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Are you strong enough to stand (protecting both your heart and mine?)

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And then the gunshot goes off. She flinches helplessly, her body’s last attempt at defense.

Her ears register no sound other than a dull ring that seems to get louder the longer it carries on. Her first thought is that it hurts much less than she anticipated. In fact it doesn’t seem to hurt at all, and the sharp, sudden, excruciating pain she expected never comes. 

Then she registers the weight against h er.

***

The clock is ticking. 

Not the metaphorical clock, but a literal one. (Although given the day’s events, Lena couldn’t help but wonder if the clock counting down the minutes of her life isn't ticking too.) 

Somewhere to her left, on one of the pristine white shelves that occupy the small space on her office wall, the culprit of the incessant tick-tocking can be found. It isn’t a very large clock, and on a normal day, the sound its mechanical parts emit would barely be audible. But it isn’t a normal day — or night, as it were. The sun has long set, the moon and its reflective light the only thing illuminating Lena’s office. 

With what little light the moonbeams lend to the night, Lena finds it hard to read the time on the clock, but with some squinting, she makes out the position of the hands. It has been nearly nine hours since the renaming ceremony of her company... and nine hours since the explosions have gone off. 

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

The turnout to the renaming ceremony wasn’t large, mostly reporters or news anchors and a couple of unhappy citizens that glared at her with nothing but disdain from the minute that she stepped onto the stage. Lena had expected nothing less. What she hadn’t expected was several strategically placed explosives to go off midway through her heartfelt speech on how she vowed to pay her family’s debt. The violent explosion of gunpowder, noise, and heat happened so quickly that Lena barely had a second to take it all in. One moment, she was standing with shoulders squared, announcing the new age she wanted to usher in, and the next moment, the earth shook so forcefully that she had to hold on to the podium to not lose her balance. 

Chaos descended as the crowd screamed and ran in all directions. Lena suspects she too must have screamed on her sprint away from the stage. Even hours later, her throat still burns each time she swallows. Each sip from the glass that she has cradled against her chest only intensifies the itchy pain. 

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Lena finishes the remainder of scotch in one sure motion, throwing it back and swirling it around her tongue briefly, before letting it slide down her raw throat. Without bothering to let the alcohol reach her stomach, she stands from her chair on shaky legs and walks over to the side table to refill her tumbler. The liquid sloshes against the rim of her glass, as she pours. A double. Neat. Just the way Lex used to like it.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

She’s almost eye level with the clock now, its ticking amplified with her proximity. She watches as the secondhand moves achingly slow across the stark white background. For a split second, she feels herself being transported back to the stage. As the clock continues to tick, she pictures a bomb below her feet, its timer ticking down, racing to zero, hurtling towards her death. 

Lena scrunches her eyes closed until the lids tremble under the compression of her muscles. The explosions flash before her, and she grips her glass with enough force to whiten the skin over her knuckles, as she tries to push the smell of sulfur out of her mind. Before she realizes what she’s doing, Lena abandons her glass and reaches for the clock. Her fingers claw at the back, desperate to get the cover off and dig out the batteries. She drops them on the side table and watches as they roll off the edge before clattering to the floor.

The next breath Lena takes is not as full of relief as she’s hoped. The moment she slumps back into her chair, she contemplates getting up and replacing the batteries. Immediately, she misses the tick-tock. Her office is nothing but quiet now, the phantom ringing in her ears created by the force of the blast the only sound keeping her company. Even though she managed to get off the stage before it went up in flames, the blast waves emitted by the explosion still affected the hearing on the right side of her head, causing her to float between an irritating ringing sound and the sensation of a clogged ear. 

And in the brief moments of reprieve, when her ears aren’t ringing, all she hears is screaming.

The screaming of civilians as they ran away from the flames and plumes of smoke. Many of the onlookers had lost their footing as the ground shook. Others tripped and fell in their desperation to escape. One particular man, a reporter from Central City’s Tribune, was lying motionless on the ground, as Lena descended the stage. A small stream of blood was oozing out from a gash above his brow and trickling down into his beard. Lena had stood frozen next to the man, unable to move or even call for help. 

By the time the second wave of explosions triggered, successfully blowing the stage to pieces, Lena was leaning heavily against a food truck across the street from the plaza with no idea as to how she got there. A tall man was beside her, his muscled arms holding up the injured man from before. He was talking to her, asking her if she was okay, but all Lena could focus on was the reporter who had regained consciousness and slumped down to the floor, cradling his head in his hands. 

He looked so much like Jack. Jack, who had laid motionless on a Persian carpet not too long ago, coughed up blood and bile covering his beard, his eyes motionless. 

A soft knock on her office door breaks Lena’s trance. She spins her chair around to face the dark skyline and hastily wipes at the tears she’s been holding back all day.

“Come in.” Her voice is painfully hoarse, and she clears her throat before taking a deep drink from her glass. 

The soft click of sensible heels echoes in the quiet office and then transitions into muted thuds, as someone crosses the carpet, briefly pausing to flick on a lamp, before coming to a standstill in front of Lena’s desk. There’s only one person, other than the security in the foyer, who would roam L-Corp at such a late hour. Jess.

Lena studies her assistant’s reflection in the large window. Even though Lena can’t properly see her, she knows shadows linger underneath the young woman’s eyes. She watches as Jess’s back straightens, and a sense of guilt mixes with the copious amount of scotch that swirls in Lena’s stomach. She swivels her chair back around to face her assistant.

“I told you that you could go home hours ago.”

“You promised you’d be leaving soon too.”

Her straight to the point, no bullshit attitude is why Lena hired Jess. 

“I was. I am,” Lena forces out through a sigh. 

Jess looks over to where the clock used to stand, and to her credit, her expression remains unaffected as she takes in the dismantled appliance and batteries on the floor. “That was three hours ago, Miss Luthor. I’ve called Frank. He’ll be here soon.”

Lena closes her eyes. Being alone in her penthouse is daunting. Then again, if someone tries to kill her again tonight, her office won’t be any safer. At least she’ll put some distance between herself and the plaza. 

“Thank you, Jess.”

“Miss Luthor, if I may?” Lena raises an eyebrow and waits for Jess to continue. The woman hesitates, as her teeth worry the inside of her bottom lip. It’s a subtle habit but one that Lena has learned to look out for in the half a year of Jess working at L-Corp. It was like an omen, and like clockwork, Jess would bite the inside of her lip when she entered Lena’s office with bad news. “In the light of recent events, I was hoping to take the liberty of arranging some protection for you.”

“Protection?” Lena drops her raised eyebrow in favor of furrowing them, as she tries to understand Jess’s words. 

“A bodyguard.”

It takes an embarrassing amount of seconds before Lena’s sleep-deprived and scotch-raddled brain grasps the meaning, but when it does, alarms go off in her head. “No, not happening.”

“Miss Luthor—”

“It’s not necessary.”

Lena doesn’t need a bodyguard, and she sure as hell doesn’t want one either. She’s had enough experience with the handful of bodyguards that guarded the Luthor manor over the years. They never spoke and barely moved, but they did draw attention. Big, bulky men with dark shades are bound to do that. 

“You could have died today.”

Her straight to the point, no bullshit attitude is why Lena sometimes, just sometimes, wished to fire Jess.

Lena brushes the blunt truth to the side. She’ll deal with just how close she came to death later. “I could have. But I didn’t. There’s no need for external protection. Hector will do just fine.”

“With all due respect, Miss Luthor, Hector just guards this floor. He’s a security guard. He’s not employed to protect you when you leave L-Corp. His sole focus isn’t you. You need more than just Hector.”

There’s something in the way Jess looks at Lena that doesn’t sit right. It’s not pity. No, the glisten in her eyes and the subtle pull at the corners of them combined with the way her forehead creases ever so slightly, spell worry. And Lena Luthor isn’t used to being the recipient of that kind of worry. Hasn’t been for a long time. Not since—

Jess’s phone buzzes, as the screen lights up. “Frank’s outside.”

Lena nods once and drains her glass before standing to gather her coat and handbag. 

Jess wordlessly follows her outside of her office, pausing when at her own desk. The elevator is taking its sweet time to open, but Lena makes no further conversation with her assistant. She doesn’t even have to look over at her to know Jess’ eyes are still shining with worry — worry that Lena doesn’t feel deserving of. 

Jessica Hoang doesn’t plead, but her next words come pretty close to it. “At least promise me you’ll think about it?”

The elevator dings, and Lena is ready to step in before the doors have even opened properly. 

“Goodnight, Jess.”

***

The conversation with Jess is all but forgotten, and neither of them bring it up again in the week that follows. Although the fear of being subject to another attack regularly makes its way into Lena’s mind, she pushes it back, allowing other, more important things to take precedence. 

The media shitstorm that follows the explosions takes all of Lena’s attention. Every outlet in National City and beyond reports on the explosion — her face, or the destroyed plaza plastered on every front page. Every TV channel Lena flicks to has an anchor covering the story either from the studio or from outside in front of the plaza where yellow police tape still flutters in the wind, as it corners off the dangerous piles of rubble left in the wake of the blasts. 

The plaza being right across the street from L-Corp quickly becomes a curse. The first morning after the explosion, news vans are lined up on the curb next to the plaza, and when Lena exits her town car, she’s nearly swallowed up by a sea of bloodthirsty reporters.

The worst of it all comes two days after the explosion. Jess, who is matching Lena’s pace down the hall to her office as she reads the day’s schedule out loud, seems rather tense. Out of the corner of her eye, Lena sees Jess glance over at her once or twice before seeming to recover and returning to the melodic yet focussed voice she always uses when they go through the day’s schedule. When Jess reads the same entry twice, Lena doesn’t comment. It's been a hectic thirty-six hours for everyone.  

It’s once Lena is settled behind her desk that Jess’s second unusual behavior of the day becomes apparent. 

“Jess?” Lena says, as she intercoms the woman. “Did you forget to buy the Daily Planet?” 

She pages through the neatly stacked papers and magazines that Jess lays out for her every morning to make sure it isn’t hiding behind the other newspapers. There is Catco magazine, The Central City Tribune, and even the Gotham Gazelle — but no Daily Planet. It’s not a very eco-friendly way of consuming the news, Lena knows this. But paging through a paper provides her a sense of comfort. Reminds her of her father. 

Jess doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes, Miss Luthor. I apologize.”

Lena hesitates, her hand hovering over the intercom button. Jess never forgets anything. 

“That's fine. I’ll read it online.”

“I’d rather you not, Miss Luthor.” A hint of nervousness creeps into Jess’s voice, and Lena can practically see her biting the inside of her lip. “It’s — I just think it better you skip the Planet today.” 

“Am I on the front page again?” Lena was on the front page of everything the day before, and while she fully expects follow-up articles in the weeks to come, she doesn’t expect to be on the front page of one of the biggest news outlets two days in a row. “Is it bad?” she dares to ask, although she knows the answer. 

Dread settles in Lena’s stomach the moment Jess’s soft affirmation comes through the speakers. She leaves Jess alone to work with the promise of not looking at the Planet’s front page. They both know that she’s lying. Her fingers glide over the keys of her laptop, as she pulls up the Daily Planet website. 

YOUNGEST LUTHOR STAGES EXPLOSIONS?

Below the headline, a large photo of Lena behind the podium takes up half the page. They had snapped quite the photo of her, with her jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed. She had so hoped to appear more likable and trustworthy than the rest of her family, but it seems that plan too has failed. Lena sighs, as she scrolls down to read the article below the photo.

The well-written piece outlines exactly why Lena has to be the one responsible for planting the bombs. Apparently, she did it for the sake of exposure and, according to an anonymous online poll, 72% of Metropolis’s inhabitants believe that Lena would be capable of it, with one quote from a resident citing that, “Evil runs in that family’s blood.”

It was just a matter of time, Lena thinks, as the words on her screen start to blur. She’s managed to stay out of bad publicity for what, a couple of months? She still recalls the first negative headline the Planet published about her, the one that insinuated that she was part of Lex’s poisoning plot. She didn’t blame them — news was news, and she knew that being found between almost sixty dead bodies would incriminate her.

Incriminate her, yes. Lena wasn’t naïve. Perhaps some distrust would linger for a short while. Until the dust settled and Lex’s trial was over. But incriminate her to such an extent that the city she’d called home for the last two decades would never trust her again? No. No, that part she could never have foreseen. 

Even when she made the decision to pack up and move to National City two months ago, like Jack and she always wanted, the Planet found some way to twist it into a biased narrative. A POISONED CHALICE? The headline read. ‘ Will Lena Luthor’s move to National City lead to trouble?’  

Lena scrolls down towards this particular piece’s byline. Clark Kent. No surprises there. Kent was the lucky reporter to run exclusive after exclusive on Lex, calling him unhinged and out of control long before he finally snapped. Of course, those words were true, but Lena never expected them to seep out of the pen of a man who spent summers with Lex in the Luthor mansion when they were teenagers. 

Lena scrolls back up to the unflattering photo of herself, wondering just how long it would take before people started calling her unhinged and out of control too.

***

The rest of the week and ⅔ of Lena’s weekend is spent putting out fires left and right. Convincing investors not to pull out and assuring board members that, no, she wouldn’t be selling the company. Monday morning is the first day where things are settled enough that her schedule allows for a gap between noon and one, giving Lena time to have a much-needed break. When Jess mentions this while reading through the day’s schedule, Lena almost feels like crying. The utter exhaustion that has made a home in her body over the last week practically begs her to sleep her free hour away on her office couch.

“Anything else?” Lena asks, as Jess locks her tablet but makes no move to leave. Her bottom lip shifts ever so slightly, and Lena braces.

“I’ve sent you an email.” Lena raises an eyebrow at that. She always checks her emails first thing after Jess goes back to her desk. “I just wanted to make sure you got it.” Jess clarifies. 

Intrigued, if not a little taken aback, Lena pulls up her email account. 

“I researched all the companies within a realistic radius, and these are the best I could find.”

For a second, Lena doesn't follow, and then she sees an email from Jess marked important with the subject reading: ‘Protection’. The email itself resembles a report in which Jess compiled no less than seven protection companies, listing them numerically according to best fit as well as listing their pros and cons.

“Jess—”

Sweet, sweet Jess who, despite her assertive personality, never once disrespected Lena, holds up a hand to quiet her. “Please, Miss Luthor. I know you said you’d think about it, but I know you didn’t. I did. Please, go through the email and choose a company. If it was my choice, I’d go with option number one. I’ve linked their website.”

The truth is, as much as she’s tried not to, Lena has thought about it. Every night, after another nightmarish day is laid to rest, she lays in her bed and replays the events of the renaming ceremony. Was she foolish for even holding the event to begin with? She knows her family name has her at a disadvantage, and it’s likely that no matter what she does, the people of National City will never take a liking to her. 

Then there was the question of who was responsible for the attack. Lex came to mind, but he was serving back-to-back life sentences in a maximum-security prison. The only other person she could think of was her mother, but Lillian was nowhere to be found, likely having fled the country after her son was apprehended. 

Regardless of who it was, Lena’s most pressing worry is what if it happens again? What if next time, she doesn't get lucky? What if next time, she dies?

She doesn’t voice any of this, although she feels as if Jess knows, anyway. Instead, she says, “When did you have time to do all this?”

“Over the weekend. It would be really nice if you could go through this before your 9:30 meeting with Lord Technologies. You know Mr. Lord is likely to run late, and the sooner we can draw up a contract with the company of your choice the better.”

Lena wants to argue, but Jess is already marching out of the office, leaving her alone with the email.

It’s not until past twelve that Lena finally has a chance to breathe. A conference call ran late, leaving her with only forty-two minutes left of her lunch break. The urge to nap is back, but she drowns it out with the Long Black from Noonan’s. She manages to finish half a garden salad too, and although she's still an equal amount of tired as before, and is looking at least another six hours in the office, she claims it as a win. 

Although she’s grateful for the respite, she quickly starts to feel restless. With fifteen minutes to spare before her next meeting, Lena itches to get back to work, the pause in chaos feeling strange to her after the week she’s had. 

It’s then that she recalls Jess’s email. 

Equal parts curious and apprehensive, Lena pulls it up again. She reads the summary of each agency as well as the pros and cons that Jess has compiled. Almost immediately, she gravitates to the first name on the list. She trusts her assistant’s judgment, and with a heavy sigh, she follows the link to the agency’s website while simultaneously opening a new tab. According to the ample amount of Google reviews, Argo Protection Services is good if not the best. With an average star rating of 4.8 out of 5, one could even go as far as calling them critically acclaimed. Lena reads a handful of the extremely positive reviews before switching tabs to the company’s website.

ARGO PROTECTION SERVICES

Security and protection are our specialties. We’re a company comprised of highly trained individuals who pride themselves in effective Risk Management, Executive Protection, Armed Escorts, Guarding, and Surveillance.  

It’s all very lovely. The sleek and minimalist layout of the website is aesthetically pleasing, the grey, white, and blue colors adding to the overall feel of professionalism. Lena navigates the drop-down menu until she sees ‘services’ and then clicks on what she thinks she needs: Executive Protection. She reads the short entry, and as much as she loathes to admit it, it is exactly what she needs. 

The attack on the plaza might have been a once-off. Might have been a warning. Might have been the first of many to come. If there is another attempt on her life, Lena needs to be prepared.

She needs a bodyguard. Plain and simple. She leans back in her chair and looks up at the ceiling, as she accepts her fate. 

“Jess,” she says as she activates the intercom. “Get me a detailed list of the available bodyguards from the first agency on our list.”

“Right on it, Miss Luthor.”

Lena doesn't miss the relieved sigh Jess lets out before the intercom goes quiet again.

*** 

“I’ve got a new assignment for you,” J’onn says the moment Kara takes the seat opposite him at his desk. “It’s an interesting one.”

“Oh?”

“High profile, and you’ve been specifically requested.” J’onn sounds almost proud as he says it. “It seems like your brief time with the Grants has done you quite the favor.”

Kara can’t help but smile. Her time protecting Cat Grant and her son was pleasant, and the boy was particularly smart and charming. Even Miss Grant turned out to be quite an impressive woman. What could be more high-profile than Miss Grant? 

She fights to keep the excitement out of her voice and settles for professional curiosity with a tinge of confusion. “Requested?”  

That's a first, but Kara keeps her face neutral as J’onn nods and slides a file across the desk. He gives no further explanation and merely folds his hands together on the dark wood as he waits for Kara to read. 

“L-Corp, like in Luthor?” She finds her answer when she pages over and is met with a picture of...well honestly one very attractive face. The picture is small, no bigger than a passport photo. Despite its size, Kara immediately notices the woman's striking features. Captivating green eyes haunt her straight through the glossy paper of the photograph. The woman’s not smiling, in fact, she looks rather upset, but Kara is still drawn to the curve of her lips and the slope of her jawline.

She seems familiar, and it only takes a second for Kara to recognize her as one of the Luthors. She recalls seeing this face on the news once or twice once she was discharged. She took little notice at the time, still trying to adjust to life back on US soil, but she does recall one particular clip of the very same tear-stricken woman exiting Metropolis courthouse. 

“The same Luthor that was involved in the Luthor Massacre?” Kara checks just to be sure, as she looks up at J’onn. 

He nods. “The same. Though, she has been exonerated of any crimes.”

Kara remains silent, as she tries to recall what she knows of the incident. Lex Luthor, CEO of his family’s extremely successful company murdered a bunch of people. Poisoned them to be exact. There were only three survivors, all of them being Luthors. The incident was quickly dubbed The Luthor Massacre by the press, her own cousin Clark coining the phrase for the first time. 

“So, also the same Luthor whose event got blasted to bits last week.”

“Yes, Miss Danvers.” J’onn presses his lips together. Kara knows he doesn’t like it when she makes light of violent situations. He clears his throat, and that alone makes Kara feel reprimanded. “All the information is in the file. Study it. Someone tried to kill this woman, and there’s a high possibility that they will try again. You need to be on the top of your game.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Pam will go over the contract with you when you’re ready. They want you to start as soon as possible.”

Kara stands to leave, clutching the file under her arm. When her fingers brush the doorknob, J’onn speaks again, but this time, all traces of authority have left his voice.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this? I know they’ve requested you, but I can tell them that you’re otherwise disposed.”

Kara turns to face him again. “That will not be necessary, sir.”

“Are you certain, Kara? I could give you some time to think about it? To make sure you’ll be comfortable with… all the possible scenarios you might face on this job.”

J’onn’s careful choice of words threaten to get under Kara’s skin. “No thank you, sir. That won’t be necessary.” 

There’s a moment of eye contact where it feels like J’onn is trying to see into her soul. Or read her mind. He does it more often than Kara would like, and each time, she has to force herself to remain still under his gaze. He studies her for a long moment before he lets out a sigh and nods his dismissal. 

It’s on the walk away from J'onn’s office when Kara’s facade starts to crack. She strides away from it with purpose, past Winn who’s playing Solitaire at his desk and past Vasquez who furrows her brows but says nothing when Kara ignores her greeting. 

God, she’s tired of being asked if she’s okay. J’onn, Alex, even Winn checks up on her more than needed. Why does everyone feel the need to treat her like something fragile?

Her neck feels hot under her collar, as she sidesteps the elevator and slips into the fire escape. She rushes up one flight, taking the stairs two at a time before entering the empty passage and finally the equally empty locker room. 

She sinks down to one of the wooden benches and pulls her jacket off. She’s tempted to rid herself of her shirt too, the too warm feeling spreading up her neck and down her face. She brings a hand to her forehead, wondering if she’s coming down with something. That would be rotten luck. J’onn’s right; if she's tasked with protecting Lena Luthor, she better be on the top of her game.

She gets up to splash some cold water on her face before picking up the discarded file and making her way down to HR. She doesn’t need any time to think about it.

***

“Tired?”

Alex doesn't have to answer to confirm Kara’s suspicions. In fact, she doesn’t. She grumbles something inaudible as she half collapses, half slides into the booth. She’s pale and the beginning of dark shadows linger under her eyes. She makes grabby hands at the plate in the middle of the table, and Kara pushes the leftover of her second pizza towards her sister.

Alex eats like a woman starved, sighing contently after the first bite. It’s not the best pizza, nor is it the best diner, but it’s the closest place to the FBI that sells actual food, and Alex, being pressed for time more often than not, doesn’t have the luxury of traveling more than a block away from work for her lunch break. 

“I’ve got twenty minutes,” she gets out around a mouthful of pizza. “James is holding down the fort.”

Kara hums. “Exciting case?”

Alex pauses, carefully resumes chewing the pizza, and then responds. “Yeah, got a lead on a case that had kinda gone cold.”

As an FBI agent, Alex doesn’t usually share any top secret government info with Kara, cause that would be against the law, obviously, but she is usually a bit more descriptive. Kara doesn’t press for details, too preoccupied with how to break the news of her new contract gently.

Alex slows down after her second slice and signals the nearest waitress for coffee who immediately pours piping hot liquid into Alex’s mug. She takes a small sip before smiling at Kara. “So, what's up? It’s not every day my sister visits me at work.”

Kara abandons the plan of being gentle and cuts straight to the point. “I’ll have to rain check this Friday’s game night.”

Alex’s smile falters, but she nods understandingly. “That’s a shame. I was finally gonna introduce you to Kelly.”

“Next time.” Alex has been trying to get Kara to meet this Kelly for months now. Kara’s pretty sure there are ulterior motives at play. The fact that Kelly is an FBI shrink is just too convenient. And then there’s the massively huge crush that Alex has on the shrink as well, but Kara will let Alex figure that one out by herself. 

“Work?” Alex asks carefully before blowing on her coffee.

“Yeah, new client, and I’m not so sure what their schedule looks like yet.”

“Anyone interesting?” Alex pronounces the words delicately, almost like trying to coax a stray cat into coming close enough to pet. Kara doesn’t like talking about her work. Especially not with Alex, knowing that she’d find the smallest thing to worry about.

Today, Kara doesn't hesitate. The quicker Alex does her big sister speech, the better. “Lena Luthor.”

“Kara, no.” Alex’s eyes go about as wide as Kara expected and then slightly wider. She places the mug down on the table with a thud, all the color that she’s just gained from her meal draining out of her face. “Why would J’onn assign you to such a dangerous case? She was literally almost blown up.”

“It’s my job.” Kara narrows her eyes. She wonders, not for the first time, if Alex has somehow convinced J’onn to place Kara on cases that the agency deemed to carry little threat. 

Alex is quiet for a moment, as she checks her watch. She grabs a napkin, slowly unfolds it, and places the remaining pizza slices inside of it — likely for James.

“I’m sorry,” she says eventually. “I know it’s your job, and I’m not telling you what to do.”

It’s a change, this gentle approach Alex has taken up over the last month or so. Kara chalks it up to her sister spending so much time pining over a therapist. That or the fact that Alex has finally realized that the screaming matches they participated in the months after Kara had just gotten home wasn’t getting them anywhere. 

“But,” Alex continues. “Are you sure you're up to it?”

She sounds like J’onn, and Kara feels irritation settle against her tongue like lime. It’s sour, and she wants to spit out an equally tart retort, but she swallows it down.  

“It’s not my first rodeo.”

“I know. But this is Lena Luthor. She — her family —” Alex cuts herself off with a sigh, battling to find the words. “I guess what I’m trying to say is she might be dangerous, and this job might be different from the others you’ve had.”

Kara tilts her head. “In what way? I’ve worked to protect CEOs this past year. And actors and politicians.”

“Yeah, I know, and I’m not saying that you’re not qualified for the job. It’s just that none of those people were really ever in danger, were they?”

Kara narrows her eyes. “What are you trying to say?”

“That you might end up in the line of fire.”

“I’ve been in the line of fire before.” Kara resists the urge to grind her teeth. 

“I know, but that was before.” Kara opts not to answer. She practically feels her features harden, and notices the exact moment that Alex backpaddles. “Besides, I don't think Lena Luthor can be trusted.” Alex winches at her own words, clearly realizing that it’s not a good approach either.

“You’ve never even met her.” 

“But James—”

“Whether someone can be trusted or is mixed up in things is not my problem. It’s yours.” Kara’s tone comes out harsher than intended, but she’s not in the mood to hear Alex’s partner’s take on her new client. It’s not what she came here for. She came here to cancel their plans. “Besides, she's innocent. Exonerated of all crimes.”

Kara has read through the file J’onn handed her and even did her own research on the woman. There was no evidence linking her to the murders. And besides — her brother confessed. 

“Is she though?”

“Alex,” Kara warns, her patience wearing thin.  

“Okay,” Alex concedes, raising her hands in surrender.

Kara reaches for the nearest napkin and starts tearing it up into long strips. She knows Alex isn’t done.

“Let’s say she is innocent. She’s a law-abiding citizen. She even donates to charities. That doesn't mean this job won’t come without danger.”

Kara starts tearing at the strips, creating little squares of paper, like napkins for little creatures such as mice. “No job is without danger.” 

“It's different, Kara, and you know it.” There goes the gentle approach. Alex leans back against the cushioning of the booth and turns her eyes upward as if looking for some higher being to swoop in and give her strength. “This isn’t some social media influencer that needs a babysitter for an event. It’s not Cat Grant whose emails have leaked and needs her son to be protected. It’s not even Senator Crane whose tweets from ten years ago have resurfaced.”

“Your point?”

“My point is that someone tried to kill Lena Luthor less than a week ago. Regardless of her morals, I’d bet my motorcycle that someone will try again. She’s in active danger.” Alex pauses and holds Kara’s gaze. “Now, can you honestly tell me that if another bomb goes off, or shots are fired at her, that you won’t be affected?”

“Here we go again.” Kara rolls her eyes, as frustration courses through her. “We’ve been through this. So many times.”

“Answer the question, Kara. Will you be able to keep your cool if Lena Luthor ends up in the line of fire again?”

“Yes.” 

Alex shakes her head, her lips tugging downwards. “That’s bullshit, and you know it.”

Kara wants to scream, wants to tell her sister to fuck off, but she doesn’t. Instead, she fishes her wallet out of her jean pocket and tosses a couple of dollars on the table. Alex is still watching her, an angry blush coloring her cheeks.

“Her mother is still out there, you know. She’s dangerous.” Alex looks like she wants to add something, but catches herself.

“Isn’t your twenty minutes over?” Kara suddenly becomes aware that they’re still in the middle of the diner. She needs to get out, away from the low chatter and clinking of cutlery. She doesn't dare look around her, as she slides out of the booth.

“I—” Alex almost reaches out, but stops herself, as Kara takes a step back.

“Enjoy game night. I’m sure everybody will love Kelly.” It comes out bitter and jealous and not at all like Kara really means it. She softens slightly before adding, “I’ll call you when I’m free for another one.”

***

Kara has seen the old Luthor Corp building before. Quite regularly, with Noonan’s being only two blocks away from it. The building is tall, one of the tallest in the city, rivaled only by CatCo.

Waking up Cordova street the next morning, she tries not to be intimidated by the sheer size of it. The tower of metal and glass gleams in the morning sun, and Kara squints as she cranes her neck to read the new words on the side of the building: L-Corp. She likes the new name, she decides. It has a nice ring to it.

Upon entering, Kara sets off the handheld metal detector. Thrice. First with her Beretta, which she calmly removes from her shoulder holster and places in the provided basket alongside her keys. Then her tactical folding knife and her palm-sized flashlight, and finally her tactical pen. Although she makes it clear who she is and that she’s supposed to meet a Jessica, the security guards eye her warily. 

Kara supposes the behaviour is only natural after the week the company has seen. 

Once she passes the security checks, which include fingerprint scanning and the taking of photographs, Kara is finally let past the foyer and instructed to wait in front of the elevators. 

It's standing in front of the pristinely polished metal doors that Kara swallows thickly. How many floors up would she have to—?

The elevator dings softly and slides open to reveal a young woman, likely around the same age as Kara, wearing a white turtleneck tucked into a pencil skirt. She loosely cradles a tablet in one arm, the other outstretched towards the elevator buttons.

“Miss Danvers?” she asks expectantly with the tone of a woman who’s on top of things.

Kara nods, and the woman gestures for her to step in. “Miss Luthor’s assistant?” 

She nods. “Jess, yes.”

Jess doesn't extend her hand and instead pushes a button to close the elevator doors before looking back down at her tablet. The elevator starts to move with a slight jerk, and Kara swallows. She flexes her hands and tries to ignore the sweat that steadily accumulates on her palms. 

“How many floors are we traveling?” she asks as matter-of-factly as she can.

“Right to the top.”

Jess’s curt answer does nothing to ease the pressure on Kara’s chest. She wants to wiggle at the knot of her skinny black tie but resists. Instead, she wipes her hands on her pants before clutching them together behind her back. She watches the digital floor indicator above the door, and by the time the red numbers show ten, Kara is... well she wouldn’t say panicking but just very uncomfortable. The air in the elevator is hot and stuffy, and the longer she looks at the door, the closer it and the walls get to her. She closes her eyes and imagines herself outside on the sidewalk somewhere, perhaps in front of Noonan’s, the scent of sticky buns in the air. 

It’s just an elevator. 

By the time the elevator comes to a stop with another soft ding, the number above the door reads twenty-five, and Kara feels slightly light-headed from the slow breathing she’s implemented. She barely has time to catch her breath because once she’s in the temperature-controlled air of the reception, Jess is striding ahead, leaving Kara no choice but to follow. 

She gestures for Kara to wait, as she knocks on a large door that reads ‘Lena Luthor, CEO’ before entering. Not even half a minute later, she exits and motions for Kara to enter. 

The first thing Kara notices is that the office is overwhelmingly white. Stark. Bland. The second thing she notices is that none of the photos in the newspapers ever did Lena Luthor justice. 

She’s scribbling something down just as Kara enters, but she quickly drops her pen and stands up to round her desk. Her dark hair is pulled into a tight ponytail that swishes with the movement and emphasizes the dramatic cut of her jaw

“Miss Danvers,” she says, as she reaches Kara with an outstretched hand. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Lena’s hands are soft, but her grip is strong. 

There’s a professional smile on Lena’s lips, as she directs Kara to take a seat on one of the chairs in front of her desk. “I’m not going to beat around the bush with you,” she says once she too is settled back in her office chair. “I do not feel the need for a bodyguard. You are here because my assistant, Jess, believes it’s necessary.” Lena pauses, her eyes flickering towards her closed office door. “She’s still a little shaken because of the explosions.”

Kara nods, although she doesn't really understand. Surely Lena is shaken too?

“In my opinion, it's a waste of my company’s money and your time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’re a highly qualified bodyguard; it’s just that I think your skills will be wasted here.”

Kara focusses on keeping her face impassive through her confusion. Does the woman not expect to be attacked again? Does she truly have connections that could’ve taken care of whoever was behind the attack? 

“I appreciate the honesty, ma’am,” she says, and Lena nods as if that settled it. “But I’m still planning on doing my job as efficiently as possible, so I’ll need to know your schedule and such.”

“Jess will sort you out with that. I’m an extremely busy woman, so if you need anything, Jess is the person to ask.” She picks up her pen again, her hand hovering over the documents before her.

Kara recognizes a dismissal when she sees one. “Thank you, ma’am.” 

***

The first thing Lena notices about her new bodyguard is how unfairly good she looks in a suit. Quite illegally good actually. Lena herself is, of course, no stranger to the occasional fitted suit, and she knows she looks good in them. Powerful. Sexy. 

None of those words work for the woman who enters her office with sure, long strides. There’s only one way to describe her: Handsome.

The suit is as plain as they come: black pants, black blazer, crisp white shirt, and a black tie. Basic. What’s not basic is how the material of her blazer strains the tiniest bit when they shake hands or how broad her shoulders are. 

Sure, Lena noticed that the woman was attractive when she and Jess first went through the available agents that ARGO had to offer, but it’s not all that contributed to her decision. (though, if ever confronted, Lena will deny that it contributed at all.) Curled up on the couch in her office with a stack of documents and a glass of scotch, she and Jess embarked on the painstaking quest to find the perfect candidate. ARGO had lots of promising-looking agents. Tall, dark, and objectively handsome. Perfect bodyguard material. Which was exactly the problem.

Every resume she looked at was the same, and she was beginning to think that agreeing to it all was a mistake. She let her eyes drift over yet another fit, middle-aged man whose bulging biceps seemed to trump his IQ. It wasn't going to work. 

To even the most casual observer, these men would easily be noticeable as bodyguards. The press would surely have a field day if Lena were to venture outside next to a man that resembled a WWE wrestler. Besides, she didn’t want to come across as scared. It was just a precaution after all, and the less attention the precision drew, the better.

What she needed was someone more...inconspicuous.

Lena was starting to lose hope. The pile of resumes were thinning out, and she was beginning to think that she’d never find a bodyguard that she’d be happy with.

And then she saw her.

Or well, Jess did at first before sliding the file onto Lena’s lap,

Kara Danvers. Ex-military, serving three years total with an 18-month tour in Kaznia before coming home with a medal of honor. That in itself was impressive, and Lena observed the picture of the woman for a long moment. With her ocean blue eyes and long blonde hair, one would never take her for a veteran. Much less a bodyguard. 

According to her resume, Kara hadn't worked at ARGO for long, but she had protected a multitude of people, ranking up to even the queen of all media herself: Cat Grant. 

Even though her mind was already made, Lena pulled Cat’s contact up on her phone.

“Oh, Kiera?” Cat said after Lena gave a brief explanation. “She was satisfactory. Carter liked her.”

Cat Grant calling someone satisfactory was high praise. 

If Kara Danvers was good enough for Cat, she was good enough for Lena. 

The second thing Lena notices is that Kara notices everything. This observation comes within the first couple of hours of having the woman in her building, and frankly, it’s unnerving if not a little exhausting on Lena’s part. Kara’s blue eyes constantly flicker, as she escorts Lena down the halls of L-Corp to her next board meeting. Her eyes move from left to right and up and down, as she takes in every detail of the corridors and the occasional employee that moves past them. When they pass an emergency exit, Kara looks at it for a long moment, never breaking stride but visibly committing the location to memory.

She takes guard outside the boardroom door, as Lena enters, much like she does outside Lena’s office. Only this time, it’s slightly more distracting — to Lena and the board members. The image of a stranger standing ramrod straight with their hands clasped in front of them has some of the older men whispering, one of them pointing towards Kara before shooting Lena a curious glance. 

Not as inconspicuous as Lena had hoped then. 

But it’s fine. Kara doesn’t talk much. Or at all, really. Her jaw remains clenched, as she escorts Lena back to her office hours later. She silently resumes her post, and for a handful of hours, Lena almost forgets that the woman is outside her office.

The first words she speaks after their initial meeting, hours later, gets under Lena’s skin. And they’re not even directed at her. 

“Take a left up font, Frank.”

Kara is situated in the passenger seat of Lena’s town car next to her driver. It’s dark out, but Lena’s managed to leave the office early. Well, early for her standards. They've been driving in silence for the last ten minutes with Lena answering emails on her phone. 

Lena‘s finger hovers over her unfinished reply, as she raises an eyebrow. “Frank has been my driver for almost a year. I think he can be trusted to determine the fastest route.” It irritates her that her bodyguard is already on a first name basis with her driver.

“Ma’am, given the current threat level, I suggest we do not cross the bridge. It would be safer to take the left and connect back onto the main street after the roundabout.”

Threat level? “Why? Do you think someone would blow up the bridge just to get to me?” It’s almost laughable. Kara can’t truely believe that Lena is in danger on her drive home. Lena doesn’t want to stop to consider such a possibility. “How much longer will this new route take?”

“Can’t say for certain, ma’am.” 

Kara’s tone is clipped. Lena sets her jaw and retaliates with equal passive aggressiveness. “Take the usual route, Frank.”

“With all due respect, ma’am, my job is to keep you safe, so if you please, Frank, take the turn.”

There’s a finality in Kara’s voice that leaves little room for argument. Lena tries to meet her eyes in the rear view mirror, but the bodyguard’s gaze remains dead ahead, as she stares out of the windscreen. Frank briefly turns to throw a questioning glance at Lena to which she nods before continuing her unfinished email.

When they pull up on the curb of the penthouse, Kara has the gall to say, “Your evening was delayed by three minutes, ma’am,” before she's up and out of the car.

When she pulls Lena’s door open, she shields the doorway with her body, making it rather awkward for Lena to exit the car as gracefully as she’d like to.

“Can you not stand so close to me,” Lena hisses. Kara doesn’t verbally respond. She takes the smallest of steps back, her eyes still scanning the sidewalk. 

Once inside the building, Kara follows Lena to the elevator. 

“What do you think you're doing?” 

Kara’s eyebrows scrunch almost adorably. Almost. “Escorting you up, ma’am. I need to sweep your home. As per the contract.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Lena will have to have a word with Jess. She’d left the finer details of the contract with ARGO to her, trusting that she’d make the right decisions. This, however, was a no-go. “My penthouse has an alarm system.”

Kara opens her mouth to argue, but as the elevator opens behind Lena, she shuts it and takes a step back, something akin to relief flickering in her eyes.

“Goodnight, ma’am.”

Lena gives a curt nod before she steps into the elevator. “Miss Danvers.” 

***

The next morning, Kara is back in the foyer of the apartment building, and Lena inwardly groans the moment she notices her. Likely one of the many things that Jess must have arranged and politely forgot to mention to Lena.  

She’s in her suit again and standing near the reception. Her demeanor is rigid but her body angled towards the receptionist who’s smiling up at her. 

The sight somehow irks Lena, and she breezes past them.

It’s almost infuriating how easily Kara catches up and then matches Lena’s pace. “Good morning, ma’am,” she says once she falls into an easy stride next to Lena. Her voice is bright, and it reminds Lena of toothpaste and sunshine, and it’s far too early for either of those things. 

“Stop it with the ma’am,” Lena spits out. Nobody used ma’am anymore. 

“Ma’am?” They’re at the car now, and Kara’s pulling the door open with that stupid frown again.

“Don’t call me ma’am. I’d prefer Miss Luthor, please.” Kara nods seriously, as if she’s just been given a top-secret mission. “And for the love of God, don’t stand so close to me.”

***

“Big belly burger for lunch?”

Kara discreetly reaches to activate her comms. “Stop it. I am working.”

“Come on! I know you want it,” Winn's voice comes through the earpiece again. “Think about those curly fries. Ooh! Strawberry milkshake?”

“Winn,” Kara admonishes softly as to not draw Jess’s attention. “I cannot leave my post. You know that. What is it with you today?”

“Vasquez is in the area. We thought it would be a nice surprise.”

It would be nice. It’s been nearly a week since she started at L-Corp. Which means nearly a week of not having Big Belly for lunch. Her mouth waters.

Kara takes a small step to the left to try to glance through the frosted door of Lena’s office. She can see a semblance of the woman's outline, her neck bent as she types something on her laptop. Theoretically, Kara could wolf a burger down in less than a minute. Jess might judge her for it, but who cares. Perhaps bribery would do her some favours. 

She tells Winn to hold on a second, as she moves to Jess’s desk. “I’m expecting a Big Belly delivery soon. Would you like anything?”

Surprise flashes over Jess’s face. “Oh, no thank you, Miss Danvers.” She points to a Tupperware container on the edge of her desk, filled to the brim with some sort of pasta dish. 

Kara nods. She’s noticed Jess’s preference for homemade food. Just before she turns away, she pauses. “Would Miss Luthor…?”

“No.” Jess’s mouth pulls into a fond smile. “Miss Luthor won’t eat that. I doubt that she even knows what Big Belly is.”

Kara frowns then because who doesn't know what a Big Belly Burger is? “My regular,” she informs Winn when she’s back on her spot next to Lena’s door, “but with an extra order of curly fries.”

 

“They’re busy today,” Winn informs Kara sometime later when Vasquez arrives downstairs. It’s taken so long that Kara’s stomach rumbles loudly as Jess gets up to warm her own lunch. She shoots Kara a disgusted look, but Kara has observed Jess every day for a week, which is long enough to know that there’s some amusement under the disdain.

The food is still hot when one of the security personnel from the foyer brings it up. It’s steaming and it smells delicious, and Kara burns her mouth on the fries three times before she remembers there’s another order of the stuff. 

She pauses and wipes her salty hands on a napkin. Jess is still in the canteen next door, and Kara can hear the low hum of the microwave. Nervously, she grabs the second order of fries. She can’t have them get cold. Reheated fries are never the same.

She lifts her hand and knocks on the office door, hoping that she wouldn’t be interrupting any urgent work. 

Lena’s in the process of pouring herself a glass of water when Kara enters. Her entire demeanor changes when she realizes it’s not Jess that she’d invited into her office. “Is something wrong?” she asks, as she puts the decanter down.

“No, ma— Miss Luthor. Everything’s in order.” Kara walks towards the woman and holds out the container of fries as well as a napkin and a sachet of ketchup. She falters when Lena’s confusion seems to multiply. “Oh, this is for you. Curly fries.”

“Why?” Lena eyes the fries with such intense distrust that Kara feels the need to hide them behind her back. She retracts her offering and holds the fries close to her chest.

“I—” Well, why is a great question. “I was lucky enough to have a colleague bring me lunch today. And then Jess mentioned that you’ve never had Big Belly Burger, and I thought you might like to try it. So I got extra fries. Just to start with cause, you know, the burgers can be quite a lot.” Kara freezes when she realizes she is doing it again. Rambling. It’s not professional. Warmth rises on her skin.

She readies herself for a sarcastic comment or a dramatic brow lift. Lena’s well versed in both, Kara knows this; she receives at least one of the two daily. She realized not to take it personally after the first day, gathering that these actions were Lena’s first line of defense.

“Okay,” Lena says slowly, surprising Kara. She regards the fries wearily again before reaching out to take them. “I’ll let you know if I like them.”

Lena holds the tiny cardboard container in a weird way, angled away from her clothes and loosely grasped with her fingers. Almost like she's scared the fries might bite.

Kara can still feel heat radiating off the shells of her ears, as she shuts the door behind her. That was… embarrassing. Jess is waiting for her, her eyes wide.

“Did you just go in there unannounced ?”

Kara shrugs. “I knocked first.”

“Why?”

“I bought her some fries.” Kara walks over to pick up her own fries, hoping it would give her something to do.

“And she took it?” Jess looks at her like she’s trying to solve an ancient hieroglyphic.

“Yes? Is that — that’s not weird, right?” Kara is second-guessing her actions now. Yes, Lena is a client, but she always used to sneak boxes of pizza into the Grant household or even into CatCo when Miss Grant was working late. Carter loved it, and she knows his mother secretly enjoyed it too even though she always picked the feta off her slices. 

Jess hums and regards Kara with a curious glint in her eyes.

“Fries?” Kara asks as she holds out the container towards Jess who just laughs before dainty snatching up a fry.

“They were nice,” Lena says that evening as they wait for the elevator. “The fries,” she adds when Kara looks over at her in confusion.

“Oh. I’m glad to hear that, Miss Luthor.” Kara tries to contain her grin but fails. The smallest hint of a smile tugs at Lena’s lips too. If Lena liked the curly fries, perhaps she’d like the cheesy fries as well. Her mind jumps to the other possible food she could introduce the CEO to.

As it turns out, Kara is beaten to the opportunity of introducing new food by none other than Lena herself. 

There’s a mischievous glint in Jess’s eyes when she returns from an errand the next afternoon. She carries a brown paper bag in her hand, and Kara recognizes the logo from the heath bar a couple of streets away. Jess seems to go there quite regularly, always returning with some type of salad that she plates in the canteen and then takes into Lena’s office.

This time, Jess starts unpacking the bag mid-walk and hands Kara the greenest salad she’s ever seen. “For you.”

“Me?” Jess nods, thrusting the container into her hand. Kara tries her best not to turn up her nose. “Why?”

Jess shrugs, a small smile playing on her lips. “Must be Miss Luthor’s way of thanking you for the fries.”

Kara lifts the plastic container to her face, trying to see what’s in this so-called meal. It smells like nothing. All she sees is leaves.

“What is it?”

Jess is already heading away from her, and Kara can swear she hears the woman laugh before she responds. “A kale salad.”

***

A stinging pain radiates from behind Lena’s temples when she slips into the town car, and she sighs with relief the moment Kara closes the door behind her. The leather seat is cool against her skin, and her eyes droop close as Frank pulls away and into the late afternoon traffic. The hustle and bustle of the city is mercifully drowned out, and Lena blindly reaches into her purse for the bottle of Advil she carries before dry swallowing two. 

Fuck Morgan Edge, she thinks as they come to a standstill at a red light. Fuck him and every old white man she had to endure talking to for the last three hours. She would have still been trapped inside a testosterone-infested boardroom listening to Edge drone on about his plans to expand the waterfront if it wasn’t for an emergency back at L-Corp. 

She doesn’t know if she should cry or laugh, but what she does know is that she won’t be getting much sleep tonight. 

She’s mentally calculating what statement L-Corp will have to issue later and how exactly they would go about solving the issue at hand when a sharp noise pierces the silence of the car. It goes on for just a moment before Kara fumbles around in the front seat.

“Apologies, Miss Luthor.”

Kara’s phone rings again, but she’s faster this time, shutting it off mid-ring. Frank innocently clears his throat beside her. 

When it rings again, Lena snaps. “Just answer the goddamn thing.”

Kara mumbles another hasty apology before pressing the phone to her ear. “Alex, I can’t speak now. I’m at work.” Her voice is soft and strained in a way that Lena’s never heard. Not even when she occasionally overhears her speaking into her comms. “Can we talk about this later?”

It’s hard for Lena to block out the conversation when Kara is an arm’s length away and even harder for her to not wonder who Alex is. Husband? Boyfriend? It’s none of her business, so she closes her eyes again.

“Alex, it’s my job. I know I said I’d be there, but I have certain obligations.” Kara is quiet for a moment, but the distant sound of the person on the other line can be heard. “I will — I’ll make a plan for the next one.” Kara lets out a deep sigh. “No, I have nothing against her. Alex — ” Kara exhales sharply through her nose “— you know what, I can’t speak now. I’m at work. I’ll call you later.”

The other party can still be heard speaking on the line as Kara ends the call.

“I apologize, Miss Luthor. I keep my personal phone on for emergencies, but apparently, my sister doesn’t quite understand the meaning of the word.” Kara’s voice evens out immediately, all traces of frustration vanishing. 

So, not a husband, after all. Lena feels her curiosity spike. “It sounded serious.”

“It’s nothing. Average family drama.”

Lena hums even though she has no perception of what average family drama could entail. A sigh seeps out of her, as she wonders how average family drama would compare against the narcissistic and psychotic family drama that she’s been experiencing her whole life.

***

Hours later, Kara is still replaying her earlier conversation with Alex. She hasn’t called back or even texted, but perhaps it's better that way. Neither one of them are particularly good at controlling their tempers when they’re angry.

Not that Alex has any right to be angry.

Yes, it’s the second game night in a row that Kara’s missing. But, to her defense, she never promised to attend this one either. Lena’s schedule is too unpredictable for that, and although she could have one of the other agents stand in for her on a Friday night, she doubts that Lena would like that. And neither would she.

The clock above Jess’s desk reads close to 7pm. Game night usually starts around this time, Kara thinks as she pictures her group of friends sprawled out on the floor of her loft. She knows they’re there. Alex has a key, and Winn told her he’d water her cactus just before he logged off for the night. Her comms are mercifully quiet now, not filled with the nervous chatter that Winn so loves to make when he was trying to overcompensate. It’s obvious that he was privy to her and Alex’s argument. Kara wouldn't put it past Alex to call Winn to confirm that Kara really is working. 

The intercom beeps a little while later, and Lena’s voice fills the space, telling Jess to go home for the night. She sounds tired. Exhausted. Kara hopes that Lena will call it a night too, and the parting look that Jess gives as she makes her way to the elevator makes it clear that she shares the same wish. 

Their wishes are denied because two hours later, Lena has yet to make even a peep from behind her closed door, and Kara is starting to worry. She strains her ears for any sort of sound, like typing, but much like the rest of the building at this hour of the night, it’s eerily quiet. She tries to catch a glimpse of Lena through the frosted glass, but the office is too dark for her to make out any silhouettes. 

Kara doesn’t suspect that anything is wrong — she’s confident that she would have heard any kind of intrusion. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check up on the CEO, just to make sure she hasn’t fallen asleep on her desk.

She knocks softly at first, as to not frighten Lena, but when there’s no response, she allows her knuckles to rap against the frosted glass with more force. 

“Miss Luthor?” Panic spikes through Kara when the office remains silent. What if she missed something? What if she was too preoccupied with Alex and her pointless argument that she didn’t hear or see —

There’s a sudden spike of adrenaline, and every nerve-ending in Kara’s body is screaming at her to advance — to make sure that Lena is safe. One hand curls around the doorknob, the other reaches inside her blazer, her fingers brushing the cold metal of her pistol. When her fingers fully close around her weapon, Kara pushes the door open.

Lena is sitting at her desk, her head resting heavily in her hands and her hair falling forward to create a messy curtain. Kara relaxes minisculy, her hand still hovering close to her weapon as her eyes flicker across the office, scanning for some invisible threat. The soft lighting coming from a single lamp in the corner of the room makes it hard for Kara to see, and her eyes strain behind her contacts. 

When Kara’s eyes land back on the desk, Lena is sitting upright. Her eyes are bloodshot, and Kara freezes when she realizes the implications. She removes her hand from inside her blazer but makes no move to approach the woman.

“I didn’t tell you to come in.” 

It takes a second for Kara to comprehend the words that were formed by Lena’s lips. Blood pounds through her veins, her heartbeat thudding in her ears. 

“I’m sorry, Miss Luthor. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You weren’t—”

“I’m fine.” Lena means for it to sound biting, Kara’s sure of it, but the CEO's voice betrays her, as it cracks under the strain of the lie.

“Are you sure? Is there anything I can do? Or get you?” Kara is pleased that she’s forming coherent sentences without sounding as out of breath as she feels. Her heart rate is still alleviated, and she wills it to calm down. 

Lena doesn’t answer. Instead, she breaks eye contact and starts fiddling with the documents on her desk. Kara watches her pick up the same pen twice only to put it back in the same place she found it. 

“Would you like me to call Frank?” That duty usually befalls Jess, but Kara has his number saved too, just in case.

Lena’s demeanour changes when she looks up. Her jaws clenches, her spine straightening. “What I would like you to do is shut your mouth and go and stand outside my door. I hired you to be my bodyguard, not my babysitter.”

Kara’s taken aback by the absolute venom dripping from Lena’s words. There's no crack in her voice now, and when Kara searches her gaze, she finds her eyes empty and emotionless. Cold. Kara’s never heard her speaking to anyone in that tone, not even any of the misogynistic men she’d meet with weekly.

The tone hits its desired mark, as Kara shuts her mouth and turns around with a curt nod.

As she moves to shut the door behind her, she catches a glimpse of Lena's head falling back into her hands, her shoulders shaking slightly. For an inexplicable second, Kara finds herself torn. She pauses her movement for only a second longer before shutting the door and stepping to the side, resuming her guard. 

It’s none of her business, Kara knows that. Whether Lena’s issue is personal or business shouldn't matter, and it sure as hell shouldn't make her want to comfort the woman. Especially given the fact that she’s practically been told to shut up.

For the next half hour, Kara is hyper-aware of any noises. She’s pretty sure it’s sniffling she’s hearing from the other side of the door. She wonders how she missed it before. Eventually, they subside and then Lena’s clearly blowing her nose. It’s quiet again until the plumbing in the wall sings the tell-tale song of a tap being opened and closed. A toilet being flushed.

When Lena appears outside of her office, Kara is careful not to make any remarks, and she keeps her gaze securely on the tall potted fern behind Jess's desk. 

Bodyguard. Not babysitter.

Lena doesn’t speak either, but instead of heading to the elevator, she takes a step closer to Kara. They remain silent. Kara waits and watches from the corner of her eyes as Lena wrings her hands once, twice, and then smoothes them on the fabric of her dress. 

“You know, Jess brought that plant here from her grandmother’s house. Apparently, the place needed more color.” 

There’s a hint of a smile in Lena’s voice, but Kara doesn’t chance a look to confirm this. They stand side by side for a moment longer, both staring at the plant until Lena turns abruptly. 

“Follow me,” she says over her shoulder, even though they both know Kara will. Has to. 

They walk past Jess’s desk and down a small passage that leads them into a canteen. It’s not a very large room, but it’s surprisingly cozy. A fully kitted kitchen area lines the one wall, the silver appliances beautifully complement the dark blue of the counters. The middle of the room has some small round tables with chairs, all in white. 

But by far the best part is the view on the wall directly opposite the open-plan kitchen. There’s a bar table and chairs against the floor-length windows. The windows, much like the ones in Lena’s office, provide a magnificent view of the city stretching as far as the waterfront. Kara’s tempted to walk towards the windows and get lost in the city view.

Kara’s only been inside the canteen once, on her first day when Jess gave her a little tour of the floor. She has no use for it. There’s no real opportunity for her to prepare meals or make coffee. Her job description doesn’t come with lunch or tea times, so Kara is used to making do with the snacks that she stuffs in the inside pockets of her blazer.

Until recently, of course. Her diet is slightly more varied now, which should be good. Just too bad that the taste of kale lingers.

Jess, on the other hand, disappears into the canteen regularly. She’s healthy. Healthier than Lena because unlike her boss, Jess actually eats regularly. Kara knows that Jess drinks two cups of green tea a day, one at 9 am and one around 3 pm. She eats relatively clean — absolutely nothing dripping in grease or too many carbs — and the meals are always from home, neatly stacked up in Tupperware. Sometimes, when Jess goes to warm her lunch, she returns with something small from the vending machine for Lena. Usually a chewy, low-fat granola bar. 

Kara hesitantly positions herself inside of the doorway, unsure of what to make of the situation. Lena’s never before entered this part of the floor while Kara’s been around, and it seems strange to see her striding towards the kettle to fill it with water. 

“Hot chocolate or coffee? You don’t look like a big tea drinker.”

“Excuse me?”

The tiniest sigh of impatience comes from Lena, but her tone is gentle when she clarifies, “What would you like to drink, Miss Danvers?” 

She turns around as she speaks, and Kara hesitates once more — but not because she doesn’t understand the question. Lena’s barefaced, almost every inch of her perfectly applied makeup gone. Her lips are still slightly stained red, and there's some stubborn mascara under her eyes, but other than that, she’s washed it all off, leaving her skin a soft glowing pink.

Kara forces her brain to work. “Hot chocolate please, Miss Luthor. Coffee at his hour will keep me up all night.”

Lena smiles tightly before she turns to busy herself in the kitchen cupboard above her, grabbing a container of expressive-looking hot chocolate and chamomile tea for herself.

“I wish coffee would do that for me. I drink so much of the stuff that it barely does anything anymore.”

Kara remains silent and nods, still unsure as to why the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is making her hot chocolate at nearly ten in the evening. She edges slightly further into the room, watching as Lena prepares their beverages and answering with “four” when asked how many sugars she took.

When Lena has two mugs of steaming liquid in her hands, both white and sporting the L-Corp logo, she moves to place them on one of the nearby tables. “Would you like to sit?”

Kara obliges, stepping forward and loosening the button on her blazer as she sinks into the chair opposite Lena. By the steam swirling up from the mug and the heat radiating off the ceramic when she wraps her fingers around it, it's clear that the hot chocolate is, well, hot. Too hot. Still, Kara lifts it to her mouth if only for something to do. She burns her tongue immediately but valiantly swallows the liquid, trying not to wince as it scalds its way down her esophagus. 

She’s well aware that Lena is watching her, so she smiles and tells her, “Thank you. It’s delicious.”

And it is. It’s rich and decadent and just the right amount of sweet, and Kara’s sure that no matter what crazy amount of money Lena had paid for the clearly imported hot chocolate, it is worth it.

Lena’s lips curve upwards at Kara’s reassurance, and she lifts her tea to take a tentative sip before placing it back down on the table. She fiddles with the cup for a moment, turning it this way and that way, before settling her hands around it, her long fingers almost enveloping the entire thing. 

“I’m sorry that I snapped at you earlier. It was extremely unprofessional, and I know you were just trying to help.”

Oh . Kara had not expected an apology and certainly not one sounding this genuine. “It’s okay. You had a rough day, and I should have listened the first time instead of pressuring you.”

“Still…” Lena trails off, and Kara holds her breath because for a second it seems that Lena is on the verge of tears again, her still bloodshot and puffy eyes glisten, but she blinks, looks down at her mug and says, “I’m also sorry that you’re missing time off with your sister. Because of me.”

“Oh, that.”  Kara had no idea how much of her and Alex’s conversation Lena overheard. She cringes at the memory of how unprofessional it was but smiles as she answers. “It’s no big deal, Miss Luthor. Honestly, you’re doing me a favor.”

“You and your sister don't get along?”

Kara takes a deep, slightly less burning sip of her hot chocolate as she contemplates.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. Forget I asked.”

Kara has never seen Lena back paddle. She looks so pained that Kara rushes to answer.

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m just thinking how to explain it.” She hesitates, as she looks down into her cup. “Alex and I do get along. In fact, she gets me like no one else has ever has. We’re just — there’s this disagreement we’ve been having for a while now. But it’s nothing.”

Lena nods understandingly but presses no further. For a long moment, they enjoy their beverages in silence until Kara realizes she’s drinking much faster than Lena whose cup is still half full while Kara has two sips left at best. She slows down then, halting her drinking completely and bringing the mug to her lips, only to pretend she’s taking a sip. She’s not sure why she’s doing it — perhaps she doesn’t want to inadvertently rush Lena. 

While Lena slowly finishes the rest of her tea, Kara takes it upon herself to look at her. Despite the long hours on the job, there’s never really the time or the necessity to look at the woman she’s been tasked to protect. Look past her, yes. At her surroundings. The people she interacts with. Never really her. Not this close at least. 

Now, in the harsh fluorescent lighting from above, Kara looks. And what she sees is a tired woman. With the absence of the light concealer Lena wears during the day, the dark circles under her eyes are unmistakably visible. Her shoulders, Kara realizes as she drops her gaze lower, are a tensed, and Kara can practically see the knots in her muscles.

“You need to take better care of yourself.” Kara verbalizes the thought without meaning to and tenses slightly, as Lena pauses with her cup halfway to her lips. “I don’t mean — I mean no disrespect. It’s just that you look tired.”

Kara fights the blush that threatens to dust her cheeks. Sometimes, she understands why Alex is always telling her to take her foot out of her mouth. 

“I am.”

Those two words said so simply and softly drip in vulnerability — something that Lena Luthor hasn’t shown in the last couple of weeks. Kara’s heart suddenly feels heavy, and she wraps her hands more securely around her mug in fear that they might reach out to Lena on their own accord. 

Before Kara can think of something to say, Lena’s up and out of her seat, pouring the rest of her tea down the drain. 

“No rest for the wicked, I’m afraid.” There’s a perfectly professional smile plastered on Lena’s face, as she turns back and holds out her hand to take Kara’s mug. Kara hastily down the last sip and then watches as Lena rinses their mugs out and places them upside down on the dry rack. 

“Just for the record,” Kara says sometime later as they walk through the near vacant foyer to meet Frank out front. “I don’t believe that you're wicked. And you deserve some rest. Or some sort of distraction. A way to unwind.”

Lena doesn’t answer until Kara opens the car door for her. “Thank you, Miss Danvers.”

Kara’s not sure if she’s thanking her for the comment or thanking her for opening the door, but nonetheless, she replies with a quiet “of course,” and feels her whole body warm with the first genuine, albeit sad smile she manages to coax out of Lena.

***

The next day is busy.

There’s a sea of reporters waiting for them in front of L-Corp when they arrive that morning, and although Kara is trained to deal with the press or paparazzi, it still makes her skin tingle. Instances like this could be dangerous. It’s the perfect opportunity to hurt Lena. Any one of the hungry reporters could have a malicious agenda.

To make matters worse, it's raining. Absolutely pouring down.

Lena seems just as fearful as they pull up to the curb. Cameras flash, and the chatter from the reporters and news anchors penetrate into the car. The L-Corp security seems wholly ill-equipped to deal with the small crowd, and even though they try to corner them off, many of the reporters still advance on the car, as Kara moves to open Lena’s door.

“Miss Luthor,” Kara says, just loud enough for Lena to hear. “I’m going to have to hold on to you now. Is that okay?” She angles the black umbrella in her hand, trying to make sure Lena is covered.

Lena nods and steps out of the car, taking the umbrella from Kara. Kara immediately pulls her closer, holding on to Lena’s bicep as she ushers her towards the front door. She pulls out her tactical flashlight, quickly setting it to strobe in order to disorient the reporters and riddle their cameras useless. Lena doesn’t say ‘no comment’ when a microphone is pushed her way and simply allows herself to be guided inside.

The whole thing is over in seconds, but they’re both a bit breathless when they’re safely inside the foyer.

“Thank you,” Lena says as she looks back towards the sea of reporters that seem well and truly miffed that they didn’t get a chance to barrage her with questions. “You can let go now.”

Kara is still holding on to Lena’s arm, but she drops her hand quickly, stepping back as Lena closes the umbrella and shakes off the water droplets.

The unwanted press is only the start of a rough day. Jess is running in and out of the office, and Lena attends no fewer than three physical meetings followed by two zoom calls. The salad that Jess takes to her returns untouched hours later. Kara and Jess share an unsatisfied glance.

Eventually, Lena’s tired voice echoes through the intercom again just before seven, sending Jess home and telling her that if all goes well, they'll both be able to leave at a decent time the next day.

Kara feels relieved at that. She fully expects Lena to stay in her office for the next two or three hours, but if she’s hopeful about the next day, it must mean that their emergency is under some level of control. 

Not long after Jess bids Kara a tired goodnight, the door to Lena’s office swings open, surprising Kara. 

“Hot chocolate, Miss Danvers?” Lena doesn't wait for a reply. Instead, she walks towards the canteen once more, leaving Kara with no choice but to follow. 

Lena expertly prepares the hot chocolate again, even steaming some milk for Kara to make it frothier, before tending to her own mug. It’s a black coffee tonight, signaling that Lena has no intentions of leaving soon. She confirms this when, instead of placing the mugs on one of the tables like the previous night, she delicately grasps them at the ears and walks back in the direction of her office.

“I need to wrap up some last-minute things,” she says, as she passes Kara’s mug to her at the door, “but you’re welcome to enjoy your hot chocolate in my office.”

Kara wants to decline, worried that her presence might hinder Lena’s work, but the offer seems genuine, and Kara’s not about to pass up the opportunity to sit down for a few minutes.

Kara is aware that the couch under her is pristinely white. She’s also keenly aware that despite her athletic ability and overall strength and reflexes, she is known to have her clumsy moments. She eyes the coffee table in front of her — also white. She’s already sloshed some of the chocolate drink over the rim of her mug on her way to the couch, so she knows it’ll make a ring.

“There are coasters in the wooden box.” 

Lena’s already back behind her desk typing rapidly on her laptop, her own mug a safe distance away from her paperwork.

By some miracle, Kara manages to grab an unsurprisingly white glass coaster from the box without making a mess and sets her mug down to cool. It’s not an awkward silence, Lena’s working, and Kara — well, Kara is supposed to be invisible. Still, she doesn’t enjoy the the silence, so when Lena pauses her typing to bring her coffee to her lips, she asks,

“The uh — situation? From before, is it handled?” Kara has no idea what exactly had gone wrong, something to do with a disgruntled ex-employee spreading rumors. The words tax-evasion were plastered on the lampposts on the morning ride into L-Corp. Other than that, Kara hasn’t seen or heard anything.

“Not yet. But it will be.” It’s the voice of a determined woman, and Kara finds herself nodding. If anyone can overcome a scandal, it will be Lena. 

Lena leans back into her chair, her elbows resting on the armrest, as she cradles her mug close to her chest. Her eyes are directed at the laptop screen, focused and flickering from left to right as she reads.

Kara resumes work on her hot chocolate, blowing on the surface to cool it before she takes careful sips, still mindful of the pristine white couch that she finds herself on. When she looks back at Lena, the woman is no longer reading. Her eyes are still directed at the laptop, but they're glassy and unfocused.

With her mug empty and Lena spacing out, Kara wonders what she’s supposed to do. Resume her post outside the door? Wait to be kicked out? Offer to rinse the mugs?

Kara’s thoughts and Lena’s trance are broken by a soft swooping noise, and Lena repositions her mug in one hand before using the other to glide along the laptop's touchpad. She lets out a heavy sigh before closing her laptop and rising from her chair. She walks over, coming to a stop in front of the couch, prompting Kara to stand up.

“Change of plan for my schedule tomorrow,” she says, as she holds out her hand, gesturing for Kara’s empty mug. “Frank’s collecting me before six.”

Kara can’t help but parrot Lena’s words as she hands her mug over, “before six?” To get to the penthouse by six, she’d have to leave by 5:30 and wake up before five to leave on time. Scratch that — four if she wanted to squeeze in her morning jog. “Where do we need to be that early?”

“On morning television.”

***

Lena hates the idea of being on morning television. Hates the idea of being on any time of the day’s television for that matter. She’s never willingly sat down for a live interview like this, not even after Lex’s trial. Even back then — and now — when the occasional clip of herself exiting or entering the Metropolis courthouse graces the news, Lena shudders and changes the channel. 

She hates the clips. She hates it. Hates the way she looks. The way she sounds when she shoots a perfectly trained ‘no comment’ at the reporters. The everything.

So much so that she regrets her late-night email thread with Andrea Rojas. But it was a necessary evil. L-Corp’s reputation had barely recovered from the bad press after the explosion, and now a disgruntled ex-employee claims to have “inside insight to Lena Luthor’s tax-evasion”. She can’t afford for the stocks to drop any lower than they already have. 

It isn’t true, these rumours. Obviously. Hence the decision to appear on live TV to put the claims to rest while a truly unnecessary internal investigation continues. Although she has nothing to hide, Lena feels exceptionally nervous, as she paces across the carpet in the greenroom. With her hair and makeup done, there’s nothing she can do but wait. Which is torturous. 

Lena imagines Jess’s eyes on her from where she is seated on one of the couches, but when she looks up at her assistant, Jess’s eyes are trained on Kara who is standing guard inside the room, the two of them sharing some type of glance. 

Lena huffs, not exactly angry but rather puzzled at how quickly Kara’s managed to charm the usually strict Jess. 

She excuses herself to the bathroom, once again regarding her reflection in the mirror to make sure there is no lipstick on her teeth and that her outfit is still without creases. She’s opted for a suit today, feeling as if she needs the boost of confidence. It’s a simple navy pants and blazer combo, and the white blouse underneath adds just the right touch of femininity. 

The way Kara’s eyes had lit up when she collected her from the penthouse at the crack of dawn tells her she made the right decision.

A series of knocks resound from the greenroom door followed by the slight squeak of hinges. That must be her coffee. She turns to head out of the bathroom, the need for caffeine driving her and, for a second, overriding her nerves. 

Just as she rounds the door back into the main room, someone collides with her, and something wet and hot splashes down her front. 

“Jesus Christ!”

Her chest burns, scalding hot coffee seeping through the thin material of her blouse and sticking to the skin of her chest. She looks up to see Jess holding half an empty venti cup in hand, her eyebrows well on their way to her hairline and her mouth agape. Kara is beside her in an instant, her stance defensive. 

“Miss Luthor! I’m so sorry!” Jess sounds as if she’s on the verge of tears, but Lena can’t care less. All she wants is to get her blouse off before the coffee seeps through to her bra.

Kara seems to interpret her needs. “Miss Luthor, if I may?”

Lena nods. Kara gently pulls Lena’s blazer off her shoulders, careful not to let it touch the soiled material of the blouse. She drapes it over one of the nearby chairs before turning to Jess.

“Grab the hand towel in the bathroom and run it under the tap.” 

Jess, whose eyes are still glued to the slowly darkening stain on Lena’s blouse, nods numbly before dashing off to the bathroom.

“It’s no use.” Agitation rings clear in Lena’s voice as she helplessly stares down at herself. “It’s ruined.” An overwhelming need to cry pushes up in her throat and she clenches her jaw.

Another knock resounds on the door, followed by a voice, “Miss Luthor, you’re on in five.”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

What is she supposed to do? Go on air in a stained, wet shirt? There’s no time to get it clean or dry. She’ll make a fool of herself, and no one would take her seriously, least of all Andrea. For all intents and purposes, Lena is fucked. Totally fucked. She pinches the bridge of her nose harshly, as she resides herself to be the laughingstock of morning television.

God, imagine the stocks tomorrow.

Movement catches Lena’s eye, and she looks up just in time to see Kara shed her own blazer. She’s left in a normal long-sleeved white shirt with her black tie. In addition to that, there's a black leather shoulder holster tightly secured over the shirt, housing a sleek pistol. Lena’s eyes are so transfixed on the gun that it takes her a moment to realize that Kara’s tie is hanging loose around her neck. Her fingers are rapidly unbuttoning the buttons of her shirt.

“What are you doing?” Lena hisses as Kara untucks her shirt and reaches to unclip her holster.

“Giving you my shirt.” When Lena opens her mouth to argue, Kara cuts in. “Freshly washed and ironed.”

As if hygiene is on the top of Lena’s list of worries.

Kara’s out of her holster and tie in a flash, and suddenly she holds the shirt out to Lena. Lena is momentarily frozen by the sheer size of Kara’s biceps. She’s left in a white tank top now, and it’s doing wonders to accentuate the swell of her muscles and — 

Kara turns around, putting an abrupt stop to wherever Lena’s mind was going. With Kara’s back to her for privacy, Lena quickly strips herself of her blouse, letting it fall to the floor before shrugging Kara’s shirt on. There’s no time to be self conscious, and she blames the aircon for the gooseflesh that erupts on her skin. 

She thumbs the buttons as quickly as she can with her shaky fingers. The shirt is ill-fitting. It’s obviously tailored to Kara’s body. The shoulders are too large and the sleeves too long. But it’s okay, Lena thinks as she rolls the sleeves up to reveal her hands. The blazer will hide that. What the blazer wouldn’t hide, however, is how the buttons strain slightly against Lena’s chest. It’s almost too tight to be deemed acceptable for television, but it will have to do. 

Jess is behind her then, handing her blazer back and fixing her collar. She rushes to Lena’s front, pulling the shirt out slightly from where Lena had tucked it into her pants. 

“Okay, you’re good to go, Miss Luthor,” Jess assuages. 

Lena doesn’t get a chance to thank Kara before Jess ushers her out of the room and into the spotlight.

***

The interview goes just about as terribly as it could. It starts okay. Andrea is a kind and gracious host, even going as far as complementing Lena’s outfit, which is ironic, to say the least. And it’s fine. Lena knows that she’s a bit stiff at first, but at least the morning show is filmed without an audience, and with conscious effort, she relaxes into the couch as she tries to answer Andrea’s questions as truthfully and genuinely as she can while pretending that cameras aren’t there.

By the thirty minute mark, she feels lighter. It’s going okay. Andrea seems to buy into Lena’s innocence. She commends her on the work L-Corp is doing and even asks about some upcoming projects. It’s going okay.

It’s okay until it isn’t.

“Do you think Lex would be proud of the work you’re doing?”

The question is posed so innocently, and it catches Lena off guard. She had explicitly forbidden the topic of Lex when she spoke to Andrea just before her hair and makeup, and they came to an understanding. How naïve of Lena to have believed her.

She shifts uncomfortably in the seat and feels her spine go rigid. “I honestly couldn’t tell you what my brother would think.”

“You two don’t speak?” Andrea seems genuinely surprised.

Lena suppresses the mad urge to laugh. The idea of calling Lex in prison is ridiculous to her. What would she even say to him? She shakes her head at Andrea.

“You never wonder about him? Wonder if he’d be happy with the direction that you’ve taken his company in?”

“He gave up the privilege of calling this company his the day he committed murder.”

There’s venom dripping from her words, and Lena winces at her own hostility. She resists the urge to uncross and cross her legs. She doesn’t want to fiddle when she talks about Lex. She doesn’t want to talk about him.

Andrea doesn’t catch the hint. Or perhaps she does and just chooses to ignore it, which is the more probable explanation. She leans forward in her chair, her eyes glistening like a foxhound on the hunt.

“Just horrible what happened in Metropolis. Just horrible. How you must feel, being the only survivor. Other than your mother, of course.”

Lena swallows thickly at the realization that she’s lost control over the interview. She’s walking right into Andrea’s traps.

“You don’t know where she is?”

“I do not,” Lena answers truthfully. Mouth dry, heart rate picking up. For a moment, she feels like she’s back in an interrogation room with the FBI demanding to know Lillian's whereabouts. 

Andrea nods thoughtfully, her face overly empathetic. The stage lights suddenly feel too bright. Too hot. Lena blinks against the sudden onslaught and tries to focus on the dramatic pull of Andrea’s brows, as she tries to anticipate her next question.

“And do you believe she was in on it? That she helped Lex murder all those innocent people?”

The urge to pull on the collar of her borrowed shirt rears its head, and Lena places her hands safely in her lap. Her eyes flicker towards where she knows Kara’s standing in the shadows, watching the entire interview unfold.

“I can’t say that she wasn’t in on it.” Even after all this time, it hurts to know her mother must have assisted Lex in some way.

“And tell me, Lena, do you think your mother is the one behind the vicious attack on your renaming ceremony? Is that why you’ve taken to hiring a bodyguard?” 

A picture of the day before appears on the large screen behind them. Kara’s jaw is clenched, her eyes entirely focussed as she holds onto Lena, ushering her past the reporters at L-Corp. Lena’s face is hidden, her head down and her umbrella held low just like Kara instructed. 

Lena freezes, suddenly feeling like a deer caught in the headlights.

Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Kara abandoning her post. She walks around the set, passing just behind the cameras that are all pointed towards Lena, waiting for her response. It takes all Lena has to not focus on Kara as she comes to a stop next to the setup full of important-looking gentlemen who Lena guesses are the producer and director. Kara whispers something at them or shows them something or both. Lena can’t see and can’t turn to look because Andrea’s sugary sweet voice demands her attention as she repeats the question.

“Did you hire a bodyguard to protect you from your mother?”

The question barely hangs in the air before Andrea’s focus slides off Lena’s face and settles somewhere behind the camera. Her eye’s narrow slightly, and Lena’s sure she sees a muscle twitch on the side of her face. 

Her eyes snap back to the nearest camera, and out of nowhere, her expression shifts and she’s smiling.

“I’m afraid that's all the time we have with Lena Luthor this morning. We look forward to following everything you and L-Corp accomplish in the future.” She turns back to Lena, and Lena plasters a quick smile on her face. Andrea takes her hand to shake it, her grip stronger than it needs to be. “Thank you, Lena. It’s been a pleasure as always.”

Somewhere, someone shouts ad-break, and the cameras pan away as the lighting changes. Andrea is up and out of her chair without sparing Lena a second glance.

In the car ride back to L-Corp, Lena tries to wrap her brain around what just happened. She can’t be sure, but she assumes Kara interfered somehow. Why else would Andrea have stopped so abruptly even though they still had five minutes left of the scheduled time?

Lena tried to read Kara on their exit from the studio, but the blonde carefully evaded any eye contact with Lena as she opened the passenger door for her. Even now from the backseat, Lena can’t see Kara’s expression, but her body language seems stiffer than usual.

Regardless, Lena is thankful that the interview was cut short. She’s not sure she would have been able to survive one more word about her family.

***

The rainspell that swept National City up continues. It rains almost constantly from the moment they arrive back at L-Corp after Lena’s interview, and it’s still pouring down when the sun starts setting, much earlier than Kara would have preferred.

She glances towards the door, wondering if Lena will honour her promise of leaving earlier, but Kara doubts it. She’s on the phone, and she’s pacing, but Kara has a feeling that it’s not a business call. 

Kara doesn’t expect them to share their late-night beverages tonight, given the fact that she had intervened with the interview. In hindsight, it was a reckless decision, but Lena had looked so distressed, so vulnerable. Kara had to do something.

Besides, talking about the attempt on her life on national television could lead to more attempts, either by the person who failed or by a copycat who shares the same sentiment of ridding National City of the Luthor.

At least that’s how Kara is choosing to justify it. She was just doing her job. 

It was easy enough to walk to the director and flash her bodyguard badge, not that it even held any power.

Kara expected Lena to scold her immediately, claiming that she could fight her own battles, and that Kara should’ve never interfered. The scolding never comes, not in the car, and not in the countless hours later. That doesn’t stop Kara from nervously shifting outside of Lena’s door all day long, expecting to be called into her office at any moment. 

Lena doesn’t call, but Alex does. Kara ignores the calls and pretends she doesn’t feel the vibrations inside her blazer.

When Lena walks out and heads to the kitchen minutes after she sends Jess home, Kara is slightly surprised. They’re both quiet as Lena refills the kettle and readies the mugs. Kara still can’t help but wonder if her reprimand is lingering on the horizon.

She watches from the office couch, as Lena turns her coffee somewhat Irish by adding a generous amount of scotch to her mug. She settles half atop her desk tonight, instead of behind it.

Once again, Kara wonders if she’s expected to strike up some sort of conversation, but decides against it.

Lena seems far away, her gaze somewhere on the carpet, as she sips on her drink. Kara scratches her neck, her fingers brushing against the collar of her fresh shirt. Jess had disappeared after Lena's interview only to return to the office with a brand new shirt for Kara. It’s not a perfect fit; the arms are slightly too short, but it’s nice and soft. She hopes it's not designer. 

Kara’s original shirt is nowhere to be seen. Lena swapped it out for another blouse sometime during the day, and Kara wonders what she’s done with it.

Eventually, after Lena finishes her coffee and trades her mug for an amber-filled tumbler instead, she speaks.

“I really didn’t enjoy talking about him.” She pauses and regards her glass. The slow-melting ice blocks clink against it as Lena brings it up to drain half the glass in one large mouthful. She swirls the remaining liquid around, looking at it with great interest, but Kara has a feeling that Lena sees right through the liquor. “I thought I was doing okay. Moving on.”

It’s vulnerable, what she says and how she says it. It surprises Kara. “I could see that,” she answers simply because surely the whole of National City did. “I’m sorry you were tricked into uncomfortable questions. It wasn’t very kind of that woman.”

“I should’ve known better. She’s not afraid of sensationalising news.” Lena frowns suddenly. “The press are going to have a field day with that photo tomorrow. Your face will probably be in the papers too, you know.” She scoffs and shakes her head. “Just more proof that no one around me is safe.”

“It’s always a possibility for any high-profile protection,” Kara says automatically. And it is. Half of her face was on the front page at a CatCo gala once before.

“Still. I’m sorry.”

“I should be the one who’s sorry. For interfering with the interview. I know it wasn’t my place.”

Lena regards her curiously over the rim of her glass. She bites her lip and nods, more to herself than to Kara.

“It wasn’t. But I’m glad you did.”

***

The next time Lena comes walking out of her office after she’d sent Jess home, she’s got her handbag and laptop bag slung over her shoulder and her coat draped across her arm. Kara’s immediate and inexplicable response is disappointment. She doesn't know why, but the idea of parting from Lena before their usual nightcap is a let down. Kara’s gotten embarrassingly used to it in the short time span. 

She supposes she should be glad. It’s good if Lena is leaving the office before dark for once. It is Friday after all.

Kara’s relief turns into something close to disappointment. Leaving this early means that she’ll be able to make game night. It’s at Winn’s tonight, so all Kara will have to do is pick up some takeout and take a 20-minute walk to surprise her friends.

But she doesn't want to. It’s not that she doesn't want to spend time with her friends. She just isn’t in the mood for the unavoidable lecture from Alex.

After ignoring a dozen of her sister’s calls, Alex had switched tactics. She messaged Kara a photo of an online article all about Lena Luthor’s new bodyguard, followed by two question marks. Now everyone knows the face of her bodyguard. The next message said. I hope you’re being careful. Remember what I said.

So yeah. Kara’s not going. Instead, she’ll go home, lock her door and try to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

However, once they are in the elevator, Kara realizes that they are not going home. Instead of pressing the G button like she does every other night, Lena rummages in her bag for a key card that she swipes through a groove that Kara hadn’t noticed before her fingers reach out to press the B2 button.

“We’re going to the basement?” Kara tries to keep the panic out of her voice. A basement. That’s underground. Like below this massive, massive building. Like a cave—

“I’ve opted to take your advice regarding my self-care. Or lack of it, rather. I’ve decided to treat myself to my original passion.” Lena’s voice has a hopeful ring to it, and by the way she glances at the numbers above the door, Kara can tell that she’s impatient, excited to reach the basement level. “Working in the labs,” Lena clarifies. She must have mistaken Kara’s silence for confusion. 

Kara immediately latches on to the sound of Lena’s voice to distract her from the fact that they're nearing the ground floor that will immediately lead them past the underground parking and down to whatever waits for them in the dark space beneath the skyscraper. 

She quickly clears her throat and nods. “I'm really glad to hear that.” 

Kara is really glad to hear that, and she knows she will be able to say something more eloquent the moment she can get out of the elevator. She brushes at the knot of her tie and wonders if the basement level is hotter than the rest of L-Corp. 

She’s had to get used to the daily elevator ride to Lena’s office. She still hates it. Still feels like the walls are slowly closing in on her. The mornings are the easiest because they're usually early enough to have the elevator all to themselves, and she knows exactly how long the elevator takes to reach the top floor, which helps. As long as it doesn’t stop on the way there, Kara knows she is in for a one-minute and 28-second ride either up to Lena’s office or down to the foyer. So she counts. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, all the way to eighty-eight.

Right now, Kara can’t get into the counting. The time she knows she has to spend in the elevator has changed. Counting to eighty-eight isn’t going to work. How long is the ride going to take now? 

“Miss Danvers?” Lena’s voice sounds far away, and Kara turns her head to the left with a slight jerk. “Are you okay?” Concern shines in her eyes.

The elevator dings, and Kara breathes a huge breath of relief. She practically jumps out of the lift and takes another, smaller breath, the pressure on her chest disappearing immediately. Lena frowns at her but says nothing.

The space that Kara follows Lena into is nothing like she expected. Bright fluorescent lights immediately flicker to life as they walk deeper into the room. The lab is massive, and Kara wouldn’t even know where to begin if asked to catalog its contents. There are a variety of lab stations, each sporting an abundance of unrecognizable apparatuses, the only one of which Kara can name being a microscope. 

They don’t linger in this space, though. In fact, they move through the room, passing all the lab tables, before coming to another door. Lena swipes the same card from before, then places her hand on a keypad, and finally punches a six-digit code onto a small touchpad before the door swings open. 

This room is not even half the size of the main lab but not any less impressive. There’s only a handful of lab stations here, but each one is fully kitted out with the same type of gadgets and machines from the other room, if not more. 

Lena walks to the closest table and deposits her bag and coat on one of the lab chairs. 

“Welcome to my personal lab,” she says, as she gestures around them. “I don’t spend half as much time here as I’d like to.”

Kara’s floored. “This is your idea of self-care? Forgive me for saying, but Miss Luthor, this is more work. You're going to be working.” 

“I don’t see it as such,” she says with a smile. “It relaxes me. The tinkering, the experimenting.” For a moment, it looks as if Lena might like to add something, but she stops herself. “I won’t spend too much time here tonight. I know it’s been a long week for us both.”

Lena spends the next hour soldering something onto a circuit board with great focus, looking leagues away from stern CEO Lena Luthor. Her perfectly straightened hair is pulled together in a high ponytail, and safety glasses balance on the bridge of her nose. She wears a white lab coat over her dress, the script above the breast pocket reading Dr. L.K Luthor. 

Kara is forced to wear her own plastic glasses after refusing the coat. She spends the better part of the hour sitting opposite Lena and alternating between watching as her steady hands work with precision and watching as her tongue peeks out past the seam of her lips when she focuses on a particularly tricky piece of soldering.

They don’t make a lot of small talk, but when they do, Lena’s voice sounds lighter, more relaxed. She hasn’t sighed once since they’ve entered the lab. 

It’s with cracking bones that Lena eventually straightens from her hunched-over position. Kara can hear her spine pop, as she stretches, her neck cracking like a glowstick. She breathes out a deep sigh and starts putting her equipment away.   

Lena’s reluctant to leave, and for some reason, Kara feels a similar sort of unwillingness. 

It’s as they're waiting for the elevator to take Lena up to her penthouse later, that Lena turns to thank Kara.

“For what?” Kara knows, of course, but she wants Lena to say it.

“You were right.” For a moment Kara swears Lena rolls her eyes. “I need to do some things for myself. I really enjoyed working in the lab tonight.”

Kara can’t help but smile. “You should do it more often then. Every Friday if your schedule permits it?” Kara’s feeling bolder than usual, as she raises her eyebrows hopefully.

“Every Friday,” Lena agrees as the elevator doors open. “I’ll even see if Jess can work it into my schedule specifically.”

***

True to her word, Lena informs Jess on Monday morning that Friday evenings are to be cleared for the next few weeks. No overseas conference calls, no late-night paperwork, no nothing. Jess seems surprised at the change of plans but also smug. Her eyes glance towards where they both know Kara is standing watch outside her door before she nods and makes the appropriate changes to Lena's schedule.

Kara seems smug that night, too. She’s once again on Lena’s couch, clutching a mug of hot chocolate in her hands. This new routine of sharing a nightcap and twenty minutes of small talk has quickly become routine — and it scares Lena.

Still, it doesn’t stop her from preparing an unhealthy, sweet cup of hot chocolate for her bodyguard each night. By Wednesday, Kara offers to make them a refill when Lena’s piled-up paperwork has her trapped behind her desk till well past 9pm. Lena savours the drink, a mocha concoction, and smiles when Kara’s eyes light up with relief once Lena approves of the flavor. 

The following night, while Lena is reading a particularly boring contract, Kara decides to walk around her office. This is new. Up to now, she’d taken to sitting stock still on Lena’s couch, relaxing ever so slightly each night. Tonight, apparently, she feels comfortable enough to abandon the couch and peruse the shelf to Lena’s left.

It’s distracting, to say the least. Lena watches out of the corner of her eyes as Kara holds her mug in one hand while using the other to pick up the occasional knick-knack from the shelves. Granted, there’s not much, but she notices Kara come to a stop in front of a framed picture of Lena and Lionel. She is young in the picture, no older than eight. The two of them are standing side by side, smiling at the camera. Lex took the photo with the camera he had gotten for his birthday. Lena has no idea why exactly she keeps the picture in her office. It’s one of the few photos she has with her father. Like her, Lionel was never fond of having his picture taken.

After studying the picture but making no comment, Kara moves to pick up a large conch shell beside it. It’s no bigger than the palm of her hand, and Kara immediately moves to place it against her ear, closing her eyes and letting out a pleasant hum.

“I’ve always loved that you can hear the sound of the ocean in shells.” Kara opens her eyes and looks directly into Lena’s, apparently unsurprised by the fact that Lena is watching her intently. “It reminds me of home.”

The shell reminds Lena of home too. A home she never knew, a home long forgotten on the shores of a quaint Irish seaside town.

The shell, regretfully, doesn’t come from Ireland.  It’s a gift from Lex, given to her on her 16th birthday, together with the promise that he’d take her to her birth country someday. Some days she looks at it and is overcome with the desire to smash it with a hammer. 

Lena places the contract down before her, making peace with the fact that she wouldn’t be getting through the legal jargon tonight. “You know it’s not really the ocean you’re hearing ”

“Yeah, I know. It’s the sound of your blood pumping through your veins.”

Lena smiles as she angles her chair more to where Kara is still standing, holding the shell to her ear with a content smile tugging at her lips. “Not quite. It’s actually the noises from your environment resonating inside the shell because of its curved walls. The sound of moving air kind of sounds like the ocean.”

Kara stares at her like she’s just told her that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Her lips drop as she frowns, and Lena looks away before the pout can fully form. 

“You sound like my sister,” Kara says, as she carefully places the shell back on the shelf. “Always bursting my bubbles with downright unnecessary scientific facts.”

“She’s a scientist too?” Lena asks, her curiosity spiking. 

She’d learnt tidbits about Kara’s life outside of work, like her favourite food is potstickers. Kara seems passionate about a lot of things, and she’s quietly animated when she shares these parts of herself. But Kara never mentions her family. Never mentions her sister, and after the last phone call she overheard, Lena is curious about the woman.

“She went through a phase of wanting to become a Marine Biologist. We lived right by the coast in Midvale. It was great, but instead of having normal summer hobbies like me who surfed, Alex decided it was her job to catalog every living creature on the shores when there was a low tide.” Kara’s eyes dance as her lips tug up into a smile. “As her younger sister, I was forced to accompany her on her tide pool expeditions.”

“That sounds nice.” Tide pools sound nice and all, but somehow, Lena’s mind freezes around the image of Kara on a surfboard.

“Have you ever?”

“Ever what?” Lena’s ears warm, as she pushes the mental images of surfboards, wetsuits, and biceps away.

Kara takes a sip of her drink before answering. “Been on the shore in a low tide? Explore tide pools, that sort of thing.”

Lena takes a moment to think about it. She knows that she spent the first four years of her life living close enough to the ocean to theoretically have experienced those types of things. From what Lena can remember, her mother’s cottage was just a ten-minute walk away from a secluded beach. But the memories are muddled. She has no memories of tide pools or sea creatures. The only memory of a shore that she has is the morning her mother walked off one and never returned.

“No,” she says eventually, unsure whether it’s the truth or not.

“You have to see it! It’s actually really amazing. There are entire ecosystems in them with like different zones or layers.”

Kara abandons the shelves as she walks over to Lena’s desk. Lena smiles because of course she knows there are ecosystems in tide pools. She knows this, but she doesn’t have the heart to quell Kara’s building excitement. 

“There are corals, barnacles, gosh, all types of things. And believe me, Alex wanted every last thing documented.” Kara shakes her head fondly. “My favorites were always the starfish. Oh, and these tiny, tiny, little hermit crabs. I called all of them Sebastian, much to Alex’s irritation.”

Kara chuckles, and Lena smiles along, even though she has no idea who or what Sebastian is.

“I could show you someday. We could even build sandcastles or just get some ice cream and walk around the harbour, if that’s more your speed. Once we’re sure you’re safe and all that.”

Kara lifts her cup but freezes before she can take a sip.  “I mean—I don’t mean to sound weird. You don’t have to go to the beach with me.” Her cheeks are pink, and Lena finds it quite adorable.

“It’s okay.. You’re fine, not weird at all,” Lena reassures, automatically. Kara shifts uncomfortably and Lena takes pity on her. “I can see myself on a beach somewhere. Although, I can’t say I have much experience with building sandcastles.”

“You’ve never built a sandcastle?” Kara’s eyebrows shoot up when Lena shakes her head. “Well, consider this a promise then. As soon as everything has quieted down, I’m going to show you all the tide pools and teach you how to build the best sandcastles you’ve ever seen.”

Lena’s stomach flutters at the idea. It should be ridiculous, the idea of playing with sand at the ripe age of twenty-five. She accepted, long ago, that she’d never experience that sort of thing as a child, but somehow, she feels the beginning of hope blooming amidst the strange fluttering in her stomach.

“Sounds like you have yourself a deal, Miss Danvers.” Lena winks, and Kara proceeds to choke on her next sip of hot chocolate.

***

The next evening, they find themselves in the lab again. Lena’s soldering once more, and Kara’s sitting on a lab chair across from her. On the occasional glance up from her work, Lena finds Kara’s gaze intensely focussed on her hands.

“When are you going to tell me what you are building?” Kara’s lips bare the ghost of a pout again, and Lena smiles mischievously. She’s been at it for hours, and every twenty minutes, Kara has demanded to know what Lena is busy with.

“It’s not a bomb, Miss Danvers, I promise. I may be a Luthor, but I have no intention of committing mass murder.”

The self-deprecating joke comes as a bit of a surprise to Lena herself, and she wants to cringe, but she embraces it and sends a smirk Kara’s way. The joke doesn’t land though, and a small crinkle appears between Kara’s brows, as she frowns.

“It’s almost done.” Lena relents, and the crinkle between Kara’s eyes disappears, as her eyes light up. 

It takes her another hour, but finally, she’s putting everything together after politely asking Kara to turn away. Lena doesn’t know why, but she wants to surprise Kara. When a small robot waddles its way past Kara’s ankles, she stiffens at first before giggling and bending down to retrieve it.

“It’s nothing special,” Lena says suddenly hesitantly, worried that she might have accidentally disappointed Kara.

“What do you mean?” Kara looks genuinely affronted like Lena has just insulted her mother. She brings the still moving robot closer to her face, observing the plastic exterior. “He’s like the Iron Giant!” Kara’s eyes shine, as she moves the robot to one hand, using the other to take its little extremity in hers, shaking it and saying, “Nice to meet you, sir!” 

It’s absurd to see a grown woman speak to an inanimate object, and Lena has to suppress a  giggle. “The what?”

“The Iron Giant.” Kara’s eyebrows rise, as she drops the robot's hand in mock shock. “Please don't tell me you’ve never seen that before.”

Lena shakes her head, and Kara’s mouth drops open. She places the robot back on the floor and launches into a detailed explanation of the plot of said movie. Despite the fact that she couldn't care less about a made-up robot’s fate, Lena still listens intently, hanging on Kara’s every word.

Lena loves the way Kara’s cheeks pink as she gets into it. Really into it. Her hands gesticulating wildly, her smile nearly splitting her face in two as she speaks of the hopeful ending, how she believes that the iron giant was repairing itself.

By the end of it all, she dubs Lena’s little creation with the name Richard, which is a hilariously human name to give a robot, and Lena vows to watch the film some day. It’s past midnight when they finally power him down and clear Lena’s workspace. 

“We’ll be taking my car,” Lena says, as they ride one floor up to the undercover parking. “I sent Frank home hours ago.” 

Kara nods at this, cheeks still flushed from the time spent in the lab. Lena’s sure she looks the same. Her cheeks feel warm and tight, the muscles not used to the amount of smiling. The cooler air that greets them in the underground parking lot is heaven to her overheated skin.

The parking lot is mostly devoid of cars at this hour. She recognizes vehicles from the security guards in the foyer, and then there’s a handful of company cars. Right at the end of the parking lot stands Lena’s absolute guiltiest of pleasures: her Porsche.

Lena doesn't like to be flashy with her money, doesn’t feel that she even has the right to. She’d come into the small fortune that is the Luthor inheritance — she didn’t work for it. It basically fell into her lap. So her clothes, albeit the finest designer-made quality items she can find, are unassuming in their own right. They’re not flashy or over the top. Same with her jewelry. She likes to think that even her penthouse is modest. No balcony pools or bars or whatever else you’d think a wealthy CEO in their twenties would splurge on.

Her car, however, is flashy. Some might say over the top. The very opposite of inconspicuous.

The two-door Porsche is low to the ground and sleek in design. Its glossy black exterior reflects the lights of the car park as they near it, and Lena feels the exact moment that Kara realizes which car they are headed to. Kara doesn't react outwardly, but her spine straightens the slightest bit when her eyes land on the car.

“Beautiful isn’t she? I figured if all the good for nothing businessmen of the city could drive around in things like this, why couldn’t I?” Lena pauses, as she rummages in her handbag to find the keys.

She’s looking down when she hears it. Footsteps. Fast and precise, like someone’s running. Her fingers latch around the keys at the same moment her head snaps up towards the sound. She doesn't see much, just a flash of color as a man tumbles towards her from behind a pillar. His contorted face is focused purely on Lena, as he raises his arm, the knife in his hand glistening dangerously under the fluorescent lights. His eyes are filled with one purpose: to kill. 

Lena’s lips part to say something, what she doesn't know. To scream? To beg? 

She doesn't get the opportunity to plead for her life because the next movement she’s pushed out of the way with enough force to send her falling to the ground. Her handbag slips from her grasp and lands on the floor beside her, its contents spilling out onto the concrete. 

Thudding echoes from behind her, and she cranes her neck to see Kara and a masked assailant have it out feet away from her. The masked man swings his knife wildy, and for a second, Lena is certain that the blade must’ve sliced Kara's stomach right open. Panic washes over her, and she expects blood to stain Kara’s shirt any moment. But Kara’s fast, her smaller size making her quicker on her feet than her assailant. She continues to hop back, as the man swings his arm, evading a likely lethal slash by inches. The man changes tactics, stabbing at Kara, but she counters it, grasping the man by the wrist and cleverly twisting it, causing him to drop the knife as Kara pins his arms behind his back. 

“Lena! Get out of here—”

The man head butts Kara mid-sentence, the back of his head connecting fully with her nose, causing her to stumble back, as she clutches her face. The next swing and uppercut connect directly with Kara’s jaw, causing her to stumble back, her back thudding against the pillar. 

The man turns abruptly, leaving Kara behind, as he strides towards Lena. There’s nothing Lena can do. She sits frozen on the floor, as the man reaches her in three long strides. He bends and grabs her by the collar of her dress, pulling her up to her feet. His fingers graze the skin of her throat, and Lena closes her eyes, as she anticipates the feeling of life being squeezed out of her. 

The feeling never comes. The fingers around her neck disappear, and Lena slumps back to the ground just in time to see Kara’s leg swing around from a kick she no doubt landed. The man clutches the back of his head, but has no time to recover as Kara kicks high again, her boot landing square in the man's stomach with the accuracy of someone who’s studied martial arts. 

Struggling to catch her breath, Lena watches as Kara  pulls back, tensing to throw another punch, but the man pushes forward, tackling Kara and sending them both tumbling to the ground.

There’s a flurry of punches as they roll over the concrete floor. Kara struggles to stay on top of the man, his heavier build giving him the upper hand. Kara comes off second from the skirmish as the man rolls on top of her and then plants himself on top of her chest. 

“Kara!” Lena screams at the same time that a blow lands heavily against Kara.

Lena looks around frantically. What could she do? Where was the security? Her eyes fall on her forgotten handbag, and she rushes towards it, hoping, praying she’d be fast enough. 

Another punch lands, bone connecting against bone with a sickening thud, but Lena can’t see who landed it. She hopes it’s Kara, but the soft grunt that follows tells her that Kara was at the receiving end. It spurs Lena on, as her trembling fingers graze the bottom of her handbag.

She finds it — the taser that she always carries with her. She’s never been more thankful that Sam and Ruby gifted it to her before she left for National City.

With a flash of adrenaline, Lena’s behind the man, and she jabs the taser into his back. The electricity jolts through his body, as he slackens and falls to the side, landing on his stomach.

Lena kneels by Kara’s face. It’s wet, her nose is bleeding profusely, covering her mouth and chin in crimson. 

“Kara? Can you hear me?” She nods and wipes at her nose before wincing. Her eyes snap in the direction the man fell, and Lena swallows, suddenly terrified that he might be on his feet and advancing on them.

But there’s nothing. No one. The parking lot is empty, and the door leading to an emergency exit swings closed.

***

Announcing that Lena is in no condition to drive, Kara gently tries to prod the keys from her hands once they collect the contents of her handbag off the floor. Lena hesitates, her fingers tightening around the keys. She doesn’t let anyone drive her car, and besides, Kara is injured.

“I can drive.” Lena sounds confident enough, but she knows that her body gives her away. It trembles, still high on adrenaline.

Kara eyes her suspiciously. She holds out her hand and waits, leaving Lena with no choice but to deposit the keys into it. 

“Take me home,” she whispers when Kara mentions something about reporting the incident to the police. Kara hesitates but nods as she opens the passenger door for Lena, allowing her to slide onto the cold leather seat. 

Kara is behind the wheel in a flash, adjusting the seat to compensate for her long legs. The engine purrs to life beneath them, and Lena reaches for the air conditioning, turning up the heat to try and control the violent shivers that threaten to wreck her body. 

Neither of them speak on the way home. The roads are near-deserted, not many venturing out on the streets after midnight. The beams from the city lights dance over the dashboard, as Kara glides down the streets. Lena can't help but be drawn to the way the shadows pass over the swollen knuckles on Kara's right hand, as she shifts gears. There’s dry blood covering her knuckles too, and Lena hopes it's not more of Kara’s.

They’re home in record time. The security in the foyer of Lena’s building immediately rushes to them when Kara comes into view, and for the first time since getting in the car, Lena takes in the state of the woman beside her. Dry blood cakes her nose, her mouth, and the collar of her shirt. Her jaw is purpling, and her left eye is slightly swollen.

Lena waves the security away and pulls Kara in the direction of the elevator.

“Come,” she says as the doors open. “Let me clean up your face.”

Kara shakes the entire ride up to the penthouse. Lena sees her clench her hands together in front of her to try to hide the tremors. When that doesn’t work, she stuffs them in the pockets of her pants. Kara doesn’t make eye contact — she keeps staring at the elevator doors, barely blinking and breathing slowly and deliberately. Lena doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

Upon entering the penthouse, Kara seems to reign her nerves in and instructs Lena to stay put next to the door. She’s fast and efficient, as she passes through the apartment, switching on all the lights as she goes. Once she disappears down the passage into the other rooms, Lena becomes impatient. She abandons the door and heads to the kitchen to pour herself a stiff drink. She downs it easily and is in the process of pouring her second when Kara reenters the living area.

Lena angles her glass toward Kara. “Can I get you one?”

Kara shakes her head. “I'm still on the clock.” 

Lena feels like laughing. “Of course.”

As Kara nears the kitchen, Lena remembers the actual reason that she invited her upstairs. She abandons her scotch on the island and pulls a pack of frozen peas from her freezer. She rounds the island and silently offers the bag of frozen vegetables to Kara who gingerly places it on her swollen knuckles. 

“Sit down,” she calls over her shoulder, as she leaves for the bathroom.

When Lena returns, Kara is obediently sitting on one of the barstools, her blazer neatly folded on the stool next to her, the peas still balancing on the back of her hand. Her holster contrasts against the white of her shirt, and Lena traces the dark leather up against her chest, her eyes zeroing in on the splatters of blood that darken the collar. 

Kara seems conflicted, seems to want to take the bowl of lukewarm water away from Lena, but Lena angles it out of her reach.

“Let me.”

Lena expects Kara to argue, but she relents and nods. As Lena nears her with the damp washcloth, Kara shifts her legs, allowing Lena to stand between them and run the cloth over Kara’s face.

Kara hisses, as the cloth grazes a split in her lips, and Lena reminds herself to be careful, careful. 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Lena questions, suddenly worried that something is broken. Kara’s left eye is red and tearing, and Lena ghosts over the bruising around it. “Do you need a doctor?”

“No. No, thank you. It just stings. I need to — wait.” Kara pulls away and tilts her head upwards, as she gently prods at her eye. The next moment she produces a contact lens and then another, as she fiddles with her uninjured eye.

Lena eyes her warily for a moment before she resumes her careful cleaning. A trickle of blood has made its way down Kara’s chin below the jaw, and Lena cups the side of Kara’s face, softly tilting Kara’s head to the back to reach it. When she guides the head back, she observes Kara’s skin one last time to make sure she hasn’t missed anything. For the first time, she notices the scar right next to Kara’s eye. Her eyes drop lower, as she takes in the light freckling that dots pink cheeks.

She’s never been close enough to see these little parts of Kara. Lena’s eyes flicker up to Kara’s. They’re clouded with something unreadable. 

Lena drops her hand as her skin starts to heat up. She blames it on the adrenaline leaving her system. 

“Thank you. You saved my life.” Lena says softly, as she fiddles with the bowl of water. “If it wasn't for your fast reflexes…” A shudder passes through Lena’s body at the thought of what could have happened.

“Of course, Miss Luthor. It’s what you employ me to do.”

Yes, of course. It’s her job. The phrase irks Lena more than it ought to, and she reaches for her glass. 

“Are you okay?” Concern bleeds into Kara’s voice. “I pushed you a bit harder than I meant to.”

Lena has no time to react before Kara is on her feet. She lowers her gaze to the spot on Lena’s shoulder where she pushed her, and for a moment, it looks like Kara wants to reach out and touch her. 

“It’s okay.” Lena reaches out to touch her arm herself. It’s not tender, but she’s almost certain it will still bruise.  

Worry still clouds Kara’s eyes which is funny since she’s the one with the injuries. “We really should report this.”

Lena shakes her head. “No. L-Corp has had enough bad press. I can’t have this getting out too.”

“Miss Luthor, someone tried to kill you.”

Lena brings a hand to her forehead and sighs. Indeed. Her mind spins at the implications. Someone really wants her dead. One attempt could be written off as a fluke but twice in one month? 

Andrea’s words echo in her head, “ Do you think your mother is the one behind the vicious attack on your renaming ceremony? ” Could it be Lillian? Is she orchestrating these attacks? Is she trying to finish what Lex started?

“Miss, Luthor?”

Lena doesn't answer. Like that, all the adrenaline leaves her body, leaving her exhausted. She slumps into the barstool next to Kara’s, the island countertop cold under her arms. She shivers again.

“Lena,” she says eventually. The panicked way Kara shouted her name in the parking lot flashes through her mind. “Just call me Lena.” 

Kara nods and moves to collect her blazer. “Was there anything else you needed for the night? I could stay, at the door, I mean.”

“No, Miss Danvers, that’ll be all.”

Kara frowns at her. “Well, if I’m calling you Lena…”

“Kara it is.” Lena manages a small smile. Feels the urge to laugh again. Fucking adrenaline rush.

Later that night, after a warm shower and a couple more drinks, Lena walks around her apartment, checking the locks and peering into every room, much like Kara had done earlier. After she’s situated herself comfortably in her bed, she pulls up her tablet. 

She needs to figure out where Lillian is and what she's up to.

***

“What the fuck, Kara!?” Alex hisses the moment Kara slides into their favorite corner booth at Noonan’s. 

“What?” Kara deflects automatically, even though she knows it's futile. As much as she’s tried to hide the bruise on her jaw and under her eye, the purpling is fairly obvious under her concealer. 

Alex shoots her a “do not fuck with me” look, and Kara sighs. “There was a bit of an altercation at work. It’s nothing.” She tries to sound nonchalant, as she looks around for their waitress. It’s a Sunday morning, and the place is more packed than usual.

“It doesn’t look like nothing. It looks like someone assaulted you.”

Kara reaches for her glasses — another unfortunate consequence of having a slightly swollen eye being no contact lenses. She feels the glasses make it worse, their dark frames drawing even more attention to the state of her face. “Don’t be dramatic, Alex.”

“It’s the Luthor job, isn’t it? What happened? Did someone attack her?” Alex’s gaze is piercing.

Kara makes a show or reading the menu intently, ignoring Alex’s rapid fire questions and subsequent mumblings of “I told you something like this would happen.”

“Alex,” Kara warns. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She’s spent enough time thinking about it, replaying the event, checking to see what she could have done better, faster, in order to have apprehended the man.

How did she not see him hide behind the pillar? Why didn’t she sense him?

She makes a mental note to ask for Winn’s help come Monday. Even if Lena refuses to report the incident, nothing is stopping Kara from enlisting Winn’s hacking abilities to try to match the man’s description to the criminal database.

Alex sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “I’m worried about you. The first time I see you in weeks and you look like this. What else don’t I know?”

“Nothing, Alex.”

“I don’t like this. First your face is plastered on the headlines and then it’s beaten to a pulp.” There’s genuine concern covering Alex’s face, and Kara softens.

“I’m being careful. I promise,” she reassures.

Her sister drops it when their waitress comes over to take Kara’s drink order. Alex checks her watch. Pulls at the collar of her leather jacket. It’s painful to watch. But also kind of cute. Alex doesn't always get nervous, and despite the slight irritation she feels towards her sister at that moment, Kara can't help but throw a light-hearted tease her way.

“Does she always run this late?”

Alex bites her lip and glances at her watch again. “She’s not really late. I’m just ner—” She stops herself short when she notices Kara’s poorly hidden grin. “Oh, shut up, Kara.”

“You’re nervous to see her,” Kara finishes and flashes a smile. It’s reassuring to know they're both anxious to see Kelly, although Kara’s nerves are due to entirely different reasons. “Alex, when are you going to make a move?”

A blush colors Alex’s cheeks, and she’s suddenly very interested in stirring her cappuccino. “I — we have a date next weekend.”

So that's why Alex was so adamant that Kara meet Kelly this Sunday. 

“I really like her, Kara. I need to know what you think of her before there’s even the possibility of this getting serious.”

“I promise to be nice.” And Kara means it. Despite her worry that Kelly will shrink her up without her permission, she is interested to meet the woman who has a sister in such a spin. And, despite the tension that hangs between the two of them more often than not, Kara still wants the best for her sister and is ready to scrutinize Kelly over breakfast. 

The next moment, Alex’s face lights up, and she stands up from the table to wave to someone over Kara’s shoulder. The wave is a little over-enthusiastic, and Kara suppresses a snort. 

Kelly is nice. Firm handshake. Big, kind eyes. Bright smiles — every one of them directed at Alex. It's safe to say that both of them are crushing hard. Kara smiles behind her sticky bun, as she watches Kelly wipe cappuccino foam from Alex’s lip.

She’s intelligent too. She demands your focus in conversation, captivating in a soft and gentle way. It’s clear to see why Alex is falling in love with her. It’s even clearer why she became a therapist.

Kara hasn’t even finished her full English breakfast and order of sticky buns when she decides that Kelly has her approval. And that’s saying a lot. 

At some point, Alex excuses herself to the bathroom, leaving Kara alone with Kelly. It’s silent at first. Kara’s finishing off the few bites of her breakfast. Kelly shoots her an awkward smile which Kara returns before sucking on the straw of her long-empty milkshake, causing the straw to gurgle. The moment feels weighted. Kara can tell that Kelly wants to say something, so she pushes her empty glass away and looks at her expectantly. 

“Your sister tells me you served,” Kelly begins with subtle curiosity. “In Kaznia right?”

Here it comes, Kara thinks as she suppresses a sigh. Alex’s sudden call to nature suddenly feels very staged, and Kara silently curses her sister as she nods. 

“Me too. Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Kara nods a couple of times. What is she supposed to say? Are they supposed to have some special veteran’s bond now?

“I know how tough it can be to find your feet back home.”

“I think I found my feet just fine.” Kara glances in the direction of the bathroom. What the hell had Alex been telling people.

Kelly follows Kara’s gaze. “Alex worries about you.” She purses her lips when Kara doesn't answer. “I lost someone over there. My sergeant and I... we — we had all these big plans for when our tour was over. We were gonna get married.” Kelly’s eyes shine with an unknown memory, and Kara finds that she can’t look away. Her heart stutters, as she realizes the implications of Kelly’s words. “She never made it home. Alex tells me you had a similar experience.”

“No.”

“No?” Kelly’s brows furrow. “Alex mentioned—”

Kara shakes her head. “It wasn't like that.” Between training and being deployed, there was no time to pursue romance. Not that she ever saw him as more than a friend. A lifelong friend, if it wasn’t for the—

A hand covered in blood and sand. Fingers clawing towards her. Cold skin. So cold. “Don’t leave me, Kara…”

“It wasn’t like that at all. And Alex doesn’t know shit.” Kara stands and fishes out some money from her jeans.

Kelly stands too, her big eyes wide with concern and sympathy. “I don’t pretend to know you, Kara. I just want you to know that you won’t be seen as weak if you want to talk to someone.”

“I don’t need or want to talk to you. You seem really nice, but I’m fine.” As Kara tries to brush past Kelly, she stops her with a gentle hand on the shoulder before handing her a card. 

“I don’t expect you to talk to me. But if you ever change your mind, give this person a call.”

Kara snatches the card and spares it half a glance before she stuffs it into her jeans pocket.

“Tell Alex I’ll call her later.”

***

Kara doesn’t miss the soft gasp Lena elicits when she sees her Monday morning. 

“Your face. Kara, I’m so sorry.” Lena’s face contorts with something close to guilt when the elevator door slides open to reveal a still bruised and battered Kara.

“Thank you, but it's nothing, really.” Much to Kara’s dismay, the bruising around her eye has only gotten darker over the weekend.

When Kara opens the car door for Lena, she can’t help but notice the darker than usual shadows that linger under Lena’s eyes too. There’s brief eye contact, as Lena slides into the car, and Kara suppresses a shudder, suddenly remembering the way Lena was drinking up her face as she cleaned her wounds before.

Neither one of them mentions the attack, and Kara has a feeling that Lena would like nothing more than to pretend that it never happened. The only difference is that today, Lena opts not to close the door to her office like she normally does. Instead, Kara stands next to an open door. The ability to see and hear Lena perfectly throughout the day doesn't seem to ease the anxiety that plagues Kara.

Even later that evening, when she's settled back on the couch in Lena’s office, the feeling doesn't leave her. She wonders if Lena feels the same way. Is her hearing also zoning in on any and all sounds? Does she feel the need to be ready to defend herself at any moment?

Lena surely didn’t freak out when Jess dropped a stack of binders with a thud. Lena didn't reach for her gun or sweat through her shirt or feel the need to pace.

If she does, she doesn't show it. In fact, she seems more comfortable than ever as she sits on the opposite end of the couch, cradling a cup of tea. It’s a first, them sharing the couch, but Kara likes it. The closer Lena is, the better Kara can protect her.

Both their beverages are finished, but neither one of them makes a move to get up from the couch. When Kara looks up during a short lull in their conversation, she finds Lena staring at her. 

“What, is there something on my face?” Kara jokes.

To her surprise, Lena blushes and proceeds to compliment Kara’s glasses. Kara smiles for the first time that day, feeling the slightest bit of tension seeping from her bones. She repositions her frames the way she always does when she’s nervous, an irritating habit she picked up as a teenager. She misses her contacts but trades them happily for the shadow of a smile Lena gives her.

She likes that too.

***

Lena feels on edge all week. She chalks it up to the attempt on her life. 

It is terrifying. As much as she tries to convince herself that it’s not, or that she's okay, she knows that it’s not quite true. She’s genuinely glad that she hired Kara. The fact that she sometimes catches a glimpse of her outside her now permanently open office door puts Lena at ease, even if it’s only a little bit. She makes a mental note to thank Jess for pressuring her into hiring a bodyguard and maybe even sneak in a raise.

Together with the fear of another attack, she’s also riddled with guilt. Kara’s face draws attention from every passer by, and even Jess questions it. Lena’s not sure exactly when her bodyguard's well-being became an important factor in her life, but nonetheless, she sends Jess out to buy Arnica gel at lunch time and then shyly hands it to Kara, instructing her to apply it twice daily.

She’s still on edge by Tuesday. 

She contemplates calling Sam for a good cry session, but she doesn't want to bother the woman so soon after the last late night phone call to Metropolis she made when her interview went downhill.

Instead, she takes comfort in the fact that Kara is sweeping her apartment every night now. They seem to have an unspoken agreement that this is their new norm. Kara follows her into the elevator, making sure the penthouse is safe before bidding her a quiet goodnight and disappearing down the hall. 

She’s still on edge by Wednesday. 

Kara must sense this because she questions Lena's jitteriness when the sound of Kara smacking the vending machine causes her to jump as she prepares their drinks. She brushes it off. It’s been a long day, and she’s tired, but Kara doesn’t look convinced.  

Her grumbling stomach interrupts her, and she sends a bashful look Lena’s way before pounding on the vending machine once more. Her snack is stuck. She announces it with such sadness that Lena offers to buy them a late dinner.

Big Belly burgers, Lena finds out shortly after she has someone deliver them, are big. 

“It’s all in the name.” Kara sounds infatuated, as she stares at her burger with heart eyes before taking a massive bite out of it.

Although it’s delicious, Lena doesn’t come close to finishing hers. She feels nauseous, but she’s not sure if it’s from an overdose of carbs or because of the odd feeling that still swirls in her stomach.

She spends the night trying to track down her mother again to no avail. Nothing has been withdrawn from L-Corps offshore accounts. No money transfers. No strange activity whatsoever. She contemplates hiring a private investigator but decides not to. If the FBI can’t find Lillian, what use will it be for Lena to try? 

Perhaps it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

By Thursday, she remembers the significance of the week. Or the day. 

It's been a year. 

She’d totally forgotten. Lena’s never been one to keep track of anniversaries. When she strides into her office on Thursday morning, a bunch of flowers waits for her on her desk. She walks over to them, expecting a card.

“Jess,” she calls and immediately curses the shakiness in her voice. The flowers are unassuming: white roses in a glass vase. Their stems are sturdy and mossy green, and the petals seem perfectly symmetrical. In between them, there are small purple flowers that Lena doesn't recognize.

There is, however, no card in sight.

“They were left at reception for you,” Jess says, as she leans into the office.

Lena hums, as she thumbs a petal between her fingers. For a moment, Lena stiffens as the idea of a bomb crosses her mind, but she banishes it as an irrational fear. There is nowhere to hide anything. And besides, it must have passed through security before it ended in her office.

The small purple flowers catch her attention once more. They look almost like weeds, and when she reaches out to touch one, she hisses. Their stems are covered in little thorns, and Lena pulls her hand back to suck on the small amount of blood that rises to the surface of the pad of her thumb. 

“Thank you, Jess.”

Her assistant lingers for a moment before edging into the office. “Do you think it could have anything to do with —” Jess pauses, trying to find the correct words. She settles on “— the date?”

It takes Lena a moment as she figures out the date in her head. 

It’s been exactly a year since Lex — since Jack — “Yes, that's probably it.” Her voice is a whisper.

Jess quietly excuses herself, as Lena sinks into her chair. At first, she tries not to think about it, but she seems to be reminded of it at every corner. As she pages through the Daily Planet, she comes across an article: “LUTHOR MASSACRE: ONE YEAR LATER”

Lena doesn't read the article. She’s not sure she has the stomach to see Lex’s name typed out in ink in the same article that uses the word “murderer.”

Instead, she shoves the Planet and the rest of the newspapers in her drawer and carries on with her day. At least she tries to. Her mind skips to Lex constantly. How is he doing? Does he feel remorse? Are they treating him well? Does he deserve to be?

Just before lunch, the flatscreen TV on her office wall catches her attention. The news is on. It’s muted, but Lena doesn’t have the heart to turn it off. A part of her wishes Lex would make his way onto the screen. She knows he will eventually. 

Her wish is granted when her brother's piercing stare bores into her minutes later. Him in his orange scrubs, his hands shackled before him. The segment is not about him. It's an interview with the family of one of the men that Lex poisoned. Lena unmutes the TV with a sense of duty. She needs to be reminded of what he’s done lest she ever finds herself lost on the path to becoming like him.

She doesn't allow herself to cry while watching this family mourn the life of a son. A brother. A friend. She locks herself in her bathroom office for her lunch hour where she cries and grieves her loss.

Jack.

And ultimately Lex.

God, even Lillian in all her wickedness is still a loss. 

The loss of two mothers in one lifetime is wholly unfair, and Lena entertains the idea, not for the first time in her life, that she was born cursed. Bastard luck, she supposes. 

Later, she sends Jess home at a decent time, but unlike the last couple of weeks, she doesn’t walk out to meet Kara. She wants to. Or she thinks she wants to. Perhaps it will be better if she had an early night, skipping the coffee completely and heading home to a bottle of scotch.

Lena ends up frozen in her chair, gazing with great focus at the bouquet of strange flowers. Sam didn’t send them. Lena already confirmed this when she gave her old friend a quick call.

The strange choice of flowers throws her. And the fact that there’s no card.

The only other person who would send this is Lillian. 

Lena can’t reconcile with the thought that her mother would send her a bunch of flowers on such a date. Why would she? Lillian Luthor doesn’t know sympathy. Is it a wicked way of reminding Lena that she was still at large? That she knows exactly where Lena is?

It can't be Lillian. She’s not even in the country. It could be a random spiteful person, but it feels more personal than that. Lena keeps looking at the flowers even as the sun starts to set. She knows she’s going to have to turn on the light soon if she wants to continue her study of the leaves and petals. She doesn't. 

This is how Kara finds her, sitting in her darkened office with her head in her hands, as she once again contemplates going home and opening that bottle of scotch.

The soft knock on the door startles Lena. “I’m sorry. If you’re still busy, I’ll just—” Kara is already taking a step back, her hand falling heavily from the door and back to her side.

“It’s fine, Kara. Come in.”

The blonde seems to contemplate her options, her eyes falling on the couch and then back onto Lena before she ultimately makes the decision to come to a stop behind one of the chairs opposite Lena’s table. Lena’s relieved to see Kara’s bruise is no longer a dark purple but rather an unappealing yellow.

“Is everything okay?” she asks hesitantly.

Lena contemplates. Technically nothing is wrong. “I’m sure you’ve seen the papers.”

“No. I try to stay away from the news in general.”

Lena senses a story behind that but doesn’t have the mental energy to wonder. “It was a year ago. The thing with my brother.” The thing . She can’t bear to call it by another name. The murders. The massacre.

“Oh.” Kara’s eyebrows scrunch the tiniest bit, but other than that, her face remains neutral. “Can I make you some tea?”

It’s not an entirely strange question, but it’s not one Lena expected. She blinks. It’s her job to make their evening beverages. She swivels her chair, ready to get up.

“Sit,” she hears. “I’ll make you a cup of chamomile.”

Lena stays seated on her office chair as she watches Kara disappear through the door again. Then she stands and flicks on a couple of lamps before lowering herself onto the couch with a sigh. She pulls off her heels and draws her feet up onto the couch, folding them underneath herself. 

When Kara returns with two steaming mugs, she doesn't hesitate to sit down on the couch after carefully handing Lena her tea. It’s just the right temperature and when Lena takes the first sip, she’s surprised that the taste is perfect too. 

There’s no talking as they drink. The silence feels different tonight. It’s not filled by the sound of typing or Lena paging through some or other contract. It feels heavy. It prompts Lena to want to share. 

“My best friend died that night, you know.” The never-minded tone of her own voice surprises Lena, and she tightens her grip around her mug, hoping the warmth will spread through her hands and seep in her cold bones, eradicating the numbness she feels. “We met in college: Jack.” It feels strange for her lips to form the name. It’s been a while since she allowed herself to say his name aloud. 

Kara's face shows little surprise, but her lips turn down ever so slightly. “I’m so sorry to hear that, Lena.”

“What's worse is that my own brother killed him. Would’ve killed me.” Lena scoffs at the absurdity of it all. She stares at the mug in her hands, unable to meet Kara’s eyes. “I felt his last breath leaving him. My hand was on — on his chest. He was still warm. Sometimes, I get so angry at myself for not trying to save him. I should’ve done something. I didn't even do CPR. I just sat there. Again. Just like before.”

“Before?”

“I should’ve warned him not to drink it,” Lena whispers, ignoring Kara’s puzzled look. In her mind, she replays the exact moment that she realized something was wrong. The way Lillian froze before she took a sip of her champagne, the way she swirled it with a frown and then sniffed it ever so delicately before lowering her glass with a pale face. “It’s all my fault.”

Lena still doesn’t know what compelled her to watch her mother across the room instead of lifting her own glass to her mouth. The moment felt suspended to Lena. She leaned in to sniff her own glass. Bitter almonds. Simultaneously, Lena and Lillian came to the same conclusion. 

Cyanide poisoning.

Kara’s voice sounds far away when she says, “It’s not your fault. How could you have known?”

She doesn’t have an answer. She just should’ve known . Survivor's guilt, Sam called it once.  

“I’m afraid.” It’s barely a whisper.

And she is. Of so much. She’s afraid that she really is to blame for Jack’s death. She’s scared that someday, somehow, her genes will override her, turning her into Lex. She’s afraid of the attacks on her life, what they mean and who’s behind them.

The couch pillows shift, as Kara closes the short distance between them. A warm hand slides over hers, as Kara gently pries the mug from Lena’s hands and places it on the coffee table next to her own before she drapes her arm over Lena’s shoulders, pulling her close. “You don’t have to be afraid. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

And oh , Lena realises. She’s being hugged. She allows herself to melt into the embrace as Kara brings her other hand to rest on Lena's shoulder. It’s comforting yet foreign, and it causes Lena’s eyes to sting.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Kara repeats, and Lena swallows the urge to make her promise. It’s a ridiculous notion. So she sits quietly, allowing Kara to draw mindless patterns onto her shoulder, as the first sob escapes her.

Kara keeps whispering soft reassurances into Lena’s hair, and for a second Lena, feels soft lips brush the shell of her ear. It should feel inappropriate, but Lena couldn't care less. She allows herself to be held for the first time in nearly a year, as she cries and cries and cries.

Lena stiffens when Kara shifts away from her. Surely the woman has had enough of Lena’s sobbing. She probably wants to get going.

But Kara doesn't get up to look at Lena with the disgust that she expects. Instead, she reaches inside her blazer to retrieve a white handkerchief, K.D neatly embroidered in navy.

Lena dabs at her eyes, not having the heart to blow her nose into the soft cotton. 

“Sometimes, I wonder if I’m destined to be just like him,” Lena admits softly a while later when her sobs subside. “It’s in my DNA after all.” Visions of herself dancing in between dead bodies flash through her mind. How long until she snaps and kills someone? What if she becomes responsible for Jess’s lifeless body? Or Sam and Ruby? Kara? “To be evil,” she whispers, her traitorous voice trembling. 

Kara pulls away then and places her hands firmly on Lena’s shoulders. “You are not evil,” she says sternly. “I know that I don’t know you that well, but I’m a pretty good judge of character. And you, Lena? You are a strong, kind hearted soul.” Kara’s stare is piercing from behind the glasses she still wears. “A heart like yours isn’t capable of being evil.”

Not trusting her voice, Lena nods and the motion dislodges her freshly welled up tears, causing them to run down her cheeks once more. She reaches to wipe them away with Kara’s handkerchief. 

Kara gives Lena shoulders one last squeeze before letting go. She quietly offers to warm Lena’s now cold tea in the microwave, but Lena declines. Despite the early hour, Lena is exhausted and would like nothing more than to crawl into bed. Kara nods understandingly and follows Lena to the desk, as she collects her phone and laptop. 

“Is that why you received these flowers then?” she questions, and Lena looks up to see Kara eyeing the strange bouquet with a crinkle between her eyebrows.

“I believe so. But I have no idea who they’re from.”

Kara hums softly as she walks closer to the flowers. “Odd.”

“What is?” Lena pauses her desk cleanup as she waits for Kara to continue.

“These flowers. White roses and Thistle. What an odd combination.” She reaches to touch the purple flower, and Lena notices that she howers just above the stem, mindful of the little thorns. “Roses would make sense. They can be a sign of remembrance. Good for grieving a loved one. But the Thistle…”

“Yes?” Lena prompts softly.. 

“Well, Thistle can mean protection or… or evil.”

Evil.

The very word Lena fears. Dread settles heavily in Lena’s gut and she tries to ignore it. She hastily shoves her laptop into her bag. “Interesting. How do you know all this?” 

“Eliza took up botany as a bit of a hobby after Jeremiah’s death. I used to spend some time in the greenhouse with her on bad days.” Kara looks thoughtful before dropping her hand and turning to face Lena. “Do you mind if I take a photo to send to her? I might have it all wrong.”

Lena nods and watches as Kara whips out her phone to take a couple of pictures before typing a message. She has no idea who Eliza or Jeremiah are, but what she knows now, without a shadow of a doubt, is that Lillian is the one who wants her dead.

***

Kara watches Lena closely the next day. 

She can’t help it. She wouldn't call it paranoia, but she definitely feels a bit wearier, as they drive down the streets of National City. She shields Lena closely with her body, as they exit the car downtown for Lena’s 11 o’clock meeting. Her eyes sweep their surroundings with frantic precision when Lena lingers outside the building after the meeting a little too long for her liking, talking to an enthusiastic scientist about an upcoming project and possible collaboration. 

She eyes everything and everyone with suspicion.

It’s exhausting, but Kara stays alert. Stays focussed. If someone is sending threatening flowers to Lena’s office, Kara needs to keep her head in the game. Even after Lena sends Jess home, Kara’s still on high alert. Lena’s still working. Kara can hear the melodic typing. Hears the gentle creak of Lena’s chair. The elevator hums in the corner as the last of L-Corps staff head home for the day.

Kara wonders if they’re going to the lab. Does Lena want to? It’s been exactly a week since the attack in the parking lot. Perhaps she’d skip it. With any other client, Kara might have even suggested or insisted that they skip it for safety sake.

But she’s selfish. The more time she spends with Lena in her office, the more she craves it. It’s strange and not something she’d expected to happen when she first walked into the CEO’s office. But she can’t help it. Day by day, Lena lowers a little bit of her defenses, and at night, she feels a glimpse of the real Lena, not the Lena that needs to keep up CEO appearances. .

There’s a noise from the canteen, and Kara’s hand is on her gun, her heart thudding. It’s just the ice machine, and Kara lets out a heavy breath. She really needs to relax.

Lena exits her office a little while later and smiles at Kara. “Ready for more robotics?”

Lena ends up fiddling with something else. She hands over the remote control of Richard, and it keeps Kara busy for a while. The robot doesn't have a lot of maneuverability, its turning circles wide and its steps slow, something Lena fervently promises to upgrade the next time she builds one.

Kara finds herself becoming restless, and her thoughts drift away. She checks her watch. She needs to convince Lena to leave earlier tonight. They can’t walk into a completely deserted parking lot again. 

Lene doesn’t seem to share her uneasiness. She works with fervor, her focus only breaking when Kara steers Richard into Lena’s stilettos on purpose in an attempt to distract her. She’s rewarded with a laugh, the first of its kind. It’s a giggle really, Lena’s cheeks dimpling as she smiles with her teeth.

“You're a menace, Kara Danvers,” she declares after nudging the robot away with the toe of her heels.  

Despite her restlessness, Kara hums and files the sound of Lena’s laughter away. She’s decided that she likes lab-Lena the best. Here, there is no evidence that the young woman carries the burden of a massive family business and an even larger family name. Here, her eyes glisten as she focuses. Here, her lipstick wears off as she bites her lip or darts her tongue out past the seam of her lips. Here, Kara is blessed with the laughter of a carefree young woman, even if only for a couple of hours.

“Hello, Earth to Kara?”

Kara jerks out of her thoughts. Lena’s talking to her. She’s forgone the safety glasses tonight, but the white coat remains, effectively shielding her equally white blouse from whatever it is that she’s doing. In her hands, she holds her tablet, her hands hovering over the screen.

On the floor, Richard is walking into a leg of the table, and Kara quickly shuts him off.

“I asked if you wanted to see something cool.” There’s an exciting glint in her eyes, and Kara pushes her thoughts away as she nods.

“Okay.” Lena’s fingers glide over the tablet, and the next moment, a dozen small silver things rise from the table in front of her. They hover together, almost like a swarm of bees. They emit no noise, as Lena types something, causing them to enter some kind of formation and levitate a few feet away from them.

“Wow.” Kara’s never seen anything like it.

“These are nanobots,” Lena says proudly. “It’s a project I used to work on—” she hesitates “— in the past.”

Kara wants to reach out and touch them but resists. “What can they do?” 

Lena sighs. “Well, nothing. Yet. The idea is that they will help in the medical industry. Deliver drugs, vaccines, monitor sugar levels, that type of thing. Almost like a medical microchip.”

“Then why are they flying?” Kara steps closer, marvelling at the size of the tiny bots. How could such a small object do all that?

“It’s a new prototype I’m working on. Emergency nanobots for police or army work. The idea is to code them in such a way that they work together as one, identifying damage to the body by themselves. Look.”

It’s the most excited that Lena’s ever sounded, and despite her instruction to observe the tiny flying objects, Kara looks away from them, focussing on Lena instead. Once again, she’s struck with just how much younger Lena looks. Even her shoulders have lost some of the tension that they carry daily. 

Lena fiddles with her tablet again, and the nanobots trade positions, falling into a new formation.

“If I can get it to work, then theoretically, they should be able to—”

A series of short explosions cut Lena’s sentence short. A nanobot catches fire midair, causing a chain reaction, as the one next to it goes up in a small flame too. It happens in a matter of seconds, and Lena reacts immediately.

“Fuck!”

Lena’s voice sounds far away, as she turns to the computer, frantically trying to call the nanobots off before they all explode. It doesn’t work. They’re all catching fire and exploding like crackers, but Kara doesn’t hear it.

“Sergeant Danvers! We have to move. Now!”

Gunshots rain in the distance, and Kara looks over her shoulder. Lucy is standing a few feet away, her rifle aimed at the dark treeline to the North of them, her eyes scanning the forest.

“I can’t! We can’t leave him.”

“Kara, we have to go!” Lucy’s pleading now, but she doesn't dare look away from where she aims her gun. 

The rest of their squad is already falling back, running for cover in the dark. Kara sees as well as hears the gunshots as they engage with the Kaznian forces coming out of the thicket.

She ignores Lucy and turns her attention back to the fallen rocks before her. She grasps the hand that appears through a small opening. She tries to see through it, but it's too dark to make out anything.

“Kara, please don’t leave me.” The voice is garbled and hoarse. A wet cough follows.

“I can’t just leave him here!” She chokes out.

Lucy shakes her head, giving Kara a decision to make. Either you stay here and die with him, or you come with me and live.

Kara shuts her eyes, as the realization of what she has to do hits her. She promised Alex she’d come back home. She promised Eliza.

She swallows thickly before making another promise. “I’ll come back for you. I promise. I promise.” Tears fall from her eyes, as she thumbs the rough skin of Mike’s hands. “We’re gonna come get you, okay? Just stay put.”

Behind them, the gunfire becomes louder. The Kaznian force is upon them, and every second they stay put, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to outrun them. 

“Don’t go. Kara, please.” Mike is crying now and Kara desperately tries to shift the boulders that trap him one last time. She grunts as her muscles burn. It’s futile.

Kara clenches her jaw and swallows her own sobs. “I’m coming back for you. I promise.”

Lucy is beside her, pulling on her arm. A shot zooms past them.

“Kara! Come on. Kara!”

“Kara!? Kara!”

It’s not Lucy calling her name now but Lena, Kara realizes, as her surroundings swim back into focus. It’s not dark anymore. It’s bright, and with a jolt, Kara remembers she’s in the lab. With Lena.

Lena.

Lena’s crouching on the floor. Her eyes are wide, and her cheeks pale. Her lips are moving again, but Kara can’t make out what she’s saying. Why is she crouching?

“Kara? It’s me, Lena. We’re in the L-Corp lab, remember? You’re safe.”

Lena’s hands are raised in surrender and Kara looks down at her own hands. They're clenched around her pistol. The pistol that she has pointed straight at Lena's chest.

Lena tentatively reaches out to Kara, and Kara flinches away, her back knocking against something cold and hard. She needs to get away from her before— 

“I know you don’t want to hurt me.” Despite her brave face, fear creeps into Lena’s low whisper, and Kara feels her stomach lurch. “Can I take that?”

Kara drops her weapon into Lena’s waiting hands and sucks in a shuddering breath.

What has she done?

Lena places the weapon out of sight and crawls towards Kara. Why is she crawling? Kara looks around. A fire extinguisher stands a few feet away next to the still smoking nanobots. When she looks up, she’s met with metal. She’s under one of the lab tables.

“Kara? I need you to breathe with me, okay?”

Only then does Kara register that her breaths are coming out choppy. Fast and shallow. There’s a suffocating pressure on her chest. She needs to get out from under the table. She needs to get out of the basement. She needs to get away from Lena. She pulls her hands away when Lena reaches to take them. Lena’s eyes are wide with fear, but her voice is controlled when she speaks again.

“I’d like to take your hands. Is that okay? I know you won’t hurt me.”

Kara tentatively places her hands in Lena’s, focussing on the calluses on her fingertips as they close gently around her own.

“Let’s breathe.” Lena makes a show of taking a deep breath before letting it out, and Kara tries her best to follow. “That’s it. Just breathe with me Kara. Everything is going to be okay.”

Everything is definitely not going to be okay. Kara wants to tell Lena, wants to tell her that she is responsible for a young man’s death. She’s the reason a mother had to bury her only son. She wants to tell Lena, but every time she opens her mouth to speak, her breath hitches, and the muscles in her throat tighten. 

Lena gently shushes her, telling her not to try and speak. She keeps her distance from Kara, keeping them connected by their hands only, as she rubs Kara’s jumping pulse with her thumb.

After what feels like a small eternity, Kara’s ears are no longer ringing, and her heart beats a more peaceful rhythm. She feels nauseous again, as she extracts her hands from Lena’s and crawls out from underneath the table.

What is she supposed to say to Lena now? Fuck . She grabs her gun from the floor and stows it away inside her blazer. 

“Lena…”

“Shh. You don’t have to explain.” Lena smoothes her hands over her pants to remove any non-existent dust before powering off her computer and shedding her lab coat. “Let’s get you home.”

Panic threatens to overtake Kara once more, as they enter the elevator. She feels her airway constrict as the doors slide shut. She scrunches her eyes shut and regrets the decision instantly. Suddenly, she feels as if she’s the one trapped under a boulder. Her chest feels tight again, heavy— 

A hand slips into hers. Lena rubs circles over the back of her hand, reminding her to breathe. Kara feels mortified.

Thankfully, the ride up to the parking is short and the dizzying pressure is gone as quick as it came.

Lena doesn't let go of her hand when they reach the parking lot. She pulls Kara along to her Porsche, now parked much closer to the elevator than before. The appearance of a security guard next to the emergency exit is new, and he simply nods at them from across the car park, as Lena leads them to the car.

The nausea returns as Lena starts the car, and Kara slides the window down, focusing on the cool air as it washes over her clammy face.

“Where to?” Lena asks once she turns onto the road. “Where do you live?” she repeats when Kara hesitates. 

Lena can’t take her home. They're supposed to go to the penthouse. She’s supposed to make sure that Lena’s safe.

Lena brushes this off when Kara mentions it. “I’ll be fine on my own for one night.”

The lingering nausea is the only thing stopping Kara from arguing further, and she directs Lena to her apartment. She expects Lena to drop her on the sidewalk. She doesn’t expect her to park her very shiny Porsche on the curb of Kara's rent controlled neighborhood and follow her inside the building. She says nothing, doesn’t question it when Kara opts to take the stairs up to her floor instead of the elevator. Doesn’t comment when Kara struggles to get her key in the lock with shaky hands.

It feels weird to close the door behind Lena once she enters the loft. On any other day, Kara might feel embarrassed by the dishes in the sink, the blankets strewn across the couch, the running shoes next to the door. She fiddles with her bunch of keys, unsure of what to do next. Was Lena going to fire her?

Kara hastily excuses herself to the bathroom before Lena can say anything. She sheds her blazer and holster, locking her gun away in the safe in her bedside table. She signs off for the night, lying to the night shift agent, saying yes, Lena is safely tucked away in her penthouse, before ripping out her comms.

She regards herself in the bathroom mirror, as she unbuttons her shirt. She looks wild. Her eyes are red, her skin ghostly. No wonder Lena was afraid. 

She scrubs at her face in the sink. Scrubs at the memory of Mike, trapped underneath rubble, begging her not to leave him. Her head feels empty and full at the same time. 

“Lena,” she begins as she leaves the bathroom. She needs to set the record straight. “I don’t know what just happened. It was extremely unprofessional of me. The noise—” 

Lena’s not where Kara left her, and for a moment, she wonders if the woman has gone home. But Lena hasn't left. She’s standing in Kara’s kitchen, leaning against the counter next to the fridge while reading something on her phone. There’s a tall glass of water and a steaming mug on the table in front of her. She looks up as Kara nears the kitchen.

“If you want to end the contract, I’ll completely understand.” Kara continues, as she reaches to release her hair from it’s ponytail in the hopes that it might quell the pounding in her head. “ARGO has a bunch of equally qualified agents. I can recommend one. Unless you want to use a different company completely.”

Lena frowns, but doesn’t say a word.

Kara sucks in a deep breath. “Just maybe don’t tell anyone. Please? I can’t really afford to lose this job and my sister—” She cuts herself off. God what would Alex say?

Lena sighs and pushes herself off the counter. She takes a seat at the table, gesturing for Kara to do the same.

“Drink,” she says, as she pushes the glass of water towards Kara. 

The cold water feels heavenly in her dry mouth, and Kara chugs it eagerly. Lena waits for her to finish before she says, “I’m not going to fire you.”

“But—”

Lena holds up a finger and Kara falls silent.

“However,” Kara’s stomach drops “if you feel like this job is too much, if you need to distance yourself —”

“I don’t.”

Lena raises an eyebrow. “You literally just had a panic attack in my lab.”

“It wasn’t a panic attack.” Kara argues. It's a knee jerk reaction. 

“What would you call it then?” Lena challenges, not unkindly. Traces of worry still linger in her expression, as she watches Kara expectantly.

Kara doesn’t know. Alex called it a panic attack once too. But it can’t be. 

“I pulled my gun on you,” Kara remembers with horror. Bile rises in her throat. “Lena — I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.”

Don’t apologize? Kara feels like crying, feels like hitting something. “I could have killed you.” Her skin prickles. 

Lena’s expression doesn't change. “But you didn’t.”

Silence settles over them. Lena doesn’t take her eyes off of her, and Kara has to look away. She grabs the mug, hot chocolate she notices, and wraps her fingers around the warmth. She wants to ask how Lena knew where everything was, but it doesn’t feel like an appropriate question. 

“I don’t know what's wrong with me,” she admits in a shaky whisper, warm tears threatening to spill. She blinks rapidly and continues to stare into her mug, noticing little specks of the hot chocolate mix that didn’t dissolve properly. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Lena’s hands move unsurely on the table top.

Kara doesn’t trust her voice. She meets Lena’s eyes and shakes her head. 

“Does this happen often?” Lena’s eyes are full of so much genuine concern that Kara has to breathe deeply before she answers. 

“Sometimes,” she admits in a small voice. It’s terrifying to say it out loud. She hasn’t even admitted it to Alex. “Lena, please don’t fire me.”

Lena's warm hands are on hers in an instant. “I won’t.”

***

Lena’s stomach sinks on Monday morning when she awakes to an email from Sam. She’s needed in Metropolis. Lena hasn’t set foot in the city since Lex’s sentencing, and she’s not particularly interested in doing so ever again.

The city is haunted.

But she has to. That’s what CEOs do. And besides, it will be good to see Sam. It’s been too long, and she misses her best friend and her god-daughter. She texts Jess good morning, asking her to make the necessary calls as soon as she’s in the office. Jess texts back when Lena’s in the back of her car heading to L-Corp, ensuring that her private jet will be ready to take off sometime after noon. 

Lena notifies Kara of the sudden change of schedule, which she takes in stride, only asking for how long they’ll be gone before inconspicuously sliding her phone out of her pants pocket, her fingers flying over the screen, as she composes a text.

Lena idly wonders if there’s some pet she overlooked on her short visit to Kara’s apartment the week before. She also stops to wonder how Kara does with flying. One nervous flyer was enough, and Lena prays that getting on a plane won’t be upsetting to Kara.

From the moment Lena left Kara’s on Friday, her mind immediately started working, as she analyzed her time with Kara that evening. It was clear that the exploding nanobots are what triggered her reaction. But was that it? Normally, one wouldn't expect someone to react that violently to an unexpected loud noise. 

As she closed her eyes to sleep that night, Lena’s mind replayed the haunting scene. She had just turned her back for a second, grabbing the fire extinguisher to put out her failed test. Her shoulders slumped at the setback, and she turned to Kara to clarify that, no Kara, they're not supposed to do that.

There was no cocky remark or wide eyes awaiting her. Instead, Kara was huddled underneath the table, her knees raised in front of her and her hands over her ears.

Lena's first instinct was that Kara was hurt. Somehow, the nanobots must have done something. She sank to her knees in an instant, fully anticipating the bruises she’d face the next day. Kara's eyes were closed, and she was completely quiet. Lena reached out to touch her knee.

And that’s when Kara pulled the gun on her. 

Ice cold dread filled Lena’s heart, freezing the blood in her veins and rendering her frozen on the spot. She slowly raised her arms. Kara wouldn’t hurt her.

“Kara?”

“No!” came Kara's response. Her voice was strained, and the unexpected loudness of it scared Lena. “I can’t just leave him here!”

The heart-wrenching scream and the horror behind Kara’s eyes stayed with Lena right until she finally succumbed to sleep.

Other things, like Kara's poorly hidden discomfort for elevators, start clicking into place the next morning. The way she would sometimes stiffen in the car if a particularly loud bike sped past them or if a car backfired. The way she’d barged into Lena’s office weeks ago, looking wild and ready to engage in a fight. 

Later in her office, Lena pulls up Kara's resume again. She hacks a couple of government organizations and manages to find some information on Kara. Her time in the army, her achievements, where she was stationed. Where spent her tour. Why she got awarded a medal of honor.

The last file finally gives Lena some answers.

Kara was responsible for saving the lives of her squad by leading them to safety after they were caught behind enemy lines. For distinguished conduct in the presence of the enemy is the official statement regarding Kara’s medal. Seven out of the eight members of Kara’s squad made it home thanks to her.

Lena comes across an article complete with a photo. It’s a military funeral, and photographed is Kara. She's wearing the Army service uniform, and in her white-gloved hands is a folded flag of the United States. The photo’s caption reads:

Sgt. Kara Danvers prepares to present a flag to Rhea Matthews, the mother of U.S. Army veteran Mike Matthews who died in April .

Kara’s jaw is clenched, as she stares straight ahead, flag held parallel to her chest.

Lena has a working theory, one she doesn't ponder on any further. She hears Jess’ quiet laughter outside her office, no doubt being charmed by Kara, as she takes her through Lena’s schedule for the time she’ll spend in Metropolis. Researching a woman who is a couple of feet away from her suddenly feels like a breach of privacy, and Lena clears her browser history before shutting her laptop off. 

It’s clear that Kara suffered major trauma, and as much as Lean wills herself to be respectful about it, she can’t help but wonder.

As it turns out, Kara’s okay with flying. Once she safely escorts Lena onto the jet, Kara relaxes. In fact, she seems rather excited about the prospect of flying, as she inspects the refreshments and peers into the bar fridge upon Lena’s request to help herself. 

Lena, not so much. 

Statistically, this is the safest way to travel, she says to herself as the pilot requests them to buckle up for takeoff. She hears Kara easily click her buckle together in the seat next to her, but Lena fumbles, her shaky fingers needing two attempts to secure the seat belt.

Outside the window, the tarmac begins to move. It’s slow at first. They’re just moving into position. When they finally start picking up speed, Lena’s heart rate quickens, and she shuts her eyes, resting her head against the back of her seat. 

Statistically, this is the safest way to travel. 

Lena repeats the phrase like a mantra, as she tries to ignore the dampness that forms under her armpits.

She hears a click to her left, and she opens her eyes to see Kara crossing the small aisle to sit in the chair facing Lena. Lena’s eyes widen in surprise and fear. You're not allowed to get up mid-takeoff, she wants to reprimand the bodyguard, but she can’t get her dry mouth to cooperate. 

Warm hands reach out and cover her own that are gripping the armrests of the leather seats. Kara gently pries them away, and Lena’s fingernails leave crescent indentations in their wake. 

“Have I ever told you about the time that Alex and I both landed each other in the emergency room?”

Lena finds herself thrown by the question. “What?”

“Yeah, when I was thirteen, I hit her with my alarm clock. I had just moved in with the Danvers, and at that time Alex and I didn't get along. One morning before school, we got into an argument. Something stupid. I can’t even remember how it started. Alex said a lot of hurtful stuff about how I disrupted her life. The next moment, I hurled my alarm clock at her.” Despite the serious source material of her story, Kara smiles at Lena. “I had a pretty good aim, if I do say so myself.” 

“Oh,” Lena replies dumbly. 

Undeterred by Lena’s lack of response, Kara continues, “And Alex, being Alex, retaliated immediately. She tackled me and I landed face-first against the edge of the windowsill. That’s how I got this.” Kara turns her head to show off the small scar above her left eyebrow.

“Ouch,” is all Lena can think to say.

“One concussion for me and five stitches for Alex later, Eliza was furious.” Kara chuckles, her eyes glazing over with a long-lost memory.

Lena feels a chuckle leave her body too, and she smiles when Kara refocuses on her, smiling effortlessly, the crinkles by her eyes deepening.

“What?” Lena feels that Kara’s smiling at her now and no longer at the memories evoked by the story. 

Kara shakes her head slyly and pats Lena’s hand. “Nothing.”

Lena looks down at their joined hands and watches as Kara smoothes her fingers over the back of her hand one more time before slowly dropping Lena’s hands and rising from her seat to go back to her original spot.

Only then does Lean realize the jet has fully taken off and that they are cruising above the clouds. Kara still wears the ghost of a smile, as she settles into her chair, and Lena’s skin prickles where Kara touched her. 

Metropolis is only a 90-minute flight away, and it passes in a flash. Lena mostly works, and Kara mostly eats. When the pilot announces it time to land, Kara slips into the seat opposite Lena again, this time buckling up, much to her relief, before almost shyly extending her hands.

Lena doesn’t hesitate to take them, allowing Kara to distract her with mindless patterns and yet another story about her and Alex’s teenage shenanigans. 

There’s not much time for distractions once they step out of the jet and into the afternoon Metropolis sun. She rushes to her arranged meeting with Sam and other board members. Kara dutifully stands guard outside the boardroom, as the meeting drags on and on.

She manages to share a late lunch with Sam in her office. They sit on a couch not too dissimilar to the one in Lena’s office and chat in between bites. While it's good to catch up with her old friend, Lena can't help but be reminded that this used to be Lex’s office. 

At least Sam had the mind to completely revamp it. It bares no traces of her brother, and Lena smiles at the framed photo of Sam and Ruby on the desk. A slightly ill-formed and brightly painted vase, likely a middle school art project, sits on a shelf. Ruby’s colorful umbrella hangs on the coat rack next to the door.

“She seems nice. Polite.”

“Who?” Lena tears her eyes away from the umbrella to find Sam getting up to collect their empty food containers.

“Your hunky bodyguard outside.”

“She is, yes.”

“Hunky?” Sam’s mischievous smile rings clear through the words, and she turns over her shoulder to wiggle her eyebrows suggestively. 

Lena curses the heat that rises on her cheeks. “No. Polite. She’s very good at her job. Keeps me safe.”

“Oh, I’m sure”

Lena rolls her eyes at Sam before tossing a closed sachet of salad dressing towards her. It hits her square in the back of the head, as she walks to the bin, and Lena allows herself to revel in the small startled squeak that her friend lets out. 

“On a serious note,” Sam says once she settles back onto the couch next to Lena, “I’m glad you did it. I’m sure hiring a bodyguard is not the most convenient decision you’ve ever made, but it's for the best. Ruby and I sleep better at night knowing that you’re that little bit safer.”

Lena has been waiting for the right moment to tell Sam about her suspicions about Lillian and the attack in the parking lot, but in that moment, she decides against it. She doesn’t want them to worry anymore than they already do.

They attend another meeting, blissfully shorter than the first, before handling a small pile of paperwork that needs Lena’s sign-off. It’s dark by the time Sam shuts her laptop down, and as much as Lena misses her friend and wants to spend more time with her, she feels drained. 

They part with a long hug and plans to try to catch an early breakfast with Ruby before school the next morning. 

The Luthor Manor is but a thirty-minute drive outside of the city, but Lena can’t imagine putting foot inside it ever again. Besides, their hotel for the night is much closer, and Lena is tired .

The room that Jess booked is nice enough: white linen, a comfortable bed, desk, television. Stellar view of the city. There’s even a bath next to the shower in the bathroom. Once Kara completes her mandatory sweep of the room, she leaves Lena with a nod and a soft goodnight before retreating to her adjoining next-door room. 

The mattress bounces, as Lena indulges and throws herself down face first on the bed. She’s exhausted, and she knows she needs to get up and shower if she doesn't want to wake up looking like a raccoon. She allows herself five more minutes and closes her eyes to block the dull light from the bedside lamp, as she listens to faint sounds of Kara opening and closing drawers, as she unpacks her suitcase in the room next door.

Lena ends up falling asleep. 

She awakes with a jolt, the time on her phone reading close to midnight. With a groan, she extracts herself from the bed and forces her tired body to take a brisk shower. 

And then she’s wide awake, much to her annoyance. Freshly showered and tucked under the soft linen of her double bed, Lena lies on her back staring at the ceiling. She blames the shower. Or perhaps the accidental hour nap she fell victim to. Either way, all traces of sleepiness are gone from her system.

She lays in the quiet darkness of the hotel room, waiting for sleep to reclaim her. She tosses and turns, trying, really trying to switch her mind off. She listens out for noises from the next-door room, but it’s silent. Kara’s likely fast asleep.

Lena throws the covers off herself in one wild motion before padding over to the minibar next to the door. She’s delighted to find a tiny bottle of scotch. Perhaps one drink will act as a shooting bedtime tonic.

Tumbler in hand, Lena makes her way out onto the balcony. It's not very large, but there’s enough space for a potted plant and a small table and chairs. Kara’s side of the balcony, which is separated only by a railing, looks identical. The late night air has a slight bite to it, and a shiver passes through Lena, as she leans against the railing to look out over the city.

Metropolis at night is simply breathtaking, but as Lena lets her eyes roam over the city lights and tall skyscrapers, she realizes that its beauty will forever be tainted with the crimes of her family.

She sighs and closes her eyes, listening to the quiet of the night.

“Oh!”

Lena jumps and turns, her hand lurching to her chest in shock, her scotch sloshing unhappily against the side of her glass. Kara stands sheepishly on her part of the balcony, open pizza box balancing precariously in one hand, a soda in the other. She’s wearing a hotel robe and slippers, and the robe is untied, revealing a tank top and tiny cotton shorts.

“I didn’t expect you to be up at this time. Is everything okay?”

Lena’s eyes snap up to Kara. When did her gaze travel to those toned legs? “Uhm,” she gets out eloquently. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Same.”

There’s a silence, and Lena shivers again. Her sleep shirt does nothing to keep her warm. She crosses her arms self-consciously and contemplates going back inside.

“Would you like a slice of pizza?” Kara walks over to the railing that separates the balcony into two and holds out the box. “It’s pepperoni.”

Lena shakes her head and declines politely.

“Are you sure? Did you have dinner?”

Before Lena can say no, she didn't have dinner, and yes she’s sure she doesn't want a slice, Kara vaults over the railing. It's a miracle that she doesn't drop the pizza or her can of cool drink, and she seems quite impressed with herself as she nears Lena with a smile.

“Come on, you eat pizza, right?”

Lena hesitates, wants to decline once more, but Kara’s hopeful smile convinces her. She feels her lips tug into a smile, and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly, as she reaches out towards the box. “Well, I am human after all.”

Kara beams and grabs her own slice before sinking down onto one of the chairs. Lena joins her, the cold metal of the chair uncomfortable against the exposed skin of her back thighs.

The pizza is mercifully hot and the cheese strings, as Lena takes her first experimental bite. “Did you seriously order a pizza at half-past midnight?”

Kara nods, her cheeks round with what looks like an entire slice of pizza. She audibly swallows before adding, “I was hungry.”

Lena ends up eating two-and-a-half slices. Kara finishes her unfinished slice as well as the rest of the pizza remarkably quickly, and Lena wonders where she puts all those carbs. 

“Thank you, Kara. That was lovely. All I need to do now is hit the gym immediately.”

“Nonsense!” Kara looks affronted. “You…” her eyes soften, and for a split second, Lena thinks she sees Kara’s gaze shift down before snapping up. She looks away then, grabbing the empty pizza box and haphazardly tries to flatten it in her hands. “You really don’t need the gym.”

Lena feels the tip of her ears warm, as blood rushes to her face. The goosebump flesh that rises on her skin has nothing to do with the cold, and she wants to cross her arms again.

There’s something different about Kara tonight, Lena muses, as she watches her fiddle with the pizza box. It could be the absence of her suit. Could be the fact that her face is devoid of the simple makeup she wears during the day or her hair that frames her face in soft waves. Her contacts must be out too, and Lena watches with amusement as Kara pushes her glasses up, accidentally covering one of the lenses with a pizza grease fingerprint.

Kara’s cheeks have a soft pink tinge to them, and there’s a crinkle between her brows. And then she’s up, vaulting back over the railing to her side of the balcony, muttering something about dessert. 

Lena takes this opportunity to flee back inside her room. She grabs her robe from the bathroom door and ties the sash tightly around her middle. She reaches blindly into the minibar for another travel size bottle of alcohol, emptying the contents into her tumbler. 

Kara is back on Lena’s side of the balcony, much to Lena's strange relief. She’s leaning against the railing in the same fashion as Lena did before. In her hands, Kara holds a small packet of Chocos. She immediately holds out the cookies towards Lena, but she declines. 

“No added sugar for me. Some of us have to be up early tomorrow.”

Kara nods understandingly and goes back to eating. The air is quiet enough for Lena to hear the cookie biscuits crunch, as Kara bites into them. Most of Metropolis is fast asleep now. The faint sounds of the odd millennial roaming the street or taxis hooting barely reach them at their height.

“The City of Tomorrow.” The bitter sarcasm in her voice doesn't surprise Lena, but Kara pauses and looks at her questioningly. Lena sips her drink before elaborating. “I hate Metropolis.”

Kara doesn’t push for a reason. Lena suspects it’s obvious.

Kara tucks the last Choco into the pocket of her robe and brushes at the crumbs around her mouth before looking out at the skyline again. “I used to love Metropolis. Idolize it. Fantasize about moving here, working here. Building a life that was my own.”

Lena inhales a sigh at Kara’s words. They sound so much like the words she told Jack when they first started talking about starting their own company and moving to National City. 

“I used to wish I could grow up here, but as you know I lived on the outskirts of a little beach town called Midvale. But my cousin lived here. He was the only real family I had left, and I longed to be with him, talk to him, hear stories about our family. My parents.”

“Your file didn’t mention you were adopted,” Lena says when understanding dawns on her. She feels a little stupid that she didn’t piece it together earlier.

Kara chuckles at that. “Yeah, it’s not something I go around shouting from the rooftops. Eliza and Jereimiah adopted me after my parent’s death. I was thirteen.” 

They’re silent, both looking out at the thousands of lights below them. “Clark didn’t want me. He had a new life, a new girlfriend, a new job at The Planet. I guess he was trying to forget about his old one.”

There’s a profound sadness in Kara’s voice, and she swallows. “I came here the summer after high school only to find that I didn’t know this man. At all. He was a stranger to me. I signed up for the army the day after I went back home to Midvale.”

Lena has her own memories of coming home one summer from boarding school to find a stranger in her house. Lex had a new friend. New ideals. Big plans.

Lex was completely enamored with his new friend. Lena remembers that he was kind to her, which was a rarity at the time. 

“Hey, I’m Clark,” he had said when they first met. 

“My brother and your cousin were friends.” It seems to be the night of revelations.

Clark showed kindness every time he came over which was often at first. How ironic, to be so welcoming to a stranger while all the while abandoning your own family. 

Kara nods and then sighs. “Yeah.”

Lena’s barely surprised. The world is small. And cruel. 

Both women are lost in thought until Lena yawns. Kara smiles regretfully and ushers Lena back into her hotel room with her signature soft, “Goodnight, Lena.”

It’s no surprise that Lena's dreams are filled with flashes of Lex that night.

***

Their flight back to National City leaves early the next morning, and despite getting little sleep, Kara is sharp and focussed. Once Lena was securely back in bed, Kara stayed up, contemplating her life. She wondered, not for the first time, what her life would have been like if she’d never visited Clark that summer. Perhaps, if she hadn’t left Metropolis feeling like she didn’t belong anywhere, she wouldn’t have been so eager to enlist herself. 

How different her life would've been.

Unfortunately for her, questioning her life decisions doesn’t stop once the sun rises. There's lots of time to let her mind explore the possibilities, as she sits alone at a table close to Lena before their flight. The airport cafe is relatively quiet at the early hour, and Kara nurses a cappuccino, as she observes the surroundings as inconspicuously as she can. There’s only a handful of people roaming around, and it probably helps that it’s the middle of the week too. 

Kara’s attention is pulled back to Lena as she laughs, low and melodically, beaming at the young girl, Ruby, who’s sitting next to Sam. Kara’s relieved to see Lena more relaxed this morning. Whether it's the presence of the girl and her mother or just the fact that she’s soon to be heading back home, Kara doesn’t know.

All too soon, it’s time for them to board the jet again, and Kara watches as Lena wipes the corner of her eye after she tightly hugs Sam and then the girl, Sam promising that they’ll visit National City soon.

The flight back home passes much the same as the first flight. Lena easily slips her hands into Kara’s when they take off and again when they land. She fares much better this time, her breathing even as Kara rattles off a story about her childhood cat.

When they step onto the tarmac, Lena’s town car is waiting for them. As Lena slides in the back, Kara falters. An uneasy feeling settles over her, making the hairs at the back of her neck rise. She closes the car door quickly and looks around, but nothing seems out of place. She huffs out a breath before opening her door. She really needs to relax.

“You won’t believe how happy I am to see you,” Lena says to Frank, as Kara buckles up. “The taxis in Metropolis are just awful.”

Frank looks up to smile at Lena in the rearview mirror, the timbre of his chuckle filling the car as they pull away from the airport.

Traffic is unusually thick for the time of day. Frank is forced to drive at a sluggish pace, and Kara shifts uncomfortably in her seat; rows and rows of standstill traffic can be seen in the distance. Lena seems less bothered. Familiar tapping comes from the back seat, as she composes what Kara assumes to be emails. 

Just as they near their offramp, traffic on the highway suddenly comes to a stop. Bumper to bumper.

“There must have been an accident,” Kara says to no one in particular, mainly to herself, in an attempt to soothe the strange anxiety that has passed through her. 

Frank humms, displeased, and Lena sighs. “Dammit. I’ve got a meeting in about forty minutes.”

It’s a long couple of minutes of stop and go, but their exit is finally coming up.

Frank’s fingers tap an impromptu rhythm on the steering wheel, as they creep closer and closer. Suddenly, Kara’s overcome with the feeling that they shouldn’t take the turnoff. It’s that same anxious feeling from before, but this time it does not pass. 

“Frank, I need you to take a detour.” It comes out more commanding than intended, and Lena’s typing pauses. “Don’t take this turnoff,” Kara cautions in a slightly less strained voice.

“Is everything okay?” Lena sounds worried, and Kara’s quick to reassure her.

“Everything’s fine, just a precaution.”

Lena leans forward, her hand gripping on the back of Kara’s chair. “What about my meeting, Kara?” 

“I believe it’s a necessary precaution.” Kara turns. “Trust me please?”

Frank indicates to change lanes, but it’s made difficult. Now that they have given up their space, it's hard to get it back. There's a truck in the lane next to them, stuck in the traffic that heads towards the waterfront. Frank edges towards the truck, ready to turn into the lane as soon as a gap appears.

But the truck isn’t moving, and Kara’s skin begins to crawl. She can’t explain why, but she doesn’t like the fact that they’re standing still either. Opting to take the turnoff will get them out of highway traffic. It will get them moving, and they can always take a different route once they’re off the highway. And besides, Lena has a meeting. 

Kara makes a split-second decision even though her gut feeling is conflicted. “It’s fine. Just take the turnoff.”

They wind down the raised turnoff, and Kara’s stomach clenches. The traffic is free-flowing when they come off the highway. It’s all over. Kara releases a breath and curses her meaningless anxiety over something as simple as traffic.

Lena’s talking on the phone now, presumably with Jess. 

“Get in contact with the chief of the children’s hospital. Sam gave me the wonderful idea of hosting a charity event.” Lena hums as she listens to Jess’s response. “Yes. I was thinking—”

A sudden thud crashes against the window, followed by another, hot on its tails. The bulletproof glass of the driver window cracks ominously. Frank flinches at the harsh sound next to his ear, and Lena screams.

“Down! Down now!”

Kara prays that Lena follows her command, as she sinks as low as she can on her seat and struggles to release the seat belt. “Lena, I need you to get down on the floor right now!”

Frank swerves dangerously, as another shot resounds against the window, and an oncoming car honks its horn. 

The next shot shatters the window and hits its target with a flesh-ripping sound. Frank's hands slip off the steering wheel, as he slumps to the side. Kara’s faintly aware of something hot and wet on the side of her face.

Without Frank at the wheel, the car spins out of control, engine revving and tires squealing. Kara dives towards the steering wheel, conscious to stay low. Her fingers skim the leather, as she tries to grasp it. She’s too slow. She has no time to brace herself, as the car comes to a violent stop, crashing headfirst into one of the parked cars next to the sidewalk.

The force of the crash causes Kara’s forehead to connect with the space just below the radio, and she hisses, as she dives back, squashing herself down into the small space in front of the seat.

Three more shots rain down, thud, thud, thudding against the metal of the car, but Kara barely hears them. Her heart thuds violently in her chest, pushing blood to the furthest part of her body, as a massive spike of adrenaline flows though her. 

Her hearing is subdued, although something is ringing. No, not ringing. Screaming. 

It’s the screams that force Kara’s brain into overdrive. 

“Lena, I need you to stay down! The bullets can pierce the window but not the armored door!” Kara hopes what she’s saying is true. The reinforced window clearly didn’t hold up very well.

Lena’s screams continue, as another shot hits her door. Kara pushes her head against the leather upholstery to see into the backseat. Lena is huddled on the floor, her hair and one side of her face covered with blood. Tears stream down her cheeks, and her whole body shakes.

Kara activates her comms with a shaky hand. “Agent Schott, come in! Requesting immediate assistance. South of Binder Bridge. Shooting in progress.”

Winn swears through the coms. “Sit tight, Kara.” She hears him calling J’onn and organizing backup.

“Copy that. Proceed with caution. There’s a sniper, Winn. East somewhere.” She looks over at Frank’s lifeless body and swallows the bile that rises in her throat. She knows there’s no point in checking for a pulse, so she turns her attention to Lena.

Lena’s breathing is erratic, each inhale immediately followed by an exhale. Another gunshot ricochets off the door, on their side of the car now, Kara realizes with dread, and Lena’s breath stutters through her chest. She shrieks, hugging her legs to her chest in her awkward position and squeezes her eyes shut.

“It’s okay. Lena. Lena, look at me.”

When the woman doesn't respond, Kara shoves her hand through the tight space between the seat and the door. Her fingers brush Lena’s knee, and she screams again, her breath leaving her almost impossibly faster.

“Look at me!” Lena’s pupils reflect Kara's panic when they lock eyes: blown wide open by adrenaline. Fingers close around Kara’s hand, her grip bruising as their blood-stained skin slips against each other. 

Winn confirms the ETA of the police, but Kara doesn't bother to answer.

“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” she says to Lena who nods. “I’m going to need you to breathe if you don’t want to pass out.”

Lena nods again, frantically, but her breathing doesn’t change. Her short nails dig into the flesh of Kara’s hand, but the pain barely registers. Another shot goes off, and Kara presses her body against the upholstery.   

“Lena, remember what I said about the tide pools,” Kara forces out. “back home in Midvale?” She squeezes Lena’s hand, but Lena remains unresponsive. 

Making a split-second decision, Kara pulls her hand out of Lena’s causing her to shriek. 

“Kara!” Her voice is hoarse, and it breaks Kara’s heart to cause her more distress. 

“It’s okay,” Kara reassures breathlessly. “I’m coming to you.”

She pushes the dead weight of Frank’s body to the side and takes a deep breath before squeezing herself though the two front seats and barrelling to the back.

She lands with a thud, halfway on the carpeted floor and hallway on the seat. The air conditioning unit at the back of the centre console catches her directly on the kneecap, but she ignores the pain. She pushes herself close to Lena and takes both her hands, desperately trying to ignore the crimson that covers them.

“See, not going anywhere.” She squeezes Lena’s hand again and is relieved when she returns the pressure. “When this is all over, I’m going to show you the beach and the tidepools, just like we said.”

“Really?” Lena’s lips tremble around the word.

“Yes, I promise.” Kara’s reminded of another promise she made a lifetime ago. Another hand clenched in her own. Her breathing hitches, but she keeps her focus on Lena’s eyes. “I’ll show you all the Sebastians. And of course, we’re gonna build a sandcastle too. But right now, you’ve gotta breathe with me, alright?”

Lena nods frantically, her eyes never leaving Kara’s, as she attempts to take her first deep breath.  

“That’s it. You're doing so good.” Lena’s elevated breathing slowly evens out. “Keep going.”

Seconds, minutes, or hours later, the window above Lena’s head shatters, and shards spill onto the ground and into her hair, causing her to shriek again and halting all the progress they made on her breathing.

Kara releases her grip on Lena. “Winn! Where the fuck is NCPD!” Sweat drips down her forehead, running onto her eye. She doesn't dare wipe at it with her bloody hand.

“On the way. There’s traffic!”

Kara releases a few more profanities. Another bullet ricochets off the door. Another swoops overhead through the broken window.

Her comms cackle, and J’onn’s calm voice replaces Winn’s.

“They’re literally around the corner, Kara. Sit tight.”

Police sirens wail in the distance, and Kara releases a shuddering breath. “We’re gonna be okay,” she says to Lena. “Just sit tight and keep looking at me. We’re going to be okay, I promise.”

***

The black NCPD tracksuit top scratches against the back of Lena’s neck, irritating the skin there and causing it to itch. She shrugs her shoulders, trying to shift the material. The tracksuit set smells like a mixture of cheap lavender fabric softener and mothballs. She misses her dress from this morning, but it's ruined, soaked in blood and somewhere in an evidence bag. She really liked that dress. Ruby even complimented it at breakfast.

Breakfast. God, breakfast feels like eons ago.

Lena sighs and takes up pacing the hallway of the precinct again. She wants to go home. She wants to cry, wants to scream. 

She knows Kara’s statement will be longer and more detailed than her own, but still, the wait to see her feels torturous. Lena tries to sit down on a hard plastic chair, but her leg keeps bouncing. She pours herself some water from a nearby dispenser, but she can’t seem to get herself to drink.

Eventually, Kara walks out of a room with a detective following behind her. The same woman, Maggie, took her statement earlier. Kara’s in the same garb as Lena, her soiled suit also collected as evidence. Kara and the detective exchange words, and the detective glances at Lena with a crinkled brow before shaking Kara’s hand.

Kara doesn’t say much, as she quietly leads Lena towards the exit. There’s an SUV waiting in front of the precinct, and Lena slides hastily into the back, with Kara following straight behind her. 

“J’onn. Vasquez.” Kara greets the people in the front. The woman behind the wheel nods gruffly before pulling away. Next to her, an older man turns with a strained smile. Lena recognizes him as the owner of ARGO. 

Lena’s seat belt doesn't want to cooperate. She struggles once, twice, and finally gives up, breathing shakily, as the urge to cry wells up in her chest.

“Here, let me.” Kara leans over and gently pries the clip out of Lena’s trembling hands. She buckles her up easily and then leaves her hand next to Lena’s on the seat, palm slightly facing up, a clear invitation.

Lena doesn’t hesitate to slip her hand into Kara’s. It doesn’t bring much relief, but the warmth of Kara’s skin is enough to keep Lena's tears at bay.

Kara explains the current plan of action to her with J’onn occasionally adding on. Kara keeps her voice low when she talks, her face angled towards Lena. J’onn’s voice is strangely soothing too, and Lena does her best to take in the information. It’s hard. It feels like she’s watching her life through a weird shaped lens or on a TV screen. The tinted windows of the van only add to the sensation, and for a moment, Lena feels strangely disconnected from her body, almost like she’s floating outside of it. 

She doesn’t manage to retain a lot of the information, but by the end of the conversion, she does know that Vasquez will be positioned outside the front door of the penthouse for the night. Lena doesn’t ask where this leaves Kara.

Kara and J’onn seem to communicate nonverbally for the rest of the ride, sharing meaningful glances in the rear view mirror whenever Lena looks out of the window. Eventually, Lena closes her eyes and rests her head against the seat.

It’s just after two in the afternoon when they finally enter the pre-swept penthouse, but Lena feels like she could sleep for years. Vasquez takes up her watch outside the door, and J’onn stays behind for barely a minute to talk to Kara in the passage. 

Kara enters the penthouse with a frown when J’onn leaves but offers no further explanation, so Lena assumes she’s staying. At least for a short while.

Lena feels dirt and sticky as she watches Kara slowly close the door, and the borrowed tracksuit still makes her itch. “There’s a guest bathroom down the hall to your right. In case you want to shower.” She doesn’t bother to wait for Kara’s response, as she heads for her room.

Lena’s own shower brings little relief. Although she cleaned up as best as she could at the police station, the water still runs red, as she washes the blood out of her hair. Once the blood under her fingernails are scrubbed out and she no longer smells like death, Lena allows herself to cry for the first time since the police arrived on the scene.

She cries for the loss of Frank. She cries for the mess her life has become. She cries for the fact that the sniper fled the scene, and that her life is still in active danger. She cries and cries and cries, thankful that the running water muffles her sobs.

By the time her fingers shrivel up, Lena's tears have yet to dry, but she dutifully shoves her emotions back down, locking them far away. She doesn't bother to dry her hair or get dressed, she just stumbles out of her en suite with a towel wrapped around her body and falls onto her bed.

***

When she wakes hours later, her bedroom is dark. Even with the curtains closed, Lena’s sure the sun has set. Her head feels heavy, and the shadow of a fitful sleep still clouds her mind, as she rises on unsteady legs to find some clothes. 

Kara’s sitting on the couch when Lena enters the living area, and her head snaps up immediately at the sound of Lena’s slipper-clad feet scuffing over the wooden floor. It’s strange to see her there. Lena didn’t allow herself to hope that she’d really stay. 

Kara must’ve showered during Lena’s nap. Her hair is pulled back in a loose braid, and she’s swapped her NCPD sweats for light jeans and a loose t-shirt.

Lena heads to the island counter without a word, ready to drown her sorrows.

“My colleague brought me some of my belongings over. I hope you don’t mind if I stay? At least for the night? I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“Nonsense. Take the guest room,” Lena argues automatically but without any enthusiasm. 

“My colleague, Winn, also brought some takeout. It’s Chinese. I can warm some up for you, if you’d like?” Her carefully soft voice becomes louder as Lena notices her rising off the couch in her peripheral vision.

“No. Thank you, Kara.” The top of the scotch comes off with a satisfying pop, as Kara nears the kitchen. Lena doesn’t look at her and reaches for a glass.

“You really do need to eat.”

There’s a small crash, and the sound of glass shattering bounces off the kitchen wall. Lena looks down to see she’s dropped the tumbler, breaking it into pieces. She bends down on instinct, grabbing the bigger shards carefully.

“Why don’t you sit down and let me take care of this?” Kara’s on her haunches in front of Lena in a flash. She holds out her hands, and Lena reluctantly drops the few shards she collected back onto the floor and allows Kara to pull her onto her feet. 

The edges of Lena’s vision darkens as she rises, her center of balance slipping dangerously, as her body tilts and gravity threatens to pull her back to the floor. Kara steadies her instantly, one hand moving to grasp her limp wrist, the other holding her at the shoulder.

When Lena’s vision clears, Kara's eyes are searching her, brow scrunched with worry.

“I’m okay,” she hears herself say. She doesn’t sound like herself.

And then her body shakes, trembles in on itself, and she gasps for a broken breath of air, as the first ghost of a sob wrecks through her body.

“I’m okay,” she says again, almost numbly. Her voice is thick with unshed tears.

Kara’s body visibly tenses, and Lena feels the grip on her wrist loosen. The slight loss of contact is enough to push her over the edge, and she releases a series of choppy sobs, immediately joined by rapidly falling tears.

Wordlessly, Kara pulls Lena flush against her body and snakes her arms around Lena and squeezes tightly, one hand moving slowly over the fabric of Lena’s sweater as she rubs Lena’s back. Lena’s own hands are trapped between their bodies, and she fists the fabric of Kara’s t-shirt just to hold on to something. 

Lena’s not sure how long they stand in her dimly lit kitchen, but eventually, her sobs turn more gentle, as she silently weeps against Kara’s chest. She feels the damp spot where her tears soak into the cotton of Kara’s t-shirt. She gasps when Kara moves, her shoes crunching on the forgotten shards of glass.

“Shh, it’s okay. I’ve got you.” Lena whimpers in response. It’s an undignified sound, but it’s all she can manage. “Let’s sit down. Okay?”

She allows Kara to lead them over to the couch and nearly whimpers again when Kara releases her without sitting down next to her. 

“I’m just going to get you some water.”

Lena finishes the first glass quickly, greedily swallowing the cool liquid down and realizing, for the first time, just how thirsty she is. Kara brings her a refill before disappearing into the kitchen again. 

She sips on the water this time, closing her eyes and willing the throbbing in her head to dissipate. She listens, as Kara sweeps up the broken glass. A couple of cupboards open and close as Kara tries to find something, and then the microwave starts humming softly. 

“You need to eat,” Kara announces a short while later when she returns with a small plate of Chinese food. 

The sight of food alone makes Lena nauseous, but she forces her few mouthfuls down before pushing the plate away. A shiver runs down the length of her body again, but it’s more out of coldness than anything else. 

Kara doesn’t say anything. She sits motionless next to Lena. Doesn’t close the small distance between them, doesn’t even reach out to Lena. 

Lena wants nothing more than to curl up in Kara’s warm arms and cry.

“Do you think a mother can have it in her to kill her own daughter?” Lena whispers.

“I...I don’t know, Lena.”

Lena’s not sure she wants to know.

***

Lena sleeps fitfully. It takes hours for her to fall asleep. She stares at the dark ceiling of her room, as she waits for sleep to claim her. Her mind races, and each time she closes her eyes, she sees Frank’s lifeless body or Kara’s panicked face. 

Her normally quiet penthouse suddenly comes alive. The refrigerator hums softly in the kitchen. A pipe gurgles in the wall. A floorboard creaks. She convinces herself that it's only Kara, but her mind conjures images in the shadows of her room. Masked men out to kill her. Her mother advancing to finish the job herself. 

It’s too much, and eventually, Lena flicks the bedside lamp on and cries softly into her pillow before finally passing out.

When she dreams, she’s aware that she is. She’s standing on a cliff, a howling wind wrapping around her body, cutting through her skin. She can’t see much, loose wisps of hair blocking her vision.

And then suddenly, she’s gliding down the staircase in the Luthor Manor, arm linked with Jack. There's a party going on downstairs. Guests in designer suits and dresses litter the drawing-room, champagne flutes and laughter overflowing.

“Go be charming,'' Jack whispers in her ear before pressing his lips to her cheek. “I’ll go get drinks.”

She smiles, as she watches him turn to wink at her. 

She notices Lex standing off to the side, in deep conversation with an elderly man. When he meets her eye, he excuses himself and strides over to Lena.

He greets her with a smile, his aftershave tickling Lena’s nose. 

It’s then that Lena realizes it’s more than just a dream. It’s a memory. Or a perverted version of one. 

“I need to talk to you,” Lena says. “Jack and I are leaving for National City.”

Lex's grip is bruising when he grasps Lena by the wrist and pulls her away from the party and into a vacant study. There’s no screaming when Lena tells him of her and Jack’s plan to break away from Luthor Corp to pursue nanorobotics. 

He grins a sickly sweet smile, his teeth showing. 

Right before her eyes, Lex’s teeth rot, turning yellow and forming cavities before falling out one by one, leaving a blood stained saliva trail behind. Lena can’t bring herself to look away.

“It’s all your fault. You set your brother off! Pushed him over the edge!” Lillian’s voice echoes from behind Lena, but when she turns, there’s no one there. When she looks back towards Lex, he’s gone too.

Suddenly, Lena’s back on the cliff, the wind roaring in her ears. The distinct feeling that she’s falling hits her straight in the gut and then—

Lena startles awake with a gasp, tears stinging her eyes and fingers digging into the mattress. With a thudding heart, she swings her legs off the bed and rips her duvet back, suddenly overheated.

The fear of being alone for even a second longer spurs her forward. The rest of the penthouse is even more terrifying in the dark, but the air is mercifully cool against her clammy skin. Lena lets her fingers brush against the wall of the passage, as she moves towards the guest bedroom. 

She has no clear plan on how to wake Kara, and when she stops in the doorway, she has half a mind to turn around and head back to her bed. But she’s terrified of being alone. 

Lena can just make out Kara’s slumbering figure in the pitch dark of the room, and she hears soft, even breathing, as she hesitantly steps across the threshold.

There’s sudden ruffling of material, and then Kara is upright, her pistol pointed directly at Lena. Lena’s breath leaves her as she throws her hands up on instinct. She remains rooted to the spot, as a sense of déjà vu washes over her.

“I’m sorry. I was just— I... I’m sorry.”

Kara blinks rapidly before lowering her weapon slightly.

“No. I’m sorry.” Kara’s out of the bed in a flash. Lena lowers her arms slowly as Kara approaches her, gun pointed towards the floor. “What’s wrong? Did you hear something?”

Lena shakes her head and Kara frowns, finally lowering her gun all the way. 

“What’s wrong?” she repeats, her eyes searching.  

“I just— I don’t want to be alone right now.”

Understanding dawns on Kara, as she places her gun back on the bedside table and flicks on the bedside lamp. “What do you need?”

“Just sit with me?” The whisper is barely audible, but Kara understands. She reaches out to Lena, coxing her closer and guiding her to sit down next to her on the edge of the mattress. 

“Frank has a family, you know. Had.” Lena sniffs after a long silence.“His two little girls are without a father. Because of me.” Her voice cracks under the weight of the self-loathing and guilt that she feels. “It’s all my fault.” She doesn’t dare to look at Kara, afraid to see unspoken agreement in her eyes. Instead, she keeps her gaze on her lap where her thumb kneads into the tender flesh of her palm. 

“No, Lena. None of this is your fault. Do you hear me?”

“No, you don’t understand. It is all my fault. I’m the reason he’s dead!” Lena’s not sure if she’s referring to Frank or Jack anymore. Dream Lex materialises in her mind, and she shudders. It doesn't even matter. Everything is her fault. 

“Lena…” Kara tries to soothe, reaching out towards Lena, but Lena pushes her hands away.

“It’s all my fault!” The words claw their way up her throat, threatening to split her chest in two.

Lena repeats it like a mantra, her body folding in on itself, as she desperately tries not to cry. She’s so tired of crying. 

Kara ignores the last half-hearted attempt of being pushed away, scoots closer, and pulls Lena into her chest once more, this time with much less hesitance. Her hands are warm as they rub circles on Lena's back, up to her shoulder, down her spine.

When Kara reclines onto the bed, lying flat on her back and taking Lena with her, Lena doesn’t fight it. She allows herself to be squished against Kara, her face tucked into the crook of her neck. 

“It’s all my fault.”

***

Kara awakes to the sound of someone knocking on the door. Not knocking, though. Pounding. Two things stop her from vaulting out of bed and grabbing her gun.

One: Lena is still in her bed, very much asleep. 

Two: The pounding on the door is instantly recognizable as Alex’s. 

She looks down at the sleeping form next to her. Lena’s arm is slung over Kara's waist, her head close to Kara’s shoulder. There’s a lovely pink hue on her cheeks, and for once, her face is completely relaxed and expressionless. Soft.

Kara's not sure when she fell asleep, but she knows Lena passed out against her chest somewhere in the early morning hours. She’d cried first. An almost stunted cry, like she didn’t want to allow her body the emotional release. Or couldn’t.

Nevertheless, Kara cradled Lena against her chest, holding her close and whispering soft words of reassurance, encouraging her to let it all out. The longer Kara held her, the louder her sobs became, until finally, she reached a crescendo, and tears poured out of her, as she gasped for air against Kara’s collarbone. Eventually, her sobs turned into soft sniffling only interrupted by the occasional hiccup. By the time Lena’s breathing evened out, she was asleep, utterly spent after her emotional release. Kara — who had taken to carding her fingers through Lena’s soft hair — didn't have the heart to wake the woman after her quality and quantity of sleep had already been disrupted. 

So Kara stayed. Even after her arm started to fall asleep under the awkward position of Lena’s body weight. Even after she was sure that Lena had fallen into a deep enough sleep that no movement would wake her.

And then, sometime after Kara awkwardly reached to switch the lamp off in fear of it bothering Lena through the night, Kara had drifted off too. 

Another set of knocks echo down the hall, and Kara sighs. She’d recognize Alex’s knock anywhere. Like footsteps, her knock has a certain signature to it. Four short, confident raps that gave the impression that Alex lifted her knuckles before they even made proper contact with the timbre. 

“I’m coming!” Kara yells. And then freezes 

That was a mistake. A knee shifts against her thigh, the fingers splayed over her tank-top twitch slightly as if reaching out to something. And then everything stills, as Lena physically tenses against the side of Kara’s body. 

Her eyes are fogged over with sleep, and they widen when she meets Kara’s gaze. There’s a moment of silence, as Lena seems to realize where she is, and then she sits up abruptly, pulling half the duvet with her.

Her voice is husky yet carefully controlled when she asks, “What's going on?”

Kara’s not sure if Lena is referring to their accidental sleeping arrangement or the bordering on violent knocking. She scrambles to push her hand underneath her pillow, searching for her phone.

“It’s my sister. Well, I think it’s her. It might be the—” Kara pauses as she scrolls through her notifications. Three missed calls from Alex.

“The what?” 

“The FBI.”

J’onn had warned her that the FBI might get involved. His eyes shined with worry, as he tried to make sure the assassination attempt hadn’t unsettled Kara too much. She asked him not to tell Alex, and she asked the same of Winn when he dropped off the food, hoping that she’d be able to play it down once she got a chance to tell Alex herself. 

Judging by the force of Alex’s knock, that ship had long sailed. 

Lena’s up and out of the bed in a flash, muttering a curse, as she rushes down the hall and back into her room. 

Alex looks minutes away from kicking the front door down when Kara swings it open. Detective Sawyer is standing next to her, looking slightly amused. 

“What the hell took you so long?” she hisses when they stride in. Alex is wearing pants and blazer, her gun slightly protruding at her hip. “I called. Trice. Even your colleague was starting to panic.” She jabs her thumb towards the passage, as she brushes past Kara.

“I’m sorry,” Kara says even though she knows she is apologizing to Alex not Vasquez. She can read between the lines after all, and the breath of relief Alex released upon seeing Kara is enough for her to know that it was Alex who was starting to panic, not her no-nonsense colleague. 

Alex just nods, her features remaining hard as she gives Kara a quick up and down, likely checking for injuries. Kara sighs, as she prepares herself for the professional side of Alex. Kara never liked FBI-Alex.

“We’ve come to speak with Ms. Luthor,” Maggie offers. Her tone is much softer, her dimples showing when she shoots Kara a small smile.  

“Detective Sawyer.” Lena appears out of the passage, a silk robe wrapped around her and her slightly mused hair from before pulled into a low ponytail. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Alex Danvers, FBI.” Alex flashes her badge before Maggie has a chance to reply. 

“It’s been a while since I’ve had the FBI pounding on my door. Please, sit.”

“Kara,” Alex warns before Kara can pull out a stool next to Lena at the kitchen island. “This is official FBI business now. I think it would be better if you waited outside while we talked with Miss Luthor.”

Kara glances at Lena. She doesn’t know if she wants to leave Lena alone with FBI-Alex and the-Luthor’s-are-dangerous-Alex. “Oh, I—”

“I want her to stay,” Lena interrupts. Her tone is confident and leaves no room for argument, much like the tone Kara’s overheard Lena uses on conference calls. Kara would have thought her completely unphased if it wasn’t for the way she places her hands in her lap and immediately starts wringing them.

A shadow passes over Alex’s features, but she relents with a sigh, as she and the detective take their seats opposite them. “As I was saying, the Bureau has taken control of this case. Detective Sawyer is just here to go over your statement one last time before you leave.”

“Leave?” Lena and Kara ask simultaneously.

“A safe house has been arranged for you outside of the city,” Alex continues, ignoring the both of them. “There will be 24-hour surveillance and undercover agents around the perimeter at all times.”

“Listen, Agent Danvers, I appreciate the offer, but I have a company to run,” Lena interjects incredulously. “I can’t very well just leave L-Corp.”

“It’s not an offer.”

Lena raises her eyebrow in defiance. “You cannot force me.”

There’s an honest to god stare-down happening, as Lena silently dares Alex to tell her what to do. Alex, to her credit, doesn't squirm under the same gaze that has sent grown men scurrying away from Lena.

“Your mother,” Alex says after a moment, “is back on US soil.” She slides a file over the marble countertop, and Lena opens it with a trembling hand. 

Inside there are screencaps from a surveillance camera, showing Lillian in the passenger seat of an unmarked van. Kara leans in closer for a better view, wishing she took the time to slide her contact lenses back in. The driver's face is obscured by a shadow, and Lillian herself has a scarf wrapped around her head. 

“When?” Lena’s eyes never leave the low-quality photographs, and when she reaches out to pick one up, the glossy paper trembles slightly.

“This was taken about two months ago. She crossed the border without anyone taking note.” Alex has lost some of her confidence. She shifts on the bar stool. “We’re currently trying to locate her.”

“You have no idea where she is?” Kara surprises herself, her question coming out more agitated than intended. 

“No. Not yet.”

“So, my mother could be anywhere.” It's a statement, not a question. Lena sounds faint, and Kara hops off the barstool to pour her a glass of water. 

Lena accepts the glass without a word and takes a small sip before placing it down. Her eyes are glassed over. Below the counter, Lena starts wringing her hands again. “How could you have lost her?”

Alex, for once, has no answer. 

When Lena starts digging into her cuticles with her thumb, Kara reaches her own hand below the counter, gently prying Lena’s hands away from each other. Lena latches onto Kara’s then, preventing her from retracting her hand.

“I’ll go to the safe house, but I’ll need a couple of hours to get my affairs in order. And—” Lena looks over at Kara, her eyes shining with a question. “—would you…?”

Lena doesn't finish the question, but she doesn’t have to.

“Yes,” Kara says, without missing a beat. “If you’ll feel safer with me there.”

Lena squeezes her hand under the table. “Thank you.”

Alex regards them with a frown, the earlier shadow passing over again. “No,” she says once the realization hits her. “Absolutely not. It’s too dangerous, Kara.”

“But I need to protect her!”

“No. It’s not your job to protect her anymore. This is in our hands now. The FBI—”

“The FBI cannot tell me who to hire or fire. Kara’s contract has not been terminated.” Kara nods fervently, as she watches Lena straighten her spine and set her jaw. “If she doesn't come with me, I’m not going.”

Alex holds Lena’s gaze, and a vein in her neck pulses. “Fine,” she snaps, as she snatches the file off the counter and gets to her feet. “A word, please, Kara.”

Kara is the first to snap once they walk out into the hallway outside the penthouse door. “How long has the FBI known this? How long have you known that Lillian was back in the country?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Kara sees Vasquez slowly walk to the other end of the corridor to give them some sort of privacy. Alex waits until the agent is standing next to the elevator before she answers calmly.

“It’s classified.” 

Kara scoffs. “That’s never been a problem for you before.”

“Don’t you dare take that tone, Kara! When were you going to tell me you were almost shot to pieces? Huh? I had to hear it from my superior. What the fuck, Kara?”

“I was going to tell you today.” Kara can’t even think of feeling guilty. She’s still too angry. “It’s not like I was purposefully withholding potentially life-threatening information.”

“Kara,” Alex tries to assuage, “it wasn’t like that.”

“How long have you known?” Kara asks again.

Alex takes a deep breath, as she places her hands on her hips and looks at the ceiling. “Kara…”

That said it all. “Since before the sniper tried to blow her to pieces?” 

Alex shifts on the heels of her boots before taking a step closer to Kara. “I wanted to tell you. Kara really—”

“Even earlier?” Kara asks aghast, taking a step back before Alex can touch her. “You’ve known this all this time, haven’t you? Even that day at the diner?” Alex nods, and Kara sees red. She clenches her fists at her side. “You knew Lena’s criminal mother was back in town, and you didn’t think to warn me, knowing that my literal job would be to keep her safe!?

“Keep your voice down. It was classified.” Alex hisses, struggling to keep the frustration out of her voice.

“I am your sister!”

“I know that, Kara. Which is why I'm trying to keep you out of harm's way. Do you understand now just what danger this woman is facing?” Alex flings her arm in the general direction of Lena’s front door. “If Lillian is trying to kill her own daughter, you could get hurt by simple association.”

“I know what I signed up for. This is my job. I’ve never interfered with yours. Never.”

Alex shakes her head. “J’onn will never approve it. As soon as he hears the FBI are involved, he’s gonna pull the contract.”

“Then I’ll take a leave of absence!” Kara turns on her heels and strides a few feet away from Alex while running her hand through her hair. She feels hot, like a cauldron about to bubble over and burn a hole through the ground.

When she turns, Alex runs a hand over her eyes. Her shoulders sag, and when she speaks, her tone is laced with subtle disappointment. “Are you sleeping with her?”

Of everything she thought her sister would say, that was the last thing on Kara’s mind. It takes a second for Alex’s words to fully untangle themselves in Kara’s frustration-riddled brain, but when they do, she physically feels her jaw slacken. “Wha— no. Why would you think that?” 

“I have eyes, Kara. The way you act around her. Holding her hand. Bringing her water. God, she won’t even go anywhere without you.”

Kara feels her cheeks warm, as she rushes back to Alex. “I’m her bodyguard,” she hisses. “And I’m not sleeping with her.”

The tense arch of Alex’s shoulders relaxes slightly. “Are you gonna be able to keep it that way?” Kara doesn’t respond, still dumbstruck. Alex checks the watch on her wrist before placing a hand on Kara’s shoulder. “We’re doing everything in our power to locate her.”

Kara feels her resolve soften, as she nods and pats Alex’s hands once.

“Tell Miss Luthor she has five hours to get her affairs ready.”

***

Lena, of course, insists on going into L-Corp, much to Kara’s disagreement. She doesn’t express it though because Lena’s acting...different. Maggie leaves a little after Alex, and immediately after Lena informs Kara of her plans, she retreats to her bedroom and closes the door. 

Kara is left standing in the kitchen, confused and a little hurt. She supposes it's a reasonable reaction to hearing that your murderous mother is back in town.

Lena returns from the bedroom a little while later, dressed and ready to go. She doesn’t look up at Kara, as she places a suitcase by the door and simply continues talking on the phone that she has clenched between her cheek and her shoulder.

It’s strange getting in a car and not seeing Frank behind the wheel. She tries to gauge Lena’s reaction in the rearview mirror, but Lena stares out of the window, as Vasquez pulls away.

They don’t spend a lot of time at L-Corp. Lena and Jess spend about an hour in her office, rescheduling important meetings and canceling others. Their next stop is in the labs. It’s different, seeing it in the day. Scientists and technicians in their lab coats clutter the usually empty area. 

Once in Lena’s private lab, Kara stands to the side and watches as Lena collects a crate full of items. She could offer to help, but she doesn’t. She feels a bit weird being down here after what happened before. 

When they finally get into the FBI arranged transport, James is waiting for them behind the wheel. 

“You,” Lena says after a quiet five minutes where she keeps looking at James in the rearview mirror. “You helped me to safety at the plaza. When the explosives went off.”

“Yes, that’s right, Miss Luthor.”

Kara scoffs. “How lucky that the FBI was at the right place at the right time. I’m guessing Alex was also attending this prestigious event?”

James clears his throat before mumbling “Yeah, she was around there somewhere.”

No one says anything more until they reach their destination.

Their safehouse is an unassuming two story cottage. It’s not exactly modern, but Kara finds it charming. The electrical fence that encompases the property kind of breaks the spell. So do the two FBI agents sitting in a car on the other side of the road. Not very subtle. 

Alex and another FBI agent, who introduces himself as agent Dox, are waiting for them when they enter. James and Alex explain the house rules: No leaving the safehouse. No contact with the outside world except for emergencies. Lena disagrees immediately. She plans to work from home. Kara can almost hear the sounds of Alex grinding her teeth, but she sighs out an agreement. Groceries are to be delivered every third day. Any food specific request can be given to the agent who drops it off.. 

Agent Dox explains the surveillance system that monitors the outside of the house as well as the security system, showing them where each of the panic buttons are as well as how to arm and disarm the alarm. He hands them each a burner phone loaded with emergency contact numbers for all the agents on the case.

Lena remains mostly silent throughout the tour, only nodding at appropriate places. When she hangs back to ask Agent Dox something about a secure VPN, Alex pulls Kara into a surprising hug.

“I made sure that the cupboards are stocked with as much food as possible,” she whispers into Kara’s ear. “Be safe. I need to get back to the office, but James will be down the road with Brainy if you need anything. Okay?”

“Okay,” Kara nods. 

“Don’t do anything stupid,” they say at exactly the same time.

***

The bed frame creaks under Kara, as she turns onto her side, hoping to find a more comfortable position on the foreign bed. She pushes herself up on her elbow. Fluffs the pillow. Turns back onto her back, sighs.

Kara knows that it's unlikely that she’ll fall asleep any time soon. The house is too foreign. And small. And noisy. And well, Kara’s got quite the list of things that she doesn’t like about the house now that its initial charm has worn off.

The fridge is tiny, so when Alex said she made sure she stocked the kitchen to the brim, it didn’t mean much. There’s only one bathroom on the top level, which led to an interestingly awkward tango when it turned out Lena had the idea of showering at the same time Kara had. Kara had let go first, of course, but that wasn't the point. 

The duvet on her single bed smells like dust, like it’s only recently been taken out of the cupboard. The pillows are much too flat for Kara’s liking. By far the worst thing about the cottage is the fact that it never seems to go quiet .

It was to be expected. Despite the cottage's more modern security upgrades, it’s old. The wooden frame moans and groans with each gust of the wind. The floorboards creak, like really creak, just like something out of a horror movie.

Kara practically jumps out of her skin when Lena sneaks down the hall towards the bathroom, causing the aged wood to squeak.

The toilet is still gurgling more than two hours later when Kara decides to go check the locks again, even though she checked them before turning in. She’s well aware that the FBI agents outside in the unmarked truck and banged up little Renault are more than capable of doing their job, but Kara knows she’ll feel better if she glances out of the window too. So she sneaks past Lena’s room. Her door isn’t closed all the way, and the orange light of a bedside table light can be seen. Kara wonders if she’s awake. 

The doors and windows are just as she left them. The Renault is completely dark out on the road. Kara switches on the television and cycles through the live feed of the camera’s outside. When she’s satisfied with their safety for the time being, she closes the kitchen tap just a bit tighter to try and eliminate the irritating dripping noise. 

There’s nothing else for her to do other than try and fall asleep again. The third step from the landing creaks, and Kara freezes. She hears the duvet rustling from Lena’s room.

“Kara?” she whispers, fear laced in her voice.

“Yeah, it’s me. Nothings wrong,” she reassures quickly. “Just checked the locks.” The urge to check up on Lena rises in Kara, but she thinks better of it and moves back down to her room.

They didn’t talk much after Alex left, and Kara assumes Lena is still processing the attempt on her life and the return of her mother. She had let Lena be, as she unpacked her suitcases and silently moved around the house and they around each other until a respectable bedtime hour arrived. 

“Are you still awake?” Lena’s voice is soft and small when it comes out of the darkness to Kara just minutes after she’d tucked herself back into bed. Lena remains standing in the doorway, her expression hidden by the shadows on her face.

Kara knows better than to grab the weapon under her pillow this time. Knows not to worry. “Yeah?”

“I just want to go to sleep.” Kara finds it strange that Lena doesn't cross the threshold into the room. “But I can’t fall asleep,” she admits. “I was wondering if you could stay with me for just a little bit. Until I do.” 

Kara doesn’t hesitate, she pulls the covers back and scoots as far to the side of the bed without falling off.

“No, not here. I was hoping—I mean you let me have the bigger of the two rooms.”

Right. She did let Lena have the Queen sized bed. Kara wordlessy grabs her gun to follow Lena into her room. 

They both settle onto their backs, leaving a distance between them. The same dusty cupboard scent lingers on Lena’s duvet too but so does the soft floral scent of her shampoo. 

“I never thanked you,” Lena breathes after a while. Her chest is rising in a slow steady rhythm now, sleep close by. “For saving my life again.”

“Oh. Of course.” The shooting now feels like weeks ago, where it’s barely been thirty-six hours. “I was just—” Kara stops herself because her words feel like a lie. It feels like more than just doing her job

Lena turns over to her side soon after, leaving Kara alone with her thoughts.

***

Lena supposes she should have expected to wake up in Kara’s arms again. But then again, even if she had expected it, it still wouldn’t have prepared her for the feeling of Kara’s strong arms curling around her middle and the way she molded her warm body to the curve of Lena’s back. 

It’s a whole lot of intimate and a strange amount of comforting. 

Lena indulges and allows herself a moment to soak in the physical touch before realizing what she’s doing. Cuddling is surely not part of the contract that Jess outlined with ARGO. 

But then again, neither is demanding your bodyguard to accompany you to a safe house when there are arguably much better equipped FBI agents around to do the job. Lena still can’t explain why she needed Kara to come with her, but she does feel safer with Kara here. 

In Kara’s arms.

While it is nice, it is inappropriate, and Lena’s sure she’s violating a handful of employer-employee policies. She goes to untangle herself but feels the exact moment that Kara startles to consciousness. There’s no point in freezing now, not with one leg already half off the bed, so Lena turns, ready to mumble a goodmorning and then flee the room. 

Kara’s eyes are open and clear. A dopey smile stretches over her face, and after a deep breath, her eyes flutter closed again. 

“I’m sorry I fell asleep here,” she mumbles, as she rubs her eyes. For a moment, Lena thinks Kara must’ve dozed off again, but then she sits up and stretches before throwing the duvet off and rolling out of bed.

So, they’re not going to mention it? Good.

It’s no surprise that she meets Kara in the kitchen some time later. They eat in silence, Kara spooning little mountains of cereal into her mouth with surprising speed. Lena enjoys her yogurt, as she reads the paper online. Reports of the attempt on her life are plastered across the front pages but nothing about her stepping away from L-Corp. Good. Nevertheless, the headlines unsettle her, and she pushes her tablet away, as Kara pours a second helping of sugary breakfast into her bowl.

“So, what now?” Lena asks. Is she expected to twiddle her thumbs and wait for the FBI to come up with leads? 

Kara shrugs, as she chews. She confirms Lena’s suspicions. “I’m sure Alex will call as soon as she has any new information.”

The answer leaves Lena feeling restless. She doesn’t put much stock in the authorities given that they literally lost Lillian. 

She expends her restless energy by setting up a makeshift office in the dining room. The wall behind her is without frames or decoration, giving her the perfect backdrop should any unavoidable video calls make their way into her adjusted remote schedule.

Her schedule is surprisingly laid back, only tasks of utmost importance requiring her attention, the rest being filtered through to Sam and some even to Jess. Lena adds a reminder to book Jess an all expenses paid weekend away when all of this is over. 

It is strange when she can shut her laptop down just before one, with Jess promising to call if she needs Lena and ending their quick phone call with a soft, “Stay safe Miss Luthor.”

Large french doors separate her dining room office from the lounge. Lena opted to leave them open, and from her place at the table, she can see Kara sitting on the couch, the TV playing some black and white film which Kara has muted. She watches her watching the moving picture for a while before reaching towards the box of equipment that she packed in the lab before leaving L-corp. In it, she has everything she needs to continue work on the nanobots, including the previously twisted and melted failures which she plans to dissect to determine what caused them to malfunction. 

Kara brings her a plate of sliced fruit sometime in the afternoon, setting it down in one of the few empty spots of the dining table before returning to the kitchen to collect her lunch which looks to Lena like instant noodles and four slices of toast.

By the time the sun starts to set, Lena is still nowhere closer to discovering the problem and reluctantly abandons the dining room to investigate the dangerous sounds of pots clanging, as Kara hunts for food once again. 

“I don’t cook very often,” Kara announces once she notices Lena, “but I’m going to attempt something edible.”

In the end, the bolognaise is a little under salted, but it’s filling, and Lena realises it’s the first full meal she’s eaten since the airport breakfast she shared with Sam and Ruby. She offers to wash up, feeling it only fair since Kara did all the cooking, but Kara stops her, fills the pot with water to ‘soak’, and declares that they’ll deal with it the next morning. 

“There’s hot chocolate!” Kara exclaims moments later, poking her head into the cupboard next to the fridge. She’d been looking for an after dinner snack, but the glint in her eyes tells Lena that hot chocolate is just as good if not better. She instructs Lena to sit down on the couch while she prepares their nightly beverages, a strange reversal of their usual routine. 

Kara’s nose and forehead scrunches after her first sip, and she clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth in disgust. “Ugh, what is this?”

Lena takes a hesitant sip of her tea which tastes fine. “What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s—” she pauses to take another sip, and shivers, her face immediately showcasing her displeasure. “Ugh. Just taste it.” 

Lena has barely any warning before Kara brings the mug to her mouth, coaxing Lena’s lips open to drink. “It does have a certain grossness to it,” she concedes. “It’s too weak.”

“I put three spoons in just like the packet said.”

“Well, it’s probably because you're used to the other brand.” The gourmet, imported brand.

Kara stares at the mug as if she's waiting for an explanation. “Or maybe it’s just because you didn’t make it.” 

She says it so simply, so easily, and Lena’s still reeling when Kara gets up and heads to the kitchen in an attempt to fix her watery hot chocolate. It’s probably the most endearing thing Lena’s ever heard, and she brings her mug to her lips to hide her smile.

Kara is still not entirely satisfied when she returns, and Lena wonders if the FBI would be willing to retrieve something from the L-Corp canteen for her.

Kara unmutes the TV, keeping the volume low, as she turns to look at Lena. “Wanna watch something?”

They watch two episodes of some series with Kara occasionally laughing as Lena cradles her hands around her empty mug. By the end of almost two hours, Lena can’t really recall the plot of either one of the episodes, but she’s thankful for the distraction either way.

“Why did you mute the TV earlier?” Lena asks through a yawn, as Kara reaches for the remote. She stands and takes Kara’s cup from her, easily falling into their well-practiced late night office routine.

“I didn’t want to bother you while you were working,” Kara says easily. 

The unexpected thoughtfulness takes Lena by surprise, and a swell of affection rushes through her. The same rush of affection she feels moments later when Kara lets her showers first. And even later when Kara lingers by her bedroom door after her own shower. She’s got her glasses on, and her damp hair is slightly wavy

“I’m just going to check the locks again before I call it a night. Is there anything else you need?” There’s a hesitance to the way Kara voices her question, and Lena knows what she’s really asking. 

“You can sit with me for a little while. If you want.” Lena cringes at the way she phrases it, but god, what else was she supposed to say? ‘ Please sleep with me again. It’s the only thing that keeps my nightmares at bay’?

Kara doesn’t seem to mind. “I’ll be right there.”

***

Alex arrives the next evening just as Kara wants to prepare their evening beverages. She doesn’t look particularly happy to be there, but she still pulls Kara in for a short hug the minute the doors closes behind her. Next to her is James who has a duffel bag full of Kara’s belongings slung across his shoulder which he hands to her before plopping down onto the single seater couch. Alex places a brown paper bag on the coffee table but remains standing and barely waits for Kara and Lena to sit down on the couch opposite her before she cuts straight to the point.

“Forensics have combed the crime scenes and the full interior of the car. Turns out there were no bullets. No fragments of the bullets. No shrapnel, not even casings.”

“So it just vanished?” Kara frowns as she looks from Alex to James. “How is that possible?”

James shrugs. “We don’t know. It's like some weird futuristic technology.”

“Our next step is to try and track down a company capable of manufacturing bullets like this. That should lead us to the shooter.” Alex says. 

Lena remains silent, as her mind works overtime. She’s sure that she’s heard of dissolving bullets before; the question is where.

Kara edges forward on the couch, clearly intrigued. “But how do they even work?”

“Well right now, Brainy theorizes that they work with some stealth technology and diss—”

“Dissolvable alloys,” Lena finishes. Next to her, Kara stiffens. “It’s a prototype made by ThunderCorp labs. It used to be a Luthor Corp subsidiary.”

Alex pulls out her phone and starts typing. She looks up from her screen for a split second to prompt Lena. “Go on.”

“Project Evanesce. Lex spearheaded it.” Lena brings her hands into her lap, rubbing her palms together once before fiddling with her fingers. “It was part of the weapons range he wanted to develop. But it was all just prototypes. They never saw the light of day.”

“Are you sure? Cause they’re obviously not prototypes anymore.” James doesn’t sound convinced and Lena clenches her jaw to avoid biting back.

“Someone else has to have continued the project after her brother's arrest. And it wasn’t Lena so don’t even think about it.” Lena prefers to speak on her own behalf, aways, but hearing Kara’s display of unwavering trust makes her heart swell. It doesn’t help that Kara casually slides her hand over Lena’s where it rests on her thigh, squeezing reassuringly. 

“I wasn’t going to suggest Lena, but thank you for your input. Kara.” Alex counters coolly. “Would Lillian have access to these prototypes?”

Lena nods. “I halted research on the majority of Luthor Corp projects when I took over, Project Evanesce being one of them. But Lex had this secret bunker which I never managed to locate.” Lena sighs. “I’m sure Lillian knows where it is, and I’m certain all the information she needs to manufacture them is there too.”

“Can you grant us access to all the information L-Corp has on the project?”

“I’ll get Jess to send it over.” Lena regretfully extracts her hand from underneath Kara’s and slides her phone out of her  jeans, ready to email her assistant. 

“We’re back to square one then,” Kara says with a sigh before standing up to escort the agents to the door. “We know nothing new other than the fact that Lena’s mother has access to extremely dangerous weapons.”

“We’re gonna find her,” Alex says before turning to Lena. “I almost forgot.” She points towards the paper bag that she left on the table. “Don’t ever make me go to L-Corp for something as unimportant as that again.” 

The fire in Alex’s voice doesn’t quite reach her eyes, and Lena flashes a small smile. “Thank you, Agent Danvers.”

Lena supposes that on any other occasion, or in any other company, she’d likely reach for a bottle of scotch to distract her from the fact that her mother was trying to kill her with dissolvable bullets of all things. 

But there’s no scotch in their safehouse or alcohol of any kind, something that Lena plans to rectify with their next food delivery. She leaves Kara to rummage through her small duffel bag, as she enters the kitchen, brown paper bag in hand. Inside she finds the tin of hot chocolate she requested as well as a sticky note from Jess, asking if she should order more. 

Kara’s in the process of pulling a hoodie over her head when Lena returns with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. She places Kara’s mug on the coffee table and takes a seat next to Kara on the couch, waiting and watching as the woman flattens strands of her hair made wayward by her hoodie before reaching for her mug. 

The result of the first sip is instantaneous. Kara does a sort of a double take at the unassuming drink and even goes for a second sip before turning to Lena.

“I asked Alex to go and get it from Jess,” Lena answers the question dancing in Kara’s eyes. 

A smile stretches across Kara’s face as she dives in for another and then another sip. “I told you it only tasted right when you made it. This is the best hot chocolate.”

“I’m pretty sure it tastes amazing ‘cause it's sixty-five dollars a tin,” Lena mumbles.

Kara promptly chokes on her next sip.

***

It’s almost scary how easily Lena finds herself with a bedfull of Kara again that night. She doesn’t even ask this time — and don’t get Lena wrong, she’s not mad about it; it spares her the embarrassment of asking. Kara simply walks in, this time with her bed’s duvet in hand because, “I got cold last night, Lena. I think you're a blanket thief,” and crawls into what Lena’s mind immediately and geniusly referred to as Kara’s side of the bed.

She easily rests her head against the headboard and reads one of the books that she dug out of her duffel bag. It prompts Lena to close her emails and pull up a book on her tablet that Jess has been recommending for ages. 

What’s not so easy now, hours later, is falling asleep. It's well past midnight, and Kara hasn’t moved an inch. Lena’s sure she’s fast asleep; her breaths are deep and slow and her face is completely relaxed under the faint moonlight. 

But it’s not like Lena is staring.

Between lying on her side and staring at Kara’s slumbering features, and counting sheep, Lena lies on her back, staring up at the dark ceiling and thinking of Lillian. 

All the thoughts that she’s been pushing away for the last couple of days come back to haunt her. Why is Lillian trying to kill her? Is she acting on Lex’s behalf? Did he specifically ask for Lena to be hunted down? And why now, more than a year later?

It seems more likely to Lena that her mother is acting out of her own accord. Coming back into the country shortly before the renaming ceremony is enough to mark her as guilty in Lena’s mind. That and the obvious fact that Lillian hated her.  

Finding Lex’s bunker couldn’t have been too hard. Perhaps she had known its location all along. 

Lena would like to think these thoughts are prompted by too much sugar in her system; Kara had insisted on making them each a second cup of hot chocolate to test her theory after all, but she knows it's not that.

It’s fear that’s keeping her up. She’s terrified.

Her mother has access to dissolvable bullets, has access to everything Lex has stowed in his judgement day bunker. What else does Lillian not have at her disposal? And how long until she locates Lena?

***

Kara’s never done well with confinement. Even before . The safehouse is beginning to feel more like a prison than a safe haven, and Kara is restless. She texts Alex multiple times a day asking for updates but always receives either no response or the one line answer of nothing yet .

It’s been a week. 

It doesn’t help that Lena is so insistent on working. There’s nothing to distract Kara. She’s burning through the handful of books that Alex packed for her, and she loathes the idea of distracting her sister from her work to ask for more.

So in between reading or watching tv, she spends her time thinking. Listening. Looking out of the window. Wishing there was some way she could help her sister track Lillian down, while simultaneously dreading the idea of leaving Lena alone.

The days are all the same, and that too adds to Kara's frustration. The mornings are nice enough. She wakes up when Lena’s alarm goes off, in Lena’s bed (which Kara is not dwelling on). For the last few mornings, Kara has felt comfortable enough to snooze and lay in a little longer while Lena finishes in the bathroom. After a quick breakfast together, Lena’s off to work, locking herself away in the dining room, only to reappear at dusk. Okay, locking away is an overstatement. Kara manages to coax Lena away from her laptop with the promise of food, first at lunch and then just as she starts cooking supper.

And besides, she’s not even locked away either. When Kara decides to read in the lazyboy, she has a full view of Lena where she's hunched over the table working on her nanobots. Other times, she hears her on the phone with Jess, organizing something.

Even evenings are nice. They quickly became Kara’s favourite part of the day simply because she gets to spend time with Lena. Lena assists in the kitchen, chopping or peeling things as Kara cooks. The hot beverage routine is still going strong, and although Kara has made her own hot chocolate since the first night, she still prefers it when it's made by Lena’s hand. 

Surprisingly, as they enter their second week in the safehouse, she convinces Lena to watch the Iron Giant, in honor of Richard. Lena cries because who wouldn’t. “I go, you stay. No following,” Kara mouths along with burning eyes. Beside her, Lena sobs silently into the tissues that Kara strategically placed in reach of them both beforehand. 

The nights are nice too. Kara sleeps exclusively in Lena’s room. Her charger is plugged in next to the bed, her book on the bedside table, her robe behind the door. She hasn’t gone as far as bringing all her clothes into Lena’s room, but it’s inevitable. Day by day, something finds its way over.

She doesn’t sleep particularly well, and she knows Lena doesn’t either. The shadows under Lena’s eyes are growing darker by the day, and by night, she tosses and turns and lays awake for almost as long as Kara. Some nights, Kara longs to reach out and cross the invisible line that binds them to the opposite sides of the bed and comfort her. But she doesn’t. She stays still, pretending to be asleep and pretending no to feel Lena’s eyes on her in the dark. 

When they both eventually succumb to their exhaustion, the invisible line vanishes.Once asleep, Kara does what she doesn't allow herself to do in moments of wakefulness: She holds Lena. She likes to think that, on some subconscious level, it has to be about the instinct of protecting. 

Still, Kara can’t pretend she doesn’t like keeping Lena close, her front pressed up to Lena’s back, both of them sharing one side of the bed. Apart from the first two mornings of waking up in Kara’s space, Lena hasn’t shown any signs of discomfort which is good because Kara’s not sure how she’s not supposed to gravitate towards her. Still, once they wake, they don’t talk about it.

Which is fine right? There's nothing really to it.

Theoretically, bodyguards don’t cuddle their clients, Kara knows this. It’s hard, because with the absence of her suit and Lena’s day to day work, the lines between bodyguard and friend begin to blur. 

But Lena’s not complaining and neither is Kara. 

They’re eleven days into what Lena calls “The Great Isolation” when Alex drops by again. Project Evanesce is a dead end, and none of the information Lena supplied has led the FBI any closer to finding a hidden Lillian or any secret facility. 

Alex seems as equally frustrated as Kara. She has her own set of dark circles and shakes her head regretfully when she breaks the news. Lena nods, her face impassive. She’d clearly been expecting it to lead nowhere. 

There is no current plan of action, Alex informs them. All they can do is wait for Lillian's next move.

They eat outside that night. Lena insists on it. “To celebrate our renewed stay,” she mutters darkly when Kara questions it.

The back garden is small. There’s no furniture or decoration other than a forgotten dolphin fountain in the corner. The grass is slightly long and unkept, and the high walls topped with electric fencing for good measure aren’t all that aesthetically pleasing, but it’s nice.

They find a quilted blanket in a cupboard and carry their dinner outside. The wind is cool but not cold, and the last tinges of the sunset lingers in the clouds when they finally settle down on the blanket, their pizzas and a bottle of cheap wine between them. The food isn't great, which is to be expected from frozen pizza, and according to Lena, neither is the supermarket wine. But that doesn't seem to matter much to her when she rises from the blanket to retrieve the second bottle not long after the first one is empty.

Kara follows, half because she craves something sweet for dessert and half because Lena finished most of the first bottle herself, and she wants to make sure she doesn't trip on the two low steps leading into the house.

Tipsy Lena is admittedly very cute, but Kara still flicks the outdoor light on and hurries to light the kitchen as well, just in case tipsy Lena translates to clumsy Lena. While Kara is making the important decision of choosing between two different flavours of chocolate, she notices Lena snatch something up from the barstool before heading back outside with her prized bottle of wine. It turns out to be Kara’s National City hoody which hugs Lena’s body as she sticks her hands in the pockets.

“I was cold,” Lena explains before Kara can even question it. 

Kara doesn't mind. Lena looks adorably cute as she pours them each another glass of wine. The sleeves of the hoodie cover half her hand, and there's a deep blush high on her cheeks. 

“To my mother,” she says, as she lifts her glass in a toast, “and all her dissolving bullets. May she rot in hell.” There’s a certain something to Lena’s slightly intoxicated smile. With her inhibitions lowered, she smiles without a care in the world, all teeth and dimples. 

And Kara…well Kara finds herself capitaved. She’s not tipsy — not quite — but she’s cozy and just right, the wine creating a pleasant hum within her. She allows herself to openly stare at Lena, as she tells a story about her and Sam’s time at university. Kara takes in as much as she can in the low light. The way Lena’s lips move when she speaks. The way she gesticulates, causing her wine to slosh dangerously against the edges of the glass. The way she glows under the moon.

For a split second, Kara entertains the thought of leaning over the blanket and kissing Lena’s wine-stained lips.

Okay. Maybe Kara is tipsy. But she doesn’t usually drink a lot, so she cuts herself some slack. 

Lena goes quite around the same time that she empties the remainder of the second bottle into her glass. She holds the bottle upside down over her glass, shaking it to get every last drop out.

It’s a stark contrast to the enthusiasm Lena showed minutes before, and Kara recognises the subdued mood immediately. Alex sometimes goes through a stage of melancolia when she overdoes it on the bottle —  and it always starts with sudden silence. She’s about to ask Lena if she wants to abandon that glass of wine, when Lena drinks half of it before in two big mouthfuls.

“Did I ever tell you the story of how my brother almost killed me?”

Just like that, any pleasant buzz that Kara had is killed. “Lena,” she warns. She itches to take the rest of the wine away from her.

“No, no. It's fine. It ends okay. I survived. As you can tell.” She swings down the last of her wine before placing her empty glass on the grass next to the blanket. It clinks on a random pebble. “I’m sure you're curious. You want to know if the papers were overdramatizing it.”

“I— ” Kara’s at a bit of a loss as to how to stop Lena now that she's on a roll.

“Well, it starts like this. Jack and I met at college too. He was my best friend in the whole world, even better than Sam, and she knows it.” Lena chuckles. “We actually tried it romantically first. He took me on a fancy date and everything, but after our first time together we we’re both kind just lying there, and at the same time, we went, “I think I’m gay.”

Lena smiles at the distant memory, and Kara feels a strange warmth spread through her. During her brief research on Lena before she took the job, Kara had come across a tabloid speculating about Lena’s sexuality, but nothing was confirmed. 

“We quickly became inseparable which was great because that way it was easy to keep up our straight appearances by accompanying each other to events and whatnot. Besides getting along, we also worked impossibly well together. Jack was a genius.” Lena goes quiet and fiddles with the sleeves of her borrowed hoodie before adding, “The nanobots were his brainchild. That’s why it’s so important for me to get them to work.”

Instead of attempting to reroute the conversation, Kara just nods. She has the feeling that Lena needs to get it out. 

“We were supposed to move to National City.” Lena continues, her voice low with the unmistakable undercurrent of anger. “Jack and I. We were supposed to start our own company. Revolutionise the world of science and medicine. We planned it all out in his garage...And then my brother killed him.”

Lena’s quiet for a long time then. The wind rustles the leaves in the trees, and Kara shivers. She opts to stay silent, knowing a simple “I’m sorry won't cut it”. She dares to hope that Lena will end the tale there. Ideally, she’d like to get a decent amount of water into the woman before ushering to bed.

And then Lena’s crying. Or has been. Kara’s not sure for how long it’s been going on because Lena’s completely silent and motionless. One small hitch of her breathing is what gives her away, and Kara curses herself for not noticing sooner.

“Lena. Lena, come here.” Kara moves her empty glass out of the way and shuffles over the blanket to envelop Lena in her arms. “You don’t have to talk about it. I mean, you can if you want to. I don’t mind listening. But maybe when we’re both sober?”

It’s hard to know for sure whether Lena chooses to ignore her or whether she just doesn't take the words in. “He looked so charming that night. It was some silly gala for Lex and all his connections. Jack always used to joke that it was like Lex’s personal cult.” The laugh that escapes her lips is wet and humourless. “Guess he was right.”

“I’ll never forget the moment Jack handed me the glass of champagne. Lex was toasting. To the company or to himself I don’t remember. One moment we had our glasses raised. And the next moment, Jack was on the floor. They all were.”

Kara’s stomach lurches. She’s familiar with Cyanide. She knows that it kills within minutes. 

“I don’t think I'll ever forget the last seconds before chaos descended. I remember thinking that Lex seemed pleased with himself. Even more so than usual.  And mother, well she brought the glass to her lips, but she didn’t drink. And that’s when I knew something was wrong. But I was too late.” 

Lena’s composure breaks, and the sobs come tumbling out. Kara can do nothing but hold her and stroke her back, as she encourages Lena to get it all out. Lena all but clings to Kara, as waves of grief washes over her.

“It's my fault, you know. I told Lex about Jack and my plan to leave. It must have set him off. Pushed him over the edge,” Lena quietly mumbles sometime later. Kara has moved them inside after Lena’s sobs died down. She’s sitting with her head resting flat on the kitchen counter watching through half lidded eyes, as Kara checks the locks. “Maybe if I hadn't told him, he wouldn't have poisoned the drinks.”

“You're a rational woman, Lena. Genius too,” Kara says once she’s satisfied that nobody will be breaking in. She walks over to Lena and pushes the half finished glass of water toward her. “You know this was a premeditated crime. You’ve read the reports. Lex poisoned those bottles of champagne long before you even decided to tell him of your plans.”

Lena sits up and obediently and finishes the glass of water. “You’re right.”

Kara manages to get Lena into bed without any fuss, but she places an empty bucket next to the bed, just in case. 

“Can I ask you a favour?” Lena murmurs just as Kara switches her lamp off. She’s teetering on the edge of sleep, and her words are slightly muffled against the pillow. “Hold me?”

Kara’s pretty sure that Lena's fallen asleep before Kara’s even has the chance to fully drape her arm over the woman’s waist, but she keeps holding on anyway.

***

“So, I’ve had an idea,” Lena announces over breakfast the next day. She slept in the NCU hoodie, much to Kara’s strange joy, and luckily, she doesn't seem hungover. They’re not talking about the night before though, that much was made clear when Lena ignored Kara when asked if she needed any headache tablets. “Tell your sister to swing by as soon as she can.”

As soon as Alex can happens to be less than an hour later. The FBI must be growing desperate, and Alex’s superiors must be breathing down her neck.

“Now, I know what you’re going to want to say, but just hear me out. Both of you.” There’s that CEO authority that Kara’s missed.

She nods, and Alex just stares. Lena is still wearing the hoodie from last night, opting to pull it on again even after her shower. Alex's eyes flash over at Kara, as she crosses her arms across her chest.

“I’m listening.” 

“I'm hosting a charity event a little less than two weeks from now. One that I fully intend on attending.”

“Not a chance,” Alex declines calmly at the same time that Kara says, “Lena, no.”

“You said you were going to hear me out.” Lena raises an eyebrow before continuing. “I cannot spend the rest of my life in this house. The wifi here sucks, and I have a company to run. Kara has a life too.”

“Kara’s free to leave at any time,” Alex interrupts but, Lena ignores the comment.

“You want to wait for my mother to make the next move, but who knows how long that will take. Lillian is a patient woman, and I’m not willing to spend my days rotting away here while she lays low and plots her next move.”

“So, what do you suggest?” Alex asks, tilting her head to the side.

“I go to the gala as planned. The whole thing is already organised anyway. We make a big deal out of it. Promotion wise. Maybe I’ll auction something off or whatever. It doesn't matter. I just want Lillian to know that I’ll be there. She won’t be able to resist coming. I’ll leave the rest up to you.”

Alex nods thoughtfully. “A trap. It can work, I suppose.”

“Alex! No way. It’s way too dangerous!” Kara exclaims.

“We’ll secure the area,” Alex dismisses without even looking at Kara. “Is the venue inside or outside?”

“Inside,” Lena says to Alex before turning to Kara. “I don’t like the idea of meeting face to face with Lillian either, but we can't hide here forever.”

“There has to be something else we can do to lure her in,” Kara insists. Her stomach lurches at the idea of Lena being in an enclosed space filled with hundreds of people. Anyone who touches, bumps into, or even dances with Lena will have the perfect opportunity to hurt her. “Besides, how can we be sure Lillian will fall for the trap?”

“We need to get her attention. I’ll even go back onto that ridiculous morning television show to promote the gala and gush about how much I hate my mother if that’s what it takes.” 

Lena’s jaw is set, her mind made up. Kara turns to Alex for help; surely her sister can see why this would be such a terrible idea. But no, Alex seems to be on board. 

“Get your assistant to email me all the details about the event. Who, what, where. I’m going to have to set up a full security detail all around the perimeter.”

“Alex, you can’t be serious—”

“This really could work,” Alex mutters, ignoring her sister completely. “I need to clear this with my superiors, but as soon as I have a sign off, I’ll let you know.”

Kara’s dumbfounded, as she looks at the door her sister just disappeared out of. How is it possible that they've decided to gamble with something as precious as Lena’s life in less than five minutes?

“This is crazy, Lena!” Kara exclaims, as she follows Lena into her dining room office. “What if you get hurt?”

“I have to do this. And I won’t get hurt,” she answers simply before sinking down in her dining room chair in front of her nanobots. “I’ll have you to protect me.”

“What if I can’t? What if something goes wrong?” Kara shudders, doesn’t even want to begin to imagine what she’ll do if Lena gets hurt on her watch. 

Lena waves it off, as she picks up her soldering iron. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“What? Lena, do you even hear yourself?” Kara asks, desperately. “It’s like you want to get hurt!”

Lena sighs. “You’re not going to change my mind. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

***

Lena spends longer hours working after Alex’s visit. She’s up early, sneaking out of the bed seemingly just after Kara manages to fall asleep. She declines lunch multiple days in a row and only joins Kara for dinner once the food is done. 

They still drink their hot chocolate and watch their series at night, but twice Lena dozes off midway, her head resting heavy on Kara’s shoulder. 

Kara’s worried. Everytime she peers into the dining room she finds Lena hunched over the bloody nanobots. Kara’s sure she’s heard Lena mumble something about them in her sleep.

Alex doesn’t come around again, but she does confirm the operation a go via text, promising to drop by with more details as soon as she can.

The week of the gala, everything seems to come to a head. 

Lena has a telephonic interview scheduled, but thankfully, it’s not with Andrea Rojas. A Catco reporter by the name of Nia Nal is the one who calls Lena on a Tuesday afternoon. The young woman sounds friendly enough, and Kara wonders what type of exclusives Lena must have promised Cat Grant to get the interview framed in the way that the FBI deemed best.

Subtle quotes about missing Lillian and hoping that she’s safe, wherever she is, are thrown in between Lena’s otherwise standard responses. It truly is the perfect public invitation, one that Lillian will find hard to ignore. Kara watches, as Lena reaches out to rub her temples the moment the call cuts.

Lena’s work on the nanobots continues feverishly through into Wednesday. Kara is working out next to the coffee table in an attempt to quell her building restlessness when she hears it. There’s a hiss from the dining room, and Kara pauses mid pushup.

“Lena? You okay?” She checks.

“Yeah! All good!” Lena’s voice is strained like she’s in pain, and for a moment, Kara wonders if she’s crying. She has half a mind to go check up on her but decides against it.

Kara’s almost finished with her workout when Lena walks into the lounge and throws herself horizontally on the couch without a word. She closes her eyes and places her hands on her chest. 

“Lena?”

“Just tired,” she mumbles unmovingly. “Done working now.”

Kara frowns. It’s not even five o'clock. Lena’s never done this early. “Like for the day or?”

“For the foreseeable future. I’ll explain later. Wanna nap.”

Sleepy Lena is cute but something else catches Kara’s attention. There’s something red coating Lena’s left hand. Blood, Kara realizes with dread. She gently pries Lena’s hands away from her stomach and faces her palm upwards. Dry blood covers her palm, and a smudge makes its way onto the hem of her shirt. There’s no wound. Not even a scar.

“Lena, are you hurt?” Kara turns her hand this way and that way, inspecting the pale skin for signs of injuries, but her skin is flawless and soft, not an imperfection in sight other than the slight callus on the pads of her fingers. “Who’s blood is this?”

But Lena’s fast asleep.

***

It’s not a sound that wakes Lena but a cold gust of air. She opens her eyes to the dark bedroom, and it takes a minute for her eyes to adjust. There’s goosebumps covering her legs and arms — the duvets, both hers and Kara’s, are at the foot of the bed. 

That’s strange. Kara’s not shown herself to be a blanket hogger or a wild sleeper in the last few weeks. 

Lena tries to get her bearings. She remembers falling asleep on the couch, exhausted after she finally, finally got the nanobots to work, and she remembers Kara waking her sometime later and guiding her to bed.

Now, Kara’s on her side facing away from Lena, and the moment Lena stops to look at her, she knows that something is wrong. Kara’s hunched in on herself, trying to make herself small. Her breathing is a far cry away from the peaceful rhythm she establishes most nights, and perhaps most distressingly, she’s whimpering in her sleep.

“Kara?” Lena tries carefully. Her eyes scan around for Kara’s gun. It's not on the bedside table, and Lena feels underneath Kara’s pillow until her fingers close around the metal. She places it on her own bedside table next to her tablet. Rather safe than sorry.

“Kara, you’re having a bad dream,” Lena tries again, this time pushing herself up on her elbow and running her other hand over Kara’s shoulder. 

Kara flinches at the touch but doesn’t wake. Her breathing grows faster and shallower with each passing breath. Lena sits up properly before she uses both hands to shake Kara.

Cold hands grasp her wrists, and before she knows it, she’s pinned onto her back with Kara hovering above her. Her eyes are clouded with sleep, and a light sheen of sweat covers her forehead. Kara stays above Lena, pushing her into the mattress with her body weight, her breathing stil labored. 

Lena doesn’t know what to do. Her heart is beating an explosive rhythm in her chest, and when she tries to move her arms, she finds her hands trapped under Kara’s grip. “Kara?” she tries again.

Kara blinks, and then she’s gone and on the other side of the mattress. She scrambles to get off the bed, but despite her better judgement, Lena grabs hold of one of her hands before she can get too far.

“Hey, it's okay. You don’t have to go.”

Kara pauses and looks at Lena like she didn’t even consider the option of staying.

“You can lay back down if you want,” Lena hesitantly offers, trying to act naturally to spare Kara further embarrassment. “Just bring the blankets back. I’m cold.”

Kara gingerly relaxes back into the mattress facing Lena before closing them both back up. “I’m sorry I grabbed you like that. Reflexes.” Her voice is hoarse and tinted with shame.

“It’s okay. Everybody has nightmares. You didn’t hurt me”, Lena reassures. Beside her Kara relaxes a fraction of a bit. 

“But I frightened you.”

“I—  just a little bit. But I’m fine.” Lena can still feel where Kara’s hips pushed her down into the mattress, and she shifts against the decidedly not frightened knot low low in her belly. There’s a time and a place, and this certainly is not it. “Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?”

Kara remains silent as her eyes glaze over. “It’s just a stupid dream,” she says eventually. “I was trapped.” She swallows audibly in the otherwise silent room. “It was so dark. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I was suffocating.”

Lena’s heart clenches as her earlier suspicion of Kara’s claustrophobia is confirmed. “But it’s not real. You’re safe.”

“It’s not real,” Kara repeats, her voice cracking. 

“What can I do? Do you want me to turn on the light?” 

Lena is already edging away from Kara, ready to turn around and flick on the lamp, but Kara shakes her head and reaches out to stop her. There’s something about the look on Kara’s face that Lena recognizes. The wild desperation in her eyes, the fear of being alone. 

“Come here.” Lena settles onto her back and opens her arms. Kara comes easily, allowing Lena to gather her up into a loose embrace. She strokes Kara’s hair, as she settles against the crook of her neck. “You’re safe here with me.”

“I’m not worried about my safety,” Kara admits in a whisper, her breath tickling Lena’s neck, “It was you too. In my dream. You were calling out to me, but it was so dark, and I couldn't even lift a hand... I couldn’t save you.”

“Kara,” Lena whispers, lost for words.

“I’m sorry.” Kara’s voice is thick with emotion. “I don’t mean to burden you with my silly nightmares.”

“You could never be a burden,” Lena says before placing a kiss on the top of Kara’s head, not giving a rat's ass about what policy she was violating now. “I’m scared too, but I know we’ll keep each other safe.”

***

They don’t talk about it the next morning. Lena’s alarm goes off, but she shuts it down and curls further into the warmth behind her. Kara’s arm is slung over her waist, their legs intertwined.

“Shouldn’t you be getting up?” Kara whispers against the shell of her ear, and Lena represses a shudder. 

“No. Not today.” The nanobots are as good as she’s going to get them. Lena’s achieved all she can in the short amount of time that she‘s had. She just prays that the nanobots will perform out in the field. She prays they won’t have to.

Kara hums, and Lena expects her to go back to sleep, but instead, she snuggles Lena even closer. Warm fingers skim the exposed flesh where Lena’s t-shirt has moved up in the night, and Lena doesn’t dare to breathe.

“You’re so warm,” Kara breaths into her hair. 

And then she’s pulled under once more.

They’re both rudely awoken by Kara’s cellphone much later.

Kara mumbles “five more minutes,” against Lena’s neck, her breath warm and ticklish against Lena’s skin. 

But it’s not an alarm, Lena realizes as she blinks her eyes open, squinting against the late morning sun that peeks through a gap in the curtains. Kara’s phone is vibrating on the bedside table and Lena pushes herself upright as best she can with Kara half draped over her.

She’s just too late, the screen goes dark and the ringing stops, but not before Lena can read the caller ID. 

Alex. Lena retrieves the phone from the bedside table and it immediately starts ringing again. She freezes. It’s not her phone, but Kara isn’t moving despite the noise.

“Hello,” Lena says hoarsely before clearing her throat. There’s a brief silence and Lena feels the inexplicable need to explain herself. “Kara’s asleep. I just answered in case it was urgent.”

“Open the goddamn door,” is all Alex huffs out before hanging up. 

There’s a certain reluctance in the way Kara removes her hand from Lena’s stomach and untangles their limbs once Lena manages to shake her awake. Lena feels it too.

Alex seems more irritated than usual when she marches inside with agent Dox close on her heels. She hands them each a garment bag, their outfits for the gala, before sitting down at the kitchen island. She eyes the two of them up, and Lena shifts on her feet, well aware that they both are standing in their pajamas, Lena with the addition of the stupid hoody that she grabbed on the way out of the room.

“I was this close to fetch the battering ram,” Alex says. 

“I’m sorry, Alex. I didn’t hear my phone,” Kara defends. “We slept in.”

“We need to maintain constant contact. If that’s not something you can do we’ll call the whole thing off.” It’s a strange threat to make, given that Alex was fully onboard from the start. It’s even stranger that she’s threatening Kara, and not Lena. Her gaze is pointed and there’s a second of awkward silence before Agent Dox clears his throat expectantly.

Agent Dox takes them through the logistics of what the next night will bring. To the general public, nothing will seem out of place. Alex, with the addition of a couple other agents, will attend as waiters or cleaners and be completely undercover. Backup will be ready to rush in at any moment. 

It’s reassuring, at least to Lena, to see the plan of action laid out before them. It’s going to be fine. She’s ready to face her mother once and for all, but Alex assures her it won’t even come to that. 

“She won’t even know what hit her,” she says confidently.

With the plan of action relayed, the agents get up to leave but not before Alex takes Kara aside for a talk. They walk outside to the back garden, shutting the door behind them.

Lena’s left alone with a slightly awkward Brainy. He rocks back and forth on his heels and when Lena turns around after filling the kettle, she finds him watching her intently, a frown marking his forehead.

“What?” Lena asks defensively.

Brainy shakes his head slowly. “I’m just trying to deduce why agent Danvers seems to be upset with her sister.”

Lena doesn’t have a chance to ask Brainy what he means. The backdoor swings open, revealing a pink-cheeked Kara, Alex close behind her. Kara barely spares Alex a glance as she pulls the front door open for them.

Kara offers no explanation for the sudden tension, and Lena doesn’t pry, even though she’s curious. She worries though. Kara spoons her cereal with much more force than needed and she’s quieter than usual. By the time their late breakfast is done Kara doesn’t seem angry anymore, but rather lost in thought. 

The rest of the day is spent in a kind of limbo. Their regular schedule is interrupted, and it leaves Lena feeling out of sorts. She tests the nanobots one last time, reluctantly cutting into her palm again while Kara’s on the second floor, careful not to get any blood on Kara’s hoody.

It’s not exactly a legal human trial, nor are the nanobots FDA approved, but they do the job, healing the gash on Lena’s skin with ease.Satisfied, she starts packing up her makeshift lab and office, leaving only the handful of bots behind for their final assembly.

She’s not planning on having to come back here. 

Lena packs the unnecessary stuff back into her suitcase, and Kara does the same. They have ample time to do that the following day since the gala only starts later in the evening, but Lena wants to keep busy. 

Packing doesn't occupy the mind and neither does cooking or washing the dishes or preparing hot chocolate. They go through the motions, not exactly silent, but much less animated then previous nights. The nerves have settled in.

Eventually, after neither of them reacts to a punchline on the show that’s playing, Kara suggests they have an early night. The need to be well rested, after all.

It’s a mistake. Being freshly showered and tucked up in bed doesn't keep the mind busy either, and neither of them are able to fall asleep. They end up face to face on their sides, like the night before.

And just like the night before, Lena feels the pull in her lower abdomen. She could blame it on nerves, sure. But she knows that this specific knot in her stomach is not caused by the idea of potentially coming face to face with her mother in less than 24 hours.

Kara’s eyes are open and filtering over Lena’s face. They had both made a show of trying to sleep at first, but everytime one of them opened their eyes, the other would close theirs immediately. Like Lena was very much doing now. 

She feels Kara’s eyes on her. And then she feels her breath on her face when she whispers, “I know you’re still awake.”

There’s no point in denying it. Lena blinks her eyes open and looks straight into blue. When did Kara get so close? She’s almost all the way on Lena’s side, her nose brushing the edge of Lena's pillow.

“What are you thinking about?” Kara whispers again.

“Tomorrow,” Lena admits, equally as soft. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little terrified. I know it’s low, but the risk that something goes wrong…” Lena mentally chides herself. Nothing will go wrong, and if it does she has the FBI and her nanobots to fall back on.

Kara humms. “You like taking risks.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She asks carefully, more curious than defensive. 

“It means that you’re putting yourself in a lot of danger. Unnecessary danger.”

“It’s for the greater good,” Lena argues softly. “Lillian needs to be caught before more innocent people die.”

“It’s not gonna be for the greater good if you end up dead,” Kara counters without missing a beat. “Have you ever considered that you might be one of the innocent people that die?” She props herself up on her elbow, her gaze intent. 

“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” Lena counters automatically. She’s decisively not thinking about the possibility of her not making it out. Nevertheless, she’s left Jess a detailed instruction on what to do if things end badly for her.

“What if it does?” Kara whispers, her breath tickling Lena’s lips as she leans in over her. “What if— “

The rest of Kara’s sentence is put to a stop when Lena places a finger against her lips. “Shh. I’m already stressed as it is, Kara. It’s dangerous. I know that. But I trust that the FBI will do their job. And I’ll trust that you’ll keep me safe.”

Kara blinks at her and some of the panic in her eyes dissipates. “You put an awful lot of trust in me,” she mumbles against Lena’s finger.

“Can’t help it.” The words tumble out of Lena’s mouth. Fuck it. “I feel safe with you.” She feels herself blush and hopes that it’s not visible in the darkened room. She quickly slides her finger off Kara's lips. 

Kara's eyes flutter closed and she sighs softly, almost regretfully. “Is that all you feel when you're with me?”

The words are uttered so softly that Lena almost believes her mind fabricated them.

“Kara...” Lena’s at a loss for words. 

“Lena?” Kara challenges, as she blinks Lena back into focus. Her eyes are dark, and Lena feels a shudder run down the length of her spine. “Do you want to know why Alex was so upset this morning?”

Lena nods hesitantly.

“She thinks we’re...romantically involved. She thinks we’re sleeping together.” It’s Kara’s turn to blush and Lena just stares at her dumbstruck. “I don’t blame her. You answered my phone. You wear my clothes. We present a pretty confusing case.”

“And she’s not happy with the idea? Of us sleeping together?” Lena doesn’t dare ask how Kara feels.

“Not exactly.” Kara  inches a hand onto Lena’s stomach, her fingers shifting the material of Lena’s t-shirt ever so slightly. Kara’s fingers are warm when they make contact with the skin of Lena’s stomach. She inches even closer and starts tracing a senseles pattern just below Lena’s belly button.

“It is strange. I like being close to you, and at first it was because I was doing my job. Then after...” Kara breathes out a deep breath through her nose before continuing, “after you almost got hurt in the parking lot, it started feeling like more.” Kara scrunches her brows as she struggles for words. “I can’t explain it, Lena, but my concern for you, my feelings for you stretches further than just doing my job.”

Kara’s close enough for Lena to feel a soft puff of air against her lips. She takes what is supposed to be a steading breath but ends up feeling more dizzy. “I’m your boss,” Lena says, as she tries to hang on to a semblance of logic.

“So? Would you like me to quit?” 

Kara’s serious, Lena realizes. She still her hand and splays it flat across Lena’s stomach, as she pulls back to look at Lena

“No,” is the obvious answer. 

“What do you want, Lena?” Kara’s eyes are searching, and Lena feels the urge to pull away. But it’s Kara, and if Lena’s learned anything in the last few months it’s that she’s always safe with her.

With a pounding heart Lena trails her finger up Kara’s forearm where it’s propped up against the bed. Kara shivers at the touch and when Lena looks up Kara’s eyes are clouded with lust and focussed on her lips. 

Lena exhales a shaky breath. “Kiss me?”

It’s more a question than an answer, but Kara complies nonetheless.

Kara kisses exactly the way Lena needs. Meticulously. Thorough, yet gentle. It doesn’t take long for their brief brush of lips to morph into something more. Kara’s warm and inviting, and Lena can’t help but rest a hand on her cheek while the other snakes around Kara’s back to pull her closer.

The heat in Lena’s lower belly multiples and she pushes up on her elbows, desperate to be closer.

Strong hands guide Lena onto her back, and the weight of Kara on top of her has Lena parting her lips, urging Kara to deepen the kiss. The first hint of Kara’s tongue against her own has Lena squirming. She claws at Kara’s back, wanting her closer. 

Kara breaks the kiss, her breathing labored as she ghosts her nose over Lena’s jaw. “What do you need?” 

It’s a simple question, one that Kara’s asked before. Weeks and weeks ago, when Lena was reeling from the attempt on her life, the answer was clear. Even before then, when she was riddled with grief and guilt, or earlier still when she was lonely and closed off.

She needed Kara. She wanted Kara.

“You,” Lena whispers, and her hips buck on their own accord to support her statement.

It’s all the motivation Kara needs to dive back in.

It’s crazy, Lena thinks as Kara replaces her nose with her lips, skimming over Lena’s jaw and down to the juncture of her neck. It’s crazy and inappropriate but she can’t find it in herself to stop. Instead, she pulls Kara’s lips back to her own and loses herself in the give and take of their joint mouths.

Kara grows bolder under Lena’s t-shirt, her fingers trailing up over Lena’s ribs until they skim the underside of Lena’s breasts. A toned thigh makes its way between Lena’s parted legs, and she gasps at the hint of friction.

It’s desperate and urgent, the way they kiss and try to undress at the same time. Kara’s tanktop is first to go, and Lena’s is awestruck at the plain of toned muscle before her, her hands instinctively reaching up to touch her abs.

Her own t-shirt follows not long after. Kara traces Lena’s body with her mouth, mapping out each plateau and valley with her tongue and her lips, leaving Lena squirming and whimpering on the bedsheets. Kara teases, at first, liking her way across Lena’s collarbones, inhaling deeply through her nose as she makes her way down Lena’s sternum. She spends a glorious amount of time focused on Lena’s chest, kissing and sucking her nipples before descending down her stomach, tasting and nipping all the way.

The rest is a blur to Lena. A euphoric blur of Kara’s tongue and skillful fingers as she urges Lena to the brink and back, multiple times. Her first orgasm takes Lena by surprise. Her hips buck up to meet Kara’s tongue stroke for stroke, and before she knows it her back is arching and a string of profanities leave her mouth as waves and waves of pleasure ripple through her body.

Lena shows her gratitude as she spends time between Kara’s legs, kissing and sucking until Kara’s muscles tighten and her legs clamp around Lena’s head. Kara is silent as she comes, her eyes closed and her head turned to the side. 

“Fuck, Lena,” is all Kara says as she come down, her voice breathy and her chest visibly thumping with each beat of her hart. 

Lena allows herself to be pulled back up to Kara’s mouth. The kiss languidly, exploratively, most of the desperate need from before doused. It doesn’t take long for Lena to want more, and before she knows it she’s holding onto the headboard, Kara’s hands splayed out over Lena’s waist as her tongue gets to work.  

Later, when they’re sweaty but sated, Lena lays with her head on Kara’s naked chest, listening to the calming thuds of her heart. Kara’s fingers are in Lena’s hair, scratching at her scalp. 

Lena reaches out for Kara free hand, tangling their fingers together. “It’s going to be fine, right? Tomorrow I mean.” She asks softly. 

Kara’s hand slips out of Lena's hair. She tucks a stray strand of hair behind Lena’s ear before gently cupping her cheek. 

“I really hope so.” 

***

The club soda that Kara’s been sipping on for the better part of an hour is completely unappealing. It’s flat and a little on the warm side, but Kara still brings the rim of the glass to her lips as she speaks. It’s a smart and discrete way to converse with Winn through her comms.

“Anything interesting?” She mutters through her pretend sip. She eyes the ballroom over her rim, glancing at where Lena is standing a few feet away from her. 

“Nope,” he says with a popping sound. “Nada. There’s talk about wrapping it up soon. Alex is ready to issue a stand down as soon as Lena leaves.” 

There’s a loud gurgling sound as Winn sucks the straw of his upsized big belly shake. It’s chocolate. Kara knows this because she had it delivered at ARGO hours ago. It is the agreed payment requested by Winn in exchange for covertly hacking into Alex and her colleague’s comms for the night. 

Lena does seem to be slowing down for the night, as the gala around her winds down. It’s a relief, but it does little to soothe the knots that've been in Kara's stomach from the moment they entered the car that would take them to their venue.

The gala was lovely, of course. Wealth practically wafted off the businessman and their wifes, and for the first time, Kara was glad that Lena had talked her into the designer suit that Lena had gotten custom made for her. This way, in her midnight black pants and blazer, complete with undercoat to top, she didn’t stand out like a sore thumb next to Lena.

Lena with her blood red dress.

Hours later, Kara’s mind is still formulating the same thought that tumbled passed her lips in reverent hush when she saw Lena for the first time early this afternoon.

“Oh, wow.”

The utterance doesn’t come close to doing her justice. Not then, when she almost shily turned around after calling Kara to zip her up in the early afternoon sun of their shared room, and not now either.

The dress is simply exquisite. It’s low cut perfectly accentuates Lena’s collarbones and cleavage while showcasing the array of freckles that dot her chest and back. Kara has tried her best not to be too transfixed by Lena as the night wore on, not when she promised herself to remain focussed and aware of their surroundings despite the FBI presence. Still, every so often, she allowed her eyes to trail across the silky expanse of Lena’s skin and imagine touching it again.

“I can’t believe Lillian is a no-show,” Winn chirps back in. “Not that I wanted her to, but it would be nice to catch the old bat and lock her away, once and for all.”

Kara doesn’t comment. She’s not sure if she should be relieved at Lillian's absence or disappointed. She too wants the woman caught, wants Lena to be safe, but the idea of having to put Lena through danger to achieve that plants fear in Kara’s gut. 

Lena doesn’t seem phased. Her professional mask hasn’t slipped once, not even as the night starts to draw to a close. She’s mingling a few feet away from where Kara is leaning against the bar, and although she’s smiling as she accepts a business card from a charming middle-aged man, Kara can see that she's tired.

Behind Kara, the barman, an undercover FBI agent, calls for last rounds, and Lena’s eyes shift away from her conversation, searching for Kara. Kara turns around and drains the last of her soda before she slides the glass to the barman. Not long after she hears the click of Lena’s heels as she nears the bar.

Lena orders a scotch on the rocks, as she comes to a stop next to Kara. “I’m dead on my feet, but I think that is the last of them.”

“Are we leaving soon?” Kara asks as casually as she can despite her anxiety to get Lena somewhere safe.

Lena nods, as she takes a sip of her first drink of the night. “Or we can linger a bit. Just in case…”

“I don’t think she’s coming, Lena. She would’ve been here by now.” Lena's lips turn down, and her shoulders sag ever so slightly. “I’m sorry,” Kara continues softly, as she inches closer to Lena and lays her hand next to Lena’s glass. “I wanted this to work too.”

Lena’s hand is cold when she slides it overtop Kara’s, the condensation from the melting ice in her glass dampening her fingertips. 

“Back to reality then, I suppose.” Lena sighs. “Do you think the FBI will make us go back to the safehouse?”

Kara shrugs. “I don’t know. Probably.”

Lena gazes deep into her drink and swirls it around, causing the ice blocks to clink against the glass. Kara suppresses a sigh. Neither of them wants to be caged up again.

“Dance with me,” Lena says suddenly. She abandons her drink and reaches down to her feet as she toes her high heels off. “Come on,” she presses when Kara looks at her with a frown. ”Please?”

How is Kara supposed to refuse that look?

She leads them to the empty space in the middle of the dining tables, Lena’s hand soft in her own. She gently lays her hand on Lena's lower back, pulling them closer as Lena’s fingers brush her shoulder. 

“Hello,” Kara whispers smartly, as they begin a gentle sway. Soft music is still playing from some speaker, a slow jazz number that reminds Kara of rainy Sunday mornings. “Didn’t take you for a dancer.”

“Well, you know me. Full of surprises.” Lena raises her eyebrow with a smirk, and Kara can’t help but smile.

“That you are,” she agrees.

Tension visibly bleeds out of Lena’s shoulders, as they glide over the hardwood floor, sticking to their own tempo despite the fact that a slightly more upbeat song starts playing. She lays her head down on Kara’s shoulder, her eyes drifting closed. 

All the guests have left, Kara realizes, as she rests her chin atop Lena’s head. The barman is closing down, and around them, waiters start collecting empty champagne glasses from the tables. Kara spots Alex with her tray, heading to help the handful of waiters who are also undercover. She meets her sister's eyes for just a second before Alex looks away to clear used cutlery.

“Uhm, Kara?” Winn says a minute later. “Alex wants you to wrap up your— uh, makeout session on the dancefloor.” He pauses. “She knows we’ve hacked into the comms.” 

Kara winces at the nervousness in Winn’s voice. Alex must be pretty pissed. “Shit.” The death glare that Alex sends her as she walks off with the dirty dishes confirms it, and Kara suppresses a sigh. “Hey, Lena. I think we need to get going. It’s getting late.”

Lena hums noncommittally, not bothering to lift her head from Kara’s shoulder. “One more song.”

“My sister’s orders.”

“One more,” Lena insists. “I don’t want to go back into confinement just yet.”

This time, Kara does sigh. “You're stalling.” 

“Says who?” Lena lifts her head. She meets Kara's eyes with a sincere glint reflecting in her own. “Maybe I just enjoy dancing with you. Being held by you. It’s nice.”

“It is nice,” Kara manages as she matches Lena's dimpled smile. “But we do have to go.”

“Will you come back with me? Back to the safehouse or wherever your sister sees fit to send me next.” Lena’s eyes are searching, and there’s a slight krinkle between her brows as she worries her lip between her teeth. “Alex is right, you know. You are welcome to leave at any time.”

Kara can’t stand the unsureness that clouds Lena’s eyes.“No, of course I’m going back with you,” she breathes. “I thought you knew that by now.” I’d follow you almost everywhere, she wants to add but doesn’t. “I’ll be there as long as you need me to.”

“Thank you,” Lena says quietly. Kara feels her breath on her lips, as Lena starts closing the space between them. 

Their gentle swaying stops, as Lena pushes up on her toes and brings their lips together. It’s brief, the touch of their mouths; they are in a public place after all. Lena’s cheeks are pink when she pulls back, her eyelashes fluttering. 

Alex is going to kill them. Mostly Kara.

“For everything,” she adds, and it takes all Kara has not to lean in and claim Lena’s mouth again. “Now we can go,” Lena declares, yet makes no move to pull herself away from Kara.

“Kara. Alex says—”

Kara activates her comms to interrupt Winn. “Yeah, yeah, we’re going.” Lena smiles up at her guiltily, and Kara rolls her eyes before looking around to try and spot her sister’s scowl. Alex is nowhere to be seen.

“No, not that.” There’s a quiver to Winn’s voice, and Kara tenses. “Lillian. She’s here.”

Kara’s expression must’ve given something away, as Lena stiffens in her arms, her eyes growing wide, as she searches Kara’s face. “What is it? Is she here?”

Kara doesn't respond but she lets go of Lena’s waist, still listening to Winn’s nervous stutter. “Alex wants me to tell you to stay tight until James comes to get you.”

“Kara? What is it?” Lena repeats, eyes pleading. 

“It’s your mother,” Kara says, mouth dry. 

Kara doesn’t believe that she’s ever seen Lena this pale. Not when Kara pulled a gun on her. Not even when bullets rained down on her or when she heard her mother was back in the country.

Both of their heads whip in the direction of dress shoes echoing over the hardwood floor.

“Come on, kids.” James says, as he reaches them in a couple of long strides. He too is in the waiter garb, but his tray is nowhere to be seen. “Party’s over. Follow me, please.” There’s no arguing with the urgency in his voice, as he leads them towards a door next to the bar.

Hand in hand, they follow James. Kara notices the barman bend down, as he reaches for something under the counter before walking off towards the stairs that lead down to the entrance. Kara feels her own weapon press against the skin beneath her balzer. 

“Where’s Alex?” Kara looks around again, but the hall is empty save for the three of them

“She’s gone downstairs to wait for backup. They're going to corner her as she enters the building while us three go out the back. We have a van running downstairs.”

James pushes open the swinging door to the kitchen as he speaks. It’s barren of staff, real or FBI plants, the hubbub of a working kitchen abandoned. They make their way past the shiny metal industrial appliances, but as they reach the exit, the door is shoved into James, and then he’s tackled to the ground by a tall man. Kara has absolutely no time to respond and can only watch as the two men land with a loud thud. 

“James!” Kara shouts, as he groans.

“I’ve got this. Get Lena out of here!” he shouts just before he pins his assailant in a choke hold. 

The grip on Kara’s hand tightens, as Lena’s nails dig into her skin. Kara tears her eyes away from James and looks up to a towering sight.

“Mother,” Lena says cooly, her voice barely betraying the nerves Kara knows she feels.

Lillian steps out of the shadows, and Kara instinctively pushes Lena behind her, as she draws her pistol. “Stay away from her,” she growls, as she starts backing herself and Lena away.

“Now, now. There’s no need for such unpleasantries. I came here to help.” 

Her voice causes goosebumps to rise on Kara’s skin, and she swallows. For every step Kara takes back, Lillian takes one forward. Shoes squeak on the tiled floor behind them followed by a crash of glass, but Kara doesn't dare look over to where James is still wrestling with the man. 

All she can think about is how the hell to get Lena to safety.

Kara reaches out to activate her comms. “Winn?” There’s no response, no sound, not even a static crackle.  

“Help? I know exactly why you’re here.” Lena steps out from behind Kara. “You're welcome to try mother, but I’m not the one dying tonight.”

“Yes, your pet here is doing quite a good job of getting you out unscathed from the attempts on your life. That says a lot, considering the genius you’re up against.” Lillian holds out one hand, her eyes hard and unyielding, as she makes a quick ‘come here’ gesture with just her fingers. “Come with me now if you don’t want to die.”

Kara steps in front of Lena and thrusts her already extended arm a half inch further forward, pushing the menacing firearm at Lillian to stave off those empty words and poorly veiled threats. “Go, Lena, go,” she urges, pressing her back against Lena to move them both back to the main room and further from Lena’s murderous mother. “I’m not going to let you hurt her.”

“You’re not going to—” Calling the puff of air that forces its way out of Lillian’s mouth a laugh would be overly generous. “You’re adorable, truly, but you have no idea what’s going on, do you?”

“I know that if you want to hurt Lena, you’ll have to go through me first, and you won’t find that an easy feat.”

Lillian tilts her head to the side, the full weight of her attention resting heavily on Kara for the first time. Kara shrugs it off and puffs up further, a bigger target for Lillian’s malice and a better defender for Lena.

“You're making a mis—” 

The rest of Lillian’s words are lost when Lena yelps, and the warm pressure that was against Kara’s back suddenly disappears. Kara spins to the sight of another of Lillian’s thugs dragging Lena by the wrists, as she struggles and kicks, fighting for her freedom.

“Lena!” It only takes a second for Kara to realize that as endearing as Lena’s struggles are, they also mean that Kara doesn’t have a clean shot. She holsters her pistol and rushes in, kicking high and forcing her foe to abandon his captive to protect himself. “Get down!”

Kara has no time to make sure that Lena gets away unscathed. The thug recovers almost immediately from her kick and throws a flurry of punches her way. He’s fast, but Kara’s faster, doging and diving at the last minute to avoid the man’s knuckles. 

The next punch is inches away from her face, but she counters it, grabbing the man’s wrist and hoping to pin it behind his back. He overpowers her, and the next minute, there’s a boot in her stomach. Kara stumbles back, gasping for air and lands heavily against one of the metal work stations.

The man is upon her before she can find her feet, and she swings high, hoping to connect with his head. Her punch is countered, and the man grasps her wrist and slams it against the edge of the workstation. White hot pain originates in her wrist, spreading up her arm and down into her hand. Kara feels her eyes tear up, as the pain rings through her body, and a wave of nausea threatens to overtake her. She definitely broke something in her arm.

The thug pushes his weight onto Kara, pinning her against the counter while his hand closes around her throat.

Panic rushes through Kara, as she gasps stupidly, trying to get oxygen into her lungs. With her good hand, she reaches along the surface, blindly fumbling around for something . Her fingers brush an object as cold as the metal workstation, and Kara latches onto it, praying that it’s something sharp. She swings it towards the man with all the force she has left and is rewarded with a blood curdling scream. The fingers around her neck disappear, as the man stumbles back, his eyes wide as he regards the steak knife that Kara has driven into his thigh.

Kara takes the opportunity to pivot, as she lifts her leg, performing a perfect spinning kick that lands on the side of the man’s head, causing him to slump to the ground. 

When Kara turns around, the blood in her veins run cold. Lena is nowhere to be seen and neither is Lillian. 

There are only two exits from the room: one the way they were headed and one the way from which they came. Though Kara’s attention was fully on her foe and Lena could have gone either way, James and his opponent still struggle near the exit. It makes her choice clear. Lillian must have taken Lena back through the main hall.

Kara draws her gun and cradles her broken arm against her torso. She has no time to lick her wounds and gives chase, rushing back into the hall. Each step is jarring, a painful reminder of the previous fight. She bursts into the room, prepared to choose between a half-dozen exits to hunt Lena down, but it’s unnecessary. There, hunkered down behind a table with Lillian just a foot away, Lena waits.

“Lena!”

Kara rushes in, but when Lena looks her way and yells, “Get down,” it’s the last minute warning Kara needs. She sees motion to her right just in time before she dives behind a table. Gunfire explodes, and bullets riddle the wood. Splinters and gunsmoke fill the air.

“Where are these guys coming from?” Kara grumbles, struggling to check her clip, a nervous habit, with her trembling, injured hand. “Lena, are you okay?”

“She’s fine,” Lillian replies.

“I didn’t ask you. You’re the reason she’s in danger.”

“It’s not me, you buffon, it’s Lex!”

“Lex?” Kara shakes her head, as three more bullets thud into the table. Lena is definitely not getting her rental deposit back. “He..? No, Lex is in jail. It was you.”

“Did you honestly think It was me who tried to blow my own daughter? Who tried to have her shot ?” Something akin to hurt flashes through Lillian’s eyes. She raises a hand to Lena’s cheek but falls short when her daughter flinches away. “That wasn’t me, Lena.”

“Good try, Lillian,” Kara says, “but I’m not a fool. You came back into the country just before all of this started.”

“Do you really think these are my people shooting at me?” Lillian esclaims, her composure slipping, and a barrage of slugs assault her cover and accentuate her point. “I was trying to protect her!”

“Well what a bang up job you’ve been doing, Mother!” Lena’s voice rises too.

“I’ve done the best I could. Given the circumstances. All I ever tried to do was protect you.”

Something clicks into place in Kara’s head. The flowers Lena received. The Thistle. Perhaps it wasn’t an omen of evil after all. 

“Oh yes, how could I forget. My mother is a wanted terrorist! Silly me for thinking you’re trying to have me killed. I must have gotten confused with the last time you helped Lex murder.”

Lillian’s arms drop limply to her side. “I never helped him. I never even knew.” Her voice cracks. “Who do you think called 911?” Lillian continues. “When I realized what he had done, I was horrified.”

“So horrified that you just left me there!”

“I did,” Lillian admits shamefully. “I ran! Scared of my own son, can you believe it?” She shakes her head and breathes out a heavy breath. “I didn’t know if you drank or not. I feared the worst. For the first couple of hours, I thought I’d lost you both.”

There’s something to Lillian’s voice. She doesn’t sound like a murderer. She sounds like a worried and scared mother. 

Lena must have come to the same conclusion. “I want to believe you. I do.” Lena shakes her head. “But—”

“So, sorry I’m late!” A voice booms from behind echoing off the walls.

Kara dares a glance over her cover, ignoring Lillian.

Lex Luthor is shorter in person but not any less bald. Kara’s not sure why, but she expected him to be taller. His hairless head shines as he walks towards them, and his mouth is pulled into a grotesque grin.

“Mother, Lena, come out, come out wherever you are,” he says, opening his arms and coming to a stop near the middle of the room before laughing joyfully. His smile grows, as the mother and daughter peek over the cratered table. “I had no idea this was a family reunion!”

“Lex,” Lillian whispers to herself before turning back to Lena. “This is exactly what I was trying to warn you about!” she hisses. 

Lena seems helpless, all the heat that she directed at Lillian mere moments ago is gone, and she stares at her brother with nothing but absolute fear in her eyes. 

“Not happy to see me then? No?” Lex takes a step forward, and Lillian pulls Lena closer.

“Stop!” Kara shouts, aiming her gun at Lex and then at Lillian. “Nobody moves!” Her eyes scan the room and find James laying motionless on the ground near the bar. His assailant crawls beside him before getting up with a grunt. The man who was firing at them holds his weapon steadily at Kara but doesn’t fire, instead watching her warily between sneaking glances at Lex.

“Looking for backup?” Lex scoffs. “The FBI won’t help you now, I’ve seen to that.”

A fresh stab of panic impales Kara’s heart. Alex. She tries her comms again, but Winn doesn’t respond. 

“Oh, don’t bother,” Lex says as he watches Kara. “I’ve got this nifty single jammer. Works wonders.”

“Lena,” Kara says as she tries to calculate their options. The door to the kitchen is closest to them, and something tells her that Lillian is the lesser of the two evils. If Kara can manage to keep Lex busy for long enough, Lena will have a chance. “Go with your mother.” 

Lillian reaches out to her daughter, but Lena pulls away. “I’m not going anywhere with her,” she snaps, her eyes finally leaving Lex. “I’m not going.”

In her peripheral vision, Kara sees the man who arrived with Lillian stagger to his feet. He barely makes it a foot away from the bar before Lex pulls a pistol out of the pinstripe pants of his suit and fires, without even looking, his bullet hitting his desired mark, as the man slumps down to the ground. Lillian barely reacts. 

Lex sighs dramatically. “I’m going to make this very simple. I came here for Lena, but I’ll take mother dearest too. Two for the price of one, as they say.” Lex grins, delighted with his little joke. “You, Miss bodyguard, don’t have to get hurt.”

Kara clenches her jaw. 

“Just shoot him,” Lillian hisses from behind, but Kara remains frozen. She’s fairly certain she can get Lex, but if she does, his thug will get her, and that will leave Lena unprotected. Her best chance is to stall until backup arrives.

“I don’t think it has to come to that. No one has to die today.”

Lex shrugs. “Okay, have it your way then.” 

***

A sudden pressure shoots through Lena’s ears, almost like a popping noise. For a brief moment, all sounds are deafened and Lena hears nothing but a stuttering thud of her own heart. There’s some type of flash, a muted crack, and the next moment, Lena finds herself being dragged away by force. 

“Kara!” she shouts as she tries to extract her arm from Lillian’s grasp. 

“Keep your mouth shut!” Lillian whispers, as she tugs Lena’s arm, pulling her down to her haunches to hide behind another table.

Another powerful shot echoes through the room, a shotgun, Lena thinks. Vases shatter, glass shards clattering to the floor. There’s a crash of cutlery followed by a thud, and Lena desperately tries to edge away from her mother to see past the tablecloth.

There’s a brief moment of silence that feels even more deafening than the violent soundwaves from before. 

And then it starts again.

Lena flattens herself against the leg of the table, as she counts the shots, six of them. When the last empty shell clatters to the floor, there’s a scuffle, and the next moment, Kara slides over the floor and then frantically crawls the last few feet to hide behind a closer table, her stance mirroring Lena’s. 

They’re not even three tables away from each other, but it seems like miles to Lena.

“Stop wasting ammo, you idiot! Get closer and take care of her!” Lex bellows. Lena wonders what idiot would be stupid enough to work for her brother.

There’s an ominous silence, and Lena doesn't dare to breathe. Beside her, Lillian pokes her harshly in the ribs and points at the emergency that’s only feet away, but Lena shakes her head. 

She can’t leave Kara. 

Across from them, Kara peers around the tablecloth, before jerking her body back to stay hidden. Her chest rises and falls fast, and she cradles her arm in a strange way, but further than that she’s too far away for Lena to make out any wounds. They make brief eye contact, and Kara mouths something. Lena’s never been particularly good at reading lips, but she manages to make out her own name before Kara freezes, her mouth open around an unfinished word.

There’s a crunch, a boot stepping on shards of glass.

“You know I’ve always loved playing games. Especially with you, Lena.” Lena’s skin prickles at her brother's words. His voice is closer than it was before. “And do you know why that is? Because I always win.”

There’s another crunch of glass, and Kara visibly tenses like a cat ready to pounce.

“I always win!” Lex repeats before laughing. “Because you’ve always had weaknesses, ones I’ve had no problems exploiting. Jack, for example. He was a weakness. Color me surprised to see you’ve moved on so quickly.”

The next sequence of events happen so fast that Lena barely has a chance to react. The second shooter comes into view again, obscuring Kara. Beside her, Lillian’s grasp on her wrist turns painful. 

Kara’s gun falls to the ground with a dull clatter and slides away from her, disappearing from view. There’s a grunt, a punch, and a much louder clatter, as the shotgun falls to the ground.

“Hands up, Mother,” Lex coaxes softly. “Come on, Sis, you too.”

Lena tears her eyes away from where Kara is struggling to overpower her assailant to find Lex behind her, the barrel of his pistol inches away from the back of Lillian's head. 

Lex looks different. Slimmer perhaps, thinned out on prison rations. His head is as bald as ever, but what’s new is the beard. It’s thick and reddish-brown, like the hair on his head used to be. Lena can’t help but think that it somehow suits him, a crazy thought to have, given the circumstances.

“I said hands up, Mother.”

Lillian presses her lips together and slowly rises to her feet. “I think not.” She places her hands in the pockets of her long coat once she straightens but makes no move to turn and face Lex. “What are you going to do? Shoot your own mother?”

“Why do you think I’m here? To chat?”

“No, not chat.” Lillian smiles. “Gloat. There’s no way you’d kill us before gloating.”

Lex laughs, an untamed and twisted sound. “So you’re prepared to die at my hand tonight then.”

“Perhaps,” Lillian concends. “Or perhaps not.” She shrugs nonchalantly. “It wouldn't be your first failed attempt.”

Lex’s grip on the pistol tightens before he swings his aim over to Lena. “Gosh, I must say you’ve made it awfully convenient for me, Mother. The two Luthor women in one place at the same time.” He laughs again and shakes his head almost fondly. “How delightful. You have been very quiet, Sis. Not happy to see me, I take it?” 

The urge to shrink in on herself is there, and Lena has to actually work not to shut her eyes as her brother addresses her.

“Aren’t you happy to see me, Sis?”

Lena thumbs over the ring on her right hand before pushing herself up on unsteady legs. She looks around just in time to see Kara being punched in the stomach. Kara stumbles backwards from the force and lands on her ass. The man advances, and Kara starts clambering backwards, away from the tables and towards their impromptu dance floor from before.

“Look at me!” Lex belows, spit flying into the air. Lena complies, forcing herself not to tremble as she turns to face him. “I asked you a question. Are you happy to see me?”

“Never been happier,” she says, her voice only quivering slightly despite the fact that her heart is trying to escape from her chest. “Although I must ask. Why? Why work so desperately hard to kill me?”

“You testified against me. Simple as that really, sis,” he says with a smile. “Mommy dearest called the cops, and you did the talking. It’s nothing personal.”

“You didn’t seriously think you wouldn't get caught.” Lillian scoffs. “You don’t think you being the only survivor would’ve indicted you?”

“What if I never planned for any survivors?” Lex smiles like a Cheshire cat before pushing the barrel of his gun into Lillian’s back, prompting the three of them to move away from the tables.“Could you imagine the headlines? ‘Lex Luthor leads tens of people to mass suicide.’ I’d be remembered as a god.”

Lena’s stomach lurches. She doesn’t dare to look over at Kara, but out of the corner of her eye, she sees the back of Lex’s goon, as he towers over Kara on the floor. For the first time in her life, Lena feels like pleading, not for her own life, but for Kara’s.

“The two of you took that away from me now, didn’t you?” Lex continues. “Now I will be remembered as a serial killer. A maniac.” He pretends to ponder for a bit and then his face splits into a smile. “Better than nothing, I suppose.”

“You’ve lost your mind, Lex,” Lillian sounds calm, but Lena watches as her eyes flicker around the room. First to Kara, then to the floor, and then finally landing on Lena. 

“I’ve heard that one before. Didn't work then, won’t work now.”

Lex continues to walk forward, pushing Lillian ahead and lining the two women up side by side, both facing him. Lillian’s face gives nothing away, as she lays eyes on her son.

“Sorry to disappoint, Mother, but no gloating tonight. I’m on a tight schedule.” He checks his watch with a dramatic swing of his arm before refocusing on his family. “Now, who would like to go first?”

Lillian takes a calm step forward and then another. She takes her hands out of her pockets and clasps them in front of herself. “Leave your sister.”

“Leave Lena!?” Lex shakes his head. “You’ve gone soft, Mother. No, I think I’ll kill Lena first. That way you get to watch.”

Lena takes a deep shuddering breath, as the first hot tear tracks down her cheek. God, she’d always hoped she wouldn't die crying. She would have preferred something more peaceful. Dead in her sleep. Perhaps breathing out her last breath at a ripe age, happy, and surrounded by family. At least this will be quick. She hopes.

“Any last words, little sis?”

There’s a garbled “no” to the side, and Lena forces herself to look at Kara. It’s selfish she supposes, but she needs to see her one more time.

Blood streams from her nose, her mouth, her knuckles. She’s crawling on the floor, trying to push herself upright, clearly in pain. Her eyes are horrified, and her jaw slackens. There’s a kick to her stomach, and she rolls onto her back with a strangled gasp.

Lena closes her eyes, unable to take anymore, and gives in to the now steady stream of tears. “No last words. The people that matter know what they mean to me.” A sob tries to break free, but Lena swallows it.

She tries to push her fear away, tries to calculate the chances of her trying to fight back being successful. There’s no point. She’d be gunned down before she even reached Lex. He’s won. Checkmate.

There’s a thud and a groan, but Lena doesn’t look Kara’s way again. It’s futile. Whether Kara wins the fight or not, Lex will gun her down too,

“As you wish.”

A couple of things happen all at once. Lex cocks the gun, purely for dramatic effect. The sound causes a shiver to run down Lena’s back. Lillain shouts something, but it's drowned out by an even louder, heart wrenching scream.

“Kara! No!”

And then the gunshot goes off. She flinches helplessly, her body’s last attempt at defense.

Her ears register no sound other than a dull ring that seems to get louder the longer it carries on. Her first thought is that it hurts much less than she anticipated. In fact it doesn’t seem to hurt at all, and the sharp, sudden excruciating pain she expected never comes. 

Then she registers the weight against her. 

Kara’s eyes are trained on hers when Lena finally manages to force her eyes open. A single tear rolls down Kara’s cheek as she whispers, “hello”.

And then she slumps, the last reserves of her energy finally giving in. 

Together they sag down towards the floor, and Lena fumbles to try and grip Kara under her armpits. It’s no use. She guides them to the floor as gently as she can and cradles Kara’s head in her lap.

White hot panic courses through Lena. There’s so much blood. It quickly darkens the crisp white of Kara’s shirt, the material soaking up the crimson. Instinctively Lena places her hands on Kara’s abdomen ignoring the pained groans it causes.

“Oops missed!” Lex’s eyes glimmer with childlike wonder, as he takes in Kara's limp body strewn across the floor. He lifts his arm again, and this time Lena knows there’s no one to shield her. 

The nanobots will likely be able to save only one person, and she wants it to be Kara. Lena quickly removes one hand and activates the hidden button on one of her rings, hoping, praying that they’ll function as planned. 

Nothing happens. 

Footsteps echo behind her, and Lena remembers the earlier scream. Alex . She turns to see Kara’s sister sprinting towards them, the emergency exit door swinging wildly behind her.

“Stop right there, or I'll shoot you too.” Alex comes to a sliding halt, as Lex aims at her. “Keep your hands in the air.” 

“Lena…” Kara’s breathless whisper is so soft that Lena almost misses it. 

“I’m right here Kara. I'm not going anywhere.”

“It hurts.”

“I know,” Lena sobs helplessly. She glances up at the makeshift stage, but there’s no sign of her nanobots. Surely they can’t be out of range. She wants to press the button again but doesn't want to remove her hand from Kara’s stomach. The blood is warm and thick between her fingers. “You’re gonna be just fine, Kara.”

“I want—”” Kara stops short. Coughs. Wines. 

“Shh, It’s gonna be okay.”

Lex sniffs obnoxiously, as he wipes at his pretend tears. He stops and points the gun at Lillian. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Lillian freezes. Lena looks at her mother. Looks at the floor. Tries to decipher the look that Lillian gives her. Kara’s gun is a few feet away from Lillian, just just poking out from underneath one of the tables. Lena sees the cogs turn behind her mother’s eye. She looks at Alex. She’s too far away, her arms still raised and her eyes wide with panic, as she takes in the state of her sister.

Lena nods to no one in particular and regretfully slides her bloody hand off Kara's abodemen, ignoring her groans, and places it onto the floor.  

“Hey, maniac.” Alex calls, catching on and grabbing Lex’s attention. “Have you ever been outsmarted?”

Lena doesn’t hear her brother’s witty response. All she can focus on is the way the toe of Lillian’s high heel connects with Kara’s pistol, sending it sliding over the wooden floor and into Lena’s waiting hand. She doesn’t hesitate, not for a moment. 

The metal is cold and weighted, and Lena wastes no time in squeezing down on the trigger.

Lex stumbles almost comically, as his free hand gropes at his chest. His eyes are blank, as he lifts his pistol again. Lena fires two more shots. Lex's pistol falls from his limp hand, as he sinks to the floor.

Simultaneously, Alex and Lillian move as if released from a spell, both running towards Lena. 

“Kara!” Lena immediately tries to lock eyes with Kara, but her lids have drooped closed.

“Kara look at me.” Lena jabs at her ring again. Nothing. No nanobots. “Open your eyes. You can’t die!” she shouts in frustration. “You can’t leave me now!” She wants to shake Kara, but slivers of light blue lock onto her. 

There’s a garbled cough, but no response. 

Lena presses down on the ring again. Her bloodied fingers slip across it, but she manages to push the button down

Somewhere close by, Alex is on the phone with 911. Lex is motionless on the floor. 

“Give me the ring,” Lillian says suddenly. She kneels next to Lena holding her palm out. “What is it supposed to do?

The ring slides off her finger with ease. “Nanobots,” Lena gets out weakly. “They’re behind the stage.” She doesn’t elaborate. There’s no point. Lex’s signal jammer must be interfering. He does always win after all.

“Your and Jack’s project. Genius.” Lillain rises to her feet. “Is there a manual activation?” Lena nods and watches, as Lillian runs as fast as her heels allow. 

Lena dares to hope, and she blinks her tears away to bring Kara back into focus. “Just a bit longer. They're gonna patch you up.”

Alex kneels next to Lena. She rips her apron off and places it under Lena’s hands before taking over, applying fresh pressure that causes Kara to writhe in pain. Her eyes flutter close again, and Lena gathers her head in her hands. Tears stream out of Kara’s eyes and disappear into her hairline.

“Don’t leave me,” Lena whispers, leaning in and placing her face in Kara’s neck.

Alex releases a strangled sob. 

“You can’t leave me. You promised to take me home to Midvale. To show me the tidepools.” 

In the distance, a faint buzzing noise starts up, and Lena’s heart pounds in anticipation.

“Kara, please. You promised you were going to show me. You promised!”

The buzzing becomes louder and louder, and suddenly, the nanobots shoot towards Kara’s abdomen, honing in on the wound. Alex lifts her hands in surprise, as they get to work, seamlessly and effectively stopping the bleeding.

“You’re going to be okay, Kara. Promise me,” Lena demands, as she takes Kara’s hand into hers. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” Kara slurs before passing out. 

***

Kara always keeps her promises. 

When Alex forbade her to tell Eliza and Jerimiah that she skipped school to hang out in the forest with her best friend, she promised she wouldn’t tell. She promised Winn that they would stay friends, even after he tried to kiss her. She promised Eliza that she’d make it home in one piece. She promised Lena that she’d be okay.

She kept all her promises throughout her life.

Except one. 

I’m coming back for you. I promise

She stares out at the small white tombstones on the field across the road. Mike’s not there. His mother opted to lay him to rest in a veterans cemetery closer to their hometown. It doesn’t make looking out at this cemetery any easier.

She regrets giving Lena a moment alone with her mother. She looks over her shoulder to see the two women exchange a brisk and uncomfortable hug. A few feet away from them stands the Luthor mausoleum, it’s newest addition safely tucked away in a tomb.

It was a small funeral. If the presence of three people and a priest could even be considered a funeral. At least that is over now too.

“Hey,” Lena says quietly, as she walks up next to Kara.

“How are you holding up?” Kara slides her uninjured hand into Lena’s, her left forearm still sporting a splint. Broken bones aren’t something nanobots can heal. Yet. 

It’s a chilly day, and Lena’s skin is cool to the touch. Kara smoothes her thumb over the back of Lena's hand, hoping to warm her up.

“Honestly? I’m terrified. Lillian invited me to brunch next week.” Lena’s eyebrows scrunch adorably, as she shakes her head. “I don’t know what to make of it yet.”

Kara can’t help but smile. “You poor thing. Your mother sure is putting her newfound freedom to good use.”

Lena shrugs. “It’s not everyday your name gets scratched off the FBI’s most wanted list. I’m too scared to imagine what we’ll be doing next month. Pilates? Spinning classes?”

Kara chuckles at the idea of the prim and proper Lillian walking around with a yoga mat, but reigns her laugh immediately, hissing ever so softly.

“Does it still hurt?” Lena asks, concern clouding her voice, as she looks down towards Kara’s stomach.

“Only a little bit,” Kara admits, joining Lena as she looks down at herself to where she now sports a purple scar beneath  jumper where 

Lena frowns and sighs before looking out at the tombstones with Kara. She knows Lena’s unhappy with the nanobots performance. They’re not supposed to leave scars apparently, but Kara’s just happy to be alive. 

They fall into comfortable silence, listening to the soft ruffle of the wind passing through the trees. The tires of Lillian’s car crunch, as she drives past them up the gravel road. Neither of them make any move to wave at her. 

“Do you want to go pay your respects?” Lena asks, nudging her head towards the field across the road. 

“No. No one I know is buried here.”

“Somewhere else?” Lena asks carefully.

“Back in National City.” Kara shifts on her feet and swallows inelegantly. Lena nods thoughtfully but doesn’t press, giving Kara enough time to decide if she really wants to get into it now.  “His name was Mike. He was part of my squad. Really funny guy. Charming too, a real hit with the ladies.” Kara smiles despite herself.

“Were you two..?” There’s no jealousy in Lena’s tone.

“We had a moment or two. Drunk off cheap beer in the army base. Just a kiss here and there. I kissed a lot of people in the army. It gets lonely. Sometimes, you do things just to see if you still remember how.”

Lena squeezes her hand, and Kara returns the pressure before continuing.

“Ultimately, he was more like a brother. A goofy, idiot younger brother.” Kara sighs and chews at her lip. “And then I let him die.”

The graveyard is quiet, as Lena allows Kara to find the right words. A wayward tear escapes, and Kara sniffs as she reaches to wipe it away before it can get far.

“You don’t have to tell me now,” Lena reassures.

Kara shakes her head. For the first time since she returned home, she wants to talk about Mike. She knows that there'll be no judgement from Lena.

“I couldn’t save him. I promised that it was gonna be fine.” Kara closes her eyes, as she pictures that fateful night. Dark, damp and lost, with an angry Kaznian force on their tails.

“We were behind enemy lines, my squad and I, and we found ourselves at the entrance of a cave. I had studied the maps before, and I was confident that it would be a much safer and faster way back than going around. Lucy didn’t like the idea, but Mike seconded me. He trusted me.”

“And then?” Lena whispers.

“I promised that going through the cave was our best bet to get to safety.” Kara shudders as she hears Mike’s scream. “Mike insisted on covering our flank and then just as he was about to get through to the other side, the whole thing collapsed, trapping him inside.”

“Oh, Kara. It wasn’t your fault.”

Kara nods dejectedly, like she’s heard that before but still doesn’t believe it. “The Kaznians, they fired a missile of some sort, thinking they’d trap us all. I could have gotten them all killed. I guess I should be thankful that I’ve only got one man’s blood on my hands.”

“No one is to blame, Kara, least of all you.”

“I promised to go back for him, but the next morning, he was already...I was too late, Lena.”

Kara goes willingly into Lena’s arms then, burying her face in her neck. She doesn't sob. Instead, she silently lets the tears roll off her cheeks and onto Lena’s scarf, as a great sadness seeps through her. Lena just holds her and rubs at her back, coaxing the words out of her.

“I’m going to see a therapist,” Kara whispers, surprising herself by making the decision there and then. 

Lena’s only reaction is to pull Kara slightly tighter against her chest. “I think that’s a really good idea,” she whispers. “Perhaps for the both of us.”

“What now?” Kara asks, as she pulls back some time later. She’d love to hold Lena longer, but she’s mindful that they are still standing in a cemetery. Lena looks up at her with a dopey smile. 

“An early lunch?” she offers with a tilt of her head.

“No,” Kara chuckles and takes Lena’s hand again, as they start walking past the mausoleum to Lena’s waiting car. “I mean what now? Where do we go from here?”

“We take it one day at a time. We can look for a therapist, if you’d like.”

“I actually have a card for one,” Kara remembers. “I think I threw it away though. But I’ll ask Alex for her girlfriend's number. Or better yet dinner. It’s about time you meet Alex my sister and not Alex the FBI agent. And Kelly is really nice.”

“Good. That’s a start, although Alex your sister scares me more than FBI Alex. She really loves you.”

Kara smiles, as they reach the car. She heard the story from a broken armed James already. How both Alex and Lena demanded to stay by Kara's side during the first night in hospital. She was too knocked out on painkillers to remember anything, but Lena has mentioned that Alex was fiercely protective. Scarily so. 

As if Kara didn't already know that.

“Secondly,” Lena says, once they’re both buckled up. “We need to arrange a trip to Midvale.”

***

In the end, Lena never arranges for her private jet to take them to Midvale. Kara is adamant that it would be counter productive. 

“Why spend ninety minutes in the air to Metropolis and then another hour's drive to the outskirts to get to Midvale when you can take the scenic route? I can drive us there in under three hours, three and a half if we stop for lunch.”

Lena, who finds herself unable to resist Kara’s pout and unbridled excitement, can do nothing but agree.

After nearly four hours of driving, they arrive at the quaint little coastal town. Their arrival is later than planned, an issue in the labs causing Lena to run late. The sun is just about setting, as they cruise down the mainroad, and Lena cranes her neck to try and get a view of the ocean.

Then she sees it: a brief glimpse of orange meeting blue.

She turns to Kara excitedly, wondering if she saw it too. But Kara isn’t looking towards the horizon, but instead at Lena. She smiles guiltily, caught red handed before ducking her head. Behind them a car honks, bursting their corny little bubble. The light is green, and Kara lifts an apologetic hand before she pulls away, both of them giggling.

Kara doesn’t take them up the slight hill to where she grew up but instead turns abruptly, leading them towards the beach. Lena’s out of the car before Kara’s even pulled the handbrake up. She pulls her heeled boots and socks off, and without looking back, she walks onto the beach. 

It’s magnetic almost, the way the waves beckon her closer, and as the sand changes from dry and coarse to wet and cold, Lena thinks that she finally understands what might have prompted her mother all those years ago. 

The ocean is beautiful. They’re just in time. As the first gentle wave splashes over Lena’s toes, the horizon enters its golden hour. 

Kara’s next to her then, her own shoes discarded and the end of her jeans rolled up as far as they can go. They watch as the sky becomes aflame in reds and oranges, the clouds absorbing the colour, and blazes with a pink glow against the quickly darkening sky.

This time, Kara watches it too. When Lena takes a look at her, she finds her eyes steady on the horizon and her breathing deep and in rhythm with the waves that crash at their feet. Her face, her neck, her arms, everywhere the sun touches is glowing with the last orange rays.

And just like that, when all that’s left of the sunset is a hint of purple, Lena grows cold. The evening breeze is cool against her bare arms, and she curses herself for leaving Kara’s sweater in the car.

Warm arms wrap around Lena, as Kara comes to stand flush behind her, resting her head on Lena’s shoulder.

They remain a while longer, enjoying the serenity of the moment. Neither of them feel the need to talk, and Lena focuses on just being present. The wet sand beneath her toes, the pull of the current against her ankles when the receding waves pull the sand with it. Kara’s breath against her neck. The soft kiss Kara places behind her ear before sighing and pulling away.

“We need to get going. Eliza will wonder, and before long, Alex will round Kelly up to form a search party.”

Regretfully, Lena turns away from the ocean and laces her pinky with Kara’s.

“Don’t make that face,” Kara says with a frown of her own.

“What face?” Lena asks.

“That one!” Kara accuses. “Stop pouting, I can’t take it. If I tell you we’ll come back first thing in the morning, will that make you smile?”

“Perhaps,” Lena smirks. “Will there be tidepools involved?” Kara humms. “And sand castles?”

“I’ll even buy you ice cream.”

“Promise?”

Kara lifts their joined hands to eye level and places a whisper of a kiss against Lena’s knuckles. “Pinky promise.”