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i like that you're broken (broken like me)

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Being a good person does not look one specific way.

It took Kara a long time to realize that on Earth. Eliza and Jeremiah looked a certain way, and they were the nicest people she had ever met. Maybe it was that Midvale was full of people who looked a certain way, and it was all that same one certain way. She didn't know. She was tired of trying to think about it.

Thinking was exhausting. So was trying to explain the grief of a world gone to people who'd never experienced tragedy beyond a great aunt who they'd never known passing away, people who wanted to care but hadn't quite grown into empathy yet.

What wasn't quite as exhausting was keeping her head down and doing nothing but what was expected. Look happy, and you avoid the exhausting conversations. Look happy, and you get to spread a little bit of genuine happiness--and at her core, while Kara had no idea if she'd ever truly be happy and only happy, she did know she didn't want anyone else to ever experience the pain and the sadness she was going through.

So, happy. Look happy. Pretend happy. And maybe, maybe one day, she'd be truly happy, instead of just passing through it sometimes.

Life wasn't so bad, she convinced herself. There were plenty of things she loved about Earth, genuinely made her happy for minutes or hours or even days or weeks here and there. Plenty of people she adored. She liked learning new things in new topics that Krypton didn't have. She liked the beauty in the planet that hadn't died yet. She loved what humanity was, at its best. She liked the new opportunities she was getting.

Opportunities like meeting Lena Luthor at a party during a hybrid game of spin the bottle and seven minutes in heaven that she couldn't believe she was playing (Alex said it was childish and an immature game for people who didn't have the balls to ask out their crush like they meant it). But Kara was all about trying new things. So she sat down in her nice tan jacket (Alex had told her not to ever wear a cardigan to a college party no matter how much she liked the bright pink) at a party full of drunks and people wearing way too much black (didn't they know to wear happy colors so they wouldn't be unhappy?) and took her chance and spun the bottle to wild cheers.

[maybe… maybe some people didn't need to wear happy colors to be happy. Maybe… maybe some people had different happy colors? Because they made them happy in different ways? Maybe… maybe…]

The bottle spun and spun. Kara may have gotten nervous and used a little bit of her superstrength to spin it. Whoops. It spun for over thirty seconds. "Dude," one of the guys in a leather jacket with spikes on the shoulders said, raising his beer. "If there was like a dreidel spinning contest, I'd want you on my team." Kara blushed as a couple of the other guys smiled in agreement and a girl across the circle with blue hair chuckled. The bottle finally stopped spinning, and it pointed to a girl with dark eyeliner and a green leather jacket and a smirk that said flat-out dangerous things.

"My, my," she said in a voice that dripped down Kara's spine like honey. "Lucky me." She winked in a way that sent warmth down the tips of Kara's toes, a way that put her at ease in the smallest but most important of ways, and rose to her feet gracefully. Kara nearly tripped over her own, and the assembled circle said oooohh, but it didn't sound like that horrible sound kids made when someone got sent to the principal's office in the seventh grade. It sounded like they were excited for her. Or them. Whatever.

The girl tossed her long dark hair out of the way as she stepped over the bottle and into Kara's space, then she smiled. Tilted her head. "I'm Lena," she said. She held out her hand, and Kara shook it, not too hard.

"Kara."

Lena just smiled, a warm and genuine smile, and Kara thought that hopefully if this didn't go too badly, she might at least get a friend out of this. Lena hung on to her hand, maneuvering it so they were more holding hands than shaking, her palm warm. "Lead the way, Kara."

There was a chorus of eyyyy and aww yeahs that followed them, and Kara nodded as not-nervously as she could, her head pounding a constant chorus of oh my god this is really happening this is really happening.

Kara didn't exactly count her first kiss as her first kiss. It was so innocent. It was so short. It was so overshadowed by Kenny's death it might well as not have happened. Did kisses from those you lost still count? Did love? Did soft looks in the lunch room and quiet notes passed in class and stars observed together still matter when the body was long decayed? Was her mother's love still imprinted in a pod resting somewhere on this planet?

So, this was about to be her first real kiss, in Kara's mind. She'd been a little scared off them as a concept when Alex kissed Maxwell Lord on a dare in the ninth grade and described its horrific-ness in vivid detail to Kara that night. Neither of them had kissed anyone for a while after that, though Alex had gotten over it quicker when she realized it might have been that it was kissing boys she didn't like. Kara didn't realize there was a difference until that point. But nonetheless, she was a sophomore in college now, she was hungry for someone to make her feel something that was real but not loss, and there was something about this girl and this moment that was making her Kryptonian heart go wild.

Kara toed open an unlatched door to a random bedroom. They were in a frat house--beer cans were half-emptied on the desk and textbooks thrown haphazardly in the corner, one tented open upside down. The whole room smelled like expensive cologne, and Kara decided optimistically it wasn't the worst room they could have landed in. The beds were at least made, if poorly. She chanced a glance at Lena, who was biting her lip in amusement at the room.

"Nice place," she said, squeezing Kara's hand before releasing it. "This yours?"

"I've never been in this building before, actually," Kara said, rubbing at her arm.

Lena smiled, closing the door firmly behind her with a click of the lock and sitting on the chest at the end of a bed. "It's a frat house. I kinda figured." Kara blushed for no particular reason, still standing three feet away, and Lena tilted her head again. "You sure you want to do this? We can just talk. Or go get some fast food or something."

"No," Kara said, almost too quickly, and Lena's eyebrows raised minutely. "I mean, yes, I want to."

"Okay," Lena said, almost softly, a warm laugh in her voice. "If you're sure."

Kara took a deep inhale as she nodded, smoothing down her pants as a disguising motion for wiping the sweat off her palms, and sat down next to Lena, thighs not quite touching. She blinked as she took in Lena's eyes for the first time in the warm dim light of the desk lamp, startlingly green and watching her. "I’m sure," she breathed.

Lena's hand touched hers, on the foot of the bed, and Kara glanced down at it. Lena's fingertips brushed over hers, featherlight, trailed up her palm with a little more pressure to them now. Her palm joined the press as it slid up Kara's arm. Her thumb squeezed at Kara's upper arm and Kara looked away from her hand, focused on Lena's face, watching hers in return. Lena's hand slid over her shoulder and cupped the back of her neck, thumb brushing gently over her cheek, and the pot on the backburner of Kara's mental stove, the only one not on fire, was asking unheard if a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven was supposed to be this tender and sweet.

Kara encouraged the fire to take that burner too.

Lena's other hand drifted up to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear, and just like that, she was kissing Kara.

Warm, a press of lips, wet. First sensations? Check. Just like she remembered. Not much to get excited about, also as she remembered.

But the way this girl was touching her felt good.

The way this girl made her breathing unsteady from the beginning. The way this girl made her kiss back instinctively and also stopped her from wondering if she was any good at it. It stopped her from wondering about boys lying alone in the woods and pods lost to the wind and childhoods lost to grief. And damn if she hadn't been chasing that.

Kara flashed back at superspeed to the other people around that spin the bottle circle and thought about kissing that one boy the girl next to her said was cute and felt nothing. She focused on the press of Lena's lips and felt something. Something good. Something like a tingling in her stomach and a smile in her own lips and a warmth because Lena was taking it so easy on her. A warmth because it was so obvious from her looks and her attitude that this wasn't the way this Lena girl usually did things but she was sitting here, caring for Kara. And these somethings were something she wanted more of, now.

"What?" Lena murmured against her lips, barely backing away, her mouth having barely opened during the four seconds, taking it slow, so slow.

"You don't have to take it easy on me," Kara breathed in return.

Lena pulled back, hands slipping to her shoulders now, and examined Kara with a mock-critical stare that sent a happy sweeping swoop through her stomach, her gaze nearly clinical. "Is that so?" she asked, arching an eyebrow that only intensified Kara's butterflies, and Kara's lips lifted in a crooked smirk.

"I don't break easy," she told Lena. "Gimme all you got."

Lena broke into a real smile in one brilliant moment, and then she was shoving at Kara's shoulders with unexpected force. Kara was so surprised and so in the zone of being pliant around humans she was pushed back until she was leaning on the bed at a forty-five degree angle, and Lena swung one leg over her hips, straddling her lap and smiling that dangerous smile once more. "Alright then," she said, leaning closer, and devastatingly slowly placed an open-mouthed kiss on Kara's pulse point, just below her jaw. Kara's breath hitched in response, and Lena's lips shifted into the shape of a smirk. Lena's mouth trailed up to her ear, and murmured in a low voice that turned Kara's stomach to a butterfly-fueled mess and her bones to jelly, "If you're so sure."

Kara's breath was in shaky inhales now in the best way. This was what being turned on was. This was what people wanted to feel. This was what she'd been missing, what she'd danced on the edge of when someone so attractive looked her way. What she'd been so afraid to let herself feel. What she'd been too distracted to think about chasing. Tingling and electricity danced through her veins. She felt like she'd been in yellow sunlight for too long and it felt good.

Lena leaned up and her hands were on the back of Kara's neck, pressing on the skin there, like a barely-there massage in a painfully good way, and she dragged her fingertips all the way around her neck, up to her jaw, around her ears, and tapped on the edge of her glasses. "Do you really need these right now?" She asked, one eyebrow raised in a way that made Kara want to lean up and kiss her again. Kara gulped and shook her head gently. She was rewarded with Lena's most dangerous smile. "Good." Lena eased them off her face, folded them carefully, and tossed them up the bed, out of the way. "I've discovered," Lena confided, leaning closer, her hands planted on either side of Kara's head and Kara felt caged in in the best of ways, felt seen in the best of ways, "That I already have a bit of a thing for your eyes."

I have a bit of a thing for yours. Lena's smile widened, and Kara's eyes widened in response. "Did I say that out loud?"

"You did," Lena confirmed, eyes dancing. "Anything else of mine you've got a thing for?"

It was the perfect set-up to say something sexy. Novels should have prepared her for this. She could control this moment. But Lena had so effectively short-circuited her brain that all Kara could breathe was "Everything."

It was the right thing to say. Lena's smile switched from dangerous to genuine and bright, and a blush crept up her neck, and the moment was warm instead of hot, just for a nanosecond. "That's--thank you," Lena said, like no one had ever told her that before. The switch flipped back. "Maybe I'll just put my everything to use on you, hmm?"

"I'd--I'd like that," Kara stuttered, and Lena was smiling again, and Kara really, really liked that smile and the things it did to her. Maybe she should tell Lena that. Maybe she should shut up while Lena was leaning closer to kiss her again. It was even better this time. Her brain knew what to expect and it let her heart--or at least her body--take the reins this time. It let her feel, now that she wasn't confused and wasn't comparing or getting used to the shock. And it felt awesome.

Kara's hands crept up to her back, mostly for somewhere to go, something to do. Lena's shirt had ridden up as she bent over Kara, and her smooth skin felt like magic under Kara's fingertips, and all of the sudden it wasn't just something to keep her hands occupied. "Keep doing that," Lena murmured against her lips, arching into her, and pushed Kara further back into the bed.

All rational thought was lost now. There was something heady, something wild, something that felt like the way people described good alcohol to her in this. It was addictive, the way Lena was lighting her up with a few simple touches from lips to lips and the weight of her body pressing down. Kara never wanted her hands to be anywhere but the smoothness of Lena's back again, light muscle underneath skin and the wondrousness of this woman. It was fiery, it was incredible, it was something she wanted to keep doing--

There was a bang on the door, and Lena groaned into her lips, sending vibrations Kara was probably imagining reverberating all way into the back of her skull but felt good nonetheless. There was another bang, and Lena pulled away from Kara's lips to growl out loudly, "Ocupado!" Kara giggled, drunk on her, and Lena flashed her a toothy grin and a wink.

"Dude," came the annoyed voice on the other side, "It's my room! Please tell me y'all aren't having sex on my bed!"

"Not at this rate," Lena muttered, and leaned down and kissed Kara shortly once, twice, before stretching up above her to grab Kara's glasses, giving Kara a breathtaking moment of chest in her face that was over before it began, though Lena's smirk suggested she knew exactly what she'd just done. She settled the frames gently back on Kara's face with a faintly annoyed face. "Sorry," she murmured to Kara. "But I guess I'll be leaving you wanting more." She winked once more. "At least for now."

"The mess you left me in, that's probably a good thing," Kara muttered. Lena's grin and matching eyebrow flash were doing serious things to her insides, still, and she was still breathing heavy. That was, quite literally, one of the best minutes of her Earth life.

"Then we'll have to pick this up some other time," Lena said, backing up off her. "If you'd like that."

Kara grinned. "Any time," she promised. And with that, Lena opened the door to an irately drunken frat boy who calmed down marginally once he saw they were both still fully clothed.

"Fast food?" Lena offered, leading her down the stairs. "I'm not even drunk but one sip puts me in the mood for taco bell." She glanced back, almost shyly. "And I mean, I'd like to get to know you and not have to yell to get a word in."

Kara felt her smile split her face. "I'd love to."

 

 

"Hey!"

Kara turned at the shout to see Lena on the sidewalk several feet behind her, and her mouth split into a grin of its own accord. Lena's pleased smile echoed hers as she caught up to Kara, hips swaying like Elsa's as she walked. Oh, Kara liked her too much for this. This wasn’t good.

"I was hoping to see you soon, Kara Danvers," Lena said, reaching out to slip her arm firmly into Kara's, sly somehow and confident and warm in the cool weather. Lena's hair looked wonderful blowing in the fall wind.

"You were?" Kara asked dumbly, because she couldn't quite believe someone like Lena would want to see her. Sure, they had had a nice time and good conversation and Lena had laughed a lot, but still.

Lena rolled her eyes. "As if you weren't aware I can't stop thinking about you." Funny. Kara had been thinking about her all week, but Lena's tone suggested they were having different trains of thought.

"You can't?" Lena turned her head to face Kara, and in the cloudy day her eyes were an ever more mesmerizing shade of green. Her eyebrow lifted as if to say and what about it? Oh, this wasn't going to be easy. "Hang on, how do you even know my last name?"

It had been a week since the party, but Kara was pretty sure she never told Lena her last name. Pretty sure. Lena's cheeks pinked slightly, but she refused to look embarrassed. "I may have stalked you online," she admitted. "There could only be so many people at this school named Kara. And I was right."

"So how many are there?"

"Three others. Two were on the verge of dropping out of school, and that didn't seem like you. The final one was a supersenior with three outstanding arrest warrants. The process of elimination wasn't too tough."

Kara chuckled, blushing despite herself. "So you went to all that trouble just to find me."

Lena squeezed at her arm. "I did. You're quite the catch. One interrupted seven minutes in heaven and one midnight taco bell date and I'd quite like to get to know you, Kara Danvers."

"Enough to tell me your last name?"

Lena hesitated for only the briefest of moments, like she was weighing possibilities in her mind. "Luthor," she said quickly. "Lena Luthor."

"Well then it's very nice to meet you, Lena Luthor," Kara said, and sucked in a deep breath. "I'd quite like to get to know you too." Lena's smile widened, and it was that genuine one that appeared when Kara said she liked her everything last week at the party, and Kara hated herself a little more because everything you want is falling into your hands, you dumbfuck, why are you doing this--but she cut herself off. She needed to. "But only as friends," Kara said, firmly but wincing at the same time.

"Oh." Lena said, slowing their gait. "I--oh." She blinked as she pulled them to a stop on the sidewalk, Kara reluctantly turning to meet her eyes and noticing the unfortunate wondrousness of how beautifully Lena's eyes contrasted with the leaves turning orange on the trees. She ducked her head to meet Kara's eyes and Kara looked down at her shoes. "I thought we were on the same page," Lena said quietly, voice threaded with worry. "Did I force you into anything last week? Did I come on too strong?"

"What?" Kara blurted. "No! No, Lena, you, you are just--you're perfect, okay?"

Lena didn't look particularly reassured. "If I pressured you into--"

"No," Kara said forcefully. "I liked everything you did and said, everything you've been doing and saying, you have done nothing wrong, and it was all consensual, is that what you need to hear?" Lena frowned, and Kara sighed. "It's just, it's the… It's not a good time for me," she said quietly. "And if I met you, like, I dunno, a year ago or a year from now, maybe things would be different, and this freaking sucks, but I can't--" Kara took a deep breath, and Lena watched her closely, looking more concerned about Kara than her own actions now. "I can't do a relationship right now," Kara said. "I can't be thinking about someone like that. I'm not in a place to." Mentally, I mean. With what's going on with me and my life. She didn't add that part, because it felt like a copout.

"You're sure I didn't make you uncomfortable?" Lena pressed once more. "Please, be honest."

Kara reached out and took her hand, felt a surge of protectiveness come over her for Lena, and brought Lena's hand to her lips, kissed her knuckles once. Lena softened, shoulders dropping and frown easing. "I am being honest, and it scares the hell out of me," Kara said. "I want to see where this goes with you. But I can't let it be romantic right now. I--" Kara cut herself off. "I can't. I would love to be your friend," she said softly. "But I understand if that's not what you want."

Lena's frown slipped away, and she squeezed Kara's hand. She took a slight breath before smiling minutely, eyebrows raising in a quirk that sent Kara's heart thundering before she calmed it down sternly. "Of course," she said, her tone warm and real. "I liked getting to know you a whole hell of a lot, too," She paused. "Even if I would quite desperately like you in my bed."

Kara didn't think she'd ever blushed so hard in her life, but Lena's smile shifted from flirty back to warm and Kara knew, without a doubt, she could trust Lena not to make a move until she was ready. If she ever was. But it wouldn't be any time in the foreseeable future, that was for sure. Lena slipped her arm back into Kara's. "So, my new friend Kara, can I buy you a coffee?"

"Only if you're also willing to buy me something from the bakery to go with it," Kara warned, and Lena laughed.

"Oh, we're going to be excellent friends, Ms. Danvers."

 

"She so obviously wants you that she told you she wants you in her bed, you guys were at like second base last week and you loved it and she's just an awesome person and a total gentleman to you, and on top of it all you actually like hanging out with this girl," Lucy reiterated, ticking off Lena's positive qualities on her fingers, "And for some reason, you told her… no." Lucy looked up at her, her face absolutely stunned. "Danvers. The fuck is wrong with you?"

Kara glanced up at her roommate, exhausted. "A lot of things. That's why I can't be with her."

"Dude. Tons of us have dark pasts. Shitty parents. Things about ourselves we hate. We can't let those things stop us from being with amazing people. You gotta get out there and get over it, preferably by getting under her." Lucy paused in taking a sip of a protein shake, pulling her sweaty hair out of her gym ponytail. "Do it for the girls," she encouraged, and Kara snorted.

"I'm a little messed up right now, Luce."

"Kar," Lucy said, putting down the shake and crawling onto Kara's bed, sweaty and gross and all, to put her arm around Kara, tight. "I know. I know that the shit you've been through messes you up for like forever. I know you're working on it and you've seen a therapist and all that shit. I know. I also know you are kind enough and healthy enough to love someone else. So what's up?"

Kara could feel a lump in her throat, feel tears threatening at her eyes, and gestured uselessly. Lucy knew everything, the full and unabridged truth, because they'd been roommates since they both arrived at college two and a half semesters ago, and Lucy already had a security clearance and raged against anti-alien policies so articulately that Kara knew she could trust her. And she was Lois Lane's little sister, and that made them family. "Everything I touch I screw up," Kara whispered. "Kenny got close to me for like two weeks, then he was dead." She gestured again, just as uselessly. "That fucks with your head. Because I know, I know," she inhaled deeply through her nose, Lucy's thumb running reassuringly across her shoulder in small strokes, "I know that I'm not some disease or anything, but my entire planet died and I'm the only that survived, and then a boy died after getting close to me, and I just, I just--" Kara gasped. "What's next? I can't let her die too."

"Hey, hey," Lucy whispered, squeezing with all her might, and Kara appreciated it. "Hey, you're close to me, and I'm okay. Alex is okay. Eliza is okay."

"But Jeremiah isn't," Kara said, full-on crying by now. "And that is very much on me. He left to protect me and we haven't seen him since."

Lucy's face was pulled into a frown. "I know, babe," she whispered. "Just breathe through it. You'll find him someday, I know you will. Between your basically superpowered sister and your actual superpowers, you'll find him. I'll be right there beside you the whole time. Lois and Clark will help. We'll even get motorcycles and look cool as we do it, if you want," she promised, and Kara gave a watery chuckle, "We'll get him," Lucy continued, encouraged. "We'll make it right. It's not on you. It's on the evil people that made you feel like it was on you."

Kara listened to her familiar words and felt the near-empty comfort wash through her, their potency dulled by time. But they did make her feel a little better, because she knew Lucy meant it. Kara took several deep breaths, nodding, and Lucy let her go, still sitting beside her.

"See," Kara whispered, too exhausted to speak, "I have secret missions in my future. Alex is crazy overprotective now that we're not fighting anymore, I've coerced you into impromptu therapy sessions when you're not supposed to be my therapist, I'm always worried for Eliza's safety now, I--" Kara looked up at Lucy, who was watching her with infinite tenderness. "We all know what I'm going to grow up to be," Kara whispered. "We all know that's no life that can be shared."

"Clark shares it just fine," Lucy said, calm in her rebuttal. "You just need someone tenacious enough to hack it. Someone to take you on adventures just the same. Someone who you think is a superhero without the powers."

Kara made a face. "That list is comprised of you and Alex." Lucy burst out laughing, and Kara felt a reluctant chuckle tickle the back of her throat.

"Gross, no, I love you and you're very hot and I'm very hot, but that's not this relationship in this universe. No."

Kara was pulled into a giggle in reply. "Hence the face."

Lucy smiled warmly. "Yeah. Hence the face, weirdo." She tilted her head. "You okay now?"

Kara rolled her eyes. "Okay is relative."

"Okay. You relatively okay now?"

"Yes," Kara said, smiling. "Thank you. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be collapsing on you like that every month or so."

"Hey," Lucy said, sliding off the bed and pulling her shirt over her head to shower, "If we were friends, I might agree. But we're not friends, we're family. You're there for your family, and it's not a burden. Got it?"

Kara felt warm down to the tips of her toes. "Got it. Love you, Luce."

Lucy winked. "Love you too, Supes."

 

Kara still wasn't ready. Not for a relationship. She thought about being with Lena and it terrified her. Terrified her with the possibilities that could go wrong. Terrified of the way she might just fall head over heels in love with Lena before she was done mourning her planet and screw it all up, including Lena.

Friends, though. Friends, she was just excited for.

 

 

"You know," Kara said dryly, allowing Lena's hand in hers to lead her along, "I was told growing up that peer pressure was about doing drugs, not skipping class to go to McDonalds."

"First of all," Lena said sternly as they reached the parking lot, "It's called McDicks, get it right," and Kara snorted with laughter, Lena's lips curling into a smile. "Second, I will never pressure you to do drugs, but I will pressure you to try something new, and something tells me that drugs are on the list." She cast a sideways glance at Kara. "Would you be okay with that?"

Kara shrugged. "Sure."

"Sure like…"

"Sure like the first time I told you I was sure about something." Lena's eyes flashed at the memory, and Kara almost regretted her choice in words. Almost. "Anyway," Kara said, as they reached Lena's car and got inside, the sleek sports model something that was Kara's new favorite place to sit, "There's something you should know about me." Lena paused with her keys halfway to the ignition, expression curious. "Alcohol doesn't exactly work on me," Kara said, hoping the words Alex had trained into her would be sufficient. "I, uh, have a metabolic condition that makes me not only eat a lot but also ensures alcohol has no effect."

"Huh," Lena said, frowning not like it was a problem, but just thoughtfully before starting the car. "Like Captain America, aren't you? Can you get high?"

Kara blushed at her words. "Haven't tried."

"You haven't?" Lena looked more thoughtful, a grin tugging at her lips.

"Here we go," Kara muttered, biting back a smile herself. It had been three weeks of steadily deepening friendship, and Lena still didn't miss a chance to make fun of her, though she had a unique aptitude for finding the topics that didn't actually bother Kara.

"What?" Lena asked, half-laughing as she pulled out of the parking lot. "I didn't even say anything!"

"You're about to," Kara accused. "Something about how innocent Kara is and how of course she hasn't tried weed."

"Your words, not mine." Kara rolled her eyes. "Do you want me to try to get you high?" Lena asked, and it sounded like a genuine question coming out of her mouth instead of an offer from a creep trying to take advantage of her. Even if Kara's mind spun her sentence in a much more dirty way. "I mean, if it's a metabolic condition you've got, we can use the weed that's specifically designed to affect your mind instead of your body, that might help? We could get a higher content of THC, might help if you smoke instead of doing edibles with the metabolism thing…"

"How much do you know about weed, Ms. Luthor?"

Lena blushed slightly and shot her a lazy glare. "Enough to get you high if you give me a shot."

Kara twisted her lips side to side, thinking. There wasn't really a downside. "Okay," she said. "Let's do it."

 

 

Watching Lena roll a cigarette was sexy. It shouldn't be. Kara didn't like the smell that much--of one of the kinds of pot, Lena had brought two and let her smell them both, but the other was alright. It was clinical, the way her fingers moved, licking the paper she tapped the ground up weed into. But Kara was beginning to suspect it was just that she thought everything Lena did with any sort of deliberation was sexy. She had once "done homework" in the lab by Lena's workstation for an hour and gotten half a sentence written while she watched Lena look into microscopes and poke things and write things down, totally absorbed in what she was doing. It wasn't even sexy, per se, it was just engaging to watch. Addicting. Entrancing.

Yeah, okay, maybe sexy was the right word. Just a little. Even in a parked car outside Lena's dorm, where Kara could barely believe security apparently never came so they were safe from the campus' no pot policy.

"So, THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol," Lena said, the complex chemistry word rolling off her tongue like it was no big thing. "And it's the main chemical in here, the one that produces the euphoric effect." She then continued to lecture Kara about its effects on the brain, different kinds of weeds' effects, etc., but it all went over Kara's head until it was just Lena's voice in her ears, soothing like the ocean. "So, you ready?" Kara blinked, Lena was looking at her with a sly smile that suggested she knew Kara had tuned out.

Kara grabbed the cigarette, gently. "Let's do this."

Lena chuckled and took the cigarette back carefully. "I think you'll want me to light it if you've never lit one before."

Smoking a cigarette, Kara soon learned, coughing and hacking up a storm outside the car, was not something that had a pleasant learning curve. The vapor curled into her throat and clutched at it in the most awful of ways. Eyes streaming, Lena pounding her on the back, Kara forced her mouth shut. Coughs still surged their way out of her throat unpleasantly. "I think I'm gonna puke," she muttered.

Lena shrugged, wrapping her arm tighter around Kara's waist, holding her weight up. "If you have to puke, you have to puke, it happens," she said, unconcerned as she took another drag. Her cigarette was half tobacco, for some reason Kara had forgotten that had something to do with economy of it and the taste. "Put your arms above your head," she advised, and Kara tried it. After several deep breaths through her nose, Kara nodded and took another drag. It wasn't quite as bad. "If you aren't coughing, you aren't smoking," Lena said idly, twirling her cigarette between her fingers. She considered it for a moment, her arm still around Kara. "I think I'm a bad influence on you."

Kara coughed and shook her head. "I'd be finding someone far less savory to do this with if you weren't here," she said, blinking back tears from the smoking. She frowned at her cigarette, determined to finish it. "I think my cigarette went out."

"Here," Lena said. "Hold mine, I'll relight it." Kara handed it over and watched in a detached way as Lena relit it, cupping it in her hands, the light dancing on her dark-as-always makeup in an absolutely mesmerizing way. She looked like a hooker on the streets of somewhere cold, but like, in a good way. Okay, maybe she was high already. Lightweight. "Try it now," Lena murmured, carefully placing the last of the cigarette in between Kara's lips, and Kara was pretty sure that feeling wasn't from the weed. Kara inhaled deeply on the last of it, made sure to suck the smoke into her throat, hold it, and then let it go in a cough, and Lena smiled, fingers brushing against Kara's lips as she flicked it to the ground to stomp on it.

Kara didn't really feel any different. She bent over at the waist for no particular reason, and Lena rubbed her lower back. "Be sure to stretch when you're high," Lena told her. "It feels really good."

Kara mmmed, enjoying the sensation of Lena's hand on her back, warmth bleeding through shirt and jacket far more than the stretch. Absently, she wished it was on her skin directly, but Lena didn't seem inclined to satisfy that particular desire tonight. She seemed far more inclined to finish her own cigarette, stub it out beneath their feet and let it join the graveyard of cigarettes by the edge of the building. Kara stood up, her thoughts still clear as the night air. Abruptly, she was craving cinnamon toast. It was a hunger. It was a need. Deep in her belly and insistent, curling anxiously.

"Oh my god," she said, and Lena turned to her. "I like, need cinnamon toast, like, right now. Is this the munchies?"

Lena smiled at her, saccharine sweet, her eyes a little lazier than usual. "This is the munchies," she confirmed. "Let's go get you some cinnamon toast."

They made cinnamon toast in the dorm's basement kitchen, Kara's stomach grumbling loudly and Lena smiling the whole time for no particular reason. "This is the best cinnamon toast," Kara said thickly through her mouthful, "That I have ever, ever had."

"Weed will do that to you," Lena said wisely.

"I don't feel high, though," Kara said, and Lena shrugged. Feeling the need to prove it, Kara drew herself upright, straightened her shoulders. "I can be serious," she said, carefully enunciating every word. Then she paused. "I just don't feel the need to."

Lena was grinning. "It doesn't affect everyone the same. It also might not have affected you as much, with your metabolic condition. Plus I didn't really give you all that much."

Kara felt another cough at the back of her throat. "Probably a good thing," she admitted. "For my throat's sake."

"We can try again if you want," Lena said. "But another night. One thing's for sure, though." She held up her cinnamon toast. "This fucking rocks."

They ate some more cinnamon toast. And Kara sat around messing with a guitar on the ratty basement couch while their legs tangled together and Lena laid back with her eyes closed, the sounds sounding better than they did when she was sober (Lena having wisely informed that being not-high was also called sober, though that didn't make sense to Kara). Kara plowed her way through an entire carton of ice cream and then made some pasta too. Lena didn't bat an eye at her appetite. They ended up talking eventually, as they always did, Kara picking at the guitar strings as they roamed over serious topics.

"I think I judge other people," Kara said abruptly, and Lena cracked an eye open to look at her. "I love other people so much, but I worry that I love the idea of them, because I was raised with this idea of what a good person was supposed to look like, and so many people don't look like that."

"Do you ever act on it?" Lena asked, looking the opposite of judgmental about Kara's admission.

"I don't think so. But I think it's stopped me from having a lot of cool experiences, which is why I'm working so hard to try new things now. Like when I told you I'd find someone else to get me high if you weren't here. Like those people at the party with the spin the bottle where we met? They were all like, the traditional look of punks, and they were so nice. Like, nicer than anyone I've ever met. And it's not my first time thinking that about someone who doesn't look what I was told to believe was traditionally nice. I don't understand, like, why do I get scared of them?"

Lena shrugged. "It's the patriarchy and classical oppression system, designed to tear us apart, doing its job. You just keep being nice to everyone and make sure you don't let anything other than the colors on the inside of someone's soul stop you from being friends with them, and I think you'll be okay."

Kara nodded thoughtfully. "I'm working on not judging people or experiences. I want to live life to its fullest."

"But you're still against the concept of a relationship," Lena mused, and Kara pushed at her leg with a toe in chastisement. Lena held up her hands, laughing. "I'm not coming on to you! I just noticed that's an experience you're avoiding. Is it because you don't feel ready, or because you genuinely don't want one?"

"That's one way of putting it," Kara said, trying to figure out where she stood on it since she had last talked with Lucy about it. "I'm worried about hurting someone, because everyone around me seems to be hurt. I'm worried about losing someone, because I've lost so many people. I'm worried about forgetting who I am and what I need to be doing if I fall in love with someone. I think I'm just scared to lose myself, you know?"

Lena twisted her lips, taking in Kara's reasons for a long minute before she spoke. "Sometimes losing myself is the goal," she admitted quietly. "So while I get it, I also think I'm a much worse person than you."

"Losing yourself or losing the things you feel?" Kara countered, raising an eyebrow.

Lena's eyebrow raised in an interested response. "I--" She trailed off, lost in thought for a long moment. "Sometimes one or the other, sometimes both, I think. Maybe sometimes losing an idea of who I could be that I don't want to be." She smiled with half her mouth at Kara, still genuine. "Thanks."

"You're a damn good person, Lena Luthor," Kara said. "You don't have to thank me for reminding you of that."

And the way Lena was looking at her reminded her that she really, really wanted to kiss Lena Luthor. A lot, some days. This was one of those days. She'd settle for tangling their legs further as she slumped deeper into the couch, a fuzzy feeling of contentment stealing over her.

"Do you ever feel sad when you're high?" Kara asked. "Because I thought it was supposed to make you happy."

Lena pondered for only a moment on the right words. "It relaxes you. But it doesn't give you emotions. If you're sad when you smoke, you're still gonna be sad. Just let it feel." She eyed Kara. "Are you sad?"

"I don't know," Kara said, thinking about their previous conversation topic. She shrugged it off. "I like getting high," Kara decided. "Not a ton. But I sorta do."

"Yeah?" Lena asked. "Like you're glad you did it just the once or you wanna do it again?"

"Maybe here and there," Kara said, shrugging. "Not all the time." She tilted her head. "I realized I like the company more than I like the activity."

Lena's blush paired nicely with her smile too wide for her face.

 

"Shit," Kara murmured two hours later. "It's like, one am, isn't it?"

"Uh, yeah, why? It's like Saturday."

"Lucy's got a big thing with her dad for the army thing tomorrow, I don't know, but I can't go back to my room, she never sleeps well on those nights and she always wakes up when the door opens. I can't wake her up."

"Okay," Lena said, calm. "You can sleep in my room."

Kara's whole body panicked at that, but her mind soothed. She was comfortable with Lena, she was. Just a little too comfortable was the problem. One of the problems. "I--" she started. "I--"

"Oh, don't worry," Lena said, looking like she realized the reason for Kara's discomfort, though Kara was quite sure she didn't. "My roommate's gone, I'll sleep in her bed and you can take mine. None of that awkward two people fitting into a twin business, and this way I'm not getting you into bed."

Kara didn't know what else to do but nod.

 

Kara woke up with a clear head and Lena's feet on her back.

Specifically, Lena was in a rolling desk chair reading an engineering textbook with a pen and a cup of coffee in her hand, beside the bed, feet propped up on Kara's lower back like she was born to be a footrest. Lena blinked at the change in Kara's breathing and her feet were off Kara in a flash.

"Sorry," she said, sitting up straight and setting the textbook aside. Kara couldn't help the feeling that she wanted that comforting warm weight back on her spine. "You started having a nightmare about an hour ago and you calmed down when I was touching you but I didn't want to take advantage of you."

"So you used me as a footrest instead," Kara noted, dim amusement in her voice, and Lena winced apologetically. "Lena, it's okay. Thank you, really. And uh," she hesitated, sitting up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed so her knees, still in last night's joggers, knocked gently with Lena's. "Sorry for not warning you about the nightmares. I should have told you about those."

"You don't owe me anything," Lena said calmly, cutting off any further apology. Kara's mouth snapped shut abruptly, shocked at her response. It was unlike anything she'd ever received from someone.

"Okay," she mumbled. "Well, uh," she looked up and met Lena's eyes deliberately, trying to convey the depths of her gratitude. "Thanks. Really."

 

 

Kara hated herself for it, but there was something in the back of her mind that liked that Lena was still both hanging around her and hanging off her words. It was something that was a little more malicious, and little more not caring about others' feelings except for how they make me feel. It was something that whispered, in a different voice, a lonely and frustrated one, that she'd always have someone to kiss, if she wanted to.

 

 

"Hey!" Lena said, holding up a bottle delightedly. "It's alien alcohol!"

Kara eyed it warily, the frat party pumping around them at a medium volume. "Yeah, so?"

Lena waggled it enticingly. "There are probably loads of aliens with differently functioning metabolisms. All of them, in fact. I bet their alcohol will work on you!"

Kara felt nervousness shoot all over her all at once at Lena's excited look, but Lena appeared to be just genuinely excited, not onto her about being an alien. "We're asking an actual alien first," Kara said, holding up a warning finger, and Lena's face split into a grin so wide Kara could already feel herself regretting this choice. "I am going to do the research," she said. "You stay here and guard the stuff. In case it's actually unsafe for humans."

Lena nodded quickly, and Kara rolled her eyes before traipsing outside, pulling out her phone and ducking out of sight. Alex picked up on the first ring.

"What's up?"

"Hey, did you ever find out what alcohols were safe or not for me?"

"Uh, hang on." There was a shuffling around on the other end, followed by a few clicks and thumps, and then Alex's thoughtful voice came back on. "Hmm… pretty sure nothing is a danger to you. There might be some nasty side effects from the strong stuff like Alderbaraan rum, but that's only if you go overboard. You can pretty much go nuts on everything and not even feel a hangover, though I'd warn you to take it slow at first, they've got some ridiculously strong stuff that might make you black out."

"Okay, I'll be avoiding Alderbaraan rum then," Kara muttered.

Alex laughed on the other end. "I'd find like a light Zacarian ale or a simulated Martian whiskey, preferably the ones fabricated in America, everyone I've met swears those taste the best. The Martian stuff will be stronger, but one sip will be good for your first night at least. You'd be totally safe with a full bottle of the ale. You drinking?"

"No," Kara said. "I'm underage."

Alex laughed again. "You spent twenty-four years in the Phantom Zone Kara, I think you're allowed to drink. You're in a safe space to do it?"

"Lena's with me." Alex's knowing mmmm echoed down the line in an annoying way. "What? Lena will take care of me if I need it."

"She's madly in love with you, of course she will."

"She also won't take advantage of me," Kara said, not bothering to deny Alex's first point.

"Yeah, but drunk you might take advantage of her," Alex countered, and Kara groaned. "Hey, it'll be fine. Just try a few sips, if you like it, wait an hour then try a few more. And make sure that that's it. You don't know how much you can hold your alcohol, though I suspect your Kryptonian constitution will do most of the work for you. Have fun! You're in college, kiddo. Live a little."

"Yeah, yeah," Kara muttered. "We'll see."

Alex chuckled. "Text me that you're home safe, okay? Even if you are near-invincible."

"Sure thing. Thanks, Alex."

"Any time. And Kara?" Kara waited. "I know I've been a bit of a freak about this in the past, but I think Lena's safe." Alex paused, took a deep breath. "I think if you wanted to tell Lena, even a part of the truth… I think you can."

"Alex," Kara breathed. "You're serious?"

"It's your secret, Kara. It's your life."

"But the dangers--"

"You deserve to live and be loved by people who know all of you, if you want that," Alex said, and the tone of her words sounded like she'd thought about it for a while. "If I'm allowed to tell people I'm gay, then you should be allowed to tell people you're an alien. Or from Krypton. Whichever you want. You don't have to, but if you want to, don't let safety concerns on this particular matter hold you back from her, okay? You've got enough on your plate."

Lena was reading labels carefully when she got back, one hand holding her cup of whiskey absently, nose scrunching as she mouthed out the different ingredients on there. She looked up at Kara's approach. "Hey! So I have no idea what literally any of this is, but something tells me my friends in the chem department would be furious if they knew we have access to non-Earth chemicals and we're using it for alcohol."

"Pretty sure the alcohol is imported from the fabricators on the ships they came on," Kara said. Lena narrowed her eyes, and Kara bluffed wildly, "Uh, I found an alien I know a little ways out there and they told me that's where it is. They also told me what would probably be safe for me, if I wanna try it."

Lena grinned. "Was Zacarian ale on the list? Cause that's what this is."

"Funnily enough, it was," Kara muttered. Lena handed her the bottle, the size of a beer bottle, and Kara flipped the lid off with her bare hand without thinking as Lena turned around to find a bottle opener.

"Oh," Lena said, catching sight of the opened bottle. "You know the counter opening trick?"

The what? Kara smiled faintly. "Uh, yeah."

"Cool. You're sure you want to drink? I don't wanna pressure you into it."

Kara barely resisted rolling her eyes and let them bore into Lena's instead. "I'm sure like the first time I was sure, Lena," she said, and Lena flushed once more. It was sort of becoming their thing, wasn't it?

"Bottoms up, then," Lena said, coughing slightly.

Kara took a cautious sip. It didn't really taste like anything otherworldly. It was kind of sweet but also tangy and tasted vaguely of raspberry, and burned just a tiny bit going down. Kara checked the label's ingredients but didn't recognize any on there.

"You feel any different?" Lena asked, and Kara shook her head.

"Am I supposed to?"

"Depends on how strong it is, but probably not. Especially not with one sip. I just wanted to check because it's, you know, alien alcohol."

"The guy I talked to said it was pretty light stuff."

Lena shrugged. "You'll probably just feel relaxed, a little looser." Kara nodded, and took another sip. It actually tasted pretty decent, unlike the beer and vodka Alex had made her try last year. That stuff was gross. And tequila. That was also icky. Lena smiled. "Kara Danvers, drinking alien alcohol. I gotta say, when I met you at that party, I never pictured it."

"I was drinking at that party," Kara pointed out.

Lena made a face. "Hard lemonade."

"There's nothing wrong with hard lemonade, it tastes great--wait." Kara narrowed her eyes, and Lena took a hurried sip of her own drink, like she'd realized her mistake. "How'd you know what I was drinking? Were you watching me or something?"

"Maybe," Lena said quietly, so quietly Kara wouldn't have picked it up if she didn't have superhearing.

"Maybe?" she pushed.

"Maybe I just couldn't forget what you taste like," Lena said, even quieter.

Kara took a half-step back and set her ale absently on the kitchen counter, thrown. Thrown that she had meant that much to Lena, even for a minute, because while Lena flirted with her all the time, that was different than knowing that she had meant something to her from the beginning. Her closest relationships now had been slow to grow into genuine friendships. She'd so rarely had someone treat her like she was amazing from the beginning. Kara glanced down at her blue sweater, her black pants, nondescript and forgettable, and back at Lena, her dark eyes and lipstick, her six ear piercings, her form-fitting clothes, and the way all of that just pulled you in, and wondered how anyone could ever look at her when Lena was right there.

"Don't," Lena said, putting down her whiskey. "I see you doubting how beautiful and incredible you are, and just--just don't, okay? Because you are downright unforgettable, Kara Danvers. You deserve the world."

There weren't her excuses swirling through her head this time. There weren't her worries, or her doubts. There was just an unstoppable need to kiss this girl. So Kara did.

Kara's arms were around her waist, scooping her up as Kara surged forwards, and Lena responded instantly, enthusiastically. Lena was jumping smoothly and her legs were wrapping around her hips and her arms around her shoulders, and Kara had never felt so consumed, so wanted, as Lena pressed into her lips feverishly. There was a fire inside her, licking hotter as they made out recklessly in the kitchen of a frat house, not caring who saw or what they thought, that didn't matter, nothing did except how bad they wanted each other.

Well. Something else did matter. Lena's lips pushed off center to reach her cheek, and Kara gasped, "Wait."

Lena froze, and Kara felt her weight, the way she was putting pressure into her muscles to hold herself onto Kara, and it felt warm and good and secure and addictive, but Kara couldn't let this happen, couldn't let it--

Lena had seen the look on her face, whatever it said, and slipped off her gently and instantly, landing on her own two feet again, backing away. "I'm so sorry," Kara gasped.

Lena's face was almost wrecked, but in a flash, it was expressionless. Stone cold. Kara watched the walls slam back up her emotions and regretted it for just a moment, before she hardened herself again. Good. Lena deserved better than to be hurt by someone who couldn't get their act together.

Lena's mouth quirked up in half a smirk, though it was hollow and empty. "So, the ale is an aphrodisiac, huh?"

Kara breathed a sigh of relief and disappointment. "Guess so." She felt the lie slide smoothly off her lips, grateful for Lena's suggestion, and slid it firmly away from her. "Apologies."

Lena waved a hand like it didn't matter. "It's whatever," she said, her voice tight, and they let the falsehood settle. "Anyway, it's like, I've got uh," she waved her hand again, lamely. "People I promised a dance to," she fibbed wildly, and Kara felt pain sneak into her heart and grab it. She glanced at the floor, back at Kara. "If you'd like to join me in a bit."

Kara's smile felt hollow. "Of course. I'll see you out there."

Lena was maybe a masochist, Kara thought, sipping at her Zacarian ale some more and watching Lena on the dance floor from the edge of the room. Lena was dancing with a few of her friends, Jack and Sam, who Kara had met in the engineering lab a few weeks back, and she was drawing at least half the attention in the room. Not by doing anything crazy. Just by being Lena. And even if the entire room was staring at her, Lena wouldn't care. Wouldn’t go for any of them. Because she wanted someone she couldn’t have. And she wouldn’t let herself not be near the person she couldn't have, either.

Kara couldn't tell if it was chivalry or masochism or a blind hope that they'd really just be friends one day. Or that they'd get together. Whatever it was, she clearly was suffering from the same affliction. So she finished her ale and she danced with Lena and she laughed with Sam and Jack, who were really quite nice, and let the night take her away from her most recent of pains.

 

 

Kara woke again in Lena's bed. Lena was up again, feet propped on Kara's back again, though as Kara breathed carefully through her waking up, Lena slumped a little more in her chair and let her calves slide onto Kara's back, more warm weight distributed across her spine. Lena was frowning at her phone, typing away, and Kara bit back a smile, soothed for some reason by the familiarity of it all. She drifted back to sleep.

When Kara woke up for real, Lena had managed to fall asleep in the rolling chair, slumped down deep in a way that looked deeply uncomfortable for her neck and with her thighs resting heavily on Kara's back. Lena stirred as Kara did, carefully pulling herself back into a sitting position on her chair and nearly falling off anyways.

Kara snorted with laughter as Lena cursed violently and stood, kicking at the chair. "Well, don't take it out the chair," Kara said, still giggling, and Lena rolled her eyes. "Come on, I didn't mean to kick you out of your own bed," Kara said, rolling til she was on the side and patting the mattress. Lena raised an eyebrow, and Kara cut her off sleepily. "I'm sure."

"Just trying to be respectful," Lena muttered, but grinned anyway as she slid in beside Kara, sitting next to her head and leaning back against the wall. "How's that Zacarian ale treating you?"

"I feel fine," Kara muttered into the pillow. "Tired from staying out half the night, but fine. It was fun." She rolled back slightly so she was on her side and squinted up at Lena in the morning sun. "Why do I remember you saying something about wanting to fuck an alien?"

Lena blushed. "Probably because I said it was on my bucket list to fuck an alien."

Kara snorted. "Classy."

"Hey! I didn't just say I wanted it to be a one night stand! I'd love to be in a relationship with one, if it worked out! It's not like I want to expand my horizons or anything gross like that, it's like, I'm over humans!"

Kara rolled onto her back, laughing until she wheezed, and Lena leaned over and smacked her on the stomach. Kara pushed at her leg with a knee gently in retaliation, making sure she didn't accidentally shove Lena off the bed, and kept laughing. Then she remembered her conversation with Alex last night and stopped laughing abruptly.

"Hey," she said, sitting up straight and running a hand through her wild hair. "Thanks for taking care of me last night. Especially after I--" Kara winced. "I'm still sorry about that. That was so unbelievably uncool. I don't know how you can even look at me, let alone--"

"Kara," Lena breathed, putting a hand on her knee. "It's okay."

"No, it's not, I'm messing you around like some kind of perverted fuckboy who can't get their head on straight, and it's deeply uncool to you especially when you're like my best friend--"

"I know what it is to not trust yourself," Lena interrupted her, and Kara looked up at her, feeling a quiet kind of wonder stealing over her as Lena's words spoke directly to her heart. "I know what it is to hate something in yourself so deeply, even if you can't identify it or begin to know how to begin fixing it, but just have it contaminate your life. I know, I know you keep a lot of things quiet and that you play it close to the chest, always, but everyone slips up and shows what they want sometimes, even if they don't want to. And I know it might be messed up, but knowing that I'm something you want, even if you won't let yourself have me?"

Lena shrugged, a small smile on half her mouth that said everything, "It felt good. I don't pretend to be healthy, I don't pretend I ever was. So what's one more fucked up thing? At least when you sit here and see what happened and apologize, say you're messing me around, what happened last night is something I already understood. And you've shown me far more decency than anyone else ever has. You mess around in a lost kind of way. Not a malicious one, and your intentions are what matter far more to me than your slip ups." She paused for a moment. "I think that even if what you're laying out there isn't healthy, there is something healthy about laying it all out there, which is I guess why I'm telling you this."

"That's truly horrifying," Kara said softly, reaching for Lena's hand on her knee and twining their fingers together, "That me apologizing to you for fucking you up is the least confusing and messed up thing in your life."

Lena's shoulder lifted an inch, then dropped back down, and Kara saw herself in the motion. The motion of someone who was too exhausted to even shrug off the weight on their shoulders. "The point is," Lena said quietly, her words heavy too, "That I get not telling people what's fucking you up and you don't owe me anything. I understand. Maybe that's not healthy, but it's my version of it, and I don't want you feeling bad about it." And in that instant, she knew she could trust Lena. She knew it like she knew her own name.

"Okay," Kara whispered. She examined their joined hands for a long moment, trying to decide how to phrase this. So many bad options. Lena's fingers tapped against hers playfully for a minute, and Kara was reminded of a scrap of poetry she had read somewhere once. Mirth is the mail of anguish. Emily Dickinson, she was pretty sure. Hide your pain, hide your heartbreak, lock it all away like shameful injuries beneath your armor, and venture out again. Heaven knows you'd need that humor if you were going to let your heart get stabbed once more.

"Hey," Kara finally said, like diving off a high cliff with no idea where to aim. "I want to tell you something."

"Okay," Lena said, watching her attentively.

"Oh, this is gonna sound bad, okay," Kara muttered. She looked up at Lena, winced preemptively. "I'm an alien."

Lena blinked. Her mouth opened. She frowned. Tilted her head, closed her eyes, held up a finger in question. "Are you fucking with me right now?" Lena asked. Her hand had gone still in Kara's. "Because if you're messing with me because I literally just said I wanted to fuck an alien, that'd be a cruel joke to play, and I know we just covered how I'm cool with cruelty and all that, but not like this, bro."

"I am not," Kara said slowly and deliberately, "Fucking with you. I was not born on this planet."

Lena's eyes opened, hazy green and starting to light up. "Can I ask where you were born?"

"A lost planet," Kara said quietly. "It was called Krypton."

"Krypton," Lena echoed reverently, and Kara felt a tiny piece of her heart click home. Then she frowned. "Like Superman?"

You can tell her as much as you want. "I wasn't planning to get into that right away, maybe, but, uh, Superman… he's sorta my cousin."

"What?"

Kara half-winced. "Yeah, I was sent to look after him but got stuck in a part of space where time doesn't pass for twenty four years, so when I got here, I was too late. He had already grown up. He didn't need me."

There was something soft and sympathetic under all the wonder on Lena's face. She tilted her head again, her face open. "You wanna talk about it?"

Kara shook her head. "I've talked about it with like fifteen therapists already and it didn't make any difference. I don't wanna exhaust us." Lena nodded like she understood. "Hey, I uh, I heard what you said about me playing it close to the chest. And I think you know why I do now. But I…" Kara trailed off, glanced at Lena, who was still looking at her with increased understanding on her face already. "I want you to know me. I think telling you about me is gonna be exhausting, I wanna skip to the part where you already know, but I do want to tell you things."

There was something so incredible in the way Lena's eyes were sparkling, her restrained smile like she was trying not to scare Kara off with a grin too big. "I'd like to know you too, Kara Danvers," she said, her words an echo of long ago. "If that's even your real name."

"Ah, yeah. It is, but it's not. My Kryptonian name is Kara Zor-El."

"Kara Zor-El," Lena repeated, smiling. She held out her hand to shake, and Kara laughed. "Nice to meet you, Kara Zor-El." Kara shook her hand carefully as always and bit back a shiver at the way Lena's hand felt in hers.

Maybe things will work out better this time.

 

It had been a month since that morning, a month since Kara had lifted Lena's bed with Lena in it so effortlessly to Lena's delighted gasp, a month since Lena had pressed her shoulder to Kara's and they leaned back against the wall in silent companionship thick with new revelations as they processed. And it was a month full of Lena with absolutely nerdy and earth-shattering excitement of finding out her best friend was an alien. Kara had already taken her for a gentle flight (okay, hover) in a field several miles off campus in the dead of night, and Lena's eyes had stayed lit up for days after she demonstrated her heat vision and freeze breath.

Hey, read the note in Kara's hand. Sorry it took me so long to figure out, but is your being an alien one of the reasons you absolutely refuse to get into bed with me anyone? You're worried about breaking them, quite literally, in half? Cause if so… hot.

Kara bit down hard on her lip to stop herself from smiling. They were in a coffee shop, Lena studiously focused on her computer and only her computer despite the absolutely salacious note she had just passed Kara like they were in math class back in middle school or something. She had managed to tell Lena her story in bits of pieces of spoken word, but for the longer stuff, something about writing it down was easier. It was a habit they'd picked up when Lena rolled her eyes at how a lecture on Emily Dickinson could possibly be entertaining and snuck in to Kara's class to hear it with her. They'd passed notes--some on the content of the professor's words, some Lena flirting badly and making Kara feel warm all over, and some Kara's dry jokes or puns in response that made Lena shake with silent laughter--and then it became their thing. Long drawn out letters and scraps of paper with words scribbled, it didn't matter.

Letters make it easier somehow, Kara had written. It doesn't feel so hard, like this. I don't know, maybe I just hate eye contact during tough conversations, but still, it's easier, and this way I can play with my words until they come out right. Ask me anything like this. I can answer here. We can talk, too, but this is a good way to break that barrier, maybe.

Your therapists would be proud, Ms. Zor-El.

Oh, shut up.

Kara eyed the note in her hand about breaking Lena now, complete with a winky face, and wondered how on earth Lena managed to make creepy words look not-creepy. Probably because Kara actually liked her and she knew it. Probably because she wasn't trying to get Kara into bed, even if she did talk about it a lot. Kara had a funny feeling if Lena ever decided to put her own interests above Kara's, they'd be sleeping together in about a minute flat and Kara wouldn't be complaining. But still, she appreciated Lena's respect of her pace, and she knew that even if they never did get together, Lena would be okay with it, would never make her feel bad. And that was incredible. It made her feel respected. Loved. Wanted for more than her body. It was filling some kind of hole she didn't know she had in her heart.

Kara put her pen on the page with one last glance at Lena, who quickly pretended she wasn't watching, eyes focusing back on her screen through her thick and adorable glasses, messy bun even messier than it had been, whistling an innocent tune. Kara snorted with laughter.

Just can't resist doing your research for fucking an alien, huh? Short answer: yes. Long answer: That's why I'm also glad when you're being amazing and comforting me from the nightmares that you just put your feet on top of me. The first nightmare I had here I broke the bed, tore all the sheets, and put dents in a hardwood floor, and we counted ourselves lucky that's all the damage I did. It's literally not safe for you or anyone to be in a bed with me when I'm not conscious and careful and 100% in control.

Kara slid the note back, feeling like it had gotten way deeper and more intense than either of them meant it to, and focused hard on her own laptop screen, not seeing a word. Lena inhaled sharply across from her, and Kara glanced at her once, quickly, seeing her looking slightly stricken, and forced her gaze back downwards.

"Hey," Lena murmured, but Kara shook her head, feeling vulnerable all of the sudden. Kara jumped as Lena's foot bumped into her ankle from across the table, gently, and briefly thought what an odd pair they made, the girl in pastel and braids and the kickass biker--goth-looking chick who didn't look like she'd give anyone the time of day. "Hey," Lena said, a little more quietly but with more force behind the word. Kara looked up hesitantly. "I'll fix this," Lena whispered.

"What are you talking about? You haven't done any--"

"You deserve to have someone hold you when you have a nightmare," Lena said simply, her voice so quiet but knowing Kara could hear it. "You deserve to sleep beside those you love. You deserve to love fiercely, passionately, and without fear. You deserve to lose control. Your bed should be your refuge, not the place where you're afraid of yourself."

Kara swallowed, a lump in her throat. "Why you gotta say nice things like that?" she mumbled, at a complete loss for words, and Lena took pity on her, winking.

"You want me to flirt all the time? Tell you that the way you kissed me last month is saying something entirely different than your professed reluctance to get into my pants?" Kara blushed hotly, and Lena chuckled. "I'm an engineer," she said quietly, her same earnest tone back. "You said your sister knows everything that could help, give me her number, we'll make something. I'm serious. I don't want you worried about breaking a university bed during a nightmare or panicking that someone's going to get hurt. We'll find a way to, I don't know, dampen your powers temporarily when you want to or something. You deserve to live without fear, and I'm gonna make that happen, so just, just trust me, okay?"

Damn, this woman had superpowers that were literally better than Kara's.

Lucy's words echoed in her head abruptly. You just need someone tenacious enough to hack it. Someone to take you on adventures just the same. Someone who you think is a superhero without the powers.

Oh, shit. She really was fucked now.

"Okay," Kara whispered, and Lena smiled.

 

"Ah, if it isn't your Missus!" Lena rolled her eyes and elbowed Jack as they walked in to the otherwise-empty lab.

"Shut it, Jack. She isn't my Mrs., she's my friend, and that's all. Got it?" Kara smiled, both at being recognized as Lena's and that Lena was still adamant in defending even the truth that they weren't dating. It was nice. She'd met Jack several times before, hung out with him at several parties, destroyed him in a taco-eating competition, endured his gentle ribbing at her relationship with Lena, and had a few heartfelt conversations with him about Lena herself. Because even though he was a colossal nerd who acted it but was otherwise the polar opposite of Lena, he understood her. They'd been lab partners in their very first class together and had been good friends ever since. Jack also had a deep love of puns, so he quickly became one of Kara's best friends too.

"Yeah, yeah. How are you, Kara?"

"Not bad. How's it going with you?"

"Alright. Of course, it'd be a lot better if Lena would tell me what she's working on. Won't you work some of your magic and coerce her into letting me help her? It all looks very exciting, but she's kept it under lock and key."

Lena rolled her eyes again and glanced at Kara, mouthing red sun lamp at her, and Kara nodded. Lena and Alex had had several frighteningly long conversations, and a few facetimes to point out parts, and with an alarmingly 'hypothetical' conversation with a professor that Kara was sure had accidentally made Lena look like a terrorist, Lena was off to the races on the red sun lamp. She'd been working on it for two weeks, pouring in hours, and assured Kara it was well-hidden. But Kara had already told Lucy, and she liked Jack. Alex had seen him when he was on facetime with Lena once in the lab and agreed when Kara floated the idea. She bit her lip before deciding.

"She's actually making something for me," she told Jack hesitantly.

"Oh?" He asked, eyes lit with interest as his attention switched from Lena to Kara. "Wedding ring, perhaps?"

Lena spared just a moment to elbow him in the ribs again. "No, uh, it's a…" She took a deep breath. This wasn't getting much easier. Lena was studiously focused on her work. "It's a power dampener of sorts," Kara admitted, and Jack frowned, mouth forming a question. "Because I'm an alien."

Jack's open mouth morphed instantly into a delighted smile. "I knew it!" he yelled, punching the air. "I knew no one could beat me in that taco-eating competition at that party last month! Don't get me wrong," he added, "It was very gay of you and all, but still! Oh god, sorry, that was totally the wrong thing to be focusing on, oh, thank you so much for telling me, I'm totally honored! Wait, oh my god, that's hitting me like for real now, holy shit, this is so cool!"

Kara began to laugh, and Jack cut off his ramble to take a few steps towards her and really look at her now, his excited jumping sobering abruptly. "Can I hug you?" he asked quietly. "Because I really think if no one did, I'd like to welcome you to the planet officially and say that we're glad to have you here."

Another piece of Kara's heart clicked quietly into place. "Yeah," she breathed, and stretched on her tiptoes to hug Jack, warm and tight, and Jack took a little bit of the weight off her shoulders.

"I'm also sorry," Jack said softly, "For whatever made you leave your home planet, if no one's said that to you either."

Kara felt a tear slide down her cheek as Jack let her go gently and she rocked back on her heels. She caught a glance of Lena, who had a smile so soft it hurt. "Not many have, no," she said quietly, and a little piece of her heart clicked. "Thank you."

Jack smiled. He had a great smile. It was warm and genuine and almost always way too excited to blow something up. "Can I help build the power dampener?"

"No," came Lena's dry and instant reply, and they both laughed.

"Okay then," he said. He glanced at Kara again, hesitant. "Can I ask you your story?"

And something about it, something felt easier this time. Maybe it was the lab; Kara now had dozens of hours of memories of sitting in here watching Lena as she worked, Lena chatting away with her hands and most of her mind occupied, occasionally hitting a thought so poignant she swung a chair around Uncle Jesse style and gestured as she talked, and before they knew it Kara knew her full life story. Maybe it was the way Lena was here, a comforting presence, but not focusing on her so intensely that Kara felt like she was going to melt, even if it was in a good way. Maybe it was Jack, and his enthusiasm and genuineness that never went away. But maybe, just maybe, it was all her work to unlock that tight little bottle in her heart and let the dark emotions free.

"You know what? Yeah. Yeah, let's… I'd like to tell you."

And hours after she'd told her story and Jack had cried and hugged her again and Lena's hands had all but stilled on her project while she listened carefully, Kara and Lena left together, and Lena took her hand, squeezing to let her know she was proud of her. "Hey," Lena murmured as they traipsed almost aimlessly down the sidewalk. "You're not keeping things so tight to your chest anymore."

Kara took a deep breath and sighed it back out. "Even if they're negative, unfortunately."

"If you keep all your dark shit bottled up," Lena said slowly, "The bottles are only gonna break. Explosively. And they'll leave shrapnel in your heart. So, let it out, you know?"

Kara eyed her. "Is that why you wear so many dark things? Your dark emotions aren't just on your sleeve, they are your sleeve?" Because Lena had darkness too, she knew. Lena had been forcibly removed from her mother at age four, and when she finally had the resources to track her down, her mother had died not a year after the separation, the neighbors swearing it was a broken heart that did her in. Lena had a manipulative and downright abusive at times family. Lena had swum laps until she couldn’t breathe to take away the pain until she was old enough to get a fake ID for drugs and booze. She had slept around and gotten faded and crossfaded and done everything she could think of to find something to take her mind off the pain. She was a lot like Kara, in that sense. Maybe sex with you is what will finally do it, she had joked, rolling her eyes at herself but unable to resist the chance to flirt, and Kara had blushed as she did so frequently. But no, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that, please don't ever think that's on you. Someone else is never the solution. Community might be a solution, but for me, it was engineering. Something to get lost in, something to build. Something to build solutions. I still quite like my old solutions and vices now, though.

Lena laughed abruptly at her comment, squeezing her hand, and Kara squeezed back. "Maybe," Lena said. "Though I think that more went into the makeup, and then the clothes just had to match. Not all of us can rock pastel when we're halfway to goth with our makeup." She tilted her head. "Though do you wear pastel because you're afraid of your darkness?"

"I got into it because I thought it was what happy people wore," Kara admitted. "The happiest old ladies in town, even if their families were long gone, they all wore pastel and stuff. I'm realizing now that might just be old lady fashion, and they all wore it even if they only pretended to be happy."

"Maybe," Lena said softly. "Hey, on that same thought track, there's a really weird party I want to take you to next week."

"How on earth is that the same thought track?"

"You'll see. There's someone I want you to meet."

 

Winslow Schott was controlling a robot of death when Kara and Lena arrived at the party, Jack in tow.

Kara's mouth drifted open unconsciously, and Lena reached for arm and squeezed excitedly. It was a dimly lit frat house, and they had set up an arena out of what Kara believed was a Gaga pit. And everyone was gathered around the Gaga pit,  leaning against its low octagonal walls, chanting and screaming, drinks in their hands, like this was the MMA finals or something. They were literally having a killer robotics competition at a frat house.

Honestly, some days, what the hell was college?

Winn laughed almost maniacally and Lena whispered in her ear, "That's him."

"With the remote control car that just ate the other one and the way-too-red mohawk?"

Lena nodded. Oh, god.

"Come on," Lena said, winding her arm tight around Kara's. "Let's go watch."

"Yes," Jack hissed. "This shit is better than those ancient cockfights."

"Ancient what?" Kara hissed back, horrified, but Jack was already absorbed in watching the next robot fight. It was literally robot competitions Kara had heard high schoolers talk about a few years ago, homemade robots the size of an average remote control car, controlled by drunk nerds and cheered on by even more drunk frat boys. It was so loud. It was so violent. It was so… awesome, actually.

Kara watched as Winn's robot, painted like a shark with the name on the side in blue bubbly letters proudly declaring it to be Baby Shark opened its jaws and zoomed towards a much smaller robot with a bigger shovel in front of it. Baby Shark swerved at the last second and the shovel on the Snowbot Plow snapped upwards at a ninety-degree angle with nothing in its grasp. On and on the robots danced, Winn trying to let Baby Shark clamp down its steel jaws from the side, Snowbot plow trying to scoop up the other robot and fling it into the air.

Eventually, Snowbot Plow got Baby Shark. Kara gasped unabashedly with the rest of the crowd as Baby Shark flew six feet in the air, at least fifty pairs of eyes glued to it theatrically, and landed--on its wheels. The crowd screamed, and Winn roared his delight, red mohawk glinting under the makeshift spotlights illuminating the arena. Baby Shark rushed forwards as the nerd controlling Snowbot Plow fumbled with his control, mouth agape. Baby Shark crashed into Snowbot Plow, shoving it harshly into the wall, and clamped down its jaw definitively. There was a harsh crunching sound, Snowbot Plow's lights went out, and the crowd roared its approval.

Kara was applauding and screaming with everyone else, jumping up and down, and Winn raised his hands in the air like a victorious gladiator, leaping over the side of the ring to pick up Baby Shark and thrust it in the air, dancing around excitedly. Kara laughed, unable to help it. This was ridiculous and awesome.

After another six robot fights--Kara found they weren't quite as awesome after watching Baby Shark trounce Killing Machine, GladiaTor (apparently like the web browser, whatever that meant), Browser (like the video game character but also in reference to the internet), and Guardian all in a row and everyone else was drunk--they finally met Winn. The robot fights had petered down for the night once Winn had defeated everyone.

Lena motioned her over as Winn was caught up in conversation with Jack. "I'll have to start from scratch," Winn was saying, examining Baby Shark's battle scars. "The Shark design is just too classic. I wanna be innovative, you know? Win with something else." He caught sight of Lena and grinned. "Luthor makes an appearance! What's up, girl? Get over here." He threw his free arm around Lena, Lena smiling as she hugged him back.

"Congratulations to the champion," she said, and he rolled his eyes.

"You know it's not really a challenge when you aren't in the ring. When you coming back, anyway?"

"When you get rid of that ridiculous rule that I can't have a robot-destroying laser built into my robot."

"You know that made it unfair, Lena."

Lena rolled her eyes, detaching herself from his side then reaching to pull Kara in. "Whatever, Schott. Here, I want you to meet someone." She tugged Kara forwards. "This is Kara Danvers, a--" Lena blinked for the slightest of moments, but Winn didn't seem to notice the pause. She glanced at Kara and nodded. "Writer. Writer extraordinaire and my new best friend." Kara looked at her in slight confusion. Writer?

"New best friend, uh?" Winn eyed her with an eyebrow raised and a slight smirk before extending his hand, realizing it was his left, and switching Baby Shark to hold out his right hand. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Danvers. I'm Winslow Schott, you can call me Winn."

"Nice to meet you, Winn," Kara said, still entirely confused as to why she was meeting him. She gestured as his robot haplessly. "I loved watching Baby Shark. Awesome name, especially."

Winn laughed. "Well why thank you. I worked very hard on her. Glad she made you happy." He grinned as her smile faded to something lukewarm, then clicked his tongue at Lena accusingly. "You want what I think you want, don't you?"

Lena smiled unashamedly and nodded. "Remember what helped me? It could help her too."

"Well." Winn said, and smiled at Kara so warmly she felt it down to her toes, "Let's get a drink and chat, shall we? This shouldn't take long."

Winn, Kara learned, sitting all of them in a circle out on the grass in the cool night air, had a dark past too. His dad had gone insane and killed twelve people with a bomb inside a toy when he was nine years old. His mom had abandoned him and he had bounced through a few foster families all in the same crappy town. A few others sat down and joined them, and Kara listened carefully to Winn, her knee pressing against Lena's as they sipped at their drinks. Lena had produced a bottle of Zacarian ale from somewhere and handed it discreetly to Kara, who kind of wanted to cry that Lena had thought ahead for her like that.

Others who had sat down seemed to see this as an invite to a regular group therapy session, like this wasn't weird at all. One football player had both his parents die from cancer. A hockey jock had his mom die overseas in combat only two years ago and still wasn't okay. The baseball pitcher's sister was coping with a serious opioid addiction after a car crash last year hooked her on pain meds.

"How do you deal with it all?" The football player asked helplessly. "Like, I got this scholarship, but I'm not that good, I won't get signed after college. I guess I know what sort of job I'm going to get and how, but that's all--that's surviving, man. I don't know like, how to live anymore, not with all this shit inside me."

Kara felt her heart break. For him, for everyone who had shit going on. But at the same time, here they all were. Trying. Talking about it. Openly, like it was okay to be vulnerable in front of other people. They already were vulnerable, why not show it? Maybe someone else could tell you how to fix that pain in your heart.

"I saw this photo of a punk when I was like fourteen," Winn said slowly. "And he had like this sick rainbow mohawk and epically studded leather jacket, and he was on his knees and he had the most precious smile, dude, and he was just grinning at this kid, letting this like freaking five year old touch the spikes on his leather jacket. And that right there, that was the moment that I realized, like, you don't gotta pick looking the way you want or being the person you want. I could be nice as fuck and still talk like a perverted surfer and wear these fucking awesome leather jackets and look like a badass and ride motorcycles and help little old ladies push their carts in the grocery store. I didn't have to choose."

Winn leaned forward, focusing for a moment on each of them. "I didn't have to choose like, between getting out of that neighborhood and that house on a STEM scholarship and dying my hair crazy colors so I didn't see my crazy ass dad when I looked in the mirror. Being punk is about being a rebel. And what's more rebellious than everyday love for your neighbor no matter what? That's a concept that's been fucked up, over and over. But the most punk people are the ones that resist. Like, including resisting propaganda and oppression. Be loving. That's punk. And that's what I'm about. That's my living and my surviving. You don’t have to pick. You can do both."

"Holy shit, dude," the football player mumbled. "That was beautiful."

"Yeah, bro." The hockey player said. "That was some Humans of New York make everyone cry shit."

"If I had a photo of you now, I'd frame it and put that quote beneath if, bro," The pitcher told him. "And I'd teach my kids about that shit. Love is punk as fuck, it's metal as fuck."

"Yes!" Winn said. "Love is punk. Love is masculine. I wish we said how much we love each other more often. I love you all, bros."

Maybe, Kara thought. Maybe--no. There was no maybe. It was just damn good people who chose their own outsides as they damn well pleased, and that gave them the courage to choose their insides, too. The sports they played, the color they died their hair--that didn't matter. And she liked it. She reached over and squeezed Lena's hand in thanks.

 

They ended up at a Taco Bell, Jack and Winn and Lena, talking endlessly about engineering and Kara sitting there listening to them happily. Winn was saying something about the torque and tension snap or other words she was pretty sure she was mishearing him, but it didn't matter. She leaned back against Jack's shoulder in the corner booth, stretched out her legs in Lena's lap. Lena lifted her hands to accommodate her thoughtlessly, fingers drifting to tap patterns on her knees, and Kara smiled sleepily. Eleven crunchy tacos and six packets of cinnamon twists and Lena's soothing warmth will do that to you. Her phone buzzed with a text from Alex.

How was the weird party?

Kara: weird as promised but so much awesomer than I thought. Battling killer robots and weirdly emotional chats with some campus jocks. Met an awesome guy named winn, we're at TB with him now.

Alex: TB? Tuberculosis?

Kara: hahahaha close enough

Alex: but that's awesome!! Invite me next time, I wanna battle robots!

Kara: I shall.

Kara: hey. How dumb is it to tell others my secret?

Alex: it's not. I'd say, make sure they're good people who won't give you away, but I think we're past the phase where I keep a tight rein on your mouth. I trust your judgment. If anyone else has a problem with who you tell, I'll fight them for you. You deserve to be open with those you want to, but just remember you don't owe anyone your truth.

Kara: <3 thank you. That means a lot.

Alex: you've been finding more good people you want to share with, haven't you?

Kara: yeah. Lena's brought some good people into my life.

Alex: she's a good egg. Don't break her heart, okay? I wanna keep her around.

Kara: I do too.

"Who's got you smiling?" Winn asked, reaching across Jack to poke Kara's shoulder. "We can't be making you grin like that with trigonometrical angles and shit."

Kara chuckled. "My sister. We've been working on some stuff in my life and just hit a progress point."

Winn smiled, so genuinely Kara's decision was cemented. Once she shared her truth once, she couldn't help but want to share it more. It felt good, getting it off her chest like it wasn't something she was hiding. "That's so good, Kara," he said, fluorescents glinting horribly off his bright red hair. "I'm so happy for you."

"Thanks," she said softly, smiling. "It's actually thanks to you. I was just feeling closer to people after we all talked in the grass, and realized how healing it can be to be vulnerable with everyone."

"Fuck yeah," Winn whispered, grinning fiercely. "Speak your truth, girl."

Kara chuckled, and Jack and Lena with her. Kara sat up, swinging her legs off Lena's lap and leaning towards Winn. "I actually wanted to tell you something about myself in return." Winn made a bring it motion. "I'm an alien."

Winn's mouth opened uncertainly for a moment before it turned into a grin. "Like, like an extraterrestrial alien?"

Kara nodded. "The kind that wasn't born here, yeah."

Winn's grin only got bigger. "Oh, that is so awesome. Fuck yeah." He laughed, almost hysterically. "Thank you so much for sharing with me, seriously. Now, okay, can you shapeshift? Is this your real form? Can you--can you fly?"

Kara couldn't help but laugh, glancing back at Lena, who had a little proud smile on her face. "No, yes, and yeah," Kara said, and Winn's smile got bigger, if possible. "Yeah, I fly."

"Oh my god," he breathed, reaching out like he wanted to squeeze her face in happiness before restraining himself in the Taco Bell. "This is so sweet. Do you have a spaceship? Are there others from your planet here? Hang on, what planet are you from? Girl, please tell me everything, this is the best day of my life--I mean, if you want to, but seriously, tell me everything, please--"

Jack laughed and high-fived Lena, and Kara looked at them both, proud. She looked back at Winn, who was only excited for her to be here, and felt another little piece of her heart click.

When Winn's curiosity was satisfied (temporarily, he assured her, handing her his phone number with a promise to hang out and talk robots and space), he left with apologies and an annoyed call from his roommate telling him to get back there and clean up his robot mess now. Jack followed not long after, kissing Kara's forehead and then Lena's, Kara feeling warm down to her toes and Lena rolling her eyes and smiling fondly.

"So, metabolic condition," Lena said unprompted, "You also meant that as code for you eat a metric fuckton like every day, right?"

Kara smiled sheepishly. "About ten thousand calories a day, yeah."

Lena nodded thoughtfully. "Have you tried high-calorie like fish oils and stuff? Those bars they have to make kids in third world countries gain weight? Protein shakes?"

"Protein shakes, yes, fish oils, we can't find anything that makes them worth it, and gave up on them several years ago though I have a bottle for when I'm desperate, and the bars weren't high calorie, they were just healthy and less satisfying. For a while we made granola and trail mix and stuff that was like, homemade high-calorie, but it's a lot harder when you're at college. Eliza's frequently worried I'm losing weight."

Lena's lips were pursed in thought. "Would, if you were under a red sun for like, I don't know, say, eight hours a night, help you cut down on the calorie intake need?"

"I mean, probably some but not much because like--" Kara paused, Lena's words clicking. Lena's eyes sparkled. "You didn't," Kara breathed, and Lena shrugged in a you tell me kind of way. "Already?"

"You wanna try it out?" Lena asked, then hurried to follow up, "Not like that, I just meant like--"

Kara pushed towards her and threw her arms around Lena's neck, still gentle, still careful, and Lena relaxed into her. "Yes," Kara said simply, pulling back. "I want to be able to hug someone without worrying about breaking them." Lena looked sad for a moment before smiling. "Can we go now?" Lena nodded eagerly. "Wait--" Kara paused as she got out of the booth. "Your roommate? Is she asleep?"

Lena flushed. "We don’t--we don't need to worry about her."

"What do you mean? Is she spending the night somewhere else or something? Hang on, how come I've never even seen her--"

Lena mumbled something under her breath. Kara tilted her head in question. It was too garbled for even her to understand. Lena sighed. "I said, I kind of paid her a lot of money to go switch rooms."

Kara stared in disbelief for just a moment, Lena shifting under her gaze. Then Kara laughed. She shouldered her way out of the restaurant, still laughing. "That's the best thing I've ever heard," she said, laughing. "Seriously, I love you." Lena froze, and Kara went another full two steps before she realized Lena wasn't with her. She turned, and realized what she had said. "Oh," Kara said blankly at the blank, stunned look on Lena's face. "Oh, I didn't--" Lena blinked rapidly, her eyebrows climbing to give her face a fragile, questioning look. "I meant it," Kara said honestly. "But not in--I do love you. But can we just--can we just not think about it like that right now?"

Lena unfroze. Kara's brain stopped short-circuiting, just a little. "Yeah, of course," Lena said, and at least this time she didn't look hurt or wrecked, didn't look like she was covering panic. Her lips quirked. "I love you too. The way you meant it."

Kara breathed.

They walked back together, the slightly longer than usual walk made short by the companionship, and when they arrived at Lena's door Kara found herself nervous. Lena pressed into her shoulder. "It shouldn't hurt," she murmured, letting them in. "If it does, tell me right away. But Alex and I did the math, and we think this will simulate your planet's red sun. It's actually a miniature reaction in there--but that's not what's important." She looked at Kara, ducking to catch her downward gaze. "Do you want to try it?"

Kara took a deep breath and nodded. She trusted Lena. Lena flipped the switch.

Red light flooded the room, warm. "I don't feel any different," Kara said slowly.

"You shouldn't," Lena replied, watching her carefully. "At least I don't think."

Kara took off her glasses slowly, set them on the bedside table. She focused on Lena--no X-Ray vision. "Oh my god," she whispered. "I can't see your bones."

Lena cracked a smile. "I'm guessing your X-Ray vision isn't working?" Kara nodded frantically, beginning to get excited. "Try lifting something," Lena suggested, and Kara reached for the bed, remembering how she had lifted it with Lena on it last time with one hand. She grasped the frame and pulled it upwards--it moved, but she had to exert far more force than she thought.

Kara gasped and let the bed back down with a forceful clatter. "Oh my god," she said again. She reached towards Lena. "Can I--" Lena nodded. "Tell me if it hurts," Kara said, and Lena nodded again. Kara reached for her hand, picked it up in hers. Kara began to close her fingers a little more surely than she ever would. Lena smiled, one eyebrow starting to raise in a smirk that said is this all you got? Kara squeezed carefully, and Lena chuckled.

"Come on Kara," she whispered. "You don't have to be afraid anymore. Hold my hand like you mean it."

Kara squeezed, and Lena squeezed back. Kara blinked. "Holy shit," she muttered. "I felt that. You weren't hurt? Nothing broken or bruised?"

Lena shook her hand, eyes dancing in the red dark, and then Kara just had to hug her.

She flung her arms around Lena, the weight of nine years of being careful finally lifted off her shoulders for a little while. Lena staggered backwards under the force, but held on tight to Kara, murmuring "You just surprised me, I'm alright." Kara squeezed tighter, and Lena smiled into her shoulder. "You can still hold me tighter. I'm not gonna break easy. Gimme all you got." Kara smiled at the memory of her words from so long ago, but they didn't feel hot and heady this time. Just warm and sure like they always were.

They spent the night curled in Lena's bed, Kara just enjoying holding and being held without fear. And when Kara woke just before dawn with another nightmare, Lena chased it away, soothed with a hug around Kara's shoulders, rubbing her back gently. Kara nearly cried with gratitude, pushing herself closer to Lena.

"You've got superpowers," Kara mumbled into her shoulder when they finally woke up. Noonday light filtered around them through half-shut blinds and this moment felt magic. Peace felt better than she'd ever expected it would.

Lena's body shook with silent laughter. "I'm pretty sure you're the one with superpowers, darling."

Kara shook her head. "No. You took away my fear. You built me a new home. You've given me the most incredible people and have paved the path for me to let my heart heal. You've got the superpowers."

Lena turned on her side, fingertips and eyes tracing Kara's features with infinite tenderness in the red glow. Part of Kara's powers were back now, with the yellow sun competing with their red sun lamp, but Kara still wasn't afraid. Lena could recalibrate a lamp. But in the dark, it felt like it had when she was twelve. Innocence and carefreeness in a good way.

"It was an honor," Lena told her. She pressed a kiss to Kara's forehead, hard, and Kara could feel the pressure. She pulled Lena back into her arms, entirely unable to resist hanging on to the woman who had saved her from the fear of wrecking everything with careless strokes of her finger.

"I hope it's okay," she sighed, "But I'm sort of going to be all over you when the red sun lamp is on. Being able to hug someone is sort of a novelty for me."

Lena laughed, shaking both of them. "Oh, I have no problem with this."

Click. Click. It felt like pieces of her heart were clicking back into place all the time now.

 

Lucy, on the other hand, had a deep problem with it. "Kara! You do not spend a night cuddling with someone when you have mutually acknowledged that you are both in love with each other! And then not kiss! Or fuck! What is wrong with you! That's like skipping the sex! It IS skipping the sex! How could you!"

Kara shook her head, still barely inside the room, slinging her backpack off her shoulder, still unbelievably excited. "Luce, look, this was more important than sex--"

Lucy's more important than SEX??! Was cut off as Kara pulled the red sun lamp out of her bag. Lucy treaded closer, looking wary. "What is that?"

"Lucy, look--" Kara put it on the desk and switched it on. "Come here." She hugged a confused Lucy, delighting in the feel of her oldest friend in her arms without worrying if she'd crush her.

"Yay," came Lucy's confused, muffled voice from her shoulder, hands patting her back half-heartedly in her confusion. "The lamp makes you huggy?"

"Lucy," she said, laughing, "I'm actually holding you. And squeezing hard."

"Hang on." Lucy backed out of her arms. "You're--you're--"

"It simulates the red sun from Krypton," Kara said. "Power dampening."

Lucy's eyes went huge. "Holy shit," she said. "That's--Kara--" Her eyes were damp all of the sudden. "I can hug you during a nightmare now," she whispered. "You can hold me when you're half-asleep. You don't have to be afraid. We can have sleepovers and cuddle parties and you don't have to worry, oh my god, Kara, I'm gonna marry her for this!"

Kara laughed. "She's kind of amazing, huh?"

 

 

Things were going good for weeks. Almost too good. Kara slept peacefully under the red sun lamp Lena had made her, heart singing in gratitude, Lucy taking full advantage for a few cuddle parties and a tickling war "for science" that Lena promised she'd double check Lucy's results on. Kara protested weakly at a lunch with both of them laughing as she turned increasingly red, but Lena's foot tapped gently against her shin and Lena smiled so gently Kara knew Lena would wait for the green light to do that too. Nightmares weren't as bad under the red sun lamp, her longtime fear of ruining things physically that had even crept into her dreams slowly making its exit.

And then one day was just okay.

And then the next day sucked.

Lena: u wanna vent about it? get high? drunk? both? I can hook you up

Lena: shit not like that

Lena: but I cold also hook you down like that. i've got peeople.

Lena: or me

Lena: sorry this is not the moment I dee tgat but I am also matbe a little high rn

Lena: ok I;m also a little drumk too and I know it's only a Thursday but is it a thursady

Lena: fuck it IT is shit== Thursday. I mad it ok

Lena: jist come over if you wanna babe u kno im herr for youuuu

Kara smiled dimly at her texts, chuckling, and decided to let that particular mess just marinate on a back burner for a little while, feeling warm nonetheless at Lena's care for her, clumsy as it was while she was inebriated, and probably very intoxicated and faded if her typing was getting bad. She sat down and did her homework because it was the kind of day where the world didn't stop because of her grief, and by the time Lucy got back she was crying while trying to write an essay, and not in the Emily Dickinson just GETS IT wondrous kind of way she wanted to be crying in.

"Lamp. On. Now." Lucy said sternly, and Kara sniffled as she flipped it on. Lucy pulled her laptop away, ignoring Kara's protests. Lucy pulled her into her arms. "Do you want to talk about it or just cry?"

"Bad days just happen sometimes," Kara mumbled. "And I still have homework."

"Ten minute cry. You'll do your homework much faster after the ten minute cry. You've told me that many times."

Kara cried for twelve minutes, and then kept doing her homework with the lamp still firmly on and a glass of ice cream and Lucy's good whiskey on top, exhausted but with the world not looking quite so bad. "I think I can actually get drunk off this under the red sun lamp, shit," Kara muttered, and Lucy snickered.

"You know I gave you like two tablespoons, not even, right?"

"You know I've had alcohol that can actually affect me like once, right?"

Lucy bit her lip. "Well. Your essay should turn out interestingly."

"Hey Lucy? I love you."

 

The next day sucked, if possible, even worse. And when the bad things started piling up and they weren't even big deals but when it was bad things she started thinking of Krypton and that only made it worse--

Lena could help.

Of course she could. She could get Kara fucked up six ways from Sunday and not break a sweat. But that wasn't what the little voice in her head was whispering, was it? Lena had darkness, too. Lena wore it openly. And all of the sudden, sitting in the end of a lecture she wasn't taking in because it flew over her head at the beginning and didn't get better from there, Kara didn't know how she thought Lena could help, but knew that she wanted to see her. Wanted to feel that same soul-spinning, world-erasing feeling that she had when Lena kissed her that first time. Wanted Lena to make her feel good.

And she was pretty sure drugs wouldn't get it done.

Hey, said another voice in her head. Even if this is bad, you're not a drug addict.

Great. Just great.

The lecture had somehow finished, people were gathering their papers. Kara blinked. She shoved everything into her bag and stormed out, on a mission now. She stalked up to Lena's room barely a minute later with no recollection of how she'd gotten there, and didn't bother to knock. Lena looked up from her desk chair, surprised, as Kara flew inside in a swirl of red eyes and desperation.

"Kara?" The door slammed shut behind her, and Kara swept forwards as Lena turned to face her.

Lena's face was in her hands in half a second, and their lips were crashing together in another quarter.

Lena made a surprised noise against her mouth, flustered and shocked, and then she pulled it together and was kissing her back. Lena stood slowly from her chair, arms slipping around Kara's torso, wrapping her up, lips pressing firmly to hers. Kara was still dimly aware enough to be careful, there was no red sun lamp here, but it was hard.

It wasn't… it wasn't enough. Kissing Lena wasn't doing what Kara expected it would, what she had felt it do before.

There was the feeling of Lena, but it was almost like her body felt better against Kara's than her lips. Not in a sexy way. In a comforting way. In a I need to be wrapped up kind of way. But Kara didn't want comfort. The grief felt fresh today for no particular reason and the way it wasn't cowering in the face of her passion was making her more angry, more determined to erase that goddamn frustration through her chosen method, not what the grief wanted. She was done bowing to it.

"Whoa," Lena breathed, easing back after long moments of stillness pressed together. "Whoa." They were both breathing hard. Kara could feel Lena's heart thundering against her chest, but something was still off. One of Lena's hands reached upwards to cup Kara's cheek, gently. "What's got you changing your mind?"

"I--I--" Kara realized all at once she had no explanation that would be significant. Nothing worth sharing. None of her reasons were ever worth fucking with Lena like this. It was--it was inexcusable. She slipped a few more stairs down the spiral staircase of her mind.

Lena seemed to see it all in her face. Lena looked pretty upset for a second, her hands retreating to her own hips, breathing heavily, one hand drifting to her mouth as she took a step back. But she looked like she got it. And then she stopped looking upset.

And while it unlocked a tiny part of Kara's guilt and let it flutter away, it also made it worse. Because it felt like even if she was done bowing to her grief, Lena was letting it have its way now. Lena, with her darks and her leather and her makeup, who always looked like she was in control, who wore her own grief so well.

And all of the sudden Kara's pastel felt like an insufficient hiding spot for her own grief.

"Hey," Lena said, ducking to catch her gaze. "Can I try something?" Kara nodded mutely, on the verge of being consumed. Lena nodded in return, and pulled away to push on Kara's shoulders, to steer her towards her own large desk chair. Lena pushed her down into it, abruptly, and Kara sat heavily.

"Here," Lena said, and climbed on her lap all at once, and Kara would never ever be able to move out of that chair if she tried, trapped in the most comforting way, feeling inescapably seen in that moment, understood as she'd always been by Lena, no matter what she was wearing. "Try on my style of grief today."

Lena reached over and grabbed the dark lipstick tube sitting on the desk, uncapped it, and set it to Kara's lower lip. "Tilt your head back," she murmured, and Kara followed the simple instruction. Lena's other hand cupped the back of her neck, thumb stroking soothingly. "I get it," she whispered, her voice low and gentle. Her heartbeat had calmed considerably, though there was the slightest shake to her fingers. "I get the bad days and needing to drown them. I get that someone you love and passion is often the most potent-looking drug."

Lena paused in her application of lipstick, and Kara took the moment. "I'm sorry," she said, the words feeling empty in their repetition.

"When," Lena asked quietly, setting her lipstick back to Kara's lip, hand resting on her chin with a warm weight, "Are you going to stop apologizing for kissing me?"

The words hit Kara like a ton of bricks, and she jerked back as much as she could in Lena's steady grip without injuring her. Lena leaned back too, watching her, weight still steady in her lap. "When I stop kissing you for the wrong reasons," Kara said, unable to understand why Lena couldn’t understand the obvious.

Lena smiled, so gently, and Kara felt deep in her soul in that moment that her previous judgments about drugs and alcohol and sex didn't matter, what did matter was two people loving each other, being honest with each other and good to each other. Lena pressed a final stripe of lipstick to her lips, capped the tube, and examined her handiwork critically before nodding and placing the tube back on the desk. "Then stop kissing me for the wrong reasons," she said simply. Kara's eyes were glued to her. It was the most obvious thing in the world, wasn't it? Why was it so hard to grasp, then? "Now," Lena murmured, reaching for something else tucked away in a drawer, pressing her thumbs gently to the corners of Kara's eyes, slipping under the glasses frame, cool skin against warm. "Stop crying so I can put eyeliner on you."

Kara hadn't realized she was crying. She sniffled, once, and Lena handed her a tissue without comment. Kara blew her nose noisily and crumpled the tissue in her fist. Lena nodded and pulled off her glasses. "I know you don't need these to see. Can you make it for a while without them and control the x-ray vision?"

Kara shrugged. "Guess we'll see, huh?"

Lena smiled gently. "We can put them back on in just a little bit if you want. Close your eyes and hold still." Kara did as she was told and let herself get lost in the feeling of Lena pressing into her, taking care of her in a way. It was comforting. Lena eventually put down the makeup and pulled Kara's hair down slowly, combing through it with her fingers and undoing the braid before tapping her to get her to open her eyes.

Kara was already wearing black jeans and boots. Lena pulled her upright on the chair and peeled off her sweater and this was not the way either of them thought Lena would ever be undressing her, but it wasn't sexy or heated, it was gentle and soothing, and Lena nodded approvingly at the black tank top underneath. "You were already thinking like me, huh?" she asked softly, and Kara shrugged. Lena climbed off her lap and slid behind her, forearm pressing solidly into her collarbone, holding Kara tight still. "Check yourself out," Lena whispered, and Kara finally faced what Lena had done to her in the mirror. Lena dropped her arm slowly and backed away, letting Kara look at only herself.

Her eyes were dark and almost hooded in their depths. They were… entrancing. She wanted to look at her eyes more. Kara took another moment before her attention was pulled elsewhere. Her mouth was dark like Lena's, pulled into an uncaring kind of line, and when she tried to quirk a smile at herself, it came out as more of a sneer.

She kind of liked it.

Her shoulders and collarbone, so often covered by sweaters, were sharper than she remembered. Muscles and tendons she usually didn't take note of on her neck stood out slightly, making her look… strong, actually. Her skin contrasted the black of the tank top straps quite nicely, surprising her again. Her hair was slightly wavy in spots but less curly than it usually was. It was a little messy but in a good way.

"I look so…" Kara trailed off, searching for the words. She tilted her head, and the woman in the mirror did so too. She looked almost malicious, deliberate in her actions even when they were absentminded. Dangerous. God, it felt good.

Lena waited a moment before filling in. "Honest?" she guessed.

"I was actually gonna say hot," Kara admitted, and Lena laughed, the joyful sound somehow fitting in with the two dark women in the mirror. Those women weren't afraid of anything--why would they be afraid of laughing? It fit, even if it looked like it didn’t.

"That too," Lena promised. She let Kara examine herself a minute more. "Does it feel like you?"

"It does," Kara admitted. "How'd you know?"

"I know you," Lena said, crouching beside her, and Kara spun the chair almost reluctantly away from her new appearance to look at Lena. "I had a pretty good guess." She reached out and took Kara's hand, squeezing. "I know the colors on the inside of your soul, Kara Zor-El. And I think they're a lot like mine."

Kara smiled weakly, and wondered how it looked on her new face. "Then I got blessed with pretty great colors."

Lena smiled back, and even on her dark face it was warm and comforting. (Maybe dark colors were soothing, letting you ease into happiness with their calm acceptance, find refuge in them, instead of bright colors shouting at you to be happy, maybe, maybe, maybe…) "Hey," she said, squeezing Kara's hand to regain her attention. "Try these colors on your outside today?"

Kara nodded. "Thank you," she whispered, and Lena smiled again, sadly this time.

"I felt honest for the first time when I put on dark makeup," she said, shrugging. "Like my outside matched up with my insides. It's pretty liberating, being in the tiniest bit of control like that. It lets some of the bad stuff out without hurting anyone else."

Kara really, really liked the sound of that.

 

She spent three hours staring at herself in the mirror that night.

Lucy came back late and did a double take at seeing her dressed like that.

"Damn, Danvers. You ditching the library intern look?"

Kara smiled slightly, liking how it looked in the mirror. "Maybe," she said nonchalantly. "Maybe it's just for a day."

Lucy dropped her bag, examining Kara. "Let me see you in that," she said, and Kara let herself be examined. Lucy nodded approvingly. "It looks like you," she said. "A side of you I'm often the only one who sees. Or at least me and like only four other people. You should let it out more often. You feel good like this?" Kara nodded, and Lucy smiled. "Then rock it, girl. Be all of yourself."

Kara eventually took off the makeup and went to bed, but not before texting Lena can you make me up the same way tomorrow? Lena sent back a thumbs up not six seconds later and Kara smiled. "Thank Lena for me," Lucy mumbled, three minutes from sleep. "For unlocking this side of you today. You deserve it."

 

"People are looking at me," Kara said from the corner of her mouth.

They were at the movies. It was the next day. Lena had pulled her out with no resistance, insisting that she needed to feel how it felt to be like this in public. And now they were standing in line for popcorn, and Kara was wearing what she wore yesterday, and she could feel people's gazes on her.

"Well, yeah," Lena said, running a hand through her own hair, shrugging nonchalantly. "You're hot."

"You're just saying that--"

"How dare you accuse me of complimenting you untruthfully," Lena said, mock-insulted. "Besides, you said the same thing about yourself yesterday."

"Yeah, but don't we all think we're prettier than we actually are?"

Lena shrugged again. "Some do. Some don't. Some think the opposite. Some don't care."

Kara shifted again, almost uncomfortable under the attention, but not really. "Is this why people stare at you too?" She asked. "Does it go away when you stop dressing and looking like this?"

Lena's mouth twisted thoughtfully as they took a step up in the queue. "Sometimes. But it's more than what you put on your body. It's just… who you are. I know you can't always see the colors on the insides of people's souls from the first glance, but plenty of people are gonna pulled into something that's mysterious about you no matter what. And," she leaned in close to Kara, stepped up on her tiptoes to place her mouth near Kara's ear, and Kara automatically wrapped an arm around her to steady her, "You are magnetic."

Lena leaned back, looked at her so openly Kara knew she wasn't lying or flattering, and stepped to the cashier to order popcorn, refusing to elaborate.

 

Whatever Lena meant about magnetic, she wasn't kidding.

There were more people staring at her than ever. Here and there before this, they occasionally stared. When she rambled or dropped something or let something slip that gave her away as not quite normal. But she could even feel herself walking differently when she wore this. Dark jeans that clung to her hips and boots that sounded good against the floor. Shirts that showed off her shoulders and all her new colors dark, because even if people were staring, something in her liked it.

It felt like she'd unlocked a whole new side of herself. There was something new going on. Something she'd only begun to explore. Something that made her think of Winn's speech at the robot party about not having to choose. Something she liked in the wonder in that freshman's eyes when she picked up their fallen book for them. There was a liberty to choose whatever way she wanted to act when she looked like she hadn't ever let anyone else choose anything for her before. She liked surprising people with it.

She didn't feel… obligated. Not even to feel grief. That was her choice.

And it was like. Like she wasn't staring at that same lost little girl in the mirror anymore. She'd left the sniffling side of Kara Danvers behind.

It didn't mean she'd left herself behind. Just the part of herself she wanted to be done with. She'd always know where to find it if she wanted it back.

Winn caught her in the hallway of the science building, headed to see Lena in her labs--Lena had said something about a portable red sun lamp--and did a double take. His hair was blue now, the mohawk gone and his scalp nearly buzzed, but the half-inch of hair that remained was a deep electric blue, and Kara grinned at it.

"Damn, girl," Winn said, circling her, and she stood still for him, trying not to preen under his inspection in the quiet hallway. Funny, though she cared about Winn's opinion, she had a feeling that she wouldn’t care if he didn't like her new look. He stood in front of her once more, his face knowing. "Lena hook you up with a new do?" Kara nodded, her face half a smile. Also funny. Words weren't nearly as necessary anymore. Not because she was afraid they'd ruin the image. She just didn't feel the need to explain herself the same way. "Lookin' tight as hell," Winn promised. "Does it feel good to see someone new in the mirror?"

Kara frowned as he hit the nail on the head in one try. "Yeah," she admitted. "How'd you know?"

"You heard me at that party, right? Why do you think my hair's a different style and color every other week? I don't want to not see just my fuck-ass crazy dad, I don't want to see that little boy my parents left behind, either. I didn't want to be lost anymore. And I'm not saying I'm not lost, but at least now less people look at me like I'm lost. And when I do look like I'm lost, the people who aren't gonna judge me come help. It's sort of a…" Winn paused thoughtfully. "Maybe like a barrier that only the worthy can climb over easily. I only want to be friends with people who aren't scared off by my appearance. Those who still take the time to get to know me."

Click. Winn had a habit for pushing the pieces of her heart back into place. Even more funny, she hadn't thought about her broken heart nearly as much the past few days. Still.

"Thanks for always sharing," Kara murmured, pulling him into a hug that he accepted happily. Winn gave great hugs. "You've really, really helped me. Like, more than you know."

Winn smiled, brilliant, when she released him. "The wheel spins on," he said. "Someone helped me too. You'll help others. Don't worry about it. I'm happy to help."

Kara paced into Lena's corner of the lab classroom, still idly thinking, and looked up at the sound of Lena's voice. "Huh?"

Lena grinned. "I said, hey beautiful." Kara smiled, automatic, warm at Lena's presence. "You know," Lena murmured, reaching up to run her thumb along the edge of Kara's lower lip as she approached, "No matter what we put you in, I don't think we could ever change that smile." She paused, something sparkling in her eyes as Kara bit her lip over a smile. "Good," she said definitively. "I want to keep seeing that smile."

There was something different in the air, something that hung over them, something that Kara felt like she could reach out and touch. Something that whispered we need to talk. But like, in a good way.

"Thanks," Kara murmured, and Lena winked, backing away. "You said you had something for me?"

"Yeah," Lena said, reaching over to pick something up. It was a thick silver ring. "I want you to try this on. Jack got my wheels spinning last month with his comment about a wedding ring."

"So you made me one?" Kara asked, raising an eyebrow. "I think you'd need to ask me to marry you first."

Lena rolled her eyes. "Smartass. No." She turned the ring over in nimble fingers, held it up for Kara's inspection. "There's a tiny switch on the inside, so when you twist it on your finger it'll go on or off. There's a different kind of miniature red sun lamp in there. Took some finagling, but I think it'll let you turn your powers on and off for the most part. If you want it, that is."

Kara took it from Lena's hand gently, turning it around and around in her fingers, examining every side. It was beautifully made. There were still some little marks from where she had used what must have been the metal equivalent of a sander. She eyed it warily. "What's it made of?"

"What's essentially a little red sun lamp on the inside, a steel alloy on the outside. I was going to make it heavier but this way, if you wore it, when you turned it on it'd be like the weight of a normal ring for you."

Kara slipped it on her right ring finger. She could barely feel it was there. "Which way do I turn it?"

"Clockwise. Here," Lena said softly, and reached for Kara's hand. She twisted the ring, and Kara felt a gentle hum start up in the ring, so slight it was forgotten in a moment. Her hand felt a little heavier for her arm to hold up, then she dropped it to the side, letting it fall heavily. The weakness spread through her body slowly, until in ten seconds, she stood there, a little short of breath, watching Lena watch her reaction nervously. "How do you feel?" Lena asked.

"Weak," Kara answered, surprise in her voice.

Lena frowned. "Weak like when you're under the lamp or weak like weak?"

"The second one," Kara muttered, holding the ring up to her face and squinting at it. "Were you always breathing so quietly? Last time I could hear you breathe if I concentrated."

Lena sighed. "I made it too strong. Give it back, I'll fix it."

"No," Kara said thoughtfully. "I want to have some fun with this."

"Kara." Her voice was stern. "Absolutely not."

Kara looked at her, surprise seeping in slowly. "I just want to run a few laps. See what it's like to feel out of breath."

"Then you can do that when I've calibrated it properly," Lena said in that same firm tone. "It'll feel just the same then but without the pain. You're not going to run while you're feeling weak."

Kara frowned. "But--" Lena reached out, too quickly for Kara to follow without superspeed while she was distracted, and yanked it off her finger abruptly. "Hey!" Kara protested, but Lena closed her fingers over it firmly.

"I will give this back to you once I am sure it is safe. Thank you for being honest with me, that was important."

Scientist Lena was here. Scientist Lena who was concerned about her safety and whether or not her inventions worked. Scientist Lena didn't allow her self-destructive urges the way Regular Lena did and Kara didn't appreciate the change right now. Kara made a face, but Scientist Lena didn't budge. In fact, her fingers curled tighter around Kara's ring.

"Give it back," Kara said evenly, straightening her shoulders with or without her powers.

Something flickered in Lena's eyes. "No," she said calmly. "I know you, I know you would never hurt anyone, and I know because you're impenetrable you've never considered yourself something that could be hurt, but now because you can, I need you to expand your thinking of No Nocere to yourself as well. You won't hurt yourself. Not on my watch. So, no."

"Yes."

Lena took a step back at her tone, and Kara followed her, automatically. She realized how it looked all at once. Predatory. Menacing. Terrifying, to the weak human on the other side of her glare. Lena's fingers holding the ring twitched, the gentle hum vanished, and Kara blinked.

"Shit," she mumbled, reeling backwards. "Shit shit shit, I did not--I'm so--shit, shit, I'm sorry, Lena, I'm sorry." Kara held up her hands like people did when they were trying not to scare anyone, but they wouldn't stay there. They raked through her hair, pulling it back from her face angrily. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that was something else that wasn't okay, I'm sorry, I'd never hurt you I--" Kara gasped, tears running down her face now. "What's going on with me?" She whispered, and Lena watched her silently, at a loss for words.

Then Lena gasped in realization. "Oh my god," she whispered, holding up the ring. "Oh my god, it was me."

"What?"

"The ring," Lena breathed, setting it on her lab table and backing away. "Alex was telling me about a substance that would weaken you and I thought it would fit better, I made it with a few alternatives that should render it harmless to you, but they didn't, oh my god, it was me, it was me--"

Lena was panicking. Kara was still panicking. Lena picked up a hammer from her set and raised it above her head, aimed for the ring, and Kara's brain kickstarted back into gear. "No!" She zoomed over and was holding Lena ten feet away from the ring, the hammer clattering harmlessly to the ground, the pair of them shaking. "You've contained whatever it was," Kara whispered. "If you break the container, I'll be like that all the time."

 

They called Alex. Lena was still in tears, Kara still panicky.

Alex was at the lab in thirty minutes flat, despite living forty-five minutes away. Her hair still messed up from her motorcycle helmet, her leather jacket still cool from the wind, her eyes full of worry and worry only. The pair of them were sitting on the floor against the wall, ten feet away from the ring, Kara watching it warily while her leg tapped relentlessly on the floor, Lena shaking head to toe.

"Hey, hey, you're okay, you're okay," Alex breathed, arms wrapping around her sister as Kara gasped into her shoulder. "Breathe, breathe, one, two, in, out, breathe. You with me?"

"Yeah," Kara said, and after another shaking moment, let her go.

"Lena, c'mere." Alex pulled her to her feet and into a hug. Lena looked absolutely shocked for a minute before bursting into fresh tears. Alex glanced grimly at Kara, who shrugged, still shaken. "Okay, okay, breathe, breathe girl, breathe." Lena took in several gasping, shuddering breaths, and Alex let her go. "Okay, tell me what happened."

Kara got the story out slowly, more calm with her sister here. Alex asked Lena several clinical questions after that, looking troubled, and then understanding dawned on her face. "You made red kryptonite by mistake," she breathed, and Kara's blood ran cold.

"W-what?" Lena hiccupped.

Alex scooped up the ring, having already examined it, and pulled a dark plastic evidence bag from her back pocket, dropping the ring into it. "I'll dispose of it," she said firmly. "You," she said, swiveling to face Lena, whose entire face widened in fear as Alex looked at her firmly, "Do not play around with kryptonite ever again, you got it?" Lena nodded frantically. "I understand what you were trying to do and where you went wrong, and I know exactly why you thought what you did, and if your intentions were one iota less pure and your immediate reaction one whit less successful, you'd be in a federal lockup so secret not even your rich family could get you out, you hear me?" Lena paled further and nodded again. Alex's voice softened. "We don't play around with kryptonite," she said quietly. She glanced at Kara. "You saw what she did to someone she loved after ten seconds exposure to it. Imagine if that got to Superman. Imagine if that ring stayed on Kara's finger. Imagine if you had been one second slower to turn the ring off."

Lena's face was entirely drained of blood. "I'd be dead, and Kara forced to live with that," she mumbled, looking absolutely wrecked.

"I wouldn't go that far," Alex said, "But in a few days? Maybe, yeah. And that'd be just the beginning. There are things we don't know enough about to be safe around, and things we don't attempt to control. Kryptonite in all its forms is one of them, you hear me?" Lena nodded again, looking dead on the inside. "You messed up, kiddo," Alex said softly. "It happens to the best of us. You followed almost all the rules and that's what kept you alive. But had you followed all the rules--say, talking to me about it the whole way through--we wouldn't be here at all."

"I'm--I'm so sorry," Lena whispered, and Kara's heart tugged in sympathy. "I won't--I won't ever do this again, not anything like it, I promise."

"I know," Alex said. She hesitated, standing. "Don't tell anyone, not anyone, what happened here today," she said. "Not even Lucy. No one. Got it?" They both nodded. "You gonna be alright?" she asked Lena, and Lena looked up at her, nodded dimly. "Okay. Kara, can I talk to you outside?" Kara followed her numbly out. "You okay?" Alex asked, shutting them into the empty hallway. "Talk to me."

"Alex, it was so awful," she gasped, hands on her forehead. "It was like every awful thing I could think of, all coming to the surface, and I couldn't control it. I couldn't control the instincts, the impulses. I was so close to hurting her just to get what I wanted, Alex I couldn't, I can't--"

Kara cut herself off, taking deep shuddering breaths, and Alex pulled her into another hug until she'd calmed down. "You are more than the sum of your worst, alright?" Alex said firmly. "The same you've always been more than your tragedies. You're more than your worst. Got it?"

Kara nodded, taking in the words. And despite the awfulness of the moment, another piece of her heart clicked home. "Is it awful that I'm almost glad it happened?" she asked in a whisper, and Alex tilted her head in question. "Alex, I'd never felt like a worse person than I did in there," she said. "It only lasted a second, but I realized that I'd never been there. That might be a side of my character, but all the worrying I'd done about how if I was a bad person--I don't need to worry. I know what the worst of me looks like now. I know how to avoid it."

Alex nodded slowly. "I get it," she said, looking like she knew more about having her mind infected than Kara knew about. "I get the revelations that come with it and the clean but scared you feel afterwards. So, let's just, let's take the good, and let's move on, okay?"

"Okay."

"And by the way," Alex said, grinning as she looked Kara up and down, "I like the look."

Kara suddenly remembered the dark vibes she was sending out with her outfit, and shuffled self-consciously. Of all the people who would look at her, it was Alex's eye she cared about the most. "You do?" she asked. "I wasn't sure, it stands out too much--"

Alex waved a hand. "Aliens are out there. Just don't, you know, reveal your powers, just keep acting like a human. Humans go through angsty phases, and whether this a fully gone-punk style for you now, or just an angsty phase, it is very human. You've been cooped up for far too long, Kara," she said, her eyes full of compassion and a little bit of regret. "Maybe all that's exploding right now. I'm no expert. But I think that if you get tired of all these human looks, someday, when its safe, I'd like for you to find a middle ground to express yourself on the outside. One that feels like all the way you. Like you're honoring all your sides--Kryptonian too." Alex sighed, checked her watch, and put a hand on Kara's shoulder, squeezing. "We'll figure it out together if you want to take that step someday. But for now, just don't stop helping little old ladies across the street no matter what you wear, okay?"

Kara took a deep breath, letting some anxieties. "Okay."

 

Lena didn't talk to her for a week.

Kara kept looking for her, but their paths didn't cross much normally anyway. She wasn't in their favorite coffee shop the day after, and when Kara went down the next day when she usually did to Lena's lab, it was vacant, no lights on and the temperature cold, her workspace the same mess it was after the red Kryptonite incident. Lucy pulled Kara to a fancy army gala as her plus one on Sunday, as they'd had planned for months, four days after the incident, and shopping and prepping for it took up the whole weekend. Monday was so swamped with studying for the finals next week she'd never gotten to do, she forgot to charge her phone, and by Tuesday things had barely calmed down. She crashed into bed exhausted and looked at her text chain with Lena before falling asleep; still no replies.

Kara sighed and resolved to track her down tomorrow whatever it took.

 

"Lena!"

The other side of the door remained silent. Kara sighed and glared through the door; Lena was there, noise cancelling headphones on as she laid on her bed, a pillow over her face and her foot jiggling restlessly. Kara pulled out her phone and shot off a message to Lena. Please.

Lena's groan reached Kara's ears. Kara took another glance inside and saw she hadn't moved. Lena. Please. Lena through the door glanced at her phone and moaned quietly, then slammed it facedown on the bed again. Lena, you know I'm outside and I WILL break in. I'm not giving up on you.

Lena glanced at her phone again and chucked it viciously across the room, followed shortly by the pillow. That did it.

Kara took off in a burst of superspeed and zoomed in through her window, catching her phone before it shattered against the wall. "You can break these things, you know," she said, holding it up in her hand.

Lena shot upright, headphones falling away, cursing violently in surprise. She glared at Kara, once, then leapt off the bed, snatched her phone from Kara's hand, warm fingers brushing against palm for just a moment, and yanked the door open wordlessly.

"I'm not leaving, and I don't care how many rules it breaks," Kara said. "So you can close the door and talk to me when you're ready, or just stand there for forever."

"Please leave, Kara."

"No, thank you," Kara said politely, and smirked at Lena, knowing the dark makeup she had done herself made it a full Lena-level smirk. Something in her made her itching to get under Lena's skin. She knew it was the way, somehow, to get Lena so frustrated she'd talk. Then they could work all this out. Kara sauntered deliberately to Lena's bed, sat down, patted the bed next to her. Lena tightened her jaw and stared straight ahead, ignoring her. Her hand clenched on the doorknob. "Do you mind if I borrow these?" Kara asked, holding up her headphones. Lena ignored her. "By American contract law, that's a yes," Kara said. "Thanks."

Lena opened her mouth like she wanted to contradict Kara and point out that that very much was not American contract law, but then she snapped it shut. Kara shrugged and put the headphones on, turning off the noise cancelling part of them. Lena's music flowed over her ears for an eighth of a second, then cut off abruptly before she could begin to identify it. Kara glanced up in annoyance before tempering her expression. Lena had turned off whatever she was listening to.

"Gosh," she said, pulling the headphones around her neck. "Was it that embarrassing?" Lena continued to stand sentry by the door, but Kara could tell she wouldn’t leave. Not now. She was too much of a masochist. Kara leaned forward conspiratorially. "Was it a prerecorded conversation we had but you cut out your own voice just so you could listen to mine?" Lena's mouth twisted. "Yoga counting?" Kara guessed again. "No, don't tell me, angsty rockabilly stuff. Irish folk music. Taylor Swift." Lena's mouth twisted tighter, but Kara could tell she was trying not to laugh now, even if it was in that manic way people did when they were too close to tears. "Disney soundtracks," Kara guessed once more.

"Go, Kara."

Kara considered, then got off the bed, and stood directly in Lena's space. "You don't get to cut us off because you made a mistake," she told Lena. "If you did, we wouldn't be anywhere. We'd be done after the second time I kissed you. And the third. And a hundred other things I've done. You don't get to be forgiving and then not allow yourself to be forgiven." Kara ducked to meet her eyes. "You told me that I needed to expand my thinking of No Nocere to include myself. That I wasn't allowed to hurt myself on your watch. Now I'm telling you the same. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, but I'm here now."

Lena exhaled shakily, bowing her head slowly. She unclenched her fist on the doorknob, then let it drift shut. She drifted towards Kara at a glacial pace, and finally knocked her forehead into Kara's shoulder with a shaky exhale and a slump. "Where do you get off," she mumbled into Kara's collarbone, and Kara let an arm drift around her hesitantly, then more sure when Lena didn't shake her off, "Ditching me for a week then telling me to be good to myself?"

"Despite the fact that I texted you about eight hundred times, I deserve that," Kara said evenly. "With all the times you've been there for me, I should have put you first. The way you did me."

"I know you had the army thing and the homework thing if you don't want to fail--"

"I could have made time. I thought you needed space," Kara cut her off. "I was wrong and should have realized sooner. And I'm still sorry."

Lena groaned into her collarbone. "That fuckup, it messed me up bad Kara. I'm so sorry I did that to you. I can't ever make that up to you."

"Hey," Kara murmured into her hair, the things she'd been mulling over for the past week on a backburner coming out of her mouth now. "You tried to do a good thing for me and you had every reason to trust yourself. You know where you went wrong and you're never gonna make that mistake or anything like it ever again. You reacted so quickly and so perfectly it stopped any damages. You need to keep trusting yourself, and you need to forgive yourself, you hear me?"

"I guess so," Lena muttered.

"You guess? You need me to say it again?"

There was a pause. "That actually might help."

Kara smiled and wrapped her up tight. "You've brought so much good into my life, Lena Luthor. I will say it as many times as you need."

 

Healing came in fits and starts. Kara stood beside Lena in the lab that time as she talked through her idea again to Alex, and Alex nodded at the idea of the miniature red sun in the ring. "Good for you," Alex said. "Getting back on the horse."

Lena blushed.

Kara kissed her on the cheek when it was finished not quite a week later, properly this time, making Lena turn red to the roots of her hair, the adorable look clashing wonderfully with her badass vibe. "Damn, Luthor," Jack said, laughing. "I thought you were supposed to be the one that was hard to get." Lena didn't even have a retort.

"I know you don't see it," Lena said quietly that evening in her room as Kara played with her new ring excitedly instead of studying for the finals starting tomorrow, "And I know you don't think this is a reciprocal friendship, but Kara," Kara looked up, scooted closer immediately at the alarmingly fragile look on her face, "You've brought so much to my life too," she whispered. "You just didn't need to introduce other people and make things in a lab for me. You make me so much happier."

Kara twisted her ring, felt the slow dampening of her powers, smiled at Lena as Lena gave a watery chuckle at the action. Then Kara tackled her. Lena's gasp was lost as Kara pushed her down on the bed, hugging her tight, and Lena wrapped her arms around her in return, sinking under Kara's weight.

"That makes me very, very happy," Kara said in her ear. "Because even your supposed screwups teach me something I need to know, and I'm nothing but grateful for you." Lena pressed her face into Kara's neck, breathing deeply. Kara let herself soak in the moment for several long minutes before groaning. "I don’t understand how you spent the last week building this," she commented. "Not that I'm not like super grateful and all, but that was so irresponsible of you. Finals."

Lena laughed, the rumble shaking Kara. "Mine are either practical finals that this helped me study for, or ones where I don't have a final."

Kara recoiled, scrambling off her. Lena sat up, looking amused at her visceral reaction. "You what?" Kara yelled. "How many classes don't have finals??"

"Like, three of the five. They were all-semester projects that Jack and Sam and I finished early."

"You finished early?" Kara yelped. "You got me high and drunk and took me to McDick's and you still finished EARLY?"

"Darling, you had one drink, that was not drunk."

"Do not avoid this!" Kara shouted, genuinely a little mad in her bitterness. "I have to write two different long essays, go in a take a long ass test for three different gen eds, and you BASICALLY DON'T HAVE ANY!" Lena was laughing for real now. "I'm trying to be mad at you! Stop laughing at me!"

Lena bit her lip contritely, laughter still dancing in her eyes. "I'm sorry. You're just so cute when you're mercurial."

"Don't use words I taught you when you don't have finals on them!"

Lena laughed again, and Kara sighed, slumping and exhausted in her anger. "I'm sorry," Lena said again, reaching forward to take her hands. "Can I help you study? I don't really have anything to do."

"You didn’t have to add in that last sentence," Kara told her grumpily, and Lena bit her lip to stop herself from laughing. "Isn't that kind of not our MO though? Aren't we punk and stuff?"

"We quite obviously make our own rules, that's what punks do, Kara," Lena told her, and Kara smiled dopily, flash of anger gone. "And working hard on things you care about is punk, for your information."

"You're sure?" she asked. "I don't want you to waste your time on my finals."

Lena smiled, slow and dangerous. "I'm sure like the first time you were sure."

 

Kara aced her finals.

 

"I'm so proud of you," Lena said, Kara lifting her into the air by an inch or two as she hugged her.

"Thanks for helping me study," Kara said, twining their hands as she let her go, opening the door to their favorite coffee shop.

"Any time. I'm honestly impressed beyond belief you bother with earth history, it's all boring to me and I'm from earth."

Kara shrugged. "It's all in how it's being taught. As long as it's not European," she added, crinkling her nose. "That shit sucks ass." Lena laughed. "Hey," Kara added, "I wanted to talk to you about something." Lena's heart skipped a beat in anticipation, its thud thud loud in Kara's ears, and Kara smirked at her. "Yeah," Kara said. "That something. Hey, can I get--" Kara placed their orders with the cashier, Lena completely out of it, and honestly Kara had no idea how she was holding it together. Kara got their drinks and they sat down in their favorite secluded booth. Kara switched her ring on, just in case.

"You--" Lena's voice broke, and Kara cracked a smile. "You wanted to talk to me about something?"

"Yeah," Kara said, dancing their drinks away from them and sliding closer to Lena, turning her body to face her fully. Lena. Who had stuck by her side through it all. Who had always understood her. No matter what. Who had been the best friend she could ask for and always made her feel loved, feel valued, feel butterflies. There was no way she was letting a break go by without cementing this. She was ready now.

"I'm tired of waiting to feel ready to be with you," Kara said simply. "Tired of trying to be better just for the sake of being with you. I think I'll always be getting better, you will too. And you've loved me through the changes I've made so far, something tells me you can love me through any and all changes I continue to make. You want me as I am. I've always wanted you as you are. I realized I don't have to choose between working on me and loving you. I'm not gonna waste that anymore." Lena was so close their breaths were mingling, noses nearly touching, and Lena nodded almost frantically, eyes wide and hopeful, so hopeful. Kara smiled. "So I wanna be with you now, because I always have."

Lena was kissing her. It was an explosion of feeling after so long of a buildup. It was another five pieces of her heart clicking home, and maybe her heart was mostly fixed now, maybe it never would be, maybe she'd always see the cracks in it, maybe that didn't matter right now. What mattered was Lena's weight pressing into her, the love she poured into kissing Kara like she wasn't trying to set her on fire but soothe the one in her soul. What mattered wasn't anything but this.

 

"I don't wanna," Lena was saying, pouting adorably, and Kara laughed. "Can you please just use your superpowers and do it for me?"

Kara grinned, and in a flash of superspeed, packed up Lena's room in ten seconds. "Like that, you mean?" she asked.

Lena's eyes were wide with wonder and appreciation. "That was awesome," she breathed. "Thank you so much."

"Hey, what's the point of having a superpowered girlfriend if you don't use her?"

"Mmm, I think the point is loving your girlfriend whether she's got superpowers or not. Speaking of which," Lena hopped up to sit on her now-empty desk, legs swinging, and motioned Kara over with a crook of her finger. Kara rolled her eyes at the easy way Lena had her wrapped around her pinky but moved to stand between Lena's knees anyway, smiling as Lena wrapped her legs around Kara's hips. "How am I supposed to survive a month without you?"

Kara grinned. "Gosh, it's a forty-five minute drive as you stay here to do an independent research unit, you're absolutely coming to my house for the holiday of your choosing, and, oh yeah, I can fly, Lena."

Lena didn't bother to look repentant at the reminder. "Still," she said petulantly. "You're not on campus."

"Lena," Kara said, smiling gently. "I am not going to magically fall out of love with you over winter break. Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

"And distance makes the body grow colder," Lena shot back.

"Babe," Kara said, smirking, "I've always run hot."

Lena blushed for just a moment before raising an eyebrow, looking Kara up and down shamelessly. Kara had started wearing slightly more tame outfits again, finding that mix in the middle that Alex talked about. Dark colored sweaters accompanied dark jeans and boots these days, a tank top usually hiding just out of sight. Her makeup wasn't quite as dark as Lena's preferred shades, but she was still closer to a punk badass kind of look than Lucy's 'library intern' dub. She liked it. She could change it all any day she liked. And the best part about wearing her glasses (she and Alex had agreed it was best to keep them on most of the time, for identity security purposes) now?

When Lena took them off.

Lena's fingers slipped against her temple, gentle and deliberate. Lena bit her lip, considering Kara. She tilted her head, eyes making one last trip down Kara's body. "Prove it," she whispered.

Kara grinned.

 

 

Time passed in no hurry over the next several years.

Every day was a new series of adventures, and while they were in college, Kara and Lena and gang enjoyed them all.

After college Kara chased Lena to Metropolis, both of their looks changing quietly into something more professionally acceptable during the workweek, and Kara hoping to find a closeness to her cousin in the Eastern city, which worked out marginally. She learned from him piece by piece, quietly assisting him on a few Super missions that Lena geeked out about or worried over depending on the mission. Jack was with them too, and he and Lena spent an absurd amount of time working out of a garage, trying to cure cancer, a cliché sort of science-save-the-world thing that Kara never got tired of. Lena would occasionally stumble back into their shared apartment in the early morning, grinning blearily as she woke Kara up, Kara trying hard not to disapprove as Lena worked herself to the bone, making them breakfast and rubbing the kinks out of Lena's shoulders.

Winn visited a few times, bouncing between tech jobs and wondering aloud if he should let his hair be a more natural color as he tried to go for more reputable jobs. He and Jack ganged up to tease Kara and Lena for making out too often in the lab, and then Winn got super drunk one night, slept with Jack, and the pair of them began a week-long fling so intense it left Lena with the lab all to herself, something she teased Jack endlessly for. Kara bounced between odd jobs, trying to find her thing. But despite a hundred job shadows courtesy of Lois Lane's contacts and a regular temp job that let her try out a lot of office cultures, she couldn't quite find it. Something in the back of her head constantly whispered, as she saw Cat Grant on TV again and again, that was someone she would learn a lot working for. Because maybe if this whole permanent executive assistant thing didn't work out, maybe Cat Grant could tell her what to do.

The other itch was on the Super side of things. Kara had stopped using her powers as much, working on controlling them without the help of Lena's ring, though they put the red sun lamp over the bed to use quite often. Metropolis didn't need another hero, though. The only other city that might was… National City. Kara hesitated long and hard over moving back, but she missed her sister too. Lena was incredibly encouraging while also being the opposite of conducive to her leaving. Waking up in the morning to Lena's fingers tracing her back, talking about the future and science and lost planets and marriage in the dead of night, heading out on the town several times a month in their more badass looks and curling at home in softer clothing, it was perfect.

Then Lena's older brother flew off the handle. It was chaos swirling and Lena apologizing endlessly, terrified of something inside her that she wouldn’t be able to control as he attacked Kara's cousin of all people. Kara talked her through it all the way Lena had talked her through being terrified of herself once, and in less than a week Kara knew she didn't need to be worried about Lena. But she didn't see Lena nearly as much anymore either. Lena stepped into Luthor Corp increasingly, and Jack lamented to Kara that they would likely not finish their work with her having to take over eventually as Lex was sure to be caught and convicted soon. Lena was taking over the family business despite how much they'd put her through. And after a dozen late nights in a row of crying in each other's arms and talking endlessly, Kara made plans to leave for National City.

They made no promises to wait for each other. But Lena smiled sadly with a nod that said it all when Kara confessed she didn't see herself moving on.

Time passed. Kara successfully landed a position as Cat Grant's executive assistant a few months after moving back. She moved into Alex's old apartment as the lease was up, and the Super itch kept itching. Alex encouraged her to wait for reasons she wouldn't explain but promised were valid, driving a small rift between them for a time. Kara soon became too busy to text Lena obsessively as she used to, and their three-times-a-day phone calls were reduced to two, and then one short one, and then rarely, as Lena took over LuthorCorp in full and Kara's job began demanding her time more and more. Winn moved to National City too, letting his hair go brown again to fit in as he took a job for CatCo, fixing their servers and every other tech thing imaginable.

Alex's plane nearly went down; Kara saved it and came out as Supergirl. Lena texted, a I'm so proud of you, please be careful and call me when you can, I want to hear everything that Kara responded to with a heart. A year of increasingly insane adventures went by as she joined Alex in the field, the pair of them growing closer and stronger, learned more about her own past, and faced threats. It wasn’t until Supergirl was going strong and Kara almost had her adult life together that Lena finally texted something that made her heart skip a beat like it used to.

Hey there, Supergirl. Think you can survive one more week without me? I think I and the company are in need of a change in scenery.

Kara: !!!!!

Kara: EXPLAIN, PLEASE

Lena: I think… I think we'll head to National City.