The longer Lena stands in her bedroom, her still-wet hair slowly dripping onto the hardwood, the more she wonders whether screaming will make her feel any better. She’s been waiting for this phone call for the last twenty-four hours and now she's staring at the missed call banner. Somehow she already knows that calling back isn’t going to work out in her favor, so instead she closes her eyes and clicks on the voicemail.
“Hi Lena, this is Kara Danvers! I got your messages, all seven of them. I’m so sorry that we didn’t have a chance to sit down this week in person, although it sounds like you’ve had your hands full at work. I have some stuff I need to take care of before we leave, so I’ll have to meet you at the airport. Since I’m cutting it a little close, I’ll send a courier to pick up my ticket from you this afternoon. And Lena? Take a deep breath. This is all going to be fine. Your ex-fiancée will wish she’d never left you and your family will think we’re in love. Trust me. Look, I’ve got to go, but I’ll see you at the airport. Can’t wait to meet you.”
There’s something confident and soothing about Kara Danvers’s voice, and Lena needs all the calm she can get right now. She takes a deep breath as the message ends and hits ‘play’ again, while looking absently around at the mess that is her bedroom and closet.
Nearly everything she owns is haphazardly strewn about. There are two open suitcases on her floor, into which she’s stuffed every single item of clothing she might need for a four day wedding extravaganza. Her brother can never do anything small. Lena’s sure that half of the pageantry is as much about Luthor Corp as it is about the actual nuptials, but if she’s going to spend nearly a week back in the viper pit, well, she’s going to look amazing doing it.
Switching to the weather app on her phone, Lena squints at the five day forecast. It’s a maddening mix of sun, clouds, and rain in no particular order with a high of 65 degrees. Of course Lex has to get married in fucking Scotland.
Lena sets the phone down on the bench at the foot of her bed, choosing to ignore the four other messages still un-played on her phone. One is from her research director and the remainder are from her step-mother. She already knows what the three from Lillian will say: something chastising about how late she’s arriving for the wedding weekend, a reminder that Lena must be on her best behavior with all guests regardless of how shitty they’ve treated her in the past, and suspicion disguised as enthusiasm regarding the fact that Lena is bringing a date despite none of the family knowing she was involved in a romantic relationship. No point in listening.
She feels a tension headache coming on and consciously unclenches her jaw, bringing her hands up to massage her temples. Lena closes her eyes. This wedding hasn’t even begun and she already wants it to be over. Maybe she can come down with a stomach bug so bad that she can’t fly. Hell, maybe with a bit of luck she can get hit by a car on her way to the airport and spend the weekend in a coma instead. But, barring catastrophe, Lena knows she has no viable outs.
She sighs and opens her eyes, decides that’s enough wallowing and opts to deal with the problem in front of her. She grabs another dress from where she’d flung it earlier and tries to remember where she’s put the matching earrings.
The intercom in her foyer buzzes once.
“Ms. Luthor?” The garbled voice of her doorman comes through the speaker. Lena drops the dress and trips over a discarded pair of heels in her haste to get to the front door. She yelps and hops awkwardly through the hallway, scrambling for the intercom button.
“Hi Frank, my car isn’t here yet, is it? I won’t be ready for at least another twenty minutes so I’ll need them to wait, I’m so sorry.” Lena winces and looks back towards the bedroom. Twenty minutes is pushing it, more like forty.
“No Ms. Luthor, it’s a courier. Shall I send them up or would you like to come down?”
“Oh, ah, up is fine, thank you, Frank.” Lena looks down at her right pinky toe, trying to see whether it’s bruising already or if her having broken it on the heels is just wishful thinking. If she’s got a broken foot, no one can make her play golf this weekend, right?
“Of course, Ms. Luthor.” Lena releases the intercom and grimaces down at her foot. Her toe looks fine. Definitely wishful thinking. She can hear her phone buzzing in her bedroom, Lillian again, no doubt.
Lena barely has time to retrieve the envelope containing Kara’s plane ticket before there’s a knock at her door. She opens it to find a disheveled bike messenger, helmet still on, crossbody bag swung open and around on his chest.
“Lena Luthor?” Oh god, she thinks. This is actually happening. Lena realizes somewhat distantly that she’s kept the entire endeavor at arms length until now. Even the voicemail from Kara hadn’t perforated her sense that the whole thing might be made up in her head. Faced with this rumpled, sweaty cyclist, however, the full weight and measure of what Lena is doing hits her square in the chest. I’m hiring an escort to pretend to be my girlfriend. At Lex’s wedding. In front of every single person I’ve ever known.
The messenger furrows his brow. He clears his throat and shifts his weight. It becomes clear to both of them that Lena isn’t going to respond.
“Do you have the envelope?” He finally asks, breaking the silence. “I really need to get going, traffic is a mess out there right now.”
The envelope. Right. Lena brings it up, getting ready to hand it off to him. She stares at the wrinkled, white front of it where she’s practically crushed it with her fingers. It says ‘Kara Danvers’ in Lena’s own neat, block print. He grabs for it and looks almost off balance when Lena tightens her grip instead of releasing it.
“Um, look, lady? I’m going to need you to let go of it,” he says. Lena tears her eyes away from the writing and looks up at the courier.
“It’s a plane ticket. For a date.” Her voice breaks on the word ‘date’ and she clears her throat. “My date. For my brother’s wedding. In Scotland.” She stops. The guy nods slowly.
“That’s great, but you’re going to have to let go of it,” he responds. Lena closes her eyes.
“You’re going to have to help me,” she says. She feels his other hand close gently around her wrist as he pulls the envelope from her grasp. “Thank you,” Lena breathes out.
“No problem,” he answers. She can hear him adjusting his bag as he continues, “uh, my sister always says deep breathing helps? Good luck with your date.”
Lena opens her eyes and watches as the guy jogs back down the hallway to the elevator. This is it. This is her last chance to call this ridiculous thing off. This is her last opportunity to stop what is absolutely, positively the stupidest and most desperate thing she’s ever done in her entire life.
But the elevator doors have already closed
Lena hears a ‘thunk’ from her bedroom as her phone vibrates its way off the bench. She can only imagine how many voicemails Lillian will have left before she gets to the airport and can finally turn it off.
By the time she’s in the back of the car on the way to the airport, Lena has run out of excuses to avoid checking her voicemail.
She pulls her phone out of her purse and sees five new missed calls. She’s just unlocking it and thinking that Lillian can’t possibly be so unoccupied as to bombard her with this many messages when another call starts to come through. Brainy’s LinkedIn picture pops up on her screen and Lena swipes to answer.
“Oh thank goodness you finally picked up. I have been calling you all afternoon, we have a problem with the capacitor on project two that no one has been able to diagnose and the lab manager for project seven is having a meltdown and I told her to just use boxes for her emotions and to get back to work but she says boxes don’t sound healthy and—"
“And I’m not working again until next week. Brainy, you’re my R&D Director. You’re going to have to handle this on your own. I haven’t seen my family in two years, my flight leaves in an hour, and I need at least two drinks before I get onboard.” Lena’s headache is coming back and she debates pretending to lose signal.
“But Dr. Luthor! I am already dealing with three final phase trials and the manager in lab four called out sick! Please!” Even garbled through the phone, he’s starting to sound mildly panicked.
Lena sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. Brainy is absolutely capable of solving these problems himself, but this is the first time since L Tech launched nearly two years ago that she’s left it in his hands for more than twenty-four hours.
He also never calls her Dr. Luthor anymore unless he’s really stressed. She sighs again.
“Fine. The capacitor—I’m assuming that physical inspection yielded no observable damage to the motor or wiring?”
“Correct. Visual inspection was negative for damage and the shaft is intact.” She can hear the relief in his voice.
“And the thermal switch has been reset?”
“I reset it myself.”
“Was the voltage within acceptable limits?”
“Nearing 10%, but not over. And it was locked out and tagged per policy before I directed the tech to disconnect the incoming power leads,” he tells her, confidence returning as he goes through the protocol aloud. Brainy is in his element now. It’s one of the reasons she likes him so much. Lena feels a small smile break onto her face as he continues. “The ohmmeter read infinity, indicating that it is not a short. I am worried we might have to replace the motor but I did not want to do that in the absence of your explicit approval.”
“Well, you have my approval, Brainy. I put you in charge for a reason. Make sure someone checks the centrifugal switch, too. It might not be the motor.” She suddenly remembers something else. “Early on weren’t we having problems with broken springs?”
“Yes! We were! I will direct the tech to examine the switch, assuming repairs to the motor do not address the problem, prior to replacing it.” He pauses and she can hear him inhale. “And the boxes?” He asks tentatively.
Lena rolls her eyes. “Jess needs a pep talk, Brainy, not boxes. She’s worried about FDA approval for the trials. Go over the protocols with her and if there isn’t anything to refine, tell her to take tomorrow and Friday off. She’s earned it.”
“Absolutely, Lena. And good luck this weekend. I am happy that Nia was able to connect you wi—”
“Goodbye, Brainy.” Lena hangs up on him before he can launch into whatever he thinks of her decision to hire an escort to be her date for this godforsaken weekend. It’s just as well, anyway, as the car has come to a stop along the departures drive at National City International and she can hear the driver getting her bags out of the trunk. She checks one last time that her passport is in her purse and then her door is being opened.
Lena steps out of the car and into the mid-June heat, wishing (not for the first time) that she’d chosen to base L Tech somewhere that wasn’t quite so sunny. Maybe she was a little hasty in cursing Lex for getting married in the UK. The driver has already handed the luggage to a skycap who looks at the car as if he had been expecting more than one person to get out of it, which, considering the three bags she’s checking, Lena doesn’t find unreasonable.
And then she’s breezing through check-in and wondering how much is a reasonable amount to drink before boarding the plane. She knows, logically, that flying hungover is a terrible idea and, more importantly, that there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to dampen her fear of flying.
The skycap has been replaced by some sort of concierge and she’s directed to the suite-class lounge, which she supposes is meant to be stunning. There are plush armchairs and couches, all oriented toward beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking one of the runways.
All Lena can think is, why do they have to remind me that I’m about to get on a plane?
Her phone buzzes, again, and Lena shuts it off without even looking at it. She has an hour till she can get onboard and she’ll be damned if any part of that is going to be spent getting guilt-tripped by Lillian.
Settling onboard in the open suite, Lena thinks to herself that she can be forgiven if the most Luthor thing that she’s done in the last two years is probably booking these plane tickets. Rather than the usual first class set-up with open seats spaced out through the cabin, she’s standing in something akin to a small office—there’s a single captain-style chair that is fully adjustable and a moderately sized screen on the wall next to the door she’d just stepped through. She knows from reading about it that the aft wall contains a compartment with a single-size murphy bed that will be folded down and made up for her following the dinner service. Per her instruction, the steward is lowering the partition separating her from the opposite suite where Kara will ultimately be seated in a mirror image of her side, assuming, of course, that her date makes it to the airplane before they depart.
The tickets were absurdly, unconscionably expensive, but if she’s going to fly eleven hours to this stupid fucking wedding then, goddammit, she’ll do so in a seat that allows her to pretend she isn’t even on a plane.
It isn’t that Lena dislikes flying, it’s more that she’s convinced she’s going to die while doing it. Sure, she’s an engineer by training—if asked, Lena can talk about the aerodynamics of lift and the physics of flight. She can go into depth about the mathematics of wing and fuselage design that make it possible for this behemoth to fly. She knows that, statistically speaking, flight is one of the safest methods of commercial transport.
And yet, white-knuckled, drinking her third Corryvreckan of the afternoon, Lena knows she’d be just as likely to recite from memory a recent Scientific American article entitled “No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air.”
Facing her first flight in two years would be bad enough without the surrounding circumstances, but there’s that to factor in, too. She hasn’t seen anyone from her old life since Andrea called off their engagement, except for Jack Spheer and Sam Arias—both of whom came to visit National City exactly once after she’d established L Tech’s labs. She and Jack talk regularly via various messaging and video apps, but she knows it isn’t the same.
It’s not exactly accurate to say that Lena had fled Metropolis for National City following the break up. But it’s not exactly inaccurate to say that, either. Andrea’s decision had just been the final nail in the coffin that was her life there, coming, as it did, on top of Lillian’s continued indifference to her and Lex’s cold response to her work being stolen by Lord Industries. A year’s worth of work—work that could have changed the direction of their family company—down the drain, and nothing from her brother beyond insincere condolences and attempts to cajole her back into development work that had more overt military applications. It had just confirmed the overall feeling that she was drowning, alone, and that no one was going to be there when she went under.
Lena blinks herself out of it and flags down the attendant. Enough of her anxiety must show on her face because he stops quickly and looks mildly concerned.
“Ma’am? Is there something else I can get you?”
“No, no nothing. I just.” She breathes deeply and pushes on—maybe venting some of this to a stranger she’ll never have to see again will help. After all, isn’t her therapist always telling her to talk about it? “I need to warn you. I’m terrified of flying. I know it’s safe, I know we’ll be fine, I know that this plane in particular has been recently serviced by the chief of maintenance and is also the third newest in your fleet.” She pauses to see how he’s taking it. His face is warm but impassive although Lena suspects he’s drawing on all of his professional acumen to remain calm in the face of what is clearly a nearly unhinged customer. “But I actually have a bigger problem.” Here his eyes widen in the smallest of surprises. Lena hears movement across the aisle outside as boarding continues.
“The reason I can’t breathe at this particular moment is that any second my date is going to board this plane and enter the other side of this suite and sit down in that seat across from me. And I need her to look absolutely perfect.” She knows she’s looking at him with a beseeching expression, knows also that there is nothing he can do about either of those things, but she’s still startled when he is momentarily distracted by movement to her right.
“Hello, 2A.” He murmurs in a low voice, then looks back at Lena, smile shifting to something nearly conspiratorial as he pats her arm. “I think you’re going to be just fine.” Lena turns in her seat, startled by the sound of someone dropping a bag onto the floor only a few feet away from her.
The attendant disappears, or more accurately, Lena simply ceases to notice his existence because the woman standing on the other side of the suite divider is gorgeous. She’s got golden blonde hair up in a bun, dark-rimmed glasses, and she’s wearing a slim black sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up, on top of soft, grey joggers and white sneakers. As she stands up from stowing her bag, she flashes a smile at Lena and steps forward, reaching across the divider with her right hand.
“You must be Lena.”
And now Lena can’t breathe for a whole new reason. Well, at least she doesn’t have to worry about Kara looking perfect. She nods her head as she gets up to take Kara’s hand while her stomach makes a disconcerting swoop.
“I promise I’ve packed appropriate clothing, but we’re about to be stuck on a plane for a little more than ten hours and I wanted to be comfortable. I didn’t realize they provided pjs.” Kara’s smiling even wider as she disengages and reaches up to adjust her glasses, eyes crinkling. “I’m sorry we couldn’t leave sooner, I know you wanted to have more time to settle in before the events start.” The attendant pops in behind her, holding a printed menu.
“Absolutely!” Kara looks delighted and the man’s smile is no longer professional, but full of genuine warmth. She looks at Lena, whose own drink is still in her left hand. “Scotch, right? I’ll have whatever she’s having.”
“Very good.” He disappears again.
“I’m glad we’ll at least have some time on the flight to get to know each other. Can’t say I’m going to want to get off the plane when we arrive, though.” She looks around. “I think this room is bigger than my first apartment.” Kara takes her seat. The attendant returns and hands Kara a glass, then informs both of them that they’ll be pushing back shortly and requests that they buckle in. Kara takes a sip. “Wow. This will certainly make the flight quicker.”
The shock of how good Kara looks is wearing off and the reality that the plane is going to take off momentarily is sinking in in its place. Seeming to finally key into the fact that Lena hasn’t actually said a word to her yet and also hasn’t sat back down, Kara makes eye contact with her and furrows her brow. “Are you alright?”
There’s absolutely no stopping her anxiety from taking over Lena’s mouth.
She closes her eyes tightly as she sinks into her seat and speaks rapidly. “I’m terrified of flying. I’m sorry you don’t even know me yet and this is not the first impression I’d hoped to make but given that you’re here now I no longer have to worry about whether or not you’re going to show up and I’m back to thinking about about whether or not we’ll die in a fiery crash on the way. I booked this whole thing so I could pretend we aren’t on an airplane but it isn’t working.”
She hears the click of a seatbelt coming undone and then some shuffling, and opens her eyes to find that Kara has set down her scotch and is climbing over the low divider between their adjoined areas. On some level she registers movement outside the window, they’re clearly taxiing, but then all of her attention is back on Kara who is kneeling beside her. Kara pries the glass from Lena’s grip and replaces it with her hand.
“Sorry, I just, you looked like you were going to pass out.” Kara says, as if this explains why she’s out of her seat while the plane is moving. Lena has a moment to wonder why no one has come to tell Kara to sit down.
“What helps?” Kara asks.
Lena wants to snap that nothing helps, but Kara is looking up at her so earnestly that all she can do is squeeze her hand and try to explain.
“Not flying helps. If it weren’t for this stupid fucking wedding I don’t think I’d ever fly again. I’ve always had the fear that I’m going to die flying somewhere,” Lena grits out. “It’s ridiculous, I know.”
Kara starts sweeping her thumb across the back of Lena’s hand and Lena feels herself begin to unclench against all expectations.
“This. Um. This is helping,” Lena whispers. As if being quiet will help with her embarrassment. “I’ll feel better once we level off, it’s the takeoff and the landing that I have the most trouble with.”
“Ok, I can do this unless someone comes by and tells me to get back in my seat. And it isn’t ridiculous.” Kara gives her a sympathetic half-smile. “I suppose if I had a secret hunch about how I was going to die, I’d avoid that situation, too, so we have that in common. Would talking help? Can I distract you?”
“I don’t know, you’re welcome to try.”
“Sure,” Kara says. Her voice has taken on the same confident, soothing quality from the voicemail. “Sure, let’s try that. Well, Lena Luthor, what can you tell me about the future of technology in humanitarian aid crises?”
“What?” Lena jerks back a little, confused as to why Kara is asking about her professional sphere of work.
“I looked you up before agreeing to this and found the TED Talk you gave last spring. You’ve clearly got a lot to say about it, I’m all ears.” Kara’s smiling up softly at her, voice even, eyes genuine, and Lena finds herself starting to tell Kara about L Tech and their latest initiatives.
Kara asks her to keep going even when the attendant comes back and regretfully informs her that they cannot take off unless Kara is belted in. She breaks in occasionally with thoughtful questions and so Lena, bewildered by this turn of events, walks Kara through nearly all of her active portfolio of projects. By the time she finishes going through an abbreviated version of how distributed ledger technology might make access to medical records or cutting edge IP easier during a disaster, the attendant is back, opening the door to Kara’s side of the suite and stating that they are now free to move about the cabin.
For the first time in her entire life, Lena didn’t even realize she was taking off.
The next hour is, well, if not relaxing, then certainly not the nightmare that Lena had been prepared for. Kara keeps her distracted with the most ridiculous questions once they’ve exhausted L Tech’s current initiatives. She starts off asking Lena who she’d go to dinner with if she could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead.
When Lena says Hedy Lamar and Kara says Nellie Bly, they end up talking about what it would be like to be famous and what they’d each like to be famous for (“Arguably,” Kara points out, “you’re already famous. That TED talk had a lot of hits.”). When Lena apologizes for the barrage of messages she’d left Kara, Kara confesses that she’d probably have done the same thing in Lena’s shoes.
“Although my messages wouldn’t have been so succinct. I tend to ramble when I’m nervous.” She grins at Lena (does she ever stop smiling? Lena isn’t sure) and Lena can’t imagine Kara Danvers nervous.
“I do, too, actually. Clearly,” Lena huffs with a self-deprecating laugh as she thinks back to takeoff. She wonders what it is about Kara that’s compelling her to confess like this. Maybe Kara just has one of those faces. “But I rehearse what I’m going to say before I make phone calls.”
Kara looks intrigued, so Lena continues. “I can’t risk coming across as young or unpolished. Being a woman in tech, or business for that matter, doesn’t leave any room for that. Getting L Tech off the ground meant dealing with investors and regulators and I suppose the habit stuck. I can’t remember the last call I didn’t do that for.”
“Huh. I’ve never thought about doing that. Maybe I’ll have to steal your idea,” Kara says, head quirked.
The attendant interrupts them to ask about dinner orders and it’s in the middle of the third course that Lena flushes as she realizes that she feels very much like she’s on a date with Kara.
Their discussion topics don’t help the impression. It isn’t as if they’re delving anywhere deep (Kara’s last question was about what ability she’d like to wake up with one day, although it had come on the heels of what would constitute her perfect day) but there’s something about the give and take of the conversation that feels much more authentic than Lena had prepared herself for.
The attendants have just cleared away dessert and are turning the suites down for the overnight when Lena turns to Kara. “Thank you. For earlier, I mean. I’m sorry. I feel like between that and the half dozen voicemails I left you yesterday, you must be wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Kara’s gaze is warm when Lena makes eye contact. “Honestly, Lena, you need to stop apologizing. I get the sense that this weekend is going to be complicated for you in more ways than one. I’m here to help with whatever you need.” Kara smiles at the attendant who’s finishing her lay-flat bed, before she looks back to Lena. “I promise, everything is going to be fine.”
She’s not used to being on anything but an even playing field and Lena is suddenly very aware of how uneven this feels, no matter how open Kara seems to have been with her. Maybe it’s the unsettling feeling that Kara actually does seem to understand how difficult this weekend is likely to be for her, or the realization that she’s essentially just spent the last hour and half talking about herself to a woman who she has hired to be her date, but Lena is struck by the desire to unbalance Kara, if only for a moment.
As she settles on the converted bed, the attendants having departed and left them alone once more, Lena starts to pull up the partition that will separate them while they sleep. She pauses just before she clicks it into place, letting it obscure her face. “Kara? You know those families where everyone is out of their mind, but they’re your family so you love them anyway?”
“Mine’s not like that.”
Lena locks the partition and turns out her light. With any luck, by the time she wakes up, they’ll be on the ground.
Kara sighs as the partition clicks into place. Over the last two hours, she’d really begun to feel like Lena was opening up to her. More than once she’d caught herself thinking that this weekend might be truly fun, even if she was going to be working the whole time. She can’t remember the last time she enjoyed getting to know someone so much (client or otherwise, now that she thinks about it). And just when she’s feeling like the rapport they’ve built is going to make the whole thing easy, Lena’d suddenly shut down.
She glances at her watch and runs a hand through her hair, taking it out of the messy bun she’d wrapped it into before heading to the airport hours earlier. They’ve got another eightish hours until landing and Kara sighs to herself.
Alex, who’s always been skeptical of Kara’s choice of side job anyway, had been a little put out that morning when Kara had told her she’d be gone through the weekend and that they’d have to reschedule sister night.
“I thought you were quitting that. You’re finally about to start full time at CatCo as a reporter!” Alex had whined as she started opening a large cardboard box with the words utensils and napkins scrawled along the top.
“I am, Alex. This is actually going to be the last one. It’s ten grand for four days—some destination wedding? That’s four months rent plus my entire potsticker budget for the year.” Kara followed her into the kitchen.
“Fine, fine. But I’m still pissed at you for cancelling. We haven’t hung out in ages and I just miss you. Grab that box, will you? It goes in the study, not the kitchen.” Alex pointed at the box Kara had just put down next to the dishwasher. “So, big fancy wedding, huh? Who’s the client?”
“Alex! You know I can’t tell you that! But, actually, I wanted to ask Kelly for her thoughts.”
“My thoughts on what?” Kelly walked in the front door of her and Alex’s new apartment holding a box of donuts and a tray of coffees.
“Kara’s escorting some woman to a wedding all weekend.”
“Oh, anywhere nice?” Kelly put the donuts and to-go cups down next to the sink and walked over to Alex before leaning with her back against the countertop.
“I’m not supposed to say. But this isn’t like any of the events I’ve done where I’m just some anonymous date for an evening. It’s a little more, um.” Kara paused. “Look, promise not to laugh?” Alex and Kelly both nodded. “The client has asked me to pretend to be her long term girlfriend in order to—hey! I said no laughing!”
Alex wiped at the coffee she’d just spit onto the counter. “Oh my god Kara you can’t be serious. That’s the plot of a 2000s romcom.”
Kelly seemed to be biting back a smile. “What do you want my help with, Kara?”
“Ugh, thank you for taking me seriously even if she,” Kara glared at her sister, “won’t.”
Alex chucked a piece of the donut she was eating at Kara. “I take you exactly as seriously as you should be taken,” Alex laughed out. Kelly smiled and rolled her eyes at the two and gestured for Kara to continue.
“I remember reading an article in college about questions that can quickly build intimacy between two people who’ve never met before,” Kara said, wiping some chocolate icing off of her cheek. “It was some psych study, but I can’t remember the author and googling hasn’t been super helpful. But! You’re a clinical psychologist!”
Kelly looked thoughtful for a moment. “I am. What’s your goal with these questions?”
“Well, the people she wants to convince know her well. It’s her brother’s wedding and her ex-fiancée is going to be there as a guest. So it’s not as simple as just hoping we have physical chemistry. I guess I just want to see if the questions might be like, I don’t know, a guide or something to building a believable base.” Kara looked at her hopefully and grabbed one of the donuts.
Alex looked up. “That actually makes sense. Nice idea, Kara.”
“It does,” Kelly agreed. “And I know the questions you’re talking about. It’s from a 1997 study called The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. Kara, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest following the guide directly, but it makes sense in the context of what you’re trying to do. I can e-mail you a copy, if you’d like?” Kelly had already pulled out her phone.
“You’re a lifesaver, Kelly! If Alex doesn’t marry you, I’m next in line, ok?” And with that, Kara had scooped up the box and left her sister sputtering in the kitchen.
Now, listening to the quiet mechanical hum of the plane, Kara pulls out her phone and runs over the list of questions Kelly had sent her that afternoon for the umpteenth time. She realizes that she’s inadvertently already gotten through the first third of the questions with Lena already. Guess I’ve internalized the list, she thinks to herself.
She’d intended on telling Lena about the study and seeing if this was something that she would be interested in doing, but in the face of Lena’s fear and discomfort, Kara had just wanted to distract her. Well, they sure seem to work.
It helps that she naturally likes Lena. Thank god for that TED Talk, otherwise Kara is near certain she’d have tripped over her own feet when she saw her for the first time. Even terrified and a little tipsy, Lena Luthor is stunning. She’d somehow gotten prettier as she’d allowed Kara to coax her into conversation. By the time the attendants had been preparing their small cabins for bed, Kara was feeling genuine warmth toward her.
And then Lena had shuttered.
Kara huffs as she sets her alarm for six hours and tucks into bed. Lena is a bundle of contradictions—she’s clearly brilliant and personable, but also anxious and insecure. Kara is struck by how lonely Lena had sounded when Kara had asked about her life in National City.
She clicks the button next to her pillow to turn off the light. She’ll ask Lena about the rest of the questions in the morning. They’ve got four days and Kara feels certain, no matter what Lena had said as she’d closed the partition, that they’re off to a solid start.
this is my first fic so I'm still working out the kinks! comments and kudos are very, very much appreciated and if you wanna scream about these idiots, you can find me on tumblr @ i-am-robie
those airplane suites exist and they are *bonkers*
fic title from Hallelujah by Oh Wonder
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.
Kudos and comments make my heart sing :)
Apologies to those who know the movie and were hoping to see a drunk Lillian embarrass Lena. No matter how many drinks I gave her, Mama Luthor never let her guard down enough to say something foolish in public. She’s too controlled. What’s an author to do?
With that in mind (and without spoiling), there are similar shifts from the movie coming to ensure that our gang isn’t too far out of character...hopefully you’ll agree with my choices and, if you don’t, hopefully you’ll enjoy the story anyway!
Look, I’m not gonna lie, I only decided to set the wedding in Scotland because I was drinking scotch (and that scotch is from Islay, so naturally they had to go to Islay...can you see how self-indulgent this is now?) when this stupid au took over my brain but I needed a way to justify it, et voilà! IF YOU SEARCH THE INTERNET HARD ENOUGH YOU CAN FIND ANYTHING YOU WANT. Have some Smallville lore (check out the notes section).
Jet lag or not, Kara wakes with the sun as it peeks around the edges of the drawn curtains. She lays in bed for a moment longer, looking over at Lena, who is still sound asleep. Lena has one arm tucked under her pillow, the other pressed into her cheek.
Kara lets herself watch for a moment. She has the sudden urge to reach over and push Lena’s hair off of her forehead, tuck it behind her ear.
Instead, she gets out of bed and calls room service to have breakfast delivered.
Kara checks her phone while she waits. Alex has sent a few messages asking how she’s doing and if she’s met anyone famous. Kara responds with a frowny face emoji and a reminder that her job is confidential, thank you very much.
She hopes the text wakes Alex up.
At the knock on the door, Kara declines the offer to have the table set and takes the tray of coffee and food herself. She resists drawing back the drapes for now, just drinks a cup of coffee and eats breakfast quietly as she reads through the news before deciding that, since it’s half six, she might as well let more light into the room—no sense in delaying the day anymore.
Lena turns over in bed as the sun falls across her face, but she doesn’t open her eyes. Kara smiles and hums to herself, steps back to the table and pours a cup of coffee for Lena. Lena is clearly not a morning person, but if she doesn’t get up now, Kara’s worried they won’t make it down to the lobby by eight.
Walking over to the bed, Kara calls her name softly once, then again. Lena grunts something unintelligible.
“It’s a gorgeous day out, Lena. Time to get up,” she tries again, a little louder.
“You’re just naturally like this in the morning, aren’t you?” Lena mumbles.
“All energized and perfect—” Lena is speaking mostly into the pillow, but Kara can see her cheeks pinken anyway. Lena opens one eye to glance sideways at Kara and barrels on in the direction of the distraction that Kara is providing. ”And you’ve got coffee, oh thank god.” She sits up in bed and sweeps hair out of her eyes as Kara hands her the cup.
“You were nearly nonverbal yesterday until you’d had some after we landed,” Kara says, laughing lightly. “I know better now.”
The coffee seems like it goes a long way toward waking Lena up. Enough so that, as Kara starts pulling clothing out of her suitcase, laying out possible combinations, Lena sets her cup aside and smooths out the duvet in her lap.
Kara can’t help watching as Lena stretches and swings her legs out over the side of the bed.
“You wanna get ready first or should I?” she asks Lena.
“There’s two sinks, no reason we can’t do it at the same time,” Lena shrugs as she slides off the other side of the bed and pads across the room to where Kara had lain out their suitcases last night. She looks soft and relaxed now, strappy navy tank and matching sleep shorts rumpled from sleeping in them, and Kara feels a swell of warmth towards her.
Lena gives her a bemused expression, looking at the pairs of slacks and three shirts Kara has draped over one of the chairs. “How many outfits are you planning on needing today?”
“Just one, but I thought you might want to make sure we aren’t too matchy-matchy this time,” Kara says with a laugh, but she’s being sincere. Today is going to be stressful enough for Lena, if there’s something she can do to help, it feels right to do it.
As she collects her toiletries and walks into the bathroom to start while Lena picks out her own outfit in the bedroom, Kara smiles to herself thinking about how much Lena has relaxed with her since they arrived. Sure, yesterday was a little rocky at times, but the evening felt like a success and, all things considered, Kara thinks they’re doing well.
Kara doesn’t quite know what to make of all the people who seem to have let Lena down in such colossal ways. She’s baffled by the way Lillian treats Lena, by Andrea’s behavior, even by Lex.
Humming to herself as she washes her face, Kara thinks about it. Maybe she doesn’t know Lena well, certainly hasn’t known her for longer than thirty-six hours, but Kara gets the sense that what you see is what you get: Lena is a brilliant, driven woman who wants to do good and wants to be loved. Nothing about her feels manipulative. Wounded maybe, hurting and wanting to hurt back, but Kara’s not sure if Lena is really capable of following through the way she’d like to.
There are parts of Lena that remind her of herself—Kara’s no stranger to loss, she spent a long time at the Danvers feeling alien and alone. But where Kara has always known that her family members, biological and adoptive, loved and love her, she now knows that Lena doesn’t think she can say the same.
It’s funny. Last night, sitting on the bed with Lena and answering questions, Kara had the thought that she’s never felt so comfortable with anyone so quickly. Only two of the questions had thrown her— What is your most treasured memory? and What is your most terrible memory?
For the former, she’d started to tell Lena about holidays with her parents before they’d died, but, as soon as she did, she realized that wasn’t right. Her most treasured memory was, in some ways, connected with her most terrible: it was the first time Alex let her sneak out onto the roof with her at night to look at the stars, about four months after she’d moved in.
Alex had brought a blanket and snacks, and told her jokes and stories until they got too cold and had to go back inside. Kara can still remember how, for the first time in months, she’d felt like a normal teenager—at that moment she’d known she and Alex were going to be best friends and not just sisters.
But then, afterwards, she was horrified to realize she hadn’t thought about her parents for the entire night. Realizing that she could be ok without them felt like the worst thing in the world. It felt like a betrayal that nearly eclipsed the pain of losing them in the first place.
And somehow, Lena had understood. She told Kara that her own most terrible memory was realizing that she couldn’t remember what her birth mother looked like.
Kara shakes her head as she lays out her floss and uncaps the toothpaste. It normally takes years for her to open up so deeply, but the further down the list she and Lena get, the easier it seems to be.
Lena had seemed happiest all evening when they’d gone through the questions that referenced friendships. It’s clear to Kara that Lena keeps her distance even from close friends, but that she feels so strongly about them anyway—Lena lit up talking about a few folks in National City. Still, Kara couldn’t help noticing that they were all people Lena works with.
In fact, beyond Jack and someone named Sam, Lena’s only close relationships seem to be with people she also employs.
Kara finds herself wondering if she and Lena will end up as friends after this weekend. It’s an absurd thought, one that’s never entered her mind about a client before.
But she feels a sudden intense ache in her chest at the thought of never speaking to Lena again.
Kara sighs to herself as she puts toothpaste onto the brush. She feels a little off balance. The vulnerability the questions require goes both ways, and sharing the memory of her parents’ death is never easy—regardless of the context.
Still, she doesn’t regret asking Lena to do this with her. Even the first third of the list had made the afternoon easier. Kara imagines today will be even smoother.
Well, other than the helicopter ride.
Kara’s nearly done brushing when Lena makes it into the bathroom. She sets her cosmetics case down on the counter next to Kara’s dopp kit and starts getting out what she’ll need. Kara grins at her in the mirror and then spits a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink.
It should be disgusting, but Lena’s expression is, for lack of a better word, fond.
“Do you ever stop smiling?” Lena asks her, still looking at Kara in the mirror as she rinses her toothbrush.
“What?” Kara wipes her mouth on a towel.
“Smiling. Since you got on the plane, I don’t think I’ve seen a single unhappy expression on your face. Surely you can’t smile all the time.”
“Lena, who says I’m being me all the time?” Kara responds. “My job is to take care of you, make people feel good about themselves. It isn’t about me.” She doesn’t stop smiling at Lena while she says this, but Lena looks down and then away, something in her expression falling.
“Are you being you when you answer the questions?” There’s a vulnerability to Lena’s voice and it makes Kara’s chest tighten.
“Lena, of course I’m being me when I answer the questions.” Lena looks back to Kara’s face in the mirror. “They wouldn’t work otherwise.”
“Right,” Lena says. But it doesn’t feel quite right.
She’s about to try again when Lena speaks.
“You’ve got a spot.” Lena says, points to the side of her own mouth to demonstrate. The abrupt change of subject feels like cover to Kara, but she won’t push Lena. If Lena wants to bring it up again, Kara knows she will.
“Thanks.” Kara reaches for the towel again, wipes her mouth. “You know, I’ll happily grimace my way through today if that makes you feel better.”
Lena laughs. “No, that won’t be necessary.” Her smile looks genuine this time.
Kara rinses her mouth under the sink and then stands back up and leans against the counter to face Lena. “So why Scotland? If your family and Eve’s are both in Metropolis, why not do all of this there. I think Jack is the only one I’ve met who’s from here who’s actually invited to the wedding.”
Lena applies eyeliner while she answers Kara. “The Luthors are Scottish. My father was obsessed with his heritage, among other things. He kept family lands and a distillery or two—the Hotel Machrie, where we’re spending the rest of the wedding, is part of the Luthor Corp Hospitality holdings. In fact, the house that Lex and I grew up in was actually a Scottish Castle that Lionel had brought over, stone by stone.” Lena grabs a fresh wipe. “I suppose this is Lex’s way of having Lionel present.”
“That sounds more thoughtful than your brother seems capable of, based on the way you’ve described him.”
“I don’t know, maybe it is now. But Lex wasn’t always so self-centered. When we were younger, this is exactly the kind of thing he would have thought about.”
Kara is just slipping on her shoes when Lena finishes blow drying her hair and comes out of the bathroom. She’s dressed in a coral scoop-neck dress and her hair is twisted into a high knot. She looks incredible.
“Are you wearing that golfing?” Kara blurts out.
Lena’s just finishing putting in an earring and she stops, hands up near her right ear. “No?”
“That sounded like a question.”
“Kara, who goes golfing in a sheath dress?” Lena laughs. “I wasn’t sure why you would ask. Lex has some ridiculous plan to make everyone wear traditional clothing. We’ll get outfitted on arrival, I think. I’m glad it turns out you can play.”
Kara finishes knotting her shoes and stands up, brushes the wrinkles out of her slacks. “Lena, even if I couldn’t play, you don’t seriously think I’d abandon you to Andrea and Max, do you?”
“No, I suppose I don’t.” Lena smiles at her. “Still, I’m glad. It’ll make the day easier, for sure. I have to warn you: Andrea played in college, and she’s competitive. She’s a little insufferable on the course, actually.”
“She’s a little insufferable off it.” Lena shoots her a look. Kara puts up her hands. “What, I’m allowed to be snarky about people who’ve hurt you. Jack likes that about me, remember?”
Lena rolls her eyes. “Do you get this into role playing with all your clients?”
“If they ask nicely,” Kara grins and waggles her eyebrows. Lena goes red. “Actually, this exact scenario has never come up.”
Lena bends over to zip up one of her suitcases. “How does it normally go?” She’s not looking at Kara when she asks.
“My work?” Lena nods but still doesn’t look at her. “Well, normally I’m just there to be a date. It’s like I said in the bathroom—it isn’t about me.”
Lena stands up and looks around the room for something, but doesn’t respond. She also doesn’t look at Kara.
“Look, I love that you’re asking questions, but do you really want to get into all this?” Kara glances at her watch, walks over toward the door. They don’t have much time left before they need to be down in the lobby.
“This is awkward for me,” Lena finally says. “Talking about it makes me feel better.” She glances at Kara and then sits down on the bed and starts rifling through her purse.
“Hey,” Kara says gently. Lena stops and looks up at her. “Don’t stop asking questions.” She gives Lena an encouraging smile.
“Ok.” Lena smiles softly back. “Do you pay taxes?”
Kara lets out a burst of laughter. “Not what I thought you were going to ask. Yes. I pay taxes.”
“Are you ever attracted to your clients?” Lena looks back down at her purse.
Kara bites the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. She can’t believe Lena’s fishing so obviously. “Sometimes. Are you wondering if I’m attracted to you?”
“No!” Lena looks up, then has the grace to look a tiny bit chagrined. “Maybe.”
“I told you last night that I think I stopped breathing the first time I saw you.” Kara snorts. “Think that answers your question.”
Lena flushes, but she can’t quite hide a pleased smile.
“What’s your signature move?”
“My signature what?”
“You know, to initiate.” Lena gestures into the air with her right hand, glances quickly at Kara and then gets up and takes a pair of heels out of a different suitcase.
Kara hums. “First, I don’t initiate, per se. That’s up to the client.” She’s never spoken with someone about this—at least not so explicitly, and certainly not with a client themselves.
It strikes Kara that this should feel weird, but instead it doesn’t. She supposes it’s a natural extension of their getting to know each other. Still, she can’t resist teasing Lena a little. “Why, are you reconsidering my services?”
Lena goes a shade of pink not unlike her dress. “No. I don’t think I could pay for sex. I mean, I have nothing against it, of course—I’m not judging.” She closes her eyes, looks like she’s trying to collect herself. “I just. Like I said. I’m curious.”
“You’re so easy to fluster,” Kara can’t help but laugh. Lena glares at her but it just makes Kara grin harder. “To answer your question, no, I don’t have a signature move.”
When Lena looks back at her and raises an eyebrow, Kara puts up her hands again. “I swear!”
“Oh come on, you’re, like, the Yoda of escorts. Getting you on the phone was harder than finishing my second dissertation.” Lena swaps the heels she’s picked for a different pair and zips the final suitcase shut. She stands up and walks over to where Kara is waiting in the short hallway near the door, sets her purse down on the console table and puts a hand out on the wall opposite Kara for balance as she slips on a heel.
“No,” Kara says, shakes her head. “I don’t play games, no gimmicks. It’s much more—” She snaps her the fingers on her left hand, searches for the right word.
“Subtle?” Lena offers, taking her hand off the wall as she pulls on the second heel. She straightens up and smooths her dress.
Kara looks at her, purses her lips as she thinks. “I disappear. It’s not about me. It’s about you.” They’re standing close in the narrow space. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Show me.” Lena’s looking at her with something like a challenge written all over her face.
“I thought you weren’t buying?” It’s Kara’s turn to raise an eyebrow. Lena rolls her eyes.
“I’m not. I’m just asking to see how it works.” Lena’s laugh is at odds with the way she’s started fidgeting, rubbing her left palm with her right thumb and twisting her fingers together. “Show me.”
Kara hesitates. But Lena’s face smooths out and she drops her hands. She’s looking at Kara expectantly.
Making a decision, Kara puts her hands on Lena’s hips and pushes her gently, but firmly, against the wall. She steps in until their bodies are almost touching.
Lena’s eyes go wide, but she makes no move to resist.
“Close your eyes.”
Lena’s eyes dart all over her face and she makes no move to close them.
Kara flexes her fingers, tightens her grip on Lena’s waist. “Close your eyes,” she says again, a little more gently.
Lena closes her eyes this time, but her body remains tense.
“I’m not going to kiss you, Lena,” she says softly. “You can relax. You’re safe.”
Kara brings her right hand up to Lena’s neck, runs her thumb along the underside of Lena’s jaw and cups the back of her neck. She leans in and ghosts her nose and lips across Lena’s cheeks, hovers a breath from Lena’s mouth. They’re so close that Kara can feel when Lena parts her lips and lets out a puff of air.
“Just listen to my voice.” She can feel Lena relax into the wall. “That’s it.”
She touches Lena’s nose softly with her own, strokes softly just behind Lena’s ear.
“She’s going to be so sorry she let you go,” Kara whispers.
Kara brings her left hand gently up Lena’s side brushing halfway up her ribs, before running it back down to her hip.
“I want you to let go of the hurt, the insecurity; let go of the past.” She exhales softly, can feel Lena match her breathing.
“When you do that, Lena?” She tightens her grip gently on the back of Lena’s neck. “She’ll see you the way I see you.”
Kara brings her lips to Lena’s ear.
“And in that moment? She and everyone else will finally understand what they’ve lost.”
Kara eases her grip on Lena’s nape and withdraws, lets Lena’s head rest gently against the wall. She steps away from Lena and back to the other side of the hallway.
Lena’s eyes are still closed. She’s nearly slumped against the wall with Kara no longer holding her up, hands splayed against it on either side. She looks absolutely wrecked.
“Holy shit.” Lena opens her eyes and looks at Kara. “You’re worth every penny.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Kara smiles at her. “Normally, I’d give you some time to recover, but I’m afraid it’s five to eight and the porters will be here any second for our luggage.”
Lena blinks heavily but makes no move to stand independently. “Right,” she breathes out.
Kara can’t help her grin. “Are you going to be ok making it to the elevator, or should I carry you?”
“Nope! No. I’m fine.” Lena holds a hand up to stop Kara. She shivers and then straightens up and takes an uneven step. “Don’t you dare say a word.”
This time, Kara can’t help laughing. She mimes zipping her lips. “I’m not saying a word.”
Lena glares at her but steps toward the door. “Now who’s holding us up?”
“You’re absolutely right,” Kara says. “I can’t believe I’m single handedly responsible for making us late.”
Lena rolls her eyes, but she can’t stop her smile. Kara feels a swell of affection for her. She matches the smile and follows Lena out the door.
Kara has just pressed the button for the elevator when she turns and looks at Lena. “Wait, don’t you need your purse?”
“I’ll grab it.” Kara turns around to run back to the room. “Hold the doors for me!”
When she returns, Lena is standing in the elevator, a hand stuck out preventing it from closing as she gives an apologetic smile to the older couple next to her. Kara slips in and Lena lets the door go.
As Kara hands her the bag, Lena bites her lip. “Wonder how I forgot that.” She offers Kara a shy half-smile, it dimples her left cheek. “Where was my head?”
Lillian ushers Lena and Kara out to the waiting car as soon as they reach the lobby. Lena has absolutely not recovered from what Kara did to her in the room, and she considers the possibility that she’s never been more attracted to anyone in her entire life. For a brief moment, Lena wonders what it would be like if she’d met Kara under more normal circumstances, but she dismisses the speculation. That horse is already well out of the gate.
As they walk through the passenger lobby at the Edmiston London Heliport and out onto the apron, Lena shivers. She pops the collar of the black woolen coat she’s wearing, tightens the belt. There’s a slight chill in the air, augmented by a light breeze that’s coming off the Thames from the west. A line of boats bob gently on their moorings near the opposite bank and she can hear a train trundle over the Battersea railway bridge just down river.
Lena absently reaches for Kara’s hand and steps in close.
“Are you cold?” Kara asks, frowning down at Lena’s uncovered knees.
“A little,” Lena admits. “I probably should have worn pants.”
Kara squeezes her hand and turns into Lena so that she can rub Lena’s other arm over the coat.
Lillian is speaking to the Tessmachers, no doubt something about the wedding, but Lena doesn’t bother tuning in. If she stays calm, she might make it through the flight to Port Ellen without having a panic attack.
All of the endorphins that Lena has been coasting on since Kara’s little display in the hotel room are gone as soon as they climb aboard the silver Luthor Corp Sikorsky 76-D.
Lena takes the middle seat on the forward facing bench, in between Kara and Mrs. Tessmacher, while Lillian and Mr. Tessmacher take the chairs opposite them. The co-pilot goes through the safety checklist with them and ensures that everyone is belted in, before shutting the outside door and going around to the front, but Lena barely pays attention.
Lena knows that her fear of planes might be irrational, but her fear of helicopters is most certainly not. Helicopters crash all the time and their ability to stay aloft is affected by everything—temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, altitude. And once you do manage to get one aloft, a sudden drop in visibility can render it entirely helpless.
Even in the nearly sound proof cabin, Lena can hear the whine of the rotors as the engine starts up. The seats pick up a gentle vibration. She squeezes her hands together, twists at her fingers, and tries to will her heart back into a recognizable rhythm.
The helicopter taxis out to the pad over the water. Lena closes her eyes, takes a deep breath.
She opens her eyes and stares, unseeing, at the console between her mother and Mr. Tessmacher. She can feel the swoop of altitude and velocity in her stomach as the heliport falls away. You can do this, it’s fine. It’s not that long of a flight.
Lena is vaguely aware as they cross the north bank of the river and begin to leave the city behind, and she curses herself internally for ignoring her mother’s calls all week. Any warning before yesterday that she’d be flying today would probably have helped her manage this better.
She puts her hands on her knees and closes her eyes, tries to practice the grounding exercises that she’s worked on with her therapist, but Lena can tell she’s getting too activated to bring herself back down. She’s about to despair completely when Kara shifts in her seat and leans over.
“Hey, hey,” Kara whispers, ducking down to catch her eyes, concern all over her face. “Breathe with me.”
Kara’s prompting makes Lena realize that she isn’t breathing at all right now.
“Follow my breaths. We’re going to count to four, ok?” Kara continues, keeping her eyes locked on Lena’s. ”Four in, four out. Do it with me. In through your nose on one, two, three, four. Now out through your mouth. One, two, three, four.”
Kara twists even more in her seat so that she’s almost entirely facing Lena. She takes Lena’s hands out of the death grip she has on her knees and holds them in her own, rests their joined hands on Lena’s thigh. Kara starts running her thumbs in slow circles over Lena’s knuckles like she had in the cab the day before.
“That’s it Lena, in—” Kara breathes in through her own nose. “And out. Two, three, four.”
Lena’s heart is still racing, but she starts to focus on Kara, instead. How clear the blue of her eyes is, the scar right above her left eyebrow. The smooth, tan skin of her face; the round of her chin.
The whole time Kara just keeps counting in a soft rhythm and running her fingers with gentle pressure over the bones and tendons in the back of Lena’s hands.
Lena loses track of time, but eventually she feels Kara squeeze her hands and sees Kara’s brow unfurrow. “There you are,” Kara says, a relieved smile on her lips, the skin at the edges of her eyes just crinkling.
Here I am, thinks Lena.
She’s much too anxious to do anything beyond hold Kara’s hands for the remainder of the flight.
But it helps.
Lena is so grateful to be off the helicopter that she doesn’t even notice the way that Lillian is watching the two of them quietly, a thoughtful expression on her face. Kara hasn’t let go of her, is letting Lena lean into her chest and while she rubs circles on her back as they stand on the tarmac and wait for their bags to be loaded into the back of two black Defender 110s.
“You did great,” Kara says.
Lena scoffs. “This is so embarrassing. God.” She takes a deep breath and inhales the cool air—a hint of salt, the faint residue of a peat fire, and the fresh scent of something (fabric softener?) from Kara’s shirt filling her lungs. It’s comforting.
Kara laughs, her chest shaking Lena gently. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Trust me.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I do. I made you count to four, over and over, for two hours.”
“Well, at least now you know I can,” Kara offers.
“And I’m clinging to you like a koala.” That might actually be the most embarrassing part of this, but Lena can’t bring herself to care enough to stop. If Kara lets go of her right now, she thinks she might still throw up.
“Lena?” Kara breaks in. “You’ve got to let this go. It’s fine. You’re fine. I don’t mind. Honest.”
Lena makes a grumpy noise into the lapel of Kara’s blazer. “Of course it’s fine for you. You get to look all heroic, calming me down.”
“Ah, yes,” Kara says, sagely. “Heroic. Always the look I’m going for.” She pauses. “What’s it going to take to help you get over this?”
Lena thinks for a moment. “Tell me something embarrassing that happened to you.”
She feels Kara snort into her hair. “Really? That’s what will work?”
“It’s on the list. This whole morning is my embarrassing thing. What’s yours?”
“You know we’re doing this all out of order,” Kara says, then hums. “Ok, I’ve got one. I went through a phase of being obsessed with the movie Center Stage.”
Lena smiles. “That’s not embarrassing.”
“No, but the fact that I broke three different lamps trying to learn the red shoe dance sure is.”
Lena can’t help herself, the laugh just bubbles up.
“Is that sufficiently embarrassing?” Kara asks, a smile in her voice. “Are we back on an even playing field?”
“I’m not sure,” Lena says. “I’ll let you know.”
When the tweed clad driver tells them the hotel is just down the road, Kara doesn’t take him all that seriously—the only thing visible from the front of the airport is a wide expanse of flat green fields, dotted with the occasional whitewashed farmhouse. She reconsiders as they pass a small white sign that reads “The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links” less than three minutes later.
The Rover in front, carrying Lillian and the Tessmachers, makes a right turn off the main road and their car follows. The smooth asphalt gives way to a long, loose-stone drive, flanked by more flat green fields and a smattering of purple flowers. Kara can see what must be the main building of the hotel, still nearly a mile away, and several smaller squat cottages off to its left side.
Lena is in the seat next to her, staring out the window to where they can make out the rolling dunes and the bay beyond. She seems to have recovered from the flight. Kara’s about to check in with her, when Lena speaks without turning away from the window.
“On a clear day from the south side of the island, you can see the Irish coastline. It’s only about 24 miles away.” Lena pauses, but she doesn’t seem done, so Kara waits. “My birth mother was from Ireland. Whenever I’m here, I think about her.”
Lena sighs, still looking out across the landscape. Gravel crunches under the wheels as they make their way closer to the hotel.
“It was a shock, finding out that Lionel really was my father. I used to daydream that he loved coming here for the same reason—that maybe something about the sea and the coast and the weather made him think of her, too.”
They sit in silence for a minute as the car slows and then stops. Lena is still facing away from her, gaze somewhere on the bay. Kara can see her take a breath and hold it, like she’s thinking about whether or not she should add something.
“I’m sorry if that was too much,” she says to Kara, posture stiffening slightly as she gives an uncomfortable laugh. “I don’t really know why I told you.”
Kara reaches for Lena’s hand on the seat between them. She twines their fingers together and squeezes lightly.
“It wasn’t, Lena. I want to hear whatever you want to share.”
Lena finally turns to look at her, a small, rueful smile on her face. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me, too,” Kara says, and finds that she means it.
Walking across the grey slate pavers connecting the gravel to the front entrance, they cross through an archway in the whitewashed stone front. Kara can’t help laughing at a sheep statue just inside, yellow wellingtons on each cloven hoof. She points it out to Lena as they pass. Lena rolls her eyes, but gives Kara a sideways smile that crinkles at the corner of her eyes.
As they enter the hotel proper, the whitewash gives way to red wallpaper and warm woods, plush armchairs draped with tartan blankets, and fireplaces. Kara counts at least three roaring fires behind ornate metal grates by the time they find themselves in the middle of what has to be every guest at the wedding.
The lobby is in chaos when they step in. Lex is standing on a chair, ordering people about. Kara can hear Jack complaining loudly about being exiled to Siberia, apparently upset about being put in one of the cottages. Lillian breezes by them and heads straight for a couple of overwhelmed looking staff people.
“Everybody pay attention to me” Lex yells, trying to settle the group down a bit. It doesn’t exactly work, but he’s undeterred. “Starting in half an hour, there will be lawn games out front and cards in the Stag Lounge for anyone who’s interested, the cinema is available, and the restaurant’s open all afternoon. Golfers! Meet us at the pro shop at noon to get kitted out!”
He hops off the chair and disappears through the french doors to the left of check in, heading outside to the courtyard.
A hand on Kara’s arm stops her as she and Lena make their way to the front desk. It’s Eve.
“Boy, am I happy to see the two of you!”
“Hi, Eve.” Lena gives her a warm smile.
“Kara, I need to know. Do you golf?” Eve asks her, looking hopeful for some reason.
“I can golf,” Kara replies. “I’m not about to join the Tour or anything, but I won’t embarrass myself, if that’s what you’re asking.” She can’t help flashing Lena a smile as she says it.
“Oh good!” Eve claps her hands together enthusiastically. “Then you’re on my team. Lena, too. Lex has some cockamamie idea that it’ll be more fun if we play bride versus groom, so we’ve split the players.”
Kara can’t help noticing that it’s Eve who’s picked Lena, and not Lex.
“I’ll let you get settled, but then come down to the pro shop as quick as you can or all the good costumes will be gone! I wanted to let everyone golf in their own clothing, but Lex said it wouldn’t be authentic.” Eve rolls her eyes, makes air quotes at authentic. Then she leans towards the two of them conspiratorially. “Don’t worry though, we’ve got modern clubs. Trying to get 28 sets of vintage woods and irons proved beyond even him.”
“Thank goodness for small miracles,” Lena laughs. “Thanks, Eve. We’ll meet you down there as soon as we’ve gotten our key.”
“What does she mean ‘costumes’?” Kara asks Lena as Eve walks away.
Lena shakes her head, but she’s smiling. “That’s what I was trying to explain to you this morning. Lex wants everyone to dress up in traditional Scottish golf wear. Think Bobby Jones or Walter Hagen.”
Kara looks at her blankly.
“Oh, you know, those ridiculous baggy knickers that cut off just below the knee, argyle socks, sweaters.” Lena tries, but Kara still can’t quite picture it and that must show on her face. “Whatever, you’ll see what I mean.”
The front desk informs them that they’ll be staying in the Islay room on the first floor of the main building and that their luggage has already been delivered.
“So that’s just, like, a thing?” Kara can’t help asking Lena as they make their way through the hallways. “Your luggage is taken care of, poof.”
Lena laughs. “I imagine it helps that we own the properties. I’m not sure the experience is universal.”
“Still,” says Kara. “I’m getting spoiled. I might refuse to carry my own bags ever again.”
Lena laughs and tugs on Kara’s arm to hurry them along.
Their room is smaller than the one they’d occupied at the Rosewood, a product of the building’s age and setting, Kara supposes. There is a faux-antler light fixture done in white plaster above an enormous four poster bed on the right that dominates the space, a pair of comfortable looking armchairs along the left wall, and a delicate looking wooden writing desk with a matching chair set beneath a wide window on the far side.
They’re on the south end of the original part of the building, instead of the modern extension off the golf course, and there are two additional windows—one on each wall—flanking the desk, floor-length moss green curtains parted to show off 180 degree views of the countryside beyond the hotel.
Kara hops on the mattress.
“I always wanted one of these as a kid,” she tells Lena, bouncing lightly on the white linen.
“I had one,” Lena offers.
Kara barks out a laugh. “Of course you did.”
“I always thought it was kind of ridiculous.” Lena smiles at her from where she’s standing by one of the armchairs. “Sometimes Lex would help me turn it into a fort by pinning sheets over the top of the posts.”
“Consider me officially jealous.”
“Duly noted.” She grins at Kara, mischief in her eyes. “Now, I want to see what you look like in plus fours and a sweater vest.”
“Plus whats?” Kara asks.
But Lena just laughs and grabs Kara’s hand to pull her off the bed.
The pro shop looks like a rummage sale. There are racks of sweaters and cardigans in a variety of tweeds and woolen fabrics, a bin of knee high socks, and stacks of the baggy knickers Lena had described on a nearby table. Kara grabs a pair of cream and brown saddle shoes and takes the clothing that Lena picks out for her.
When she steps out of the dressing room, Lena has on a cardigan underneath a loose tweed blazer in herringbone twill. She looks adorable, although she’s frowning at her expression in the full length mirror. Kara can’t help herself.
“How do you look so cute in that?” She asks. Lena goes pink. “Meanwhile, I look ridiculous.” Kara glances down at her creme sweater vest and blue button up.
“No, you don’t,” Lena says, chewing on the inside of her cheek, and seems to weigh her words. “You really don’t.”
Kara can’t help preening slightly. Maybe she doesn’t feel that ridiculous.
Lena walks over and tugs on the bottom of the vest, adjusts it slightly. She purses her lips and looks around, grabbing a blue silk tie off the table next to them, pops Kara’s collar, and loops it around her neck.
“This, um, this color looks good on you,” Lena says, eyes focused on where she’s finishing the knot. Kara feels a little like she can’t breathe every time Lena’s fingers brush against her collarbone. Lena tucks the tie into the v-neck of Kara’s sweater, smooths it out. “There, perfect.”
They’re startled apart as Lex clambers onto a bench near the shoe display and starts yelling again for everyone’s attention. He glares at the Graves siblings, who are squabbling over a tam o’shanter hat.
“My wife-to-be said it would be sexist to play men versus women and I agreed, but mostly because she’s a better golfer than me and I was worried I’d lose.” The crowd laughs. “Eve and I have drafted you into teams. Lowest total group score wins!” He points to a sheet of paper tacked up by the door of the shop. “See that for your assignments. First foursome tees off at 12:15 and we’ll stagger out in 11 minute intervals, so the final group will start at 1:21. Should give plenty of time for those of you joining the distillery tour, since we won’t leave for that until 6:30.”
“What are the stakes?” A woman in the back calls out. Kara can’t quite remember her name, although she knows Jack pointed her out yesterday as someone to avoid. Vivian? Valerie? No; Veronica!
“Bragging rights,” Eve pipes in. “It’s all in good fun.”
Kara hangs back as Lena goes to check out the timesheet. When Lena walks back over, she tells Kara that they’re in the final grouping.
“Does this mean we have time for lunch?” Kara asks hopefully.
“It does,” replies Lena. “Come on, let’s go upstairs.”
Max Lord is just as insufferable as Lena remembers. She didn’t like him even before Lord Industries stole her intellectual property, but now his being assigned to her foursome just feels like some sort of cruel joke. She wonders if Lillian did this on purpose or if it didn’t even occur to her to take Lena’s feelings about it into consideration. She’s grateful that Kara insisted on eating before they went out, a low-blood sugar headache would have made tolerating Max even more impossible.
He starts off by suggesting a little wager amongst the four of them—hard cash to the lowest score. Lena thinks that Max has clearly never played with Andrea before, must not know that she plays with a handicap of zero; if anyone agrees to this, it’ll be Andrea going home with the money.
Lena herself is far more average and knows she’ll just be paying whoever wins, so she doesn’t say anything. Kara and Andrea don’t seem interested and just sort of ignore him as they make their way to the first tee. Once he sees Andrea’s drive, he stops bringing it up.
The course is stunning—creatively nestled within fescue covered dunes between the back of the hotel to the east and Laggan Bay to the west. The fairways are wide and forgiving, and so, where she would normally find herself frustrated at not excelling, Lena simply starts to relax into the game. Kara, to Lena’s great surprise, can actually golf. Perhaps not as well as Andrea, but certainly better than Max.
By the time they make it to the third green, Lena can’t help noticing that she’s actually enjoying herself.
The round is made even more tolerable by the fact that some of the non-golfers (no doubt organized by Jack) have commandeered a few of the carts in order to harass the players.
“Get a move on you daft git,” Jack yells through Max’s backswing at the tee for the fifth hole, causing him to lose concentration and whiff, hard. He throws his driver, but Jack has already disappeared.
Jack returns for the second time, shouting fresh insults about their speed of play, as they make their way down the fairway of the twelfth. It’s a par 5 and Andrea and Max are debating whether it makes sense to lay-up given the sloping green, but they keep having to pause as Jack drives in circles around a heather mound splitting the fairway in an effort to distract them.
“I’m fairly certain that golf is supposed to be quiet,” Kara whispers to Lena.
Lena smiles and shakes her head as she responds to Kara. “Maybe it is, but I think I prefer this.”
Kara laughs at that and steps behind Lena, wraps her arms snugly around Lena’s front. She can’t help relaxing back into Kara, who presses a kiss to her shoulder in response, and thinking about how the setting, Kara’s attentiveness, and Jack’s distractions seem to have combined to make the afternoon fly by.
Suddenly, Andrea curses as she hooks the ball firmly into the rough, short of the green.
The unexpected exclamation startles Lena, even more so when she realizes that she’s barely been paying attention to Andrea since they began. It’s odd, last night she had been sure that it would be just as difficult to avoid paying attention to Andrea as it had been during the cocktail party. Instead, Lena has been so wrapped up in Kara—quite literally at the moment—that she hasn’t spared much thought about anything else.
“I think we’re doing rather well, don’t you?” Kara asks quietly, resting her chin on Lena’s shoulder.
Lena watches Andrea stalk down the outside of the fairway looking for her ball. She hums in assent. “I suppose.”
Lena knows Jack is bored and is therefore mostly haranguing the foursomes for his own entertainment, but the frequency with which he circles their group feels almost protective. It’s almost like he doesn’t want to leave her alone with Andrea or Max, and doesn’t quite trust that Kara is established enough to be up for the task herself.
His sudden reappearance over a hillock causes Max to slice the ball wickedly only a third of the way down the fourteenth.
“Come on tossers! You’re still going to be out here after dark at this rate!” He chortles as he pushes the cart clearly to the edge of its performance envelope, disappearing over the other side with a small whine.
“Well, that doesn’t look recoverable,” Kara chirps, looking in the direction that Max’s ball disappeared. “Max, I think you’ll have to take a drop—that’s another penalty. I’ll write it down for you.”
Max looks vaguely like he might have an aneurism in response, but he simply stomps back to the cart for another ball. Kara whistles while she adjusts the scorecard. Lena looks over to Andrea and watches her trying to hide a laugh.
Andrea’s smile shifts to something softer when she sees that Lena’s looking at her.
It’s the kind of smile that she used to give Lena when they were stuck across the room from each other in class, or at dinner parties. Lena’s been dreading how she would feel if she saw it again, but, faced with it now, the smile doesn’t seem to hold the same power over her that it used to.
Lena looks away and steps towards Kara.
“Your club, madam,” Kara says in an exaggerated English accent, bowing slightly and holding out a 5-wood. It reminds Lena of what Kara had done the day before, as they headed into the bar after the first encounter with Lillian. She tries to roll her eyes at Kara, but knows that the smile on her face right now is too big to play off as genuine annoyance.
“Careful, Kara, or I might start to think that’s your signature move.”
Kara goes slightly pink and Lena can’t help feeling pleased with herself.
“You know, I don’t even understand half of what Jack’s yelling,” Kara says after Lena takes her shot, sounding pleasantly bewildered.
Lena stows the club in the cart and walks over to Kara, leans into her side. Kara looks down, puts her arm affectionately around Lena, and pulls her closer. “What on earth is a ‘manky plonker’ anyway?” she asks Lena.
“I’m not sure, but do you think he means all four of us, or just Max?” Lena asks.
“I certainly don’t think he means you.” Kara kisses her temple as Andrea misses a chip shot onto the green, ball rolling into the high fescue grasses behind.
Lena frowns. Now that she’s paying attention, she can tell that Andrea hasn’t been on her game the entire afternoon.
By the time they reach the eighteenth hole, Max is in a foul mood and Jack has given up circling them citing engine difficulties. He’s retired to the open deck of the restaurant overlooking the last green along with the other hecklers, and all the golfers who’ve already finished. The crowd on the deck yells to make it clear that the battle between Eve’s team and Lex’s team is now down to their group.
Lena finishes comfortably in third place in their grouping, her total six full strokes under Max, and, though it isn’t the best round she’s ever played, Lena’s not bothered by it in the slightest. Golf has never been her sport, and it’s satisfying to watch Max walk angrily away after she sinks her final putt.
Andrea and Kara, on the other hand, are neck and neck. Over the last three holes Andrea’s mood has gotten worse and worse as Kara has matched her shot for shot. And now that they’ve reached the end, Jack shouts that the final group scores are even.
Kara is playing with the buttons on the front of Lena’s blazer when Andrea uncharacteristically three-putts the final hole. If Kara can make her next shot, they’ll win.
Lena begins to wonder whether there’s a connection between Kara touching her and Andrea’s poor play. She watches as Andrea walks over to the cart, chucking the putter dejectedly into her bag.
Andrea looks upset enough that part of Lena wants to console her somehow, even if it’s over something as dumb as a game of golf.
But she can’t do that, not without it being awkward. So, instead, Lena grabs Kara’s hand as she moves away to set up her own shot.
“Miss the putt, Kara,” Lena whispers. She presses a kiss to Kara’s cheek for cover and steps away.
Kara looks at her for a second and Lena can’t read her expression at all.
As Kara turns around and kneels down to check the green, Lena feels unaccountably nervous. She glances over to Andrea, who’s watching Kara with a somewhat sour expression. Max has already given up and taken his clubs back to the hotel. The crowd on the terrace has gone silent.
And then Kara stands up, takes a visible breath, and taps the ball—gently and perfectly—into the cup.
Lena can hear Eve and Jack leading shouts of ‘Kara!’ from the restaurant terrace. She knows it will look strange if she doesn’t join in, so she lets out a cheer of her own and walks over to Kara, who has her arms open and an enormous grin on her face.
Kara sweeps her up in a hug and swings her around.
As Kara spins her, Lena whispers testily, through a wide smile, “I thought you were supposed to be helping.”
“Oh, Lena, trust me,” Kara replies, setting her back down. Before Lena can disengage, Kara leans down to kiss the skin below her ear, at the corner of her jaw. “I am helping.”
It’s distracting, insidiously so, how quickly Lena’s body reacts to the electricity of Kara’s lips. She sinks further into Kara’s hold, before she remembers that she’s a little pissed off. She’d asked Kara to do something very simple, and Kara hadn’t.
But the sting has gone out of it.
As Kara lets her go, Lena looks over to see Andrea staring at them. She looks more upset than Lena thinks is reasonable for a round of golf. Andrea turns around and heads for the hotel, leaving Kara and Lena to take the cart back to the pro shop by themselves.
Sitting in the cart as Kara drives them back, Lena finds herself puzzling over it. Andrea’s competitive, sure, but she’s not one to blame someone else for her own failures. Not that Lena is sure she knows her anymore.
Still, the expression on her face is stuck in Lena’s brain. If Lena had to pick a word to describe it, well, there’s only really one word that comes to mind.
But, Lena thinks. That’s not really my problem anymore, is it?
She reaches for Kara’s hand, and looks out over the bay.
As they navigate the hotel after dinner, Lena tries to hold on to her upset at Kara for pushing back on her at golf, but she finds that she can’t. At this point, she’s more put out at herself for letting it go so easily, than she was at Kara in the first place.
It helps that Kara is probably right.
They grab a very quick bite at the restaurant and drop by the room to change; Lena sliding into a t-shirt and jeans, and pulling a warm woolen sweater over top to ward against the chill in the air. Kara grabs her own pair of jeans and a polo and slips a blazer on.
As the group heads out to the front of the hotel where three Sprinter vans are waiting to take them to the Luthor Distillery, people keep coming up to congratulate Kara. Glancing around the front drive, Lena catches sight of Veronica Sinclair taking a wad of what looks like ten thousand pounds from Max. She can’t help smiling, serves Max right.
“What’re you so happy about?” Kara asks. “Aren’t you trying to be mad at me?”
“I tried.” Lena says, shrugging and turning her attention back to Kara. “I failed. Don’t be smug about it.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” says Kara, reaching out for her hand. “So, how exactly is this going to go?”
“Honestly? I have no idea.” Lena looks around. She takes Kara’s hand and squints in the sunlight. It may be close to seven, but the latitude means sunset isn’t for another three and a half hours. Lex is out talking to one of the drivers, and Eve is back by the entrance with a few women Lena doesn’t know.
Gravel crunches behind Lena and that’s the only warning she gets before Jack drapes himself across her and Kara, his arms thrown over each of their shoulders.
“Scale of one to ten, ladies. How pissed are we getting tonight?” He steps back to allow them to turn around and face him, rubs his hands together with glee, and doesn’t wait for an answer. “I’m headed for an even eleven.”
“Jack, absolutely none of what you say makes any sense.” Kara lets out a burst of laughter. “Me, too, I guess.”
He claps her on the shoulder in approval, and turns to Lena. “So, repeat of graduation?”
“Which one?” Lena smiles as Jack guffaws.
“Point well taken. All of them, I suppose,” he says.
Lena feels a swell of affection for Jack. No matter what’s happened in her life, he’s been there for all of it, and he’s always on her side.
They clamber into the vans and depart, slowly up the long driveway at first and picking up speed once they reach the main road. Lena is sitting against a window, Kara’s arm slung over her shoulder, Jack on Kara’s other side. They’re talking animatedly to each other about the end of the golf game and a number of the bets that had been placed on Kara’s final putt.
Lena watches the countryside roll by. The landscape is a mix of gold and green in the mid-evening light. She can see dark clouds off on the horizon, but they’re far away, no doubt a harbinger of the weather system that caused Lillian to shuffle the events.
The Luthor Distillery is on the edge of a small bay, just north of Port Ellen. The vans let them out across from the main complex, its whitewashed walls keeping with the island’s aesthetic and slate roof gleaming in the light. Lex leads the group over a slender bridge to the central building, where they’re met by a few of the distillers and the manager.
The tour is interesting, but it serves only as an appetizer for the main event, which is setting the group loose in one of the dunnage houses with glasses and the tools to tap as many barrels as they want.
They disperse throughout the stone space, laughter and shouts dampened by the earthen floor and the stacks of barrels along the walls and throughout the room, creating aisles of privacy for those so inclined.
Lena and Kara join Jack and a few of the others as he tries to copy what the site manager had shown them in order to pull whiskey from the barrels for a taste. While he struggles and the rest of them shout bad advice, Lena excuses herself to use the facilities, squeezing Kara’s hand and pressing a kiss to her cheek, before winding her way through a fluorescent lit low-ceilinged corridor back towards the main offices.
When she makes her way back, Lena finds herself unsurprised to see Kara surrounded by yet another group of women and at least two men. They’re toasting her, hanging off her almost, and Lena feels a slight twisting in her stomach at the sight. She’s about to walk over when Jack sidles up and hands her a fresh glass. Apparently, he’s been successful with the barrel in her absence.
“I cannot believe you get to shag that woman.” Lena nearly spits out the mouthful of scotch she’s just taken, but Jack ignores her expression and continues. “No, really, you should send God a bottle of wine or a quiche or something. I mean, honestly, look at those buns. Fresh from the bakery.”
“Exactly how much have you had to drink?” Lena deflects.
He ignores her, claps her on the arm, still staring at Kara. “You should go over there. Lana looks like she’s about to make a move.”
Lena can’t help startling. “What?”
“Oh, come off it, I know you want to anyway. Get a move on.” He shoves her lightly in Kara’s direction.
Lana Lang does, in fact, look as though she’s about to make a move on Kara, but the moment Kara sees Lena walk up, her face lights up enough that Lana smiles wistfully and steps away, and Lena can’t bring herself to feel any resentment. Not when she has Kara’s undivided attention.
“I’d been wondering where you’d disappeared to,” Kara says, pulling Lena in sideways and pressing a kiss to her cheek.
Lena sinks into her hold as the crowd around Kara disperses. “Must be nice,” she says.
“What’s nice?” Kara asks, taking a sip from the glass she’s holding.
“Getting paid for just being you.”
Kara looks down at Lena with an amused smile. “And who says I’m being me right now?”
It must be the scotch, but the reminder of their conversation in the hotel that morning makes Lena want to take a risk.
“What if I want you to be you right now?” She holds her breath, heart hammering.
“Ok?” Lena can’t help parroting, suddenly unsure. Kara’s still smiling down at her, but it’s no longer amused. It’s achingly earnest.
Lena’s chest feels funny.
The moment is interrupted by a loud cheer from halfway across the room.
“Do you want a taste of whatever they’ve just opened?” Kara asks, looking over. “They seem pretty excited about it.”
“Sure,” Lena says, holding her glass out. Kara takes it.
“I’ll be right back.” Kara doesn’t move, just looks at Lena like she’s waiting for something.
“Ok,” Lena says.
“Ok?” Kara asks, grinning now. She's making fun of me, isn't she?
“Ok!” Lena laughs, pushes her away. Kara walks backwards for a moment, her cheeks flushed attractively from the alcohol. She only turns around when she bumps into one of the racks, blushing when Lena laughs at her.
Lena hops up onto a barrel to wait for Kara.
“There you are,” her brother’s voice booms as he comes up beside her.
He’s holding a mallet, a terrifying looking metal tool that looks like a cross between a corkscrew and a pick ax, and a thin metal tube. Lena recognizes the tools from earlier when the master distiller had to help Jack open a couple of the barrels for them to taste.
“Help me,” he demands, pointing at the barrel she’s sitting on.
Lena can’t help laughing. “Help you with what, Lex?”
He’s clearly drunk. He holds the mallet out unsteadily. “The barrel?” he says, but there’s an uptick in his voice, like it’s a question and he’s confused that Lena isn’t on the same page.
Lena shakes her head, smiles. “Fine. What do you need.” She slips down.
“Line it up for me?”
Lena takes the metal tool and centers the corkscrew point onto the wooden bung, stuck in the barrel like a cork.
When he doesn’t move, she looks back at him. “Lex?”
“I shouldn’t be doing this.” He’s looking at her. If Lena didn’t know better, she’d say he looked scared.
“What, opening a barrel from 1966?”
“No.” He pauses, looks away. “Running Luthor Corp. I shouldn’t be allowed.”
He looks back to the barrel, taps the end of the metal with the mallet. He gestures for her to let go.
Lena steps back. “What do you mean?”
He’s silent as he twists it into the wood.
“It should have been you.” He pulls hard on the tool and the bung pops out. He swings it around unsteadily and looks at Lena.
It’s been years since they’ve been in the same room, but Lena can’t remember Lex ever looking so vulnerable. She furrows her brow and gets ready to ask him what on earth he’s talking about when Otis Graves stumbles over.
“Otis!” Lex yells, even though Otis is two feet from him, his features shifting suddenly into a giant grin. “Help me get this scotch out!”
Lena stares at Lex for a moment longer, but his attention is firmly back on the barrel as he tries to work the whiskey thief with Otis’s clumsy assistance. She feels suddenly off-balance, and turns to look for Kara.
Kara is still halfway across the room, having been waylaid by Jack, who is spilling scotch all over the floor as he gestures wildly with his arms. As soon as Lena sees her, the residual anxiety of talking to Lex dissipates.
Lena walks over, takes the glass Kara offers her and leans into Kara’s side (it feels like a habit now), letting Jack pull her into a terrible retelling of the time they blew off Luthor family Thanksgiving to go skiing in Vail. Kara looks between him and Lena, like she can’t quite believe Lena had it in her. Somehow, Jack gets every single major detail wrong, except for the name of the resort they stayed at, but, by the end, they’re all laughing so hard that Lena doesn’t even try to correct him.
They head out not too long after, the manager blanching at how many barrels have been opened.
The sun has set when they make it back to the vans. Lena looks out over the fields as they slip past, the greenery and farmhouses transformed into indistinct black shapes by the nautical twilight, even as the darkened sky clings to a last thin line of soft orangey pink near the horizon. The brightest stars are just visible in the dark above them.
Kara must sense that Lena’s not feeling quite right, because she wraps her up as they rumble along the asphalt. She holds one of Lena’s hands, her other arm around Lena’s shoulders again, fingers playing absently with the ends of Lena’s hair.
No one is quite tired or drunk enough to end the night there, though.
“To the bar!” Shouts Lex as everyone stumbles out of the vans. They have to separate to step down, but Kara finds Lena’s hand again quickly and pulls her in closely while they wait for Jack. Lena shivers and Kara brings her other hand up to rub Lena’s arm over her sweater.
“How is your brother still upright?” Kara whispers in genuine surprise, breaking the silence and pulling Lena out of her thoughts. “He’s going to be drunk during the dance lesson tomorrow!”
“I still can’t believe you offered for us to join them,” Lena smiles up at her. She shivers again and Kara shrugs out of her blazer, drapes it over Lena’s shoulders.
She stands in front of Lena, takes both her hands, and swings them lightly back and forth.
“Maybe I really don’t know how to dance. Ever think of that?” Kara’s grinning softly in such a way that Lena doesn’t believe her, even for a second. “Maybe I don’t want to embarrass you in front of your family and former business associates.”
“Or maybe,” Kara’s voice drops down and she steps closer, stops swinging their joined hands. “Maybe, I just want to dance with you.”
Lena feels frozen, the moment heavy with intention, but it breaks when Jack clears his throat conspicuously, gravel crunching underfoot as he shifts his weight.
“As bloody adorable as you two lovebirds are, I’d really like a seat near the fire so do you think we could get a move on?”
“Cold?” Lena laughs.
“Yes!” He whines. “This weather is unseasonable. And unlike some people, I don’t have anyone to cuddle up to.”
Lena blushes, but Kara drops one of her hands. “I have two arms, Jack,” she says, reaching out toward him. “You only have to say the word.”
“Oh no.” He shakes his finger at Kara. “I know better than to ask Lena to share you. Besides, you’re too besotted with each other. You’d just ignore me.” He puts a hand dramatically over his heart. “I’ll just have to go drown my sorrows in more scotch.”
“Well, how about this,” Kara offers as they turn towards the entrance. “I’ll grab us some seats by the fire and you can go get your drink?”
Jack looks positively delighted.
“See, Lena?” Jack asks. “How attentive Kara is to my needs? You could learn something.” He practically skips across the gravel to the pavers, and into the hotel.
The three of them make their way past reception and then up the stairs to the lounge where there is, indeed, a roaring fire. The lights are turned low and the massive windows reflect the room back on itself, the dark outside turning them into mirrors.
Even though Lena knows the greens and sea are still out there, the world appears to begin and end in the hotel right now.
Everyone seems to be making themselves comfortable, already spilling into the restaurant and ordering at the bar. There are two armchairs still unclaimed, directly in front of the hearth in the main lounge and Jack directs Kara to them, before grabbing Lena’s arm and trying to separate her from Kara.
“Oh no, Lena, you’re coming with me. I can’t carry three drinks at once.” He glares at her, but there’s no bite to it. “Don’t make that face, I’ve been immune to it since we were seventeen. It won’t kill you to be parted for two minutes.”
Lena rolls her eyes at him, but Kara squeezes her hand once before she lets go. Lena pauses before giving in to Jack, slips the blazer off and returns it to Kara.
“I wasn’t making a face,” Lena says as Kara walks toward the roaring fire, while Jack steers her across the room, past the threshold of the restaurant, and into the bar.
“You absolutely were. You’re worse than newlyweds. For the love of god, try not to mount her in public, alright?” He flags the bartender over as they walk up. “What’s her poison?”
“Oh, ah, just order us whatever you’re having.” Lena looks around the room.
Her brother is taking shots of something dark at the other end of the bar, laughing with the Graves siblings and two other people whose faces are turned away. Eve is in the corner talking with two of her friends, looking fondly back at him. Lex turns and sees Eve, stumbles over to her, laughing and smiling so wide that Lena is reminded of how he used to be before taking over Luthor Corp.
Lena may not know Eve well, but it’s clear her brother is a softer, kinder version of himself when he’s around her.
Lena’s just contemplating whether Lex will ever again be the brother she grew up with, when one of the people he’d been talking to turns around and makes eye contact with her.
She can see the deep breath that Andrea takes all the way from where she’s standing. Lena feels a knot of anxiety take shape in her stomach as Andrea holds her eye contact and starts weaving her way through the bodies surrounding the bar.
Andrea is clearly walking over to her and Lena realizes that she doesn’t want to talk to Andrea at all.
It’s been such a good day—improbably, impossibly so—and Lena doesn’t want to let that go. There’s nothing Andrea has to say to her with that expression on her face that Lena wants to hear.
The last time Andrea looked like this, she broke Lena’s heart inside three minutes.
So, Lena flees. She can hear Jack complain that she’s abandoning him to carry their drinks, but she doesn’t stop, just walks back out into the lounge, and over to where Kara is sitting in front of the fire.
Kara is in one of the armchairs and has dragged the other across from it. She’s got her feet propped up on it so no one can sit down, but when she sees Lena walking towards her, she drops her feet onto the ground and sits up straight, confusion on her face at seeing Lena return without either Jack or drinks.
There’s a mirror above the fireplace and Lena glances at it, can see Andrea at the threshold of the room, still moving toward her. She doesn’t know what to do, only that she’d give anything to avoid whatever it is that’s about to happen.
She’s hit suddenly with the memory of Andrea’s face at the end of the round of golf, how she’d looked watching Kara kiss Lena’s neck.
The decision Lena makes isn’t fully conscious. It’s driven by the alcohol, by the desire to avoid dealing with whatever is about to happen with Andrea, by the fact that Kara’s proximity is the only thing that’s made her feel good all weekend.
But maybe that’s not entirely fair, because Lena hasn’t stopped thinking about what it might be like to kiss Kara—really kiss her—since the possibility first occurred to her in the cab ride from Heathrow. The kiss she’d initiated at the cocktail party only made things ineffably worse. It had been for show, some sort of terrible insecurity-induced attempt to prove to Andrea that she’s well and truly over her. Right now, although Andrea is certainly a catalyst for what’s happening, she’s no longer the sole factor driving Lena.
Lena isn’t quite sober enough to parse through all of that. So, she doesn’t—she just stops resisting it, instead.
The transition doesn’t make sense. One moment, she’s walking up to where Kara is sitting, and the next, she’s in Kara’s lap, threading her hands into Kara’s stupid perfect hair and bringing their mouths together with something much closer to desperation than sober-Lena would be happy about.
It’s a little like that stupid cocktail party kiss, at first. Kara takes the barest of seconds to respond, before wrapping her arms around Lena’s waist and matching Lena’s intensity—which is exactly what she’d done the first time.
That is the only similarity.
Where that first kiss had been close-mouthed, gentle—even innocent—this kiss is not. Lena has only a second to realize that she’s miscalculated before she feels herself pulled in; it’s as if Kara’s mouth is a rip tide.
Something in her chest flutters, radiating out through her ribs.
Kara’s hands shift on her back—one sliding up her spine, the other down to grasp the soft swell of her hip. Kara adjusts slightly, slants her face, parts her lips.
It makes Lena feel as if her entire body is on fire.
When Kara pulls her closer and deepens the kiss, Lena has the hysterical thought that this is the most right that anything has ever felt. She feels as though she might not be able to breathe if Kara stops kissing her.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Lena, I thought I told you not to mount her in public!” Jack pulls Lena out of the maelstrom and she breaks herself apart from Kara.
Kara is still holding her, chest heaving, lips slick, and all of Lena’s insecurity and doubt comes crashing back in on her like a tide.
This isn't real. Kissing Kara isn’t a solution to any of her problems right now, no matter how right it feels, or how much she wants it.
“Honestly,” Jack keeps talking, oblivious to the icy fear and regret cascading down Lena’s back, as he takes the seat that Kara had saved him and sets the three glencairn glasses down on the low table between them and the fire. “Not that I didn’t expect to come back to this when you took off, but I think it’s a little rude to flaunt your love life. Makes the rest of us feel like we don’t measure up, that’s what it does.”
He’s teasing, of course, but Lena feels frantic, feels like she can’t be this close to Kara and not keep kissing her right now. So she does the only thing she can think of—she eases herself out of Kara’s hold and stands up.
Kara is still staring at her, expression inscrutable, when Lena extends her hand. She lets Lena pull up her until they’re chest to chest again, but she still doesn’t say a word.
Lena turns to Jack. She tries to speak and finds her throat dry. Swallowing, she tries again and manages. “I think we’re going to go to sleep, Jack.”
At the eyebrow he raises, she casts about for an excuse. “We promised Eve and Lex we’d join them for a dance lesson in the morning.”
“Dance lesson? Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Jack laughs, but he waves them away. “Don’t mind me. I’ll drink these myself.”
Normally, Lena would protest, but right now she feels like she can barely stand upright.
If she stops moving, all she’s going to think about is how Kara’s tongue feels in her mouth, the flex of her fingers against Lena’s ribs, the heat of her below Lena’s body. She drops Kara’s hand and heads for the room.
They walk through the rest of the hotel, quiet and empty, in silence.
When they reach the room, Kara pulls the key out of her pocket and opens the door. She steps through it and Lena follows.
Lena lets it close softly behind her, but doesn’t step any further into the room. She feels a little too drunk for this conversation, even if she also knows that she can’t face sleeping in the same bed with Kara until she clears the air.
Kara has already draped her blazer over the back of one of the armchairs and she’s walking over to the wide window to close the drapes, but she turns around as soon as Lena begins to speak.
“I’m sorry if that was too much.” Lena says as she looks down at her hands. “Andrea was walking over and I didn’t—it’s been such a good day.” She twists her fingers together, feeling awkward and not exactly sure of what she’s trying to say.
Kara has walked back to her and she’s standing so close that, when Lena looks up, she can see how flushed Kara’s cheeks are, the cherry red of her lips in the dim light from the desk lamp. Their proximity makes it impossible for Lena to keep track of what she should and should not say.
“I had such a good day with you. I didn’t want her to ruin it and maybe we could have just left, but also—” Lena bites her lip, tries to stop herself, but the alcohol and the kissing seem to have combined to completely unbalance her. She tries focusing on Kara’s eyes instead of her lips, but somehow that’s worse. “But also I just wanted to kiss you.”
Lena looks away and laughs a little miserably, before adding, “I mean, I’ve told you everything else about myself this weekend, it seems silly not to tell you that I want to kiss you.”
“So kiss me.”
Lena whips her head back.
“What?” She barely breathes it out. Kara is looking at her so intensely that she suddenly feels as if there’s no air at all in her lungs.
“If you want to kiss me, then kiss me,” Kara says, like it’s that simple.
And, oh god, how does Lena tell Kara that she doesn’t just want to kiss her right now? She wants Kara to strip her down and lay her out on that absurd bed and take her completely apart. And then she wants Kara to let her return the favor.
Lena is hit with the realization that she’ll buy anything Kara wants to sell her in this moment. She wants Kara so badly that she’s willing to overlook how one-sided this surely is.
If the nature of their arrangement this weekend precludes her from having Kara authentically—a thought she pushes away immediately because it causes a horrible vice-like tightening in her chest and, really, she’s not drunk enough to want to investigate that—then Lena will take the next closest thing.
Before she can think more rationally about the potential consequences, Lena grabs the collar of Kara’s shirt and pulls her into a kiss that picks up right where they’d left off.
Kara responds immediately, as if she’s been waiting for Lena to ask, and pushes her back into the door. Her hands are all over Lena, running up and down her sides, over the curve of her breasts and down to her ass. The combination of Kara’s tongue in her mouth and their bodies pressed together makes Lena feel absolutely unmoored.
When Kara slots her thigh between Lena’s legs, Lena feels it spiral out along her entire body. She can’t help arching into Kara and Kara seems to pick up on her desperation. She slides one hand back up to cup Lena’s right breast, teasing her, and starts sucking lightly at the junction of her jaw and neck.
“How do you like it?” Kara asks, mouth still on Lena’s neck as her hand drifts back down to play with the hem of Lena’s sweater.
If Lena thought she was on fire before, it’s nothing compared to hearing Kara’s voice as her fingers flex and clench on Lena’s body.
Lena lets out a small, desperate sound in response as she tries to think about what she wants Kara to do to her. Kara’s hand is under her shirt now, running along her ribs, skirting the underwire of her bra.
“I want,” Lena struggles to speak. “I want you to touch me. Please.”
Kara slips the button of Lena’s jeans free, slides the zipper down. It’s so slow that Lena feels like she might come out of her skin with how badly she wants this. She feels Kara’s fingers pressing against her clit through her underwear and whatever else Lena had been considering asking for is gone entirely as her entire body lights up.
“God,” Kara breathes out into her mouth. “You’re so wet. Lena, can I—“
“Yes.” Lena interrupts her, and she can hear how desperate she is in the whine of her own voice. “Yes, please, Kara.”
She pulls Kara back into a frantic kiss as Kara slips her fingers into Lena’s underwear. As soon as Kara spreads Lena open and touches her clit directly, Lena gasps and her legs threaten to buckle. It’s only the weight of Kara pressing her into the solid oak behind her that keeps her upright.
Kara kisses her, wet and open mouthed and messy, while her fingers draw tight circles over Lena's clit—until Lena has to turn her head for air.
She lets her head fall back onto the door as Kara starts murmuring into her ear, telling her how good she feels, how wet she is, how pretty she looks letting Kara fuck her like this. Kara reduces Lena to incoherence, until Lena can only make choked, breathy sounds; no longer capable of even partial sentences.
The second Kara tells her how much she wants Lena to come all over her hand, Lena’s sure she couldn’t stop herself if she tried.
Lena doesn’t know how long it lasts, only that when she comes down, her heart still feels as if it might beat out of her chest and her hearing has gone slightly fuzzy. Kara seems to be supporting all of her weight and Lena doesn’t even try to stand up on her own.
Kara slips out of her and slides her still wet fingers into Lena’s hair, pulling her forward into a kiss so intense Lena feels like she might cry. They stand there for a moment, wrapped up in each other, breathing hard.
Lena keeps her eyes closed, not wanting it to end. She wants to prolong her fantasy that this isn’t transactional for as long as possible, even as she starts to steel herself for the conversation she knows has to happen now that they’re done.
She feels Kara lean back finally and opens her eyes to find Kara already looking at her with the same unreadable expression from the lounge.
“Bed?” Kara asks and Lena nods, not trusting herself to speak. If there’s more, if Kara isn’t done yet, she’ll take the reprieve. They’re still completely clothed, her shirt sticking to her back from the exertion. All she can think about is how badly she wants Kara inside her.
She takes the hand Kara offers and follows her.
Lena starts to unravel as Kara undresses her. As fast and hard as Kara had fucked her against the door, she pulls Lena apart in the bed piece by piece with something that feels like a close facsimile of reverence.
It’s slow, almost tender, like Kara understands that what Lena wants now, more than anything, is to be taken care of by a lover. The whole time she whispers to Lena how good she feels, how beautiful she is—until Lena is coming out of her skin again.
When Kara makes her way back up Lena’s body to kiss her, Lena can’t help herself anymore. She slides her hands down Kara’s sides and pulls Kara down onto her.
“Can I?” Lena doesn’t really know what she’s asking, except that she doesn’t want to do anything Kara doesn’t want. She’s not even sure what she’s allowed to do, but Kara erases any doubts she has with an immediate response.
“Fuck. Lena. Yes. I want you to.“ Kara grinds down desperately onto Lena’s thigh, so messy wet there’s almost no friction. “Whatever you want, I want.”
“I want to touch you. I want to make you feel good.”
“Ok, ok,” Kara pants out, arms shaking a little as she holds herself up above Lena. “I want that. I want that so much Lena.” She seems as affected as Lena is.
When she comes around Lena’s fingers, it’s all Lena can do to kiss her, instead of starting to cry.
Lena’s last coherent thought, before she falls asleep, is that Kara is the only thing about this weekend that she wants to keep.
PLEASE ENJOY THIS INCREDIBLE ART THAT @DASSCHMITT MADE FOR THE GOLFING SCENE: Lena & Kara in their outfits seriously go stare at it and then tell them how amazing they are.
Writing this chapter was like performing dental surgery on myself without anesthetic. I hope that reading it doesn't feel like that. Something tells me everyone in this fic would have a much better time if they practiced good communication, but then we wouldn't have a plot, would we?
Chapter title from a Mark Twain quote that is *probably* not apocryphal, but who knows.
Also, just a heads up, the next chapter is going to have angst, but I'm a big believer in happy endings so, like, don't get too worried, ok? I'm probably going to have a harder time tolerating it than anyone.
The sound of heavy, pounding rain is the first thing Kara registers. She blinks and swallows, her tongue feeling slightly too big for her mouth, teeth fuzzy as a result of failing to brush the night before. She shifts in bed, squints towards the windows where the lush green landscape outside has transformed into a dark grey mess, water streaming down the windows—visible, since she never did get around to closing the curtains last night.
Lena has moved away from her while they slept, but her hand is still resting on Kara’s bare hip. It’s warm, so warm, and Kara can’t help the full smile that takes over her face and the flush that races through her body as she thinks back to how they ended up like this.
She rolls over on her side, careful not to crush Lena’s hand, and props herself up on an elbow.
Lena looks the same as she did the morning before, one arm crushed below her pillow, hair a wild mess and draped across her cheek and mouth. It flutters lightly when Lena breathes out.
This morning, though, Kara doesn’t stop herself from reaching out and brushing the hair off of Lena’s face. She lets her fingers linger on the slope Lena’s cheek, the curve of her ear. Lena’s nose twitches, but she doesn’t stir.
Unbidden, a fragment of poetry flashes across Kara’s mind: for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking/ is left in me.
It’s followed, very quickly, by a tiny twinge of panic.
Holy crap, have her feelings for Lena really hulked out so quickly? Kara rolls back and stares up at the ceiling. The past couple of days have been intense—she’s shared more of herself with Lena than many of her close friends know about her. Lena has done the same, and Kara hasn’t been completely blind to the fact that the more Lena opens up, the more Kara wants to know about her.
She really needs to talk to Alex.
Kara flips on her other side and reaches to grab her phone off the bedside table where it’s charging. The display reads just after seven, which makes it eleven the night before in National City right now. Shoot. Alex is probably asleep. Kara sends her a text anyway— sister night when I get back? urgent need advice!
Immediately after sending it, Kara realizes that Alex is going to panic when she reads it, so she sends a follow up. AM FINE!!! love you ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️. There, now Alex isn’t likely to send an extraction team.
Setting the phone back down, Kara realizes that she’s not going to be able to go back to sleep. Lena is still clearly passed out, and, since they don’t have to be down for the dance lesson until ten, Kara figures she should let Lena rest.
Kara gets up and heads to the bathroom, brushes her teeth while she lets the water heat up, and then spends ages washing her hair, looking out through the glass shower door and the bathroom window, over the rain and the sopping green peat bogs surrounding the hotel.
When she’s done, Kara is dismayed to see that it’s only seven thirty.
She slips into a light green broadcloth button down and tan chinos. Rolls up her sleeves, then decides it’s too chilly, and rolls them back down. She putters around the room for a minute, closes the curtains to dampen the sound of the rain.
Hands on her hips and wishing she’d thought to bring a book, Kara decides she might as well see about breakfast. Maybe she can bring food back to the room for Lena—they were both fairly drunk last night and, while Kara doesn’t have a hangover, she has no idea how Lena is going to feel when she wakes up.
The anxiety twinges briefly again.
Kara has no idea how Lena will feel about any of this, actually.
There were moments last night where it seemed as if Lena was asking for something more, something beyond their arrangement. But, she never actually said it. And Kara didn’t exactly ask.
Lena’s request in the distillery comes back to Kara. What if I want you to be you right now?
Kara puffs out her cheeks and blows out a breath. Maybe they’re actually on the same page. At the very least, Lena has to know by now that Kara doesn’t sleep with clients outside of the working aspect of the relationship—surely that has to have given Lena some inkling that Kara is feeling something more than professional obligation. But it still doesn’t tell Kara if Lena is feeling the same way.
Kara bites the inside of her lip and scrunches up her nose. Why couldn’t any of this have occurred to her before they slept together?
Well, thinks Kara, that ship has sunk, or sailed, or whatever. She’ll just have to talk to Lena when she wakes up. Make it clear that nothing has to change if Lena doesn’t want it to. And, if all Lena is feeling toward her is physical attraction, well, it’ll hurt, but Kara knows she’ll be able to deal with it. She can still be what Lena needs this weekend.
Kara checks her watch: seven forty-five.
Breakfast. Right. She can do that.
Kara wanders through the hotel, leaving the old wing, back past the sheep with the yellow wellies, then into the modern addition and up the giant staircase to the restaurant. None of the other guests are up yet, so she makes small talk with one of the servers while she eats at the bar, the golf course visible in the rain through large windows at her back. When she mentions wanting to bring something back to the room that might work as a hangover cure, the guy says that he has just the ticket.
Kara makes her way back to the room with an enormous silver tray. The server even helpfully included a travel packet of ibuprofen on the side, just in case.
Kara has to put the tray down to unlock the door. She wedges her foot inside to stop the latch from engaging while she turns around to pick up the food, before backing through the threshold to avoid spilling everything. She walks over to the writing desk and sets the tray on it as quietly as she can manage. Glancing at her watch, Kara sees that it’s now about quarter to nine. She pulls the curtains back and turns around to wake Lena up.
When Kara turns, Lena’s already looking at her from the bed, still laying down, but very clearly awake and twisting the top edge of the duvet in her hands. She’s got her sleep shirt back on, so she must have gotten up when Kara was out.
“Good morning.” Kara smiles at Lena and looks back to the tray. “I, uh, I don’t know what works for you, so I asked for a few different things. We’ve got coffee, orange juice, water, something called Irn-Bru that the guy at the restaurant swears will fix anything that ails you, and a dippy egg and soldiers—which I’m fairly certain is just a soft boiled egg and toast strips.” Kara looks back to Lena. “Oh, and porridge. There’s porridge, too.”
“That’s—that’s very sweet of you.” Lena’s tone is a little off. There’s nothing overtly negative about it, but Kara feels a little anxious all the same. Lena sits up in bed, but doesn’t say anything else. Lena won’t make eye contact now, her gaze darting around the room.
To be perfectly honest, in all of Kara’s thinking about how the morning might go, not once did it occur to her that she’d be met with the awkward, unsure Lena from their first meeting on the plane.
“Is everything alright?” Kara can’t help asking.
“Yes, of course.” Lena has dropped the duvet, is worrying her fingers together, pressing her right thumb hard into her left palm. Her eyes are locked on the mussed sheets in her lap. “It’s just - Oh my god, I don’t really know how this works.” She finally looks up at Kara, eyes wide and unsure.
Despite the sinking feeling in her stomach, Kara aims for playful. “Well, generally, when someone brings you breakfast in bed, you say thanks and tell them which beverage you’d like,” she says, raising both eyebrows and mustering a smile. She’ll do anything to knock Lena back into the easy rapport they’d found over the last two days—and it seems like maybe it works, at least she draws a small smile out of Lena.
“Coffee would be lovely.”
Kara shifts, turning to the tray to pour a cup from a delicate silver coffee service. She picks up one of the porcelain cups and sets to filling it for Lena.
She’s midway through when Lena speaks again, and Kara feels her heart plummet to the floor.
“Just let me know how much I owe you for last night,” she hears Lena say. “I’m afraid I don’t have cash on me, but I’ll make sure to settle with you before we return to National City. Or, I suppose I can just transfer it.”
Kara stops pouring. Her eyes burn and there’s a horrible, heavy feeling that takes root in the middle of her chest. She feels dizzy. This is so far from what she thought was happening—she hadn’t even considered that Lena had intended on buying sex from her.
Kara realizes that she hasn’t responded. She clears her throat, but doesn’t turn around. “Don’t be ridiculous. If I was going to charge you, I said I’d tell you first.” She sets the half-full cup down on the tray and finds herself blinking back tears. She can hear Lena fidgeting with the duvet behind her.
“I know!” Lena sounds mildly panicked and Kara is torn between wanting to reassure her and wanting to leave the room entirely. “I know you said that. I just. Um. Didn’t want you to think that I was expecting anything for free—or that I was expecting anything at all!”
How could Lena think—how could they be on such different pages? The heaviness spreads through Kara’s body, into her arms and legs. She has to remind herself to breathe.
There’s not a chance in the world now that Kara is going to bring up how she was feeling this morning.
“It’s fine.” Even Kara can hear that nothing about her voice makes it sound like this is fine. She still can’t bring herself to look back at Lena, just stares unseeing out over the sopping, darkened landscape. If none of this means anything to Lena, then it won’t mean anything to her, either. Kara clears her throat and tries again. “It’s fine.”
Lena remains quiet on the bed.
Kara suddenly feels acutely claustrophobic, as if the walls are closing in and the air is too thick. She needs to get out of the room, right now, until she has her emotions back under control.
“If it’s all the same to you,” she starts, still looking outside. “I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll give you a chance to get dressed without me being in the way.”
She turns and flashes Lena a smile that she knows doesn’t meet her eyes, and adds, “I’ll meet you in the lobby at ten for the dance lesson.”
It doesn’t occur to her until after she’s out in the hallway that, with the weather like this, there’s nowhere for her to walk.
Kara decides to find somewhere to hide, instead. She needs to sit with the unexpected ache in her chest and acknowledge it for what it is, if she’s to have any hope of tamping this down for Lena’s sake.
In an hour, she can pretend that she’s fine with how things turned out. But right now?
Lena knows she’s fucked up as soon as Kara stops pouring the coffee.
In every single scenario she considered last night, none of them involved Kara sleeping with her because the desire was mutual. No matter how convinced she was (is?) that Kara was just indulging Lena in a professional capacity, there’s no denying that Kara had shuttered completely when Lena brought up the money.
One minute, she’s bringing Lena breakfast in bed, clearly having gone to the trouble of trying to anticipate anything Lena might want or need. And the next, Kara won’t even look at her.
And then she ran.
Sure, Lena had asked Kara the distillery to just be you. And Kara had said ok! But had she said ok in the sense that it was part of the role play, or had she said ok because she felt like maybe she and Lena were authentically connecting? The whiskey headache making itself known between her temples isn’t helping.
Lena turns over into the pillow and gives in to her impulse to scream.
For a moment, Lena desperately wishes that she could talk to Jack about this. But, how exactly would that conversation go? She imagines it, how she might bring it up. Oh, hey Jack, Kara and I aren’t actually dating, I hired her to play pretend! Isn’t that wonderful? And I might have developed feelings for her, and we slept together, and I thought she was just doing her job, but she got upset when I asked her about payment, and now I'm not so sure, what do you think?
Lena feels nauseous and it’s only partially because of the hangover.
As soon as she’s done throwing her tantrum, Lena gets out of bed. There’s no sense in delaying the inevitable, and, given that it’s now after nine, she’s got less than an hour to make herself presentable, try and get a handle on what’s happening, and meet Kara downstairs.
For a dance lesson.
This day hasn’t even begun and Lena already hates every single thing about it.
Kara wanders through the hotel in a daze. Other guests have started to get up—she thinks she might hear Jack somewhere—and she knows she’s just not up for pretending right now.
Kara cuts through the Stag Lounge, tries not to look at the armchair by the fireplace where Lena kissed her last night. She ducks into the restaurant, thinks maybe she can sit out on the terrace under the overhang—surely no one would bother her out in the cold—but it’s raining so hard that none of the tables are set up.
She must look lost, because the server who’d helped her put together the tray walks over. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
No, Kara thinks, but instead she says, “I was just looking for somewhere quiet to sit.”
“I’ve got just the ticket,” he says, nodding to the other end of the room. There’s a doorway at the far end of the restaurant, down past the bar and the seating area that’s just starting to fill up. “No one’s using The Tower right now, you’re free to sit in it. Can I bring you some coffee?”
“Do you have hot chocolate?”
He smiles and nods, before heading back to the kitchen.
He’s right, The Tower is perfect. It’s clearly meant to be used as a private dining room, a long table running down the middle of the room with places and seating for about twenty. There are stunning views, provided by a set of floor-to-ceiling windows nearly two stories tall that meet in the corner. It gives the room the illusion that one could walk right out of it and onto the golf course below. The clouds are packed in so heavily that even the bay just beyond the course is obscured.
The weather is fitting, Kara supposes, watching water run down the glass in rivulets. There is a smaller table without place settings set up right in the corner where the windows meet, and Kara drags a seat over to it.
The room feels like it exists somewhere outside of the hotel, the door blocking out the ambient noise from the restaurant, and the ability to pretend she’s anywhere else is exactly what Kara needs—she’s interrupted only by the delivery of hot chocolate.
Despite the sugar and the quiet, Kara is still feeling off-balance when she glances down at her watch and realizes that it’s nearly ten. A part of her feels ridiculous. Sometimes you like someone, and they don’t like you back, she thinks. It shouldn’t feel like the end of the world.
A different part of her says that there’s something special about Lena. Kara tries to shake it off as she gets up.
She’s only known Lena for three days. They still have another two to get through, and, even though Kara wishes she could just sit here and wallow, she can’t avoid Lena any longer.
Not to mention they’re supposed to be madly in love.
Kara sighs. That part of this is becoming uncomfortably easy to play.
Kara steels herself to head back to the lobby. Lillian is sitting at one of the tables in the restaurant when Kara passes through, newspaper and coffee beside her, and she gives Kara a nod, but the rest of the guests are too absorbed in their own hangovers to look up. Kara is grateful.
Lena, Lex, and Eve, are already standing by the lounge next to reception when Kara makes it down.
“There you are.” Lex smiles. “I was worried you were leaving me to the wolves,” he says, gesturing to Lena and Eve.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Kara replies. She glances at Lena, who is already staring at her, and can’t help admiring the sapphire blue dress Lena’s wearing. She looks good in jewel tones, Kara thinks. Lena smiles as she catches Kara’s eyes and Kara does her best to mirror it.
“Come on,” says Eve brightly. “They have us set up in one of the exercise rooms.”
They walk down to the wellness center as a group, Lex and Eve leading and chatting about the golf game and the distillery tour. Lena and Kara walk a couple feet behind them.
Lena keeps trying to catch Kara’s eye again as they walk, but Kara isn’t quite ready for that. She’s frustrated with herself, unhappy with the fact that she can’t seem to bounce back, and with how she knows Lena can tell that something is wrong.
The gym is on the ground floor, just past the pro shop, beyond the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the Stag Lounge and the restaurant. Eve leads them into a large yoga studio, complete with gleaming pine floors and a wall-length mirror on one side. The lights are bright and warm, and it’s still gloomy enough outside that Kara can make out their reflections in the enormous windows opposite the mirror.
They’re met by an energetic woman in loose, flowing black pants and a red tank top, who directs them into a circle.
“The wedding dance is the most important dance moment in a person's life,” the woman begins, looking solemnly around at them. Lex is clearly trying not to laugh. Eve elbows him. “A room full of friends and family, watching, smiling, betting on how long the marriage will last.” The woman glares at Lex as he lets out a snort. “All you'll have is each other and whatever skills you acquire today. Pair off!”
Eve and Lex have chosen Just The Way You Look Tonight for their first dance, and the instructor walks all four of them through a basic foxtrot, before pressing play on her phone, the music coming through a pair of wireless speakers in the far corner.
Kara takes Lena’s right hand in her left and directs her into a loose starting position. She knows she’s holding herself funny, a little too far from Lena to be truly correct, but she can’t help it. They start moving, a little awkwardly, since Kara doesn’t want to make eye contact with Lena, but they’re miles ahead of Lex, who’s struggling to figure out how to move without watching his feet the entire time.
The instructor soon determines that Kara and Lena don’t need much direction. With a word to Kara about trying to be less robotic, she leaves them to their own devices to focus on Lex, who has already stepped on Eve’s toes three times and nearly dropped her out of an improvised dip.
“The dance requires a normal closed position,” the instructor barks, clearly frustrated with Lex’s inability to hold the slow-slow-fast-fast rhythm without bumping into Eve. “Leaders, hold your partners close, but not so close you’re stepping on them!”
Kara tries to focus on the steps and not on the way she feels being this close to Lena. They’ve made their way down the length of the room, far enough away from where the instructor has started dancing with Eve to try and show Lex what to do, that Kara can’t even hear what Lex is saying in response.
She’s about to turn them to head back across the space when Lena drops her hand, pulls the other one off of her shoulder, and steps back out of Kara’s hold. “Just, stop.”
“Stop what?” Kara asks. She doesn’t usually play dumb, but she’s not feeling her best right now.
“This!” Lena says, waving her hand up and down, frustration evident in her features. “Whatever this is. Cutting me out. You haven’t said two words to me since you left this morning.”
“I’m not cutting you out,” Kara says. But she can feel the untruth of it in her mouth.
“You are, actually,” Lena says. “I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with you and I can’t because you won’t even look at me right now. Is this—is this because of last night?”
Kara tries a different tack, anything to get Lena to drop it. “We had sex, it doesn’t have to be a big deal.” She steps back toward Lena to start the dance again, but Lena steps back again, avoiding Kara’s hands.
“It feels like a big deal. Or at least...” Lena seems to stumble over her words, perhaps conscious that they’re in a room with Lex and Eve and the instructor, even if no one is paying them any attention. The instructor has turned Eve back over to Lex. “It seemed like a big deal this morning when I asked about what I owed you.”
Kara can’t help the bitter feeling that bubbles up inside her again and she lets out a strained laugh. If they’re going to talk about this, fine—Lena can deal with it. “That’s because I thought we were on the same page. And then you made it clear that we weren’t.”
“What page?” Lena asks, face shifting into something more unsure. And it makes Kara want to cry, because how on earth is a woman this smart, also this dense?
“I wanted it,” Kara says, frustration bleeding through her tone. “I’m attracted to you. What happened last night was as much about me, as it was about you.”
“I didn’t think—” Lena seems somehow flummoxed, as if this is new information. “I mean. I—you were only doing it because you could see how badly I wanted you.”
“Lena, I could see it.” Kara is breathing a little unevenly now, feeling more exposed the longer it takes to explain this, but, in for a penny, in for a pound, she thinks. “And I liked it. I like you. I told you, if I was going to charge you—if it was going to be part of the job, we would have talked about it first.”
Lena is looking at her as if Kara has just revealed that she’s an alien with superpowers, like she can’t believe what she’s hearing.
“So,” Lena starts slowly, seeming to sound it out. “You wanted it to happen. It was mutual?”
“Yes.” Kara lets out a slightly manic laugh, braces herself. “Did you not want it to be?”
“Of course I did!” Lena bursts out.“ Of course I want it to be mutual. I just—god, I didn’t think, ok? I should have asked.”
“It sounds like we both could have used our words a little better,” Kara says. Lena lets out a watery laugh.
“And is it,” Lena bites her lip. “Is it too late to tell you that I like you, too?”
Only hearing Lena sound as nervous as Kara had felt a minute ago gives Kara the confidence to step back into Lena’s space. “Of course not,” she says. She wants to tell Lena that it could never be too late, that this all feels real to her, but something about how skittish Lena is being right now stops her. The impulse to protect herself wins out.
Kara steps forward again, and, this time, Lena takes Kara’s left hand, brings her own up to Kara’s right shoulder. Kara places their arms back in the hold, but without any of the rigidity from before. They’re much closer than they had been, bodies nearly touching, and the steps replaced with something much simpler, more of a slow revolution than anything ballroom.
It seems like maybe they’ve both had an emotional morning. Maybe taking it slow today, seeing if they can find their rhythm again, is a better idea than jumping into what all of this might mean. It’s only Friday.
Still, Kara can’t quite resist. “So, you like me, huh?” She expects Lena to roll her eyes, laugh, maybe shove her shoulder lightly.
But Lena does none of those things.
“Yes,” Lena says, looking up at Kara as they move. “I do.” Her eyes go wide, as if she realizes what she’s just said, and she rushes to continue. “I’m not. I’m not saying anything needs to change—if you don’t mean it like I mean it. That’s ok, that’s fine. It’s fine. I’m fine. I just feel like maybe I should say it.”
Kara can’t help the smile on her face, her cheeks hurt with the size of it. “Lena,” she interrupts. Lena snaps her mouth shut. “I’m glad you said it.”
They relax into the music.
If you don’t mean it like I mean it. Lena’s words are just bouncing around the inside of Kara’s head like some sort of screensaver. The idea, the possibility that Lena is feeling even a tiny bit of what Kara is—it fills her with the same hope she’d had when she woke up. Maybe, this weekend doesn’t have to be the end. She’s going to drive herself insane if she doesn’t ask. If Lena says no, then at least she’ll be able to adjust her expectations. They can still take this slow, either way.
Kara clears her throat, her stomach full of nerves again. “Lena?”
“We don’t have to figure this out today, or even this weekend.” Kara can feel her heart beating so quickly now, wonders if Lena can feel it, too, pressed close against her like this while they dance. “But maybe, um, maybe once we’re back in National City, maybe we could talk about doing this non-professionally?”
Kara wants to smack herself. She’s a writer, for gosh sakes; could she be any less articulate right now? Three maybes in a single sentence. An editor would fire her. This is not the first time she’s asked a pretty woman out, heck—she’s not even asking Lena out! She’s asking Lena about potentially asking her out, sometime in the future. Maybe.
“I’d like that,” Lena says, breaking Kara out of her spiral. “I think, honestly, I’d like that a lot.”
“Me, too.” Kara can’t help wincing as soon as the words leave her mouth. “Obviously. That’s, uh, that’s why I thought I’d ask. Because I’d like that, too.”
This time Lena does laugh. “I have to say, it’s nice to know that even you get a little flustered sometimes.” Lena’s voice is teasing.
“Oh gosh, Lena.” Kara’s laughing now, too. “Just ask my sister. It isn’t just sometimes. If I’d met you in real life, I probably wouldn’t have been able to speak.”
“Is that right?” Lena’s voice has dropped down.
Kara pulls Lena in a tiny bit closer, squeezes the hand she’s using to lead Lena. She can feel Lena’s other hand slip across her shoulder, skate up her neck. She feels Lena’s fingers start to play with her hair. Kara can’t help shivering slightly. “Absolutely.”
The rest of the lesson passes so quickly that Kara has a hard time believing it’s been an hour and a half when the instructor finally dismisses them, throwing up her hands at Lex and saying that she’s done all she can.
They have another thirty minutes until they need to be up at the restaurant for a casual all-guest lunch, so Lena decides to go back to the room to put on jeans and a sweater. Kara walks her back as far as reception, then wanders over to the lounge and sits down in a blue and red plaid armchair next to the roaring fire to wait.
She starts leafing through a magazine, but it’s about hunting and fly fishing. The receptionist notices when Kara puts it back almost as quickly as she’d picked it up.
“Ma’am?” She catches Kara’s attention. “There’s a small library, just around the corner, if you’d like different reading material.”
Kara smiles gratefully and thanks her, then gets up and walks over toward the open doorway the woman had indicated. As she approaches, she can hear voices—voices she recognizes.
“I owe her the truth, Lex. She deserves to know,” Andrea is saying.
“For all you know, Jack’s already told her and she just doesn’t want to talk about it. Max couldn’t keep his fucking mouth shut,” Lex bites back. “He hasn’t even been able to develop the tech since he got it.
“Jack wouldn’t. He didn’t tell her when he found out. He can’t stand seeing her hurt. You know as well as I do she still thinks she was hacked by LI. It’s been two years, I can’t keep this from her any more.”
Neither of them have noticed that Kara is standing in the doorway.
Kara clears her throat.
Andrea blanches, then glances at Lex, before pushing past Kara out of the room.
Lex looks at Kara and purses his lips. “How much of that did you overhear?”
“Enough to guess that Lena losing her patent two years ago wasn’t the act of corporate espionage she thinks it was.” Kara’s jaw tightens. “And that everyone important to her knows.”
“Right then.” Lex looks at the floor, scuffs his foot against the carpet.
“How could you do that to her?” Kara can’t help asking. She’s at a loss, staggered by the betrayal of the two, possibly three people Lena has loved the most. She wants to shake Lex, scream at Andrea, yell at Jack. Take Lena as far away as she can. She’s clenching her fists and has to consciously relax them.
“Please don’t tell her,” Lex says, not even trying to answer her question. “I mean, I can’t stop you, obviously. And I know I should tell her myself. I nearly told her last night.” He sighs, looks defeated, tired. “But not today. Not this weekend. Just give her that, ok?”
Kara knows that this will devastate Lena. There’s no question about that. There’s also no question, in Kara’s mind, that Lena deserves to know.
But would she want to know today, when there are another thirty-six hours until she can leave? Would it be better, Kara wonders, to tell her as soon as possible and help her navigate whatever fall out there is—or will Lena wish that she’d had just one more day of believing she hadn’t been betrayed by the people she cares about?
Lena’s wish from one of the voicemails comes back to her: I just need someone to get me through the weekend in one piece.
Kara is loath to give Lex anything right now, and it isn’t like she’s made up her mind not to tell Lena. But no matter what Kara does, Lex doesn’t deserve any assurances right now.
“I won’t make that promise,” she finally says.
Lex nods, he seems resigned, like he knew that would be her answer. He looks like he might be about to say something else, but Kara hears Lena’s voice from the front hall.
She turns away from him without another word.
When Lena makes her way back, past the ridiculous booted sheep statue that Kara likes so much, and returns to the lobby, she’s surprised to find that Kara isn’t there. Lillian, however, is sitting on a blue couch in front of the central fireplace.
Lillian sees Lena immediately and gets up, setting down the Fieldsports Journal she’s been leafing through. Lena braces herself for some barbed comment about her behavior or appearance, but it doesn’t come.
Instead, Lillian looks a little unsure of herself as she walks over the slate flooring to where Lena is standing.
“Kara seems nice,” Lillian offers, stopping about three feet away.
Lena’s waiting for the but, and is thrown when it doesn’t come. “She is,” Lena says, trying not to pull her hands inside the sleeves of the sweater she’s wearing—Lillian hates when she does that.
There’s an awkward pause, and Lillian actually fidgets, twisting one of the bangles on her wrist. Lena squints at her step mother, struggling to remember how to diagnose a stroke. Lillian’s face is still perfectly symmetrical and she isn’t slurring her words.
So, probably not a stroke.
“It’s—it’s nice to see you looking so happy.” Lillian tries again, tentatively.
“Thank you. I, ah, I am happy.” Is head trauma a possibility, Lena wonders? “Kara makes me happy.”
“Lena—” Lillian starts, but she stops when she sees Andrea standing next to them.
“Sorry to interrupt, Lillian,” Andrea says, and she does look contrite. She reaches out and touches her fingers gently to Lena’s elbow. “Lena, could I have a word? It’ll only take a moment.”
“Let me think,” Lillian says, looking directly at Andrea. Gone is the timidity from a moment before, there’s practically acid dripping from her every word. “You stole seven years of her life with your bullshit and your charm, and now you’d like just a moment? Sure. Go right ahead.”
“Thanks for the solidarity, mother,” Lena whispers. “But next time, a little less information?”
“Fine,” Lillian huffs. “I’ll leave you to her.” She stalks away, the ends of her Hermès scarf fluttering behind her, leaving Lena just as bewildered as when she’d walked over in the first place.
Lena turns her attention back to Andrea, who is practically wringing her hands now.
Unlike last night, however, Lena doesn’t feel like running away. Maybe it’s Kara, maybe it’s seeing Andrea while sober, but Lena finds that even if Andrea wants to talk about what happened between them, there’s nothing she can say to hurt Lena worse than she already did two years ago.
Andrea casts a furtive glance around the lobby, but, except for the receptionist who is talking on the phone in a low tone, they’re alone.
“No matter how certain one is of one's position,” Andrea begins, in what has to be the most bizarre syntax Lena has ever heard her use, “or of what one should or shouldn't do, one sometimes discovers that one is not as one would have hoped one would have been.”
It’s like Andrea’s speaking in code and she hasn’t told Lena what the cipher is. Is she suddenly aphasic? She’s looking at Lena beseechingly, as if she hopes that Lena will be able to divine whatever it is she’s trying to say.
Lena just wants to speed this along. “What exactly are you trying to say?”
“I’m sorry!” Andrea blurts. “Look. I feel that I need to tell you something—but you’re not even listening.”
Andrea’s right, Lena isn’t listening anymore. Kara has just come round the corner and she’s looking directly at Lena. She looks shell shocked, more upset than Lena has seen her so far, including their horrific conversation this morning and, suddenly, it’s like gravity—the only thing that Lena wants to do right now is soothe her, fix whatever it is that’s caused this.
“Excuse me,” she says to Andrea, too distracted by Kara’s distress to continue this conversation. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Kara doesn’t move as Lena walks towards her.
“Hey,” Lena says gently, as soon as she’s near. “What’s wrong?”
Kara stares at her for a moment, looks as if she might be biting the inside of her cheek. “It’s nothing,” Kara finally says, releasing a breath and smoothing out her features.
“It doesn’t look like nothing,” Lena says.
Lena reaches out her hand and Kara takes it, cups it in both of hers, brings it up to her mouth. She kisses Lena’s palm softly, looking Lena in the eyes the entire time, like she’s checking to see if Lena is ok, instead of the other way around.
“It’s better now,” she says to Lena.
That doesn’t completely convince Lena, but if Kara doesn’t want to talk about whatever it is right now, Lena’s not about to force her. After all, they’re about to have to endure a lunch with all hundred and twenty wedding guests. That’s a nightmare Lena’s not been looking forward to.
“Ok.” She smiles at Kara and starts to walk toward the stairs to head up to the restaurant where the banquet is being set up, but Kara uses the hand she’s holding to pull her back. Lena looks at her quizzically.
“I was wondering if you wanted to blow off lunch?” Kara asks.
Lena laughs. “What?”
“I don’t know. What if we just,” Kara purses her lips, lets a breath out through her nose. “Borrow a car, go somewhere else? Just the two of us.”
“Kara, we can’t just blow off lunch.” Lena gives her an amused look. What is happening? First Lillian, then Andrea, and now Kara. Is everyone suffering from a concussion but me?
“Sure we can,” Kara says. “You blew off Thanksgiving. There’s going to be a hundred people; we can tell everyone I wasn’t feeling well. Please?”
There’s something pleading in Kara’s eyes, and that, coupled with how she’d looked only moments before, seals it for Lena. She relents, rolling her eyes. “Fine, we can play hooky.”
Kara looks immediately delighted, whatever stress she’s holding beginning to dissipate in front of Lena’s eyes. “Great!” Kara turns them to reception. Andrea has disappeared.
The receptionist is tremendously helpful, recommending that they try out the restaurant at the Port Charlotte Hotel, set on the shore of Loch Indaal at the north end of Laggan Bay a half hour drive away. She kits them out with dark green waxed-cotton jackets and an enormous golf umbrella to protect them from the weather, before handing Kara the keys to one of the hotel’s Defenders.
Kara doesn’t say much as they drive away from The Machrie, just keeps looking at Lena with an expression that Lena can’t quite place, but, the further away they get, the more relaxed she seems to be—even waving happily at a shepherd trying to wrangle a flock of sheep as they pass.
Truth be told, Lena is a little relieved that Kara suggested they skip the lunch. She still has a tiny bit of a hangover and the prospect of being able to spend time, alone, with Kara—without the looming shadow of Andrea or Lillian or even Lex—is welcome. Whatever is bothering Kara, it’ll come out when Kara wants it to.
Port Charlotte is a small village, consisting mostly of a collection of whitewashed buildings with slate roofs, the omnipresent protective lime paint bright even against the pale grey of the sky as the rain lessens to something more like a steady drizzle. The horizon over the sea loch has shortened thanks to the weather, and the opposite shore, only a mile away, is no more than a hazy shadow in the mist.
Kara parks the rover on the blacktop, right in front of the hotel. It’s smaller than the Machrie, just two stories tall and nine windows long, yet somehow there are four chimney stacks evenly spaced along the roof.
Kara tells her to wait a second and gets out, then grabs the umbrella from where it’s tucked in the footwell behind the driver’s seat. Lena watches as Kara flips the brown corduroy collar on her jacket up to ward against the chill and eases the umbrella open. She smiles at Lena when they make eye contact through the driver’s window.
Kara walks around the front to Lena’s side and opens the door for her.
“M’lady,” she gives Lena a slight bow.
“I can’t believe it,” Lena says and she can’t help the laugh that escapes. “That actually is your move.”
Kara straightens up. “It is not!” She tries to protest, cheeks going pink. “This is chivalry.” When Lena doesn’t stop laughing, Kara tries affecting a pout. “I can’t help it! You bring it out in me!”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t working for me,” Lena says, smiling and trying to restrain herself from teasing more. Kara stops spluttering, a pleased grin taking shape on her face. She switches the umbrella from her left to right hand, extends her left elbow to Lena.
“Well, in that case, may I offer you my arm?” Lena purses her lips in an effort to keep her smile reasonable, but she takes the proffered arm. Kara’s grin is now firmly on the side of smug.
The whole thing is silly and sweet and goofy, and stupidly charming, and Lena finds she rather enjoys not having to pretend otherwise.
At Lena’s request, the hostess walks them back through the pub, all warm wood and low ceilings, with the obligatory peat fire roaring away, and out into the restaurant proper. They’re seated next to a line of windows overlooking the green-gray waves behind the building, rain puddling on the empty concrete terrace outside. The ceiling has a giant skylight, smoked glass and blurry trails of water making shadows above them.
The room is about half full, a family with two young kids on the opposite side and a few couples scattered throughout at small tables like the one Kara and Lena are sitting at. The manager hands them menus, tells them a server will be over shortly, and then disappears back to the front of the house.
Kara breaks the comfortable silence between them. “Are you going to make fun of me if I order fish and chips again?”
“Yes,” Lena says, smiling down at her menu. “That’ll make three days in a row. But don’t let me deter you.”
“Oh, I won’t,” Kara says playfully, glancing up. “I just want to be prepared for the judgement.”
Lena bites the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. “You’re a child.”
“Maybe,” Kara answers. “But you like it.”
Lena looks up at her, catches Kara’s eyes. “I do,” she says, quietly.
It comes out far more earnestly than she planned, doesn’t match the joking tone of their conversation at all. Kara’s grin softens, overtaken by something with more weight.
“Good.” She holds Lena’s gaze for a moment, then looks back down at her own menu. “I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t.”
They order, Kara asking for the posh fish and chips (“Stop laughing at me, that’s what the menu says,” Kara whines when Lena can’t prevent a giggle from escaping), while Lena requests a fish dish with a more grown-up preparation. Deciding that more whiskey is perhaps too much, Lena takes the server’s wine recommendation. It’s not the best Sancerre she’s ever had, but it’s young and fresh—Kara declines a glass, saying she’s driving (and “really, Lena, don’t the lambs deserve sober drivers?”).
They settle in to wait for their food, and Lena can’t remember the last time she was allowed to just sit like this—at ease, nowhere to be, nothing requiring her urgent attention. She wonders briefly how Brainy’s week is going, surprised to realize it’s the first time she’s thought about L Tech in days.
“You know,” Kara says, interrupting Lena’s thoughts. “I was going through my phone earlier and I realized we’ve managed to get through almost every single item on the list. There’s only three left.”
“Three left,” Lena says, raises an eyebrow, takes a sip of her wine. “Can’t have that, can we?”
“That’s what I was thinking.” Kara smiles so wide her eyes crinkle. She pulls out her phone and finds the list, scrolls down the page. “Ok, I’ll go first. ‘Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?’” Kara swallows. “That one’s easy. My mother’s necklace.
“Do you—I mean, are you wearing it?” Lena asks, glancing at the unbuttoned neckline of Kara’s light green shirt. “I don’t think I’ve seen you wear any jewelry except for earrings all week.”
“I almost always wear it when I’m home. It’s a turquoise stone pendant on a silver chain—it’s the only thing of hers that I still have.” Kara’s face twists, and she gives Lena a pained smile. “What about you?”
“The chess set Lex gave me when I was adopted.” Lena looks down at the table, fidgets with the stem of her wine glass. “We used to play all the time. He stopped being interested when I was in college; it was like he didn’t have time for me anymore. He was finally stepping into the role of CEO, taking over officially for Lillian. She helmed it for a few years after Lionel died, waiting for Lex to be ready. It couldn’t have been easy, but I missed him so much.”
“He seems like he was a really great brother to you.”
They’re silent for a moment.
“Gosh,” says Kara, breaking into a small smile. “I feel like that was supposed to be a light one.” Kara reaches her hand out, sets it down midway across the table, palm up.
Lena places her own on top and squeezes. “Maybe for some people, it is.”
Kara hums in assent, but doesn’t let go of Lena’s hand, just picks up her phone again with her other and reads the next question. “If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important to know.” Kara pauses. “Do you want to go first this time?”
“I can.” Lena clears her throat. “Trust is the most important thing to me, and it has to be mutual. Lying, going behind my back—that’s where I draw the line. Once someone crosses it, I’m done.”
“Right. Yeah.” Kara bites her lower lip and then releases it. She’s not smiling anymore. “Trust. I get that.”
When she doesn’t continue, Lena prompts her. “What about you?”
Kara’s silent for a moment, just looking at Lena. She seems to be making up her mind about how to answer.
“I have a really hard time letting negative emotions show,” she finally says. “People think I’m happy all the time, and I am, mostly.” She offers Lena a lopsided half-smile. “But, I still have so much grief and anger about what happened to my parents, about having to grow up without them, how it impacted my entire life. So, I need it to be ok, if I’m upset—I need people who can just sit with me in it.”
The server picks that moment to return with their food, but he’s gone just as quickly. Lena can’t help noticing that Kara doesn’t seem very excited about her food. In fact, it’s the first time she’s seen a plate in front of Kara stay untouched for more than ten seconds.
“Are you going to eat or just look at your plate?” Lena asks, taking a bite of her own dish.
Kara rolls her eyes at her. “Just trying to figure out what makes this posh.”
“Good luck. What’s the last question?”
Kara uses her elbow to slide the phone toward Lena as she picks up a piece of her fish, her fingers now greasy.
Lena tries to click it open. “It’s locked, you have to unlock it.”
“Can’t,” says Kara, swallowing a mouthful of fried fish. “My passcode is 0 8 9 0. How’s that for trust?”
“I’ll take it.” Lena smiles at her and looks down at the phone. “‘If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?’ It’s your turn to go first.”
Lena sets the phone down and starts to pick up her cutlery again when Kara’s voice stops her.
“I think I’d miss you, even if we never met.”
Lena looks up, her heart suddenly beating irregularly in her chest. Kara breaks eye contact after a second, looks down at her plate.
“It’s not a line,” Kara rushes out. “In case you’re wondering, I mean. I feel as if I’ve known you far longer than three days. I feel a little as if I’ve never not known you.” Kara clears her throat, shakes her head. “And I haven’t told you that yet because it feels like a crazy thing to say, but, the questions....” She trails off for a moment, looks back up and offers Lena a shrug. “I promised you that I’d answer them as me.”
As soon as Kara explains, Lena understands what she means. Something in her stomach twists uncomfortably as she thinks about never having met Kara. Perhaps it doesn’t make any sense, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The memory of their arrival at The Machrie yesterday flashes through Lena’s mind, telling Kara that visiting Islay always makes her think of her mother. It only takes a moment, but Lena knows what she’ll regret not saying right now.
“I don’t think I’ll ever visit here again and not think of you.” As soon as the words leave her mouth, Lena can feel in her bones that they’re true. “I didn’t know it until right now.”
The look that Kara gives her feels like a physical thing. Lena’s chest feels fluttery, expansive.
She has to break eye contact to catch her breath.
Near the end of their meal, Kara can’t decide which dessert to get, so they end up ordering three. When she finally finishes scraping up the last of the toffee pudding, having already polished off the cinnamon custard and the shortcake, she sets her spoon down and makes a satisfied sound, leaning back in her chair. Lena just shakes her head and laughs.
“Do you remember when I told you I’d never done a wedding before?” Kara asks. Lena nods. “It wasn’t that no one ever asked. I’d just never said yes.”
“What made you say yes to me?”
“It was something about the first voicemail you left me. Something in your voice.”
“What was that, exactly? Desperation?” Lena has to look away, gives a self-deprecating laugh at the reminder of how many messages she’d left for Kara.
Kara is still looking at her, she can tell out of the corner of her eye.
“No. Not that.” Lena catches the smile as it forms on Kara’s face, can hear it in her voice. “That came in the next six voicemails.” Kara shifts until she, too, is looking out at the green-grey waves again. “I think it was hope.”
Leaving the warmth and quiet of the restaurant afterwards and making their way back out into the rain feels like moving between worlds. Kara opens the umbrella and walks Lena around to the passenger side of the car. Lena can hear the light patter of rain on the nylon taffeta.
Kara steps forward to open the door, but Lena stops her, takes the collar of her jacket gently in one hand, and pulls her down, presses their lips together.
It’s their softest kiss yet. Lena slips her other hand around the back of Kara’s neck, into her hair, feels Kara wrap one arm around her and pull her solidly in. Kara’s mouth is warm and gentle, her lips slightly sticky from the pudding.
When Lena pulls back, Kara keeps her eyes closed for a moment.
“Just to be clear,” Kara says quietly, “because I think we’re trying to be clear now, was that you kissing job-me or me-me?”
“To be clear,” Lena says, equally quietly. “That was me kissing you-you, Kara Danvers.”
Kara opens her eyes. “Oh. Good.” Her grin is blinding, it warms Lena up from the inside out.
Lena laughs, presses another soft kiss to Kara’s cheek, then opens her own door when it becomes clear that Kara is just going to stand there, smiling like an idiot. “Get in the car, Kara. We have to make it back to the hotel eventually.”
“Right. The hotel,” Kara says, still smiling, standing on the passenger side of the vehicle. "For the rehearsal dinner, that we actually have to go to." Lena shakes her head, but she can’t help the smile on her own face.
They make it back to the hotel and return the car without incident, Jack catching them as they walk into the lobby.
He looks at them, cocks his head, and turns to Lena. “You know, love, Kara’s not looking all that poorly.” Lena laughs and Jack wiggles his eyebrows. “A few of us are going to play board games upstairs until dinner, you should join unless you have more dance lessons to get to.”
Kara chokes lightly next to Lena, tries to cover it by clearing her throat and agreeing. “Board games sound good!”
“Board games it is.” Lena smiles at both of them. “We can change for dinner later.”
Lena takes Kara’s outstretched hand and they follow Jack upstairs to where Eve has wrangled the wedding party and their dates into playing Cards Against Humanity. It’s fun, and ridiculous, and Lena is terrible at it, but Kara is surprisingly good. Trivial Pursuit goes slightly better for Lena.
Once again, Kara seems to get along with everyone. The Graves siblings, Lex’s college buddies Donovan and Adam - even John Corben seems to like her. Lena just sits back, relaxing into Kara’s side. It’s easy in a way she never dreamed anything about this weekend could be.
They have so much fun playing that no one looks at the time, until Jack suddenly squeals and says that, if everyone isn’t back upstairs and changed in twenty minutes, Lillian might make good on her threat to kill him.
Without any time to properly take advantage, Lena refrains from distracting Kara, just watches while Kara puts on a starched white button up and sharp navy blue suit, but she can’t resist asking Kara to zip up her dress.
It’s Lena who ends up in a way, however, when Kara presses lingering kisses up Lena’s spine as she zips, before spinning her around and pulling her to the door, saying they don’t want to be late. Lena starts to protest that being late sounds fine, but Kara just laughs and then asks her if she really wants to have to reapply all that makeup.
Kara is right, but Lena doesn’t have to be happy about it.
They’re still the last to make it up to the restaurant, though, and a server waves them through a doorway at the far end, into a high-ceilinged private room. Mercy Graves is standing in the middle, framed by an enormous window looking out onto the wet dunes and the worsening storm over the bay. Mercy is clearly a drink or two in, raising a toast to the happy couple and the rest of the wedding party. She brightens when she sees Lena and Kara walk in. “Lena! I was just saying how good it is to have the excuse to get everyone together. It’s been far too long. You know, we were all heartbroken when you left Metropolis!”
Lena takes the wine glass that Kara’s pulled out of nowhere and raises it in salute, but Mercy isn’t done.
“We all know your brother isn’t the easiest man to work for, but Luthor Corp hasn’t been the same without you. We lost the best R&D Director we ever had when you left, and I’m including your brother in that!”
Lena tries to demure, but Lex puts up a hand to stop her, “No, it’s true,” he says, tipping his glass in her direction.
“You know,” Mercy breaks in, swiveling between the two of them. “I blame that stupid science competition for why the two of you couldn’t stand working together.”
“Oh, god, no,” Lena and Lex say at the same time.
“No, no,” says Mercy, shushing them. “Kara’s new here, it’s important that she knows what she’s getting into. Don’t deny it, you barely tolerate each other! This wedding is the first time you’ve been in the same place in nearly two years, and it isn’t as if the six before that were smooth sailing.”
“Come on,” says Jack, looking back and forth between Lena and her brother. “It’s true! The only thing you two have in common is you’re both attracted to me!”
Lex punches Jack’s arm.
“It was, what, ten years ago?” Mercy looks around as if for confirmation, but proceeds before anyone can do so much as nod their head. “Lex was making the transition from R&D to CEO, and Lena was still at MIT. As one of his last projects, Lex put together a team working on an international science competition.” Mercy waves her wine glass vaguely, the liquid threatening to go over the side. “One of those foundation sponsored things to advance research—that’s not the point. They had some plan to move synthetic tissue work from hypothetical to functional—Lex, what was the tagline of the project?”
Lex shakes his head, like he can’t believe Mercy is really going to tell the story, but he responds anyway. “Print one.”
“Right, right,” Mercy says. “Print one. As in, need an organ to transplant? Print one! They had a massive falling out after Lena tried to help, and they’ve never made up since.”
“Before that,” Otis offers to Kara, “Lena and Lex were pretty much inseparable.”
“If Lex blew something up in the lab, Lena put it back together,” Mercy says.
“If Lena put something back together, Lex blew it up,” Jack yells. Everyone laughs.
“The problem, as I recall it,” Mercy says, “was that Lex’s team worked for two months straight, but they couldn’t crack it—oh, they got close,” she cuts off Lex’s protest, “but at the end of the day, no dice. So Lex takes the work home and decides to sleep for an entire day to recover before having another go.”
Mercy takes a sip of wine and continues. “And in the middle of his nap, Lena comes home from summer nationals and sees Lex’s work spread out all over the study. She goes in, our intrepid little scientist, and starts reading and mucking about. Lex finds her in the study, writing on the margins of all his notes, absolutely loses it. Here’s his kid sister, this twenty year old senior at MIT already working on her masters, and she’s messing up his stuff, right?”
“But then,” Mercy takes a dramatic pause. “Then he checked her work. She’d fucking solved it. The next day they were able to modify a 3D printer to join cells together.”
“Lucky for everyone, I’m not a terrible CEO,” Lex breaks in. “Even if she can beat me in the lab. Although, who knows. Maybe she’d beat me at that, too?”
“Of course not,” Lena says.
“I don’t know, ace. L Tech is pretty impressive these days.” He smiles at her, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
“So,” Kara says, breaking the silence that drifts over the group. “Did you ever ‘Print One’? Like, an actual organ?”
“Actually, no!” Mercy laughs. “The tissue has to be functional first, we’re still trying to nail that bit. But the work Lena did is still the building block for every lab trying to solve this, including ours.”
“And Luthor Corp is still going to do it first,” Lex says, raising his glass. “To dad, for starting the company that brought us all together.”
A cheer of To Lionel! echoes through the space.
Lena squeezes Kara’s hand in gratitude as they take their seats.
The actual dinner is less awkward. Lillian doesn’t once bring up Lena’s absence from lunch, and seems to be making an actual effort to talk to Kara. Lena watches them warily, ready to break in if it looks like it’s going south, but Kara’s holding her own.
Near the end of dessert, they run out of wine and there’s no server to be seen, so Lena volunteers to go track down a few bottles from the bartender in the next room.
She’s standing by the pass-through at the end of the bar, waiting for him to return with four bottles, when Andrea walks up behind her and puts a soft hand on the back of Lena’s arm, startling her.
“Andrea,” Lena laughs. “You scared me!”
There’s something in Andrea’s voice that makes Lena think the apology has nothing to do with scaring her.
“It’s fine.” Lena offers her a smile. “I just didn’t hear you.”
If this were a year ago, or six months, or even Tuesday earlier this week, Lena might want to follow the thread—might want to push Andrea, ask what she’s really sorry about. But watching Andrea start to fidget with her necklace, Lena realizes she doesn’t need to hear what Andrea has to say.
“Actually, Andrea, since you’re here, would you mind grabbing one of the bottles they’re bringing out? I’m not sure if I can make it back without dropping them.”
Andrea doesn’t respond immediately. Lena sees her face twist with something. Guilt? Fear?
Lena’s about to try another tack, maybe ask if Andrea will go find Kara for her, but Andrea finally seems to gather her resolve. “I used to wonder what it would take to get you to forgive me, Lena. But, I’m not sure what I did to you is forgivable.”
“Hey,” Lena interrupts her. Maybe direct is best. “We don’t have to talk about this.”
“We do, though.” Andrea looks like she might start crying if Lena makes any sudden movements. “I miss you. I’ve missed you for two years. And if, after I tell you this, you still want nothing to do with me, and you tell me that there’s no way I can ever make it up to you, then I can live with that—I’ll have to live with that. But, if you’re going to hate me, I need you to hate me for the right reasons.”
“Andrea, it’s ok,” Lena says, surprising herself with how genuinely she means it. “I don’t hate you. I forgive you. Maybe even a week ago I’d want to hear this, but you know what? It’s ok. You didn’t want to marry me. I know I was devastated, but I think, now…I think it was for the best. I don’t hate you. It just took me two years to figure that out.”
Where the hell is the bartender? Lena looks back over the bar, willing him to appear with the alcohol. She’s just about to call out for him when Andrea starts talking again and Lena’s blood runs cold.
“I helped steal your tech,” Andrea blurts out, and there’s no stopping her this time. “Two years ago. That’s why I broke it off with you.”
Lena looks back at her, all color having drained from her face. Andrea just barrels on.
“Obsidian North was about to go bankrupt, my father was so unstable, and I was willing to do anything to save him, and Lex—Lex said he needed a favor. He came to me and said he needed something off your work tablet. I didn’t know he was going to do it, not immediately. But then, he said he could arrange for Lord to buy out one of our smaller subsidiaries at an inflated price, if I’d help him with this one thing.”
This isn’t possible, Lena thinks. She no longer feels entirely present in her body, it’s as if she’s watching Andrea confess this to someone else.
And Andrea just keeps letting it all spill out. “He was so worried that you were going to devote all your time to developing your own work and not on his main accounts, and he thought—he thought if your project got stolen, that you’d go back to doing what he wanted you to do. And I - ” Andrea sucks in a breath, clearly close to tears. Lena wants to slap her across the face. “I was so worried about what my father was going to do if the company went under. Except that after I did it, I couldn’t look at you. I couldn’t talk to you, couldn’t think about you without feeling this crushing guilt. And I realized I couldn’t marry you like that.”
Lena doesn’t realize that Andrea has finished until she says, brokenly, “Lena, say something, please.”
“I thought...” Lena starts. “I thought maybe you’d fallen out of love with me, or just realized we weren’t right for each other.” She looks away, before her eyes find Andrea again, a hot flash of anger ripping through her. “How could you?”
“Lena, it broke my heart. But you have to see, don’t you?” Andrea’s pleading now. “Everything I did, I did for love.”
“That’s what hurts the most!” Lena cries out. “I cared about you more than anyone else in the world and I never would’ve betrayed you.”
She stumbles backwards, away from Andrea and the bar. Lena is reeling. She feels trapped, like she can’t breathe. She turns around and practically runs back into the dining room. All she can think is that she needs Kara right now.
Jack takes one look at Lena’s face when she enters the room and steps forward to intercept her. “Oh god, she’s finally told you.”
“You knew?” Lena blanches. She feels dizzy, like her legs might collapse out from under her.
“Lena, I’m so sorry,” Jack begins, but Lena pushes past him, walks straight over to Kara.
Kara just envelops her in a hug, doesn’t say anything. She’s grateful that Kara doesn’t ask why Lena must look like she’s about to cry, or why she can’t bring herself to look at anyone else in the room. Do they all know? Is she the only one who has been in the dark?
“Lena?” Lex asks. He looks panicked, then his face fills with anger. “I can’t believe you told her!”
Lena’s confused for a second, who is he talking to?
But then she looks up at Kara.
Everything she needs to know is written in the look that Kara is giving Lex, as though Kara knows exactly why he would think that she was the one who had told Lena.
The fact that Kara is somehow in on this hits Lena in the chest like a brick. She pushes herself off Kara, nearly falls back trying to get out of her arms.
“Wait, Lena,” Kara starts, but Lena is already turning around.
She can’t be here. She can’t be in this room with these people who were willing to steal, and lie, and manipulate her, and break her heart to further their own agendas.
It doesn’t matter what part they played. The point is that they all knew, they’ve all been in on it, conspiring behind her back. Lex, and Andrea, and Jack—every single person she’s trusted with the deepest parts of herself.
Lena doesn’t realize that she’s outside until her heels sink into the peat. It’s pouring and nearly pitch black, the sky only lit up by the occasional lighting strike to the north. She stops, heaving in enormous lungfuls of cold air, letting the water soak her hair and dress.
The door she must have run through slams open, and Lena can hear Kara calling her name. She’s still struggling to breathe, can’t run anymore, so Kara catches up behind her, tries to put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t you dare!” She yells, flinching away from where Kara’s fingers touch her skin. Kara drops her arm as quickly as if Lena had hit her.
“What did you want me to do, Lena?”
“I want you to have told me.”
“How was I supposed to tell you?!”
“Not knowing how doesn’t change the fact that you should have,” Lena spits back at her. “You kept it from me! I told you how important trust is to me!”
“I knew it would devastate you!” Kara looks like she might cry. “You asked me to get you through this weekend in one piece.”
“Oh, that’s it, perfect. Hide behind your job. It’s all just business with you.” Lena looks away, out over the dunes to the black water.
“What did you want me to say?” Kara asks brokenly. “That I was pretty sure Lex and Andrea had conspired to screw you over? That there was a good chance everyone knew?”
“Would you ever have told me?” Lena’s raising her voice again, but she can’t help it.
“Yes.” Kara sounds sure.
Kara throws up her hands. “I don’t know!” she yells back. “I couldn’t even figure out if you were going to want to see me after this weekend.”
Lena interrupts her with a painful laugh. “Then you’re just like the rest of them.”
“That’s not fair,” Kara says. “That’s not fair, and you know it.”
“What,” Lena hisses, “is unfair about that? You were supposed to be on my side.”
“I wanted to protect you. I just wanted to get you through this weekend. I would have—I would have told you what I knew eventually, but I still don’t know the whole story! I only overheard Lex and Andrea this morning!”
Lena ignores Kara. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone lies to me. Everyone breaks my heart. I thought—” This time Lena’s laugh sounds more like a sob. “It doesn’t matter what I thought. You’re a liar. That’s what you do. That’s what you are.”
“Really, Lena? I’m the liar?” Kara sounds devastated now, but she starts ticking off fingers on her hand with something close to anger. “You’re lying to me, you’re lying to your family, you’re lying to yourself. You want to put this all on me, the woman that you paid to be your girlfriend? I was put in an impossible situation. I didn’t know what to do. I did what I thought was best.”
“No, no, Kara, you’re right. I was so desperate to make everyone believe I was happy that I paid ten thousand dollars for a lie.” Lena’s crying for real now, all the fight leaking out of her. “And the only one that ended up falling for it was me.”
“Lena,” Kara begins, her eyes red. Water is streaming down Kara’s forehead, dripping into her eyes. “Lena, don’t do this.” She steps towards Lena and reaches out again, like she’s going to try to pull her in.
“Don’t.” Lena puts up her hands to stop Kara. “I can’t.” Her voice breaks. “I need you to leave.”
“Lena!” Kara’s crying, too.
She knows exactly what to say to get Kara to leave, no matter how much Kara wants to stay, but Lena has to turn away first; she can’t look at Kara while she says it.
“You’re fired. Send me the receipt for your flight back.”
And then Lena walks away, stepping out of her heels, heading out over the dunes, into the middle of the storm.
By the time she makes it back to the room an hour later, soaked and numb from the cold, exhausted from crying, Kara’s suitcase is gone.
It’s for the best, Lena thinks. But that doesn’t stop a fresh wave of sobs from rising in her throat like bile.
Kara walks back into the hotel in a daze. She can’t tell if her face is still wet from rain or from tears, or both, as she stands in the hotel room and stares uncomprehendingly at her suitcase.
She sits down on the bed and pulls out her cell phone. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong, whenever Kara is upset, Alex is always her first call.
The moment Alex answers the phone, Kara bursts into great, heaving sobs.
She’s crying so hard, snot running down her face, she can’t answer.
“Breathe, Kara, breathe. Tell me what’s wrong. Are you ok? Did something happen?”
“Alex,” Kara gasps out. “Alex, I hurt her. And I didn’t mean to, but I did. And I don’t know if I can fix it, or even if I should. And I feel like my chest might crack open and I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t explain it. It hurts, Alex. It hurts so badly right now.”
Kara can still barely breathe, has to think about each inhale she makes. She’s crying even harder now.
Alex is silent for a moment. “Kara? I’m going to grab Kelly, ok?”
“Ok.” Kara closes her eyes as tightly as she can, tries to stop crying, but finds that she can’t. She’s never felt like this before.
Over the open line, she can hear Alex’s muffled voice and Kelly saying something, but she can’t make it out. There’s some shuffling and then Alex’s voice comes through clear again.
“Kara? I’ve got you on speaker.”
“Hi, Kara,” Kelly says. “What’s going on?”
“I think,” Kara hiccups out. “I think I messed up really badly, even though I thought I was doing the right thing, and I won’t be able to live with myself if she doesn’t forgive me.”
“Oh, honey,” Kelly breathes out. “Start at the beginning.”
So Kara does.
She walks Alex and Kelly through the last four days. She tells them about seeing Lena for the first time, talking her through takeoff. She tells them about the cocktail party, about getting to know Lena, about sleeping with her.
Kara tells them about Lex and Andrea, and finding out how Lena had been betrayed, and about her decision not to tell Lena.
And then she tells them about how Lena found out anyway.
“I just,” she finally says. “I just wanted to give her one more day before her entire world crashed in on itself again.”
Alex and Kelly are quiet as they absorb everything Kara has said.
“Holy fucking shit,” Alex finally says. “I can’t believe it. You fucking fell in love with her.”
Kara feels hysterical. “That’s not funny, Alex.”
“I mean when Kelly told me it was possible, I thought she was just making fun of you. But holy shit, Kara.”
“What?” Kara can’t help her confusion, it overwhelms the rest of her emotions for a second. “I haven’t talked to you guys since I left.”
Kelly breaks in. “Alex is being facetious. I didn’t say I thought it would happen, but after you asked me for the study, I told Alex about it.”
“The study? You mean the questions? What does that have to do with this?”
“Oh, Kara.” There’s something very gentle in Kelly’s voice. “I didn’t realize.”
“Realize what?” Kara can feel herself getting slightly frantic. “Realize what, Kelly? What do the questions have to do with this?”
“In the original study, one of the participant pairs fell in love. They got married six months later. I was joking about it with Alex, after you left.”
“So, I’m feeling this way because of the questions?” Kara wipes at her eyes.
“No, Kara, that’s not what I’m saying. Or, not exactly. The questions may have helped accelerate how you’re feeling, but they’re not enough on their own. There’s something about Lena herself that you connected with—intensely, from the sound of it.”
Kara tries to understand, but every time she thinks about Lena it feels like her heart is breaking wide open.
“Let me put it a different way,” Kelly tries. “You could do these questions with fifty different people on the street and you’d probably walk away with some new friends and maybe a potential partner or two, but what you’re talking about is something much deeper.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kara finally says, defeat heavy in her voice. “It doesn’t matter how I feel about her.”
“Of course it matters!” Alex sounds indignant.
“You didn’t see her, Alex!” Kara’s throat feels raw and her eyes are burning again. “She looked at me the same way she looked at Andrea, at Lex. I’m just another person who didn’t protect her. I was so scared of losing her and now it doesn’t matter.”
“So, you tell her.”
“Tell her what?!” Kara can’t help yelling. “What exactly do you suggest? Hi Lena, I know you hired me to escort you to your brother’s wedding, but I think I’m falling in love with you, and I didn’t want to see you hurt, so I made a mistake, here’s your ten thousand dollars back!”
She can hear the edge in her own voice, the way it breaks over the word love. There’s silence on the phone when she finishes.
“Well,” begins Kelly. “I’m not sure I’d suggest using that tone of voice, but the overall message isn’t bad.”
“Yeah,” Alex adds. “Honesty kinda seems like your best play right here.”
Kara laughs wetly.
“Kara, sweetie,” Kelly says. “You don’t have to do anything tonight. I know it feels like the end of the world right now, but it doesn’t have to be. You need to sleep, and so does Lena, before you have a chance to see if this is something you can fix with her, ok?”
Kelly is right. Kara’s exhausted and there’s no way either she or Lena can handle another emotional confrontation right now. Alex promises that she’ll pick her up from the airport on Sunday, no matter what. Kara says good night to her sister and Kelly soon after, saying she’ll call them tomorrow and let them know what she decides.
Packing is excruciating.
Every time Kara puts something in her suitcase, it’s like she’s erasing a tiny part of herself from Lena’s life—like maybe they’ll never be in the same place together again. She makes her way slowly to the front desk, feeling like she’s living someone else’s life right now.
Kara nearly turns around when she sees Lillian and Eve talking by the fireplace, but Lillian looks over and makes eye contact with her. Lillian says something to Eve that Kara can’t hear, and turns around with a nod in Kara’s direction.
Eve walks over to where Kara is standing.
“Lena needs space right now.” Kara tries to summon a smile for cover, but it feels more like a grimace and she knows her eyes are puffy and red. “I’m just going to check into a hotel somewhere else, I’ll leave on the ferry tomorrow morning.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eve says. “I think Lillian thought you might try that. Here. She gave me the keys to the distillery, there’s a furnished apartment above the main office, you can stay there.” She hands Kara the keys.
“If you really do want to leave,” Eve continues, seeming to weigh her words, “it’s walking distance to the ferry.” She looks thoughtful for a moment, offers Kara a hopeful smile. “Look. I don’t know what’s going on with you two, but I’m sure it’ll work out. You couldn’t be more perfect for her if she picked you out of a catalogue.”
Kara lets out a wet laugh, wipes at her nose. “Thanks, Eve.”
Eve doesn’t seem to want to walk away while Kara looks so fragile. “Here, let me ask the front desk if someone can drive you. I don’t even know if Islay has Lyft.”
Eve arranges everything with the receptionist, then gives Kara a hug before seeing her off in front of the hotel. Kara doesn’t say anything to the driver, just does her best to muster a genuine thanks and hand him a tenner when he drops her off in front of the distillery.
The building is dark, the only light coming from lamps above a few of the doorways, casting lonely spots of yellow down the whitewashed sides. She follows Eve’s instructions, finds the right entrance, and heads upstairs to the small apartment. It’s not much more than a camp cot, a desk, and a hearth.
Kara shivers as she gets into bed, but doesn’t light a fire; she doesn’t want to feel comfortable right now, anyway. Trying to fall asleep, the last four days keep looping through her mind. She tries to imagine what happens next. It all comes down to one of three possibilities: Option A, she gets on the ferry, heads back to London, never sees Lena again. Option B, she goes back to the hotel, tells Lena how she’s feeling and asks if what they have is worth fighting for, gets told no, heads back to London, never sees Lena again. Option C, she goes back to the hotel and Option B works out better.
Kara hopes that, when she wakes up, she’ll know what to do.
Lena lays prone where she’s collapsed on the bed in the hotel room, still crying and shivering, her wet dress sticking to her body, feet muddy, hair sopping. She’s probably leaving makeup stains on the white linen, but she can’t bring herself to care right now.
She pulls in deep shuddering breaths and tries to get a handle on herself, but finds that she just can’t. She feels sick, like she might throw up. Her chest feels like it’s trapped in a vice, the pressure increasing, until she fears her ribs might crack.
Nothing has ever hurt like this.
It’s insane. This whole thing is insane. She’s just learned that everyone in her life has betrayed her, and the only thing she can focus on is that she’s probably just sent Kara away for good. She can’t be feeling like this. It’s a proximity crush, it’s the product of spending four days wrapped up in nothing but Kara, sharing parts of her life that absolutely no one else knows. It’s those stupid fucking questions that she never should have agreed to answer.
The afternoon feels like another universe—their lunch, how buoyant she’d felt, how safe, how seen. Lena should have known that there was a catch. There’s always a catch.
If she could stop crying for one second, Lena feels like she might laugh. What, honestly, did she think was going to happen? That Kara was going to fall in love with her? That they were going to return to National City, and date, and move in together, and live happily ever after, and that the way they met would be some funny story they’d share with close friends?
There’s a knock on Lena’s door.
Lena ignores it, continues to lay face down on the bed. There isn’t anyone on this godforsaken island she wants to see right now. The only thing she plans on doing is crying herself to sleep.
Whoever it is doesn’t take the hint. They knock a second time, slightly louder
“What?!” Lena tries to snarl out—aiming for anger, but hitting somewhere closer to grief. She gets up and stalks to the door, furiously wiping at her face. She’s done. Done being polite, done trying to be good. She’ll pull it back together tomorrow for the wedding. But, right now? She thinks she’s allowed.
She wrenches the door open. “What could any of you possibly want from me right now?”
“I didn’t know,” says Lillian.
It’s said so gently that Lena thinks for a second that she might be hallucinating. Is it possible to cry yourself into psychosis? Lena’s not sure, but that seems more likely than Lillian showing up at her door like this.
“Right,” Lena laughs brokenly. “This might as well happen.”
“I didn’t know, but I should have.” Lillian fidgets, twists her hands together. She looks more unsure than Lena has ever seen her, as if she fully expects Lena to slam the door in her face and, somehow, that would be ok with her. “May I come in?”
Lena stares at her for a moment. She’s trying to make sense of the Lillian standing in front of her—has been trying to make sense of Lillian all day, actually—but she’s exhausted enough as it is. She steps to the side and waves her arm in some approximation of permission.
Lillian walks past her, heads into the bathroom. Lena’s so confused that she doesn’t bother asking what Lillian thinks she’s doing, just walks back to the bed and lays down again. She can hear Lillian running the tap.
Lillian steps out into the bedroom and holds out a towel and a glass of water. “Here, drink this.”
Lena stares at her, doesn’t understand what’s happening, but she sits up and takes the glass. Lillian drapes the towel around Lena’s shoulders and steps back.
Maybe it’s just further proof of how upsidedown the world is right now, but Lillian’s right about the water. Drinking it helps. Her ribs no longer feel as if they're going to break, and breathing becomes the tiniest bit easier.
“I never really knew how to be a mother,” Lillian starts. “With Lex it was simple because he never seemed to need me very much. I’m not maternal. When I met you, you were already this little person and I—.” Lillian cuts herself off, takes a deep breath. “It took me a long time to look past the affair. And by the time I had, it felt like it was too late. As a teenager you didn’t want anything to do with me—“
She holds up a hand to stop Lena from interrupting. “And why would you? It wasn’t until after Lionel died that I realized how unconscionably selfish I had been. You lost your mother, then you lost him. And you never had me. You’d already grown up to be this incredible person and I hadn’t been a part of it.”
Lena can’t believe what she’s hearing.
“It took a lot of therapy for me to realize just how badly I’d messed up. You were already at MIT, actually.”
Lena remembers being sixteen and so surprised when Lillian had shown up, unannounced, for her first Parent’s Weekend. It had been stilted and awkward and all Lillian had done was ask about her courses. Lena had been sullen and upset because Lex had blown off their weekend together and, in larger part, because she was so lonely in Cambridge.
Lillian keeps talking. “Afterwards, I thought that, if I had already failed you in all the ways that probably mattered, then the least I could do was make sure that you grew up to be the person I knew you were capable of: brilliant, a leader in whatever field you went into. Lex has always been smart and driven, but he’s content with making money and running Luthor Corp. I knew you could change the world with the right push.”
“Then why,” Lena starts, can feel herself start to cry again; she didn’t even realize she’d stopped. “Why did you ice me out? I left Luthor Corp and you never called. You’ve never even been to see me in National City.”
“I thought you left because you were done,” Lillian replies, somehow calm in the face of Lena’s near hysteria. “Done with us, with being a Luthor. Lionel’s wish that you work at Luthor Corp had been so important to you even when you and Lex didn’t get along—when you left, I thought it was your way of telling us that you didn’t want to be in the family anymore.”
Lillian steps forward and takes the now empty glass from her, goes to refill it. She returns and hands it back to Lena.
“If you had called, I would have heard you out.” Lillian looks down at her own hands. “Of course, that’s my fault, too. I’d never given you a reason to believe that. I took Lex at his word that you’d had a setback on a project and that he thought you’d come around eventually, and then, when Andrea broke things off and you left—I should have asked you. I should have talked to you. I’m so sorry I didn’t.”
Lena doesn’t know what to say. She just sits on the edge of the bed and watches as Lillian unravels.
“I cannot imagine what you thought when I paired you with Max and Andrea for golf,” Lillian says, drawing in a sharp breath. “She asked for you. I think I hoped that maybe I was doing you a favor. It wasn’t until I saw how happy you are with Kara that I realized I’d botched that, too. I am not graceful when I am wrong. I’m—I’m working on that. But Lena, please believe me: I didn’t know. And I am so, so sorry for that.”
Lena wants to scream. Lillian wants to apologize now? But she stops herself from lashing out. Maybe it’s the sincerity in Lillian’s voice—something Lena hasn’t heard before—or maybe it’s the knowledge of how completely alone she’ll be if she sends Lillian away. Whatever it is, exhaustion or loneliness or fear, all Lena can offer up is a broken, “Why are you telling me all of this?”
“I don’t expect—I know that hearing this doesn’t make it any better. Any of it. But Lena, don’t make the same mistake that I did and give up on someone, especially when they aren’t the reason you’re hurting.”
Lena looks at her. “Is this your way of telling me to forgive you because you aren’t responsible for this?”
“No, Lena, no. You don’t owe me anything.” Lillian’s smile is sad and Lena tries to steel herself against it, but finds her heart isn’t quite in it. “I’m telling you not to give up on Kara.”
“What?” Somehow it’s this that causes Lena to stop crying. She pulls up the edge of the towel and wipes her face.
“You don’t have to talk to me about it tonight, or ever,” Lillian says. “I haven’t earned that. But I’m speaking as someone who’s made mistakes with people I care deeply for, and I can’t let you do the same without saying anything.”
“It doesn’t,” Lena hiccups out. “It doesn’t matter. I told her to leave. She’s not coming back.”
“Well, there’s no way off of the island tonight, so that sounds like a problem that can be solved in the morning,” Lillian offers. “If you want to, that is. Now, though, if it's alright, I’m going to run a hot shower for you and let you go to sleep.”
Lena stands under the hot spray long after she hears the door close. She tries to scrub the day off of her, but finds that she can’t, and the effort only leaves her feeling raw, her skin a deep irritated red. When she gets out, she finds that Lillian has tidied up the bed and lain her clothing out to dry over one of the armchairs. Lena lays under the sheets and thinks about everything that’s happened since she left National City, about what Lillian said, about what it might be like if she goes after Kara.
A terrifying new thought occurs to Lena. Maybe whether or not she can forgive Kara isn’t the problem—what if Kara can’t forgive her?
It takes Lena a very long time to fall asleep.
This chapter was easier to write than the last, but maybe that’s not a good thing WHO EVEN KNOWS ANYMORE. It is possible that I failed to mention that this would be an angst sandwich (how’s that for a spoiler). Please don’t be too mean (a little yelling is ok, if you’re so inclined; swearing is lovely). Trust me, I’m more upset than anyone about where this chapter ends. I promise I will fix it.
The lines of poetry are from Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho’s surviving work, 31. That is some stripped down longing yo.
The version of The Way You Look Tonight that Eve chose (let’s be real, Lex would agree to whatever she suggested) is the 1964 Frank Sinatra version. She likes old blue eyes better than Tony Bennett, which makes sense because Frank went bald and Tony didn’t, and Eve clearly has a thing for that.
In case anyone was wondering, Andrea playing golf with Lena, Kara, and Max in chapter 3 was like having to live the Poe short story The Tell-Tale Heart. Her reveal to Lena here is the spiritual equivalent of the final line: "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
That tissue printing thing is real, how cool is that?
Chapter 5: The only person I'd run through an airport for is you
This morning, when Kara wakes up, it’s not because of the light or because of a sound—it’s the way her head hurts and her eyes itch; the way she shivers in the small camp bed. For a second, she’s disoriented. Sitting up and swinging her legs over the side, she pulls the blanket up around her shoulders and looks around the small room. There’s a window with no curtain, but it’s so grey outside that the light barely penetrates. She sees a small lamp on the desk by the bed and flicks the switch near the base.
It doesn’t take long for the evening to come rushing back, and when it does, Kara immediately wishes it hadn’t. The memory of Lena, standing in the rain, turning away from her takes the breath out of her. She has to lean over, put a hand on her own knee, to recover from the force of it.
Her first impetus is to return to the hotel. There has to be a way to fix this. No matter what Lena said last night, she had been reeling from Andrea’s revelation, from Lex’s betrayal—maybe today, she’ll hear Kara out.
But what if she won’t?
Kara sits back on the bed, leans against the wall, and pulls the covers tighter. She’s replayed yesterday in her head over and over and over again already, but one more time can’t hurt. If she’d just gone back to the room with Lena after the dance lesson, none of this would have happened. And maybe that’s not fair, because Andrea still would have told Lena and Lena would still be reeling from the fallout.
But Kara would be there with her.
At least she’s figured out the point of no return: when Lena told her that the most important thing in the world to her was trust and Kara didn’t say anything—letting that moment pass, that’s when hurting Lena became inevitable, no matter how Kara handled it. Kara had known it then and she knows it now.
The last thing that Kara wants to do right now is hurt Lena more.
Kara can tell she’s getting close to crying again. She pulls her legs back onto the bed and slumps over onto her side, face in the pillow. The thing that she can’t get out of her mind is how alone Lena must be feeling. Kara would give anything to be there for her, to hold her and navigate this day with her.
The fact that there might not be any part of Lena that wants Kara next to her, hurts more than Kara can describe.
Alex always says that when you’re feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is find a problem you have that you can solve. Maybe she can’t do anything about how she’s feeling right now, but Kara knows that she can’t keep Lena’s money. Even if they never talk again, accepting payment for this weekend is no longer an option for her.
Without getting up, Kara reaches down next to the bed and slips her cell phone out of her bag.
She rolls over to free both arms and pulls up the banking app on her phone. It doesn’t take long to initiate a transfer from her own account to the account listed on the check Lena had used. It doesn’t make her feel better, necessarily, but it feels right.
One problem down. Fifty-seven thousand to go.
It’s nearly eight in the morning now. Kara squints at her phone, she doesn’t have a ton of battery—she should probably plug it in before she looks up the ferry schedule and thinks about changing her flight.
This time, when Kara sits up, she leaves the blanket on the bed. She pulls her bag closer and starts rooting around in the outer pocket. There’s the cable she needs, and the American-pronged plug, but she doesn’t see the European adapter. She digs deeper.
Feeling a rising sense of panic, Kara unzips the main pocket, starts taking out her headphones, her notebook, her pen case. It isn’t here. She must have left it in the hotel room last night.
Just perfect, she thinks.
Kara pulls up the airline information anyway. The last thing she needs is to get to Heathrow and not be able to get on a flight. She’ll be able to buy a stupid adapter at the airport.
Listening to the automated operator explain her choices makes Kara want to throw her phone. The first half of the menu options don’t apply and she’s already frustrated enough that she decides to just hit 0 over and over until she gets a real live person. She puts the phone on speaker when it rings through and stands up, stretching her back.
As the phone rings, Kara can’t help thinking about Lena. Lena would probably be rehearsing what she was going to say, would probably have figured it out before dialing the phone. It’s a ridiculous thing to know about a person—far less intimate compared to so many of the things on the list—but right now knowing it makes Kara want to cry again.
Her conversation with the flight associate is stilted; Kara’s too distracted to really participate. Given the weekend ferry and train schedules, the next fight she’s going to be able to make doesn’t leave until tomorrow afternoon, she’ll have to spend the night in some crappy airport hotel.
She texts Alex her new flight information. Knowing that Alex will be there to pick her up at the airport helps.
Just thinking about flying makes her think of Lena, too. How anxious she gets during take off, how good it made Kara feel to be able to help. The fact that Lena will be flying home alone makes Kara’s chest clench.
Trying to push that away, Kara bends down and starts repacking her bag. It’s been a truly horrific twelve hours and everything feels so raw that she's having trouble sorting out her feelings.
Is this all in her head?
Zippering shut the main pocket, Kelly’s explanation from last night comes back to her. The chemistry and connection she’s feeling with Lena are real, even if it’s all been on some crazy, accelerated timeline. And Kara knows that Lena feels it, too.
Maybe she should go back to the hotel.
But Lena fired her, made it very clear that she wanted Kara to leave. And if not listening to what Lena was telling her is what got Kara into this mess in the first place, then going directly against Lena’s expressed wishes might only make this worse. If Lena is feeling any differently this morning, it isn’t like she doesn’t know how to contact her.
Kara picks her phone back up, flicks open her messaging app. The last contact from Lena is the same series of missed calls and voicemails from Tuesday before they left. Kara’s thumbs hover over the keys. If going back to the hotel is crossing a boundary, maybe she can send a text instead. After all, Lena hadn’t said anything about never contacting her again.
It feels a little like a loophole, but Kara will take what she can get right now.
She thinks about what to say, starts typing out i changed my flight but i’ll come back if you want me to, then deletes it. Too desperate. Kara tries again: i returned your $ bc this week wasn’t a job for me. She deletes that, too. Kara realizes that she’s talking around what she wants to say to Lena.
She takes a deep breath. One more try.
Lena, I’m flying back tomorrow, but I want to apologize for hurting you. Keeping something from you was the wrong choice no matter what I intended. I returned your payment. If there is any way that we can move past this, I want to try. I have real feelings for you and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t tell you. If you’re still interested, please call me whenever you’re up to it.
Kara reads it over twice, fixes a misspelling, and capitalizes the right words. It’s the best she can do right now, places the ball firmly in Lena’s court. If Lena wants to ignore the message, then she can, but at least Kara will have made an attempt. Her thumb hovers over the send button as she reads it over one more time.
And just as she’s about to commit, Kara’s phone shuts down.
She regrets throwing the phone in frustration as soon as it leaves her hand, but the ensuing crunch as it collides with the solid wooden door seals it for her. It looks like an adapter won’t be the only thing she has to buy in London.
Kara takes a deep breath and tries to keep from crying, resists the urge to pick the phone up and throw it again. Focus on what you have control over, Alex’s voice sounds in her head. The ferry leaves at quarter to ten; that’s just over an hour, and she desperately needs to wash up before heading out. She grabs her dopp kit and a change of clothing, and heads for the bathroom down the hall.
Her phone shutting down before she can send the message feels like some sort of sign.
Maybe the universe is trying to tell her to leave Lena alone right now.
Lena wakes up to knocking on the hotel room door. She blinks her eyes open and looks around in the semi-darkness. The intensity of the ache in between her ribs at the sight of Kara’s empty side of the bed makes her want to go back to sleep.
Perhaps this is all just a bad dream. Perhaps if she falls asleep, she’ll wake up and Kara will be there and none of this will have ever happened.
The knock sounds again and Lena gets a wave of deja vu from the night before. It can’t be Lillian again. Andrea wouldn’t dare. She’s not sure what she’ll do if it’s Jack.
What if it’s Kara?
Lena pulls in a sharp breath and sits up. She wants it to be Kara. She wants it to be Kara so badly that her chest feels like it might collapse.
She pushes the covers away and slides off the bed. She runs her fingers through her hair, knows it’s a mess from going to sleep with it wet.
Not that it matters. Kara won’t care. She tugs on her sleep shirt and walks across the room. What should she say? Should she apologize right away or should she let Kara speak first? Does she lead with the fact that she’s still hurt, but that, with a night of sleep and some encouragement from Lillian, she can understand why Kara didn’t know what to do?
Lena takes a deep breath, unlocks the door, and opens it.
“Just give me five minutes,” Lex says. He walks in without waiting for an invitation.
“Doesn’t seem like you’re going to give me much of a choice,” Lena says under her breath as she closes the door. She turns around and follows him back into the room. He’s standing at the foot of the bed, next to one of the armchairs, looking uncertain and rubbing the back of his head with one of his hands.
“Lena—“ he starts.
“No. Actually. You know what Lex? No, you don’t get to explain right now. Fuck you.” His eyes go wide, like Lena has slapped him, but for once, Lena doesn’t care. She’s never unloaded on Lex, always worshiped him even after he started to cut her out, even after he stopped encouraging her. “I’ll still be a bridesmaid, but you need to know that I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for Eve. Because she doesn’t deserve to have her wedding ruined just because you turn out to be the biggest fucking asshole in my entire life.”
“I deserve that.” He puts his hands in his pockets.
Lena crosses her arms. “You fucking do.”
“If it helps, mother isn’t speaking to me right now, either. And Eve told me that if I wasn’t the groom, she’d uninvite me from the wedding.”
“I told Eve about it this morning.” He looks at Lena quickly, and then away. “After she got done yelling at me, I asked her what to do. She said I had to make it right. So there’s a docusign in your e-mail, just waiting for your approval.”
“What do you need my approval for?”
“As of an hour ago, I own the largest stake in Lord Industries. I’m signing the IP from your work back over to you.”
Lena drops her arms, lets them hang limply. “What?”
“I can’t take back what I did, but I can rescue your work, Lena.” He rubs the back of his neck again. “Turns out nobody over there has been able to make much progress since they got it from me. I remember you saying what a difference this project could make. I want you to be able to finish it, assuming you still want that.”
“This doesn’t make it right, Lex.” Lena wants to laugh in his face, ask how exactly this is supposed to make anything right. “You manipulated my fiancée into helping steal from me. You gaslit me and lied to my face, repeatedly, for years, about what happened. All because, what, you were worried I was smarter than you?”
“No, I know you’re smarter than me. I’ve known it since you beat me at chess when you weren’t even in elementary school.”
“So then what, Lex,” Lena hisses. “What compelled you to fuck up my entire life?”
“I was scared, ok? You had all these projects, all these ideas about changing the direction of Luthor Corp. And I wasn’t ready for that. I thought if you had a setback, you’d go back to the work I needed you to be doing. I’d heard about Andrea’s father and the trouble they were in, it just seemed like the easiest way.”
“Not good enough, Lex.” As if there were some reason that would be enough to justify any of this. Lena’s shaking with anger and reeling from the betrayal. She feels like she might break apart from the force of it. “I’ll take the IP back, but I don’t want to speak to you. I need you to leave.”
Lex purses his lips and looks down at the floor, rocks back on his heels for a second. “Yeah. Ok.”
He walks past Lena to the door, pauses with his hand on the brass knob.
Lex doesn’t turn around, just starts speaking as he faces the door, as if he can’t bring himself to look directly at her. “If it’s worth anything, I’ve never regretted anything more.” He pauses, but makes no move to open the door. “I think that’d be true no matter how it played out, but, especially so. I’m so sorry, Lena.”
He shuts the door quietly when he leaves and, as soon as she hears the snick of the latch engaging, Lena can’t help sinking to the floor, her eyes blurring with tears. She heaves in a breath and tries to get her heart rate under control. The carpet is rough on her bare legs and Lena focuses on the feeling, uses it to ground herself.
Lena is suddenly hit with such a fierce wave of longing for Kara that it’s like having the wind knocked out of her. She blinks away the burning in her eyes and starts counting to four, matching her inhales and exhales as Kara had done for her in the helicopter.
It helps, but it isn’t the same.
When she heard the knock on her door, Lena had genuinely wanted it to be Kara. Had wanted it with a force that surprised her, but that was no less powerful for being so unexpected. With her mind full of Kara now, sitting on the floor with her hands on the carpet and counting her breaths, thinking about how she had been the one to send Kara away—Lena realizes with startling clarity what it is she needs to do.
Still shaking slightly, Lena gets up from the floor and makes her way back around the bed. She unplugs her phone from where it’s been charging on the nightstand and opens her messaging app.
Pressing the call button on Kara’s contact page, Lena thinks about what she needs to say. She should start with an apology. Tell Kara that she’ll understand if Kara no longer wants anything to do with her, but that if she’ll give Lena a chance, Lena wants to apologize in person. She wants the chance to tell Kara that what they have feels real and that, if Kara is still interested, Lena wants to make it up to her.
“Hi, you’ve reached Kara Danvers, leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!” Straight to voicemail. Lena hangs up, tries again, but the same thing happens.
Is it possible that Kara is screening her calls? Does she not want to hear from Lena?
That’s something that Lena has to acknowledge as a possibility. To say that she wasn’t at her best with Kara last night is the type of gross understatement usually reserved for Jack’s descriptions of her mother’s behavior.
Lena can’t think about him right now. She looks down at her phone. She’ll just have to send a message. It’s important to her that Kara knows that Lena is sorry, even if Kara doesn’t want to talk to her right now.
Kara, I am so sorry for how I treated you last night. I couldn’t see past my own hurt. I’d like to apologize to you in person, although I will understand if you don’t want to see me. I hope you travel safely.
It’s the most she can do by text. Lena can’t help squinting at her phone after she sends it. The check mark confirming it’s made it to the network is present, but there’s no checkmark confirming that Kara has received it. Maybe Kara has turned her phone off.
It doesn’t matter now, anyway.
Lena looks at the time. It’s after nine and she’s supposed to head down to the wellness center with Eve and the rest of the bridesmaids to get massages before they get their hair and makeup done.
She pulls on a pair of yoga pants and an oversize sweater, heads into the bathroom and splashes some cold water on her face.
Looking in the mirror, Lena can see just how badly the last twelve hours have been written all over her face. Her eyes are still swollen and puffy, and her hair is wavy, tangled mess. She rinses with mouthwash but knows that nothing is really going to make her feel any better right now. She might as well face the day.
Lena walks out of her room in a daze. She walks through the hall, past the front desk on autopilot, not even noticing Lillian in the lobby until Lillian steps in front of her and asks her a question.
“Are you alright?” From the look on Lillian’s face, she’s had to repeat herself.
“Yes,” Lena answers, but it isn’t remotely sincere. Her heart isn’t in pretending, she shakes her head to try to clear it.
Lillian narrows her eyes. “I don’t believe you.”
“What do you want me to say?” Lena asks, and there isn’t even any bite to her voice. She’s just exhausted. “Lex came by and nothing he said made me any less angry, Kara is still gone and her phone is off, or she’s screening my calls.” Lena shrugs. “I’m just trying to get through this day without breaking down and embarrassing anyone.”
Lillian, to her credit, ignores that last bit. She chooses, instead, to focus on the one part that Lena wishes she wouldn’t.
“Why are you letting her go?”
Lena sighs. “It’s complicated, mother.”
“Oh, well, then,” Lillian says sarcastically. “It probably won’t work out.”
“Don’t,” Lena says, her voice nearly breaking. She sees regret flash briefly across Lillian’s face.
“I’m sorry.” Lillian seems to take a moment to collect herself. Lena is about to continue making her way across the hotel, she’s running late as it is, when Lillian speaks again.
“I read a fascinating article in CatCo Magazine once, in which the author said ‘every woman has the exact love life she wants.’’ She’s looking intently at Lena now. “You know what, Lena? I agree. But I refuse to believe that this is what you want.”
Lena doesn’t know how to process what she’s hearing. It’s as if, in the last twelve hours, Lillian has been replaced with someone else entirely. Or maybe it’s just that she doesn’t really know her step-mother anymore—maybe she never knew her.
God, maybe therapy actually works. Perish the thought.
“Ever since you were a little girl, you’ve been trying to please other people,” Lillian continues. “I imagine it was an attempt to protect yourself. And, yet, in return for your services, all we’ve done is disappoint you.”
Lena doesn’t know if she wants to cry or laugh. Where was all of this empathy when she was five, or eleven, or twenty?
But then Lillian asks a question that knocks every other thought out of Lena’s head.
“So tell me, is she the woman for you?”
“Yes,” Lena breathes out without even having to think. She can feel the truth of it settle in her bones. “Yes, I think she is.”
Lillian smiles at her. “Then, for once in your life, do something for yourself.” She holds out a car fob. “I had Eve give Kara the keys to the distillery, she spent the night there. She’s planning on walking on to the nine forty-five ferry. If you leave right now, you can catch her.”
Lena looks down at her wrist, but she isn’t wearing a watch.
“It’s almost half past. Go. Go!” Lillian practically pushes her in the direction of the front door.
“That’ll be seven pounds even for a one way to Kennacraig.” The clerk smiles at Kara from behind the counter inside the CalMac Ferry Terminal. He pushes up the sleeves of his dark sweater and tugs at the matching tie at his neck, trying to loosen the button on his white dress shirt while she counts out the coins. “You’re lucky you’re not sailing yesterday, had to cancel half the boats; waves were enormous.”
Kara smiles weakly at him. “Yesterday was pretty rough.” She hands him the money.
“Don’t you worry, today’ll be smooth as glass.” He prints the ticket, validates it, and passes it to Kara—a smooth economy of practiced motion. “Right then. You’re all checked in. Need to be on the boat ten minutes before departure. She’ll push back right on time, so don’t try dashing on at the last moment. You’re welcome to wait in the terminal or outside, boarding will start in just a few minutes.”
Kara thanks him and looks around. There’s a small seating area with a few rows of attached plastic chairs, but the room smells of linoleum and burnt coffee.
She tugs her bag back out in front of the low building at the end of the pier extension. The enormous ferry is disgorging the last cars from it’s gaping belly, the blue hull yawing slightly as the engines work to keep it flush with the dock. Kara can see the orange vested crew moving about on the white upper decks. The cars making the trip with her have already filled in the painted rows at the end of the dock, waiting for instructions from the loadmasters to begin boarding.
The cloud cover has flattened the light over the harbor. Kara shivers. The air is sharp and salty, the wind whipping small whitecaps onto the gray-green surface of the North Channel in a way that looks decidedly unlike the glass the clerk promised. She sighs. At least she doesn’t get seasick.
A disembodied voice with a thick burr crackles over the intercom. “Boarding, boarding Port Ellen to Kennacraig.”
Around her, passengers start to make their way over to the ferry. Kara can hear the cars start up, the shouts of the crew as they direct the vehicles over the steel apron on the dock and into the hold. Every fiber of her being seems to protest, as if trying to resist leaving, and her eyes burn as she looks up at the ship.
This is the right decision, Kara tries to remind herself as she heads over to the passenger bridge. She’ll message Lena from London, and, if that doesn’t work, then she’ll call from National City. This won’t be the last time she sees Lena.
It can’t be.
Everything goes wrong from the moment Lena steps outside the hotel.
First, she can’t for the life of her figure out which of the identical gleaming black Defenders the key fob goes to. There’s a veritable fleet of them parked outside the hotel and Lena absolutely does not have time to try the physical lock on every door. After a moment of frustration spent clicking the unlock button on the remote and being unable to tell which of the boxy vehicles blinks its light in response, Lena simply holds down the panic button until the last car in the line is rocking on its springs from the force of anti-theft siren.
She climbs in and slams the car into gear almost before she’s shut the door, gravel flying as she reverses.
The woman at the front desk had been very helpful: turn right at the end of the driveway, go five minutes down the road then take the left to Port Ellen, then the first right, and follow the signs to the dock. The drive should take less than ten minutes, giving Lena another five to figure out how to get Kara off the boat before it departs—that’s a problem she’s just going to have to solve on the fly.
There isn’t a soul on the road except her. Lena can see the left turn to the town up ahead: flat white with a black arrow, “Port Ellen” written in clear helpful script.
That’s when she sees the first one.
Lena’s initial thought is to wonder whether or not there’s a tumbleweed on the roadway. But it’s more substantial, and a kind of dark, muddy gray color. And does Scotland even have tumbleweeds anyway? That’s when the second one pops up and Lena realizes what’s happening.
Sheep. There are sheep in the middle of the road. And not a manageable number of sheep, either. Lena imagines she could slalom around three or four, but no, there are a dozen, now—easy. She contemplates their likelihood of survival if she just bowls through the middle.
Lena slams on the brakes.
The shepherd standing next to a low stone wall just looks at her helplessly, gives an apologetic shrug, and whistles to the border collie with him as it tries in vain to get the flock back together and off the road. For every sheep that leaves the road, two more seem to step onto it.
This cannot be happening to her. Lena feels like she can’t breathe. There are now eight minutes until the ferry is scheduled to depart. She needs to go—needed to go five minutes ago. Lena curses sheep, sheep dogs, sheep herders, and Scotland as a whole for having the lot of them.
Another minute goes by, and Lena is now very close to a panic attack. She needs to get to the dock, needs the chance to find Kara and tell her that Lena wants her to stay. It’s desperate, and probably a little untoward, but the idea of waiting until she’s back in National City, of leaving a voicemail, of risking never seeing Kara again, is enough to override whatever sense of propriety Lena woke up with this morning.
One of the sheep lays down.
“You little shit,” Lena says. “Fuck it. I’m going around.”
She turns the wheel sharply to the left and leaves the roadway, heading down into the side ditch at a perilous angle, inching forward. Lena experiences a brief moment of horror when the wheels seem to sink into the morass, but traction returns, and then she’s gunning the engine and popping up over the other side, shooting out onto the field next to the road.
Lena doesn’t even bother looking back at the shepherd, she just hits the accelerator and flies over the greenery. She’ll ask around later, figure out who’s field this is and offer to pay for any damages.
As soon as she’s clear, Lena eases the vehicle back into the ditch and up the other side back to the asphalt.
Thank god for the British and their love of practical utility vehicles.
In no time at all, Lena has made the second turn onto what passes for the main thoroughfare to Port Ellen; it's devoid of other vehicles and, thankfully, sheep, as well. Over the course of the last mile, the flat countryside gives way to rolling hills, and then Lena is driving through the low, dirty looking council houses at the edge of town.
The silo at the ferry dock comes into view as she passes the beach, a large red roofed church to her left. The ferry is still visible, idling at the end of the massive pier extension. Too scared to look down at the time, Lena pushes on, winding through the smaller town streets as fast as she dares.
The last stretch takes her behind a row of buildings too high to see over. She loses sight of the pier and the ship for a moment. The next turn up ahead is the entrance to the marina and the loading dock.
The parking lot ahead of her is empty when she bursts around the corner. She can just see the brake lights of the final car being loaded and the steel apron being pulled back to set the ferry free. Even as she flies across the concrete, Lena knows she’s missed her chance.
The foghorn sounds as the ferry drifts away from the mooring, engines kicking into gear and churning the water into a series of frothing whirlpools.
She stops the car on the concrete just past the terminal and gets out anyway, leaves the driver’s door open and wraps one arm around herself, puts her other hand over her mouth to try to hold in whatever broken sound is trying to claw its way up her throat.
She thought she would make it, thought she might be able to stop Kara before she left the island.
Lena can feel the first hot tears fall from her eyes. She tries to draw in a breath but finds that she can’t. Maybe this is a sign, maybe—
“What was your plan?”
The voice comes from behind her and Lena is turning and throwing her arms around Kara’s shoulders before she’s even consciously processed that it’s her.
All of the adrenaline finally catches up with Lena and the next thing she knows, she’s sobbing into Kara’s shoulder, inhaling the fabric softener scent of her mixed with the salt air. Kara just rocks her back and forth, one hand in Lena’s hair, the other wrapped securely around her ribs.
“Hey,” Kara breathes out softly. “It’s ok. It’s ok, Lena. You’re ok.”
Lena’s breathing slows down and her heart rate starts to settle as Kara holds her. She pulls back just enough to look up at Kara’s face. “You’re crying,” Lena says, frowning. She brings one of her hands to Kara’s face, uses her thumb to wipe softly at the wetness on Kara’s cheek.
“You started it,” Kara huffs out, and her eyes are wet, but she’s smiling down at Lena and the force of it is blinding.
Lena loosens her arms to disengage so that she can step back, but Kara just holds her tighter and Lena can’t bring herself to protest. She doesn’t want to let go, anyway, and if Kara doesn’t either, well, then that’s just fine. She can say what she needs to say like this.
“Kara, I’m so sorry,” Lena starts, but Kara interrupts her.
“You don’t need to be, I’m the one—“
“No, Kara, I really need to do this. Please let me?” Kara nods and Lena takes a deep breath before continuing. “None of this is your fault. I’m so sorry I took it out on you last night. I was so hurt and angry and upset, and it took me longer than it should have to sort out exactly who I was so mad at.”
Kara opens her mouth, but Lena puts a finger on Kara’s lips and that’s enough to stop her.
“I knew I’d made a mistake before I even went to sleep last night. I wanted to call you, but it was so late and I didn’t know—I didn’t know if you would want to hear from me, or if you needed some time to think.” Lena drags her finger from Kara’s mouth along the soft skin of her cheek, cups her jaw. “And then this morning, Lex knocked on my door and the only person I wanted it to be was you.”
Lena laughs wetly, strokes her thumb along Kara’s cheekbone, smoothing at the new tears gathered there.
“So I called, but you didn’t answer. And I thought...” Lena’s breath catches, as she remembers the sinking feeling at hearing Kara’s voicemail. “I thought maybe you didn’t want to hear from me.”
“Then why come after me?”
“Because Lillian, of all people, made a very compelling point,” Lena says, still shocked by it. “That it was possible you were only leaving because you thought I wanted you to. And the only way to tell you that I didn’t want that at all, was to find you before you left.”
“I’m right here.” Kara leans down, presses their foreheads together. “You’ve found me.”
Lena closes her eyes. “I did.”
They're silent for a moment, breathing each other in.
“I was going to leave, you know. I spent the night agonizing about it.” Kara tightens her grip, Lena feels the flex of her fingers. “Even this morning I couldn’t figure out what to do. I didn’t know what you would want and the last thing I wanted to do was make anything more difficult for you.”
“What stopped you?” Lena’s whispering now.
“I talked to my sister and her girlfriend last night. And they both asked me if you knew, really knew, how I feel about you. They said I should tell you before letting you make a decision. Lena, I—”
“I think I’m falling in love with you,” Lena says, interrupting her, she pulls her head back and opens her eyes to look at Kara again. “I realized it in the car on the way here, thinking about those stupid questions and what I would regret most if I didn’t tell you. I’m sorry if it’s too soon or too much or not what you want—”
Kara kisses her, spins them and pushes Lena into the driver’s side passenger door. The kiss is hard and open-mouthed, all need and no finesse, and Lena matches Kara’s intensity, melts into her.
By the time Kara pulls back, they’re both breathing heavily. Lena is still leaned against the car, their bodies pressed together so tightly that Lena can feel the pounding of both their hearts, the beats impossible to separate.
“It’s not too soon or too much, or, gosh, Lena.” Kara closes her eyes for a moment and then opens them again. “I know I’m falling in love with you.”
And just like that, the pressure in Lena’s chest eases for the first time in what feels like days.
She can’t help the smile on her face and Kara’s grows to match it, until both their cheeks hurt. Lena goes to kiss her again, but they’re interrupted by the sound of a throat being cleared.
“Um, ma’ams?” It’s a young man dressed in a dark sweater and pants, maybe a ferry employee. He looks uncomfortable, like he knows he’s interrupting and has tried waiting as long as he can. “I’m awfully sorry, but you can’t park your vehicle here. I’m going to need you to park in one of the marked rows if you’re here early for the afternoon boat.”
“Sorry about that,” Kara says. She steps back from Lena finally, but runs her hands down Lena’s sides, leaving one hand on Lena’s hip as she turns to the man. “We’ll move it.”
He looks grateful and nods, before ducking away.
Lena takes the hand Kara left on her hip and starts playing with her fingers. “So.”
“Yeah?” Kara looks at her, still smiling from ear to ear.
“I have this wedding I have to go to.”
“Do you?” Kara purses her lips together like she’s trying not to laugh. “Do you need a date?”
Lena smiles. “Only if it’s you.”
Kara steps back in and kisses her softly. “Of course I’ll be your date.”
“On one condition,” Kara adds.
“Anything,” Lena says. Kara’s eyes widen and her smile turns gentle when Lena repeats herself. “Anything, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you want.”
“It has to be real,” Kara says. Lena quirks her head, but Kara continues. “Being your date. It has to be real. I transferred your money back this morning. If we do this, I need it to be real.”
“Of course it’s real. I think, I think it's been real almost the whole time.”
Kara looks so relieved that Lena has to kiss her again, couldn’t stop herself if she tried.
They’re interrupted again by another loud cough. The ferry employee is back. “Look,” he says. “I’m really sorry, but if you’re not going to buy a ticket and get into a row, then I really do need you to clear the space.”
Lena just drops her forehead on Kara’s shoulder and laughs. “Ok, we’re sorry. We’re going, I swear.” She pulls her head up and steps away from Kara, if she doesn’t then they may not actually leave. “Will you throw your bag in the back?”
“Sure,” Kara says and grabs her suitcase from behind her, lifting it easily and bringing it around to the rear of the vehicle.
“Lena, why is there mud all over the car?”
“There were sheep,” Lena says defensively, now wiping the drying tears off of her cheeks. “I had to take evasive action.”
“Maybe I’d better drive.”
Lena isn’t even mad about it.
“So,” Kara starts as soon as she’s behind the wheel, puts her left hand out for Lena to hold. “You didn’t tell me. What exactly was your plan for the ferry?” She eases the car around a large coil of rope at the end of the dock and swings them back onto the road to the exit.
“I hadn’t actually gotten that far.” Lena laughs. “Fake a medical emergency, maybe? Start yelling and hope you heard me?”
“Lucky it didn’t come to that, then.” Kara pulls their joined hands up to her mouth and kisses that back of Lena’s.
When they arrive back at the hotel, they separate only long enough to get out of the car. Lena can’t quite believe that this is real, that Kara is back, and beside her, and holding her hand, and she doesn’t want to stop touching her in case it breaks the spell. Kara keeps looking at Lena like she can’t quite believe it either.
As they walk into the lobby, Lena sees Lillian is sitting in the lounge by the fireplace. It occurs to Lena that maybe Lillian has been sitting there, waiting for Lena to come back either way. She doesn’t know entirely how she feels about that.
Lena can tell that Lillian sees them as soon as her face breaks into a tentative smile. She gets up and makes her way across the space, stops just short of Lena and Kara.
“You’re back?” Lillian eyes Kara, looks like she might be about to say something more pointed, but seems to stop herself when Kara nods. “Good. That’s good,” Lillian says instead. She looks at Lena. “Eve has asked me to see if you’re up for joining them downstairs for hair and make up.”
So Lillian has been waiting for her to come back. Lena looks up at Kara.
“Go, it’s ok, go. I’ll be right here when you get back.” Kara squeezes the hand she’s holding. “I’m not going anywhere,” she says, like she can read Lena’s mind. “There’s nothing in the world that would make me leave you now.”
Lena fishes the room key out of the small pocket at the back of her yoga pants, hands it to Kara. “Here. You can put your things back in the room.”
Kara takes the key and leans down to kiss her lightly. She squeezes Lena’s hand one more time before letting go. “I’ll meet you right back here when you’re done.”
Lena watches Kara leave and then turns to Lillian, who’s looking at her more gently than Lena has ever seen.
“I’m proud of you.” Lena feels Lillian’s words deep in the small part of herself that never stopped hoping for a moment like this. “It may not matter, but I’m proud of you, nevertheless.”
“It matters,” Lena says, feeling like she’s about to cry again for the umpteenth time today. She twists her mouth in an effort to hold back. It doesn’t help that Lillian looks emotional. God, thinks Lena, therapy will really fuck you up.
Lillian seems to get a grip on herself. “You’d better get down there. I’ll see you at the ceremony.”
She doesn’t try to hug Lena, just offers a small smile and returns to her seat, and Lena is grateful for that. There are only so many things she can handle right now.
Lena makes her way across the hotel, through the modern wing and past the pro shop, back to the wellness center where the spa is located.
She walks into the salon to find Eve, Mercy, and Eve’s other bridesmaid, a woman named Gretchen Kelley, who Lena recognizes from Luthor Corp. They’re seated in high chairs, being attended to by various aestheticians, but Eve jumps up from her seat as soon as she sees Lena.
“Lillian said...” Eve starts. “Did you…?” She trails off, waiting for Lena to pick up the thread or tell her to drop it.
“Kara’s just dropping her things in the room.”
“Oh thank goodness.” Eve looks genuinely relieved. “I told her last night you two would work it out. I’m so glad.”
“Me, too,” Lena says. She smiles at Eve and accepts the hug Eve offers.
“I uninvited Andrea and Max. I hope that’s alright. I can’t uninvite your brother, though,” Eve says, pulling back, frowning and furrowing her brow, and somehow looking like she wishes she could for Lena’s sake. “I may love him, but I’m super mad at him right now.”
“Fuck him,” adds Mercy. “Glad to see you back, kid.”
Gretchen doesn’t say anything, but she raises the flute of champagne she’s holding in salute.
Lena can’t help laughing. “Thanks.” She lets the attendant guide her over the shampoo station.
They’ve just wrapped a towel around her hair and she’s settling into a fourth chair in front of the mirrors when Jack walks in holding two empty glasses and a bottle of bubbly.
“They said this is the last bottle of the Grande Année, and after this we’ll have to switch—“ he trails off when he notices Lena.
Jack walks over to Eve and pops the cork, refills her glass. Mercy and Gretchen wave him off.
He walks over to Lena.
“I don’t want to talk to you, Jack”
“I know, love, I know.” He sits down in the chair next to her, hands her a glass of champagne anyway.
Lena takes it and considers him. This morning she was ready to write him off with the rest of them, but maybe going after Kara has softened her a bit. She’s still pissed, but he’s the only one who’s side of the story she still hasn’t heard. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask him what happened.
“How...” Lena falters, takes a sip from the flute. “How long did you know?”
Jack makes eye contact with her in the mirror. “I found out about a year ago, at some product launch.” He sighs. “Max got drunk, started bragging about this tech he was working on. I said it sounded like yours. He said that’s because it was yours, and that Andrea and Lex had given it to him.”
Lena looks away, down into her lap. She watches the bubbles make their way up lazily from the bottom of the glass.
“I understand why Andrea and Lex kept it from me, but once you found out, why did you?”
“I thought you might forgive them.” He shrugs and gives her a small smile. “I was worried you’d come back and make yourself into a shape that allowed you to keep them, to pretend it was fine. And you were finally off, doing amazing things of your own. It’s a shit excuse, I know. Sorry doesn’t cover it.”
Lena considers this. He’s right, it doesn’t make it better, not really, not right now, but at least it means that he’s still her Jack—the one she knows, who loves her, who doesn’t want to hurt her and wants what’s best for her. Maybe that’s enough to find the time and the space to start to forgive him.
But he should have known better. And, given the expression on his face and his words, he knows that.
“I’m still mad at you, Jack.” She takes a sip as she considers what to say. “Forgive them or not, that wasn’t your call to make.”
“I know, love. Take as long as you need.”
Jack stays with them until it’s time to get dressed and then excuses himself. Eve asks for their dresses to be brought out and they’re helped into them so that no one catches their hair or ruins the makeup they’ve spent the last three hours having perfected. To Lena’s eternal thankfulness, Eve’s chosen a beautiful dark green satin as the base, and allowed each bridesmaid to select her own style. The idea of being stuffed into some horrible beige monstrosity would have been too much to bear right now.
Even better is the look on Kara’s face when Lena walks back into the lobby.
To be fair, it takes Lena a minute to register because she’s too busy wondering why Kara hasn’t spent the entire week in her wedding outfit. She looks perfect in a white marcella shirt, her black trousers crisp enough to cut, and the matching single-breasted tailcoat clearly made to order.
“You look stunning,” Kara breathes as soon as Lena is close enough to hear.
Lena reaches out to tug on Kara’s collar, playing with the ends of her white bow tie unnecessarily. “I could say the same to you.”
Kara goes slightly pink and leans in to kiss her, but Lena pulls back. “I don’t know how long this lipstick will last, let me make it through the ceremony at least.”
“Fine,” Kara says, her mouth turned into a frown but her eyes are all smiles. She ducks down to kiss Lena’s neck instead, a move that has Lena immediately regretting everything. “I’ll try to control myself.”
Kara pulls back and looks at her. “I’ll see you out there, ok?” She asks Lena.
All Lena can do is nod.
The interior courtyard has been covered by an enormous white tent. Protected from the wind, it’s a beautiful setting, decorated in white and dark green and gold, and lit by large lanterns and strings of small lights. The ceremony is lovely, but Lena finds herself distracted the entire time, glancing out into the audience to look at Kara.
Kara’s gaze never leaves her.
After the officiant pronounces Eve and Lex married, the guests are led up to the lounge and restaurant for a cocktail hour while the courtyard is set up for dinner and dancing. Lena waits just inside for Kara and they walk up together.
As frenetic as the rest of the day has been, now all Lena can bring herself to feel is a perfect sense of calm. Kara is here and she won’t let herself be more than a foot from Lena, even as they make their way through the crush of guests to the bar. They end up standing off to the side of the lounge with their drinks, caught up in the moment and each other.
“Oh shoot,” Kara says suddenly, breaking their comfortable silence.
Lena furrows her brow. “What?”
“I need to use your phone.”
Lena can’t help laughing. “What on earth do you need that for right now?”
“Um, you remember how I didn’t answer your call this morning?” Kara has the sense to look a little chagrined. “It’s because my battery died and I didn’t have the right charger.”
“Why didn’t you plug it into mine in the room earlier?”
“I may have thrown my phone in frustration afterwards.” Kara rubs at the back of her neck. “I’m not proud, but I was really upset. I was trying to send you a text. And Alex thinks I’m trying to get on a flight to National City right now. I need to tell her I’m not.” She looks at Lena so earnestly that Lena has a hard time remembering that they still have to make it through the rest of the evening, she just wants to take Kara back to the room right now.
Lena puts her hand on Kara’s chest. “Can it wait till we make it back to the room?”
“Definitely.” Kara smiles.
Somewhere in the background, someone is making a toast, but Lena can’t bring herself to pay attention to anything but Kara.
Eventually, they all make their way back down for dinner. The food is good, but what Lena enjoys the most is the look on Kara’s face when she passes her the rest of her fourth course and her dessert. With Kara sitting next to her, Lena lets the drinks relax her, shifting in her seat so that Kara can keep an arm around her shoulder.
They laugh together when the band strikes up The Way You Look Tonight. Lex’s dancing hasn’t been improved much by the lesson and Eve ends up leading. It makes Lena forget, for a second, how mad she is at him.
Maybe one day she’ll forgive him.
As the band transitions to another old standard, Kara stands up beside her, offers a small bow, and holds out her arm to Lena.
“May I have this dance?” She asks.
“Yes,” Lena says, without hesitation. She matches Kara’s wide smile, and follows her out onto the dance floor.
When Lena looks back on this week years later, what she’ll remember most is Kara—dancing and laughing and sometimes crying—a thousand memories of Kara created over five days, all blurred together in a panoply of emotion with a single, unified trajectory:
Their future, together.
National City, Two Years Later
When she gets home, Lena can hear Kara working in the kitchen. She slips off her heels, laying them carefully on the rack next to Kara’s oxfords, and puts her keys in the dish and her purse on the hallway table by Kara’s messenger bag. Lena makes her way through the apartment and finds Kara where she expected, sitting at the island tapping away at her computer. She kisses Kara’s cheek as she walks by.
“Hello, darling. Much left to do?”
“Oh, hey! I ordered Chinese. It should be here in about ten minutes,” Kara says, smiling up at her. “I’m just wrapping up for the night.”
“Chinese sounds perfect—let me change, and I’ll pick out a bottle to go with it.”
“Awesome. Before I forget, I made reservations for Saturday to celebrate your first successful network deployment!” Kara bounces a little in her seat.
“It was a mini-deployment, and the mechanism is still a prototype.” Lena laughs and rolls her eyes. Kara might be more excited about it than she is.
“Mini or not, it was in a real disaster zone and it worked! That’s worth celebrating.” Kara pushes her bottom lip up and furrows her brow a little at Lena. “Brainy couldn’t stop talking about it at game night last week.”
Telling Kara how effective that pout is on her is one of Lena’s biggest regrets in life.
“Fine. I’ll allow the celebration.” She gives Kara a lopsided smile. “Where?”
“Not telling. That would ruin the surprise, but Lillian recommended it,” Kara says, looking back down at her computer.
Lena walks down the hall to the bedroom, passing pictures of the life they’ve built: game nights captured by Kara’s friend James, lovely group shots of all of them together with Alex and Kelly, Nia and Brainy, Jess, Sam and Jack. There’s even a picture of Lillian and Lena that Kara took last summer.
Lena heads to the dresser and pulls out a soft sweater and leggings, slips out of her work clothing and drapes it over the bench at the end of the bed as a reminder to send it out for dry cleaning.
She hears the buzzer and Kara running to answer it, the food must be here. Lena steps into the master bathroom and washes her makeup off. She takes her time, towels off her face, and wipes off the counter.
When Lena makes her way back to the kitchen, she sees that Kara is putting the finishing touches on the dining room table. Kara’s taken the time to lay out full place settings, complete with a tablecloth, Lena’s favorite flowers in a vase at the center, and candles. Lena smiles to herself, normally, her girlfriend begs to eat dinner in front of the television, even though she knows Lena prefers eating like adults.
“That’s fancy,” Lena says, smirking at Kara as she passes.
“Can’t I be fancy sometimes?”
Lena laughs. “You can, but you’re not.” She starts making her way over to their built-in wine cooler at the far end of the kitchen. “Any preference?” She asks Kara.
“Whatever you want,” Kara says, straightening one of the candles and lighting a match. “You know, at some point, we’re going to have to tell your mother how we actually got together.”
“God, can we not?” Lena bends down, opens the door, and pulls out the first shelf. “You know I’m not embarrassed by it, but does she really need to know right now? She and I are just getting to the point where I actually look forward to her phone calls. Jack’s reaction was bad enough.”
“I didn’t think it was so bad!” Kara sounds a little indignant somewhere behind her. “I mean, I guess I was a little concerned when he laughed so hard he fell sideways off the couch, but he rallied. That rib didn’t even end up being bruised.”
“Kara, he sent us your Supergirl article.” Lena says dryly, without turning around. “In museum quality framing.”
“He has a sentimental streak!”
Lena just hums in response. None of the bottles of red are catching her attention tonight. She closes the first shelf and pulls open the second, before quickly moving on to the third. She pulls a bottle of white out of the rack and examines the label—riesling would work.
“Why the renewed interest in this again?” She calls out to Kara over her shoulder, still looking at the bottle. “You haven’t brought it up in a while.” She puts the bottle back and grabs a different one.
“Well,” Kara drawls out. “I’ve been thinking about it.”
Finally satisfied, Lena strips off the foil wrapper by twisting it over the top and moves around the kitchen island to grab the corkscrew. She can hear Kara come round the island behind her as she starts to pull on the cork.
“And?” Lena prompts, distracted. The cork doesn’t seem to want to come out.
“And I just don’t think there’s any way Alex or Jack is going to keep their mouth shut at the wedding.”
The cork finally eases out with a soft ‘pop’ and Lena sets the bottle down. “What wedding?” she asks distractedly, turning around to look at Kara.
“Our wedding, assuming you say yes." Kara is kneeling on one knee behind her, holding a ring box out with two hands. "Lena Luthor, will you marry me?”
Lena has a sudden flash of memory to the first time she met Kara on that plane, Kara kneeling by her seat as they taxied out to the runway at National City International, talking Lena down even without knowing anything about her. It’s been a while since Lena’s thought about that weekend—about how she met, and fell for, and then almost lost the most incredible woman she’s ever known.
Anything is worth marrying Kara. Even having to tell Lillian.
“Yes,” Lena says, smiling through sudden tears. She sinks to her own knees and pulls Kara into a kiss. “How could I not?”
My head canon for how Lena tells Lillian: Lena breaks the news to Lillian in person over lunch a week later when Lena flies to Metropolis for a conference. Lillian handles it better than Lena gave her credit for. After some initial disbelief (“But she really is a journalist! I’ve read her work! What do you mean, escort?”) she’s immediately practical about it (“Well that does explain why she’s excellent at parties. Do you think she’d accompany me to the Wayne Industries Gala in two weeks? Stop choking, Lena, that was a joke.”).
Chapter title from my favorite line in Fleabag.
HOLY SHIT Y'ALL I FINISHED THE FIC!!!
I feel like loving supercorp is so complicated. There's canon, obviously, which is a tire fire at the best of times lately, and then there's the unfortunate near certainty that, despite having incredible chemistry and a ridiculous base for one of the best love stories in the DC universe, it will never happen. But you know what? That's what makes fandom so important. We get to see, and write, and read the stories that we deserve. I've been reading fic for four years now and there are so many authors to whom I owe an enormous deal of thanks for creating the body of fanwork that this is now a part of (hopefully the comments I've left have communicated even an iota of that), but two of them specifically, anne and jazz, made this fic a reality, so you should all go bother them on tumblr at bossbeth and jazzfordshire. Seriously, I feel like thank you doesn't even cover it--y'all are the most amazing friends a girl could ask for.
This has been an absolutely wild ride and, honestly, the reception that all you readers and commenters have graced me with has been the best part of it. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for giving this first time writer such a soft landing. If you ever wanna scream about these soft idiots, come find me on tumblr at i-am-robie :)
All my love to each of you.
also in case you somehow missed in ch3, you've got to look at this amazing thing that @dasschmitt made of Lena & Kara in their golfing outfits because it couldn't be more perfect and I love it.
Chapter 6: Epilogue: Lena Comes Clean
Lena breaks the news to her mother. It does not go as expected.
Lena is standing outside a restaurant in the Metropolis financial district, palms sweaty and her heart rate like a hummingbird’s, as Kara tries to talk her down over the phone. This is a terrible idea—not necessarily the getting lunch with her mother part—Lena is in town for once and she does want to see Lillian before she has to fly back—but the part where she’s going to finally come clean about how she and Kara met seems insurmountable. Other than basking in the unrelenting high of Kara’s proposal four days ago, Lena has thought of little else all week but how this conversation is going to go. And now it’s here and she wants to be anywhere else.
Lena slips the diamond band that Kara gave her off of her left ring finger and places it in her purse. Call her a coward, but she needs at least a glass of wine before letting this particular horse out of the barn and Lillian is nothing if not pathologically observant.
“Sam’s right, Lena,” Kara is saying, “Lillian might surprise you.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Lena responds dryly. She really doesn’t mind the story of how they met two years ago, and she’s never had a problem with Kara’s former side gig, but telling Lillian about it is fraught. Lena tugs nervously at the side of her skirt. “I should have gotten here early to have a drink.”
Kara laughs gently. “I know you’re nervous, but I promise you, no matter how this goes, we’ll get through it, ok?”
Lena switches the phone to her other ear, checks her hair in the reflection of the windows next to the restaurant. She closes her eyes for a moment. “You know it’s not the actual story I’m worried about. You know I’m not ashamed in the slightest, right? God, why am I this nervous?”
“Because you finally have a relationship with Lillian and she’s important to you and you don’t want this to change anything.” Kara reels off, like she’s written this down somewhere.
“That was a rhetorical question, Kara,” Lena says, smiling. She knows Kara is nervous, too.
There’s silence for a moment. “Right. I knew that.”
“I love you.” Lena exhales. Just saying that to Kara still brings Lena the most incredible sense of grounding, and the truth of it helps to settle her.
“I love you, too,” Kara says. “You have to go inside now, otherwise she’s going to call you and ask why you’re running late.” Lena can hear Kara shuffling things on the other end of the line. “Call me from the airport? I gotta go chase down a lead for the next few hours, but I should be free before you board. Oh!” Kara adds, suddenly inspired. “Text me right after. Text me how it goes, either way, ok? And then, call me anyway.”
“I will.” Lena doesn’t want to end the call; that will mean having to walk inside. “I love you,” she says again.
“I love you, too, you big sap.” Kara laughs. “You’re stalling. I’m hanging up now for your own good.”
Lena huffs. “Fine, fine. Be safe. I’ll talk to you tonight.”
“You’re going to be ok, text me after, alright? Bye!”
Lena looks at the phone after Kara hangs up. She’s got two more texts from Jack. They’re just as unhelpful as the five she got this morning, but they make her smile anyway. His latest texts suggest that, if Lena chickens out at lunch, he’ll be happy to send Lillian his copy of the article with Kara’s autograph.
She’s pretty sure that he’s joking.
Lena puts the phone in her purse, takes a deep breath, and walks up to the front door. A valet opens it for her. The maître d’ welcomes her and asks, politely, if she has a reservation. When she says she’s meeting Lillian Luthor for lunch, he doesn’t even look down at the book in front of him before leading her through the seating area to a lovely table by the window.
Lillian is already seated.
Asking her mother to pick the place for lunch was part of Lena’s strategy. She knows that her mother has a few favorite restaurants where she keeps regular tables. Having her mother feel as comfortable as possible in their surroundings seemed like a good place to start. There’s the added bonus of knowing that, in a public place that Lillian frequents, she won’t make a scene and, if she doesn’t take it well, the fallout is likely to remain minimal until they leave.
Kara had laughed at first, when Lena had shared her plan, but she’d sobered quickly when she saw how serious Lena was. “What are you worried about, love?” Kara had asked her.
The truth is, it’s been a long two years of slowly building up a rapport that Lena’s never had with Lillian, ever. At each stage, she’s waited for the bottom to drop out, for Lillian to lose patience, to give up, to tell Lena that she isn’t worth Lillian’s time or effort.
But Lillian hasn’t done any of those things. She’s respected Lena’s time and space, listened attentively to Lena’s boundaries, and relinquished all control over the relationship to Lena.
Last summer, Lena even invited Lillian to visit National City. She hadn’t stayed with Lena and Kara (that seemed a bridge too far), but Lillian had spent four days with them, had toured L Tech, taken them out to dinners and the opera. The trip seemed to be a bit of a turning point, and, that fall, when Lillian had tentatively asked if Lena would be alright with occasional phone calls from her, Lena said yes.
They’ve talked at least once a month since, alternating who initiates contact. It’s been nice—more than nice, if Lena is being completely honest.
And Lena might be about to ruin it completely.
Lena already knows that, if Lillian rejects Kara in any way because of this, then she’ll walk away from Lillian. Kara is the person she’ll choose, over anything and anyone.
But that doesn’t mean that potentially losing the mother she’s finally gaining isn’t awful to contemplate.
Lena smiles at the maître d’ when he pulls out her chair and helps to tuck her in. “Sorry I’m late,” she says to Lillian. “Traffic coming up from the convention center was murder.”
Lillian smiles nervously. “That’s alright. I’m happy to see you. I took the liberty of ordering us a bottle of wine, you don’t have any work to do this afternoon, do you?”
“No, the conference ended this morning. My flight isn’t until five so all I’m planning on doing after this is getting to the airport. A bottle of wine is a great idea.” A bottle of wine per person sounds brilliant, actually, but Lena’s not about to say that out loud.
“Excellent. Now, tell me about the conference.”
Their server comes by with the wine as Lena walks Lillian through the Tech for Humanity Conference schedule, including the plenary she gave highlighting the recently deployed mesh network. As their food comes, Lillian asks insightful questions, her genuine interest making Lena forget all about how nervous she’d been.
“So,” Lillian finally says when it’s clear that Lena is finished. “You said on the phone you had some news to share?”
“Yes,” Lena says, but she doesn’t elaborate. Her heart starts to beat irregularly.
Lillian is cutting the beets in her salad in smaller pieces. She glances up at Lena. “Good news?”
“I think so, yes.” Lena’s palms are sweaty again. She adjusts her grip on her fork.
Lillian seems to sense that Lena is nervous about something—she puts her cutlery down, folds her hands into her lap, and gives Lena her undivided attention. Even in the face of Lena’s fidgeting, she doesn’t say anything, just waits patiently.
Lena takes a deep breath. The first part of this will be easy—Lillian genuinely seems to adore Kara, she’ll be happy about the proposal.
“Kara asked me to marry her, and I said yes.” Lena can’t keep the smile off her face when she says that, not even what’s coming is enough to dampen the joy she feels.
“Lena! That’s wonderful news!” Lillian’s entire face lights up. “You should have led with that, oh I’m thrilled for both of you. Do you have a ring? I didn’t see one!”
Lillian’s obvious delight puts Lena momentarily at ease. She sets her fork down and reaches into her purse, pulls out the ring and slips it back on to her left hand. “I didn’t want it to ruin the surprise.”
“Oh that’s just gorgeous,” Lillian says, taking Lena’s hand across the table and tilting it to catch the light.
“Have you thought about the wedding at all?” Lillian asks her softly, still looking at Lena’s hand.
“She just asked me on Friday, we haven’t really had time yet.”
“Of course. Don’t mind me.” Lillian looks up at Lena from admiring the ring and lets her hand go. “If, if there is anything I can do to help. Or if, if you wanted someone to give you away, I would be honored.”
And oh god, Lena does want that. She wants it so badly, but she doesn’t know if Lillian is still going to want to do it after she hears the rest.
Lillian must see something in Lena’s face because she looks down at her lap and shakes her head gently. “It’s fine if you don’t want that.” Lillian clears her throat. “Or if you aren’t ready for it.”
I am ready for it, Lena wants to yell. Instead, she reaches for her wine glass as Lillian does the same.
“Lena, I’m just so very happy for you and Kara.” Lillian looks back at her. “I hoped, from the weekend you introduced her to us, that this would happen. I’m so glad that you didn’t let her go.” She gives Lena a small, but genuine smile, takes a sip of her wine.
“Me, too,” Lena says, clearing her throat. She’s not going to get a better transition point than this. “It’s funny you mention that weekend, actually.”
“Oh?” Lillian tilts her head.
“Do you,” Lena starts, trying to keep her wince internal, “remember the morning of the wedding itself, when you gave me the keys and told me to go after Kara?”
“Of course.” Lillian smiles encouragingly at her.
“You quoted an article, actually, but I don’t think I ever told you that Kara wrote the article you quoted.” Well that’s certainly a sentence.
“That was Kara?” Lillian looks like this is a wonderful surprise and Lena holds her breath. “Well that’s serendipity. How delightful, I mean I knew she was a writer, I never realized she did fiction, too.”
Lillian smiles and shakes her head again, as if to say, well isn’t that the darndest thing. Lena watches as her mother picks up her fork and knife and carefully takes a bite of salad.
Maybe Lena shouldn’t do it. Maybe she should just let Jack execute whatever ridiculous plan he’s thought of during lunch. Maybe—Lena’s thoughts are interrupted by Lillian.
“Although I could have sworn that piece was non-fiction."
Now or never. “Yes. It was.”
Lena can see the moment it hits. Lillian goes slightly stiff. Lillian slowly puts her fork down on the edge of the plate, pulls up her napkin, dabs lightly at her mouth, and then carefully places it back into her lap. “But she’s a journalist.”
Lena starts to feel a little panicked. “Yes, she is.”
Lillian searches her face. “I mean, I know she’s a journalist. I’ve read her work.”
“Yes,” Lena repeats. Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Lillian looks down at her plate and takes a small breath. “Well, good thing I didn’t try to look her up then.” Lillian reaches for her wine again.
“Wait, what?” Lena’s brain stutters to a complete stop.
“God, imagine if I’d called her and it turns out she’s dating my daughter.” Lillian continues, sounding amused, and Lena feels like she might pass out because it sounds like Lillian just said she might have tried to hire Kara.
“I’m sorry!” Lena says, a little louder than she intended to. “I’m stuck on the part where you might have looked her up?”
“Well, if she hadn’t been located across the country, anyway,” Lillian says. “It didn’t seem unappealing, I suppose, having someone for functions and—you know.” Lillian waves her wine glass vaguely.
What the everloving fuck is happening, thinks Lena. Did Lillian just admit to considering hiring an escort for sex? A female escort. For sex. Lena might be the one having a stroke this time. It’s the only explanation.
Lillian puts her glass down and goes back to eating. Lena realizes she’s still holding her own glass, she drains it and sets it down. A waiter is over before she’s even retracted her hand, filling it back up, before melting away.
“So, does she still, er, escort?” Lillian asks as she takes another bite of salad like this isn’t the single most insane conversation she’s ever had.
“Definitely not,” Lena says.
Lillian hums in response. Might as well rip the whole bandaid off, Lena thinks.
“Actually, I was her last client.”
Lillian narrows her eyes, stills with her fork and knife poised above the plate. Lena becomes vaguely aware of the ambient sounds of the lunch service—glasses clinking lightly around them, cutlery on plates, and a variety of low, indistinguishable voices over the pianist in the corner.
Lillian finally speaks, her hands still frozen above the food. “Lena, when did you and Kara meet?”
Lena lets out a strained laugh. “I hired her for Lex’s wedding actually.” Lillian still hasn’t moved, so Lena continues, nearly babbling now. “She, um, she didn’t end up letting me pay her. So. I suppose I’m not really her last client, now that I’m saying it out loud. Don't know why I said it that way.” Lena closes her mouth in the hopes that it will stop her from continuing to talk.
They’re silent for another moment. The pianist starts a new piece, Maurice Ravel from the sounds of it.
Lillian nods to herself finally, finishes cutting the last beet on her plate, uses the knife to smear it with goat cheese. Lena can’t for the life of her figure out what her mother is thinking.
“Well,” Lillian says, raising the bite to her mouth. “That does explain why she’s excellent at parties.”
Lena lets out a breath she didn’t even realize she was holding. Lillian hasn’t had an aneurysm yet. Hasn’t disowned Lena, or Kara. Hasn’t stormed out, or said she doesn’t approve. There’s been remarkably little judgement, actually. Lena takes a moment to wonder if Lillian might actually be ok with all of this.
Lena reaches for her wine again, takes a large mouthful.
“Do you think,” Lillian says without looking up as she goes back for another bite, “that she’d escort me to the Wayne Industries Gala in two weeks?”
Most of Lena’s wine goes down the wrong way, and the rest of it ends up on her plate as she tries to recover.
“You can stop choking, Lena.” Lillian’s fighting a smile now. “That was a joke.”
The rest of lunch goes surprisingly well. It turns out that Lillian has a refreshingly progressive attitude toward sex work and all of her questions about Kara are focused on making sure that Lena feels alright about it—something that’s easy to convey. They part ways with Lena’s promise to call and Lillian’s assurances that she could not be happier for the two of them.
After stopping by the hotel to grab her bags, Lena calls a car service to take her to the airport. She sends Kara a text to let her know that everything is alright. Kara calls immediately and asks for details, so Lena recounts the conversation and she can hear Kara’s sigh of relief.
“I’m so glad it went well, Lena,” Kara finally says. “It sounds like she did surprise you.”
Lena can’t help laughing, the absurdity of Lillian’s reaction still on her mind. “More than you know.” She considers omitting that particular detail, but it’s amusing enough and Kara will find it funny. “She actually asked if you would consider taking her to an event two weekends from now. Apparently, she likes the way you look in white tie almost as much as I do.” Lena rolls her eyes at the thought, even though Kara can’t see her.
“Well I am free that weekend.”
Lena’s response is immediate and completely serious. “Absolutely not.” The words are out of her mouth before she realizes that Kara is joking.
Kara laughs so hard, and so long, that Lena actually pulls the phone away from her ear and considers hanging up. God, the thought of Kara and Lillian teaming up against her about this is insufferable. It fills her with fondness.
Kara’s laughs peter out eventually. “Don’t worry, Lena, one Luthor woman is more than enough for me.”
Lena huffs. “I’m going to take that as the compliment it was intended to be.”
“It was definitely intended that way.” Lena can hear the smile in Kara’s voice. The car pulls up along the airport drive and slows in front of the terminal.
Kara starts laughing again at something. “What?” Lena asks.
“I mean, Lena, just because Lillian is a MILF—” Lena hangs up.
Absolutely insufferable. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ok ok I'm done. I promise that if I ever write the wedding, it'll be as a companion piece, rather than an additional chapter.