her. “I got us dinner,” she nods at the hot dogs. “They're messy, but kind of my favorite.”
“I like messy,” Kara says, surprised how true that feels.
“Me too,” Lena laughs, looking equally as awed.
“We’ll probably need more napkins.” Lena says, staring at the food in question.
“Well, you don’t live far from here right?”
“No. No I don’t…” Lena frowns, confused.
“You live at…”
“98 Tremont St.”
“98. Your address,” Kara shakes her head, filled to the brim with irrepressible joy. “How prosaic.” And then. “We can get napkins at your house.”
“I have napkins. At my house,” Lena offers, almost wincing at her own awkwardness. Eagerness. “And Gen is at a friend’s house for the night, but I could introduce you to Mackrell.”
“Cat people,” Kara shakes her head. She lets her arms shift, turning to her side as she weaves one through Lena’s and starts walking them that way, “I just don’t get it.”
“Maybe you will. In time.”
“Maybe I will.”
4 Months later
“I said- we are going to miss it!”
Lena holds up a finger (the child approved one), signaling for Gen to give her one more moment. “Yes,” she says into the phone. “Thank you. We’ll speak then.” She returns the receiver to the desk unit and glares at Gen. “Okay okay, I’m coming.”
Gen hopscotches the discolored tiles of the office floor as Lena grabs her purse and briefcase. She checks her watch and, yeah okay she is running a bit behind.
They take the stairs, because the few extra moments it’ll take are worth it. The wide spiral staircase that winds down through the middle atrium of LuthorBooks has always been her favorite part of this place. Bathed in warm autumn light, the cream colored steps seem to glow- a white brickroad for book lovers to find their next home.
The SciFi section is only two floors down and the moment they’re on the floor Gen breaks into a sprint for the children’s corner. “Ge- nope.” Lena just shakes her head, protest dying on her lips, and weaves her way in that direction as well.
A small display, including action figures from several different franchises adorn the end cap announcing today’s featured author’s book signing. Lena can’t help but smile at the impressive and mildly precarious looking tower someone built out of the red and blue books next to it.
Just beyond she can already hear a melodic voice, reading aloud. Lena follows it back to the corner reading area, where a few dozen children have crowded onto the Solar System carpet, gathered to listen.
“ ‘And then, Supergirl turned to the camera, to address her city. She looked right into the lens, into every household, every smartphone, every soul that was listening and this is what she said:
‘When facing an attack like this, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We retreat, we lose our strength and ourselves.I know. I’ve lost everything before too- my family, my world even’... “
Lena comes to rest at a bookcase off to the side of the wall of parents observing the scene. Kara sits on a stool in front of the crowd of entranced children, astronaut helmet on but face shield up so they can hear her better.
“ ‘When I first landed on this planet I was sad and alone, but I found that there is so much love in this world, out there for the taking. And you, the citizens of my city, you helped lead me to who I’m meant to be, made me stronger than I ever thought possible, and I love you for that…’ “
Kara glances up, catching Lena’s eye a moment, a small smile, before diving back in.
“ ‘Now, in each and everyone of you there is a light, a spirit that can not be snuffed out, that won't give up. I need your help again. I need you to hope. Hope, that you will remember that you can all be heroes. Hope, that when faced with an enemy determined to destroy your spirit, you will fight back and thrive. So let’s do this- let’s join together and beat these Kremandians. Who’s with me!’’ “
The children on the carpet cheer and clap, and even though they’ve heard and read it a few dozen times already, Gen and Lena clap and whoops right along too.
Kara grins, and gives Lena a wink before diving into the last of it. “ ‘And that’s exactly what the city did. People banned together instead of splitting apart, put aside their differences, and by the end of it, each and every Kremandian was retreating too. Supergirl hovered above the city, and smiled. There would be peace for one more day. And that is enough.’ ”
Kara closes the book. “That’s an excerpt from book one of my series, Supergirl: Hope, Help and Compassion For All. Books two and three are in the works and all my info is in the back cover if you want to check it out. Thank you all for coming!”
Another round of applause erupts from kids and parents alike, and Kara gives a funny little courtesy bow before removing the helmet, setting it to the side.
Lena approaches as the sea of children parts, Gen just a step behind. “Seems like it went well.”
“You’re late,” Kara says, a smile contradicting any malice the words could hold.
“Sorry,” Lena says, digging into her briefcase as she approaches, she pulls out a small but colorful bouquet of autumn leaves she collected earlier, wrapped in a haphazard bow she tied herself. “A peace offering?”
Kara grins harder, accepting the slightly mangled leaves, and giving them a faux sniff. “They’re lovely.”
“You’ve been so busy, I didn’t want you to miss any.” She leans in, placing a soft kiss on Kara’s cheek.
“Ugh, get a room,” Gen sasses at their elbow, and Lena’s cheeks pink despite herself.
“I’ll show you disgusting- come ‘ere!” Kara says, abandoning the bouquet to grab Gen under the armpits. She pickles her up and spins her around and around.
“Kara!” Gen yelps between a peel of delighted laughter “Fine! Fine! Uncle! Aunt! Whatever!”
“Put you down? Okay!” Kara sets the girl’s feet on the floor, and gives her shoulders a half hearted push that lands the girl into a nearby bean bag chair.
“I’m going to get you back for that.” Gen grumbles, fixing the mass of blonde curls into a ponytail.
“Uh huh, suuuure,” Kara says, stepping back to Lena once more.
“Don’t leave your phone out,” Lena warns, handing Kara her ‘flowers’ and book. “She hacked mine last week so that everytime I sent an email, the Kill Bill siren would go off.”
“I’ll be careful then.” Kara squeezes Lena’s hand. “I gotta sign some books now. Want me to pick up something to eat when I’m done?”
“No, we’re grabbing stuff from Mr. Chang’s- and yes I ordered you extra potstickers,” Lena adds before Kara can get the words out.
“Perfect. You’re perfect.”
“Seriously, you guys are disgusting. And I’m hungry,” Gen says, having escaped the beanbag landing pad finally.
“Okay, okay. See you at home,” Kara says with a wave, before heading to the signing table.
At home. Lena stares after her, the words echoing back and back, ringing in her ears in a way she hopes will never stop.
“Less oogling, more noodling- I’m hungry,” Gen tugs at her sleeve.
“Fine,” Lena sighs, ruffling Gen’s hair. “You know, if someone warned me having a kid was so expensive, I might have thought twice.”
“Hey!” She moves to fix her hair again. “And Kara eats like ten-times as much as I do.”
“Yeah, but she works for a living.”
“Like you can’t afford us.”
They weave their way towards the exit, Lena pausing to turn around just before the staircase. Kara sits at the table, chatting with a pair of twin boys. They’ve tied red towels around their shoulders miming how to ‘fly’, Kara mirroring them.
Her breath catches, the same way it did the first time they met. The way it has every time since.
Lena grew up escaping into the world of books, of fantasy and science fiction, from a world she so desperately wanted to leave behind. She never thought, in a million years, that her own reality could be just as good, as wonderful, fantastical.
As it turns out, happy endings aren’t just for storybooks, that all you need to do is be brave, to reach out and make things the way you want them to be.
Her phone buzzes in her pocket.
[Kara: Quit staring and go get us some dinner!]
Lena blinks up and finds Kara grinning at her from the table across the way.
She types back, one icon, the little heart.
As it turns out, dreams really do come true.