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Bizarre Love Triangle

Chapter Text

I should run on the double
I think I'm in trouble

“Trouble” - Lindsey Buckingham

 

 

The call comes twenty minutes before the board meeting; it’s their quarterly budget review and Lena’s deep into her prep, so she very nearly declines the incoming call from a number she doesn’t recognize. But when she sees the area code and the “Midvale, CA” display beneath it, she hits the green button to connect without really thinking it through.

“Hi, Lena?” comes from a somewhat familiar voice. “It’s Alex Danvers.”

“Alex. Hi.” It occurs to Lena that Kara’s cellphone has a Midvale number. And apparently, so does Alex’s. Maybe what Lena really wants to say is some variation of ‘how did you get my number’ or ‘why are you calling me,’ but because this is Kara’s sister, she comes back with a polite, friendly, “How are you doing?”

“I’ll just tell you why I’m calling,” Alex says, dispensing with the niceties. “I know you and Kara have dinner plans. Kara asked me to let you know that she won’t be able to make it.”

“All right,” Lena says slowly, unsure of what’s happening. “Is everything okay? Where’s Kara?”

“She’s here with me at my hospital. She’s in radiology right now. She had a fall and probably has a calcaneus fracture.” Alex sounds matter-of-fact about it, which should assure Lena that Kara’s injuries aren’t grave.

But it doesn’t.

“I’m on my way.”

“That’s probably not necess-”

“See you soon.” Lena hangs up and immediately starts gathering her things. Striding towards the elevator bays, she’s halfway through a text to Andrea when she runs into the recipient. “Andrea, good. I was just about to text you. Something’s come up. You’re going to have to run the board meeting.”

Andrea looks dismayed at the thought. She falls into step, following Lena to the elevators. “You’re going to make me do the budget by myself?”

“You are my CFO.”

“I just like the title, not the numbers.” Arriving at the elevator bays, Andrea punches the call button, then leans against the wall with her arms crossed. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Kara. Something’s happened. She’s at the hospital.”

“Is it serious?”

“I don’t know. Alex didn’t sound distressed, but just the same, I’d like to see how she’s doing.”

“Her sister’s a doctor, right? If she’s not worried, then Kara’s probably fine, right?”

“I’d still like to make sure she’s okay.” When Lena sees the look on Andrea’s face, she adds, “Come on, don’t make a big deal about it. I would do the same for you.”

There’s a ding, and the elevator arrives, its doors sliding open. Lena gives Andrea a short wave and steps in.

Just as the doors close, Andrea says goodbye with a cheery, “Have fun running to your fuck buddy’s side in a medical emergency!” When the doors close, Andrea sighs lightly to herself. “Oblivious dummy.” As she heads to the board meeting, she pulls out her phone to text Sam about what just happened.

***

Kara is, in fact, fine. Sort of. But when Lena walks in and sees Kara sitting in a hospital bed in that flimsy gown that would make anyone look weak and sickly, her instinct is to fix it.

The words just come rushing out. “I know the Chair of New York Presbyterian quite well. It’s the top hospital in the city. I can get you in to see the best doctors right away.”

“Um, excuse you,” Alex retorts from behind her. “This hospital, my hospital, is the top hospital in the city and we have the best doctors.” She points a finger at herself.

Lena silently berates herself for the unintended insult. Alex works at this hospital. As a doctor. Which she already knew. And even if she didn’t, Alex looks very much like a doctor, complete with the white lab coat, stethoscope around her neck, and impatient scowl.

“Of course. I’m sorry. I meant no offense.”

Unaffected by the apology, Alex makes her way past Lena to Kara’s bedside, still with an annoyed look on her face. “Anyway, even us lowly outer borough quacks know how to slap on a cast. She’s very lucky, she won’t need surgery. She just needs to rest up and heal. And not go around climbing up trees to save stray cats that don’t need to be saved because, it’s, you know, a stray cat.”

As Kara groans at the revelation, Lena’s only reaction is to blink. “Pardon?”

“Strays can need help too!” Kara protests. “More, actually. Nobody else is looking out for them!”

In exasperation, Alex says, “Kara, those guys have lived on their own their whole lives. They’re nearly feral. They know how to survive.”

“It was stuck!”

“It was not stuck. It was just an asshole baiting you for its own amusement.”

Kara scoffs dismissively. “Cats don’t do that.”

Wryly, Alex retorts, “Clearly you know nothing about cat culture.”

Deciding that someone needs to be the adult in the room before the Danvers sisters devolve into a round of cat-centric arguments, Lena asks, “So what’s next? For Kara, I mean. I assume the cat’s fine.”

“The cat is fine. Jumped out as soon as Kara got up there. As for this one?” Alex nods at her sister. “I put a cast on that foot and she goes on her merry way. Won’t take long.” Alex gives Kara a firm pat on the shoulder. “Lucky for her, her sister’s the best doctor in the city.”

Kara practically hisses, “Alex! Let it go!”

But Lena doesn’t care about Alex’s petty asides in defense of her own ego. What she cares about is this: “And where is Kara meant to go? Back to her five-story walk-up with her foot in a cast?”

From the expression on the Danvers sisters’ face, it’s clear that neither of them has considered this problem.

“Um…” Alex starts slowly. “You could come stay with me and Kelly? We have stairs, but it’s only the second floor?”

“Do you really want me on your couch for two, three months?” Kara asks rhetorically. “I’ll be fine. I can get food and laundry delivered.” A thought occurs to her, and she frowns as she contemplates the issue. “I’ll have to see what CatCo says. Maybe I can work from home. I really don’t want to go on leave when I’ve finally pitched a feature they like. Who knows if they’ll still like it in a couple of months? Oh, god, what if they give my feature to someone else?”

“I’m sure they won’t,” Alex reassures unconvincingly, hoping but failing to soothe Kara’s budding panic.

As Lena watches anxiety visibly rising in Kara, the solution comes to her. It’s so obvious, it seems like a foregone conclusion.

She blurts out, “Come stay with me.”

In the aftermath, there is silence.

Alex exhales sharply through her nose, her mouth firmly pressed into a thin line.

Kara, stunned, looks upon Lena with happy disbelief.

And Lena can’t quite believe it herself either.

“Really?” Kara asks. And somehow, the meekness and uncertainty behind the question only strengthens Lena’s resolve.

“Yes. Absolutely,” she nods. “It makes sense. I have room. I have elevators. It’s in Manhattan and closer to your office. If you want to go into work, we can get you a car service. Or, if you’d prefer, there are several bus lines to take you downtown. And I’ll be there to help you. L-Corp is so close, it only takes me a few minutes to come home if you need anything.”

With the way that Kara’s eyes are lighting up, it’s evident that she finds this idea enormously appealing. Stil, she looks to her sister, feeling that Alex must have something to say about it.

But Alex is stony-faced. Not happy, but at least not enraged. “Fine. I can pack up some of your things for you. I’ll bring it over later.”

Kara’s more than happy to take that as a blessing.

Later that evening, Alex meets up with Kelly at Kara’s apartment and the two of them pack a bag. They take the train into Manhattan, making their way to Lena’s place.

On the elevator ride up to Lena’s apartment, Kelly remarks, “You are taking this whole thing surprisingly well.”

Alex shrugs. “You know how the saying goes. You can lead a horse to water. But you can’t make that dumbass horse realize she’s in love with Lena.”

“Right, but Kara’s moving in with her. Even I find that extreme. What are they doing? They’re really going to be roommates with benefits?”

“Looks like it. They’re moving in together. As friends. And one day, they’re going to platonically plan a wedding together and get friend-married. Then they’ll probably get a friend-mortgage on a nice little house in Westchester, friend-adopt a bunch of babies, celebrate fifty friend-versaries, friend-retire together to Florida, and eventually get buried in the same friend-burial plot.”

“They won’t have a friend-mortgage,” Kelly points out. “Lena’s rich. She’ll buy Kara a friend-mansion.”

When they arrive at Lena’s front door, they find the sweet smell of baking cookies permeating the hallway even before Lena opens the door. Walking in, they find Kara comfortably propped up on the sofa. She’s under a fuzzy blanket, injured foot propped up, an insane mess of snacks and treats spread out on the coffee table before her.

“Looks like you’ve made yourself at home,” Alex observes as she drops Kara’s bag by the front door.

Kara offers up this pathetic defense: “Lena got this stuff for me.”

Right on cue, Lena appears with a plate of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven. She offers them up to her guests.

Under her breath, Alex mutters, “The hot billionaire bakes. Of fucking course she does.” But she takes a cookie and takes a bite. Its deliciousness only fuels her ire. With a disgruntled glower, she grits out at Lena, “These cookies are delicious.”

Lena, who isn’t used to menacing-sounding cookie compliments, smiles uneasily. “Thank you?”

Alex and Kelly stay a little while longer, keeping Kara company and eating Lena’s annoyingly delicious cookies.

But Kara’s had a long day, what with rescuing stray asshole cats and all. That’s evident by the way she sags against the couch, eyelids drooping, barely suppressing yawn after yawn. So Kelly and Alex soon say their goodbyes to let her rest.

“You go on to bed,” Lena instructs in a tone that allows for no disagreement. “I’ll clean up and bring your things to you.”

Too tired to protest, Kara hobbles down the hallway on her crutches. At the end of the hallway, she stops in between the gap between the master bedroom and the guest room. She’s suddenly unsure of where to go. Every time she’s stayed over, it’s been in Lena’s bed, for the obvious reason that she falls asleep after they have sex. This is different. She’s living here now, at least for the next couple of months. She has no idea whether Lena meant to share her bed that entire time, or if she meant for Kara to stay in the guest room. That is, after all, what she is. A guest.

She stands there for so long, caught up in indecision, that Lena finds her there.

“What are you doing?”

“Um.” Kara suddenly feels foolish. She should’ve just picked. But it’s too late now. “I, uh, I didn’t know where you wanted me.”

Lucky for Kara, Lena just seems amused by her awkward indecisiveness. Lena strolls past, carrying the bag that Alex and Kelly had brought, and drops it just inside the door to her room. She turns back to Kara.

Dropping her voice to a sultry whisper, Lena says, “Have I not made myself clear on where I want you?” She takes a step close, laying her hand upon Kara’s shoulder in a soft, lazy caress. “How I want you?”

Kara’s had a long day. Again, rescuing strays. She fell out of a frickin’ tree. But now that all seems to be in the distant past. Because the only thing that seems to matter is Lena. More specifically, Lena’s body and all the things she could be doing to it right now. Driven by impulse, Kara lurches forward to kiss her, nearly falling over in the process as she trips over her own crutches.

Lena catches her, laughing as she does. “Kara, I was joking. You’re hurt.”

Kara’s hands go to Lena’s waist, tugging loose the belt there. “Well, you should’ve thought of that before you came on to me.”

“I didn’t think I’d get you worked up. Aren’t you in pain?”

Kara lets the belt slide from her hand, which hits the floor with a clanky thud. “I hear that orgasms provide powerful pain relief.” Her fingers go to work, undoing the buttons on Lena’s blouse, starting from the bottom. “Did you know? The injury I have is also called a lover’s fracture. We should honor that, don’t you think?”

Lena’s breathing quickens as she feels Kara’s fingers graze against her skin. But she keeps her arms hanging limply at her side. “Is that right?”

“Mm-hmm. It’s commonly sustained by falling from a height, like someone jumping down from a balcony, as in Romeo and Juliet.” Kara’s halfway through the buttons. She takes a pause here to press her palm fully against Lena’s bare stomach, to feel the rise and fall as Lena’s breathing grows heavy.

“Or misguided attempts at cat rescue.”

Kara huffs in indignation, and starts in on the buttons again. “It wasn’t misguided. It was… heroic. Heroic and sexy.” She pauses again. “Unless you’re not in the mood?”

“It’s not that, darling. But you fell out of a tree today and broke your foot. You need rest.”

“Lena,” Kara says with utter solemnity. “I could fall from the Empire State Building. I could break every bone in my body. I’m still going to want you more than I want to rest.”

Lena doesn’t think there’s a soul in the world who could resist a line like that. She grips Kara by the collar of her shirt, dragging her into a hot, open-mouthed kiss.

Needless to say, Kara spends the night in Lena’s bed. And all the other nights after that too.

***

It’s not all perfect with sunshine and rainbows and cookies and sex. As comfortable as they’ve become with one another, they still have to adjust to the realities of living together. But a month in, they’ve settled into a comfortable groove.

Lena finds out that some of Kara’s habits clash with her own fastidious nature. She spends half a day being silently huffy about Kara leaving globs of toothpaste in the bathroom sink until Kara drags it out of her. In the end, Kara promises to rinse out the sink and Lena promises to tell her when she’s annoyed instead of bottling it up.

Kara learns that Lena sometimes comes home in a bad mood and doesn’t appreciate being accosted by a thousand questions and stories the second she walks in the door. She adapts by easing up on how she greets her. In turn, Lena gets better about politely excusing herself when she needs time alone, and when she’s ready, comes back to Kara with her full attention.

They both figure out that they need to start getting ready at least an hour before they need to go anywhere. Lena’s taken to helping Kara get dressed, but finds that they have trouble staying on task. At least a third of the time, Lena’s attempts in helping Kara put on her underwear result in the opposite of the intended result.

Kara largely works out of the apartment, and goes into the office a couple of times a week, taking the bus downtown to get to work. On the days that she works from the apartment, Lena often comes back for lunch. Lena also now leaves the office early, which for her means 6PM. At night, they order dinner or Lena prepares something quick. They eat, they talk, then they spend the rest of the evening reading, watching TV, sometimes working side by side. (And some nights, Kara talks to Mike. On those nights, Lena always manages to have forgotten something at the office and needs to take a trip in.)

On more than one occasion, Kara tries to make dinner or tidy the apartment, until Lena scolds her and makes her rest.

Alex stops by every couple of days to spend time with her sister and help out as needed. For the most part, she doesn’t say anything about the living-with-Lena situation.

Then one day, she observes in a casual tone, “You’re really settling in here.”

“Can’t complain.” Kara’s stretched out on the living room couch, bathing in the warm sunlight, gazing out the window at the cityscape before her. Alex sits on the opposite end of the sofa, having just finished checking up on Kara’s foot. “It was a little weird at first. Everything’s so fancy. I still can’t get over that Lena has a washer and dryer in here. And Lena has been the perfect host. She’s taking such amazing care of me. I’m getting so spoiled here.”

“So spoiled that you’re not going to leave when this thing comes off?” Alex rasps two knuckles against Kara’s cast.

Kara tries to laugh it off. “I wouldn’t do that to Lena.”

Despite the laughter, Kara’s looking down and away, wearing an expression that Alex can read all too well. “And what if she told you that she doesn’t mind? Or that she wants you to stay?”

“Oh. Um.” Color rises to Kara’s cheek. “N- no, she wouldn’t.”

“But if she did?” Alex persists. “What if she asked you to stay? What would you say?”

Kara’s mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Finally, she manages weakly, “Well, I- I don’t know. She wouldn’t ask anyway. So… yeah. It’s just a silly question.”

“I think that means you would stay.”

Kara waves her hand dismissively. “No, I didn’t say that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I can’t just live here indefinitely. My stuff is all in my apartment. And I’m still paying rent there.” There’s something else she’s missing. What is it? Oh, yeah. “And Mike! He’ll be back in a few months. We’re probably moving in together when he comes back.”

Alex fixes her sister with a scrutinizing stare. “Kara. Be honest. Are you glad that Mike hasn’t come home?”

Kara barks out a derisive laugh, too loud to be convincing. “What? No! That’s crazy. I’m dying for him to come home.”

“Are you? Are you saying that if world war three broke out tomorrow and Mike gets stuck in Germany forever, you wouldn’t be a little bit happy about that?”

The feeling in the pit of Kara’s stomach is unsettling. So she deflects. “Well, I would never be happy about a war breaking out. That’s awful.”

Impatiently, Alex pushes on. “Okay, fine, then say Mike’s company wants him to stay permanently and he does. If he never came back, would some part of you be relieved? Happy?”

Again, Kara’s mouth flaps silently, ineffectually. “I love Mike.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Kara laughs again, stiff and self-conscious. “Again with the silly questions. It’s all so pointless.”

“So you do want him to come back?”

“Of course I do!” Kara states vehemently, her voice rising, as if volume is a substitute for conviction. “A- and you know what? Even if I did feel another way about it - which I don’t - it doesn’t even matter because Lena doesn’t have those kinds of feelings for me.”

Despite the warning signs, Alex doggedly continues, “How do you know? Have you asked her?”

“I know she doesn’t, okay?” Kara snaps, irritation seeping in with a touch of soreness. “You just don’t get it. Lena would never feel that way about me. She’s beautiful and smart and selfless and so kind and - oh, yeah - a billionaire. She’s on a whole other level and you know what? I’m okay with that. I really am. I know that I’m just a distraction until the real thing comes along and I’m so, so fine with it. Please don’t make me not fine with it.”

To Alex, there’s so much wrong with everything that Kara’s just said, she hardly knows where to begin. She goes with the first thing that comes to mind. “I think you need to have an honest conversation with Lena.”

“Well, I think you should mind your own business,” Kara replies, fully irritated now.

“Kara-”

“My foot really itches,” Kara interrupts. “Can you get me the hair dryer and blow cool air inside?”

And Alex knows that the conversation has come to a hard stop. She touches her hand to Kara’s knee, offering her sympathies, not just for the physical discomfort.

“Of course. Anything you need.”

***

The New York City subway system isn’t designed to be friendly towards anyone with mobility issues. So now, they take car services to go out to dinner. It had taken a long, convoluted, forty-five minute conversation, but Lena was finally able to convince Kara to let her pay for these rides by arguing that this is actually a self-serving endeavor because the city collects taxes on these rides, which ultimately helps L-Corp, because they receive a grant from the city. (“By that logic,” Kara points out. “You would just pay for everything that’s ever taxed.” To which Lena readily agrees that she could do that.)

In the end, Kara’s not so much swayed by the awful logic, as she is by Lena’s hand creeping along her thigh. But it’s less embarrassing for Kara to say that she was convinced by terrible logic than it is for her to admit that her brain had shut down when Lena started using her low, raspy sex-voice and thrusting her chest forward. (“You’re doing it all wrong,” Kara complains even as she’s casting Lena’s bra off to the side. “Traditionally, hot women are accused of using their sexual wiles to get money, not to give it away.”)

Tonight, they’re on their way back from dinner from a fancy Italian restaurant at Columbus Circle, where they dined on charred, lemon-spritzed octopus; toothsome cavatelli tossed with sweet shrimp and crispy artichoke bits; an outrageously upgraded version of insalata caprese served with lobster and burrata; and a rich, creamy wild mushroom risotto (“Risotto in the streets,” Kara declares solemnly as Lena readies her eye roll. “Torpedo between the sheets.” Lena thinks about it for a moment, then replies, “You know, I’m impressed enough by your strap game that I’m willing to admit to the truth of that one.” To which Kara turns bright red and downs her entire glass of water.)

In the car, Kara asks, “Do you know what you’re going to wear to James’s exhibition?”

“Exhibition?” Lena frowns. “Is that this Friday?”

“It is.”

“I’m sorry, I completely forgot,” Lena says contritely. “I’m supposed to meet up with Andrea and Sam. But I can cancel.”

“No, don’t do that. You haven’t been out with them in a while.” Kara’s keenly aware that Lena’s drastically cut back on not only her work hours, but her socializing time with her friends, all to spend time with her. “You should go.”

“What about you?”

“I really should go to James’s thing. It’s a big deal for him.”

“Well, what if I invite Andrea and Sam along to the gallery? I think they’d enjoy it. And maybe we can all get a late dinner or a drink afterwards?”

“Yeah.” Grinning widely, Kara takes Lena’s hand, threading their fingers together. “That sounds lovely.”

At no point does it occur to either woman that they don’t have to rearrange their social lives around the other person.

***

James’s exhibition is taking place at a small art gallery in Williamsburg. Andrea half-heartedly grumbles at the prospect of venturing to another borough, but plainly enjoys herself when she gets there.

Especially when she huddles up with Sam in a corner and watches Lena glide through the space with her hand at Kara’s lower back, flitting from one photograph to another, chatting up fellow attendees and praising James’s work in flowery language. Some of those attendees would take her remarks to heart and purchase prints. Lena’s helping James make sales, for the sole reason that he’s Kara’s friend.

“She’s so good at this,” Andrea marvels. “It’s amazing how someone who is so intelligent and perceptive in a professional setting is just a complete idiot with zero common sense when it comes to her personal life.”

“Hey,” comes an offended-sounding voice from behind. They turn to find Alex Danvers standing there, looking peeved and dangerous. “You don’t know the first thing about my sister.”

Sam and Andrea exchange uncertain, awkward glances before Sam takes the lead with a gentle, “We were talking about Lena.”

“Oh.” Alex instantly looks chagrined. “I’m sorry, I just assumed…” She gestures towards Lena and Kara, standing arm-in-arm as they admire one of James’s photographs. “So I take it that you also think this ‘arrangement’ is insane?”

“I told Lena to break it off before anyone gets hurt,” Andrea says. “Apparently she heard that as ‘you should move in with Kara.’”

“Yeah, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told Kara that this is a bad idea,” Alex complains, grumpy but with a touch of gratitude that she’s finally able to commiserate. “I even tried talking to Lena. And I get nowhere because she just insists on telling me about what a great butt my sister has.”

Absent-mindedly staring at the subject in question, Sam replies, “Well, she’s not wrong.” Belatedly, Sam remembers who she’s talking to and perhaps that Alex is sick of hearing people discussing her sister’s ass. In a transparent attempt to change the subject, she nods towards Lena’s direction. “What’s Lena doing there?”

While Kara’s engrossed in conversation with James, Lena stands off to the side, holding a small plate of hors d'oeuvres and picking green leaves off of a mini taco.

Witnessing this, Alex grunts in irritated disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” When the other two women look to her for an explanation, she lets out a long, tired sigh. “Kara doesn’t like cilantro.”

No,” Andrea gasps, horrified by the sickening mushiness of it all.

But true enough, Lena hands the de-cilantro’d mini taco to Kara, who accepts it with a dopey grin and kisses her cheek in thanks. James arcs an eyebrow at the exchange, but then quickly moves on by pointing to a photograph on the wall.

Andrea grimaces at the display. “Eww.”

“Oh, god, it’s worse than I thought,” Sam mutters.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Alex replies, frustration imbued in every syllable. “How do these two idiots not see what’s happening? I’ve tried every angle there is with Kara. You can’t get through to Lena?”

“Lena doesn’t really take well to conversations like that. I once tried to tell her that her ex-girlfriend is a straight up psychopath, because she is,” Andrea says, with Sam nodding fervently alongside her. “She didn’t talk to me for a month and I’m her CFO! I am not putting myself through that again.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone who can get through to her,” Sam adds mournfully. “She just can’t be reasoned with when it comes to feelings.”

“It’ll be over with eventually,” Andrea says. “That boyfriend’s still coming back, right?”

Alex gazes at the other end of the gallery, where Winn has now joined Lena, Kara, and James in conversation. Lena says something, which evidently isn’t very funny, as James looks confused and Winn’s expression remains unchanged. But Kara breaks off into a loud cackle that can be heard all the way across the room.

Alex sighs. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

***

When Lena leaves her last meeting of the day, she walks into her office to find something unusual: Brainy sitting on her couch, something that she doesn’t think he’s ever done in all the years they’ve worked together.

“Hi,” she greets slowly, unsure of what to make of this. Brainy has never done this before, and he’s many things, but unpredictable isn’t really one of them. “Were you waiting for me?”

“You’ve taken to leaving the office early recently, so I thought it best to wait for you here if I wanted to speak with you.”

Slightly affronted, she answers, “I’ve been leaving at 6, Brainy.”

Uncomprehending, Brainy innocently returns, “Yes, that is what I said.”

Lena decides that it’s not the best use of anyone’s time to bicker with Brainy on what normal business hours are. One, it’s pointless and two, she’s the damn boss so normal business hours are whatever she says it is anyway.

She moves to her desk and takes a seat. “How can I help you?”

“I have a matter which troubles me and, well, you’re the smartest person I know. Besides me, of course, but I find it difficult to have a dialogue with myself.”

“Sure,” Lena says, unbothered by his slight. Just Brainy being Brainy. “What is it?”

For a moment, he looks deeply unsettled, something that Lena’s unaccustomed to seeing from him. But then he visibly braces himself with an inhalation of breath and soldiers on. “What does love feel like?”

Lena reins in the ‘pardon?’ that’s about to leave her lips. She knows what he asked, she just doesn’t know how to address it. “Why do you ask?”

“I believe that I… that I have developed very serious affections for Nia. And I wondered whether it is in fact love. You see, I’ve not experienced it myself before.”

“Oh. Uh. Well.” Lena knows that it’s possible - no, probable - that Brainy’s asking the wrong person. But Lena wants to try anyway, to be a friend. It’s so rare that he asks for help. “I… I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I’ve only recently been told that love doesn’t have to be an all-consuming, destructive force. But… I think that when you love someone, you care about their well-being. You want to care for them, do nice things for them, do things that’ll make them smile just because it makes them happy.”

Brainy struggles for something concrete to relate to. “Like how one would love a labradoodle?”

“Well, I would hope not, if we’re talking about romantic love.”

“Right,” Brainy says slowly, processing the concept. “So romantic love must encompass something more than carings acts if we’re to distinguish it from labradoodle love.”

“For a lot of people, sexual attraction would be a big part, which I would hope doesn’t apply to a labradoodle.”

“Is that all it is? Sex and unselfishness?” Brainy grows increasingly perplexed at the thought. “But not everyone has sex? And one can be selfless towards friends? And what if you’re friends who have sex? Is that love?”

Lena is dimly aware of a sense of unease rising within her. “Perhaps romantic love can feel and look very different from each person to the next.”

Petulantly, Brainy huffs. “Well, that doesn’t help me at all.”

Lena sighs lightly. Her patience is starting to thin, but she still wants to help. “I think there’s a heightened intensity to romantic love. Yes, you can be unselfish towards your friends, but for a romantic partner, you would do things for them you wouldn’t do for anybody else. I think there’s also a sense of comfort and security that sets them apart from other people. You can do and say things without fear of judgment, you can totally be yourself, like… like how you would be if you were home by yourself, except you’re not alone. Maybe that’s what love is: being with someone that makes you feel like you’re home.”

Brainy furrows his eyebrows quizzically. “Kara Danvers is living in your home.”

“I didn’t mean a literal home.”

“But she is there, is she not?” Brainy persists. “Have you been uncomfortable in your own home, Lena? That isn’t right.”

Lena shakes her head. “No, absolutely not. I’m very comfortable with Kara. You’re taking this too literally.”

“Well, I don’t understand. You were the one who brought up the feeling of home. And she is in fact, in your home right now. You say you are comfortable with her. You do special things for her, as you leave the office early everyday now and sometimes for lunch as well. And although you see her every night, I’ve also seen you call her just to - what was it, ‘check in’? I do not think you would do that for anyone else. And you are literally providing care to her.” Entirely as an afterthought, he supplements, “Oh, yes, and you are sexually attracted to her, are you not?”

The uneasy feeling is bursting now, rapidly expanding at an exponential rate. “It’s not like it sounds. I’m not in love with Kara.”

“That’s not love?” Brainy questions with genuine curiosity. “But that fits everything we just talked about. What more is there?”

“Well, there’s-” Suddenly, she’s drawing a blank. Then, when it comes to her, she straightens in her seat, almost lurching forward: “Passion! There needs to be passion!”

Poor Brainy looks absolutely baffled. “That’s different from sexual attraction?”

“Yes, of course. There needs to be an emotional passion. That’s what Kara and I lack,” Lena says, feeling relieved that she’s cracked it.

Brainy brightens as he thinks he’s finally gotten it. “Ah, you mean the sex is bad.”

“No. Definitely not,” Lena defends quickly. “It means that love can make you a little crazy. That person gets inside your head, under your skin. And Kara and I don’t have that. We’ve been doing this for seven months now and we’ve never even argued. Because we don’t care enough about each other to do that.”

Brainy’s back to perplexion. “You’ve never disagreed?”

“Of course we’ve disagreed, but we’ve always resolved it through talking and negotiating, like how you would a business deal. It’s detached and clinical, see?”

“No,” Brainy answers bluntly. “Why is an amicable resolution of differences a bad thing? Most of the time, Nia and I peacefully discuss and resolve our differences. I do not feel any less for her on those occasions. To the contrary, I feel… valued. She sees me and she hears me. She tries to understand me even though she doesn’t agree with me. And I hope I do the same for her. Why is that not desirable?”

“No, it is, but…” That unease is back again, more intense than before. “I don’t know, Brainy. It’s just not what being in love looks like.”

“But why not? Isn’t good communication a cornerstone of a healthy relationship? Or do you mean that you do not care about Kara?”

“Of course I do,” Lena returns vehemently. “But obviously not enough.”

Persistently, naively, Brainy continues, “But what does that mean? Why does ‘caring enough’ mean strife? Do I not care enough about Nia if I don’t fight with her?”

“No, but…” Lena can feel herself backed into a corner and she doesn’t quite know how to get out of it, which only contributes to her growing panic. “I don’t know, Brainy. Love has never felt like that for me.”

There’s an odd look on Brainy’s face, less confused and more concerned. “Lena, it seems to me like you associate being in love with volatility and pain. I’ll fully admit to not being an expert on this matter, but that does not seem right to me.”

“That’s not true,” Lena protests feebly, even as dawning realization and horror spreads within her.

“Have I misunderstood?” Brainy questions in earnest. “Because it sounds as if the only element missing from your and Kara’s relationship is anger. Or ‘passion’ as you call it. Is there something else I’m missing?” It’s telling that Lena can think of nothing to say. And she finally knows it too. She only manages a weak shake of her head. “Well, as you say, romantic love can be different for people. So perhaps love must encompass conflict for you, but I think I will choose to reject that for myself. Thank you, Lena. This has been most illuminating. It is clear to me now that what I feel for Nia is love. And I will tell her.”

He rises to his feet and starts for the door, evidently feeling like their conversation has concluded. Lena sits and watches him, looking as serene and impervious as ever, but a turmoiled wreck inside.

Just before the doorway, he pauses and half-turns. “Do you remember when I was working on the Ives project and I came to you with what I believed were outliers that I wanted to discard?”

“You mean that time when you called me at 2AM from the lab, screaming ‘this makes no sense, I must incinerate these results and cast its ashes into a live volcano for the good of mankind’?”

Brainy nods in approval. “Precisely. Do you recall what your advice was?”

“I believe that I told you to go home and get some sleep. Then I hung up on you.”

“Yes. You used more expletives, but yes. Then the next day, you sat down with me and helped me figure it out. You were the one who reminded me that it would be irresponsible to just delete a statistically significant outlier for which I can’t identify an error. You said that we shouldn’t discard anomalous data simply because it falls outside of the range of our expected variations. Sometimes it’s legitimate data worthy of inquiry. No matter how exhausting the process may be, it deserves thorough examination.”

Absorbing the meaning of his words, Lena lets out a soft, scratchy, “Right.”

Brainy nods again, this time in satisfaction, and disappears out the open door, leaving Lena alone with her thoughts.

Five seconds later, he pops right back in.

“Kara is the anomalous data,” he says. “Your past toxic relationships are the range of expected variations. She’s the confounding outlier that does not fit.”

Lena stares at him, confused by the explanation itself. “Yes.”

For some reason, Brainy feels the need to further clarify. “I was inviting you to challenge your assumptions about Kara and what she means to you, the same way that you did for me when I had a separate but relatable problem.”

“I understand metaphors, Brainy.”

“Oh.” His surprised tone suggests that he does not share the same understanding. “Okay. I wasn’t sure whether I was clear.”

“No, you were.”

“Oh, good.” Brainy looks downright pleased with himself. “Well, then. Have a good night.”

He leaves once again, this time leaving Lena alone for good.