It’s half Jess’s fault, really. In fact, it might be the first time that Jess was responsible for anything other than being extremely prompt and a shrewd discerner of how fresh a coffee shop pastry is. It starts like this: Kara becomes such a frequent patronizer of Lena’s waiting room that she and Jess strike up a rapport. First, there’s pleasantries. Then, Kara starts bringing an extra coffee or falafel with her and Lena’s shared lunches. Then, and this is Kara’s favorite part, they start talking. Real-talking, like friends in movies do, which is Kara’s gauge for knowing if things are progressing well in a relationship.
Jess will turn the microphone piece of her headset up and becon Kara over, and sometimes if it’s quiet she’ll kick off her shoes and crunch the carpet between her pantyhose-clad toes while they talk. This becomes a favored precursor to her lunches and coffees with Lena, one that even Lena herself notices and comments on when she comes to let Kara know she’s off her conference call.
“Hello you two,” She’ll say, sometimes sorting through a stack of mail, sometimes removing a pair of heels herself. Sometimes holding her cell phone away from her mouth and covering it with her hand while somebody barks Chinese on the other end. “Any good gossip today?”
There’s always good gossip, Kara learns. Kara also learns that Jess is the kind of woman that she occasionally wishes she herself could be--bold, moving constantly in a pack of other women, intimately familiar with brunch. She kicks off her sensible black pumps from the heel and drinks green juices and has a degree from Oberlin. All of these things separately would mean nothing but, as Kara has learned from her brief and confusing time on earth, when you put things like that all together in one person it does mean something. It means that Jess is Jess and it means, for reasons Kara can’t articulate, that Jess is good at giving advice about boys.
Dating doesn’t really come up until it does. “Do you have a boyfriend?” She asks one morning, grey sky outside and half drunk coffee between them on her desk. Lena’s conference call is running over by multitudes. Kara, who had become so ravenous that she had to break into her burger before Lena was ready, shakes her head. “Girlfriend?” Kara has managed to pummel another mouthful of burger as well as part of a side salad that she’s disappointed that Lena won’t get to see her eat, considering it she’d gotten it to impress her. Green spinach leaves are sticking out the side of her mouth. She shakes her head again. “ Really?”
“Yeah.” Kara pauses to finish chewing. “Wait, is that weird?”
“Only because you’re such a hottie.” Jess shrugs. “You’re not on the market?”
“I am.” She says with a hint of defensiveness in her voice. She purses her lips. “At least I think I am. What ‘market’?”
“Are you on Tinder? Bumble?”
“Am I on…” Kara’s voice trails off and she hastily takes another outsized bite of burger to give herself more time to think. Definitely people had said those words around her, Alex and maybe Winn. When Kara heard things she didn’t understand she usually just waited for them to become relevant in her life or not. She guesses that this is the moment Bumble becomes relevant. “No.”
“Are you and Lena dating?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Kara’s face heats for reasons she doesn’t quite understand. She tries to connect all of these data points, seemingly unrelated, but it’s so much easier with calculus than with people. Jess seems to be doing a calculus of her own, sipping on coffee and looking at Kara thoughtfully.
“I think it’s great.” She says finally. “To just work on yourself and not date anybody.”
“But I think I do want to date people.” Kara insists. She’d never considered that there was anything abnormal about the thing she was doing. After Mon El she’d just--naturally slipped into the flow of her disinterest. She supposed she wanted to date boys but it was easier to just ignore them than not. And, she had Lena, who occupied most of her time and the space in her brain. “Should I be--”
“I just think it’s a shame. You’re so cute and funny, you should have a man who appreciates you.”
“I should.” Kara parrots, feeling confident. Jess smiles.
She walks out of the office that day with two online dating profiles. Kara doesn’t tell Lena during their lunch as the thought of it feels, somehow, wrong to her. She doesn’t want Lena to feel like Kara is going to be splitting her time, because she would never be. Maybe after she has a few dates, she’ll tell Lena. Maybe she’ll never tell Lena.
That’s half how it starts, with Jess, and with Kara’s Bumble profile. The other half is admittedly, mostly about Lena’s hubris.
“It’s going to revolutionize the hangover industry.” Kara smiles encouragingly, her body turned on the couch and leaned forward toward Lena. Her chest is swelled with a mix of pride and raw affection that she’s come to associate with Lena sharing her work, however much or little Kara understands what a “hangover industry” is. She’d seen Lena’s work, and it was impressive. “Imagine after a night of hard drinking you don’t have to wake up and wonder which of your ex’s you texted last night.”
“How many times as this happened to you?” Lena giggles and slaps Kara’s shoulder with her palm. The bridge of her nose is pink, so Kara knows she’s a little tipsy.
“Way too many. Trust me, people are going to go nuts for this.”
“I believe it.” Kara says, soft and loving. She reaches across the couch to place her hand over Lena’s wrist, stroking the skin there with her thumb, and watches with curiosity as her tipsy flush spreads from the bridge of her nose to her cheeks. “I’m so proud of you.”
Forbes describes the prototype for Lena’s device thusly: a device that stops you from doing the things you wish you hadn’t done while you were drinking. They describe Lena thusly: a Millenial Wunderkind. On the article, which Kara has tacked up at her desk, they have a glossy picture of Lena in the lab, observing the work of a dozen scientists. They also have a picture of the device, a small, teal blue square, cupped reverently in the palms of a pair of nitrile gloved hands. When people pass and ask Kara about it, she says, voice heavy with pride: “It’s going to revolutionize the hangover industry.”
The profiles that Jess makes for her must be pretty good, because Kara begins getting messages almost immediately. Admittedly, most of them are disgusting. She learns to stop opening picture messages over lunch, and then to stop opening them at all. Those that aren’t disgusting, that get vetted by her, double vetted by Alex, and triple vetted by Jess, she sets up dates with.
“Just don’t tell Lena.” She tells Jess, in a hush-hush way. Jess pauses with a spoonful of yoghurt in her mouth, eyebrows twitching with interest. Kara can see her doing that calculus again and feels self conscious under the heat of her stare.
“Okay.” Jess chirps, pulling the spoon from her mouth with a pop and tossing it down onto her desk. She changes the subject to something else, a new Thai place that’d opened around the corner. Kara knows that the exchange isn’t over, that Jess has just filed it away to some other part of her brain like a clue in a scavenger hunt. It makes her itch.
On Friday, his name is Dan. Kara knows because she’s written it on her wrist in Sharpie. She’d kept calling him Dave to Alex until they looked at his profile and saw that his name was actually Dan, but by then she’d already called him Dave so much and it was too late to break the habit. So she’d scribbled it small on her wrist and covered it with the cotton knit of a cardigan. Standing outside the bar, she pushes it up and checks once, anxiously, before pushing it back down and pinning the sleeve against her palm with her fingers.
Dan is nice. She’s pleased when she sits down to find that he has soft eyes, like in his profile. He’s an engineer and it’s all he talks about really, which Kara likes until it becomes clear that he’s not interested in hearing about her own science background. When she tries to engage with him about a theory he’s explaining to her he looks deflated. He asks her what she’d gone to school for and looks confused when she says journalism, but doesn’t ask a single follow up question.
And still, after the lukewarmness of it all, he has the audacity to try and kiss her as they exit the bar. Dan is not very much taller than her, but tall enough that she’s able to duck out of it with what she hopes is a modicum of grace.
Sober and confused, Kara wraps her arms around her body and begins the lonely walk back to her apartment. She wonders if people on earth find this worth it--pretending to be drunk, to let another person explain something to you you already know? Or to suffer through somebody’s clumsy attempts at intimacy in a futile attempt not to die alone. What does she need it for anyway, when she has Alex, and J’onn, and Lena? And Lena--
When she looks up, she realizes she’s walked to Lena’s apartment instead of her own. Kara blinks and glances around, as if she’s concerned that somebody has caught her in the act and will call her silly for it. Craning her head up, she tries to discern if Lena’s light is on, eyes climbing the identical box windows and counting the floors until she finds the right one. The light is on. Kara watches for a few seconds, transfixed, until she sees a silhouette pass through the yellow light. Her heart swells, fat with happiness. Just the fact that Lena is out in the world, going about her life, a passing shadow in the window of her apartment, feels like a miracle.
She buzzes the bell. “Hello?”
“Hey Lena, I know it’s late, but--”
The door clicks open shrilly before she can finish her sentence.
Kara knows that Lena wasn’t expecting her at all because she’s dressed in her comfiest of clothes: black leggings and a big cardigan, glasses, hair piled atop her head. She has a big mug of chamomile tea sitting on the coffee table when they spill into the living room, giggling. Kara eyes it.
“Sorry, I didn’t know you were getting ready for bed, I--”
Lena makes a raspberry noise and waves her off, gliding into the kitchen to set the kettle and get Kara her own mug. “I’m not even tired, honestly, I’m just trying this new thing called getting some actual sleep--have you heard of it?”
“I think my doctor’s mentioned it to me.”
“I’m actually glad you came by, Kara, because I wanted to ask you something--it’s a big favor, so feel free to say no.”
“I have a feeling I’m going to say yes.” Kara smiles reassuringly. In her mind, she tries to see if she can think of a single thing that Lena would ask that she would say no to. Nothing clicks. Not even, as her imagination spins out further, a scenario where Lena has her carry a nuclear bomb into the sun.
“...are you listening?”
“What? Yes, I’m sorry. Yes.”
“I was wondering if you would be willing to come by tomorrow and look at the prototype. I know it’s a lot of work, but you’re the smartest person I know.” The kettle whistles to life in the background and Lena turns to fuss with it. There’s some clanging, and she turns back around with a full steaming mug of tea in her hands. Kara shuffles into the kitchen to take it from her and then they’re standing there, linoleum floor anchoring them, Lena’s hand on one side of the mug and Kara’s on the other. It’s one of those moments that feels enormous in a way that Kara can’t identify because she’s still not sure how people on earth scale things. With her boyfriends, for instance, Kara had never much placed any significance on their interactions. Kisses, or flowers, or sweetness. Even when they did things like bring her overlarge flower bouquets or expensive dinners. But sometimes she sees Lena coming toward her from down the street, tossing her hair over her shoulder, and thinks: I am going to remember this for the rest of my life.
“Of course.” Kara replies. “Of course. Duh I’ll come see it.”
“What?” Lena blinks, looking faintly ashamed, and Kara realizes that she wasn’t listening either. “Who’s Dan?”
“Oh.” She can see where the sleeve of her cardigan had fallen away to expose the Sharpied writing on her wrist. Kara pulls away, taking the mug with her, laughing nervously. “It’s nobody. It’s my cousin. I wanted to call him because he owes me...money?”
Lena hums faintly. She trails behind Kara into the living room, nodding when she asks if she wants to watch a movie. But Kara can tell that she’s unsettled, and she feels unsettled too, for reasons she can’t quite put her finger on.
Kara loves Lena’s lab. She can tell that the other woman sees it as an extension of herself, as much a part of her body as her arm or her ear. It incubates her ideas like a womb. That morning, it’s empty. Lena places a restriction on her employees that they can’t start work before 7 AM and must leave the lab by 7 PM, but is not as kind to herself. They arrive at 6, Lena punches a code in beside a set of large metal doors, and they slide open with a clean woosh.
Ceiling lights flicker on, chasing them as they walk down the rows of benches dotting the large room. Kara has seen it alive with the buzz of two dozen scientists, flickering between lab benches, white boards, and microscopes, pipetting and scribbling notes. The quiet makes it feel sterile. They arrive at an imposing and plain looking filing cabinet, which Lena opens with a key kept on a lanyard around her neck. The metal doors swing forward to reveal a more sophisticated looking safe.
The process of getting the safe open, Kara thinks, is like a long and intricate secret handshake. Lena presses buttons and pulls levers until it clicks to life, the door swinging open to reveal the pearl inside. A small blue device, nestled in a bed of cloth. Lena snaps on a pair of nitrile gloves and picks it up gently from its place. “Here it is.”
“Where’s it meant to go?” Kara asks, diligently following Lena as she moves to a bench to place it on a stand.
“It attaches behind your ear with a little adhesive on the back.” Lena explains how it works, the chemical processes that allow the device to inhibit you from acting out on your impulses and desires when drunk. She has a way of talking that makes everything sound certain and air tight, and Kara can hear the months of research and development that had gone into making it.
“Can I hold it?” Kara reaches out, fingertips inches from the square, when Lena squeaks.
“Oh, please put some gloves on--we haven’t tested it on humans yet.”
“Lena, I’m an alien. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Brow still furrowed, Lena takes a half step back as if Kara is about to detonate a bomb in front of her. Kara picks up the device with her thumb and forefinger, holding it at first close to her face, and then crandling it in the palm of her hand. The adhesive sticks a little but she pulls it off easily. It’s a neat little device, compact and almost weightless. “See?” Kara says, smiling. “Nothing ha--”
That’s when she feels the pull, like somebody has pinched her skin and it’s coming away from her body. Blackness flashes in front of her eyes and a wooshing sound blasts by her ears, as if she’s going through a wind tunnel at high velocity. Kara is sure that she’s passing out, or being shot into space, but it only lasts a minute before she blinks back into the light.
The first thing she sees is the ceiling of the lab. It’s blurry but it comes back into focus bit by bit. There’s a ringing in her ears--high, sharp. And muffled voices, surely Lena yelling something. She feels her hand being grabbed and it doesn’t feel like Lena is the one doing it. The hand is too dry, and the other woman’s are always clammy when Kara holds them. She’s pulled upright to come face to face with a blonde blur. Had Lena called security? The DEO? Kara blinks several times to clear her vision, and--
“What am I doing here?” She asks nobody in particular. The figure in front of her looks exactly like her. As she blinks more, she sees that it actually, impossibly, is her. No glasses, curly hair, bangs, and an expression of faint bemusement. Behind her Lena stands, hands on her face with a kind of Home Alone expression, eyes darting between the two women and growing wider with every pass.
“Oh my God, Kara--”
“She’s alright.” The woman--the other Kara--says. Kara notes that her voice is a little rougher than hers, more gravelly. “Just a little dust-up, right Kar?”
“Uh.” Kara adjusts her glasses and lets the other Kara help her to her feet, legs wobbling. For a moment they stand there, focused on each other, hands clasped in between them. Kara is able to absorb her face and notes that there are differences. Small, but they’re there, like a copy of a painting done by somebody with less experience. The tilt of her mouth, the set of her nose. She stares at Kara piercingly, disconcertingly, and then she smiles.
“Yeah I’m--uh.” She unlocks her gaze from the other Kara’s face and looks at Lena, who still looks shell-shocked. The other Kara turns her head and looks back at Lena, stares for a moment, and then looks back to Kara. Her expression, to Kara’s horror, is one of open lust.
“Who is that?”
“That’s my friend Lena.” Kara tries to pull her hand out of her double’s grasp but other Kara tightens her grip. “Who are you?”
“I guess I’m you, sort of.” Other Kara leans in a little, conspiratory. “You mean you’re not hitting that?”
“No I’m not--” Kara manages to wrench her hand away, shaking it a little to release the soreness. So the double her also has super strength, good to know. Lena has, to Kara’s chagrin, disappeared. She looks around frantically but hears some rustling beneath the benches. When she looks down Lena is on the floor, on her hands and knees, apparently feeling around for the device.
Other Kara is looking too. Looking at one part of Lena in particular. “You’re sure you’re not--”
“Shhh!” Kara flaps her hand. “Are you okay, Lena?”
“Yes, I’m--aha!” Lena flips her body over and sits on the floor, triumphant. Her knees are slightly spread and she’s wearing a pencil skirt, and other Kara tilts her head down until Kara grabs her by the scruff of her shirt and pushes her back. “I’ve got it. We need to get this to the DEO immediately. Kara--”
“I’m on it.”
“What’s the DEO?” Other Kara asks mildly, watching as Kara and Lena scramble to get the device into a safety bag.
“You’re about to find out.”
“Okay I’m sorry...explain this to me again.” Alex stands at the front of the lab, holding her head in her hands. She’s got her white jacket on and behind her, through a window, other Kara sits on an exam table with a white hospital gown on. She’s kicking her legs back and forth and has the stick end of a lollipop coming out of her mouth. “Slowly, because it’s giving me a headache.”
“Well, there was a lab accident. I touched Lena’s doohickey and--”
“Another Kara came out. It was like watching a cell split. And she’s--”
Kara and Lena are sitting side by side in front of Alex, also wearing hospital gowns and fresh from their decontamination showers, feeling very much like cowed children.
“She’s different from me.”
“Yes.” Lena agrees. Her cheeks tint pink. “She’s not exactly bad, but--”
“I wouldn’t call her good.” Kara shrugs.
Other Kara had spent the entire car ride over insisting that they pull over at McDonalds to get milkshakes. At one point, the driver had to activate the child locks because she tried to get out of the moving car to pet a dog. Kara had sat in between Lena and other Kara in the backseat, not for any particular reason, but that hadn’t stopped other Kara from craning her body between them to chat endlessly with Lena. If Kara hadn’t pressed her body so close to other Kara--again, not for any particular reason--she’s certain that her double would have tried to reach out and touch Lena. Thinking about it, even then, makes Kara boil.
Alex drags her hands down her face and shakes her head. “Jesus Ch--okay. It’s fine. We’re fine. I sent the device to the lab for testing and Alt Kara over there got her blood work done. Are you sure she has super strength?”
Kara blinks, shrugs. “I definitely felt her grip.”
“Weird. We didn’t have any problem getting the bloodwork with a regular needle.”
So they run more tests. When they were children Alex would, on occasion, step in to fix Kara’s problems. They were both clever children but she’d always been tougher, more composed, and Kara has the same feeling of weight lifted now. She watches as Alex gives Alt-Kara a stress ball to squeeze as hard as she can, then brings her into the exercise room to have her go at the punching bag, measuring the impact of every hit, sensors attached to her arms and chest. They take vial after vial of red, viscous blood from her arm and Kara sees with surprise that Alt-Kara winces, and then complains that her arm is sore after.
“I want Lena to kiss it.” She says. “Or that nurse who was just in here.”
Later, in the lab, Alex pours over a clipboard of data. “Everything seems...human.” She shrugs, lifting a page and then letting it drift down. “Her muscle contractions are all consistent with our control tests. Her hits have the impact of an athletic human woman. We haven’t gotten the bloodwork back yet, but...I don’t know, Kara.”
“I swear I felt her--”
“I believe you.” Alex assures her. She rolls her stool forward to lay a hand on Kara’s knee. Kara, again, has a deep sense of being held by her older sister. “This is just what the science says. She’s like you, but human. And honestly, a little gay.”
Kara blanches. “Are you going to put that into the report?”
“Just an unscientific observation.”
Kara walks home that evening. Lena had left long before the tests started, needing to do damage control at LCorp, and judging by the several unread texts Kara had sent she’d been in it since she left the DEO. She considers swinging by the office with food, but thinks better of it. Something strange and solitary roils in her. When she gets home, she kicks off her shoes and settles on the couch, reaching for her phone and opening Bumble. She thinks of Alt-Kara leaning to try and peak between Lena’s legs. She thinks about Alex’s words: honestly, a little gay. The day lays in her like pebbles settling at the bottom of a lake, being lifted and dropped back down by the motion of the water.
She opens the messages and begins responding.
Chemical reactions are the basis of human life. It comes to no surprise to Kara that they were also the basis of creating her alternate self. Alt-Kara had spent the night at the DEO, sleeping in a bunk and being awoken periodically for more tests, and so she looks ruffled and grumpy when Kara sees her again through the lab window. Alt-Kara catches her eye and smiles, waving. Kara just blinks, looking back at the imperfect copy of herself, and then attempts to refocus on Alex.
“I’m going to wait until Lena gets here to give you the whole story. But basically, she’s like--a rewired version of you.”
Lena does arrive, looking frazzled, holding for some reason a cup of coffee in each hand. Alex tells them that the advanced technology contained in Lena’s device coupled with Kara’s alien DNA had caused a Kara with different hormone levels and brain wiring to externalize itself. “That's the simple version, anyway.” Alex says. “She’s basically an extension of Kara with no impulse control.”
“Fascinating.” Lena squints. “Can I talk to her?”
“What!” Kara exclaims, horrified. Alex shrugs.
“I don’t see why not.”
“Well--I mean--she’s--I’m coming with you.” All she can think about is Alt-Kara’s gaze, palpable as a hand. The pebbles in her stomach stir. A little gay. An extension of Kara with no impulse control.
You’re not hitting that? What will happen if Kara isn’t there to lodge herself between them, a safeguard? Even frumpy from a night of no sleep, Alt-Kara is watching them through the window with a look of focus. Focus on Lena.
“Why? Is she dangerous?”
“Not as far as we can tell.” Alex responds, picking up a file from the desk she’s leaning on and paging through it. Its fatter than Kara remembers it, already swollen with data. “We’ve run a full battery of psychological and physical tests on her and she seems...normal. Well, feisty. But normal.”
This seems to settle things for Lena, who sets both coffees down on the exam table in the room and takes her phone from her purse. She flicks through with her thumb until she finds the recording app. Kara, paralyzed, can only observe. For somebody who had spent the previous night running damage control for a multimillion dollar company, she looks fantastic. Too fantastic. Alt-Kara is going to--
“I’ll be ten minutes.” Lena chirps, holding her phone up and waving it in a gesture of be right back! She disappears through the door into the adjacent exam room, Alt-Kara’s gaze following her the whole time, a nascent smile on her face growing as she seems to realize what’s happening. Kara makes to step forward, but Alex touches her arm.
“Just let her go. She’s a big girl.”
“But--” But Lena is already in the room, pulling up a stool and shaking Alt-Kara’s hand. Alt-Kara says something that’s muffled by the thick plexiglass and Lena tips her head back to laugh. Kara goes hot and her blood goes sour. Lena holds up the phone--apparently to show her companion that she’s recording--and then sets it down on the exam table.
And then they talk. And they talk. And ten minutes go by, and then twenty. Alex tries to get Kara to go with her for a coffee or lunch, but Kara insists on staying and watching. She strains not to use her superhearing to eavesdrop on their conversation, sure that she’s going to hear something she doesn’t want to. Instead, she reads into their body language--Alt-Kara’s relaxed and confident slump, Lena’s piqued interest. Her laughter, which is so boistrus that Kara could hear it with or without her powers.
At one point, Lena extends her hand again, as if to shake one more time. Alt-Kara takes it and, judging by the flex of her muscles, squeezes. Kara’s heart seizes watching it, watching herself hold on as hard as she can to Lena without any damage. She thinks about the care she has to take when she touches Lena, so gentle that she can hardly feel it. What must her double be feeling right now--Lena’s skin, her tendon, her bone? Textures that Kara has craved like a drink of water, the afterthoughts that make up her wonderful body.
And then it’s over. Lena nods and stands, she picks up her phone from the exam table and walks through the door. She has a small, private smile on her face when Kara sees her, another dart tossed against her chest.
“Did you learn anything?”
“What? Oh--” Lena touches the back of her neck and shakes her head. “Yes. I have some data I need to take to the lab right away, actually.”
“You’ll need to--”
“Of course, Agent Danvers. I’ve already sent you a copy of the audio file.” She’s already half out the door, bag on her shoulder. Tenacious in the way Lena is when she gets her hands on a good project. Kara wonders, as she watches her leave, if everything is alright.
Then, of course, there’s the reality of the situation. Alt-Kara is a person, no matter Kara’s feelings on the matter. She is living, breathing. She eats and thinks, has feelings. Kara knows this is the reason Alex has been in so many hush hush meetings with the DEO top brass, and why she’s taken so many private phone calls in the conference room. There’s something going on, but Kara has been too preoccupied with her own thoughts to really care--she has a job, and it’s steering clear of Alt-Kara, which turns out to be easy, considering that her double is confined to her exam room.
Her feelings are inexplicable. When Lena texts her asking to get lunch so they can talk about what’s happened, she doesn’t text back. There’s a bubble of pettiness in her for no real reason except that the vision of Lena’s smile, her private one, keeps flashing behind her eyes. She knows that she doesn’t like her other self but not in a way that she’s able to articulate.
Alex calls her into the conference room that night just before Kara is about to return to her home to stew. They sit side by side so Kara can look over the file with her sister, using her finger to track the lines of data. “I just got off the com with the Legends.”
“They say they’re willing to pick her up and drop her off on an alt earth that’s missing a Kara, but--”
“But what? So they can come get her, good riddance.” Kara shrugs and leans back in the chair. This is a most relieving development. So things can get back to normal as soon as possible. The Legends will come scoop Alt-Kara up and she’ll disappear, everything will go back to normal and Kara will go back to having Lena to herself. Lena’s thoughts. Her hands, her--
“They need, like, a week.”
“Yeah, it’s--” Alex blows a puff of air up, shaking her head. “It’s not ideal. But I talked to her about it about and she seems okay, it’s just…” A whole week? What is Alt-Kara supposed to do here for a week? She supposes it would be alright if she stays in the exam room, but “...we need a place for her to stay.”
“No. No way.” Kara shakes her head back and forth. “Nuh-uh.”
“It’s only a week. Not even. Like, six days. Please.”
“Why can’t she go with you?”
“She asked for you.” Alex says. “She said she wanted to get to know you.”
This is all too incredibly, extremely, intoxicatingly weird. Even for Kara, who considers her weird tolerance to be pretty high. She’s leaned over the table with her head in her hands, heart pumping blood heavy in her ears. Maybe it would be sort of cool-- a voice in her head whispers. She tries to shake it out. You could keep an eye on her and keep her away from Lena--
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
“So uh, you can take the couch if that’s alright.”
“No problem.” Alt-Kara has been on her best behavior from the car ride home until now. She’s wearing grey, standard issue DEO scrubs, and her hair is down and flat from being unwashed. She peers around the apartment, appearing relaxed and curious. “This place is super nice.”
“Thanks.” Kara attempts a smile and hopes that it’s passable. They stand for a moment in strained silence. Alt-Kara puts her hands into the pockets of her scrubs and avoids eye contact and Kara does the same, fixing her gaze on the floor and focusing on the woosh of blood in her ears. Lena hasn’t texted her all night. She’s trying to tell herself that it has nothing to do with this, but she’s not that stupid.
“Hey, so, the way everybody’s talking to me--” Her double pauses, mouth open, then licks her lips. “I’m different from you, aren’t I?”
“Does it matter?” Kara asks, squinting back at her, trying to ground herself in Alt-Kara’s many micro differences. It makes her feel both better and deeply, achingly worse to know that this version of her isn’t really her. “You’re not going to be here long, so who cares.”
Unsettlingly, Alt-Kara doesn’t say anything. She just smiles.
There is Kevin, there is Alex, there is Joshua. Three dates in two days may seem like a lot, but for Kara it serves many useful purposes. It keeps her out of the house and out of Alt-Kara’s orbit. It keeps her mind off of other things, like Lena, who she hasn’t seen since her unexpected roommate had moved in. And, at least at first, it gives her hope. For what, she’s not sure, but hope nonetheless.
When she doesn’t like Kevin she assumes that, like Jess had told her, it just would take a while for her to find the right one. The right boy. But the disappointment at their lack of connection remains with her the whole night after, the walk home, her time at the apartment sitting on the couch with her double and watching TV.
“What were you up to?”
“Date.” Kara grunts, grabbing a slice of pizza and shoving it pleasurelessly into her mouth.
“What’s her name?”
Kara furrows her brow and barks out a laugh. “Kevin.”
It’s Alt-Kara’s turn to look confused, turning to her double with an expression mixed of horror and amusement. But, blessedly, she says nothing.
But by the time she gets to Joshua and leaves the restaurant with an empty feeling in her gut, she knows that something is wrong. Instead of going home and facing her other self, her other self who, as it turns out, has many of the same characteristics as her--a little messy, smart, interested in the world--she walks around the block. And then, still famished from eating a human portion at dinner, she goes to the nearest falafel stand and orders four.
It’s there, sitting on a park bench at 11 at night, wolfing down her third falafel, that Kara admits that there might be something different about her. Something else different, she amends with a body cringe. All this time she’d been so focused on carrying this rigidness to her. The expectations of Alex, of her parents, and of the world. That she would simply move every day like everyone else, have a job like everyone else, love like everyone else.
But Kara’d known she was different. Her love was different. It was single minded, almost claustrophobic. It was fleshy, like the inside of a peach. It smelled like warm bread. It smelled like the palms of Lena’s hands. And no, she’d never felt it for a boy, but wasn’t that a good thing? Wasn’t she meant to contain herself, her strangeness, and make herself into a human package? But when she feels that rigidness leave her, even for a moment, it’s joyful relief. Maybe she shouldn’t be afraid of what Alt-Kara knows about them.
When she’s ready to go home, Kara allows herself to stand up. She allows her legs to carry her down the city block, back to her temporarily invaded apartment. She can’t hear the TV through the apartment door when she arrives. When she opens the door, the apartment is dead quiet, although all the lights are on. Her nose wrinkles.
“Hey! Uh...Kara?” Saying her own name out loud is strange. But she doesn’t have time to dwell on it because there’s a crash from the direction of her bedroom, and girlish talking. Kara picks up a lamp without thinking and then, remembering that she has super strength, sets it back down.
The rustling in her bedroom intensifies as she stalks closer, the frantic talking growing louder. “Hey!” She shouts. “Whoever’s in there just--come out!”
There’s a moment of complete silence. Then, the bedroom door squeaks open, sounding almost shy. Out comes her other self, looking meek, and behind her--
“I’m sorry, who is this?”
“Uh, Kara, this is Gigi. Gigi, this is Kara.”
“Wait.” The woman behind Alt-Kara is in a tank top and jeans. She’s holding a pair of shoes in her hand and has something that looks like a hickey forming on her neck. She’s pretty, straw colored, short cropped hair and a cleft chin. “You didn’t tell me you had a twin. Why does she have the same name as you?”
“Long story.” Alt-Kara laughs. She moves behind Gigi and pushes her past Kara, still standing shell-shocked in the doorway, and toward the front door. “Yes, I’ll definitely call you.”
“Okay, well, I had a fun ti--” But Alt-Kara has already shut the door, turning and pressing her back against it. Kara sees that she’s wearing her clothes, just as she has every day since she arrived in her apartment, but something about this is different. Maybe it’s her new lightness, or maybe it’s that this is the first time she’s really seeing her, but the clothes makes the line between them even blurrier. It seems to matter less that her double has thicker eyebrows, or a differently set chin.
“Hey, wow, I didn’t think--”
“It’s okay.” Kara says, her voice sounding distant to her own ears. It doesn’t matter to her that Alt-Kara doesn’t apologise, or that she probably would never, anyway. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Are we gay?” Alt-Kara’s eyebrows raise, but otherwise she looks unsurprised. Her back remains pressed against the door and she folds her arms, tilting her head. She’s taking in Kara just as much as Kara is taking in her, sizing her up. Then, she laughs, and her laugh is exactly the same as Kara’s. Kara begins to laugh too and they’re both howling, Alt-Kara sliding down until her bottom touches the floor, head in her hands. Kara has to lean against the counter to support herself, body shaking, eyes watering.
She can’t sleep that night. Alt-Kara is snoring softly on the couch (Kara has to think that this is one of her anachronisms, not something that she also does) and she’s laying in bed, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. It’s been hours, she’s sure without looking at the clock. Without turning her head, Kara gropes beside her on the nightstand for her phone. She picks it up, goes to her gallery, and calls up a photo of Lena. She holds it above her face, blinking, zooming in and zooming out, then closes it and places it quietly beside her.
The next morning, Kara wakes up feeling a hundred pounds lighter. She floats into the living room where she sees that Alt-Kara is gone which is...fine. She’s mostly confined to the apartment but Alex had not given them a strict rule for keeping her in the apartment, so Kara supposes she must just be out looking for coffee or food. She plans to go to Lena’s office that afternoon, to set up a dinner. They hadn’t talked in days and, although Kara is sure it’s partially because of the insanity of the situation, there’s something about the silence that feels daunting.
Kara feels irrationally like Lena must somehow know about the revelation she’s had about herself. She thinks about it over a cup of coffee, sipping it and staring off into space. Had she, like the double of herself, sniffed it out before Kara had a chance to? But she can’t believe that Lena would ever know something so delicate without mentioning it.
She takes the long way to LCorp, flying around aimlessly, sure that Lena won’t be expecting her and therefore won’t mind if she’s a little behind schedule. Instead of landing like usual, she lets her body drift down like a leaf, feeling the power of the wind beneath her and the heat of the sun on her face, arms and legs spread out like a parachuter.
Jess’s face when she enters the lobby is one of plain surprise, which causes Kara to second guess herself. The other woman actually startles when she Kara walks in, as if she’s seen a ghost. Her mouth opens and closes again, and she tilts her head just so to look at the closed door of Lena’s office, then down at the coffee on her desk.
“Hey Jess!” Kara chirps. “Is everything okay?”
“Uh, I’m just--you were just in here.”
Kara’s heart stops in her chest. She turns to Lena’s shut door and, without hesitation, rushes towards it. Jess’s protests are faint in her ears as she pushes it open and steps in, ready for the worst, ready for the other Kara to turn out to have been evil after all, but what she sees instead is Alt-Kara and Lena sitting together on Lena’s couch. Alt-Kara has her hand on Lena’s knee, her knee, and she’s leaning forward. Kara sees her double’s gaze flit up as she enters the room, but before she can react Lena has already pushed her away and stood up. Kara’s heart stops seeing it, seeing Alt-Kara fall against the back of the couch, seeing Lena on shaky legs.
“You aren’t--” Lena turns her head and sees her then, sees Kara in the doorway. “Kara.”
“Hi.” Kara says weakly, looking between the two of them. Lena’s chest is heaving.
“I swear this isn’t what it looks like. She came in here pretending to be--”
“Me.” Kara finishes her sentence, gazing intently at Alt-Kara, who is still sitting meekly on the couch. She’s in Kara’s clothes again, the line as blurry as it ever was. Lena is talking but Kara can’t hear her, fixed as she is on her double’s face, looking for the inconsistencies. She thinks about it, the kiss that could have been. How her other self could feel the whole press of Lena’s mouth on hers. How she could run her hands through her hair and feel every universe of every strand.
But, she thinks, she wouldn’t be able to feel Lena’s heart beat like she was holding it in her own hand. And she wouldn’t hear her breath like it was the wind beneath her as she let herself drift down, down, down. Lena’s hand is on her shoulder and she covers it with her own, squeezing it with her minimum amount of strength.
“Can I ask you something?” Kara says. They’re sitting in the exam room, waiting for the Legends. Alt-Kara is back in her DEO scrubs, but she has a duffel bag of other clothes, for when she arrives. She actually has many questions she’d like to ask, like why? And how do you feel about it? But if there’s one thing her genetically engineered double has never been able to do, it’s provide much clarity. As Alex said, she’s a figure working almost exclusively on impulse.
Alt-Kara shrugs, looking not much interested. She’s picking at a hang nail. “Shoot.”
“How come I can feel your super strength but nobody else can?”
This seems to pique her interest, as she looks up and then turns to Kara with a smile. “You know, I wondered the same thing. And what I thought about it was--” She pauses, sucks her teeth. “--I’m just a manifestation of your deepest desires, right? So you’re strong enough to scare an alien but you can still…” her sentence trails off, but Kara knows where it would have gone, anyway. She blushes.
“Scientifically, that doesn’t make any sense.” She protests. Her alternate self is just...atoms. And hormones. And skin cells and neurons. A hypothesis come to life with flesh and blood and a brain. Alt-Kara laughs.
“So that means it must not be true, right?” They sit in silence with that for a while. “One more thing, about Lena?” Kara hums. “She’s a really cool girl. And she likes you a lot. If I were you…”
But Alex choses that moment to come in, and she whisks Alt-Kara away, and then she’s gone. And Kara is left in the exam room which is quieter than quiet, with her thoughts and her phone and the warm bread feeling inside of her.
The hangover device is now strictly off limits as a topic. But at dinner the night Alt-Kara leaves they still have plenty to talk about. Lena is in her nicest dress--actually, Kara can’t tell, because every dress than Lena has, she thinks, is her nicest. But then she pulls out a new one and flabbergasts her with it. This one, though, Lena wears like she has something to prove. They meet in front of the restaurant and Kara holds the door open for her, trailing after her like a puppy dog.
They sit at a corner table, knees touching, and talk about things like atoms and impossibility. They talk about Lena’s next project, and they argue, and their food gets cold in front of them.
“Jess told me.” Lena begins, when the desert plates are sitting in front of them half-finished. Kara’s heart starts pounding. “About the dates.”
“It’s fine. I already knew, sort of. I think I already knew. I just thought--and when the other you came, she--”
“It’s okay.” Kara interjects. “If something happened, I’m not mad.”
“Nothing happened.” Lena looks at her then, impenetrable. The candle light suits her and Kara realizes that this, this is the best date she’s been on. Even if it’s not really a date. It makes Kevin and Alex and Joshua feel lightyears away and this moment, when they sit and look at each other, feel so present that it could have been physically pressed up against her. “You know, I looked at her and then I realized--”
“That she was different.”
“It was the eyes.” Lena smiles and her own eyes sparkle. She looks clever, proud. “She didn’t have the same eyes as you.” Her hand reaches out and she cups Kara’s face in it. Kara roots into the touch like a baby, rubbing her cheek into it. “You have such kind eyes. I’ve always loved that about you.”
When Lena leans up to kiss her that night, Kara lets her. The rest of the rigidness falls away at once and leaves her so light she could take off into the moon. Instead of walking home alone she walks with Lena back to her apartment, empty city streets, arms linked together. They kiss again at Lena’s door, her back pressed against the clear glass, and then--
Kara stands outside, hands in her pockets, and finds Lena’s window. She waits one beat, two, then she sees it. Lena’s shadow, passing, pausing. She looks, and she smiles, and for a moment her feet lift up off the ground.