Kara spots Lena out of the corner of her eye, a flash of pale skin against a cobalt peacoat entering the restaurant. Her gaze locks on her friend like a heat-seeking missile, losing track of William’s ongoing story in favor of watching the maitre’d assist in removing the cobalt coat to reveal the same off the shoulder dress Lena last wore to the Arbor Day Gala.
This time though, her hair isn’t swept into a french twist, but rather left long and loosely curled across one shoulder, pinned with glittering diamond studded clip. The resulting effect sucks the moisture from Kara’s mouth, stunned by the relaxed sensuality that emanates from Lena like a subtle perfume.
The second difference is the way Lena reaches for Andrea as soon as the maitre’d takes her coat as well, looping their arms together in a casual, elegant intimacy that makes Kara’s cheeks flush. She jerks her attention back to William, who hasn’t noticed her distraction, feeling as though she’d witnessed something she shouldn’t.
It turns out not to be much of a secret, however, when a voice bright with false cheer cuts through William’s ramble.
“Kara?! Wow, what are the chances?!”
Kara can’t help the slight skip in her heartbeat as Lena settles into one of the two open chairs at the table, greeting her like an old friend. Andrea gamely claims the second with quiet amusement in her eyes, tempering the reflexive hope that flares in Kara’s chest. She sits back as Lena leans in intently, clearly the master of whatever game she’s playing.
“I had no idea the two of you would be here tonight,” Lena gushes, her smile too wide for the glint in her eye. “Well, Mr. Dey, I commend your foresight, Mr. Dey. You must have had this on the books before you even came to National City! Their reservations have been booked solid for ten months.”
Kara blinks at that. She hadn’t realized.
“Either that, or a Pulitzer carries more weight than it used to,” Lena allowed with a sweetly doubtful purse of her lips.
Kara’s cheeks flush, but not for the reason William probably thinks. Only Lena knows how little a Pulitzer truly means.
“Speaking of which,” Lena continues, before William can respond, “I’m curious. What drew a Pulitzer winner such as yourself to a publication like CatCo?”
“You say that like CatCo doesn’t have its own Pulitzer winner on staff,” William returns congenially. Kara tucks her hands in her lap, studying them to avoid Lena’s gaze, but not quickly enough to miss her smirk.
“CatCo was covering different subject matter at the time. No offense to your new boss.” Lena shoots a charming smile to Andrea, who receives it with a smile of her own.
“None taken,” comes the breezy response. “You may have managed a Pulitzer, but the finances had seen better days.”
“Right. So, what brings Britain’s shining star to click bait central?” Again, she shoots Andrea a look. “No offense.”
“Uh huh,” Andrea hums into her wine glass, taking a deep sip.
Lena then turns expectantly to Will, eyebrows lifting in wait. It’s clear she’s expecting an answer, and won’t be moving on without one.
“At the time, CatCo was doing the kind of work I wanted to be a part of,” William allowed, before crafting a sheepish smile. “To be honest, the prospect of working for the great Lena Luthor was a compelling one.”
At that, Lena’s features crease into a sympathetic pout. “Shame about the hand off then. But honestly you’ve got the next best thing– Kara here knows everything there is to know. Don’t you, Kara.”
Kara’s cheeks flush with sudden offense at the light-hearted barb. “Lena–”
“So really, if you’d gotten these reservations in the hopes of some one-on-one time in order to grill your new boss with your questions regarding my brother’s role in your friend’s death, you could not have chosen a better substitute than Kara Danvers. She knows me better than I know myself.”
The table seems to freeze around Lena. Kara’s ears yawn as the seconds stretch. William looks like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, and even Andrea tunes in with abrupt focus, her gaze bouncing briefly between the two before settling on Will with entirely new, suspicious regard.
Lena shifts back in her seat, as though unaware of the effect she’s made.
“Well, the change in management is for the best I’m sure,” she delivers with cool, frictionless ease. “After all, a romance between my two star reporters wouldn’t have flown under my tenure.”
Anything else was pre-empted by the arrival of the maitre’d. “Your table is ready, madames.”
Lena grants him a delighted smile. “Excellent.” She turns back to the table. “We’ve taken enough of your time this evening.”
Andrea rises first, her gaze still locked on Will. “For tonight yes. But I’ll be taking more of yours tomorrow, Mr. Dey. Much more.”
When Lena also stands, Kara can’t help but reach. “It was good to see you,” she blurts, tilting her chin up towards her friend.
Her heart plummets when their eyes lock, and a cold gaze looks back at her from above a sour smile.
“What are friends for?”
The words hit Kara like a smack to the face. She blinks, stunned, as Lena pulls away and leaves them to an awkward silence.
“Look, I’m sorry about all that. Lena had no right to insinuate any of that–”
“She was right,” William blurts, almost breathless. “I thought I could do this, but clearly it’s no use.”
“Could do what?”
“I asked you out tonight to get close to you. So I could ask you about Lena. With her no longer at CatCo, you were my only connection–”
“So, you made me believe you liked me? So I would then… what? Tell you all her secrets?”
Will’s features darken with guilt. “I’m not proud of it–”
“No? Well, you should be,” Kara snaps. “I’m not an easy person to fool, but you certainly managed. With flying colors.”
Shoving to her feet, Kara grabs her purse and yanks it over her shoulder. She turns to leave, then turns back.
“What’s sad is, a few months ago you would have been in good company. I lied, for a reason I thought was worth the pain of one person. But I’m not that person anyone. At least, I don’t want to be.”
She speaks to William, but he isn’t the one Kara hopes is listening.
“Kara,” Will tries again, oblivious to Kara’s wish. “I– I’m sorry.“
The words pull Kara to a sharp pause. Her heartbeat staccatos in her ears, layering meaning and weight to every syllable. Williams apology feels genuine, but it means nothing against the shame of believing him interested in her company for her company alone, interested in her for herself alone.
What apology could ever make up for that?
With sudden clarity, Kara understands Lena’s scheme entirely. Undoubtedly she meant Kara to experience the shame alone, the embarrassment of having been so thoroughly duped. But the shame that fills Kara’s chest boasts another source entirely.
Calmly, Kara turns and meets her coworker’s gaze.
"Good bye, William.”
She leaves the restaurant with more grace she expects, and even as she steps alone into the night air there’s a buoyancy in her chest that lifts her heart with newfound hope.
William doesn’t need her forgiveness. She was nothing to him, and in truth he was nothing to her. Nothing but a possibility she feels no guilt letting go.
Her guilt stems from the loss of someone who does matter.
Pulling out her phone, Kara taps out a brief message and sends it off with a whoosh and a ding.
Message received, is all she says.
With those two words issued, Kara begins her walk home with a bounce her step, thoughts churning as to what her return volley to Lena will be. After all, she now knows first hand how hollow the words “I’m sorry” can be. Now she knows she’ll have to go further to win back Lena’s trust.
And she’s ready to do it, whatever it takes.