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Bizarre Love Triangle

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If I tell you that I'm sorry, would you stay here with me?
Going round in circles, how d'you think it's gonna end?
I'm gonna ruin your night again
Stirrin' up a hurricane, oh it is a losing game
You should just forget my name
Stirrin' up a hurricane, I'm gonna ruin your night again

“Ruin Your Night” - Sorcha Richardson

 

 

Motherfucking Bruce Springsteen.

That’s Lena’s refrain tonight.

Because you can blame it on the rain that’s trapped her in this bar, blame it on the night that no one seems to want to end, blame it on the alcohol that’s loosened Lena’s carefully suppressed instincts, blame it on the Tetons tank top Kara’s wearing which accentuates her toned arms, but at the end of it all, Lena places the blame for her current miserable, painful, hyper-libidinous state on one person.

And that’s motherfucking Bruce Springsteen.

She has nothing against the man, nothing against New Jersey, nothing against good ol’ working-class heartland rock. He can write a tune. But he needs to work on his lyrics.

Because, right now, Kara’s bouncing up and down in the middle of the bar, singing along to the repetitive chorus playing on the jukebox at the top of her lungs.

I’m going down, down, down, down.

And those are just words that Lena really doesn’t need to hear coming out of Kara’s mouth.

Lena checks her phone again, trying to see if she can get a car to take her away from this place. The rain seems to have monopolized all cars available for hire, leaving her stranded at a party she didn’t want to go to in the first place. It’s Kara’s birthday. Lena had planned to drop by, make an appearance, then leave as soon as it’s socially acceptable. As much as she wants to spend time with Kara, she knows that Mike will be there and that is not something she’s ready to handle just yet.

But Kara’s plans for a birthday picnic on Governors Island was derailed by an unexpected rainstorm, which is how they all ended up in a dive bar at the edge of Red Hook, far from subway stations. At least there’s one saving grace: Mike isn’t here yet, delayed by inclement weather.

Lena would be happy to spend this time with Kara. If it wasn’t for motherfucking Bruce Springsteen, whose music has Kara singing, dancing, gyrating, her tank top riding up her toned abdomen. Lena tries not to look. Tries not to think. Tries to pretend that she doesn’t remember every inch of skin underneath those clothes, how it feels, how it tastes. Kara, oblivious Kara, is a threatening, tantalizing tripwire, and the only defense Lena has is a tall glass of whiskey soda which she clutches with both hands and sips at gingerly, a prop she holds up in excuse every time Kara sidles up close and asks if she wants to dance.

I’m going down, down, down, down.

Yeah, and those words aren’t helping.

The song comes to a merciful end. But then Kara loudly proclaims, “Again!”

Winn, dutifully posted by the jukebox, drops in more coins and pushes some buttons. The song starts again and Lena can’t suppress the pained groan that escapes. There Kara goes again, dancing up a storm in the middle of the bar with Nia and Kelly.

Lena takes a huge gulp of her drink, thinking it might quench her metaphorical thirst. It doesn’t. Just the opposite, when the alcohol burns through her, it gives her a small jolt, emboldening her to glance at her personal temptress. The sight of the blonde swiveling her hips nearly liquefies her on the spot.

“Can you not?” comes the tense complaint of Alex Danvers as she approaches the bar. “Stop looking at my sister like she’s a piece of meat.”

“I’m not,” Lena rebuts defensively, unconvincingly. “I’m… looking at her normally.”

“Well, then, stop being ‘normal.’ It’s gross and I don’t need to see that.” Alex catches the bartender’s attention and holds up the empty glass in her hand. While the bartender gets her another drink, she turns her attention back to Lena. “So. Were you about to tell Kara that you have feelings for her, only to kick her out of your apartment the moment Mike showed up, then run off to the other side of the country, ghost her for a month and finally come back with a ‘oops, nevermind’? And no, Kara didn’t put it like that. She was much more circumspect about it. Even complimentary because you somehow come off like a saint in her story. But reading between the lines, I think that’s what happened. Am I wrong?”

“Well that’s…” Lena’s on the verge of issuing another defensive, unconvincing rebuttal, but thinks better of it. “No, that’s what happened.”

Alex growls - literally growls - and scrunches up her nose in a near-snarl, resisting the urge to throttle Lena on the spot.

“You- you- my god! What the hell, Lena? You know what? Mike doesn’t deserve my sister, but neither do you.” Winn’s passing by, on his way to the restroom, and Alex calls out, “Hey, Winn, do you want to date my sister?”

Winn stops abruptly, startled by the sudden attention. For a moment, he seems intrigued. He glances at Lena and when he sees the expression on her face, stolid and stern, he hesitantly answers, “Uh… Lena’s face says no.”

“Don’t look at her, look at me.” Alex snaps at him. “Do you want to date my sister?”

Nervously, Winn glances at Lena again. “Uh… can I be excused from… whatever this is?”

Alex tsks impatiently and waves him off; Winn’s only too happy to comply, scampering off quickly.

“I can’t,” Lena says now. “I can’t do that to Kara. Or Mike. I won’t come in between them. If Kara wants to leave him, she will. But I’ll play no part in it.”

“But you do have feelings for her?”

This is dangerous territory. Lena has no doubt that whatever she says to Alex will make it back to Kara. Telling Alex is as good as telling Kara, and Lena has already resolved to keep her feelings to herself.

“Last we spoke, I told you that I wasn’t sure if I knew how to be in a healthy relationship. That’s still very true. I know that you have your issues with Mike, but he’s made her happy for years before I came along.” Lena shrugs in helpless defeat. “Maybe that’s what’s best for her.”

A flash of frustration crosses Alex’s face, but it’s soon replaced by a knowing smirk. “Fine. Stick around a little longer tonight. Let’s see what happens when Mike shows up.”

“Why? What’s going to happen?”

The bartender returns with Alex’s drink. Alex thanks the bartender, takes the drink, and uses the opportunity to take a long, slow sip for no other purpose than to make Lena wait.

At long last, she responds cryptically, “I don’t know. But something always does.”

Lena doesn’t get the chance to push Alex on it. The song’s ended again. Mercifully, Kara doesn’t ask for a replay. Unmercifully, she decides to amble on over and accost Lena by throwing an arm over her shoulders and pulling her in for a side hug.

“Lena! Where’ve you been all night?! Are you having fun? Do you want to dance? Can I get you another drink? Or a snack? Wanna dance?”

“Uhh.” Lena awkwardly pats Kara on the back, and moves away a little so that their bodies aren’t flush up against each other. “Someone’s having a good time.”

“Yeah, but I’d be having a perfect time if you’d dance with me,” Kara responds in a slight whine.

“I don’t dance. Believe me, it’s for your own good. I’m terrible at it.”

Kara’s too drunk to feign politeness, and pouts at the soft rejection. “Aww!” she groans with theatrical disappointment. She tightens her hold on Lena, pulling the brunette close against her. “It’s my birthday! I just wanna dance with my friend.”

Lena’s genius brain flails and fails to come up with a way to extract herself from this painful, irresistible embrace. She shoots a panicked look at Alex, who rolls her eyes and grudgingly intercedes with, “Hey, let’s go back to the table. Lena’s going to bring over the next round.”

Kara cheers, and lets herself be corralled back to the table. Lena takes her time ordering at the bar, giving herself the chance to reset and forget how much she enjoyed the feeling of Kara’s body against hers. When she returns to their table, she’s glad to see that Alex has arranged herself between Kara and the open seat meant for her. Lena’s grateful for the buffer. And at the same time, she wishes that Alex would go away so she can scoot closer to Kara. Maybe give her a hug. Brush against her thigh. Lean against her shoulder. Feel the firm muscles there.

Or she needs to stop this line of thinking. Friendly thoughts, she tells herself. Friendly thoughts. She tries to pay attention to James, who’s telling a story about a photoshoot gone terribly wrong. For a minute, a full minute, she’s successful; she pays attention and chuckles along with the group at the appropriate moments.

Then. She notices what Kara’s doing.

Which is frankly nothing. She, like everyone else, is listening to James’s story. But she’s also absentmindedly tapping and tracing her fingers across the tabletop. The medieval-style long wooden table has a strip of round decorative nails running around its edges. Kara is fiddling with one of the studs, circling her index finger around the raised bump.

Lena watches intently, not quite sure why she’s fascinated. Kara taps two fingers against the round protrusion, and Lena flushes, suddenly catching on to her brain’s unconscious association. She doesn't look away. She sits there, eyes trained on Kara’s fingers, watching her rub, circle, and tap away at that nub, wishing those fingers were somewhere else, like the lower part of her that’s growing heated and throbbing.

She needs a cold glass of water. Maybe a cold shower. No, what she needs is for everybody else to clear out, Kara to throw her on top of the table, rip off her pants, and go to town. And she shouldn’t have allowed herself to go down that train of thought, because now she can feel wetness pooling between her thighs and she can not look away from Kara’s hand and its innocently arousing ministration.

Alex, casually glancing over, spots the fervent intensity on Lena’s expression, the tenseness in her shoulders, and concernedly leans over, whispering, “Hey, you okay?” Lena nods dumbly, unable to take her eyes away from table porn. Curious, Alex follows her line of sight and sees what Kara’s doing. She doesn’t get it right away because, unlike Lena, her mind doesn’t automatically turn to filth when she looks at Kara. But then it registers, what’s going on in Lena’s head, and she’s instantly filled with revulsion. “Oh my god, Luthor.”

Reaching out with a darting hand, Alex stills Kara’s movements. Confused, Kara looks over, because of course she’s oblivious to what she’s been doing and how it might look.

“Hey, let’s go dance,” Alex says to her. Kara blooms into a smile and she’s already looking to Lena to extend an invite, reaching over to take her hand and pull her along. Alex acts quickly, gently slapping away Kara’s hand before she can make contact. Lena is simultaneously disappointed and grateful for the intervention. “Nope, just sisters this round, okay?”

Kara lets Alex drag her away without much protest. Lena’s able to enjoy a reprieve, at least for a short while. But soon, after a few songs, while Lena’s chatting with Nia and Brainy, Kara finds her again.

“Leeeeenaaaa,” she whines, sounding drunker than she did before. She pulls Lena into a tight, full-body hug. “What are you dooooing all the way over here?”

By this point, Lena’s tired of fighting it, and she’s had enough drinks to not care so much about boundaries. She returns the hug, wrapping her arms around Kara’s torso, her whole body melting into the embrace. Nia averts her gaze, mumbles something about getting another drink and pulls Brainy away.

Kara buries her face in the crook of Lena’s neck, inhaling deeply, and lets out a contented sigh. “God, I’ve missed that,” she whispers. She locks her hand around Lena’s waist. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’m right here,” Lena murmurs back. She could stay like this forever. She wishes they could. But then, there’s always that one guy with awful timing who ruins everything.

“KARA!” Mike booms from across the room. He’s just stepped into the bar, shaking off his umbrella, the edge of his sleeves and pant legs dark from rainwater. He’s staring at Lena and Kara, coupled together in a snug hold, and his smile is wide but somewhat strained. He quickly strides across the bar, reaching them just in time as Kara and Lena reluctantly part. Mike slides himself right between them, bumping up against Lena as he does. He cups Kara’s face and pulls her in for a deep, tongue-filled kiss. Lena takes a very, very big step back. She knows when a man is marking his territory.

Kara kisses him back briefly, then squirms away. It’s only then Mike looks at Lena with a satisfied smirk and greets in an off-hand way, “Oh, hey, Lena.”

“Hi, Mike.” Lena musters every ounce of self-control she has to sound detached.

Kara’s trying to discreetly wipe away at the wetness by her mouth. “Um, do you want something to eat? They let you bring in food here. There’s a BBQ place down the street that has really good pastrami bacon.”

“Oh, no.” Mike pats his belly. “I had a protein shake when I left the gym. I’m good.”

Dumbfounded, Kara says, “But… pastrami bacon.”

“Aw, babe, you know I don’t care about that stuff.” He starts pulling at her arm. “Now c’mon, let’s go dance.”

“Oh, but I was-” Before Kara can finish her sentence, Mike whisks her away.

Lena retreats. What she wants to do is escape, rainstorm be damned, she’s just waiting for the appropriate amount of time to pass so that it doesn’t seem like she’s leaving the second Mike shows up. She finds safe haven in a corner of the bar with Brainy and Nia, where she can sit facing the wall. But although she can avoid looking at the happy couple, she can’t avoid hearing them, Mike’s loud guffaws and Kara’s giggles.

She makes the mistake of glancing over her shoulder. Kara and Mike are the only two people dancing now. Mike is a terrible dancer, but he embraces it, uninhibitedly twirling and prancing about with goofy, exaggerated moves, uncaring of how he looks.

Not like you, her inner Mean Lena berates. Joyless Lena, too awkward and self-conscious to dance with Kara even on her birthday.

She watches them, Kara eating it up, giggling at his goofy moves, letting herself be twirled round and round. In that moment, Lena’s absolutely convinced that she’s made the right decision in keeping her feelings to herself. Kara belongs with Mike, someone who’s as sociable, cheery, and carefree as she is.

It churns her stomach. She’s half-rising out of her seat, an excuse about to leave her lips when Alex materializes, pressing a hand down on her shoulder and placing a gin and tonic down in front of her.

“Patience,” she murmurs lowly before taking a seat, scooting over to make room for Kelly.

So Lena stays. And waits for she’s not quite sure what. She’s having a pleasant enough time, but in her current state, all she wants to do is go far away from Mike Matthews, crawl in bed with a quart - not a pint - of ice cream and eat herself sick.

But an hour and two drinks later, she’s just done, her social tank completely depleted.

Turning to Alex, she says, “I really do have to get going.”

“Okay.” Alex nods at something behind Lena. “But you’re going to miss the end of act one.”

Kara and Mike are now standing near the bar. Kara has her arms folded across her chest, leaning away from Mike, who’s still smiling, but looking like it’s taking him great effort to do so. Alex grabs Lena by her elbow and drags her over, parking her at the bar a few feet away, close enough to eavesdrop.

“Babe, come on, just let it go,” Mike says, irritation in his voice, his smile starting to fade. “It’s your birthday. Let’s not get into it.”

But Kara won’t be dissuaded. “No, I want to know what you meant.”

All vestige of good humor gone, Mike heaves a long, exasperated sigh. “You know what I meant. I’m not even saying that I agree with it, I just understand why the Beltrami vote came out the way it did.”

“They banned refugees from resettling in the county. People who have nowhere else to go. It’s disgraceful.”

“Beltrami is one of the most impoverished counties in Minnesota. They can barely take care of their own problems. It’s not fair to add to that. And do we really have to talk about this right now?”

“They’re not problems,” Kara returns with disdain on her tongue, ignoring Mike’s question. “They’re people. And they weren’t even resettling in Beltrami in the first place! Like, how heartless and paranoid do you have to be to ban refugees who aren’t even coming?”

“It’s not ‘heartless’ and ‘paranoid’,” Mike says, visibly annoyed at Kara’s tone and choice of words. “It’s self-preservation. There are no jobs in Beltrami, no growth. They’re just trying to look out for the people who already live there.”

“I don’t buy that. Nobody’s resettling in Beltrami! It’s just fear-mongering. You know why this is happening. If the refugees were coming from Canada instead of Somalia-”

“Oh, come on, don’t make this a racial thing,” Mike scoffs derisively. “There’s no evidence of that. This is about money. Don’t muddy the waters with bad faith arguments.”

“Right, because Beltrami’s the bastion of social progress,” Kara says sardonically. “How do you justify-”

“You just don’t get it,” Mike cuts in sourly. “We have Americans trying to survive, scrapping by on minimum wage jobs, no health insurance, no education, no safety net. And what are we doing for them? Bringing in more people to compete for the same jobs who’s willing to work for less money?”

“Why does it have to be one or the other? We can address those problems without shutting the door on people whose lives are at stake. What kind of country would we be if we left these people to the wolves? Who would we be if-”

Impatient, Mike raises his voice and talks over her. “Because that’s just not how the world fucking works. Grow up, Kara. You can’t magically make everyone happy. There’s only so many resources to go around. We just don’t have the money to help everyone. And don’t even get started on cutting military spending, okay? We both know you’re not good with foreign policy.”

Although Kara knows better, knows that sarcasm will only exacerbate the situation, her annoyance stops from her taking the high road. “Yeah, you’re the expert here because of your Economist subscription. Go ahead and wow me with the facts then.”

With a patronizing sneer, Mike snaps, “Okay, well, at least I don’t delude myself with fucking stupid ideas about world peace and how we can all just hug out our problems.”

Kara’s anger flares, she tightens her jaw and glares at her boyfriend. But she tamps it down, managing a calm, “I don’t like it when you call me stupid. I’m not and it’s mean.”

“I didn’t call you stupid, I called your ideas stupid,” he replies coolly.

His bullheaded response pushes her over the edge, and raising her voice, she yells, “That doesn’t make it better! You can’t just-”

Mike breaks in, “You’re being way too emotional about this. I’m trying to have a nuanced discussion based on facts and logic. You’re just, like, arguing with me based on your feelings. It’s ridiculous.”

The way that Kara’s staring at him right now, that would frighten most people. But Mike isn’t most people. He knows her too well. He knows the limits of what she’ll do and how much he can get away with. He knows that she won’t actually punch him in the face, no matter how much it looks like she wants to.

Finally, she says, “I need to… not be next to you right now.”

As she moves away from him, Mike shouts out the last word, “I told you that we shouldn’t get into it!”

A few feet away, Alex turns to Lena. “Still think she’s better off with that dopey weenie? No, wait, I’m sorry, a hot dog has flavor. He’s more like a pile of uncooked oatmeal." Alex frowns as she rethinks that. "That seems unfair. Oatmeal has nutritional value."

Lena hardly knows what to say about the trainwreck she just witnessed. “That… escalated really quickly.”

“You should see what happens when the Second Amendment comes up.”

Lena nods at Kara, who’s moved to the far side of the room, joining James and Winn at a table. “I should check on her.”

“Oh, I don’t know if you want to get that close for act two,” When Lena looks at her quizzically, Alex says, “Just trust me. I know this show by heart.”

A few minutes later, Lena finds out what Alex means when she sees a contrite-looking Mike approach Kara, pulling her aside. She’s too far away to hear what he’s saying, but she knows groveling when she sees it. He has his head bowed close to Kara’s ear, his hand on her upper arm, and it looks like he’s apologizing profusely. She sees Kara nod stiffly, pat him on the shoulder, then turn and walk away, evidently not quite ready to forgive. Mike looks dejected and slumps off.

“Don’t get excited,” Alex says. “There’s still act three.”

Act three comes soon enough. Lena doesn’t need Alex’s cue to know when it’s starting. Because Mike’s climbing on top of the bar, holding a microphone that he managed to scrounge up from the bar staff.

“Excuse me, everyone,” he says into the microphone, his voice piping out from the bar’s speakers. “Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to take a moment to wish a very happy birthday to my girlfriend. The most amazing, most beautiful, kindest, smartest, funniest woman in the world. And she’s a hell of a dancer too. Kara. You were right. I was wrong. I was a huge asshole tonight and I’m sorry. Now, I’m just a simple country boy. I don’t know very much, but I know that I don’t deserve you. I know that I’ve cashed in all the karma points I’ve had or will ever have just for the privilege of knowing you. I can’t believe how lucky I am that you’re mine. I love you so much.”

The crowd coos and awws, looking to Kara for her reaction, whose face is bright red but not exactly displeased. Alex scoffs. Her arms folded across her chest and leaning against the bar, she’s screaming out just how little she thinks of this performance without the words.

Mike continues, eyes on Kara, making this a very public conversation. “I’m asking for your forgiveness, whenever you find it in your heart to do that. In the meantime, I’m throwing myself at your feet for your mercy.” He pauses for effect, throwing out one of his charming, megawatt grins. “And your entertainment.”

He nods at James by the jukebox, and James hits a button. The music starts to play a pop song that Lena doesn’t recognize. Judging by the excited expression on Kara’s face though, she immediately knows what it is.

Before he begins his impromptu karaoke, Mike glances over at Lena, maintaining eye contact for two brief seconds. She finds it an extremely strange gesture until she hears the opening lines to the song:

She don't care about my car
She don't care about my money
And that's real good cause I don't got a lot to spend
But if I did it wouldn't mean nothin’
She likes me for me

Mike’s getting into the song, singing off-key and dancing on top of the bar. The crowd cheers him on. (Mostly. There are a few irritated audience members deeply unappreciative of having their evening hijacked and shouting out, “Shut the fuck up!” and “Get off the bar!”) Kara claps along, grinning wildly. Lena stands there, frozen and horrified, thinking, things like this don’t happen in real life. Yet here they were, in the middle of what feels like a theatrical climax, and what might seem cute on screen is excruciatingly awkward to experience in real life. At least it is if you’re Lena, who has zero interest in these grandiose public displays. And then there’s that tiny matter where she wants Mike to be slingshotted into the sun. That doesn’t help endear her to the scene either.

When the song comes to an end, Kara rises and moves towards the bar. Mike hops down and meets her halfway, and they embrace with a kiss to the background cacophony of cheers and applause. Which lasts all of three seconds before it dies quickly, everyone eager to get back to their own business.

Lena has the sudden urge to burn the entire fucking bar to the ground. Surely she can do that. She’s a billionaire. She’ll buy this building - this whole city block - and raze it to the ground.

Alex grumbles sardonically, “Well, that’s another ‘90s pop song ruined for me.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“More than it should.” Alex turns towards Lena, her solemn expression tinged with weariness and a touch of sadness. “Here’s the thing about Kara. She’s capable of infinite forgiveness. She’ll give people chance after chance after chance beyond all semblance of what’s rational or reasonable. Then you take a perennial fuck up like Mike Matthews, throw in a lifetime diet of romcoms, and this is what you get: a neverending cycle of absolving mistakes with grand romantic gestures.

“Stand her up on your anniversary to go to a hockey game? Hire a skywriter. Leave her stranded at a bus station all night because you passed out from drinking with your frat brothers? Flood her dorm with flowers for weeks. Move to Germany on a whim and miss yet another Valentine’s Day? Hire some acapella-singing ducks. It’s sweet and romantic and she forgives him and everything’s fine until he does it again. So he can be thoughtless and selfish and do what he wants, when he wants, with hardly a thought of how it affects Kara. But then he’ll do something big and romantic and thoughtful and dashing, then she has to forgive him.

“Because that’s the problem with a grand romantic gesture. There’s a hidden price tag to it, an emotional debt that has to be repaid. When someone does this huge, indulgent thing, putting in so much thought and effort for you, you’re expected and obligated to be thankful and let them off the hook. How could you not? It’s just so sweet. So she’ll forgive him. Again. Kara thinks he’s a good guy because he always apologizes for his mistakes. But apologies are meaningless if there’s no follow through.”

“But Kara puts up with it,” Lena points out. “She chooses it for herself.”

“Yeah,” Alex concedes with a pained grimace. “He’s got a hold on her. It’s all that history. Kara, she- she’s lost so much and he’s the last little bit of a life she used to have. She just can’t let it go. I guess I get it in theory, but at this point, it’s become so masochistic that I don’t really understand it.”

“I think I do,” Lena answers softly.

“Yeah, I know,” The way Alex looks at her, it can almost be described as fondly. “Two stupid masochists fucking up your lives. You’re perfect for each other.” When Lena scoffs and makes a face, Alex affably nudges her with her shoulder. “Come on. I’ll get you another drink.”

“I really do have to go,” Lena says apologetically. “I have an early meeting.”

This time, Alex doesn’t try to make her stay.

Kara does though. And she does it in a much more tactile way. She throws her arms about Lena’s neck, her whole body sinking into her as she buries her nose against Lena’s shoulder blade.

“Just ten more minutes,” whines Kara, too drunk for propriety. “I didn’t really get a chance to talk to you tonight.”

It’s Alex who manages to peel Kara off. “Kara, come on. Lena has to go.”

Kara pouts, but reluctantly nods. She says goodbye to Lena. Then, before Alex can stop her, rushes forth and pulls Lena into a tight hug goodbye. She grips onto her firmly, and if Lena didn’t step back, it’s uncertain that she would have ever let go.

Someone has to say something. Alex would rather that it isn’t her, but if not her, who else?

She waits until Lena’s long gone and Kara marginally sober. They’re standing outside the bar with Kelly, waiting for their ride. Mike had already left, off to meet his friends at another party. Normally, this is the type of thing that Alex would give him grief for, but tonight, she lets it go because it gives her a chance to talk to Kara without him lurking in the background.

Kara’s pacing in a small circle along the sidewalk, craning her neck to look for their car. She’s twirling and toying with a pretty heart-shaped pendant around her neck, a birthday gift from Mike.

“Hey,” Alex starts. “About Lena-”

The necklace slips from Kara’s fingers as she straightens up, a glimmer of interest in her eyes. “Yeah?”

“Maybe you should- I don’t know, cool it with the touching?”

It’s like she’s speaking a foreign language, because Kara just looks totally lost. “What do you mean?”

“You touch her a lot. Like, a lot.”

Kara’s perplexed frown deepens. “I like hugs. I hug you all the time.”

“Yeah,” Alex says slowly. “You really don’t hug me like you hug Lena.”

Kara’s starting to catch on. And with clarity comes anxiety. “Have I been inappropriate?”

“Maybe a little? You’re still touching her like the two of you are still… uh, well...” Alex really hates her life sometimes. Luckily, her girlfriend comes to the rescue.

“You’re still interacting with Lena as if there’s still a physically intimate component to your friendship, but that’s not the case anymore,” Kelly explains. “That might be confusing for Lena. Probably you too.”

“I, I didn’t realize.” Kara shakes her head. “Or maybe I did. I guess I didn’t think about it much. We, we spent so many months being close and now suddenly… things are different and I, I, um, I don’t know…”

“You needed time to adjust,” Kelly supplies for her. “It’s a big change. It was sudden. Neither of you expected your relationship to change so soon. It’s okay to need a bit of time to get used to the new normal.”

Kara nods in short, rapid movements, staring hard at the ground, absorbing every word. “I do. I need to adjust. Lena is one of my favorite people in this world and I would never, ever want to make her feel uncomfortable.” She places her palm flat against the side of her face, rubbing hard. “God! What a total creep I must have been to her all night, with all the unwanted touching!”

“Uh, yeah, I wouldn’t say that it’s exactly unwanted,” Alex quips. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it resonates with Kara. She drops her hand, and looks upon her sister with intense interest.

“What does that mean?” she asks, hope and excitement already seeping in. “Alex, did she say something to you? Does she still like me?”

Contritely, with sorrow that she cannot provide the answer her sister so desperately wants, Alex replies, “Oh, Kara. I don’t know. I’m not sure. She’s definitely still attracted to you and I think she’d be crazy not to have romantic feelings for you, but… to be honest, I don’t know her that well and I don’t think I’d really understand her even if I did. It’s clear to me that she cares about you a great deal, but as to what that means...” she shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know, Kara. I wish I did.”

Kara, the walking personification of the adage hope springs eternal, asks, “But do you think she might? You said that it’s not exactly unwanted. So, maybe… maybe she still has feelings for me? Do you think she’s changed her mind again?”

“Even if she does, it doesn’t matter,” Kelly answers, her voice kind but firm. “Not if you’re still with Mike.”

Kara visibly deflates; in acknowledgement, she dips her head, accompanied by a quiet, despondent, “Right. Y- yeah, no, I get it.”

Witnessing her sister’s downcast demeanor, the resulting dull ache in Alex’s chest prompts her to suggest not-too-subtly, “You can change that, you know.”

But Kara, already accepting her defeat, shrugs sadly, “It doesn’t matter. We’re just friends. I know that. I mean, look at her. She’s an absurdly hot genius billionaire and I’m- well, I’m-”

Alex cuts in, “Only the sweetest, most awesome, most all-around-amazing person on the planet?”

Kara chuckles, pleased but a little embarrassed by her big sister’s praise, and dismissively waves her hand. “Never mind. Let’s talk about something else. I don’t need to dwell on this any more than I already have.”

“Okay,” Alex agrees, then unsubtly pivots to an adjacent topic. “You and Mike got into it tonight, huh?”

Which isn’t exactly what Kara had in mind when she asked to talk about something else. She sighs, knowing what’s coming. Reflexively, she touches a hand to the pendant around her neck. “Alex, can we not? It’s my birthday.”

For once, because it’s Kara’s birthday, Alex backs off. “Okay.”

But then it’s Kara who’s not ready to move on. “He already apologized. And anyway, it wasn’t all his fault. He did ask me to not get into it. But I, I just had to keep pushing.”

“Because it’s important to you.”

“But it isn’t to him. He didn’t want to talk politics tonight and I should’ve respected that,” Kara replies stiffly.

“You want me to hold you responsible too? Yeah, fine, you shouldn’t have brought up an emotionally charged political debate when you’re born half-drunk at a bar in the middle of the night. But does it matter who started it? The point is things got out of hand really quickly and that’s not a good sign.”

“Whatever,” Kara mutters, so low that it’s barely decipherable. “We don’t have to agree on everything.”

“Of course you can disagree, especially on hard issues. Kelly and I bicker on a ton of things. But you have to be able to do it respectfully.”

With a dismissive wave, Kara says, “We’re working on it.”

“As if you haven’t already had twenty-something years to work on it?”

Kara rolls her eyes on exasperation, clearly more annoyed than influenced by Alex’s comment. “People can grow, Alex. You just need to give them a chance.”

Kelly intercedes with, “I think Alex just means that ‘working on it’ isn’t the only option you have in this situation.”

“That’s right,” Alex says. “You have choices here, Kara.”

Although Kara hums in acknowledgement, it’s not clear whether she’s really listening. She’s standing with one foot off the curb, craning her neck and scoping down the street, watching and waiting for their car to show up.

So Alex says again, “You have choices, Kara.”

“Oh!” Kara exclaims in excitement. “There’s our ride. Finally!”

Then Kara’s skittering off to the car, leaving behind her sister and any indication that she’s absorbed anything Alex just said. Alex sighs wearily, and Kelly places a placating hand upon her shoulder. She doesn’t even need to try to lie that everything’s fine.