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Bizarre Love Triangle

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Won't you please let me go?
These words lie inside they hurt me so
And I'm not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I'm not the kind that needs to tell you
Just what you want me to

“Age of Consent” - New Order

 

 

In the movies, there’s always a long stretch of hallway for the death row inmate to march down towards her doom, and everything is quiet except for the inmate’s thudding footsteps and thundering heartbeat. Kara thinks of that now as she follows Mike down the hall. Except, instead of prison guards, she’s surrounded by taxidermied moose and bison.

They exit the Hall of North American Mammals and into the main hallway, where it’s still relatively quiet, with only a few people passing through. Kara expects Mike to stop so they could talk, but he keeps going, and she feels compelled to follow. He takes her back to Cullman Hall where they had dinner. Dinner hour is winding down, but there are still plenty of people milling about. Kara doesn’t get it. It’s the strangest place to pick for an intense heart-to-heart conversation about their relationship.

Mike stops at the meteorite display near the center of the room and waits for Kara to join him.

When she does, before she can say anything, he drops down to one knee.

Then her heart drops too.

“What are you doing?” she whispers furiously at him.

“What I should’ve done a long time ago.” This can’t be happening. It can’t be. But he’s holding a small red jewelry box in his hands and everyone is looking at them. “Kara Danvers-”

Her eyes go wide. “Ohhhhhh no no no no no.”

“-You are the love of my life. You are the reason my heart beats-”

“Mike, no,” Kara says in a hushed, panicked voice. “Please, get up.”

He freezes, uncertainty and confusion all over his face. “What’s that?”

A little louder, trying to ignore the stares from everyone in the room, she hisses, “Get! Up!”

He climbs to his feet, still looking confused as he pockets the ring box. Kara turns and rushes - no, flees - up the stairs, making a beeline for the nearest exit.

She bursts out into the cold December night, uncaring of how the chill feels against her jacketless body. Mike follows close behind her.

Spinning around to face him, she shrieks, “Are you out of your frickin’ mind?!”

With his jaw hanging loose in surprise, Mike asks with genuine bewilderment, “What?”

“What? What?!” Even to Kara’s own ears, her voice sounds shrill. “You just caught me with my hand down another woman’s pants! And your response is to propose?! What the hell, Mike?!”

“Well, that wasn’t the impetus,” Mike responds, making himself sound very reasonable about it. “I was already planning on doing it tonight. It’s perfect. You love museums and space stuff.”

“Then what you just saw back there should’ve made you change your mind!” Kara shakes her head, feeling weary and exhausted. “Mike, this isn’t working. We- we have to break up.”

Mike furrows his eyebrows quizzically. “What? What do you mean? Why?”

“What do you mean ‘what do you mean’?!” Kara’s starting to feel like she’s losing her mind. “I just cheated on you!”

Breezily, Mike responds, “You didn’t cheat on me.”

Now Kara’s wondering if Mike is the one who’s lost his mind. “Uh. Yes, I did.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“You literally caught me on top of Lena ten minutes ago!”

“Yeah, but I said you could. Remember? I gave you a hall pass for her ages ago. So.” He shrugs lazily. “It doesn’t count if it’s Lena. We’re all good.”

In astonishment and near-delirium, Kara blinks owlishly at him. “Okay, but the fact that I thought it was cheating and then I went ahead and did it anyway? That’s bad, Mike. That’s really bad.”

“Oh, I don’t see it that way.” He looks and sounds so placid, as if none of this bothers him in the slightest.

“Mike.” Kara scrambles for something that’ll snap him out of this. “I’m in love with Lena, okay?”

“I know that you think so. We’ve talked about this, Kara. It’ll pass. Once we’re back in Krypton, none of this is going to matter.”

“Mike, seriously,” says Kara, pleading now. “This is, this is crazy. It’s not healthy. We shouldn’t be together anymore.”

Turning contemplative, he scrutinizes her carefully, strategizing his next move.

“Hey, I’ll tell you what.” With an easy, carefree smile, he steps closer, resting his hands on her shoulders. That move used to feel reassuring, it had always calmed her in moments of panic. Now they just feel like weight. “Why don’t we put a pin in this for now? When we get back from Krypton, let’s talk. I mean really talk.”

Krypton?” Kara’s aghast that he’s even still thinking about their trip. “I can’t go back home with you after this.”

His smile fades, replaced by dumbfounded perturbation. “But you have to. We’re leaving in two days. We bought plane tickets. We’ve been packing. We’ve done all this stuff already.”

“I, I can’t go to Krypton with you. It’s-” The reasons why she can’t go seem so obvious, she doesn’t even know where to begin. “I just can’t.”

He looks like a kicked, wounded puppy. “But Kara, my parents are really looking forward to it. It’s all my dad’s been talking about. He really wants to see you. Come on, babe. Can’t we just get through the holidays? It’s Christmas.” He, of course, knows how much Kara loves Christmas. And he’s right. Kara hesitates then. The idea of breaking up with him right before Christmas does seem a little harsh. But how long does she have to wait?

Reading the apprehension on her face, Mike adds, “I think my dad really needs this. You know how… how he can’t remember things so well these days. But seeing you, talking about your parents, how things used to be, I think that would be really, really good for him. Just… can we just have one last really good Christmas? Please, Kara. Next year, he… well, he might not be himself by next Christmas. Please. He’s been looking forward to this so much. Let’s give this to him.”

That’s a clincher. Kara deflates, knowing that she’s been beaten. Mike knows it too and grins broadly. “Great, then it’s settled. We’re going to go to Krypton together, as a couple, and when we get back, we can talk about this.” He pulls her in, wrapping his arms securely around her. Kara doesn’t return the hug, but that doesn’t seem to matter. “Thanks, babe. I love you.”

And Kara just can’t think of anything to say in return.

***

She finds Lena in the same spot where she had left her. Lena’s fully dressed now, but sits primly on the same bench, staring at the quartet of Grizzly bears behind the glass, trying to quell the unease inside. You seduced someone’s girlfriend, her Mean Lena taunts. You homewrecker.

But it’s Kara, she tells herself. Kara makes it all worth it. She could bear the homewrecker moniker because Kara makes it worth it. Or so she keeps repeating to herself.

She hears Kara before she sees her, instantly recognizing the sound of her footsteps. When she sees Kara coming around the corner, she lights up with hope and anticipation.

“Is it done?”

Kara stops short. Lena takes in her countenance. Her eyebrows tightly knitted together in worry, the desperate despondency in her eyes, the downturned, downtrodden corners of her mouth, the shoulders drooped in defeat, the hands joined together in anxious fiddling. For what seems like the hundredth time, Lena feels her heart break.

She looks down and away, blinking back tears. “Right.”

The explanation comes rushing out in one long, anxious breath. “No, Lena, it’s not what you think. I love you and I want to be with you. But, right now, it- it’s just- I need some time. I- it’s complicated. Mike’s dad is really sick and we have to leave for Krypton in a couple of days, so… but I, I just need a few weeks. Three weeks. When we come back, I’m going to talk to him and it’ll be over for good. Please, Lena. I just need a little bit more time.”

But it wouldn’t have mattered if Kara had asked for three extra seconds, let alone weeks. That fierce Luthor pride kicks in, igniting petulance and fury, extinguishing any last bit of patience she has. She feels like a fool. A complete, utter fool. Having put her heart on the line twice now, anything short of immediate reciprocation feels like a rejection.

“Three weeks, three months, three years,” Lena answers flatly. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for you, Kara. I won’t be your mistress. I’m not going to live in the shadows, waiting for crumbs of affection, hoping that you’ll finally make up your mind. My mother wasted her life waiting for the wrong person. I won’t do the same.”

“That- that’s not the same thing! This isn’t- I mean, I, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“But you are.” Lena rises from her seat, smoothing her palm over her suit jacket, the simple motion conjuring her corporate front. “I deserve better than what you can offer. I’m not going to be an option for you to exercise when it’s convenient for you. You chose him. Again. That’s all I need to know.”

Kara wants to beg. She wants to sink down and plead for Lena’s patience. Just a little bit more time. Just three weeks. But she doesn’t beg. Not out of pride or some other such foolishness, but understanding that everyone has a limit and it looks like Lena’s reached hers. She won’t talk Lena into anything. She knows how bad that feels.

Seeing that Kara has nothing else to say, Lena sighs. “That’s it, Kara. I’m done. I have to be. I can’t keep going in circles with you. I don’t want anything to do with this anymore, this relationship or arrangement or friendship or whatever you want to call it. I don’t want anything to do with you at all.”

All Kara can do is nod faintly and return hoarsely, “I understand.”

A pause, in which Lena holds Kara’s gaze, and for that briefest of seconds, feels her resolve shake and nearly break. Then the moment passes, and Lena steels herself.

“Goodbye, Kara.”

***

“...and then she left.” Kara finishes with a helpless, tired shrug. “So that’s… that’s it. It’s over. Um, again. But, uh, I think for good this time.”

Kara is curled up on the couch in her sister’s living room, flanked by Alex and Kelly, with Nia in a chair on the other side of the coffee table.

Silence follows, as the other three women struggle to think of something to say.

Then Nia asks, “Can you go back to the part where you had sex with Lena in front of a bunch of dead bears?”

“They weren’t dead bears!” Kara protests. “They were like… preserved figures. They’re basically just big dolls. And we didn’t, um, we didn’t really, get to, um, you know.”

“Only because you were interrupted,” Nia points out. “And do you think it sounds better to say that you almost had sex in front of taxidermied bears? Because it doesn’t.”

Alex, looking pained, mutters, “We really don’t have to talk about this.”

But Nia continues, “What was it like? Did it feel like the bears were watching you? Oh, wait - is that why you did it? Are you guys into that?”

Turning red, Kara sputters, “N- no! I- I didn’t- I didn’t even notice any of that! I wasn’t thinking about anything but Lena. My mind was, um… well, Lena’s very distracting!”

“Yeah, I bet Lena’s very distracting when you’ve stripped her half-naked.”

“What are you going to do about Mike?” Alex asks quickly before Nia can force her to listen to any more discussions of her sister’s ursine sex habits.

“I… well, he needs me right now,” is Kara’s feeble non-answer.

Bluntly, without an ounce of sympathy, Alex says, “I don’t care what he needs.”

This candor only upsets Kara, who shifts and repositions herself in agitation. “Alex, come on. That’s so cold. He’s losing his dad and he’s scared.”

Interceding, Kelly says gently, “Kara, we just don’t want to see you prioritize Mike’s needs over your own well-being.” Alex nods along in agreement. “You can’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm. If you’re not happy with him, you have to do what’s right for you.”

Kara nods. “Y- yeah. I, well, Mike knows that when… when we get back from Krypton, we’re going to talk.”

“Talk? Kara, there’s nothing to talk about!” Alex resists the urge to grab her sister and shake sense into her. “End it. End it now. End it now and go be happy with Lena.”

“You didn’t see her,” Kara retorts in a shaky, cracked voice. “She wants nothing to do with me after that, Alex. Of course she doesn’t. Not after everything I’ve put her through.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Nia says gently. “She was angry. Sometimes we say things that we don’t mean in the heat of the moment. Maybe now that she’s had some time to calm down, she feels differently?”

“Look, forget Lena for a second,” Alex says. “No matter what happens with her, you still have a Mike problem.”

“He’s not a problem,” Kara returns tiredly. “Alex, there’s no need to be so mean to him all the time.”

“Yeah, well, he deserves it,” grumbles Alex darkly.

Looking to de-escalate, Kelly adds, “Alex just means that Mike’s put you in bad spots before. Even if you think he meant well. Like now, insisting that you go to Krypton with him when he knows that you want to end your relationship. I understand that he needs emotional support during a difficult time, but he should be getting that support from someone other than a girlfriend who’s tried to break up with him three times now.”

Feeling her frustration beginning to rise, Alex inhales sharply, trying to rein in her ire. “Kara, if you go to Krypton with him, he’s going to do something big and romantic or big and sad. Either way, he’s going to come up with something so that you don’t leave. You’re going to be stuck in Krypton forever. Is that what you want?” As a horrifying thought occurs to her, Alex mutters lowly, “Oh, god, that idiot’s going to buy her a house. Kara, do not let him buy you a house! Surprise mortgages aren’t romantic!”

“He’s not going to-” Kara stops short when she realizes that she can’t be totally sure that Mike wouldn’t do something like that. “Well, I’m not going to be ‘stuck’ in Krypton. You make it sound like such a horrible thing, but it’s not! It’s a nice place, Alex.”

Nia raises her hand to grab the sisters’ attention. “Wait. Let me get this straight. So your choices were to stay in New York City with a beautiful billionaire who’s madly in love with you or… go back to middle-of-nowhere Krypton, Minnesota and live the rest of your life in strip mall suburbia with… Mike?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that!” Kara cries out, directing her irritation at Nia in a way she had never done before. “I had a lovely childhood, a lovely life. Krypton was good to me. I wouldn’t be who I am without Krypton- without Mike! And yeah, I know he has his faults, but… he loves me. You don’t see all the things he does. He makes me laugh, he goes to all these restaurants with me even though he doesn’t even care about food, he buys me flowers just because. He, he’s a good person.”

“Okay, fine, he’s a good person,” Alex says, making a concession she doesn’t quite believe in. “But is he your person? Because he might be the greatest person in the world and it wouldn’t matter if you‘re not right for each other. What do you really have in common besides Krypton?”

“Alex, you don’t get it, none of you get it,” Kara snaps at them. “It’s so easy for you to dismiss it because you think Krypton is just some dinky town. But it’s so much more than that. I had a life before you, Alex, and as much as I love you and mom, I loved that life too. I had parents, I had friends, I had a stuffed sea lion named Wally and all of that is just gone now. But not when I’m with Mike because he remembers. He’s the only one that does.”

Kelly delicately starts, “Kara, we understand that-”

But Alex sits up straight, raising a hand up, telling her girlfriend I got this without the words. Wordlessly, Kelly sits back, letting Alex take the reins.

“I hear you, Kara. I’m not going to pretend like I really understand what Krypton means to you, but I hear you when you tell me that it’s important to you. And you know what? If you tell me that being with Mike in Krypton is what you truly, truly want, then I’ll support you, one hundred percent. I’ll buy plane tickets, I’ll help you pack, I’ll start planning my vacations to include a trip out to Minnesota every year.

“Because you can pick Mike or Lena or neither, you can live in Krypton or New York or Tulsa or Tunisia, that doesn’t matter to me. I’ll support whoever you want to love and I’ll come visit you wherever you want to live. Kara, I don’t care what you choose as long as you do. I just need to know that this is you choosing for yourself and not just you acquiescing to the life you’ve always known. Choose the life you want, Kara. That’s all I’m asking.”

Kara sits in a speechless stupor, staring at her sister as her mind races and races, struggling to process all the thoughts and emotions she feels. Everyone sits quietly, waiting for her.

“Yeah,” she says at long last with a soft exhale.

***

When Andrea storms into Lena’s office, waving her cellphone around, Lena thinks that something terrible has happened to the company.

But instead, Andrea spits out, “Why is Kara Danvers on her way to the airport with her boyfriend?”

Already feeling a headache coming on, Lena leans back in her chair. “Why do you even know that?”

Andrea shakes her head dismissively. “Sam and I started a group chat with Alex where we gossip about sad, useless gays. It’s basically a Lena Luthor fan club. Don’t change the subject. Why is Kara Danvers leaving and why aren’t you doing anything about it? Alex is legitimately worried that Kara might not ever come back. She thinks that the boyfriend’s going to have some trick to make her stay in… well, whatever bumblefuck town she’s from.”

“What am I supposed to do about it? She made her choice.”

“You’re supposed to put up a fight and not just roll over and play dead. Especially when you know that you’re the one she loves. But I’m hearing that you told her that you don’t want anything to do with her? Because she asked you to wait a few weeks?” In emphasis, Andrea gesticulates wildly with her phone-clad hand. “Woman, are you serious?”

Struggling to remain calm, Lena replies, “I am. I’m not going to be a back-up for her, just some option she takes when it’s easy for her.”

“That is clearly not what’s happening here.”

“Okay, we’re at work right now. We’re not going to sit around and gossip about my personal life.” Lena nods at the door. “And you’re going to be late for your meeting with Rutgers if you don’t leave now.”

With a quick glance at her phone, Andrea confirms that Lena’s right. She gives a small stomp of her foot. “Fine. But we’re not done talking about this.”

Andrea rushes out, and Lena turns her attention back to her computer, trying to focus on work. It very nearly works. She’s almost managed to read through an entire email without thinking about Kara when there’s a knock on her door.

“Andrea, you better-” She looks up, ready to scold, but the figure at the door is an even more unwelcome one than Andrea. “No, no, no. You can just get out of here right now.”

Brainy freezes, his fist still raised in mid-air, poised to strike the open door, looking perplexed. “Pardon?”

Feeling frustration coursing through her body, Lena defensively folds her arms across her chest. “I know what you’re here to do. Andrea sent you in here to ‘talk some sense into me.’ Kara’s on her way to the airport and the two of you somehow expect me to do something about that. Well, I’m not going to and I won’t change my mind. Your ‘I’m just asking questions because I don’t understand social customs’ schtick is not going to work here today.”

“All right,” Brainy answers mildly.

“You don’t just get to waltz in here like some kind of Spock-Yoda hybrid and pretend like you don’t understand anything and probe and question and get me to rethink everything,” Lena continues fuming. “I know what you’re going to ask too. How can I be so hard on Kara for taking three weeks to help Mike with his sick dad when I kept my feelings to myself for so long? And yes, I’ll accept my share of blame here for my earlier indecision. If I had said something sooner, maybe all this could’ve been avoided. But you know what, Brainy? Someone has to call it quits at some point. Enough is enough.”

“Okay,” is all that Brainy has to say.

“Oh, but now you’re going to ask me why I gave Veronica a million more chances and I can’t give one more to Kara. Well, because it didn’t hurt as much with Veronica. Whenever I gave Veronica another chance, I knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t work out and I was fine with that. But, god, if I try again with Kara and she says no again, I- I don’t know if I could bear it. And yes, I know what that means, and yes, I know that you’re going to ask if it’s worth it for me to turn my back on the greatest love I’ve ever known because I’m letting my traumas and fears dictate my actions. But you don’t get to judge my trauma, Brainy. You don’t get to tell me what’s okay for me to do in response.”

Still standing at the same spot by the door, Brainy nods solemnly. “I would never.”

“Yes, you would! You do! And if I gave you the chance, you’d be asking me if I’m overreacting now because I’m so afraid of turning into my mother. And then you’d ask me if I’m being rational about this because, deep down, I know that the situations are different. And you’d ask me if I really think that Kara is actually choosing Mike this time- and no, I don’t, okay? She’s just trying to be a good person and I know that, but that doesn’t mean it hurt any less when she told me that she can’t be with me right now. So then you’re going to ask me if I’m not just being prideful. You’ll ask if I’d really be happier in the long run cutting Kara out of my life. And I, I don’t know, Brainy. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know what I’m expected to do here. Run off to the airport and stop her from leaving? That’s ridiculous. I couldn’t possibly. So that’s why I need you to just go away and ask me nothing.”

“Right,” Brainy says slowly. “Can I just ask one thing?”

Lena sinks back in her seat, sapped and tired from her ranting. “Fine.”

Brainy holds up a piece of paper in his hands that Lena hadn’t noticed before. “Can you sign off on this incident report? I broke another centrifuge and Andrea says she won’t sign them anymore.”

Taken aback, Lena nods numbly. Brainy approaches, circling around her desk and carefully laying the paper down on her desk. With a trembling hand, Lena picks up a pen and signs her name.

“Thank you,” Brainy responds cheerily.

Wordlessly, she picks up the form and hands it back to him. He takes a hold of the form but doesn’t take it away, prompting her to look up at him. Brainy sees the expression on her face. In a rare, maybe unprecedented moment, he understands everything.

Kindly, he poses one last question to her. “Would you like me to call a car for you?”

Lena’s already reaching for her purse. “Yes, please.”

***

Kara sits in the waiting area for her gate at JFK Airport, listening to the PA system periodically broadcast instructions to the masses, guiding them to where they’re supposed to go and what to do. Pushing through the throngs, Mike heads towards her, holding a paper bag in one hand and pressing his cellphone to his ear with the other.

As he approaches, Kara hears what he’s saying. “It’ll be fine… yeah, no, I’ll make sure… yup, we’ll be there soon... Okay, mom, see you then.” He plops down in the seat next to her, pocketing his cellphone. “That was mom. She’s excited!”

“That’s good,” Kara says quietly.

“Here, I got us some food.” He takes out two paper bowls from the bag, removes the lid from one of them and passes it over to Kara. As he starts in on his own food, he looks around the waiting area for a distraction. “Oh, nice, they have the Wild game on.”

Kara stares down at the offering, a bowl of cilantro-lime chicken and rice. She’s been raised to be appreciative of gifts, no matter how small. But still, she couldn’t help but remark, “There’s cilantro in this.”

Mike has his eyes glued to the hockey game on the TV, mindlessly eating away. “Hmm? Take it out then.”

“I… I can’t, it’s all mixed up in the rice.” She’s looking at him, but he’s still staring at the TV. “Mike, did you remember that I don’t like cilantro?”

Finally, he tears his focus away from the game. “Oh… yeah. I guess I forgot. Sorry, babe.”

“You forgot,” Kara says flatly. “We’ve known each other all our lives. I eat everything and there’s only one thing that I don’t like.”

He sighs. “Don’t make a big deal, okay? I just forgot. It happens. I’ll get you something else if you want.”

Kara stares at him. His handsome, familiar face has always imparted a sense of comfort and roused feelings of affection. But in that instance, it’s like a veil has been lifted. Suddenly, he looks different to her even though nothing has changed. The features that she knows so well are all in the right place, exactly as she’s always seen them, but now they somehow felt wrong. Because looking at him no longer filled her with contentment. Truthfully, it hasn’t for a while now, although it’s taken her this long to admit it.

She says, “Mike, it’s over.”

He blinks at her, uncomprehending. “What?”

“I’m serious. We’re done. As of this moment, we are no longer in a romantic relationship.”

He rolls his eyes, obviously not taking her seriously. And why should he? They’ve had this conversation before. “All right, babe, I know you’re mad-”

“No, Mike. This isn’t a discussion, let alone a negotiation. I am breaking up with you. I can be your friend and if you need me with you in Krypton, I’ll go, but I’m getting a hotel and I’m not lying to your parents about us. I’ll go see your parents as your friend and nothing more.”

Then it starts to sink in that Kara might actually follow through this time. Mike scoffs in disbelief. “Are you serious? You’re breaking up with me? Over fucking cilantro?”

“It’s not really about the cilantro, Mike. You know it’s not.”

“It’s Lena, then? What, was she so careful and perfect about every single little preference you have?”

“You know, she really was,” Kara replies evenly. “But it’s not about her either. She doesn’t even want anything to do with me anymore and I can’t say I blame her. But even if Lena never talks to me again, it wouldn’t matter, because this is about me and what I want. And… it’s not this.”

Visibly, Mike struggles with this, his mouth flapping ineffectually as he tries to make sense of everything. “W- wha- so- I mean, is this about going back home? You don’t want to move to Krypton? Because I think you’re being hasty. You’re going to see how much you love Krypton on this trip. And if somehow, you don’t, we can talk about it, you know? We can make it work. Do you want to live in the Cities instead?”

“No, Mike. This-” she gestures in between the two of them. “-is what I don’t want.” She draws in a deep breath, steadying herself for this next part. She hadn’t wanted to do this, get into the details and point out all the things that made her unhappy. Perhaps that’s naive. He won’t let it go until he knows. And maybe not even then. “This isn’t the kind of love that I want. Because it’s not about you forgetting what I like, it’s about the hundreds of other little things you don’t remember about me, don’t care to remember, the things you do without asking me, the decisions you make for both of us, and all the other ways you don’t prioritize me.”

“Don’t prioritize you?!” Mike exclaims indignantly, looking insulted. “What are you talking about? I quit my job for you! I moved to New York for you! I built my whole fucking life around you!”

Faced with this vitriol, Kara reacts instinctively, snapping back, “I didn’t ask for any of that!” She takes a moment then to pause and take a calming breath. “Look, Mike, you’ve done some wonderful things for me, some really big, romantic things. But it’s easy to do a big thing every once in a while, it’s harder to be consistent everyday with the small things. But the small, consistent things are what’s important to me. I want someone who cares if I’m feeling comfortable at a party with their friends, someone who loves listening to my boring work stories, someone who’ll pick cilantro off a taco for me.”

At that, Mike just looks confused. “You’re a grown woman. Why can’t you pick off your own cilantro?”

Kara sighs, shaking her head. “That’s- that’s what I mean, Mike. We’ve spent so much of our lives together and you know so much about me. You might know more about me than anybody else in this world, but it doesn’t matter because you still don’t understand me. And I, you. We value different things. This relationship isn’t good for either of us. We’ve been together for so long. We’ve had so many obstacles, never being in the same place at the same time, and we’ve worked so hard at being together that I don’t think we ever stopped to ask ourselves whether we should. Are you really happy or are you just clinging on to what you’re used to?”

“Yeah, Kara, I am happy,” he retorts, decidedly un-happily. “Because I love you. I’m committed to you. To us. So I don’t even understand where the fuck this is coming from. Jesus. And right before we’re about to get on a plane to see my family for Christmas? Fuck, Kara, that’s awful.”

Her placid demeanor finally cracking, Kara returns sharply, “Okay, let’s not pretend that this is the first time I’ve tried breaking up with you.”

“Well, then, we’ve worked it out all those other times, so what’s the big deal?” He shakes his head, making no attempts to conceal his frustration. “Come on, Kara. This is so shitty, why would you do this right now? And right after I finally told my mom that you’re coming?!”

“Hey, I didn’t plan it this w-” Her brain finally processes what Mike just said, finding it incompatible with what she already knows. “Wait, what do you mean you finally told your mom that I’m coming? You told me that they were looking forward to me visiting.” As he goes ashen, Kara jumps to her feet; he follows suit, scrambling to his feet and backing away. “Mike. Did you just tell your mom about me coming? When you were on the phone with her just now?”

“Uhh…” With each step Kara takes, he matches her, retreating timidly, holding up both hands as if trying to soothe a wild animal. “Okay, yeah, so you know how my mom gets. She’s always had this weird thing where she’s not always totally thrilled at seeing you? So, uh… yeah, I might not have told her until just now? But she was totally fine with it! She wasn’t mad!”

“Well, I am!” Kara barks, uncaring that she’s starting to draw attention. The agent at the boarding gate is watching the pair with concerned interest. “You told me that your dad was excited for me to visit! No, that he needed me to visit!”

“And he is! Or, uh, he would be if he knew. Which he does now!”

And it’s not so much that Kara cares about being lied to per se, it’s more the devastating realization of what she did because of his lie.

“Oh, god. I broke Lena’s heart for this,” Kara moans, feeling her chest tighten with grief. “For you, because you made me think that your dad needed this. You lied to me!”

Mike backs up against the wall, out of space to run. “It was just a white lie! And I only did it because I knew that you’d be so happy once we were back in Krypton. Y- y- you’d see how wonderful things could be with the two of us back home. Please, Kara, once we’re back, you’ll see what I mean. Then you’ll get why I did this.” The PA system comes on, announcing that their flight is now boarding for their section. Mike smiles brightly when he hears the announcement, pointing an index finger up at the ceiling. “Hey, that’s us. Let’s board before all the overhead space is gone.”

Kara gapes at him, unable to believe what she’s hearing. “You have completely lost your mind. There is no way I’m getting on that plane with you now.”

And Mike has the gall to look surprised and crestfallen. “Oh, Kara, let’s not do anything crazy. We’re already here. Let’s just get on the plane and we’ll talk about this.”

“No!” That response doesn’t feel quite strong enough. “Make that a hell no. I’m not going to Krypton with you. Not as a girlfriend, not as a friend, not as anything, not now, not ever. Bye, Mike. Have a good flight and a wonderful life.”

She turns and starts walking away. Mike yelps loudly, circling around her and blocking her path. “Wait, wait. Where are you going? What are you going to do? You’re here, your luggage’s already on the plane, you booked time off from work- you might as well just come.”

“I’m going to pack up my things and move out of Scooter’s basement so that I’m gone by the time you get back and we don’t have to see each other again.” She’s blunt and her tone clipped, no longer caring to try and dull the force of her words.

“No! You can’t go!” Mike cries in distress. “I- I’ve got a surprise waiting for you in Krypton, you have to come back with me! Oh- here-” Mike pulls out his cellphone and pulls up a picture of a happy-looking beagle puppy. “Look. He’s yours. I got you an engagement puppy. He’s waiting for you in Krypton!”

“You- what- I-” Kara feels like her brain has short-circuited, suffering from information overload. “Are you seriously trying to bribe me with a puppy right now?”

Mike, evidently only now realizing how absurd it sounds, mutters a quiet, chastened ‘no’ and attempts to discreetly tuck his phone away.

“Oh my god,” Kara moans sadly, quietly, desperately as it all finally sinks in. Like a rotted-out pillar finally succumbing to the ravages of time and decay, in its shattering, it levels the entire structure it had been precariously supporting for so long. In the aftermath, amidst the rubbles of their relationship, there is painful clarity.

“I am such an idiot. I am such a fucking idiot. I- I’ve wasted my life on you! The guy who thinks that it’s okay to lie to get me to Krypton and gets me a puppy to- to do what, exactly? Get me to stay there? My god, Mike. I’ve always, always stuck up for you and I made excuses for you time and time again. Because in my mind, you were that boy who I grew up with, who defended me when the older kids picked on me, who always let me have the icing-half of the Oreo at lunch even when I lost the twist-off game, who snuck into R-rated movies with me. And maybe that’s the problem. You’re still that boy, because you haven’t grown out of that stage where you act so selfish and manipulative to get what you want.”

Red-faced and squirming, Mike stammers, “I, I, I’m trying to protect our future here.”

“And in the process, destroyed mine. The one that I wanted. With Lena.” Kara shakes her head, disgusted with herself. “I have to go. I have some groveling to do.”

But Mike isn’t done with his own groveling yet. When Kara moves around him, he grabs a hold of her forearm, pulling her back.

“Kara, you can’t just go. Let’s stay and talk about this.”

Incensed that he dares to physically restrain her, Kara forcefully shoves him in the chest and pushes him away.

“Do not touch me,” she seethes at him.

Which doesn’t make any sense to him, because how is he supposed to make her listen to his side if she’s trying to leave?

He reaches out for her again. “Kara, come on-”

She slaps his hand away before he can reach her. “I’m serious. Don’t do that.”

But he doesn’t believe her. Because in his mind, he knows Kara and knows that she doesn’t mean it. He comes right back and this time, he’s quick enough to seize her arm again.

Kara wrests her arm away and takes a big step back. In a clear, firm voice, she tells him, “Mike. If you touch me again, you’re going to regret it.”

Mike scoffs. Kara’s being dramatic right now, but this is all just a big misunderstanding. He just needs to calm her down and get through to her. He goes to an old, familiar move which he’s done to placate her dozens of times before: he clamps down on her shoulders with both hands, pressing firmly, as if driving her into the ground.

“Okay, babe, you’re just really emotional right now-”

It happens fast.

In one fluid motion, Kara shrugs, heaving his hands off of her shoulders. Reacting, driven purely by emotions, she reels back with her right arm and swiftly delivers a powerful jab to the center of his face. Her fist connects squarely with his nose, which crumples like flimsy tissue paper.

Mike cries out as searing pain rips through him. He stumbles back violently, only to trip into someone behind him; the back of his head snaps against something soft and fleshy. There’s a second sharp cry, then a heavy thud.

The gate agent, an would-be intervenor to the fight, is lying on the floor under Mike, his hands clasped against his mouth which had been struck by Mike’s head, with blood already starting to ooze. Mike moans in pain, his hands flying to his nose, and rolls off, curled up on the ground in a fetal position. Blood flows freely from his twisted nose and seeps through the cracks of his fingers, dribbling down his chin and staining his shirt.

Kara gawks at the scene before her, at the two writhing, injured men on the floor. Stunned, she opens her mouth, but nothing comes out.

***

So that’s how Kara finds herself detained in a small, windowless room at JFK Airport. It’s a plain, nondescript room, holding a simple wooden table with two chairs on one side and one chair on the other. She’s been sitting in there for a long time, waiting for something to happen. She had been escorted here by security and then left there to pace around in the small room, her mind running rampant with the possibilities of what could happen to her now. You don’t mess around in an airport, let alone a New York City airport. Would they allow her to hire a lawyer for the terrorism charges or are they going to just throw her in a dark cell somewhere, never to see the light of day?

When the door to the room creaks open, Kara flings herself up against the far wall, thinking that this is the moment when soldiers will swarm in, bound her in zip ties, throw a black hood over her head, and disappear her forever.

But only one person enters. A familiar figure whose presence instantly brings Kara some much needed relief and joy.

“Alex!” Kara crosses the small room in three quick steps, throwing her arms around her sister. “Oh my god. I thought I was never going to see you again.”

“Um. Okay.” Startled by this greeting, Alex slowly pats her sister on the back. “Why?”

Kara steps back and tries to explain. “Um, well, I punched Mike. And someone else got hurt in the process - um, an airline employee. Isn’t that a felony or something? I mean, that part was an accident, but… still… and, we’re at an airport…” As she says it out loud, Kara starts to realize that maybe she had let her imagination run a little bit wild. “I just, I just thought that I was in a lot of trouble.”

“You could be. I warned you about this. I told you that I don’t have the money to fight the TSA.”

Kara frowns. “What are you talking about? When did you say that?”

“Remember when I set up those three jars for you? Twizzler fund, ice cream fund, bail fund?”

“Oh my god, Alex. That happened almost a year ago and like a million things have happened since then. How do you expect me to remember that?”

“All right, fine, ruin my joke,” Alex mutters.

“What are you even doing here? How did you know?”

“Mike called me. It was a little hard to understand him through the broken nose, but I got the gist of it.”

At the reminder of what she did, Kara rubs her hand over her face, feeling that ever-familiar guilt creeping up. “Oh, god. Mike. I broke his nose. Alex! I can’t believe I did that!”

“Well, I don’t know the exact details, but he was apologizing profusely to me on the phone, so I can only assume that you had a good reason for punching him in the face and even that dense dillweed knows it.” Dropping her voice, she whispers in a conspiratorial tone, “It felt really good, didn’t it?”

Unthinkingly, Kara answers, “Oh my god, it really did.” Her conscience instantly kicks in and she grimaces at what she just said. “I mean, no! That was wrong. Violence is not okay and I should have handled that differently.”

Alex just shrugs. “Yeah, you should’ve waited until I was around so I could see it for myself.”

Alex.

“Okay, okay, fine. I’ll bite my tongue. Anyway, you’re not being arrested. We can go.”

“Really?” Kara asks, astonished that there doesn’t seem to be any consequences. “I- how can that be? What about that gate agent? And all that commotion I caused?”

Alex shrugs. “Airline’s dropping it.”

“What? How? Why? What did you do?”

“Me? Nothing. Like I said, I don’t have that kind of money. Or rather, the kind of connections that come with having money.”

The penny drops. “Lena?” Kara doesn’t know whether this is a good thing or not. “You called her?”

“I ran into her,” Alex corrects with a barely suppressed giddy grin. “She was already here.”

Although Kara has an inkling of why Lena would be at the airport, she doesn’t dare to let herself hope so brazenly, so she asks, “Why?”

“Ask her yourself.” Alex opens the door, then steps aside, revealing Lena, looking glamorous and impeccably dressed as always, but with a nervous expression and fidgety hands clasped in front of her.

“Hi,” Lena greets shyly.

Kara’s speechless, staring at Lena like she’s a precious apparition, terrified that one wrong move will break the spell. Alex glances in between the two women. It’s impossible to miss the tension.

“I’ll give you two a minute.” Alex steps outside, closing the door behind her.

Then there’s silence and stillness, neither woman knowing what to say.

It’s Lena who makes the first move, nodding at the seats. Kara consents with her own nod and Lena takes the seat closest to her. Kara then chooses to forgo the single chair by her and rounds the table to sit in the chair next to Lena.

“You- so I- um, h- how- that-” Kara stops, takes a moment to collect herself, and tries again. “Thank you. I don’t know what you did, but thank you for getting me out of trouble.”

“I didn’t do much. I just had to make some connections. Lex golfs with the airline’s CEO, so that was just a five minute call. It took only slightly longer to get a direct line to the superintendent of the Port Authority police. It wasn’t a difficult conversation given that there’s no complainant. Mike’s not cooperating and the airline employee wasn’t seriously hurt. He just bit his lip but he’ll be fine. So I think this whole thing would’ve been dropped eventually anyway. All I did was save everybody some time.”

“That gate agent- he must be really mad though?” Kara asks anxiously. “God, I feel so bad.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, he’s actually quite happy. He wasn’t thrilled initially, to be sure, but he’ll be getting a generous paid ‘medical leave’ for his lip, so he’s satisfied.”

“Because of your five minute call with his CEO,” Kara guesses. Accurately, as it happens.

Lena just shrugs casually. “It’s not as big of a deal as you’d think.”

Kara drops her gaze, unable to look her in the face any longer. “You’re still helping me, even everything that I’ve done…”

“You’ve done nothing except try to do the right thing,” Lena returns sharply.

Kara snorts, soft and derisive. “Yeah, but it wasn’t the right thing at all. All I did was prolong everyone’s misery. I didn’t want to hurt Mike, but then I end up breaking his nose right before we’re flying out to see his family for Christmas. That’s like the worst possible way this could’ve gone. I should’ve broken up with him a long time ago. But I didn’t and I made a huge mess out of everything. And… worst of all, I hurt you and that is unforgivable.”

“I didn’t exactly make it easy,” Lena returns quietly. “I should’ve been upfront with you about my feelings. I knew how you felt and you gave me so many chances to say something, but I… I thought I was doing the right thing by letting you go. So you weren’t the only person doing the wrong thing for what you thought were the right reasons.”

“I guess we both just should have been upfront. Alex was right.” Kara sighs, heavy and resigned. “God, she’s going to be insufferable about this.”

“Mmm,” Lena concurs with a light hum. “She’s earned it though.”

“Yeah. I definitely owe her an apology too,” Kara mutters. “I’m really sorry, Lena. I’m so sorry for hurting you. I… I just want you to know that it was never about choosing Mike over you. It wasn’t about him. Or even you. It was just…”

“Krypton,” Lena finishes for her. “I know, Kara. I get it. We’ve both done very silly, very ridiculous things to hold on to the past. I’m right there with you.”

“Well, mine was just slightly more destructive than sitting in the dark listening to the Cranberries,” Kara replies sardonically. “I loved my old life, I loved Krypton, my family, and all the memories I have, but I screwed everything up trying to keep that connection alive. But I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m completely done with Mike on every level and I’m not going to Krypton. It’s not my home anymore and it’s about time that I move on.”

Delicately, Lena asks, “So you and Mike… that’s permanent?”

“Very. Breaking someone’s nose really solidifies a break up, you know? My only regret is not doing it sooner. I mean, the… breaking up part. Not the punch-to-the-face part. I have a lot of good memories with him but that’s all it is. Just memories. We weren’t right for each other. I should’ve seen that a long time ago.” Kara pauses, then adds dryly, “Plus, I’m starting to suspect that he can be kind of an ass?”

Lena lets out a polite, noncommittal hum, as non-judgmentally as she can muster. Kara laughs, seeing right through her feigned diplomacy.

“Yeah, okay, and I feel like an ass too, for not having seen it earlier. I feel so incredibly stupid.”

“Don’t. You’re not the first person to find themselves stuck in an unhappy relationship and you won’t be the last. At least you finally handled it.”

“By breaking his nose,” Kara reminds her.

“I didn’t say that you handled it perfectly.”

Kara chuckles lightly. “No, definitely not.”

In the silence that follows, Kara notes Lena’s demeanor. Yes, there’s relief and hope, but Kara also sees the apprehension. And she knows what Lena’s thinking.

So, reassuringly, she adds, “I didn’t do it for you, you know. You didn’t break us up. That relationship wasn’t good, and it wasn’t what I wanted. It was just what I was used to. I wasn’t happy and I didn’t even know it. I ended it for me, for my own good.”

Silently, Lena takes in Kara’s words as the absolution she so desperately needs. She takes a moment then to work up the courage to take her turn at honesty. Kara sits next to her quietly, waiting patiently for her to be ready.

Hesitantly, she starts. “So… I suppose I should explain why I’m here.”

Kara hums in agreement. “That would be nice. Because from where I’m sitting, it looks like you rushed to the airport to stop me from leaving.”

“Well, yes. But… also no?” That doesn’t help clarify anything. Lena clears her throat and tries again. “I didn’t come to try and stop you. I just came to tell you that I think I was reacting pridefully out of hurt the other day and I… I said some things I didn’t mean. You add value to my life and I… I’d like to keep you in it, in whatever capacity that works for both of us.”

“You could’ve just texted me,” Kara replies wryly.

Lena lets out a small chuckle, ducking her head in sheepish acknowledgment. Maybe rushing to the airport was a touch dramatic. “I wanted to tell you in person. But I also want you to understand that this isn’t some grand romantic gesture. This is a… small platonic gesture. There are no expectations and no obligations here. I’m not asking you for anything. Really. Because I don’t want to feel like the reason you’ve left your boyfriend and you just came out of a long-term relationship. You know how I feel and I know how you feel, but… this past year has been turbulent for both of us. I think maybe we both need to hit pause on all the romantic dramatics. After everything that’s happened, maybe it’s time to… take a breath.”

“Okay,” Kara says slowly, letting Lena’s words sink in. The disappointment comes swiftly but dissipates just as soon. As the idea settles with her, she finds herself actually relieved. No pressure. No expectations. No need to do or feel something to match or appease another person’s feelings. “So… then, where do we go from here?”

Lena thinks it over. The answer comes to her quickly. “You know, I’m a little hungry, and I suddenly have the strongest craving for momos. Do you know where I can find some good ones?”

A full smile blooms on Kara’s face, dazzling and alluring in its utter, unrestrained joy.

“Yeah, I think I can help with that.”