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Good Scotch and Bad Nights

Chapter Text

 

The war lasts just over two weeks. Victory is never assured.

Ships sink, planes crash, and armies burn. A small, low yield tactical nuke fired at sea first seems to work only to have a creature rise up from the water and lumber out of the rolling clouds. It later burns, but only after Superman, Batman, and a metahuman whose name is never known all battle to the point of collapse.Superman nearly succumbs and Batman is badly burned and dragged off the field of battle. The nameless metahuman uses her powers to light the final fire that destroys the creature.

She dies in the same fire, keeping it ramped up and burning hot.

It won’t be the last loss.

Military might fails in the opening hours and such heroes and heroics prove to be the only successful bulwark against the creatures. More metahumans come out of the woodwork to fight, some heroes, some villains, many civilians long in hiding, but when the world you’re living on is threatened, old sins and angers, undocumented status, and even murder, become far less important.

Whatever they were, they become heroes out of necessity.

It’s a hauntingly fraught time for a war where no direct threats are made, major population centers are mostly left alone and the vast majority of civilians face little personal danger.

But everyone knows it’s the first phase of a war in which the least accepted on the planet become its first and only line of defense.

If the heroes fail, earth will fall.

What exactly is happening, no one knows. No one claims credit or issues threats. The creatures have no discernible origin, arrive like asteroids falling from the sky, and burn so completely that no evidence is left behind. They arrive at intervals ranging from minutes to hours, always at sea within a hundred or so miles of a city. Given the human industries that flourish near water, the nearness could be coincidence or a plot too large to offer clear evidence of a tactic. Either way, there’s no good answer.

It means the possible field of battle covers most of the planet and so many diverse militaries, some of them already at war, that they can only spread their forces thin, try to keep enough peace to resist killing each, and travel to whatever appears within range at best speed. It doesn’t make for good strategy or cohesive forces. More than one fatality is inflicted by their own forces. With the planet on the line, they can only do their best and try to cool longstanding national conflicts.

Alex and Kara have little awareness of those wider issues in the opening hours. They simply know they’re cruising south along the California coastline in search a lava monster--the nickname will stick. The biggest change from the first fight is they have a bit of a plan this time, new ammo, and a fire retardant suit for Alex to wear under her armor.

It's too new for more than that. 

The first evidence they see of their target is the front half of a shattered boat sticking up out of the water. Kara spots a conning tower on the sea floor a short distance away. She can read a name and numbers. It only takes Vaquez a few minutes to discover its identity. She’s the USS Star City, the latest thing in high speed, coast hugging US navy patrol boats. A  Mark VII, she's designed to deliver and withstand heavy damage. She wouldn’t go down easy.

When the pilot asks if they need to notify coast guard rescue, Kara's voice shakes as she says simply, "No...no survivors."

Alex doesn't need any special vision to see why. The body parts floating on the water tell the tale.

As they follow the gruesome trail of breadcrumbs, they spot the remains of two more fast attack boats and their crews before they make audio contact with a fourth boat, the USS Gotham. The update from her captain is fast and blunt. They were on patrol when the first boat encountered the creature. The others converged to join the fight.

They never had a chance.

His boat was last to arrive and by then the fight was over. With nothing to be done for the dead, he made the decision flee. His craft’s engines are damaged and she’s taking on water. They’re limping away at best speed in an effort to lure the thing away from its most likely target, the naval base in San Diego where much of the Pacific Fleet is trying to get under way, but is currently helpless in port. They can get it to follow by firing on it, but when they try to draw it out to sea, it breaks off and turns south if they go too far. In deeper water, it sinks out of sight, but comes up again in the shallows, so drowning isn’t an option.

The captain is hoping to make it as far as Camp Pendleton at Oceanside, roughly twenty miles north. He’s hoping the marines stationed there have something that can damage the creature, but is also very aware that Oceanside has a far smaller population at risk and the marines quartered there will have time to prep for a fight. He’s been delaying what he could, but it’s an imperfect plan at best.

Alex understands too well. He’s facing something he knows he can’t beat, so he’s making it up as he goes along and hoping something will work.

She’s been there.

Meanwhile, the marines at Pendleton know what’s coming and are scrambling, but they have no heavy armament and it's nearly impossible to coordinate anything due to unreliable communications. Anything close is fairly clear--Kara and Alex's comms are bit noisy, but they can maintain voice communications--but the farther away, the more signals degrade. As a result, the captain is frank. If Supergirl or the DEO have any ideas, they’re welcome to offer them. The president has ordered all available forces to cooperate.

Alex wants to ask about Cat, but it’s not the time. The thing bearing down on the fleeing ship is the only priority. She can only offer what little information she has and suggest they maintain best speed.

“Head out to sea,” Kara suddenly orders, her tone brisk.

“But, Ma’am—” the captain starts to argue.

“Keep going when it breaks off,” Kara instructs and directs a pointed look at her sister. “And don’t look back.”

Alex nods her understanding. They’ve fought together enough times they don’t need to discuss what’s next. “We’ll take care of it from there,” she adds firmly, deliberately using her ‘command voice’. Military types tend to take orders when she uses that voice.

“Are you sure?” the captain asks, but the boat is already starting her turn.

“We’ll keep herding it north. You turn south,” Alex orders even as Kara takes flight. She stays in contact, offering updates as she tracks the thing and hunts for the right moment. It doesn't take long before the thing stops tracking the ship to turn inland and south, once again aiming toward San Diego.It doesn't drop out of sight, but the water is up to its shoulders.

"I'll give it a few more minutes," Kara says simply as she follows its path. "Let the ship get a little more distance."

"It's a boat, Kara." Alex wouldn't usually bother with the correction, but they need something unimportant to fill the time and the military patina the DEO has given her is as good a topic as anything.

"I thought navy vessels were ships."

"Nope. It's about size. Ships are large, like an aircraft carrier. Boats are smaller..." She trails off, not wanting to mention what they've seen. "There's an easy way to remember it," she says to shift the topic. "Ships can carry boats, boats can't carry ships."

Kara uh-huhs, but it's a distracted response and Alex can tell she's watching something by the sudden tension in her body language. "Pull the chopper back!" she snaps.

The creature abruptly surges higher as it steps onto  higher ground and water sluices away from the black-rock body. In just a few strides, it goes from being submerged to its shoulders to having its upper body free.

"I think the boat's had enough time to get some distance now." Kara adds extra emphasis on the word boat. It's an old habit from when they were teens and Alex would correct her mastery of English slang. It was passive aggressive as hell then. Now it's just a joke of sorts. "I'm going in." She adds an exclamation point on the update by diving straight at the creature and hammering at it as hard as she can.

It shudders, but doesn’t slow its methodical march toward land. Pulling back, she circles, gaining momentum before slamming into it again.

She knocks it northward, but it spins with its momentum and strikes back with a fast, lashing swing. Though slowed by deep water, it still summons enough power to send her spinning.

It’s a battle Alex can’t help fight. The water may not be as deep, but it's still too deep for her. Over open water, with no solid land from which to operate, her armor is a detriment more likely to drag her under than save her.

With little else she can do, she hangs out the open door of the DEO helicopter in hopes of gathering more intelligence and maybe even spotting an opportunity to fire on the creature.

While it leaves Kara fighting alone, it gives Alex time to study the thing. The water slows it, and it clearly prefers the shallows where it can move faster, but it’s not a dealbreaker. It can and will fight wherever it has to. To her eyes, it looks the same as the first one, several stories tall, its outer ‘skin’ the same, craggy, cold-lava shade of black, still remarkably quick and agile for something so bulky,  and just as relentless.

She has the new incendiary. It's supposed to have more power, but her supply is limited and it seems pointless to fire on the thing when she sees nothing to aim for and has no hope of it working. While it's tempting to rush into something, she has enough experience to know that's a mistake. It’s starting to feel hopeless when Kara gets knocked away and flies back into the fight. She comes in from a higher angle and its swing is a little slow and little low. Not much, but enough that it misses her, if only by inches. Kara’s cape brushes it, but she’s untouched.

In that moment, Alex sees a flaw in the design. The thing is so broad and bulky, the rocky flesh so thick and protective, the creature doesn’t have a full range of motion in the shoulders and upper arms.

Kara makes a second pass from the same angle, getting in a fast blow without taking a hit this time and Alex sees another flaw. The head’s too broad, the neck too thick to let it tip back much. From what she can tell it’s got great peripheral vision, but can’t see much above or below eye level without moving its moving its shoulders. It also seems to have lousy depth perception and counts on speed rather than planning to strike at moving targets.

More flaws, she realizes. If it really is a design, and not a living creature, it’s not perfect. It reminds her of something, but she doesn’t have time to contemplate it. “Kara,” she snaps to get her sister’s attention. “Attack from above. It’s got lousy reach and I think it has vision issues.”

“It doesn’t hit like it has lousy reach,” Kara complains.

“Trust me.”

“Always,” Kara mutters and changes her angle of attack to put the new theory to use. She lands a series of solid blows and mostly dodges any return strikes. With the new tactic she manages to control its movement without taking as many hits as before. As they reach the shallows, she pounds on it from ever changing angles until it suddenly stumbles.

Kara comes around, clearly hoping for a better shot, but it comes up faster than she expects, forcing her to change her angle of attack.

It responds by pivoting, giving Alex a new view of its back.

Dark brows crease into a frown as she spots what looks like a trail of red spilling down from its shoulder. It’s the color of drying blood, dark and rich, but also crystalline and glowing softly.

It’s subtle enough that Alex has to use binoculars to confirm her suspicions.

She watches carefully for a long moment, then nods. It's what Cat described. She’s sure of it and when she sees the red brighten, briefly glowing like a coal spark, she knows what she has to do. Nearly frantic, she shoves the binoculars into a waiting hand before taking aim. “Shooting at its back,” she warns Kara even as presses the trigger.

Her weapon is far more accurate than the makeshift version Cat had. It runs straight and true and she sees a tiny puff of smoke when it hits, then a spark.

Then Kara lashes out, her cape briefly obscuring the nascent glint. It’s still there as she comes back around.

Alex is hoping it’s the beginning of a conflagration, especially when the creature lets out a furious roar and swings wildly at Kara.

Maybe this just got a whole lot easier.

Then Kara lashes out again. She seems so small against the rocky figure she’s fighting, but Alex knows the power behind that fist. Even so, she’s startled by the liquid ripple that shudders through the creature. Rock shouldn’t move like that.

It’s a warning of sorts. Something is very different from from the model she built in her head. She’s no engineer, but she understands physics well enough to restructure her expectations on the fly.

Instinct tells her what’s coming almost before it happens.

The spark fizzles and dies.

“Nonono,” she hisses, hunting desperately for some sign that she’s wrong and the fire’s still there. She’s so focused she briefly loses track of Kara in the swirl of jet black limbs and brightly colored fabrics. That’s why it takes her an extra moment to spot her sister when she spins away in a wild tumble.

Then Kara catches herself and pulls up short, signaling she’s back in control. Alex knows her well enough to realize she’s hurting, which mean the quick solution she'd hoped for just got harder again. The fight's going to be another long one and Kara’s taking such a beating. A quick handwave brings Vasquez her way. She's been running back and forth to facilitate communications with the pilot. Yeah, they have audio, but sometimes hand signals help clarify things.

“We need to fly over the creature,” Alex orders. “Stay high enough to be above its leaping range.” She can’t help but remember how fast the CatCo helicopter went down after the impact with a massive stone arm. Cat survived, she reminds herself as she fights the memory of watching the chopper break apart like a poorly constructed tinkertoy. Kara got her out. Search and Rescue will get to her in time, probably already has her safe and sound in a hospital far from the ocean.

It’s a mental battle to push off the guilt of not checking on the other woman personally, even though she knows she has a job to do.

She had to put the world ahead of any individual.

It still hurts and tears at her guts even if she can’t let herself consider it too closely. She has a job to do after all.

Knowing Vasquez and the pilot will handle positioning the helicopter, she pivots away from the open door, hands quick and sure as she rifles through the equipment lockers before coming up with what she needs. The crash axes she finds come from the helicopter’s emergency gear. Designed for escaping a downed aircraft, they make wicked weapons in a pinch. Both the blades and handles are titanium, so they’re light and tougher than steel. Under pressure, they should bend, not break, and the vicious, sawtoothed blades and penetrating spikes are wicked sharp and should hold their edges.

Perfect weapons for hunting monsters.

She finds a couple of holsters meant to hang them from a belt and quickly ties them down.

“Ma’am?” Vasquez steps back where she can see Alex’s efforts. She sounds very nervous about the whole prospect. “If you hit the water...”

“Kara needs help,” Alex snaps.

“I’m good,” Kara insists over the radio link, though she sounds anything but. “And there’s no platform to work from down here.” She’s breathing hard.

That decides it for Alex because Kara never gets winded.

“There’s one,” Alex disagrees, already moving. “And I need a close up view anyway.” She unclips herself from the safety line, takes two running steps, and leaps, Vasquez’s frustrated shout receding in her wake.

“Ma’am!”

For a moment, she almost understands what Kara must feel when she flies. The armor doesn’t let her do that, but she can make a wild leap without fear and as the wind rushes past, she can almost imagine she’s in control of her path. Then the creature’s coming up fast and she throws her arms wide, hoping to slow her descent just enough to better position herself. Another couple of seconds pass then she’s slamming into that impossibly broad back. Thankfully, the armor doesn’t just artificially enhance her strength, there’s also some kind of dampening field that lessens any forces acting on her. She feels the impact, but nothing breaks. Aside from a slight jarring sensation, she’s okay. Grabbing hold, she moves higher, already leaning in close in an effort to get a better look.

It’s harder than hell to see much when the damn thing keeps moving and she finds herself muttering under her breath. “Goddamned space monsters come to town looking for a fight and won’t even sit the fuck still so a scientist can get a fucking look.”

She might be a little annoyed, but she doesn’t give any orders. She knows Kara has other problems and she's smart enough to figure out the plan when she has time.

Kara, however, gets the point. She almost immediately starts darting this way, her flybys close enough that the monster swings for her, but doesn’t have to pursue her. She’s keeping it as still as she can without getting or returning blows. She’s giving Alex time.

“Atta girl,” Alex offers by way of praise as she clings, monkey like with one hand. The surface is craggy and laced with deep pits and cracks that are nearly invisible from a distance. They give her plenty of finger and toe holds as she moves from point to point in an effort to find any clues as to how it works.

There’s a glow to it, she realizes. Nothing obvious, especially in bright sunlight, but as she watches, she can see shifting shadows and highlights on the surface. Or maybe under it. She can understand why Cat thought it was blood from a distance. It does seem to be moving and following similar patterns to the human circulatory system.

“I’m not going to be able to keep it this still for long,” Kara warns her.

Able to feel the way it’s shifting from foot to foot and randomly bracing itself, Alex knows she’s right. “Just do your best.”

Then Kara must dart because the thing ducks sideways and swings an arm wildly, moving so fast Alex is nearly tossed off. She catches herself and pulls her body back in close, but it puts her nearer to its shoulder. As she hangs there, she sees how the arm extension has opened up a seam or maybe just a thin spot that gleams red. The light is dim in full sun, but now that she looks close, it’s distinct. Like the joint attaching a Barbie doll’s arm to the shoulder, it runs all the way around, though it’s not perfectly straight and neat. The mechanism underneath must be more complex since it lets it rotate more than one direction, but there are definite limitations.

While they were flying here, she listened to recordings of the minutes while she and Kara were out of contact uploaded from the DEO. It literally hurt to hear Cat’s fear and desperation and took everything she had to listen all the way through.

Now she's grateful for the woman's efforts to share every bit of what she saw because she recognizes the veining and red glow on the creature’s chest and neck where the fire began. Looking up, she studies what she can see from her vantage point. There’s a hint of color variance, but it’s hard to tell how much is real and how much she might be imagining it because she wants to see it so badly. “Can you get it to tip its head back?” she asks and scrambles higher. As far as she can tell, the thing is unaware of her.

Kara sounds doubtful, but manages a tired, “Maybe.”

If anyone else offered a reply that weak, Alex would be scared, but she knows her sister well enough to be confident she’ll get it done. Kara has her failings, but she’s reliable in a fight. Which is why Alex makes sure her hands and feet are secure and braces herself.

She’s ready when the creature suddenly lurches sideways and into the air as Kara does a flyby. It misses and crashes back down, splashing enough water that Alex feels the spray even up where she is.

Then Kara delivers a fast punch to the thing’s head before sweeping into a tight spiral that takes her almost straight up. Alex tightens her grip, clinging as the thing tips its head back and shakes it wildly, bellowing in fury. Suddenly Kara drops, kicking it hard in the head before she darts straight up again, holding its attention and sparking its rage.

Alex just shakes her head. Trust her little sister to know how to piss off the monsters. She’s teasing it, keeping it busy, but not hitting with anywhere near her full strength. She’s already tried that and achieved nothing of any import, now she’s going straight up and dropping back to keep it more or less in one place, buying Alex a chance to watch how it moves.
Now that she knows what to look for, Alex quickly spots another seam, this time running a rough track all the way around the head. She leaps, grabbing at the rocky surface and pulling herself up as fast as she can move. Another leap, grab, and pull and suddenly she’s where she needs to be.

She finally finds the red mottling she was hoping to see. Up close, it’s a wider channel than expected, the color and brightness more varied than it appeared from a distance. The rock layer cracks, and almost seems to reform as the thing moves. The red joints narrow and widen at a steady rate, the tempo matching its moves.

Clinging with one hand, she pulls a crash axe free and swings for one of the creases in the rock with the full strength of the armor.

The axe knocks a mere chip free, but the titanium blade and handle both hold up to the stress. Another swing doesn’t do as much damage as the first, but the axe is still holding strong. She keeps swinging, angling the blade back and forth like a lumberjack cutting a notch in a tree in order to fell it. She’s aware of Kara darting this way and that, keeping it busy without even trying to do much damage.

Tiny shards of crystalline black rock shatter and fly away while she relentlessly swings the tool until even with the armor’s enhanced strength, her muscles start to ache and her back is in agony.

Despite the pain, her focus remains absolute. Alex loses track of everything, but the growing ditch she’s cutting and the progressively brightening shades of red buried deep inside coal black rock.

“Alex,” Kara finally says loudly enough to break her concentration. “This isn’t gonna work much longer!”

Alex just grunts and heaves the axe. It’s the hardest swing yet, but as the blade hits the thinning layer of solidified lava something new happens as cracks trail away from the axe, looking like ice cracking on a glowing, crimson river. Alex moves to pull the axe back, but it momentarily sticks like it’s caught in some kind of sucking gelatin.

An alien powered yank pulls it free and Alex doesn’t pause before swinging again. Rather than chip rock, this time the blade cuts deep, slicing a gash in the bright red mass that surges up through an expanding crack.

It reveals a fathoms deep glow that seems to originate from the very center of the creature.

Alex can only stare.

“It’s moving!” Kara suddenly shouts.

At the same time Alex notices how hot the air around her has become and the way it shimmers just above the gleaming red surface. Thankfully, she's taken using gear under the armor. It's not the heaviest grade out there, but she’s wearing a nomex bodysuit. It’s the same stuff jet pilots and race car drivers wear to protect them from the super hot flames that can flare up during crashes. No longer so focused, she suddenly becomes aware of how hot the rock under her hand is. Even with protective gloves, she can feel the heat rising. “Kara, it’s—”

“Alex!” Kara’s warning shout comes a scant beat before she flies back in to start hitting again, slamming the creature sideways.

Stupid mistake, Alex realizes as she’s forced to cling desperately to avoid being flung off. She got too involved in what she was seeing and lost track of the fight.

Not smart in such a dangerous environment.

With her view obscured she’s not sure what’s happened, but she knows Kara’s gone back to hitting because that blow is powerful enough to jar the creature and nearly send it toppling.

It’s a terrifying ride and it takes self control not to leap clear on pure instinct as a horrible sound echoes off the water. It’s part scream, part glass breaking, and it heralds a boulder shattering tremor that shakes the creature like a localized earthquake. It’s akin to nothing Alex has ever seen, a liquid ripple that has no place moving through what seems like brittle rock.

The sight holds her rapt, challenging a brain that loves this kind of thing to put all the clues together.

She recognizes the perfect sine wave that ripples through the creature from physics classes, but can’t quite make the puzzle pieces all fit in her head. There’s no time to worry about it when another Supergirl powered blow sends the creature skidding. Time to worry about more practical matters, like not getting thrown off. Catching herself, she swings back around in time to see the split in black rock deepen, the movement peeling the gelatinous red apart along the same line. A delicate fire flickers across the gleaming surface. It’s so faint and low that it reminds her of Sterno and the way it burns almost invisibly under bright lights.

“It’s trying to get back to shore again!” Kara shouts in warning, barely giving Alex time to stabilize herself before she lashes out again.

As Alex watches, the red surface compresses like warm clay being smashed by an overeager sculptor. The crimson gel adheres to itself almost instantly and in no more than a second it melts back together, becoming one lump instead of two.

As she watches, helpless to do anything to prevent it, the red seals itself, the surface quickly cooling back to a dull shade of that darkens with every passing second.

The fire is gone, robbed of oxygen and doused. There isn’t even a smoke trail.

“No.” Alex’s voice is soft, her tone disbelieving, then she shakes herself, throwing off any panic to call out, “Kara, don’t hit it anymore!”

“What?!” Kara gasps, her confusion obvious.

“It’s...” Alex doesn’t know how to explain what she just saw, though she knows she needs to find a way. If something happens to her, they can’t afford to lose any new information. She has a momentary sense of how Cat must have felt in those panicked moments when she tried to get that last message out. “It’s soft inside, probably molten. Compressing it...it just sticks it back together and snuffs any fire...” She leans closer, watching the way the area she cracked open is already hardening. “It may have just been sheer fucking luck before. We’ve gotta tear it apart, not push it back together.” She hears a soft utterance she recognizes as a Kryptonian curse, though Kara’s never explained its exact meaning. She really should ask sometime when they aren’t both on the brink of dying. “This is already out...I damaged it and there was fire...but now...it’s...it’s not...maybe I can,” Alex mumbles, her thoughts scattered and disjointed in the wake of the setback.

Retrieving the axe from her belt, she hefts it and swings, hoping she can break through the cooling layer before it hardens back to rock. Then maybe she can light it on fire and keep it that way this time. One swing, then two and she shifts, angling herself to take better advantage of the armor’s enhanced strength. Another swing, then another and she loses track of everything but the narrow focus. She doesn’t have anywhere near Kara’s raw strength even with the armor, but Kara’s the only one who can fly and keep the thing busy. Trusting her sister to do what’s necessary, she swings again.

And suddenly the titanium head of the axe slices through rock and into the molten gelatin beneath.

Titanium’s an interesting metal, tough as hell, hard to break, with what’s called memory. Bend it and it will spring back into its original shape. Alex vaguely remembers from an applied chemistry class that it can only be welded in a vacuum and burns at a lower temperature than it melts.

Which is only important because the axe is suddenly on fire and burning titanium can turn explosive in the presence of water.

Like the ocean the creature’s standing in.

Everything Alex remembers concerned a powdered form, never a chunk like she’s looking at. God only knows what will happen with it. Maybe nothing, maybe something a whole lot worse.

“DEO chopper clear the area!” she shouts, then increases her volume as she calls out to her sister. “Kara!” Not that she’s unwilling to die, but she’d rather not if she can avoid it. “Gonna need you!” Shoving the axe handle deep, she leaves it behind as she feels the monster drop to crouch so that the waves now hit the tops of its thighs.

The sudden movement is enough to knock her lower, though she catches herself before she can hit the water.

The creature drops to a crouch.

Alex knows what’s coming.

A leap.

“I could use a hand off this ride!” She’s not sure why Kara isn’t there already, but she trusts her sister. If she’s somewhere else, it’s where she needs to be.

Time to save herself.

Muscle compress and she vaults higher, grabbing finger and toe holds to shove herself upward repeatedly, until she’s scrambling atop its undamaged shoulder. As she braces a foot on the rock slab next to its neck, the giant head turns her way. Though it has no obvious eyes, for the first time she has a sense that it sees her and the featureless, craggy face seems to glare with such malevolence that she knows her only choices are to run or die.

“KARA!” she screams again as she puts everything into one last leap.

The creature is a beat behind her, but they cut parallel paths, both skimming upward with Alex just far enough ahead to be out of reach though she can see a flare of brilliant white light out of the corner of her eye. It’s welding torch bright, the light so intense it threatens to burn her retinas should she stare too long. God only knows how many degrees is takes to get that particular blue-white shade. If she remembers correctly, it’s at least a couple thousand. She catches a glimpse of the chopper pulling back, but not fleeing as fast as they can. “DEO Chopper, MOVE OUT!”

“You too, Ma’am,” Vasquez shoots back almost instantly.

Alex catches of the glimpse of the chopper as it angles over and flees toward shore. It's moving fast enough that she thinks maybe Kara’s helping speed them, but doesn’t have time to worry about it.

Her own survival is at stake.

“Trying,” Alex gasps, her eyes going wide when a tree trunk sized stone arm swings her way.

For a moment she’s sure she’s dead, then impossibly strong hands curve under her arms and she’s hauled upward.

“Gotcha.” Kara lifts her clear as the monster suddenly hits the apex of its jump and starts to fall.

With Kara in control, Alex has time to look back and get a better view of the white hot flames whipping around the creature’s neck. As it falls, they grow brighter, fed by the wind rushing past. Even though it’s a useless gesture, she grabs for the incendiary weapon holstered on her hip. “The axe is titanium.”

Kara glances down.

They’re about to get an answer to the question about how a burning titanium axe will react to water.

“May explode,” Alex adds in case Kara’s science classes didn’t cover this problem.

Kara nods and soars higher, clearing the area before rolling back around. Alex recognizes the way she positions herself to shield her from an explosion or flee. She checks on the position of the chopper. It looks okay, but she’s never seen a titanium explosion, so she’s nowhere near as sure as she’d like..

The monster, meanwhile, is still falling. A moment passes, then it hits the water with an enormous splash and a surging wave that radiates in every direction.

There’s no explosion and for a moment, Alex can’t decide whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Then she feels a shift in the air, like the smell when a bad storm’s on the way.

It takes a second, but something sparks below them, the light searingly bright while water is instantly turned to billowing clouds of steam. It’s not especially loud, more of a violent hiss, but a white flash explodes outward and suddenly the thing is burning everywhere.

The explosion takes several moments and when it happens, it's not huge, but it's bright and she can feel the heat even from a distance. Smoke and flames roll across the water and black rocks are flung away from the center of the explosion. The thing is somehow still standing there, but the outer skin seems thinner and less textured, like its flung away much of its outer layer. Molten red starts to ooze out through dozens of expanding cracks.

“Ma’ams?” Vasquez’s voice crackles over the comms, breathless and worried.

“We’re okay,” Alex assures the junior agent. “But keep the chopper back.” She feels the wind swirling around them, driven by the superhot fire burning below.

The monster is moving again, though it’s staggering and lava-like spew spills from the increasing breaks in its rocky surface. The flaming shrapnel could take out the chopper if it’s hit at the wrong moment or in the wrong place.

“Let the DEO know we probably have a second one on the ropes,” Alex orders.

“I’ll try, Ma’am, but we’ve taken some damage. We’re still flying, but long distance communication is pretty well gone.”

“Just do your best and get the hell to safety.”

After that she and Kara keep their target in sight as it burns down, but they keep their distance. The heat pouring off it stings even through the protective layers of nomex Alex is wearing.

It takes time. The thing is moving much more slowly now and trailing chunks of lava in its wake. Twice it tries to turn southward again, forcing Kara to land Alex on shore while she goes back in and starts punching and dragging. The explosive shots from Alex’s version of a flare gun seem to piss it off, so that helps too.

They track it until it burns down to the waterline and finally crumbles away.

The sun is setting by then and they’re both exhausted, but not on the verge of collapse like before. Despite Alex’s orders and being dangerously low on fuel, the DEO chopper is never far away. The surface pitted by bits of ash and lava, the paint job marred by oily black smoke that clings to every surface and threatens to foul the engine, it’s still a welcome sight when it chugs close enough to offer transport.

“You were supposed to leave,” Alex points out when Vasquez pushes the side door open, allowing Kara to land. It’s not as graceful as her usual efforts and she sinks to her knees almost instantly, but someone else is in charge of keeping them airborne. That counts as a win in Alex’s book. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, after all.

Proving the point, Alex gets shaky feet under her. Her sister isn’t as bad off as she was before, but she’s not good and it seems unlikely this will be the last fight where she’s needed.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Vasquez confirms, staying out of the way. “But we thought you might like a ride back.” She shrugs and nods toward Kara. “And I know she sometimes has trouble navigating over the ocean at night.” There’s a teasing note to the comment. Vasquez has been tweaking Kara since one night when she got lost over the Indian Ocean and had to be talked through getting home.

Raising her head, Kara grumbles, “I could see the shore,” then sinks back down with a tired sigh.

Alex doesn’t argue, just shoves a handful of candy bars at her, then starts gathering the lights to get her back on solar therapy.

The chopper’s not doing well by then. The engine is stuttering, they’ve lost all communications and her crew is struggling to keep remain airborne. Thankfully, it’s not far off shore. Needing shallower water, the creature was never more a couple of miles from the beach.

Not letting herself think too much, Alex focuses on the task at hand and quickly has Kara snuggled up under her sunlamps, munching candy, and drinking a sugary soda.

“Thanks,” Kara says at some point. She’s pale and struggling to keep her eyes open, but there’s real gratitude in her eyes. “I know you’ve gotta be exhausted too...”

Alex shrugs. “I’m your big sister. It’s part of the job. Besides, I know you’ve always got my back.” She turns away while Kara shrinks back down, though not before noticing Kara’s small nod and the way she looks away at the same time.

“Is there any word on Cat?” Kara asks the one question Alex can’t deal with.

It shakes her enough that she stands perfectly still for a long moment, her mouth suddenly dry, her hands trembling. “I don’t know,” she says at last. “The radio’s out.”

“They’ll find her in time, won’t they?” Kara asks after a beat, sounding small and creaky.

Snapping her eyes shut, Alex grabs for a nearby shelf, clinging desperately in an effort to remain on her feet. It obviously hasn’t occurred to Kara that Cat had better be safe by now. Alex has had too much medical training not to be aware that after everything she went through, Cat would be in very real danger if she’s not already in a doctor’s care. “She’ll be fine,” she says at last, deliberately sounding as confident as she can. “She has to be,” she adds, her voice too soft for even Kara to hear. Hearing a rustle of movement, she turns her sister’s way. Her tone firm and loud enough to be heard, she orders. “Now get any rest you can.”

“But—”

Despite her weakened condition, Kara’s sitting up a little like she might try and fly. As much as Alex is worried about Cat, if Kara pushes too hard and blows out her powers, they could all pay for it. It’s a risk she can’t take, not for anyone.

Besides, after so many hours, it’s most likely too late to make a difference. She has to hope Cat’s been found by now because if she’s hasn't—

She stops that thought right there. This is no time to fall apart. Teeth clench together until it’s a wonder there isn’t a cracking sound. She can do this.

“Alex?” Kara’s voice is thin and distant.

She has to do this.

“What’s wrong?” Kara has that curious, not going to let it go note in her voice.

Shit.

It’s a profound relief when Vasquez suddenly pokes her head out of the cockpit. “Brace yourselves!” she shouts. “We’re landing!”

Alex sinks into one of the seats and buckles in just in time.

The engine suddenly gets even choppier and there’s no more time. It’s a rough descent and when it ends, the skids bounce more than once as momentum keeps them going longer than the pilot intended. For a moment Alex thinks they might flip, then finally, the speed finishes burning off burns off and the skids settle. The lights dim almost instantly as the engine grinds to a halt.

Alex is out of her seat and shoving the side door open as soon as they come to a complete stop. As she gets a look, she’s relieved to see they’ve made it to the beach; They aren't stuck on a sandbar or small island. She hops down, landing easily, her boots sinking into soft sand. Doing a slow pivot, she studies their environs, lips quirking up in a wry smile. She recognizes this place, though she’s never seen it at night without artificial light before. They’re standing no more than a quarter of a mile from an old pier that’s long been popular with the tourists. She knows that silhouette from her surfing days, even if she’s only seen it well lit in the past.

Oceanside. Darker than she’s ever seen it.

Wherever the creature was headed, they’ve dragged it nearly twenty miles in the opposite direction

Looking around, she wonders if the city killed the power intentionally or if something else has happened while they were out of contact. She notes the shifting shadows of the city, but can’t draw any vital meaning from what she’s seeing.

“Ma’am?” Vasquez says while Alex is still staring. “The batteries are cutting out. The radio’s totally dead and we won’t have power for the lights much longer.”

Alex looks up at the rotors. Even in the thin moonlight, it’s obvious how smoke blackened and pockmarked they are. It’s a wonder they got this far in this condition. With the lights about to go she can only hope  the sugar from the candy and sodas will help revive Kara until they can figure something better out.

“Ma’am?” Vasquez sounds a little shaky. “Somebody’s coming.”

Alex pivots so fast, her legs nearly betray her. “Get ready for anything,” she warns her people as she spots distant shadows moving their way. She’s still standing braced when they draw closer and resolve themselves into an advancing crowd. Lights flick to life, but they’re jittery and low powered. Off the shelf flashlights like most people have in a closet somewhere with crappy bulbs and half dead batteries.

Definitely not military grade.

She wonders if that should make her feel safer or more endangered. Civilian crowds can panic. Panicked people can kill and die all too easily.

Then they’re arriving, scared and uncertain. The wary crowd is made up mostly of beach people who lacked the time or means to evacuate—surfers, t-shirt and food vendors, and other locals. They’re traumatized, but also grateful when they realize who’s arrived. They've seen bits of TV coverage and heard the awful sounds of the fight.

They recognize Alex’s armor while she’s still trying to figure out how to ask them not to mention or describe her to the press. It’s that laying low thing. They never give her a chance. She’s still telling them what her team needs when she’s christened Green Mamba and somebody hands her a makeshift Zorro mask made from a green bandana with eye holes cut out.

The mask is hideous looking, but comfortable and does more than Kara's eyeglasses to hide her identity while the name annoys, but is far from the worst she’s heard when it comes to superheroes. They note it and listen when she tells them what she needs.

Sun lamps and extension cords start arriving in record time, along with old fashioned generators. Apparently, the city cut the power to direct it all to military use. The civilian population is mostly hunkered down and the military is rumored to be setting up a bulwark further north. Cell towers are offline, but someone offers to call the base from a landline, along with apologies that it’ll take awhile to get through. The circuits have been jammed for hours.

With nothing else they can do, they grab bottled water and energy bars from the helicopter’s stores, then the locals start offering anything they can come up with. At first the food is cold—soft pretzels and sticky clumps of day-old cotton candy that clash with lukewarm sodas. Soon sandwiches and chips start to arrive, then a couple of grills get set up and hot dogs, fish tacos and fresh tortillas appear. More generators and electrical cords bring more lights and music as an impromptu party atmosphere settles over the growing crowd.

Having spent the day helpless and terrified, these people are grateful and beyond relieved. This is the only thanks they can give.

It’s the first time Alex has much sense of how Kara must feel when people are thrilled by her arrival. She’s always worked to stay hidden, but the armor and its distinctive green glow mark her. They’ve seen her fight. She’s a hero to these people and they’re eager to do anything they can to take care of her.

As food smells float on the breeze, her stomach rumbles, reminding her that she has no idea when she last ate. When she digs in, it tastes like a bit of heaven, even if she has it in her to wonder if it’s as even half as good as it seems.

She’s not the only one. Upon meeting the elderly gentleman who supplied much of the makeshift feast, Vasquez raises an eyebrow between bites. “I think I may have finally found a man I could marry.” She almost immediately shakes her head and rolls her eyes. "Nah, nothing's that good."

Alex just snorts, then prepares a plate and carries it to Kara who rouses enough to start shoveling it down. She burns calories at such a rate, she’s probably lost several pounds during the fight and even if she’s bone tired, she’s ravenous.

It establishes a pattern that will continue through the war. They fight the creatures when they arrive, often in sight of the people who can’t escape, terrified civilians who do their best in the aftermath to provide whatever they can, food, comfort, music. They’re offered more sex than Alex would have imagined, and while there’s some temptation to the idea of a body pressed close, she waves off all comers, though she’s pretty sure Vasquez sneaks off a time or two.

But in Oceanside, there are no offers of anything more intimate than food, gratitude, and bad pop music.

It’s a short respite, time enough to eat and relax a little.

The party atmosphere comes to an abrupt halt when a heavy military chopper sweeps in and lands. The marines who scramble out look so painfully young that it’s surprising no voices crack when the lieutenant in charge steps forward to address Alex by name and explain they need to be moving. A lot has happened while they were out of pocket. More creature’s have fallen, Superman’s target is burning, but the one near Chile is still fighting and another has landed in the Gulf of Mexico. They would have sent word they were on their way, but secure satellite communications have become erratic.

Alex doesn’t argue, just starts transferring gear from the DEO helicopter to the fresh military one. The lieutenant tries to protest only to be put in her place. “This will help keep her going,” she snarls, nodding to where Kara is staggering to her feet. “And that may make the difference in humanity’s survival.”

She can see how frustrated the lieutenant is with the delay, but a glare and good sense back her down. Soon fresher hands are handling the transfer and Vasquez steps forward to supervise.

It gives Alex a break to worry about Kara and assess the situation.


The new helicopter will give them more speed and range. More comfortable seating too, Alex realizes as she climbs inside and settles down for the ride. She tries to call her mother, but her cell phone doesn’t connect to anything. She can only hope she’s somewhere safe. Cat’s face flashes in her mind’s eye and she has to swallow hard to keep tears at bay. She asks, but the lieutenant doesn’t know anything.

For the moment, gut wrenching terror is something she just has to live with.

She finally manages radio contact with DEO Central Command. They don’t know anything, not about the creatures, the other fights underway, Cat, or much else. Thoughts of the other woman make her even more determined to inform them of everything she’s learned. It’s all she can to honor her. Warnings that they don’t have secure communications merit a laugh as she points out that any enemies already know more than she does.

She tells what she's learned. It’s not much. But it’s a start.

Finally, her ability to speak spent, she hangs up, and curls up as best she can and makes herself try to sleep while she has the chance. God knows when the opportunity might come again.

They’re still en route to the Gulf when they get word J’onn’s target is burning down. M’Gann is with him and they had military help as well. It took them most of two days. They’re en route to the latest splashdown.

When they land on a floating oil rig in the gulf, a Wayne Industries representative is already on hand with a weapon they’re hoping will do better. It’s bigger and heavier and supposed to have more power and a hotter incendiary.

It helps. They take the monster down after twelve hours of brutal combat instead of fourteen and Kara can still fly if only just barely. Victory merits another party, the Florida Keys this time, then after they’ve eaten their fill of seafood, a new chopper arrives with a fresh destination. An airport, then Europe this time, the western coast of somewhere, though no one gets more specific than that.

It’s not like they’re going to be sightseeing after all.

Other heroes have shown up and are already being dispatched to fight other enemies. It’s a pattern that will become constant.

Through it all, Alex knows most people watching probably think she’s calm, even stoic. In reality, she shuts down emotionally to get through. She has to fight, but she’s very aware that her most important task is to keep Kara functional, a challenge at best when she’s spending so much time pushed to the physical limit, often at night when her powers can’t recharge.

The DEO becomes an information clearinghouse for much of the world so Alex checks in every chance she gets, but it’s always fast. Communications are unreliable and there’s so much information coming in from all sides that they’re working hard just to keep up.

Batman’s burns are severe enough that he’s out of the fight though he goes on working with the militaries even while injured.

Superman continues the fight with random heroes helping where possible. He never spares himself and has no continual backup. It’s less than a week before he collapses.

Which is how Alex finds herself talking to Batman’s butler over a special Wayne Industries connection that he promises is secure. She ends up explaining more about Kryptonian biology than she’s confident the other super hero should know. She’s heard rumors about Batman’s neverending contingency plans for killing everyone other than himself. The idea makes her blood run cold, but like Kara, Clark’s too key to this war not to share. She can only hope the information is in safe hands because they’re all out of choices.

It’s just after Clark’s collapse when Lillian Luthor changes the game. She contacts the DEO with a prediction for when the next attack will occur with the evidence and the math so they can check for themselves. There’s no trust, and considerable fear she’s in on the plot, but they’re desperate for any scrap of information.

For the first time in her life, Lillian Luthor demands no conditions in trade for any information she offers. Even she knows better than to try and bargain when they’re standing on the brink of possible extinction.

The prediction is only a few minutes off and the same calculations work for the next attack. It’s too important to ignore and even her company lacks the ability to fund this insanity. Criminal mastermind or not, she's brilliant and she’s in no hurry to die. It’s the first break and the the mathematical paradigm she assembles lets them build a model for predicting where the creatures will come down as well.

It’s far from perfect. They can only narrow to general regions, but it’s a lot more than they had and it lets the Earth Alliance as they’ve taken to calling themselves, gather their defenses in advance instead of having to wait for a landing.

So the creatures land and the earth fights and every time they win, the locals come out to offer what support they can for soldiers and heroes alike. More often than not, there’s fresh food and whatever creature comforts the locals can manage—warm clothes where it’s cold, ice packs where it’s hot, clean clothes and toiletries as well as snacks and treats. Anything they can come up with that might offer a bit of comfort. An odd sense of competition sets in, with each community doing their best to treat their protectors even better than the last.

Alex finds it amazing how much succor, both physical and emotional, can be found in the small comforts. It reminds them all of what they’re fighting for.

It makes them all fight harder.

Which is a good thing because victory often feels nearly impossible and each sliver of it is paid for in too many lives and limbs.

As the battles continue, the weaponry improves at amazing speed. Wayne Technologies is constantly delivering new, more effective tech. Strategies change and adjust according to the powers and abilities on hand. It’s a constantly shifting game.

But the creatures adjust too. Their basic abilities appear to remain static, but they change tactics. At first they ignore anything small unless attacked. Soon, they hit at anything that moves and head inland faster and with more determination. They seem to have a particular hate for submarines and destroy any they run across.

At first, Alex primarily serves as a distraction in combat so Kara can attack from varying angles, but as the fighting goes on, Kara is slowed progressively more by exhaustion, while Alex’s tactics expand and become more valuable. She also adds more layers of heat and fire protection. Thankfully, the armor seems to be made of something the heat doesn’t damage, so it doesn’t fail.

Meanwhile, ships and aircraft, and even soldiers small arms and shoulder mounted weaponry take on the distraction role to let her take on more of the combat.

It works, but the cost in human lives increases exponentially.

Every time there’s a break, Alex makes sure they grab what rest they can, knowing another creature will fall from the sky to take its place. Technically, she’s not military, but she’s treated like an officer as armies and heroes both congregate wherever they can to refresh, and catch rides to new battles. Even metas who can fly, like Kara, are letting someone else handle transport where possible to save themselves. Everyone’s aware they need to protect those with abilities for the big battles.

Alex loses all sense of time and place as they move from place to place and metas and soldiers come and go, working together, then splitting up again for new fights. It’s too much of a whirl and she’s too exhausted to keep anything straight. More than once, she finds herself sleeping on some random ship or airplane en route to the next fight while Kara grabs any rest and sunlight she can. They preserve her powers whenever possible. If they blow out, it could be days before they return and while Kara is far from the only superpowered fighter, she’s among the most powerful. At times, Alex knows her little sister cries quietly, ashamed that others are fighting who have little chance at survival, but no longer able to even stand.

Clark joins them at some point. Though Way Tech has gotten him up and moving again after his initial collapse, his refusal to rest has battered him back down. Exhausted and beaten, he’s on the verge of collapsing completely. Lois is covering the story and manages to drag him their way in hopes they’ll be able to revive him better than Wayne Industries flunkies. Or maybe she’s just hoping he’ll listen to them. It works, though Alex can see the way both cousins are slipping as the fight goes on.

Alex is trying to keep them going, but there’s never time for a complete recovery.

She asks after Cat when she can, but things are in such disarray it seems pointless. There aren’t many opportunities and most people barely know what’s going on in their immediate vicinity, much less a half a world away. Plus while she hears plenty of English, it’s not guaranteed and her high school French classes are of little help.

As it turns out, nobody much cares if “La livre,” is, “sure la table,” which is literally all she can remember.

She loses all sense of time and distance and has no idea how many days the war has been on when they find themselves on a Chinese hospital ship—the sort that usually arrives to help disaster survivors, which she supposes they are in some way.

With nothing else to do while Kara sleeps and too keyed up to rest, she tries to question a young radio operator, mostly with hand gestures and scrawled notes when Wonder Woman of all people enters the room.

She’s lean, but tall with a serious mien. She glances Alex’s way and pauses. They’ve been on different continents and haven’t met before, but they’ve been fighting the same enemy so there’s a sense of silent camaraderie.

“I-I was just trying to find out about a friend,” Alex mutters without planning, something about the other woman’s expression driving her to try and explain.

Wonder Woman nods, then speaks to the radio tech in a fast torrent of unrecognizable words that Alex presumes are some flavor Chinese. She remembers an old friend explaining there are literally hundreds of dialects. It occurs to her that her efforts to communicate with the confused looking kid at the radio probably make her efforts in French seem downright skilled by comparison. She wonders if she should tell Wonder Woman not to bother.

The kid nods though and responds and Wonder Woman’s reputed to be a goddess, so maybe that helps.

A brief conversation later, the Amazon waves the young soldier off with a quiet, “He can’t help you.” She taps the notes Alex was using in an effort to communicate. “Not with this.”

Her tone and expression are so serious that Alex feels her stomach curl into a panicked knot as the by-now familiar terror washes over her that there might be news and it might be the worst.

Even after everything she’s seen, she’s not ready for that. Her knees nearly buckle.

“Calm,” Wonder Woman says simply and scoops a hand under Alex’s elbow, the support enough to keep her on her feet when she might just go down. “Catherine Grant is very much alive.” There’s a formality to her tone that bespeaks a strength and wisdom that soothes something deep and primal in Alex.

It gets her heart beating again, though she can’t stop shaking, at least not yet. “How? What...” The words tangle and she can’t get out any of the questions she wants to ask.

The Amazon seems to grasp the unasked questions because she offers a tired, but sincere smile. “Civilian radio bands are noisy at times, but still transmitting, so she’s using them to help coordinate volunteers and materials and give organized updates...” She shakes her head ever so slightly. “She organized much of the civilian support effort.”

Of course she did. Alex almost lets out a giddy laugh even as her eyes burn with tears. “Thank you,” she barely manages to choke out. She’s pushed the terror down for days. It was the only way to survive and get her job done, but it’s been a churning ache. She’s startled to feel a muscular arm slide across her shoulders as the Amazonian wraps her in a solid hug and pulls her out of the main corridor and into a quiet hallway.

Alex feels the need to try and explain. “Sh-she was with us that first night.” She has to pause to swallow hard and get herself under control. “She was covering the story, but when things went bad, she tried to draw it off Supergirl and I...used a damn flare gun. She’s why we discovered how they burn...”

Wonder Woman is still supporting her. She doesn’t say anything, just listens. She seems good at that and Alex suddenly can’t stop talking.

“But one of those things took out her chopper—just swatted it out of the air. I know she survived the crash, but Supergirl was down and we had to go after the one headed for San Diego while search and rescue was still on the way.” A hard shudder rattles through her as words come increasingly haltingly. “I didn’t...know...if-if...” Her voice chokes off and she can’t continue.

“She’s alive,” Wonder Woman assures her again. Her is voice low and soothing. “And doing what she can to help people and survive.” She peers at Alex for a long moment. “You need to do the same...so you can get back to her.”

Feeling an unexpected wash of guilt as she remembers Kara’s raw terror when she realized Cat was threatened—that wasn’t the response of a mere friend—Alex shakes her head at the implication. “She’s...I’m...we’re...not...” She’s not a cheat. She knows that. But she still feels like one.

“You’re something important,” the Amazon disagrees quietly. “That’s all that matters.” She glances up as if hearing something Alex can’t, and perhaps she does. There’s a sense of urgency in her eyes when looks back and she shifts to stand on the balls of her feet as if ready to move fast. She still takes the time to pull Alex into another hug.

Alex leans into the other woman’s hold. It feels good, safe. It allows her to let go for a moment and let someone else be the strong one.

After a long moment, the Amazon lets go and steps back. “Now, go eat and rest while you can. You have people you need to stay strong for.” With a nod, she says a last farewell, then slips off, moving quickly and silently.

Alex knows she should do as told. Certainly she should share the news with Kara, but her sister hasn’t mentioned Cat since those early hours and is currently passed out under a sun lamp, Clark beside her. They both need the rest.

And Alex needs to be certain Wonder Woman’s correct and Cat’s out there broadcasting. She manages to borrow—or maybe steal—an emergency radio and a headset. The text markings are mostly in Chinese, but she can read the numbers and it’s a pretty standard setup. She finds a private corner in the lower decks, a minor miracle with so many people on board. Cramming herself into the small space, she scrolls through the bands until a familiar voice echoes in her ears, the speech already underway.

“...so proud of how people are standing together in this terrifying time. Our best chance of survival is to fight for each other and with each other. We truly are stronger together.”

Tears suddenly welling, she drinks in Cat’s voice. She sounds tired, but still strong as she explains what’s happening in the world, the battles going on and the efforts to support the troops.

It’s the most information Alex has had in days. It’s also a speech meant to praise and encourage people, to give them hope and confidence. It’s designed to acknowledge their fears and help them see the way through to the other side.

Alex curls more tightly around the radio, her breathing suddenly ragged as she almost cuddles it while she listens to Cat’s voice. The other woman is laying out plans, reminding people of the things needed—food, water, medical supplies—and exhorting them to plan ahead and be ready to offer support, but stay clear of the actual fight. There’s a sense of the other woman’s presence as the realization sweeps over her that it was Cat who organized all the efforts to look after the fighters. She’s been behind all the supplies and food, the emergency kits with things like candy and toothbrushes, the small creature comforts that have lifted spirits and served as reminders of home. She’s pushed and prodded and made it happen even as she helped build a radio network to organize it all and turned it into a competition of sorts with people reaching out to help instead of hiding away and waiting to die.

The original beachfront feast in Oceanside came together by accident, but everything since has been prodded into existence by Cat. The pride of it is there in her voice when she praises their efforts and thanks people for what they’ve done. She talks about how much they owe their defenders even as she organizes the next effort.

It gives Alex the most hope she's allowed herself in days and she savors every word until it's coming to a close.

“Before I sign off for today, I want to thank the people of people of Severomorsk for their efforts to look after everyone who protected them. They fed four ships full of tired defenders and even during the fight, they offered medical care, warm clothes, hot coffee, and anything else needed. They made a city in the Arctic Circle warm and friendly, and their efforts are much appreciated. And while I’m on the topic, I’d also like to forward a thank you from a pair who fought in Rio. They were made to feel welcome even before an amazing victory party.”

She pauses, audibly drawing in a quick breath. Alex can hear her stress even before she speaks again.

“They earned that welcome by defending the city.”

Alex frowns ever so slightly, Cat’s tone sharp enough to catch her attention.

“But because they’re Martians, some people think their presence should be a crime and they should be kicked offworld. Personally, I’m grateful they love this world enough to fight for it.”

Alex nods even as Cat continues.

“I know that frightens some people. After all, we’re being attacked by aliens, but we’re also being protected by them.” Cat’s voice throbs with emotion as she both implores and commands her listeners. “Plenty of the defenders look different, don’t speak the same language, or worship the same gods. They may not even be human.” She pauses long enough to let that sink in, then begins to speak again, every word precise. “But as far as I’m concerned, ANY person who fights to protect this world is a part of it.” She grabs a quick breath before pounding the point home. “And deserves to be a citizen of it. I promise, I will do everything in my power to make that happen.”

Alex doesn’t miss what Cat has just done in making it plain that she’ll stand up for everyone fighting. She’s offering them what protection she can and motivating them at the same time. It’s so right and good, the sense of shared effort so intense she can almost feel the other woman’s presence.

Cat’s silent for a moment and when she finally speaks again, there’s a quiet sadness to her tone. “That said, if you’ll allow a moment’s indulgence, like so many, I have friends and loved ones on the front lines. They’re fighting for us all...and I hope they know anything I’ve done is for them...and how much I...” The words come out unevenly, as though it’s an effort and she finally goes silent except for a small choking sound followed by the rasp of someone dragging in a deep breath. “If they’re listening, I want them to know how proud I am and how grateful...” A soft gasping sound echoes over the radio, then her voice comes back, once again smooth if a little softer than normal. “Be careful. Come home. This is Cat Grant signing off for now, but Radio Earth will continue broadcasting. Look for us on AM 990 and FM 99.9. We’re trying to use those bandwidths worldwide, so you can always find us. We’ll keep updating our efforts until this ends and everyone is safe again. Until then, take care of yourselves and everyone you hold dear.”

Alex has formed the habit of keeping a permanent marker in her pockets. Paper’s fragile and gets lost too easily, so she mostly uses her hands and forearms for making notes. It’s not like she’s going to get a long, hot shower to wash it off anytime soon. This time she adds the bandwidth numbers not because she might forget them, but simply because she wants to keep them close.

She writes the frequencies on her inner left wrist, her handwriting small and neat and tucked just under the curve of her palm where it will be hidden from view and protected from being easily worn away by her sleeve and glove. As she finishes, she sits quietly, lightly rubbing her wrist with her right thumb, the sense that she’s not alone unexplainable, but more meaningful than she would have thought possible.

Those numbers are a talisman of sorts and she can’t help but smile over how Cat, who according to Kara, hates cat puns with a passion, has chosen to use so many nines. She wonders how much the other woman growled even as she opted to use the most memorable numbers available. Nine lives for the pussycat, after all. The thought makes her smile.

She’s still sitting there silently cradling the radio and listening to the ongoing updates when Vasquez enters and leans up against the wall. “Found out about your girl, huh?”

Alex strips the earbuds off and pushes to her feet as though caught doing something naughty. “She’s alive and broadcasting... Radio Earth.” She sweeps a hand to indicate the ship. “She’s the one organizing the support efforts—the food, medical care, all of it.”

“Yeah,” the agent says with a shrug and hooks a thumb over her shoulder. “Wonder Woman gave me a heads up. She’s also kinda smoothing over the small matter of a theft.” A quick shrug and she explains. “The kid you stole the radio from would’ve gotten in trouble if she hadn’t”

Alex shakes her head and takes a step forward. “I didn’t think—I’ll fix it.”

“I told you,” Vasquez inserts and pulls her superior up short with a hand on her arm. “Wonder Woman’s taking care of it.” Her lips tip up in a lusty grin. “And can I just say, she’s welcome to take care of me any day.” She lets out a soft whistle.

Alex rolls her eyes, but doesn’t argue. “She’s very...striking,” she admits, though not as eagerly as Vasquez. The woman was impressive, yes, but hardly the most amazing creature ever. She shrugs, which only makes Vasquez laugh.

“You have it bad.” She shoves a rucksack at Alex. It’s not very large, but well padded, and possibly every bit as stolen as the radio. “Figured you could use this...for your...uh...stuff,” she explains. “So you can keep track of your girl.”

Alex shakes her head in denial. “She’s not my girl, she’s...” She trails off, uncertain what they are precisely, or maybe too much of a coward to voice the words that appear in her head. “It’s...complicated.”

A dark eyebrow tips upward as Vasquez’s expression morphs into a smirk. “So very bad,” she drawls.

“It’s...I can’t...” Alex stammers uncomfortably, then whispers simply, “Kara...” She runs shaking fingers through her hair. “It doesn’t matter.”

Vasquez’s expression creases into a frown. “I doubt that,” she mutters when she finally speaks. “But I’m not here to talk about any of that.”

Alex’s shoulders relax fractionally. She’s not ready to deal with all of this. Not here, not yet, and not with anyone from the DEO.

Vasquez straightens, suddenly looking more like an agent and less like a friend. “Anyway, I didn’t really come here about the personal stuff,” she explains. “Wanted to talk to you because I’ve been thinking,” she says, clearly picking her words carefully. “You shouldn’t be the only one who knows how to use the Green Mamba suit.”

Alex flinches and makes a face. The nickname never thrilled, but now it’s starting to get on her nerves.“We don’t exactly have rehearsal time,” she mutters, not liking the idea of putting both the suit and an agent at risk when there’s no room for error.

Vasquez shrugs. “True enough,” she admits. “But I’ve been watching. I know how you and Kara time things, the moves you use...” Looking uncomfortable, she trails off and is silent for a moment before adding, “That suit makes you one of our more powerful weapons after Kara.” She sounds a little defensive. “I’ve studied your strategies. I may not be as good at combat, but I think I can do this...” She’s silent for a moment, then whispers, “If you went down...”

Blowing out a hard breath, Alex looks away momentarily. She’s never been a key factor in a fight before and it suddenly feels too real that she is this time.

She’s not supposed to be that important. She's not Kara. She’s too breakable.

“We can’t afford to lose its abilities—” Vasquez begins again, but Alex cuts her off.

“You’re right.” She notes the other woman’s surprised expression as it occurs to her how much courage it too to speak out and that the agent has tried to do for her what she does for all of them by being a responsible voice. If they survive this mess, she needs to put her in for a commendation. “The armor’s too important to limit it to one person.” Straightening her shoulders, she claps Vasquez on the arm. “Which means we need to find you a fireproof suit. You can’t fight these things without one.” She shakes her head. “You have no idea how hot it gets out there. But we can get in some training until we find something.”

“I talked to Wonder Woman about that,” Vasquez confesses with a smirk. “She thought she could get us one...fireproof suit, I mean.”

“Lemme guess,” Alex drawls knowingly. “You mighta bragged you’ll need it while wearing the armor and fighting lava monsters?”

Vasquez shrugs, though there’s a tiny, sneaky grin around her mouth. “Maybe...”

One dark eyebrow climbs toward Alex’s hairline. “You wouldn’t be trying to impress her, would you?”

The tiny hint becomes a full on, toothy grin. “Gotta do something to while away the hours, and let’s face facts, I’m not likely to get another shot.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Alex laughs.

Vasquez snorts. “Since you could probably use another laugh, you might wanna know Douche El used the DEO transmitter time to give us an important update. Really wants Kara to know he beat another level of that game of his.” She rolls her eyes, her disdain clear. “He seemed to think she's be very impressed.”

“Asshat,” Alex mutters under her breath.

It’s Vasquez’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, he’s a man with his priorities in order,” she jeers. “Joystick Boy to the rescue.” She rolls her eyes. “Y’think he’s come up from the DEO basement long enough to notice what going on?”

Alex just snorts and shakes her head.

Still chuckling, they make their way onto the deck where Alex is already showing Vasquez some moves when Wonder Woman appears with the promised gear. She stays close and watches curiously while Vasquez suits up and gets in some training. Wonder Woman volunteers to play the role of an enemy, giving Vasquez a sense of combat. It gives her time to get a feel for how the armor enhances the wearer’s strength, but also limits mobility in some ways.

She’s almost feeling comfortable when they get word it’s time to move out. A creature has splashed down off the coast of Australia. J’onn and M’Gann are already there, but may need help. Given how long conventional travel takes and Kara and Clark’s condition, the two Kryptonians sleep the whole way with the understanding they’ll fly ahead if the fight gets out of hand.

It doesn’t. By the time they arrive, the creature is still mobile, but is burning. They just need to keep it contained until it goes down to give the original team a respite. It’s a perfect learning opportunity for someone new to the fight, and gives Alex a chance to play doctor for some injured locals.

Things go smoothly, and Vasquez, being Vasquez can’t resist the urge to play to the cameras that arrive during the creature’s final, dramatic moments. One hip thrust out, a broad grin on her mouth where it shows through an opening in the nomex mask, she poses in front of the conflagration.

Alex rolls her eyes, but doesn’t begrudge the other woman a moment in the sun. She knows how heady the attention can be and she’s earned it.

The next time they fight, Alex takes the first shift, but the thing is still capable of fighting when Vasquez steps in. It’s burning, but it can still fight. It’s hard to let go of control and put someone else in harm’s way, but Vasquez is right. They need a second person who can use the suit. There are still several hours of combat left, but it’s not nearly as challenging as the early part of the battle. She can do this.

Nonetheless, there’s a steep learning curve to the fight. Vasquez gets slammed around enough that she has to be hurting. By the end, the creature is nothing but shimmering coals that are fast turning to ash. Kara all but carries the younger agent off the field of battle when it’s over.

“You’re crazy, you know,” Vasquez tells Alex between hacking coughs. Every patch of exposed skin is cherry red and smoke streaked and she’s developed a noticeable limp.

“Not as much fun as you thought?” Alex asks, a wry twist to her lips.

Vasquez peels off the protective hood and shakes her head. “No fun at all,” she grumbles.

Alex nods. She knows the feeling. “You’re doing really well.” She stretches out her shoulders, her body achy, but not as bad as it’s been. “And I appreciate the break.”

The locals show up for the celebratory aftermath, but there’s a subdued quality as though everyone’s getting worn thin.

Noting the way Vasquez is wincing, Alex tosses her a bottle of ibuprofen. “Take four,” she advises. “Get some sleep while you can.” She glances at a pretty blonde who’s been making eyes at the junior agent. “And no extra curricular activities for tonight. We may only have a few hours off.”

Letting out a soft groan that’s part aching body and part disappointment, Vasquez nonetheless does as ordered, falling into a bunk with an exhausted groan. She’s unconscious in moments.

The world, meanwhile, stands braced as it has for days. While battered heroes sleep, the predicted hours tick by until it’s time for another landing.

Only nothing happens as far as anyone can tell. They've never been good at spotting the initial splashdown. It too quick and satellite telemetry is mostly offline, but the giant monsters have generally been spotted and easily tracked. This time there are no stomping lava monsters, no sunken boats or frightened messengers sent to awaken bodies pushed to the limit.

Everything is quiet.

The formula’s never been precise, just a ball park, so at first, they go on waiting and watching, then another expected arrival time is fast approaching. Pulled out of her own slumber for the update, Alex can’t quite believe she’s doing this, but she reaches out to Lillian Luthor, who has no more idea what’s happening than anyone else. None of it fits her calculations. She insists one should be there and another one is coming. It’s all based on small shifts visible through the giant radio telescopes and those haven’t gone away. If anything, they’ve intensified.

Alex hates having to trust a woman she considers a psychopath, but she’s inclined to agree. Besides, psycho or not, there isn’t a Luthor out there who’s a fool or lacks a survival instinct.

She monitors the situation carefully, ready to react, and mentally building scenarios to explain the change.

But it doesn’t make anything happen.

As the hours stretch out and world remains quiet, people start to celebrate, hopeful it’s over. It’s low key at first, but as the hours lengthen into days, it steadily grows a bit wilder.

Alex remains watchful, instinct telling her they aren’t done yet. She stands on the deck of the aircraft carrier serving as their current home, eyes on the sky as though she might spot the answer to the riddle if she just pays close enough attention. She absently rubs her inner wrist with her right thumb, the gesture one that has become almost automatic whenever she’s stressed. The numbers are still written there, the ink carefully retraced every time it starts to fade. If she’s honest, she’d have the numbers tattooed—plenty of bootleg artists have cropped up using makeshift materials—if it weren’t for the lack of an autoclave and fears of assorted diseases. It’s no fun having her medical background some days, but those numbers have become a part of her, just like Radio Earth has become a part of the war effort.

So she watches the stars and listens to the smooth purr of Cat’s voice. She seems to be speaking to Alex’s fears in that low, convincing way she has as she tells people to stay calm and ready for anything. It’s oddly soothing that she isn’t the only one who’s waiting for the next shoe to drop.

“I know it’s tempting to believe it’s over, that we’re safe again,” Cat admits, her tone intimate enough to make it seem like she’s right there with Alex. “It would be easy to just cut loose, get drunk, and lose ourselves in relief. But we can’t afford to do that. Not now. Not when we don’t know why this started or why it seems to have stopped. Until we understand, we need to remain vigilant.” She pauses a beat before continuing. “Keep stockpiling food and water and any medications. Keep your kids close, and reach out to friends and neighbors. Show the same courage you’ve shown so far and help anyone who needs it.” She pauses again, sounding stronger when she continues a beat later. “This world and those living here have displayed incredible strength. We can do this, and we will continue being stronger together.”

Alex can’t help but smile at the way Cat has taken Kara’s family motto and literally made it into a saying for the entire world.

“So I’ll be staying on as your DJ tonight and as long as needed. If you’re listening, you aren’t alone, and if you’re afraid...well...you’re still not alone.” Cat’s tone takes on a wry note of humor though it also quakes ever so slightly. She takes an audible breath and lets it out slowly. “But we’ll get through this together with easy listening, some bad jokes, and probably a few pop tunes from the 80s.” Another pause before her tone lightens a bit more. “Hopefully, 80s music will be the worst of my sins, but I’m not promising anything. There could possibly be disco on the menu.”

Alex laughs softly, smiling at the deliberate joke to release tension.

“She’s good at this sort of thing.”

Alex spins with a startled jump as she spots her sister standing a few yards away. It’s the first time she’s seen Kara do anything but fight, eat, or sleep since this nightmare began. She peers closely her, noting the tired cast to her expression, though it’s not the grinding exhaustion that’s become so common. She steps up to the railing, moving like she’s aged ten years.

As the words sink it, Alex blinks, uncertain how to respond and feeling as though she’s gotten caught doing something she shouldn’t.

“Cat,” Kara says with a small nod to indicate the radio tucked in Alex’s breast pocket.

Of course she can hear the broadcast on the headset. Damn super hearing. Reaching up, Alex clicks it off.

“I meant to mention I’d heard she’s behind Radio Earth...all the support efforts too,” Kara says softly and tips her head back, peering skyward. “There’s just been no time.”

And maybe Kara needed to keep it private, Alex thinks in an unwanted burst of understanding.

Unaware of Alex's inner turmoil, Kara's lips turn up in a wan smile as she adds, “She always protects her people...even if they don’t...” She trails off, shaking her head as if throwing off an unwanted thought.

Alex has no idea what to say. She feels vaguely guilty as though she’s wronged her sister, but also like she should offer some kind of support for whatever’s on Kara’s mind. “Seems like she’s always there for National City,” she finally mumbles in a noncommittal answer.

“She is,” Kara agrees and steps forward, bracing her hands on the railing as she leans out to stare at the sea. “She’s always there...” She sounds a little lost.

Alex can’t read her mood. It’s oddly neutral, as though she’s being unusually careful about what she says. “Kara?” Alex exhales after a long moment of uncomfortable silence.

“She’s been there for me too.” Kara’s hands clamp down on the railing enough that the metal creaks, though she gets control of herself before it buckles. “And I haven’t...”

The words choke away and she falls silent, leaving Alex simultaneously wanting to ask and terrified to. She absently rubs her left wrist and looks down, staring at the tiny numbers tucked under the curve of her palm. She’s still staring when Kara clears her throat.

“Alex,” her sister says hesitantly, her voice very small. “Can I ask you a question?”

Alex desperately wants to refuse, but she shrugs. “Sure.”

Kara’s brows draw into a frown. “Why do you have the Radio Earth frequencies written on your wrist?”

Damn super vision. Pulse shifting into high gear and the blood rushing in her ears, Alex take a deep breath in an effort to control the acceleration in her pulse that Kara will no doubt hear and question. She has no idea what to say. “I just...” she mumbles uncomfortably, but she drags in a breath and looks away for a moment to gather herself. She finally manages to stammer, “It’s...kind of a talisman, I guess.” Which is oddly true, even if the reason isn’t something she can explain to Kara. She twitches in surprise when Kara laughs, the sound unexpectedly lighthearted.

“Like when you were surfing.” The words are half question, half statement. There’s no accusation to her tone; “I’d forgotten how you always had weird, little good luck charms.”

She’d forgotten them too, the odd charms and bangles. The habit started when Tru gave her a tiny silver Hello Kitty charm she found on a family vacation in Japan with a warning it was to protect her from breaking her neck while surfing. Always afraid of strangling on necklaces, she’d attached it to the zipper pull on her wetsuit. A shark’s tooth she found got added to her flip flops a few weeks later. From there, the additions came and were attached somewhat randomly. The habit stopped when the surfing did, and she doesn’t even want to imagine J’onn’s response if she tried that with her DEO gear. “Yeah.” Alex grabs for the easy explanation even as she knows she shouldn’t. A voice whispers in her ear, ‘Tell her the truth.’ Only she can’t, not now when none of them are up for any more emotional trauma, but maybe not ever. “I...” She swallows hard, biting off a confession and leaving it unspoken.

“I remember how embarrassed you used to get about them.” There’s something poignant, even a bit sad, about Kara’s smile. “I guess you still do, huh?” There are a lot of questions hiding just below the surface of Kara’s tone.

Alex shrugs. “Guess so.” She peers down at her wrist, and the bits of black ink visible against the strip of skin revealed where the fabric doesn’t meet. “Kinda feels like a little reminder of better times, I guess.” It’s as close to the truth as she dares risk.

She wonders if maybe Kara is picking up on something because she tips her head to one side, peering at Alex with a frown. “You’ve never really met Cat, have you?” she finally says, her voice soft and thoughtful.

Feeling even guiltier, Alex shrugs. “We’ve been in the same room, but ignored each other.” Which is not strictly a lie because they have done exactly that. She just doesn’t mention how much that state of affairs has changed. She turns back out toward the water, hands braced on the railing in much the same pose as Kara. She stares out to sea and not at her sister. That feels safer.

“I wasn’t ashamed of you,” Kara says suddenly enough to bring Alex’s head back around and make her start in confusion.

“What?”

“I wasn’t ashamed of you,” Kara repeats, leaving Alex to wonder if she’s heard right.

“What?” Alex repeats, her confusion only growing, while Kara peers at her with a worried look and gnaws on her lower lip. “What are you...I don’t... What?” Alex stammers, not quite getting a clear thought out.

“I just wanted you to know it wasn’t you. I didn’t introduce you because of the whole Supergirl/Kara Danvers thing. Cat figured it out once before, and I was afraid that if she heard your name, she’d put it together again.”

Alex frowns, uncertain how to respond without admitting she knows for certain that Cat wasn’t fooled for more than a few minutes. “I never thought you were ashamed of me,” she finally gets out, though it’s more halting than she intends.

“I’m glad,” Kara says, sounding a little uncertain and almost sad. “I’ve always been proud of you...even when I hated you.”

Alex can’t hold back a soft laugh. It seems to lighten Kara’s mood as she joins in and the sisters share a knowing look that acknowledges both their current closeness and the years when things were much rougher.

Kara turns to peer at the ocean again. “You’ve been amazing through all this, you know.” There’s a little stutter to her voice as she adds, “Cat would be so impressed she’d probably make you her next superhero project and market you accordingly.”

Even knowing she should change the topic, Alex can’t resist the temptation to ask, “Would she?” She hears the hopeful note in her own voice, but considering the way Kara’s staring off into the distance, it seems doubtful she notices anything strange.

“Yeah, she would,” Kara says, her tone distant. “Ass-kicking women are a favorite of hers.”

Alex straightens her shoulders and sucks in her stomach. It’s not planning, but rather pure instinct, a response to the notion of the other woman’s approval. It’s also silly as hell, a fact she’s aware of. She’s seen the appreciation in green eyes, and felt the gentle awe in exploratory caresses. She knows her body appeals to the woman.

She does it anyway. Sometimes life’s just like that. Apparently, Cat is one of those times. She suddenly realizes that Kara has turned and is peering at her. She’s been silent long enough for her sister to notice and get curious. “Can’t fault her taste,” Alex says “Ass kicking women are totally hot.” A part of her cringes even as she offers a lusty twist of a smile that deliberately mimics Vasquez’s expression when Wonder Woman is mentioned. Not that she’s lying about the appeal of asskicking women, but the suggestive leer feels entirely unnatural.

Kara opens her mouth as if to speak, then snaps it shut again and goes back to staring out to sea. “Cat was pretty badass when she took out the lava monster,” she finally says, though there’s an odd pause in there, and the words trail away as though she considers saying more only to decide against it.

“Can I ask you something?” Alex says when the silence extends longer than is remotely comfortable.

Kara shrugs, though Alex has the definite sense it’s her turn to wish she could refuse. That’s okay. Alex is pretty sure she doesn’t want to ask. The silence is worse though, so she does anyway. “Is there something going on between you and Cat?”

Kara’s response is instant and decisive. “No.”

It sounds so simple.

But Alex can’t forget drunken agony, unanswered questions and the sole comment about one, innocent, close-mouthed kiss.

No, that’s not so simple, so she just waits.

Kara doesn’t look over, and tension ripples through her shoulders. “She’s a friend,” she mutters after another long moment of uncomfortable silence.

“You sure that’s all?” Alex asks, her tone kind, though a part of her flinches with unspoken hurt. “Because sometimes it’s seemed like there was more. When her chopper went down, you were pretty desperate, and that’s not the first time...” she adds, thinking of Kara’s panic to get to the other woman when the Daxamites blew Air Force One out of the sky. Kara flew halfway across the country and plucked her out of the falling ruins of a destroyed plane in seconds to protect her. That’s not easy, not even for Supergirl.

The thought makes Alex want to scream.

It also makes her very aware of how intense Kara’s feelings must be.

Not to mention her own, which is an idea so terrifying it’s a relief when Kara clears her throat, though her voice never rises above a mumble.

“It’s not what you think,” she says after a long moment, though it’s not the most convincing claim Alex has ever heard. “And not what Mon El—” She snaps her mouth shut mid word

“Kara?” Alex prompts when her sister doesn’t continue.

Kara doesn’t seem to notice. She stands tense and perfectly still, her gaze unfocused. “She knew...” she whispers so softly Alex isn’t entirely sure she’s heard right.

“Kara?” Alex says again, the question implicit in her tone and timing.

Kara takes a moment to straighten her shoulders and spine, seeming to resettle herself before she looks over at Alex. “It’s nothing. Just a joke,” she says firmly enough to seem almost defiant.

It eases none of Alex’s fears. In fact, it makes them worse. Mon El’s jokes typically have a mean edge to them. He reminds her of this kid she knew in grade school. He liked to punch people, then if caught or hit back for his cruelties, would whine or get others in trouble while demanding, “Sheez, cancha take a joke?”

Alex hated him him then, and hates the tactic now. She draws in a breath to demand more information only to pull up short as Vasquez’s voice cuts across the night. “Ma’ams!” she shouts as she comes careening out a nearby hatch.

“What is it!?” Alex demands.

“A lava monster was spotted off the coast of northern California.” Vasquez skids to a halt. She’s breathing hard. “It surfaced briefly, but a local oceanagrapher studying changes in whale songs got a reading on its sonar pattern...we can track them...” Efforts to get good sonar has been hell, and not helped any by the way the things have gone after the submarine fleets worldwide.

Alex knows what’s coming before the agent says it. She can tell by her obvious upset.

“There’s one coming in from the north and another from the south. On their current path, they’ll converge near National City.”

“Home,” Alex and Kara both exhale at the same time.

Suddenly the missing attacks make more sense. The bastards must have landed right on schedule and been making their way to attack together ever since. Probably why they were so focused on taking out subs. It let them move untracked.

Kara tenses to fly, but Alex grabs her arm before she can take off. They need a plan. “How much time do we have?”

“The radio call guessed an hour, maybe two. No more.” She winces. “Woulda been sooner, but it was a civilian discovery and they had a hard time getting any attention.” So many people have made panicked calls that the military has had to ignore most calls.

Kara stands poised, but held in place by Alex.

“It’ll take me five minutes to get into the armor,”Alex says breathlessly. “And with two of them...” She trails off, but her meaning is clear. Unfortunately, Clark’s out patrolling with Wonder Woman and god only knows how soon they can be reached.

“I can’t fly as fast if I’m carrying you.”

Even armored and protected against fire and friction, Kara’s max speed would kill Alex.

“But you can fly fast enough.” They’re in the Pacific, so National City’s not that far even by conventional aircraft. “Especially if I’ve got nomex, oxygen, and am wrapped in your cape.” Alex know to protect herself from friction burns and lack of oxygen. The gear and Kara’s care will the job and staying behind isn’t an option. “Even you’ll need help with two creatures.”

Kara doesn’t argue, just drags in a deep, calming breath, then nods. “Get ready,” she hisses. “We need to move as fast as possible.”

“You too,” Alex snaps. “Get a briefing from the captain so we know as much as possible and try and get word to Clark. I’ll be ready to fly by the time you’re done.”

Kara’s teeth grit and Alex can see the desire to just fly for home, but she nods. “I’ll get ahold of Kal if I can, and leave a message to send if I can’t.” She’s learned enough to see the wisdom in not acting rashly.

As if to confirm the increasing danger, klaxons blast, then a man’s voices echoes over the comm system. “Man all air defense stations!”

People start moving almost instantly, everything carefully choreographed to ready craft and pilots for combat as quickly as possible.

They have a war to fight after all.

* * * * * *

The city is eerily calm for ground zero, Cat thinks as she peers out across the familiar National City cityscape from the roof of the CatCo building. A few vehicles are moving—military mostly—positioning themselves for whatever’s to come. It’s not a large force. National City was never been a military town, so no one expected an attack here. Help may be on the way, but it hasn’t arrived yet, and may not make it in time.

The last predictions put the landing zones hours north and south of her city, so there was no official preparation for this. Which doesn’t change the fact that two creatures are on the way and expected to arrive in the next hour or two.

Her home may well burn, but not if she can help it.

Some part of her knew this was coming, so she started preparing early.

She’s already cleared the city what she could, using her resources to set up an inland camp and her connections to convince people to go to safer ground.  Too many may have ignored the warnings and chosen to stay, but the lion's share evacuated.

They'll be out of the way when the fighting starts. The previous attacks were mostly aimed at the military and the meta population. She's not so sure that's what will happen this time. So far they've ridden out the way from the sidelines and she's just had to play newscaster, but this may be the time when they all have to fight.

Cat’s prepared for either option. Ready for TV appearances and ‘Stay strong’ speeches, she looks good in designer silk and leather that cost more than her first house and are impressively practical. She knows she may have to run or fight this time and despite what she looks like, she's dressed accordingly. Her black pants are tough, with multiple pockets and a cut that gives her freedom to move while the designer bomber jacket with its stylish bit of wear and fur at the collar is kevlar lined and neatly hides the laticework, 3D printed cast that protects her broken left forearm.

She looks powerful, professional, and with the still healing bruises and butterfly tapes sealing the cut on her forehead, just a bit rakish—the perfect image of a leader in a disaster. She’s experienced enough to know images count, even—or perhaps, especially—when it might be a last fight.

God bless technology, she thinks and glances down, carefully flexing her hand. The newest thing in broken limb support, it’s custom made to fit perfectly, lightweight, strong, more comfortable and less restrictive than what came before.

Carter also thinks it’s cool as hell.

She wouldn’t have minded a simpler—not to mention less painful—way of impressing her son.

Tough, rubber soled boots that are styled more like combat boots than her usual look, finish out the ensemble.

She’s ready for press interviews or an alien invasion, whichever comes first. She’s also not entirely sure she likes herself or her way of making a living at these times, but she can’t see any better options.

The military, meanwhile, is setting up heavy artillery and getting ready to make their stand. The boulevards, freeways, and buildings below will give them the high ground to fire on anyone incoming from the sea.

The high ground is always a military advantage and she expects they’ll need it.

The change in the monsters’ pattern suggests this attack will the worst yet. It’s likely, either the beginning of a new, more brutal phase, or the final, desperate onslaught of a failed campaign. Either way, neither option portends anything good.

But with luck, the city should be nearly devoid of civilians. A fleet of CatCo helicopters are ferrying the last of her employees to an inland command center that’s been set up alongside the refugee camp where the military is taking any stragglers they pick up.

She hoped none of these plans would be needed, but she has no regrets, though there's plenty of terror.

“Mom.”

Carter’s voice breaks in on her dark thoughts and she turns to smile at her son. He’s dressed in rough clothes, looking more like a soldier in heavy, grey cammo. His voice quavers, and she can see him shaking as he steps up beside her and wraps her in a hard hug.

Slipping an arm around his shoulders, she pulls him into her side and ducks her head to press a kiss to his temple. In the distance, she hears the distinct beat of helicopter blades. Chopper incoming.

She knows Carter hears it to by the way he quakes against her. He knows what the inbound helicopter means.

Time to leave.

“Come with us,” he pleads. It's far from the first time.

“I wish I could,” she says sadly. She’s sane enough to be terrified, but she knows what her task is from here on out. “But I need to be here.” She hugs him hard, wincing as her broken arm twinges at the painful pressure.

Meanwhile, the CatCo chopper comes in over the building.

“Time to go,” she tells Carter, nearly yelling to make herself heard above the aircraft noises.

“Let me stay with you!” he shouts back and shakes his head. “I’m not afraid.”

Which is about as bald faced a lie as she’s ever heard. “Of course you are,” she disagrees, her tone free of criticism. She ducks down enough to put their eyes on the same level. “And that’s okay,” she reassures him and offers a loving smile. “God knows I’m scared,” she confesses. “But I have a job to do, and to do it, I need to know you’re safe because that is the most important thing to me.”

He freezes, peering up at her with terrified eyes. “But—”

“I need you to help me.” She pets his hair back with her good hand. “I need you to be incredibly brave...and be safe.” She holds his gaze, her look every bit as pleading as his. “I know how hard this is, but you have to do it. It’s the only way I can...” The words choke off and she swallows hard, then simply whispers, “Please.”

She knows he can’t hear the last tiny plea above the helicopter, but he stares as if seeing something new. It takes him a long moment, but finally he nods, then lunges into her arms, hugging her as if he can make it all go away if he can just hang on tightly enough.

They’re still holding on when a chopper sweeps in and settles. The CatCo logo decorates the front and side panels. She’s surprisingly unsurprised to see Gabe Nash in the lead pilot’s seat, his cuts and bruises from the crash still healing, his right arm wrapped in a canvas brace. Another CatCo pilot is in the second seat. Cat tries to remember her name. Kelly-Something? She’s assisted on some of the Supergirl coverage and she knows Gabe wouldn’t let her take this gig if she wasn’t good.

She’s relieved. Even injured, he’s the best pilot she’s got, but as battered as he is, a backup seems like a wise idea.

“Time to go,” she says near Carter’s ear.

He’s shaking hard, but takes a deep breath and straightens himself, then nods.

She’s never been prouder.

A side door opens as they draw near. The Bell twin engine is the most powerful model the company owns. She’s not too surprised to see Alex’s friend Tru, her husband and kids in the back. They were a part of the volunteer civilian search and rescue team that found her and Gabe during the hours after the crash. She’s made sure they’ve been checked on by her people and ordered they be seen to.

Gabe twists around in his seat and salutes as Carter tosses his backpack in. “Hey, kid,” he calls to Carter. He’s ferried her son before, so they know each other a bit at least.

She notes his jeans with the left leg slashed off and the leg brace tossed in the back with a couple of loaded packs. “You okay for this?” It’s not a minor question. She’s trusting him with everything.

He shrugs. “Kel’s a good pilot,” he says, nodding to his copilot, who actually has the stick. She ducks her head in acknowledgment. “The breaks in the leg don’t interfere with motor control.” He glances back, nodding toward the family in the back. “Those folks saved our asses, so there's plenty we need to protect aboard.” He looks back, his eyes on Carter. “I’ll take care of him.” His tone makes it more than a promise to deliver Carter safely.

“Mom,” Carter whimpers and grabs her in another, desperate hug, literally nosing into her shoulder the way he did as a small child.

She hugs him almost as desperately, squeezing him to her before consciously holding him in place and stepping back. “You’ll be all right.”

He’s fighting tears as he nods and climbs into the helicopter.

Cat is relieved by the way Tru slips an arm across his shoulders, holding on tight as she looks up and offers a small nod. She instantly understands the silent promise. He’s hers now if it comes down to it. Cat mouths, “Thank you,” and stays where she is until the helicopter lifts off and angles away toward the hills to the east.

She’s still standing there when she hears the sound of the elevator doors and then a familiar voice.

“Ms. Grant?”

Turning, she manages a shaky smile and accepts a hug nearly as desperate as Carter’s. “We need to stop meeting like this, Winslow.”

He offers a tremulous smile. “Time to save the city again?”

Her soft laugh is grimly affectionate as she raises an eyebrow. “Indeed, Winslow, indeed...”

* * * * * *

TBC