It wasn’t the sound that made him look up. He didn’t even hear the engine until he’d been watching the car for a few seconds. It must have been the light, the time of day. Maybe just a gut feeling. It hadn’t been two weeks yet, and Jonathan Kent was already getting into the habit of looking up at half past three in time to see the old but reliable pick-up make its way past the fields from the town. Martha driving, their daughter in her car seat riding shotgun, on their way home from school.
But when the truck pulled up alongside the field rather than driving past on the way home, Jonathan knew there was something up. Instead of giving into the urge to drop everything and hurry over to the vehicle, he waited until Martha and Kara were out and walking through the zucchini towards him before he strolled over to meet them halfway.
“Hey there, Pumpkin.”
Kara was holding Martha's hand in one of her own, her bookbag trailing behind the other, and instead of looking up at her Pa, she was staring hard at her new-for-school sneakers. They were scuffed at the toes already, and working the ball of one into the dirt wasn’t helping keep it new. Every part of Kara’s tense little stubborn five year old body screamed 'I'm in trouble and it's not fair.'
Jonathan glanced up at Martha. Martha looked back at him, her lips tightly pressed together, and shrugged lightly. She didn’t look exactly sure whether she should be scolding Kara or praising her. That was presumably why they had come here: Martha wasn't usually a student of the 'wait 'til your father gets home' school form of discipline, so this was more like an impromptu family meeting.
“We had an incident at school,” she said. “And Kara insisted we come and tell you all about it. Isn’t that right, Kara?”
Now, Kara looked up at them, and reached her arms up tall towards Jonathan. “Pick me up.”
There was a moment of expectant silence.
“...please,” Kara added.
Jonathan reached down and scooped his daughter up in his arms. She probably wasn't tired: she rarely seemed to be, even now she was two weeks into kindergarten. One of Martha's book club friends warned them to expect a sulky exhausted little girl at the end of a hard day's letters and numbers and duck-duck-goose, but it hadn't happened yet.
When up on his hips, she wrapped her spindly legs around his waist and her arms around his shoulders, leaning back to look him in the face.
“We were talking about babies today.”
He'd have to be a fool not to see where this was going, and glanced briefly at Martha, whose grimace confirmed it.
“Miss Shuster asked us about when we were babies and I said you found me in a space ship.”
“And what did Miss Shuster say to that?”
They should have foreseen it, really. They should have made sure that Kara really understood that people wouldn't believe her. That it was okay to be adopted: plenty of children were, and that made them special because they were chosen. (Martha's book club friends gave her that line.) But Kara was extra extra special because she was from outer space and apparently they hadn't done a very good job at explaining just how special that made her.
Kara mumbled into his shoulder.
“What was that, Kara?”
“She said it was lovely.”
Martha stepped forward, lacing her fingers through Kara's thick blonde hair and elaborated. “She said it was lovely that Kara had such an active imagination but maybe she could tell the truth when it was time to tell the truth and save the stories for storytime.”
Kara's face scrunched up tightly. “But I was telling the truth!”
Jonathan bounced her once on his hip. “I know, Pumpkin. But, you see, you're the only person who has ever come from outer space. Some people just aren't ready to believe.”
“I didn't lie!”
“Well.” Another glance at Martha to make sure he was doing the right thing. “Maybe in future you should just say you're adopted, honey. And leave out why?” He hadn’t started the sentence intending for it to come out as a question, but there it was, asking Martha and asking Kara herself. This was a group decision.
“NO!” Kara screamed and bucked in his arms to signal how close she was to losing it. “I'm not a liar! I'm not! I'm not!”
Jonathan looked at Martha, helpless. She reached hastily and took Kara from him, which caused her to grunt under the weight. It wouldn't be long before Kara would be too heavy for Ma carries, Jonathan thought. She was probably too big to be demanding them, now. He wasn't happy with the inevitable thought that one day he himself wouldn't be able to carry his daughter.
His daughter. Because space alien or whatever she was, she was his daughter. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t got Martha pregnant. It didn’t matter that they never got around to driving out to Topeka and registering as prospective adoptive parents. One day, five years ago, a miracle had crashed into his cornfield: an unmistakable space ship, containing one tiny baby and some sort of computer recording telling them nothing but the baby’s name: Kara Jor-El.
Kara Kent, as the adoption papers now said.
Kara hung from Martha and Martha stroked her hair, glancing at Jonathan over the child’s shoulder. It will be okay, she signaled to him with a resigned smile.
“Maybe she has a point,” Martha said. “No one should have to lie about who they are, should they? I'll talk to Miss Shuster tomorrow.”
“They'll say we're crazy.”
“I don't care if they do. As long as they don't think our daughter's a liar.”
When Kara was seven years old, she hugged her parents so tight she thought she would burst. By the time she was thirteen, she placed her hands around them gently, scared that she really would break them if she wasn’t careful.
Coming upstairs to wash her hands before making dinner, Martha was greeted by her daughter standing in the door to her bedroom, holding out a hairbrush that had snapped cleanly in two at the neck. Kara’s other hand was on her cocked hip, her mouth twisted around to the side in a long suffering expression of ‘will you look at this?’
Puberty had hit Kara hard, but not nearly as hard as it had hit everything else. At first, Martha had thought it was just puberty, until she understood better. The headaches were from oversensitive hearing, the apparent outbursts of violence were actually, as Kara claimed from the beginning, things just snapping in her hands, and the aches were - probably - related to the changes going through her muscular and skeletal system right now.
(Two weeks ago, both Kara and Martha discovered that in some ways, Kara was very similar indeed to humans. And Martha brought a heat pad and a bowl of oatmeal to her bedroom and commiserated as her daughter complained: “I’m supposed to be special.” Martha didn’t say it at the time, but she thought that at least it meant they knew how this worked, and they could maybe avoid some unpleasant surprises in the future.)
Hairbrushes breaking against rapidly strengthening hair was among the least of their worries. Martha held out her hand, and Kara gave it to her, and it ended up in the trashcan, replaced in Martha Kent’s hands by her pruning shears.
“Don’t be like that, Kara. Unless you can think of a way to keep that long hair loose and knot-free on the farm, I’m not going to buy you any more hairbrushes.”
The pruning shears snapped at the blade halfway through and they switched to the tinshears to finish the job, Martha sitting on the milk stool by the barn, Kara hovering in the air in front of her. The conversation passed briefly over homework (done and ready to hand in) and settled, as it often did, on Kara’s infancy.
“I’ve been playing with the tablet,” Kara said, referring to the strange crystalline device that had told her Ma and Pa the name her biological parents had given her. “It’s some sort of computer.”
Martha wasn’t surprised Kara had figured it out, despite Martha’s own best attempts to do the same over thirteen years. Her daughter was soaring ahead at school: more than just gifted, she was capable of recalling everything perfectly after just one class, and it had been a struggle trying to find things to challenge her. Luckily she didn’t get bored easily, and returned from school bright eyed and eager to help out around the farm. But Martha would often find her daughter lying in a field - or more recently on the roof of the farmhouse or barn - staring up at the sky, and it wasn’t much of a leap to realize that her mind was drifting out into space, where she came from, trying to reach it.
Now, as Martha cut through her hair like it was made of steel wire, Kara started to explain the things she had seen in the tablet. Of hearing the name her first parents had given her - Kara Jor-El - of the people who looked so human that they might have been human if she didn’t know better. Of the strange symbol that kept recurring throughout.
“It looks like two fishes swimming in opposite directions on a shield,” Kara explained, holding out her fingers to show the way they were swimming. “I don’t know what it means but they thought a lot of it.”
And then, Kara’s voice took on a quieter tone, and she drew her feet closer to her chest, floating backwards towards Martha until she was almost on her mother’s lap.
“I think,” she said, “I can’t be sure until I’ve worked out all the language. But I think I know what happened, Ma. I think... I think the planet was destroyed. I think I’m the last one left.”
Martha dropped the tinshears onto the ground and wrapped her arms around her daughter. “Oh, Kara.”
“And I can’t stop thinking,” Kara continued, “about the famine on the news right now, and the flooding last month, and everything else... what if Earth is dying, too?”
“Oh,” said Martha, and hugged Kara even tighter, “Kara, honey, Earth isn’t dying. We might be struggling right now to feed everyone, but that’s what farming is all about, to make the best of what nature’s given us and feed everyone we can. This old planet will be around for some time yet.”
But for how long, though?
Later, Martha would say that’s when her own focus changed. She spent the first thirteen years wondering where Kara came from, and after one conversation by the cattle shed she started to wonder about how she could make this world good enough for the child that came to her from the Heavens.
The Kents had always been traditional farmers. When Kara was a teenager they switched almost entirely to organic, thinking long and hard about every decision they made. By the time Kara left for college in Metropolis, she left behind two vocal advocates for sustainable farming - one more vocal than the other.
The arrival of an alien in Metropolis was unsurprisingly huge news, and had the whole country - the whole world - glued to their TV screens as the blonde woman fought the sudden appearance of robots that were threatening the city.
Among the audience was Natasha Irons, the youngest ever graduate student at the Metropolis Institute of Technology. Although she was less ‘glued’ and more watching the news in the background while she was working on a prototype for a cybernetic arm for amputees. Though the TV didn’t have her full attention, she was still following it closely - an easy task for Natasha, who never had a problem processing a lot of information in a short time. The idea of a woman with this level of power caught Natasha’s imagination and wouldn’t let go. The TV said this “Power Girl” was an alien, but logically, Natasha thought, if those abilities were possible at all in the universe, there had to be a way to give them to humans.
She replayed the footage in her mind and put her blowtorch aside to scribble out some calculations, watching Power Girl give an interview. She talked about her great love for humanity and her desire to help the earth avoid the fate that cost her her home planet, and then talked briefly about her intention to feed the world. But one phrase caught Natasha’s ear and for a brief moment, got her full attention.
“I believe humanity has the potential to shine brighter than any star, and I want to be there to see it.”
The interviewer, James Olsen, made a comment about not shining as brightly as her, and Natasha gagged slightly in the back of her throat. But the woman got her attention with that line about humanity’s potential. Natasha looked back at her cybernetic arm, and decided to scrap that prototype. Replacing a lost arm was one thing, but the chance to make something better - that grabbed hold of her mind and wouldn’t let it go.
Tracking Kara Jor-El down wasn’t exactly going to be hard - she’d said on the news she was attending college in Metropolis, and while Natasha would know if she was at MIT, that still left three other colleges in the city. But Natasha didn’t rush the meeting: she wanted to perfect her armor first, and testing it against its inspiration could wait.
That is, until Power Girl punched a supervillain through her laboratory wall.
“Hey!” Natasha’s cry of protest was lost in the noise of the gray woman crashing into the components of what would be legs 2.06, destroying the table underneath. The woman let out a groan of fury and launched forward at the blur of white and blue that was bearing down on her, hitting Power Girl with enough force to send the Kryptonian flying back out onto the street. Natasha had wisely taken cover behind her workbench, but as soon as Power Girl and her opponent were out of her lab, she made a decision. She grabbed the undamaged legs 2.0 and the completed arm that was closest to her, and pulled them on as quickly as possible, all the while watching Power Girl fight this weird, gray woman out on the street in front of them, buildings crumbling around them. They were both looking tired, and Natasha wondered at what it might take to exhaust Power Girl. It could go either way, she thought, and if it goes against Metropolis’ favorite alien, it could mean her death.
The instant Natasha had her left arm and her legs reinforced, she scrambled to her feet, reaching for the weapon she’d been working on to complete the armor: a large, electromagnetically reinforced hammer. Struggling slightly in the body she wasn’t used to, she hurried out into the street as fast as she could, and levelled a heavy, powerful swing at the gray woman. The enemy hurtled through the air and landed at the base of an office building, from which she didn’t get up.
Power Girl was hovering in the air, still holding a hand back and ready to punch the woman she’d been fighting until Natasha stepped in. Now, her eyes wide with surprise, she offered a grateful - if uncertain - smile.
“Thanks for the assist,” she said. “Who...”
But introductions had to wait, as her head snapped up above them, and she flew upwards like a bullet to stop the office building falling on the street.
Natasha took her cue, and started to help with the clean up.
“Who was she?” she asked, hours later, as she sat next to Power Girl on a large pile of rubble, watching the last of the first responders drive away.
“She called herself Doomsday,” Kara replied. “She said she came from my home planet, but I’ll have to investigate that further, before I believe it.” Her mind was clearly on something else right then, however, as she looked at the wreckage and sighed. “Our fight nearly ruined the city. I’ll have to do something to help rebuild it. I came to the city to help.”
“You defeated a monster that had the power to kill all of us,” Natasha pointed out. “I think you helped.”
Kara glanced sideways at her companion. “I suppose I did, but I had help. Did you build that hammer yourself?”
“Sure did,” Natasha said brightly, stretching out her legs in front of her. “Made the legs and the arm, too.”
“Ever thought about going into medical prosthetics?” Kara didn’t seem to expect an answer. She reached out and touched two fingers lightly to the shield Natasha had cast into the surface of the hammer. “That’s the symbol of my family.”
“Is it?” Natasha asked, surprised and then figuring that she didn’t have to know everything. “I knew it was associated with you: I saw it on a documentary. Why don’t you wear it?”
Kara looked down at her costume. “I didn’t want to have anything overtly Kryptonian on show,” she said. “Ma figured I’d want to look as relatable as possible: and that means emphasizing how human I am, not how alien.”
There was a pause.
“Your Ma made that outfit?”
Kara grinned. “Pa hates it.”
“I’m not surprised.” But, Natasha would admit, it definitely looked like an outfit that was free to move in. She looked back at her hammer. “I drew it on,” she explained, “because it was associated with you: because it is alien. I wanted to show that humans could be as powerful and as strong as an alien, even Power Girl.”
Kara took a moment to think about this.
“I think,” she said finally, “that I like that use. I’d like it if you kept on using it.”
Of course, Kara had to graduate from college before she could really put her plans for Metropolis into effect. After her fight with Doomsday she got in contact with the City Council to brainstorm ideas so she could avoid such damage in the future. But only once she had graduated and founded her own business - Starware, after her original home in the stars - did she really go forward with her ideas for a radical transformation of her new home into the City of Tomorrow. Natasha, by this point, had also graduated and moved her own lab back to her home city, as different from Metropolis as it was possible to be, and with a very different protector.
At least, it had had a protector, until that protector finally met Kara.
“Who does she think she is?”
“She thinks she’s Power Girl.”
Barbara and Carrie’s evenings together had changed dramatically in the past month. No more pretending to party late into the night, no more sneaking out of their bedroom windows. No more spending time alone together in their bedrooms: their parents had collectively decided this wasn’t something they could be trusted with.
This evening that meant hanging out in Carrie’s living room in front of an episode of Wendy the Werewolf Stalker. Barbara was lying on the couch with her laptop propped on her bent knees in front of her. Carrie was sitting on the rug, painting her toenails red and green and airing her grievances about a certain ex-superhero of their acquaintance.
“It’s just so unfair. Not everyone has super mega understanding parents like she obviously has. Just because we don’t have bulletproof skin and heat vision doesn’t mean we can’t help.”
“She didn’t bar us from helping,” Barbara pointed out, “our parents did.” She was really only giving half her attention to the conversation (and even less to the TV), otherwise she’d be more inclined to agree with Carrie’s complaints about how ridiculously narrow-minded Power Girl had been to drag them back to their parents and face the inevitable grounding.
But with her heart not in the protest, she was able to be more pragmatic: Power Girl did have a tendency to wear honesty like armor. ‘I’ve always been upfront about my purpose’ here and ‘I never lie’ there. She might be invulnerable to bullets, but she was an alien and easy to distrust. More than that, Barbara thought, she was from the Midwest, and was probably pathologically incapable of lying. Barbara had to admire that, when she wasn’t distracted by being angry at her.
“What’s with you?” Carrie sounded annoyed that Barbara wasn’t instantly agreeing with everything she said, and rolled over to the couch, keeping her wet toenails up and clear of the rug. She lifted her neck and strained to look at the computer screen. “What are you doing?”
“I,” Barbara said, lowering her voice in case her aunt and uncle were listening, “am tracking all the movements in Osma Cobblepot’s accounts for the last month.”
Carrie froze, staring at Barbara. “How?” Beat. “Why?”
“Because,” Barbara replied, not looking up, “I am sure - actually as of this minute I’m certain - that she’s been involved in the legal shipping of arms into the city, and as I can’t go out and B-A-T-“ She spelled the word just in case talking about it would summon an adult, “I figured if I cut off the money transfer in one direction it would slow the arms dealing in the other. And while I’m here, she’s got offshore accounts I’m sure she hasn’t claimed with the IRS. What’s your favorite charity?”
“The Wayne Foundation,” Carrie said without a second thought.
Barbara pushed her hair over her shoulder looked at her cousin. “I wonder why. I thought you didn’t like good little rich boys?”
“Bruce Wayne is different,” Carrie protested. “He’s really got that tall and dark thing going on, even if he smiles too much.”
“And now his dad is handing over the company to him?”
“Pfffft!” Carrie blew her dyed bangs out of her face expressively. “The doesn’t come into it.”
Anyway, as secure as the Wayne Foundation was, they could always do with a large donation from an anonymous donor, and that made Barbara’s internal smile even wider: The Penguin could neither report the theft nor claim credit for the donation without flapping and squawking and drawing attention to her illegal activities. Barbara had wanted to get her into Blackgate Women’s Penitentiary for ages now, but for now she would have to satisfy herself with making Osma’s life as difficult as possible.
Carrie was now kneeling, her arms folded on top of the couch arm, her lower lip sticking out. “No fair. You’re B-A-T-ing without me.”
“Sorry.” And she winced; she really was sorry that she couldn’t include Carrie in this. “It’s the best I could do.”
Carrie’s pout disappeared, replaced by a mischievous grin. “That’ll show Power Girl that she can’t keep B and R down!”
Barbara smiled, and she wasn’t entirely sure why, until she realized that she really was secretly hoping that Kara would notice, and that she’d be impressed.
Kara Zor-El hung in the air above Metropolis and hugged her arms to her chest as she looked out on the city her cousin had created.
Kara - the other Kara - seemed so at home on Earth. So self-assured and confident, like this was where she belonged. The crest of El was displayed clearly on the roof of her research building, declaring to the skies that this was where the House lived now, with the head - Power Girl, they called her - firmly ensconced as the planet’s savior and idol. And Kara, who was supposed to be her guide and her leader in their task to stop Brainiac, had been less than useless in that fight: she’d actually turned against her cousin. Now the fight was over, she found herself suddenly without purpose on a planet she barely knew.
She looked down at the crest now, and through it to where her cousin was finishing up a meeting with a Dr Holt about a new project. As the scientist shook hands and left, Kara Jor-El glanced up and met Kara Zor-El's gaze through three floors and a roof. A few minutes later, Power Girl was flying out of one of those windows made deliberately big enough for the purpose, and came up to join her cousin in her watch over the city.
"Great view, isn't it?" Power Girl said. "I'm so glad I've got someone to share it with now."
Kara smiled briefly. She knew her cousin was just making small talk to try and cheer her up. And it worked, a little. Being able to fly on Earth felt like it was never going to get old. It was easily the best thing about being here. But her cousin was watching her now, with a concerned look on her face. Even though they both had the ability to see through solid walls, Kara couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being examined from the inside.
When the lack of an answer became an extended silence, Kara squirmed slightly.
“What do we do now?” she said. “Brainiac’s been defeated, I’ve got no purpose, other than to fly over your company and watch you have meetings.”
The concerned look didn’t go away, but an answer wasn’t offered immediately, either. Instead, Power Girl held out a hand and Kara placed a red glove in a blue one.
“Come on,” the older Kara said, “I want you to meet someone.”
‘Someone’ turned out to be Steel - Natasha - who didn’t seem particularly pleased to see either of them, but wasn’t very hostile either. She just carried on working on her arsenal while exchanging small talk with Power Girl, whose questions soon became pointed enough that Kara could see where they were going.
“What made you decide to help people in the first place?”
“We talked about this years ago,” Natasha said, “when I first started. I wanted to prove that humans could be as - hmm - as ‘powerful’ as you. And I couldn’t let Doomsday kill you, could I?”
Kara tried hard not to look at the crest of El that Steel was wearing, but she found it difficult. “Your armor is made of a really complicated alloy,” she put in, having picked up a piece and examined the molecular structure (and she tried not to give away how much it was still amazing to do this with her naked eye). “Why do you call yourself Steel?”
Natasha didn’t look up. “Because the Iron Lady was too reminiscent of a certain British Prime Minister.”
Kara looked at her cousin, who said: “I’ll give you some Earth History books when we get home.”
“Anyway,” Natasha continued, “Steel begins with an S.”
Another questioning look, this one getting a blanker look in reply. Natasha looked up, from Kara to Kara, and shook her head in disdain, leaning over to tap the crest meaningfully. “S.”
“That’s not an S,” Kara protested.
“Sure looks like one.”
Kara didn’t know what to say to that, but she handed the armor back, saying: “I think you can improve the design a bit if you change the concentration of carbon.” Natasha nodded, curtly.
“Okay,” Kara told her cousin as they flew out of Steel’s laboratory, “I get it, you think I should help you and the other League members. And I want to. I want to save the Earth from any threats that arise. But what if it goes wrong like it did with Brainiac?”
Power Girl paused, hovering in the air beside her cousin, and reached out a hand to her again, her glove brushing Kara’s forehead into her long hair.
“We’ll just have to make sure it won’t,” she said. “You’re a Kryptonian, Kara. There is much that could hurt or kill any of the humans in this business that wouldn’t even touch you.”
They were over Gotham still, and Kara looked down at the strange, arch-dominated skyline as if she could pick out a certain other pair of cousins in the city full of Earthlings. “Batgirl and Robin didn’t even have Steel’s armor or the Amazon’s strength,” she said, adding: “Do you think they’ll ever be back in costume?”
“I don’t doubt it for a second,” said Power Girl. “It takes more than parental decree to stop Batgirl. In the meantime, she can catch up on her schoolwork, and I just hope she doesn’t hate me when she comes back.”
Kara looked over at her, about to make a comment about how much Batgirl’s regard meant to her cousin, then she realized that everyone’s regard meant a lot to Kara Jor-El. No matter how long she’d been here on Earth, she was still a Kryptonian. And even though she probably didn’t feel that constant ache that Kara Zor-El did at knowing that the home she knew for fifteen years had been destroyed, she also didn’t have that sense of connection that came from having grown up there.
Kara Zor-El had seen this displacement in her cousin’s constant attempts to blend Kryptonian art with Earth cultures. Kara Jor-El was an alien on Earth, Kara Kent had never known Krypton outside of her onboard computer.
Kara smiled at her cousin then, warm and fond. They had each other, she tried to say.
“Okay,” said Power Girl. “One more person to meet.”
it was night by the time the girls were flying over Bludhaven, and Power Girl picked up the speed, with Kara following, so that they would be difficult to see by humans below. She led them to a high rise apartment building, and let herself in through the balcony door into an apartment.
Inside, a dark haired woman was working on a desk, but when her balcony door opened, she rolled off her chair and snapped up a crossbow in one fluid movement. She crouched behind the desk and pointed her weapon at them for a second before she saw who they were.
“Oh,” she said, standing and letting the arm with the crossbow drop to her hip, “it’s you.”
“Hello, Helena,” Power Girl said, smiling warmly as she perched on the arm of the apartment’s couch. “Sorry I didn’t call ahead.”
Kara found ‘Helena’ hard to read - she didn’t seem particularly happy to see Power Girl, but she didn’t protest the way the Kryptonian made herself comfortable. Kara herself stayed by the door as her new acquaintance looked her over.
“This is your cousin? You get that mind control out of your system, kid?”
Kara nodded quickly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re here.”
Helena glanced at Power Girl, sighed, and leaned back against her desk, moving a pile of what Kara thought looked like notebooks, all, as far as she could tell, written by different people.
“Probably doing the rounds, meeting everyone in the business,” she said, glancing at Power Girl for confirmation. “Pleased to meet you, Junior. I’m the Huntress.”
“You’re not joining the League?”
Huntress flashed her a dry, toothy grin. “I’m not a team player.”
“Actually, Helena,” Power Girl spoke up, “that’s only partly why I’m here. Kara’s completely new to Earth.”
“...and from what I gather, most of her training on Krypton was specific to preventing Brainiac,” she continued, glancing at Kara with an unmistakable expression of pride. “But she’s scientifically gifted, and a really quick study. I was thinking college might be a good thing to keep her busy between saving the world.”
“And you wanted me to tutor her for her GED.”
“....and I wanted you to tutor her for her GED.”
Helena’s dry smile took on an element of warmth as she looked Kara over again. Kara must have looked confused because she explained: “it’s an exam that means you are at the equivalent of someone finishing high school, and ready to start college. I assume you’re on board with wanting to go?”
Kara glanced at her cousin, flashing annoyance. “You could have asked, cousin.” But she turned back to Helena, and nodded. “I think I’d like that, if you have time.”
Helena looked at the pile on her desk. “Sure, what’s one more?” she said. “Okay, kid, be here at 5pm tomorrow and we’ll get started.”
“Count on it!”
Helena glanced down quickly at the El crest on Kara’s chest, and grinned again.
Something was different, and Karen wasn’t sure what it was. It had been different since the Justice League defeated Sinestra, but whatever it was, no one else had noticed. She’d checked everything in her life and in the world, and everything was how she remembered. But at the same time, everything was off.
“Hey dreamer, get your head out of the stars and back to writing before Perry catches you.”
Lois Lane was leaning on the top of Karen’s computer screen, looking down at her with an expression of stretched patience. “You and me have to leave to cover this stupid non-story in fifteen minutes, and I don’t want to wait because you’ve not reached word count yet.”
Karen blinked behind her glasses and turned her gaze back to her work. “You think it’s a non-story?” she asked, curious.
“Of course it is.” Lois rolled her eyes and sat down on the edge of Karen’s desk, rifling through her pen-pot until she found a nail file that Karen never used, but kept in there for the look of the thing. “It’s 2013. We shouldn’t care who some politician is sleeping with. As long as they’re all adults and its consensual, which it is, on this rare occasion.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Karen agreed mildly. “But it’s a big topic right now, it’s relevant to current events. And it’s still important, even now. It’s not really about who, is it? It’s about identity and standing up to the world and declaring ‘this is me, I am here.’”
“It’s about declaring ‘I haven’t had much publicity lately and next year’s an election year.’”
“Wow, Lois. You’re cynical, aren’t you?”
“And you’re still as naive as you were when you arrived from the farm, Smallville.” Lois rolled her eyes again, affecting boredom with the conversation. “The question is, if visibility and identity is so important, why keep it a secret until now?”
Karen found herself looking at the photoframe next to where Lois was sitting - Ma and Pa Kent standing on the farm in Kansas, smiling and waving at the girl about to leave for the big city. And she thought about that photo of Barbara she kept at home because she hadn’t figured out a story for how she knew a librarian from Gotham.
“Because sometimes, with secrets - it’s not about the secret, but about the world’s reaction to it. And sometimes it’s not about protecting yourself, but the people you love,” she said.
“I know that!” Lois snapped. “My point is, these things are no one’s business, so why make a big deal about it anyway?” When Karen looked up again, Lois was staring at her with a piercing gaze that never failed to make her squirm.
Does she know? she asked herself for the hundredth time. She met Lois’ gaze gently, waiting for her to look away. Which she did, appearing suddenly to make up her mind about something.
“Come on, Smallville. Time’s up. We can debate this in the car. In private.”