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“Kara?” Releasing her, Lena looks up from between her shivering thighs. “Darling, are you alright?”

Kara opens her mouth. Closes it. Realizes she’s not sure what her answer should be. She doesn’t think she has one, but her body definitely does. And it’s pretty darn clear.

“I’m sorry.” What Lena’s been doing to her feels good. Better than good. Heavenly. It's just. It doesn’t seem to be working. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight.”

Her gaze moves to the TV as she speaks, and the random movie they had put on without any intention of really watching. The protagonist runs unscathed through a hailstorm of bullets, jumps into a conveniently placed sports car and speeds away, en route to save the woman he fell in love with for plot's sake twenty minutes into the film. 

The screech of tyres on asphalt fills her ears, loud and intrusive, and Kara jumps. 

“Hey.” Lena’s fingers splay loosely atop her thighs, rubbing her skin absently, and the fine hairs there rise, electric with her touch. “It’s okay. How about a raincheck? We can finish the movie and take a bath, after?” 

“Don’t have much of a choice, do we?” Kara struggles to keep her tone light, like she’s joking. And it is a joke, this entire situation. She’s been too tired for sex before, they’ve both fallen asleep in the middle of it sometimes — that’s what happens when you’re an adult with a job and committments — but she’s never had this sort of… trouble

Reflexively, she snatches the nearest pillow and puts it on her lap, shame viciously twisting in her chest. It’s never happened to her before, but tonight she can’t get hard.

“Kara.” In the semi-darkness Lena’s eyes are much too big. Bottomless and searching. Kara doesn’t want to meet her gaze, afraid she’ll find pity in it. Disappointment. Worse still, resentment. “Kara, it’s fine, really. We’ve been, well, we’ve been at it nearly every night lately. I don’t expect you to always want to have sex. I could use a break too, honestly.”

“You could?” Her hold on the pillow tightens, and she fidgets with it, comes close to ripping into the fabric. “You’re not just saying?” 

“Promise I’m not.” Lena leans back and slowly climbs to her feet. “Why don’t you go clean up? I’ll pause the movie and put the kettle on.”

“You’re really, really sure.” Kara has to ask it one more time. “You’re not mad, or something?” She stands too, shielding herself behind the pillow, and tugs her sweatpants up one-handed. It’s painfully slow, and more than a little awkward. 

“I’m absolutely, 100% sure that I’m not mad.”

“And say, if we took a bit of a longer raincheck. Say, I don’t know, whatever feels good. A few days? A week? You’d still be okay with it?” She fidgets while she speaks and her eyes roam the room for something, anything she can fixate on.

“Kara, darling, stop.” 

Lena’s hands curl around her own and she realizes she’s managed to poke a hole into the pillow after all. When she squeezes it to compensate, to try and mend the damage done, a couple feathers pour without a sound out on the carpet. Streaky, who’d been napping on the windowsill, tracks them with interest, tail lashing. 

“I love it when you fuck me.” The scent of jasmine Kara instinctually connects with the nest of blankets Lena’s side of the bed fills her nose, and her shoulders unclench. Something wound too tightly loosens near her heart. “But that’s not the only thing I love doing with you. We both need to slow down, so that’s what we’re gonna do, okay? For as long as it takes.” 

“Okay.” Kara lets herself be gently pushed toward the bathroom, doing her best not to hang her head as she swims nose deep in self-loathing. “Okay, let’s do that.”

Alone, with the traces of their failed attempt at sex washed away and changed into a clean set of boxer briefs, Kara regains the emotional distance needed to examine Lena’s suggestion. She’s not over the shame, and won’t be for quite a bit she imagines, but she can see that Lena may be right. 

They’ve been having a lot of sex lately, even by their standars, and it all started when they decided to try for a baby. It’s a huge step, one that will bring irreversible change to their lives, and new responsibilities, but they’ve talked about it to exhaustion, and if not now that there seem to be no new threats on the horizon, then when? 

So they’ve tried. And tried again and now, several months and heat cycles later, still nothing. Kara can’t help but think there’s something wrong with her, that maybe her physiology and a human’s aren’t compatible. But Alex’s run plenty of tests on them both, and Lois is coming to term shortly, so it’s not that. Can’t be that, logically, but the thought is a fly inside her head she can't swat away.

Maybe it’s just stress. Maybe they’re trying too hard, and that’s why it isn’t happening. Kara desperately wants to believe that is the case, that giving themselves some time, some breathing room can fix this. 

When she finally rejoins Lena on the couch there’s a cup of her favorite tea waiting and Lena melting against her side the moment she sits down. 

“It’ll be alright, darling,” she whispers close to her jaw, as she notices her constant shifting, the slight shake of her hands. Kara’s attention keeps drifting away from the TV; she’s staring at it, acting like she’s watching the movie with interest, but her mind isn’t really there. Soft lips ghost over the mark at her throat, then press against it firmly, a warm reminder of the love Lena has for her. “I promise it’ll be fine.”

***

They stop having sex.

It’s what they’ve agreed on. Kara expects it. 

It still comes with a sense of shock the first night, after the lights are out in the bedroom and all Lena does is rest her head on Kara’s chest, fingers playing with the hem of her shirt until her hand stops moving and her breath deepens in sleep. She had assumed she’d have a harder time adjusting, but she too is dozing off in minutes, and the next day — a Saturday — they laze around past nine cuddling, talking of everything and nothing until the room grows too stifling hot in the mid morning sun. 

Kara expected... she has no idea; for the change to be more jarring, hours spent staring at the ceiling praying for sleep to come. Recriminations and heavy silences, the two of them frozen solid but so fragile a simple push would shatter their hearts. 

There are changes, but so subtle they’re only noticeable in hindsight. Intimacy flows between them differently, is found in things Kara previously overlooked. Moments of their day she had taken for granted.

She falls into these new habits with a sense of rediscovery, as though she’d found a favorite childhood toy she had thought irreparably lost. 

In the evenings, she often hangs out by the open bathroom door as Lena gets ready for sleep. The bathroom is big enough for two, with twin sinks in front of the mirror, which makes things easier in the morning when they’re in a rush, but Kara prefers it this way. She likes it; to hang in the back while Lena washes tiredness and makeup away from her face. Watch as she changes into the old oversized t-shirt she borrowed at the start of their relationship to use as her pajamas. 

There’s something comforting about seeing Lena wearing her clothes. With no makeup and her hair down, damp and mussed from a recent shower — it’s a version of Lena that only Kara gets to see. It’s not that the pristine self she presents to the rest of the world isn’t genuine, but it’s certainly abridged. Kara is the only one who gets to see it all, including the footnotes.

“You’re staring.” Lena says one night, toothpaste dripping down her chin. “You stare a lot, lately.”

“What can I say?” Kara shares a gentle smile with Lena’s reflection. “I like the view.” 

She would say more. Tell Lena how much she loves to see her without makeup, how unburdened she looks when they’re home like this, having chosen a quiet evening indoors — comfy clothes and a simple meal over fancy food in some even fancier restaurant. Say that she’d bottle this moment, and rewind time if she could to do the same with all the ones she’s missed, to revisit them when she feels down. Exhausted. Battered and bloodied and ready to give up after the next inevitable crisis.

But the expression on Lena’s face stops her. She’s staring into the mirror with eyes wide, and Kara can pinpoint the exact moment the words she said really sink in. The realization dawning in Lena’s perfectly green eyes. That she’s enough for Kara as she is, that there’s no need here for a performance.

The fingers of Lena’s free hand open and close in the empty space between them, beckoning, and without thinking, Kara reaches out. Their hands lace easily, and from that night onward, Lena brushes her teeth that way. Holding Kara’s hand in a nearly crushing grip. 

Kara wouldn’t have it any other way.

***

Lena was right, Kara discovers quickly.

There’s plenty of things they do together that now feel more intimate, somehow. And then there’s things they did when they started sharing a space that they’ve abandoned without noticing. 

Showering together. Long baths on the weekend. Kara couldn’t say why they’ve stopped doing that — no particular reason comes to mind — but every weekend became once a fortnight, then only on special occasions. Then never. 

It’s easy to make a list of the excuses. They’re too tired after work. It takes time to set things up. Their schedules often don’t align, or Kara gets called away for an Earth-threatening emergency in the middle of the night.

But one bath is all it takes to remind Kara that she’s missed this, and the first time she follows Lena in the shower, she remembers too.

“IWe’re going to be late for work, Kara.” Vapor wraps around Lena’s body in a fog. dispersing only momentarily when Kara slides one of the glass doors open to squeeze  inside. “It’s half past eight already.”

“Let’s be late, then.” 

Kara !” Lena tries to grab the sponge, but Kara gets there first. The bright smell of vanilla fills the enclosed space as she squeezes body wash on it, then she makes a circling motion with her finger, indicating that Lena should turn around.

“Okay, alright.” Lena rolls her eyes, but does. “What’s gotten into you today?”

“I wanted to shower with you.” Kara lathers Lena’s back with care, then wraps an arm around her waist to reach her front. “I’ve missed it.” Chin hooked over Lena’s soap-slicked shoulder, she pulls in a deep breath, watching the water fall over her in rivulets. 

Kara’s always been fascinated by the way human bodies mark. Small blemishes and moles, wrinkles that measure the passing of time. Scars, sometimes lucid, sometimes raised abrasions behind which sits the weight of an old injury. Lena has many, like the circular one on her clavicle, the stark reminder of a violence that makes Kara’s heart clench on sight. Or another on her right knee, from falling off a horse when she was young. 

Kara only has one. A nick over her right eye, so tiny people seldom even notice. They believe that because she can’t scar now, then she never did. They don’t know that the worst wounds she ever sustained are on the inside. Ugly things that sometimes still tear open, still bleed. At a glance, people wouldn’t know she’s a survivor, and frankly she’s always been a little jealous she has nothing physical to show for what she’s been through. When they say she’s the girl of steel, they do assume it’s literal. 

That’s why she’s enamored with all the marks on Lena’s skin, why she’s so excited when she discovers one she had previously missed. To her, these aren’t imperfection, but the language Lena’s body speaks, that only she can read.

“You know, I’ve missed this too.” Leaning back against her, Lena reaches up to stroke her cheek.  “I don’t mind being late to work everyday, if it means showering with you.” 

Kara sighs, shivering slightly when Lena’s knuckles skim down the curve of her throat. The sponge, which she doesn’t remember dropping, leaves a soapy streak across her stomach, and she shivers again, luxuriating in the kind of rough, slightly scratchy feeling. There’s nothing sexual about it, just the careful mutual charting of their bodies. 

Kara arrives at the office more than an hour late that day, and is late again on Thursday. 

It really is a lucky thing that Lena decided to buy CatCo. 

***

Kara's libido isn't gone, but it's dormant. Hibernating.

She doesn’t even feel the need to masturbate. Sometimes she wakes up hard in the middle of the night. From a particularly vivid dream, or Lena moving, pressing against her in her sleep. She doesn’t act on it. Simply closes her eyes and lets the ache between her legs dull and subside. 

Obviously, she doesn’t expect or require Lena to behave the same way. They have a pretty healthy sex drive and this is new and different, and sometimes it’s even weird. Kara wouldn’t fault her for relieving what pressure she may feel — kind of looks forward to surprising her in the middle of it. They keep several toys in Lena’s bottom drawer, and Kara’s brain is stuck on the one of a kind dildo she gifted Lena the previous year. It’s a silicone model of her own cock — sitting through the 3D printing process had been a bit embarrassing — and soaked in Kara’s pheromones. 

But nothing happens. The bottom drawer remains shut, and the toy lies undisturbed inside its box. 

Intimacy however doesn’t wane. If anything, they’re always in each other’s space these days. They prep their meals together, working as a team; Kara at the cutting board while Lena tends the stove. The kitchen is spacious, much bigger than the cramped one in Kara’s old apartment, larger than the one inside the Danvers’ house in Midvale. There’s plenty of room to go around, but even though they don’t have to, they’re always crossing paths. Lena brushes against her ass on the way to the sink, Kara hugs her briefly as she leans over a simmering pot sniffing at the contents. They dance around each other, teasing. Joking. Like courtship.

At dinnertime it is the same. The table in the dining room can accomodate all of their friends with room to spare, and normally when it’s just the two of them they sit opposite one another. But lately, they eat elbow to elbow, always touching. It doesn’t matter whether it’s their feet or their knees knocking together, Lena’s thigh pushing against hers. A point of contact is maintained throughout the meal. 

They are drunk on one another. 

Thanksgiving comes around and things haven’t quite changed, or moved forward or whatever, but the people closest to them begin to take notice. 

Eliza invited everyone to Midvale, and the sprawling farmhouse Kara spent her teen years in is full of noise and laughter. In search of a quieter corner, she heads to her old room and that’s when Alex springs her trap and corners her. 

“So?” Her sister follows her, shutting the door before Kara can escape. To be fair, she’s probably too weighted down by food to even try. “What’s going on between you two?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Come on, Kara.” Alex invites herself to Kara’s bed, and crosses her arms. “Everybody noticed that something’s going on.”

Everybody ?” 

“Well, Kelly did.” Alex has the decency to blush at her exaggeration. “She says there’s some weird energy between you and Lena.” She pauses, looking up expectantly. The room is too still all of a sudden, the silence Kara craved too deep. She wants to fill it, wants to talk about it. Comes so close that the first stilted words form on her tongue. But she doesn’t know how to explain, and anyway she’s not sure Alex would understand. Alex would probably worry, because she’s her older sister, and that’s what older sisters are supposed to do. 

“You and Lena didn’t fight, right? You’re not… you’re not splitting up, are you?” 

“Splitting— no, Alex. I promise it’s nothing like that.” Kara understands why Alex would jump to that conclusion. It took them so long to talk about their feelings, and the journey they took — from acquaintances to friends to lovers — was punctuated by fallouts. Fights and betrayals that left them bleeding and raw, with hearts so broken it is a miracle they have mended at all. 

“I promise .” Kara repeats when it looks like Alex doesn’t fully believe her, and then she’s spared from giving further explanations by Nia, who’s yelling at the top of her lungs that they should come down for cake before it’s gone.

The next morning, while the rest of the house is still asleep, she asks Lena whether she’d mind hanging around Midvale for a few extra days. 

It’s not that Kara thinks the change of scenery will make them want to ravish one another, but Alex’s words have put a burr under her shirt. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she starts to fear that they could be lying to themselves. There’s a chance the fire, banked away too long, will not rekindle.

Eliza has a conference to attend on the East Coast, but is delighted to let them use the house. Kara looks forward to it too; they’ve come here before, but she’s never had a chance to properly show Lena around.

The first day is spent sight-seeing. Midvale is relatively small, but there's a lot of places Kara has fond memories of, and she can't wait to share. Everything is a tad faded and less exciting than she remembers, but she is relieved to discover that things have mostly stayed unchanged. Sure, the pinball machine outside the convenience store that she spent countless quarters on is out of order, but the creek's waters are as clear as when she and Alex swam there in the summer, and the evening sky — the stars are much brighter here without the light pollution — is just as beautiful.

And after they are chased back inside by the night’s chill — wind rustles through the dried out remains of the harvest, smelling of snow — they sit in silence by the fire, Lena on her lap so that Kara can brush and braid her hair. 

She starts by attacking the knots that formed during the day with her fingers, gently tugging until they unravel, then combing through with the brush Lena packed. The work is repetitive, the motions hypnotic, and Kara wishes her emotions could be dealt with the same way. She is feeling so many different things lately, but every time she thinks she’s found a loose thread she can latch onto, her heart just gets more complicated.

“Kara, are you alright?” Her hands still, and although Kara knows she needs to answer, she loses herself in the sparks of burnt umber the fire ignites in Lena’s hair. It takes Lena clearing her throat, and twisting around to cup her face between both hands to jerk her out of it.

“Yeah, I’m— I was just thinking.”

“I can tell.” Lena’s thumb presses on the groove that formed between her eyebrows, rubbing it away. “You’ve been very quiet tonight.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” A large log snaps in half inside the fireplace, making them both jump. “Wanna talk about it?”

“It’s stupid.” Avoiding Lena’s intent gaze is harder than usual. Kara’s eyes shift to the old blanket beneath them, and she pulls at a frayed corner. Under her touch, the cloth rips and Lena has to grab her hand and twine their fingers together before she can tear the whole thing into confetti. 

“If it’s worrying you this much, then it isn’t stupid. Tell me, please?”

“It’s… Alex said something about us acting… differently, and it got me thinking. What if… what if we’re drifting apart? Making things worse, instead of better? Are you— I mean— are we okay? I don’t want you to keep waiting for my sake. I—”

Lena kisses her. Effectively cuts her off mid-ramble. 

Kara’s eyes widen, her brain shuts down, and she has a second to panic. To fumble into the kiss until her instincts kick in to remind her how she’s supposed to react. With a soft sound she doesn’t remember herself ever making, her own mouth falls open, Lena’s breath hot against her lips. She thinks they’ve reached the tipping point, that Lena will suck on her tongue next, then push her down on the blanket. Instead, just as her heartbeat becomes a roar in her ears, Lena withdraws, smoothing a hand across Kara’s cheek. 

“How did that feel?” Crackling orange firelight frames the planes of Lena’s face, sanding down some edges, sharpening some others, and her eyes are a bottomless abyss Kara can’t escape. They drill into her own, peel back the layers of her mind, and she thinks that all her thoughts must be as visible as printed letters on a page. 

“How did that feel, Kara?” Lena leans forward again, until they are nose to nose, the lily-of-the-valley scent of her shampoo wrapped around them both.

Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath and tries to listen past the white noise of her fear, to what her body is trying to tell her. 

Heat at the mouth of her stomach. The lingering warmth of Lena's lips on her own. A heaviness between her legs that beats in tandem with her heart. As insistent as the throb is, she doesn't feel the immediate desire to act upon it. It feels pleasant all the same. Even unfulfilled.

"I feel it too." Lena's skin is damp, flushed with her own desire. "But I promise, I don't mind us waiting a bit more."

***

The next day a storm rolls in. They wake up to darkness and wind, to rain drumming relentlessly against the shingled roof. It's cold inside the house: the windows are old and the insulation isn't that good. A damp chill drifts up through the floorboards and by mid-morning they've run out of firewood. 

There’s no other option but to head outside for more. 

The piles of unsplit wood are were they’re always been, tucked under an awning at the back of the house. This time of year the stacks are barely taller than Kara — the winter supplies come later, at the end of November — and ignoring the axe hooked to the wall, Kara grabs a couple, tearing them down to size with her bare hands. 

Splitting wood is hot work, even under a downpour, and it doesn't take long for her to discard her windbreaker. A few more minutes, the box of wood half full, and her fleece follows. Next, she’s rolling up her t-shirt’s sleeves, rain and sweat and mud mixing on her skin.

As she works, Kara’s mind wanders, the rest of her going through motions she doesn’t think she’ll ever forget no matter how many years go by between each visit. Crumbled Douglas fir makes for excellent kindling, thick pieces of oak and beech are the best for heat. She adds ash too, simply because she’s always loved to watch the way it burns. It is an easy rhythm her hands fall into, a song that she could play with her eyes closed. Select a piece, flex, rip it in half and drop it in the empty box she brought along for the purpose. 

Only when thunder cracks overhead, loud enough to shake the house down to its foundations, that Kara realizes she’s being watched. Has been for some time. The backdoor is open, and Lena is standing just inside, eyes never leaving her. 

At first, Kara burns with embarrassment. She’s spattered in mud, sweaty from the exertion. Before venturing outside, she’d gathered her hair up in a ponytail, but waterlogged strands have escaped the hair tie, plastering to her cheeks, her temples, her jaw. Her first instinct is to make a grab for her jacket, or anything really that she could hide behind.

Lena doesn’t seem to share in her assessment. She stares avidly, pupils blown wide, hunger painted  all over her face. A whiff of pheromones reaches Kara’s nose, somewhat diluted by the pervasive scent of rain, but the interest is undeniable.

And when Lena extends her hand, when Kara lets herself be tugged back inside, away from the cold and the wet of the storm, she thinks that’s the moment it may happen.

But it doesn’t. 

Lena draws her a hot bath, kneels next to the ceramic tub to wash the mud and chill away with a wet rag. Eventually slips out of her own clothes and joins Kara in the bath. There, where Kara again expects her to make the first move, Lena pulls her to rest against her chest, holds her in her arms until the water grows lukewarm around them.

Desire hangs above their heads. It simmers in the silence, seeps inside their bones down to the marrow, but it’s on their last morning in Midvale that it finally boils over to incinerate them both. 

Kara regains consciousness to an empty bed and the sticky-sweet smell of cooking pancakes in her nose. Wanders sleep-warm and fuzzy-headed into the kitchen, blinking against the sort of clean sunlight rain storms leave behind to find Lena by the stove in one of Kara’s highschool sweaters and nothing else, a smear of white flour dried to her forehead. 

She’s a vision, and Kara has to blink again, half-convinced she’s still asleep. Still dreaming.

Unaware, Lena reaches for something in the sink, and the sweater rides up a little, so that her soft middle is bare, pushing into the countertop. 

The domesticity of it, the realization that the family she’s yearned for has been in front of her all along, within her grasp whether they do have kids or not, hits Kara squarely in the stomach. She steps into the sun-drenched room, wraps around Lena until she’s flush to her back and there’s no empty spaces left between them. And just like that she’s hard, and wanting. Aching to feel her mate flutter around her and come undone.

“Kara?” 

“Lena.” She can’t say anything else, so she lets her hands do the talking for her. They ruck the sweater up and out of the way, splay over Lena’s stomach, hover inches from her breasts. “ Lena .” Kara repeats, nosing into the soft spot behind the hinge of Lena’s jaw, where the scent of her is so strong no other perfume can cover it. “ Lena .”

“Darling,” Lena sounds a little breathless, and when she grinds back, obviously aware of Kara’s state, they gasp together. “Kara, are you sure?” 

“Please.” She doesn’t remember Lena taking the sweater off, but now she’s naked in her arms and facing her. Leaving batter on her cheeks when she brushes blonde locks away from Kara’s eyes, her other hand already in her boxers. Stroking, squeezing gently at the base of her. “Please, Lena, I need—”

“Okay.” They kiss, heated and sloppy and urgent, and then Kara’s naked too, the boxers kicked out of the way. “We should go—”

“Here.” She isn’t sure what’s happening to her, but her world has shrunk. It’s smaller, a bubble, a kitchen filled with sun and the smell of caramelized sugar, their bodies thrumming together within. This is it, Kara thinks as she picks Lena up, as she enters her right there, in the midst of a half-cooked meal, this is the life she’s always wanted. 

A life where they can have breakfast for dinner, where she can have Lena for breakfast if she wants. A simple existence, in which her only task is to keep Lena warm, where she can reach out and stop time, freeze it in this singular moment of bliss. 

She sinks into her mate with a cry that chokes off into tears. The anxiety that’s been darkening her mind for weeks drips wetly down her cheeks, and once she bottoms out she stills, trembling as she grips Lena by her thighs. Her muscles seize with the effort of going slow, where all she wants is to take and take and take until Lena melts incoherent in her arms. 

“It’s okay, Kara.” Lena threw both arms around her shoulders the instant she was picked up, and now her ankles cross at the small of Kara’s back, bracing. “It’s okay to let go.”

She isn’t only referencing desire, Kara knows, but the sobs that swell against her ribs, seeking a way out. 

“I love you, Kara. Let go.”

She does.

***

Three years later, Kara walks into a different sun-filled kitchen bleary-eyed, mouth pasty with sleep. Lena is barefoot by the stove, making breakfast like she does every other Saturday. Today it’s scrambled eggs and waffles instead of pancakes, and that’s not the only change. There’s grey in Lena’s hair, silver touches here and there, clearly visible when she stands like this, haloed by light. New wrinkles frame her eyes and mouth, put there by smiles and laughter, and she doesn’t move as quickly as she did one month ago, when her belly wasn’t showing. 

“Love, you should have stayed in bed. I can make breakfast too.” Coming up behind her, Kara hugs her gently, hands resting over her stomach. “You really need to learn how to sleep in.”

Lena dips a finger in the batter and wipes it on Kara’s nose. “A few weeks and you’ll be waiting on my hand and foot, darling. No need to hurry things along.”

“Be as it may, after we eat I’m taking you back to bed.” Her hand wanders lower, and Lena squirms, laughing a little.

“Just to rest, obviously.”

“Just to rest.” Kara grins agreement, sighing contentedly into her neck.

Inside her wife’s belly, the baby kicks.