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Be still my foolish heart (don’t ruin this on me)

Chapter Text

"In the evening, by the fireside, I have thought often
Of a bird dying, somewhere in the woods.
During the long sad days of winter,
The hapless nests, the nests abandoned,
Sway in the wind on an iron grey sky
Oh ! How birds must die in winter !
Yet, when comes the time of violets,
We will not find their delicate frame
In the April grass where we will go running.
Do birds hide to die ?"

- "La mort des oiseaux," François Coppée, translated by ClaraZorEl

"Kara come on. Even you can't be that naive. It's not that I don't appreciate you crossing half the globe for me but- We're not getting back together Kara."

It's warm inside of the coffee shop, but outside the rain falls in heavy sheets. It blurs everything beyond the window, so much so that Kara can't even see the Liffey from where she's sitting. Grey silhouettes rush around trying to take shelter from the rain ; tourists mostly, everyone else here either has a good rain jacket or is so used to the weather that they don't really notice it anymore. The door opens and closes, sending a gust of cold air inside. Boots scratch on the welcome mat, the newcomer shudders and curses ; Kara glances up. It's a woman, she thinks, with long dark hair and a sharp profile. Alex's fingers snap in her ears and she refocuses on the screen. Across an ocean and a continent, her sister looks particularly discontent.

"Are you even listening to me ?"

Kara hums. "Of course I am. I'm sure she'll say yes. It's Kelly we're talking about. She came home for you. And she already thinks you’ve hung the stars and moon."

Kara can't see them on the screen, but she knows Alex is writhing her fingers out of sight, twisting them this way and that in needless worry. Marriage is what they're talking about and Kara wishes she could just tell her that Kelly wants to marry her too, but she promised not to when her future sister-in-law called to show her the ring.

"Maggie said no," Alex points out, a hint of insecurity weighing down her voice.

"Maggie was an idiot."

"Siobhan is an idiot," is exactly what Alex said when she answered Kara's long distance call some five years ago after she crossed half the world to salvage her engagement. "She's an idiot. Now, come home. Please. Before I have to haul my ass over here to pick you up."

"You and Kelly are the perfect couple. Where does all that worrying come from ?" Kara presses.

Alex hangs her head. "I just- " She freezes for a second, pixelated, before the internet catches up with her. "We love each other, sure. But I work long hours and I get called away a lot. In the middle of dates, of the night. That's fine for a relationship, but for a marriage ? What if it's too much ? I- I worry I'm too much."

"You're thick is what you are," Kara grumbles. "Kelly knows what she's getting into. She's already chosen you." It's the most Kara can say without revealing Kelly's own plans to ask Alex to marry her.

Alex shakes her head from side to side. "You're right," she sighs. "I'm just nervous. Do you think she'll like it ?"

Alex lifts the ring to the camera. It's a little bit blurry, but Kara's already seen about a hundred pictures of it and knows it by heart. It's thin, silver with leaf shaped topazes, and the other night in fact, she even had a dream that she proposed to a faceless Siobhan with it.

"I know she'll love it."

They hang up soon after that, when Alex is half asleep over her computer and Kelly walks into the room to drag her to bed. It's the middle of the morning for Kara, so the middle of the night for them and it's on occasions like that, when one of them falls asleep on a call, that she feels the eight hours between them the most.

She misses her sister every day, but she doesn't regret her decision. When she sold the engagement ring and used the money to tour the country, intending on building herself back up by going on a very long walk, she didn't think she'd never leave at all. She thought she'd visit for a couple of weeks, get bored and fly home ; and then she fell in love. She fell in love with Ireland, its people, its culture, the way the air smells here and the wind in her hair. She remembers two very contradictory feelings ; the sheer freedom she felt, standing at the top of Howth cliff, and the crushing sensation in her chest not a day later, plane ticket clenched tight in her hand, suitcase overflowing with cheap tourist trinkets. She remembers turning back, all but running out of the airport, throwing her suitcase in the luggage rack of a green double-decker, and never turning back. She paid for a month of rent with the remainder of her ring money, found a job waiting tables in a loud pub in Temple Bar, and never left.

She drains the dregs of her coffee, shoves her laptop in its protective waterproof case, and steps out into the rain. It's abated to a light drizzle, nothing to write home about, and she doesn't even bother putting her hood up, letting the water wash away the soft ache in her chest. Absentmindedly, she runs her thumb over her ring finger, feeling for a dip in the flesh that is no longer here. It wasn't even Kara's idea, Siobhan is the one who wanted to get married. And it wasn't a particularly bright idea, they were both much too young for that, as was proven rather quickly ; but she loved her so much, Siobhan was her first everything, and it felt so right to say yes. She isn't in love with her anymore, water has run under that bridge, but she does still miss her from time to time. Or maybe the idea of her, the way she made her feel, the weight of her in her arms. She's held other bodies since then, kissed other lips, but she's never found anything quite like Siobhan Smythe.

The café she called Alex from is not particularly close to her flat. To most people's standards, it is even quite far, a good hour away, and she has to take the train to get there ; but Kara likes it. It's where she made her first call with her new phone number, where she explained to her sister that she wasn't coming home just yet and in fact planned on staying for an undetermined amount of time. It's where she bawled her eyes out, not because her decision made her unhappy, but because she knew the path opening before her would not be an easy one. To everyone else, Eliza, her friends in National City, it seemed weird then that Kara needed to be in Siobhan's country to learn how to define herself beyond her, but though she cried more than even Kara did, Alex understood. Alex always understands. So now, whenever her heart feels weary, Kara tries to carve a few hours out of her day so she can come sit here and attempt to patch her heavy soul with a decadent Irish coffee and a slice of apple pie.

She crosses over on O'Connell bridge and keeps a steady pace down Burgh Quay, catching her train just in time at Tara Street. It's raining more heavily again, and she lets herself fall on a window seat, resting her head on the cool glass as the train departs the station. Today is one of these days when nothing feels quite right ; the reason why she reached out to her sister across the ocean. It's no fault of her self imposed exile, Kara's heart has been burdensome for many years. Since her parents died actually, house fire, and she found herself shipped across a border to her last living relative who wasn't nearly ready to take care of her. She's thanked her lucky star often since then that the Danvers were willing to open their hearts to her and take her in even when she didn't speak a single word for two years.

She gets down at the last stop, Howth Railway Station, and, bypassing a couple of wet and haggard looking tourists, makes for the safety of her flat. Which is more of a studio really, a single square room with a small attached bathroom on the last floor of a stocky brick building overlooking the pier. A pub takes up the ground floor and its owner and her landlord, John, lives on the floor in between with his wife Megan. Kara herself lives alone. Well, there's Streaky, but the cat was already there when she moved in and though he sometimes curls up on her lap when she reads, she can't be sure he's not only staying out of convenience. Kara doesn't mind. It's dry here, warm, and there's food ; if she were a cat, she'd also be opportunistic.

He's right behind the door when she opens it, lounging in a weak ray of sun piercing through the clouds. He shrieks when she comes in, looking absolutely offended by the general concept of her existence, and darts away to the armchair she intended on sitting in. Rolling her eyes to no one's intention but her own, she toes off her boots, hangs her wet coat on the rack and sets to making herself a strong cup of tea and a grilled cheese. While her toast sizzles away in the pan, she potters around the room, opening the window and straightening the potted plants Streaky knocked askew while she was gone. The scents of the sea, briny, and of the rain, fresh, fill the room. When she sits down with her food, Streaky abandons the chair to jump on the table and allows her to smooth her free hand on his black fur while he sniffs around with careful disinterest.

"You've got food in your own bowl," Kara whispers.

He shows no sign of having even registered she's addressing him, and lays down, stretching to cover as much of the surface as possible. Kara continues petting him, eating her sandwich one handed.

Over the past five years, Kara has had to learn how to relax. Her life used to be much more fast paced, a rush of events one after the over governed by the imperious need to enjoy herself now lest the good things were no longer here later. Kara ran most of her life. From the moment her parents died, forcing her to uproot her entire life, she never stopped trying to catch up, caught in the whirlwind of events rushing around her, always just an inch out of her control.

A few months after she'd ended up on Clark's doorstep, he'd dropped her at the Danvers, and a few months after that Jeremiah had died, things always happening too fast, never leaving enough time for her to get a good grasp on them before they were just gone. Long before that, there'd been the move from France to Canada when she was barely five and the array of cities she never got to know because they were always on the move for work. And long after that her plane going down when Alex and her moved from Midvale to National City. She remembers with the upmost clarity what she felt then, before the pilot managed to land, Alex clinging to her arm, the oxygen mask digging into her face. She'd thought she was about to die, and she'd felt at peace.

Then there was Siobhan. And college courses squeezed in between endless parties. Pulsing lights, noise, the smell of cheap beer, Alex holding her hair back over the toilet bowl. The oasis that she thought she'd found in Siobhan and yet that thing within her that was always a step ahead of her, beyond her understanding. The engagement. The break up. Ireland, where she finally put down her roots. It's quiet here, not always in an easy way but there are long stretches of time when there is nothing to do, nowhere to be ; and she supposes that sometime after sitting down in a patch of humid grass, knees hugged close to her chest, heart ripped in two and barely beating, she's learned how to just be.

After she's done with her lunch, her dining table turns into her desk. She relaxes in her chair, grabs her laptop from where she set it down and turns her attention to some work she's been meaning to catch up on. Kara Danvers is many things. In National City, she was a business major with a knack for writing, and occasionally a bartender ; in Ireland, she's a librarian, a volunteer coast guard and, when inspiration strikes, a travel blogger. For the past five years, she's been recording her musings online, got her own domain name and everything ; and she's got some pictures she's been meaning to post from the last time she took a rental car across the country. If she doesn't update regularly, Eliza starts worrying she's dead ; and she can't really have her adoptive mother dropping everything every two months to fly across the world for her. Because Kara is fine, she really is. Even if she's half a world away.

The afternoon passes by slowly. She makes herself another cup of tea, unearths some biscuits from a cupboard. She's not on call today, but she keeps her phone close to her in case someone does something stupid and they need a big rescue team, and occupies her time with her pictures, some words, and by typing out a couple of poems she wrote on the back of restaurant receipts. She'll post them in a trickle over the next few weeks, maybe make it a series.

When the sun starts setting behind the clouds, she goes downstairs for a pint with John and they discuss small and big nothings over chips until the clouds part to reveal the moon and Kara decides it's time for bed. She buries under her quilt, it's always a bit chilly here at night, and falls asleep on her book with the light still on, Streaky dozing off at the foot of the bed.

 

Kara's weeks are pretty constant. She works at the library from Tuesday to Saturday mornings, trains with the coast guards on Saturday afternoons, and Sundays and Mondays are dedicated to reading, and the occasional outing in Dublin when she feels like walking around the National Gallery for a bit or sitting down in a coffee shop. Kara's weeks are pretty constant, her life pretty regular ; until they're not.

It starts something like that : it's a Tuesday morning and she's walking up Main Street, backpack slung over one shoulder, insulated mug of tea in one hand, the keys to the library in the other when she stops mid-stride, unaware at first of what startled her until she notices it. It being a deep red van parked right on the library's delivery spot. It's brand new, shiny in a somewhat unsettling way, the hubcaps so polished Kara thinks she could see her reflection in them if she were to bend to their level. Now, Kara won't pretend she could recognise every single car in the village, especially considering the streets are regularly overrun by tourists' vehicles and posh people have a way of switching cars every so often so they retain a "new" smell ; but this one is different. It's parked on her spot for starters.

She makes her way to it warily. The back doors are flung open, coming within an inch of the car right behind and someone is ruffling inside, dragging what appear to be crates this way or that. Kara lowers her headphones around her neck, regretfully abandoning The Cranberries a bit sooner than she would have wanted.

"Hello ?"

No reply.

"Hey !"

Still nothing.

And well, Kara is not a rude person, she prides herself, in fact, on being rather proper and polite ; but even she has her fucking limit. "Oi ! You're parked on my fecking spot !"

Inside the van, the person startles, fumbles and curses loudly, the sound of something heavy falling, and possibly breaking, reaching Kara's ears. The stomping of shoes on metal reaches her, she glances down to see a pair of black scuffed military boots and when she looks up, she forgets why she was mad in the first place.

Pale skin, sharp face with a jawline that could cut glass, clear green eyes, black hair, held back in a low ponytail ; the most gorgeous woman she's ever laid eyes on is standing in front of her, and she looks absolutely pissed. The woman jumps out of the van and crosses her arms on her chest. With her boots and Kara's own flat shoes, they come eye to eye, but she must be a good inch shorter, maybe two. She's got a scar under her left eyebrow, and a pair of earphones swung around her neck.

"Don't suppose you could have waited a bloody minute eh ?"

Kara blinks. Right. "Your car is parked on my spot," she says, trying to keep her voice even and measured, "and I'm expecting a delivery in twenty minutes."

"Couldn’t have known about that," the woman grumbles.

And well, the woman is right. The parking spot in front of the library isn't clearly marked as a loading zone, but Kara got so used to no one ever parking there that she forgot about that and is now pointing at her feet to an inexistent marking, like an idiot.

Kara bites her tongue, refusing to apologise. "Right. There's a loading zone across the street," she says, pointing to where two humongous white pickup trucks take up all of the space.

The woman looks at the trucks, then at her, the hint of a hint of a smile lifting a corner of her lips. "I know. Can't exactly squeeze myself between these two though can I ?" When Kara fails to answer, a little dumbstruck and fully out of her depth, she rolls her eyes. "I'll get out of your hair then."

Swiftly, she turns her back to Kara, grabs a cardboard box from the van and manages to manoeuvre between her, the doors, and the car parked behind them with much more grace than someone carrying what appears to be a literal ton of books ought to have. She crosses the street without looking, almost causing a car crash, and disappears on the other side of the road in what used to be a Centra grocery shop. Left behind and reeling Kara stares until she's out of sight then forces herself to shake off the encounter and lets herself inside of the library. The red van is gone before her daily newspapers delivery arrives, but the incident, relatively minor and inconsequential, still throws her off for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday, the two white trucks are parked across the street again, but the red van is nowhere in sight. She spends a considerable part of the day looking out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the dark haired woman, until some utter fool upturns their boat and she's called away for a rescue mission, leaving Nia in charge.

On Thursday morning, and for the first time in three years, she's late. She misses the newspapers and hand-delivered apology donuts from who Nia describes as "the most handsome man" she's ever laid her eyes on.

"He was surprised I wasn't blonde," Nia says, narrowing her eyes in suspicion, "but I know you would have told me if you'd met my soulmate."

Last month Nia's soulmate was the hotdog vendor at the market, and the month before that, one of Kara's old college friend, passing by on his Europe tour. He was in Dublin for exactly three hours.

"I don't think I've met him actually," Kara says in between two bites of an exceptional strawberry sprinkles donut. She hasn't had one of these since the last time she was in National City and she savours the taste, closing her eyes for a moment. "But his coworker perhaps. Was he apologising about the van situation ?"

Nia shrugs and takes another donut. "No idea. But there's gonna be some sort of café situation across the street. I think. I wasn't really listening to the words."

By Friday morning the storefront across the street has been painted a deep red, not unlike the van, and the Centra Kara used to buy cheap sandwiches from has definitely left place to KIERAN'S, books, tea & coffee. The windows are obscured with thin paper but someone, who she assumes is Nia's current soulmate, is busy putting up a placard in front of the shop when Kara crosses the street to get a better look.

The man straightens up awkwardly when Kara reaches him, and takes a wide step back, hands clasped in front of him. He's wearing an apron, covered in flour, and has rolled up his sleeves to his elbows, revealing lean but muscular forearms. Kara can definitely see the appeal. The placard at his feet is somewhat severe, covered in neat blocky writing, but a chalk rainbow at the bottom livens it up a bit.

KIERAN'S, BOOKS, TEA & COFFEE
GRAND OPENING THIS SATURDAY
10AM-8PM
BUY A BOOK, GET A COOKIE !

🌈

"Good morning," he says in a stilted voice, "we are not open."

Kara tilts her head towards the board. "I can see that." The words come out wrong, more sarcastic than she intended them to be and she hurries to add something kinder. "Thanks for the donuts, they were wonderful."

"My sister Lena was extremely embarrassed about her behaviour. You will have to forgive her, she does not do well with stress."

Kara shrugs. "It's okay. Happens to the best of us."

The man remains silent for a moment. He eyes her inquisitively and Kara gets the feeling he's submitting her to an evaluation she hasn't been made privy to. His gaze is slightly unnerving but eventually, he nods and Kara knows, somehow, that she's passed his test.

"My name is Querl," he says, "but I would rather you call me Brainy. I bake here."

Kara begins to extend her hand, but Brainy does not reciprocate and she lets it drop back to her side, swinging her arm back and forth like she always intended on doing so. "Kara," she says. "Danvers. I lend books across the street."

"I know," Brainy says. "You are invited to the opening."

"We close at noon," Kara says. "Nia and I will be there."

She looks for a change in his composure at the mention of Nia's name, a flicker in his eyes or the twitch of an eyebrow, but he remains unfazed and though it doesn't really mean anything, she feels a twinge of disappointment on her coworker’s behalf.

Just then, a bell jiggles and the door of the brand new coffee-bookshop opens wide onto the street. Its window sends a glare of light on the wet pavement and Kara follows it. When she looks up, the woman from the van, Lena, is leaning against the frame, legs crossed at the ankle. Like her brother, she's rolled up her sleeves, but she's not wearing an apron ; only a loose purple sweater and dark cuffed jeans with a white paint stain on one knee. Her hands, pale and wide, are covered in blue ink.

"There'll be lemon drizzle cake," she says in a low smooth voice ; so smooth in fact that it annoys Kara a little. "That's about the only thing I know how to do but I wanted to help. Do something more than putting books on shelves."

"Well if there's lemon drizzle cake," Kara croaks, "I can't miss it."

"I will leave you two," Brainy says. "It was a pleasure meeting you Kara Danvers."

"Likewise," Kara replies to his back because he's already turned around to walk back inside. Lena squeezes his shoulder when he walks past her, the gesture firm but exuding the distinct intimacy of familiarity in a way that reminds her of Alex. After only a handful of seconds in their combined presence, she already knows Lena has squeezed her brother's shoulder just like that a thousand times.

The moment Brainy is out of sight, Lena's behaviour changes completely. In a continuous jerky motion, she straightens up and brings her hands before her, writhing her fingers before she intertwines them to stop them from moving. She's trying to project confidence and strength, but got betrayed by flighty hands in a way Kara is extremely familiar with ; her own limbs rarely being at rest when she's nervous. She finds it cute, and smiles when Lena squares her shoulders a little more.

"I wanted to apologise," Lena says, "about the other day. I'm not usually rude but I was extremely stressed and stress tends to make me angry. This is in no way an excuse, more of an explanation really. Anyway I shouldn't have taken it out on a complete stranger and I'm sorry."

Kara tilts her head to the side, trying to catch her gaze. Lena ducks her own head to avoid it, and as she does so, her eyes get caught in a glint of sunlight, the ray rendering them almost translucent. For a brief second, Kara forgets how to speak. She stares as the sun moves across Lena's face, turning her eyes into a clear ocean.

"I- Um-" She stops and clears her throat, feeling a deep blush rising on her cheeks. "It's okay. Apology accepted."

Lena lifts her head abruptly. "That's all ?"

"Well yeah," Kara says, wondering exactly what is wrong with what she said. She straightens her glasses ; Lena's eyes flicker up to follow the motion. "Like you said, we're literal strangers. All we have to be is civil towards each other and I don't want a stupid incident to fester into animosity if we're gonna work across from each other."

"That- That makes sense."

"Plus," Kara adds after a second, "I wasn't exactly polite either, and I apologise for that. I've been campaigning for years for this spot to be turned into a delivery zone because I need it for the library and I get a little annoyed when people park there. You didn't know and it wasn't your fault."

A nascent smile stretches Lena's lips. "Apology accepted," she says, echoing Kara's earlier words. "Clean slate ?"

Kara hesitates for a split second. Lena has extended a hand for her to shake and the moment feels heavier than it should ; like if Kara shakes her hand, she'll step on the other side of a line she didn't even know was there a moment before. That split second must last for longer than she thinks because Lena's smile falls and she begins to retract her hand. Kara stumbles over herself to grab it and shakes it just a bit too vigorously. She pole vaults over that line and into the unknown and knows, before she's even landed, that her life has just been irremediably changed by a stranger and a hand shake.

"Clean slate."

"I’ll come and lay my tribute on your grave :
Green holly, gathered tight with ling in flower."

- Demain dès l’aube, Victor Hugo, translated by Timothy Adès

Saturday morning drags on and on, driving Kara to a near unmanageable frustration. A throng of people come in back to back, some to complain about lateness fees (not her problem), others to complain about their weeks (also not her problem), holding up the queue in the process. She's usually much more compassionate, ready to lend a kind ear to everyone's trouble ; but today, she just wants everyone to crack on so she can cross the street and try Lena's lemon drizzle cake.

When noon approaches, Nia is the one who starts ushering everyone out, scanning books at the speed of light and dumping returns in a box to be dealt with later. She's wearing a non-weather appropriate summer dress, yellow with printed leafs in various shades of green, and a thick knitted cardigan. Heavy waterproof boots complete the look ; it's supposed to rain later. Kara herself agonised over her outfit for a good part of the previous night ultimately deciding on what she wears almost everyday. A flannel shirt tucked under a cream sweater, jeans, dark brown versatile boots, and a scarf and coat she hopes to ditch once she's in the coffee shop. Simple, practical, reassuring ; no need to make a big deal out of a possible interaction with the most gorgeous woman to ever walk upon the Earth. She still rearranges her hair in the small bathroom before leaving, her collar too. Just because it's not a big deal doesn't mean she can't be presentable. Her poor attempt at casualness doesn't go unnoticed by Nia who, for her part, isn't trying to pretend she doesn't care. She snickers, Kara blushes, and her phone goes off with a coast guard alert when they're barely halfway through crossing the street.

She stops dead in her tracks, Nia colliding with her back with a pained little "oomf."

"Oi ! Warn a girl will you ? You're harder than a brick wall Kara."

Kara gives nothing more than a cursory glance to her phone before accepting the notification, letting the station know she's on her way.

"I have to go."

"Oh. Okay." Nia rubs at her arm, maybe more because of the gust of wind that just descended on the street than because she's making fun of Kara's muscle density. "I'll let our new friends know you're busy saving people then."

Kara barely reacts beyond a nod, already too focused on the task at hand, and takes off in a fast run down the street. Maybe it's time she invests in a car.

She reaches the station just when Sam pulls up in her car, the tires screeching on the asphalt. She's got a weird stain on her shirt and her hair is everywhere but somehow also contained in her bun. Jack is already suited up and shoving climbing gear in the back of a van.

"Some lad fell off the cliff !" he yells when Kara comes rushing past him. He shouts something else, but she only catches the word "weather" through the layers of her sweater and shirt she's ripping over her head.

"What's good with weather warnings if people aren't going to listen to them," Sam mumbles around a mouthful of her own sweater.

Kara shrugs, too busy shoving her thermal shirt in her waterproof trousers to come up with a better answer than "tourists."

John comes running by, already dressed, safety helmet tucked under his arm. "You've got two minutes." Kara will never understand how he's just always ready to go before everyone else but she yells an affirmative anyway and sits down to lace her boots.

"Where's Ruby ?"

"Home. Watching Moana. The sitter's on her way."

Kara zips up her jacket and grabs a helmet. "Good."

She's ready a fraction of a second before Sam, which means she's now two points ahead in their little silly race and she darts out of the station and into the front passenger seat of the van. Sam follows at a more leisurely pace holding in her hand two security harnesses.

"It doesn't count if you forget half your gear," she laughs before throwing it her way and buckling herself in the back seat. Jack peels off the pavement before the door is even fully closed.

"Some lad," as Jack described him, did fall off the cliff but thankfully tumbled down to a rocky protuberance. From where they stand, it's impossible to know if he's alive, but the clothes he shed on various branches and bushes probably slowed his fall enough to raise his chances to 50/50.

It takes them hours to secure a path to him and for Kara and Sam to rappel down with a gurney. The wind and the proximity to the cliff mean they can't reach him with the helicopter, and they have to rely on their expertise and their trust in their teammates to reach him and bring him up, metre by metre, each step more dangerous than the last. Several times they have to stop, both on the way down and up, so that Kara can properly evaluate where they should put their feet to avoid a partial collapse of the cliff.

When they reach the top of the cliff again and the paramedics take the hiker away, Kara falls ass first into the grass, exhausted. Her mind is blurred by the hours of razor sharp focus she just went through and her fingers are raw and numb, even through her gloves. She often thinks, in moments like these, when the worst has passed and she can rest, about her colleagues working in more dangerous parts of the island. Here, accidents are few and far between. A broken ankle or a dehydrated hiker who managed to get lost on the easy trail are a common occurrence ; but someone taking a plunge off the cliff is so rare that it’s only the second time she’s had to rappel down the rocky surface for any other reason than training.

John plops down next to her, passes her a thermos of tepid tea and pats her shoulder. "Paramedics said the young man is alive, we can rest now. You did good today Kara."

Kara chuckles, her laugh weak with exhaustion. "Go tell that to Sam," she croaks, pointing at the figure of her friend currently hunched over a bush and trying to empty her already empty stomach. Jack is rubbing a comforting hand between her shoulder blades.

"Sit for a minute, I'll get started on packing up. Then we can go down to the pub and celebrate a life well saved."

"What time is it ?" Kara asks, tugging at her various layers to try and reach her watch.

"A little after five."

"Fuck." She presses her face into her hands. "I have somewhere to be."

A fatherly smile stretches John’s mouth. He looks at her with a curious expression, one that reminds Kara of Jeremiah in a way that hurts only a little. "Go then," he says. "We'll pack up. I'll send Sam home too."

"You sure ?"

"Positive. Go Kara. Honour your appointment."

She wobbles up as best as she can, knees weak, arms already sore, and starts traipsing down to the village. She hopes there's some cake left.

 

The rain that has been looming around for the entire day finally breaks out when Kara is only halfway there, each drop landing with a devastating precision, seeping under her collar, blurring her glasses, freezing her to the bone. She doesn't usually mind the rain, she's used to it, water is wet, it rains in Ireland, what else ? Today however, she would have rather not have one more thing added to her plate.

She takes shelter at a bus stop, exhales longly, and wipes her glasses on her thermal undershirt. They fog up immediately when she slips them back on her nose. She doesn't have her Leap Card with her, can picture with pinpoint precision where she left it, on her kitchen counter, in the decorative plate she found at the flea market and uses to store everything from her keys to half empty tubes of Polo Mints and dubiously clean handkerchiefs. It's Saturday anyway, and the bus won't be there for another twenty minutes. She entertains for a while the idea of waiting for it and going straight home to a boiling shower and a cup of tea ; but she told Brainy she would be here, and honouring her promise feels disproportionately important so she puts her hood up, and walks back out into the rain.

The shop is packed when Kara finally arrives and when she opens the door, she's met with an impenetrable wall of people, like all of Howth and then some decided that this was the place to be on a rainy Saturday afternoon. She can see the appeal for sure. From what she can see of the shop, it's cozy and inviting ; warm. The walls are covered with books from floor to ceiling and the chairs in the coffee shop area are all mismatched, giving off an impression of homeliness. The cheap linoleum floor of the grocery store has been replaced with what looks like authentic and expensive wood. Wood that Kara is currently dripping all over.

She wads her way further inside clumsily, her body feeling thrice the size it actually is. Thankfully, the stench of wet dog she gives off means the crowd parts in front of her and she reaches the counter with minimum damage if a few dirty looks. Lena is behind it, handing a heavy paper bag and a long receipt to someone. There's ink on her skin again, this time on her cheek ; and for how cold Kara feels, her insides heat up instantly when Lena lays her eyes on her.

"Kara !"

Kara clears her throat. "Sorry I'm late."

Lena waves her apology off with a light hand. "It's okay. Your coworker said you're with the Garda Cósta. You didn't even have to come, I would have understood."

Kara shrugs. "I said I would."

Lena smiles, soft and slow. "Okay."

Behind Kara, a queue is rapidly forming, and at the other counter, Brainy is fending off people waving their receipts in his face for the "buy a book get a cookie" scheme. He's wearing noise cancelling headphones and a disgruntled frown is creasing his forehead.

Lena sighs. "Brainy needs help. I think. I saved you a slice of lemon cake. I didn't expect so many people to turn up. It's probably the rain."

Kara doesn't have any time to reassure her before she slides a slice of cake, wrapped in a cloth napkin, from under her counter, shoves it in her hand, and runs to her brother's help.

There's a miraculous free chair in a corner and she makes her way to it, draping her wet coat over the back before she plops down on it and takes a bite out of her cake. She moans loudly at the taste, drawing a few surprised looks ; the cake is heavenly, perfectly moist and citrusy. That, and the out of date cereal bar she found in the glove box of the van doesn't exactly count as lunch so she hasn't really eaten since breakfast this morning. She tries not to wolf it down, but it still disappears much too quickly for her taste and she finds herself licking her fingers hungrily, lapping at the few crumbs stuck there. Her stomach isn't exactly full, but she's feeling better now, and doubly so when Lena rushes to her with a cup of tea and runs back before she can even say thank you.

Kara doesn't know exactly how long she remains here, sitting, with her cup of tea pressed to her chest, the warmth seeping through her thermal shirt ; but she's still here when the rain stars abating and the brunt of the visitors starts to trickle out, most with a paper bag full of books tucked safely under their arms.

When the room is a little less crowded, Kara takes it in. It's larger than it looked when it was full, but just as homely as she first perceived it to be. The floor is made of sturdy dark reddish wood, the colour matching the shelves that run along the walls. Part of the room is taken up by long tables, just as sturdy looking though they're crawling under piles upon piles of books that might have been neatly arranged when the shop opened this morning, but are now in complete disarray like a miniature tornado wrecked through them. The side of the room Kara is in houses the coffee shop with round tables, chairs of various provenances, and a comforting smell of coffee, sugar and warm bread. The lights are dimmer on this side, yellowish almost, and they create such a pleasant and reassuring atmosphere that Kara half expects her mum to come striding in, blazer swung over one arm, bun half undone after a long day at work ; the fact that her mother has been dead for almost fifteen years now is nothing but a mere detail.

Kara gets up after a while, brings her cup back to the counter and starts walking around the room, slowly, perusing the titles as she goes, thinking she'll pick up something for herself. Technically speaking, she can order any book she wants to read and pass it off as a purchase for the library, but there's something about owning a book, about it belonging to her and only her, that makes it different. The shelves lining the walls are mostly filled with secondhand books. Not all are ancients, most of them in fact are bright paperbacks with cracked spines, but her fingers and eyes stop on a thin leather bound book with no title. She hesitates before pulling it out, her breath catching in her throat. The golden lettering on the cover is gone, probably because of the rubbing alcohol that Kara can still smell. It's been used to clean soot, but nothing erased the distinctive scorch marks.

"Bought this one at a flea market in Canada. Never read it so I thought I'd put it up for sale."

Kara startles, and when she turns around, she finds that the shop is desert save for Lena.

"It's French. I have a few books in foreign languages I picked up here and there. Do you read French ?"

"I am French," Kara says, the words heavy in her mouth.

Lena arches an eyebrow. "You don't sound French."

"I moved to Canada when I was little. Then California. The accent got lost in translation."

She must say it too harshly, must sound too bereft, because Lena doesn't answer anything beyond a whispered "oh."

Kara turns the book over in her hands, it feels heavier than it is. She never really looked for it ; they said everything was lost in the fire and yet here it is. The tattoo under her left breast feels brand new again, searing on her skin. She slips a finger under the cover and peers inside. There, right above the title, scribbled in a faded handwriting, is her mother's name.

"I'll take it."

 

She walks home with a free slice of apple pie, slightly soggy from spending the day in a display case, and the book, both wrapped in a paper bag stamped with KIERAN'S in big red letters. It's not raining anymore, but the air retained a slight pleasant humidity, and Kara keeps her jacket open, letting it cool her flushed skin. She tucks the paper bag under her arm, afraid that the perceived heaviness of the book will rip it open in the middle of the street. She's got a very clear vision of her slice of pie ending up in a muddy puddle of water and the very thought of it upsets her beyond reason.

At home, she spends an inordinate amount of time under the scorching stream of the shower, going through the motion of cleaning herself only once the water starts turning cold. She abandons the book on her bedside table and makes a dinner out of the pie and a cup of tea ; a nauseous sensation swims in her stomach, and she's not really hungry anymore.

Now that it's in her possession, she wonders if she should have bought the book ; she didn't really think it through. Didn't really think at all to be honest. Once she'd seen her mother's name on the first page, it was game over for rational thinking. It's just that for the past fifteen years, the only thing she's had of her is the necklace hanging from her neck, and when she saw the book, she just had to have it. Now that she does have it in her possession, she's not so sure anymore. She probably won't even read it, hasn't read anything in French for such a long time she isn't even sure the words would make any sense to her. The last time she had any interest in this country at all was when she reclaimed her European citizenship to facilitate her move to Ireland, and that was five years ago already. She considers stashing the book in a shoe box and in a cupboard, out of sight, but it doesn't seem fair ; not to her mother, and not to the poor deceased French lad who slaved over these words. So she keeps it where it is, on her bedside table, and video-calls Alex instead.

Well she doesn't call Alex out of the blue, she texts first. No need for a repeat of the one and only time Kara called without warning and her sister answered out of habit while she was butt naked in bed with her girlfriend. This scarred her enough for a lifetime. She keeps busy with a collage of silly tasks while she waits for the call, rummaging around for her good pair of fluffy socks, the one which don't slip from her feet, attempting to get Streaky to settle on the bed, with little success, making herself another cup of tea, and counting down from a hundred to keep herself from crying. When Alex finally calls her, five minutes later, she settles in bed with her laptop, her cup of tea, new scratches on her forearm, and promptly bursts into tears.

Here's the thing about Alex : without her, Kara wouldn't be alive. Plain and simple. If when Kara first lost everything Alex hadn't stepped up and caught her, she just wouldn't be there. They'd known each other for a while already before the adoption, courtesy of her parents regularly shipping her off to the Kents for the summer and Clark's parents repeatedly camping in the same area as the Danvers. They saw each other for three weeks every August during five years, and though they never felt the need to write to each other during autumn or winter or spring, Kara had always enjoyed the relative steadiness of having a summer friend. And then in the blink of an eye, Alex had become all she had. And she wanted so much then, to have just died with her parents, that if Alex hadn't moved her mattress into her room and hadn't guarded her night after night, long after Kara'd stopped screaming in her sleep, she truly believes she would have set herself on fire.

Here's the other thing about Alex : she doesn't ask stupid questions. No "are you okay ?", not even a "what's wrong ?" ; she just lets her cry until Kara's shoulders have stopped shaking then gets up to make herself a cup of tea and they drink in companionable silence for a while like no ocean stands in between them. Kara is pretty sure she can see the scorched anthology of François Coppée on her bedside table but she doesn't ask about that either. Instead, they discuss small nothings and make plans for Alex and Kelly to visit soon. She falls asleep on the call and when she wakes up the next morning, laptop precariously balanced on the side of the bed, Alex has moved her own laptop into her bedroom and is reading in her own bed ; keeping an eye on her just like she's always done.

 

Despite falling asleep rather late and getting up quite early, Kara does not spend the day lounging around. She's tired, but a bigger part of her refuses to lay still and after a poor attempt at reading and another at trying to catch up with a show Nia keeps on pestering her about, she sets to deep cleaning her entire studio, throwing the windows open, dusting every surface, bleaching the small bathroom and mopping the floor. She eats her lunch perched on the kitchen table while she waits for the floor to dry, then, still restless, she grabs her coat, shoves her feet in her boots and goes for a walk.

The clouds are low, purple, and menacing, but she's gotten good at knowing when it's going to rain and she's got a couple of hours before her before the sky unleashes its fury. It's not too windy either, so it's a good time for a tour of the cliffs ; she can't risk falling herself when her whole deal is to prevent over people from doing just that. Part of Kara's volunteer work with the Garda Cósta is to monitor the coast so on her walk, she monitors. There's a part of the path near the summit that's been slowly caving in for several years now. It branches off there, splitting between the green trail and the harder purple one and there used to be a sign but it's fell off several time now and hikers keep on getting lost.

Hiking in Howth doesn't really require any experience, just good shoes and a modicum of common sense, but lately Kara has noticed more and more people complaining about this specific part of the path, about how they found themselves cutting through and climbing back to the parking lot on accident because of the broken sign and sure enough when she arrives there, it's been toppled again and the arrows definitely don't point where they should point. Grateful that she remembered to take her gloves, she squats to widen the hole around the base, then with a few well placed kicks, she rights the pole and shoves it deeper into the ground by throwing her entire weight on it.

She claps her hands a few times to get rid of the clumpy earth, and huffs. They had a lad come in from Dublin last year to take a look at the path, and take a look he did. Then he rode off into the sunset and they never heard from him again so she really hopes there won't be an accident, even if so far it is true that luck has been with them. She takes a step away from the pole, and immediately backs off into someone.

"Sorry mate," she grumbles, "didn't see you there."

She's not really in the mood for people right now, but when she turns around, she comes face to face with Brainy.

"Good afternoon Kara," he says, "I did see you there." He's standing remarkably still, head tilted to the side, hands joined in front of him by the tip of his fingers. "What are you doing ?"

"Securing the path. So hikers don't get lost. That's my job."

At that, Brainy frowns. "I thought you were a librarian," he says.

"I am. And I’m also a coast guard." She pauses, straightens her glasses. "Though I don’t get paid for that one, it’s volunteer work," she continues, "so maybe that’s not really a job. Anyway, I'm a librarian, and a coast guard. And I also have a blog."

Her own explanation confuses her to no end but Brainy nods and his face lights up so she supposes at least one of them got something out of it.

"Okay," he says, "I understand. Do you want to walk with me, or do you have coast guard duties to attend to ?"

Kara inclines her head towards a section of the path. "We can walk," she says.

They walk in silence for a few minutes, the sound of their boots on gravel and of the waves washing down below making up for the lack of conversation. There's no real urge to talk, just a sense of peace that Kara feels with very few people. Still, she has questions, and after a while, she resolves to ask them albeit in a roundabout way. "I thought you'd be open on Sundays."

"We are."

She expects more, but when nothing comes, she presses. "You're not at the shop."

Brainy turns his head minutely to look at her and his mouth twists. His expression says it all ; obviously, he's not at the shop if he's here with her. "I am done with my baking, and Lena is handling our customers. We are going to hire more people so we can be open consistently."

He refocuses his gaze forward and shoves his hands deep in his pockets, walking resolutely. A moment later, he extracts his right hand from his pocket and there is a wide smooth rock resting in his palm, he rubs his thumb on it slowly, then hides it again.

"You can put an ad at the library. If you want."

"Thank you," Brainy says, "Lena will appreciate it."

They fall back into silence as they walk to the lighthouse and from there loop back to the village. Brainy, Kara decides as they tread side by side, is a little odd. Not in a bad way, mind you ; in fact, she finds his presence strangely comforting, and doesn't feel the need to fill the silence again until they arrive at the coffee-bookshop.

It wasn't really Kara's intention to go there today but now that they're here, she follows Brainy inside without really thinking about it. It's less full than it was the day before, but a good number of people are still milling around, evenly split between the coffee shop and the bookshelves. It smells heavenly inside, like coffee and something fruity, fresh bread, and, underneath it all, faintly of paper and wood wax. It's the kind of smell that brings instant peace, and Kara wants to wrap herself in it like it's a blanket fresh out of the dryer. She realises, when the door opens behind her and someone clears their throat, that she's remained in the way and she makes her way to the counter where Brainy already is, clean apron tied around his waist, sleeved rolled up to his elbows.

She points at a blueberry muffin in the display case, golden, crispy, with fruit spilling out of it. "Can I have a cup of tea with that ?" she asks. Brainy smiles, nods, and points to an empty table ; he’ll bring it to her. Somehow, in the last hour or so they spent walking together, they seem to have reached the mutual agreement that sometimes words are superfluous.

The table he directed her to is low and only has one seat, a club armchair covered in blue striped fabric. When she settles in it, it's like an embrace. The muffin melts into her mouth and the tea is strong, the combination finally clearing her mind of the fog that settled over it the previous day. Outside, it starts raining, just like she knew it would. She lets herself be carried by the murmur of conversations as she observes the little slice of world around her. She's got the very very distant memory of a place somewhat like this one that her mother once took her to in Paris, a bookshop and an adjacent café, a mug of chocolate bigger than her hands. She remembers throwing the tantrum of the century because she didn't want to be there ; she kinda regrets it now, though there’s nothing she can do about it.

She looks as a mother wrestles a small child in a thick coat, a few feet away, friends embrace on the threshold, lingering enough in the open doorway that the scent of rain reaches her. Further away again, Lena is chatting with a couple holding hands as she shows them various art books. Kara imagines that they're picking a housewarming gift. Here's something she doesn't think about much : it gets kinda lonely here sometimes. Sure she's got Nia, but maybe she's more of a coworker than she is a friend ; she certainly doesn't call her when she feels like crying about her dead parents. There's John too, they get drinks from time to time, but he's mostly her landlord ; and as for Sam and Jack, they're acquaintances more than anything else. She'll call Alex again tonight probably, tell her about the book, and Alex will offer to go put flowers on her mum's grave for her and things will be a little more alright again.

Her cup is empty, her muffin long gone ; it's time to go home. But as she goes to get up, hand outstretched behind her for her coat, a shadow moves in the corner of her eyes. When she looks up, Lena is here. She's wearing a maroon sweatshirt today, slightly too big for her, with the sleeves pushed to her elbows and faded white writing on the chest. She smiles hesitantly. Kara's heart does a loop-the-loop which is frankly inconvenient. Lena opens her mouth. For some reason, Kara expects poetry to spill out of it, maybe because her own mind is suddenly overflowing with stupid rhymes, but what Lena says is much more common and disappointing.

"We're closing soon. Sorry."

Kara pushes on her feet and finishes getting up. "Sorry," she echoes, "I didn't see the time. I was thinking about, things."

Lena's smile widens. Kara's heart does another funny and out of place dance move. "I also think about things sometimes."

Lena's smile devolves into a frown and Kara's insides ignite with the need to make her smile again. Distantly, she realises she might have a bit of a crush but it's okay, a little yearning makes life that much more interesting.

"Brainy said you were looking to hire. If you write an ad for me I can put it up at the library. We have a job board."

"You talked to Brainy ?" Lena sounds surprised. No, not surprised, more puzzled maybe.

"I did," Kara says. "He was walking, I was walking, we bumped into each other and walked together."

Lena's gaze becomes piercing. Kara gets the feeling that she's being assessed ; she hopes Lena likes what she finds in her. For a long second, there seems to be something on the tip of her tongue. What, Kara cannot say ; but what she knows is that Lena is fiercely protective of her brother and it reminds her, to some extent, of the way Alex is when it comes to her. Harsh, to the point of violence, towards anyone who comes near her with unclear intentions. Kara wants to tell her that she has no intentions towards her brother, other than friendship maybe, that she might however have some towards her, but Lena cuts her short, speaking again.

"My brother and I-" she begins before she seems to think better of it, and chooses another approach. "Brainy's not really a people person. I'm surprised is all."

She glances over her shoulder and Kara follows her gaze to where Brainy is busy putting the few remaining baked goods in white cardboard boxes, maybe to be donated. He seems to be talking to himself but they're too far to hear him, and he seems content, at ease.

Lena smiles softly when she looks at him ; when she looks back at Kara, that smile falls a little. She clears her throat. "Anyway. I'm just surprised. He seems to like your coworker, Nia, so I'm glad he's making friends. Surprised, but glad."

It's the second time she's said it, that she's "surprised," but Kara doesn't think she ought to point it out. The conversation sort of dies after that and Kara regretfully leaves with the promise that Lena will bring her a small job ad on Tuesday morning. She doesn't know her enough yet to really dig into what seems to be simmering within her but what she knows is that there is something there, something to unravel, and she hopes she can be the one who does that, that Lena lets her get to know her. And that she wants to know her too.

 

Thus is born Kara's new routine. Granted it's not that big of a change and Kara's upbringing has moulded her into a remarkably adaptable being, but it's still different from what she's used to. For starters, the other side of the street is no longer occupied by the empty shell of a supermarket, and when Kara raises her head from her desk she can sometimes catch sight of Lena's silhouette, blurred behind the window but unmistakable. If she opens her own window and the wind is blowing the right way, she can occasionally catch a whiff of baked goods, sugar, coffee, which is much much better than the lingering scent of dog piss that seems to accompany every decommissioned place. She can't always keep the window open though because since meeting Brainy, Nia seems to have forever shunned weather appropriate clothing and shows up to work each day with more and more ludicrous outfits. It seems to work however because on a day she closes late and Nia has left a little early, she notices her talking to him outside of the bookshop, wearing a jacket that is very obviously not hers. Kara wonders if maybe she should start walking around in a tank top but she's unsure of how bright of an idea that is. She'd risk catching her death for one, and she doesn't think Lena would lend her her coat.

Because if Brainy isn't a "people person," Lena doesn't seem to be one either. She's customer savvy, for sure, and Kara rarely sees anyone leaving the shop without a book under their arm ; but when it comes to less scripted social interactions she's stilted, downright guarded, and the few times Kara tries to start a conversation with her, Lena looks so awkward and out of her depth that she has no other solution but to bring it back to books so she can roll out her sales speech. In the weeks following KIERAN'S opening, Kara buys more books than in the cumulated twenty-eight years of her existence. She knows it's a bit silly, that it's an awful lot of money to funnel into a crush, but the smile on Lena's face every time she purchases something makes the growing pile of books at the foot of her bed entirely worth it.

Kara goes to KIERAN'S for lunch on Tuesdays, trading her usual sandwich for a slice of apple pie and a coffee topped with heavy whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles, as well as on Thursdays. On Saturday afternoons, once she's done training and barring any emergencies, she settles there with a cup of tea, a muffin, and whichever book Lena manages to sell her. On Sundays, if she's feeling too blue to be on her own or doesn't want to take the train all the way to Dublin, she creates a work space for herself at one of the tables and updates her blog or video-calls Alex. When she starts coming with a semblance of consistency, she notices the low table with the striped armchair is always free ; it's not much, but Kara's always enjoyed the permanence of things. On Mondays, the shop is closed, and this even after Lena's hired two young women, Eve, who always put extra rainbow sprinkles on Kara's coffee, and Jess, who's a bit more stern, but endlessly polite, and who always bags Kara's books with neat precision, slipping in a bookmark with the shop's opening hours even if Kara already has a dozen of them.

After a while, she starts leaving them on the library's circulation desk ; it's better than finding them everywhere in her studio, including, but not limited to, her cutlery drawer, wedged between her sheets and her blanket, and in the soap dish in her shower. How it got into that last place is anyone's guess but it's a clear sign the bookmarks will find a better use in the library. They're beautifully designed though, red with gold lettering on one side and watercolour landscapes on the other. Kara wants to ask Lena if she paints, but she's never the one handing her the bookmarks and every time she thinks of bringing it up, it rests unnaturally on her tongue before she's even uttered the words. She doesn't really understand why ; maybe because it would be too far from the strict customer/bookseller relationship Lena is trying to maintain. And she's trying hard. Or maybe it's Kara who's coming on a little too strong.

 

It's raining. Like raining raining ; torrential downpour, water falling in sheets so thick Kara can barely see an inch out the window. She'd been looking forward to a lunch break across the street but the idea of literally having to swim through the air to get there is seriously making her reconsider. There's not really anything to eat there though. Kara's been progressively phasing out her snack stash because Brainy often brings leftovers that she and Nia have taken to leaving out along with a can of 0.99 cents instant coffee and a truly frightening amount of tea samples for readers to enjoy. Yesterday was Monday however, so there are no leftovers, not even a stale croissant. Well there was a stale croissant, but Nia shoved it in her mouth around 10am and didn't leave one crumb behind. She's getting up from her desk now, and putting on a thick rain coat over her dress.

"You're going out ?" Kara asks, out of sheer human habit and not because she can't understand that Nia's motions do in fact indicate that she intends on going outside.

Nia shrugs. "I'm hungry."

"You're gonna drown."

Nia barks out a laugh. "And they say I'm dramatic." She stops halfway through zipping up her coat. "Aren't you coming ? Or is there a secret food stash I'm not aware of ? It is Tuesday, right ?"

Kara inclines her head towards the couple of teenagers snogging in the stacks ; this is not exactly library appropriate conduct but she cannot pretend she didn't have her fair share of semi-public PDA growing up.

Nia glances down at her watch, rolls her eyes, and loudly claps her hands. "Oi ! We're closing for lunch !"

Kara startles at the volume of her voice and the teenagers spring apart and scutter out at breakneck speed.

"My mum had me do theatre in high school to, and I quote, 'channel' my energy," Nia says in lieu of an explanation. "I'm very good at projecting my voice."

"I didn't know that," Kara says, slipping her arms into her own rain jacket.

Nia shrugs again. "It's on my resume. Theatre for three years and I also ran track. I was a very restless teen. You know, of the 'Nia is bright but needs to focus more in class' kind."

Kara feels her cheeks flush. It's not a new realisation, she's thought about it multiple times before, but she's really been taking this proximity friendship with Nia for granted, didn't really make an effort to truly get to know her beside the astronomical amount of information her coworker volunteers on an almost daily basis. She knows what kind of yoghurt she enjoys more (strawberry) and her coffee order by heart (almond latte with an extra espresso shot and a sprinkle of cinnamon), but she's never asked about her family or where she grew up or how old she was when she arrived in Ireland, and she feels sheepish all of a sudden, and unworthy of Nia and her friendship.

"We should hang out sometime," she says before she can stop herself or find a better way of formulating it.

Nia eyes her with suspicion. "We hang out everyday."

"I meant outside of work," Kara adds. "Friends do that, don't they ?"

Nia keeps on staring at her, completely silent.

"We are friends, right ?"

"You're being weird," Nia says slowly. "Of course we're friends. What brought that about ?"

It's Kara's turn to shrug. She feels very awkward ; vulnerable. "I don't know," she lies. "Just," she adds because that's not nearly enough, "I realised I'm not really making an effort, I want to be a better friend."

"You are a good friend Kara," Nia says, tilting her head to the side with a peculiar sort of tenderness. "You took me under your wing and I would have been completely lost without you. Just because we never get drinks or hang out outside of work doesn't mean we're not friends."

"Okay." Kara's voice cracks on these two syllables. She wants to disappear, but has a feeling Nia won't let her do that.

"If you wanna get pissed on a Saturday night though, I'm all for that too, but we're already friends, so stop being weird because I'm hungry and you're scheduled for one of your weird flirting sessions with Lena."

"Lena and I don't flirt !" Kara exclaims, her voice echoing loudly in the silence of the library.

"If you say so," Nia shrugs, "I’m not an expert in sapphic mating rituals."

Before they leave for the coffee shop, Nia reaches to hug her. It's a brief embrace, tinted with hesitancy, but it fixes a crack in Kara's heart that she was trying hard not to acknowledge. Hugging her friend, her real friend, not just proximity friend or work friend, she feels just a little bit less lonely.

"Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?"

- The Gardener, Mary Oliver

Okay so, maybe there is some occasional flirting involved. Maybe Kara sometimes does a trademark sapphic lean against a shelf or a table and maybe then Lena's eyes flicker to her plaid clad biceps. And maybe Lena occasionally finds her the gayest book she currently has on sale and Kara enthusiastically buys it after reading a couple of lines aloud in her deepest voice. Maybe Nia's right, maybe that's flirting ; Kara wouldn't know, she's always been exceptionally shite at it. It took Siobhan kissing her in front of the entire school for her to realise she was into her, and everyone she's gone out with afterward has always pointed out that she's not great at reading people. Now that she thinks about it, Siobhan outing her to the entirety of National City University was not exceptional behaviour ; clearly the red flags were there from the start. So yes, there is some occasional leaning against tables and walls, and some occasional looking, but that's not flirting. Kara's gay, she gay leans against things a lot, and Lena is just an exceptional bookseller. And if there is flirting, and Nia is really insistent there is, it's entirely harmless. Crushes are healthy.

"So this is one of my favourites," Lena says, leaning against the table. "Given your previous purchases, I think you'll like it."

"Great," Kara says without missing a beat, "I'm buying it."

Lena makes a weird strangled sound, a bit like a laugh. "Don't you want to know what it's about ?"

Shit. Caught in the act.

Kara grabs the book from her hands. It's thin and light blue, with birds on the cover. She thinks she's read it already, and in fact distinctly remembers it giving her a headache. She opens it at random, letting the pages choose a passage for her. The brand new spine resists the gesture in a familiar way that is immensely pleasing. She reads, "Some days Blue wonders why anyone ever bothered making numbers so small ; other days she supposes even infinity needs to start somewhere." She’s definitely read that one before, but Lena looks almost hopeful, and she doesn't have the heart to give it back to her. Instead she smiles and repeats, "I'm buying it." It can go on the ever growing pile at the foot of her bed.

"You still don't know what it's about."

Kara rolls her eyes. "What is it about then ?"

Lena launches into a little speech and Kara, who's already read the book, admittedly tunes her out a little. She's not doing it on purpose, but Lena's got such a nice deep voice that sometimes it's hard to focus on what she's saying. Plus, it's a nice day today, sunny, and a ray of sunshine comes crawling through the window to land right on her back, warming her all over. When she's done speaking, Lena eyes her curiously and Kara realises she probably asked her a question of some sort.

"Still buying it."

"Great. Then I'll let you take it over to-"

Jess however, is not behind her counter, but busy in the coffee shop. Brainy is nowhere in sight, and Eve called in sick this morning.

"Looks like you're gonna have to do your own job," Kara jokes.

Lena levels her with such a glare it's a wonder she doesn't burst into ashes.

"Sorry, that was not a very nice joke."

Lena doesn't dignify her with an answer, though her jaw is clenched so tight it might be more because she can't open her mouth than because she has nothing to say. Kara exchanges the book for a crumpled euro bill she surreptitiously tries to smooth on the counter, then drops her change into Brainy's tip jar. See ? Not flirting.

All evening, it feels like the book is glaring at her, even when she drops it to the bottom of her pile. And it's ridiculous, it's just a book, one that she's already read ; it doesn't matter. Except up until she slips under her blanket all she can think about is the set of Lena's jaw when she made fun of her. There was something in her eyes too, resembling hurt, and it sits heavily in her stomach. It's stupid, utterly and completely stupid, but she can't settle until she picks up the book and starts reading it. And something of Lena's speech must have permeated her brain somehow because this time around, she sees the book in a new way, enjoys and understands it a little bit more. She reads well into the night, refusing to let her eyes close until she's done with the book. That doesn't make her any less of an asshole of course, but she's too exhausted not to sleep.

 

There are a good number of things Kara loves about living in Ireland, the weirdest maybe being the smell. She swears the air is different here, fresher ; and nothing can truly compare to that first breath after getting out of the plane on the rare occasions she's travelled back to National City.  To be fair, most of the places she's lived in before smelled like car exhaust and sweat to the notable exception of Midvale, which smelled like hot sand and pine trees, so maybe that's why. She remembers her short lived internship at CatCo in National City, just before she blew everything up to run after Siobhan, the way the elevators smelled like warm cologne and old socks. Here, her short commute to work is filled with the wafting scents of seaweed and fresh bread, sometimes rain, always salt water. Except for today.

Today, in the middle of a heat wave, the street smells like an oil tanker farted and the pavement radiates punishing sticky warmth. Her skin is moist and gluey, her black t-shirt is a regrettable fashion choice, and so is her idea of taking a day trip to Dublin. Well it wasn't so much an idea as it was a necessity since she can't keep on spending the library's budget on expensive deliveries, but with the heavy cardboard box cutting into her arms and the sweat running down her back, she regrets it anyway. When they told her a good librarian is versatile, she didn't think it meant marathon-like supply runs, traipsing through four stores to find a special kind of sellotape and harassing the clerk at another for decommissioned ink cartridges, the only one that fit into the prehistoric thing that serves as a printer at the library. Fingal County reportedly doesn't have the budget for a new one and she's been hunting cartridges since she started working there. She's coming up on Tara Street, she's going to make it to that fucking train station if it's the last thing she does, when something catches her eye. That something being a gaggle of children with balloons crowding the pavement in front of an equally as crowded Spar, and "Brainy ?"

He doesn't answer, but it's unmistakably him. Even from the back, Kara recognises his silhouette, his thick hair, the way he shoves his hands deep into the pockets of the coat he definitely shouldn't be wearing in this weather. He's rocking back and forth on his heels, and the distressed motion sparks something very far in the back of Kara's mind. Unfortunately, her brain is too hazy from the heat to pick up the pieces of this puzzle.

The closer she gets to him, wadding her way through the crowd with some difficulty, the clearer it is that something is wrong. Most people are giving him a wide berth, steering away from him, apart from an old woman to whom he pays no attention. The crowd seems to close in on Kara, her heart beats in her throat, she no longer feels the heat, instead, a chill settles over her and she watches what happens next like in slow motion.

She bursts through the throng of people just when the old woman reaches out to Brainy, she sees her put her hand on his shoulder, alarm bells ringing in her own head for a reason she doesn't quite understand, and she sees him jerk away from her, pinpoints the exact moment where he loses his balance. His hands are still deep in his pockets, she knows he won't be able to catch himself and in her haste to get to him, she drops her box to the ground, cartridges flying out in every direction, one exploding under her foot when she steps on it. She trips, catches herself on her hands, the hot pavement biting into her flesh, clambers up, and gets to Brainy a fraction of a second after he's collided with the ground.

Her palms hurt. They're wet with blood and she can feel each individual piece of gravel that's burrowed into her skin, but this isn't her most pressing concern. She kneels next to Brainy, the pavement burning the skin of her knees, reaches out, and stops herself just in time. She was about to squeeze his shoulder firmly, like she's seen Lena do, but she's not Lena, and there's no telling how Brainy will react to her touch.

"Is this your friend, dear ?"

The old woman is still here, but Kara's got no time for her. Brainy is still rocking back and forth, his new position on the ground turning the motion more frantic, and he's clamped his hands over his ears, a low wail sounding from his open mouth.

"Yeah," Kara says quickly, "yeah he’s my friend. Don't worry, I've got him."

"Do you want me to call someone ? He should definitely go to the hospital."

"No. We're all good. Thank you."

Kara's words are hurried and breathy and she realises, as she tries to speak more, that she's completely out of breath. All is definitely not good, and she's absolutely worried, but she feels, deep within her, that she needs to handle this herself. And get a hold of Lena. Definitely get a hold of Lena. Except she doesn't have her number, and Brainy is in no condition to call her himself.

Fuck.

"Hey. Hey Brainy. It's Kara. Do you know who I am ?"

His eyes are clouded with fear and she detects no recognition in them but she resolves to keep trying ; she doesn't really have a choice.

"Do you want to go somewhere quieter ?"

She remembers his thick noise cancelling headphones, the ones he often wears in the shop and this information also feels quintessential but for the life of her, she can't figure out why. She feels momentarily stupid for it, she's sure the answer is pretty obvious, but she doesn't get to think about it much because Brainy starts pulling at his hair and the wailing is replaced by a constant thread of muttering, muffled every time his head hits his knees.

The beginning of a plan forms into her mind, if his headphones are not on his ears, they might be in his backpack. She just needs to get them out, make the world quiet again for him and take him home. Preferably before the racket attracts any more attention.

"Can I look into your bag ?" She gets no answer, though she could have predicted that before asking her question. "I'm gonna look in your bag."

He doesn't fight her on that though it might be because he didn't hear her at all, and after taking a deep breath, she rips his backpack from where it fell under him. The headphones are in it, safely protected by a hard case and she sends a quiet thanks to whoever is listening that they're in one piece. She wonders how she's going to get them on his head, wonders if it's even what he needs, when he rips them out of her grasp and shoves them on himself. He starts tapping on his pocket then, frantically, and with some difficulty, Kara manages to extract his phone from there with minimal touching. She syncs it with the headphones, launches the most recent playlist, and scuttles back.

The change is not immediate, but she can see him relaxing, sinking on himself. He buries his face in his knees, clutches his arms over his head, and stops moving completely. Kara dares to take a proper breath, then another. Of course, this is when a gruff voice sounds over her head and when she looks up, it's a fucking cop.

"Everything okay there ?"

Taken by surprise, her heart stops, then starts up tenfold, blood rushing to her ears. Of all the people stopping to help, why did it have to be a fucking cop ? They never show up when they’re needed, Kara still have vivid nightmares of the time she had to call them to break a knife fight in the hallway of her dorm room and they never came ; but whenever they’re the last person needed, you’re guaranteed to happen onto one. Slowly, she rises up, positioning her body between the Garda and Brainy, trying to shield him in case the Garda decides having a fit in the street is a worthy reason to arrest him. No, not a fit, a meltdown. Brainy is having a meltdown, it seems so obvious now that she would kick herself for not figuring it out sooner. Trying to minimise her shaking, she draws herself to her full height ; the Garda is slightly shorter than her, which she finds reassuring.

"Yes," she lies, "everything's fine."

Everything is very obviously not fine, but she hopes the cop takes her answer at face value.

"The weather's getting to your friend ?" He looks down at Brainy, still curled up on the ground. "Got a nephew with special needs myself," he says, which makes Kara irrationally angry, a feeling that is always a bit hard to stave off but that she cannot afford right now. She clenches her jaw.

"How are you getting home ?"

Kara glances down at Brainy. She saw a Leap Card in his bag. "The train I suppose," she says through gritted teeth.

"I'll walk you to the station."

She wants to say there's no need for it, but on the scale of things she doesn't want to submit Brainy to, maybe a cop escorting him to the train is better than the crowd of shameless onlookers. Coaxing him off the ground takes a while, but no longer than it takes to gather her things into her banjaxed cardboard box and sooner than she dared to hope, they're on route to Tara Street station. Halfway there, Brainy starts clutching onto her arm, his short nails digging into her skin. It hurts, but she thinks it might be a sign of trust.

 

The train ride to Howth is the longest of Kara's life, it seems to stretch on and on, the sound of the carriage on the rails preventing her from thinking. Usually, she'd listen to music or a podcast to cover the noise, but her body and mind are on high alert, and she doesn't want to accidentally miss a cue from Brainy. When the train rackets past Raheny, he speaks.

"I am sorry," he says, softly, his voice straining against the words. "I did not mean to cause trouble."

"You didn't," Kara hurries. Then, "does that happen often ?"

"No. Not often." He marks a pause, looks at the window then down at his feet. "Only when I am overwhelmed." He struggles to speak and Kara doesn't think he's going to say anything more when he continues. "This is- This is very embarrassing, but I am irrationally afraid of balloons."

"Fears often are irrational," Kara points out, feeling stupidly wise.

"I usually do better, but I have not been sleeping well because of the weather. I am sorry for causing trouble."

It's the second time he's said that, and the pained repetition seats uncomfortably in Kara's heart. "You're no trouble to me," she says quietly. She wants to squeeze his shoulder, like Lena does, but doesn't know if she'll be welcomed so she sits on her hand instead to avoid doing something stupid.

Another station passes before Brainy speaks again. "I am autistic."

Now that he's said it, it seems rather obvious and Kara is a little annoyed that she didn't figure it out herself.

"Okay," she says, "thank you for telling me."

Brainy worries his fingers, hesitation written all over his body. "Do you think Nia will mind ? I like her, but I know I am a hassle."

"She likes you too," Kara says with a smile, "a lot, and I don't think she'll mind at all. You can tell her if you want, she's a good person."

"Thank you. I think I will." The train pulls up in Howth station. "And thank you for taking care of me."

"Anytime mate," Kara says and though it sounds generic, she hopes Brainy knows she means it. "I told you, you're no trouble to me."

They opt out of taking the bus when a packed double decker flies past them and instead walk all the way to the bookshop under the unforgiving sun. Kara's t-shirt is soaked, but Brainy still hasn't taken off his coat. She doesn't know how he does it.

KIERAN'S is relatively empty, with only a few people sitting on the coffee shop side. Eve is tending to these customers, Jess is half asleep behind the counter, and Lena is busy putting books on the shelves. When they come onto the threshold, Brainy stops and looks at her anxiously. "Would you mind coming in with me ?"

Kara agrees with a nod. She doesn't think much about the request until Lena clocks in on them, and the look on her face chills her from the inside out. She doesn't look furious, at least that's not the word Kara would use, but she's definitely angry, and scared, and maybe a little bit sad.

"What happened to you?" she seethes.

"Nothing," is Brainy's answer and clearly, it's not what Lena wants to hear.

"This is not nothing," she says, waving in his general direction, the gesture encompassing his tear stained cheeks, his scuffed shoes, and the long tear on his coat from where the elbow ripped in his fall. She glares at Kara too who suddenly feels extremely self conscious with her cardboard box and torn up knees.

Brainy's face settles into a frown. "Do not make a fuss please."

Lena presses a palm to her forehead. "Brainy..."

"Do not. Make. A fuss !" Brainy's loud request is accompanied by a harsh stomp on the floor ; Lena drags her hand down her face.

"Will you at least come up with me ?" She nods at Kara. "You too."

Brainy's presence is kindly requested, Kara's sounds much more like an order, and she follows the siblings without a sound.

Upstairs, she finds herself in a living room the size of her entire studio. One wall is occupied by an open kitchen, but the others are lined with bookshelves, much like downstairs, covered with hundreds of books and the occasional knick knacks, mostly action figures that she guesses belong to Brainy. Lena directs her brother to a chair, helps him out of his coat, and sets to disinfecting his wound with gentle care, dabbing it with gauze and covering it with a bright pink Supergirl plaster. Brainy remains stoic through it all, but Lena keeps up a low stream of one sided conversation, narrating each and every of her gesture until she's done and she squeezes his shoulder.

"I'll make some tea. Do you want some ?"

"I do not know."

"Want me to bring it to your room ?"

Brainy hesitates, then nods. "Okay." He takes a few steps towards the low lit corridor then stops abruptly and turns around. "I am sorry for shouting."

"And I'm sorry for making a fuss," Lena apologises with a crooked smile. "I know you hate it."

"I wish you did not worry so much about me," Brainy says quietly.

"I'm a big sister, big sisters worry. Just- When you need help, call me. Just like I call you when I need help. Okay ?"

Brainy doesn't answer, he averts his eyes to somewhere on the wall, fixing them on a crack in the paint.

"Okay Brainy ?" Lena pushes.

Brainy shakes his head. "You are not my keeper. I am not your responsibility."

Lena sighs. Lingering in the doorway, with her cardboard box still heavy in her arms, Kara feels burdensome, and like she's encroaching on a conversation that isn't hers to witness. Technically speaking, she was invited in, but still.

"We went over this already," Lena says after a while. She speaks slowly, like she's choosing her words very carefully. "Taking care of you is not some self inflicted responsibility and you are not a burden. You are my brother, and I have your back, especially on the days you need a little extra help." She shakes her head from side to side, but not as vigorously as her brother. Her own gesture is weighted down by a weariness that makes Kara's heart ache for her. "Go rest, I’ll bring you your tea."

"No sugar please."

Lena rolls her eyes. "I know how you take your tea."

Kara remains rooted to the spot for the whole time Lena prepares the tea. When she comes back from bringing Brainy his, she stops dead in her tracks and looks at her, like she's almost surprised she's still here. Kara wouldn't mind the ground opening up and swallowing her whole, or any other catastrophe leading to her disappearance, today has been truly awful, but Lena inclines her head to the kitchen chair Brainy previously occupied and the part of her that wants to bolt out of here is swiftly overtaken by Lena's insistence that she stays.

Kara doesn't know if the chair really creaks under her weight or if it's just her imagination ; one thing is clear, it doesn't feel particularly sturdy in the face of her nervous energy. She's afraid she's going to burst at the seams and spill her guts all over Lena's wooden floor. She's wearing a loose fitting grey sleeveless shirt today and Kara holds her breath, afraid of accidentally spraying it with blood if she so much as breathe wrong. When Lena starts inspecting her hands, spraying them with antiseptic and she hisses in pain, she's brought back to reality in a rather rude way. As far as she knows, she didn't damage any vital organ today and is at no risk of ruining Lena's shirt by vomiting blood ; she's never, however, quite figured out if spontaneous human combustion is real or not.

Lena looks at her with a curious expression and for a second, Kara thinks she's about to be told off for being in pain. Then Lena's features soften, almost imperceptibly and she says, "thank you."

Kara wants to shrug it off, but Lena is holding her hand and though the antiseptic stings meanly, her skin is incredibly soft, and she doesn't want to risk her letting go. "It’s okay," she says instead, "really not a big deal."

"It's a big deal to me," Lena replies with a sad frown. "Brainy and I," she gulps, "we haven't always encountered kindness."

"Well know you have me," Kara says, "and I'm pretty big on kindness." She feels a smile stretch on her lips as she speaks and she watches as Lena's eyes follow the motion, flickering down to her mouth for the briefest of seconds.

"I want to apologise," Lena continues, moving on to the other hand. Kara knows there's bits of gravel in this one and she averts her eyes when she sees her picking up tweezers to get them out.

"Why ?"

"For being a bit cold I suppose. I like when you come into the shop and buy my books, and I like that you have your own little spot there. I-" she stops, exhales, "I appreciate you, but I feel like I haven't really returned your warmth, and I'm afraid I've deterred your attempts at friendship."

Kara chuckles. "Oh I can be pretty persistent."

Lena smiles. It's a strange shy smile, but it illuminates her whole face and for a moment, she seems to shine from the inside out. "I’ve noticed," she says.

She moves on to Kara's knees, but it's a quicker job, the skin barely scratched there. She cleans it up quickly, slathers a thick layer of cream on it to treat the small burns, then rises to her feet.

"I'm afraid we only have superheroes plasters. Who's your favourite ?"

"Whichever Brainy likes less."

"That's not the question I asked."

"Supergirl then, I guess."

Lena upturns her first aid kit on the table and a truly astonishing amount of plasters spills on the wooden top. "Brainy's prone to injury," she says, though Kara didn't ask. She ruffles around in the pile for a minute until she extracts the biggest of the kid sized plasters and starts artfully arranging them on Kara's palms until they are both covered entirely and she can barely flex her hands. She doesn't think she's worn kid plasters since the first time Eliza patched her knees after she'd fallen off a tree. She remembers throwing a wordless fit because she thought they were stupid and she was not a child. Eliza always had boring plasters on hand for her after that.

"Tea ?"

Kara startles out of her thoughts. "Yeah, sure."

Lena makes her tea the exact same way Kara does. She puts the kettle on, takes out two mugs in which she drops tea bags that she then covers with boiling water. The milk and sugar she puts out on the table even are the same brand as Kara buys, and they're still in their cardboard boxes. But for some reason, when Lena is the one doing it, Kara finds each and every one of these gestures absolutely fascinating. She watches as she fills the kettle with water from the tap, up to the little max mark, observes as she takes two mugs out of a cupboard, one blue, one red, stares as her slander hands pick out two tea bags from another cardboard box and drop them in the mugs, studies the delicate way she lifts the kettle from its base, inclines it with precision, and pours the water. Kara making tea is a plain everyday affair ; Lena making tea is an art form.

Lena pushes the milk and sugar towards her. "Help yourself." Kara pushes them back wordlessly.

Lena's appraising gaze is heavy on her ; she can feel it down to the core of her soul.

"With the kind of coffee you drink, I would have taken you for a milk and sugar kind of person."

"Well I’m not," Kara says, feeling unnecessarily proud of herself for it. "I used to be," she adds after a second, "but when I first came here, I lived in a bed and breakfast for a few weeks and the only thing I had in my room was powdered milk. It put me out of the desire to put anything in my tea ever again."

Lena smiles, and when she speaks, her tone carries the beginning of a laugh. "And the sugar ?"

"My sister says it's bad for my health, so I'm trying to cut it out."

"Clearly your sister doesn't know your coffee order."

"She does," Kara laughs, "she says she takes her coffee black because her arteries are clogged by proxy."

"There’s no way that’s a real thing," Lena whispers.

"Alex is right about most things, so I wouldn’t bet this isn’t true."

"Do you see her often ?" Lena asks softly.

"Not really no," Kara says with a frown, "well we video-call a lot but I haven't seen her in person since December. The trip is expensive."

"It is," Lena muses. "Brainy and I are from Metropolis and moving here took up most of my savings."

"You're from Metropolis ? You sound so Irish."

"I cultivated the accent," Lena says, hiding her mouth behind her tea. "I didn't want to lose it."

"Where you born here then ?"

Lena doesn't answer for a full minute. Kara watches silently as it passes on the digital clock in the kitchen. She tries to think of a diverting question, to keep the conversation going, but none come to mind.

"What did Brainy tell you ?"

"Not much. That he's autistic, and that's all. I don't have to know more though, this is your personal life." She takes a sip of her tea, trying to sound casual but to her own ears, she still seems to be fishing for information.

"I was born in Ireland," Lena says, her face blank and almost expressionless. Almost, because Kara would recognise the smallest hint of grief in anyone. "But when I was about three, my mam and I moved to Metropolis. I didn't know it at the time, but she wanted to be closer to my father. Then when I was five, she drowned, and I was put in a foster home. That's where I met Brainy."

She's silent for a while again, but Kara doesn't dare to interrupt her. To be fair, she doesn't know if she'd be able to speak if Lena wanted her to. Her throat is dry and tight, her stomach tied into knots and her heart heavy. She aches all over for the woman in front of her and the vulnerable child she used to be.

"I stayed there for three years," Lena continues quietly. It's almost like she's speaking to herself, eyes lost faraway into a memory Kara isn't privy to. "Kids are much more perceptive than adults are, you know. They could sense that something with Brainy wasn't quite like them, and they ostracised him. The house was loud, overwhelming, he would have almost daily meltdowns and when I first saw him, his arms were raw from picking at his own skin. The kids there didn't really like me either, to a lesser extent, so we only had each other. Until my father came and plucked me out of the house. I'd seen kids getting adopted as pairs and in my mind Brainy was my brother so I couldn't figure out why he couldn't come with me. I begged and begged my father to take him too but he wouldn't."

"That's horrible," Kara whispers. At least she tries to, but she produces nothing more than a croak that she isn't even sure Lena hears.

"So I made myself into the worst child possible, I'd throw tantrums, break expensive vases, spill food on dry clean only dresses and swear at guests, all so that he would put me back into the house. When my new mother grew tired of it, she started driving me there twice a month and when Brainy turned eighteen and left the foster home, she paid so he could go to college, and never told my father about it."

It doesn't seem like Lena is going to say anything more, so Kara takes a long sip of her tea to give herself time to think lest she spouts out a generic platitude. Lena, of course, notices what she's doing immediately.

"You don't have to say anything. I do realise that was textbook oversharing."

Even as she's giving Kara an out, she looks sad, or maybe wistful, and Kara cannot not share something in return.

"Alex and I aren't related by blood either," she says. "I was adopted when I was thirteen. My parents died in a house fire, and if I hadn't had her…" She doesn't give voice to the rest of her thoughts and instead diverts them to something much happier. "She can be a pain in the ass, but she's my favourite person. So even if I can't pretend that I understand everything you and Brainy went through, I can understand what your brother means to you. As for oversharing, well I'm a professional myself, so you don't have to worry about it."

"I'm sorry about your parents," Lena says.

And it's genuine, Kara can hear it in her voice, but she's gone through too much emotions today, to discuss the traumatic death of her parents. Just the thought that the conversation could go there if they were to keep talking, makes her want to run out. So instead, she deflects.

"It’s okay. It happened a long time ago. I don’t really think about it anymore. And I got lucky, found a great second family." She hopes her smile doesn't look too pained, and drains her tea in one go.

Fortunately, Lena seems to pick up on her cue, and she inclines her head towards the battered box Kara carried in. "Is this for the library ?"

"Yeah. I should probably drop it off. And check Nia's doing okay. I left her in charge this morning."

"Okay. I’ll walk you down then."

Lena's tone is neutral, but Kara wants to hear disappointment in it, even if what she thinks she picks up is only a well masked hint.

"We should do that again sometimes," she says ; then clarifies, "have tea together."

Lena smiles, softly. "I'd like that too."

And then Kara does something both incredibly smooth and incredibly stupid, she leans over and touches her cheek to Lena's cheek on both side ; something she hasn't done in years because she's always found this particular French greeting to be both utterly ridiculous and invasive.

But Lena laughs. Loudly, eyes glistening with mirth and cheeks tinged a delicate pink. "Your French is showing."

Kara blushes too.

After that, things are a little different.

 

Kara doesn't know if it's privilege from the dead parents club, or if by helping Brainy she proved herself trustworthy, but gradually, Lena opens up more and more to her. She's like a brand new book, one that takes some effort to open for the first time and that one has to coax so that the spine will bend enough to reveal the pages. But now that Kara has learned to read her, Lena is an open book, her curated neutral mask completely gone in her presence now even if sometimes she still appears a bit guarded. She crosses the street often now, with gifts at first then empty handed when she realises she needs no excuse to see Kara, and they have lunch on the pier whenever the weather and their schedules align. These are Kara's favourite moments, when she gets to have Lena alone, when it's just the two of them and Lena is laughing into a takeaway cup of coffee or cursing at seagulls for trying to eat her hotdog. It's selfish, maybe, but she doesn't really care.

Paradoxically, the more she gets to know her, the closer they get, and the less she crushes on Lena. It's like by becoming her friend, she took her down from her pedestal, brought her back to human level, and it's easier to appraise her now that she's not clouded by sapphism. Or at least that's what she tells herself. Sue her, it helps her sleep at night.

And closer, they do get. Not overnight, sharing trauma isn't a cheat code to the highest friendship level ; but gradually, Kara finds in her a certain sense of companionship she'd been missing dearly. It doesn't mean she doesn't get lonely anymore, loneliness and a lingering fear of abandonment are the two guidelines of her life ; but when she does feel lonely, she knows she can call Lena and her door will be open. She can go to her place and squeeze herself in between her and Brainy on the couch while they watch a baking show until Brainy decides to go to bed and Lena breaks out the good whiskey and changes the channel. And she can do all of that knowing that Lena won't ask unnecessary questions because much like she recognised the grief in her eyes, she knows Lena saw it reflected back in her.

 

"What's her name again ?" Alex asks through the speakers of Kara's laptop.

"Lena," Kara answers absentmindedly. She pauses then, one arm caught halfway through the sleeve of her plaid shirt, and frowns. "You know what her name is."

Alex smirks. "I do. I just like seeing your face when you say it."

Kara pushes her arm through the sleeve, flexing her hand when it comes out on the other side. "My face is perfectly normal thank you very much."

"You're wearing your date shirt."

Kara glances down at herself. Technically speaking, Alex is right, it is the shirt she wears most often on dates, but it's also her best one, dark blue checkered in black, and incredibly soft. "I like this shirt," she says, maybe a bit defensively.

Alex hums, and Kelly comes into frame. "Are you bullying your sister babe ?"

"Yes," Kara cuts before Alex can swear to the opposite. "She's being mean to me."

"Stop being mean then," Kelly says, kissing the side of Alex's head. She lingers there for a second, then drops down to her ear and whispers something Kara is very glad she cannot hear. "Nice shirt," Kelly comments afterward, "got a date ?"

"It's a group outing !"

Alex doesn't bother arguing but the look on her face says everything in her stead ; she thinks Kara is full of shit. But the thing is, it is a group outing. Because emboldened by her successful friendship attempts with both Nia and Lena, Kara has decided to give Sam and Jack a real shot, and tonight they're all going for drinks at John's.

John's pub is relatively quiet. It's often busy at lunchtime, when tourists come grab a bite, but in the evening it turns into a relatively quiet place where local families come get dinner and watch whatever sport is on TV. Tonight, it's a golf tournament, which means Kara is bound to doze off to it at some point, lulled to sleep by the background hush of conversations and the low interest she has in the game.

They're sitting at a corner table, so that Brainy can have a wall at his back, blocking the sound. He's showing something to Nia on his phone and from where she is, Kara can't see much more than flashes of colours but her friend seems genuinely thrilled that he's interested in her, and it makes her happy. Lena is sitting at her side, in dark fitted jeans she's never seen her wear before and an olive henley which cotton's looks so soft she has to physically hold back from running her thumb on it. The first button is undone, but Kara pretends not to notice it.

She was afraid, distantly, that the evening wouldn't go great, that her coast guard friends, her work friend and her, well, Lena, wouldn't mix, but she couldn't have been more wrong and in fact, Sam and Lena go along like a house on fire. It's a little bit annoying actually, the way Lena's whole body is turned away from her and towards Sam as she listens with rapt attention to whatever story she's telling, laughing in all the right places. Across the table, Jack observes her like a hawk.

"What ?" she asks. The word comes out with difficulty, her tongue catching on the syllable and failing pathetically to round it with grace.

Jack takes a sip of his beer. "Nothing."

This "nothing," doesn't sound like a nothing at all but Kara decides not to push. Instead, she takes a gulp of her own beer, savouring the bitterness of the stout. Jack is still looking at her, his gaze unnerving and profoundly unwelcome.

"You've never asked us out for drinks is all," Jack continues, unprompted, legitimising Kara's wariness of his "nothing." "I don't even think we've hung out once outside of Garda celebrations. I was surprised, but now I see you wanted wingmen for your date." Kara kicks him under the table. This is not a fucking date, and she's about to tell him as much when his smirk widens and he leans forward conspiratorially. "Shame Sammy here has more game than you."

Kara feels her cheeks heat up. Actually, this evening isn't going well at all and she wants to go back upstairs to her studio and crawl under her blanket. The thought has barely crossed her mind that Lena, as if she can sense her agitation, leans back against her. She's still giving her full attention to Sam, enraptured by a clearly fascinating conversation, but her body is now pressed against Kara's entire left side and she feels so warm and supple that her brain short-circuits a little.

Jack raises an eyebrow, scratches his beard and hums. "Maybe I'm wrong then."

Kara averts her eyes. The whole thing really is starting to feel like a bad idea. Still, with Lena pressed against her, her desire to leave as all but evaporated and she soldiers on, suffering through what is after all nothing but good natured teasing on Jack's part. To divert his attention, she asks him about his medical startup, the one he manages from the back office at the coast guard station because the wifi at his own apartment is shit. Jack speaks of it with depth and passion, and it's not that Kara never cared to ask before, and if she hadn't, Jack is always more than willing to provide unsolicited information, but she realises now that she's kept everyone at arm's length for far too long. She was afraid, it's true, of being left again, but maybe it's better to know someone and suffer the grief of their absence, than to have never known them at all. It's what Eliza told her, years and years ago, when she thought she would never breathe right again and nothing made sense. It had infuriated her so, so much, lit a fury in her that took so much effort to quench that it left her feeling small and burned out. She remembers screaming, thinking that Eliza couldn't understand what it was like and being so mad, until months later, at Alex's grandfather's funeral, when she learned Eliza's mother had passed away when she was ten.

It's not a happy thought to have now, in a pub, surrounded by friends, but it's what she's thinking about anyway and she presses a bit more into Lena's back so breathing doesn't become a hassle. She's still deep in thoughts and it's not until Jack kicks her rather violently under the table that she realises she's tuned out entirely. Her leg jumps, jolting their drinks, beer sloshing out of pints and into the half full plate of chips they're sharing. Lena does something inconceivable then, and slips her hand under the table to soothe her aching knee. Kara is very thankful for the dim lights of the pub, because she's sure she's turned an embarrassing red.

"Where did you go ?" Lena asks in a low voice.

"Nowhere," Kara croaks, half out of habit and half because she can't muster more syllables right now.

"Sam was asking me about books for Ruby," Lena says, "but I don't know much about children's literature."

"I don't read much, and I often feel like I'm missing out on a lot and I don't want the same thing to happen to Ruby." Sam frowns, and stares at her empty glass of whiskey where ice cubes are slowly melting. "My mother passed down a lot of things to me but not the love of books."

"Is she reading at school yet ?" Kara asks.

Sam nods. "She doesn't like it much. Says it's boring."

"Try comic books then. DC Super Hero Girls is good for kids. Easy to read, colourful. And there's a cartoon that could help her get into it." Sam makes a face, but Kara doesn't give her the time to interrupt. "Comic books are still books. If it leads her to reading wordier stuff it's great, but if she sticks to just that, it's already amazing. Come by the library when you can, I'll make her a card and show her around."

Across the table, Brainy seems to be vibrating with the need to speak. He's shown his collection to Kara already, she knows how much he loves superheroes and he clearly clocked in on the word as soon as it left her lips. She smiles at him, inclines her head and asks, "any suggestions ?"

He beams at her, and almost immediately a torrent of words start flowing from his mouth. He's passionate, and his joy is communicative, ridding Kara of the cloud that had been darkening her mood. She fully rejoins the conversation, bouncing off of his ideas and the smile Lena sends her way makes her feel incredibly silly for her earlier spark of jealousy. Not everyone leaves, and Lena befriending Sam isn't going to make her forget about her.

Chapter Text

The cold spray of the shower is most welcomed on Kara's aching back. She can feel her neck burning, knows it must be red from prolonged exposure to the beating sun. The rest of her skin is crusty from salt, the sea having long washed away the thick coating of sunscreen she applied before going out. It's trapped her sweat against her and she feels clammy. She loves her secondary job, she really does. She loves helping and saving lives, she loves being useful ; but she really, really wishes people who do not know how to drive boats would stop going out on boats. These people are the bane of her existence. Well them, and the random lads who take bets about diving from the cliffs and inevitably find themselves trapped against the rocks. When they don't break at least three bones.

She was supposed to call Alex this afternoon and she feels bad for missing their agreed time even if she knows her sister won't mind. She'll be visiting soon anyway so it really isn't that big of a deal ; it's just Kara who's bothered by it, she likes her routine.

She runs her fingers through her hair, lathers it in fresh smelling shampoo and massages her scalp, trying to undo the knot of tension at the back of her neck. In the other shower stall, Sam is talking about something, Kara isn't really sure what. She's not even sure if they're supposed to be having a conversation but thus far she hasn't replied to anything Sam has said and Sam doesn't seem to have noticed at all. Above the gurgles of the water she thinks she catches a stray "wee fuckers," so her friend might simply be recounting the rescue.

Kara resists the urge to wash her hair a second time and instead cuts the water and exits the stall, wrapping herself in a big towel, a little rough from years of use and with a faded logo of the Garda Costa. She's in the process of detangling her hair with her fingers when Sam exits her own stall fully naked and dripping water everywhere ; Kara averts her eyes immediately. Sam's body is of the "unfair to the rest of humanity" type, though Kara is not really jealous. She knows she's conventionally attractive herself, lean and muscled in all the right places ; but Sam, Sam looks like a goddamned greek statue, as if she's been carved out of rose marble and brought to life by a merciful Olympian. She's tall and svelte and looks effortlessly strong, and above all has no qualms about changing in front of other people. In the early days of them working together, Kara would often dream of the faint stretch marks on her tummy, and she has a feeling Sam knows about that.

"Keeping your eyes chaste for Lena ?"

Without looking at her, she can hear the smirk in her voice, knows she shouldn't rise to the bait and yet, "Lena's my friend," she says. The excuse is downright pitiful but it's the best she can do at the moment.

"One does not exclude the other." Sam ruffles around in her duffle bag for a minute before she extracts what's got to be the tiniest towel known to humankind. She uses it to pat her crotch dry then slips on a pair of comfortable and practical boxer briefs. They're from Tesco ; Kara's got the same one in twelve different colours. "The way she was looking at you at the pub the other night was not exactly platonic."

Kara sputters. She feels very hot all of a sudden, and a little faint. Her only chance of coming out of this conversation alive is if her sun beaten skin hides her blush. She starts putting on her clothes as fast as humanly possible, tripping first over her socks then her trousers. "She was not."

"She absolutely was. I mean sure, she was briefly engaged in conversation with me, I'll give you that. But even then she was fully leaning on top of you and after that she didn't take her eyes off you for the entire night." Kara gets caught in her t-shirt, Sam puts hers on flawlessly. "I guess you were too busy trying to find the meaning of life at the bottom of your pint to notice."

"I-"

"You do you though," Sam says, swinging her bag over her shoulder. "Or her. Whatever makes you happiest. Gonna go pick up my kid now. I promised we'd get ice cream and watch Moana. Again."

She exits the room in quick strides ; Kara didn't even notice her putting her shoes on. Left lagging behind, she finishes dressing slowly, first sitting down to lace up her boots, then tying her plaid shirt around her waist. She's in the middle of doing it when she notices she's put her t-shirt on inside-out and with a huff, she rips it over her head, getting stuck in it again. Someone knocks on the door frame and she mumbles around a mouthful of fabric. When she manages to free her head, her eyes meet Lena's ; wide, bright, the green irises vibrant against her flushed skin.

"Um- Sorry. Sam said you were in there."

"It's okay," Kara croaks, "I'm just clearly incapable of dressing myself."

Lena laughs, releasing a soft and low chuckle that echoes gently around the room. "Want help with that ?" She doesn't wait for an answer, and pads closer without invitation to take Kara's t-shirt out of her hand. She turns it back on the right side and hands it to her, fingers brushing delicately against hers. Kara doesn't put it back on.

This close, she can smell Lena's sunscreen, something like a sweet shop on a summer day with an underlying whiff of lavender. She smells very faintly of sweat too and Kara gets the overwhelming urge to lick her neck. She takes a step back, and shoves her t-shirt over her head. Lena herself is wearing a grey tank top, the lack of fabric leaving her exposed shoulders a little red, and jean shorts that stop right above her knees. She's tucked her dark hair under an old frayed baseball cap, but a strand has escaped right above her left ear, curling down the side of her neck.

"I was wondering if I could treat you to ice cream."

Kara thinks about what Sam says, about Lena looking at her a certain way. She thinks about all the other times too, about each and everyone of their interactions, her own silly little crush, and asks, "why ?"

Lena's eyebrows shoot up high on her forehead. "Because I want to. Do I need a reason ?"

Kara realises then that her question might have been somewhat suspicious. They've never needed a reason to hang out before ; they just meet up and do stuff and never question it. "No," she says, lowering her head to catch Lena's eyes, "no you don't need a reason."

She starts walking out, then takes a leap of faith and extends her hand. Lena takes it, and her palm in hers feels absolutely delicious.

Outside, the weather is slowly turning, the heavy lid of purple clouds a clear sign of the upcoming storm. The air is sticky and hot, almost palpable in a way that makes breathing an absolute bother. They get ice cream anyway, mint chocolate chip for Lena and cookie dough and coconut for Kara, and eat it while walking down the pier, opposite the throng of tourists who started going to other way at the first sign of clouds.

"Think we should head back too ?" Lena asks. She's got ice cream on the corner of her mouth and Kara wants to lick it.

Kara takes a huge bite of her own cone and swallows it before answering. "Nah. It's not gonna rain yet."

Of course, as soon as she's said it, the sky opens in two, drenching them under a torrential downpour. They run and take cover in a small nook so they can finish their ice cream, their shelter so narrow that they find themselves pressed close to one another with not so much as a hair of space to move, the visor of Lena's cap bumping into Kara's nose. She swings it around, and laughs, ice cream slowly melting down her hand.

"You were saying ?"

"Alright well I made a mistake," Kara answers gruffly. "I'm not omniscient."

"Ach. Don't be cross."

Even if she is a little bit annoyed, Kara's heart stutters at Lena's smile and tone. It briefly stops a second then a third time when she wipes at something on her cheek and licks her thumb, her finger leaving a trail of fire on Kara's skin.

"Aren't librarians supposed to be omniscient though ?"

It takes a second for Kara to gather her wits, but when she does, she leans forward until her lips brush against Lena's ear. "I'll let you in on a little secret," she whispers, "we're not. We're just very good at looking stuff up on the internet."

"Sigh, the end of a myth."

"Did you- did you just say 'sigh' aloud ?"

Lena turns her head in the dark, and since Kara hasn't moved, they find themselves face to face, barely a breath apart.

"As a matter of fact, I did," Lena whispers, and Kara feels her words on her lips more than she hears them over the patter of the rain.

She wouldn't have to lean in much to kiss her, it would take no effort at all, and it seems to her that Lena would want her to kiss her too. The moment thought feels too charged for them to actually kiss, even if neither of them move, noses brushing with each breath, until the rain abates enough for them to walk back outside under a light drizzle. Kara takes Lena's hand again and she leads the way, out of an unspoken accord, to her studio. It seems to her that she can feel Lena's heart beating in her palm and the sensation is maddening, both because a heart is much too fragile to be held in a hand, and because she wishes she could feel Lena's heart beat in every part of her.

 

The stairs creak under their combined weight and Kara cringes. It's only the late afternoon but somehow, she feels like they ought to be quiet. Her hands shake and she struggles to open the door, missing the key hole several times. Lena chuckles, and she blushes. Once inside, there's a full minute during which Kara doesn't know what to do ; at all. She fumbles for the light, flooding the studio with warmth. Streaky is asleep on the windowsill, she didn't put her laundry away and her laptop is still open on her dinner table next to an abandoned mug of tea. She toes off her shoes ; behind her, Lena laughs in earnest.

She turns around to find her leaning on the door, hands burrowed in the pockets of her jean shorts, tank top soaked through and showing a hint of a rainbow sports bra. Her backward cap exposes the sharp angles of her wet face, pale but for a hint of blush on the cheeks. Or maybe she's just sunburned. She's smirking, in a way that Kara thinks might be an invitation. She takes a step towards her, then hesitates. Lena's smile widens.

"What ?" Kara asks, lowering her own head.

"Nothing." Then, "you puzzle me Kara Danvers."

"I-" Kara sputters, "I puzzle you ?"

Lena hums. When she looks up at her, Kara finds that she's pushed herself slightly off the door and has also taken a step towards her.

"You brought me up here," Lena says, "are you going to do something about it ?"

Kara doesn't answer fast enough, and the little smirk that previously inhabited Lena's face falls. "Unless I misinterpreted all of that," she adds quickly, "in which case I'd like a dry shirt please and for us to pretend I never said anything."

"I did bring you up here," Kara whispers.

Her body enters autopilot. She takes another step forward, and Lena backs up until she's leaning against the door again, smiling anew. Kara advances, and what she knows to be a very short distance suddenly feels immense. Still, she crosses it until she finds herself a breath away from Lena. She puts her hands on her hips, the skin supple under the wet fabric of her top, and leans in. She's met halfway in what's got to be the clumsiest kiss of her life. She misjudges the distance entirely, her lips landing somewhere in the vicinity of Lena's nostrils instead. She draws back immediately, an apology on the tip of her tongue but Lena does nothing more than roll her eyes and lean back in. She locks her hands behind Kara's neck, right where wisps of hair escape her bun, and meets her lips with thorough intent.

Where the first attempt was bungling and downright awkward this one might just be the best kiss of Kara's life. Lena kisses with her whole body, she leans away from the door to press herself up against her, their wet clothes as good as inexistent between their warm skins. Kara feels like she's been set on fire ; she's burning in the best of ways, her cells alight and craving for something only Lena can give her. She opens her mouth, keen on deepening the kiss. Lena tastes of mint ice cream and her tongue is swift ; when she licks the inside of her mouth, Kara moans, the sound reverberating on the walls of the small apartment. Lena smirks in the kiss and that absolutely won't do. Kara pushes against her until she's flat on the door again, a small enticing noise escaping her when her back hits it. It's her turn to smile, though it disappears quickly when Lena bites her bottom lip, the move halfway between hot savagery and a strange tenderness that leaves her stomach swirling with both confusion and desire.

Before she can think too much about it, her higher brain functions nearly shut off anyway, she slips her thumbs under Lena's tank top, revelling in the shudder it elicits from her. This minute taste of her skin however is not enough and she presses a whole hand to her belly, her fingers digging slightly in the flexible flesh there. Lena is malleable and soft and so, so warm to the touch that Kara almost combusts from it. It's too much to compute, especially when Lena whines and arches against her bringing their bodies closer and closer again, Kara's hand effectively trapped between them. Remembering the urge that almost overtook her before, she abandons her lips and burrows into the crook of her neck, where neither sweat nor rain have managed to fully wash away the scent of her skin, clean soap and lavender. She cannot resist the urge anymore, and she bites there, the hand she has on Lena's belly pressing her back against the door when she bucks into her.

For all the heated hookups that followed the break up with Siobhan, Kara is certain that this is the hottest moment of her life ; she's fully ready to die now with absolutely no regret. So of course this is the moment Streaky chooses to abandon his place on the window to weave his way in between her legs, craving attention.

She jumps at the unexpected feel against her calf, stumbles back onto the cat, and almost in slow motion, starts falling backward. She fumbles for the kitchen counter, attempting to catch herself on it but misses it entirely, stumbles some more, and finally makes contact with it, with her head. She hears something crack, comically loud, and mercifully blacks out.

 

When she opens her eyes, Lena is leaning over her, face flush, mouth glossy and parted, and with a hint of worry in her glassy eyes.

"M'fine," Kara mumbles and to prove it, she pushes herself up on her hands to a sitting position. Immediately, the room starts revolving on itself.

"You're bleeding."

Slowly, sluggishly, Kara raises a hand to her forehead. It comes back coated in what is unmistakably blood even if her vision is a little hazy right now.

"M’not fine then."

"I’m calling the hospital."

Kara finds the mere idea utterly revolting. "Know first aid," she ways.

"You can’t practise first aid on yourself Kara," Lena cuts sternly. "I’m calling an ambulance."

"Get John. Downstairs."

Lena thinks about it for a split second. "If John says you need to go to the hospital, will you ?"

Kara nods and regrets it severely when her brain starts swirling around in her skull. Lena kisses her brow gently and is gone in the blink of an eye, feet thundering down the stairs.

While she's away, Streaky comes curl in on her lap, meowing in apology. Kara scratches him behind the ears. "You're a wee cunt you know that, right ?"

Lena comes back with John and a first aid kit what can't be more than two minutes after she left. Well Kara supposes it's been two minutes, she hasn't checked. But one minute seems like too little time to go up and down the stairs and explain the situation and three minutes are an eternity. Kara would have had time to brush her teeth in that time.

John's assessment is sure and quick. He checks her pupils and for signs of confusion or memory loss, cleans her wound and forces it close with steri-strips before bandaging it. Lena makes her a cup of tea to swallow her painkillers and by the time it's just the two of them again, Kara feels a bit better if a little embarrassed.

"So," she says, half reclined on her tiny couch, "that happened."

Lena has wedged herself in between the dining table and a shelf to look out the window at the sea and the setting sun. She turns around and a little something lodges itself in Kara's heart at the sight of her haloed by the light and bundled in a borrowed flannel shirt. "Which part ?" she asks, arching an eyebrow.

Kara huffs and Lena laughs. She's been laughing a lot this afternoon. She pushes herself off the wall so she can come crouch before her, her brow settled in a hesitant frown. "I enjoyed everything up until you fell."

"Yeah ?"

Lena nods and breathes out. "Yeah." She leans in, slowly, and presses a soft hesitant kiss to Kara's mouth. It lasts for barely a second before she draws back, pushing on Kara's chest when she tries to follow. "Rest," she orders. "I'm gonna let Brainy know I'm staying here and then I'll make dinner. What do you want to eat ?"

"Will he be alright ?"

"Brainy is perfectly capable of taking care of himself," Lena says with the tone of someone who's had to repeat this exact sentence many times before though she does soften when she looks at Kara. "He’ll be alright if I let him know where I am."

"Okay," Kara says quietly. "I don't want to be a bother. I just hit my head, I'll survive."

Lena stares at her with an expression that isn't unlike that first day at the back of the van, giving off a "I dare you to defy me" sort of vibe. It doesn't last for long, and she smiles again only shortly after her attempt at being stern. "I won't take my chances. What do you want to eat ?"

"Tomato soup. And a grilled cheese ? I've got everything for that in the kitchen."

She half expects Lena to criticise her choice but she doesn't, and instead rests the back of her hand on Kara's forehead for a moment, checking for a fever. She stands up, the bottom of the flannel shirt brushing Kara's cheek and makes for the other side of the room, phone already in hand to text Brainy. "Tomato soup it is."

"I really like tomato soup."

Lena opens a cupboard, revealing cans upon cans of the "delicacy." "I can see that," she laughs. She looks back at Kara, still lying on the couch, and for a short second Kara sees something in her eyes that she hasn't seen in anyone’s for a very long time.

 

After dinner, Lena retires to the bathroom where Kara has laid out a clean towel and a spare toothbrush for her ; her mint soap smells a bit strong, and she hopes she won’t mind. The shower doesn't start running right away but Kara doesn't pry. She can hear her talking, thinks she might be on the phone with Brainy even if she already texted him earlier. Tuning her out becomes a little more complicated once she hears the water. The walls are thin, and it's hard not to think about Lena, naked, only a few feet away from her. When she comes out of the bathroom, hair towelled dry and body wrapped in a too big college sweater, Kara is trying hard to appear engrossed by something on her phone but Lena sees right through her anyway. Probably because she's holding the screen upside down. She comes up behind her, and rests her head on her shoulder ; the gesture slowed by a long day but lacking any real hesitancy.

"I like your soap," she says. "Might switch mine for it."

"Don't," Kara croaks, voice impaired by the sudden proximity. "I like your sm- oap."

Lena chuckles. "You like my smoap ?"

"Soap. I like your soap."

"Thanks, I like the way it smells."

Kara doesn't have to turn around to perceive the smirk on Lena's lips but she does anyway, revelling in the way they come face to face and neither of them pulls away. Somewhere close to her heart, a knot both tightens and loosens at the proximity. The smell of her soap on Lena's skin, in Lena's hair, is strangely domestic and she isn't sure what she ought to think of that. The people Kara love rarely ever stay with her, they leave or they simply die and the anticipation of the inevitable pain often ruins it for her long before that. She should keep Lena at arm's length, should confine her strictly to the friendship zone so it doesn't hurt so much when she inevitably disappears. But even as she thinks of it, Kara knows it's too late. Maybe it was even too late the moment she laid eyes on her at the back of her red van ; she should have ran away then to prevent her from taking root too deep within her. Now it's too late ; now, Kara is fucked.

They have a bit of a disagreement come bedtime about who's taking the couch. Kara refuses to back down and Lena is strong willed and this is how they both end up in her bed, Lena's cold feet pressed to Kara's calf because this apparently is the price to pay to have her at her side. Kara personally doesn't see the problem, and Lena does not seem discontent either.

"I thought you'd have more bookshelves," Lena hums, glancing at the piles of books surrounding Kara's bed like a fortress' wall.

"I don't usually buy books," Kara replies, belatedly realising that she might have just given her little scheme away. "I can get them for free from the library."

Her last few words are swallowed by her laugh as Lena huffs. "What ?"

"You should see your face right now," Kara chuckles, "you look so cross."

"Well what did you expect ?" Lena asks, fumbling awkwardly under the blanket until she manages to cross her arms. "You just told a bookseller you don’t buy books. People buying books is my whole livelihood."

"I buy books from you," Kara points out. She reaches out and boops Lena's nose, for no over reason than she can. And maybe because she looks beyond cute with her brow furrowed and her bottom lip jutting out in an exaggerated pout.

"That is true," Lena says slowly. "Why ?"

Kara looks away from her. She can feel herself blushing and now would be a good time for diversion but there’s such hope in Lena’s eyes that she can’t bring herself to disappoint her. "Why do you think ?"

"I'm not so great at reading people," Lena whispers.

"Neither am I," Kara says. "I like you."

She looks at Lena again, meets her eyes and finds hesitancy and tenderness in them. They look darker in the low light, more pine forest than clear emerald ocean, but Kara likes them just as much.

"I was hoping you did."

"Did me pinning you against a door not clue you in at least a little ?"

"Well yeah," Lena replies, rolling her eyes, "of course it did. I meant before that." She pauses, looks away to the ceiling. "It's just sometimes you look at me like you- like you like me, but I was afraid I was being too hopeful."

"There's nothing wrong with a little hope," Kara says, choosing to ignore the irony of such a statement coming from her.

"Hope hurts," Lena whispers.

"It can yeah," Kara says, her tone equally as low. "I confess I'm not always hopeful but um- I want to hope with you. If that’s alright."

Lena remains silent for a long while, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. "I haven't had much luck with people," she says after a while. "I'm afraid you'll-" She cuts herself off abruptly. "Sorry. I'm ruining the mood. How’s your head ?"

"And I'm afraid you'll leave," Kara says, louder and clearer than she thought she would manage. She grabs Lena's hand in her own, and threads their fingers. To hell with ruining the mood and to hell with being too heavy, too honest, too soon. "I'm always afraid people are going to leave me all the time," she confesses, "but I want to try, with you."

"You don’t know if I won’t leave," Lena points out. "You don’t know me enough for that."

It's the truth, and maybe it's the headache speaking, but to hell with that too. "I'm willing to know you," she says, and these simple words must unlock something in Lena because she turns on her side to look at her again with what can only be described as the aforementioned hope shining in her eyes.

"Yeah ?"

"Yeah," Kara whispers. She leans in to kiss her, but Lena evades her after a mere press of her lips.

"You're injured," she says, though she says it laughing.

"I don’t care."

"I do," Lena says softly. "Rest, we can kiss in the morning."

"I'll hold you to that."

"We can kiss in the morning, if you’re not concussed."

Kara groans. "That’s not fair !"

Lena smiles, and reaches out to grab a book on the bedside table. "Rest, I’ll watch over you."

Losing the will to fight, Kara cuddles into her side, and though she can't see her, she knows Lena rolls her eyes when she brings her head a little too close to her chest. Sleep comes quickly and it is as she fades away from the world that she realises the book Lena picked up is her mother's.

 

She wakes up alone, but to the smell of slightly burnt toast and the sound of someone shuffling in her kitchen. The smell, though a little acrid, is not that bothersome, and the sound coming in from the other side of the partition keeping her bed hidden from view are not so loud as to have woken her. What dragged her out of sleep are two little paws patting at her cheeks and when she opens her eyes Streaky meows loudly.

"Sorry about that," Lena’s head says, appearing from behind the partition. Lena's body soon follows and Kara's barely awoken mind grinds to a halt. She's back in yesterday's clothes but she kept Kara's shirt and it hangs open on her shoulders, the sleeves rolled up a couple of times to uncover her forearms. "I think I fed him wrong, he doesn't want to eat."

"You didn't," Kara grumbles, rolling on her side and out of bed. Her head throbs, and she stumbles a little, prompting Lena to catch her by the shoulders, her hands burning even through the cotton of Kara's sleep shirt. "He's just a cunt."

Blinking back white spots, Kara walks out of what for all intents and purposes is her bedroom and into the living room, beckoning Streaky to follow her. "Come here you twat." She crouches and shakes his kibbles bowl side to side until he finally deems she's made enough of an effort and starts eating. "Fecking attention seeker," Kara mumbles, petting him slowly on the back. "Couldn't let me sleep in, could you ?"

"It's already 8," Lena says.

"So it's early."

"I usually get up at 6. 7 if I sleep in."

Kara stands up and wipes her palms on her boxers. "Sorry," she says with a mock shudder, "but we're not going to work out."
"Really ? Well that's a shame."

Kara peers at Lena's eyes, trying to decipher if she's joking too, but all she sees is a mask of blankness. At least until she rolls her eyes, and Kara expels a breath she hadn't realised she was holding. She makes a little come hither gesture and Lena steps into her arms with only a hint of hesitancy. She smells like her bedsheets, and Kara inhales deeply, filling her lungs with the scent and the memory of this instant in case she needs it later. It's a habit that is hard to shake.

"Are you doing anything today ?" she asks when Lena steps out of the hug.

Lena shakes her head. "Do you have anything in mind ?"

Kara thinks about it for a second then asks, when her eyes fall on an abandoned newspaper, "what's your opinion on bog bodies ?"

"Bog bodies ?"

Kara nods, the beginning of an idea for what might be the grossest date ever slowly forming in her head. "Bog bodies," she repeats. "They're sort of Irish mummies and they're fascinating. Do you want to see one ?"

"I guess yeah..." Lena says slowly, eyeing her with concern.

"We can do something else. We can do nothing at all if you'd like. We can go our separate ways and never talk again and pretend I didn't offer to take you to see a dead body for our first date. This doesn't even have to be a date. Friends that kiss are allowed to visit mummies and-"

Lena cuts her off with a light kiss to the corner of her mouth. "Too late," she says, "I'm interested now. Show me dead mummified people, I'm sure it'll be very romantic."

 

They let the throng of the morning commute come and go and board a completely empty carriage on the DART, Lena settling on the window seat and putting her feet up despite the bilingual sign kindly asking her not to. Her grey sneakers have dried unevenly from the rain and are stained with salt, something Kara really appreciates considering her own shoes have seen better days. She's been meaning to buy a new pair of boots but each time she has the opportunity she just doesn't. She wouldn't go as far as saying her abandonment issues extend to her shoes but it's probably true anyway.

Lena makes a strange series of noises and Kara rips her gaze from her feet to look at her. "Did you say something ?"

"Just reading the sign," Lena replies, lightly tapping on the peeling sticker on the window.

"None of the sounds you made relate in any way to what's written here."

"Please do not put your feet on seats," Lena enunciates slowly, pointing at the sign again. "Well on the seat, there's a mistake in the translation."

Kara grimaces. "That is definitely not what you said."

"Ná cuir do chosa ar an suíocháin le do thoil," Lena repeats. This time, Kara reads the sign while Lena speaks and realisation downs on her with belated embarrassment ; of course Lena speaks Irish.

"You speak Irish..."

"A little," Lena replies with a shrug. "I mean the translation is right here so it's not like it's hard."

"It is hard," Kara counters. "I've been living here for five years and I still can't get a grasp on the letters and the sounds they're supposed to make." She points at the sign. "How do you get whatever you said from this bunch of letters ?"

"My mam spoke Irish," is Lena's quiet answer. She remains silent for a long minute after that and Kara gives her the berth she needs, focusing instead on the rattle of the train on the rails. The loud noise is almost soothing in a way, and it keeps her from freaking out at the mention of dead parents. "She had this wonderful accent that I definitely don't have and I- I've been trying to keep her alive. I guess."

Slowly, announcing her intentions, Kara reaches out and puts a hand on her knee. "I think it's great," she says softly.

Lena stares at her hand for a moment before she reaches out too and entangles their fingers. "I haven't really practised since before I left Metropolis though. It made me miss her and-" She stops rather abruptly and seems to steel herself before she continues. "Anyway, I speak a bit of French too, Spanish, Italian. I tried German but it gave me headaches."

Kara lets out a low impressed whistle. "Is there something you can't do ? Have you been hiding other talents ?"

"Everything's in the brain to be honest. I'm mostly rubbish with my hands, can't cook for shit and I have terrible balance. The last time my mother put me in high heels I tripped and broke my ankle."

Kara winces.

"It's okay. That was what, ten years ago maybe ? I got over it and she stopped buying me expensive Louboutins for my birthday. It's a win-win really."

It doesn't sound like a "win-win" at all, not if the face Lena is making right now is to be taken in consideration. It's not pain Kara sees in her eyes when she glances at her, not the phantom memory of a broken bone, but hastily concealed sadness, something she's seen reflected in herself time and time again. She doesn't press ; whatever Lena is not talking about must hurt in a way she's herself too familiar with to want to inflict that on her. Instead, she lets her change the subject and by the time they get down at Pearse station, they've moved on to Lena trying to teach her basic Irish words, and she almost trips down an entire flight of stairs when Lena starts talking about strawberries. There is no way sú talún is a real word.

 

They were holding hands on the train but they don't in the street ; and instead walk close to one another, the back of their fingers brushing every so often. Kara doesn't mind, not really. She's always been particularly fond of the longing that comes with this specific action. There is something about hands brushing, pinkies almost linking then retreating in a seamless dance, that brings an inimitable tightness somewhere around the heart, and though she knows it's silly, Alex certainly thinks it's stupid, she sometimes finds herself longing for the sensation of longing. Like Lena can feel it, and maybe she can, she keeps her hand at the perfect distance, and Kara wallows in yearning.

Lena is predictably grossed out by the Old Croghan Man, but she's also weirdly enthralled by the bog body. They spend more time than anyone ought to on a first date talking about decomposition and looking at centuries old fully fleshed fingers and Kara is relieved that Lena doesn't find it fucking weird like she should. By the time they exit the National Museum, they've moved on to discussing myths and nipples in the least erotic way possible. Kara's always had a loud voice and several people turn to look at her with revolted expressions but she doesn't care ; Lena is grinning at her and it's all that matters.

They walk out of the museum into dreary weather. It's still warm, much like the prior day, but clouds hang low and menacing, and the air smells of rain and hot pavement. The smart thing would be to cut the day short or find a nearby place to get lunch before the sky splits open but Kara instead chooses to drag her fifteen minutes north across the Liffey to her old hideout. It starts raining roughly a second after they've set foot inside The Sweetest Thing.

"So this is where you are when you're not at mine," Lena muses, casting her eyes over the small cozy room while they wait for their desserts to be brought over. "I have to admit the competition is impressive."

"I haven't been here in a while," Kara says. "Since you opened actually."

Lena ducks her eyes, almost shyly but not quite. "Really ?"

"I-" Kara begins, interrupting herself to thank the waitress who lays two giant slices of apple pie before them, topped with ice cream and whipped cream.

"I like your shop. It's quiet and comfortable. Welcoming." She pauses and smiles ; Lena smiles back, though she tries to hide it behind her Irish coffee. "Plus, I had the most ridiculous of crushes on you and I couldn't not keep on coming back."

"Had ?" Lena echoes, arching an impeccable eyebrow.

It's Kara's turn to hide, and she takes a sip of her decadent hot chocolate to give herself some time to think. She doesn't know where her hesitation comes from, she had Lena pinned to her door not twenty-four hours before, confessed to liking her while she was in her bed ; some things are easier to say and do in the dark probably.

"Have," she says, voice low and quasi-inaudible. "I have a huge silly crush on you."

"I don't think it's silly," Lena says quietly. "And to be honest, I was hoping this was why you kept on coming back. Days when you come into the shop are always better."

"Yeah ?"

Lena takes a sip of her coffee. "Yeah."

It's a quiet affirmation, but the knowledge that she's present in something as simple as Lena's exhale burns Kara from the inside out. A breath is nothing in the grand scheme of things but Kara was there, she was in the thought Lena put behind this simple mindless motion and if it means nothing to the universe, it means everything to her.

 

They spend hours huddled together in the small coffee shop, just talking, heads close and almost touching. When closing time comes and they're thrown out with a fond eye roll from the waitress, they take their time walking back to the train station, making their way down the quay at a slow leisurely pace. They're going the wrong way, taking a detour to see Ha'penny bridge. Lena hasn't gone to see it yet since she settled here and Kara just wants to indulge in a little cliché and kiss her there. Which she does, right next to a guy playing the saxophone, not minding one bit the people who have stopped to listen to him and are getting a second free show as a result. She rubs her thumb on the skin under Lena's tank top before she lets go, and when they draw back from one another, she takes her hand, and guides her down the rest of the bridge.

The air smells of the recent rain and the Liffey, but also distinctly of butter, pastry, and slightly overdone meat. Kara stops for a Cornish pasty because she's never not hungry and she eats it one handed, the other still holding onto Lena, shedding crumbs all the way to Tara Street station. The train is packed this time, and they have to stand glued together, Lena with her back to a seat and Kara shielding her from the crowd of tired and sweaty commuters. They share headphones and Lena puts on piano covers of pop songs Kara only vaguely recognises. A briefcase is digging into her lower back, the air is thick with the scent of unwashed armpits, but she feels happy.

 

Alex visits exactly two weeks after they first kiss ; and though Kara misses her sister dearly, it couldn't be more poorly timed. Lena and her are still in the early stages. They sneak around to share heated kisses, and hold hands shyly. Their hugs are often hesitant, but their bodies already recognise each other, their skins familiar with one another from hours pressed tight, arm to arm and leg to leg, while they watch a movie on Lena's couch. They're new and already familiar, terribly awkward but experienced, and if it flies right over Brainy's head, Kara knows it won't escape Alex's perceptive eye.

She borrows Sam's car to get to the airport. Usually, Alex and Kelly just take a taxi, after one disastrous occasion when they managed to get lost on the bus ; but this time, Kara needs the illusion of some extra time to calm herself down. Technically speaking, picking Alex up means she'll see her sister much sooner, but the act of driving makes her feel like she's more of an active participant in it and it's calming. She takes the backroads to get to the airport, delaying the inevitable moment she'll get stuck in traffic until the very last second.

Even though she loses some time trying to park Sam's humongous car, she still arrives stupidly early and she hauls herself to the arrival gate with a cup of tepid airport coffee and an apple turnover Brainy packed for her in a little insulated bag. It's still warm, and she bites into it with gusto, shedding crumbs all over her clean henley shirt and cleanish jeans. She texts Lena while she waits and receives sporadic reassurances in between bookshop patrons.

The airport is loud and bustling, and she would usually cut off the noise with her headphones but instead, she keeps her ears free so she doesn't miss any announcement, no matter how insignificant. The chair digs into her back and she wiggles on it to get comfortable as she thinks about her usual comfy seat in Lena's coffee shop ; if she concentrates, she can almost smell the reassuring scent of fresh bread, coffee and ink on paper. Kara enjoys travelling, but she's never quite managed to shake the unease she's associated with airports since childhood. Often, she dreams of the plane that took her to the Danvers, the noise, the endless wait with her social worker in the departure lounge, the half empty backpack at her feet, carrying all that she had left. No matter how many times she's taken the plane ever since, how many hours she's spent sitting in departure lounges, exploring duty free shops and drinking shit coffee, the memory of this particular trip is forever lodged inside of her brain, like a shard of ice. Even her near death experience, the sensation of her stomach dropping with the plane, Alex's nails digging into her flesh, doesn't haunt her with as much regularity.

She's been there for close to an hour when Alex and Kelly finally walk through the gate, luggage in tow. Kara spots them immediately, but Alex doesn't and she takes the opportunity to look at her while her sister scans the room for her. She looks tired, her expression bordering on murderous, and she pushes her suitcase in front of her, kicking it every time the wheels get stuck. Even like this, frowny and grumpy, the sight of her sister fills Kara with unabashed joy. Beside her, Kelly looks well rested and more amenable, and if Alex's left hand is hidden from view in between their bodies, hers is in plain sight, and from where she is, Kara can see the glint of her engagement ring.

Kelly spots her before Alex does, and she lays a gentle hand on her fiancée's forearm before pointing at her. When Alex sees her, her face lights up gradually. First, she clocks in on her, and frowns, then, she recognises the general outline of her sister, her familiar frame, and a smile begins to tug at her lips, finally, their eyes meet, hers crinkle at the corner with her smile, and she stumbles and breaks into a run, abandoning her suitcase with Kelly. Kara barely has the time to brace herself before she finds herself with an armful of Alex Danvers. She lifts her sister clean off the ground and twirls her around a bit before putting her back down and squeezing her with all her might. Alex bites back a sob then draws back, still looking tired but much more joyful, and Kara immediately grabs her left hand.

"When were you planning on telling me ?" she asks with a hint of happy reproach.

"When were you planning on telling me Kelly was going to propose ?"

"Touché," Kara laughs.

She lifts Alex's hand to eye level to inspect the ring, a simple silver band with three uneven black stones that might be obsidian ; it looks decisively punk and exactly like something Alex would wear.

"It's beautiful."

"I thought so too," Kelly says, coming up to their level. She kisses and nuzzles Alex on the side of the head, then wraps an arm around her waist and turns her attention to Kara. "Thank you for not telling her."

"It's my sisterly duty to keep secrets."

"I'm your sister," Alex grumbles fondly.

"So is Kelly now." Kara grabs both of their suitcases and sets them in motion towards the parking lot. "Ready to sleep the rest of the day away ?"

Alex grunts.

"She'll be fine if you pump some coffee in her."

Kara smiles, mostly to herself. "I know just the place."

 

She drives them to the hotel first, so they can drop their luggage and freshen up, and does the check in for them because an Alex after a 13 hours long flight is not an Alex in any state to understand a thick Irish accent. From there, they walk to KIERAN'S, Kara's heart beating louder and louder with each step she takes. It's not that she didn't already talk extensively about Lena to Alex, but she might have kept the "we're kissing now," part a secret, and she doesn't want to have to regret it. Alex won't be mad that she hasn't told her, but she certainly will be a pain in the ass about it, and Kara doesn't think she has any patience for it. She's been on her own for a long time, and no matter what is this thing between her and Lena, she wants to keep it to herself a little while longer, cradle it to her chest, enjoy it on her own before the rest of the world has to know. If it goes on long enough that the rest of the world has to know.

All plans she might have had to keep this under wrap swiftly disappear when they step inside of the bookshop ; and Kara refuses to be held as the sole culprit of that. Lena is wearing a vest. A vest. Dark grey with thin pink checkered lines over a white shirt rolled up to the elbows. She's paired this with dark blue jeans, cuffed at the ankle, and Kara is absolutely certain that she's cleaned and polished her boots. She looks gorgeous, handsome to such a point that it hurts to look at her ; and also like she's trying a bit too hard to impress someone. It wouldn't be so jarring if Alex and Kelly hadn't just stepped out of a plane and if Kara's own jeans weren't adorned with a nice grease stain but as it is, Lena looks like she's just walked out of a fashion show, and the Danvers out of a trash can.

When Lena welcomes them at the door, her hands are shaking a little, though Kara hopes only her can see that. She's got an old paperback peeking out of her back pocket and her hair in a low ponytail, swept over one shoulder and-

"You're drooling."

Alex's voice startles Kara out of whatever was happening in her brain right now.

Kara wipes at her chin and sure enough, it comes back wet. So, she might have forgotten how to close her mouth, fucking sue her, it's not her fault when Lena just walks around looking like that. Inexplicably, she thinks about Siobhan then. Her tight sparkly dresses, the glitter she would shed everywhere for weeks after parties, her crop tops and short shorts and high heels ; and she knows both are different, and good in their own ways, but seeing Lena right now is like seeing the light for the first time. It unties a knot in her chest she was unaware was here in the first place and it feels to her that she's breathing right for the first time in her life.

"I'm not drooling," she says after a much too long second.

"You are," Alex replies with no mercy. She bypasses her then, and extends her hand for Lena to shake. "I'm Alex Danvers, Kara’s sister."

It's the most threatening introduction Kara has witnessed in her entire life but it doesn't seem to faze Lena one bit, and her tone is steady when she replies, arching an eyebrow.

"I know," she says, taking the offered hand, "Kara talks an awful lot about you. I’m Lena. Lena Kieran."

"She talks an awful lot about you too," Alex drawls.

They size each other up for what seems to be an eternity until Kelly gently pushes Alex to the side and extends her own hand. "Kelly Olsen. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Immediately, Alex wraps an arm around her fiancée's waist. "Soon to be Kelly Olsen-Danvers," she says with such a sweet warm smile that Kara almost forgets their current predicament.

Lena's eyebrows shoot up on her forehead. "Congratulations then. Coffee's on me."

"Don't say that !" Kara laughs, even as she gently pushes her sister inside, "she'll drink you out of house !" Her arms brush against Lena's when she walks past and it takes all of her strength not to stop right here and kiss her in broad daylight.

Lena goes back to working on her side of the shop and the rest of them settle around Kara's usual table where Alex orders the biggest coffee available with so many espresso shots that Kara has a heart attack by proxy. Brainy brings it to her in a bowl, and immediately takes the top position in Alex's top ten favourite people. They get pastries too, an inordinate amount of them, and Alex wolfs down a donut and a cinnamon roll in the time it takes Kelly to eat half of her slice of apple pie. They eat and make small talk, Alex finishing a rant about a stupid coworker she started the day before on a video call, but even if her sister's attention seems to be directed to this, Kara still gets the impression that she's observing her. She tries not to crack under the pressure, but after one too many times her eyes flicker to Lena talking to a customer only to flicker back to Alex's piercing gaze, she gives up.

"What ?"

"Nothing."

"You're looking at me weird."

"I'm not," Alex replies, imperturbable.

"You kinda are babe," Kelly says, rubbing a thumb over Alex’s hand.

Kara follows the touch distractingly. The casual gesture seems very intimate to her, almost like it shouldn't be witnessed, but she doesn't look away. She's so happy that Alex has Kelly now, someone who holds her hand in the street and wants the same things she wants, makes her feel loved and proud ; and also calls her "babe" with a hint of reproach.

"I've noticed Lena doesn't greet all of her customers personally," Alex says in a flat, monotone voice. She inclines her head towards the door where someone just entered the shop. Lena, who's just gotten back behind her counter acknowledges them with a nod but not much more. "We got special treatment."

"We- we did not," Kara sputters. This, evidently, is a big mistake, and Alex stares at her, unblinking, until Kara caves. "Alright, maybe we did. We’re friends. Friends do that."

She hopes Alex will drop it, but her sister is tenacious, and when she's got something in mind, she's worse than a dog with a bone. "I find it interesting is all. And I think your crush might be reciprocated, because I don’t look at my friends like that."

"We kissed," Kara hisses behind her tea.

"You didn’t tell me that."

"You didn’t tell me you were engaged," Kara bites back. She takes a long sip of her tea, trying to wash the aftertaste of her petty retort.

Alex shrugs. "Fair enough."

"I'm sorry though," Kara continues, feeling the need to explain herself. "It's just it's new and we haven't really labelled anything and I wanted to keep it to myself for a little while."

Alex's gaze softens all of a sudden. She exhales, and seems to deflate as she does so. "Okay."

"Okay...?" Kara echoes slowly.

"Okay," Alex repeats. "I'm sorry for pushing, I just want to know if you're happy."

Kara glances over at Lena. She's busy wrapping a few books in one of her trademark brown paper bags but when she feels her gaze on her, she lifts her head, and their eyes catch each other across the room. Lena smiles, ducks her head shyly, then refocuses on her customer.

"Yeah," Kara whispers, "I’m happy."

 

Kara loves spending time with her sister, but Alex's visits are always hectic ; and even if she’s been coming here once a year for five years every time, without fail, she wants to see absolutely everything. They spend the first few days of her visit striding across Dublin, North to South and East to West, stopping at all the landmarks relevant to one Alex Danvers ; the Irish Whiskey Museum and the Guinness Storehouse both being particularly high on that list. They visit every time, and at this point Kara knows the history of Irish whiskey by heart, but it makes Alex happy. Plus, Lena joins them on the day they visit both of these and Kara is pretty sure she goes through a life changing experience when she sees her expertly pouring a pint at the Guinness Academy.

After their visit of Dublin, Kara leaves Lena behind and the library in the good hands of Nia and their current summer employee to embark in a cross country road trip. They go up to Donegal in a rental car, then down the West coast to explore the Wild Atlantic Way. Alex and Kara did it once already, on Kara's first summer here when Kelly wasn't yet in the picture and the sisters' wounds were still raw. The car had given up halfway through and they'd spent most of the trip arguing but by the time they'd reached Kinsale in County Cork they were okay, and Alex had reached a certain level of acceptance of Kara remaining in Ireland. Even if she wasn’t happy about it.

Now, she wants Kelly to see it too. Not the fights and the pain, but the cliffs and the endless winding roads, the secret beaches and the roaring sea. They lack time to experience it all, but they make sure to stop in all the places Alex liked the first time and take turns driving so they can cover more ground in one go. Even if it means they have to teach Kelly how to drive on the left side of the road and they almost end up in a ditch a good couple of times.

Part of the trip is a little awkward for Kara ; but spending any extended amount of time with Alex and Kelly always is. These two are so in love that sometimes just being in their vicinity makes one feel like their intruding. She writes a lot during the trip, not just taking notes for her blog, but to Lena as well. She writes her tiny letters on the back of restaurant receipts and in the corner of hiking maps she steals in every tourism offices they pass by. She writes her countless postcards too and when they finally arrive in Kinsale, road weary and tanner on one side, she shoves everything into one big envelop and sends it ahead of her to Howth.

They stay in Kinsale for a few days, the sisters basking in each other presence knowing that Kara will have to drop Alex and Kelly straight at the airport on the way back. They impulse buy a tent and decide to camp instead of staying at a guest house and on their very last evening, Kelly gently nudges the two of them out and hangs back to talk with other travellers. The sun hasn't set yet, and the sisters walk down the colourful streets with takeaway fish and chips until they reach the port and the River Bandon. They do so in comfortable silence until Alex puts her hand on Kara's elbow and they sit down with their feet dangling over the water.

"How are you ?" Alex asks. It's a simple enough question, but she doesn't ask it often, and when she does, it always sounds more charged than it should be.

"I’m good," Kara replies absentmindedly.

Alex nudges her shoulder. "Really ?"

"Yes, really," Kara says, happy that she manages to keep away the slight edge that almost always slip into her voice when Alex asks this question. "You worry too much."

"I'm your sister, worrying's kinda my job."

Kara sighs. "I've been doing good. I think. I'm not as lonely as I used to be. That's what you're worrying about, right ?"

"Yeah," Alex breathes, "that's what I worry about. I know you, and even a screen and pixel can't hide this, no matter how much you try." She stops, wriggles her fingers before squeezing them between her knees. "I found a book," she continues, "on your bedside table."

"I-"

"I listen when you speak, you know," Alex interrupts gently. "I’ve been looking for that book for years, or well, I wanted to find the same edition, but I never did. How did you get it ? Where was it ?" She pauses again, and when she continues, her voice is a little lower, strangled. "Why didn't you tell me ?"

Kara sighs. She wants to press her palm against her eyes until they disappear into her skull and she can't see anything ever again. "Lena had it. She bought it at a flea market and then sold it in her shop."

"Does she know ?"

Kara shakes her head. "I haven't told her, no. I mean she knows my parents are dead but not that it was my mum's book. I'm not even sure I should have bought the book, I try not to think about it to be honest."

"I think you should tell her. Whenever you're ready. She seems like a good person. Trustworthy."

"You've seen her twice," Kara dismisses with a short laugh.

"Maybe," Alex concedes, "but you like her, and that's enough for me."

This simple statement makes Kara's heart triple in size, and she remains silent for long minutes, looking at the lights on the river. "I don't want you to go home," she whispers eventually.

"I could stay," Alex offers, like she does every time.

"You’ve got California in your blood," Kara replies, like she does every time.

And it's true. Alex is the embodiment of the West coast lesbian, ripping her away from National City would be nothing short of a crime. Kara ? She's from so many places that she's from nowhere at all. But Alex is a Californian born and bred, and Kara wouldn't take that away from her.

"I could surf here too," Alex points out. "I mean the weather is shit, but I could surf here anyway. And buy a new bike, a bigger one."

"Alex..."

"I know." She kisses the side of Kara's head, gently, ruffling her hair as she does so. "I just wish you'd put down your roots closer to mine, but I'm happy if you're happy. Little wanderer."

Kara doesn't reply. Instead she puts her head on her sister's shoulder and closes her eyes, breathing her in. Alex always smells fresh and clean, no matter the circumstances. Soap, sunscreen, mint and a hint of cologne ; she can talk to her on the phone, see her face on video calls, but the way her sister smells has no substitute and it's what she misses the most when they're apart. She cries when she drops her off at the airport. Then she drives back to Howth, Lena makes her a cup of tea, and life returns to its tranquil course.

"The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking."

— L’Albatros, Charles Baudelaire, translated by William Aggeler

After Alex and Kelly leave, August melts into September. The bulk of the tourists withers away, the weather is pleasant, and Kara is having the time of her life. It seems to her that Lena is the answer to everything ; and though opening up after being closed off for so long is not an easy fit, she tries, because Lena makes her want to. That's not to say she lays herself bare for the taking, some wounds run too deep to ever see the light again, but little by little, she peels back some of her layers to show Lena what she's made of and with each day that passes, she grows more and more convinced that Lena is the one who will finally stay.

They're lying on Lena's couch, only half watching some kind of ocean fauna documentary Kara thinks she might have already seen once or twice, and neither of them are really paying attention. Brainy is out on a date with Nia and they have the apartment to themselves and Lena is half laying on top of her, head pillowed on her chest, fingers tentatively splayed on her abs under her sweater. They're still so tentative with one another sometimes that it makes Kara ache. Seeing the two of them now, one wouldn't think their first kiss was a full blown snogging session against a door. It doesn't really bother Kara, she likes how Lena treats her like she's brand new and fragile and not so weathered down that she's become unbreakable.

She combs her fingers through Lena's hair, marvelling at how soft it is. It's tangle free and out of its usual ponytail, and Lena makes low contented noises every time Kara's hand runs on her scalp. She notices, in the low light of the lamp set next to the couch that it's getting lighter, taking on russet tones when it was ink black when she first met her. It's unnoticeable when it's pulled back in a ponytail, but here, free of any constraint, Lena's hair is rich as chocolate and a little spark, half painful half content, lights in Kara's stomach at the thought of being one of the few people who get to see her like that.

On the TV screen, a whale shark opens its mouth wide and on the couch, Kara mimics it by yawning loudly. Lena stretches to kiss the bottom of her jaw.

"Tired ?"

Kara makes a non committal noise, knowing that if she's truthful it will lead to the end of their quiet evening and she'll have to go home. They haven't slept over since that first night and it's been so long since Kara has had anything more than a one night stand that she isn't sure how to ask Lena to stay when they're at her studio, huddled around her dinner table, and it starts getting late. She doesn't know if she should ask her if she wants to stay, leaving it open, or if she should be more assertive and tell her she wants her to stay, and each time she inevitably doesn't and ends up walking her home instead. She always feels a bit stupid afterward, when she walks back to her studio with her hands deep in her pockets and her neck buried in the collar of her jacket because she wrapped her scarf around Lena's and didn't get it back.

"You could stay. I mean if you want."

Kara is so deep in thoughts that what Lena said doesn't immediately register.

"It's raining and it's late. I can lend you something to sleep in and my bed is big enough for both of us."

Kara gaps like a fish out of water and misses by a good minute the appropriate time frame to answer.

"Forget it. Brainy will be here soon anyway, I'll walk you home."

Lena starts getting up, and in a desperate last minute attempt at doing this right, Kara grabs at her waist and flattens her against her. "Sorry," she says, "sorry. You caught me by surprise. I'd love to stay the night."

"Okay." Lena beams at her, her smile both dazzling and soft. "I'll get you a toothbrush and a sleep shirt then."

She starts getting up again, but Kara's hands don't seem to have gotten the memo, and instead of loosening their grasp to let her go, they tighten again, her fingers digging into the soft flesh of Lena's sides. Lena's arrested motion means that she ends up hovering over Kara, straddling her hips, hair spilling over her shoulders and hiding part of her face. She's rolled the sleeves of her sweater and Kara stares for a moment as her forearms tense then relax while she adjusts.

They eye each other silently, each trying to gauge the other's expression in the low light. For a long moment, it seems to Kara that the only sound in the room is her own loud heartbeat. Then comes the rustling of fabric on fabric, her sweater on the couch, when she lifts herself up to a seating position and comes to Lena's level. She keeps her firmly in place, sliding her hands down to press her on her lap, then stares a while longer. Lena is always beautiful, but she looks breathtaking tonight ; eyes as dark as the deepest forest and sharp, angular face luminescent in the golden light. They're so close that their chests brush against one another with each breath and Kara chases the contact, leaning forward. Her lips have barely brushed Lena's that a key turns in the lock.

They spring apart fast ; or at least, that's what they intend to do. But Kara's hands let go of Lena's hips a second too late and when she catapults herself off the couch, Lena follows, landing on top of her on the wooden floor. Lena's got a sort of "deer caught in headlights" expression, eyes wide, mouth agape, and she doesn't seem to have understood that she needs to get off Kara if she wants her brother to find them in a less conspicuous situation. In a twist of luck, there’s a scuttle in the corridor, Kara distinctly recognises Nia's voice calling out to Brainy and these few seconds of respite are enough for Lena to catch up with the situation, climb off of her, grab her hand and yank her to her bedroom. The door slams behind them with a loud thud and they rest against it, breathing heavily and out of sync.

"Well," Kara mumbles, "fuck."

"I promised I'd wait up for him," Lena whispers, turning around to rest her head on the wooden panel.

"I can still go," Kara offers, "or hide in here," she adds when Lena looks up at her with a sad frown. "Go be a good sister, I'll wait up for you here, get ready for bed and stuff."

Lena chuckles and smiles shyly. "And stuff ?"

Kara rolls her eyes and pushes herself off the door, stopping in her tracks when Lena grabs her wrist to hold her back. Kara whirls around and, in what she hopes is an elegant and sexy motion, but knows is probably a little clumsy, she leans over Lena, trapping her against the door and framing her face with her forearms. Lena bites her lower lip, staring up at her through her eyelashes.

"I'm going to start believing doors are our thing."

Kara smiles, cocks her head to the side. "Maybe they are." She starts leaning in, a little faster than she did on the couch, and this time, her lips make full contact with Lena's before they hear the front door opening again.

Lena presses a long lingering kiss to her mouth, then steps under her arm and lays her hand on the handle. "Spare toothbrushes are under the sink, towels are in the big cupboard. Don't touch anything purple, it's Brainy's."

Kara nods, repeating the instructions under her breath before she steps away from the door to let Lena slip out.

 

The bathroom connects the siblings' rooms, and Kara locks the door on Brainy's side before stripping off her clothes. She forgoes a shower, in the hopes Brainy won't have noticed she's here, but washes up quickly in the sink, lathering all the important parts with Lena's lavender soap. She chooses a blue toothbrush and brushes her teeth twice with a thick organic brown paste that doesn't foam much but tastes very strongly of mint.

Once she feels cleaner, she steps back into the bedroom, naked, and ruffles into Lena's closet until she finds an oversized hoodie and sleep shorts that might have once been sweatpants that were cut at the thighs. She's just slipped the hoodie over her head when Lena enters the room, closing the door silently behind her.

"Brainy knows you're here," she says, "he recognised your shoes."

"Shit."

"He offered to wear his noise cancelling headphones," Lena continues, making a face. "He's always been far more perceptive than I give him credit for."

Kara drops her head in her hands. "Shit."

"It's okay I-" Lena pauses, sighs, and strips off her sweater in one swift motion, leaving her in a grey t-shirt with a faded punk band logo. "I'm not hiding you from him. Well I was but- Shit."

It's her turn to press her head into her hands and Kara takes a step forward, extending her arm before she stops.

"Last time I was with someone," Lena continues, looking up, "it didn't turn out great and it- Well Brainy worries a lot about me so I wanted a moment to figure this out, to figure us out, without scrutiny. He means well but he can be..."

"A little overprotective ?" Kara finishes for her, softly. "It's okay, my sister's like that too. There's a picture of her face next the dictionary's definition of 'overprotective', but she means well, and so does Brainy. I can still go home if you'd rather be alone."

Lena shakes her head from side to side. "I'd rather you stay. Please."

Kara smiles. "Then I'm staying." She drops on the edge of Lena's bed, the mattress bouncing a little under her weight.

Lena smiles too, and ducks her head. "I'll go," she makes a weird circular motion around her face, "wash up. Be right back."

"Take your time, I'm not going anywhere."

True to her words, Kara doesn't move an inch. She stays still on the bed while Lena strips naked next door and takes a quick shower. Thinking about the water running down Lena's bare body makes her nervous, but she doesn't leave, and barely breathes at all until she steps into the bedroom again, swaddled in a long sleeved shirt and snug boxer briefs. She looks- Tantalising doesn't seem like a strong enough word to describe her and yet it's the strongest that comes to Kara's mind. Her hair is wet and braided back and she's wearing-

"Glasses."

Lena hums.

"You’re wearing glasses."

"So are you," Lena points out.

At the mention of their existence, so often forgotten, Kara adjusts them on her face. "I am, but you knew that. I didn't know you had glasses."

Lena mirrors her gesture, adjusting her own glasses. "I'm blind as a bat," she says with a grimace. "So was my mam. I started wearing contacts when I was ten though."

"Your glasses suit you."

"Really ?" Lena asks, somewhat shyly.

"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are ?"

Lena shakes her head, dismissing the compliment with a careless wave of the hand.

"Really," Kara presses. "Sometimes I- Sometimes I can't even breathe when I look at you."

Something passes on Lena's face, a flickering fierce expression. She starts walking to her, though what she's doing might be better described as a march, and when she's close, she removes her glasses, straddles Kara's lap and removes Kara's own glasses in a jerky motion that is hard to follow. Kara doesn't have enough eyes to take it all in. With the leverage Lena is just a little bit taller than she is and when she leans down to kiss her, something explodes within her chest.

She's positive she's never felt this way before, so full of fire, her emotions overflowing and spilling from every part of her. It takes her a second to catch up, but when she does, she grips the back of Lena's thighs to keep her firmly in place above her, and time and space lose all meaning to her. It could be hours, it could be days, that they remain kissing on the edge of the bed, Lena pressing her whole weight on top of her, her body warm and grounding, her hands tangled in the hair at the base of Kara's neck, tugging at the strands.  Her own hands dig into her thighs, fingers slipping tentatively under the edge of her boxers where her skin is even warmer, so hot that it is almost burning. Lena is usually so pale that one would think she'd be cold to the touch, but her body is searing ; so much so that Kara thinks her own skin is about to melt and they'll be bound together in fire. She wouldn't mind it one bit.

Lena is breathing hard, panting and whining into her mouth. When Kara sucks on her tongue, she bucks against her and draws back a little, gasping for air. Kara seizes the opportunity to trail down her neck, nipping at the flushed skin there until she reaches her collarbone and plunges, breathing her in. She wants to indulge in her little fantasy and  lap tirelessly at the dip in her neck but she needs a minute too and remains immobile, pressed to her, air coming out of her mouth in fast warm puffs. After a moment, she looks up at Lena who's looking down at her, pupils blown wide, cheeks red, chest heaving up and down quickly. She's slipped her hand under the collar of Kara's borrowed hoodie and she can already feel delicious bruises blooming where her short nails dug into her skin. Kara suddenly feels like she ought to say something, but Lena beats her to it. She straightens up a little, wiggling on her lap until Kara can feel a wet hot patch against her skin, and retracts her hands from their haven to frame her face delicately.

"I really like you," she whispers, so close to her that Kara can feel her words vibrating through the air. "I really really like you. I need you to know that."

Kara straightens up too, Lena breathing in sharply when it leads to one of her thighs rubbing between her legs. "I really really like you too. I hope you know that. Are you okay ?"

Lena nods and tries to hide in the crook of her neck but Kara lets go of her thighs to frame her face, keeping her in place. "I'm okay," Lena whispers. "I'm good. I just- I got a little overwhelmed."

Kara kisses her forehead, softly, just between the eyebrows. "It's okay. Do you want to stop ? We can go to sleep."

This time, Lena shakes her head, and exhales. "No. But can we- Can we go slow ?"

"We can go slow," Kara promises in a whisper, "we can do anything you want. Do you want to lie down ?"

Lena shakes her head again. "No. Like this is good."

To test this out, Kara presses a hand to her belly then slowly, she drags it down until she's hooked a finger in the waistband of her boxer briefs. "Yeah ?"

Lena exhales shakily. "Yeah."

Kara wants nothing more than to remove the pesky underwear and feel and touch the slick heat she knows is there but Lena said slow, so she goes slow. Instead of going down, her hand goes up, gently trailing under her sweater with the tip of her fingers until she reaches the underside of her breasts and rests there, impatiently waiting. When she gets the okay from Lena, a nod, a tentative brush of her lips on her, she moves higher, and takes one into her hand, the flesh round and heavy in her palm. She brushes a thumb against her nipple, and Lena breathes in sharply against her mouth, whispering her name.

"Kara..."

Kara swallows her own name, pressing her mouth harder against Lena's, biting her bottom lip because how can she not, when Lena said her name like that ? 

Because Lena wants to go slow, there's no expectation, no endgame for the night, and Kara finds that she's happy and comfortable with the pace Lena sets. She keeps on running her hand on her breasts, from one to the other and back again, the other keeping her pressed to her lap where Lena rubs slowly. She's perfectly content this way, could keep on doing this forever, rolling a hard nipple under her thumb, feeling and memorising Lena's arousal on her thigh, seeping through her cut off sweatpants ; but then Lena decides to remove her sweater, tugging it over her head in a slow and smooth motion.

The Earth stops spinning. Kara is pretty sure her eyes are bulging out like an old-timey character ; she might even be drooling again. She was aware of Lena's boobs situation, she's got perfectly functioning eyes and she's been fondling them for a good while now. Still, she wasn't quite prepared for this moment. Lena is adorned with the most gorgeous breasts Kara has ever seen, and she's going to die.

"I take it you're a tits kind of girl," Lena says in a small strangled voice.

Several courses of action open up to Kara then. She could reply by the affirmative, or she could argue ; instead, she chooses to dive in and attempts to take a whole breast into her mouth. It's not possible of course, her mouth was infuriatingly not built for the task ; but she's enthusiastic in her endeavour, lavishing Lena with her tongue, and Lena is just as ecstatic in her response. She starts bucking against her again, looking for a friction Kara is all too happy to provide, first with a steady thigh, then by slipping her hand in between their bodies and pressing it against her underwear. Lena is soaked. Kara is too, can feel it in the way her borrowed sweatpants stick to her, but it's not the most pressing matter. The most pressing matter is the way Lena whines and chases her touch, asks for it straight into her mouth, barely taking the time to string coherent syllables before she's kissing her again.

"Touch me. Please."

"I am touching you," Kara whispers, voice hoarse and words bolder than she really is.

"You know what I mean."

"Say it."

Lena doesn't answer immediately. Instead, she deepens their ongoing kiss until Kara is out of breath and most of her higher brain functions have ground to a halt. Then, she trails a path along her jaw, all the way to her ear and whispers there, breathy but perfectly audible, "I want you inside me."

Slow goes out the window. Getting Lena out of her boxer briefs requires more coordination than they both have at the moment and the underwear ends up tangled and forgotten around one of her legs. Kara readjusts her position, lifting Lena up and spreading her legs until she's got enough room to move and her hand finds a home in her heat. She spears a brief thought for the universe and the stars which aligned perfectly to lead her there, then Lena, ironically finding her too slow, starts moving and all other thoughts are relegated to the background.

Something almost primal awakes in Kara at the sight of Lena rolling on her fingers, at the way her breasts bounce, at the feel of her tightening around her. She breathes hard, letting out noises so high pitched and so far removed from her usual deep voice that it takes a moment for Kara to wrap her head around them. When she does, she adjusts her hand so that her thumb rubs consistently against her clit and Lena releases her loudest moan yet. Every time Lena presses down, the back of Kara's wrist rubs where she herself needs it the most and this, completed with the visual, means that she's not far behind when Lena's back arches and she comes with her name on her lips. Her own orgasm seizes her with surreal synchronicity and she almost doesn't believe the way her body tenses until a wave of pleasure rolls over her and she has to hide in between Lena's breasts so she doesn't wake the whole town.

She's still sitting at the edge of the bed, she hasn't moved, just like she promised ; and she doesn't move a muscle now, even when her hand starts cramping and the position gets uncomfortable. The sweatpants are sticking to her and that's uncomfortable too but she refuses to break the moment, at least not until Lena's recovered enough that she can propose a round two. She looks up, and Lena inhales loudly when the side of her head inadvertently brushes against a sensitive nipple. She's looking at her too, still from her slightly elevated position, with a gaze half hazy and half devilish, and a question. Kara nods, and Lena presses on her chest, guiding her down on the bed. Before she's fully flat on her back however, and before Lena has had time to fully climb on top of her, Kara flips their position in a smooth move she didn't even know she had in her. Smooth, at least until she overcompensates her balance and ends up rolling all the way to the side of the bed and on the floor.

The sound her back makes on the floorboards is swallowed by a sudden peel of laughter from Lena who scrambles on the bed until she can peer over the edge. Her braid is almost completely undone, her skin is flushed, and there's a bead of sweat slowly running down her neck. Kara stares, silent, flustered, until a hint of something arises at the back of her mind and she pushes herself up on her elbows, rips the hoodie over her head and climbs on the bed and Lena. She does so quickly lest she does something stupid like telling Lena she loves her when the thought's just barely entered her head. She refuses to think about it, not now, not so soon, and instead pours everything she has from her body to Lena's long into the night.

 

Kara wakes up alone and half-naked, Lena's bed too big and empty without her for her to make any sense of it. She stretches, yawns and rolls over onto her back. A weak ray of sun cuts a trail of grey light through a slit in the curtains, and a soft and strangely rhythmic clicking noise reaches her ears. She remembers Lena telling her she wakes up early but with the way light shines into the room, it must be really early. That, or the weather is shite, which is not exactly out of the realm of possibilities. Kara stretches again, blinks and rubs her eyes, and the rest of the room finally comes into focus.

A low and warm light shines in a corner of the bedroom, illuminating what Kara mistook the previous night for some kind of fancy console table. The top has been lifted, revealing ivory keys on which Lena's fingers are now silently dancing. She's sitting with her back to her, body engulfed in a baggy t-shirt and swaying delicately along to a music Kara doesn't hear. She only understands why when she notices a cable running from the piano to Lena ; she is wearing headphones.

Kara rolls out of bed, grabbing Lena's hoodie to ward off the morning chill, and pads closer to her, her feet nearly silent on the cold floorboards. She stops when she's just behind her, hesitant to reach out in case she startles her. She doesn't want to break the spell Lena seems engulfed in, alone and safe in her own little world. Though Kara cannot hear the music, or even guess what she might be playing, she knows it's beautiful. She sees it in the way her long fingers fly over the keys without pause, in the way she sways gently, her body rolling like a wave, in the way she breathes, careful and timed. In the end, she doesn't need to signal her presence because Lena seems to sense that she's here. She pauses, her fingers resting on the keyboard for a second, and lowers her headphones before turning around. She looks a bit tired, or maybe just soft, and she's smiling.

"Good morning," she says hoarsely, "I didn't hear you get up."

"G'morning," Kara echoes, swallowing half the greeting, "you're up early."

"I'm always up early."

Lena swings her legs over her piano bench and whirls around, facing Kara completely. There's a moment of hesitation, during which her arms are not quite open for a hug, but not quite resting at her sides either, until Kara opens hers and motions for Lena to do the same. When she does, Kara steps in between her legs and brings her arms down for a slightly clumsy embrace. Lena's head rests against her abs and her arms wrap around her waist holding her tight and in place, and her own are wound around her shoulders, hands slipping under the hem of her t-shirt. The top of Lena's hair is tousled from sleep and she moves her head, pressing her face against the fabric of the hoodie and inhaling deeply.

"You're up too early."

"Whatever," Lena mouths against her stomach. "I don't like sleeping."

Kara herself adores sleeping, but a soft "okay," is all she replies to that.

Lena squeezes her waist then releases it, sliding her arms against her. "Come on," she says, tugging at her elbow, "I'll play you something."

Kara follows readily, briefly tangling her fingers with Lena's before she allows her to move back into playing position and settles next to her on the bench. Lena fumbles with the settings for a second, unplugging her headphones, then splays her fingers on the keys, and inhales. When she exhales, her fingers start a slow dance.

Kara is by no mean a connoisseur of classical music, but it seems to her that this is the most beautiful thing she's ever heard. At first, she thinks Lena's fingers are deliberately slow, so she can follow her better, but she realises, when she's further into the piece, that it's meant to be like that, studious, thoughtful, delicate. Kara is seized by the contradictory urge to close her eyes and let herself be swept away by the music and the desperate need to keep watching lest she doesn't memorise properly the gut wrenching image of Lena's long pale hands on the white keyboard. She can't think of it as anything else than a dance, an amorous court between Lena's fingers and the piano, and it makes her almost jealous, until Lena pauses, exhales again and turns to kiss her on the cheek before she launches herself into another piece, similar but faster, and more intricate.

Kara loses track of time as she watches her play, and she thinks Lena does too, moving from piece to piece with no more than a breath in between them, her fingers tireless and precise. Kara doesn't think she's deliberately woken up that early in years, but she feels no exhaustion, only sheer contentment at being close to Lena and privy to such a beautiful thing. It's a gift she'd never thought she'd be gifted, a treasure she'd never thought to search for ; and she's surprised to find that she doesn't feel unworthy of it. Whatever higher power is responsible for this has blessed her, and she intends to enjoy every second.

When the sun has risen a little higher and the light is a little clearer, there's a knock on the bedroom door. Lena stops playing and lifts her hands slowly before looking over her shoulder and calling for Brainy to come in. He does, opening the door only a crack before slipping in as if he is afraid the music will escape the room and be lost forever if he gives it more space. He settles on the edge of the bed, right behind them, and starts kneading the comforter with his hands.

"You only play Bach on Sundays," he says with a frown, "and it is Monday."

He pauses, swaying from side to side to the ghost of the music, then continues. "I have invited Nia over for brunch, she will arrive in ten minutes. Will you be there too ? If yes, we need more eggs."

Lena looks over at Kara who shrugs. Having breakfast with Nia wasn't part of her plans but it doesn't seem like the worst idea.

Satisfied by the answer in Kara's lack of an answer, Lena whirls around on the bench and turns to her brother. "Is it a pyjamas kind of breakfast ?"

Kara turns around too and takes in Brainy's outfit. He's wearing checkered purple boxers and a grey t-shirt that's a bit too tight around the shoulders ; she would bet it's Lena's. Under both of their scrutiny, Brainy seems to realise his current predicament, and the smile that had begun to rise on his face falls. "I did not think this through. I assume she is coming fully dressed."

"Okay." Lena slaps her thighs and gets up in one swift continuous motion. "Ten minutes is plenty of time." Brainy seems unsure of that fact, but Lena doesn't give him any time to protest. "We're going to get dressed and Kara," she turns to her, and Kara tries her hardest to keep her gaze at eye level, "there should be eggs in the cold room downstairs. Can you bring up a box ?"

The request carries a clear subtext ; Lena wants a minute alone with her brother. Kara leans over and kisses her on the cheek, much like Lena did earlier, and quickly makes her way out of the room, closing the door behind her.

In the kitchen, Brainy has already begun preparing breakfast. Fresh jam is bubbling on the stove, bread is baking in the oven, and she spies what she reckons to be small brioche buns rising under a tea towel in a ray of sun. The room smells of yeast, sugar and fruits, all things she's come to associate with Brainy, and she smiles as she shoves her bare feet in her boots ; this is her life now.

 

She lingers in the shop's kitchen, wanting to give the siblings as much time as possible. She doesn't remain long inside the actual cold room once she's found the eggs, considering she's in her underwear and doesn't want to die of hypothermia ; but she explores the rest of the room to her heart's content, taking in the clean and modern metal counters, so unlike the rest of the coffee shop, and the sharp tangy citrus smell. Everything is perfectly in order, everything has its place, including a chocolate brown mug inscribed with "all you knead is love," in faded cream lettering that rests upside down near the sink. Unfortunately all of this lingering means that when she comes back upstairs, she bumps right into Brainy and Nia coming in through the backdoor.

Kara is absolutely convinced that she could have gotten away with it if she hadn't opened her mouth. She is certain it would have been fine if she hadn't shaken her box of eggs and said, in the most conspicuous manner known to humankind, "I was just um- getting eggs. Downstairs."

Nia eyes her silently for a moment, eyes running up and down her body. Kara resists the urge to self-consciously tug at the hem of her boxer briefs. "Is that what people call it nowadays ?"

Kara lifts the box. "I was getting eggs," she repeats.

"In your underwear ?"

"Kara's clothes are in Lena's bedroom."

Kara feels a hot blush washing on her cheeks, Nia lets out a full blown cackle and Brainy stares at her with stars in his eyes. Thankfully, the door opens just then and Lena's hand appears, ripping the eggs from Kara to shove them at Brainy and dragging her inside and all the way to her bedroom again.

"What are you doing ?" Kara hisses, her complaint barely audible over Nia's full body laugh.

"Saving you from further embarrassment. You forgot your trousers."

"Yeah," Kara grimaces, "I kinda noticed."

She looks down at her bare legs, paler than the rest of her body and suddenly feels very self-conscious. She's got a weird unidentified bruise on her thigh and can't remember when or where she got it. It disappears from sight when Lena comes closer and puts a hand on it, the tip of her fingers slipping under the hem of her boxer briefs.

"Is um- Is Brainy okay ?"

Lena hums. "He is. He's just really worried about Nia tasting is brioche which believe it or not is not a sexual innuendo."

She starts rubbing small circles on Kara's skin, and it makes it really hard to think. Her fingers are smooth, almost silky, in a way that makes it clear she just slathered them with a gallon of cream. She knows Lena's hands are as calloused as hers, an unfortunate side effect of working with books, and the fact that she took care of them, made them smooth in anticipation of touching her, lights a fire deep within her. She puts her own hands on Lena's hips, pressing them against the thick material of her sweatshirt, and tugs until she's flat against her, their noses bumping. Lena removes her hand from where it's gotten caught in between their bodies and runs it down her jaw, her neck, before slipping it under the collar of her hoodie.

"I'm glad you stayed over."

"I’m glad I stayed over too," Kara breathes.

Lena smells like mint, and Kara remembers a bit too late that she didn't have the time to brush her teeth this morning. Lena doesn't complain ; she's already kissing her.

Kissing Lena now that she knows what her body feels like is an entirely different experience. The kiss isn't particularly urgent, more lazy and soft, but after the previous night, just a press of her lips on hers is enough to ignite each and every one of Kara's nerve endings, and the fact that she manages to contain herself, that she doesn't explode, is nothing short of a miracle. She picks her off the ground, holding her tighter and tighter while Lena wraps her arms around her shoulders and her legs around her waist, her soul burning with a deep desire for closeness. She opens her mouth and Lena meets her halfway, hungry but unhurried, her tongue pliant against hers.

They kiss for longer than is appropriate when there is a guest in the living room but in this instant this thought doesn't occur to either of them. They need to be kissing right now, and nothing else matters. They kiss, and then kiss some more, until Kara can't breathe and the fabric of Lena's jeans has grown warm in her hands and they should really stop now but the very thought is inconceivable.

Someone knocks on the door, tentatively and they come apart reluctantly. Kara still doesn't put Lena down but stares at her instead, inhaling her little rapid breaths in the hope that if she does, she'll retain a part of her. She stares and Lena stares back, refusing to break eye contact and as they do so, Kara recognises something in her. It's cliché and it's stupid and it's something she's been relentlessly searching for since Siobhan, consciously or not ; Kara stares at Lena, pupils blown wide, cheeks flushed, lips glistening and she thinks, "oh, it's you."

Lena's laid out her clothes for her on a chair. They've been carefully and tenderly folded, her jeans, her t-shirt and sweater, her sport bra, even her socks, and her glasses are here too. She disregards everything but her jeans and socks. She's not conscious in her decision to steal Lena's hoodie. It's just that it smells nice and it's comfortable, and taking it off right now feels like a crime. She toys with her glasses for a while, but doesn't put them on.

"You know," she says, "I don't actually need them."

Lena takes her glasses from her hands and peers through the lenses. "You don’t ?"

"I don't. Well I definitely needed them when I was a kid and I probably will need them again at some point but these one don't have a prescription. They're more of a-" Kara stops, looking for the correct word. "They're more of a security blanket. I've had the same frames for ages. Jeremiah, my adoptive father, he got them for me soon after I came to live with the Danvers. They make me feel safe I suppose."

Lena cocks her head to the side. "Okay," she whispers.

She begins to unfold the glasses with the clear intention of putting them on Kara's face but Kara interrupts the gesture, gently grasping her hands. She folds the glasses back and pockets them in her hoodie instead. She's said all these words but the next ones refuse to come and she hopes Lena understands her anyway, understands that Kara feels safe here with her.

Breakfast is not a complete disaster. Kara does have to witness Brainy and Nia amorously feeding each other small pieces of bread but at least she's not getting teased any further about the underwear incident. In addition to bread, brioche and jam, Brainy's also made eggs in three different ways and Lena and Kara were also put to contribution, one slicing fruits and the other grating potatoes for hash browns. There's tea, coffee, orange juice that Kara knows for a fact is expensive because she never buys that brand, and homemade chocolate and hazelnut paste. The result is downright decadent, the dining table bending under the weight of food, and they have to walk it off with a double date hike.

The weather's not bad, a bit cloudy but that's not unusual, and they make their way through Kara's usual route, passing by the trail that is still slowly crumbling and looping back once they've reached the lighthouse. Kara kicks the sign upright once more when they walk past, trying to bury it deeper into the ground with some assistance from Lena and pushing a few stray rocks into the watery trench running straight through the path.

"Someone's gonna have a real accident here one day."

Lena wipes a bit of mud on her jeans. "You really think so ?"

"There's only so much I can do about it myself."

"Love, how often I loved you without seeing -
without remembering you -
not recognising your glance, not knowing you,
(...)
I loved you without knowing I did ; I searched to remember you."

- Love sonnet XXII, Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Tapscott

September folds away into October. More often than not now Kara wakes up in Lena's bed, body tangled with hers, heart full and warm. With each day that passes, each minute she spends in her company, Kara's chest cracks open a little more to fit Lena inside ; she's falling in love with her. She's falling in love with her, and it's no longer a hazy post-coital realisation but a reality, one that she's okay with most of the time.

Falling in love with Lena is okay when, well when she's around her essentially. It's easy even, and Kara is not afraid. It's impossible to be scared of her feelings and the future when they're walking around an exhibition with their hands linked and she's got butterflies in her stomach, or when they're tasting samples from everything at the farmers market and there's honey dripping down Lena's chin. There's nothing to be afraid of when they doze off in front of the TV or have double dates with Alex and Kelly across the Atlantic. When she's on her own however, Kara is fucking terrified. She wonders if she's going too fast, if she's falling back into her bad habits of doing everything too quickly, of rushing everywhere. In these moments she wonders if she should draw back, or push Lena away ; surely, Lena would be better off without her, Kara has always been too much.

She shares her thoughts with Alex on a particularly tear filled video calls and they've barely hung up that her sister sends her a screenshot of their latest double date, a slightly grainy picture of Lena, messy ponytail tucked under a backward baseball cap, looking at her with what even her self-flagellating brain can only describe as pure adoration. Alex captioned it "look at the way she's looking at you," and Kara prints it, folds it and shoves it into her mum's poetry book for safekeeping. Whenever she doubts, she takes it out and looks at it.

The book is not on the nightstand right now. It fell earlier when either her or Lena bumped into it in their hurry to get to the bed. Now that Kara is thinking about it, it might have been her fault specifically, she thinks she might have tripped on the furniture when she tried removing her wet shirt and got caught in it, rendered temporarily blind by the fabric stuck to her face. Not that the book sprawled on the ground is of immediate concern. Neither is the pain blooming in her hip from where she bumped it against the nightstand, not in the face of the waves of pleasure lapping at the rest of her body. It's dark outside, storming, they've lit a few candles, locked Streaky in the bathroom, and decided now would be a perfect time to test the new strap Kara ordered specially from the US. Her credit card got blocked by the website when she tried to buy it, and it led to the most awkward conversation of her life with Alex and then Lena teased her about it for a week straight. She's not laughing now, and neither is Kara.

In fact, she even thinks she might be dying. There is a rather real possibility that her soul is slowly exiting her body as she grinds into the base of the strap and Lena. She keeps her thrusts short, anything else rendered difficult by the fact Lena wrapped her legs around her to keep her close, but it's enough to make her writhe on the bed, skin flushed in the prettiest pink and covered in a thin layer of sweat. There's a prominent bite mark on her forearm from where she tried to muffle her moans before Kara grabbed her hand and pinned it to her side. She hasn't let it go yet and even intertwined their fingers. She's noticed it's something Lena enjoys, the strange proximity holding hands during sex brings. She was already doing it earlier, though this time it was Kara hanging on for dear life, when she got on her knees and decided they should test for themselves how much the stimulative base deserved its five stars review. Kara never dared to think she'd be into it, but the visual of Lena sucking the entire rainbow dildo into her mouth made her see colours she didn't know existed.

Lena likes being held, and the strap freeing both of Kara's hands makes it all that much easier. Still, there seems to be something missing for her to let go completely. She's teetering close to the edge, and she's enjoying herself, if the sounds she's making are any indication, but she hasn't let go yet, and Kara wants her to let go.

"You good ?"

"Yeah," Lena breathes, "yeah s'good."

"I meant are you okay ?"

Lena nods and briefly closes her eyes, moaning when Kara attempts to roll her hips a different way.

"Can I try something ?"

Lena nods again. "Yeah. Yeah okay."

Kara slips out entirely, a small smile grazing her lips when Lena whines at the loss. She leans forward to kiss her, quickly and thoroughly, then not so quickly when as she tries to draw back, Lena presses a hand at the back of her neck to trap her in place and deepen the kiss again. Lena lets go of her hand so she can grab a hold of the strap and press it against her, and Kara is the one who finds herself at a loss when her hips bucks into the base.

"Don't leave me like that," Lena whispers against her mouth, "it's mean."

Kara has to swallow a moan so she can speak, Lena’s hand still pressing against her. "S’gonna be good," she groans, "I swear."

Lena sucks on her bottom lips, bites, then lets her go completely and abruptly. "Okay."

Kara sits back on her haunches, the dildo jutting out of her hips and glistening in the candle light, slick with Lena's arousal. Lena moves towards her sluggishly and on all four, hair almost completely free of her low ponytail.

"Back to me," Kara whispers, motioning with her hands.

Lena obeys wordlessly, turning her back and letting herself be guiding down by Kara's hands on her hips. The tip of the strap presses against her clit and she moans, jolts and sinks onto half its length all in one go. Kara holds her in place like that for a moment, keeping her hands steady on her hips until Lena exhales and gives her the green light. When she does, she guides her down and lifts her hips to meet her all in one fluid motion and what at first was just a hunch turns out to be a spectacular idea.

The new position requires some adjustments but when they've managed to find their rhythm again, what they make is magic. They move in tandem, Lena pressing herself down and Kara lifting herself up to follow each movement of her hips. She moves one hand to her breasts, and the other rubs at her clit, but Kara is confident that what does it is their increased closeness. She does everything she can to envelop Lena in herself short of eating her. She presses her front to her back, keeping her against her with her hand on her chest and burying her face against her neck. Even when their motions become frantic and uncoordinated, Kara's own build up rendering her a bit hazy, she does everything in her power to make Lena feel full and whole and cared for, and when she comes with a shout so loud it makes her glad for the storm, she's positive she's made her see invisible colours too.

Lena leans back fully against her, head tilting over her shoulder, hair definitely free and spilling everywhere.

"That was nice," she mumbles.

Kara laughs, or coughs, she isn't sure ; her clit is throbbing. "Nice ?"

Lena presses down on her. "Again."

 

The storm eventually quiets down, the patter of the rain on the roof receding to peaceful background noise. It makes their intermingled breathing sound louder somehow ; more alive. Streaky has been let out of the bathroom, and he's busy scratching at a piece of rope Kara rolled around a table leg. Apart from that, the room is eerily still, almost suspended in time, or removed from it entirely. They're spent, and half asleep already, Lena drawing lazy patterns on her chest, her fingers grazing Kara’s under-boob tattoo every couple of minutes.

"That’s a poem from your book, right ? ’Est-ce que les oiseaux se cachent pour mourir ?’"

Kara isn't surprised by the question. Truthfully, she's been expecting Lena to ask since they first slept together. But she also expected it to make her want to run away, and it doesn't.

Kara hums, allowing the low rumbling sound to ring out for as long as it wants. Then she translates, even if she knows Lena doesn't need her to. "Do birds hide to die ?"

"I almost gifted it to you," Lena says quietly. "The book. You had such a strange expression when you saw it, I knew it was important to you."

Kara inhales sharply.

"You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to," Lena adds in such a hurry that her tongue trips on the first few words. "I just like that you like poetry. I've kept all the poems you sent me, they're so precious to me."

Precious. Maybe that’s the word that makes Kara crack in the end. Precious.

I find your poems precious.

Your words matter to me.

You matter to me.

"My mum," Kara starts slowly, "loved poetry. So much. She was such a nerd. That's actually how she met my dad. One of his friend dragged him to a poetry reading and she was there. They were married a year later and I was born a little while after that." She exhales slowly. Talking about her parents makes her chest hurt, she feels like her heart is shrivelling, desiccating, and that it's going to crumble into a pile of ashes. "It used to annoy me so much as a kid that she couldn't go a day without quoting some obscure French poet or another, I didn't understand how poetry could make her so soft when she was so harsh in so many other aspect of her life. She- she loved me, that's not the problem, but she was prickly and busy and yeah, harsh."

Kara pauses again and she just breathes for a long moment. Lena keeps her hand pressed to the tattoo under her breast like she knows, somehow, that if she doesn't Kara will float away and dissolve. There's a reason why Kara doesn't talk about her mum, about her parents. She never really allowed herself to expunge the pain, the hurt. For all that she loves her mother, Alura was always distant ; except when she would sit her daughter on her lap and read to her and Kara never quite figured out if these are happy memories or not.

"When she died, when they both died, I- I wanted to be dead too. If I hadn't been placed with the Danvers, if Alex hadn't been there, I wouldn't be here today. And for all that I thought poetry was stupid, I took it up anyway, and when I was writing, I didn't miss my mum as much, because it was like she was there with me. Poetry helped- It helped me be okay."

Wiggling from under Lena, Kara rolls on her side and picks up the book from the ground. The picture slips out of it, and she slides it back in delicately, careful not to bend the corners.

"This was her favourite book." She pauses, squeezes her eyes shut then forces them open again. "Not just her favourite book. Her book. Her name's inside. I don't know how it survived the fire, but it's her book."

"Her book ?" Lena echoes.

Kara nods and flips the cover open, trailing her finger on her mother's name, feeling the ridges in the paper where the ball-pen dug in.

"Alura Inzé," she exhales shakily, "that's my mother."

"Whoever found it should have given it back," Lena whispers. "What kind of monster scavenges a burnt house ? I'll give you a refund, you should have never let me sell it to you."

Kara presses Lena back against her, trying to rub the agitation out with a hand on her back. "Don't," she says, "I like that I got it from you. I think it made it more bearable."

"But it’s your book !" Lena counters, her voice rising. "It was always your book !"

"I'm a librarian Lena. Books are only ever mine in passing and I'm okay with that. I'm okay if this book belonged to you for a little while, it makes it all that more precious."

Lena huffs in defeat. "If you say so."

They fall into silence for a little while after that, Kara still rubbing her hand up and down Lena's back. She's surprised that she doesn't feel the need to cry ; she really thought she would. Instead, Lena is the one who seems upset and unsettled, and Kara wonders if she should have been so honest ; until Lena speaks again.

"Thank you. For telling me about that. Dead parents are not an easy subject so I- Thank you."

"It's because you listen that I speak," Kara replies quietly before pressing a soft and short kiss to her temple. "I'm not- I'm not exactly good at all of that but you make me want to try. I want you to know me."

"I want to know you too." Lena turns and lifts her head so she can kiss her jaw. Her lips are soft, and just a little wet. When Kara looks down at her, she realises she's been crying silently. "Will you tell me more ?"

"Sure," Kara whispers. "Do you want to know anything in particular ?" She's ready now, to just tell Lena everything, but she feels like if she starts talking without guidance, she won't ever be able to stop.

"You told me about your mum, tell me about your dad ?"

Kara breathes in and closes her eyes, conjuring the image of her father in her head. It's hard, his features blurry and distant now, and she can't quite remember how short his hair was, or how clean shaven he was, but she remembers his smile, so that's where she starts.

 

October slips from their grasps at a terrible speed. On Hallowe'en they drive to Athboy for the Coming of Samhain Procession. After Kara's expressed interest in seeing the event, everyone decides to tag along and they end up having to creatively fit eight adults and a child in Sam's SUV and John's old two seats car. This makes the ride exceptionally interesting, especially since Ruby absolutely refuses to stop talking and Jack reveals an endless capacity for innuendos about five minutes outside of Howth. Nia spends half of the car ride laughing from the seat in the boot, Brainy is lost to the world in one of his comics, Lena pretends to be asleep and Kara drinks half her water bottle to appease the embarrassed fire on her cheeks. To say she is relieved when Sam finally stops the car in a muddy parking lot and they all stumble out would be an understatement.

The late afternoon air is chill, the air smells of putrefying leaves and bonfires, and Lena is bundled in a tan jacket lined with sheepskin that Kara has never seen her wear before. She's tucked her dark hair under a burgundy beanie and she looks so terrifyingly handsome that Kara isn't sure how to cope. She trips all over herself in a hurry to hold her hand, splattering thick mud on what up until this very moment were clean jeans. Her boots slurp in the mud, then crunch on the gravel, and finally produce a clean dry sound on the pavement ; after the loud and tight confines of the car, she inhales the clean crisp air and feels much, much better.

The small town is already packed to the brim with people and they have to walk for a while before they find a good spot to watch the procession. When they do, Sam lifts Ruby onto her shoulders even if the little girl is already verging on too tall and gangly for that. Seeing them like that, a daughter who has outgrown her mother's shoulders and yet clings to them like only a child can, reminds Kara that she hasn't called Eliza in a while and that she really should. Time moves too fast, things come and go too quickly for her not to call her adoptive mother more often.

"You okay ?" Lena asks, squeezing her hand.

Kara nods, breathes. "Just thinking."

Lena kisses the underside of her jaw, nuzzles her neck, the tip of her nose cold where Kara's scarf slipped. "Okay."

The procession is beautiful and eerie and unlike anything Kara has ever seen. The atmosphere is electric to a bewitching point and though she intended to take pictures for her blog, Kara can't bring herself to reach for her phone and capture any memory of the event. She finds herself absolutely mesmerised, spellbound, and for a few eternal hours, she feels more anchored than ever, and like she truly is a part of something.

In the midst of all the noise, the music, the drums, the chants and the stories, Ruby still manages to fall asleep. When she grows too heavy for Sam to carry, Kara takes her from her and settles her on her hips under Lena's watchful and somewhat intense gaze. In the light of the glimmering fires, Lena's eyes are incandescent, more moss coloured than their usual watery green ; and for a brief fleeting moment, Kara wants to reach out to hold them in her palm. Instead, she leans in and kisses her lips, slightly chapped, tasting of apple cider and a few different hundred spices. She's everything Kara has ever wanted.

November wraps around them like a blanket. The days are distinctly shorter now, the weather drearier and chilling to the bone. The town is quieter, gently settling in the trough between Hallowe'en and Christmas, but both the library and the bookshop see a continuous and steady string of patrons, people seeking the comfort of books and hot drinks in the face of the wind and the rain. They split their nights between Lena's apartment and Kara's studio, staying at the studio only when they've spent the evening at the pub, watching sport on the TV and laughing at Jack's crass jokes.

Under the yellow light of her kitchen, wrapped in the smell of wet coats drying on the heater, in the afternoon glow of the bookshop, surrounded by the smell of coffee, butter and sugar, in the feel of a hand in her own, cold feet on her calf under warm covers, a kiss to her jaw, her forehead, her lips, words mumbled in the morning and shouted in the night, Kara continues falling in love with Lena.

It's inevitable. She couldn't stop it if she wanted to, and, she doesn't want to. After her initial waves of freakout, she settles into loving Lena with surprising ease. Little by little, she stops being afraid until one morning, when they go their separate ways for work, she finds that her heart no longer twists in fear at the eventuality that she could leave. She trusts Lena, trusts that she isn't lying to her, that she really does care ; and she finds that it's easy. Lena is stable and trustworthy, always where Kara expects her to be, and though she isn't quite sold on the concept of fate, sometimes when she looks at her she can't help but think that they were made for each other.

She makes plans for things they can do together. Some are small and inconsequential, like getting coffee from a particular place or going on a hike. Others rank from monumental to life changing. She plans circuits for trips to the continent, checks flight prices in case Lena wants to meet Eliza, daydreams about puppies and houses ; all things that she stopped allowing herself to even think about with anyone the day Siobhan shut her door in her face and left her standing in the rain in soggy sneakers, her backpack spilled on the pavement and her ring pushed back into her hand. The fact that she hasn't told Lena about Siobhan yet should, if not alarm her, at least give her pause, especially after she's reopened the wound of her parents' death and bled all over her, but she doesn't give herself the time to think about it. She's finally healed from Siobhan, and that is all.

"Planning your escape ?"

Kara startles and whirls around, coming face to face with Nia who's leaning against the cart full of the books that Kara is supposed to be putting away.

"It's way past closing time," Nia continues, "I thought you'd already be across the street."

Slowly, Kara closes the European atlas she was perusing, keeping a finger in to mark the page that particularly interests her. The thick glossy cover is dented in one corner and covered in greasy fingerprints. "Just planning a trip."

"You've just came back from one," Nia points out, "and you're leaving for National City in what, three weeks ?"

Her tone bears no reproach, but her eyes shine with a hint of desperation, a silent scream to not let her deal on her own with the dozens of feral new patrons who, barely sobered up, will decide that their New Year resolution is to read more.

Kara smiles, and blinks away the daze that often settles on her when she's working alone in the stacks. "I was thinking of going to France for a couple of days next spring. See Brittany again. I haven't been there in a very long time and I'd like to take Lena. Do you think she'd want to ?"

"I'm pretty sure she'd follow you to Hell," Nia shrugs, "but it's better if you ask her that instead of me."

Kara thinks about it for a second, then slips her finger out of the book, and puts it back on the shelf. "I'll ask her," she says with a decisive nod. "Help me put all that away ?"

Nia huffs, but she still takes hold of the cart and starts pushing it. "Free advice, extra labour, what would you do without me ?"

"Do all the work myself ?" Kara suggests with a little taunting smile.

Nia grabs a lithe book from the pile and starts swatting at her cheerfully.

"I'm joking !" Kara laughs, "I'm joking ! I'm ever so grateful for your existence !"

"Good. Keep some of that spirit for Thanksgiving, I expect many praises."

"What's telling you you're invited ?" Kara sidesteps another swat, grabs a couple of books, and runs down to another aisle.

Nia is invited to Kara's makeshift Thanksgiving. She usually celebrates it on her own with store bought turkey and too much cranberry sauce but with Lena and Brainy's arrival, there's enough people with ties back to the US to justify a party. They assemble in their living room, eat too much and talk too loudly. They keep the music low, for Brainy's sake, but he still takes several breaks in his bedroom away from the noise. Each time he leaves and comes back, Lena squeezes his shoulder in reassurance. Occasionally, Kara does too, mimicking Lena's firm gesture as a way of silently letting him know that she's glad he's at ease among them. Kara herself ends the evening by messily kissing Lena in the corridor until Sam finds them and accuses them of traumatising her child. Ruby, Lena points out rightfully, is asleep on the couch and completely lost to the world.

 

December arrives with a fanfare. Kara puts a wreath on her door, and on the library's. She switches to listening to Christmas music exclusively, organises a display of festive books and starts wrapping her presents all on the 1st. She's leading the march, but Christmas cheer swipes them all in due time. All, but Lena.

It comes all at once. While Kara is busy wrapping everything she owns in red and gold tinsel, Lena settles into a broody mood more fitted for a funeral. Realistically speaking, Kara knows the shift in Lena probably doesn't happen overnight ; but to the outside eyes, it's exactly what it appears to be. One evening they go to bed fine, the next morning, Kara wakes up to a totally different person ; and she feels like she's been blasted months back, when they didn't yet know each other and Lena was guarded and distant.

She wakes up alone, which in and of itself is no cause for alarm considering that Lena makes a habit of getting up at ungodly hours, but the fact that her side of the bed is pristinely made is a bit strange ; Lena usually waits for Kara to be up before she starts straightening things up. It's something that Kara usually finds endearing, the way Lena makes her bed with military precision, the sheet folded over the blanket to a third of its length with not a crease in sight ; but today, the way it's tucked too tight on one side and won't bulge at all when she tugs on it to bury deeper into the warmth sparks brief annoyance. She squashes the feeling down quickly, breathing in slow and deep to wake herself up and zeroing in on the tinsel she tacked to Lena's window. It's hanging sideways, like it slipped during the night and wasn't put back properly and a smile slowly stretches her lips at the thought of Lena struggling to hang it up again in the semi-darkness of the room.

Water is running in the bathroom, but when she tries to join in, she finds the door locked. It never is unless Brainy is the one showering and Brainy never showers in the morning. Stretching, yawning and tripping, Kara exits the bedroom and pads her way down the corridor to the living room. Brainy is whirling around the kitchen, busy putting out a Sunday breakfast on a weekday. He's already dressed for work, his apron covered in flour, and by the look of it, he must have ran back upstairs to cook all of this. He didn't even bother taking his shoes off.

"G'morning."

It's cold in the apartment and she shivers, looking for the hoodie she knows she left on the back of the couch the night before. It's not there.

Brainy turns around to look at her, his eyes widening a fraction. "Hello Kara."

"What's up ?"

It can't be Lena's birthday, that was in October and they celebrated with breakfast in bed and by not leaving the studio for an entire day ; and it's not Brainy's. He was born in late December and she's already bought his gift.

Brainy turns back around, busying himself with something simmering in a pan. That's how she knows he's lying when he says, "nothing."

She wants to press, but Lena comes out the bathroom just then, fully dressed, with her hair tied back in a severe braid. She looks godlike in the morning light, all dark clothes and sharp angles, but she also looks scary in a way Kara isn't used to. Her jaw is set, her eyes almost dull, and when Kara reaches out to greet her, her kiss is a little stiff. They settle at the table opposite each other, like they always do, but this time, Lena tucks her legs under her chair so that Kara can't reach out with hers.

"Is everything okay ?" Kara asks quietly. "Are you alright ?"

Lena seems startled by her question, like she was unaware of the face she was making. She smiles, but it seems forced, and when she speaks, it sounds rehearsed. "I'm fine," she says, "just a little stressed. It's my first Christmas running a shop, I'm afraid I'll be too out of my depth."

"Jess and Eve are here to help," Kara says, trying to sound reassuring, "and I can too. I'm always right across the street if you need anything."

Lena's smile widens a little, only to fall just as fast. "Thank you."

She reaches out to squeeze her hand and far of alleviating Kara's concerns, this gesture fuels them even more. Lena is holding on too tight, like she's lost at sea and Kara is her only salvation. It only goes downhill from there.

For the two weeks that lead up to Kara's departure for National City, Lena is distant and stilted. She's busy with the shop, for sure ; Christmas is both a blessing and a curse for anyone in sales. But even when she's not working, she seems to exist on an entirely different plane of existence. She's visibly trying, and Kara can appreciate that, but all of her attempts at conversation are half-hearted at best, and she withdraws almost completely from any intimacy. The only thing she allows Kara to do is hold her at night, and every time she does, every time she gathers Lena in her arms and holds her tight against her, it always seems, for a brief moment, that she's about to burst into tears.

She keeps on trying ; if there is one thing Kara refuses to do, it's give up. She probes, gently, and makes herself available, she doubles down on everything, intent on proving she's a safe and reliable person and Lena can talk to her. But Lena keeps on keeping her at bay, and the more days pass in this new unsettling status quo, the more Kara grows concerned that the problem actually comes from her ; and of course, it all comes to a head the night before her flight.

 

They're staying at her place this time ; it'll be easier for when Kara has to leave early in the morning. Her suitcase is neatly packed and waiting by the door, her passport and her printed flight details tucked under the handle so she doesn't forget them. Her backpack however, is splayed open on the dinner table, its content half spilling out while she attempts to charge all of her devices in one go, cables intertwined in what is probably a fire hazard. Her rolled up travel bottle has been slowly unfolding since she forced it into the front pocket, producing a low, but constant, wheezing sound in the background.

Tonight has been almost normal in a way that is somewhat unsettling after two weeks of Lena attempting to impersonate a brick wall. She's chattier, clingier also, and she spends the evening glued to her, hands buried under her sweatshirt, head tucked in the crook of her neck while they watch a movie neither of them is paying attention to. Kara doesn't mind. Clearly, something is bothering Lena, but if she's not going to see her for the next fortnight, she'd rather they part on good terms than stuck in the limbo they've descended into. It's selfish, she's intimately aware of it, but she wants her fill of Lena before she leaves, and maybe, maybe some time away from each other will do them both good ; even if the thought of being away from her for an extended period of time makes her feel sick to the stomach. She feels so nauseated in fact, that when they start getting ready for bed and she gets up to go to the bathroom, the room spins around her for a brief second. She catches herself on the back of the couch and Lena steadies her with a hand on her hips, gentle worry in her eyes but no question on her lips. Kara shakes her head, and slips into the bathroom.

Inside, she takes a moment to collect herself, generously splashing cold water on her face until the collar of her sweatshirt is drenched and droplets have rolled all the way down her back to seep into her underwear. She's febrile, and when she catches sight of herself in the mirror she gets the brief but intense and sickening feeling that something bad is about to happen. She buys herself some time on the impending catastrophe by brushing her teeth with more vigour than is necessary, forcing her eyes to look anywhere but at Lena's toothbrush, drying in the Supergirl tumbler Brainy got her for her birthday. Streaky, who after being locked inside the bathroom one too many times has decided to take permanent residence in it, rubs against her leg in what she decides is a comforting gesture. She plucks him off the ground and brings him to her face, staring into his yellow eyes with maybe a bit too much intensity.

"John is going to come feed you while I'm gone. You be good to him, alright ? No scratching."

He meows, and it sort of makes her want to cry, so she kisses the top of his furry black head, and puts him back on the ground.

Outside of the bathroom, Lena is crying for real. She's fully sobbing in fact, curled into a ball on top of the blanket, face pressed against her knees while she tries to muffle gut wrenching pitiful whines. Kara tries to get to her so fast that she falls all over herself, splitting her hand open on the bed frame. She registers the sting, logs the fact that she's most likely bleeding already, then pushes herself back to her feet and jumps on the mattress.

"Hey. Hey !" She cradles Lena's face in her hands. Her eyes are puffy and red, her cheeks blotched and pink, and a thin trail of clear snot is slowly leaking from her nose. "What's going on ?"

Lena wrenches herself away from her, presses her palms to her eyes, rubbing, and groans. "Nothing. I'm fine."

And that's it ; Kara has had it. Whatever is happening with Lena needs to stop now. "You're very clearly not fine," she snaps. "What's going on ?"

"I'm fine. Drop it."

"Lena..."

"I said drop it !"

The tone, the words, the way Lena seems to explode when she says them, everything about this feels like a slap to Kara. In fact, she's positive she would feel better if Lena had actually slapped her. They move away from each other in brisk synchronised hurt. The gap in Kara's heart that she'd finally finished patching with Lena's help splits open again, wider.

"Talk to me, please."

"I don't want to talk about it. I- I don't know how to talk about it."

"You could have just told me that then," Kara says quietly, pulling the words out one by one even when she wants nothing more than to leave and slam the door on the way out. "That you were not okay but didn't know how to talk about it. I would have understood."

"I'm not like you," Lena spits. "I'm not good or emotionally mature. I'm damaged and full of shit and I do not want to talk about it !"

"I don't think you're damaged," Kara whispers, more out of automatism than anything.

"Yeah well you don't fucking know me Kara."

This, Kara doesn't answer. She knows that she tends to get too wrapped up in herself, that years of spouting crap poetry on napkins have lead her to live almost exclusively inside her own head, but the fact that she didn't see this coming, that she didn't see past Lena's facade, is unconceivable to her. She's been so blind that she probably deserves everything that's happening right now.

Lena unfurls from the bed, crosses the room in quick unsteady strides and shoves her feet into her boots. She's wearing Kara's hoodie, and Kara's sweatpants, and her low ponytail is held in place by one of Kara's hair ties ; and when she hovers with her hand on the door handle, she looks so fucking tiny that Kara has no choice but to fling herself out of bed too and follow after her.

"Don't leave. Please."

"I think it's better if I go. Brainy will drive you to the airport."

"No !"

Kara advances with the intention of blocking the door, but when she realises what she's doing, she stops dead in the middle of taking a step, stumbles, and for the second time this evening catches herself on hard wooden furniture.

"I need some time to think."

"Are you- Are you breaking up with me ?" Kara croaks.

Lena clenches her jaw. It's clear that she wants to snap, but when she speaks, her voice is soft and broken instead. "This isn't about you. I just- I need to think. On my own."

When she steps out of the studio and the door quietly clicks shut behind her, Kara doesn't follow. She slides to the ground and remains prostrated on the kitchen floor, bleeding hand clutched to her chest, choking on a sob when the only thing she can think to say to the empty room is, "Merry Christmas."

 

She doesn't sleep a wink. When Brainy picks her up the next morning in the bookshop's red van she looks like a fucking mess, and she's bled straight through the three plasters she's haphazardly stuck to her hand. The drive is silent. For every ableist piece of crap Kara has heard about autistic people, Brainy is extremely good at reading the mood, and he doesn't force her to talk.

He doesn't simply drop her off like she thought he would, but parks the car and carries her bags for her all the way to the US departures check in. There, he gives her a simple warning, "I am going to hug you know," before he wraps her in a bone crushing embrace, squeezing her tight and, surprisingly, exactly like she needs right now. She struggles not to cry.

"Text me when you're home ? Traffic's shit in the morning."

"I will," he says. "Text her when you have landed ? Lena is not angry at you. She is angry at herself."

"Why ?"

Brainy shakes his head from side to side. "It is for her to say. But I promise I will not let her hurt on her own while you are gone. Please, text her when you land ?"

Kara clears her throat. "I will. I promise."

Brainy nods, sharply, squeezes her shoulder and walks away. Kara nods too, but to herself, and turns around to walk through security.

Chapter Text

It's not the worst flight of Kara's life ; this spot is forever held by the plane that took her away from Canada and to the United States, and Clark. But it easily ranks at second worst. For starters, the flight is delayed, because it's a universal truth that when one thing goes wrong, in this instance her relationship with Lena, the rest follows like dominos.

She spends two hours stressing around the lounge, eating her weight in airport snacks, and deliberately not texting Lena. Once she finally boards the plane, the person next to her immediately takes off their shoes, revealing yellowish damp socks that fill the atmosphere with such a foul smell that even tucking her nose into the collar of her hoodie can't fight it. Especially since that particular hoodie smells like Lena. The plane is delayed again on the tarmac, and when they finally do take off, she completely fails at keeping herself occupied for the thirteen hours of the flight. Her brain keeps on bouncing around in her skull, preventing her from focusing on one thing for longer than ten minutes.

She abandons her book after she's read the same paragraph seven times, cuts her favourite podcast a third through when the hosts' voices become unintelligible and grating, she tries to write for her blog, then edit her pictures, but nothing makes sense, and when in last resort she starts scribbling behind her boarding pass, it turns out to be the worst poem she's ever written. She briefly considers opening the door and jumping off the plane but it would endanger everyone else and is not really a viable solution. Plus, Alex would be very mad, and Kara has long suspected that she has the necessary resources to resuscitate her and kill her herself. So instead she tries to sleep. She buries her head under her hood, shoves her sunglasses on her eyes, and launches the playlist Lena made her specifically for this long flight even if it makes her want to cry. She closes her eyes, wraps her arms around herself like a hug and, with the deafening noise of the plane dampened by her headphones and old rock music, she finally slips into unconsciousness.

She doesn't feel well rested at all when the plane touches down in National City and she doesn't feel less shitty. She does feel shitty in a different way, everything amped up by the gross feeling left behind by the plane, but no one can consider this an improvement. It takes an inordinate amount of time to get through security and pick up her luggage, and by the time she crosses the arrival gate and catches sight of Alex, she's ready to cry or pass out or both.

Her sister is sandwiched in between Kelly and Eliza and her brow is fixed in a perplexing mix of disgruntled, at the early hour, and relieved, to see Kara. Kara takes a few steps towards her, and fully breaks down in tears.

It makes the ride to Midvale exceptionally awkward. Kelly takes the wheel and Eliza sits in the front next to her while the sisters huddle in the back. Kara wants to talk, but she wants to talk to Alex alone, and instead of explaining that in a coherent and polite manner, she descends into steely mutism, eyes screwed shut, hand clenched tight in her sister's sweater. They were supposed to make a pit stop in the city for breakfast but instead drive straight back to the small coastal town and by the time they arrive, long after noon, three out of four passengers are in a sour mood and the last one feels worse, if possible, than when she boarded her flight in Dublin.

Kara barely waits for the car to stop moving before she's out of it. She makes for the house in a flurry of steps, bypasses the bare Christmas tree without a second thought, and locks herself in the bathroom. It's rude and she knows it and it makes her feel disgusted with herself but she needs a minute. A minute to freshen up, a minute to expunge all her tears, a minute to set her mind straight so she can fully enjoy her holiday break and not ruin everyone else's.

She stays under the shower stream until the water turns cold, lathering herself in Alex's soap and Eliza's shampoo. The cut on her hand stings, it's become puffy and she knows it'll scar but she can't bring herself to care. When she steps out of the shower, she wraps herself in a big fluffy towel that has been laid out for her, and takes stock of herself in the mirror. Her skin is red and bloated from the shower and her eyes are bloated and red from all the crying. Deep purple shadows creases her face and all in all, she looks like an absolute nightmare.

She pads outside of the bathroom and into her bedroom quietly, trying to keep the floorboard on the landing from creaking. She can hear arguing coming from downstairs and knows that Eliza must be chewing Alex out for something that isn't her fault. It makes her feel guilty and even worse, especially when she steps inside her room and notices someone brought her luggage up for her and laid out fresh clothes. Her phone has been plugged on her nightstand, her glasses wiped clean, and there are freshly cut flowers on the windowsill.

She dresses slowly, trying not to lose it at the smell of the clothes, Eliza's laundry detergent, sea salt, hot sand ; and once she's done, she checks her phone and realises that she didn't tell anyone she'd safely landed. She's got a few texts from Nia and Sam, but the one that really gets to her, the one that punches her in the guts and then kicks her when she's already down, is from Brainy and it is ruthlessly simple.

You promised.

She clenches her phone so tight that if she'd had super strength, it would have been blown to pieces.

 

When Alex comes to find her some time later, she doesn't think she's moved a muscle. Her sister sits down next to her, the mattress dipping under their combined weights, removes the phone from her hand, and gently guides her head down to rest on her shoulder.

"Who do I need to kill ?"

Kara coughs. "No one."

"Do I need to help you hide a body then ? Because you know I will. I have the resources and the willingness."

At that, Kara snorts loudly. "That won't be necessary either."

"Do you wanna talk about it then ? Or at least explain how you fucked your hand so badly ?"

Kara shrugs. "I fell."

"And it somehow caused your extensive knowledge of first aid to vacate your brain ?"

Kara looks down at her hand, then closes her eyes. "I didn't feel like taking care of it," she says. "I know it's dumb."

"It is dumb," Alex agrees. "Don't move, I'm gonna get something to clean it up."

Kara is forced to move, so that Alex can get up, but in the couple of minutes it takes for her sister to find the first aid kit in the bathroom and come back, she stays in place, eyes still closed. When Alex comes back, she opens them, and presents her puffy hand to her sister who tuts in disapproval.

"Don't you think you've gone through enough without losing a limb ?"

Kara doesn't dignify this particular remark with an answer, but while Alex goes through the motion of cleaning and redressing the shallow wound, she starts talking about the rest.

"I've had a fight with Lena," she begins, and stops immediately. The wording sounds inaccurate. Lena and her are not fighting ; it feels more like they're running around in an arena, Lena ahead and her at the chase, and Lena is hurling things at her that she can't defend from because she's got no weapons of her own and no shield. "She- I don't know."

Alex stops dabbing antiseptic at her hand. "What did you fight about ?"

Kara laughs cheerlessly. "That's the thing ! I don't even know !" She squeezes her eyes shut, and when she opens them again, her vision is blurry. "She's been acting weird. Distant. Withdrawn. And when I tried to talk to her about it she- she blew up in my face ! And then she left."

Alex applies a thick layer of cream on her wound, massaging it in slowly. "That's shitty of her."

"Well she- Maybe I-" Kara stammers and huffs. "Maybe I shouldn't have pushed !"

"No Kara. That's shitty of her. No matter the reason, and I'm sure she has very good reasons, she shouldn't have done that."

"But I-" Kara presses her free hand to her face. "I just don't understand."

Alex wraps white gauze around her palm. "Well if she didn't tell you anything that's normal."

"She said she was damaged and messed up and that I didn't know her but that's not true. At least I don't think it's true."

"We're all a little fucked up," Alex says, in what Kara recognises as her "big sister life advice" voice, "but people can't expect you to know what particular brand of fucked up they are if they don't tell you about it in the first place. I know what kind of fucked up you are and you know what kind of fucked up I am but if Lena didn't confide in you then that's not your fault."

"She told me her mum died when she was very young but- but it didn't seem to be about that or she would have told me. I think she would have told me at least. I don't know. Maybe I wasn't open enough, I should have been more kind and understanding or-"

"With all due respect Kara," Alex interrupts, gently kissing her wrapped hand before she rises to settle at her side again, "you're the kindest person I know. Whatever happened, I'm 99% sure it wasn't your fault. Have you talked to her since ?"

Kara shakes her head. "No. It happened yesterday. Or two days ago. I don't know. The night before I got on the plane. I think I've been going too fast again. Like I used to. That's not good. And I also think something's really wrong with Lena."

"I think so too," Alex says kindly, "that you've been going too fast again I mean. I don't know about Lena, maybe she's just being a dick."

"Alex !"

"Maybe she's just being a dick," Alex repeats. "I know it's a concept you struggle with but sometimes people are just dicks for no reason. It sucks, but that's a thing."

"I don't think she's just being a dick." Her words are barely over a whisper, but they hold a hint of pettiness that tells both Alex and her that she's beginning to feel a bit better. "But I suppose I'll see when I get back. I just- What if she breaks up with me ? What if she leaves ?"

"I think you need to slow down again," Alex says quietly, "I think you need to take a step back, and slow down. There's nothing you can do about it now, take the opportunity of being here to slow down and see what happens when you get back. And if you do end up breaking up ? Well we'll cross that bridge together."

"I love her Alex."

Alex frowns and sighs. "I guessed that yeah." She wraps an arm around her shoulders and squeezes. "You've always felt too much. It's not your fault, but you've always felt too much."

"What am I gonna do if she breaks up with me ?"

"What you've always done," Alex shrugs.

"Pick up my shit and keep on going ?"

Alex snorts. "I wasn't going to put it like that but essentially yes. And I'll be there to carry your shit for you if you need me to. Just, Kara, you need to slow down."

Kara knows Alex is right, but it fucking sucks. She inhales and exhales deeply, forcing herself to comply and slow down.

Alex kisses her temple. "Tea ?" Kara shakes her head. "Hot chocolate then ? I'll go make some, stay here."

Kara shakes her head again. "I'll come down with you. I don't want Eliza to yell at you again."

"She wasn't yelling," Alex says, clearly for the sake of saying something.

"She was using her angry voice."

Kara isn't looking, but she just knows Alex is rolling her eyes. Her sister gives her shoulder a single squeeze then unwinds her arm from around her and gets up, presenting a hand for Kara to grab. "Come on. I think we have whipped cream and we can guilt mum into making you cookies."

 

The remainder of the day is slow, but not the kind of slow Kara needs. It's sluggish and sticky, tainted by her broody arrival. She goes to bed early after hugging everyone and apologising to Eliza twice and the next morning when she wakes up feeling minutely refreshed, she resolves to try and slow down. The task she's facing appears nigh impossible.

It's as if everything in her life has been moved two inches to the left, and the things that made sense don't anymore. She goes through the motions of her holidays, helps decorate the tree, bakes sugar cookies with Eliza, goes shopping with Kelly, volunteers at the local shelter with Alex, but nothing feels as it should. Everything she does, everything she sees is slightly askew ; and it doesn't mean she's not enjoying herself, she's thrilled to be with her family for the holidays, but underneath it all, something doesn't feel quite right.

 

Kelly eyes her curiously over the dinner table. They're supposed to be on potato duty, but while Kara has been relentlessly peeling since she sat down, Kelly's hands have long stopped working and she's contributed to maybe a tenth of the bowl that will have to be full by the time the guests arrive. Alex has been sent on a last minute grocery run, and Eliza is in the bathroom, getting ready for the festivities.

Kelly's gaze is unnerving, but Kara refuses to acknowledge it and furiously peels her potatoes instead, the skin coarse against her hands. Her white bandage is stained with dirt and itchy but she refuses to acknowledge this too. She has a feeling that if she stops peeling potatoes, she's going to lose her shit.

"When are James and Winn arriving ?" she asks in a poor attempt to deflect attention from herself. She knows exactly when her friends will be arriving, Winn texted when they left National City, but if she gets Kelly to talk maybe she'll stop looking at her like that.

"Six or seven, I think. James had to work this morning."

"What kind of heathen works on Christmas Eve ?" Kelly is still scrutinising her, and the joke comes out stilted and awkward.

"My brother clearly. You look sad."

The two statements follow each other so fast that it gives Kara whiplash and she's left sputtering with no chance of hiding her emotions. "I'm not- I'm not sad !"

Kelly cocks her head to the side and looks at her with nothing but sheer unbearable kindness. "Your face says otherwise."

Kara exhales. She pushes all the air out of her body and she stares at Kelly silently until Kelly seems to crack. She pushes her knife away from her and gets up, grabbing and rolling around her neck the scarf she'd left to hang on the back of the chair.

"Come on. We're going for a walk."

"The potatoes..."

"There's five left, Alex can handle it. She's like you, working with her hands is good for her."

If there is something Kara has come to know about her sister in law over the years is that one does not simply say "no" to Kelly Olsen. So she puts her knife down too, grabs her jacket, and follows her out of the house and down the path that leads to the beach. There, they find a nice log, bleached and smoothed by years under the sun, and they sit on it, gaze facing the ocean.

"I'm not sad," Kara says, shuffling the toe of her boot in the sand. "I'm not feeling much of anything to be honest. Except kinda lost I guess."

Kelly hums. It's something she does when she's truly listening, and Kara appreciates the gentle nudge.

"I just- I kinda feel like someone ripped the floor from under my feet."

"And by someone you mean Lena."

Kara chuckles, though it's more of an empty sound than a real laugh. "What did Alex tell you ?"

"Not much. Your sister's secretive when it comes to you."

This comes as a surprise to Kara. Alex and her fiancée are so close that she's always assumed they tell each other everything.

"I don't even know what to tell you," Kara sighs. "I don't know what happened. One minute we were okay and the next we weren't and she doesn't want to tell me what's going on."

"Have you talked at all since you left ?"

Kara shakes her head. "No. I thought about texting her but-"

"But you don’t want to open the possibility for her not to reply. I understand."

"Do you think I should text her ?"

"Do you think you should text her ?"

Kara rolls her eyes and gets her phone out of the pocket of her hoodie. She's got two unanswered text from Nia and another from Sam, something that appears to be a selfie Ruby took with her mum's phone, but nothing from Lena. She pockets it again, and sighs. "I don’t know. I just want to know what's going on. I know she doesn't owe me anything but-"

"But just knowing the broad strokes of it would help you. That's completely legitimate."

"Really ?"

"Yes," Kelly says quietly, "she doesn't owe you an explanation, but it's legitimate of you to want one."

Kara hangs her head and exhales again. For a moment, she does nothing more than look at her boots in the sand, dark leather against white thin grain. It's strangely aesthetic, something that she things would make a good picture for her blog but she doesn't know how she'd caption it. "Happy holidays ! I'm heartbroken !" doesn't make it seems like it's something she should immortalise. She shuffles her foot around, digging a hole in the sand then stops abruptly and looks up and to the side at Kelly. "I'm think I needed to hear that, thank you."

Kelly smiles, and barely a second later, before she can say anything, Kara sees feet and legs in her peripheral vision, and Alex plops down on the tree trunk next to her. She grumbles something about potatoes but wraps an arm around Kara's shoulders at the same time and kisses the side of her head so her complaint holds little meaning.

"Get over yourself babe," Kelly laughs, "it was five potatoes and your sister needs therapy."

"Isn't there some sort of rule against that ?" Alex muses, tugging Kara closer until she complies and leans against her. Her sister is wearing her usual leather jacket, and the material is cold under her cheek.

Kelly hums then replies in a tone much too wise for what she's actually saying, "it's not a proper family gathering if you don't receive unsolicited psychoanalysis."

"I'm gonna text Lena," Kara whispers.

Kelly and Alex both reply, in a whisper, "okay."

 

When they get back to the house, Winn and James are already there in matching atrocious sweaters which means all three women have to speed-run through getting ready. Kelly and Alex shower together to "save time," and reappear fifteen minutes later, pristinely dressed, Alex in a white shirt and a vest and Kelly in a sparkly dress that makes her fiancée go cross-eyed. Kara briefly feels a little underdressed in her burgundy sweater and black chinos but nobody else seems to care and after she realises that Winn managed to get his husband in a light up sweater all self-consciousness goes out the window.

She feels better. Not much better, but enough that she manages to truly relax for the first time since she arrived. They spend the evening playing board games and catching up, taking a break in between to feast on all the food they amassed during the day. Kara eats her weight in smoked salmon and potatoes, Kelly gets champagne drunk and falls asleep on Alex's shoulder, Winn chokes on cranberry sauce and snorts pink for half an hour after that ; and by the time they reach dessert and Eliza's homemade yule log, everyone is a little hazy and happy. They open their presents when the clock strikes midnight, then shuffle to bed like the tired adults they are with a new pair of sleep socks each, courtesy of Eliza.

Kara stays up to do the dishes, sending her adoptive mother to bed with a kiss on the cheek and the promise that she's okay, then quietly makes her way up the creaky stairs and to her childhood bedroom. Someone turned on her old night light for her, a tiny astronaut that lights up when the helmet is flicked open, and it fills the room with a soft white glow. She doesn't bother turning any other light on and instead slips her chinos and sweater off and tucks herself into her single bed in her boxers and undershirt, drawing her knees to her chest and rolling over to the side. Her phone is where she left it on the nightstand and when she unlocks it, it's still on Lena's text thread. She hesitates for a moment, her thumb hovering over the screen for a long minute before she types out, slowly, "Merry Christmas."

She doesn't wait for a reply and instead lays it back face down on the nightstand. She's barely finished settling down again, wiggling until the blanket feels just right around her that it starts vibrating. She almost falls out of bed in her hast to pick it up, gives nothing but a cursory glance to the caller's name and stops breathing entirely until Lena's whispered greeting comes through the phone, "hi."

Kara crooks a little "hi," of her own, but she doesn't manage to say more. Her throat is tight and dry, her mouth parched and full of sand. The line crackles for long minutes ; if she focuses, she thinks she can hear Lena breathing on the other side, but twice she checks that she hasn't simply hung up.

"Um- Merry Christmas."

After a beat, Kara echoes. "Merry Christmas." It's stilted and it's awkward and it makes her want to scream but that would be counterproductive so instead she takes a deep breath and says, "long-distance call uh ?"

"Yeah I- I wanted to hear your voice." The phone doesn't do justice to Lena's own voice, so rich and full of nuances, but Kara knows it enough by now that she can fill in the blanks. "Sorry, that's stupid," Lena continues. "I know it's my fault, I acted like a dick."

"Yeah," Kara whispers into the phone, "yeah you acted like a bit of a dick."

"Are you angry ?"

Lena asks this question in such a way, her voice is so hesitant and so raw, that if Kara had indeed been angry at her, she wouldn't be anymore, any trace of embers wiped out by this single tentative question. But she doesn't think she ever was angry at Lena, just sad, and so she says, "I don't know." She realises, once the words are out of her mouth, that it might actually be a worse answer.

"I- I don't want to talk about it over the phone," Lena says, "but I do want to talk about it with you. I- There's a reason why I acted the way I did, it's not an excuse, far from it, I know I'm a dick, but it's an explanation, if you want one."

"I do," Kara says, "want an explanation. If you can give me one."

"Would you meet up with me ? When you get back ? I could even pick you up from the airport if you want ?"

All at once, a knot unwinds in Kara's heart. The muscle snaps back into place so suddenly that for a fraction of a second, Kara wonders if she's having a heart attack. "I'll send you my flight details then," she whispers.

"Okay." Lena's smile crackles through the line and comes out on the other side to wrap itself around Kara like a warm blanket or a hug. It makes her feel safe again, tilts her world back on its rightful axis.

"Okay."

 

The rest of her holidays is much of the same, but with the weight off her chest, it's much more enjoyable. She goes for long walks on the beach with Alex, stopping to pet absolutely every dog she happens upon, stays up late to catch up with Eliza and drink herbal tea, holds the wires while Winn decides he absolutely has to build the drone James got him for Christmas right now in the basement, and puts out a minor fire. She even runs into some old high school friends she hasn't seen since her last summer here, Dolly who now owns the diner downtown, and Jen, who after summers and summers of volunteering, finally became a certified life guard. They live together in a tiny apartment above the diner, got married in a small civil ceremony, and have two huge ginger cats.

She leaves on the 29th with heavier luggage and a lighter heart. Alex and Kelly drive her to National City airport on the way back to their apartment and wait with her as long as they can until she goes through security. As she walks away, she can feel her sister's eyes on her, knows she won't move until she's out of sight and will remain in vicinity of the airport until her plane takes off ; the next time they see each other will be for the wedding. She buries her nose in the collar of her hoodie ; before she left this morning, she sprayed it with a bit of Alex's cologne.

The return flight is not as dreadful as the one that got her here. She reads a little, naps a little, her seat mate does not take off their shoes ; and most of all, she’s flying towards Lena. She wakes up from her last nap about half an hour before landing and the plane is thrumming with nervous energy, most of the passengers intending on being the first one out as soon as the plane stops moving. Kara, who admittedly used to be just like that, stashes her tablet and her headphones back in her backpack, fastens her seatbelt, and closes her eyes again until the plane lands and definitely stops moving, and then, she lets the brunt of the passengers disembark before she even start stretching her legs. She's excited to see Lena again, but a little anxious too ; a feeling that has been slowly but steadily building the closer the plane's gotten to Dublin. It didn't seem on the phone like Lena was going to break up with her, but, what if ? What if that's exactly what's going on and Lena's just a decent enough person not to do that on the phone ? What if Lena is, in the end, just like everybody else and she leaves ? Kara cannot not consider this possibility because most of the time this is exactly what happens.

Once the throng of people has thinned, she gathers her coat and her bag and starts the long journey through security and baggage claim. For some reason, this is always the longest and most unnerving part of any trip, and she distinctly remembers a memorable holiday to the continent when it took her longer to get a hold of her luggage than the actual time she spent on the plane. As a result, she's so on edge by the time she finally gets a hold of her black suitcase, recognisable only thanks to the rainbow woven strap tied around it, and walks through the gate, that it takes her a full minute of standing in place, blocking the way, to understand and put words on everything she's feeling when she catches sight of Lena.

A spike of anxiety ; her heart misses a beat. Then intense overwhelming relief ; a slow smile stretches on her face. And finally, when their eyes meet, a tidal wave of love that sweeps her off her feet. These emotions swirl around and mix within her and she struggles, really struggles, to pick up just one thread and follow it.

When she does, she starts walking again, faster and faster, then plunges beneath the retractable barriers and starts rudely cutting the way until she emerges on the other side, face to face with Lena. She's shyly holding a small sign close to her chest, one that reads, in her neat and perfect handwriting : "MY HANDSOME GIRLFRIEND," and in smaller letters, "who I need to apologise to," with a wonky heart in lieu of punctuation.

Lena ducks her head, avoiding her eyes. "The sign was um- It was Nia's idea. She said people do that all the time but I'm not so sure."

There are about a thousand things Kara could reply to that, the most prominent being "fuck it I love you," but instead she remains silent, drops everything, backpack, coat and suitcase, and lifts Lena off the ground in a crushing hug, burying her face in the crook of her neck. She smells so good ; lavender, body lotion, sea salt, and that clean fresh scent that seems to permeate everything here and that lets Kara know she's home. Lena makes a weird little sound when her feet leave the ground, halfway between a squeal and a grunt, but she catches up quickly, and wraps her arms around Kara's neck before they can be fully squeezed between their bodies.

They stay like that, entangled, while the airport rushes around them, for an inordinate amount of time before Kara's arms start to shake and she has to let go. She lets Lena slide down her body so they remain pressed together, and lays her forehead against hers, breathing her in. Now that they're close, she can see Lena is sporting the distinctive frazzled expression of someone who hasn't slept in a while. Her skin is drab, her cheeks a little hollow, and her eyes weighted down by dark purple shadows ; she looks breathtaking all the same.

"Hi."

Lena breathes the greeting back to her. "Hi."

Kara inclines her head towards the exit. "Shall we ?"

Lena nods and smiles, and out of a common unspoken accord, their hands travel to each other and their fingers entangle. Kara takes hold of her suitcase, Lena grabs her coat and backpack, and together, they make their way to the parking lot and the red van, wedged in between two expensive sport cars that have Kara closing her eyes during Lena's entire manoeuvre in fear that she'll hit one or the other. Fortunately, they make it out unscathed and Lena has them on the road in a flash, wadding her way through traffic. The van appears humongous to Kara but Lena navigates the streets with ease and soon, the familiar landscapes wrap around them comfortingly.

"I was thinking we could go for a walk. And talk," Lena says with a hint of hesitancy.

"Neutral ground ?"

"Yeah," Lena exhales. "Neutral ground."

 

Through backroads and clever shortcuts, Kara acting as a living GPS, they're in Howth in thirty minutes. Lena drops her off in front of John's pub and she spends the next hour furiously scrubbing herself clean and changing her clothes an unspeakable amount of times. This is made all the more complicated by the fact Streaky seems intent on being everywhere she is and she keeps on tripping on him. Once she's ready, having added a good fifteen minutes to her initial prediction because she kept on stopping to pet the cat, she drops tea bags in two insulated mugs that she fills with boiling water, drops a pack of slightly stale digestives in her bag, shoves her feet in her trusted boots, and makes her way downstairs.

Lena is waiting for her in front of the pub, head down, hands hidden in her pockets. A light drizzle is turning her black hair slick and pearlescent and under the cinereous sky, she looks like an apparition, like if Kara were to reach out, her hand would go through her like smoke. They walk side by side in silence, except for a small "thanks," when Kara hands her one of the mugs ; and it's not until they're well into the path that leads up the cliff, having left the houses behind them, that Lena starts talking, her voice at first unnaturally steady.

"My mother died."

"I remember," Kara says quietly after she’s taken a sip of her tea, "you told me that." She doesn’t mean to sound so dismissive, but it’s what ends up happening anyway and she winces at the tone of her voice.

Lena huffs in frustration, not, Kara realises when she looks at her, with her but with herself. "Not my-" she stops, digs her fingernails into her wrist and doesn’t let go until Kara gently tugs at her hand and tangles their fingers. Lena squeezes hard, and it hurts, but she doesn’t let go. "Lillian," she continues, voice strained, "my adoptive mother. She died last year. On the 23rd of December."

"Oh."

"And I’ve wanted to tell you so many times but every time I tried," Lena says, voice breaking, "I felt like I was going to throw up and then it was December and you looked so happy and cheerful I- I didn’t know what to do."

"I’m sorry," Kara says, "I should have given you space more to grieve."

"You didn’t know. I didn’t tell you."

"I still knew something wasn’t right," Kara says, voice as gentle as a voice can be.

"And I snapped at you when you asked," Lena counters, "I’m sorry. Really."

Kara brings their intertwined hands to her lips, kisses the back of Lena’s. "Apology accepted." Like there really is any other option. "Do you want to tell me more about your family ? About Lillian ?

"I have another brother," Lena says so fast that Kara is barely done speaking. She winces at her words, like she’s just ripped a plaster, then continues. "Half brother. He was in jail for a while, and then he died."

This is not where Kara thought the conversation would go. It's always seemed to her that the universe was pilling everything against her, but in this moment, Lena clearly is ahead of her in terms of fuckery. "What happened ?"

"He-" Lena lowers her head. For a moment, Kara doesn’t think she’s going to keep talking, but she does, pushing through in a way Kara herself is intimately familiar with. "When Lillian died, I went back to my birth name, but when I was living with her, I went by- I went by Lena Luthor."

A bit passes, then realisation downs on Kara with the weight and subtlety of a collapsing brick wall. "Your brother is Lex Luthor," she whispers.

At the sound of his name, Lena stops walking and retracts on herself, ripping her hand from Kara’s. Kara follows on instinct, stretching and reaching until she’s holding Lena tight to her chest, swaddling and rocking her side to side. She remembers, very faintly, seeing the news of the bombing, remembers the fear that seized her when she couldn’t recall if Alex was still on assignment in Metropolis. And she also remembers brushing the whole thing aside once she knew her sister was safe. Her past disinterest seems to be back with a vengeance.

Lena hiccups a sob and seems surprised that she’s holding her. In her arms, she carries herself in a stiffed manner that makes it clear she was expecting the opposite ; to be pushed away, rejected. Kara holds her that much tighter.

"He was never good. Abusive. And a terrible brother. But he was her son and she loved him more than she ever loved me even if I know she tried to love me too. She died of a broken heart shortly after he hung himself in his prison cell. Even after he was gone, she still chose him. And I want to forgive her, I do, because she did her best, and I know it was hard for her to see me everyday, the living breathing manifestation of my father cheating on her, but I can’t. I can’t forgive her Kara. But I miss her anyway and when I think about it, I can’t fucking breathe."

Silence hangs heavily in between them. In the wake of such a thing, there is absolutely nothing Kara can say or do to make anything even a little better. So instead she holds her, tight, tighter, until Lena starts embracing her in return and the insulated mug digs into her back and Kara does not give a single fuck because she knows if she lets go now, Lena will irremediably fall apart.

"It's okay if you're angry," she whispers, words half lost to the wind, "you're allowed to be angry even now that she's dead. You don't owe her forgiveness, you don't owe her anything. Just don't let it eat you. For the love of all that is holy don't let your anger eat you."

Lena sobs loudly into her chest and Kara wonders if anyone ever took the time to tell her that, if anyone at any point in her life ever sat her down, looked her in the eyes and told her it was okay to be angry. To Kara, everything is much clearer now, from the way Lena carries herself, to their earlier guarded interactions. From the very beginning, Lena has carried in her chest a grief so similar to hers that it's no wonder they burn like twin flames.

The light drizzle turns into heavier rain, its patter on her waterproof jacket almost deafening. Still, she doesn't move until Lena's knees buckle at which point she swoops her into a bridal carry and carries her all the way back to her apartment. The bookshop is open, its warm light spilling onto the wet pavement, so she takes the backdoor and doesn't stop until she's laid Lena down in the shower. There, she strips her off her clothes, and pretends she can wash everything away with soap and tender hands. Brainy comes to find them later in the afternoon with muffins and hot chocolate but by then, Lena is mercifully asleep.

 

They were supposed to celebrate Brainy's birthday that night and Kara fully expects for it to be rescheduled but a little before six, Lena rises like a jack-in-the-box and starts cooking up a storm. She's moving in such a flurry that she becomes hard to follow and Kara is grateful to be sent to the store, even if the place is packed and she has to fight a six years old for the last three-pack of canned tomatoes. The evening is a little slow, courtesy of Kara being completely jet-lagged and Lena being awash with grief, but it's also lovely in an underrated way. Nia, Sam and Jack have also been invited, there are an abundance of snacks and, for some reason, pizza with both apples and olives. They play board games and later both Kara and Lena manage the extraordinary feat of falling asleep in front of Man of Steel. Brainy doesn't seem fazed one bit by this and Kara thinks he's mostly happy to be surrounded by caring gentle people ; plus, Nia is holding his hand, and Kara knows well enough herself how the hand of a lover nested in one's palm can make the whole world brighter.

She wakes up on the last day of the year with a crick in her neck from having slept on the couch and a wet patch on her sweater from where Lena drooled through the night. It's a slow day. Brainy and Lena are both working, but Kara takes the bus to North Bull Island and partakes in her annual tradition of walking the entire length of the beach to mark the end of the year. The wind blows in her ears and empties her head, allowing her to calmly reflect on her life while her boots make deep but fleeting indents in the wet sand. She walks all the way to the northernmost point of the island, gazing upon Howth in the fog, then all the way to the southernmost point and the Wooden Bridge. Then, she walks back to Causeway Road and all the way to Raheny Station, forsaking the bus for the return trip. It's admittedly a very roundabout way of doing things, but she got lost the first time she came here and now she does it like this every time.

Back in Howth, she settles at KIERAN'S for the rest of the day, dozes off to the low hum of conversations and video calls Alex. The shop is not particularly full, and Lena closes early after shepherding Eve and Jess out with the instruction of having fun. Kara goes home shortly after that and spends much too long choosing an outfit for something that after all, won't be much more than another evening at the pub. She settles on her favourite sweater, blue-green and fluffy, with a plaid shirt peeking from under the collar, clean jeans, and her trusty boots which she spends half an hour scrubbing and polishing. They meet at the pub, Brainy with his noise cancelling headphones, Nia in so much glitter and sequins that it frankly hurts to look at her, Jack in a crop top, which makes clear where he wants his evening to go, and Sam in a shirt and vest combination that isn't unlike Alex's Christmas outfit. Ruby is at home with an overpaid sitter, already fully asleep after her mother dragged her to the early kids New Years Eve.

And as for Lena, she spends the evening glued to her side looking comfy, grumpy, and a little bit sad in a heather grey sweater that Kara learns, halfway through her second pint, used to belong to Lillian. Her undershirt is ill adjusted and peeks under the collar and she keeps on tugging at it until Kara smoothes her hand over it and lays a kiss at the junction of her skin. "Stop fretting, you look perfect."

Lena scoffs, but Kara barely hears the sound over the ruckus of the pub. "I made literally no effort."

"You always look beautiful."

Lena looks suspicious of that fact but she doesn't fight it ; and it's a shame, because Kara had about a dozen arguments ready to counter any attempt at self-deprecation.

They have to run to catch the last train to Dublin before the DART stops running until 1:30 am, something that Kara's never really understood. The task is made complicated by the fact that most of them are drunk, and Jack walks straight into a lamp post, too busy texting his current crush to look at where he's going. They pile up in a carriage that smells astonishingly bad and Kara and Lena spend the journey to Connolly station with their noses buried in each other's necks. Brainy and Nia are busy investigating each other's tonsils, Brainy shielded from the smell by the thick layer of mint balm he slathered under his nose, Jack is still texting his crush, and Sam is frozen in the attitude of someone who isn't quite sure what she’s doing here.

Finding a good spot to watch the light show on the Liffey proves difficult this late in the evening. Nia and Brainy retreat to a quieter place, Jack disappears, presumably in search of his aforementioned crush, but Kara, Lena and Sam all persist until they find themselves crushed to a barrier, as close to the water as they're going to get. Kara fits herself behind Lena, only half to protect her from the crowd. She wraps her arms around her and slips her hands in her jacket, laying them flat against her hips. She doesn't slip them under her sweater, wary of letting the cold seep in, but the intention is there and she knows Lena knows it.

"What do you wanna do after ?"

Lena shouts something over the music, something Kara supposes is "WHAT ?"

"What do you wanna do after ?" Kara repeats, louder. She glues her cheek to Lena so she'll hear her properly ; her skin is cold and supple. "We can go that one gay pub that only serves gin or I'm sure Jack can find us some kind of beach party. What do you think ?"

"I wanna go home and drink tea," Lena says, almost petulantly.

Before she can think of shyly holding it back, a short laugh explodes out of Kara, briefly covering the music. "See," she says absentmindedly, "that's why I love you."

"What ?"

Lena whirls around in her arms so fast that Kara is thrust back half a step bumping into someone's shoulder. Her arms dangle uselessly at her sides. She slowly catches up to the words that exited her mouth without her consent. "I-" She still has the option to backtrack, knows Lena will readily pretend she truly didn't hear what Kara just said and she can live another day with this information tucked close to her chest, hidden from the world. But she's sick of it. Sick of fearing everyone is going to leave her. Sick of the anxiety holding her back. There is a time for slowing down and a time for leaping ;  now, she leaps. "Fuck it," she grumbles under her breath. "I said I love you !"

Lena lips part in a surprised and silent "oh." Then, slowly, so slowly that it feels to Kara that the next few seconds happen in slow motion, they stretch into a wide grin ; a true happy smile she hasn't seen on Lena in weeks. "That's convenient," she says, "because I love you too."

"WHAT ?" Kara shouts because she wants to hear it again.

Lena rolls her eyes, it's clear she sees through Kara's game but she indulges her anyway and leans forward until her lips brush against her ear. "I said I love you."

Warmth swirls in Kara's stomach, spreading from there to her whole body, sparkling and lighting every nerve. A matching grin stretches on her face, big and dazzling. She wants to laugh, and it makes it a little hard to respond when Lena seizes her by the lapels of her jacket and tugs her in for a kiss. She persists though, she's nothing if not persistent, and there's nothing she likes more than kissing Lena. She forgets about the crowd, she forgets about the cold chilly weather, all that matters is the way Lena presses into her like she will die if there's so much as a millimetre left in between them, the way she groans when Kara pushes her back against the barrier and coaxes her mouth open. She doesn't hear the crass whistles, doesn't hear Sam's loud curse, doesn't even notice when the light show begins and the year ends ; in this instant all that she knows is the taste of beer on Lena's tongue and the way she repeats, every time they part for air, "I love you."

 

January starts slow and under heavy sheets of cold rain. They wake up early on the 1st and immediately decide to go back to sleep, ignoring the world in favour of sinking into each other's arms. Kara fits Lena against her, spooning her, and marvels, though not for the first time, at how well they fit together, at how well their bodies mould to one another, like it's always been their sole intended purpose. The rain cuts them from the outside, barely any light coming into the room, and they have no way of knowing what time it is, Lena having turned her alarm clock face down so that the new year won't come at them too fast. This way, they're allowed to exist in limbo, outside of time, in a dimension that is all their own and in which they can pretend Lena didn't cry herself to sleep not two days before and Kara wasn't having a life crisis on the other side of the world barely a week ago.

In this bubble, free of every constraint and unattached to anything but each other, Kara lazily kisses the crook of Lena's neck and teases her through her boxer briefs, letting her rub herself to a slow orgasm on the heel of her palm. Buoyed by their recent admission of love and the quiet moans feeling the room, Kara can honestly say this is the best she's ever felt. She feels so light she's convinced she would float away if not for Lena's warm body pressed against her. Her love is her only tether to Earth ; without it, she would float away to outer space, never to be seen again.

Her own underwear is soaked, sticky, warm ; all from the feel of Lena against her and, her small breathy whines, the absolute trust she puts in her. Lena is putty in her hands, and that's more than enough to get her wet.

"Enjoying yourself, are you ?" Lena whispers when Kara accidentally bucks into her ass.

Kara begins to repress a grunt, then decides not to, and accompanies the sound by biting Lena's earlobe. "Frankly, I'm appalled that you think I wouldn't."

Lena snorts, half laugh, half moan, then turns around in her arms to straddle her thigh, one of her own falling in between her legs. Kara's hand, having followed the motion, finds itself wedged there and she wiggles it, causing Lena to press down harder. Her dark hair is half undone from her low ponytail, and it spills on her shoulder, almost lost in the black material of the band t-shirt she slept in. With her pale translucent skin contrasting dramatically, she looks otherworldly, or god-like ; and in any case not at all like she was made of the same stuff as the rest of humanity. Kara still can't believe she's the one who gets to make her writhe like that, and when Lena looks down at her with half hooded eyes she feels like a mythical chosen one, blessed by a goddess that could have just as well never laid her eyes on her.

Slowly, Lena reaches out to frame her face with her hands ; Kara rises to meet her halfway, grateful for the years of exercise that now allow her to hold herself up with just her abs. "Whatcha thinking about ?"

"You," Kara replies quietly.

Lena smiles, her whole face lighting up from the stretch of her lips.

"What are you thinking about ?"

And Lena replies, just as quietly, "you."

There's nothing frantic about this morning's love making. It's calm, and quiet, and unhurried, and it fits so well into Kara's need to slow down, that it resemble a divine intervention. They shuffle and adjust in a concert of soft moans until they're both straddling the other's thigh, impossibly close, just the way Lena likes. Kara kisses her slowly and thoroughly, all tongue and no teeth, and Lena presses a hand right under her breast where her tattoo is, feeling her heart. Kara herself, resumes her hand's previous activities, and pushes her underwear aside so she can feel her warmth. Her fingers slip lower than she intended, tricked by the slickness that has pooled here. She gathers some on the tips of her fingers and journeys higher to her clit, rubbing the hard bulb in unclear patterns until Lena is squirming again on top of her.

Lena's own hand abandons her under-boob and slides down to her hip, the other wrapping around the back of her head and bringing her closer until their foreheads knock together. They breathe each other's in. Lena mumbles something that is not completely coherent but ends in "s'feel good," and Kara replies, "I know."

Lena squeezes at her hip in what she probably intends to be a reprimand but that only goads Kara on and leads her to slip lower again, fingers teasing at her entrance. "Don't get cocky."

"I'm not cocky," Kara whispers with a smug smile, "just observant."

Lena whines and she tries to press down on her but Kara retracts just out of reach, keeping her thigh and hand a teasing inch away. Lena holds her gaze, both waiting for the other to capitulate and Kara cracks first ; she was built to make Lena feel good. She sinks in, slowly, inch by inch, Lena trembling above and around her, and is immediately rewarded by her favourite filthy moan when she hits the spot she knows is capable of making her scream. She starts pumping in and out in deep slow thrusts, thumb firmly pressed to her clit, until Lena starts tugging at her waistband and she stumbles in her rhythm.

"Together," Lena pants. "I- I want to touch you."

Kara presses down on her thigh, bucks against her. "I'm gonna lose my rhythm."

Lena moans, throws her head back. "I don't give a shit."

"Oh."

"Can I ?"

Kara nods, breathes out a little "yeah, okay," when she realises Lena's eyes are closed.

Lena's reaction is immediate, she plunges her hand down the front of Kara's boxers like it's the one thing she's been waiting for. Kara is drenched, she can feel it, can see it in the shinny path she's drawn by rubbing herself on Lena's thigh, but it's only when Lena's fingers start dancing on her that she realises exactly how much. It would make her feel embarrassed if Lena didn't look ecstatic. Her fingers are a little clumsy, distracted as she is by the waves of pleasure Kara is drawing from her ; but it's okay, Kara could easily come from just looking at her. Which is not to say she doesn't enjoy the way her fingers play with her clit or the single digit she slips inside of her. In fact, they light her on fire, and she doubles down on Lena, now a little clumsily too. Lena laughs when she accidentally slips out entirely then moans when Kara course corrects with intent ; and it's together that they come, Lena's pleasure sweeping over Kara like a tidal wave in a synchronicity that is still bewildering, even after months together.

 

They get no opportunity to bask in the afterglow though because just when Kara's breathing is steadying, her hips still twitching, the distinct smell of burnt eggs reaches her nostrils and she simultaneously remembers that Nia slept over too, and that she should absolutely not be trusted with a stove.

The eggs are inedible, and the milk over-boiled and covered in thick creamy stinky skin ; but Brainy reheats some cinnamon rolls he'd smartly frozen for later and the incident is quickly forgotten. Nia seats on his lap and she's wearing one of his hoodies and Lena is making tea in the kitchen wearing what Kara is a 100% sure is one of her sweaters and she's intimately aware, while she sips on her orange juice, of how much the four of them look like a family. Lena decides to open the shop in the early afternoon and Kara goes to help, which is to say she does the dishes in the kitchen and tries to stay out of Brainy's way.

A shocking amount of people converge in during the relatively short opening time, families, looking for the one open place to get the hot chocolate they promised their kids, couples, holding hands as they peruse the books, lost souls, in quest of a little bit of warmth and comfort on this day of renewal. From where she's standing at the sink, she can hear each customer calling out a "Happy New Year !" and this silly human ritual fills her with great happiness.

When the shop closes, she walks back to her studio under a light drizzle. There, she kicks off her boots, shrugs off her jacket and picks Streaky off the ground in one continuous motion, then plops down on her couch to video call her sister.

"Happy New Year."

Alex groans, then leans over her laptop, presumably to lower the volume. She's wrapped in a blanket and Kara can see the sleeve of a sweatshirt she remembers gifting to Kelly peeking out. "Happy New Year."

"Hungover ?"

"It's the last time I drink tequila."

Kara represses a laugh, hiding her smile behind her hand. "You say that every year."

Alex grumbles something and squeezes her eyes shut. "This time I mean it," she adds a second later, a little more audibly.

"Sure."

Alex opens her eyes to glare at her ; she looks like a kicked puppy. "I would kill to have your metabolism. How are you so perky ?"

"Because it's the evening here and I don't drink that much ?" Kara suggests. She tries not to sound too admonishing, she's grown skilled at keeping reproach out of her voice ; but it is also true that Alex has been skirting the line of problematic drinking for years.

Alex sighs and averts her eyes to her hands. "I know." She seems to hesitate for a long second, then she looks up again, this time with a strange little smile. "I need to cut back on my drinking anyway, can't do that with a child around."

"I think that's a good idea, I'm proud of you," Kara's smile mirrors her sister's, but it falls when she catches up with the rest of what she just said. "Wait ? What ? A child ? Alex ?!"

Alex's smile widens, her entire face lights up and it becomes clear then that she's been waiting to talk about it since she took Kara's call. "Yeah. A little girl. She'll be here before the wedding. Kinda accidentally but-"

"Lesbians don't have accidental babies Alex !" Kara cuts. "What's going on ?"

"Relax," Alex laughs, "I’m not pregnant. And neither is Kelly. But the adoption agency called yesterday and-"

"Yesterday ?!"

"Kara !"

Kara raises her hands in surrender. "Alright. Sorry. I'll stop interrupting you."

"The agency called yesterday, it's an accidental pregnancy, the mother doesn't want to keep her and chose our profile. I told you I registered with an adoption agency after- after Maggie, but it never really panned out and then I met Kelly and I didn't know what to do." Kelly comes into frame then. She crouches behind Alex and kisses her temple. "But a little over a year ago," Alex continues, "we decided to try to adopt together I just- I wasn't sure it was going to work so we sort of kept it to ourselves. And now we're having a baby."

"We're having a baby," Kelly echoes with a blinding smile.

There are a lot of things Kara could say right now. Things such as "wow, a baby !" or a good old traditional "congratulations ! I'm happy for you !" What she does end up saying is : "And you were worried she wouldn't want to marry you ? She signed up to change diapers with you and you were worried she wouldn't want to get married ?" She's met with twin bewildered gazes. Alex slowly raises an eyebrow ; Kelly bites back a laugh. "Okay I agree marriage and kids are two different things but still, on the scale of commitment, diapers rank pretty high !"

"That's not at all what I was expecting you to say," Alex says, eyes still unnaturally wide.

"Yeah," Kara nods, "that's not what I was expecting to say either. Sorry. Congratulations ? I'm- I'm happy for you guys."

On her laptop screen, her sister kisses her fiancée's cheek and nuzzles against her, drawing her closer by thrusting an arm from under her blanket to wound it tight around her shoulders. Kelly rests her head on her shoulder, and closes her eyes.

"How are you feeling ?"

"Happy," Alex says slowly, "and a little freaked out."

"I can understand that. You're gonna be a great mum though."

Alex sounds a little bit fragile when she asks, "You really think so ?"

"Of course I do !" Kara exclaims. The idea of Alex being anything but a good mother is frankly ludicrous ; Kara thinks she's always known her sister would make a good parent and it's even more evident now, in the way that she worries and questions herself.

"See babe," Kelly whispers, "Kara agrees with me, we're going to do great."

They stay on the call for a few more hours, discussing nursery themes, colour schemes and baby essentials. Alex relaxes progressively, and by the time Kara hangs up, she's even fallen asleep, propped up against Kelly.

It's much later where Kara is, but she's not tired. Still reeling from the sudden news that her sister is going to be a mother, she knows she's not going to be able to sleep just yet and instead sets to deep cleaning an apartment she's rarely in anymore ; there is dust and grime in surprising places. Streaky is extremely vexed when she moves him and she gains a new collection of scratches on her forearm ; at least it's not jail. She gains back his affection by giving him a bit of canned tuna and immediately loses it again by refusing to let him lick the box. He retaliates by stealing her grilled cheese, she threatens to lock him in the bathroom, he starts scratching at her books, she apologises for all her wrong doings and lets him sleep on the bed. She's barely tucking herself in, manoeuvring around the cat, when someone knocks on the door.

She swears, skirts around the cat again, shivers when her feet hit the cold floorboards, and makes her way to the door where she finds Lena hovering awkwardly in the hallway. She's looking at her feet when Kara opens the door, but when she looks up, her eyes are red and her cheeks puffy. She's thrown a coat over her sleep shirt and her sweatpants are hanging dangerously low on her hips, their hems hastily shoved in her unlaced boots. Her glasses are fogged up, and Kara thinks she must have run there, or at least speed-walked.

"Hi ?"

Lena blinks, seems surprised to find herself here, surprised to have knocked, and more surprised even, that someone answered the door. "Um. Sorry. Maybe I should have called. I couldn't sleep."

Kara inclines her head, nodding at the inside of her studio from which warm light spills out into the hallway. "Come in then. Do you want to talk about it ? Tea ?"

Lena shakes her head, but she does step inside, toeing her boots off and aligning them on the floor next to Kara's. She starts taking off her coat as well, then freezes, hesitating, and Kara finishes the action for her, slowly slipping the sleeves down her arms until she can hang the garment next to hers. Lena shivers, rubs at her goosebumps riddled forearms.

"I couldn't stop thinking about her," she whispers. "About Lillian. And um, I didn't sleep great while you were gone and I know codependency is not great and I'll leave if you want to be alone right now but- Can I sleep here tonight ?"

"Sure."

"Thank you."

Lena looks down again, writhing her hands together and Kara takes them in hers, lifts them to her lips and lays a soft kiss there. "Anytime."

Streaky absolutely refuses to give up his spot on the bed so they have to make do with what he left them, Kara sticking to the wall as close as possible so that Lena can fit in between her and the cat. They don't take that much space though, because the moment they lie down, Lena tucks herself into her, pressing her face into her collarbone.

"Death sucks."

Kara kisses the top of her head and hums gently. "I know. Do you wanna talk about life instead ?" Lena lifts her head and squints at her with an expression Kara decides to interpret as curiosity. "Alex and Kelly are adopting a baby."

"They are ?"

"Yeah. A little girl," Kara says with a smile. "Alex's always wanted kids but she's had a rocky journey there and now she's finally going to be a mum. I'm so happy for her."

"I'm happy for her too," Lena says quietly.

A little too late, and only because of Lena's tone, Kara realises that maybe discussing children and mothers with someone who is grieving a mother might not have been her brightest idea to date. But just when she's about to backtrack, Lena asks, still as quiet, "Do you want kids ?"

"I-" Kara stops immediately and takes a second to think. This doesn't feel like a question she can afford to flounder through but at the same time giving it a definite answer doesn't feel right. "I don't know. I think I might want kids someday, but to be honest I've never really stopped to think about it. You ?"

"I don't know either," Lena chuckles, "I don't have the best track record with mothers. But I think I'd like to foster one day, so I can prevent what happened to Brainy and I from happening to other kids."

"I think that's great. I think you'd be good at it."

"Yeah ?"

Kara smoothes a hand down Lena's back, slips it under her t-shirt, and splays it on her skin, still a little cold from her walk. "Yeah. I really think you'd be good at it. You're kind, caring, responsible. If or when you decide you want to foster, I think you'll be good at it."

This simple reassurance seems to unknot something in Lena. She tucks herself closer again, head back against Kara's collarbone, and she exhales shakily. "I'm not going to do it now," she mumbles against her sweatshirt, "but it's a thought I have. A project."

"That's good," Kara says, tightening her arms around her. "Projects are good. They help with moving on."

"What if I don't move on though ?" Lena murmurs. "What if I'm angry all my life ?"

"You're not going to be angry all your life."

"You can't be sure of that."

Kara breathes out slowly, gives herself a second to craft a reply. "Some people," she says after a while, thinking about Siobhan, "I was angry with for a long time, but it went away. Eventually, anger dies out, and you get to live, I promise."

"My youth has been nothing but a tenebrous storm,
Pierced now and then by rays of brilliant sunshine;
Thunder and rain have wrought so much havoc
That very few ripe fruits remain in my garden."

- L’Enemi, Charles Baudelaire, translated by William Aggeler

Cold briny water sprays Kara in the face, seeping under the high collar of her jacket, drenching her beanie, numbing the tip of her fingers even through her gloves. The weather is positively shit. In the back of the boat, the two teenagers they plucked from the sea are shivering under blankets. They'll be alright, Kara surmised after a quick exam, but they probably won't go for a winter swim again anytime soon. Which is just as well considering the water temperature rarely goes over 7°C this time of the year and rescuing people from the cold clutches of the ocean is not her favourite activity. She warms her fingers under her armpits, focusing on the hot chocolate that's waiting for her at KIERAN'S when she comes back ; if she's lucky, there might even be some apple pie left and Brainy will warm it in the oven for her and Lena will bring it to her with a kiss on the cheek and she'll refuse to let her pay so she'll empty her pockets in Brainy's tip jar again in retaliation.

Jack is standing at the back of the boat, looking out onto the water with a cultivated surly expression. He looks like an old romantic painting ; or he would, if not for his neon orange jacket. "What's up with him ?" Kara asks, nodding in his direction when Sam approaches her with an old granola bar and a half empty thermos of instant coffee.

"Russell isn't texting back."

"Who ?"

"The lad he was snogging on New Year's Eve ? Russell Rogers ? He has an art gallery and a massive cock ?" She pauses, looking at her expectantly. "Right, you were too busy snogging Lena to notice any of this. I'm the only one who's not snogging anyone."

"Can you stop saying 'snogging' ?"

"No ! I will repeat it as much as I want ! It's my privilege as someone who's not currently getting snogged !"

"Well, we just have to find you someone to snog then," Kara says, lips curling at the word.

"It's no use," Sam says, hanging her head in a way that makes it clear she's not really joking anymore. "The moment they learn I have a kid they run in the opposite direction."

Kara shuffles closer, boots squeaking on the wet floor, and puts a hand on her shoulder. "What about that business lass ? Andrée something ?"

"Andrea," Sam corrects absentmindedly. "And she lives in Argentina so that's not exactly an option. I mean we do send nudes to each other on a regular basis but..."

Under her breath, Kara grumbles, "I've learned too much stuff about stuff I don't need to learn about."

Sam snorts. "Always knew you were a prude."

"I'm not !" Kara shouts, of course blushing furiously, "I just don't need to know about other people's sex life."

"Shame, I'm gonna need a new mate to talk about Andrea's strap pics then."

Kara buries her face in her hands. "Oh God shut up..."

Just when Kara thinks this conversation can't get any worse, Jack happily bounces over to them ; clearly, Russell texted back. "What are you lasses talking about ?"

"Massive cocks apparently," Kara says, hoping her words will get lost in the wind.

"Great, I'm an expert !" He eyes her up and down. "If you're interested in packing, I know people."

"Merciful Brigid," Kara groans, looking at the clouds, "strike me down."

She gets no such luck. They make it safely back to the harbour where the paramedics take charge of the frozen teenagers and when she tries to slip away to Lena's shop, Jack and Sam follow her. It gets worse from there when Lena reveals that she does know an Andrea from Argentina and also knows what she looks like naked. Sam laughs so loudly the whole room turns to look at her and Jack snorts coffee through his nose, spraying the hot liquid everywhere including on Kara's clean light grey jumper.

She stalks upstairs for a change of clothes, Lena in tow, and what was supposed to be a quick trip turns into a full snogging session in the bathroom ; Kara considers it just retribution for the images Sam put in her head.

"Andrea and I," Lena says at some point while Kara is busy ruffling in her dresser for one of her own hoodies, "we weren't- I mean we were serious, but she's always been a woman in every port kind of person. Now that I think about it, she probably cheated on me with Sam."

"Should I warn Sam about this ?" Kara asks, more to herself than to Lena. She digs an old National City University hoodie from the pile, one that she's been looking for for weeks, and tugs it over her head.

"I don't know. She probably knows already. And to be fair, if Andy ever settles down, I can see her with someone like Sam. Level headed, secure, grounding. Though to be fair she'd probably hate the amount of mud there is around here. What about you ?"

"Would I settle down with Sam ?" Kara asks, hoping she's misunderstood the question.

Lena laughs. "No ! I sure hope you don't want to settle down with Sam. I meant do you have any defining exes ? Long lost love ? Cheating bastard you'd want me to know about ?"

Oh, so Kara really did understand where this was going. Her eyes flicker down to her left hand and she shoves it into the pocket of her hoodie.

"You don't have to tell me," Lena adds in a hurry, "not unless you absolutely want to. No pressure."

In the safe confines of her pocket, Kara rubs her thumb against her ring finger. "Another time ? It's kind of a long story."

"Okay." Lena rises from the edge of the mattress and takes a few short steps to her to kiss her on the corner of the mouth. "No pressure," she repeats.

Kara will tell her. Silently, she promises that she will ; just not right now.

 

This winter is one of the best of Kara's life in terms of love and companionship. Being with Lena has opened many things and she doesn't feel so lonely anymore. She spends more time with her friends, having accepted that they're her friends in the first place, and it's liberating, the weight she'd purposefully placed on her chest dissolving a little more every time Sam laughs, or Nia sends her a meme, or Jack makes a crass joke. She calls Eliza more often too, making more of an effort to stay in touch with her adoptive mother, and she starts exchanging emails with Dolly and Jen, rekindling a friendship that she thought had died many years back.

It doesn't mean that she doesn't occasionally feel bad, that there aren't days when all she wants to do is wrap herself in a blanket and stare out the window despondently ; in fact, she spends her mother's birthday locked in her studio and in complete mutism. But there is something about knowing that she has people there to help get her through her bad days, ready to extend a hand into the darkness to grab her and pull her to safety, that makes everything a little easier.

But if this winter sees a generous improvement in her quality of life, it is literally shit in many other of its aspects. Literally shit. It rains non stop for two weeks from the end of January and well into February which in and of itself is not exceptional except the sewer system decides to stop coping and regurgitates its content through the library’s toilets. She spends an entire weekend waddling through shit, moving books on upper shelves and mopping the floor only to do it all over again when she goes to open the following week because she forgot to block the toilet before she left on Sunday night. She does know that librarians are supposed to be adaptable and resourceful, but she did not go through this particular scenario during training. Thankfully, even Jack has the foresight not to make a joke about this.

Apart from that, there's the usual onslaught of people who decide to take a dip in the freezing sea and end up in the offing and halfway to hypothermia (Kara plucks so many people out of the water that her fingers are bleeding red), the odd old men here and there who manage to get lost in an eleven square kilometres village (they find one in the church after having scoured the cliffs under the rain for three hours), and on one particularly shitty day, a random lad who decides to attack Brainy for wearing noise cancelling headphones at his own fucking job (Lena grabs him by the scruff of the neck and throws him out before closing the shop for the day).

Then there's the fact that the unrelenting rain finishes to wash away the part of the hiking trail that has been hanging by a thread for months now. This is not surprising. It was in fact highly predictable, Kara has been predicting it for months. It doesn't mean that she's not annoyed by it, bordering even on extremely pissed off that no one listened to her, but at least she gets to say, "I fucking told you so."

"You said something love ?"

When her stomach is done making loop-the-loop at the pet name, Kara raises a head from the map she's been studying. "Nothing," she says, voice a little hoarse from a lingering cold. "I'm just trying to see if we can redirect the path for now."

Lena stops running her thumb on Brainy's calf for a second then resumes the activity with mindless practise. He's half asleep, laying across the couch, and she's managed to find a little spot to wedge herself underneath his legs and flat against the armrest. Kara for herself is sitting on the floor. "Do people hike that much this time of year ?"

"People hike all year long for plenty of reasons," Kara answers gruffly.

Lena hums then says, rather quietly, "okay."

"I'm not even sure I should do something about it." In fact she's almost certain it's someone else's job entirely. "But it's a tourist spot and someone is bound to do something stupid and get hurt if I don't. So I'm gonna do something about it."

She can feel herself getting upset as she speaks, her throat is closing up and her eyes sting with unshed tears. This is really fucking ridiculous, and not that big of deal. All she has to do is put on her jacket and boots, walk there, and put up a sign. And maybe hope that no one will attempt to climb over it. It's just that she's been tending to the cliffs and coast for years now and for a long time it was the one thing that didn't make her feel useless and seeing the place slowly crumble and disappear hurts.

"Come here," Lena whispers.

Begrudgingly, Kara drags herself around the coffee table and leans against the couch, in the gap between her legs. Lena bends over Brainy to kiss the top of her head, ruffling her hair gently as she does. "You're not responsible for the weather," she says calmly, "it's not your fault the path collapsed and you're already doing everything you can."

With nary a warning, Kara pushes herself upright, startling both of the couch's occupants in the process. Brainy stares at her, blinking. "I'm gonna go check it out again."

"Now ?"

"Yeah, why not ?" Kara shrugs. "It stopped raining."

Lena clears her throat, eyebrows arching. "Because it's nightfall and it's dangerous ?"

"If it's dangerous for me, it's worse for others."

"No one is going to go traipsing out there at night Kara. You can check it out in the morning. With Sam and Jack and proper gear. Or better yet, one of the lads from the coast guards whose job it actually is."

It's clear Lena is doing an effort to keep her voice levelled, but there still is an unmissable edge to it, a clear sign for Kara not to push lest she takes out her frustration on someone who has nothing to do with it and has done nothing but help. She exhales, slowly, pinching her nose, but Brainy beats her before she can conjure a reply.

"Lena is correct," he says in a somewhat sleepy voice, "going there alone at night would be unwise."

Thus defeated, Kara lowers herself back to the floor and lets herself be bracketed by Lena's legs. She knows they're right, both of them, but it's also true that they probably don't quite grasp her attachment to this place, and when she tries to explain it, what comes out of her mouth is a jumble of words unworthy of what she sees in these cliffs.

"Fine. I'll go in the morning. But I- I mean I just- This place is very important to me. I don't like seeing it like that. You weren't there yet but a couple of years ago we had pretty bad gorse fires here. Fire brigade was there for three whole days and then came back almost every week for the whole summer. It was- I mean I'm just doing my part to keep the place in one piece. This is my home."

Once she's done talking she feels pretty stupid. Getting emotional is not going to fix the problem, crying is not going to magically fix the collapsed path, it's not going to make Fingal County Council answer her emails, it's not going to unburn the top of the hill. But the thing is, she is emotional about it ; it's her home, the one place she managed to settle in, and she doesn't like what's happening to it.

"I understand," Brainy says quietly, "it is your home."

And, "homes are important," Lena whispers.

Okay, so maybe she was wrong, maybe Brainy and Lena are two of the only people who can understand what she means when it comes to home and belonging ; maybe she really needs to take a deep breath and sleep on it. Brainy rises, almost knocking her out with his legs, and when he’s sitting next to his sister, they lean forward in tandem to each grab one of Kara's hands. "You're doing a good job love," Lena says, and Brainy echoes this almost immediately, "you are doing a good job."

 

Kara doesn’t sleep a wink.

She tries, but every time she closes her eyes, she’s assaulted by images of her home burning. Not memories of her actual childhood house going up in flame but of this one, of her studio lit ablaze, of a tornado of fire in Lena's apartment ; all thoughts brought about by the somewhat irrational fear of the whole village collapsing into the sea. On one particular occasion, she opens her eyes absolutely convinced she's heard someone calling for help, someone who sounded exactly like her sister ; but Lena, who isn't sleeping either, kept up by all her tossing and turning, promises no one has made a sound.

She slips out of bed a little after 4, intending, at first, to only grab a glass of water in the kitchen and settle down again. But once she's up, she's restless. She paces up and down the living room, feet creaking on the old floorboards then shuffling on the carpet then creaking on the floorboards again. The sun won't be up for a couple of hours still, it's dark as a coal mine out there, but Kara knows she won't be able to rest at all until she's at least cordoned off the collapsed portion of the trail. She personally knows of a couple of morning joggers who get up earlier than even Lena and she isn't sure they'll see the hole in the glow of a torchlight. There's no harm in dealing with this early ; she's a professional, she's got years of training under her belt, she can put up a barrier in front of a hole.

Once she's made her decision, there's no really going back. She scribbles a note on a post-it that she leaves well in evidence on the kitchen table, grabs her jacket and her boots, and slips out of the apartment. It's drizzling, and cold, but the chilly air entering her lungs helps clear her head out a bit. She makes her way to the station in a light jog. The glow of the lamp posts barely keeps the darkness at bay, but she knows these streets like the back of her hand.

Mike from the night team is at the station, but William, his usual partner, is nowhere in sight. She’s grateful that the actual paid employees handle the night shift, but she’s never liked him much and she was half hoping that John would be here instead. He’s insomniac, and after he’s closed the pub, it’s not rare that he crosses the street and settles there with a book.

"You’re here early Danvers," Mike calls out when she comes in.

His coffee cup is long empty, and she fills it up again for him.

"Couldn't sleep," she admits, "I'm gonna go check out the collapsed trail."

"It's still dark," Mike says, nodding towards the window.

"I don't want any early bird to get in trouble. I’m just going to cordon it off and we can check it out again later."

Mike hums for a moment, thinking and chewing on his lip. His teeth are yellowed from years of smoking. "Want me to come with ?"

Kara shakes her head. "It's almost bedtime for you. I can handle it. It won't take me more than an hour."

He frowns. "You sure ?"

"Positive. It's a quick job, I can handle it."

Mike eyes her for a long moment again but then he yawns and says, "be careful."

"I will."

Kara trades off her sweatpants and sleep shirt for waterproof trousers and a thermal undershirt, she slips on her boots and gloves, her reflective jacket, her helmet, and she grabs everything she thinks she might need, rope, reflective tape, two torches, a cereal bar, and then she's on her way.

It's raining a bit more now. Not much, but enough to make her trip up the cliff somewhat disagreeable. She keeps her torch trailed on the uneven ground, mindful of where she puts her feet. At least there's no wind, so her chances of getting blown straight off the cliff are close to none. In the distance, a dog barks, and in a house she walks past, the lights come on in the kitchen ; some people really do get up unnecessarily early. She hurries, quickening her gait to reach the collapse. She should have done this the day before, when she first noticed it and it was closer to a rivulet than what she fears might now be a torrent of mud, but it was raining buckets then and it would have been actually dangerous. It's less dangerous now. Or at least, it's not the most reckless thing Kara has ever done.

The dog barks again, closer this time. In fact, it seems to be coming from straight ahead and before Kara can fully comprehend why, a sinking feeling of dread knots her stomach. She hurries again. Then starts fully running, the torch cutting a meagre bouncing light on the dark path ahead of her. She trips, flies ass over teakettle, eats a mouthful of mud, then pushes herself up and starts running again, all the while hoping, praying, that this is not what she thinks. The dog barks continuously now, trying, she thinks, to get her attention ; and it's exactly what she thought. When she comes to a stop a few feet away from what she knew would turn into a sludge river, there is someone there.

Who and what state they're in is a little hard to assess at first. Kara turns on the overhead light on her helmet and the bright beam reveals a mangled reflective jacket, muddy sneakers, scratches on every inch of exposed skin. The rain makes her vision blurry and from where she is, it's hard to see if they're breathing, but well placed shrubs prevented them from tumbling all the way down the side of the cliff which is nothing short of a miracle. The dog is half tangled in its leash and held in a loose embrace which makes her hope the hiker is still alive ; unless rigor mortis has set in and that's what is preventing the dog from falling.

Kara throws herself down on her stomach and crawls as close to the hole as she can. Mud slips under her jacket when it rides up but it's the least of her worries.

"Hello ?! Hey ! You good down there ?!"

She's not sure her voice carries well over the rain, plus, her question is the pinnacle of stupid questions. She takes a deep breath, and starts again.

"Hello ?" she calls out, trying to keep her voice both loud and clear, and measured and reassuring, which is not exactly easy. "My name's Kara. I'm with the Garda Cósta and I'm here to help. Can you hear me ?"

She keeps her ears trained for any reply, and the beam of light focused on their face for any sign of life at all.

"I'm here to help. Blink twice if you can hear me."

Seconds stretch on and on. Their face is marred with mud, cuts and bruises ; she has no idea how long they've been there, hypothermia might have already set in. She stops breathing, and then the hiker winks. Once, then twice.

"Okay. That's good. Thanks for letting me know. I'm gonna get you out of here."

She doesn't have any gear with her. No stretcher, no harness, no way of getting them out without endangering them both in the process.

"M'cold."

And no bloody thermal blanket.

"It's okay. It's okay, I know you're cold. Help is on the way. We're gonna get you out of here. Can you tell me how long you've been here ?"

She pats her pocket for her phone, and in the time it gets her to log into the coast guard app they use to communicate, she gets another jumbled reply.

"D'know."

"That's okay," Kara says, "help is on the way."

Her fingers are numb, her phone's screen slick under the rain, the waterproof case making it difficult to type. She rips one of her gloves off with her teeth, and attempts to launch an alert again. She doesn't know if it goes through. In the fifteen seconds it takes her to call for help, the shrub finally gives out under the combined weight of the hiker and their dog and Kara, Kara who is not tethered to anything, who is wearing no harness, who didn't even tie her rope around her waist, reacts on instinct and launches herself after them.

Her fingers wrap themselves around something, a piece of fabric by the feel of it. It's slippery and her grasp is feeble and when she tries to adjust it she hears something snap. Or maybe she imagines the sound entirely and only feels her shoulder tear itself out of its socket. The pain is blinding, she blacks out for a second or a minute, and when she opens her eyes again, her hand is open and tangled in the dog's leash which in turns is wrapped around the hiker's torso. This, as well as the lower part of her body clinging to the half collapsed path is the only thing preventing the lot of them from falling to their death. Her phone, of course, is completely out of reach, her entire body is cold and wet and numb, she can't feel her right arm, can't see through her glasses ; she thought she'd done a stellar job of catastrophising and thinking through the worse scenarios, but she hadn't thought about that one.

Fuck, Lena is going to be so, so mad.

The course of action she has to follow now is not super clear. She has no idea of how long she needs to hold on, doesn't know if her alert went through, if rescue is on its way. The sun won't be up for at least two hours, she's half hanging from the side of a slippery cliff, she can't feel most of her body, and what she can feel hurts like hell ; the probability that she is going to die is high. Her heart thunders in her ears. She tries to take a couple of deep breaths, but her current position is less than ideal for that, her lungs, trapped between her torso and what appears to be a relatively large boulder, are unable to expand properly. There's blood pooling in her mouth. She might have bitten her tongue, or maybe even broken a couple of teeth ; she isn't sure. She spits a mouthful of saliva and blood, works her jaw from side to side. No teeth fall out, so at least there's that.

"Everything is going to be okay," she says, as much for her benefit as for the hiker's. She hears a muffled grunt in reply, but she can't be sure she didn't make that sound herself. The dog whines in pain, the sound so gut wrenching it pulls tears from Kara's eyes.

"Do you have any mobility-" she stops, rephrases her sentence as she goes, "can you move your arms ? If you can, I want you to hang onto mine. I'm going to-" do something incredibly stupid "-try to pull you over the edge."

She doesn't get a reply, or she doesn't hear it, but she sees the hiker move, sees them grasp onto her dislocated arm, and when she's mostly confident they're hanging tight enough, she starts pushing her body up, feet firmly wedged in the ground above. If God exists, this has to be the proof. Her free hand finds purchase on the rock and she lifts, and lifts, and lifts, until she's somehow bent her body backward and the hiker is within reach of the cliff side. She tries to wiggle back to pull them to safety, but finds that she's stuck, unable to move an inch more. She can't really feel her arm, but her abs scream in pain, bile rises in her throat ; now would be a really fucking bad time to pass out.

Thankfully, unprompted, the hiker throws one arm then the other over the side and sorts of dangle there, the leash wrapped around their waist.

"Can you pull yourself up ?"

"Legs."

"You can't feel your legs ?" Kara tries to guess, then under her breath, "fuck, that's bad."

Using her free hand and the last of her strength, she grabs the dog by its collar and lifts it up too until she can half throw him over the edge. This frees the hiker of enough weight that they can pull themselves to safety, but has the nasty side effect of catapulting Kara to the other side.

Pain explodes everywhere in her body and this time, the cracking sound she hears definitely doesn't come from her imagination. Before she can catch her breath, before she can find purchase on anything, she starts sliding down the slanted side of the path, slowly at first, then faster and faster until she's simply falling.

It's dark. She doesn't know if it's because she's hit her head and her helmet's light went out or if she has blood in her eyes. Maybe they're just closed, and if they are, she doesn’t want to open them. Her fall stops as abruptly as it started, air is no longer rushing past her, but she doesn't remember hitting anything, and certainly not the water below. Slowly, limb by limb, she tries to take stock of her body. She can feel her legs, which is good, her back hurts, but it seems to be holding on, and when she tries to wiggle her uninjured arm, she feels something tangled around it, something that definitely feels like the rope she was carrying earlier ; it must have gotten stuck in the rocks and her hold on it is precarious at best, but maybe, just maybe, she's not going to die today.

That rope, that stupid piece of rope she should have tied around her waist is her only sliver of hope and she hangs on to it for God knows how long, fingers numb, until she hears a ruffling above her head. She can't look up, if she does, she might fall with no second chance, but she recognises the distinctive sound of the rescue van's tires screeching to a halt, the doors sliding open and close, voices, several of them, Sam, and Jack, and John, even Mike and William, shouts, something being dragged across the ground, and then a bright beam of light illuminates her and she can see nothing but white. She starts counting then, slowly, to keep herself focused so she doesn't let go of the rope like her fingers seem to want to.

At 199, Sam's voice is closer above her, at 293, she can feel hands on her body, at 409, she's being strapped to a plastic gurney and wrapped in a thermal blanket. She loses her thread briefly, resumes, and at 757 there's solid ground under the gurney. She hears another voice, a shout so loud it kinda makes her want to pull her ears off. Lena moves into her blurry peripheral vision, and then she blacks out.

 

Something is wrong. Kara doesn't know exactly what, but something does not feel right. She has the strange sensation that she's floating, something that, she is almost sure, is not possible. Unless she's still falling in which case it's her brain trying to make sense of gravity, but she thinks she remembers being pulled to safety, has the fleeting memory of Jack's voice, Sam's hands on her shoulders, Lena's face, inches from hers. Now, she hears another voice, a familiar one, though it is usually distorted by the low grade speakers of her laptop and thousands of kilometres.

"Don't try to move."

Kara obeys, and makes herself as still as possible. It's difficult, considering that she's floating and has little control over her limbs, but her sister's voice has always been commanding, so it feels wrong not to at least try. The effort and sudden awareness of her own existence make Kara feel incredibly thirsty, and she tries to convey that by opening her mouth and croaking. Sometime later, but not too long that she dies of thirst, a calloused hand brushes against her jaw, and cool water trickles down her throat. She smacks her lips together, closing them briefly over the soggy rim of a paper cup.

"Are you awake enough now that I can beat some sense into you or should I wait ?" Alex doesn't sound mad, more weary, exactly, Kara supposes, like someone who just crossed half the world because her sister did something stupid.

"Alex..." That's Eliza, and she sounds equally as tired, though maybe more in the physical sense of the term.

"You do realise," Alex says, ignoring her mother, "that if your alert hadn't gone through, if Sam and Jack and John hadn't been there, you would be dead right now ? Gone ? No more Kara Danvers ?"

Kara nods, and finds herself surprised that she can move her head. Emboldened by this new discovery, she opens her eyes ; and immediately closes them again, faced with a wall of white light.

"I don't- I've never stopped long enough to think about miracles to decide if I believe in them but this is a miracle Kara. Sheer luck. How you're still here doesn't even make sense."

"Alex," Eliza repeats, firmer this time ; and Alex grumbles something along the lines of, "fine."

At first, Kara thinks Eliza is protecting her from the wrath of her sister, but then, there's a sharp intake of breath, something that resembles a muffled sob, and when Lena speaks, Kara realises she's in the room with them. "We should call a nurse. You can chew her out later."

Kara absolutely does not want to see a nurse, but it seems this decision is out of her control. Eliza and Lena exit the room, and for the next immeasurable stretch of time, Kara is poked and probed everywhere. She observes through half closed eyes and listens distractedly, enough to learn that "luck," is not a strong enough word to describe her current state.

Her jacket and glove shielded her from rope burn, and apart from her dislocated shoulder, a nasty bruise where her helmet dented against her forehead and an impressive map of cuts and bruises including on her tailbone, her upper body is mostly alright. She broke one of her ankles, but it's a clean break and it was reset properly and quickly enough that it shouldn't cause too much of a hassle. The opposite knee is sprained, but no ligaments were torn, which she agrees is nothing short of a miracle. But she came close, much too close. If her jacket had slipped, she would have lost the skin of her entire left forearm, if she'd bumped her head harder, her skull would have caved in, if she'd hit the cliff harder, her spine could have snapped, her leg shatter entirely. And of course if she hadn't caught onto the rope, she would have simply drowned. So her body aches, and her mind is fuzzy, she's going to have to spend the next two months in a wheelchair and now that she's awake she kinda feel like throwing up ;  but she's alive, alive when she shouldn't be, and once more the universe plucked her by her collar and said, in the gentle rumbling voice she imagines the universe must have, "not you, not yet."

"It's the first time she leaves your side in three days," Alex says when the nurse is long gone and Kara has been propped up on her pillows. She's closed her eyes again because having them open makes the whole room spin. "They let her stay because you had no family there. When I arrived they tried to make her leave but... Let's say throwing her out was not an option."

Kara surmises by the tone of her sister's voice that she's talking about Lena, and she can picture her clearly, curled up in the fake-leather armchair under a scratchy blanket, waiting for her to wake up. She tries to muster a reply, distantly afraid of falling into mutism like after every traumatic event of her life, but before she can say anything, Alex sighs and continues.

"She's the one who called me. She was crying so hard I couldn't make out one word of what she was saying. I thought you were dead." She pauses, maybe waiting for Kara to say something. "And when I finally got a hold of someone who could tell me if you were alive, I jumped on the first flight I could find and spent thirteen hours thinking I'd arrive too late and I wouldn't get to say goodbye. Do not do that ever again."

"I'm not," Kara croaks, "sorry for saving a life." Talking is difficult, her throat feels raw, and every word comes out with the uneasiness of a regurgitated rock, but at least she's talking. "But I was- I was sloppy, and I apologise for that." Alex doesn't reply. A spike of fear pierces Kara's stomach. "I did save a life, right ?"

"Yes, yes you did," Alex says, gently smoothing her hand down Kara's weary brow. "Linda Lee, 28. She'll have to undergo multiple spinal surgeries but she'll live to regret going on a run in the middle of the night. I'm not FBI for nothing." That last statement is added with a short laugh when Kara opens one eye and attempts to glare at her. Through her limited vision, she can see her sister smiling sadly, and so she's not surprised when she adds after a short moment of silence, "next time you play hero, wear proper gear please. I- I don't want to be in a world in which you're not."

One of Kara's hands is immobilised and the other is tangled in a mess of wires so instead of reaching out like she desperately wants to, she leans into the palm Alex has kept on her face.

"I wasn't playing hero," she croaks, "this is my job."

Alex, blurry from limited vision and exhaustion, shrugs. "You're a hero to me. You've always been. Sleep now, Mum and Lena will be back soon and you need energy for the scolding of your life."

Kara snorts, which is a very bad idea because of the cannula in her nose, then closes her one open eye, and complies.

When she wakes up again, Eliza is here, but not Lena and not Alex. Her adoptive mother has taken up residence in the armchair closest to the bed and she's reading from a thin paperback which cover has been taped back with yellowing sellotape. Pretending to read at least, her eyes haven't moved in a while and Kara is pretty sure Eliza both knows she's awake and is ignoring her deliberately. She clears her throat, attempts to shuffle up, Eliza finally puts down the book.

"Lena took your sister home for a shower and some food. You're going to have to lend her some clothes, she left with none. She barely remembered her passport."

Kara averts her eyes to her hands. What little she can see of them is yellow, and blue, even black in some places. "I’m sorry."

Eliza makes a low humming noise. "I know you are."

Kara feels sheepish, like a child, even if she technically never really was a child around Eliza. She doesn't know what to do with the feeling or herself, thinks maybe she'd like a hug, but her body isn't exactly in prime hugging condition.

"I'm proud of you," Eliza continues, taking her completely by surprise. "I don't always agree with your choices, but I'm proud of you. When I think back to the day Clark dropped you on my doorstep and see you now, I have no other option but to be proud. That being said I- I thought you were done putting yourself in dangerous situations."

"I'm not-" Kara sputters, "I'm not putting myself in dangerous situations !"

"I have a list," Eliza replies blankly. "I've kept it chronological but we can go in alphabetical order as well."

"This wasn't me doing something reckless just for the sake of being reckless," Kara snaps, struggling against the tug of exhaustion so she can say her piece. "I know I’ve done dubious things in the past, but that was just me doing my job."

"I know," Eliza sighs, "but I see so little of you that I thought I'd take the opportunity to remind you."

"And you better not take it out on Alex," Kara continues like there's been no interruption. "What happened at Christmas better have been the last time. She's not my keeper, especially not now that we live on opposite side of the globe."

"I know I've been unfair in the past," Eliza sighs, "I have no excuse for it except that I worry. You can't stop a mother from worrying." That statement is a little shoddy, but it doesn't sound rehearsed so Kara will at least give her adoptive mother the benefit of the doubt that she didn't plan it. "But I will do better. You and Alex, you're so grown up, you don't really need me anymore and I don't always know how to deal with that."

Kara scoffs. "That’s ridiculous, of course we need you."

"Not as much," Eliza says with a sad smile, "but that's okay. That's okay. That's the natural order of things and I can make my peace with it. As long as you don't fall off any more cliffs."

"It’s the first time it happens," Kara grumbles.

"One time too many, Kara. One time too many."

She reaches out, probably with the intent of taking one of her hands, but like Alex earlier, she settles on smoothing her fingers down her face instead, her skin a little cold but soft and papery against Kara's.

"I think we can all agree on that."

The new voice is hoarse, and coming from the door. When Kara lifts her eyes she finds Lena there, leaning against the doorframe too casually for it to be entirely natural. She's bundled in her tan sheepskin jacket, worn blue jeans, and her boots are covered in mud.

"Brainy is stress baking, so I smuggled in some muffins in case you're hungry." She lifts a brown paper bag, the motion a little jerky and awkward. "I’m afraid your sister has fallen asleep on my couch, but if you're up to it Sam, Jack and Nia were thinking of dropping by later."

"Okay," Kara says. "Um, thanks ?"

Eliza rises from her chair, and bites back a yawn. "I'll give you two some space."

Kara thinks of protesting, but Lena nods gratefully and makes room for Eliza to exit the room after she's kissed the top of Kara's head. She takes her spot then, puts the muffins on the bedside table, and stays still and silent for a long while. Kara is tired again. Exhaustion pulls relentlessly at the back of her head and she wants to close her eyes again but if she does, she won't be able to see Lena anymore. Lena opens her mouth and she thinks she's going to say something easy and predictable like, "it's okay you can sleep, I'm not going anywhere," or a good old trusted, "I love you, please don't die." Instead, she sputters the wildest sentence Kara has ever been confronted to.

"Were you married ? I'm sorry, I'd resolved myself not to ask but after what happened I can't not know. I just- It's- You weren't waking up and you were in such a state and I couldn't sleep and all I could think about was that if you were widowed and you wanted to be buried next to them I wouldn't even have known. So if that's okay with you, I'd like to know now, in case you ever jump off a cliff again."

"I didn’t jump off a cliff," Kara grumbles. She intends to roll her eyes but abandons her endeavour halfway through when it feels like her eyes are being pulled out of her skull.

Lena chuckles weakly. "You do this thing, I don't even know if you've noticed but you- You run your thumb along your ring finger when your nervous. Like you expect to find a ring there and I've always find it weird but asking about it would have been weirder so I didn't." Kara looks down at her left hand. She does do that occasionally, but she'd never thought anyone would notice. "So, were you married ?"

"I was not," Kara says hoarsely. "Can I have some water ?"

"Sure. Yeah, sure."

Kara hears water trickling into the paper cup and a few seconds later, the wet cardboard touches her lips again. Lena bats her hand away when she tries to grab it ; she holds it to her mouth, and rests her fingers lightly on the bottom of her jaw. Kara swallows until the cup is empty and then, she speaks.

"I was never married, but, I was engaged. That's how I got here actually, I- I followed her here."

"You moved to another country and then she broke up with you ?" Lena asks, eyebrows shooting high in surprise. "That's shitty."

Kara chuckles. "That’s not exactly how it happened. She broke up with me and then I followed her here."

"I’m confused."

"Don’t worry," Kara says with a weak dismissive laugh, "everyone was. Her name is Siobhan. Siobhan Smythe."

"Smythe ? Like the-"

Kara hums in affirmation. "Like the host of the Silver Banshee show, yeah. We met in college, we shared a business class but she was a theatre major and she was... She was bright and lively and a little snippy maybe and she- she made the world make sense. I was-" She pauses to think about it for a second. "-not different back then, but not quite the same. I was running all the time, feeling like I was constantly a couple of steps behind everyone and everything, and afraid, so fucking afraid, that I was missing out. Siobhan, she pulled me forward, I was still struggling, but things felt easier with her somehow, because she was also running."

"You and her were the same," Lena says quietly.

"We got engaged when we graduated," Kara continues. "She asked, I said yes. And it felt like the right thing to do, like we had to do it now or it would be too late. We moved into a tiny apartment right above the bar she had a stand up gig at every Friday night and I started working in marketing for CatCo Worldwide Media. And then she left. And I didn't see it coming because like everything with her it came fast but I came home one evening and her suitcase was in the hallway and she said I was difficult and not what she expected and that she couldn't spend her life with me. She left, I spent a week mopping, and then I packed my bag and I followed, begging for her to take me back."

"And then you never left ?"

"And then I never left. I found myself here in ways I'd never found myself anywhere else. No place ever felt quite right to me but here, here I felt like I could put down roots and settle and be okay and even if she slammed the door in my face and left me alone in the rain in a foreign country, this is were I found a home."

"Do you miss her ?" Lena asks cautiously.

"No. No I don't. I did miss the idea of her for a long time, but I don't anymore. It was not easy getting there, but I'm alright now. And-" She pauses there, wondering how best to approach what she wants to say next. She's been honest with Lena up until now, and she trusts her, but this next part isn't unlike ripping her chest open and asking her to take a look inside. "And most of what didn't feel okay didn't have much to do with Siobhan anyway. Her leaving me was just- it was the embodiment of what I've always feared, the people I love abandoning me. My parents died, and then my cousin didn't want me, and then my adoptive father died too, and when this kind of pattern keeps on repeating over and over again it's hard not to feel like you're being left behind for a reason."

"I can understand that," Lena says quietly. She doesn't add anything to that, doesn't tell Kara she's never going to leave her, and Kara appreciates it. These words are always an empty promise, and it's better to know that Lena is here now than to be told lies.

"I don't really tell that to people, but Alex delayed going to college for a year so we could go together. She stayed behind, waiting tables, so that I wouldn't feel like she was abandoning me. I do realise the irony of me being the one who left in the end but... Well it worked out. She wasn't very happy at the beginning but I- I think she realised it was what I needed."

"That's what family is like I suppose," Lena says. "She doesn't have to agree with everything you do or even be happy about it as long as she realises that you know what you're doing and you know what's good for you. She's a good sibling, I'm glad you have her."

"I'm glad I have her too," Kara says, and then she yawns, loudly, ruining every chance she had of making any kind of wholesome statement.

Lena laughs quietly. "You should get some rest."

Kara yawns again. "I don't really want to sleep."

"You should anyway, so your body can heal and I can take you home."

Kara nods and closes her eyes. Lena is right, she should rest. Plus, she's never really liked hospitals, and the more she sleeps, the quicker her stay here will pass. She's barely closed her eyes though that she opens them again, searching for Lena's. "I'm sorry. For jumping off a cliff."

Lena narrows her eyes, all attempts at intimidation ruined by the soft smile that stretches her lips. "I thought you said you didn't jump."

"Semantics," Kara grumbles, and then she pretends to be asleep until she actually falls asleep.

 

She spends a full week in the hospital, most of it sleeping, her body and mind reeling from both the accident and the astonishing amount of people who visit her. In addition to a whirlwind of doctors and nurses, Lena, Alex and Eliza come every day, Brainy visits once, Sam and Ruby as well, Jack twice, Nia once every two days, John stops by with her other fellow coast guards, and even the owners of her second favourite coffee come chat for an hour or so. Linda as well, the rescued hiker, finds a way to get to her. She gets wheeled into her room one afternoon and tearfully thanks her for saving her life and her dog. Kara doesn't really know what to do with herself and when Linda just won't stop talking, she pretends to be asleep until she leaves.

She only starts being truly able to rest once she's out of the hospital, her newfound lack of mobility confining her to Lena's bed for the first few days. Alex stays for two more weeks and carries her downstairs every afternoon so she can get some fresh air. She wheels her to the pier and they sit there looking at the sea regardless of the weather, even if Kara gets a little cold in her oversized sweatpants, the only trousers that fit over her cast, and rain slips under the collar of Alex's borrowed jacket. Occasionally, Eliza joins them, but it's mostly just the two of them, Alex and Kara, the Danvers sisters, like it's been since the first night Alex dragged her mattress all the way to Kara's bedroom and took up residence at her side.

"I'm glad I have you," Kara tells her on the very last day of her stay, hours only before she has to get on the plane if she wants to be home in time for the birth of her daughter.

"I'm glad I have you too," Alex replies, turning to look at her with a soft and curious expression. "Where's this coming from though ?"

Kara shrugs, winces when the motion pulls at her tired body, "near death experience ? I don't know, I just felt the need to tell you. I wouldn't be where I am today if not for you, so thank you. You're the best sister I could have hoped for and I'm glad to have you in my life." Alex continues eyeing her with curiosity and Kara rolls her eyes. "Sorry for getting all mushy on you."

"Don't apologise for that. Mushy is good. Feelings are good."

"Since when are you so emotionally mature ?"

"I've always been emotionally mature !" Alex exclaims, thus proving the opposite. "And also I'm getting married to a therapist, that helps."

Kara snorts. "I'll send flowers to Kelly then."

"Don't be an ass ! You were being nice !"

"I'm your sister, I have to be an ass," Kara counters, leaning over her wheelchair to bump Alex's shoulder. "But I do love you."

Alex chuckles, and bumps her shoulder back. "I love you too."

 

After Alex and Eliza leave, time stretches on disagreeably for a while. Navigating the library in a wheelchair turns out to be complicated, making Kara's daily job a frustrating hassle, and she can't go on long relaxing walks like she used to to blow off steam. Her broken ankle heals nicely, but her knee, supposedly only lightly sprained, doesn't ; something she finds out when she faceplants out of bed at 1am a little over two weeks after her sister's departure.

For a moment neither long nor short, she lays prone on the very cold and very hard floor. What happened isn't very clear, her knee doesn't even really hurts, it just feels sort of disconnected from her body ; but she's thirsty, the reason why she attempted to get up in the first place, so she pushes herself up, careful not to put any weight on her ankle, and tries to stand up. Pain erupts in her injured knee, like hundreds of thousands of needles have been shoved into her patella and someone is trying to rip it off at the same fucking time. She teeters for a second, then crashes back down, this time causing enough ruckus that Lena jumps out of bed and trips on her own feet in her hast to both turn on the lights and get to her. 

"Kara !"

At the influx of light, Kara groans, closes her eyes, and presses her face into the floor.

"Kara ! Are you alright ?"

Something tugs at Kara's stomach, she wonders if she's about to throw up.

"Talk to me please. Please talk to me."

Lena sounds worried, and even if Kara's head pulsates with shame and the beginning of a headache, she decides to make an effort and give a sign of life.

"I'm thirsty."

A beat passes ; even if she's not looking at her, Kara can picture Lena's face with what she thinks is great accuracy. She must be looking at her in blank surprise, her tired green eyes tinged with just a hint of frustration. She knows she guessed right when Lena replies, in a somewhat strangled voice, "you could have just asked."

"I didn't want to wake you up."

"I don't mind if you wake me up."

"I mind," Kara says in the flattest tone she can manage.

Lena sighs, then grabs her under her armpits and begins to turn her over on her back. Kara lets her, but fights her off when she makes to help her up. She pushes herself to a sitting position and half crawls half hobbles until she can hoist herself up onto the bed. She grits her teeth to stop herself from shouting, either in pain or at Lena who hovers close so she can catch her if she falls again.

She knows she means well, but Lena has done an awful lot of hovering since Alex and Eliza went back to National City. She's just always there, anticipating her every move, and even when they're at their respective jobs, Kara can feel her gaze on her, piercing, from across the street, like she expects her to just keel over and die at any moment. She understands where she's coming from, but it's also fucking infuriating.

Lena frets over her, adjusting the blanket on her shoulders, fluffing up her pillow. "Are you okay ? Do you want me to call a doctor ?"

"I'm thirsty," Kara repeats, this time with a little more harshness in her voice. She's also fucking pissed off, but it's not worth starting an argument in the middle of the night. It's not worth starting an argument at all.

Lena frowns, then kisses her forehead and smooths a hand down her hair. "I'll go get you some water."

They spend five hours in the ER the next morning, waiting for a doctor to see Kara. Her knee doesn't hurt so much anymore, but it might be because of the liberal amount of pain medication she shoved down her throat with her breakfast. She feels nauseated now, a sensation that isn't helped by the fact that they sit side by side in tensed silence. Lena brought a book with her, but her eyes have been fixed on the same paragraph for at least half an hour now, and Kara brought her laptop, but didn't even take it out of her backpack.

"I'm gonna go get coffee," Lena says, slamming her book shut. "Do you want anything ?"

Her gesture is dripping with annoyance, but her voice isn't, it's measured and gentle, safe. Kara's when she answers isn't, it's harsh, full of unwarranted and misdirected hurt.

"Nope."

"Okay," Lena replies slowly, "you sure ?"

"Yes I'm-"

A nurse calling out her name prevents her from really snapping at Lena ; and it's a good thing. She doesn't want to snap at Lena, it's the absolute last thing she wants, even if she's being overbearing and downright suffocating at times, she doesn't want to do anything that would risk pushing her away. So she takes a deep breath, and she swallows her words, and she lets herself be wheeled away for an MRI.

She waits for another full hour in a tiny windowless room with a low ceiling and walls that might have been green once but are now of an undefined colour until she's finally helped into the scanner, instructed to move under no circumstances and her knee is wedged tight in between two pieces of foam. She waits for another half hour after that, dozing off in that same tiny room next to an old man who smells like chemicals, until she finally gets her exam results and they are clear. There's absolutely nothing wrong with her knee. Nothing physical that can be picked up by an MRI at least and she gets sent home with a pat on the back and the instruction to relax.

This leaves her disgruntled and a little bit lost and when she finds her way back to the ER, she's almost surprised that Lena is still here. She's sitting on the same chair she was sitting on when Kara left for her MRI and if not for the abandoned cup of coffee at her feet, she would believe she didn't move at all. She's leaning, elbows resting on her knees, completely absorbed by what's happening on her phone. Her fingers periodically fly over the keyboard, she looks worried, and a little bit sad, and it's there, in a bustling and foul smelling ER, that Kara definitely realises Lena really isn't going to leave her. That she can talk to her, talk through her anger with her, that they can be a healthy, long lasting couple and that Lena isn't going to leave just because she has things to say to her.

She doesn't hear or see her approaching and yelps loudly when Kara comes to a stop in front of her, wheels squeaking on the plastic flooring. Her phone slips from her hands and lands right in Kara's. There's an open text thread with Brainy and the last message reads, "you really should talk to her. She loves you, she will understand." Before Kara arrived, Lena was in the process of typing, "I know. But I’m sca-".

"Talk to me about what ?" Kara asks, delicately laying the phone back in Lena's palm. "Well, I assume it's about me but maybe it isn't ?"

Lena shakes her head from side to side, she still looks so fucking sad. "No. No you're right, it's about you." She pockets the phone, and rises from her chair. "How's your knee ?"

"It's perfectly fine. I just need to, and I quote 'relax'."

"Are they serious ?"

"Apparently they are." Kara briefly presses a hand to her face. "What do you want to tell me ?"

Lena presses her lips into a thin line, but Kara doesn't give her an out. "In the car ?"

They walk out to the parking lot side by side ; well Lena walks, and Kara wheels, but they do so in tandem. When they stop next to the van, Lena opens the door for her but, curiously, she takes a step back and lets her get out of her chair and into the passenger seat on her own. Then, she folds the chair, puts it in the back and walks to the other side to buckle herself in. She does not turn the engine on.

"So ?" Kara prompts.

A couple of seconds pass, Kara watches as the time changes on the car's clock, then Lena blurts, "I'm sorry." She winces almost immediately, breathes out then add, "that came out wrong. I want to apologise for the way I acted around you in the past few weeks. It has been brought to my attention that I have been overbearing and uncommunicative."

"Overbearing and uncommunicative ?" Kara echoes. She represses a smile ; now’s not the time to ruin everything with a poorly timed laugh.

"That’s how Brainy put it, and I think he’s right." She pauses. "What do you think ?"

"I think he’s right too," Kara says quietly. She looks down at her hands, then to the side at Lena. She still looks disgruntled, a little bit sad and worried. Kara reaches out, and takes her hand, threading their fingers together and resting them on her thigh. "But I haven't been acting great either, so maybe we're both a little bit at fault."

"You," Lena croaks, "came very close to dying. And I don’t just mean that you could have smashed yourself to death against that cliff, but you also came pretty close to the water, you could have drowned. Like my mum drowned. And I keep- I keep being afraid that if I let you out of my sight, you’re going to drop dead."

"I’m not going to drop dead."

"You don’t know that ! You-" All of Lena’s body tenses, her hand in Kara’s goes rigid as stone. "Sorry I- I have nightmares every night, I dream that you’re dying, I’m afraid Kara. But I should have told you, instead of hovering and shutting you out."

"And I should have told you you were driving me mad," Kara says, still quiet. She runs a soft thumb on the back of Lena's hand, feels her relaxing inch by inch as she does so. "But I was afraid you were going to leave me if I did. I was afraid that if I was more difficult than I already am, you were going to break up with me. Which I'm aware is not a great mindset."

"So we both have terrible and unresolved abandonment issues," Lena chuckles, "that's great."

"We kinda already knew that about each other though, didn’t we ?"

Lena sighs. "I’ve been acting like a bit of an idiot."

"So have I."

Lena turns to look at her. She smiles, but it's tentative, barely there, like she's afraid to really smile. "Will you forgive me," she asks, "if I promise to do better ? And if I promise that it's not an empty promise ?"

"Will you forgive me," Kara echoes, "if I promise to just talk to you when I have a problem instead of being a dick about random things ?"

"Like being thirsty ?" Lena jokes, her smile widening a little, she leans in a fraction, and Kara mirrors her.

"I really was thirsty," Kara says, "but I do forgive you, because I understand where you’re coming from and I really should have just talked to you about it."

"I'm- I'm going to go to therapy. Not just because of this, but it did push me to make an appointment. I can't keep on shutting people out just because I'm afraid they're going to die. It's hurting you, it's hurting Brainy. And it's hurting me."

"I’m proud of you then," Kara says. She continues leaning in, and she almost laughs when she notices Lena doing the same unconsciously.

"Oh and I do forgive you as well. Even if it was mostly my fault."

They're close enough to kiss now, and Lena seems to realise it with a long delay. She startles, but she's smiling fully now and Kara is in love with her and she knows they're going to do better together so she utters a simple "okay," and she closes the gap.

It's a short and soft kiss, because their smiles are too wide, and because Kara's phone starts ringing.

"You should pick that up," Lena says, even if she doesn't really draw back.

"I’m busy," Kara whispers, lifting her free hand to her cheek.

Lena leans in again for a quick peck. "It’s your Alex ringtone. Pick it up."

Kara grumbles and rolls her eyes but she does accept the video-call and on her screen appears the blurry image of her sister holding a baby in her arms.

 

Winter drags on well into spring that year, but it's the warmest Kara has ever felt. After her accident, the path has been consolidated and reopened and when the cold finally melts away and her knee starts giving her less trouble, she goes back for long walks, sometimes on her own, sometimes with Lena, occasionally with Brainy and Nia. Returning to coast guard duties is a little harder. She has to actively prove she can do it, finds herself benched a good number of times after she experiences shortness of breath during training. Ultimately, she's allowed to do short patrols, always with someone else, and even if it does feel like being baby-sitted, she won't begrudge an opportunity to stretch her legs.

After their little tiff, Lena and her are stronger than ever, and with the addition of slight boundaries, they grow sturdier and healthier every day. Often, Kara finds herself daydreaming about a future with Lena, but she does so with no hurry, no definite endpoint in mind. The journey, she knows that now, is just as important, if not more, than the destination ; and it's no use making plans for the two of them if it's to run at full steam ahead of, and without, her. Where Siobhan helped her make sense of the loudness of the world, she realises Lena helps it quiet down for her. She doesn't have to keep up anymore, because the world slows down to her level, makes itself her equal instead of dragging her along mercilessly.

It doesn't mean that everything is rosey and perfect. Her accident has sparked in Kara an increase in dreadful nightmares, and rare are the weeks during which she doesn't see her parents dying again in new and interesting ways, or Lena falling off a cliff, or Alex going up in flames. Lena herself cries so much after some of her therapy sessions that Kara is sometimes afraid that she's going to desiccate, even if Brainy tells her it's not technically possible a good number of times, most often when he teaches her the correct way to knead bread at 4am when she can't sleep. He tells her one particular early morning that Lena never used to cry that much. At first, it sounds like an accusation, but when she looks at him, elbows deep in flour, she realises it's nothing more than a statement. Lena, he tells her, has always been full of repressed traumas, focused on helping him, on making the world better for him, and never for herself. It's a good thing she's crying now, it's a good thing because it means she's not holding it back anymore, and she's committed to walking the path to eradicate her loneliness. Kara realises, as she's learning how to make brioche, that she herself doesn't feel lonely anymore.

"I love you for all the women I haven’t known
I love you for all the times in which I haven’t lived
(...)
I love you for your wisdom, which is not mine
For health
I love you against everything which is only illusion
For that immortal heart over which I have no power
You think that you are doubt but you’re just reason
You are the powerful sun that rushes to my head
When I am sure of myself"

- Je t’aime, Paul Eluard, translated by Peter Seelig

Alex's fingers snap in her ears and she refocuses on the screen. Across an ocean and a continent, her sister looks particularly tired and frazzled. The half asleep baby resting against her chest as a tiny tiny fist clenched around the collar of her shirt.

"Are you even listening ?"

Kara hums. "Of course I am. My suitcase is ready, Lena's suitcase is ready, and I think you should go with blue."

"Blue ? You’re sure ?"

Kara takes a sip of her creamy coffee. "Absolutely."

"You've only seen it in pictures though, what if it doesn't actually match my suit ?"

"Take both then," Kara says even if she's absolutely certain her sister will ultimately choose the blue bowtie. "We can decide once I get there."

"I'm getting married in two weeks Kara."

"And I’ll be there in two days, relax."

"I’d like to see you relax," Alex grumbles.

"I know you're stressed," Kara says gently, "I understand. But deep down you know Kelly isn't going to leave you at the altar, I'm pretty sure she's wanted to marry you since you spilled an entire jello cup on her trousers and that was not your best moment."

"Do you think there should be jello cups at the reception ?" Alex asks with a sudden intensity Kara is not prepared for.

"No. No I think the opposite of that actually."

"No babe there shouldn't be jello cups at our wedding," Kelly says, off-screen.

Alex turns, presumably to look at her, one of her hands coming to hold the baby tighter against her. "But you love jello cups."

"And I know that I'm the odd one out on this." Kelly comes into frame, kisses her fiancée's temple then her daughter's head. "No jello cups at our wedding, and you should go with blue."

Kara is about to say, "see, I told you so," when the door of her second favourite coffee shop opens and closes, and Lena comes in, stumbling when she tries to wipe her boots on the mat. On the other side of the screen, her sister grumbles a teasing "goodbye," and disconnects the call but Kara doesn't really care, she'll see her in two days.

Lena walks up to her, shaking the rain off her shoulders, running her hand through the strands of her low ponytail, smiling. She's swung her backpack over one shoulder and lets it drop at her feet when she leans over to kiss Kara, soft and chaste on the lips.

"How was therapy ?"

Lena drops into the chair opposite her and immediately tangles their legs under the table. "Dreadful. I learned all about the power of positive thinking. How to reframe my thoughts, stop defining myself through negative affirmations, that sort of things."

"That's good," Kara says. She takes a sip of her coffee, and when she puts her mug down, she keeps it just out of Lena's reach.

"I need to practise now. If I'd known I'd get therapy homework, I wouldn't have gone in the first place."

"Kelly used to give me homework too," Kara remarks, "and she wasn’t even my real therapist. Conflict of interest or something. Do you wanna practise now or do you wanna get coffee ?"

"Will positive thinking magically get me coffee ?"

Kara snorts. "I’m not sure that’s how it works."

Lena laughs too, then falls oddly silent, starring both at Kara and not at her at all. "I have a positive affirmation," she says after a long moment during which only the bustling café prevents them from falling into complete silence. She pauses after that short opening then says, very quietly, so quietly that Kara wouldn’t have heard her if she weren’t so focused on her, "I am loved."

Kara tilts her head to the side, lets go of her mug so she can grab her hand, rubbing her fingers on her calloused palm then threading them with hers. She squeezes. "You are."

The coffee shop goes quiet. Kara knows it's only in her head, that the place is as lively and warm as ever, but she welcomes the calm and steadiness that Lena brings her. She leans over the table so she can lift her hand to her mouth and kiss it, then keeps her lips there as she stares into her eyes, so green and translucent they seem unreal most of the time. She looks at her silently, and Lena silently looks back, and using the bridge their gazes build between them, she reaches, and she reaches, until she can grab the affirmation and bring it close to her own chest because she knows it's true for her too ; she is loved.