Lena wakes to the mechanical hum of the plane and the sound of glassware and cutlery nearby. Her head throbs slightly and her mouth is dry and she wishes for a moment that she’d refused the wine with dinner. She keeps her eyes closed, wonders if there is any chance she can just fall back asleep.
Instead, she remembers that she’s going to see Andrea today, for the first time since their engagement ended, and a knot of anxiety takes shape in the pit of her stomach.
She pushes the thought away.
With the shades still pulled down on the windows, the suite is in a sort of twilight. Even so, Lena can tell that it’s daylight outside. She rolls over on her side to check her phone for the time, tries to remember what time zone she should be in.
A light knock sounds on the door and she hears the attendant tell her that they’ll be on approach to Heathrow soon. Lena blinks heavily and looks around in the grey darkness for a bottle of water.
As she swings her legs over the side of the bed and rubs sleep from her eyes, Lena can hear Kara’s muffled voice on the other side of the wall. Kara sounds bright and awake, even if Lena can’t make out what she’s saying. Of course she’s a morning person, Lena thinks.
Somehow that isn’t surprising at all.
Lena stands and stretches, then reaches into her purse and pulls out her cosmetics bag and compact. She flips it open and winces.
Her reflection is nothing short of disastrous. Her hair is a mess and the mascara she didn’t remove last night in a fit of pique is now spread in wide, dark rings around each eye. She’s planning on showering in the first class lounge once they land—putting that off until the hotel seems like inviting disaster, no doubt Lillian will be in the lobby, waiting for her like a vulture—but there is no way in the world that she’s going to be seen by anyone looking like she does right now.
Standing up also makes Lena aware of just how urgently she needs to use the bathroom, so she slides on the provided slippers and grabs the rest of her cosmetics case and a change of clothes. She unlatches her door and peers out into the hallway. Lena can make out the back of the steward as he makes his rounds, but other than that it’s clear.
She walks swiftly to the bathrooms. Tries the first door. Locked, of course. The gruff voice from inside informs her that it’s going to be a minute.
She grabs for the second door. It’s also locked. But to Lena’s absolute horror, the voice that calls out “just a sec!” is far more familiar to her than she would like.
For the second time in two days, Lena dismisses screaming as an option, however desirable. She’s not even through contemplating whether or not she can run back to her suite when Kara steps out, smiling.
Kara looks unfairly good. She’s dressed in the same outfit from the day before and, even though Lena’s certain that means Kara wore it to sleep, she looks just as maddeningly attractive in it now as she did when she stepped on the plane.
Lena can clock the exact second Kara realizes it’s Lena who’s waiting because her smile grows wider.
Lena grimaces out a smile in return, mutters a greeting, and pushes past Kara before the other woman can say a word.
She spends far longer than she’d planned scrubbing her face and wondering why Kara seeing her when she’s a mess is putting her this far off kilter. You hired her for godsakes, Lena thinks, staring into the mirror and debating just how ridiculous she’s going to feel if she puts makeup back on knowing she’ll be showering it off again in an hour. What does it matter if she sees you looking like a socialite after a two day bender.
Lena decides a little mascara won’t hurt.
Having slept too late and then spent too long in the bathroom to take advantage of the breakfast service on the plane, Lena’s in somewhat of a mood by the time they land.
She orders a double espresso from the steward in the lounge as soon as they deplane, downs it without waiting for it to cool, and snaps at Kara that they have precisely thirty minutes to shower and change before they need to be in a cab on the way to the hotel.
Lena knows on some level she’s being short and unfair with Kara, but between the stress of the landing, the looming threat of seeing Andrea, the impending interactions with Lillian, and the realization that she has yet to go over a single actual plan for the weekend with Kara, Lena’s beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed.
Kara for her part seems to take it in stride. No matter how sharp Lena is with her, she’s gentle in response. Even when Lena tells Kara that one of them is going to have to change because it looks like a tailor took a swathe of Lena’s A-line dress and made Kara’s shirt out of it, Kara doesn’t flinch.
If Kara’s fucking shirt wasn’t the exact shade of light blue, or maybe even if Lena had left her own hair down instead of twisting it up, this wouldn’t feel like such an insurmountable problem.
“I don’t think both of us should have our hair up, either. Don’t get me wrong, Kara. Matching is fine. It’s matchy-matchy you want to look out for.”
If Lena’s being honest, Kara looks almost annoyingly perfect. Her blonde hair is parted to the side and she’s pulled it into a low knot. The beige linen suit has definitely been tailored to fit and her light brown belt matches her oxfords. She even has a navy and white checkered pocket square.
Kara squints at Lena’s dress and then looks down at her own shirt. “You think we look like we’re trying too hard.”
“Exactly,” Lena responds, pleased that Kara understands, as she continues to look at Kara’s shirt and hair with consternation. “I want us to look like we fit, but not like we’re trying to look like we fit,” Lena finishes.
“Let me teach you a trick,” Kara says. She steps closer to her and lifts Lena’s chin up with her fingers. “If you look people in the eye, they’ll never notice what you’re wearing.”
Lena is so thrown off by the eye contact and Kara’s proximity that she drops the argument entirely.
By the time she’s come back to her senses, they’re already in the back of a black cab on the M4, heading into central London. She wants to pull over and change her dress but she’s not about to let Kara see her being so ridiculous, not after the last twelve hours at least.
After all of this, she probably understands why I don’t have anyone to take to the wedding, Lena thinks, staring out the window as they pass through fields on the outskirts of the city.
Still, she can’t help herself completely. Lena pulls out her compact again and balances it on her knees, starts taking her hair down. It hasn’t been up long. If she runs a little product through it, she should be fine.
Soon they’re passing a small outdoor sports complex and Lena’s just considering how to break the silence when Kara does it for her.
“Lena, are you mad at me for some reason?”
“No, of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.” Lena doesn’t look at her, lifts the mirror up instead and tries to see if she got the last kink out in the back. She can see Kara looking at her at the edge of her reflection.
“Ok, well, you seem like you’re mad. And I don’t think this is going to go very well if everyone thinks you’re mad at me when we arrive.”
“I’m not mad, Kara. I’m just—.” She deflates, lowers the mirror into her lap.
Kara is right. Lena is acting like she’s mad at her and Kara hasn’t actually done anything except be kind and thoughtful. And attractive, Lena thinks. It’s aggravating.
“I’m sorry,” Lena sighs. “I’m not being very fair to you right now. I’m very worried that we won’t pull this off and then, on top of everything else, I’ll be that girl who hired an escort to her brother’s wedding to make her ex jealous.” She shuts the mirror, tucks the case in her purse again.
“That’s an argument for us doing more talking and not less,” Kara points out helpfully.
“It’s so easy for you! This is your job. I’m not like that. I don’t do this,” Lena looks at Kara and gestures between them. “Or I don’t do it well anyway.” She shakes her head and looks out the window instead of back at Kara.
The roofs of Addison-era council housing and the shocking green of June foliage whiz by as they drive deeper into the heart of London on the elevated roadway.
“You did fine on the plane yesterday,” Kara says gently. “I actually wanted to talk to you about that.”
Lena looks back at her. “What about it?”
“Well, I think you’re right. It isn’t going to be easy to pretend to be in a relationship when we’ve only just met. But after you hired me, I put some thought into it.” She looks hopefully at Lena. “Some psychologists created a list of thirty-six questions that are supposed to be able to build intimacy between perfect strangers. I’ve actually got the list right here.” Kara reaches into her right breast pocket and pulls out her phone.
“Kara, that’s thoughtful but I hardly think playing twenty questions in the back of a car is going to fix this for us.” Lena finds herself endeared a little against her will by Kara’s attempts at preparation, though the feeling isn’t quite enough to distract her from how out of control this situation still is. Questions created in a lab! The whole concept is slightly ridiculous.
“It’s thirty-six questions and it’s backed by evidence! Surely that appeals to the science nerd in you.” Kara smiles like she knows that Lena is more vulnerable to a logical appeal over an emotional one at the moment. “Don’t tell me that the same person who gave me a working understanding of cold-chain technology isn’t a little intrigued by this.”
Lena thinks that Kara looks a little too pleased with herself right now.
“Plus,” Kara continues, sensing victory, “we’ve already done the first twelve questions.”
“We’ve what?” Lena asks, somewhat taken aback. Surely she would have noticed.
“Yesterday. On the plane. It wasn’t on purpose but I guess they were on my mind when I was trying to distract you.” Kara looks a little sheepish at the admission.
“No, no, that’s quite alright.” The spark of discomfort gives way in the face of Kara’s reminder about the circumstances. Her efforts yesterday had saved Lena from a full blown panic attack, so perhaps some measure of tolerance on Lena’s part is warranted. Lena shakes her head softly and glances out the window before turning back to Kara. “I do feel like we started to get to know each other, faster than I imagined we would. You’re probably right. But I think the next twenty minutes needs to be spent going over things that are a little more practical.”
“Practical?” Kara puts her phone back in the pocket. “What did you have in mind?”
“We need a convincing backstory.” Lena can feel her body settle into a posture that’s practically work appropriate. She’s prepared for this part. “How we met, how long we’ve been dating, what you do. The things that we’re likely to be asked today.”
“Sure, makes sense.” Kara smiles like she knows the answer to the question she’s about to ask Lena. “So, I’m guessing you already have some ideas?”
“Well, yes.” Lena folds her hands in her lap and shifts her legs until she’s pointed more at Kara. “We’ve been dating six months. You’ll have to tell me what other profession you can convincingly pull off, but we met at the WildAid Gala Fundraiser in November of last year. I said no the first time you asked me out. I finally said yes after we saw each other again at New Years.”
“Well that’s nice and specific,” Kara interrupts. “Why six months?”
“Any longer and there isn’t any way I would have kept this from Jack and he’ll be at the wedding. He tried to interrogate me over the phone two days ago when I told him I was bringing someone. Any shorter and bringing you looks desperate.”
“Jack.” Kara puts up a hand to stop Lena. “Wait, don’t remind me! Your boarding school boyfriend and the only man you’ve ever dated.” She looks at Lena for confirmation.
“Yes, that’s right.” Lena feels herself relax into a pleased smile.
“Telling me your life story in four minutes last night was part of the questions,” Kara wiggles her eyebrows and gives Lena a charming smile of her own. “It’s paying off already,” Kara says.
Lena can’t help rolling her eyes. “Ok, ok, you’ve made your point. But I’m serious. When someone inevitably asks what you do, what do you want to say?”
“Let’s say I’m a freelance journalist.”
"Easy enough,” Lena replies. “Honestly, there’s not much more we’re likely to be asked about today. Most of the guests at the cocktail party are going to be business associates of my family’s who aren’t invited to the actual wedding. They’ll be far more interested in talking about themselves to ask much about us once they decide that you’re not going to be beneficial to them.”
“That reminds me, actually,” Kara says. Lena looks at her expectantly. “You said in your voicemail that the wedding itself is in Scotland, but you told the driver to head to the Rosewood Hotel here?”
“Oh, I meant to send you a copy of the full itinerary,” Lena grimaces. She normally doesn’t overlook details like this, and the fact that she did irritates her. “Luthor Corp has a satellite office in London, hence the drinks today. We’ll spend the night and then tomorrow we’ll head to Islay for the rest of the trip. I think most people are flying over but you can probably guess how I feel about that.”
Kara smiles sympathetically at her but doesn’t say anything.
“We’ll take a train up to Glasgow, instead, and I’ve rented a Rover there for the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen.” Lena sighs. “Tomorrow will be a bit of a break, to be honest. The first event we need to be at isn’t until evening. Then Friday there’s golf, followed by a luncheon, and then the rehearsal dinner. Wedding and reception on Saturday and then our flight back Sunday morning.”
“So cocktails can be our warm up run for the weekend,” Kara says.
“A little, but I still need us to act couply.” Lena winces at her own wording. “My mother will be watching us like a hawk, Jack is going to be there. And,” Lena takes a breath. “Andrea will be, too.”
“Couply, huh?” Kara laughs as Lena winces again. “I can do couply. I’m assuming you mean physically and not just attentively getting you drinks?”
“I do.” Lena looks down at her lap. “I wasn’t sure what you’d be comfortable with. I think it might be best if we talk about boundaries now, before I throw you completely into the lion’s den.”
“Well in terms of physical stuff—it’s fine for you to kiss me and anything over clothes is fair game in public. I’ll take your lead.” Kara’s tone is unruffled and completely professional. She might as well be telling Lena what’s on the menu for dinner. “You want to take it further in private, we talk money beforehand.”
Lena’s brain stutters to a halt as she tries not to think about what further would entail. And then, Kara asks the one question that hasn’t crossed Lena’s mind at all. “What is your family going to be expecting in terms of public displays of physical intimacy?”
Lena chokes on a breath.
“I, ah, well,” Lena fumbles out. The reality of kissing Kara, of Kara kissing her, to further this fiction has simply not factored into her thinking up until now. She looks up and her eyes drop immediately to Kara’s lips. Stop that, she thinks furiously.
“Unless you don’t engage in PDA with partners, no judgement.” Kara shrugs. “I just need to know what to do so I can play this convincingly.” She’s looking at Lena expectantly, a slight furrow to her maddeningly perfect brow, and Lena is suddenly hit with the desire to kiss her right there in the back of the car. It must be because they’re talking about it.
She shakes her head to clear the thought and Kara seems to misunderstand.
“Ok sure, no PDA. That’s no problem, there are plenty of other ways we ca—“ Kara tries to start again.
Lena interrupts her. “I kiss. I mean, I kiss people I’m dating. I would kiss you. In front of my family.” She briefly wonders if this is what having a stroke feels like, clears her throat and tries very hard not to stare directly at Kara’s mouth as she continues. “They’ll be expecting it. When Andrea and I, well, and even with Jack, yes. They’ll be expecting it.”
Lena snaps her jaw shut, closes her eyes in a vain attempt to gain some modicum of control over herself.
“Lena,” Kara says gently. “How much have you thought this through?”
Lena shakes her head again. She’s not about to admit to Kara that it’s becoming very clear that she hasn’t thought this through. Her primary goals in hiring Kara were simple: make Andrea as jealous as possible, and convince everyone that her life was going great. The exact how of that hadn’t seemed important until now.
“It’s just been a long time since I’ve seen any of them in person, ok? I don’t even know if Andrea is bringing a date, or how I’m going to feel if I see her with someone else. And I’m certain that my mother is going to say something horrible as soon as she sees me. And I haven’t actually talked to Lex in I don’t know how long. I’m only one of Eve’s bridesmaids because she doesn’t have that many close friends—“
“Hey, hey,” Kara breaks in softly. “Deep breaths.” She takes Lena’s hands from her lap and squeezes. “You’re going to be fine. We can play everything by ear, ok? I’ll follow your lead. I just want you to know that there isn’t anything you can do to make me uncomfortable.”
There really is something about her voice, Lena decides. She can feel the tension in body retreat as Kara talks her down and rubs circles on the backs of each hand with her thumbs. Eventually she lets go, but Lena is left with a lingering sense of calm anyway.
The rest of the ride breezes by in comfortable silence.
It isn’t long before they’re off the larger roadway and onto more congested city streets. Lena points out Hyde Park corner and the Wellington Arch to Kara, and then they’re driving up Picadilly and pulling around A40 into the gated enclosure at the front of the Rosewood Hotel. In the courtyard, their taxi is met by a fleet of liveried footmen who whisk their luggage over the cobblestones and into the hotel.
As the black cab pulls away, Lena feels herself freeze looking up at the classical facade. If she doesn’t go inside, maybe she won’t have to face any of this. She can feel as Kara steps in close next to her.
“You must think,” Lena starts and stops, shuts her eyes briefly. “Who knows what you think.”
“Lena, I know how important this is for you,” Kara says gently. “But remember. You’re a beautiful woman and you’ve got everything going for you.”
“Don’t patronize me,” Lena snaps, then takes a breath. “I’m sorry. I feel like crap. I don’t mean to take it out on you.”
Kara doesn’t respond.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Lena whispers as Kara takes her hand.
“Well, you can never be sure of anything,” Kara replies. “But we still have to go inside. They’ve got all our stuff.” Kara swings their joined hands lightly between them. It’s enough to make Lena smile.
A small smile, but a smile nevertheless.
“Ok. Let’s go.”
They step through enormous oak doors and into a tall copper and glass walkway that opens into the cavernous lobby. The floor is an expanse of black and white marble stripes and a wall-sized silk painting provides a beautiful backdrop. Elegantly dressed people mill about, perching on nailhead-trimmed leather chairs and deep-buttoned chesterfield couches.
Lena is hoping she’ll have a chance to grab a room key and check her hair before anyone sees that they’ve arrived, but given everything else today, she’s unsurprised when she doesn’t get her wish. They’ve been in the lobby for less than a minute when someone steps in front of her and Lena nearly knocks them over.
“Aunt Lorna, hi,” Lena says as she rights herself.
“Lena, dear girl!” The older woman pulls her down into a hug, plants a sloppy kiss on her cheek, before pushing her back. Lorna has always been sweet, if a little blunt in the way that people get when they reach a certain age. Lena’s a little nervous about how she’ll react to Kara, but Aunt Lorna doesn’t seem to notice Kara at all.
“This should have been you getting married!” Lorna says in a loud stage whisper. “You know, you didn’t have to return the gravy boat. And to think, Andrea is one of the bridesmaids.”
“Have you met Kara?” Lena interrupts before Lorna can say anything else.
Kara steps forward and kisses the back of Lorna’s offered hand. “How do you do?”
“Oh. Charming!” Lena doesn’t think she’s ever seen Aunt Lorna blush before. She’s not sure she likes it.
They’re stopped from speaking further when Lena hears her name accompanied by the sound of high heels making their way across the marbled floor.
“Lena, there you are.” Lena wonders if her step-mother will ever not sound disappointed in her. They’ve just arrived, Lena can’t imagine what she’s already done wrong.
“Brace yourself,” she tells Kara, before smoothing out her dress and turning around to where Lillian is making her way across the space.
“What took you so long? Did you insist on taking public transport from the airport to spite me? I would have sent a car.” Lillian’s lip curls. “Honestly, the carbon emissions from a single ride don’t make any difference.”
“Mother, now is so not the time to be yourself.” Lena has to stop herself from fidgeting under Lillian’s appraisal.
“Don’t be rude, Lena.” Lillian must not have any immediate critique of Lena’s outfit because she launches into the itinerary instead, gesturing for them to follow her as she walks toward a set of wood-framed glass windows.
“Now, this is a marathon, not a sprint.” Lillian intones. “We’ve got welcome cocktails now, and then tomorrow we’ll transition to the venue itself. Lex has arranged a distillery tour of some sort for the younger set, I imagine that includes you.” She grimaces and Lena isn’t sure if Lillian’s expression is about the activity not fitting her idea of what a tasteful wedding weekend should entail, or the fact that Lena is a part of it. Lena feels her spine stiffen defensively.
“Friday is a catered luncheon for all guests, followed by the rehearsal dinner for the wedding party. And since you have so foolishly left absolutely no time to recover from jet lag, I need you to hydrate.” Lillian comes to a stop in front of a revolving door. Lena feels a hand rest softly on her lower back as Kara steps close into her space.
“I read the invitation, mother. I’m familiar with the plans.” Lena resists rolling her eyes, but only just.
“I couldn’t be sure since you’ve been ignoring every other communication attempt I’ve made. Now, who is this?” Lillian turns her stare to Kara, who offers her right hand.
“Hello Mrs. Luthor, it’s wonderful to finally meet you. I’m Kara Danvers.” Kara seems to know better than to try to kiss the back of Lillian’s hand and Lena is grateful.
“Yes, well, Lena’s never mentioned you.” Lillian manages to make her expression as she shakes look both haughty and skeptical at the same time. “In fact, we didn’t even know she was planning on bringing anyone until this week. And what is it that you do?”
“I’m a freelance journalist.” Kara slides her left arm the rest of the way around Lena’s waist and pulls her just the slightest bit closer.
Lillian purses her lips and makes a dismissive sound. “Journalism. Well.” As if this somehow explains to her why Lena’s never mentioned Kara.
She looks them both up and down and returns to talking about the day. “We’ve reserved the Scarfes Bar for the remainder of the afternoon and most guests have already arrived. Please join us, I’m tired of explaining your absence.”
“We’ll be right there,” Lena says.
“Oh Lena, your hair really should be up with that neckline.” And with that, Lillian flags down a staff member and walks through the door.
“You know, when you said you wished you’d gotten more encouragement and less criticism growing up, I don’t think I fully appreciated what you meant,” Kara whispers. “Is she always like this?”
“Pretty much,” Lena sighs. “In my more charitable moments, I think she means well, but Lex has always been the golden child to her. She’s spent my entire life pushing me to do better, be smarter, achieve more. It’s never felt like enough. She’s never said it directly, but I think she was fairly angry at me when I left Luthor Corp.”
“Can’t imagine why you would have stayed. Well, at least that’s over with, right?” Kara steps back and makes a ridiculous bow before offering Lena her arm. “May I accompany you to the bar, madam?”
Lena rolls her eyes but finds she doesn’t mind it. If nothing else, Kara has the unexpected ability to make her smile even when she wants to run away. She takes the proffered arm.
“Lead the way.”
It’s apparent as they walk through the revolving wooden door into the bar that Lillian hasn’t waited for Lena at all. She’s in the middle of making a toast to Lex and Eve, who are standing by her side. Another couple, Lillian’s age, are standing on their other side and Lena assumes they must be Eve’s parents.
Kara hands her a glass of champagne from a passing tray.
“—and Lionel would be so proud if he were here today knowing that the company he founded is how Lex and Eve first met. It was his greatest desire for his children to take over after his death and it warms my heart to know that the company remains in our family and that there will soon be two Luthors at the helm once again.” Lillian turns to Eve and, with a smile Lena has never seen directed her own way, says, “Eve, I am so happy to welcome you into the Luthor family. Congratulations, both of you!”
For a moment, the room erupts into cheers. Lena supposes that she should be grateful that Lillian isn’t prone to embarrassing scenes. There aren’t too many people present who will understand just how pointed those remarks actually are, but it stings all the same.
Now that Lillian is done with her toast, there’s soft jazz coming from a band in the corner and the quiet clinking of glass and low voices as guests go back to drinking and talking amongst themselves.
Lena looks around. It’s the type of bar in which she’d normally be happy to find herself. As she and Kara walk further in, Lena realizes that it’s far larger than it seems at first glance. A long wall of windows runs straight down the right side from the entrance, punctuated at even intervals by ionic columns. At the end of the windows there’s a cozy looking fireplace surrounded by plush couches and armless leather wingback chairs in the main section.
The bar itself starts immediately left of the door and it’s gorgeous—tall, comfortable looking, fixed bar chairs make a line down the long mahogany countertop. The surface wraps around a corner a third of the way through the room, jogging back to create a more intimate section tucked away from the windows and making the room T-shaped. The liquor is stacked behind it on built-in bookcases that run throughout the place and the final third of the wall back toward the fireplace is lined with modern art and actual books. Electric candles glow softly from within patinated copper cages hanging down from the high ceiling and jewel toned banquettes and velvet armchairs fill the space.
She doesn’t see Andrea anywhere.
Suddenly feeling like she needs air, Lena drains her glass and hands it to Kara. Kara quirks her eyebrow in question.
“I just need to use the restroom quickly, I’ll be back,” Lena says, squeezes Kara’s forearm. “I’ll be two minutes.”
“Alright.” And before Lena can walk away, Kara leans in and kisses her on the cheek. It’s far too close to her mouth to be mistaken for anything platonic, should someone be watching. Lena feels her body react and stumbles as she steps back, cheeks warm and heart suddenly racing.
“For practice,” Kara whispers and then has the nerve to grin, before turning around to walk over to the bar itself.
Get a fucking grip on yourself, Lena thinks.
She’s just walking back across the lobby from the bathroom when a hand on her wrist stops her. Lena looks up and freezes.
“Hi Lena,” Andrea says softly. Andrea’s wearing a sleeveless black jumpsuit with a deep v-neck, a small medallion hanging on her chest suspended by a gold chain. She looks exactly as stunning as Lena remembers.
Andrea steps in to hug her. She wraps her arms around Lena and it’s like Lena responds through sheer muscle memory. She has to fight the urge to melt into Andrea’s hold as if no time has passed at all. Andrea shifts to kiss the same spot that Kara had and Lena can’t find enough backbone to turn her head away.
When she doesn’t say anything, Andrea steps back and fills the silence. “Wow, you look gorgeous.”
Lena’s saved from having to respond by a booming voice coming from back near the bathrooms.
“Lena Kieran Luthor, where the bloody hell have you been?!”
It’s Jack. Lena has never been happier to see him in her entire life. He wraps her up in an enormous hug and completely ignores Andrea.
“I have proctologists that call more often than you,” he says as he sets her down.
“You have more than one?” Lena laughs as he pulls back, his hands resting on her shoulders.
“I play them off against each other, otherwise they don’t give me the attention I deserve!” He pouts at her for a moment and drops his arms, then shifts his attention to Andrea who is now standing slightly awkwardly off to the side.
“Hello, trollop!” he says brightly to Andrea. “Since you dumped my best friend so brutally, you won’t mind if I steal her away, will you? Thanks.”
Without waiting for a reaction, Jack grabs Lena’s hand and all but drags her back across to the bar.
“You didn’t have to do that, Jack.” But Lena’s smiling as she follows him.
“Nonsense,” he says. “I wasn’t saving you from her, I was saving you from yourself. You, my love, are too bloody nice.” He stops them just inside the bar. “I’ve never seen so many beautiful women in one room.”
Lena looks back at where Andrea has now disappeared. “Did she bring a date?”
“Darling,” Jack starts. “Why waste time on that horse’s arse when Ms. Tie-You-Up Tie-You-Down is standing right over there. Good god, those pants should be illegal. You know, I think I might switch teams again for her.”
Lena follows his line of sight to see Kara standing in the middle of a ring of women by the bar. Some of them are touching the arms of her suit jacket, others are clearly trying to draw her attention to their more physical assets. As if she can hear Jack, Kara looks over to them and winks at Lena.
“Oh god, I think I’ve just come,” he says. Lena hits him in the arm and bites the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing, but she doesn’t take her eyes off of Kara.
Kara disentangles herself from the crowd and walks over to join Lena, who introduces her to Jack.
Although he makes a big show of complaining about Lena not having told him about Kara, Kara and Jack hit it off right away. Lena can’t help taking a tiny bit of pleasure in that fact. She’s missed Jack, and she can’t help laughing as he warns Kara about which of the guests to keep Lena away from and catches them both up on the most recent gossip. Eventually, Jack gets distracted by a strapping young server he spots in the crowd and he excuses himself, leaving Lena and Kara to their own devices.
“Would you like another drink?” Kara asks, absently reaching out to rest a hand on Lena’s hip. “I think they have every scotch in existence.”
“What makes you think I’m done drinking champagne?” Lena glances at the bar. Kara starts rubbing her thumb back and forth across the material of Lena’s dress.
“You looked like you needed something a bit stronger when you came back from the bathroom.”
Lena hums but doesn’t offer any real response. “That’s not a no,” Kara says.
“Fine. I suppose I could do with a drink.”
She follows Kara back to the bar where Kara swiftly flags down a barman. He produces a twenty-five year old islay single malt from a high shelf at Lena’s request and pours two glasses, sliding them across the wood. Lena is about to take hers off the bar when a hand reaches around her and grabs it first.
“You know what I love about this, Lena?” A low voice asks from behind her.
“That there’s yet another reason for the world to revolve around you?” Lena responds before she turns around to look at her brother.
He offers a rakish grin and a shrug, then takes a sip. “Bowmore?” He asks, looking at the barman for confirmation. “Excellent choice, Lena. I taught you well.”
And then, in a near perfect copy of Lillian earlier but without any of the malice, he turns to Kara. “And who is this?”
“Lex, this is Kara Danvers. Kara, my brother Lex.” Lena introduces them.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kara.” He grins. “My sister certainly has kept you under wraps, but, after seeing you surrounded earlier, I can see why she might not want to let you out in public.”
Kara smiles at Lex, but it turns softer as she turns to look at Lena. “Lucky her then, that I only have eyes for one woman in the room.” They’re already pressed in close at the packed counter, but Kara shifts so that her body angles toward Lena. Lena feels her heart speed up as Kara gazes warmly down at her.
“God, you two are nauseating,” Lex laughs in disbelief.
“As if you’re any better,” comes a higher voice behind him. Eve walks around his side and smiles widely at Lena. “Lena, I’m so glad you’re here. Was the flight ok?”
“It was fine,” Lena offers, finding that it isn’t a complete lie. She steps forward to hug Eve.
Lena might not be sure about how she feels about the rest of her family on a good day, but she’s always liked Eve. They worked together at Luthor Corp briefly before Lena left and Eve always seemed genuinely excited when they shared a project.
“Eve, this is Kara.”
“It’s wonderful to meet you, Eve.” Kara kisses the back of Eve’s hand and it has much the same effect as it did on Aunt Lorna. Eve giggles and Lena finds herself taking Kara’s left hand and twining their fingers together, feeling oddly grumpy.
Lex steps forward laughing, “Now now, that’s my future wife you’re moving in on.” Kara and Eve laugh, too, and he pulls Eve in for a kiss.
“Don’t worry,” Eve says, winking back at Kara. “I’ll save you a dance. Not sure Lex is going to be able to do me justice.”
“Hey now!” Lex puts a hand dramatically over his heart. “You wound me. I agreed to lessons.”
Eve rolls her eyes affectionately. “Lesson. Singular.” She turns to Lena and raises her eyebrows. “Can you believe your brother is waiting until the day before the wedding to learn how to dance?”
“He never paid much attention at cotillion classes,” Lena offers. “You’ll be lucky if you make it out with your toes intact.”
“Lena,” Lex breaks in, an exaggerated frown on his face. “I’ve changed my mind. You’re not invited to the wedding anymore. Go back to National City, no one likes you here. You know I hate dancing.”
Eve and Lena are busy laughing at him, but Kara comes to his rescue. “We’ll go with you. I need to brush up on my own skills.” Kara glances at Lena. “Can’t have Lena leaving me when she learns I can’t waltz, can I?”
“I don’t know you, but I like you already,” Lex says, clapping a hand on Kara’s shoulder.
Someone shouts for Lex from across the room and, with apologies and promises to catch up later, he whisks Eve away.
Lena is bundled off shortly after by Lillian to talk to some board members, so Kara wanders over to the fireplace to glance at the art on display and take a break from the constant flow of drinks. When she approaches one of the pieces to get a closer look at the technique, there’s another woman already standing in front of it.
“Hi,” Kara offers.
“Oh, hello.” The woman responds. Raucous laughter echoes from the corner of the bar and the woman rolls her eyes.
“Weddings are a celebration of love and commitment,” Kara says, leaning in like she has a secret. “Maybe in utopia. In the real world, they’re an excuse to drink too much and say things you shouldn’t.”
The woman laughs and turns to look at Kara for the first time. “Shrink?” She guesses.
“Writer,” Kara responds.
“Keen observer of human behavior, all the same,” the woman says. She glances around the room behind Kara and flinches.
“What?” Kara asks.
The woman laughs sharply. “Yeah, no. I’m not about to spill my guts to someone who might write it down. With my luck you’d be a reporter.” But then she looks past Kara again and visibly deflates.
Kara waits. She can read body language well enough to know when someone wants to talk.
The woman knocks her drink back and returns to looking at the painting in front of them. “It’s just...” She stops, avoids looking at Kara and looks down at her empty glass instead, then starts speaking. “There’s this person that I care for. You might say, you might say that I love her. But I made a horrible mistake, and I could never figure out how to tell her, and now—”
Kara is listening so intently to this woman that she nearly misses the sound of heels coming up beside her. She’s turning to glance over at whoever it is when she feels a hand on her cheek and looks down to see Lena, who pulls her into a kiss without saying anything.
Kara has just enough time to close her eyes and wrap her arms around Lena’s lower back before Lena melts into her. It’s chaste, as these things go, and it doesn’t last long. Thinking about it later, Kara will realize it isn’t much more than a gentle press of lips.
But something lurches in Kara’s chest when Lena’s fingers sweep over the back of Kara’s neck.
She’s so soft, Kara thinks.
She feels the slight stick of Lena’s lipstick as Lena pulls away.
“There you are," Lena says affectionately. She brings her right thumb to Kara’s lower lip and swipes gently at it where she must have left color.
“Hi, Lena,” Kara breathes out. Kara’s hands are still low around Lena’s waist, she makes no move to let go.
“Hi, Lena,” the woman beside them offers. Kara’d forgotten she was still standing there.
“Oh hey,” Lena says to the woman, glancing almost dismissively at her before looking back at Kara.
“I see you met my ex,” Lena says to Kara. So that’s what brought this on. The fingers of Lena’s left hand continue to play with the hair at the base of Kara’s neck. It’s sending tingles down Kara’s spine.
“I was just telling her how we met,” Kara says, trying for the life of her to remember the story Lena told her in the cab.
“Mmmm,” Lena hums, looking at Kara’s lips. She’s resting her right hand on Kara’s chest, thumb running slowly over her breastbone.
“The fundraiser,” Kara says. Lena’s eyes are different colors, how has she not noticed that before? Kara clears her throat lightly. “For WildAid.”
“Oh, yes,” Lena says, making absolutely no effort to help carry the conversation at all. Kara can see the woman she now knows is Andrea fidgeting with a cocktail napkin out of the corner of her eye, but Kara doesn’t stop looking at Lena. This is a Lena she hasn’t seen yet.
“You hate fundraisers,” Andrea blurts.
Lena finally turns to look back at Andrea. “I hate corporate circle-jerks where no one actually cares about the causes.”
“Right,” Andrea says, looks back down at the napkin and glass she’s still holding. “Right. Well. I should go.”
Lena doesn’t say anything and so, with a nod to Kara, Andrea walks past them, makes her way through the crowd and disappears. As soon as she’s out of sight, Lena steps back from Kara, drops her arms.
“She looks miserable,” Lena says, before directing her attention back to Kara. “What were you two talking about really?”
“Love, I think.” Kara scrunches her face a bit, tries to make sense of the interaction. “She seems a little drunk. But I think she’s still crazy about you.”
Lena whips her head back in the direction Andrea had walked off in. “What? What did she say? You don’t think—you don’t think she wants me back, do you?”
Kara looks at Lena’s profile as Lena desperately scans the crowd.
“I don’t know,” Kara answers after a beat. Honesty seems like the best way to proceed.
“What does your gut say?” Lena doesn’t even turn back to her to ask.
“That you’re too good for her."
But Lena’s still looking out over the crowd and Kara isn’t sure if she’s listening.
The event winds down not too long after that. Most of the guests aren’t staying at the Rosewood and they filter out first. Lena and Kara are just heading back into the lobby when Lillian grabs Lena’s attention, waving them over.
“Before you disappear for the night, I wanted to tell you to meet in the lobby tomorrow at eight o’clock sharp.” Lillian barely looks up from her phone, just issues the instructions to Lena like she’s a child. “You and Ms. Danvers will join me and the Tessmachers in a LuthorCorp helicopter to Port Ellen, since I doubt you’ve made appropriate arrangements for transportation to the venue. Lex and Eve will be travelling up tonight.”
“You can’t possibly be serious.” Lena suddenly cannot breathe. She’s just starting to feel like the wedding might not be a total disaster and now it’s like her legs have been swept out from under her. The only flying she’s been prepared for is getting to and from this fucking catastrophe.
“Well I tried calling you, didn’t I?” Lillian says dismissively, completely immune to Lena’s increasingly panicked body language.
“If I may, Ms. Luthor,” Kara breaks in, putting a hand on Lena’s elbow and stepping into Lena’s space. “That’s so thoughtful, but we’re already prepared. Lena got train tickets to Glasgow tomorrow morning and we rented a car to get to the Kennacraig ferry. We’ll be there in plenty of time to settle in before the distillery tour.”
Kara says all of this with a truly charming smile on her face, but even that isn’t enough to snap Lena out of the spiral she’s begun. She knows she must look a disconcerting shade of white right now, and Kara slides her palm down Lena’s forearm to take her hand.
Lillian looks up and fixes Kara with a terrific glare. “Ms. Danvers, if my daughter had bothered to communicate with me yesterday, then she, and by extension you, would already know that such a ridiculous travel itinerary will take far too long. We need both of you there by 11:30. I’ve already cancelled the tickets and the car.”
Lena comes to her senses. “What?”
The sigh Lillian lets out is dripping with disappointment. “If you had checked even one of my voicemails, you’d already know this. And, since you clearly didn’t listen to a single message, I assume you also don’t know that we’ve shifted the events a touch. We had to move golf to tomorrow. The weather on Friday is supposed to be dreadful.” Lillian shakes her head as if this is a personal offense, before continuing. “Lena, I took the liberty of pairing you with Max Lord and Andrea.”
Lena is still frozen in shock as Lillian turns to Kara without waiting for her to respond and says, with no small measure of disdain, “Ms. Danvers, I wasn’t sure whether or not you golfed, as Lena has told us nothing about you. You’re free to round out their foursome or not. I’m afraid we didn’t have an even number of players.”
And with that, Lillian waves at someone behind them and departs.
Kara takes one look at Lena’s face and decides it’s time to go to their room.
If Lena’s going to pass out, or break down, Kara’s sure she won’t want to do it where anyone can see. Besides, they haven’t actually even gone upstairs yet. And at some point they’re going to need dinner. It’s after 4 and, other than some canapés, Kara hasn’t eaten since the plane. She isn’t sure Lena has eaten at all.
Kara may not be able to do much right now to alleviate Lena’s clear distress at the impending helicopter flight, but she can at least meet both of their basic needs.
She puts a hand on Lena’s back and guides her silently to reception, where Kara finds that their bags have already been deposited in their room. This is despite the fact that Kara’s fairly certain they never officially checked in. Maybe when you’re rich enough, you don’t have to suffer through the mundanity of checking in to a hotel, she thinks to herself.
Grabbing the proffered electronic keys from the staff woman at the desk, Kara takes Lena to the elevator. Lena still looks distracted, but she no longer looks completely shell shocked, either. She smiles gratefully at Kara as Kara presses the button for their floor.
They enter the room still in silence. There’s enough sunlight coming in from a set of floor-to-ceiling windows that Kara doesn’t bother with the light switch. She watches as Lena walks across the carpet, its white and black pattern identical to the floor in the lobby. Lena slips off her heels and drops them next to where their suitcases have been tucked at the foot of the king-size bed.
It’s only when the door shuts quietly behind Kara that she tries saying anything to Lena.
“I know Lillian said she’d already cancelled all your reservations, but I’m sure if we re-book now we can still get a car.”
Lena sits down on the bed and looks around the room, a little lost. Kara struggles, she wants to make Lena feel better but isn’t sure how.
“No,” Lena sighs. She smooths the duvet where it wrinkled when she sat down. “It isn’t worth the fight when I don’t show up on time.”
Kara walks over and sits down next to her on the bed. Near, but not touching. “Are you going to be alright on the flight?”
“I’ll make it work.” Lena looks over at her and smiles, although it’s strained. “Got any of that magic left from yesterday?”
In the late afternoon light, Kara is struck by how small Lena looks. “For you, I think I can find some,” she says.
Lena’s smile softens as she flops back on the bed letting out an enormous sigh. Kara’s stomach grumbles.
“In the meantime, what do you think about ordering room service for dinner?” Kara asks her. “There weren’t enough hors d'oeuvres to make up for missing lunch, and breakfast was forever ago.”
Lena laughs but doesn’t move. “Sure, order whatever you’d like.”
“What should I get you?” Kara is already reaching for the phone, twists around to look at her. Lena’s eyes are closed and she’s spread her arms on the bed, her hair fanning out behind her.
“Not hungry,” Lena mumbles.
“Don’t believe you,” Kara says, but she doesn’t press Lena further.
Kara ends up ordering enough food for three people, just in case. It gets delivered by two staff, who lay full place settings along with candles on the table by the window.
She feels warm when Lena perks up at the sight of the fennel salad she picked out, feels even better when Lena finishes it and starts stealing off of her second plate of fish and chips.
“Really?” Lena asks, one eyebrow raised at Kara, even as she eats the fries. “Isn’t that a cliche?”
“Oh come on, you can’t go to the UK and not order fish and chips. It, I don’t know, it’d be sacrilege!” Kara moves her plate closer to herself and tries to shield it, but Lena just boosts herself up and reaches across Kara’s arm for another fry.
Lena laughs as she sits back down. For the first time since they left the bar, her entire face scrunches up into a genuine smile.
Kara relaxes back into her own chair.
Lena turns her head slightly to look out the window, the southern exposure providing a soft glow as the sun sets. Kara has the unexpected, intrusive thought that whoever Lena chooses to let in had better understand how lucky they are. Her stomach clenches a little uncomfortably and she looks down at her now empty plate. Maybe eating two servings wasn’t the greatest idea I’ve ever had.
She suddenly feels compelled to break the silence.
“I can’t believe your mother is asking you to play golf with Andrea.”
“She’s not asking,” Lena says drily and then turns her head back to Kara, props her chin up on her left hand. “To be perfectly honest, it’s Max I have more of a problem with.”
“Oh?” Kara wracks her brain but she doesn’t think that Lena has mentioned Max before.
“I told you that when I left Metropolis, it was partly because of Lex’s complete non-reaction to some of my work being stolen.” Kara nods and Lena continues. “I’d spent nearly a year working on a side project, it was going to be a mesh network deployable by airdrop for use in disaster-affected areas—”
Kara quirks her head at this.
“Think hurricanes or earthquakes where cell towers all get wiped out. People still have devices but they can’t use them. The faster you can give them a network, the faster communications go back up.”
“Sure.” Kara nods. “Ok, go on.”
“I’d gotten the preliminary aspects fleshed out, which was no small technical feat,” Lena smiles and lifts an eyebrow at Kara. Kara feels something go a little liquid inside. “But I’d only just gotten permission from the board to transition it to a full time project in order to really start working on disbursement-level solutions.”
Lena’s smile drops as she continues. “When I went to file for the patent before proceeding, legal discovered that Lord Industries, Max’s company, had beaten us to it by maybe twenty-four hours. Then I discovered that there’d been a breach on one of my tablets and a remote access system had been installed. It had been configured to connect to an external server that was masked to look like one of our dummy servers, but it was actually linked somewhere else through a series of onion routers. I still don’t know how it happened, but the bigger point is that I hadn’t caught it.”
“Holy shit, Lena. You vaguely mentioned that yesterday but you did not give me the full story.”
Lena shrugs and reaches for her wine glass. “And then Lex, who’s never walked away from a fight in his life, essentially just rolled over. He told me that it happens, said we did too much business with LI to make a thing out of something we couldn’t even prove was them, and tasked me back to the same bullshit projects with weapons applications. And I—I tried to get back to work, for another month. But then Andrea broke it off with me out of nowhere and I could barely get out of bed, let alone work at a job I already hated. So I told him I was leaving. I moved six weeks later.”
Lena punctuates this by draining her wine glass and setting it down.
“Learned my lesson, though. We run diagnostics on all wireless tools at random intervals several times every twenty-four hours to look for data breaches and nobody, myself included, can bring active project materials out of L-Tech.”
Kara lets out a low whistle. “Once burned, twice shy, right?”
“Twice shy.” Lena repeats, looking down. She takes the napkin out of her lap, folds it and places it on her plate and then looks at Kara. “Want to do any of your special questions before we get ready for bed? I think I’d like to hear you talk a little bit for a change.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Kara grins. “Let me grab my phone.”
They make it through another twelve questions before Lena checks the time and is surprised to see that it’s after ten. Kara stands from where they’ve been sitting cross-legged on the bed and groans in relief as she stretches.
“I want to take a shower before bed, is that ok?” Kara asks, glances around the room absently.
“Sure,” Lena says. “I actually have another question for you, but it’s not on the list. Is that alright?”
“Of course.” Kara’s voice is muffled as she bends over to root around in her suitcase.
Lena leans over to her purse on the right side of the bed and rifles through it until she finds the creased and permanently dog-eared issue of CatCo magazine from April. She flips to an article titled I Can Be Your Supergirl: Confessions of a Part-Time Escort and tries to smooth out the page.
Kara walks over to plug her phone in and looks over Lena’s shoulder. “Hey! How’d you know that was me? CatCo promised it would be anonymous.”
“My R&D director Brainy, who I told you about? His girlfriend is a reporter there. She got your number for me.” Lena turns a page, looking for the thing she wants to ask Kara about. “It was your article, actually, that gave me the idea to hire someone. Only then I didn’t like anyone except you, so.” Lena shrugs.
“This explains why you didn’t challenge me this morning when I told you I could play a convincing freelancer,” Kara says.
Lena can hear Kara mutter something about having words with Nia as she walks away, but she tables asking Kara how she knows Brainy's girlfriend for now, having found the quote that made her irate the first time she read it.
“In the article, you say that every woman has the exact love life she wants.” Lena looks up. “Don’t you think that’s a broad generaliza—ohmygodyou’renaked.”
Lena nearly rips the magazine in half as she hastens to cover her eyes, but it’s too late. The full frontal view of Kara is enough to take all rational parts of her brain completely offline. Lena has absolutely not spent any time in the last twenty-four hours thinking about what Kara looks like naked, thank you very much. But, if she had? She wouldn’t have done her justice. Kara is fit the way actual Olympic athletes are fit. Lena would know, she once almost made the Olympic fencing team.
What the fuck, what the fuck, who looks like that in real life? Don’t think about it. Stop thinking about it!
“Yes, I’m naked. I’m about to take a shower.” Lena can hear Kara moving across the room as she answers, can hear the laughter in her voice. “Do you normally shower fully clothed? That feels like a question that should be on our list.”
“So. What was. Ok. I.” What are words? Lena struggles to find a coherent train of thought. It isn’t like she didn’t know, logically, that Kara probably looked good naked. No one’s ass looks like that in linen pants if they aren’t.
She takes a deep breath. “What I’m trying to ask is, do you think I want to be single and miserable? That I want to be hung up on someone who led me on for years and then, out of the blue, just shattered my heart?”
“First, of course it’s an overgeneralization,” Kara calls out as she turns on the shower. “Second, there’s no such thing as ‘out of the blue.’” Then she sticks her head back out of the bathroom, looks directly at Lena. “And third, yes, I do.”
Lena’s so indignant at Kara’s response that she finds herself unwilling to wait for Kara to finish showering before she continues the conversation. Kara’s covered by the shower curtain, Lena reasons, it isn’t like she’ll be watching her wash. She takes the magazine with her and follows Kara to the bathroom.
“Explain,” Lena demands. She takes a seat on the closed toilet lid, opposite the vanity.
“Lena, If you read the rest of what I wrote,” Kara says, voice dampened by the water and the curtain between them. “Which I know you did, you already understand that what I’m talking about is how we choose partners and approach relationships. When you’re ready to let go and be un-single and un-miserable, you will.”
Lena huffs, but can’t think of a suitable response. Kara’s just wrong. Lena’s not holding on to her relationship with Andrea. She’s done everything she can to move on from it, in fact. The idea, the sheer nonsense that the reason she’s still haunted by Andrea is because she won’t let go. It’s too ridiculous to entertain.
“Look, I can tell you’re not ready to get into it,” Kara’s tone of voice sounds like it’s meant to be placating, but Lena’s not sure she wants to let it work. “Surely you’ve got other questions from that piece.”
Lena glances down at the wrinkled pages. She pauses and weighs whether she wants to take the olive branch that Kara is offering for what it is.
“Well,” Lena says. “Ah, the article was a little vague—how did you get into this line of work?” Lena cringes. This line of work.
Kara’s laugh echoes off the tiles. “It’s not what you think.”
“I don’t really know what to think.”
“I actually majored in journalism and English at NCU. I wanted to write, but print news is kind of a dying field and the job market wasn’t exactly flooded with opportunity, you know?”
Lena hums in assent as Kara continues while she lathers her hair.
“The closest I could come to working in journalism was taking an assistant job at CatCo. Apparently Ms. Grant had gone through something like, I don’t know, I think it was five personal assistants in three years? The hiring manager said that if I could stick it out for a couple of years, then I’d be able to get a job actually writing almost anywhere I wanted.”
Lena interrupts her. “Fashion writing? I thought CatCo was more, ‘high-waisted jeans: yes or no?’”
“Careful, Lena; your elitism is showing,” Kara sounds like she’s teasing her. “But actually, they’d just launched this amazing long form investigative department that was starting to cover politics and international affairs, not just industry scandals. I figured, if nothing else, at least maybe I’d make some professional connections.”
Kara pauses and Lena can see the outline of her body as Kara turns rapidly in the shower, clearly looking for something.
Lena tries very hard not to stare at Kara’s ass through the gap in the curtain. She’s not terribly successful. Perhaps as a result, Kara’s request startles her. “Hey, can you pass me the face wash? I think I left it on the sink.”
Lena drops the magazine, nearly falls off the toilet as she scrambles to the sink. She grabs the pump bottle, makes a big show of covering her eyes with her hands, and turns back to the shower. She can hear Kara laughing at her above the spray when she holds the soap out blindly, waving it in Kara’s direction.
Lena feels her entire body flush as Kara’s wet hand brushes her fingers when she takes the bottle. She doesn’t open her eyes until she hears Kara pull the shower curtain back into place.
She retakes her seat on the toilet as Kara continues where she left off.
“Anyway, the first six months working for Ms. Grant were absolutely brutal. I never got close to the news floor—it was more coffee and lunch runs, managing her absolutely insane schedule, dealing with all the people trying to see her, basically just doing anything Ms. Grant wanted—”
“Oh my god did Cat Grant pay you to sleep with her?” Lena can’t keep the outrage out of her voice.
“What?!” Kara sounds equally put out by the question and nearly drops the soap. “No! No, not Ms. Grant. She was never anything but professional—well, I mean, sometimes she was kind of mean?” It comes out like a question, like Kara isn’t sure Ms. Grant had actually been mean but feels like other people might have thought it. “But no, nothing like that. It was this woman I met because I was working at CatCo. She was an ad executive who had a standing monthly meeting with Ms. Grant about the agency account or something.”
Lena’s not sure she feels any better about that but Kara keeps going. “Older, always dressed to the nines. Always kind of flirty? But lots of people are.”
Lena rolls her eyes, of course lots of people are flirty with Kara.
“And then my first December there she came out of her meeting with Ms. Grant and, instead of leaving, she walked over to my desk. She asked me if I would accompany her to some holiday party she had to go to for work. Said she’d pay me $500 for the evening, no funny business, just that she didn’t want to go alone and that I always put her at ease. I said yes.”
Kara starts humming something as she rinses her face off. Lena looks back down at the article and then says, “Okay, I’m clearly in no position to judge, but how did that become an entire side job?”
“I guess she had a good time at the party and told a couple of her friends. For a while, that’s all it was—I’d get a call, mostly from older women who had functions that they didn’t want to handle alone. So they’d take me. It was fun. It didn’t interfere with my work. I think Ms. Grant knew what was going on since she seemed to be at most of the parties, but it just wasn’t a big deal. These women were so—lonely? Isolated? It was like, they had plenty of money but no one to trust.”
Kara’s the naked one right now, and still Lena feels so exposed.
Kara isn’t done, though. “It became a word of mouth thing, I guess. Eventually, one of them asked if I would consider sleeping with her if she paid me. Said at least with me, she knew I wasn’t going to try to make anything more out of it and that she wasn’t looking for a relationship or romance, just sex. Sex as a transaction with no hidden motives or potential for confusion.”
Lena just sits there, thinks about what Kara’s describing. It resonates with her, more deeply than she’d care to truly evaluate. Personally, Lena thinks she’d be unlikely to pay for sex, even if she doesn’t have a problem with the concept. Paying for sex is fine when there are two fully consenting adults involved. It’s more the lack of connection to a partner that bothers Lena. Lena knows she has a hard time separating sex and feelings—she likes to know someone before she goes to bed with them.
How many times has she wanted intimacy with someone, only to avoid it because she doesn’t know if they’re more interested in her money or her connections, rather than in her as a person? The reason she hasn’t dated anyone, not seriously, since Andrea is precisely because she’s worried about being taken advantage of if she opens herself up again.
This conversation is giving her an uncomfortable glimpse into her future. She shakes her head to clear it and casts around for something else to stop from going any further.
“Do you still want to be a journalist? Or is this, are you going to continue—” Lena flounders again, but Kara picks up the thread easily.
“Oh, I’m actually starting full time at that department in CatCo in three weeks! Thanks to Ms. Grant, I was able to make it as a freelancer after leaving as her assistant. I mostly sold smaller pieces to the AP, but I’ve done some longer narrative pieces on a contract basis—including that one in your hand. That wasn’t under my name, obviously,” Kara explains.
“Freelance can be unpredictable. Feast or famine, you know? And working as an escort, well, let’s just say it’s steady work.” Lena can imagine, though she doesn’t interrupt Kara to say so. “But. Yeah. It was never meant to be forever. You’re actually my last client.”
Lena feels a strange sense of relief at Kara’s statement, although she feels her entire body flush at Kara’s next words. “And I mean, obviously, I don’t sleep with every client. Most of them are like you.”
Trying desperately to ignore how attractive they find you? Lena thinks to herself. Maybe she can invent a time machine and go back to the beginning of this conversation and just not have it, instead. “Consumed by puritan values?” She guesses out loud.
“No,” Kara huffs a laugh as she turns the shower off. “It isn’t sex they have trouble finding, it’s someone to face the world with. Towel?”
Lena grabs the nearest towel from the rack and all but throws it as Kara pulls the curtain back completely. She looks politely at the ceiling so Kara can wrap herself and get out of the shower.
“You know, Lena, this whole modesty thing you seem to have about my body aside, I can’t imagine you have much trouble finding people to have sex with.”
“What?” Lena yelps and looks back down at Kara. Lena had been pretty sure that she couldn’t feel any more awkward, but Kara seems determined to push her limits here.
“What?” Kara parrots back innocently as she finishes securing the towel around her chest and grabs a second one to wrap around her hair. She rolls her eyes at Lena and takes Lena’s silence as a sign to keep going.
“You’re beautiful. So much so that I think I stopped breathing when I saw you on the plane.”
Kara walks across the tiled floor to Lena until she’s standing directly in front of her. Lena can feel the heat from the shower still radiating off of her. Kara continues, her face serious. “But I think you already know that about yourself. I think I’m here this weekend because you didn’t want to face your family alone. And after meeting them, I can see why.”
Kara sounds like she’s just stating a fact, no sarcasm or judgement. As if she understands completely why Lena wouldn’t want to be there without some sort of shield.
Then Kara’s expression shifts to something else entirely and she looks Lena up and down with such intent that Lena can almost feel it. “But maybe I’ve read this whole thing wrong. Maybe you’re just waiting for the right moment to get down to business.”
And with that Kara drops the first towel entirely and walks out of the bathroom.
Lena feels how wide her eyes go, can make out her own reflection in the slightly fogged mirror above the sink. Oh god, she’s red like a tomato. She can hear Kara laughing from the bedroom.
“As soon as you’ve unfrozen, you should probably get ready for bed, Lena,” Kara calls out. “If we don’t try to sleep soon, tomorrow is going to suck!”
Shit. She’s not going to be able to look at Kara now without imagining her naked, is she?
“Shut up, Kara,” she manages, then shuts herself in the bathroom alone.
By the time Lena comes out of the bathroom, Kara has drawn the curtains and gotten under the duvet. She has her phone out, the glow of it casting her face in bluish light. When Lena closes the bathroom door, she looks up and puts it down on the table next to her.
“Ready for bed?” Kara asks.
Lena nods. “As ready as jetlag is going to allow me to be.”
“Fair enough,” Kara answers, smiling sympathetically. She rolls over to turn her bedside lamp out as Lena makes her way around the bed.
Lena slides under the sheets on her side and turns out her own light. She closes her eyes and wills herself to fall asleep, but feels just restless enough to know it’s going to be a difficult night.
She shifts around for a minute, but can’t get comfortable and finally turns on her side with her back to the window. Even though the room is dark, she can make out Kara’s profile on the other side of the giant bed.
“Lena?" Kara lets out a breath. "I, um, I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable earlier, in the bathroom. I'm comfortable being naked around clients, obviously, sometimes it's part of the job. But, I do realize casual nudity isn’t for everyone." She turns over to face Lena. "I was having fun teasing you and I got a little caught up in that. I'm sorry if I crossed a line.”
“Kara, I followed you into the bathroom,” Lena says dryly, feels her face flush at the reminder. “If anyone crossed a line first, it was me. You’re fine, I promise.”
“Not a line I have," Kara says. "You’d tell me, though? If I made you uncomfortable?”
“I would. I appreciate you checking.” She doesn’t know what compels her, but Lena finds herself adding, “You have a really nice body.” She wants to slap herself.
Kara lets out a pleased sounding laugh. “I’m glad you think so.”
They lapse into silence.
Kara flops onto her back and, after a second, Lena does the same. She’s just resigning herself to a night of tossing and turning when Kara speaks again.
“You know, I’ve never done a wedding before. Funerals, sure. But never a wedding.”
Lena startles and unsuccessfully chokes back a laugh. “Funerals? Really?” She turns over toward Kara.
“Not the way you’re thinking,” Kara says, slightly exasperated.
“Just, the idea that someone would bring an escort. I mean, someone’s dead!”
“That’s right,” Kara says, still facing up at the ceiling. “Can you imagine facing a loss like that alone?” The response stops Lena’s laughter. She’s suddenly reminded of how she felt at 13, facing Lionel’s funeral. If she hadn’t had Lex…well. She can see why someone might want an anchor, someone like Kara with no judgement by their side.
“It surprises me, I guess,” Lena says into the dark. She can feel Kara turn toward her in the bed. “Just that, I don’t know. I would think plenty of women would want a date to a wedding. Hard to face all the scrutiny here, too.” Lena can just make out Kara’s smile in the dark of the room, but Kara doesn’t say anything.
“I didn’t think I’d be the only one,” Lena says at last.
“Well, you’re my first.” She turns over, faces away from Lena and, soon, Lena can hear Kara’s breathing even out.
It lulls Lena to sleep.