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Bizarre Love Triangle

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From a tree a forest grows
It could turn into anything
It's okay to let it grow
Let it grow into everything
I don’t wanna be the one who goes and fades and fades away
I don't wanna be another memory

“Let It Grow” - Maximum Balloon (ft. Karen O. & Tunde Adebimpe)

 

 

Alex decides that she’s going to be supportive about the arrangement. This idiotic, doomed-to-fail, conceived-by-apes arrangement.

“Supportive,” Kelly reminds her. “Also apes are highly intelligent creatures. You might have picked koalas.”

When Kara comes over for dinner that night, she finds three glass jars on the kitchen counter, each with a yellow sticky note stuck to it.

“What’s this?” She asks, perusing the notes, which are labeled as ‘Twizzlers,’ ice cream,’ and ‘bail.’

“I’ve decided to be supportive!” Alex exclaims. From the living room (which is only a few steps away - this is New York City after all), Kelly sighs. “Of your arrangement with Lena. So I’m going to start depositing my change in these jars.”

“Um, okay. How is this supportive?”

Alex grins, clearly delighted that Kara asked. She strides over and taps the first jar. “This is your Twizzlers fund, because that’s your anxious snack, for when you inevitably realize that you’ve fallen in love with Lena.” She taps the second jar. “This is your ice cream fund, for your wallowing when Lena crushes you emotionally.” She touches the last jar. “And this is your bail fund, for your arrest for causing a public disturbance when you make some stupid grand romantic gesture to declare your love, like rushing the stage at a concert or stopping traffic in the middle of rush hour. But please don’t try to rush to the airport before her plane takes off. I do not have enough money to fight the TSA.”

Folding her arms, Kara narrows her eyes in a sulky glare. “You know, you’re not as funny as you think.”

“Yeah, well, Kelly thinks that you’re a koala.”

“Not what I said,” Kelly calls out from her spot on the couch, a statement which is squarely ignored by the bickering sisters.

“Cute and likes to sleep?” Kara nods. “I’m okay with that.”

“Stupidly obsessed with eating toxic leaves and vulnerable to extinction,” Alex answers.

“Again, in case anyone cares,” Kelly says patiently. “Not what I said.”

“Okay, you know what? Fine.” Kara digs into the pocket of her jeans and comes up with a crumpled-up dollar bill, which she holds up for Alex to see. “Here’s my contribution. Except it’s not going to be a Twizzlers contribution, it’s going to be a party fund for Mike when he gets back and we’re back together.” With great flourish, Kara drops the bill into the Twizzlers jar.

Alex peers in the jar. “That was a twenty.”

Kara’s face briefly contorts with regret, but she quickly chases it away.

“Whatever, I’m standing by it. Mike deserves a great welcome home party.”

Alex tilts her head to the side and scrunches up her nose. “Does he though?”

As Kara starts in on her rebuttal, Kelly sighs and reaches for a package of crackers on the coffee table. Looks like they won’t be ready to start dinner anytime soon.

***

Kara takes Lena to a Georgian (the country, not the state) restaurant in the Village. She orders khinkali, Georgian soup dumplings; adjaruli khachapuri, egg yolk and butter stirred into a pile of molten cheese in a bread boat; chvishtari, crispy cornbread with a cheese-and-walnut dipping sauce; and a giant platter of pickles.

Despite the feast, Lena can tell that something’s wrong. Kara’s half-heartedly nibbling at her pickle instead of ravenously cramming as many dumplings as she can into her mouth.

“Everything all right?”

Kara smiles stiffly at her dining companion. “Fine! No problem!”

Which, of course, is entirely unconvincing.

When the check comes, Kara quickly makes a grab for it. To Lena, that’s inexplicable and confounding, because they’ve already agreed to take turns paying for dinner. There’s no need for Kara to grab at it like Lena’s going to insist on paying the whole thing if there’s even a moment’s delay.

Lena decides to wait for the right moment to address it. She doesn’t bring it up on their walk and she doesn’t bring it up on the taxi ride back to her apartment. She waits until they’re both sitting on the couch in her living room. She scoots close to Kara, their knees touching, and places a reassuring hand on Kara’s thigh.

“Tell me what’s the matter?” When Kara looks visibly reluctant, she prompts, “You’ve been off all night. What is it?”

Kara fidgets with her glasses and shifts around in discomfort. “Okay, um, so the other day, I found something out. About you.”

Instinctively, Lena shrinks back, heart rate spiking although she can’t quite articulate why. There’s nothing major that comes to mind, no deep, dark secret or buried skeleton. There isn’t anything that she’s hiding from Kara. There is, however, a lifetime of insecurities playing tricks on her mind, tiny ways that she thinks she doesn’t measure up. If Kara says she found something out about her, Lena’s already assuming that it’s something bad.

“What is it?” she asks, trying to sound calm.

“Uh, well, apparently you’re- you’re like a billionaire?”

That’s certainly not what Lena had expected to hear. But at least it’s not about one of the million-and-one personality flaws she thinks she has. It’s just about money. Luthors can handle talking about money. She relaxes. Just a little.

“Is this new information for you?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Oh.” She doesn’t quite know what to say to that. She had assumed that Kara already knew. “Well, you knew that I have money.”

“Well, obviously.” Kara gestures at their surroundings. “I just didn’t think you were a billionaire with a ‘B’.”

“You didn’t google me?”

“No.” It’s clearly not the first time Kara’s been asked the question, because she already looks sheepish. “Why? Did you?”

“Of course. The moment you left my apartment the first night. I read all the articles you wrote.”

“Oh. Um. I didn’t know that.” Now Kara feels downright silly for not having done her due diligence. And she’s supposed to be the reporter here. “I just, I didn’t expect it. You take the subway. You live here. I mean, it’s obviously a really, really nice multi-million place, but shouldn’t you be in a mansion or like a duplex penthouse?”

Amicably and temperately, Lena explains, “I like the subway. And I like this place. It’s close to work and has the perfect amount of space for me. I have one room for me and one guest room. I don’t need more than that.”

That response only frustrates Kara more. “It’s just like completely crazy that this place is considered low key and modest for you. But it is, because you’re a freakin’ billionaire. With a B.”

“Mm. Although it’s really not quite that straightforward. The money is practically an illusion.”

“Okay, that’s something that only an obscenely wealthy person would say.”

“I mean that bulk of my net worth is based on the value of my shares in L-Corp. I might be a billionaire if I liquidated today and gave up control of my company, but that’s never going to happen. I don’t deny that I’m still obscenely wealthy, but not quite as obscene as it sounds. And I don’t understand the issue here. Clearly you were fine with the idea of me having money, but for some reason, it seems to bother you to find out that I’m a… ‘billionaire with a B,’ as you say. Why is that?”

“I- I don’t know.” Kara looks down at her hands, examining her cuticles for something to focus on. “I guess, from working at CatCo, I’ve met plenty of rich people. I thought you were just, like, regular rich? I didn’t think you were like ‘build a super secret underground lair guarded by robot bears’ rich.”

Looking amused, Lena asks, “Am I a super villain?”

“We did establish that you’re a billionaire, right?”

Lena just laughs, easily shrugging off the dig. “Fair enough. Well, I don’t have underground lairs or robot bears. What I have are the majority shares in a very successful company with a lucrative pharmaceutical development and production branch. We make an ‘obscene’ amount of money, which lets me fund the projects I want to fund, worthwhile but risky and likely unprofitable ventures.”

“Y- you don’t have to explain yourself to me, Lena.”

“That’s not how it feels.” Her good humor finally evaporating, Lena regards Kara solemnly. In the back of her mind is the thought, a friends with benefits arrangement is not supposed to be this intense. But she quickly expels the thought. More important things to focus on now, like getting to the bottom of what’s bothering Kara. “What’s the problem here?”

“I don’t- it’s not a problem, really-”

“But it is, because it’s clearly bothering you.”

Finally, Kara lets out in one, long, anxious breath, “I don’t know why you picked me.” When she sees that Lena’s befuddled, she adds, “It was one thing when you were, like, regular rich. Now, finding out you’re astronomically rich, it highlights just how different your life is and how surreal this whole thing is. And I don’t, I don’t understand. Like why are you sleeping with me? You’re so far out of my league.”

Lena slants back, shock flooding her face, her brows arching as high as they could go. “You think that I’m out of your league?”

Kara purses her lips, exasperated that she’s expected to respond to a question that, to her, has such a plain, indisputable answer. “Well, obviously!”

“No,” Lena responds emphatically, slightly stretching the vowel. “Not obviously. Have you seen yourself?” She reaches out, propping her elbow on the back of the couch and playfully tugs at the end of Kara’s hair. “All flowing blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and…” Her eyes fall downward, shamelessly giving Kara the once-over with no attempt to conceal what’s on her mind. “Well, all that.”

It’s not the first time Lena’s praised her. By this point of their arrangement, Lena’s said so many filthy things to her in bed that a line like this should have no effect. Still, Kara blushes fiercely and needlessly adjusts her eyeglasses.

“Well, um, thank you. But I’m not even talking about that. You’re such a catch, Lena. There’s god knows how many hundreds, thousands of people dying to date you, but here you are, hanging out with me.”

“If that’s what I wanted, that’s what I would be doing.” With a light sigh, Lena pulls back her hand that’s been compulsively toying with Kara’s hair. “Kara, I meant it when I said that I’m not emotionally ready for a relationship. Veronica and I, we were-” Her voice catches at the memories, and she clears her throat. “Well, it’s just going to be a long time before I feel okay enough to try again. This is all I’m capable of right now. So don’t think that this arrangement is keeping me from anything, because that’s just not true.”

Kara is still holding herself tensely, Lena’s assurance not bringing any relief. “I just don’t want to be the person that keeps you from having something great. I- I have someone amazing and I know how great it feels when you’re with the right person. I just want the same for you.”

At a loss for what to say, but knowing that it’s a terrible idea to suggest that ‘someone amazing’ maybe doesn’t include a man who pushes for an open relationship when moving away for a year, Lena decides to change the subject. Move it to a territory that they’re both more comfortable with.

“You’re keeping me from having a great orgasm right now with all this talking.”

Despite herself, Kara laughs. Lena takes the opportunity to scoot over, moving close and hovering, waiting for permission. Kara gives it by taking the initiative, tilting her head and pressing her mouth against Lena’s.

Coming alive, Lena surges forward, kissing Kara back with the same unrestrained eagerness she always does. Her body just reacts to Kara’s, instantaneous, acute, almost volatile. She leans in (wanting more, always wanting more) until she has the blonde beneath her. Her hands roam freely, encouraged by Kara’s satisfied sighs and canting hips.

Lena tugs at the edge of Kara’s sweater. Getting the hint, Kara sits up just enough to let Lena pull her sweater and shirt over her head. It’s Kara who unhooks her own bra, but Lena who slides it off her shoulders and discards it to the side. As always, Lena lavishes attention on Kara’s breasts, sucking, pulling, kneading, alternating between gentle and just hard enough to almost hurt.

When Kara decides that she’s had enough, she grabs Lena’s hands and brings them to the waistband of her jeans. Obediently, Lena unbuttons, unzips, slides the material down. She wedges her hand between their tightly joined bodies, feeling her way to where Kara’s most sensitive. When her fingers press against Kara’s clit, the blonde groans sharply. With practiced precision, Lena rubs, with varying tempo, bringing Kara to the precipice of pleasure before easing off, then repeats, rebuilds.

When Kara decides that she’s really had enough, she angles her hips up, wordlessly directing. Lena shifts, sinking two fingers inside while she keeps her thumb on the clit. With a few quick thrusts, Kara’s clenching and moaning out her orgasm, with Lena kissing her through the high. Kara goes slack, and Lena withdraws her hand, but remains atop the blonde, quiet and still, knowing that Kara enjoys the pressure and feeling of safety as she recovers.

“You know,” she says lowly in a near-whisper. “You were afraid to sit on my sofa when you came over the first time. Now here you are, naked and coming all over it.”

Tired but in good humor, Kara quips back, “Well, now that I know you’re a billionaire, I have no problem ruining your expensive furniture.”

“I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that I don’t mind.”

“Well, good.” Kara sits up, swiftly and easily flipping Lena onto her back as she slides to the floor on her knees. “Because I’m about to go down on you right here.”

So she does. And, very vocally, Lena demonstrates just how much she doesn’t mind.

***

“Nia’s asking many questions about you.”

Lena looks up from her desk and sees Brainy standing in the doorway of her office. She leans away from her computer screen, sitting back in her seat, resting her elbows on her chair’s armrest as she locks her hands together before her.

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

Sometimes she forgets that Brainy occasionally needs prompts. “What has she asked?”

“If you’re nice. If I like working for you. If you’re easy to talk to. If you’re kind and considerate. I answered all in the affirmative. She also wanted to know your romantic history. I told her that I was not very familiar. But I did tell her about the time Veronica showed up to take you to lunch and you came back inebriated then went to cry in your office.”

Lena wants to find a hole to crawl in and die. “You knew about that?”

“Yes.”

Lena clears her throat, and uselessly moves a pen on her desk away from the edge. “Does everybody else here know about that?”

“I don’t believe so. I have not mentioned it to anybody else. I never intended to. But Nia, she…” Brainy looks embarrassed but still cheered at the thought. “She has a way. So. I am deeply sorry for my miscue.”

Lena nods. She doesn’t relish the thought of anyone knowing about that particular incident, but frankly, that hadn’t even been one of their top ten worst fights. It was just the one that happened during work hours. They didn’t even break up until three months after. In retrospect, it’s remarkable they ever made it to a year.

“Did Nia tell you why she’s asking all these questions?”

“She says you know her friend, Kara Danvers. I believe you previously asked me about her.”

“I did. Did she say anything more about her?”

“She did not.” Brainy looks puzzled. “Why do you keep asking about Kara Danvers?”

She doesn’t plan on it, but out it comes anyway. “We’re sleeping together. Kara and I, that is.”

“Ah,” Brainy says, looking startled. It finally occurs to Lena that maybe there are some things a boss shouldn’t share with a subordinate. Oops.

“Sorry, forget I said that. That was inappropriate.”

“I do not mind,” Brainy assures her. “But I’m afraid I don’t have much information. What I know is that Nia considers Kara a true friend. Loyal and caring. But Kara, she’s, well…”

The concern etched on Brainy’s face causes Lena’s heart to seize with worry. “What is it?”

Reluctantly, Brainy says, “Kara’s romantically entangled with a man overseas. A serious boyfriend. I’m sorry, Lena.”

Relief floods Lena’s system. “That’s all right. I knew that. Kara and I have an arrangement.”

“Oh.” The puzzled look is back again.

“You don’t approve?”

“It isn’t that. I’m no stranger to these arrangements myself - before Nia, that is. I’m merely surprised.”

“Because Kara doesn’t seem like the type?”

Brainy gives her an odd look. “I do not know Kara well. Because I did not think you were the type.”

Lena scoffs, feeling oddly offended. “And why is that?”

“Truthfully, I’ve always thought of you as secretly sentimental. Tenderhearted, even.”

Me? Sentimental?” The nerve of this man. She’s not even going to address the ‘tenderhearted’ insult.

“Secretly,” Brainy emphasizes. “But yes.” Evidently feeling that the conversation has run its course, he steps away from the doorframe he’s been hovering in, leaving Lena with, “Perhaps I am mistaken.”

By the time Lena recovers to say “Yes!”, Brainy’s already gone.

“You are,” she says to the empty room.

***

Lena takes Kara to the most expensive sushi restaurant in the city. Privately, she thinks the place is a bit overrated, but she doesn’t share the thought. Places like these, like much of the city itself, is about having the experience, something you do just to say you did it.

Heaping a spoonful of toro tartare and briny caviar atop thick slices of grilled bread, Kara’s eyes light up as inspiration strikes her.

“Toro in the streets, toro between the sheets.”

Which only earns her a perplexed, slightly perturbed look from Lena. “Are you- is ‘toro’ supposed to be an anatomical reference?”

“What? No! I meant toro as in Spanish for bull!”

“But you see how it’s confusing when we’re in a Japanese restaurant. Where toro means fatty tuna. And we’re literally eating raw fish right now.”

Kara huffs indignantly. “My mind didn’t go there. I was trying to, you know, bring a multicultural flair to it.”

Lena shrugs. “B plus for effort, C for execution.”

With an expression of petulant outrage, Kara protests, “I’ve never gotten a C before in my life!”

“I’m happy to be your first, darling.”

And Kara wants to complain more, she really does. But the look on Lena’s face, teasing and flirty, coupled with that ‘darling’ breaks her brain a little bit.

After dinner, they decide to walk back to Lena’s apartment. It’s a clear night, a little cold but tolerable, and the city is beautiful at this hour, calm enough to be enjoyable. There’s still honking cars and the occasional drunken hollers from fellow pedestrians, but for this part of the city, this is considered serene because they can stroll slowly down the sidewalk without twenty people speed-walking by with dirty looks.

As they walk, Kara tells Lena about her work woes. It’s New York Fashion Week, but instead of being anywhere near the action, CatCo has her making calls and fact-checking the features by other writers.

“And it’s not like I even want to cover Fashion Week, but I wish that they’d use me for more than just fact-checking.”

“They don’t give you article assignments?”

“They do, but it’s been small little fluff pieces and quick Q&A profiles. And every time I think I’m making a good pitch, it always ends up getting overshadowed by something else. But!” Kara holds up a finger in emphasis. “I think I’m onto something for my next pitch. I’m still putting the details together, but it’s going to be really good.”

“I’m sure,” Lena agrees readily. “I’ve read your pieces. I know you say they’re fluff, and maybe the subject matter isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s clear that you have a talent. Whatever you write next, I look forward to reading it.”

Kara lets the exhilaration of praise wash over her, indulging in the moment. Lena likes her writing. She lets that thought linger, holding and turning it over in her mind, savoring it. It means more than it probably should. Or, as Kara’s now rationalizing to herself, maybe she’s just an egomaniac who thrives on all praise.

“Hey, about next week,” Kara says. “I won’t be able to come over.”

“Oh,” Lena says simply. There’s a sudden tightness to her chest, which she quickly dismisses as heartburn. After all, she just had a big meal. “That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s Valentine’s Day weekend.”

Lena thinks she understands. “Right. And you don’t think it’s a good idea for us to see each other on a romantic holiday. I understand.”

Kara wrinkles her nose in genuine surprise. “What? No. I don’t care about that. But my sister and I host a Galentine’s Day every year the day before Valentine’s Day. This year it’s on Saturday so I won’t be able to come over.” Kara lightly nudges Lena in the side. “But you should come. If you want. We’re going to Alex and Kelly’s apartment.”

“To Galentine’s Day?”

“Yeah. Although now it’s really just a party for all our friends. James and Winn started crashing it, so we just ended up inviting more and more people.”

“Oh, um…” The thought of meeting Kara’s sister and friends fills Lena with a sense of foreboding.

“Come! I know you don’t have any plans on Saturday.” Kara reaches out, taking Lena’s hand in her own and pulling playfully like a begging child. “Comeeee onnnnnn, Lena. It’ll be fun. I make really good cupcakes.”

“I, I don’t know,” Lena says hesitantly. “Meeting your sister and your friends? Isn’t that a little bit too…”

“Friendly?” Sardonically, Kara adds, “God forbid we get a bit friendly after sticking our tongues inside each other.”

That earns her a small chuckle from Lena. “Maybe I’m just intimidated by the prospect of being interrogated. You know your friend Nia’s been asking Brainy about me?”

“Has she?” Kara makes a face, slightly peeved but unsurprised. “I’m sorry, my friends can be nosy. She’s just curious. I’ll talk to her. She won’t interrogate you, I promise.”

“To be fair, I’ve asked Brainy about you.”

“You have?” Involuntarily, Kara squeezes Lena’s hand in excitement.

“Hmm. I was curious about what I’d gotten myself mixed up in. Sadly, Brainy isn’t much help.”

“I’m an open book,” Kara says with a light shrug. “You can always ask me whatever you want.”

Except now that the offer’s on the table, Lena’s mind has gone blank. It’s not as if she had specific questions in the first place. She’s aware that she has an amorphous, undefined desire to know Kara, who she is, what she’s about. (This desire, Lena rationalizes, is merely a byproduct of her scientific mind. It’s perfectly natural to be curious about the person you’re sleeping with. It doesn’t have to mean anything.) The kind of knowledge that cannot be extracted from a Q&A, but only imparted through time, patience, familiarity. (The kind of knowledge, Lena is aware, she does not have the luxury to obtain as the clock, the countdown to their end, ticks steadily on.)

Lamely, she tries, “What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue to wear, green and beige for furniture, red for slushies,” Kara rattles off without a moment’s hesitation. “Yours?”

“Black.”

“Of course it is,” Kara says, rolling her eyes in exaggerated mockery. “Okay, see? We can get to know each other and the world’s not going to end.”

Cautiously, guardedly, Lena replies, “I just want to make sure that we adhere to our agreement.”

Kara sighs, feeling a little worn by the subject. “Look, I’m not inviting you because I’m, like, feeling something for you. I’m inviting you because I like hanging out with you. It’s really that simple. But I’d never want you to be uncomfortable. If you don’t want to go, I’ll drop it.”

There’s a part of Lena who says (in a voice that suspiciously sounds like her adoptive mother’s) that this is an idiotic endeavor, that the safer course of action is to stay home, that nothing good can come from meeting Kara’s friends.

But instead, despite her more practical judgment, she says, “All right, sure. I’ll come.”

Because spending the day before Valentine’s Day with your fuck buddy is just such a terrific idea.