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i believe, you can get me through the night

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“Honey! Where’s my good tie?”

Kara forces a smile on her face as she flips Mike’s eggs, turning the burner off and reaching into the oven for the bacon. “It’s in the closet, dear. Right next to your other ties.”

“Well, I’m not the one that puts the laundry away, am I?” he calls down the stairs, and Kara sighs. Reminding him that all of his ties are in exactly the same place as they always have been after she painstakingly hand-washes them seems like a futile effort.

By the time Mike comes down to the kitchen dressed in his work attire, Kara has already plated up his breakfast. She gives it to him with a quick peck on the cheek, and immediately she starts on the dishes. She can eat her own shredded wheat once he’s left for work.

Kara has a good life. She does. She has a nice house, and a husband who provides, and all she has to do is make herself look nice for him. She spends her days keeping their home clean and making sure dinner is on the table when Mike gets home at 5:45. There are people who have it much worse – like, the couple next door at their old house, the one they lived in just after their wedding. Her husband would drink, and shout, and sometimes she’d have bruises covered up by powder. Mike isn’t like that. He has a temper, sure, and he’s insistent on her not updating her wardrobe, claiming that ‘these modern trends are the downfall of decent society’. He wouldn’t even let her get new, smaller frames for her glasses.

But she doesn’t mind.

She doesn’t mind that she feels like she’s stuck in a cycle, doing the same thing every day until she wants to scream. She doesn’t mind that she’s only 27 and she already feels like her life is over, her clothes constricting and her smile fake day in and day out. She doesn’t mind that her husband won’t stop bringing up the subject of having children, an idea that makes her feel so ill that she begged her doctor to give her those new contraceptive pills in secret. She keeps them under her side of the mattress, and dreads the day anyone finds out.

It’s all just…dandy.

Kara doesn’t unwind until Mike has bustled out the door with his briefcase and lunch bag, and his noisy Cadillac has faded into the distance. Her shoulders relax, and she lets all of her breath out slowly until her lungs start to burn. As she inhales again, she happens to look up through the kitchen window, and she’s surprised to see a large moving truck parked in the driveway next door.

New neighbors.

It seems like just yesterday that the house went up for sale. The price had been high – the house has a pool, after all, and it’s almost twice the size of most of the other homes on the street – but clearly someone snatched it up immediately. The old family that lived there had been friendly enough, if uninteresting, and she wonders what the new people will be like.

Well. Whoever the new neighbors are, she should be hospitable.

Kara busies herself for the morning making a chicken casserole, and the truck has left by the time she puts on her nicest dress and makes her way to the next house over. She can hear loud music coming from inside, something mellow and haunting with a female singer, and she adjusts her tight grip on the casserole dish as she knocks soundly on the door. The music stops, and footsteps approach.

The act should have been an innocuous one. It’s something Kara has done dozens of times for families moving into their suburb over the 4 years they’ve lived here. But instead, she feels a sort of nervous anticipation. Like this is an important moment, and she has to pay attention. Like the very hair on her arms is standing up, waiting.

The woman who opens the door is nothing like she expected.

She’s not a housewife. She’s young, probably Kara’s age, and alarmingly pretty.

She’s slightly shorter than Kara, especially so because she’s in her bare feet. Kara can see that her toenails are painted, which shouldn’t be an interesting fact but somehow seems fascinating. Her legs are completely bare, no stockings in sight, all the way up to the hem of her black slip dress. A leather belt cinches it to her waist, and the long sleeves drape a little bit as the woman leans against the doorframe.

And, her face. She’s stunning. Sharp features, pale skin, red lips, and dark, silky hair hanging loose around her shoulders. She’s a stark contrast to Kara, in a dress that she knows is a little outdated and her stiff updo. This woman is glamorous.

She looks loose, and carefree, and stylish. She looks like a catalog model. No…even better. Those women don’t have half the curves that she does, they don’t have her subtle smile or her bright green eyes –

Bright green eyes that are staring directly at Kara.

“Can I help you?”

Jumping almost high enough that she drops the glass dish in her hands, Kara hurriedly holds it out like a bomb that’s about to go off. The tinfoil on top crinkles, and the woman looks at the gift with a quirked brow.

“Hi there! I just wanted to say hello, and welcome to the neighborhood,” Kara blurts, her heart pounding away for absolutely no reason.

The woman smiles, slow at first but turning out genuine, and thankfully she takes the dish from her hands. “That’s…very sweet of you. I wasn’t expecting a welcoming committee.”

“Oh, no committee!” Kara chirps, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “Just me.”

The woman nods, her eyes glancing down to Kara’s left hand. She doesn’t seem surprised, but she seems slightly disappointed, somehow. “Mmm. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Mrs…” she trails off, looking expectant.

“Elis! Mrs. Mike Elis.”

Lena laughs, and to Kara it sounds like wind chimes. Soft and beautiful. “I didn’t ask for your husband’s name.”

“Oh!" Kara blushes. "Right. It’s…Kara. I’m Kara.”

“It’s lovely to meet you, Kara. I’m Lena.” Lena reaches out a hand, and Kara takes it in her own slightly sweaty one. Her grip is firm, and Kara notices that, for the first time, her own hand doesn’t engulf the one she’s shaking. She knows her hands are abnormally big for a woman, and Lena’s seem to almost match.

The thought makes her confusingly warm.

When their hands part there’s a moment of silence that Kara can see growing slightly awkward, so she forges forward with the first conversation topic she can think of.

“So! Is your husband at home? Maybe once you’re all settled in, we could get together. We could, um. Do fondue, or –“

“I’m not married.”

Kara blinks owlishly at that. It’s a little bit astonishing that a woman as beautiful as Lena hasn’t been snatched up. The only other person their age that Kara knows of who isn’t married is Alex, who is too busy being the first female FBI agent in the state to focus on romance. Or so she tells Kara, at least. Her sister has been acting so secretive lately that Kara almost thinks she must have a secret beau.

“Oh! Gosh, I’m sorry for assuming. I just thought -”

“It’s all right," Lena says with a kind smile. "I realize it’s a rarity.”

Kara feels a bit put out, if she’s being honest. If Lena had a husband, Kara would have a comfortable excuse to get to know her better. As it is, she’s not sure Lena will want to spend her time with a boring, married homemaker.

Lena seems to sense her mood shift, because she puts the casserole down on a table next to the door and crosses her arms. “You know, I’m having a little shindig to get to know everyone in the neighborhood this weekend. A bit of a party. You and your husband should stop by.”

“Oh! Really?”

“Of course,” Lena chuckles, tucking a bit of hair behind her ear. The movement makes her sleeve fall back, and Kara catches sight of a small tattoo on her wrist – three circles, all touching, each one smaller than the last. It’s foreign and shocking, but she can’t seem to take her eyes away from it.

She’s never seen a woman with a tattoo before. Except maybe Janis Joplin.

Dazedly, she wonders if the inked skin feels any different than the rest. The thought is as fascinating as it is alarming.

Lena’s voice brings her out of her strange, confusing thoughts.

“So, I’ll see you there?” Lena looks genuinely hopeful, and Kara nods quickly, suddenly desperate for some distance between them.

“Absolutely!” Kara trills, already backing away and down the front steps. “Sounds swell, we’ll see you then, great to meet you, bye!”

Only when she’s in the safety of her own kitchen does she sink into a chair, putting a trembling hand to her chest where her heart beats wildly under the stiff fabric.

When she enters Lena’s house for the first time three days later, on Mike’s arm and dressed in her Sunday best, the party is a bit different than she expected.

The lights are dim, and the house is packed. It seems like the entire suburb is here, drinking and eating h’ors d’oeuvres – including, it seems, the more colourful people that she’s never really socialized with. They seem to be causing some sort of ruckus in Lena’s pool, kissing and being rowdy, and Mike scoffs in distaste.

“Looks like the swingers are here. This Lena woman should be more careful with who she invites.”

Kara tsks, tugging his arm. “Be nice, Michael. She’s just trying to get to know everyone. How was she supposed to know?”

Lena herself is nowhere to be found. Kara gets a beer for Mike and a glass of club soda for herself, scanning the crowd for her – not that Kara is overly interested in her whereabouts. She’s just wondering where the hostess is, at her own party.

When Mike gets pulled into a conversation about the rudeness of the pool crowd with the family across the street, Kara decides to look for her herself.

She excuses herself quietly, citing a need for the bathroom, and ducks into the hallway. It’s much quieter here, the loud music and lights less pervasive, and she takes a calming breath. There are a lot of doors here, and she doesn’t want to just barge in. She’s just considering knocking on the nearest one when it spills open, and the object of her fascination stumbles out with another woman in tow – Lucy, the young newlywed woman from down the street. The one with the tiny dog that yips every time anyone walks past.

Her husband James is in the pool, Kara notes with distant concern.

Lucy is giggling, twisting her hair up into a bun, and Lena has a light pink lipstick mark on the underside of her jaw that Kara isn’t entirely sure how to process. What could they have been doing? Making each other’s faces over, maybe? They certainly seem happy, and physically close. Lucy leans against Lena in a way that Kara can’t help but imagine doing herself.

She almost feels like she’s intruding, but when Lena’s eyes fall on her, her face brightens considerably.

“Kara! You came!” Lena says, and the brilliant smile she trains on her sears itself into Kara’s memory.

“She’s not the only one,” Lucy mutters, grinning when Lena huffs and smacks her on the shoulder.

“Don’t be crass.”

Lucy just shrugs, and kisses Lena on the cheek. “Find me later, if you want.”

That must be how she got the lipstick print. They must be really close friends already.

Lucy leaves with a wink at Kara, and Kara smiles uneasily back.

“I’m sorry about her,” Lena says, looking truly apologetic, and Kara waves it off.

“Oh, don’t be silly. She seemed nice.”

“She’s certainly...enthusiastic.” Lena fiddles with her hair, which is a little messy in the back. “Anyways, how are you? I wasn’t sure you were going to turn up, with the way you ran away when I invited you.”

“Oh! Right. I’m sorry about that, I just – I remembered that I had a cake in the oven, and I didn’t want it to overbake, you know? Dry cake. Mike hates dry cake.”

“That’s your husband, right?”

Kara nods in confirmation, and Lena sidesteps her like she’s expecting Kara to lead her to Mike - but suddenly the idea of introducing Lena to her husband sounds like the absolute worst thing in the world. She wants to keep Lena to herself. Her own private friend, one thing that Mike can’t influence. In a panic she grabs Lena’s arm, but lets go immediately when she hears Lena’s breath catch.

“Sorry!” she blurts, clasping her hands behind her back. “I just – I thought maybe we could talk some more, just the two of us.”

Lena nods, accepting that immediately, and it’s refreshing to not have to fight about it. Lena just smiles, and offers to go get them some drinks. But of course, as soon as Lena disappears around the corner, her husband seems to take her place. When he spots Kara he sighs, his jaw flexing, and takes her arm in a firm grip.

“Those people are embarrassing themselves,” he says, clearly irritated. “We’re going home.”

“But, I – I need to say goodbye –“ Kara protests, but his grip is firm.

Now, Kara.”

Kara follows him out, putting on her coat slowly, and just before they exit she looks back and sees Lena. She’s standing in the foyer, a glass of wine in each hand, and she looks both sad and resigned. She raises one of them to Kara, and Kara has just enough time to wave back before Mike closes the door behind them.

 


 

She tries to stay away. She really does. She spends three days glancing almost obsessively out her kitchen window, hoping for a glimpse at her elusive neighbor. But she can’t see over the fence from downstairs, and Lena doesn’t seem to go out the front door very much. But going over, in the middle of the day, when she should be doing the laundry, just seems absurd.

Nevertheless, she’s at Lena’s front door within the hour.

Lena opens it with a smile on her face, the same one she’d trained on Kara at the party. The one that shows her white teeth, makes her eyes crinkle at the corners. She’s wearing pants, today, in a shade of dark red, and a silk shirt.

“Hey there, neighbor. I was wondering if I’d see you again.”

Kara’s face heats up, and she smooths her hand over her starched skirt, feeling just as frumpy as usual next to Lena. “Right. I’m sorry, about the other night. Mike wanted to go home, and –“

“It’s okay. I understand,” Lena interrupts, moving aside and gesturing. “Come on in, I’ll grab us a drink.”

Lena’s house looks different, when it’s not littered with empty beer cans and pulsing under disco lights. It’s tidy, and it’s overwhelmingly white – starkly so, from the walls to the carpets. Kara wonders how on earth she keeps it clean.

“What can I get you? Coffee, tea, wine, beer? I have some scotch in the cabinet, or vodka if you want a mix –“ Lena is opening the cupboards already, revealing a truly startling array of liquors next to the glasses.

“Oh, gosh, tea is fine!” Kara assures her, smoothing her hair nervously. She went with a more natural look today, a knot at the base of her neck instead of her usual coif – Mike had looked at her strangely this morning, but it feels better, more natural, and she foolishly hopes that Lena will notice.

“Are you sure? I can put a nip of whiskey in it,” Lena offers, grinning in a way that lets Kara know it’s okay to refuse. Kara shakes her head, and Lena turns on the kettle with a wink. 

“So,” Lena says when they’re finally seated at the island, mugs of non-alcoholic tea steaming in front of them. “What brings you to my door? I got the idea your husband didn’t like my party, much.”

“Oh, he’s just…he was just tired,” Kara says, and even she knows that she’s not entirely convincing. Lena quirks an eyebrow, tapping her fingers on the countertop.

“Right.”

Kara takes of her glasses, rubbing at her eyes and then putting them back on, and she’s startled to see Lena watching her with an intense expression.

“Lena?”

Lena shakes her head, taking a sip of her tea. “Sorry. I was just wondering.”

“Wondering what?” Kara asks, her stomach suddenly in knots. Lena’s curiosity is strange and new, and she’s not entirely sure how to react.

“You seem…I don’t know. Different than anyone else I've met.”

Kara’s stomach sinks. She looks down at her clothes, the floral print on her dress, at her clunky shoes. She feels doubly self-conscious of them now.

“Oh. I know, I feel like an old lady next to you,” she says, trying to sound light and airy. “You look like you walked out of Vogue magazine.”

Lena frowns, jostling her tea in her hurry to put a reassuring hand over Kara’s. “Oh, no! God, not that. That’s not what I – do you not like your clothes?”

Kara shrugs. “My husband prefers them. I’ve never really felt comfortable in my skin anyways, so why fight?”

Understanding dawns on Lena’s face, and Kara somehow feels embarrassed by it. She takes an overly large gulp of tea, hissing when it burns her tongue.

“I’m sorry, Kara,” Lena finally says, when Kara’s eyes have stopped watering from the hot drink. “I thought you just liked to dress that way. I didn’t really think about it.”

Oh.

Lena didn’t really think about it. She didn’t think that Kara was unfashionable. The idea seems ridiculous, but Lena looks so genuine that Kara almost believes her.

“Well then, what did you mean by ‘different’?”

“I mean…” Lena’s brow furrows, like she’s trying to solve a complicated riddle. “I met a lot of the people in this suburb last weekend. And they’re all…”

“Boring?” Kara supplies, and Lena laughs, loud and surprised.

“Yes, actually. I was trying to be diplomatic, but I’m glad you agree.”

Making Lena laugh, even for those few seconds, somehow becomes one of the proudest moments of Kara’s life. She wants to do it more. She feels hungry for Lena’s attention in a way she isn’t used to, and it’s unnerving to say the least.

“My husband socializes with them, but I don’t have much to say, besides recipe swapping,” Kara says, and Lena smiles at her fondly.

“See, you’re not like them. That’s what I mean – you’re interesting. What are you doing here?” Lena asks, completely sincere.

Kara blushes properly, now. She feels like she’s under a spotlight, and it’s one she doesn’t quite deserve. Lena thinks she’s interesting. Lena.

Suddenly, she’s terrified of the day that Lena discovers that she isn’t.

“I don’t know,” Kara stammers, hiding her anxiety in her mug. She didn’t notice earlier because it was searing her mouth, but the tea is some sort of fruity herbal blend, and it’s delicious and soothing.

Lena continues, as if Kara isn’t having a small crisis. “Well, what about your husband? How did that happen?”

It’s an interesting way to phrase ‘how did you meet’. Almost harsh. But Kara shrugs, taking another sip of tea.

“He asked me to go steady when we were in school, and when we graduated, he proposed. He wanted me to stay home, and…I did.” Now that she’s saying it out loud, the honest truth, it seems silly. Here’s Lena, who lives on her own, who throws parties without a husband, who provides for herself, and Kara isn’t even allowed to drive her own car anywhere but to the grocery store because she settled down with the first man who asked her. It had just seemed like the thing to do, at the time. She feels the same way around Alex, sometimes, but never this intensely. She feels like she needs to prove herself to Lena, somehow.

“He wants you to do a lot of things, doesn’t he?” Lena says quietly, and Kara swallows.

“He’s not so bad.” Kara picks at the string of the teabag until it splits into tiny strands, and Lena seems understanding.

“Okay. Let’s talk about other things, hm?”

Lena, as it turns out, is a freelance photographer. Kara has no idea how she affords this house by herself with that career, but Lena will only wave vaguely and say ‘family money’ when she asks, and Kara accepts it without too much thought. She seems to know so many things about the world, about experiences that Kara can’t even imagine. She’s adopted, Kara learns, and her family has some patents on newfangled inventions, but Lena doesn’t go into detail, and Kara doesn’t pry.

As a product of her work, her house is covered in framed photographs. They vary from beautiful shots of landscapes to human subjects, all taken by her camera, but the photographs of people interest Kara the most. They’re all taken from afar, rather than close-up. She seems to prefer happy people – couples, people with their dogs, children playing, friends embracing – but there’s a sadness to the way she frames them. They’re distant. Untouchable. They betray a sort of longing that Kara can’t explain, and it makes her want to give Lena a hug.

It’s not long before Kara is visiting next door almost every day, making up excuses to knock on her door until Lena finally tells her she’s welcome to come socialize anytime, and she gets to know Lena a little bit more with every visit.

They’re becoming friends. It’s what Kara hoped for from the moment they met, but it still doesn’t seem like quite enough.

It’s a steady climb, days of short and long visits (depending on Kara’s chore list) and working on making her new friend laugh as much as possible. Lena introduces her to new things, from champagne and orange juice to a talented musician named Jimi Hendrix, and Kara marvels at all the things she had no idea existed.

One such new thing is revealed on an innocuous Thursday, when Kara bustles through Lena’s front door without knocking (as Lena instructed her to do weeks ago) to see Lena at her kitchen island, surrounded by little white papers and what looks like oregano. She’s rolling one of the papers into a cylinder, and when she looks up Kara can see dark circles under her eyes. Her smile is genuine, even if it doesn’t quite light her face up like usual.

“Morning. Want to share?”

Lena holds something out to her – it looks like a short, scrunched-up cigarette. The combination of things finally sparks Kara’s brain, and she gasps.

“What do you – oh my goodness, Lena, is that marijuana?” Kara hisses, looking nervously over her shoulder as if the police are going to knock the door down at any moment. “That’s illegal!”

“Lots of things are illegal, Kara,” Lena says, and the moment feels a bit heavy suddenly. Like Lena was reminded of something she’d rather forget. She starts to sweep the rest of the cannabis into a baggie, tying it up and putting it into a jar on the counter. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I don’t usually indulge either, but I had a rough night, and I’m going to get blazed.”

“A rough night?” Kara asks, as Lena moves herself to the plush couch and flicks a lighter. The tip of the paper glows, and Lena take a deep pull on it, holding the smoke in her lungs for a few seconds before exhaling it all in a strange-smelling cloud.

“My mother called.”

Lena has only mentioned her mother in passing, but from what Kara knows, their relationship is antagonistic at best. The money Lena lives on came from her father, and her mother doesn’t want her to have it, for whatever reason. She can imagine that their phone conversation was less than pleasant.

“I’m sorry, Lena.”

“It’s alright. This is helping. And, I’m glad you came to see me today.” Lena seems much more relaxed already, as she takes her second pull. The smell is odd, but not horrible like cigarette smoke, and Lena doesn’t seem to be acting wild or crazy. She’s just sitting with her head lolled back on the headrest of the couch, humming quietly to herself. The movement of her lips around the paper, the way she holds the smoke before breathing it out in an elegant sort of stream, is strangely mesmerizing.

Kara has always associated drugs with hard partiers or beatniks, but Lena is…well, she’s Lena.

Lena hasn’t steered her wrong yet, right?

“I want to try.”

Lena cracks an eye open. “You do?”

“I do. It seems pretty harmless, right?

Lena smiles, looking surprised and delighted. “You know you don’t have to, right? I’m okay by myself.”

“I know. But…I want to try new things.”

Lena regards her for a moment, her eyes narrowed, and Kara gets the feeling she's being carefully considered. But finally Lena hands the smoldering thing over to her, and Kara raises it to her mouth. It seems silly, but the part that Lena touched to her lips – already stained with red lipstick – seems warmer than the rest.

“Take a small toke, at first. It’s probably going to make you cough, but you’ll get used to that.”

Kara nods, putting it to her lips.

It does, in fact, make her cough. The smoke is a little bit acrid, but it isn’t horrible, and when she hands the joint back to Lena she feels accomplished. She did it, and she didn’t embarrass herself.

“I don’t feel any different,” Kara says, her voice a little rough. Her eyes are watering from the coughing, and Lena laughs, taking another draw herself.

“It takes a minute.”

A few minutes and a few lungfuls later, Kara definitely feels different.

Her skin feels strange, slightly more sensitive than usual, and everything is just a little bit brighter. She can’t seem to control the things that come out of her mouth, and her anxiety – which is always present, in some way, in every facet of her life – is completely gone. The world is just swell, and Lena is lying with her head in Kara’s lap, smiling up at her.

“You’re so pretty. Did you know that?”

Kara blushes hard, sputtering. “No, I mean, I – I’m not – I mean, compared to you –“

“No, you are. Really.” Lena reaches up and slides Kara’s glasses off her face, folding them and putting them on the arm of the couch. She touches her finger to Kara’s nose, and the tiny boop feels like the funniest thing that’s ever happened in her life. They both giggle, and the blurriness caused by her lack of spectacles makes the whole situation feel even more floaty.

She feels floaty in a different way when Lena intertwines their hands, running her fingertips over the pads of Kara’s palm until it tingles.

The part of her brain that usually stops her from doing stupid things seems to be turned off, so Kara gives in to her immediate impulse to touch Lena’s hair in exchange. She cards her free fingers through it, the silky strands tickling her skin, and giggles.

“You have nice hair. So soft. How do you get it so soft? Mine is never soft.”

“You use hairspray.”

“You don’t?”

“Nope.” Lena makes a little pop with her mouth on the word, and they both dissolve into giggles at it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed,” Kara sighs, and Lena hums her agreement.

“Being high does that to you.”

“Do you do this all the time?”

“No, not often,” Lena answers, her fingers still tracing patterns over Kara’s. She follows the lines of Kara’s palm, and then draws a loopy heart. “Just sometimes. I find it too easy to get addicted to things.”

“Like what?”

Lena doesn’t answer. Kara keeps stroking her hair, feeling like it’s the only thing keeping her grounded. She scratches her nails over Lena’s scalp and Lena makes a tiny noise, one that Kara has never heard before – it’s high, and throaty, and it gets cut off before she can examine it further by Lena clearing her throat.

It sticks in her mind, that little one-second soundbite. She wants to recreate it, make it longer, louder. She’s full of a desire she doesn’t understand. Suddenly things are a little overwhelming, and Kara glances up at the clock above Lena’s fridge to see that it reads 3:45.

“Shoot!” Kara hisses, springing up and dislodging Lena from her lap. “Shoot, darn, shoot, I should have been home hours ago – I have to make dinner –“

Lena frowns up at her, her hair ruffled. She looks like she doesn’t quite understand what’s happened. Kara grabs her glasses and shoves them crookedly on her face, hurrying to the door.

“I’m sorry, Lena, but Mike will be so upset if he gets home with no supper –“

“Okay,” Lena calls after her, looking a little bit lost, and it takes an unnerving amount of willpower not to abandon the whole thing and just let Mike be angry if it means spending more time with her. But she’s hit suddenly with a memory of the fight they had the last time she didn’t have dinner on the table because she fell asleep listening to the radio, of the way Mike treated her afterwards, and the anxiety returns even through the fog.

Making dinner turns out to be twice the chore it usually is. She finds herself forgetting parts of the recipe that she knows by heart, for some reason, and often she catches herself zoning out and almost burning something because she’s staring out the window at Lena’s front door, remembering the softness of her hair and the sound of her laugh.

Thankfully, her husband doesn’t notice. He comments on the redness of her eyes, but Kara just tells him that she was chopping onions.

The fact that there are no onions in the dish seems to be lost on him.

She doesn’t visit Lena the next day. When she wakes in the morning it all seems a bit embarrassing, the way she acted, and she’s not sure she should humiliate herself further. Instead she goes grocery shopping, feeling on-edge the whole time, as if she’s expecting Lena to jump out from behind the milk fridge in one of her hip designer outfits.

She makes it all the way to bedtime without serious incident. Her day feels empty without Lena, but she gets through it, putting all the groceries away and tidying up and making dinner and cleaning the dishes. She even manages to go a few minutes without thinking about her. At least, until Mike has gotten into bed and she’s at her vanity combing the tight style out of her hair, and she sees movement in Lena’s yard.

Worried for a moment that it might be an intruder, Kara moves to the window for a closer look. But it’s just Lena, standing by the pool. She’s lit by the underwater lights, flickering and strange, and she seems to be taking off her layers. Except, she isn’t in a bathing suit, she’s just – in her undergarments –

And then Lena is in nothing, absolutely nothing, she’s naked, and Kara’s brush is suspended in the air and her mouth is hanging open and something is happening between her legs as she watches Lena, naked as the day she was born, dive into the pool.

She stays underwater for an almost worrying amount of time, her pale form swimming smoothly from one end to the other, until finally she surfaces and slicks her hair back. She treads water for a second, and then floats onto her back and kicks her legs lazily to keep afloat.

Kara is gobsmacked. Soon enough she’s standing so close to the window that her breath fogs the glass, just staring, trying to make out the details – she can just see the outlines of Lena’s breasts floating on the surface, the fan of her dark hair around her head and then a smaller dark patch lower, between – oh, gosh, between –

And then, Lena’s feet find the bottom of the shallow end. She stands, tilts her head, and mortifyingly, she waves. Directly at her. There’s nothing else she could be waving at, besides Kara’s bedroom window and Kara herself in it, probably silhouetted by the bedside lamp.

Kara has never felt such abject humiliation in her life. She was staring blatantly at her neighbor, naked, in her own pool, and she got caught. She squeaks in a very unladylike way, and ducks below the windowsill with a racing heart. She wants to pop her head back up, to check if Lena is still watching, but all she can do is crawl until she’s out of the window’s line of sight and get into bed, her stomach in knots.

Why did she do that? And why couldn’t she take her eyes away?

 


 

To say it’s a shock to answer her front door to Lena Luthor in a scarlet romper with a zipper that’s open almost to her pelvis is a vast understatement.

“Lena!” Kara manages to gasp, swiping at a stray piece of hair that’s fallen out of her style. There are still suds on her hands from the dishes, and she can feel them wet on her forehead. “What – what are you –“ Kara can see a small mole just to the right of her bellybutton, and something about it is absolutely fascinating.

“I missed you,” Lena shrugs, as if she isn’t standing on Kara’s stoop with most of her torso revealed.

She feels a little guilty at that. It has been over a week since she went over to visit – Lena has even called, twice, and Kara claimed she was too busy. She hasn’t been able to clear that strange night at the window from her head, and the idea of seeing Lena up close, talking to her, filled her with unexplainable dread.

It’s just because she was caught being nosy, she told herself. She’s embarrassed at being a peeping tom. That’s all.

“I’m sorry I haven’t visited, I’ve just been –“

“Busy. I know,” Lena says, and a cloud passes briefly over her face. It’s fleeting, but Kara catches it, and it hits her deep.

She never wants to see Lena sad. Especially not because of her. She’s just being silly with this whole thing.

“I’m sorry, Lena,” Kara says sincerely, trying her best to relax. “I really am. I’ve been a bad friend.”

“No, it’s fine –“ Lena tries to wave her off, but Kara opens the door wider.

“You should come inside. I’ll make us a drink, for once.”

Lena steps inside, her heels clicking on the linoleum. The linoleum of Kara’s house. She’s in Kara’s house.

Something about it, about glamorous Lena standing in her plain kitchen, the space where she’s usually so miserable, makes her feel hot and cold all over.

“I can’t believe we’ve been friends all this time and I’ve never been here,” Lena says, her eyes sweeping the space. She looks around at the speckled countertops, the kitchen table, the window that faces her own driveway, something sharp and appraising in her gaze, and Kara clears her throat.

“Would you, um. Would you like a tour?”

She guides Lena through the sitting room, the hallways, the guest room, and finally, she eases open the door to her own bedroom.

“You know, we don’t have to look in here. It’s just a bedroom, just a normal –“ but Lena is already inside, looking around with interest. She runs a hand over the foot of the bed as she glides past, the pristine folding of the duvet wrinkling in a line under her fingers, and she shoots Kara a mischievous grin as she walks past the window.

The look, in combination with Lena being in her bedroom, makes Kara feel antsy.

Finally Lena comes to the closet, still open a crack after Kara’s dressing this morning. Carefully she widens the crack, thumbing past drab skirt after drab skirt, stiff dresses and shirts and starchy fabric.

“Do you really only dress this way because your husband likes it?” She asks, pulling at a particularly dull print.

“He doesn’t like modern style.”

Lena lets the skirt fall back into line, turning on her heel and regarding Kara carefully. Kara tries very, very hard not to be rude and stare at the bare skin of her stomach.

“All right, come on. We’re going shopping.”

Kara isn’t sure how, but despite her vehement protests she’s in Lena’s convertible and en route to the mall within 5 minutes.

The store they end up at is both completely unfamiliar to her and deeply out of her price range. The mannequins are dressed in bright colours, a far cry from her own yellows and browns, and Lena seems right at home, but Kara feels out of place in comparison. Frumpy, and boring.

“Lena, I can’t possibly afford anything here,” she whispers, feeling like very eye in the store is on her. But Lena doesn’t seem to care. She just grabs Kara’s hand, pulling her into the men’s section.

“Don’t be silly, you’re not paying.”

“What?” Kara gasps, the price tags she’s seen so far seeming absolutely sky-high for a gift. “No, gosh, I couldn’t possibly – what are we doing looking at men’s pants?“

Lena rolls her eyes affectionately, grabbing a pair of corduroys in deep blue and a light blue shirt. “Kara. Let me do this for you.”

Lena paces the aisles, grabbing at pieces until her arms are full, and then gestures for an employee to get them a private changing room. Inside there’s a large mirror, a bench, and a folding privacy fan. Pushing Kara behind the fan with her armful of clothes, Lena takes a seat on the bench to wait with an encouraging nod.

The clothes that Lena gave her seem to be all over the map. There’s a few skirts, a dress or two, and a lot of pants, along with two men’s shirts – one polo and another a button-down. She’s not sure why Lena is having her try on men’s clothes, but she shrugs. It’s a day out of the house, and it could be fun, just for a day.

She tries on the dresses and skirts first. They feel better than her own clothes, but they still give her the feeling she’s always had – that something isn’t quite right, isn’t quite fitting. She no longer feels frumpy, but she still feels a bit uncomfortable, somehow. Lena nods her approval of both looks, and finally Kara picks up the corduroys.

“I’m still not sure why you got things from the men’s section,” she calls over the privacy fan. “It’s not like they’ll fit me –“

Kara says it just as she’s pulling the pants over her hips, and to her shock, they fasten in a perfect fit. They’re even roomy enough for her legs, which she’s always felt were too long and muscular. They fit every contour of her narrow hips effortlessly.

“Just trust me on this. I have an instinct,” Lena calls back, and as Kara looks down properly at the shape of her own legs for what feels like the first time, she thinks that maybe what Lena has is a superpower.

She chooses the button-down, a light blue to match the dark blue of the pants, and tucks it into the waistband with a growing sense of excitement. Maybe she looks ridiculous – but the clothes are actually comfortable, and something in her wants to see Lena’s reaction.

Lena’s eyes widen the second she emerges. They go dark, raking over Kara’s body in a way that gives her goosebumps, and Kara holds her arms out and does a little spin.

“What do you think?” Kara asks breathlessly. She’s not quite prepared to turn and look in the mirror yet, not quite ready to face what she might look like, but Lena’s face is telling her that she’s doing something right.

After a few seconds of staring, taking in the outfit silently, Lena licks her lips, swallows, and comes forward. Slowly she eases the top three buttons of Kara’s shirt open, almost revealing her brassiere. Her fingers momentarily brush Kara’s sternum, and she twitches with some kind of strange energy.

Next she takes Kara’s glasses off, making her blink. Her prescription isn’t very strong, so Lena’s face is still clear, but it still feels strange when she usually only takes them off before bed. After Kara’s eyes have adjusted, Lena reaches back into Kara’s hair. Their faces are inches apart, and Kara is almost tempted to close her eyes – but she just grasps the pins holding Kara’s hair up and pulls them out. Kara’s dull blonde waves spill down, and Lena runs her fingers through them until the hairspray releases its hold.

Lena’s nails scratch at Kara’s scalp, just like Kara’s did on hers that day on the couch, and she feels like she’s going to melt into the linoleum. And, finally, Lena takes a thumb and drags it slowly over Kara’s lower lip, wiping off most of her lipstick.

It’s the single strangest and most exciting moment of Kara’s life, and she can’t for the life of her articulate why.

“There,” Lena whispers, her voice cracking slightly. “Not so buttoned-up now, are you?”

With Lena’s guidance Kara finally turns around, and a different person is staring back at her from the mirror.

Just like she thought, the pants fit her almost too well. They cling to every curve, and she’s never felt so exposed and yet so comfortable. And the shirt is the same – the colour makes her eyes seem brighter, and it feels tight on her arms and shoulders in a way that’s strangely satisfying.

She has to squint in order to see the details, but the facial expression actually ends up adding to the overall impact. She looks…confident. Powerful. She looks sexy. Lena’s head pokes up from behind her shoulder, and her hands land on Kara’s waist, feeling so different without her usual skirt. Her hands feel as hot as an iron, and Kara is suddenly very aware of the fact that there’s now only one layer of fabric between that bare stretch of skin revealed by Lena’s outfit and her own back.

She’s covered in goosebumps, and it’s not just from the outfit.

“What do you think?” Lena asks quietly.

“I think…” What Kara thinks, deep down, is that this might be the first time she’s ever felt truly herself in her entire life.

“I think the neighbors might talk.”

Lena laughs, and buys her the outfit anyways. It goes in a box at the bottom of her closet, but every few days she takes it out while Mike is at work, and just looks at herself in their bathroom mirror with her hair down. Every time she does, she feels like a snake shedding its old skin. Something new and raw underneath, but infinitely better.

 


 

Something Kara doesn’t ever expect when she goes to Lena’s house is two sets of voices. Lena seems to have almost no visitors besides herself, so when she opens Lena’s door on an innocuous Tuesday and hears a very loud, very male laugh booming along with Lena’s, she almost turns right around in shock.

Before she can decide what to do, she hears Lena call out.

“Kara? Is that you?”

Shoot.

Clearly Lena heard the door open, and Kara has no choice but to make her way back to the pool where Lena is sitting with a sangria in her hand.

In a bikini. Where Lena is sitting in a bikini with a sangria in her hand. In a bikini.

She’s wearing a floor-length flowy sarong over it, but Kara can still see so much bare skin, the paleness of it almost glowing in the brightness even though she’s sitting under an umbrella. It brings her uncomfortably close to how she felt the night she saw Lena swimming naked, and it takes a mammoth effort to pull her eyes away from Lena’s soft stomach and pay attention to the person sitting beside her.

Her friend is in tiny red swim trunks, his chest shiny and oiled. Clearly, he’s enjoying the sun, even while Lena hides in the shade. They’re laughing together about something, and Kara has the bewildering urge to leave again at how joyful and easy Lena seems in his presence.

But Lena spots her first, and she looks so happy as she waves her over that Kara shoves the confusing thoughts down.

“Kara, this is Jack Spheer. One of my oldest friends.”

Jack holds a hand out, and when Kara takes it he pulls it to his mouth to give her knuckles a dramatic kiss.

“Charmed,” he says with a wink, and the relief she feels at learning they’re just pals gets shoved down on top of all the other emotions. Including a brief irritation at how Lena tops up his drink without asking and laughs at all his jokes. Even if he actually is very funny.

Annoyingly funny.

Jack is suave, and British, and Kara feels something hot and twisting in her gut at the affectionate way he interacts with Lena. It’s an ease she wishes she could have, but her stupid weird feelings keep getting in the way. She wants to interrupt. She wants to push Jack into the pool. But then Lena would probably just go in after him, and they’d probably kiss or something –

“And then I told him, if you want to kiss me, at least have a cigarette or something because you smell like cheap booze and I have no interest in experiencing it through your mouth –“ Jack is saying to a giggling Lena, and Kara’s brain scratches like a broken record.

“Wait, he?”

Jack blinks, looking back and forth between Kara and Lena. “Yes?”

“You kiss men?” Kara asks, feeling like she’s the slowest horse at the race, but she’s just so stunned.

“Almost exclusively, babe,” Jack winks again, and his confidence at the admission is almost as shocking as the admission itself. Lena looks nervous, like she’s expecting some kind of reaction, and Kara schools her features to conceal the strange somersaults her brain is doing right now.

Jack kisses men. Assumedly, Jack has sex with men. He and Lena aren’t together. She’s confused, but mostly, she’s just relieved.

Jack laughs, looking at Kara like she’s a precocious child. “Oh, look at how shocked she is, bless her! Lena, have you not told her that you –“

“Jack!” Lena snaps harshly, and Kara jumps at the loudness of it. She’s never seen Lena look this serious, this angry – her jaw is clenched, and her knuckles are white around her glass. “Don’t.”

There’s a few beats of silence, where Kara can feel the awkwardness in the air like a mist. She wonders if they’re about to have a fight, and if perhaps she should leave. But Jack puts his hands up, looking instantly sober and genuinely apologetic.

“Sorry, love. Didn’t think. No more wine for me, hm?”

“What?” Kara asks, looking between them. Some sort of secret has passed between them, and she feels stupid for not knowing what it is. “What is it?”

But Lena shakes her head with a smile that looks forced.

“It’s nothing, Kara. Don’t worry.”

Kara leaves that day feeling out of sorts, like she missed a step going down the stairs, and that night she has a strange dream.

She’s in Lena’s pool. She’s alone, at first, but then there’s someone behind her – someone hovering close. And then two hands land on her hips, just like that day in the changing room, and somehow she knows without even looking that it’s Lena.

Lena is behind her, and slowly she becomes aware of the fact that she’s naked.

It doesn’t feel the way it normally does. Usually when she’s naked she’s either getting dressed or she’s in bed with her husband, neither of which are overwhelmingly positive experiences – but she feels calm, floaty. Almost like she did that day that Lena got her high. Lena’s hands are on her skin, and she can smell her perfume (the fact that she shouldn’t be able to over the chlorine doesn’t seem to matter) and there’s a voice in her ear, low and throaty and very familiar.

”Not so buttoned-up now, are you?”

And unbuttoned Kara surely is. Lena’s hands are moving up towards her breasts, which feel sort of tingly, and all she wants to do is turn around and do something but she isn’t sure what. She isn’t even sure what’s happening now. She’s never been touched like this, slowly and with intent to unwind, and she’s never felt this way before. Fingers creep upwards, ever upwards, until they’re just about to cup –

Kara wakes to the quiet trill of her alarm, and she hits it before Mike wakes up just like always. Only this time she’s sweaty and trembling, her nipples feeling tight and sensitive and some very suspect throbbing happening between her legs. The details of the dream slip through her fingers like sand – there was a pool, and Lena, and something that’s made her thighs very slippery –

Mike rolls over, grunting, and Kara jumps out of bed. She needs to clean up and calm down before he gets up to start his day, and she puts the dream out of her mind.

There’s no sense dwelling on it, anyways.

Chapter Text

After that first night, the strange dreams don’t stop.

They aren’t always quite so alarming as the first one. Sometimes they’re completely innocuous – often she and Lena are just together, existing in the same space. Sometimes they’re on the couch again, Lena’s head in her lap, fingers tracing tingly patterns all over Kara’s hands. But sometimes those patterns drift up her arms, or over her thighs, and she’s not entirely sure what to think about that.

Even more confusing are the dreams that aren’t so innocuous.

In those dreams, Lena’s hands are more insistent - Lena touches her firmly in places that don’t seem friendly. Places that even her husband ignores. Her neck, her thighs, her breasts. The image of Lena in a black bikini from that day at the pool haunts her, or the way she looked as she wiped Kara’s lipstick off in the changing room. And in these dreams there’s always a sense of urgency, the knowledge that there’s something she should be doing, wants to do, but she can’t quite grasp what it is. All she can do is keep still - and, without fail, they end before she can make heads or tails of their meaning, and she wakes up sweaty and bewildered. It’s maddening.

But, as confusing as they are, Kara always seems to wake up feeling strangely…happy.

She manages to file the strange thoughts away, for the most part. She spends as much of her days with Lena as she can, talking and listening to Lena’s expensive record collection. Occasionally they go out to get ice cream or just to drive, and sometimes when they go into the city Jack tags along. Despite herself, Kara even grows to like him.

And all of it, every hour spent listening to to Lena’s favourite singer (Joni Mitchell, whose melancholy voice Kara had heard coming from Lena’s house that first day they met - the soundtrack to their strange friendship) or feeling her heart rate rise as her friend licks an ice cream cone, Kara hides from her husband. She’s always home with dinner on the table before he’s any the wiser.

He wouldn’t understand. Even Kara doesn’t fully understand.

She doesn’t understand why she’s so drawn to Lena Luthor. She doesn’t understand why she buys a Joni Mitchell album and listens to it when she’s alone, feeling her chest expand with something she can’t identify. She doesn’t understand why she keeps waking up trembling and fraught with tension. And she doesn’t understand why, while she works on folding laundry on a mild Tuesday, idly thinking about last night’s dream, she leans into the corner of the basket and feels like a pressure valve in her lower body has been released.

It feels good. So good that Kara groans without meaning to, the loud sound startling her enough that she moves away quickly.

The feeling is gone as suddenly as it came, and Kara leans back and tries to figure out what on earth happened.

She’s doing exactly what she always does – she has the basket upturned and is using the bottom as a sort of table to fold Mike’s shirts. She had leaned forward to grab one that fell and unfolded itself, and the corner pressed into her pelvis. And then the feeling happened.

Apprehensively, she leans forward again, pressing herself into the corner –

The feeling returns twofold, and she couldn’t stop the noise that leaves her mouth if she tried. It feels indescribably good, like nothing she’s ever felt in her life – somehow, the pressing of hard plastic into the cleft between her legs is making her feel like she’s going to come out of her skin. Kara leans forward harder, her heart pounding, and the feeling seems to crawl up from the point of pressure to wrap around her chest, all the way up to the base of her neck.

Unbidden, thoughts of Lena from last night pop into her head – they had been in the changing room again, and Lena’s hands hadn’t stopped after three buttons. They kept going, and then just before Kara woke up they had smoothed up her belly all the way to her chest, which, unlike the real memory, had been completely bare.

The thought brings a pulse with it, so similar to the ones she often wakes up to but more intense, and Kara leans harder, hearing herself whimper as if she’s floating above the scene, and gosh it feels good, it feels so strange and awful and wonderful

And then the downstairs the phone rings, its harsh trill startling her so badly that she upturns the entire basket and all the folded laundry on top.

For a moment she stands, feeling her blood pound through her body and something between her legs throb in time with it, and it takes three rings before she hurries down to answer it, feeling like she’s been caught doing something terrible.

After that, it’s difficult to look Lena in the face without a strange sense of shame.

Not that it stops her. Lena is so pleasant to look at, after all, and even after Kara opted out of coming over that strange afternoon, she continues to be a perfect friend. She even invites Kara to her next party, even though she must know that it’s unlikely that Mike will let them go.

Kara, determined to be even close to as good a friend as Lena has been, manages to convince him that this one will be more normal, since Lena now knows who she should and should not invite.

The party is definitely not normal.

Last time, other people from the neighborhood had been there – people she knew, however unwillingly, and who gave the gathering a sense of decency. Most of them aren’t present this time. Instead couples are scattered all over the space in various states of interlocking lips and bodies, and Mike scoffs the moment they walk in the door.

“What was it you were saying about her not knowing any better?”

Kara has nothing to say. She can’t explain it away this time – Lena is hosting a swinger’s party.

It doesn’t bother her so much as it confuses her – Lena is so nice, and smart, and wonderful. Why does she feel the need to have these people in her house?

Thankfully, Mike spots a neighbor in the kitchen, and Kara is able to extricate herself pretty easily once they get started on talking about stocks.

Like last time, she has a hard time finding Lena in the crowd. It’s a sea of people with a common purpose, but the hostess is lost in it. She finally spots her at the edges of the party, tucked into a corner with a polaroid camera held up to her face. As Kara watches she snaps a picture, removes it from the receptacle, sets it in a small stack, and holds the camera up again, scanning the room slowly for another shot.

She’s so focused on the task that she doesn’t notice Kara approaching, and she jumps so hard that she almost spills her cocktail when Kara taps her on the shoulder.

“Kara!” She exclaims, with more excitement than Kara was expecting. She even jumps up and gives Kara a hug, and she gets a waft of perfume that makes her chest a little tight. “I’m so happy to see you!” She stumbles a little when she tries to sit back down, and Kara has to steady her.

Kara gets the feeling she’s a little tipsy.

“What are you doing all the way over here?” Kara asks as Lena displaces the stack of photos, huffing in annoyance.

“I’m…observing,” Lena says vaguely, holding up the camera. She stacks the pile of pictures neatly again, and pulls a new one out of the camera slot.

“Shouldn’t you be mingling, at your own party?”

A heavy sort of sadness seems to settle over Lena, then. She waves a polaroid idly as it develops, fanning herself with it, and it makes her hair flicker around her face.

“I prefer this,” she says, not quite meeting Kara’s eyes. “I’m never really…happy, at these parties. But other people are. And if I can capture it like this, even if it’s fleeting, maybe I can bottle a little bit of their happiness up. And keep it, for me.”

Kara, not expecting that level of honesty, swallows and sits down. She’s never seen Lena this melancholy, or this inebriated, and it’s a little worrying.

“Is that why all your other work is like that too?” Kara asks, looking around at some of the framed works still visible in the dim lighting. “You never engage with the people you photograph.”

Lena shrugs, and snaps another photo. She’s never been this nonverbal with her before, this disconnected – it’s like she’s in another world, and somehow Kara’s presence is making it worse. She has no idea how to get Lena to respond. Instead, she deflects, asking the question she’s been wondering since she walked in.

“Lena, why do you have these parties? Why do you invite all these people to your house?”

Lena sighs, setting her camera down and rubbing tiredly at her face.

“You’re starting to sound like your husband,” Lena grumbles into her hands, and the comment hits Kara like an arrow.

“No, I’m not – I’m not judging,” Kara rushes to clarify, “I’m just so confused. Do you really do this? Do you…have sex with these married men?”

Lena shakes her head, her gaze fixed distantly somewhere over Kara’s head.

“No, I don’t.”

“Then, I don’t understand,” Kara says. The logic just doesn’t make sense. Why let all these swingers trash her house and act lewd all night if she’s not one of them? Why make the rest of the neighbors hate her if she’s not even engaging in the behaviour?

Lena sighs, picking up her drink, and her gaze finally meets Kara’s full-on.

“You really don’t, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

The sadness in Lena’s eyes makes Kara’s chest hurt. She wants to fix it, somehow, but she just doesn’t understand. She’s missing something, here, and nobody will explain it to her. It’s like her dreams all over again.

The reminder of her dreams brings up thoughts of what she did yesterday, and with Lena sitting so close to her, suddenly she feels hot all over.

Kara is torn between relief and despair when Lena stands up, finishing her drink in a gulp and setting the glass down beside her abandoned camera.

“Nothing, Kara. Enjoy the party.”

She kisses Kara on the cheek - so close to her mouth that her lips tingle - and heads towards the kitchen, but he’s intercepted on the way by a beautiful woman in a bathing suit.

It’s one of the wives that was just in the pool, one Kara recognizes as Imra, a woman a few streets over who often takes walks with her children that pass Kara’s house. She touches Lena’s arm and whispers something in her ear, and Lena gets that sad look again – Kara could swear her eyes flick over in her direction again - before she smiles in a sort of halfhearted way, and leads Imra down the hallway to a different room.

Kara doesn’t get much time to contemplate the strangeness of the interaction before Mike is at her side.

“We’re going home. I can’t believe I let you drag me to this freakshow again,” he says loudly, and a few people look up from their conversation to give him dirty looks.

“Honey, we only just got here –“ Kara tries to protest, but it seems futile, especially now that Lena has disappeared in her strange fit of mood. Mike is already handing over her coat, and she follows him with a heavy heart.

“I don’t want you socializing with this woman anymore. She’s a bad influence,” Mike grouses as he unlocks the door to their house. “I don’t want her to start giving you ideas.”  

The idea of not seeing Lena again is intolerable, untenable, and Kara has never been more glad that Mike is always gone during the day.

Mike falls asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow, but Kara is up long into the night, just trying to decipher Lena’s behaviour. The deeply sad way that she said you really don’t, do you? The way she looked as she guided Imra down the hallway by the hand. The way the sight of them disappearing together soured her stomach for reasons she doesn’t understand. She feels like she’s inches away from something, something big, and she just can’t figure it out.

When Lena calls the next day to apologize for acting strangely, Kara doesn’t even consider not picking up the phone.

If she needs to keep their friendship from her husband, so be it. Lena is too important to her. Lena encourages her to speak her mind, and gives her a taste of freedom during her stagnant days. Lena bought her the first outfit she’s ever felt comfortable in, just because she could.

It’s that fact – the fact that Lena bought them for her, the fact that she feels comfortable wearing them even if she’s terrified of anyone seeing her – is what drives Kara to put them on and go over to Lena’s in broad daylight.

Sure, she runs there as fast as her legs can take her so that that nobody will see. But it’s still a big step, and the delight on Lena’s face when she opens the door makes it worth it.

“Kara! Look at you, scandalizing the neighborhood. I’m so proud,” Lena winks, inviting Kara in, and Kara steps inside gratefully. “You look fantastic.”

Something twists at the apex of her thighs at the compliment, something hot and alive, and she suddenly feels very exposed in her new pants. Like without the protective shell of a skirt, Lena will see it somehow.

Lena gets them both a martini – she’s not sure when she got into the habit of casual day drinking, but it seems so natural now – and smiles at her as she takes a sip.

“I get the feeling your husband wouldn’t approve of you being here.”

Kara huffs, taking a large gulp of her drink and wincing as it goes down hard. “Oh, my husband can stuff it.”

Lena laughs abruptly, looking shocked, and Kara is honestly surprised at herself. It’s a sentiment she’s always felt but never voiced, and the freedom of it loosens her chest, as does the quiet, happy look on Lena’s face.

“Kara, what’s your real last name?” Lena finally asks, putting down her half-empty martini glass. Kara almost chokes mid-sip, sputtering over the vodka.

“What?”

“I mean, your last name. Not your husband’s name,” Lena clarifies. “What’s your real name?”

It’s a question Kara has never been asked before. After 6 years of marriage, her maiden name seems long behind her. But Lena looks genuinely curious.

“When I married, my name was Danvers. Kara Danvers.”

Lena smiles, licking her lips and repeating the name. “Danvers. Danvers.”

She says it slowly, as if she’s tasting it and finding it satisfying. Finally, she holds an arm out to shake, reminiscent of their first meeting. “It’s nice to meet you, Kara Danvers.”

Even now, months later, Kara is still struck by the size and strength of those hands.

Lena refills her glass when it empties, and Kara is feeling relaxed and happy when Lena pulls out her polaroid and asks to photograph her.

“I want to capture you. The real you. The first true picture of Kara Danvers,” Lena says, her eyes bright with excitement, and Kara thinks back to their conversation at the party – how Lena usually prefers to photograph from afar, capture the untouchable. Now, Lena wants to capture her. Up close and personal. The thought makes her a little bit sweaty – but, she could never deny anything that gets Lena so bright-eyed.

Just like the first day Kara tried them on, Lena pulls the pins from Kara’s hair and lets it spill over her shoulders, and eases her glasses from her face. She sits Kara on the ottoman in her living room and, rather than posing her, just tells her to do what feels natural.

Kara realizes quickly that she has no idea what feels natural.

Lena starts out far away, taking pictures of Kara’s stiff posture from a distance. But as the minutes wear on and Lena keeps making little jokes that make her giggle, she starts to relax, until finally she’s leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, looking up at Lena with a real smile.

Under Lena’s intense focus, she feels like she’s opening up somehow. Growing, and becoming something greater. Her forearms look different, braced against her thighs like this – they look muscular, strong, and for the first time that seems like a good thing. She can feel the defined line of her shoulders pressing against her shirt, and the way Lena’s eyes drift across it. Her legs feel articulated from her body, not trapped under her usual stiff skirts, and she spreads them and relaxes with a lack of shame that surprises her.

There’s something inside her that’s glowing like an ember, and Lena’s green eyes are stoking it.

Lena snaps picture after picture, each one a closer shot than the last, until finally they’re all out and developing. When the first few are visible, Kara can hardly believe it.

She looks good. She looks…attractive.

“It doesn’t even look like me,” Kara says quietly, looking back and forth between two shots. Lena takes them from her, and hands her two newly-developed ones.

“It does,” Lena says. “Look closer. This is how I see you, Kara. You’re…fascinating.” Lena’s voice is so quiet on the last word that Kara almost can’t hear it.

The person looking back at her, the person Lena sees, is both a stranger and intimately familiar. The person she never thought she could be. Lena is sitting too close to her, all heat and distraction, and Kara never wants to move away.

Lena is such a good friend. She’s such a good friend that it makes Kara’s chest ache.

Lena ends up giving Kara two photos to take home – one of her, sitting on the Ottoman and looking more confident than she’s ever felt, and one of the two of them taken close up, slightly off-kilter because Lena had been holding her arm out and snapping it blindly. Lena is laughing, and Kara is looking at her with an emotion she can’t explain.

She wonders if that’s always how she looks, when she looks at Lena. If anyone else can see it.

Kara puts them in her bedside drawer, between the pages of her favourite book. Sometimes, when Mike is making her feel stifled in her own house, she goes to the bathroom with them and just looks, just remembers how she felt that day. How happy she was. How free.

 


 

Somehow, after all these months of friendship, Kara has never once been in Lena’s pool.

It’s not something she’s ever really thought about. She’s never had cause to do much swimming – even when they visit Mike’s family cabin, she usually just sits on the dock and reads a book. She doesn’t even really have a swimsuit she likes – the only one she owns is so old-fashioned that she doesn’t ever want to wear it in public.

So, when she goes for her daily visit one innocuous day in June and Lena opens the door in her bikini, clearly mid-swim, she doesn’t even consider that Lena might want to swim with her until she outright asks.

Which is how she finds herself in Lena’s bathroom, with a selection of Lena’s bikinis laid out and the instruction to ‘borrow whichever one fits’.

They’re clearly different sizes, but Kara manages to find a top that she can tie tight enough, and a pair of Lena’s shorts for bottoms. Part of her realizes as she puts it on that she could have very easily gone next door and gotten her own, but there’s something strange and electric about wearing Lena’s clothes.

She’s never worn so little fabric in her life. She wraps one of Lena’s large fluffy towels tightly around herself, and heads out to the pool.

When Lena emerges from the water to meet her, rivulets streaming down her body, Kara’s whole being throbs in a very unfriendly way. It’s a completely unfamiliar feeling, one she can’t fully identify besides feeling like it’s somehow wrong, like she should look away. But she can’t. It feels like that day she met Jack all over again, except that this time he isn’t here as a loud, boisterous buffer for Kara to hide behind when she feels funny like this.

“Come on in, the water’s nice and warm,” Lena assures her, taking a large sip of her fruity-looking margarita and blissfully unaware of how Kara’s traitorous eyes track every drop of water that runs down her stomach. She looks so feminine and soft, all curves and swells, and Kara has no idea why that thought is so distracting.

“Just – um, just give me a second,” Kara stammers, pulling the towel tighter. Faced with Lena’s perfect body, she doesn’t want to reveal her own – she’s too lean, she knows, all wiry muscle. Not feminine at all. Her hips are too narrow, and her breasts are too small. That’s what everyone has always told her. Her clothes usually cover that, create an illusion, and with the minimal fabric she has on right now, she might as well just be baring herself to Lena’s eyes completely naked.

“You can’t swim in a towel, Kara,” Lena says, reaching out to grab at it, but Kara dances away.

“No, no, it’s okay, I – I need sunblock, first!” Kara insists, grabbing at the open bottle of cream from the minibar next to the pool. She holds it out like a shield, but Lena only steps closer.

“Well, let me put it on for you.”

That thought – the idea of Lena’s hands on her body, spreading warm lotion over her skin – is even worse than the bathing suit.

No –“ Kara yells, and at Lena’s alarmed expression, she quiets her voice. “I mean, actually, I don’t burn very easily, but maybe I should just stay up on the patio?”

“Kara, you’re being silly –“ Lena makes another grab for the towel, and this time she manages to catch it and yank. It comes free, and Kara is left standing in short shorts and a bikini top, feeling as bare as a newborn.

And Lena just stares.

Her eyes rake over Kara’s shoulders and arms, over her stomach and her bare legs, in a way that’s disconcerting. It doesn’t feel like she’s being judged, as she expected, but it does feel different, and Lena’s pale skin has gone rosy.

Just when Kara is about to ask her what’s wrong, Lena seems to snap out of it - and she pushes Kara into the pool. The last thing Kara sees before she hits the water is Lena’s face, wide-eyed and flushed, in an expression of pained realization.

When Kara surfaces again, shaking water out of her eyes, her first order of business is to shout.

Lena!” she yells, indignant and still surprised, but Lena has already jumped in beside her, splashing the side of her face with more water.

Lena, of course, surfaces perfectly, her hair slicked back and water droplets forming on her eyelashes. In contrast, Kara’s long hair is still stuck to her face, and the shorts Lena let her borrow are riding up.

“What the heck, Lena!” Kara sputters, trying to sort her tangled hair out, and Lena shrugs.

“How else was I going to get you in here?” Lena says cheekily, and the strangeness from before seems to be gone.

“Oh, I’m gonna get you –“

She splashes Lena, giving her a faceful of pool water, and the war begins. They chase each other around the pool, giggling and shouting like children, and Kara’s sides feel sore from laughing when Lena finally jumps on her back and latches on, playfully shoving her head under the water.

Kara surfaces again, laughing, and grabs for Lena’s legs, pulling her around with the intention to dunk her under the water in retaliation – but Lena latches on like a koala, her legs wrapping around Kara’s waist. Kara’s hands go, instinctually, to Lena's thighs.

The game stops immediately.

Suddenly Kara is very aware of every inch of touching skin, every scrap of fabric, every tiny movement, every puff of Lena’s breath on her face. And Lena seems just as affected. She’s staring at Kara’s lips with an indecipherable expression.

With no warning, Kara gets hit with a thought that goes off in her brain like a gunshot.

They’re close enough to kiss.

The very thought, the idea of kissing a woman, kissing Lena, is like a foreign language. But something about it resonates somewhere deep inside. Like a tuning fork, striking a note that lines up exactly with all of her strange dreams.

She wonders, suddenly, how those dreams would have continued if they kissed.

Even with the strangeness of Kara’s thoughts, it’s Lena who pulls away, whose eyes widen with alarm, and she launches herself off of Kara’s body so hard that Kara is propelled back a foot or so into the deeper end of the pool. Lena stands abruptly, the water up to her hips, and she looks about 30 seconds from a full-blown panic attack.

“I’m so sorry, Kara, but I forgot, I – I promised Jack I’d go into the city to meet him,” Lena says, her voice unnaturally high. She’s already getting out of the pool, wrapping Kara’s abandoned towel around herself. “You understand –“

“Oh!” Kara replies, her brain still struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire nature of the last few minutes. “Okay, I – just let me change –“

“It’s fine, honestly, just keep the suit,” Lena says dismissively, already stepping into the house. “I really have to go, okay? I’ll see you later.”

The back door shuts behind her before Kara can even respond.

So Kara goes home, her clothes thrown haphazardly over Lena’s swimsuit, as if her entire body isn’t on fire from the memory of 10 seconds in Lena’s space.

Kara doesn’t see her friend for over a week after that.

Lena’s car peals out of her driveway and down the street only 15 minutes after Kara gets home, and it just doesn’t come back. Kara tries calling, tries knocking, tries peering over the fence, but Lena is nowhere to be seen. The lights are off, the car is still gone, and the house is empty.  

A few days in, she starts to get worried.

Lena could be anywhere. She didn’t so much as leave a note – what if she got in some sort of car accident? What if she was kidnapped? Kara’s fevered brain invents all sorts of horrific scenarios, each worse than the last, and she’s a few days from calling the police in her panic when, in the middle of the day, Lena’s car pulls into the drive.

The relief Kara feels when Lena emerges with a suitcase, in her sunglasses and a floppy hat, is enough to give her a head rush.

Kara practically runs next door before Lena is finished getting herself inside.

“Lena!” she calls, waving as the brunette hauls her suitcase up the steps to her door. “Where on earth have you been?”

Lena stops dead. Kara was expecting at least a smile, maybe even an apology, but Lena just looks at her with something close to fear.

“I went to visit a friend,” Lena says quietly, and Kara nods.

“Yeah, Jack, you mentioned. You didn’t say you’d be gone a week! I was worried.”

Lena shakes her head. “No, I went to see my friend Sam. She has a lake house upstate.”

Lena is uncharacteristically quiet, almost withdrawn, and when she takes off her sunglasses, her eyes are red-rimmed. She can’t seem to meet Kara’s gaze directly. It feels off, somehow. Wrong. Lena has never been like this with her, not even that strange night at the party.

“Why won’t you talk to me?” Kara asks quietly, and Lena finally meets her eyes in pure surprise.

“I…don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lena says edgily, and the words stab Kara unexpectedly hard.

“I thought we were friends,” Kara says, failing to mask her wounded tone. “Best friends.”

The shadow on Lena’s face gets darker, and she seems to ache just as much as Kara does. She looks just as beautiful as ever, and Kara drinks in her face like she’s been stuck in the Nevada desert for a week rather than in her own home. The paleness of Lena’s face makes Kara doubt she spent any time outside in the last 5 days, but it makes her features that much more stark – her sharp jawline, her expressive brows, her soft lips, the tiny scar at the corner of her right eye. After all this time apart, all Kara wants to do is spend the rest of the day in her calming presence.

But Lena still turns away, still goes inside and doesn’t invite Kara in after her.

“We are friends, Kara. I’ll see you later, okay?”

Lena shuts the door in her face, and Kara goes home feeling empty.

 


 

She tries to keep going without her friendship with Lena. She survived before they met, and she can survive now. But everything just seems so much harder.

Kissing Mike on the cheek every morning, making his breakfast, washing his clothes, following his rules – it’s all excruciating, now, and what makes it worse is that she has no idea what she did to make Lena not want to talk to her. That day in the pool had been weird, but she didn’t think she did anything bad – she goes over and over the day in her head, dissecting every detail, and it makes her feel like she’s running in circles. It’s painfully lonesome, and with every Lena-less day that goes by she feels a little bit more trapped.

She’s so grateful when Alex calls and asks to visit that she almost starts to cry.

It’s not often that she gets to see her sister – she lives in the city, quite a drive from Kara’s quiet suburb, and her work keeps her so busy that they sometimes only get to reconnect at holidays. Alex planning a trip out here in the middle of the week is odd, but Kara is so isolated lately that she doesn’t question it.

At least, she doesn’t question it until Alex is pacing the sitting room in a nervous spiral, looking like the devil himself is on her tail.

The tea that Kara made them is abandoned on the coffee table, as Kara tries her best to calm her down.

“Alex, what’s going on? You’re running around like a racehorse, here.”

Alex just keeps pacing, wringing her hands desperately. She’s deadly pale, and Kara wishes she had any idea what was going on. Everything is topsy-turvy in her life right now, and Alex being in a tizzy isn’t helping.

“I have something to tell you,” Alex says, and her voice is small and nervous and unfamiliar. The Alex she knows is forward, confident, assertive. This Alex is a wreck.

“Okay, what is it?” Kara asks, throwing up her hands. “Just tell me.”

Alex just paces more, shaking her head and chewing at her thumb.

“Alex, oh my gosh, what? Did you lose your job?”

Alex shakes her head.

“Did you – please stop pacing, you’re making me dizzy – did you kill someone?”

Alex stops in her tracks, pinning Kara with a look. It’s the same look she gave Kara when they were teenagers and Kara asked if she was going steady with Maxwell Lord, the student body president who used to send her flowers. It’s a look that says, seriously?

Kara throws her hands up, starting to get frustrated with the lack of response.

“Well, Christ, Alex, what do you expect me to think with the way you’re acting –“

“I think I’m a lesbian.”

Kara stops talking, then.

Intellectually, she knows what the words mean. I’m a lesbian. A woman who…does things…with other women. A gay woman. But the reality of it isn’t quite connecting with Alex. Alex can’t be one of those women. Those women are bad, aren’t they? That’s what Mike always says – it’s what he said when he opened the newspaper to read about those riots in New York City only a month previous. That ‘those people’ were part of why society is declining.

But in her heart, she knows. Jack is gay, and she likes Jack. He’s funny, and kind, even if she sort of wanted to hit him at first.

And, this is Alex. Mike is wrong. He has to be.

“What do you mean?” Kara says carefully, and Alex stops pacing at least, but she still refuses to sit down next to her.

“I met this woman. At work. Her name is Maggie.”

“Maggie?” Kara parrots, and Alex nods, pushing forward with what seems like a difficult story.

“I got to know her, and she just seemed so…interesting, you know? No, I guess you don’t. But, I just wanted to be closer. All the time, always.”

“Closer,” Kara repeats needlessly. Alex hardly seems to hear her.

“And I felt all these…feelings…and I couldn’t explain them,” Alex soldiers on, the pacing starting up again. “In my chest, and my stomach, and – but they felt good! They were scary, but good.”

“Feelings.”

Kara feels like she should be saying something else, contributing to the conversation somehow, but something complicated is happening in the larger part of her brain, and all she can do is repeat what Alex is saying back to her and hope it’s enough.

“And then – and then she kissed me!” Alex finally says, and she sounds like she can hardly believe it herself.

That startles Kara enough to form a full answer.

“She kissed you? On the lips?” Kara asks loudly, and Alex nods, running her hands through her short hair. Her fingers disrupt the hold of her hairspray, and it sticks up at odd angles and makes her look wild.

“Yeah. And, it was incredible, it was – it was exhilarating. I’ve kissed boys before, dated, gone all the way, and it never felt right, it never felt good – and then Maggie kissed me, and – god, I can’t explain it.”

Kara has no answer for her this time, not even a simple word. She’s too busy thinking. Thinking about how everything Alex is saying, minus the kissing, is eerily similar to how she feels about Lena.

And then, she’s thinking about kissing Lena, and everything goes a little bit fuzzy.

“Kara?”

She’s jarred from her thoughts by Alex’s voice, sounding as small and frightened as she’s ever heard it. Alex has finally stopped pacing again, and she looks…

She looks terrified.

“I know this is hard to understand, and – and you might hate me, but this is the way I am,” Alex says, and her voice is thick. “It took me a long time to figure out, and I hated myself for so long for feeling this way, but I can’t go back –“

And, to Kara’s horror, Alex starts to cry.

“Alex, oh gosh, no, I don’t – it’s okay! I don’t hate you!” Kara says hurriedly, standing up and putting her hands on Alex’s shoulders. Alex wipes angrily at the tears as if they’ve personally offended her, looking skeptical.

“You were just looking at me like I had three heads,” she mutters, and Kara winces.

“I was just thinking. I’m sorry – look, will you sit down a minute?”

Alex finally sits gingerly down on the sofa, and Kara puts her arms around her, squeezing tight.

“I love you, Alex,” Kara says, slowly and honestly. “No matter what, and no matter who you’re kissing. I promise.”

Alex relaxes so much that Kara worries she’s going to fall off the couch. She buries her face in her hands, and Kara is worried she’s started to cry again until she starts laughing. She laughs, harder and harder, until Kara joins her and they spend long, cathartic moments just letting it out.

“God, I was so worried,” Alex says when the giggles have petered off, her voice muffled.

“Why? Did you really think…?”

“I don’t know,” Alex sighs. “I was just scared. I know Mike’s opinions on all of this. And it’s not – it’s not exactly a safe thing to be.”

“What do you mean?”

“People like me get the shit kicked out of us, Kara. Even by the police. ‘Homosexual acts’ aren’t even legal.”

That the law might be involved in all this is something Kara hadn’t known about, or even considered. For love, Alex’s love, to be illegal – it doesn’t make sense. But a sense of understanding starts to dawn as Kara’s thoughts echo with a conversation she thought she’d forgotten – Lena, at her island, rolling a joint and saying ‘lots of things are illegal, Kara.’.

Like a series of firecrackers in her brain, one after another, everything starts to make sense. Lena starts to make sense.

The way she’s always acted like Kara was somehow clueless, how she’s always felt like there was something Lena was hiding from her. The lipstick mark that was on her neck at that first party – Lucy’s shade. Of course it was Lucy’s shade. Her strange conversation with Jack – of course, Jack likes men, and he must have been about to reveal that Lena was like him. But Lena stopped him. How Lena denied sleeping with strange men at her parties, and the way that Imra looked at Lena, almost hungrily, as they disappeared down the hall.

The tingles Kara felt when Lena kissed her cheek, and how she felt a strange longing to turn her head until their lips met.

It’s like an optical illusion from one of those children’s art books – she’s been looking at Lena a certain way for so long, and suddenly, with no warning, her vision shifts.

Lena could be a lesbian. And Kara…Kara wants to kiss her.

“Alex…do you think maybe…I could be, too?”

She doesn’t even fully mean to say it. It’s what she’s been thinking, but saying it out loud seemed too scary, until she did. And now it’s out there.

Alex looks at her quizzically. “Could what?”

“Could be…you know,” Kara edges quietly. Alex sits up, crossing her arms and looking at Kara with a surprised but knowing look.

“Could be what, Kara?”

“A…could be a…”

She can say it. It’s not a dirty word. It’s what Alex is, and maybe Lena, and they’re her two favourite people in the world.

Maybe even her, too.

“Maybe I could be…like you,” is what she finally manages, whispering as if half the neighborhood might be pressing their ears to the keyhole and listening. The thought is frightening, but even just saying it out loud brings a sense of intense relief.

Alex is quiet for a minute, looking at Kara as if she’s trying to gauge her seriousness. When she seems to deem that Kara isn’t playing some kind of cruel joke, she relaxes, and seems to consider the question fully.

“I don’t know, Kara. What makes you think that?”

It seems like a gargantuan task, explaining Lena to anyone. But Kara does her best.

So, Kara tells Alex about her life, the truth about it, for the first time ever. Alex frowns all through her talking about Mike, about how trapped she feels in a marriage she now regrets, but her face gentles when Kara moves on to Lena. The weird feelings, the tingling, the new clothes – she explains her strange dreams, her fascination with the woman next door. She tells her about the parties, about that day in the pool, and how Lena has acted since.

By the end of it Alex is nodding, her face soft and understanding in a way that’s both terrifying and exhilarating at once.

“Look, Kara, I don’t know what you are,” she says gently, squeezing Kara’s hands comfortingly. “I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you that, whoever this Lena is…she might be your Maggie.”

And that, apparently, is Kara’s tear trigger.

Kara feels a little bit guilty that Alex came over here with the intent of revealing something deep and secret about herself, and instead she ends up holding Kara as she sobs uncontrollably into her shoulder in utter relief at finally having an explanation. An explanation for her strange feelings, and an explanation for the way Lena sometimes looks at her like she wants to risk it all.

She’s not going crazy. She’s just…she’s just gay.

Alex rocks her until the tears subside, and they sit together on the couch, interrupted only by Kara’s occasional hiccups.

“Alex, what am I going to do?” Kara asks, when she feels like she can breathe again. Alex takes a deep breath, exhaling in a dramatic whoosh, and shrugs.

“I don’t know.”

Kara sniffles, trying to sort through her thoughts. “I’m married. I don’t want to be. But, divorce…”

“I know,” Alex says quietly, kissing the top of Kara’s head. “Whatever you decide to do…my home is always open, okay? If you need to, you can come stay with me and get back on your feet. I’ll support whatever decision you make.”

Kara nods and takes the hankie Alex hands her, dabbing at her face. It feels infinitely better to have Alex’s support, even if she still has a huge, life-changing decision to make.

She has a lot to think about tonight, and not much time to do so – tomorrow is Independence Day, and the family across the road is hosting a barbecue. She has to wash and iron Mike’s clothes, and make potato salad, and then she has to spend the day on Mike’s arm, trying not to think about the fact that there’s clearly also a party going on at Lena’s house and she hasn’t been invited.

Sure, Mike wouldn’t let her attend anyways after last time, but Lena always invites her. Always.

The day seems to drag by. She feels like she’s having the same conversation over and over again – how are you? How’s your husband? Is the bathroom renovation going well? Oh, yes, he’s getting so big, last I saw him he was crawling – oh, no, Mike and I aren’t expecting any time soon – no reason, just not the right time – oh yes, Sharon’s Swedish meatballs are delicious – it’s exhausting, a never-ending performance that she’s not sure she can keep doing for much longer.

With Lena, she never feels trapped. Not for an instant.

The party next door seems even rowdier when Mike decides to go home and turn in, a little drunk and sleepy from the beers he’s been consuming all day. Usually Kara would discourage him from having too many, but today she’s grateful when he’s snoring loudly by 9:30.

Once she’s cleaned the Tupperware and picked up Mike’s clothes from where he dropped them as he got into bed, Kara stands in the doorway of their bedroom, just looking.

Mike is sprawled out carelessly in the middle of the bed, his wedding ring glinting in the light from the streetlamp outside. She should feel some kind of affection for her husband, shouldn’t she? Some trace of love, a hint of fondness. A spark of basic attraction, even, at the sight of his bare chest. That’s what wives are supposed to feel. But she looks at him, and she feels nothing.

Lena makes her feel everything.

And even if this all amounts to nothing, even if Lena wants nothing to do with her and she has to go stay with Alex and rebuild her life from the bottom…anything is better than this.

Her first instinct is to wake Mike up and tell him herself. But she can see, in her mind’s eye, his reaction – he’s always had a temper, and she knows exactly how bad it would be if she actually gave him a reason to be angry.

The thought of his response to the fact that she’s leaving him for their female neighbor, when she’s the only person in the house with him, makes her feel distinctly unsafe.

So, she sits down at the kitchen table with a pen and paper, and she puts it all down in a letter. Everything – how she never felt right, here, and how this is what she needs to do to make herself happy. How she’s sorry to hurt him like this, but that she asks he don’t try to stop her.

To top it all off, she pulls off her wedding ring. It’s always felt like more of an anchor than anything else, and this final step of taking it off and setting it on top of her letter makes it all feel final. Like a big, final exhale.

Once that’s done, she does something she’d never even considered before – she gets dressed in the clothes Lena bought her, and sneaks out of her own house.

When she gets to Lena’s, the front door is open, and the party is in full swing – couples are in various states of undress, she sees two strangely-contorted foursomes in progress, and one couple blatantly has their hands in each other’s pants.

It makes her a little bit ill to think that Lena might be doing that, too.

But to her relief Kara finds Lena alone, sitting in a deck chair by the pool with a martini in her hand that she isn’t drinking, staring listlessly at the water. As Kara watches, a woman she recognizes from the last party approaches her and grabs her hand, trying to pull her to the dancefloor, but Lena refuses, waving her off. Lena isn’t even wearing her usual makeup. She looks small and sad and beautiful.

Filled with a sense of purpose that’s been building all day, Kara marches over. When Lena sees her, her face brightens for a split second, before falling again.

“Kara? What are you –“

Kara interrupts her, breathing hard not from exertion but from the fact that her heart is beating a mile a minute. “I need to talk to you.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Lena says, wringing her hands. She looks ready to bolt. But Kara grabs gently at her sleeve, tugging.

“I know it isn’t. But I need to.”

“Kara…” Lena whispers, looking around as if she’s expecting someone to yell, to call out in protest. Maybe she’s wondering where Mike is. She seems uncomfortable, so Kara grabs for her hand and pulls her to the closest private space – the walk-in coat closet next to the front door. She grabs for the cord to turn the light on, and even lit by the harsh bulb Lena is still breathtaking.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” Kara says bluntly, and she can hear Lena’s sharp, surprised inhale. “Why?”

“I can’t talk about this right now,” Lena says quickly, reaching for the door handle, but Kara moves to intercept.

“Then when? When will you talk to me?”

“I –“

Kara moves closer, coats rustling as she moves, and Lena’s eyes get as big as saucers at the proximity. “Lena, please. I’ve been so conflicted, lately. I didn’t know which way was up, and you…you make me a little crazy.”

“I know,” Lena whispers, her voice tiny. “That’s why I…I don’t think you know what you want, Kara.”

“I didn’t,” Kara agrees. “But I do now. I’ve been thinking about you for months.”

Lena looks pained. Aching. Like she wants to lean into what Kara is saying, but for some reason she can’t.

“You’re just confused. I can’t – I can’t do this to you.”

“I’m not confused,” Kara insists, and then corrects herself. “I mean, I was, but then Alex came and explained –“

“Your sister?” Lena asks, her brow furrowed.

“She’s a lesbian.”

Lena freezes, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Her eyes are wider than ever, her mouth hanging slightly open, and Kara has the feeling that she’s just said something Lena doesn’t hear very often.

“She told me what it means,” Kara continues, her voice quiet. The moment feels still, like the moment before a jump. “What it feels like. To like women.”

Lena stays silent. Her hands are fisted in the fabric of her dress so tightly that her knuckles are white.

Kara is afraid – god, is she afraid – but she can’t stop now. Not when she’s this close.

“And I’ve seen you, with other women. At parties like these,” Kara says, barely above a whisper.

Lena swallows hard, the tendons in her neck flexing, and somehow the sight of it – how it makes her want to press her lips there, her teeth, her tongue – makes Kara feel brave.

“Lena, are you gay?”

The question hangs in the air between them; a curtain between their bodies that one word could pull down. Lena’s jaw is so tense that Kara worries for her teeth, the muscle flexing with tension.

Slowly, as if she’s aware of how her answer fundamentally shifts everything between them, Lena nods.

Kara has known, really, since Alex came over yesterday. This shouldn’t be a surprise. But the admittance makes it real, and it’s difficult to get her next words out past the wave of relief.

“I think I might be, too.”

Lena’s breath all comes out in a whoosh. Instead of the positive reaction Kara was hoping for she deflates like a balloon, her eyes look shiny.

“Kara, I can’t.” Lena's voice cracks on the words, and Kara grabs desperately for her hands.

“Why? Why not? Why can’t we do this?” One hand goes to Lena’s hair, to her beautiful face, traces the outline of her jaw like she’s secretly ached to do all these months. The warm skin under her fingers feels like a puzzle piece slotting in - and Lena leans into it, pressing her cheek into Kara’s palm even as she denies her.

“You’re married.”

“You’ve been with married women! You slept with Mrs. Olsen, and Imra!” Kara protests, and Lena shakes her head.

“They were different. Their husbands were also sleeping with other people in the next room. Everyone was aware of the circumstances.” Lena’s eyes threaten to spill over, and she bites at her lip so hard that Kara can see the little indents left behind. “I can’t do it. Not like this.”

“I’m leaving him.”

Kara hadn’t even been fully aware of the knowledge until a half hour ago. But it seems so obvious, now. She feels more just from standing close to Lena, from Lena’s eyes on her, than she does in bed with her husband. He’s harsh where Lena is soft, cruel where Lena is kind. He’s a pair of shackles, and Lena is a car on the open highway.

And, as much as it breaks her heart, even if Lena doesn’t want her, she can’t go back to the caged existence she lived before they met. Either way, with or without Lena, she’s leaving this place.

“You’re…” Lena whispers, and she frowns. “I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You’re not asking me. I’m telling you. I already wrote him a letter.”

“You literally just decided this. I can’t let you leave your whole life for me,” Lena protests.

“I’m not –“ Kara sighs, frustrated. “It’s barely a life, Lena. I’ve been miserable since before we even got married. I just…I didn’t know there was another option. And then you happened.”

Lena’s mouth is in an anxious twist, her teeth pulling at her lower lip, and Kara pushes on.

“I’m leaving no matter what. I can’t stay here, I can’t be with him, now that I know. If you don’t –“ Kara’s voice quavers, and she swallows hard to control it. “If you don’t want this, I’m going to go stay with Alex. She promised she’d help me. But I want this. I want you. I want you so much.”

There’s a pregnant pause after Kara’s speech. Lena seems unsure, and Kara doesn’t want to push – she’s done what she can do, and Lena has to meet her the rest of the way.

Finally, Lena’s shaky hand comes up to rest on Kara’s sternum.

“I want you too,” Lena whispers, and Kara could power a small town with the force of the feelings those words provoke in her.

And then Lena’s hand turns into a fist, clenching the fabric of Kara’s shirt, and she pulls.

The moment their lips meet, Kara understands what Alex meant when she said that it just felt right.

It’s something that Kara can’t explain in words. Any and all kissing experience she might have had is nothing – nothing compared to Lena’s lips brushing hers, the heat of the hand on her chest. The kiss is gentle, tentative, like Lena is giving her the opportunity to run, but all Kara wants is more. More kissing, more touching, more skin contact, just more. She wants to take all of Lena’s clothes off, press against her like that day in the pool and see what happens if they don’t stop.

As soon as Kara leans in more, pushes deeper, makes it absolutely clear that she isn’t going anywhere, Lena seems to lose her inhibitions – and, Kara learns, the introduction of tongue to kissing is absolutely life-changing.

With an almost pained whine Lena slots their mouths together, hard, and their kisses turn messy and frantic. Kara’s heart is beating so hard that she can hear it in her ears, feel her blood whizzing through her body, and that unfamiliar feeling from her strange dream has returned in full force – Lena is panting into her mouth, pressing her into the door, and those uncomfortable fumblings with her husband seem so far away as to be another person’s life entirely. Lena is hot and vital, her hands shaking with want as she undoes the buttons of Kara’s shirt and presses wet kisses to the revealed skin, and Kara hardly has time to consider that she hasn’t a single clue what she’s doing.

But, once the thought hits, it stays there. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. Sexual relations are a foreign language to her – with Mike it was always a ‘think about something else until it’s over’ situation, but with Lena, the last thing she wants to do is disengage. She wants to be aware of every single second.

Lena is pulling her tucked-in shirt from her pants before Kara remembers – she decided not to wear a brassiere in this outfit. Lena’s hands are shaky as she undoes the buttons, and Kara feels like she should perhaps give  her a warning but that might make Lena stop, a thought which is completely intolerable. The idea of Lena laying eyes on her bare chest is so potent that Kara is torn between gratitude and regret at her decision - it had just seemed right, at the time, and now –

Now, Lena is staring at her bare chest like it’s the ninth wonder of the world.

“Wow,” she whispers, and Kara manages a strangled laugh as Lena’s exploring hands move closer and closer to her exposed nipples. Just like every strange fantasy that’s haunted her for months, but this time, she’s not going to wake up before they reach their final destination.

“I – I’ve had so many dreams like this –“ Kara can’t stop herself from blurting, and Lena exhales into her collarbone, biting down gently in a way that makes her entire body tingle.

“What happened? In the dreams?”

Lena’s fingers are tracing just under the curve of her breasts, tracing up and over the sides but not yet daring to really touch, and Kara understands suddenly what it is those dreams were telling her. What she wants. What she needs.

With a sudden burst of confidence she grasps Lena’s hands and puts them over her breasts, pressing until it makes her gasp.

Everything accelerates after that.

Lena’s hands are everywhere, and Kara wants them to be even more places, and she barely has time to process the unfathomable pleasure of strong fingers pinching her nipples before Lena is frantically moving south.

“I’ve never –“ Kara gasps as Lena smooths strong hands over her stomach, pulling at the high waist of her underwear. “I don’t know –“

“I’ll show you,” Lena is whispering, and she’s sinking to her knees for reasons Kara can’t fathom. “Please, let me.”

As if Kara could refuse her anything.

At Kara’s vehement nod, Lena pulls Kara’s belt from her waist with a snap that makes her shiver and slides the button from her corduroys, easing it all down her legs. She thinks that maybe Lena will stand up again once the task is done, but she doesn’t. She just guides Kara to step one leg out of the garments, and then presses her lips just below Kara’s bellybutton, looking up at her with dark eyes.

“Spread your legs for me?”

Kara feels a thousand things at once. Nervousness is there, but also excitement – she feels exposed, raw as a new cut as she eases her legs apart to Lena’s gaze. She feels chest-tightening, breath-stealing affection for the woman currently nuzzling the coarse hairs between her thighs. And, above all, she feels anticipation – something is about to happen, something new, something transformative. She’s too distracted by sensation to understand what it is; at least, until Lena finally moves lower, spreads something with her fingers, and takes Kara into her mouth.

The feeling that arises from a single swipe of Lena’s tongue is borderline euphoric.

It’s gentle at first, softness against softness, but at the tail end of it Lena’s tongue brushes a spot that makes something deep inside her jolt awake. It’s like that day with the laundry hamper put under a magnifying glass, made as big as a mountain by Lena’s touch, by her tongue, by her eyes never leaving Kara’s.

“Gosh, Lena,” Kara manages to choke, knowing that her words can’t fully explain exactly what she’s feeling. “I – gosh. That’s – you – can you do that again, please?”

And Lena does. Again and again, until Kara is quaking with the contained force of it. There’s something magical happening at the intersection of pressure and friction, and Kara wants to chase it down. And the reminder that it’s Lena’s tongue that’s doing this to her, her mouth, that she’s drinking Kara in like wine and moaning at the taste, her fingernails leaving crescents in Kara’s hips from the attempts to keep her close – it’s almost too much. She’s on a train that’s hurtling towards the edge of a cliff, and there’s no jumping off now. She can’t, she won’t.

Lena has a hand on Kara’s stomach, now, her fingers splayed wide over flexing muscle, and Kara reaches down to lace their fingers together, craving the connection, the intimacy of it as she approaches the unknown.

Lena’s hand squeezes, her tongue doubles in it’s lashing over that blissful spot, and Kara’s body seizes as everything comes to its obvious conclusion. There, in Lena’s coat closet with the muffled notes of the Rolling Stones playing over a 4th of July party behind the closed door, Kara has her eureka.

It’s like nothing she’s ever known, those seconds of suspended feeling. It’s like a pot boiling over – it rises and rises until it spills over the sides of her, uncontainable, intense and brief. She couldn’t stop herself from crying out even if she wanted to. It’s involuntary, unstoppable – she’s so full to the brim with base, primal pleasure that her voice can’t fit anymore. And Lena just groans, just buries her face deeper, her tongue still making sloppy circles as Kara’s world is reshaped.

“Lena,” she finally gasps as the feeling tapers off into something less consuming. “Holy hell.”

Lena laughs sort of disbelievingly.

“I’ve never heard you swear before,” Lena mumbles into Kara’s pelvis, as she trails kisses over her hot skin. She can feel that slickness from between her legs smearing over her belly wherever Lena’s mouth goes, and the thought makes her toes curl.

“Well, this situation sort of called for stronger language,” Kara says breathlessly, and Lena laughs quietly again. “I mean…Lena, gosh.”

Lena’s eyes finally flick up to meet Kara’s, and she looks so sweet and hopeful that Kara’s heart shifts in her chest.

“Yeah?” Lena whispers, and Kara wants nothing more than to reassure her that this was the single greatest moment of her life.

“I’ve never – I mean, I didn’t know that was possible.”

“I’ve wanted to do that since the moment we met,” Lena says quietly, slowly standing up and pressing herself into Kara’s body again. Her mouth is wet, shiny with that between-the-legs slickness Kara has been waking up to for months, and it makes Kara throb as if the last 5 minutes never even happened.

“…can I - I mean, can you show me how to…” Kara asks haltingly, gesturing vaguely at Lena’s body. She wants in a way she can’t articulate, but Lena seems to understand.

Lena’s breath comes out in a rush, and she tugs Kara closer by her open shirt. “Yes, yes, god –“

And then they’re kissing again, and Lena tastes like something deep and unfamiliar – her, Kara realizes. Lena tastes like her. The thought lights her on fire, and she curses every single day she spent not knowing that this was something she could do.

Remembering how good it felt to have Lena press her into the door, Kara takes initiative, grabbing at Lena’s hips and spinning them until they’ve switched positions. Her corduroys are still bunched around one ankle, and the reminder of it when she moves her legs to brace against the wood makes her feel tingly. 

And, Lena’s reaction is overwhelmingly positive. She groans into Kara’s mouth, low and deep, and digs blunt nails into the base of her neck. Kara’s shirt is still hanging open from her shoulders, and she wishes more than anything that Lena was in a similar state.

“Tell me what to do,” Kara pants, biting down on the soft skin of Lena’s throat and feeling it vibrate with her moan. “Show me, again –“

Grabbing one of Kara’s hands from its place on her hip, Lena guides it until it’s under her dress, Kara’s fingers resting against her underwear - a small, lacy pair, like the kind Kara sometimes blushes to see on mannequins at the mall. It’s damp and sticky, and hot to the touch, and Lena whimpers when she presses down firm.

“Are you sure you want this?” Lena looks almost wild, her lips swollen and stained and her eyes blown out dramatically. She looks desperate. But she’s stopping to make sure Kara is okay.

Kara has never been more okay in her life.

“I want you,” Kara murmurs, loving how Lena reacts to the words with bucking hips and a breathy sound. She presses her fingers down harder on wet fabric, not knowing if it’s the right thing to do but gratified at how Lena’s breath hitches. “I want you, I want you –“

With her confirmation, Lena hurriedly grabs her hand again, and shoves it into her underwear.

It’s a bit of sensory overload, at first. She can feel warm skin on her fingers, and a patch of rough hair, and a hint of wetness – and then Lena pushes at her knuckles, and her world narrows to slick heat and Lena’s breathless gasp.

This is completely unfamiliar terrain. She’s never so much as touched herself here, except for washing – and whatever magic Lena did when she was on her knees, Kara was too overwhelmed to pay attention. But Lena’s hand is still firm on hers, guiding, and Kara does her best to listen.

She wants to make Lena feel it, too.

Her fingers slip over a swollen spot, a small raised bump, and Lena’s hips jolt like she’s been shocked. It’s so startling that Kara almost pulls her hand away, worried that she’s done something wrong, but Lena just presses her harder.

“That’s – my clit,” Lena gasps, and Kara can feel the nub twitch under her fingers. “Feels – feels amazing –“

Right. Clit. Good spot. Remember that.

Kara slides her fingers across it again, back and forth, and Lena’s eyes practically roll back as her head hits the door with the thud. “Kara, fuck –“

“It’s good?” Kara asks, and Lena’s reply comes before she can even finish the short question.

“It’s so fucking good –“

She’s heard Lena swear before, casually, but not this often, and not this vehemently. It makes her feel hot every time another word falls out of Lena’s mouth – it’s as if she can’t help it, like the movement of Kara’s hand is forcing them out. The power she feels at being the source of Lena’s pleasure is better than anything she’s ever felt.

Back and forth her fingers trace, up and down, trying new pressures and patterns and mapping the results, until finally Lena’s shaking hand guides them lower.

“Want you inside,” Lena pants, and Kara wants to bite at her swollen lip. When she remembers that she can, it lights a firework inside her.

“Where?” she asks, capturing Lena’s lip between her teeth and cataloging the frantic sound that results. “I don’t –“

“My cunt,” Lena whispers, and the word makes Kara blush harder than anything so far. It’s a word she’s only heard a few times, and it’s certainly not used in polite conversation, but it seems to fit here in a way she can’t explain. It’s harsh, and dirty, and…hot.

Lena pushes at Kara’s hand, and her fingers slip through what feels like an absurd amount of wetness until she finds a spot that gives, and when she presses up and into it –

She’s surrounded by Lena, inside her, within her. It’s like the world freezes for just a moment, enough time for Kara’s world to shift once again.

She’s at least vaguely familiar with this. This is what Mike was always questing for, this spot, and she’s starting to understand why – but it was always a bit uncomfortable for her, never something she looked forward to.

Lena doesn’t seem uncomfortable at all.

In fact, she just grabs the hem of her dress and pulls until the whole thing comes off over her head, props a still-heeled foot up against the shoe rack, opening herself up to Kara’s hand, and pulls Kara’s mouth to her throat.

Lena is mostly naked, and Kara is mostly naked, and they’re pressed together skin to skin, and Kara is inside her. She’s never felt closer to another person, and it still doesn’t feel close enough.

Here, at least, Kara has some idea what to do.

When she withdraws her fingers slightly Lena makes a tiny noise of protest, but it turns into a shout of pleasure that Kara is sure the whole party must hear when she plunges them back in, her knuckles pressing hard into the flesh of Lena’s cunt.

Just thinking the word, so new and forbidden, makes her shiver in the best way.

The rhythm of the motion, in and out, gaining speed until Lena’s breasts are bouncing in her fancy brassiere in a way that makes Kara inexplicably want to put them in her mouth, is enough to drive her mad. She can feel Lena approaching that moment, the one she herself just felt, and she’d do anything to help her along – she just doesn’t know how.

Thankfully, Lena seems to have no problems giving directions.

“Another, please, another finger –“ Lena begs, and Kara almost dislodges them both in her rush to comply. She slips a third finger inside, and every time Lena makes a one of those satisfied sounds, it feels like she can feel her own actions in an echo against her newly-discovered clit, a spot she hadn’t even known existed until three minutes ago.

The thought reminds her of how Lena had reacted, when she dragged her fingers across it. She’s sure that, if she stretches her thumb at just the right angle, she can –

Kara, fuck!”

There it is.

It doesn’t take long, after that. Lena’s cries climb in volume and intensity, until she finally peaks with a long, satisfied noise. She can feel her fluttering and pulsing around her fingers, hot and tight, and somehow making Lena feel this way is almost better than feeling it herself.

“Did you –“ Kara asks, wiggling her fingers slightly, and Lena gasps into her neck.

“Yes,” Lena hisses, her hips tilting up in a clear indication of more. And Kara wants more. She wants so much

“Can I – again -?” Kara asks haltingly, and Lena’s reaction is immediate and enthusiastic.

“Yes, fuck, yes –“

Kara goes by instinct, this time. Lena is too far gone to give much instruction, both her hands now clawing at Kara’s bare back under her open shirt, and she can feel her wrist starting to cramp. But Lena is making those same whimpery noises she did last time, perhaps even more desperate, and it feels like she’s on the absolute razor’s edge of something that Kara is determined to see through.

Finally, Lena plunges a hand into her hair and makes a fist, pulling on the loose strands in a way that makes the throbbing between Kara’s legs triple in a split second.

“Bite my neck, and – and curl your fingers –“ Lena says, her voice high and tight, and Kara obeys.

“Like this?”

“Yes!”

When Lena tightens around her hand a second time just a few seconds later, Kara feels like she could take on the world. Like a missing piece of herself has just slotted into place, her entire world lighting up, no more dim corners and shadowy places. Everything is illuminated by Lena, coming on her fingers, again and again. This is what life really feels like.

Lena is crying and kissing her and, how did she ever live without this? Without Lena hot and wet on her hand, her tongue in her mouth, pressed together as tightly as two people can be pressed, like two halves of an oyster shell?

Kara is pretty sure it isn’t just Lena’s tears she’s tasting in their kisses.

“Kara…” Lena whispers brokenly, both hands cupping her face as she presses her lips to every inch of bare skin. “Christ, Kara –“

“I’m so sorry I didn’t see this before,” Kara whispers back, her fingers still buried deep in a heat she never wants to leave. Her voice is shaky, but sure. “I feel like I’ve been blind my whole life.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t explain it to you. You must have been so confused,” Lena says with a wet laugh.

“I was. I’ve never felt like this before. Never ever. I had no idea what all this commotion was,” Kara says with a smile, poking at her own chest with her free hand. Lena laughs again, and it feels healing.

“I was so scared you would hate me, if I told you,” Lena sighs, stroking her fingers down Kara’s temple and across her jaw. She traces over Kara’s lips, so gentle that it almost tickles, and Kara nips at her fingertips, making both of them smile.

“Not possible,” Kara says, and Lena’s smile fades a bit.

“It’s happened before. And with you it would have been so much worse, because I –“

Lena cuts herself off, looking startled at her own almost-admission. But Kara’s heart skipped a beat at the possibilities that sentence opened up, and she can’t let it slip by.

“Because, what?” Kara asks gently, and Lena shakes her head, her lips tight.

“I’m still scared,” Lena admits in a small voice, and Kara tries to erase the fear by kissing her again, deep and slow.

“Tell me,” she whispers as their lips part, Lena’s eyes easing slowly open. “Please?”

“It would have been worse because I think I love you.”

Lena says it quickly, quietly, as if she’s ripping off a band-aid, bracing for a bad reaction. But what Kara feels in response is nothing but pure, unfiltered joy.

Lena loves her. And Kara loves Lena right back.

Kara lets out a sound, half-laugh and half-sob, at just how true those words feel.

She’s never felt this kind of love before. Six years of marriage and two years of dating prior, and she and Mike had never so much as said it to each other. She loves Alex, sure, and Eliza, and she loved her parents, but romantic love seemed like a thing that was made up for the movies. That squirrelly, desperate, lets-go-to-Niagara-Falls-and-elope feeling always felt like a lie.

But if Lena asked, she’d hop in a car right now and head north.

“I thought I could keep my distance,” Lena is saying, sounding worried. “Keep it light. I flirted and you always seemed to respond, but I didn’t want to hope. But it grew, god, it grew so big and that day in the pool I just realized it was more. You were more.”

Kara isn’t sure how Lena can still sound worried when she herself can’t stop smiling.

“You’re more, too. More than I’ve ever felt,” Kara says, and Lena’s face brightens immediately.

“Yeah?”

Mike’s angry face flashes in Kara’s mind, and Alex’s, happy and wild with the knowledge of her new self, and then Lena’s. Right now, flushed and hopeful and just a little bit nervous.

“Yeah. And…I think I love you, too.”

Lena practically deflates in relief, the air leaving her in a long groan as she leans forward to rest her forehead on Kara’s shoulder.

“Oh, thank god,” Lena mumbles, and Kara laughs, full to the brim with happiness. She kisses Lena’s temple until they’re both smiling, and finally, she slips her fingers free from the warmth they’ve been buried in this whole time. She was so content there that she’d almost forgotten, and Lena did too, based on her surprised intake of breath as Kara’s hand comes to rest just a bit further up. She runs her wet fingers through the hair there, and remembers how Lena had nuzzled at her own.

It makes her want to drop to her knees, like Lena did, and keep on learning.

But outside there’s the telltale thump and shatter of something breaking, and a chorus of drunken laughter, and she remembers where she is.

Kara doesn’t want to leave this closet yet. She doesn’t want to face the real world, with all its harshness. She just wants to stay right here, let contentment fill her up with every meeting of their lips. But the party still rages outside, and Mike still lies next door sleeping and unaware, and there are things that have to be dealt with. Everything else can come after.

Many, many times after.

Lena’s light dims a little when Kara says she has to go, even with the reassurance that she’s only going to get her things and make sure Mike gets her letter. She’d be willing to just take off, ride into the sunset with Lena and damn the consequences, if it weren’t for the few precious belongings she can’t bear to leave behind. And Mike, for all his faults, at least deserves to know that she’s leaving, if only so he doesn’t think she’s just gone missing.

Kara slips out the front door as Lena shuts off the music and starts to usher people out, announcing that the party is over, and when she unlocks her own door, she’s strangely aware of the fact that this is probably the last time she’ll ever do it.

When she flicks the light switch in the kitchen, it feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s life. She knows she needs to be quick and quiet, and yet Kara paces the kitchen like a woman possessed, full of manic energy. It’s as if Lena was a battery, and now she’s charged up, full of lightning and love. NASA be damned, she feels like she could jump high enough to hit the moon.

And Mike is still upstairs, sleeping through the most earth-shaking night of Kara’s life. He’s going to wake up to a whole new world, one where Kara will be gone. She’s done with this life, now. This house, this relationship, has brought her nothing but misery.

She sets her letter and ring on the pillow, and feels no remorse. She’s ready for her new start.

She grabs the things she most needs – her emergency money and banking paperwork, photos of her family, the book with the polaroids that Lena gave her – and leaves everything else behind. All her old clothes, her kitchen things, all the knickknacks that Mike has bought her as gifts over the years that she felt no connection to. All of it is dust to her.

The only important thing is Lena, who opens her door with a brilliant smile, who accepts Kara’s hug with surprise, as if she wasn’t fully expecting Kara to come back at all.

“I rang Sam,” Lena says a little breathlessly, as Kara sets her little box of belongings down on the entry table. “She said we can come stay with her at her lake house, for a while. Until things settle down.” Lena pitches the idea like Kara might refuse. Like Kara wouldn’t follow her to the ends of the earth if she asked.

She can see Lena’s suitcase, packed and ready, sitting next to the door. Lena is in this, just as much as she is, as difficult as that is to believe.

Kara grins, pulling Lena – her girl, her sweetheart, her lover – by the hands until they’re close enough to share breath. Until she can press their lips together, losing herself in the softness of Lena’s mouth.

When they part for air, she smiles her first free smile.

“I could go for a vacation.”

But it doesn’t feel like a vacation, when they’re on the highway with the convertible top down, Lena’s hair tucked under a headscarf and Kara’s blowing loose in the wind. The stars get brighter the further they get from the suburbs, and the wind is just cool enough to be comfortable after the heat of the summer day. Lena is happy and beautiful, their hands are intertwined over the gearshift, and every few minutes she looks over at Kara like she can’t quite believe she’s really here.

No, it doesn’t feel like a vacation. It feels like, after a lifetime of being kept away, she’s finally heading home.