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Good Scotch and Bad Nights

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Ring in hand, heart on sleeve, Alex asks.

Maggie says, “No.”

It’s carefully phrased to make it seem like ‘not now but maybe later’, to keep it open ended and offer some promise of a future, but Alex has been through enough to see the echoes of ‘never’ in dark eyes. It leaves her well aware it’s not likely to turn to ‘yes’ at any point in the future, but even knowing she has little chance, she clings to a vague hope that what they have will stretch on as a long ‘maybe’.

‘Maybe’ only lasts two months.

Because ‘never’ becomes reality when a striking redhead strides into the bar and Maggie can’t look anywhere else. Alex isn’t surprised when, three days later, Maggie follows the redhead to Gotham. She knows she never really had a chance.

In the aftermath, Alex resolves not to hold it against any other Kates she meets in the future, though she’s far from confident she can manage the trick.

It hurts.

Like hell.

And when Kara finds a way to bring back Mon El (whom Alex has taken to thinking of as mono because he feels so much like a disease suffered by high schoolers who’ve kissed the wrong partners), it only gets worse. Not only does she not have her sister around to commiserate, but when she is around, her emotional mood swings —a constantly moving pendulum that hits joy at one apex and sheer fury over his behavior at the other—are exhausting.

Then a few days later ‘mono’ waits until Kara’s out of the room before helpfully suggesting a threesome to get over her problems with a chortling, “I could use a little variety and it’s not like you’re real sisters.”

When she realizes she has no idea what Kara will do if she tells her, but suspects the answer isn’t kick him to the curb, she decides it’s time to take a break.

And get really, really drunk in a bar no one she knows has ever even heard of, then stay drunk for several days before going back and claiming flu.

Really, she just needs to get the hell away from them all.

She leaves a text for Kara, a voice mail for J’onn, and personally lets Vasquez know she’ll be out for a few days and not to bother her unless it’s an emergency. The lieutenant is wise enough to simply nod and say, “Take care of yourself.”

Alex grunts something appropriate and hurries out.

She drives for long while, losing herself in the concentration required to navigate busy streets and freeways before she finds a place that looks depressing enough to meet her needs. It’s called Herbie’s. A local dive a couple of municipalities over, it’s neither gay nor straight mostly because the odds of getting laid by going there are very close to zero. It’s a place to go, drink heavily, be grumpy and morose and most importantly, left alone.

There’s even an ancient Motel Six next door where she can walk without effort if she’s even slightly ambulatory, so she needn’t go home.

In short, it’s exactly what Alex needs.

A few people glance over when she walks in, but nobody pays any attention. She takes a booth, orders a bottle of something cheap and strong and begins with a shot. The rotgut is rough enough that she has to start gingerly to keep it from coming back up. Not quite the two-fisted drink-till-you-drop event she planned on, but it gets easier with each sip. She's well into a second shot of painfully bad liquor before noticing the blonde at the bar.

Much like Alex, her body language broadcasts a clear fuck-off. It’s a message apparently even the least sober denizens of Herbie’s can see because they all hang back.

Alex holds up a silent toast to whatever mojo blondie puts out because she’s taken up a post right in front of the bar and has a really nice ass. Even at a place like Herbie’s that would usually merit a bit of drunken interest, but nobody gets closer than five feet except the bartender and even she remains at arm’s length. She finds it kinda hot. Which is oddly comforting. Having gone most of her life without much in the way of sexual impulses, she’s been worried it would be a long time before she felt that way again, that maybe she’s not so much a lesbian as Maggie-sexual.

So it’s nice to appreciate a really nice ass and see the appeal of the blonde—of someone who looks nothing like her ex.

She even has a momentary fantasy of wandering over, playing it James Bond cool, and making a play, even if she knows in her heart that James Bond cool is not really her style, at least not in a place like Herbie’s with a hot blonde in full fuck-offery.

Maybe if they had an alien invasion and she could play hero she could do it, particularly if she got to kick someone’s ass. She’s pretty good at the asskicking thing. She tips her head to one side, silently contemplating the blonde’s ass where it’s parked on the barstool. Mind you, she’s learned a few other uses for that part of the anatomy.

She enjoys a moment of pleasant contemplation even as she knows she’s not going to make a move, because while she’s brave, it’s a different flavor of courage. Maybe if somebody tried to spirit the blonde away to some alien world, then she could do something.

That thought running through her head, she pours herself a fresh drink, takes a sip and cringes. It’s not good. There are smoother brands of kerosene. Then again, the self abuse of bad liquor is part of the experience she supposes.

She’s about halfway through a shot glass when one of the denizens of Herbie’s works up his courage enough to make his move on the hot blonde. He’s wavering on his feet, and Alex is pretty sure he hasn’t been sober in years. She can’t hear what either of them says, but the rejection is clearly a mean one because he stumbles back a pace, and she hears his muttered exit line.

“Dyke.” It’s said with enough venom that the spittle flies.

His hands curl into fists and it suddenly occurs to Alex that the blonde’s nice ass is attached to a slender, almost delicate figure unlikely to withstand blows well.

She’s on her feet before she can think better of it, a curious mix of rage and hurt coiling in the pit of her belly, combat instincts triggered to the point where she’d cheerfully beat the crap out of him. She may be new to the whole gay thing, but she’s never liked those kinds of insults much, even when she didn’t realize they applied to her.

The idea of a little frontier-style justice appeals even if her opponents looks likely to go down with one blow. The only question is whether or not he’ll cry for his mommy when he does. The over-under says yes.

So when another denizen of Herbie’s finds his feet, this time a man mountain of sheer muscle, Alex is almost happy. This guy will be a challenge.

She’s already moving when he reaches out.

And unexpectedly grabs the rude asshat by the collar.

“Dude,” the man mountain growls and shakes the drunk “Apologize.”

Alex skids to a halt a pace or two behind and to one side of the blonde, braced for combat, but pulled up short by the way Man-Mountain ducks his head politely. That is not a man readying himself for enough down home, homophobia, sexism and overall misogyny to earn a beating.

“Sorry, Miss, he gets stupid when he’s drunk.” Man-Mountain glares at the drunk and shakes him again. “Herbie’s is proud to be gay friendly as well as a safe space for single women to get a drink without harassment.”

Alex freezes, every clever rejoinder she had in her head instantly gone. What does one say when a dive like Herbie’s goes politically correct?

Then he shakes the asshat again. “Now, apologize, Myron.”

Alex sags. Well, hell. She can’t pound on somebody if he’s going to be like that.

Meanwhile, Myron’s casting nervous glances around. “Sorry, Ma’am,” he says, a bit of a slur to his words. He glances back at Man-Mountain, clearly hoping for forgiveness.

That’s just... It’s entirely socially acceptable to her. She literally has no complaint. Disappointed, she heaves a sigh.

The blonde seems to have somewhat the same response, because she’s just staring at the two men, her head tipped to one side, shoulders sagging.

Alex recognizes the body language of disappointment.

Then Man-Mountain nods to both women. “Feel free to let me know if anyone gives you trouble. We don’t really have a bouncer here—it’s a pretty chill crowd—but I step in if anybody gets out of hand.”

Alex doesn’t know what to do so she just mumbles, “Thanks.”

The blonde pivots back to the bar, slaps several bills on the counter and snaps at the bartender, “Leave the bottle.”

Alex stares, amazed by the size of the denomination of the top bill and very curious as to what this bar might carry that would merit that price. As far as she can tell, it’s more than the rest of the entire stock is worth. She’s so focused on the money that it takes her several extra beats to realize she knows that voice.

“And we need another glass,” blondie adds. It appears almost instantly and she’s filling both shot glasses while Alex is still struggling to place that voice. She pushes the shot glass into place in front of the neighboring stool.

That’s when Alex realizes who the blonde is.

Cat Grant.

Alex freezes, uncertain what she’s supposed to do now. She’s never actually spoken to the woman. Even though they’ve fought together, risked their lives together, and nearly died together, Kara’s need to keep the two sides of her life separate meant they were stuck doing a strange pas de deux wherein they inhabited the same space, but carefully didn’t acknowledge each other’s existences. It's easier than trying to figure what they can and can't acknowledge knowing.

Being Kara’s support system gets very strange some days.

“Oh, do sit down and have a drink, Agent Scully,” Cat drawls with a fine edge of sarcasm. She pivots on her stool, and tips her head to one side, peering first at Alex, then past her at the booth where her bottle of cheap liquor still stands. “A drink worth having,” she adds, “As opposed to that swill I wouldn’t use in a generator.”

Alex remains frozen.

“Sit,” Cat barks.

Alex sits.

And Cat spins back around, elbows braced on the bar as she retrieves her drink and throws it back. “If you’re going to drink, you should at least indulge a bit and have quality.”

“Never occurred to me quality would be available in this place,” Alex admits.

“Danica always keeps a bottle of Teeling on hand for me.”

“Never heard of it,” Alex admits.

“It’s five hundred a bottle.” Cat pours herself a fresh two fingers and throws them back, then winces and hisses. “This is not meant for sipping. It’s meant to be thrown back without risking your vocal cords or having it come back up.” She points at Alex’s glass. “Drink.”

Alex thinks about it a moment and follows suit. It hurts, but not like the rotgut. She can chug this and not hurl. She’s barely set the glass back down when it’s refilled. As she drinks again, it occurs to her that Cat’s words mean she’s been here before enough to keep a bottle on reserve.

The hell?

“You’re a regular?” she asks without thinking. “Here?

Cat’s head is back down and she’s staring at her drink with focused intensity. “Only after divorces and broken hearts,” she mumbles and blinks at the same time she twitches her head sharply as if to throw off tears.

As far as Alex knows Kara’s boss hasn’t had any recent marriages or divorces, so...

Oh.

“Sorry,” she mumbles. “I...” She’s tempted to confess her own broken heart in this odd, anonymous-but-not situation, but somehow the words won’t come. Breaking down into messy sobs in front of Cat Grant seems much too dangerous. Kara’s quoted way too many of the woman’s one-liners to take that risk. “Sorry,” she says again.

Cat shrugs. “I was...” She doesn’t finish, just trails into silence with a soft sigh, then kicks back another tumbler, momentarily flinching before she shakes it off and visibly squares her shoulders. “I’m fine.”

Which is the least believable claim Alex has heard in a long time, but she’s not going to call Cat Grant a liar, so she shrugs and drinks. “So...who?” she asks after she’s had enough alcohol to dent her better instincts.

A moment passes, then Cat glances over and her brows draw into a frown. “Did she send you to check up on me?” she asks, hazel eyes narrowing dangerously.

No need to ask who ‘she’ is, but the question confuses Alex all the same, so it takes her an extra beat to process. Of course, Kara would know what was going on. She knew everything about Cat’s life, and looked after her every need. “No...believe me, she has no idea I’m—”

“Please,” Cat snaps. “Are you really trying to tell me you just happened to talk into Herbie’s?” She snorts softly and pours herself a fresh tumbler, though she doesn’t immediately drink this time. “Right when Kara knows I’m likely here and feeling...depressed?”

“Really? That’s your argument?” Alex rolls her eyes, shaking her head at the drama queen self centered antics. “You and I have never even spoken before, so why would she send me instead of coming herself?” Alex regrets the question almost instantly because she sees her answer in the anguish that flares in Cat’s eyes.

In an instant, one reason occurs. Kara studiously avoided James after dumping him and still isn’t comfortable in his company.

And Mono’s out of the infirmary and unavoidably back.

Oh.

“Get out,” Cat hisses under her breath and turns back to her drink.

“I’m so—” Alex says very softly, a wealth of understanding in her voice.

“Get. Out.” Cat’s voice is softer this time, but hurt and rage are threaded through those two words in a way that leaves Alex quaking.

“I—”

“Tell her I’m fine...hardly falling apart over one painfully virginal, close-mouthed kiss, and she needn’t worry that I’ll out her in any fashion.”

Oh hell.

Given that Cat Grant could out someone in a dozen languages and on every major continent in the world, Antarctica included, not to mention a major TV news network, the internet and probably to God himself, Alex’s stomach rolls with a flurry of nausea. If J’onn knew he might just insist on locking her up until he’s confident she's calmed down. From what Alex knows of Cat’s personality, calming down is the last thing that will ensue if that happens.

She has no idea what to do.

“Just go.” The anger and hurt are still there, but this time they’re tempered by a desperate note of pleading. “Please...just tell her I’m fine.”

In an instant Alex realizes that Cat Grant is in love with Kara, desperately, hopelessly, I’ll-die-for-you in love, and it’s been there all along, in every bit of support and advice and mentoring. Hell, she forgave getting tossed from the fortieth story of the CatCo building without even docking her a day’s pay.

If that’s not love, Alex isn’t sure what is.

Alex wets suddenly dry lips and suddenly realizes she’s found her feet somewhere along the way and is now standing next to her stool. “I...” It’s not a great beginning. “She didn’t send me,” she says at last, uncertain whether that’s a kindness or not since it might just make the pain worse to hear that Kara didn’t think of her as far as Alex knows. “I’m here because I...” She pauses as the sentence in her head refuses to come out. “For the same reason you are,” she says after a beat. “Met someone and...let’s just say it didn’t work out.”

Cat’s response is an acid tinged snort that says an enormous amount for such a tiny sound. “Not really interested in your sad tale of woe over whatever pretty boy you met at a bar last week. Trust me, sex will come again.”

The dismissive note leaves Alex wanting to grab the other woman and shake her like Man-Mountain shook Myron. “Funny that, since I never came before,” Alex sneers, the words unintentionally self-lacerating enough to literally make her wince. “See, I just assumed I didn’t care about it because I’m not wired that way, then I realized I actually was...for women...or maybe just one woman, but...” She chokes for a halt for a moment, incredibly aware that she’s confessing all of this to Cat Grant’s stiff back. The woman doesn’t even give enough of a shit to turn and look at her like a real human being. Which is probably why she finishes off with, “I guess the fact she ran off to Gotham with her ex when I asker her to marry me was an answer.”

“Not good enough,” Cat exhales almost inaudibly.

Alex erupts. “Fuck you!” She sees Cat’s shoulders tremble just a little and it feels good enough that she’s drawing breath to unleash another round of insults when Cat swivels the stool around.

“All right,” Cat drawls, leaning back against the bar as she peers up at Alex.

It takes Alex an extra second to parse the meaning, and when she does, her jaw drops. Frozen, she can only stand and stare and wait for the punchline.

Because that one oughta be a doozy.

Then Cat pushes to her feet, her body sleek, her movements far too sinuous for a woman who must be at least six sheets to the wind. A feline smile twists her lips as she deliberately steps into Alex’s space. “So, you wanna fuck?” she murmurs, her voice soft and wicked and dangerously inviting.

Despite a flicker of temptation, Alex stares at the other woman like she’s lost her mind, which seems like a distinct possibility. “Are you insane?”

Cat laughs softly, wavering gently on her feet. “Probably,” she admits, her slight unsteadiness taking her deeper into Alex’s space. Their torsos just barely brush and she reaches up, curling long fingers into Alex’s collar to drag her head down enough to whisper in her ear. “But you look like a woman who could use a night of crazy.”

Alex is appalled to feel her pulse accelerate and her insides quiver. Cat’s still clinging to her collar as she reaches over and retrieves the scotch from the bar, peering momentarily at the label before looking back up at Alex. “Do you know what good scotch feels like sliding over your skin?” she asks, so close her breath teases Alex’s ear. “It’s cold and stings a little...and when someone’s tongue, warm and just a little rough, licks it up...” She pauses for effect, then drawls very softly. “Well, let’s just say it’s pleasant.”

“I thought I wasn’t good enough,” Alex reminds herself as much as Cat in an effort to shore up her sanity as well as her resistance. As they stand there, Cat Grant is steadily leaning more firmly into her body and she can feel the press of small, taut breasts and pleasantly firm curves.

And they feel really nice, almost nice enough that she barely registers Cat’s soft sigh.

“That wasn’t for you.” A subtle tinge of hurt echoes momentarily in her voice before it fades away again. She doesn’t give Alex time to think about that confession, instead the tip of her tongue teases the outer curve of Alex’s ear, then she whispers, “I promise you, I’ll do my best to prove you are wired that way.”

Alex swallows hard, her breathing suddenly ragged. “Why?” she whispers. None of this makes any sense and Alex has always been a woman to seek logic.

Cat pauses, arching back enough to peer into Alex’s eyes. A wry twist of a smile torques her mouth. Releasing Alex’s collar, she trails her fingers along her cheek. “You look nothing like her.”

A hint of a frown creases Alex’s brow. Maybe it’s just drunken logic, but in the moment, she understands the argument. Cat looks nothing like Maggie, and right now, that’s the most appealing thing about her.

It occurs to her that they're still in a public bar and everyone is not watching with such studious care that she knows they’re all watching. Then suddenly, before she can contemplate their audience too seriously, Cat’s lips are on hers, soft and warm and tasting of expensive alcohol. The kiss doesn’t last long and when it breaks, Alex can barely breathe, much less think.

“So,” Cat exhales, “wanna fuck?”

Alex barely has a chance to nod before Cat regain a tight grip on her collar and drags her out.

* * * * * *

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Two

Alex blinks rapidly as she’s hauled outside. Not entirely sober, the setting sun in her eyes, she loses track of things for a moment, long enough for Cat to push her up against the wall and steal another kiss. Given what little’s been said between them, she expects rough and demanding, she gets soft and giving.

“I don’t love you,” Cat whispers very softly when she breaks the kiss.

“Good,” Alex mutters, fighting tears. “I’ve never done well with love.”

Cat strokes her cheek, but doesn’t say a word, just pivots looking around herself as if she’s just a little lost.

They’re next to a small parking lot and Alex half expects a car to appear, or worse, for Cat to stagger off to a vehicle, at which point, sanity will have to reassert itself. She’s not sure she wants that to happen—insanity seems by far the less painful option at this point—but she’s not crazy enough to let either of them behind the wheel.

Luckily, Cat has her own version of the Motel 6 plan. Still towing Alex in her wake, she heads that direction. It’s a short walk, and while the drunkenness makes her stagger a bit and spike heeled boots don’t help, Cat is surprisingly graceful and makes good time. She’s clearly well used to heels that make Alex’s feet hurt just to look at. No more than a minute or two passes before they’re moving through an open courtyard with a pool in the far corner. Cat leads her that direction, behind the pool and to the farthest staircase. There, she takes a step up, then turns back. In that position, she has a tiny height advantage, putting them close enough that Alex can see herself reflected in expanded irises.

She looks scared.

“You can change your mind,” Cat offers. Her voice is soft and there’s no judgment in her tone.

Folding her arms protectively across her chest, Alex shakes her head firmly. Even if she's unsure about this idea, the last thing she wants is to be alone and she's not ready for any more rejection. She blinks at a few unwanted tears, but doesn’t give way to the flickering urge to run.

Cat reaches out to rub the pad of her thumb along Alex’s lower lip as if wiping away an invisible crumb.

Alex fully expects to be sent away.

Instead, Cat’s cupping her cheek and leaning in. The kiss that follows is achingly soft. Cat’s lips are perfectly smooth and taste faintly of strawberries under the fading bite of scotch, and she slants them faintly, drawing Alex to move with her. A moment passes while their lips cling, then Cat pulls back just a bit. “You’re beautiful, you know,” she sighs, making it sound like a simple statement of the obvious.

“No, I—”

“Hush,” Cat snaps, her tone sharp, though her touch remains conversely gentle as she turns and tugs Alex up the stairs and along the second floor walkway. She finally pulls up short when she reaches the corner room. Judging by the position of various doors, it’s probably larger than the rest.

No surprise there. Only Cat Grant could somehow find the best, even at a Motel 6.

She guides Alex so she can lean against the wall next to the door. Another quick kiss, then she hands the bottle of Teeling to Alex to hold and quietly commands, “Stay here.”

Alex is a good soldier. She understands the value of the chain of command and stays right where she is while Cat fumbles with the door. Moments pass. The door is either more resistant than normal or Cat’s drunken grace, while impressive when it’s the smooth sway of her ass, is more limited when it comes to her hands.

Cat curses a couple of times, but finally swings the door wide. She takes a moment to steal the bottle back and move it somewhere inside, then returns and Alex finds herself being pulled along again, this time into a dark room. Motel 6's not being known for their decor, she barely glances at it, though she does note an unusually pleasant smell, a bit citrusy and flowery at the same time. It’s nothing like the usual old motel funk. On top of the taste of good scotch that still clings to her taste buds, it’s really quite nice.

Even nicer when she’s pushed against the newly closed door and soft lips brush her own before slim fingers skim down the sides of her face and the length of her throat. A shiver slips through her as they reach her collar bones and carefully kept nails scrape lightly.

It’s interesting because knowing what she does about Cat Grant, she expects a sudden push of borderline rough contact—the woman isn’t known for her patience and the bold approach at Herbie’s doesn’t suggest someone eager to take her time— so it’s a surprise that Cat is so slow, almost hesitant. Her every touch cautious and more curious than demanding, she brushes her knuckles against Alex’s sternum, then runs her hands along the breadth of her shoulders.

Alex doesn't quite know what to make of it. She's never had a potential lover be so careful. In that moment, it occurs to her that perhaps Cat’s genuinely reticent and inexperienced, at least with women. If so, she can understand the feeling. She remembers her own terror and confusion that first time with Maggie. Women seemed so much more complicated and subtle than her unimpressive list of encounters with men.

She was lucky. Maggie was endlessly kind and understanding. She took the lead, making Alex feel safe to take her time and explore without feeling pressured. It gave her a chance to get comfortable with herself and figure out what she wanted at her own pace.

If Cat’s in the same place, if her love for Kara is something new and confusing, maybe she’s moving slowly in fear or hopes Alex will take the lead, expecting her to be the experienced one.

The brief thought runs through Alex’s head, Oh, you poor deluded soul, because the notion of her being the expert at anything intimate seems laughable, but she’s here and she owes the other woman her kindness if nothing else. If she can do for Cat what Maggie did for her, she’ll feel right about it all. She straightens her shoulders and raises her hands, intending to touch only to find her wrists caught and pushed back.

No,” Cat’s voice is sharp enough to make Alex freeze in place. Cat's touch is firm as she pushes her hands back against the wall. Arching up on her toes, she pushes into Alex’s space, staring into her eyes as she whispers, “Keep your hands where I put them.”

Now that sounds more like Cat Grant.

But the caress that follows is in total contrast to that commanding note as she strokes her fingers down the line of Alex’s throat, following it down into the vee of her shirt.

Alex swallows hard, nervous, but strangely trustful, though she’s a little uncertain how this game will play out.

And Cat’s not telling.

Instead, agile fingers begin working the buttons that run down the front of her shirt, easing them free one by one.

Well, that answers the question about whether the door is sticky, because Cat’s hands are definitely coordinated enough for any task. Alex feels her pulse pick up as she contemplates what they will feel like on her skin.

She likes the idea more than she could have ever predicted.

Working her way lower, Cat continues freeing delicate buttons, and pulling things loose until she can move soft fabric aside to brush her fingertips over Alex’s abdomen in lazy strokes.

Alex’s head thumps back into the door and her breath catches. It’s just a tiny caress, not even anywhere most people would regard as erogenous. It shouldn’t feel so good.

But it does. Cat’s fingers are like warm velvet on her skin, just the lightest touch enough to send shivers of awareness over sensitive nerve endings.

Cat pushes her shirt aside and ducks her head, kissing the base of Alex’s throat, then licking softly over her sternum just above the edge of her bra.

Head still braced against the door, Alex wonders if it’s possible to orgasm with such a small caress. For a moment she thinks just maybe, but before she can make up her mind, artful fingers move on, dropping lower.

They find her waistband and fumble for a moment. Alex hears the rasp of a zipper, then feels cool air on her skin. Her breath catches a tiny beat later when Cat’s knuckles press against her stomach, then drift lower on her pelvis as those careful fingers make their way inside her jeans. She tips her head down, staring at the sight, amazed by how erotic it is to see Cat’s hand buried in her pants. “It’s real,” she whispers almost inaudibly.

“This is happening,” Cat breathes, pressing up against the length of Alex’s body, the silk of her suit and blouse sleek and smooth where they brush against her skin, the shape of her soft and warm. She nibbles on Alex’s ear and cups the slick heat of her sex. Catching the point of her chin with her free hand, she draws her head back until their eyes meet. “I’m going to fuck you now,” she promises, her expression serious.

Then those graceful, agile fingers are breaching her sex, finding her clit and stroking slowly, then slipping deeper to explore this new landscape. After a beat, she draws back a bit, then pushes forward again, unintentionally finding a point right alongside her clitoris that makes Alex gasp and sends her head snapping back with a solid thud and a tiny whimper.

Okay, so question answered. Cat clearly knows what she’s doing and she’s not looking for someone to lead her anywhere.

“You like that,” Cat drawls and nips lightly as she focuses on that spot, her strokes growing more demanding. “Good.”

“Yes,” Alex groans, turning her face into Cat’s shoulder as the woman presses closer and wraps her free hand around her torso. Cat might sound hard, but to touch, she’s soft and sweet smelling and so warm Alex just wants to hang on and not let go.

“Move with my hand,” Cat coaxes, her fingers dancing inside the tight confines of Alex’s jeans. Her other hand drops lower and she spreads her fingers, clamping down on the curve of shapely buttocks. She pressures for a moment, guiding slim hips in a slow thrusting motion before backing off. “Find your rhythm.” She leans back into Alex, nuzzling the curve of her neck. “Make it yours.”

A tiny whimper escapes barely parted lips and taut muscles ripple as Alex’s hips roll, instinctively seeking more contact when Cat eases the pressure.

“Please,” Alex whimpers, desperate for more.

Cat’s fingers go from barely moving to perfectly still. “Show me.” The command is softly worded and silky smooth, but it’s no less a command.

It takes Alex a moment to parse the meaning, a moment to understand what Cat expects of her. “I don’t...know...” she confesses.

“You can do it,” Cat encourages as she feather soft kisses along her jawline.

Alex’s head falls back against the door again and her eyes slip closed. It takes concentration, but she rolls her hips, experimentally working her body against Cat’s hand, shifting to change the contact points and drag against aching flesh. Suddenly waiting fingers hit the right spot, one even better than the first. It’s like firecrackers going off behind her closed eyes and a harsh shudder shakes her from head to toe.

“There?” Cat drawls as she searches out that spot on her own, seeking confirmation she’s got it right.

She has.

A gasp is forced from Alex’s lungs and her whole body spasms. “Yes,” she exhales so softly she barely makes a sound.

“Then lead the way,” Cat commands. “I’ll follow.” After that, she takes her cues from Alex, moving with her and listening for her tiny moans and whispered pleas. Her fingers range, slipping inside for a few graceful thrusts, then pulling back and stroking the base of Alex’s belly before returning to that spot that makes Alex twitch and moan with every silky touch.

Muscles trembling, body awash in sensation, Alex finally ignores orders, pulling her hands away from the wall to wrap an arm around Cat’s waist and haul her even closer.

Cat doesn’t complain. And when Alex pushes her fingers into soft curls, guiding Cat’s head up and into position, her lips part and she accepts a kiss that’s equal parts submission and demand.

Sensation is swirling, and Alex’s muscles quake and tremor. “Harder,” she pants between kisses, while her hips bear down on Cat’s hand, wordlessly demanding more pressure.

“Yes,” Cat breathes, following orders. Her touch firmer, she makes no effort to guide Alex’s journey. She’s just riding along now, doing her best to give what’s needed.

Then suddenly Alex is there, her body shuddering, her mouth bound to Cat’s, tongues tangling. She can’t breathe, but she’s okay with that. She’s not sure what she’d do with oxygen anyway.

It’s not some fictional conflagration that ignites her soul or anything like that, but it’s very, very good and when it’s swept on through, she’s trembly, but she can breathe again. She’s shaky legged in the aftermath, her knees seemingly cast from overcooked spaghetti.

She doesn’t know whether to be relieved or appalled that it feels so damn good. “I...” Alex mumbles, but has no idea what to say.

It makes it easier that Cat takes over, tugging her across the room to the bed. She pulls back the coverlet before commanding, “Sit.”

Alex sits, staring up at Cat with wide eyes when a hand lands on her cheek to stroke gently. She rolls her head into the tender caress. “What now?” she whispers. She knows she hasn’t cheated, but it feels like she did and she’s not sure how she feels about that. At the same time, it’s a kind of relief to feel her body still vibrating pleasantly in the aftermath, any fears that she might never feel sexual again, a thing of the past.

That was definitely sexual and she sure as hell felt it.

Cat crouches down, peering up at Alex and considering her carefully. Her eyes are suspiciously glossy and she swallows hard and wets her lips before even trying to speak. It takes two tries before any sound comes forth. “What would you like to happen?”

Alex is silent for a long moment as she considers the question. Finally, she admits, “I don’t want to go home.”

Cat nods her understanding. “Then we have all the time in the world.”

 

* * * * * *

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Three

Alex has no idea what comes next. She’s sprawled limp on the bed, her body exhausted and aching and Cat’s just watching her. Courtesy suggests she should make some attempt to return the favor, but the other woman shows no sign of being in a hurry or even of wanting to be touched. Instead she remains crouched just out of easy reach, her expression unreadable, then she suddenly seems to shake herself and blinks as if waking from a dream.

As Alex watches, Cat moves from the crouch to a kneeling position at her feet. Head down, she lifts Alex's booted foot so it rests on her thigh and starts loosening the laces. She’s utterly focused and Alex has the distinct sense she’s lost in her own head and perhaps using the simple task to do a little soul searching. Or maybe just to escape for a moment.

It’s not what she would have predicted given recent events, but everybody has their own coping techniques.

As she silently watches, Cat peels her left boot and sock off. She momentarily cups Alex’s bare foot in her hand, idly massaging with her thumb, then sets it aside before going to work on the right. The complicated lacing pattern Alex uses on the tactical boots takes her an extra moment to work free, but finally she pulls off the second boot and sock and sets the pair aside.

A moment passes and then another and another until Alex reaches out and gently brushes pale hair back from Cat’s brow. “You can change your mind,” she whispers, knowingly repeating Cat’s words to her on the stairs.

Cat’s chin snaps up. Her eyes are wide and luminous in the darkness, but Alex can’t really make out her expression.

“I...” Cat exhales. “I’m not.” Suddenly she’s moving, pushing to her feet and into Alex’s space to loom over her. Her face is in shadow, her voice deeper, almost husky, as she whispers, “I’m not changing my mind at all.” And then she’s reaching for Alex and her mouth is coming down. In the beat between her movement and making contact, Alex expects to finally feel the aggression Cat Grant is famous for in business.

Instead, she gets seduction. Cat’s mouth is demanding as it finds hers, but so softly and silky she wouldn’t run if she could.

Alex moans into the kiss, and when fine-boned hands reach to push her shirt off, she willingly shrugs out of it, shivering as soft fingers brush her shoulders. She briefly maintains the ability to wonder what the hell is happening.

Briefly.

Then Cat’s fingers are gliding over her chest and shoulders, tracing the muscles in her upper arms and slipping under the hair at her nape to massage the back of her neck. None of it is overtly sexual, but it’s warm and safe and every touch feels little better than the last. In the past, she’s always had a slow recovery time, but her body is already waking up, the gentle, unpressured caresses bringing her along in way she didn’t imagine was possible. As it continues, her head falls back on her shoulders and she surrenders.

Cat ducks her head, leaning down to flutter small kisses along the line of her shoulder, her voice a soft whisper in the darkness. “I want you,” she growls, her voice a low rumble. It occurs to Alex that she should probably hit pause and figure out what’s going on in the other woman’s head, but it all feels too good, most of all perhaps, the lack of any responsibility for anything. Cat’s firmly in charge of this leg of the journey and she’s okay with that.

So while maybe she should ask, the lazy pace is too addictive and Cat appears to be in no hurry to talk. Which is an odd relief for Alex. It takes off any pressure that she should respond any given way and lets her float along. It lets her find her own path.

She’s unaware of the exact moment her bra is discarded, but she feels the first soft, stroking caress that trails over her bare breasts and curls around a sensitive nipple. It’s achingly soft and careful

“You’re beautiful,” Cat repeats, as she breaks the kiss and trails her teeth along Alex’s jawline. Meanwhile, gentle hands wander over her torso, teasing here, stroking there, outlining runs of bone and the twining of muscle.

Alex knows that objectively speaking, she has a nice body, at least if someone is looking for rangy and athletic. Maggie seemed to like it well enough, and while her newly lesbianic self hasn’t had time to test if others are interested, she’s garnered enough passes over the years to have a bit of confidence she has no reason to be embarrassed by anything Cat will see.

That makes it easier to just go along when Cat starts pushing on her shoulders, easing her to lie down on sheets that feel incredibly soft and luxuriant against the bare skin of her back. What the hell thread count does it take to be that smooth and sleek? One, two-hundred thousand? Alex has no idea, but dear god it’s pleasant. Not your typical, prepilled, harsher-than-burlap, Motel 6 specials. She has it in her to wonder how they can be here when she’s sure you have to call ahead and pay extra to get these things at the Four Seasons.

But then she doesn’t care anymore as Cat leans over her and reaches out, perfectly smooth fingers stroking her ribs, stomach and hips, gliding over her skin in a rambling journey that's all the more exciting for its lack of predictabillity. Her pants and underwear soon follow her bra, removed somewhere along the way and thrown away in the darkness.

Intensely aware of cool air on newly bared skin, Alex swallows hard and opens her eyes again to stare up at the woman looming above her. A bit of light sneaks in through heavily curtained windows to slant across the scene, letting her get her first real look at Cat’s expression. She looks a little lost, but there’s also a familiar look of longing, the expression of the outsider hungry for some measure of acceptance.

Alex knows exactly what that feels like. She’s been there most of her life. “Please,” she whispers, reaching out, her tone making it as much an offering as a request.

Cat nods, the terror fleeing as she reaches back.

Then she’s climbing onto the bed, eerily graceful as she crawls up the length of Alex’s body, hands and knees braced on the mattress on either side of her. As she moves, her lips amble along, marking a roaming path that sets Alex shivering with each delicate brush. She’s in no hurry, taking her time to explore her way until they’re finally nose to nose, Cat’s hands buried in the mattress on either side of square shoulders, knees planted midway of her thighs.

Their eyes meet briefly, then Alex’s gaze moves on, taking in all of the woman poised above her, startled by the unfamiliar eroticism of the moment. There’s something forbidden and a little dangerous about lying naked under a woman fully clothed in a beautifully tailored silk suit. It’s CEO armor, an expression of power that one side of Alex longs to strip away and the other finds intensely erotic.

Her breath catches and she freezes.

The moment could so easily be dark in a very unpleasant way, but when Cat tips her head up, the look in her eyes is naked and vulnerable in a way Alex doesn’t expect.

A moment passes, then Cat is kissing her, taking her time to mold their lips together and explore. When she breaks away, it’s only to flutter her lips down Alex’s sternum and over her chest, exploring the slope of her breasts and increasingly firm nipples.

The sensation is unbelievably soft and pleasant, leaving Alex both relaxed and increasingly aroused. Finally she lifts her hands, working her fingers into pale gold silk strands, not pushing or pulling, just holding on.

Time passes, but she has little idea how much as she floats along, just enjoying the warm brush of caresses that seem to be about nothing more than her pleasure. If there’s an endgame beyond that, she’s unaware of it.

Cat’s touch is whisper soft as she presses her face into the hollow between Alex’s breasts before slipping lower and dusting feathery kisses over her torso. At some point she wanders on, and the curve of Alex’s ribs earn slow strokes with her tongue with her fingers following in its wake. “You know I’m going to make you come again,” Cat murmurs against the skin of her belly, the words muffled enough that Alex perceives it as much through the vibrations against her stomach as the actual sounds.

Alex nods, using her loose hold on Cat’s hair to guide her head up. She knows. She can feel the intention in every touch. But she’s remarkably certain it won’t be anything she doesn’t want or isn’t ready for.

Their eyes meet and for a moment, she can almost read what Cat’s feeling, then other woman blinks and her emotions disappear behind high walls. It leaves Alex wishing the moment had lasted a bit longer or she was sober enough to think faster.

There’s more going on here than just sex, but it's all too complicated to work out with her brain fried from alcohol and erotic stimulation.

Then Cat’s mouth dips back down, fluttering velvet kisses over her belly, then along her hips and thought is a thing of the past. The ache is spinning up again, rich and unexpected enough to accelerate Alex’s heart rate and make her body pulse. Cat’s wandering kisses are doing nothing to decelerate the sweep of her growing arousal.

It’s a relief when strong hands finally push her thighs farther apart to make way for velvety lips and a gently rough tongue.

Cat knows what she’s doing and it seems like she’s used everything they’ve done to map Alex’s body and responses in her head like she’s some goddamned erotic cartographer and Alex is her finest work.

Fine-boned hands slide up Alex’s torso as Cat presses deeper. The point of her tongue finds Alex’s clit, all tight and swollen, to stroke across, over, around, each rough-textured, gentle caress perfectly gauged to move her pleasure along.

Alex keeps working her fingers through Cat’s hair, guiding her a bit, but mostly just enjoying the smooth, cool feel of it as it trickles through her fingers. Meanwhile, her breathing is growing ragged and she’s starting to tremble with each careful stroke.

Suddenly the world is swirling, her heart pounding hands shaking when Cat’s tongue finds the same ultra-sensitive spot she discovered with her fingers.

She nearly comes up off the mattress and a low cry is torn from her throat.

Cat strokes her again, but more gently this time as if she understands it’s still too soon, that Alex needs more before she’ll be ready for that much intensity. After that, it’s tender and silky, a promise of comfort and healing and it feels so good that Alex finds herself just relaxing and going with it. As the sensations build, she hears herself whispering, though she has no idea what she’s saying. She might just be speaking in tongues, but it’s a gentle language that’s all kindness and reassurance.

“That’s right,” Cat whispers, her voice low and full of praise.

Ironically, the soft vibration and the warmth of her breath are what tip Alex over the brink.

She tumbles.

As orgasms go, it’s all sweet and gentle, a rich, confection of physical pleasure that sweeps over and through her before she floats back to earth.

She loses track of the world for a long moment. It’s not some bit of death, petit or otherwise, just a moment away while her body catches up with itself. As she comes back, she slowly pushes up on one hand. No one’s touching her and she abruptly realizes she’s the only one on the bed.

Cat can’t have left, not unless she’s absorbed Kara’s powers somewhere along the way.

Not entirely impossible given some of the things they’ve all seen, but still...

No...

There she is.

Alex spots the top of her head. She’s sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed. That doesn’t seem like a good thing. Alex scrambles. She’s still shaky enough that it’s an ungainly effort at best, but she reaches the foot of the bed to peer down at Cat where she sits, back against the foot of the bed, forearms draped over her upthrust knees. Alex briefly considers grabbing the duvet and wrapping it around herself, but it feels impossible with her current clumsiness and life in a quasi military organization like the DEO, with its shared quarters and facilities has left her with little shyness on that front.

She drops none too gracefully to the floor.

The blonde glances over as Alex sits next to her, but doesn’t speak for a long moment.

Alex waits, though she’s momentarily distracted by the realization that the carpet, like the bazillion thread count sheets, just doesn’t fit your average Motel 6, but then Cat is speaking and it’s forgotten.

“She really didn’t ask you to check up on me, did she?” she exhales almost inaudibly.

“No,” Alex confirms even as she realizes Cat is holding her phone in one hand. It takes only a moment to recognize Kara’s avatar and read the message.

Cncled yr mtgs 4 wk. AFK 4 days. Up coast w/BF

She knows Kara well enough to be certain any cruelty isn’t intentional, but she does wonder if Kara purposely mentioned the boyfriend part to make sure Cat understood the situation even as she looked after Cat’s needs in the wake of the resignation of her latest assistant. That would fit. She’s done similar things with James, making it clear they were over even as she pulled him back in and upbraided him for creating Guardian and endangering his life. She’s not always good at letting go or setting boundaries, so she sometimes fumbles and unintentionally makes moves that hurt more than help.

“You okay?” Alex asks quietly.

Cat shrugs, and keeps most of the bitterness out of her voice as she manages a strained, “Fine.”

It’s not the most believable answer ever, but Alex sees no value to calling her on it. Besides, too many other things are nagging at her until she can’t help but blurt out, “Did you ask me up here to get some weird kind of revenge or punish her by sleeping with me?” She can't exactly make that idea work in her head, but she also can't see any other reason.

Cat finally does more than glance her way, turning her head to just stare for a long moment before rolling her eyes and snorting disdainfully. “Actually, I expected you to turn and run like hell,” she admits. “And leave me alone.”

It’s Alex’s turn to snort. “So you dragged me up here and gave me two of the better...” She trails off, uncomfortable with such a frank admission. “Well...”

Cat looks over at her again, one eyebrow climbing toward her hair line as she takes pity on Alex. “It wasn’t my most well thought out strategy.”

Leaning her head back against the mattress, Alex can’t hold back a small laugh. She’s still wondering what the hell she’s doing and hunting for something to say when Cat’s phone rings. She looks down in time to see Cat stare at the screen for a moment before shutting the phone off and shoving it in her pocket. As Alex watches, she hides her face with her hand and her shoulders visibly tremble. “Idiot,” Cat exhales under her breath, her voice ragged.

She’s crying.

Alex doesn’t have to ask who it was. “She holds on to people,” she whispers.

“Even the ones she doesn’t want,” Cat chokes out, her tone making it half statement, half question.

Alex hurts for her, but there’s nothing helpful she can offer. “Even them,” she sighs.

Cat makes a small, choked sound. “No fool like an old fool.” The words are almost a whimper and clearly not meant to be overheard. Her shoulders shudder again.

Alex catches a glimpse of her cheeks before she looks away. They’re streaked enough to confirm the crying. “You’re not the fool.” .

“Hard to believe that,” Cat snarls, hunching her shoulders as she folds her arms tightly across her chest and twists enough to leave Alex facing her stiff back.

Alex has heard enough of Kara’s stories to be unsurprised that she would react to the situation with defensive hostility. “You’re not,” she repeats and pushes to a crouch to peer at Cat. Reaching out, she brushes Cat’s shoulder lightly in an effort to bring her back around. “You’re smart, successful—”

“I’m an idiot who thought a girl half my age might...” Cat resists the pressure, even hunches her shoulders more firmly and jerks her head away from Alex’s touch. She trails off and swallows hard. “Idiot,” she whispers again.

“No,” Alex sighs sadly. “You’re a woman who fell in love with someone who’s very lovable.” She feels her heart clench with remembered jealousy. “Everybody loves Kara. My parents loved her the moment they saw her. Hell, sometimes it felt like—” She snaps her mouth shut, unwilling to give voice to the thought that runs through her head.

“I’m sorry.”

Tipping her chin back up, Alex realizes Cat has twisted enough to peer back at her and there’s a quiet kind of understanding in her eyes.

“My mother despises me,” Cat whispers.

“My mom loves me,” Alex denies the obvious implication, her gaze sliding away as her chest tightens until it’s hard to breathe. “It’s just...Kara’s so easy to love.” She swallows hard and it’s her turn to fold her arms protectively across her chest. “Me, not so much.”

“God,” Cat exhales and Alex is startled to feel the warmth of Cat’s hand on her upper arm.

The last thing Alex wants at that precise moment is to talk about any of this any more. Reaching out, she rubs at the tears marring Cat’s cheek with the pad of her thumb. Her skin is warm velvet, the sensation offering a measure of escape that’s more than a little tempting.

Cat sits perfectly still, silently watching as Alex drops her fingers to the hollow of her throat. Alex can feel the rapid throb of the other woman’s pulse. Her fingers slip lower to the very edge of Cat’s likely very expensive black blouse, and slip just under the neckline.

Cat stiffens sharply enough to bring Alex’s head up.

She momentarily wonders if Cat’s wishing she hadn’t gotten herself into this mess, but the the look in her eyes isn’t disdain or resentment. No, she’s got other things going on in her head. Alex tucks a finger under her chin, drawing her head up when she would look away. Remembering an article that advised paying attention to what a lover said or how and where they touched, that there were often clues to what they were looking for in those actions, Alex hears the faint echo of everything Cat’s said to her in her head.

“You’re beautiful,” she whispers.

Cat flinches as if struck and shakes her head. “Not enough,” she breathes and reaches out, just barely touching the flat, muscled plane of Alex’s abdomen. “It’s been a long time since every muscle was perfectly sculpted, and I was never...” She chokes to a halt and shakes her head.

“You’re beautiful,” Alex repeats. Her voice low and coaxing, she leans close enough to hear the tiny hitch in Cat’s breathing. “I want you.” It’s the honest truth, but this time it’s not about escaping Maggie or feeling desirable. She wants to feel the woman looking up at her with such confusion and uncertainty, wants to touch her body and unwind the secrets behind those eyes. She wants to wash away the shame and replace it with something else. “Trust me.”

Cat freezes, frowning at her and staring for long enough that Alex can see the internal war. Finally, she nods...

Chapter Text

 

Last time

“You’re beautiful,” Alex repeats. Her voice low and coaxing, she leans close enough to hear the tiny hitch in Cat’s breathing. “I want you.” It’s the honest truth, but this time it’s not about escaping Maggie or feeling desirable. She wants to feel the woman looking up at her with such confusion and uncertainty, wants to touch her body and unwind the secrets behind those eyes. She wants to wash away the shame and replace it with something else. “Trust me.”

Cat freezes, frowning at her and staring for long enough that Alex can see the internal war. Finally, she nods...

 

Chapter Four


Cat is one giant, heartbroken bundle of pain, most of it courtesy of the brunette’s damn sister, a woman they both love entirely too much, and to whom they are both almost obsessively loyal. Cat’s no fool. She’s well aware that the kindness that began this is mostly because of her friendship with the sister in question. Were she more paranoid, she might suspect Alex of agreeing to this insanity in hope of keeping her busy so she doesn’t create any ‘problems’. Given even the appearance of such conspiracy level thinking, she should run like hell even if she has no reason to believe any of them are anywhere near that conniving.

In any event, a request for trust from this woman should receive a hearty Fuck you! not a tentatively implied, Fuck me.

Only she just sits there, nodding and scrubbing at tears  she doesn’t want to cry while her body continues to throb and ache with unfulfilled want. How the hell is she simultaneously this emotionally shredded and physically aroused?

A gentle hand lands on her shoulder, the grip firm enough that she can feel the physical strength behind it. It’s not Supergirl level, but it feels safer if only because the woman wielding it lacks the power to destroy her. Not the physical strength—either of them could doubtless snap her neck without cracking a sweat—but the hold on her emotions. She’s not Kara and she can’t do  the damage Kara can do with little more than a sigh or an offhand joke.

The light contact brings her head back around and she finds herself staring into eyes that appear just short of black in the darkness, though she thinks maybe they were dark green or light brown at the bar. The brunette is on one knee and watching her, her very stillness drawing Cat’s gaze back to painfully perfect curves.

Dear god, does the woman have even an ounce of excess fat on that perfectly toned body? Suddenly self conscious, she hunches her shoulders and is surprised when a careful hand slips under the hair at her nape and long fingers shape to the side of her neck.

“Don’t.” It’s a command, but a tender one. “I meant it when I said you’re beautiful,” the brunette whispers as if she recognizes the body language. Her gaze slides over Cat like an actual caress. “And that I want you,” she adds, her voice dropping low.

Cat feels her breath catch as her lungs seize in her chest.

She should not do this.

She should not have done this.

Every instinct screams to run, that they’ll both pay for this.

Well, every instinct except one, and that one is whispering some very dangerous suggestions in her ear and reminding her of so many things.

Like the fact that, unlike her usual broken-heart-driven alcohol binges, this actually seems to have eased some of the hurt.

Before she’s had time to consider this unexpected thought, the brunette is using her hold to pull Cat close enough for her lips to swoop down. The kiss that follows is demanding, with a blunt physicality Cat has seldom allowed any lover. That sort of thing requires trust, a state of being with which she’s not well acquainted.

But she’s seen this woman in the worst of times. She knows enough not to feel even a moment of fear from her touch.

She feels safe.

What she does feels good.

It’s also as far from what she would expect of Kara as is imaginable. She has enough presence of mind to wonder if that’s intentional, but it’s quickly blown to hell as strong hands haul her closer. “More,” she hisses into the kiss as she pushes forward to meet those perfect curves. The brunette’s mouth tastes good blended with the lingering flavor of her flesh.

Despite the rumors that have long abounded in the gutter press, Cat has never been much for one-night stands. It’s not particularly a moral issue. More a case of not wanting to waste her time having bad sex with unworthy strangers.

But Alexandra Danvers isn’t unworthy or precisely a  stranger—yes, she knows who she is, even if it’s unacknowledged knowledge that makes her shy from using her name even inside her own head. It’s a right she hasn’t earned and despite Lois’ accusations, she’s never been one to steal what isn’t hers.

Long, slender fingers move to the front of her blouse.

Cat catches that hand, stopping its progress.

Dark brows draw into a frown. “Tell me what you want,” the brunette whispers, her tone taking on an uncertain note as though she’s afraid she’s screwed up badly.

Cat already knows the answer. “A name. Something other than a sarcastically uttered Agent Scully.” She doesn’t mind if it’s fake name, not much anyway, but she needs something that is their own. Her  heart skips a beat or four at the intent she sees in dark eyes. Because as much as this began as a game to intimidate, it’s become something more. She wants something to whisper in the dark, and she wants it the right way—freely given, not stolen in the dead of night through careful research and theoretically private employee records.

She’s rather relieved when she gets an answer almost instantly.

“Alex.”

Lo and behold, it’s even the truth. She’s had spouses who couldn’t do that well.

“Though I suspect you already knew that,” Alex drawls with a small, wry smile.

Cat doesn’t deny the charge, just whispers, “Alex,” sampling the sounds the same way she might her expensive scotch.

Alex nods and reaches out to stroke Cat’s cheek. The tips of her fingers are ever so slightly callused, a faint roughness doubtless developed during a life that routinely includes guns, combat and saving Supergirl and the world.

She likes the texture.

It’s completely different from the invulnerable velvet of Kara’s touch or the carefully moisturized hands of the men and women she normally meets and hasn’t been interested in for years.

“Trust me,” the brunette repeats the quiet request, her expression serious.

A blonde brow arches as Cat considers it. Reaching out, she trails a single fingertip down the graceful slope of a perfect breast, a little startled by how comfortable the other woman seems with her own nudity.

If she’s honest, it’s simultaneously intimidating and deeply appealing.

She releases her hold on the hand poised at the neckline of her blouse and slowly nods.

This kiss is softer, slower, but still with a note of command that Cat suspects is simply innate to who Alex is. She understands all too well. She’s much the same. It’s that very nature that drives her to push back as Alex moves closer, leaning into her space, demanding more of her mouth. There’s no retreat, but Alex gives a little ground, leaning back and drawing Cat to follow. After that they trade leadership of the game back and forth, one leaning in, one pulling back before it goes the other way again.

Cat feels like she could do this forever. It’s sweet and savory and more than a little addictive. For what feels like the first time in days, any pain recedes into the distance.

Meanwhile, Alex takes her time with the delicate buttons on her blouse. Between kisses, she works her way down Cat’s chest, revealing another inch or two of smooth flesh with each one she eases free before moving on to the next.  As she reaches Cat’s waistband, curious fingers brush lightly, trailing along and exploring the curve of her waist.

Jaw clenching against the urge to take control, Cat hooks her arms loosely over Alex’s shoulders and toys with her hair, but otherwise waits while the brunette tugs her shirttails loose, then works the final button free.

Unexpectedly, the slower progress feels good. It lets Cat take a bit of a break and get her bearings, easing the emotional pressure and giving her some time to relax and lose herself in the moving trail of sensations.  “This is nice,” she finally whispers in the darkness.

“Good,” Alex sighs, then brushes black silk aside.

Cat shivers as those slightly roughened fingertips brush her belly, then trail along the undercurve of her breast.  Alex takes her time as she moves on, first outlining puckered aureola with the pad of her thumb, then rolling the nipple gently between her thumb and forefinger. She leans in at some point. This time her mouth is soft and a little hesitant on Cat’s, the combination of sensations enough to draw a tiny whimper.

It’s nice, it’s good, but it’s quickly becoming nowhere near enough.

Nerve endings jangling, Cat tugs lightly on firm shoulders and dark hair, her voice a low purr. “More.”

Alex looks up and her hands trail down and around to spread wide at the small of Cat’s back. Cat’s ready when tension ripples through sculpted muscles, and she’s pulled to her feet. A beat later her blouse and jacket are pushed off and cool air kisses her upper body. Expensive couture falls away to hit the floor, and she doesn’t care a bit. “You’re strong,” she exhales, spreading her palms along Alex’s shoulders before smoothing them down her upper arms. She moves her right hand back, settling it into the space between gently rounded breasts. “Inside and out,” Cat observes as she feels the steady throb of Alex’s heart.

“I haven’t felt that way lately,” Alex confesses, the pain of her own recent trials visible in her eyes.

Cat shakes her head, not wanting to think of her own weaker moments. “You’re strong,” she repeats, her tone different this time, confident and impressed enough to make Alex straighten her spine. She’s seen enough to know that while Alex might bend, she doesn’t break. Smiling faintly, Cat steps into her space, her gaze bold as she stares up into shadowed eyes. “I like it,” she husks, feeling her pulse pick up. “I want it,” she growls, stepping another half pace closer, pressing right up against Alex.

Alex leans back slightly, head weaving a bit, the hunter studying her prey. “You’ve had it,” she says at last and drops her hands to grip the curve of Cat’s ass. “My turn.”

Cat moans deep in her throat as a hard throb clenches low in her groin. “Yes,” she gasps, pushing into the pressure against her pelvis, panting hard when Alex pushes back, grinding their bodies together. The back of her calves bump into the mattress. She can’t give any more ground.

A soft laugh and Alex raises her hands to Cat’s chest to fumble with the complicated front catch on her bra, cursing softly when the trick eludes her. Finally Cat reaches up and finishes the task, flinging the scrap of silk aside. Now is not the time for delays

She wants to feel those lightly callused hands on her body. She grabs for slender wrists to drag them there, but Alex is already reaching. Long hands shape to Cat’s ribcage, the drag upward until she scoops her palms under small breasts and runs her thumbs over tight nipples.

Cat can barely breath for the rush of sensation and her knees threaten to buckle. “Please.” The sound is little more than a whimper.

Alex looks up at the tiny sound, her eyes dark and intense. Holding Cat’s gaze, she reaches for her waistband without prompting.

The delicate rasp of the zipper sends a shudder rippling through Cat and she manages a jerky nod of permission.

Then those rough-soft fingertips are brushing her stomach, then her waist. Long, slender hands slip inside her pants, briefly shaping to her hips, before skimming black silk downward. It puddles around Cat’s feet, forming a landing pad as Alex slips to her knees, then looks back up.

A tiny shiver makes its way over Cat’s skin, a precursor to the hard shudder that follows as Alex grabs for her again, wrapping strong arms around her hips to drag her close. A beat and then Alex’s mouth, so soft and velvety it sets her pulse roaring, is on her stomach, licking softly, then suckling. The brunette dips her tongue into the depression of Cat’s navel, drags it up the centerline of her body, not pausing until her head’s tipped all the way back, her chin resting just below the arch of Cat’s ribs.

Cat doesn’t even want to resist the impulse to reach out. She combs her fingers through dark silk hair, sifting through the cool strands as their gazes hold. Even if they aren’t precisely lovers, there’s room for shared emotion in the sharing of bodies.

A long moment passes while they watch each other with curious eyes. Finally, Alex ducks her head, returning her attention to the smooth plane of Cat’s stomach. She moves on to her hip, rubbing sharp incisors along the graceful curve. “You’re beautiful,” she breathes, her breath cooling damp skin. Nosing into the crease that leads down to Cat’s inner thigh, she kisses her way along the faint indentation.

Even knowing what’s coming, Cat nearly screams when a slightly rough tongue dips into her sex. This time her knees do buckle and she sits down hard on the edge of the mattress, her upper body folding down over Alex’s downbent head.

She hears and feels the soft rumble of Alex’s voice against her skin, “I’m here,” and strong arms wrap around her hips and thighs to tug her closer. She’s already breathing hard when the brunette pushes deeper, the brush of her lips, the rasp of her tongue, the heat of her breath driving Cat to cling and tremble. It's soft and almost delicate, each caress slow and careful.

Later, when Alex pushes at her knees, she spreads herself eagerly, her voice a breathy ghost of itself. “Please.”

“Yes.” The other woman doesn’t pause. Instead she dives deeper, licking and stroking. Her hands find Cat’s hips, then slip underneath, cupping her backside. she's clearly new at this, a little tentative, maybe even a little clumsy, but everything about her is exciting enough to make the difference.

Almost like...

Cat grits her teeth against the temptation to fantasize. It would so easy. She’s halfway there as a strong hand grips her thigh to guide it up over a muscular shoulder. She briefly imagines other hands.

And instantly knows that way lies madness.

Suddenly she’s using her grip on dark silk hair to pull Alex’s head up. Even in the darkness, she can see the way shadowed eyes widen, see the worry that blossoms, and the fear of failure. That’s not what she wants at all.

“I want to feel you,” she pants, trying to drag the brunette up to her to drive off any fantasies in her head. They’re both muscular, but Alex is leaner and slimmer, her body wiry strong. There’s no mistaking one for the other even in the dark. “Please.”

A hint of a frown creases dark brows, then Alex is climbing up the bed, allowing herself to be drawn closer. When they’re eye to eye, she studies Cat’s expression carefully as if struggling to understand what’s going on in her head.

Cat’s afraid she’ll ask, but she doesn’t. Instead she slips a hand under her body, then braces herself and scoots them both higher on the mattress. It’s not the most graceful effort ever, but it quickly puts them in the center of the bed and no longer in danger of slipping off. Curves dovetail together as she sinks back down.

Feeling the length and weight of an unfamiliar body settle against her, Cat sighs softly. That very lack of knowledge is oddly comforting. “Thank you,” she breathes, then cups a sharply cut cheek and jaw with her palm. “It’s nothing you did wrong,” she whispers when she thinks she can still see uncertainty in the eyes watching her so closely. “I just need to know it’s you.”

That earns a hint of a frown, but no direct comment. Instead Alex braces herself on one elbow, then reaches for Cat’s wrist, momentarily pinning her forearm to the mattress before shifting her hand to twine their fingers together.  “Show me how to touch you.” She leans closer, noses nearly touching as she commands, “Show me how to make you come.”

Cat’s suddenly shaking. Normally, she isn’t one to take orders, but something about this situation or this woman drives her out of her safety zone. Arching up to claim soft lips, she drags the hand caught in her own lower on her body, deliberately grazing sensitive points along her hip and thigh.

Fingers untwine and Alex rocks her pelvis to one side to make room.  “Show me,” she repeats, her voice ragged and intense.

Cat lifts her other hand from the mattress where it’s fallen, hooking it over a muscular shoulder even as she guides long fingers to her sex. She shudders and there’s a very soft, wet flick of sound. “Careful,” she pants, stomach hollowing as she gasps sharply. “Sensitive.”

Alex’s touch instantly gentles and slows, waiting for Cat to guide her.

It takes a bit of experimentation. She moves her hips and presses careful fingers this way, then adjusts them with the hissed command, “Inside.” A rush of sensation makes her eyes roll back in her head as long, slender digits slip deep and her palm grinds into her clit. Another adjustment and she whimpers, “There,” as Alex curls her thumb and hits the perfect spot.

It’s really quite amazing how good it feels and she does something quite unusual.

She lets go and simply trusts.

It proves to be a good decision as the woman above her finds an easy rhythm, and when she groans, “More,” Alex braces herself, using the weight of her body to push her fingers deeper and drive her hand harder.

Cat’s half in love with those hands, the brush and rasp of them, until she finds herself wishing they had something a bit more artificial on hand. It’s not normally a favorite, but at that precise moment, she wishes she could have both the invasive depth and external caresses rather that one or the other.  

She pushes up into the body above her and grabs for purchase at a solid shoulder and lean hip, fingers pressing, nails scraping. She’s close, so close. A groaning, “Please,” escapes her lips a beat before they’re claimed in a hungry kiss. Her fingers dig in to a slim hip, clinging and encouraging the rough pace.

They’re both breathing hard, sweat beading on fine skin, bodies moving together, the pace slowing here and there for longing kisses and caresses.

“Beautiful,” Alex exhales, ducking her head to dust soft kisses along Cat’s collarbone. Pushing back a bit, she holds Cat’s gaze as she twists her wrist, changing the angle of her thrust.

It does the trick, the new approach enough to make her shudder and find the path she needs.

There’s a bit more to the game, a few more caresses, another thrust or two and then Cat’s head slams back into the mattress. The pleasure warps reality for a moment, turning it inside out, then she’s pushing at invading fingers and rolling away.

She’s aware enough to feel the mattress shift and hear Alex’s appalled sounding, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I...I didn’t mean to—”

Reaching back, Cat catches her wrist, holding her there when she’d otherwise flee. “No, it’s good.” She knows she’s hurt the other woman at a time when her ego is already badly bruised. “I came...it’s just...” she whispers, slowly turning back. “Sometimes anything is too much for me...after. I needed you to stop.” The aftermath of her orgasm is pleasant, but continued contact can shatter that. “It can hurt.”

Alex’s expression falls. “I wouldn’t want that,” she whispers, but she doesn’t sound like she quite believes the explanation.

“I know,” Cat sighs. Releasing her tight grasp on a thin wrist, she flops back on the mattress, her chest still heaving. “I didn’t expect it to be that intense and just needed a moment.”

Alex’s eyes reflect fear and her body language remains uncertain.

“What you just did for me was beautiful.” Cat reaches out, trailing her fingers down her side.

“I...” The brunette pauses, then trails to a halt.

“What you did with me was beautiful,” Cat reiterates in an effort to undo the damage.

Alex swallows hard and she folds her arms protectively across her chest. “Should I go?”

Cat shakes her head. “Not if you don’t want to.” Even she can hear the affection in how soft her voice is, far from its usual bark and bite. She wants her there, but doesn't want to press. 

“I don’t,” Alex whispers, but her voice is very small and while she seems to relax a little, she’s still half sitting up and frozen in place as if afraid the slightest movement will draw Cat’s ire.

“It’s okay,” Cat soothes and reaches out to brush her hand lightly. “I should have warned you.” She shrugs, a small wry smile twisting her lips. “I’m a little out of practice at this sort of thing.” She deliberately leaves it up in the air whether she means one night stands or sex in general. “And everything happened a little faster and more intensely than I expected.” If she was completely honest, she’d admit she didn’t expect it to happen at all. She’s never been one of those women who could orgasm with little more than a sideways glance. As often as not, she’s simply enjoyed the closeness and accepted anything past that was out of reach.

Meanwhile, Alex is still frozen as if waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Cat could get impatient. She’s good at impatience. It’s almost her art form.

But now is not the time. Instead she does something she doesn’t think she’s ever done before. “Would you hold me?” she whispers. Her voice sounds as scared at Alex looks.

“I...” Alex pauses, her head tipping to one side. Finally, she nods and scoots closer, but she doesn’t reach for Cat, simply holds out her hands.

It takes Cat a moment to understand the prompt. The other woman is letting her arrange their position. She’s tempted to make a sarcastic comment that’s all about defense, but knows it will be taken as offense.

Instead, she snuggles down and pulls the brunette to her, settling her hands at her waist before tugging the blankets up over them. A small smile curves her lips as she feels that sleek body snuggle against her back. It’s probably more familiar than she should allow, but it feels safe and comforting. As Alex cuddles her protectively, she doesn’t have it in her to refuse. “It’ll be okay,” Cat whispers into the darkness.

Alex doesn't reply, just kisses Cat’s shoulder softly and tightens her hold ever so slightly.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter Five


Cat’s lying there, her body still vibrating in the aftermath of the best sex she’s had in much too long, though she’s consciously making herself breathe slowly in an effort to calm her body. Unfortunately, her brain’s not helping. It’s running much too fast down corridors it should definitely avoid. She’d hoped for some post orgasmic, endorphin-driven peace, but it’s not working out that way. Instead, far too many unwanted thoughts and memories are busy replaying in her head. She could have done without the incessant buzz of bitter words in her head.

She feels the woman at her back, too stiff to be sleeping, and wonders if she’s suffering from the same malady or simply planning to flee at the first opportunity. She hopes not. In some circumstances, she might insist she go, but it feels all wrong for this whatever it is.

As the minutes tick by and she feels what seems like an increasing restlessness from Alex, it seems increasingly likely she’ll bolt soon. It’s a little confusing to realize she doesn’t want her to go and it’s more cowardice than bravery that drives her to whisper in the darkness, “I told you why I asked you up here. Why did you say yes?” She’s not sure what she expects to hear and a tiny voice in her head warns she may not like it. The other woman might well be ashamed or regretful, but if that’s the case, she’d just as soon know and send her off quickly.

She’s always been the sort to yank the bandaid off all at once.

The silence that follows lasts long enough for her to to think Alex is trying to feign sleep. It’s not a great effort, but Cat understands well enough to accept she won’t get an answer. She thinks maybe she should follow suit, make it easier for the other woman to make some semblance of a graceful exit when Alex mumbles, “You have a really nice ass.”

“What?” Cat exhales sharply. Compliments to her mind are the norm. Other than Alex’s generalized, ‘You’re beautiful,’ it’s been a long time since someone complimented her looks in such crude terms. And that man she flayed alive so thoroughly he’s probably still flaccid.

“I said yes because you have a really nice ass,” Alex reiterates.

Cat’s appalled to realize she kind of likes this news, even if she probably shouldn't. “Really?” She raises an eyebrow, head tipping to one side as she instructs, “Tell me.”

Alex peers up at her. “You’re sure you—”

“Tell me,” Cat repeats in a tone that brooks no argument.

It draws a small, uncertain smile, then Alex shrugs. “I noticed you before I realized who you were.” She points, miming her response to Cat’s presence. “The bitch at the bar with the great ass.” Another shrug. “I even had a few fantasies of walking over and making a pass...” She looks away and her cheeks flush, but she doesn’t continue.

“Tell me,” Cat repeats again, though her tone becomes almost wheedling. “I want to know.”

“What the hell are we doing?” Alex exhales, suddenly sounding morose. She glances at Cat. “You’ll want me gone soon enough.”

Blonde brows draw into a frown at that. “No,” Cat disagrees, though privately, she has to admit that would be her normal response to the aftermath of casual sex, assuming she indulged in that sort of thing, which generally she doesn’t.

Alex just stares at her, silently calling out her lie.

“I...” Cat pauses for a long moment, then admits, “Yes, normally—” Except, this isn’t precisely casual, even if it bears a certain resemblance.

Alex clearly takes that as a suggestion she should go because her mouth purses and she pushes into a sitting position. “I’ll just—”

“No,” Cat hisses, reaching out and catching her wrist.

Alex freezes, but there’s something hurtfully accusing in her expression.

It’s enough to make Cat let go and fold in on herself a bit. Right. She forgot who she was for a moment. Her mother’s insistence that she’s unlovable rings in her ears along with Kara’s gentle rejection and the manchild’s crudely whispered insults. “I’m sorry. I thought...” She looks away and pushes into a sitting position, purposely showing a very stiff back to the other woman. She almost adds something to shoo her away before she can add a few more insults to the unwanted collection already planted in her head. She opens her mouth to speak, her voice catches and she knows the hurt will show so she remains silent, unwilling to risk piling on even more pain.

She expects the bed to shift as Alex exits, but there’s no movement behind her, the stillness so complete it’s almost as if even the molecules in the air stop vibrating.

It’s miserable and Cat’s never been good at waiting. The tension stretches out until she’s very close to turning and throwing the other woman out just to make something happen. It will blow everything to hell, but at least the godawful wait will be over. Only suddenly there’s a soft throat-clearing sound behind her.

“It was the first time since Maggie left that I...that I was attracted to someone...” Alex whispers, the words coming slowly as if she’s not sure how to express her thoughts or how they’ll be received. “I’m not used to that...being attracted, I mean. I’m good at denial, I guess. I dated men for years. Even slept with a few...then mostly wished I hadn’t.” The words trail off into a long pause before she begins again. “So when it was so good with Maggie, I thought, ‘Hey, I get it. This is who I am.’ But then she left and I thought maybe I’d gotten it wrong.”

The silence stretches out again and Cat knows this feeling well enough to recognize the pain in it. “You were afraid,” she says with far too much understanding. She has a hazy memory of Alex telling her much the same before the rather primal coupling when they stepped inside the doorway.

“I thought maybe I’d never feel that way again,” Alex confirms. “So it was nice, seeing a hot girl at the bar and fantasizing maybe I could go after her and enjoy it.”

Cat barely resists the urge to preen. It’s been awhile since anyone but her called her that and she’s well aware that self referential compliments don’t count even if she thinks they should.

“Then I realized who you were and I guess I felt a little responsible. Hell, we have some sisters in arms thing, right?”

“We do,” Cat agrees and her shoulders relax ever so slightly. They’ve nearly died together more than once. That counts for something.

“But you didn’t need my help, and then when you...when you made your offer I just thought maybe it would answer some questions.”

She trails into silence again, and though it’s less fraught with tension, there’s still enough to make Cat uneasy.

Finally, Alex sighs softly. “Maybe it was a bad idea, but when you kissed me, all I could think was that I couldn’t think.” She laughs softly at the irony. “It felt so damn good, so I figured what the hell.” The bed finally moves, but it’s not what Cat associates with someone leaving. More someone settling back down. “And it felt good to have someone like you want me,” she says at last.

“You aren’t the only one,” Cat sighs.

“Besides, I’ve heard how much hand sanitizer you use, so I’m guessing disease isn’t an issue.”

There’s a healthy measure of dark humor in Alex’s tone and Cat’s sure it’s intentional. “To say the least,” she snips without any real acid.

Then the humor drains away. “And I figured if it all fell apart, at least I’d have my answer and I could stop trying.”

Cat’s heart breaks a little at that quiet admission. She knows the feeling. “You shouldn’t do that,” she whispers and turns toward the other woman. She’s lying back down, the comforter loose around her waist, one arm folded behind her head. “You’re brilliant, beautiful, good, kind—”

“And I can get Supergirl’s autograph,” Alex snarks.

Cat suspects she doesn’t mean for it to sound as bitter as it does. “You can do that,” she agrees.

Alex folds her arm over her face. “That came out wrong,” she mumbles.

“I’d think it would be very difficult to be her sister,” Cat observes thoughtfully. She’s never had any siblings, but she’s seen enough evidence of what others go through to extrapolate. “And easy to get lost in the shuffle and the drama.” She can see the way Alex’s throat bobs as she swallows hard. “This Maggie person is a fool,” she decides out loud.

“No.” The disagreement is quiet, tired, and more than a little sad. “She’s a good person. She didn’t mean to hurt me. It just happened that way.”

“Why are you defending her?” Cat demands, offended by the notion. Alex clearly deserved better than she got.

Alex unfolds her arm to peer up at Cat. “Why would you be so shredded over one—how did you put it, ‘one virginal, close-mouthed kiss?’”

“You know why,” Cat hisses, eyes flashing dangerously.

“Same reason I defend Maggie,” Alex sighs, her tone understanding enough to leave Cat blinking at a painful threat of tears. “She hurt me, but she didn’t mean to and she gave me a lot too.”

“You deserved better,” Cat grinds out, furious at the unknown woman who did so much damage, possibly without even noticing.

“So did you.”

Speaking of people not noticing the damage they do.

They stare for a long moment.

“God,” Cat sighs at last and flops back down, her chest aching, sinuses threatening to swell shut from barely repressed tears. “We’re pathetic.”

“No argument here,” Alex mutters.

They both lie there in silence for several minutes. It’s a little tense, but also oddly companionable. Shared sex and broken hearts make for a certain level of understanding and sympathy.

Finally, Alex clears her throat. “Can I ask you a question?”

Cat glances over. “Maybe,” she says cautiously.

Alex chuckles softly. “It’s nothing horrible.” Pushing up on her elbow, she peers around the room before her gaze swings back to Cat. “Motel 6's are not world renowned for their creature comforts, but these sheets are softer than anything I’ve ever owned. Hell, that carpeting may be softer than any sheets I’ve ever owned. How?”

Cat smiles, glad for the subject change and enjoying the other woman’s mystified look. She suspects the distraction is no accident. “It’s very expensive carpeting,” she teases.

Dark eyes narrow fractionally. “You know what I meant.”

That receives a dramatic sigh. “Oh, fine,” Cat grumbles, then waves her hand to indicate their surroundings. “After my second marriage went very publicly, very bad I needed to get drunk and Lois Lane had made my face infamous enough that all of my normal haunts were awash in gossip columnists and paparazzi hoping for quotes and pictures.” She shrugs. “I went driving just to get away from it all...found Herbie’s...where I got drunk and nobody had any idea who I was.” The bad memories chase her out of bed and across the room to the discarded bottle of Teeling. There are glasses—always clean, it’s part of the service—on a nearby sideboard. She grabs two to go with the bottle and returns to the bed, to pour herself two fingers. After a long swallow, she holds the empty glass up to Alex in silent offering.

“I’m good,” the brunette says with a quick headshake.

“Anyway,” Cat sighs, consciously shaking off the depression the memories threaten to bring on. “Utterly tanked and needing a place to hide, I discovered this place.” She shrugs. “I lease a room, decorate the way I wish. Hervé the owner keeps it up to my specifications and never gossips. It’s my hideaway for when things get...challenging.”

Alex frowns, clearly struggling the put it all together. “Doesn’t seem quite your style,” she says at last.

“Right,” Cat allows, then takes another sip of scotch. “Nor much of anyone else’s. Which is why the gutter press never stakes the place out.” Another sip. “I can come here and get a break from it all...” From being Cat Grant. The obvious, unspoken addenda hangs in the air before she shrugs and lets the curl of her lip express how tiresome that state can be without saying it outright.

“Maybe bring any walks on the wild side someplace where it won’t hit the National Enquirer?” Alex snorts softly even as a tiny flinch rattles through her.

Cat stiffens at that tone and a muscle along her jaw compresses. “I’ve loaned this place out to a few friends who needed a break, but I have never brought anyone for...for this.” Not that it’s anyone’s business if she has, she reminds herself even as she finds herself  pissed and growly at the implication. “This isn’t some hidden love shack. It’s...a-a...” She skids to a halt, her breathing suddenly faster than normal. Damnit, now is not the time.

“Cat?” Alex whispers after a long moment. She actually sounds worried. “I’m sorry. I had no right to say it like that. It’s none of my business.”

Cat nods and looks away as she struggles to breathe slowly. “I have my secrets,” she says at last. “But my choice of partners isn’t one of them.” She spears Alex with a sharp look. “I’ve never hidden any lover, but if my sexual choices are a problem—”

“They’re not, really not,” Alex says quickly. “I was being a judgmental ass and I’m sorry.”

Cat pauses, still trying to decide what to say and what not to.

“I’m sorry,” Alex repeats, her voice dropping low. Her gaze slides sideways. “That was my problem, not yours.”

Cat gnaws on her lower lip, then brushes it with her knuckles to break the pattern before she draws blood. “This place is a refuge...a primal cave of sorts...” She trails off again, debating how much to say, how much to trust.

“Okay,” Alex whispers, sounding genuinely contrite.

“Sometimes I have to get away from the pressure,” Cat confesses, hating the weakness of the admission. “Or my meds get out of balance or things just hurt too much.” Alex is a medical doctor among other things. If Kara has talked, she can probably make a good guess at the issues at stake.

As if sensing that thought, Alex shakes her head. “Kara’s never shared your secrets.”

Cat’s not sure she believes her. Kara is sweet, but she can’t lie worth a damn. If Cat were a different kind of person, who secret identity would have been over before it even began. Which means that, even if she meant to keep things hidden, Alex is likely smart enough to have put any clues together.

“If you have weaknesses,” Alex soothes, “they’re nothing to be ashamed of. We all have them.”

But most people’s don’t risk throwing them into a black hole of depression and suicidal ideation for days at a time. For a moment, she’s not sure she didn’t say that out loud, but Alex is still looking at her a little worriedly, but not with any of the horror that might be expected. “Anyway,” she says, purposely brightening her voice and pushing off the demons. “This has been my little bit of privacy and luxury hidden away where no one will think to look.”

“Why not just buy the place?”

Cat laughs at that, the practicality of the question dragging her out of the dark maw threatening to grab hold, and letting her focus on more pragmatic matters. “Property records can be traced, handshake leases, not so much.” She shrugs. “Besides, Hervé is very proud of his independence, and he’s earned it.” He has a long sob story, one he told Cat one night when she desperately needed to focus on someone else’s miseries. Suffice it to say she understands him well enough to respect his needs and not bully her way through. “He’s seventy-eight and not the least bit interested in women sexually, by the way, in case you’re wondering if he’s some longstanding flame.”

Alex ducks her head, but not quickly enough to hide the fact she wondered.

“That was never the purpose of this place.” Leaning down, she reaches out, cupping her palm along Alex’s cheek and jaw. “And that isn’t what last night was.” She rolls her eyes ceilingward and gnaws on her lower lip, her thoughts momentarily far away. When she comes back, it’s to refocus on her bedmate. “Whatever this is, even if that’s just two people giving a brief bit of comfort, it means something.”

Alex looks up at that, brow creasing in a thoughtful frown.

“It may not have started for the best reasons,” Cat admits, thinking of her resentment and desire to chase the other woman away. “But they weren’t the worst either.” Neither of them wanted to cause any pain, just escape their own torments. And if she was rude, it was the behavior of a wounded animal looking to hide away from the world an lick her wounds. Once things began, she genuinely tried to do the right thing. She’s still trying. She looks away, afraid of seeing disagreement. Her head comes back up when gentle fingers stroke the side of her neck.

“No,” Alex agrees. “They weren’t the worst at all.” The look in her eyes is surprisingly gentle.

Uncertain how to feel, Cat covers her own fears by reaching for the bottle again. She’s just laid her fingers on it when she feels the bed shift and a hand covers her own as a lean frame presses against her back. She tenses, wondering if she’s about to hear a lecture she’s not sure her temper will tolerate.

Kara’s been known to make her disapproval of Cat’s alcohol consumption known.

Instead, Alex nuzzles her ear, though she’s a little cautious about it. “You said something about how good this feels on bare skin.”

She feels spare muscle pull taut when she doesn’t immediately answer.

“Or not.” The brunette sounds disappointed, but she pulls back enough remove any pressure. Her hand, however, remains where it is.

Twisting enough to peer into shadowed eyes, she studies Alex carefully, hunting for clues to help her understand what’s going on.

“Don’t drink alone, Cat,” Alex says after a beat.

Cat finds the odd combination of command and plea both annoying and comforting. With most people the first thing she’d do is take a defiant swig. As Alex continues to watch her, she finally lifts her hand away. “Another night maybe,” she says to cover her surrender, well aware that more nights are deeply unlikely.  

A fine boned hand rises to carefully pet pale hair back from her face. “I...” Alex pauses, then says simply, “Another night.” She continues smoothing Cat’s hair back, her touch gentle. “I’d like to hold you if it wouldn’t be too much.”

Cat startles even herself by turning into Alex’s body and pulling strong arms around herself. She’s just so tired. Recent days have been long and hard and it’s all catching up with her.

“It’s okay,” Alex whispers in her hair and rubs her back and arms soothingly. She’s incredibly gentle as if she senses how close Cat is to breaking down.

Alex gently tugs her down, still rubbing her back like she might a small child. As she continues to hold Cat, she pulls the comforter around them both, creating warm, safe cocoon.

Cat snuggles deeper into the bedding and the solid strength of Alex's body. It’s not normally easy for her to be held like this. Human contact isn’t one of her specialties, but this is nice. She’s drifting gently when Alex murmurs in the darkness.

“Thank you.”

She’s tempted to push up, but the arms around her tighten fractionally to discourage her. “For what?”

“Listening, being kind.” A soft laugh vibrates in her chest. “Asking me if I wanna fuck.”

“Not my normal way of doing such things,” Cat feels the need to insist.

“I know.” She strokes Cat’s cheek, her touch light. “Whatever happens after tonight, if I can ever help you, you only need to ask.”

The vow is so soft and serious that Cat knows she means it. This isn’t a woman who makes promises lightly. “The reverse is true too. Just ask.” Her body is nearly limp, her eyelids heavy, but she holds her head up as she speaks, wanting the other woman to understand she means it.

Alex nods, then tugs her back down. “Think you can sleep now?”

Cat wishes she could say yes, but she knows herself. Her brain has a bad habit of running out of control in the dark and quiet. It always has and it gets her into trouble when it does. She’s terrified that, tired as she is, once they’re no longer talking and Alex relaxes into sleep, leaving her alone in the dark, it will do so again.

“Okay,” Alex sighs. “I’m going to explain my PhD thesis to you. It’s fairly technical and you can expect to be quizzed, so listen carefully.”

Cat actually understands more than she would have predicted, even manages to ask a few questions, but somewhere during a very detailed lecture on ribosomes she finally floats away.

It’s the first time she truly sleeps in several days.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Six

Alex wakes alone. A quick glance around the room reveals her clothes where they were dropped, but no sign of Cat’s things. She’s obviously gone. She’s disappointed, but unsurprised. She guessed Cat would rabbit out of there if she got the chance. She almost wishes she could be angry or disgusted, but given the woman’s clear distress, she can’t blame her. Even in sleep, she was restless and twitchy and Alex has enough experience to guess she hasn’t had much to relax about lately.

It occurs to her she should get up and get moving, but her skull and her body are in a competition to see which one can hurt the most and the damn bed is sinfully comfortable. Given that the place is leased, it would probably be simple enough to just stay over. It seems doubtful the other woman would care or yell at her for it.

Actually, she doubts they’ll ever again speak. After all, it’s not like they were chatty before and she’s pretty sure Cat won’t be eager to brag about this slip in her self control. That thought hurts and she folds an arm over her face as she finds herself tempted to cry. Left alone again, the thought occurs before she can stop it.

She’s still lying like that when she hears a soft snap and something cold bumps her knuckles. Her eyes snap open and she sits bolt upright fast enough that she nearly crashes into something clear and dripping condensation. “I...wha’?”

It takes her a beat to realize Cat is standing next to the bed. She’s wearing a fluffy white robe and her hair hangs in damp tendrils. She’s holding out a water bottle with a visibly loose lid that must be what bumped Alex’s hand.

“Drink. It’ll help with the hangover,” she instructs, then reaches into a pocket with her free to hand to retrieve several pills. “Advil and B-complex. Take it.” She tucks the pills in Alex’s hand.

“I thought...I mean...I assumed,” Alex babbles incoherently before gathering herself and saying, “I thought you’d left.”

Cat shrugs and ruffles damp hair. Wet and loose, little more than finger-combed, it’s curlier than expected. “Shower,” she says simply, then pointedly runs her tongue over her front teeth. “Also dental hygiene.” She nods toward the bathroom. “There’s a spare tooth brush if you’d like.” She glances down at herself. “Also a spare robe. You’re welcome to it.”

Alex realizes in a beat that she’s being invited to stay and reassured she’s wanted. Kara’s often referred to the learning curve in dealing with Cat, that it took her time to grasp Cat-Grantese. Alex is starting to understand what she meant. “I—”

Cat waves a hand in a shooing motion. “Go, shower, do whatever you need to.” She glances toward a heavily curtained window where light the color of morning is slipping in around the edges. “Do you prefer sweet or savory for breakfast?”

Halfway out of bed. Alex freezes as she struggles to parse the meaning of the question.

“I assumed you’d need to eat, so pancakes or home fries,” Cat finally translates, then adds, “Hervé has a fairly limited menu, and there’s not a lot of breakfast delivery, especially in this area.”

“I...” It’s probably more carbs than she typically eats in a day, much less a meal. She wonders if Cat had planned something like this for Kara in her head. It makes sense. Cat’s likely noticed how Kara carbo loads. Her energy needs are so high, it’s the only way she can get through a day without constant fatigue. She glances at Cat, noting sylphlike curves. It’s definitely not likely that’s her norm.

She’s further startled when Cat suddenly says, “What about something a bit more protein oriented?”

“That would be great.”

The smile she gets in return is a barely-there, wry twist of full lips, but the eyes watching her seem brighter than they were the night before. Then Cat is shooing again, sending her into the bathroom with a muttered comment about morning breath that would be hurtful from anyone else. From her it’s almost a compliment.

Meanwhile, Alex isn’t at all sure what to make of the situation beyond the fact that overnight, she seems to have become an accepted something-or-other in Cat’s life. It’s confusing, but not unpleasant and she supposes it’s better than being thrown out.

The semi-expected gold fixtures don’t materialize in the bathroom, though the sink comes on with a touch and the shower has a small digital screen and is programmable. Of course they are. She rolls her eyes, but when she steps under the temperature controlled spray and sets it so it comes from all sides, she has to admit, it’s nice.

By the time she stumbles out of the bathroom, her mouth minty fresh, the rest of her smelling of Cat’s soap, shampoo and cream rinse—all sweet and floral and oddly odor coordinated—she’s feeling decidedly more human, even a bit confident that she can figure this all out somehow.

Okay, maybe not that confident, but still, she’s not just sitting there muttering, What the fuck? over and over. That should qualify as something, right?

Suddenly she pulls up short as she realizes a man—most likely the previously mentioned Hervé—is setting a heavily laden tray on a small table in the far corner next to a window. He’s a little taller than Cat and rail thin and she’s not sure whether he moves slowly due to arthritis or precision. Given the way he’s stooped as he carefully places each setting, grumping a bit fussily if anything isn’t neatly aligned, it could go either way.

He looks when she clears her throat to let them know she’s there, artificially dark brows shooting toward his equally perfect black hairline, while a delicately sculpted handlebar mustache twitches under the influence of a curious smile. He looks back at Cat and openly grins. “I see you already have company for breakfast,” he observes cheerfully. A quick glance at Alex leaves her blushing. “Quite a bit lovelier than an old man,” he adds with a grin.

“Oh, hush,” Cat chastises, though her tone is light. She glances at Alex. “Be nice. She’s a friend and has a strikingly low embarrassment index.”

“I’m sure you’ll corrupt her appropriately, my dear,” he drawls, then glances at Alex. “Don’t let her bark fool you. She can bite, but never those she cares about.” His mouth twitches up in a pixie grin. “Well, not unless they ask nicely.”

“Out!” Cat commands, though there’s no malice to her tone as she points toward the door.

He’s slow, but also precise enough in his movements that Alex decides it’s arthritis and perfectionism. As he passed by her, he grins and doffs an invisible hat, then wishes them a good day before limping out the door and closing it in his wake.

Alex can’t help but notice that Cat tenses as if she wants to steady him, but she holds her ground.

After the door clicks shut in his wake, she whispers, “He was beaten so badly during a riot in the sixties that his left leg never worked right again.” Rage flashes in her eyes, though her actual comment is a relatively mild, “Some people can be very petty about pronouns.”

Alex stares back at the door, a shiver slipping down her spine.

“Anyway,” Cat says while Alex is still staring. “Breakfast.” Her tone is artificially light, a signal she’ll say no more on the topic.

With heavenly smells wafting through the room and the realization that it’s been well over sixteen hours since she last ate, Alex doesn’t ask, and instead joins Cat at the table and serves herself a heaping plate from the selection of breakfast goodies on display.

It’s all wonderful. Whatever his history, Hervé can cook.

She’s several bites in when Cat starts asking her questions about a project she’s heard about that’s working to design artificial limbs that can be customized and created on 3D printers. Her questions are sharp and incisive and suggest she heard far more of Alex’s lecture than she would have thought possible. She would have sworn Cat was snoring softly by then. It hits at the heart of some of her ideas when she was still studying medicine in college and she finds herself asking questions and then bouncing ideas back and forth.

Whatever her failings, Cat Grant is a fascinating woman to talk to with a knowledge base that touches on a huge variety of topics. It’s the sort of conversation Alex has always found fun and she’s happy to lose herself in it.

By tacit agreement neither of them mentions the night’s activities nor their status moving forward. At some point though, their meal is undeniably finished and it’s time for some topics to be discussed and decisions made. Alex is still trying to figure out what to say, and how, when her phone rings, the tone the distinct eagle’s cry she uses for the DEO. “I...uh...I’ve gotta get this.”

Cat nods, though her brows draw into a ghost of a frown that worries Alex.

“It’s work,” she adds as she scrambles after her discarded pants and quickly starts pawing through the pockets. “And since that can mean the end of the world...”

Again, Cat simply nods.

As she gets a hand on her phone, Alex flees for the bathroom even as she flings a, “Could be top secret,” over her shoulder. By the time she’s got the door shut and her phone on, she’s half afraid it will have gone to voice mail. It answers normally. “Danvers here.”

“It’s Vasquez, Ma’am.”

She’s relieved to hear Susan on the other end of the connection. She’s not sure she’s up to dealing with Kara or J’onn just yet.

“You okay, Ma’am? You sound out of breath.”

Alex blinks. Given her conditioning she shouldn’t be, but as she listens, she realizes she is indeed, panting. Nerves. It’s just nerves. “I—” 

“It’s Vasquez,” the other agent adds as if maybe Alex didn’t already know that.

“I know,” Alex manages to answer. “Sorry, still waking up,” she says by way of explanation for the obvious slowed reactions.

“And maybe a little hung over?”

Vasquez always has been very perceptive and she was the only one who had much idea why Alex had to get out. Everyone else seemed to either not notice, or think she was doing great.

“Maybe a little,” she admits.

“Not surprising considering how things have been lately. Hopefully, you didn’t do anything too stupid,” Vasquez says sympathetically.

“I...” Alex has already started when it occurs to her she has no idea how to answer that. Does sleeping with Cat qualify as stupid or maybe smart or possibly just insane?

How do you define something that far off the beaten path?

“You’re not alone, are you?” Vasquez suddenly asks after a long tension fraught moment.

Right. Perceptive. Damn.

Glancing around the bathroom, Alex confirms that it is indeed empty save for herself, so it’s technically not a lie when she argues back, “I am too.” Technically.

“Hiding in the bathroom, I bet,” Vasquez snarks on a small laugh.

Feeling her cheeks heat, Alex ignores the comment to demand, “So what’s up? Is there something wrong?” Not that she’s dumb enough to think there’s a problem. Vasquez would have started with that if there was.

“Nope, we’re all clear. Just touching base.” She pauses a brief moment. “Director Henshaw agreed to let me do it.”

Which is both a reassurance and a warning, Alex realizes. Vasquez is letting her know J’onn is more aware of the situation than she thought, and tracking it even if he’s allowing a junior officer to handle the part that might be embarrassing for them both. “I...yeah...that’s good,” she mumbles, hating the way this has put her private life so thoroughly on display. She’s still thinking about what to say if her superior brings it up when Vasquez chuckles softly.

“Anybody I know?”

“I...” Alex answers in what is fast becoming her signature statement.

A beat and then Vasquez chuckles again. “McMurtry maybe?” she teases lightly.

Alex frowns. The blonde in the budget office with the big chest and perfume that could probably have taken out the Daxamites all on its own? No. Just... No.

“She’s always thought you’re cute,” Vasquez adds in a voice Alex never wants to hear the usually no-nonsense agent use again. It’s cute and fluffy and very disturbing.

“She’s pretty cute too.”

Alex’s sinuses threaten to swell shut and her eyes water at the mere thought. “No,” she says sharply, her cheeks heating until they feel like they could spontaneously combust at any moment.

“Donalson? She’s—”

“It’s nobody at the DEO,” Alex tries to head off the speculation before it occurs to her that it’s a de facto admission there’s someone. She curses softly. She’s usually better at secrecy, but this whole situation has her rattled.

Vasquez is so silent Alex thinks maybe she can hear the neurons firing in her brain as she absorbs that news and undoubtedly starts cataloguing anyone and everyone Alex might know outside the agency.

“Look, could we not do this?” she pleads in hopes of warding off the effort. It seems unlikely to go much better than her last attempt, but she’s driven to try.

The silence continues for a long moment, and when Vasquez finally speaks, her voice is low and sympathetic, her own trials evident in her tone. “Just tell me you didn’t go pick up some dude to try and go back, because that never works.”

“No,” Alex assures her. “I didn’t do...that.” She trails off for a moment, massaging the back of her neck where a sharp pain is threatening to set in as she says simply, “It’s complicated.”

She knows Vasquez well enough to be certain nothing will dissuade her from going over it in her head and looking for any details that might answer the question, but at least this way, she’ll understand it’s serious and hopefully keep her mouth shut. She doesn’t want any damn gossip. There’s already enough of that where she’s concerned.

“Be careful,” the other agent advises after a beat.

“A little late for that,” Alex sighs even as it occurs to her that, despite any weirdness, she has no regrets. It’s not just that the sex was good—though god knows, it was—but despite everything, there was a kindness between them that soothed something inside her.

“Been there, done that,” Vasquez sighs with too much understanding. “You coming back in today?” she asks, then adds a very drawn out, “Or...”

Or?

Once upon a time, Alex would have hightailed it back to the safe confines of the DEO where no risky emotions would ever be required. Now?

It a little surprising even to her when she says, “I think I’m going to go ahead and take the time off.” Whatever else, she needs to get away. As for anything else, well, a plan’s already forming in her head, but she has no idea how it will be received.

“You go, girl.” Thankfully, Vasquez doesn’t revert to the girlish sing-song, though there’s a gently teasing note in her voice that makes it obvious what she’s thinking.

“It’s complicated,” Alex says again. “But...” Her voice fades and she doesn’t finish the thought.

“Keep your phone with you,” Vasquez advises after a beat, returning to her normal serious mien. “We’ll call if you’re needed. Otherwise, don’t think about this place or anything else serious,” Vasquez advises.

“Kara—” Alex exhales, worried about what her sister will think.

“Is off with Loser Lad.”

Vasquez has taken to coming up with alliterative mock superhero names for Mono. She insists it helps to keep her from killing him. Alex thinks it may be more to keep her from killing him, but that’s okay too. It’s entertaining and whenever he gets on her nerves she thinks of The Wanking Wombat or Not-So-Daring Douchebag and the urge to kill mostly goes away. Mostly. It also helps distract her from the thought that her sister doesn’t seem to have noticed how torn up she’s been over Maggie. “I give that one a four and a half,” she drawls to cover the hurt.

“Guess I’ll have to work on that while you’re away.” Vasquez pauses for a moment. “Maybe something to go with useless.”

“Go for it.”

They say their goodbyes and Alex hangs up. Stress has her shoulders knotted, but she consciously shakes it off and does a couple of exercises to loosen up before opening the door and stepping out.

She quickly spots Cat. She’s drawn a curtain back partway to peer out one of the windows. Given there’s not much to be seen, Alex suspects it’s tied to the fact that she’s also pulled on her pants and blouse and gathered up the clothes that were still scattered on the floor as well as recovered the serving trays and stacked the dishes. When she tries to come up with an explanation, nothing good comes to mind.

“Hey there,” she finally speaks so Cat can’t easily ignore her.

She gets a quick glance and a small grunt of acknowledgment, then Cat goes back to staring out the window.

“That was someone at the DEO,” she explains, sounding more uneasy than she intends.

Cat nods her understanding and a ripple of tension slides through her. “So how soon do you have to be back?” Her shoulders are stiff, the question coldly asked.

So that’s it. “Not for several days.”

Cat’s head whips around and she frowns.

“Which is why,” Alex begins carefully as she ambles farther into the room. She lifts a silver lid from a tray and snags a couple of pieces of leftover bacon, munching to buy her brain a few extra seconds here and there as she lays out her plan. “I was thinking about doing a drive up the coast.”

Cat’s frown deepens and there’s something a bit haunted reflected in her eyes, but she’s listening.

“I used to be a pretty hardcore surfer,” Alex explains. “I think I knew every parking space and pullout off the PCH between here and the Oregon border.” The old Pacific Coast Highway runs right along the coast nearly the full length of the state and she roamed it obsessively in search of new surfing spots. The drive is amazing and generally fairly quiet since most people take the big, fast moving freeways. “I figure some of them must still be there, and dipping my toes in the surf sounds really good.”

Cat nods, and looks out the window again. “I hope you have a wonderful time,” she whispers, the words coming in uneven syllables. That’s not the expression of someone looking forward to being rid of her.

“Actually, I was kind of wondering if you’d like to join me.”

“What?” Cat swings back around and she stares, wide eyed, her expression seeming almost scared to Alex.

“I’ve got a loaner SUV from the DEO. I’m free to use it for whatever I want and it’s more than big enough for two.”

Slim shoulders hunch as Cat folds her arms over her chest. “I don’t the right things with me.”

Alex shrugs, forcing herself to appear more relaxed and nonchalant than she’s in any way feeling. “Me neither, which is why I was thinking about stopping at Tarjhay or Wally World on the way out of town.”

Cat looks utterly blank.

“Target or WalMart,” Alex translates, smiling gently when Cat looks almost as confused as she did before. “We could grab a few t-shirts and some sweats.” She peers at Cat’s feet thoughtfully as she considers her shoes. “Maybe flip flops and tennis shoes. I’ve got a cooler in the SUV, so a bag of ice, drinks, snacks.”

Cat steps away from the window and sinks into one of the chairs as though maybe her knees have given out. She just stares as Alex lays out a bit more of her plan.

“Then just drive. The view is gorgeous, beautiful beaches and cliff views. There are parks and a couple of lighthouses along the way, places where you’ve got the ocean on one side and the redwoods on the other, plus old motels and B&Bs that usually have vacancies this time of year. We can just ramble.”

Cat’s still frowning, leaving Alex to wonder if perhaps she lost her mind and the other woman is just too polite to mention it.

That thought pulls her up short mentally. No, she’s heard enough from her sister to be fairly certain that’s not the explanation. Too polite to mention something is not this woman’s MO.

Then Cat clears her throat as if it takes effort and manages a shaky, “I...why me?” She sounds like she literally can’t imagine why.

Alex knows that tone all too well. Speaking of been there, done that. She crosses the room to crouch down in front of the other woman, ceding the high ground so she won’t feel crowded or threatened. “I don’t want to go back,” she admits, oddly comfortable showing her vulnerability. It’s not like either of them has many scars they haven’t shown. “And I’m tired of being alone.”

Cat’s frown deepens, her head tipping to one side in a way that’s eerily similar to her namesake. She’s considering it.

“You said you come here to not be you.” Alex’s mouth twists in a small, wry grin. “Well, what’s less Cat Grant than driving up the Pacific Coast Highway wearing something off the WalMart sales rack while scarfing down Diet Coke and barbecue chips?”

Cat arches back ever so slightly, her expression turning quizzical as she considers the question. “Diet Pepsi,” she whispers, then adds in a stronger voice. “And crunchy Cheetos.” She thinks about it a moment. “Also chili cheese Fritos.”

It takes Alex a moment to process the answer and figure out what it means. “Okay, we can do that.”

“I haven’t driven up PCH in years,” Cat admits, her voice fading at the end. “It was always beautiful.” Then she shakes herself, almost flinching as her expression pinches into a wall of doubt that makes Alex want to go back in time and smash whoever made her this insecure right in the face. “I’m not an easy woman,” she murmurs, peering directly at Alex, her eyes scared and uncertain. For a woman who can be unbelievably arrogant, it’s a haunting contrast, leaving Alex to wonder how much of her image is real and how much is a carefully constructed illusion.

And what the hell drives a person to build an image like the one she has?

“I’ve heard Kara’s stories,” Alex says softly after a long moment, finally saying her sister’s name and acknowledging her presence in this discussion.

“Then you know,” Cat whispers haltingly before asking, “Are you sure you want...me...along?” Unstated is the hurt that Kara inflicted, but it hangs there in the air between them.

Even if she has a few doubts, Alex is nowhere near cruel enough to let them show. “I’m sure.”

Cat glances toward the rumpled bed, the question in the shift of her eyebrows and the way she gnaws her lower lip.

Alex pointedly glances over as a way of acknowledging the unspoken question, then looks back. “Anything that happens is our choice.” She settles her hands on Cat’s knees to offer a comforting squeeze. “Last night was amazing,” she admits, her cheeks flaming.

Cat’s mouth twists in a small, nervously pleased smile.

“But so was discussing 3D printers and homemade prosthetics,” Alex continues. “I admit I wouldn’t mind...” Trailing off, she glances over at the bed, her meaning clear, but when she looks back at Cat, her expressions more caring than seductive. “But it’s not a dealbreaker if you don’t want to. I'd just like your company.” She pauses a moment before saying simply, "I like you."

Cat’s answering smile is even more pleased and a little triumphant. She nods slowly, then reaches out to brush dark hair back from Alex’s cheek. “I wasn’t lying when I said I’m not an easy person.”

Alex shrugs. “But you’re an interesting one. That’s better than easy any day.” She pats Cat’s knees again. “Say yes.”

It takes a long moment, but finally, Cat nods.

* * * * * *

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seven

As they ready to leave, Hervé hands off a bag of food, gives Cat a hug and a kiss on the cheek, shakes Alex's hand with a sotto voce, "Take care of her," and sends them on their way.

And they're off.

For a few miles, at least, until Alex pulls into a predictably huge big box parking lot on the edge of town.

Onward to adventure, Alex thinks as they step inside a brightly lit Target and Adventure is in fact the word that will forever come to mind when she thinks of Cat Grant and Target.

The weird starts right out of the gate when Cat sees a clerk using a powered “cart” to move a huge line of carts. It’s not meant to be an actual shopping cart, but rather powered muscle, but convincing Cat of that is nearly impossible and she’s very pouty when offering to slip the guy a fifty merits nothing but a whiny, “I could lose my job, lady.”

Alex is tempted to increase the bribe to a hundred, but Cat abruptly sees the clothing racks and they’re off.

She, of course, has her hand disinfectant and uses it liberally while simultaneously shaking her head and snarking over everything until customers and clerks alike are starting to glare. Cat never notices, just snarks onward. A little worried, Alex intercedes, using sheer attitude the back everyone off. It's not so different from staring down Non's troops, except she's pretty sure this crowd would fight dirtier. At least it's not a WalMart. She's not sure they'd survive that.

The weird part is that it's all perversely funny as Cat goes digging through the sale racks, offering comments on everything. She finds typos on t-shirts, tsks an unfortunate pair of yoga pants that combine pink and green on the same garment while standing next to a woman wearing the exact same thing, then compares a pair of silicone flip flops with massaging nubs on the foot bed to sex toys. There are sitcoms with fewer, and far less witty one-liners.

The coup de grace comes when she digs up an orange sweat jacket with a hood decorated to look like kitty ears that she refuses to give up to a grabby adolescent. She backs the kid off with a glare and growled, “Mine.” Most adults would hand the thing over when the girl starts to cry visibly fake tears, but Cat Grant does not lose. Period. “Please,” she jeers the performance, “I could cry more realistically at five.”

The girl looks so surprised that Alex isn’t sure the next few tears aren’t slightly real.

But Cat gets the hoodie, then shows it off to Alex with a triumphant grin. “It’s an inside joke,” she brags. “Cat ears...since I’ll be undercover.”

From there forward she gets strangely into the whole process, pulling ever more eclectic items from the racks and adding them to the basket with a simple, “Mine,” or, “Yours.”

Alex is nowhere near foolish enough to argue.

Besides, there’s a strange method to her madness, and despite the weirdness, it’s all oddly aesthetic. Cat tends to pull warmer colors and brighter patterns for herself, while Alex get more solids and much cooler colors.

“A lot of blue for me,” Alex finally works up the courage to comment. She likes blue, but other colors can be nice too.

“They won’t clash with your hair dye,” Cat proclaims.

Alex tries, she really does. “I don’t—”

She gets the same look the little girl did.

“Much,” she finally grumbles. Okay, so she helps the red along a little with a bit of L’Oreal Coppery Sunset now and then.

Grinning, Cat does that little triumphant wiggle thing of hers that would be really annoying if Alex didn’t find it strangely erotic, then goes back to work clothing them.

When she’s finally satisfied and they’re sufficiently stocked, she hurries on, though she’s briefly waylaid by the office supply aisle as her eyes go round and she stares.

Alex has a vague memory of Kara mentioning that office supplies are to Cat Grant as toy stores are to small children and video games are to Winn Schott. Apparently she usually avoids them the way recovering drug addicts typically avoid the seamier parts of town.

“Don’t you get enough of that at work?” Alex asks as she sees the way Cat’s pupils dilate and her hand floats, halfway to reaching out.

“Not really,” Cat says a bit breathlessly. “They don’t let me near that sort of thing in bulk...not since the Staples incident.”

Alex is afraid to ask.

Then Cat closes her eyes and stiffens her spine. “They don’t carry Montblanc or Caran d’Ache,” she mumbles like it’s some kind of incantation for warding off monsters and keeps moving.

She keeps her eyes closed until they’re past the aisle markers.

They pause near a row marked clearance where Cat stares so lustfully at a wall of ‘Back to School’ backpacks that Alex is beginning to wonder if an intervention might be in order when she suddenly grabs two. One is large, black, and fairly simple, while the other is a striking shade of blue in a camouflage pattern with a pull up handle, wheels on the bottom, and enough zippered pockets to make even Alex go a little breathless.

She’s always had a bit of weakness when it comes to backpacks and luggage. Also flashlights and folding knives.

“One for my clothes and the other for food,” Cat explains as she tosses them into the basket. The blue one goes in last and she pauses long enough to flash a warning glare Alex’s way. “Mine,” she growls simply.

Alex throws up her hands in surrender and tries to look innocent.

“Oh, please,” Cat drawls as she moves along. “I saw that lustful look.” She punctuates the comment with tinier version of the hip wiggle.

Smirking, Alex leans in close and whispers in her ear. “Actually, I was just staring at your ass.” She feels quite daring, which is kinda nice given her history, or lack thereof.

"That too." Cat sounds quite pleased as she throws a smirk over her shoulder. “But I saw that overnight bag of yours.” One eyebrow arches high. “I recognize a fellow traveler in the luggage aisle.”

“I...” Alex pulls up short. Technically, it’s a duffle bag, and yes, it might have more compartments than average, but given her profession, they’re needed. Just because she added a few custom elements doesn’t mean—

Cat’s look very eloquently calls her out on her unspoken lie.

Finally Alex shrugs. “Yeah.”

Cat just grins and grabs a couple of pair of cheap, plastic sunglasses from an endcap while Alex diverts to find an air mattress and a couple of pillows. At Cat’s questioning look, she explains, “for lazing on the beach.” She doesn’t mention she’s kind of hoping to do an overnighter because she’s not sure how Cat will feel about that.

Cat thinks about it a moment, then add sheets and a couple of blankets, leaving Alex to wonder what she’s thinking.

Then comes their trip down the snack aisle. That alone is worth the price of admission, Alex decides as she was watches Cat carefully study each package with a fascinated expression. She chooses more than they probably need, but it’s a nice assortment of chips and sweets and when they hit the cold aisle, more serious real food – cheeses and lunch meats mostly– as well as soft drinks. On another aisle, she grabs a handful of individually packaged meat sticks with a wry comment, “I loved these as a kid. I wonder if they’re edible or utterly disgusting.” She tosses them into the basket. “Guess we’ll find out.”

Alex shrugs. They’re probably disgusting, but she’s been known to like that sort of thing anyway.

A couple of bags of ice finish things up and they’re out the door.

Cat tries to pay, but Alex waves her off on the logic that Cat Grant’s credit card receipt might get noticed, Alex Danvers’ will not.

“Fine, but I’m paying you back,” Cat grumbles.

“I can afford it,” Alex insists, a bit of heat on her cheeks. It’s not like Cat’s her girlfriend or anything, but this trip is her idea and to her it only makes sense she pay. It’s a point of pride. She sees Cat draw breath to argue and steps into her space, deliberately copying the other woman’s intensity as she growls, “Mine.”

Cat smirks, but gives ground, waving Alex ahead of her in line.

Once they return to the SUV, Cat takes over, giving orders about what to stow and where. It’s possibly a response to losing the argument over picking up the check, but Alex has to admit, the woman knows how to pack.

Traffic's light for Southern California. By midday they’ve escaped the city and are skimming along, the ocean on one side, a sandy rise on the other, the windows open to let in the sea breeze, and while civilization is both ahead of and behind them, it’s a quiet stretch of road with little to mark human development.

It’s the best Alex has felt since receiving Maggie’s non-answer answer to her proposal. When she glances over, Cat’s sitting sideways in her seat watching the world on the ocean side go by.

“I’d forgotten how beautiful it is,” Cat says aloud at some point.

Alex glances over. “Yeah, I used to spend hours out in the water catching wave after wave.” She can’t help but think back to those years, dominated as they were by equal measures of partying, surfing, and denial. “There was nothing better.” Literally. Surfing was the best part of her life by miles.

“My mother forbade the beach when we lived here,” Cat admits, her voice sad before it turns crisp and sharp. It doesn’t take a genius to know she’s quoting her mother as she barks, “‘A lady doesn’t dress like that, Kitty. If you tan any more you’ll look like one of them, Kitty. Good, Lord, Kitty, you can’t even manage a first Arabesque without spraining something. You’ll break your neck.”

“Arabesque?” Alex repeats.

“Ballet move,” Cat mutters, briefly looking away. “Mother insisted on lessons. I loathed them and possibly didn’t try very hard and endeavored to keep my ankles constantly ‘sprained’—” she uses finger quotes “—and taped to avoid them.”

Alex chuckles softly. She can almost envision a tiny, defiant, passive-aggressive teenage Cat Grant. Her mental image is a little, blonde Tasmanian Devil. A very smart little, blonde Tasmanian Devil. “So no surfing then?”

“To say the least.” Cat exhales a tired, sad sigh. “I lived five minutes from the beach and I doubt I managed to spend an hour a year there.” She shakes her head. “Mother wasn’t happy when Dad moved us here, but it doubled his salary. I don’t think she was overly depressed when he died and she had an excuse to move back east with a fat, life-insurance check in hand.”

Ouch. Alex opens her mouth to speak, then doesn’t know what to say.

“Don’t even try,” Cat grumbles. “It’s easier that way.” She mutters a curse under her breath, then adds a very soft, “Mother didn’t like Dad much more than she likes me.”

Alex can’t do more than glance while she’s driving, but what she glimpses of Cat’s expression hurts almost as much as her tone. She still trying to decide what to say or do when she spots a marker she recognizes.

A beat later she’s turning off onto a narrow, rutted road. The SUV has four wheel drive, but while the road is no better than it was the last time she was on it, it’s no worse either. They should be okay.

“What are you doing?” Cat asks a little nervously.

“Trust me.”

She hears Cat draw in a sharp breath, but she simply says, “All right.”

It’s obviously not easy for her, but she does it. Alex feels good about that.

The road switchbacks twice as it drops quickly to sea level. They land on a narrow stretch of rocky beach that has just enough space to park back from even the high tide mark. Alex coasts until she reaches a position near the remains of an old campfire and kills the engine.

Twisting around, she grabs the new flip flops from the back seat, shoving one pair at Cat and keeping one for herself. “Put these on,” she says as she begins stripping off her boots.

Cat pushes the door open and stares at the water like it’s some alien thing she doesn’t quite comprehend, but finally shakes it off and kicks out of expensive heels. Less than a minute later, she’s standing at the ocean’s edge, watching sea water swirl around her bare toes. The two dollar thongs dangle from her fingers.

Alex can almost see the tension leave the other woman’s body as she stands there. She knows the feeling. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Cat nods, wiggling her toes in the sand as the tide surges in, then washes away again.

Alex surprises even herself by stepping up behind Cat and settling her hands on slim shoulders. “I had some bad years,” she sighs, watching the way the ocean swells shift and move. “But anytime I could find a bit of beach it made everything...better.”

“I love the sound,” Cat whispers after a bit. “The rhythm of it is alive, like a heartbeat or someone breathing.”

“The ocean has her rhythms,” Alex agrees, leaning closer as a breeze catches pale hair to send it fluttering in her face. Like the rest of Cat, her hair smells good mixed with a hint of the sea.   She’s surprised when the blonde leans back, but it feels completely natural to just wrap her arms around that slim frame and settle hands on her stomach. If she were feeling more reflective, she might wonder what the hell they’re doing, but reflective feels far too dangerous.

“So you surfed?” Cat begins a little cautiously.

“I did indeed.”

“Here?”

“Sometimes, but it’s not really a good area for it.” Alex feels Cat tense slightly and she looks around.

“Because the beach is so rocky?” she asks after a beat.

“That’s part of it, but not a big one.” Alex lifts her right hand to point at the incoming waves. “See what looks like a calm section there?”

Cat tips her head to one side, clearly struggling to make out what Alex sees. Finally, she raises her hand, pointing the same direction. “There. Just past where the white caps are breaking.”

“That’s right,” Alex confirms, reading the water with ease. “That’s a rip tide.”

“An undertow?”

“That’s what most people think, but no. It’s a current, but it doesn’t drag you down, it drags you away from the shore. That one’s fast moving and really nasty. It also likes to hide in the swells, sneaks up on you.” The description is from memory, not what she’s seeing today. It’s nearly always there, but today it’s more obvious than she remembers.

“You’ve encountered it before,” Cat says very softly.

“Yeah. Things were fine, then suddenly I was down and in trouble.” A tiny shiver slips through Alex as she remembers the panic when she was suddenly spilled off her board and simultaneously tumbled and dragged out to sea. “I finally remembered to relax and go with the current. Popped up way out and had a helluva a swim in, but I was okay.”

She’s startled when Cat suddenly turns to face her, the intensity in the eyes enough to freeze Alex in place. She’s barely even breathing when a hand rises slowly and velvety soft fingers stroke along the line of her brow.

You could have been killed,” Cat drawls very softly. Her tone is almost mocking, but her expression is deadly serious.

“Yeah,” Alex hears herself say.

Full lips twist into a hint of a smirk. “You were alone that day?” Cat asks.

Alex nods, remembering the certain knowledge that she had to get herself back to shore because there was no one there to help. The ankle strap on her board’s leash had come loose and she was just barely able to float. She swam and body surfed, using the waves to carry her as much as possible, well aware the whole time that if she hit the rip tide a second time, she probably didn't have the strength left to do it all again.

When she finally hit the beach, she just lay there for minutes before even trying to roll onto her back.

“You came back here after that, didn’t you?” Cat glances back at the water. “To surf? More than once?”

She did, though Alex has no idea how Cat knows that. She looks up, frowning at that note of understanding in that silky soft voice. A bit of fear that borders on shame coils in the pit of her belly at the memory and the questions it raises.

It’s strangely comforting when those velvet soft fingers stroke the line of her brow again. “You weren’t trying to die, you know,” Cat sighs.

A sharp exhalation of air escapes Alex’s lungs and if she didn’t know better, she’d swear she’s been struck right in the solar plexus. “Never said I was,” she gasps at hearing her deepest fears put into words.

“It’s a logical fear.” Cat’s tone is all blunt pragmatism, not giving Alex room to maneuver into outrage and denial. “You were dealing with a lot, not to mention young and probably at an angst-ridden age.” She shrugs, her eyes kinder than her seeming nonchalance. “But I’ve seen how you fight.” She settles her hands over Alex’s chest fingers spreading as if to absorb the solid beat of her heart. “You don’t give up.”

“How could you know...” Alex exhales haltingly, almost afraid to believe what the other woman is saying.

“I’ve seen plenty of video.”

Alex’s mouth twists in a wry smile and there’s a tiny lurch of disappointment in the pit of her stomach. The DEO tracks these things. She knows she hasn’t hit the news despite everything, which means Cat's stretching the truth if not precisely lying. It's probably kindness, not cruelty, but she can't let it stand. “I haven’t been on any news casts.”

“That’s true,” Cat confirms with the faintest duck of her head. “But you forget, I have video teams assigned to cover Supergirl’s every move. There's a lot of footage...some of it showing more than just her...”

Alex shakes her head in denial. “No, I’ve been careful.”

“Nobody can be that careful in the situations you land in.” Cat pushes up on her toes, putting herself right in Alex’s face. “I made sure Supergirl was the story, not the nameless brunette who sometimes backs her up, no matter how brave she might be.”

Alex can’t decide if she’s just been flattered or insulted.  “You're saying you...saw...” she whispers hesitantly.

Cat rolls her eyes. "My teams shoot most of the footage of Supergirl, certainly all the best of it." Her smile is almost diabolical. "And we make a tidy profit from other news agencies using what we release." She shrugs. "It's much cheaper to pay for our footage than send teams of their own."

Alex blinks as she parses the meaning behind what she's being told. "So you're saying..." She trails off, not quite finishing the thought.

"CatCo is very careful about the the images we release."

Alex instinctively tries to wave the topic off. "Who would care?" she mutters, unable to believe there would be any interest in her.

Everyone,” Cat hisses. “If they’d seen you, the search would have been on,” she snaps, her tone sharp and knowing. “The headlines would have read, ‘Who’s the Mystery Woman with Supergirl?’” She knows what she’s talking about. She’s spent a very successful career in this business. “They would have found out who you are and followed that story...all the way to the end...”

Alex suddenly gets it. Protecting her was protecting Kara. It makes sense. Cat’s in love with Kara, she reminds herself. She would make sure to have her back.

“Not just that,” Cat growls as if she’s read her mind. She thumps Alex’s chest with her index finger. “I’ve seen how you fight, Alex. You’re as much a hero as she is.” Cat pushes up on her toes, getting right in her face. “And I don’t throw heroes to the wolves.”

It’s a punch in the gut to realize that Cat’s been protecting her all along. “No,” she exhales and raises a hand to stroke Cat’s cheek. “You don’t.” Whatever her sins, that’s not among them. She thinks of how those fingers currently curled into her shirt felt curled into her body, and how soft lips and a warm voice reached inside and offered comfort and understanding. “You pull them back from the edge.”

Cat gasps and she swallows hard. “I try,” she whispers so softly that Alex more reads her lips than hears the words.

It’s strange how much those words mean in that moment,

The next moment isn’t planned. That’s not how Alex thinks, but impulse and want take over as  Cat leans harder into her body and it’s too damn good to ignore. Her hands find purchase at Cat’s waist and hips, while their mouths meet.

As kisses go it’s not some grand moment of passion and drama. There’s desire, but it’s not rough or raw and there’s a kindness to it that’s healing.

At least that’s how it is at first.

Then Cat slips her hands around Alex’s body and steps into her, molding their torsos together. She groans low in her throat, the sound soft and a little feral.

A shiver slips down Alex’s spine.

Sex on the beach is not her first thought—not the drink, not the act, not anything involving actual words. The closest she comes to a coherent thought is approximately, Mmmm, feels really good, want more and even that’s more a matter of bodily demands than organized cogitation.

As for putting all that into actual words, not really an option because Cat’s pressed against the full length of her and their tongues are cheerfully dueling back and forth between playing fields.

And it’s really, really nice.

That’s when it finally occurs to her that despite being an angst-ridden surfer girl, she never even kissed on the beach during her wild party years. It always seemed sacrilegious given what a lie her sex life was and how much value she put on the sea.

Now sex on the beach feels like the most natural idea in the world.

Oh, maybe not the whole, From Here to Eternity, tumbling in the waves treatment, but a discrete makeout session with loosened zippers and intimate grinding seems pretty doable.

She thinks maybe Cat’s having a few ideas along the same lines because she’s pushing harder into Alex and momentarily hooks a calf around her leg, pulling them even closer. She has to let go when they’re on the verge of toppling, and giggles as she catches herself.

It’s cute and sweet and leaves Alex feeling like a teenager again, only much better, like she could relive and massively improve on the experience.

She’s just contemplating some method of getting back to the SUV and seeing if she can figure out how to inflate the air mattress one-handed when her phone vibrates with the strains of the Underdog tune.

Shit, shit, shit.

She knows Cat’s heard it and figured out what it means by way she stiffens and wrenches back a half pace. Her eyes snap wide, reflecting her hurt, and she blinks rapidly like someone trying to clear their head after a bad dream.

The short Underdog refrain plays again.

“You need to answer that,” Cat whispers tightly and steps back another pace. “I’ll just go down...there.” She makes a vague gesture toward a distant section of beach, then folds her arms tightly across her chest. “Give you two privacy.”

“Cat,” Alex whispers, but the other woman is already moving, her strides long and swift.

And the phone is still ringing.

Yanking it free of her pants pocket, Alex thumbs it on. “Hi, Kara.” She knows she probably sounds brusque, but Kara’s timing quite literally couldn’t get any worse.

“Hey, Alex.” Kara voice is light and breezy sounding. Almost too much so. “I got your message...” Her voice drops a notch, taking on a note of concern.  “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” Alex knows she’s more clipped than she means to be, but Kara’s been so uninvolved in her problems of late that she’s not feeling the usual connection—her gaze swings up to touch on the woman moving away—particularly not right now.    

“Okay,” Kara exhales, drawing the single word out and letting it dangle in the air between them.

Alex knows her sister well enough to realize she’s not going to let it drop and sighs softly. Now, she decides to notice. “I just need some time away,” she finally says and even tries to soften the harsh notes. “Everything’s quiet, so it seemed like a good time to take a few days off and do a coastal drive...get my head on straight.” The irony of the phrasing doesn’t escape her.

“Anything you want to talk about?”

Kara’s trying, she really is. It’s not her fault her timing is abysmal or that the concern feels like too little, too late.

"Alex?" Kara prompts when she still hasn't answered a moment later. "You wanna talk?"

“Not really, no.” Alex thinks she hears a sharply drawn breath, but she’s only listening with half an ear. She’s busy watching the woman up the beach. She’s stepped into the water until it’s up to her knees and Alex finds herself thinking that if she goes any deeper, it’s time to hang up on Kara and interfere.

Cat’s instant understanding of her fears with respect to surfing where she’d nearly died threatens to take on a darker meaning.

“Oh,” Kara exhales, sounding a bit stung.

“I just want to put everything behind me,” Alex feels the need to explain. “Get away and relax.”

Her ears perk when she hears Kara mutter, “You and Cat both, I guess.”

She experiences a momentary wash of panic that somehow Kara knows, then realizes that if Kara had any idea she'd never admit it and she certainly wouldn't use that soft, almost bitter tone. This is something else. Alex's gaze sharpens as she watches Cat. She should probably let it lie, but her curiosity gets the better of her. She knows something happened, but Cat hasn’t been talking and Kara often can’t shut up. “What’s Cat up to?” She tries to sound only mildly interested.

Silence stretches between them, long and uncomfortable, until Alex is wondering what the hell neither of them is telling her.

“She...uh...she took off for a few days,” Kara finally stammers.

“Any specific reason?” Alex asks, relieved to see Cat step back up onto the beach and focus on rolling up her pants legs.

Again the silence lasts far too long. “Just some silly argument she had with someone at CatCO.” A beat. “You know how Cat is. She could start a fight with Mother Theresa when she's in a mood.”

Kara’s lying. Alex is sure of it, but she’s also sure that confronting her sister won’t work. “If you say so.”

Kara makes a small sound, but doesn’t otherwise respond, though Alex can hear her breathing. The uncomfortable silence stretches out long enough that she thinks Kara’s going to break and give up whatever she’s hiding, but then she grumbles a soft Kryptonian curse and mutters something Alex can’t quite make out.

Interesting.

It's Alex's turn to prompt, "Kara?"

It’s a surprise when her voice comes back, almost instantly, clearer, but distant and apparently directed to someone else. “No, it's Alex.” She sounds oddly defensive and another voice is briefly audible in the background. Easy enough to recognize who.

Alex can’t tell what he says, but he sounds annoyed.

“Well, I should probably leave you to your vacation then,” Kara says abruptly, sounding too happy to be sincere given his tone.

“Okay.”

“Talk to you in a few days,” Kara says brightly just before the line goes dead.

Alex could get angry at being dumped so abruptly—it would be easy—but she’s almost relieved. She feels like she should be doing more for her little sister, but Kara’s made it clear where her priorities lie right now and Alex is too tired to fight it.

Plus she has other concerns.

Like the woman standing ankle deep in the surf, staring out to sea. She takes a moment to scroll through her contact list before making a quick call. When she finishes she tucks it back in her pocket and ambles Cat’s direction.

“You okay?” Alex asks as she comes up on the other woman.

Cat shrugs and doesn’t look back. “I’ll live.” She tenses as Alex settles her hands on both shoulders, but doesn’t fight the contact.

Alex briefly debates asking some questions only to decide against it. Cat needs comfort right now, not an interrogation. “I called a friend just now,” she explains, barreling through when she feels Cat tense. “She and her husband own a B&B up the coast. Really pretty place. It’s on a cliff overlooking a bay. Gorgeous view from the deck and you can open the windows and listen to the ocean all night.” She feels some of the tension slip away from slim shoulders when Cat realizes she's not going to ask any more questions. She leans closer. “There’s even a lighthouse. You can watch the light on the water, hear the clang of the buoys.”

“Sounds nice,” Cat admits after a long moment.

“It is,” Alex confirms. “She’ll hold a cabin until we get there.” She knows that Kara’s call has shaken Cat and jarred their private little world. She's close to running and Alex is desperate to make sure she doesn’t. They need each other too much.

Cat risks a quick glance over her shoulder. “Did she tell you?” she whispers haltingly.

She’s not asking about a cabin up the coast.

“No.” Alex draws in a deep breath and briefly debates her response before asking,  “Do you want to?”

She gets an emphatic head shake in reply.

"Okay." Alex accepts that boundary. "I won't mention it again unless you want to."

Cat relaxes ever so slightly, but she's still poised on the balls of her feet like she's ready to bolt.

“Come with me,” Alex invites, changing topics as if nothing else happened. She carefully guides Cat around so they’re eye to eye.

“You know this isn’t real,” Cat whispers after a beat.

“Yes, it is,” Alex disagrees, her expression serious. “It may not be a grand love affair with matching rings and long term plans, but two people who care for each other and want to help... That's not a small thing.”

Blonde brows draw into a frown as Cat processes the claim. “She can’t ever know,” she whispers.

Alex snorts. “I’m sure as hell not going to tell her.” Not that she’d have time to notice with his assholiness around.

Cat rolls her eyes and looks disgusted. “How pathetic is it that I care?” she growls. “I’m Cat Grant. I’ve dumped movie stars and millionaires and now I’m tied up in knots by some girl who can barely dress herself.”

A soft chuckle escapes before Alex can stop it. “I’m not sure someone wearing dayglo purple flip flops and dress clothes on the beach has a lot of room for sartorial finger pointing,” she teases gently, hoping to break the dark mood.

Glancing down, Cat does another eye roll. “I look like an idiot,” she agrees through a wry smirk. “These pants are completely ruined.”

It’s a relief to hear her tone lighten. It lets them both step back from the edge. “You just look a little out of place. Business chic doesn’t work on the beach,” Alex continues using the teasing tone as she reaches out and tugs Cat’s blouse free of her waistband. “I can fix that though.” She’s well aware of the arch look directed her way as she starts freeing the bottom buttons.

“I’m not really in the mood for...our earlier activities,” Cat points out, her tone dry.

“I know...and that’s not the plan,” Alex explains. “We really should get on the road anyway.” And this place feels too tainted for both of them. “Just thought you could use a little beach chick panache.” Her hands quick and sure, she makes an adjustment or two, then ties Cat’s shirt tails together right under her bust.

Cat looks doubtful.

“You look good,” Alex assures her. She does too. Tied the way it is, the stark white blouse emphasizes the  curve of her breasts and draws the eye to her pale, but nicely toned midriff, while the rolled up pants cuffs make her look young and casual. She tips her head to one side thoughtfully. “Actually, you look pretty hot.”

Cat manages a watery smile, then reaches out, curling her fingers into Alex’s shirt front and tugging her close. Her gaze moves this way and that, studying carefully. Finally, she wets her lips. “You’re an amazing woman, Alex Danvers.” She presses the softest of kisses onto her mouth, then pulls back no more than a hands width. “And I’m very grateful you didn’t manage to get yourself killed as a teenager.”

Alex feels her mouth curl into a natural smile. “Me too,” she admits and allows herself a moment to enjoy their closeness. It’s that very pleasure that drives her to address the thought gnawing at her even if she’s afraid of causing a fight. “But Cat, please do me a favor, don’t go in the water alone again.”

The guilty glint in hazel eyes tells her Cat understands what she’s not saying. “I wasn’t—”

“I know,” Alex interrupts. She carefully brushes a few windblown curls back from Cat’s temple. “But the ocean can be treacherous. Promise me you’ll stay safe. You were far enough away I might not have gotten there in time if you'd had a problem.”

Seeing the stubborn lift of Cat’s chin and the defiant glint in her eyes, Alex fully expects a fight, so it’s a surprise when she finally nods her acceptance.”I will.” She pats Alex on the chest. “But I’d like a promise in return.”

Alex’s, “All right,” is cautious.

Cat glances out at the rolling ocean, squinting as she stares at the place that nearly took a younger Alex to a watery end. “Don’t come back here. You survived. It’s time to let this place go.” She presses another small kiss onto Alex’s mouth, the connection warm and gentle.

“So does this mean the road trip’s still on?” Alex asks with a hopeful smile.

Cat’s silent for a moment before nodding. “God help us both, I think it does.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

 


Chapter 8


Cat’s sitting in the passenger’s seat watching the world go by, watching Alex drive, watching the gulls that track the shoreline and a dozen other things. It’s undemanding, relaxing even, though relaxation is a concept she’s almost forgotten after so many years of empire building, so she's not confident she's doing it right. It’s more that she’s less tense than normal. But it’s a start, she thinks.

Her gaze swings from the dramatic stretch of coast the road parallels to the woman driving. Where Kara is all soft curves, Alex is sharper featured, her profile almost stark. Her brow is furrowed in concentration as she focuses on the road, paying extra attention when a car passes them in the left lane of the ancient, two-lane highway.

“Idiot,” Alex mutters, and Cat feels the SUV break sharply, giving the red SAAB a chance to pull back in ahead of an upcoming blind curve. It’s a good decision as it turns out. An RV comes speeding around the turn only a moment later and Cat finds herself grateful for the foresight. She probably would have gotten aggressive and forced the SAAB driver to fight to get ahead of her and maybe caused an accident. There’s a reason she rarely drives anymore.

Alex, on the other hand, is a good driver, alert and calm, fast, but not aggressive.

Cat feels safe with her at the wheel.

Alex glances over, smiling in a way that transforms her face, softening the sharp angles and making her look younger and carefree. Cat finds her quite beautiful in that moment.

More importantly, Cat trusts her.

“You starting to get a little hungry?” Alex asks after another glance. “There’s a public beach coming up. Has easy parking and a nice view of any surfers. Be a good place to grab a bite. There’s the food in back, plus they usually have a couple of food trucks.”

Hungry? Yes. Food truck? Cat blinks. It’s not a question anyone has ever asked her before. She’s heard of the concept of course, even seen five minutes of some show on cable that featured food trucks and people running around a great deal. It confused and annoyed her. “A truck? With food? Prepared inside?” she repeats, very doubtful of the entire concept. It’s the prepared inside part that seems especially risky, she decides on thinking about it. She has a sudden vision of tacos tasting suspiciously of gasoline made by a man whose hands are liberally blackened by engine grease.

Her gaze is drawn back to Alex as she laughs softly. “We could hit the snacks we bought, but why don’t you try living dangerously.”

“I’m comfortably certain my cholesterol level would regard the snacks as sufficiently risky.”

“You can have those anytime. Good food trucks are unique. There’s one that regularly parks a block from the DEO, has the most amazing kimchi fish tacos you’ve ever tasted.”

Now the grease monkey is shoving fish heads into taco shells and spooning green mush on top. No, no, no. “That’s just not...no—”

“It’s fusion cooking. Go to a restaurant, you’d pay at least a hundred bucks a head. Buy it from a truck, same thing, ten-fifteen bucks, tops.”

“Eighty-five to Ninety dollars for a certificate from the health department doesn’t seem overly pricey,” Cat ripostes neatly. “Certainly cheaper than a hospital stay for food poisoning.” She shudders at the images that pop into her head.

“Cat, you’ve faced down aliens shooting lasers and trying to blow you out of the sky.” Alex’s tone is a mix of chiding and amused. Neither feels even slightly acceptable. “Are you telling me you’re afraid of a simple fish taco?”

Cat can feel herself frowning with annoyance. She’s glad she turned down the Botox now, because she’d hate to think of herself not showing her displeasure with that note of challenge. “No,” she says flatly. “I’m just...” She trails off as something happens that hasn’t in years, and she can’t find the right word. She sputters.

Alex chuckles again. “Let’s just see what we find, since I gather you are hungry.” Her voice rises at the end, turning the statement into a question.

“I am,” Cat confirms, then frowns, her voice taking on a picky note she knows from experience can drive her employees insane in the rush to please. “I’m sure those truck won’t have kale and I—”

“Actually I’ve eaten at a couple that fry it crisp like french fries. Pretty tasty.”

Cat snaps her mouth shut and huffs out a puff of air through her nose as she purses her lips tightly. She has a deep suspicion she’s being mocked and mockery isn’t something she’s ever tolerated.

“Cat.” Alex’s voice is almost a sing-song, her tone light enough to draw a look.

Perhaps she’s going to offer an apology.

“You’re cute when you pout,” the brunette teases.

Cat’s back to sputtering, albeit while simultaneously preening.

Alex flashes a toothy grin her way.

Cat is appalled to feel a solid thump in her cardio region and a definite clench in parts farther south. “You—” she exclaims.

“There’s our turn,” Alex interrupts, pointing toward a side road, saving Cat from the need to come up with a sufficiently pithy comment. she pulls off onto a short road that leads down to a long, narrow, marginally paved parking lot loaded with vehicles, most of which seems to have roof racks, a few still sporting surf boards.

hen Cat looks toward the ocean, she sees scattered people on the beach, but lines of surfers bobbing in the waves. She’s still staring when Alex finds a parking spot and kills the engine.

“Well, there’s a food truck.”

Cat follows the direction of her nod to a battered looking trailer and frowns. It looks in dire need of being condemned. She’s seriously considering a very cutting remark about Alex’s sanity when her attention is drawn back Alex’s way by a soft, throat clearing sound.

Alex is studying her hands where they rest on the top side of the steering wheel, her manner completely different from just a moment ago. “I just wanted to thank you,” she begins a little haltingly, her voice soft and thoughtful enough to end any idea of sharp commentary. “For what you said...where we were before....” she jerks her head, indicating the road behind them. “...about not going back.” She looks over at Cat, something poignant in her expression. “I’ve been thinking about it the whole way. You’re right, it’s time to let that place go.” She blinks rapidly as if to clear her vision. “But also the miserable parts of that time of my life.” She heaves a sigh and smiles. “I don’t need that anymore.”

Just watching her, Cat can feel the weight lift from her shoulders and she finds herself smiling back, any irritation forgotten as a trifling matter. “I’m glad.” She’s both surprised and not when she feels fingers find her own, and makes no effort to resist the gentle tug that pulls her toward the space between the seats.

Alex’s kiss starts on her cheek, but quickly migrates to her mouth, soft and warm. “Thank you,” she says again when she pulls back.

Cat can’t resist the urge to stroke her cheek. “You’re more than welcome. I’m glad for any peace you can find.” She means it too.

Smiling, Alex snatches another quick kiss, then pushes the door open and bounces out. “Not gonna get you out of eating from a food truck though,” she teases.

Cat firms her spine, ready for a fight as she steps out of the SUV—

And suddenly encounters the most heavenly smell. She’s still sniffing the air when Alex comes around the front of the SUV and catches her hand.

Alex notes the way Cat’s nose is twitching and grins. “Sonoran dogs,” she says knowingly after a sniff of her own.

A quick slam of the door and the SUV is locked up, then Cat finds herself being pulled along by the hand now bound to Alex’s. No one other than Carter has held her hand in...possibly ever and she’s not at all sure what to think of it. She is surprised to realize she doesn’t have her usual desire to slather her entire arm in disinfectant after being touched by Alex, though she’s undecided as to whether that’s a good thing or, if not a bad one, then worrisome anyway. The woman fights aliens, god only knows what germs she might pick up.

Except as they pass by singles and groups who pay little to no attention beyond an occasional admiring gaze, it feels rather nice being with someone. It’s a sensation she’s unused to. As they reach the trailer, she notes the garish paintings on the side, showing the food she supposes, though not in any appetizing fashion. There’s also what appears to be a hand lettered price list of several items, none of which she recognizes.

She feels vaguely helpless and it’s not something she likes at all. Even if she were to start spouting orders, she has no idea where to start. She’s startled when Alex suddenly pats her shoulder.

“Will you trust me to order for both of us?” she asks, her voice too soft for anyone else to hear.

Cat finds herself nodding gratefully.

Alex steps up to a window in the side of the trailer. “Two double dogs, one simple, the other loaded, and could you cut those in half, plus two tamarind Jarritos.”

A moment later, Cat finds herself pointing. “Is he actually deep frying bacon wrapped hot dogs?”

Alex nods. “You’re gonna love these.”

“I can almost see the cholesterol fumes,” Cat mutters. She’s hardly a health nut, even if she sometimes tries to pretend, but still...

Alex leans close, her breath playing in Cat’s ear as she whispers, “I know about your preference for salads topped with cheeseburgers.”

She earns a glare for her temerity. “Your sister is a tattletale,” Cat accuses, but she’s actually rather proud because it’s the closest she’s come to mentioning her assistant without wanting to crawl into a hole and pull it in after her in days.

She has a sense that Alex has the same thought because her mouth tips up in a soft smile, though she doesn’t directly address it. Instead she pats Cat’s shoulder lightly, then points toward trail a short distance away. “There are picnic tables just down that way if you want to go ahead and grab us one.”

Cat just shakes her head. She’s not proud of it, but she can feel a little overwhelmed in new spaces. She half expects a smirk, but Alex just nods.

“Okay. You can help carry then,” she says smoothly. Alex pays. Glaring when Cat draws breath to offer. When the food comes, she lets Cat to carry two long-necked bottles of something bright red, but neatly stacks the rest, easily balancing it as she takes off down the trail.

Cat follows, and finds herself enjoying the view. Alex is lean, but nicely curved. She can think of worse sights.

Then the trail opens out onto the beach and her jaw drops as she gets a view from ground level. The sand is powdery fine and almost bone white while the ocean is a deep teal blue and the sky a lighter shade softened by hazy clouds.

“Beautiful, huh?” Alex slows and turns back, smiling at Cat’s response. “C’mon,” she says, jerking her head toward a scattering of cement picnic tables. As if sensing Cat’s discomfort with too much humankind, she takes the last one in the group. It’s well away from the crowds, but with a good view of the surfers.

Cat starts to sit, but Alex shakes her head with a quick, “Nope.”

“But...”

“You sit on top, aimed out to sea so you can watch the surfers,” Alex explains.

“But that’s the table portion...where people eat.” She can't have heard right. Right?

Apparently she did because Alex takes command and she finds herself sitting on the table, a plate of food next to her hip while Alex pops the caps on the bottles.

She hands Cat a bottle with the simple explanation, “Tamarind flavored soda. They're really popular down south.”

She has no idea what that means, but a cautious taste reveals something tart, mildly sweet, and more bubbly than she’s used to. “It’s good,” she has to admit, then takes another sip.

Alex laughs, then takes a long draft from her bottle. “I first tried these things at a little place on the Gulf of Mexico. Love ‘em, but you can hardly ever find them in the states.” Then she hops up next to Cat and digs into the food.

Cat’s a bit more tentative, but it’s good. The deep fried bacon dogs are hot and crisp and settled into boats of chewy, flavorful bread that’s nothing like she remembers hot dogs buns being. They each have two half dogs, one plain with just a splash of mustard, and one loaded with everything imaginable, none of it what she’s used to, but rather refried beans, grated cheese, guacamole, and fresh salsa. It’s different and better than she could have predicted.

“Toldya you’d like it,” Alex teases.

The stubborn, peevish side of her is tempted to argue, the honest side wins out and she simply nods. “It’s good.” She looks out to sea, watching the silhouetted figures bobbing in the waves. “So tell me about surfing,” she requests.

“What would you like to know?”

Cat considers it for a moment. She knows so little that she has no idea what questions to ask. “Anything...everything,” she answers after a beat, then remembers a moment on the other beach. “You looked out at the waves before and you could tell things. How?”

Alex pauses for a moment, then nods. “The water has a rhythm that’s easy to see. Waves come in, go out again, but there’s also a seascape under there, and rocks and shoals and currents. You can’t see them, but if you know what to look for, you can see how they affect the water, then make logical predictions based on what you figure out.” She flashes a questioning look to make sure Cat’s following along.

Cat simply nods.

“Okay, so this is a pretty straightforward beach. It’s got a nice, easy slope as the seabed rises to the shore. See that wave coming in?” She draws her hand along, indicating most the sea from the north to south horizon.

Squinting against the bright reflections on the water, Cat nods.

“Look how long it is. It’s got a bit of curvature, but not much, and it’s not narrowing much or gaining much momentum. That tells us the seabed rises the same way.” She points at a small group of surfers. “They know the rhythm of this beach, how the waves build and signs that indicate when they’re going to be slower or faster. That’s why they’ll float through several waves, then pick one and ride it. They have a good idea they’re going to get something fun.”

Cat nods, listening closely as Alex continues explaining how to read the water, what swells can mean and how to track a wave’s speed. She asks an occasional question, but mostly just listens. Alex is a good lecturer and knows the subject well enough to make it interesting.

“You miss it, don’t you?” Cat says at some point.

Alex thinks about it for a moment. “I miss the surfing, but not the things that drove me to it.”

“I gather you only recently...” Cat pauses as she tries to decide how to word her question.

“Figured out I’m gay?” Alex just comes out and says it before she comes up with a subtler way of asking. “Yeah,” she answers her own question. “For a long time I tried to pretend, but I thought I just wasn’t like that...sexual, I mean.”

“Well, you were wrong about that,” Cat drawls, holding up her drink in silent salute. She winks. “I can attest you needn’t worry.”

Alex blushes a deep shade of crimson. “I’m trying,” she whispers.

Cat is surprised to find her mind flitting to thoughts of bodies moving together, the rhythm of the waves serving as a metronome to set the pace. Reaching out, she trails a knuckle down Alex’s cheek. “You were wonderful.”

She earns a deeper blush. “You’re kind,” Alex whispers.

“There’s something I haven’t been called many times in my life,” she whispers, her throat suddenly tight.

“You are, you know,” Alex says, turning toward Cat, her expression intense. “Kind, good.” Her gaze drops to Cat’s now empty plate. “Hungry.” She grins.

Cat nods. “You were right, the food was excellent.” She boops Alex’s nose like she used to Carter’s, before he became a teenager. “As was the company.” She looks toward the surf. “And the discussion.” She sees a trembly smile curve Alex’s mouth out of the corner of her eye and thinks it’s easy to be kind to this woman. She’s smart and brave and good, and the hurt Cat glimpses now and then makes her want to solve her problems and promise to keep the ghosts away. It’s a silly, romantic notion given the nature of their strange relationship, but the impulse is there all the same.

“So can I ask a question?” Alex says cautiously at some point.

Cat shrugs. “You may ask,” she allows, her tone making it clear she reserves the right not to answer.

Alex clearly gets the point because she nods in acknowledgment and her lips curve in a tiny smile, though there’s something serious in her eyes. “So you...uh...last night wasn’t a first for you...” she begins so hesitantly Cat can almost feel her fear of venturing into off limits territory.

It makes her feel unexpectedly sympathetic and even protective. “No,” she confirms, “it wasn’t.”

Slim shoulders relax a bit. “When...how...did you...” She trails off, uncertain how to ask.

Cat takes pity. “I was sixteen,” she confesses. “Her name was Marina St. Claire, and she was an amazingly talented ballerina—”

“And you hating ballet classes,” Alex murmurs, a touch of humor in her voice.

“Mmm, my attendance was rather better for a few weeks, but nothing lasts forever.” She winces and falls silent as the memory momentarily overwhelms.

“Cat?” Alex’s voice is questioning, but not pushy.

“She found me rather interesting as well,” Cat says softly. “I think the fact I hated ballet worked in my favor given the pressure she was under from her family.” She turns back toward the ocean and pauses to take in a deep breath. Odd how some things can still hurt after so many years. “She kissed me one night after a recital...right as my mother walked in.”

“I’m guessing that didn’t go well.”

“No, to say the least. Before Mother finished, I doubt anyone there was unaware of the event. Needless to say we were not allowed to see one another again.” She closes her eyes briefly as her mother’s cruel words reverberate in her head. Finally she straightens her shoulders and shakes it off. “On the good side, I finally got out of ballet lessons.” It’s a line she’s used more than once to lighten the mood.

Alex doesn’t laugh the way various men she’s dated or married have, nor does she just stand silent like most of the women. “God, I’m sorry. That must have been awful.”

“Mmm. The worst part in a way is that it feels like I let my mother win.” She hates that nagging sense of inflicted shame and the choices it guilted her into making. “I find both men and women attractive, but for quite a number of years I only allowed my relationships with men to become serious.” The admission hurts because it brings up the specter of bad marriages pursued and potential relationships ignored.

“And now?” Alex asks quietly.

Cat glances back and shrugs. “I’m at a very different place in my life. I can’t regret anything because I got my sons, but at this point, I need something different from what I’ve had in the past. I thought maybe...” She trails off. She’s not ready to say Kara’s name, she realizes as her throat locks up. “But no,” she finally whispers.

Alex simply nods, her expression grave and sad. She seems to understand there’s nothing else to say right now.

They’re both silent for a bit, then Alex glances at her watch. “We should probably get moving,” she points out. “If we’re going to get there before dark.”

“Indeed,” Cat agrees and manages to summon a smile even if it’s a bit forced and watery. She wants this to be something other than simply moping after someone who clearly doesn’t want her. “I’m looking forward to seeing your cabin by the sea.”

Alex’s answering smile is surprisingly gentle. “I think you’ll like it.”

“Your judgment has proven sound so far.”

They’re on the road only a few minutes later.

They stop for gas at a small seaside town, then to stretch their legs at a rough section of beach where huge, boulders sheer up out of the water and the waves violently break and spray. It’s wild and beautiful and Cat shivers as a chill breeze blows through.

Alex is standing staring at the scene when Cat has a horrid thought. “Please tell me you didn’t surf here.”

“No,” Alex scoffs. “Even I wasn’t crazy enough to try that.” She shakes her head. “No, I’ve just always thought this was a beautiful spot.” She looks up when Cat sneaks a hand into hers.

They share smiles and Cat feels the last of the remaining tension drain away. “It is,” she agrees, leaning into a breeze that ruffles her hair and clears her head.

They spare a few more minutes, then they’re moving again. A late afternoon fog blows in from the sea, dancing on the sea and cliffs on all sides, never touching them, but sweeping in and out both ahead and behind. It’s a strange game of tag, but as the road climbs from sea level, to the cliffs, they rise above the drifting white clouds, creating a sense of flying.

“Speaking of beautiful,” Cat murmurs as she points it out.

Nodding, Alex drives a little farther, then tucks the SUV into a narrow pullout the next chance she gets. Her makeshift parking spot sits next to a suspension bridge that spans a broad cut in the cliffs. At Cat’s questioning look, she simply says. “I want to see too.” She climbs out and points toward the marked pedestrian walkway on the ocean side of the bridge.

As they step onto the bridge, the fog rolls in underneath them, surprisingly thick and white as it billows and blows. A few tendrils even wash up over the bridge in a thin haze.

“It’s like flying,” Cat murmurs, staring down. “Without the sense that I might die at any moment.”

Alex laughs at that and leans out, staring down at the rolling field of white. “Amazing,” she exhales in awe.

“Indeed.”

They don’t stay long though they take the time to check out both sides of the bridge and to watch the fog roll back out again. They’re both smiling by the time they return to the SUV and the mood is light.

Traffic  thins as the day gets later while steep, rocky cliffs give way to low lying hills and thick stands of scrubby trees to the right and rocky beaches on the left. When the sun starts to get lower, Alex swings the sunshade to her side to block some of the glare. It’s not long before a smattering of buildings appear, homes mostly, but there’s a cluster of businesses that includes a gas station, convenience store, an ancient video rental shack. A sign claims it carries both DVD and VHS. Blu-ray is not mentioned.

“Welcome to Whale’s Tail Cove,” Alex murmurs with a soft laugh. A few minutes later, she pulls off the main highway and down a short road that ends at the Whale’s Tale Inn. The main building has two floors and what looks to be about twelve rooms. There’s also what’s clearly an old Victorian home complete with weather vane and faux widow’s walk. A sign advertises the inn and cabins for rent.

Alex coasts to a stop in front of the home, smiling as a blonde woman comes rushing out.

Fascinated, Cat watches the interaction closely.

The newcomer is short and round and grinning. She wraps Alex in a tight hug the moment she clears the SUV. “It’s been too long, Danvers.”

Alex hugs her back almost as hard. “You too, Tru.”

Tru pulls back and mock punches Alex on the arm. “You get the honeymoon cabin,” she says in a sing-song, then suddenly perks as she notes Alex isn’t alone. She tips her head to one side, leaning down to peer at Cat through the driver’s side window. “Which suddenly seems ideal.” She turns a meaningful look Alex’s way.

“She’s a friend, Tru,” Alex responds, her tone firm. Cat barely hears her as she leans close. “Be nice. She’s had her heart broken.”

Cat doesn’t mean to make eye contact with Tru, but it happens before she can stop it, and the blonde suddenly tenses. Her eyes go wide and her jaw drops and Cat knows she’s been made.

“That’s—”

Alex tries. “No, Tru—”

“The Wrecking Ball works for her.”

Cat frowns at that.

“Oh, god.” Tru sounds horrified. “The Wrecking Ball got another one.” She points at Cat. “I mean, she dumped Rob Lowe and John Stamos and the Wrecking Ball got her, didn’t she?”

“Stop calling her that,” Alex grumbles.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Kara got her.” Tru rolls her eyes while Cat draws in a sharp breath and loses all color. “Is that better?”

“Hmph.” Alex grumbles, but seems to have no other response.

Tru leans down into the open driver’s side window and addresses Cat directly. “Hi, I’m Trudy Lee Gold, Tru to friend and foe alike and it’s okay, honey. Feel free to say whatever you like about the silly ninny. This is a non-Kara Danvers worshiping zone.”

“Ignore her,” Alex calls out. “She’s somewhat pathologically inclined to hate my sister.”

“I don’t hate her,” Tru disagrees. “I just don’t deny that she’s utterly oblivious to the feelings of others and so never notices the trail of broken hearts in her wake.” She smiles at Cat. “Sit on the deck, breathe in the sea air and stay as long as you like.”

“Thank you,” Cat says a bit dazedly. It’s not often she meets someone more overwhelming than she is, but Tru makes the grade.

“So you want a room of your own?” Tru asks Alex, clearly changing gears. “Only the one cabin is free, but we have a vacancy at the inn if you like.” It's apparently already been decided that broken hearts merit a cabin.

“I...no. We’re...” Alex bumbles to a halt and her face turns bright red.

“We’ll share,” Cat says simply and steps out onto the gravelly parking area, ready to intervene. She doesn’t mind a bit of embarrassment—well, actually, she hates it, but it’s nothing new—but she’s not going to allow it for someone still struggling like Alex is. She’s ready to yell if need be.

Tru’s eyes swing back and forth, then she grins and hugs Alex again. “You figured out you’re gay,” she proclaims happily.

Cat is ready to unleash hell when Alex just smiles and shrugs and mumbles, “Yeah, kinda.”

“I’m so proud of you.” The hugging goes on, and Alex seems not to mind. At some point Tru leans around Alex and tells Cat, “I’ve been waiting for this since we were in junior high together and she had the worst crush on Vicki Donahue.”

"Tru!" Alex yelps.

Tru never notices and when she finally pulls back, she nods toward Cat. “Sooo, figured out the gay thing, huh? Her?” There's a wealth of meaning in that simple question, and Alex clearly understands the message even if Cat's a little uncertain. Cat can’t decide whether she sounds hopefully doubtful or doubtfully hopeful. It’s one or the other.

Alex shakes her head so vehemently Cat could be insulted if she let herself be. “No, it was...someone else. She’s...” She heaves a sigh. “It’s complicated.”

“She’s cute and she’s loaded. I say go for it,” Tru advises cheerfully.

“Tru, she’s hurting and she’s a friend—”

“With benefits?” Tru leers. That time it’s definitely hopeful, no doubt in evidence.

“It’s complicated,” Alex says again, the deep blush making a quick return. “Now could you get the keys before you send one or both of us running for cover?”

“No running here,” Cat drawls, deliberately drawing attention away from Alex.

Tru grins. “I like her.” She punches Alex on the shoulder. “Cute and loaded and I bet the Wrecking Ball would hate it. She never did like it when the broken hearts moved on—”

“Go!” Alex orders.

“Oh, I already have the keys.” She grins at Alex and points toward a barely visible rooftop to the left of the house. “There’s a parking spot. I’ll meet you back there in a minute.” Then she bounces inside.

“She’s my oldest friend in the world,” Alex feels the need to explain to Cat as she climbs back in the SUV.”

“I like her. She’s...unique.”

“She’s a pain in the ass,” Alex sighs. “But I love her and she’s always been in my corner. Kara, not so much. She broke Tru’s little brother’s heart and she’s never really forgiven.”

“Ah.”

A moment later, they pull up in front of small cabin that looks to be from the twenties or thirties.

A path on the right side, nearest the house, a path leads into a garden of old rose bushes gone to thick vines and scattering patches of wild flowers and domesticated breeds gone wild. On the other side, there’s a path down the steep cliff on which the house sits, and more vines of tiny, wild roses.

“Go on in,” a disembodied voice calls from somewhere on the other side of the garden. “It’s unlocked.”

The front of the building is only about fifteen feet wide with a narrow porch, though there’s swing on one end. The front door is indeed unlocked. It opens into a small foyer with two straight backed, Victorian era chairs upholstered in a dark blue and gold chintz and a tiny wood stove.

There’s broad archway leading to the next room and Cat can’t say exactly why she’s hesitant, but suddenly she freezes. Maybe it’s because, as small as the building is, that has be the bedroom. For the first time in a very long time, she feels oddly shy about such things. Which is strange given what they spent the night doing, but the day has shown a different side of Alex, and she’s struggling to resolve the two very diverse views.

Then she notices that Alex is standing there, just staring at the archway. She looks almost scared.

Apparently Cat’s not the only one dealing with some issues. That realization is oddly comforting. “Jesus,” Cat suddenly exhales. “What are we doing here?” She straightens her shoulders and her spine.

Brown eyes swing her way and dark brows draw into a questioning frown.

“We are not twelve.” Cat grabs Alex’s hand, tugging her along as she storms forward into the next room like a general conquering a hill in wartime. The bedroom is...

Cat pulls up short, jaw dropping as she stares.

“There’s a bathtub in the middle of the bedroom,” she exhales when she finally remembers how to speak.

“Aimed so you can watch the sunset on the ocean through the sliding glass door.” Alex gestures loosely to indicate the door that opens onto a wood deck.

“I don’t even know what to say to that.”

“Tru does the design,” Alex murmurs. “You may not have noticed, but she’s not subtle.

“No,” Cat agrees, drawing the word out.

The tub, meanwhile, is an old fashioned claw foot type, but bigger than any she recalls seeing before. There’s more than enough space for two. It sits at the foot of a queen sized bed covered with an old fashioned silk quilt and is, indeed, aimed right at the sliding glass door.

As interesting as that is, Cat catches a glimpse of the sky and she moves past the tub. A bay window with a well padded seat dominates one end of the wall, a sliding glass door, the other. She gestures toward the bay window. “I always wanted one of these as a kid, however...” She steps forward, unlatching the sliding glass door to push it open. The deck is the same width as the cabin and about eight feet deep. As she steps forward to the railing, she realizes it’s cantilevered out over a rocky cliff overgrown with more wild rose vines. Most are dotted with flowers in what seems like a dozen hues. It overlooks a narrow bay strewn with upthrusts of black, volcanic rock and she can hear the waves lapping on the beach below. The sky and water are just barely beginning to reflect amber bits of light from the coming sunset. “It’s...” she exhales, leaning into a cool ocean breeze that ruffles her hair and slides over her skin.

“Yeah.” Alex draws close and braces her hands on the rail. “I love this place.”

“Stunning,” Cat breathes, almost afraid to make a sound for fear of breaking the magic of this place. She hears Alex move and senses sharp eyes watching her.

“Cat.” Alex’s voice is little more than a breath as if she too is afraid of shattering something precious.

She turns to face the brunette and they both just watch each other for the longest time. She considers speaking, but words feel far too dangerous. She’s incredibly aware of the way Alex is studying her though, and her pulse picks up when the brunette glances toward the bed, then back to her, then out to sea, then back to her as she takes a deep breath.

It occurs to Cat it’s probably the most subtle dance she’s ever seen with so much meaning held in small looks and interestingly timed sighs.

Alex finally reaches out, those slightly roughened fingertips soft on her cheek. “I—”

“I’m he-ere,” a familiar voice suddenly sing-songs as they hear the front door swing open.

“Trudy,” Alex whimpers and steps away with a look of such long suffering that Cat suddenly finds the whole thing bizarrely funny and can’t contain a tiny giggle.

“I come bearing gift baskets,” Tru calls out cheerfully.

“I’ll...uh...go deal with her...and then...”

“We’ll talk,” Cat whispers.

“C’mon, you two, get your clothes on and get out here or I’m coming i-in.”

At which point Alex all but runs for it.

Shaking her head, Cat steps back inside with a thoughtful look.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine


Alex skids into the foyer to find Tru bouncing on her heels and obviously contemplating barging in. She’s carrying a huge basket full of god only knows what. Alex is a little afraid to ask and the red cellophane it’s wrapped in doesn’t give her enough of a look to have much idea beyond what looks like some standard gift basket style fruits and what’s certainly a bottle of wine. “I...what?”

“They’re part of the honeymoon package,” Tru explains and holds it out. “It’s got some fun things and some snacks to keep your strength up and...y’know...just silly stuff.”

She looks entirely too innocent and Alex has learned to be wary of of her at those times. “We’re not married...or engaged...or even...” Alex shakes her head sharply. “We’re just not.”

Tru waves her off. “It’s part of the package. You might as well have some fun with it.”

“But we’re not paying.” Alex knows Tru. She never cuts corners and the damn basket is huge. It probably cost a small fortune.

Tru waves that off. “There’s fresh fruit in there, so it’ll just get tossed if it’s not eaten. The couple that booked the room had a bit of a tiff and things are off, so it’s already paid for.” She shrugs and makes a sad face.

Still too innocent for Alex’s comfort.

“Besides, you and the kitty cat—she in there?” Tru leans a bit as if hoping for a peek, but doesn’t push too hard.

Even more innocent which cannot be a good sign. Alex leans to block her and glares.

Tru never notices, or at least doesn't appear to. “Anyway, I figured you two might as well enjoy it.”

She’s doing the Bambi-eyes thing she does when she’s up to something. Alex pauses to consider this for a moment, takes the basket to set it in one of the chairs, then grabs Tru’s arm. “I need to get some things from the car. Why don’t you come with me,” she grinds out and drags her friend along, giving her no opportunity to resist.

Tru being Tru, doesn’t even try. Instead, her tone turns wheedling. “So did I interrupt anything?” she asks entirely too cheerfully.

Growling a curse, Alex ignores the question as she unlocks the back and leans in to grab her duffle and the blue camo backpack. She slings them over one shoulder and turns back.

“Can I help with those?” Tru asks, still doing the Bambi eyes.

“I’m good.” Alex grabs the food pack and turns back. “What’s in the basket?” she demands after a moment’s debate.

Tru rolls her eyes and playacts outrage. “Fruit, cheese, gourmet crackers, a bottle of champagne and okay, some hard liquor too.” She sighs heavily, acting as though that’s the only surprise and she’s been caught.

“What else?” Alex knows Tru. Nothing she does is ever that simple.

“Oh, fine. There’s whipped chocolate body butter and coconut cream.”

Alex glares.

“Also possibly some edible body paints.” Tru rolls her eyes again. “It’s a newlywed basket after all.” She pauses momentarily, then grins. “The Green Apple Green and the Whipped Chocolate-Hazelnut are particularly tasty, by the way.” She winks. “Jerry and I tried them out before we added them to the baskets.” Jerry is her husband, sweet, a bit odd, and Alex really doesn’t want to think about it beyond that. “The green apple’s really good with peanut butter too.”

Now that sounds like Tru. Alex doesn’t ask for details.

Alex sharpens her glare in warning. “Cat’s had a rough time lately.” Tru has a great big heart under the humor and she can be protective as hell, but sometimes she needs a reminder that not everyone is as open about everything as she is. “I don’t want anything to make her uncomfortable.”

“She doesn’t strike me as a woman who’s easily flustered,” Tru points out without backing down.

No, she’s not, Alex thinks as she mentally acknowledges that she may be the one avoiding embarrassment. “She’s been through a lot lately.” It’s a weak excuse, but it’s all she’s got.

Tru peers seriously at her for a moment. “I was right about the Wrecking Ball, wasn’t I?” She’s no longer teasing. “She broke her heart, didn’t she?” She makes a soft, disgusted sound in the back of her throat. “Broke it, never noticed, and left you to pick up the pieces.” There may be a bit of a question in there, but it’s mostly a pretty flat statement.

Alex wants to argue the nickname if nothing else. It feels hopelessly disloyal not to, but the heartbreak she’s seen in hazel eyes haunts her. “She doesn’t know I’m with her, but...” She trails off into silence.

“Didn’t even care that much, huh,” Tru grumbles.

“She didn’t...” Alex starts to try and defend Kara, only to shift her approach. “It’s complicated,” she adds. “She just—I don’t think she meant—”

“Alex.” Tru looks genuinely worried now. “What did she do?”

Once again, Alex feels awful for not defending her sister, but she can’t forget the guilt in Kara’s voice. Whatever happened, Kara wasn’t oblivious this time. “I don’t know,” she admits. “But it wasn’t good.”

“Damn.” Tru makes a face and bites her lower lip hard enough to leave a dent and make it obvious she’s holding back several comments. If Tru’s holding back, her opinion is very bad. She studies Alex for a long moment, then glances toward the cabin, then back to Alex, her expression thoughtful. “You care for her,” she says at last.

“I owe her.” There’s a touch of denial in Alex’s tone, not because she doesn’t care, but because it feels like Tru’s after something else, and that’s not what this is. “I needed someone last night and she was there for me,” she says simply without explaining any more than that.

“I saw the way she looked at you, Alex...like if I was mean to you, she was going to rip my lungs out.”

“It’s—”

“Complicated,” Tru finishes for her. “Yeah, I got that.” She raises an eyebrow and draws a breath, momentarily opening her mouth before suddenly snapping it shut again. “You did sleep together though, didn’t you?” she asks after a beat, mouth twisted into a wry smile that almost dares Alex to try and lie so she can call her on it.

Alex feels her cheeks heat and her heart stutters for a beat or two. She has no idea how to respond.

Tru does it for her. “More complications,” she sighs, then nods toward the front door. “Go get your girl.” She bumps Alex’s shoulder and smiles. Thankfully, it’s one of her kindly smiles, not the suggestive kind.

Alex almost argues that whatever Cat is, she’s not her girl, but Tru raises an eyebrow, silently threatening to respond in a way only Tru can manage. Alex knows she’s not up to it and shakes her head as she pivots and hurries inside. She locks up, pointedly ignoring the huge gift basket still taking up its own chair, though she’s resolved to get a look inside before she lets Cat anywhere near it.

She can hear soft sounds and smells something light and floral. Expensive hand cream maybe.

Then she steps into the bedroom...

And drops the backpacks slung over her shoulder.

Cat’s watching a stunning sunset, the sky painted in amazing shades of crimson, amber, and violet.

And she’s doing it from the steamy confines of the bathtub, lounging comfortably, a folded towel tucked behind her neck as a makeshift pillow, legs outstretched, arms draped over the sides of the tub. Hearing the thud as Alex’s burden hits the wood floor, she looks up, one eyebrow quirking high on her forehead. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she drawls, looking back toward the dramatic sunset.

A hard swallow makes Alex’s throat bob. Yeah, the sunset’s undoubtedly gorgeous, but she can’t take her eyes off the display in front of her. The water’s just a bit steamy, and there’s a thin haze floating on the surface in occasional delicate rainbow streaks of color—some kind of bath oil. Cat’s stretched out, sleek and lean, the tips of small breasts just barely breaking the surface of the water, the graceful curve of damp shoulders and collarbones reflecting the sunset colors.

“Beautiful,” Alex confirms. She’s not talking about the sunset.

Full lips tip up into a wry smile and Cat looks up again, slanting a look her way. Lifting her hand, she gestures Alex over with a softly spoken, “Strip.” It’s a blend of invitation and command that sends a pleasant shiver down Alex’s spine. “And join me.”

Alex has never peeled off her clothes so fast in her life, nor cared less where they landed. When she’s finally standing nude, Cat’s hand is still floating in mid air. She reaches back, breath catching as she’s tugged forward to step into the tub.

Heart slamming a rumba beat in her chest she sinks down, settling into the space between slim thighs, then finds herself tugged back as surprisingly strong arms wrap around her torso from behind. The water is warm and sweet smelling and the body behind her soft and firm in all the right places.

Cat rests her chin on Alex’s shoulder. “Look at that,” she whispers, staring hard at the sky. “A perfect sunset.”

It really is stunning, more like a painting than reality. There’s something almost otherworldly about watching the colors shift and play while being held this way, like she’s stepped out of reality and landed in a fantasy. She feels so safe and cared for and special that she has no words. She draws a breath to try anyway, but Cat tsks softly.

“Don’t,” she exhales, her breath teasing Alex’s ear. “Don’t think, just be.”

It’s not a simple command for Alex. She’s always been the thoughtful intellectual, very dependant on a logical, rational approach. Simply enjoying the beauty of something is a challenging concept.

“Look at the light on the clouds and the water...” Cat kisses the side of Alex’s neck and skims a light caress along her ribs. “See all the colors, the reflections.” Soft lips trail along her shoulder, drawing a small shiver. “Listen to the waves, the gulls...”

It’s startling how many things become clear as Cat talks, as though somehow she’s sharpening Alex’s senses. Unexpectedly, it’s not the sights that are most intense in that moment, it’s the sounds. She separates the lap of waves and caw of gulls. Something high pitched and quick signals a songbird, probably settling in for the night. The wind kicks up for a moment, and she hears it whistle through a loose board on the porch. Then she filters them all out to concentrate on the soft sound of breathing near her ear.

Alex realizes suddenly that Cat’s hands have broken away from her body and are floating close, but not quite touching. As she watches Cat waves one, deliberately sending a wash of water to swirl around her breasts and belly. It’s more than nothing, but not quite a caress. A moment passes, then Cat rolls her other hand, curling her fingers into her palm and sending a fresh wave.

“Eyes on the sky,” Cat reminds her when she’s tempted to just watch, fascinated by the graceful hand motions and the resulting wash of sensation. Another flutter of fingers and palm sends another wave of warm water sliding over Alex’s skin. It swirls over her breasts and belly and teases between her legs.

Alex gasps, the intensity of the strange, second-hand caress that’s all water movement and no actual contact enough to catch her by surprise. Her stomach muscles clench and a ripple of awareness moves through her.

“Do you want me to touch you?” Cat asks, her voice tender.

“God, yes.” Pleasant as the motion of water is, she definitely wants more.

A soft laugh makes her hair flutter and sends a fresh shiver down her spine.

“Then keep watching the sunset,” Cat instructs. “And tell me what you see.”

Alex swallows hard and barely resists the temptation to ask Cat if she’s entirely sane because speech seems particularly challenging at that moment, not to mention the thought required to drive it. “I don’t know what...” she whimpers haltingly.

“Just tell me,” Cat breathes as she touches Alex again. One hand slides over the top of her thigh and the other scoops under a taut breast.

“The sun is going down, but some of the light is still mirrored on the water,” she whispers, her voice ragged.

“Trust me to take care of you,” Cat commands and flutters soft kisses down her neck and along the line of her shoulder. A soft scrape and she drags her thumbnail over a puckered nipple where it breaks the surface of the water.

“I do,” Alex whimpers.

“Keep talking.” Cat just barely dips her fingers into sensitive folds and gently massages Alex’s breast. It’s all slow and soft, every touch gentle. “And focus on the colors.”

It’s a fight for Alex to do anything but lose herself in silky caresses and skilled hands, but as she gives herself over to Cat’s care and simply watches the sunset, she finds herself seeing more than she knew was there. She registers subtleties and gradations of colors she’s never had time to notice in the past. “I can’t tell where one color begins and another ends.” She shivers, leaning more heavily against the woman holding her. “There must be millions of shades. Blues at the outer ends, fading into violet, then magenta, orange, red, yellow, almost white as you move toward the center.” Her voice is raspy and she trembles as those gentle fingers slip deeper in careful exploration.

“What about the ocean?”

It takes everything Alex has to come up with an answer and form actual, coherent words. “Striations on the water. Darker colors, more subtle...” Her breath catches and a whimper escapes parted lips.

“Keep talking to me, Alex.” The words are no less a command for being so softly spoken.

“It’s so beautiful,” Alex all but sobs and grabs for the sides of the tubs, holding on desperately.

“You know the green flash that happens on the ocean right at the sun goes down?”

She does. She saw it more than once in her surfer days.

Cat scrapes her teeth against Alex’s ear lobe. “That’s when you’re going to come,” she promises.

Another shiver slips down Alex’s spine and she gasps as though struck.

“But not before,” Cat whispers. She toys with Alex’s breast, rolling her nipple between her thumb and forefinger, then scraping lightly with her thumbnail. At the same time, her other hand slips and glides, fingers stroking and circling.

She seems so confident and certain in what she’s doing that it’s a surprise when she asks, “Do you want me to go inside.”

“No.” Alex shakes her head vehemently, a hot flush crawling over her cheekbones. More often than not it doesn’t feel good to her, and while she enjoyed the shallow press of Cat’s fingers their first time together, she knows it won’t feel good now.

“That’s fine,” Cat assures her, no question or condemnation in her tone, simply acceptance.

The sun is sinking below the horizon now.

The blip in Alex’s arousal is momentary, any fears chased away by that silky sweet touch. As Cat toys with her breasts, she circles her clit, then strokes more firmly.

Alex can’t possibly talk any more. She can only feel. The bright fiery ball of the sun is slipping away, but she can still see a tiny arc of light. “Colors,” she whimpers. “So many colors.” She’s no longer talking about the sunset.

“So many,” Cat agrees and nuzzles her cheek as the hand cupping her breast slips lower. Gentle fingers stroke along faint striation of her ribs, then down her stomach and over the top of her thigh. “You are so damn beautiful,” she whispers, and the fingers teasing Alex’s sex dance even faster.

Alex’s breath catches and she clings more tightly to the edge of the tub. Cat’s stroking more firmly now, finding all those places she touched before, before exploring in search of more.

The sun dips steadily lower, the color gradually shifting with its passage.

“Almost there,” Cat teases. Her fingers tap lightly, circle, stroke, the pattern shifting subtly with each pass, so Alex knows something is coming, but never quite what.

Her body is spun up, pulsing and feels like it belongs completely to Cat Grant.

“So close,” Cat exhales as the sun continues to disappear behind the horizon. Her fingers settle for a beat, then move more firmly, slipping over and around Alex’s clit.

The tiny sliver of light is all that’s left of the sun.

“Now,” Cat hisses, her voice all command. “Come for me, now, Alex.”

And she does, right as the last bit of sunlight flashes bright green. Pleasure surges through her, bright and fast, then rolls in a secondary wave as the flash dies away and night draws in. It’s like it ricochets through her, setting off tiny electrical shocks up and down her body until she all but collapses, weak and exhausted.

She’s breathing hard and her whole body seems to pulse gently in time with her ragged heartbeat. The orgasm is finally over, but and a pleasant ache remains. Still breathing hard, Alex deflates, sagging against the woman holding her. She’s utterly limp, any energy drained away. She drags in a breath, intending to say something, though she has no idea what.

“Shhh,” Cat soothes as she cuddles Alex against her chest and combs gentle fingers through her hair. “Give yourself time to come down.”

Alex tenses, suddenly afraid Cat’s signaling disinterest.

“Yes, I want you,” Cat sighs as if she read Alex’s mind. “And yes, I am definitely aroused.”

Alex feels a tiny shiver work its way through the other woman and twists to peer at her, her expression questioning.

Cat tugs her back into position against her chest. “You need some time,” she murmurs and kisses Alex’s temple. “And I want to watch the moon rise and hold you and just enjoy the moment.”

The water’s still warm, and Cat goes back to combing fingers through her hair in slow, ambling strokes. “One of the things I like about women...” Cat muses out loud. “With men it’s always about the rush to orgasm, like nothing else matters...”

Alex feels Cat shrug, then the press of soft lips on her cheek.

“With women, it can ebb and flow.” She kisses Alex’s cheek again only Alex turns into the caress, arching her head up until their mouths meet. It’s slow and easy and when their mouths part, Cat smiles. “We have all the time in the world.” She nods toward the sky visible through the back door. “Now settle down and stargaze with me.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Ten

Despite the fierce buzz of arousal moving through her veins, Cat leans back, settling in comfortably. Alex is semi floating and all but limp in her arms, and she tugs her carefully into place so her head is pillowed on Cat’s shoulder.

She loses track of how long they lounge there like that, cuddled together, warm and safe. It’s a bit weird, stargazing while sitting in a bathtub, but she’s done worse. She strokes Alex’s hair slowly, toying with damp strands of dark silk. It’s pleasant and relaxing, this strange semi-anonymous thing they have going. She doesn’t pretend to understand it, but it makes her feel more like her better self, the one that’s patient and kind with Carter and gives good advice to Kara Danvers and Supergirl alike. That woman can speak and inspire a city to fight back and survive alien invasion and never threatens to fire anyone over a cold latte or a missed comma.

She doesn’t mind that woman, but lately she’s been hard enough to find that she’s wondered if perhaps it all would have better if she’d left at the same time as the Daxamites. Perhaps then Cat wouldn’t have had hope at the same time Kara was feeling lonely. Perhaps then Kara wouldn’t have felt the need to confess her ‘sins’ to a self impressed manchild with a tendency toward casual cruelty.

Perhaps then—

“Cat?” As if sensing Cat’s inner turmoil, Alex stirs, her voice low and worried sounding. “You okay?”

It’s as she’s trying to respond that she realizes she’s crying silently, maybe has been for awhile, and her voice chokes and refuses to insist she’s just fine. She’s aware of Alex moving, it’s impossible not to be in such tight confines, but loses track of everything until gentle arms wrap around her and it’s her turn to be snuggled close.

“Shhh,” Alex soothes and pets her hair gently. “I’ve got you.”

“It’s not you,” Cat insists, not wanting to add to the other woman’s hurt. “You didn’t do anything—”

“I know,” Alex murmurs before she can get any farther.

Cat scrubs at the tears with a hand wet from the tub, moving moisture around and washing some of the salt burn away. “I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s okay,” Alex interrupts again, sparing her from some humiliating confession that won’t cover her in glory. She kisses Cat’s temple and smooths a hand up and down in her back. Despite their nudity or perhaps because of it, there’s nothing remotely sexual about it.

It’s not the time.

Which is how Cat Grant, who normally is not one for copious personal contact, allows herself to be tugged into the protection of Alex Danvers’ arms, face buried in her neck, clinging desperately as she cries utterly silent, wrenching tears.

“It’s okay,” Alex whispers over and over. “Cry it out and let it go.”

It goes on long enough that by the time she gets herself back under control, the water’s cooling uncomfortably, while her throat aches and her sinuses are swollen almost shut. Straightening her shoulders, she pulls back and drags in a deep breath. “I’m okay now,” she whispers not entirely believably.

Alex’s smile is gentle and she brushes her knuckles along Cat’s cheek, the gesture openly affectionate.

It’s surprising how soothing the soft caress is.

Alex draws a breath and starts to speak only to change her mind. “I’m going to hop out and yank on some clothes,” she finally says, her tone firm. “I’ll grab you a towel, then we can worry about a bite to eat.”

“I’m not five,” Cat whispers, even if that’s exactly how she feels. “I can—”

“We all need to be taken care of now and then.” Alex strokes Cat’s cheek again. “Let me look after you this time.”

Some people might read it as an offer of payback for support already given, but Cat realizes instantly it’s not. It’s just kindness. As a result she grumbles a bit, but doesn’t argue when Alex climbs out and disappears. She even stays put until the other woman returns clad in an oversize t-shirt and shorts. Still using that same careful touch that could be annoying if it didn’t feel so damn good, she bundles Cat out of the tub and into a pair of plush towels, scrubbing her skin and ruffling her damp hair.

“Would you like to go out on the balcony?” Alex asks when she decides Cat’s dry enough. “It’s a bit breezy, but not cold. We can take the food with us and make a picnic of it.”

Cat nods and Alex sends her on her way, watching silently as she grabs her bag and disappears into the bathroom. Cat heaves a sigh as she closes the door in her wake. It’s small enough that she concludes the tub went where it did because there was no room anywhere else. Still, it gives her a few minutes to wash her face and brush her teeth and settle herself emotionally.

Finally, wearing a pair of ugly-as-hell, yellow yoga pants that are soft against her skin, and an orange, off-the-shoulder t-shirt that’s borderline offensive to the eye, she wanders onto the porch. The food backpack is there along with a couple of bottles of water and a bucket of ice. The couch that sat against the railing on one side has been moved to the center of the space so it looks out at the sea. Alex has also slid a small table in front of the couch.

Hearing the soft pad of footsteps coming up behind her, Cat can’t help but smile. “You’ve been busy.”

“You have no idea,” Alex drawls, then grunts and a soft crinkle of plastic alerts her there’s more.

Cat spins, eyes going wide as she spots the other woman in the doorway, her face hidden behind a giant basket wrapped in bright red cellophane. The sight tweaks a vague memory. “The gift basket your friend mentioned?”

Alex grunts in the affirmative, and Cat hurries over to help.

“I swear this thing wasn’t this heavy when I carried it in,” Alex insists as she settles it on the table.

Cat tips her head to one side as she peers at the monstrosity. “It’s very...”

“Very, very Tru,” Alex finishes for her as she cracks open one of water bottles and takes a long pull. “Honestly, I was going to go through it before I let you anywhere near it.”

Cat frowns ever so slightly and crosses her arms across her chest as she tries to decide if she should feel insulted. “Because?”

Alex shrugs. “I know for a fact there are edible body paints in there and given that it’s part of the honeymoon package, god only knows what else. I was thinking embarrassment avoidance.” She doesn’t specify for whom. “But here’s the thing about Tru and her presents...”

“What?” Cat prompts when Alex falls silent for a moment.

“She’s never failed to make me smile with one,” she admits after a moment, then looks over at Cat. “And you seem like a woman who could use a smile.”

Cat doesn’t argue the point, just plops down on the couch, sitting cross legged as she peers at the basket. She has to admit, it’s making her smile. “I’ve always like presents,” she confesses.

“But you have to promise not to blame me if anything in there is too hideously embarrassing.”

“How bad can it be?” Cat asks. “I mean, hotel gift baskets...fruit, wine, cheese, maybe some chocolate—”

“Tru’s already confessed to edible body paints,” Alex reminds her, then shrugs. “And there’s always a chance there’s something in there even she doesn’t want to own up to.”

Cat grins and one eyebrow arches high. “Okay, so something a bit naughty, but really, other than that, how crazy can it get?”

“I mean it,” Alex responds seriously as she takes a seat. “I want a promise I get none of the blowback from this thing just in case.” She taps the cellophane with a nervous finger as though expecting it to explode. “Because this is a Trudy Gold special, and that could mean almost anything.”

Certain she’s playing it up for the laughs, Cat smiles and nods mock seriously. “You have my word of honor, I fully indemnify you from any responsibility for any embarrassment, humiliation, or blood loss resulting from the opening of said basket.”

“You think I’m joking,” Alex grumbles, though her mouth is twisted into a wry smile as she tugs the huge bow securing the top loose. It’s white with a multitude of tiny red hearts. “But that’s only because you weren’t there the night of our high school graduation...”

“I’m sure it was—”

The cellophane falls open with a noisy rattle. The basket is full to the brim with things stacked and taped to keep them stable. It’s all innocent looking though.

Cat can’t stifle a grin. “Looks pretty harmless.” She grabs an apple dappled in red and gold and takes a bite. “The fruit is of the non-exploding variety,” she teases Alex and starts digging in. “One bottle of champagne, cheese and dry sausage package plus a cheeseboard for slicing.” She holds the package up and reads off the bright, red label decorated with white hearts. “For keeping our strength up.”

Alex rolls her eyes, but there’s a sneaky bit of a smile too. “Okay, so that’s not so bad,” she admits.

Then Cat spots something and grabs for it, giggling when she sees what she’s found. “I think I found the dreaded Tru content.” She holds up what she’s found. “Naughty lesbian playing cards.”

Even Alex has to laugh at that.

“I guess we’re supposed to play rummy when the cheese isn’t enough to keep our strength up and we need to take a break.” She cracks the deck open and giggles even harder. “They are naughty.” Rather than x-rated, the risque part consists of sexy cartoons that are actually fairly cute and clever.

They spend a few minutes going through several and they’re both laughing by the time Cat grabs for the next item. She finds the body paints, which are quite lovely and tasteful, looking more like a Japanese Sumi-e set than anything overtly sexual.

“Tru said the green apple and chocolate hazelnut are tasty.”

Alex smirks, rolling her eyes again when Cat cracks open the green apple and swipes a daub onto her lips then leans in, grabbing a kiss. “Tasty,” Cat confirms when their lips part, deliberately not saying whether she means the paint or the makeshift canvas. She’s still pulling away when she hears a soft pop, then feels the brush of gentle fingers on her lips. She tastes chocolate hazelnut, then soft lips.

The kiss is slow, easy, pleasant enough to start a simmer in her blood, but not enough to drive it to a boil.

It’s nice and when Alex pulls back, they’re both smiling.

More digging reveals a box of expensive chocolates, a sexy version of Twister, massage oils, and a box of small bottles of hard liquor and mixers plus a few other silly things that appear to have come from Spencers, circa 1985. There’s also an mp3 player with a small speaker. When Cat hits play, the first song to come up is the Bolero, at which point she nearly falls over laughing.

Really, it’s all pretty silly and cute and sweet.

Which seems to bother Alex. She digs all the way to the bottom of the basket to make sure there’s nothing else there.

“It’s all so...tasteful,” she exhales after a beat, drawing the words out. She appears decidedly puzzled.

“Your friend’s running a business now,” Cat points out. “She’s probably had to temper some impulses.”

That earns a very doubtful, “Maybe.” It’s clear Alex doesn’t buy it from the suspicious glare she fixes on the basket.

“It’s not going to blow up,” Cat points out, her tone practical.

“Probably,” Alex qualifies.

“Oh, for...” Cat mutters, her tone annoyed, though in truth, she’s mildly grateful for the distraction. Anything to keep from thinking too hard. “It’s not like there’s a hidden compartment.” She grabs the basket by the handle to shake it and prove her point.

There’s a distinct rattle and it’s very bottom heavy.

Cat frowns, head tipping to one side. “There’s a hidden compartment,” she says almost instantly.

Alex folds her arms across her chest with a triumphant nod. “Now that sounds like Tru.”

“I’m serious,” Cat mutters as she tips the thing on its side. The basket is woven from something dark and fibrous, but the bottom is a wood panel stained to match. The word, Shhh, is stenciled in gold paint.

“Maybe you should...” Alex begins but Cat has already found the hidden latch and slips it free with her thumbnail.

A perfectly fitted box drops out. It’s black and about twice the size of a cigar box. Elegant gold script across the top proclaims it, “Hers & Hers”.

“Definitely Tru,” Alex exhales with something approaching dread.

“You know what this is.” Cat’s chuckling softly. A velvet strap latches it closed and she easily slips it free even as Alex gasps.

“Stop,” she yelps and her hands shoots out as if to physically stop Cat, though she doesn’t make contact.

There’s enough genuine distress in her voice to bring Cat’s head around and freeze her hands in place. “What?” she asks in the sort of gentle voice she uses when Carter’s stressed and not dealing with something well.

“I...that’s...you know what’s in there,” Alex stammers uncomfortably.

Cat shrugs. “Sex toys, I suspect.”

“Right,” Alex confirms, sounding mildly nauseous.

Cat frowns a bit, watching the younger woman carefully. Despite the temptation to just ask directly what’s going on, she’s aware enough to realize it will probably send the younger woman running. Better to come at it from another angle. “Alex,” she says at last, “can I ask you a question?”

The look directed her way is sheer terror, no doubt about it.

Cat feels the need to offer reassurance. “It’s nothing too awful.”

The fear in dark eyes dissipates a little, but doesn’t disappear.

“What do you think sex is for?”

Alex frowns in confusion and the fear ramps up to all new heights. “What?” Her voice rises nearly an octave mid word.

“What do you think the purpose of sex is?” Cat asks bluntly.

Slim shoulder twitch in a helpless shrug. “I don’t know...babies, I guess.”

Blonde brows rise. “Between two women?” Cat tries to keep her tone from sounding too sarcastic. Judging by the way Alex’s shoulders fall, she doesn’t succeed very well. “I meant emotionally,” she clarifies, trying to blunt the unintentional cruelty.

She knows instantly that she's screwed up and and made things worse. It’s there in the way Alex shrugs, her hands wound together tightly in her lap, her chin down. “Dammit,” she hisses under her breath, then instantly regrets it when Alex flinches. Normally, Cat just blows such moments off by telling herself others are too sensitive and moving on, but that would be all wrong this time. “That wasn’t directed at you,” she whispers very softly, setting the box aside as she turns sideways on the couch, one foot folded under her, the other on the deck. “Sometimes I’m not good at...people...” Dragging a hand through her hair, she sighs softly. “I can be a rude bitch...and probably no one should want to be anywhere near me.” The assessment is brutal, but she wants Alex to understand this isn’t her fault.

She’s not sure she’s managed to become the better person she'd like to be, but at least she’s realistic about her shortcomings.

Alex looks up at that, an odd expression on her face.

Cat’s awareness is only fleeting. It’s her turn to look down, though it’s more shame than embarrassment driving her. “I was just trying to understand,” she tries to explain. “A lot of people see sex though very small windows...as this or that. All about babies or love or just a physical itch to be scratched, but it’s all of those things.” She pauses to drag in a breath, mentally going over the things she’s learned and written over the years. CatCo has done so many studies she can barely keep track. “Everybody wants different things from it,” she finally says, trying to get her thoughts out. “It’s a means, not an end.” She risks a look up, afraid of finding anger, and dreading she might see hurt.

Instead Alex is sitting perfectly still, just watching her, a slight frown on her face, but her expression is otherwise almost neutral.

“It’s just way to communicate,” Cat says softly. “Sometimes it means ‘I love you,’ sometimes, ‘I want you.’ Sometimes it just means, ‘I hurt and you make it more bearable.’” She tenses fractionally when a hand lands on hers, but Alex only rubs her knuckles lightly.

“Us,” Alex exhales almost inaudibly.

“Yes,” Cat sighs, turning her hand to cling tightly. “And that’s okay. So long as it’s what all parties want, it’s fine.” She reaches out, tapping the discarded black box with a fingernail. “And these are just another way of...enhancing, I guess you could say—a conversation.”

Alex’s chin is back down, her expression tense. She looks like she wants to argue. “You don’t think they’re kinda...gross?” she asks after a long moment.

Cat rolls her eyes, and her mouth twists into a wry smile. “Actually, I’ve always found them fairly silly.” She snorts softly. “My third husband thought they were incredibly sexy, so he’d bring things home.” The memory earns another dramatic eye roll. “He always wanted me to ooh and ahh, and get all excited and mostly I was giggling inside.”

Alex’s chin snaps up as her expression settles into a disbelieving frown. “Really?”

“Yes,” Cat sighs, smirking. “I never let him know because...well, men have zero sense of humor when it comes to sex.” She squeezes the hand still wrapped around hers, hoping it will help Alex relax. “But they were funny.” She chuckles. “I mean, how was I supposed to be aroused by things with purple fringe or bunny ears?”

“Bunny ears?” Alex repeats, no longer sounding tense so much as very, very confused.

“This vibrator thing,” Cat explains, her tone pragmatic. “I mean, it felt nice,” she admits, then shudders and makes a face. “But really, the bunny ears were just...I couldn’t take it seriously with that visual in my head.”

Alex nibbles on her lower lip thoughtfully.

“It’s not all giant, anatomically correct things with names like Black Mamba and Long Dong Silver,” Cat points out, still using the same mildly ironic, practical tone. “In fact, from what little I’ve seen of your friend, I’d be stunned if there’s anything like that in there.”

Alex’s nod is hesitant. “No,” she admits, “that’s not Tru’s style at all.”

Looking over at the box in question, Cat raises an eyebrow as she considers what to say next. “Actually, I’d bet you there’s at least one item with hearts on it,” she says at last.

“Hearts?” Alex’s doubt only deepens.

Cat’s smile is meant to lighten the moment. “Bet you,” she says, oddly confident that she’s right, but also certain that if she’s wrong there will be something silly enough to earn a laugh. “Can I look?” she asks gently. It’s not that she particularly cares. She was honest enough about her usual response to such things, but she’s fairly sure Alex will have an easier time of things if she deals with this.

“I...” Alex trails off, then nods. “Okay,” she finally whispers, though she’s hesitant about it and literally looks away.

Careful to move slowly, like she’s dealing with a frightened animal, which in a way is what it feels like, Cat reaches out and flips the lid.

And giggles.

Alex’s head snaps around, her eyes going wide.

Cat meanwhile, finds herself facing the single most brightly colored audacious group of sex toys she’s ever seen in her life, and right in the center sits a smallish, smooth-sided opalescent white dildo complete with tiny red hearts. It has a base that would let it be used with a harness, which puts an image in Cat’s head that makes remaining even slightly straight-faced a challenge. Plucking it out, she holds it up and nods. I have to give her credit,” she drawls, “even Peter—that would be the ex husband with the interesting taste in such things— would have passed this one by.”

Alex gapes.

One eyebrow climbing high, Cat swings her gaze back to Alex. “C’mon,” she cajoles. “This is comedy personified.” She pauses for a beat. “Or maybe sexualized.”

Snapping her mouth shut, Alex stares for a long moment, then suddenly clamps her lower lip between her teeth as her shoulders start to tremble.

For just a moment, Cat is terrified she’s miscalculated horribly, then suddenly the laughter starts.

“Oh, god, it’s so Tru,” Alex gasps between an outburst of guffaws that nearly sends her into collapse.

“And you haven’t even seen the fluffy thing,” Cat deadpans when the laughter finally slows.

“There’s a fluffy thing?” Alex gasps, still wiping at tears.

“There’s a fluffy thing,” Cat confirms, and carefully lifts something out of the box. It’s made of delicate strands of red and white rubber gathered in the center.

“What...” Alex begins cautiously. “...is it?”

“No idea,” Cat admits. “Feels nice though.” Without thinking, she lobs it Alex’s way, and instantly feels guilty when Alex automatically catches it even as she flinches and looks like she’s afraid it might bite.

“It’s definitely...fluffy,” Alex confirms in a way that reminds Cat of herself when she’s trying desperately to maintain some measure of dignity in a situation where it’s just not possible. It’s to her credit that she suddenly snorts on a laugh. “Dear god, do you think Tru somehow found a sex tribble.”

“Tribble?” Cat frowns in confusion.

Remembering Kara’s tales of Cat’s lack of Star Wars knowledge, Alex lets it drop in favor commenting, “It’s not very intimidating.”

“Not even a little.”

“Well, maybe a little,” Alex argues through a mock pout as she holds up her hand, thumb and forefinger almost touching.

Cat shakes her head. “Nope.”

“Just a tiny, itty, bitty—”

“Not even that.” Cat’s voice is light and teasing and she’s smiling.

“Drat.” Alex sits back and makes a face, but it’s clear she’s joking, or at least trying to. She takes a deep breath and looks over at the box, trepidation in her gaze, but not the fear that appeared before. “Do I seem hopelessly childish about this?” she asked worriedly.

“No,” Cat said with a quick headshake. “It’s a topic that makes plenty of people uncomfortable.”

“You don’t seem to be.” Alex pointed out.

“Well, there’s the aforementioned husband.” Cat shrugs. “And also, you learn a lot when you edit women’s magazines.” Another shrug punctuates a slightly quizzical look. “Sometimes more than you really want to know.”

They’re both silent for a long moment, then Alex takes a deep breath and raps her knuckles on the box of doom. “So d’you think there’s anything with bunny ears in here?”

Cat thinks about it for a moment. “I’d almost bet on it.”

A hard swallow makes Alex’s throat bob and her smile is a bit watery. “I don’t like being afraid of anything...alien or silicone...” she grumbles. “So let’s go through that damn box.”

“We can do that.”

There are indeed devices with bunny ears, two of them. Thankfully, one is a pair of fluffy pink ears that Cat cheerfully hooks over the top of her head. The fact that they’re a couple of drinks into the champagne by then probably has something to do with that particular fashion choice.

The other item is also pink and rather more personal, but it does indeed include a cute little silicone bunny with cute little silicone ears that flicker and wiggle when it’s turned on.

“So the ears, they tickle your...” Alex trails off before adding, “...and the...the other part...goes...inside...”

“That’s the plan,” Cat confirms.

“I’m not sure I’m okay with that.” Alex takes another sip of champagne. “I mean...” More wine. “At least this time it’s not the...uh...the-the dildo thing.” She’s getting more comfortable saying it or at least she’s trying.

Cat’s pretty sure the alcohol’s helping with that too.

“It’s the cute thing,” Alex explains after a beat, and waves her glass for emphasis. “I mean, look at that little bunny with her wiggly little ears...way too cute...for...just way too...cute...”

Cat snickers. She's no more than very slightly tipsy, but she makes no effort to hide it, even plays it up a little in hopes it will help relax the situation.

Glancing at Cat, Alex picks up the first dildo as well as the accompanying white leather harness, which is decorated with tiny red hearts to match.

It’s not surprising in a way. Alex has already retrieved several previously discarded items to study them carefully. Having broken the ice a bit, she’s proven curious if hesitant, and Cat’s careful to keep any teasing very gentle.

“I’ve never wanted to be a man,” Alex says very softly, still staring at the items in her hand.

“Okay.” Cat is careful to make her tone as accepting as possible. “But it would be okay if you had.”

Alex looks up at that, frowning ever so slightly as she processes what Cat’s saying. “It would be,” she finally agrees, then shakes her head. “But I haven’t.”

Cat just nods, letting the other woman work through her own thoughts.

“I’ve heard the jokes some of the guys at the DEO tell about, y'know, gay women.”

“Ah,” Cat says with a sudden level of understanding. “Men’s jokes can be phenomenally ignorant as well as incorrect about such things. Try not to take them seriously.”

Alex nods, still studying both devices. She fumbles a bit, figuring out how they go together like an engineer studying any complex problem.

Comfortably certain the younger woman isn’t the slightest tempted by the most obvious use for the toy, Cat watches the way she runs her thumb over the velvety chamois lining on the harness and comes to another conclusion that leads to a tumbling, faintly out of control sense of curiosity that borders on excitement. It's not the toy that fascinates her.

Reaching out, she deliberately settles a hand on Alex’s wrist. “Is this something you’d like to try?” she asks.

Dark eyes go wide and Alex shakes her head emphatically. “I told you, I don’t like—”

“I meant wearing the harness,” Cat breaks in. “Not...” she trails off meaningfully.

“Oh.” Alex swallows hard. “I would never want to push you to do someth—” she finally starts to stammer uncomfortably.

“You aren’t,” Cat interrupts to reassure her.

Alex looks away again, and Cat thinks she can see a dark flush stain her cheekbones even in the thin light. “I’ve never...” she exhales sharply, then confesses, “I’d be afraid of hurting you and I would never want that.”

“I know.” Cat may not know all the details of Alex’s life, but she’s seen enough of this soft-eyed, achingly gentle women to be quite certain of that much. “But here’s the thing, remember when I said sex is just a form of communication?”

Alex manages a stiff nod.

“Well, it often works best if it includes talking.” She smiles gently in hopes of easing some of the tension. “In romance novels, they like to sell the fiction that you should just magically know what the other person wants.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t work like that. I’ve always found it’s best when everyone feels free to be honest about what feels good, what doesn’t, what’s arousing, what isn’t...” She reaches out to stroke Alex’s cheek. “I trust you to listen to me, stop if I tell you, and not do anything I don’t want.”

Alex’s head bobs in a fast nod. “I wouldn’t. I mean, I would never...ever...do anything you didn’t want.”

“I know that too,” Cat says confidently. “So the question I have is simple. Is that something that appeals to you?”

A long moment passes and the nod is almost too subtle to see when it finally happens. “But if you don’t like...things inside...”

“But I do,” Cat says with a small shrug. “At least sometimes.”

“Oh.” Alex seems a little surprised, as though she can’t quite imagine such a thing.

Cat trails a single finger down the length of the red and white silicone still resting in Alex’s hand. It’s smallish and narrow with a bit of a curve to it. She knows herself well enough to be certain it will feel good and not be at risk of causing even a flinch of discomfort.

It’s not the time to take even a tiny risk given how it might be misread.

She rubs her thumb against the buttery soft harness, smiling as she notes it’s every bit as silly as the dildo. Thankfully, they’ll both be out of her line of sight. “Just so you know,” she feels the need to warn Alex, “this will officially be the silliest thing I have ever...well...” she leaves that much to imagination, “so if I break into a fit of giggles during any resulting orgasms, it’s actually a good thing.”

“Giggles?”

Cat shrugs. “Sometimes I find these things funny.” She half expects Alex to look annoyed at the idea the way previous lovers have, but a soft smile touches her lips.

“I think giggling sounds nice,” Alex whispers and leans in to steal a soft kiss. “But you have to promise me something,” she says as she pulls back.

Cat nods in acknowledgment, wordlessly giving Alex permission to continue.

“Promise you’ll tell me if there’s any problem or discomfort...or...anything. I’ll stop instantly.”

For a moment, Cat wonders about the desperation, but as she stares into dark eyes, she’s relieved to see only fear of failure reflected back at her. “All right,” she agrees, then adds, “but I want the same promise in return.” She’s dead serious and she watches Alex carefully as she reaches out and taps her temple lightly. “And that includes any discomfort up here.” At Alex’s confused look she adds, “Your brain is an erogenous zone too, and your mental comfort is just as important as any other, so I need to know if anything bothers you, okay?”

It takes a few seconds of careful consideration, but finally Alex nods. “Deal.”

“On your feet then,” Cat orders crisply, smiling at Alex’s confusion when she doesn’t follow suit, but instead reaches for the waistband of Alex’s shorts.

“What are you...” Her eyes go wide and she looks around herself. “Out here?” she squeaks a beat later.

Cat’s lips tip up in an appropriately feline smile. The porch is cantilevered out over the cliff and beach below and there are woven privacy shields on either side, so they have almost as much privacy as they had in the tub. “No one can see.”

“Oh,” Alex exhales raggedly, her breathing suddenly quick and shallow.

Cat slows as she realizes she’s overstepped her own rules. “It’s a beautiful night,” she explains, rubbing her thumb over the soft skin at the curve of Alex’s hip. “And I think being here with you would be a beautiful thing...but only if you’d like,” she says, backing off.

Gnawing on her lower lip, Alex looks around.

“We can go inside,” Cat says quickly, silently cursing her tendency to simply take over. “I’m sorry. I can be a pushy bitch and—”

“Don’t,” Alex says suddenly and lays a finger over Cat’s lips. “Don’t call yourself a bitch,” she adds firmly and shakes her head. “You’re not.”

It’s Cat’s turn to be caught by surprise. It’s an insult she’s heard so many times she no longer even thinks about using it on herself before anyone else gets a chance.

“You’ve been so kind and so patient and...please, just don’t.”

Cat blinks rapidly, but doesn’t cry even if her breathing is suddenly a little fast. She’s still struggling to come up with a response when Alex speaks again.

“You’re right,” she says, looking around. “It is beautiful out here.” Pushing to her feet, she goes to the rail and peers down. “And someone would have to be a mountain climber to see anything.” She pivots, leaning back against the railing as she peers at Cat, something soft and hungry as well as just a bit nervous in her eyes. “You’re amazing,” she whispers a little breathlessly. “And I want you.” Her brows draw into an uncertain frown. “But that’s not that big a couch and I’m a little unsure about the mechanics.”

She’s right and Cat can’t blame her for a bit of nervousness. “I should have explained what I was thinking,” she admits, mentally reminding herself to be more careful and perhaps a bit less herself. “I know you’re worried about hurting me, so I thought you could sit and I could...” Her breath catches as her body clenches pleasantly. Even she’s a bit challenged in trying to be this clinical, but she rather enjoys trying. “I thought if you sit on the couch. I can straddle your lap...” The words come out breathlessly and she can feel her heart racing in her chest. “That way I can control...things...at least at first.”

She can almost see the weight lift off of Alex’s shoulders.

“Oh,” she exhales as her brows climb upward. She’s silent for a moment, then slowly nods. “That would be good, I think,” she finally whispers, sounding a little more confident.

“And if you want to change your mind...at any point...you can,” Cat reassures her.

“I don’t want to,” Alex exhales as she looks down at the harness still in hand. Her mouth works and it seems like she wants to say something, but doesn’t quite know how.

“Can I tell you something?” Cat questions.

Dark eyes tip up and Alex slowly nods.

“The idea of being with you this way excites me. You,” she says pointedly, “excite and arouse me.” She hears the soft hitch in the other woman’s breath and sees the way her chest rises and falls unevenly.

Dark eyes snap back down to the harness, and Alex fumbles a bit, clearly not quite sure how it all goes together.

“Would you like some help?” Cat offers, then offers a suggestive smile. “We could make it part of the fun.”

A hard swallow and a nod and Alex steps forward, handing the device over when Cat reaches out for it.

Still wearing that same come-hither smile, Cat pushes to her feet and reaches out with her free hand, curling her fingers into the front of Alex’s shirt to tug her forward a step. “Would you like to keep this on for the moment?” The shirt falls to her upper thighs and will give her a remaining bit of privacy.

Alex nods, then ducks her head, kissing Cat softly. She’s careful and gentle and as their lips part, she whispers, “I trust you.” She hooks her thumbs in the waistband of her shorts, takes a deep breath and pushes them down.

Green eyes tip down, taking in the sight as dark fabric tumbles down long, beautifully sculpted legs. Cat’s breath catches. “You really do have a stunning body.” She moves the hand on Alex’s chest to her upper arm, feeling the flex of muscle before trailing on to ouline the indent of a slim waist and rub small concentric circles at the flare of her hip. “I love how strong you are.” She leans close, fluttering tiny kisses along the curve of the taller woman’s jaw. “And how I know you could break me physically, but you never will..” She tastes the tiny moan that vibrates under her tongue. “You’re as special as anyone on this planet.”

Alex makes a tiny sound that’s all sex and want, nodding a little frantically as she meets Cat’s gaze.

It’s the final confirmation Cat needs to hear. “We will.” She presses another kiss onto soft lips, then ducks her head. She has good hands—quick, controlled, agile—and the harness, for all of its colorful nature, is well designed. It takes a bit of guidance to get everything into the right position, but once it’s neatly arranged, it only takes a couple of clicks of buckles and tightening of straps and things are snugly in place.

Tipping her head down, Alex peers at the result. The harness is hidden under the t-shirt, but red and white silicone peeks out from under the edge of loose cotton. “Do I look as silly as I suspect?”

Curling her fingers under soft leather, Cat uses the impromptu handle to tug Alex closer. “You look cute and a little silly...” her voice drops to a throaty growl, “...and sexy as hell.” More kisses follow and Cat uses the opportunity to maneuver Alex around and down onto the couch. “Lean back and get comfortable.”

Alex wiggles a bit, settling into the cushions and watching closely while Cat roots around in the box until she comes up with what she needs. “Lubricant,” she explains as she crouches down and begins applying a generous layer onto silicone, making it even more slick.

“Smells nice,” Alex observes.

“Peach mango flavored,” Cat drawls and holds it up.

Alex doesn’t quite succeed in covering her snicker.

“It’s okay to laugh, it’s funny.” This smile is just sweet.

It takes Alex a moment and then she nods. “It is,” she agrees through a chuckle.

The shared laughter eases the tension, but suddenly it ramps up again and Alex’s laughter dries up as Cat straightens. Well aware of the dark gaze tracking her every move, she manages a luxuriant stretch and there’s an extra bit of sashay to her hips as she pushes the yoga pants down and kicks out of them. For the moment, she leaves the hideous orange t-shirt on to match Alex's choice. Still moving with that same deliberate, sexual grace, she steps forward and swings one knee up onto the couch.

Alex is watching with a wide-eyed, open gaze, her expression startlingly young and innocent.

“Think I could get a hand?” Cat drawls. When Alex responds to the prompt by reaching out, she catches her wrists and tugs them to her hips. “I'm a little off balance like this,” she admits, leaning on the other woman’s strength as she swings her other knee up, straddling lean hips.

Tightening her grip, Alex steadies Cat, careful to keep her from toppling when her thigh muscles quiver in an effort to balance on the softer than expected cushions. “Like this?”

Cat braces her hands on strong shoulders and leans in for a kiss. She can feel the surface of the silicone against her inner thigh, cool and slick. Holding Alex’s gaze, she reaches down, rolling her hips while she uses her hand to position the tip of the toy. “Does it excite you to know something under your control will be inside of me?” she whispers into Alex’s ear.

The hands on her hips tighten and Alex manages an unsteady nod. "Yes," she whispers raggedly and rolls her hips, pushing up just a little.

The sensation is nice enough to make Cat’s eyelids flutter and send a small tremor through her muscles. “Good girl,” she exhales, leaning more heavily into Alex as she slowly sinks down, consciously relaxing to make the gentle invasion even easier. The dildo is the right size and shape to hit plenty of sensitive points during the journey, the intensity of it enough to make her muscles go a little weak.

Thankfully, strong arms are there to catch her, easing the stress on her thighs and making her feel supported and cared for.

As Cat sinks down, Alex flexes her hips in a tiny thrust and retreat.

Cat counters with a small motion that grinds their pelvises together.

A few more thrusts and parries follow, each movement bringing sparks of sensation intense enough to leave them both gasping.

“I didn’t think it would feel so good,” Alex groans. “For me, I mean.” She smiles. "I was hoping it would be for you."

The comment earns a wide smile and Cat grinds their lower bodies together again. “That’s good,” she whispers. “It’s supposed to feel good for all involved.”

“It does,” Alex pants, “So good.” Slipping her hands under Cat’s shirt, she spreads her palms wide, one hand braced on her upper back, the other fitted to the tight curve of her ass.

After that, they experiment, testing each other and finding new angles and rhythms that leave them both gasping.

At some point, Alex pushes Cat’s shirt up and peels it off over her head. A cool breeze skitters over her back, prickling her skin and reminding her they’re outside, the ocean and stars bearing witness. Loving the contrasting heat of the their bodies and cool of the night air, she curls her fingers into Alex's shirt. "Off?" she pants, tugging a little desperately. She wants to feel her.

Alex manages a jerky nod and quickly strips it off, moaning softly a moment later when Cat slides her hands this way and that, rubbing lightly, nails scraping, the look in her eyes appreciative.

"So beautiful," Cat sighs happily, leaning into the arms that tighten around her torso as Alex gains a little momentum, her movements still careful, but no longer quite so cautious.

She's learning, gaining more confidence with each fresh thrust, and finding ways to use her strength to her advantage.

It’s exciting to see it happen, and Cat suddenly finds herself cupping Alex’s face in her hands, her eyes and voice intense, the need for more a little overwhelming. “I want to feel you on top of me,” she confesses.

“Yes,” Alex groans, tightening her hold and moving with the pressure Cat applies to roll the other woman beneath her.

It feels nice, Cat thinks, the weight and warmth of her and the way their bodies dovetail together. At first the change in position is about strength, the flex and power of lean muscle, but as they move, finding new strokes and angles, and as bodies begin to overheat, it slows and gentles. They both cling, rocking together instead of thrusting back and forth.

At the same time, mouths meet and mate.

Cat feels the beginning of her orgasm like a buzz in the back of her brain at the same time Alex quivers against her in a way that feels delightfully familiar. Cat's comfortably certain the other woman is feeling that same, thick, oncoming pleasure. “Can you come with me?” she asks.

Alex manages an unsteady nod and something a little desperate is reflected in her eyes. “I thought it would just you, but—”

“Good,” Cat whispers. “I want that for you, every bit of pleasure you can have.”

A few more of the gently rocking thrusts and a hard tremor shakes Alex while her breath catches and her muscles quiver.

“Look at me,” Cat commands, holding that intense dark gaze with her own. “Come for me.”

A tiny whine escapes kiss-swollen lips as a hard shudder ripples through Alex’s lean frame.

The enormity of it all flows through Cat and she tumbles, the shuddering, quicksilver flare of of sensation in her groin and flowing outward in electrical sparks. it doesn't last long, but it's intense and has her eyes rolling back in her head. It’s just barely slipping on by when Alex pulls back, easing the toy away from her body before she frees the quick releases on the straps.

She remembers it can be uncomfortable for her, Cat realizes in an instant.

“Was that right?” Alex whispers. “I was afraid it would be uncomfortable because, y’know, you said things can hurt...”

“Perfect.” Cat has a good view as Alex eyes it with a wry look, then tosses it aside. The white almost glows in moonlight, the delicate red hearts almost black.

She giggles. Thankfully so does Alex as she sinks down, snuggling into the couch. Cat’s much too tired to move as she finds herself enfolded in a gentle hold.

Besides it feels nice. Alex’s arms are warm and she nuzzles Cat’s neck from behind.

Neither of them speaks. They just lie there, cuddling quietly until she feels Alex relax into sleep, her breathing slow and deep.

Limp and relaxed, Cat’s surprised by how much she enjoys the closeness until her stomach reminds her they never got around to eating. Easing free of Alex’s loose hold, she finds her discarded clothes and tugs them back on. She considers trying to eat something there, but the chip bags are the kind that rattle and she’s loathe to interrupt Alex’s peaceful sleep. She grabs the backpack and a bottle of water and slips inside. A bit of fumbling in the dark produces some kind of baked something that's probably all white flour, sugar, and artificial flavorings, plus a small bag of chips. Good enough.

Carrying them along, she steps onto the front porch, leaning against an upright as she stares at the darkened silhouette of the garden and quietly munches on her haul, some kind of small carrot cake and Cheetos. She’s down to just the Cheetos and water when she hears a familiar voice.

“You look pretty self satisfied.”

It occurs to Cat she should probably be surprised to find Tru standing there, but she isn’t. She’s aware enough to know Alex’s friend is cadging for information. She doesn't give it. Instead, she eats another Cheeto and contemplates the night sky. “Interesting time of night for a walk.”

Her response earns a soft chuckle. “My husband or I always check the beach. Kids go down there to make out and lose track of the tides. It can be hard to get back up the trail in the dark.”

“Ah.”

“Is she okay?” Tru asks after a moment.

Cat’s relieved to hear genuine worry in her voice.

“It’s never easy when your first love breaks your heart,” Cat sighs sadly. “But she’s incredibly strong. She’ll heal.”

“Whatever’s going on between you two, thank you for being there for her.”

Cat nods. “I think it’s been more a matter of her being there for me, but I hope I’ve helped.”

“Well, I’m off to bed,” Tru says and starts to amble back into the night. She’s only gone a few feet when she pivots back. “You...uh...might want to be aware that the scent of the mango peach lube is pretty pungent.” Her head tips to one side as she considers the subject. “So do you think we should find something more neutral even if it doesn’t taste as good or keep it the way it is?” She sounds as crisp and business like as any business person asking for a review of services rendered.

“It-it’s nice.” Cat feels her face flame. Even she has limits.

“Yeah, it really is.” She nods thoughtfully. “But so is the berry flavor they offer and the smell fades faster. Though honestly, it has kind of a chemical taste.

“Oh.”

“So how important do you think the taste of an edible lube is?” Tru asks again.

Cat’s mouth hangs open for a beat. “No idea,” she finally manages, though her voice has a definite squeak to it.

Tru shrugs. “I just thought maybe with all the women’s magazines you run, you might have seen a study.”

“Not a question we ever asked.”

“You should,” Tru suggests.

“I don’t really handle that kind of thing much...these days.” Cat glances over her shoulder, looking longingly toward the front door of the cabin. “I should probably...go...”

“Don’t let me keep you.”

“Good night.” Cat’s proud that she manages some manners when she’s torn between growling and doing her best impression of the stressed cat from a Pepé Le Pew cartoon.

“One thing.”

Tru’s voice holds Cat in place, but she doesn’t turn back.

“Take care of her. She’s special even if she doesn’t always believe it.”

Cat glances back and nods. “She is,” she whispers, then slips inside without pointing out that it’s not really her place to fix Alex Danvers' problems, that what little place she has is doubtless very temporary, as intense as it may seem in the moment. That thought causes a melancholy surge of emotion that she quickly tamps down. She’s here and now, she reminds herself. The least she can do is help where she can while she can. Anything past that isn’t her problem. That thought uppermost in mind, she heads toward the balcony.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Eleven


Alex stomach grumbles as hunger pangs force her out of deep sleep, but as she wakens, she muzzily realizes something’s not right. Still half asleep, she reaches blindly for something and comes up with nothing.

The terror hits in an instant and her eyes snap open as she sits bolt upright.

Cat’s gone.

Alex’s stomach curls and nausea hits. It’s not a coherent thought, more a flare of humiliation and hot shame. She just left. Another runner. This time without even waiting for her to wake.

Maggie at least looked at her before she fled, even if she wouldn’t meet her eyes.

At the same time, she realizes she’s still naked as chilly night air hits her bare upper body. Someone has thrown a coverlet over her while she slept and it spilled down around her hips when she sat up. Then the scent of peach swirls around her in silent reminder and she thinks she must have completely screwed up. Maybe she unintentionally hurt the other woman, and thinks she shouldn’t have agreed to what they did as another sick rush hits her. Guilt this time.

Then a soft rustle breaks through her panic, drawing her gaze to the source of the sound. The lighthouse is operating, and as the beam sweeps across the bay, it momentarily silhouettes a reed slender figure standing at the porch railing.

The tension twisting Alex’s gut into a Gordian knot releases and she heaves a harsh sigh.

The sound is apparently audible because Cat looks over, then turns. “You’re awake,” she says, her voice low and rich in a way that sends a thick shiver of awareness through Alex. She cocks her head to one side. “You okay?” she asks a beat later.

Alex wants to lie, insist she’s fine, and pretend she didn’t over-react. Instead she blurts out. “I thought you’d left...when I woke up and you weren’t here, I mean.”

Cat’s head bobs in a small nod and she steps closer, drawing Alex’s attention to the fact the basket’s been moved when she sits on the edge of the table. “I got hungry.” She sounds a bit hurt as she holds up a small bag of chips.

“Oh,” Alex sighs, shoulder sagging. “I panicked for a moment.”

Cat nods again. “I understand.” She peers into the bag, her body language leaving Alex with the sense it’s mostly a way of having something to do with her hands. “But I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“I know.”

“Do you?” Cat whispers.

Cat’s voice is flat enough that Alex wishes she could see her expression better because something about that tone leaves her uneasy.

“I’m a lot of things,” Cat continues, sounding a little ragged, “some of them not very nice, but I’m not someone who runs away in the dead of night.”

Alex is human enough to wonder if Kara would agree, but isn’t foolish enough to ask. “I know,” she exhales, tugging the blanket back up around her as another chilly breeze blows through. “I was asleep and it just shook me...y’know...after...everything,” she says haltingly.

Slim shoulders sink and Cat nods. “Of course,” she says very softly, her tone still eerily flat. “Anyway,” she says, clearly breaking from the topic, “I got a little hungry and didn’t want to wake you.” Pushing to her feet, she steps back to the porch railing to stare out at the bay. “I went out on the front porch and had a bite, but Tru showed up.” She’s silent for a moment, then adds, “She smelled the mango-peach, which led to a rather interesting product Q&A session.” She’s clearly trying to change the subject and inject a little humor into the situation.

Oh. God. “Sorry,” Alex whimpers her way through a wince. “Tru’s not good with boundaries.”

“Not a problem.” Cat shrugs. “Not like I’m likely to see her again, and I’m well past the point in my life where anyone’s shocked to learn I’ve had sex.”

Even in the dark, Alex can see how tightly she grips the railing, but is smart enough to be certain it’s not about her old friend, no matter how embarrassing her questions might have been.

It’s about trust. And distrust. And Cat’s issues with both.

Sighing softly, Alex swings her legs over the side of the couch, pulling the throw around her like an impromptu toga as she finds her feet. “Cat...” Her voice is soft and apologetic as she draws close to the other woman’s stiff back.

“I’m fine,” Cat insists, her tone suddenly sharp enough to make Alex pause in her advance, though it sounds more like hurt than anger.

A beat, then Alex pads closer, mindful of the way slim shoulders tense as the other woman bristles. “No, you’re not,” she disagrees, guilt threaded through her voice. “You’re hurting, but I need you to understand, my panic wasn’t about trusting you. It was me...my issues...”

Cat’s shoulders rise and her chest expands as she slowly draws in a deep breath, stretching out the moment and leaving Alex on tenterhooks. “I know that,” she finally admits, her voice little more than a sigh. Turning, she leans back against the railing, gripping it tightly on either side of her hips. “I get it, I do,” she assures Alex. “When you feel played, it leaves you gun-shy.” She pauses again, the brief moment of silence adding weight to her words when she finally speaks again. “The same thing happens when you get accused of things you didn’t do too many times.”

The words are a gut punch powerful enough to knock Alex silent. It takes her a moment to shake off the daze. “Who?” she finally asks, her tone harsher than she means for it to be.

Cat pauses. Maybe just considering whether or not she wants to answer. “My second husband,” she says at last. “My first marriage went very wrong---hurt a lot of people---and afterwards I was a mess, so when I met Dan, his possessiveness made it seem like he cared, loved me so much and needed me.” Her lip curls into a grim sneer. “After the beating my ego had taken, it felt good. Even the jealousy seemed like another sign I actually mattered to him.” She quiets and takes a deep breath. “To someone...anyone.” She snorts softly, the sound almost a laugh, but too bitter to quite qualify. “My mother despises me. My father barely noticed I existed, and my first husband carved me out of his life and my son’s with brutal efficiency for putting my job above his—”

“You don’t have to-to tell me...” Alex whispers haltingly, hating the inescapable level of hurt she’s witnessing.

“I know,” Cat admits, her gaze dropping to the floor. “But you’ve earned a bit of an explanation. “I was young and stupid and desperate, and when he started accusing me of sleeping with others, it seemed too silly to believe.” She shrugs. “All I did was work...” She pauses again, silent and thoughtful. “I’d threaten to leave, he’d promise to stop, and things would get better for a bit, but it was accelerating. It took two years for me to walk and by then I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was going to sue for divorce or leap off a bridge.”

Alex’s stomach rolls into a tight knot and she wishes for nothing more than the ability to go back in time, beat the hell out of the sicko and drag Cat to safety. Unfortunately all she can actually do is wait.

Cat looks up at her, her gaze clear and a bit tired, but determined. “I survived and I’m a lot stronger, but sometimes something tweaks that old sense of shame.”

Alex draws a breath to say she’s sorry only to pull up short as Cat holds up a hand.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Cat says before she can get the words out. “I completely understand what happened. Your issue—getting dumped—ran up against mine—distrust.” She shrugs. “It happens.” She turns back toward the bay. “I just need a minute or two. Sometimes even when you know why you have baggage, it takes a bit to control the response.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I know that.” Cat trails a single finger along the railing. “It’s not really even you. It’s old voices in my head.”

Alex steps a little closer. “I know about those.” She risks settling a hand on a slim shoulder, relieved when Cat doesn’t reject the gesture. “They whisper you’re not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough...not...enough...”

“Never been enough,” Cat corrects sharply, her control slipping a bit.

“Yeah.” Alex wishes she didn’t know exactly what that feels like. “Mine almost always sounds like my mom even though I know she loves me, trusts me, but I've never felt like I lived up to her expectations.”

“I’ll still be fighting with my mother when she’s ten years dead,” Cat jeers, her tone all sarcasm and peevishness.”And the worst part is she’ll still be winning and making me feel like...” She trails off, gnawing on her lower lip as she breaks off.

“Like shit about yourself,” Alex fills in.

“You’ve met her then,” Cat says, all false good cheer and brightness.

“My mom would never do that intentionally,” Alex acknowledges even as darker thoughts run through her head. They’ve worked a lot of it out, but not everything, and not enough to completely quiet the whispers.

“Leaving off the fact that my mother would and has...” It’s Cat’s turn to fill the silent void. “...that was a very carefully constructed sentence...” It’s not a direct accusation, but the implication is there.

Alex can’t hold back a small flinch, though she genuinely tries. This isn’t an easy topic to think about much less discuss. “I know my mom,” she insists, though she doesn’t sound entirely confident to her own ears. “She never meant to...” The words choke off and she doesn’t finish, can’t put into words the weight she’s spent nearly half of her life bearing up under. It feels too traitorous to the sister she adores, the father she worshiped and the mother who, no matter the conflict between them, she loves with all her heart.

Cat’s silent for a long moment, and Alex finds herself oddly grateful she’s staring out to sea. She’s not sure she’s up for the doubting look she suspects Cat would turn her way.

When Cat finally speaks, Alex has the distinct impression the words are carefully thought out.

“Our parents don’t have to mean to do damage. Every child wants that love and respect, and it’s too easy to wind up feeling like you don’t have it. As a parent, I’d never want to hurt either of my children that way, but I know I did it to my older son and I’m terrified I have or will do it to my younger one.” She swallows hard. “As a parent you make decisions you hope are for the best, but sometimes they aren’t.”

Alex can’t argue the logic, even if she resists it. “When they adopted Kara, they did everything they could for her,” she quickly insists, arguing against the implied criticism. She won’t have anyone think ill of her parents’ efforts to care for her sister, not when it cost their father so much. “She’d lost everything and her cousin wouldn’t take her.” She can’t keep the snarl out of her voice for even a moment, still bitter that Kara seemed to think more of him than the family that did everything for her, even though she knows her sister loves them.

“He can be a bit of a child in a lot of ways, seeing things as grand stories and always wanting some kind of ideal conclusion, rather than seeing what’s really there.” Cat’s tone is lighter as she muses out loud. “Rather like her in that way.” She snorts softly before her tone shifts, softening and becoming serious once again. “But I don’t doubt your parents did their best, Alex.” She does a slow pivot, then leans back against the railing, studying her with an unreadable expression. “I know the children they raised.”

It’s unintended, but it serves as a reminder to Alex that Kara’s a part of all of this, a part of Cat, and doubtless the person she’d rather be here with.

“You’re wrong,” Cat says, interrupting Alex’s grim thoughts.

Alex blinks in confusion, momentarily wondering if she spoke out loud, but no, she didn’t. She stares at Cat, wondering if perhaps she can do mind-reading tricks like J’onn.

“You’re easy to read,” Cat answers the unspoken question and pushes away from the railing to reach up and stroke gentle fingers along Alex’s brow. “Such expressive eyes.” She smooths dark hair back from her temple. “I chose to be here with you and I have no regrets.”

Despite the reassurance, Alex can’t quite believe her. She knows how people gravitate to Kara, and she’s seen Cat’s feelings writ plain in her tortured sobs. The obvious conflict leaves her feeling mildly unwanted and perpetually second best, confident Cat is being kind by denying that, whatever pleasure they’ve enjoyed together, she’d still rather be here with Kara. It reminds her how her parents often seemed to prefer Kara to her and how many times she bore the brunt of her sister’s mistakes.

“Alex?” Cat’s voice is soft, her interest comforting. “If you want to talk, I’ll listen.”

“I love my sister,” Alex whispers very softly, her tone defensive.

“She’s very lovable,” Cat agrees, and if it’s sarcastically intended, Alex can’t find evidence of it. She just sounds tired.

“I didn’t think so when my parents first adopted her,” Alex admits the ugly truth that still horrifies her and leaves her drenched in guilt. “Sometimes I almost hated her.” Her darkest secret slips out before she can think better of it, leaving her to brace herself for Cat’s loathing. Given her feelings for Kara, it seems like the only possible response. She freezes, paralyzed and expecting to be castigated.

Instead, Cat simply asks, “How old were you when she came to live with you?”

Alex shrugs, head down, shoulders slumped, still expecting anger. “Fifteen.”

“Oh god,” Cat exhales sharply. “The age of maximum pout.” She shakes her head. “That must have been hard.”

“It’s not like I turned into some kind of thug,” Alex snaps, surprised at the instant flare of hurt, not to mention the old angers still burning in her gut. “Yeah, I resented Kara, but I did my best for her, took the social hit and made sure everyone at school treated her well no matter how weird she was, and I still got straight As and—”

“Whoa,” Cat says, lurching back the half step until she bumps into the balcony railing. “I meant you, Alex, it must have been hellishly hard for you.”

“Oh.” Alex freezes, struggling in the moment to process the comment, so locked into her responsibility to care for Kara that she can’t see her own trauma.

“You were a kid too, you know,” Cat says, her words somehow kind and angry at the same time.

Alex hears, but doesn’t entirely register the comment, too wrapped up in the past. “I mean she spoke English, but didn’t...really...understand...” The words are halting as she’s assaulted by memories of trying to teach Kara how to blend in so she would be noticed and her parents’ anger anytime it didn’t quite work.

The push-pull went on for years and drove her to change her social life in high school, her major in college, and the entire path of her life in grad school, but that perpetual sense of responsibility never changed, nor did what seemed like her mother’s criticism of her every choice as not quite enough.

Even after Kara rescued the plane Alex was on, her mother called to make sure she knew she’d screwed up somehow, then found fault again when Kara appeared in her supersuit to save the day and be hailed a hero.

While Alex was criticized for her failure to control someone who could outrun, outfight, and out charm her.

Meanwhile, her mother never asked why about any of it, too wrapped up in her fears to think there might have been a reason. Alex wasn’t sure if she knew even now that Kara’s original flight hadn’t been just to save a random plane.

That unacknowledged hurt sweeps over her and she falls back a pace, nearly stumbling as her calves bump the coffee table.

“Alex.” Cat’s voice is even sharper as she hooks her hands under her elbows, her grip supportive and almost painfully tight at the same time. It helps keep Alex grounded as she struggles to regain her emotional balance. “What’s going on?” Cat asks, her voice hard enough that Alex can’t ignore her or look away from intense green eyes.

“She didn’t mean it the way it came out.”

“Talk to me.”

It hits Alex in that moment, that while Cat sounds commanding, her eyes are wide and she looks scared. It’s oddly comforting, pulling her out of what feels like a tailspin. It reminds her she has a responsibility of care. Cat’s every bit as broken as she is—or more—and she’s scaring the hell out of her. It also reminds her that there's someone worrying about her for once. She doesn’t want to drive the other woman away. “When she first got here, it was my job to teach Kara how to act like a normal kid so she could blend in,” she explains with forced calm, though she blinks rapidly, clearing the threat of tears that burn her eyes as she looks away.

“I can see where you would do well at that.”

Alex can’t restrain a smirk. “Not really. I was forever getting hell because she did something weird, like freaking out over birds or lifting a car to save an accident victim.”

“That must have been hard.”

“Yeah. I tried but she didn’t really understand and sometimes...”

“What?”

“She could do so many things I couldn’t...sometimes it was hard not to...”

“Jealousy’s normal at that age.”

“Yeah,” Alex sighs. Mostly, it hadn’t bothered her that Kara was stronger or faster, and the vision and hearing always seemed like more problem that it was worth, but there had always been that one thing. “She took me flying once. It was amazing.” Sharing that experience had, in some respects, been the beginning of feeling like Kara’s sister rather than simply her unpaid baby sitter.

“It is.”

Alex looks over, startled by Cat’s lazily confident tone. “You’ve flown with her?” she questions, mentally fighting the image of Cat held safely in Kara’s arms as they sweep over the city.

Cat shrugs and waves it off. “Mostly when someone tried to kill me or take over the world.”

“Oh.” But the image of Cat snuggled close to Kara and enjoying the view clings hard enough to make her stomach churn. It’s not jealousy, she tells herself. It’s just she avoids contemplating Kara’s romantic and sex life as much as possible and the knowledge of Cat’s feelings changes how she views any interaction between the two of them.

“You know how it is. You must have flown with her a lot.”

“Not really,” Alex admits. She instantly registers Cat’s look of surprise. “I got in so much trouble the day we flew that...” She shakes her head, momentarily awash in sadness. It had put a tinge of something ugly on the whole subject. “It just wasn’t worth another two hour lecture about how I let everyone down and I was supposed to be more mature than that.” She risks a glance at Cat, fully expecting to see disapproval radiating from green eyes.

But there’s no rage, only a world weary kind of sadness. “What happened after that?” Cat asks quietly.

“She didn’t fly again until the night she rescued the plane...”

“The night Supergirl was born,” Cat exhales, more than a bit of awe in her tone.

Of course there’s awe. After all, she’s in love with Kara. Just like everyone else. It restores the bitterness to Alex's voice as she mutters, “Mom was so mad I let her show herself...like I could have stopped her that night.” The words fade away and she doesn't know what to say next.

“Sit,” Cat says brusquely, and Alex suddenly realizes she’s been neatly maneuvered so that it’s no longer the table bumping the backs of her calves, but rather the couch.

She sits hard, relieved that Cat sinks to a crouch in front of her and doesn’t leave. She's so tired of everyone leaving her behind.

Cat retrieves the half empty bag of chips from a pocket and shoves them at her with a crisp order. “Eat.”

Alex shoves a chip into her mouth, tasting only the salt, and something that seems vaguely like sawdust. She chews woodenly, not really wanting anything, though her stomach growls its disagreement. At least it gives them both a break. She's still chewing when Cat finds a bottle of water and puts it in her hand, minus the lid.

Cat waits long enough for Alex to get a few bites and sips down. “Of course you couldn’t do anything,” she sighs at last. “You were busy thinking you were going to die in a plane crash.”

Alex blinks several times. “How did you...”

“I know Kara. As much as she loves flying, if she followed the rules that long, she took them seriously, and if she broke them, she had good reason.” She shrugs. “The only thing I can think of that important is you.”

Alex nods. “She’s my sister,” she whispers with heartfelt sincerity and scrubs away a few tears that escape as she’s reminded of that sick sense that keeping Kara’s secret was more important to her mother than her survival. Seeing the look in Cat’s eyes, she’s sure the other woman has made the connection and waits for the reminder that her mother loves her and didn’t mean it that way.

Cat simply says, “It must have hurt...”

Alex nods, swallowing hard as she whispers, “She didn’t mean it that way.” Fiddling with the paper label on the bottle to have something to do with her hands, she fights the urge to give way to emotion. “I’m not sure she ever realized why Kara did it.” She meant to explain to her mother when she came to visit, but Supergirl was on the news by then and Alex was in trouble for that as well. Between the fight and her drinking, it wasn’t a good night. “She totally accepted me when I came out to her,” she says, driven by the sudden need to offer some kind of defense.

“That’s good.” Cat’s head bobs in an understanding nod. “But it doesn’t mean she didn’t screw up elsewhere.”

Alex’s jaw drops and she just stares. She’s never heard anyone suggest Eliza Danvers is anything but perfect before.

“Being a parent doesn’t spare you from making mistakes. It just increases the stakes.” Cat settles a hand on Alex’s knee. “But I will revise my earlier comments since it sounds like I don’t so much know the children your parents raised as the ones you did.”

“No,” Alex insists instantly. “I didn’t. They were good parents...are good parents. They just...they just didn’t quite know how to handle some things...and Kara, she was so hurt and confused...and I was okay. I didn’t need as much.”

Cat blows out a sudden breath, then draws in a slow one, leaving Alex with the sense she’s controlling her response carefully. “It was a unique situation,” she admits. “But Alex...” She trails into silence that lasts a long moment. “Consider that they were adults who chose that situation. You were a child—”

“No, I was—”

“Fifteen,” Cat interrupts, deliberately overriding her. “Same age as my younger son...who routinely has to leave the lights on if he watches horror movies at night. He’s a kid.”

“Yeah, but—“

“And you were too,” Cat talks over her again. “At that age, your body and particularly your brain, are not yet mature, and you were being asked to shoulder a responsibility that by your own description, three adults couldn’t handle.”

Rearing back sharply, Alex feels her pulse accelerate as she resists Cat’s logic. She wasn’t a child. She was old enough to be there for Kara and show her how to navigate a new world. It’s never before occurred to her that maybe that wasn’t her job.

“There were three adults and two children in that situation, yet somehow one of the children seems to have been held responsible for the lion’s share of the outcome.” Cat waits a beat, then drives her point home. “Tell me how that’s fair.”

Alex freezes, remembering how she challenged Kara to acknowledge that Clark abandoned her. It’s strange to find herself in somewhat the same position. Oh, her parents were there, but seeing it through Cat’s eyes, it strikes her how they abrogated so many responsibilities, simply handing them off to her and trusting her to see Kara through.

It wasn’t fair to either of them. She needed more help and support than she got and Kara needed the security no child could ever offer.

And Cat’s right, she realizes in those moments, she was a child.

She’d done her best, but she can’t help but wonder how good that actually was. As hard as she tried, she hadn’t possessed the tools to guide a frightened, overwhelmed child through integrating into a totally new society. In some ways, it’s a wonder Kara’s as functional as she is.

Especially after the way they lost Jeremiah. Eliza sank into depression and self doubt and Alex took even more on her shoulders. And while she has no regrets, it’s jarring to suddenly see it through different eyes. It leaves Alex sitting there in confusion as a new vision of her past builds itself in front of her.

It’s overwhelming, and she can’t hold back a tiny whimper as she lets her head fall forward into her hands.

As if sensing the sudden paradigm shift going on in Alex’s head, Cat remains silent, simply waiting. The couch shifts a minute or two later as Cat takes up the neighboring cushion. “Keep eating,” she instructs and taps Alex's hand in reminder.

She manages to get down another handful of chips and a few swallows of water and some of the pain in her stomach eases. “I was supposed to become a doctor,” she finally whispers.

“You would have been a brilliant one,” Cat proclaims with absolute confidence.

The certainty feels good, but Alex isn’t so sure. “Maybe.” She shrugs. “But I was a wreck by then, drinking too much, partying even more. If a friend of my dad’s hadn’t pulled me back from the edge...” Whatever else, the DEO gave her a place and a reason, even if sometimes it feels too much like on more thing done for reasons other than her own wishes. She’s startled out of her introspection by Cat’s soft laugh. “What?”

Cat holds up a hand, and her voice is wryly placating. “If partying too hard when you’re young was a dealbreaker in life, there would very few successful people.”

“So...what? You partied and still built a billion dollar empire?” Alex snorts sarcastically, confident the other woman has had her nose the grindstone her entire life.

“Uh...yeah,” Cat confirms, catching her by surprise. “I spent my freshman year so stoned I didn’t notice my RA was an alien.” She shakes her head, looking just a little queasy. “And all things considered, I really should have glommed onto that.” The queasiness only increases. “Really, really should have.”

Alex’s brows shoot up as a vague bit of something Kara mentioned tweaks her memory. “So I should have slutted around—” she begins, still uncomfortable with what she’s hearing.

“Wow,” Cat snaps even as Alex realizes what she just said.

Her own cruelty slams Alex into apology mode. “I didn’t mean that the way it—”

“Of course you did,” Cat cuts her off sharply enough to knock her silent. “Who knew you had a mean streak?” she sighs, sounding tired and what might be hurt or resentful.

Heart in her throat, Alex looks up, fear in her eyes, convinced she’s done it, screwed it up badly enough to drive off the one person who’s pulled her free of the depression lately. “I-I—”

“Don’t apologize,” Cat interrupts and turns sideways on the couch to peer at Alex. “And keep eating.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, muttering something under her breath that sounds vaguely like some kind of yoga chant, then finally, she straightens her shoulders. “I’m not the one who’s hurt here,” she says and sounds like she even believes it this time. Reaching out, she tucks a finger under Alex’s chin. “It’s not against the rules to have fun.” Her eyes shoot toward her hairline. “And yes, that includes sex.”

“I didn’t mean you—”

“I stopped flinching over the word slut a long time ago,” Cat interrupts. If she’s feeling impatient, she’s got it back under control. “But you...” Shaking her head, she uses the finger under Alex’s chin to bring her head up and around until their eyes meet. “...you clearly haven’t. The mean streak I was referring to is the self inflicted one,” she explains before asking, “Do you ever give yourself a break?”

Alex has no idea how to respond, especially since she suspects the answer isn’t yes.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Cat sighs after a long moment passes without Alex making any attempt to answer. “Which is sad.” She pushes to her knees, studying the younger woman carefully. “Because you’re an amazing woman.” Reaching out, she strokes dark hair with a gentle hand. “You deserve to feel that way.”

Letting her head fall forward into her hands, Alex feels her stomach coil into a tight knot and wonders if maybe Cat regrets her impulsive invitation in the bar.

She doesn’t ask.

But she’s grateful when Cat rattles the bag in her hand. "Eat." She keeps petting her hair, gently sifting through the fine strands. As the minutes pass, the chips slowly disappear and begin to taste almost like they could be food.

“Thank you for coming with me the other night,” the older woman says after the bag has been put aside and Alex has downed nearly a half a bottle of water.

Thinking of Cat’s words about fun, Alex snorts. “I enjoyed myself...had plenty of fun to use your word.” The anger isn't aimed at Cat, but herself. And while she's sure sarcasm isn’t the right approach, she's so torn up, it’s the best she can do in the moment.

And maybe Cat Grant can find it in her heart to forgive a sharp tongue.

Cat sighs very softly, but her hand never changes its pace as it slips through auburn hair. “The sex has been very nice, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”

Alex is startled when she feels the couch cushions shift and suddenly Cat is slinging a leg across her thighs to straddle her lap. It forces her to look up until hazel eyes lock with hers. Cat settles her forearms on Alex’s shoulders, then leans forward until their foreheads just touch. For such an intimate pose, one that mimics an even more intimate event, it’s remarkably nonsexual and kind.

“You aren’t the only one with issues,” Cat whispers, her voice so soft Alex has to strain to hear her. “I can be self destructive...bad tempered...” Her voice is higher pitched than normal with the strain of forcing the words out. “But you made me feel safe...protected...needed...”

Alex can hear old hurts in the other woman’s voice along with other, kinder emotions. It draws her to lean into the warm hand still stroking her hair.

Cat leans back enough to stare into her eyes. “Very few people would be strong enough to ignore their own hurt to take care of someone in the condition I was in...and I’m not just talking about the alcohol. I was in a very bad space and not kind about it. Most people would have left me to whatever fate.” She presses a small kiss to Alex’s forehead. “You didn’t.” She waits a moment, letting that simple pronouncement sink in, while her hand continues that slow, stroking motion. “You’re also strong enough to put aside your resentments and help a frightened child when you were just a child yourself, strong enough to make a new life in order to protect her and when she needed it, wise enough to teach her how to fight, and brave enough to stand by her in every battle.” She stares hard at Alex. “You’ve done amazing things to help others, but it’s no sin to take a little time for yourself now and then.” Smiling tenderly, she kisses the very tip of Alex’s nose. “It’s not against the rules, I promise you.”

Still peering into hazel eyes, Alex considers Cat’s words carefully, finally nodding in agreement. “You’re right,” she admits after a long moment, a small smile ghosting across her mouth before it falls away. “Maggie taught me that, or maybe just reminded me I could have fun.” She’s silent for a beat before adding. “I forgot that when she left, or maybe it just hurt too much to...” She doesn’t finish, but she takes a long moment to consider her options before asking. “Can I make a deal with you?”

A curious smile curves Cat’s mouth. “I’ll consider any terms you offer,” she allows cagily.

Alex smiles, and fits her hands to nicely rounded hips. “I promise to try and have more fun—you’re always invited to come to me and remind me how, and in return...” She’s smiling gently, her expression affectionate and tender. “...in return, I want you to call me when you start thinking you’re a bitch or that your mother or your ex are right about you.”

Cat tenses and swallows hard. “Alex,” she whispers tersely.

Alex tightens her hold, pulling Cat closer, her eyes intense as she peers up at the blonde. “You call me when the voices are too loud or hurt too much.” It’s phrased as an order, but her tone makes it a plea. It’s her turn to plant a soft kiss, smiling as she finally feels Cat’s nod. “And now I want you to come inside with me so we can...have some... fun...sober and in a real bed,” she invites after a brief pause. She grins when Cat peers at her and raises one eyebrow.

Cat barely manages to nod before Alex pushes toward her feet. She’s cupping the curve of Cat’s backside and feels the press of strong thighs clamp down on her hips. She may not be Supergirl, but she’s strong and lithe and Cat’s hardly a heavyweight.

“If you throw out your back now...” Cat growls and clings to wiry shoulders as Alex steadies herself.

“Not a chance,” Alex drawls and drops a soft kiss on full lips. “I’ve got plans for it.” She shifts a bit, adjusting her stance and Cat’s weight. If there’s a bit of a stagger to her steps when she finally carries her welcome burden back inside, it’s slight enough to ignore.

Grinning, she stops at the foot of the bed and gently drops Cat, laughing as she bounces gently. A beat passes, then she leans forward, hands braced on the mattress on either side of shapely legs, her expression questioning.

She gets a welcoming smile in return and Cat crooks a single finger.

After so much introspection, she needs this, they both do. Cat’s right, she’s allowed a bit of fun.

And dear god this is fun, she thinks as she begins a slow ascent up the length of Cat’s body.

She starts by dropping a soft kiss on a bare knee, then moves up to a smooth thigh just below the bottom edge of a pair of hideously ugly green shorts. They’re loose enough that it’s easy to push them up until she can press a soft trail of kisses into the crease where the thigh and pelvis meet.

Cat’s answering groan hails a rolls of her hips that’s all want and arousal.

A soft lick follows and Cat shivers in response. Scrabbling higher, Alex pushes an ugly orange t-shirt up and tugs at the waistband of Cat’s shorts, pulling soft fabric down enough to nuzzle her stomach. Her skin is achingly soft and Alex can feel the flex and pull of taut muscle under the press of her lips. It's nice.

From there it’s a meandering journey marked by disarrayed clothing and soft, nuzzling kisses as Alex makes her way higher amid a symphony of low groans and rustling sheets. It’s the first time it’s all touching with no conversation, but that's okay. There's enough trust to pull it off and they’ve talked enough already. It’s time for some seriously fun not talking.

Cat seems okay with that idea as she lets Alex take the lead other than an occasional guiding caress or pointed whimper.

It’s nice—relaxed and gentle—as Alex slowly explores with only the faintest guidance from the hands that occasionally sift through her hair or brush her shoulders. Every now and then she looks up, silently seeking confirmation everything is okay, and every time Cat smiles and touches her, the encouragement silent, but very real. Cat’s scant wardrobe is peeled off and tossed aside as Alex makes her way. She tastes Cat’s stomach, the faint striation of her ribs, runs her tongue along the curve of her hip and explores the delicate valley between small breasts. By the time lips meet and bodies settle together, they’re both breathing deeply and bare skin glows with a faint sheen of perspiration.

Alex braces on her elbows to peer down into hazel eyes. Cat’s arms are looped loosely around her shoulders. They watch each other for a long moment, and Alex sees only trust and arousal in Cat’s gaze.

In that moment, she thinks maybe she’s starting to understand what Cat tried to tell her about communication, not just the technical part—yeah, it’s nice to be sure your partner’s willing and into it—but at a more esoteric level. As she takes the time to really study her partner in this, she sees a level of comfort and relaxation that’s freeing. She’s so used to sex being a matter of uncertainty and self doubt that it’s incredibly powerful to concentrate completely on seeing and hearing the other person.

It’s about more than good sex, though she’s not quite sure yet exactly what. There’s plenty of time to find out and maybe it’s not really an answerable question because it’s always changing.

Reassured, she dips her head and starts working her way back down, finding all new erogenous zones as she teases and explores. There’s no pressure to hurry, so she takes her time, learning as she focuses on Cat’s every response, all the small sounds she makes and each tiny quiver of muscle and flesh.

It’s the most arousing experience of her life so that by the time she presses a kiss over Cat’s pelvic bone, then slips lower and tastes her, she’s trembling almost as hard as her lover. Fear of failure has been so much a part of her sexual past that she thought it was just intrinsic to the experience.

She realizes in that moment that it doesn’t have to be. It’s not really about orgasm or even arousal, it’s about this, being with someone when you’re both at your most vulnerable, caring about them, and knowing that whatever happens, you can make their day just a little better. It’s why she enjoys every moment, glorying in each soft gasp and gentle quiver, her body playing along until it’s almost like Cat’s orgasm is her own.

It’s why, when Cat pulls her body up and lays claim to her mouth, her own orgasm follows almost the instant she’s touched. Still shaking, she sinks against Cat, snuggling in as soft kisses and caresses continue in lazy, relaxed comfort.

“Thank you.” Cat finally settles her head on Alex’s chest as they both collapse into the mattress and sighs the first words in what seems like ages.

Alex grins and barely resists the urge to preen.

“Oh, get your ego under control,” Cat chastises, though she sounds very pleasantly post coital. “I’m not talking about that.”

Dark brows shoot upward, then settle back down when Cat adds.

“Though it was quite lovely.”

More preening earns a wry eye roll.

“I mean for everything else,” Cat says, but doesn’t explain.

Alex finds she doesn’t have to. She gets it. “I’m the one who should be grateful,” she sighs after some thought. “For your company, your wisdom.” They share a smile. “For you.”

The next time Alex wakes and reaches for something only to come up with nothing, she doesn’t panic, just reaches for her clothes and goes in search.

* * * * * *

Chapter Text



As she sips an excellent cup of searingly hot coffee in the inn’s kitchen, it occurs to Cat that if she’s going to have peace and quiet, she should probably avoid the front porch. Apparently Tru walks the grounds a lot and she isn’t shy about grabbing hold and dragging a person along while quizzing them on the way. At least this time, any questions remained notably non personal.

She takes another sip, sighing softly as the warmth seeps in. It really is a superb blend, the coffee dark and pleasantly bitter, lightly sweetened and enriched with a healthy dash of rich hazelnut. The dollop of real cream is nice too. And when Tru, who by then is bustling around the large, semi-professional kitchen into which she has dragged Cat, shoves a salty-sweet piece of candied bacon into her hand, Cat’s decides to just go with it.

"Wicked good, isn't it?" Tru enthuses and looks Cat's way with enough of a suggestive leer that it takes a moment to be certain she's just talking about the bacon.

"Right, wicked," Cat mumbles as she notes with some relief that Tru is definitely looking at the bacon. Still, it's enough of a near miss to remind her that she was right the first time. She really does need to be careful about the front porch in the future. Not that the future is some huge thing she should be obsessed with. After all, it’s not like this is the beginning of some long lasting friendship with her and Alex visiting on regular weekends or taking in the seasonal whale watching from a private balcony. This is temporary, just a thing to offer some comfort in time of need and...and...and something. Okay, so she’s not quite sure what, but she is comfortably certain it’s not a permanent kind of thing one should start planning on or trusting in.

“So what do you think?” Tru suddenly asks, her tone more serious than usual.

Cat blinks, chewing on the bacon to buy herself an extra moment as she searches her memory for the thread of the conversation.

Tru, meanwhile, is busy prepping the breakfast trays her husband, Jerry, cheerfully picks up every few minutes to deliver to various rooms. He’s sweet and smiling, but quiet. Which is fine. Tru talks enough for two and she’s eager to pick Cat’s brain.

Speaking of which, it’s a brain functioning at less than half capacity. Even without a night of rambling sex and the resulting lack of sleep, mornings aren’t her best time. And while she’s learned to appear coherent while semi-comatose, it’s mostly an act.

“I think you’re overthinking things,” Cat says at last, barely noticing the tiny hand that tugs on the bottom of her shirt, though she automatically reaches down and lifts the small figure up to snuggle comfortably against her chest and left shoulder. “To advertise with a company like CatCo, you’d end up spending more than you’d make in profits, particularly since your business is so seasonal and dependent on the whale watching. The contracts run in six month blocks and they aren’t cheap. plus you'd need a professional artist to put an ad together.”

Tru tenses and Cat can see how much she wants to argue, so she just keeps talking.

“A better option would be getting someone to publish a news piece,” Cat continues, her knowledge deep enough that she can lecture even while half asleep. “To do that, you need an interesting article and some good press contacts—”

“I tried that,” Tru snaps. “Spent a small fortune and got no responses.”

Cat sighs. “Probably used a service to write a press release and distribute it.” She’s careful to tamp down any impatience. She’s aware of Tru’s nod, but she already knows the story. “Most of those are written to a formula and everybody ignores them.” She could add that they’re usually little more than a scam, but that seems too cruel even for her.

She sees Tru’s shoulders fall and knows she’s already figured it out anyway. Seeing a mistake laid out so clearly is rarely easy.

“What you need to do is get your hands on a travel reporter,” Cat says quickly, wanting to offer some hope. “A good freelancer who can spend some time on the project. You shouldn’t have to pay them, but comp them room and board for a few days, so it doesn't cost them anything to get a real feel for the place.”

Despite any disappointment, Tru’s listening. It’s there in the way she angles her head as she works.

“But you need a hook, so it's a real article, not just a description of what a perfect place this is to relax and watch the whale migrations,” Cat explains. “That's an interesting experiences, not an interesting story.” Seeing the way Tru frowns, she tries to explain, “Travel writing is storytelling.  It can be history, science, whatever, but it’s more than just showing pretty pictures. It needs to be interesting to someone who has no intention of coming here. So talk about the history of the place, or the lighthouse, or if there’s science work being done with the whales. I don’t know enough to tell you what would work. I can only tell you that you need to find something.” As she’s speaking, she hears and feels a presence at her back, then a hand reaches past her to snag a piece of bacon from the nearby plate. She doesn’t have to be told to know it’s Alex, especially when a warm hand settles on her hip. Normally, she wouldn’t allow the presumption, but this time, she pushes into the light touch, something she hasn't done much for at least a husband or two.

Tru’s eyes light up. “The inn and the cabins were built before the turn of the century. There are old records, letters, even some photos that came with the place when we bought it. Some of it’s pretty interesting.”

“That’s the idea. To sell a piece, a writer needs a story that will capture the reader’s imagination and to get a writer here, you need to give them the barebones to do that.” Cat nods, offering an encouraging smile. “Put your information together, then if you need help finding someone, I can probably lend a hand.” She knows a lot of writers who are always hunting for an idea. Throw in a few free days in a place like this and it should be possible to get somebody good who will really work to sell it.

Tru’s eyes light with gratitude. Then she’s running again as her husband returns and they hurry off to deliver the last of the breakfasts. “You can just drop Ruthie in her playpen in the other room,” Tru instructs on the way out. “Collie’s in there and she’ll look after her sister until we’re done.”

As the same time a small hand tugs on the collar of Cat’s t-shirt and she turns her head to peer into sleepy blue eyes as the little girl in her arms lifts her head. “You’re not Carter,” she says, a bit confused. Though she does have a faint memory of picking the child up, she was still more asleep than awake.

“Isn’t your son in his teens?” Alex drawls and reaches out to ruffle the girl’s ginger curls even as she offers a quiet, “Heya, Ruthie.”

“That’s the last time I remember picking up small children,” Cat huffs. “When he was little, he liked to be carried.” Her lips twist into a soft smile as she remembers the days he was desperate to see the world from her arms, where he could be as tall as she was, but still safe and protected. “Apparently muscle memory kicked in when this one tugged on my arm.”

“So you were a hands on parent, huh?”

“I didn’t go through the pain of giving birth to see a nanny raise my child,” Cat confirms, and boops the little girl on the nose to a chorus of giggles. “He all but lived in the CatCo offices with me until he went to school.” She pivots in time to see Alex raise an eyebrow.

“Sooo,” Alex stretches the single word out before questioning, “Baby in one arm, copy to edit in the other and issuing orders throughout CatCo?”

“Pretty much,” Cat admits. It was a good time in her life. After the pain of losing Adam, she’d needed it.

“I can almost see it,” Alex says through a grin. It fades to a shy smile when Cat reaches out to settle her free hand on Alex’s chest.

“I’m sorry about not being there when you woke. I hope you didn’t think—”

“I didn’t,” Alex says before she can get any farther. She covers Cat’s hand with her own, her touch warm and soothing. “After last night, I knew you wouldn’t do that to me.”

“I woke up early and stepped onto the porch to see what the weather looked like—” She leaves off the need to think.

“And Tru caught you, huh?” Alex more states than asks. Clearly, she knows her friend.

Cat nods. “She wanted to know if it would help to advertise this place with CatCo.” She shakes her head. “I tried to explain that it’s too small. She needs something different.”

“I heard some of the discussion,” Alex admits. “Thank you for trying to help my friend.” She looks around. “She and Jer went ass deep into debt buying this place. I think they’re making ends meet, but it hasn’t done as well as they hoped.”

Cat shrugs. “It’s easy enough for me.” Publishing and advertising have been her life for a lot of years. “It’s second nature.”

“Thank you anyway,” Alex murmurs as she leans in to steal a quick, bacon flavored kiss.

They earn a grumpy sound from the child in Cat’s arms.

“Apparently Ruthie does not approve.” Alex chuckles and ruffles ginger hair again, while Cat snuggles the little girl close, enjoying the feel of a toddler in her arms after so many years without. Not that she’s longing for more babies. She did that and got it right, but it makes for a nice moment to hold one knowing she gets to give her back.

Besides, if she focuses on the little girl, she doesn’t have to come up with anything to say or pay too much attention to the expression on Alex’s face or the tightness in her own chest when dark eyes swing her way. She knows what’s going on, has been through enough flings to understand the effects of hormones on emotions. As she resists the urge to look at Alex, she knows how easy it would be to make more of this than there is, knows too that Alex is probably even more vulnerable, damn near a virgin as she is.

She wonders if she’s doing the younger woman any favors by not running like hell.

Then Alex brushes gentle fingertips along her free shoulder, the skimming touch enough to send a shiver down her spine. Whatever she should do, she won't be running.

“So I was thinking about today,” Alex begins after a moment. “I wondered if you’d be up for a bit of an inland jaunt.” It’s a statement, but the question is implicit.

Cat focuses on the child in her arms, but she’s listening. “Inland?”

“Mmhm, San Jose’s—”

“Oh, god no,” Tru interrupts before Alex can say any more.         

Cat’s chin snaps up as she notes the other woman’s return. She’s standing in the doorway, hands on her hips, glaring at Alex. Clearly she knows what Alex's plan is and disapproves.

“You do not take a woman like her there,” Tru insists.

Cat’s gaze swings back to Alex, who’s lost color.

“It’ll be fun,” the younger woman insists, her tone defensive.

“Maybe if you took her kid, but c’mon, Alex. Cat Grant is not a woman for bad ghost stories and—”

Cat has no idea what’s in store, but she is very aware that Alex looks hurt and while she likes Tru, she’s not going to let that continue. Even if Alex’s plans are a misery, she’ll damn well, smile sweetly and deal. It can’t be any worse than sitting through a certain ex president’s dissertations on his art and she’s managed that trick. Twice. “Actually, I think Alex’s idea sounds like fun.” Her tone makes it clear that the only expert on Cat Grant’s preferences is Cat Grant herself.

Tru’s brows shoot up, her expression full of doubt. “Really?”

“Really.” Cat peers at Alex, her voice low, her look serious enough that she hopes it conveys utter trust. She’s trying, even if trust and good communications skills are not normally her default unless it’s for worldwide publication, or on very rare occasion, when the world’s on the verge of annihilation.

Alex’s hand is still wrapped around Cat’s where it rests on her chest and she gives a light squeeze.

Cat takes it as a silent affirmation she’s gotten the message and nods.  It’s a private moment that blocks out the woman silently watching them.

“So you’re really going to do this?” Tru asks after a beat.

Eyes still on Cat, Alex nods as a tiny twist of a smile curves her lips.

Somehow they've become co-conspirators in this and Cat finds herself enjoying the moment. She hasn't felt this way in ages.

“Then you’d better get moving or you won’t be back until midnight.”

Cat is almost sure she hears an undertone of barely suppressed glee in the other woman’s voice even though she’s being openly sarcastic. She has it in her to wonder if they’ve just been played, but decides not to worry about it.

Tru pins a sharp look on Alex when a moment passes. “Unless you’re planning on staying in a motel,” she snips, leaving Cat with the impression that would be an unacceptable sin.

Alex is smart enough to throw up her hands in surrender. “Wouldn’t think of it,” she says quickly.

Mollified, Tru nods as she plucks Ruthie from Cat’s arms. “I’ll pack you a lunch and—”

“You don’t have to—” Alex begins.

“It’s one of the services the inn offers.” Tru waves her hands, shooing them along.

Which is how they wind up tooling along, sipping coffee from insulated travel mugs and singing along to whatever comes up on an oldies radio station.

Alex has a lovelier voice than Cat would have predicted, the timbre low and smoky and easy on the ears. As the song ends and the radio flips over to a commercial, she turns the sound down and glances over at Cat. “You know Tru’s trying to con you into doing an article on the inn, right?” She smirks and hooks a thumb toward the box lunches in the back seat. “Though it does mean the free lunch is probably amazing.”

Cat laughs and nods. “I guessed.”

They’re both wearing the least hideous of their ill gotten gains from Target. In Cat’s case it's a surprisingly pretty tie-dyed shirt swirled in shades of wine and blue with enough misspellings in the stoner themed motto that the unique interpretation of the word marijuana seems the mildest of the literary sins committed on the front. It pairs nicely with a pair of white cargo pants that sport a heart-shaped purple stain right on her ass. Hideously ugly lime green deck shoes clash with all of it, but are comfortable enough that Cat goes with it.  

Alex, meanwhile, winds up in a sky blue shirt that’s notably short in the body and emblazoned with a giant, screaming green face and the words, Warcraft: the Movie. It’s ugly enough that Cat threatens to deny she knows her, though she can’t take her eyes off the sinfully tight, black jeans that mold nicely to slim hips. Once tucked into her combat boots, the three inch difference in the length of the pants legs isn’t terribly noticeable. Pink sunglasses with heart shaped lenses finish out the ensemble.

As she peers at the other woman from the passenger seat, Cat catches a glimpse of tights abs revealed by the too short shirt and decides she can tolerate orcs if that’s the tradeoff, though she has zero intention of admitting she knows what an orc is or that she saw the movie with Carter. She’s managed to look like she’s never seen a Star Wars movie. She means to keep it that way for anything related to World of Warcraft as well.

Still singing in that low, sexy voice, Alex glances over and winks.

Well, if nothing else she seems to be getting a bit of confidence. Cat still has no idea where they’re headed, and while it tugs at her control freak nature, she grits her teeth and concentrates on how pretty the drive is, not to mention Alex’s laughter and singing. She can do this. It’s all good.

Cat doesn’t want to think too hard about just how good, so it’s a relief when Alex continues speaking.

“I thought we’d take the faster route to get there,” she explains. “It’s pretty, but not very dramatic, mostly rolling hills and scrub pine.”

Cat nods, uncertain where this is headed, but glad for the distraction.

“But I thought if we’re both still doing well, we could come back the long way through Las Plumas.” Alex must sense Cat’s confusion. “Las Plumas Forest...redwoods,” she quickly adds. “It’s amazing, especially at night.” She glances over. “I’m guessing you haven’t seen it and I think you’d like it.” There’s a note in her voice that sounds dangerously like hope.

Cat wonders about the wisdom of what’s happening, but this is the first thing that’s offered any comfort in entirely too long. No matter what a part of her argues she should do, she lacks the ability to walk away.  “Sounds wonderful.” They share a smile and she pushes off her fears in favor of enjoying herself. They’ve both earned it.

Besides that glimpse of taut abdominals really is quite pleasing.

“You’re not from California, are you?” Alex asks after another song goes by.

“Nope,” Cat responds without elaborating. “But you are, right?”

Alex glances over, her expression thoughtful. For a moment, Cat thinks she’s going to ask, but she doesn’t. Good choice. Discussing her childhood home will not improve the mood.

“Yep, born and raised in Midvale,” Alex says, the good cheer sounding a bit forced, as though she knows she’s skated too close to a painful topic and needs to make up for it. “My mom still lives there, right on the beach.” She grins and thumps her chest with one hand. “Beach chick born and bred.”

Cat takes a cue from the light tone. “So you could surf before you could walk?”

“Not quite, but I wanted to.” Another grin lights up Alex’s expression. She’s momentarily distracted as she turns onto a broad highway that immediately starts to climb.

“So tell me about it,” Cat says when things settle back down.

Alex glances over. “Surfing? I’d think you’d be tired of that subject by now.”

Cat shakes her head. “You haven’t really talked about surfing. You’ve talked about the ocean and its rhythms, and how to read them, but not the actual sport. For instance, how do you actually stand up on the board, and how in god’s name do you keep your balance?” Cat shakes her head in disbelief. “Always seemed like a magic trick to me.”

“No magic. It’s timing and knowing the water. A good sense of balance helps too.”  Another quick look. “You seriously want to know?”

“I do.” Also, it’s a safe, neutral topic and that seems best.

Alex flashes a vaguely perplexed look her way as if she can’t quite believe the curiosity is genuine.

“I’m a reporter,” Cat explains with a shrug and a lighthearted chuckle. “I want to know everything.”

A dark eyebrow quirks upward. “Promise you’ll tell me if you get too bored.”

“I promise.”

So Alex starts to talk about surfing, the words coming and going, speeding up when the memories are good, slowing when she’s not sure how to explain something. As they travel, the explanations about the technical side give way to funny stories, which gradually merge into tales of her college years and more current events.

Cat’s always been a good interviewer. She knows how to throw out a question to relax someone, then just let them talk.  Despite what most people assume about her, she also knows how to listen. She's hearing so many things, both said and unsaid, that she has no desire to end the interview.

It’s easy and friendly and Alex shows an unexpected ability to laugh at herself along with some nice comic timing. As a result, the trip is fun and passes quickly and they’re both laughing as they hit the edge of the city. They wander a bit—Cat doesn’t know the city at all, and has no idea where they’re headed. Finally Alex pulls into a parking lot in a surprisingly populous area.

As they wander in search of a parking spot, Cat can’t contain a smirk. “Really?” she drawls doubtfully before remembering her decision to be utterly positive in the face of Tru’s attitude. “I mean, sounds like fun.”

Alex chuckles softly as she pulls the SUV into a slot. “It’s okay.” Once parked she pivots in her seat. “But I think if you’ll find it’s not what you’re expecting.” She eyes Cat from head to toe. “Besides, it might be good for you to let someone else be in charge for a change.”

“That sounds like a challenge.”

Alex shrugs, her smile puckish, eyes sparkling. A beat passes, then Cat nods. “The Winchester Mystery House it is.” She’s heard of the place, of course. The Victorian monstrosity is a California landmark and tourist trap. Cat’s too much of a history buff not to be aware of the story. After all, tabloid journalism has always loved its tales of wealth, madness, and haunted souls. Built over thirty years starting in the late 1800s, the huge, sprawling mansion was once the home of one Sarah Winchester, sole heir to the fortune created by her husband's invention, the Winchester repeating rifle.  With no surviving family or  children, she supposedly went a little mad when her young husband died, investing the inherited fortune in crackpot mediums and fortune tellers. Supposedly, they told her the ghosts of those killed by her husband’s guns were after revenge. They sent her west and told her she was doomed if she ever stopped building. She started with a small farmhouse and spent the rest of her life supervising the workmen as it expanded in every direction until it was one-hundred and sixty rooms large, seven stories tall, and so full of puzzles, mysteries, and oddities that it's still enough of a draw to make unsuspecting tourists shiver and insist they had their own 'supernatural' encounters.

In short, it’s utter and complete twaddle, thought up by crooks and con artists to separate a lonely woman from her treasure. It’s bad National Enquirer fare from before the National Enquirer existed.

But Alex is excited for reasons Cat can’t quite fathom, and she can see from the expression in dark eyes that this means something to her. Cat silently vows not to laugh at the younger woman as she straightens her shoulders, smooths down her godawful clothes and vows to play the happy tourist and enjoy it. As they climb out of the SUV, Alex’s too short shirt rides up and she gets another pleasant look at tight abs.

Okay, so there are definitely some pluses to any plan that includes that view.

Besides, she decided with a wicked grin, there are always ways to make something fun. She tips her head to one side and checks out Alex's ass. This could be fun, she decides and hooks her arm though the other woman's. "Shall we?"

Alex just nods.


* * * * * *

Chapter Text

13

 


Alex is well aware that Cat’s very doubtful about the whole haunted house tour thing, though she’s covering it with a determination that’s adorable enough to make Alex grin. It’s a weird cross between watching a saber tooth tiger play with a toy mouse and watching a housecat try to take down a wildebeest. The blonde is somehow utterly confident and utterly out of her element, but it’s impossible to tell whether she’s completely overpowered to the point of silliness or totally overmatched but so innately confident that she’s unaware of it. Either way, having decided to go along with the plan, she seems to be having fun getting into the tourist groove. She’s a bit loud—louder, technically—and snarky—snarkier—and sexy—definitely sexier, with the sway of her hips and the contrasting thrust of her chest. Cat Grant may be slight, but she knows how to work what she has.

Oh, and for what Alex suspects is the first time in her life, Cat plays it clingy. As they wander through the front gardens on the way in she holds Alex’s hand or leans into her side and hooks a hand around her waist. At the same time, she flirts and smiles and makes it very clear who she’s with and that they’re not just friends.

Thankfully, they’re more or less alone, so Alex manages not to melt into the sidewalk in her shyness.

Cat glances over and offers a knowing chuckle, then pauses to peer up at the front of the mansion. Studying it carefully, she holds onto Alex and slips under her arm so they’re pressed tightly together. As they stand there, she looks around, eyes bright and curious. “Not exactly the mood of your typical haunted house,” she comments, dropping the act and sounding a bit surprised.

Alex nods, rather pleased to see Cat taking this part seriously with no snark in evidence. “I’ve always loved the view from the front.”

“It’s from another time, but it’s beautiful,” Cat agrees, still idly studying their surroundings.

Cat’s right, it is a bit of history, but there’s also a touch of fantasy to the place, like a lifesize version of a fancy gingerbread house off the cooking channel. Despite the forbidding reputation, the mansion is brightly colored with pale yellow walls trimmed in umber and topped with bright red roofing tiled peaks and spires. It sits amid lush green gardens with bright flowers and tall, slender palm trees that sway gently in even the lightest breeze. A fountain and a few bits of statuary hide among the formal hedge rows.

Alex has always found the environs soothing. “I could just sit in the gardens all day,” she admits.

Cat glances over and nods and Alex has the sense she’s filing the information away in some expansive memory system that keeps track of everything. She steps away for a moment to look more closely at one of the statues, woman wearing what looks like grecian garb, and carrying an urn, then returns to hook her arm through Alex’s. “Their eyes don’t follow you.” She sounds almost disappointed.

Alex chuckles softly and looks up to scan the front of the mansion, spotting what she’s looking for before she taps Cat on the shoulder. “If you want creepy details, try that.” She points at what’s clearly an exterior door. On the second story. In the middle of an otherwise empty wall.

Shading her eyes with her hand, Cat peers up.

Alex knows she’s spotted the door when a pale eyebrow climbs toward her hairline.

“Quite a first step.” Cat’s mouth twists into a wry smirk, and her head swings Alex’s way again, then she steps close and relinks their arms. “Just promise me you won’t make me leave that way if I say the wrong thing.”

Alex shakes her head, barely able to breathe as Cat leans against her side and lets her take the lead. It’s a new role for her, at least when bullets aren’t flying, but her ego is enjoying all the attention, even if it’s at war with an innate shyness that’s very leery of the mostly appreciative gazes cast their way. After a bit of wandering they find the ticket booth and Alex pays with nary a peep from Cat who presses more firmly against her and flashes a blinding smile at the cashier. “Having fun?” Alex asks sotto voce when the clerk steps away for a moment.

“You have no idea, sweetie,” Cat says and flashes another beaming smile that simultaneously makes Alex’s heart thump a little harder and causes a bead of nervous sweat to gather at the small of her back. “It’s fun letting you be in charge. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word sweetie before.” She thinks about it a moment, then muses, “Maybe with Carter, but...” Another pause. “Not really a normal part of my vocabulary.”

A hard swallow makes Alex’s throat bob and she briefly wonders if she should make a run for it. What she actually does is murmur, “Really? I think it suits you.”

That earns her an arch look. “I think you’re the first person to say that since I was approximately eight...or maybe seven.”

“I...” Alex’s flustered reply ends in a choking sound as Cat’s hand suddenly makes its way into her back pocket and shapes itself to her backside.

Cat laughs softly and establishes a firm enough grip to be both possessive and dangerously commanding. She keeps them there until the cashier returns with the change, then subtly guiding them away while Alex is still all but frozen.

Cat grins and tucks her head into the curve of Alex’s shoulder again, though her voice drops low, the timbre shifting enough to make her sound caring and just a bit worried that she’s gone too far. “Whatever I may be, I’m proud to be here with you and I don’t care who knows it.” It robs the gesture of any meanness or intent to taunt and turns the intention far gentler in Alex’s head.

Alex’s breath catches, her chest suddenly so tight she can barely breathe. A part of her wants to do a fist pump of pure pride, but she’s also very aware of Cat’s fame and possible issues. “You realize people are going to think we’re...” she doesn’t finish.

“Gay, cute as a couple of buttons, and probably getting naked together later on?”

The cheerful response knocks Alex silent for a beat. “What if someone recognizes you?”

“In these clothes?” Cat snickers and shakes head doubtfully, then shrugs and tries to reassure Alex. “But if it will ease your mind, this outfit is the only thing I would deny if that happened.”

Alex suddenly finds an all new reason to have trouble breathing. “You’re...uh...you’re very...um...” She literally has no words.

Cat grins and winks. “Yes, I am.” Pulling her hand free of Alex’s pocket, she slaps her lightly on the backside. “And you’re in charge, so lead on, McDuff.”

With little choice in the matter, Alex ‘leads’ them to a stretch of grass where people seem to be gathering.

They mill around during the wait for the tour to start, Cat teasing and sexy and Alex enjoying it, but inexperienced enough that she doesn’t quite know how to react. This is all new to her. Maggie flirted sometimes, but never so openly. She’s a little startled when Cat suddenly lays a hand on her upper arm, her expression turning serious.

“Too much?”

Alex knows it will only take a word and Cat will quit, and while the PDAs are a little unsettling, they also feel nice. “No,” she whispers. Her gaze drops, taking in graceful curves. “Just...um...not sure I’m up to responding yet.”

Cat offers a reassuring look. “You’re doing fine.”

Alex looks up, noting a few gazes that drift their way with looks of admiration, even a bit of lust and envy. She turns more fully toward Cat and braves the possible embarrassment of settling both hands on slim hips. “I like this, being here...with you...like this.”

Cat smirks and rolls her eyes dramatically, but she curls her fingers into Alex’s shirtfront. “Please, you’re just hoping the ghost stories will scare me into holding onto you in the dark.”

A thrill slips through Alex. She dares a slightly breathless, “I can think of worse things.”

Blonde brows shoot upward, but before Cat can say anything, a call goes out for their tour to gather.

“Saved by the bell,” Cat teases and hooks her arm through Alex’s.

The tour guide is young and cute, but knows what she’s doing. After a quick bit of history—Sarah Winchester’s madness, the seances and unending construction—and a bit of ghostly PR—guests and employees alike have supposedly had strange encounters with unexplainable women in antique garb who just faded away—they’re on their way. After that, the tour patter becomes a mix of history, a paranormal version Architectural Digest, and a Victorian episode This Really Old House. The decor is stunning---parquet floors, velvet flocked wallpaper, and the most expensive furniture of the era. It's rich and beautiful, but also unique. The variety of spider themed Tiffany windows alone, could probably fill a book.

And then there are the architectural oddities. The tour guide introduces stairs that zig zag forever and other that lead nowhere, a cupboard that opens onto the entire house, and a door that hides a blank wall. There's also the infamous second story door with the large first step to the outside.

Aside from the oddities, it’s also a repository of ideas and bits of engineering that were ahead of their time. The house was protected by an early sprinkler system at a time when whole families were sometimes lost to fire. The indoor plumbing was designed so the drainage watered the gardens, and a huge food dryer preserved the output of the gardens and paid the farm’s bills by sending out tonnage of dried fruit.

As they keep moving, Alex fully expects Cat’s snarky side to show up. Instead, she’s quiet and attentive, listening carefully to the stories and studying everything. The closest she gets to Queen of All Media style snark is a muttered aside in one of the grand ballrooms, “Lord, she made my decorating habits look cheap.”

They’re hanging at the back of the crowd in a bedroom Sarah closed off after an earthquake. There’s a long story of how haunted and terrified she was, thinking the ghosts had finally caught up with her. It’s emotionally overwrought and Cat is visibly bored. She loops her arm though Alex’s.

“I get it,” she says softly enough to keep the conversation between them. An enigmatic smile curves full lips.

“What’s that?”

“Why you like this place.” She pauses looking around. “It’s beautiful, but I doubt that’s your thing and...” She makes a small, disdainful gesture to indicate the guide and her eagerly listening charges who are clearly enjoying a bit of a scare. “I’m pretty sure you’re not into ghost stories...” She casts an assessing look Alex’s way. “No, it’s the mind behind it. It’s a puzzle for you, isn’t it?”

Alex shrugs, but she’s smiling and she doesn’t deny it.

A few minutes later, they’re in another grand room when Cat leans close to Alex’s ear. “Ghosts didn’t build this. Fear doesn’t make people this kind of innovative.” She looks up at an antique fitting overhead. “It may build a better gun, but it doesn’t create this much beauty or experiment the way she did.”

“The ghosts are just a story,” Alex admits. She’s done her research. “The company that bought the place after she died invented it to bring in tourists. They needed them to pay the bills.” She notes the way Cat nods her understanding. Obviously she’d understand that part. Cat knows the power of a good story better than most. “Nobody knows why she did it.”

Cat smiles ever so slightly. “What child hasn’t dreamed of a castle with hidden passageways and crazy gadgets?” She grins. “It’s playful...an architectural puzzle from before Myst was even a gleam in a computer programmer’s eye.” She nods to indicate a horizontal glass door that opens on the kitchen below what the guide calls the ‘Seance Room’. “And fear sure as hell doesn’t have a sense of humor.” She chuckles. “Seances, my ass. This is the perfect poker room, complete with an easy way to call down for snacks.”

Alex can’t hold back a small laugh. She’s had that exact thought more than once.

As they amble onward, Cat still leaning close, her clinging takes on a new energy. She’s sharing confidences, not just playing a role. “She may well have visited mediums along the way—Edgar Cayce and spirit writing were still taken seriously, after all—but this is eccentric, not crazy.”

Alex nods. Cat really was listening and her curiosity seems sincere.

After that they hang together in the back, quietly trading theories and occasionally laughing softly. No one pays much attention, though the tour guides rolls her eyes a time or two and there are grins from an elderly pair of matrons that Alex is certain Maggie would term family.

After the tour is over, Cat spends a small fortune in the gift shop, mostly buying books, but a couple of puzzles and tchotchkes too. “I have to bring Carter here,” she explains. “He’d love this place.”

It’s over a Mexican lunch, after they’ve discussed the warehouse of leftover moldings and windows that will never be used, and the lone picture of Sarah Winchester barely visible in front of her ever expanding puzzle-house that Alex finally asks, “So what’s your theory?”

Cat thinks about it for a long moment. “She had no heirs, and given there’s only one photo, wasn’t a publicity hound.” She gnaws on her lower lip thoughtfully. “She was rich and clever in a day and age when women weren’t supposed to be either of those things. She’d lost a child as well as her husband.” She pauses to think. “I think she found a way to entertain herself, give the money away, and expand the local economy.” She shrugs, her eyes a little sad. “And since the work ran twenty-four hours a day, she was never lonely or bored.” Cat’s tone implies that may have been the most important part.

Expecting a less thoughtful answer, Alex is struck by the poignant note in the other woman’s voice. It hasn’t occurred to her before that Cat might see some similarities between her own life and a woman from so long ago eternally building a dream.

“And for all the money, she died alone,” Cat finishes quietly.

“You won’t,” Alex says, her tone firm.“You have a son who loves you, friends, the respect of the city—”

“I have one son who loves me,” Cat agrees, her expression mournful enough to remind Alex that she actually has two sons. “And I have employees,” she continues after a beat, “but friends? Not so sure about that.”

Alex reaches out, covering Cat’s hand with her own. “You have me. I’m your friend.”

Cat looks up from under thick lashes. “Given the company you keep, I’m not sure you’re likely to outlive me.” The wry tone of her voice robs the words of any cruel intent.

“Then I’ll be waiting for you on the other side, ready to show you the sights.”

Cat’s jaw drops open for a moment and Alex experiences a certain measure of satisfaction at knocking her silent. Not an easy thing to do. Then Cat swallows hard and something dark and hurt is fleetingly reflected in her eyes.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Cat exhales before Alex can respond. She looks shaken. “And I would never want it,” she quickly adds.

“I know that,” Alex quickly assures her and reaches out, covering a slim hand with her own. Cat’s skin feels cold to the touch and Alex gently rubs her knuckles to bring blood to the area. “It was a joke. I made one too,” she reminds the other woman. “And we’ve both done some stupid, dangerous things.” She rolls her eyes. “Hell, you’re the one who played human target and purposely pissed off a power-mad alien queen. Maybe I’m the one who should ask if you’ll show me around.” Alex is teasing now, and she gets the wry smile she’s hoping for.

“You are a friend,” Cat says after a moment of silence. Another moment passes, then she turns her hand under Alex’s, holding on tightly.

Alex simply waits when Cat says no more, giving her space because it feels like she has things she needs to say or maybe just contemplate.

“I’ve never done friendship well,” Cat confesses at last. “I’m not good at it.”

Just hearing the lost note in her voice makes Alex’s chest hurt, but she continues to give her all the time she needs.

“I’m not easy,” Cat admits after a beat. “I’m impatient, rude, temperamental...mean sometimes. I’m—“

Finally, she’s done something Alex won’t tolerate. “Kind, brave,” she interrupts, her voice gentle. “Funny, smart...good,” she finishes, her tone obdurate.

Cat freezes as if struck. “Not necessarily a widely held opinion,” she breathes a beat later.

Alex doesn’t quite know what to do. It’s pure seat of the pants flying, but the hurt in Cat’s voice is so thick that she knows who inflicted it. Most people can’t hurt Cat like this. If they could, she wouldn’t be who she is.

Alex only know of one person who can do that much damage.

“We haven’t really talked about...her...” She doesn’t want to use Kara’s name with all its attendant pitfalls. They both know who she means anyway. “And it’s probably not something either of us is up for...but Cat, whatever got said or not said, I know how much you’ve helped her and how much she’s learned to value your advice.”

Hazel eyes tip up from under thick lashes. They’re glinting with a few unshed tears, but Alex has her attention.

“Don’t listen to the voices, even if one of them is hers,” she commands. “Listen to me.” Reaching out, she cups her hand along Cat’s cheek. “You. Are. Amazing. And I’m grateful to you...for my sake and for hers.” She drops her hands to cover Cat’s again. “I”m grateful for you.”

They’re both silent.

Alex uses the time to drag in a deep breath and shake off the temptation to have a conversation neither of them is ready for. If she’s honest with herself, which she’s not at all certain is a good idea, it’s a conversation they may never be ready for. She drags in a deep breath and blows it out again as a sort of mental reset. “So I thought maybe the Rosicrucian Museum for the afternoon,” she says brightly when she finally speaks again. “It’s all Egyptian stuff,” she explains. “Artifacts, mummies, they have a mock up of a tomb. Y’know, demented good fun.”

Cat’s silent a moment, then nods, accepting the subject change. ”Ghosts and mummies,” she drawls. “You definitely know how to show a girl an interesting time.” There’s no sarcasm to her tone and she even manages a watery smile.

“I do have one small request,” Alex says, her smile soft as Cat nods her agreement. “For the rest of the day, there’s no one but us and it’s a real, if slightly weird date between two people who just met and found each other attractive.” Between the lines is the fact that it’s about them, not Kara.

Cat tips her head to one side, appearing to consider the request, though her nod of agreement comes quickly. “I’d like that.” It feels like more than one ghost story has been laid to rest.

“And if you want to wrap your arms around me and stick your hands in my back pockets again, I probably won’t complain.”

Cat’s brows shoot up. “On a first date?” She tsks. “What do you think I am, easy?”

Alex shrugs and grins. “A girl can hope.”

“That’s the spirit,” Cat encourages. And if the joking and lighthearted mien are forced, Alex silently vows to coax the real thing out as the day stretches out.

The Rosicrucian museum is large, decorated by modern, Egyptian-esque sculptures and details that are well into the tacky realm. It feels like the product a wealthy adolescent’s fascination with all things Egyptian. It’s also quiet and they’re allowed to wander at their own pace.

In short, it’s perfect.

For all of the fact that they spend their afternoon surrounded by dead things and the remains of a culture fascinated by death, it’s lighthearted and fun and any rough moments are forgotten in favor of ancient paintings and sculpture. They flirt horribly. Literally. Both are too socially awkward for it to be gracefully done. But they have fun and Alex is feeling brave enough that she sneaks a kiss in the museum’s mock up of a tomb. When Cat laughs, she wraps her arms around her and teases her about being scared of the dark. Before they leave, she snatches another kiss.

Cat proves to be an unexpected font of knowledge about ancient Egypt, and explains it all with a single word. “Carter.” Her son. Clearly, he’s gone through the fairly common fascination with such things and shared everything he learned. She buys another stack of books and curios from the gift shop on the way out.

The day is waning by then and they’re both eager to be moving. Dinner is snacks pulled from Tru’s lunch boxes and eaten as Alex guides the SUV onto ever narrower, less well marked roads. Meanwhile, as the roads get smaller, the trees rapidly get larger and the road climbs steeply.

Alex rolls back the sun roof and notes Cat staring up through the thickening trees. While the world around them rapidly grows darker, Alex knows she’s probably still glimpsing bits of sunset colors anywhere the tree cover breaks a bit. “I always loved the way night hits down here at least an hour ahead of the rest of the world.

Cat’s still leaning back, watching the world overhead go by. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this,” she admits a little breathlessly.

Alex can’t hold back a smile. “I thought you’d like it.” She glances up through the windshield, the towering redwoods black against the flickers of darkening sky. “We used to come up here and picnic when I was a kid. There’s a really nice place to pull off fifteen or twenty minutes from here. I wondered if maybe you’d like to stop.”

After a moment’s pause, Cat nods. “Can you imagine how shocked my board would be if they saw me now?” she muses through a soft chuckle.

Alex almost comments on Kara only to catch herself in time. Neither of them needs the hurt that threatens to bring.

They’re both silent after that, but it’s a companionable quiet, one that fits the tranquil peace of the deepening forest. The road is narrow with a fair number of twists and turns, but there’s no traffic moving either direction and Alex grew up wandering these roads. It’s easy driving. Finally, she sees what she’s been looking for and pulls off onto a nearly hidden unofficial parking space. Thankfully it’s empty since interrupting a couple of teens making out does not fit her plans. “It’s just a short walk,” she tells Cat as she climbs out.

Even in the pitch black of night under a redwood canopy, Alex easily finds the trail and her footsteps are sure, while her hands are steadying as she guides Cat along. It’s been long enough that the trail’s changed some, but the monster sized trees have been there for centuries so there are familiar guideposts.

Suddenly the huge redwoods open out into an ancient glade full of huge ferns and mushrooms that look like something out of a Tolkien movie. There are even streamers of hazy moonlight that filter down through the trees.

She hears Cat’s breath catch as she tips her head back and stares. “It’s...amazing...”

Enjoying the feel, Alex wraps her arms around the smaller woman and rests her chin on her shoulder. “I found the place when I was in my teens. Came back here whenever I needed to get away.”

“It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings.”

“Yeah.” Alex laughs softly as she confesses, “I always expect fairies to magically appear.”

Cat chuckles softly, the sound low and knowing in a way that sends a shiver down Alex’s spine.

“Hey, maybe you could be an elf,” Alex suggests on a teasing note. “I think you’d look good with pointy ears and some filmy, flowing dress thing.”

“Dress thing?” Cat repeats and pivots inside the loose boundary of Alex’s arms.

She gets a soft laugh in response. “Okay, so fantasy costumes aren’t my specialty.” She catches a glimpse of white teeth as Cat flashes a grin. “I’d have a better shot at sci fi.”

“A filmy, flowing dress thing is fine. I think after the alien space queen, I’ve had enough scifi for awhile.” Reaching up, Cat drapes her arms around taut shoulders. “So would you be my knight in shining armor?” There’s a note of humor to her voice, but something else as well.

It’s long been Kara who was the knight, the hero, the star, while Alex was the loyal sidekick. But as Cat looks up at her with eyes that seem luminous in the darkness, she feels like she’s the hero this time. She has an image of the two of them, Cat, the maiden fair bestowing some trinket, herself in armor and on bended knee. “I would,” she finally whispers. “I’d be your knight and conquer dragons by the score.”

There’s a touch of irony to Cat’s expression that fleetingly morphs into something almost sad as she reaches up to brush her knuckles along the curve of Alex’s jaw. “You are a hero, you know.” She tips her head down, seeming to peer at Alex’s shirt, though she can’t possibly see much in the darkness unless the damn thing glows in the dark.

The horrid thought occurs to Alex that it actually does and she glances down relieved to see she’s not glowing. She’s still staring at her own chest when Cat leans in close and kisses her cheek, the gesture soft and warm and achingly tender.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “For today...everything...” She exhales the tiniest hint of sound, not quite a laugh, not quite a sigh, but sad and just a bit bitter. “For making me feel...worth... something.”

Alex feels her chest tighten as her breath catches. Slipping her arms around Cat, she holds her in a tight hug. She knows Cat’s admission hasn’t come easily and for a moment, she’s uncertain whether it’s best to make a point of understanding or pretend she didn’t hear. She finally settles on offering no verbal response at all, but she settle one hand on the back of her head, the other at her waist, and simply holds her.

It feels right and when Cat burrows into her hold she gently ruffles the cool silk under her palm and slips idle fingers under the tacky t-shirt to stroke the soft flesh at the small of her back.

No more than a moment or two passes before Cat returns the favor, strong hands slipping under Alex’s shirt to spread against her back and cling tightly. Alex barely contains the urge to purr happily and burrows her nose into cool silk strands, breathing in the soft scent of the other woman.

They’re both relaxed and comfortable when the first kiss happens. It’s almost an accident as Alex’s lips find Cat’s temple, then wander down the curve of her cheek until Cat tips her head up and lips meet.

It starts soft, but as Cat leans hard into Alex, she feels the press of smooth curves and the pull of strong hands and tender turns to needy. Mouths and bodies mold together in a swirl of sensation and emotion and they both push harder. Nothing’s planned, but they stumble a bit and Alex finds herself pushed up again one of the huge trees. Sinking into a bit of curvature where it forms a natural brace, it’s a helpful support as she scoops her hands under the curve of Cat’s ass and lifts. There’s a soft laugh, then surprisingly strong thighs hook around her hips and clamp down.

They aren’t actually having sex—the remaining layers of clothing preclude that—but they’re definitely doing something close to it. The rhythm is right, the movements and the soft, shuddering sighs are very familiar and Alex is seriously considering how much rebalancing is necessary for her to safely go in for the zipper on Cat’s jeans.

She briefly muses on whether that would make the grade. Probably, but she’s not sure she cares, since she’s not sure how necessary bare skin is all things considered.

The sound and feel of Cat’s breath, hot and harsh on her neck, does nothing to impede the thought, nor does the hand that skims along the sweep of her ribs, then curls to the underside of her breast. “I want you,” she gasps and turns her nose into Cat’s neck.

“Y’have me,” Cat slurs, then makes a tiny, whimpery sound as she grinds her pelvis into Alex and tightens her grip.

Judging by the soft smells that swirl around them on a light, forest breeze, any arousal is very, very mutual. “Hold on,” Alex growls, relieved to feel the woman in her arms tighten her grip as she hefts her up a bit and pivots. As she turns, she settles Cat back into the same depression she used as a brace, letting it take some of her weight and buying the space to slip her hand between their bodies. Her fingers barely brush Cat’s stomach and she feels taut muscle ripple and flex before slipping lower, a distinct goal in mind.

Thank god the zipper slides easily and suddenly she’s slipping her fingers over flesh that’s slick and wet and achingly soft. The satisfaction of stroking Cat is so intense and Alex’s body is so reactive that it’s like she’s the one being caressed. The zipper’s teeth scrape against her knuckles as she pushes deeper, the pressure almost enough to hurt.

She can’t find it in her heart to care.

Their mouths meet again, mating together as lips roll and surge in neat counterpoint to their bodies, the kiss as sexual as anything else they’re doing. Cat weaves a hand under her arm in the scant space between their bodies. and finds the zipper on her jeans, but it refuses to move at first. She’s not sure how much time passes. Enough for a few more rough breaths, and several rolling shudders made of pure pleasure as the zipper finally gives way and Cat’s fingers push inside.

One, fumbling stroke is all it takes and suddenly her orgasm hits. Muscles clench and she can’t hold back a soft cry as it flares outward from a point starting somewhere deep in her pelvic cradle. Muscles rippling, Alex can only hold on tight as the pleasure bounces and rambles over hypersensitive nerve endings like a fire moving over dry grass and catching random breezes along the way.

Cat heaves a long sigh, tension releasing from cramped muscles as she tips her body back to take advantage of their makeshift support. One leg does a boneless slide from where it was hooked around Alex’s hip down the length of her thigh. It’s lazy and relaxed and pleasantly intimate. A slow kiss follows.

“The last time I did anything this...” Cat pauses as if debating a word before continuing with, “...adventurous...I think I was an undergraduate—“

“Not even then,” Alex sighs. “I was the responsible one doing her homework all the way through my postdoctoral degree.”

“Pity,” Cat drawls, tangling her fingers into Alex’s shirt front to drag her down into another kiss. “You would have been one hell of a study buddy.”

“Not sure I’d have any degrees with that kind of help.” The confession is punctuated by soft, meaningful laugh as Alex envisions a very different college life than the one she led.

“Are you suggesting I’m some kind of sex maniac who would have kept you from your studies?”

Momentarily paralyzed by the fantasy that washes through her brain, Alex finally exhales a heartfelt, “God, I hope so.”

“Pervert,” Cat accuses and pulls Alex into another kiss.

“Not until I met you” Alex shoots back with a grin. She feels Cat grab a breath at the same moment she hears something from the direction they first came. Her hand comes down on Cat’s mouth before she can speak. “Shh,” she hisses softly and feels Cat tense as she peers over her shoulder. “There’s someone back there.”

The sound of heavy footsteps moving through thick grass punctuates the soft warning. Lowering Cat until she’s standing, Alex pivots and fumbles with her zipper. Unfortunately, it the tab slides up and down freely without any effect. As the footsteps draw closer, she fumbles the button closed. That should at least keep her from having her jeans fall down around her knees. Definitely better if she needs to fight. She wishes she had a gun.

“Alex?”

Shh.” The hiss is soft, but pointed enough that Cat goes perfectly still until Alex pushes the woman behind her, ready to fight to defend her. They aren’t likely to run into any world threatening aliens out here, but an opportunistic creep is a possibility.

“All right, folks,” the voice is deeper than usual, but feminine, while the figure that steps into the clearing is tall and broad, but definitely not a man’s build. “I know this is a great place to make out, but you’re not supposed to park in the forest, so I need you to head out.”

Alex relaxes fractionally as she notes the newcomer’s body language, careful and a bit tense, but not aggressive. One hand is resting on what’s clearly a sidearm on an equipment belt, but she doesn’t look ready to draw. The lights are just bright enough to let her recognize a CHP uniform. Holding up her hands to appear as non-threatening as possible, she steps forward. “Sorry,” she says loudly enough to mark her position and not seem like she’s trying to sneak up on anyone. “I forgot we’re not supposed to park.” She reaches back as she feels the way Cat sticks close to her back. “We were just...uh...”

“Yeah, I can guess what you were doing,” the officer says, and pointedly sniffs the air, her tone wry, but not sneering. “And maybe you should go do it somewhere else.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Cat mumbles, head down and sounding decades younger than her actual age.

Alex glances back and notes that the older woman’s body language has shifted as well. As slight as she is, she looks like a teenager.

The officer snorts something under her breath, then waves them along with a growled, “Get outa here before I start checking driver’s licences and calling parents.”

They hurry on, but not fast enough to avoid hearing the officer’s muttered, “Kids.”

By the time they’re back inside the SUV, they’re both quivering with tiny, barely contained giggles.

“Been a few years since that sort of thing has happened to me,” Cat gasps through her laughter.

“First time here.” It’s not an easy confession, even if she does see the humor of it. “I don’t know whether to thank you or—“

Thank me,” Cat breaks in, her tone decisive. “Everyone should get caught en flagrante delicto at least once in their lives.”

“Not sure my mother would agree if she had to bail me out of jail for indecent exposure.” Ignoring the hot blush crawling over her cheeks, Alex gets the engine started and pulls out, though she’s careful to keep her speed well under the limit. She’s not eager to experience the officer’s chuckles if she stops them again and realizes she caught a couple of adults, not teens. “It’s not that funny,” she complains after they’ve gone a ways and she notes the way Cat is still laughing.

“No,” Cat disagrees. “It’s sweet and pretty wonderful.” She looks over at Alex then, her expression turning more serious. “You would have protected me back there.” Reaching out, she settles her hand on Alex’s where it rests on the gear selector. “Thank you.”

Alex has known she was in trouble for awhile now. It’s not just that she’s not very good at sex without feeling or that she gets Cat in a way she can’t quite explain. It’s the sense that Cat puts effort into acknowledging things that others overlook. It’s feels like a first in her life and it warms some part of her she usually keeps deeply hidden. “It’s what anyone would have done,” she insists in hopes of saving herself.

“No, it’s not,” is all Cat says before falling silent. She’s gnawing on her lower lip and watching the world go by.

Alex has no response for that and in fact finds her chest far too tight to even contemplate a comment. In the end, she rolls her hand under Cat’s, but it’s Cat who tangles their fingers together. She hangs on for a long moment, then finally straightens her shoulders and returns her hands to a respectable eight and four on the wheel.

When they roll into their parking space at the inn, the place is quiet, though Tru steps out onto the back porch and waves. Alex waves back, but doesn’t pause to speak, just staggers inside. It’s been a long, interesting day full of quiet revelations that she’s nowhere near ready to discuss. Cat seems to be in much the same condition because she slips into the bathroom first. By the time Alex finishes up her turn, the blonde is already in bed, curled up, her breathing slow and deep.

Assuming she’s already asleep, Alex is careful as she slips under the sheets, but a hand reaches back, fingers tangling with her own to tug her close. Relieved by that welcoming touch, Alex snuggles against Cat’s back, and buries her nose in silky hair. She's asleep in moments.

She has no idea how much time passes, though she’s briefly aware of Cat a time or two as she shifts gently or snuggles closer. It's nice.

Then the sky explodes in a wave of fire that roars across the horizon and she thinks maybe the world is coming to an end...

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Cat has never been good at mornings, semi comatose being her normal condition before nine, but throw in an emergency and an accompanying adrenaline rush and she comes up fast.

The sudden explosion of sound wakes her, but it’s not loud enough to trigger an emergency response in a woman who lives with a teenager prone to door slamming. She’s still fumbling toward consciousness when the sight of Alex’s fast-moving frame silhouetted against a rolling wave of fire instantly clears her head. Careless of her nudity, she grabs her phone off the nightstand even as she scrambles after the other woman. “What—“

Cat has no idea how or why hell arrived, but her immediate thought is that it’s here and ready to roll right over them.

“Down!” Alex shouts, spinning on one foot. Her body language protective, she grabs for Cat and pushes her to a crouch, using her own body to shield her from a wave of fire that washes toward them from a point somewhere out to sea.

Cat drops, hunching down in an instinctive crouch. She may not have Alex’s sharply honed reflexes, but a couple of years covering Supergirl and the attendant cast of villains has improved them immeasurably. When a burst of hot wind blows over her head and the ground shakes less than a second later, she’s braced enough that Alex’s steadying hand on her arm isn’t necessary, even if it helps settle her panic. A quick glance toward the ocean reveals a flash of movement in the air off the coast, then a white hot beam slices through the fire, the lightning brightness silhouetting a flying figure with a swirling cape.

“Kara,” Cat exhales, then repeats herself with more volume. “Kara!” Her fingers dig into Alex’s bicep to get her attention as she nods toward the sight. At the same time, she becomes aware of a klaxon sound—too soft to be real—coming from the phone gripped tightly in Alex’s left hand.

“Get some clothes on,” Alex bites out as she pushes to her feet, her eyes locked on the distant battle.

Because it is a battle, Cat realizes as her eyes adjust to the lights flashing against the inky darkness. It’s still pitch black out, probably two or three am judging by the position of the moon. She catches enough glimpses to know Kara’s out there, farther away than she initially thought, but she’s there and she’s fighting.

Despite any ill will between them, Cat’s lips move in a whispered prayer and her breath catches when she sees the young hero arc away from the fight in a way that suggests she took a hard enough hit to send her spinning. She quickly catches herself and flies back, no injuries visible in her movements. It’s that movement and the bright flash of an energy beam from her eyes that finally lights things up enough to offer some clues about what she’s facing.

If Cat’s calculations are right, the thing is huge, at least four stories tall and fast moving, with the ability to swing something—arms or weapons. It’s an impenetrable, featureless shadow against the night sky, but there are flickers of a red glow that shifts and moves like some kind of veining, and she can gauge some things by where starlight is blocked. If her read on it is right, it has arms and legs and some kind of bulbous head with a massive chest and maybe a second set of arms.

Alex suddenly pivots and gives her shoulder a solid push toward the cabin. “Dressed. Now,” she orders, her voice hard enough to knock Cat out of any paralysis. “Use the cargos and the deck shoes you wore today. You can run in those. And throw on a jacket too.”

Any temptation to bristle at being given orders fades at the look in dark eyes. Alex knows what she’s doing, she reminds herself, and she has reasons for any choices she makes. Trust may not come easy for Cat Grant, but given the right motivation, it does come.

Alex watches a moment, then suddenly shakes herself and starts grabbing for her own clothes, the same ones she was wearing that first night—black and heavy and combat ready. As she’s dressing, Tru bursts in and barely has time to speak before Alex orders, “Get everyone into the shelter.” Her friend rushes out and Alex looks at Cat. “I helped Jerr turn a couple of old sea caves into a bomb shelter. It’s not ideal, but it's the best protection for fifty miles. Whatever the hell’s going on, you should get down there...just in case...”

“If need be,” Cat says simply. “But not yet.” For the moment, despite the hell that may be bearing down on them, things are quiet, even if it’s the quiet before a dangerous storm.

Alex doesn’t argue, just makes a call, a bluetooth receiver hooked to her ear to let her communicate hands free. She’s talking to someone, the words coming too fast and using too many unfamiliar terms for Cat to track much beyond how scared she sounds.

Cat’s about half dressed when her own phone rings. Half expecting the call, she already has a bluetooth clipped to her ear, so she barely slows to answer and keeps yanking on cloths and glancing out to sea. The fight has moved farther away from shore, doubtless Kara dragging the creature every inch of the way.

The call is from CatCo’s National City office, updating her on the attack. They have a slightly better description of the creatures, but her guesstimate is close enough. Kara is facing the one south of San Francisco alone because another four have splashed down all over the world, each in water and each some distance from civilization. They’ve attacked ships and humans, so it’s unlikely it an accident or misunderstanding. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are on one off the south of France, Batman and Superman another south of Gotham, Martian Manhunter is facing one down off the coast of Chile with support from the U.S. Navy, and all available military, including Russia, Finland, and the U.S. are fighting one north of Russia in the Barents Sea.

So far, the creatures have shown no damage from any attacks, either super or conventional. Weapons have been ineffective, ships sunk, and Wonder Woman and Superman have both shed blood.

The first encounter was off the Russian coast with two Russian MiGs swatted out of the sky. The one Supergirl is fighting is the latest to land.

The news is all bad.

Cat hears Alex give someone her GPS position and quickly repeats the information to her people while the numbers are fresh in her head. By the time she hangs up, Alex is back out on the porch and staring out to sea. Cat follows the line of her gaze, brows drawing into a frown as she stares out into the night. It's become eerily quiet and for a moment, she has some hope Kara has already won, then she catches a glimpse of movement and hears an inhuman roar somewhere in the distance. No quick victory then.

“She’s still out there...fighting that thing...alone,” Alex tells her with a quick glance back, ending any doubt.

Cat nods, hearing the fear and guilt in the other woman’s voice. Alex must feel like she’s failed her sister by being this close and unable to help. “They’ve come down in spots all over the world.”

Alex nods. She probably got the same information in her update. “I’ve got a chopper coming to pick me up. There’s armor. I can help her, or at least try.”

Cat’S heart breaks a little, but she understands.

“They’ll be here in a few minutes,” Alex adds, then suddenly she turns and is reaching for Cat. The hug that follows is hard, even a little desperate, as she buries her face in Cat's neck.

It’s mutual. Cat holds on as tightly as she’s ever clung to anyone, desperate to feel Alex’s warmth and life and strength for as long as possible. She knows their time is limited. Alex has a job to do. Cat tightens her hold, feeling the shape of her and breathing in her scent to imprint it all on her memory.

It seems like mere seconds before she hears the beat of chopper blades in the distance and feels Alex’s arms tighten and the heat of her breath in her ear. “I just want you to know—”

Her tone sounds far too much like some kind of death bed confession and she hears the creak in her voice as she hisses, “Don’t...”

Alex shows no sign of hearing her as she whispers, “—whatever happens, I’m so glad I got to know you and grateful for the time we’ve had.”

“Damnit,” Cat hisses, startled by the agony of pure emotion threatening to shred her to pieces, especially when Alex literally peels her hands off to free herself. Every instinct resists the separation, but the chopper sounds are getting louder. She’s been through this kind of thing before. She should be inured to it, but Alex is so very human, and so very breakable in a way Kara isn’t.

“Get into the shelter and be safe,” Alex orders. “The stairway down is in the kitchen if Tru’s already gone down. I know her. She’ll be listening for you.” She arches up on her toes and kisses Cat on the forehead. “You’ll be okay.” She lets go and is moving in a second, her strides long and determined. A soldier off to war to protect what she holds dear.

Cat stands frozen for a moment as she hears the chopper swoop in and hover. The sound pulls her out onto the front porch where she can see it above the parking lot. It’s a big one, the sound loud, the wind it generates fast and harsh enough to burn her bare cheeks. A side door is open and Alex is sitting half inside, one foot braced on a skid while a woman in special ops black struggles with her armor in a way that suggests she hasn’t handled it before, at least not alone.

Cat slings on the tiger hoodie and runs for it. It’s an excuse to steal a few more minutes, or maybe just seconds of time. She’s been around enough helicopters that she automatically ducks as she draws close, even though this one is tall enough that it’s not necessary.

Looking up, Alex frowns, her breath visibly catching. “Cat, you should get downstairs,” she insists, raising her voice enough to be heard above the throb of the chopper blades.

Cat waves a hand to indicate the armor. “You looked like you could use a second set of hands.”

The look in dark eyes is a mix of gratitude and something far more complex, but when Alex draws a breath to answer, she’s already shaking her head to reject the idea.

The woman fumbling with her armor obviously reads the refusal as well because she talks fast to get her answer in first. “She’s right, Ma’am. I haven’t done this alone before and the shoulders aren’t lining up right.” She casts a quick look Cat’s way. “It would go better with two of us.”

Mouth pursing into a look of frustration, Alex finally gives way. “But move fast, Vasquez.” She jerks her head toward Cat. “She’s a civilian. We need to clear her out of here asap.”

“We will.”

As Cat rushes forward, the woman behind Alex starts a fast explanation as she holds up a section of the armor that Cat recognizes as fitting across the shoulder and down the arms. “The joints have to line up right,” she explains as she points at a section. “If they don’t, she won’t have a full range of movement, and won’t be able to take advantage of the armor’s full strength.”

Nodding her understanding, Cat reaches out, supporting one side of the unit and listening carefully to any instructions. She does something rare for her and quietly follows orders as she helps buckle Alex into the complex interlocking pieces.

It goes more smoothly with a second set of hands and each piece is quickly settled into place and properly latched and powered on. Despite the need to concentrate and listen to instructions, she’s intensely aware of Alex watching, and the occasional, reassuring brush of her hand.

They finish quickly, leaving her almost regretful that she made it go faster. As the last connection is secured and the armor glowing green, the other woman scrambles up into the chopper and grabs for an ear piece. Alex already has one clipped into place.

As she watches them move and sees determination settle onto their expressions, Cat feels like her feet have been glued to the ground and for a moment she can’t move.

“Cat...” Alex says, her tone gentle despite the need for volume to be heard over the helicopter. “We have to go.”

“Be careful.” Cat’s voice breaks and she hopes Alex can lip read because she’s pretty sure she doesn’t make any actual sound.

The look in dark eyes suggests Alex knows what Cat said, but she simply says, “Get into the shelter. You should be safe there.”

Then Cat’s fingers curl around the brace across Alex’s shoulders and she pulls her close enough that she can arch up on her toes and just barely reach to press a kiss onto full lips. “For luck.” Her smile is forced and watery and Alex’s no better, but she manages before the chopper starts to rise and she has no choice but to let go and step back.

The chopper rises fast, the spotlight beam sweeping across her, the light so bright she can only see the vague shape of Alex’s figure. She throws a rough salute and stumbles back another few steps as the wind whips her hair hard enough to leave her momentarily blind. By the time she can see again, the helicopter is high enough to safely roll into a turn before it straightens and tips into a steep angle as the pilot pours on the speed.

Cat tracks it closely, squinting to keep it in focus as it gets farther away. Tension ripples through her shoulders when she catches sight of a green glow that marks Alex’s armor along one side while the chopper’s sweeping spotlight momentarily highlights the flare of a bright red cape.

Her chest aches with fear for both of them and as she stares out, she automatically tries to assess the situation. She can make a rough guess as to the creature’s position by watching how the reflections on the water disappear. By her calculation, the helicopter is right above it when the green glow brightens, then arcs away from the helicopter before plunging straight down.

Cat’s breath catches and she bites hard on her lower lip.

Alex crashes feet first into the shadow creature, then hurtles upward again while Kara dives into the fight. The sounds that echo across the water aren’t loud, the fight is too far away, but they’re horrifying screams of rage and ugly tearing and cracking noises that Cat has no way of understanding. Alex and Kara are visibly working together as they coordinate to trade off attacks and gain time and space to hit with maximum power.

Cat doesn’t know what the hell the world can do if that’s not enough. She’s still standing there when she hears the oddly banal sound of a wood door slamming.

“Cat!” Tru sounds one small step from panicking. “You’ve gotta get down in the shelter!”

Pivoting, Cat offers a small, wry smile and waves the other woman off. “Go on—”

“Alex said—”

“Get in there. Your kids will be panicked.” She points up at the sky as she hears a distant throb of sound, not as loud or deep as the heavy military chopper that picked Alex up, but with a similar, albeit faster, rhythm. “I’ve got my own ride.”

Tru follows her gesture and grits her teeth. “Of course you do,” she grumbles, visibly scared and bordering on angry. “Just remember, if you get yourself killed, I will be seriously pissed because you’re the first person who’s offered some hope of successfully advertising this place.”

“Get down and get safe...” Cat pauses for a beat, though she knows she has to hurry. The CatCo helicopter is steeply angled and flying fast. “There are books and things in the room. They’re for my son, if—”

Tru doesn’t let her finish. “I’ll get them to you,” she says with heavy emphasis on the last word.

Not up to arguing and not liking the idea of pointing out how stupid what she’s planning is, Cat just points toward the house. “Go!” She tracks Tru long enough to make sure she’s inside, then she’s waving her arms to get the attention of and incoming helicopter as a search light sweeps across the courtyard.

She's relieved to see Gabriel Nash is flying. A retired military pilot out of the San Francisco branch, he’s the best pilot in CatCo’s employ, not to mention enough of an adrenaline junkie that he begs for these gigs. Where possible, she always sends him for super villains, killer wildfires, and anything else where wind and fire are likely to create dangerous turbulence.

He sweeps right in, landing a short distance away, though the skids never fully settle. He’s ready to move out fast. Despite his congenital insanity, he’s a careful pilot and very aware of his surroundings. Kara could keep her safer in the air, but not much of anyone else could.

Ducking, Cat rushes forward. He’s alone per her instructions. When James finds out, he’ll probably throw a fit and threaten to quit again, but while the Eurocopter AS350 carries four, she won’t put anymore lives at risk than necessary. Admittedly she’s no great camera woman, she can do the job well enough and she needs to be here.

The right side door is missing, open for camera access, so she quickly scrambles in. Gabe’s on the left as always. Most helicopter pilots use the right, but with the camera gear, the left makes more sense. As she settles herself, she notes the small monitors bolted to the panel in front of her. They’re already glowing softly, showing various camera positions bolted to the outside of the aircraft.

Gabe looks up, his smile as easy ever, though his eyes show more stress than usual. He’s still good looking and trim, but his hair’s thinned and there are deeper creases at the corners of his eyes and mouth. “Hey, Boss Lady.” He eyes her tiger jacket and ill fitting cargos with a raised brow. “Only you could make that look good.” The mild flirtation is automatic and oddly comforting. They slept together once over a decade ago, and while the sex was mediocre and the notion of romance equally unappealing to both of them, an oddly supportive friendship has remained. He turns his head to peer out at the fight they can barely see, squinting in an effort to bring it into focus. “You sure about this?” A small headshake emphasizes the question. “It’s likely to get nasty out there.” He’s been on enough “super hero runs” to assess the situation.

Her gaze follows his as she buckles in and slips on a headset that will let her hear him and any contact with the chopper. “Do you want out? I won’t push anyone into this.”

He shakes his head more firmly this time. “Nah, I heard the DEO chatter. Their pilot’s not good enough to keep eyes on the fight. They’ve pulled back to safe distance even though they need the intel. I’ve already contacted them to make sure they can see our broadcasts.” He looks over at her with a worried frown. “But we’ve got GoPros bolted to the frame. Not ideal, but coverage. You don’t have to do this.”

Settling in, she begins checking on the waiting camera. She offers a small shrug and a wry smile. “Yeah, I do.”

He grins, his expression understanding. “I wondered if you and blondie were...” He pauses for effect before finishing up with, “...close...”

The chopper starts to rise even as Cat lets out an annoyed snort. “She’s a friend,” she admits, well aware he’s distracting her because he knows how she hates the next part. “But not...” She trails off, nearly as uncertain how to describe what her relationship with Kara isn’t as what it is. “...it’s complicated.”

“Yours always are.” He chuckles, though she’s more aware of the change in his expression than the sound. Even noise cancelling headphones don’t damper the helicopter sounds enough to hear much. “So it’s the brunette, huh?”

Clearly, he’s covered enough of Supergirl’s fights to have noticed Kara’s backup just like Cat did.

“Asshole,” Cat growls without malice as they approach the cliff’s edge. Her breath catches in that moment. Wind shear right at the edge can make for a rough ride, but that’s not the worst of it.


“Gonna have to go in low,” he warns her. “It’s safer. We can use moonlight to see and avoid the DEO chopper.”

Cat understands instantly. Lights make you a target and being a target around the kinds of things Supergirl fights is a very bad idea. She barely manages to hold back an instinctive screech of stark terror as the chopper abruptly swings around and rolls to the side and over the cliff. For a moment they’re falling sideways and she’s staring straight down at choppy seas coming up fast.

She hates this maneuver even though she understands the need for it.

The falling sensation lasts only a second or two seconds before the helicopter rolls upright and they’re skimming just above the ocean where moonlight reflects off the water enough to let him kill the spotlight and come in dark. Her pulse stutters as she realizes he learned the skill in combat .

It’s a reminder, this is war.

Cat tries to hide her fear. She realizes she must not be succeeding very well because they haven’t gone far when he reminds her, “Still time to change your mind.”

Before she can reply, a silhouette moves ahead of them, blocking out the moon. Cat’s breath catches as she gets her first real look at the threat. It’s huge, the body massive and oddly proportioned. A part of her wants to scream, to turn and run.

Fingers claws into the camera hard enough it’s a wonder it doesn’t wind up in pieces, she forced the panicked impulse down. Cat Grant doesn’t run. Not now. Not ever. Teeth gritted, concentrating to keep her hands from shaking, she shakes her head.

Then she sees the huge silhouette at a fast moving figure lit by a splash of green. Alex. She manages to time a leap that takes her up over a second swing, buying Kara precious seconds to come in from the other side and deliver a flurry of blows. It’s a deadly game of tag with Alex as decoy.

“No running.” Whatever happens, she’s in now. “You said they need the intel.”

He nods then toggles a switch. “DEO One, this is CatCo-Chopper.” Another switch is toggled and the monitor bank in front of Cat blips. “All cameras operational and broadcasting live feed.”

She’s reminded they knew he was coming and he knows how to coordinate these things. Chances are the other pilot does too even if their primary orders are to stay the hell out of the way. It’s far from the first time they’ve shared broadcasts during an emergency.

“CatCo Chopper, position?”

“As always, hot and low.” Gabe somehow gives an suggestive twist to the words.

“Gotcha on visual and instruments,” the DEO pilot responds. “And you aren’t that hot, Nash.”

“Hey, you asked me to this party,” Gabe shoots back, his voice turning mocking as he adds, “Not my fault I’m irresistible...”

It’s not exactly standard flight chatter.

“Asshole,” Cat mutters under her breath.

He just smirks.

“...please tell me that wasn’t Cat Grant’s voice,” the DEO chopper responds, the voice on the other ending sounding annoyed, and Cat’s pretty sure she recognizes it as belonging to the brunette who helped Alex with her armor.

“I never lie like that, and boss lady never leads from the back of a charge.”

“I told you not to tell me that,” the DEO chopper snaps. Definitely the brunette. Vasquez, Cat manages to remember, though her attention was elsewhere at the time.

“They’re gonna kill us,” another voice complains over the headset. Probably the DEO chopper pilot.

Vasquez manages to stay focused. “I’ll let the big dogs know you’re up there to try and keep you clear, but I’m not telling them that. They’ll kill me.”

“Can we wait until we’ve all survived this party before worrying about who’s going to get killed?” Cat snaps impatiently. “Which is obviously me, by the way,” she snarks, not wanting anyone to think she’s less than the most important person there. “Not like I’d listen to orders from the lot of you.”

“I like her,” the chopper pilot comments in the background.

“Get in line.” Vasquez again, her tone rife with sarcasm.

“This conversation has more subtext and less bragging than I’m used to,” Gabe complains just loud enough to be heard.

“Fewer men,” Vasquez explains.

“Fair point.”

Cat ignores him, well aware that most people would be shocked by the chatter. She’s been around long enough that she gets it. They’re all scared. It releases some of the tension and allows them a last few minutes of denial that they aren’t very possibly on their way to die.

Then the creature howls and swings a tree trunk arm hard enough to send Kara flying.

“God,” Cat gasps, heart clenching as she sees a flash of red and blue go spinning away.

“Easy, Boss, she’s Supergirl. She’ll be okay.” Gabe’s trying to be soothing, but even he sounds shaken.

The chopper is a weird little bubble that gives some illusion of safety, but it’s very dark outside with little visibility, and what little they can see isn’t good. Cat’s ready to panic when Vasquez’s voice comes back over the headset. She sounds breathless and scared, but like she’s controlling it. “This is DEO-One, Supergirl’s okay. I’ve got her on visual and she’s flying back.”

Any chatter is over now as reality hits hard and fast. Denial is no longer an option.

Cat already has the camera up, but all she can see is grainy darkness until she finally manages to spot a tiny blip headed their direction. It gets larger fast and she spots a few bits of red and blue in the mostly monochrome image. Kara. Nearly invisible in the dark and moving with amazing dexterity, she darts through the air on her way to slinging punches at the creature that would probably take out large sections of the CatCo building.

“She’s back.” She points toward the red and blue figure. “There.”

Kara hits the creature hard enough to knock it back and Cat realizes there’s some kind of small island there as the flash of green that mark’s Alex’s armor arcs high on the way to landing again on a firm surface. She can’t fly with it, but her leaps must cover at least a hundred feet at times. When Kara disappears out of range, Cat swings the camera back to Alex. Hopefully it will help the DEO track her too.

Then Cat sees her leap again, the armor powerful enough to lift her high. At the apex of her jump, she fires some kind of weapon that sends bright bursts of energy at the creature as she flies on past to escape his attack.

Almost.

Cat can see what she meant to do, but despite its size, the creature is more nimble than it looks. A meaty limb swings faster than expected. The blow is no more than a glancing one, but Alex’s trajectory changes completely as she’s hurled helplessly out over open ocean.

“Oh, god.” Cat’s voice is little more than a tortured rasp, but she keeps the camera steady, tracking Alex’s arcing path.

Then suddenly Kara’s there, scooping her sister out of the air and climbing out of range of the next swing.

“Yes,” Cat hisses a beat later when Alex opens fire below them, the pattern an intricate lacework of light and energy that bounces and sparks as it hits the creature, highlighting the dim lines of red that glow like streamers of hot lava on jagged and pocked black, basalt flesh. The thing roars in fury, but when it swings its arms, they slap at the air well below its target.

“DEO-One, you seeing this feed?” Gabe demands as adjusts their position to get a better shot.

Vasquez responds in an instant. “Yeah, tell me you’re seeing damage to that thing because we aren’t.”

“Negative.”

It’s not the first time Cat’s heard him sound scared, but it may be the worst because there’s a sick note that goes far beyond personal fear of death to something much broader and deeper. It shakes her to the core and makes her a little desperate as she zooms in, hunting for any sign the attacks are having some effect. “Nothing,” she adds, feeling ill. Then before she can do more than draw a breath, another howl rents the night and the thing kicks off in a mad jump, the huge bulk bounding upward as massive arms swing.

Whether it’s because Kara’s slowing after the beating she’s taken or she doesn’t expect the speed of the attack, it’s impossible to tell. What is certain is that she doesn’t get out of the way in time. A massive arm crashes into her from behind and sends both women tumbling.

The helicopter’s so loud that Cat can’t hear herself, but she feels the vibration in her throat as she whimpers, “No.”

Kara and Alex plummet, a tiny plume of dust rising as they hit the minuscule patch of land they’ve been using as a base of operations.

Cat can’t see any sign of movement.

The creature is far enough away that it will take it time to reach them, but as Cat see it do a abrupt pivot, she realizes it’s already headed that direction. “DEO-One, they’re down and that thing is heading for them.”

“Understood,” Vasquez responds as a searchlight pops on and the military chopper carves an arc through the air and heads toward the fight. “CatCo chopper, pull back. We don’t have much armament, but we’ll be using everything we’ve got.”

Gabe’s already clearing the area when he asks, “TOW missiles?”

“Check...we’re down to two on each skid. They didn’t do much before, but after the beating that thing has taken, maybe now... After that, we’re out.”

“Move fast. You don’t have much time before your people will be in range too.”

Cat’s gaze is still locked on the video monitor. “Kara’s up,” she nearly shouts when she sees the blonde stagger to her feet. A beat, then Alex pushes to her knees, visibly moving slowly. She’s right in the path of the thing pursuing them when Kara leaps and flies in one, graceful move, rocketing straight at it.

“C’mon, knock it back,” Vasquez says, the words a prayer and as close to a whisper as is possible under the conditions.

As if on cue, Supergirl slams into the creature’s midsection, the sheer power and fury of her attack sending it back several steps. She pulls up short and Cat can see her scream, “Fire!” The sound of her voice bleeds over the headset, eerily soft in contrast to rage of her body language.

TOW missiles are small, short range, air to ground and ground to ground weapons principally designed as tank killers. Infrared guided, they’re accurate, but not terribly powerful, their primary task to drill a hole in the iron skin of a tank, then light it all on fire. Technically, they’re considered incendiaries—fire starters—not explosives. The first one hits the creature mid chest and sends up a burst of smoke and fire that nearly blinds any onlookers.

Trying to stay out of range, Gabe rolls the chopper to one side and skims far enough away to stay clear of any flames, but Cat feels the shudder of the air concussion as the missile hits.

Kara never pauses. Fire swirling around her, she just hits the thing again, driving it back another pace while it’s still off balance.

A second TOW strikes in a whirl of smoke and fire. It’s dramatic, but as the fire dies away, there’s still no sign of damage.

On the island, a bit of green light wavers against the darkness. Cat exhales a sigh of relief. Alex is still moving, even if it's slow and unsteady.

Meanwhile, Kara keeps hammering at the thing with the full might of her abilities, gaining a little more ground in her desperation.

Cat knows the girl. Whatever mistakes she might have made, she’s fighting for them all as she hits again and again, forcing it a little farther away with each flurry of blows.

A third missile hits though it’s off angle enough that Kara takes as much of the impact and flames as their attacker.

“CatCo chopper, clear the area,” Vasquez orders.

Gabe responds before she’s even finished. “Whatever you’re planning, DEO-One, hold off and pull back after you fire.” He grabs something from near his feet and shoves it at Cat with a sharp, “Use the shells on top.”

Cat doesn’t ask, there’s no time. She just lodges the camera on the carrier on the dash meant to contain it, and flips open the box to stare at the item on top. At first she thinks it’s a handgun, but a huge caliber, a .45 or a magnum, then she realizes the barrel is too big even for that. It’s a flare gun, bigger than she’s ever seen before, and black steel, not the usual emergency orange. It looks more like a weapon of war than something used to call for help. She doesn’t need any explanations to understand Gabe has a plan.

“Damnit, CatCo. Clear the area,” Vasquez repeats, sounding genuinely pissed and no longer trying to use even a pretense of normal communication handles.

“If you’re thinking of ramming that thing with your chopper, it won’t work,” Gabe argues. “It probably won’t notice and you’ll end up dead. You need a new plan. We’re faster than you are and I’m a helluva lot better pilot. So, new plan: we get the big bad’s attention, pull it off and give you time to pick up your people—”

“And probably get yourselves killed—”

The fourth missile impact interrupts the argument. The chopper rocks a bit, but quickly stabilizes, angling a little closer the moment they’re steady. Cat registers what’s going on, but she’s busy fiddling with the flare gun. It’s simple. When unlatched the barrel rocks up to allow it to be loaded. The shells are a little longer than a shotgun shell and at least twice as thick around. Her hands should probably be shaking, but they’re remarkably steady.

“They’re custom loads,” Gabe tells her. “But it’s not like shooting a gun. They won’t fly straight. They’ll arc up, then down again and move a lot slower. I’ll get us as close as I can, but you need to see what the first shot does, so you know how to adjust, Plan on shooting at least twice.”

She doesn’t question his belief it’ll do what he plans on, just shoves a round into place and snaps the barrel shut. The helicopter is tipped to move fast, but far from maximum speed. The interior is barely lit by the reflected light of the instrument panel. It’s just enough illumination to let her double check the flare gun. She swallows hard and muscles ripple up and down her arms as she fights a tremor. “We can do this,” she mutters to herself, unintentionally loud enough to be heard

“The hell you can,” Vasquez breaks in, her voice hard with frustration. “I told you to pull back,” she says as though she’s just registered that her orders haven’t been followed.

“Look,” Gabe shoots back, sounding more like the officer he was than the news jockey he’s become. “This is planetary survival at stake and they’re a lot more important than we are. You know that.”

“Dammit,” Vasquez growls, her voice softening and turning desperate sounding as she all but begs, “Don’t do this.”

Gabe glances over at Cat and offers a small lopsided smile that silently acknowledges both the years of friendship and her status as his superior. “Yay or nay, boss?” His expression tells her he already knows the answer.

Then Kara flies at the beast again, only this time it hits back faster than expected, its whole body hurtling into the blow with so much force even Supergirl can’t stand against it. She goes flying and doesn’t catch herself ths time, instead arcing high, her body limp, before she drops straight down, hitting the water with a splash.

Go!” Cat nearly screams, bracing herself as the chopper tips forward and accelerates.

“CatCo, Pull back!” It’s Vasquez’ turn to scream.

Afraid of losing the precious shells, Cat shoves the spares into the cargo pocket on her thigh, then leans out the open door in order to see her target better, trusting the seat belt to keep her from falling.

With the wind whipping her hair and threatening to dislodge the headset, she can barely hear Vasquez, just a few disjointed orders to back off. Cat ignores the shouts, her entire being focused on the living shadow they’re fast approaching. She’s lost all sight of everything else and can only pray she’s making the right decision.

The creature shows no sign of being aware of their presence.

They’re almost on top of the thing when Gabe slows the chopper and swings it around like an old sailing ship coming to broadsides. He positions the chopper so the creature’s back is to them, massive and intimidating. An easy target. It gives Cat the best chance. The wind pressure from the rotors is enough to make her arm ache, but she holds the makeshift weapon as steady as she can.

And fires.

The flare takes off with a thudding retort that’s nearly lost under the sound of the helicopter. She’s fired guns a few times while researching stories, knows what they sound like, what the recoil feels like . This is completely different. There’s a slight jerk, but no wrist grinding impact and the sound is duller and deeper with no sound-barrier breaking crack. She yanks her hand back, fumbling to reload while keeping her eyes on the trail of smoke and bright bead of fire that marks the flare.

It curves away from her intended path, then back again, white and painfully bright. Light and smoke reflect off the water showing more of the creature’s bulk and how the water comes up to its upper legs, slowing it as it slogs through the tide.

Cat’s always been good at spatial problems and she sees the geometry in her head. The makeshift missile is still in flight when she calculates it’ll hit, but to the side and high.

She pops the flare gun open, dropping the smoking empty to the floor at her feet, then jams a fresh load into place without waiting for the impact. They don’t have time.

The flare hits the thing’s right shoulder in a burst of fire and clouds of white smoke. It jerks, an arm flinging wide and spins faster than she expects. They’re close enough that she can see the lines of red that mar the craggy surface of its skin. They’re heavier and more jagged than she realized, with a faint glow that’s brighter at the center and fades toward the edges.

They give her a point of focus, a target.

Time feels like it’s slowed, but she distantly realizes it’s the effect of adrenaline and stark terror. It makes her that much more aware of a thousand tiny details she’d normally miss. She feels how steady Gabe is somehow keeping the chopper and appreciates that he doesn’t offer anymore advice, just trusts her judgment. She feels the downward pressure of the wind from the chopper rotors and hears the faint, tinniness of Vasquez screaming at them. The sound is soft, distant, and utterly irrelevant.

Arm outstretched, she aims with more confidence. Another pop and a loud hiss that she more feels that hears, and the flare is away. The curve of its path is expected this time and she knows it will hit, but she drops the empty shell and reloads fast, her hands steadier than they have any right to be.

Then the flare strikes, bright light gleaming off jet black skin and threaded red marks. The neck is marred and uneven, the crimson glow brighter in a way she distantly thinks has meaning, but doesn’t have time to contemplate. She strips out the shell, drops in a fresh one, aims, and fires so fast the second flare is still in flight when the first one hits.

The thing tips its head back and suddenly it’s roaring, screaming really, the sound a grating feral howl of rage.

And pain?

Given how it barely seemed to notice the TOW missile impact, it seems impossible and yet...

Suddenly Cat freezes, head tilting to one side and eyes narrowing as she studies the red glow. It seems like it's spreading and growing brighter, but she doesn't trust her senses.

Before she can decide it screams again, the maw of its mouth, cracking wide, basalt arms swinging high.

“Got its attention,” Cat shouts in case he’s too focused on flying to see. “And pissed it off.”

He nods quickly enough to tell her he’s aware. “Time to run,” he growls, already banking the chopper and bringing it around. “Keep an eye out and let me know what’s happening.”

Cat twists around in her seat as she feels the helicopter accelerate into the turn, trying to see the thing and catching only patchy glimpses. It’s enough to confirm the plan worked. “It’s following,” she assures him, breath catching as she glimpses the way the thing literally leaps after them. “It can jump at least as high as we are.”

She knows he’s heard by the way the chopper quickly accelerates to its top speed.

At first, it’s a straightforward race, running fast even as they pull the creature away from Alex and Kara and try to stay clear. They’ve bought them time. Now it’s time to worry about their own survival which, as Cat gets a look at how fast and agile the thing is, feels nowhere near guaranteed.

They’re running, but it’s gaining.

Then it gets close enough to make a wild, swinging leap. An arm sweeps by under the skids, the movement displacing enough air that the chopper bobbles. Gabe steadies, but then rolls sideways to drop under another attempted blow before spinning and regaining the lost altitude.

The thing screams again and pivots, unbalancing itself in it wild pursuit, the stumble enough to buy them a few precious seconds, but it’s soon coming at them again.

They’re playing mosquito to an annoyed picnicker that keeps swinging and missing, but sooner or later, they’ll get swatted.

The chopper rolls again, turning inland.

“There are homes...people on the cliffs ahead,” Cat shouts as they draw dangerously close to shore. If the creature starts punching into those rocks, god only knows who might pay.

He just nods, but suddenly they’re angling up and around, a massive fist swinging by so fast and close that for a moment, all Cat can see is the creature’s chest.

Only this time the jagged red lines aren’t just glowing faintly, they’re flickering and there are bits of amber and even white. “It’s burning.”

“What?”

“The chest, where there red veins are.” Cat’s breathing hard and twisting, trying desperately to see better, terrified she’s wrong. “It’s burning...where the flares hit. It’s burning!”

“What the hell was in those flares?” Vasquez demands, breaking in for the first time since the creature started pursuing the CatCo chopper.

“I think it was wounded,” Cat insists. “It’s burning where it was hurt—” Her answer ends in a small scream as the chopper’s bounced around and she’s forced to grab hold of anything she can reach and brace herself. She’s painfully aware of the opening next to her and the fact that the seatbelt is the only thing keeping her from a very bad fall.

They barely avoid impact as a wild swing sweeps just behind the tail rotor.

“White phosphorous,” Gabe yells. “About six ounces in each flare.”

When exposed to oxygen, white phosphorous burns at five thousand degrees fahrenheit. It’s long been used to mark enemies and give camouflage to friendlies in time of war. Using it in an emergency flare is illegal as hell and might well constitute a war crime, but Cat gets it. It’s not the first time he’s faced big bads while working for CatCo.

Then her concentration is back on their pursuer as the chopper swings wildly, trying to get around it. She sees the energy burn on its chest, considerably larger now. “It was bleeding,” she says, suddenly confident of the meaning of what she saw and certain they need to know that while she can still tell them. “Its blood burns—”

And then a massive arm crashes into the chopper.

Where before, time moved slowly, suddenly it moves so fast that Cat is aware of little more than being violently shaken and the scream of plastic and metal being shredded.  Almost instantly, te helicopter is shattered into pieces, the cockpit breaking around her as she's slammed into the frame. Flying debris impacts her temple and she loses all sense of time as she's tumbled.

Time slows again, and she hangs in mid air, still belted to the seat and the remains of one side of the cockpit. She's staring up at the stars, intensely aware of the brightness of the moon and the pale haze of the Milky Way. As last sights go, it's not bad she decides. She glimpses something red and blue, and is oddly disappointed that her brain conjured that image instead of dark eyes and a shy smile. For a second it seems like her fall slows, then suddenly a second impact has her screaming as a rush of ice cold water crashes over her and she grabs one last breath.

Then everything goes quiet and she’s wrapped in darkness and cold, her brain feeling utterly detached from her body as she realizes she’s in the water.

And sinking fast.

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Kara has never been a good swimmer. When she was Kara Zor El of the House of El, it wasn’t a concept she even heard of. Krypton was never a world blessed with an abundance of water and during her childhood the natural waterways were too few and too polluted for any such activity. As for pools and fountains, water had been too precious a commodity by then for her people to waste it on artificial constructs much larger than a bathtub. As a result she never imagined huge expanses of it, and when she arrived on Earth, she found them overwhelming. Simply put, they frightened her. Alex’s youthful resentment of her presence and total comfort in the water did nothing to alleviate her fears and left her even more determined to avoid the whole concept. It was only her adoptive parents’ fears that finally pushed her to learn to swim and even then, it was a halfhearted effort at best.

Her continuing ignorance was a poor choice. She needs oxygen as much as any human.

She can drown.

Something she’s very aware of when the creature hits her hard enough to send her flying. She splashes down and sinks, her lungs already burning, her body too weak and battered to let her do more than raise a limp hand. It doesn’t help. In fact it accelerates her descent, which she finds confusing. Already dazed, she doesn’t comprehend she’s pushed herself down, not up.

She’s not good in the water and never has been. Mostly she doesn’t swim so much as ‘fly’ in the water, using her abilities to cheat and levitate. The fact that Alex has mocked her ‘stroke’ on more than one occasion only exacerbates the tendency.

It’s her own damn fault, she realizes as she drifts lower. Too inexperienced to understand that even Kryptonian bodies can break down after enough blows, she never planned on what to do if her powers failed her and swimming was the difference between life and death. It suddenly occurs to her how much she’s likely to pay for youthful arrogance.

Still sinking, she tips her head back, brows drawing into a frown as she see the faint glimmer of stars so far away. She wonders if any part of her home galaxy is showing. It does sometimes. She used to track it obsessively, but she’s given that up, finally accepting it’s long gone and reflected bits of long since extinguished light won’t change that.

She knows she should try to paddle toward the fading glimmer, but she’s so tired and there’s no part of her body that doesn’t ache. She can’t summon the strength to even try.

She’s still drifting when the water above her churns. Her heart sinks as she sees Alex drop past her and realizes the rock monster has found another victim. It’s enough to motivate her to lift her arm and grab for her sister, but oxygen deprivation has stolen her strength and Alex slips on by. She’s so sorry. Alex deserved better. She’s still sinking when the water churns again, but this time it’s below her and suddenly Alex is rocketing upward, her expression twisted into a grimace of determination.

She surges past Kara, grabbing her uniform at the nape and dragging her along for the ride.

Then suddenly her head is breaking the surface and she’s dragging in a gasping breath as Alex screams at her, “FLY, GODDAMNIT!” Losing momentum almost instantly, Alex starts sliding back down, though she’s thrashing, frantically trying to keep them both afloat even as the armor’s weight threatens to pull her back under.

Kara grabs another breath, head clearing a little as she realizes that Alex must have used the armor’s power to kick off the bottom and haul them both to the surface. It’s a small chance, bought at a horrible risk for herself. If Kara can’t help, Alex is likely to be weighted back down and drown when she might otherwise survive.

Knowing her sister’s life is at stake, Kara digs deep. Beat to hell, uncertain she even can fly, she somehow finds enough strength to float herself to the surface, then pull Alex up too when she starts to sink. She gets an arm around Alex’s torso. She can’t lift her fully out of the water, but she manages to keep her head up and tow her closer to the glorified rock they’ve been using as a base of attack. She’s not sure how long it takes, but finally Alex plants her feet, taking her own weight, then Kara’s again when her knees buckle and she all but collapses. Grunting softly, Alex pulls Kara’s arm across her shoulders and slips an arm around her waist, keeping her upright.

“C’mon,” she gasps. “Gotta keep moving.”

Teeth gritted with determination, Kara manages one step then another, and they begin a painfully slow slog toward the small bit of shore.

“We. Are. Not. Dying. Out. Here,” Alex insists, the words coming in meter with her stumbling steps. “Not. Yet. Not. Here.”

Kara’s not so sure about that, but her sister’s certainty buoys her hopes. She half expects the lava creature to come for them, but they stumble forward unmolested. She catches a glimpse of the DEO helicopter hovering not far away, their spotlight sweeping back and forth, clearly searching. Unfortunately, her communications link is either lost or shorted out, so there’s no way to signal them or get any updates. She thinks she should try and fly, but her feet feel like lead and she can barely walk. Flying doesn’t seem like an option.

Still, they’re alive.

She’s not sure how long they’ve been struggling forward or how far they’ve gone when she suddenly realizes the water resistance that fought their every step is gone.

As if to confirm her prayers, Alex mutters, “We’re there.” Letting go of Kara’s arm, she pitches forward to her knees.

Kara just stands there, too weak to even collapse.

The helicopter sweeps by overhead and she thinks maybe she should try to wave to get their attention. Maybe the lava monster has helpfully left or dropped dead of a heart attack. She’ll take either one. She’s still trying to clear her head and figure out what to do when a mosquito buzz of sound penetrates her brain.

It’s followed by a screaming roar that echoes across the water, the sound screechy and painfully loud for her, though she knows Alex probably barely hears it. She looks up, searching for a source, certain their missing lava monster is on the move again and terrified she won’t be able to do anything about it. She’s ashamed to realize how grateful she is when she spots it and realizes it’s nowhere too close. Instead, it’s moving fast near shore, screaming its rage. Or maybe its happy it’s winning the fight. She doesn’t know. She’s just sure she hates the damn thing.

And then she hears a human voice hidden in the din, human and horrifyingly familiar.

“It was bleeding.” Cat sounds breathless and scared. Kara’s only heard that fear a time or two. The woman’s faced down alien queens, monsters, and Chipotles burritos with equal aplomb. Actually, now that she thinks about it, she was probably most creeped out by the burrito. Cat’s picky about her food on her best day.

“How...” Kara exhales, thinking maybe it’s a radio or TV playing in a house on the cliffs. Her super hearing fools her that way sometimes. She’s heard Cat in the strangest places at the strangest times, the sound of it is always enough to give her hope and revive her faith. The woman has failings, but Kara’s seen how much she cares, how much she’s willing to sacrifice for others.

“Its blood burns—” It’s not the fear that hits Kara in that moment, it’s the desperation to get a message out.

That’s not a recording. Cat’s there.

“Cat.” Kara’s voice is raw with disbelief as she pivots, hunting with eyes that can see more than any human ever will. She knows she’s there. She can hear her heart running fast and scared. Cat has the tiniest bit of an arrhythmia that only shows up when she’s stressed. It’s minor, nothing life threatening, but distinctive. She’s suddenly aware that Alex has pushed to her feet and is standing next to her as the rushing sound of her sister’s pulse nearly overwhelms everything else.

“There,” Alex suddenly hisses as she points at a red and silver helicopter that rises above the edge of the cliffs and is momentarily silhouetted against a few distant lights.

The single word is barely out of her mouth when a massive stone limb seems to separate itself from the shadowy cliffs and slams into the distant helicopter with a crashing, tearing sound that draws a soft cry from both of them.

Not part of the cliffs, but in front of them, Kara realizes as she sees a black silhouette and flickers of red.

“GO!” Alex screams.

Kara feels the rush of air as her sister moves to shove her forward. Alex never makes contact. contact. Kara is already in flight and moving as fast as she’s able. Under normal circumstances that would put her at the crash before Alex’s heart has managed a full beat. Battered as she is, she’s nowhere near that fast. She’s still getting there as she watches the chopper shatter into three main pieces and a thousand bits of debris. The tail section shears loose and tumbles while the cockpit cracks almost down the middle with the main rotor still attached to one side and still spinning with enough energy to drag it toward land.

Meanwhile, Cat’s in the smaller section and getting slammed around as it rolls and plummets straight down.

With no time for delicacy, Kara lunges after the half carrying Cat. She grabs for the chopper’s frame, well aware of the way metal creaks and shudders as she attempts to slow its descent. She can’t do anything too fast or it will all come apart and she’s terrified that if she just grabs for Cat, things will go wrong too quickly for her to protect the other woman. She’s still belted in, but hanging limp in her seat. One mistake and she could be torn apart almost instantly.

Muscles straining, Kara pulls against its fall, trying to decelerate the remains of the craft enough to give it a gentle landing without it coming apart.

She almost makes it.

The fuselage section is only a little above the surface of the water when the frame cracks again, metal bits and any remaining glass shattering away. She’s slowed it massively, but her strength is failing her and she’s running out of time. She’s got to get it down before it shatters and she still has some control.

The last few yards are fast journey, but still slower than gravity, hopefully enough to protect the woman inside.

The remaining skid hits the water and shears away almost instantly as the body of the chopper shakes and rattles, then shudders violently and drops faster than Kara expects. Suddenly all she’s holding is torn metal and a few attached chunks of broken glass as steel hits the water and starts to roll. Flying hard, Kara makes a fresh grab for anything she can reach, barely keeping the shattered aircraft body from tumbling with its momentum. It’s still rocking, but no long moving out of control.

To her left and toward the top of the cliffs, the rotors are bearing down on a house on shore. It will shred the building and anyone inside and crush the pilot still belted to his seat. Too many are likely to die.

The devil and the deep blue sea has never felt so literal.

Kara sees Cat move ever so slightly and green eyes flutter. The fuselage bobs and rocks, but doesn’t seem to be on the verge of sinking. She hates it, but she has to hope Cat will be okay until she can get back.

Saying a small prayer, Kara flies.

She’s moving slowly. It takes her several seconds to catch up to the other half of the chopper body, and more time still to come up with a plan. Normally, her brain works as fast as her body. At this precise moment, it’s hard to remember her own name.

It takes her at least another full second.

She grabs for the frame with her right hand, hoping to steady the shaking craft and bring it under control. It jitters and fights her until she shoves her free hand up, holding it flat in a makeshift blade that she forces into the rotor blades’ path. The rapidfire impacts are jarring enough that she’s bounced around and barely keeps the chopper from careening off again. She knows it’s not possible, but for a moment, she’s terrified of losing her arm. Instead, the rotor blades are sliced away in a couple of spins. It’s not neat, but it’s fast.

And it hurts. Kara yanks her hand back down as the pain catches up with the recognition of it, momentarily leaving her confused and scared she’s damaged the limb. Somehow she manages to hold on, barely keeping the remaining chunk of fuselage from arcing away on a new path, but the weight throws her off balance. She loses altitude faster than she’d hoped for and the body starts coming apart. The pilot’s still strapped into his seat, but too limp to do anything to save himself. With no other choice, she grabs the reinforced seat frame and wrenches it loose, swatting flying debris aside as she hauls it clear. The rest of the cockpit breaks up so fast it’s like it just disintegrates.

The seat frame holds together, giving her time to clear the area. She gets the pilot to the cliff’s. It’s quiet and seems secure and near enough a road that hopefully he’ll be easily spotted. As she settles the seat on the ground, the pilot lifts his head and nods, reaching for a breast pocket with obvious difficulty. “Go,” he rasps. “Emergency beacon.” He taps a device clipped there. “Already send’n...help.”

Her knees shaky with exhaustion, Kara nods wordlessly. “People will get to you,” she assures him, then turns only to freeze as she searches the water below her position. She can see debris on the water.

But not the other part of the fuselage.

Not Cat.

“No, no, no, no,” she breathes, the pilot forgotten in an instant.

Again, she flies.

But this time she’s crisscrossing the sky above turbulent seas, her speed desperate, moves unusually uncoordinated, though she knows enough to at least try and use a grid pattern in her search. She knows roughly where the fuselage was. This should be easier, but she’s not thinking clearly. As she stares down through the water, she checks every level of the spectrum possible, desperate for any clue that will help her find the other woman.

Suddenly she spots something reflective against the silt and rock of the bottom. She aims straight down, and grabs a breath at the last second before diving deep and using her powers to push herself farther and faster.

Teeth gritted against the urge to panic, she keeps her eyes on the prize. Water is an excellent conductor of sound, but an imperfect one. She hears too much, but doesn’t know how to sort the din that assaults her ears. She can’t tell crushing footsteps from heavy motor engines and the whale cries in the background aren’t helping any.

The only thing she knows for certain is she recognizes Cat’s distinctive arrhythmia, running too fast and nowhere near as stable as she wants, but running. Her own heart beating hard, her lungs feeling on fire, she pushes deeper.

Then suddenly, she’s almost on top of steel and glass that are so bent and broken it’s a wonder they’re holding together at all. It evades her first reach and she realizes it’s still sinking. A quick glance up tells her she’s not really all that deep, it just feels like the bottom of the world. Pushing deeper, she grabs for the first thing she comes to, a shard of metal that curves away from what appears to be the front windshield. It bends again, metal that’s been too torqued and overstressed turning brittle in her hand.

It doesn’t so much break as powder, a chunk of metal turning to grit and small pieces in her grip.

She lets go, grabs again, a more secure purchase this time. Every muscle in her body on fire, she lifts. More things break and she loses too much of the ground gained, but she gets a fresh hold, this time the seat still bolted to the frame. She knocks away several bits and pieces, then braces herself. A flashing glare sends a quick pulse of energy at the base of the seat, cutting through steel bolts.

The seat comes free with a sharp yank. She considers pulling Cat loose from the straps, but feels too fumble fingered to be sure of doing so without hurting her.

She can still hear her heartbeat, so she knows she’s not too late.

She tips her head back, painfully aware of the distance to the surface. It may be less than she initially thought, but it still seems too great for the little time she has to get there.

Cat’s heart is still beating, but it’s too soft and fast and she’s limp in the seat, her limbs and hair floating around her. She looks like she’s already gone.

Kara knows herself. She can’t swim that distance, not now, and not while dragging so much weight. If she doesn’t fly, they both die. Pulling her precious burden along, she manages to levitate a couple of yards, but her abilities are flagging. She’s not moving fast enough. She’s close to surrendering when Cat moves, head tipping back as she blinks dazedly, her gaze unfocused. Her movements sluggish, she reaches for the underside of the seat, fumbling with something that refuses to come free. Kara knows Cat well enough to realize nothing is random with this woman. She doesn’t give up and always has a plan. Hauling the seat higher, Kara ducks down until she spots the tangle and reaches for it, yanking a metal bar loose and freeing something orange and flexible.

It takes her a moment to realize it’s an inflatable life vest. As Cat pulls it up, she sees a handle on the upper chest marked, ‘Pull’. A surge of hope gives her enough strength to fumble the latch on Cat’s seatbelt loose and wrap an arm around the other woman’s waist before shoving the heavy steel frame and padding away.

It sinks and everything feels so much lighter, Kara begins to believe this is doable. She initially tries to put the vest on the proper way, but Cat jerks and lets out a burst of air with a tiny cry. Kara’s gaze drops to the other woman’s forearm as she notes the way Cat pulls it tight against her body.

The limb doesn’t look good. There are a myriad of deep scratches and it’s already swollen. When Kara uses her X-ray vision, it reveals at least one fracture between her elbow and wrist, maybe more. Kara’s grasp of anatomy isn’t her strongest skillset.

It catches her by surprise when Cat reaches with her other hand. Her movements painfully slow, she hooks her arm through the horseshoe shape meant to go around the back of her neck.

Realizing her plan, Kara pushes it into place and yanks the pull tab even as she tightens her hold.

The vest expands explosively, a high pressure air cartridge enough to fill it almost instantly. Suddenly they’re rising.

It takes her a second to process that while they’re moving, it’s not as fast as they need. The vest wasn’t designed to lift two bodies. She can hear how sluggish and ragged Cat’s hearbeat has become and wonders if maybe she should let go. The vest would have a better chance with less weight attached. With only her own weight, she could probably swim it. She’s still mulling the idea when Cat’s hand brushes her neck and curls into the deadweight of the cape. Kara looks up, blue eyes meeting green and she has the sense Cat knows the direction of her thought by the way her grip tightens and she shakes her head.

But the beat of her heart seems too scant to last long enough for them to ascend.

Maybe it’s just a fever dream, but it feels like death is chasing them and the world is growing darker. Kara kicks hard, taking her own weight and rising higher on Cat’s body until they’re nose to nose. Tightening her hold fractionally, she covers Cat’s mouth with her own and blows the remaining breath in her lungs into Cat’s.

It’s not a kiss. At least it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be a breath of life to buy a few more seconds. It’s not meant to taste of that other moment, the one that was a kiss. It’s not meant to taste of Cat Grant.

And it doesn't. It's just brine and seaweed. There’s nothing of Cat there, but there should be. The sense of loss is unexpected, as though she’s stepped through some invisible door and ended up on the other side of a divide she didn’t even know was there.

It’s some primal instinct that drives her to regain what's been lost by turning what isn’t and shouldn’t be a kiss into one. She feels the shudder that ripples through the woman in her arms even as the hand at her shoulder goes from pulling to pushing.

Kara knows she’s made a horrible mistake, but there’s no time, and no way to rectify it as her head breaks the surface and they have more immediate problems. She gasps in a breath of air and pulls Cat up with a rasped command. “Breathe.”

A wave washes over them and for a moment, Kara fears she’s being pummeled by the monster again, but it washes on past and with it the sense of being hunted. It’s just the tide on a body unused to feeling pain and gravity, she realizes.

Cat gags and coughs, shuddering in Kara’s hold as she fights to get a breath between harsh spasms.

“I’ve got you,” Kara assures her, shielding her from the rolling waves as best she can in a difficult environment. “We’re gonna be okay.”

But the water’s buffeting them around, beating on her and leaving her afraid she might just sink again. Grabbing a deep breath, They need to escape while they can. Kara scoops the smaller woman up, determined to get them both clear. Flying takes gritting her teeth and forcing it like she’s had to do few times in her life, but with Cat secure in her arms, she finally rises. The other woman'a limp except for for the violent coughing, but Kara can feel her chest expand as she struggles to breathe. She doesn’t fight when Kara tugs her head so she’s leaning against Kara’s shoulder “You’ll be okay,” Kara assures her. “I promise.” It’s only a short distance to shore. It hurts to fly that far, the blood in her veins feeling like hot melted lead, but she manages. She finally drops heavily to land with thud on a brief stretch of wet sand.

There are craggy rocks along the beach. She can feel the sharp edges of every one through the soles of her boots as she carries Cat higher. She debates taking her up to where she left the pilot, but her limbs are so heavy she can feel every step all the way through her legs. She wonders if this is what humans feel like every day. If so, she pities them.

Cat leans against her, but the coughing doesn’t let up, leaving her to grab quick breaths between slowing spasms. Finally, they reach the base of the cliffs, putting them clear of any waves. Kara drops to her knees and eases Cat down, seeing the way she flinches and leans heavily against an upthrust of rock.

Kara feels like she should say something, but has no idea what. Things have changed between them. She knows much of it is her doing, and while she doesn’t want it, she has no idea how to fix it. She’s never been good with change, whereas Cat is one to seek it out. Her impressive list of divorces would point to that even without speeches about the need to dive.

“I found your pilot,” she whispers when she finally speaks. “He’s up on the cliffs, has an emergency beacon of some kind. He was kinda banged up, but I don’t think there was anything life threatening.”

Cat nods, then coughs again. Her color looks better and she’s slowly breathing more and gagging less.

Kara just stares, not quite believing the woman is here, though she’s oddly certain it confirms her suspicions that Cat slipped away from National City and has been with someone, lost in empty sex with some beautiful body. She knows Cat’s done that before, disappeared for a few days with pretty men and women. Despite any desire to ask, she holds back. Cat would be furious if she realized Kara knows how to track her accounts. The woman likes her privacy. Kara knows she shouldn’t have done it, should have just gone away with Mon El the way she planned, but he was taunting her, making snide remarks and sneering suggestions and she just wanted something to fling back at him. She didn’t even have a plan beyond the certain knowledge that Cat’s name always gets under his skin.

But now she’s staring down at Cat and there’s blood and broken bone and they all came a hair’s breadth from dying. Suddenly it all seems immature and petty. She wishes Cat would make some snarky comment to lighten the mood. Even at death’s door, she’s done it in the past.

This time Cat just coughs again, gasping, then spitting up more water until finally she tips her head back and heaves a ragged sigh. Clearly spent, she leans heavily against the rocks at her back and carefully cradles her left arm against her body. Kara notes she’s bleeding from a wound at her hairline as crimson washes down the side of her face and drips onto her shirt and pants. Probably more seawater than actual blood she decides when she notes how thin and pale it is. A quick scan suggests there’s only a small injury.

Kara wants to demand what the hell she was thinking, flying into a fight like that, but the words don’t come. She’s still trying to figure out how to upbraid the other woman when Cat drops her injured left hand and fumbles with the cargo pocket on her thigh. With sticky wet clothes and an injured arm, it’s not a graceful process, and Kara barely resists the urge to ignore the hand waving her back. Finally, Cat comes up with a pair of what look like oversized shotgun shells. She shoves them at Kara. “The flares we used,” she explains. “I think it has to be wounded to work though.” She coughs again, getting it under control with effort before adding. “I hit it a couple of times, but it didn’t light until after there was some kind of wound on its neck or upper chest. It was glowing.”

Reminded how close the woman came to dying, Kara growls a soft curse. “How could you be so—” she snaps her mouth shut only to burst out, “You could have been killed.”

Cat just shrugs. “Hardly makes me unique.”

Her wry tone is almost a relief even as it reminds Kara there are still monsters out there. She shoves the flares into a hidden pocket, then pushes to her feet. “I...” Still not knowing what to say, she pivots and glances across the cove where they’ve found themselves. They’re away from any action, but now that she’s listening, the sounds of it echo across the water, louder and more dangerous than she hoped for. She needs to go, even if it feels far too soon. She stares down at the ground between her boots, feeling guilty at the notion of leaving Cat here alone. “I...uh...I—”

“Oh god.” Cat’s voice reaches her, soft and sick with horror. Kara hears a soft grunt and the slap of wet clothing. Cat shouldn't be able to move fast, but she's already on her feet when Kara looks up, then spins toward the sea.

The monster’s out there, massive and threatening as it staggers back into view, no longer shielded by a nearby rock promontory. It should be good news that it’s moving away the shore, but it’s also headed toward Alex.

“That thing...it’s...” Cat doesn’t finish, but she sounds so scared that Kara has to fight the urge to sweep her up in a protective hold.

Because it truly is a lava monster now. The fire has spread, turning it into a volcanic tiki torch from hell. It’s still moving, taking giant, staggering steps through water that hisses and boils around it.

It’s headed for a speck of green light, far from them, but too close to the monster.

“Alex,” Kara exhales in horror. Her vision lets her see the desperation in her sister's eyes and the cuts and bruises on her face and hands. She's running out of time. 

“It’s after her,” Cat adds and Kara barely registers that she’s now standing close and staring toward the creature. Cat can't see as much, but she can see enough.

As if to emphasize the comment, the tiny speck of green takes off running. Alex avoids the thing hunting her, but that can’t last long. The island’s too small to buy her much time.

“Help her.” Cat’s voice is raspy and  so scared it hurts to hear it. She pushes at Kara’s shoulder with her wounded arm, crying out softly at the contact, though she doesn’t lessen the pressure.

Kara doesn’t have time to think about it or wonder why.

She just has time to fly and she might not even have time for that because, while Alex avoids the incoming sweep of a fiery arm, she’s nearly out of land. She bounds high and avoids another swat, but she hits the end of the rocks and just barely has enough space to kick off one more time.

The DEO helicopter is flying overhead, trying to draw the lava monster’s attention without success.

Kara sees the way her sister leaps. With no options left, she’s clearly making a desperate attempt to reach the chopper.

She won’t make it. The angle’s wrong and the armor, while impressive, can't get her high enough. Kara throws every bit of her remaining speed into the race. Somehow she gets ahead of the thing, scooping her hands under Alex’s arms to lift her clear. The sliding door along the side of the chopper is slung open and suddenly Vasquez is there. She’s wearing a safety harness and night vision goggles and braces herself as she gets a look at them.

Kara’s still moving fast, but it’s mostly momentum carrying her forward. Her strength is finally cutting out as she reaches the skid and somehow gets a foot up and braced. She grabs for the floor of the chopper and uses the last of her strength to sling Alex to safety.

That last push is enough to make her knees buckle and leave her unbalanced. Thinking maybe she’s going to fall she wonders if her powers are completely blown, wonders if the fall will be as fatal for her as it would be for a human.

She thinks it’s worth it if Alex is okay.

Her hand slips and as she starts to fall, she twists enough to get a look at the creature below them. It’s curiously beautiful, with glowing embers and a deepening layer of ash. It moves jerkily, bits crumbling away from an arm that swings at them without coming too close, though Kara feels the heat of it.

Then suddenly she’s being grabbed and pulled back. The air wash from the chopper feels like it could send her tumbling at any time, but Alex hauls her up.

A boot slips from the skid and Kara falls into the side of the chopper with bone jarring force, but Alex doesn’t lose her grip.

She realizes she lost faith for a moment and forgot that Alex has never let her fall.

That's her last thought before she loses track of everything, her vision turning blue and hazy, clear thought impossible. It lasts long enough that when she opens her eyes again, she’s lying on the floor of the  helicopter and Vasquez is pushing the door closed. She can feel the gravity as the aircraft surges upward as well as the heat of the fire below them. The single narrow window in the side door gleams bright with flickering light and when Vasquez leans forward to peer out, she can see fires reflected off the bright shine of harness buckles at her shoulders.

“Kara?” Alex is next to her on her knees, her eyes wide and scared. “Tell me you’re okay...please.”

Her strength spent, mind dulled, it takes Kara an extra second to respond, but she finally manages a shaky nod. “‘M no’hurt,” she mumbles, barely able to make herself heard above the engine sounds.

Alex looks like she could dissolve into tears at any moment and her hands are shaking as she trails them over Kara, visibly hunting for any injuries. “What happened? I saw the chopper get hit, then...” Her hands settle near Kara’s shoulder as though she’s forgotten her original intent.  Kara becomes aware that they're still shaking and Alex's breath is coming in ragged pants. “I couldn’t see what happened...what...Cat...is she...”

She doesn’t finish, looks like she can’t. Kara blinks, dazed and lost enough that it takes her an extra second to parse any meaning. “The chopper came apart," she murmurs, frowning as she remembers that moment of horror. She only distantly hears Alex gasp as she adds, "I got to her.” She thinks maybe she’s not talking loud enough when Alex leans closer, her expression desperate. The world fades a bit and she has a hard time tracking.

“Kara,” Alex repeats her name. Her head tips down and her shoulders are shaking. “What happened?”

Shaking off the haze with effort, Kara repeats, “I-I got to her.” Reaching out, she pats Alex’s shoulder. She seems so rattled and unlike herself. “But the section she was in...it sank—” She hears a sharp gasp or maybe a cry. She’s not sure. She wonders if Alex got hurt during the creature’s pursuit and is in pain.

“What—” Alex’s voice cracks mid word and her chin snaps up as she cups Kara’s cheek, drawing her head up so their eyes meet. “What happened?”

“I went in after her...almost...I thought—” It’s hard to explain the dive into the water and the struggle to escape, not to mention that other moment that makes her cringe and fumble with remembered shame.

“Kara!” Alex grabs the front of the uniform, the look in her eyes desperate.

“I could barely hear her heartbeat,” Kara stammers. “But I got her out...flew her to a narrow section of beach,” she struggles to make her brain work enough to explain to Alex. “It’s rocky there, but above the high water mark.” She may not be good in water, but she remembers a few important details.

“Was she breathing?”

“She was,” Kara insists and feels a shudder ripple through her sister. “She coughed up a lot of water, but she was breathing. I couldn’t stay though. I-I had to get to you.” She’s not entirely sure why, but another wave of guilt slips through her.  “That monster—”

“I know.” Alex’s voice softens as her chin falls until her forehead rests on Kara’s chest. Her shoulders shake as she exhales a shuddering sigh. Kara just barely hears her whisper, "She was breathing."

"She was conscious by the time I left," Kara adds as more comes back. "She talked to me."

Alex's chin bobs in a jerky nod, but she doesn't speak.

Confused, but wanting to make things better, Kara pets dark hair very lightly. "She said...said..." She trails off, struggling to remember, then suddenly tenses as it comes back. Reaching for the hidden pocket on her suit, she fumbles until the flares slip free. “She gave me these,” she says, shoving them at Alex. “They’re what set it on fire. She thought it had to be wounded first.”

Alex straightens enough to take them, and Kara knows she’s done well when she sees a flicker of a smile on her sister’s face as she turns them this way and that. “She gave them to you?” she whispers, her voice little more than a rasp, though her eyes are bright.

Kara manages a nod. “They’re what she shot the monster with...what lit it on fire.” It’s a struggle just to talk, and she’s terrified of getting something wrong. The memories are hazy and words are getting hard. “She said it didn't do anything before it was wounded.”

Dark eyes slip closed as Alex nods and whispers something Kara can’t quite make out under her breath.

Or maybe she speaks out loud and Kara just can’t process. She’s not entirely sure. It's hard to think and everything hurts so much.

Alex continues staring at the makeshift weapons clutched tightly on her hand, then suddenly explodes into motion, twisting around and pushing to one knee, her voice taking on the command note Kara’s heard when she’s on duty. “This is a rescue mission now. We need to go back—”

“Negative,” Vasquez interrupts, her expression apologetic, though her tone is firm.

She’s on headset, and Kara can hear a faint buzz of a voice on the other hand. She thinks maybe it’s General Lane, but she can’t be sure. Still, it’s good news that her hearing’s coming back. That usually means her powers are already on the mend. She wants to tell them, but Alex is facing away and tension ripples through her shoulders, while her entire focus shifts to Vasquez.

“We have to go back,” Alex insists and pushes to her feet as she points back toward the shore. “She saw that thing get hit. She might know more than—”

“One of these things just splashed down a little south of San Diego and is headed inland,” Vasquez interrupts. “The Pacific Fleet is mobilizing.” She nods toward the flares in Alex’s hand. “Cat Grant bought us a chance, but without Supergirl, it won’t work. Everyone else has failed in damaging these things. We have to go.”

“But—”

“We’ve already contacted the coast guard and search and rescue. They’ll get to anyone on the ground. If there’s more information, they’ll let us know.”

Dazed as she is, Kara can’t help but notice that for all of her harsh tone, Vasquez looks like this is breaking her.

“But—”

“We have to go, Ma’am. You know that.” She nods to indicate Kara. “We need to get her—and you too—in the best possible condition to fight...or we’re throwing away the chance she bought us.”

Alex’s whispered, “Damn you,” is so soft Kara nearly misses it, but it seems to trigger something in her sister because she suddenly straightens her shoulders and starts grabbing things from the equipment lockers. Kara knows Alex well enough to recognize when she’s gone on autopilot and is just doing her duty.

Even if that means leaving someone behind.

Leaving Cat behind.

Struggling to push up on her elbows, Kara mumbles, “I-I c’n go after her—” She owes Cat so much, she can’t just—

“No, you can’t.” Alex’s voice is flat and unemotional and she pushes her down with a firm hand.

She wants to stand, but Kara sinks to a thin mattress she suddenly realizes has almost magically appeared under her.

“You need to rest.” Anyone but Kara would think Alex was uncaring, but even close to passing out, Kara recognizes this is costing her sister. She’s too tired to even pretend she understands, but she can see the pain and threat of tears in Alex's eyes.

Despite her determination, the smallest effort to rise has Kara collapsing into a sprawl while Alex pushes to her feet and starts moving around. Her movements fast and efficient, she spreads a thick tent-like structure around Kara, then sets up special lamps that mimic the sun. It’ll protect the rest of the crew while exposing her to the most powerful sun lamps available. It’s not as fast as real sun, but it helps. Alex flips them on and Kara feels better as the warmth of them heats her skin.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Alex assures her at some point, though there’s a mechanical quality to the way she says it. Kara wants to offer some comfort, but words won’t come and her brain feels so foggy. Finally, she gives up and just relaxes into the comforting warmth.

She’s not sure how much time passes while she lies there, nearly comatose, her body limp and weak, but at some point she realizes she’s hearing all the noises around her, the sounds of the chopper blades, the rattle of bolts, Alex’s heartbeat, then Vasquez’ voice, soft and tired sounding.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I had to—”

“I know.” Alex sounds sick and angry in a way that makes Kara want to sit up and ask why, but her body’s so weak it’s too overwhelming to even try.

“I had orders,” Vasquez adds, sounding defensive.

“I know,” Alex repeats, but this time the anger is replaced by exhaustion. “We have to protect the city. It’s not right though.” The words come out staggered as though she’s struggling to speak. “She may have saved us all...” she says a moment later, “...and we just...I left her...” She chokes.

“She was alert enough to talk to Kara and search and rescue are really good at their jobs. They’ll find her. She’ll be okay. You’ve gotta believe that. Cat Grant is not a lady that goes down easy.”

“Right.” Alex’s voice is little more than a whimper. “She’s a badass.” The soft laugh that follows again has a hurt, bitter tinge.

They’re both silent for a long moment, then Vasquez clears her throat and Kara has the sense she’s trying to lighten the mood when she adds. “We got a communique from the base. Really important stuff. Douche El wanted us to let Kara know he’s advanced another level on that dumbass video game of his.”

“Jackass,” Alex growls.

Kara thinks she should defend him, explain that he’s trying and just doesn’t understand this world, but the fight that always ensues threatens to inflame her perpetual headache. She finds herself relieved that her body is no more capable of that than anything else at that moment.

“She’s in love with Cat, y’know,” Alex says aloud after a beat.

“I thought that crush was over what with Loser Lad’s return.” Vasquez’s response is surprisingly cautious for someone who usually leaves subtlety a the door.

“So did I, but when she saw Cat in the chopper...the way she said her name was...it isn’t over and it isn’t just a crush.”

Suddenly Kara understands better. It’s not just leaving someone behind. Her big sister has always protected not just her, but anyone she cared for. Thinking she’s in love with Cat would extend that burden of care. She thinks she should deny the charge. Yes, there was a kiss and yes, there were some emotions, but it's Mon El she loves. It was just a momentary flirtation, nothing meaningful. She's Kryptonian after all.

Only a knot of tension rolls up into a tight little ball in the pit of her stomach and she’s perversely grateful that Vasquez’s reply distracts from her own issues.

“Human emotions are complicated,” Vasquez says, her voice surprisingly low given she must assume Kara can't hear.

Kryptonian ones too, though Kara knows the DEO people tend to think of her as human. They forget no matter how she appears, she’s not, not physically, not culturally. As that thought occurs, she’s suddenly not so grateful. There’s a lot she doesn’t want to think about.

“Complicated,” Alex repeats the word, then mutters, “Yeah.”

“I know how you feel about Kara, but you can’t protect her from everything.”

“She’s my sister,” Alex snaps.

“Yeah,” Vasquez agrees, “but she’s also an adult who’s made her own choices,” Vasquez points out before her voice fades again as Kara feels the exhaustion sweep back over her and the world slips away.

When she wakes again, Alex is crouching next to her and shaking her shoulder gently. Kara’s a long ways from her top form, but she feels better, and when Alex shoves a handful of candy at her, the sugar helps too. If she listens carefully, she can hear the creature’s now familiar roars echoing off water in the distance.

“It’s moving inland,” Alex warns her as she waves at the food to keep her eating. “We’re gonna have a fight on our hands. You’ll need every calorie you can get.”

Not many minutes later, she spots the creature in the distance, a dark shadow against the faint glow of the of the coming morning. She glances back at Alex and offers a smile. “We can do this.”

Alex nods, her answering grin offering a bit of swagger. “Damn right. We Danvers can do anything.”

Straightening her shoulders, Kara readies herself, then reaches for the side door. As she slides it open, she hears Alex gasp.

“You sure you’re ready?”

Kara nods and rises just a bit. “Better I go ahead and fly... work out any kinks before the fighting starts.”

Alex hands her a fresh earpiece, then rests a hand on an unfamiliar weapon holstered on one hip. “Put together a new toy while you were sleeping. Should be more accurate and have more of a punch, but it's basically the same idea.”

“I trust you,” Kara assures her with a wide smile, then she flings herself out of the aircraft, flying easily and taking heart from the feel of the wind in her hair and the excitement of feeling like herself again.

She turns and gives Alex a thumb’s up.

They have a world to save after all.

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

Chapter Text

 

 

Cat stands almost perfectly still as she tips her head back and watches the final helicopter rise, then bank sharply and head east, taking Winn Schott (yes, she knows the name his friends use, she just opts to use something else) away to the off site tech center east of the mountains. He asked her to join him, frowning worriedly when she shook her head, but he finally acceded to her command and boarded the craft.

He’s the last of her staff to leave. She feels good about getting her people to safer ground, but it means the building is empty save for her.

She has never felt so alone.

She draws in a slow breath, counting to ten in her head. It leaves her lungs feeling uncomfortably full, but she holds the breath for another ten count, then lets it out on a third and holds it for a fourth after she exhales. She repeats the pattern and finally feels her pulse settle to something approaching normal.

“You can do this,” she whispers almost inaudibly and turns toward the sea. She can just barely see it, a thin, faintly shimmering line on the horizon. To her eyes, that familiar sight still appears unbroken.

No sign of any monsters lurching her direction.

She has a little time left.

With nothing left to prepare for, she uses what may be the last few minutes of peace in her life to study the city she loves one last time while it’s quiet and undamaged. She fears she won’t see it this way again.

It makes her breath catch as much as it did the first time.

Born in a boring suburb outside Metropolis, she spent much of her life as an east coaster. Oh, she’d done the LA and San Francisco tourist thing. They were just nice vacations, but that was all. It wasn’t until she stepped out into the National City sun, bright and powerful, with the air smelling of grass and the sea that she knew she was finally home. She hasn’t felt that way many times in her life. This place is one of them.

Unbidden, her mind goes to a more recent example of belonging and she instantly shies away from the memory as her stomach knots and tears suddenly burn her eyes. Dragging in a deep breath, she repeats the breathing pattern in an effort to shake off the overwhelming sense of fucking up.

Badly.

She should have said something, should have—

She cuts off that thought right there, though her brain insists on summoning an image of eyes that are simultaneously brave and confident and also terrified and unsure.

Those eyes haunt her as do her regrets, but there’s nothing she can do about it now and now it’s her city that needs help.

It’s even something she might just be able to pull off. She might even survive if she’s incredibly lucky, so she straightens her shoulders and steadies herself. She has a job to do.

An observation platform hangs off the side of the CatCo building facing the sea. It rises from a dais, sweeps up and out, ending in a point that overlooks the city, like a crown. She had it installed when she bought the building. It gave her the ability to watch the world go by from a safe distance. Now it’s her view of the coming battleground. As she mounts the half dozen steps that lead up to the deck, she trails one hand along the railing, instinctively stabilizing herself against the breeze that kicks up as if in preparation for a conflagration.

A quick glance and she spots the cameras mounted at various points around the deck. There’s a control panel bolted to the railing, plus a remote in her pocket. It’s not perfect, but either one should let her control the cameras as well as the giant screen TV mounted on the wall behind her. It currently shows a view of the city not so different from what she’s looking at now.

The view from the various cameras will probably make it look the city overlook rather than a TV screen.

That’s the plan anyway.

As she reaches the farthest end of the overlook, she comes to a halt, leaning against the railing and allowing herself a moment to appreciate the view of the city. It’s as beautiful as ever.

God knows, it’s worth fighting for.

That thought in her head, she closes her eyes, taking a mental snapshot of the view. She holds onto it like it’s a precious thing, but as she calms, she stops fighting the other mental snapshots that intrude. They’re a comfort when she lets them be, enough so that she can almost feel protective arms slip around her and Alex’s supportive presence.

Cat’s certain she’d want this place protected.

It’s the one tribute Cat can give her.

She’s still standing there, hands braced on the railing, the wind in her hair bringing with it the smell of the sea when the two-way receiver tucked in one pocket dings for her attention. A quick gesture toggles the unit tucked in her ear. “Cat Grant speaking,” she says, her tone light, if a little forced. It’s almost a joke, which is the best she can do at this point.

“Sonar shows our new friends closing in,” Lucy Lane’s brisk, no-nonsense response comes back almost instantly. She’s understandable, but the connection’s already noisy. “You ready for this?”

“No, but I doubt that will slow them down.” The normally unbroken line that indicates the ocean suddenly seems a bit jagged to her eyes, as if something might be emerging from the sea.

Then again, maybe it’s just an optical illusion. She’s quite certain Lucy would warn her if their arrival was imminent. At least she hopes she would because as much as she knows this is necessary, she’s suddenly not sure she’s ready.

As if sensing the fear suddenly coursing through her, Lucy quietly offers, “There’s still time to pull you out.” Her tone suggests she’d prefer that option.

Cat shakes her head. Running isn’t an option. “And let you have all the fun?” she manages to summon a bit of snark, eyes narrowing as she continues to watch the horizon line. “Besides, I need to do my part to protect the city...and it’s not like I can do your job.”

The bravado apparently doesn’t impress Lucy. “I can have a chopper back to pick you up in minutes.” She sounds dead serious.

“I know,” Cat exhales, then drags in a fresh breath. “ But nobody attacks my city and gets away with it.” My home, she adds mentally. With conscious effort, she summons a grin even though there’s no one there to be impressed by her bravado. Unlike many things she does, it’s not about the image. It’s for her sake, a mental game to remind herself that she’s Cat Grant and Cat Grant faces down the biggest evils in the universe with mockery, snark, and a level of confidence that annoys the crap pit of Lois Lane. The reminder helps. “Besides, I can’t man a cannon, but this I can do.”

Lucy’s initial reply is a sarcastic snort, though she doesn’t argue, just keeps her tone all business. “You know you probably can’t call for help once this starts, right?” The radio crackles loudly as if to punctuate the warning.

“If I need help, Smarter-Lane, I doubt there’s much you can do. Besides you’ll probably be in more trouble than me.”

“Just be careful,” Lucy advises, then adds, “Lois will never forgive me if I let you get killed by anyone other than her.” For the first time there’s a bit of humor in her voice, though it has a forced quality as though she’s working to lighten things and ease their mutual fears.

Cat appreciates the effort and tries to keep her own tone light. “Well, let’s try and keep her hopes alive,” Cat ripostes, then a small gasp escapes her lips as something definitely breaks the perfect horizon line. No question this time.

For a moment, she can almost fool herself into believing the jet black shape is just a shadow on the water, but then it lurches higher, the shape of the too broad torso becoming obvious even from a distance.

“Cat...” Lucy says, signaling she’s seen the thing on her monitors.

Cat can only stare for a moment. Her pulse is hammering so violently in her chest that it’s hard to breathe. She didn’t have time to get scared the first time she saw one. Now she does. “If you survive and I don’t...” she finally croaks, trailing off as she squelches the very human impulse to run.

“I’ll make sure you get one hell of an obituary,” Lucy promises.

“Do not let Lois write even a word of it,” Cat warns, her tone walking the line between serious and darkly humorous. “Or I swear, I’ll come back from the dead and haunt you.”

“I’ll punch her in the mouth if she even thinks about it. As her little sister, I have the right.”

“If you can break her nose while you’re at it, I’ll put in a good word for you in heaven...” Bracing her hands on the railing, Cat leans out as far as she can, hoping it’s not the last time she catches the sweet scent of a sea breeze. “Assuming that’s where I’m headed, of course.” She watches as the thing takes another lurching step, seeming to stagger more than she remembers, though she doesn’t trust her impressions. It climbs higher, the massive frame silhouetted by the blue sky behind it. The contrast emphasizes the size and jagged shape of it. Given the distance, it should seem small.

It doesn’t.

“It’s coming ashore,” she whispers.

“Yeah, we’ve got it on the monitors,” Lucy confirms. “Judging by the sonar, his buddy should be right behind him.”

As if on cue, a second creature surges up from the sea behind the first.

“I see it,” Cat rasps, hearing the fear in her own voice. She swallows hard and straightens her shoulders. This is no time to panic.

“Cat—” Lucy begins.

Don’t.” Cat knows she’s forestalled another plea for her to run. Seeing the thing makes it harder to refuse, but her job is here. “I can’t.” There are debts owed and she can’t flee from them.

There’s a brief pause, then Lucy comes back online. “All right,” she says simply. “We just had a check in signal, so everything’s in place.”

Cat heaves a relieved sigh. She’s human enough that she’s not sure she can resist a second entreaty. “You know your job from here on out.”

Lucy’s silent for a moment, then says simply, “Godspeed.”

“You too.”

The connection goes silent and Cat clicks it off. The camera controls are wired to a communications line, so she’ll get any additional messages, but she doesn’t want the distraction. She has a role to play and it’s going to take all of her concentration to pull it off. A moment’s doubt makes her stomach clench, but she shakes it off. She doesn’t have time for it. She can do this.

Resolute, she watches the first monster climbs higher on the shore.

With a wild swing, jagged stone arms sweep away a section of the wharf along with a row of small shops, making way for it to crash into the row of buildings that line the shore side of the wharf. The shops don’t last more than a few seconds and the second creature is only steps behind. A few more swings and stomping steps and they advance onto the highway that runs along the beach. Normally it’s full of two-way traffic, wandering tourists, skateboards and bikes and every other kind of human conveyance. Now it’s empty save for the two creatures storming toward higher ground. They’re only a few hundred yards from the broad avenue that sweeps up from the beach. It climbs little several blocks through downtown, then, ducks under the freeway and a pedestrian land bridge before climbing steeply to the front of the CatCo building.

“Show’s on,” she mutters as she straightens her jacket. “Time to—” Whatever she was about to say chokes off as a something whooshes overhead and there’s a jarring thud behind her. Cat spins, brows creasing into a frown as she sees familiar armor edged in a green glow. The body is long and lean.

Where she was calm and braced, her heart is suddenly pounding in her chest. It nearly escapes her ribcage when a fine boned hand rises to peel back goggles and a simple, black balaclava. Worried dark eyes stare out of a familiar face.

Alex.

For a second, Cat can only stare. She doesn’t have time for this, certainly doesn’t have any energy to spare for the emotional impact of this woman. She has a job to do, and she needs all her faculties to do it. She has to hold it together, has to—

Alex shifts from foot to foot and looks down at the mask clenched tightly in her hand. “Kara’s here,” she says suddenly, like that’s the only defense she can think of. “She went on to check things out while I get you clear.” She abruptly looks worried. “She’s okay, but wants to make sure you’re safe before they get here. It won’t be as comfortable as it would be if she carried you, but I jump far en—”

Cat take three strides, closing the distance between them and punches Alex’s shoulder. Hard. It’s not a plan. It just happens.

Alex starts and her eyes snap wide. “I...” she stammers uncertainly and one hand rises to her ear to fumble with something. “Kara’s okay...really,” she says, directing the words at Cat, though there’s an unfamiliar panic reflected in her eyes.

Cat sees red. “I know she’s alive,” she fumes. “You’re the one I thought was dead.” She snaps her mouth shut, clamping her jaw firmly as she fights the threat of tears. She just barely keeps them back.

Alex freezes, nary a muscle even twitching. When she finally moves, it’s just to swallow hard.

“There was someone else in that damn armor,” Cat adds a beat later. She can’t even explain why she’s so damn angry. It wasn’t Alex’s responsibility to worry about her while she was busy trying to survive, especially when Cat was in the relative safety of her own damn home.

She’s angry anyway.

“Vasquez,” Alex finally manages a response, her voice strained. “She thought we needed someone else who could use the armor.”

Which makes sense and if Cat hadn’t spent the last couple of days convinced Alex’s courage had cost her everything, she would even agree. She’s not ready.

“I’m sorry,” Alex exhales.

Which only serves to cause an explosion of guilt. The woman’s saved the world, or at least, if it’s saved, she’s done more than her share. She shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of her efforts. “No, I am,” Cat whispers, her voice creaking painfully. She dashes away a few tears. “I’m beyond grateful for what you’ve done and what you’ve risked...I just...I thought...” She can’t finish as her throat seizes up. She’s still fighting not to sob when she’s suddenly wrapped in strong arms and pulled against a lanky frame.

She sinks into Alex’s hold, not caring about the way alien armor dents into her arms and chest. It would be painful under different circumstances, but right now it’s a much needed confirmation that this is real.

Alex holds on just as desperately. “I’m here,” she whispers over and over, her voice thick and shaky enough to suggest she’s feeling almost as overwhelmed as Cat. “I’ll make sure you’re okay,” she promises as the litany of assurances fades away.

Cat looks up, the overwhelming panic draining away in the face of the reassuring expression cast her way. It’s a reminder there’s a much larger situation going on here. She shakes off the emotional response as she notes the armor and the rest of the gear. Seeing the earpiece hooked in place, she wonders what Kara’s heard, and what she knows. Given the armor, Alex is prepared for a fight and probably wired, so Kara may have been listening the entire time.

Whatever the answer, they have more imminent matters to worry about. Brushing Alex’s collar with a finger, she lets herself enjoy one last moment. She looks older than Cat remembers and there are fresh bruises and what look like burns, but there’s a new depth in her gaze. A quick glance confirms the creatures are still on their way, still unmolested. Supergirl may be welcome, but she’s not a magic solution. Cat wonders if Kara’s waiting for some confirmation they’ve made it to safety.

As if to prove the brief pause can’t last much longer, Lucy is suddenly bellowing over the unit tucked in Cat’s ear. “Cat! Damnit, Cat!” She sounds somewhere between pissed and terrified. “Where the hell are you?

“I’m here,” she says, tipping her head to one side as Alex frowns in confusion, hoping it will clue her in they aren’t alone. “Company stopped by.”

There’s a soft gasp and Lucy comes back, her tone suspicious. “You okay?”

“It’s the good kind,” Cat insists. “I’m just a little delayed.”

“We don’t have a lot of maneuvering room on the schedule.”

“I know, but this is important.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Lucy growls, then the line clicks off.

Cat’s eyes go back to the advancing monsters. There’s no sign of anyone else, just the two creatures. “Kara’s out there, waiting to move on them, right?” she demands crisply.

“She’s ready if she’s needed,” Alex admits cautiously.

“Tell her to back off and get out of sight. You too,” she adds, pointing toward an open space next to the foot of the overlook that’s off camera. “And for god’s sake, don’t use any transmission devices. There may be others listening in.” Yes, she has a wireless connection to Lucy, but they’re both being careful about what they say, and everything important has been kept offline.

Alex makes no move to follow orders. “Cat,” she says, drawing the single syllable out.

As much as Cat would like to explain, there’s no time left. “We have a plan. Now move!”

Another moment passes while Alex stands frozen, visibly debating as their gazes hold. Suddenly she lifts two fingers to her lips and lets out a piercing whistle, the notes sharp and distinct. Her chin tips up as she calls into the air, her voice more or less at normal speaking levels, “Back off. They have a plan and they think someone’s listening in. I’ll stay here in case she gets in trouble. Be ready to move.” It seems obvious she shut down a transmitter when she first arrived.

There’s a brief flick of movement in the sky, but it’s so faint and fast, Cat can’t identify it for sure.

“It’s her,” Alex says by way of confirmation.

Good. Cat wasn’t sure she’d follow orders. With the younger one doing as told, time to make sure the older sister does as well. “Get down,” she hisses, pushing on Alex’s shoulder as she hurries toward the end of the overlook. She points at two prominent positions. “The first cameras are there and there,” she gives a fast note. “Stay down and they won’t see you.”

Alex looks very uncertain about this concept, and Cat can almost feel her desire to take command. Not surprising. It’s her nature. “We’ve seen no sign they react to human sized objects.”

Cat wishes she could argue it out, but she can’t. “Not that simple,” she disagrees, hoping Alex will trust her. “But no time for argument.” She grins and winks. “Besides, I won’t be human sized.” Then she shakes her shoulders to release tension as she goes into performance mode. She always had stage fright, but once the camera kicked in, she forgot it all. Time to use that.

Alex’s teeth visibly clench, but she vaults the railing, to land and drop out of sight.

Good girl.

Cat hits a button on the control panel to signal Lucy things are back on track with a simple, “All clear.” The militaryese makes Cat roll her eyes, but seems to satisfy something in Lucy, and Cat’s fairly sure that even if they are being monitored, any listeners won’t understand. Glancing down, she sees the way Alex is pressed against the supports where she’s hiding from the cameras. She looks worried, but as their gazes meet, she nods, a look of quiet confidence firming her expression.

Then Cat’s moving, putting everything else behind her as she strides out onto the overlook, putting herself right in front of the control panel. It’s perfect for the cameras to catch her against the image of the city behind her.

From a distance, the creatures still look oddly small, like some strange children’s toys set loose in Tinktertown. They seem utterly unreal.

But Cat’s not fooled. She knows the measurements of the giant, multi paneled TV monitors they’re approaching well enough to make a good guess who many stories tall they are.

Too many to be anything but terrifying.

“Cat,” is all Lucy says. Her tone makes it clear she’s looking at the same bloodcurdling image.

“I see,” Cat responds, sounding calmer than she feels. She twists her neck, one last little effort to loosen overly taut muscles before she flips the switch to activate the cameras.
A bright red light winks to life, signaling the connection and she turns more fully toward the lens. Time to start the show.

A condescending smile curving her lips, one eyebrow arching high, she shakes her head ever so slightly, her tone a taunting drawl. “Hi, boys, I heard the biggest tools with the smallest equipment in the whole damn shed are in town, and I immediately thought of you.

It’s not her best work, but she’s under a lot of pressure, plus she has no idea what a lava monster would consider offensive. Low wit and suggestive insult seemed her best bet for an opening salvo.

She thinks maybe she scored a hit when one of the creatures braces itself and screams, the sound a rock shattering howl. The sound is still vibrating the air when the creature leaps at the huge screen, stone arms flailing.

Cat can’t help but flinch as her image shatters on impact, tiny reflections of her mocking smile and raised eyebrow flying in all directions. It’s jarring, but also gratifying. That looks like an emotional response to her. Smirking, she flips a switch, activating another giant monitor roughly a quarter mile up the road from the creatures.

“Impressive,” Cat drawls in the sort of tone intended to suggest it’s anything but. Even from a distance, the speaker is loud enough for her to hear the wry doubt in her voice. “But you do know this is just a picture and you’re not actually doing anything to me, right?”

Her sarcasm draws another enraged scream and the creature breaks into a lope as it takes off for the newly activated screen, smashing everthing it can reach along the way. The second creature mimics its mate, following every move perfectly as it follows roughly a hundred yards behind.

Cat notes the delay with interest, but keeps her mind on the fight, turning a piercing look at the camera. “I realize you’re not very bright, but I’m actually up here.” Cat sounds almost cheerful and she zooms the camera image out and waves, so even an idiot would be able to figure out which building she was using as a base of operations. Glancing up, she glimpses a tiny speck of something hanging unmoving in the sky.

It’s Kara most likely—probably unable to believe what she’s seeing. Poor Kara does have that reaction at these times. For all of her superheroness, she’s never really understood how to play to the crowd.

Cat, on the other hand, probably overdoes it, she admits with a mental shrug. It’s not her worst failing, even if it makes her a pain in the ass sometimes. In times like this, it seems downright useful—at least in her opinion, it does.

Meanwhile, the creatures haven’t yet reached the next monitor when she grins right into the camera. “That’s right, boys, I’m just a little ways away. Get here and you can do your worst...and I’m sure you’re planning on all sorts of awful ends for me, but understand something...” She lets the words hang in the air for a brief second.

If nothing else,she knows how to deliver an insult.

“I don’t think you can do it,” she finally drawls, her tone all arrogance and overconfidence. Her eyes narrow and her jaw firms as she glares at the camera, any pretense of humor disappearing in an instant. “In fact, I think when this is done, I’m going to be safe and sound and you’re going to be in pieces.”

Both creatures scream as if they understand the threat and leap into the air, crossing the distance to the next screen in a few, huge strides.

It’s no more than debris in moments.

Any ripostes will have to wait until they’re back on camera, so they have a few minutes. Nevertheless, Cat’s trying to come up with a clever quip when Alex asks, “Do you ever have any plans that don’t involve insulting someone until they try to kill you?”

She sounds so utterly flummoxed it’s kind of cute in a way.

“I’ve always believed in playing to my strengths,” Cat confesses with a wink and a smirk.

“Crazy woman,” Alex mutters and vaults onto the platform next to Cat. She’s gentle, but her grip is firm when she grabs Cat’s arm. Despite the fact she’s clearly unsettled, she’s cautious enough to note the carefully hidden cast and avoid adding injury. “I’m getting you out of here.”

“Very heroic, but no.” Cat yanks free and settles her free hand on Alex’s chest to keep her in place. “I told you, we have a plan.”

Alex advances with a frustrated headshake. “If you’re talking about the weapons you’ve got scattered in the buildings around the CatCo Plaza, it won’t work. It’s not nearly enough firepower.” She looks scared to death and curves a hand to Cat’s shoulder as she ducks to scoop her up. “Hell, we don’t even know what enough firepower is against these things—”

“No,” Cat snaps and kicks free to drop back to her feet. Brave and romantic as the would-rescue is, it’s an unneeded distraction.“You need to get out of sight.” She settles a palm on Alex’s chest again, hoping the slight contact will settle her down. “And I’ve got a job to do.”

“So do we,” Alex shoots back and refuses to let go of Cat’s upper arm. “And we have a lot more experience at this.” She turns her head to peer out across the skyline, eyes narrowing faintly as she studies their surroundings for a moment. “I can get us to the building to the east—”

“Then you and Kara fight it out with two lava monsters in the middle of a city that, even with our best efforts to evacuate, experts guesstimate, still contains two to three million people.”

Alex loses all color.

“A lot are probably elderly, poor, disabled and couldn’t get out. They probably don’t live in this neighborhood, where apartments are a million and up...but fan out from here—”

“I get it,” Alex growls. “But—”

“How many died in Crete after the navy declared the evacuation officially complete?”

Alex’s voice breaks as she whispers, “Evacuations are never complete.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Cat says instantly, not wanting the other woman to think she blames her in any way. “But they were next to a naval base and the number was still far too large.” She sees the conflict in Alex’s eyes. “Trust me. This will work.” And if it doesn’t, she’ll be too dead to live with the guilt.

Alex’s jaw clenches tightly.

“We have something that should take the knees out from under these things.” She hopes it’s not an empty promise.

Alex meets Cat’s gaze and holds it for a long moment. She tenses and shakes her head, clearly hating to cede command, but she finally nods. She gives another of the sharp whistles, the pattern different this time. “You’re in charge for the moment,” she says. “But the moment this goes south, I’m getting you out of here.” She casts another glance skyward, leaving Cat to momentarily wonder what’s been discussed between the sisters.

Then the creatures are almost in position and she’s out of time to wonder about anything not tied directly to the plan in motion. “Down,” she orders and gives Alex’s shoulder a firm shove as she turns back toward the city. A few long strides take her back to the centerpoint of the overlook, though she can feel Alex’s desire to demand answers to what are doubtless a myriad of questions. She wishes they had time, but it’s too late for anything but full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

Explanations will have to wait.

Meanwhile, the creatures are moving again. Not so directed now, they seem to be ranging, their movements not exactly random seeming, but the pattern unrecognizable. They destroy everything they come across, but show no clear plan to advance. Time to get their minds–or whatever the hell controls them–back on the issue at hand.

Hopping up, she swings her leg over the railing and uses the remote to flip the camera on so her image pops just as she lands. She always had a knack for timing things right and hitting her mark. “Hi, boys,” she calls out, trusting the sound system to project her voice,

It does its job, sending her mocking tones across the city.

The creatures stop and turn her direction as one. It’s creepy as hell, but exactly what she was hoping for.

Offering a wicked grin, she wiggles her fingers in a tiny, taunting wave. If she’s honest, the wiggling grinds shattered bones together and hurts like hell, but it’s seems like the right choice, and she manages a surprisingly wicked grin. “Ready to dance?” she taunts, her face taking the entire screen, the image huge enough that she can make out her taunting look even from a distance.

The creatures remain perfectly still, just staring with such intensity she can feel the sheer malice directed her way from a distance. A shudder of instinctive horror shudders down her spine, but she shows no sign of it, just offers a confident, feline smile. “That’s right, boys, still right here.” Again, she throws the little wave their direction. “Just come on up and we’ll have a party.”

They don’t like that. A beat passes and then they scream and leap together, their movements once, again perfectly coordinated and mirroring each other. They hurtle forward and land on the latest giant screen TV monitor, tearing it to shreds in a display of perfectly coordinated chaos.

Another monitor pops to life nearly a quarter of a mile ahead of the creatures, the image dominated by her triumphant smile.

The creatures don’t even pause as they lope that direction.

“That’s right,” Cat murmurs, letting the hate show in her eyes. These creatures have come to destroy her city and her people and she wants them to burn. “You know you want me,” she taunts, deliberately zooming the camera in until her face dominates the screen. She hears music start to blare from a thumping speaker system in the distance.

It’s a signal from Lucy. The weapon is heated and ready to use, but they have a narrow window of time before it either starts to cool too much or, conversely, overheats, and takes out several miles around its position. Young Miss Luthor wasn’t quite sure which result they’d get, but she was quite clear that they have a narrow window of time to use the device without some kind of catastrophic failure. Leaning out, Cat tracks the creatures, noting the various markers installed to help her stagemanage this game. The creatures have covered well over half the distance. She just has to keep them from getting distracted.

Then a familiar tune echoes across the city, the beat and a woman’s angry voice making it a rage filled anthem some favorite song of Lucy’s suddenly blares from the speakers, It’s cheesy and all spite and anger. It’s a breakup tune about bad boyfriends and worse choices and somehow that fits.choice, but she was in the mood to play when they set this up and it resonated well across the city. Everyone being able to hear is important, though the irony of the song doesn’t escape her. She wonders if the creatures get the joke or that she’s mocking them.

Probably not. Lava monsters seem unlikely to grasp irony especially well. She taps a finger while her hips sway gently in time with the music as she lets the pounding beat have sway over her movements. “I want your love and I want your revenge.” She really means the revenge part. She wants blood. “You and me could write a bad romance,” she sings as she dances along. Her image projected in the distance looks comfortable and in charge. She appears younger than Cat’s felt in decades. It’s pure theater, but she’s always appreciated the value of putting on a good show.

“I want your ugly. I want your disease. I want your everything, As long as it's free.”

Suddenly she throws her arms wide on the loudest beat yet hits, screaming at the things looming in the distance. An updraft catches her jacket and hair, blowing them wide. She presses a thumb on the zoom button so the camera sweeps in close enough that her image owns the huge screen. She looks completely in command. It’s not deep and meaningful, but it’s effective theater. She even pumps her fist with the beat. “I want your LOVE”

Her hips are still swaying and she’s smiling as the creatures attack the screen together, shattering it to bits, then hurling the bits in all directions.

If she survives this escapade, she should probably talk to a professional about how much she enjoys their rage. Their fury feels incredibly impotent and that makes her smile.

She’s so focused on the mayhem that it takes her a moment to register the fresh rattle that shakes the roof. Shit. She spins, half expecting some new hell, but hoping to find Kara has disobeyed orders.

Nope. More fresh hell it is. She recognizes the figure now standing in the center of the roof, clearly having just landed. She should have known. Kara chooses when to land softly or with more force. Cat’s pretty sure he lacks her ability to fly, so he’s made rather an ungraceful and very unwanted entry.

Kara’s manchild.

Lovely. He must have leapt from one of the surrounding buildings. Or maybe the ground. She doesn’t really care. She has no time for childish tantrusms.

And here they are never formally introduced even if he’s insulted her behind her back and planned on spending her money. She arches an eyebrow as she peers at his crimson uniform with the painfully obvious padding. Oh, she has no doubt he’s strong. He’s no more human than Kara, but all the sculpted muscles? No. She’s seen him in civies, so knows full well he’s more scrawny with a bit of paunch, so she knows the ripped look is for effect. She might even admire the media savvy if not for the way it’s overdone.

She suspects the knowledge makes her smirk, judging by the dislike that flares in his gaze when their eyes meet. Then he returns the smirk with one of his own as he glances back toward the howling monsters that are now roughly a quarter of a mile away.

That’s okay, I don’t like you either, Little Man, she thinks as she glares right back at him and gives no ground. Don’t expect a friendly smile when you call me a hag, and contemplate what an easy life you could enjoy on my money. Still, personal animosity aside, she really doesn’t have time for the games.

Unaware of her thoughts, he just stands there, apparently waiting for a response. Maybe he expects her to be impressed. Not a real clever sort if that’s what he’s thinking. She shakes her head ever so slightly and wonders as she does so if he’s about to pitch her off the roof. It would almost be worth it if she makes it clear she has no use for him.

“I’m Mon El of Daxam,” he suddenly proclaims as if she should be impressed.

“That’s nice,” she drawls. “I’m busy and don’t really have time for you right now.” She waves a dismissive hand and turns back toward the creatures, ignoring him. It’s not a personal dismissal. The boy has avoided the fight so far. To her that means he’s not worth the effort, though she’s fairly certain Alex is on the verge of leaping out of her hiding place. She makes a small signal with one hand, hoping she’ll see and take a hint. With luck, the boy will exit as abruptly as he entered.

“I’m here to protect the city,” he adds, sounding frustrated at her dismissal.

Cat holds up a hand for silence, but doesn’t look back. “Got it covered, thanks.” The creatures are moving and have her full attention.

He makes a small sound, a little grunt from the back of his throat. Frustration, she guesses, possibly a bit of rage too. She doesn’t really care, though she allows herself to enjoy it a bit. He’s avoided this fight so far, so she has no patience for any thought he should be giving orders now.

Meanwhile, the creatures crash into and through another layer of buildings, heading right toward where she needs them.

“Good boys,” she mutters under her breath. They’re almost in position. Time for her cue.

She activates the next monitor and makes a sharp turn toward the camera that springs to life. “Still plugging along, I see,” she drawls, smirking and shaking her head ever so slightly. “Meanwhile, I’m still up here and still waiting.” She adds a wave to punctuate the point. “Come on up and we’ll have a party.” She laughs, deliberately taunting them, then drops her voice as if sharing a secret as she leans forward. “But I don’t think you have the courage.” Her grin broadens a notch. “Well, actually...” She’s silent for a meaningful pause, letting it hang there before continuing. “I guess we can call it courage.” She holds out her hand, thumb and forefinger barely apart, signaling something very small. “Mind youm there are ruder terms.”

Who knew lava monsters would be so upset over a little penis joke, she muses as they roar and stomp. She’s still chortling softly when a hand suddenly clamps down on her left elbow and she seriously considers passing out as bone grinds against bone and the fancy 3D printed cast crushes and deforms.

“I’m taking charge and rescuing you.” the manchild proclaims.

Cat considers gelding him with a rusty pen knife. Yeah, he’s probably some flavor of invulnerable, but it really hurts and she can’t help but remember the little bastard calling her an old hag. She’s pretty sure she’s up for it.

She’s still trying to growl a threat when an angry voice breaks in. “Let her the hell go.” Suddenly Alex is there and landing on the catwalk, the green accented armor giving her enough power to shove him aside though she’s careful to protect Cat’s arm so she does it without doing further damage. “She’s hurt you asshat.”

Cat’s knees threaten to buckle as he stumbles back, but Alex is there before she can collapse completely. She grabs for the other woman, leaning heavily against her as she drags in panting breaths in an effort to control the pain.

Cat’s just barely aware of the boy as he falls back a pace, his tone all confusion. “Alex, what are you–“ She is aware when he suddenly snaps to a halt and searches the immediate skies. “Is Kara here?” He sounds a bit scared by the prospect.

“Back the hell off!” Alex barks, catching Cat close, Despite the armor, she’s gentle and careful. “I’ve got you,” she whispers near Cat’s ear and nuzzles her cheek. “You’re gonna be okay.”

She feels good and safe and Cat wants to just sink into those arms. Alex knows what the hell she’s doing and some sane part of Cat is telling her to let Alex take over, that she’s taken on too much this time. She tries to move her left hand and nearly screams as her wrist presses against broken plastic. She tries to throw off the pain, knowing she should be focusing on the creatures, not on the verge of passing out. She feels too old for this, too weak, much too human.

“It’ll be all right,” Alex repeats and somehow produces a knife and slices away her sleeve. For all of the awkwardness of the armor, she’s careful and remarkably deft as she exposes the damaged cast. It’s crumpled and pressing in on the bone, “It may hurt, but I think I can get it off.” She’s already reaching for the crushed weave of molded filaments. She does something and it all pops apart in an instant.

Suddenly able to breathe, Cat seriously considers asking the younger woman to marry her as the world swirls around her in a rush of dizziness. Suddenly aware that she’s lost track of the situation right when they can least afford it, she struggles to straughten and get a look at the creatures. “We need to—“:

“Cat!” Lucy suddenly shouts in Cat’s ear.

“I know, we’re on the clock,” she gasps, still trying to get back up to speed and make her brain function. “But—“

“NO!” Lucy screams. “Look down! Incoming!”

The sheer panic in the younger woman’s voice snaps Cat’s head up and drives her to stumble to the railing, “Holy God,” she hears herself exhale. She can hear her own shock and terror. So much for an aura of insouciance. Even she can’t hide her horror at the strange gore of the scene below.

Then she spots the source of the sound. One of the creatures is hammering one arm with the other, shattering the limb to send bright red lava spurting in a crimson river. It’s like the damn thing has opened up a vein as lava sprays like blood under pressure, droplets spattering in a wild fountain of gore that blackens and melts everything it touches and leaves tiny fires in its wake.

It’s like fiery ichor flowing from an open wound and she can feel the heat rising even from there.

Then the thing screams and shoves its other arm into the wound, gathering the liquid lava and cocking its undamaged arm back.

Alex realizes what’s happening first. “Lava bomb!” she shouts, wrapping herself around Cat as the thing lets go and flings the makeshift projectile high.

Okay, this wasn’t in her plans. Getting squashed flat occurred, but burned alive by the beanball from hell, not so much. For one thing, if things went badly, she didn’t expect to live long enough to experience the head and stench of hell bearing down. Cat’s human enough to feel a moment’s panic and her muscles lock up and she has no idea what to do next. In that moment Alex doesn’t tackle her, but close enough that she’s shoved her down and shielded from the incoming threat spattering lava.

The heat hits like a blast furnace, then passes on by in a moment.

The bit of hell has missed them.

As the panic recedes and her muscles start to work again, Cat tries to get a look, but the angle is all wrong. All she can see is Alex’s arms as they wrap protectively around her from behind. The air is still sizzling and filled with acrid smoke. She can hear the crunch of huge footsteps and feel every shuddering impact. Then there’s a second whoosh as another bomb flies.

She’s still calculating its most likely path by the sound when there’s an explosive crash and the floor rocks beneath her feet.

Impact.

The Wayne building if her math is right. It’s just across the courtyard, thankfully empty, and has a completely different understructure. The floor beneath their feet shudders, but they should be okay. The Wayne building is fortified all the way down through however many basements Bruce built into it. It’s one of the advantages of having offices next to Batman’s.

It should hold, at least for the moment.

They have a little time. Not much. But enough.

“Cat,” Lucy pants in her ear. She’s breathing hard and there are klaxons going off in the background. “We’ve gotta move.”

“I know,” she grunts and scrambles to her feet, grateful when Alex doesn’t ask, just helps her up. The air stinks of sulfur and feels like it must when there’s a forest fire next door. She thinks she might just go down if not for the hand that fits to her waist from behind.

“I’ve got you,” Alex assures her. “Just let me know what you need.”

The boy is off to the side on his ass, grumbling under his breath and sounding very put out.

Getting her legs more firmly under her, Cat steadies herself, then rushes to the edge of the overlook, heart sinking as she gets a fresh look at the situation. Only one of the creatures is in the right position. The other is still too far back. Oh, it’ll catch some of the explosion, but it’s outside the guaranteed range. Instead of advancing the way they’d planned on, it keeps hammering the shattered arm into rock and cement, sending spatters of melted rock everywhere as it roars and rages, but stays back. It’s like the damn thing knows it’s a trap.

Fine. She can work with that. She can barely make her left hand function, but she fumbles the remote free. “It needs to be closer,” she mutters under her breath.. “But we don’t have much time.”

“Tell me what to do.”

“You cannot seriously intend to take orders from the most weak-ass human here,” the man-child complains. “Meanwhile you ignore me, an actual hero, like I don’t even exist.”

“If only,” Alex mutters, then flashes a glare his way when he grumbles something under his breath. “As for heroes, little man, she was the first one to kill one of these things. You may not have heard about it because you were hiding in your girlfriend’s basement at the time.”

Cat doesn’t have time for even a chuckle. Her entire focus is on the creatures. One is stomping around in perfect position. The other, the leader in her mind—though she has no idea which is which—is hanging back, not moving into what she’s mentally dubbed “The Pit”, a sunken, bowl shaped area where the device is set to spring from beneath. “It knows it’s a trap,” she exhales under her breath. “Batman and Wonder Woman had this problem.”

“Yeah,” Mon El snorts in the background, “Wonder Woman played with it like a cat toy to keep it busy while Batman did his thing.” He lets out a mocking laugh. “Hey, maybe we can give this one a Cat toy of its own to keep it busy.” He chortles as he nods at Cat, clearly thinking himself quite clever. “It’s an easy throw...”

Alex twists, glaring over her shoulder. “If you touch her...” she growls very softly. The armor creaks gently around her as lean muscles flex.

As nice as the protective streak feels, they don’t have time for it, especially when Cat sees the creature tear at its shattered arm again to grab a fresh handful of lava. A beat and then it chucks it high and hard.

It’s going to come a lot closer this time.

“Incoming!” Cat screams, grabbing for Alex who glances up just long enough to utter a curse, then tucks Cat against the protection of her body as she hunkers back down.

A screaming rush of noise and wind roars across the rooftop, the ferocity of it leaving Cat momentarily afraid they’ll be blown over the side even as she’s pulled harder against the protection of Alex’s body. She clings to the other woman, trusting the solidity and strength of her. “I’m sorry,” she gasps, briefly thinking she’s brought this hell down on them and probably gotten Alex killed with her over confidence.

“It’ll be all right,” Alex assures her. It sounds like a whisper, but she has to be shouting to be heard above the din.

Cat believes in this woman enough to think she might be right and presses harder into protective arms as heat and fire roar around them. If they live long enough, she should probably apologize for drawing Alex into a trap.

Then suddenly a cool breeze blows through, the air chilling and losing the hellish stench in a wash of a fresh breeze.

Startled, Cat looks up as bright crimson boots float into her line of view, then a familiar cape sweeps in behind them. Kara lands with eerie grace, her cape fluttering around her. It’s acts as a barrier against the heat even as she adds another breath of chilled air.

“Supergirl,” Cat breathes, her voice thick with awe. She forgets sometimes how impressive these moments are. Normally, Cat says her name in a fairly normal tone, sometimes quite irritated, but when she sees the girl like this there’s something awe inspiring, especially whenever she floats down from above. She’s something beyond human in these moments.

She shrugs and turns a wry smile Cat’s way. “Seemed like a good time to make an appearance. As she speaks she slips off her cape and crouches down to fling it around Cat’s shoulders. She’s almost instantly cooler. “This should help ward off some pf the heat.

It strikes Cat that Kara doesn’t even look at the manchild as she turns back toward the city and the thing once again hammering at its own limb. She floats a few feet and peers down at the area below the CatCo building. “I’m assuming you have a plan,” she says with the confidence borne of experience.

The thing knocks another chunk of an arm free and flings it.

The arc is lower this time, gaining more distance, but dropping too low. It slams into one of the smaller buildings, taking out a large section of the lower floors and leaving several stories burning hot enough for fire to spatter for several blocks around.

Kara floats back down through a haze cast by her cold breath. She peers down at Cat with a small smile. Clearly she’s decided to stop hanging back. “What needs to happen?” A few snowflakes tumble down around her.

The girl has learned a bit about making an entrance.

Cat peers up at her as Kara settles downward through a bit of a spinning breeze. She’s inhumanly beautiful and otherworldly at these times, somehow appearing both utterly human and just as alien as she is. Cat swallows hard, struggling to make her brain work. At the same time she hears Lucy yelling at her over the ear piece.

“We’ve gotta move NOW!”

“There’s a device under the plaza,” Cat explains in a rush, her explanation coming fast and scared sounding. “It should take the knees out from under them, but only one of the creatures is in range.” She flinches. “We only have a few more seconds to get it there. If we don’t set it off in time, it might fail entirely.”

“Oh, please,” the manchild scoffs. “The weapons on this world haven’t even slowed one of these creatures down, but the ‘Queen of all Media’ can do it.”

Kara ignores him, her focus on Cat. “Do it, One down would be better than we’ve faced yet.”

“Am I even here?” the manchild complains. “Can you hear that a prince of Daxam is speaking?” he demands angrily.

“I can hear it,” Kara snaps. “You’re just not saying anything helpful.” She pins a sharp look on Cat, appearing to hunt for something in her gaze before she says, “Do it.” That said, she directs a pointed look at Alex. “Get her and yourself out of here.” Her jaw clenches with determination as she casts a meaningful look at the creature spurting lava.

“Kara—“ Alex exhales, sounding ready to fight it out.

“Don’t argue.” She nods toward the creature. “This one’s gonna get too hot for you.” Another bob of her head is aimed at Cat. “And I need someone to get her to safety.”

“What about me?” the man child complains. “I’m a hero too and you aren’t even listening to me, just a scrawny, human female.” He flashes a glare Cat’s way as if this is all her fault.

“She’s the one with the plan,” Kara clips, turning to peer across the city.

Cat notes the way the boy pouts and grumbles, but otherwise ignores the discussion, focusing instead on the communications device tucked in her ear, updating her about the other end of the fight.

“Cat, we’re pulling back,” Lucy sounds breathless and like she’s on the run. Their original plan has been blown all to hell, so she’s obviously trying to get her people to safety before the next phase.

“It’s now or never.” It’s the first time Lena’s spoken and she sounds scared and young, but determined. The munitions are her design, so Cat trusts her judgment.

The monsters, meanwhile, are moving, but not necessarily in the right direction. Only one may be in perfect position, but it’s better than nothing.

“Activate the device,” Cat says, her tone firm.

“But in your position—“ Lena starts to argue, Sometimes Cat wonders if she’s really a Luthor given her squeamishness when it comes to death and destruction.

“Do it!” Cat barks, though she’s observant enough to see what has the young scientist worried. The creature spurting lava like blood reaches the base of the CatCo building and is hammering at it and spreading fire. Coupled with the seismic damage when the device goes off, the building could well come down. Which is hardly a surprise. She knew it was a very real possibility when she accepted the job of being the bait in chief.

Kara must see something from her vantage point because a hint of a frown creases her brows. As if on cue a low pitched rumble vibrates through the plaza. Her gaze meets Alex’s and she jerks her head toward the east. “Alex, go!”

The rumble deepens and the earth trembles like the beginnings of an unnatural earthquake.

Cat barely has time to let out a squawk before she’s swept up and Alex is running across the rooftop with long, mechanical strides.

In the distance, the opening refrain from Queen’s We Are The Champions starts to pound across the city. The latest music cue is her choice, not Lucy’s, and should let everyone know the next phase is underway.

“Head east!” Cat shouts as she’s tucked firmly against Alex’s body. Lucy and Lena chose this position because the surrounding buildings should be stable longer than most and offered some possible escape routes.

Alex adjusts her direction, long, cybernetically assisted strides carrying them much farther than any normal human could ever dream of.

Cat catches a brief glimpse behind them as Kara steps off the roof above the courtyard, standing there in mid air, graceful and ethereal. Then she loses track of everything as Alex leaps. Even with the armor, she can’t fly, but for that moment, it feels like she can. The jump sends her hurtling through the air faster than Cat can track. They arc high, then come down again to land on the nearest rooftop to the east. A momentary stumble, then Alex gets her feet under her and pivots back.

Cat squirms to get a better view and Alex lets her down, though Cat has the sense she’s ready to sweep her back up if she has to move fast. She stays close when Cat rushes to the building’s edge to see. As she stares at the familiar profile of the CatCo building it seems so far away. Suddenly there’s a low rumble and cracks start to appear in the courtyard, fissures deepening and spreading with every passing second.

At the same time a high pitched whine begins, the sound sharp, like something whirring deep inside the earth. Lights spark and start to dance above the open cracks, then seem to brighten and impact the cement, cutting like never before seen lasers.

The fissures grow wider as the lights spin faster while tiny sparks arc up from every break in the cement. The sparks seem to sizzle as they fly through the air, then cut fresh cracks as they come back down. The breaks spread in random lines around the undamaged lava monster, following along the cuts sliced by the dancing lights.

It’s like some alien fourth of July fireworks show, only god only knows what the finale will look like.

As Cat watches, the courtyard seems to waver, the cement deforming as more cracks spread in all directions and section rise as if lifte from below. The undamaged monster is in perfect position when crevasses start to appear along the marks left by the cracks. It pays no attention to the changes as it continues to stomp and scream.

Kara, meanwhile, is still standing in the air above the creature, not yet moving. There’s no sign of the manchild.

As cracks continue to deepen and spread, the undamaged creature grabs cement slabs as they’re forced upward. With an angry roar it flings them aside.

Meanwhile, the other one hangs farther back, hemorrhaging molten lava like blood. Cement and brick shatter and burn, fire licking at everything the lava touches. The Wayne building is still standing, but the upper floors list and look like they might give way. The reinforced basements should keep it from collapsing into the lower levels, but Cat would hate to bet o it. Even Bruce Wayne’s technology has limits.

By comparison, the CatCo building, is doing relatively well. Two of the pillars on the front facade are down, but they’re aesthetic, not structural and while there’s a bit of cracking, the walls seem to be holding for now.

A huge rumble makes the ground shake and echoes across the city as the shattered courtyard continues to shudder while the quake damage continues to expand the fissure lines. A giant creak and a roar and suddenly lights begin to dance from below, spinning in all directions like some alien laser show. The flares spin and sizzle as they appear, firing off sparkly rays that spin steadily faster and brighter.

They’re far enough away that they should be safe, but heat rises as the scene gleams with a strange, alien hue. It’s not the familiar green of Kryptonite, but more of a bluish tinr. Cat has no idea what it signifies, if anything, bit it’s strangely beautiful. Then the beams spin faster, seeming to sharpen as they coalesce and brighten. The thing kicks off with a roar and flings a punch at the lights. Its arm is sliced right off. Lava spews as another beam slices through its legs. It kicks off as if to fight, but more cuts slice away more part. Upended, the thing tumbles and crashes, taking out a large chunk of the nearest office building. Then another beam spins up and cuts deep into an arm, nearly severing the massive limb. The thing is roaring and batting at the attacks with its remaining arm, but the every additional cut limits its mobility until it can’t stop the continuing destruction.

Everything around it is burning, cement turning into torches and steel rebar going up like matches. The heat is so intense that the unburnable burns.

Kara’s still standing in the air, unmoving, but there’s something about her stance that tells Cat she’s about to attack.

“Lena has the Luthor knack for destruction,” Cat murmurs with a note of admiration as she watches the way the one creature is sliced to pieces. Lena said this would happen. She has to be honest and admit she didn’t believe it.

Alex nods. “Yeah, but Kara’s still on her own against a fucking creature spurting lava.” She skims her gaze across the cityscape. “Not to mention the fires.”

Cat can feel the younger woman’s desperation to help her sister in the raw panic in her eyes and the way her muscles twitch as if she might just leap down there despite the insanity of the idea. She’s been in this fight from the beginning. Letting that go must be hard. “You can’t help her.” Even with the protective gear she’s wearing, Alex wouldn’t last for more than a few moments, not given the way granite and cement melt and burn wherever the lava hits. She curls her hands into the armor, clinging desperately, half afraid Alex might leap after Kara no matter how insane.

Then suddenly Kara moves, dropping straight down toward the plaza. One creature is down but the other one is still ranging and hammering at everything. A moment and then Kara lands with a mighty thud that shakes every building in the area.

Cat has no doubt the landing registers on every richter scale on this part of the continent.

The still mobile creature pivots toward Kara with a scream and kicks off. Not backing down, Kara lunges straight at the thing, dodging the spraying crimson as she flings punches, clearly trying to drive it toward the still spinning lights. The thing swings at her, knocking her back, then when she hits it again, it flings her straight into the Wayne building.

Kara’s still scrambling for her feet when the upper floors pancake and topple straight down on top her.

Alex makes a small lunging motion as if to leap for her sister, but Cat holds on tight. The toppling building shouldn’t be much of a threat for the Kryptonian. Instinct tells her it’s a delaying tactic.

As if reading her mind, the creature suddenly straightens and lopes across the plaza. It leaps once, then a second time, bounding high into the air. It hits the wall of the Wayne building, digs in, then kicks off and leaps several stories straight up.

Cat realizes it’s coming for them at the same moment Alex does.

“Shit!” the brunette curses as she scoops Cat up, takes two long strides and leaps. They sail for a moment, then she hits a far roof, scrambles and regains her balance.

The creature is still behind them, crashing over and through another layer of buildings and leaping after its prey. It’s so huge it blots out the the sun and every move it makes shrinks the distance.

Alex barely spares a moment to glance back before she takes off running again and makes another desperate leap. This time she barely makes it. The landing is nearly a miss and they both tumble. Cat’s wrist twists as she goes down and she can barely think straight as dark spots dance in front of her eyes.

“Cat,” Alex says and holds out a hand.

Despite the way her head is spinning, Cat reaches back and struggles to her feet with Alex tugging her up.

“We’re gonna be all right,” the brunette insists, though she sounds scared and keeps glancing back. There’s a fresh cut on her brow and blood runs down her cheek, but she does no more than shake her head to flick it off. She pauses a tiny beat, then scoops Cat up, drags in a deep breath and takes off running again.

As they move away from the CatCo Plaza, the high rises are thinning out and while they’ve gained ground they don’t have a lot of potential escape routes left.

Cat can see the problem coming.

A few more jumps and they’re down to one choice left and it’s farther than any jump yet. Alex takes several long strides, kicks off and leaps.

They barely make it as the thing crushes the roof of a building behind them. It’s closing the distance.

Despite the cape draped around Cat’s shoulders, the heat of the air stings and the smoke burns. She has the sense the whole damn city is on fire. Glancing back she sees where lava has dripped and spattered and started dozens of blazes. As hot as they burn it may turn into a citywide conflagration.

Alex runs again only to skid to a halt as she hits edge of the rooftop, There’s no where else to run to and the ground seems very far away.

“With the armor, you can survive the jump.” Cat has seen the punishment Alex can take and live in the damn armor.

“But you might not,” Alex whispers, then glances back at the thing coming for them. “It protects me from impact pressures, but—”

“If we stay here, we both die,” Cat growls with brutal practicality.

“Shit,” Alex exhales and Cat can see the acceptance of that truth in her eyes. Wrapping an arm around Cat’s waist, she pulls her close. “Hold on!”

It occurs to Cat that any attitude shift she sees may come with acceptance of some fates. but definitely not others. It’s not in Alex to stop fighting for others.

With no high points left, the DEO agent redoubles her hold, then aims for a tower that juts up from a small football stadium. A high school by the look of it.

Cat thinks she should argue and tell the other woman to save herself, but it hardly seems wise to waste time with an argument now, so she just holds on and prays As they hit, Alex curls her body around Cat and twists, using the armor to take the brunt of the impact, A tiny beat later, while they’re still hanging as if suspended, she reaches up and digs an armored hand into the cement facing. Sparks fly and steel and cement scream and shatter.

Cat loses track of everything until she finds herself lying sprawled in deep grass, eyes tightly shut, wondering vaguely how many ribs she’s broken. She risks a breath and is relieved by the lack of stabbing pains. Okay, maybe no breaks, but she really needs to find a new hobby. She’s getting too old for the heroics. The grass they’ve landed on feels perversely soft and she thinks maybe this isn’t so bad.

Rustling sounds rattle to her right, then Alex is there and sounding panicked, her breath hot on her cheek as perversely gentle hands start checking for for a pulse and her breathing. “Cat, please, Cat...please—“

“I’m alive,” Cat mutters and pushes to a sitting position with her good hand. “Too old for this sort of idiocy, but still alive.”

Hands brush her cheek, then run along her shoulders and down her arms. She pulls the injured limb against her body as flashfires of pain rattle around in the wake of even the lightest touch.

Alex instantly yanks her hands back. “Can you move?” she asks, the question coming fast and breathless. “Company’s coming.”

“Of course it is.” Cat knows what it is before she looks. The thing, huge and lumbering as lava flows like blood. It’s still at least a couple of football fields back.

She never realized before how little distance that could be.

She pushes up only to sink back down. Her right knee is twisted under her, not broken by the feel of it, but the position all wrong. Teeth tightly clenched, she manages to straighten it, but it’s not good. In fact, she briefly considers passing out.

Realizing the problem, Alex hunkers down. “I can carry you again.”

Cat shakes her head as the ground continues to rock and shake. “That’s not an option, not the way ground’s shaking.”

Alex is already forced to steady herself. “Fine, then put your arm around my shoulders and I’ll help you.” She glances back, steadying herself as she starts checking Cat’s wounded knee. “We’ll figure out a way.” She settles her hand at Cat’s waist. “Now, come on.”

Despite what some might think, Cat doesn’t have a suicidal streak, but it suddenly seems like a waste of effort that’s horribly likely to get the younger woman killed, especially when just trying to get to her feet, even with help, feels like a journey through the seventh level of hell. “Alex, you need to—”

“Don’t,” Alex hisses, her voice thick with rage. “I’m not leaving you behind. Not an option.”

She’s fierce and beautiful and Cat thinks she might be just a little in love with her. Certainly, she’s too special to throw her life away in a useless gesture. “Alex,” she says softly. “People need you—”

“Not a discussion,” Alex grinds out. She flashes a quick glance over her shoulder before looking back to Cat. “They need—I need you you too.” Lifting Cat’s arm across her shoulder, she doesn’t wait, just draws her to her feet, easily taking most of her weight.

Cat bites back on a scream and manages to put a little weight on her knee, but dear god, it hurts even with all the help.

“I’ve got you,” Alex whispers and keeps her on her feet and steady. She’s amazingly careful about it. “Without you,” she adds, sounding hoarse and scared, “we’d already have lost...even if you’re a dumbass for facing down a fucking lava monster on your own.” She shakes her head, jaw firming up. “I’m not leaving you here.” She swallows hard, unable to meet Cat’s gaze. “I already....” She doesn’t finish, simply repeats, “I’m not leaving you.”

Cat’s still dragging in a breath to reply when a red and blue figure flashes across the sky.

Kara.

She’s trailing a plume of plaster dust behind her, but she’s up and moving.

And pissed off, judging by the way she starts hammering on the creature. Even with several football fields between them, every blow sounds like a giant jackhammer.

The creature ignores Kara’s attacks, batting her off as it keeps on its current path. She has power, but beating this thing is going to take mass as well, and she comes up short on that front,

In that moment Cat senses that same aura of personal malice she had when she first taunted them into coming after her. The thing is refusing to be distracted or drawn off the way it could be when the sisters were trading attacks.

Cat has scoured through hours of video footage in the days since the original attack, hunting for anything that might provide answers. She’s studied the fights, analyzed the creatures, and logged the way Alex and Kara worked together. Others won their battles, but the two sisters were consistently more successful. It suddenly strikes her that they had an advantage she didn’t put together. It was subtle, but it was more than just their skill at working together. Against them, the creatures could be distracted, their attention drawn off. Oh, it wasn’t reliable, just a tiny difference that let them play the games they did.

She’s not even sure exactly how it worked. She needs more time that she’s not likely to get and more study, and there’s no chance for that. Ironically, she sees the difference because suddenly it’s gone.

Now it punches Kara with a flurry of blows, the last of them hard enough to send even Supergirl flying. Kara’s back on it in moments, but it treats her more like an irritant than a threat and bats her away again.

“Alex....” Cat exhales, staring at the fight in awe as she suddenly realizes her mistake. She saw the emotional responses, but she assumed Kara was the real target.

Alex tightens her grip, but stands perfectly still as if rooted to the spot. Finally, she swallows hard and whispers, “I just want you to know how grateful I am that I got to know you and had the time we had...”

Oh crap. That is not a good sign. Alex has come to the same conclusion Cat has. They’re the real target and Kara won’t be able to stop the creature in time.

“I hope you know you aren’t the only one.” Cat wants to offer nothing but effusive praise, but her throat tightens up and she can barely even grab a fresh breath. “You’re a amazing,” she finally manages. “You are as much a hero as anyone on this planet.”

Alex nods, but makes no effort to speak, just tightens her grip as the thing smacks Kara back and suddenly breaks into a loping run in their direction.

Cat knows Kara will try to stop it and Alex will try to outrun it, but most of the fights have taken hours and they don’t have that much time. While she considers trying again to talk Alex into leaving her behind, she knows it won’t happen. She’s not sure it matters anyway. Given the distance that thing is covering with every step. Even on her own, Alex isn’t that fast. Tightening her hold, she suddenly takes off running, but the heat is growing and smoke clouds roll around in them. Cat has a sudden memory of reading the Headless Horseman as a child and Ichabod Crane’s ill fated flight from the horseman and his fire breathing mount. This feels weirdly similar, like something supernatural is chasing them to their doom.

Which may not be all that far away she realizes when Alex suddenly skids to a halt as another lava bomb goes sailing over their heads in a wave of heat and fire.

Alex drops to one knee, shielding Cat what little she can as a lump of magma hits about a hundred yards in front of them. It’s not as large as the first chunks, maybe Junior’s cutting off too many crucial parts to keep hurling bits, but it’s big enough. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter, Cat thinks as heat sizzles and fire starts to spread away from the point of impact. It may not be as large, but it’s every bit as hot and even with the distance, it feels like they’ve stepped into an hot oven.

With the fire spreading, Alex peers around them, clearly hunting for an escape path. The fires are ahead and spreading, the monster behind and coming up fast. Cat sees no hope. There's nowhere left to run.

“I’m sorry,” Alex whispers, ducking her head so their cheeks brush.

“You’re an amazing woman,” Cat whispers. “It’s been an honor.”

The air is growing more choked with smoke and ash when something zips across Cat’s peripheral vision.

Kara.

“That way!” the girl bellows, her ice breath, carving an arrow of frost through the fire and magma.

Then as Alex sweeps Cat up again, Kara flies. With little else she can do, Cat does her best to track the girl as they flee.

Kara spikes straight up, then spirals downward, accelerating with every passing moment but disappears in the billowing smoke. Meanwhile, the frost layer is already melting as the creature advances and the heat surges again. It’s bought them time and a little maneuvering space, but Cat’s far from confident they’ll make it. As they run, the giant thing crashing after them, the ice is melting fast. The earth cracks and heaves upward with such violence that Alex barely manages to remain on her feet. She keeps one arm wrapped around Cat, but has to set her down and use her hand to steady herself on the crags of cement that rise up in her way. Even with the armor adding to her strength, she’s breathing hard and struggling to keep from losing her hold on Cat.

Looking back over her shoulder, Cat sees the thing lumbering after them and Kara, little more than a red and blue blur she’s moving so fast. She can hear her own breath, harsh and rhythmic and feel the agony in her knee with every step as she struggles to keep up with Alex’s desperate strides.

The thing is still coming and they seem to move so slowly it’s like they’re caught in amber.

Cat loses all sense of where Kara might be which is why it’s an accident that she looks back just as Kara flies straight at the creature.

Despite the desperate battle to survive, she can’t look away as the girl hurtles, javelin-like at the creature and disappears behind its bulk. “Kara,” Cat gasps. She’s flying straight and fast and though Cat doesn’t see the impact, an earth jarring tremor shakes the thing and the earth around it. The creature stiffens, throwing its shoulders back and puffing its chest out as it jams its undamaged arm out to the side and takes one, staggering step, then another. “Alex!” she hears herself shout as she pulls on the younger woman’s arm and nods behind them.

Alex spins on one foot, jaw dropping as she sees the hell chasing them. Kara is out of sight by then and she freezes.

The thing is closer now and its whole body jerks and seems to spasm, no longer seeming fast and in control. It crashes another step their direction, then claws a massive hand into the earth and flings the broken ground.

Then Cat suddenly realizes what she’s seeing as she puts it together in her head. Kara is careening around inside the thing. As if to confirm the thought the thing’s chest starts cracking along the rocky lines, and crumples outward, shattering to pieces and leaving a gaping wound. The thing staggers and for a moment Cat thinks they’re dead as it appears ready to topple on top of them, then a blur slams into it to send it toppling. The thing’s remaining arm pinwheels as it tries to save itself.

It fails, falling helplessly over backwards, every effort utterly useless.

In that moment it’s as if they’re caught in a sudden, violent earthquake. The ground is jarred and shaken. They’re thrown off their feet and tumbled as dust and stones as large as fists are heaved in the air. Around them, the earth cracks and is twisted and the dust and rocks thrown up suddenly come raining down again.

Cat loses all sense of anything except Alex’s hand gripping her own until she’s tossed like so much flotsam on an ocean wave and loses even that contact. Everything around her is falling dirt and flying stones. She loses sight of everything and simply curls into a tight ball.

When she’s finally able open her eyes again, the world is still settling and the stench of dust and smoke hangs heavy in the air. Coughing against the pressure on her lungs, she pushes up, blinking against a cloudy, confusing world. Her ears are still ringing and there are unrecognizable creaking sounds and what sounds like things falling on all sides. As she shakes off a confused daze, she first thinks she’s lost all contact with Alex, then the dust shifts to her right. She turns her head and suddenly realizes what first seems like a dust covered upthrust of rock is a dust covered human shoulder as a lean figure pushes up from the dirt.

Alex.

Then the brunette lets out s small whimper as a figure lands perhaps thirty yards away.

Kara, drenched in red, her eyes wide, her jaw clenched. Her landing is heavier than normal and she stands there, muscles visibly locked, her chest heaving with every harsh breath.

Cat’s first instinct is the red is blood, but a wave of searing heat hits her. It’s lava. Kara’s covered in it. Even her body has to be pushed to the limit to withstand those temperatures.

Then Alex surges as if to rush to her sister.

“NO!” Cat shouts and throws her arms around the younger woman, hanging on desperately. If Alex blindly rushes to Kara, that much heat can kill.

Kara still hasn’t moved and as Cat looks up, their eyes meet and she sees desperation and agony in the girl’s eyes before her gaze swings back to Alex as if pleading for help.

And Alex is a tiny moment from running to her. If she does, Cat is terrified they’ll both die. “Talk to her,”she whispers in Alex’s hear in an effort to get them both thinking.

Alex instinctively fights Cat’s hold in her desperation, but holds off from hurting her the way she could.

“You have to talk to her,” Cat repeats. She presses her cheek against Alex’s, leaning hard into her back and shoulder and clinging desperately. “You can get her to hear you.”

Alex’s chest is heaving and every muscle is spring steel taut, but she holds her ground and doesn’t lunge. “Kara,” she finally manages to rasp, trusting superhearing means she’ll hear. “I know it hurts and I know you’re scared, but you need to stay calm and listen to me.”

Kara’s jaw knots as her eyes lock on Alex.

“She’s listening,” Cat assures the younger woman.

“You can do this,” Alex insists, her voice throbbing with emotion. “Use your freeze breath,” she adds. “You need to chill things down.”

Still drenched in crimson, Kara stands frozen and shakes her head ever so slightly. She glances at Cat, then back to Alex.

“We’ll be all right,” Alex insists, then all but shouts, “Just do it! Use your freeze breath! NOW!” She's not so much an officer giving orders now as a desperate sister trying to make her little sister hear her.

Whether it’s the sisterly plea or Kara’s tendency to follow orders or simple logic, Cat does’t know, but Kara suddenly exhales hard enough that cold streams over them, Another gusting breath and icicles start to form, and snowflakes swirl, then another and an unnatural blizzard starts to form.

As cold as the air becomes, the lava is still melting the blowing snowflakes. It’s not cold enough.

“Keep going!” Alex shouts. “You can do it!”

Kara blows another harsh swirl of icy air as the lava streaking her skin starts to darken and turn stiff. Another icy gust and for a moment she’s like a Supergirl statue statue sculpted in black basalt, then she flexes an arm, shattering the layer coating her in cooling rock.

“That’s it,” Alex encourages, pushing up, hope in her eyes. “You can do it.”

Another chilling breath and the last of the dying crimson fades to black. Kara’s gasping by then, her breath coming in struggling pants, her skin covered in layers of jet black rock that restrict her movements.

She can’t expand her lungs, at least not enough, not with rock solidifying around her torso.

“Kara,” Alex suddenly gasps in a panic.

“Go!” Cat shouts and shoves at her shoulder.

Alex barely seems to notice. She kicks off and covers the distance in one mechanically enabled leap.

Kara’s gasping for air, her chest tightly constricted by the rock prison.

Alex slams a fist into Kara’s chest, shattering the stone plate. She hammers again, knocking away more rock from her face and throat, leaving her skin raw and abraded.

Kara collapses then and Alex catches her. “I’ve got you,” she whispers over and over.

Cat taps the communicator still tucked in her ear, hoping it’s still working as she calls out, “Lucy, we need medical transport for Kara. She’s hurt.”

“The monster?”

“Down,” Cat says and looks toward the collapsed creature to confirm it’s no longer moving.

“Got your position and transport notified.” Lucy sounds cool and calm. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Cat sags, the beating her body has taken catching up with her and leaching any remaining strength from her muscles. Alex is holding Kara, her every touch tender as she carefully cracks away what rock she can. Cat sinks back down, every inch of her aching. She’s in a daze when a helicopter sweeps in for a landing and can barely focus on the crew that carefully starts loading Kara on a gurney.

Alex appears, dropping to one knee beside Cat. “I’m going to ride with Kara.” She’s cut and bruised, her skin smoke smudged. “I...she’s in a lot of pain, but I think maybe it helps when I talk to her.” She pauses for a moment, then shakes heself as if throwing off her fear. “You’ll be okay. We have the best crews, so they’ll look after you.” She swallows. “I’m sorry. I just...” She chokes off and falls silent. “She needs me,” she whispers raggedly.

“Go,” Cat encourages despite the raw, scared part of her that wants to cling to Alex and beg her not to leave. She pushes that part of her down. Cat Grant doesn’t do fear, at least not for others to see. “She needs you. I’ll be all right.”

Alex nods, then reaches out to brush Cat’s cheek, her touch tender. “Another chopper will be just behind ours.” She glances up and worry creases her expression. “Kara’s ready for transport.” She swallows hard, her expression apologetic. “I’ve gotta go.”

Cat can see how close to apologizing she is. “Go on,” she encourages and offers a tiny smile. “Take care of her.”

Alex nods and hurries off, hopping aboard the helicopter even as it’s already starting to lift off.

Cat bites back on an instinctive urge to beg her to stay, then Alex is gone and she sags back down, almost too exhausted to keep her eyes open. Everything hurts and it’s a relief when she hears a second helicopter arrive. She expects techs to appear and start loading her onto a stretcher, but when nothing happens, she finally looks up. There’s a small team on the ground in DEO gear. One is standing not far from her and as she looks at him, he waves the others back onto the second chapter then peers down at Cat.

He smirks ever so slightly and straightens his shoulders. “Your people will be along at some point to deal with you.”

Her brows crease into a frown. “I thought—”

The smirk deepens and he shakes his head. “Yeah...no. DEO transport is for DEO...not...interlopers.” He shrugs again. “Like I said, your people will handle you.” Then he waves his crew back aboard the helicopter and climbs aboard just before it takes off into the sky.

Confused and hurting, Cat reaches for the transceiver in her ear. Every movement hurts like hell and she seriously considers passing out, then there’s a welcome crackle in her ear. “Lucy?” she exhales hopefully, praying she’s still listening and hasn’t shut down the line.

She’s starting to sweat when she hears a familiar voice. “Cat. You okay?”

“Not exactly,” Cat exhales, then adds, “I could use some help.” She’s still lying there when a CatCo helicopter sweeps in for a landing. In moments, a paramedic crew hops out and starts checking her injuries. They’re wearing a curious mix of military and civilian gear, though Cat notes they all seem to have a CatCo logo pinned somewhere on their uniforms. They’re careful as they get her settled on a stretcher and start loading it onto the helicopter.

“Always the problem child.” Lucy’s voice reaches her as the brunette appears with the rescue team. She climbs inside the helicopter next to Cat, though it takes some squeezing. The chopper has been retrofitted for emergency work, but the camera mounts tell the story that it’s been a news helicopter until relatively recently. Lucy glances toward the still smoking monster visible out a window, then back to Cat. “You’ll be okay.”

Cat nods, trusting the determination she sees on the younger woman’s face. “I know,” she exhales as a med tech tech slips a needle in her arm and she floats away.

* * * * *

Chapter Text

 

Alex starts talking to Kara the moment she squeezes into the chopper next to her, careless of the heat that threatens to melt plastic and burn through the layers of protective nomex she's wearing. She barely notices. All she can see is how painfully still Kara is, her body limp, her skin coated in smoking black magma. “You’ll get through this,” she promises and leans in close. The heat stings, but she ignores it to push close and offer every assurance she can think of.

She never stops.

At first, she shouts to make herself heard above the beat of the helicopter blades, but later, as they move into the DEO base, her tone becomes soft and coaxing. Through it all Kara barely moves, but she’s breathing and perhaps it’s best she’s mostly unconscious as the doctors crack and chip at blackened stone. Alex uses the armor to help where she can, hammering at heavy rock to pulverize it so it can be pried free in chunks. There’s nothing gentle about the process. It takes alien armor, hammers, chisels and determination. The cooling lava adheres to her skin and leaves ugly damage in its wake. She whimpers a few times and one time surges up, eyes wide and frightened.            

“It’s gonna be all right,” Alex whispers and holds her gaze. Even injured, she’s strong enough to hurt people if she loses control in a panic. “We’ll get through this.” She grabs Kara’s hand and holds on desperately. “You can do this.”

Kara freezes in place, holding Alex’s gaze. She must be in agony and terrified, but she doesn’t hurt anyone, just holds still until finally she nods and back down. Thankfully, she seems to lose consciousness again soon.

So Alex keeps talking, helping with Kara’s treatment where she can, sitting close where she can’t. There’s nothing else she can do. Buried deep inside the DEO’s downtown facility she has a vague awareness that people come and go and more arrive than leave, but she has no real sense of time.

The only thing she can think about is Kara, so she tells her sister how proud she is of her and how grateful she is just to know her, and how much the world owes her.  To Alex she isn’t the larger than life, invulnerable hero, but her frightened, hurt little sister who she failed to protect. “You’re gonna be okay,” she promises over and over. It’s all she can say, even if she’s terrified it’s a lie.
                            
In the hours that pass, more than one doctor tries to get her to stand down, but she can’t, not while Kara’s unresponsive, her breathing raspy, her body quivering randomly as small pained cries occasionally escape her lips. Alex can’t leave as long as she can offer the tiniest bit of comfort. If nothing else she can bear witness and make sure Kara isn’t alone.

So she stays, ignoring efforts to clean her wounds, get her to eat, and get her into a bed of her own. Even knowing the doctors are right, she can’t step away. She belongs here, and she won’t leave her little sister alone, not after everything that’s happened to her and everything she was willing to sacrifice.

Hidden deep underground, she has no sense of time passing, no awareness of night or day, and very little realization that the base is coming back to life as the world stabilizes and things start to return to some semblance of normal. She’s vaguely aware that no new attacks occur. She’s questioned at some point about the device that cut down the first lava monster, but exhausted and punch drunk, she has no answers. Alex tells security officer the device was deployed by Lena Luthor, working under Cat Grant’s orders. They need to talk to her. They frown and seem undecided how to respond, but they leave her alone and she isn’t called to any more fights.

They won.

Kara won.

And while Alex is grateful for earth’s survival, she can’t worry about much beyond her sister while
Kara lies there, seemingly broken and lost.

She may not survive her heroism this time.

Hours pass, her heart still beats and she’s still breathing, but the sound is rough, almost asthmatic, and her body twitches randomly as she whimpers in pain. The large lava chunks are gone, but Alex and the doctors are still carefully removing smaller pieces that cling to her raw and blistered skin. There are indications she inhaled lava during her ordeal. They can’t see rock in her bronchial tubes, but there are signs of burn damage.

No one knows how to treat the injuries beyond doing everything possible to support her system and hoping she’ll heal with time. Her body is trying. The sunlamps help and when they find she’s losing weight, they put in a feeding tube that enters through the nose and goes down the trachea. It’s not ideal, but the high calorie gruel will hopefully keep her from starving.

It’s all about buying time and keeping her alive long enough for the sunlamps to work their magic.

Alex hasn’t slept or eaten since she arrived. She's still holding Kara’s hand and talking to her when J’onn arrives, looking tired, but very much in command.

He takes one look at her and quietly orders, “Stand down, agent, before you break down.”    

“No, sir,” Alex refuses, her voice hoarse and ragged.She squeezes her sister’s hand, holding on desperately, unwilling to let go. “I need to stay with her.”

“Not until you collapse,” her commanding officer says firmly. He shakes his head. “That won’t do her any good.”

Alex can feel the threat of tears burning in her eyes as she shakes her head. “I’m not leaving my sister.” She won’t, she can’t.

“Alex...” J’onn says, his tone firm but with very real sympathy. He’s suffered his own losses, so he knows what she’s feeling and what she’s afraid of.

The only answer that matters to Alex is Kara’s rasping voice, “Alex...” and the way she squeezes her hand.. She’s barely conscious and visibly struggling to make herself heard.

“Kara,” Alex says instantly and drops down beside her sister’s bed, her touch tender as she brushes dark blonde hair back from her temple. “I’m here.”

Kara manages a shaky nod. “I know,” she rasps. “...c’n smell...you...” she mumbles, her voice painfully soft. “N’d a sh’er.”  She glances up at J’onn. “...t’k care of her...”

“No, I need to care take of you,” Alex says a little desperately as her eyes fill with tears of relief. “I thought I lost you,” she exhales. “I thought...” the words fade away and she wavers ever so slightly.

“...still kickin’...” Kara slurs, then nods.

It takes Alex a second to realize the nod isn’t directed at her when J’onn and one of the nurses grab her arms on either side.

The needle stab is quick, the effect not quite instant, but close enough. She instinctively struggles as J’onn and the nurse support her when she starts to waver. Another moment and her knees buckle. J’onn sweeps her up and onto a gurney a nurse rolls over.

The world’s already getting dim when J’onn smooths a hand over her hair. “She’s going to be fine. Now it’s time to look after you.” He nods to the staff and rolls her over next to Kara. “Sleep.”

It occurs to Alex that she should check on something else, but the world fades away too quickly for her to do anything. The last thing she’s aware of is Kara’s hand slipping into her own.


* * * * * *

When Alex opens her eyes again, she’s momentarily frightened to find herself in utter darkness, then panicky fingers find and peel away a lightweight sleep mask. As the artificial sun Kara needs  assaults her eyes, she blinks and shields her gaze, still a little sleep addled.

Then she spots Kara in the bed next to hers. They’ve been moved from the standard sick bay to the one that set up just for Kara. The medical team has obviously improvised to keep the sisters close, but still let her sleep. They’re no longer holding hands, but the beds are still close. She vaguely remembers struggling and J’onn giving orders to keep them together as she was going down.

Pushing to a sitting position, she stares at Kara. She’s hooked up to the special monitors built for her, and she’s been moved from a gurney to a hospital bed.

Alex, meanwhile, finds that she’s on a drip. A quick check of the label tells her it’s just saline with a few boosters. Easy and safe enough to disengage, so it only takes a moment to free herself and stagger to her feet.

Her skin feels a bit sticky, but reasonably clean, and she’s wearing a hospital gown. She sniffs her forearm. It has the distinct, but faint odor of no rinse skin cleanser. Better than the sulfur stench from before, but it occurs to her to be pissed off that the sick bay staff stripped her while she was unconscious. They cleaned her injuries and removed most of the smoke smell, but left her in a hospital gown, complete with her ass hanging out if anyone comes up from behind, They’ve also kept her close to Kara.

She decides to let them live.

The air purifier kicks on, fluttering the gown and making her backside suspiciously cool. As if she needed a reminder.

She’s still ready to let them live, but there will be pranking.

She’s still standing there when she notes the clean, pressed uniform hanging nearby. She starts yanking it on even as she moves to check on Kara. She seems to be sleeping, but her vitals look better and while her skin is too red with blisters and deep scratches, there are also signs of fresh, pink skin. She’s healing.  The sunlamps are doing their job.

Despite any temptation to shake Kara awake just to hear her speak, she leaves her sleeping though she stands there for a long moment, just watching her breathe. The awful rasp and asthmatic wheeze are better, if not gone. Inhaling lava is no small risk even for Supergirl.

“You’re getting better,” she whispers and ducks down to press a kiss to Kara’s forehead. “I’ll be back soon, but I’ve got other people to check on.” Kara doesn’t stir and Alex slips out on silent feet. The med bay is quiet and mostly dark as she wanders from cubicle to cubicle. She spots a few people she knows, their injuries mostly fairly minor, but no sign of Cat. She has to be here somewhere. She remembers being assured that she’d be on the second chopper and they’d let her know if there were any problems. She’d have been treated in the standard facilities, so no surprise Alex didn’t see her in Kara’s bay.

She comforts herself that this is just predictable disorganization. There’s no need to panic. Reassuring herself that it doesn’t mean anything awful has happened, she goes hunting.  Wandering yields a few people, but mostly they look blank when asked and admit they’re only just back. Most seem exhausted, but quietly relieved. Nothing has happened since the final attack and there have been no signs of incoming threats, Everything is apparently quiet, but with Cat missing, it  doesn't feel that way.

Alex is relieved the danger might be over, but she’s getting increasingly desperate for news about Cat, only no one has anything to tell her. As she moves through sick bay she keeps asking, but there aren’t many people on duty and no one seems to know anything. As she runs out of people to ask, she’s becoming frantic.

She staves off insanity by telling herself she’d have heard if there was bad news. With the staffing so light they probably transferred her to a civilian facility. Given how thoroughly Lucy and Cat planned things , they may have set that up ahead. Word probably hasn’t gotten around.

That mental reassurance does little to ease her fears.

Cat’s okay. She has to be. As a fresh chief medical officer comes on duty, Alex checks with her and is quickly assured that they’ve had no severe injuries and there are no bodies in the morgue. There’s no bad news. Ironically, she learns Cat isn’t the only one missing. Mon El hasn’t been seen since the fight and isn’t anywhere in the base. Alex allows herself the momentary hope that he’s gone back home. She knows she doesn’t want him anywhere near her injured sister.

It’s something of a relief to check her email and find a note from Lillian Luthor. The woman may be a monster, but she’s a brilliant one and it’s oddly good news that she’s of the opinion that whoever was behind the attack ‘shot their wad’ and has run away. Her email is predictably untraceable. She doesn’t mention her daughter’s actions for good or ill.

The rest of the computer system is just barely up and running. The secure messaging system isn’t responding and she hurries off in hopes of getting access to more information. Long strides suddenly carrying her through the base, she takes off, ignoring the smattering of returning personnel.

She’s almost reached the turn that will take her to J’onn’s office when she finds people cluttering the passage. Those at the edges are milling, but as she pushes her way through the crowd, they get stiffer and more resistant to being muscled  aside. Obviously, something’s going on, but Alex doesn’t pause to ask.

At least not until a familiar voice shouts, “You left her behind you dipshit, fucktard asswipe!”

Vasquez in fully profanity flower. Apparently she’s home from the ship where they left her. Good to hear she’s made it back after being left in a lurch. Now maybe Alex can find out what the hell is going on. Her vocabulary may get a bit overly colorful at times, but Vasquez always knows the news and the gossip too.

Alex keeps pushing through the crowd until suddenly the people blocking her path start melting away. More obscenities follow as she shoulders aside the last few human barriers.

Vaquez is there, and judging by the gear she’s both wearing and carrying, only just back. She has a heavy equipment pack slung over one shoulder and more gear is strapped to strategic parts. She drops the pack and takes a half step forward so she’s standing, fists tightly clenched, feet braced like she’s ready for a fight.

Another DEO agent is standing a few feet away, hands on his hips, posture stiff. She only half recognizes him. He’s fairly new. Name's Hayes, she thinks. She can’t see his expression from her angle, but judging by his body language, it’s not all peace and love. He waves a dismissive hand. “Please, her own people picked her up. She’s fine, and she didn’t deserve a ride from anyone in this agency anyway, not when she went chasing after Mon El’s girl every chance she got—”

Alex doesn’t give Vasquez time to respond, just leaps on him, using momentum to slam him into a nearby wall with the furious snarl, “What did you do?”

He lets out a startled gleep and doesn’t have time to resist before she pins him against the panel. He’s taller than she is, but she’s more than pissed off enough to make up the difference.

“He lied to his team,” Vasquez answers coming up behind Alex. “told them they were just there to pick up samples for the science team, claimed Cat Grant wasn’t even there.”

“Bastard,” Alex hisses, so enraged, she might start swinging. Finally, Cat’s absence makes sense. “If you hurt her in any way...” She doesn’t finish, the idea too horrifying to contemplate.

“I didn’t,” the agent insists, finally smart enough to show a little fear. “She just had to wait a few minutes for her people to pick her up.” He’s hoarse, but summons an offended note as her finds the courage to add, “She’s not one of us anyway.”

It’s the wrong thing to say.

“Not one of us?!” Alex roars, slamming him back into the wall and holding him pinned there as she starts dragging him toward J’onn’s office. She’s utterly careless of the way she scrapes his cheek along the wall panel, but if she doesn’t hand him off to someone else, she might just kill him. “She risked her life trying to protect this city while you were still waiting for Supergirl to save your ass—”

“The way I hear it, Supergirls’ no hotshot anyway. The politicians just want a female version of Superman,” a man’s voice echoes from the back of the crowd, giving Alex no clue who the heckler might be. “Mon El’s been the real hero. According to him, he’s always saving her ass—”

“Then he’s a lying shitbag!” Alex explodes, enraged by the very notion that anyone would denigrate Kara’s efforts in favor of a man who avoided the fight and ran at the first opportunity.  She straightens her shoulders and turns to glare at the crowd. “You all know me. I was in the fight every day and he was nowhere to be found and Kara...we would have lost without Kara. She risked everything to protect this planet and damn near killed herself to win.” She pauses to let that sink in. “Most of you didn’t have to fight because she did. I’ve seen what those things did to whole armies...just wiped them out.” She scans the crowd, seeing the way many nod in agreement and a few shrink and sink back. “And Mon El wasn’t there for a bit of it. He was here, hiding in the basement playing video games and being protected by people like you and me. The only time Kara heard from him was so he could brag about game scores. People were dying and he thought his video game score was important.”

There’s muttering through the crowd and a few look shamefaced as Alex glances from person to person. She’s so angry she’s ready to fight them all if they want. Nobody's brave enough to try. “As for anyone who wants to claim Cat Grant isn’t one of us or doesn’t deserve our protection, I was one of the people on the front lines, and the only reason we were fed and looked after was her efforts and while we were out fighting, she was already planning how to protect this city.” She scans the crowd, making eye contact with agents she both knows support her and others more likely to side with Mon El’s crowd.  She wants them to know she’s not afraid. “When it came down to it she was willing to use herself as bait to draw those things into a trap.” She glares from point to point, silently challenging them. “Anybody else here who was ready to put it all on the line?” There’s rage in her eyes. “I was, J’onn was, Vasquez was, the chopper crew on three was.” Her glare silently rebukes them. “Anybody else?”

There’s silence for a moment, then a hand cautiously rises. “I’m reserve...navy,” a young man says softly when Alex nods his way. “I was doing my yearly week on coastal patrol when this started. We picked up those poor bastards off southern Cal.” He shakes his head, reminding Alex of those first hours and the things they saw. “They were just...pulverized.” He peers at her with haunted eyes. “We were sent to pursue those things. If it weren’t for Supergirl and Green Mamba, me and my entire unit would probably be dead.”

Alex offers a serious sympathetic nod. “You were with the navy off Canada later, weren’t you?”

He nods.

“You guys helped a lot of people, got ‘em to safety while Superman fought. You did good.” There’s no sarcasm to her tone. She know how hard the support crews worked.

The agent meets Alex’s gaze and nods even as another hand rises.  “Emergency medical services,” one of the women says.  “They flew us in to help with the aftermath in Crete.” Her voice chokes off and it takes her a moment before she can continue.

Alex gives her the time.

“I’ll be going back with a mobile hospital unit when I can,” the agent finally manages to get out.

“You guys saved a lot of lives.” It’s all Alex can offer though the knowledge that they lost a lot is there too. She’s still absorbing the pain when another hand rises and another story is told and then another.

It feels like they’re all bearing witness. The original asshat is crumpled on the floor now, his shoulders hunched, he eyes downcast. She notices suddenly that J’onn has arrived and is standing at the back of the crowd, broad and imposing and ready to step in, but letting them vent. He understands mourning as well as anyone in the universe can. He gives them time, hanging back until the stories start to trickle away and many are visibly sagging with exhaustion.

“You’ve all been through a lot,” he says, finally stepping forward. “A lot of you have just gotten back from various duties and seen things that...” He pauses momentarily before continuing. “Too many of you have see things no one should see. Talk to each other...listen to each other. Now go get some food and some rest. With luck this is over, but we need to stay ready to get back on the front lines until further notice.” He stands, solid and reassuring, in the center of the hallway as agents start to slip way,
 
People continue drifting off together, some silent, some still talking quietly about their experiences while J’onn stands supervising them all. As the last few slip away, he nods to a pair of waiting security people. The original complainer starts climbing to his feet, his mouth pursed and visibly unhappy, so focused he doesn’t notice the guards until they’re on him and have his arms pinned.

“What the—what are you—”

“Get him into a cell,” J’onn instructs

“Hey,” the agent shouts and tries to shake off the guards. “You can’t be serious.”

J’onn’s gaze narrows. “Very serious,” he disagrees. “Our mission is to protect civilians. You failed at that, then lied to cover up that crime.”

“Crime?” he repeats on a disbelieving note. “She was fine,” he insists, shaking his head a little desperately. “It’s not like I didn’t anything to her. She just got a little lesson about being a predatory cunt.”

“Not our mission,” J’onn grinds out, then snarls at the guards, “Get him out of here before I hand out a few lessons of my own. I’ll write up the charges later.”

“Asshole,” the agent growls, glaring at J’onn. He takes a half step toward his superior, but the security officers grab his arms more firmly and yank him back.

A ripple moves through the remaining crowd. They’re not used to anyone pushing back when their commander lays down the law.

As the agent is pulled past her, Alex gives no ground, deliberately causing him to stumble and slam into the wall. The guards make no effort to keep him from hitting face first.

Alex draws a dark visceral pleasure from the moment and she’s pretty sure it shows in her expression.

“Brave,” he sneers. “Just like your slut sister, cheating on Mon El while he does all the work.”

“You lying—”

Vasquez steps in front of her, physically blocking off a fight.

“Stand down, Danvers,” J’onn grinds out. “And get him out of here!” he orders again and waves the guards out.

“My office,” J’onn  orders, herding Alex away from temptation.

Alex growls low in her throat, the sound soft and feral. She glares and doesn’t move.    

“Now!” J’onn snaps.

Alex looks ready defy him, but Vasquez starts shoving on her shoulders, pushing her back. “Beating the crap out of him won’t help anything,” the junior agent points out.

But it sure as hell would feel good.

“Listen to her.” She recognizes the first agent who spoke up. He’s a little older than most of them and soft spoken with a kind manner. “He’s not worth it.”

No, he’s not, but the rage is so thick it’s hard to let it go.

“Everybody with two brain cells to rub together knows Kara’s the hero and her boyfriend’s a liar,” he adds as he steps over to help Vasquez.

Alex allows the two agent to maneuver her into her superior’s office. “Thanks,” she mumbles, still tense, but also a little uncertain and embarrassed over her loss of control.

“Anytime.” he says, then slips out.

Alex folds her hands together at the small of back, knotting them together as she stands stiff and unyielding. She’s still standing like that when J’onn returns. “Permission to leave base, sir,” she requests without waiting for him to do more than step inside. “I need to find Cat Grant. I left her behind when Kara got hurt...and I-I should have checked on her sooner.” She could make all sorts of excuses, but the fact is she screwed up. She needs to make this right.

J’onn notes her stiff posture. “It was a difficult situation...fog of war. Blame me if you need to—”

“It’s not about blame, sir. It’s about responsibility and I...” She swallows hard and shakes her head. “I owed her better.”

J’onn’s brows draw into a frown. “Is there more you need to tell me?”

Yes, there is and she should probably come clean, but she doesn’t. “She’s a friend,” sue says without further explanation.

“And Kara’s emotionally involved,” J’onn sighs. He massages his temple as if he’s developing a headache, though Alex has no idea if Martians get headaches. “Are Mon El’s accusations true?” he asks as he sinks down at his desk. “Was she having an affair with Cat Grant?”

“Not as far as I know.” There’s an opening there to say that she’s the one having the affair with Cat, but she stays silent.

“Mon El’s been whining about Kara ignoring him for awhile,” Vasquez inserts while Alex is still debating, sparing her the opportunity. “He’s got a crew of buddies he hangs out with the at the bars. They bug the waitresses and act like asses. Hayes is one of them. I overheard him bragging about leaving Miss Grant behind...”

“And promptly lost your temper instead of filing charges,” J’onn diagnoses.

Vasquez shrugs. “I talked to his team and confirmed it,” she says a little defensively, then shrugs. “Then I lost my temper.”

J’onn nods absorbing the information. “Speak to security. I want it fully documented...everything.”

Alex feels her stomach roll, but somehow she keeps from screaming. “Sir,” she interrupts, just barely in control. “What about Cat Grant? We need to know if she was hurt,” she says firmly.

“CatCo’s using the new Wayne Publishing building as a temporary home,” Vasquez says. “Saw the story online. She’s supposed to be there.”

“Sir, please...let me go...speak to her...” Alex says haltingly, her voice threatening to break. She needs to see her.

And explain.

And beg forgiveness.

“Seems wise to me,” Vasquez inserts in the uncomfortable silence that follows. “We fucked up and Cat Grant has the power—and the media empire—to make us pay for it.”

J’onn flinches, but doesn’t argue.

“Personally, I think an apology is in order,” Vasquez adds and turns enough to wink at Alex without their commander seeing. Vasquez has clearly picked a side.

“Maybe I should—” J’onn begins.

“No,” Alex gasps, stumbling forward as Vasquez gives her hip a healthy nudge. She falls silent for a second. She’s not good at this. Politics confound her and personal relationships often leave her feeling out of her depth. “She’s a friend.” She says again, feeling babbly and like she’s making an idiot of herself. “I believe she’ll see me.” And if Cat slaps her face and tells her to go to hell, it’s no more than she deserves. She’ll take it and be grateful she’s alive anyway. “I owe it to her to personally explain what happened.”

J’onn frowns ever so slightly as if sensing he doesn’t have the whole story. but finally he nods, signaling he’s willing to give some ground. “I expect you to arrange a debriefing as soon as possible.” He sharpens his gaze. “You should plan to answer all questions to the best of your ability...no matter how complicated.” It’s not even a subtle warning, then he pauses, staring at her for a long moment. Finally, he nods toward the door. “Go on. We can spare you for now, and the woman has been a valuable ally to the DEO. Keep your phone on at all times. I’ll call if Kara needs you.”

Alex nods, her hands suddenly shaking with relief. “Thank you, sir.”

“Go on,” he says waving her on. “Take whatever time you need.” That he trusts her judgment is implicit in the order.

She takes the time to check on Kara, but she’s sleeping peacefully. She can leave her. Kara would understand.

Vasquez trails after her, giving a running update along the way. It’s taken her the several days since the fighting ended just to get home, but she’s already plugged into the news.  “On the last leg, I hitched a ride with the air force,” she explains. “Had a pretty good internet connection so I did a lot of reading...everything I could find.”

Alex barely slows down as she glances at Vasquez. “Probably wasn’t very accurate unless Cat wrote it,” she grumbles, then shakes her head. “Other than Kara and I, she was the only witness who was very close.”

“Lucy Lane wrote it, actually,” Vasquez explains. “She saw what happened on her monitors, had nothing but praise for Ms. Grant...along with a few digs at her sister. She admitted she composed it as a eulogy, then Cat went and lived and chalked it up to the heroism of Supergirl and Green Mamba—”

“Stupid name,” Alex grumbles.

Vasquez cast a thoughtful gaze her way. “Your girl is quite a hero—”

“She’s not my...” Alex starts to say then catches herself. Whatever she and Cat are to each other, the denial feels all wrong. Cat may not be hers, but they’re something to each other. Not knowing what to say, she exhales, “It’s complicated.”

Vasquez smirks, but doesn’t argue, just muses, “She is a complicated woman.”

Truer words have rarely been spoken. “Very.” Alex offers no further explanations. As they reach the transport division, she note several trucks unloading incoming people while only a few appear to be headed out, research and road repair units mostly by the look of it. “Keep an eye on things,” she tells Vasquez and leaps onto the bed of an outbound truck marked, ‘CatCo Plaza’ with a hand lettered sign.

The truck heads out into eerily quiet streets. National City is normally all about the cars, but most of the civilian population is still in the camps east of the mountains and the  roads near downtown are so torn apart  that moving around is no simple trick. As they pass by central downtown, she glimpses the burned out shadow of the one of the creatures. It’s broken, large sections of it burned down until it looks like a giant piece of charcoal. As they keep moving, she catches glimpses of the jagged profile of its chest. She stares, hunting for any sign of movement or still burning embers.

“It still kinda glows at night,” the soldier to her right says. He glances toward the other creature’s remains where they’re just barely visible. “They both do. From what I hear, they may for months.” He shakes his head. “Somebody said Supergirl flew through it...broke out the front of it and killed it.” He makes a face. “I dunno if I believe that.”

“I was there,” Alex says simply. “She did.” Straining to see better, she can just barely make out the damaged profile of the CatCo building. “I thought she was going to die,” she admits, though her voice is so soft, she’s not sure anyone hears. Busy staring at the city, she doesn’t really care. It’s jarring and strange to see her home like this, shattered and broken in the aftermath of the attack, and have it feel so unfamiliar. It’s not just the damage. She’s seen it after some bad earthquakes, but this is different, violent. It’s like the difference between the aftermath of an illness and a beating.

The profile of the city has changed and not in a way that looks like any natural disaster she’s seen before. It’s crunched and broken like kindling. The wharf is shattered, much of the wood burned down to the waterline. The highway that rises from the sea is no better.

Then there’s downtown and especially the CatCo plaza. The buildings circling the plaza are like broken spears of cement sticking up out of the ground, large sections shattered and streaked with ugly black, burn marks. It looks like it’s been hit by a missile.

Or twelve.

As they draw closer to the plaza itself, she sees the cement courtyards are shattered to bits, while the monster that was sliced apart by Lena’s weapon is in pieces in the center. As they drive by, she can’t take her eyes away.

It’s  still smoking.

A gut level wave of fear moves through her, an instinctive terror that it might get back up somehow. It doesn’t, but the fear doesn’t completely pass.

The truck continues on its way, crossing over sectional panels laid over the broken courtyard to reinforce the cement. It’s commonly used to lay down emergency roads and airfields. It lets the heavy truck travel over ground that wouldn’t otherwise bear its weight.

As they draw closer and she can see better, the sight of the alien creature is haunting. The parts and pieces look black and desiccated. It reminds her weirdly of July fourth. They always had snakes, fireworks the size of an aspirin that when lit would expand into spindly snakes of black foam. That’s what the remains remind her of. As a toddler, they were the only fireworks she was allowed to play with, but she was afraid they might spring to life and bite.

She feels the same way about the monster’s remains  with its burned, jagged remains that seem like they just might rise up and come for her again.

She’s relieved when they move on and she sees the signs indicating ‘New CatCo’ and another sign that notes the new Wayne Publishing building is serving as the temporary CatCo building. The truck is headed another direction, so she hops off and decides to go the rest of the way on foot.

It’s probably good to get a look at things anyway.

There are more people than she expects, their gazes unfocused and haunted as they wander through the remains of a formerly robust downtown. All along the walls, there are photos and notes taped up, people looking for family and friends. It’s both touching and heartbreaking.

As Alex walks along, she draws close enough read some of the writing. Many are looking for family  from National City, but others are about people and places all over the world. The desperation is palpable. A part of her wants to help them all even as she knows she can’t.

They must feel so helpless.

She’s lucky. She knows where most of the people she loves are, know they’re healthy and safe. She has the ability to fight for them. She can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to be so powerless.  Here and there she sees what seem to be security people trying to give directions and offer help. They wear a mishmash of uniforms, but seem to have identical patches on their chests. She doesn’t get close enough to get a good look.
                    
She walks a little farther when something teases her nose, the smell a little slice of heaven. A mobile wagon of some kind is rolled alongside the building by a pair of white garbed cooks. They come to a halt and  start distributing bottled water and paper plates of food, bread and some kind barbecue by the smell of it. They’re wearing same patches as the security people. When she gets close enough, she can see the patches are safety pinned on and have a CatCo logo on them. It’s all very jury rigged, but seems to be working to let folks know they’ll help.

There’s no sign of anyone having to pay for the food, and it seems to be available for everyone. Alex is tempted. She has no idea when she last ate, and it smells wonderful, but these people are hungry and she has easy access to MREs back at the base. She can’t take it under those circumstances.

She’s still contemplating the morality of taking the food when someone comes up on her left.

“Alex?”

Alex pivots just in time to absorb a hug so desperate it nearly knocks her off her feet.

Winn. He looks good, if a bit silly in his usual chinos and cardigan. Somehow it seems like the end of the world ought to come with a more impressive wardrobe. He grins and giggles and hugs her so hard he almost lifts her off her feet.

“You’re back from the emergency camp,” she says with a laugh as he bounces around her like a happy puppy.

“Yeah, I’m in National City to help with the kiosks Wayne Tech setting up. They’ll be wired up with special computer systems designed to help people find their families.” He makes an expansive gesture with his hands. “It’s all supposed to be linked into an international database; names, photos, videos, plus searchable images.” He leans in close, his voice dropping low. “How’s Kara?”

“She’s alive and regained consciousness for a few minutes, but she inhaled lava, not good even for her, for her to heal. I checked on her before I left. Her vitals were better and she was sleeping comfortably.” She straightens her shoulders. “I wouldn’t have left her otherwise.”

“I know,” he says instantly, then adds, “I know you wouldn’t leave Kara if she needed you.”

Alex shakes her head. “No,” she exhales, something hurt and guilt ridden in her voice. “In fact, I—”

“I know you wouldn’t leave anyone,” Winn interrupts, then glances toward the front of the Wayne building. A hand lettered sign on the front reads, ‘New CatCo’. “So does Miss Grant. She left orders to bring you up if anyone saw you.”

Alex looks startled. “She did?”

“Yeah,” he curls a hand to her upper arm, not manhandling her in any way, but like he’s a little worried she might make a run for it. “We heard what happened and She’s been worried.” He gnaws on his lower lip. “You just disappeared and the DEO wasn’t responding to information requests.”

Alex’s brow draws into a frown. “You work for the DEO,” she reminds him.

“Sorta,” he agrees, then rolls his eyes. “But they wouldn’t tell me anything.” He shrugs. “And Miss Grant does not handle that sort of rejection well.” He looks at her curiously. “She was really worried about you.”

There’s a question implicit in his look. Alex ignores it.

Winn waves to the security guards on duty and the doors are immediately pulled open for them.

As they step inside, Alex sees more people working security in the distance. They’re wearing a mix of civilian and military gear. Despite the variety, they all seem to have CatCo patches pinned on somewhere.

“Things are a little disorganized,” Winn mutters as he leads her inside. “The government loaned me to Wayne Tech, and they’re loaning me to CatCo to help set up the kiosks and software to locate families, but there’s a lot more going on. Meanwhile—” Alex’s stomach grumbles and he gestures back toward the courtyard and the food wagon—“you can eat at any of the food stations being set up. They’re free for anyone. Miss Grant just asks folks to pass it along and help someone else when they get a chance. It’s all about helping people right now.”

Alex glances back at the people staggering from point to point. “I didn’t want to take food from people who are hungry.”

“You won’t. We’ve made arrangements with anybody willing to help feed folks. Not many people have come back yet, but they will and Miss Grant is making arrangements. She won’t see her people starve.”

Alex doesn’t know what kinds of plans Cat has made, but it fits that she’s made them. “She didn’t let the soldiers starve either.”

“Sounds like Miss Grant,” Winn says, then waves them through another security station. “She’s bringing in volunteers to go into the neighborhoods and help pass out food to people out in the community who can’t come in. She also trying to arrange to bring in basic meds...for diabetes, high blood pressure, stuff like that.”

As they move through the foyer, people are visibly working, some at desks, writing, others running cable and setting up cubicles. The building is relatively open and bare, but there’s some basic equipment and more being installed.

“Miss Grant is hoping to come out with a Sunday edition...online for sure, but we’re trying for a print run since most people in the city don’t have internet access. Things are a little crazy.”

“Cat’s on the move,” Alex drawls with a proud smile.

“Miss Grant’s pretty amazing,” Winn agrees. They reach a bank of elevators and he picks the farthest with the quick explanation. “The others don’t stop on all floors. This is Bruce Wayne’s personal elevator.” He leans close and gets a faintly conspiratorial look. “It’s also the only one that can go below Lower Level Two. There’s supposedly a Batmobile down there somewhere if you look hard enough.”

Alex wouldn’t be surprised, but given how secretive Bruce is, she doubts the quality of the rumor mill. “That sounds a lot like wishful thinking,” she says, one eyebrow climbing high on her forehead.

“But you know who he really is,” Winn says, all but bouncing on his feet with excitement.

“I know who a lot of people are,” Alex sighs, suddenly feeling exhausted by Winn’s inexhaustible energy. It’s a relief when the elevator suddenly comes to a halt and the elevator doors open onto a wide office space. It’s brightly lit with people moving, though several pause as she enters. She can’t hold back a smile as she notes the magenta cat sculpture that sits overlooking the place from a divider wall. She wonders if it’s the original or a spare.

“This building tops out at thirty stories,” Winn explains, his voice a background drone as he explains, “It was intended to house new offices for Wayne Publishing, but with the attack, things got delayed. It’s got the latest in green power sources, plus a full publishing facility only a mile away...”

He’s still talking, but Alex is barely listening as her eyes go to the glass enclosed office at the center of a cluster of cubicles. Cat’s there, her back to Alex, but she could swear she picks out the distinct odor of her perfume even from a distance. It’s sweet and a bit tart and it reminds her of a body pressed close. The doors are closed, but she can see the broad, glass topped table that clearly serves as a desk. There’s a laptop and a large monitor. Papers are taped to the glass walls all around the room. It only takes a glance to confirm they’re photos from the different fights with the creatures.

Winn steps past her, pushing the door open just as Alex hears Cat, her voice sharp and authoritative. Despite the working hum, it’s easy to pluck her out of the hubbub.

“No, Senator, I’m not going to do that. Your son will have to deal with the authorities on his own.” Cat’s leaning back in an oversize office chair, her left arm visibly protected by a cast, while her right leg is wrapped in a padded brace that runs from her ankle to mid thigh. Her foot’s propped up on a paint can. She’s holding a phone to her ear with her right hand, her voice loud enough to carry even above the general din of the CatCo editorial floor. Maybe it’s the unique note of command she uses. “I really doubt that, Senator.”

At the same time, Winn clears his throat.

And Cat turns, pivoting her chair around. “Alex,” she breathes. She barely makes a sound.

Alex knows she should say something, offer a greeting, and keep it cool. She shouldn’t cross the distance between them and fall to a knee in front of Cat, shouldn’t lay her cheek on Cat’s lap, certainly shouldn’t whisper, “I’m sorry,” over and over. She absolutely shouldn’t cry.

Which is why it’s faintly overwhelming that she does all of that.

“Shhhh,” Cat whispers, her touch tender as she brushes silky hair back. “It’s okay.”

“I didn’t know,” Alex insists raggedly, caught up in the emotion that washes over her. She tries to get herself under control and fails hopelessly until she’s sagged against Cat’s hip, an arm wrapped loosely around her waist, her head in her lap.

“I know that,” Cat says very softly, still combing gentle fingers through her hair. She’s so careful and tender that Alex sinks deeper into her hold. “I know you wouldn’t have left me behind.”

“I wouldn’t,” Alex rasps, her throat suddenly tired and aching. She lifts her head and realizes that Winn has disappeared and closed the office doors in his wake. The glass surrounding the office is suddenly opaque with a faint blue tint.  

“It’s privacy glass,” Cat answers the unspoken question. “Darkens with the flick of a button.”

Alex nods. “Makes sense,” she says softly, feeling a little dazed. She doesn’t even know how to express her emotions.  It’s all catching up with her too quickly. “You should tell me to go to hell and—”

“No,” Cat says just loudly enough to over-ride any objections. “No,” she says again, her voice soft and serious. She cups her hand along Alex’s cheek. “You were afraid Kara would die.” She’s incredibly tender. “My guess is you sat with her until you knew she’d make it.” Hazel eyes search her face. “She’s all right, isn’t she? You wouldn’t be here otherwise.” She sounds eerily confident.

Alex manages a shaky nod. “She...uh...she was unconscious for hours. It was so hot even Kara got burns—on her skin...inside her lungs.” She scrubs away tears, and sinks back against Cat’s hip, tension draining out of her as Cat goes back to rhythmically petting her hair.

“Have you had any sleep?” Cat asks quietly at some point.

Alex pauses, the question feeling like it was asked using some language other than English. “Does a syringe with a Mickey Finn count?” she finally asks.

She feels a warm brush as Cat leans down and presses a kiss to her temple. “My poor knight in alien armor,” she exhales against Alex’s skin, her warm breath and soothing.

The tenderness is nearly Alex’s undoing, leaving her ready to buckle completely. She wants to crawl onto the safety of Cat’s lap, hold on and never let go. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “I should have checked on you. I just thought...I thought I could trust the team...” Her voice falters and nearly disappears entirely. “I’m so sorry.”

“Alex, you did nothing wrong,” Cat says firmly. Resting her cheek on the top of Alex’s head she goes back to petting dark hair with rhythmic strokes. “You saved my life and you saved the world.” She presses another kiss to Alex’s temple. “And we’re all still here. I’m still here.”

Alex has no idea how long she kneels there like that while Cat strokes her hair and whispers soothing reassurances. It’s the first time since all hell broke loose that she willingly just lets go, her body aching and exhausted. She’s lost all sense of time when she hears the soft click of a door latch, then the sound of a hesitantly cleared throat.

“Your...uh...your helicopter’s here, Miss Grant.” It’s Winn and he sounds utterly terrified.

“Thank you, Winslow,” Cat says softly. She ruffles Alex’s hair and draws her chin up until their eyes meet. “Time to go home for the day.”

It’s sunset outside. The building lights are on, but they aren’t bright. What little she can see of the city is mostly dark.

It occurs to Alex that she didn’t expect to be banished so soon and she hasn’t even mentioned Lena Luthor or asked any questions, but she won’t make demands. “I...uh...I should call in and head back,” she mumbles a little dazedly, not quite certain what to say or do. “I need to check on things...see if Kara’s awake yet, if there’s any news...” As she says that she glances at Winn. His gaze abruptly snaps upward toward the ceiling and he looks confused with a large dose of terror.

“You can call from the penthouse,” Cat responds in a tone that says it’s settled as far as she’s concerned. Alex will be coming with her. “There have been no major government announcements since you arrived.” She raises an eyebrow and gives Winn a sharp look. “Chair,” she orders simply.

He disappears and reappears a moment later with a manual wheelchair.

“God, I hate that thing,” Cat mutters under her breath. “Stupid uncomfortable contraption...”

“I can solve that problem,” Alex says almost cheerfully. It’s good to focus on something controllable. She pushes to her feet and leans down to reach for Cat. “Your coach awaits, m’ady.”

The gallantry earns a wry smile. “You aren’t wearing armor now,” Cat reminds her.

“No worry. You aren’t exactly a heavyweight. It’s an easy lift, with or without armor.” Alex gets a nod of approval and slips one hand around behind Cat’s back and the other under her knees with exaggerated care. “Tell me if there’s a problem.”

“You’re the one whose back is at stake,” Cat mumbles and slips her good arm around the back of Alex’s neck, clinging tightly as she presses into her shoulder.

Winn’s eyes are huge and he looks like he might swallow his tongue at any moment, but he remains silent, just holds the door open and steps aside to make way. “The elevator’s waiting and the helicopter’s on the roof,” he tells them, gesturing Alex in the right direction when she looks a little confused. “The freight elevator is at the end of the hallway. It goes to the roof.”

As they step aboard the elevator Alex is surprised by the size. It could easily hold several gurneys with full medical teams, or possibly a Batmobile. Winn hits a button and it glides upward without making a sound. They reach the roof in record time to find a passenger helicopter is waiting.

With Alex carrying Cat while Winn handles her briefcase, they quickly load things up. Cat takes the rear seat on the right while Alex climbs in next to her on the left. Winn leans in and hands over a  soft sided briefcase stuffed to the brim.  He keeps glancing nervously at Alex.

“James sent in samples he wants to use in the photo essay and I included the stories we were thinking about using from the field teams,” he says by way of explanation.

Cat gives a sharp wave and gestures him forward. She says something, but with the helicopter revving up, Alex can’t really hear. She just catches a word or two, but Cat’s saying something about, “...discretion, Winslow.”

“Of course, Miss Grant,” he says with a small nod. He looks across at Alex with an expression that seems worried and questioning to her, but he doesn’t address any comments to her, just flees.

As Alex settles into her seat Cat passes her a pair of earmuff style headphones that include a microphone. Alex has used similar types plenty of times. They’ll block most of the engine sounds, but also allow communication with each other and the pilot. Cat settles hers into place as someone locks down the doors and seps back.

The pilot glances back. “Do you want to circle the city, Miss Grant?” she asks.

Cat toggles a switch on the console between their seats. “It’s up to you,” she says with a small nod to Alex, her voice coming in loud and clear over the headset while the pulse of the engine fades away. “I’ve seen the damage, but if you want a look...”

Alex considers it then shakes her head. “I saw enough on the truck ride in from the base. I’m not sure I’m ready for more,” she admits, the words coming in halting pauses.

Cat nods and reaches out.  Her injured left hand is on Alex’s side, so it’s awkward, but she settles her fingers on Alex’s palm so skin touches skin instead of the cold plastic cast. She toggles something again, connecting back to the pilot. “Just take us home.”

Home. It seems like an alien word given the situation, but it warms something in Alex’s chest.

The journey takes place in silence. The sun is still setting, but the city is darker than Alex has ever seen it. It’s haunting and a little creepy, like something out of a movie about the end of the world. She’s oddly relieved when she spots a high rise with a landing pad on the roof, the lights glowing brightly.

“With most of the city empty, I’ve moved a lot of my staff into my building. We’ve got running water and a generator truck to supply power, albeit limited amounts, since we’re sharing with a civilian medical center. With the roads so torn up, the chopper is doing steady transport runs. It’s a safe haven...” She looks over at Alex. “If you ever need it...” She leaves the rest of the invitation unspoken, but Alex nods in acknowledgment.

“Do you want me to get your crutches, Miss Grant, or I can—” the pilot begins as they sweep in for a landing.

“I can help her,” Alex says firmly, a little startled by the faintly possessive urge that slips through her. The pilot is young and pretty and too blonde for comfort. She’d prefer a more grizzled option, who looked less like her sister, though she tells herself it’s because she’d rather someone with more experience. She sees the way a blonde brow rises toward Cat’s hairline.

“Regular time in the morning?” the pilot asks, oblivious to any undertones.

“Actually, hold off until I call for you, if you would.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” She’s sweet and adoring and Alex considers punching her in the mouth when she offers to help get Cat inside.

“That’s all right, Sam. I’ll be fine.” Cat nods Alex’s way and offers and gamine grin. “I’m sure my bodyguard will look after me.”

There are a few lights on in the building and something more brightly lit on the ground floor, but it’s otherwise unnaturally dark. Thankfully, the landing lights give them plenty of illumination, so it’s easy once they land.  Cat’s folio has a shoulder strap, so Alex slings it on, then crosses around to the other side. There’s someone waiting for them, another of the randomly dressed security people with a CatCo patch. She’s wearing a National City police officer’s uniform and armed.

Alex lifts Cat out of the chopper, and steps down from the landing pad.

“Need any help?” the officer asks.

“We’re good,” Alex mutters.  Cat’s easy enough to carry, but it takes some concentration.

“Thank you, officer Garcia. Actually, would you bring up two orders of whatever’s the special tonight?”

“No problem, Miss Grant. Anything else?”

“What’s the status on water and electricity?”

“The water’s good...the hot water even. The repair crew worked wonders. The generator truck is diverting a lot of power to the clinic, so we’re on brownout...elevators and limited utilities only.”

“Understood.” Cat sighs and leans her head against Alex’s shoulder. She smells good and the weight and solidity of her feels right in Alex’s arms. They step onto what appears to be private elevator and the officer activates it with a key, then punches various buttons. She seems to know the routine.

They step out into a limited hallway with emergency lights glowing softly, then the officer unlocks one of two doors and gestures Alex inside. Cat’s penthouse is dark, the faint illumination supplied by a broad, open window with its curtains pulled wide. The sun has set and the moon is rising. The city is mostly dark with only a few scattered lights.

Cat reaches past Alex’s shoulder and flips on a light as they enter the apartment. It looks to be battery powered and puts off a dim glow, just enough to give a decent look at the place. It’s nice and undoubtedly very expensive, with a small foyer that opens onto a broad, split level room.

A desk and dining set have been pushed against the walls, opening up the space while a large, sectional couch dominates the lower area, the cushions deep, the color ghostly pale. There’s a coffee table in front of the couch. It’s all tasteful and doubtless expensive.

Less designer chic is a wooden ramp that’s been jury rigged to allow wheelchair access to the lower section.

She experiences a rush of guilt at the thought of Cat dealing with mobility issues on her own. She should have been there for her.

“There’s a set of crutches on the coffee table,” Cat says as Alex settles her on the couch. Oblivious to Alex’s guilt, she points at brace on her leg. “I’m allowed to take this damn thing off at night and supposed to do some stretching exercises.” There are velcro straps on the leg brace and she starts pulling them free.

“Does you need therapy?” Alex asks as she slides to a knee in front of Cat. She pulls out a small flashlight to study the damage. There are surgical scars on both sides of her knee, but her calf and thigh are unblemished, suggesting no major tendon damage. It looks like it should heal clean, but knee injuries can be tricky.

“Probably,” Cat sighs. “I was lucky. It’s not very bad...and it was arthroscopic surgery done in some special medical van Lucy arranged.” She shrugs. “The surgeon cleaned bone chips and torn cartilage from my knee but an MRI showed less damage than expected. It’ll take awhile, but I should eventually walk fine.”

Alex has to swallow hard to control a rush of emotion. The scars are puckered and an ugly shade of red. She touches one lightly with a gentle finger. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

Cat ruffles her hair with a gentle hand. “Kara must have been in agony and terrified. She needed you and you needed to be there for her.”

“But you—”

“Thanks to you I wasn’t very badly hurt and Lucy saw to it I had the best care possible,” Cat says firmly. “There was some damage, but I’ll heal.” She strokes Alex’s cheek tenderly.

“I’ll see the bastard who left you behind pay,” Alex hisses, fury in her eyes.

“His career will be utterly destroyed,” Cat agrees, her tone quietly practical. “I’ll see to it.”

“Of course you will,” Alex exhales. She’d rather beat the crap out him, but Cat undoubtedly has her own methods for meting out justice. “He did it because he believed some bullshit story Mon El—Kara’s boyfriend—told him.” Alex feels like she might vomit. “Claimed you were chasing after Kara.” There shouldn’t be a questioning note in her voice, but she’s afraid there is.

There’s a knock at the door.

“That will be dinner,” Cat says with a small shooing motion. She ignores everything else.

Alex hops up, easily retracing her steps to the front door to find officer Garcia just outside carrying what look like a couple of pizza boxes. They’re warm and smell wonderful.

“Dinner,” the officer says as she hands it over. “The cook liberated some shipments from one of those expensive cheese and smoked meat shops before the stuff went bad, so it’s kinda pepperoni-ish. Pretty good, if you ask me and...” She reaches into a side pocket and pulls out a wine bottle It’s not very big, but enough for a couple of nice sized glasses. “My dad sent this for Miss Grant. He’s doing better since he got his asthma meds. He wanted to thank her and he needs to stay off the sauce anyway.”

“I’ll tell her,” Alex says as she takes the food and the wine.”

“Miss Grant knows, but since you’re new around here, Marco needs the pizza boxes back if they’re in decent shape when you’re done. He can’t exactly reorder the things right now and he doesn’t have many unused ones left. Less garbage stacking up is good too.”

“I’ll take care of it.” Alex stacks the food, says her thank yous, then slips back inside.

She finds Cat relaxed comfortably into the cushions. She looks tired, but she smiles when Alex holds up the wine. “Plates and wine glasses are in the sideboard,” she says with a small gesture toward a large cabinet along one wall.

After everything that’s happened, Alex doesn’t know what to say or how to start saying it. She opens with a babbly comment. “I can’t believe that in the middle the apocalypse you have wine and pepperoni-ish pizza delivery—”

“Marco makes pretty good pizza too,” Cat says with a smile as Alex sets things out. “There’s a wood fired pizza oven in the restaurant on the ground floor and Marco was the fire tender. He stayed in town to look after his grandmother, so when the world didn’t come to an end he opened back up and started cooking. He’s a good kid.” She shrugs. “He’s not the only one. The military dropped MREs into the camps, but have mostly ignored the city, so they’ve been repurposing anything they could find, plus we’ve used our shipping trucks to bring supplies in from the farms.”

“So you fed us one way, now you’re feeding the city another.” Alex plops down on the floor on the other side of the coffee table and grabs for a slice. The taste isn’t what she’s used to, but it’s good, though that may be as much about the fact that it’s hot and fresh and she’s sick of room temperature MREs. Cat pours her a measure of wine. It’s better than the food, or maybe it’s just that it feels like the return of civilization.

Cat, meanwhile, waves off Alex’s praise. “I’m not feeding anyone. That’s people out there working their asses off and helping others. I’m just talking about things.”

“And motivating and organizing and—”

“How’s Kara? How bad was the damage?” Cat asks. She’s been told enough to know Kara’s alive, but this is a demand for a complete accounting.

Alex has the sense from her expression that she barely resisted interrogating her from the first moment she appeared. The fear she sees could make her a little jealous. It’s a reminder of how easy Kara is to love, and Cat’s one more person who loves her. But it’s also a testament to who Cat is, that she’s always there for Kara and always keeps her secrets.

Alex freezes. She sees the fear in blue eyes. She understands, but can’t answer for a moment.

“Alex?” Cat repeats her name, fear suddenly thickening her voice.

“There were burns, even in her lungs, but she’s alive and she’s healing,” Alex gasps as she jerks herself out of the momentary paralysis, her mind suddenly racing. She’s so tired she’s not thinking clearly or quickly. “It was pretty bad...I stayed with her the whole time.”

“Thank god,” Cat exhales and lets out a relieved sigh. “I was sure you’d only be here if she was all right, but...” She trails off and doesn’t finish. Finally she straightens her shoulders and seems to resettle herself. “I want to hear all the details.”

So Alex begins speaking, the words at first coming out of control. Sometimes they spill out in a torrent, other times her voice slows and she can barely say a thing. She’s been through so much and she’s still processing it as she talks.

Cat mostly listens. Occasionally she asks a brief question, but she soon falls silent again and lets Alex get everything off her chest.

Without planning, Alex finds herself opening up to that very lack of questions, as if she can’t quite stand the silence. She tells Cat about the fear, the hours of sitting with Kara and talking to her while helping the doctors slowly chip away layers of solidified rock. There are tears when she tells how the cold lava  adhered and Kara’s skin was left welted and blistered as it came free. There are more tears when she talks about how Kara finally held her hand and spoke, her voice a pained rasp so soft Alex could barely hear her.

But she spoke.

“Then a nurse stabbed me with a needle,” Alex adds. She doesn’t plan for it to be a one liner, but it comes out that way nonetheless. “In the back, no less. Knocked me out. I don’t even know how long I sat with Kara...how long I was out...or even how long ago the fight was...” she confesses.

Cat’s silent for a long moment and Alex has the sense she’s debating the answer. “It’s been days since the fight,” she finally admits. “I’ve kind of lost track, honestly. First with the surgery and the aftermath. Everything’s been a bit frozen since then...like everyone was...waiting...but nothing’s happened.” She pauses for a moment. “We’re posting a timeline in the Sunday edition. It’s scary that it’s been less than a month...”

Alex flinches as if dealt a body blow. She’s up and moving, her stomach is full, and Kara is still lying in a hospital bed. “I-I should call in to the base to check on her,” she mumbles.

“I’d offer to leave, but I don’t do that very quickly right now.” Cat gestures toward to the right of the broad picture window. “There are doors onto the balcony. That should give you plenty of privacy.”

Alex momentarily debates waving the offer off, telling herself she has nothing to hide from Cat.

But she does, even if she’s not entirely sure what it is.

“I’ll just be a few minutes,” she says and slips out.

“Take your time.” Cat’s voice follows her as she steps into the chilly night air.

The balcony is wide, but not very deep. There’s a metal table and chair set and a lounger. She can envision Cat keeping watch over her city while having breakfast or working on her tan. She knows Kara often visited Cat on her office balcony and she wonders if she came here as well.

Did they stand out here together and share secrets? Kara has talked about how much Cat has helped advise her. Cat mentioned a single stolen kiss, but said no more. Did it happen here? The idea makes her stomach knot up because she can almost see it. It’s a beautiful spot where someone’s emotions could easily get the better of them.

Cat’s a passionate woman and Alex has seen the aftermath of her heartbreak. It’s real and whatever happened cut to the quick. Were they out here and she leaned in only for Kara to  reject her? Alex knows it probably wouldn’t be cruel. She’s seen Kara’s rejections. They always seem sort of embarrassed and fumbling, but she knows she got pretty firm with Winn and James when she stepped away. Both men were hurt. She’s not deliberately cruel, but she can be unintentionally callous in her innocence of human emotion.

Did she do that with Cat? Did she miss the signs that Cat was more emotionally invested than she realized? Was that the reason for the heartbreak and drunkenness that first night?

Suddenly queasy, she almost can’t call in. Her hands are shaking almost too hard to dial, but she shakes it off. Kara is her sister. She owes her. That won’t change even if Kara screwed up then or if Alex is screwing up now.

A new kind of terror tightens Alex’s stomach as she remembers that she left Kara sleeping and maybe she’s awake and scared or lonely. Maybe she was wrong to leave. Maybe she let her feelings drive her to chase after Cat when she should have been more objective. Maybe she should have been more focused on her sister.

She feels guilty because maybe there are things there she had no business getting in the way of. She knows Cat and Kara were close. Is she the interloper threatening to keep true loves apart? Most fiction has a character whose task is just to slow things down, so true love isn’t too easy. She has a horrible feeling, that might be her role.

She fights the shaking as she dials in and she tries to calm herself so she doesn’t sound like a nervous wreck. She knows the extension that takes her directly to Kara’s special sickbay.

She recognizes the nurse who picks up and quickly questions how Kara's doing.

“Would you like to talk to her?” the nurse asks.
                        
Alex’s pulse rushes. “Can she talk?” she whispers.

“Not much. She woke up a little while ago and had a bite to eat. Her voice is pretty rough, but she’ll manage for you.” The nurse sounds confident.

“Please,” Alex whispers, her voice threatening to break up. She can hear the nurse speaking to someone in the background, her voice soft and soothing.

Finally, she hears Kara, her voice harsh and raspy enough she almost can’t recognize her. “Alex?”

“I’m here,” Alex assures her, using the gentlest, most loving tone she can. “Do you need me? I’ll get back as fast as possible if you do.” She suddenly wishes she’d requisitioned a vehicle. Then she could be back on base in minutes. Maybe Cat’s chopper pilot could take her. She should have been there, not out here.

“Naw,” Kara assures her. “Mos’ly sleepin’. Tired,” she slurs, sounding exhausted.

“I’m so glad you’re awake,” Alex says, wiping away a few tears. “That means you’re getting better.”

“Sound bad...st’pid lava,” Kara mumbles. “R’lly bad.” She coughs hard as if to punctuate the point.

“Take your time,” Alex says instantly, not wanting her sister to push herself too hard.

“S’ry,” Kara wheezes. “St’pid feeding tube,” she adds with some venom. She’s had to wear one a couple of times before and hates it. It’s like what’s used in hospitals to feed patients through the nose. It’s the only way to keep her weight from plummeting sometimes because her body burns calories so fast, especially when she’s hurt.

“You leave it alone,” Alex orders using her sharpest, big sister voice. Kara hates all the tubes and will pull them out if she has a chance. “Don’t make me call Mom to come kick your ass.”

She hears a grumpy grumble in response.

“I mean it, Kara,” Alex reiterates using a softer tone, going from commanding to wheedling. “You need the calories while you’re healing. You know how much energy your body uses and you’ve already lost weight. If you’re a good girl, I’ll try to bring you back some pizza from a street vendor.” She didn’t quite finish hers, and maybe Cat can arrange for more.

This grumble is a bit less cranky sounding.

“Until then, is there anything I can do for you?”

Kara’s silent long enough that Alex thinks maybe she’s fallen asleep when she finally speaks up. “Cat,” she says simply, her meaning not clear.

Alex’s hear suddenly pounds hard enough to leave her wondering if Kara’s super hearing can pick it up even in sickbay. “I don’t...what?”

“Sh’s no’ here,” Kara slurs and Alex can tell by the pauses the question is a struggle to ask. “C’an you ch’ck on her?”

Alex’s heart pounds even harder and she’s momentarily struck mute.

“Sh’s not here,” Kara repeats a little more clearly as if she’s putting extra effort into it as her rasp turns plantive. “N’ they don’ know an’thin’—”

“She’s okay,” Alex says abruptly. She can’t leave her sister afraid. She knows how miserable and helpless that feels. She won’t leave her suffering through that kind of stress when she can ease it.

“Okay?” Kara repeats uncertainly.

“She was a little banged up in the fight, but they looked after her at a civilian hospital.” As much as she wants to tell her what happened with the DEO screwup, now isn’t the time. “Her knee needed surgery, but she’s okay. Winn’s working for her at her new office. She’s off her feet for the moment, so she’s running him ragged.”

Kara heaves a relieved sigh. “Th’s gud. H’ll take care of her.”

“He will,” Alex assures her. “Everybody will. She’s a hero and they know it.”

“Gud,” Kara slurs. “Sh’s ...‘kay,” she mumbles, “Sl’py now.”

“That’s good. You need all the sleep you can get,” Alex soothes. “I’ll check on you when I get in.”

The phone rattles around enough that Alex is about to hang up when the J’onn surprises her by picking up. “She’s sleeping again,” he explains. “She’s been agitated, so I’ve stayed close to keep her from pulling the lines loose.” No one else is strong enough to fend off her squirming, He sounds a little frustrated, but there’s real affection to his tone.

Alex is relieved to know he’s there with her. “She’s okay though?” she double checks.

“Her vitals are improving. Her weight was going down. You know how fast it can drop, but the feeding tube seems to have it stabilized. Her breathing sounds less labored. Tests suggest her lungs and bronchial tubes are clearing.”

“Thank god,” Alex exhales with heartfelt sincerity.

“Have you managed to speak to Cat Grant?”

Alex tenses and it’s a struggle not to stammer nervously. “I saw her and explained what happened. I think she understands now and believes it was a rogue element.”

“Good to hear. We can’t afford to have her  as an enemy.”

“She’s no enemy, sir,” Alex says seriously.

“Does she have any idea about how Lena Luthor’s device worked?”

“We haven’t talked about it, but I’ll let you know if I find out anything.”

“You do that. Wayne Tech is desperate for any hints they can get. That device is the first weapon that damaged those things, and they want to know how to recreate it if need be.”

“I’ll find out what I can, but I wouldn’t count on learning much. They were still figuring out how it worked in the field, so I’m not sure how much anyone really knows even Lena.”

“Do what you can,” J’onn sighs. “And while you’re there, look around, get a feel for what it’s like on the ground.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Alex says softly, her voice thick with the memory of walking ghosts. “A lot of people are just wandering...in shock, I guess. But things are coming back too. Services are kind of makeshift, but they’re organizing and folks are trying to help each other. They’re even starting to offer street food. Had some pretty good pizza for dinner.”

J’onn’s silent for a moment before he says, “I can’t tell you how to fix the world, but if you can find anything like that, Kara’s hungry I think, but you know how she is about the tube and MREs.”

“I’ll bring something, I promise. Do I need to hurry—”

“She’ll sleep for hours now,” he reiterates. “And with the lights out, moving around in the city isn’t always easy.  Our people have had some trouble on the streets. Do you have someplace safe you can spend the night?”

“Yes, sir. Ms. Grant can put me up.”

“Then hunker down and get some rest if you can. Call in if you need help.”

A few more assurances, then Alex hangs up, straightens her shoulders and steps back inside. She feels a little lost. Or a lot lost. Kara’s lying hurt, and she’s here drinking wine, her belly full of weird pizza that tasted sinfully good courtesy of Cat Grant. She’s not sure which is the bigger sin or how to feel about it. She’s not entirely sure how to feel about anything.

Or if she’s honest, she’s not sure how she should feel, How she actually feels is like this is a much needed refuge. It warms her, makes her feel safe, and cared for. After things she’s seen, it makes her feel almost human again.

She feels good about it and she can’t help but think she shouldn’t. She should be on base sharing Kara’s mister, not enjoying the comfort of a woman Kara has feelings for.

And Kara’s there worried about Cat.

Could the universe just punch her in the face please? It would be easier to bear.

“How is she?” Cat asks, sounding concerned.

That very concern forces Alex to question herself. She doesn’t quite know how to respond and wonders if she should step aside and encourage them to stop being stupid and be together.

No. She can’t do that. It may not be the same, but there’s real emotion here too. But at the same time, she’s heard the desperation in Kara’s voice and seen how broken up whatever happened left Cat.

Maybe she should...

Only she can’t. She can’t walk away and she can’t let go without talking all of this out. Kara made her choices and clearly Cat wasn’t one of them. That isn’t a mistake Alex cares to repeat.

It takes her a long moment, but finally, she throws off the paralysis. She has a place here and Cat’s made it obvious she’s wanted.  “She was conscious long enough to speak to me,” she explains. “Her voice sounds pretty bad, but her weight’s finally stabilized and her lungs are clearing...” She pauses as she remembers the good news. It brings a small smile. “She’s hungry and pissed they have her on a feeding tube.” What she just said catches up with Alex. “She’s hungry,” she whispers in a tone of awed wonder. “She survived inhaling fucking lava and she wants pizza.” She giggles, the sound a little hysterical. She feels a rush of guilt again for her dinner, but it doesn’t slow her down as she asks. “Can we get her some...pizza, I mean. I had a couple of pieces left, but it’s not much and Kara—”

“I can have the food sent up.”

“She’d love that. She hates MREs...” Alex stumbles over to couch and sits down hard, her knees suddenly weak. She’s shaky as she leans forward and hides her face in her hands. “We survived,” she feels a little overwhelmed by that realization. She’s startled by the hand that lands on her upper back and begins gently rubbing up and down her spine. Sometimes unexpected touch can make her skin crawl, even from a friend or a lover, but this is different. It’s comforting, soothing a part of her she’s not even sure she should admit to. Her loyalty to Kara makes her question her own emotions, but after everything they’ve been through the comfort of a human hand—of human warmth—is soothing in a way nothing else has been so far.

It leaves her feeling  safe and at peace whether or not it should.

And when Cat simply says, “It’s going to be okay,” for the first time she believes it.

She doesn’t really realize she’s crying until Cat’s daubing at her cheeks with a cloth napkin.

“It’s understandable,” Cat says as if reading her mind. “You’ve been through so much.” She ruffles Alex’s hair, the gesture affectionate. “It’s catching up with you.”

Alex nods. She remembers how Kara asked about Cat even when it was miserably hard for her. She doesn’t say anything. She’s still crying and she scrubs at her cheeks with one hand. It strikes her that she doesn’t smell very good and her teeth feel gritty. During the war she didn’t notice those niceties. Suddenly she wants to feel clean. She wants to feel normal.  She wants the war to be over.

“Alex?” Cat whispers after a long moment of uncertain silence.

“I smell bad,” she whispers, the observation feeling unrelated and disjointed. “I’m tired of smelling bad.” She runs her tongue over her front teeth, tasting the grit. It feels uncivilized. “I never brushed my teeth the whole time we were out there. I still haven’t.” She’s been too busy surviving and looking after Kara, then passed out, and now she’s here, and she can't escape the awareness of it.

Cat smooths her hair back with a light hand. “You’ve had a tough time of it,” she says gently.

Alex shakes her head. She knows people who got hurt or didn’t come home at all. She feels guilty accepting any sympathy. “Plenty had it worse,” she insists, then stammers, “I just...” She shakes her head, suddenly feeling silly. “I smell bad,” she says again, feeling like she’s utterly failing at expressing what’s going on in her head.

Not too surprising. She’s not entirely certain what she’s thinking. It’s like her brain has turned to mush

Cat sighs softly. “Poor baby,” she exhales.

Alex feels like she should protest. She’s hardly a child, but she feels like one, small, and helpless and overwhelmed and she has no idea what to do next.

Another long moment of silence passes, then Cat tugs very lightly on her hair to bring her chin up. “Okay,” Cat says firmly. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to call down for more pizza. That way you’ll have that ready to take back to Kara whenever you go. Then you’re going to help me into the bathroom and we’re going to take care of the cleanliness issues. Okay?”

Alex has no choice but to agree and there’s something comforting about that. It feels good to let someone else take charge for a little while. It lets her zone out as she hears Cat’s voice while gentle fingers comb through her hair.

She’s speaking softly as she explains, “It’s for a friend who was...hurt. Right...a bit of healing and good luck...Thank you.” She falls silent and the couch shifts as she leans close, still tenderly petting dark hair.

Alex is almost dozing when she hears a knock at the door and feels a light tug on her bangs.

“Front door,” Cat says simply.

Still a little dazed, Alex takes an extra second or two to get to her feet. She’s glad for the light cast by the candle as she stumbles back to the front door. She’s back in less than a minute and setting a couple of pizza boxes on the table. “Officer Garcia dropped them off, then hurried on,” she tells Cat.

Cat nods. “She’s patrolling tonight, but she comes by to check on her father since he moved into the building.” That said, she peers up at Alex. “And now cleanliness,” she drawls.

Her tone isn’t precisely suggestive, but there’s knowing note that catches Alex by surprise. She expects directions to the bathroom, maybe even the loan of a bathrobe, but Cat reaches up and hooks a hand around the back of her neck.

“I need a lift.” It’s an implicit command, the meaning clear. “If your back can handle it. Otherwise, I have the crutches or the chair...”

Alex glances at the table and her eyes fall on the food meant for Kara, its presence a reminder that her little sister is back at the base, hurting and alone. She wonders if she’s the shittiest sibling on the planet as she remembers the cabin. “I-I’m not sure it’s a good time—” She straightens, forcing Cat’s hand away as she folds her arms across her chest as if to ward off temptation. The comfort suddenly feels like something stolen.

“I’m not asking for sex.” Cat sounds a bit annoyed and a pale eyebrow climbs high on her forehead as she tips her head to one side. Her mouth tightens in a way that’s not a good sign.

“I...oh...I...” Alex stumbles over how to respond, suddenly embarrassed. She’s startled when Cat folds her arms across her chest and looks away.

“I need help getting into the shower,” Cat admits and gives a stiff shrug. “I thought maybe a little...closeness...would be welcome...” She draws in a deep breath, then blows it out. “I just...obviously I shouldn’t have presumed...” She nods toward the back. “The master bathroom is down that hall to the right. It’s on the far side of my bedroom. There’s a spare toothbrush in the vanity.” Her voice becomes flat, cool, practical.

Alex recognizes the signs that she’s embarrassed and uncomfortable and much like her namesake is covering by pretending nothing’s wrong. “I’m sorry,” she whispers and leans in until their cheeks are close. Cat doesn’t look at her, but Alex keeps her voice soft and coaxing. “Everything still feels a little weird...like it isn’t quite real...and Kara’s still hurting...and I...I just...” She trails off.

Cat is stiff, her hands in her lap. “I didn’t mean to make assumptions or pressure you. It’s been frightening being here alone and I thought...you seemed to relax when I just gave orders...and I...” She doesn’t explain further, just shrugs. “Obviously I was mistaken.” There’s a hint of defensive frost to her tone.

She looks hurt to Alex’s eyes.

Alex hates that look. She hates the realization that she caused it even more. She’s a cowardly idiot. Cat deserves better.

They both do.

“You weren’t wrong,” she finally whispers. “When I found out what happened to you, all I could think about was seeing you and making sure you were okay.” She doesn’t quite admit she just how much she wants to hold the other woman and never let go. She doesn’t have the right to say that right now.

“I am,” Cat says, her voice soft but firm. “I’m fine.”

“I’m glad. When I woke up and couldn’t find you, then found out what happened, I wanted to beat the crap out of the agent who left you. If my commander hadn’t stepped in, I think I would have.” She brushes a light hand along Cat’s shoulder, feeling the way the other woman tenses. “It was the first time I’d been awake and not with Kara since the fight ended and he just wanted briefings and more answers when all I cared about was finding you...and apologizing.” She swallows hard, feeling the rush of emotion again. “I didn’t know until just before I came here. I’m so sorry.”

“I know,” Cat says very softly. She looks up after a long moment. “I know you wouldn’t have left anyone behind.” Any frostiness has melted away.

It’s a quiet statement of confidence, one Alex needs badly to hear. “Never, but especially not you,” she swears intently. Leaning down she braces her hands on the back of the couch on either side of Cat’s shoulders. “I trusted my people and Kara was—”

“You had to go with her,” Cat interrupts, understanding in her eyes. Her shoulders relax faintly and she reaches up, just barely stroking Alex’s cheek. “I know that.”

“I had to,” Alex exhales as the memory of those hours catches up with her. “The lava was still cooling and hardening, and we had to crack it away. She was in and out of consciousness, crying...”

Cat strokes her cheek again and when Alex looks up, she sees she’s crying.

“I couldn’t leave her,” Alex breathes even as guilt washes over her because that’s exactly what she’s done..

It’s a relief that Cat simply says, “Of course not.” There’s no doubt in her tone even if Alex is privately uncertain. “You had to take care of her and you can’t be everywhere...”

“I’m here now,” Alex says very softly, guilt threatening to surge.

“Yes, you are,” Cat says very softly. “And I’m grateful for you...” She doesn’t pressure or demand, just waits.

“And I’m grateful to be here,” Alex finally confesses. She almost wishes Cat would go back to giving orders, but it’s obviously not going to be that simple this time. “I would have gone back,” she insists, “but my commander told me to stay put, says she’s sleeping, and it can be dangerous in the city at night.” She pauses.  “I needed to be there for her.” She stares at Cat with an intense look. “But now I need to be here for you.” Cat’s made the invitation, but she won’t push now. It’s up to her if she wants things to move forward.

And god help her, she wants it more than she knows. “I’m not leaving you behind this time.” Still bent over Cat, she carefully slips her hands under her back and legs, giving her time to reject the contact. “Your chariot awaits,” she says very softly.

Cat doesn’t pull away. Instead she reaches up and wraps an arm around Alex’s shoulders, trust implicit in the silent invitation.

It feels nice and natural and it leaves Alex feeling wanted. “Just let me take care of you,” she begs without planning.

Cat peers at her for a moment, then nods.

Permission given.

Alex braces herself and lifts.  Without artificially enhanced strength, it’s more of a challenge, but it gives her a welcome sense of the shape of the woman in her arms. She can feel the runs of bone and the way muscle flexes to move with her. She can think of worse things.

“Through there,” Cat directs with a small wave. “There’s a step up,” she adds and points at a sharp edged shadow.

In the thin light, the directions help guide her through the apartment until she’s in Cat’s en suite bathroom and setting her on the counter.  She’s careful to protect her leg and stands there waiting as she hears rustling sounds. There’s a bright flare of fire as Cat lights a candle on the counter. It’s thick and clearly been used many times. As the flame settles, it casts a pleasant amber glow giving her a better look.

“I’ve always liked to relax in the bath,” Cat mutters. “Never realized how handy that aromatherapy candle would come in.”

It smells of something a little sweet, but Alex doesn’t recognize the scent. She is, however, relieved to find it casts enough light to spot that there’s both a tub and a shower stall.

She pauses for a moment, then taps the cast protecting Cat’s left forearm. “Is this a problem?”

“It’s 3D printed, all plastic. I can get it as wet as I like.” She offers a small smile as Alex releases a sharp breath.

“Just checking.” She looks toward the shower with an perplexed expression, not quite certain what to do now, though it seems obvious Cat has a plan. The no longer giving orders suddenly seems problematic. Orders feel easier and somehow safer.

“There’s a seat in the shower,” Cat explains, apparently taking pity on her. “Never used it before, but it’s legally required...some access law or other. I admit, I fussed when I bought the place and they required it, but I’m happy enough to have it now.”

Alex nods. “How hot would you like the water?” she asks.

“Scalding,” Cat says firmly. “It’s been mostly cold showers of late and not many of those with the leg.”

Alex has the sense that she isn’t the only one feeling less than ideal on the cleanliness front.

Cat slaps her upper thigh lightly and makes a soft, growling sound. “Stupid knee.”

“Hey now, no insulting that knee. I’m fond of it,” Alex chides and pats Cat’s thigh just above her hand. “And even more fond of its owner.” She leans in close and steals a quick kiss, then ducksdown and brushes Cat’s skirt aside as she pressed a small kiss right over her the top of her thigh. She’s careful to avoid the still healing stitches as she flutters the kiss down to the top of her shin. “Looks like it should heal fairly quickly.” She drops another kiss onto soft flesh, then turns on the hot water. It’s just short of being too much. She finds the fold down seat in the shower, then turns back to Cat. “I...uh...” Alex stammers, suddenly embarrassed as she remembers that showering typically involves the whole naked thing.

Cat solves the problem by peeling her blouse off over her head without a trace of self consciousness. Her bra follows a beat later leaving Alex with little choice except to strip her own clothes off. When Alex turns back she finds Cat unzipping her skirt at the hip. The fabric pools under her. It’s dark and filmy and soft to the touch. Silk, high quality by the feel of it. A brief pause then she steps into the space between Cat’s knees, smiling as Cat hooks a surprisingly strong calf around her thigh and uses her good hand to scoot herself to the edge of the counter.

It makes it easy to slip her hands under Cat’s hips and take her weight as she sits up.

They’re naked and they’ve made love before. Standing there in the candlelit bathroom should probably feel more sexual than it does. Instead it feels safe and tender and when Cat leans close and wraps herself around Alex, she never wants her to let go. They stand there like that, bodies intertwined for a long moment, then she lifts Cat up.

Alex easily bears the weight as she steps into the shower stall and carefully lowers her to the seat, then straightens and reaches for the shampoo. “Let me take care of you” she says, the words almost a plea as she stands over Cat and starts working it through silky hair. It feels good to look after someone in such a simple, normal way. She’s gentle and carefully rinses the soap away, then moves on to conditioner until Cat’s hair is slick and silky in her hands. With Cat’s hair clean, she grabs for the soap and works it into a thick lather before spreading it over velvety skin. The smell is nice, the feel even better and she takes her time spreading silky suds.

Without planning she slips to one knee and presses a soft kiss to Cat’s injured knee as hot water spatters over them. Her shoulders tremble and she thinks she may be crying again.

“Shh,” Cat murmurs at some point. “Let me look after you now.”

Alex doesn’t have it in her to protest. Gentle hands brush her shoulders, then fingercomb her hair. She settles her cheek against Cat’s thigh, turning herself over to the other woman’s careful ministrations. She’s gentle, but thorough as she has Alex stand and turn this way and that so she can spread thick lather over her skin. As the soap fades away, she slips back to her knees under Cat’s guidance and kneels there while her hair is washed clean. The shampoo probably costs a fortune, but it leaves the air smelling nice. Conditioner follows, the smell sweet, the feeling luxuriously silky. She rests her cheek on Cat’s thigh and mumbles soft words of affection as those hands slip through her hair and slide all over her shoulders, smoothing and massaging taut muscle.

It’s the first time since the battles began that she can’t smell even a trace of smoke or blood.

She feels human again.

“Lovely as this is, hot water is limited,” Cat finally murmurs and ruffles her hair gently.

Alex shuts the water off, then grabs for towels. They’re thick and soft and Cat leans into her touch as she ruffles her hair. It’s curlier than Alex remembers and it wraps around her fingers as she brushes it back.

She lifts Cat onto the counter again, then finds herself leaning into gentle hands as they pet and stroke her hair. It’s addictive and she quickly loses track of everything except Cat’s touch and the feel of her skin and hair as they trade caresses back and forth until they’re all but purring.

Cat reaches into a drawer and passes over a fresh toothbrush and floss then points to a bottle of mouthwash on the counter. It’s all mint flavored and by the time she’s done, it feels almost as good as the shower. “All minty fresh,” she finally mumbles and flashes an uncertain look Cat’s direction, not quite certain what to do next.

“Bedroom,” Cat says simply and hooks a hand around her neck in a clear sign she’s to be transported yet again. She does, scooping Cat up, then finding her way to the bed under Cat’s direction. Once there she sinks to the mattress with Cat still in her arms. Maybe there should be nightclothes of some kind, but neither of them bother. A few soft kisses follow, but Alex is too tired to do more than snuggle close as they settle together. Cat curls up against her and pulls the blankets over them as she pets her hair and kisses her temple. It’s soft and warm and utterly safe and she lies there comfortably. She loses all sense of time until she opens her eyes to find sunlight in her eyes and spilling across golden hair. Cat’s lying there silently watching her and giving no clue how long she’s been awake. Alex wishes she had clean clothes, but a night of real sleep has left her feeling ready to face the world. She’s still delaying putting on the dirty uniform when there’s a knock at the front door. Cat points at a robe thrown over a nearby chair and shoos her off.

The robe is thick and fluffy and it neatly hides the fact that she’s naked underneath. At least she hopes it does. She opens up to find officer Garcia is back. Without being asked, she hands over a plastic grocery bag with a couple of containers inside.  It smells wonderful.

Alex concludes Cat must have called ahead or maybe breakfast is a standing order and they just doubled it on assumption.

“Uh...thanks,” she mumbles, embarrassed because she’s sure what the other woman must think.

“It’s no problem.” The officer flashes a bright smile. “I know Ms. Grant works hard and looks after the people who fought in the war.” Then she grabs for another plastic grocery bag that Alex suddenly realizes is hanging over the doorknob. She hands it over without pause. “I figured you might like some clean clothes after, y’know, getting clean.” Okay, so maybe the robe doesn’t hide things as perfectly as she hoped.

Alex glances in the bag to find a stack of dark blue clothes.

“They’re just some spare sweats. You can give them back to Ms. Grant anytime. I figured it would be stupid to finally get a shower, then pull on smoky clothes again.”

“Thanks,” Alex exhales, appreciating the thoughtfulness and how no more questions are asked.

The food is simple, an omelet made with what she’s sure are powdered eggs and the same pizza toppings they had the night before, plus flat bread that’s soft and chewy and tastes suspiciously like pizza dough.

They share the food while they sit together under an open window and enjoy the morning. Alex knows she has to leave soon, but she gives herself this little bit of peace.

Cat seems to be in somewhat the same mental place because they don’t really talk, just sit together and soak up the morning sun.

“I can have a chopper take you back to the DEO whenever you want,” Cat offers at some point. “Or if you prefer, the trucks drive by my office constantly. You can catch one from there.” She seems a little reticent about that solution, but she doesn’t argue.

Alex calls into the DEO for an update. Kara’s still sleeping. Her vitals are stable, and she seems to be breathing more easily.
 
“That’s wonderful,” Cat says when Alex shares the news.

Alex nods, then feels guilty. “She asked me to make sure you were okay,” she confesses.

Cat frowns in confusion. “I thought you said she’s asleep?”

“When I spoke to her last night,” Alex clarifies. “I thought you’d want to know.” That moment suddenly feels like an act of betrayal even if she’s not entirely sure of whom.

Just like being here with Cat at all. She feels like a liar and a cheat. It’s not a normal feeling for her.

“Alex?” Cat prompts when she falls silent. She waits a moment, then speaks a little haltingly. “I’m glad she’s doing better...and grateful for the time with you last night.”

Alex doesn’t know what to say. Any thoughts of tortured confession are quickly quashed. She can’t do that when Kara is least able to deal with it and she needs this time. Given how Cat clings, she seems to as well. Finally, she holds on and drinks in the minutes they can share. They take their time and she ends up riding in Cat’s helicopter to the new CatCo building. On the way she gets her first really good look at the damage. It will haunt her for years. Coming in by truck, she didn’t get a full sense of the way high rises have been broken and sheered off or a good view of the burn damage. Now she does and it’s horrifying.

As they land, Cat is very much in charge, ordering her wheelchair, then waving off Winn’s efforts to hover when he suddenly appears.

He does a quickly hidden double take when he glances Alex’s way.  “Hey, Alex.” He peers at her uncertainly. “Is Kara okay?” He sounds worried.

Alex shrugs and holds up the pizza boxes. “She’s healing, but hungry. You know how she hates MREs. I thought maybe the street food would go over better.”

He nods, but there’s still a question in his eyes.

Then Cat’s voice rises above the gathering reporters, “What’s the latest news?”

With Cat’s arrival, reports come in fast from all corners of the room. There’s been no new contact. Wonder Woman and Superman are patrolling the coasts as are other heroes. The government is still recommending against people heading home and handling services in the camps. Cat assures her people they’re still handling shipments of food and amenities to the staff camp. They’ve heard back from James, the unofficial leader on site, and he reports things are going well.

Alex stands off to the side, eager to hear any fresh news, but also uncomfortably aware of the curious gazes directed her way. At most, some may recognize her as Kara’s sister, but she sees little sign of it in their expressions. Mostly she ignores the curiosity with stoic resolve.

The impromptu meeting breaks up, with Winn hanging back as though he’s hoping to speak to Alex alone.

A warning look from Cat chases him off, leaving them alone in her office. The privacy glass dims.

“I need to get back to base,” Alex says, though it’s tempting to stay and hear the news of the world. Really any excuse that would let her stay is tempting but she knows she’s needed elsewhere.

“I already arranged for the chopper to take you when you’re ready,” Cat offers almost instantly.

Alex’s first impulse is to refuse. She doesn’t want to be seen getting special treatment, but it will save time she can spend with Cat and still get back to Kara more quickly. Finally, she nods. “Thanks.” She starts to step away, but Cat clears her throat.

“If you need anything,” the blonde says, her voice a little strained. “I’ll help any way I can. You’re always welcome here or in my home. Showers on demand or if you just need a hot meal.” She sounds a little tremulous. “You’re always welcome,” she repeats and sounds a little stressed

“Thanks. it’s good to hear,” Alex admits, then cocks her head to one side. “Were you really afraid when you were alone?” she asks as she remembers that confession.

“Of course not,” Cat says, her tone frosty. “I helped destroy a lava monster. I’m hardly afraid of the dark.”

She’s not even lying well. In fact, it may be the least believable effort Alex has heard in years. “If I can, I’ll come stay with you tonight,” she says before she lets herself consider it.

Cat looks relieved. “I can send the chopper...and make sure to have more food...for Kara.”

Alex understands it’s a bribe or maybe a justification of sorts. It gives her the excuse she needs to promise, “I’ll be there.”

The helicopter returns her to the base where she finds her sister in her sickbay. She’s grumpy and growling at any nurses who get too close.

In short, she’s about as unKaralike as she gets. J’onn’s there with her and it’s obvious they’ve been arguing about the feeding tube.

Which is why the strange pizza is such a godsend. The crust may be lumpy and the toppings unusual, but a few moments in a microwave and it emits an odor that brings Kara’s nose up and slows the grumbling.

“Alex?” Kara rasps, her voice rough and a little whiny. Her breathing is still painfully ragged, her speech slow and slurred. “MREs?” she asks suspiciously.

“Nope,” Alex denies cheerfully. She holds out the first box and flips up the lid to show what she’s brought. “Pizza.” She notes the way the way Kara’s feeding tube is taped into place with extra heavy duty construction tape that’s supposed to hold up steel girders. According to J’onn, it’s been a struggle to keep the tube in, one she’d be winning if she wasn’t so weak. “It’s not quite what you’re used to, but it’s pretty good.”

Kara grabs a piece. She’s a little tentative, her movements stiff and slow. Most of the lava is gone, even the gritty, grainy parts that were like black sandpaper, but her skin is still raw and red and the blisters are ugly. She takes a cautious bite, then another, then a smile slowly curves her mouth. “‘S good,” she admits, digging in more seriously, though it’s slow and swallowing obviously hurts.

Alex nods, pulling up a chair, ready to help if needed. “Vincenzo’s is now Marko’s. The kid who was the fire tender stayed in town to look after his grandmother, so he’s using anything he can come up with and feeding people.”

Kara nods, clearly listening carefully. “Nation’l city?” she asks with effort.

“There’s a lot of damage,” Alex admits despite any temptation to avoid the question. “The CatCo building and whole plaza are a wreck...condemned. They’re not safe for habitation.”

Kara gives the sad puppy look to end all sad puppy looks.

“But Wayne Publishing has let them take over their new building. It’s got plenty of office space, a print facility and reporters are already putting things together.”

Kara looks relieved, then frowns. “Miss G-Grant?”

The subject might be uncomfortable, but Alex isn’t cruel enough to lie or ignore the question even if she doesn’t explain some things.  “According to Winn she’s writing like mad and hoping to put out a Sunday issue...online and in print.”

Kara grins and gives a thumb up. It gives Alex an opening to tell how the city’s doing, how people are starting to fix things and figure out how to take care of each other.

Kara listens eagerly. She’s over halfway through the first pizza when she pats her stomach and grins. “Gud.”

“That’s right,” Alex says to encourage her, thankful Cat’s already promised to get more

“No MREs?”  Kara asks, then growls before Alex has a chance to answer, “St’pid MREs.” She coughs and makes gagging sounds as she makes a face.

“Hey now, you like the snacks and candy,” Alex reminds her. The way Kara burns through calories keeping her fed’s a challenge and she needs to keep her positive about the topic.

“Pizza’s be’er,” Kara mumbles around a bite.

Alex nods. “Damn straight. You keep that up and there’s more,” she says, silently promising to scour the city if Marko falls through. “But first we need to work on some physical therapy.”

Kara’s mostly cheerful after the promise of another pizza. Alex silently thanks Cat for the foresight to send extra. She silently vows to bring as much as she can. Anything for Kara.

Working with J’onn and a therapist, they get Kara up and walking to focus on her balance and strength. She’s clumsy and flying isn’t even a fantasy yet, but she stops pulling away and works with them. It clearly hurts, but as people come and go, she gets a little social contact and it seems to help. Kara speaks to everyone she encounters and wants to know everything that’s happened to them. She seems hungry for the company and the news, even if her voice is rough and hard to understand.

The one thing she never asks about is Mon El.

It’s a relief really because Alex doesn’t know what to say or how Kara might react if she does, especially after J’onn pulls her aside  during a break. He keeps his voice pitched low and tracks Kara carefully. The news is not good. Mon El is officially missing. No body’s been found, and the experts think the attack nay have involved Daxamite technology. He’s wanted for questioning, but human security teams have been warned he’s considered armed and dangerous. According to J’onn, M’gann is using her connections in the alien community, but she hasn’t heard anything.

Still mulling over what she’s heard, Alex pushes it aside, determined to get back to work on another therapy session. It’s slow and it hurts to watch the way Kara struggles.  She’s lost mobility, but as they keep working with her, she’s starts showing bits of improvement. The bright sunlamps help, but she works hard and Alex promises to take her out into the desert and full sun soon. She knows nothing works like real sun, but also the emotional impact of it is huge.  It’s not instant, but she’s showing signs of healing. It’s amazing really. A human with a similar level of injury would be facing months of recuperation. If they even survived.

They take a break at some point. After some cajoling, Kara agrees to eat some of the hated MREs, especially after a reminder that there’s a second pizza. Alex promises it’s hers if she eats the MREs and works hard at her therapy. Kara whines a bit, but she digs in with extra determination. She’s exhausted by the time they quit for the night, her muscles quivering, her words coming slower and more slurred. J’onn and the nurse leave while Alex continues to sit with her. “You’re going to be okay,” she assures her.

Kara manages a weak nod as she settles into the mattress. “T’red,” she sighs, then offers a wry smile. “G’d t’red.” She flexes her arm to show a muscle. It’s shrunken from where it was before the lava monsters. “G’tin’ strong ag’n.” Her eyelids are visibly sagging.

“You are,” Alex agrees and pats her hand. “You’re getting stronger, but you’ve never been weak.” She tries to make it obvious with her tone that she’s talking about more than physical strength.

Kara looks away and there’s a stiffness to her expression, as though she doesn’t quite know how to respond.

“I mean it,” Alex adds softly. “You’re the bravest person I know.”

Kara’s still looking away and she shakes her head ever so slightly. “You,” she mumbles and reaches out, catching Alex’s hand when she reaches back. She holds on tightly. If she was at normal strength she’d have to be more careful, but there’s only a bit of pain, no broken bones.

Alex squeezes back and Kara heaves a relieved sigh and sinks into the mattress sleepily.

She’s still sitting in companionable silence when Vasquez sticks her head in. “A CatCo chopper just called in,” she tells Alex. “They’re asking if you’re ready for transport.”

Damn.

“Cat...Co,” Kara whispers with effort. She frowns thoughtfully. “Cat?”

Alex nods, momentarily at a loss to how to explain. Kara may not have asked about Mon El, but Cat’s come up more than once. She throws a quick look Vasquez’s way and the agent flinches.

“Sorry,” Vasquez mutters. “I thought Kara was asleep.”

Which makes things worse as sharp ears perk and Kara’s frown deepens.  She’s alert enough to sense something’s up. “Y’said Cat’s okay,” she says after a long moment. “She’s okay?” She looks worried.

“She’s fine,” Alex quickly assures her.

“Why ch’pp’r?”

Vasquez looks guilty and Alex waves her out before Kara notices.

“It’s nothing bad,” Alex quickly assures Kara as she leans over her bed. “I told you Cat was hurt. It’s not bad,” she quickly assures her. “She needed some knee surgery, so she can’t get around without crutches or a wheelchair, and with a cast on one hand, it’s a problem, especially since she’s alone in her penthouse and the streets are a mess—” She opts to go with the truth, or at least a truncated version of it.

“Sh’s okay?” Kara mumbles, still frowning.

“She is. I promise. You’ll be asleep and I figured if I go there, I can help keep her safe and pick up food for you. Win-win.”

It takes a long moment of thought, then Kara whispers, “Sh’s okay?” again.

“She is.”

Kara sags into the mattress. “You'll t’k care...of her?” she rasps.

“I will,” Alex assures her.

Kara’s eyes slip closed. “You’ll pr’tec’ her?”

“I will. I’ll make sure she’s safe,” Alex promises even as she’s wondering if she’s going to hell.

Kara just barely nods. “Sh’s speci’l.”

“She is,” Alex agrees. “I’ll take care of her.” The promise is as serious as any she’s ever made. It seems to make Kara relax  and she’s asleep in moments. Alex slips out.

Vasquez is waiting in the corridor. She draws a breath to comment, but Alex holds up a hand and shakes her head sharply. The last thing she needs right now is superhearing picking up details she’s not ready to explain. “Chopper?” she demands. She knows it’s not fair to be pissed at Vasquez, but she’s not feeling very fair at that moment.

“Roof,” Vasquez answers, then adds a tentative, “Sorry.”

Alex holds up her hand again.

“I packed a gear bag for you,” Vasquez says, working to keep pace with Alex’s longer strides. She hands over a backpack. It’s stuffed full and judging by the weight distribution, there are spare clothes, a handgun and spare magazines inside. When Alex gives her raised eyebrow and makes a point of weighing the bag,Vasquez shrugs. “There are reports of looters.”

Alex nods and thinks of the civil servants still trying to do their jobs. “Probably,” she admits, though she wonders if kids stealing cooking supplies would qualify. “But there are cops and civilians looking after folks too. It’s not the wild west out there.”

“I figured better safe than sorry. Meanwhile, call a chopper and we’ll get there to help quick.”

Alex nods, pausing in the hallway to face Vasquez. “Keep an eye on Kara. She’s doing better, but I’ll feel better if I know people are tracking her.”

“You sure it’s a good time to leave?”

It’s the first time Vasquez has offered any doubts about Cat’s place on her priority list and Alex considers the question for a moment. “Kara’s doing better now and J’onn’s staying close. I need to look after both of them. This is the only way.” It’s the only solution she can think of.

Vasquez doesn’t argue, just promises, “I’ll be here all night, J’onn too is my guess.”

Letting go of her brief irritation, Alex nods. She trusts Vasquez to keep her word and she knows J’onn loves her sister like a daughter. Plus the nurses all adore her. She’s in good hands.

She can leave.

It’s dark out by the time the helicopter lifts off. It’s the chirpy, blonde pilot again. She’s friendly and chatty and has all the signs of having a crush on Cat. She reminds Alex of Kara a little too much to hate her. She’s young and babbly, and she even flies, but the chatter can be tiresome. Then the helicopter is landing and Officer Garcia is waiting. She’s still wearing the CatCo patch, but it’s now properly stitched rather than just safety pinned, though on examination, it’s messy enough to make it obvious it’s hand sewn. She’s friendly and seems relieved to see Alex back.

“Glad to see someone’s staying with Ms. Grant. I’ve worried about her being alone with that leg. I try to check on her, but with things so crazy, well, like I said, I’m glad to see someone staying over.”

The officer leads her down the stairwell to the penthouse where she finds Cat waiting. She’s in her wheelchair, so it’s awkward, but Alex leans down and sweeps her into a hug.

Cat holds on just as tightly and buries her face in Alex’s neck.

The officer slips out with a quiet, “I left the food on the table. You can get me on channel two on the walkie anytime.”

Alex just stands there, hanging on to the woman in her arms. She needed this.

It sets up the new pattern to her life. Days are spent looking after Kara, nights are spent with Cat in her apartment. And if Vasquez raises an eyebrow, she shrugs and mutters, “They both need me.”

And they do. Without her, Kara gets grumpy and recalcitrant in her therapy, but Alex has a knack for knowing what to say and getting her to keep working. Meanwhile, on her own, Cat would likely be trapped alone in her apartment, scared to death and denying it was a problem. She has employees staying in the building, but she insists she needs to stay strong for them. She won’t go to them for help and finally confesses she spent the first nights sleeping in the wheelchair rather than asking for help.

Alex feels awful when she hears about it, but Cat shushes the guilt and insists she needed to be with Kara, then curls up in Alex’s arms. Things are dark and quiet. It’s as if they’re the only people left in the universe. Alex wonders if Cat needs that privacy to admit to any fear or weakness. She holds on as if to reassure them both. It’s when she discovers Cat’s a snuggler in the dark. She curls against Alex and wraps around her, then lies there, cheek pillowed on her chest, seemingly listening to her heartbeat. When Alex cups the back of her head tenderly, she snuggles in deeper and clings.

It may be insane, but it works. Cat and CatCo are both visibly rebuilding while Kara’s getting stronger and gaining back some weight, and while she can’t fly yet, she’s walking better, and her speech is getting clearer.

She still doesn’t ask about Mon El.

So Alex spends her days pushing her sister to get stronger and healthier, then boards the helicopter and returns to Cat’s embrace where they talk and lie wrapped around each other in the dark.

They don’t make love until several nights have passed. It’s not planned. They’re both dead tired and worn by work. Painfully aware of Cat’s injuries, Alex is too afraid of doing more damage. She pulls back the few times it seems headed that way, but Cat never pushes. She seems content to just talk and be held and after everything Alex has been through, the quiet times are a much needed balm.

It’s a relaxed evening. Another small restaurant has opened up on the block, Chinese-ish food this time. It’s good, though Alex suspects the fresh ingredients are mostly what she’d consider weeds from the local park which is getting very overgrown without any groundskeepers on the job. She can’t complain. It’s tasty and something different and people aren’t starving. It’s a quiet evening. Alex has mostly talked about Kara’s progress, then Cat leans back on the couch and stretches out her leg. She’s wearing a smaller brace now. She takes it off and massages her carefully.

“The surgeon saw me today, gave me the new brace and says I can leave it off at night.”

Which leaves Alex to wonder if she was supposed to be keeping the big one on.

“She wants me to start physical therapy.”

Cat speaks quickly enough to answer Alex’s unasked question and she resolves to check with her doctor about the therapy, or maybe just arrange it so she can attend her next appointment. Lucy will probably give her the schedule if Cat doesn’t. Those thoughts in her head, she leans down and kneels at Cat’s feet, carefully placing a soft kiss right over her knee. Her touch is gentle, tentative even. She almost purrs when Cat ruffles her hair. A long moment passes, then she looks up and arches closer. The kiss that follows is slow and gentle and flows from one slow kiss to another until they’re both breathing hard and trembling gently.

Cat carefully brushes dark hair back, then drops a small kiss on full lips. She smiles tenderly and there’s a look of invitation in her eyes.

Alex freezes, both tempted and uncertain. Her hands fall away and she leans back down.

Cat strokes her cheek, then combs gentle fingers through her hair.

Alex presses another soft kiss to Cat’s knee, but she doesn’t move any closer. She’s trembling ever so slightly, It’s not arousal this time.  

A long moment passes and Cat leans down to press a small kiss to the top of her head. “Talk to me,” she whispers and rests her cheek on silky hair.

Alex doesn’t know what to say as she kneels there. She reaches out and runs her fingers along Cat’s knee, feeling the shape of it, then brailing the puckered suture marks.

“Alex?” Cat whispers.

She draws in a breath then after a long moment, lets it out again. She wants to say something but she’s not quite sure what so she stays silent.

“You’ve been through a lot,” Cat sighs. She looks away and she’s quiet for a long moment, when she stammers, “And I know I’m not twenty-five anymore—”

“Thank god,” Alex says without thinking. She tips her head up, peering at Cat with a worried look as it occurs to her that Cat may misread her hesitance. She ducks her head and carefully presses a kiss over Cat’s knee. “I want you,” she finally confesses. “I’m just a little afraid of screwing up or hurting you...”

“Hurting me? How” Cat peers at her, visibly perplexed.

Alex frowns, suddenly hating her own inexperience It leaves her feeling like she’s  constantly on the verge of making some idiot mistake. “I...what if I...what if I get distracted and lose control? I could hurt you.”

Cat doesn’t laugh, thank god. Instead, she seriously considers the question. “Would it excite you if your partner was in pain?” she asks after a long moment.

Alex shakes her head. “Never.” The mere idea appalls her.

“Then I’ll employ the time tested technique of saying, ‘ow,’ if anything hurts. I don’t think it’ll happen, but if it does, you’ll quit and hide under the bed for a week and we’ll get through it.” She offers a gentle smile that wipes away the flush of embarrassment, most of it anyway. She brushes Alex’s hair back and studies her seriously. “It’s not about romance novel sex. That’s mostly silly and impossible anyway. Real life isn’t about rockets going off and losing control. It can be about a lot of things, but for us, I think it’s about being with someone who cares.” She gives the hair falling across Alex’s brow a small tug.”Now since I have a doctor’s permission, I’d like some help standing up and stretching my leg and maybe even walking—with help,” she adds when Alex draws a breath to argue. “And I would very much like to end up in bed...with you...if you’re amenable.” She’s almost courtly about the invitation.

“You’ll tell me if there’s a problem?” Alex double checks. She’s driven to be certain.

“Ow!” Cat belts out loud enough to make Alex flinch. She grins. “I think you’ll hear that.”

“Definitely,” Alex admits, the bit of levity enough to break the tension. Despite the temptation to just sweep Cat up and carry her, she’s careful to offer support and not simply take over as Cat carefully stands and tests her weight on her bad leg. “How does it feel?”

“Stiff and weak...” Cat balances on her other foot and slowly bends her knee back and forth. “But no sharp pains.” Tipping her chin up, she peers down the hallway. “Time to walk.” She takes her time and leans against Alex who carefully supports her through every step as she makes her way back to the bedroom. She makes the full distance, but she sinks down on edge of her bed and lets out a soft whoof of air that suggests it wasn’t easy.

Alex slips to her knees in front of her. “You did really well for the first time walking.” She drops more kisses on Cat’s knee and rubs gently with one hand. She just wants to take care of her.

“Feels nice,” Cat sighs and lets out a soft, pleased sound as Alex keeps fluttering tiny kisses over her knee, then onto her thigh where muscles flex and play under her lips.

Alex keeps dusting small kisses wherever she can reach, exploring slowly, working her way over, then down Cat’s shin. As she explores, she reaches up, her hands idly exploring and pushing soft fabric aside.

Cat moans softly and works her fingers into dark hair, her touch gently encouraging.

It’s definitely not the stuff of romance novels, but it’s nice and it fits Alex’s personality better anyway. Accepting the silent invitation, she fumbles with soft fabric and she eases delicate buttons free. A soft brush of her finger pushes Cat’s blouse aside, then brushes a fingertip down her bare stomach. Her skin is achingly soft and taut muscle flexes. Soft kisses follow the tiny caresses. “I want you,” she admits. She’s wanted to make a move for days, but hasn’t known how.

Cat manages a languorous, “Mhm.” She thinks about it for a moment. “We’re supposed to have hot water again today.” She grins.

Which is how Alex winds up in Cat’s bathtub with plenty of hot water and sweet smelling soap suds. The tub is oversized, which somehow isn’t a surprise. She sits down first while Cat sits on the edge then sinks down into her arms. It lets her make sure she doesn’t fall or slip, just eases down until she’s tucked neatly between Alex’s thighs.

The giant aromatherapy candle is burning and casting a pleasant glow.

On the way to this point, they share kisses and light caresses and Alex accidently gets a few bubbles up her nose and nearly collapses from the giggles.

Cat grins and boops her on the nose with a few more bubbles. It harkens back to a cabin on a cliff and an earlier, simpler time. It eases the fear of making a mistake and encourages Alex to press a soft kiss to Cat’s shoulder.

Making a soft, purring sound Cat leans back and turns toward Alex, welcoming the soft kiss they both lean in to share. More kisses follow, the progress slow and tender as Alex comfortably snuggles the woman in her arms.

They take their time and Alex can hear how her breathing gets rougher as the lazy kisses and caresses continue and slowly intensify. She wonders if she should hurry, but Cat seems content with the pace and she likes the ambling curiosity. She kisses Cat’s shoulder and reaches around her, lazily exploring her arm and shoulder. Cat seems to enjoy the attention an angles her head to press a small kiss to Alex’s inner elbow.

Amazing how a kiss on such a non-erotic place could feel so very erotic and send tiny shudders down her spine. It’s not like every inch of her body is now an erotic zone.

Or maybe it is.

“One of the things I like about women,” Cat muses thoughtfully, “is it can be slow and rambling and not so goal oriented.” She smiles as Alex leans around her and presses a kiss to her cheek. “I like that. It’s nice...relaxing...”

Alex smooths her palm over Cat’s stomach, smiling as muscles dance and quiver under her fingertips. Nice and relaxing. She can’t argue.

“I like how there’s time...not always such a rush...,” Cat continues as Alex’s hand slides lower. A shiver slips through her and she settles more firmly against Alex’s chest. “It can be slow and subtle and you can take all the time in the world.” Her breath catches and a tiny whimper escapes her lips.

“Are you sure?” Alex moans. The candle’s burning down and the water’s only a little above bodyheat now. Her body is quivering. “About all the time in the world, I mean?” she groans. “Because I’m having some doubts here.” A shiver slides over her skin and the throbbing ache in her sex makes it hard to breathe.

Cat pats her knee with a soft laugh and leans her head back against Alex’s shoulder.  “Are you suggesting you’d like a little more goal oriented activity?” she drawls, punctuating the question with a soft chuckle.

“I’ve always been very goal oriented,” Alex confesses. “I got high marks for it in Mary Moppets preschool...”

“Mmm.” Cat does a slow roll until she’s sprawled against Alex, her change in position putting them almost nose to nose while protecting her knee and wrist. She wiggles gently until small, delicate breasts slide against Alex’s sternum. “High marks, huh?”

Alex can’t quite contain a small groan. “Really high marks,” she gasps. It’s probably a stupid thing to say, but with synapses firing all over her brain, it’s the best she can do.

Chuckling softly, Cat drops a small kiss onto Alex’s chest. “So you came out of the womb looking to take over the world?” she teases.

“Says the woman who started with nothing and built a billion dollar media empire,” Alex groans.

“I did,” Cat agrees. “And I had a lot of fun doing it.” Dropping her chin, she nuzzles soft flesh and peppers soft kisses above the curve of Alex’s breasts. After several long moments and low groans, she tips her chin up and grins. “I’m having fun now.”

“Lotta fun,” Alex groans. Her hips undulate gently and her hands tremble. She feels just a little out of control, but in the very the best way with none of the fear that haunted her. She arches back and trusts as Cat’s lips meander back and forth over her chest, gliding her hands down to the small of Cat’s back. The water leaves her skin slick and soft, letting her enjoy the flex and play of muscle and sinew. Sliding her hand lower, she shapes her fingers to the pleasant curve of her ass and pulls gently.

Cat wiggles a bit and squirms higher which sets off several very pleasant sensations as water and smooth flesh swirl over her belly and below. Nice. She shivers and lets out a low moan.

“Mmm, very fun,” Cat drawls as she nibbles on the jut if Alex’s collarbone. Supported by the water, her hips take up a slow, undulating rhythm. “No more fear?” she asks seriously, the look in her eyes reassuring.

“None,” Alex exhales and clings more tightly to the body above her.

Cat smiles. “Good.”

Alex doesn’t recognize her plan until agile fingers brush her stomach and tease her lower ribs.

“You aren’t the only one who can be goal oriented.” Cat informs her, sounding quite triumphant.

“I was never the goal before,” Alex babbles as her body quivers and shivers.

“Mm, pity,” Cat nuzzles Alex’s neck. “We’ll have to remedy that.” Her hips work a little harder, playing counterpoint to Alex’s tiny shivers and uncontrolled squirming. Her hands slip lower, stroking and deliberately swirling warm water.

Cat’s in the driver’s seat. Alex is just along for the ride.

And what a ride. Water and flesh glide over her skin, touching, caressing, thrusting, then sliding on in unpredictable ways. She doesn’t even know quite what she wants beyond a gasped, “More.” It’s not so much about any one sensation as all of them, and especially about who’s causing them.

She feels her orgasm happening, but it’s wholly different than ever before. It’s slow and sweet, rolling over her almost gently as it ebbs and flows, not exploding, but not quite letting go either.  Cat seems to be aware that it’s not a sudden event and she continues the gentle caresses as she rides the rise and fall through the crest and the aftershocks that follow.

Finally the sensations finally fade to a dull throb and Alex’s muscles give way to a weak tremor as she sinks down with a soft sigh. Cat’s lips find hers in a slow, soft kiss that drinks in her tiny moan.

“Just close your eyes and take your time,” Cat advises when she surrenders possession of Alex’s mouth.

“You’re a witch.” It’s the only explanation Alex can think of. That was clearly a supernatural event. Or maybe a series of events. She’s not entirely sure.

Cat just chuckles and sprawls against her.

Alex finally lifts her head and tightens her hold on the body plastered against her own. “Bed,” she growls as she fights the pleasant lassitude. It’s tempting to just lie there forever, but the water’s getting cooler and her back is threatening to cramp.

Cat just laughs.

“Up,” Alex says and pats Cat lightly on the backside. “Carefully,” she adds. “Things are slick, so lean on me. No falling or getting hurt.”

Cat responds with a pouty grumble, but slides to one side to make room while Alex scrambles to her feet and helps Cat sit on the edge of the tub then grabs a fluffy towel and wraps it around her, then wraps a second one around herself , tucking an end to hold it into place. Every impulse is to sweep Cat up so she doesn’t put any stress on her newly unprotected leg, but Cat Grant isn’t one to surrender control lightly. Alex settles an hand at her waist, ready to help her stand. “I’ll support you all you want,” she offers.

Cat tips her chin up and grins. “You want to carry me, don’t you?”

Caught. Alex can’t lie. “But I didn’t just pick you up,” she points out with a wry smile. “Your leg’s still vulnerable and I just want to make sure you don’t get hurt.”

“Ah, my protector.” Cat tips her head to one side and thinks about it. “You may play divan chair,” she finally gives permission.

“Thank you, your majesty. I’ll try to make the journey as comfortable as possible,” Alex teases right back at her and doffs an imaginary cap. Making sure she’s carefully braced, she scoops a hand under her knees and behind her back. It’s easy to think of Cat as tiny because she’s so delicately built. In reality she’s only a little shorter than Alex, but willowy slim, her shoulders narrow, her bones fine. She rests her right hand on Alex’s chest and for the first time Alex takes the time to study the length of her fingers and the twining of sinew in her forearm. Like the rest of her body, there’s delicacy there, but also real strength. The contrast is fascinating.

Careful not to bump Cat’s leg into the doorframe, she steps into the bedroom and pauses, cautious about where to step in the dark. The building is still being powered by a generator truck while repairs are underway, so power use is limited. A tiny, battery powered LED casts a dim glow and she takes an extra moment to let her eyes adjust then steps over to the bed. Keeping one arm wrapped around Cat’s upper back, she shifts her hold, letting Cat’s lower body slide down until she’s draped against her. Cat slips her arms around Alex’s neck while  Alex drops one hand down to cup Cat’s backside.  

“Nice,” Cat pants near her ear. She sounds suitably impressed

Alex enjoys the pleased note, just like she enjoys the way Cat tugs the towel loose and let it fall away. She’s careful as she lowers her to the mattress. It makes for a slow slide of warm damp flesh. There are worse experiences and she leans forward, hands braced on the mattress to steal a quick kiss.
                
As sensations and awareness wash over her, she freezes. It’s easier when Cat’s in charge. Some days, or maybe most days, being two steps from latter day virginity is a goddamned pain in the ass.

It’s why she appreciates the gentle way the woman below her moves as she draws in a breath. It strikes her how soft the skin of Cat’s stomach is. It makes her think of things that are lot less virginal.

It makes her want to touch.

And taste.

As if sensing those thoughts, Cat invites, “Feel free.”

The encouragement makes it easier to push up on one hand and meet Cat’s gaze for a long moment. She doesn’t move until there’s a small nod.

Permission given.

Holding herself up on her hands, she ducks her head, pressing soft, slow kisses onto Cat’s mouth, then moves lower, tasting her chin then the underside, before ambling to the slender column of her throat. From there she moves lower to explore the shape her clavicle then on to explore the slope of small breasts, following the curve to Cat’s sternum then the outline of her abdomen.

She takes her time, learning the taste and texture of clean skin and quivering muscle. It makes her appreciate what Cat was saying about taking the time as she slowly makes her way over inviting curves with the aura of sweet flesh and heather scented bubble bath filling her senses until the rich taste of arousal flows over her tongue.

Cat moans and digs her heels into the mattress as her fingers find Alex’s hair, combing through the strands with almost desperate motions. As the minutes pass her breathing grows ragged and tiny hitches make it stop and start. She moans softly, whispering Alex’s name between tiny, affectionate words of praise.

Alex thrills to the breathy pleas and unsteady roll of slim hips.

She thinks of all the years when sex mystified her and mostly left her wondering why people bothered. She gets it now. In fact it may never cease to amaze her. Actually it’s Cat who may never cease to amaze her, especially when she cries out softly and comes undone. Her body turns boneless and she turns into Alex’s side in the moments that follow.

Alex can think of worse fates, and when Cat snuggles close, she feels more at peace than she has since before the world nearly came to an end. Cat’s bed faces a window that overlooks the city so she lies there, one arm folded under her head, her body relaxed, silently hunting for any lights that suggest life trying to get back to normal.

There aren’t many.

Not yet.

She’s still lying there when Cat presses a soft kiss to he shoulder and exhales, “Beautiful.”

“Mhm,” Alex mumbles.

“Think you can sleep?” Cat asks, her voice little more than a breathy whisper.

“Mmhm.” Alex turns into Cat’s body and cuddles into the arms that wrap around her. Lips press against her forehead and she relaxes, feeling warm and safe. She lies there for ages, silently holding Cat until she sleeps.

* * * * * *

Alex wakes up in total darkness. Her heart is pounding, muscles taut.

She’s being hunted.

She can feel a malevolent presence there in the darkness. Fully expecting an attack, she rolls into a sitting position. She’s naked. She can’t see, but she can feel cool air on her bare skin and as she stares forward she makes out nothing but inky darkness and hints of shadows.

She has no idea where she is or how she got here. She just knows something’s after her and everyone she cares about.

Suddenly an unexpected hand that lands on her arm and she twists toward it with a low growl.

“Alex, I—”

Her hand clamps down on soft flesh, with no rasp of rock or stench of brimstone.

“Alex?” Her name is softly spoken this time and there’s a hint of fear. There’s a body, warm and alive near her own, but muscles turn limp, offering no resistance.

Alex swallows hard and blinks against the darkness as a few details resolve themselves. She can see a hint of distant stars. Clouds shift, revealing a sliver of a new moon.

She still feels hunted.

“Alex?” Her name, soft and breathy fills the air.

Memory surges. Cat.

Alex snaps her hand open and scrambles away, suddenly afraid of her own strength. In her daze, she pinned Cat and maybe hurt her. She scrambles and loses her balance. Falling off the edge of the bed she hits the carpet on her ass. She’s breathing hard and can barely contain the panic.

“Alex.” Her name is gently said, and there’s a worried note.

She’s not quite sure where she is, but she knows that voice. “Cat,” she whispers again  very softly as though the hunting thing find them if she speaks too loudly.

“I’m here,” Cat says. She sounds a little scared. Alex just barely spots her on the bed. She’s unmoving, almost limp.

The world is coming slowly back into dim focus. She remembers she’s in Cat’s penthouse, in Cat’s bedroom. in Cat’s bed.    She’s safe, There are no monsters here. The lava creatures have been destroyed and the building is guarded by a small team, of loyal, if somewhat unofficial locals.

She blinks, struggling to resolve what’s real and what isn’t. Her gaze falls to the bed and she spots a flick of gold hair. She’s real.

And she’s lying tense, probably scared.

Alex did that. A sense of sick shame makes her cringe as what’s happened washes over her. Cat’s still not moving and Alex can hear her breathing, rough and carefully controlled.

She knows that timbre, knows what it means. It’s fear. Alex takes in a deep breath in an effort to calm herself. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. She knows what that fear feels like. She would never willingly inflict that on anyone, but particularly not Cat.

Cat makes a small sound and the blankets rustle gently. She doesn’t sit all the way up, but Alex can see her push up on one elbow. “Alex, do you know where you are?” The question is gently asked, the use of her name feeling like an effort to keep her emotionally tethered.

Alex wants to say she does. She knows she should, and she sort of does, but everything feels off kilter and she’s far from confident.

“I’m Cat Grant. You’re here in my penthouse in National City, California...in my bedroom. There was a light, but it must have gone out while we were sleeping. Would light help?”

Alex puts together that she’s sitting at the food of of the bed. Cat’s bed overlooks a broad window. That’s the source of the stars and moonlight. She nods slowly, but adds, “Move slowly.” She doesn’t trust herself.

“I’m moving over to the side of the bed,”Cat says softly. The mattress lists to one side. “I’m reaching into the nightstand for a spare light.” She has small, battery powered emergency LEDs scattered around the penthous.

Muscles ripple up and down Alex’s arms, but she holds herself perfectly still.

She still feels like a hunted animal.

She’s still sitting there when a small light flips on to her right. It seems painfully bright after the near total darkness and she shields her eyes. She spots the other shadow on the bed.

Cat. She doesn’t move. “Alex,” she says very softly.

Alex is still frozen. “Did I hurt you?” She can barely ask the question. The mere idea horrifies her. She blinks as the world slowly comes into focus.

Cat’s there, to her side. Her eyes are wide and reflect the small light. She lifts her right forearm, the one without a cast, and slowly works her hand. “I’m okay,” she decides.

Alex exhales a relieved breath. “I’m sorry...I-I woke up and...I...I thought something was...there... and I...I...I’m sorry,” she babbles.

Cat doesn’t move, just sits, silently watching her. That very stillness is soothing. “It’s all right...it was dark and after everything you’ve been through...” She doesn’t finish, but the implications seem obvious.

Alex nods and leans forward to scrub her face with her hands. She knows Cat’s thinking PTSD is predictable under the circumstances, but it doesn’t feel like that. It feels too real. She still has a sense of something watching, something hunting. She suddenly wants to climb back up on the bed and shield Cat from anything that might threaten her.

“Can I move closer?” Cat asks cautiously.

Alex freezes, afraid that she’s the possible threat. “I don’t know if you should.”

“You haven’t hurt me,” Cat reminds her, then adds confidently, “You won’t hurt me.”

That confidence is nearly Alex’s undoing. She folds her legs together in front of her and wraps her arms around them. “I woke up and I didn’t know where I was and I grabbed you and...” Her voice breaks and she realizes she’s crying. “I would never willingly hurt you.”

“I know that,” Cat says very softly, her voice low and intense.

Alex tenses when Cat scoots closer to the edge of the bed, but the panicky moment passes. Any lingering fear feels like her distrust of herself. Maybe it was just her mind playing tricks.

Cat reaches out and rubs her shoulder. “Can you come up here?”

Alex relaxes into the slow caress, but she doesn’t move for several minutes. Finally she starts to unfold herself only to freeze as her fingers land on something crushed and sharp edged. She picks it up, staring. It’s round, maybe an inch across and plastic. The missing night light. It must have fallen and she landed on it when she fell, but suddenly it feels weirdly threatening. It seems obvious it was an accident, but suddenly darker suspicions arise that something really was there and that’s how it broke.

Her stomach clenches and the panicky feeling returns. “I need to call Kara.” She needs to hear from sister to be sure she’s okay and the monsters haven’t come for her.

Cat doesn’t argue, just passes Alex her phone from the nightstand. She dials straight into the Kara’s sickbay. Because of her odd schedule, it’s staffed at all times. The nurse who answers connects her to J’onn almost instantly.

“Kara,” she says as he answers, the name coming out too fast, revealing her fear. “Is she all right?”

“She’s resting,” he responds. “She was agitated earlier, so I was reading to her from a Kryptonian book Clark sent. I doubt my accent’s very good, but it seemed to calm her.”

“She’s okay though?” Alex needs to know for sure. “Nothing weird...there?” she asks haltingly.

“Weird?” J’onn sounds both confused and worried.

“Anything out of the ordinary,” Alex specifies even as she’s sure her commander will think she’s nuts.

“She was sleeping, but woke up suddenly. She said it was just a nightmare.”

A frisson of tension slides down Alex’s spine as she realizes she wasn’t the only one having nightmares. “A nightmare? What? Was she...Did anything unusual happen?”

“She’s fine. It was nothing...just a dream about her parents. Reading to her seemed to help her settle down again.” He’s silent for a second. “Is something wrong?” he asks, sounding worried. “Do you need help? I can be there in a minute or two.” He’s not as fast as Kara, but he can beat the helicopters. The knowledge he’d come if she asked is a comfort.

At the same time, knowing he’s been edgy about her being out in the city at night, she pushes off some of the terror, suddenly feeling foolish for frightening him. “No, we’re fine.”

“Are you sure?” He still sounds worried. “I don’t mind flying out if you need me.”

“Alex?” She hears Kara’s voice in the background. She still sounds slurred and a bit rough, but she’s doing much better. “Lemme talk to her.”

“Everything’s okay,” Alex assures him, Kara’s voice somehow breaking the terror cycle. “Just a bad dream and bad timing...and I...I just needed to know things are okay.”

“Lemme talk to ‘Lex,” Kara calls out in the background. She sounds peevish.

“Everything’s fine,” J’onn assures Alex before adding, “but Kara wants to talk to you.”

“Put her through,” Alex says quickly, smiling as she hears the phone handoff.

“‘Lex,” Kara says sharply.

“Hey, sis,” Alex responds almost instantly.

“Wha’s wrong?” Kara demands. She sounds more awake than the hour would suggest she should, probably an adrenaline rush coupled with living under sunlamps day and night.

“Nothing,” Alex insists. “I’m fine, great even. I’m great.” Even she can hear what an obvious lie it is.

“Wha’s wrong?” Kara repeats using her mutinously stubborn tone.  

Alex knows from experience she won’t be dissuaded when she gets that tone. “Nothing,” she lies.  Kara’s answering silence feels like it’s calling her out.  “It was nothing, just a nightmare,” she admits and hears Kara’s soft grumble that somehow offers both sympathy and challenges her honesty. “It was stupid. I just...I panicked a little.” She drags in a deep breath and admits, “I needed to hear you’re okay.”

“You’re okay?” Kara slurs the words, but sounds worried. “Bad dreams c’an be...hard...” There’s a haunted quality to her voice. She has her own demons and has suffered through plenty of nightmares.

“Yeah,” Alex assures her, suddenly embarrassed. “I guess it’s just the aftermath of...everything.” She feels Cat smooth her hand back and forth over her shoulder before gently tugging her onto the bed. She scrambles up, her movements less graceful than normal. She doesn’t fight the pressure Cat applies to pull her close even if she feels guilty for allowing it, especially while talking to Kara.

“M’kes sense,” Kara says, oblivious to Alex’s stress, “Trauma,” she says with the knowledge borne of experience, “...messes w’yur head.”

“Yeah, it does,” Alex admits, feeling silly for her panic and confusion. The hand on her back keeps smoothing up and down. It soothes her even if she suspects it shouldn’t. “J’onn said he was reading to you.”

“Yeah,” Kara exhales. She’s silent for a long moment. “G’d to hear Kryptonese...miss it.”

It’s never really occurred to Alex before how much her sister must miss the language of her youth. She arrived knowing English and it’s always seemed so natural for her that Alex forgets she spent most of her life hearing another language. She feels foolish not to have noticed it sooner.

She’s still considering what to say when Kara suddenly clears her throat. She gags and coughs and it takes several seconds before she comes back, sounding better. “How’s Cat?”

Alex feels the color drain out of her face. For a moment she thinks Kara’s guessed, then Kara whines, “Sunday edition?”

Alex suddenly realizes her sister is hoping for news about the paper’s effort to put out a second Sunday edition. The first one was a hit and they managed to get physical copies out, which made Kara grin even if the issue itself was tragic, focusing as it did on the war. The new edition is scheduled to cover the effort to rebuild. “Winn says it’s coming along really well.”

“Cat?” Kara insists, her tone getting that mutinous note again. It’s a sign she’s tired and feeling cranky.

Alex forces down the guilt and tries to use a cheerful tone. “She’s writing like mad–”

“H’r inj’ries,” Kara interrupts impatiently.

“She’s healing. The surgeon moved her to a smaller leg brace and wants her to get physical therapy.”

There’s a long pause and there’s some reticence to Kara’s tone. “She bein’ nice?”

Alex has been careful not to talk about Cat unless asked. It suddenly occurs to her that maybe Kara thinks there have been problems. She freezes for a second. She had a brief fear Kara was about to make some kind of accusation and she’s still processing. She’s glossed over the way she’s semi-living with Cat as being all about safety and getting Kara food, but Cat’s wound around her torso and petting her soothingly, and they spent hours being very nice indeed. Her brain spins and she can’t find a response. “I...I...” she stammers in a panic. “She’s made sure you got plenty of food,” she finally babbles the first thing she can think of.

“Yumm,” Kara mumbles.

“Yeah, Cat arranged for a lot of that...folks in the city are doing their best to feed people, and she made sure you had plenty to get strong again.”

“You too?” Kara says, sounding a little worried. She probably guesses Alex would give the food to her first.

“Yeah, mostly the same street food you’ve had.” She’s had a bit more variety, things that wouldn’t reheat well or weren’t likely to do well for Kara’s needs, but they’ve overlapped a lot. “It’s actually been really interesting seeing what people come up with for ingredients and the way they’ve built stoves and ovens with no electricity.” She’s seen homemade wood, charcoal, and solar units out there working. “It’s kind of amazing to see how clever folks can be. And the food’s mostly been good.” Good enough that Kara’s been getting stronger and gaining back some of the lost weight. She’s even managed to get rid of the hated feeding tube, though she’s still suck with MREs for a lot of her daily calories.

“Cat’s ther’py,” Kara demands, going back to the original topic.

“She got some handouts, but they don’t have anyone around to handle it yet.” Best to just stick to the facts.

“You’ll help?” Kara slurs, the words coming as fast as they have lately as though she’s not the only one a bit panicked. “Sh’ c’n be dif’cult when sh’s scared. Please.” She gets a special wheedling tone that she’s taken to using to get her way when she’s so weak and at a disadvantage.

Which is when it strikes Alex what’s going on here. Kara isn’t being a superhero or a jealous would-be lover. She’s being Cat Grant’s assistant, still running interference for her often bulldozer of a boss even from a hospital bed hidden deep in an alien fighting fortress.

It would be funny if it weren’t so crazy.

“I’m sure the doctor will recommend someone as soon as possible,” she points out, not wanting to look too eager to grab at the opportunity.

“Sh’s no’ comfort’ble w’th strangers touchin’ her.” Kara sounds concerned. “Wen’ through masseusses l’ke p’tato ch’ps.” There’s a momentary pause. “Trust yu to do ‘t right.”

Alex is going to hell.“I—”

“Pl’se.”

Or maybe she’s already there.

“I...I’ll see to it,” she finally gives in with a soft sigh. Never has anyone sounded so annoyed by something they wanted so much.

Going. To. Hell.

There’s the tiniest, rasping giggle of triumph. “Yur g’t’n good at PT,” Kara says and there’s a bit of singsong to her voice. She knows it’s not Alex’s favorite thing, but she’s learned for her and now Cat. The bit of victory makes her sound more like Alex’s teasing little sister than she has in ages. It’s not a horrible thing after all the grumpy, resentful therapy sessions. Taking orders all the time hasn’t been an easy thing for Kara...or Supergirl. And giving them’s been no fun for Alex either.

Now she’s mostly relieved to have an excuse to spend more time with an excuse to touch Cat.

Kara lets out another tiny giggle. “You’ll take gud care of h’r.” She sounds confident, but also oddly satisfied. She’s managed to win one during a time when even small victories have been in short supply.

Despite everything, it’s good to hear her sister like that. Her voice is still a bit slurred and rough enough that she’s still a little hard to understand, but she sounds like Kara again. “I’ll look after her,” Alex promises. Ironically, Cat snuggles more firmly against her back. If word gets out this is what hell feels like, it’s going to be a lot harder to talk anyone into heaven.

“Sh’ c’n be stubb’rn,” Kara warns.

“I know,” Alex assures her. “You’ve told me enough stories, but honestly, she’s been great...” She feels a spasm of guilt that slides over into the fear Kara will notice how pro Cat she’s become.

“Sh’s special,” Kara says, then mumbles almost too softly to be heard. “My fault she...” She doesn’t finish, probably doesn’t even mean to be heard.

Alex’s stomach spins into a fresh series of knots. The sense of being hunted has fled, but the awareness of it leaves her on the verge of a confession that could destroy them all. The irony is she’s not exactly lying even if she’s leaving things out. “She is special,” she says very softly. “She’s done so much for...everyone. Hey, real pepperoni’s on for tomorrow.” Emotionally it feels like a sop of sorts to Kara’s wants. ‘Hi, I stole the woman you want, but I got you some great meals  out of it’ or, given that Cat’s the one who arranged for the pepperoni, ‘The woman you want arranged for the food, but I delivered it.’

She’s. Going. To. Hell. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars and if you pass Boardwalk, accept it for the pathway to hell it is.”

Oblivious to Alex’s torment, Kara makes another “Yumm,” sound to express her own opinion of the meals.

It’s something anyway. “Good girl,” Alex praises. “You need to keep that up.”

“M’re p’zza?” Kara sounds hopeful. It’s been the most popular even if some of the flavors have been on the weird side. Alex carefully never asked about the sausage.

“Like I said, real pepperoni,” Alex says quickly, determined to make it happen. For all of her invulnerability, starvation makes her dangerously weak and slows the healing process.

“Gud,” Kara sighs, the word dragging out. “T’red now,” she adds with a soft sigh.

“Get some sleep,” Alex orders, deeply soothed by the phone call despite any guilt issues. “It’s gonna be okay.”

“Mmm,” Kara mumbles and her voice fades away.

Alex is debating hanging up when she hears the sounds of the receiver being picked up.

“She’s sleeping,” J’onn says very softly. “She probably will for several hours.” Her schedule’s still erratic. The doctors think it’s because of the sunlamps on twenty-four-seven.”

“She’s okay though?” she asks, ready to slide into worry.

“She’s fine, just tired. She was fussy earlier, but  the leftovers helped,” J’onn reassures her, acknowledging that her time away has been a way to support Kara.  He’s silent for a brief moment, then asks, “Are you all right?” He sounds worried.

“I’m-I’m fine,” Alex insists, the words coming in rough stammers. She never was much of a liar. It’s easier to focus on others. J’onn’s silence lasts long enough that she feels the need to fill the void. He’s good at getting her to talk that way. “It was just a stupid nightmare. I panicked and...I needed to make sure Kara’s okay,” she confesses, then tries to adopt a blase mien. “A little paranoia’s probably pretty predictable after everything that’s happened.”

“A lot of things are predictable,” he says after a long moment. She has the sense he wants to say more, but cuts himself off. “You’re under a lot of...pressure. That can catch up with a person. If you need to talk...”

She appreciates the offer, but there are too many things she can’t discuss with him. “I know,” she sighs. He’s seen a world die. She can’t even imagine the nightmares that go with that if she’s having fears of being pursued by monsters in the dark. If she’s honest, it doesn’t feel like just a nightmare. It feels as real as the actual battle, like something malevolent really was  here.

Cat’s still petting her back gently and snuggled up close. It’s soothing, calming the urge to panic even as she keeps looking around the room, hunting for any unexpected shadows.

“Alex?” J’onn says simply after a long, silent moment.

“Has Kara asked about Mon El?” she finally asks. His disappearance haunts her. So does Kara’s silence on the topic. Then again Kara knows she doesn’t like him, so maybe she’s asked elsewhere. She often avoids uncomfortable topics.

“Not a word,” J’onn says grimly.

“She hasn’t mentioned him and I haven’t pushed,” Alex admits, uncertain she’s done the right thing by ducking the issue.

J’onn’s silent for a long moment. “I think it’s good you’re being careful. It’s hard to know what to do with things so up in the air.” She hears him draw a breath, can almost hear him thinking. “Kara’s...vulnerable...” he finally says, the words coming haltingly, giving her impression he’s choosing his words carefully. “I’m not sure she can handle another betrayal right now.”

Alex can feel her head heart thumping in her chest. He’s guessed. She’s sure of it. “Kara will never face anything alone,” she promises.

“There are some things we all face alone,” he disagrees. “You, me, Kara...Cat Grant...Mon El...everyone...”

She has no ready response.

“Kara will always love you,” he finally says when she still hasn’t spoken. “But just like the lava, there may be things you can’t protect her from.”

“Doesn’t mean I won’t try” Alex literally can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I know that, and so does she. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky enough to have others to hold you back at the right times. You should both thank Cat Grant for that.” She’s told him how Cat probably saved her life when she kept her from going to Kara after she was doused in lava. “But Alex, remember, Kara’s just as determined to protect you. That’s what matters to her.”

After that, they sign off quickly with no more answers, though Alex has a sense her commander is trying to tell her something without coming out and saying it.

And Kara still hasn’t asked about the supposed love of her life.

“She’s all right?” Cat asks. She sounds a bit worried, though it’s impossible to tell if her fears are for Kara or Alex.

“She’s fine.” She laughs softly, the sound a little forced even if she’s happy for Kara. “She wants more pizza. She seemed excited by real pepperoni.”

“Marco promised and he hasn’t let me down yet. It’ll be ready in the morning. I told him to let us have as much as he can.”

“Good, that’s good.” Alex sinks back against the hand rubbing her back. “Kara’s eating better, gaining some weight, getting stronger. It seemed to make her happy to know you helped.” She’s silent for a moment as she thinks of her sister and her tone of voice. “Of course it did,” she adds as she blurts out the real thought in her head. “She loves you...”

The hand on her back finally twitches, the smooth movement stuttering.

“And now I’m here with you...” It’s a confession of the guilt that haunts Alex.

Cat leans more heavily against Alex. “We haven’t done anything wrong.” She rests her cheek on a lean shoulder and pulls the blankets around them, forming a bulwark against the shadows.

Alex wants to ask about her certainty and Kara’s muttered comment rife with guilt and hurt. She doesn’t. Instead she clings to the arms wrapped around her. When Cat presses a kiss to her temple, she turns into the caress.

“Do you think you can sleep?” Cat asks tenderly.

Alex honestly doesn’t know. The fear is still there hovering at the edge of her consciousness while her heart is hammering in her chest.

Cat doesn’t press, just keeps holding her and rubbing her back. Alex doesn’t just allow it, she huddles deeper into Cat’s hold. She’s so tired, but some tiny part of her is still scared of shadows hiding in the dark. She blinks. The tiny nightlight throws enough light that she can see most of the room, but there are still some dark corners that seem to loom and threaten. A tiny quiver of fear vibrates through her muscles. “I don’t know if I can sleep ever again,” she finally confesses the fear clawing in her belly.

“You will.” Cat smooths her hair and presses another kiss to her temple. “Would it help if I stand guard?”

Alex feels a little crazy, but the offer eases some of the terror and makes her feel safer. “You’ll wake me if anything moves.” Maybe she can sleep that way.

“I will.”

“But you need sleep too.” She starts to push upright, suddenly tense again. She’s a soldier, charged with protecting civilians, not letting them protect her. Surprisingly strong hands land on her shoulders. Cat doesn’t try to restrain her, but there’s enough pressure to make her pause.

“I’ll be fine. I’ve spent a lot of nights on stakeouts for stories.” Cat tenderly smooths hair back from Alex’s brow. “I’ll watch and wake you if I see anything unusual.”
                        
“You’re sure?”

“I promise.” Cat holds Alex and keeps petting her hair. “I’ll stand guard as long as I need to. Nothing will sneak up on you.”  She ruffles the disturbed blankets back into place.

Alex trusts her to keep her word. Cat’s still petting her hair with her good hand and Alex reaches up and tangles their fingers together. The touch is comforting. It gives her the confidence to close her eyes.

As if sensing her barely controlled fears, Cat keeps petting her hair and whispering just loud enough that she can hear. “Everything’s quiet...nothing’s moving and no one but me is here...you’re safe...we’re the only ones here...”

Cat’s whispering that there’s nothing in the darkness as she slips off to sleep. Her last conscious thought is how grateful she is that Cat’s looking after her.

And Kara still hasn’t asked about Mon El.

* * * * * *

Alex has always loved sunrise, so it’s comforting to feel a warm body pressed close as she opens her eyes to face golden morning light. Things will be all right, especially when she feels slender arms wrapped around her. Cat kept her word. She remembers bits of whispered reassurances and comforting arms around her all night.

She’s still there and still awake.

Alex lifts her head and finds herself looking into sleepy green eyes. Feeling warm and comfortable she turns more into the protection of a slender frame.

“Nothing happened,” Cat says before Alex has a chance to ask. She strokes Alex’s cheek with a gentle hand and Alex turns toward the comforting touch. “Everything was quiet.”

“Thank you,” Alex breathes. The kiss that follows is slow, meaningful. Cat’s had her back and it let her make it through the night. She trails her hand down Cat’s hip and along her thigh, finally curving her fingers under her knee. She can feel still healing scars. “We need to start your physical therapy,” she says decisively. “I’m assuming the doctor gave you some advice.”

Cat shrugs. “With everything going on, she didn’t exactly have someone to arrange appointments.” She  looks mildly embarrassed. “It’s nothing you need to worry about.” She tries to wave it off.

Alex isn’t having it. “Need to, maybe not,” she admits, “choose to, I’m there.” She continues to fondle the back of Cat’s knee with gentle fingers. “I want to help, and I’ve been studying physical therapy for Kara. No reason not to use the knowledge to help you too.”

“There was some kind of printout with exercises. It’s on the coffee table in the foyer.”

Alex hurries off and finds the paperwork. It shows just about she expects. “We can do this.” Leaning down, she drops a kiss into Cat’s lips. “They’re basic limbering and strength building stuff. They should also help improve your balance.”

Cat peers up at her, one eyebrow tipping up. “You’re the doctor.” Permission given.

Pushing to her knees, Alex massages Cat’s knee and encourages her to bend and flex the injured joint. Her touch careful and knowing, she walks Cat through a series of exercises. There is a certain amount of snark and bitchery, but Cat does what she’s told.

Mostly.

And when the snark intensifies and Cat can’t quite hide a whimper, Alex realizes she’s covering for pain and not just embarrassment. She’s hurting. “I’m sorry,” she whispers as she sees the stress lines she missed before. “Maybe I’m too used to Kara.” Her hands slow and turn even gentler. She realizes she’s been doing this for Kara lately and it’s a totally different thing, and Cat’s probably been hiding how hard it is. “We’ll take it slower...” Her touch light and cautious, she smooths her hands lightly over silky skin. She’s careful as she gently massages damaged sinew until any whimpers take on an all new timbre.  Later, with Cat’s foot braced on her shoulder, her muscles stretched out and quivering from effort, Alex leans forward and presses a soft kiss to her inner thigh. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes. “Tell me if anything hurts.”

“The doctor said therapy would hurt at first and I thought...” Cat mumbles. “I thought I was being brave. I didn’t want you to think...” She trails to a halt and shakes her head, clearly embarrassed.

Alex’s heart melts and she wants to wrap Cat in her arms and protect her from the world and her own fear. “You’re no coward, you know.” She drops a soft kiss onto her knee. “But from now on, you need to tell me if it hurts.” Leaning forward Alex dusts another tiny kiss onto soft flesh, then another. “That’ll be the brave choice...kinda like me admitting how much I want this.” She swallows hard as she admits how difficult it is to open up to things like this.

“We’ll figure it out,” Cat sighs, her voice melting into a pleased moan.

The soft sound is all the encouragement Alex needs, but she’s incredibly careful and alert for any sign of discomfort. The way Cat pushes into the caresses suggests discomfort is not a problem.

It sets a new pattern. Therapy for Cat’s knee, then lovemaking that leaves them both shuddering and replete with pleasure. Alex sleeps well after that, usually wrapped tightly in a familiar hold. No shadows loom or monsters chase her and when she wakes unexpectedly, she snuggles Cat close and watches for any unfamiliar movement until she sleeps again.

When the dawn comes, they lie together and talk until a knock on the door signals the food’s arrived and if Alex is rushed and breathing hard when she boards the helicopter, she’s almost painfully proud of the way Cat climbs the few stairs to the platform without help. There’s still a hitch in her stride, but she’s stable, controlled, and unafraid. She loves seeing her like that.

The day brings therapy for Kara. She’s talking better and eventually there’s a visit to the desert base with a small team in attendance. J’onn arrives in his version of a supersuit. She knows the markings on it are martian and are important to him but he’s never explained their meaning.  He’s clearly hoping to fly with Kara.

It doesn’t happen.

She’s walking well and she’s back to bending steel even if it takes effort, but she can’t summon the ability to fly. She tries running the way she did that first night she took flight to save Alex from a plane. There’s even desperation and a few tears.

But she remains firmly on the ground except when J’onn literally lifts her into the air in some vague hope that will help.

It doesn’t.

Alex calls it when Kara’s crying, J’onn’s stiff faced in a way that means he isn’t much better off than Kara, and she hears a few mutters that sound dangerously close to the asinine theories that Mon El was the real hero. She’s ready to punch someone. Instead she puts an arm around Kara’s shoulders and glares at them all . “If anyone else wants to fight any lava monsters, they’re welcome to step forward,” she challenges. The fact that she has fought lava monsters probably gives her some extra street cred.

Nobody says a word and they all shrink back as if ready to duck any blows.

Despite Alex’s protectiveness, Kara sees the lack of faith and her expression falls. She steps away and sinks to the ground with her legs crossed and her elbows on her knees.

“It’s gonna be all right,” Alex soothes as she crouches down next to her.

Kara keeps her chin down and shakes her head. “What if it isn’t? What if I can’t fly again?” the words come fast and she sounds scared.

Alex counters with absolute faith. “Then we’ll deal, but right now is not the time to panic.”

Kara finally looks up, blue eyes wide and tear stained. She focuses solely on Alex as if that helps her concentrate and eases the panic. “Are you sure?” she whispers. Some of the roughness is still there in her voice, but not as bad as it was.

Reaching out, Alex pats her shoulder. Some of the muscle in her arms has faded, but she’s looking more like herself. “What I’m sure of,” she says with deadly seriousness, “is that I have the most badass little sister that ever existed, and she can get through anything.”

The muscles tighten along Kara’s jawline as she straightens her shoulders. “Right,” she breathes.
“Badass sisters for the win.” The faith stiffens her spine.

Alex reaches down to offer to help, but Kara manages a jerky headshake and pushes to her feet. Mimicking Alex, she turns a hard look toward a small clump of DEO men who were questioning her abilities until they cringe.

She may not have asked about Mon El, but maybe she knows more about what’s been said behind her back than Alex realized. Alex offers her a chance to leave for the day, but she waves it off, instead opting to do some speed tests while they’re there. The desert base has the space to run and the specialized gear to measure her speed.

Any smirks from the crowd soon disappear. She may not beat her old record, but she’ll beat everyone else there, even J’onn, and they all know it. Mon El never even came close. They probably know that too.

After she looks at the results from her first run, Kara gets a bit of a swagger. She can be just a little intimidating when she wants, and Alex is left with the sense she wants for once. She may not fly, but she moves so fast the human eye can’t track her and even technology needs to be specially calibrated to measure her speed. Even the most high speed cameras can’t get more than a blur.

“That’s enough for the day,” Alex calls out at some point. Kara’s looks tired to her, though she quickly insists she’s good for more, “Not tonight,” Alex says and waves everyone toward the transport vehicles, two large, heavily armed helicopters. J’onn takes off on his own, one of the advantages of being able to fly. He’ll probably take his time getting back to the base.  She knows he’s done at least cursory patrols of the city most nights since returning. Just like the local cops and security people self organizing and going on voluntary patrols, it’s just about protecting the city.

Kara, meanwhile, seems to have silenced the gossip, at least for the moment.

During the helicopter trip back to the base, chatting is impossible due to the noise and Kara seems unusually quiet anyway. She keeps her head down, but she reaches over to slip a hand into Alex’s at some point. She looks younger than she has in ages and Alex glares at the men on the team, ready to go after anyone with an urge to say anything unwelcome to her sister. They’re smart enough to keep their mouths shut and not even look her way.

Back at the base, Kara’s sitting cross legged on the bed in her medbay when Alex’s phone rings. She notes the number calling and toggles it on. “Mom, hey,” she says quickly and sees her sister perk up. “Your phone’s working again.” The conversation is short. It’s not the first time they’ve spoken since returning, but standard civilian channels have made contact sporadic. Her mother immediately assures her she’s fine, and the monsters never came near the house, while the local fishermen are bringing in enough catches to keep everyone fed.

Alex spends most the time updating her on Kara’s condition. She doesn’t discuss any current relationships and the only mention of Cat Grant is in passing, an annoyed grumble from her mother about the lack of any nonCatCo news sources coupled with a muttered complaint. “I suppose Kara never shuts up about the woman. Seems foolish given how poorly she was treated. She didn’t even pay Kara what she was worth.”

Alex has no idea what to say to that. God knows she’s made her fair share of jokes when Kara was Cat’s assistant, but at the same time, she’s suddenly uncomfortable with the mockery. Unfortunately, leaping forward and defending Cat seems unlikely to go over well, so she stands there uncertain, offering monosyllabic answers to her mother’s questions and updating her on Kara’s condition.

It could sting a little that her mother seems more worried about Kara, but she doesn’t let herself go there, just hands the phone over when she has nothing more to say and her mother has no more questions. Kara needs the comfort right now anyway.

Kara opens with babble mode and it’s quickly obvious that she’s getting quizzed by the way answers about her improving health come fast and furious. Alex perks up when Kara suddenly says, “No, no flying yet. Still  feeling a little wobbly, but soon.” She’s using the too bright tone she does when she’s trying to make someone happy but she actually looks a little hangdog. It’s Kara’s people-pleaser side coming out. “No, just Alex,” she says at some point, then she looks uncomfortable. “No,” she says softly, “That’s not...no.” She sounds uncertain, like she has no idea what to say. “She hasn’t,” she finally mumbles, then adds a bit fiercely, “She wouldn’t. She’s a hero.”

When Kara hangs up and feigns tiredness Alex is tempted to ask what she’s done wrong this time which is probably unfair, but there’s a reason that family holidays usually involved prodigious amounts of alcohol to get through on her part. They were usually an opportunity to hear all the ways in which she somehow failed Kara. She thought maybe she and her mom had worked through all of that, but maybe not, or maybe some conflicts can’t really be worked through, they’re too endemic to a situation. She and her mother might well be like that. Not that she doesn’t love her mother, she does, but maybe there are some personality conflicts that can’t simply be hand-waved away.

Alex hints, but doesn’t come right out and ask what was said and Kara won’t tell, just mumbles something about Eliza being upset about something stupid. Alex can guess though. Her mother has never approved of Kara’s heroics, blaming them on Alex’s influence, and this time Kara got badly hurt. That the entire world was on the line and Kara was the only one who could stand against the creatures doesn’t mean it wasn’t somehow Alex’s fault.

That’s what she tells Cat later that night when they’re lying together out on the balcony on an oversized chaise, bodies dovetailed together under a blanket. It’s nice here like this. The air is turning chillier as they head into what counts as winter in National City and bodies lying snuggled together is both comfortable and comforting.

“Do you know what was actually said?” Cat asks after a bit of thought.

Alex shakes her head. “Kara wouldn’t tell me.” Which is how she knows it was about her.

She thinks maybe Cat gets that underlying point because she tenses and pets Alex’s hair gently, then says with typical Cat Grant tact, “Your mother’s an idiot.”

“Actually, she’s a brilliant doctor...a bio engineer.” Alex feels the need to defend her mother even if it feels kind of good to hear someone on her side. “She loves me, she does,” she insists. “She just expects me to protect Kara above everything and keep her out of danger and it’s not possible.”

“Still an idiot,” Cat proclaims without any sympathy for that position. “You can’t control Kara or her need to help people. You can’t make her not a hero, no one can.” She nuzzles into Alex’s check and presses a soft kiss over her collarbone. “She’s like you.” A wry smile twists her lips. “And just like you, she can’t be any other way.” The absolute confidence and respect in her voice makes Alex feel stronger and taller.

She wants to point out she isn’t the only hero there, but she knows how Cat with respond, so instead she goes with, “Says the woman who was ready to take on two lava monsters on her own.”

Cat waves the comment off with a wry snort. “Simple tricks and nonsense. Lucy and Lena did all the hard work. I just had to be my amazing and fabulously annoying self.”

“I don’t find you annoying at all,” Alex argues and purposely rolls Cat beneath her, easily levering the smaller woman onto her back beneath her. “In fact I find you quite charming.”

“Which is how it’s obvious you’ve never been married to me.”

Alex is tempted by any number of snarky comments, but they all seem likely to be read the wrong way and she has her own issues to avoid. “Not marriage material here anyway,” she sighs, remembering the way Maggie just walked away.

“Speaking of idiots,” Cat grumbles. Her expression stormy, she wraps her hands around Alex’s waist and tugs her closer.

A slow hip thrust and pelvic grind follows and Cat giggles softly. Alex has discovered that despite the sometimes sharp edge and her well deserved reputation as a shark when it comes to business, she can be a giggler when it comes to sex.

The giggling is nice. It lightens the mood and Alex has discovered she does best when sex isn’t quite so serious, especially now. The nightmare hasn’t returned, but she’s still afraid of it lurking unwanted in her head. Thankfully Cat’s presence chases it away even as she keeps encouraging Alex to take new risks. “Tell me if this hurts,” she whispers between luxurious kisses rolls again, carefully lifting Cat on top of her.

The change in position risks putting painful pressure on Cat’s still healing knee, so she’s ready to change plans at the slightest signal. She pauses before making the move, but she knows how Cat likes her power positions. She likes to feel in control and the injuries have left her having to rely on Alex so much that it has to be hard on her.

As if reading her mind, Cat releases a low, sensual growl and braces her palms on Alex’s shoulders. The position puts Cat in control, but also gives Alex free rein to skim her palms up slim hips and brush aside Cat’s silk nightgown. She takes time to explore the neat tuck of Cat’s waist and the faint striation of her ribs.

“How do you know?” Cat exhales, moving slowly, her hips rolling as she tightens her thighs to keep her balance.

“I don’t,” Alex pants, sweat beading on her skin as the blanket slips away. “I just...it’s just what you’ve shown me.” She counters Cat’s movements to offer a little more support so there’s no weight on her knee. It presses intimate flesh together.

The friction is delicious.

Alex shudders and moans and pushes up against smooth curves. A small, firm breast fits her wandering palm nicely, the nipple turning taut and puckered as she pushes silk aside and teases it with her thumb. She stares up at Cat, taking in the gloss of moonlight on her bare shoulders, the ripple and flow of surprisingly tight muscle. She’s slim and delicate, but the therapy sessions have already started tightening up muscles slowed by damage and an executive’s life.

They move together, finding an intimate rhythm that is theirs alone. It’s under Cat’s control, but only partially. Alex has her own role to play and the freedom to play it. She plays counterpoint to the body riding above her own.

The position works for both of them, or maybe they both make it work.

Either way, the net result is very nice indeed.

The pleasure builds, ebbing and flowing and when it’s time, Alex’s orgasm shudders through her in gentle quakes and shivers. It’s gentle and not at all an instant thing. Her breathing grows heavier and she pushes up on her hands to mumble something mindless against Cat’s chest as strong fingers rifle through her hair.

Cat’s climaxes are never loud and this is no exception. Her breathing deepens, and Alex thinks there’s a flush to her cheeks as muscles quiver out of her control. She likes to be close and pulls Alex to her so bodies slide together, skin slick and soft with a hint of sweat. “You’re amazing,” she breathes near Alex’s ear, her voice soft and breathy. She likes to offer praise at these moments. Sometimes Alex thinks it’s because Cat is so aware of her insecurities, or maybe it’s the only time she let herself be that vulnerable, and maybe just genuine appreciation. Given it’s Cat it could be all of that and more. She’s a complex woman with complex motives. Despite all her power and strength she can also be soft and clingy. In the aftermath she slips to one side and sinks into the chaise next to Alex, snuggling against her. She’s still breathing a little harder than normal and Alex takes a tactile sort of pleasure from the gentle heaving motion of her breasts and belly as they lie there together.

Alex thinks maybe she’s a little in love—a hand sprawls on her stomach, fingers idly wandering—or maybe more than a little.

Cat mumbles something, her voice too soft to be understood and pushes higher on her body, supple lips finding hers. The kisses that follow are lazy and relaxed, but the air is getting colder and Alex is aware that she really should get a shower to wash off the sweat from the after bath activities. Thankfully Cat’s efforts to get the water system working have been so successful because water conservation is not currently her specialty unless you count how many baths and showers have been shared of late as conservation.

The air’s growing cold enough that blankets are a necessity when Cat looks ready to slip off to sleep. Alex kisses her softly and pats her on the hip to get her attention. “I need to grab a quick shower. I’ll make sure you get inside first though, unless you...” She trails off, the invitation obvious.

Cat raises an eyebrow. “I think I’ve hit the end of my showers for one day.” She stretches stiffly and pushes to a sitting position. Alex hops to her feet and reaches down to help, but Cat lightly bats her hand aside with a sharp, “I can do it.” She’s definitely chafing at all the help being offered even if it makes her life easier. Cat Grant is a woman used to having her every want catered to and she isn’t shy about giving orders. Needing to ask for help on the other hand, is a challenge.

Ironically, it makes Alex want to help her and look after her all the more. She can almost hear the sort of snarky comment Vasquez would make about the phenomenon. Then again, she seems to find the whole thing fairly hilarious. She’s the only one at the DEO aware of the situation and thinks it’s about time Alex found someone who challenges her, and Kara got dumped for once instead of the other way around.

She doesn’t exactly help ease Alex’s feelings of guilt.

But then nothing is likely to do that, and while a little voice in her head says walk away, she isn’t going to do that either. So instead of lying there and worrying about it, Alex takes the time to see Cat gets inside and to her desk. She’s working on another edition of the Tribune, so there’s plenty to do and she’s safe to walk as far as the front door if there are any food deliveries for Kara. The local restauranteurs may not know the details, but they know Supergirl’s a friend of Cat’s and she’s hurt and needs help. It’s the only repayment they can make and it’s ensured that Kara hasn’t had to subsist on the hated MREs and hasn’t kept local people from much needed food. Alex is particular that it can’t be done in a way that leaves anyone hungry. That would destroy Kara. So far it’s worked.

She grabs the shorts and DEO t-shirt she’s been sleeping in from her pack and heads off for the shower. Already buried in her writing, Cat waves a hand in acknowledgment and mumbles something, but otherwise shows no sign of noticing. When she gets to writing, not much penetrates.
                    
The water is hot and beating, loosening up muscles tight from the challenge of helping Kara deal with both boredom and getting back in shape and the back strain owing to the shared bath from earlier.

Lost in her own thoughts and the pounding heat of the shower, she doesn’t notice anything new until she’s dressed and ready to step out. Voices. She tenses only to calm measurably as she notes there’s no anger or fear in the tones. She’s still cautious as she as she steps out of the bathroom through Cat’s bedroom and into the hallway, a towel still flung around her shoulders. With the way the lights are set, she’s in shadow as she approaches the livingroom. Cat’s there, arms wrapped around a slender figure, face pressed into dark hair.

It’s Tru of all people who yanks her out of the momentary paralysis. She’s standing in Cat’s livingroom, Ruthie clinging to her hip, Jerry standing nearby with their infant son on his shoulder. Alex can’t see her expression, but her body language looks as tired as Tru ever does. “The kid here was great,” she says sincerely and reaches out to chuck the figure in Cat’s arms on the shoulder. “Ruthie wants him to be her new big brother. He did a great job with her, kept her calm in the helicopter and kept track of her all the time in the camp.”

Cat’s son. It has to be. She knows Cat’s been worried and contacting him as often as she could, but civilian communications haven’t been working well and Cat’s never asked her to help, not that she could do much. She couldn’t even pull many strings for her own mother. Cat’s ability to go off the books and get food for Kara and the locals is more power than she has. She sees the way Cat has her arms wrapped around the boy and he’s holding on just as tightly. He’s slim and slightly built like his mother, his hair a dark rusty shade of brown. She’s seen his picture around the apartment, a serious toddler with sturdy limbs and wild curls, then older and slimmer with thoughtful eyes and an intelligent mien. She’s curious, but he doesn’t turn her way and Tru suddenly sees her and there’s no more hiding in the shadows.

“Alex,” her old friend says, then suddenly launches forward and drags her into a hard hug. “Thank god. I figured you’d be okay..but...scary times.” The hug lasts several more moments as the questions tumble by too fast for Alex to comprehend them much less try to answer. She’s still trying to parse the multiple meanings when Tru steps back a half pace and drags her gaze over her. “You look like you got through okay, no limbs missing or anything like that.” she demands. “Your mom? Kara?”

“We all came through. Kara got a little banged up, but she’s healing.” Tru doesn’t know about Supergirl, but she knows who Kara works for and how close the sisters are.

“Is she going to be okay?”

“Yeah. It was a little scary, but she seems to be getting better.” She glances over at Cat with a small smile. Knowing Cat’s son is there she’s a bit more formal that she might otherwise be. “Ms. Grant has used her contacts to help with some resources.”  

Tru glances over at Cat, her expression openly speculative. For a moment Alex is terrified she’s about to make of her patented ‘Tru’ comments, but instead she offers a small wave and hooks her thumb at Alex. “Hey, Carter, this an old friend of mine from school, Alex Danvers.”

The boy looks up then and she sees the resemblance immediately. He’s delicately made like his mother, with gamine features, gorgeous blue eyes, and lashes most women would kill for. He’s a good looking kid, pretty really, but she can see the start of a square jawline and shoulders that will have some breadth some day. He looks at her curiously.

Cat keeps an arm around the boy. He has the lankiness of a teen who may hit a growth spree and shoot straight up a food or two on, but his mother still has a half a head on him. Cat waves her way and explains, “Agent Danvers has been kind enough to stay over at night since I was hurt. She’s made sure I was safe and helped with therapy for my knee.” She nods Alex’s way. “She’s why I’m walking so well.” She meets Alex’s eyes. “Alex, this is my son, Carter.”

He peers at her for a moment, blue eyes luminous in the thin light, then steps forward without prompting and offers his hand to shake. “Thank you, Agent Danvers.” He glances back at his mother, his body language momentarily suggesting reticence or maybe confusion, then he says firmly, “I’m really grateful for everything you’ve done for my mom.” Then he’s back in his mother’s arms and holding on tight and Cat’s clinging like the scared parent she is.

“You’ve been so brave,” she tells her son proudly.

“He has,” Tru agrees. “Carter’s been great.” There’s genuine admiration in her tone and Alex knows her old friend. She isn’t one for white lies.

Surprised by the unexpected arrival, Alex doesn’t quite understand. “I thought the military was still recommending against anyone returning.” Though people have slowly been trickling into town.

Tru shrugs. “They’re supposedly starting pfficial return transport in the next few days and things are gonna get crazy. The chopper crew was afraid they’d be pressed into military service, so they suggested it was safest if we go ahead and get Carter here home. We would have contacted you, but we knew things have stabilized here and James thought it was wiser to move out fast.” The subtext suggests there was more to the story.

Cat’s eyes turn stormy and Carter clings more tightly. “They’re forcing my people to work for them?”

“Not sure how much was about the people and how much was about the fuel reserves you set up,” Tru says, then turns a thoughtful look Carter’s way. “James thought it was best we get folks home safe.”

“There were rumors they might restrict fuel access,” her husband Jerry adds. He’s only a little taller than True, and round faced. He’s generally quiet, letting his wife do most of the talking, but Alex knows he probably circulated among the men and just listened. Being married to Tru, he’s learned how to just quietly listen.

Cat drags in a deep breath and her jaw firms. “The rest of my people?”

“The chopper dropped James at the new CatCo building, got us here, then turned back to start ferrying anyone else they can ASAP in case there’s a lockdown.”

Cat nods slowly. “Good choice. I already own this building, so my people have been moving into any empty space. I know there’s at least one place open. You’re welcome to use it as long as you like or you can go home as soon as possible and have a crew on standby just in case.”

Tru shrugs. “You don’t have to–”

Cat looks at her son, then at Tru. “Anything you want is a damn small price to pay.”

“We’d like to go home as soon as it’s okay. A neighbor’s checking on the place, but you know how things are.”

Cat nods. “Anything you want, any way I can help, you only need to ask.”

“Don’t worry about it, Carter’s a great kid. He’s welcome any time.” Carter steps away from his mother and shares a hug with Tru, then crouches down and wraps his arms around Ruthie who clings and looks like she might just cry. “I wanna come see the whale migrations,” he says, sounding excited by the prospect. “I’ll see you then.”

“You’d love it,” Tru interjects, her look directing the comment at both Carter and his mother.

There’s a bit more conversation, but it’s obvious the new arrivals are exhausted. Cat makes a call and Officer Garcia, who seems to the unofficial concierge quickly arrives with keys for an empty apartment and food for the newcomers.

“Nice service,” Tru exhales.

Cat’s arm is still around Carter’s shoulders. “It’s nothing compared to what you did.”

Tru peers at her for a moment. “Lady, you did your fair share of saving the world, so anything to help.” The look she turns toward her kids is every bit as meaningful as Cat’s looks at her son, then she turns a serious look Carter’s way. “Besides, it was no problem. The kid here was real asset. Jerry wants to take him along on our next camping trip He’s a hell of a Ruthie wrangler.”

There’s a bit more chatter, more hugs and finally the police officer leads them off while Carter runs off to check and see his room’s has survived the apocalypse. Cat hurries after him and Alex can hear them talking softly. Given everything that’s happened, they probably need the time.

Alex has no idea what to do and finds herself wondering if she should try and catch a chopper back to the DEO. Given Carter’s return, she doesn’t expect to be invited back to Cat’s bed. Still, just sneaking out feels all wrong. Besides, given who Cat is, they still need security. There’s an afghan thrown over the back of the couch and she tugs it around herself as she plops down on the cushions.  She thinks of Carter and how she would have reacted at that age. She doesn’t remember ever clinging to her mother during a trauma, not even when they lost her father. She feels almost guilty for that. Cat’s made the point that she was the child, but she wonders how much was a result of her personality.

She feels a little lonely, not resentful or hurt, but like she’s lost something through no fault of anyone. It’s tempting to have a good cry, but she’s done enough tears lately. She doesn’t need more of that. She pulls the blanket more tightly around herself, determined to get some sleep if it kills her. She’s still trying to grit her way to falling asleep when she hears the soft sound of a door opening and closing again. She fiercely ignores a whole lot of emotions. Of course she’s banished. The woman’s son is home. What else can happen?

Maybe she will have a good cry after all.

She’s startled when Cat appears by the couch and leans down to brush her upper arm.

Startled, Alex pushes upright, momentarily afraid something’s wrong. “Wha?”

“Shh, it’s all right.” She brushes Alex’s arm again, then ruffles her hair and strokes her cheek. Finally, she curves her fingers around hand and tugs lightly. “C’mon.”

“B-but...your son...”

“I’ve been a single parent all of his life. Sometimes that requires not hiding certain things.” She strokes Alex’s cheek again. “I don’t want to hide you.”

Alex doesn’t argue, but she freezes as she reaches her feet. “Are you sure?” she whispers, uncertain this is real and Cat won’t change her mind. The last thing she wants is to cause the other woman to regret anything.

“I’m sure I want you in my life and that doesn’t mean sleeping on the couch.” Cat sighs softly and drags a hand through her hair.”It’s not simple. It never is when you have kids. But we’ll figure it out.” She pauses for a moment as if considering what to say. “Carter is everything to me,” she says at last, then reaches out to rest her palm on Alex’s chest. “But he’s not the only thing. You’re important too.” She shakes her head faintly. “I heard you tell Winn that you have to find a way to look after both Kara and I and I...I need to find the same thing for you and Carter.” She curls her fingers around Alex’s hand and lifts it to press a kiss to her knuckles. “Now come on. The fact that you’re sleeping in my bedroom with the door closed isn’t going to traumatize him.”

Alex sags and finally stops fighting the pressure. She lets Cat tug her back into the bedroom. The tiny nightlight is still casting a dim glow. It’s a comfort, revealing familiar shapes and corners. She’s still standing uncertain, still half expecting to be sent away when Cat reaches for her. As she’s wrapped in welcome arms, they share a slow hug. She heaves a sigh of relief when Cat tugs her down to the mattress and pulls the comforter around them. No more words are spoken. They just turn to each other and hold on.

Lying there in the darkness, Alex silently vows to protect her and everything she holds dear. That thought is still running through her head as she slips off to sleep and when she wakes again. It’s not the panicked sense of being hunted that pulls her up, but there is an unfamiliar sound that leaves her a little edgy.

It’s a soft creak, nothing threatening, but also nothing normal. It’s not something she can simply ignore the way she once would have. She slips out of bed, taking a moment to check her phone where is lies on the nightstand. No messages or new calls.

But there’s still that unfamiliar sound, so soft it’s almost subliminal. Cat’s sound asleep and never notices. Nor does she notice the way Alex silently slips out of bed, careful not to disturb her. Alert to any unusual sounds, she steps into through the hallway and toward the livingroom. She’s cautious, her steps light, her hands fisted at her sides. She can’t forget that Mon El is out there. He can’t fly, but he can jump high enough to reach the penthouse and the stories he’s told on the gossip circuit have made it clear he hates Cat.

She knows she can’t beat him in a fight, but she still braces herself just in case. If it comes down to it, she’ll try.

Which is why she heaves a sigh of relief to find the room empty.

She moves to the door to the balcony on silent feet. Nothing’s moving. She steps outside into the cool, night air and pauses. The smell of smoke hasn’t completely dissipated  when the wind comes from the west but the awful stench that made it hard to breathe has mostly faded. Experts are still studying the remains of the creatures, but they no longer smoulder, at least not much or all the time. She stands there silently, mostly just listening, but also watching the array of lights across downtown. There are more every night now, some bright, a sign of the electricity being reconnected, but also dimmer lights that come from an increasing array of solar collectors and small generators, some purchased, some homemade. People are returning and finding ways to replace what they can’t fix.
 
She’s still standing there when she catches sight of a flick of movement to her right. Her hands knot into tight fists, and her heart is suddenly hammering in her chest as she creeps that direction. Another flick of movement and a rattle of something has her moving even more cautiously.

Then a soft click and a flare of light.

Alex freezes, giving her eyes a moment to adjust to the flare.

And then she realizes what she’s seeing. The flash of light was a match lighting a candle. The flame throws a lean frame into silhouette.

It’s Cat’s son, Carter. He’s perched on the broad windowsill that frames the livingroom picture window. He has some kind of notebook poised on crossed legs and he’s huddled over it and focused on whatever he’s doing. She can see enough of his body language to recognize his total concentration. Cat’s the same way when she focuses intently. She doesn’t know whether or not to speak or what to say if she should speak. She’s also not sure if she should leave him out here alone. What felt like a safe place earlier suddenly feels like it could be a threat to the boy.

She stands frozen.

She’s still standing there, uncertain and standing guard when he suddenly speaks. “You’re Kara’s sister, right?”

Alex jumps, startled by the question. “I–I...” she stammers.

“It makes sense,” Carter continues. “You’re Green Mamba too, aren’t you?”

“Why would you—”

“I know she was fighting with Kara–Supergirl, and you have the right build, not to mention, my mom trusts you and she doesn’t trust many people.”

Alex has no idea how to respond, and she’s so stunned that she doesn’t know what to do at first other than panic. “I...I mean, Supergirl? Why would you think...that...” she croaks, trying to make it sound like she has no idea why anyone could think that.

“I have eyes and a brain,” Carter says, sounding like a tiny male version of his mother.

Kara described Carter as sweet and shy. Alex wonders if her sister misjudged, he’s grown up, or Tru’s had an effect. In any event, she has no idea how to respond. He’s obviously smart enough to see the obvious and lying feels all kinds of wrong. She was never meant for secrets.  “I...please don’t,” she babbles, then pinches her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “You can’t tell anyone that. I mean really can’t tell anyone.”

“I know that,” he says quickly, then adds, “But you might wanna tell Tru and Jerry. I mean, they never used her name, but I overheard some not very well coded conversations.”

Alex drops her face into her hands. Of course Tru knows. She heaves a sigh. “Just...don’t...talk about it,” she pleads a little helplessly. “To anyone,” she adds on a whimper.

“Are you in love with my mom?”

Alex is starting to wonder if this kid was sent by god specifically to torment her. “I–I don’t...I’m not sure you’re mom would appreciate your asking that...or my answering,” she finally manages to stammer.

Ignoring her discomfort, he peers at her with an assessing look. “Mom must trust you, or you wouldn’t be here...not now that I’m back.” It’s the practical observation of a child who knows the limits his mother sets and knows his safety is more important to her than anything else. He cocks his head to one side, then comments, “Mom does better with women than men. Men always want to tell her what to do at some point and that so doesn’t work with her.”

“No doubt,” Alex mutters without planning to.

“For awhile I thought maybe she and Kara...” He shakes his head as he trails off and falls momentarily silent. “But no...”

Alex knows she doesn’t want to go down this road. “I’m really not sure we should be talking about this.”

He doesn’t argue, which is a relief. He just leans down and peers more closely at the pad on his lap as if thinking about it.

She can just barely catch a glimpse of some rough sketches. “Whatcha working on?” Maybe it will distract him from asking questions that could get them both in trouble.

He looks up, blue eyes luminous in the darkness. “You know about armor and stuff,” he states with such confidence she’s not sure what to say. “That’s kinda artificial limbs, right?”

“Kinda,” Alex admits without confirming his question.

He holds out the sketchpad and she sees rough outlines of a human hand and forearm with measurements jotted in and a rough sketch that looks almost like an exo-skeleton. “My friend Terrell was born with his right hand and forearm kinda messed up...too small and weak. He has a prosthetic, but it’s not very comfortable or good for gaming and he’s always outgrowing it. I was trying to design something that could be 3D printed and let him play and be resized really often. I know there are designs online that can be downloaded–or at least there were...but I was thinking about what changes might help him...so it would work better.”

Cat’s interest in prosthetics suddenly makes more sense. “Can I look?”

Nodding, he hands it over. He has the basic idea, but she can see some mistakes in the implementation. “This is lacing, right?” she asks as she points at some repeating lines on the sketch.

He nods. “To give it more mobility and make the fit more adjustable.”

“That makes sense, but I think it might work better if you moved it over here and maybe add some velcros strapping, so you could adjust things, but still have the speed of velcro.”

He holds out his pencil and watches as she starts sketching a somewhat different pattern and taking his idea, but adding some things. “Foam padding might help too. You could cut it to fit and notch the plastic to help hold it in place. That would protect his skin and keep the laces from digging in.”

He nods, transfixed, and watches carefully.

When she was still a med student, prosthetic design actually fascinated Alex. Where her mother was fascinated by the inner workings of cells themselves, she enjoyed the challenge of a problem that was both a medical and engineering. Since then, wearing the alien armor so much has taught her some practical realities that come with being wrapped in metal no matter how jointed or protective it might be.

“That would change the pressure point,” Carter comments as he watches.

“Yeah,” she confirms. “And if you angle the joint, it would act as force multiplier.”

“Cool.”

Carter’s questions are smart and she can see how he’s thinking as she explains things. He’s like his mother in a lot of ways, quick, perceptive, and eager to learn more. He has a good idea how to use some basic physics to increase his friend’s strength, but she shows him some additional techniques and explains why the plans he’s seen are designed the way they are.

He soaks up the information and eagerly asks for more.

Which is how she winds up promising to help him build a prosthetic arm when his friend is back in town and they have access to the right equipment. The irony that she’s promising to use plans from the internet, using 3D printers that currently draw more power than allowed while working by candlelight does not escape her.

Carter’s yawning when she looks up and sees a willowy silhouette near the door to the balcony. Blonde hair catches the light as it flutters in a light breeze. She has no idea how long she’s been there.

Carter yawns again and she taps his notebook. She’s clambered up onto the makeshift bench next to him during the conversation and is sitting cross legged in much the same position he’s in. “Think maybe you should head for bed?”

He yawns again. “Probably,” he admits. “I was too hyper to sleep before.” Another yawn interrupts before he says, “I think maybe I can now.”

“Go on,” she says and pats his shoulder. He slips off the ledge and drops to the floor. “Hey, Mom,” he says as he notices his mother watching. “Alex was showing me stuff about prosthetics. It’s for Terry.” It’s obvious she knows who that is by her nod.

“I noticed,” Cat says and gives him a quick hug as he passes by her on the way inside. “Now go get some sleep. And plan on coming with me in the morning. You can use my office.”

He grumbles a bit, but he stumbles off to bed while Alex stays where she is, wondering if she’s overstepped. She’s never been involved with anyone with kids, so maybe she should have handled this differently.. “I found him out here,” she explains after Cat pushes the door shut behind him and wanders her direction. “Maybe I should have should have sent him back to bed, but—”

“He wouldn’t have slept,” Cat says with the practicality of a mother who knows her son. She leans her hip against the ledge and eyes Alex thoughtfully. “And I’m not sure he would have taken it well if you opened up by giving orders.”

“I didn’t a couple of times my mom tried dating,” Alex admits.

“You handled him fine,” Cat assures her, then glances back inside. “It’s always best to appeal to his mind.”

“He knows Kara’s Supergirl,” Alex feels the need to tell her.

Cat looks over and shrugs. She seems unsurprised. “He’s observant.”

“He thinks Tru and Jerry know too.”

Cat turns toward her. “Given she’s known you both all these years...” She shrugs. “Hardly a surprise.” Another shrug follows. “I suspect the better part of the Tribune staff has also figured it out by now. Kara isn’t made for keeping secrets, but anyone who knows seems to have kept their mouths shut.”

“And the truth about me?” Alex questions worriedly.

“That you’re Green Mamba or that you’re sleeping with the boss?” Cat asks with her usual subtlety. Another shrug. “They’ve probably figured out both, by the way.” She leans her forehead against Alex’s shoulder. “Just like they’ve figured out Bruce Wayne is Batman and they’re searching through the new building looking for a hidden Batmobile and a secret underground driving track.”

Alex says the first thing she can think of. “Seriously?”

“Winn started it,” Cat says mock defensively. She doesn’t resist as Alex slips an arm around her shoulders. “He insists he didn’t tell anyone, but I don’t believe him. Of course with Bruce and Batman disappearing at that same time...and Wayne Tech so involved in the war effort...” She shrugs, and adds, “It was bound to occur to people.”

“Is there actually a Batmobile in the basement?” That would be very cool, but Alex isn’t sure Winn looking for it is a good idea, and she’s pretty sure Winn finding it is a bad one.

Cat shakes her head. “Not that I know of, but you’ve seen that freight elevator and they’ve already found some kind of secret corridor between floors.” She considers it for a moment. “Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me,” she admits. “Bruce has always been a little...” She pauses, clearly debating the right word, then finally manages a whistle that sounds suspiciously like a slide whistle sound. She’s clearly practiced the makeshift sound effect and it says it all.

“So any rumors of a one time, hot and heavy affair between you and Bruce Wayne–”

“I may be eccentric,” Cat admits, “but I’m not batshit crazy,” she snaps impatiently. She sounds annoyed.

Alex doesn’t mind hearing it’s not true. He’s too rich, too good looking, and now they know he’s Batman, a hero, into the bargain. Cat clearly has a weakness for heroics and he feels like the competition.

Cat seems to pick up on her flare of jealousy because she steps closer and wraps her arms around Alex’s waist as she leans against her. “If you want to know about my past, you’re welcome to ask. I probably even have some old clippings around, but right now, I’m with the person I want to be with.” Her grip tightens and there’s no doubt in her voice.

That tone and her look make Alex feel wanted and needed. She unfolds her legs and drops to the floor, happy to follow along when Cat tugs her back toward the bedroom. There’s no making love–they’re both tired and emotionally wiped out–but tired bodies in need of comfort instinctively cuddle close as they both slide off into a relaxed sleep.

After that it’s surprising how little changes with Carter’s arrival. There are no more makeout sessions on the balcony, but when the bedroom door is closed, a lack of affection isn’t a problem. Carter, meanwhile goes off to work with his mother in the morning, eats with them when they get back, then hangs around reading or working on projects until he goes to bed.

It’s quickly clear that Cat doesn’t expect him to be seen and not heard. He’s accepted as part of any conversations and clearly expected to add his fair share. Alex shouldn’t be surprised, but she is, that when he offers a comment or asks a question, it’s mostly well thought out, and intelligently phrased with only a few juvenile moments.

She likes the kid. He’s smart and observant,  and much like his mother, is prone to acerbic comments and opinions. He’s kind of shy at first, but he has a lot of interests similar to Alex’s and is endlessly curious. Thankfully, the barrage of questions are kinda fun rather than being a pain. It doesn’t take long to feel like he’s this weird, little brother she never knew she wanted or needed.

It feels like she’s become a part of this little family unit. It helps her deal with her own stresses and worries. It’s a comfort when things feel like too much, like her worries about her sister.

Kara’s getting stronger, but she still can’t fly and though she tries to cover it, she’s clearly dealing with depression. Alex tries to talk about it, but Kara insists she’s fine and shows a relentlessly upbeat, forced smile. Alex can’t help but wonder if not flying isn’t the only issue.

Their mom suggests a visit home. “The sea air would be good for her,” she insists, but Kara shakes her head and waves the idea off, and Alex is hesitant to push. She’s already under so much pressure that it seems best to let her have as much control as possible. Kara’s cried more than once and Alex hates the way she’s hurting. Sometimes all she can do is put an arm around her shoulders and let her sob.

“She needs the special facilities right now,” Alex tells her mother, then sidesteps the question whenever it comes up, which feels constant.

She’s surprised when Cat’s sympathetic to her mother despite the fact she’s called her an idiot more than once.

At Alex’s askance look, she shrugs. “She nearly lost both of her children.” Her gaze turns distant.  “She must be terrified.”

Another thought occurs. Cat has a son Kara’s age. She knows he barely speaks to her, but she’s mentioned that he’s covering the aftermath of the war. “Have you heard from Adam.”

She nods. “He’s writing about survivors, telling their stories. He’s good and I offered him a slot, but he seems to prefer working with Lois Lane.” She tries to look blase, but there’s hurt in her eyes. “I made a lot of mistakes, but he’s alive and I’m grateful for that. Hopefully someday we can be closer, but I’ll always want the best for him.”

Alex wonders what her mother would say about her. “My mother loves me,” Alex finally says even if a tiny part of her cringes. She thinks of a bitter comment her mother made recently about Kara’s worship of Cat and how open she is about her sexuality. Her tone made it seem like she found it distasteful. It wasn’t aimed at her, but it feels like it. “But I’m not sure she...” She doesn’t finish the confession, just trails off and falls silent.

They’re tangled together on the couch and Cat is playing with her hair, the motion gentle and relaxing. “Alex?” she prompts after a long moment of silence.

“She made some comment about you,” she says uncomfortably.

“Hardly the first criticism I’ve heard,” Cat snorts disdainfully, then softens her tone. “But it obviously bothered you.” She doesn’t ask directly, but she leaves it out there hanging. She’s good at that, throwing something out, then patiently waiting until Alex talks. The question is whether it’s a skill developed as a reporter or a native talent she cultivated and used to her advantage.

“She suggested you might manipulate Kara into an inappropriate relationship,”  Alex finally admits. “The way she said you’re bisexual made it sound like that’s why you might.” She hates saying the words. They hurt. “And it’s not the fact that you’ve been with men that bothers her...”

Cat sucks in a breath and Alex can feel the tension that ripples through her. “You’ve said she was supportive of your coming out...” She doesn’t press, but the underlying question is there unspoken, though with Cat it can be hard to tell why. Sometimes she comments on certain patterns she’s noticed, but other times Alex has the sense she’s holding back. Sometimes Alex finds her easy to read, other times damn near impossible.

“Mostly,” Alex says softly, and feels that tension again. “She liked Maggie,” she adds with an ironic twist.

“But?” Cat questions. She obviously hears Alex’s slight pause.
 
“No buts,” Alex sighs. “She liked Maggie. Simple statement.” Only it feels anything but simple.

“Okay.” Cat’s silent for a long moment and Alex can almost hear the gears turning in her head. Cat thinking can sometimes be a little intimidating.

“I know my mother loves me,” she feels the need to insist again. It sounds defensive even to her ears, especially since she’s been saying it a lot lately.

Cat sighs very softly. “I believe you.”

Alex’s gaze slides away and she can feel her heart thumping in her chest. Fingers continue to tenderly sift through her hair, the soft caresses soothing some part of her even as a knot sits in the pit of her stomach. “I don’t always believe it,” Alex exhales at some point, the admission nearly inaudible, the confession making the pain in her belly worse.

“Making you very human.” Cat presses a small kiss to her temple. She settles a hand over Alex’s chest, letting it quietly rest there. “Alex, you’re amazing and I know I’ve said some harsh things about your mother, but I believe she loves you very much.”

Alex hates the uncertainty in her own voice as she whispers, “Do you really?”

Cat hugs her close and presses another kiss to her temple. “I do. I think she’s made mistakes, and unintentionally hurt you, but I do believe she loves you...”

“She’d be angry if she knew about you and I,” Alex admits and cuddles more deeply into Cat’s protective hold.

“Probably,” Cat admits, her tone wry. “But I suspect that would be because of me, not you.”

“She’d think you manipulated me,” Alex whispers. The idea still hurts because there’s a part of her that suspects it’s about her as much as Cat.

“Probably,” Cat agrees, then pauses and a note of uncertainty enters her voice for the first time. “Do you believe that?”

Suddenly Alex is wrapping her arms around the other woman and holding on fiercely. “No,” she whispers with desperate intensity. “God no.” The mere idea makes her cringe. She knows what some people might think, but she’s never felt so supported and cared for and the idea that others would see something cruel about it horrifies her. There’s only one thing that haunts her and she’s not sure what to do about it, or maybe she’s not quite sure how. “I want to tell Kara...about us...everything...” she finally admits.

She half expects resistance to the idea, but Cat simply says, “All right.” She sounds totally comfortable with the idea.

Suddenly Alex wonders at her own sanity and selfishness when Kara’s already hurting and dealing with depression and she’s considering possibly breaking her heart. She seriously considers breaking down into a sobbing puddle. It helps when Cat holds on more tightly.

“Do you want me there?” Cat asks, no argument.

Alex freezes. “I don’t know,” she admits after a moment. “What am I doing?” she mutters as the guilt rolls over her like an emotional tidal wave. “She’s already hurting and I–”

“And this isn’t going to make that any worse.” Cat cuts in, her tone firm.

“Won’t it?” Alex demands, impatient with Cat’s refusal to acknowledge Kara’s feelings for her. They need to deal with this and she hates that Kara may get hurt. “Kara has feelings for you, and she’s already dealing with so much...” She trails off, fighting tears.

“Alex, Kara’s feelings are not what you think. Yes, there was a kiss,” Cat says, acknowledging the previously mentioned kiss, though she’s avoided it since. “But I shut it down quickly, and honestly, I think it was mostly about wanting an easy solution, not any kind of romantic attraction.

“Wait. She kissed you?” Alex pops to her feet and starts pacing. “I thought you kissed her, but this is worse–”

“No, it’s really not,” Cat says and makes a calming gesture with her hands. “It wasn’t some mad, passionate moment. It was...” She’s silent for a moment, then tries to explain, the words coming in halting words with random pauses. “It was almost like it was bribe...or a punishment, like I could have her body in trade, if I...” Cat drags a hand through her hair and curses softly. Her expression suggests she has her own guilts. “Then he showed up and started laughing that she could sue me now and...everything went to hell...” She throws up her hands. “I retreated into my back office and I...I screwed up...” she exhales as though maybe she’s only just now putting some things together. “I felt like a fool,” she finally admits, then continues, sounding more confident. “I should have realized she wouldn’t do what he suggested, but he started laughing at me and joking that he’d be on easy street now...and Kara didn’t say anything. It felt like she was in on it. I...I didn’t handle it well.” She pauses and takes a breath before saying, “It was...humiliating...and I’m...I’m not good with humiliation.”

Alex’s heart sinks and she thinks maybe she’ll kill Mon El after she kicks her sister in the ass because she can almost see what happened. She and Mon El were fighting that week. He was pissed because he wanted to go off for the weekend and Kara didn’t, so he manipulated it all and got his way. He humiliated Cat, made his leering, suggestive pass at Alex and had Kara all to himself.

He must have giggled with pride.

He set out to hurt them all and separate Kara from the people who care about her and he almost succeeded.

As if reading her thoughts, Cat whispers, “I should have realized Kara was in over her head instead of getting lost in my own insecurities.”

“No,” Alex exhales sharply and sinks back down on the couch, her knees suddenly shaky. “This isn’t your fault.” She peers at Cat, seeing her hurt and shame. She thinks she knows now why Cat wouldn’t talk about it before. It must have cut deep, especially for a woman like Cat. “Kara’s very lovable and–”

“No,” Cat snaps, then reaches up and strokes Alex’s cheek. “I’m not in love with Kara and I never have been. That kiss was...” She makes a soft, frustrated sound. “It was stupid. Yes, there was an attraction, but I’m not an idiot. Even without the rules, I don’t pursue my employees...particularly ones in abusive relationships with men who want to sue me.”

“He really said that?” Alex is struggling to process it all.

Cat shrugs. “He was laughing about it, thought I’d settle quickly if she accused me of sexual harassment.”


“God,” Alex exhales. She and Kara are going to have a serious discussion. Some of it may hurt, but it’s past time to put all the cards on the table.

And then she’s going to kill Mon El. Actually, she’s going to tell him what a mean, small minded, cruel little boy he is. Then she’s going to kill him while he’s still sobbing and insisting he’s wonderful and everyone else is awful because they don't appreciate how great and kind he is.

She has a moment to contemplate the long needed screaming match and imagining all the things she wants to say to both of them.

It’s a short moment, but a beautiful one that leaves her thinking she finally gets what happened and how stupid it all was and how. She realizes Kara isn’t the only one she needs to talk to. She wants to tell Cat she wants more than just a lover on the sly.

It’s almost like a lifetime of thoughts and dreams happen in that moment.

And then the balcony doors to her left shatter inward.

War trained reflexes kick in instantly. Alex changed during the war. She used to think she was alert, but now she automatically lays out rooms in her head plans ahead for emergencies in a way she never did before. In that instant, she already has a mental image of the room, and knows where to leap to protect Cat. She throws her arms around the other woman, shielding her from the sudden rain of glass and powdered cement.

Even with battle hardened experience, Alex is in a dark room with no warning. As glass shards tumble away she bounds to her feet, stepping in front of Cat as she stares at the shadowy figure standing amid still falling debris.

She’s finally found Mon El.

He’s standing there, large and imposing. She can’t see his expression, but she’s sure it’s smug. Coming in like that, he’ll be overconfident that he has superpowers and she’ll be easy to beat.

She kicks off and dives for her phone where it lies on the coffee table, but he lashes out too fast, slapping her hand hard enough that she’s tossed off her feet and bones are probably broken.

Whatever his reason for being here now, it’s not good.

Alex rolls and uses her momentum to reach her feet and pivots as fast as she can.

She knows he’ll come for her and she’s still wearing combat boots. Mon El may not be human, but Daxamite male anatomy has similar vulnerabilities. He’s not much more than a looming shadow, but she steps into the attack and kicks hard. Not expecting an attack, he leaves himself open. She connects with enough force that a human male would need surgery.

Mon El lets out a woof of pain and doubles over. She has no idea where the phone might have landed  so her only chose is to fight. No matter how fast anyone could get there, it wouldn't be fast enough. She spins to gain momentum and slams her boot into the side of his face. She’s well trained and she’s spent a lot of time teaching Kara. She knows how to fight a more powerful opponent. He goes down hard and is wheezing as she kicks again, slamming her boot into his face.

She feels a momentary rush of hope as he stumbles and topples over backwards, but her skills can’t offset the fact that she can’t do enough damage. He may be breathing hard, but he kicks back up and lands on his feet too fast for her to get in more than a weak kick to his knee. The blow would take a human down, and even he staggers, but he catches himself when she delivers a kick to the face that would leave most humans unconscious.

He’s a lousy fighter, in crappy shape and with almost no training, but he’s fast and inhumanly powerful and he lurches forward in spite of her attacks. She uses every move she knows and barely slows him. She knows Cat’s behind her, but there’s nothing more she can do to protect her. She staggers him, but only buys a few chaotic seconds.

Once he gets his feet under him and solidly planted, she never has a chance.

Her last conscious thought is that his poor form may well save her life. He lashes out with a kick that throws her across the room, but she hits the wall at the wrong angle to break her neck. She tumbles to the floor as the world goes black.


* * * * * * *