When Astra wakes to the soft light hitting her face the first thing she thinks of is how long it’s been since she’s had a peaceful rest like this. She knew how to make herself fall asleep, but rarely were those times actually this restful, memories and anxieties usually disturbing her slumber. Curling further into the soft warm blankets she is currently cocooned in, Astra is determined to make the most of it and linger just a little longer.
She’s been an early riser ever since the military guild trained her to be such, her system having accustomed to rising at first light without exception. Astra supposes it should be out of her system by now, considering she hasn’t officially been in the military for decades, but likewise her service has lasted decades as well. Habits really do die hard.
One last breath, she thinks, that’s as long as she’ll allow herself to remain in this rare moment of serenity. One more moment before she’ll open her eyes and shuck these cuddly blankets that remind her of times long gone; this was not a luxury she’d had in Fort Rozz, nor can she remember ever having encountered such a thing on Earth, but clearly she’s found it prior to falling asleep last night.
Astra finally opens an eye, squinting against the red morning light, after which she freezes: this isn’t Earth at all. That isn’t the sun peering through the windows—windows much bigger than any building she’s been inside of on Earth—that is Rao, shining brightly upon a planet that had surely perished.
This is simply impossible.
She doesn’t have to try to use them to know she has no powers here, Krypton’s gravitational pull a strange familiarity, despite how long it’s been since she’s felt it. Astra knows she is on Krypton, she knows it, and when she shucks those blankets to look down at the garments she is wearing she finds she is in her old sleepwear. It is exactly the same, complete with the small tear on the side from when Kara had tried to get her out of bed by any means necessary, which had included hanging from the fabric with all the weight of a child of 4 ahmzeht.
Pinching herself didn’t wake her from this reality, one she thought could only be a dream.
Astra gets to her feet and moves towards the window in astonishment, looking over the city: it was alive, the stray hovercraft passing by in the early hours, a few lights on in buildings of people just as awake as she was… Kandor, exactly as she remembered it to be, before she’d ever found out the planet had been dying.
She is most certainly on Krypton, which is impossible, because it exploded. There is only one explanation as to what could cause a fantasy this real, and that is that someone has finally used a Black Mercy on her—parasites the guards had stored in the prison in case of an emergency, now readily available to the convicts.
If this is indeed the Black Mercy, all she has to do is reject it; it’s early, she’s only seen the planet, she could get out now and go back to her much more complicated—but real—life. Real life, where Krypton is gone, where she is on Earth, where she is working towards reuniting and reconnecting with Kara, her niece, who is very much alive, who didn’t perish together with their planet, unlike—
<“Sister! You shouldn’t be on your feet.”>
—Unlike her twin sister, Alura, who immediately proceeds to chastise her. Well, at least the parasite got that part right.
She should close her eyes, ignore the sounds of her sister’s voice—or store them in her memory. It’s been so long since she’s heard Alura speak, last time was… decades ago, and she said… She said that she loved Astra, with tears in her eyes, tears that were mirrored in Astra’s own as she was beamed up to Fort Rozz.
Yes, she should go now, her sister has done nothing but betray her in the end; even if this was the real Alura she wouldn’t make it that easy on her. But Astra hasn’t seen her in ages; one look couldn’t hurt, surely. Just one look before she shuts herself off and returns to her sisterless life—maybe that look will fuel her anger enough to make this easier.
She turns to face Alura, takes one long look at her, intending to drink in every detail while she can. A full and lively face so unlike her own, untinged by the permanent sadness that lingers in her own reflection, yet exactly the same as dictated by genetics. The bunch of exclusively brown curls falling onto her shoulders, on top of that royal blue Kryptonian fabric that hangs just as loosely over her arms and chest, covering even more royal blue of her robes, graced by a golden band around her waist. A golden band her niece had adopted in her flashy hero suit, back in her real life.
When Astra’s gaze returns to Alura’s, there is concern and relief and unshed tears, and Astra can barely prepare herself for what follows; Alura practically launches herself at her, pulling her into a strong embrace, and Astra can feel her heart cry out because of how she’s missed this, missed Alura. She hadn’t realized just how impossibly much she’d missed this connection to her twin; how could she ever deprive herself of this?
<“I was worried, you had a severe case of the Argo fever and we nearly lost you,”> Alura tells her, murmured against her shoulder, before pulling back at last.
Astra hates how much she mourns the loss of that touch. Her sister always was more free with her affectionate touches than anyone else on this planet, especially when it came to her, but she’s supposed to be angry at Alura. Why was that again?
<“Which is why you should return to bed. I won’t have you collapsing from exhaustion, sister.”> The moment after she says this, she lays her hands on Astra’s shoulders to turn her around, firmly guiding her back to the admittedly very inviting piece of furniture.
She knows she shouldn’t allow it, though, her instincts are screaming at her not to. <“I feel fine, Alura,”> she dismisses, removing her sister’s prying hands, and trying to remember why else she’s not supposed to return to bed aside from not needing it.
Right, because she’s angry with Alura.
Why was she angry again? Astra knows the reasons to be substantial—if she could only remember to confirm it.
Shaking herself out of that conundrum, Astra steels herself. It doesn’t matter why, because this isn’t real, this is a parasite’s hallucinations; she cannot stay here even if Alura is here. She’s already taken unnecessary risks, too many of them, she absolutely cannot afford to take any more.
But oh, Alura’s touching her again, a gentle hand on her forehead to gauge her temperature, and even this simple fretting is making her want to stay.
No, wait, she is angry. There was a betrayal, she shouldn’t want to seek consolation in Alura’s touches and embraces. Astra remembers now—the trap to catch her, using her niece—and the rage that accompanies that memory hits her like a freight train. She swats Alura’s hand away with a force harsher than necessary and spins around, glaring daggers at her. <“You have no right to touch me after what you’ve done to me,”> she spits, and it feels better than it should to get that out there.
Alura flinches at the sudden turn of events, reflexively taking a step back to distance herself. <“Whatever are you referring to, Astra?> Her tone is infuriatingly calm, and Astra nearly growls.
<“Do I really need to remind you of how you sentenced me to Fort Rozz? That you used Kara to capture me?!”> Astra advances on her, her steps as furious as the rest of her. <“That you let our planet die?”>
The shock on Alura’s face fades and makes place for an understanding, one that isn’t an understanding at all, only in this forsaken fantasy. <“Oh sister, you must have had terrible hallucinations. That wasn’t real. Look around you, Krypton is right here.”>
But Astra shakes her head, unwilling to fall for this trickery. <“No, you’re not real, but you’re still Alura. So tell me why, sister, how would you ever be able to do such a thing?”>
<“I would never betray you, Astra,”> she soothes unnecessarily, falsely, stepping forward again and placing a soft hand on her sister’s arm. <“Come, the less you think about that dream, the sooner you’ll forget about such horrors.”>
The worst thing is that Astra wants to believe her; it feels far more logical that her twin sister, the other half of her soul, the person she’s loved and grown up with, would never do such a thing. Oh, she wants to believe her, desperately so, because Krypton is here, and her sister is here, and she doesn’t doubt her young niece is here too. But she can’t do that, can’t give into this being reality, because it can’t be.
Can it? What if it is reality and she’s clinging to a nightmare being her life, because that’s what she feels she deserves?
As a general she’s had to make some tough decisions, and on the rise she’s been responsible for more death than she’s comfortable with. Failed rescues, collateral, casualties of war, too many to count.
It doesn’t sound implausible.
<“Fine,”> Astra concedes, because she won’t figure this out until she knows more. <“If this is reality, then where is my husband?”>
Alura’s puzzled look almost answers the question by itself. Not real.
<“Non,”> she prompts impatiently.
<“Non?”> A frown passes over her features, before recognition dawns on her face. <“Oh! Captain Non-Fa. I would hope he’s with his husband. You never married him, Astra, do try to remember.”>
She absolutely will not try to remember; recalling memories makes the fantasy more immersive faster, if this is indeed a fantasy. She remembers—real memories—being taught how to repel a Black Mercy, and this had practically been the most important rule.
Astra clearly must have been looking lost, or something in that regard, for Alura jumps in to fill the blanks. <“The marriage was called off when both of you revealed the love for another. Surely you remember your wife.”>
A wife. She has a wife in this perfect fantasy world. Astra didn’t have to try to remember the false memories to know who it would be.
<“I sure hope you remember me.”>
As if on cue the familiar voice rang out, and Astra closes her eyes; she knew enough. She needed to get out of here and fast, back to… to… It really didn’t matter where to, the fact that she can’t remember speaks volumes of the fact that she’s been here for far too long. She doesn’t want to be here, she shouldn’t be and doesn’t want to be in a life that isn’t her real one.
She doesn’t want to be here.
Astra doesn’t want to be here, except her fantasy wife practically tackles her into a hug, her warm skin soothing, and Astra can feel the resolve drain from her body with each moment that passes. She does want to be here, in these arms—forever if she could.
Her feelings for Alex are strong, and Astra hadn’t realized just how far she’d fallen until it was Alex that touched her of her own volition.
Memories surface without her willing it, and she can’t stop them either; meeting Alexandra during their initiation into the military guild, the bravery she’d displayed during their first mission in the field, protecting Astra from a Hellgrammite infiltration. It wasn’t like she couldn’t have handled it herself, but it was nice to have someone who has her back.
Maybe that’s what her dream had based their first encounter on, on the moment she knew she would do anything for her wife. Being on opposite sides must be an anxiety thing; things are just so perfect with Alex, losing her would be unbearable.
Alexandra, her Alex, buries her face in her neck, murmuring softly. <“I’m glad you’re okay.”>
Astra can’t stop the soft smile that prompts, and she teases, <“Did you ever doubt I would be?”>
She squeezes Alex softly, mindful not to hurt her, not to use too much strength, an instinct that must be a remainder of that dream. She thinks she remembers having extraordinary powers there, strength and speed enhanced, even gravity being unable to hold her down, like in their recreational anti-gravity rooms.
She’ll have to take Alex there soon; she can’t remember the last time they went.
The lack of memories rubs her wrong, it feels off. Now that she thinks about it, the name Alexandra feels out of place too, the name unheard of on their planet.
It hadn’t felt out of place in that hallucination.
Wait, wasn’t this reality the hallucination, and the hallucination reality? She wanted—no, needed—to leave this place, right? Why was that again?
Astra tries to remember, but instead she remembers Alex talking about her family; more specifically, why her parents had named her Alexandra. An Earth name, Astra recalls, because her parents had been studying that primitive planet. They’d thought it to be a promising world, filled with potential, and had thus named their little warrior with that thought in mind.
Earth. That’s where she’d been at, or where she thought she’d been at.
Quite honestly, thinking of those hallucinations and trying to remember them was starting to give her a headache. Why was she bothering to cling to them when her lovely wife was right here in her arms?
<“Mother, have you seen my—oh!”> Kara steps through the entrance as she says this, momentarily frozen in her tracks, long enough for Alexandra to pull back and give Kara the space she will inevitably require.
Little 9 ahmzeht old Kara, who looks exactly as she remembers her, of course; it’s only been however long she’s been sick, resting in what she only now recognizes as Alura’s guest room.
<“Aunt Astra, you’re up!”> She squeals and runs at Astra, hugging her tightly, which Astra happily reciprocates.
If Alex had kept her worries at bay, Kara makes her forget about them entirely. <“I hope I didn’t worry you too much, little one.”> While relishing the touch, Astra looks at the two bystanders. <“How long was I out for?”>
<“About a fanf.”> Alexandra answers her almost stoically, like a doctor would inform a patient, or perhaps a soldier reporting to a superior. The latter would make more sense: Alexandra is her lieutenant after all.
Astra cringes slightly at the answer, focusing back on her niece; a week was bad, especially for their standards, and she couldn’t imagine how much she must have worried her family.
Rao, her family. She is so grateful to have them all in her life.
Memories are still returning—she must have been in really bad shape if she could barely remember even her most recent memories—and she now remembers coming home from a long mission. The landing had been flawless, no irregular numbers when it came to gravity or coordinates or anything of the sort, just her ship and Krypton behaving exactly as expected.
She vaguely remembers the hallucination’s variety, of how returning from that particular mission had been everything but normal, of how it indicated something was wrong, but that had just been her anxieties. Krypton is fine.
Still, that dream had made a valid point: Krypton isn’t inexhaustible when it comes to resources. Perhaps making a case for taking better care of the planet wasn’t a terrible idea, just to make sure it never got to that point.
Kara seems to notice her thoughts have drifted, having pulled back and waving a hand in front of Astra’s face. Blinking a few times, she looks at her dear little niece, who looks slightly concerned. <“Are you sure you’re okay? No more hallucinations?”>
Astra smiles at that, because what else can she do? The concern warms her heart, knowing her niece loves her. <“I’m okay, Kara. I was only thinking.”>
<“What were you thinking about?”> Such an inquisitive mind. It’s a little heavy for small ears, perhaps, but Kara is a science prodigy, possibly the future head of the science guild, and truly there’s no way she could deny her anything anyway.
<“The hallucinations were somewhat of a cautionary tale,”> Astra explains. <“In it, we’d drained the planet of its resources, until the core became unstable and Krypton perished. I was thinking it might be a good idea to heed that warning.”>
Kara’s eyes widen slightly—and in her peripherals she can see Alexandra having a similar response—but then she nods seriously.
The two of them find themselves engaged in an avid conversation about the matter from then on: which resources would have to be cut back first and what alternatives they could use, the quality of life only temporarily declining if it got cut off altogether.
Young Kara’s intelligence will never fail to impress her.
Somewhere along the line they’d moved to sit on the bed, with both Alura and Alex weighing in where they could—Alura about the legalities and possibilities of bringing the plan to fruition, and Alexandra offering a new perspective with that bright mind of hers.
They could have spent all day talking if it weren’t for Zor-El coming home, reminding them that food was very much a necessity. For everyone’s sake Alura took it upon herself to prepare a quick meal for the lot of them rather than Zor, who, to his credit, did offer. An offer that only served to motivate them further to absolutely not let him cook, a fact Astra believes he knew and was purposely abusing.
Regardless, the meal went by smoothly, as smoothly as the following days did. Astra was forced to sit another two days out, just to be certain the virus was out of her system, and Alex took those days off to spend with her back in their own apartment. The second day Astra’d managed to convince her to take them to the anti-gravity rooms to fool around, as if they were still adolescents, laughing and floating and kissing.
Things went back to their regular routine after that: getting up early with her lieutenant for an early workout regiment, which included an ever-thrilling sparring session with Alexandra, followed by the more monotonous duties that came with being a general, until finally they’d return home and relish each other’s company, even after all this time.
Sometimes being with Alexandra felt like they’d only gotten together yesterday.
On top of those things, Astra devised a plan to present to the High Council, with the occasional help of her family. In between being focused on that and the thrum of their routine, the days started to blur together and weeks, months, maybe even an entire year passed.
Astra was determined to keep Krypton from being damaged too severely, to make it a better place for Kara, and the child she would surely get to mother by the grace of Rao.
While she is working furiously on finalizing her plan—their plan—Alexandra distracts her by pressing a kiss against her cheekbone. <“I’m going to change, don’t go anywhere,”> she whispers, her voice promising and breath leaving chills where it hits Astra’s skin.
She promptly decides finishing up her plan could wait until tomorrow.
<“Don’t take too long.”> It would have been an order if it were aimed at anyone else, but towards Alexandra it is more a plea than anything, something that makes Alex grin as she walks out of the room.
Astra takes the chance to quickly finish her thought on the document, after which she puts the file away to store it in her desk. The moment she turns around, Alex enters the room, changed in a black get-up she doesn’t remember her ever wearing, but damn if her wife doesn’t look positively ravishing in what she thinks is supposed to represent tactical gear of sorts.
She gets up with a grin and closes the distance between them in a few long strides, firmly planting her lips on Alex’s and wrapping her arms around her waist to pull her in close.
It takes her a moment to notice Alex is stiff beneath her hands, and initially Astra assumes she’s just taken her by surprise somehow, but when there is no response even after the first shock should have passed, she pulls back with a slight frown to look at Alex.
Alex is staring at her with wide eyes, blinking as she processes the situation. “Uhh… Oh. You… Oh.”
This isn’t her Alexandra.
When Astra realizes it, she immediately takes a few steps back, guard up and suspicions rising. <“I don’t remember my wife having a twin. Who are you?”>
Alex blinks again, having to take a moment to adjust to the Kryptonese that she hasn’t spoken with Kara since the day she moved out. <“There is no time, Astra. You’re…”> She frowns, because out of all things Kara’s lessons and conversations had covered, a ‘hallucination-inducing killer parasite’ was not one of them; she hopes Astra hasn’t forgotten how to speak English. “You’re under influence of some sort of parasite, a Black Mercy. You have to wake up, now.”
It triggers a nagging in the back of her brain, an unpleasant sensation. Not-Alexandra’s presence had planted the seed in the first place, but it takes root at the language she isn’t supposed to be able to recognize, or understand, let alone speak—she has never been to Earth, never planned to visit that primitive planet either.
Her training at the military guild, her brain reminds her. In case those curious pests called humans would ever make it to Krypton, or if they ever needed to interfere. Remembering that soothes some of that nagging, but a small part still continues to bother her.
Whatever this stranger is doing to her, she wants it to stop. “You’re trying to deceive me. Who are you and what do you want from me? I won’t ask again.”
Not-Alexandra throws her hands up in exasperation. “Fine. My name is Alex Danvers, I’m from Earth, which you probably don’t remember right now, but all I want is for you to wake up. Kara wants you to wake up.”
Astra snarls and stalks forward, the movement feeling slower than she’d expected it to be for some unbeknownst reason, backing Alex into a corner and making a move to grab her by the throat. An attempt easily deflected by the human, who grabs her by the wrist and keeps a hold of it, likely to make sure Astra won’t try to choke her again. “How do you know Kara?”
“She’s my sister back on Earth, back in the real world.” Alex stresses the ‘real’ part. “Look, we don’t have time to get into the details right now, I’ll explain when we get back, just… try to remember and come back to us.”
She doesn’t believe her for a second, but Astra does remember her lessons about the Black Mercy, that if this Alex was right and this was a fantasy, she would no longer be able to tell. She does remember similar doubts after her recovery from the Argo Fever so long ago, the hallucinations… Benefit of the doubt was the key. “Why are you here?”
“I just told you—“
Astra shakes her head. “No, why are you here, why not Kara?”
“Oh!” Surprise is evident on Alex’s face. “She wanted to, but it’s dangerous, and we didn’t know what fantasy world she’d encounter, so…”
“So you exposed yourself to danger in her stead to protect her. How very brave.” Astra frowns when ‘brave’ passes her lips, the world strangely familiar, associated with Alex like this—not Alexandra, though she too is very brave, but this Alex—and the nagging in the back of her brain increases again. “Have I called you brave before?”
Alex catches onto what she’s trying to do, that she’s trying to remember, and nods fervently. “Yes, you did, before I killed the Hellgrammite—“ She doesn’t get to finish her attempt to jog Astra’s memory, a hit to a very specific spot in her neck knocking her out cold.
Alexandra’s gaze takes in Astra’s form swiftly, checking to see if she’s alright, if the imposter hurt her in any way, which she didn’t. Of course she didn’t, not if her niece had sent her. Her wife takes care of Alex—which is to say, drags her to some secure location—and meanwhile Astra continues to mull over what the unfamiliar Alex told her and trying to remember.
Alex gasps for air as she comes to, the clean oxygen—provided by the mask that’s being held in front of her face—hitting her lungs more appreciated than ever before. J’onn hovers above her, the concern written on his face making place for relief when her eyes are open, no longer covered by the virtual reality specs.
God, she is as sore as she was during her first few weeks of training with the DEO.
“Easy,” his calm voice sounds. “You were seizing, we had to pull you back.”
That would explain the soreness in her muscles. Damn it all, if she hadn’t been caught by surprise she might have been able to convince Astra. She still could. Her body is sore and her heart is racing, but otherwise she’s fine, she could go in again after a few minutes of rest, she could—
“Don’t even think about it,” J’onn warns. “It’s too dangerous. You could have died, Alex, who knows what would have happened if we didn’t manage to pull you back.”
“J’onn, I almost had her. She would have started to remember if I’d have had a little longer before we got interrupted. I can do this.”
But he shakes his head. “It’s too late to go back in. You did what you could, Alex. It’s up to her now.”
J’onn’s grim expression reminds her that Astra is considered a hostile, a general behind enemy lines more so than simply Kara’s aunt, and so she swallows down her protests of ‘she doesn’t believe it isn’t real, how could she reject it when she still think it’s reality’. Instead she turns her head away with a huff.
Should she even want Astra to wake up, the argument of her being Kara’s family not withstanding? Just because the parasite had the crazy idea of marrying the two of them off doesn’t mean Astra won’t attack them if she does wake.
J’onn shifts beside her, and Alex notices his discomfort when she looks back at him, however minimally expressed. “I’ll leave you to rest, agent Danvers. I’ll have Dr. Robson keep an eye on you two.”
He turns around to take his leave, but Alex calls him back, “J’onn.” He stops, looks at her over his shoulder, but the words she wants to say are stuck in her throat.
Don’t tell Kara yet, you can’t let her know, she’ll be devastated.
Before she can bring out any of those words, J’onn nods and does take his leave then, leaving Alex with just the silent doctor and an unconscious Astra, whose vitals the doctor is checking on.
It’s impossible not to let her mind wander in this silence, the only sounds the steady beeping of Astra’s heart monitor and the breathing of the three of them. With a sigh, she resigns herself to her fate on the gurney, letting her mind replay the events of the Black Mercy from start to finish.
Seeing Astra sitting there, clearly waiting for her—to catch Astra alone at all, it had been… surprising. She’s not sure why, but she imagined the parasite would have to surround her with people constantly, so she couldn’t question the realness of it. Had Astra been that far gone into believing it was reality?
She supposes Astra had never truly been alone, when the Black Mercy was undoubtedly lurking in the corners of her mind at all times to adapt and keep it as desirable as possible.
But the surprise at Astra’s solitude had paled in comparison to her surprise—no, utter shock at being kissed so… familiarly. There had been no hesitation in the move of intimacy, like it had happened thousands of times before. Confident, but soft—god, Astra’s lips had been so soft, and though she knew being Kryptonian on Earth, or Krypton for that matter, would not actually make them harder to the touch, this went so far beyond her hypothesis.
Not that she’d thought of kissing Astra before, or any specific Kryptonian for that matter; that hypothesis had been rooted purely in scientific interest.
But even beyond surprise of soft lips on her, of Astra’s lips on her, the most surprising thing to Alex had been not wanting to push her off. She should have wanted that, for so many reasons, should have done it even if she hadn’t wanted to for the same reasons, and the added threat of being charged with treason, but fact is she just… stood there and let it happen—let Astra pull away and realize on her own.
She’d even kind of missed the feeling once those lips had retracted.
That had to have been a side-effect of the Black Mercy, right? It was there to make things perfect for Astra, so affecting any intruders that connected themselves to that same wavelength wouldn’t be an impossibility, right? There was no reason it shouldn’t be able to fabricate feelings for Astra, especially if it had picked her as Astra’s wife…
But then why does thinking of Astra kissing her still make her feel like she was floating high above the clouds, surrounded by rainbows and unicorns and other corny things?
Residual feelings, Alex decides. If the parasite could have fabricated feelings, of course she would still experience at least an echo of them only mere minutes after the fact. Those feelings should decrease their intensity over time, likely over the course of the rest of the day. She just needs to not think about how Astra’s lips felt, or how gently they’d pressed them against her, or how that pressure increased and grew more insistent, or how she hated it when she’d pulled back in her uncertainty.
Plain and easy.
So what about Astra then? She’d firmly believed in Alex being her wife, and clearly had been in a close relationship with her. Astra had wanted her—does want her still—whether this is something her brain decided or the parasite.
That fact reignited these pesky warm feelings all over again—no thinking about Astra’s feelings then either. That should still be doable.
Then what about the Black Mercy itself, and how it determined the best fantasy to keep its victim trapped in? Did it pick one itself and manipulate the person’s feelings like she suspects it had done to her? That would explain the change in Astra, she’d been… Well, actually she hadn’t strayed much from what Alex knew of her, just happier in a universe where Krypton never perished.
So maybe it could only manipulate what Astra saw, which would once again mean Astra wanted her. Which she wasn’t going to think about, because she’d just established thinking about Astra’s feelings is as much forbidden territory as thinking of her own was.
Besides, it would have to create people and environments from its host’s memory, right? She’d never met her counterpart—though she highly suspects that’s the person responsible for knocking her out—for all she knows Astra’s wife was nothing like her aside from looks. She and Astra had only encountered each other a handful of times; how accurate could that portrayal of her really be?
“You’re all clear.”
The voice of doctor Robson tore her away from her thoughts; she hadn’t even noticed the woman had been checking on her now rather than Astra. She gathers her bearings and sits up now that she’s officially allowed to, her gaze wandering to Astra.
Dr. Robson follows her gaze. “She’s stable,” she answers, though the question was unspoken. “For now.”
She nods. “Thanks.” It’s a dismissal, and the good doctor takes the hint as she leaves. Alex doesn’t remove her gaze from Astra’s motionless form, that monstrosity settled on her chest. She wishes she could tear it off—had tried that, in fact—but that would defeat the purpose as it would kill her.
She also wishes she knew more about this thing; Kara’d known it to be a parasite that trapped a victim in an enticing hallucination and that rejecting that world was the only way to get out, but that’s all. J’onn had never seen it before, and Alura’s hologram didn’t have sufficient data on the species to be of any help. What would happen when it finished feeding and kills off its host? Does it seek a new target? Does it reproduce and die? Was it just a biological weapon that served no purpose beyond causing harm?
Her mind was reeling with the possibilities and worst possible outcomes when—no, if Astra dies to it. Kara would tell her to hold onto hope, that Astra is a trained warrior that earned her rank, that she’s probably faced worse psychological warfare than this, that she’d persevered then and would persevere now, too.
Probably anyway, truth is Kara hasn’t told her much about her aunt, and Alex has no idea just how much Kara knows about the missions Astra has been on. Surely being a general at such a relatively young age must count for something, though.
Despite her better judgment—she shouldn’t care, she should leave—Alex finds herself at Astra’s bedside, hands awkwardly folded in her lap. “You probably can’t hear me, but I swear to god, Astra, you better be fighting this thing,” she states gruffly. “Kara’s already lost you once, don’t you dare make her go through that twice.”
That is the only reason she actually cares; not those supposedly fabricated feelings, but Kara. Her concern for Kara she knows is real, and it extending to her family in that manner is just as real, though only because she thinks Astra still cares for her niece in turn.
It was the little things, like how she hadn’t killed Kara on the encounter on the rooftop even when she’d had her at the kryptonite knife’s edge, but rather let her escape; or how she was the only person Astra would talk to during her captivity here in the DEO. On top of that, her protectiveness of Kara in the Black Mercy only served to strengthen that belief.
“When you do wake, you better not hurt her either,” Alex continues. “You’ll live to regret it if you do, I’ll make sure of that.”
She ignores the pit in her stomach at the thought of having to hurt Astra, of the woman turning against them in the first place.
“Don’t make me fight you.” It was a quiet plea, and fake feelings or not, she’s never wanted to fight Astra. Maybe at first, before she saw her interact with Kara, when she’d been kidnapped and injured and Astra had simply been a hostile, but not anymore.
Astra’s previously stable heartbeat picked up, the beep beep beep from the machine growing quicker and more insistent, and Alex is on her feet immediately, looking at the screen: it’s not just her heartbeat, her blood pressure is rising too, and when she looks down at Astra’s face she can see a distressed frown and transpiration covering her forehead.
It’s like she’s having a nightmare, when she’s supposed to exclusively have pleasant dreams under the guise of the parasite.
Alex isn’t sure if this is a good sign, a sign of her putting up a fight, of trying to escape its clutches, or a bad sign, if this is what happens right before the Black Mercy kills its host. She really hopes for the former.
When her heart rate doesn’t stop increasing, Alex prepares herself in case Astra crashes, ready for resuscitation. It won’t hold for long even if it does come to that, not if the Black Mercy keeps attacking her system, but damnit, if this is Astra fighting the least she can do is keep the Kryptonian alive to give her that fighting chance.
The space between each beep of a heartbeat is much too short, yet it feels like a small eternity. It’s an even larger eternity—in which Alex is holding her breath—until the moment Astra actually seems to stabilize. It’s still beating 200 beats per minute, still much too fast, but it’s not climbing anymore, nor is she crashing.
And then, then there is a movement in the parasite, its tentacles unwrapping and detaching from Astra’s body. Alex braces herself just in case it decides to make a move on her next, defibrillators held in front of her like they’re some kind of weapon—which they could be with this voltage—but there is no need for it when it seems to crawl into the opposite direction. Slowly. While shrinking and decaying.
Good. That’s one less thing to worry about.
Meanwhile she could hear Astra’s heart calm down, slowly but steadily, and she considers it a good enough sign to put the paddles away again. When she looks at her face there is no longer that distress, instead a strangely serene expression, what with the self-deprecating curl of Astra’s mouth.
Then those green eyes open and look straight into Alex’s. Instantly Astra’s muscles tense, and that serene expression hardens, schooled into something indifferent.
She isn’t sure why that bothers her.
“Alex,” she acknowledges, voice rough from disuse and dehydration, before her gaze moves to sweep the environment. Wrists and ankles move experimentally, and Astra can’t keep the surprise off her face when she finds them unobstructed.
There’s a lead box in the corner that carries enough kryptonite weapons and restraints to take on a small army, but they’d remained sealed to not damage Astra beyond what the parasite was doing to her. Kara’s insistence, of course.
Wordlessly, Alex hands her a plastic cup of water, and Astra takes it just as silently. Indifference is the only thing showing on her face again now that she’s sitting up.
Alex isn’t sure where to start. What do you say to an enemy-slash-sorta-family-slash-fake-wife? Astra is making sure not to look at her either, clearly facing a similar enigma.
It’s Astra that figures it out first. “You must have questions,” she states simply, eyes still anywhere but on Alex.
She does, too many to count, ones she’s not certain Astra knows the answers to for they relate to how the Black Mercy works, but there is only one that has really stood out to her, that has consumed her mind, that she knows Astra must be able to answer. “Why me?”
Astra’s head dips before she looks at Alex then, a somewhat sad smile on her lips, but her eyes holding so much adoration it startles her. “Isn’t it obvious?”
She remembers Astra telling her she liked her, which she’d passed off as something inherently Kryptonian—an honesty and respect for an adversary that impressed. Still, Alex shakes her head. “Enlighten me.”
“Because of who you are, Alexan—“ Astra cuts herself off, correcting when she picks back up, “Alex. You are magnificent. You’re brave, you’re protective, and caring, and loyal, and so beautiful.”
“You don’t know me.”
“Perhaps not as well as I would like to, but can you truly tell me I am wrong in my assessment?”
The fact is, no, Alex couldn’t argue with that. Bravery and beauty were somewhat subjective, in a way that she had to keep herself from showing these pesky feelings at hearing Astra thought those traits fitting for her, but the others were simply observations, facts. “The Black Mercy made you biased,” she argues lamely.
Shaking her head, Astra returns her expression to something indecipherable and neutral, almost clinical. “No, all it did was amplify the feelings that already existed.”
“What exactly can that thing do?” Alex wonders, scientific curiosity trumping the need to deny her feelings are anything but fake.
“It connects to the heart and brain to simulate a comatose state where it can controls its life-like hallucinations,” Astra explains. “Until you stop fighting it. Only when your body stops resisting can it kill the host painlessly, which is what it was engineered to do.”
“Could it affect anyone that intrudes?”
She tilts her head slightly. “Are you worried it affected you?”
Alex gives her a look that clearly indicates she should just answer the question, and a corner of Astra’s mouth quirks up ever so slightly before answering. “No, it would not be able to manipulate a consciousness it is not connected to.”
Alex frowns; that debunks her whole hypothesis, and if it wasn’t the Black Mercy that caused those feelings then… then they must be her own.
Shit. Great, just great. J’onn is going to fire her for cavorting with an enemy, her mother is going to be disappointed and disown her for having feelings for an alien woman, and Kara is going to be disgusted and hate her for wanting to kiss her aunt.
She can’t do this, she absolutely cannot act on this.
Before her mind can escalate any of those thoughts and is going to start thinking of kissing Astra again, or remembering how Astra wanted her, she looks at the woman whose face is still masked with indifference. She was hiding her feelings, like Alex should be doing right now as well, to keep it professional. She does have another question that has been burning in her mind. “How did you pull yourself out? I thought…”
“You thought I didn’t know that was a fantasy?”
“Something like that.”
“You reminded me of what I already knew. I was reckless, staying with Alura when I knew I shouldn’t have.” Astra laughs somewhat bitterly, “I never imagined a Black Mercy would be able to tempt me into staying, but I’ve missed her more than I dared to admit to myself and—“ she shakes her head to stop herself from continuing. “I constructed a plan, to substitute the usage of the planet’s resources for durable options, so Krypton wouldn’t suffer as it has here and I presented it to the High Council. They accepted it despite the sacrifices that would have to be made. That’s when I knew you were right.
“Everything was perfect,” she smiles sadly, and it looks more than a little pained. “I had the love of my family, of you—my wife. Missions were enjoyable and always had the most favorable outcome, and Krypton was and would remain healthy for generations to come. It was too good to be true.”
Seeing her like this makes Alex ache for her, as tears are threatening to spill not only in Astra’s eyes but also her own. Right now all she wants to do is remove that sadness, feelings and ethics be damned. “Lie down,” she tells Astra.
She looks puzzled, understandably so, but Alex makes an almost shoo-ing gesture. “Lie down,” she insists, “Don’t make me tackle you.”
No less confused, Astra obliges her, lying down on her back, and Alex immediately moves to crawl in beside her, snaking her arms around Astra. “What are you—“
She doesn’t get to finish that sentence before Alex pulls her closer. “I’m holding you, and I’m going to continue holding you for at least another 20 minutes, so I suggest you get comfortable, General.”
Astra turns on her side in her arms, to face her and study Alex closely, like she doesn’t quite trust the situation, but then decides to take full advantage of it by burying her face into Alex, a muttered “thank you” against her chest.
They would deal with their feelings and other complications later, when they weren’t both ignoring the fact that Astra was crying into her shirt because of all the losses she’s suffered, and when the situation with Non had been dealt with, but for now…
For now, this was enough.