DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many, many thanks to the always incredible wyback for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To mjduncan18[at]gmail.com
Not All Heroes Wear Capes (All the Time)
Lena Luther was used to being alone, but never before had it felt this lonely. It was, of course, entirely Kara's fault. Before Kara had flown to her office on a bus, she had been content with her solitary life that she spent working herself to the brink of exhaustion day-in and day-out.
(Even now, Lena can't help but scoff and roll her eyes at what a terrible liar Kara wasand then she'll scoff and roll her eyes even harder at her own stupidity for never seeing the truth on her own.)
But Kara, with her damnable sunny smiles and persistent gestures of friendship had chipped away at her walls until she'd done the most idiotic thing of her life and let Kara in. And with Kara came Alex, and James, Lucy, Winn, and the others, and for the first time in her life she'd had friends.
And, more than that, she'd been happy. Genuinely happy in a way she had been convinced, before Kara, was an impossibility for her.
Except they had all been lying to her, and that deception had cost her everything.
The white-hot anger she had felt when Kara had torn her life asunder had been enough to hold the loneliness that engulfed her now at bay, but as the days and weeks passed, her anger had begun to fade and, in its place, hurt had settled instead.
Honestly, she preferred being angry, but anger took so much effort to hold onto when all she really wanted was to have that old life back. Wanted to have Kara back. But she wasn't quite ready to forgive (she knew forgetting was completely out of the picture, Kara had hurt her too badly for her to ever forget), so, for now, she welcomed for the distance that had settled between them, grateful that Kara was, at least, abiding by her promise to give her space.
But on nights like this, after the day she'd just hadnever mind the fact that it was also the anniversary of when she'd re-branded L-Corp into her own image (a milestone she had Kara had always celebrated together)it was so, so hard to not reach for the phone and send a text that she knew would be answered in an instant.
She grit her teeth as she blinked hard enough to push the hint of a sting at the backs of her eyes away, and then set about preparing to call it a day.
One of these nights, she was sure, she would succumb to the want that pulsed hollowly in her chest, but tonight was not that night. She powered-down her computer, tidied her desk that didn't require much tidying as she'd barely sat at it all day, and grabbed her purse. She strode purposefully through the golden-red rays of the fading sun that spilled through the windows and did her very best to try to not think about how Kara had seemed to glow in that light.
She failed, miserably, and her heart clenched at the reminder and her own weakness as she yanked her office door open with enough force to startle her secretary.
"Jess, I'm leaving," she declared. She arched a brow at the way Jess hurried to hide the magazine she'd been reading, and pressed her lips into a hard line when she saw the cover.
Lena had sold the magazine as impulsively as she'd bought it, and, in her more introspective moments, a hollow feeling of guilt would settle over her shoulders at how the magazine had since devolved into click-bait masquerading as journalism. There are days she's honestly surprised that Cat Grant hasn't returned to National City to shank her with a stiletto for single-handedly destroying the once-respected magazine Grant had devoted her life to creating. But Grant, her sources had reported, was still in Europe on some new enterprise, so Lena was fairly safe for a while more.
"Sorry," Jess apologized. "There's just an article on Batwoman that I wanted to read, and "
Lena sighed. "It's fine, Jess. Just because I sold the magazine doesn't mean you can't read it. With the shift in content focus, I'm sure Andrea could use every sale she can get."
Jess nodded and pulled the magazine back out from under her keyboard. "It's not the same, for sure, but this one's not so bad."
Lena's eyes widened when she saw the byline on the glossy cover beneath the featured "scoop" of the issue. It made perfect sense, of course, that Kara would be the one to secure an interview with the notoriously private superhero from Gotham, but seeing her name on the cover made Lena's heart throb painfully in her chest. Despite it all, there was a part of her that still cared enough to want to see if Kara was doing well.
And, well, considering it was her fault that Kara was writing stories like this instead of in-depth exposés about serious issues, the least she could do was read the blasted thing.
She wasn't sure which of them was more surprised when she extended a hand and asked, "If you've finished with it may I?"
"Oh, um, sure." Jess handed it over with a frown. "You okay?"
"Fine," Lena murmured as she slipped the magazine into her bag. She tried her best to manufacture a genuine smile as she added, "Get out of here at a decent hour, for a change. And go enjoy the weekend. I don't want to see you back here until Monday morning."
Lena turned left the moment her feet hit the sidewalk and headed to a nearby, upscale bar that she knew could be counted on to have a crowd. Ever since she had learned the truth about Supergirl, she had felt too exposed inside her penthouse, knowing that Kara could be hovering in the sky beyond her line of sight, watching from a distance. Or, worse, that having so little between thembe it walls or peoplethat it would be even easier for Kara to pick up her biorhythms to keep tabs on her.
She used to feel safest when she was alone, away from the prying eyes of the world. Or safer, still, when she had been with Karajust her and Karabut she refused to think about that now because, if she did, she would either break down crying or scream, and she was afraid that if she went either route that she might not be able to stop.
Which is how she found herself where she was now, seeking crowds to hide in instead of the solitude she once craved. Or, simply working until she was so fucking exhausted that she didn't care about Kara one way or the other.
The after-work crowd had descended on Prohibition, and the tension between Lena's shoulder blades eased a little as a wall of noise enveloped her. The bar itself was crowded with men and women in expensive suits and fake smiles, and she avoided the scene entirely as she made her way to a small table in the corner.
A pretty brunette in a black shirt and skirt was at her table before she could even open her purse. "Can I get you something to drink?"
Lena nodded. "Green Spot. Neat." The Irish whiskey wasn't the most expensive the bar stocked, but she had found it to be a pleasant surprise when a bartender in the Temple Bar District had recommended it years ago. "And, could you make it a double, please?"
The server tipped her head in a small bow and murmured, "Of course," before taking her leave.
Lena glanced around the bar as she reached into her bag for the magazine and was pleased to note that she didn't recognize a soul. She had just found Kara's article when her drink arrived, and she waved off the server's inquiries about something to eat with a distracted hand. Thankfully, the server disappeared without another word, and Lena crossed her legs as she laid the magazine out on the table. The glass was cool beneath her fingers as she took a sip, savoring the slow burn of the whiskey as she stared at Kara's name on the page.
She tuned out the rest of the bar as she began to read, lulled into a kind of trance by the ebb and flow of Kara's words on the page, and so she was caught completely by surprise when a woman crashed into her table with enough force to send Lena's drink spilling across the glossy pages and lacquered wood and, worst of all, her Oscar de la Renta pencil skirt.
"Shit!" the woman swore, her strong hands curving around the edges of the table in a futile attempt to steady it. "I'm so sorry."
Lena clenched her jaw, ready to slip free with a tide of bitchy remarks, when her eyes landed on her most recent harbinger of disaster. Her breath caught in her throat. The woman was tall and wiry, and, unlike the rest of the bar's clientele, dressed remarkably down in a pair of jeans and a flannel underneath a leather jacket so worn that Lena was willing to bet that, if she were to reach out and touch it, she would find it as soft as silk. She was, without a doubt, the most strikingly handsome woman Lena had ever seen. Lena didn't usually consider women to be handsome, but the adjective fit this particular womanwith her short brown hair and a jaw so defined it could probably cut glassbetter than any of the softer synonyms that were usually reserved for the fairer sex.
Before Lena had finished processing the surprise collision, the arrestingly handsome culprit of said collision turned away and, a split-second later, turned back around to toss a thin white towel in Lena's direction, while she used a matching one to mop up the spill. Lena caught it reflexively and blinked at it as her mind raced to try to figure out just where in the hell the towels had come from. Surely, if they had come from one of the servers, the woman wouldn't be the one to be cleaning up the mess.
Lena prided herself on her unflappability, but she was utterly flappabled to the point that, while she knew it wasn't even a word, it was the only one she could think of to describe her current state of what the ever-loving fuck?! that she was currently experiencing.
Unaware of how completely this entire situation had thrown Lena, the woman's lips curved in amusement as she carefully wiped the spilled whiskey from the glossy pages of the ruined magazine. "Batwoman, huh? You have a thing for superheroes?"
The cocksure question combined with her unfairly beguiling smirk kick-started Lena's brain back to life, and she couldn't help but huff a little laugh as she rolled her eyes. "Hardly," she muttered as she began patting herself dry. "I tend to try to avoid them at all costs whenever possible."
The handsome woman's smirk widened into a grin as she nodded. "Not a bad idea, really. Trouble does seem to follow them everywhere, doesn't it?" She wiped her hands off on her jeans before offering one to Lena. "Kate Kane. Can I buy you a drink to replace the one I " Her voice trailed off, and she made a face at Lena's overturned glass. "Yeah. Lemme buy you a new one," she said, lifting a hand to get a passing server's attention.
"Kate!" a new voice called from somewhere behind the brunette. A beautiful blonde with striking blue eyes and muscles to rival Supergirl's looped an arm around Kate's waist. Like Kate, she was dressed casually in a pair of form-fitting jeans and a black tee-shirt that was tight enough to cling to an impressively defined set of abs underneath an army green utility jacket. Her eyes widened ever so briefly for a moment before her expression shifted into something closer to wry humor as she smiled at Lena. "Hi. Did she make this mess? I swear, I can't take her anywhere."
"Says the woman who started a brawl the last time we went out," Kate muttered.
"Excuse me? I didn't start it. I finished it. There's a difference. And it's not like you weren't right there with me taking out the trash that night."
"Okay, that's true, but " Kate glanced at Lena and then shook her head, clearly decided to not pursue that particular topic. "This is just because some guy bumped into me and knocked me into her table. I'm trying to get a serv"
"Can I help you?" Lena's server from earlier asked as she joined them.
"Perfect." Kate turned to her with a smile. "I'd like to buy this lovely lady another round of whatever she's drinking."
The server scribbled the order on her notepad. "And for yourself?"
"Oh, no, we can" Kate started to protest, but her friend cut her off.
"A pint of whatever's the best amber you have on tap."
"Sara," Kate sighed.
"Kane, the bar is three-deep," Sara said. "Order your freaking drink, and we'll find a table after we get them."
Kate sighed and dragged a hand through her hair as she gave Lena an adorably conflicted look.
Lena pursed her lips to keep from smiling. Their easy banter reminded her too much of the friends she had recently lost, but she was surprised by how much she found herself relaxing as they swept her up into their orbit. She had wanted to be alone, and her wet skirt was admittedly uncomfortable, but there was no denying how nice it was to be around people who were so at ease with each other again.
"It's fine," Lena assured her. "Please, save yourself the trouble of having to wade through the melee up at the bar."
"See!" Sara chucked Kate on the back of the shoulder.
Kate shook her head and pulled her wallet out of her jacket pocket. "I'll take a pint of whatever you get this one," she said as she fished out a credit card and handed it to the server.
"Coming right up," the server promised as she turned back toward the bar.
"Thanks," Sara said. "I really wasn't looking forward to fighting my way through that mess."
"Not a problem." Lena waved her off.
Sara's eyes landed on Lena's ruined magazine. "I swear I'm seeing that article everywhere lately. It's almost like I'm being stalked by Batwoman." She grinned at the way Kate huffed and offered Lena her hand. "Sara Lance."
"Lena," Lena said, knowing better than to offer her surname up to complete strangers that she wasn't trying to scare off. She smiled at Sara and tipped her head toward the chairs opposite her. "Would you like to sit while you wait for your drinks?"
Sara positively beamed at her. "We would! Thank you!"
The response was perhaps a little too enthusiastic for what Lena was offering, but she figured it was better to not think about that too much. "So " Now that the mess had been cleaned and drinks had been ordered, she wasn't at all sure how to proceed with these two beguiling, gorgeous women who were looking at her like she was some kind of a puzzle to be solved.
Sara, however, seemed to have no such issues. "So, Lena, what do you do?"
Lena played with the corner of her soaked magazine and offered the half-truth she usually gave when meeting people for the first time, "I'm in tech."
"Hey, Kate, too!" Sara said.
"No, I'm not," Kate corrected, flashing Lena a wry smile. "I mean, I did inherit some pretty cool tech, and my family certainly likes to collect the newest and shiniest toys on the market, but I am actually just a humble bar owner."
Lena arched a brow. It must have been one hell of a successful bar considering the black AmEx Kate had just handed off to pay for their drinks. "And you?" she asked Sara.
"Me?" Sara blinked, and then, with a mischievous smile, offered, "I...uh, well, I guess you could say that I dabble in history."
"History?" Lena repeated, surprised. Even though she had just met her, she would have guessed that Sara would have preferred in a more physical profession. "Like a professor?"
Kate choked on a breath and shook her head as she waved a hand in apology. "Sorry..." she gasped.
Sara rolled her eyes at her friend's reaction. "No, I'm not a professor," she said, shaking her head. "It's more of a hands-on type of thing."
Lena waited for her to elaborate and, when she didn't, figured it'd be rude to press for further details despite the fact that her curiosity was now thoroughly piqued. "Interesting."
"Oh, it is," Sara agreed easily, as if they weren't holding a conversation based entirely on partial information. "I mean, things usually tend to go from problem-solving to some degree of completely-sideways, but, in the end, we figure it out. Eventually." She pursed her lips and rapped her knuckles on the tabletop. "Almost always."
Lena just nodded as if anything of what Sara had just said made perfect sense. "I see "
Sara nodded and made a show of looking around the bar. "Ava would love this place. My girlfriend," she explained when she looked back at Lena. "She had a work thing tonight, something about a horde, or maybe it was just the copier in the basement acting up again. I dunno, really, I was a little busy with my own thing when she called, but I think it would be worth the trip all the way back out to National City to bring her here."
Lena nodded, even though she understood basically nothing Sara had just said, and latched onto the one thing that had made sense. "I take it you're not from around here, then?"
"Nope. We came into town to visit a friend for the weekend. She's usually super busy, but, apparently, she's in desperate need of a distraction this weekend, so"she threw her hands out dramatically"here we are."
Lena bit her lip. She used to have friends who would do that for her, too. "That's very nice of you."
"Not all heroes wear capes," Sara agreed. She arched a brow at Kate and added, "Right, Kane?"
"So I've heard," Kate agreed. "Though, you have to admit, a cape is pretty cool."
"Please. It gets in the way!"
"If made out of the right material, it can be a pretty effective shield."
Sara rolled her eyes dramatically. "Next thing you know, you'll say a wig is a bonafide disguise."
"Well, it's certainly better than glasses and a ponytail," Lena muttered, her eyes drifting to the sodden picture of Batwoman on the table. Her brow furrowed as her gaze lingered on the defined jawline of the superhero for a long moment before returning to the women sitting across from her.
Sara and Kate paused in their playful bickering to look at Lena. Finally, after a long moment, Sara pointed at her and said, "You know what? That's a fair point."
The server returned then with their drinks and handed Kate her card and a slip to sign before setting the glasses onto the table. "Can I get you ladies anything else?"
"I think we're good," Kate said as she handed the tab back to the server. Her eyes widened ever-so-slightly as something over Lena's shoulder caught her eye, and she glanced at Sara as she dismissed the server with a rushed, "Thanks."
The urge to turn around and see what had caught Kate and Sara's attention was nearly overpowering, and the fact that they looked like they had gotten caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar only added to it, but Lena managed to resist it until an achingly familiar voice called, "Kate, Sara, there you are! Sorry I'm late, I had a"
Sara recovered first, her expression shifting from oh shit to happy in the blink of an eye. She picked up her beer and took a small sip, her demeanor so nonchalant that, if Lena hadn't noticed the way she had reacted a moment before, she might have bought it. "Don't worry about it. We were just talking to Lena. Lena, this is our friend Kara we were telling you about."
Now Lena had to look, and she was glad to see that Kara looked as shocked as she felt. "Hello, Kara," she murmured, channeling Sara's faux nonchalance as she took a healthy swallow of whiskey. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Lena! I Yeah. Sorry. I didn't I mean, you usually " Kara's jaw clenched as she shook her head and, when her eyes cut to Sara and Kate, there was a steel to her gaze that made the women flinch.
Lena didn't know if she should be offended or grateful that Kara avoided looking at her as she stalked around the table to her friends. She arched a brow when Kara clapped them each on the shoulder hard enough to make them wince as she said, "Lena doesn't need you two bothering her."
"Oh, do you two know each other?" Sara said, continuing her busted charade.
Really, Lena thought, Sara's dedication to her role was rather admirable, and she had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling at the way Kara, instead of playing along, hauled the women to their feet.
Any hint of amusement she was feeling, however, disappeared in an instant when sad blue eyes finally lifted to look pleadingly at her and Kara murmured, "I'm sorry."
She said that a lot, lately.
And, even though Lena knew their current situation was largely Kara's fault, it was getting harder and harder for her to not say it back. Because, like it or not, she understood why Kara had chosen to continue to hide her truth when revealing it risked landing them in the situation they found themselves in now. Could sympathize with Kara's decision to do whatever it took to selfishly hold onto something precious, when she would have been sorely tempted to do the same.
Lena sighed. That level of introspection was just too much after the day she had. Never mind the fact that Kara's reaction to all of this was proof enough that Kate and Sara had been acting of their own accord. Though what that accord was, exactly, was beyond her, as they hadn't really mentioned Kara at all beyond the single mention of their friend who needed distracting.
"It's fine," Lena said, shaking her head. If anything, the pair had done a fine job of distracting her from her god-awful day, so she couldn't be too upset with their questionable meddling skills.
Kara's chin dipped in a tight nod, the muscles in her jaw working as she held Lena's gaze. The air crackled with the electric potential of something powerful enough to rattle what remained of the walls Lena had managed to erect around her heart, and Lena licked her lips as she looked away.
The might have been there was too raw, still, for her to face.
Lena dragged her gaze from the table to offer Kate and Sara a small smile as she said, "It was nice to meet you both. Thank you for the drink."
"You, too. Sorry about spilling that first one," Kate said, rolling her shoulders to knock Kara's hand free. "That really was an accident."
Lena didn't miss the way Kara allowed Kate to slip her hold but tightened her grip on Sara's jacket. Clearly, Kara considered Sara the instigator of the pair. Which, from their brief conversation, she had to admit seemed fair.
"I'll get these two out of your hair," Kara said, her eyes brimming with remorse as she gave Sara a gentle push toward the door. "Let you get on with your night."
"What about my drink?" Sara protested.
"I'll buy you another one somewhere else," Kara muttered.
Kate's lips twitched in apology, and she inclined her head as she murmured, "Maybe we'll see you around next time we're in town."
"Yeah! I'll bring Ava! We can do a game night or something!" Sara said.
Kara glanced at Lena, and there was no mistaking the longing that shone in her eyes. A heartbeat later, however, she looked away and was all but perp-walking her friends toward the door. Lena was sure Kara hadn't meant for her to overhear, but her heart leapt into her throat at the way Kara hissed, "I cannot believe you two did that! I told you guys to stay away from her when you're in town!"
"We were helping!" Sara insisted, not bothering to keep her voice down.
Though they were moving further away, Lena could just make out Kate's voice saying, "We really were trying to help, Kara. You've been so " the rest of her statement was lost to Lena's ears, but it wasn't hard to imagine what it had been.
Lena closed her eyes and took a deep breath, hating how much emptier she felt at Kara's departure. And, whether it was because she was exhausted, or because today was a day she should have been celebrating with Kara, or because Kate and Sara's easy familiarity reminded her of how things used to be between her and Kara, or maybe just that Karanot the caped superhero, but the semi-harassed, quirky, apologetic woman who had stood protectively in front of herwas too stark a reminder of who she was missing, she whispered, "Supergirl. If you can hear this, could you ask Kara to meet me on my balcony later? I'd really appreciate it. Say midnight? I don't want to interrupt her time with her friends."
Her phone buzzed almost immediately with an alert, and a warm shiver rolled down her spine when she saw Kara's name on her lock screen above the succinct replyI'll be there.
Lena downed the whiskey in her glass and gathered her things. Midnight was still hours off, but the crowded bar felt suddenly claustrophobic. She hailed an Uber as she got to her feet, and made her way toward the front of the bar to wait for her ride that, the app assured her, would arrive within minutes.
The crowd seemed to sense her mood as bodies moved out of her way before she'd drawn entirely near, providing an unobstructed path to the exit. She drew a deep breath as she stepped onto the sidewalk, and bit her lip as her gaze drifted skyward.
Kara wouldn't be there, of course. She was, Lena presumed, most likely still reading her friends the riot act. A hint of a smile tugged at her lips as she recalled the protective set of Kara's jaw when she'd "helped" her friends to their feet, but it faded as quickly as it came, chased away by the memory of cornflower blue eyes shining with indecision and regret.
A car pulling up to the curb drew her attention outward once more, and Lena shook her head as she climbed into the back seat, rattling off her address before she'd even pulled the door shut after herself. The driver, thankfully, was content to just shut up and drive, and Lena pursed her lips as she studied her reflection in the window.
Her expression carried the same bone-deep weariness she'd seen glimpses of on Kara's face before the hero had hidden it away, and she pressed a finger to the corner of her eye as she wondered how she hadn't seen it before. Granted, she had been fighting tooth and nail to hang onto her anger in all its righteous glory, but to be so blind to the effects that fight wrought?
Her hand fell to her lap, and she sighed. They'd been dancing around the inevitable and each other long enough. Kara had left the ball in her court, and it was time for her to choose. Did she want to forgive and attempt to craft a life with Kara as a part of it? Or did she want to revert to the life she'd been living before Kara had swooped in and torn her carefully constructed world asunder?
To Be Continued
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