The thing about her office on the top floor of National City's Marine Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre is that it's loud. At any given moment the air is filled with the snorting of seals, the barking of sea lions, and the excited squeals of children.
Also, it smells. A briny mixture of fish, kelp, and salt-laced sea air permeates every inch of the space, apparently impervious to her strict closed-windows, industrial-strength-dehumidifier-and-essential-oil-diffuser regimen.
It's sparse, cramped, with a lone window that looks out over a back alley used for animal feed deliveries.
It's Lena's favourite place in the world. Especially right now.
Head aquarist Kara Danvers drops down into Lena's lap without warning, almost sending the two of them and the expensive, orthopaedic office chair beneath them crashing to the ground. “Hi,” she grins, cheeks pink and eyes bright, dropping a smacking kiss to Lena's cheek. She reaches up, makes to loop her arms around Lena's neck.
“Nuh uh.” Lena catches her by the wrists, holding them in front of her face. “Fish hands.”
Kara pouts, tugging halfheartedly at her captured appendages.
"You know the rules,” Lena prods, glancing determinedly past Kara to the half-written email still on her screen. If she's not immune to the patented Danvers puppy dog eyes by now, there's no hope for her or her businesses. “Did you wash? Properly?”
“Yes,” Kara huffs, wresting her arms lightly out of Lena's grip to dramatically sniff her own palms. “See? Soapy fresh. I do possess some level of professionalism, you know.”
"Says the woman currently straddling her boss’ lap.”
“We've been through this, you're not my boss,” Kara chirps, using her newly-released hands to tug Lena's tight bun from her hair, massaging the lingering tension from her scalp. “Cat's my boss, and you're Cat's boss, so. This is fine.”
Lena only hums, eyelids fluttering when Kara scratches lightly through the curls at the base of her skull. She drops her forehead to her girlfriend's shoulder while the blonde continues her tender ministrations, breathes in the warm salt-and-fabric-conditioner scent of her blue-grey fleece.
Kara's skilful fingers hit a particularly tight knot in her neck and Lena groans loudly, grateful at least that the blonde had shut the office door behind her. Kara hums sympathetically, easing her pressure and pressing a kiss to the crown of Lena's head. “Oh, you're tense, baby,” she murmurs, clicking her tongue in mild disapproval. “Long day?”
Lena sighs. “You could say that, yeah.”
At the exhaustion in her voice Kara hops out of her lap, circling round behind her to massage Lena's neck and shoulders in earnest. “Tell me.”
Lena smiles at the eager interest in the blonde's tone. It may be Lena who's bankrolling this centre, her name on the contracts and her foundation serving as trustees, but the NC Marine Sanctuary is theirs, hers and Kara's, in every way that truly matters.
Kara handles the animals, their welfare and rehabilitation, rescue and release. And Lena handles— well. Everything else.
She rolls her head back to rest against the blonde's stomach, leaning harder into the blissful contact of her hands. “We had another three seal rescues up near Monterey today,” she sighs, eyelids fluttering closed. “Two of them caught up in fishing nets. I sent J’onn and M'gann to collect them, they'll be back soon.”
Kara's fingers dig deep into the meat of her shoulders, and Lena groans contentedly. “The retired dolphins we're getting from Sea World both have bacterial infections, so Brainy's had to come up with a brand new treatment plan.”
Kara's fingers thread into her hair, carding gently. Lena's voice turns breathy as she continues. “The builders extending sea lion pool C were late so now we're behind schedule, I have three unfinished grant applications with looming deadlines, and UCLA won't stop hounding me about doing a talk on our rehab programme for the marine biology undergrads.”
Kara whistles through her teeth, long and low, stooping to wrap her arms around Lena from behind. "Long day indeed,” she hums against Lena's ear, tilting to press a line of kisses along her jaw. “Hey. I'll handle the new arrivals. Take that off your to-do list. And we can take a look at the grant applications together when we get home.” She presses her cheek to Lena's, skin warm and soft. “Let UCLA stew another day, and have Cat yell at the builders. I guarantee they'll never be late again.”
Lena smiles, feels the curve of Kara's mouth against her cheek in response. “Aren't you just a problem-solving machine.”
“I prefer the term great girlfriend,” Kara says primly, releasing Lena only to circle round in front of her, tugging her to standing. “And I'm about to get even better because, hey. You know what we could do before any of that, to turn this bad day into a good one?”
Lena smiles. “Benji?"
Kara beams. “Benji.”
Benji is the name of the three-month-old sea otter who had been brought to the sanctuary as a new-born after his mother was killed by illegal poaching. He's living in the sanctuary's indoor baby pool until his swimming and diving skills are strong enough to join the centre's other rescued otters outdoors.
Benji's floating demurely on his back when they enter the enclosure, using his tiny paws to rub the fur on his face as he grooms himself, trapping air against his skin to keep himself warm. Nia, the centre's junior intern and social media whiz, is busy preparing his bottle in the corner.
“Oh, there he is,” Kara coos as she bends to scoop the pup into a towel, rubbing his wet fur in careful patterns intended to simulate the grooming training he'd normally receive from his mother. “How we doing today, bud? Hungry?”
Benji squeaks as Nia finishes preparing the bottle, handing it to Kara once she's laid the pup on a soft mat. “As of today, the little guy is officially a normal weight!” she informs them with a grin, double-checking the bottle's seal.
Lena watches Kara's shoulders relax. Benji had been severely malnourished when he was found, and getting him back up to a healthy weight has been a long and anxious process. Kara beams down at the pup, then up at Lena.
“Well, then, this calls for a celebration! You get your dinner from the big boss today, little man,” she grins, holding the bottle out to Lena. “Special treatment. Don't tell the other otters.”
“Oh, no, it's okay.” Lena takes a step back, hands raised. “You can feed him.”
"Aw, c'mon,” Kara cajoles, wiggling the bottle between them. “I guarantee it'll cheer you up.”
Lena frowns. “I don't—”
It's just, Kara is the animal one. Kara moves so naturally around these creatures, seems to understand them on a level Lena's never fully understood. Lena's the business one of the two. She'll keep this sanctuary running, come what may. But anything more hands-on than that is a little out of her comfort zone.
Kara stoops so her face is right next to Benji's, two pairs of guileless eyes gazing up at her. “Please?” the blonde squeaks in a high-pitched voice. “Please give me my dinner, Ms Luthor. Pretty please with seaweed on top.”
Lena quirks a brow. “Is this Kara asking, or Benji?”
The blonde tuts. “Benji. Obviously.”
Lena presses her lips together to hold back a smile. “Obviously.”
"This is literally sickening,” Nia mutters from the computer in the back corner of the room, sighing heavily as she taps at the keyboard. “Please, Lena, for the love of God. Feed him before I get a cavity.”
Lena flushes, but does as she's told, taking a seat adjacent to Kara and angling the bottle close to the pup's mouth. Kara's hand is wrapped around hers, steadying her, but as Benji reaches up and grasps the bottle with tiny paws to start sucking in earnest, she pulls back. “See?” she beams as Lena watches the baby squirm happily, draining the bottle. “You look happier already.”
Lena glances up at her, Benji still happily enjoying his dinner on the mat between them, and feels a smile pull at her own mouth.
“Sickening,” Nia repeats, shattering the gentle moment with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Kara only laughs as Benji finishes his meal, standing guard over the young pup until he wriggles his way back into the pool. "His diving's getting much stronger,” she observes, watching him splash around in the water, and Nia hums in agreement. “I think he'll be ready for the outdoor pool soon.”
That's a relief. It's a fine line, limiting Benji's interactions with humans to prevent bonding and dependency while still providing him with the care he's missed out on from his mother, and the sooner they can get him out and socialising with other otters, the better his chances of potential release into the wild.
The radio at Kara's hip crackles to life, J’onn's disembodied voice informing them that he and M'gann have returned with today's rescued seals. Kara lets him know she'll be there soon, dropping a last wave in Benji's direction and a kiss to Lena's cheek before she's out the door.
Lena allows herself another minute of watching Benji, letting the unbridled joy of his diving and splashing seep inside her, washing away the stresses of her day. Her phone vibrates in her pocket just as she's trying to convince herself to return to her office. She squints at it.
"Nia, what the hell have you tagged me in now?”
The young intern only blinks at her angelically, her face the picture of innocence. Lena sighs, unlocking her phone and pulling up the notification.
@NCMarineSancturary: Three-month-old sea otter pup Benji enjoying his dinner courtesy of sanctuary founders @kdanvers and @lenaluthor. Soon Benji will be strong enough to move to the outdoor pool! Link in bio to donate and sponsor a rehabilitated sea otter today. #ncmarinesanctuaryandrescue #benji #youotterknow #karlenacam
The caption sits beneath a snap of Kara and Lena looking at each other, Benji on the mat between them as Lena holds his bottle. They’re— well. Even Lena can admit that she and Kara are gazing at each other quite intently, the tension between them palpable even through a photo.
Heat crawls up the back of her neck, flushing her cheeks with warmth. "Nia, really? Did you really have to?”
The young woman meets her gaze dead on. “Yeah. I really did.”
Lena sighs, pressing a hand to the pink of her cheek. “What's that?” she asks, reading the caption again. “#karlenacam. What does that mean?”
“It's you two,” Nia says slowly, like it should be obvious. “Your couple hashtag.”
“Our couple hashtag?”
“Well, yeah.” Nia squints at her like she can't believe Lena can possibly be this dense. “You two livestreamed your first kiss to half the country through a panda cam. People are invested. They want to see what you're up to.”
Lena gapes. “Seriously?”
“God, yeah.” Nia taps through her phone for a moment, holding it out for Lena to see. “Winn told me that's our most popular hashtag. Said our online interaction skyrockets whenever we use it. You really didn't notice?”
Lena shakes her head mutely, taking the phone Nia offers her and scrolling quickly through the feed. There are photos of her and Kara overseeing the rehoming of porpoises in their offshore marine reserve, microchipping a sea lion that's ready for release, untangling a seal pup from the fishing net it had washed up in. There are photos of them in Lena's office, hunched together over contracts, on stage at conservation conferences. Of Kara modelling the sanctuary's fleeces the day they'd gotten their first delivery, pointing excitedly at the logo as Lena smiles softly at her from the corner of the frame. Of the two of them in the backseat of the sanctuary's transport truck, windswept and salt-slick as they huddle inside their grey waterproofs.
Lena's breath catches. She remembers that day. The entire staff had been called out to Point Dume for a huge pod of beached dolphins. They'd worked for hours in the crashing surf and pouring rain, trying to coax the animals back out to sea and when they couldn't, trying to load them onto the trucks for transport to the sanctuary. But the animals had been too sick, and they'd just been too late. Fourteen dolphins had died that day, three of them babies.
The loss they'd felt is clear in the photo. Kara's head is tilted against Lena's shoulder, her eyes screwed shut. Even with the sand and salt drying on her face, the tear tracks cutting down her cheeks are visible. Lena's lips are pressed to Kara's temple, her own gaze lost somewhere beyond the truck's rain-streaked window.
“Who, who takes all these?” Lena manages around the sudden lump in her throat.
Nia shrugs. “All of us. We've been doing it for ages. I think Winn started it, back when Kara was still at the zoo.”
“You've been doing this for five years?”
Nia scrunches her nose, grimacing. “You really didn't know, huh.”
Lena blinks hard, shaking her head. “Does Kara?”
"Well, yeah.” Nia clicks her tongue. “I guess she actually checks her notifications.”
Lena drags a hand through her hair, wavy and half-wild from the tight bun it's been confined to all day. "God. #karlenacam. Right, okay. Why not.” She glances up, brow furrowing. “Why cam?”
"Camera,” Nia supplies. "You made a name for yourselves on a livestream. If you're not gonna stand in front of video cameras all day, we have to do it another way. You know, give the people what they want.”
Lena bites back her incredulity at the thought that she and Kara could possibly be what the people want, forces her business brain to take over.
“It increases our traffic when you use the hashtag?” she double-checks, ignoring the way her cheeks are still flaming. “Any link to an increase in donations? In sponsorships?”
“Oh, yeah,” Nia says excitedly. “A big one. This day, for example—” She points down at the photo of the two of them in the truck. “After we posted that we got a record number of dolphin sponsorships. Crashed the website.”
“Okay,” Lena manages, forcing her voice not to quake. For the good of the animals, she thinks. That's all. “Alright then. Uh. Carry on.”
The rest of the day passes in a rush of business as usual.
After hours of budget juggling and personnel reviews and research funding applications she meets Cat for their daily briefing, dropping down opposite her COO with a sigh. They breeze through a rundown of the day; Lena outlines the operational and policy progress she's responsible for as the sanctuary's director, while Cat reports on the day to day running of the facility.
There are no problems to discuss; they have the budget to accommodate the care of the three seals rescued that day, and have even seen a small spike in sea otter sponsorship in the hours since Nia's post. Cat's face is unreadable as Lena delivers the news, but Lena swears she sees the faintest hint of a smirk behind her impenetrable mask.
Cat Grant has been a godsend, leaving NC Zoo in James’ capable hands and making the move with them to the sanctuary four years ago. Her management and coordination skills are invaluable; Lena honestly doesn't know if they would ever have gotten this project off the ground without her. Though Lena is technically her boss there's a lot of respect and mutual understanding between them, maybe even the tentative beginnings of a friendship.
That doesn't mean that Cat lets any opportunity to see Lena squirm pass her by.
“The karlena hashtag again, was it?” she asks dryly, one eyebrow arched as she scans the engagement report Lena's presented her with. “It seems to be very effective.”
The overall effect of her bored tone and lack of eye contact conveys a marked disinterest in the topic. That doesn't stop Lena’s cheeks from heating up all over again.
“Yes,” she manages, ignoring the rapid pounding of her heart. “I had no idea until today.”
Cat arches a brow, still skimming the report in her hands. “I can't say it's a surprise, given how the two of you met.”
“I suppose,” Lena acquiesces. “But I've never much been one for the spotlight.”
"The spotlight loves you, Ms Luthor, whether you would embrace it or not,” Cat says, tone matter of fact as she straightens the papers in her hand with a sharp flick. “And as for Keira, she's long had a reputation of attracting attention for her... antics.”
Her eyes flick to one of the many framed press cuttings lining the office wall. In it Kara stands proudly, easily cradling a fully grown 300-pound harbour seal in her arms. The pool had needed cleaning and the mechanical lift they usually used to transport animals had broken down, so Kara had hopped right into the shallows and scooped the last of the seals up herself.
“Yes,” Lena sighs, gazing fondly at the photo as she shakes her head. “I suppose she does.”
“She gets us publicity,” Cat says definitively. “And publicity helps the work we're doing here. Even if the attention she garners isn't always particularly.... elegant.”
Her gaze flicks to another clipping, this one showing Kara in full scuba gear in the middle of their offshore reserve, flailing upside down in the water as a young sea lion pup playfully drags her around by the flipper. Cat sighs, pressing thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose.
Lena smirks. “Well, you hired her.”
Blue eyes snap up, one eyebrow arched. “Yes,” Cat drawls, the barest hint of amusement colouring her haughty tone. “But you're dating her.”
The next few months pass in a blur.
Benji graduates to the outdoor pool and bonds well with the sanctuary's other permanent residents; otters that had been rescued from lives as illegal pets or retired show animals from aquariums and marine amusement parks. They release six rehabilitated seals and rescue five more. The Sea World dolphins arrive and Brainy carefully oversees their course of antibiotics, nursing them back to health before they're moved to the ocean reservation pool where they can recuperate. They submit four new funding applications and get two approved, allowing construction to begin on a new coastal pool for rehabilitated seals so that the animals can recover in as close to their natural ocean habitat as possible.
Lena barely sees Kara at all, apart from at work. They spend endless hours poring over animal health reports, financials, the latest research on rescue and rehabilitation, with barely a moment in and between just for them. Lena gives a talk at UCLA, and the sanctuary hosts tour groups from three other universities interested in their work.
She and Kara both take to staying late, Kara personally checking on the wellbeing of each of their inhabitants while Lena works tirelessly in her office to ensure their projects can continue. By the time they get home, it's all they can do to shovel down some food and fall into bed, asleep almost before their heads hit the pillows.
They're constantly searching for new ways to increase revenue. The number of marine wildlife rescues they're being called to is growing all the time, and housing and caring for their residents is expensive. Nia is promoted to tour guide and her bubbly personality is an instant hit with the groups she leads around the parts of the sanctuary that are open to the public, educating visitors on the species native to the California coast and the work they do to protect them.
The tours become so popular that they have to hire two new guides, expanding to accommodate school field trips and upgrading their classroom and picnic facilities. UCLA's marine biology department agrees to partner with them, prompting new research and conservation projects for green sea turtles and grey whales. They release a new line of sweatshirts in the gift shop, install a photo booth and – most popular of all – a build-a-bear stuffy station in the visitor centre, all of which prove to be hits with the ever-growing numbers of children flocking through their doors.
Lena can admit, the sight of toddling kids glassy-eyed and beaming as they cuddle their newly-built plush otters and dolphins and whales is an adorable sight, and a stroke of genius for the sanctuary's financials. At twenty bucks a pop, the stuffy machine will pay for itself within a year.
Everything is going well. Everything is going according to plan. Everything, that is, except the fact that all this new success means Lena almost never gets to see her girlfriend.
Though Lena's passionate about the work they're doing here, is immensely gratified by the opportunity to use her vast wealth, connections, and business acumen to do something genuinely beneficial for the world and the creatures that inhabit it, at the core of it all animal conservation is Kara's dream. Lena had agreed to co-found this sanctuary four years ago as a way not only of doing good, but of getting to do it side by side with the woman she loves.
Only, recently, it seems she doesn't get to see Kara at all. Not unless she counts catching a glimpse of her out of her office window as Kara oversees feed deliveries or checks water salinity levels, which Lena doesn't.
There haven't been any #karlenacam Instagram posts in weeks. A video constructed by Nia of Kara booping the noses of their resident seals and sea lions as she hands each one a fish goes viral and they see another spike in donations, yet Lena's socials are still full of comments asking where she and Kara are, and when they'll appear together again.
If even strangers on the internet think they've been apart for too long, Lena decides enough is enough. She's going to get some quality time with her girlfriend even if she has to dress up as a seal and splash around in a rockpool to do it.
Thankfully, it doesn't quite come to that.
Lena spies her opportunity a few days later, when the sanctuary's visitor centre is rented out for Alex and Kelly's daughter Esme's birthday party. The young girl is somewhat starstruck by her Aunt Kara and adamant that she too wants to be an aquarist when she grows up, and the look of wonder on her face when she walks into the sanctuary on Saturday afternoon is worth the entire morning they'd spent setting up for her.
The gaggle of children bounce excitedly through Nia's guided tour, marvelling at the creatures that are not suited to release into the wild and now call the sanctuary their permanent home. The Dall's porpoises are a huge hit, as is the two-spot octopus, but the real celebrities of the day have to be the sea otters.
Hopped up on birthday cake and assorted sugary treats, the children ricochet around the visitor centre like tiny missiles, taking advantage of the photo booth and face painting station, and queueing excitedly for their turn at creating their own plush sea animal.
Esme, new orca stuffy tucked securely beneath her arm, takes photo after photo with her friends, her moms, and then puts in a request for a turn with her Aunt Kara and Aunt Lena that has the latter surreptitiously wiping away a tear when no one's watching.
She and Kara squish into the photo booth, Esme tucked between them, and giggle their way through several rounds of flashes as strip after strip of photos prints just outside. When they emerge, pink-cheeked and still laughing, Esme tugs on the hem of Lena's sanctuary fleece until she crouches down to the little girl's eye level.
"Thank you for the bestest birthday party ever,” Esme says solemnly, holding out a strip of photos in her tiny fist. Lena takes it, gazing at the snaps – she and Kara pressing symmetrical kisses to Esme's cheeks; all three of them sticking their tongues out at the camera; Esme standing behind them on the stool, beaming as Kara lands a kiss that's more laughter than anything to the corner of Lena's mouth – and smiling at the faint smudges of powdered sugar left by Esme's fingers at the edges.
“You're welcome, Esme,” Lena says, breath huffing out of her as the little girl catapults herself into Lena's arms. She smooths a hand down the child's back, heart swelling with love for her. Catches Kara's eye over Esme's shoulder, feels something soft and beautiful pass between them as their gazes hold.
“And thank you for saving all the sea animals, Aunt Lena,” Esme chirps as she pulls back, cradling her stuffy in her arms. “'Specially the orcs.”
Lena bites back a grin as Kara explodes into muffled laughter at her back, hand pressed to her mouth. “Orcas, sweetie,” Lena corrects gently, smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “And I'm not sure that I save all the—”
“No, she does,” Kara pipes up, swinging Esme into her arms and tossing the young girl high into the air as she shrieks in delight. “Aunt Lena saves all the sea animals. She's pretty great, huh?”
Esme nods earnestly as Kara sets her back on her feet, holding her whale by both fins. "The greatest.”
The young girl runs off to join her friends as Lena swallows repeatedly in an attempt to force down the sudden lump in her throat. Kara's gaze is knowing as she joins her at the edge of the party madness, wrapping her arms around Lena's waist from behind and hooking her chin over her shoulder.
Lena hums, head tipping back to rest against Kara's shoulder, temple pressed to her jaw. “Hey, you.”
"Hey,” Kara echoes, a smile in her voice. "Mmm, you smell so good. Feel like I haven't seen you in forever.”
“I know,” Lena sighs, wrapping her own hands around Kara's where they're clasped about her waist. "Things have been so crazy recently. We need to find a better way of stealing some time together, or I'll be forced to resort to handcuffing you to me.”
Kara chuckles, the sound echoing deep in Lena's own chest. “Maybe we can save the handcuffs for the bedroom,” she breathes, nosing along Lena's jaw and pressing a lingering kiss to her flushing cheek. “But you're right, we need a plan. Lucky for you, I already have one.”
“Oh?” Lena squeaks, pressing back harder into her girlfriend's body. “Do I get to hear what it is?”
Kara shakes her head, blonde curls tickling Lena's cheek. “Nope. But you'll find out soon enough.”
"Cryptic,” Lena smiles as they fall into a comfortable silence, watching the excitement of the party from the sidelines. She feels Kara's heartbeat, steady and sure where their bodies are pressed together. Feels the moment it synchronises with her own and wishes she could freeze this feeling, keep it forever.
"What are you going to do with these?” Kara asks after a while, poking at the strip of photos still in Lena's hand.
Lena hums, holding them to the light so they can admire them together. “I don't know. I think they might look pretty great in my office, actually.”
“I think you might be right,” Kara agrees, unwrapping her arms from around Lena only to take her hand. “Come on, let's go see.”
They leave the party under Alex's watchful gaze and escape to Lena's office hand in hand, giggling like teenagers the whole way. Once there, Lena slots the strip of photos into the frame of the picture standing pride of place beside her monitor; she and Kara, the day of the sanctuary's official opening. They're standing beneath the newly installed sign in their matching blue-grey fleeces, arms around each other and hands linked between their bodies. Kara's looking straight into the camera, her grin wide and proud and infectious. Lena’s gazing up at her, adoration written all over her face.
It's her favourite thing in the office, and the addition of Esme's beaming smile only makes her love it more.
Kara runs the tip of her finger reverently along the wooden edge of the frame, her expression pensive. "Do you ever think about that day?”
Lena angles closer, slotting herself into her girlfriend's side. “Sometimes. It was a good day.” She tilts her chin up, presses her lips to the underside of Kara's jaw. “Do you?”
"Yeah.” Kara's arm loops around her, fingers rubbing gently at the dip between Lena's shoulder blades the way she loves. "That was the day I realised that I was really, properly happy. The day I realised I had everything I was ever gonna need.” She tilts her face down, meeting Lena's eyes. “Because of you.”
Lena's heart gets stuck in her throat, rendering speech impossible. She bobs up on her toes instead and slots their mouths together, whimpering in the back of her throat when a velvet tongue slips past her lips. Even after five years, kissing Kara still makes her tingle from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
"God, I love you,” Kara breathes against her lips when they at last break apart, both breathing hard.
“I love you, too.” Lena presses her words into Kara's mouth, punctuates each one with another sure kiss. “So, so much.”
The blonde pulls back to gaze at her, framing Lena's face in her hands. For a long moment they just watch each other, breathing the same air. At length Kara's gaze flicks to the clock on the wall and she drops her arms, linking their fingers together once more.
“Come on,” she hums, swiping a thumb over the slick of Lena's bottom lip. “I've got something to show you.”
The party has wound down by the time they get back to the main visitor centre, a steady stream of exhausted but beaming kids filing out through the sliding doors. They hug Alex and Kelly goodbye, and she and Kara lift Esme between them to give her a cuddle, covering her flushed face in kisses.
Then they're gone and the two of them are left with Brainy and Nia and J’onn and a mountain of wrapping paper to clean up. The grating pop tunes are turned off, the fluorescent party lights dimmed until the only light in the room is the soft glow of the setting sun streaming in from the Pacific Ocean through the wall of westward windows.
Between the five of them, the clean-up is manageable. J’onn clears away snacks while Brainy stuffs trash bags with garbage, stacking chairs and folding tables back into the storage cupboards. Lena appraises the veritable snowstorm of powdered sugar coating what appears to be every inch of the floor with a sigh. She's just reaching for the mop when it's tugged out of her hands.
“I'll do that,” Nia chirps, pulling the bucket firmly from Lena's fingers. “I, uh. I think Kara needs your help with the build-a-bear machine.”
Sure enough, the blonde is hunched over the stuffy station by the expanse of windows, the sunset highlighting brilliant strands of shimmering gold in the waterfall of her hair. Lena presses up close behind her, knocking her chin lightly on her girlfriend's shoulder.
"Nia said you needed help with something?” she hums, squinting at the machine against the glare of the sun. “This thing better not be broken already, I swear—”
"No, it's not broken,” Kara chuckles. She straightens, dislodging Lena and turning to face her properly, hands stuffed deep in her fleece pockets. “I just thought maybe— maybe we could have a go. You know, make a stuffy.”
Lena's brow quirks. “Really?” she asks, scepticism seeping into her tone. “You want to? Right now?”
“I mean, yeah,” Kara shrugs, shuffling her feet against the linoleum. “Why not, right? We've had it for months but we haven't even done our own quality control yet. Could be fun.”
Something about the moment is strange, something's not quite right and yet— in the face of those earnest, eager blue eyes, Lena is as powerless as driftwood in a riptide.
“Okay,” she says slowly, chest filling with warmth at the sight of the relieved smile that breaks over Kara's face at her agreement. "Let’s make stuffies.”
Kara chooses an otter. “For Benji,” she grins. “If I can't cuddle him, I can at least cuddle this.”
Lena chooses a harbour seal. She strokes a hand over its sleek grey body, its cute round eyes, its soft whiskers. Kara shows her how to hold the toy's seam to the stuffing tube, filling its body until it's as round and squishy as the real-life seals lounging in the pool just below the wall of windows.
Kara stuffs her own toy, then turns to Lena with a soft smile. "Now you have to give it a heart,” she murmurs, holding out a tray of red satin love hearts for Lena to choose from. Lena shakes her head fondly, selecting one half the size of her little finger. She's seen Nia enact this same ritual with the children who throng to this machine, and finds it as endearing as she does ridiculous.
"Give it a kiss,” Kara prompts, “and then put it in his chest.”
The golden evening light reflecting in Kara's eyes makes them appear aquamarine, a crystalline depth to her gaze that could rival the clearest sea. Ocean eyes, Lena thinks to herself as she complies.
Once fitted with a suitably-kissed heart, Kara takes the toy from Lena's hands and makes quick work of sewing up the open seam. She hands the stuffy back with a smile that Lena can't read. When their fingers brush, she sees Kara's are trembling.
"Darling—” she starts, concern pulling at her features, but Kara cuts her off.
"My turn,” she whispers, holding out the open seam of her stuffed otter. “Will you do it, please?”
Lena blinks. “Do what?”
"Give it a heart,” Kara breathes, so quiet Lena has to strain to catch the words. “Seems fitting you should have his heart, too, just like you have mine.”
The moment feels heavy, suddenly, and weighted with endless possibility. Lena has to will her own fingers not to tremble as she reaches for the tray again, carefully selecting another tiny love heart.
"A kiss,” Kara whispers, watching her intently. “And then put it in his chest.”
She brings the red satin to her lips, pressing lightly. Kara passes her otter over and Lena holds it carefully, sliding the heart into the centre of its body. Her fingers push through soft stuffing, and she's just about to withdraw her hand when the edge of her nail catches on something hard.
Lena frowns, wriggling her fingers deeper into the stuffing. Amidst the pillowy polyester her thumb finds the cool curve of metal, skating upwards to the sharp point of a corner. Heart hammering, body trembling, Lena hooks her fingers and pulls out a diamond ring.
Kara is already down on one knee, bathed in the soft glow of the dying sun. Her hands are shaking and she presses them to her thigh to steady them as Lena stares uncomprehending at the white gold solitaire in her palm.
“Believe it or not, I wasn't actually planning on doing this right after a seven-year-old's birthday party with powdered sugar all over the floor,” Kara says softly, her voice wavering just the slightest bit. "But every time I look at you, none of the reasons for waiting seem worth it.”
Lena gasps, tears prickling at the corners of her vision. She blinks them away, determined not to miss a single second of this moment.
"Lena,” Kara breathes, squaring her shoulders the tiniest bit. “Five years ago, you managed to entrance me from behind a computer screen on the other side of the country. I liked you so much I fed cockroaches named after your ex to a snake every day for a month.”
Lena gasps out a watery laugh and the sound seems to buoy the blonde. Her voice gets stronger, her hands still and sure. “And then you walked into that koala enclosure at the zoo and I fell in love. And I've been in love with you every day since. You're my partner in everything, in everything that matters, and I just— I really want to make it official.”
Kara swallows. Sucks in a deep breath. "So. Lena Kieran Luthor, will you marry me?”
The words haven't even made it all the way out of her mouth before Lena is throwing herself into her arms, sinking to her knees in the midst of a sea of powdered sugar and polyester stuffing. “Yes, yes, yes,” she chants, pressing tear-slick kisses to Kara's lips with every breath. “Of course I will, yes. It will always be yes.”
Kara lets out a sound that lands somewhere between a laugh and a sob and a sigh, presses her lips to Lena's like she's trying to drink her in, body and soul. They break apart to the sound of wolf whistles and raucous cheering, Brainy and Nia clapping wildly as J’onn wipes a tear from his eye.
Kara slides the ring onto Lena's finger where it sparkles, refracting the last rays of sun into a kaleidoscope that dazzles them both. That's alright. Lena doesn't need to see. With Kara's engagement ring on her finger and Kara's lips on her own, she knows that she has everything she's ever going to need, too.
Later, after the champagne and the impromptu party and the prolonged and enthusiastic private celebration back in their bedroom, Lena collapses against Kara's chest and kisses the sweat from the golden glow of her skin.
Tilting her chin up to meet her girlfriend – fiancée's – eyes, she can't hold back her smile. “Hi.”
"Hi,” Kara breathes, leaning down to press a kiss to the tip of her nose. “Mrs Danvers.”
Lena bites her lip, filled to the brim with golden sunlight, and slots their mouths together once more.
The sound of both their phones vibrating concomitantly on the bedside table startles them apart and Lena reaches out blindly, slapping around until her fingers find the smooth edge.
“Oh God,” she sighs, swiping blearily at the screen. “Now what has Nia posted?”
She opens the notification to find two videos. The first is from earlier today, capturing the moment that Kara, backlit by the setting sun, had finally popped the question. She smiles at the screen, at the murmured words and her own enthusiastic response, then swipes to see the second video.
In it, Kara is visibly younger, still wearing the green fleece of National City Zoo. Her cheeks are flushed, eyes sparkling, blonde curls escaping haphazardly from her ponytail. Lena's brow furrows and she turns up the volume, pillowing her head on Kara's chest.
"What's just happened, Kara?” comes the disembodied voice of the cameraman. After a moment of squinting, Lena recognises it as Winn.
Onscreen, Kara blushes fiercely. She's breathing hard, teeth working against the plush of her bottom lip even as she can't hold back her grin. “Um, I just. I just livestreamed my first kiss with Lena Luthor to the entire world.”
Lena gasps. This must be from that very first day, once Lena had gone home after their first date in the panda enclosure five years ago. Looking closer, Lena can actually make out the bamboo over Kara's shoulder, the glass door and control panel in the corner.
“And do we think Cat Grant is going to fire us for that little stunt?” Winn asks with faux sweetness, his mirth evident.
Kara, practically vibrating with energy, bounces back and forth as she beams at the camera. “Maybe, but— oh man, I don't care.” She tugs a hand over her unruly curls, face split into a wide, disbelieving grin. “I'm going to marry her, Winn,” she beams, soft and earnest and overflowing with joy. “I'm telling you right now, I'm going to marry that girl.”
The video ends, and Lena drags her tear-filled eyes away from her screen to stare at the woman beneath her.
Kara only smiles up at her, earnest and open and so very filled with love. “I told you,” she whispers, the corners of her lips rising. “From that very first day, and every day since.”
Too overcome to speak, Lena presses another ardent kiss to her lips. Pulls back only when the need for oxygen wins out as she tries to regulate her breathing and slow her pounding heart, distracting herself by scrolling below the videos to read the caption beneath.
@NCMarineSanctuary: What a catch! Sanctuary co-founders @kdanvers and @lenaluthor are tying the (reef) knot! Started from the bottom (of the ocean), now we're here.... #seasaidyes #timetoshellabrate #thesepunsaregettingoutofsand #karlenacam #karlenaendgame #solemates
Lena's eyebrows hit her hairline. “Solemates?” she mutters incredulously, tightening her hold on Kara as she drops her phone somewhere in the sheets. “I'm going to kill Nia. She knows how I feel about puns.”
“I'm going to give her a raise,” Kara beams serenely, and ends all further conversation with a kiss.