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The Depth of Darkness

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“They only let you be this happy if they’re preparing to take something from you.”

—Khaled Hossein

As elite agents of an intergalactic paramilitary force, members of the DEO were highly trained, uniquely specialized, and unwaveringly disciplined. Their work demanded of them secrecy, decorum, and reserve, as well as a level of detachment that would never allow them to indulge in the impropriety of emotional softness.

Therefore, something like the sight of Supergirl’s even more irrepressible happiness would never affect them in unallowably sentimental ways. They would simply go about with their duties, ignoring things like how, since Christmas, her boots barely touched the floor anymore or how their commanding officers indulged this behavior with expressions that noticeably bordered on joyful.

And when the agents sometimes let their attentions linger slightly too long or their expressions grow just a little less severe at the sight of their hero’s bliss? It was merely their way of confirming the continued positive status of her wellbeing—standard protocol for one of their own.

Just as it was completely standard protocol now for them to clear the deck the moment they heard the first decisive click of heels to hit the entrance tile—not that they feared the owner of said footwear. Inside the safety of the DEO, the woman they all knew publicly as the “Queen of All Media” shed the armor of that public image and willingly relinquished her weapons—sheathed her sharp tongue and dropped her shield of barbed words and withering glances.

Here, in this unexpected sanctuary for what was steadily growing stronger between Kara and her every day, the Queen abdicated to a version of herself that Cat had long thought lost in her perpetual need to be as many different people as possible before the end. This version of herself still held to that nascent notion of love that Cat had packed away after too much loss and heartbreak made the notion unbearable and unwanted. This version of herself, never allowed to grow bitter or hard but also never allowed to grow strong, terrified her.

And yet, all it took was the first sight of Kara, flipping over the edge of the second floor balcony and gliding excitedly across the foyer that agents left noticeably clear for her approach, to find the strength to keep that terror at bay.

Her face settled into a subdued counterpoint to Kara’s teeth-baring delight as she continued walking. The hero, however, knew there was a smile resting just beneath the surface of that beautifully unwavering poker face. “You didn’t have to get so dressed up just for me, you know.” Still not having landed, she floated backward in front of the CEO’s path before looping around her a few times in lazy circles. “Not that I mind, of course.” She allowed her gaze to shift appreciatively over the tailored amethyst dress that conformed perfectly to Cat’s body and the gray suede Louboutins that accentuated the impressive contours of her legs.

“While I am always delighted to bring a little color and couture to these drab institutional halls, I’m dressed this way for a meeting I have later at city hall.”

“Need a Super lift?” She waggled her eyebrows in a way that Cat knew would break her expression any moment if she kept watching.

“I have a more than satisfactory driver, thanks to Director J’onzz.”

In response, the hero spun another slow 360 around her, smiling as she did, “Yeah, but my way would make for a far more effective arrival.”

The CEO drew to a sudden stop, hands sliding up to settle high along the curve of her back in her familiar akimbo pose. “Floating around me like that, you’re like a sea otter in primary colors.”

The hero laughed while looping around Cat once more before touching down in front of her. Hands coming to rest on Cat’s hips, she replied, “Did you know that otters link paws, to keep from floating away from each other while they sleep?”

Cat could feel her lips twitch at the smile desperate finally to show itself. Of course Kara would know something like that. Instead, she forced her expression to remain neutral, throwing in an eye roll for good measure. Kara could see the warm golden glow in her eyes that would always betray her. “Truly the height of romance for furry creatures that perpetually smell like a rancid raw bar.”

Stepping close enough to feel the smaller blonde’s warmth mingle with her own, Kara wrapped arms completely around her and leaned in to gently nuzzle into soft golden curls. With a hum that shivered blissfully through Cat, she teased, “They are a bit limited in their access to body care products.”

Playfully poking a solid bicep, Cat looped her arms around Kara’s neck, drawing her flush against the hero. She smiled at the feel of Kara’s breath stuttering slightly. “You know how I feel about excuses, Kiera.”

Smile hidden in the smaller blonde’s thick tresses, Kara replied, “Of course, Ms. Grant. Excuses are a crutch for the ill-prepared, the poorly advised, and the improperly elected.” She trailed a line of kisses from clavicle to earlobe, smiling at the soft sigh she felt beneath her lips. “You taste delicious.”

Indulging in the moment, the CEO arched her neck to the side, humming contentedly at the feel of Kara’s continued exploration. “Coming from someone with as voracious an appetite as you, I’ll gladly accept the compliment.”

“You have no idea,” the hero murmured while swirling her tongue against the soft skin of Cat’s pulse point, a pleased smile crooking her lips at the feel of Cat’s shallow gasp.

Both knew the line of public impropriety that neither wished to cross, but there was something about this salacious level of contact they both craved unashamedly. “You’re going to get us banned from the DEO, darling.”

“Totally worth it,” she laughed, although it was enough to regulate her kisses back to something a little more appropriate to the setting.

Cat slid a calming hand down against Kara’s chest, taking a moment to breathe deeply for her own sake. Though not a fault of anyone in particular, the dearth of privacy between them since Christmas was definitely beginning to show its strain on both their patience.

An unexpected post-holiday return to D.C. to meet with Senator Crane’s cagey but ultimately worthwhile contact provided Cat with a jackpot of CADMUS financial revelations to confirm. However, it also led to delaying her return to National City until New Year’s Eve. By the time she and Carter arrived home late that afternoon, Alex was waiting on the tarmac to take the Grants back to headquarters by way of their home, and Kara was halfway around the globe, helping her cousin on what Lois had already warned Cat was an ultimately disappointing holiday for Kryptonians and anyone involved with them.

You’re going to grow to loathe fireworks was all the Metropolis reporter texted her.

Cat quickly ascertained the frustrating limits of the word loathe as she listened to Alex direct Kara and Kal-El to the fifth and sixth fire outbreaks respectively in the half hour since the agent had brought them to the DEO. “I didn’t think it was possible to doubt humanity’s competence any further after people started chugging cinnamon and snorting condoms.” She glared at the string of alerts that continued to pop up on the monitor, indicating all the places with reports of fireworks-related conflagrations.

“It’s actually a pretty slow start compared to last year.” Alex knew without looking the unimpressed glare Cat was giving. “And Kara has alleviated a great deal of the pressure on Kal-El now that she’s available to help him blow out the fires and provide rescue assistance.”

The reporter bit back the sarcastic reply poised on the tip of her tongue, realizing that what she wanted to view as a personal affront against her by the universe was ultimately nothing more than an inconvenience for her—but so much more for all those whom Kara and her cousin could save.

With a resolute quirk of her lips, she slipped out her phone, fingers tapping across her keyboard one line: New Year’s resolution: Take down fireworks industry before next New Year’s Eve.

She smirked at the three bouncing dots on her screen before they revealed the response: I’m in. We can start locally with July 4. You’re going to hate that holiday, too.

As she prepared to put away her phone, Cat noticed the bouncing gray dots appear again and actually snorted at Lois’s final text: Turnabout is only fair play, BTW. She is just as easy to tease as he is, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen him turn the color of his cape. Call me if you get bored. We can craft a new drunk text that would put our last one to shame—maybe even melt the Girl of Steel?

Cat archived the offer with wicked glee, since boredom never set in that evening thanks to Eliza’s arrival and Alex’s constant supply of scotch and sarcasm, which Cat noted was almost as acerbic as her own particular brand. Winn happily took over the role of entertaining Carter with a video game tournament that spread across several of the DEO’s wall-sized monitors. The CEO noted, however, the nervous, pondering glances her former IT tech cast her way throughout the evening.

A part of her thrilled at the thought of goading him until he jumped and fidgeted in a manner she’d never confess to finding endearing. However, Carter’s enthusiastic taking to the nervous, fumbling agent was enough to keep her from doing any more than depositing a tumbler of scotch next to him on her way back to Alex’s station. The surprised, grateful stuttering she heard behind her was more than adequate to sooth her usual provocative pique.

As midnight in National City approached, Cat and Carter joined everyone on the roof. The top of the DEO headquarters provided a satisfactory view of the portion of the night sky that would soon hold court to the city’s fireworks display, though not nearly as perfect as the view from CatCo, she mused. She scanned the area for the best place to stand only to be surprised by Alex and Eliza handing her and Carter DEO-issue jackets.

The agent shrugged. “You’ll appreciate the extra warmth,” she explained, a wry grin quirking her lips. Without further explanation, she strolled back to where Maggie waited for her, having gotten enough of a break from her own shift to enjoy a brief New Year’s respite with Alex. Eliza was just as reserved as her older daughter, offering only a knowing smile as she headed to join J’onn at the other side of the roof.

A thunderous boom sounded just off the horizon, followed by a rush of wind and the instant appearance of slightly sooty Kryptonians, reeking of gunpowder and barely able to suppress their matching brilliant smiles. Kara was first to float closer to the Grants, laughing coyly, “The coats work better when you actually put them on.” She tilted her head toward the sky. “It’s a little chilly up there tonight.”

Carter’s eyes widened so much his mother briefly worried about potential muscle strain. “We’re—we’re going to fly?”

Floating down to Kara’s side, Kal-El’s bright grin stood out even more prominently against a smudge of soot that Kara playfully wiped away with part of his cape. Cat actually laughed at the motion, noting how willingly Superman acquiesced to his cousin’s affectionate tending. With a subtle hitch of his brow and a quick clearing of his throat, Kal-El moved closer to Carter and rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Absolutely, Carter—as long as it’s all right with your mother, of course.”

“As if I would say no to the Man of Steel.” Hand resting on a hip jutted at a subtle angle, Cat eyed him with a suggestive arch of her brow that caused Kara to smirk knowingly behind him.

“You’re incorrigible,” the hero finally sighed after watching Kal-El help Carter into his coat and take once more to the skies, keenly avoiding eye contact with either woman as he did.

Cat remained silent for a moment, watching as her son ascended in Superman’s hold, his enthusiasm continuing to be audible even as they disappeared into the dark night. When she turned back to meet Kara’s gaze, she rolled her eyes at the way the hero was attempting to pull off a convincing glare. “My incorrigibility is one of my finer features, and you know it, Supergirl.”

She slipped quickly into her coat and even more quickly into Kara’s awaiting embrace, flinching instinctively and crinkling her nose at the acrid scent that permeated the hero’s hair and uniform. Kara caught the expression and the unexpected response, blushing apologetically. “Yeah, sorry about that. I think I’m going to need a week of showers to smell normal again.”

Fingers deftly slipping along the textured cobalt fabric along Kara’s sides, Cat offered, “Or perhaps all you need is someone else to help you scrub up.” She leaned closer, determined to ignore the triggering scent of gunpowder, and nipped firmly at the jut of Kara’s jawline. “I’d be more than willing to volunteer for the task.”

Anyone watching Kara’s takeoff at that moment would have observed a noticeable starboard list before she righted herself. Only Cat, however, was audience to the furious spike in body heat and audible swallow the smaller blonde’s comment evoked. “It’s not polite to distract your captain,” but beneath the chiding, Cat heard the want that thickened the hero’s voice.

Rising to a height just slightly colder than Cat would have preferred, Kara helped her shift so she could get a better view of the bay. And then she felt the heavy hug of Kara’s cape wrapping around her, cocooning her against Kara and collecting enough of the Kryptonian’s body heat to make her more than comfortable.

To their right, Cat caught sight of her son and Superman performing some kind of acrobatic feat that she knew better than to watch. Kara instantly understood. “I can tell Kal-El not to indulge him if you’d prefer.”

With a stilted shake of her head, she turned to meet Kara’s worried gaze with a grateful smile. “Carter’s enjoying himself, and I know where your cousin lives if he drops my son.” She leaned closer at the sound of Kara sniffing in amusement, deciding that listening to the heartbeat beneath her ear would be the best balm for her worry. Never mind the curiosity that flared at the thought of what it would be like to wake up hearing that sound unimpeded by clothing.

Kara felt Cat shiver again and wrapped her more snugly. The smaller blonde laughed to herself at the misplaced chivalry but put off any further thought at the sight of the first sprays of color to paint the onyx sky.

Backlit by the intermittent spark and sizzle of holiday pyrotechnics, Kara drew Cat close with a hand tangled in soft blonde waves. “Happy New Year, Cat.” This time, she knew what had caused the shudder that rippled through the woman in her arms as she ran her tongue along and then between Cat’s lips, the linger of scotch that awaited her sweet and familiar. She continued her exploration down to the sensitive skin of Cat’s throat long enough to feel the impatient growl that rumbled low and hungry beneath her tongue.

Hands unexpectedly grasping the hero’s face, Cat crashed their lips together, hissing at the solid contact with Kara’s deceptively pliant looking mouth. The copper tang of blood teased her taste buds but she pressed on, hell-bent on finding even a sliver of relief from the furious desire inside her.

Rolling her hips, she drew flush against Kara, a low keening slipping from her lips when Kara responded by sliding her leg between Cat’s thighs. Needful heat coiling deep within, she clenched her eyes shut, the lower part of her body moving in time with her shallow breaths as she rocked against the supple steel of Kara’s thigh.

The air around her grew colder as she realized on some level that Kara had taken them higher for more privacy. The smaller blonde forced herself at that moment to take a deep breath, willing the sharp cold in her lungs to clear her thoughts. It was then she felt the tentative brush of Kara’s fingers against the clasp of her belt. Opening her eyes, she met Kara’s longing gaze, appearing almost lit by some sharp internal spark.

Releasing the intense grip she had at some point unleashed on the hero’s bicep, she took Kara’s hand in her own. She lifted it to her lips, kissing along the hero’s knuckles and giving each of them enough time to settle back down from what Cat knew she shouldn’t have so eagerly instigated.

When she looked back into Kara’s eyes, no longer quite as bright as before, she quirked her lips pensively. “I suppose it would make me villainous if I tried to keep you from leaving again.”

Kara laughed, a low vibration deep within her chest. “If being the villain to my hero is your kink, we can give anything a try once.” Her laugh intensified at the way Cat’s eyes widened at first before narrowing lasciviously. Leaning back in, she continued to lose herself once more to the tantalizing press of Cat’s lips against her own.

Kissing Cat Grant was just as transcendental as Kara had always imagined it would be—and she had imagined it more times than even she could recall. Whether soothing or feverish, swift or leisurely, each kiss was unlike any Kara had ever experienced with anyone else. Something shifted inside her with every kiss, making each one more intense than the last until Kara imagined she could actually feel even the smallest details of the lips coaxing the most desirous moans from her.

The click of an opening comm link filtered through her blissful fugue, followed by her sister’s voice, noticeably tinged with apology. “Hey, Kara, we just received report of a massive explosion down in Ensenada.”

With a heavy sigh of frustration, Kara tapped her earpiece in acknowledgement. “Be there in a minute, Alex.” The suddenly tense lines of the body in her arms was all she needed to feel to know she wasn’t the only one definitely no longer a fan of fireworks. At that thought, she realized that the fireworks display there in National City had ended at some point without either woman realizing it.

Touching down on the roof, she waited until certain Cat had her footing before relinquishing her hold. Carter instantly ran to greet them, Alex moving in behind him. “Mom! Superman is so cool!” He blushed as the words left his mouth, quickly adding, “I mean, cool but different cool from you, Kara.”

The hero started to laugh, but halted at the sight of a frosty wisp of breath twisting up from her lips. Her puzzlement only deepened when she caught Kal-El studying her with a look of unexpected comprehension and noticeable uneasiness. She watched him lean in to whisper something to Eliza and she wanted nothing more than to eavesdrop. Alex’s voice, however, forced her full attention onto her sister.

“I’m really sorry, both of you. Kal-El was going to take this one on his own, but when we saw the satellite surveillance—well, it’s bad.” She reached out to grip Kara’s shoulder, startling at the flinch of muscle she felt in response. “You okay, Kara?” She eyed her sister with concern. “You’ve been going full-tilt for a while. Do you need a break? Maybe more food?”

Squirming under the worried looks coming from both Alex and Cat, she waved dismissively while pointedly moving out of Alex’s reach. “I’m fine—just a little punchy, I guess.” She hovered up slightly from the ground, turning her attention toward her cousin. “Kal-El, :dehdh vo uwedh.”

Cat watched in surprise as the Man of Steel fell instantly into place by Kara’s side. She noted as well how he kept looking peripherally toward Kara though pointedly avoiding making eye contact. “Ready when you are, Kara.”

With a curt nod, she glanced one final time at Cat before rising in tandem with Kal-El to a height safe enough to launch into full speed.

Alex looked over at Cat at the sound of the sigh that punctuated the familiar rush of wind and distant departing boom. Digging into one of the deep pockets of her cargo pants, she slipped out a flask and handed it to the smaller blonde. “For holiday emergencies only.”

Clicking her tongue but accepting the offer just the same, Cat took a healthy swig, grimacing at the feel of alcohol hitting the cut on the inside of her lip. “Where is Detective Sawyer?”

Black-clad shoulders hitched, but Cat recognized the tension that kept them from fully relaxing. “She only had a short break. She’s picking up for the colleague who took her Christmas shift.”

“And you’re here directing the international Kryptonian Blowout Tour.”

Alex smirked around the lip of the flask she’d accepted back from the CEO. “Someone has to keep them on track.”

Humming distractedly, Cat rubbed at the spot on her throat where Kara had most definitely left some form of mark. ”Who knew protecting the planet would be so sexually frustrating.”

Bourbon dribbled down Alex’s chin on the choked sputtering of a laugh she couldn’t contain. Without missing a beat, Cat clapped her on the back while admonishing, “Let’s not waste good alcohol, Agent Danvers. I believe it’s going to be the only thing keeping either of us warm this morning.”

As it turned out, however, the morning stretched into another full week of nothing more than stolen kisses as Cat and Kara each crisscrossed the skies, knowing that the ultimate “greater good” would always come first.

Cat tsked derisively to herself at the unintentional pun. Sometimes, she really hated puns.

With a resolute sigh, she rolled her neck to relieve some of the tension that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in the muscles between her shoulders. Stepping back from Kara’s embrace, she arched one brow knowingly before refocusing both their attentions on that morning’s order of business. “I appreciate your sister and Director J’onnz accommodating my last-minute scheduling of this meeting.”

“Of course. Must be something pretty big for you to have sent the request after midnight.” She studied the reporter hopefully.

Cat gave a small shake of her head. This was not something she wanted to divulge to Kara without her sister nearby. “In due time, Supergirl.” She smirked at the huff of disappointment while absently scratching at her left shoulder.

Instantly noticing where Cat’s fingers traced, Kara gave the area a quick X-ray scan. “You know everything is healed now from where Alex inserted the tracker, right? Your shoulder shouldn’t still itch.”

Flicking her fingers dismissively before lowering her hand once more to her hip, Cat replied, “Of course, I know it’s psychosomatic. It’s just taking some time to get used to being tagged like the focus of the latest Discovery Channel wildlife special.”

“Cat.” She immediately looked up at the sound of Kara’s voice, soft and anxious, meeting eyes that had catalogued the cosmos and still looked at her as if she were wondrous. “It—it makes me feel better, knowing that we can track you and Carter now.”

The smaller blonde acquiesced with a touch to the hero’s cheek, which brought an instant smile to her lips. She shifted slightly, her cape moving with an audible swish against the back of her boots. “I’d like you both to also have a way to signal me. Kal-El gave me the idea the last time he was in town—he reminded me of the watch he gave James back when they were both in Metropolis.”

“A watch?”

“Yes, but slightly more. Beneath the watch face is a button that, when pressed, activates a signal tuned to a frequency audible only to Kal-El and me—and possibly dogs,” she laughed, flushing slightly. “I’ve asked Alex if the DEO can design one for you and one for Carter.”

The casual shrug was all for show, of course. Cat knew she would wear the watch, wear whatever Kara asked of her if it would give the hero peace of mind regarding the safety of her son and herself. Still, she couldn’t resist asking, “But will mine come in Cartier?”

Laughing at what she knew was only a halfway teasing question, Kara began to respond, only to be cut off by the uninvited arrival and oblivious interruption that completely drowned out her words. “Kara, hey!”

“Mon-El.” Cat’s eyes narrowed at Kara’s voice, normally so bright and expressive, instantly flatlining at the utterance of the newcomer’s name. The hero glanced past him to the agent trailing behind the Daxamite, her smile a little more genuine. “Hey, Winn.”

“Hey, Kara.” He nervously waved at his former boss. “Ms. Grant.”

Before Cat could respond, Mon-El pushed on, “You’ve been avoiding our next training session.” He flexed his arms, a broad smile parting his lips. “Afraid of how it will look for Supergirl to be taken down by the new Superman?”

Watching how the lines on Kara’s face tightened the longer this unexpected intruder continued to speak, Cat placed her hands on cocked hips and hummed a tone of disdain that Kara knew instantly. Immediately, the hero turned her attention to the smaller blonde, a sense of excitement growing within her.

If indifference were a power, Kara was convinced that Cat Grant would be the greatest superhero in the universe. She watched in awe as the smaller blonde adapted the instantly recognizable dismissive expression she had witnessed Cat wield on many an occasion—equal parts withering and apathetic in a way that Kara could never quite figure how she balanced so perfectly.

“Montel, is it?” Before the Daxamite could collect himself enough to correct her, Cat moved on in her most unimpressed tone. “Allow me applaud the privilege that has made you impervious to the need for manners. It’s almost as stunning as all that sporadic facial hair. I’ll be sure to alert Abercrombie & Fitch that you’re available for their next brochure shoot.”

Mon-El’s expression shifted from confusion to indignation when he realized he had apparently been insulted enough that Kara and Winn both struggled to suppress amused laughter at his expense. However, Cat proceeded with no acknowledgement of his mood shift or the glare he now wore as he studied her.

“For the record, it’s impolite to intrude pointlessly when adults are conversing. However, allow me to respond to part of what you so arrogantly babbled. I’ve lived in both Metropolis and National City, which means I’ve enjoyed the privilege of protection from both our resident Kryptonians. I can say with full confidence that I have never once heard either of them refer to themselves in any sort of self-aggrandizing way. They simply see themselves as doing what they do because they can.”

She glanced over at Kara, her eyes raking appreciatively over her form in a way that made the hero blush in delight. “It’s part of their irresistible charm.” Her eyes shifted once more, pinning the Daxamite in place with a narrowed glare. “Needing to tell others you’re a ‘super man’ means you’ve actually not done anything that would lead others come to this conclusion about you themselves.”

She shrugged, waved one hand dismissively in his general direction. “I’m sure you have your own unique charms. Perhaps, though, you should spend less time trying to convince others that you’re impressive and more time learning how to actually be impressive. Oh, and investing in a razor. Feel how good it feels to shave.”

With a decisive quirk of her lips, Cat pivoted and departed, fingers surreptitiously gliding along Kara’s forearm as she passed. The hero’s smile grew, whether from the touch or from what she’d just witnessed, and she turned to watch the smaller blonde for several clicks of Louboutin heels. She knew many different Cat Grant walks by heart, and this one was Kara’s favorite: predatory with just enough suggestive sway to always leave Kara flustered and wanting to see more.

“I’m plenty charming,” the Daxamite finally managed to reply, clearly stunned by the way this woman had dared speak to him.

Winn shot him an amused look. “Yeah, okay.” He clapped the Daxamite on the shoulder. “You go with that, Mon-El.”

To Mon-El’s dismay, Kara didn’t even acknowledge that he had spoken at all. Without turning to either man, she instead waved in their general direction, muttering something about seeing Winn later before following after Cat, the pull of the smaller blonde too great even for her to resist.

“Who the hell does she think she is?”

“Cat Grant,” Winn replied, “knows who she is. I wouldn’t even bother trying to compete with her for Kara’s attention. You might as well be back on Daxam when she’s around, as far as Kara’s concerned.”

The Daxamite sneered. “But she’s human.”

Winn couldn’t suppress the frown at this sentiment. “First off, that’s probably not the tone to use when referring to the inhabitants of the planet you now call home. Secondly, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Cat Grant will ever give a damn what you think of her—but Kara will care. You might want to tone down that attitude if you don’t want to feel what it’s like to train with Kara at her full strength—because you know she holds back with you, right, Superman?”

The IT tech snorted in satisfaction at Mon-El’s glare before he strode away once more, pausing long enough to watch with a wistful smile as Kara caught up with Cat. The hero cheekily scooped up the smaller blonde and floated them both to the second floor conference room, Cat’s rather undignified squeak of surprise making Winn break into a genuinely happy laugh.

Inside the solitude of the conference room, Cat turned her narrowed jade gaze upon the face now perfectly level with hers. “You know how I feel about these unprovoked demonstrations of brute strength.”

Below the barest attempt at irritation, Kara heard the breathlessness aroused by the press of her biceps and forearms, still wrapped around lissome shoulders and beneath the bend of graceful legs. “Yes,” she conceded, “I do.” She nuzzled against the CEO’s neck, filling her lungs with the distinctive fragrance of the woman in her hold. “Which is why I keep doing them.”

Drawing the hero’s attention with a hard scratch of nails against her scalp, Cat sighed, “Put me down, Supergirl—unless you want to add exhibitionism to your repertoire.”

“Promises, promises,” she laughed while carefully setting the CEO back down to balance on those impossibly high heels.

The tangle of strong fingers in her hair halted the hero’s movement. Looking into Cat’s eyes, a private world built in the connection where cerulean sky met jade forest, Kara felt her mouth gape slightly at the intensity in Cat’s opalescent gaze. “Do I keep my promises?”

Licking at suddenly desert-parched lips, she nodded, voice tripping over the syllable switch of her one-word reply: “Always.”

“Best to keep that in mind then.” The words breathed directly into the hero’s mouth, lips following closely behind, to seal in the promise with a focused fire that flickered through her skin, turned her marrow molten.

Eyes fluttered in the darkness behind closed lids, Kara focusing on steadying everything that shuddered and shook within her under the attentions of the woman still wrapped in her arms. It often seemed unreal—had to be an illusion, a lie, a dim remnant of Black Mercy’s poison, finally reaching her brain. And yet the solid feel, the permeating heat, the intoxicating scent of Cat Grant engulfing her like the perfect storm she was somehow always made the unreal of it all make sense.

The comm line clicking open in her ear dragged her back into focus, J’onn’s voice sharp and clear in her ear. ”Supergirl, please report to the loading dock. Agent Danvers could use your help to make it in time to our meeting with Ms. Grant.”

With a tap against her earpiece, Kara replied, “Be right there, sir.”

She smiled as Cat moved without comment from her hold and settled into one of the conference room chairs. “Duty calls, Supergirl” and she waved the fingers of one hand toward the door while pulling her phone from her bag with the other.

Kara moved close and leaned in for a kiss before floating back toward the door. A thought occurred to her and she rotated in midair to once more face Cat. “Coffee?”

The smaller blonde quirked her lips without looking up while flipping through her emails. “You know how I like it.”

She resolutely ignored the sound of the doorjamb cracking against Kara’s shoulder as the hero drifted into it, distracted as she was, less by Cat’s statement than by the licentious tone in which she stated it. She did, however, smirk at the sound of Kara muttering an apology, whether to her or to the splintered wood, before floating quickly out of sight.

Cat settled into the lull of the DEO’s silence, able to focus on the series of messages she had received since arriving. Several pertained to CatCo, including a response from James to her alert that she was in town and expecting to have something potentially newsworthy to share with him before the end of that day. Her lips quirked into what she would staunchly deny was a smile at how focused and responsive her acting CEO had become since her encouragement to him to focus.

While reading a message from one of her contacts with whom she would be meeting soon, she noticed the whisper of movement from the doorway. “I swear, I’m buying you a bell.”

A laugh, decidedly male, was the first thing to finally draw Cat’s full attention, followed by the appearance of a mug before her, billowing with steam. “Your coffee, Ms. Grant—scorching hot and absolutely no whole milk involved at all this time.”

The blonde’s head swiveled up instantly, gaze locked on the face of the DEO director. His expression offered no immediate revelations, but a sudden spark of red in his eyes that then morphed into Kara’s entrancing blue and back to the dark gaze of Hank Henshaw caused her breath to catch in her throat. “You must be a riot at parties, Director,” she finally murmured as she accepted the mug.

J’onn offered a controlled smile while taking a seat diagonal from Cat. “I’m sure I would be quite a hit. Too bad I’m not much for social gatherings.”

Cat hummed as she took a long pull from her coffee, reveling in its perfect burn. “So, was that also you behind that Supergirl parlor trick Kara pulled on me?” She quirked her lips at the ghost of a smile that appeared at her question. “Right. Well, you should really consider honing your impersonation of Kara Danvers. Mazel tov, though, on how well you worked the Super skirt.”

Cat succeeded in earning a full laugh from the Martian. “The skirt is surprisingly comfortable. However, I try not to make a habit of impersonating my operatives on a regular basis. Those were both instances of extenuating circumstances.”

“And what were the extenuating circumstances behind you bumbling through that abhorrent impersonation of my former assistant?”

“Kara was under attack from an alien parasite.” Pained memories tightened his expression. “We nearly lost her.”

Muscles rippled along Cat’s throat at J’onn’s blunt confession. “And how often have you almost lost her?” She frowned at the roughness she heard in her voice.

“Too often for my preference,” he conceded. Not wanting to dwell on the darker memories of that day, he pressed on, “I have to admit that having to go toe-to-toe with you that day was just the distraction I needed.” He huffed in amusement when Cat tipped her coffee mug in an imaginary toast. “You’re quite formidable, Ms. Grant.”

“That’s probably the nicest description I’ve heard in a while. Truth is, I’m—what I need to be, Director. Success isn’t handed to the demure in my business. And when you’re a woman who started out as a gossip columnist, the only things you are handed are insults and insinuations.” She cocked her head slightly, studying the borrowed face before her. “Then again, you’ve probably learned far worse about humanity.”

J’onn bowed his head slightly in consideration. “I haven’t always looked like this since my arrival on Earth. However, even in the short time I have assumed this form, I can attest that it has been—revealing. My experiences as Hank Henshaw haven’t been all negative, though. Besides, I have experienced and witnessed far worse in my time here. There is still much further for humanity to go, but things have improved.”

“How long have you been on Earth?”

With a smirk, he teasingly replied, “Long enough to have seen independence come to your shores.”

He smiled at the glimmer of journalistic pique he saw flare within the reporter’s gaze. “I suppose you wouldn’t be at all interested in sharing some of your stories with CatCo magazine, hmm?” She laughed at his amused smirk. “Can’t fault me for trying.”

“Perhaps one day. However, I believe Supergirl is a far better public face for the alien experience here on Earth.”

“Because she’s a pretty, young blonde?” Cat clicked her tongue in mock disappointment. “Et tu, Director?”

J’onn closed his eyes, concentrating on morphing into his true form. When he refocused on the woman across from him, he was surprised to see that her expression hadn’t altered at all at the sight. “You do have a most impressive poker face, Ms. Grant,” he teased, his voice now distinctly layered by his true vocal chords.

Cat shrugged her slim shoulders, lips quirked pensively. “I won’t insult you with some treacly Afterschool Special message about how all that matters is ‘what’s on the inside.’ We both know that if that were true, I wouldn’t spend nearly as much as I do to maintain all this,” she teased, gesturing vaguely to herself with a half smirk that caused J’onn to chuckle. “But right now,” and she gestured this time to the alien visage watching her, “all I see is the face of someone who has placed himself in significant peril to protect people we both care about a great deal.”

Silence passed between them for several beats as J’onn let Cat’s words settle—let the surge of her unspoken emotions wash over him. He had known her truth since that day, standing in her office, failing right away in his masquerade of a woman he realized too late that Cat Grant knew with an unanticipated intimacy of detail, and struggling to withstand the raging storm of frustration and confusion that churned within her each time he faltered in his ruse. And beneath it all, roiling and wild, was the deafening roar of all he knew he should not—of her protectiveness, of her silent complicity, of her desire.

He’d known and he’d done the only thing he could—he’d forced her to push him away, unable any longer to learn so intimately what she was unwilling yet to accept. Instead, he’d retreated and, when Kara had recovered and returned to Cat’s side, he’d bid his time, accepting this was not his truth to tell. Sometimes, the worst part of knowing was the patience required to wait for the truth to finally come to light.

“I had two daughters once, many lifetimes ago by human standards. I lost them both in—in one of the worst ways a parent can ever lose a child. They can never be replaced within my heart, but the love that I never got to show them, I gladly give to Alex and Kara.”

The CEO tilted her head ever so slightly, her expression purposefully controlled. “All this time among humans hasn’t dissuaded you from investing emotionally in our insignificant mortality?”

The Martian allowed the thoughts behind her inscrutable countenance to fill his mind—the shame in her human frailty and the guilt in her inability to protect Kara from the sorrow that this finite fragility would ultimately bring her. “There is nothing insignificant about your mortality, Ms. Grant. The brevity of human existence fuels you all with a vibrancy to which those like me are drawn. Our longevity would be a sentence rather than a gift without it.”

“And what about the misery we inflict when our vibrancy burns out?”

J’onn watched the pain of deeper understanding flicker in gold and green. “No one is immune to the heartbreak of loss. Yes, those like me and like Kara must bear more because of our unique circumstances. However, the pain is temporary in comparison to what you leave us in return.” He observed her querulous frown. “What you think are fleeting moments will continue to brighten our lives long after the pain recedes.”

Her gaze shifted, voice lowered in penance. “It’s all so unforgivably selfish of us, though, isn’t it? To expect you to bear so much for what equates to nothing more than—than a day or two of your lives?”

“My wife and daughters are still the first faces I see whenever I close my eyes, and they have been gone from me for centuries.” He watched the weight of his admission settle within her. “You are already an integral part of her tapestry, Ms. Grant. Do not let anything dissuade you from making your mark as vibrant and bold as you can.”

At the sound of hard-soled boots landing against the floor outside the conference room, Cat straightened in her seat, swiping a knuckle surreptitiously beneath her eye. Clearing her throat, she softly stated, “I will take that under careful advisement, Director.”

The Martian merely nodded before focusing on the sound of the Danvers sisters now entering the room, heads bent close in laughter. At the sight of J’onn in his true form, however, both sisters faltered slightly, joy breaking across Kara’s face like sunrise while Alex blinked slowly, curiously.

After an inquisitive hitch of her brow toward the director, she quickly schooled her expression, but not before Cat caught the briefest flash of admiration shot in her direction. The agent slipped into the chair beside her sister, who continued to observe the director with a look of unchecked delight. “Something on your mind, Supergirl?”

Lips quickly pressing together to suppress the joy that rose in her throat, she adamantly shook her head, determined to play along. “Not at all, Director. Just—really enjoying the view today.”

The Martian allowed a hint of a smile, deciding in the moment to refrain from shifting back to his adopted human form. With a nod toward the reporter across from him, he indicated, “Ready when you are, Ms. Grant.”

Cat sat forward, interlacing her fingers atop the table, her expression noticeably hardening. “There’s a new complication: Maxwell Lord.”

“Lord?” Alex bristled. “He’s part of CADMUS?”

“No,” Cat assuaged. “He can be a smug bastard, but even he has higher moral standing than to collude with Lillian Luthor. Unfortunately, according to a rather obdurate confession on his part, he has been one of CADMUS’s recent targets. Two weeks ago, they succeeded in hacking into Lord Technologies systems and gaining access to everything—even information he kept under his highest-level encryption. Max did a magnificent job of hiding the attack from the media, mainly because of the implications. CADMUS now has all of his research, including things not officially supported by Lord Technologies.”

“Bizarro.” Alex inhaled sharply at the next realization, already being voiced beside her.

“Red kryptonite.” She turned her attention to Kara, whose panic levels she could see were already threatening to overwhelm her.

Alex swung around in her chair, grabbing hold of Kara’s hands and gripping them as tightly as she could. “Hey, hey, look at me, Kara. It’s okay.”

Fright-filled blue eyes already streaming with tears focused on the brunette. “No,” she argued, voice breaking sharply from trembling lips. “What I did—to you and to Cat—what I did was so horrible, Alex. I-I can’t—I can’t go through that again.”

“You’re not going to. We have the antidote to red kryptonite, remember? We have proof that it works. We will synthesize enough that every agent who goes on any mission with you will have access to it. We will not let you out there without someone being able to protect you, Kara. I swear it.”

The hero shook violently where she sat, Alex’s words lost to the cacophonous flood of disjointed memories and acrid guilt. “I destroyed so much.” She looked past Alex, not quite able to meet Cat’s gaze. “I could have destroyed everything.”

“Hey.” Her sister’s gentle voice made her feel even more undeserving. “We talked about this, Kara. None of that was your fault.”

“Your sister is right.” Kara finally struggled to meet the gaze of the woman across from her. More memories surged unbidden—of Cat’s body, so fragile and light in her grip, of Cat’s screams piercing the night on her rapid descent from her office balcony where Kara had stood. Watching. Calculating, while somewhere deep beneath the inescapable press of anger, she screamed in tandem with the voice her hearing kept in perfect volume the entire time Cat plummeted.

And now, as her focus blurred beneath flowing tears, she could see the resolute expression on Cat’s features: I will never blame you for what you couldn’t control.

Shame sparked deep and strong, drove her to her feet and launched her from the room in a Technicolor blur that left Cat breathless, searching pointlessly for traces of the now-gone hero.

“Goddammit!” The muted thump of flesh against granite jostled the reporter, drew her focus back inside the room. Alex stood now, both fists clenched against the conference room table, her eyes bright with fury.

The Martian stood and gripped Alex’s shoulder, willing the brunette to regain her focus and center herself. “I will follow her, Alex. Don’t worry. I will bring her home.” Without waiting for her reply, J’onn slipped from the conference room, gliding down toward the bay doors through which Kara had just departed.

Cat silently watched the brunette circle between her and the conference room exit several times, rage radiating from her in almost palpable waves. When her fury was right at its breaking point, she reached for Cat’s now-empty mug, shocked at the feel of the reporter’s hand tightly holding her wrist. Tone warning but eyes full of compassion, she stated, “I am not in the mood to have ceramic shards removed from any part of my person, Alex.”

Alex ignored her first inclination to pull away, to let herself rage, to smash what she could because what she wanted to smash was intangible and inseparable from memories bright and good and kind of her sister—

“We have never been sisters. We don’t share blood.”

—now tangled with the crimson-tinged trails of taunting darkness—

“I can fly. I can catch bullets with my bare hands. And that makes you feel worthless.”

—and snarled thorns that left scars of sorrow across her heart.

“Deep down, you hate me. And that’s why you killed my aunt.”

Eyelids slipping shut in a desperate attempt to fight back the oncoming tears, Alex dropped despondently into the nearest chair. Giving the brunette a moment to calm down, Cat leaned her elbow against the table and rested her chin between her thumb and forefinger.

As she studied Alex’s broken expression, unbidden images from CatCo news coverage of that night rose in Cat’s mind: Supergirl hovering above an agent huddling against the wheel of a black SUV while protectively clutching her arm. That same agent shooting Supergirl in the back only to drop to her knees beside the fallen hero, leaning protectively over her prone body as though daring anyone to try to approach—to try to take the hero away from her.

“It was you.” At the responding look of confusion, she pressed on, “You were the agent J’onn revealed himself to save that night. You were the one who helped him stop Kara.”

Tears finally slipped from Alex’s eyes at the memories of that night—of Kara’s contemptuous words and merciless gaze, her veins pulsing with infectious red kryptonite as her eyes began to flare white-hot.

“Nothing on Earth can stop me.”

She could still taste the bitter rush of adrenaline, still feel her muscles clenching in fear of what it would feel like to be incinerated by the one person in the whole universe she loved and trusted the most.

“Kara—Kara was—she had almost completely lost control by then. She couldn’t fight what was happening to her.” She wrapped her arms protectively around herself, although Cat still caught the shiver that visibly shook the agent.

“I’ve never heard the full story on what happened to her.”

Alex shifted uneasily. “It’s—it’s pretty much all there in the DEO report on file.”

“I’ve not read that report.” At the surprise in Alex’s expression, Cat admitted, “It wasn’t something I was quite prepared to experience again.”

In nightmares that plagued her for weeks after that night, she’d done nothing but relive those moments—cold, merciless gaze, cruel curl of lips and wounding words, bruising grip and the petrifying roar of wind that devoured her screams as she plunged interminably.

Every night, she awoke, sweat-drenched, breathless, and clawing for the Lexapro she’d once more gotten in the habit of keeping on her bedside table. Not since the darkness of distant days sequestered in her home by anxiety that lodged beneath her skin like shrapnel had Cat relied so heavily on medicinal relief.

Blowing air between her compressed lips, the agent squared her shoulders and absently brushed away the tears staining her cheeks. “You know about kryptonite?”

The reporter gave a curt nod. She'd read everything in and linked to the report on the dual Metallo attacks—not to mention whatever she'd picked up while living in Metropolis. She bristled at the intolerable cruelty of a universe that would destroy a young girl’s whole world and then turn even the remnants of that world into another way to inflict suffering upon her. “I take it the DEO’s tracking and collection of real kryptonite is what led Max to try to synthesize it for himself?”

Fierceness flickered in Alex’s eyes at the mention of Lord, and Cat imagined if he were there at the moment, his head would already be well acquainted with the granite table before her. “He claimed it was to protect us from Non and his followers. There was a miscalculation in his formula, however, and instead of it weakening Kara on a cellular level like actual kryptonite, it—it altered her brain chemistry, removed all the fail safes that normally keep us from acting on our darker impulses.”

Cat clicked her tongue derisively. “I'm amazed the DEO didn’t hide Max's body somewhere it will never be found after that.”

The reporter caught the faintest hesitation before Alex replied, “He actually created the antidote that helped us stop Kara.”

“How kind of him to help fix his fuck-up.” A small grin played along Alex’s lips. Beneath the anger and profanity, she saw once more the fierceness of Cat’s loyalty and care for her sister.

“As much as I am in agreement with you on this, I’m still indebted to Max.” A haunted cast darkened the brunette’s gaze as she looked down at her hands, once more clenched into fists against the tabletop. “Even with his antidote, I almost missed my chance to save Kara.”

“Kara hurt you that night.”

“She broke my arm.” She broke my heart. Alex pushed past the unspoken thought and resettled her attention on Cat. “She hurt you as well.”

Cat tried to brush aside the agent’s statement with her practiced flippancy. “She made me realize how idiotic it was for me to want to locate my company in the tallest building in National City.”

“Cat.” The severe way Alex spoke her name caused Cat to focus quickly on the brunette across from her. Her breath hitched at the sight of the message in that dark, haunted gaze: Do not dismiss this with me.

“Fine. She scared the hell out of me.”

At the sound of Cat’s admission, Alex relaxed her fists, pressing her palms against the cool granite beneath them. “You’ve never gotten the chance to talk with Kara about that night.”

Cat shook her head, catching Alex’s pointed emphasis. Maintaining the ruse of unknowing had never been more difficult for Cat than in the days following Kara’s return to work after her recovery. Every day was spent feeling Kara watching her constantly, her gaze dark with such self-loathing that Cat’s only desire was to do whatever it took to return as much normalcy as she could to the broken hero. 

Eyes full of understanding, Alex conceded, “It's not an easy conversation—but I think it's one she needs to have with you. She hurt both of us, more deeply than she hurt anyone else while she was under the influence of red kryptonite. I know she still carries that guilt inside—that right now, even, she’s somewhere convincing herself that what she did to us makes her unworthy of our—compassion.” She flushed slightly at her noticeable hesitation.

“Well, then it falls to us not to let her.” Shifting the conversation back, Cat queried, “This antidote that Max created—you have faith it will protect her?”

The hard swallow was all the answer Alex didn’t intend to offer, but all that Cat needed—and feared. “Max left us with the formula, so even if it doesn’t work in its current form, we have what we’ll need to find a version that does work. I’m going to show it and the formula for red kryptonite to my mom and see if she can help me start to postulate a variety of alternative formulas.” Forcing assurance into her expression, she finished, “We will be ready for whatever Dr. Luthor is planning.”

“I hope you’re right, Alex—because Lillian seeking out red kryptonite specifically has damning implications.” An unsettling shadow darkened the reporter’s expression. “One of the things Colonel Harper told me when I met with him was that his attempt to transfer you and J'onn to CADMUS was mainly to lure Kara into saving you. Lillian was depending on two events happening the night of the transfer: that Supergirl would try to retrieve you both and be captured in the attempt, and that the people of National City wouldn’t care when Supergirl disappeared.”

Realization of why National City wouldn’t have mourned the disappearance of the Kryptonian at that point in time carved anger into Alex’s heart. “She’s going to turn the city against Kara again.”

“She’s going to try.” Hearing the spark of defiance in Cat’s voice, Alex nodded, resolution settling through her posture in the span of a slow blink.

Checking her watch, Cat rose, with Alex quickly following her lead. Dark eyes flickered toward the doorway as if wishing she could conjure Kara’s presence with a look. “I'm sorry she ran.” 

The CEO waved aside the apology. “Kara already apologizes too much as it is. Don’t you start, too. She was understandably upset. We'll just need to work on her flight reflex later. I wish I could stay until she returned, but I need to make this appointment.” 

“I'll keep her here when she comes back.” Cat smiled at the adamant statement, knowing damn well that if anyone could make good on it, it would be Alex.

The two women moved from the conference room together, but Alex paused at the top of the stairs. With a glance down at Cat's heels, she teased, “Do you need a lift back downstairs?”

The familiar Cat Grant temperament instantly flashed in golden flecks, but Alex could see the amused curl of her lips. “Careful, Agent Danvers. I have outpaced Olympians in heels higher than these.”

Chuckling at the statement, Alex remained at the top of the stairs, watching in admitted awe as Cat maneuvered the steps with impressive agility, her staccato clicks echoing through the main hall in her wake.

Chapter Text

Test Subject CDS-17-009

Rusty rollers screeched in protest as the loading bay door dropped with clangorous speed, causing her to flinch at the jarring sounds. Pressing her fingers against the clusters of pain behind her temples, she closed her eyes and wished yet again that she hadn’t drunk quite as much champagne as she had during her latest “soiree.”

Then again, sometimes the alcohol was the only thing that kept her in high enough spirits to make it through schmoozing the rich and famous of National City out of however much she could convince them to wager on her intergalactic gladiators. And what used to be an effortless endeavor now felt like actual work—something she had prided herself in avoiding all these years—thanks to the interference of the city’s resident Kryptonian.

A sneer tugged at her upper lip as she considered yet again the enviable potential she would love to harness within the Girl of Steel—all the money and more to be had within that unbreakable body. If only she could convince the Kryptonian she was wasting all her incomparable strength and skills in protecting the unworthy—people who would turn on her without hesitation if she fell out of line with their rigid expectations.

Instead of playing superhero, the Maid of Might could be Roulette’s main attraction, not to mention her ticket to legitimacy. Supergirl would be precisely what she would need to bring her business out of the shadows, become something the masses would pay handsomely to devour. The marketing possibilities alone would be breathtaking. 

Pipe dreams were a terrible indulgence, however, particularly on no sleep, no food, and a stomach awash in the bitter tang of too much champagne. Sighing audibly, she swung open her door for some air and rubbed more fiercely at her temples, her teeth gritting together against the pain.

At the distinct feeling of someone staring at her, she reopened her eyes and snapped at the figure moving toward her from the back of the loading bay, “Hurry up and get this thing unloaded. I’m in dire need of aspirin and sleep.”

“And more than one outfit.”

Eyes narrowing into a hard glare, she sneered, “Pass on the fashion advice from a man who looks like he’s auditioning for the all-cyborg Phantom of the Opera.

With a feral snarl, Henshaw ripped away the covering that hid his mutilated face and the exposed endoskeleton beneath. At the sight of his ocular implant glowing blue, Roulette slid out of the van and moved directly into his line of fire. “Go ahead, Henshaw. Just let me live long enough to hear your bungling attempt to explain to Dr. Luthor why you murdered her guaranteed supplier because you’re a thin-skinned bastard.”

“That will be enough from both of you.” Soft heels clicked languidly through the shadows before the striking form of Lillian Luthor emerged before them. “I don’t need to listen to either of your posturing this early in the morning.” She nodded toward the back of the panel van. “Is it the one I requested?”

“The Malacandrian, yes. He was one of my best fighters, mind you.” The sultry cadence of her voice only served to remind Luthor of how hard Veronica Sinclair tried at all times to invoke a particular persona—how even as one of Lena’s limited number of school associates (the girl never really made friends, which was one of the few tolerable traits about her), she always made certain to impress upon others an image that never quite fit as properly as the complementary wardrobe selections she made. “Not much can protect you against an opponent who can shoot venom.”

Luthor hummed in thought. “I would have preferred the Dorlian who can spit acid. I understand from witness accounts that he has extraordinary range and regenerative speed, but Supergirl had to interfere with that.” She slipped an envelope from her coat pocket. “And I assured you I would compensate you for your loss. I always keep my word.”

Accepting the envelope and glancing quickly at the bills packed within, Roulette smiled, “Don’t you want to check your merchandise before paying me?”

“You have yet to fail me, Ms. Sinclair. I doubt you will start now.” She waved toward Henshaw. “Get him secured in OR 3. We’re going to start right away.” She arched a questioning brow at the woman beside her. “I assume he’s properly dosed with what I gave you?”

“Every last drop. He won’t be waking up any time soon.” At the telling expression to morph Luthor’s features, Roulette smirked. “Or ever again, apparently.” Her shoulders rose indifferently. “A small bit of justice for the guard he took out before we could subdue him.”

The doctor smiled darkly. “His sacrifice was for an honorable purpose.”

“Care to share?”

The line of tolerance Luthor drew for Roulette moved ever closer, causing the doctor to grow noticeably impatient with her continued attempts at conversation. “Not at this present time, no.” She slipped a piece of paper from her pocket and extended it to Roulette. “However, I do have another request for your assistance. It’s a bit different from what you typically help me procure, but I have faith in your resourcefulness.”

Reading the name and location on the accepted paper, Roulette’s perfectly angled brows instantly drew together. “This sounds like a human name, and this is most definitely a humans-only location.”

“Very astute on both accounts, Ms. Sinclair.”

“You want a human currently checked into National City’s most private psychiatric facility.” Her laugh was completely humorless. “I’m a bit lost as to how you think I have the connections to pull off a breakout job like this.”

“I don’t want you to break him out. His latest medication adjustment is almost complete. I need you to wait for him to leave on his own before you capture him. Make a deal with one of your losing fighters that they can avoid coming to me if they bring you this man, unharmed.”

“This isn’t going to have the police seeking out my gatherings again, will it? I’m just starting to win back the trust of some of my more skittish but equally lucrative guests.”

Luthor focused on the rolling curves of the snake tattoo that wrapped around Roulette’s body, pushing back the irritation she felt rising within her. Breathing deeply, she finally replied, “Choose someone capable of discretion and you won’t have to worry about anyone noticing anything. Besides, only one person will be looking for an update on his status, which staff will satisfy once they release him. After that, he will need to make one more appointment and then he can disappear without anyone noticing for at least a month. By then? He will hopefully have already served me well.”

She removed another envelope from her coat pocket and handed it to Roulette. “And because I know this is a request well outside your normal level of assistance, I’m willing to double what I have paid you for the Malacandrian.”

Slipping the envelope from Luthor’s hand with a provocative grin, Roulette sighed, “Looks like I’m branching out in my services.” Sliding back into the cab of the panel van, she put on sunglasses and smirked at Luthor. “Be sure to give my regards to Lena.”

Waving to one of her guards to reopen the bay doors, Luthor smiled coolly. “I’ll be sure to let her know during our next mother-daughter lunch.”

With an amused huff, Roulette slammed her door shut and sank back into the passenger seat. Staring out the window at the surrounding emptiness reminded her just how far away from her condo—and, more importantly, her bed—she actually was. With a displeased sigh, she waved at her driver, “The faster you get me home, the larger your reward.”

As the van pulled away, Henshaw reappeared by Luthor’s side. “How does he look?”

“His vitals look normal and your assistants are prepping him for initial scans now.”

“Good. We only have a short amount of time to understand how his venom sacs operate and attach. I also would like to see if it is possible to stimulate faster regeneration of his venom reserves. It wouldn’t do for our gift to run out of juice before he completed his job.” She frowned as she considered the intricacies of what she was planning. “Hopefully, the similarities between Malacandrian and human physiology will outnumber the differences enough that this transplant will be even a short-lived success.”

Henshaw grunted in displeasure. “Is it really wise to waste time on a pet project like this?”

A cruel grin tightened her expression. “My methods are not wasteful. They are precise. And this is precisely how I wish to proceed.” She glared at the hybrid beside her. “You would do well not to question me again or you might find yourself my next ‘pet project.’“ Soft heels clicked away, the striking form once more disappearing into the shadows.

Chapter Text

Air currents slipped and whirled over him as he flew, and J’onn J’onzz breathed deeply, his modified body chemistry absorbing the oxygen he inhaled as if it were his native requirement. Then again, he mused, he’d been breathing Earth air longer than he’d ever breathed the air of his home world. His adaptation to his “new” home’s atmosphere was so long ago that he barely remembered the transition.

If only other things from his past could be quite as easy to release from his memory.

Soaring higher to avoid a passing flock of birds, he sighed in tempered delight at the feel of sunlight flowing over his true form. After so many years of hiding himself behind the façade of Hank Henshaw, it at times almost felt—unnatural to him to be as he was now, once more himself, once more enjoying the power of his unique abilities. How much longer would he have continued in the shadows, trapped behind the face of the man who had tried to capture him for CADMUS had it not been for Alex and Kara Danvers?

A true smile finally graced his lips at the thought of the two remarkable women who had so unapologetically changed his life. He had never considered, as he knelt beside Jeremiah Danvers, swearing to protect the dying man’s daughters as he had so unselfishly protected the Martian, that his oath of fealty would carry such life-altering consequences. Yet, he could not imagine ever choosing to give up the light that they had both brought to his world in abundance. How he had let his life grow so gray and cold during his time as Henshaw?

Whatever the reasons, he gladly relinquished the darkness for them—would do whatever it took to keep them both brightening his world for as long as possible. That thought propelling him slightly faster, he dropped lower and changed his trajectory, knowing precisely where he needed to head to find Kara.

Just as he knew he would, he spotted her finally, perched upon the edge of the landing pad atop CatCo Tower. Even recognizing the heavy slope of sorrow across her shoulders, the Martian couldn’t help but smile at how predictable Kara was whenever she needed comfort and solace that didn’t involve her sister.

“I can’t leave this place. It’s not just a secret identity to me.”

Although he couldn’t read her thoughts, he knew already the depth of truth behind her statement. This place had become Kara’s safety within the city. She’d found friendship and acceptance and the fierce, challenging protection of the woman to whom Kara was clearly devoted—a devotion the CEO vehemently returned without question.

Touching down on the rooftop, J’onn moved closer to where Kara sat cross-legged, her cape draped across her lap and tangled securely in her hands. She kept her head bowed and he could see the trail of tears that had dripped down onto the cape. “You didn’t have to follow me.”

J’onn frowned at the sound of her voice, so small and broken. He reached out and gently cupped her chin, urging her to look up at him. At the sight of the tears that blurred the intense blue of her gaze and coursed down her cheeks, he sat down beside her and opened his arms in invitation. With a barely contained sob, she folded herself into his embrace, the rhythm of his heartbeat steady and calming beneath where she rested her head against his chest.

The two aliens sat like that for several moments, J’onn marking the passage of time through the sniffles and barely stifled cries coming from the woman in his hold. Even with his inability to read Kryptonian thoughts, he could still sense the jagged edges of her pain. “You cannot punish yourself forever, Kara.”

“Why not?” She leaned back finally, her expression contorted by misery. “Why shouldn’t I be punished for what I did?” Her eyes begged him for answers before her shame forced her to look away once more. “I could have killed them both! And because of me, you had to reveal yourself—because of what I nearly did to Alex.”

She started to drop her head once more, unable to bear the weight of this confession. Instead, he caught her chin and redirected her gaze to meet his. “Kara, I am not sorry that I revealed myself that night. I would do it again and again, so long as the outcome always remained the same: that I could save both you and Alex.”

He sat taller, his smile slight but true. “In a way, you freed me that night.” He saw the protest flare in her expression. “Do not waste precious time on what if, Kara.” He moved his hand from her chin to her cheek, gently wiping away the trace of tears with his thumb. “Focus on what is.”

Any further argument disappeared at the flash his words conjured of bright green eyes and golden locks and hands impossibly tender and will unbreakably strong. J’onn caught the tiniest upward pull of Kara’s lips. “She is a force I believe could best us both,” he teased, and the pull grew even stronger as her lips finally parted into a full smile.

Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss against his cheek. “Thank you.” She floated smoothly to her feet, flipping her cape out behind her as she did.

With a small nod, J’onn rose as well. “I told Alex that I would bring you back with me.”

The hero gestured toward the stairwell access. “Actually, I kind of need to get back to work. But can you—would you let Alex and Cat know that I am sorry for the way I left.” She bowed her head briefly. “I just didn’t know how to deal with all the memories of that night.”

He tilted his head slightly, his deep-set gaze kind but resolute. “I will tell them you will be back soon.”

Nodding in understanding that this was hers to fix and not his, she hesitated before moving forward once more to wrap her arms around the Martian. She felt the soft rumble of laughter within him as he returned her embrace. When she pulled back, she relished the gentle smile he offered her before he once more lifted to the sky.

With a sigh, she located the set of clothes she always had hidden on the CatCo Tower roof and quickly changed from her suit, taking care when removing her glasses from one of the pockets along the top edge of her cape. She then carefully stowed her suit in the messenger bag she had used for her civilian clothes and slung the shoulder strap across her before heading toward the roof access stairwell.

As she floated down the stairs, she checked her phone, frowning at the notification of three missed messages. Swallowing against the sudden dryness in her mouth, she pulled up her texts: one message from Snapper informing her that he had edits for her, one message from Alex checking in that she was okay and subtly dropping that Cat wasn’t upset with her for bolting, and surprisingly, one message from Maggie, asking her to call as soon as she could.

She frowned at the lack of any text from Cat—no voicemail either. Even though this didn’t actually surprise Kara—Cat was not one to shy away from confrontation, but the hero also knew she could be stubborn and standoffish when she so wanted—she did find herself disappointed by the lack of communication from the smaller blonde.

Then again, she chastised herself, she was the one who opted to shut down communication. And even though her sister had written that Cat hadn’t been upset with her, Kara knew she would at least be disappointed. She’d denied Cat the right of letting her in, even to this unforgivable darkness.

Landing with a sigh of disappointment, mostly in her own communicative failing, she smoothed back her hair, adjusted her glasses, and straightened the strap of her bag across her body—the nervous habits of ensuring everything to her human “costume” was in order—before slipping through the door and hurrying down the hall toward the elevator bank.

She quickly made her way through the bullpen, tossing smiles and quick greetings to those she passed, before making her way into Snapper’s office. The smell of black coffee and stale smoke assailed her upon entry and she grimaced slightly. Snapper only resorted to sneaking cigarettes when he was particularly stressed. “Hey, Chief,” she smiled, reveling slightly in knowing how her perpetual cheerfulness would grate on his nerves in just the right way.

As she knew he would, her boss glared at her over the top of his glasses, an inarticulate grumbling sound rising in his throat. Tossing several sheets of paper across his desk before returning his focus to what he’d been reviewing, he snapped, “New article, new round of edits, Ponytail. Get them back to me before tomorrow at nine sharp or you don’t get a byline in the next issue.”

As she sorted through the pages, she paused at one that didn’t belong to her story. “What’s this?”

“Your next article. It’s one of your pet alien assignments, although I hope your stomach is stronger than your spelling skills. Early this morning, NCPD found the body of an unknown alien species down on the riverbank. They think it’d been in the water a few days, but it was already in bad shape before the fishes had their way.”

Kara grimaced at the thought but realized this must have been why Maggie was trying to contact her. “I’ll go ahead and reach out to my contact at the precinct. She should have more on the case. And I’ll have this article back to you in plenty of time for deadline.”

With an impatient flick of his wrist he groused, “Spell check exists for a reason, Danvers. Figure it out.”

Knowing that was Snapper’s way of dismissing her, Kara slid the papers into her shoulder bag and headed once more out into the bullpen. She’d deal with the edits later, but first she’d find out what Maggie had for her.

Looking up, however, she caught sight of James heading into his office, focused on something on his phone. The deep furrow of his brow convinced her that stopping in to say hello might be exactly the break they both needed. Striding quickly toward the office, she paused slightly at the sight of the name still outlined by window frosting on the glass door: “Cat Grant, CEO.” Even with the tumult of emotions within her at the moment, just the sight of Cat’s name brought her a sense of calm. She continued into the office, running her fingertips along the smooth letters of the name as she passed.

“Hey.” She smiled in relief when James looked up, his own expression brightening at the realization of who had come to see him.

“Hey, yourself.” He gestured to one of the couches. “You just passing through, or do you have time to visit?”

“Visit,” she agreed as she descended where James had indicated. She watched as he poured them some water before joining her. “You still haven’t tapped into Cat’s liquor reserves?”

He chuckled as she took her glass. “Nah, I think it’s enough she left me her company. I don’t want to push my luck.”

Her smile was equal parts amused and understanding. “You’re doing a great job, James.”

“I am now.” He frowned in chagrin. “I never meant to let her down the way I did. She placed so much faith in me and I nearly blew it. She had no reason to give me a second chance.”

“Of course she did. She believes in you, James. And Cat Grant does not like to be proven wrong in her beliefs.” She laughed at the way he shook his head, smile bright against caramel skin. Lowering her voice slightly, she queried, “Is your increased focus on CatCo why we haven’t seen much of the Guardian around National City?”

“Yeah, kind of.” The hitch of his shoulders failed at being quite as casual as he had hoped. He knew how Kara’s concern for his safety overruled her ability to see the good he had done as the Guardian, no matter how hard he tried to convince her. The fact that she was asking anything about his extracurricular exploits seemed at least like an olive branch offering.

However, none of it mattered now that he was completely invested in the task of running CatCo in the manner it deserved to be run. “Cat was right about me not having much—or any—time to myself while really running CatCo. This place can be unrelentingly demanding sometimes. I honestly don’t know how she ever found time to do anything other than work.”

He leaned back against the couch cushions, folding his arms across his chest. “She was also right about something else she told me during her visit: She said something big was coming and that she needed me to be ready to lead CatCo into whatever it was.” He slipped his phone from his pocket. “She just texted me that she’s got something big in the works on one of the council members.”

Kara furrowed her brow for a moment before nodding in realization. “That’s right, she said she had a meeting at city hall this afternoon.”

James drew up slightly in surprise. “Wait, you already knew Cat was back in town?”

Arms crossed then uncrossed, and then crossed again in a display of fidgeting that he hadn’t seen from Kara in quite a while. “I, um—I had a question—a word question. A writing question about words, and I didn’t want to ask Snapper—he’s been unmerciful enough about mocking me ever since I spelled ‘intrinsic’ with a K.”

She shoved her glasses up the bridge of her nose, genuine irritation pushing aside the strange burst of nerves. “It has a K sound, why wouldn’t it be spelled with a K?” She was almost muttering to herself by this point, rambling in a way James realized he’d missed immensely.

“But then Cat’s name would be spelled with a K—like her mother’s name. Do you want to be the one to tell her that?”

Laughter resounded deep in his chest at the expression that crinkled Kara’s nose and the corners of her eyes, her lips drawing tightly together in a grimace. “Okay, so there can be exceptions to the rule.”

“Cat usually is the exception to most rules.”

“Yeah.”

The photojournalist froze, not at the word itself but at the way Kara’s expression softened with its uttering. He’d seen her make that same expression so many times before when talking about Cat that he almost didn’t think twice about it.

However, this time his mind shifted to the sight of Cat, standing behind her desk, sorting through photos he’d been reviewing for the Supergirl holiday issue of CatCo magazine. She’d gotten almost the same exact expression on her face when she’d come across and taken two images in particular.

He’d gone back to the digital files after she’d left and figured out which two photos she’d removed from the pile. Both were candid shots of Cat with Supergirl that were either slightly out of focus or slightly off-center enough to cause James to put them aside. Going back with the curiosity ignited by Cat’s selection of them, however, brought into sharp focus something he’d originally overlooked. Both photos captured moments of incredible intimacy between the two women.

As he studied the images—the way Kara’s hands conformed so comfortably along Cat’s waist as they drew apart from an obvious embrace, or the way Cat’s eyes sparkled mischievously as she pressed her finger against Kara’s lips in a hushing gesture—he startled at the feeling driving him to glare a little too hard at his monitor and grip his mouse just a little bit too tightly. Why shouldn’t they have shared a few moments of closeness after having gone four months without seeing each other? And why shouldn’t Cat want photos from their reunion, especially if she’d been as happy for the occasion as Kara had been?

He’d honestly been surprised by the joy that radiated from Kara when she’d returned from D.C.—mostly because he hadn’t realized how unhappy she’d become since Cat’s departure. He remembered hearing her laughter her first morning back as she stopped to speak with Eve before passing through his office long enough to deliver a tea and one of the two sticky buns she always bought herself for her second breakfast from Noonan’s. The sound made him realize he couldn’t recall the last time he’d heard her laugh so fully. He also realized he couldn’t remember when they’d last spent any time together other than during editorial meetings or other work-related interactions.

He hadn’t meant to pull away from her the way he had. True, her request that they return to being just friends had hurt initially, but when he looked past his bruised pride, he’d been able to see the truth in how they were better as friends. They would always love each other, but he recognized they would never be in love with each other. He was okay with that.

Then why wasn’t he okay with Cat being the one to finally make her happy again?

“So, we never really got a chance to talk about your trip to D.C.” He nodded toward the corner where an enlargement of the holiday issue’s cover still sat atop an easel. The image he had selected was one of the shots of Supergirl hovering next to the National tree, the White House providing a striking backdrop to her pose. Even knowing the woman behind the crest as well as he did, he had to admit to feeling a bit of hero worship strike him at the magnitude of the image. “I mean, I got to see so many shots of the evening that I feel like I was there,” he laughed, delighted by the shy blush to color her cheeks. “Still, I’d love to hear more about the evening.”

Ducking her head slightly, she teased, “I could try to play it off like it wasn’t amazing—but that’s exactly what it was. And President Marsdin is every bit as awesome as you’d think she’d be. No,” she immediately corrected herself, “she’s more awesome than you could possibly imagine.”

He smiled at the sight of the hero fangirling over POTUS. “I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. There were quite a few great photos of you two together. You should look through the image archive and see if there are any you’d like. I could enlarge and frame them for you.”

“Yeah?” Kara’s eyes sparkled with joy at the thought.

“Absolutely.” He tugged at an ear lobe. “You might like some of the ones of you and Cat, too. There were several more than the two we used in the magazine.”

He watched her reaction carefully, noting how she struggled to maintain as neutral an expression as she could. She couldn’t suppress the telling upward twitch of her lips and the increase of color in her cheeks, however. “Really?”

“Yeah, there were a lot more of the two of you together, actually—almost as many as of you and the President.” He cringed at the hollow sound of his forced laugh. “You must have spent a lot of time with her for there to have been so many photos.”

Shifting uncomfortably where she sat, Kara adjusted her glasses, the most blatant tell of her nervousness, and stammered, “Well, I mean, yeah, we did spend a bit of time catching up. But also, we’re National City’s two most famous residents and we’re both linked to CatCo. Why wouldn’t the CatCo photographer try to get as many photos of us together as possible?”

James nodded slowly, surprised by how adamantly Kara was reacting to his statement. “True. I just thought you would be interested in seeing the photos of the two of you together.” He paused and when he continued, it was in the most casual tone he could muster in the moment. “Cat’s already taken two of them for herself.”

It was almost comical how quickly Kara perked at this statement. “Wha—when-when did—how.” She stopped stammering long enough to take a deep breath, her cheeks flushing ever-deeper in color. “Cat saw the photos of her with—with Supergirl?”

James hummed affirmation as he took a sip of water. “I had several shots out for review for the magazine when she stopped in for our talk.” The memory of Cat’s surprise visit still made him flinch a little.

“And she took two with her?” Not even the Girl of Steel could hold back the smile that spread across her lips at the thought of Cat allowing James to see her doing something so irrefutably sentimental.

The photojournalist realized far too late that the revelations Kara’s responses to this part of their conversation were offering him were actually only making him feel worse. At some point during their lapse in time spent together, James had missed an integral something in the hero’s life—something that had shifted her relationship with Cat in ways James was finding difficult to understand.

“Maybe you can pick out your favorites and give them to Cat when she arrives.”

Something about James’s tone was almost enough to distract Kara from what he’d actually said—almost. However, as soon as she’d processed his statement, she sprang clumsily from where she’d been sitting, startling both of them with her reaction. “Cat’s coming here?”

“Yeah, that’s why she texted me. She’s on her way from city hall right now.”

James was almost certain he saw a muscle twitch nervously beneath Kara’s eye as she slung her bag across her body and began gesturing toward the door. “I, uh—I should let you get back to work, then.” She smiled, but he could see the panic that tightened her expression. “I didn’t mean to distract you—I’m sure you’ve got a ton of things to take care of before she arrives.”

Unsure of what was happening, he reached out to stop her departure, but she pivoted away with a subtle boost of super-speed. “Kara, you don’t have to leave. I’m sure Cat would love to see you. And it sounds like whatever she wants to talk about has something to do with the Alien Amnesty law.” He laughed while gesturing toward the hero. “Who better to participate than the Ambassador herself?”

The forced laugh she offered in return made him frown curiously at her, but she continued to head back toward the bullpen. “Yeah, no, I’m good. I’ve got to head out and meet up with my police contact. Plus, I either finish my edits today or I miss Snapper’s deadline to be in the next issue.” She rolled her eyes genuinely at that statement. “So I’m just gonna—you know, get to work. Out there,” she finished while gesturing vaguely in any direction other than Cat’s office.

Without another word, she spun and scurried off, waving nervously over her shoulder and noting the utterly confused expression on James’s face. It couldn’t be helped, she thought, as she hurried toward her office, reaching out with her hearing just to be sure she couldn’t hear Cat anywhere in the actual building.

With a sigh that instantly filled her with guilt, she realized that Cat hadn’t reached CatCo Plaza yet. She still had time to grab some fresh notepads from her office and head off without seeing the smaller blonde. Lips downturned with disappointment in herself at the realization that she was once again running, she sighed, “Coward,” while shaking her head.

Coming around to the elevator bank, she stumbled to a stop at the unexpected sight standing ahead of her. “Lena?”

The woman in question pivoted quickly, her expression conveying an equal level of surprise at her summoning. Deep crimson lips quickly slipped open over brilliant white teeth, however, when she realized who had called her name. “Kara, I was just down at your office looking for you.” She blushed slightly. “I forgot, though, that reporters don’t work from their office all day. I thought I’d missed you to some big story.”

The hero nervously twisted one of the closure straps on her bag between her fingers, only releasing it when she felt the fabric begin to fray under the too-tight pressure of her grip. “Almost. I was just checking in with the bosses before heading out on a lead.” She nodded in the direction Lena had been staring so intently. “Someone catch your eye?”

Kara studied the hesitant way Lena glanced once more over her shoulder, a wary frown curving her lips. “Actually,” she finally laughed, “I think my eyes were just playing tricks on me.” She shrugged, mostly to herself, at the admission, before focusing her full attention on the blonde before her. “I hope you don’t mind that I just dropped in without any warning.”

Blue eyes narrowed slightly as Kara considered Lena’s words. “Seems like doing things without warning is kind of your thing, isn’t it?”

Lena bit nervously at her bottom lip, bowing her head deferentially. “I take it Supergirl had some choice words to share with you regarding our last conversation.”

“A few,” she conceded.

“I guess that would explain why I haven’t seen either of you since that night?” She tried desperately to suppress the disappointment and hurt in her expression.

Adjusting her glasses, Kara replied, “I-l can’t speak for Supergirl, but I’m not avoiding you, Lena. I promise.”

“So she hasn’t said anything to you about that night?” The CEO blushed at the memory of her cruel dismissal of the hero.

“She said she upset you.”

With a sad shake of her head, Lena waved aside the comment. “She didn’t upset me. I just didn’t expect—I didn’t expect it to hurt quite so much to hear her tell me the truth about my mother.” Kara caught the shine of approaching tears before Lena quickly blinked them away. “I never thought she could be this monstrous,” she breathed, barely loud enough for Kara to hear.

“If you’re worried that Supergirl blames you for any of what your mother has done, she doesn’t.”

“Why wouldn’t she? I’m a Luthor.”

“No,” Kara instantly replied, “You’re not. Not the way you mean. Lena, you are kind and strong and nothing like your mother.” Kara blushed slightly at the change in Lena’s expression, realizing too late how similar her words sounded to what she had said the last time she’d seen Lena while as Supergirl.

“It seems you and Supergirl both have a very imprecise opinion of me.”

“You know that’s not true. Lena, you prevented your mother from killing every alien in National City! That’s proof enough that you’re not like her. You just need to start trusting people more. You could have told Supergirl what you were planning. She would have helped you.”

“I didn’t want to involve her. This is my business, my family—my fight. I needed to stop my mother on my own terms.”

“But you didn’t stop her!” Frustration flickered in Kara’s azure gaze. “Your mother is out there again, free to continue to do all the horrible things she’s been doing. And she now knows you have aligned yourself with who she considers the enemy.”

“She won’t come after me.” Even Lena could hear the tremor of doubt in her voice.

Silence ticked by as Kara studied her. “She can come after you in other ways, Lena—indirect ways that would hurt you just as badly.”

Whatever response Lena had was lost in the dawning realization of what she saw in Kara’s eyes: fear. Not just fear for Lena or even fear for Supergirl. Instead, what Lena saw was a fear that could only come from knowing. “Kara?”

The sound of Lena’s whispered summons was enough to shake Kara from the moment. Quickly adjusting her glasses, she stepped away from the CEO and mumbled, “I’ll-I’ll let Supergirl know you’d like to see her.” She readjusted her bag across her body, backing toward the hallway that led to her office and the roof access beyond. “Be careful, Lena.” She offered a sad smile before hurrying out of sight.

Notepads forgotten, the hero hurried past her office and straight through the stairwell entrance, lifting off the stairs before the door had even closed behind her. She just needed to escape—to fly from CatCo as quickly as possible. As soon as she once more reached the roof, she changed back into her suit, slinging the bag of clothes and work across her and smoothly taking to the skies. Without a second thought, she turned toward the DEO headquarters.

As she flew, she tapped her earpiece and announced, “Call Maggie.”

Two rings in and she heard the familiar playfulness in Maggie’s voice that let her know the detective was either off-duty or out on her own. “I was beginning to wonder when my favorite superhero was going to finally get back to me.”

Kara chuckled at the teasing. “I’m glad I can top that list, even if I suspect it is a short one.”

She warmed at the sound of Maggie’s laughter, easily imagining how the accompanying smile would deepen the dimples that bracketed her mouth. “No matter how long the list, you’ll always be my favorite, Kara.”

The detective rolled her eyes at the sound of Kara’s adorable stuttering at her comment. Supergirl thwarted by compliment. News at eleven. Finally having pity, she pressed on, “I was hoping to swing by the DEO to talk with you about why I texted earlier, but I’m heading out on another call right now.”

With a more serious tone, Kara asked, “Do you need any help?”

“Not this time,” Maggie replied, touched by the concern she heard instantly steal through Kara’s voice. “But I’ve got you on speed dial just in case, Supergirl.”

Satisfied with the response, Kara continued, “So I’m going to assume that your earlier message had something to do with the story lead Snapper gave me this morning? The body dump down by the river?”

A hint of Maggie’s more brusque professional tone hardened her voice slightly. “That would be the reason, although I’m not convinced it’s a local body dump. I think the body ended up here after traveling downstream from the actual dumpsite. There were significant post-mortem lacerations. I’m thinking blades from a boat motor—a pretty big motor from the size of the wounds.”

“I could check into the shipping routes and see what commercial vessels passed through within the past two days—in exchange for an on-the-record quote from an NCPD source, of course.”

“Smooth move, Super Sleuth,” the detective teased, earning a chuckle from Kara. “I think that’s totally doable. I’m also working on expediting the autopsy and toxicology reports. Our people are good, but I’m hoping Alex and Eliza will be able to see something we might not recognize. Also, I think you might need to look at the body, to see if you recognize the species.”

Kara swallowed convulsively before asking, “So you think—does it look—I mean, did the body look—was there damage beyond the post-mortem?”

Maggie could hear the pain and fear seeping along the edges of Kara’s voice and hated that she was about to give them both greater hold over the hero. “Yeah. I’m pretty sure this was a CADMUS drop, Kara. Again, we’ll need to wait for the autopsy report, but there were visible signs of experimentation similar to the Jorvanian case that Cat brought to our attention.”

“She’s getting closer.”

Maggie nodded to herself, knowing whom Kara meant even without saying her name.“She’s never going to get close enough to get to you—or anyone you care about. We’ve got your back, Kara.”

Vision blurring instantly at Maggie’s protective promise, Kara sniffled softly. “Thank you, Maggie.”

“Any time, every time, Dynamic D.” She cleared her throat quickly, smoothing the rough edge she heard creeping into her voice. “Tell Dangerous I’ll see her this evening—and both of you try to stay out of trouble, okay?”

“You, too, Detective.” The last thing Kara heard before the connection went silent was Maggie’s soft laughter.

With an unsettled sigh, the hero picked up speed and shifted toward the approaching DEO headquarters. Slipping through the bay doors before they had a chance to open completely, the hero slid to a halt inside the main hall, her cape settling around her with a heavy flutter.

She smiled nervously at the sight of Alex moving toward her as if she’d been waiting there for her sister’s return. “Hey,” the agent called, quickly wrapping the hero in a full-body hug and sighing in relief at the feel of Kara relaxing instantly into the embrace.

“Alex, I’m so sorry I left the way I did.” She felt her chin tremble but forced herself to remain in control. “I shouldn’t have run.”

Arms tightened around her with crushing force as if Alex feared she might try to flee once more. “It’s okay, Kara.” She held onto her sister for several beats, needing the reassurance just as much as Kara did.

Even after the sisters finally talked about Kara’s actions under the influence of red kryptonite—a nearly all-night affair that ended with them snuggled together under a blanket on Kara’s couch, emotionally drained and raw but so much stronger for the effort—Alex knew Kara still refused to forgive herself completely for all she had said and done.

And so it was Alex who made certain that, whenever the doubts or recriminations would rise within Kara, she was there to shove them aside with all the love she could offer. “Just always come back to us, ie te. That’s all that matters.”

Kara leaned into the embrace as much as she dared without fear of toppling Alex backward, drawing greedily from her sister’s strength. “I promise,” she whispered, her voice rough and low.

Lips pressed against her temple. “Good,” Alex replied, pulling back and swiping away stray tears from her cheeks before drying Kara’s tears as well. She frowned slightly as she studied her sister’s expression. “I’m afraid Cat isn’t back yet.”

“I know.” The hero blushed at the confession. “She’s at CatCo with James. Something about what she learned down at city hall set her off.”

“But you didn’t stick around to find out what.”

Hearing the lack of questioning in Alex’s voice, she shook her head, eyes downcast. “I kind of—ran when I heard she was on her way.”

“Well.” Alex blew air through compressed lips as she processed this information. Seeing the way Kara’s shoulders began to sag inward, she quickly pressed against the hero’s biceps. “Hey, it’s not that bad, okay? It’s not like you could have had any serious conversation at CatCo anyway. And she was clearly going there with a purpose other than confronting you.”

“Is she looking for a confrontation?” Kara’s eyes widened so much Alex could see white all the way around blue irises. “She is mad, isn’t she?” Her arms instantly wrapped across her stomach as if she were holding herself together, which Alex suspected she just might be.

“Cat isn’t angry, Kara. I promise you.” She smirked slightly. “I mean, I’m pretty sure she would stab Max Lord with a stiletto if she got the chance, but she’s not angry with you.”

“I disappointed her.” She hung her head and muttered, “I shut her out.”

Alex pulled her sister into another embrace. “You reacted to something that rightfully upset and scared you. Cat understood that. But you also need to let her in, Kara—even to the dark parts that you want to hide. Yes, it will hurt, but you know you can’t build a solid relationship on secrets. And you both deserve solid.”

Swallowing against the swell of emotion that Alex’s words were pulling up, Kara nodded against her sister’s shoulder. Holding on a few moments longer, she finally pulled back and offered a watery smile. “You’ve gotten much better at relationship advice since embracing your inner Warrior Princess.”

The amused snort Alex released caused several agents to turn her way in curiosity. “Oh, I’m so telling Maggie that comment.”

Kara offered a small smile, although it was tempered by what she had learned during her conversation with the detective. “Have you talked with Maggie yet today?”

Seeing the darkness settle in her sister’s gaze was all the answer she needed. “She’s pretty certain this is another CADMUS victim, and I trust her instinct. She also said that she has a contact—someone she’s sure is participating in Roulette’s new fight club. If she can convince this contact to cooperate, they might be able to find a backdoor into CADMUS through Roulette.” She gripped her sister’s shoulder tightly. “We’re going to get her, Kara.”

The hero nodded, finding strength in Alex’s certainty. “And we’re going to find Jeremiah. I promise you, Alex, we’re going to bring him home.”

The promise bit deeply into the agent’s heart, filling her with equal parts hope and dread. Ever since learning that her father was still alive, Alex had vacillated in how exactly to feel about this information. After all, it had been more than a decade since his disappearance. She couldn’t decide which thought was worse—that CADMUS had somehow been holding him against his will all this time, or that he had voluntarily stayed with them. Either scenario filled her with a rage that radiated through every cell with supernova intensity.

With a shaky smile, the agent pushed aside the thoughts about her father and CADMUS and wrapped an arm across the caped expanse of Kara’s shoulders. “For now, though, I told Cat I would keep you here until she returned, and I’m not about to get on her bad side. So you go change and let’s order some lunch. Today is the last day before your weekly deadline, and I have a hunch there are some edits in that bag you need to take care of.”

The hero rolled her eyes, the softness of her gaze betraying how much she loved her sister’s attentiveness when it came to so many things others would never notice. “You know I always work best after potstickers.”

Before Kara had even finished her thought, Alex had already hit the speed dial button on her phone programmed with the closest Chinese carryout. She huffed slightly at the feel of Kara squeezing air from her lungs with a sudden hug before speeding off to change.

Soon after devouring what Alex often claimed were more potstickers than that restaurant probably ever sold in a whole week before Kara discovered them, she settled down at the workstation next to Winn to begin her review of Snapper’s edits. She sighed at the sight of how her article practically bled from all his “marks and snarks,” as Winn called them.

She rolled her eyes at how particularly brutal he seemed with this article, although she was grateful for the distraction from worrying about Cat’s impending return. She still sighed to herself and mumbled in response to one of his snarkier edits, “No, Snapper, English actually isn’t my first language—jerk guy,” as she began setting her article right once more.

As she was wrapping up her final review, she perked at the sound of an alert from Winn’s news tracker. He glanced back toward Kara, a Red Vine dangling precariously from his lips as he scrolled through the alert’s text. “Looks like there’s a jackknifed eighteen-wheeler on the southbound side of the 909. No injuries, but they’re reporting a complete shutdown of the freeway until they can clear the scene.”

Alex spun in her chair where she had settled to review staff reports while Kara worked on her article, locking gazes with her sister. “That thing will snarl traffic all through the city for hours if you don’t help them.”

With a knowing sigh, the hero zipped to the locker rooms and back, once more in her suit. Quickly emailing her article to Snapper, she began floating toward her exit. “If Cat gets back before me, please don’t let her leave.” Seeing her sister’s nod, she rolled in midair and flew off in search of the accident—not that it would be difficult to find. Already, she could hear the sound of blaring horns and flaring tempers.

If nothing else, her time as Supergirl had taught her what short fuses humans could have—as well as what colorful profanity they could come up with when frustrated. She simultaneously chuckled and blushed at some of what she was hearing as she flew closer. She catalogued the more creative phrases to share later, knowing that Alex and Maggie both would appreciate the upgrade to their already impressive libraries of profanity.

When the commuters caught sight of the Girl of Steel approaching, they surprised her as well with their levels of gratitude, expressed that evening with raucous cheers and even more honking, which Kara swore sounded somehow happier than the previous horn blasts she’d heard on her way over. Landing near the jackknifed semi, she conversed with the first responders surveying the scene, coming up with a satisfactory solution to the problem that would get traffic moving again as quickly as possible. She would realign the cab and trailer and lift both to the shoulder while the tow trucks on the scene moved the seven cars that had collided with each other while trying to avoid hitting the semi.

In the end, the hero had moved not only the truck but also five of the seven damaged cars. She then carefully blew the pieces of debris to the shoulder as well before shaking hands with the responders and laughing at the sound of cheering from the commuters once more allowed to drive.

Lifting up into the evening sky with a smile and wave, the hero took a quick lap around the city, listening for any other problems that might require her attention. However, she indulged in a small sigh of relief that things sounded relatively calm that evening.

As she approached the DEO once more, her heartbeat fluttered nervously at the sight of Cat standing on the second floor balcony, drink in hand and gaze locked on the approaching hero. Kara sighed at the inscrutable set of the smaller blonde’s expression, finding it more unsettling than any of Cat’s fiercest glares. Steeling herself with a deep breath, she dropped down to the balcony, her boots barely making a sound as they touched concrete.

Cat continued to stare out over the city for several unnervingly quiet beats. Just as Kara was preparing to finally break the silence, the CEO commented, “Not quite the same as my office balcony, is it?” She sipped at the drink in her hand, tilting it slightly forward. “Still a great view, though.”

“Cat—”

“If the next words you plan on saying are an apology, save your energy.” She turned toward the hero, light and shadows playing along her impassive features. “I already know you’re sorry. What I need to know is that you’re going to stay put so we can actually talk about what made you run.”

Kara fought to maintain eye contact with the smaller blonde. “I promise I won’t leave.”

“Good.” She punctuated the response with a sharp nod before turning once more toward the view of the city skyline. She raised her tumbler to take another sip, but paused and gestured out toward the distant trail of flickering brake lights leaving the city to the south. “The CatCopter picked up some great shots of you this evening.”

The hero flushed slightly at the comment, moving to stand at the balcony ledge near the smaller blonde. “I heard it hovering overhead while I was helping.”

Cat snorted at the choice of words. “I believe they were helping you, since I’m pretty sure you were the only one moving that entire tractor trailer, Kara.” She turned her head slightly to get a better view of the hero. “How do you do that? Lift an entire object without it becoming imbalanced?”

“My biomatrix. I’m able to extend it around any person or object I’m touching to distribute my strength evenly.” She shuffled slightly. “Alex has been working with me to hone my focus so that I can extend my biomatrix to objects and people beyond my touch.”

A Cheshire cat grin curved the smaller blonde’s lips as she recalled Alex’s delight in Kara’s increasing abilities—and how they were surpassing even the Man of Steel’s. “Alex is incredibly proud of you.” She turned to face the hero fully. “So am I.”

She watched the shadows shift along Kara’s throat as she swallowed roughly, watched the lines of her face tighten with emotions Cat wished she could purge from the hero’s mind—but knew far too well how damnably persistent they could be. Instead, she let the silence settle, waiting for Kara to calm down enough to start the conversation they needed to have.

After a few moments, the hero rested her hands against the cool concrete ledge. Cat noted how she stayed just out of reach, how her expression continued to grow more distressed by whatever thoughts were once more taking hold of her.

Concrete crumbled beneath fingers that clenched suddenly and tightly against the balcony’s edge. “I still hear it sometimes.” Head dropping forward, Kara let her hair fall around her face, unable to bear the thought of meeting Cat’s gaze. The CEO ached at the familiarity of this particular form of devastation—how it hung so heavily from the hero’s frame, sloping every strong line. “Your heartbeat that night. I heard it the moment you realized—realized something was wrong with me.”

“You want to see what powerful really looks like?”

“I heard it the moment you realized you should be afraid of me.”

“You think I was afraid of you.” No inflection at the end—just a simple statement.

“Weren’t you?”

“Do you remember my three Ls?”

Kara stumbled at the abrupt shift in conversation. “Wha-wh—yeah, of course.” She smirked slightly, but relished the familiar, soothing comfort of reciting, “Lattes hot, lettuce wraps crisp, and Lexapro—although not always in that particular order.”

Cat hummed in amusement, but her eyes retained their stormy hues. “Do you know what Lexapro is?” The hero shook her head, shifting her weight nervously under Cat’s gaze. “It’s all right, Kara. I didn’t exactly make it something you would feel comfortable asking me about.”

“You always seemed so protective about anyone knowing you took it. I knew you were trusting me with something you didn’t let most people know, and I didn’t want to disrespect that.”

She remembered well the first time Cat had actually agreed to let her retrieve her prescription, from a pharmacy on the opposite end of town—how the CEO had struggled to maintain her nonchalant façade while her heartrate tripped and spiked in ways that worried the hero. The fragile fragments of trust she could see beginning to form within the slightly narrowed gaze, however, convinced her that discretion was the more valiant choice to satisfying her own curiosity.

“The hard lesson of fame is that there are far too many people out there who will use everything they view as a weakness against you at some point in your career. The harder lesson is learning to remain strong when they try to shame you for something that shouldn’t be considered shameful in the first place.” She frowned while taking a sip of scotch. “I shouldn’t care who knows that I take Lexapro. I should wear it like a fucking badge of honor. God knows I earned it.”

Kara noted how, as Cat spoke, she ran her thumb against the intricate lines and curves of the ring always on the middle finger of her right hand. The hero had been fascinated by this ring from the moment she realized it was the only piece of jewelry Cat ever wore with any sort of devotion—not that it wasn’t exquisite enough to want to wear every day. Kara honestly had never seen a ring quite so complex or unique. Her lips twitched into a private smile at how easily those descriptors could apply to both the ring and its wearer.

Whenever Cat lost herself to worrisome thoughts, as she clearly was now, she would seek solace in the feel of running her thumb along the narrow bar that connected the ring’s three segmented bands.

Breathing deeply to steady herself, Kara queried, “Why do you take it?”

Swirling the glass in her hand absently, Cat sighed while staring out over the city. “Sometimes things happen that—that get behind our defenses.” Her voice trailed away briefly as she took a longer pull from her glass. Kara could see, even in profile, the tension holding her posture painfully rigid. “Things like what happened during my time as a war correspondent—the things I saw and the things that happened to me.” She swallowed roughly and Kara could hear the shallow flutter of her increased heart rate. “That kind of darkness gets inside you and takes over, takes away so much of who you are. It leaves you feeling—powerless.”

She turned and looked at Kara, needing the hero to hear her and to understand finally and completely why Cat would never accept apology from her for that night. “When I finally came back to National City for good after covering the wars in Rwanda and Bosnia, I couldn’t leave my home for weeks. I’d completely lost control of myself.”

A pained laugh jumped from her lips. “I don’t think I even understood anymore what it meant to be myself. Panic attacks and nightmares crippled me around the clock. Without any warning, my mind would conjure the worst of what I’d experienced and play it on auto-repeat with no respite at all.” Even now, she shuddered at the memories, always there, always lying in wait for the chance to invade and conquer. “Anxiety altered my brain in ways I couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried to focus, to forget.”

“I know what happened wasn’t exactly my fault. My brain was altered.”

Setting her glass down on the balcony ledge, the smaller blonde moved toward Kara, cupping her face in her hands. “Yes, you scared me that night. It was the expected human reaction, even for a human as exceptional as me.” She warmed at the sight of the hero smiling even through the tears that sparkled in her eyes.

“But I was also afraid for you, Kara. You were experiencing something I know well—something terrifying and unstoppable—and I didn’t know how to help you, or even if there was a way to help you.” She ran her hands up through Kara’s hair, staring into a gaze so pained, she wanted nothing more than to break Maxwell Lord’s self-righteousness for causing this unforgivable expression. “I knew you were suffering, but, Kara, even when you were losing control, you still saved me. Even in the midst of what was happening to you, you still listened to your hero’s heart.”

She pulled Kara close enough to wrap her arms tightly around shoulders that now shook in time with the sobs that poured from her throat. “It’s all right,” she whispered, pressing her fingers hard against the trembling muscles beneath them.

The hero sank to the ground, the concrete fissuring in faint spider web patterns beneath her knees, her arms latched around Cat’s waist. She buried her face against the smaller blonde’s stomach, the harshness of her sobs barely stifled. No matter the reasons, it still felt wrong that Cat would offer her this gift of forgiveness so willingly—so undeservedly.

Her breath hitched at the feeling of Cat’s hands tugging her arms away from her, only to realize that she wanted the room necessary to lower herself down to Kara’s level. Crouching within the hero’s hold, the smaller blonde grasped her face in her hands once more, her jade eyes shining in the dim light. “I know, Kara.”

And somehow in the space of those three small words, Kara heard the vastness of Cat’s true understanding—of the shame that hooked in with unbreakable barbs, of the anger that no matter the strength in one’s body or the sharpness in one’s mind, there would always be this uncontrollable element within, white-hot and seething beneath it all.

Waiting. Always waiting to burn down the resolve, crash the defenses to the earth, and leave nothing behind but charred remains.

She heard, too, however, the promise, greater than all else—greater than Kara’s fear, greater, even, than Kara’s shame. Greater as only Cat Grant could be. “However you need to deal with this, it’s all right. We will deal with it together. I swear to you, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Why?” Kara’s voice caught in her throat even with this one word.

“Because I love you, Kara.”

The words settled wholly through the hero, silencing all else to a harmless whisper. Only those words echoed through her with the strong and steady rhythm of her heartbeat as she stared into the dark glitter of Cat’s jade gaze. Her lips parted, a tremulous breath the only reaction she could offer for several beats. And then the hero’s expression shifted, brightened with such pure joy that Cat’s eyes instantly glistened with tears.

Kara’s hold tightened around Cat’s waist enough to lift the smaller blonde and pull her flush against her once she floated up from where she had fallen. The smile on her lips easily the most dazzling Cat had ever seen, she finally replied, “I love you.”

Speaking the words aloud sent such a thrill through the hero that she instantly repeated them again and again between kisses, whispering them reverently against the soft, full lips that smiled beneath her ministrations. Cat’s fingers tangled tightly in her long golden waves as she slowly spun them in the air, and she reveled in the sensation of the smaller blonde’s strong grip tugging her close. She could taste the salt of her own tears on her lips, mingling with the sweet burn of scotch as she dipped her tongue into Cat’s mouth.

When finally they slowed the pace of their kisses, Cat whispered against Kara’s lips, “Do you have extra clothes here?”

Furrowing her brow, the hero nodded. “Go get them. I want you to stay with me tonight.” She responded to the nervous gaze with a soothing scratch of nails against the hero’s scalp. “I don’t want you to be alone tonight, Kara.”

Kara started to shake her head, fear dimming her previous elation as she once more touched her boots and Cat’s heels to the ground. “I-I’m probably going to have nightmares, Cat.” She blushed at the confession, hating how red kryptonite was still finding ways to rob her of her control.

Pulling the hero close for another kiss, this time slow and soothing, Cat replied, “Why do you think I don’t want you to be alone?” She locked onto Kara’s blue gaze. “Together means together through everything, Kara—not just the happy moments. Happy is simple, and if I wanted simple, I would have stayed with John Stamos.”

The hero snorted at the teasing, amusement shining in her eyes. Cat continued to run her fingernails along Kara’s scalp. “So go, Supergirl. Get your things and then—”

Before she could even finish her statement, Kara had gone and returned, shoulder bag slung across her body and shy smile curling her lips. “You were saying?”

The smaller blonde grabbed the strap of her shoulder bag and coaxed her close. “Super-urban chic,” she teased. “I like it.” She looped her arms around the hero’s neck and whispered, “Let’s go home, Kara.”

Not even bothering to suppress her smile, Kara wrapped Cat in her arms and ascended into the night sky, shivering in bliss at the feel of Cat hooking her leg around a boot-covered calf and snuggling comfortably into her hold.

Chapter Text

Test Subject CDS-06-583

Her movement through the darkened hallway stirred the air around her, the trace of dormancy sharp in her every inhalation. With a press of her hand against the biometric reader, she passed swiftly through the parting lead-lined blast doors that protected this inner sanctum of the facility. Lex had done well with the design of this outpost, structuring it in such a way that whatever research and development he oversaw within was well guarded from even the most powerful of prying eyes. Even at his weakest moments when it came to the ruse of friendship shared briefly with the Man of Steel, her precious son understood that secrecy was paramount when it came to his family’s causes.

As the doors slid back into position, she proceeded across the mostly empty staging bay, attention focused on the crates lined up neatly in the center. Each top rested slightly askew, informing her that her assistant had already opened and inspected the contents just as she’d assured the doctor she would do. She nodded in approval as she pushed aside one of the covers and peered inside, pleased once again by her assistant’s work.

She prized the young woman’s loyalty, first to her son and now to her. Even when tasked with assignments like the one that currently kept her from Luthor’s side, she excelled, as she had done with this delivery.

The branded stamp of L-Corp stood out starkly against the unvarnished wood. Lillian hummed softly in approval as she inspected one of the components. Lena might be a disappointment on many other levels, but she was more than adequate in the exactness of her work. Perhaps there was still hope, she mused, that Lena could one day properly fulfill her purpose.

Moving once more out into the main hall, she caught sight of one of the facility’s regular doctors approaching cautiously. “Dr. Luthor, I hope you found everything satisfactory with this delivery. Your assistant was adamant that she be left alone while taking care of it.”

“It’s exactly as I had hoped it would be, Dr. Sloane. We will begin the replacement process as soon as I have spoken with the patient. You’ve begun the drug regimen to wake him, correct?”

“Yes, we began as soon as you requested it. He is conscious and ready to meet with you. However, he will have no control of his motor functions.”

Nodding curtly, she gestured toward the blast doors. “Join me here with the others in twenty minutes so we can begin to transport the components to the OR. We’ll need to test them to be certain they are fully operational.”

Impatient to meet with the test subject, she moved swiftly onward before Sloane could reply. It had been nearly a year since her last check-in with this subject—not that it mattered. She’d gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure he remained unaware of the passage of time—isolated from reality until he could prove useful to her cause one final time.

Passing through the main hallway, she paused long enough to collect her tablet, slipping it into her lab coat as she moved stealthily past several operating rooms currently in use. Inside the patient’s sterile quarters, she watched as he slowly twisted his head in her direction, muscles in his neck clearly slowed by atrophy. His eyes, clouded still by the steady cocktail of drugs that had kept him in nearly constant stasis since his rescue, looked in her direction. She questioned how well he actually saw her.

“Dr. Danvers, do you remember me?”

Head lolled back against the pillow in an approximation of a shake no as he furrowed his brow uncertainly.

“It’s all right,” she placated. “It’s been a traumatic few months for you. I’m not surprised that you might be having some short-term memory lapse.” She filled a cup with water, gently slipping her free hand behind his head and lifting to help him drink. Once he had finished, she settled him back and re-positioned his bed so he was upright.

“Can you tell me the last thing you do remember?”

“Peru.” The one word sparked a paroxysm of coughs, which she watched him struggle both to suppress and cover. Fear morphed his expression as he realized his hands refused to comply with his wishes.

“I’m afraid that the events in Peru happened six months ago, Dr. Danvers.” She watched the fear bleed into panic as he struggled once more to move something—anything—that would lift him out of the bed. “Please remain calm, Jeremiah.” He halted his movements at the soothing utterance of his first name. “I know you’re upset and frightened. Half a year is a long time to lose.”

“How?” He forced back the new wave of coughing. “What happened?”

“Do you remember encountering the Martian you went to Peru to capture?”

“Yes. He saved my life.”

“No.” Luthor tilted her head slightly and explained with unerring calm, “You remember him saving your life because that is the memory he convinced you to believe. The truth from what we discovered when we finally located you and Director Henshaw’s corpse is that he attacked you both, throwing you into a ravine once he thought you were dead.”

She settled on the edge of his bed, training her face to reflect a convincing level of empathy. “That is why you are currently paralyzed. The fall damaged your C2 vertebra and shattered the bones in your arms and legs so badly that, even if you could move, it would be agonizing.”

Clenching his jaw against the surge of emotions roiling within him, he asked, “Why have I been unconscious all this time?”

“There were complications from the TBI you also suffered in the fall that went unnoticed during your return trip to the States—massive hemorrhaging that caused severe intracranial swelling. You went into shock during transport and slipped into a coma. You only started to wake up a few weeks ago. We’ve actually had several conversations about this, but you never remember any of them the next time you wake.”

“And what about my family? Do they know I’ve been waking up? When can I see them?”

“Dr. Danvers, there’s more. While trying to locate and rescue you and Director Henshaw, we weren’t able to focus on finishing your mission to capture the Martian. We lost track of him long enough for him to escape. When we finally relocated him—well, I’m afraid we were too late to stop him. Based on the information you told him about your family, he was able to find them.”

Eyes too long dimmed by drugs cleared with startling speed as Dr. Luthor’s words pierced into his heart. “He’s with my family? My wife and daughters?”

Struggling not to react to the use of the plural in reference to his daughter and the alien he apparently still considered worthy of his affection, she pressed on, “He has assumed your identity completely.”

“No, that’s not—how is that possible? He might be able to look like me, but he can’t be me! Eliza would know—she would know it wasn’t me.” Luthor heard the sluggish uncertainty in his voice, regardless of how desperately he wanted to believe his own words.

“He is telepathic, Jeremiah. Human brains are no challenge to him.” She paused to allow her emphasis to register.

“What about Kara?”

“Kryptonian minds are impervious to Martian telepathy.” She waited for the sign of hope sparking in his stark blue eyes. “There has been an unforeseen complication with her, however.” She watched his hope deflate with silent satisfaction.

“What has he done to her? Is she all right?”

“You should be far more concerned with your actual daughter, Dr. Danvers, rather than the alien infiltrator you and your wife allowed into your home.”

“She’s a child.”

“Not anymore.” She slipped the tablet from her lab coat, pulling up an image before turning the device for inspection. “This is your Kryptonian child now.”

Jeremiah stared incomprehensibly at the image of a now-grown Kara, dressed in the black bodysuit she wore during her time under the infectious control of red kryptonite. The shot, pulled from video coverage of her attack on NCPD officers, showed her hovering above a patrol car in flames, cops scattering for cover beneath her.

“We’re uncertain how, but the Martian accelerated her physical growth as well as her powers. What you see in this photo is what happened to her within the span of a few days. The cost, however, is that the process left her severely unstable. We captured this image the night she lost control and attacked National City. The Martian was able to stop her, but we fear it’s only a matter of time before her combined strength and instability become more than anyone will be able to control.”

Jeremiah’s eyes shifted along the image on the tablet, his gaze softening with regret. “She must be terrified,” he finally mumbled, searching the strong features of the woman within the photo for traces of the young girl he’d last seen. “She’d been doing so well, adapting so quickly, thanks to Alex.” His mouth fell into a lopsided grin. “She adores Alex.”

“She dislocated your daughter’s shoulder and fractured her arm in three places the last time she was in your home.” The revelation instantly sobered and silenced him.

Luthor leaned in, eyes shining dangerously beneath drawn-together brows. “Do you understand what your family is going through right now because of your refusal to see these creatures as the dangers they are? Alex faces months of physical therapy to regain what might only be partial strength and dexterity because of what the Kryptonian did to her. And the Martian is deceiving your wife into believing it is you in her home—in her bed. He is reading her thoughts and convincing her that it’s you she is sleeping with—you she is touching—”

“Stop!” Luthor watched as his hands twitched by his sides, betraying the drug-induced ruse of total paralysis. However, he was worked up enough by this point that he didn’t seem to notice the movement.

“Do not be so naïve. Right now, two aliens are destroying your family while you lie there in the bed that one of them placed you in! Would you still defend them? She injured your daughter. He tried to kill you and now he is rewarding himself with your wife.” She narrowed her eyes cruelly. “And what happens if he decides to expand that reward to include Alex?”

With a harsh swallow, he dropped his head back against the pillows propping him up. “Why isn’t the DEO stopping him?”

“Because he has infiltrated the DEO as well. As far as they are concerned, Hank Henshaw came back from Peru with a renewed fervor for hunting and capturing alien life on this planet. Those of us who know the truth fear that what he’s really doing is gathering together as many of the most powerful Fort Rozz prisoners as possible through his telepathic scanning, so that he can lead them against us. We simply don’t know who to trust to help us stop him. It’s taking enough of a toll trying to keep you hidden from him.”

“What about Superman? What is he doing to stop this?”

The ensuing silence enraged him in a way Luthor had not anticipated—but deeply enjoyed. “Answer me! What is he doing to protect my family and save Kara?”

“He can do nothing, Jeremiah. The Martian made quick use of the kryptonite kept at the DEO. Kara is now the only Kryptonian left on this planet, and she answers only to the Martian now.”

The noise that fractured from his throat sounded almost feral, almost enough to pierce the armor of her derision toward his kind—alien sympathizers who would betray humanity for the cause of acceptance.

Betray their own family out of fealty for an outcast from the stars.

“You switched out the isotope. You made the virus inert.”

“I did. And I called the police.”

Almost—but not close enough.

“How can I save Eliza and Alex?” She paused at the sound of his question. Never had she believed that muddying the waters of his bleeding heart sentiments would ever actually affect his loyalties. It was merely an entertaining diversion in which she decided to indulge before proceeding with her plans. Hearing him now, wavering in his devotion to one of his pet Kryptonians, filled her with a satisfying sense of surprise.

“We can help you, Jeremiah. We have the technology to fix what the Martian did to your body—we can rebuild you with the strength and speed necessary to help you stop him from what he is doing to your family. However, I will not waste my time if you possess any doubts. We need someone willing to see this through to completion.”

Uncertainty stretched across his features. “How do I know any of this is the truth?”

“You don’t. Everything I’ve just told you could all be lies. For all you know, outside the walls of this room, Superman could still be alive, the Martian could be a hero, and your daughter could be working for the DEO.”

Jeremiah scowled in frustration. “You disrespect my family with your flippancy, Doctor.”

With a conciliatory bow of her head, she replied, “I apologize.” She met his gaze, schooling her expression once more into one of more suitable empathy. “As a mother, I understand your doubts—just as I understand that I would do whatever it took to protect my own. Are you willing to do the same?”

Rising to her feet, she adjusted the flow of fluids into his IV, intent on ensuring that he would once more succumb to sleep. “Rest and think about what we have discussed. We still have time, Jeremiah—but not much. However, I want you to be certain in whatever choice you make.” Her eyes narrowed slightly as she observed the medicated fog once more beginning to cloud his gaze before she turned smoothly and departed.

Once more in the hallway, Luthor smirked at the sight of Hank Henshaw leaning against the wall outside the room. The half-smile that showed from beneath his mask as he fell into step beside her let her know that he had been listening for a while. “None of that was necessary.”

“Of course it wasn’t. But everyone needs a hobby.” Her eyebrow arched as Henshaw barked a rough laugh at her response. “Besides,” she continued, her expression hardening, “why shouldn’t I take a little pleasure in toying with Jeremiah Danvers? He and his wife harbored for years what, by right, belonged to CADMUS. All the research we could have collected, all the advances we could have made for the protection of humanity while they played nuclear family with that actual living nuclear arsenal. And now she wants to become another sanctimonious demigod, like her cousin? Turn another one of my children into one of their personal playthings?”

Luthor sneered viciously at the thought. “Never again. I will break the Girl of Steel, and if I get to break those who have protected her from me for this long in the process, all the better.”

Chapter Text

The palette of her dreams rarely changed. The primary color had always been red: the spires of Argo City bathed in Rao’s light, the crystal staircases of Sedenach reflecting the solstice suns, the rivers of Fr’ahxos teeming with schools of crimson olivahn.

And then the angry floes of molten lava, bleeding life from her home’s dying core, ripping open unstitchable wounds that fractured and fissured and finally shattered outward in blinding, breaking brutality, silent except for the screams she never realized she released until she heard them in her dreams—replaying without remorse the moment her whole life burned to ash and began anew.

The only color she saw in the inescapable blackness of vrrosh :dokhahsh was the red death of her world.

On Earth, the palette shifted. Red remained dominant, still haunted her in nightmares of unrelenting destruction and loss or, worse, the colors of home and family, sentenced to live only in ephemera. Now, though, the palette retained the dark, swirling void of nothingness that sometimes still wrapped around her, held her captive to the crushing oblivion of blank infinity.

In time, blues began to join the palette—of clean, clear waves undulating beneath her, of brilliant canopies of cerulean sky. And then came the rich cinnamon of her sister’s eyes or the bronze glow of Eliza’s skin—sometimes even the onyx of Jeremiah’s hair, shining and sleek in the warm midday sun. The palette grew slowly, the colors of her waking world sneaking into her dreamscapes with comforting familiarity.

It was years, though, before the new color began to wend its way through her dreams, verdant and bold. She noticed it moving in slowly at first—slipping along the azure coasts to form turquoise seas, or flowing over scorched, cracked ground and leaving behind soft meadows speckled with amber flowers.

The evening of her first day back at CatCo after defeating Livewire was the first time the color moved from her dreams and into her fingers. Once back home from work, she swirled and mixed paints endlessly, searching to finally capture the elusive shade that for some reason that night burned inside her bright and present.

And then she was sketching on her canvas, ovals and circles and soft curves and arches—filling in with creams and whites and flaxen spirals and the rubicund bow of full lips and the tinted sculpt of high cheekbones.

And jade.

Bright jade engulfing the pinprick dot of pupils and sharpened through with shards of amber that glowed in the light spilling through full-length windows.

When she finished, she stepped back to meet the enigmatic stare of Cat Grant, just as she had looked that morning, uttering words both promising and terrifying to the hero.

“There’s a lot I don’t know about you, and that should probably change.”

Something in Cat’s gaze that day burrowed into Kara’s mind, seeping jade and gold through her dreams with even greater frequency.

She hid away the painting she’d done that night, uncertain of everything about it other than the inappropriate significance of its presence in her home. Then again, what was the inappropriate significance of hiding said painting beneath her bed?

Whatever the implications, after that, she became finely attuned to how often jade swept through her dreams—how it soon dominated the palette of her nightscapes on many a night, its soothing balm overcoming even the crimson stains of her unabated mourning.

Even in Cat’s absence, the color didn’t fade. Instead, it appeared with greater frequency, flooding Kara’s dreams and reminding her constantly of how Cat’s departure drilled deeply into her bones, its ache sharp as shards of kryptonite. Every morning she would awaken, the phantom image of those eyes fading so rapidly from her mind, she barely had time to prepare for the ache that would remain it their stead.

On this morning, however, she knew there would be no ache, no emptiness, no loss. Instead, she opened her eyes, lips instantly pulling up into a smile broad and bright, to the sight of that stunning gaze watching her from beneath sleep-heavy lids. “Good morning.”

Cat shuffled closer with a contented hum, warm, smooth skin sliding against the hero’s open arms and bare legs. When she felt Cat’s body relax once more against her, heard her breathing even out to soft sighs that whispered across her skin, she thought the smaller blonde was returning to sleep.

However, she surprised Kara by snuggling more deeply into her embrace and whispering, “Thank you for this morning.”

“Of course.” She pressed a kiss against the crown of tousled gold curls as Cat’s hold tightened around her waist. “Thank you for trusting me.”

The smaller blonde shifted so she could prop herself up enough to meet Kara’s gaze, resting her free hand against the hero’s chest. “I don’t want to hide anything from you, Kara. This is part of who I am. I can’t change it. I can only control it as best as I can.”

Kara instantly lifted a hand to rest atop the one on her chest, entwining their fingers as she did. “We can control it.” She smiled in reassurance when she heard the nervous flutter of Cat’s breath in her throat. For someone who lived under the excruciating blaze of public scrutiny, Cat was vehemently possessive of her private life. Kara knew the struggle and significance of what she was letting Kara see.

The nightmares had come as predicted, only they chose to cast themselves into Cat’s darkness rather than Kara’s. The hero awoke to the sensation of Cat’s body jerking within her hold, her fingers clawing in an unyielding grip around one of her biceps. Kara stilled her every movement, barely even breathing as the smaller blonde jolted again, much harder this time, a grunt of pain shuddering through her.

She focused her hearing on the mumbled words tumbling chaotically along on the shallow breaths Cat struggled to take. It only took a few moments for Kara to understand—with a certain degree of relief, she realized guiltily—that Cat wasn’t dreaming about anything pertaining to the ordeal with red kryptonite. Instead, unfamiliar names surfaced amidst the barely articulate flotsam of unconscious mutterings.

Her heart rate intensified with alarming speed and her whole body began to shiver even as perspiration soaked her skin. Kara startled at how quickly she pushed away with a pained cry and desperate gasps for air.

“Cat, it’s all right.” The hero’s hands trembled as she tried to comfort and then to wake the smaller blonde from whatever visions tormented her so mercilessly. For several beats, all she could do was run her hands along painfully taut muscles, her words thick with her own fear as she tried to pull Cat once more to the surface.

Body jolting one final time, the smaller blonde’s eyes shot open, wide but completely unfocused, breaths gasped and gulped in such a desperate way Kara feared she would begin to hyperventilate. The hero softly entreated, “Cat, can you look at me?” She thought at first she would need to repeat her request, but slowly she could see the determined effort within green eyes now turned toward her. “You’re safe. You’re in your home. You’re with me.”

Only a shaky nod was her response, her breathing still a struggle she seemed unable to right. Turning, she reached clumsily toward the nightstand and the small pill bottle she’d deposited discreetly before climbing into bed. Kara’s gaze followed the movement, instantly understanding.

“Okay, it’s all right, Cat.” She levitated up and over enough to extend her reach beyond Cat’s, gathering the pill vial and the bottled water next to it. She floated into a kneeling position next to the smaller blonde, encouraging her to sit up against the headboard and tapping two pills into her palm. Cat gulped down the pills, finishing the entire bottle of water before relinquishing it to Kara and dragging suddenly weary legs up against her chest to wrap equally fatigued arms around them.

Kara watched as the smaller blonde rested her forehead against her knees, eyes shut tightly and jaw clenching around the still-erratic rhythm of her breathing. Fearing she might be crowding too closely, she began to shift away, startled by a fierce grip on her forearm. “Stay.”

The word rasped like gravel and Kara fought the urge to pull Cat into her arms right then. Instead, she shifted carefully so she was sitting beside Cat, close enough for her presence to be known while maintaining a respectful distance. She could feel the vibrations of tension still passing through the woman beside her, hear the brittle gasps—even smell the tang of fear and adrenaline on her skin.

In time, however, her breathing settled into its normal pattern and her body slowly unfolded itself from its impossibly tight curl. She flexed her fingers and toes as though trying to regain feeling in them and turned eyes dulled by exhaustion toward the hero.

Kara began to speak, but her jaw instantly clicked shut at the sight of Cat adamantly shaking her head, already knowing she had no energy to talk about what she’d just endured. Instead, she pressed against Kara’s shoulders, settling her against the pile of pillows behind her, and slid once more into the hero’s warm, protective embrace.

After that, Kara had remained awake, eyes closed as she focused on the rhythm of Cat’s heartbeat, which thankfully maintained a steady, resting pace. No more nightmares came, the rest of the smaller blonde’s sleep deep and still.

“I’m here to listen if you want to talk about it.”

Throat muscles jittered under a nervous swallow, but Kara could see the grateful shine in Cat’s gaze. “Not this time,” she finally stated, her grip tightening on Kara’s fingers. “I’m sure the opportunity will arise again soon enough though.”

At the confession of frequency in Cat’s statement, Kara wondered at all the mornings the CEO had arrived, physically impeccable as always but emotionally frayed in ways Kara knew only she would really notice. How many days had Cat struggled to hold herself together after nights shred apart by the shrapnel of her dreams?

“Whatever you need, I’m here” she smiled, offering back the same support Cat had given her so freely the night before.

The smaller blonde leaned close, tucking her head against Kara’s shoulder. Kara watched as she untangled their hands, lifting thin fingers to trace along the arcs and dips of her collarbone. The feeling was diffused, but she couldn’t pull her gaze away from the sight. At the end of her clavicle, fingers diverted along the broad sweep of her opposite shoulder, down along the undulation of her deltoid and bicep, past the corded lines of her forearm to the fingers she now splayed across her stomach.

“So safe,” Cat whispered, turning to press a kiss against Kara’s cheek. Kara felt her breath stutter slightly, felt tears begin to blur her vision at the softly uttered benediction. Even after enduring the darkest of her actions, Cat still saw her as security, as protection. Of all the gifts Cat could ever bestow upon her, that was the most precious.

Something shifted in the sensation of Cat’s fingers, now tracing up along her sternum. When she closed her eyes, in fact, she was almost certain she could focus enough to now follow the path of Cat’s fingers without actually seeing them—outlining the hollow of her throat, reversing along her sternum, gliding slowly around the curve of her ribcage and curling against the hard lines of her obliques.

Her hearing surged unexpectedly, making her acutely aware of the way Cat’s heartbeat was now playing erratic timpani within her chest. Opening her eyes once more, she fell instantly into the darkness of untamed pupils traced in jade. Fingers tightened in unanticipated detail against her side. “I love you so much, Kara.” Cat watched curiously the laughter Kara clearly swallowed back. “What’s so amusing?”

Arms encircled the smaller blonde’s waist as a shy, delighted smile curled the hero’s lips. “I’ve—I’ve wanted to say that since you woke up,” she finally confessed. “I just—I don’t want to say it so much, you get tired of hearing me say it.”

The fleeting thought that Cat might actually possess her own level of super speed flashed through Kara’s thoughts when, with surprising swiftness, she found herself suddenly looking up into green eyes fiercely glowing beneath a furrowed brow. The more pressing realization, however, quickly became how Cat was now straddling her waist, knees locked against her sides and hands curled around the strong arc of her shoulders.

Kara swallowed, focus filled by the suggestive press of Cat’s body, the distinctive spice of her scent, the way the loose top of her pajamas hung precariously open as she leaned over—and, oh, if only she would just move ever so slightly lower…

“Kara Zor-El, eye contact, please.” The hero’s gaze shifted at the statement, instantly falling prey to the focus of Cat’s leonine stare. The shadow of knowing flickered briefly in her gaze before she continued, “If you decided right now that the only words you would ever again speak to me were those three words, you would never say them too many times.” She stretched out and lowered herself so she was flush against the hero, gaze never wavering. “I will never tire of hearing you say them, so long as you always mean them.”

The insinuation of her final statement struck fury in Kara’s heart at any who had dared betray Cat so cruelly. She watched the shift of Cat’s eyes, studying the lines of the hero’s face, expression a skirmish of hope and apprehension. “I will never dishonor such a sacred promise, Cat.”

Rigid lines relaxed throughout the smaller blonde’s posture and Kara sighed joyously at the way her words had clearly soothed the smaller blonde’s fear. Her brow instantly crinkled, however, at the hasty press of Cat’s fingers against her lips when she attempted a kiss. “I do love you, darling, but love does not cancel out morning breath.”

The gasp of surprise that followed filled the hero with impish delight as she floated and rotated enough to flip Cat quickly back onto the bed. She laughed at the smaller blonde’s look of surprise before leaning in and quickly pressing a kiss against the strong pulse point beneath Cat’s jawline. “I love you, morning breath be damned,” she teased, her lips forming the words against Cat’s soft skin.

The smaller blonde’s softly breathed scoff held no sting as she wrapped her arms around her hero’s shoulders to pull her closer. She watched as Kara settled along her side, realizing that she was refraining from resting her full weight against the smaller blonde. At the questioning quirk of her eyebrow, Kara shyly explained, “My musculature and bone density make me very—sturdy. I’d rather not squish you.”

The throaty laughter her comment drew from Cat tingled through her as the smaller blonde kissed along the strong line of her neck and nipped playfully at her jaw. “Somehow, being ‘squished’ by the Girl of Steel doesn’t sound all that terrible.” Her tongue traced the strong jut of Kara’s jaw, eliciting a delightfully unexpected shiver through the hero, but a sharp series of pings from her phone halted her movement.

With an elaborate roll of her eyes, she sneered at the offending device on her nightstand. “At least it’s not your earpiece. I swear someone at the DEO calibrated that thing to go off at the most inopportune moments imaginable.”

Kara laughed at the smaller blonde’s irritation. “It only feels like that sometimes. Besides, I don’t have it in right now.”

Cat hummed skeptically. “I didn’t think you took it out.”

“Only when I sleep. Alex knows to call my phone if they really need me then. I wear it all other times, though, since it’s how the DEO can track me in addition to tracking my powers.” Her lips twitched into a pensive twist. “It’s how Alex was able to find me so quickly when CADMUS had me.”

The statement instantly caught Cat’s attention, her brows knitting together at the reminder of Kara’s capture. Kara translated the look easily enough and drew the smaller blonde closer with a soft press of lips to her forehead. “Alex found me,” she repeated. “Alex will always find me.”

“How did she do it this time?”

“She realized almost as soon as I was gone. I never arrived where I said I was heading and I never reported in. She knew something was wrong and, when she couldn’t get in touch with me, she instantly had Winn triangulating my location based on the last readings from my earpiece before CADMUS destroyed it. The DEO systems had gathered enough information from it to pinpoint within a 15-square-mile radius where I ended up. From there, Winn scanned the area for traces of non-Terran elements, since we knew CADMUS was stockpiling alien weaponry.”

She shivered at the memories of her time under Dr. Luthor’s captivity—of how the last time she’d felt so terrified or so alone had been at her arrival on Earth after witnessing the destruction of her planet. As she had huddled against the bars of her cell, weakened and in pain from her solar flare and blood loss, she felt the hot stream of tears against her skin. The realization that she could die there before anyone found her filled her chest with a tightness that made it almost impossible for her to breathe.

Arms instinctively closed around Cat more tightly, the smaller blonde swallowing back the huff of discomfort she felt at the hero’s slightly too-tight grip. She understood well enough the fear driving Kara’s need for the reassurance of physical contact. She let her own arms wrap around Kara’s shoulders and waist, pulling her as tightly against her as she could.

The persistent pinging of alerts coming from her mobile on the nightstand was finally too much for Cat to tolerate. With an irritated noise that bordered on a growl, she slipped away from Kara and grabbed for the offending device, instantly sitting up as soon as she read the first headline.

“That fuckwitted cockwomble,” she snarled, her knuckles blanching under the intensity of her grip.

Kara drew up in surprise at the slur that surpassed even Cat’s usual arsenal of creative insults. “Who? What’s wrong?” The hero twisted to get a better view of the screen she was certain Cat would have melted by that point, if she had heat vision.

“Spencer Graves. He’s called a press conference for this morning. The Trib is reporting that, according to an unnamed source from his office, he’s announcing his call for a mandatory alien registry.” Checking the time, she slid quickly from the bed, storming out of the room with hurricane-force fury.

Kara caught up only with a slight boost of super speed, as Cat tuned in the CatCo News broadcast coming live from outside city hall. Graves was settling in at the podium, offering the crowd of journalists before him a smile that Cat instantly dubbed “shit-licking smugness.”

“Okay, ew,” Kara groused, eyes squinting in disgust at the vivid imagery.

“Thank you all for joining me at such short notice this morning. As you are aware, President Marsdin recently signed a law granting total legal amnesty to the aliens who have found their way to our planet and have made our country their home. She, in fact, signed this law right here in National City, under the protective watch of our own most famous illegal alien, Supergirl.

“In the nearly six months since the law went into effect, however, the federal government estimates that only forty percent of aliens in this country have actually registered for amnesty. In our great city? Only twenty percent. Not even the Girl of Steel has officially registered here.”

Kara frowned at the accusation. “President Marsdin granted me amnesty when she named me her Ambassador!”

“He doesn’t give a damn about the facts, Kara. He’s simply stirring up his most rabid supporters. He knows they won’t ask questions and will always believe what their side tells them to believe.”

“Instead,” Graves continued, “she and the majority of the aliens calling National City home continue to benefit from all the resources the rest of us pay for. They are an economic burden to every upstanding, legal tax payer here in National City.”

“I damn well pay my share of taxes,” the hero muttered, the crinkle between her eyes deeper than Cat had ever seen it.

“You also came to work for me with all your appropriate documents in order—however you managed that should remain a secret from CatCo Accounting, by the way.” She smirked at the sheepish way the hero bit her lip.

“This is doubly true for Supergirl, whose arrival here has been nothing but a damage control nightmare to this city, especially to our infrastructure. In the short time since she came out as the ‘Hero of National City,’ she has poisoned our water, harmed our aquatic wildlife, nearly toppled skyscrapers, and generally wreaked havoc on so many roadways and bridges that our crews and our budget cannot keep up with the repairs.”

He stared directly into the bank of cameras before him. “No more. Today, I am calling on my fellow council members to help me establish a mandatory alien registry within National City. If aliens wish to live here, then they need to contribute here as well. We cannot continue to sustain the damages Supergirl and others like her bring to National City without an increase in incoming funds.”

The laugh Cat exclaimed was anything but amused. “He’s using the threat of a tax increase to secure support for this defilement of your rights.” Tendons in her wrist tensed starkly with her grip against her phone. “And how does he expect aliens to pay taxes when not that long ago, he wanted to punish companies that would consider hiring you and protect companies that blatantly discriminated against you?”

Kara frowned, worry creeping through her features. “This is exactly what the Infernian who tried to kill President Marsdin said would happen with the Alien Amnesty law—that someone would use it as a way for the government to track us.” Her eyes widened. “He’s basically tagging us for easy CADMUS location and collection.”

The reporter shook her head, golden curls swaying fiercely. “This insufferable fuck trumpet’s malevolence is staggering.”

She hurled her phone toward the nearest sofa cushion and stalked toward the hall, the string of curses and insults tumbling from her lips causing the blush in Kara’s cheeks to deepen by the second. Ignoring the rest of the press conference, she hurried after the smaller blonde, stumbling to a halt at the sound of her phone buzzing from the bedroom.

Zipping back just in time to catch it before it went to voicemail, she flinched slightly at her sister’s contemptuous roar through the open line. “Are you hearing what this shit pouch is saying about you?”

Sighing while brushing back a stray curl of hair from her face, she replied, “You and Cat are like the gurus of scarring language this morning.”

Alex huffed at the comment. “Shouldn’t you be outshining us all right now? Kara, he’s trying to make you sound like some kind of Kryptonian wrecking ball who hasn’t done anything but cost National City tax money! You saved the whole fucking planet from brain-liquefying death!”

By that point, Kara had once again found Cat as she was signing into her laptop in her home office. Alex’s final statement came through with such emotive volume even the CEO could hear it through Kara’s phone. “Goddamn right,” she responded, plucking the device instantly from the hero’s hand. “This piss weasel wants to quantify her protection? There isn’t enough money on the planet to cover that debt.”

A deeper ferocity glinted like quicksilver in her gaze. “But he’s just stirred the wrong pot with this announcement,” she all but growled. She paused, listening to Alex. “Oh, I’ve got him dead to rights and he doesn’t even know it. Yet.”

Kara felt an unexpected heat in the concave of her abdomen, spreading through her body like twisting tendrils of smoke. She already was keenly aware of how Cat Grant in her natural element was undeniably sexy. Getting to see Cat Grant in her natural element while she still wore pajamas? Kara wasn’t prepared for how much that was affecting her.

The smaller blonde shifted the phone in her grip at the sound of another incoming call. At the name on the ID, she interrupted, “Hold on, Alex. Eliza is calling.” She switched to the other line, instantly declaring, “He is not going to get away with any of what he’s threatening toward Kara and those like her. When I’m finished burning him to the ground, they’ll have to ship him back to CADMUS in a tea strainer.”

Not the least bit nonplussed to hear Cat answering her younger daughter’s phone, Eliza chuckled. “I see I don’t have to worry about Kara getting worked up too much over this.”

A dark smile curved the reporter’s lips. “Oh, Eliza, I don’t get worked up. I get the last word.” Her gaze shifted, locking onto Kara with unshakeable intensity. “He is about to learn a thorough lesson in the difference between fake news and hard facts.” Cat’s brow arched and Kara felt a shiver lick at her spine. “Alex is on the other line, so let me wrap up with her and I’ll have Kara call you back.”

Switching back to Alex, the smaller blonde caught her in the middle of a string of profanity that definitively notched up her respect level for the brunette significantly. As Alex’s invective ended, Cat snorted at the mortified look to cross Kara’s face. “Thunder what?”

Before Cat could even take a breath to respond, the hero began to back away, hands rising to her ears. “Actually, no, please don’t repeat that.” She raised her voice so her sister could hear her. “Why would you even need language like that?”

Alex’s laughter danced through the open line, mingling with Cat’s own as Kara shook her head and moved toward the kitchen. She was definitely going to need food to prepare for any more of her sister and Cat’s unexpected tag team tirade.

Hearing Cat’s phone ringing with Carter’s “Chewbacca growl” ringtone as she passed through the living room, she quickly scooped up the device and answered the FaceTime request. “Hey, buddy,” she smiled, instantly noting the worry imprinted upon his fair features.

“Kara, what’s going on down there? My CatCo app has been blowing up with news alerts about Spencer Graves announcing a mandatory alien registry. And he’s trying to blame Supergirl for destroying the city?”

She drew in a steadying breath, knowing that she needed to present a calm front for Carter, to keep him from working himself up. “He’s trying to stir up trouble here, that’s all, Carter. It’s not that bad.”

The sound of another string of blush-inducing language roared down the hallway before Kara could mute her side of the conversation. Carter, however, just rolled his eyes. “Not that bad, huh? Mom’s already reached DEFCON 1with her cursing.”

“Please tell me there’s no DEFCON 0,” Kara cringed, which elicited a soft laugh from Carter.

“I think this is as bad as I’ve heard her in a while,” he admitted. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m pretty pissed, too.”

Kara felt her lips twitch slightly at the sound of Carter timidly testing the waters his mother so expertly navigated on a daily basis. “Language, young man,” she teased. “I don’t think I’m prepared to handle two foul-mouthed Grants.”

She sighed in relief at how his expression finally relaxed into something slightly less severe. “I know you’re worried, Carter, but we’re okay. Supergirl is okay. Spencer Graves is seeing how much he can rile up his constituents—that’s all. He’s found something that works for him and he’s sticking with it.”

She watched as the young man bit pensively at his lower lip, finally conceding with a jerky nod of his head. “You’re right. He was a nothing politician before he started banging the anti-alien drum. Most people still don’t understand how he won his council seat. He even seemed surprised that he won.”

“What do you mean?” Kara could feel her journalistic curiosity rise at Carter’s statement.

The young man shrugged one shoulder. “It was his first attempt at running for a spot on the city council. In all the primary polls, he always came in last—but then, on Election Day, he ended up winning by a solid double-digit lead over all his competition. The Trib made special note of how, in his own acceptance speech, he called his win a ‘modern-day miracle.’”

“And he’s been insufferably self-righteous as only the miraculous can be ever since.” Kara turned to watch Cat continue to stalk down the hall, her eyes locked on her son’s image. She reached up to adjust Kara’s grip on her phone so she could better see the screen. “And why exactly do you know all this about Mr. Graves?”

“I pulled up his Wikipedia page while watching the presser.” Cat’s lips lifted fondly at the sound of Carter’s adept use of journalism slang. “Can he actually do all the things he’s saying with this registry?”

“He’s going to try,” Cat conceded, refusing to gloss over anything with her son, especially since it concerned Kara. “But I’m going to do everything I can to remind the people of National City of the truth—something Spencer Graves clearly abandoned at the same time as his moral compass and his fashion sense.” She tempered her expression, her next statement calm but firm. “I want you to stop looking up information on Spencer Graves, Carter.”

“But he’s—”

“He’s going to be called out for his deceptions and his hypocrisy, in due time. I promise. But I need you to distance yourself from what’s going on here in National City. Do you understand?”

Kara observed the silent standoff between mother and son, and she swore she could hear Carter methodically sorting through his thoughts for an adequate rebuttal. However, she saw, too, that he recognized the worry tightening his mother’s stare. With a concessionary nod that dropped a dark curl down onto his forehead, he finally sighed, “I understand.” The hero saw the instant release of tension in the set of Cat’s shoulders. “Just—keep Supergirl safe, okay? And-and maybe let her bring you up to visit when you can?”

“I promise on both counts, Carter.”

“Okay.” His eyes shifted back and forth between Kara and his mother, finally noticing the fact that they both were in their pajamas. Only the playful shine in his gaze outdid the sudden flush in his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your sleepover.”

At the surprised gasp from the woman beside her, Cat clicked her tongue, shooting a poignant look at her son. “You’re never an interruption, darling. An instigator, maybe…”

As she watched him laugh at her teasing, she felt the familiar ache of muscle memory through her arms at the desire to hug him close. “I love you, Carter. Always have—”

“Always will.” His beautiful smile grew. “Love you, too, Mom.” He glanced shyly at Kara, hesitating for a beat before finally waving. “Bye, Kara.”

Waggling her fingers in response, she replied, “Bye, buddy.”

When the FaceTime session ended, Kara handed back Cat’s phone, surprised by the feel of warm fingers instead looping around her wrist. She looked into the pensive green gaze focused on her, counting once more the flecks of gold she could catalogue with her microscopic sight. “He’s never let someone get as close to him as quickly as he’s let you in.”

The words fitted around Kara’s heart, slotting perfectly into place alongside the words Cat had placed there the previous night and again that morning. “You know I love him, too.” The speed in which Cat diverted her gaze let Kara know this was not something she should leave to assumption.

Gently cupping Cat’s face with her free hand, thumb brushing against the soft skin of her cheek, Kara stated, “Carter is zrhythrevium to me, Cat—a member of my House, as close as blood kin to my heart.”

Moments passed on the steady rhythm of Cat’s heartbeat as she studied the hero before her. “Zrhythrevium,” she finally repeated, pride shining in her gaze at how closely she was able to match Kara’s accent. “And what am I to you in your language?”

“Khuhp i aorghuhs waila.”

Even without understanding the words, Cat felt her breath stutter at the raw honesty blazing in Kara’s eyes as she uttered them. Without a second thought, she raked her fingers through sleep-tousled gold, drawing the hero close enough to press their lips together. Mouths moved in perfect rhythm before Kara could no longer suppress her smile. “I thought—”

Cat silenced her with another kiss before repeating the hero’s earlier sentiment: “I love you, morning breath be damned.”

Laughter bubbling from deep within, Kara wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller blonde, lifting and spinning them in her exuberance. Cat rolled her eyes while relishing the warmth of Kara’s body against hers and the now-familiar tingle of the hero’s biomatrix along her skin.

Ringing from Cat’s phone once more interrupted, a surly snarl tripping from the CEO’s lips as she begrudgingly took the device back from Kara. Leaning her head against the hero’s chest, she muttered, “Down, darling,” before answering the call.

Touching down once more, Kara released her hold as she heard James’s voice filter through Cat’s mobile. “Ms. Grant, I assume you watched Spencer Graves’s announcement?”

“Unfortunately, yes. It ruined what could have been a far more promising morning.” She quirked a brow provocatively toward Kara before turning and moving once more toward her office. “We’re going to need a series of articles covering the truth behind all of his rabid accusations and exaggerations: the actual economic impact aliens have had on this city, the availability of work for aliens versus the businesses that aren’t willing to hire them instead of humans, and, yes, even an article on the infrastructural damage we’ve sustained due to Supergirl’s battles throughout National City. I’ll handle Lucas when it comes to the piece on Spencer Graves. It’s been too long since I heard him call me ‘puff princess.’ I need to bring him up to speed on what I’ve been working on anyway.”

Kara ceased paying attention to the conversation, replaying instead Cat’s comment about the “far more promising” morning she’d hoped for instead. The suggestion hummed within her, like sunlight charging her cells, and she couldn’t resist laughing giddily to herself at the thought.

An expectant rumbling in her stomach reminded her of her earlier mission to find food. Glancing back down the hall and hearing Cat launching into further instructions for James, she decided they both were going to need a satisfactory breakfast to prepare for the morning ahead. Hurriedly, she returned to the bedroom, heading into the attached master bathroom, which Kara noted was about half the size of her whole apartment.

Trying not to get distracted by all the body care products Cat kept in plentiful supply, the hero rushed through a shower, slipping swiftly into her suit and out the doors to the balcony attached to Cat’s bedroom. Her first stop after a blissfully quiet morning circuit around the city was Noonan’s. After slipping into the civilian clothes she kept stashed in the alleyway behind the restaurant, she placed an atypically large order, even for her. The wait staff watched in awe and amusement as she collected all the bags in one hand and the two carriers of drinks in the other, smiling with the same easy joy she always did.

Back in her suit, she swung by the DEO, scanning the building as she passed and warming at the sight of Alex and Eliza together in her sister’s lab. She dropped off their favorites—black coffee and cinnamon crunch muffin for Alex and Earl Grey tea and lemon blueberry scone for Eliza—along with kisses, hugs, and assurances that she was all right and that Cat was taking care of her. On her way back out, she hurried to leave a sticky bun on Winn’s desk before his arrival and several boxes of donuts in the break room for the rest of the agents.

The return flight to Cat’s was swift, bringing her back to the balcony doors just in time to see Cat exiting the bathroom in a black silk robe while gently towel-drying her hair. Both women startled at seeing the other so unexpectedly, with Kara fumbling to maintain her grip on the remaining coffees and bags in her hold. “S-sorry,” she stammered as she entered, her throat muscles rippling as her eyes drifted along the bare curves of Cat’s legs. Her gaze caught at the hem that passed along the middle of the smaller blonde’s thighs, eyelids fluttering in a barely perceptible way at the tantalizing sight.

Very little, however, ever passed without the reporter’s notice. With a pleased smile, she draped her towel along the back of the chair at her makeup table and sauntered the rest of the way across the room to where Kara stood, frozen in place. She looked at the contents of Kara’s hands. “I didn’t realize balcony delivery was an option.”

The hero’s mouth moved several times before clicking shut, words lost beneath the deafening roar of blood through her veins. Taking the coffee carrier from Kara and placing it on the dresser, Cat sidled closer, encouraging the hero’s now-empty hand around her waist. “What’s in the bags, darling?”

Voice catching somewhere between her throat and tongue, Kara closed her eyes, surprised by how the move seemed to make her even more aware of the length of Cat’s body pressing against her. With a hard clearing of her throat, she forced herself to reply. “P-pastries and croissants. A selection of muffins and some slices of banana nut bread and zucchini bread. Sticky b-buns, but those are probably just for me since they’re so sweet. I-I know you don’t like too much sugar.”

At the sound of her finishing, Cat slid a hand up along her suit, gliding over the crest with an appreciative thoroughness that nearly caused the hero to crush the bags in her unsteady grip. “Sounds delish.” Kara shuddered at the feeling of the words breathed against her ear. “You wouldn’t believe how hungry I am.”

With a gentle tap of fingers against the crest beneath them, the smaller blonde shifted out of Kara’s hold, plucking up the towel and heading once more toward the bathroom. “Why don’t you change into something less super and set everything out in the kitchen. We can eat at the island. I’ll be out in a moment.”

Even after the bathroom door closed completely, Kara stood rooted in place, mouth slightly agape. Her skin hummed with vibrancy, mind buzzed with color, and the palette now was only jade and gold.

Her breath tumbled across her lips in unnoticed icy puffs, her attention too focused on resisting the urge to use her X-ray vision in what she knew was a wholly inappropriate way. With a nervous laugh to herself at the thought, she shook her head while setting down the food bags and searching for her change of clothes. “Get a grip,” she mumbled while purposefully turning her back to the bathroom.

Leaving her boots and cape behind and wearing a light blue button-down and a pair of boyfriend jeans over the rest of her uniform, she transferred all the bags and the coffees to the kitchen. By the time she had found plates and utensils, poured orange juice for both of them, and was getting ready to heat Cat’s latte, the woman in question arrived.

Immaculately styled as always, the smaller blonde wore a red ochre V-neck sweater with sleeves long enough they covered her knuckles, and dark denim skinny jeans. Kara noted her makeup was far more subtle and her hair softer, with more natural curls than she normally allowed for the office. She arched an eyebrow at the sight of Kara poised with her head bent over her latte, eyeing her nervously. “Well there’s that mystery solved,” she ribbed. “And to think of how critical I was of Ms. Tessmacher for never bringing me a latte as hot as the ones you always brought me.”

Kara smirked at the too-true statement as she shot a double dose of heat vision into the latte. “She’s actually quite adept at her job, you know. James always says what a great assistant she is.”

The CEO tsked as she accepted the latte. “He only thinks she’s so great because he never had the pleasure of having a truly exceptional assistant.”

Blushing slightly but finding herself still buzzing with strange energy from before, she mumbled, “And he never will.”

Cat’s eyes narrowed at the bold intimation, her lips pulling back into a scandalously pleased grin. Placing her coffee down on the kitchen island, she reached out, hooking her finger into the collar of Kara’s shirt and guiding the hero close enough to press a brief but invigorating kiss against her lips. “Boldness out of the uniform really does suit you well.”

Giddy smile once more adorning her lips, Kara watched Cat slip onto one of the stools around the kitchen island and slid the zucchini bread toward her. “Your vegetable serving for the morning.”

The smaller blonde accepted the bread with the faintest glare. “I happen to enjoy zucchini bread, thank you.” She pulled off an edge while gesturing to the two sticky buns Kara had moved in front of her. “I’d need to keep insulin at the office if I ate even half as many of those as you do.”

Kara laughed at the comment while slicing off a piece with her fork. “You wouldn’t need it if you had my metabolism.”

“How many calories do you need each day?”

“Depends on my level of effort throughout the day. Before I came out as Supergirl and I wasn’t using my powers at all, I still needed to consume at least triple the daily allowance for a human woman.”

“Well, that’s rather impressive.” Her brow furrowed slightly. “But don’t you need more than just the empty calories from things like sticky buns? Don’t you need nutrients and vitamins?”

“Not like a human,” she shrugged. “I mean, I enjoy foods like that—but I don’t need them and, unfortunately, they don’t satisfy my high caloric needs. I get all I need nutrient-wise from the sun.” She laughed as she swallowed another bite of sticky bun. “Barry’s friends all think it’s hilarious that he had to go all the way to another universe to find someone who can actually surpass him in daily caloric requirements.”

“Barry? Mr. Allen and his alluringly tight red leather onesie?” She chuckled at the way Kara sputtered some of her coffee out at her comment. “He’s from another universe? So the multiverse theory is true.” At the sight of the hero gaping incredulously at her, she stated, “Kara, I’m in the know. Get used to it.”

With an amused shake of her head, Kara continued, “Well, then, yes, the multiverse theory is true. Barry is from Earth 1—we’re Earth 38, by the way, if you didn’t already know.” She quickly caught the piece of zucchini bread Cat tossed at her, popping it in her mouth with a cheeky grin. “Barry ended up here accidentally the first time, but he came back on purpose back at Thanksgiving to ask for my help. His Earth was facing an alien invasion and they needed an alien to help defend them.”

“You went to another Earth? And Mr. Allen has figured out a way to find you purposefully?”

“Yep and yep,” she laughed. “Not only that, but his friend Cisco designed an interdimensional extrapolator that allows me to communicate with Barry’s Earth and open small breaches between our worlds whenever I want.” At the instant shine of curiosity in Cat’s gaze, the hero smirked. “I can see that ‘CatCo Exclusive’ look in your eyes already.”

With a dismissive flick of her fingers, Cat retorted, “I wouldn’t want to exploit Mr. Allen and his world. I wouldn’t mind visiting it, though.”

“To see what Earth 1’s Cat Grant is like?”

“Well, yes, of course—although I’m sure she’s just as fabulous as I am. I’d like to believe there are certain universal truths that even the multiverse can’t contain.” She smiled at Kara’s amusement. “Weren’t you just as curious while you were there?”

The hero’s smile dimmed slightly. “I—um. No, I didn’t—I didn’t think to ask.”

“Because not asking means that, in Barry’s universe, Krypton might still be there.”

Kara dipped her head, embarrassed by how utterly transparent she was to the woman across from her. “It’s not like we had a lot of free time while we were getting our asses handed to us by the aliens that were attacking.”

She looked up suddenly, worry furrowing her brow. Before she could speak, however, Cat reached out, quickly taking the hero’s hand in hers. “Kara, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to believe that, in another universe, Krypton still exists. In an equation of infinite possibilities, I’m absolutely certain that it still exists in multiple universes.”

Nodding slowly, Kara worked her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment. Staring down at her fingers interlaced with Cat’s, she finally replied, “In whatever other universes where Krypton lives, I do hope I am happy among my people. In this universe, I know I will always miss my home and wonder what might have happened had Krypton survived. But I know, too, that this is where I am meant to be—not just here on Earth, but here, right now, with my family and my friends, and especially with Carter and you.”

Blinking quickly against the emotions Kara’s words drew, Cat tightened her hold on the hero’s hand, bringing it to her lips to kiss each knuckle. “So, tell me about this journey to Mr. Allen’s Earth. And are there any future plans for him to return and attempt to abscond with my hero again?”

Relishing Cat’s territorial teasing, Kara launched into explaining the events on Earth 1. Cat listened rapturously to Kara’s enthusiastic telling of the events, trying her best not to react too much at the thought of Kara under the Dominators’ mind control. However, at the fourth mention of flirtatiousness toward the hero, she chimed in, “Am I going to have to ask CatCo Legal to look into restraining orders against Sara Lance and Mick Rory?”

“Cat, they’re in another universe,” she laughed, knowing the CEO was only partially joking.

“I hire the best lawyers for a reason, Kara. If I tell them to place a restraining order on the Easter Bunny, it’s their job to see it through.”

A look of honest distress shadowed Kara’s expression. “Who would want to put a restraining order on the Easter Bunny? He brings you chocolate and candy.” Without waiting for a response, she sprang from where she sat, scooping Cat into her arms before the smaller blonde even had a chance to consider a protest. Giggling, she continued, “Besides, you have nothing to worry about. Whatever Earth I’m on, I’m always Team Cat.”

With a poorly affected hum of disinterest, the smaller blonde toyed with Kara’s collar while glaring playfully into her eyes. “As it should be. Now, either put me down or transfer me to my office. We both have work we need to start on.” She tapped her hand against Kara’s shoulder and smirked, “Chop, chop.”

Acquiescent smile brightening her features, Kara lifted gently off the ground, floating them back toward Cat’s office. “As you wish.”

“Call me Buttercup, Kiera, and I will end you.”

Cat felt the ripple of Kara’s laughter through her muscles as the hero carried her to her office. Gently depositing the smaller blonde next to her desk with a quick kiss, Kara zipped out and back, carrying her work laptop and notes for the article she was investigating with Maggie.

Having checked her work email while patrolling the city earlier, she was admittedly disappointed that Snapper had decided not to assign her any of the articles inspired by Spencer Graves’s announcement. However, she knew, too, that identifying CADMUS’s work would bring them one step closer to shutting down Lillian Luthor and finding Jeremiah. Besides, she suspected Snapper would have been unmerciful toward her “pro-alien slant” on a subject to which she was literally way too close. Better to stay away from that round of alien articles. With a sigh, she sat cross-legged on the couch opposite Cat’s desk, flipping open her laptop and spreading out her notes while peripherally watching Cat slip on a pair of glasses and settle into reviewing her own notes.

After several minutes of shared silence, Kara heard Cat shifting position and looked up in time to see her swing her legs up to rest on the edge of her desk. The hero smiled at the sight, remembering how Cat would often sit like that during CatCo editorial meetings. Usually, she would have a pen in her hand, pressed against her lips as she listened to her staff pitching stories.

Now, however, Cat had only her tablet in one hand, the other absently running along the collar of her sweater as she read. Kara watched those fingers, always so elegant and nimble, slide across fabric that shifted against soft, smooth skin. She watched in fascination as the collar tugged and gaped to expose the exquisite lines of one clavicle. She could see the glint of light against the necklace Cat wore as it pulsed in time with the smaller blonde’s heartbeat.

And then, she could hear the sound of Cat’s blood as it flowed through her veins in time with that heartbeat, now almost too loud for Kara to hear anything else. She wanted more than anything in that moment to reach out, feel the thunderous pulse beneath her fingertips or, better still, beneath her lips. If only she could run her tongue along the delicate slope of Cat’s neck—

—or along the muscled slope of her thighs. She shivered at the unexpected shift in thoughts, of how Cat would sound from her leaving a trail of insistent kisses and nips along her thighs, moving upward to where Kara ached to touch, to kiss, to tease, to worship.

Lips parted, a soft gasp escaping into the ether as she tried desperately to stop these thoughts. Shutting her eyes, she bowed her head and focused on silencing her mind, which she realized was being overrun by the ambient sounds of the city around her. She could feel a heat growing between her thighs, feel a tightness coiling in the pit of her stomach. Shifting in her seat, she felt the rub of her uniform against her skin in a startlingly intimate way.

Before she could consider the sensation, however, a hand tightly gripped her shoulder, Cat’s voice entreating with equal parts softness and concern, “Kara?”

Kara instantly sprang to her feet, laptop tumbling to the floor with her hasty retreat from the smaller blonde’s reach and her heat vision flaring intensely for a three-count before dissipating. Both women stared at each other, shocked into silence. Cat finally forced herself to speak when she saw the raw terror in the hero’s expression. “Kara,” she repeated more firmly this time, “what’s wrong?”

Shaking her head violently, she stammered, “I-I don’t know. I don’t—I’ve never felt—” but she gasped at her final word and the sudden realization it brought. Without thinking, she tore off her civilian clothes, leaving them in a shredded pile as she stumbled away from Cat. “Something’s wrong. I need Alex—something’s wrong,” she repeated before staggering out of Cat’s office and zipping toward the bedroom balcony, grabbing her boots and cape on the way and nearly smashing through the doors with her frantic exit.

Chapter Text

Test Subjects CDS-17-035, -036, and -037

Flesh parted beneath the scalpel blade with very little resistance, the epidermis of the Ortrexian already losing its natural durability post-mortem. Inserting a retractor on either side of the incision, Luthor studied the muscles she revealed, humming in fascination. “Look at how the vocal folds are aligned in triplicate. Plus, it looks like she had double vestibular folds as well. No wonder her phonation sounded so beautifully layered.”

“You mean while she was screaming?” Henshaw remained close to the OR door, the sound of the Ortrexian’s agonized cries still circulating inside his brain.

Luthor shrugged as she leaned in for closer inspection. “I can disable the next test subject’s vocal chords if it will provide comfort to your delicate sensibilities.” Without acknowledging the glare Henshaw shot her, she continued to examine the elaborate components of the alien larynx. “Imagine this vocal intricacy within the throats of our greatest singers—the complexity of sound they could produce. Such exquisite possibility.”

She removed the retractors, dropping them on the tray by the operating table. “The potential that we can discover by studying these creatures clearly extends beyond just military purposes.”

Disgusted by the sight of the empty chartreuse stare and jaw frozen forever in a rictus of pain, Henshaw finally moved close enough to toss the surgical sheet up over the corpse’s face. “And which singers do you think would subject themselves to your experimentation?”

She scoffed at his question. “I can think of several I would gladly volunteer for my trial attempts.” Snapping off her gloves and tossing them onto the body, she then removed her rubber smock and dropped it to the floor. It squelched loudly where it landed, the Ortrexian’s blood bright and thick against the dark material.

“I had hoped she would have been a bit more resilient. Her epidermal thickness wasn’t nearly as impressive as I thought it would be.” She headed out into the hallway, following it toward her office.

Henshaw was quick to fall into step beside her. “The next piece of your pet project arrived while you were studying the Ortrexian to death,” he sneered. “Roulette’s delivery slug brought him in half an hour ago. They’ve been waiting in your office.”

“Nice of you to let me know before now.”

“I tried to tell you during the Ortrexian’s agony aria. Her phonation was too loud.”

Amusement tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Ms. Sinclair comes through yet again. We have an empty containment cell, correct? I have a feeling our guest won’t be willing to play nicely with us just yet. We’ll need to detox him first.” She caught the growl coming from Henshaw. “Do you wish to voice your disapproval yet again?”

“You’re punishing an innocent human in the name of revenge.”

With an amused huff, Luthor coolly replied, “I’m freeing an innocent man and giving him back control of his life. And if he chooses to use the gifts I give him to seek revenge on the woman who has kept him chemically controlled all these years, then who am I to stop him? Also, I don’t remember you stepping up so eagerly to defend Jeremiah Danvers’s innocence before I ‘punished’ him.”

Henshaw frowned but remained silent as they entered Luthor’s office. The doctor crossed gracefully to her desk, a benevolent smile on her face as she studied the man seated on the opposite side. “Mr. Rieger, my name is Dr. Lillian Luthor. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The man eyed her warily, fingers fidgeting with the baseball cap he held. Luthor observed the flat lay of his hair and the pallid pallor of his skin. His eyes shifted nervously inside sunken sockets ringed by dark circles. “A doctor?  Wasn’t expecting that after dealing with your freakshow hit man back there,” he jibed, chucking a thumb toward the alien Roulette had sent to collect him. “You part of Glendale Manor? This some new check-in I have to do? I just saw my parole officer and got the refresher course on all the rules from her, but she didn’t mention this.”

“No, Mr. Rieger, I’m not with Glendale Manor. I actually brought you here to offer you an alternative to your treatment there.”

“I don’t understand.” He tossed his head to one side, flipping a limp strand of hair from his forehead. “I thought Glendale was my only option when my meds needed adjusting. You know, part of my parole.”

Luthor slid into her desk chair, her expression one of patient amusement. “Do you really think National City Police have the budget to cover private institutionalization as a part of their parole?”

She reached into the top drawer of her desk, removing a photo and a thick stack of envelopes bound together by several rubber bands. The image, a black and white publicity shot from what was no doubt considered a lifetime ago in celebrity years, was dog-eared and tattered, with rambling declarations of devotion scribbled along the edges. She slid the photo toward the man sat across from her.

His reaction was instantaneous as he pushed back in his chair so hard it rocked up briefly on two legs before slamming down once more with a loud clatter. “I haven’t gone anywhere near her in years,” he yelled. “Not since—not since that day they caught me. I wasn’t well that day—I-I hadn’t been well in a while. But I am much better now.”

“Are you better, Mr. Rieger? Or have you simply fallen in line with the lies she has ensured you’ve been fed all these years?” Seeing his confusion, she tapped the photo and continued, “She is the one who has been covering the costs of your stays at Glendale Manor.”

“What?”

She smiled, her head cocked to one side as she observed his increasing bewilderment. “That’s correct. She has been the one paying to have you incarcerated and medically subjugated, Mr. Rieger.”

“No!” He adamantly shook his head in rejection of Luthor’s words. “That’s not—she’s been paying for my treatment all these years?” He pulled the photo closer, his index finger hovering as though he wanted to trace the line of her jaw, before moving instead to try to wipe away some of the barely legible writing that looped up over her head. When all he did was smudge the words with his sweaty finger, he pushed the photo back slightly across the desk. “Where did you even get that? The police took everything I had with me that day, including that photo.”

“It was your favorite photo of her, wasn’t it?” She shrugged nonchalantly at his startled glare. “I’ve seen the evidence photos the police took of your apartment after they arrested you. You had more copies of this shot than any other on your walls, and this was the only photo of her you had with you that day. Did you want her to see this photo? See all you’d written about her on it?” Luthor pushed the stack of envelopes onto her desk. “Just like you wanted her to read all these letters?”

Rieger swallowed roughly while gripping the arms of his chair as though terrified of what might happen if he reached out for the letters. “Where did you get those? And why are you doing this?”

“I had an acquaintance retrieve some of your belongings from the NCPD evidence archives. I thought you should have them back. As to why? I want to help you, Mr. Rieger.” She leaned closer, resting her arms against the desktop and calmly interlacing her fingers. “I think it’s time you got back all you’ve lost because of her—starting with these letters. I’ve read them all. It’s very clear the passion you had for her. Quite romantic, really. Tell me, do you still feel that way toward her?”

She could see anger twisting its way through his posture, the curl of his lip cruel and wild, and she felt a twinge of hope rise within her that there was still something within him worth salvaging. “How I felt back then was wrong—it was dangerous. What you’re saying to me right now is dangerous. I’m not—I don’t want to talk about those days anymore—not the way you want to talk about them.”

“But I’m telling you that how you felt back then—how you might still feel once we free you from the shackles she’s placed on you—”

“Stop it!” He rose swiftly from his seat, wiry limbs stiff with fury as he slammed his fists against her desk. Before he could make another move, he felt himself forced back down into his chair, groaning in pain at the crushing grip against his shoulder. When he looked up, he gasped in fright of the partially skinned face glowering down at him, one eye flaring electric blue beneath a furrowed brow.

“My colleague doesn’t particularly enjoy sudden movements or loud noises, Mr. Rieger. Please keep that in mind as we move forward.”

“Why are you doing this?”

Though he spoke the words while still gawping upward at the horrific sci-fi movie nightmare beside him, Dr. Luthor understood the question was actually for her. “As I said, Mr. Rieger, I want to help you. And I can.” She offered him another thin-lipped smile when he finally turned back to face her. “I can help you get everything you wanted back then and more. If you let me, I can make it so no one can stop you from taking what is yours. You can have her, Mr. Rieger—every bit of her, exactly as you describe in your letters. Just let me help you.”

She listened as he wiped roughly at his face, fingers scraping against his eyelids and downward against the dry stubble along his jaw. He still shook his head, but the forcefulness was fading. “No,” he repeated once more, now with nothing more than a hoarse whisper. “She—she’s been helping me. Even after what I tried to do to her, she—no, I won’t hurt her.”

“You won’t be hurting her, Mr. Rieger. You’ll be saving her.” She nudged the letters closer toward him. “You said it all in your letters. You wanted to save her from the life that trapped her in front of the cameras. She’s still trapped in that life, Mr. Rieger. She still needs your salvation.”

She watched him quietly for several moments, content to wait as he processed all she had told him. He rubbed his shoulder, his crumpled posture making him look brittle and twisted. His face contorted as he struggled to process all she had said before she finally saw it—the tiniest spark of possibility within his slowly clouding gaze, begging her to fan it back into full force. “I promise you, I can give you the means to finally give her everything you wanted to back then—everything you wrote about, everything you were prepared to do that day if they hadn’t found you first. I can help you make her yours. All you have to do is tell me you trust me, Mr. Rieger.”

“I-I don’t want to hurt her,” he repeated.

“Of course not.” Rising from her seat, Luthor nodded once toward Henshaw. The cybernetic hybrid grabbed Rieger’s shoulders, lifting him to his feet. The man yelped in pain and shock at the feeling, quickly cowering away from Henshaw’s reach as soon as the hybrid released him.

Luthor’s mouth quirked into a half-smile as she studied the man now pressed against the edge of her desk. “I do understand your concerns, Mr. Rieger, but you need to understand mine. I’m on a tight schedule, and I don’t really have a lot of time for emotional placation. My colleague is going to take you to a holding cell now. You will stay there until the poison she had you pumped full of at Glendale Manor is once more gone from your system.”

At the sound of this declaration, he finally sprang once more to full awareness. “No! I need my meds! I don’t want to go back to what it was like without them!” He suddenly pivoted around the side of the chair opposite from Henshaw, scurrying rapidly toward the door. “This isn’t right,” he yelled, nearly making it to the office entrance.

Luthor watched in awe as Roulette’s fighter stepped forward at the sight of Rieger trying to leave. His skin, a sickly shade of beige, glistened with a sticky sheen of mucus, but his movements were what captured the doctor’s full attention. Fingers stretched outward from extended arms and reaching hands—and then continued to stretch even farther as they morphed into twisting, twirling tendrils that easily caught Rieger in their ceaseless, seamless extensions. Luthor marveled at how the alien digits tangled around flailing extremities, looping and cascading and leaving viscous trails everywhere they touched.

It was then that Luthor realized how quickly the flailing ceased, how Rieger seemed to lose control of his movements until his arms simply slumped in the alien’s encircling grip and his legs buckled uselessly. “Your skin produces a paralytic secretion.”

Her needful, greedy tone betrayed her intentions to Henshaw, who didn’t even bother to suppress his responding grin. Roulette’s fighter, however, simply responded to her statement as he continued to hold Rieger in his tangled grip. “It is my people’s way of protecting our skin from the harsh conditions of our home world. It only has a paralytic effect on some alien species, including humans.”

Luthor’s eyes narrowed at the fighter’s reference to humans as the alien species but deferred to her curiosity rather than her disapproval. “How long does the paralytic effect last on humans?”

“Between thirty to sixty of your minutes, depending on the resilience of the human.”

Luthor hummed appreciatively. “And your fingers—how are you able to morph them the way you do?”

The alien glanced down at his hands, uncertainty flickering in his heavily lidded eyes. “I do not know. It is a natural ability of my people.”

“No worries,” she grinned, tapping her fingers against the edge of her desk. “However you are able to do it, thank you for doing it now. You’ve been incredibly helpful—”

The alien responded to Luthor’s unspoken request by uttering a string of syllables far more complex than she could ever be bothered to attempt—although it gave her a chance to watch his tongue elongate and twist in ways similar to his extended fingers. Then, he shrugged and finished, “But people on Earth call me Tony.”

“Thank you, Tony. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would you please provide a little more help by escorting Mr. Rieger to his holding cell? My colleague will show you the way.”

The alien inclined his head in agreement and looked toward Henshaw for direction. The cybernetic hybrid gestured out the door and gruffed, “To the right.” Tony started immediately in the specified direction. Henshaw turned before leaving, indicating with a nod that he already understood Luthor’s wishes.

Luthor smiled possessively at Henshaw’s insightfulness, already anticipating the tests she would run on her newest acquisition. She would deal with Roulette later—perhaps increase her next payment enough to soften the blow of taking yet another of her prized fighters. In all honesty, the doctor didn’t exactly care about preserving the sanctity of Roulette’s little fight club if it meant missing the opportunity to explore the utter treasure that had just walked out of her office. “He’ll make a wondrous test subject,” she muttered, fingers twitching in anticipation.

Chapter Text

“Alex!”

The DEO agent sat up from the test she was running, worry creasing her brow at the sound of her sister’s cry. Through the glass-paneled wall of her lab, she watched Kara fly up from the main floor and settle on shaking legs in front of her.

Seeing the terror in Kara’s eyes, Alex hurried to her side, reaching out to steady her in place. Kara, however, quickly moved out of reach, shaking her head vehemently. “No, don’t. Something’s wrong. Something is wrong with me, Alex. Everything feels wrong.”

Concern burned in the pit of her stomach as Alex watched Kara’s deepening distress. “All right, Kara, it’s okay. Whatever is going on, we will figure it out.” She fought against the urge to hug her frightened sister, realizing that contact of any kind was one of her biggest taboos at the moment. “You did the right thing coming here. We’re going to get you whatever help you need.”

Kara nodded, the fear retreating just enough to steady her stance. Whatever was wrong, Alex would fix it. “Thank you.” Her voice trembled in a way that always reminded Alex of the frightened young girl she was when she first arrived on Earth.

“You’re not alone, Kara. I’m here and we’re going to figure this out together. I promise.” Taking a chance, she held out her hand, breathing a sigh of relief when Kara reached out and tentatively took it in her own.

The blonde seemed surprised at first, but she quickly shifted to relief as she pulled Alex in and held her as tightly as she knew she could. Alex was just as fast to wrap her arms around her sister, making sure she put all her strength into her hold. She could feel tears soaking through her uniform top where Kara had buried her head against her shoulder.

Heart aching at the fear her sister was feeling, Alex guided her farther into the lab, helping her down onto one of the stools around her workspace. Glancing at the entrance, she decided they needed privacy for whatever conversation they were about to have. With the press of a few buttons on her workstation, the doors slid shut and locked under her Alpha-One clearance. Privacy guaranteed.

Taking a seat opposite Kara, Alex reached out and took one of her hands in her grip, squeezing to regain the other’s attention. “Hey, so fill me in, okay? I need to understand what’s going on so I can figure out how to proceed. You said everything felt wrong, and you didn’t want me to touch you at all when you first arrived. Why?”

The blonde sniffled, eyes still reflecting the fear coiling inside her. “Something—glitched with my sense of touch. I could feel things.”

“Like how it feels when your powers blow out?”

She shook her head emphatically. “No. More. Kind of like how I could feel on Krypton. It—it felt like what it was like to be touched before I arrived on Earth.” Alex’s breath caught at the sight of her sister’s sorrowful gaze. Even with all she did to make sure Kara felt as much from her hugs and touches as possible, her sister’s words were a reminder that it would never be the same.

“It’s okay, Kara. This is very helpful. So your sense of touch became amplified. And it was clearly still that way when you arrived.” Kara nodded, grimacing at the memory of the wind scrubbing her skin raw as she flew as fast as she could to the DEO while remaining subsonic. “But now it’s back to normal?”

“Yes.” She chewed at the inside of her cheek, debating her next words. “There was something else. My heat vision—it-it popped without me activating it.”

Popped?” Understanding grew stronger with each new fact Kara provided. “And was this at the same time that your sensation of touch increased?”

“Yes, almost simultaneously. The heat vision was much less severe though. It just flared slightly before I could bring it back under control.”

With a knowing nod, Alex asked, “Have you noticed any kind of fluctuation in your sense of touch or your power control before today?”

Kara’s first inclination was to say no, but even cursory reflection on the question brought up several memories of lesser but still significant instances. “Yeah,” she finally admitted, flinching at her sister’s responding smirk. “I haven’t experienced anything as-as pronounced as what happened this morning—but, yeah, there have been other instances.”

“When was the first?”

“Midvale.” She halted, a pensive frown tugging at her lips. “Actually, no. D.C. My freeze breath and heat vision both triggered slightly on their own, and flying home felt like a less painful version of flying over here today—raw and abrasive.”

“And you had similar things happen in Midvale?”

“Yeah, only that time I lost control over my hearing, and my X-ray vision triggered very briefly.”

“And Clark pointed out to Mom that you lost control of your freeze breath on New Year’s Eve, and you felt me grip your shoulder that night, didn’t you?”

Kara’s mouth dropped open in surprise, instantly flashing to the sight of Kal-El whispering something to Eliza and the uncomfortable way he behaved around her as they were leaving National City. A more pressing awareness, however, began to settle in the deep-set crinkle between her eyes. “Every instance has been around Cat. Alex, is this some kind of reaction to her?”

“Oh, you’re definitely reacting to Cat,” Alex teased. She quickly reeled in some of her amusement, however, at the distress growing in her sister’s expression. “Hey, Kara, it’s all right. Listen to me, okay? There is nothing wrong. You’re fine and Cat’s fine.” She chuckled while adding, “Probably frustrated as hell by this point, but fine.”

“But—”

Alex gave Kara’s hand a strong squeeze before interlocking their fingers. “Kara, I swear to you, you are all right. I know what’s happening, but I need to ask you something—and it’s probably going to embarrass you, but I need your honest answer.”

Muscles twitched along Kara’s throat. “Okay.”

“In all these instances, including this morning, were you experiencing physical arousal?”

All the confirmation Alex needed came in the way Kara’s expression shifted, her eyes instantly widening at the accuracy of her sister’s question and her skin flushing the same color as the sigil on her chest.

Alex nodded at this final confirmation. She’d been anticipating this conversation ever since her mother had pulled her aside a few days after New Year’s Eve. She’d shared with Alex Clark’s observations of Kara that night and what they would mean regarding this exact conversation. To be honest, she was amazed it had taken this long for Kara to finally come to her like this.

“Do you remember when Mom had ‘the talk’ with you?”

Kara blanched at the memory. Eliza had been patient and kind, but she also had been purposefully honest with Kara regarding the many limitations that she faced concerning any kind of intimate relations with humans. She had tried to place things in as positive a context as she could, even mentioning how Kal-El had been able to find a suitable human partner. Kara remembered the way Eliza blushed slightly as she sidestepped any of the details of what she described as mostly successful attempts at an intimate relationship. “The only thing that could have made that talk worse would be if Kal-El had given it to me himself.”

“He wanted to.” Alex smiled at the shocked look Kara shot her. “He thought it was something that should come from another Kryptonian. Mom stopped him—said that it would be more appropriate for her, as this was traditionally a mother-daughter conversation on Earth. Really, she just wanted to save you both from even more embarrassment than necessary.” Kara sighed, making a mental note to thank Eliza the next time they saw each other. Alex continued, “Do you remember, though, what Mom told you about what intimacy might do to your senses?”

Kara’s expression shifted at the realization slowly growing in her brain. “She said it would sharpen my senses. I didn’t really understand what she meant, but I was so mortified by the conversation that I didn’t ask.”

Alex rubbed the base of her neck. “I can explain it to you.” She smirked slightly at Kara. “Mom made a lot of notes in your medical file, which, before you start to panic, is sealed for highly limited access. Dr. Hamilton and I are the only ones who can access it in its entirety—not even J’onn can do that.”

“I strangely don’t feel better about this,” Kara sighed.

“Then you probably don’t want me to point out that the information I learn from this conversation is going to have to go into your file as well.”

“Alex!”

“Kara, we need to keep as complete records as we can on you. You are the only female Kryptonian left.”

“So, what’s the point? It’s not like anyone will need them for future reference after I’m gone.” Kara felt terrible the minute she snapped the words at Alex, even before seeing her sister’s pained expression. “I’m sorry. That was—I just—I’m sorry, Alex.”

Tightening her hold on Kara’s hand, Alex replied, “You have every right to be upset, Kara, but it’s still important for us to document as much about you as we can. Also, there is the possibility that if Clark ever has children, he might have a daughter. She would be half Kryptonian, which means that anything we learn from you could be beneficial in her care. Okay?”

Kara nodded in acceptance and offered a sad smile when Alex leaned over to kiss her forehead. “So,” she joked, “let’s hear your version of ‘the talk.’ I’m not grading on a curve, so expect no leniency, Dr. Danvers.”

“Dork,” Alex chuckled. She then steadied herself with a deep breath, preparing herself for a conversation that she knew was going to cause Kara a great deal of embarrassment. “According to Clark, his sense of touch became extremely sensitive when he experienced sexual arousal. Dad ran some tests and determined this was a physiological response that correlated with vasocongestion.”

“Vaso-what now? You know science isn’t one of the languages I speak, right?”

“Swelling caused by increased blood flow. It’s the same for Kryptonians and humans: One of the physiological responses to sexual arousal is an increase in blood flow and localized increase in blood pressure to genitalia to enable things like erections and lubrication.”

She rolled her eyes at the discomfited face Kara pulled. “For Kryptonians, however, something about the vasocongestion causes a significant spike in tactility. It doesn’t decrease your skin’s tensile strength at all, but it would cause you to feel pain, say, if you took a bullet while being turned on.”

“Well, that’s good to know: Cancel those fantasies of letting Cat shoot me as foreplay.”

“Okay, that was borderline TMI.”

Alex was pleased to see that Kara’s smiles were becoming more relaxed and genuine, signs that her sister was steadily calming down and becoming more comfortable. “What about the issues with my powers flaring on their own?”

“Clark reported similar issues with his powers. However, the good news on this is that it’s not actually triggered by anything physiological. It’s more of a-a divided attention issue. Clark reported that with practice, he was able to increase his focus on controlling his powers while also focusing on—other things.”

“Okay, that is TMI.” Her frown melted into a full laugh at the sight of Alex nodding in agreement while making a similarly exaggerated face.

“So, there you go. You’re not glitching out. You’re just horny.”

“Alex!” Embarrassment flooded Kara’s cheeks with the deepest red Alex had ever seen her sister turn.

The brunette continued laughing even after Kara punched her in the arm with just enough force for it to sting. Even through the blush, Alex could see the amusement in Kara’s expression at her teasing. “So, I’m just going to assume that, beyond you apparently making a habit of flying off whenever something spooks you, things are still going really well between you and Cat?”

Her sister’s expression softened so beautifully at the question her breath caught at the sight. “Last night, she told me she loves me.”

Without hesitation, Alex pulled Kara into as tight a hug as she could manage from where she sat, her laughter warm and bright. “Let me be the first to inform you that you two are disgustingly adorable together.”

The hero responded with her own laughter, mingled with tears of joy and worry that Alex instinctively wiped away and soothed. “Hey, hey, it’s going to be all right, Kara. You’re going to be okay, I promise.” She kissed her sister’s forehead. “Cat isn’t going anywhere, and the two of you are going to work through this and be even stronger and more disgustingly adorable than ever.” 

Rising and nudging Kara’s shoulder playfully, she finished, “So why don’t I run a few quick tests on you, just to be on the safe side, and then get you back to Cat before she ends up calling in presidential favors to hunt you down?”

The brunette rolled her eyes in amusement at Kara’s sheepish grin before grabbing her hand and leading her back toward the medical bay. Gesturing toward one of the bio beds, she teased, “Okay, Cosmic Casanova, lie down and let me hook you up. We’ll make sure nothing’s spiking abnormally, get some fresh baseline readings for you, and then you’ll be good to go.” She smirked mischievously. “Just try not to screw up the readings with horndog thoughts, okay?” Chuckling at Kara’s glare, she finished, “Think of Snapper—that should keep your libido in check.”

The feigned choking noises coming from her sister shifted her chuckle into a full-throated laugh as she finished attaching electrodes to Kara’s temples and chest. “I’ll be back in ten minutes,” and with a playful punch to her sister’s shoulder, she headed back to her lab to clean up the test she was running when Kara arrived.

The sight of the flashing message indicator on her phone set her on alert, aware immediately of who would have called. Without even listening to the message, she simply pulled up the last number to call and hit redial. Before the second ring began, she heard the cleanly clipped query from the other side: “Is she with you?”

“She’s here, Cat. I’m sorry I missed your call. I was setting her up for some tests.”

“Tests?” Alex heard the CEO’s tone shift from its previous disquiet to full-blown worry. “What’s wrong, Alex? Is Kara okay? Should I come there?”

Alex quickly interrupted to calm Cat’s escalating worry. “Kara is all right, I promise.” She took a deep breath, understanding that Cat was not one for wasting words or time, and started right in. “Our mom explained to you about Kara’s sense of touch—how it’s diminished by her skin’s impenetrability. Under certain circumstances, this can change. That was what frightened her earlier—why she left so quickly.”

Cat nodded to herself, recalling how her touch to Kara’s shoulder had set off her panic. “Perhaps you could elaborate on what these ‘certain circumstances’ are so I can be better prepared next time she wooshes out of here like I threatened her with kryptonite.”

The CEO listened, her curiosity spiking dangerously high as Alex took another calming breath. “One way, of course, is when Kara loses her powers. The other is—the other is part of her body’s autonomic response to physical arousal.”

Silence prevailed through the line for several beats as Cat processed her myriad responses, comments, and questions before finally managing a soft, “Oh.” Her heart beat so fiercely in that moment that she could feel each pulse in the pit of her stomach. 

With a subtle clearing of her throat, she quickly added, “This is a startling reminder of your sister’s alieness, by the way, considering she was reading shipping route schedules at the time of this unexpected libido lift. Should I try train schedules next and see what happens then?”

Alex couldn’t help the snort of laughter at Cat’s jest. “My mom knew from tests on Kal-El that this would be a normal physiological response, but it’s never happened to Kara before. She didn’t know what was happening. That’s why she panicked and left the way she did.”

“Never?” Cat shook her head at the confirmation of what she already suspected to be true. “I will allow that the cardigans do nothing to help her, but surely someone has tried.”

“That sexual frustration of yours really puts you in high snark spirits, Cat.” She chuckled at the huff that passed through the line before sobering slightly as she formulated her next words. “And it’s not that no one has tried or that Kara is puritanical—contrary to your past opinions about her cardigans.”

She rolled her eyes at the sound of Cat muttering “Past opinion?” rather pointedly beneath her breath.

“You understand that Kara keeps tight rein on all her physical powers, all the time.”

After a moment of silence, Cat sighed, “She’s reticent about letting herself go enough to try intimacy.”

In confirmation, Alex responded,“Kara broke her date’s toes just while dancing at her junior prom. When she was a senior, she broke another guy’s wrist when he tried some unwanted moves on her in the back seat of his car.”

Her fist flexed instinctively at the memory of Kara softly telling her this as they sat together on the roof outside their bedroom window. It was Thanksgiving and Alex’s first time home since starting at NCU. She knew the guy in question—knew what a sleaze he could be and knew the only reason Kara had agreed to go out with him was because she hadn’t been there to warn her sister away. As she listened to Kara explain things like any of it had been her fault, she found herself plotting how she could pass by his house on her way back to National City and break what Kara actually should have broken. Instead, she pushed down her anger and drew her sister into her arms, hugging her and reassuring her that she had done nothing he hadn’t deserved.

“She’s broken guys’ noses just from kissing them too excitedly,” she finally continued. “And the more she learns to control herself, the more she realizes how dangerous she could be to a human if she ever let that control slip.”

“She’s afraid she’ll hurt me.”

“Cat, she’s terrified she could kill you. It’s—it’s not just her strength in question here.”

“She loses focus on controlling her powers when she’s turned on.” She heard the surprised inhalation through the line. “I am an investigative journalist, Alex. I have mad observational skills when it comes to noticing things like when Kara’s eyes do more than just figuratively light up at certain times. I also believe the first time I kissed her, it ended up feeling slightly like getting CPR from Jack Frost.”

She sighed, thinking to herself how nice it would have been if a certain Metropolis reporter had given her a bit of a heads-up on this particular Kryptonian secret. Words, she decided in that moment, most certainly would be exchanged with Lois.

“How much longer will you be running tests on her?”

“Not much. I can send her back to your place as soon as I’m finished.”

“No. Send her to her apartment. She’ll feel more at ease in those surroundings, I think.” Alex warmed at how attuned Cat was to even the smallest detail of her sister’s needs. “I’ll have Agent Hawthorne drive me there to meet her.”

“There’s a painting in the hallway, on the wall opposite her apartment, of a cat.” She smirked at the realization of why her sister probably (definitely) chose that particular painting. “Lift it away from the wall and you’ll feel a key taped to the bottom left side of the canvas. That will let you in if she’s not there by the time you arrive.” She playfully added, “And if you forget to return the key to its hiding place, I’m sure Kara wouldn’t mind.”

Cat hummed at the information. “I’m going to head to her place now. Agent Hawthorne is a delightful young man, but his driving speed is comparable to that of a pot-addled sloth.”

Alex laughed at the vivid visual. “Cut the poor kid some slack, Cat. He’s probably terrified. I’m pretty sure Supergirl mentioned to him that it would be in his best interest to make sure nothing happened to you. Be glad he hasn’t tried to bubble-wrap you before letting you outside.”

“Well, Supergirl either has another talk with Agent Hawthorne or I’m breaking out the Jag and driving myself to and from the DEO—and I will expect valet service.”

“You can give me those keys any time—but you might never see that pristine machine again if you did.”

“Keep it up, Agent Danvers, and I’m going to put in a special request with your boss that you be my new chauffeur.”

“Hmm, hand-to-hand combat with aliens that spit acid or driving the Queen of All Media through National City traffic.” She paused for a beat. “I don’t know—that’s a tough call.”

She chuckled at the sound of Cat clicking her tongue dismissively. “While you consider your options, finish whatever mad scientist prodding you’re doing with your alien sister and send her on her way. Chop, chop.”

Alex snorted into the phone. “Did you—did I just receive an infamous Cat Grant ‘chop-chop’? Be still my heart.”

“Careful,” Cat warned. “You did just establish with your professional medical opinion that sexual frustration causes increased snark levels. Based on that supposition, I might have to draw conclusions about you and Detective Sawyer if you keep up this line of conversation.”

Nervously clearing her throat, Alex stammered through a hasty goodbye that left a victorious grin slipping along the smaller blonde’s lips.

Once she’d finished her tests on Kara, the brunette drew her sister into one final hug. When she drew back, she smiled mischievously and teased, “I’ve got the aliens handled here, so time for you to go get your girl. She’s waiting for you at your place.”

With a furious blush and a hug slightly too tight, Kara zipped off in a blur of color, still able to hear her sister’s teasing laugh well after she’d launched herself from the DEO bay doors.

Making it home in record time even by Krytptonian standards, the hero slipped through the living room windows she always left slightly ajar, sliding to a stop in front of her sofa. Her smile, equal parts nervous and relieved, lit her face as she took in the sight of Cat, there in her apartment. At some point, the smaller blonde had tossed her heels beside the coffee table while she curled up against one side of the couch, thumbing through the latest issue of CatCo magazine.

“I have found three typos already, and I’m not even out of the first twenty pages. I’m fairly certain that’s already three times as many typographical errors in one issue than you ever allowed to pass your reviews the entire time you helped me edit layouts.” The CEO tossed the magazine onto the coffee table with a vexed quirk of her lips. When she focused fully on Kara, she finished, “You wouldn’t by any chance be interested in using your super speed to double as a junior editor and a cub reporter, hmm?”

The hero laughed even as she toyed with one of the thumb straps on her suit. “Snapper doesn’t strike me as the kind of boss who would be willing to share my time with another division.”

“No, I suppose not.” She slipped off her glasses, gesturing toward Kara with one of the temple tips. “Why don’t you go change? It might help you feel a little more comfortable.” She glanced pointedly at Kara’s fingers, now tangling with the thumb loops on both sleeves.

With a brisk nod, the hero breezed to her room and back with breathtaking rapidity. Cat sniffed in amusement as she slid her glasses onto the table. “You’re more ‘hummingbird’ than ‘little bird’ with those moves.” She watched with relief as Kara smiled at her comment, relaxing somewhat into the conversation.

Gesturing toward the hero’s loose-fitting striped button-down and faded jeans, she sighed, “I’m afraid I had to throw away your clothes from earlier. I never realized how wardrobe-demolishing all those quick changes into your suit must be.”

Kara’s cheeks flushed. “I—um, I usually don’t completely destroy my outfit like I did earlier,” she confessed. “Although I did learn very quickly to leave several spare sets of clothes around CatCo—just in case.” The blush deepened as she thought of several “wardrobe malfunctions” early in her endeavors as Supergirl where she nearly outed herself to several people, including Cat. “You were particularly displeased the afternoon I had to wear one of Winn’s cardigans.”

Cat wrinkled her nose, instantly recalling the drab, ill-fitting sweater in question. “It made you look like you’d raided a frumpy Lilliputian’s wardrobe,” she smirked, eyes glittering at the giggle her comment drew from the hero across from her. She shifted her legs up under herself, slinging her arm across the back of the sofa. She tapped her fingers against the cushion beside her, arching her brow in Kara’s direction as she did.

With a noticeable swallow, Kara nodded and sat beside the smaller blonde. She instantly bowed her head and clasped her hands together in her lap as a preemptive against the next bout of fidgeting she could already feel ready to burst from her fingers. At the sensation of Cat’s hand wrapping around the base of her neck and massaging firmly, Kara finally redirected her attention up, blue eyes narrowed slightly in worry. All she found in Cat’s gaze, however, was a quiet reassurance that surprised Kara by how deeply she needed to see it.

Leaning in, Cat used her hold on Kara to draw the hero close enough to press a kiss against her cheek. “Are you all right?”

Kara pressed her lips together, nodding her head adamantly before stammering, “I—I didn’t mean to leave like that—again.” She hung her head once more. “I keep doing that. I know it’s wrong—I’m shutting you out. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to shut you out.”

Realizing that Kara was working herself up unnecessarily, Cat tightened her grip enough to draw her attention. “You were scared, Kara. To be completely honest, what happened and your reaction to it startled me, too. You were experiencing something you didn’t understand, and your first response was to find the person you knew could help you.”

“But that should—”

“That shouldn’t always be me, Kara,” Cat quickly interrupted, before changing her statement slightly. “That can’t always be me. As well-versed as I am in many things, even I acknowledge I have limits—few though they may be.” She nudged Kara’s shoulder playfully, pleased at the hint of a smile she elicited for her effort. “There are going to be times when we can’t be everything for each other, and there is nothing wrong with that. You needed Alex to help you understand what was happening to you this morning, and she was able to do just that, correct?”

Embarrassment flared in Kara’s cheeks at Cat’s question. “Y-yeah,” she stammered, voice barely audible.

Cat tilted her head minutely, taking in the sight of the woman beside her for several moments before deciding this particular conversation was going to require a more—unique perspective. With swift, smooth moves, she pivoted her position so she was straddling Kara’s lap, knees on either side of the hero’s hips.

The sight of Kara staring slack-jawed at Cat’s unexpected position change lit amusement in the smaller blonde’s gaze. She laced her fingers behind the hero’s neck and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “I thought this might be the best way to make sure you stay put,” she teased, enjoying the shy hint of a smile she saw glide along Kara’s lips right before leaning in to chase it with a kiss.

Using her position to her advantage, she pressed down into the kiss, savoring the sensation as Kara willingly opened her mouth and met Cat’s tongue with her own. The muscles slid and slipped against each other briefly before Cat decided to shift her focus. Kara gasped and obediently looked up at the unexpected feel of Cat’s hand tangling in her hair and tugging sharply. The hero shivered at the glint of dominance burning gold and dangerous within Cat’s gaze. With a decisive breath, the smaller blonde tightened her grip, nails digging into Kara’s scalp as she pulled the hero into a kiss firmer than any she had previously attempted.

The response was a needful whimper that Cat consumed voraciously, her lips already feeling the bruise of crushing against Kara’s mouth. Nothing mattered, however, except for the feel of Kara responding to her touch, allowing herself to succumb to the direction of Cat’s grip holding her in place.

The sensations were too much, too full and Kara never wanted to stop the overwhelming responses Cat was somehow drawing from her body as she moved her attention lower—Cat’s lips against her pulse point, Cat’s teeth scraping against her jaw, Cat’s tongue tracing the contour of her neck, dipping into the hollow of her throat. This mouth from which Kara had heard all variety of words selected with the precision to elicit all variety of emotions was now eliciting pure intensity from her without a word.

It was only when Cat felt the familiar twitch of her hips, aching to seek more contact against the firm body beneath her that she slowed. Pushing Kara back against the couch cushions, she pressed herself more deeply into the hero’s lap, the movement sparking heat low in her abdomen. She watched Kara swallow hard, desperately trying to calm herself. The consuming darkness of her pupils told Cat the hero’s attempt was far too late.

The smaller blonde reached out her fingers, running them along Kara’s cheek and watching curiously as the woman shuddered helplessly beneath her touch. “Tell me what it feels like when I touch you.”

“It feels…real.” She reached up and pressed Cat’s hand against her cheek. “You feel so real.”

Her vision blurred through a sudden haze of tears as she held Cat’s hand against skin once more open to the sense she hadn’t felt fully since her final moments on Krypton. She laughed through the sob stuck somewhere in the back of her throat, her heart racing, her thoughts falling silent beneath the slow, steady swipe of Cat’s fingers, so electric, so alive it was almost painful.

Bringing both hands to Kara’s face, Cat gently caressed her forehead and temples, down her cheeks, along her jaw, tracing the strong arch of her neck and the sharp lines of her collarbones. With every stroke, she watched each beat of Kara’s pulse beneath this tantalizingly awake skin, finally leaning close to feel once more the strength of the hero’s heartbeat against the swirl of her tongue.

The shocked inhalation grew to a series of distracting gasps when Cat dropped her hands lower, carefully palming both of Kara’s breasts. She smiled in surprise at the realization that Kara wore nothing beneath her shirt. With impressive ease, she flicked open two of Kara’s shirt buttons—just enough space though which to slide one hand while threading the fingers of her other once more through the hero’s thick blonde mane of hair.

With a decisive steady pull against the locks tangled in her grip, she watched Kara relinquish control, allowing Cat to expose the arch of her neck. As the urge struck her to do, she lavished the long line of golden skin with her mouth while teasing delicate strokes along the soft curves and hardening peak within her other grasp.

Moments passed on sharp keening breaths caused by the achingly light tease of Cat’s fingers and nails before she pressed her lips against Kara’s ear and asked, “You feel it all, don’t you? Every little touch.”

The sensation of Cat’s words, breathed so intimately against her skin, zipped straight through nerves that jittered and hummed and set light to every last neuron and synapse in Kara’s body. A moan, low and desirous, slipped between her jaws as the hero’s hips pushed upward between Cat’s thighs.

The smaller blonde, however, noticed only clenched fists held at trembling angles away from her body. Sliding her hand from inside Kara’s shirt, she grasped a fist gently. Tugging at fingers Kara curled fiercely into her palm, she coaxed, “Relax your hand, darling.”

She read and understood the hesitation in suddenly rigid lines. Raising Kara’s hand, she cradled it against her chest while stroking the hero’s jaw. “You know, it’s traditional on Earth that both lovers touch each other during shared intimate moments.” She arched a brow in punctuation while bringing Kara’s still-clenched fist to her lips.

The hero snorted slightly, but her expression betrayed the terror that refused to abate within her. “I don’t want to hurt you.” Her voice shook as tears began to gather in eyes she quickly shut in embarrassment.

Even already knowing the hero’s fear, the sound of Kara’s fragile confession pressed the breath from her lungs. “Oh, Kara.” She rested her hands on either side of Kara’s face, thumbs softly wiping at the now falling tears. “Look at me.”

She smiled at how quickly Kara obeyed, always so eager to please. “Put your hands on my waist, Kara.” At the hero’s hesitation, Cat pursed her lips in a way that conveyed perfectly that she would not accept refusal. Slowly, Kara assented. Cat’s expression gentled into a warm smile. “Good. Now, hold me more tightly.”

“Cat—”

“Hold me more tightly, Kara.” Another pause passed before Kara acquiesced once more, increasing the pressure of her hold on Cat’s waist. “More.” At this hesitation, Cat put her hands over Kara’s and asked, “Do you not trust me?”

The hero’s eyes widened as she quickly stammered, “Of-of course I trust you! I trust you with everything I am.”

The smaller blonde raised her hands to cup Kara’s face once more. “Then trust me right now. I know your strength. I know what you could do to me. I’m not afraid.” She stroked a thumb against soft skin. “I trust you with everything that I am, Kara Zor-El.”

With a harsh swallow, Kara finally nodded. Slowly, she increased her grip on Cat’s waist, pausing often to make sure she was allowing the smaller blonde enough time to react. Finally, Cat exhaled an uncomfortable sigh, her hands once more over Kara’s to steady them. The hero had already released her grip, barely letting her hands ghost the curves of Cat’s waist.

Breathing deeply to collect herself, Cat looked into Kara’s eyes with a gentle smile. “See? No harm. You know me, Kara. Have I ever had a problem voicing my thoughts on anything?”

She quirked her lips in mock disapproval at how quickly Kara smiled at this question. “I promise I will always let you know my limits, just like now. I promise this will always be about total honesty and communication.

“But,” she emphasized, her fingers tangling in Kara’s hair, “I need the same from you. Never feel you need to keep anything from me, especially your worries.” She pressed her lips gently against Kara’s. “Whatever it is, tell me and we will work through it together.”

The hero nodded once, transfixed by the irridescence of Cat’s eyes. She took a steadying breath, soft gaze instantly giving away her emotions. With a knowing smirk, the smaller blonde teased, “And, yes, I love you, too, Girl of Steel.”

The playful curve of those full lips was more than Kara could resist. With a subtle shift, she raised her knees enough to slide Cat closer, capturing the smaller blonde’s mouth with her own before she was even finished gasping in surprise.

Kara smiled into the easy glide and slip of their mouths, feeling every vibration of breath passing between them. Folding her hands as delicately as she could against Cat’s waist, she focused on the easy rhythm that Cat was once more setting with her hips, each grind slow and firm against her.

The strong beat of Cat’s heart picked up steadily until finally she pulled back, green gaze dark and rapacious. “How far do you want this to go, Kara?” She held the hero in check with a stare so certain Kara felt as though she might never be able to pull in enough oxygen again. “I have no intention of pushing you faster than you are ready to go—but,” she warned, “I’m willing to take this as far as you can handle.”

As she spoke, she continued to rock her own hips invitingly against Kara. To accentuate each word, she scraped the nails of her thumbs against nipples tightening in arousal beneath her touch once more.

Body arcing obediently into Cat’s tortuous teasing, it was all Kara could manage to breathe out, “Take me as far as I can go.”

With an elated grin, the smaller blonde slipped from Kara’s lap, offering her hand to encourage her to follow. The hero surprised her by floating to her feet but remained decidedly grounded as she took Cat’s hand and led her toward where she slept. Shifting the privacy curtain, she allowed Cat to pass first.

Purpose momentarily forgotten, Cat stepped further into the space, mouth slightly agape and gaze locked on the painting that hung before her. The canvas, the same width as Kara’s bed and at least three feet high, bore an image borne solely from the heart of its painter: an alien city of shimmering spires and glittering glass shattered out across a fiery sea that surged and broke against the opposite shore, the familiar silhouette of the Danvers homestead in the distance. Two suns—one clearly Earth’s star and the other, Cat presumed, Rao—consumed the free space in the sky, and the whole painting burned crimson and garnet, vermillion and rust, with highlights of gamboge and tangerine along the alien spires and cresting waves.

The image was breathtaking and heartbreaking in equal parts—a merging of loss and salvation, pain and remembrance. She stared at how seamlessly the two worlds blended yet retained their unique qualities—how they could share the same space while never completely being a part of the other.

Kara watched nervously as Cat studied the painting. Other than Alex, no one else had ever seen this particular piece. Part of the reason she kept it hidden from visitors was because of its clearly alien landscape. However, the greater reason was how personal it was to her and how few people in her life could ever truly understand its deeper meaning.

“It’s you.”

The breath Kara drew shuddered in her chest as she looked into the certainty and awe reflected in Cat’s gaze. And then an impossibly bright, grateful smile lit her features. Of course, Cat would see. At the responding smile from the smaller blonde, Kara stepped forward, pressing a kiss to Cat’s lips that she hoped conveyed her joy at Cat’s perception.

Before the kisses intensified too much, Cat pushed the hero back and stepped completely out of her reach. The smaller blonde unfastened the button fly of her jeans and wiggled them down her legs with a sway of her hips that Kara’s gaze devoured hungrily. Tossing the jeans onto the back of a nearby chair, she curled her fingers around the hem of her sweater and lifted it over her head in one graceful sweep. 

Breathing failed to register as a necessity in that moment as Kara took in the sight before her—of sapphire lace lingering along delicate curves of alabaster skin Kara trembled to touch. Sensing the hero’s desire, Cat stepped forward enough to wrap her own arms around broad shoulders, the length of her barely clothed body warm and inviting.

A pleased sigh resounded in the otherwise silent room as she felt Kara’s hands finally settle along her hips. With persistent teasing of lips and tongue, she slowly worked her way along Kara’s neck until she was able to nip playfully at her earlobe. “I want to make love with you now, Kara. I want to make you feel cherished and desired and completely safe in my arms.” She flicked her tongue along the outer curve of Kara’s ear before finishing, “I also want to fuck you so completely, you cry my name like it’s your last hope for salvation.”

She pulled back to look into Kara’s eyes, wide and unfocused by the mesmerizing promises offered so resolutely. “Will you let me?”

The stuttering breaths that swept across her skin grew noticeably cooler as Kara stood silently before her. Finally, the hero forced herself to nod.

With a salacious smile and purposeful moves, Cat unfastened Kara’s jeans, letting them slink down long legs with a heavy denim thump. Cat quirked her lips appreciatively at the sight of blue boy shorts slung low across sharp hip bones and powerful abdominal lines that left Cat dry-mouthed and suitably wetter elsewhere.

Kara fidgeted slightly with the waistband of the shorts. “They give me a little more modesty when I’m tumbling through the air in my Super skirt.” She offered a shy grin. “They match the suit well, too.”

A low, throaty laugh unwound between them. “As Supergirl’s staunchest PR advocate, I approve of your respect for total image branding.” Her laughter shifted to a curious growl as her fingers dipped low, trailing along the soft and noticeably wet fabric between Kara’s legs. “Mmm, I approve of this even more,” she purred while leaning into her languorous strokes. 

Kara’s grip tightened slightly against her hips and Cat smiled at the instinctive way she had begun to rock against the teasing touch of Cat’s fingers. At the feel of Cat pressing more firmly against her center, Kara’s head dropped forward against the crook of the smaller blonde’s neck. Cat listened to the pleading whisper of a foreign tongue as Kara desperately sought to find a satisfying rhythm against the friction Cat offered. 

When she withdrew her hand and leaned back, her smile grew at the sight of the aggrieved pout that instantly struck the hero’s features. “Get on the bed, Kara,” she directed, impressed by how quickly Kara floated backward, resting on her elbows and watching Cat with eager curiosity. 

The smaller blonde slowly crawled up the bed until she was between Kara’s bent knees. Settling back against her heels, she trailed her nails along Kara’s legs, from ankles all the way up to along the tops of her thighs. She noted as she lingered with rough carresses along Kara’s inner thighs the instinctive roll of the hero’s hips and how naturally she responded to Cat’s attentions, seeking more contact that Cat purposefully refused to offer.

After a few more long strokes of her nails to tease Kara’s heightened tactility, she stilled her hands and waited for the hero’s full attention. With a cunning curl of her lips, she reached around, unclasping and dropping her bra to the floor with casual ease. 

Gaze intensified noticeably at the sight of Cat’s breasts before Kara quickly closed her eyes, swallowing roughly. She felt Cat’s hand stroking a soothing pattern along her cheek but she continued to keep her eyes shut. “S-sorry,” she finally managed to husk, embarrassment tinting her cheeks. 

Leaning forward, Cat pressed a kiss against the corner of her mouth, softly entreating, “Tell me what’s happening, Kara.”

“My X-ray vision.” She swallowed again at the sound of her voice’s rasping cadence.

“I’m already almost completely naked, darling. There’s not much more you need that particular ability for at this point.”

The sound of Cat’s words, delivered in a teasing honeyed tone, finally encouraged Kara to re-open her eyes. The sight of Cat’s amused expression finally set the hero at ease. Gaze flitting appreciatively over the gentle slope of Cat’s breasts, accented by the dark blush of perfectly pert nipples, she reverently sighed, “You’re exquisite.” 

Single brow arching in response, Cat watched in delight the rosy flush that spread from Kara’s cheeks to below the open neckline of her shirt. “Smooth talker,” she intoned as she lowered herself fully against Kara’s body while trailing kisses along her jaw and neck.

Fingers made quick work of the rest of the buttons on Kara’s shirt and Cat growled appreciatively when the clothing fell open to reveal smooth skin over ripples of firm muscle. Ghosting her fingertips along Kara’s ribs, she watched the blonde shiver helplessly once more at the sensation of Cat’s touch. 

It was the sounds, though—the mewling whimpers that Kara exhaled with each press of lips or stroke of fingers against her skin—that crashed all Cat’s reason into the ground. All she needed to know was in those sounds and in the writhing that now constantly lifted Kara’s hips upward in desperate absolution of her aching need.

The sight and sound of the wanton hero beneath her struck something feral within Cat, who descended upon one of Kara’s breasts with worshipful lapping and nipping. She traced rough swirls around the sensitive areola with her tongue and noted as she teased bites along the firm outer slope how her teeth unsurprisingly left no marks on bulletproof skin.

Switching to now focus every lick and flick of tongue against Kara’s luscious nipple, Cat wondered at the strength of Kara’s fevered upward thrusts and if perhaps the hero might end up floating them both off the bed. Some fleeting part of her curious to see what it would take to make that happen, she sucked Kara’s nipple into her mouth with far more force than she would normally use, moaning into the feel of the hero quivering and groaning wickedly at the rush.

She set to work on teasing Kara with dexterous fingers and nails against her other breast, each stroke and tug against stiff pink flesh arcing fiercely through Kara’s body. The entirety of Kara’s torso lifted from the bed under the unrelenting sensations, desperately seeking more—more contact, more touches, more lips and teeth and tongue, more of everything she needed to feel.

The sounds pouring from Kara’s throat intensified to a cadence of shallow grunts forced through clenched jaws, and Cat suddenly noticed the feeling of something electric in the air around her, like the sensation of lightning on the horizon. She slowed her mouth’s unforgiving rhythm, halting completely when she glanced up toward the hero’s face. Pressing up lightly on bent arms, she stared down in slack-jawed awe. Kara’s eyes—normally that exquisite cerulean that Cat could conjure in her mind’s eye with practiced ease—coruscated white hot, sparking in time with Kara’s erratic breathing.

It was then that Cat noticed each breath Kara exhaled puffed out in a chilled mist—her freeze breath, slipping unbidden past her lips. Pressing a calming hand against the hero’s flushed chest, Cat leaned closer, knowing on some level that if Kara lost control of her heat vision, the power would obliterate Cat Grant from existence. However, the smaller blonde also knew that she trusted the hero implicitly. “Kara, your powers—is this too much? We can stop.”

No hesitation slowed the shake of Kara’s head, the glow of her eyes diminishing with renewed focus. Cat’s mouth hovered just above Kara’s, the smaller blonde feeling the tingle of her breath, cold as a winter morning, against her skin. “Then tell me what you need, Kara.” She leaned close and kissed Kara’s lips, marveling at the chill that lingered. “Tell me,” she whispered again, against the curve of Kara’s mouth.

The darkness of Kara’s pupils sparked brightly once more. Her words stuttered out in desperate icy huffs. “Ne-need release. Please, Cat.”

Cat needed no further prompting from the woman beneath her, writhing against her with every touch, looking into her eyes with fathomless need and longing. Fingers dipped beneath the fabric of Kara’s boy shorts, slipped instantly through delicious wetness. A gasp rose in Cat’s throat as she ran her fingers through Kara’s slick heat, feeling delicate ridges along the length of her labia.

Eyes widened slightly at the discovery, her surprise tempered only by the flicker of worry she saw shadow Kara’s expression. With a decisive stare, she spread her fingers so she could run them along both ridged sides at once. Kara convulsed at the sensation, inarticulate cries tumbling from her lips as Cat’s fingers danced tortuously along and against the increasingly sensitive undulations of flesh.

When their gazes finally met, Cat smiled possessively and growled, “Mine,” as she pressed in and dragged her fingers along more firmly than before. The sensation summoned the most guttural of sounds from Kara and sent her eyes rolling upward in vibrant ecstasy.

Hips rose of their own accord, craving more of Cat’s ministrations. Desperation furrowed the hero’s brow and Cat noticed how she held her arms out at rigid angles once more, hands clenched into bone-crushing fists. The hero was coming completely unraveled beneath her, and Cat couldn’t think of any sight more exquisite. Trailing a hand once more downward, she began to press two fingers inside of Kara in the hopes of finally giving her the release she required.

Surprise caught her breath in her throat at the feel of a slightly too tight hold suddenly on her wrist, stilling her hand. She looked into Kara’s eyes, seeing the pulsing flicker of her heat vision subside slightly. “N-not-not inside,” she stuttered, barely able to maintain her focus on Cat’s face. “Too s-strong. I c-could hurt you.”

Nodding in understanding, Cat pulled back, dragging slicked fingers up once more along those tantalizing ridges, which Cat swore she could feel pulsing in time with Kara’s heartbeat. Thoughts of running her tongue along those ridges filled Cat with a sensual heat, but she knew Kara wouldn’t last much longer. All it took, in fact, were several more hard swipes against the ridges and a perfectly timed press of her palm against the swollen rise of Kara’s similarly ridged clit to send her soaring into consuming oblivion.

With one massive uncontrollable shudder and a cry that nearly surpassed the human range of hearing, Kara’s entire body fell still. The smaller blonde gently slipped her hand from between the hero’s thighs, contentedly running her tongue along fingers slicked with Kara’s wetness. She hummed appreciatively at the flavors—salty-sweet with hints of sandalwood and something decidedly umami.

Curling against Kara’s side, the smaller blonde sighed in satisfaction at the sight of the pleasure-decimated hero. “Talk about exquisite.”

Delicate lines of red crept up through Kara’s cheeks, a slight nervous twitch of her lips causing Cat to frown. “I-I probably should have warned you about the—you know, that I’m—that I’m different.” 

“Kara?” Silenced by Cat’s inquisitive tone but unable to make eye contact, Kara instead closed her eyes while turning her face slightly away from the smaller blonde. Cat, however, would have none of it. Settling one hand firmly against Kara’s cheek, she pressed with enough force to let Kara know that she would brook no refusal. “Hey,” she sighed when she once more had Kara’s full attention. “You are not to be embarrassed by anything about yourself with me.”

She leaned in, capturing the hero’s lips in a slow, enrapturing kiss. It simply would not do for Kara to feel any doubt about how utterly beautiful she was, and if Cat had to kiss that doubt away each time it arose, then she would do so gladly.

“Kara, you are beautiful in your uniqueness, and I wouldn’t want you to be any other way.” She reached up to twirl a lock of the hero’s hair between her fingers. “Besides, feeling you and hearing what I was doing to you as I stroked your ridges? Immeasurably hot.”

“Yeah?” Her smile was sweetness and light and stoked the delicious pain that had settled in Cat’s chest not long after she’d first met Kara Danvers.

Leaning closer, she kissed Kara’s nose, which crinkled adorably. “Yeah,” she teased. Stretching against the length of Kara’s body, she lazily draped a leg across the hero’s thighs. Fingers idly began tracing along the line of Kara’s sternum. Cat feasted upon the sight and sound and scent of arousal she was already conjuring again with these simple moves. “We really should work on your control, Supergirl. I’d hate to be the cause of you scorching a hole through your ceiling.”

Kara shut her eyes, breathing slowly in through her nose and out through her mouth a few times to center herself. When she opened them again, she was met with a grin that was equal parts smug and alluring. “Somehow I get the feeling that you would actually be pretty proud of yourself if I did laser through my ceiling.”

Cat hummed, her fingers now stroking along the lower line of Kara’s abdomen. She felt the solid muscles ripple at her touch. “Goddamn right,” she replied, the cocky glint in her eye growing brighter as she shifted to straddle Kara’s waist. Reaching down, the smaller blonde lifted one of Kara’s hands. Seeing the partially formed fist, she entreated once more, “Relax your hand, Kara.” The hero’s fingers uncurled, and Cat couldn’t resist the temptation to take one deeply into her mouth. Stuttering, cold breath across her cheek was her reward as she pulled Kara’s finger slowly past her lips, teeth scraping along skin that Cat found intoxicatingly responsive.

She pressed her lips against Kara’s palm. “Do you want to touch me?”

An electric snap of light in her eyes was all the answer Kara needed to give. Wrapping her fingers gently around Kara’s wrist, Cat guided her down between her legs, where she cupped the hero’s hand against soaked lace.

“Feel what you do to me.” She leaned forward and ran her tongue along the shell of Kara’s ear, savoring the hero’s tremble under her touch. “This isn’t the first time you’ve made me this wet, Kara. So many times before, I’ve wanted you—ached for you.”

Slipping the hero’s hand past the thin barrier of fabric left between them, Cat softly entreated, “Please, Kara. Take away this ache.”

Fingers flexed involuntarily before Kara slid them through intimate curves and dips, savoring the silken slickness she found. There was no resistance as two fingers slipped deep inside, Cat’s growl of desire reverberating through her entire body at the feeling. Hips already starting a tantalizing rhythm against Kara’s hand, the smaller blonde whispered in Kara’s ear, “Third time’s a charm, darling.”

It took Kara only a moment to understand before she slipped a third finger inside Cat, receiving a thoroughly obscene moan against her neck in reward. “Oh, fuck, Kara.” The words, hissed directly into Kara’s ear, sent a shudder all the way to her toes, her own groan of pleasure echoing in her throat.

Shifting her position, Cat leaned up, back arching into a provocative curve, Kara now able to see the muscles of her lithe body undulating as she ground harder against the hero’s hand. She slowly trailed her nails up her thighs, over her stomach, and along the undersides of her breasts, leaving quickly fading lines and visible chills along her flesh. Tilting her head enough so she could see Kara from beneath half-lidded eyes, she then slowly drew her fingers upward to tease taut nipples between her forefingers and thumbs.

The sight of this stunning spectacle astride her consumed every last one of Kara’s senses. Her hearing was attuned solely to the sounds of Cat’s pleasure, to the thunderous beat of her heart, and the profane word combinations that surpassed even Cat’s bluest office language. Instead, this was language of raw need and raging desire, every word and moan driving deeper the longing that was growing once more between Kara’s legs. Her skin sang with the searing sensation of every lust-soaked press of Cat’s heat against her, the scent of Cat’s arousal like ether leaving her dazed and lightheaded.

Unable to withstand any more passive observation, Kara sat up, shifting Cat into her lap. The smaller blonde never lost rhythm, but her eyes now stared intently into Kara’s, wide pupils barely traced in jade. Cat’s full lips parted, hungry gasps caressing Kara’s face, and that was more than the hero could take. “Put your hands behind you, Cat.”

The smaller blonde shivered at the steel in Kara’s command and crossed her arms behind her, her obedience causing fire to rise in Kara’s core. She reached around and locked Cat’s wrists against the small of her back with her free hand. Her grip was gentle but immovable, and Cat relished this sensation of releasing control to the hero between her thighs.

Leaning forward and never losing eye contact, Kara positioned her mouth over one of Cat’s nipples, already hard and swollen from the smaller blonde’s fevered ministrations. A devilish glint sparked in those piercing blue eyes right at the moment she flicked out her tongue against the taut peak.

Cat shivered at the wholly unexpected icy sensation against her heated skin. Kara released another gently chilled breath along her tongue before flicking it against Cat’s other nipple, receiving a similarly enthusiastic response from the woman riding her hand with delicious abandon. For several moments, Kara alternated her attention between Cat’s breasts, focusing on using her chilled tongue to tease the smaller blonde into keening ecstasy.

The sensations flowing through her were steadily short-circuiting everything else in Cat’s mind beyond Kara. Her back arched uncontrollably, her weight borne by Kara’s unyielding hold on her arms. She was already slipping over the precipice when Kara timed the moment precisely to tease the rigid pink peak in her mouth with a scrape of teeth and curl her three fingers inside Cat upward, stroking just the right spot in just the right way. Words finally and utterly falling away, the smaller blonde let her head fall back with a sinful moan as every muscle of her body tightened in revelation. Kara never relented, her fingers and mouth moving Cat from pleasure to pleasure with perfect precision, her eyes filled with need and wonder.

When Kara saw that Cat could take no more, she slowed the pace of her fingers before gently removing them and taking them between her own lips. She closed her eyes, committing to memory the flavor of Cat Grant as she licked away every trace of her essence.

At the feeling of Kara’s fingers slipping out, the smaller blonde fell forward against her, sweat-slicked and utterly exhausted. Releasing her grip on Cat’s wrists, Kara wrapped her in her arms, gently settling them both down onto her bed.

Cat curled into the hero’s embrace, humming contentedly. Several minutes passed before she could locate the ability to speak once more. “You continue to exceed all expectations in meeting my needs, Kiera.” She smiled at the feeling of Kara chuckling beneath her. “But tell me, are there any other side effects of Kryptonian arousal that you’re not sharing with me?”

Kara frowned in confusion. “No. I mean, not that I know of, no. Why?”

Leaning to the side, Cat propped her head up with a hand so she could meet Kara’s gaze. “The way you held my arms and took control.” She paused at the thought, enjoying the shiver that rippled through her. Kara could hear the increase in her heart rate. “What inspired you to do those things?”

“I-I don’t know, really.” She crinkled her brow. “It just felt right in the moment.” Suddenly worried, she quickly asked, “Was I wrong?”

Cat moved her free hand to rest on Kara’s chest in a calming gesture. “No, not at all, Kara. It was—exactly the right thing to do.” At the sight of Kara’s bemused expression, Cat explained, “There are times when I like letting go of control. There are times when I like someone else taking control. But it’s not something I indulge in often. It takes a great deal of trust, and that’s something I haven’t invested into a relationship in quite a while.”

The implication of Cat’s words rolled over Kara with an understanding that was equal parts wondrous and terrifying. “You trust me that much?”

“I told you, Kara: I trust you with everything I am.” Knowing what was forming the doubt in Kara’s expression, she gently cupped the hero’s cheek, urging her not to look away. “I know you’re still struggling with the guilt inside you for the things you said and did the night you were losing control. I know one conversation is not going to completely remove that guilt—but I also know that wasn’t you. No matter how scared I might have been, I never doubted that. And I have never lost my trust in you, Kara.”

Muscles rippled along Kara’s throat as she swallowed, her eyes filling with tears. Cat pressed upward on her arms so that she could kiss the hero’s trembling lips. When she leaned back once more, she smiled to see the tiniest inkling of belief growing in Kara’s gaze. That was enough for Cat for now. She would just need to make certain that inkling continued to grow. “So again I ask, is there something else to your Kryptonian sexy time powers that I should know about? Like does really hot sex make you telepathic?”

A burst of surprised laughter bubbled out of Kara’s mouth, her cheeks flushing beautifully. “My Kryptonian sexy time powers? That’s an exposé I hope I never see in CatCo magazine.”

“I suspect I would have to shut down the magazine after that, since I would never ever be able to top the sales of that issue—especially if we included a centerfold of you draped in nothing but your cape.”

Kara knew her cheeks were as red as said cape at that moment, but she couldn’t help but laugh at Cat’s lasciviousness. “You’re scandalous, Ms. Grant.” She laughed at the feel of Cat swatting her arm. “As for my super sexy time telepathy, I honestly don’t know. I guess I could ask Kal-El.” She grimaced immediately after the words left her mouth.

“That sounds like a whole lot of awkward.”

“Unfortunately, my resource pool is limited in this matter—and even that is limited further by the fact that Kal-El is, for lack of a better description, more human than Kryptonian regarding certain developmental and biological issues.” She furrowed her brow, another thought coming to mind. “I suppose I could ask my mother.”

Cat hummed in agreement while twirling a curl of Kara’s hair between her fingers. “Talking with Eliza about this would probably be a little less discomfiting.”

She narrowed her eyes curiously at the way Kara shifted and bit her lip for a moment. “I meant my real mother—well, not real as in real.” She blushed in awareness of the rather nonsensical statement.

Huffing out a breath, she clarified, “My parents included an interactive AI program in my pod. The interface is in my mother’s image and it contains all the information captured from her memory.” She frowned, swallowing against the surge of sadness that always plagued her regarding the Alura AI.

Curiosity flickered brightly as Cat processed this new information. “From her memory? You mean like a cyber-consciousness?”

“Somewhat. She—it possesses all my mother’s knowledge and memories, but without any emotional context for any of them. It’s just collected information disseminated on request.”

Without hesitation, Cat wrapped herself as closely around Kara as she could, feeling the sorrow that trembled through the hero. “I can’t imagine how painful it must be for you to see her that way.”

She felt Kara’s listless shrug, heard the crumbling edges of her voice. “It’s better than not seeing her at all. Sometimes—sometimes I talk with her as I would if she were really my ieiu. Sometimes pretending is easier than—than remembering the truth.”

With a slight turn of her head, Cat pressed her lips against the few tears that had slipped along Kara’s cheek as she spoke. Running one of her hands soothingly through the hero’s hair, she replied, “The day I signed the paperwork officially incorporating CatCo, I maxed out what was left on one of my credit cards to buy the best bottle of single-malt scotch I could find and a box of Davidoff Escurio Gran Toro cigars. That night, I took the bottle and one of the cigars to the building where I was renting office space at the time. I sat on the roof and drank and smoked one of those goddamned disgusting cigars my father loved so much, and I talked with him about everything I hoped to achieve with CatCo, just as if he were right there with me.”

She blinked rapidly, this pain still so vivid, so raw no matter how much time passed. “Every single momentous occasion in my life since, I’ve marked in similar fashion, only now it’s usually on my office balcony at CatCo.” She looked into the azure depths of Kara’s eyes and agreed, “Sometimes pretending is easier.”

Too moved by what Cat had just shared to trust her voice, Kara instead leaned forward enough for their lips to meet. The kisses were purely for comfort this time, Kara aching to show Cat how grateful she was for what the smaller blonde had revealed.

After several moments, Cat drew back slightly and offered a small, impish smile. “The last time was to tell him all about staking my claim for CatCo of this amazingly good-hearted though slightly bumbling superhero whom I just so happened to also name. Maybe you’ve heard of her?”

Said hero laughed in delight at the teasing. “You’ve told him about me?”

“Have you told your mother about me?”

The instant dip of Kara’s gaze set a decidedly pleased smirk on Cat’s lips. “Could I ‘meet’ her? This AI of your mother?” At the sharp inhalation from the hero, she quickly added, “Unless you’d rather keep your time with her private. I would understand that.”

The hero was quick to shake her head. “No—I mean, yes, I usually spend time with her on my own. Alex is the only other person who has the credentials to access the room that stores the interface.” She blanched at the antiseptic sound of that statement.

Cupping the hero’s cheek, Cat locked gazes and softly stated, “I would love to meet your mother, Kara. Even if it’s only a hologram, I would love to at least know what she looked like—see whether you have her eyes or her nose.” She drew her fingers down along Kara’s jaw. “Besides, I think a hologram is far better than what you have to deal with when it comes to mothers of significant others.”

At the sight of Kara’s mock shudder, the smaller blonde dug a knuckle into a taut oblique, wincing slightly at the unyielding sensation. It was the unrestrained sigh of pleasure that slipped from Kara’s throat, however, that greatly piqued her interest—and more.

Another swift shift and Cat sat astride her hero, sheet twirled lazily around her waist, hands curling once more around the hard lines of those obliques Cat was certain she would never tire of grasping. She let herself drop forward while slowly sliding her hands up, nails grazing the steadily reawakening flesh beneath them, until she was positioned with her mouth just above Kara’s.

The icy tickle of breath that trickled from the hero’s mouth lifted Cat’s lips into a devious grin. “Now,” she sighed, hips shifting with just enough promise that Kara swallowed audibly. “I believe we still have some work to do on your control, Supergirl.”

At the feel of Cat’s tongue once again swirling unmercifully against her pulse point, Kara felt the familiar burn of her heat vision flaring and moaned once more in unabated anticipation. “Whatever you say, Ms. Grant...”

Chapter Text

At the sight of the familiar shadow casting across her desk, Maggie Sawyer turned her gaze upward with a languid smile. “Hey, babe.” Her heart beat a little faster at the responding soft grin that pulled at Alex’s lips as she sat in the chair next to Maggie’s desk. “What an unexpected surprise.”

Alex huffed an exasperated laugh. “This whole day has been full of ‘unexpected.’”

“Yeah?” Maggie leaned back, enjoying the satisfying way her back popped at the change in position. Worst part of being a detective was all the chair time spent filing reports. “I’ve been jockeying this desk for too long. You want to walk with me to Noonan’s for a break?” The responding smile was exactly what Maggie was hoping to see. Out of her chair and into her jacket in record time, she held out her hand to help Alex up. They both knew it was an unnecessary gesture, but one Alex happily accepted.

Once they were outside, Maggie breathed in deeply, replacing the stale precinct air in her lungs as quickly as she could. She turned to see Alex watching her quietly, that secret smile that Maggie realized she reserved solely for her still curving her lips. Without hesitation, the detective reached out to slow Alex’s pace and tugged her down to kiss that adorable smile. Not giving the brunette time to overthink the moment, Maggie released her hold with a grin and started walking once more. “So, what’s up?”

“Uh, yeah.” Clearing her throat, Alex paused to regain her stride next to Maggie, her grin now slightly goofier and even more adorable than before. “Well, let’s see: So far today, I have had to calm Kara down from a massive panic attack, run tests on her, have a really uncomfortable conversation with her, and have an equally uncomfortable conversation with Cat that made me feel like some kind of—Supergirl mating consigliere.”

It took Alex several strides to realize that at some point Maggie had stopped walking and was staring at her with puzzlement and a slight bit of awe. “Sometimes I think I’m prepared for whatever it is you’re going to say—and then you always prove me wrong.”

Alex chuckled. “Glad I can continue my streak a little longer.”

“So you finally got to have ‘the talk’ with Kara.” A laugh, deep and melodious, rose in her throat. “I gotta admit, I never would have pegged Cat as being this patient. National City might not survive the Queen finally getting her Supergirl.”

Alex rolled her eyes at the joke. “Part of me is worried Supergirl might not survive.” She sobered slightly. “This is such a huge step for Kara. I just want her to—to—”

“I want you to have a good life. I want you to find love and be happy.”

At the feel of Maggie’s tethering touch against her forearm, she finally sighed, “I want her to have all she wished for me and more.”

The detective nodded, her hand slipping away with a firm squeeze. “And she will, but, Alex, you know you deserve the same amount of happiness as Kara, right?”

In response, Maggie saw a flash of deliberation in warm mahogany eyes that disappeared almost as soon as it had come. Whatever the brunette had tried to work herself up into saying, she had failed, if her sudden slouch and defeated expression were adequate bellwethers. “Hey,” she called, smiling warmly when Alex turned in response. “Everything okay?”

Lithe shoulders shrugged once, leather creaking in response to the movement, and Maggie watched her force a reassuring smile that was anything but. “All good,” she lied. Pivoting the conversation, she quickly asked, “So, other than paperwork, what’s on tap for today, Detective?”

Maggie rolled her eyes even as she filed away this blatant deflection for later examination. “Not a whole lot at the moment. I thought I was going to finally snag a new meeting with someone who knows about Roulette’s revived fight club. One of my regular informants has a cousin who works setup for her pop-ups, but he decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to roll on a good gig.”

The brunette’s expression dropped instantly at this news. “That sucks.”

Maggie’s shoulders lifted in a lethargic shrug. “At least I got to hang out with M’Gann for an hour at the bar while waiting for him not to show.” She jolted suddenly at a remembered bit of information. “That reminds me: Your Daxamite friend is a pig and a mooch.”

Not even hiding the disdain in her expression, Alex countered, “First off, he is not my friend. He’s the intergalactic gigolo the DEO inherited by default. Second, you have not provided me with any recon I didn’t already figure out on my own.” With an exasperated sigh, she finished, “Is he giving M’Gann problems? I can make up some medical malady and order him confined to headquarters if it will give her some relief from him.”

“Nah,” she snickered, always enjoying glimpses of Alex’s quickly scheming mind. “M’Gann can handle him.”

“So what’s he doing?”

“According to M’Gann, he shows up at some point almost every day and sits at the bar nursing a beer until he can get someone to buy him more drinks and then take him home with them.”

Lip curling into a sneer, Alex groused, “He’s supposed to be using the stipend we gave him to purchase clothes and whatever he might need to find a job.”

“Yeah, he tried to get a job at the bar.” The detective thrilled at the glare of disbelief Alex shot her. “M’Gann said that even without being able to fully read Daxamite thoughts because of their Kryptonian ancestry, she could still pick up that all he really wanted was free access to the liquor and better access to potential—partners.”

Alex stifled her first reaction as Maggie’s revelation about M’Gann drew her attention. “Did M’Gann mention picking up anything else worth noting when she read his mind?” At the curious arch of Maggie’s brow, she shrugged. “J’onn read his mind when he first arrived. It was all chaos and confusion like he expected—but nothing that set off any warnings. He said he won’t go probing for anything further unless I can give him more reason than I think he’s bothering Kara.”

“Woah,” Maggie reached out for Alex’s forearm, her fingers digging slightly into the leather of her jacket sleeve. “He’s messing with Kara? What the hell’s he doing and how do we make him stop?”

Maggie’s instant overprotective response softened Alex’s edge. “I’m not sure exactly,” she finally confessed. “Kara hasn’t mentioned anything specific, and I can’t seem to ever catch him when he interacts with her. I understand from Winn, though, that Cat gave him one of her infamous dismissals not long ago, which would explain why he moped around the DEO for several days, pouting like someone stole his puppy.” A glint of amusement broke her dark expression. “I’m kind of disappointed I missed Cat in action.”

Maggie nudged her playfully in the side. “I bet she’s quite the cunning linguist.”

The detective grabbed onto Alex’s arm to steady herself as she stumbled into the unexpectedly immobile brunette. “Please,” Alex finally sighed, “please tell me you didn’t just make a terrible pun about Cat Grant’s oral prowess.”

“I absolutely did,” Maggie replied, dimples deepening with her laughter. “And you know you’d find it hilarious if she weren’t right now prowessing your sister.”

With a visible shake, Alex quickly started walking away, tossing over her shoulder, “You know prowessing isn’t even actually a word.”

“It is now,” she replied, jogging to catch up. Beneath Alex’s steadfast scowl, she could see the amusement she refused to release. “So, anyway,” she continued, deciding to be merciful in her teasing for the moment, “I’m back to nothing with my attempts at finding someone willing to canary on Roulette’s whereabouts.”

“Did you ever figure out what happened to the Malacandrian?”

Maggie shook her head, the uptick in her concern almost palpable. “From what I can gather, no one has seen or heard from him in almost a month. I even put out feelers to some contacts I have at precincts in neighboring cities. None of them has seen an alien matching his description, and the DEO has all the alien corpses that have shown up within a 300-mile radius with CADMUS-type antemortem surgical damage—nothing matching him there either.”

She shuddered at the thought of the last time she’d come to the DEO, to check for the Malacandrian among the latest arrival of bodies to join the corpses already amassed in the morgue. She’d found Alex locked in the refrigerated room—which the agent had recently requested be outfitted with lead partitions—under security clearance Kara didn’t have. The tight expression on her unusually pale face told Maggie all she needed to know. Dr. Luthor was growing increasingly more active and more disturbing in her tests by the signs left on the bodies disposed of by CADMUS. Nothing Maggie could think of to say in that moment could alleviate the clutch of cold terror squeezing Alex’s heart.

“You don’t think he skipped town with his latest winnings?”

“Highly unlikely. You don’t walk away from winning—especially when you’re making that much money for someone like Roulette. My informant’s cousin did share that he was in attendance at the Malacandrian’s last fight before he disappeared. He said Roulette was clearly in a mood about something. Every time he won, she apparently grew more insufferable.”

“Maybe she’s the reason he ‘disappeared.’ Maybe she struck a deal with Dr. Luthor to turn him over to her even though he was winning?”

“Must have been a hell of a deal.”

“But why would Dr. Luthor want him so badly? What is so special about him?”

Maggie shrugged. “He can shoot venom with apparently alarming accuracy. There are several alien species who can do similarly, but he was the only one left in National City who could do that, thanks to the DEO now holding the Dorlian at Desert Containment. He could only produce enough for one solid shot a fight, but apparently that was all he needed.

“I did a little research on venom types and from what my informant’s cousin told him happened to opponents when hit, the Malacandrian produces something close to a cytotoxic-neurotoxic hybrid: Wherever it hits, it doesn’t just burn away the flesh, it induces an instantaneous necrotic response through the surrounding tissue as it makes its way to the blood stream, which inevitably leads to a shutdown of muscle response. And, of course, when that happens, it’s game over for his opponent.”

Maggie couldn’t help the somewhat pleased grin that slipped along her lips at the impressed arch of Alex’s brow. “Not a bad medical breakdown from a cop, huh?”

The brunette snorted at the statement, a lock of hair slipping out from behind her ear as she shook her head. She quickly shifted once more to a disturbed frown. “So he can disfigure and paralyze in one shot. I really don’t want to think about what Lillian Luthor has in mind for abilities like that.”

Finally reaching Noonan’s, the women ended their unsettling conversation long enough to order coffees, both black and both to go. However, seeing an empty table, Alex asked, “Hey, want to just sit for a moment and try to have a conversation that doesn’t involve Daxamite douchebaggery, evil doctors, or sadistic fight club runners?”

The detective laughed at Alex’s attempted levity while following her to the table. “Sure, a bit more time away from the precinct sounds perfect.” She sighed as she settled into the seat opposite Alex. “I swear, I’ve been spending so much time filing reports lately, I think my desk chair is permanently imprinted with the shape of my ass.”

She watched the dusting of pink rise in Alex’s cheeks at her comment. “Not a bad imprint,” she muttered behind the lip of her cup before taking a long sip of coffee.

“You been checking out my ass, Danvers?” Maggie snickered as she watched the appearance of the adorably quirky smile she swore made the brunette’s lips even more tantalizing than normal. A lighthearted Alex Danvers, she realized in that moment, was a sight she wasn’t seeing nearly enough lately.

In truth, Maggie had always recognized a constant tension within the brunette—a current always flowing beneath the surface of Alex’s skin, strong with her desperation to bring home her father. The initial CADMUS briefing with President Marsdin and Cat had allowed that tension to surge. Eliza’s relocation into DEO protective custody had it threatening to breach all of Alex’s walls, and every alien corpse dumped like so much garbage by CADMUS gave it all it needed to grow strong enough to drown.

And even though Alex had yet to break her silence on the matter, Maggie already understood how desperately she struggled against the dangerous rip tide of her emotions. She knew the fear and anger that now lived constantly within the brunette—felt it in the rigidity of her lean frame; saw it in the striations of worry that painted shadows beneath her eyes; heard it in the jagged sharpness whenever she spoke about the latest agony Dr. Luthor had inflicted upon someone whose only crime had been being an off-worlder with powers Luthor craved to possess.

It wasn’t merely Kara endangered by the imminent threat of CADMUS—it was the entirety of the Danvers family. Maggie knew that Alex had sworn, if only to herself, that she would not let her house fall to the likes of Lillian Luthor. If that meant placing herself in the line of CADMUS’s fire, then it was what she would bear to protect those she loved.

To Maggie, then, fell the duty she gladly accepted: to protect the protector—to care for Alex in all the ways she knew the brunette would never care for herself; to support her in all the ways she would never ask of another; and to stand beside her when the time came, stronger together in their determination to take down Lillian Luthor and unite the Danvers family once more.

In the interim, however, she would drink coffee and flirt cheesily and do whatever it took to rouse that adorable, goofy grin that lit mahogany eyes with russet shimmers.

With a low chuckle, Alex settled back in her seat, fingers toying with the cardboard sleeve around her to-go cup. “Just being thorough in my surveillance of potential threats.”

Expelling a disbelieving noise with exaggerated emphasis, the detective teased, “The only threat my ass imposes is to your ability to focus on actual surveillance.” All she needed was to wait a few seconds before Alex surrendered to the accusation with a gentle laugh. The sound moved through Maggie in ways she had grown so used to refusing. She internally chastised herself once more for nearly denying herself all these small joys that combined into the overwhelming delight of Alex Danvers.

With a slight shift in her position, she leaned forward, pulling Alex’s undivided attention with her gaze before asking, “So, what were you trying to work yourself up to telling me earlier?” She let a slight comforting smile slip along her lips at the sight of instant panic in Alex’s eyes, knowing the brunette loathed being called out on those moments when her innate discretion failed her.

She watched as Alex sobered noticeably even as she attempted to shrug off the discomfort she obviously felt. “It’s—it’s nothing,” she finally stammered, knowing how unconvincing the words were even before she heard them leave her mouth.

A low hum filled the silence. “I know I still have limited experience in the matter, but I’m just going to put out there that that was the least convincing lie you’ve told since you were a teenager.”

The comment stoked the brunette’s ire in such a playful way that she couldn’t help but snort in faux offense. “I disagree,” she countered. “I haven’t lied this badly since I was at least ten.”

Maggie gave in quickly to the laughter Alex’s response inspired. “Whatever, Danvers. We both agree that was a shit lie just now.”

Rather than laughing, Alex’s expression shifted hard and determined as she stated, “Last night, Cat told Kara she loves her.”

Trying to make the statement sound as casual as possible, Alex frowned at how awkward and—competitive it still ended up coming across.

Catching the unspoken undertone, Maggie opted for the path of least resistance in her reply. “Why do you sound so surprised? I mean what the hell isn’t there to love about Dynamic D?”

The look her query earned bordered between confusion and insult. “No one can resist loving Kara,” she conceded. “I just—it was—”

She blew air through tightly compressed lips, frustrated more by her self-perceived pettiness than her stammering. Kara’s news was anything but surprising. After all, Alex knew—hell, anyone with eyes knew how Kara and Cat had always shared a complicated bond that constantly shifted and surged and sometimes stumbled, but also connected them more completely than any relationship Alex had ever witnessed. She was also certain the moment Cat had made the decision to take on CADMUS was the moment she finally accepted how deeply she loved Kara.

Why, then, was she taking this latest progression for Kara’s relationship so—personally?

The answer studied her even now with eyes that constantly guarded the totality of her true feelings within their dark depths. Alex wondered what hurt had driven Maggie to cage her emotions so fiercely from outside eyes. She wondered how much longer she would need to wait before Maggie finally let her in from the outside.

With a soft sigh, she finished, “It’s not important.”

Maggie tilted her head slightly, eyes shifting as if seeking an answer within Alex’s features to an unspoken question. Before she could respond, however, she flinched and quickly huffed in frustration at the trill of an incoming call. A glance at the caller ID caused the frustration to slip quickly into concern when she saw it was her captain. “Sawyer.”

“Detective.” The deep voice boomed through the phone at eardrum-vibrating levels. “You feel like staying out of the office a little while longer?”

“Sure, just as long as you’re okay with my reports being late.”

She grinned at the terse, “Whatever, Sawyer. When do any of you slackers ever get me shit on time?” She heard the creak of his desk chair as he shifted in search of the ever-elusive comfortable position in a seat two sizes too small for his imposing frame. “Lena Luthor is asking to speak with one of the officers who responded to L-Corp the night you and Super Blondie stopped Mommy Dearest’s robot from stealing that murder isotope.”

The detective swallowed back her surprise. “Why does Lena Luthor want to speak with NCPD?” She caught Alex’s hardening glare at the name.

“Apparently she has something she wants to ask—or maybe confess. With a Luthor, who the hell knows?” His growl of frustration morphed into a wet cough that Maggie knew should have been checked out months ago.

Cringing at the vivid sounds, she checked her watch. “I’m about ten minutes from the precinct. I can grab my ride and be to L-Corp in another twenty.”

“Why don’t you just have that hot piece of ass I watched you leave with take you there herself? Give you a little more time to do whatever it is your kind likes to do in parked cars.”

“Christ, Garrick, you looking for more fantasy fodder already?”

His snort shook through her grip on her phone. “Please. We both know that’s all I’m getting from this. I have as much shot at you or your hot girlfriend as I do bagging that bouncy little blonde alien we inherited as our city mascot.”

“I’ll let the bouncy little blonde know you’re interested the next time I see her. I’m sure she’d love to share her response with you.”

Deciding that was the perfect end to her conversation, Maggie hurriedly hit the end button just as she heard the beginning of another round of thick coughing.

“Do I even want to know what he said about my sister this time?”

Dimples deepened with Maggie’s grin. “It was actually tame in comparison with what he said last time. He called you a hot piece of ass though.”

Alex inhaled in mock offense. “And you didn’t defend me?”

“From what? The truth?” Her eyes sparkled playfully as she watched Alex’s lips twist into a disbelieving smirk. Slipping her phone back into her pocket, she threw back the rest of her coffee and slid from her chair.

Alex quickly did the same, falling in line behind Maggie as she headed for the exit. Back outside the restaurant, the brunette shoved her hands into her pockets, tugging the jacket more tightly around herself. When she continued to stare off into the distance, Maggie gently cleared her throat and stepped close enough to redirect Alex’s gaze with a hand firmly pressed to her cheek.

Under the instant scrutiny of Alex’s curious expression, Maggie felt her resolve grow stronger. Head tilting ever so slightly to one side, she spoke calmly and clearly, never allowing her eye contact with Alex to falter. “I’m not there yet, Alex.” She knew Alex understood her meaning, her eyes widening briefly before she composed herself. She also knew her words carried hardness, but anything less than the truth would be a betrayal to the woman before her.

“I love being with you in all the ways we’ve allowed ourselves to be together. I love how comfortable we are around each other—like we’ve known each other for years. I love the way we complement and contrast each other in the best ways and accept each other’s imperfections without judgment.”

She slid her hand from Alex’s cheek to wrap fingers securely against the back of her neck. “I love the rhythm our bodies have found when we make love. I love how we’ve learned so much about how to bring each other pleasure and how to make each other feel safe.” Tugging, she encouraged Alex to lean down, allowing her to press a firm kiss against the brunette’s lips. She felt the sharp groan of desire as it slipped from Alex’s mouth into her own, causing her to almost lose herself to the sensations Alex could conjure within her with just one sound.

Instead, she forced herself to pull away, instantly shifting her gaze to meet Alex’s. “I’m not there yet,” she repeated, “but I love that I can see myself being there soon enough.”

Worry began to narrow her eyes as she watched Alex divert her gaze for several beats. When she did look up once more, however, Maggie swallowed down a sigh of relief at the hopeful shimmer she saw in her warm gaze. “I—I’m not there yet, either,” she finally confessed, voice soft and so vulnerable. Maggie ached in a way she knew signaled another step closer in her total surrender to the remarkable woman before her. “But I want to be—with you.” She ducked her head slightly, leaving Maggie breathless at the struggle she knew such openness was from this woman for whom so much depended on constant secrecy.

Relinquishing herself to the moment, Maggie pulled the brunette in for another kiss, equal parts comfort and promise, refusing to restrain her pleased sigh at the sensation of strong hands conforming to the curve of her hips and pulling her closer. When she leaned back, she couldn’t fight the teeth-baring smile that overcame her at the sight of a blushing, delighted Alex Danvers.

“You are going soft on me, Danvers.” She smiled into another quick kiss before releasing her hold and beginning to back away. “You have plans for this evening?”

“Kara and I were supposed to have sister night tonight but—I’m just going to assume that’s on temporary hiatus,” she chuckled, with an exaggerated eye roll.

“Shoot her a text—much later today—and offer to bring them dinner.” She flashed a ferociously mischievous grin. “Kara’s going to need a lot of food after a whole morning and afternoon spent being prowessed by Cat.”

She laughed at the expression that flinched across Alex’s features at her teasing. “Text me when you hear anything,” and she spun gracefully and headed back to the precinct, the smile on her lips lasting all the way through her drive to meet Lena Luthor.

As she strode through L-Corp’s main entrance, she clenched her fists tightly once before relaxing and brushing them quickly down her thighs. The last time she’d been to L-Corp, Hank Henshaw had injured several members of her team and blasted her across the foyer. She still caught herself flinching at bright flashes of light, the memory of that pain sharp and searing.

Quickly showing her badge to the security guards monitoring the front entrance metal detectors and announcing her destination, she nodded in appreciation when they waved her through and headed for the elevator bank. Hopping the awaiting car, she found herself exiting onto the executive level in a matter of moments.

Before the doors had even finished sliding shut behind her, she found herself the full focus of Lena Luthor’s executive assistant. With a practiced smile, the young woman began, “Detective Sawyer, I’ve let Ms. Luthor know you’re here. She’s finishing up a conference call and should be free within the next five minutes. May I get you anything while you wait?”

“Ah,” Maggie shifted her weight unconsciously as she studied the assistant in confusion. “How did you know my name?”

“The officer who checked your credentials told me when he called regarding your arrival. Ms. Luthor likes to be able to greet visitors by name whenever possible.”

“Right.” She sniffed softly while rubbing the back of her neck. “I’m fine, thank you.”

With a slight nod, the assistant replied, “Please let me know if you change your mind.”

Once the assistant returned her attention to her computer screen, Maggie took a seat on the edge of a plush couch cushion, intent on not allowing herself to get too relaxed. After a few moments of sitting in silence, she idly shuffled around the stack of magazines on the table in front of her. She noted with a knowing grin the issue of CatCo magazine with Kara’s feature story on Lena’s plans for reforming the former Luthor Corp.

“Detective Sawyer?” Dark eyes shifted upward to track the assistant’s movements from behind her desk toward the double doors to Maggie’s left. “Ms. Luthor has just signaled she’s ready to meet with you. Please, follow me.”

Maggie caught up just as the assistant swung open one of the doors, signaling with a sweep of her hand for Maggie to precede her. Moving from the waiting room into Lena Luthor’s office left the detective blinking rapidly against the distinct contrast of muted light and somber colors versus an office awash in full mid-morning sunlight gleaming against brilliant white and glass surfaces all around.

Her eyes adjusted in time to watch the office’s occupant rise from her desk and move gracefully toward her. Eyes a startlingly translucent green shifted briefly as she addressed her assistant. “Thank you, Jess. Could you please bring us some coffee?” She glanced toward Maggie and continued, “I typically need a bit of a caffeine boost around now, but would you prefer something other than coffee?”

Waving away the offer casually, the detective replied, “Coffee is fine, thank you.”

Jess acknowledged the request and left, pulling the door shut behind her. The CEO refocused on Maggie, her resplendent smile outlined in a shade of red the detective knew only a smattering of women could actually make work.

Lena Luthor more than succeeded.

When Maggie took the hand extended toward her, she noted cool, smooth skin and a satisfying grip. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Detective Sawyer.” The suggestion of an accent slipped musically along the edges of her words.

“Likewise, Ms. Luthor.” She smirked somewhat self-consciously. “I would have introduced myself the last time I was here, but I was a bit busy being turned into target practice.”

A grateful smile brightened Lena’s features instantly. “Sounds like we had similar experiences that evening. Please accept my gratitude, Detective, for all you and your team did to stop Hank Henshaw.”

Expression shifted, bright white teeth biting into a deep claret lip nervously. When she finally spoke, Maggie noted her voice lacked all authoritative steadiness, instead giving way to unexpected uncertainty. “I honestly was surprised to see NCPD that evening. Usually, it’s dark-clad mystery agents shadowing Supergirl. Do you often work with her? I mean, I figure, she must offer to help you all out as well—what with being so invested into being, you know, Super.”

Before Maggie could even formulate a reply, Lena released an embarrassed huff while closing her eyes and pressing two fingers against her right temple. “I have never sounded more like a fangirl in all my life.”

The detective laughed earnestly at the CEO’s statement, her eyes conveying an understanding Lena recognized as reassuring rather than derisive. “It’s hard not to be a fangirl,” she offered, “especially when she’s saving your life.”

Thankful for Maggie’s kindness, Lena gestured toward the couch along the wall opposite her desk just as Jess re-entered with a coffee service. She placed the tray on the table in front of the couch where the detective and Lena were now sitting. “Thank you, Jess.” She smiled at her assistant’s succinct nod and swift departure. Pouring two mugs, she glanced at Maggie inquisitively. “I predict you’re a coffee purist.”

With a surprised arch of her brow, Maggie accepted the mug. “On-point prediction,” she acceded while taking a tentative sip of the coffee.

Leaning back with her own black coffee, Lena turned her body toward the detective, crossing her legs at her ankles. “Lucky guess,” she countered.

With an appreciative hum for the beverage that tasted far better than anything she’d ever find at the precinct, Maggie opted to respond to Lena’s earlier query. “Supergirl, by the way, does help us out whenever she believes her assistance will be more of a help than an intrusion. She doesn’t like making us look bad, though—at least that’s what she told me once.” She grinned at the memory of Kara’s teasing comment. “She has a bit of a playful side I don’t think many people get to see.”

Lena’s lips twitched into a regretful smile. “I’m afraid I may not get to see that irreverence any time soon. I believe I’ve proven myself to be a bit of a disappointment to Supergirl.”

“Oh?”

The CEO narrowed her gaze slightly, considering her next words. “I reacted very poorly toward her the last time we spoke. She relayed information I—I wasn’t ready to accept as truth.” Her head dipped forward slightly. “Having her tell me somehow made it all the worse.”

“It was something about your mother.”

“She confirmed my mother’s role with Project CADMUS.” She expelled a shaky breath. “My unacceptable response during our last encounter aside, I consider Supergirl a friend. It was difficult to hear her tell me that my mother not only heads a project that dissects aliens in the name of ‘protecting’ humanity, but also that she harmed Supergirl—and would have done far worse if given enough time.” She blinked back the sudden shine in her eyes. “I suppose a part of me didn’t want to believe that my mother could be capable of such abhorrence.”

The memory of her father’s expression of stony disappointment as he shut her out of the home where she was no longer welcome flooded Maggie with almost unbearable clarity. “Sometimes parents fail us.” Once more, Lena saw only kindness and a recognizable understanding in the detective’s gaze. “It’s up to us to learn from the failure and never duplicate it in our own lives.”

“Which brings us to why you are here, Detective.” The CEO pushed aside the mélange of personal emotions threatening to break surface, her face falling into impressive impassivity. “There has been a theft involving property L-Corp helped design, and both the level of sophistication behind the theft and the missing property associated with it lead me to believe CADMUS is responsible.”

Maggie withdrew a notebook and pen she carried in her jacket’s inside pocket. “Okay, so you want to file a report with NCPD?”

“No. The theft didn’t actually occur at L-Corp. Honestly, it didn’t even occur in National City, and where it did occur, they have their own security team to investigate.”

Incredulity was not something Maggie made a habit of showing civilians with whom she interacted while on duty. The struggle to keep to that personal rule was, indeed, real at the moment. With a deep breath pulled in through her nose and held for a three-count, she stated, “So you called NCPD because you don’t want to report a theft that didn’t happen in National City and that some other task force is taking care of investigating.” She paused for Lena’s reaction, which was a satisfactorily contrite expression. “Please explain what I’m missing, Ms. Luthor. Why am I really here?”

Grip tightening so noticeably around her mug that Maggie could see her skin blanching from the pressure, Lena replied, “You’re here, Detective Sawyer, because it’s hard not to be a fangirl when she’s saved your life.” Understanding softened Maggie’s glare. “I didn’t really know another way of delivering a message to her. It would seem my normal means of communication have gone radio silent.”

She barely hid the flinch of disappointment in her expression before finishing, “I need Supergirl to know about this theft. I knew I needed to tell someone she trusts, someone she might still be willing to listen to. Trying to find an officer from that night seemed easier than tracking down any of those mystery agents who shadow her.”

Maggie nodded her understanding. “Whatever you tell me, I promise you, I will relay to Supergirl, Ms. Luthor.”

With a tense, sorrowful smile, Lena replied, “One of L-Corp’s recent contracts is with a highly classified office deep within the CIA—so classified, I can’t even tell you how classified. I also can’t tell you exactly what’s gone missing.” She flinched apologetically at the pointed stare this earned from the detective.

“What I can tell you is that what went missing uses an alloy we synthesized specifically for this project. This alloy is virtually indestructible—by human standards.”

“And what about Kryptonian standards?”

“Neither L-Corp nor our government client is interested in creating a means of harming or overpowering Supergirl. I would have refused to allow L-Corp to participate in the creation of anything that even hinted at such a desired end result, and I would have told her immediately.”

She turned her head slightly to look out her office windows as if searching the sky for some sign of the Girl of Steel. “I know your loyalties are far better directed toward Supergirl than toward anyone bearing the name Luthor, but please believe that I will never condone what my mother is doing with CADMUS.”

When the CEO turned her incandescent gaze back toward Maggie, the detective felt her chest tighten at the pain and insecurity that swirled within. Steeling herself for refusal, she tried anyway. “Lena, help me give Supergirl proper warning of what she might be facing. What did CADMUS take?”

Silence stretched just long enough that Maggie tensed in anticipation of refusal. And then the answer came, barely a breath of a sound. “Bionics.”

Emboldened slightly by the sound of the word finally spoken, she finished, “Bionic-enhanced artificial limbs. Latest generation tech designed by our client using an endoskeleton built from our customized alloy and sheathed in synthetic skin we reinforced with a crystalized compound of this alloy.” She breathed a sigh of relief, her shoulders relaxing noticeably.

Maggie leaned back in her seat, her mouth slightly agape as she processed this information. “Okay.” She blew out a cleansing breath and repeated, “Okay. So bionic body parts? And they’re gone.”

“Yes. We shipped the parts two weeks ago to our client’s R&D lab in Ojai. My shipping supervisor confirmed successful delivery and our contracting officer confirmed receipt and examination of the parts. However, at some point between then and last night, the parts—disappeared.”

“Are they sure they’re really gone? And why did it take them so long to realize they weren’t there anymore?” She couldn’t fight the smirk that tipped the corners of her lips. “Seems like something you’d be extra careful not to misplace.”

“Each bionic part has a tracker embedded into it. L-Corp designed these trackers to be resistant to virtually all external interference. The trackers also would have activated a warning subroutine if anyone had tried to tamper with them. We discovered that, instead, someone tampered with the reader, reprogramming it into a feedback loop using previous readings from the trackers.

“No one noticed because the readers indicated the parts were still there. It wasn’t until they were ready to use the parts that someone discovered they were gone.”

She bowed her head in contrition. “I don’t even know how my mother knew about L-Corp’s involvement with this project.”

“Ms. Luthor, the theft didn’t occur here. Perhaps it wasn’t through L-Corp’s involvement that she learned of these parts.” As she slipped her notebook back into her pocket, she pointed out, “CADMUS has contacts all through the government. Perhaps through one of them she learned about the delivery. L-Corp’s connection might be coincidental.”

Even as the words left her mouth, Maggie knew how unlikely they were to be true. Still, Lena offered her an appreciative smile. “Thank you for trying to placate my fears, Detective. However, I think we both know CADMUS is not in the business of coincidence.”

Maggie nodded in understanding. “Did your mother have server access here when Lex was in charge of the company?”

“Yes, but I’ve reconfigured and enhanced all the security protocols since taking over. There’s no way she could still have access.”

“Are you certain?” Seeing the flicker of doubt in the CEO’s sea foam gaze, Maggie tugged absently at her ear as she considered her next offer. “I might know some of those dark-clad mystery agents. They’ve got some fierce tech and programmers of their own who might be able to lend some help in figuring out if and how your mother is accessing your servers.”

“That would be very appreciated, Detective. I’m happy to turn over or give them access to whatever they might need.”

The detective reached into her pocket, pulling out a business card she offered to Lena. “I’m going to relay your information to Supergirl, Ms. Luthor, as well as the agency she works with. I think they might be able to help you with this. However, if you can think of anything else, or you or your tech team discover anything else before you hear from me again, please call me, okay?”

As both women rose from the couch, Lena accepted the card with a small yet grateful sigh. “Thank you, Detective. I’m indebted to you.”

Light skimmed long dark tresses as Maggie shook her head. “The information you’ve shared is thanks enough, Ms. Luthor. I will be in touch as soon as possible.” Shaking hands once more, the detective made her way out of L-Corp, slipping out her phone as she headed to her car. She knew Alex would want to know about this conversation as soon as possible. However, a waiting text from M’Gann instantly drew her attention and concern.

Been overhearing a lot of conversations and emotions here today. Alien protest rally possibly in the works. Spencer Graves really stirred the shit with his press conference this morning. Will keep you posted as I learn more.

A tired sigh hissed from her lips as she texted back her appreciation. She was always grateful at how willing the White Martian was to accept her and help her in the ways she did. They shared a silent understanding that strengthened with time, their status as outsiders to the world’s oftentimes cruelly enforced notions of “normal” binding them into a unique friendship each woman proudly and fiercely protected.

Hitting Alex’s number on her speed dial, she huffed in amusement at how quickly the brunette answered. “How’d your date with Lena Luthor go? Did you devastate her with your dimples?”

A low chuckle vibrated through the line. “You’re twisted, Danvers.” She took a moment of silence to absorb the sound of Alex’s amusement before continuing, “Lena Luthor might actually prove to be the exception to the Luthor rule.” She quickly summarized her conversation with the CEO, understanding all too well the stunned silence that followed for several beats.

“Well, shit,” Alex finally managed. “A government-funded bionics program? That’s a little unnerving.”

“Says the government-funded alien hunter,” Maggie instantly shot back, reveling in the sound of Alex clicking her tongue in mock annoyance. She regrettably shifted the mood. “You think this means Henshaw’s getting an upgrade?”

“Who the hell knows?” Maggie could hear the concern lancing through the gruffly clipped words. “I’m going to update J’onn on all you’ve just told me. Can you—would you mind—I know this is technically an NCPD case since Lena called you in specifically—”

“Only because she couldn’t figure out any other way to reach Supergirl,” Maggie quickly deflected, knowing what Alex wanted to ask. “I officially turn this over to the DEO. As far as Garrick is concerned, Lena Luthor was simply trying to get in touch with Supergirl for non-police business, and this was the only way she could think of to do so.”

Alex’s sigh of relief barely registered through the line. “Thank you, Mags.”

The detective felt her lips twitch and her fingertips tingle at the sound of Alex’s nickname for her. “Always willing to keep you owing me one, Danvers.”

“You know I’m good for it.”

Maggie stumbled her steps at the unexpectedly sultry timbre of Alex’s voice. “You’re good for a lot of things,” she replied, “and if you keep teasing me with that sexy voice of yours, I’m going to come collect now.”

Warming at the soft, excited sound she heard from the brunette, she whispered, “Later, Danvers,” and ended the call with a swift flick of a button.

Back in her vehicle, she decided to take a quick run to check in with a couple of her more reliable informants. M’Gann’s warning weighed heavier within her thoughts the more she considered it. She knew the dangers that many within the alien community navigated on a regular basis. Some, like Kara, were “lucky” in that they had the option of passing among humans. Others—those with differences too distinct to allow them the choice of blending—faced rejections, refusals, and sometimes violence simply for the assumed crime of those differences.

Hands gripping her steering wheel painfully tight, Maggie pushed back against the memories of broken hearts and split lips and too much anger and self-loathing for several lifetimes. Instead, she focused on checking in with the community she’d sworn to protect from the moment she’d first discovered their presence in her new home city: yet another group whom society had deemed unworthy of protection.

She had lost count of the number of times she’d been forced to swallow back tears and fury at the suffering within both her own excluded community and this adopted alien one—suffering inflicted by small minds that equated “different” with “dangerous.” And now Spencer Graves wanted to make the targeting even easier. If she could, she’d be right at the front of whatever protest landed squarely in his lap—hopefully with a solid punch right where he deserved it most.

Instead, she made her way to each of her most trusted contacts within the alien community. She offered support as best she could, offered a sympathetic ear and more understanding than she wished she needed to give. She dropped subtle warnings about not being able to protect anyone who decided peaceful protest was not their preferred style. She also gave adamant confirmation that she would help file charges against anyone who decided violence was their preferred counter-protest. Human or not, her oath was to protect and serve all within her city’s jurisdiction, regardless.

Returning to the precinct, she went directly to Garrick, briefing him on the rumors she’d spent the afternoon confirming. His sigh, damp and distressed, bothered her for many reasons. “Graves has already been on the phone with the commissioner about this, Sawyer. He’s demanding full police support in disbanding any rallies that try to form.”

He held up his hand to stop her argument. “He’s saying that most of the aliens who want to protest this proposed law aren’t yet registered as citizens, so the laws protecting the right to protest don’t actually apply to them. Sounds like some hinky bullshit if you ask me, but we need some legal speak geek to confirm that before we can refute it. We’re working on that right now.”

Maggie relaxed moderately at this final statement. “Thanks, Garrick.”

He gave a massive shrug while eyeing the door to his office. “Whatever, Sawyer. Get the hell out and get me those fucking reports you owe me.”

With a slightly amused quirk of her lips, she headed back toward her desk, retrieving her phone as she felt the buzz of an incoming message. She laughed softly, loving how easily she could hear Alex’s tone even through her texts.

Heard from Kara. Finally. Dinner is a go. According to her, she’s already STARVING. She wants us to meet at her place at 6. I’ll wait for you out front.

The detective continued to smile as she tapped out an affirmative before slipping her phone back into her pocket. She spent the next few hours completing her reports, finishing with plenty of time to walk to Kara’s apartment. As she rounded the block for her final approach, she couldn’t help the appreciative quirk of her lips at the sight of Alex already waiting for her. The brunette stood in profile in a swatch of streetlight, hands slipped into her back pockets, eyes closed, and head tipped back slightly as though listening for something in the distance.

Hearing the soft hum of acknowledgement as she continued to approach, Maggie realized she was listening—for her. “You pick up that super hearing from your sister?”

“Maybe she picked it up from me,” Alex teased, finally reopening her eyes and shifting her gaze to meet Maggie’s. A soft smile traced along her lips as she reached for Maggie’s hand and leaned in for a quick kiss. “Hey.”

Returning the smile in her inimitably dimpled way, Maggie laughed, “Hey, back. How was the rest of your day?”

“Mildly frustrating. Ran some tests that didn’t give me the results I was hoping for. How was the rest of your day?”

The detective sighed at the question. “Something’s coming,” she finally allowed. She knew the threat of alien protests would upset both Alex and Kara, for different and similar reasons. “I’m hearing chatter about alien rallies against today’s announcement.”

Alex wiped a hand across her features, weariness suddenly tightening her expression. “Kara’s not going to take that news well at all.”

Alex could still recall with perfect clarity the expression of surprise and delight on her sister’s face the first time she’d set foot in the alien bar. It was the first time since her arrival on Earth where she’d been surrounded by more aliens than humans—and not one of the aliens within the bar gave a damn that she was the daughter of Alura Zor-El. None of them wanted revenge on her mother, none of them wanted to harm her or challenge her—none of them really even paid her much notice at all, not even when she shyly snapped the cap off Alex’s beer with a flick of her thumbnail. The only one, in fact, to notice that move had been M’Gann. She flashed Kara a private smile while holding out her hand for the slightly bent bottle cap, and the Kryptonian had breathed a sigh of relief that Alex felt had been caught somewhere in her chest for nearly thirteen years.

Kara had spent the entirety of her time on Earth passing as a human. She’d spent the bulk of now almost two years as Supergirl earning and re-earning the trust of the humans who inhabited her new home world. How would she respond to the possibility of finding herself at odds between those same humans and the aliens who had given her back some of the sense of belonging she’d lost with Krypton’s demise?

With a slight tilt of her head, Maggie replied, “So let’s not tell her—at least not tonight.” At the sight of hesitation crossing Alex’s features, she tugged on the brunette’s hand and started toward the entrance to Kara’s building. “Let’s just feed her and let her bask a little while longer in the glow of being prowessed most of the day by Cat.”

She laughed unabashedly at the grimace and grumbled “That’s still not a word” her comment received while continuing to pull Alex along behind her.

Outside Kara’s apartment, Alex gave the door her normal series of quick raps. When no sounds moving toward the door followed the brunette’s knock, she turned questioningly toward Maggie, who shrugged. “You’re sure they were here and not at Cat’s place, right?”

“Yeah, Cat told me to send Kara to her apartment after I finished with her tests.” She cringed slightly. “You don’t think they’re still—”

At the question left unfinished, Maggie laughed, “Okay, your sister might be an alien, which who knows what that means for her libido, but Cat isn’t. Even royalty needs to rest.”

Reaching into one of her jacket pockets, Alex removed her key to Kara’s place and swiftly unlocked the door.

A cursory glimpse of the loft’s open floor plan revealed nothing out of the ordinary minus the lack of expected occupants. The familiarly intimate sounds coming from the sleeping area hidden behind the privacy curtain, however, froze both women in mid-stride.

Maggie was certain Alex couldn’t possibly turn a shade darker than she was at that moment. She was fairly certain, in fact, that she was blushing as well, especially when they heard Cat exclaim rather explicitly about a particularly talented part of the Kryptonian’s anatomy. Without thinking, Alex inhaled sharply, her eyes seeming to nearly double in width.

The startled squeak they both heard from behind the curtain informed them Kara’s clearly distracted super hearing had finally picked up on their arrival. Cat, however, either had not realized this or gave zero fucks as she growled, “Kara Zor-El, don’t you dare stop!”

Maggie laughed to herself, suspecting it was most definitely the latter answer. Without pause, she latched onto Alex’s arm and began pulling the brunette from where she had apparently been turned to stone by shock.

It wasn’t until they were back outside and heading aimlessly in the first direction to take them away from what they’d just overheard that Alex finally snapped back into reality. “What the ever-loving hell just happened?”

“Uh, I think that’s pretty obvious, babe.”

“What happened to ‘even royalty needs to rest’?”

Unashamedly laughing, Maggie conceded, “I royally underestimated her.”

“You are having way too much fun with this,” the brunette huffed, the irritated scowl on her face somehow only making her more adorable to Maggie.

“Come on, Danvers. It’s their first time together.” Moving closer, she lowered her voice. “It’s Kara’s first time ever. She’s finally found someone she wants badly enough to overcome all those fears she’s been carrying around inside for years.” She bumped playfully into Alex’s arm, her expression teasing and kind. “You couldn’t possibly relate to that, though, right?”

Maggie watched as her words settled slowly into the space between Alex’s shoulders, the tense line finally relaxing. With a soft sigh, she shrugged. “I do get it. I just don’t want to actually witness any of it.”

“Point understood.” She reached out and grabbed hold of the brunette’s forearm, tugging her out of the way of other pedestrians. Standing on the balls of her feet, she leaned up to kiss Alex’s lips, which quickly abandoned their pensive frown for a shy, quirky grin.

As they separated slightly, Alex jolted at her phone buzzing in her pocket. Already feeling her cheeks flushing in embarrassment at seeing the alert was for a text from Kara, she unlocked her phone and read the message, immediately laughing.

“What is it?” Maggie peered over the brunette’s shoulder so she could read the text as well.

Your sister claims she is dying, apparently of both embarrassment and hunger. If you could humor her on the latter and bring back food now, I will humor her on the former and be on my best, quiet behavior. There is a small window of opportunity for this offer. I cannot be held accountable for what happens after that window closes.

With a shake of her head, Alex quickly tapped out her response: Food is on the way. Please keep the window open as long as possible. I don’t know how much more about my sister’s sex life I can handle in one day.

Both women watched the gray dots bounce along for several seconds before Cat’s words once more filled Alex’s screen: Normally, I would make no promises. However, I believe Kara’s need for food has reached critical mass. She is chanting for potstickers. CatCo has a standing account with Jade Dragon. I’m letting them know we need the regular order for Kara Danvers plus whatever Maggie and you want—just add it to the order when you arrive.

With an amused sigh, Alex responded with a quick thanks and confirmation that they were on their way. Destination now set, she tugged Maggie along. The detective couldn’t help but point out as they walked, “Cat Grant has a standing regular order at Jade Dragon specifically for Kara.”

“Yeah,” Alex chuckled, knowing the depth of this simple statement.

It wasn’t until they saw said “standing order” that Alex began to truly laugh, realization overwhelming her in the most delightful way. Maggie quirked an eyebrow in her direction as they gathered the multiple bags and made their way back outside. “What’s so funny, babe?”

Alex lifted the bags in both her hands. “This,” she replied. “Cat Grant not only protected what could have been the biggest story of her entire career but she also fed her an abundance of potstickers on an apparently regular basis.” The brunette felt a surge of affection within her at the thought.

Once back at Kara’s, the hero surprised them by swinging open the door before Alex even needed to kick it with her boot. “Hey,” she called, eyes shyly diverting as she stepped aside to let them enter. Maggie’s dimples deepened instantly with the smile she offered the blushing blonde.

With a playful eye roll, Alex chided, “I thought you said it was okay to come over at six.”

“It was! But then we kind of got carried away,” she added in a barely audible voice, dipping her head and smiling in a way Maggie found unsurprisingly adorable.

Emerging from behind the privacy curtain to Kara’s bedroom, Cat padded softly over to the hero’s side. Maggie marveled at how easily she could make a sweater that was clearly hers and a pair of ribbed-cuff sweatpants that were clearly not hers work with enviable panache. 

Feeling Cat wrap her arms around Kara’s waist, the hero instantly leaned into the touch, allowing Cat to press a soft kiss against her jawline. Shifting her attention, the smaller blonde stated, “Thank you both for bringing much-needed sustenance—and for returning after earlier, which I’m not supposed to mention.”

The rosy suffusion that fanned out through Kara’s cheeks was one of the most delightful things Maggie had seen all day. Shaking her head, she began to unpack the bags she had carried while watching Alex do the same. She could tell the brunette struggled hard to suppress her amusement at Cat’s teasing of her sister.

At the sound of a chagrined huff from the hero, Cat slid one of the containers away from the stacks, flicking open the lid and quickly popping one of the potstickers into Kara’s mouth. With a knowing smirk, she turned away from the hero’s rapidly darkening gaze and continued to help open containers.

Once they finished sorting the dishes—and Kara had consumed two of the potsticker orders in the unpacking—the women headed into the living room, opting to spread out around Kara’s coffee table rather than sit at the more formal dining table. Kara halted before sitting, however, smiling at the smaller blonde in a knowing way. “Your usual drink with your chicken and vegetables, Ms. Grant?”

With a subtle hitch of her eyebrow, she sighed, “That would be acceptable, Kiera.”

“One Jane Bond, coming up,” she smiled, nudging her sister in the side before she could start eating. “Come help me, Alex.”

Acquiescing at the mention of alcohol, Alex quickly hopped to her feet, querying as she did, “Jane Bond?”

“Martini made with pre-chilled vodka and stirred gently rather than shaken with ice. A shaken martini, according to Cat, is a ‘diluted travesty.’”

Cat hummed disapprovingly at even the mention of a shaken martini. “All that unnecessarily bludgeoned ice, melting into good vodka. James Bond can’t even be trusted with a drink choice, but we’re supposed to believe he’s capable of saving the world? Please.” The eyebrow arched even more provocatively as she shot a look toward Kara. “Leave the world-saving to the women, I say.”

Lost for words, Alex merely shook her head while falling in line behind her once-again blushing sister.

Settling into her meal, Maggie couldn’t help but watch the CEO as she tucked her feet under herself, deftly wielding her chopsticks to pick vegetables out of her container. The detective loved the moments she was afforded glimpses of Cat’s natural form—of soft curves and gentle gazes rather than the jutting angles and narrowed stares of the persona she projected to the industry she ruled. This woman whose media reign spanned the world curled contentedly into herself, barely taking up the space of one couch cushion.

“What exactly are you detecting right now, Detective?” Maggie startled at the softly spoken tease, instantly captured by the curious jade gaze across from her.

With a dimpled smile, she shrugged nonchalantly. “Honestly, how weird it is to see the Queen of All Media look so—unassuming.”

Cat clicked her tongue at the comment, her lips twisting to the side to hide her amusement. “Should I call up my acting CEO and verbally eviscerate him to reinforce my reputation? Perhaps bark some orders at my former assistant for old time’s sake?”

“Pretty sure we already heard you do that earlier,” Maggie teased, receiving a delightful touché smirk from the CEO.

“Yes, well, some things deserve to be seen to completion. Besides,” she finished while casting a sideways glance to where Kara was mixing drinks, “apparently Kryptonians are insatiable when it comes to learning new skills.”

With a knowing smirk, she watched Kara fumble and nearly drop the bottle of vodka she was using.

Beside her, Maggie hummed, her brow furrowed in thought as she swirled her chopsticks through her vegetable stir-fry. “Actually,” she finally offered, “I think that might be a Danvers thing. Alex has quite the similar—insatiability.”

At the sound of the bottle of vodka actually hitting the counter before Kara could catch it, Cat snorted in amusement. Alex glared curiously at her furiously blushing sister for a second before catching the sight of Cat and Maggie bumping fists in what Alex was learning was a steadily strengthening and unnerving solidarity.

As she headed toward the two women with drinks in hand, she felt her own cheeks burning slightly with the knowledge that whatever they had just been discussing had to be the reason for her sister’s flustered fumbling.

“Are Kara and I going to have to keep you two separated whenever we’re not around?”

Behind her, Kara huffed in chagrined amusement as she brought Cat’s drink to her. “Good luck there. Cat Grant does not capitulate to those who would try to silence her.”

The smaller blonde flashed one of her more mischievous grins as she set down her food and accepted her drink with one hand while stretching the other along the cushion where Kara was preparing to sit.

As the hero leaned back against Cat’s arm, she stiffened at the sound of discomfort Cat released at feeling Kara press her shoulder back at a wider angle.

At the soft hiss of pain from Cat, Alex looked up in concern and queried, “Are you okay?”

The question instantly drew another fierce blush to her sister’s cheeks and a roguish smirk to Cat’s lips. “I’m quite fine, thank you.” She tangled her fingers into Kara’s hair, scratching a soothing pattern against her scalp. “We’ve simply discovered there is a learning curve when it comes to Kara’s strength at certain moments.”

Concern instantly far greater than embarrassment, Kara softly entreated, “Maybe Alex should take a look—just to be sure it’s only a bruise.”

The smaller blonde’s initial response was a subtle eye roll. However, the worry in those deep blue eyes was more than even she could feign indifference toward. With a slightly too-dramatic sigh to deflect from the hero’s guilt-laden concern, she set her drink down and shifted her sweater’s neckline enough to expose her right shoulder.

Alex struggled to control her response, although she noted Maggie’s soft breath of surprise at the sight of dark bruising Cat revealed. It took both women only a moment to realize the pattern was conspicuously hand-shaped.

“Yeah, ah, that’s definitely one hell of a bruise.” She kept her expression firmly in check as she leaned closer, fingers probing the areas along Cat’s clavicle and scapula as gingerly as possible. She noted with admiration the control Cat wielded over her responses to what the brunette knew was still painful examining regardless of her attempts at being gentle.

“Doesn’t seem like there’s any other injury though,” she offered, noting peripherally the flinch of guilt in Kara’s expression. Turning toward her sister, she gently asked, “Have you used your X-ray vision?”

Before Kara could reply, Cat huffed in dismissal. “Trust me, I have been X-rayed multiple times today, the end result always being the confirmation of what I have repeatedly told your sister: Nothing is broken.” She shooed Alex away with the flick of her fingers. “The bruises aren’t even that bad. They just look like they are because of my alluringly fair complexion.”

The brunette knew the lie instantly. The bruising on Cat’s shoulder looked like it went deep into the surrounding tissue. Alex had been the recipient of many bruises like that in her years with the DEO, and she knew they hurt like hell.

“You are pretty damn pale,” she finally conceded. Kara instantly gaped at the comment, but Cat’s expression softened in gratitude at Alex’s willingness to follow the smaller blonde’s lead. “Whenever you make it back to the DEO, we’ve got a great gadget in the med bay that Dr. Hamilton uses to shorten healing time. Until then, icing it should help.”

Before the words were even completely out of Alex’s mouth, Cat was reaching up to clamp a hand against Kara’s lips. “Kara, if you keep blowing your freeze breath on me, I might succumb to hypothermia.”

Knowing the sting of her chiding, the smaller blonde quickly pivoted to face Kara directly. Lacing her fingers through the hero’s hair, she locked gazes and finished, “I am fine, Kara. I do not want you taking on this mantle of guilt every time we make love.”

Catching the nervous shift of Kara’s gaze, she laughed while kissing the tip of the hero’s nose. “Darling, I’m pretty sure the Cat is literally out of the bag on this one. Your sister and Maggie know we’ve been having sex today.” Her lips curved into a disconcertingly smug smirk. “In fact, I’m pretty sure the tenants of this and the neighboring buildings know plenty of details about what we’ve been doing here thanks to your delightfully surprising verbosity.”

Kara let out a flustered sigh at the sound of Alex and Maggie both not even bothering to hide their laughter. “Get it, Dynamic D,” Maggie teased, amusement dancing in her dark eyes.

Smiling shyly at the detective’s teasing, she finally shifted her full attention back to Cat when she felt the smaller blonde’s hold tighten against her neck. “You didn’t do anything wrong at all today. I told you I would always let you know if you were going beyond my limits. You didn’t. This,” and she tugged the neckline of her sweater down slightly, “and the other bruises, which your sister is not seeing unless she has plans to become my new primary care physician, all fell within my range of tolerance.”

Alex cleared her throat conspicuously. “Definitely passing on that,” she whispered, earning an amused side-eye from Cat.

The smaller blonde sucked her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment as she weighed her next words. “Clearly, we both need to make some adjustments. I will be more mindful that my limits should not extend to a point where I allow bruising this extensive. Alternately, you will accept that sometimes I will bruise.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “In exchange for what I receive in return, I will gladly accept them. And I want you to do the same.”

“But I’m hurting you.”

“No.” An unanticipated firmness seeped into her voice and in the suddenly hard set of her jaw. “You bruised me, but you will never hurt me, Kara. I have absolute faith in that.”

Kara heard the underlying insinuation of something far darker threading beneath the smaller blonde’s words. However, she also heard the certainty of Cat’s belief in her, soothing and reassuring. With a jerky nod, she finally settled back against the couch cushions, smiling at the feel of Cat melding perfectly against her, drink once more firmly in hand.

Taking a sip and sighing in approval at Kara’s mixology skills, the smaller blonde glanced between the detective and the agent. “So, what have we missed during our all-day debauchery?”

Maggie chuckled while finishing a bite of Alex’s spring roll. She focused on Kara and teased, “Well, I spent some time with your BFF this morning.”

“Lena?”

Maggie hummed affirmation while reaching over and snagging the rest of Alex’s spring roll from her plate. The brunette huffed incredulously. “You’re just as bad as Kara.”

With a snort of laughter, Maggie popped the rest of the spring roll into her mouth. “Uh, I have watched Kara consume a whole tray of cookies in under five minutes. I don’t come anywhere near that level of awesome.”

Kara blushed profusely at the statement, much to the delight of the women watching her. With a decisive clearing of her throat, she pressed on. “Why did you see Lena? Is everything okay?”

“Everything is—weird,” Maggie huffed, leaning back against the couch arm so she could face Kara and Cat. “First off, your bestie is heartbroken that Super you doesn’t visit her anymore—and I got the distinct impression she doesn’t think things are much better with her friendship with you you.”

The sigh Kara released at Maggie’s statement sounded utterly disconsolate. Alex finished her mouthful of food before pointing her chopsticks toward her sister. “You haven’t seen her since the night she stopped her mother from successfully releasing the Medusa virus, have you?”

The hero sighed. “She finally came to me. She showed up at CatCo yesterday morning.” She frowned at the memory of their conversation.

“Why are you avoiding her?” Alex paused, troubled by the silence she received in reply. She leaned down to catch her sister’s line of sight. “Kara, do you think Lena’s involved with CADMUS?”

Cat felt Kara stiffen instantly at Alex’s direct question. “No!” Her voice ratcheted up an octave on her response and Cat caught the slight curl of her fingers inward toward her palms. “She’s not like the rest of her family, Alex. I trust Lena.” Voice and expression softening in equal measure, she finished, “She’s my friend.”

“Okay,” Alex acquiesced. She knew the futility of fighting with Kara’s fierce protectiveness of her friendship with Lena, even with her own deeply seated doubts about the youngest member of the Luthor family. “Then why are you avoiding her?”

“I don’t want her getting involved in this. She’s stubborn and unpredictable, and I can’t protect unpredictable.” She took a calming breath. “But she’s not involved with CADMUS. I know she’s not.”

“Well,” Maggie offered, “she might not be involved with CADMUS, but she is pretty certain that CADMUS now has something L-Corp helped the government design.” At the perk in attention from both Kara and Cat, the detective finished, “Lena taught me today that, apparently, the federal government is in the bionics business.”

Three sets of eyes instantly shifted toward the hum of confirmation Cat released as she sipped her drink. “OSI’s had a bionics program for years, headquartered in Ojai.”

Maggie laughed in disbelief. “Lena said the shipment’s last known location was a lab in Ojai.”

Kara shifted to get a better look at the reporter. “How do you do that?”

“What? You think that wall of awards in my office came with the décor?” She nudged Kara’s thigh playfully with her foot. “I know things. It’s another one of my superpowers.”

Maggie turned to face Cat fully. “So what’s the OSI?”

“Office of Strategic Intelligence. They’re another one of those tricky government secrets like the DEO. Their agents specialize in finding and acquiring the latest and greatest in global technological advancements—including rescuing a lot of it off the black market or the deep web.”

She tipped her glass toward Alex. “I’m willing to bet a lot of the tech toys you enjoy have come from OSI’s efforts.” She ran her thumb pensively along the side of her glass. “Their bionics program has been mostly successful, but in recent years, some of their attempts at technology upgrades have run into—problems. What did Lena say L-Corp was doing for OSI?”

“According to Lena, they created an alloy that, and I quote is ‘virtually indestructible by human standards.’” She focused solely on Kara, a comforting expression drifting across her features. “She was incredibly adamant in stressing that she would never help create anything stronger than you.”

“How would she know?” Cat arched a brow at the looks aimed toward her. “Is there a Supergirl fact sheet of which I’m not aware that details the specifications of your abilities?”

Alex sighed in frustration as the thought hit her. “Maxwell Lord.” She saw fury flinch through Cat’s body at the sound of Lord’s name. Without hesitation, the smaller blonde reached out and wrapped her hand tightly around Kara’s forearm, unconsciously willing the hero to refrain from taking flight as she had done during the last conversation to feature the insufferable Maxwell Lord. “He collected information on Kara’s powers.” The agent furrowed her brow. “He doesn’t strike me as the type of person willing to share that kind of information with the government, though. He distrusts them more than Supergirl, I think.”

“What about General Lane’s readings from my encounters with Red Tornado?” Kara’s shoulders slumped slightly. “He would even have readings on my limit before I blow out my powers.”

Seeing the worry threatening to overpower her sister, Alex quickly shook her head. “Doesn’t matter either way, Kara.” She waited for blue eyes to refocus on her. “You have grown so much stronger since either one of those incidents. Whatever readings they think they have on you? You’re lightyears away from them.” She breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Kara nodding after several beats. “So if the OSI is using any of this old data and Lena is telling the truth, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

“No,” the hero huffed. “We just have to worry about what Lillian Luthor is planning to do with bionic—what?” She looked questioningly toward Maggie. “What exactly did L-Corp help build?”

“Um, bionic body parts.”

Cat instantly perked at this information. She slipped from the couch and stalked to where she’d left her phone. “I have an excellent source who knows all about bionic body parts. I know they’ll be able to help provide further information. In fact, I’m willing to bet my contact will know all about this alloy L-Corp created—they might even have firsthand experience with it.” She narrowed her eyes in thought.

While Cat continued to mutter to herself, Alex refocused on Kara, amazement gleaming in her gaze. “You know she’s a little frightening, right?”

The instant noise of incredulity from behind her caused Alex to startle slightly. Cat moved back toward the couch, deftly avoiding the coffee table as she tapped out a text. “You insult me, Agent Danvers.” She pinned Alex with a feigned indignant glare. “Ask any of my employees: I’m much more than a little frightening.”

Lips pressed together to suppress the smile that ached to lift her lips, Alex was quick to tease, “Oh, I’ve heard all about what a holy terror you are in the office.”

The pillow that whipped through the air thwapped into her face before the brunette could even register Kara’s movement. Toppling backward with a soft grunt, she instantly began laughing at the shock on her sister’s face. “You’re so on clean-up duty for that,” the hero grumbled, even as she caught Cat’s amusement from the corner of her eye.

Holding up her hands in surrender, Alex sat back up, still chuckling. The quartet finished their meals while focusing on lighter topics of conversation. Both Alex and Maggie, however, couldn’t help but notice how Cat and Kara continued to gravitate closer to each other where they sat, their focus unconsciously shifting toward the other solely for longer and longer stretches of time.

Sharing knowing smiles, the two rose, barely noticed by the two blondes on the couch, and began to collect empty containers and glasses. As Alex finished washing the last glass, she turned slightly at the chuckle beside her. Her own smile growing at the sight of an amused Maggie, she sighed, “What’s so funny?”

Without saying a word, the detective nodded once toward the living room. Alex shifted her gaze, eyes instantly widening even as she felt her cheeks burn warm at what she saw. Cat had shifted to sitting in Kara’s lap, her hands tangled in long golden locks. Kara leaned her head back against the couch cushion, eyes closed as she succumbed to Cat’s attentions. The smaller blonde shifted her focus from trailing kisses along Kara’s neck to whispering words into the hero’s ear that left her gasping icy puffs of breath into the air.

Alex saw the nervous tremble of Kara’s hands, one curved along Cat’s waist, the other spread wide against the center of Cat’s back. Fingers flexed rhythmically as she fought to maintain focus, all while Cat breathed what Alex suspected were promises worded to incite this level of response she was clearly enjoying from Kara.

At the sound of the soft, pleading whimper to finally break free from Kara, Alex quickly hung up the dishtowel in her hand, pointedly tugging Maggie’s sleeve to encourage the detective to follow her toward the exit. Cat was the first of the pair to catch the movement, lazily shifting her gaze from Kara to the steadily retreating duo. Alex and Maggie both noted the onyx shine of Cat’s eyes, dark and telling even from that far away. An appreciative grin lifted her lips even as she leaned once more against Kara’s ear, this time whispering to alert the hero to the departure taking place.

Maggie barely stifled her gasp at the white glow of Kara’s eyes as they slid open. The hero was quick to calm her vision back to blue. Her cheeks, however, remained rosy and flushed as she smirked sheepishly at her sister and the detective. “Sorry,” she finally stammered, voice noticeably rougher than usual.

Without missing a beat, Maggie laughed while slipping into her jacket. “Kara, never apologize for wanting to get laid.” She rolled her eyes at the surprised choke she heard from Alex while watching chagrin and amusement battle in Kara’s expression. Without giving either Danvers sister any further opportunity to overanalyze what she’d said, she tangled her arm with Alex’s and tugged toward the door. “Have fun, ladies.”

Once the apartment door clicked shut behind them, Maggie continued to lead Alex toward the elevator. At the sight of the brunette’s discomfited scowl, Maggie soothed, “Come on, Danvers, don’t tell me you’re queasy about a little display of desire?”

“Involving my little sister, yes,” she quickly countered. Then, with a flinch she couldn’t quite contain, she muttered, “I didn’t need to ever hear her make that noise.”

With the arrival of the elevator, Maggie focused on ushering Alex quickly through the opening doors. Hearing the soft release of breath from the brunette as she connected with the back wall of the elevator car, Maggie moved close and pressed the length of her body against her. Lips hovering close to Alex’s ear, Maggie whispered, “And what kind of noises can I get you to make tonight, Alex?”

She nipped a series of rapid bites along the column of the brunette’s neck, feeling a low vibration against her teeth and tongue as she did. Leaning back, she jabbed a finger against the lobby button on the elevator keypad before returning to the trail she was leaving along Alex’s skin.

Pausing mid-bite at the feel of the elevator finally lurching into motion, Maggie’s lips pulled back into a wicked grin. “Just so you know, this won’t be the only time you’re going down this evening, Danvers.”

The needful groan the brunette released sparked fire low and intense within Maggie, and she knew there was no way she was letting the evening end without coaxing that noise out of Alex as many times as possible.

Chapter Text

Test Subjects CDS-17-009 and -036

As it turned out, Malacandrian and human physiologies were unsurprisingly dissimilar in innumerable ways. So dissimilar, in fact, Dr. Luthor suspected Thomas Rieger’s body was already in the beginning stages of rejecting the nearly nineteen-hour transplant she and her team had just completed.

She stared down at the still-sedated human, not quite ready to let the nurse transfer him for observation. She watched the steady rise and fall of his chest and absently readjusted the ventilator mask that covered his nose. The straps came close to touching the bandages taped along his jaws and neck.

She could see the Malacandrian’s body peripherally, sallow skin split apart along both sides of his neck, and the shocking gape of an incomplete face from where she had removed his lower jaw.

She’d never performed a mandibulectomy before, but the need for more space while removing his venom ducts and canals demanded she learn quickly. She was fairly certain the result shouldn’t have been a mandible cracked in two pieces by haste and carelessness.

She was also certain it didn’t really matter. The next stop for the Malacandrian’s corpse was the incinerator. This wouldn’t be another CADMUS calling card, deposited for discovery by the DEO and NCPD. This would be her secret kept, if only for a little while longer.

Checking Rieger’s vitals, she shone a light into his mouth and noted the clean suture work performed by her team. They’d seamlessly connected the Malacandrian’s venom ducts to Rieger’s parotid salivary glands, attaching the corresponding venom canals along the insides of his cheeks. She nodded at the clean alignment of the canal openings along each side of his mouth, where the venom would exit when projected.

Once the Malacandrian’s venom ducts began working in conjunction with Rieger’s salivary glands, they would begin the process, hopefully, of converting his saliva into venom. She noted in his chart that the doctors and nurses responsible for his care would need to be careful at that point to irrigate his mouth to prevent buccal ulcerations or accidental ingestion of any significant amount of venom. She also noted that he should receive his first dose of cevimeline to stimulate increased salivation as soon as they could bring down the inflammation in the surgical areas.

Everything about the transplant looked nearly perfect. True, it would pose problems that they didn’t have enough time to transplant and articulate the muscles that would have allowed him control over things like when and how far he could shoot his venom—but she was far too resourceful to allow something like that to deter in any way.

Rather, her daughter was far too resourceful, even if still stubbornly resisting the call of her higher purpose as a Luthor.

It benefited Lillian at these times that CADMUS employed tech staff with slightly more IT savvy than even L-Corp could attract. With just a little effort, her tech agent had retrieved from L-Corp’s servers the solution she needed not only for how to help Rieger control the projection of his venom but also for how she could control Rieger’s venom ducts herself, should he prove at the last minute to be uncooperative or unable to follow her orders.

Lillian backed away, signaling to the attending nurse to proceed with moving Rieger to recovery. Now it was all a matter of hoping his body would allow the transplant to take root, even moderately—a process of immunosuppression she’d already begun through gene therapy she engineered using the Malacandrian’s immune cells. She knew even all these steps meant little in the face of cross-species transplantation, but she had to try.

She stared down at the ashen features beneath the bandages and mask, noting the pained furrow of his brow even while still unconscious. “I don’t need you to survive long, Mr. Rieger. I just need you to have one good day.”

Slipping off her gloves and surgical cap, she finally left the OR for the first time in almost twenty-four hours. She felt the lengthiness of this latest surgery deep in muscles that throbbed with still-unreleased tension. With the medical transplant (hopefully) successfully behind her, she knew she was still a long way from her end goal. Too much still remained unknown for her to relax or even hope that this would all work out the way she envisioned it.

No. Hope was for the naïve. She preferred to rely on determination and skill to guide her to her goals—even one as admittedly personal as this one had always been.

She would never confirm Henshaw’s suspicions regarding what drove her in this particular quest. She couldn’t, however, ignore the voice in the back of her thoughts, suspiciously the same timbre as Lionel’s, accusing her of an impractical level of melodramatic intensity.

He’d chastised her similarly for her responses to each Daily Planet article that had begun to pull back further and further the curtain to Luthor Corp’s more questionable dealings. While she had wanted Lionel to take action, be it legal or not, he had seen the articles more as a pathetic distraction rather than something to be feared. Lionel never seemed to care about the damage being caused to the Luthor name by someone he dismissed as too disreputable to be taken seriously. After all, who would give legitimacy to the words of a gossip columnist?

It wasn’t until the article that revealed details of a deal rife with illegalities that even the most deeply bought Metropolis politicians could not ignore, that Lionel realized he should never have dismissed the tenacity of that gossip columnist desperate to be something more. By then, however, it was too late to take care of the threat he had waited too long to take seriously. 

As she had watched her husband’s legacy dismantled, too far beyond salvation by that point, she had sworn she would never make the same mistake of underestimation he had made. 

Moving through the quiet halls that led through the facility, she came to a stop outside Rieger’s cell. Flickering light from a now-silent television broke across the flotsam he’d created during his short stay. She could see words scrawled across the once-pristine publicity shots she had returned to him, could see the crumpled remains of letters he had once more attempted to pen. 

She suspected she should feel some level of contrition for how easily she had reversed the medicated equilibrium Glendale Manor had spent the better part of a month helping him reach. It had taken only one full day from when Luthor had begun withholding his medications before Rieger began showing withdrawal symptoms. It took only two more days after that before he began showing signs of his returning psychoses. Four days after that, he had begun falling back into the patterns she suspected were worn deeply into portions of his memory long hidden beneath years of chemical fog. 

That was when Luthor ordered the television placed within his cell, playing a continuous loop of the talk show she knew had started his obsession. She had selected episodes she knew he would have watched while writing his screeds of love and devotion or formulating the plan that would bring him so close to his goal. So close and then so far away.

Luthor’s cool gray gaze focused on the screen—focused beyond the superficial physical differences between then and now and focused, instead, on the same emerald fire within the eyes, the same determined elegance within movements that likened the figure on the screen to her namesake. 

Luthor knew that fire and determination were now focused on unearthing CADMUS in ways similar to the focus that had led to Luthor Corp’s near-dissolution. She had enough contacts throughout D.C. to know all about the months spent so far, sorting through secrets, building cases and alliances, lining up all the proof needed to finally bring an end to the project Lillian had given so much of her devotion and talent.

She knew better than to discredit the tenacity that had already placed her husband in the cell where he ultimately died and contributed to the fissures that would one day lead to the complete breaking of her son’s control. She would not be fooled by the royal façade behind which that same rabidly obdurate reporter still lived. Her lips twisted into a cruel smirk at the idiom that came to mind about felines and unchanging spots. 

Truthfully, all Luthor should have spared for this particular nuisance was the effort it took to have someone pull a trigger. Instead, she had focused on the long game, feigned ignorance long enough to learn who among CADMUS’s former and current supporters needed to be marked for swift silencing. The list she’d compiled was both admittedly impressive and disheartening.

She had expected more loyalty, particularly from her former Army ally. Surely, the father of Superman’s most brainwashed advocate would have ample reason to want CADMUS to succeed. How quickly his loyalties had shifted, though, after the events of Myriad, blinded, no doubt by the lies of salvation once reserved for the Man of Steel—lies perpetrated globally by National City’s messenger of misinformation and promoter of false deities.

If she needed more proof of the danger of the mainstream media’s biased influence, she needed only point to those whom the Daily Planet laughably passed off as legitimate reporters. Now, the Planet’s most infamous alumna spread alien propaganda not only from coast to coast but also all around the world.

Neither Metropolis nor National City could be trusted to provide honest reporting on the Kryptonians they willingly harbored and praised rather than reviled as the threats to humanity they truly were. And as long as these alien allies continued to control the message so subjectively, the world would never know of the darkness these demigods harbored within.

It fell, then, to patriots like Luthor to remove from the playing board those who would betray humanity, including the Queen herself. Just as it was in chess, Luthor knew the importance of sometimes sacrificing the queen for tactical intentions. If done correctly, the sacrifice of this Queen could prove to be the move that would finally lead to the capture of the most valuable piece left on the board. Remove the Queen and the Hero of National City would lose her most ardent public protector. Destroy the Queen and the Hero of National City could lose far more, including the voice of her defense when the people of National City saw once more the violence roiling beneath the Kryptonian’s superficial layer of heroism. 

Sacrifice of this caliber, Luthor realized, deserved spectacle—and what better spectacle than one that would finally demonstrate to the world CADMUS’s skills and willingness to do whatever it took to protect humanity from those who would betray it to the alien conquerors? 

Turning away from Rieger’s cell, Luthor allowed herself a nascent sense of satisfaction. If successful, Rieger would herald the end of CADMUS’s silent defense of humanity in all the ways Metallo had failed. John Corben had been an interesting diversion into genetic engineering that proved durable but disappointingly unable to fulfill his purpose. 

Rieger would be the first true demonstration of how boutique alien hybridization could empower humans in the ways necessary to defend Earth from alien invasion. He would be first proof of the true value of the aliens already hiding in wait: as ways to enhance human genetics, both for defense purposes and improvement of the species. Introduction of cross-species transplantation and genetic engineering could lead to a new breed of human that would prove invincible throughout a galaxy ready to be conquered. 

His success could signal a greater acceptance of CADMUS methods and finally move the project out from its undeserved secrecy. A project as valuable as CADMUS deserved honest funding rather than desperate begging done in backroom deals. It deserved praise, or at the very least, gratitude, and Luthor was ready to see to it that CADMUS received everything it deserved. 

Equally, she was ready to see to it that CADMUS detractors received everything they deserved as well. The added bonus to all this would be that, through Rieger’s attack, Luthor would return in kind the message his target had taught Lillian so well during their shared time in Metropolis: Secrets and lies will always find their way to the light, no matter one’s wealth or influence. 

As she passed once more out toward her office, she stopped a passing attendant. With a controlled smile, she stated, “Please go disconnect the television in Mr. Rieger’s cell. We have no further use for Cat Grant here.”

Chapter Text

As the floor came up hard against him once again, he tried to remember what he was supposed to do to lessen the impact, to make it so he could recover more quickly, get up faster, and keep going. Instead, all he could think was how the pads in this training room were less like a buffer against the hard concrete beneath them and more like a cruel joke to any agents not fast enough to avoid being slammed into them repeatedly.

His grunt of pain quickly turned into an exhausted groan as he came to a rest and collapsed into a pile of aches and unhappiness. Even with his eyes shut tightly, he could feel her hovering presence and knew without needing to look the disapproving smirk she wore. “Is this how you plan on defending yourself out in the field? Just lying down and moaning?”

“No,” he grumbled. “I plan on staying behind my keyboard and letting the real agents get their asses handed to them.”

He heard her sigh, felt the toe of her boot dig lightly into his ribs, nudging him to roll over onto his back. “First off, you are a real agent. Second, no agent I’m responsible for training ever gets their ass handed to them. You are not going to be an exception to that rule.”

With a deep breath, Winn cracked open his eyes, looking up to see Alex holding out her hand to him, her expression only slightly giving away her amusement. “I think you enjoy bouncing me off these mats way too much.” He reached up, inhaling sharply at the feel of Alex yanking him to his feet. “Ow,” he muttered, rubbing at his shoulder. “Even Kara is gentler.”

Sniffing in amusement, Alex shot back, “Kara has to be gentler or she’d rip off your arm.” She walked over to the edge of the training area, grabbing the bottles of water she’d brought with her. Tossing one to Winn, she quickly snapped hers open and downed half the bottle.

“You’re getting better,” she offered as she watched him drink. She could see his disbelieving smirk even before she finished. “I mean, you’ve got a hell of a long way to go still, but at least you’re no longer curling into a ball and yelling ‘Uncle.’”

“One time, Danvers! I did that one time!”

“Like I said, you’re getting better.” She moved toward the training room’s exit so Winn couldn’t see her caring grin and called out, “I think we’re finished for today.”

“Great.” Alex side-eyed the IT agent as he jogged to catch up with her. “I still don’t understand why I need to go through hand-to-hand training. I’m a programmer, not a fighter.”

“No, you’re both now. And when you’re out in the field, all bets are off. Even our most carefully planned missions can go south in a second.” She stopped walking, laying a hand on Winn’s forearm to stop him as well. “You know I will always have your back—and so will Kara. But sometimes things will happen and we might not be able to protect you right away. I need to know you can protect yourself.”

Feeling a flush creep up through his cheeks, Winn deferred with a quick quip. “You almost sound like you care.”

He flinched instantly at the feel of Alex’s fist connecting with his bicep. “Kara cares. I just hate all the paperwork associated with agent injuries.”

“Right.” He couldn’t refuse the goofy grin that spread across his features but decided to leave well enough alone.

The brunette shifted topic as they headed back toward HQ Ops. “So how long do you think Desert Containment will take today?”

“Probably not too long. I did a complete system recalibration not long after I first started, remember? I just need to get into the system and make sure all the doors and windows are still locked, so to speak. The system readings from Lord Tech’s recent CADMUS breach helped me immensely in outlining what I should focus on with our security protocols. By the way, how the hell did you convince Maxwell Lord to turn that information over to the DEO?”

Alex shrugged but the shine in her eyes conveyed her true admiration. “Cat convinced him.”

Shaking his head, Winn chuckled, “Ms. Grant is the unstoppable force and the immovable object.”

“Irrefutable truth,” she agreed with an equally affable grin. She glanced kindly toward Winn. “So, how are you doing with Cat being around the DEO the way she is now?”

“You mean how am I doing with Cat being with Kara the way she is now, don’t you?” The joy in his expression diminished only slightly, recognizing the understanding Alex conveyed in her watchful gaze. “It honestly wasn’t really a surprise at all. I mean, were you surprised?”

A knowing twitch of her lips her only response, Alex switched back to the previous topic. “I’m asking about Desert Containment because I’m going to need you to do double time today. After you finish there, I’m sending you to L-Corp. According to Maggie, there’s a possibility CADMUS has breached their security systems as well. Lena Luthor reported a theft outside of L-Corp that she’s certain her mother spearheaded and knew about because of L-Corp’s role in the development of what was stolen. We need to make sure it’s not because her mother has found a way back into the company’s servers.”

“And I thought I had parental issues,” the tech muttered.

Alex huffed softly, nudging into Winn with her shoulder. Her attention, however, strayed toward the figure crunching his way through a bag of chips as he ambled across the foyer and disappeared around the opposite corner. “Hey, what do you think of Mon-El?”

Winn shrugged, his lips quirking into a dismissive smirk. “He’s okay, I guess. He is definitely a party boy—doesn’t really seem all that interested in much beyond having a good time.”

“Has he ever said anything to you about Kara?” At the shrug that this time came across more like a nervous twitch, Alex shifted closer. Her voice adopted a threatening cadence even as she raised her index finger in front of his steadily widening eyes. “Winn?”

“He-he asked James and me once if Kara had ‘chosen a mate’ here on Earth, which made for really awkward conversation all the way around.” He frowned at his next thought and continued, “He’s also kind of become obsessed with Ms. Grant ever since the day she went all ‘big words and bigger attitude’ on him. I even caught him listening to the computer read to him all her articles on Supergirl. Oh, and he got, like, irrationally offended when he learned she’s called the Queen of All Media.”

“Really?”

Winn squinted slightly at the memory. “Yeah, it was intense. He started ranting about how she had no respect for the true lineage of royal power. Guess it touched some nerve from his palace guard days.”

Alex rubbed absently at her neck, dark eyes narrowing as she considered Winn’s words. “Maybe. Have you had any more luck in accessing the rest of his pod’s data beyond navigational logs?”

With a sheepish shrug, he shuffled slightly out of range of Alex’s reach. “I, uh, haven’t had the chance to go back to that.”

The brunette smirked at his weak response and whispered, “Well, now that it seems The Guardian and the Geek has gone on hiatus, your chance has arrived.”

“Do you come up with rude comments to save for the perfect moment, or do they just come that naturally and quickly for you?”

Alex shrugged with airy nonchalance. “I have finely trained reflexes all around.” As they neared Ops, they both noticed Kara sitting at one of the stations. She held an open bottle of water in one hand as she stared blankly into the middle distance. Even with as close as they were, the two agents could tell the hero had yet to notice their approach.

Alex snickered at the sight. “Looks like Supergirl’s already gone a few rounds with her arch nemesis this morning.”

Stepping closer, Winn reached out for Kara’s arm, jokingly asking, “Has Snapper finally broken the Girl of Steel?”

At the unexpected and all-too-real feel of Winn’s hand on her bicep, Kara shoved back from the table, nearly knocking it and herself over. Water dripped from her nose and chin from the water bottle she’d crushed in her grip.

Winn stared in surprise and confusion, wiping water from his own face where he’d caught some of the spray. “Kara, I’m so sorry! I thought you heard us!”

The surprise that Alex shared with Winn slowly morphed into understanding. Kara was avoiding all of Winn’s attempts to help her dry off—to try to touch her in any way.

Reaching out, the brunette steadied his hand. “It’s all right, Winn,” although she was making an effort to catch and hold Kara’s gaze. “We’ve got this.” She gestured toward her sister. “Come on, Supergirl. Let’s get you dried off.”

The arch of her eyebrow and poignant avoidance of actually making contact with Kara caused the blonde to blush furiously. With a mumbled apology to Winn, she skulked past Alex and down the hall. Alex shot Winn a slight smile before falling into step behind the swift swish of Kara’s cape.

Once the doors to the special room where Kara could train slid shut behind them and Alex engaged the privacy lock, the agent watched her sister slump down on the edge of the dais and drop her head into her hands. Every line of Kara’s body was tense and she seemed to shudder with every breath.

Alex knelt in front of her, reaching up and gently grasping one of her hands. She heard Kara’s sharp inhalation at the touch, but the blonde quickly returned Alex’s grip. She did, however, continue to refuse to make eye contact. “This is so embarrassing.”

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about—other than dousing yourself in water and nearly dumping yourself out of a chair and onto your ass.” When Kara finally glanced up at her sister, Alex smiled cheekily. “Who knew Winn could have such an effect on you?”

Kara groaned at the horrible joke, but Alex was relieved to see her sister smile in return. Still holding Kara’s hand, she eased onto the dais next to the blonde. “I guess I don’t need to ask who you were thinking about just now.”

“So totally embarrassing,” she huffed once more, letting her head fall forward so she could hide behind her hair.

Alex leaned into her sister’s strong shoulder. “Looks like the Danvers sisters are quite the pair yet again.”

Kara looked over in confusion, surprised to see Alex blushing and smiling shyly. “Wait. You-you’ve been—you have thoughts like this at work?”

“Well, yeah,” she shrugged. “I just don’t have a Super tell to rat me out.” She bumped into Kara playfully. “It’s normal, Kara. I’d be a little worried if you weren’t thinking about Cat all the time right now.”

Something sobered in Kara’s expression as she shook her head. “I shouldn’t be allowing myself to get distracted like this.”

“Unh-unh,” Alex immediately disagreed. “With everything going on right now? This is the perfect time to enjoy some happy distractions. Kara, I have no doubt in your focus or your devotion to stopping CADMUS and bringing home my dad. But you’re also entitled to enjoy every last bit of what’s going on with you and Cat.”

Chuckling at Kara’s sniff of protest as she wiped water off the hero’s nose with her cape, she probed, “So, you’re feeling okay—with your powers and your control?”

The embarrassment that worked its way up Kara’s neck and cheeks nearly matched her cape. “I-I guess. My powers are still—a challenge sometimes.” She could feel Alex’s stare boring into her. “I might have almost lasered holes in my ceiling a couple of times yesterday.”

“Woah. Seriously?” At the weak nod Kara offered in response, Alex whistled softly. “Did that scare Cat?”

Kara snorted. “Are you kidding? I didn’t think anyone could look that smug!”

The sisters both dissolved into laughter at the comment. In between breaths, Alex queried, “Is there anything that can faze her?”

“Getting stuck next to the Fox News table at the White House correspondents’ dinner.” Kara shuddered at the memory. “It happened once by mistake. I swear I heard one of her molars start to crack all the way back here in National City.”

Alex wiped at her eyes while affecting her own shudder at the thought. “I’m pretty sure I’d react the same way under that kind of duress,” she joked.

At the feel of Kara leaning into her, Alex wrapped an arm around her sister’s shoulders and hugged her close. Planting a kiss against her temple, she smiled, “You two really are great together, you know.”

“Same with you and Maggie,” the hero quickly rejoined, giggling at the goofy grin the comment drew to her sister’s lips.

“Speaking of Maggie.” Kara shifted slightly at the serious edge that suddenly sharpened Alex’s words. “She and I had a conversation this morning, and she’s asked me to do something for her today—involving you.”

“Me?” She laughed nervously and Alex noted the way her brow crinkled in worry.

The agent released her hold on Kara’s shoulders, instead taking both her sister’s hands in her own. “How much news have you seen or read since Spencer Graves’s press conference yesterday?”

The shy shrug she received in reply made Alex snicker slightly. “Right. So no news for the randy reporter then,” she teased, delighting at the way Kara narrowed her eyes in response. In truth, Alex was relieved Kara was still in the dark about the stirrings throughout the alien community. “Maggie learned through several of her contacts yesterday that a large portion of National City’s alien residents are going to rally today outside city hall, to protest Graves’s announcement yesterday.”

Concern instantly tightened Kara’s features. “What? When?”

“It doesn’t matter when.” Alex squeezed her sister’s hands firmly to keep her attention. “Kara, you cannot go anywhere near this or any other protest or possible counter-protests.”

“But, Alex, I could help! What if something happens and things get out of hand? I could—”

“NCPD is going to be onsite, Kara. Maggie has already put together several teams to police the rally at city hall, and the department has called in officers for extra duty to increase police presence throughout the city.”

“Then I could help Maggie. I could help make sure nothing happens to her or her teams.”

Smiling at her sister’s protectiveness of the detective, Alex replied, “Maggie’s been doing this gig for a while now, Kara. She and the other officers know how to keep each other safe. Besides,” she pressed on, seeing the argument already forming in Kara’s mind, “Maggie is the one who asked that Supergirl stay away.”

The brunette couldn’t help flinching at the sight of Kara’s expression crumpling with hurt. “She doesn’t want me to help?”

Brushing back a lock of hair from Kara’s forehead, Alex soothed, “She doesn’t want you in a position that Lillian Luthor can use against you, Kara. If Supergirl shows up at today’s rally, no matter what you do, CADMUS could figure out a way to spin it against you. Dr. Luthor would love nothing more than to turn National City against you again. It would be just the cover she would need to come after you without the fear that anyone would notice—”

“Or care,” Kara finished softly.

Pressing her palms against her sister’s cheeks, Alex coaxed blue eyes up to focus on her. “So we keep you away and we keep you and your status as the Hero of National City safe. Maggie’s already worked with her COs and NCPD’s spokesperson to put out a press release that the department has asked Supergirl to remain on the sidelines today so they can show their willingness to stand by you in protecting all of National City’s population, regardless of origin.” She smiled at the way Kara’s lips parted in surprise. “Like I said, she knows how to keep her own safe, Kara.”

“Have I told you lately how much I love Maggie?”

“I’ll be sure to pass along your adoration the next time I talk with her,” Alex laughed, relieved to see Kara relax finally. She released her hold on Kara’s face and continued, “In the meantime, we’ve got an assignment for you and Winn.”

She grinned at the way her sister visibly perked at the mention of working with her friend. “J’onn and Lucy are concerned that, in light of the Lord Tech security breach and now a possible L-Corp breach, Desert Containment might become a future CADMUS target. They’d like Winn to come check the systems to make sure everything is as secure as possible.”

Kara’s brow crinkled in confusion. “What will I be doing? I don’t really have any mad programming skills.”

The mischievous glint in Alex’s gaze instantly piqued Kara’s interest. “Well, I thought you might enjoy getting to see Lucy and all the other agents.”

“And?”

“And I think this would be an excellent opportunity to induct Winn into the Super Squad Flight Club.”

The smile that parted Kara’s lips was breathtaking in its exuberance. “Oh, I think you’re absolutely right.” She slipped from where she sat, bouncing on the balls of her feet at the thought of her sister’s proposition. “When do we leave?”

“Hold on, Girl of Zeal.” She warmed at the annoyed huff her pun earned. “You might not like the next part of our mission for you today. When Winn is finished out at Desert Containment, we need you to take him to L-Corp.”

She saw the hesitation on Kara’s face. “Maggie’s already been in touch with Lena. She’s more than willing to let the DEO come in and confirm that her mother hasn’t regained access to L-Corp’s servers. And who better to help Lena than Winn, right? All you need to do is drop him off and then leave. You shouldn’t spend too much time around Lena as Supergirl anyway. Okay?”

Her expression still far more subdued than previously, Kara finally nodded in agreement.

Alex quickly rose and, wrapping her arm around Kara’s waist, started guiding her sister back out toward HQ Ops. “Good, then let’s get Operation: Gone with the Winn started.”

As the sisters exited the training room together, Kara groaned, “You know how terrible that was, right? Like, I’m an alien to this culture and I’m even telling you how awful that pun was.”

Laughing together the rest of the way back out to the Ops stations, they found the tech agent packing a bag with the equipment he would need for his task at Desert Containment. Alex noted from the slightly damp hair at his temples and his fresh change of clothes that he must have hurried through a shower while she and Kara talked.

“Hey,” he smiled, somewhat sheepishly, “I’m sorry again for startling you, Kara. I kind of didn’t realize that was something I could ever do.”

With a wave of her hand, Kara offered him a slightly embarrassed grin while continuing past him. “You’re fine, Winn. I just got a little carried away with my thoughts, that’s all.”

“If you two are finished chit-chatting,” Alex interrupted, “maybe you’d like to get ready for your assignment?” She shot a pointed look toward Winn.

“All set,” he grinned while slinging his equipment bag across his torso. “Who’s my ride?”

Winn almost missed the look that passed between the sisters, but he most certainly did not miss the devilish curl of Alex’s lips or the rakish cock of her brow as she raised her hand and playfully waved to him. Brain suddenly unable to process all the arguments against what was about to happen, all he had time to do was gasp in protest as he felt two arms slip swiftly around him and hoist him off his feet and out the bay doors.

The flip-flop tumbling feeling that rose within his stomach tamped down any scream he might have thought to voice, which he later would realize was a good thing. However, it didn’t stop him from desperately latching onto the arms around his midsection, fingers clinging with such a tight death grip, his skin blanched bloodless beneath the pressure.

“You’re safe, Winn.” He could hear the amusement in Kara’s voice, breathed directly into his ear as she leaned closer. “You know I’m never going to let you fall.”

Her words reverberated through him, soothing the spikes of panic and allowing him finally to settle into the hero’s strong hold. Certain that he was once more calm, Kara began to divert from the straight path she’d maintained to let him adjust more smoothly into the rhythms of flight.

Careful not to cut her turns quite as sharply as usual, she maneuvered them through National City’s skyline, weaving between buildings and laughing as Winn excitedly identified where they were flying. Soon enough, they’d left behind the concrete and glass jungle for rolling mountains and hills and open sky as far as Winn could see. He felt Kara lean close to his ear once more. “Want to go faster?”

Without really giving the question thought, he nodded, his grip only briefly tightening against her forearms before relaxing once more. And then they were off, wind rushing past and sunlight rolling along the flutter of Kara’s cape as she rose and dropped and pivoted and dipped—Winn squeaked only slightly when she threw in a single roll—and glided on the strong currents that filled the air around them.

When they finally landed outside the main bunker of Desert Containment, Kara released Winn when she was certain he had his footing, surprised when he instantly spun around to face her. Eyes bright with exhilaration, he grabbed Kara’s biceps. “Kara, that was amazing!”

He let go, spinning around to look back up into the sky from where they had just come, and laughing. “Is that what it’s like all the time?” He looked over his shoulder at her again, joy uncontained across his features. “Like, that free? And fast, and wide open?”

Finding his delight contagious, Kara laughed and took one of his hands in her own. “Pretty much,” she conceded. Her expression shifted with the hint of nervousness. “So you aren’t mad at me? For kind of just—sweeping you off your feet like that?”

Winn chuckled at the wording while adamantly shaking his head. “I trust you, Kara.” He squeezed her hand, smiling at the flush of color that rose in her cheeks. “Besides, your sister has been threatening some kind of big hazing for a while now. I just never thought you’d be it.”

The hero rolled her eyes in a way that struck Winn as incredibly Cat Grant. He quirked his mouth to the side to hide his knowing grin. “You know she picks on you so much because she likes you, right?”

“She must really like me then,” he huffed, but a pleased light shone in his eyes. Straightening out his shirt and hair a little, he and Kara proceeded into the main bunker.

It had been far too long since the hero had come to the desert outpost, but nothing pressed this truth home more for her than the delighted greetings she received from every agent the moment they saw her. She called each one she knew by name, met the new staff and quickly set their nervousness at ease with a warm smile, and spent as much time as she could reacquainting herself with the people and the location (bats be damned).

As they approached the main operations deck, Kara’s face lit up at the sight of Vasquez rising from her post and taking an at-ease stance. “Welcome back, ma’am,” she intoned in a way both familiar and always slightly unnerving.

“Sabes que no tienes que llamarme así, Susanita,” she teased, smiling at the mirthful smirk she earned from the agent.

“Whatever you say, ma’am,” she replied, this time allowing a hint of playfulness to trace along her lips.

“Who let these intruders into my outpost?” Kara and Winn spun in unison toward the imposing voice, faces mirroring their delight at the conversely diminutive but no less fierce agent heading their way. “Because I sure as hell don’t recognize them as Desert Containment staff, do you, Vasquez?”

Before Vasquez could even start to play along, Kara shot forward and scooped Lucy Lane into a massive ground-clearing hug.

Several agents turned in surprise at the sound of the CO’s burst of laughter as the Girl of Steel spun them both in the air. “All right, all right! Put us down, Supergirl,” the major finally eked out in between laughs, even as she hugged back fiercely.

Landing once again, Kara relinquished her hold with one of those patented sunny smiles Lucy was convinced only the hero could ever pull off with sincerity. “It’s great to see you back here, Kara.” She glanced around the blushing hero. “You, too, Agent Schott.”

She warmed instantly at the sight of Winn’s goofy grin. Whether at CatCo or the DEO, Lucy had always liked the affable albeit slightly insecure techie. She couldn’t help but notice, though, how much more self-assured he had become since joining the DEO. Being an agent agreed with him in the most flattering of ways. “Tell me, is Agent Danvers still giving you shit for being the newbie?”

Scratching the back of his neck, he shot a playful side-eye toward the hero. “How do you think I ended up flying the friendly skies on Kryptonian Air?”

Lucy snickered at Kara’s sheepish pout before nodding once toward the wall of monitors and workstations behind her. “So are you ready to make sure your handiwork is up to resisting CADMUS intrusion? Because I have no desire to have to face off with any of the aliens sitting in containment due to Lillian Luthor scratching one of her sadistic itches.”

Instantly switching into work mode, Winn removed his bag and headed toward the station next to Vasquez. “By the time I’m finished, CADMUS’s chances of breaking into this system will be lower than a potsticker’s chance of surviving game night at Kara’s.”

The major shook her head at the sight of Kara’s pout deepening while she tugged the hero over to the seats adjacent to Winn’s position.

“There is nothing wrong with being an enthusiastic eater,” Kara grumbled, much to the amusement of the trio of agents within earshot. As much as she missed her friends out at the desert outpost, she hated the location’s isolation from food.

Hopefully, Winn would be finished well before her second breakfast wore off or she’d have to resort to eating the MREs and energy bars usually reserved for away missions. Even the prospect caused her to shudder slightly.

As if reading the hero’s thoughts, Lucy teased, “Don’t worry, Supergirl. I picked up some donuts on my way in this morning, so you’ll have enough energy to get back to the city. They’re not Noonan’s level, but they’ll do.”

A look of total adoration overcame Kara’s features. “I could kiss you right now.”

Lucy gasped, lowering her voice so only the other two nearby agents and Kara could hear. “Does Cat know your affections are so easily swayed?” Her whole expression brightened at the way Kara stammered adorably in response to her question.

“And with that fortuitous segue,” the major continued in a voice so full of conspiratorial glee Kara instantly forgot about food, “hearsay is fine as a last resort, but now that you’re here, I need as many first-person details as possible about what it’s like to be with Cat Fucking Grant.”

Eyes widening at the petite brunette’s directness, Kara caught herself before she began to fidget with the edge of her cape. She knew Lucy would waste no time in sussing out the information she wanted. One of the things she loved about Lucy was her lack of pretense. However, the awareness she felt at who else would be hearing her response froze her with indecision.

Catching the nervous glance Kara shot toward where Winn worked, Lucy nudged the hero’s shoulder and stated, “You do realize that Winn is my most prized HQ informant, right?” She chuckled at the look of surprise to pass across Kara’s face. “He’s the first person I reached out to after watching you and Cat at the debriefing.”

Sensing the hero’s gaze on him, Winn turned and defensively squeaked, “What? A superior officer asked me a direct question and I answered. Chain of command, Supergirl—some of us have to obey it.”

Kara sniffed dismissively, although her posture noticeably relaxed. “You’re just still sore that Cat caught you so off-guard after she and President Marsdin briefed us.”

The tech agent shrugged, but the gleam in his eyes revealed the truth behind Kara’s accusation. “No, I just think a little bit of a heads-up from my friend would have been nice instead of letting Ms. Grant ambush me.”

The hero’s laughter rang out through the cavernous work area, catching the attention and subdued smiles of several agents. “She so did not ambush you!”

“No,” he agreed, affecting a demonstrative shiver. “She did worse: She stared.”

The CEO had, in fact, stood at Winn’s workstation in scrutinizing silence, hands perched on perfectly angled hips, lips quirked and eyes narrowed in ways that Winn suspected Cat would trademark if it were at all possible. Needless to say, that particular power pose worked on him at the DEO even more effectively than it had ever worked at CatCo.

A few seconds into her silence had him stammering and nearly falling out of his seat in a desperate effort to make her not notice the fact that before he had realized she was present, he had called Kara by her real name while she was dressed as Supergirl.

It wasn’t until Kara finally placed a calming hand on his shoulder that he stopped long enough to breathe. “Winn, you do realize Cat is standing in the DEO. I think my cover is blown.”

The subsequent eye roll Kara’s sentiment earned from the CEO had calmed him with its familiarity—more, almost, than the realization that whatever had brought Cat Grant to the DEO (with President Marsdin, of all people), he knew two truths already: It had everything to do with Kara, and Cat wouldn’t rest until she saw it to completion.

He still at times was surprised at how unsurprising he found Cat’s dedication to helping them protect Kara from CADMUS. He had worked for the CEO long enough to understand and respect her fierceness—but this level of personal devotion? It was merely the most recent piece of a long trail of evidence he had been mentally cataloging in his “Before Kara” and “After Kara” observations of his former boss.

“The point is,” he continued, “it’s okay to talk about you and Cat. I want to know my friend is happy—and it’s so obvious you two make each other incredibly happy.”

His eyes crinkled at the corners slightly in response to Kara reaching out and squeezing his hand. “It just seems right,” he continued. “You and Cat—you work. You’ve both always somehow made each other better versions of yourselves.”

Lucy nodded while adding, “And, according to Lois, apparently Supergirl was all the inspiration Cat had been missing for writing again.”

Kara tilted her head at Lucy’s phrasing. Memory of Cat’s words that day in her office, when Kara had declared her desire to be a reporter, instantly sprang to mind.

“You inspire me, Kara. I can see the hero within you.”

“What do you mean, Luce?”

The major leaned back in her chair, turning her full attention toward Kara. “You know Cat didn’t write anymore, right? I mean you had to have noticed while you were her assistant that she never carried a byline in any of her publications.”

Kara frowned at the statement. “She was the managing editor of several of CatCo’s periodicals including the flagship magazine. She wouldn’t have had any time to write on top of that.”

“But that didn’t stop her from writing the first article on Supergirl—every article on Supergirl, in fact, while she was CEO. That first one though? The ‘Millennial Falcon’ article?” She snickered at the perturbed huff she got from Kara at mention of Cat’s debut article for the new hero. “According to my sister, that was her first significant byline since before she started her talk show.

“Lois was surprised as hell when she realized Cat had been the one who wrote that article about you.” The major shrugged slightly. “She made some joke about sending Cat a can of WD-40, since she had to feel rusty at writing again.”

She sniffed in amusement at the massive eye roll her comment earned from Kara. “She was even more surprised when that article ended up finally losing her the Siegel Prize for Women in Media.”

The major reconsidered saying anything more about Lois’s response to Cat’s win that year. Lucy knew it had included a massive bouquet of tiger lilies delivered to Cat’s hotel room in Metropolis and Lois sharing a bottle of Cat’s favorite scotch with her later that evening at the hotel.

Lucy had never understood her sister’s relationship with Cat—then again, she didn’t really understand Lois’s relationship with her either—but she knew it was unique and private between the two of them. If Kara were to know about it, she knew it should be Cat who explained it.

“I had no idea,” Kara finally sighed. “Although it does explain how over-the-top tense Cat was about writing that first article.” She laughed at the memory of Cat trying to type while wearing two sets of glasses. “It sure didn’t show in the writing though. Everything about the article was brilliant. A little bit nasty,” she added, her nose wrinkling slightly with the word, “but brilliant.”

“It might have had harsh overtones,” Lucy agreed, “but even Lois said it ‘reeked of subversive hero worship.’ And this is from someone who would know all about kissing Kryptonian ass in articles.”

“Lucy!”

The major released a loud peel of laughter that earned laughs from the other two agents in the group. Kara blushed dramatically while shaking her head. “Hey,” Lucy finally continued, “that’s no implication against Cat, you know? We all know Cat Grant doesn’t kiss anyone’s ass. Now, other things she might kiss—”

Kara’s hand moved in a blur to cover Lucy’s mouth, the rest of her lascivious comment muffled by the hero’s palm.

Lucy swatted playfully at Kara’s hand to move it, her whole face alight with roguish delight. “Oh, you so owe me details now, Girl of Steel.”

After that, their conversation fell into an easy pattern while Winn worked on checking and enhancing the outpost’s security protocols. Kara answered most of Lucy’s questions, demurring on the ones her Kryptonian sense of decorum insisted were too personal—not to mention her protectiveness of Cat’s privacy. Lucy, of course, teased her endlessly but with a kindness that made Kara miss her regular interactions with the diminutive brunette all the more.

As she settled back in her chair and finished her fifth donut from the box Lucy had retrieved out of sympathy for the massive growl of hunger the Kryptonian’s stomach released, she sighed. “I’m really sorry I haven’t made more effort to come out here to see you, Luce.” She shot a glance toward the agent beside Winn. “You, too, Susanita,” she teased.

Vasquez simply shook her head in silent amusement. Lucy, however, nudged the hero’s arm with her knuckles. “It really is fine, Kara. You’ve had a pretty full plate these past few months, with dealing with CADMUS and finding your footing in a new job—which you’re kicking ass at, by the way. I re-upped my CatCo subscription just so I could read your articles.” She rolled her eyes at the way Kara crinkled her nose at the sentiment. Her gaze then softened with understanding. “And I’m sure it was even harder to settle into your new rhythm without Cat there for you.”

Kara nodded, swallowed quickly against the unexpected knot of emotion that rose in her throat. She hated how easily the painful memory of Cat’s absence from her life could still overwhelm her. She hated more the darker emotions that roiled below the surface of that pain—the fear she tried her hardest not to give power to, but that still lived within her, thunderous and strong.

She’d already lost Jeremiah to CADMUS and had nearly lost her sister and J’onn. Hell, she’d almost lost herself—but none of what Lillian Luthor had done to her while in her custody could compare with the uncontrollable terror she felt at the thought of what Luthor could do to Cat.

Sensing the dark path down which her statement had unintentionally pulled her friend, Lucy reached out and rubbed Kara’s bicep to draw her attention. “Hey, none of those crinkle-inducing thoughts, okay?” She poked playfully at the line that had deepened between Kara’s eyes in a way that instantly reminded the blonde of Alex’s teasing. “I mean, I know working for James after you drop-kicked his heart must be difficult and everything, but it can’t be that bad.”

The major relaxed at the way her tease was enough to draw Kara back to lighter thoughts, especially ones that could inspire such a lovely blush to her golden complexion. “You owe me details on that, by the way,” she continued, much to Kara’s chagrin. “Ugly, brutal details that, even if they aren’t true, will be enough to keep me warm out here all alone in the desert.” She flashed a brilliant stripe of white teeth toward the hero before turning to snag her phone from the workstation where it had just pinged with an incoming message.

Lucy’s soft gasp from beside her instantly drew Kara’s attention. “What’s wrong?”

“My dad just texted me: Colonel Harper’s dead.” She finished reading the message and turned toward suddenly wide blue eyes. “He apparently had some kind of seizure last night. By the time they got him to a hospital, he was unresponsive. They couldn’t save him.” She swiped a hand through her hair, blowing air pensively between her lips.

Before she could respond, Kara heard the familiar signal of an incoming call in her earpiece. A quick tap and Alex’s voice instantly filtered through. “Hey, we just picked up news that Colonel Harper—”

“Is dead,” the hero quickly interjected. “I know. Lucy just found out from her dad. She said it was a seizure?”

Alex instantly picked up on the doubt in Kara’s voice—the same doubt ringing loudly through her own thoughts. “J’onn is reaching out to President Marsdin, to see if there will be a full autopsy. According to the medical files I just pulled up on Harper, he had no previous history of seizures. He barely even caught colds throughout his service.”

“Y-you don’t think this might have been something caused by what—you know—”

She heard the soft, disgruntled sigh through the line. Neither sister wanted to believe that the Martian could have caused something that led to this death. However, they both knew that J’onn had experienced trouble controlling his abilities the first time he’d used them fully since becoming Hank Henshaw. Maxwell Lord’s security officer never did regain his memories and still struggled to retain new ones—a truth both sisters knew J’onn carried heavily in his heart. What if he’d had similar troubles with Colonel Harper that simply took more time to evince themselves? “I don’t know. More reason to call for an autopsy, though, right? We’ll figure it out, Kara.”

“Yeah.” Switching gears, she asked, “How are things there? Any problems?”

“Everything’s fine here,” the agent assuaged. She knew how hard it was for her sister to remain away from the city if there was even the hint of trouble she could help contain. “Maggie called a little while ago to report that the rally has been going on without any problems at all. There are some counter-protesters, but she said even the aliens were surprised by how many of the humans who came down to city hall were there to stand with them.”

She heard the soft gasp from her sister. “It’s a little hypocritical to be anti-alien when you live under the protection of one,” Alex teased. She sobered and softened her tone for her next words. “There are way more of us here in National City who know the truth, Kara, and we’re not going to ever forget it—or let anyone try to deny it. Don’t let people like Spencer Graves convince you otherwise.”

The sound of Kara quickly clearing her throat let Alex know her words had reached her sister in the way she hoped. “I won’t,” the hero promised.

“Good. So, how much longer do you think you’ll be out there? Mom and I were going to try that new Mexican place over in the SoMa. Maybe you can join us after you drop off Winn with Lena?”

The thought of Mexican food instantly made Kara’s stomach growl in a disconcerting way. She heard snickering beside her, followed by a donut waved in front of her. Smirking at the petite brunette staring at her in amusement, she still gladly accepted the confection. “I’d like that. But don’t wait too long for me.”

“No worries. Mom is wrapped up in a test right now that she can’t stop. You’ve got time. Love you, sis.”

“Love you, too, Alex.”

As Kara clicked to disconnect her earpiece, she caught the envious side-eye shot her way by Lucy. Realizing she’d been caught, the major partially teased, “Would it be petty of me to wish I were a Danvers instead of a Lane?”

Kara gave Lucy’s forearm a reassuring squeeze as they settled once more into friendly banter and attempts to distract Winn while he worked.

“Your evil plot to distract me has failed,” he finally declared with a flourish of demonstrative keystrokes and a victorious sigh. “And Desert Containment is now safer than ever before.”

“Thank you, Agent Schott. I will be sure to pass along my commendations to your supervisor.” She winked playfully. “Maybe it’ll buy you a break from her hazing.”

“I doubt that,” Kara laughed. “She’s having way too much fun.” She glanced at the now pouting tech agent. “Ready to fly?”

“Take me away, Supergirl.”

After hugs shared with Lucy and Vasquez and promises to get together at some point soon for a long overdue game night, Kara and Winn headed once more to the launch bay.

Before taking off, however, she stilled his movement with a hand to his forearm. “I’m going to have to just drop you off at L-Corp and leave.” She frowned apologetically. “I can’t spend too much time around Lena as Supergirl.”

He nodded in understanding, lips hitching into a mischievous smirk. “That’s okay. I’m pretty sure I won’t end up part of some diabolical Luthor plan to trap you or anything.”

The look on his face showed he was only partially kidding. Kara huffed in dismissal. “The most diabolical thing Lena might do to you is try to get you to follow her Stranger Things Tumblr.” The hero quickly looped her arms around his midsection, pushing off before he had a chance to ask if she was serious.

Detouring slightly on the way back, she flew them out over the neighboring mountain range for some scenic gliding before circling back around and cutting through downtown toward L-Corp. She opted to land them on Lena’s office balcony, remembering only after the CEO had noticed their presence Lena’s words regarding the use of this doorway.

“Supergirl!” The hero felt some of the tension that had surreptitiously seeped into her posture relax at the relieved way Lena watched her.

As the CEO stepped aside to allow the hero and her companion to enter her office, she caught the slight contrition in Supergirl’s gaze. “I know this door isn’t an entrance—”

“For you, it is,” Lena instantly asserted, hoping this would be the beginning of clearing up all the misunderstandings between them. “And any guests who might accompany you,” she finished with a teasing lilt.

She glanced more closely at the man beside the hero, eyes instantly narrowing in recognition. “You—you were at my fundraiser for the children’s hospital. You helped me with my field generator.” They both smiled cheekily at each other and stated in unison, “The induction coil.”

Winn extended his hand toward the CEO. “Winn Schott. I’m, uh, I work for—I mean, I work with Supergirl.”

“I didn’t realize you were at the party with Supergirl.” She bit her lip pensively, eyes shifting between Winn and the hero. “I actually thought you were there with Kara Danvers that evening.”

Wincing at the sound of his voice cracking slightly, Winn pressed, “I do know Kara. We-we used to work together at CatCo.”

“However,” the hero interrupted, “Kara has always bragged about how capable Winn is with computers. I knew his talents would be invaluable at the department I assist, so I helped recruit him.”

“Hero and head hunter. Is there anything you don’t do, Supergirl?”

Kara offered Lena a reserved smile, careful as always to be aware of her expressions and body language when in the presence of her friend while Supergirl. “Unfortunately, one thing I can’t do at the moment is stay. You’re in excellent hands, however,” she added. “The best, in fact.”

The tech agent fumbled with his bag briefly at the unexpected compliment, his eyes bright with gratitude.

Kara turned once more for the balcony door, making sure to stay far enough in the sunlight to back light her features against close scrutiny. With her hand on the door handle, she paused. “Thank you, Lena.” She glanced at the CEO. “For what you told Detective Sawyer and what you’re allowing us to do with your servers. It means a lot to me.”

“Of course, Supergirl. I want to do whatever it takes to help you stop my mother—even if that means needing to remind myself that there are people out there worth trusting.” She made a move to step closer. Instead, she crossed her arms in front of her, smiling hesitantly at the hero. “I do trust you.”

Stunned into silence by the raw vulnerability in her friend’s voice in that moment, Kara fought the urge to wrap her in a hug meant to protect her from everything she possibly could. “I trust you, too, Lena.”

Turning quickly away, she called over her shoulder, “Whenever you’re finished here, Agent Schott, let me know and I’ll swing by to pick you up.”

Without waiting for a reply, Kara lifted into the air, snickering to herself at the sound of Winn stammering in his adorably awkward way about hoping for a better movie selection on the return flight. She could almost envision the look the comment must have earned from Lena: eyes slightly narrowed but glimmering with pleasure at the silliness of the statement.

Aiming once more for the DEO, the hero picked a slightly meandering return path, looping and slipping between buildings with playful ease. Though temperature was never a worry for the Kryptonian, she enjoyed the feeling of the bright midday sun against her skin and the comforting, deep vibration she felt within her cells as they recharged.

Not even bothering to land once she was through the bay doors, she instead scanned the nearby areas, redirecting her flight path toward Alex’s lab where she could see both her sister and foster mother. “Hey,” she called out as she floated finally to a halt behind them. She noted with private amusement how mother and daughter turned toward her with nearly identical movements and matching pensive expressions on their faces.

“Hey, you,” Eliza greeted, reaching out and pulling her younger daughter in for a hug. “Did you have fun terrorizing Winn for your sister’s amusement?”

Alex shrugged innocently while watching her sister gape at her. She reached out to press Kara’s mouth shut with her forefinger under the hero’s chin. “Worst. Poker. Face. Ever.” She chuckled at the feel of Kara swatting her hand away gently while rolling her eyes. “You do have great timing, though. We’re just finishing up here. Ready for lunch?”

The responding roar of the hero’s stomach put both Alex and Eliza on warning that Kara was more than ready for something more substantial than the donuts she’d eaten at Desert Containment.

“Okay,” Alex replied, dragging out the word with exaggerated surprise. “Change and we can go.” Then, with a quick grip on her sister’s arm to still her before she zoomed away, she asked, “Do you want to see if Cat wants to join us?”

Touched by Alex’s thoughtfulness, she shook her head. “Cat is in writer lockdown mode right now. She said she was finishing up a ‘killer expose’ today and doesn’t want any interruptions. She even asked that I not text her at all.”

She flashed back to her conversation with Lucy, the smaller blonde’s manic behavior while working on an article now far less confusing. “Maybe we can all get together for dinner sometime this week?”

“I’d like that,” Eliza agreed. “It’s been too long since I saw Maggie or Cat—or spent any serious time with my daughters,” she added, pleased by the instant subdued looks her comment earned from both Danvers girls.

With a quick dash to the locker rooms to cover her uniform, Kara joined Alex and Eliza on their way to the garage. The drive to the restaurant was swift, even for weekend traffic. Soon enough, the trio was sitting at an outside table with a pitcher of sangria and the largest order of nachos offered, conspicuously positioned right in front of Kara.

“Think that’ll be enough to hold you over until the entrees?”

Eliza nudged her older daughter in lighthearted rebuke. “Don’t tease your sister, Alexandra. She needs to refuel after carrying out your latest hazing.”

With a huff of feigned petulance, the brunette scooped a nacho from the stack, eyebrow quirked in defiance toward Kara. “If carrying Winn wore you out, I’m officially rescinding that ‘Maid of Might’ nickname.”

The two continued to provoke each other as only sisters could, Eliza enjoying the role of silent audience to their mutual pestering. Though nowhere near ideal, her current need to be in National City under the protection of the DEO was at least affording her the unexpected opportunity to observe her daughters in a way she’d thought unfeasible now that they were grown and on their own.

Even the small moments she had been able to steal with either or both since her arrival filled her with joy at how resilient their bond continued to grow. It also helped mildly alleviate some of the remorse she still harbored within for how hard she’d always been on Alex regarding her protection of Kara. Eliza could see how that protectiveness was now not only completely ingrained but also shared between the sisters, an extra variant in their DNAs that, human or Kryptonian, connected them in unbreakable ways.

More than that, however, Eliza could barely contain the pride she felt in watching both her girls, stronger and braver than she had ever anticipated they would be. And getting to work beside Alex finally was a revelation Eliza had longed to experience in full ever since they’d worked together on the Medusa virus. In the span of time she’d been at the DEO, she had confirmed once more that her daughter was brilliant in ways Eliza had regrettably overlooked for far too long.

“Okay, Eliza.” The scientist snapped back into focus at the sound of Kara’s beckoning. Impossibly blue eyes sparkled as they studied her. “Your expression is far too serious for sangria and nachos.”

With a slightly melancholy smile, she mused, “Ever since you told me about Jeremiah still being alive, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how I can’t wait for him to see what amazing women you’ve both become.”

In truth, most of the time, she couldn’t bear to think or feel anything regarding the possibility that her husband was still alive and in the custody of someone like Lillian Luthor. She couldn’t bear the sorrow that compressed her heart or the fear that seeped into her joints or especially the anger that boiled the marrow within her bones. And the thought of once more seeing him? Facing him with the knowledge that he had survived more than a decade under CADMUS control? She had no idea how to process that possibility—so, instead, she focused on this, on the hope that he would soon get to see his daughters once more and know that all he and Eliza had done to help guide them had more than succeeded.

Both sisters felt the instant sting of tears at Eliza’s words. Kara was first to find her voice, low and sharp along the edges. “You won’t have to wait much longer. I swear it to you both, we’re going to bring him home.”

Distrusting her own voice in the moment, Alex reached out and took one of Eliza’s hands, smiling at how quickly her sister did the same. Eliza relished the feel of each of her daughters’ hands: the calloused grace of Alex’s and the strong, smooth steel of Kara’s. Tightening her grip affectionately, she smiled fully at both her daughters. ”All right, less emotion and more sangria.”

“And nachos,” Kara offered while looping a giant string of melted cheese around the stack she pulled from the plate.

Somehow navigating the entire cluster into her mouth, the hero happily crunched away while Alex rolled her eyes and wiped away a stray dot of salsa from her sister’s nose. “Can’t take you anywhere,” she ribbed and Kara let the unspoken affection wash over her with a content smile.

Halfway through their entrees, the click of an incoming call instantly creased Kara’s brow. Flicking her ear piece, she heard Winn stammer, “Uh, yeah, uh, Supergirl?” The hero understood that Lena was nearby. What concerned her more was the nervous cadence of Winn’s voice. “We’ve got a bit of a problem.”

Blue eyes instantly locked onto the curious gaze of her sister. “I’m here with—your CO.” She hesitated to say Alex’s name, in case Winn was close enough to Lena for her to hear her voice. “What’s the situation?”

“CADMUS has definitely been inside L-Corp’s servers after Lena’s security enhancements—which are actually quite impressive, and which makes CADMUS even scarier that they’re able to get through these kinds of defenses.” He sighed. “I’ve found evidence that they were inside the mainframe as recently as last week.”

At the sound of Winn’s sudden silence, Kara prompted, “ Does Lena know what they found?”

“I, um. I think it’s something she should explain to my CO.”

Kara’s brow furrowed as she stared at Alex. “What? What is it, Kara?”

The blonde instead responded to Winn. “Do you really think that’s necessary, Winn?”

“Yeah. I do.”

Eliza and Alex exchanged worried expressions at the sight of Kara rubbing her forehead nervously. “Okay. I’ll let her know. She’ll be on her way soon.” Conversation ended, she focused on Alex. “CADMUS breached L-Corp,” she whispered, “and apparently got hold of something Lena wants to speak with you about.”

“Me?”

“Winn said she wants to talk to his CO, and he seems to believe it’s serious enough to agree with her.”

“Kara!” Alex’s voice, barely passing as a whisper at that point, crackled with frustration. “She’s met me! At your apartment! She knows I’m your sister, and she thinks I’m with the FBI!”

“I know!” Kara grimaced, her eyes brimming with apology. “Maybe we can ask J’onn to go instead?”

“You mean the Martian who currently looks like the cybernetic nightmare who nearly killed Lena?”

“He could change his appearance!” She closed her eyes at the sound of panic in her voice, her whole expression altering under the guilt slowly seeping through her. ”I didn’t mean to complicate things like this. I didn’t think that my friendship with Lena—I didn’t—I just didn’t think. I’m sorry, Alex.”

At the sight of Kara shrinking into herself, Alex immediately reached out to clutch her sister’s hand tightly. “Hey, it’s all right, Kara.” She shrugged. “I’ll go. It’s okay,” she reiterated at seeing Kara’s brow crease even more. “It’ll be one less lie between you and Lena.”

Alex refrained from stating that it would also give her a better chance to observe Lena Luthor without Kara present, to better gauge if, indeed, this was a Luthor worth trusting. She glanced at her mother and smiled. “I can swing by the DEO to drop you off there or I can take you back to where you’re staying. Either is on the way to L-Corp.”

“Actually,” Eliza replied with a curious grin, “I think I’d like to hitch a ride with your sister.”

“But I didn’t—oh. Oh!” Kara instantly perked at the realization of what Eliza was asking. “Really? You want to—to—?”

Eliza placed a calming hand on Kara’s forearm, utterly enamored of her younger daughter’s uninhibited enthusiasm. “If you’re up to it, I heard this morning on the news that there are several migrating gray whales along the coast right now. Up for a little whale watching?”

“Absolutely! We can go a little ways upcoast, where I’ve seen the whales passing before. It’s farther out to sea, so it’ll be a little less conspicuous that I’m traveling with a passenger.” She thrilled at the feel of Eliza tightening her hold on her arm, her eyes shining with anticipation.

Alex nudged her sister with her boot under the table and stated, “So don’t keep Mom waiting, Supergirl. Get out of here. I’ve got lunch this time.” She shared a knowing glance with her mother as Kara shot up so fast, she barely cleared the table. Kissing her sister on the cheek and watching as Eliza did the same, the two blondes began for the nearest alleyway where Kara could pull a quick change, waving to Alex as they disappeared. The brunette turned her gaze toward the west, catching the flutter of Kara’s cape several minutes later as she accelerated toward the shore.

Sighing at the far less fun afternoon she faced, the agent spent the entire 20 minutes it took her to reach L-Corp plotting the next hazing for Winn in retaliation for dragging her back into Lena Luthor’s orbit so unceremoniously. Though admittedly unhelpful in the end, the mental exercise had served to distract her from the more worrisome thoughts about what it was Lena insisted on telling her face to face.

As she pulled to the curb outside the building, she caught sight of Winn standing nearby. Sliding out of the Denali, she slipped her sunglasses atop her head and sighed. “Why am I here, Schott?”

Instead of flinching as he often did when she referred to him by his last name, he grabbed her arm and began hurrying back inside. “Lena will explain.”

Pulling back sharply, she whispered, “Lena Luthor knows who I am, Winn, so this better be worth it.”

“What?” The agent’s feet tangled together as he turned in mid-stride to face Alex, nearly tumbling him to the ground. “What do you mean she knows who you are? How?”

“She’s friends with Kara, that’s how! She saw me at Kara’s apartment once and recognized me from the day John Corben tried to topple this building we’re about to enter. She thinks I’m with the FBI, but she knows I’m Kara’s sister.”

Pausing at the entrance, Winn bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Alex. I didn’t know. But—I think you’re going to want to talk with her directly about what we’ve discovered.”

“It’s really that bad, huh?”

The tech agent shuffled nervously as he finally pulled open the door. “Some of it is actually amazing. Add in Dr. Frankenluthor and the rest of it’s—not great.”

Breathing deeply in a way that never really worked to calm her, she let Winn lead her up to Lena Luthor’s office. They found the CEO steadfastly typing at her laptop. Without looking at the two entering agents, she offered, “I think I’ve found the coding interjection you were looking for, Winn. It was actually buried in a subroutine—” but her words stuttered to a stop when she looked up, her crimson lips slowly slipping into a confused frown.

“Ms. Luthor.” Alex stepped slightly ahead of Winn, patiently awaiting the CEO’s next statement.

“You’re Kara’s sister.” She rose from her desk, her weekend attire and hastily gathered ponytail making her look more like an undergrad than a billionaire CEO. “Special Agent Alex Danvers with the FBI.”

With a slight tilt of her head, she agreed, “All true, minus the FBI part. I’m actually with the Department of Extranormal Operations. We monitor and defend against extraterrestrial and metahuman terrorist threats.”

Leaning against the edge of her desk in front of Alex, Lena pensively drew her bottom lip between her teeth. The agent could see new information aligning with old in eyes the shade of shallow Caribbean tides. “That sounds unnervingly like something my mother would say her project does.”

“Probably because Project CADMUS grew in the shadow of the DEO. The first general charged with overseeing the department put together CADMUS in the hopes of learning how to defend against the extranormal powers some of the aliens brought in by the DEO possessed. However, soon it became about figuring out how to recreate and weaponize their abilities for military personnel.”

The agent tilted her head to the side, brunette hair fanning away from her face. “The DEO is partially to blame for CADMUS, so it’s now our job to stop what never should have started.”

Lena stared in silence at the woman before her, eyes bright with doubt. Alex observed as the CEO crossed her arms tightly across her chest, gripping her upper arms in a way Alex recognized as an attempt at reassurance. The sight made Lena seem even younger and the doubt she bore even older.

“Supergirl and Kara both trust you.” The words came across as not a question, not quite a convincing conviction. Alex could tell the CEO was struggling to place faith in someone who had already lied once to her—and had made her best friend silently complicit in that lie. “I’m working on my trust issues even as we speak,” she continued as if sensing the agent’s thoughts.

“I understand, Ms. Luthor.”

Unnervingly bright gaze focusing inward for several beats, the CEO finally looked back up at Alex. “Please call me Lena.”

Nodding in acceptance, Alex took a less formal stance, hands instantly perching on her hips. “Winn informed me that you’ve discovered something troubling about what your mother accessed on the L-Corp servers?”

“Yes, although it was something I had my CTO secure from the main server with AES algorithms and real-time monitoring, which we thought would be platinum-level security.”

“Which also means whatever was in there was going to be the Holy Grail to your mother.” Alex took in the regretful slump of shoulders and the small nod. “What were you protecting so vehemently?”

“A virtual work space that I share with a former business partner.” She flushed slightly, her gaze darting briefly away from Alex’s. “We met in college and continued to work together after graduation on an idea that started as a way to combat cancer without damaging healthy tissue. After five years, the idea had grown into a new form of nanotechnology that had virtually unlimited promise—if we could only solve an algorithm issue that would allow us to link the AI sentience of the nanobots.”

“Sentience? You’ve created sentient nanotechnology?”

The CEO nodded, a glint of pride in her gaze. “Theoretically, yes. We’ve only run computer simulations so far. We’re light years away from clinical trials, but the programming itself is sound and so close to completion.” She shot a glance toward the tech agent behind Alex. “Maybe we just need a fresh set of eyes to review our work.”

Before Winn could respond, Alex held up a hand in a silencing gesture. “We are happy to avail you of Agent Schott’s assistance at a later time. Right now, though, the more pressing concern is this breach.” She glanced at Winn. “You’ve confirmed this is the same hacker who attacked Lord Tech?”

Nodding adamantly, he explained, “I found signs of the same variation of PowerShell command used on Lord Tech’s servers. The version they used here was heavily modified from that version.” He glanced admiringly toward Lena. “Your servers were way more difficult to hack than Maxwell Lord’s. However, the base elements of the code were the same.”

“And have you confirmed what else they accessed beyond the nanotech information?”

Lena sighed at the question. “Winn confirmed that CADMUS accessed the information I told Detective Sawyer about. They even pulled schematics on the tracking devices, which explains how they were able to reprogram the reader so easily.”

“The secret, though,” Winn added, “is that the warning subroutine the trackers carry isn’t a part of the primary design, so it’s not part of the schematics. It was something Lena had added right before shipment.”

The CEO’s lips hitched slightly upward at Winn’s excitement. “Sometimes it pays to be paranoid.”

Alex’s eyes shifted quickly between Lena and Winn, fighting back the urge to smirk at the tech agent knowingly. “So if CADMUS tries to alter the trackers in any way, the subroutine will alert you?”

“Better than that,” Lena corrected, “Winn thinks he knows a way to use the subroutine to actually backtrace the trackers. Even if CADMUS has figured out how to deactivate the trackers, the subroutine will serve as the re-ignition.”

Eyebrows hitching high on her forehead, Alex turned to face the techie. “You can do this?”

Struggling not to succumb to nervous stammering, he dug his nails into his palms and stated, “Yes. I, uh, I think so. I might need Lena’s help, but I think together we can find a way to do this.”

“You can really track us all the way to CADMUS’s location?” The agent struggled to suppress the surge of elation that shook the edges of her voice.

Winn’s expression softened, understanding the hope this possibility stoked within his friend. “I’m going to do everything I can think of to make it happen, Alex.” He cleared his throat, shifting his gaze to give Alex a moment to collect herself.

Focusing on Lena, he finished, “I have an encrypted VPN back at the DEO that will allow me to run simulations without running the risk of accidentally interfacing with the trackers. I’m going to head back and start working on the subroutine there.”

With a slight smile, Alex studied the CEO, relieved to see her posture had relaxed significantly in the time they’d been talking. “Thank you, Lena, for all your help.” She quirked her lips thoughtfully. “Kara—the secrets she keeps are at my request.”

The agent noted how the comment didn’t cause Lena to withdraw, instead illuminating her gaze with understanding. “I suspect Kara would do whatever she needed to protect those she loves.”

“She does.” Alex hoped her tone conveyed enough to the woman before her. With a step backward, she finished, “Agent Schott will be in touch. Have a good rest of the day, Lena.”

The journey back to Alex’s Denali was silent. However, before Winn could climb into the passenger side seat, a strong grip on his forearm stopped him in his place. “You were right to call me for this. Thank you.”

“Of course, Alex.” Winn offered her a slight grin, which she acknowledged with a nod and a nudge to his bicep.

Back at the DEO, they swiftly made their way up from the garage, discussing next steps in Winn’s work. The agents both slowed to a stop, however, when they noticed Kara and Mon-El together in the hallway leading toward the training rooms. Kara stood back from the Daxamite, her arms crossed tightly in front of her, and both Alex and Winn noted the shocked glare she was giving Mon-El. Winn caught the slight snarl of Alex’s lip as she read her sister’s tense body language. “I’d give anything for super hearing right now.”

The sound of her comment instantly piqued Kara’s attention, the blonde’s startled gaze and flush of—what? Embarrassment? Anger?—evident as she turned sharply to face Alex and Winn. More tellingly, however, was the quick spark of ire that shone in Mon-El’s glare before he turned wordlessly and stalked away. Without waiting, Alex hurried to Kara, Winn traipsing quickly behind her. “What’s up with him?”

With a shake of her head and a sigh that shook far too much for Alex’s liking, Kara replied, “Nothing. He’s just—it’s nothing.” She waved her hands dismissively before shifting the conversation. “What did Lena tell you?”

Alex glared at her sister for a beat, not wanting to drop the issue but instantly giving in at the hopefulness in Kara’s eyes that barely suppressed the underlying pleading need not to talk about whatever had just occurred. Sighing and noting she would be revisiting this in the near future, she instead launched into an explanation about all they’d learned from Lena.

With barely controlled joy, Kara turned to Winn and wrapped him in the biggest hug the tech agent had every experienced from his friend—his first true Supergirl hug, complete with his feet leaving the ground by her doing for the third time that day. “Thank you so much, Winn, for whatever you can do to help us find CADMUS.”

When they landed once more, she pressed an elated kiss against his temple before doing the same with Alex. “This is so amazing,” she finished while floating up and backward. “I’m going to just—you know, take a patrol to celebrate.”

Before either agent could reply, the hero had spun in mid-air and zoomed toward the foyer. “Well, that was a new take on avoidance,” the techie finally offered.

He flinched at the very audible, very angry sigh beside him. “I’m going to stab him with a fistful of pencils.”

“You know pencils don’t actually contain any lead, right?”

“Fine,” Alex snarked, “find me something that does contain lead and I’ll stab him with that. I’ll make sure it’s nothing fatal. Yet.”

Winn shivered at the low growl of intent in Alex’s final word.

Blowing a puff of air rapidly out, she started to walk once more. “I’m going to go brief J’onn. Why don’t you take a break from security stuff for a while?” She cast a sideways glance as Winn caught up beside her. “You’ve done a great job today, Winn. I’ll be sure to let J’onn know.”

“Th-thanks,” the tech agent eked out, pleased beyond belief at Alex’s praise. He watched the other agent long enough for her to turn the corner before he pumped his fist enthusiastically while laughing to himself.

Taking Alex’s suggestion, he filled the Super Soda cup he always kept on his workstation desk (because how could he bring himself to throw away a special edition cup emblazoned with his friend’s likeness on it?) with soda from the break room and settled in for some mind-clearing Minesweeper time. He noted peripherally when Kara returned—noted as well the way she kept to the edges of Ops as though either trying not to bother him or to be noticed by him. Whatever reason, he decided to give her space for the moment.

After nearly a half hour of casual observation, however, he was through with space. He rose from his station and made his way to where Kara had sequestered herself in a corner. At Kara’s haste in flipping over the tablet she’d been glaring at since not long after sitting down, Winn laughed while motioning toward the device. “Okay, hand it over, Kara.”

The hero shifted nervously, crinkling her brow in feigned confusion. “Wh-what are you talking about?”

“See, I was going to let it go that you look like you’ve been on the verge of lasering a hole through that screen since you sat down. But first you freak out about me seeing the screen and now you blatantly attempt to lie to me in that endearingly transparent way of yours?” He grinned at her eye roll while dropping dramatically down into the chair beside her. “Nah, I can’t let this go.” He gestured with his hand for Kara to hand him the tablet. “Come on, it’s show-and-tell time at the DEO.”

When Kara made no move to acquiesce, he pouted out his bottom lip and leaned his head against her shoulder. “Please? Don’t you want to be extra nice to me after traumatizing me so badly today?”

Kara snorted in protest at Winn’s inveigling while shrugging her shoulder enough to nudge his head away without hurting him. Her gaze, however, softened slightly in amusement. “I will not stand for this slander against Supergirl, Agent Schott. My flying skills are impeccable—not traumatizing.”

She instantly began to laugh as soon as she’d finished speaking, mostly from the feigned indignant glare Winn offered. Relieved to see some of the tension she’d been carrying relax from her posture, he tapped a finger against the back of the tablet. “So, what’s got you all glarey and cranky?”

With a sigh, she flipped over the tablet, holding it so only Winn could see the screen. At first, he snorted while rolling his eyes. “Really, Kara? You don’t see enough of her, so you’re looking at photos of Cat online?”

However, as he continued to scan through the image gallery, he realized Cat was accompanied in each picture. Leaning closer, he furrowed his brow at the realization. “Wait—is-is that Leslie Willis?”

“Yeah.” She let the tablet drop into her lap with a disconsolate frown. “She’s never mentioned that she and Leslie were—whatever this was.”

“A really terrible PhotoShop attempt, if you ask me.”

“What?” She turned to him with confusion and the slightest sliver of hope in her gaze. “What do you mean?”

Gesturing for the tablet once more and pleased that this time she capitulated, he tapped one of the more suggestive images. Even without looking at Kara, he could tell from the sound of the chair arms bending under her grip how much the image bothered her. “The chair surrenders, Supergirl.” He glanced askance long enough to catch her slightly chagrined smile as she released her grip on the chair.

Shifting the tablet, he pointed to two areas on Cat’s and Leslie’s faces. “Look here and here. See how the shadow positions don’t match up on their faces? If they were really together this close in the same shot like this? The shadow alignments would match. But look: Cat has shadowing along the left side of her face while Leslie’s face is in full light on the left side. Also, the proportions are way off-kilter. Unless Cat’s wearing foot-high platforms that we can’t see, she’s way too tall in comparison with Leslie in this shot.” He shook his head in amused disdain. “I’ve seen worse PhotoShopping, but this one’s pretty lame.”

A slight flush of color tinted Kara’s cheeks as she saw all the visual inaccuracies Winn so easily pointed out to her. “You’re right, that’s—that’s not a real photo.”

“Most of these shots are probably just as fake. And the ones that aren’t? Like this one,” and he tapped a shot of Cat and Leslie together at the CatCo event to launch Leslie as the newest CatCo radio personality, “are just Cat doing what Cat does. You know, that ‘Queen of All Media’ thing.”

The relief that began to cool the fire of Kara’s previous glare bothered Winn almost as much as the glare itself—or, rather, who he suspected had set the glare alight in the first place.

He nudged Kara’s bicep playfully with a knuckle. “So, what’s this all about? Why are you suddenly interested in these rumors? Because you know that’s what they are, right? Every single time Cat is even associated in the media with anyone, the gossip rags go wild.”

To prove his point, he tapped in a new search before turning the tablet back to Kara’s hold.

When the hero glanced at the screen again, Winn feared she might crack the device in half. “What are these? These—that’s not—these are definitely not all real photos.” The color of her blush deepened about three shades as she scrolled briefly through Winn’s image search before finally flipping it over to hide the photos.

“That is the Internet’s response to Cat Grant affiliating herself with Supergirl. Those started popping up almost as soon as she hashtagged you—which probably has a whole new meaning now that you two are together that I should definitely not think too much about.”

He shrugged at her eye roll and teased, “If you think those are bad, you should stay away from any images that come up under ‘SuperCat.’ Those are some—ingenious shippers there. Lascivious, but ingenious.”

Kara nodded absently while scrolling through a few more screens of images before something clicked in her thoughts. Looking up suddenly, she asked, “Wait, how do you know we’re called ‘SuperCat’?”

Winn blanched under the increasingly more inquisitive glare Kara focused on him, and he quickly snatched back the tablet to close out the window. “I was CatCo IT for six years, Kara. You—you learn lots of things when you’re CatCo IT. That’s all.” He took a hard pull on the straw in his soda cup, intentionally averting his eyes from Kara’s.

Kara smiled affectionately at her friend as he cleared the cache on the tablet. Leaning forward, she kissed his temple before rising from her seat. “Thanks, Winn—for everything.”

The agent huffed while playfully swatting Kara away. “Yeah, yeah, get out of here, Danvers. I’ve got real work to take care of, you know.”

With an amused sigh, Kara floated up off the floor, slowly gliding backward toward the bay doors. “Tell Alex I’ll see her tomorrow, will you?”

“Sure thing, Kara.” He offered her a quick wave before watching her flip in mid-hover and swoop swiftly out the bay doors and into the night sky. With a thoughtful glance down at the now cleared tablet, he slipped from his seat and called over to the nearest agent. “Hey, Paulson, when Danvers gets back, let her know Supergirl clocked out for the evening and I’m down in the cargo bay, if she needs me.”

Shrugging while reading the latest round of city-wide activity scans, he replied, “What’s down in the cargo bay?”

“Something Agent Danvers asked me to start working on.” When no other questions came his way, the tech agent hastened his gait toward his destination.

By the time he finally made it to the lower-level bay, Kara had already made her way back to Cat’s. After opening up her hearing to the whole city and not hearing anything that required Supergirl’s intervention, she decided the city was settled enough to do without her for the evening.

With absolute silence, the hero entered the Grant penthouse through the balcony door that led to Cat’s bedroom. Pausing for a moment once inside, Kara listened to the sounds of the penthouse until she pinpointed Cat’s location.

She heard the CEO’s voice, sharp and decisive, coming from her home office. She frowned in surprise at realizing it was Snapper to whom she was speaking. Slowly, she floated down the hall toward the sound of Cat’s voice.

The smaller blonde stood by her desk, her back to the doorway. She stared down at the tablet in her hand for several more beats before setting it down on the desktop. With a soft huff, she finally sighed, “I hate to admit it, but your edits improve the story nicely. You prove your worth to CatCo for another day.”

Reaching out once more with her enhanced hearing, Kara heard the familiar gruff growl of her current boss. “Fine, since it’s CatCo confession time, even I have to concede this wasn’t nearly as terrible as I was expecting.”

Kara heard Cat’s amused sniff. “I don’t think I can withstand much more of your wooing, Lucas.”

“You couldn’t promise me enough future alimony to convince me to chase that insanity, Grant.” His tone shifted, sounding at once more and less gruff in one unsettling go. “You’re still a ball buster with this stuff, you know. You never should have given up real journalism for all the puff piece crap you peddle now.”

Cat leaned back slightly, her free hand finding its natural perch against the curve of her back. “The puff piece crap is how I’m able to keep paying you to track down the real stuff, Lucas. Besides, I burned my ‘serious journalist’ wardrobe years ago.”

“Cut the bullshit, Cat.” His tone was now anything but assertive, instead surprising Kara with its understanding undertone. “You got knocked off your game. You deserved to take a rest, but you shouldn’t have just stopped all together.”

“I haven’t stopped,” she countered. “By your own account, I just wrote another kickass, ball-busting article.”

No super hearing was necessary to hear the snort of dissent Snapper released suddenly. “Nice bit of hyperbolic hype there, Grant. Too bad the Pulitzer committee doesn’t buy into that self-congratulatory nonsense.”

She laughed as she finished, “I’ll send over the final copy for publication as soon as I finish reviewing it. You’ll send it to the Tribune for publication and post it to the CatCo home page, app, and social media channels when we discussed. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Good night, Lucas.”

She placed her phone next to the tablet and arched back into a full-body stretch, extending her arms over her head as she did. At the sight before her, Kara moved so swiftly and silently from the doorway to right behind Cat that the smaller blonde had no time to even gasp in surprise before the hero’s hand was wrapping around her wrists, her other hand quickly clearing away the tablet and phone.

Pressing slowly but insistently forward, Kara pinned Cat’s upper body against the length of her desk, one hand holding the smaller blonde’s wrists in place against the surface and the other slipping around her waist. She leaned in, smiling at the feel of Cat instinctively pushing back against her body with a lustful sigh, to feel the press and heat of Kara against her. At the scrape of Kara’s teeth along her earlobe, Cat’s eyes fluttered upward and slightly closed, her breath stuttering in her throat at the sensation.

The hero nuzzled gently against the soft spot just beneath her ear while she shifted her free hand up under the smaller blonde’s shirt, to trace the contours of her side, the delicate lines of her ribs, the soft slope of her breast. She smiled against Cat’s neck when she felt the shiver that shook through the woman beneath her and pressed closer, grinding against the curve of Cat’s ass to release some of the ache growing between her own thighs.

An involuntary upward shift of her hips against Kara was Cat’s initial response, followed by an immodest moan that sent arcs of sensation through Kara’s skin. Muscles tightened along Cat’s neck as she struggled to compose herself, but Kara could hear the uptick in her breathing and heartrate, could even smell the scent of Cat’s arousal—knew without any words the definitive reactions her attentions were receiving.

Once more she leaned forward, pressing languorous kisses along Cat’s jaw, gently sucking her earlobe, smiling at the shudders her touches were causing through the smaller blonde’s body, before finally, finally sliding her hand downward, flicking open Cat’s pants and slipping inside to brush her fingers against lace growing evermore saturated.

Kara felt Cat’s legs tremble at the teasing touches she now skimmed along her inner thighs, passing across the soaked expanse of fabric with barely enough pressure to register—but just enough to coax a frustrated whimper from between Cat’s now clenched jaw. The smaller blonde pressed her forehead against the cool surface beneath her, desperately trying to compose herself.

Kara took the moment to slide fabric aside and run her finger slowly along the length of Cat’s sex, savoring the sensory overload of sound and sight and scent that the touch released.

“Kara, please.” Cat’s voice, thick with need, set Kara’s skin ablaze as Cat writhed desperately.

Kara instead held her firmly in place, keeping her legs apart with her own boots planted against the insides of Cat’s feet so the smaller blonde could find no leverage and no relief from the hero’s teasing ministrations. Cat’s inner thighs grew slick with need, her frustration coming in sharp breaths and feral moans as Kara ground against her while keeping her touch unmercifully light.

Distracted by the sensations summoned by the soft swell of Cat’s breast palmed perfectly in her hand, the hero missed the beginning of the smaller blonde’s quiet mantra, barely expelled upon shallow gasps—a looping chorus of “please” that never ceased, never specified what precisely Cat needed so desperately.

Leaning in close enough to see the strong, steady pulse of Cat’s heartbeat against her neck, Kara husked into her ear, “What do you need, Cat?”

The smaller blonde shivered at the heat of Kara’s breath against her skin. A thousand different needs came to mind. However, she also knew she needed time for the soreness of the previous day’s sexual marathon to heal. “I need to feel your mouth on my clit, Kara.”

The directness of Cat’s words instantly shot the sharpness of desire straight across Kara’s skin. The groan she released reverberated against Cat’s taut shoulders before she released her hold on Cat’s wrists and quickly flipped her so she was now sitting on her desk.

Something about the sight of Kara standing between her legs, still dressed in her Super suit, made Cat achingly aware of how worked up Kara had already made her without having ever really touched her. Reaching up, she tangled her hand in the thick crimson folds of the hero’s cape and tugged until Kara was close enough to kiss.

The press and slide of their mouths and the sharp bite of teeth against her lower lip left Kara struggling to focus, her mind a haze of distant noises and her eyes beginning to tingle with the familiar burn of her heat vision. The feel of Cat’s grip on her cape tightening caused the hero to laugh into their fevered kissing, cool wisps of breath soothing the kiss-bruised swell of Cat’s lips.

Pulling back enough to speak, Kara teased, “I never realized you had a cape kink, Ms. Grant.”

Another sharp tug on her cape drew Kara back enough to see the dark need in Cat’s gaze, her unfocused pupils practically eclipsing the jade brightness of her irises. The soft panting breaths passing between parted lips were all the response the smaller blonde could offer.

Without breaking eye contact, Kara reached up to loosen Cat’s hold on her cape and deliberately lowered herself to her knees. Muscles rippled along Cat’s throat from the rough swallow she forced down, still unable to stifle the moan that rose to her lips at the sight of the Last Daughter of Krypton kneeling between her thighs.

The hero wrapped her fingers along the waist of Cat’s pants, sliding them down and off in one fluid movement. Placing a soft kiss against the inside of Cat’s left thigh, she whispered, “Do you know how long I’ve wanted this?”

She shifted to lock onto Cat with her gaze, which sparked ever so slightly in rhythm with her breathing. “To show you how deeply I could love you?” Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss against the wet lace that separated her from where she had imagined her tongue a thousand times before. “To give myself completely to pleasing you?”

With one more swift smooth movement, Kara finished undressing Cat from the waist down. Her swallow at the sight before her was the only sound in the office.

Even through her own haze of longing, Cat forced herself to focus on her hero. Leaning up on her elbows, she watched Kara’s eyes grow brighter with their internal heat before slipping shut. And then Kara leaned forward instinctively, lips pressing against soft, glistening curls with just enough pressure for Cat to feel the sensation.

“God, Kara.” Head dropping back slightly, Cat bit her lip so hard she was certain she was close to drawing blood.

She felt another kiss, this time more insistent, followed by the breath of foreign words whispered so reverently, she shivered even without knowing their translation. By tone alone, she knew they held a depth of meaning of which she almost didn’t feel worthy.

She felt herself shifting as Kara drew her legs to rest on broad shoulders. The hero’s hands slid beneath her, pulling her closer to the edge of the desk as she slipped backward off her elbows with a soft huff.

Any further thoughts abandoned her at the feel of Kara’s tongue dipping between her folds. Tentative sweeps quickly became broad strokes of flattened muscle interspersed with sharp flicks of tongue tip that drew louder moans each time Cat felt the contact against the aching swell of her clit.

Kara felt the strong dig of Cat’s heels against her back as she persisted in the alternating rhythm of licks and flicks driving Cat to utter, audible distraction. Every now and then, she stroked her tongue up through Cat’s wetness, taste buds watering in anticipation of each unique element of Cat’s flavor.

“So magnificent,” she breathed before she wrapped her lips around the overly sensitive nerve bundle and began to suck. Even the slightest pressure by that point would have been more than enough to push Cat beyond the brink. These sensations slammed into her so ferociously, her upper body arched off the desktop even as she wrapped her fingers around the desk’s edges in an attempt at tethering herself. Kara felt herself pulled more deeply against Cat as the smaller blonde’s legs tightened unconsciously around her.

She didn’t care how tightly Cat held on—all that mattered were the wanton sounds surging from Cat’s throat and the tense curve of her body as she arched against the sensations Kara poured into each suck and teasing scrape of teeth. Moving one hand from under the smaller blonde, she reached out, smiling at the instant feel of Cat grabbing and squeezing with all her strength.

All it took was one final pull for Cat to tumble hard and fast into a consuming surge of pleasure that bordered on painful in its intensity. Kara instantly released the pressure she held on Cat, although she kept her mouth wrapped securely around the pulsating bundle, feeling the strength of Cat’s climax against her tongue and lips.

Soon, however, she felt Cat untangle their fingers and push weakly against the hero, her limit reached. The smaller blonde hissed at the sensation of Kara releasing her completely. Eyes shut tightly, she focused on slowing her breathing. At the feeling of Kara kissing and then leaning her cheek against her thigh, she smiled and reached down to run fingers through the hero’s hair.

“You’re going to ruin me, Kara Zor-El.” She felt the low vibration of Kara’s laughter through her thigh.

When she felt the sudden loss of contact, she finally opened her eyes. Kara stood between her thighs, a hand on either side of Cat’s hips. The look on Kara’s face made Cat’s heart ache in a way she wondered if she’d ever truly felt before. Eyes slid shut at the press of the hero’s mouth against hers, her tongue darting along lips that tasted of her pleasure.

“I’m going to love you,” the hero finally corrected, “for as long as you’ll let me.”

Cat knew there was a time when she would have fought back the tears that sprang to her eyes in that moment. She knew there was a time when she would have scoffed at such words, pushed back against such devotion.

That time was gone.

Kara gently caught one of the tears to escape Cat’s eye as it rolled toward her temple. Her own eyes shimmered now as well as she reached down to help Cat once more to her feet.

She instantly felt the smaller blonde’s unsteadiness. Without pause, she wrapped her arms around Cat’s waist, drawing her close and leaning back until she was floating with Cat cradled against her body.

She wrapped her cape around them both, in deference to Cat’s current state of partial undress, even though her shirt hung low enough to grant her satisfactory coverage. She heard the smaller blonde click her tongue softly at the move and cuddle more deeply against her. “Such chivalry,” she teased.

With a responding huff, she floated them back into Cat’s bedroom, gently setting Cat down with hand on her waist to steady her.

“I’m fine now, darling.” The smaller blonde leaned in to press a kiss against Kara’s cheek. “Stay the night?”

The smile she received was all the answer she needed. Disappearing into her closet, she came back out with a tank top and shorts for the hero. “You should bring some of your own clothes over to keep here. I can do the same at your place—although,” she teased, “I think it’s much easier for you to come and go undetected than it is for me.”

Kara clutched the clothes tightly in her hands as she processed what Cat had just said. Nodding only as an afterthought, she finally stammered, “I-I think that sounds like a good idea.”

With an understanding smirk, Cat collected her own sleepwear and headed for the bathroom for her nightly ablutions. Kara quickly but carefully changed from her suit, folding it and setting it on the chair at Cat’s makeup table. She draped her cape along the back of the chair, smiling at the memory of Cat’s fingers tangled in its folds.

When Cat returned, wearing achingly soft-looking Pima cotton pajamas, Kara felt her fingers twitch at the thought of touching her everywhere the pajamas covered. Instead, she smiled while heading toward the bathroom.

The hero used just enough of her speed that she finished with her own nightly rituals in the same time Cat took to settle. As she slipped under the covers on what was apparently becoming her side of the bed, she sighed at the way Cat instantly slid closer. The smaller blonde leaned in, kissing the smile adorning the hero’s lips before querying in a low, husky tone, “Shall we focus more on you now, darling?”

The temptation all too real, Kara instead shook her head while coaxing Cat to lie down against her. “I think I’d just like to snuggle like this for a while. Is that okay?”

Gently stroking the hero’s jawline, Cat replied, “Of course it is.” She rested her head against the hero’s chest, shifting a few times to find the most comfortable position she could.

As her fingers idly played along the strong curves and dips of Kara’s abdomen, she narrowed her eyes, considering carefully her next words. “You speak Kryptonese sometimes.” She shifted again, this time to make eye contact with the hero. “When we’re making love, sometimes you speak Kryptonese.”

Kara only nodded in response, knowing already Cat’s follow-up question. “What are you saying?”

The sadness of her smile caught Cat’s breath in her throat. “It is the custom of my people to thank Rao for the blessings he bestows upon us. Even though I am far from Rao’s light, I still believe he shines his benevolence upon me as one of his children.”

Cat sat in silence for several beats, eyes shifting studiously along Kara’s features. “You—you thank your god for me?”

Light caught in the shimmer of Kara’s slightly watery gaze. “I have thanked him for bringing you into my life every day since we met.” As she continued, Cat saw the pained shadow that darkened her normally sunny features. “While you were away, I prayed every night that he would keep you safe until your return.”

Cat’s lips parted, unable to hide her surprise at this confession. “I—I don’t—”

Kara stilled her words with a gentle caress along her cheek. “I know your thoughts on religion and deities, Cat.” Her smile warmed. “It’s all right. Faith is the responsibility of the believer—no one else. Perhaps my prayers reach Rao. Perhaps they fall upon total emptiness. Either way, they bring me peace.”

When Cat’s silence stretched several beats longer than Kara expected, she nervously asked, “Does it upset you? I-I can stop—”

Pressing her finger against Kara’s lips, Cat quickly calmed her worries. “Absolutely not, Kara. I will never ask you to ignore your beliefs.”

A roguish flash flickered in gold flecks. “Besides, you’ve just confirmed what I’ve long suspected: being with me truly is a religious experience.”

The smaller blonde yelped in surprise at the feel of Kara rolling her quickly but gently onto her back, pinning her with just enough of the hero’s full weight to keep her in place. At the feel of Kara’s lips working their way along her neck while fingers danced lightly downward with explicit ease, Cat couldn’t restrain the moan that vibrated against Kara’s mouth.

In a tone equal parts playful and cocky, the hero finally replied, “I’m fairly certain I’ve caused you to call out to several of Earth’s deities a few times—even if you don’t believe.”

“Oh, I believe, darling,” she teased. “I believe we’re never going to get any sleep if you don’t stop.”

Huffing softly in acquiescence, Kara pressed a tender kiss to Cat’s lips before shifting onto her back. At the feel of Cat rolling against her and draping an arm across her stomach, she let her eyes slide shut and focused her hearing on Cat’s heartbeat, letting the slow soothing rhythm lull her to sleep.

Chapter Text

Test Subject CDS-06-583

It was too perfect.

Almost too perfect to believe.

She skipped back to the beginning of the images she’d found waiting for her in her inbox, clicking through each with breathless disbelief, gaze hungrily devouring each too-perfect pixel upon her screen.

She knew the moment she gave this particular assignment to her assistant, she would succeed. Lillian had learned immediately that the young woman was acutely resourceful and tenacious. It was no wonder Lex had clung to her and protected her with his unique intensity.

That she had come through with such astonishing end results? Lillian rewarded loyalty well. As far as she was concerned, there was no reward she was not willing to offer for this.

With a finger flick, she dialed the attending nurse assigned to monitoring her most prized patient. “Please wake Dr. Danvers. I’m on my way to see him now.”

After reviewing the photos one more time, she leaned back in her chair, fingers steepled before her. Closing her eyes, she waited for her exuberance to clear from her mind and, more importantly, from her expression. She would not let unchecked emotions threaten this moment.

Face once more implaccably set, she rose, her stature casting an imposing length of shadow across her desk. She collected her tablet, anticipation still heightening her every sense and propelling her toward her destination with unmatchable speed.

As she entered Jeremiah’s room, she nodded toward the nurse by his bedside. “Did you fasten his restraints before administering the methylphenidate?”

“Yes, Doctor. He is secure. According to his vitals, he’s close to waking. Another five minutes or so should be enough.”

With a brusque nod, Luthor dismissively replied, “Please shut the door on your way out.”

Pulling a nearby stool, she settled next to his bed, tablet clutched possessively in her hands, and waited. The sound of his increasing heart rate set a calming soundtrack, his breaths slowly becoming stronger and more frequent.

Curious, she leaned close enough to shift aside his tunic. The incision encircling the edge of his shoulder was already smooth and slightly faded from the regular applications of the special salve she’d provided his nurses. Her pleased hum slipped between the metronomic sounds of his monitors.

Luthor studied the way his face lost its sedated slackness, firming in ways that gave him a certain degree of attractiveness. His dark hair now laced with far more silver than when Luthor had first saved and subsequently stolen his life, his features still held a vitality she was certain had been quite the draw in his youth.

When deep brown eyes finally opened, straining to focus, Luthor shifted enough to draw his attention. His still sluggish gaze finally fell upon her, and she offered him a controlled smile. “Dr. Danvers, I’m happy to see you finally awake. Tell me, how do you feel?”

She watched the convulsive swallow move along his throat and poured a cup of water for him. Once she had helped him sufficiently slake his thirst, he rasped, “How long?”

“Since we last spoke?” At the stiff nod she received, she replied, “Not long—no more time than I needed for a satisfactory recuperation period. I needed to be sure your body wouldn’t reject the new components we gave you. A surgery that long and complicated deserved every chance of success.”

She watched his struggle to interpret her words, deep lines settling across his forehead. As his head slowly rocked back and forth against his pillow, he stammered, “What—what have you done to me?” Fear coruscated within his eyes as he awaited her response.

“As I told you the last time we spoke, Jeremiah: We had the technology to fix what the Martian did to your body. I know I said I would await your choice in whether or not to proceed.” She cast her gaze down toward the tablet she had been cradling carefully in her grip. “Unfortunately, events have transpired that forced our hand earlier than we anticipated. I’m sorry, Jeremiah, but I needed to make that choice for you.”

As her words seeped through the waning haze of sedation within his mind, Jeremiah slowly lifted his head so he could look down at his body. He realized for the first time since waking the restraints on his wrists. More surprising, however, was the fact that he could feel these restraints as well as the ones he now noticed around his ankles. At the sight of one of his wrists pressing upward against the restraint, his lips parted in surprise. “It moved,” he whispered. Looking up quickly, he caught Luthor’s gaze. “My arm, it moved.”

“Yes, and so does your other arm and both your legs.”

“What did you do,” he queried once more, curiosity overshadowing the initial fear.

“We replaced both your damaged arms and legs with bionics. We will need to start your physical therapy as soon as possible, but I believe these parts will enable you to do what needs to be done to save your wife.”

The omission in her statement was all Jeremiah heard. “What about my daughter? What about Alex?”

A muscle twitched with near betrayal along her lips as she noted the concession in his question: one daughter.

Placing her hand against his chest, she schooled her voice with sufficient regret. “I’m sorry, Jeremiah.”

His tears were quick, his rage consuming. Luthor quickly withdrew her hand and nearly backed away at the sight of him pulling against his restraints, wretched agony ripping from his lungs in heaving cries.

“Jeremiah, I need you to stop. You will not be able to break your restraints, but you might damage the still-healing connection sites my staff and I worked so hard to establish. And then how will you save Eliza?”

Deep-set mahogany eyes bore down on her with such focused fury she noted she would probably be dead if she had given him the same optic enhancements she had given Henshaw. Finally, however, he relaxed his struggle, arms falling to rest once more. In a thick, breaking voice, he asked, “What did they do to my baby girl?”

“I don’t think you want details—”

“What did they do?” Tendons protruded from his neck from the force of words screamed in desperation.

“You need to calm down, Dr. Danvers.” The cool slice of her voice silenced him. “You were right about Eliza. She did finally figure out the Martian’s deception. She tried to leave, to save Alex and herself. They were on their way up the coast when the Martian and Kara found them. He made Eliza watch as he ordered Kara to break your daughter’s neck. It was his punishment for Eliza trying to leave him.”

She watched in fascinated silence as Jeremiah mourned the lie. Let the real Alex Danvers suffer soon enough as the traitor to humanity she was. Luthor could at least give the mercy of quick death to this imagined version of Jeremiah’s daughter.

“This is why I went ahead with our surgery without your permission,” she finally stated, her voice an illusion of comfort. “I wish we could be saving both Eliza and Alex, I truly do, Jeremiah. But my team and I are fully devoted to helping you at least save your wife—and to finally having someone on our team capable of stopping the Martian and Kara.”

Glaring once more through his tears, he tugged his wrists upward and snarled, “How am I supposed to stop either of them when I can’t even break through these restraints?”

“Do not be ungrateful,” she clipped, a pique of derision whetting her tone. “You cannot break those restraints because they are made with Thanagarian nth metal. Not even a Kryptonian could break those restraints. Thanks to my efforts, however, you have enough of this metal fortifying the endoskeleton of your new limbs that you will be able to break a Kryptonian.”

Lillian had seen the data from the Red Tornado testing. She knew the limits of Kara’s strength. She knew, too, the strength limits of the alloy within the bionic implants was decidedly lower than the Kryptonian’s. The purposefully weakened chemical composition of the alloy Lena’s de-fanged L-Corp had created was formulaic proof of her daughter’s continuing disappointment. At least she had the decency to remove the name Luthor from the once powerful company she now seemed intent on running into ruin.

“I only want to help you, Jeremiah. I know what it feels like to lose family. I’ve lost my entire family to those who are on the wrong side of this fight.” She finally lifted the tablet in her hand. “When I saw the images one of my operatives delivered after the Martian re-captured your wife, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to make sure you didn’t lose everything as well.”

Pulling up the photos, she held the tablet so he could see the screen. She scrolled through those unbelievably perfect images her assistant had gifted her: shots of Alex and Eliza inside the brunette’s DEO-issued Denali and then outside, Alex’s hand wrapped securely around Eliza’s bicep as she guided her mother.

Lillian had cropped these images to remove Kara walking behind them in her civilian clothes as well as the restaurant to which they had been heading. Alex struck quite the imposing stature in her obvious DEO fatigues, her expression trained into perfect impassivity, while a little PhotoShop finessing had slightly altered Eliza’s expression to one a bit more apprehensive.

She would have been content with these images only. Instead, Lillian flipped the images again, her earlier exuberance once more threatening betrayal as she watched Jeremiah’s expression harden with rage.

How her assistant had captured these particular images, Lillian ached to learn. Soon enough, she would be able to return to Lillian’s side and she would share how it was she caught these images of Supergirl lifting into the sky with Eliza in her hold.

“The Martian assigned this DEO agent and the Kryptonian to keep Eliza under constant surveillance. You will need to defeat them both to save her. We need to work fast to prepare you. I’ve given you as much as I can. Now, it’s up to you, Jeremiah. Will you help us? For your wife? For Alex?”

Reaching down and unlocking one of Jeremiah’s wrists, Lillian held out her hand, willing herself to remain still. At the feel of him finally resting his hand in her open palm, careful not to use any grip, her lips curled slightly upward.

“And so we begin.”

Chapter Text

It had been long enough—nearly a half hour, to be exact. She had lain there in silence for that entire time, content to listen to the heartbeat beneath her ear. She had heard the moment the increased rhythm betrayed its owner when she awoke, and wondered if her own waking heart rate had been what had roused the woman resting beneath her, pretending still to sleep.

“I know you’re awake,” she finally intoned, her voice laced through with vestiges of sleep. She smirked in satisfaction at Kara’s huff before turning and nuzzling into soft blonde curls.

Mild exasperation quickly melted into a far less vexed emotion as Kara gave in to the feel of Cat pressing kisses along her neck while one hand found its way beneath her tank top.

“I could have said the same thing to you a half hour ago,” she sighed, her fingers flexing against the small of Cat’s back.

The smaller blonde simply hummed in acknowledgement, shifting enough to match gazes with Kara. Fingers still swirling soft patterns beneath the shirt, Cat watched blue eyes struggling to retain their focus on her.

“So sensitive,” she drawled, both women knowing it wasn’t her emotional status to which Cat referred.

To prove her point, she dipped her head, seeking out the hardened peak she’d noticed appear in response to her teasing attention. Even through the fabric of her shirt, Kara felt perfectly the sensations from Cat’s teeth.

Breath sucked harshly in through clenched jaw, Kara struggled to remain as still as possible so as not to jostle Cat too much. However, at the feel of the smaller blonde’s fingers slipping up over the underside of her other breast and seeking to cause sensations similar to the ones evoked by Cat’s teeth, she knew lying still was not going to be long on the table of options.

Relaxing her bite, Cat once more looked up to hold Kara’s gaze with her own. Her fingers, however, continued their dexterous dance, turning the hero into a writhing, whimpering mess in a matter of moments.

The sight sparked a thought in Cat’s mind, sharp and unshakable. “Darling,” she purred, her tone inquisitive enough to catch Kara’s attention. “Does your sense of touch not react like this when you, shall we say, take matters into your own hands?”

Catching the sudden discomfited shift in Kara’s expression, she tempered her tone. “Have you never—”

“I have,” Kara quickly offered, swallowing nervously at the sound of her voice hitching at least one full octave. “I mean, I’ve tried,” she corrected. “I—it’s not—it-it wasn’t—”

Cat silenced and calmed the hero with a kiss. When she pulled back, Kara offered a slight, grateful smile and breathed deeply. “Human sexual mores have mostly been a mixture of abstracts to me, sometimes put into clumsy practice,” she finally confessed.

The smaller blonde sucked on Kara’s earlobe, feeling the full shiver all along the hero’s body as she scraped her teeth against the delicate skin. “I could help make it far less clumsy. Would you like that?”

The sensation of fingers pinching fully awake flesh arced through Kara, coaxing a breathy, “Yes,” from her lips.

Considering the hero’s earlier attempted confession, Cat began, “Have you ever made yourself come, Kara?”

Embarrassment would have been the prevalent emotion to consume her in that moment were it not for the sensations scorching paths along her every nerve. In between stuttering breaths, she forced a reply. “I’ve tried a f-few times. I could never make myself feel anything—anything like this.”

“Even thinking about something like what you did to me last night?”

She could still hear Kara’s admission—could still feel it, whispered soft as supplication against her bare thigh.

“Do you know how long I’ve wanted this?”

Breath hitched in time with the feel of Cat’s fingers sliding down along the lines of her stomach muscles, tracing and then slipping below the band of her shorts and into the scintillating slickness of her arousal. “I never let myself—never let—n-never, never stop, oh, Cat, please don’t stop...”

Moans twisted upward in frost-tinged gasps as Cat’s fingers swirled and swiped along ridges she was learning to play like a virtuosa. Soon enough, Kara’s hips had caught the rhythm, rocking in urgent counterpoint to Cat’s touch.

The smaller blonde continued her masterful motions for several more beats before slowing to tortuously light caresses that instantly drew a frustrated glare.

“Never let yourself what, darling? Finish your thought.”

A fiery belligerence flashed within the hero’s gaze as she struggled to calm herself. Cat could still feel her heart beating a fierce cadence beneath her rib cage when she finally spoke. “I never let myself think too much about things I never thought could happen.”

Movement stilled completely at Kara’s words. Within dark sapphire eyes, Cat saw the deeper meaning—saw the fissures of heartbreak from so many desires forever denied by unchangeable providence.

The smaller blonde pushed back against the sorrow she felt for those deeper entreaties forever lost within the silence of space. She had no control over those—could never change what the fates had taken without concession.

This, however, was something Cat could grant in exquisite totality. “You can fantasize all you want now, darling.” Her half-lidded gaze swept along Kara’s features hungrily. “The fun will be in making the fantasies real.”

She pressed more closely against the strong body beside her, fingers once more beginning their intimate movements. “Like last night.” She nipped playfully at Kara’s lower lip at the sound of her surprised gasp. “Last night, you made one of my favorite fantasies come to life—if you’ll pardon the pun,” she added with a wicked smirk.

“You—you thought about me—about—”

“Fucking on my desk at CatCo? Oh, god, yes, Kara.” Her pleased laughter vibrated, low and playful, in her throat, sending a shudder through the hero. “On my desk. In my chair. On the balcony. In my elevator.”

With each location listed, she alternated between stroking her fingers along the throbbing heat of Kara’s ridges and pressing her palm against the tight, ridged bundle of nerves above them. Each motion shook through the hero with increasing sensitivity, exiting her mouth through the most gloriously iniquitous sounds Cat suspected Kara had ever made.

“The desk was always my favorite though—of my CatCo fantasies, at least.” She pressed with her palm hard enough to earn an uncontrollable groan of pleasure as Kara parted her legs more under Cat’s touch.

Capturing Kara’s mouth in a ferocious kiss, Cat used her fingers to pinch and pull against Kara’s already agonizingly sharp arousal. The smaller blonde devoured the responding cries tumbling from Kara with every gasp, noting the ache of her teeth from the ever-colder breaths the hero released into her mouth.

Pulling back just enough to catch Kara’s gaze, she continued a gentler variation of tweaks and tugs while whispering against the quivering curve of Kara’s lips, “Help me make you come, Kara.”

Cat was certain she’d never seen pupils completely consume their surrounding irises before. Removing her hand from the satisfying wetness she’d conjured, she wrapped her fingers around Kara’s wrist to redirect her.

“I wish these could be my fingers,” she husked while cupping her hand along the back of Kara’s and directing both inside her shorts. “What I wouldn’t give to be the one inside you right now.”

As she uttered the words against the flushed skin of Kara’s cheek, she guided two of the hero’s fingers down through soaked curls and slipped them inside. Met with just the slightest hint of resistance, she sighed in awe of the strong clench of muscle she felt even through her guiding touch.

Kara’s body arched up from the bed with a soft grunt before she shifted to a renewed rocking of her hips. White teeth dug into her bottom lip as she fought to set a satisfying pace for these new sensations.

Cat slowed her down with a line of kisses along her jaw. “Shh, steady, Kara. Follow my lead.” She began directing the in-and-out motion of Kara’s fingers, watching the hero’s expression closely as she did. Eyelids fluttered almost as rapidly as the breaths Kara struggled to take for the first several moments before settling into slower gasps and soft whimpers.

As Kara’s own movements finally synced with Cat’s, the smaller blonde shifted her thumb up enough to add back some of the pressure she’d been previously applying with her palm. The hero hissed at the sensation, hips bucking an extra beat before falling back into rhythm.

At the sound of her name suddenly tumbling from Kara’s lips on frantic breaths, the smaller blonde increased the press and shift of her thumb and dipped her head, once more biting one of Kara’s rigid nipples through the fabric of her tank top.

The triple-play rush of sensations crashed into the hero, muscles tightening around her own fingers and locking her body into a paralysis of pleasure. On some level, she registered the sound of mattress seams tearing beneath her shoulders from the strength of her body’s arc. The higher level, however, were the white-hot jolts tearing through her at supersonic speeds, leaving her barely able to do more than clench her eyes shut and try to hold on through the overwhelming sensations.

Letting go with her teeth, Cat rested her head against Kara’s chest, listening to the savage percussion of the Kryptonian heart beneath her ear. A cocksure grin tripped along her lips at the sound as she slowed the motion of their hands. She felt Kara shudder through several aftershocks, each one growing less powerful until they became nothing more than a settling of limbs back against the bed.

“Cat.”

The smaller blonde shifted up at the sound of Kara’s barely audible exhalation of her name. Carefully, she coaxed the hero to withdraw her fingers, swallowing her soft cry of loss with several kisses to her lips and jaw.

Eyes struggling to stay open, Kara sleepily slurred, “That was amazing.” With an adorable half-grin, she amended, “You are amazing.”

“And you,” the smaller blonde replied in between more kisses along the strong line of Kara’s jaw, “are wickedly addictive.” She pressed smiling lips firmly against the moan of contentment she felt Kara release.

Too soon, however, she felt the hero tense beneath her, eyes instantly snapping open. After a beat in which Cat could tell she was listening to something in the distance, Kara turned an apologetic gaze toward her. “I need to go.”

The smaller blonde shot her a knowing quirk of her brow. “Go, be Super.” Then, quickly latching onto the neckline of the hero’s tank top, Cat pulled her in for a kiss. As they parted, she whispered against the full pout of Kara’s lips, “Be safe, Supergirl.”

With a beautiful smile and another quick kiss, Kara sped into the bathroom for what might have been the world’s fastest shower, even by Kryptonian standards. When she reappeared already in her uniform, Cat couldn’t help the shiver of memory from the previous night at the sight of Kara suited and caped.

Catching the involuntary movement, the hero cast a knowing smile toward the woman still tangled comfortably among the bedsheets before launching into the tangerine-tinged morning sky.

The emergency Kara’s hearing had detected was easy enough to locate: three fire trucks trying to make their way through morning rush hour to a fire at one of the downtown apartment complexes. Swooping low enough to speak to the driver of the first truck, she directed, “I’m going to carry you in and help you contain the blaze. Let the other trucks know I’ll be back for them if they haven’t reached us by the time we get this under control, okay?”

Already beneath the truck before the driver could gather himself enough to reply, she extended her biomatrix around the vehicle and easily hefted it up and over the inbound line of commuters. She could hear the clatter of applause and cheers as she carefully navigated above the line of morning traffic, transporting the first truck to the blaze in a matter of minutes.

Setting them down as close to a hydrant as possible, she drifted back up into the sky, just beyond the lick of flames rising from the burning building. With her X-ray vision, she could see the bulk of the fire spread out along the western perimeter of the upper floor. She also saw how all the remaining residents from that floor were making their way across to the opposite stairwell. What caught Kara’s complete attention, however, was how close the fire was to the gas line that ran connections up from the main line in the basement to the individual apartments.

Acting quickly, she floated in through an already blown-out window and circled around to the edge of flames closest to the gas line. With a deep inhalation, she blasted back the encroaching fire with her freeze breath, quickly exterminating the bulk of the conflagration within minutes.

By the time she had extinguished the flames, fire fighters from the first truck had positioned their ladder outside to continue dousing any remaining hot spots. Flying out past the stream of water flowing through the burned-out western exterior, the hero paused mid-air to listen, locating the next closest fire truck. Waving her hands toward the gathering crowd of onlookers and displaced tenants, she called out, “I need you to clear this section of road, please.” She then shot up into the sky, returning only a few minutes later with the second truck. She repeated this step four more times, retrieving the third fire engine and the three responding ambulances identified by dispatch as en route.

Pausing after depositing the third ambulance, she glanced over at the approaching fire chief. “Supergirl,” she greeted, “thank you.” She shook the hero’s hand tightly while pointing toward the still slightly smoking building. “You really saved the day on this one. My officers just told me how close the burn marks were to reaching the gas lines. I don’t even want to think about what might have happened if those lines had lit up.”

The hero smiled appreciatively while watching the first responders tend to their duties. “Is there anything else I can do here?”

“I think we’ve got it covered now.” She shot a glance over Kara’s shoulder toward the approaching news truck. “Unless you want to hang around to give CCN a personal interview. I’m sure Cat Grant would appreciate the ratings boost.”

Kara laughed at the chief’s playful dig before lifting gently into the air. “I’ll leave the media to the professionals.” With a slight wave, she finished, “If you need any more help, just call for me.” She tapped her ear. “I’ll be listening.”

Back in the air, the hero turned her flight path away from CatCo, deciding to take a quick lap around the city before heading in. She still had a half hour before Snapper expected her in the office and a lot of adrenaline to burn off before then.

She wove her way between the buildings within the financial district before passing over the harbor and circling back along the stretch of outlying warehouses. As she approached one of the nearby construction sites on the fringe of the business corridor—the latest office space to fail once more to surpass CatCo Tower in stature—she slowed to a halt. She paused to check in with the crane operator whose three-year-old daughter now thought hers was the best dad in the universe. He’d come home a week ago with a selfie with the Girl of Steel and the hero’s signature in Kryptonian glyphs along the inside of his forearm.

“Hey, SG, check it out! Look what I got,” he yelled, rolling up his sleeve and showing her how he’d commemorated her signature in permanent ink. The tattoo matched her suit colors perfectly and ended with her uniform’s version of the crest of the House of El on the inside of his bicep.

The hero’s jaw dropped open in surprise and she felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she watched him flex while calling out, “Stronger together, right? Just like you told me!”

Moved beyond words, she hovered close enough to kiss his cheek. Her nose scrunched with the megawatt-bright smile she shot him before she looped around the end of his crane a few times and headed once more toward CatCo.

Landing atop CatCo Tower, the hero effortlessly changed into the latest clothes she’d deposited at that hiding spot. She mentally marked off the outfit and reminded herself it was time to re-collect several articles of clothing for laundry day.

While sweeping her hair up into a ponytail, she muttered, “I bet I’m the only person in National City with a laundry routine that starts with a scavenger hunt.”

Fastening her shirt over the crest on her uniform, she checked herself in her phone’s front-facing camera, swiping away the soot she saw on her cheek, and slipped on her glasses. She headed down the few flights of stairs between the roof and her work floor, fidgeting with last-minute wardrobe details before stepping out into the hallway near her office.

She knew from Cat’s conversation with Snapper the previous night that something big was in the works that morning. And then she’d caught the last bit of a radio report as she’d soared over the freeway, announcing Spencer Graves had plans to hold a public forum that morning for any resident who had questions about his proposed alien registration. Feeling confident that her series of alien-focused articles would give her better standing with Snapper, she began toward his office to make her case for covering the morning’s meeting.

Her progress through the bullpen quickly halted, however, at the realization of who was standing at Eve’s desk. He was laughing in an oddly overzealous way at something Eve had just said to him while clearly focused on watching her approach.

Stopping in front of her former desk, Kara smiled at Eve before turning with a less-than-elated expression for the surprise CatCo visitor. “Mike, what are you doing here?”

Before Mon-El could respond, Eve happily intoned, “He came all the way here to invite me to lunch today. Isn’t he too much?”

Refraining from her initial instinct to question Mon-El regarding the status of all his other relationships, Kara instead flashed a slightly too-bright smile and replied, “Definitely too something.” Ignoring the narrowing of Mon-El’s gaze, she finished, “I hope you two have a great time.”

Her planned departure, however, ground to a halt at the sound of Eve beckoning her back. “Hey, Kara? I heard rumor that Ms. Grant was coming in to the office this morning.” Her brows drew together nervously. “Have you heard anything?”

The sound Mon-El released might have passed as a laugh, but Kara knew it lacked any element of amusement. “Oh, if anyone would know what Cat Grant was doing at any time of the day or night, it would be Kara. Isn’t that right?”

Eve cast a confused glance between the two as Kara struggled to retain control of her expression. “Does Ms. Grant still contact you for assistance?” Kara was startled by how quickly Eve seemed to be on the verge of tears. “I didn’t know that. I’m so sorry, Kara. I-I tried to be you but—”

Kara laid a calming hand on Eve’s forearm, grateful for her confusion over Mon-El’s statement. “It’s okay, really. Ms. Grant can be set in her ways sometimes. I don’t mind if she contacts me still. Besides, you’re not technically her assistant anymore either,” she teased.

“Then maybe both of you should tell her to stop taking advantage of you.” His voice and expression hardened in a way that made Kara flinch in recognition. Too many times, she had borne solitary witness to this swift personality shift within the Daxamite. The haste in which he could slip from the pretense of affability into this colder, sharper self filled her with an uneasiness that grew deeper each time she experienced it. The fact that finally there was another person to bear witness somehow calmed her.

“Mikey, don’t be so grumpy.” Two sets of alien eyes shifted with almost matching looks of surprise and confusion. Eve beamed with amusement as she finished, “Ms. Grant is the boss lady. It’s our job to keep her happy, right, Kara?”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure Cat has plenty of other assistants waiting on standby to keep her happy.” Not bothering to even give the hero’s hurt glare the courtesy of acknowledgement, he wrapped his arms around Eve’s waist and continued, “Hey, maybe we can leave a little early—like now?”

Eve pressed against his shoulder with a soft giggle. “Mike, it’s only nine in the morning! I’m not even hungry for lunch yet.”

Leaning closer, he whispered, “Who said we had to go to lunch right away?”

Quickly suppressing the shudder she felt coming on at the implication of Mon-El’s question, Kara backed swiftly away from Eve’s desk. “Okay, you two, um, you two have fun,” and she staggered away before either could respond.

Whipping slightly too quickly around the corner, she skidded to a stop in Snapper’s doorway. As she moved closer to his desk, she called brightly, “Hey, Chief, I heard about the meeting taking place this morning at city hall. Want to give me a last-minute pep talk before I head downtown?”

The hard set of his jaw twitched at the sound of Kara’s question. “You’re benched, Ponytail. You won’t be covering today’s meeting.”

“What? But that’s my beat!”

“You don’t have a beat yet. You have articles that sometimes focus on aliens, interspersed among articles about the National City dump. One could just as easily assume trash is your beat.”

Struggling to suppress the sigh of frustration Snapper could always pull from her, she instead decided to press her point again. “I know more about the Alien Amnesty law than anyone else on staff, and I’ve been following Spencer Graves ever since his attempt at passing his previous anti-alien legislation.”

Snatching his glasses off and tossing them onto his desk, Snapper rubbed at his perpetually stubble-smudged chin. “You’re actually preaching to the choir on this one, Danvers. I was going to send you, but I was overruled by the Queen herself.”

At the sight of Kara’s eyes going so wide he could see white encircling her irises, he scoffed, “Guess you’re losing your lion tamer touch.”

Painfully aware of the blush she could feel in her cheeks, she stammered, “Wh-what do you mean by that?”

“Come on, Danvers, you were the thing of legend around here: literally the longest-surviving assistant Cat ever had. Surprised the hell out of all of us. When she hired you, we actually started a pool on how quickly she would claw you to shreds.”

Trying to hide the mix of hurt and, weirdly enough, pride she felt from Snapper’s comment, Kara pointed out, “You know Ms. Grant actually hates cat puns, right?”

With a dismissive sound that was half snort and half snarl, he replied, “Then perhaps she should rethink the giant hot pink pussy in her reception area.”

“Lucas, I will not have you defiling my newest reporter with your poly-blend back alley banter.”

Both Kara and Snapper turned instantly toward the figure now leaning against his office doorway. Kara felt her throat spasm slightly at the sight of the CEO, dazzling in a form-fitting scarlet sheath dress that clung to her curves in sinful detail. A front slit offered the hero a tantalizing glimpse of toned thigh. She had accentuated the outfit with a gold Byzantine chain necklace and azure Manolo Blahnik suede slingbacks that gave her just enough height to meet Kara’s stunned stare almost eye-to-eye. Hitching a perfectly angled brow in Kara’s direction, she finished, “Pretend there’s at least one lady in the room.”

With a smirk, Snapper obliged, “Yeah, right. Sorry, Ponytail.”

Lips quirked to the side to disguise her amusement, Cat replied, “Sensitivity, Lucas. Take a refresher course if you must—or a primer, in your case.”

She pushed away from the doorjamb, the fingers of her right hand flickering impatiently as she moved closer to his desk. “Have you put together the news crews I asked for? We’re going to need a live feed in the chamber and another outside among this morning’s rally participants. I want reaction shots to this.”

Predatory glee sparked in the golden slivers of her eyes. “Oh, and perhaps suggest to Mr. Olsen that this might be a prime opportunity to dust off his camera and flex his photojournalist muscles.” Her gaze slid briefly toward Kara. “I believe this hearing is going to be far more than Spencer Graves ever bargained for.”

Catching the glance as well as the insinuation behind Cat’s comment, Snapper scratched the coarse underside of his jaw. “I’ve already sent Rodgers and Beckley over. They’ll be your crew inside. Larsen and Taylor will be your outside crew once they loop back around from this morning’s apartment fire.” He sniffed in Kara’s direction, causing the hero to shift nervously. “Apparently, they just missed what could have been an exclusive with Supergirl.”

With a dismissive hum, Cat turned once more for the door. “Well, perhaps she was in a hurry.” With her back to Snapper, she shifted her gaze enough for Kara to see she was looking askance in her direction. “She’s going to have a busy morning.”

As the CEO continued out of Snapper’s office, she called casually to her newest reporter. “Kiera, once you’re finished here, come find me.”

“Y-yes, Ms. Grant.” Head dipped so she could look over the top of her glasses, her eyes continued to follow the CEO’s path long after human eyes would have been able to see anything. An exaggerated throat clearing pulled her attention back into Snapper’s office. The reporter was observing her with an indecipherable glare. “Wh-what?”

“You smell like a toasted marshmallow.”

If it were possible for her to pale, Kara was certain she’d be bone china white at the moment. “I-I passed by the apartment fire this morning. I thought I could cover it if the news crews couldn’t get through in time.”

With an unimpressed smirk, he sank back into his chair, his attention turning once more to the half-eaten danish on his desk. “You’re making me crave a smoke. Get the hell out of here.”

By the time he glanced back up, he was completely alone. The reporter stared at his now vacated office door with what he would adamantly deny was any degree of amusement before taking a massive bite of his breakfast.

Kara hustled back across the bullpen, her super hearing now tuned to locating Cat. When she realized where the CEO had gone, she frowned and hurried back through the stairwell near her office.

Once out of the access stairwell, Kara walked over to where Cat stood next to the landing pad. The hero looked around, unconsciously sighing at the feel of sunlight soaking into her skin. “What are you—are you taking the CatCopter to the hearing?”

A noticeable shudder shook through the CEO. “No, thank you. I don’t care if Leslie is still in prison, I’m not going anywhere near that damned chopper.” She gestured about distractedly. “I just thought you might enjoy a little extra sunshine. I know you’re probably fine by now, but it looked like you expended a lot of energy this morning. Besides, as long as I’m still not back in a full-time capacity, my presence causes more distraction and notice than I prefer right now.”

When the smaller blonde fell silent, Kara breathed deeply to steady herself. “Why did you pull me from covering the hearing today?”

“Because I need Supergirl at this hearing, not Kara Danvers.” She noted the expectant arch of brow that urged her for more. “I am sorry I didn’t discuss this with you first, especially since this would have been a significant article in solidifying your standing as CatCo's resident alien reporter.” She smirked slightly at the clear double entendre. “I swear I didn’t want to spring it on you like this. I had planned on discussing it with you last night and then this morning—but I know my priorities.”

Pushing through the tingling sensation that Cat’s words lit deep within her, Kara pressed for more. “What exactly do you want me to do as Supergirl? Punch him on live television? That would be a ratings boon for CCN, I’m sure, but not so great for Supergirl.”

Cat clicked her tongue in repudiation. “You know Supergirl is capable of far more than just physicality. You inspire, Kara. I’ve seen how crowds respond to you. You bring hope and joy to the people of National City.”

She moved close enough to thread her fingers around the back of Kara’s neck. “I need Supergirl to inspire them today.” Leaning in, she planted a delicate kiss against rosy lips. “And I need you beside me.”

Settling her own hands low along Cat’s hips, Kara pulled the smaller blonde flush against her. “I will always be beside you, Cat.”

With a soft chuckle and a nuzzle of their noses, Cat sighed, “That perpetual sentimentality of yours is going to completely undermine my unapproachable reputation.” She allowed herself the indulgence of a deeper, slower kiss.

When the smaller blonde pulled back, Kara rolled her eyes at the coy curve of her lips. Her eyes slipped shut, however, at the feel of Cat’s fingers releasing her hair, nails scratching against Kara’s scalp as she fanned out the long golden locks.

“Agent Hawthorne is waiting for me downstairs. Meet me at the front entrance to city hall. I want the crowd to see you. Maggie and your sister were right to be cautious yesterday, but now it’s important the other aliens see you and know you are with them on this. And the humans of National City need a little reminding that they owe their lives to one of the aliens Spencer Graves now wants to target. They must not be allowed to overlook that.”

Seeing the uncertainty dancing within Kara’s eyes, Cat pressed her lips against her cheek. She smiled at the sight of the lipstick smudge she left before wiping it away with her thumb. “Trust me, darling. When I’m finished, the people of National City will know exactly which is the right side to take in this fight.”

The CEO turned toward the stairwell, but Kara halted her with a hand to her forearm. When Cat turned back, she inhaled in surprise at the feel of Kara’s mouth pressing firmly against her own. The hero took advantage of the gasp to slip her tongue between Cat’s parted lips, exploring the sweet warmth with sighs of pleasure Cat eagerly returned.

As their mouths parted, Cat did nothing to suppress the satisfied smile that spread across her lips. “What was that for?”

The hero’s eyes sparkled with the light of galaxies. “For loving me the way you do.”

Wagging her index finger in Kara’s direction, she began to back once more toward the stairwell. “Girl of Steel with a silver tongue,” she teased. “How could I not love you in every way?”

Without waiting for an answer, she pivoted and disappeared through the access door.

Kara quickly changed back into her uniform, body thrumming with anticipation of what Cat had in store for them that morning. Listening, she tracked Cat from the moment she entered the DEO Denali all the way to the front of city hall before she finally took off from CatCo Tower.

The sound of wind snapping Kara’s cape drew Cat’s attention immediately. Looking up, she felt her heart flutter at the sight of her hero hovering above her.

She could hear stirrings through the nearby crowd as that morning’s protesters caught sight of Supergirl. She noted with pride in her staff the fact that CCN was the only news outlet set up to broadcast so far. Arms akimbo, the CEO shifted her weight and arched a brow expectantly. “Hello, Supergirl. Thank you for accepting my invitation to join me at this morning’s public hearing.”

Slipping into the role she knew Cat needed of her, the hero finished descending to the steps beside the CEO with a slight nod. “Of course, Ms. Grant. It’s my pleasure.”

Expression implacable save the slight dilation of her pupils, Cat pivoted and began ascending the stairs. She did finally smile at the realization that Kara had moved to float beside her. “I could really stir things up and fly you the rest of the way,” she whispered, nearly failing at her own expression control at the sound of Cat’s amused huff.

“Walking will do for now, Supergirl.”

Kara refrained from vocal agreement, settling instead on floating back slightly enough to afford her a better view of the purposeful sway of Cat’s hips as she proceeded inside. As Cat paused to pass through the metal detectors, Kara blushed at the sight of the CEO’s knowing smirk.

“Ms., ah, Ms. Supergirl?” The hero turned at the sound of the hesitant address. A young officer nervously smiled up at her. “Sorry, but I need you to go through one of the detectors, too.”

With a bright smile and a nod, she dropped down softly onto her feet once more and walked through the nearest detector. She noted as she passed through Cat quickly snapping a photo with her ever-ready mobile. “Always so by the book,” the reporter teased as they once more began down the hall toward the appropriate chamber.

Outside the closed double doors, Cat paused, holding a hand out toward one of the two members of her camera crew—Beckley, Kara noted absently. The young woman immediately handed over a stack of folders and a tablet, which Cat quickly checked for whatever she wanted queued up on the device.

Nodding in satisfaction, she turned to look at the hero. “This is where we part for the moment, Supergirl.” Her eyes sparkled mischievously. “We each deserve our own spectacular entrance. Give me mine and I’ll be sure to introduce you to yours.”

In a surprising gesture, the reporter reached up to brush back an errant golden curl from Kara’s eyeline. “If you’d be so kind as to wait out of sight—I believe Mr. Graves has earned a surprise of this magnitude this morning.”

Chuckling at the statement, the hero obediently stepped to the side of the doorway. She noted with amusement the tangle of disbelief and awe in Rodgers’s and Beckley’s expressions at how compliant the Hero of National City was to the Queen of All Media.

Two officers who had been standing outside the chamber immediately swung open the doors at the sight of Cat turning to face them. Kara couldn’t help but shake her head at the sight—how quickly people snapped to attention to Cat’s desires, even without the smaller blonde needing to utter a word.

The CEO strode through the open chamber doors, her moves strong and confident even under the scrutinizing weight of every eye in the room quickly settling on her. She nodded in acknowledgement toward James, who had positioned himself inside the room precisely so he could capture the moment Cat entered, camera crew closely in check.

Conversation at the front of the chamber stuttered to a halt as several council members, including Spencer Graves, turned in response to the sudden excited murmuring from the already substantial crowd inside the room. Graves glared at the reporter strutting down the aisle toward the podium provided for audience members who wished to address the chamber. With a perturbed flick of his hand toward the two CatCo staff setting up for a live feed, he snapped, “What is all this?”

“Democracy.” Cat spread her hands out in a gesture that indicated she thought the answer was quite obvious. “Perhaps you’ve heard that it dies in darkness. We’re simply making certain to keep the lights on and focused.”

She gave a nod of acknowledgement when she saw the thumbs-up from Beckley that they were broadcasting live. “The people of National City deserve to know what you’re proposing to levy against our alien residents—particularly the alien who saved all our lives last year.”

Cued by Cat’s words, Kara stepped through the still-ajar doors into the council chamber. A hush, quickly followed by excited murmurs rippled through the crowd at the sight of the Girl of Steel standing in the chamber entrance.

The swirl of nerves tightening Kara’s stomach muscles instantly relaxed as Cat turned to watch her, a soft smile instantly curving her lips. With a small nod of acknowledgement, the Hero of National City continued into the chamber, head high and cape swinging in rhythm with her strong strides.

Graves sneered with unapologetic disdain toward the CEO. “I should have known you’d turn this meeting into a circus.”

Cat’s elegant brow arched at Graves’s comment. “I would think someone with your propensity for three-ring posturing would appreciate a bit more spectacle.”

“Ms. Grant, I take my position on this council very seriously. I would appreciate if you extended me a bit more respect for what I do for the citizens of National City.”

“You mean like this citizen?” She gestured toward the hero now standing beside her. “And all those like her whom you would like to subject to the equivalent of a legal doxxing simply for not having been born on this planet? That is, after all, the ultimate purpose of your mandatory registry, isn’t it? The parts that you aren’t speaking aloud in mixed company?”

The murmur grew louder as attendees processed the insinuation of her statement. Graves shrugged dismissively. “I assure you, I have no idea what you mean with your accusation, Ms. Grant. I made my intentions clear with my press conference. I want National City’s aliens to register and start carrying their fair share of the weight here.”

He finally turned his attention to Supergirl. “It’s time you started feeling the financial repercussions of all the damage you cause to this city.”

With an amused hum, Cat cast an askance glance toward Kara. “Tell me, Mr. Graves, have you ever spoken directly with Supergirl before this morning?”

His lips lifted condescendingly. “I’ve had no way of contacting her directly, so, no, I have not.”

“Then allow me to provide you with some fact-checking assistance, since clearly your office has failed you dramatically in this regard.” The gold in her eyes glittered in delight as his oil slick of a smile sank from his lips. “Supergirl actually does possess full U.S. citizenship. I confirmed with President Marsdin that she granted Supergirl full amnesty and citizenship when she named her Ambassador of Alien Amnesty.

“I also confirmed both via Supergirl and her current employer that she, in fact, pays county, state, and federal taxes—and has done so for several years. Even when she lacked legal credentials, she abided by our tax laws.”

He shifted his incredulous glare toward the hero. “You have an employer?”

“I do need to eat,” she offered, eyes sparkling at the sound of laughs from the crowd.

Kara melted slightly at the sight of Cat casting an impish grin her direction before focusing once more on Graves. “Superpowers aside, she’s a grown woman, Mr. Graves. Surely, you realized she would need some way of taking care of herself financially. Other than not being forthcoming about her alien status or the legality of her original forms of identification, she has proven to her current employer to be exemplary in her civilian profession—just as exemplary as she continues to prove herself as Supergirl.”

“And what would this civilian profession be? What company would employ an alien with counterfeit papers?”

“A company that prefers to remain anonymous in deference to Supergirl’s true identity. They also wish to protect themselves against the future possibility that you return to your previous threats of levying punitive fines against any company that would hire aliens over humans.”

She tilted her head studiously. “Perhaps you could explain how you think our alien residents are going to start ‘carrying their share of the weight’ financially when you also want to punish any business that would consider hiring them.”

“You misunderstood my original intention, Ms. Grant. Let me clarify: I am merely suggesting we enact legislation that would ensure equal distribution of labor opportunities between humans and aliens. No need in companies going overboard in their attempt to toe the latest PC line by putting aliens above human job candidates, right?”

“Interesting proposition from someone who once declared affirmative action the ‘death of the competent American workforce.’” She paused, lips quirked pensively. “I’m curious as to why you don’t think the same about this proposition as you do about that one: that people should depend less on ‘government coddling’ and more on their own intellect and talents to prove themselves the best candidate for the job.”

“Ms. Grant, I will not engage you in this gotcha charade you’re playing. We both know many of these aliens possess unnatural abilities that give them unfair advantages.” He gestured heatedly toward the hero. “Her, for instance. Would it be fair to place her against a human when applying for a job in—construction? Or security? Or, hell, even food preparation?”

“So you admit that you want to punish aliens for simply being more gifted than humans at certain tasks?” Without giving him a chance to respond, she retrieved the tablet from where she had placed it on the podium.

“Congratulations on that winning combination of small-mindedness and shortsightedness that you always seem to pull off with unsettling acumen. Thankfully, we have more amenable and practical people actually out there doing the work and acknowledging the positive potential of collaborating with those like our resident Kryptonian.”

She flicked a finger against the tablet, firing up audio from a voice Kara quickly recognized as the fire chief who briefly spoke with her that morning:

“We will begin our investigation into the cause of this morning’s fire as soon as we can confirm the structural integrity of the floor that sustained the most damage. Until then, we’re working on helping to secure temporary housing for the tenants displaced by fire damage to their units. Thanks to the help of Supergirl, however, there are far more tenants who will be able to return to their apartments as soon as we’ve cleared the building.

“I’d also like to once again thank Supergirl for her assistance this morning. Not only did she help our fire fighters and EMTs arrive on-scene quickly and safely, she also prevented what could have been an unimaginable tragedy. She stopped the flames from reaching the building’s gas lines, which National City Gas & Electric was still working to shut down. If it hadn’t been for her—well, I don’t want to think about how many of my officers or how many civilians we would have lost today if it weren’t for Supergirl.”

Kara listened to the excited whispers around her as Cat shut down and set aside the tablet. “The aliens who call National City their home are an asset, not a hindrance. As this morning’s fire proves, we should be learning how to work together with them, as our first responders often do with Supergirl, rather than how to continue to divide our community.”

The incredulous snort from Graves finally broke Kara’s focus on Cat. “This is just one instance of Supergirl preventing damage to our city. I can provide you with at least a dozen instances, just from memory alone, of the extensive damage she has caused to this city.”

He shifted to meet gazes with the Kryptonian. “You bring danger and destruction with you wherever you go. You have cost National City millions in infrastructure and construction repairs. You’ve already depleted a quarter of this year’s public works budget. We’re going to have to increase taxes just to keep up with fixing all the damage you cause on a regular basis. Is that how you think you’re helping our citizens? By putting more financial strain on them with a-a Supergirl Tax?”

He leveled his glare once more at the CEO. “And you—how can you stand before this council and argue in her defense? How many times has she brought damage to CatCo Plaza? How much has her destruction cost you, Ms. Grant?”

“Whatever the cost, I am willing to pay it in exchange for her protection of this city.”

He leaned forward in his chair, lips curling scornfully. “And what about when you needed protection from her? Being thrown from the fortieth story of your own building—wasn’t exactly the high price you were expecting to pay, was it?”

Cat heard the choked whimper from beside her and could picture the hero’s devastated expression even without looking at her. She knew it would be the same expression Kara had worn the night she had come to Cat after being saved from red kryptonite. “It was too high a price—but not for me.”

“For whom, then? Her? She can fly, Ms. Grant. That’s the only reason you’re able to stand here today to give us all such a full view of your blatant hypocrisy—or perhaps you’ve forgotten what you said in your statement about her to National City? You publicly denounced her, told the people of this city to stay away from her for their own safety. You called her unstable and extremely dangerous. Are you now going to stand before us and say, what? That you no longer believe your own words? And if that’s the case, then tell me, how are we supposed to believe you, Ms. Grant?”

Staring Graves squarely in the eye, she stated, “Yes, I warned National City to stay away from Supergirl. It was my duty as a member of the media to protect the people who depend on us to keep them informed. It was also my duty to protect Supergirl as well, by removing the potential for her to cause injury while she was not in control. I knew that, if she hurt or killed an innocent civilian while she was unable to stop what was happening to her, it would devastate her once she was better.”

“So you denounced her to save her?” Graves feigned a confused laugh. “Is that what you’re now saying, Ms. Grant? Because if that’s the truth, then perhaps you should have clarified this sooner for those of us still under the impression that we have an unstable alien in our city, and we have no idea what might set her off next—or how to stop her.”

“Supergirl isn’t a bomb,” the CEO interjected. “She wasn’t set off.” She gestured toward the hero standing silently across from her. “What happened to Supergirl was no different from what happens to millions of people around the world, myself included, when something happens to imbalance our brain chemistry. The only difference was there was no treatment at the ready to help Supergirl’s extraordinary brain handle its alteration—an alteration, by the way, a human inflicted upon her.”

Focusing on Graves, the gold in her eyes burned with fury. “If you’re looking for a monster in this scenario, then I suggest you look in a mirror. Someone like you, controlled by bigotry and unfounded fear—that’s who caused Supergirl’s alteration. We harmed her. We betrayed her and then blamed her for our own betrayal.”

He narrowed his eyes accusingly. “So you say, Ms. Grant. Perhaps you can dip back into your memory of being an actual reporter and provide us with names and evidence to support your allegations. Although even if you were able to prove this, she was still unstable and nearly unstoppable. She spread chaos and fear and destruction throughout this city, and no amount of spin control, even from someone like you, can change that truth.”

Leaning back in his chair, he gazed condescendingly toward the reporter and the alien beside her. “It’s a shame really. I remember when you were once a respected journalist, Ms. Grant. Now, you’re just a PR flack who wouldn’t know a real news story even when it throws you from a building.”

He preened at the sight of devastation that shattered the hero’s expression before focusing again on Cat. “It’s hard to imagine you were ever worthy of a Pulitzer.”

Body rigidly controlled in a way only Kara would notice, the CEO coolly countered, “I have two Pulitzers, actually.”

Whatever response Graves had expected, that was not it. Frustrated that he failed to elicit the rise that he had anticipated, he smirked, “Congratulations. I’m sure they look beautiful up there with all the other awards you’ve won.”

Something in Cat’s gaze shifted, dimmed. “They actually don’t remind me of winning at all, Mr. Graves. They remind me of loss—lost lives, lost innocence, lost faith, lost hope.”

Lost son.

The unspoken thought shot through her with a barely perceptible shiver. Objectively, she knew the incontestable prestige of the Pulitzers she earned for her reporting of the atrocities that happened in Rwanda and Bosnia. While she rarely mentioned them herself, she had also never placed a moratorium on CatCo PR mentioning them at their discretion. As head of a publicly traded company that answered to a board more concerned with bottom lines than bylines, she conceded to the value of what her Pulitzers could gain CatCo.

Subjectively, however, the awards served only to remind her how public honors could never pass as consolation for the personal absolution she refused to grant herself.

She’d already willingly given CatCo priority above so much else in her life by that point that she had almost stopped questioning whether anything or anyone could ever break her singular focus on the success of her company—until the answer came in tiny hands that clutched at her tightly and in cries that hiccupped around the desperate mantra of “Mommy, no go,” that broke something so deep within her, she knew she would feel its deserved agony until her very last breath.

And suddenly Cat had shifted her focus from running her company to simply running—to wherever she could lose herself to any pain beyond what constantly raged within her own heart. If that meant diving into the darkest abysses of human tragedy, then she would accept whatever consequences awaited her as recompense for her own unforgivable failings.

She pressed her hands flat atop the podium, knowing that if she didn’t, their trembling would become a distraction. “So much loss,” she sighed once more, voice barely above a whisper. She forced herself to refocus on the less personal—though no less painful—truths behind her statement.

“No, not lost. Taken. Destroyed. Those of us who reported from the field in Rwanda and Bosnia bore witness to the absolute worst of humanity—corpses brutalized beyond recognition, bones piled like refuse, starving children forced to take up weapons against each other, women savagely raped and mutilated.”

She struggled to draw a deep breath around the choke of memories unmercifully persistent even so many years later. “And the world sat back and watched the slaughter of more than a million people—Tutsi, Pygmy Batwa, Muslim Bosniaks—and the excruciating suffering of more than a million more. Broken in body, mind, and spirit because something marked them as different. Other.”

The word snarled from her lips with a ferocity that startled Kara. “They dared to worship differently, believe differently, look differently, think differently—exist differently. They suffered and died brutally for those differences. All I and other reporters could do was try to make the world bear witness, and hope that our efforts could force someone to take action before it was too late.”

When she finally looked at Kara, she saw the horror of her words carving themselves deeply into the hero’s heart. She saw, too, the aching need to comfort, to protect Cat in ways the reporter had always shunned as kindness undeserved in regard to this part of her life.

Turning away before she might break under the hero’s gaze, she continued, “I have seen what happens when prejudice goes unstopped until it reaches its brutal end, and I swore to myself I would never again just bear witness. I would do whatever it took to stop those who would target anyone simply for being different.”

Lifting the stack of folders she’d brought with her from the podium’s shelf, she pinned Graves in place with a hard stare. “It always starts out the same, though, doesn’t it, Mr. Graves? We focus at first on what it will cost us. They’re here to take our jobs. They’re here to be a burden on us. They’re all dangerous. They’ll hurt us, hurt our families, take what’s ours unless we stop them. So we single them out. Make them register. Ostracize them and any who would help them. Round them up. Lock them away. Punish them. Obliterate them. And we do it all with a piety that would make gods weep.”

Moving toward the table at the front of the chamber, she handed folders to all the council members except Graves, whom she simply glanced at with perfect Cat Grant cool. “Seems I miscounted,” she shrugged. “Perhaps you can use that as your excuse in trying to explain what’s in those folders.”

She turned and walked away, raising her voice so the entire room could hear. “Spencer Graves wants to distract you with fear and baseless blame. He wants you to believe aliens are here to replace you, take from you, cost you, harm you. He even has the audacity to sit here today and claim Supergirl is nothing more than a dangerous financial burden on this city. He wants to scare you into doubting her incomparable value. He wants to anger you with threats of a ‘Supergirl Tax’ to make you believe our funding shortfalls are all her fault.”

When the CEO pivoted to face the council, her eyes gleamed with calculated fire. “Supergirl, however, isn’t the one who has been funneling money from the city for the better—or worst—part of Mr. Graves’s term in office.”

The susurrus of voices that had lined the room throughout the hearing roared to life at this declaration. Unfazed, Cat continued, “While Mr. Graves wants you to believe Supergirl is at fault for the precipitous drop in our allotted funding, the truth I’ve discovered is he’s been misdirecting National City funds to an off-shore account that’s been receiving a lot of similar deposits from other apparently like-minded city council members all across the country.”

The flush of fury flooding his features, Graves rose from his seat with such force he knocked back his chair. “How dare you make these insinuations against me!”

At the sight of Graves clenching his fists, Kara stepped forward, positioning herself slightly in front of Cat. A light touch of fingers along her forearm stilled her. When she met Cat’s gaze, she saw the silent assurance that she needn’t trouble herself.

“You were too tempting a thread, Mr. Graves," she calmly explained, "even for a PR flack like me. I simply couldn’t resist tugging to see just how much you would unravel. Turns out, you were the perfect thread to pull.”

She flicked fingers toward one of his fellow council members, who was busily flipping through the contents of her folder. “Not only have I provided detailed records tracking how you have managed to transfer almost three million dollars of National City’s budget, but I have also provided the names and jurisdictions of every other politician who has been siphoning their own constituencies’ funds into this same account. The last time I tallied my list of confirmed accomplices, it was more than four hundred names, including U.S. Army Colonel Geoff Burnham.”

Seeing confusion slightly dull the fury in Graves’s glare, Cat explained, “Colonel Burnham is the account holder.” She tilted her head. “You seem bewildered, Mr. Graves. Didn’t you know for whom you were stealing National City’s funds?” She smirked. “Sorry. Allegedly stealing?”

Uninterested in hearing any poorly contrived lies, the reporter continued, “No matter. You can tell it to the police waiting for you outside. I’ve provided NCPD with the same information I’ve given the council. Oh, and at ten o’clock this morning, CatCo and the Tribune published my article detailing all of this.”

Her lips twitched with the hint of satisfaction. “We’ve also informed the local news outlets in all the cities affiliated with the politicians in this pot with you. I daresay you’ve made quite a few enemies this morning, Mr. Graves.”

The feral curl of his lip glistened with spittle as he snarled, “You have no idea the power of the enemy you just made, Ms. Grant.”

This time, Cat needed to tighten her grip on the hero’s forearm enough to pierce the haze of protective fury clouding Kara’s thoughts. Fighting against the pull to tangle their fingers together, she instead spoke firmly enough to draw the hero’s attention. “I believe we’re finished here, Supergirl.”

In her eyes, Kara could see the unspoken command: Head up and eyes forward and not another second wasted on him.

Not trusting her voice, Kara nodded, hoping that she at least seemed more composed than she felt inside.

As the duo passed once more through the opening chamber doors, the roar within the room almost deafening, Cat nodded at the sight of Detective Maggie Sawyer entering with two uniformed officers. Kara’s jaw swung open in surprise, eliciting the faintest of laughter from the detective. “Ms. Grant, Supergirl, always a pleasure.”

“Likewise, Detective,” the reporter returned while continuing to stride confidently away from the sounds of chaos she left in her wake.

Once more outside city hall, they both halted at the sight before them. At the bottom of the stairs, the crowd that had gathered for that day’s rally had nearly tripled since they had entered. In addition, several news vans lined the street, crews setting up for live shots and the hope of catching the inevitable reveal of Spencer Graves being taken into police custody.

As soon as the crowd caught sight of Supergirl, the crescendo of voices surged just as it had within the council room. Cat nodded in approval at the sight of how they clamored for Kara’s attention. Her status as the Hero of National City remained unscathed, regardless of Graves’s attempts to the contrary.

The CEO turned toward Kara with a gentle gaze and calming smile. “Go, darling. They need you right now, and I daresay the feeling is mutual. Agent Hawthorne and I will head over to the DEO. We can regroup there when you’re finished.”

Maintaining their locked gazes several beats longer, Kara shook with the effort not to gather Cat in her arms right there and hug her tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered, tears shimmering in her eyes.

“Whatever it takes, Kara.” Her attention shifted toward the black-clad figure moving swiftly up the stairs to meet them. “Now, go, Supergirl. Be their hero. I’ll be waiting for you at the DEO—that is, if Agent Hawthorne can find it within himself to drive faster than a horse-drawn carriage.”

The agent dipped his head slightly, not even bothering to suppress the smirk earned by the CEO’s pointed comment and arched brow. “Both Supergirl and Agent Danvers have informed me that, for the foreseeable future, my continued existence hinges on my ability to keep you safe. With all due respect, Ms. Grant, I fear them way more than I fear you.”

With an exaggerated eye roll, the CEO began once more down the stairs, Hawthorne quickly falling into place beside her. “The price for being a muse is always high,” she sighed while smiling at the sound of Kara laughing behind her.

As the CEO reached the bottom of the stairs, reporters surged toward her, each calling her name and clamoring to be noticed above the others. Pausing with perfect flourish, Cat rested one hand high along the curve of her back, holding the other elegantly before herself as she addressed the media scrum. “I am merely the messenger of this story,” she demurred while gesturing toward the gathering beyond. “Look out into the crowd behind you and you’ll see the real story here today.”

As she spoke, she watched Kara circle the crowd once before setting down in the midst of the rally. Instantly, she was besieged by children, alien and human alike, seeking her attention. The hero dipped low for a moment. When she rose once more to full height, two children swung from her outstretched arms while giggling and squealing with delight.

“The real story isn’t fear—it’s hope. Hope that we can rise above the discord and division spread by people like Spencer Graves and instead work together to strengthen the ties that bind us all, regardless of our differences.”

Lost for a moment to the lull of watching Kara surrounded by the adoration of her city, she forced herself back into focus at the insistent call for attention from reporters. With a  dismissive flick of her fingers, Cat began once more toward her awaiting transportation. “Your story is there,” she reiterated. “Now, if you will excuse me, I believe my part here is finished. Thank you.”

Hawthorne circled back behind Cat, blocking further approaches toward her as she climbed into the back seat of his service vehicle before he swiftly hopped into the driver seat and drove them away. When the agent glanced into his rear view mirror, he was surprised to see luminescent jade eyes returning his gaze. He caught the slight hitch of one eyebrow before she commented, “Nice to see you can hustle when necessary, Agent.”

With a wordless inclining of his head, Hawthorne proceeded to move smoothly through traffic, acquiescing slightly to Cat’s impatience with a bit more haste than previously used.

Inside the DEO’s underground garage, the agent deposited Cat by the elevators while he parked his Denali. She made her way up to the main level, her sharp heel clicks against the tile quickly alerting the agents on duty to her arrival. While most of the agents watched the CEO’s approach with exuberant expressions that slightly unnerved Cat, one agent hustled up to the second floor, disappearing into Alex’s lab.

Seconds later, Alex was the first to appear at the top of the stairs, with Eliza close behind her. The two Danvers women moved swiftly toward Cat, who drew to a stop at the sight, confusion slowly contorting her features.

Before she could say anything, Alex had her wrapped in a tight embrace that took her completely by surprise and nearly lifted her right off her feet. Quickly enough, however, movement caught up with realization and Cat’s arms settled around the agent, returning the hug.

Shifting back and releasing her hold enough that Cat could resettle properly on her heels, Alex laughed while shaking her head. “Goddamn, Cat. You didn’t just throw down the gauntlet. You fucking hurled it at Luthor.” Her eyes glowed with a gratitude and awe that Cat hadn’t quite anticipated. “And you smashed out several of CADMUS’s fangs in the process.”

Eliza moved to her daughter’s side, placing a hand on Alex’s shoulder to steady her. “My daughter’s disturbingly graphic comparisons aside,” she began, earning a glimmer of contrition from the brunette’s gaze, “What you just did is a huge game changer, Cat.”

“I wish I could have finished connecting the trail all the way up to the big donors. Graves needed to be stopped now though. I couldn’t let him continue to move forward with legislation that might have endangered the aliens here in National City.”

“And this alien would like to personally thank you for that.” The trio turned toward the voice, met by the openly joyful face of J’onn J’onzz. “I do wish you’d given us a little heads-up about what you were about to drop,” he teased, eyes practically glowing at the CEO’s reaction to his impertinence, “but your actions this morning are already having massive repercussions, Ms. Grant. CCN is reporting at least fifty other council members across the country have already been brought in for questioning based on your article, with many more expected before the day is over. You’ve just severed a huge monetary artery for the project.”

He sobered noticeably. “Mr. Graves was correct, though, in what he said: You’ve revealed yourself today as the prime target for Lillian Luthor’s full fury.”

The CEO shrugged at the comment. “It’s not the first time I’ve been on the wrong side of Lillian Luthor.” Ignoring the curious stares this comment earned from both Danvers women, she finished, “This just means I get to spend more time surrounded by your alluring armed agents.”

“And a certain Kryptonian who you’ll be hard-pressed to shake for more than a few seconds at a time after this—not to mention that Kryptonian’s sister.” Alex continued her hold, her eyes burning with such intensity, Cat felt her breath stutter in her chest at the sight. “Thank you, Cat. What you’ve done this morning—what you’ve been doing since you left CatCo—”

Cat rested her hands on Alex’s arms, her affection for this brave, bold woman growing stronger every day. “She’s worth it all.” Catching sight over Alex’s shoulder of the familiar shy shuffle of her former employee, she continued, “I can’t claim full responsibility for this morning anyway. As spectacularly talented as I may be, I couldn’t have gotten nearly as far as I did without some specialized assistance.”

Turning to follow the CEO’s gaze, Alex inhaled in surprise at the sight of Winn smiling at Cat’s comment. “Winslow has proven once again his unparalleled tenacity in rooting out nefarious online activity.” She arched her eyebrow in the IT agent’s direction, her singular concession to knowing his role in Dirk Armstrong’s orchestrated downfall. “We made such a successful team, in fact, that I might just try to lure him back from the DEO.” She narrowed her eyes toward J’onn in feigned annoyance. “Unfair play, by the way, to wait until I’m out of town to poach my best employees.”

“B-best? Me?”

Amusement glittered brightly in Cat’s eyes as Alex finally released her hold on the CEO and the two women began heading toward the brunette’s lab, Eliza falling in step beside them. She laid a hand on Winn’s shoulder as she passed, laughter lifting her lips at the surprised squeak she detected from her former employee.

When Kara finally found the trio in Alex’s lab nearly an hour later, she couldn’t help the face-splitting smile at the sight. The three women sat at the center counter, each contentedly sipping coffee while watching the CCN live coverage on one of Alex’s monitors.

She heard Cat tsk softly at the video loop that had just begun playing, of Kara besieged by young rally participants. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have left your sister unattended down there. She’s probably still letting all those kids swing from her like she’s a Kryptonian jungle gym.”

“They actually got bored pretty quickly when they realized their parents didn’t want me to take them flying,” the hero finally offered, her whole body alight with happiness at the sudden attention from all three women in the room.

Setting down her mug, Cat reached a hand toward Kara as she slid from her stool. Leaning into the full embrace she found instantly engulfing her, she laughed, “Otherwise, you’d still be down there with them, no doubt.”

She caught the glint of sadness within Kara’s smile. “I like making them happy,” she replied, her expression hinting at deeper emotions she struggled to repress.

Cataloging the moment for later consideration, Cat instead returned to her seat, waving at the monitor. “We’re now up to more than a hundred fifty cases of extreme political fallout. Even Lesser Lane is getting extra front page real estate thanks to this.” She caught Eliza’s knowing eye roll at her dig at Lois.

With a chiding huff, Kara pulled a stool over beside Cat, entwining their fingers to rest atop her knee. They continued watching the news coverage while Cat divulged a few details of what she planned next based on her research. She sighed in frustration while discussing how, no matter how deeply she had dug already, she was still missing the puzzle piece that would let her connect Lillian Luthor explicitly to Project CADMUS. “She continues to remain irreproachably in the eye of this shit storm.”

Kara leaned close and kissed the sensitive spot behind the CEO’s ear. “You’ll figure out how to stop her, Cat. I know you will.” She paused, her head tilting slightly for a moment before she broke into a full smile and looked toward her sister. “Maggie’s here.”

The brunette shot her a curious frown while rising and heading toward the stairs. “Really? She didn’t say she was stopping by.” She leaned over the railing, eyes instantly finding the detective striding in a determined line straight for the stairs.

The smile that had begun to spread across her lips at the sight of Maggie hurrying toward her dimmed when she noted the worried furrow set between the detective’s eyes. As soon as Maggie reached the top, Alex placed hands on her forearms to steady her in place. “Hey, what’s wrong, Mags?”

Three sets of eyes shifted at the sound of Alex’s concerned tone. Maggie slipped free of the brunette’s hold, her full attention focused on the CEO across from her. “Cat, there’s something I need to—”

Maggie made it no further before Cat was on her feet, interrupting with the only thought to instantly crowd out all else in her mind. “Is it my sons? What’s happened? Are Carter and Adam all right?”

Realizing her error, Maggie nodded quickly, hands extended to calm the CEO. “Your sons are fine, Cat.” Guilt spiked through her at the sight of Cat gripping her arms against the shiver of relief the detective’s words released. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. This isn’t about Carter or Adam.” She waited until Cat’s focus returned before finishing, “It’s about Thomas Rieger. We just learned about an hour ago that he’s missing.”

Cat would have completely missed the stool she attempted to sit on at that moment had it not been for Kara’s super speed. She barely noticed, too intent on processing Maggie’s statement. Eyes narrowing in confusion, she shook her head. “That’s—that can’t be. He just checked in with his parole officer.”

“Two weeks ago. That was the last time anyone saw him.”

Anger flickered in Cat’s gaze. “I know he has a job. His employer didn’t report he was missing for two weeks?”

“He claims someone from Glendale Manor called him on the day Rieger was supposed to return to work, stating he needed to come back for some additional minor adjustments to his medications. However, when the employer got in this morning, he had a message on his work phone from Glendale Manor, asking if Thomas was settling back into his daily work life successfully. They mentioned they were having trouble reaching him at his home and hoped his employer might encourage him to call them.”

“He’s been missing for two weeks.”

Maggie watched the weight of this realization settle along the uncharacteristic rigidity of Cat’s shoulders. “As far as we can tell at the moment, yes. His PO confirmed her meeting with him. She said he seemed to be doing fine and was even looking forward to going back to work the next day. I just spoke with his father on my way here—”

“His family wants nothing to do with him,” Cat interjected. “They made that blatantly clear during his trial.”

The detective nodded in solemn agreement. “Yeah, he made that perfectly clear during our conversation, too. He did confirm that he hasn’t spoken with Thomas since his arrest, so no help whatsoever there. Officers are currently canvassing his apartment building and neighborhood, but it didn’t look like he had many people in his life who paid much attention to him.”

Her dark gaze softened as she observed the woman before her. “You seem to be the only person in his life to show him any degree of compassion or concern.”

At the lull in conversation, Kara gingerly touched Cat’s shoulder, frowning at the way she flinched at the touch. “Cat? Who is Thomas Rieger?”

The smaller blonde reached up to cover Kara’s hand with her own, which Kara noted felt much colder than normal. “Someone who made a mistake while unwell and needed help overcoming that mistake.”

Eliza circled around to stand between her daughters, her hands lighting on the small of each one’s back as she shared a look with the detective. When she met Cat’s gaze, the CEO sighed in realization. “You told Maggie.”

Both Danvers sisters gaped in surprise at how quickly Eliza replied, “You bet your haute couture-covered ass I did.” She exhaled in relief at the slight lessening of tension she saw in Cat’s posture. “You’re not the only one capable of looking out for people you love. I’m just sorry it proved to be a necessary warning.”

“I still don’t understand.” Kara looked from Eliza to Cat, frustration and fear virtually seeping from her pores.

Rubbing a soothing pattern against her younger daughter’s back, Eliza explained, “When Cat hosted her talk show, Thomas Rieger developed an obsession with her. It began as increasingly threatening correspondence and moved into stalking. The police thankfully caught him before he could act on any of his threats.”

Eliza caught the waver in Maggie’s expression. The detective had shared with her a brief rundown of the things Rieger had written to Cat and the items he’d brought with him the day police caught him in Cat’s dressing room. She’d struggled for a week to push the subsequent horrific images from her mind.

“His arrest may have finally saved him,” Cat continued. “A psychiatric evaluation diagnosed him as paranoid schizophrenic. He now receives treatment and monitoring from Glendale Manor. He goes through cycles in which the medications falter and require changing or adjusting, but he has responded in mostly positive ways to his treatments.”

“You pay for those treatments.” Cat turned toward Kara at the statement, the hero’s eyes bright with understanding. “Someone from Glendale Manor called you at CatCo once. You said something about it being for a donation, but you were agitated the rest of the day.”

“I insisted they call me whenever they needed to bring Thomas in for treatment and as soon as they released him. His PO also knew to call me whenever he checked in for his regular meetings.” She sighed, her eyes slipping shut. “Everything went smoothly this time, just as it always did. Nothing seemed out of place.”

Maggie reached into her jacket pocket, drawing out a sealed evidence bag containing a vial of jagged gray crystals. “When police entered Mr. Rieger’s apartment, they found evidence of a struggle and several large dried deposits of this.” She held it out to Alex with the warning, “Don’t let it come into any kind of direct contact with your skin. The first officer on-scene accidentally touched some that had dried on the doorknob to Rieger’s apartment. He lost feeling in his hand for twenty minutes.”

Alex squinted at the vial, her mother instinctively moving closer for her own look. “We should send a team over to run some scans as well. Maybe we can pick up something your team can’t read with your equipment. And does his apartment have security surveillance? If so, how long do they keep data before wiping it?”

Eliza took the bag from her older daughter, more interested in getting a better look at the sample while Alex and Maggie continued to discuss the security protocols of Thomas Rieger’s apartment. Kara watched in helpless silence, her mind churning with information and worry. Someone had once tried to hurt Cat and now he was missing. He was missing and that meant only one thing to the hero: He might try to hurt Cat again or someone might try to make him hurt her.

Cat was in danger.

She felt the painful constriction of her lung muscles at this thought, could hear and feel the increase in her heart rate—could also hear the unexpected and frightening uptick in another nearby heartbeat.

When she looked over at the smaller blonde, the first thing she observed was the sheen of sweat beading along Cat’s forehead and temples. Next were eyes clenched shut and shallow breaths pulled in with increasing difficulty.

“Eliza?”

The scientist turned quickly at the sound of fear in her younger daughter’s voice, instantly met by panic-filled blue eyes. Shifting her attention, she instantly understood the reason. Without hesitation, she pulled one of the lab stools in front of Cat. Tempering her voice to a soothing cadence, she queried, “Cat, can you look at me?”

Alex recognized the soft, clear tone. It was how her mother spoke to Kara whenever the young Kryptonian slipped into one of the myriad panic attacks she suffered as she acclimated to her new reality. With a few quick key strokes, she triggered the lab doors to shut and lock, and adjusted the lighting to a lower level.

“Thank you, Alex,” Eliza whispered while waiting for Cat to comply. As green gaze struggled to meet Eliza’s, she placed her hands, palms up, on her knees. “If you want, you can take my hands, okay?”

She swallowed back the relief that surged at the feel of Cat tentatively resting her hands in hers. Softly, she began to draw a square pattern on the back of the smaller blonde’s hand with her thumb. “Do you feel that, Cat? Can you focus on the pattern I’m drawing?”

Brow furrowed, Cat nodded once. Eliza squeezed her hands gently while continuing to use her thumb to draw the square, careful to remember she needn’t press hard the way she always had for Kara. “Good. Focus on the pattern and use it to regulate your breathing. Like this: Breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold.”

As she spoke, she associated each step with one side of the square. The next time through, she demonstrated with her own breaths for Cat how she wanted the smaller blonde to try to calm her own breathing. “Can you do that, Cat? Can you breathe with me?”

Eliza continued to demonstrate for Cat, silently noting how Kara had already begun to regulate her own breathing to match her guidance. Bittersweet memories washed over Eliza of the many times she or Alex had sat just like this with Kara, guiding her through the minefield of memories that often exploded around the girl with no obvious prompting.

A grateful smile curled her lips as she observed Cat fighting to comply with the slow count and steady pattern against her skin. “You’re doing great, Cat. I know today has been difficult for you, especially having to talk about and remember the horrors you witnessed in Rwanda and Bosnia. I can’t even begin to imagine. And now learning about Thomas Rieger—it’s a lot to deal with. It’s a lot to remember. But you’re not alone. I’m right here. Just keep listening, keep focusing on my words and the pattern: Breathe in on chahv, hold on tav, breathe out on non, and hold on ten.”

After several more rounds that finally regulated Cat’s breaths to a much slower, more comfortable level, the reporter softly stated, “You’re counting in Kryptonese.”

Eliza nodded, her smile taking on a slightly mischievous hue. “I knew that would catch your attention.” She glanced toward her younger daughter and winked, knowing Kara needed extra reassurance and comfort in the moment as well. She continued to explain, “Hearing her own language would often help Kara come out of similar attacks.”

Cat blinked slowly at this before struggling to shift her gaze toward the hero. Kara caught the flicker of curiosity fighting against the steady recession of panic. She jolted slightly at the soft call of her name from Eliza. “Kara, why don’t you take my place? Is that all right, Cat?”

The reporter nodded, but tightened her grip on Eliza’s hands enough to catch and hold her attention. “Thank you.” Eliza could see the strength of focus returning to Cat’s gaze. “I-I—it’s better with help,” she finally whispered, her gaze shifting down to their still-joined hands.

The pain behind those simple words struck Eliza silent for several beats. “How often, Cat?”

The smaller blonde shrugged, signs of chagrin steadily settling into her posture and expression. “At least once every few months. More at a certain time of the year.” She swallowed against the roughness of her voice. “Thankfully, Carter’s father knows this and has always agreed to schedule Carter’s summer vacation with him then.” She huffed slightly. “It’s his one concession of kindness left for me.”

Eliza stilled her every movement at this statement as she focused on controlling the reaction Cat’s words sparked within her. Her daughters knew her well enough to recognize the false calm, just as she knew they shared the rage that calm contained. She refused to dwell too long on the “kindness” of any concession that had abandoned Cat to struggle alone through anything similar to what they’d just witnessed. Instead, she took small consolation in knowing Cat would never again face this darkness alone—not so long as any of the women in that room with her drew breath.

Feeling the beginning of tremors through the smaller blonde’s body, Eliza tightened her grip to refocus Cat on the sensation and rose from where she sat. “Can you stand with me?” Smile lines fanned out from the corners of her eyes as she watched Cat rise, still graceful as ever on vertiginous heels. “Kara’s going to take you home now, okay?”

She reached for her younger daughter, moving aside to draw Kara into the space in front of Cat. Eliza moved a hand to Cat’s back, repeating the same soothing pattern she’d used only a little while ago on Kara. “You’re always going to be safe with us, Cat.”

Unable to bring herself to meet the gazes of any of the women surrounding her, she merely nodded, her eyes slipping closed as she hung her head.

Looking to her younger daughter, Eliza reached out and ran a hand soothingly along a blue-clad bicep. “Take care of each other, Kara, and let us know if either of you needs anything.”

Kara’s eyes brimmed with tears as she gently wrapped Cat in her arms and lifted them from the floor. Alex unlocked the lab entrance and activated the bay doors for Kara so nothing would impede her departure. With a midair twist and softly whispered words of assurance, she glided them from the DEO and up into the late afternoon sky.

Chapter Text

The flight was silent as Kara made her way across the city, feeling every shiver to course through Cat’s body as if they were her own. Even after wrapping her cape around the smaller blonde, the trembling continued as Cat burrowed as deeply into Kara’s embrace as possible.

As they drew closer to the penthouse complex, Kara pressed a kiss to the smaller blonde’s temple. “We’re almost home, Cat.” Relief spiked through her at the feeling of Cat acknowledging her statement with a nod.

Boots touched down soundlessly on the balcony, and Kara immediately carried Cat the rest of the way to her bed rather than releasing her on landing. The fact that the smaller blonde made no attempt to stop her alerted Kara to the level of emotional and physical exhaustion to which she was succumbing. After setting Cat down on the edge of the bed, she knelt and gently removed Cat’s heels. “Would you like me to draw you a hot bath?”

Cat blinked slowly several times before giving in to the need to let her eyes remain closed. “I’d just like to rest for a little while.” The smallness of her voice shook Kara more than any of Cat’s louder, sharper cadences ever had.

“Of course,” the hero complied. “Let me help you get more comfortable?” At the sight of a slight nod, she lifted Cat to her feet and retrieved her dark blue Henley that Cat had taken over at some point. She helped the smaller blonde switch out of her dress into the soft shirt that covered her hands and brushed the tops of her thighs while standing. Kara drew back the covers and watched as Cat climbed stiffly back into bed, her body rigid and trembling where she lay.

Quickly divesting herself of her suit, she threw on a Radcliffe T-shirt of Cat’s she’d worn before and slipped into the bed beside the smaller blonde, surprised by how quickly Cat shifted into her arms. Wrapping her in a full embrace, the hero scratched soothing patterns against her back until she felt the full, exhausted press of Cat’s body against her.

Closing her own eyes briefly, the hero forced herself to hold back the tears that had been threatening to fall since leaving the DEO. With a shaky breath, she rested her cheek against the top of Cat’s head and focused instead on watching the play of shadow and light throughout the room as the sun shifted slowly across the sky. She had no idea how much time had passed when she heard the sound of Carter’s ringtone.

Worried the familiar noise might disrupt Cat’s sleep, she shifted as swiftly as possible from the bed and retrieved the phone from Cat’s purse, still abandoned by the balcony door where Kara had dropped it. With another burst of speed, she rushed into the living room, catching the request just in time.

The moment the FaceTime connection started, Kara instantly felt the balm of Carter’s laughter wash over her. “I’m starting to think I accidentally reprogrammed my mom’s number with yours, Kara.”

The hero’s expression eased for the first time since returning to the Grant home. “Yeah, well no one can get to a phone faster than me.”

Her smile broadened at the sight of Carter rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “Is my mom busy?”

Uncertainty dimmed her smile. She had no idea how much Cat had shared with Carter about her past, including Thomas Rieger, or how deeply it still affected her. Knowing how strong her relationship was with her younger son, however, led Kara to suspect he probably knew a lot if not all the story. Still, she never wanted to overstep when it came to Cat’s connection with Carter.

Erring on the side of caution, she offered, “Your mom’s actually taking a nap right now.” She tried to make her tone light at the sight of concern creeping into Carter’s expression. “She’s been pushing herself really hard to finish that article, so I insisted she rest when we got home. I can have her call you back as soon as she’s awake.”

Kara held her breath in anticipation of Carter’s reply, seeing the flicker of concern pass across his face. However, he finally just shook his head. “Nah, that’s okay. I’m getting ready to head down to the common room. Tonight’s our weekly Settlers game.” His eyes sparkled impishly. “I have to maintain the Grant tradition of kicking ass and taking names.” Before Kara could reply, he smirked and finished, “I know, I know: Watch my language.”

Kara couldn’t help the laughter that grew within her, threatening to unlock all the emotions she was struggling to keep in check. “No doubt you’re your mother’s son.”

Eyes shining joyfully at the statement, he replied, “Just let her know I called and we can talk tomorrow at some point. And—and tell her what she did today was amazing and I love her.”

“I will.” She paused, letting his words soothe her. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I confirmed how much she loves you.” She watched him wrinkle his nose at her obvious statement before softly adding, “I love you, too, Carter.”

The sound of the young man’s gasp of surprise caught Kara’s own breath in her throat. She never wanted to make him uncomfortable. However, the muddled mélange of emotions from the day’s events pressed against her heart—made her painfully aware once more of how brutish and beautiful and strong and fragile and far too unbearably fleeting human life could be, and how she must never waste one moment of any of it. The universe promised nothing and rescinded with impunity, but never again would it take someone from Kara’s life without them knowing the fullness of her love for them.

“I love you, too, Kara.”

Pressing her lips together, she still heard the hitch of emotion she was certain Carter had heard as well. She watched as he blinked quickly to clear his eyes, not even attempting to hide the shine in her own.

When he spoke again, his words snagged sharply on the tightness in his throat. “Can you—can you stay with my mom tonight?” His cheeks reddened at the words, but he pushed forward. “She shouldn’t be alone after talking about some of the things she talked about today.” Worry darkened his gaze. “Talking about it makes her remember—and remembering is always really hard on her.”

“I’m not going anywhere tonight, Carter. I swear it. Your mom won’t be alone.”

Gratitude spread through his expression. “Thank you for taking care of her.” He bit his lip as he worked up the courage to continue. “Sometimes, she doesn’t think she deserves that—to have someone care about her.”

“I guess that just means we’re going to have to keep doing it until we can outlast that infamous stubborn streak of hers.”

“Agreed,” he laughed, relief relaxing his features. He turned suddenly, attention drawn off-screen for a beat. When he looked back, he frowned slightly. “I’ve got to go.”

Kara picked up on the apologetic tone of his words and shook her head. “Don’t worry, Carter. Have fun. Kick ass and take names.”

He grinned widely at her teasing. “Victory will be mine.” He started to say goodbye, reconsidered with a pensive draw of his lips. Kara could tell from the way his eyes briefly unfocused that he was unsettled by whatever he was debating telling her. When he finally refocused on her, a troubling disquiet darkened his features. “There’s stuff about my mom you don’t know, Kara—stuff that’s happened to her that she keeps inside, even though she tells me all the time that’s it’s better to talk about things than keep them bottled up.”

He dug the nails of his right hand into his palm, trying to focus on the sharpness of the sensation rather than the nervousness he could already feel twisting within him like a live wire. He knew how protective his mother was of the secrets she had always held so closely. He knew, too, how much she suffered from that decision—and how much he wanted to help her in whatever way he could. “I’ve tried to get her to tell me, but I think she thinks it’s too much for me to know. B-but you should know. She trusts you—more than I think I’ve ever seen her trust anyone.”

Without hesitation, Kara nodded, knowing there was nothing Carter could ever ask of her that she wouldn’t do. “I will make absolutely certain your mom knows I’m here to listen to whatever she needs to talk about.”

His responding head tilt, so like his mother’s, caused a slight flutter of uncertainty within her chest as she watched him carefully consider her response. Several beats of silent contemplation later, he finally righted himself with a nod. ”Ask her about the ring she wears all the time. It’s time she stopped carrying this all by herself. The ring will be a good way to get her started.” Without giving Kara a chance to formulate a response, he waved his free hand before drawing the FaceTime session to an end.

Sinking down onto the nearest couch, she dropped the phone on the table beside her. At the sting of tears once more threatening to fall, she scrubbed at her eyes in frustration before threading her fingers through her hair and leaning back against the cushions.

Soon enough, however, she grimaced at the snarls and sharp pains coming from her unusually empty stomach. She knew she was well below the caloric intake she needed for the day she’d had, especially considering her morning shuttling emergency equipment. She also knew Cat needed to eat something, even if she also knew the smaller blonde would probably protest that truth.

With a decisive nod to herself, she headed into the kitchen. She satiated her worst hunger pangs with one of the energy bars the DEO created for her, based on the formula Cisco Ramon had concocted for Barry. She smiled at the thought of her friends on Earth-1 and reminded herself she should check on Team Flash at some point soon. World-saving victory aside, she wanted to know they were handling their closer-to-home challenges just as well. Updates on Team Arrow and Team Legend would be nice as well, she smiled.

Zipping around Cat’s kitchen with a quickness she knew would impress even the Scarlet Speedster, Kara proceeded to prepare dinner. As she was finishing blackening two chicken breasts with her heat vision, she caught the sound of an increased heart beat and the soft rustle of sheets from the bedroom. When she heard footsteps treading down the hall, she placed the grill pan to one side and strode to meet the approaching figure halfway.

“That doesn’t smell like take away.” The words muffled against Kara’s chest, where Cat had once more burrowed deeply into the hero’s hold.

A relieved chuckle stirred in the back of Kara’s throat at the sound of Cat’s teasing. “I might be solely responsible for keeping several of National City’s finest fast food establishments in the black, but I also do know how to cook.”

Seeing the curious cock of Cat’s brow when she pulled back to make eye contact, Kara shrugged and bit her lip. “Eliza insisted that Alex and I both know how to take care of ourselves before we left for college. She knew it would be doubly important for me to know how to take care of my caloric needs without drawing attention to myself.” Her cheeks colored a dusky rose. “So in addition to setting me up with a dining hall account on-campus, she taught me how to make several dishes high in carbs and protein that I could make where I lived off-campus. I’ve learned to improvise some things on my own since.”

With that, she led Cat over to the center island where she had already set two places for dining. As the smaller blonde settled, Kara prepared a plate of blackened chicken and sauteed vegetables atop a bed of vermicelli tossed in olive oil she had infused with garlic and rosemary.

Taking advantage of how distracted Cat was by studying the contents of her plate, Kara slid a tumbler of water in front of her rather than asking if she wanted wine. When the smaller blonde finally noted this, she merely took a sip while watching Kara prepare her own plate.

The moment she took her first bite, all other thoughts became irrelevant. “Kara, this is fantastic. What on earth is on this chicken?”

“Proprietary blend of seasonings,” she teased. “Alex has been trying to get it out of me for years.”

Eyebrow elevating precariously high, Cat countered, “I’m pretty sure I have a certain leverage in this instance that Alex doesn’t.”

Coughing slightly around her mouthful of food, Kara quickly took a sip of her own water. Cat continued to eat, the soft upward curl of her lips betraying her amusement.

After several more bites, Cat paused while thoughtfully twirling pasta around her fork. “Eliza taught you well.”

Kara nodded, easily hearing what the smaller blonde had left unspoken. “Eliza’s amazing,” she softly conceded. “I can’t imagine what my life might have been like on Earth without her or Alex. Even after Jeremiah—after we thought we’d lost him, Eliza stayed so strong for us.”

She bowed her head, the memory of those days right after Jeremiah’s presumed death rippling through her: How Eliza had let Alex and her mourn however they needed, how she was always there to help piece them back together when they fell apart, how she never let them forget that it was fine to let their sadness slow them, but she would always be there to help them back up when it tried to hold them down. Only Kara could hear how she would fall apart herself once she thought her daughters were asleep, her tears unnervingly silent and endless.

“She’s a remarkable woman.” The words breathed out softly, nearly lost inside the tumbler from which Cat quickly drank. Kara knew from the skittish shift of the smaller blonde’s gaze that this was as close as she could bring herself to mentioning earlier events.

Nodding, Kara let silence settle between them as they continued eating. She felt her lips hitch in delight at every sound of pleasure she was fairly certain Cat wasn’t even aware of making as she finished her serving of food. Only when she took her last bite did she seem to realize she had eaten it all.

“Want more?” Kara gestured toward the stove. “I made a lot,” she added, her expression taking a somewhat guilty hue at the confession.

Cat quickly waved away the offer. “I’m perfectly full, Kara. It was delicious—thank you.” She gave a pointed look toward the food still setting on the stove. “You need to eat more, though. Finish what’s left and have the container of Rocky Road you left in the freezer if you’re still hungry—and never make that face again or feel guilty about however much you need to eat. Even if you hadn’t shuttled around emergency vehicles all morning, you’re entitled to eat whatever the hell you want.”

The hero couldn’t help the laughter she felt rise within her even as she ducked her head in mild embarrassment. Her breath caught in surprise, however, at the feel of Cat suddenly by her side, her fingers pressing up against her chin. When she looked up in response, the smaller blonde kissed her soundly before locking onto her with unbreakable resolve. “Never be ashamed of who you are or what that entails. I want you to always feel comfortable being Kara Zor-El with me, do you understand?”

Blinking rapidly against the tears stinging her eyes, Kara wrapped her arms around Cat without hesitation, shifting her deeply into the hero’s warm embrace. “Thank you, Cat.”

It was still so new, this reality in which Kara found herself constantly encouraged to embrace her true self—to be Kryptonian in every way. That the encouragement came from the woman in her arms made it all the more powerful.

“Of course, darling.” Pressing a kiss against Kara’s cheek, she finished, “I think I’m going to take a quick shower. Finish eating and then leave the dishes. I can take care of them when I’m out.”

With a nod, she watched as Cat softly padded once more down the hallway toward the bedroom. At the sound of the shower starting, she promptly set about devouring the rest of the food she’d prepared. Both her Kryptonian nobility and her human influence made her keenly aware of manners around others. Alone, however, she was content to shift into what Alex called her “Tasmanian Devil” mode. Finishing off the food while Cat still ran her shower, Kara quickly downed the ice cream as well while taking care of the dishes, contrary to Cat’s direction.

By the time Cat re-entered her bedroom, draped in a plum-colored silk night shirt and absently finger-combing still damp curls, she was surprised by the sight of Kara wrapped in a bath towel, still slightly wet from her own shower and searching Cat’s dresser drawers. “I, um, I still haven’t brought over my own clothes,” she managed to stammer when she caught Cat’s curious gaze.

Silent for several unnerving moments, the smaller blonde finally stepped forward and retrieved a CatCo T-shirt and cotton shorts from one of the bottom drawers. With a quick spin, the hero dressed, holding the towel in her hands when she was finished. Without comment, Cat took the towel and placed it in the bathroom hamper before returning and guiding Kara toward the bed.

The two were quick to settle into what was becoming their natural resting position: Kara lying on her back with Cat curled against her side. She tucked her head against the hero’s broad shoulder, resting her hand over the solid thrum of the Kryptonian’s heart. Kara reached up and placed her hand atop Cat’s, her brow furrowing slightly at the feel of metal beneath her palm.

Shifting her hand slightly to the side, she realized that Cat still wore the ring that always decorated the middle finger of her right hand. She realized in that moment how infrequently she had ever seen Cat actually remove the ring, it often being the last thing she did before falling asleep. Carter’s advice instantly flitted through her thoughts as she studied the way the room’s soft light played along the jewelry’s unique lines and curves.

Sliding a finger along the narrow rod that intersected the three segmented bands, she asked, “Tell me about this?”

She caught the instant tension that bristled through Cat’s body as the smaller blonde shifted to meet gazes. Not wanting to hide anything from the smaller blonde, Kara explained, “Carter called earlier while you were asleep. We talked a little about some things, and he told me to ask you about it. He’s worried.”

Kara frowned at the crestfallen expression to darken Cat’s features. “He shouldn’t burden himself with worry for me.”

“Hey.” Kara slipped fingers beneath Cat’s chin, coaxing her to look up. “You worry about the people you love. It’s that simple.”

“Nothing meaningful is ever simple, darling.” She tilted her head to the side, the golden flecks of her eyes distractingly bright, and queried, “Do you know that my own mother doesn’t even know the reason why Carter’s last name is Grant?”

Kara’s frown deepened at the wholly unexpected question. Cat took her expression as reason to continue. “When I was still married to his father, his name was Carter Morgan. My mother, of course, accused me of being petty and of trying to emasculate Joe by ‘taking away his son’s birthright.’”

Kara shivered at the sound of Cat’s uncanny impersonation of her mother’s disagreeable tone. “The truth, though, was that his son made the decision, not me. Several years after I divorced his father, he asked if he could take my name.”

Kara licked her lips nervously, uncertain where this conversation was heading and increasingly unsettled by Cat’s dark expression. “W-why? Why didn’t he want to keep his father’s name?”

“He said he didn’t want to continue to keep the name Morgan and be a constant reminder to me of how his father had hurt me.”

Cat caught the quick, white-hot flash across Kara’s eyes at this statement, felt the hero’s hands clench and her body almost begin to vibrate with fury. “Hurt? He hit you?”

The smaller blonde shifted into a sitting position, drawing her legs underneath herself and turning slightly to face Kara. She watched as Kara pushed herself up to lean against the headboard. “No, Kara. He never hit me. You can sometimes do far more lasting damage with words than with fists.”

She paused, considering carefully her words. “Neither of my son’s fathers knew how to handle my ambition or my success. Devon resorted to the ultimatum of me giving up CatCo or Adam. He never considered his option of supporting me in having both. We weren’t married, and I suppose he viewed the notion of playing house dad while I worked late every night, weekend, and holiday to be a non-starter for anything more between us. I should be grateful that he loved his son enough to want to take him with him when he finally left me.”

“Cat—”

The smaller blonde pressed her hand against Kara’s chest to calm her. “Adam may still hold it against me that I gave up my rights to be his mother, but it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t be a single parent and keep my pace with CatCo. I hated Devon for years for forcing me to choose rather than help me—but I have hated myself far longer for accepting that my choice at that point in my life needed to be my work.”

With a despondent sigh, she continued, “Giving up Adam was what led me to Rwanda and Bosnia. I honestly didn’t give a damn about what my reporting would mean for CatCo. All I wanted was to find pain that could make me forget my own, and find a way to stop it.”

“But it didn’t work that way.”

The laugh Cat exhaled was hauntingly empty. “Never does.”

In the silence of the room, Cat focused on steadying her breathing, if only to keep at bay this panic always slithering darkly along the edges. She knew Kara would be able to hear the frenetic beat of her heart, the pounding of which muffled the sound of her voice to her own ears when finally she spoke.

“I had seen the results of violence before. When I begged my way off the Planet’s gossip page, Perry threw me to the crime beat. Even with your cousin’s protection over the city, people still suffered, still died, and I reported on it all: assaults, rapes, homicides, gang activity, domestic violence.

“None of that prepared me for Rwanda—for the sheer depth and volume of horror we saw. They slaughtered whole villages at a time using nothing but machetes.” She crossed her arms across her stomach, hands clenching tightly around her biceps. “They brutalized the women and girls by—”

Her voice seized in her throat, the images even those few words conjured more than she could continue to convey. Kara reached out and drew her close, softly rubbing the tension she could see forming along the smaller blonde’s shoulders.

“What they did to the men and boys was sickening. But the atrocities they committed against the women and girls were the most inhuman crimes I will ever see,” she finally whispered. “In both Rwanda and Bosnia, they made rape another tool of their genocidal savagery. No woman was safe. No woman was spared. Some of the survivors I encountered were barely—they weren’t even—they—”

Kara startled at the sound to rend from Cat’s throat instead of further words—an anguished ululation dredged from the deepest darkness within her. Hands instantly lifted to her mouth as she tried to suffocate the sounds, her fingers digging into the hollows of her cheeks.

The hero took hold of Cat’s wrists, gentling her touch as much as possible while firmly pulling her hands away. When the smaller blonde fought to resist, clenching her eyes shut and biting her bottom lip against the betraying sounds until Kara was certain she’d break skin, she let go. Instead, she placed her hands against Cat’s cheeks and leaned their foreheads together. She felt the hot rivulets of her own tears as she whispered, “Please don’t hold this in anymore, Cat.”

Leaning back, the smaller blonde focused her watery gaze on the expectant hero. With a calming breath, Kara continued, “I know what it feels like to keep in something so terrible because you’re afraid to let anyone else see how much pain you carry inside. I also know how much it hurts to carry around so much pain alone. It’s too much for one person to bear.”

She pressed a kiss against Cat’s forehead before shifting them so she could wrap herself around Cat from behind in as snug an embrace as possible. As the smaller blonde settled against her chest, resting her head in the crook of Kara’s shoulder, the hero nuzzled against her temple, whispered softly into her ear. “You are so strong, Cat—but you don’t have to bear anything by yourself anymore. I’m here, and nothing you tell me will change that.”

The soft assurance drew Cat closer into Kara’s hold, her fingers wending their way into flaxen waves. Kara lifted the smaller blonde’s chin enough that she could offer a calming kiss. When she drew back, she stayed close enough to touch noses, the need to maintain as much physical contact as possible with Cat almost overwhelming. “I love you.”

She smiled at the sight of Cat’s lips shifting upward ever so slightly when she drew back to make eye contact. “I love you.” She kissed the tip of the hero’s nose, pursing her lips at the sound of the laugh the move inspired. When she snuggled back down into Kara’s arms, she sighed at the safety she felt in those lithe limbs wrapping completely around her.

After several minutes, Cat finally spoke. “I wrote about it all. I couldn’t do anything but write about it. And I felt completely goddamned useless with every article I filed. We all stood by and watched and did nothing.”

“You were making sure the rest of the world knew what was happening. That isn’t nothing, Cat. You did what you always do: You told the truth, no matter how difficult. And you made others see that truth when they probably just wanted to ignore it all.”

Head shaking disconsolately, she countered, “I question all the time what our level of help actually was. It felt like—like we were just screaming into a void. By the time help came in both places, it felt sadistically too late.”

In the silence that settled, Kara watched Cat run her thumb along the bar of her ring, lost to the swirl of memories she had unleashed. “I should have come home and stayed after Rwanda. I should have come back to CatCo and settled back into the life I had been trying to build before Adam. It was the first Pulitzer that sent me running again. When the announcement came, I had CatCo PR gushing over me with sycophantic glee at what this would mean for the company’s credibility. They all saw profit gains and expansion opportunities and everything I thought I had wanted. But at that point, nothing here felt—right. I didn’t belong at CatCo anymore. No. I didn’t deserve CatCo.”

Her fists clenched at the declaration. “My head was filled with all the horrors and death the Pulitzer committee wanted to reward me for covering, and my PR department wanted to focus on dress designers and promotional interview schedules and photo shoots. I couldn’t handle it. Less than a month later, I left to cover the siege of Sarajevo.”

She shivered in Kara’s hold, instantly feeling the comforting press of the hero’s arms tighten around her. “I shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have gone to Bosnia.”

At the sound of Cat’s heartbeat becoming even faster, Kara rubbed her hands along her arms to calm her down. With a nod, Cat continued. “After several weeks in-country, I wanted to see how much truth there was in the stories of deteriorating conditions at the UN safe area in the Drina Valley. We’d heard as many as twenty thousand refugees were seeking protection from Dutch UN troops in Potočari.

“I joined a Dutch relief convoy heading to Potočari through Srebrenica. I filed articles every day that detailed the journey. It was beyond a nightmare the whole way. Unbearable heat, and in every village we stopped in, we found no water, no food—they had been systematically starving the villagers to force out the Muslim Bosniaks. From what we were seeing and hearing throughout the area, though, it was becoming clear something far worse was on the horizon.”

Kara heard the strain in Cat’s voice, her own heart shattering at the thought of humanity being capable of committing such horrors upon their own.

Taking a deep breath, the smaller blonde turned to rest her forehead against Kara’s shoulder. Several minutes passed in silence as Kara gently ran her fingers through Cat’s soft waves. She felt her fingers trembling with each stroke, fear threatening to engulf her the longer Cat remained quiet.

When the smaller blonde spoke once more, her voice had shifted into a barely audible cadence. “A few kilometers outside Srebrenica, we were ambushed. They took out all our drivers in rapid succession.”

Her breath stuttered in shallow struggle for a moment, sprays of red blood and gray matter painting the dark canvas of her panic.

“I tumbled out the Land Rover on the side opposite the gunfire and tried to make it to the surrounding treeline. A ricochet off the back of the vehicle in front of ours hit me and lodged in my thigh. By the time one of the convoy survivors found me where I had rolled under the Rover, I was barely conscious. I just remember leaving a trail of blood in the dirt as someone pulled me out.”

The steady increase in the pressure of Kara’s hold on her jumped noticeably, squeezing so tightly, she felt her bones grind in protest. She said nothing, however—simply let the hero hold her close and drew comfort from the ferocity of her protectiveness, even so many years after the fact.

“The bullet had nicked my femoral vein, which was much better than hitting the artery, but still caused significant blood loss. When I finally woke up in a hospital four days later, my belongings included a vial with the bullet casing they removed from me. I don’t remember it, but the medics who had come for us when someone radioed after the attack said I woke up in transit and demanded they give me whatever they pulled from my body.” With a rather self-deprecating eye roll, she said, “I’d earned it, apparently.”

She breathed out a tremulous sigh. “A week after I had tried to reach the UN safe area with the convoy, the Srebrenica massacre began. The Pulitzer committee gave me my second medal because of my series of reports from our journey and my attempted warning of what was coming. I never really understood that: What’s award-worthy in a warning too late or too ignored?”

She ran her thumb once more along the copper rod that connected her ring’s three segmented bands. “I still can’t look at either of those medals without feeling—ashamed.”

“Why ashamed?”

Slender shoulders shrugged, but Kara could feel the tension in the tight movement. “I stood by and watched all these horrific things happening all around me and I kept telling myself it wasn’t my job to intervene. It was my job only to report.” She sank more deeply into Kara’s hold, her body weary with regret. “I won awards for watching the agony of others.”

Kara scratched gently along the back of Cat’s scalp. “You dream about what you saw.”

She felt the affirming nod against her neck. “Some nights it’s the things I witnessed. Some nights—some nights, my mind decides that what I witnessed should become what I experienced.” She made no attempt to stifle the shiver that shook her in Kara’s hold. “Those nights are worse than the day I was actually shot,” she finished, her voice trembling with fear.

The feel of Kara’s fingers beneath her chin surprised her as the hero coaxed her to meet her gaze, overwhelming with understanding and concern. “This is the reason you need Lexapro.”

After an uncertain pause, Cat nodded at the statement. “Almost two months after I returned to National City, a therapist diagnosed me with PTSD and panic disorder. I’ve needed some form of anti-anxiety medication ever since. Those weeks I spent un-diagnosed and un-medicated were some of the most horrific moments I’ve ever known.” She forced herself to maintain eye contact with her hero. “I almost didn’t survive those weeks.”

A pained gasp parted Kara’s lips, her eyes instantly glazing with tears. She pressed her hands more securely around the woman in her arms as the dark truth of her confession flooded through her. “Cat.” Her voice practically squeaked out of a throat tight with emotion.

Hand rubbing circles against the hero’s chest, she soothed, “It’s all right, Kara. I’m here and almost none the worse for wear.” Not wanting Kara to dwell on the bleakness of her words, she added, “I suppose this is as suitable a time as any to finally come clean about my actual relationship with Lois Lane.”

Even with the severity of their current discussion, Cat couldn’t help the tiny laugh that rose in her throat at the sight of Kara’s eyes widening or her adorable attempts to respond to Cat’s wholly unexpected statement. “What? Wait—wha—what?”

Having pity on Kara’s stammering downward spiral, Cat moved her hand up against her cheek and interrupted, “Lois is a royal pain in the ass, headstrong, smart-mouthed, fiercely loyal, and one of my closest friends.

“She also saved my life.”

No matter how willing Cat continued to be in sharing in the false shade she and Lois constantly threw at each other for public consumption, she would never dishonor this truth.

“She was the only person who knew everything—not just what had happened in Bosnia but why I was there in the first place—and the only person who insisted on calling me every day once I was back home. After two days of not being able to reach me, she flew out on the first flight she could get and promptly hustled me into an emergency session with my therapist when she found me—not in my best moment.”

The depth of darkness that rose in Cat’s gaze at the confession left Kara certain of one thing: Whatever the details, she owed Lois a lifetime of gratitude for leading Cat once more toward the light.

“She’s actually two for two in the salvation department,” Cat continued, deciding in Kara’s silence that she lacked the strength to dive much more deeply into the events that transpired during that particular visit with Lois. “She was also there to give me the proverbial boot to the ass I needed when I finally decided to divorce Joe.”

The edges of her lips twitched upward slightly. “She loathed Joe so much for how he treated me, she perpetually threatened to have your cousin toss him into space for the first three years after my divorce.”

Kara snorted in amusement at the thought, easily able to envision Lois successfully entreating Kal-El to carry through her threat. In that moment, Kara realized she wouldn’t have any issue with now being the one to do the hurling. “How did he—I mean, how did you end up—”

“Settling for an emotionally manipulative, verbally abusive douche bag?” She felt Kara’s near-snarl of disdain at these words. “It was far easier than even I would have ever anticipated. I met Joe at the first gala I attended after getting treatment. I was still raw, still struggling to reintegrate into the life I once thought I wanted. Joe was the only one I encountered who didn’t seem to mind that I was far from my best self that evening. He was funny and persistent and inquisitive, and had the most inescapably piercing blue eyes.”

She swept a lock of hair away from Kara’s face. “I’ve always had a thing for beautiful blue eyes.” Her brow smoothed as she continued to run her fingers through Kara’s hair, allowing herself for just a moment to fall into those sparkling sapphire orbs focused so intently on her.

With a disgruntled huff, she continued, “We saw each other several more times at other gatherings through the ensuing months, but he made no overt moves. He played the gentleman very convincingly while I decided to throw myself back into running CatCo. I spent a good three years diving as deeply as I could, pushing CatCo’s reach and influence both here and internationally—and when I finally resurfaced, Joe was still there.”

Kara caught the glint of pain in golden shards. “The fact that Joe was still interested, even after watching me choose my work over him, made him—alluring. Of course, I should have reminded myself that him still being there was not reason enough to date him. But I was tired and alone and far too emotionally battered to be making the types of decisions I ended up making with him. Sometimes, though—sometimes, you’ll make the worst kinds of exceptions just so you’re not alone anymore. So, I convinced myself I was ready to run my business, have a successful relationship, start a family, and put all of the nightmares behind me.”

She quirked her lips to one side at the sound of Kara’s soft responding tsk. “So ‘Go Big or Go Home’ actually is the Grant family motto then?”

“Would you expect anything less from me?” Her expression instantly softened under the brightness of Kara’s smile.

The relaxed lines around her eyes tightened somewhat as she continued. “We actually worked quite well together the first few years of our marriage. He had a film production company that kept him almost as busy as CatCo kept me. We were both driven in our careers, so neither of us ever felt slighted by the other canceling plans at the last minute. We enjoyed each other’s company when we could, and we accepted when work took priority.”

Kara frowned at the hard shift in her mood. “While I was pregnant with Carter, Joe made a few poor decisions with some investments that led to him losing several big projects. It completely shot down his confidence, and I have learned that some men simply don’t know how to be vulnerable gracefully. That was when his mood began to turn. When Carter was born a few weeks later, Joe made a scene over, of all things, the order of Carter’s names. He accused me of being petulant and inconsiderate for insisting that my father’s name come before his.”

She rolled her eyes, but the strong set of her jaw tipped Kara to the deeper hurt behind the moment. Perhaps she had been rigid in her refusal to acquiesce to Joe’s unexpected last-minute decision. However, it wasn’t as if they hadn’t discussed their son’s name extensively—including the reasons behind Cat’s desire to give him a name she had chosen.

Beyond her obvious role, Cat had contributed almost nothing to bringing Adam into the world. No matter how hard she had tried, she knew her heart well enough to know it simply did not have the bandwidth a baby would require of her. So when Devon first broached the subject of names and asked if it would be all right to name their son after his grandfather, Cat had merely shrugged in compliance. It was the first in what would become a damning litany of ways Devon would note Cat had never truly invested herself in their son.

It also was a sadly incontestable truth.

Cat’s subsequent joy and anticipation over Carter’s arrival was also incontestable in a way that both enthralled and shamed her. She held her guilt at bay with reminders that the life Adam had with his father greatly surpassed anything he would have gotten with her.

No matter how much she had wanted to have him or how much she had hoped his arrival would finally press her into reevaluating her priorities, when she held him the first time, she had known his best hope at happiness would be far from her arms.

Just as she had known the first time she had held Carter that she would burn down the world itself to protect him. He had been so tiny, nestled perfectly in the crook of her arm—a good three pounds smaller than his brother had been, all fair-skinned and small-boned. The only things large about him at all were his eyes, blue as tranquil seas as he latched with unexpected ease to her breast to feed the first time.

“The only good moments in my marriage to Joe from that point on were those I shared with Carter. I think, in some ways, Joe envied our son. He saw how pliant Carter made me—how willingly I set aside CatCo duties for him, which I had never done for anyone before. He said Carter was making me soft.”

Her gaze unfocused slightly and Kara caught the minute quiver of her lower lip as she considered this statement. “He said it disparagingly, but he was right: Carter softened me in the best possible ways. He still smooths my edges, still brings me peace in ways I had always found elusive before him.” She turned her gaze to meet Kara’s, the shine of tears instant in her eyes. “I never thought anyone else would ever bother to find the kindness within me the way he always has.”

The muscles of Kara’s throat jostled in her struggle to swallow back the emotions Cat’s words and tears released within her. She leaned in, lips firm and full against Cat’s, tongue insistent as it swept along the ridges of Cat’s teeth, mouth warm and calming as she swallowed every whimper with holy fervor. The slide of her hand along Cat’s side slipped shivers along the smaller blonde’s spine, arched her body back against her hero in a desirous press that left her breathless when finally they parted.

Relishing the comfort of Kara’s touch and tender gaze a few beats more, Cat resolved to finish what she had started—to finally let Kara see her truest self.

“I tried to be supportive as Joe continued to struggle with his company. I even tried to get him to meet with CatCo financial advisers, but he saw more value in behaving like a child who’d broken his favorite toy but didn’t want to take the blame. It didn’t help that CatCo was beginning to come into its own globally while his company spiraled downward. That was when he began to focus on tearing me down in whatever ways he could.”

She pursed her lips. “According to him, though, I was the reason he spoke to me the way he did. He said his feelings for me made him feel weak and he couldn’t control himself. The lie there was that another person’s love should make you feel stronger, not weaker.” She gave Kara the most poignant look possible. “The right kind of love? That will make you feel goddamned invincible.

“Joe’s version of love turned him accusatory and insecure. Every accomplishment I earned became another way he could blame me for his own shortcomings. I should have been riding high on my company’s increasing success. Instead, I was constantly trying to hide it from him or constantly apologizing for it, if only to keep some semblance of peace between us. Of all the ways he diminished me, the worst was how he convinced me to diminish myself.”

She rested her head against Kara’s shoulder, threading their fingers together and kissing the hero’s knuckles. Kara hummed at the sensation but the crinkle between her eyes deepened. “Why did you stay with him?”

Silence settled as Cat studied the tangle of their fingers, her expression belying her concentration on the hero’s question. “I don’t really have a reason,” she finally conceded. “I could offer up all kinds of excuses and explanations, but the truth is, I don’t know why I stayed. Loyalty? Obligation? I suppose I thought on some level he deserved to be a part of his son’s life. I thought that, because he only spoke to me in those ways and only when we were alone that Carter didn’t know.” She stared into the middle distance, a sad smile tugging at her lips. “But my son has always been far too observant.”

“He is Cat Grant’s son.”

The sad smile brightened slightly at Kara’s statement. “Yes, he is. And even as a small child, he picked up on things—my sadness, my withdrawal at home. My drinking.” Guilt flickered in her gaze. “I know you think I used to drink too much in the office, but trust me when I say I am a pale shadow of the drinker I was when I was with Joe. Verbal evisceration doesn’t sting quite so badly when blunted by a good whiskey.”

Her mood darkened with remorse. “Carter found me one night after Joe had been particularly brutal.” She bit the inside of her cheek to keep at bay the emotions clawing at the back of her throat. Tears, however, still slipped from her eyes at the memory of her son’s small hands hugging her, his frightened voice asking why she was crying, worried that she was somehow upset with him. He had looked at her with such love and concern that night—looked at her in a way that Cat was certain no one other than her father had looked at her before.

“That was what finally made me realize I needed to end things with Joe. I couldn’t stand the thought of Carter ever seeing me the way his father saw me, or worse, hearing the way his father spoke to me and—and ever thinking the things he said were true.”

Kara slid closer and took Cat’s hands in her own. “I can’t imagine anyone not seeing you for the amazing person you are.”

Cat huffed softly in laughter. “You’re biased, darling.” She squeezed the hero’s hands tightly. “But thank you.”

“I promise I won’t ever let anyone else ever speak to you like that again.”

Cupping one of Kara’s cheeks, she stroked the soft skin with her thumb. “I appreciate the sentiment, but we both know my days of taking shit from anyone are well and truly over.” A more earnest laugh tumbled from her lips at the sight of Kara’s adamant head nod.

“After Joe, I found myself struggling with memories I hadn’t completely dealt with—of Adam and my time overseas and even my father’s death. I barely had a chance to mourn him before my mother was pressing me forward, to return to school, to get the best grades, to be a part of all the activities I could, to be the appropriate namesake she expected me to be.”

Feeling Kara tense against her, Cat pressed a kiss against her jawline. “There are myriad reasons to think poorly of my mother, I assure you, but I honestly don’t consider this to be one of them. I believe she truly loved my father. I think some part of her will mourn him privately until the day she dies. The way she responded publicly was to lock it all away and make me do the same. Seeing me mourn would have been too much for her, I think.”

The hero pressed her lips together at Cat’s words, begrudgingly nodding in acquiescence. Kara would never understand many things about Katherine Grant’s treatment of her daughter, but she also understood far too well the unpredictability of grief.

“I’d dealt quite well with the physical nature of my wound by that point.” She eased aside the hem of her night shirt, revealing unblemished skin that caused Kara to use her X-ray vision to locate the internal scarring left by the bullet.

“How did you—how is there no scar?”

With a devious smirk, Cat replied, “I have a shockingly wealthy though rather eccentric contact in Gotham whose company dabbles in, among other things, ER triage R&D. Seems he has a particular interest in being able to treat any type of wound quickly and without leaving scarring.”

She arched her brow pointedly. “Scars apparently are not appropriate accoutrements for the rich and batty.”

Kara’s incredulous snort pleased the smaller blonde immensely. “I was his original test subject for this particular treatment. It’s real skin synthesized from my own DNA. Not even the DEO has this kind of tech, I daresay.”

“Careful,” Kara warned. “Alex would not be above turning you into her own personal science project to figure out how that works.”

With a soft click of her tongue, Cat nudged the hero’s shoulder with her knuckle. “I’m quite finished with exposing parts of myself for your sister to examine, thank you.”

The sudden pink hue of Kara’s cheeks inspired a coy smile along Cat’s lips.

With renewed focus, the smaller blonde held up her right hand, gaze locked on the ring on her middle finger. “I couldn’t stop thinking how the bullet casing I had kept all those years rather morbidly connected all the major milestones of my life—how it all started with my father’s encouragement to always find the truth, no matter what; how losing Adam drove me to a place where I nearly lost myself; and how having Carter was how I finally started finding my own truth once more.

“I wanted a way to always be able to remember that journey and remember the ways each moment had helped define me and make me that much stronger. I took the bullet fragments to a jewelry designer I’d been using for years, and I explained all this to her. A month later, this ring arrived.”

Eyes widening with understanding, Kara reached out to touch the ring. “This is the bullet?”

Cat hummed an affirmative as she watched Kara reverently slide her finger along the rod. “There’s no other reason I would ever wear copper jewelry.” She chuckled at the soft huff her comment earned.

She tapped the gem at the tip of the rod. “This is a peridot, the birthstone for August.”

“Carter’s birthday is in August.”

The hero warmed at the smile her acknowledgement earned. “So is Adam’s and so was my father’s.” She caught the surprise in Kara’s expression. “You’ll learn quickly, darling, that August birthdays are incredibly common among people who celebrate holidays in December—or prefer a particular method of keeping warm in the winter.” She thrilled at the way the hero’s surprise quickly morphed into a delightful flush of understanding.

Finally, she ran her thumb over the three ring segments. “Each ring has a name engraved on the inside.” As she touched each segment, from top to bottom, with her left index finger, she stated, “Carter Joseph Grant, Adam Devon Foster, and Carter James Grant.”

Kara felt the stuttering breath Cat drew at the utterance of this final name. “My father would have loved his namesake. He was just as inquisitive and thoughtful as his grandson, both with same bright, kind eyes. He died of cancer when I was twelve. He never knew what I would become, but he always told me that, no matter what, he was my biggest fan.”

Seeing the tears forming in Cat’s eyes, Kara shifted to gently ease her onto her back. Rising on her elbow, she brushed back a golden curl before leaning forward and softly kissing away each tear that silently fell. Jade eyes shifted pleadingly along the curves and planes of Kara’s face. Obediently, Kara leaned in to kiss away the tremble in Cat’s lips.

Wordlessly, the smaller blonde gripped Kara’s shoulders and pulled, instantly feeling the increase in pressure against the length of her body. She knew Kara was holding back, protecting her from her full weight—but even this amount was enough of a comforting pressure to keep her grounded in the moment.

Already so attuned to Cat’s needs, Kara quickly fell into a pattern of kisses and caresses she knew would soothe rather than excite. Still, it wasn’t long before Cat began directing the intensity, needing more than gentleness from the hands exploring the contours of her body. With a swiftness that caught the smaller blonde by surprise, Kara slipped off her clothes and unbuttoned Cat’s night shirt, allowing them to feel the full warmth of each other’s bodies.

At the feel of the smaller blonde steadily encouraging Kara’s hand further down her stomach, the hero obediently complied. Fingers slipped through dark blonde curls, sliding along sensitive curves before disappearing within Cat’s inviting wetness. The smaller blonde released a soundless gasp, hips shifting instinctively up against the thrust and scissor of Kara’s fingers inside her. Hands splayed across Kara’s strong shoulders, dug deeply into flesh awakening to touch in ways that only Cat could conjure from within her.

However, after several minutes devoted to memorizing once more every arch and hollow of Cat’s neck with her lips and tongue, Kara felt the smaller blonde unexpectedly tense around her fingers. Stilling her movement, she looked down—took in the sight of Cat’s tightly shut eyes and clenched jaw, listened to the frantic heartbeat and shallow breaths and knew that Cat was mentally slipping away from that moment, back into the nightmares that constantly shadowed her. With a soft but steady tone, Kara stated, “Open your eyes, Cat.”

Eyelids slid open obediently, releasing the tears they had been keeping at bay, and Kara ached at the sound of the strangled sob that Cat couldn’t hold back. “Place your hands on my face.” She smiled encouragingly at the feel of the smaller blonde’s hands as they came to rest on her cheeks. “Stay here, in this moment with me.”

Continuing to hold her hand completely still, she leaned down and pressed a kiss to Cat’s lips, pulling back to whisper against the soft curve of her mouth, “I have loved your eyes since the moment I met you.” Her fingers slowly began to move once more in a gentle in-and-out motion. “I’d never seen eyes such a rich shade of green before. And the way light makes the gold in them shine reminds me of the first time I saw a sunset here on Earth—how bright and warm and beautiful it was.”

The smaller blonde shifted slightly beneath her touch, legs parting more and hips once again moving in rhythm with Kara’s measured pace. The hero hesitated at the feel of Cat moving one hand from her face. Concern bled into need swiftly, however, at the feel of the hand slipping between her thighs, fingers trailing up along her ridges and around the swell of her clit.

Soft grunts overcame the hero as she tried to acclimate to the stimulation of giving and receiving the level of pleasure she was sharing with Cat. The smaller blonde could feel her struggle in the discordance of her movement inside her. “It’s all right, Kara,” she breathed, “you can stop if it’s too much.”

Blonde curls swayed with the adamant responding head shake. Kara had slipped well beyond coherence, beyond thought, her concentration narrowed solely to the language of the desire they now shared.

When finally she found the counterpoint rhythm she needed, she breathed a lustful growl at the sensation of fingers spreading her open, dragging along the pulsing heat of her ridges with unrelenting pressure.

Forcing herself to remain focused, she flexed her fingers against the velvet strength pulling them deeper inside Cat. The flutter of muscle and the corresponding sighs of pleasure breathed against her skin concentrated her every sense on the exquisite body beneath her. She knew she was close to surrendering completely to Cat’s dexterous attentions, knew the smaller blonde was just as close. With a deep breath, she narrowed her senses as far as she could, until there was nothing left beyond Cat: her touch, her sound, her scent, her softness and fire.

And then she let go. With a cry that shook her entire body, she arched backward, the long, hard lines of her neck muscles tight as she rode out the pulsations of pleasure crashing through her. Feeling Cat’s orgasm break moments later, the hero struggled to open her eyes, to consume every moment, every shudder, every play of emotion to cross Cat’s features.

The smaller blonde slung a leg around Kara’s waist, opening herself up enough for Kara to penetrate her even more—to coax a deeper surge of sensation with every drag of fingers along the rough patch of skin high inside, causing her toes to dig into the mattress and her body to rock impulsively against the hero. She’d never felt such concentrated power before, and relished the way it danced along the narrow delineation between pleasure and pain. One thing she knew for certain: She would be sore the next day—and it would be absolutely worth it.

Wanting to give more in return, she worked her fingers up along Kara’s ridges one final time before pressing as hard as she could against the swollen rise above them. Kara practically screamed in response, her fingers pulling free from Cat so she could brace herself against the mattress with both hands. Cat stared in stunned amazement as the hero tipped her head back and exhaled a massive frosty breath, which she watched slowly tumble down like a miniature snow shower.

The smaller blonde couldn’t help her laughter at the feeling of icy condensation falling down around her, melting against her overheated skin. As she slowly released her pressure against Kara, she wrapped her arms around the hero and eased her back down into her arms.

While stroking back long locks and holding her through several strong aftershocks, Cat kissed and nuzzled her cheek. She playfully whispered, “Congratulations, darling. That was the first time I’ve ever caused a meteorological event during an orgasm.”

Regaining her composure, the hero finally shifted onto her back, doing nothing to hide her smirk at Cat’s tease. She quickly broke into laughter, however, at the roguish joy to light the smaller blonde’s features.

Cat curled into her side, meeting Kara’s tender gaze with a kiss and smile. “Thank you,” she sighed, sliding instinctively deeper into Kara’s embrace. Exhaustion wended its way through her every cell, slithered between her bones. She suspected that night’s sleep would be anything but peaceful—but she also knew it would be safe. She would be safe.

As the steady rhythm of Kara’s heart beneath her ear lulled her to sleep, she felt the soft sweep of the hero’s fingers through her hair, heard the whisper of alien words, beautiful and lilting, as they surfaced along the edges of her consciousness. Once more, she knew even without understanding that whatever Kara had just whispered held a reverence that left her feeling humbled and utterly loved.

Chapter Text

Test Subjects CDS-17-054 and -055

The sound of the familiar languid pace drew to a halt outside the cell, instantly drawing the attention of every technician inside. With a slight nod of acknowledgement, Luthor scanned the interior, noting the still-unfinished modifications. She turned toward the lead tech with a disquieting glare. “How close is your team to completion?”

Taking a half-step outside the cell, he lifted the tablet he had been consulting. “We’ve run into an unexpected inconsistency in the programming upgrades. We’re troubleshooting the error now.”

“Will you be finished by this afternoon?”

The lead tech easily heard the command beneath the question. “We will complete the Faraday cage modifications today, Doctor.”

“Good. I received confirmation from NCPD that we will be receiving our newest guests later tonight. Our contact only needs to wait for the prison’s night shift changeover to begin the transfer, so we need to be prepared.”

She shifted her attention toward her medical team lead, who had accompanied her to the holding cells. “They’ll be arriving fully sedated, Dr. Sloane, so we’re going to have to get them in for testing as quickly as possible. I’ll need a pint of blood from each of them in addition to the standard bloodwork panel and scan series for both. I also want a throat CT and ultrasound for Ms. Smythe and do a full neurological workup on Ms. Willis. Oh, and don’t forget to use the silicon restraints for her while she is outside this cell.”

“Of course. What about the sound dampening collar for Ms. Smythe?”

Nodding in dismissal toward the lead tech, Luthor began once more down the corridor. “I’m less concerned about the sound dampening collar. If it doesn’t work, sever her vocal chords. She’ll be getting more enhanced ones anyway. Our recent Ortrexian test subject provided me with knowledge and parts I believe Ms. Smythe will be able to put to extraordinary use.”

Luthor caught the stumble that threw off Sloane’s stride beside her. “Y-yes, Doctor. I’ve already selected and prepped my team for this evening’s arrivals. We will be ready for them.”

“Good. I’ll want to review procedures with them just to be certain we’re all in sync.”

Pausing outside her office, Luthor watched with satisfaction as Sloane nodded her understanding. “Of course. I’ll let my staff know to be prepared for a run-through at four this afternoon, if that fits your schedule.” At Luthor’s agreement, Sloane pivoted sharply and departed.

Pleased by her staff’s assurances, Luthor returned to her office to continue her weekly check-ins with her facility directors. If the awaiting presence of Hank Henshaw surprised her, she covered it well. “Come to offer your assistance for this evening’s arrivals?”

She looped around to her desk, sensing Henshaw’s gaze tracking her every move. “Or perhaps you would like to help with Dr. Danvers’s physical training?” She steadied her expression as she sat across from him. “I understand you’ve already spied on a couple of his training sessions.”

Henshaw sneered at the comment. “I was curious about his bionics.”

“You mean you were curious as to how they compare with your cybernetics.” The corners of her mouth slipped upward at the responding glare. “You remain far more versatile in abilities and in loyalty. However, you might want to avoid ever tangling with Jeremiah. I’ve upgraded his endoskeleton to be strong enough to cause even the Girl of Steel pain.”

“But can he stop her?”

Luthor leaned back in her chair as she contemplated the question. “Kryptonians cannot break nth metal.”

Henshaw’s glare narrowed. “That doesn’t answer the question. Can he stop her? Or does she simply rip off those fancy limbs from his frail human body and be done with him?”

“We both know Kara won’t cause any harm to her foster father. She has proven repeatedly that she lacks the resolve necessary to be truly invincible. Her compassion will always be her greatest weakness. But, to answer your specific question, even if she did find the spine to hurt him, she wouldn’t be able to.”

She allowed herself a moment to enjoy the confusion swirling in Henshaw’s one intact eye. “Nth metal isn’t valuable merely for its superior strength. It possesses qualities we haven’t even begun to quantify let alone understand completely. One of those is right now at work inside Jeremiah Danvers. We’ve been monitoring the nth metal we used to strengthen the endoskeleton of his bionic limbs. It has spread from the bionic implants and has infused itself into his own bones. His skeleton is connected now to his new limbs in a way not even Kara could break.”

In the silence of her office, Luthor leaned forward, gray gaze locked on Henshaw’s brooding features. “Jealousy was not part of your CADMUS upgrade. I continue to require your assistance, but I do not require this insecurity. I have enough to contend with at the moment without having to deal with wet-nursing you.”

The doctor caught the flash within Henshaw’s exposed cybernetic eye before he relaxed back in his seat. Expression once more settling into his regular sneer, he finally replied, “How can I be of use to you?”

Pursing her lips in satisfaction, Luthor gave a quick nod. “I’ll need you in D.C. soon enough. It’s time we dealt with our information leaks out there before others within our network get similar ideas. While Cat Grant’s revelations about Spencer Graves are both blessing and curse, I would like to staunch the flow of information to her before it becomes unmanageable.”

Luthor actually appreciated the fallout from Cat’s typically irritating persistence. The reporter’s revelations about the level of funding Luthor was receiving just from her city-level supporters served to put on notice those who were beginning to doubt her project’s viability. She knew there were many throughout her network who thought her project was a second-rate endeavor subsisting on whatever handouts she could beg from those so inclined to throw some change her way.

Cat Grant revealing the funneling of millions in purloined revenue from just the city level—Luthor couldn’t even be bothered to find her fury over losing this source of funding (temporarily, she told herself) because its revelation had left her supporters shaken. Now that it was out there—the idea of Lillian Luthor sitting atop a possibly multi-million dollar anti-alien effort—she couldn’t find a moment’s peace from the constant influx of phone and email messages.

Some were from her most devoted disciples, renewing their pledges of allegiance to her righteous work. Others were from those who had slowly been slipping toward the fringes of support, now reminded either of why they were supporters in the first place or of why they didn’t want to find themselves on the outside of Luthor’s good graces. Others still were from those who had lost their faith in Luthor, for whatever pointless reason, and wanted to level veiled threats and admonitions.

Those were the messages she memorized. Those were the messages to which she would attend first.

In the interim, she knew she needed to address the leak in Washington that would inevitably lead Cat to revealing Luthor’s other lines of funding—state, federal, international.

Luthor savored the continued secrecy of this final line of funding, knowing not one soul—human or alien—would be able to stop what she was on the precipice of unleashing on a global scale.

“I need you to report to the med bay once you leave here. As much as you seem to enjoy your battle damage, I need you to look human once more for the mission I have in mind for you next.” She enjoyed invoking yet another curious stare from her companion. “I need you to pay a visit to Senator Crane similar to the one you recently paid Colonel Harper. However, I can’t have you traipsing around Capitol Hill looking like you’re searching for Sarah Connor.”

She found herself pleased by Henshaw’s understanding smirk. “And what about Cat Grant?”

Luthor curled her graceful fingers around the arm rests of her chair. “My plans for her have expanded slightly, to include Spencer Graves. He has agreed to help draw her out for what he thinks will be a reprieve from punishment for his incompetence. Unfortunately for him, I simply cannot guarantee that Mr. Rieger can control his aim well enough to keep him unharmed.”

Henshaw couldn’t help the anomalous laughter at Luthor’s comment. “And what of Cat’s alien guard?”

“R&D has been working on something special for Kara, should she try to intervene.”

A wicked shiver of delight shuddered through Luthor as she finished, “And I do hope she tries.”