The gorgeous woman raised a single eyebrow.
Rao, was that even legal?
Wait, no. Had she just…? Kara's cheeks started to burn as her mind caught up again and she quickly closed her still open mouth. Oh no. She had not seriously just whoa-ed at this woman! She had to get a grip on herself. What was wrong with her?! “Um… I mean… wh-what?”
A smirk appeared on the woman’s lips. Kara wanted the ground to swallow her and put her out of her misery. How eloquent of her. She had surely impressed her with that one.
The woman nodded towards the men that were still laughing among themselves. “Pigs. This woman just saved dozens of lives, not to mention her incredible powers and what this could mean for the country. And yet…”
Kara opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out. What was wrong with her?! She needed to say something. Continue the conversation. Or this gorgeous stranger would leave. She would think that she was a weirdo and leave. She could not let that happen!
However, before she could make up her mind, the silence between them was thankfully interrupted by the reporter.
“We’re going live to Michael Matthews who’s at the scene right now. Michael, is there any news on who this mysterious flying woman is? Or what she is?”
The woman’s attention turned to the TV and Kara let out a sigh of relief before she followed her example. This would at least give her a little time to regain her senses. This was embarrassing.
“Well, Julia, despite her outward appearance, I suppose we can all agree that she is definitely not human. The people of National City have not seen her before, so this leaves the question of where she comes from. How long has she been living in National City? Is she just passing through? Was it simply a coincidence that led to the rescue? Or does National City have their very own superhero?”
“This brings up a very interesting question, Michael. Where is she now and does she have any connection to Superman?”
“You are right, of course. People are indeed wondering if there is a relation to the Man of Steel. Eyewitnesses report that this mysterious woman seems to have shown similar powers…”
Groaning, Kara adjusted her glasses. Hours before, she would have been overjoyed by these comments. She always wanted to be a superhero. Now, however, it left a bitter taste in her mouth. All she could see was the look in Alex’s eyes before she left her apartment.
“Not a fan of Superman, hm?” the woman asked her before giving the barkeeper a signal. “Scotch, please.”
“Wha- me?” Kara pointed at herself and forced out a loud laugh. “Me? Not liking Superman? Why on Earth… who doesn’t like Superman? Everyone loves him! Well, I mean, except for his enemies, I suppose, because that would just be… weird.”
The woman only looked at her for a long moment and took a sip of her drink.
“And I’m, like, so not an enemy of Superman. How ridiculous. I mean, do I disagree with him? Sure, sometimes, but that happens in every family —” Kara stopped herself mid-sentence and her eyes went wide. What was she doing?! What had she just said?! “I mean, family, like… as in… aren’t we all… a huge… family… on this planet? Earth? That we’ve all been born on? Except for Superman, of course! But we, humans, humankind, aren’t we all a big family? Somewhat dysfunctional at times, sure, but… still family, right?”
“Family?” the woman muttered, not taking her eyes off of her. “I suppose that’s certainly an… interesting metaphor.”
“Exactly!” Kara pointed at her and nodded vehemently. “That’s exactly what I mean!”
The woman hummed and watched her for a few seconds. Kara desperately tried to think of something to say that would turn this conversation away from that subject. Going with the first thing that came to mind, Kara smiled at her seat neighbor and extended her hand.
“I’m Kara, by the way. Nice to meet you…?”
The woman glanced at her hand, seemingly confused at the sudden change of topic. Then she hesitantly accepted the handshake. “Lena.”
Lena. That was a nice name. It fit her perfectly. Kara gave her a quick once-over. It appeared as if she had come to the bar straight from the office. Yes, she looked like a successful businesswoman. Kara wondered what exactly her job was. A lawyer maybe? A CEO?
“You’re not from here, are you?”
Kara almost spat out her drink. How did she…? Had she recognized her? How was that possible?! That photo was blurry at best! “What?”
“You don’t know who I am.” Lena furrowed her brow as Kara visibly relaxed. She really had to stop being so paranoid. Alex’s words were getting to her. “That’s why I assumed you’re not from here. Although you could still be a reporter, I suppose. It would certainly not be the first time.”
“Oh, I’m nothing more than a boring assistant, no need to worry about that.” Kara tilted her head and studied her. Was she supposed to recognize her? She was sure she had never seen her before. A face like that was not easy to forget. Perhaps it was only something local. “So everyone in this city knows you from sight? What are you, famous?”
Lena snorted, a bitter smile appeared on her face as she glanced down at her drink.
“Something like that,” Lena muttered before she looked back up. “Anyway, where are you from?”
“National City. I’m… visiting my cousin. Spur of a moment thing, really. It wasn’t well thought out, to be honest. And now…” Kara made a vague gesture at her surroundings. “Now, I’m here and try to forget about it.”
Lena hummed. “You two had a disagreement?”
“I mean, I guess you could call it that? We just… see things differently. He’s not… he just can’t understand.” Kara sighed and glanced down at the counter. “We had very different lives growing up. I guess it’s just… family drama. Nothing special, really.”
“Ah, cheers to that. What would the world be without some good quality family drama?” Lena took a large sip from her scotch. “Isn’t that what families are for?”
“Wow, that’s… that’s actually pretty dark.”
Lena raised an eyebrow at her. “Is it? I’d say it’s realistic. How many families do you know that actually function? You yourself called humankind a dysfunctional family. The term is so widely spread because it is happening all the time. Everywhere. No family is perfect. There is always some kind of drama, some issue. Some bigger than others, of course. But in the end, your family is the one that can really screw you up. Therapists would be out of a job if not for families. Look at all the criminals who hide behind their dark family past. If you listened to them, it seems like having a bad childhood would make you the prime candidate for becoming a serial killer or mass murderer. Childhood traumas can define who you will become. And most of these traumas? Those are on families.”
Kara furrowed her brow as Lena glared at her drink. She couldn’t mean that, could she? “That doesn’t mean that families are generally bad or dysfunctional. There’s so much more to families. They can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Family is… they’re always there for you. They love you, no matter what. You can always count on them, during good as well as bad times. A family is unlimited support and care. They accept you the way you are and they would do anything in their power to see you happy. They will protect you and keep you safe, even if,” Kara sighed as her thoughts drifted to Alex, “even if it means that you butt heads and fight. But they love you nonetheless and they always mean well.”
“That is a lovely point of view, but it is not always the case. Not everyone has a family like that.”
“But you see, a family is not always the one you were born into. You can meet them along the way.” Kara smiled at Lena as the other woman regarded her carefully. “I mean, I lost almost my entire biological family when I was younger and I was absolutely devastated. I thought I would never be happy again. I lost my… my world. Everything I had ever known. But I found a new family or… or rather they found me.” Kara shrugged. “I know I’m incredibly lucky, but… if none of that works out? There are always friendships. I firmly believe that you can choose your own family. They don’t have to be related to you by blood. Blood doesn’t make a family. Love does.”
Lena watched her for a moment before she broke their eye contact and emptied her glass. She gave the barkeeper a sign and he gave her another drink. “It’s not that easy.”
“What do you mean?”
“Choosing your own family.” Lena smiled wryly at her drink and took another sip. She was silent for a few seconds. Then she sighed heavily. “Some of us can’t, you know? We don’t get to choose. It is chosen for us. You can’t just leave that family or choose another. They will be with you forever, no matter what you do. They mark you. They are poisoning the air around you, tainting relationships, making sure you won’t…”
Kara’s eyebrows rose as Lena trailed off. And she had thought her day was bad. In the end, she still had Alex, Eliza, Clark, and Winn. She had people who loved her unconditionally and wanted to keep her safe. Lena, on the other hand… did she have anyone?
Lena rolled her eyes in exasperation. “God, look at me. Whining like a baby.”
“What about… friends?” Kara asked quietly.
“Friends…” Lena threw her an amused look. “Aren’t you adorable?”
Her cheeks started to heat up again and Kara hoped she was not blushing. Maybe the alcohol was finally doing its job. She had certainly consumed more than enough to grant a human alcohol poisoning. She pushed her glasses back up. “Friends can become your family too.”
“People… do not tend to befriend me without any ulterior motives. I would be a fool to think otherwise.” Lena shrugged. “It is what it is. You learn to live with it.”
Kara regarded her thoughtfully. It sounded like a lonely life. Nobody deserved to be alone in this world. Especially not someone like Lena. She had only talked to her for a few minutes, but she already had a feeling that Lena was a good person. A good person who apparently had not always the easiest life. Maybe she could change that? Maybe she could become friends with her?
“Anyways, enough of that.” Lena waved off and gestured to the TV. “What do you think of this one?”
After that, they fell into an easy conversation. Lena, so Kara found out, was probably the most guarded person she had ever met. Her walls were built high and thick. Every expression — from the tone of her voice to the lift of her eyebrows — seemed perfectly calculated. However, Kara could see glimpses of the real Lena shining through little by little. It was beautiful and fascinating to witness. It was difficult to notice, but sometimes the smile would reach her eyes, leaving small crinkles in the corners. Her voice and gestures would become more animated and lose the cool control when she talked about topics and people that inspired her.
Kara learned that Lena was very interested in technology, medicine, and the latest inventions. The scientific discussion was fun, something that she had keenly avoided in the past. She knew she should be careful with the subject, but she could not help but match Lena’s enthusiasm. Kara also realized fairly quickly that Lena’s family seemed to be a sore subject for her which she avoided at all costs. It did make sense after she had seen her meager view on the topic before.
Kara did not know how long they had talked, but when she managed to tear her eyes away from Lena’s, she was startled to notice that the crowd in the bar had thinned out. A glance at a nearby clock told her that it was early morning. Wincing, she remembered that she still had work in a few hours. All she wanted to do was call in sick for the first time in her life. She wished she could keep talking to Lena. But Ms. Grant would surely receive a heart attack or have an aneurysm if she did.
Lena had followed her look and let out a startled laugh. “Oh dear, don’t tell me that is the actual time?”
“I’m afraid so.” Kara groaned and stretched. She still had to fly home without being seen. Outside, dawn was breaking. “I need to head back. I have to get ready for work.”
Lena turned to her with an incredulous look. “This morning? In National City?”
“Yeah, my boss… I would love nothing more than calling in sick, but I’m afraid she’d eat me alive.” Kara chuckled. “I cannot believe I stayed the whole night. Time went by fast.”
“But…” Lena frowned. “How’d you even… can you even manage to get back in time?”
“Hm? Of course. I’ll just fly.”
Kara tilted her head and furrowed her brow, mentally already going through the morning agenda. Ms. Grant would surely call an emergency meeting the morning after the news broke of… well, her. She would want answers, any scoop available about the latest alien appearance. Which meant, she probably had not slept much either. This could very well mean that Ms. Grant would be irritable. She should probably refill the M&Ms, just in case. And order an extra-strong coffee.
“Kara, National City is almost 3,000 miles away!” Lena started to go through her handbag and took out a cell phone. “Do you need to get to the airport? When is your flight leaving? I’ll call my driver, I —”
Kara blinked a few times. “Whoa, hold your horses, Lena. It’s fine. I’ll make it in time, don’t worry.”
But Lena was already scrolling through her phone. “It is nearly impossible for you to arrive punctually at work, Kara! The fastest flight takes a bit over five hours and the next one is in —”
“It’ll be fine, trust me.” Kara had to suppress a smile at how frantic Lena was. “But I should leave now. It was nice meeting you. I had a lot of fun.”
“Well, if you’re absolutely sure.” Lena did not seem too convinced. “I had a great time as well. Um, I'm sorry if this might be too forward or anything, but… would you perhaps mind, if we exchanged numbers? I would really love to make sure that you made it home safely.”
A warm feeling spread through Kara’s body as she quickly agreed. A few seconds later, they had each other’s phone numbers. This made the goodbye much easier. She had dreaded leaving Lena without ever seeing her again. Perhaps now they had a chance of actually becoming friends…?
With a shy smile and a wave towards Lena, Kara paid the barkeeper and left the bar. As soon as she stepped outside, the first rays of sunshine hit her face. As she looked up to the sky, she could only find a few clouds. She grimaced at the thought that she probably had to fly higher than before. It was always so cold up there. But better safe than sorry. Despite her speed, she did not want to be potentially seen or recorded by anyone. Alex’s words were still in the back of her mind. She did not need to take unnecessary risks.
Briefly looking around, she went to the alley next to the bar. She opted to make a test flight and slowly rose from the ground, hidden by the shadows of the tall buildings to each side. Nobody from afar would be able to get a good look at her. She searched the sky above her for any obstacles before she wanted to fly with her true speed, but a sharp gasp from below almost made her fall down to the ground. Her stomach dropped and she whirled her head around.
Alex was going to kill her.
She gulped as her heart pounded faster and her hands started to shake. It was too late now. She could not speed up and disappear. She had made a mistake. A major mistake. She had been too exhausted, too occupied, to think rationally. She had forgotten to look if someone had followed her into the alleyway. The streets had been almost empty, of course, but it was still an oversight from her.
An oversight that had the potential to destroy everything.
She balled her trembling hands into fists and slowly started to descend. She had to face her fears, she had to handle this. She had to hope that everything would be okay. That she could convince her to keep it a secret. Even if all her hopes for forming a friendship or even more had just come crashing down.
When her feet hit the ground again, she cleared her throat, trying to make herself seem confident. The person in front of her was still staring at her, her calculating eyes not missing a single movement she made.
“You… you forgot your jacket.” Lena held up the bundle in her arms.
Kara winced. She glanced from her jacket to Lena. She could not tell what she was thinking. The walls were back up, higher than before. “Lena, I… I can explain.”
Her pleading eyes met cold green ones.
“You are that alien from National City.”