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It’s been nine days.

Nine days since they’d gotten Kara back from the Phantom Zone, beaten and a little broken but still, blessedly, breathing. Nine days since the blonde had thrown herself at Lena, latching onto her so desperately that the ghostly imprint of her still remains in the faded bruises ringing Lena’s ribcage. Nine days since they’d made it back to Earth; since Kara had been poked and prodded and examined in the Tower’s med bay and had refused to speak a single word.

Nine days since she’d been cleared to leave by her sister. Since Kara had turned down all offers of company or a ride and walked out of the Tower’s front door with the promise that she was going home. Nine days since she’d never made it to her apartment.

Nine days since Kara had disappeared.

Lena sighs, unlocking her phone with weary fingers. The string of unanswered messages glows accusingly in the dark of her bedroom. She bites her lip. Crafts another.

Please, Kara. I just want to know that you’re okay.

The message sends, delivers, then nothing. No double tick, no reply. Lena sighs again. Switches over to her groupchat with the rest of the Superfriends, the one they’d first created to organise Kara’s surprise birthday party without her knowledge three years ago. Recently, its purpose has become decidedly less enjoyable.

Any news?

She rolls over in bed, pillowing her head on her bent arm as replies flood in from Alex, Brainy, Nia, J’onn. All negative, all varying degrees of despairing. It’s been nine days since Kara’s last contact, since Alex had received a single clipped text from her sister— I’m fine. Don’t look for me.

Ever since, they’d been coordinating their attempts to contact the blonde with no success. Ever since, Lena has slowly but surely been losing her mind.

 

Nine days become ten, becomes two weeks, then three.

Lena doesn’t eat. She barely sleeps. There’s nothing left for her to do, now. There’s no life hanging in the balance, no desperate rescue mission to enact, no world about to end. There’s nothing she can create or adapt or invent that will help. There’s nothing she can do.

She’s vowed to herself that she’ll respect Kara’s wishes. Daily messages are acceptable, she reasons; just because Kara had been fine the day she’d sent that text to Alex, there’s no guarantee she still is. Checking on her wellbeing is fair game, even if Kara never answers.

But anything more than that, any plan to run a cell phone trace or check out all her known haunts or track a Kryptonian heat signature anywhere in the world— she can’t do that. No matter how desperately she wants to, she can’t do that.

Kara has asked them not to look for her. She’d escaped from a place worse than hell and she’d hugged Lena with the ghost of an entire civilisation in her eyes and then she’d disappeared, and she’d asked not to be found. Lena can only guess at the kinds of horrors Kara had faced during her imprisonment in the Phantom Zone, is sure her worst imaginings don’t even come close to reality. If what Kara needs after the trauma she’s endured is space, solitude, time away, Lena can give her that. She will force herself to give her that.

So, Lena spends her days in the Tower. There’s no L-Corp to pour her energy into anymore, and it’s not like there’s anyone else in her life to visit or catch up with. It’s not like there’s anyone else in her life, period. Not outside of the six people who mope around the Tower day after day in communal misery, and the one Kryptonian they’d all give anything to have back.

So she works with Brainy, upgrading any and all technology she comes across to the latest version and then some. Adds improvements and enhancements and generally makes her own life far more complicated than it needs to be, just to give herself something to do. She learns every inch of the Tower, replacing couplings and upgrading thermal regulators and re-designing the entire cloaking system from scratch. She gets to work on new suits for each and every one of the Superfriends, spending hours taking measurements and requests, upgrading safety specs and adding extra comms, extra shields, extra protection.

Most days, she works until she falls asleep right there in the lab so she doesn’t have to go home and do that alone, too. Lets Brainy or Nia or Kelly nudge her sleepily over to the couch they’d set up in the corner, passes out till morning, then wakes up and starts all over again.

Every three days or so, Alex or J’onn force her to go home. She’ll take a shower, pick out a few clean outfits, and read the densest most difficult theoretical astrophysics journals she can get her hands on until unconsciousness overtakes her.

Her routine is simple, monotonous, depressing. Wake up, work until she passes out, rinse, repeat. No room, at any point of the day or night, for her to be alone with her thoughts. No space for the swirling black cloud of guilt and worry and despair to overcome her, no chance for the what ifs and if onlys to devour her whole.

And of course, there’s the one non-negotiable commitment in her schedule. Once every morning and once each night, she texts Kara. Eating, sleeping, showering— these are malleable necessities, to be completed – or not – depending on her mood. But texting Kara? Sacrosanct. Even if she’s never once received a reply.

That is, not until twenty-three days after Kara had first disappeared. It’s a day where Alex has forced her home with a distasteful prod at her crumpled shirt and a pointed wrinkle of her nose. Lena is freshly showered and already pulling up an article on the quantum physics of black holes when her phone, always dark now, lights up with a message.

It’s just one line. One line of text. It’s enough to stop Lena’s heart.

1371 Kinsley Road, Smallville, KS. Please come.

 

Lena’s on a plane within the hour.

She delays just long enough to throw some clothes and toiletries in a bag and fire off a quick text to Alex – think I’ve found her, I’ll keep you updated – before she’s boarding her private jet and taxying down the runway. She touches down five hours later in Hutchinson, Kansas, as the sun is just beginning to break over the endless horizon.

One flash of her black Amex and she’s sliding into the backseat of a tinted SUV behind a driver who doesn’t ask too many questions. It isn’t long before they’re speeding past the sign welcoming them to the municipal township of Smallville, stores and sports fields and quaint suburban homes sprawling out in every direction. In less time still they’re driving out the other side.

Lena clears her throat delicately. She might be jetlagged, but she's not blind. “Um. Are we—”

The driver pre-empts her question, as experienced – or at least, well-paid – drivers usually do. “This address is out of town, Miss,” he says into the rearview, midwestern drawl softened into a deliberately generic accent designed specifically to put newcomers at ease. She wonders idly how many rich visitors this driver gets in his corner of the world. They probably tip well. Lena resolves to do the same. “A ranch half a mile from here. We'll be there soon.”

Not five minutes later they turn off the road onto a bouncing dirt driveway. Dust fogs the windows as she takes in the assortment of red and white buildings that make up the property, the yellow-painted wood of the house beyond. A tire swing strung from an enormous cottonwood shifts in the breeze as the driver pulls up beside a wooden fence bearing a hand painted sign, the lettering cracking and sun-faded.

Kent Farm.

Of course, Kara would come here.

Lena thanks the driver, ensures a generous tip, sucks in what may be the deepest breath of her life to date, and opens the door. Solitary bag in hand, she looks around.

The farm is peaceful, the fields quieting to a gentle hum after the blazing buzz of summer. The breeze, still warm, has the faintest hint of a bite as it lifts her hair. On the tallest boughs of the trees, the very tips of the leaves burnish cadmium gold. Unbidden, Lena smiles. She's always loved the fall.

A battered orange truck stands on the drive, its hood popped. Somewhere beyond the barn, a rocking chair creaks in a sudden gust of wind. And there on the porch, fingers balled into the too-long sleeves of a ratty plaid button down and chewing nervously on her lip, is the person she's flown thirteen hundred miles to see.

Kara doesn't move as she approaches. Her feet appear rooted to the sun-bleached boards of the wraparound porch, gaze wide and unsure. “Lena,” she croaks as the distance between them closes, voice hoarse and eyes dark-bruised. “You're here.”

It's all she can do to nod, feet still moving as though propelled by some force beyond her own muscles. The gap between them halves, then halves again. Still, Kara doesn't move.

“I— I'm sorry I ran,” the blonde whispers, the hollow glaze of her eyes shimmering in fearful apprehension. “I'm sorry I couldn't— Lena, I'm so sorry—”

But whatever else she had planned to say is lost in the gentle huff she releases when Lena, propelled by the same ineffable magnetism that had called to her even with Kara lost somewhere on the other side of the galaxy, crashes straight into her rigid form to envelop her in her arms.

“Lena?” comes the uncertain whisper against her hair, the blonde's arms circling tentatively around her ribcage. “I'm sorry I didn't reply to you sooner, I know we said honesty was—”

“Shut up, oh my God,” Lena mumbles, tightening her grip as much as she can as she nuzzles her face into Kara's collar. “I don't care, God, I don't care. You're okay. You're okay.” She presses her words against the warm cradle of neck and shoulder, the pent-up worry of the past days, weeks, months pouring out of her into the safety of the blonde's embrace. “Fuck, I've missed you.”

Finally, finally, Kara gets it. Finally, she stops apologising and starts moving instead. Her grip on Lena's waist strengthens, lifting her clean off the ground as she crushes their bodies together in a hug so tight it feels almost like a challenge, a cosmic taunt daring the universe to try to rip them apart again.

Kara's voice loses its hesitance beneath the weight of a thick sob and when Lena pulls back to cup that beautiful, precious face in her hands, the pads of her thumbs are a poor match for the deluge of tears cascading down her cheeks.

“I've missed you too,” Kara manages wetly, hands coming up to cover the fingers cradling her face as she leans hard into the contact, blue eyes fluttering closed. “You have no idea how much.”

 

She doesn't know how long they stand there, crying and swaying and holding each other. Eventually, interminably, the tears dry and Kara takes her inside.

The living room is rustic and cosy. A soft cream sectional littered with pillows and throws faces a great stone fireplace beneath a wall-mounted TV. Bookshelves and houseplants line the walls, interspersed with large sash windows and framed impressionist landscapes. To the right of the staircase, a solid oak dining table faces the entrance to an open-plan kitchen.

As if driven by some sixth sense, Lena's barely set foot over the threshold when her phone starts to ring. She tugs it free of her bag to find a photo of Alex Danvers passed out with red wine-stained lips illuminating her screen.

“Alex,” she greets. In front of her, Kara sets down her bag with a thud, her shoulders tightening.

“Have you found her?” Alex practically shouts down the line. “Where are you? Is she okay? Are you okay? Send me your location right now, I'm getting on a plane. Hell, I'll just track your phone, it'll probably be faster. Is it far? I'll run there if I have to, just tell me—”

Lena's gaze flickers to Kara as the onslaught continues. The blonde's face is tight and pale, tension pulling at her features. Her eyes are wide and panicked and she shakes her head so quickly the ends of her long curls whip sharply against her cheeks.

“Alex,” Lena interrupts. It takes three attempts to get a word in edgeways. “I’ve found her and we're fine, we're both fine. But I don't know—” She sucks in a deep breath, prepares herself for the inevitable battle. “I don't know if you coming here is the best idea right now.”

“What? Why?” The redhead sounds every bit as incredulous as Lena had expected. “She's my sister, I want to—”

“I know,” Lena cuts in. “I know you do. But I'm not sure she's quite ready for a big reunion.” She quirks a questioning brow at the blonde, who nods emphatically.

“Well, why not?” Alex snaps. The bite to her tone is a poor mask for the hurt and worry broiling beneath. “You said she was fine. If she's fine then I don't see—”

“She's safe,” Lena clarifies, stomach twisting. “She's okay. But, after everything, she's not— she's not fine. I think maybe she just needs some time—”

“Time without me, apparently.” Bitterness drips from every syllable. Lena winces.

“Alex, it's not you.” Kara may be struggling, but she doesn't for one second believe that her sister is the cause of it. “I think— well. I think it's everyone.”

“Everyone but you.”

The accusation hits her as hard as if Alex had screamed it. Lena sucks in a trembling breath, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “I'm sorry.”

It's all she can offer right now. There's a very long silence. She watches Kara watch her, a meeting of agonised gazes in the sun-drenched room.

At last Alex sighs, resignation soaking her tone. “Can I at least talk to her?”

Lena holds out the phone. Kara's breathing quickens, her lips twisting anxiously, but after a harrowing moment of indecision she accepts.

“Alex, I'm sorry. I love you. Please don't come.” Her voice is barely a whisper, phone clenched tight to her cheek. “Not yet.”

Even from across the room, she can hear the pain in Alex's tone. “This— this is what you want?” the redhead asks. It sounds like it's taking every ounce of strength and composure she has to keep her voice from cracking. “This will help you?”

Kara's eyes slide closed, brow creasing in misery. “Yes.”

Another silence as Alex grapples with the tidal wave of conflicting emotions surely raging in her chest. “You'll text me?” she says at last, a little strangled. “Let me know how you are? And— and when I can see you?”

“I will,” Kara breathes. “I promise.”

Alex lets out a sigh so heavy it could have crumbled mountains. “Okay. I love you, Kara.”

“I love you too.” And then Kara is thrusting the phone back, looking to be one deep breath away from crumpling to the ground.

Lena takes it, presses it to her ear. “Keep in touch, Luthor,” the redhead mutters, and Lena is filled with a sudden swell of admiration for the boundless love in Alex Danvers’ heart. “Look after her.”

Lena reaches out a hand and Kara latches onto it like a lifebelt in a stormy sea, lacing their fingers together and squeezing tight. “I will.”

 

The rest of the day passes in a quiet sleepy haze. They eat the last of the sweet potato soup in the fridge for lunch and fall asleep on opposite ends of the couch.

They don't talk much. Kara is emotionally distant but physically inseparable from Lena's side, elbow to elbow at the dining table and pushing closer on the couch to tangle their socked feet together.

She doesn't want to talk about the weeks she's been here alone. Doesn't want to discuss her time in the Phantom Zone, nor anything that had preceded or followed it. She won't comment on her reluctance to see her sister or contact her friends, won't commit to any timescale for how long she plans to remain at Kent Farm. She says only that Clark and Lois know she's here, that they're happy for her to use their home while they're in Metropolis.

After the twelfth time her efforts to open a meaningful conversation are rebuffed, Lena gives up. Allows herself to bask in the simple comfort of Kara's presence once more, reassuring herself that no matter the turmoil doubtless raging in her mind she is, at least, safe. At the very minimum, she's no longer alone.

After a quick dinner Kara nudges her wordlessly in the direction of the couch, speeding through the meagre dishes as she brews them a pot of herbal tea. Mugs poured, she sinks to her knees in front of the enormous stone fireplace, laying a wood fire and stoking it to life with a practiced hand. She joins Lena on the couch at last, tugging a thick knit blanket down over her knees despite the fact that it must still be over sixty-five degrees.

“Sorry,” Kara flushes at her inquisitive stare, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth. “Are you too hot? I can—”

“No,” Lena cuts in before the blonde can work herself up again, laying a hand over Kara's clenched fist. “It's fine. I'm fine. But, Kara— you never get cold?”

The blonde's gaze drops to her lap, fingers twisting anxiously despite the pressure of Lena's hand. “Ever since—” Her eyes flick up to Lena's for a fraction of a second before skittering away. “Since I got back, I've been cold. No matter what I do I just, I can't seem to get warm.”

Lena's brow creases in sympathy, words getting stuck behind the sudden lump in her throat. She reaches out for the blanket instead, tucking it securely around Kara's bent knees and draping the remainder across her own lap. “Come here.”

She lifts an arm in an invitation that Kara accepts enthusiastically, curling herself into Lena's side with a contented sigh. She rests her head on Lena's shoulder, fisting a hand in the loose fabric of her sweater. Lena shifts her cheek against the tickle of blonde frizz, strokes a hand up and down her bicep, and thanks a god she doesn't believe in for the singular gift of having Kara in her arms again.

They've barely made it twenty minutes into a movie so inconsequential Lena couldn't remember its name if her life depended on it when warm fingers leave their respectable spot curled into the side of her sweater and slip down to the hem, toying with the soft material. Kara fiddles incessantly even as her eyes stay fixed on the screen, rubbing her thumb over the worn seam and tugging lightly at the loose end of a fraying thread. One knuckle edges beneath the hem as she continues to worry the fabric, then another and another until her entire hand is under Lena's shirt.

Lena tenses.

“Rao, sorry,” Kara breathes, the fingers skimming the bare skin of Lena's stomach frozen in their tracks. “I didn't, I mean, I wasn't— you're warm,” she finishes lamely, cheeks aflame.

With conscious effort, Lena forces herself to relax. After all, she realises, Kara is trembling. “It's okay,” she murmurs, the arm around the blonde's shoulders tightening in an unconscious effort to imbue her with warmth. “You're okay.”

Kara seems to take her reassurance at face value. A few tense moments later her shoulders relax, frozen fingers unsticking to rest flat and loose against Lena's skin. They stay there for another twenty minutes, while somebody breaks somebody's heart and somebody laughs and somebody cries and somebody else gets married onscreen. And then, they start to move.

At first, she thinks Kara's just fidgeting again. She runs a thumb along the waistband of Lena's jeans beneath her sweater, tugs a little at the belt loops, traces a nail along the outer seam. But then she sighs, shifts, softening boneless into Lena's side while her hand migrates from a semi-appropriate exploration of Lena's clothing to a far-less-appropriate exploration of Lena's skin.

She traces the jut of Lena's hipbone, thumbing deliberately over the slight protrusion, and Lena's breath catches in her throat. Her nails skate up Lena's bare side leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake, migrating eastward and following the slight dip in the centre of her abdominals down to her belly button. Generic romantic lead 1 declares their undying love for generic romantic lead 2 onscreen as Kara splays her fingers wide across Lena's belly, thumb arcing out to stroke lightly over her skin.

There's no way Kara hasn't noticed the way Lena's stiffened beneath her touch, but she doesn't mention it. Instead, she redoubles her efforts, gently massaging the tense muscles beneath her fingertips with such unceasing tenderness that it isn't long before Lena's traitorous body is softening to her completely. Kara hums in contentment, burrowing closer, and passes the rest of the bland movie rubbing and stroking her way across every inch of Lena's bare stomach.

“You're so warm,” Kara murmurs into her shoulder as the credits roll and Lena is just beginning to debate how exactly to address this development without spontaneously bursting into flames. Kara's fingers flex once more over her skin. “God,” the blonde whispers, surprised. “I'm actually— I actually feel warm.”

She slips her hand from beneath Lena's shirt and her body from beneath Lena's arm in one smooth movement, already standing to fold their mess of blankets into a respectable pile as the credit song drones on. “Thank you,” she says over her shoulder with a quiet smile, more serene than Lena's seen her in months.

And. If Kara doesn't think their little cuddling session needs to be addressed any further, if it helped her somehow— well. If Kara doesn't think it's weird, Lena's certainly not going to be the one to correct her.

 

Kara shows her the bedroom.

Kara only shows her the one bedroom, despite the two other open doorways through which Lena had glimpsed quilts and bedsteads on the walk here. This is obviously the room she’s been using; the sheets are rumpled, blankets heaped together in a nest that looks only recently vacated. It seems Kara's been taking advantage of both Clark and Lois’ wardrobes while she's been here; thick workshirts and large tees litter the armchair and the chest at the foot of the bed, interspersed with soft feminine knits and endless discarded yoga pants. The room is warm, almost stiflingly so, and soaked in that very specific soap and smoke and stardust smell she's come to associate with the nape of Kara's neck, her scalp, the soft skin of her inner elbow.

Kara is fidgeting in the middle of the room, all cuddling-induced serenity thoroughly dissipated. She shifts awkwardly on the balls of her feet, studiously avoiding Lena's gaze. Lena sighs. Around a yawn she doesn't bother trying to stifle, she quirks an incredulous brow. “Is this the only bedroom?”

“Um.” Kara's lips twist, bleaching white beneath the nervous pressure of her teeth. “No.”

Lena sighs again, and forces herself to moderate her tone. She's tired, she's jetlagged, she's all but buckling beneath the astronomical relief of their reunion and right now she just wants to sleep. “Think I could maybe see mine, then?”

“Um,” Kara says again, shifting foot to foot and tugging at her fingers. “You can, but—”

“But?” Lena prompts.

“Would you stay here?” Kara rushes out, words pushing so closely together they're almost indistinguishable. “Would— would you stay with me?”

“Um.” Now it's Lena's turn at incomprehensibility. After all, she's only spent an aggregate twelve hours with Kara either side of her Phantom Zone sojourn, give or take. And before that, well. The gaping maw of their year-long estrangement yawns in Lena's chest, a familiar uncertainty rooting beneath her diaphragm. In and around all the life-or-death scenarios, she and Kara hadn't had a great deal of time to reacquaint themselves with one another amidst the smouldering debris of betrayal and forgiveness. To figure out where they might stand.

Plus, two hours of couch cuddling had almost stopped her heart. How she could be expected to make it through twelve hours at Kara's side after so long apart, she cannot begin to fathom.

“I just, I can't sleep on my own,” Kara rushes into the dead air between them. Her gaze is fixed firmly on the hole in the big toe of her left sock, the one she's slowly but surely widening with each anxious scuff. “I can't, when it's dark and it's cold and I'm alone again, I just—”

Kara's pain cuts through any lingering fog in her mind as cleanly as it always has. “Okay,” Lena interrupts gently as she presses closer, hesitation sublimating into nothing. “Okay. I'll stay.”

Kara hands her a pair of sweatpants and a worn-soft Smallville High tee and for a brief moment of exhaustion-induced hysteria Lena contemplates what would happen if her brother could see her now, bunking down at Kent Farm wearing Superman's pyjamas.

They're side by side at the bathroom sink, Lena scrubbing the travel-faded remains of her makeup from her face as Kara brushes her teeth, when she finally thinks to ask.

“If you can't sleep alone, what have you been doing these past three weeks?” she says, eyes flicking to Kara's in the bathroom mirror. “How have you been— coping?’

Kara freezes, mouth half-open. A glob of toothpaste trickles from the corner of her lips. “I, uh, haven't,” she manages around her toothbrush. Her shoulders slump. “I haven't been sleeping much.”

Lena ducks her head, splashing her face so she won't have to meet those aching blue eyes. “Then why did you— why did you wait so long?”

Kara spits, rinses. Sighs. “Lena, I'm a mess. I didn’t want— it's not fair to you. To any of you.” She wipes her mouth with the back of one pale hand. Her fingers tremble. “You all worked so hard to get me back and I'm not— I'm just— a mess. I didn't want you to have to deal with that.”

Lena's heart splinters against her ribs. “Kara—”

“I thought I could get better first. Handle it on my own. I thought I could stay away from you,” the blonde mutters, expression hidden by the towel she presses to her cheeks. “But I couldn't, I can't, I—”

“Okay,” Lena cuts in, reaching out. Pulling the towel away before it can be torn to shreds in Kara's white-knuckled grip. Slipping her own fingers into the newly-created gap. “Okay.”

 

Sliding into unconsciousness is a lot more peaceful than jolting back out of it.

The bedroom is still pitch black, the dull throb at Lena's temples informing her that she can only have been asleep a few hours at most. Disoriented, she blinks through the gloom, trying to pinpoint what could have woken her.

It doesn't take long. At her side, warm and close beneath the sheets, Kara's body is locked and rigid, hips and heels and shoulders pressing down hard into the mattress as she tenses. "Please,” she's whimpering, fine baby hairs sweat-matted to her skin. “Please, no.”

Lena's moving before she's decided to. It's instinctual, it's primal, the need to soothe. To pull Kara from the source of her pain as quickly as possible. She reaches out blindly, limbs unwieldy and mind sleep-fogged, pawing at Kara's bicep, her collar, her ribs. “Wake up,” she manages, tongue heavy. “Kara, you're dreaming. Wake—”

And then all the breath is wrung from her lungs in one smooth whoosh as she's flipped, winded, pinned prostrate on the bed with devastating force. A body appears atop her own, solid and unyielding. Hands tighten on her shoulders, gripping hard enough to crumble bone. Above her, two eyes glow white-hot in the darkness.

“Kara,” she gasps with the last of her oxygen, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. “Kara, it's me.”

A pause, tense and thick. The length of one or two breaths, if only Lena were capable of drawing any.

And then Kara is shoving off her, scrabbling backwards so quickly she falls clean off the far side of the bed. “Fuck, fuck,” she chants through the gloom. Two chests heave in tandem, free to do so once more.

“Fuck, I'm sorry,” Kara gasps, as breathless as if she'd been the one pinned to the mattress. “I thought, I thought you were—” She chokes off, whimpering. “I'm so sorry. Are you okay?”

“I'm fine,” Lena manages, airless and strangled. “Are you?”

Kara barks out a laugh, bitter and tear-soaked. “Sorry,” she mutters again as Lena struggles upright, sheets a twisting vice around her hips. “I'm gonna— gonna go.”

“No, Kara—”

But her protests fall on deaf ears. “Please,” Kara intones, pausing halfway through the doorway to raise a cautionary hand. In the sliver of moonlight that falls across her face, she will not meet Lena's eyes. “Just, please.”

She's lost count of the number of times she's gone against her strongest instincts in order to respect Kara's wishes recently. The blonde sees her acquiescence in the way she stops struggling against the quilt. Somewhere in the house, a pipe ticks rhythmically. A single tear catches the moonlight as it rolls down Kara's cheek. In the next breath, she's gone.

Lena lays back in the rumpled sheets, listens to the muffled sounds of Kara sobbing in the living room, and doesn't sleep again for a long time.

 

Kara is awake when she ventures out of the bedroom the next morning. The couch cushions are in disarray, two knit blankets kicked to the floor. Kara's face is haggard, eyes hollowed out beneath a shock of messy blonde hair. It doesn't look like she's slept at all.

But she's smiling as she nudges a fresh mug of coffee across the counter toward Lena, threadbare as it may be. The attempt at a peace offering is unsubtle and unnecessary, but achingly sweet all the same. Lena accepts it with both hands and a grateful sigh.

She takes a seat on a bar stool at the island, cupping the mug with her palms. The steam wafts up in a heavenly cloud, the room peaceful in the early morning quiet. She returns Kara's smile, reaching across the counter for the creamer, wincing at the twinge in her shoulder.

She tries her best to cover it, but she should have known better than to try and fool a Kryptonian. Kara is beside her in a second, face pale as she lifts the mug from Lena's hands, sweeps her loose hair over one shoulder and tugs the neckline of her sleep shirt aside. Her breath catches and she jumps back, dropping her hands as if Lena's suddenly become radioactive.

Lena tilts her head to get a better look. It's hard to miss the large green-blue bruises blooming across the pale expanse of her shoulder in a distinctive four-finger pattern, the dark discoloured thumbprint pressing beneath her clavicle. She knows without checking that there's a matching array of contusions across her other shoulder. Not for the first time, Lena curses her own tendency to bruise like a peach.

Kara's hands are trembling. She's swallowing repeatedly, as if trying to force down excess saliva, and Lena is faced with the horrifying possibility that the blonde is about to vomit.

“Kara, I'm fine,” she tries, not daring to approach where the Kryptonian has pressed herself back against the far row of cabinets. “It was an accident. I'm fine.”

“Lena,” Kara breathes, features twisting in panic. “I hurt you.”

“You didn't,” she tries even as her gut is telling her it's pointless. “I can't even feel them. I'm really, truly fine.”

“Oh my god,” Kara gasps, clutching the marble behind her like she's trying to keep herself upright. “Oh god. I hurt you. I did that to you.”

“No. Don't do this, okay?” She does approach then, reaching out a deliberate hand but leaving plenty of time for Kara to dodge it if she wishes. The blonde doesn't move, fists clenched tight behind her back as though she's afraid to allow her hands within the general proximity of Lena's body. Lena lays her own fingers on Kara's bicep, squeezing reassuringly. “You didn't mean to hurt me. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine.”

Lena.

She's not sure she's ever heard Kara's voice this agonised. Her own throat tightens in response. “Stop it, Kara. You were in the middle of something terrible and I grabbed you with no warning. It's no wonder— hey,” she pauses, reaching up to fit a finger beneath Kara's chin, lifting until the blonde meets her eyes.

“I shouldn't have tried to touch you when you were in the middle of a night terror. I should have known better than that,” she says firmly, not allowing Kara to dodge her gaze. “I don't blame you. I'm not angry. You didn't do anything wrong.”

Kara's lips are trembling. Still, she holds herself rigid. “You're— not angry?”

“At you? Not at all,” Lena hastens to reassure. “A little at myself, maybe.”

Kara lets out a shuddering breath. “And you're not— you're not—”

“What?” she prompts gently, keeping her hand firm on Kara's arm. “Not what?”

“Scared of me,” Kara blurts in a rush, dread leaching through her expression.

Lena's heart breaks a little. Just another day, she supposes. “No,” she says firmly. “Not at all. Never.”

When Kara remains unconvinced Lena pushes closer, knocking her hips into the blonde's. “Kara, I know you could hurt me. I know you're more than capable. But I also know that you would never, ever mean to. That's more than enough for me.”

Kara's stiff posture slackens the tiniest bit, and Lena latches onto it like a life raft. She lifts up onto her toes and wraps her arms around Kara's neck, ignoring the twinge in her own shoulders as she squeezes with everything she's got.

Kara doesn't squeeze back.

 

Breakfast is a quiet affair. After her third cup of coffee Kara points Lena in the direction of the spare towels in the linen closet and leaves her to shower, tugging a stained plaid shirt over her tank top as she nudges the screen door open with her hip.

Lena sighs, and watches her leave. She wonders why Kara asked her here. She wonders what she's supposed to be doing.

Kent Farm may be comparatively rural, but nothing in the bathroom's water pressure gives it away. Lena stands under the spray for far longer than necessary, luxuriating in the warmth of the water against the muscles of her shoulders that haven't really relaxed since the day she shot her brother in the heart.

Feeling clean and marginally more human, she steps out onto the bathmat and gropes around for the towel she'd left on the edge of the sink. The bathroom is so thick with steam it takes her a few attempts to find it, pressing the soft terry cloth to her face and wringing out the ends of her hair.

She's just wrapping the towel around her body when something soft and furry brushes against her ankle. Lena shrieks.

Kara is there in a second, door thrown wide, peering through the steam with a panicked expression. “Lena?” she calls, pushing closer, all regard for personal boundaries forgotten.

Lena tugs the towel tighter round her body. “Something, something touched my—” she stutters, cheeks aflame. Her heart is hammering out a veritable samba in her chest. From the chance encounter, probably. Or maybe from the way Kara's pupils are blown wide as she tracks the droplets of water rolling down Lena's skin, disappearing into the fabric of her towel. “There's, there's something in here.”

Kara snaps back to herself with a shake of her head, shoulders relaxing. “Oh,” she murmurs, relieved, bending down to scoop a dark wriggling bundle into her arms. “It's just Muffin.”

Lena presses a hand over her racing heart. “Muffin?

“Clark and Lois’ barn cat,” Kara supplies calmly, and as the steam dissipates Lena can make out that the bundle in her arms is in fact a handsome tabby, dark stripes covering his brown-grey fur. A pair of inquisitive hazel eyes gaze up at her from the cradle of Kara's arms.

“He lives outside mostly, but he likes to nap on the towels in the closet,” Kara continues, scratching gently behind the cat's ears. “Right above the boiler. I'm surprised he came out while you were in here, though. He's not very sociable.”

“Sure,” Lena manages as adrenalin continues to course through her veins, heart still pounding. Muffin, as though sensing the topic of conversation and deciding to defend his reputation, pushes easily out of Kara's arms and pads out of the bathroom without a backwards glance.

Kara shuffles her feet, tugging at one earlobe. “I maybe should have warned you about him, huh.”

Lena sucks in a deep breath, releases it in a huff as her pulse begins to slow. “Maybe. I thought it was a— a raccoon, or something.”

“A raccoon?” Kara chuckles, pink tongue poking out between her teeth. “Lena. Raccoons are nocturnal.”

“Well, I don't know!” Lena huffs, damp feet shifting against the bathmat. “It was a bit of a shock. I admit I didn't put a lot of dedicated thought into it.”

“Such a city girl,” Kara grins, cocking one hip to lean against the bathroom counter. “We'll have to give you a real country education while you're here.”

Lena huffs again, and Kara chuckles, and for a moment the scene is so familiar and affectionate it squeezes the breath from Lena's lungs. It feels like before. Not just before the terror and trauma of the Phantom Zone, but before before. Back when everything was still good. Back when Kara could tease and Lena could pout without the weight of two shattered hearts pressing between them.

She must stay quiet for too long because Kara's easy grin fades as quickly as it had appeared, that haunted vigilance returning to her eyes. “Well, if you're okay,” she starts cautiously, already edging back towards the open door. Lena nods, and Kara straightens. “Okay. I'll— I'll be outside, then.”

And then she's gone. Lena sags against the edge of the sink, gripping her towel tightly, and wonders if things will ever get easier.

 

When she's exhausted the level of snooping she feels comfortable performing in Superman's home and has run out of other methods of procrastination, she goes outside. Tugs the sleeves of Lois’ cream knit sweater down over her hands as she pushes through the screen door, shivering a little at the damp press of her wet curls in the fall breeze.

It's early October, and already the leaves on the trees are more orange than they were yesterday. Lena inhales deeply in the crisp morning air, rounding the side of the barn to find a pair of denim-clad legs sticking out from beneath the belly of a beat-up old pickup. At the sound of her approaching footsteps Kara shuffles out, covered in dust and streaks of engine oil, pushing herself to standing with a wrench still clasped in her hand. She wipes her brow with the crook of her elbow, shoulders and biceps on full display above the plaid shirt now tied loosely around her hips. Lena feels the back of her neck heat up.

“Hey,” Kara greets, huffing out a breath that ruffles the loose strands of hair escaping her ponytail. “Everything okay?”

Lena hums in assent, quirking an inquisitive brow at the truck's popped hood. “What are you up to?”

“Oh.” Kara turns to appraise her handiwork. “Figured the least I could do is fix some stuff up around here, since Kal and Lois are letting me stay and all.”

“Want some help?” Lena asks eagerly, brain already salivating at the thought of a project to sink her teeth into. “You know, mechanical engineering was my first Master's—”

“Oh, uh, no,” Kara says awkwardly, shifting the wrench from palm to palm. “Thank you, though.”

At the crestfallen look Lena doesn't quite manage to hide, Kara clears her throat. “It's just, I like the concentration, you know? Keeping my hands busy with no room for talking, for thinking, it— it lets me feel, well. Normal. It's, um. Calming.”

Silence falls between them as wind whistles through the last of the summer corn, stalks snapping. “Right,” Lena says at last. “Sure. Calming.”

Kara's face twists. “I'm sorry if I—” she starts, nibbling at her lower lip. “I didn't mean—”

“No, it's fine.” It's fine. Kara wants calm, wants silence, wants solitude. That's fine. The issue of why she had then asked Lena to fly thirteen hundred miles to come see her, she decides to shelve for another time.

“Really, it's fine,” she says again at the blonde's worried expression, aiming for sincerity and praying she makes it. She takes a step towards her. Kara takes two quick steps back.

Lena presses her lips together hard. “Right,” she says before Kara can do anything devastating like apologise again. She tugs the sleeves of her borrowed sweater more firmly over her hands, fisting her fingers tight against the soft fabric. “I'll just, um. I'll go see what kinds of books Clark and Lois have lying around.”

“Okay.” Sure, it would probably be easier to deal with the sting of rejection if Kara didn't sound quite so relieved by the prospect of her leaving, but hey. No part of this has been easy so far. Why would it become so now?

Kara clears her throat. “I'll see you for lunch, then?”

“Sounds good,” Lena beams like the seasoned actress and consummate liar she is. She turns away before Kara can see the smile shatter on her lips.

 

Two days pass in much the same vein.

Kara has graduated to both emotional and physical distance now, spending large parts of the day alone in some remote corner of the property tinkering with some project or other. She comes in for meals and they make stilted conversation across the dining table without really saying anything at all.

Their after-dinner movie is now conducted from opposite ends of the couch, a solid two feet of space carefully maintained between them. They still share a room, share a bed, but a great empty chasm yawns across the mattress between their bodies. Even when she's ripped sweat-soaked and screaming from her nightmares, Kara is distant. She rolls over and buries her face, her tears, into the pillow, and Lena is left to watch the line of her shoulders shake silently in the darkness. Somehow, it's lonelier than sleeping alone.

The warmth and closeness of Lena's first day here has dissipated into nothing with neither catalyst nor warning, and she has no idea what to do about it.

It's approaching dinner time her third day at Kent Farm, and Lena supposes she really should get up and cook something soon. If nothing else about Kara right now is predictable, her ravenous stomach remains as dependable as ever.

Lena sighs. She's not quite ready to abandon her warm blanket nest in the window alcove beside the fireplace or Lois’ well-thumbed copy of The Bell Jar just yet. Dinner, surely, can wait until the end of the chapter.

Outside, the evening sky is purple as a bruise and heavy with roiling cloud. Wind whips at the red-gold leaves, sending the tyre swing spinning, and Lena snuggles a little deeper into her blankets. Through the glass, lightning splinters bright against the heavens. Lena counts quietly, absently, flipping another page. She's barely made it to three when a booming crack of thunder rolls through the house, trembling in its very foundations.

Lena thinks exactly nothing of it for a further second and a half, until another smaller thud sounds from the other end of the house, accompanied by the unmistakeable sound of shattering glass. Lena's shoving herself out of the tangle of blankets in a heartbeat, trying to remember where she'd last seen Kara, whether Muffin had been lurking around the linen closet that day.

Another crack of thunder, louder and closer now, rumbles ominously overhead as she checks bedrooms and bathrooms for the cause of the noise. A soft whimper pulls her focus and she elbows her way through their bedroom to follow it to its source.

Kara is hunched on the tiled floor of the en suite, crouched in a trembling ball with her arms wrapped tight around her shins. Her towel is set out beside a pile of clean clothes on the countertop. Lois’ fancy crystal soap dispenser lies shattered in the sink.

Lightning flashes through the textured glass of the bathroom window. It's followed less than a second later by a rumble of thunder so loud Lena feels it reverberate through her back teeth. At her feet, Kara lets out a keening cry that prickles the hairs on the back of Lena's neck, eyes screwed shut as she rocks back and forth on the balls of her feet.

“Kara. Kara, hey. Can you hear me?” Heart in her throat, she sinks to her knees beside the blonde, reaching out to rest her hands over Kara's trembling ones. “Are you alright? Is it the storm?”

“Don't, don't touch me,” Kara gasps, pressing herself tight against the cabinet doors at her shoulder. She's shaking so hard the words are almost unintelligible.

Lena freezes, arms outstretched. “Why not?”

“I'll hurt you,” Kara manages, eyes squeezed shut, sweat beading on her forehead. “I'll only hurt you again.”

Lena's mouth drops open. “Is that why you've been avoiding me?” She shakes her head, rolling her eyes to the heavens. “Of all the stubborn, bone-headed—”

More thunder roars overhead. Kara sobs, and Lena reminds herself that now is not the time. “Is it okay if I touch you? Please?” she asks instead, softening her tone and scooting closer on the cold tiles. At Kara's whispered okay she reaches out slowly, lays her hands over the blonde’s where they're digging hard into the meat of her calves.

“Hey, you're okay,” she coos, rubbing gently over Kara's knuckles in an attempt to loosen her grip. “I'm here, you're okay. What's going on, sweetheart? Can you tell me?”

Another burst of lightning so bright Kara flinches from it despite her closed eyelids. “The phantoms,” she gasps, forehead pressed tight to her knees. “They're here, they're—”

Kara's voice is strangled, her eyes still screwed shut. She looks like she's a million miles away.

“Okay,” Lena cuts in gently. She's had enough experience with her own PTSD to recognise it in others. “Okay, Kara, you're having a flashback. You're not in the Phantom Zone anymore. You're in Clark's house, in our bathroom. You're safe. Here.” She pivots on her toes, encouraging Kara to do the same, until the two of them are sitting side by side on the floor with their backs to the bathroom cabinets.

“Can you feel my arm pressed against yours?” she asks and Kara nods shakily, fingers clenching and unclenching against her shins. Lena takes a deep breath. “Good, okay. Can you feel me breathing?”

Another unsteady nod. Lena presses a little tighter against Kara's trembling body. “Okay. We're going to slow your breathing down, honey.” She takes deep, exaggerated breaths. “Try to breathe when I breathe, okay? Just breathe when I breathe.”

Kara doesn't manage to match her slow breaths entirely, but at least she's no longer hyperventilating. Another crack of thunder has her drawing even further in on herself. “It's so dark,” she whimpers against her knees. “It's so cold, it's— I'm going to die here. I'm going to die.”

“You're not in the Phantom Zone,” Lena says gently. It doesn't matter that she's never heard Kara sound so broken. It doesn't matter that her heart is splintering. Nothing matters but this moment, and what she can do to ease it. “You're on Earth. You're home.”

She glances around for something she can use without having to move too far from Kara's side. Spying her own shampoo bottle on the floor of the shower, she grabs it before tucking herself back against the blonde. “Here,” she murmurs, cracking the lid and holding it out. “Can you smell that?”

Kara's breath shudders as she sniffles, but after a moment she nods. “What is it?” Lena prompts gently. “What can you smell?”

“Flowers,” Kara manages at last, speech halting and stuttered. “Your hair. You. It's— jasmine?”

“Good, that's good,” she praises, keeping the bottle close. “You can smell jasmine because I'm holding a bottle of my shampoo, see? Because we're in the bathroom at Kent Farm, a long way from the Phantom Zone. Because I'm right here next to you.”

At that Kara's face lifts a little from the cradle of her arms, tear-stained and deathly pale. Finally, interminably, hazy blue eyes slide open.

Kara's gaze is unfocused, and Lena isn't convinced she's actually seeing what's right in front of her, but it's a step in the right direction. “See?” she tries again. “Here’s my shampoo. Can you see it?”

With considerable effort, Kara's eyes blink into focus. She nods a little unsteadily and then— trembling fingers reach out, wrapping around the sleek white bottle. “Jasmine,” she says again, bringing it closer to her nose. “Your hair. Lena. You're here.”

Another rumble of thunder outside. It's fainter now, moving away, and though Kara flinches her eyes stay open. “I'm here,” Lena manages to smile. “I'm right here with you. Look around, Kara. Where are you? What can you see?”

They spend a few long minutes with Kara cataloguing everything in the bathroom, grounding herself in the present as she shakes off the visions that had held her captive. The thunder continues to recede until it's so faint the blonde no longer cringes at the sound. She clutches the shampoo bottle tightly between both hands, inhaling deeply every so often.

Once her inventory of the small bathroom is complete she drops her head to Lena's shoulder, exhausted, her body still wracked with light tremors. They sit quietly together on the hard tiles, breathing in perfect sync. Lena ignores her rapidly numbing ass, the pins and needles prickling her bent legs, and focuses solely on the fact that Kara is slowly coming back to her. Really, that's all that matters.

 

Everything has been quiet and still for so long that when Kara finally speaks, Lena jumps.

“I'm sorry,” comes the whisper against her shoulder and she tilts her head, pressing her lips to a crown of blonde hair.

“You have nothing to apologise for,” she breathes. “Nothing at all.”

Rain drums hard on the roof, wind whistling around the corners of the house. The blonde shuffles a little closer and Lena goes willingly, moulding the lengths of their bodies together.

“The thunder,” Kara starts haltingly. “It sounded like— when I was, um, there, there were storms. Electrical storms. The phantoms would generate them to disorient living things. Bright lights, loud noises, it— it made us easier to catch.”

Kara shivers. Lena reaches down, laces their fingers together and squeezes. “I thought I was back there,” the blonde muffles out, face pressed to the soft fabric of Lena's sweater. “It— it felt so real.”

“I know,” Lena murmurs, thumb sweeping back and forth across the back of Kara's hand. “I've had flashbacks, too.”

Kara raises her head, blinking wide. “You have?”

Lena lets out a humourless chuckle. “Get beaten or screamed at or shot at enough, your mind gets pretty good at recreating the particulars.”

“I'm sorry,” Kara whispers, nuzzling her cheek against Lena's shoulder once more. “I'm so sorry you've had to go through that, Lena. I'm— I'm sorry I didn't know.”

Lena says nothing. There's nothing to say.

She wonders if Kara hears the way her heart is hammering unsteadily in her chest, because the blonde's fingers tighten around hers for a split second before she drops her hand altogether.

“Shoot,” Kara mutters. “Did I hurt you again?”

Lena shakes herself free of her memories with determination. This is about Kara, not her.

“Why are you so convinced you're going to hurt me?” she asks gently.

“Because that's what I do,” Kara whispers, body stiffening.

Lena's stomach twists at the implication. “I think we've both had our fair share of taking cracks at each other this past year, don't you?” she says lightly, tamping down the reflexive pain that tries to rear its ugly head. “We agreed to stop blaming each other and move forward. That means you get forgiveness as well as giving it, yeah?”

Kara sighs, rolling her head to press a gentle kiss to Lena's shoulder. The skin beneath her lips throbs. It's got exactly nothing to do with the lingering bruises. Kara's voice is so quiet she has to strain to hear it. “I hurt you physically, too.”

“Hey,” Lena says firmly, twisting and nudging until they're face to face. “Enough of this. I didn't fly all this way to see you just for you to be too afraid to come near me.”

“But—”

“No buts. If you hurt me – which I don't think you will – then it won't be on purpose and we will deal with it. I know I'm only human but I'm not made of glass, Kara. I'm not going to shatter if you breathe too hard.” She gathers both the blonde's hands into her own, squeezing tight for good measure. “I came here to help you, however I can. To ease a little of what you're going through. Please let me do that,” she implores, fixing watery blue eyes with her own. “Please let me try.”

 

Her stern speech seems to do the trick. It feels like they've reached an entente, of sorts. At the very least, Kara is no longer skirting her with a ten-foot pole.

Once the blonde's heart rate has slowed back to normal they move hand-in-hand to the kitchen, preparing a quiet dinner that they eat on the couch in front of an early season of Gilmore Girls. They've reverted to sharing a single blanket, Lena's legs draped over Kara's lap as their bodies slant close against the cushions. It feels more normal than anything has in months and Lena could almost cry from the relief of it.

This time when they slip into bed, there's no cavernous distance between them on the mattress. They're pressed close, Kara's front to her back, the blonde's hands tucking into the fabric of Lena's sleep shirt as her breathing evens out.

Sleep overcomes them quickly, but around 2AM the warm body behind her begins to stir, shifting restlessly as quiet whimpers force their way from her lungs. Lena lurches back into awareness with a jolt that's becoming all too familiar.

She knows, now, not to shake Kara from her nightmares. Not to reach out a hand through the darkness, not to touch her at all. Instead, she shuffles as close to Kara's convulsing form as she can without making contact, calling her name over and over until she finally breaks through.

“Kara, Kara,” she coos until blue eyes at last snap open and a pale face turns towards her, gaunt and tear-soaked. “You're okay, you're safe,” she whispers again and again, every last ounce of self-control employed to hold herself back. “You're safe now. You're home.”

“Lena,” Kara gasps, rolling over to face her, bridging the chasm at last. Trembling fingers grasp across the mattress and Lena latches onto them immediately, curling their hands together in the narrow gap between their bodies. Her thumb strokes back and forth over Kara's knuckles, skin damp and sticking. Their faces are close, almost sharing one pillow, and in the glow of the nightlight perpetually left on she can see each individual shard of agony in Kara's eyes.

“It's okay,” she says again, nudging another half-inch closer. “You're okay. It wasn't real.”

Kara heaves in a shuddering gulp of air, fist clenching around Lena's fingers. “It was real,” she manages hoarsely, brow creasing in pain. “It was real. Maybe it still is.”

Lena tightens her grip, burrowing closer. Their shins are pressed together beneath the blankets, ankles tangled. “What do you mean?”

“This is what I would see,” Kara whispers, so quiet it's barely more than an exhale. “When I was there. Things like this. Normal things. But they weren't real, they—” Her chest heaves, eyes screwed shut. A light sheen of sweat glistens on her forehead. “They started out good, but they never stayed that way. Suddenly everything would just— disintegrate. The whole world would break apart around me and I'd be right back in the nightmare.” Blue eyes slide open, gaze imploring. “What if that happens again?”

“Kara—” Lena's throat is so tight, even oxygen can't get through. “It won't—”

“I don't know if this is real,” Kara sniffles, fresh tears building. “I can't lose this again. I don't— I don't know what's real. I don't feel like I'm real.”

Lena shuffles closer, trapping their hands between their chests. The rapid rise and fall of Kara's ribcage pushes against her belly. She frees her other hand, fits her fingers to the slick curve of Kara's cheek. “Tell me how to help,” she whispers as her heart cleaves in two. “Tell me what you need.”

Tears shake loose from the ends of Kara's eyelashes. Lena catches them with her thumb as best she can, tasting saline and sadness. “You,” Kara gasps, all hazy fear and haunted eyes. “You're—”

Lena traces the proud arc of her cheekbone with the pad of her thumb. The tip of Kara's nose brushes against her own. “I'm what?”

“You're real,” Kara breathes, barely a sound at all. “You feel real.”

Kara angles into the contact of Lena's palm, nestling closer until their foreheads rest together. A shaky breath falls from her lips, skimming the inside of Lena's wrist.

“You're real?” Kara asks, voice wavering as though preparing for the answer to crack her in two. “You're here?”

Kara's nose brushes her cheek as Lena's hand slips back to thread through the baby soft hair at her temple. Her heart is hammering so hard it seems to shudder through them both. Or maybe Kara's is racing too. “I'm here,” she whispers, thinking back to the very start of it all. “I'm not going anywhere. Not without you.”

Some unknowable magnetism draws them closer still. When Kara opens her mouth to speak, her lips brush over Lena's light as the press of a feather.

Blood rushing in her ears, heart thundering in her throat, Lena waits. No sound materialises. Only Kara's breaths, shallow and damp against her mouth. And then the thread that's been drawing taught between them for longer than she can fathom finally snaps.

Kara's lips whisper across her skin as the blonde closes her mouth again, swallowing hard. And then those same lips reappear at the corner of Lena's, pressing warm and deliberate. Lena stops breathing as Kara shifts, angling her face to lay another sure kiss to the far edge of her mouth.

Lena's mouth falls open with a tiny gasp and Kara takes advantage of the movement, nudging the barest of kisses to the plump flesh of Lena's bottom lip. “Lena,” she breathes, chest heaving. “Lena.”

A tiny broken noise, more of a whine than anything, builds in the back of her throat. Kara crowds closer at the sound, melding the length of their bodies together. Seconds pass in perfect stillness, the two of them suspended in a dream. And finally, unbelievably, Kara presses her lips to Lena's.

The first touch is gentle, skin moulding to warm skin. The second is awed, Kara's mouth falling open to match, breath passing between them as she sighs into the kiss.

The third is all heat. Kara traces the plush of Lena's lips, her teeth, the contours of her mouth before she licks in and starts sucking on her tongue. Her free hand skims the length of Lena's side to hook around the back of her thigh, hiking it up and over her own hip. It's open and messy and urgent, Lena's fingers tightening in Kara's hair as she kisses the salt from her lips. When Kara breaks them apart with a desperate whine, their mouths separate with a wet pop.

The sudden silence only heightens the symphony of each of Kara's little noises playing on repeat in Lena's mind, her cheeks aflame. They're both breathing hard, eyes still closed. Kara's forehead tilts against her own for a brief moment before she's burrowing downwards, panting hot and harsh against the hollow of Lena's throat.

“Lena,” she breathes again. It's closer to a sob than a word, and she realises that the blonde is trembling. Kara's hand tightens on her thigh, anchoring their bodies together as she presses her flushed face to Lena's neck.

Lena sucks in a deep breath that does nothing to calm her racing heart, tasting Kara on her kiss-swollen lips. She strokes over silky blonde hair, squeezing the fingers still woven with hers as more tears skate hot across her skin.

“I'm here,” she murmurs over and over, because what else is there? “You're okay. I'm here.”

 

They don't talk about it.

Lena wakes to sun streaming in through the light linen curtains, Kara's body draped across her own like a superheated blanket. Before long the blonde stirs, rolling off of Lena to drag a distasteful hand over the dried tear tracks criss-crossing her skin. “Morning,” she husks, sleep-rough and smiling. She shuffles closer again and Lena holds her breath, but Kara just nudges a brief kiss to her cheek and rolls out of bed.

They eat waffles and listen to the next episode of a podcast series Kara likes about meerkats in Angola through the kitchen speakers and they don't mention the kiss at all. Kara showers and Lena does the washing up, and they don't mention it. Kara drapes one of Clark's workshirts over Lena's shoulders and leads her out to the battered orange truck and they spend the entire morning elbow to elbow beneath the popped hood, and they still don't mention it.

They don't talk about it over lunch, or when they're cleaning the kitchen, or when Lena's standing in front of the living room bookshelves looking for her next selection and Kara comes up behind her, arms snaking around her waist and chin hooked over her shoulder.

By the time Lena's settled onto the couch with a dog-eared copy of Kerouac she hasn't read since college and Kara's drifted back to the kitchen to concoct her famous chilli con carne ahead of dinner, Lena's almost beginning to wonder if she'd imagined the entire thing. Insides thrumming, mind racing, she loses herself in the pages so she doesn't have to think of anything else.

So absorbed is she in her book that when a warm weight drops onto her stomach with no warning, all her breath exits her lungs in a shocked huff. Kara crawls up the couch cushions, sliding the length of her front against Lena's horizontal body, slotting her head into the gap created beneath Lena's arms holding up her book.

“Hi,” she grins, smelling of cumin and smoked paprika, chin propped on Lena's chest and face framed by Lena's forearms.

Lena recovers her composure by degrees, allowing her book to rest lightly on the top of Kara's head. “Hi,” she murmurs, pulse ticking up at the blonde's proximity. “You scared me.” At least she can blame the veritable samba in her chest on that.

“Sorry,” Kara beams unapologetically. “Chilli's done. What are you up to?”

Lena snorts out a laugh. “Crocheting a sweater. What does it look like?”

Kara huffs, dropping her face to Lena's neck. The lengths of their bodies are pressed together; Kara's lying directly on top of her with her legs tangled through Lena's. Her weight is welcome but not uncomfortable, and Lena wonders if the Kryptonian is surreptitiously floating just a little so as not to squish her. It's comforting, like a weighted blanket, and Lena sighs in contentment as she flips a page of the book now balanced on a crown of blonde curls.

She's barely made it through a paragraph before one of Kara's hands is snaking down, tugging the hem of Lena's white button down free from her jeans to skim her fingers up her side. Lena jumps at the contact, shivering at the slight chill of the blonde's skin tripping a trail of goosebumps up her ribs.

“Leeeena,” Kara whines playfully before she has a chance to voice her shock. “I'm bored.”

Lena tuts. “Well, I’m reading.”

Kara huffs, wriggling against her. Lena sighs, to cover the way her cheeks are flushing. “You could read too.”

“Don't wanna read,” Kara mumbles. “Want you to entertain me.”

“Tough,” Lena manages a little throatily, flipping another page above the mass of blonde curls spilling over her chest. “You'll just have to entertain yourself.”

She thinks nothing more of it, doesn't dwell on her choice of words at all for a few blessedly peaceful moments as the blonde seems to settle. But then, unmistakeable as a thunderbolt and just as shocking, she feels the deliberate press of warm lips against the hollow of her throat.

Lena freezes. There's a brief pause, then another kiss lands against the side of her neck. Then another. And, well. Maybe she hadn't imagined last night after all.

Kara's lips trail across her throat, nose brushing her skin. Lena wonders briefly what a heart attack feels like. This sudden tightness in her chest must surely be a strong contender.

Her hands are clenching so hard around the edges of her book it's a wonder she hasn't ripped out any pages. Sure, maybe they hadn't talked about last night's kiss at all, but it seems they may now be on track for a repeat performance and that's got to count for something, right?

When Kara's mouth presses open and wet to the hollow beneath her ear, Lena's breath shudders out of her like a straight shot to the solar plexus. “Kara,” she whispers, cursing the breathiness of her tone. “What are you doing?”

This is good, this is progress. She's initiating communication, Lena thinks proudly. This is clearer. This is better.

Kara's lips curve against her skin. “Entertaining myself.”

And, okay. This is not better. This is fire racing beneath Lena's skin at the rasp in Kara's voice, every nerve ending in her body set alight like a match to a touchpaper. This is her toes curling into the cushions as Kara mouths beneath her jaw, breath stuttering and heart hammering. This is not better.

“Kara,” she manages as the blonde's mouth pauses beside her ear, panting hot and damp. The sound lands embarrassingly close to a whine and Lena's already flushed cheeks heat up another notch.

“Yeah?” Kara hums, nosing back beneath Lena's jaw and attaching her mouth to her pulse point, sucking gently. Lena can tell it will bruise, and the knowledge that Kara has just marked her sends a jolt of static electricity down the length of her spine.

Her head tilts back quite without her permission, granting easier access to those warm, insistent lips. Chest heaving, she drops her book off the side of the couch, reaching down to thread a hand through blonde curls. Kara sucks another mark into her skin a few inches lower, a hint of tongue and a scrape of teeth, and Lena’s fingers tighten involuntarily. Kara raises her head at the tug and suddenly they're almost face to face, both breathing hard.

Lena swallows. Kara licks her spit-slicked lips, rolling the plump flesh beneath her teeth. Lena tightens her fingers a fraction more, an experiment, and Kara gasps.

And then the smoke alarm sounds from the kitchen, and Kara jumps so hard she propels straight off the couch and almost blasts herself clean through the ceiling. “Shit,” she mutters, head knocking against the light fitting as she floats unsteadily back to the floor. “The chilli.”

Once Lena's regained the ability to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, once her heart has stopped trampolining around her chest and her brain has migrated back north from its temporary residence low in her hips, she pushes up from the couch and joins Kara in the kitchen.

The chilli is still edible, just a little charred around the edges, and they eat it with garlic bread in front of some trashy reality TV that provides just enough background noise that they don't have to talk.

The rest of the evening passes quietly. Kara still presses close beneath their shared blanket on the couch. She still wraps a sure arm over Lena's hips in bed as they take up their habitual spooning positions. They still don't talk about it. Were it not for the two unmistakeable hickeys beneath her jaw that had Lena's breath hitching all over again when she examined them in the bathroom mirror, she could almost believe nothing had ever happened at all.

 

Lena wakes early, a lingering remnant of her CEO days she hasn't yet been able to shake. Kara's eyes are closed, the delicate skin beneath them still bruised dark with shadow, so Lena slips quietly out of bed and leaves her to sleep.

She borrows one of Lois’ long sleeved base layers and laces up her running shoes, stepping out onto the porch in the grey pre-dawn light. The great flat expanse of Kansan fields stretches out toward the horizon in every direction, and Lena feels the tension constricting around her lungs loosen a little.

She's always loved the fall.

She starts her run, relishing the bite of the early morning wind on her face. The harsh pulls of her shallow breathing and the burn of her straining muscles are all-consuming, leaving no room for her mind to gnaw anxiously on the uncertainties that have plagued her ever since Kara had kissed her.

It's a welcome reprieve. She runs until her head is empty and her lungs are screaming, skirting barns and farmland until she finally turns eastward, heading back towards the yellow house silhouetted against the rising sun.

She must have run further than she realised. By the time she makes it back to Kent Farm the sun is well above the horizon and her throat is burning, dusty hair sweat-matted to her forehead. She jogs up the long drive beneath the orange-gold leaves of the cottonwood trees, already planning the iced kale smoothie she's going to make for breakfast, when she stops short.

Kara is huddled on the porch steps, arms wrapped tight around her bent knees. Her face is pressed against her folded arms, her shoulders shaking, and Lena's anxiety comes rushing back full force. “Kara?” she calls, worry quickening her pace as she approaches the house. “What's wrong?”

The blonde jumps at the sound of her voice, flinching so hard it's as if her superhearing had somehow failed to pick up Lena's noisy approach. “Lena,” she gasps, head snapping up, and then she's pelting down the stairs towards her.

Kara crashes into her with so much force that Lena's knocked a good five feet backwards, caught up in the blonde's arms. She struggles to catch her breath as she checks Kara's body for damage, scans the house behind her for any sign of disturbance. “What is it?” she pants, frantic. “What's happened?”

“You were gone,” Kara sobs, half-tearful, half-accusing. “I woke up and you were gone and I thought—” She gulps in air, cheek pressed to Lena's own, apparently uncaring of the sweatiness of her skin. “I thought that maybe Lex— or the phantoms or, or maybe I was back there—”

“Okay, okay,” Lena coos, bringing a hand up to cup the nape of Kara's neck beneath the waterfall of blonde curls. “Okay, we're okay. I'm sorry for scaring you. I'm right here, I'm fine.”

“You were gone,” Kara whimpers again, her grip bruising. “You left.”

“I didn't, I didn't,” she soothes, rocking them gently on the spot. “I just went for a run.”

Kara only trembles harder, thumbs digging insistent into the tender flesh between Lena's hips and ribcage. Lena sighs, pulling back a little so she can cup the blonde's face in her hands. “I didn't leave,” she whispers, waiting until glossy blue eyes meet hers. “Kara. I wouldn't do that.”

“Everyone does,” Kara breathes, gnawing hard at her bottom lip. “Everyone I love does.”

“Not me.” She shakes her head, the pads of her fingers cupping the hinge of the blonde's jaw. “Here, with you— this is exactly where I want to be. I won't leave, Kara. I won't leave you.”

Another tear spills down the curve of the blonde's cheek. Her eyes are wide and scared, disbelieving despite Lena's ardent reassurance. Her body is still trembling, face pale and skin clammy and Lena's heart squeezes painfully in her chest.

“I'm here,” she says again, willing her sincerity to land. “I'm right here with you.” And then, because nothing else seems to be working, she leans in and presses her lips to Kara's.

The kiss is deep from the start and immediately reciprocated, open-mouthed and gasping as they move together beneath the falling leaves. It's not heated so much as it is desperate; tender in a way that aches behind her sternum. Kara's mouth opens, teeth grazing the plush of her lower lip as they shift and re-align, coming together again and again. Her tongue licks in, and Lena lets herself be devoured. Slides her hands to Kara's neck, cupping beneath her jaw as she presses closer.

Kara whimpers, tangling her fingers in Lena's hair to scratch lightly through the damp curls at the base of her skull. Her other hand grips hot and heavy at Lena's hip as though the single point of contact is the only thing tethering her to the planet below. When her teeth rake over Lena’s lower lip once more she lets out a gasp that Kara swallows, soothing the tender flesh with the heat of her tongue and the gentle pressure of her kisses.

Their mouths come together one final time, weighted and deep and so intense Lena feels like she's splitting open at the seams. She pulls back only when the need for oxygen wins out, tracing the pad of her thumb across the slick of Kara's lips.

Blue eyes flutter open, pupils blown wide, and in their depths Lena sees the ghosts of a thousand lives loved and lost. “I'm here with you,” she whispers, chest heaving against Kara's. “Be here. Just be here, with me.”

 

Kara won't let go of her, after that.

She's clingy in a way Lena's never before experienced, pressing close and holding tight. She shadows Lena into the kitchen for a glass of water, hooks a finger into her sleeve to keep her near. She follows her into the bathroom and looks so distraught at the prospect of being asked to leave that Lena gives in almost instantly, letting her stay.

Kara sits on the closed lid of the toilet, chewing at her bottom lip and playing some mindless game on her phone as Lena sluices the sweat from her body behind the slate wall of the wet room. The partition is only shoulder-high and she watches Kara, absorbed in her phone screen, as she works conditioner through the ends of her hair.

The trauma Kara's suffered, the repercussions she's dealing with now, it all feels a little beyond Lena's capabilities. Kara's mood swings – her shifts from detachment to inseparability, from playful charm to shuddering tears – are hard to predict and harder still to weather. It's not that Lena blames Kara or begrudges her in any way. It's just that she's starting to feel a little out of her depth.

Part of her wants to give in. To stop worrying and just lean into it; to embrace her instinct to give Kara everything she asks for. After all, she's been in love with the woman for nigh on six years now. Denying her anything at all may as well be sacrilege. Lena would happily light herself on fire to keep Kara warm.

But there's a larger, wiser part of her that thinks that probably wouldn't do either of them much good in the long run. And increasingly, that's the part she wants to listen to.

She decides to take advantage of Kara's constant closeness to broach the topic as gently as she can manage. The rainclouds roll in mid-morning and they abandon the inner workings of the pickup truck for the shelter of the living room, curling up on the couch in front of a roaring fire.

Lena's reading, book propped on the arm of the couch with one hand while the other cards through blonde curls, Kara's head resting in her lap. When the blonde finishes her text conversation with her sister and drops her phone onto her stomach with a sigh, Lena seizes her opportunity.

“Hey,” she starts, careful to keep her voice soft, scratching her fingers lightly over Kara's scalp. The blonde hums, nuzzling into the contact.

“Have you thought about talking to someone?” she asks tentatively. Beneath her hand, Kara stills. “I'm not saying talk to me,” Lena blurts into the sudden tense quiet. “I know you might not— I know that might be hard. But, Kara, you've been through something awful. Maybe you should talk to someone who can help.”

It's silent for a long time beyond the crackle of logs in the fireplace, the whip of wind through the cornfields, the tap of rain at the windows. Kara's jaw is tight, her eyes fixed unblinking on the ceiling.

“I just want to help you,” Lena whispers as the silence drags on, smoothing gently over Kara's hair. “And for things I can't help with, I want you to have someone who can.”

Kara swallows hard, a muscle in her cheek flickering. Her breath huffs out of her as she turns onto her side, burying her face against Lena's stomach. She mumbles something Lena can't make out, fingers twisting tight in the throw pillow clutched to her chest.

“What?” Lena asks, ducking her head to try to pick up the quiet words.

“I can't talk about it,” Kara mumbles, rubbing her cheek against Lena’s sweater. “If I— if I start, I won't ever be able to stop.”

Something clenches uncomfortably in Lena's chest. “Okay,” she says at last, propping her book on the arm of the chair so she can stroke Kara's hair with both hands. “It's your decision, and I'll support whatever you choose. It just— it must be hard, to keep it all inside you. To have to bear it alone. I don't want you to feel alone, Kara.”

“I don't,” Kara mumbles directly into Lena's stomach. “I'm with you.”

And that, it seems, is that.

Lena sighs, scratching through the warm curls at the base of Kara's skull. The blonde is reticent to broach the topic any further, content just to cuddle close and not let go. And if that's what Kara wants from her right now, then that's what Lena will give.

     

She won't kiss her again.

It's a recent decision, admittedly, but one to which she is determined to stick firm.

It's not that the experience isn't enjoyable. Not like Lena has been unable to think of much else ever since she learned the taste of Kara's mouth. Not like she couldn't quite happily spend the rest of her days kissing her best friend senseless, until old age or oxygen deprivation should take her.

It just, it doesn't feel right. Not like this.

Not with Kara still waking up screaming every night. Not with gaunt shadows plaguing her face and ghosts in her gaze, with the way she still can't talk about all that's happened to her without shutting down completely. Not when they haven't had so much as a single conversation about what this new development in their relationship might mean, not when there's any indication of whether it's a long-term thing or a temporary stop-gap. Not while Lena has no idea where she stands.

So, she won't kiss her again. No matter how much she might want to.

She manages to make it through the next day with their interactions still firmly on the platonic side of the line she's drawn in the sand. Dodges greedy hands and wandering lips, converting the mouth on a collision course with her own into a lingering hug and distracting the fingers trying to creep beneath her sweater by twining them with her own on the couch cushions.

But Kara, it seems, is on a single-minded mission to test Lena's newfound resolve. She pouts all the way through their after-dinner movie when Lena surreptitiously slides a throw pillow between their bodies to prevent any attempted straddling. By the time Lena's ignored the foot Kara has been sliding suggestively up her calf for the third straight minute, the crinkle between her brows looks like it's been carved from stone.

They make it to the end of the movie relatively unscathed and Lena's so busy congratulating herself on her self-control that she fails to sense the danger in the extended hands Kara offers to pull her up from the couch.

But then they're standing together in the firelit glow of the living room, bodies close and faces closer, and Kara still has hold of her hands.

Lena tugs lightly on the fingers wrapped through her own. “Time for bed?”

Kara's lips purse, brow quirking. “You're avoiding me.”

"Pfft, of course not,” Lena squeaks, cheeks flushing a traitorous pink. Maybe the firelight will hide it. Somehow, she doubts it.  “How could I be avoiding you? We've been joined at the hip all day.”

“You are,” Kara insists, the slant of her mouth half-playful, half brimming with reproach. “You're trying to keep your distance. Why?”

“That's— ridiculous,” Lena manages at length, trying to breathe without inhaling a lungful of Kara's shampoo. “I'm not trying to—”

“I don't like it,” Kara hums, pressing closer so her face nuzzles against Lena's loose hair. Her cheek brushes the shell of Lena's ear, voice vibrating in her chest where it presses against Lena's bicep. “Don't like the distance. It doesn't feel good.”

Lena forces herself not to shiver at the exhale that hits the side of her neck. Prays Kara can't feel the sudden clamminess of her palms. “Kara—” she tries, voice weak even to her own ears as the blonde pulls back a little, the ghost of a smile illuminating the handsome planes of her face.

“I don't think it makes you feel good either,” Kara whispers, breath warm and sweet over Lena's hypersensitive skin. She squeezes the hands still in hers, rubbing and stroking over bones and tendons as she cradles Lena's fingers in her broad palms. Her voice is low, husky in a way Lena's never heard it before. It leaves her a little weak in the knees as Kara presses in close for the killing blow. “Does it?”

And then she leans in, quick and sure, and presses her lips to Lena's.

It's short, but no less devastating for its brevity. Kara's mouth is open from the start, breath hot and tongue insistent and she angles her head for better access, tugging on the fingers entwined with her own. Just as Lena is starting to melt into the blissful press the blonde pulls back, breathing hard.

Kara watches her, all plump lips and heaving chest and daring eyes. “Does it?” she husks once more.

There's a challenge in Kara's steady gaze, and Lena decides in that split second that there's really no shame in surrender.

“Fuck, Kara, I'm not made of stone,” she groans helplessly and then she's surging forward, melding their mouths together once more.

Kara's arms wrap around her without a second of hesitation, drawing her close as she teases Lena's mouth open with lips and teeth and tongue. They stumble over to the couch and somehow Lena finds herself pinned to the cushions with her entire awareness narrowing to the points of contact between their bodies; Kara's hands hot and heavy on her hips, Kara's tongue in her mouth, Kara's thigh sandwiched tight between her own.

Everything is moving at hyper speed and in super slow motion. Lena's mind processes the situation from a hazy distance, as if in a dream, all while her body responds with animalistic urgency. Kara's mouth detaches from her own to nibble at her earlobe, sucking at the soft flesh and slicking her hot tongue inside the shell, and Lena gasps.

The sound seems to spur Kara on and she migrates lower, sucking a pair of deep red marks against Lena's throat, a mirror image of her artwork two days earlier. Her lips trail lower, not kissing so much as dragging open and wet across Lena's skin. Her fingers tighten in the collar of Kara's ratty plaid at the nape of her neck, back arching into the heat of her mouth as the blonde's teeth graze her collar bone.

Around the pulse throbbing low and heavy in her ears Lena vaguely registers that she should probably stop. Hadn't she decided she wasn't going to do this? Weren't there very good reasons for that decision? Sure, she can't remember them right now, but they'd definitely existed at some point.

But then Kara's hands leave her hips and suddenly Lena's borrowed cream button down is being torn open, buttons flying. Lena sends a silent apology to Lois for the destruction of her wardrobe, and that's the last coherent thought she has for a while. Kara's head dips lower, mouth following the line of Lena's sternum to the dip of her bra, and Lena absently thanks God she'd picked the black lace over the pink polka dots this morning.

Any hope of putting a stop to this evaporates beneath the moan she lets out when Kara's cheek nuzzles the soft skin of her breast, tongue circling a stiff nipple through the lace. Lena threads her fingers through blonde curls as Kara switches sides, lavishing her skin with kisses, and when her mouth fits against Lena's nipple and her teeth close oh so lightly around it the sound that rips free of Lena's throat is nothing short of sinful.

Kara slides lower still, chest pressed tight between Lena's spread thighs, and kisses her way down Lena's abdomen to the waistband of her jeans. When the fabric begins to inconvenience her she pops the button like it's nothing, tugging them down past Lena's hips to grant herself easier access to Lena's stomach.

“You feel so good,” Kara rasps, a hand massaging Lena's lower belly as her insatiable mouth drags across her skin, charting the arch of her ribs and the faint planes of her muscles. “So warm. So real. You make me feel real, Lena. You make me feel good.”

The tip of Kara's index finger traces the exposed waistband of Lena's underwear, and distant alarm bells start ringing through the fog of pheromones clouding her mind. “Kara,” she gasps, breathless. “Kara, wait.”

The blonde retreats immediately, shuffling back up to the comparatively safe zone of Lena's abdomen and nuzzling her face against her belly.

Lena's head is spinning. It takes an embarrassingly long time to formulate a complete sentence, but at length she manages it. “What are we doing?” she pants, using the hand in Kara's hair to try to nudge her up till they're face to face.

Kara keeps her gaze fixed on Lena's body, avoiding her eyes. “You make me feel good,” she hums, one hand stroking the length of Lena's inner thigh along the seam of her jeans as she presses a kiss above her belly button. “I want to make you feel good, too.”

Kara's tongue dips into her belly button. Something in Lena's brain short circuits. “Are you sure— fuck,” she cuts off as Kara sucks a mark into her hip, suckling at the slight swell of bone.

Regaining her composure enough to make her point is one of the hardest things Lena has ever done, and she has three PhDs. “Is this a good idea?” she manages at length, breathy, gasping, but unavoidable.

At last Kara's mouth halts its relentless assault of her skin, blue eyes raising to meet her own. “Isn't it?”

The blonde sounds as wrecked as Lena feels, and again she struggles to remember why she's forcing Kara's clever lips to form words and sentences when there are so many other more enjoyable things they could be doing instead. But. But.

“I'm not sure,” Lena manages at length, chest heaving, heart pounding. “I don't— I don't think it is.”

Kara pushes up and off her immediately, Lena's hand sliding free of her tangled hair. She sits back on her heels between Lena's spread thighs, lips swollen, eyes dark-lidded.

“It's just—” Lena starts, desperate to soothe the troubled look in Kara's eyes. Everything she'd like to say, things like I don't know what this means and I don't know if this will help or hurt and I love you and I'd do anything for you but I don't think I'd survive being used by you, it all gets stuck behind her teeth. She fumbles, mouth working soundlessly. “It's just, the timing—”

“The timing,” Kara repeats, dragging out the syllables as if deep in thought, voice low and smouldering. “So, is this a no? Or a not right now?”

Lena stares at her, rumpled and breathless and kneeling between Lena's legs like it's where she belongs, and she knows she's going to regret this, and then she does it anyway. “Not right now,” she whispers, traitorous and weak, and hates herself a little bit for it.

Regardless, it seems to do the trick. The concern in Kara's eyes evaporates and she hops off the couch and smooths her bunched shirt, holding out a hand to Lena. “Okay,” she practically chirps as she helps her to stand. “Let's go to bed. It's been a long day, you look tired.”

Lena's sure she looks many things right now, flushed and kiss-smeared with her shirt hanging open and her underwear uncomfortably damp, but she doubts tired is one of them.

But then again, she's always been powerless against Kara's every whim and fancy; there's no reason for that to change now. Mind reeling, heart ping-ponging around her ribcage at the speed of light, she tugs her shirt closed with one hand and follows Kara to bed.

 

Kara falls asleep quickly. Lena isn't so lucky.

She lies rigid in the darkness, listening to the drumming of rain on the roof and trying to sort through the maelstrom of her turbulent emotions. Kara had kissed her again. Kara had not only kissed her lips, and her neck, but several other places besides. Places that make Lena's cheeks heat up in the shadowy gloom, thighs squeezing together.

And more than that, Kara had wanted— well. She hadn't seemed to want to stop kissing Lena, all over, until no part of her was left untouched. Lena would be a liar if she tried to claim she didn't want that too.

Had she been right to stop her? The rational corner of her mind, the one whose bossy little voice sounds suspiciously like Sam Arias, thinks she probably was. The rest of her mind, and her entire body besides, think she's probably a goddamn fool.

Lena sighs. Snakes a hand beneath the sheets to tug at the hem of her sleep shirt, fingertips ghosting over the reddish-purple mark in the hollow slope of her hip bone. She presses against the bruise, digging in hard. The pain, the faint ache, it's a reminder that this thing between them is real. It happened, and not just in her wildest fantasies.

It grounds her. It's comforting. And it's a reminder too, a souvenir, in case it never happens again.

Lena wants it to happen again, of course she does. She wants to be surrounded by Kara, under her and inside her and encased by her for the rest of her days. She wants Kara more than she's ever wanted anything in her life, and it scares her.

It scares her because if Kara doesn't feel the same, if all this is just some elaborate coping strategy, some misplaced search for comfort or sexual healing or whatever the fuck— if Lena is just a warm body interchangeable with any other in Kara's quest for relief and revival, it will shatter her.

To give herself over in body as well as in heart and in soul would be a concession, a surrender, that she could never come back from. To learn Kara that way and then lose her would be worse, so much worse, than never having her at all.

So Lena lays there in the dark, torn clean in two by desire and dread, and doesn't sleep at all.

 

It's a good thing she's awake, as it turns out.

Around three AM Kara begins to stir at her side, a familiar disturbance in the darkness. Lena blinks herself out of her daze as the blonde begins to whimper, all strong limbs and sharp angles as she grapples with some invisible foe.

"No!” Kara gasps suddenly, loud enough that Lena flinches. “No, get off her! Let her go!”

She's all but shouting now and Lena rolls over but leaves a gap between them, calling her name over and over. It doesn't seem to have any effect; whatever terror has Kara in its clutches is more powerful than Lena’s sleep-rough voice.

Kara is thrashing now, clawing at the sheets and slamming her limbs against the mattress. “Take me, take me instead,” she gasps, tears leaking from beneath her closed eyelids. The tendons of her neck strain in sharp relief as she tenses, flailing elbow catching the bedside lamp and knocking it to the floor. “Leave her, please leave her!”

Kara is fighting so hard the bed frame trembles beneath them, Lena's attempts to wake her lost beneath the force of her cries. She doesn't dare reach out and touch her – once was quite enough, and this nightmare is more violent than any Lena's witnessed before. She doesn't want to risk Kara's furious desperation turning on her.

Kara floats a little off the bed as she tears at the sheets, the sounds falling from her mouth no longer intelligible but unmistakeably agonised. Lena has the foresight to push herself backwards and curl herself into a smaller target as Kara wrestles with the monsters in her mind, narrowly avoiding a clenched fist that collides with her pillow hard enough to burst it a second later.

“Let me go!” Kara screams as she finally rips free of the twisted comforter, the force of her flailing catapulting her across the dark room. She collides with the heavy oak wardrobe with an ear-splitting crash, wood splintering at the impact. Her eyes fly open as her breath is knocked from her lungs and then a burst of laser vision is crackling across the room, searing a glowing path clean through the bedroom wall.

Lena, operating on pure instinct, rolls off the mattress and flattens herself on the floor beside the bed, arms curled over her head. A heavy crack rips through the room, presumably the roof of the wardrobe collapsing, and then another flash of heat vision zigzags choppily through the air. The light fitting above the bed explodes into a billion shards, blankets singed and mattress smouldering.

The silence that follows the destruction is deafening, broken only by Kara's ragged breathing. “What?” she gasps a moment later, tiny and scared. “What— where am I?”

Heart pounding in her ears, Lena debates her next move. The laser vision has stopped, as has the desperate thrashing. Kara's voice is quiet and broken, coherent in a way her earlier screams hadn't been, so she must be awake.

Carefully, tentatively, Lena pushes herself to her knees, peeking over the smoking remains of the mattress. “Kara?” she calls hesitantly, muscles tensed for a speedy escape.

The blonde is lying amidst the shattered remnants of the wardrobe, eyes wide and terrified. “Lena?” she gasps, desperation barbing her tone. “Lena?”

“I'm here,” Lena manages, pushing herself to her knees amidst the ash and glass and feathers littering the floor. “I'm here, you're okay.”

She picks her way delicately through the debris to where Kara is curled, miraculously avoiding impalement on any of the shards and splinters strewn across the ground. She crouches in a relatively clear patch of carpet near the blonde's bent knees, swallowing down the fear still lodged in her throat.

Kara's eyes are shining with horror as she takes in the ruined room, the decimated shell of the wardrobe above her, the feathers caught up in Lena's hair.

“You're okay now, you're safe,” Lena forces out, extending a hand that Kara latches onto immediately. “Everything's okay.”

The blonde grips her fingers with the measured determination of someone holding a delicate crystal vase; afraid in equal measure of holding on too tightly and not tight enough. “Lena,” she sobs, thick and wet and snot-filled as silent tears pour down her cheeks. “Lena, I think I need help.”

 

Lena books her an appointment first thing the next morning.

The therapist is an ex-colleague of Lena's own back in National City and comes highly recommended by Kelly, specialising in non-human trauma while practicing with the utmost discretion. Lena gets her name and number during an anxious call to Alex and her girlfriend before the sun has even broken the horizon, ensconced in the living room at the blonde's insistence while Kara sets about cleaning up the fallout of her latest night terror.

The therapist, Jill, responds quickly to Lena's hasty email and agrees to a virtual session via video call that very morning. Lena wonders whether Kelly had briefed her on the urgency of the situation; regardless, her prompt efficiency is indescribably welcome.

Kara emerges a little before ten, munches her way through eight pieces of buttered toast in silence, and disappears into the study clutching Lena's laptop to her chest without a word.

She'd confessed, in the shadowy twilight of the decimated bedroom, to a healthy amount of scepticism regarding the capability of therapy in general to help deal with her trauma, and of a human therapist in particular to understand her. She'd agreed, accordingly, to commit to one trial session before she’d decide whether or not to continue.

Lena spends the hour of Kara's session tucked up in the window alcove at the other end of the house, on the phone to Alex and Kelly as the fear and the worry and the helplessness of her sleepless night comes pouring out of her in fits and bursts. By the time the grandfather clock in the hallways strikes eleven Lena's feeling calmer, soothed by Alex's understanding and Kelly's gentle reassurance, assuaged by the knowledge that they've at least taken the first step to getting Kara professional support.

She hangs up just as the blonde in question emerges from the hall, lips bitten raw and eyes red-rimmed. Lena holds her breath, bracing for a negative verdict, but Kara only slides to the ground before her and rests her head in Lena's lap as she informs her that she's booked in a session with Jill every other day for the foreseeable future.

Relief breaks over Lena like a tide and she slides a hand into Kara's hair to scratch gently at the nape of her neck the way she knows she likes, breathing freely for the first time in a long time.

 

Kara sticks to her commitment to attend therapy every other day.

She still has nightmares, but there are no more fear-fuelled losses of control. Her moods are still unpredictable, but no longer quite so extreme. She still struggles to talk about how she's feeling or what she's suffered, but she's getting better at owning that. At looking Lena in the eye and telling her directly that she's on edge or angry or scared, that she needs distracting or wants to be left alone, that she's not feeling good even if she can't articulate why.

It's progress, definitely, and it makes Lena's heart soar.

Kara doesn't divulge the things she discusses in her sessions with Jill, and Lena doesn't ask. But she does volunteer some of what she's learning, the breathing exercises and the visualisation and the grounding techniques. She walks Lena through them, tells her what works and what doesn't, and slowly Lena learns how to help her.

She begins to learn Kara's triggers, to look out for warning signs, to respect Kara's boundaries and fashion herself into a safe, judgment-free space in which Kara can unload if she wishes. At last it feels like they're moving forward, solidifying a stable foundation, and gradually Lena begins to feel comfortable broaching more sensitive topics without worrying about triggering an explosion.

After Alex calls her six times in three days to ask when she can come and visit, Lena negotiates Lois’ fancy coffee machine to fashion two rudimentary cappuccinos and invites Kara to join her on the porch in the early morning sunshine.

They settle side by side on the wicker two-seater overlooking the farm, blankets tucked over their knees to ward off the chill. The sun streams through the porch railings, casting ladders of light and shadow across the worn floorboards. She hands Kara her mug and cups her palms around her own, enjoying the faint chirping of birds and the rustle of the golden leaves.

“So,” she starts when her coffee is half gone, taking care to keep her tone light and gentle. “Your sister keeps calling me.”

A corner of Kara's mouth quirks up as she stares down at her mug, tracing her thumb around the rim. “She keeps calling me, too.”

Lena smiles, tucking the blanket more firmly around them when Kara pulls her legs up onto the cushions, her socked feet wiggling beneath Lena's thigh. “Do you think you might like to see her soon?”

Kara sighs, gazing out over the endless fields. “Of course I want to see her,” she says quietly. “I miss her every day. And I think I'll be ready soon, I just— I'm not sure that soon is the same as now.”

“That's okay,” Lena hastens to reassure. “There's no rush. I'm not trying to pressure you; I was just wondering how you were feeling.”

“I'm feeling better,” Kara says, the sun a delicate caress across her golden skin. She really sounds like she means it, and Lena feels warm from the inside out. Kara glances at her briefly then drops her gaze, tracing a finger over the chunky knit of the blanket. “I really am. But I think I want to be, you know, even better. Before I see Alex.”

Lena nods, sipping at her cappuccino as she considers. “I get that. But you know— you know you don't have to be, I don't know, fixed, before you can see the people you love, right? They don't mind that you're struggling, Kara. It's not a burden. They want to be there for you when you fall apart, too. Not just when you've already put yourself back together.”

Kara's lips quirk. “Jill told me the same thing.”

Lena returns the smile. “She sounds like a very smart woman.”

The blonde huffs out a quiet chuckle, meeting Lena's gaze shyly. “You both are.”

It's quiet a long moment, the comfortable kind of silence Lena's always loved. The kind she can get lost in, float away without ever feeling alone.

“I'm learning,” Kara says eventually. “To let people in. To let them help.” She glances at Lena as she says it, and they both smile. Kara's gaze drops back to her mug, fingers fiddling again. “But with Alex, it's different. She's just—”

“What?” Lena prompts quietly when it seems Kara isn't going to elaborate. “She's what?”

Kara sighs, pulling at a loose thread in the blanket with her thumbnail. “Alex is— her whole life has been about protecting me. She's put keeping me safe above being her own person and I just can't— I can't let her see me like this.” The blonde sucks in a deep breath, throat working. “I can't let her think that it was all for nothing. I don't want her to feel like she's failed.”

Kara's shoulders have tightened, the line of her jaw hardening. Lena can sense her discomfort and, resolute in her determination not to push too hard, decides to drop it for the moment. After all, she can understand the sentiment. She's been masking the cracks with a brave face since she was four years old.

She doesn't bother trying to convince Kara that it isn't true, that her fears are unfounded. That's a conversation for the Danvers sisters to have when they finally – and Lena firmly believes that they soon will – reunite.

She just mulls over Kara's words, draining the last of her coffee and depositing the mug on the floorboards before tucking her own legs up on the couch, slanting close. “So,” she finally gets up the courage to ask, voice soft. “Why me?”

Kara doesn't ask what she means. She already knows.

There's a long moment of quiet as the blonde formulates her answer. “You've already seen me at my worst,” Kara whispers at length, her voice a little strained. “You've seen the most terrible things I've ever done, because I did them to you. And you— you came back anyway.”

Kara takes a deep breath, tugging hard at the loose thread she's been worrying. Lena reaches out before she can unravel the whole blanket, laying her hand over the blonde's. Kara flips her palm, tangling their fingers together and squeezing tight.

“You came back, and you stayed,” Kara breathes, barely audible. She traces Lena's knuckles with the pad of her thumb. “So I thought that maybe, out of everyone, you—”

“I would understand?” Lena finishes for her, throat as tight as the grip Kara has on her hand. God knows she's no stranger to darkness.

Kara shakes her head. Tears glisten in her eyes. “I wouldn't scare you away. You wouldn't run.”

The words hang in the air between them, heavy and final. Lena takes a deep breath, forces down the lump in her throat. “I don't know if there's anything you could do that would make me run from you.”

She knows the words are true as she says them. Forgiveness and second chances go against every instinct of self-preservation drummed into her by decades of painful experience, yet here she is. Here she is, on a sun-drenched Kansas porch, hand in hand with the woman who broke her open and left her devastated. With the woman she still loves more than anything in the galaxy.

Kara smiles, lifting their joined hands to press her lips to Lena's knuckles as soft as the first blush of sunrise, delicate as the whisper of bird song on the breeze. “Ditto.”

 

Time passes, and jagged wounds begin to heal, and so many things are different now but Kara still doesn't stop touching her.

It feels— wrong.

Well, no. It feels right, more right than maybe anything ever has. So right Lena could scream. But it also feels wrong, somehow. Like she shouldn't be doing this, something that feels so immeasurably good, while Kara is struggling. That she's taking advantage in some way, capitalising on Kara's vulnerability for her own enjoyment. It makes her feel hot and guilty and sick, and she hates it.

So, she lets Kara sets the pace. She never initiates anything herself, but neither does she object to any of Kara's advances. This isn't about her, after all. Kara is the one going through something unimaginable. Lena will give her anything she can that might help.

So Kara decides how much they do, how far they go, and for how long. She's still sweet and earnest and achingly respectful, checking on Lena's comfort, asking for permission as she goes. But Kara is calling the shots for the both of them. Lena's just white-knuckling her way through the ride.

Kara takes to touching her more and more. As her therapy sessions progress and her confidence in her own recovery grows, so too does her desire to be as close to Lena as possible.

She sidles up behind Lena the morning they spend plastering over the hole Kara's laser vision had burned in the bedroom wall, sliding her hands beneath her baggy workshirt and littering the side of her neck with fresh bruises. She dusts off Clark's old record player and spins Lena round the living room to Frank Sinatra, a brisk waltz that soon devolves into gentle swaying as they hold each other close, Lena's arms round Kara's neck and Kara's hands on her ass. She cranks up the tractor hidden in the barn and takes Lena on a tour of the property, legs slung across her lap and hand up her shirt.

The nights are the most intense. They can barely say goodnight now without a prolonged session of heavy petting, tangled together in the bedsheets. Lena learns the shape of Kara's mouth, the taste of her gasps and the flavour of her moans. She learns the weight of Kara pressing her down into the mattress and the breadth of her between her thighs. She learns things she'd given up on ever discovering, and she hopes to God she'll never be asked to forget them.

The night it happens for the first time, Kara's pressed tight against her on the couch again, movie forgotten beneath the weight of her insistent kisses. She nudges Lena onto her side, slotting in between her and the couch cushions to fit her front to Lena's back, hand creeping back to its favourite spot beneath her shirt.

Lena is freshly showered and ready for bed, wearing only a pair of Clark's sweatpants rolled up at the hem and a baggy tee, so Kara's hand meets no resistance as it skates up her chest. Her fingers find Lena's bare breasts, squeezing gently before she diverts her attention to her nipples. She circles her thumb around the stiff peak and Lena feels a little lightheaded, but it's nothing on the jolt that zips up the length of her spine when Kara captures her nipple between thumb and forefinger and pinches.

Lena gasps, hips twitching of their own accord, and Kara detaches her lips from Lena's neck to husk against her ear. “Let me make you feel good,” she whispers, nibbling at the shell as her fingers continue to twist and pinch. Lena moans, breathless and helpless, and Kara releases her earlobe to press a series of kisses to her cheek.

“Do you want that, Lena?” she breathes, lips moving against Lena's cheekbone far too sweetly for what her hand is doing. “Do you want this?”

And Lena forgets to remember why she shouldn't.

“Yes, fuck, yes,” she gasps, and Kara wastes no more time. She snakes an arm beneath Lena on the couch so her left hand can continue what her right had begun, long fingers doing something sinful to her breasts that has Lena's eyes rolling back in her head.

Kara knocks her thighs apart with one knee, sliding her leg between them to keep them spread as her free hand dips beneath the waistband of Lena's sweats. She traces feather-light over her underwear and Lena keens, hips chasing the contact.

“You want this?” Kara asks again and normally she'd be enamoured by her concern, her desire for explicit consent, but right now she's so turned on she's worried she may spontaneously combust.

“Fuck, yes,” she rasps, throat dry and chest arching into Kara's unrelenting hand. “Please, please.”

When Kara's fingers slide into her underwear Lena swears she sees the face of God. She's so wet that it only takes a few messy circles and a firm pinch of her nipple before she's coming, hard, slapping her open palm against Kara's hip with a broken cry.

Kara licks the light sheen of sweat from her neck, hand still wedged between her thighs. She rolls her over and kisses Lena through the aftershocks, and then she carries her to bed and kisses her to sleep and that, once again, is that.

 

It becomes a regular thing.

Now, they don't just share a bed. Instead, Lena wakes to wandering hands caressing the swell of her inner thigh, the sharp angle of Kara's knuckles rocking against her through her sleep shorts. She ends her days with Kara grinding out her release against her skin and begins each one anew with three of Kara's long fingers filling her to the brim.

Now, Lena doesn't just shower. Rather, she learns the feeling of Kara's body soap-slicked and slippery against her own, legs wrapped around lithe hips as she's pinned to the slate-panelled wall. Now, they don't just cook together in the kitchen. Now, they scorch the salmon and burn the broccoli as Kara lifts her onto the countertop and drops to her knees before her, tugging her hips to the edge and doing things with her tongue that have Lena almost ripping the cupboard door she's clinging to clean off its hinges.

It's awful. It's blissful. It's heaven. It's hell. Lena hates herself for crumbling into this so easily. She couldn't stop if her life depended on it.

Other things are getting better, too. Kara still speaks to Jill four times a week. She has long FaceTimes with her sister every few days. She’s begun texting Brainy and Kelly again, restarted her Words with Friends tournament with J’onn and created a Tiktok account to keep up with Nia's daily barrage of memes.

The change in her is palpable, and never is it more obvious than when a booming thunderstorm rolls in late one night. They'd received the weather alert earlier that evening and begun preparing accordingly. Armed with her arsenal of grounding techniques, Kara lays a roaring fire in the living room and plugs her phone into the speakers. A carefully curated playlist of her favourite piano and violin pieces swells around them even louder than the storm as Kara tucks herself into Lena's side beneath the softest of the blankets, supplies in hand.

First, she peels an orange carefully as thunder crashes overhead, focusing not on the deafening noise but instead on being gentle and precise, keeping the peel whole and unbroken. Then she segments it delicately in her lap, handing one piece to Lena and keeping another for herself as they nibble at the sweet fruit. Kara eats slowly, telling Lena about the flavours, centring her mind on the tart juice spilling across her tongue.

Lighting flashes fire-bright through the sky, but Kara barely flinches. She just reaches into her stash of supplies and extracts Lena's shampoo bottle, cracking the lid to inhale the flowery scent. It isn't longer before she decides that the real thing is better and buries her face in Lena's loose curls, breathing deeply.

Her exhales tickle Lena's neck and she squirms playfully until Kara tightens her grip, climbing half into her lap. They soften into one another, Kara's head on her shoulder, the blonde humming the soft piano melodies against Lena's ear as she plays with Kara's fingers, bending and unbending them mindlessly as she strokes over tendons and joints.

By the time Kara raises her head to nudge a kiss against Lena's cheek, her body is heavy with drowsy relaxation. The storm, once all-consuming, has faded into nothing.

 

Under Muffin's watchful gaze, they eventually fix the truck, an achievement which seems to coincide perfectly with Kara's desire to finally, finally leave the house.

They take the battered old pickup into town and Kara shows her Smallville. They get coffee in the cultural district and take a walk through Carey Park, red gold leaves scuffing beneath their shoes. They visit the last farmer's market of the season and Kara feeds her tiny squares of cheese and taster spoons of local jams and jellies. They warm their palms around hot apple cider and leave with a freshly baked sourdough and armful upon armful of local produce.

The day before Halloween, they head to a neighbouring farm to visit the corn maze. They pick out two enormous specimens from the pumpkin patch and deposit them in the back of the truck, bickering the entire time about whose is bigger. Lena buys them hot chocolate from a ramshackle wooden stand and Kara wipes the milk moustache from her upper lip with the pad of her thumb, sucking it into her mouth with a smirk.

Naturally, they try their luck at the corn maze. Amidst shrieking kids and skulking teenagers they wander hand in hand through the green-gold stems, until the blonde declares it a race to the centre and Lena's competitive spirit kicks in full force. Kara chases her through the snapping stalks, cheeks pink and eyes bright, laughing as they reach the middle of the maze in perfect unison.

They stare each other down for a moment, chests heaving. Lena reaches out and plucks a stray leaf from the blonde's windswept curls - it's not my fault, Lena, I've always been a little corn-y. And then Kara darts forward and scoops her up, smelling of earth and cinnamon and winter's first chill, and kisses her right there in front of a chorus of squealing children and a smiling old couple who quietly applaud.

Halloween itself brings snug blankets and cuddling in the dim living room, lit only by the fire and the candles inside their laser vision-carved pumpkins. It brings scary movies as a thin pretence for snuggling as close as possible, lips hot and hands wandering and attention anywhere but the screen. It brings spiced cider and candy apples and Kara kissing the caramel from her lips and fucking her into the couch as Hocus Pocus plays quietly in the background.

After, once she's remembered how to move her limbs and is back to straddling Kara's lap, naked but for the blanket wrapped around her hips, she rests her forehead against the blonde's and contemplates how far they've come. Kara's smiling more than she isn't, these days. She laughs and jokes and makes shockingly bad puns and a light that's been sorely missed has recently returned to her eyes.

Kara's hands skim her waist, massaging her hips as their bare chests press together, breasts brushing. The heady contact makes her hips twitch, and Kara's hand is snaking between their bodies before she's even choked out a gasp, and Lena realises that despite the history and the confusion and the uncertainty still crowding between them, despite herself, she's happy.

 

That's not to say it's all forward progress.

There are days when Kara's mood turns sour and dark as the moonless night and she retreats into herself, sullen and guarded. There are days when a particularly loud noise or a sudden cold breeze have her freezing up, paralysed with terror.

And there are nightmares. There are still nightmares.

Though Lena no longer wakes to bursts of laser vision and exploding furniture, Kara still suffers. Most nights still bring her quiet whimpers and muted tears, panicked eyes flying open as the horror fades, but not completely.

Never does Kara need her more than in the aftermath of the terrors that plague her in the darkness. She wraps herself around Lena like she wants to fold herself inside her and never come out again, grip almost bruising amidst the softness of their sheets. It seems she can't get close enough, legs tangled and chests flush as she nudges hard into the hand Lena strokes over her hair, murmuring what platitudes she can conjure in the face of a trauma she still doesn't fully understand.

Tonight, Kara pushes closer than ever, tear-damp cheek pressed to Lena's throat as her racing pulse shudders through them both. Her hands trace the contours of Lena's body as she mumbles to herself in quiet Kryptonian, as if cataloguing Lena's continued existence beneath her.

Her thumbs hook into the waistband of Lena’s sleep shorts and then they're being pushed down her thighs, discarded alongside her underwear at the foot of the bed. Kara circles her, tender and trembling, kissing the exposed tendons of Lena's throat as she arches against the pillows.

Tears drip hot against Lena's skin and concern roots through her stronger even than desire. "Kara?” she gasps, trying to angle her head to get a look at the blonde's face as she scrabbles for coherence amidst the pleasure rocketing through her veins. “Sweetheart, are you alright? You don't have to—”

But Kara only pushes inside with two fingers, choking whatever else Lena might have liked to say off into a breathy moan. “Please, I want to,” Kara whispers, slipping in with ease. It’s a little embarrassing, maybe, how ready Lena always is for this woman. Right now, embarrassment is about the furthest thing from her mind.

“I need you, I need to feel you,” Kara mumbles against her skin as she curls her fingers, and Lena's weak protests die on her lips. Kara drives into her slowly, thoroughly, so deep it makes Lena’s toes curl. She bears down on the fingers buried inside her, using her bodyweight to thrust deeper still, and Lena gets the distinct impression that she's trying to fuse them together somehow, coalesce two separate bodies into one.

Lena's not going to stop her.

Kara nudges up and kisses her, kisses her like she's cracking open and Lena is the vessel into which she's chosen to pour her remains. The fingers inside her curl and twist and spread and Kara swallows the moans she can't hold back, stroking the pads of her fingers rhythmically over the spot inside her that makes Lena's vision white out.

She tumbles over the edge with the force of a hurricane, Kara's body atop her own the only thing to stop her being flung into space as she cries out her name. The blonde doesn't pull out, staying buried deep inside her as she rocks Lena through the aftershocks, peppering her face with gentle kisses.

“I love you,” she mumbles against the downy curve of Lena's cheek, eyelashes fluttering and tears still falling. “I love you, I love you. You're my best friend. You're— everything.”

Lena, breathless and boneless in the aftermath of Kara's focused intensity, can do little more than gasp as her heart migrates up into her throat at the blonde's words, as it threatens to burst clean out of her mouth. If this is the love Kara shows a best friend, if these are the benefits incumbent to the position— well. It may not be everything her treacherous heart so ardently craves, but it's not nothing.

It's definitely not nothing. Lena wonders if it will ever be enough.

She wraps a trembling arm around Kara's back, hooks a leg over the back of her thigh. She brings her thumb up to wipe at the tears still spilling from Kara's wide eyes and then she does what she'd promised herself she wouldn't, initiates what she'd vowed only ever to reciprocate.

She leans in and kisses Kara, and she tells herself that this will be enough.

“I love you,” she whispers when they at last break apart. “I love you, too.” It's the truth, the most fundamental truth she has to offer, and she's tired of pretending otherwise.

 

The whispered words, the late-night confessions, they're a big deal. But simultaneously, they're not, because what had really changed with their utterance? Lena has been certain of her own love for Kara for years now, has been secure in her own importance to the blonde ever since she'd shown her the worst of herself yet somehow not managed to scare her away for good.

She loves Kara, Kara loves her. Maybe it's not in the way she wants, but it's beautiful and vital and precious nevertheless. Lena doesn't really wake up knowing anything today that she hadn't known yesterday, and so life goes on.

They wake and they shower and they split the paper over breakfast. Kara has her session with Jill in the study while Lena reads in her favourite alcove by the window. They make minestrone soup for lunch and dance around the kitchen to Fleetwood Mac and eat the last of the farmer's market sourdough, and Kara kisses a smear of butter from her lips, and life goes on.

The sky has darkened considerably by the time they've finished the washing up but Kara tugs her outside anyway, heedless of the gathering cloud. She pulls her by the hand across the yard to the enormous cottonwood, limbs all but bare now, leaping gracefully onto the tire swing suspended from its lower branches.

“Come try this,” she calls as she swings elegantly through the air, ethereal in her grace. “You're gonna love it. Next best thing to flying.”

She doesn't take much convincing. Lena slides her legs through the centre of the tire while the blonde steadies it and then Kara is behind her, hands gentle on her hips as she pushes Lena until she soars. The swing arcs high into the air and Lena laughs, light and unburdened as a child, feet pointed up to the sky as her head tips back, loose hair haloing behind her.

Kara catches her at the top of her backwards arc and holds the swing a moment, a freezeframe of ephemeral rapture as she leans in to press an upside-down kiss to Lena's lips. A second later she's flying free again, head thrown back and toes touching the heavens, giddy and euphoric with the joy of it all.

Muffin appears soundlessly from behind the barn and Kara leaves her place behind Lena to circle round in front of her, scooping the cat into her arms. She scratches behind his ears as Lena continues to swing and Muffin nudges his head into the contact, purring loudly.

“Jill says it's good for me to have a cat around,” Kara murmurs absently, stroking Muffin's soft grey fur. “He's a calming influence, apparently. You know, animal therapy, or whatever.”

Lena nods, letting momentum take over as she softens into the swing, rocking gently.

“She says it's good that I have you, too,” Kara says quietly after a moment, meeting her gaze almost shyly. At Lena's inquisitive look she shrugs one shoulder, nibbling at her lower lip. “I was telling her, you know, about how great it's been to have you, through all of this. About how much you've helped me.”

A pleasant warmth spreads through Lena's body as her swinging slows, a smile pulling at her lips.

“I told her about how important you've been,” Kara continues, a little bashful. “How you keep me grounded, make me feel real again. How I don't know what I would have done without that.”

Lena's smile gets stuck on her lips. That same old uncertainty rears its familiar head, replacing the pleasant flush of her body with a deadening chill. What is she to Kara, really? A person, a partner, or a coping strategy?

The blonde must notice the change in her because she freezes, wide-eyed, unprotesting as Muffin pushes out of her arms and pads silently away. “What?”

Lena bites her lip as the tire swings to a halt. She won't say it. She's not going to say it.

“Is that all I am?”

Oh, look at that. She said it.

The wind whips harder all of a sudden, biting rather than caressing. A delicate crinkle appears between Kara's brows. "What do you mean?”

The most painful thing is, she seems to genuinely have no idea. Lena sighs, tugging her fingers through her wind-tangled hair. “Look, Kara. I want to help you and I can be, you know, a coping mechanism. I can be a touchstone for you, if that's what you need. But I need to know if—” She sucks in a deep breath. Too late, by all accounts, to turn back now. “I need to know if that's all I am.”

“All you are?” Kara parrots, brow furrowing. Overhead the clouds grow darker still, the sky heavy and foreboding. The ridiculousness of her own position in a conversation this serious strikes Lena then, and she clambers unsteadily out of the tire swing to stand before the blonde.

Kara's mouth is open, features crumpled with hurt. “How can you think that?”

“How can I—?” Lena repeats incredulously. Any hope of making it through this conversation with what's left of her heart intact is fading into the rear-view. “I don't know, Kara. Maybe because you never showed any interest in me until a month ago? Because you never reached out a hand to me until you were drowning?” She swallows hard, forces herself to moderate her tone. “Maybe because you never wanted me before you needed me, needed someone?”

“Never wanted you?” The blonde's voice is low and hard, a lethal challenge. The first drops of rain pepper the dry earth with kisses. Kara's eyes burn. “Lena. I've wanted you since the day we met.”

Her words are paralysing. Lena gapes, heart hammering.  “No, you— you didn't, you never—”

“Do you know why I didn't hug you in the Fortress, before Lex blasted me into the Phantom Zone?” Kara asks, eyes steel and voice flint. “Why I didn't leave a message for you in the legacy crystal?”

Lena's voice has all but deserted her. Raindrops the size of golf balls thunk into the dust around them, the whole world blurring out into a rusted grey haze.  “Because you were mad at me,” she whispers, half-strangled. “Because we'd been fighting.”

“Because I cannot say goodbye to you,” Kara snaps. Her shoulders are tight, muscles quivering with latent kinetic energy. “I physically can't do it. I can't imagine a world without you in it. I thought I was going to die and it was fine, I managed it, I said goodbye. To everyone else.” Her breath rushes out alongside the torrent of words, leaving her deflated. Kara curls in on herself then, shirt soaked and hair dripping, hard edges crumbling before Lena's very eyes. “But not you. Never you.”

She cannot compute what Kara is telling her. “So— what happened?” she whispers as raindrops trickle down her cheeks like so many tears. “Why now?”

“Why now?” Kara huffs out a laugh so utterly devoid of humour that Lena shivers, goosebumps prickling up her damp arms. “Because I lost you! I lost everything all over again, and I vowed to myself that if I ever got back here I would stop wasting all my fucking chances.”

It's hard to tell which is louder, the drumming rain or her pounding heart. Lena shivers in her thin cotton shirt, drenched to the bone. The dusty driveway has dissolved into a delta of grey mud, the whole world shimmering wet and petrichor-thick.

Kara shakes her head, a fine stream of droplets arcing from the ends of her dripping curls. She takes a single step closer. “I didn't think I would ever see you again,” she whispers, barely audible over the deluge. “Now that I have, can you blame me for not wanting to look away?”

Lena feels as if she's been cracked open, rent in two as soundly as the grey heavens above. “I, I didn't know,” she breathes, whole world teetering on a newly unmoored axis. “You never said.”

“I never said?” Kara's tone hiccups with disbelief but her eyes have softened, shining with something deep and familiar and as yet unidentified. “I told you I'm in love with you!”

Lena's brow furrows. Apparently, they'd been having different conversations. “No, you said you love me. As your best friend.”

“You are my best friend!” Kara says, dripping with incredulous affection. She takes another step closer and suddenly they're toe to toe, gritty mud clagging at their feet. Blue eyes soften further, and like a lightning bolt from on high Lena suddenly knows exactly what burns in their depths.

Kara's voice is quiet, calm, quiescent. “Did I neglect to mention that you're also the love of my life?”

Lena's breath slaps out of her with the force of a freight train. Her knees tremble, might have buckled completely had Kara not chosen that exact moment to wrap her arms tight around her waist, anchoring them together in the downpour.

“Really?” she gasps because she doesn't want to waste any more of her chances, either. Because this thing between them is too precious, and she's been unsure of it too many times, to leave another second of it up to fate. “You really love— you're in love with me?”

Lena had made her choice years ago, fate be damned. All that's left is to find out whether Kara has, too.

“Lena,” Kara chuckles, reaching up to fit a rain-cool hand to her jaw, tilting their foreheads together as their eyes slide closed. “Does it really, truly and honestly seem even remotely possible to you that I'm not?”

Kara's forehead is cool, her nose brushing Lena's cheek as they stand quietly a moment, breathing in perfect sync. Rain beads on the ends of her eyelashes and when the droplets break free, it's Kara's cheeks they skate down. The heady thrumming of her own heart is echoed by Kara's; Lena can feel the way it races through every point at which they're pressed together. She tightens her arms around Kara's shoulders, fingertips teasing the damp hairs at the nape of her neck as Kara strokes back and forth over her waist. All around them, the rain pours down, drowning out everything but them.

Kehp-odh rrip khuhp i zhor, zhao'te,” the blonde whispers against her lips and Lena's mind may not technically be able to translate the words, but her heart knows what they mean. Kara sighs, fingers slotting against the grooves of Lena's ribcage like they've found their home after a lifetime of searching. “You always have.”

 

When the rain becomes too much and the shivering takes hold, Kara carries her inside.

She draws a hot bath scented with lilac and cherry blossom, strips Lena delicately out of her sopping clothes only to kiss each new expanse of chilled skin she uncovers, and lowers her into the claw foot tub. She climbs in behind her and pulls Lena flush against her chest, tracing her thighs and stomach beneath the water as warmth seeps back into their bones.

She washes Lena's hair and lets Lena wash hers – jasmine shampoo, at the blonde's insistence – and runs a washcloth gently over every inch of her body. She nudges a bend into Lena's knees, positions her feet outside her own thighs to spread her legs, and traces two fingers through her over and over, light as the flutter of butterfly wings until Lena's trembling boneless and incoherent against her.

There's a reverence to Kara's touch that burns, a love so badly hidden in each of her tender ministrations that Lena cannot believe she'd been second guessing it all this time. She's breathless and limp by the time the blonde's through with her, taking the brief opportunity to recover when Kara hops out of the bath and superspeeds out of the room.

She's back a few heartbeats later, the short reprieve utterly insufficient for Lena to have regained feeling in her legs. Kara only chuckles as Lena gazes up at her plaintively, bending to scoop her out of the bath into the softness of a fluffy towel and carrying her back to the living room.

When she sees what awaits them, Lena gasps. A soft nest of blankets and pillows has appeared on the floor in front of the huge stone fireplace, logs already blazing merrily in the hearth. The rest of the room is dim in the fading grey light of the stormy evening, the darkness interrupted periodically by the bright flicker of a few of Lois’ cinnamon clove candles.

“Kara,” she whispers, breath catching in her throat. “This is beautiful.”

The blonde smiles shyly and Lena pushes lightly from her grasp to stand before her, nudging up on her tiptoes to press a sound kiss to her lips. After all, she can do that now.

Kara's chuckling as they break apart, the sweetness of the sound spreading through Lena's veins like honey. She uses the corners of the towel to squeeze out the dripping ends of Lena's hair before walking her backwards to the cocoon she'd constructed, towel discarded so that there's nothing left between them.

In a sharp swoop of breath Lena's legs are swept out from beneath her and then she's being laid gently on the pillows, weightless and pliable. Kara hovers above her, fair hair darkened with water, pupils blown and lips parted as they regard each other for a moment. Firelight dances in the depths of her eyes, the handsome planes of her face smoothed into the barest hint of a smile as flickering shadows play across the empyrean canvas of her naked body.

Lena's never seen a sight so beautiful, and she tells her so.

Kara flushes, ducking her head to capture Lena's lips in a kiss so overflowing with ardour it sparks tears behind her closed eyelids. The blonde pulls away just enough to fit her mouth to the cut of Lena's jaw, panting hot against her as her tongue darts out to taste the delicate skin. “Ditto.”

The blonde's devotion is so single-minded, her passion so fervid, that Lena doesn't even get the chance to touch her before Kara is sliding down the length of her body, licking and kissing and sucking a roadmap of reddish marks into the alabaster of her skin.

It sends a thrill through Lena from the base of her spine to the very top of her head. Mine, the trail of Kara's caresses proclaims, and she is.

The blonde takes her time, tracking soft kisses and lingering touches down the length of Lena's legs and back up again, blowing gently against her until she gasps. And then, just as the suspended anticipation threatens to overwhelm her, she hooks Lena's thighs over her shoulders in one smooth movement and presses her open mouth between her legs.

Lena's so close already that it only takes a few broad licks, the delicious bite of Kara's blunt fingernails at the meat of her hips, and the barest hint of her tongue teasing her entrance and dipping inside before she's coming with a loud cry, eyes rolling back a little in her head.

Kara's crawling back up her body and licking her release enthusiastically from her chin before Lena's even caught her breath, swept up in a bruising kiss that's all slickness and heat.

The blonde barely gives her a moment to recover before she's lifting her gently once more, draping Lena across her lap so their bare chests press together. Lena's trembling thighs lock around her hips and she takes Kara in for a moment, stroking the pads of her thumbs along the proud arch of her cheekbones, the hinge of her jaw, her kiss-swollen lips. The moment feels heavy, almost cosmic, the air around them shivering with the final realisation of a journey started long ago.

She leans in to kiss her, chaste and sweet, pouring into the gentle touch all the tenderness and adoration she's spent so long harbouring for this woman. When Kara sighs into the kiss, grip tightening at Lena's waist, every single moment of the past six years feels wholly and indisputably worth it.

Kara's lips drop to her neck, then lower still. Lena gasps, arching into the wet heat of Kara's mouth sucking at her nipple. When the blonde's hand slides between their bodies Lena groans, lightheaded but determined to return the favour. She shifts a little in Kara's lap, making room for her own hand to skate the delicious lines of Kara's abs and slip lower still, tracing through slick heat.

Kara gasps, straightening to close her teeth around Lena's lower lip as their fingers move in tandem, teasing and circling before sinking inside in near-perfect sync. It's thrilling, it's rapturous to feel her every movement inside Kara mirrored within her own body and on the sliding scale of fucking to making love she and Kara have always tended toward the latter, but this is something else entirely.

The tension in Lena's lower belly pulls taught with every thrust of Kara's long fingers, her free hand threading through damp blonde locks to tug lightly. Kara bucks at the sting and Lena bears down, circling her thumb as she drives her fingers deeper still.

Not to be outdone, Kara pulls two fingers out slowly and thrusts back in with three, filling Lena to the brim and rocking her thumb against her as she squeezes her ass with her left hand. The stimulation is almost overwhelming and Lena surges forward to capture her lips, licking in messy and desperate. Kara begins to flutter around her hand and Lena curls her fingers, kissing her deeply, filthily, ready and willing to drown in her.

It only takes a few more deep strokes before Kara's coming silently, gaze locked with hers, gasping into Lena's open mouth and clenching hard around her fingers. It's enough to send Lena tumbling over the edge after her, moaning her pleasure against Kara's lips as she presses their sweaty foreheads together. Through it all, Kara's eyes never stray from her own, gaze open and raw and unguarded and Lena finally understands what it takes to be able to hold another person in her hands and say I'm with you, I'm yours, and mean it with every fibre of her being.

 

When the last waves of ecstasy have crashed over them and retreated, once the sweat is cooling on their skin and they've remembered how to breathe again, Kara lays them down amidst the softness of the blankets and pulls Lena into her arms.

She's half on top of the blonde, head pillowed on her chest, stroking absently at her ribs as Kara's fingers chart the delicate notches of her spine. She feels heavy and sated and dreamily, blissfully spent, listening to Kara's heart steady in time with her own.

After a long moment of easy quiet she rolls her head, resting her chin on Kara's chest to meet her gaze where she's propped up by pillows.

Lena presses her lips together to hold back a smile. “I'm in love with you too, by the way.”

The blonde grins. “I'd rather hoped so, yeah.”

Kara looks far too smug as she says it. Lena smacks her bare hip with an open hand and absolutely no force. “You don't have to sound so insufferable about it.”

“Well, in fairness, I did think it had been implied somewhat heavily,” Kara mumbles innocently, tugging Lena closer still. “On both sides, not that you apparently noticed.”

Lena swats at her again and Kara gasps in mock affront. “I mean, come on,” she gets out around a mouthful of dark hair, pinning Lena's arms gently to her sides to stop her half-hearted assault and earning herself a barrage of wriggling limbs to the belly in the process. “We've been living together, sleeping together, not sleeping together—”

She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, and Lena pouts. Kara kisses the plush of her bottom lip serenely. “Personally, I'm not in the habit of making frequent passionate love to my purely platonic pals. But hey, that's just me. Maybe Metropolis girls do it different.”

Lena huffs, and swats at her again. Well, sure, when she puts it that way—

The blonde catches her flailing hand and presses a sure kiss to the palm, blue eyes sobering as she pulls away. “No, it took us both a while,” she acknowledges quietly, lifting Lena's chin until they're nose to nose, eye to eye. “And it wasn't always smooth sailing. But loving you, and knowing you love me?” Kara smiles, dropping a kiss to the tip of Lena's nose. “It was worth waiting for.”

Lena smiles so widely she could almost forget that tears are pricking at the corners of her vision. She shuffles up Kara's body until they're side by side, faces close on the pillow, bodies slotting together seamlessly. She slings a thigh over Kara's hips that the blonde anchors with gentle fingers and snuggles in close, forehead pressed to Kara's temple.

Logs crackle in the hearth as the rain continues to pound down around the farmhouse, muffling the rest of the world to an indistinct blur. Kara reaches a hand up to tangle in Lena's hair, carding delicately through the mussed curls.

She hums, and Lena feels it reverberate to the very core of her. “You know, I always thought we'd end up here.”

Lena arches a brow as Kara's face rolls towards her own, lips quirking. “Here as in Kansas? Or here as in, naked in front of a fire?”

Kara tuts. “Smartass.”

“You love it.”

“I do,” the blonde hums contentedly. “I love everything about your ass, including its smarts.” Her hands smooth over the body part in question, pinching and squeezing, and Lena gasps.

Kara chuckles against her cheek, wandering hands sliding back up to wrap snug around Lena's waist, holding tight. “Actually, I meant here as in, together. For the rest of our lives.”

Lena's eyes blink open to regard the blonde, absorbing the adoration of her touch against Lena's skin, the quiet assuredness in her gaze. “Really?” she asks quietly, memory brimming with the echo of every single moment, the brutal and the beautiful, that had brought them to this point. “You really thought we'd make it?”

“Well.” Kara's arms tighten, lips blossoming into the brightest of smiles. “I hoped.” 

 

 

epilogue: five years later

 

Kansas is beautiful in the fall.

Thunder rolls across the great open plains, the battered wicker two-seater on the front porch providing front-row seats to the celestial symphony. The remaining cornfields glow unearthly gold in the stormy orange light, the sun's parting embrace as it dips below the cloudy western horizon. The cottonwood trees have all but shed their canopies, only a handful of the hardiest russet leaves left to rustle in the breeze. The air is chill and rich with winter's promise, summer's last caress melted clean away.

Lena's always loved the fall. This year is no exception.

“This house is where I kissed your mommy for the first time. Did you know that, bug?” Kara shuffles the toddler nestled between them, tucking the thick knit blanket more snugly around her. The little girl coos, latching onto Kara's hand to pull at the thin woven gold bracelet encircling her wrist with stubby fingers.

“Probably,” Lena chuckles fondly, pressing her cheek to Kara's shoulder as she nestles deeper into her side. “You've told her about twelve times already.”

Kara ignores her, allowing the toddler to continue playing with her wedding band as she points to the track beyond the porch. “And right there on the drive is where your mommy kissed me for the first time. She was all sweaty and dusty and she just couldn't resist me.”

Lena snorts, jabbing a finger into her wife's ribs. Kara yelps and pulls her closer, halting her attack by twining their hands together around their daughter's shoulders. The little girl squeals at the sight of the matching bracelet on Lena's wrist, reaching out to clutch one in each of her tiny fists.

Kara hums, letting their joined hands rest on the blanket across the child's lap. She leans closer, voice a conspiratorial whisper. “And inside, on the bed in the guest room, is where we—”

“Kara!”

“What?” Her wife pouts, blinking wide and angelic. “I was going to say that that's where we said we loved each other for the first time. Your mind is filthy, Luthor.”

Purple clouds roil overhead, dark and heavy as a bruise. Lightning snakes across the horizon, bridging the gap between heaven and earth in the span of a heartbeat. Their daughter watches, mesmerised, mouth agape to reveal two rows of tiny white teeth. The last one had only come through a week ago.

“Did you see that, bug?” Kara whispers, pressing her lips to a crown of dark curls to inhale the little girl's warm baby powder scent. “That's lightning.”

“Eye-ning,” the toddler coos, clapping her tiny hands together.

“That's right, honey, lightning,” Lena praises, reaching over to pluck a stray leaf from their daughter's scruffy curls. They'd visited her first ever corn maze today, and she'd come home with half the field in her hair. Well, Lena supposes. Like mother, like daughter.

Lightning sparks again, a peal of thunder cracking deafeningly overhead as the storm nears the farm. The toddler gasps and whimpers, pressing back into her mother's arms to stare up at them with wide, unsure eyes, looking for a cue as to how she should respond.

Lena reaches out immediately to stroke over her hair as Kara tightens their linked hands around the child, pressing a kiss to her temple. “It's okay, is’kah,” she soothes. “You don't need to be worried. Thunderstorms aren't scary.”

Lena tilts her chin, meeting her wife's eyes over their daughter's head. Her lips quirk, smile weighted with memory. “They're not?”

Kara's gaze meets hers as she shakes her head, calm and sure and achingly sincere. She leans in wordlessly as Lena does the same, their lips meeting in a shower of sparks that Lena's felt a billion times, one she knows she'll feel a billion more before this life is through with them.

Kara pulls back just enough to tilt their foreheads together with a sigh. “No. They're beautiful,” she says softly, mouth warming around a smile. “You taught me that.”

Her wife's sweet breath whispers across her skin and Lena nudges back in for one more kiss because she can, because she wants to, because she always will.

High above Kent Farm, the heavens thunder their approval. The little girl cradled against both of their chests starts to squirm, chubby fists grasping at the fallen leaves whipped up by the sharp October breeze. She catches one at last and crows delightedly, holding it up to Lena's face for inspection. She's wriggling so hard in her excitement that she almost topples clean off their laps and Kara scoops her up to blow kisses on her belly, cheeks flushed with laughter, the picture of bliss.

Lena smiles. She's always loved the fall.