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we break and scatter worlds apart

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Krypton - 488 AD

 

            Kara found her weeping in a meadow, her shoulders hunched and shaking as she sobbed, dark head bowed in sorrow as her hair cascaded down her back and fell around her face, creating a dark curtain. Pausing in shock, Kara stared at her in surprise, her bare feet settling into the white sand beneath her, the skirts of her thin cotton dress fluttering around her ankles. She’d never seen a Kryptonian cry before - they weren’t an emotional race, and their planet prospered, so why would they even need to cry? - and she was struck by the quiet hitching sobs drifting towards her. It was a sunny day, the sky the palest shade of blue, and a yellow sunlight that seemed to radiate from everywhere. The white sand gave way to sparse grass, almost completely leached of its green colour, growing thicker as it spread, until it was a lush long carpet where the woman knelt. Her pale skin seemed to glow in the sunlight, and her hands were clutching the thin white skirts of her own dress. Hesitating for a moment, wondering if she should approach her or not, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat and stepped onto the grass, careful not to trample the washed out violets and buttercups, motes of pollen swirling around her in the gentle breeze. She knew who the woman was on sight - anyone would - and she approached with wary caution in her blue eyes, looking at the bowed figure, all monochrome and sharp edges. But then, as the long waving grass and heather rustled at her approach, the woman’s head snapped up, and as green eyes penetrated her very soul, Kara paused. Within those green eyes lived an ocean of sadness, swimming with tears, speaking of loneliness and heartache, and Kara was struck by the raw emotions so clearly written into the lines of her face, even as she reached up to wipe her pale cheeks, her eyebrows furrowed down low over her eyes.

 

            “It’s rude to stare,” the woman tersely told her, her cheeks colouring slightly at being caught showing such strong emotions.

 

            “I’m sorry,” Kara murmured an apology, taking a few steps closer and dropping to her knees, leaving a spacious gap between the two of them. Her golden hair had shadowed sunbeams in it, and the long waving grass tickled her cheeks as she was enveloped by the smell of flowers. “What’s wrong? I should hate to see Rao’s second most treasured so upset.”

 

            Letting out a strangled laugh, the woman - Lena - sat back, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them as she stared at Kara, her head tilting to the side as she observed her, sitting amongst the heather and looking at her with such concern. Drawing in a shuddering breath, Lena’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment, her dark lashes dusting her cheeks as she breathed evenly. “I am in love.”

 

            Kara let out a surprised laugh, her forehead screwing up with confusion as she looked at the woman, beautiful even in her sadness. “Love? We don’t love.”

 

            “But I am,” Lena groaned, running a hand through her dark hair, “I didn’t want to be. She has tricked me into it, and I couldn’t help it. Adoration was for Rao only, but she kissed me and taught me how to love. She has tricked me into loving her, whispering that together we shall be greater than anyone else. Her pride has grown too much; she is Rao’s most beloved, and I’m afraid of what Rao will do to her in he learns of her pride. I’m afraid for myself too. She will not let me leave, and I’m afraid that I am losing my light. She is consuming me.”

 

            Kara blinked in surprise, quickly trying to connect the dots. There was only one who stood above Lena, only one more cherished by Rao, and Kara thought about the soft brown hair and eyes that held so much kindness of the woman - Samantha, next in line for Rao’s throne - and found it hard to reconcile that with the tale that Lena wove to her, her bottom lip trembling and her face etched with fear. Yet, Kara couldn’t help feel her own eyes prickle, and she gave Lena a grim smile, reaching out to take one pale hand in her own golden one. “This love you describe does not sound very beautiful,” Kara gently told her, “you should not have to change yourself to love someone else. You should not have to set aside your adoration for Rao, because it is our adoration for him that encourages us to be great. If you were mine and I were yours, I would not ask you to change who you are. I would want you exactly as you are. I would not try to eclipse you with my desires.”

 

            Blinking in surprise at the gentle counsel from the delicate Kryptonian who shone with a golden light, who had earned the title Morning Star and keeper of lost souls, Lena felt her heart yearn with a longing for the woman, thinking that perhaps she could be another lost soul the golden haired woman kept safe. Surprising them both, she leant forward, crossing the gap between them and pausing for a moment, and Kara could do nothing but stare into those green eyes, and down at the slightly parted lips, just inches from her own, before she leant forward, closing the distance between them as her eyes fluttered closed. They softly kissed, and Kara tangled her thin fingers in Lena’s dark hair, marvelling at the warmth of the full, gentle lips beneath her own, and when they broke apart, they both knew that the other had stolen their heart with a single kiss.


---

 

            Time passed by with their love held a secret, a secret that they kept hidden between the two of them, in stolen moments in their secret field, the warmth of the neverending spring surrounding them as they lounged amongst the butter yellow daisies and blue cornflowers, plucking dandelions and blowing the seeds as they made wishes, their laughs of delight echoing around them as the tiny seeds drifted along on the breeze. The more time they spent together, the more they grew to know each other, and the deeper in love they fell. Long days of sunlight and gentle kisses on bronzed skin, the heady smell of flowers surrounding them as they told stories and basked in each other’s presence. It was everything and more than what either of them had ever imagined, and every time Kara laid eyes upon her, she was floored by the beauty that Lena radiated - no longer a tearful, wounded woman, but a warm and loving one, with a laugh that sent a thrill through Kara whenever she heard it.

 

            Things weren’t all well on Krypton though, and with Rao’s absence, the Kryptonians started to feel like they had been abandoned, with no one left to worship, and they began to fear that his newest creation - the humans - would replace them. The others grew lonely, feeling useless as they were left to their own devices, with no other purpose but to worship Rao on their paradise planet - all except for Kara and Lena. Their love was forbidden, but it didn’t stop them from loving each other in spite of that, and those stolen moments together quickly chased away the loneliness, filling them with a lightness that rivaled the weightlessness of flying. They would’ve been happy to stay that way forever, but it didn’t last long, no matter how many wishes they made on dandelions.

 

            It started going downhill when Sam rebelled, turning against Rao and declaring herself as the new ruler, as the one who should reign, and all of the Kryptonians were brought together and forced to choose. From the lowest ranking Kryptonians, to the most revered, all were gathered together and asked to choose between Rao and their home planet of Krypton, or Sam, with her hatred for Krypton and her new planet - one she’d made in stark contrast to Rao’s ideology. It was ice and death, a frozen wasteland, situated universes away, and she planted her seeds of doubt in the minds of those present, poisoning their minds against the God who had created them, wooing them to her side.

 

            Radiant in her white silk dress, her hair a golden halo around her head, Kara elbowed her way to the front, facing Sam, who was dressed in black, which made Kara’s skin crawl as she looked into the dark eyes hidden behind a mask. She’d always thought the other woman kind and warm, but there was nothing of that old woman left as she stood before her, beside the Voice of Rao, with the golden mask and blindingly bright robes of white. A huge golden throne sat empty upon the dias, and the crowd gathered around the base of it was split, with a dozen Kryptonians gathered off to one side, their faces stubbornly set as they sided with Sam, while a few apprehensive ones lingered in between, unsure about where to cast their vote.

 

            “This is foolish,” Kara shouted, scowling up at them both, “you cannot make us choose between blind devotion and chaos. Both are wrong, and we deserve more than living empty lives. To live selflessly or selfishly is not living a full life. There is more out there for us. There is love. I choose love.”

 

            “Love?” Sam scoffed, “you cannot choose love and side with Rao. There is no love here.”

 

            “I don’t side with Rao, and I don’t side with you either. I choose Lena.”

 

            The Voice of Rao stared straight at her, the golden mask catching the rays of sunlight, and Kara swallowed the lump in her throat as she stubbornly jutted her chin forward, refusing to back down. A ripple ran through the crowd at Kara’s words, and she heard footsteps behind her, turning to find Lena detaching from the crowd, her raven hair falling down her back in gentle waves as she rushed to Kara’s side, reaching out to cup her face in a slender hand, her forehead briefly touching against Kara’s, before she let their fingers lace together.

 

            “The Morning Star and Evening Light,” Sam sneered as she looked at the two women, hand in hand and in stark contrast to each other, like the moon and the sun, “how fitting.”

 

            “You would pick her over choosing a side?” the Voice of Rao said, and Kara stiffly nodded, “then you are a coward. There can be no place for you on Krypton if you are not loyal to Rao. There can be no place for any of those who are unwilling to side with him.”

 

            Kara’s eyes darted to Lena, and she gave her hand a quick squeeze, watching as Lena frowned up at Sam, whose eyes were blazing with anger as she took in the tender way she held Kara’s hand, clearly enraged that her hold over Lena had loosened, and her lover had moved on. There was movement off to Kara’s left, and she watched as a dark haired woman pushed through the crowd, her white dress rippling behind her and a stubborn set to her jaw as she gave Kara a curt nod, the hilt of a golden sword peeking over her shoulder. Alexandra. She was like a sister to Kara - one she trusted above anyone else, except with her secret love - and the other Kryptonian defensively stood beside Kara, and a few other familiar faces joined her. “What of those who do not pick at all?”

 

            “Then you will all fall. And you, Morning Star and Evening Light … you speak of love, but you shall never truly have it. You shall never truly be together for this treachery you have shown Rao.”

 

            “You would turn your back on our love?” Sam hotly asked Lena, her dark eyes staring at her with betrayal and a seething rage simmering underneath it, “I curse you. I curse you both . You’ll fall with the rest of us, but you’ll never be together.”

 

            “Wait!” Kara yelled, stepping in front of Lena and shielding her with her body, a hand outstretched towards the two Kryptonians standing on the dias, a panicked look in her blue eyes as she opened her mouth to beg them not to do this.

 

            She was too late though, and the sudden feeling of weightlessness filled her, as if the floor had disappeared beneath her feet, and Kara’s vision darkened as fear took hold in her heart - fear for Lena - and she tried to turn and reach for her, but found herself surrounded by darkness. The sensation of falling filled her, and then she was tumbling through endless nothingness, air rushing past her face as she stared blindly into the void of darkness. She couldn’t make out anything else; it was like she was alone in a vast open space, as the suffocating blackness pressed in on all sides, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to stem the feelings of claustrophobia as she fell, arms and legs flailing as she tried to touch anything in the dark, to know she wasn't alone. At one point she could’ve sworn she heard the faint sound of her name being called, and another time she thought her hand grazed someone else, but in the end, she fell alone. It felt like she fell for an eternity, the blackness never ending, and the loneliness all-consuming, and Kara couldn’t help but think that this was her punishment. This was her curse for loving Lena.

 

            The reality of it was so much worse.

Chapter Text

Camelot - 491 AD

 

            She crash landed in the middle of a forest, striking the ground with enough force to create a crater in the earth, branches snapping as she fell through the thick canopy of trees and tore up the earth and bracken, making deep furrows in the ground when she finally came to a stop. Spluttering and gasping for air as she struggled to her knees, Kara brushed mud off her skin and staggered forward a few steps, shielding her eyes as she glanced up at the blindingly bright sunlight. As she blinked back tears, everything came into focus and she drew in a breath of the fresh air, tasting flowers and rotting leaves while the smell and sound of water reaching her as she peered over the edge of the hole she’d made in the ground. She couldn’t stop the small gasp that escaped her as she looked out to a sea of brown trunks covered with moss and lichen, the sounds of birds coming from close by. Birds , Kara realised with a look of awe on her face. They didn’t have birds on Krypton. Or trees like this. She’d never seen so much green in her life, or such vivid, lush foliage. It had been a barren wasteland on most of Krypton, with sandy deserts or icy tundras, and the patch of pale fields where she’d met Lena had been a rare oasis of greenery.

 

            Lena.

 

            With a small cry, she scrambled at the edge of the hole she was in, tearing up dirt, stones and roots as she tried to haul herself up the side of it. She needed to find Lena. Surely they hadn’t crashed too far apart. The soft earth just gave way beneath her fingertips though, and her frustration grew as she muddied herself, until she jumped in frustration, hoping to scrabble at some plants or stronger roots that she could use to give herself some purchase, and leapt twenty feet into the air, rocketing above the trees and looking around her in disbelief as everything seemed suspended for a moment over a rolling sea of green, before she crashed back down on the forest floor, cursing as the wind was knocked out of her. Brushing rotting leaves off the skirt of her flimsy dress, Kara walked barefoot through the forest, a look of wonder in her eyes as she drank in the details of everything. There was so much green , and she saw a bluebird flutter past, landing on a tree branch and letting out a torrent of chirps, and Kara had to fight the urge to go and get a closer look. Her main priority was finding Lena.

 

            It was easier said than done, and Kara was surprised at how quickly night fell in the forest, the darkness creeping in and turning everything to shadows as she stumbled over the uneven ground, her thin dress doing nothing to stop the wind that howled as it swept through the trees. Kara was grateful that she seemed to be running a little hotter than usual on this strange earth, so she didn’t feel the chill much, but her skin still crawled as she staggered onwards, finding herself warily eyeing the deep shadows, as if there were things watching her. A part of her didn’t like this new place, now that the novelty of it was starting to wear off.

 

            Three days later, after miles of traversing the forest, Kara started hating the blindingly bright sunlight from the yellow sun, and the incessantly loud chattering of the birds and animals, the lack of buildings and people, and most of all, she hated being apart from Lena. For hours, she’d called out for her, until her voice was scratchy and hoarse and she was starting to lose hope. Blinking back tears, Kara tried not to wallow in her misery. She hadn’t slept in days, and her stomach was hollow with hunger, but mostly, there was just the overwhelming despair and longing due to the huge hole left in the space Lena had filled. She couldn’t say how long it had been since she’d last seen her; time had moved differently in the fall, and it could’ve taken them mere moments that had felt like lifetimes, or it they could’ve been falling for an eternity. Either way, she had to see Lena. Nothing was more important to Kara than finding her and holding her in her arms, kissing her and feeling the warm realness of her, knowing that whatever happened next, they went through it together.

 

            When she finally found her, it didn’t go quite as planned.

 

            It was four days since she’d crashed on this planet, and she’d seen nothing but wilderness. Stretches of brown trunks standing like sentinels, whispering as their leaves rustled, and lush meadows of blooming flowers whenever she managed to find a break in the forest. She found the occasional river bubbling along over rocks, scooping handfuls of clear water up as she drank deeply, the icy water almost burning as it went down, and washed her hands and face. Kara even stumbled across some berries and tentatively ate one after watching a little sparrow peck at one, trusting the animal’s instincts, but it did little to stave off the gnawing hunger. Eyes burning, feet dragging and heart sinking as she feebly called out for Lena, she all but ran into the knife.

 

            One moment she’d been calling out Lena’s name as loud as she could, and the next moment a hand that smelled of dirt, pine and metal was clamped over her mouth and nose and a dagger was pressed against her side.

 

            “Another word, and I’ll gut you,” a woman’s dangerously quiet voice hissed in her ear, and Kara froze. The words were alien to her - it wasn’t Kryptonian, or anything she’d ever heard before - but Kara understood them. The lilting accent was unfamiliar as well, and she was quick to fall silent at the woman’s threat, her eyes training on the black robed arm, which was all she could see of the woman.

 

            There were shouts in the distance, and the braying and nickering of horses, and Kara barely dared to breathe as her and the woman hid behind the wide trunk of a gnarled rowan tree. Heavy footsteps snapping twigs and crunching leaves drifted towards them, followed by the gruff sounds of men talking, and Kara could hear her heart pounding in her chest as her adrenaline spiked. She wasn’t sure what the woman was hiding from, but the chinking sound of chainmail and rasping of metal as swords were drawn didn’t speak of anything good. Stumbling backwards slightly as the woman tilted off balance and Kara went with her, she tried to turn, but was met with the knife pressing harder against her stomach, making her freeze again. They both waited silently, and Kara could hear the woman’s ragged breathing and feel it on the side of her neck as they hid in the twilight that was rapidly descending. The men seemed to think better than traipsing through the forest in the dark, and the sounds soon started to recede, and when the last sound of hooves clopping on the hard packed path faded from their ears, Kara went sprawling forward as the woman let her go.

 

            Spitting out a mouthful of gritty earth, she climbed to her feet, brushing off dewy leaves that clung to the gauzy dress and turning. And then she felt relief wash over her just for a moment, so strong that she thought she would crumple to her knees before she even took one step, but somehow she managed to cross the distance between them on shaky legs and throw herself at the raven haired woman dressed in black, her skin pathed a pearly white as the colour was leached out of the world, leaving just enough light to let Kara recognise features she knew better than her own.

 

            Throwing arms around her, Kara pulled her close in a crushing hug, the air rushing out of her lungs at her short-lived relief. “Lena.”

 

            Then the cold, sharp edge of the dagger was pressed against her throat, and Kara went rigid, slowing unwinding her arms from around the fragile body of the woman she held. The cloying smell of the forest clung to her, and her dark hair was wild and untameable, but she was so very clearly her Lena. An exact copy of her, right down to the knick just below one eyebrow and the tiny freckle on her neck. So when Kara was slowly steered backwards, until the rough bark of a knobbled oak tree was pressing into her spine, a steely glint in the eyes set into a hardened face as the woman held the blade to her throat with a trembling hand, Kara wasn’t sure why Lena had pulled a blade on her.

 

            “Lena,” Kara breathlessly told her, cold fear sliding down her spine for the first time as she took in the blank look in the woman’s eyes.

 

            She’d been so sure this was her Lena, but there was no flicker of familiarity in those stony eyes. Only a deep suspicion and ruthless tenacity that left no room for doubt in Kara’s mind that this woman could slit her throat in a heartbeat and not feel a second of remorse. That’s when she knew that this Lena wasn’t her Lena. Still, as she recalled the words spoken by Sam and the Voice of Rao. The curse laid upon them. You shall never truly be together. With a feeling of dread inside, Kara couldn’t help but think that this was the curse. Lena had forgotten her. She couldn’t believe that Lena wouldn’t know her though - underneath this cold exterior, she had to know Kara.

 

            Trying again, Kara gave her a wobbly smile, her eyes glistening with tears, “Lena, it’s me. It’s Kara. It’s your Kara.”

           

            “Who are you?” the woman asked, her tone firm despite her trembling hand as she levelled the dagger at Kara.

 

            “It’s me. Kara.”

 

            “Who sent you?”

 

            Kara let out a quiet laugh, wondering if perhaps this version of her Lena would even remember Rao, because this was Lena. She was sure of it. This Lena just didn’t know her. Not yet. But Kara would make her remember. This was their test; this was their chance at happiness together. If Kara could make her remember all of their time together - every kiss, every word, look and touch - then they could love each other without inhibition on this strange new planet.

 

            “Rao did,” Kara quietly told her.

 

            A shadow of curiosity glimmered in Lena’s eyes, and her breath was starting to mist before her as she shivered. Kara thought it was odd that she was feeling the cold under her heavy black robes when it was little more than a bit nippy for her in her linen dress, and she looked at her with concern. And then when Lena started to sway slightly on her feet, holding a hand out to keep Kara at bay, she realised that the hand that had been clamped so tightly to her side was stained black in the fading light. She was hurt.

 

            “You’re wounded,” Kara softly said, feeling a lump form in her throat at the sight of blood. Kryptonians didn’t bleed - or she’d never seen one bleed because they’d never been injured in such a way as this. “Let me help you, Lena.”

 

            The woman in front of her pressed her hand back to her side, letting out a pitiful sound of pain, making Kara’s heart twinge, keeping the dagger in her right hand still raised, even though she was trembling so much now that it would be a miracle if she could stab Kara even if she presented herself to her. Then she collapsed, listing to one side as the leaf-strewn ground raced up to her, stopping just shy of crashing into it as Kara raced forward and caught her, her warm hand covering the cold, bloody one clutched to the stab wound. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and hear the weak, fluttering one coming from Lena, her pulse racing like a frightened sparrow’s, and Kara gently lowered her to the forest floor, the other Lena’s wild, dark hair splayed out like writhing snakes as she looked up at Kara with lidded, unfocused eyes.

 

            “Shh, it’s okay,” Kara soothingly told her, “you’re safe. You’re safe with me, Lena. I’ll look after you now.”

 

            Before she fell into unconsciousness, a small sigh fell from her lips, almost too quiet to hear. “It’s Morgana.”

 

            Gently gathering the loose-limbed body up in her arms, Kara looked around, realising that there was nowhere for her to go. She didn’t even know where she was. In her four days of walking, she hadn’t seen a single soul - not until she’d stumbled upon Lena - and she hadn’t seen any buildings either. A feeling of panic began to set in as she stared down at the pale face peeking out from beneath a shock of dark hair, eyes rolling from side to side beneath closed lids and lips parted as her breathing turned shallow. She needed help. Squaring her shoulders, Kara ground her teeth together in determination, a determined look on her face. She’d promised she would look after Lena, so that was what she was going to do.

 

            Pushing off the ground, Kara rose above the canopy of trees, suspended in the dark sky as she looked around, nothing but a sliver of moonlight and a million stars lighting up the evening, and she closed her eyes, listening for the sound of people. If she could find a village, she could find help. Her senses seemed more heightened on this strange planet, but even as she listened to the quietness of the night, picking up on the sounds of a badger burrowing into the ground, an owl softly hooting in a tree and the sound of running water from the dozens of streams snaking through the forest, she couldn’t hear people. Eyes flying open, Kara squinted instead, triggering the strange second layer of vision she had never had before, finding everything looking an almost ghostly blue and strangely translucent. She could see white blobs of animals moving through the underbrush, the structure of trees and their roots searching deep down underground, and then, much to her relief, a hidden building set into the side of an outcropping of rock, just at the fringes of her sight.

 

            With a quick glance down at the woman cradled in her arms, Kara shot off towards it, a streak of white flashing across the sky as she moved with surprising speed. She hadn’t flown yet - hadn’t known that she could - and when she landed on the forest floor with a spray of bracken, right in front of the old wooden door, Kara was caught off guard. Nothing like this had happened on Krypton. Sure, she’d been able to fly there, and had been strong and healthy, her senses good , but she’d never been so fast, and they hadn’t been as keen. Everything about this planet seemed to enhance her, and the thought of what else she could do came to mind, but she shoved it aside as she held Lena in her arms with ease, reaching out to pull open the door sitting on rusted hinges.

 

            Walking into the dark hovel, she breathed in dusty air, using her x-ray vision to see in the dark as she moved through the room, setting the unconscious woman down on the low cot. There was a circle of cold ashes in the middle of the room, and Kara quickly found a stack of wood in the corner and piled them all in it, glancing around for something to light it with. She’d never had to light a fire before - there had never been any need to - and as she rushed around the room, fumbling through the old contents in the dark while she listened to the shallow breathing and rapid heartbeat, her patience started wearing thin. Coming up empty handed, Kara let out a sound of frustration, followed by a yelp of surprise as she gouged a hole in the thick stone wall with the laser beams that shot from her eyes.

 

            Pulse racing, Kara breathlessly stared at the melted edges of the hole, and whipped her head around to stare at the lump of firewood. Summoning up the same energy again, she all but incinerated the log her gaze latched onto, but the rest quickly caught on fire, bathing the room in a comforting orange glow and chasing away the chill that seeped from the walls. Rushing back over to Lena’s bedside - she couldn’t help but see her as Lena, her Lena - Karas hands hovered over her, concern etched into every line of her face as she looked down at the sickly pallor of her skin. Lena had always been pale, but this was an almost greyish pallor, and Kara felt icy fear in her stomach, sitting like a ball of lead, and she sucked in a deep breath as she steeled herself to check the wound. Her knowledge of medicine was shoddy at best, having never needed to tend to the wounded warriors and their Kryptonite induced injuries - one of the few things that could harm a Kryptonian - but she knew it was about closing the wound. Carefully peeling the black, lacy dress off Lena, the fabric clinging to her blood soaked side, Kara inhaled sharply, staring down at the hole in Lena’s side, slowly pumping out blood that looked black against her porcelain skin. Rummaging around, darting around the room so fast that she was barely a blur, she found some threadbare blankets and hastily rushed back to Lena’s bedside to press them against the wound, placing Lena’s leaden arm on top to hold it in place.

 

            Next, she searched for a needle and thread, thinking that it was the logical approach to stitch the edges of the wound together. The only problem was that she couldn’t find a needle, or thread. Stumped, Kara ran a hand through her greasy blonde hair, clutching a fistful of it as she tried to think. What else could she do? What would close a wound and make sure it didn’t open? And then her eyes landed on the flames dancing in the pit and she paused. She’d eaten meat on Krypton - what little they could get from their sparse wildlife - and had they not cooked it and seared the meat? It was possible that it could work on Lena’s wound. She could seal the edges of it and cauterise the bleeding in the process. Feeling slightly sick at the prospect, Kara had to take a few deep breaths, before she stole Lena’s dagger and heated it in the flickering flames, until the edge was glowing a wicked orange, and then she quickly crossed over to Lena’s bedside, dropping down to her knees and asking her to forgive her. With a sizzling sound and the smell of burning skin, Kara pressed the knife to the hole in Lena’s abdomen, gritting her teeth together and forcing herself to keep the bile down as her stomach roiled. Slowly raising the dagger, she stared down at the shiny skin, the wound an angry red line, but no longer bleeding, and she let out a sigh of relief. With no idea what herbs would help her, Kara boiled some rags over the fire, using a pitcher of stagnant water on the sturdy oak table, tightly binding Lena’s stomach and covering her with a threadbare blanket while she slept soundly.

 

            Sinking down to the floor, Kara dipped a cloth into a bowl of cold water, squeezing it and then wiping Lena’s face. It was her. There was no doubt in her mind. Everything about her was her Lena - physically at least. A lump formed in her throat as she gently stroked the dark tangled hair, thinking about how she hadn’t recognised her. Perhaps it had been because she was delirious from blood loss and the trauma of whatever had just led her to be stabbed, or the less optimistic part of Kara was telling her that this was their curse. Swallowing the lump, she silently prayed for the former, but then she realised the person she was praying to was the one who had cast her out of her own planet. The only thing she could do now was wait.

 

---

 

            Kara must’ve dozed off at some point because one moment she’d been sitting on the hard packed earth, her legs stretched out across the cold floor as she leant back against the stone wall, watching Lena in silence. The next thing she knew she was staring down the polished length of a sharpened sword, the edge glinting orange from the fire that she’d kept stoked throughout the night. The chill that seeped from the stone made her think that the sun hadn’t risen yet, and Kara quickly scrambled up the wall, hugging her arms to herself as she stared at the slightly off-balance woman staring at her with wide eyes. The look of fear on her face made Kara freeze slightly. It was a look she’d never seen on Lena’s face before, and it was a feeling she suspected that this hardened woman had rarely felt. She didn’t like it.

 

            “What’re you doing here?” the woman asked in the same unfamiliar language that was surprisingly comprehensible to Kara’s ears. There was no warmth in her voice though, just the undercurrent of danger which made Kara’s skin prickle - she still didn’t recognise her.

 

            “You were bleeding,” Kara said, the words voluntarily falling off her tongue, even as she felt the cool tip of steel grazing her neck. She should’ve been more confused about how she knew to speak in the same tongue as her, but she had bigger problems right now.

 

            The knife was pressed harder against her neck, and Kara barely dared to swallow as she waited for the stinging feeling of a line of fire being drawn across her throat, but the tip of it just bent slightly instead, much to her surprise. She wasn’t sure if Lena realised. “Who are you?”

 

            “Kara.”

 

            “Yes, but who are you?”

 

            “I’m your- we know each other.”

 

            Kara’s voice wavered slightly as she spoke, her eyes stinging with tears. They did know each other. She knew Lena better than she knew anyone else, and it hurt just a little to think that Lena didn’t remember everything they’d shared. She was insistent thought - they did know each other.

 

            “No we don’t,” Lena flatly replied, one hand gently resting on the bandages wrapped around her abdomen while the other struggled to keep the sword levelled. The tip of it was just resting at the base of Kara’s throat now, and definitely would’ve cut her if it hadn’t been normal steel. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

 

            “Lena-”

 

            “My name’s not Lena,” the woman snapped, her lilting accent making the words sound airier than Kara thought they were intended to be. “My name is Morgana. Morgana Pendragon, and you should kneel before your queen.”

 

            Kara all but collapsed onto the cold floor, her knees scraping against the hard packed earth as she balled her hands into fists on her thighs. She didn’t know it yet, but she had fallen right into the middle of what would become a legendary, but tragic tale. In centuries yet to come, they would still be talking about this woman, and she had no idea about the tragic fate awaiting her. It was not a happy tale. Right now, all Kara could think was that she must’ve been falling for an awfully long time - years, in fact - because this wasn’t her Lena, but she had a life. She was a queen .

 

            “My lady,” Kara murmured, ducking her blonde head down, “forgive me. I just- you remind me of someone I once knew.”

 

            “What’re you doing here?”

 

            “Looking for her,” Kara whispered, her eyes burning with tears and a feeling of shame washing over her as she let her emotions get the better of her. She’d never cried on Krypton. This melancholic aching in her chest was a new thing for her, and she had to say, she didn’t care for it.

 

            The woman - Morgana - faltered slightly, seeming to realise that the pathetic woman hunched on the floor before her wasn’t a threat. The tip of the sword was lowered, and Kara suspected that it was partially to give her arm a rest, because the woman was swaying on her feet, and wasn’t exactly at the pinnacle of health at the moment. In fact, as Kara looked up, a shadow of pain in her eyes as she blinked back tears, hoping to see the woman she wanted it to be, but scared that she’d see her for who she truly was, she saw Morgana sway slightly on her feet.

 

            “You should rest, Lady,” Kara softly murmured, finding herself unable to find any differences in appearance between her and Lena, and unable to be dismissive of this woman who so very clearly wasn’t her Lena in personality. She was Morgana. She was a queen. It was evident in her bearing, Kara realised. There was a regal look about her, and a proud tilt to her chin, even as her forehead shone with beads of sweat and she stood in a small shift and thick bandages, amongst the contents of the derelict hovel. The place was filthy and musty, smelling of damp and dust, but somehow Morgana seemed to command the place, as if it was her palace. “You’re badly wounded.”

 

            Morgana let out a dismissive snort, the sword loosely hanging at her side as she turned away from Kara, who was still kneeling in the dirt, reaching for the bloodstained black dress and dropping the sword onto the bed, still within reach. Kara watched with concern as Morgana tried to put the dress on, letting out a small groan of pain as the wound in her side twinged and she curled inwards on herself, looking pale in the eerie orange light of the fire. In a flash, Kara was by her side, guiding her down onto the bed with warm hands. She shouldn’t have cared this much about a stranger, but there was still the flicker of hope that this was her Lena, and even if it wasn’t, she looked like her, and that was enough to trigger Kara’s reaction.

 

            “Don’t strain yourself,” Kara gently chided her, fretting over the woman as she guided her back down onto the pillows, pulling the blanket up over her, “you’ll open your wound again. Quite frankly, Lady, I don’t think you can afford to lose anymore blood. It is not too grave, but it would not serve you well to make yourself any weaker. Your people will need you.”

 

            “Indeed,” Morgana muttered, giving Kara a bewildered look.

 

            “You need to drink something. And eat. There might be something around here. Maybe some medicine too,” Kara rambled, tucking the woman in, much to Morgana’s amusement, before she turned away, digging through the cupboards again as she ransacked the place. “You’ll need to recover your strength before you return to your castle.”

 

            She didn’t see the dark look that crossed the woman’s face as she pushed herself up onto her elbows, frowning at Kara’s back as she bent over a heavy wooden chest, rummaging through bundles of fragile, dried herbs that crumbled in her hands, perfuming them with the smell of sage, thyme and mint. They were useless, and Kara felt some of her hopefulness dwindle, until she realised that she could at least make a minty tea from the crumbling leaves. It was better than nothing, and it might take away the hollowness she felt in her own stomach.

 

            Five minutes later, she was cradling Morgana’s head in her hand, a wooden cup raised to her lips as she helped trickle a steaming herbal tea into her mouth. The woman offered no argument and silently let Kara do so, her green eyes darting to her face every so often, suspiciously watching her as if she was waiting for Kara to attack her. The dagger that had been surreptitiously hidden beneath the flat pillow didn’t escape Kara’s keen eyes.

 

            “You’re not from here are you?” Morgana hoarsely asked once her cup was empty, and Kara quickly drained her own cooling cup in two mouthfuls, feeling it settle in her stomach and send warmth spreading throughout her body.

 

            “No.”

 

            “Where are you from?”

 

            “Far away,” Kara murmured, a pang of homesickness striking her. Not so much for the planet Krypton, but for what she’d had there. She’d had Lena.

 

            Looking up from the cup she clutched tightly in her hand, her blue eyes landed on the woman laying in the bed. The similarities were uncanny, and it was remarkable how a personality could change so much. How badly she wanted this to be her love, but deep down in her heart, Kara knew that this wasn’t her. Yet there was still the flicker of something . She hadn’t fallen for Lena for her looks, but it hadn’t been completely for her personality. There had just been a feeling. An inkling that this person was important - this person was everything - and a kiss had sealed that for them. She felt that inkling again right now. It was like an incessant nagging, a pull drawing her towards the woman in the bed, even though she knew it wasn’t Lena.

 

            “This girl you’re looking for … what happened to her?”

 

            “I don’t know,” Kara muttered, wishing she had more tea so she could distract herself from answering, “she was taken from me. I don’t know where she’s gone. I don’t know how to find her again.”

 

            Morgana nodded, no sympathy in her eyes as she watched Kara closely. A twinge in Kara’s heart filled her with an aching so intense that it actually hurt . How could this woman not be her Lena. It didn’t make any sense. Still, she couldn’t leave this woman - this queen - to fend for herself in the middle of the woods. Not when she clearly had enemies willing to do her grievous harm. Kara didn’t ask why, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear about why this woman who looked so much like her lost lover was in danger. It would be painful to think about anyone wanting to hurt someone so sweet and pure. Instead, she excused herself from Morgana’s side and stepped outside.

 

            Sucking in lungfuls of the cold air, the steely pre-dawn light starting to turn the sky the colour of a new bruise as the sun struggled to rise, and Kara felt each breath as the coldness burned on its way down. Running a hand through her blonde hair, she shivered slightly, realising she was still in her flimsy dress that had been suited for the paradise that was Krypton, but not so much for this drab, wet world, with its changing seasons and its penchant for mud. She was covered in dirt, her golden skin streaked with it and her dress a mess of blood, grass stains and black mud. A part of her couldn’t help but laugh, an almost unhinged sound as everything came crashing down on her. Sliding down to the ground, Kara started to sob. She sobbed for everything she’d lost, and everything she’d gained. Her home was gone, as were those who had been her family, and loyal to the bone, and so was Lena. In its place she had acquired this new, lush land, full of strangers who hurt people, and a Lena that wasn’t quite her one, but was undoubtedly her . If Kara knew anything, it was that the Gods were cruel. It had to be her Lena, but it was just a sick, twisted curse too. Nothing was as she had imagined it. Perhaps it had been naive of her to imagine something more , but she had thought escaping Krypton, and the oppressive rule of Rao, she would be free to be happy - truly happy - but of course he would never take too kindly to her allowing to leave. He would not let his Morning Light take his Evening Star without consequence. Even Sam had agreed with him on that, and they were at odds to begin with.

 

            Rubbing at her wet cheeks, Kara breathed deeply for a few moments, sniffing as she climbed to her feet and marched off into the woods. They needed food. The sun fully rose as she walked through the damp forest, branches reaching out to snag her dress, tearing the thin material until she looked like she’d been attacked, and her feet were dirt-encrusted and wet, and Kara came up empty handed as she forraged for berries, nuts and plants. She had no clue what they looked like on this planet, and the few that she did find - she wasn’t even sure if they were edile - were twisted and dried, already dead at the hands of the early frost of the late autumn weather creeping in. In the end she shot two squirrels minding their own business out of a tree, their fur singed and charred where she’d struck them, and Kara couldn’t help but feel remorseful as she looked down at them. She’d never had to kill for her own food before. It had all been waiting for her on Krypton. Their ivory towers had been lavishly filled with her every desire. There had been rooms for bathing, with large pools of rose water and fluffy towels, clean dresses and robes by the piles, endless banquets strewn throughout the maze of the city, just waiting for whichever hungry individual passed by. Kara never realised how much she took for granted.

 

            Retracing her steps as she followed the sound of Lena’s hummingbird heartbeat, Kara quietly slipped back into the dank room, the fire starting to burn low in the pit. She ducked her head respectfully towards Mogana and crossed the room to throw more wood onto the fire, sending sparks cascading upwards. Then she asked to borrow the woman’s dagger, showing her the brace of squirrels she carried, and Morgana gave her a wary look, but something in Kara’s red, puffy eyes and the grim set to her mouth must’ve made her think she wasn’t a threat, because she silently handed it over, and watched Kara muddle her way through trying to skin and gut the small creatures with an alertness in her eyes, ready to leap out of bed and grab the sword if she moved too quickly. In the end, when she realised Kara had no clue what she was doing, she ordered her to bring them to her, and Kara watched with amazement as she made some swift cuts and pulled the fur off in one piece, leaving a raw carcass in her lap. She couldn’t imagine why a queen would’ve needed to know how to skin animals, but Kara didn’t care in that moment, she just fiddled with the spit over the fire and prepared it for the squirrels.

 

            Five minutes later, she was turning the handle as she watched the flames lick the underside of the red meat, slowly browning it as they cooked. Morgana was silent as she watched from the bed, and Kara kept her head bent down low so the woman couldn’t see her flushed cheeks at Kara’s self-consciousness at being observed so intensely. And then her head jerked up at an alarmingly fast rate as her ears picked up the sounds of hooves and clinking metal. Paling slightly, Kara rose to her feet in one fluid motion, and Morgana struggled upright, her teeth grit as she reached for her sword. Kara was at her side in a heartbeat, startling the other woman, but she batted the sword to the side and started tugging the black lacy dress on her - it would waste time, but she couldn’t take Morgana out into the freezing cold when she was already trying to recover from a stab wound.

 

            “What is it?” Morgana asked, her voice low and raspy.

 

            “Horses,” Kara murmured.

 

            “I don’t hear anything.”

 

            She let out a sharp laugh, throwing the black robe over Morgana’s shoulders and giving the shorter woman a worried look. “I do. We must hurry. Here, let me carry your sword for you.”

 

            Reaching out for it, she glanced up at Morgana with earnest eyes when the other woman moved away from her slightly, a suspicious look in her eyes, but whatever she saw in Kara’s blue eyes, it was enough for her to hand over the long length of steel. Or perhaps it was the fact that her leaden arms meant that she wouldn’t be very good at carrying a heavy sword while they tried to flee. It didn’t matter either way, because they stepped outside and made it a few dozen feet into the trees before they were spotted. Kara should’ve swept her up into her arms then and flown them straight out of there, but in a panic, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep them steady. Flying was different on this planet - it wasn’t the lazy drifting she was used to of Krypton, it was a furiously fast thing, so fast that she wasn’t sure she could control it, even if it did leave her feeling elated - and so, she decided to stand her ground.

 

            With Morgana hunched behind her, Kara held the length of steel before her, a stubborn set to her shoulders as she dared the soldiers approaching in boiled leather and mail, their own swords held aloft, do fight her. Her first swing whistled through the air, a few inches short of the man approaching her, and with far too much momentum for her to easily recover. With the dozen men closing in, it didn’t take long for her to be disarmed, with her unskillful swinging of the sword, as if it was a bat. She’d never trained as a warrior on Krypton - there had been no need for her to. The sword lay forgotten on the leafy floor as Morgana sagged slightly behind her, and Kara quickly rushed to lower the injured woman to the floor, taking in the pallid skin and the gaunt cheeks. She needed to rest. There was nothing she could do right now to help her - she didn’t know her limitations, and the fear of injuring the woman more kept her from even trying to fight them without a sword - and so, Kara let them bind her arms and feet with coarse rope and do the same to Morgana, before they were slung over the back of two horses. The smell of sweat and leather was a constant companion as Kara was jostled along on the back of her horse, her neck aching from being turned to the side to stop her nose from being pressed against the horses flank, and her cheek rubbed raw from the constant chaffing of skin against the coarse hair of the chestnut stallion she was draped across.

 

            It was deep into nighttime by the time they stopped, well past the highest peak of the barely there moon, and the forest was filled with the sounds of creatures sneaking through the underbrush. They’d travelled quickly, with only two stops since dawn, having water hastily dribbled into her mouth, leaving her choking and spluttering, before they were off again. It was a relief when they finally stopped. A relief right up until the moment she was pushed down a well that was uncovered from beneath a layer of dirt and leaves, landing twenty feet down on the hard packed earth with a small grunt, staring up into the suffocating darkness above her. She could still hear them moving around, and a moment later, the sound of someone being lowered into the well reached her ears, followed by the blinding light of a flickering torch, the smell of burning tar strong in the confined space. Looking around, Kara took stock of her surroundings, taking in the cramped interior of the well, which had dried up to nothing, leaving slick lichen growing up the stone walls, emanating an iciness which she knew wouldn’t be comforting. There were gouge marks on the lower heavy stone blocks, speaking of other prisoners who had been here, most likely chained to the thick, rusted iron rings set into the walls, and Kara felt her throat close up slightly with fear.

 

            The man landed on the floor before her, giving her a look of surprise at the fact that she was unharmed after a twenty foot fall, but he had other things to worry about, because another man was lowering himself down into the pit, clinking slightly with the heaviness of the chains he carried, and then finally, Morgana was lowered down, after a rather colourful display of expletives, most of which meant nothing to Kara, but were obviously not meant to be polite. Starting with surprise, Kara looked at the man who was untying her arms, only to clamp heavy manacles around her wrists a moment later, and then again to the ankles, before yanking her off her feet and dragging her to the wall, where he chained her up. She was silent as she watched him do the same to Morgana, who stared up at him with an unwavering stare, her eyes hard and her face stony, clearly unafraid of anything this man could do to her. Then the light was gone as the orange flame ascended, followed by the rope, and then with a smug shout down that they would see them soon, a heavy bang resounded in the close space, showering them with a rain of dirt and dead leaves as they were sealed into the well.

 

---

 

            Two years passed by in that pit. Kara got to know Morgana very well - in fact, she would say that was where she began to fall in love with her - and Morgana grew to know her in return. She was unlike the Lena Kara had lost - colder, harder, crueler even - but there were elements of her buried beneath it all. That hardness correlated with the stubbornness of her lover, the cruelness to the toughness, and even beneath the coldness there was warmth. She had cared once, that much was clear, but all those whom she had loved had betrayed her. Kara wanted to tell her that she never had.

 

            In their time alone in the suffocating darkness, broken only by the occasional visit off Sarrum - Kara learnt that was his name - to bring them food and water, but only at nighttime to keep them locked up and chained in the dark. Morgana explained that he was a warlord, come to stop her from taking back her rightful throne, allying himself with her half-brother. There was nothing else to do but talk to pass the time, and the more that Kara learnt about this Arthur Pendragon and his faithful servant, Merlin, the more Kara grew to hate them. She was not one prone to hatred, but she made an exception for the pain they had caused Morgana. Of course, she had never seen the atrocities the other woman had committed, and Morgana tended to skim over those details, painting herself as the hero, and Kara believed that she was. Not once did she doubt her intentions, even when she found out what she was capable of. It was not her fault, after all - she had been shunned and forced into exile, having to hide who she was, having everything ripped away from her - and Kara pitied her more than anything.

 

            In return for her stories about her life here in Camelot, and her adventures beyond, to distant lands, spending time as a priestess and learning from a sister she’d never known she had, Kara told her her own stories, ones about Krypton, about her dozens of brothers and sisters there, about her fall to this strange land and her lost love. Morgana’s softer side came out whenever she listened to Kara speak about Lena, as if she truly sympathised with her, and Kara couldn’t help but wish she was her Lena. She wished more than ever that this woman she was trapped with was her Lena, but towards the end of their time in the pit, she realised that she stopped wishing it was Lena, and began to cherish her time with Morgana. The summers were dank at the bottom of the well, and the winters were downright bitter, freezing them to the core, and their chains gave them just enough leeway that they were able to huddle together, sharing as much body warmth as they could, wrapped up in each other’s arms, and in those moments, holding the fragile, starving woman in her arms, Kara began to believe that they would die at the bottom of their living grave. She had forgotten about her own strength though.

 

            “Tell me about her again,” Morgana quietly asked, shivering violently in Kara’s arms.

 

            “She was kind - so kind - and beautiful in an effortless way. Porcelain skin, green eyes that spoke of summer in the rare patches of wildlife, and hair so dark that it almost looked black, but when you saw it in the sun, it was like fire. She was melancholic at times, scared of what our love could bring her, but that didn’t stop her from loving any less fiercely. I think perhaps it would’ve been better if I had not loved her in the end. It was a kiss that did it. It sealed us forever. I knew in that moment that I would never love anyone else in that way. There was a tenderness about her that is so rare to find, and a gentleness … we could’ve had an eternity of that if we had been allowed it. I miss her everyday.”

 

            Morgana was quiet for a few moments before she spoke, her teeth chattering slightly, “you thought I was her.”

 

            “I’m still not sure you aren’t,” Kara murmured, her lips brushing her hair as she wrapped her arms tighter around her, “she had that same scar beneath her eyebrow. The same freckle on her neck. I think that you’re her, in some ways. Not just in looks either - there are parts of her in you. I see the same sadness. The same despair. You just don’t remember it.”

 

            She felt Morgana stiffen slightly in her arms, and Kara couldn’t stop the slow smile that curled her lips. “I wish I was her,” Morgana whispered, “I think it would be nice to have felt a love like that, just once.”

 

            “There’s still time,” Kara murmured.

 

            And time there was, for an unknown amount of time later, the top of the well was removed, and they were met with a light so harsh that it made their eyes stream, wetting their cheeks with their tears, and both of them were hauled out of the pit. The moment she laid eyes upon Morgana again, taking in the hollow cheeks and ashen skin covered in years worth of grime, she felt the same breathlessness, struck once more by the similarities to Lena. It was uncanny. It was her , she was sure of it, now more than ever. She had felt it in those two years, in their talks and their companionable silences, and she felt it even more strongly looking at her then. She had said she would never love anyone else the way she had loved Lena, but she couldn’t deny that she had grown to love Morgana in the dark - she couldn’t help herself - but she knew that it had been inevitable. She would love Lena in every form.

 

            There was something in Morgana’s eyes too - perhaps not love, but something - because she took Kara with her. She had been Morgana’s constant companion through the dark and loneliness, patiently waiting for the day they would be free, and now, there was nothing that could part them. Even when the man who had freed them - Ruardan, another one of Morgana’s acquaintances, but an ally this time - tried to argue against Kara coming with her, Morgana had bared her teeth and the length of steel she’d been offered, and the man had backed down from the dangerous woman. Kara was oddly touched by Morgana’s protectiveness of her, and she went with her willingly, knowing that nothing short of death would bring her to lose someone she cared about once more.

 

            They travelled north, and Kara acquired some boiled leather armour and a fur cloak along the way, trading in the dress she’d brought from Krypton, which was a putrid grey now, for the clothes more suited to the wintery tundra they travelled across. The snowstorms grew heavier as they made their way across a landscape blanketed in white, craggy grey rocks peeking through as they skirted cliffs and passed through narrow valleys winding through mountains. She didn’t know it at the time, but she traversed the whole of Wales with Morgana, right up to a crumbling castle rising from the foothills of Cair Idris, a towering mountain, where wolves prowled the lands and Morgana was met by an unsavoury host of people. The castle was dank and grim, not much warmer than the pit they’d been living in, and Kara spent most of her time standing by Morgana’s side, not oblivious to the darker side of the woman shining through, but steadfast in her loyalty to her. She wished she had the warmth and softness of her Lena, and it was easy to see the young Lady she’d been that she’d described to Kara - the planes of her hard face softened with youth and naivety, the wolfish smile kinder and quicker to appear, and fine, colourful dresses and pretty jewels draped across her willowy frame instead of the dirty black dress and shapeless cloak. She would’ve liked to have known that Morgana. Yet, she knew this Morgana had her reasons for being so closed off from the world, and the stories of how this so called King Arthur had betrayed his sister and stole her throne only served to make Kara more dutiful.

 

---

 

            “You’re letting the tip dip,” Morgana drawled from the stone throne where she slouched, a smirk curling her lips as she observed Kara’s form, “you’ll have to do better than that if you want to come with me.”

 

            “Her form has improved greatly,” Mordred, a young man who had recently joined them, replied, and Morgana let out a quick laugh, rising to her feet and slowly approaching the duo who were practicing in the middle of the crumbling throne room. He had dark hair and piercing blue eyes, almost too discerning and only just a bit uncomfortable to behold. Morgana had told Kara she knew him from when he was a young boy, chased out of the city by her father, Uther, and the warmth of affection in her tone when she spoke of the boy made Kara smile. She cared deeply for him, and it made Kara feel hopeful that the lost woman before her would find her way back to the love and tenderness she new laid beneath this harsher exterior.

 

            Walking up to him, Morgana rested a hand on his mailed shoulder and gave him a sharp smile, reaching for his sword with her other hand. He relinquished it with a slight bow, his blue eyes filled with amusement as he stood back. Kara gave Morgana a warm smile as she adjusted her grip on the hilt of her sword, brushing her blonde hair back off her sweaty forehead. She had been at it for hours - practicing alone and with other thugs that Morgana kept around the castle - and she was grateful for her Kryptonian strength and stamina. Since her freedom, she had tested her skills out, burning searing hot holes into cracked stones, melting metal with her very eyes or shattering it with a breath that could freeze with a gentle blow, and then there had been the fact that she could lift a stallion standing sixteen hands tall with a single hand - she hadn’t tried anything bigger than that yet - and her heightened senses that she already knew about. The only thing she didn’t showcase was her flying, not wanting anyone to see her drifting across the sky and asking too many questions. She hadn’t even told Morgana where she really came from. That would just complicate things.

 

            For now, learning how to swing a sword properly was her only concern. With a challenging smile, Kara swung at Morgana, watching as the young queen let out a sharp laugh, lazily bringing her sword up to block the swing, before countering with her own attack. They battled back and forth, trying to dominate, and Kara knew that if it wasn’t for the force she packed behind each swing of her sword, she would have been disarmed within minutes. Morgana was skilled - not just for a woman, but for anyone - and it took all of Kara’s enhanced abilities to stop herself from being knocked to the ground. She knew she was never in any real danger - from what she’d seen, a normal blade couldn’t pierce her skin - and she relished the moments that Morgana wasted on sparring with her. They were few and far between, and Kara knew she spent most of her time with her warlords, plotting and getting wrapped up in her plans of vengeance, and all the while, Kara fell deeper in love with her. It struck her that this was her tragedy - to love someone who would never be happy with anything less than her crown, no matter how hard Kara loved her - but Kara didn’t care. She wouldn’t part from her side, no matter how many atrocities Morgana committed when she went out on her raids, promising to come back for Kara when she finally took the throne. It was like she was falling in love with Kara too, at times.

 

            There were late night moments filled with wine and quiet conversation before a flickering fire, and Morgana would paint a picture of Camelot for her. They’d been close to it when they’d been in the forest, and Kara could imagine their life together in the sprawling castle, with Morgana ruling the kingdom and Kara standing by her side, however Morgana would let her. It would be perfect. She spoke of the creamy stone, the surrounding fields and the little marketplace just outside of the palace. Feasts and dances and entertainers, days spent riding horses through the woods and training with swords with her soldiers. Kara could see the longing in her eyes whenever she spoke about this life. The hard part was making sure that she didn’t go too far off the rails, so that she could make it back to the person that had lived that life, and sometimes Kara had to temper her fury, keeping her composure while Morgana flew into fits of rage, only to come back quietly with gentle apologies and a warm smile that showed her true affection for Kara. Some nights, Kara would lay in bed, staring up at the cracked ceiling as she wondered what she was doing. This hadn’t been the epic romance she’d given everything up for, but she loved her nonetheless. It would’ve hurt her just as deeply to lose Morgana as it had to lose her other Lena.

 

            Finding herself falling flat on her back, somehow managing to bring Morgana down with her, Kara’s blue eyes widened in surprise at the feeling of cold metal pressed against her throat. Morgana gave her a satisfied smirk, pressing the edge down just a little harder as she leant down. Kara’s pulse was racing and she swallowed the lump in her throat as she looked up at the woman leaning over her. “I win,” Morgana whispered. She rose to her feet in one fluid movement, reaching down to help pull Kara up, and then gave her a small smile. “You have improved. You’re easily distracted though. I can’t bring you along and put you in harm’s way.”

 

            “I’ll be fine,” Kara scoffed, a small smile playing on her lips.

 

            “Mordred? What do you think?”

 

            The young man hesitated, his pale blue eyes trained on Kara as a thoughtful look crossed his face. “I think that an extra sword is always helpful, but ... “

 

            Arching an eyebrow, Morgana gave him a pointed look for him to continue, “but?”

 

            “If it would be … distracting to someone, to be worrying about the Lady Kara, then … perhaps it would be best if she were to remain here with the servants.”

 

            There was a blanket of silence after that, and Kara could hear his heart racing just as fast as hers at the insinuation he had made. They both shared a wary look, before turning their attention to Morgana, who had her back to them. It was a few tense moments, staring at the back of the black dress, the bowed head as Morgana fiddled with the sword she held in her hand, before she thrust it out, offering the hilt to Mordred, who took it and sheathed it, the metal rasping quietly while Kara sheathed her own sword. Clearly they were done for the day.

 

            “Leave us,” Morgana ordered him, and he sketched a quick bow to her back, before his hurried footsteps retreated.

 

            Kara let out a nervous laugh, the sound high and thin, “I think you scared him.”

 

            “He speaks truly,” Morgana blurted out, turning to face Kara, “I do care for you. I think to have you fight by my side would only serve as a distraction, as he said. I think perhaps I would put your safety above my own, or even above the plan. I have come too far to give in so easily now, Kara, so I need you to promise that you’ll stay here. I must claim my throne - it is the only thing I have left for me now.”

 

            “Not the only thing,” Kara murmured, giving her a sad smile, “you shall always have me. I would do anything to keep you safe, whether you are a queen or not.”

 

            Morgana let out a quiet laugh, the sound full of warmth, and she walked over to Kara, reaching out to cup her cheek and raise her lowered head so that they were looking each other in the eyes. Giving her a tender smile, Morgana gently stroked her cheek, the gesture more intimate than anything else they had ever shared. “You have kept me safe for years, from my own mind, as a starving prisoner. I know what your heart has felt, Kara. I do not trust that it is for me though, I think perhaps you are still hoping I am your lover, but I will not deny that I have let myself be fooled into thinking those feelings are for me.”

 

            “They are,” Kara admitted, “you’re not much like her. It didn’t matter though.”

 

            “You are too good for me, Kara,” Morgana firmly told her, a look of pain in her eyes, “if we had met when I was younger … I was good then too. I was gentle and kind, and my family and friends had not cast me out then. I have changed much since then, and I no longer think that I am a person deserving of someone who is as pure of heart as you.”

 

            “We’ve all done bad things,” Kara softly told her, reaching up to cover Morgana’s hand with her own, running a thumb across her knuckles, “but that is not who you are. They have turned you into this and called themselves the hero for denying you of your birthright and denying the people the safety that you can give them. You are not so quick to judge with a sword as they are. I do not care if this Arthur thinks that he is right in his justice - he has caused you such great suffering and torment, and I understand why you must do the things that you do. It is not easy for me to stomach it, and I wish it did not have to be this way, but I find myself failing where you come in. I have long since given up on the hope that you would resolve this peacefully. All I can do now is stand by your side, because I know to be parted from you would be a pain I couldn’t bear.”

 

            Softly laughing, Morgana drew her hand back and turned away from her, “you know it in your heart that I am beyond saving now. I will see this through to whatever end awaits me. If you are sure of your heart, then I would not have you leave my side either, but you shall not fight at my side.”

 

            “But-”

 

            “I cannot risk you.”

 

---

 

            In the end, Kara hadn’t needed to go with Morgana, because the next fight had been brought to them. Holed away in their castle up north, the freezing winter still raging on around them, Kara met Arthur for the first time, watching him storm into the throne room with his knights, polished armour gleaming in the torchlight and his red cape swishing around his shoulders as he brandished his sword. Kara could see why people would think him valiant and just in his self-righteous quest to dispose of his sister. He was the brave and bold king, to his sister’s dark and rugged queen, and she began to understand that there was no hope for Morgana. Everything she’d done had started out as a bid to help the people, but it was clear that this pretender king was the champion of the people of Camelot now. They would not take kindly to her killing him to take his place, and as Kara watched Morgana’s cruel arrogance on full display, she felt the calming weight of their failures sink in. She had known this was in vain all along, but to witness the thugs Morgana kept around facing off against the powerful knights, she saw their mission for what it really was. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Sooner or later, Morgana was going to fail to the point where she wouldn’t be able to recover from it.

 

            When the fighting broke out, Kara lost track of Morgana, unsheathing her sword and following after the sound of her heartbeat. She found her in the tunnels beneath the castle, the rocks damp and the air so cold that each breath was a stab to her lungs, and her breath misted before her as she followed the sound of Morgana’s heartbeat, the sounds of voices drifting towards her. When she stumbled upon them - a young man with big ears and servant’s clothes unconscious at the base of the wall, Arthur sprawled out on the floor with Morgana’s knife buried up to its hilt in his shoulder, and Mordred standing behind her, Kara felt a surge of relief rush through her. She had been wrong.

 

            But then when Morgana stood up, wiping the bloody blade on her sleeve, taunting her brother as she prepared herself for the fatal blow, Mordred stepped up behind her and stabbed her through the back. Kara almost felt it as a physical pain in her own chest, the shout of horror falling from her lips as she raced forward, knocking the man that Morgana had trusted above all to the side, and gently scooped her up, murmuring quiet, reassuring words to her. They didn’t have much time - Kara knew that - and she was quick to carry Morgana back through the tunnels, not wasting any time on revenge as she carried her upstairs. She knew they had to get away now, or they would kill Morgana to make sure she was dealt with once and for all. Even in her panic, Kara was somehow able to throw herself into the sky, not caring who saw this time, and she didn’t stop until her arms were stiff with frozen blood and Morgana’s pulse was getting weaker. This was the second time Kara had seen her stabbed, and it hurt just as much the second time to know that her love had been attacked, except this time she knew it wasn’t her Lena.

 

            In the shelter of a few rocks, a snowstorm swirling around them, Kara used her laser eyes to carefully cauterise the wound, grateful that Morgana was already unconscious, and she let them rest a while, huddled up in the freezing cold as she tried to keep them warm. They didn’t move until two days later, when Morgana insisted she was fine, and Kara propped her up as they walked through the frozen wasteland, snow swirling around them as they made for a pass through the mountains. Morgana said she knew someone in a land called Nemeth. Kara knew she would stay with her always.

 

            It took them a few weeks of walking to reach Nemeth, but they were greeted with hot food and copious amounts of wine, led to bathing rooms with steaming pools of water where they let themselves thaw after the freezing cold, before they were offered clean clothes and quarters within the king’s castle. Morgana wore a new black dress edged in dark grey fur, and Kara dressed in black leathers and yet more fur, grateful for the change of clothes after so long, and they roomed together in an airy space in a secluded corner of the castle, for their own protection. They were treated kindly by Odin, the king, who was just as invested in the downfall of Arthur as Morgana was, but there wasn’t too much trust between them. Morgana was shrewd and wary at all times, and as she plotted and planned with Odin, Kara knew that she had a dozen other plans that didn’t involve him, or accounted for him betraying her. She wasn’t sure how long this alliance would last.

 

            She grew impossibly close to Morgana during that time, realising for the first time how troubled she was. At night she would wake from nightmares - if she slept at all - and the shadows beneath her eyes grew darker as she herself grew quieter. It hurt Kara to see her in such a bad way, and her heart ached for her. Some nights she would creep over to the bed and lay beside her, holding Morgana close as she tried to shake away the nightmares, and they’d still be that way when the first sliver of sunlight started to lighten the sky. They never spoke of it in the harsh daylight, but she could see it in the other woman’s eyes - sometimes, Kara was the only relief from her tormented thoughts. It was no wonder she did the things she did. Still, she tried again and again to enact her plans of revenge, and Kara stood by and let her each time, having made a promise to never leave her side. She took that promise seriously, no matter how much it hurt her to watch the woman she loved take a dark and twisted path to her goal.

 

            They left Nemeth after another failed attempt on Arthur’s life, making for the woods that encroached on Camelot and setting up camp while Morgana plotted on how to steal Guinevere from the castle. Kara didn’t stop her, knowing that Morgana meant her old friend no harm, and she made sure to be extra kind to the woman as they took her to the Dark Tower, keeping her captive in one of the cells. There, she patiently waited as Morgana tricked the young woman into trusting her, turning her against her husband and friends, making her think that they had all turned on her. It was just the three of them, and Kara was uncomfortable at the dinners they shared, listening to Morgana talk of their friendship, showering her friend with gifts and other kidnessnes, while lulling her into a false sense of security. In the end that plan failed too, and Kara felt her sadness growing stronger. There was no foreseeable future where they won. All she wanted was to make Morgana happy. They had it in brief moments too, where she wasn’t consumed with the madness of her revenge, and it was blissfully perfect. They rarely dared to touch, and only then just brief caresses of a cheek or the brush of a hand, but they would laugh and trade stories, making each other’s hearts feel lighter at the teasing and the games of dice they would play to pass the time. Sometimes Kara would sing for her, just like she’d done for her Lena, running her hand through Morgana’s wild curls, wishing she had the guts to kiss her. Wishing that she was on Krypton with her Lena. There were still days where she was conflicted.

 

            Mordred came back to them at one point, begging forgiveness and pledging his help to take down Arthur. From what Kara gleaned, a woman he loved had been killed by Arthur, and she knew all too well the heartbreak that losing one you loved could bring. She had fallen in darkness for so long with a broken heart, and the only thing that had held the pieces together again was meeting Morgana. Together, they planned their last attack, leading an assault on Camelot. By the time the war had ended, with Kara safely out of harms way, they were at a place called Camlann, with the rest of their army and the news that Mordred was dead. The hard look on Morgana’s face as she stood over the small grave she’d made for him was a look that Kara had never been able to shake - not for centuries - and she knew that was the moment that pushed her over the edge.

 

            “You don’t have to go!” Kara argued with her, grabbing hold of Morgana’s arm as she saddled her horse, the sword strapped to the side of the saddle. “You can stay here, with me.”

 

            “I do have to,” Morgana brusquely replied, pulling herself out of Kara’s grip. There was no warmth in her monotone voice, just the dead coldness of someone who had reached the end of her will to keep going. This was where it would all end, one way or another, and Kara knew that it was Mordred’s death that had been the final straw. Morgana was barely twenty-five, but she had suffered a lifetime of pain, and had lost everyone she had ever loved. Everyone except Kara. “You will stay here.”

 

            Letting out a sound of protest, Kara opened and closed her mouth a few times, her eyes wide with surprise. Bristling slightly, Kara stubbornly set her jaw and stared down at the dark haired woman. “I will not.”

 

            Taken aback by surprise, Morgana looked up at her in shock, a flicker of it in her haunted green eyes. Kara had never spoken to her like that before - had never disobeyed. Grabbing her by the shoulders, Morgana gave her a gentle shake, an earnest look in her frightened eyes as she looked up at Kara, giving her a grave look. “Listen to me. Listen, Kara. I cannot lose you. You’re the only thing I have left. I can’t lose everyone. Please. Stay here, for me. If I lost you … I don’t think I could bear it.”

 

            “And what if I lose you?” Kara whispered.

 

            With a small laugh, Morgana reached up and gently stroked her cheek, “I was lost a long time ago. I am but a shadow of the woman I once was, and there is nothing I regret more than the fact that you did not know me as I once was. I think had we met then, your love would’ve changed me for the better. It is too late for me now, though.”

 

            “You’re coming back though, aren’t you?” Kara asked, a feeling of panic threatening to overwhelm her at the finality of Morgana’s words.

 

            “Of course, my love,” Morgana said, catching Kara off guard with the tender words, “I’ll return to you. I swear it. This is not the last time that we shall see each other. Perhaps when I see you again, I will be a better woman for you.”

 

            Before she could protest again, Morgana hesitantly reached out to embrace her, and Kara instinctively wrapped her arms around her, holding her tightly as she breathed in the smell of blood, metal and dirt that clung to Morgana. She had never held her in her arms like this before, and in the dead of night, Kara felt the coldness of fear take hold in her heart, wondering if she’d ever have the chance to hold her like this again. She fit so perfectly, like she was made to fit in Kara’s arms, and after years with her - not Lena, Morgana - she was struck once more by the feeling that this brave and tough woman was hers. Before she could stop her, Morgana was pulling away, hauling herself up onto her horse’s back as Kara’s protests died on her lips, and she watched the dark shadowy figure race off into the woods. It was then that Kara realised she’d made a mistake.

 

            Of all the things she’d watched Morgana do over the years, watching her ride away in that moment was the worst thing Kara had seen her do. The lump of fear in her throat was difficult to swallow, and Kara knew that she had to go after her. Promises be damned. If she didn’t stop her now, something bad was going to happen. She could feel it. It was almost like her hair was standing on end, and Kara had the horrible feeling like it was all part of the elaborate prank that Rao was playing on her. Another part of her curse. Later on, she would curse herself for her slowness, and for her stupidity. She should’ve flown - it would’ve been quicker, and maybe she would’ve got there in time - but instead, she stole a horse from a sleeping soldier, saddling it up and quietly leading it away while it whickered softly, before she put one boot into the stirrup and swung a leg over the beasts back, urging it onwards after Morgana. She didn’t know where she was going, only that she was going after Arthur, so Kara had to rely on her hearing to guide her, and when her horse took a tumble down a steep ravine, snapping its leg, she carried on alone, only remembering her flight when the sound of swords clashing reached her ears from far in the distance.

 

            Within moments she was there, staring down at the mortally wounded figure of the strong king she’d once beheld, his servant crying as he knelt beside him, and Kara felt a rush of relief at the fact that it wasn’t Morgana. The young man, Merlin, didn’t even glance up at her. But then she followed the sound of the other heartbeat - one she would’ve known anywhere - through the underbrush, pushing branches out of the way and crunching leaves stained with blood that she couldn’t see as she followed the sound of staggering footsteps. She reached her just in time to watch her collapse to the ground, the weak rays of the dawn making her face look grey as Kara collapsed to her knees beside Morgana and cupped a dirty cheek in one hand.

 

            “Morgana,” Kara breathlessly said.

 

            “You didn’t- you didn’t listen,” Morgana thickly replied, her throat bobbing as she tried to get the words out in between gasps for air. She had a hand pressed to her abdomen, and Kara noticed her hands were glistening with blood that looked black in the slowly encroaching light. Letting out a small cry of panic, Kara covered Morgana’s cold, wet hands with her own, trying to stem the flow of blood. The woman laying before her let out a strangled laugh, wincing in pain as she gave Kara a bloody smile, her eyes glistening slightly with tears. “It’s okay, Kara.”

 

            “You’re bleeding. Let me help,” Kara said, her heart pounding so loud in her ears that it was like a constant wave of rushing blood, ticking down how long she had left to save the woman she loved.

 

            “It’s straight through,” Morgana told her through clenched teeth, “there’s nothing you can do.”

 

            “Don’t say that,” Kara firmly told her, her eyes prickling with the threat of tears as she stared down at the hard face, softening slightly with fear and the realisation that this was the end.

 

            Pulling one of her hands out from beneath Kara’s, Morgana reached up and cupped Kara’s cheek with a trembling, bloody hand, leaving behind a red handprint that felt like it had been seared into Kara’s skin. She would never forget how it felt to be touched by that hand covered in the blood of a dying woman she loved, not for as long as she lived. Covering it with one of her own hands, Kara let out a small whimper, the tears in her eyes spilling over and rolling down her cheeks. “Shh,” Morgana murmured, “everything will be fine, my love.”

 

            “No.”

 

            “How grateful I am to have seen you one last time,” Morgana breathed, “the gods have shown mercy on me with this one small kindness.”

 

            Kara was filled with a burning anger at the talk of the gods, because she knew there were only one set of gods, and Morgana didn’t know them by their true names as Kara did, and didn’t know how unjust and merciless they truly were. It was not kindness - it was a reminder of everything Kara could never have.

 

            “Promise me something,” Morgana asked her, her lips trembling as she looked up at Kara with scared eyes, filled with sadness.

 

            “Anything.”

 

            “Don’t forget me.”

 

            Choking on a laugh as a sob rose in her throat, Kara leant down, clutching Morgana’s hand in her own as she felt the slippery blood hot against her skin, resting their foreheads together. “I won’t remember anything else.”

 

            Then she cupped Morgana’s face in her hands, and there was a glimmer of something in the dying woman’s eyes, a flicker of recognition, or the awareness of something that she had thought she’d forgotten, and in a cruel display of power, Rao made sure that Kara knew the extent of her curse.

 

            “Kara,” Lena breathed, her trembling hands cupping Kara’s cheeks as she let out a sob of laughter, “Kara, it’s you .”

 

            And Kara knew in that moment that it was her Lena. This wasn’t wishful thinking - this was Lena - and she closed her eyes and felt her shoulders sag in defeat, cradling her dark head in her hands as she brought her face back down to rest their foreheads together once more. “Lena,” she said, her voice cracking as she sobbed.

 

            And then she kissed her. Gently at first, unused to the feeling of kissing this version of her Lena, because she was sure that Morgana was there too, but she kissed her softly and tenderly, in the way that someone she loved deserved to be kissed, but then it turned into something more - deeper and hotter - until Kara realised that it wasn’t the kiss. She was engulfed in flames wreathing around the figure she held in her arms, the hot touch of flames kissing her lips instead of the dry, cracked lips of Morgana. With horror, Kara watched as the woman she loved was reduced to ashes in her arms, leaving behind nothing but the metal bracelet Morgana had never removed - a gift from her sister, Kara had learnt - and with a cry of surprise, Kara dissolved into gut-wrenching sobs.

 

---

 

            She wasn’t sure how long she stayed there, sobbing as she knelt amongst the remnants of the ashes that hadn’t been scattered by the howling wind, clutching the bracelet in her lap as she rocked herself back and forth. The pain in her chest was astronomical - even worse that it had been when she’d fallen to this desolate, cruel planet in dark solitude - and the crushing weight of the fact that she’d been right all along, that Morgana had been her Lena, made the blow even heavier. Kara wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to get over the heartbreak of it. Never had she experienced such pain before, and she began to understand why love was a prohibited thing on Krypton, because it felt like a piece of her had been torn away. She had felt this before, but it had not been in such a brutally real way, leaving the place where her heart had been feeling raw and jagged around the edges from where Lena had been ripped away from her.

 

            It could’ve been a week or even two when she finally climbed to her feet, her joints sore and her bones leaden, and finally turned her back on the ashes of the woman she had loved, despite all of her failings and shortcomings. With the remains of the bloody handprint, that hadn’t been washed away by her tears, stamped onto her cheek, and a haunted look in her bloodshot blue eyes, Kara slipped the bracelet onto her left wrist and started walking. She had no idea where she was, and no idea where she was going, but she had nothing else here for her now. Her days were spent aimlessly wandering the woods, collapsing on the spot when she couldn’t go any further, her cheeks turning hollow, giving her a gaunt appearance, and her eyes lifeless, as if her very soul had been taken from her. Life without Morgana was a ghostly mockery of the life she had shared with her, as dangerous and bloodily brutal as it had been, and Kara felt empty.

 

            An unknown amount of time later, she stumbled upon the creamy walls of a castle, flying a red banner with a golden dragon on it, and felt a stirring memory of Morgana describing it to her. She’d walked to Camelot, albeit in a roundabout way filled with backtracking and circling, and Kara felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her as she looked at the remnants of Morgana’s failed conquest taunting her. She hated that place with every fibre of her being, and everyone inside its walls, but there was the soft voice at the back of her mind describing the marketplace and the fountain, the cobbled courtyard and the embroidered drapes, a glimmer of pride in the voice, and Kara started crying at the memory of how much Morgana had loved her home. One foot in front of the other, Kara walked all the way up to the front gates, passing through it and into the bustling city, drinking it all in with her own eyes, envisioning it the way Morgana must have. It was a beautiful castle, she realised - Morgana had been right - and much more preferable to the rough life she had lived with the woman who had held her heart, but Kara couldn’t bring herself to like it there. She couldn’t stay.

 

            Yet, as she wandered through the marketplace, listening to men hawk their wares and women chastise children weaving in and out of the heavy crowd, she caught the eye of a soldier garbed in the polished steel and red cape of a knight of Camelot, and felt a stirring in her chest. A glimmer of hope. The dark haired woman recognised her too, and her face split into a relieved smile as she pushed through the crowd, throwing her arms around Kara the moment she was close enough to. The short hair tickled her cheek as Kara let herself be wrapped up in the strong arms, feeling like things might be okay for the first time in a while.

 

            “Alex,” Kara softly sighed.

Chapter Text

National City - 2016 AD

 

            Kara’s alarm was blaring on the nightstand, shaking her out of the stupor she’d been in, staring up at the ceiling for hours. She still didn’t move, not until there was a knock on the door, and the voice of her sister drifted through the wood. With a weary sigh, Kara dragged herself out of bed, padding through her apartment and pulling open the door. Alex gave her a small smile as she stepped inside, shutting the door behind her and handing over a cup of coffee.

 

            “Please tell me you’re not backing out now,” Alex groaned, taking in the flannel pyjamas.

 

            A troubled look crossed Kara’s face as she took a seat on one of the kitchen stools, running a hand through her hair. With a sigh, she raised her coffee to her lips and took a sip, the rich taste of it seeming so normal. “Yes. No. I don’t know , Alex. I don’t think I can do this again.”

 

            A pitying look on her face, Alex walked over to her and soothingly rubbed her back, resting her cheek against the top of Kara’s head as she tried to comfort her sister. All Kryptonians were created by Rao’s hand, not born, which meant that they had no family, so they made their own. For centuries, Alex had been by Kara’s side, and they were as close as any sisters, playing that role over and over again over the years as they moved from place to place, Kara trying to outrun her curse, in vain.

 

            “You might be wrong,” Alex softly told her.

 

            Letting out a humourless laugh, feeling numb with fear, Kara gave Alex a grim smile. “How many other people have you met with that name?”

 

            “She’s had other names.”

 

            “How many?”

 

            Sighing, Alex slipped onto a stool beside her, shrugging as she clutched her own coffee in her hands. “I don’t know. A few.”

 

            Nodding, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat, “a few, in sixteen hundred years. The timing’s right too.”

 

            “Why don’t you just google her?” Alex exasperatedly asked, “there’s bound to be photos of her online. You’ll know for sure then.”

 

            Laughing, Kara slowly shook her head, a pained smile on her face, “if I google her and it’s her , I know I won’t go.”

 

            Kissing her sister on the cheek, Kara took another sip of coffee and hopped off the stool. It had been the better part of two millennia, and by the end of every twenty-five years, she’d met Lena. Every twenty-five years she’d watched her die. Sometimes it had been her herself who had killed her, other times, Kara had watched other people do it, knowing that there was nothing she could do to stop it. Those times filled her with guilt, because she knew that Lena would die either way, but at least those times she didn’t have the blood on her own hands. Over and over again, she’d lost Lena and found her again, and to think that she might meet the newest version of her again today was enough to fill her with dread. The centuries had slowly worn her down, taking away all of her hope, until she’d fallen into a cycle of despair, filled with fleeting moments of joy whenever she got to see Lena again, even though she always had the knowledge at the back of her mind that it wouldn’t last.

 

            Quickly showering and changing into a skirt and shirt, Kara got ready for the day. She’d found that trying to give her life some normalcy of a routine helped keep her mind busy, so in this new life she’d set up for herself, she was a reporter. The rise of technology had made things a little more difficult for her to just up and leave and create a whole new person, but she had her resources and the network of other Kryptonians that had fallen with her to help her. This time, she was Kara Danvers, a mousy girl with glasses and a penchant for cardigans, and Kara slipped one on before giving herself a once over in the mirror. The years hadn’t changed her one bit. Not at a first glance. Then she looked closer, and her blue eyes had become haunted, her shoulders had taken on a weary look as if the weight of her losses were pressing down on her, and hidden beneath her clothes were scars that hadn’t been there when she’d crashed to earth in the fifth century. The other thing that hadn’t changed was that she loved Lena. In every life and with every personality, she had fallen in love with Lena, no matter how hard she tried not to.

 

            At seven-thirty, she was dressed and ready, finishing off the dregs of her coffee as a knock sounded on the door. Alex opened it to reveal a dark haired man with the same clear blue eyes like Kara, wearing a similar pair of glasses and armed with an identical notebook and pen. He gave her a warm smile, hitching his satchel higher up on his shoulder as her stepped inside. “Clark,” Kara greeted him, using his new name. This time around they were cousins - a few times in the past he had played the part of her brother as well, if they’d been in the same place - and Kal-El had learned to blend in with this fast-paced city, shedding his mantle of Man of Steel - the title he’d acquired on Krypton as one of the best swordsmen on the planet - and wearing his disguise of a clumsy reporter well. She hadn’t seen him in a few years, yet here he was, willing to help her with this.

 

            “Kara. Ready for the interview?” he asked, his blue eyes kind and empathetic behind the lenses of his glasses.

 

            All of her people that she was close to, the ones that had regrouped over the centuries, masquerading as family or close friends in small towns and big cities, knew how difficult it was for her, and with every reincarnation of Lena, they had to help her along a little bit more. In their own ways, they’d become fond of Lena too, and it filled them with sadness each time they watch the two women ripped apart once more. Kara was never quite the same afterwards.

 

            “I’m never ready,” Kara murmured, tossing her takeaway cup into the trash. Fetching her bag, she gave them both a determined nod and set her shoulders, a hard look in her eyes as she steeled her heart against the prospect of meeting her soulmate again.

 

            She could see that Alex wanted to go with her, wishing that she was a reporter instead of a detective this time around, and Kara gave her a quick hug goodbye, drawing some strength from the woman she’d known longer than anyone else. With the other Kryptonians that she’d lived with over the years, Alex was the one who had never left her side. The others had their own lives, coming and going as they pleased, but Alex had been there through it all. She’d helped Kara through the worst of it all, and been there to watch her fall in love every time, and Kara was unspeakably grateful to her sister. Assuring Alex that she’d be okay, Kara parted ways with her and walked alongside Clark, who was trying his best to be encouraging, leading her towards their destination.

 

            It was a balmy day in National City, the sky blue and the crowds of people rushing down the sidewalk as they made their way to their varying jobs, and with each step, the knot in Kara’s stomach grew bigger and bigger. It was only a few days ago that she’d been informed that she’d be working on a new report - interviewing the newest CEO of Luthor Corp - and at the sound of the woman’s name, Kara had frozen. The rest of her day had been spent in a daze, panic seizing her heart at the thought of finding Lena again, and a little bit of excitement that made her heart flutter at the prospect of it. She’d told Alex, of course, and Alex had told everyone else, and Kara had spent the rest of her night curled up on her sofa, listening to her sister make hushed plans with the rest of their kind who were currently nearby. Clark was a reported in Metropolis and had flown in for the interview. It was all too fitting to be a coincidence, and it had been twenty-four years since the last Lena had died, bordering on twenty-five, which meant that sooner or later, Kara would meet her again and trigger the curse all over again.

 

            Better to get it over and done with , Kara told herself, pushing through the oncoming flow of pedestrians as they made for the towering building with the Luthor Corp logo on the side of it. Her pulse steadily increased with each step, and her palms were clammy by the time they made it into the marble and glass lobby, the whole place reeking of wealth, and she let Clark speak to the receptionist. A few minutes later and they were standing in an elevator, smoothly gliding upwards as the floors gave way beneath them, taking them all the way up to the top floor. She didn’t get very far out of the elevator before she was met with the back of a dark haired woman, and Kara’s stomach dropped at the sight. It was her. Her hair was a little longer this time. Her shoulders had the same set to them beneath the black blazer, standing a little taller in the black heels, and her heartbeat was a sound that Kara could never forget. Kara would’ve known her anywhere.

 

            Feeling slightly nauseous, Kara looked down at the floor, trying to swallow the lump in her throat as Clark - completely aware of Kara’s reaction, indicating that it was Lena - made introductions. They started moving towards her office while the latest version of Lena talked, her tone dismissive and her words clipped. She was American with a vaguely British accent that Kara couldn’t quite pin down. It was almost reminiscent of Morgana’s, and Kara felt a deep ache in her heart at the thought of the long dead Irish woman who had stolen her heart when she first crashed down on this planet. Yet here was this new version, and Kara hadn’t come face to face with her yet, but her heart was already racing and she had to ball her hands up to stop them from trembling.

 

            “Sorry I couldn’t fit you in for a more convenient time slot. I’ve been busy with some last minute preparations for a ceremony I’m holding tomorrow,” Lena brusquely explained, “I’m renaming my family’s company.”

 

            “Well I don’t think anyone would begrudge you that,” Clark said, a small smile on his lips, “it’s not exactly a popular name these days. Especially after the attack on your life yesterday.”

 

            Lena let out a cool laugh, marching into her office and hanging up her bag on a coat stand. It was all in shades of white and grey, and Kara looked around the place with interest. Something that she’d learned over the course of her years was that she could figure out a lot about her latest love by seeing the places she occupied. The office was bare of anything personal. Still, Kara looked around with interest, looking anywhere but at the woman who was standing mere metres away from her. Drawing in shallow breaths, Kara tried to stem the panicked feeling welling up inside, knowing that this would only end one way. It had been a mistake to come. She should never have let Alex talk her into going anyway. She should’ve googled Lena Luthor, seen that it was her for herself and not let her walk into this room unprepared. Or better yet, she should’ve put it off indefinitely, until the last possible moment where Lena would walk into her life before dying before she passed twenty-six years of age. One way or another, it would’ve happened, but Kara might’ve been able to lessen the devastating blow by giving herself less time with Lena. Turning her attention to the black blazer and tight skirt, Kara looked at her and reminded herself that she was a warning sign, to be careful and not fall into this trap again. She’d tried this before, telling herself that this time she wouldn’t fall in love with Lena. She failed every time.

 

            She turned around, smiling at Clark, and Kara busied herself by looking around the room as she listened to her reply. “It’s not the first attempt on my life, Mr Kent."

 

            “I didn’t think engineering was such a dangerous profession,” Kara blurted out, a flicker of fear welling up inside her. She knew that not all of the Kryptonians who had fallen looked upon her and Lena’s love as favourable as Kara’s closest companions, and there had been times in the past where attempts to steal Lena and use her had caused problems for Kara. She wasn’t too eager to go through it all again.

 

            “And who are you exactly?” Lena asked, turning her attention to Kara. Her green eyes were softer than the last time Kara had looked into them, sparkling with amusement, and her lips were curled slightly at the corners. Kara’s lips parted slightly and the air rushed out of her lungs. Everytime she thought it would get easier, but everytime she was caught off guard. This time wasn’t the exception. Her blue eyes filled with awe at the beauty of the woman standing before her, and a flood of warmth rushing through her body, Kara stammered for a few moments.

 

            I'm Kara. I’m your Kara , she wanted to say, her heart yearning for the woman less than a foot away as she brushed past Kara. For the woman who had no recollection of her. Each time she thought it would hurt less, but it never did. It was hard to swallow the fact that Lena never remembered her - never until it was too late. It was hard to think that her heart could forget the way it had felt about Kara. “I’m- I’m Kara Danvers. Catco magazine. I’m just … tagging along.”

 

            “Well, Miss Danvers,” Lena said, “I can’t imagine that this is your area of expertise. Unless Cat Grant wants to know what I was wearing while someone shot at me. Or perhaps some advice on the latest fashions.”

 

            Blushing as she found herself tongue tied, Kara watched as Lena walked over to a tray with a jug of water and some glasses, pouring herself some and taking a seat behind her desk. Lena didn’t offer them any. There weren’t any chairs before her desk, and Lena spun her chair slightly as she surveyed them both, her eyes lingering on Kara. Remember me, Kara shouted in her mind, unable to tear her eyes away from Lena. It was like she was rooted to the spot, giving her a searching look, trying to find even a glimmer of recognition. I haven’t forgotten about you. You’re all I remember. All of you.

 

            Of all of the versions of Lena she’d met, Kara remembered them all. Late at night, in the dark years between Lena’s reincarnations, Kara would sit alone on the rooftop of a building or in the highest branches of a tall tree, watching the strange stars and the varying phases of the moon, and she’d tell the stars about her, reliving the memories. She remembered it all. That first promise she’d made Morgana had stuck with her, and she remembered all of her lives. All the memories of the lives they’d shared, before it all came crumbling down around them, turning to ash the moment they kissed, or the rare occasion where Lena broke through. Sometimes she’d have an inkling, the feeling that she’d experienced her meeting with Kara before, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. The lives where she remembered were somewhat easier to bear, because Kara didn’t have to kill her herself. This Lena clearly didn’t remember her at all. There was nothing in her eyes. No confused spark of familiarity, or anything beyond a flicker of amusement. As much as it would hurt, she longed for just a second with Lena. It had been so long. It didn’t matter whether it was this Lena or her old Lena, Kara just wanted wanted her to look at her with love in her eyes.

 

            “Um, I’m just … tagging along today, so,” Kara muttered in reply.

 

            “Right. Can we just speed this interview along?” Lena asked, looking up at Clark, her eyebrows rising slightly.

 

            Kara hovered beside him, barely sparing her a glance, let alone a word, as she tried to pretend like Lena wasn’t there. She learnt a lot about this new version of her. Adopted by age four, a brother in prison, a proficiency in kickboxing, and a perfect aim that had come in handy last night when she’d shot her attacker. It had been self-defence, and charges weren’t going to be pressed against her, what with the evidence and witnesses, including a cop. It was a fleeting interview, and Kara kept her clammy hands balled into fists by her side, unable to even take a single note as she focused on not even looking at Lena. She didn’t care if the other woman thought she was rude. She didn’t even shake Lena’s hand once the interview was over, just ducked her head down, mumbled a quick thank you and stalked out of the room, leaving Lena looking positively offended with a scowl on her face and a slightly wounded pride. She was Lena Luthor - no one brushed her off so easily.

 

            All but running out of the lobby, Clark trailing behind her as she gulped some of the fresh air, the exhaust fumes and garbage seeming sweeter than any breath she’d ever taken after the stifling confines of the office. With a gentle breeze caressing her face, Kara fell back against the side of the building, her eyes squeeze tightly shut as she tried to get a grip. She didn’t bother going to CatCo after that, and the walk home was quick, the city a blur of buildings and activity around her as she made a beeline for the block of apartments. Her footsteps pounding on the stairs, she raced upstairs, breaking the lock on her front door instead of wasting time searching for her key, and strode inside. The feeling of home struck her, but not nearly as much as the feeling of coming home that looking into Lena’s eyes had brought her, and Kara’s eyes prickled with tears as she dumped her bag on the floor and strode towards the wine rack where she kept some of the strong liquor they’d learnt how to brew for themselves.

 

            “How’d it go?” Alex anxiously asked, climbing to her feet and nervously wringing her hands as she gave Kara an expectant look. The cork was roughly yanked out and Kara drank deeply, feeling the sour taste of it warm her stomach and numb the aching in her heart.

 

            “It’s her,” Kara flatly replied.

Chapter Text

Londinium - 516 AD

 

            Time dragged on, each moment accompanied by a dull ache in her chest as she mourned for Morgana. It was hard to explain to Alex, who had never met Lena’s reincarnation, but had heard the awful stories of the woman who had tried to overthrow her brother, and Kara could see the uncertainty in the other woman’s eyes as she listened to Kara’s version of the truth. Explaining that she had loved a different version of Lena, a physical clone of the first woman she’d loved, but different in so many ways, wasn’t easy. The heartbreak was still fresh, even a year on, having lost not one, but two versions of Lena, but there was also the fact that she didn’t know how to explain the curse. Telling Alex about how she’d cradled Lena in her arms as she finally remembered her was something that was hard to believe at the best of times.

 

            She’d hoped that time would dampen the pain that Morgana’s death brought, but if anything, it only made her feel worse. She hadn’t had time to mourn for the Lena she’d lost in the fall, before Morgana had come into her life, bleeding and hard as steel, and she’d been convinced all along that she was her Lena, only to be proved right at the end. Now, she didn’t know what happened. Was her curse to have loved her again and lost her forever, to live an eternity on Earth, suffering with the crushing weight of her loss, or was it something more ? Rao was never one for mercy when disobeyed, and to think that her curse had come to fruition just a few years after she’d been sent to this foreign planet. It didn’t make a difference what the curse was though, all Kara knew was that her pain was immeasurable.

 

            Living in Camelot only furthered her pain, with the distrustful looks thrown her way, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Alex convinced her to stay, she would’ve turned around and walked out not moments after arriving. The other woman had come to Camelot by her own route, hearing about the city and assuming that her best chance of finding one of her own kind was by looking there. She’d taken up a position in the young Queen’s guard, a skilled fighter on Krypton, and an even more formidable one with her strength and speed beneath this yellow sun. The first time Kara had faced Queen Guinevere, the widowed wife of Arthur, she had felt a flood of memories she had tried to repress come flooding back to her. This was her link back to Morgana, and she’d come to know the woman quite well in her imprisonment, and the Queen had come to know her too. There had been sadness in her brown eyes when she’d come face to face with Kara, and that was surprising, to say the least. But then again, she’d been friends with Morgana once - one of the few friends Kara’s lost love had had, and she’d told Kara all about Gwen in their time spent imprisoned - and it was revelation for Kara to realise that Gwen mourned for her husband, but also for the woman she’d once been friends with. It didn’t make it any easier though.

 

            She was given Gwen’s trust, having never done anything to wrong her, besides loving Morgana, but that wasn’t enough for her to think of the city as a home. It offered her no comfort, not even with the presence of Alex, and Kara spent every day locked up inside her room in the house she shared with her new ‘sister’, hoping that the pain would go away, even just a little. It never did. Instead, there was a permanent ache in her chest, and it never got any easier, but she got used to it. That was the worst part, becoming accustomed to the pain with the knowledge that there was nothing she could do to make it go away. It would’ve been preferable to end her suffering, but nothing could hurt her. In her time spent wandering around, she’d stumbled aimlessly through the woods, finding out the full extent of her strength as she pushed trees over, splintered wood with her bare hands and split rock with her fists. Nothing ever left a mark. Except the loss of Morgana, leaving a deep invisible scar on her heart, so excruciatingly painful that Kara had to leave not a few months later, the memories of the woman she loved ingrained into the very walls of Camelot.

 

            “It will not be any easier somewhere else,” Alex said, lingering in the doorway in her polished chainmail and the red cloak emblazoned with the dragon that Kara hated so much, a worried look on her face as she watched Kara scrambled for her belongings. “You cannot outrun your own mind, Kara.”

 

            Bundling up a coarse shirt, Kara shoved it into the bag she held, her stomach lurching at Alex’s words. She knew that she was right, but there was a part of Kara that wanted to believe that her sister was wrong, that maybe leaving Camelot would ease the ache in her chest and give her the chance of a fresh start. She would carry Morgana with her no matter what, holding onto the memories of her that she’d sworn she’d never forget.

 

            “I can’t stay here anymore,” Kara said, her voice strained as she reached for the sword that she’d been gifted by Morgana to use in her lessons. She hadn’t been able to part with it, no matter how much she wanted to get rid of all of the reminders. The silver bracelet around her wrist was another reminder - this one more painful - and she hadn’t taken it off since she’d taken it from the pile of ashes she knelt amongst.

 

            “Well where are you going to go?” Alex asked, sounding exasperated as she stepped into Kara’s room.

 

            “I don’t know.”

 

            “Kara, that’s not a plan.”

 

            Tying her bag closed and reaching for the deep blue cloak resting on her bed, Kara threw it around her shoulders and fixed the clasp, belting the sword on and hoisting her bag onto her shoulder. “I don’t need a plan, I just- I need to get away from here. I need to go somewhere I’ve never been. Somewhere far away from here.”

 

            Walking towards her, Alex reached out to stop Kara from walking past, her hands firm on her shoulders, and gave her a pitying look. “Kara. Please. We just found each other. I know- I know it’s not the same, but I can be your family. You don’t have to be alone.”

 

            Eyes prickling with tears, Kara looked down at the flagstones floor, feeling a lump rise in her throat. Alex was right, it wasn’t the same, but it had been such a relief to have someone , and Kara felt sad at the thought of losing that. “Come with me.”

 

            “Kara-”

 

            “We can leave this place. It can be a fresh start for us both, as a family. There’s nothing else here for me.”

 

            “I’m here. We’ve known each other for millennia, and you’ve always been my closest friend. I know that things are different here, and they have proper families, and they’re born and not just created , but you’ve always been my family. I’m here.”

 

            Wrapping her in a tight hug, the smell of metal strong in her nose as she breathed in the smell of Alex’s armour, Kara felt some of the tension bleed out of her. Her last link to her old life was before her, asking her not to go, but Kara knew that she couldn’t stay, no matter how much she wanted to stay with Alex. The promise of a family, of a sister, was tempting, but she knew that she wasn’t really after a family - she wanted her soulmate. Gently kissing Alex on the cheek, Kara pulled back, giving her a sad smile, her blue eyes swimming with apology and tears.

 

            “I’m sorry,” Kara whispered, her voice cracking, “it sounds nice, but I can’t stay. There are too many ghosts here. Goodbye, Alexandra.”

 

            She ignored the spluttered protests behind her as she made her way to the door, ducking beneath the low eaves and stepping out into the city. It was dusk, the sky painted indigo and the first stars winking into existence, the warmth of the early summer’s day lingering in the air and the sounds of people returning home filling the stillness of the night. With the hood pulled up to cover her golden curls, no one cast her a second look as she moved through the cobblestoned streets, passing the blacksmith’s, the orange embers dying in the forge, and the tavern with its jaunty music and yellow light, drunkards already stumbling out onto the streets after a day spent inside the dank building, and she never felt a flicker of regret for leaving the castle behind.

 

            Walking through the front gates, Kara felt more relieved than anything, breathing in the clean air as she looked out at the dark forest spreading out before her, the trees speaking of escape. Her feet swiftly carried her across the grass leading up to the shadowy trees, and she slipped into the confines of the forest, the rough trunks pressing in close as she picked her way across the uneven ground. The earthy smell of decaying leaves and dampness filling her nose, reminding her of the long nights spent sleeping outdoors with Morgana, with the accompanying smoke from a campfire, and she faltered slightly. Barely a dozen feet into the woods and she already couldn’t bring herself to go any further. Morgana was everywhere. Falling onto all fours, Kara hunched her shoulders and let out a broken sob, her hands tearing up muddy handfuls of leaves and earth as she tried to stamp down the grief that was threatening to overwhelm her. A small part of her had been so hopeful, but grief was grief, and it was inside of her. She could cross the land and find the furthest place from Camelot, but she carried the weight of her loss in her heart, and there was no way to remove it.

 

            The sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears, and Kara didn’t bother moving, recognising the heartbeat as soon as it came within range. It wasn’t long before Alex’s gentle hand was on her shoulder, and then she was being pulled into her arms, being cradled against her chest as she cried. She hadn’t cried since reaching Camelot, a dam blocking the urge to cry, with the danger of the floodgates breaking a looming threat with each passing day, and finally, they gave way. She cried until she had no tears left, the darkest hours of the night watching as the grief poured out of her.

 

            By sunrise, she was walking through the forest, Alex beside her with an old brown cloak wrapped around her armour, both of them making for the river nearby. They were silent, the early morning light painting everything in a pale light as the shadows receded, with Kara’s silent gratitude hanging in the air, the dawn of a new day breaking as they stepped over creeping roots and ducked beneath low hanging branches. It wasn’t too long later that the sound of running water reached their ears, and a while further after that before they made it to the slippery bank of the river, their feet sinking in the soft mud and the dark water quickly passing by. It would’ve been quicker for them to fly, if either of them could control themselves, but with them still discovering the full capacity of their skills, as well as the possibility of exposing themselves as something other than human, they walked. Kara had planned to sail down the river, hoping to steal a boat somewhere along the way, and they followed the curve of the river as it wound its way through the woods.

 

            It was miles before they reached a small village set along the banks, the fringes of the forest not too far away, and with the last slivers of sunlight shining over the tops of the trees, they made their way towards a small building set just a little back from the river, a jumbled assortment of rowing boats leaning against the side of the building, drag marks from the banks leading up to it. They weren’t suitable for more than floating along on the river, fishing or transporting goods, but it would serve them just fine enough to make it out of the kingdom. Kara had heard of a place called Londinium, abandoned by the Romans a century before and surrounded by talk of rebuilding. It was far enough away that she could at least pretend like she’d left Morgana behind.

 

            Alex easily lifted one of the boats, carrying it down to the water and setting it down on the surface, ripples radiating out from it, and she gestured for Kara to climb in, holding it steady while her sister climbed in. Knees drawn up almost to her chest, Kara wedged her bag in between her legs, leaving space for Alex, who darted back towards the building and came back with an oar, before leaping into the boat, which had started to glide away with the current. She landed quietly in it, making it gently rock as she shifted her weight, sitting down across from Kara. Dipping the oar in the black river water, Alex started paddling them downstream, the boat smoothly cutting through the glassy surface of the slow moving water. The night was filled with the sounds of creatures moving through the undergrowth and the soft hooting of predatory birds hunting the creatures, the wind rustling the leaves and the water trickling slowly along as they floated. By the time they stopped, the sun was threatening to break through the darkness of the night.

 

---

 

            They spent days travelling in their rowing boat, camping along the banks whenever they needed to stop, bathing in the river, hunting and foraging for food and practicing flying if they couldn’t hear anyone around. They both slowly started becoming accustomed to the new limits of their skills, revelling in their strength and heightened senses, and Kara couldn’t help but wonder if her emotions were heightened too. Perhaps her whole being had undergone a change in the fall to this planet, because she’d never experienced such strong emotions before, yet it felt like she was being torn apart from the inside, and there was no way for her to fix something that wasn’t physical. Kara was silent for most of the journey, wallowing in her grief and left alone to brood over her thoughts, while Alex gently coaxed her into eating fish that she caught, finding delight in cooking them with her laser eyes, and Kara let herself be taken care of, knowing it was futile to argue.

 

            Soon enough they reached the shore though, staring out at the grey, choppy sea, and in the port of a small seaside town, thatched houses clustered around the docks where small boats were bobbing up and down in the water. The briny smell of the ocean was strong in the air, and the shouts of fishermen bringing in their catch for the day drifted towards them as they walked along the docks. They got some curious looks, especially when Alex started asking about a boat to Londinium, but eventually they found a merchant’s ship heading around the southern coast, paying with coins Alex had earnt as a soldier, and were quickly onboard, much to the distrust of the sailers. Minding their own business, they helped out on the deck as they sailed on the ocean, both of them scrubbing the decks or learning how to properly coil rope and tie knots. They were the only ones who felt entirely at home at the top of the mast too, perching amongst the flapping blue sails as the boat lurched back and forth, rising up the side of waves and riding back down the other side. It took some getting used to, and Kara had to hide her queasiness as the deck swayed beneath her feet - she’d never been on a ship before - but she soon got her sea legs, and the bracing salty air was refreshing as they followed the coastline.

 

            Kara could hear the sprawling city before she could see it, the sounds of voices drifting on the wind, and soon a faint smudge on the horizon turned into distinct buildings, the biggest one a towering palace, and she felt a nervous twinge in her stomach, silently hoping that this busy city would be the fresh start she needed. If she couldn’t forget about Morgana, then perhaps she could make herself as busy as possible in this new place so that she could at least distract herself from her mourning. Her determination to not wallow only grew when they stepped off the ship, the docks a busy stretch, teeming with sailors and merchants, pickpockets and guards, and all manner of people, the smell of rotting fish and the briny sea almost overwhelming as she held onto Alex’s cloak, pushing her way through the throngs of people. It was everything she had hoped it would be - everyday people going about their lives, oblivious to the war that Morgana had waged on her brother in the west - and she felt a sort of relief in the anonymity the bustling city brought her.

 

            It took them a couple of days before they found lodgings, taking a room above a tavern, where Alex offered to work behind the bar and stave off trouble. Kara suspected that her gleaming armour and sharp sword - unusual for a woman - was what sold the landlady on the idea of keeping her around for some muscle, and Kara was offered up as a cook and cleaning girl, peeling carrots and potatoes in the day for stew and darning socks and weathered clothing for their lodgers by the tavern fire at night.

 

---

 

            A month turned into a year, and the year turned into a decade, and on and on, until nearly twenty-one years had passed. Neither of them had aged a day - neither of them had changed at all . Kara still held her grief close to her heart, her Kryptonian physiology making her emotions that much stronger than anything the humans she lived amongst could even comprehend, but she had kept herself distracted over the years, trying to ease the pain. It became bearable after a while, and it was barely any time at all before she’d lived on this planet for longer than she’d even known Morgana, and the fact that she couldn’t get over her, yet had known her for what felt like a few moments in the grand scheme of things, filled Kara with a burning anger. Every day she wore that bracelet, tracing the engraved pattern as she hung laundry, swept floors, mended clothes or transcribed books - whatever job she’d moved on to at the time. Her and Alex made sure to keep moving, knowing that their youthful faces would be questioned if they stayed in one sector of the city for too long, and so they did everything and anything. Once, they had owned a pie stall, selling all manner of pastries in the market square, another time, Alex had been a wool merchant and Kara had woven it into fine lengths of fabric.

 

            Presently, Kara was a servant in the palace, scrubbing flagstone floors and fine silk bedding, fetching wine and doing laundry as she worked her way up the lower ranks of being a servant. Alex had been assigned personal guard to the Queen, wearing fine dresses with hidden blades to remain inconspicuous, while she trailed after the woman, bowing and scraping as she played the part of a lady-in-waiting. It was because of Alex that she was sought out one afternoon, by one of the higher up advisors of the King, given the news that she would be taking up position of lady-in-waiting for the arrival of the new Lady. Kara had heard of the King’s brother, the warlord Vortigern, and his new bride, and had even seen the Lord around the castle from time to time. She’d been fascinated by the lives the royals had led, watching them closely, as she did with all humans, learning their behaviours and their desires, finding them very different from the people of her home world. There, they had been created from nothing, raised to pursue knowledge and devote themselves entirely to Rao, protecting and serving him before anything else, yet here, on this foreign planet, they were born to parents, had families that they loved before anyone - even the Gods, or one God, depending on who was asked - their own selfish desires put before anything else. She found it endlessly fascinating, just as she’d found Morgana’s own pursuits horrifyingly fascinating. At least being forced to wait on this new Lady would provide Kara with some more entertainment than the monotonous routine of cleaning up after the noblewomen in their wing of the palace.

 

            How she regretted thinking that though, for not a week later she was wearing a new dress - nothing particularly fancy in comparison to what the nobles wore, but very fine for what Kara was used to - waiting with a demure appearance as she waited for her new mistress to arrive in her quarters. Beneath the softness of her look, with her golden curls and the deep blue of her eyes brought out by the similar colour of her simply cut dress, she was all coiled muscles and wiry strength, and she knew that Alex had put in a good word for her, which was why she’d been given a dagger to hide in the folds of her skirt. If one sister was skilled with a blade and had been secretly guarding the Queen, then why not enlist the help of the other sister for the King’s new sister? She hardly saw it as a dangerous new job, but at least it would shake things up if she got to put the deadly skills Morgana and Alex had instilled in her to some good use. Perhaps that was how she would pass the time, not by wallowing in her grief for those she couldn’t save, but by saving those that she still could . It was surprising that it had taken Kara so long to think of that, having never seen herself as much of a fighter, but perhaps she could be a protector. Feeling a little more confident in her new role, she sank into a deep curtsy as the heavy oak doors were pulled open by the soldiers guarding it outside.

 

            Dainty footsteps crossed the spotless flagstone floor, the booming sound of the heavy doors shutting behind the young woman loud in the quiet room, and Kara rose up from her curtsy, her blonde head rising to look at her new mistress. Everything seemed to freeze as her blue eyes locked onto the jade eyes of the dark haired woman slowly moving towards her, and Kara felt like she’d been plunged into cold water as icy fear slid down her spine. It was Lena. It was her again, right down to the tiny nick beneath her heavy brow, and Kara blanched slightly. When she looked at her, it take every ounce of her not to kiss her, knowing that it wasn’t really Lena. It wasn’t Morgana either. It was someone else - a stranger, who was giving her an openly curious look, with no familiarity in her soft gaze. She was all porcelain skin and dark locks, adorned with beautifully crafted jewels and a deep green dress made of the finest velvet. She was beautiful, like a delicate doll all dressed up, and Kara felt her pulse racing as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

 

            “Le- Lady,” she hoarsely greeted her, her eyes dropping to the intricate pattern of the woven rug on the floor, her hands balled into fists in the skirts of her dress as she tried to stop them from shaking.

 

            She knew this woman by name only, a whisper of excitement of the Lady Elsa, the new wife of the King’s brother, and to say that she had been caught off was to say the least. Kara felt her whole world lurching with the realisation that she was in a fresh hell, feeling like she was seeing a ghost as she saw the swishing green skirts of the woman approach her.

 

            “Your name?” the melodic voice asked, and Kara squeezed her eyes shut, still bowed over slightly as she felt a deep ache in her chest. This voice was different yet again, distinctly posher than the lilting voice of Morgana, yet different to Lena’s, but it made no difference how she sounded - it was Lena. It was her again, and just like last time, she didn’t remember Kara. Even worse than last time, she was married .

 

            “Kara, my lady,” she managed to force out, willing herself not to choke on her own name as she introduced herself to the woman who had held her heart in two previous lives. She would not have it a third.

 

            It still hurt beyond measure though, to introduce herself to a woman who had no idea who she really was, and she seemed oblivious to Kara’s inner turmoil, mistaking her tension for nerves. She was vastly different from Morgana though - more so like Lena if Kara had to pick out of the two of them, yet different in her own way - and as Kara glanced up again, making sure that she wasn’t just seeing the likeness because she wanted to, Elsa gave her a gentle smile. “I shall be grateful to you for your assistance here, for I am new to this kingdom and have no other women to seek friendship with. It would seem that you and I are to be friends. Would you like that, Kara?”

 

            Stiffly nodding, Kara couldn’t help but think about how she would have rathered be anywhere else. She didn’t want to be friends with this woman - she wanted to love her, wholeheartedly, because she knew that it was inevitable. Her mind had started piecing together the puzzle of what her curse truly meant, and to know that she would not be allowed to love Lena was excruciating. Friendship would be a weak imitation of the close relationship they had shared twice now, unbeknownst to the woman standing a few feet away from her.

 

            “You needn’t be so frightened,” Elsa laughed, the sound quiet and melodic, and Kara let out a shaky breath at the sound of it. For all her differences to her past selves, that was the same laugh. When she heard that laugh, it took every ounce of her not to fall in love all over again.

 

            Hardening her heart as she stamped down old feelings leftover from the last time she’d loved that face, that laugh, that voice, Kara gave the woman a miniscule smile. “Indeed, Lady. I hope that I shall serve you well.”

 

            Giving her a warm smile, Elsa walked over to one of the windows, stepping into a beam of sunlight as she looked out at the sprawling city, and Kara watched her with bated breath. This gracefully delicate woman was so captivating to look at, and perhaps it was because Kara had just spent decades mourning a woman who was physically identical in every way, but she couldn’t tear her eyes off of her, watching as the sunlight gave her dark hair a reddish tint, bathing her skin in a golden light, until she seemed to radiate just as brightly. This was not the cold, dark woman made for shadows and war - this woman had probably never held a blade, or knew the terrors of long nights spent in captivity - but standing there, a gentle smile on her lips as she looked at her new world with excited eyes, Kara saw her soul. She looked at her, and it was like her soul had known hers all along. There was something inside of her, and Kara didn’t quite know how to name it, but it was Lena . It was who she was. And when Kara saw her soul, it took every ounce of her.

 

---

 

            She had been tempted to leave that night, but she couldn’t do it. The selfish part of her craved to be near this woman, and she realised that her heart was already too far gone, taking some of the pain with it. Whatever this was, it had given her a reprieve from her mourning, breathing colour back into her life, and it was with wild eyes and flushed cheeks that Kara sought out Alex that night, letting out a breathless sob as she explained. Not believing her entirely - she hadn’t seen Morgana either - Alex was a little sceptical, but Kara had all but dragged her towards the dining hall where the royal family was eating their evening meal, making them linger in the cool hallway until they’d finished. She heard the small gasp off Alex as a slight, dark haired woman elegantly swept out of the hall, her long hair intricately braided and a soft smile playing on her lips as she followed the blonde haired man. There was no denying it, but even if Alex had tried to, Kara knew it in her heart.

 

            Turning to look down at her sister with concerned brown eyes, Alex wrapped an arm around her shoulder and hurried them back down the hallway. “What will you do now?”

 

            “What can I do?” Kara asked, helplessly shrugging as she blinked back tears, “it is her and my heart knows it. It aches, and not with grief but with longing this time. I know it in my heart - in my soul - that it is her, and it would take every bit of my strength to tear myself away from her now.”

 

            “The curse-”

 

            “I fear that perhaps I was mistaken,” Kara said, “I was not cursed to lose her once on Krypton and once on this planet. I fear that I am to lose her again and again. She will grow old, and she is already wed. Nothing good will come of our union, whether it be because her heart belongs to another, or because I will outlive her. She is a mere human. Rao has shown himself to be far crueler than I had ever imagined.”

 

            She was nearly crying by then, her voice trembling as she blinked rapidly, trying to slow down her breathing before she fell apart. Could she do it, live a life watching the woman she loved be in love with another man? They were not soulmates - their hearts didn’t know each others like Kara’s knew Lena - but what else could she do? To lose her just moments after getting her back would be to tear her own heart out of her chest again. To watch Elsa live a lifetime and grow old would be unbearable, but at least they’d have a lifetime together. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Kara knew that she would stay, and she’d have her heart broken all over again. A few moments of happiness felt like a small consolation prize though.

 

---

 

            The years went by and she spent her every moment with Elsa, falling deeper in love with the kind-hearted woman, keeping a respectable distance, as her servant, but feeling the longing grow in her chest with each passing day. She couldn’t pretend that it didn’t hurt though, watching the way that her face lit up when Vortigern entered a room, giving her a charming smile and a sweet kiss, and Kara would have to look away, fighting back the heartbreak. It was even worse when she fell pregnant. Kara considered leaving again then, but she didn’t have the strength to. Where Elsa was concerned, she was weak. It was that weakness that was her undoing in the years to come.

 

            Still, she stayed, watching Elsa’s stomach swell, a startling prospect for someone who had never witnessed a pregnancy before. Kara was so attentive that it would’ve seemed like it was her own child the other woman was carrying - she tried not to dwell on the fact that this was a future she was never destined to have, once Alex had broken the news to her that while humans did indeed reproduce, she wouldn’t be able to get anyone pregnant - but she couldn’t even bring herself to pretend for even a moment. The only thing she could do was help pour Elsa’s tea for her, or tuck heavy blankets over her lap as the winter weather made the whole castle chilly, brushing her long hair and bringing her pretty dresses, which grew steadily bigger around the waist as her stomach grew. She was there for the birth too, murmuring quiet, reassuring things to her, holding onto her hand and wiping her sweaty forehead with a damp cloth, feeling helpless as she watched the healers coach her through the birth. It was a horrible feeling to see the woman she loved in so much pain, knowing that it would be over soon and she just had to watch it happen, and it was also mildly terrifying to witness childbirth, having never seen or heard anything like it. Kara was horrified that any women willingly went through with that, but at the piercing cry that followed Elsa’s last scream of pain, as a gory looking baby was placed on the Lady’s chest, the look on the woman’s face was enough to melt Kara’s heart.

 

            She stayed with her that evening, after the healers and Vortigern had gone, tidying up and glancing over at Elsa every few moments, watching the woman cradle the little bundle in her arms, a wide smile on her face as she stared down at the rosy cheeked baby. It was a girl. She loved her instantly. Kara could see it in Elsa’s eyes, in her smile, and in the way she tenderly stroked the baby’s cheek. In the looks and the gestures, there was a love as strong and instant as the one Kara felt for the new mother.

 

            “Thank you for staying with me,” Elsa said after a while, the candlelight painting her skin golden as she watched Kara pour her some tea, reaching out with a slender hand to accept the cup. She was glowing with happiness, her hair still a bit bedraggled from labour and dark circles beneath her eyes, but her wide smile was everything.

 

            “Of course, my lady.”

 

            “Would you mind taking her?”

 

            Kara paused momentarily, an uncertain look on her face as she warily eyed the bundle, before nodding, reaching out to take the baby off Lena. She was shocked by how tiny she was, unaccustomed to being around babies, let alone holding them - she’d been fully formed when she was brought into existence by Rao, as were all of the Kryptonians - and she gingerly held her in her arms, wondering if she was doing it right. Patting the mattress, Elsa gave her a tired smile as Kara hesitantly perched on the edge, her eyes trained on the baby’s face.

 

            “I was thinking about calling her Catia. What do you think of the name?”

 

            “It’s beautiful,” Kara murmured, looking down at the little girl, a dark shock of hair plastered to her head, stiff with dried blood they hadn’t managed to wipe off.

 

            She glanced up at Elsa, who was staring at her daughter with love, before her eyes flicked up to meet Kara’s, and the love in them didn’t waver at all. Lips parting slightly, Kara was caught off guard by the affection in Elsa’s sea green eyes, feeling her gut wrench at the sight of it, and she felt as if the air had been snatched from her lungs as she exhaled forcefully. There was no denying that they had grown close - as close as their positions could allow them, for Kara was not a noblewoman, and not suitable as a close friend - and in private, she would listen to Elsa talk for hours, watching her pore over her needlework while Kara sorted out colourful dresses and pottered around the room. They never overstepped that invisible line between mistress and servant though, no matter how kind and generous Elsa was. There had never been an inkling that she’d felt anything other than fondness for a lady-in-waiting whose work was perfect. Yet in the dimly lit room, with the lingering happiness of a newborn baby, Elsa looked at her with such love that Kara faltered for a second, watching the Lady drink her tea as she rested against the fluffy pillows.

 

            “Would you like me to lay her down?” Kara quietly asked, turning her attention back to the little girl, a tiny thing with her eyes already opened, staring quizzically up at Kara.

 

            “Please,” Elsa said, with some relief in her voice. She hadn’t slept yet, and Kara couldn’t begin to imagine how exhausted she was with her human stamina.

 

            Nodding, she let the woman reach out and softly stroke the baby’s cheek, before climbing to her feet and setting Catia down in the cot standing beside the bed. Making sure the baby was settled down properly, Kara turned back to Elsa, taking in the tired smile and drooping eyelids, a tenderness in her heart at the sight, and she walked back over to the bed. “Is there anything else you’d like me to fetch you, my lady.”

 

            “Sit with me a while.”

 

            Hesitantly sitting down on the edge of the bed again, feeling like an intruder without the excuse of nursing the baby, Kara began to fiddle with the bracelet around her left wrist, catching the other woman’s attention with the fidgety movement.

 

            “That bracelet you wear, the one you’ve never taken off  … it means a lot to you.”

 

            “It does.”

 

            “Who gave it to you?”

 

            Feeling a spasm of pain in her chest, Kara looked down at the polished silver. They’d been poor over the years, but no part of her had ever even considered selling it to feed herself. Alex never mentioned it either. It was all she had left of Morgana, and Kara had to swallow the thick lump in her throat as she tried to explain it to Elsa. “Someone I loved a long time ago.”

 

            “And where are they now?”

 

            “Far away from me,” Kara whispered, thinking of the ashes she’d held in her hands, while also staring at the woman sitting a few feet away from her. She wasn’t Lena, yet she was, and she was just as untouchable as Morgana was to her. “From another lifetime.”

 

            “Mm, sometimes my old life seems like another lifetime away too,” Elsa murmured, a lost look in her eyes. Blinking back whatever memories she had been caught up in, she focused her attention back on Kara and gave her a warm smile. “And yet, here we both are.”

 

            Giving her a wan smile, Kara dipped her head slightly in a nod, tugging the sleeve of her dress back down over her bracelet before climbing to her feet. “I should leave you to rest, my lady.”

 

---

 

            The years slipped by and Kara loved her even more from afar, watching the young woman grow into motherhood, and she had to tell herself that it was enough. It was never enough, but it was better than nothing, and she treasured every moment. But soon enough, twenty-five years was bordering on twenty-six, and Elsa was as beautifully radiant as always with a dark haired little girl never far from her side. Kara had grown fond of the little girl too, smiling when Catia brought her tiny fistfuls of daisies plucked from the garden, or helping her with her needlework when the girl grew old enough to try. Her love for the girl was born from her own love to Elsa, knowing that if the woman she loved loved her daughter more than anything, then Kara would do everything in her power to make sure she stayed safe. Her role as a silent protector of the woman and her child was enough to make her think that staying had been worth it. Right up until the moment she lost her.

 

            Things had been relatively quiet in the kingdom for a short while, until Vortigern turned on his brother out of nowhere. There had been no discernable signs. She probably never would’ve questioned him if it hadn’t been for Elsa. Vortigern loved his wife - Kara had swallowed that hard truth a long time ago - and she’d never dreamed of him hurting her, until she’d heard that scared voice, drifting up through the floor, dozens of feet below the castle. There was always one part of Kara listening out for her, when her eyes failed her, and the sound of Elsa’s heartbeat was always somewhere within in the castle, followed by the sound of her warm laughter or melodic voice. Kara could pick it out in a heartbeat, and was always listening, making sure she was safe. When she’d heard her with Vortigern late that night, she had blocked out the sounds of their voices, thinking she was intruding on a private moment, and how deeply she regretted that afterwards.

 

            It was the sound of a heavy bell booming as it was struck, deep beneath the castle, and Elsa’s quiet voice asking what was happening that broke through Kara’s avoidance of their conversation. It seemed far away - way further than the first level of the dungeons, which was lower than Elsa had ever been in the castle - and Kara set aside the dress she was carefully mending for her mistress, a prickle of unease running through her as she slowly made her way towards the door, her ears straining to focus on the quiet voices.

 

            “Oh my darling, tell me what it is,” she heard Elsa say, her voice trembling slightly with fear as Kara listened in. They were below the castle, that much Kara could tell as she set off through the castle at a brisk pace. No one but the guards were up at this late hour - more guards than usual - and she’d had half a mind to go to bed too, before hearing the clanging bell and Elsa’s voice, and now she had to make sure she was alright. There was a nagging thought at the back of her mind that something wasn’t quite right. “Tell me what it is and I’ll make it stop.”

 

            Kara frowned as she listened to the quiet sobs coming from Vortigern, and Elsa’s soft, reassuring words. Perhaps she should’ve known - she’d heard that strange bell tolling before, and she’d noticed the guards were wearing Vortigern’s colours - but she didn’t, and when a small gasp of surprise reached her ears a few moments later, she knew it for what it was. She’d heard the sound of another woman she loved being stabbed, betrayed by someone else she had cared for, and Kara tore through the rest of the castle, heedless of the guards walking the hallways as she followed the sound. The bell was being rung again, and Kara was in the dungeons, listening to the sound that was still too far away for human ears to hear, beneath thick layers of bedrock. She had no idea how to get down there.

 

            In an abandoned corner of the dungeons, Kara pounded at the ground with her bare hands, the rock cracking beneath her strength. Feeling her heart racing with fear, scared that she was running out of time, Kara tore at the rock, her breathing ragged with panic. She called out for Alex, knowing her sister would hear her being called, tunnelling her way through the bedrock of the foundations of the castle. When she finally made a hole big enough to fit through, she fell through the darkness, right above the spot where the weak pulse of Elsa was struggling to keep her alive. The sound of gently lapping water grew louder as she fell, and Kara grasped at thin air, tumbling as the cool air caressed her skin, and then she managed to get control of herself enough to fly. She hadn’t flown in years, and barely at all before then, so she was a little shaky as she dropped down through the dark cavern, the damp smell of stagnant water almost choking her as she breathed in the dank air.

 

            A foot from the surface of the water, she realised that Elsa was in it, in the shallow part, where the rock gave way to cold water, and with her x-ray vision, Kara saw what looked like thick ropes wrapped around her. As she watched them wind tighter, drawing the woman closer into the water, she realised that it wasn’t rope. A huge squid was slowly reeling her in, and Kara let out a loud shout, her voice echoing as it bounced off the walls, and she shot beams of heat, slicing neatly through tentacles with the smell of burning flesh. Landing in the shallows, she waded forward, the skirts of her dress weighing her down as she splashed her way towards Elsa. Carefully lifting her, Kara carried her to shore, brushing long wet hair out of the woman’s face, the smell of blood strong in the air as it leaked from the stab wound in her back, a pool of it spreading across the rough rocky ground.

 

            “Elsa,” Kara hoarsely cried, speaking the name of the woman to her for the first time, her eyes burning as she tapped the pallid cheek of the woman. She could hear the distant sounds of fighting coming from above, and dimly acknowledged the fact that it wasn’t just Elsa in danger, but she couldn’t even think of anyone else right then. It was like she was stuck in a nightmare, watching the woman she loved bleed out all over again.

 

            And then she exhaled sharply in relief as eyelashes fluttered open slightly, a whimper of pain falling from between parted lips. “Kara.”

 

            “I’m here,” Kara said, her voice cracking as she cupped a colourless cheek in her hand, the other one pressed to the back of the woman, feeling warm blood coat her hand. “I’m here, my love.”

 

            “Don’t go.”

 

            “I won’t. I won’t leave you.”

 

            “Catia … please. Look after-” she choked on her words, and Kara sobbed as she leant down to rest her forehead against the dying woman’s. Her cheeks were already wet with tears, and Kara wondered at what point she’d started crying. The ache in her chest, which had been dulled these past years, was back with an intensity that was tearing her up from the inside. This couldn’t happen again.

 

            Choking on another sob, Kara felt the gentle warm breath of Elsa on her cheek, hearing the struggling of her rapid heartbeat, like a frightened bird’s, and she felt the woman’s pain as if it was her own. Her face, so beautiful and soft, was twisted in pain, and Kara couldn’t bear to look at her as she buried her face in the woman’s shoulder, feeling a cold hand weakly grip her own.

 

            “Promise me.”

 

            “I promise,” Kara said into the fabric of Elsa’s green dress.

 

            “Kara.”

 

            She drew back at the sound of her name, barely a sigh as it rolled off Elsa’s tongue, and Kara was filled with grief at the knowledge that this was the last time she would see it. “I love you,” Kara said, watching the look of surprise dawn in the woman’s eyes, “from the moment I first looked upon you. Please don’t leave.”

 

            Letting out a pitiful sound, tears slid from the corners of Elsa’s eyes, trailing down her temples and into her dark, wet hair as she shivered, her bottom lip trembling. “Y-you should’ve- should’ve told me … sooner.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” Kara cried, her shoulders shaking as she cried, “forgive me, please. I should’ve saved you.” And then, watching as Elsa’s face twisted with pain again, knowing that to bleed out from such a small wound would be a long and painful death, full of suffering, Kara knew what she had to do. Wiping at her wet cheeks with her shaking hands, Kara was aware of the dull thud of booted feet landing on the floor, the clinking of armour followed by a waft of blood, and she knew that Alex was here, watching. Kara didn’t spare her a glance, knowing that these were her last moments with Elsa, and knowing that she had to do what she could to ease the woman’s suffering. With a heartbroken smile, Kara wiped away the tears falling from those beautiful green eyes, taking a deep breath as she readied herself. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to help you.”

 

            Making a sound that almost sounded like a plea, Elsa swallowed thickly, jerking her head in a weak nod as she looked up at Kara with such trust in her eyes. And then Kara lowered her head and gently brushed her lips against the cold, trembling pair, her eyes squeezed closed as she silently cried, feeling the lips beneath her own press up into it, seeking the loving comfort of a last kiss. Whatever they had been cursed with, it was activated the moment they kissed, and the last thing she heard after the searing heat that threatened to burn her impervious skin was the whimper of a scared woman. And then she was gone.

 

            Numbly hunched on all fours beside the pool of water, Kara kept her eyes closed at the loss of warmth beneath her touch, her shoulders wracked with silent sobs as she knelt in a pile of ash. She didn’t move until Alex gently coaxed her to her feet. Kara wasn’t sure if she said anything, it was like she was underwater, deaf to everything around her in her state of shock. The only thing she was aware of was her hand soaked with quickly drying blood, but it was her soul that had been stained. She’d killed the woman she’d loved. Not once, but twice now. She collapsed to the rough stone floor of the cavern as she was sick, the smell of blood clinging to her as she emptied her stomach all over the rock.

 

            Breathing erratically as she swallowed the horror of what she’d done, Kara dipped her hand into the cold water, her vision blurred by tears as she scrubbed at her hand, gut wrenching sobs falling unbidden from her lips as she tried to wash away the blood. It wasn’t working though, already having started drying as she’d cradled Elsa’s body, and staring at her glistening skin stained almost black in the darkness, Kara scrambled back from the water, the skirts of her dress dragging through the bile as she stared at her hand with a horrified look on her face. She had been saving Elsa from a long and painful death, having already watched her suffer for long minutes, but that did little to quell Kara’s disgust towards herself, retching as her mind reeled. Gone. She was gone again , and she hadn’t even remembered her this time. Somehow that was worse.

Chapter Text

            A week passed by and Kara scarcely left her apartment, too afraid that she’d bump into Lena and have to lose her all over again. It had been many years ago when she’d promised herself that she would try and stay away from her, hoping that removing herself from Lena’s life would change things. It never did. Still, Kara knew that giving her the cold shoulder and putting as much distance between them as the city allowed - Alex wouldn’t let her pack up and move so soon after moving there - and she hoped that this time it would be enough.

 

            She wrote an article about her and Clark’s interview with Lena, making it as scathing and ruthless as possible in the hopes that it would deter Lena from ever so much as feeling inclined to spare her a thought, let alone seek her out. It was printed, despite the obvious bias that would normally have forced Kara to rewrite it, but she James was in charge at CatCo, and Kara asked him to run it, and because he understood why, he did. She hated herself for her harsh words, knowing that they were untrue and unkind, but it was a necessary step in her plan to help preserve Lena’s life for as long as she could. It hurt her to do it, but she had to be selfless, even if it didn’t seem like it, in order to protect the woman that she loved.

 

            It turned out that it wasn’t enough to deter Lena though, and it was on Monday night when she received a call from an unknown number, muting the TV as she answered it and pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

 

            “Miss Danvers,” a familiar voice smoothly greeted her, and Kara felt her stomach lurch at the sound of the clipped tone - faintly british and polished by the wealthy upbringing - and she had to swallow the lump in her throat as she listened to Lena continue. “This is Lena Luthor. I got your phone number off one of your colleagues. I hope that’s okay.”

 

            “Miss Luthor,” Kara haltingly replied, her mouth dry and her palms clammy as she numbly held the phone in place. She hadn’t expected to hear from her again. In fact, she’d meant not to. Kara had snubbed her on purpose during the interview, and written a harsh article on purpose, yet her Lena was, seeking out her personal number and calling her at night. There was probably a dozen other more important things a CEO needed to be doing, and Kara felt a small flicker of warmth inside at the fact that Lena had gone out of her way to get in touch with her personally. Snapping herself out of it, Kara stamped down the feeling and steeled her heart against such thoughts. “Can I help you with something?” she brusquely asked, making it clear that she wasn’t interested in a conversation.

 

            The quiet laugh on the other end of the phone made her insides clench slightly, and Kara closed her eyes, willing herself to calm down as a sick feeling welled up. “I won’t keep you long. I just wanted to arrange a meeting with you to discuss some things. Perhaps tomorrow at, say, eleven?”

 

            “I’m sorry, Miss Luthor, but I’m very busy,” Kara brushed her off, “I don’t have time for meetings. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting late. Goodnight.”

 

            She hung up before she gave Lena the chance to reply, even if every fibre of her being was yearning for just a few more seconds with her, listening to her say goodbye. Kara was still gripping the phone in her hand, trying to control her breathing and not pulverise the metal and glass in her hand, when it vibrated with a text. Opening her eyes, Kara read the text off James, informing her of a meeting tomorrow at eleven at CatCo, and even after a furious phone call with her friend and boss, listening to his apologetic excuses as to why he couldn’t just say no , followed by a long conversation with Alex, who listened to her sister rant and tried to reason with her, Kara finally resigned herself to the fact that she was going to CatCo tomorrow at eleven for a meeting with the woman she’d watched die in dozens of ways, and had loved in hundred ways more.

 

            The ride up to Lena’s office had been torture, each second and floor passing by painfully slow, and she was still fighting the urge to blast a hole in the side of the building and fly out to avoid the meeting, when Lena’s assistant greeted her. She was shown into the modern, sparsely furnished office once more, the cool, clinical feeling of the place washing over her as she tried to distract herself from the woman sitting behind the desk. Fixating on the new L-Corp logo lighting up the flat screen on the wall, Kara stepped into the office.

 

            “Miss Danvers,” Lena smoothly greeted her, climbing to her feet as Kara walked into the office, a wary look on her face and a lump in her throat as she spared Lena a quick glance before looking elsewhere.

 

            “Miss Luthor,” Kara quietly replied, nearing the desk and standing behind the chair that had been placed before the desk.

 

            “Please, sit.”

 

            Hesitating slightly, Kara nodded and let her satchel slip off her shoulder, taking a seat and holding her bag in her lap. She stared down at the white desk, her heart pounding in her chest as she listened to Lena’s steady pulse a few feet away from her. Nervously fiddling with her hands, Kara listened to the sound of Lena’s chair being rolled backwards, and a few quick steps across the marble tiled floor as she made for a counter set against one wall.

 

            “Water?” Lena offered, the sound of glass clinking as she filled one up with water for herself. At the shake of Kara’s head, she set the jug back down and the sound of her heels clicking on the floor approached again, followed by the dull thump of something landing on the desk. Jumping slightly, Kara stared down at the copy of CatCo’s latest magazine, with Lena’s face staring back up at her, as Lena sat herself back down in her seat.

 

            “Riveting article,” she coolly said, and Kara glanced up at her, taking in the arched eyebrow and sharp angles of her face, feeling her own flush pink with embarrassment. “I especially loved the part where you said … what was it. Hold on, let me see,” Lena said, reaching for the magazine and flipping it open to the page with the article Kara had written. “Ah, here it is. That given the reputation of my family, perhaps an attempt on my life was to be expected and not much cause for a big fuss, especially seeing as it’s not the first attempt.”

 

            Fighting back the rising guilt inside, Kara cleared her throat slightly, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “I’m entitled to my own opinion,” Kara replied, the overwhelming feeling of shame making her wish that she could be anywhere but sitting a few feet across from Lena. She couldn’t even bring herself to look her in the eye.

 

            Letting out a sharp laugh, Lena tossed the magazine back onto the desk, and Kara flinched slightly, ducking her head down to hide her pink cheeks. She toyed with the flimsy glasses resting on her face, trying to keep it together as she drew in a shaky breath. Inside she was silently cursing Alex for talking her into coming, knowing that her sister was right, and it was inevitable in many ways. She would fall in love with Lena, and Lena would die. It was how it went every time. Trying to keep her alive for longer wouldn’t stop the impending death of the woman she loved, but Kara was still hoping that maybe just this once it would work. If she could push her away and make sure that Lena never fell in love with her, then maybe she wouldn’t die this time. Hurting her in imaginable ways would be bearable if she didn’t die this time. But she told herself that every time.

 

            “Bold words for someone who doesn’t even know me,” Lena curtly replied.

 

            “I do know you,” Kara blurted out before she could stop herself, wishing that she hadn’t spoken the moment that she did. “I mean … I know your type.”

 

            “Oh?”

 

            “You have a need to be liked, and to prove yourself. No one takes you seriously in a man’s world, so you make sure you’re smarter than them, and bold and outspoken. You’re pretty. You know you are, so you use it to manipulate people into giving you what you want. No one likes funny girls, but you’re witty, and you use that to give you an edge over men who try to belittle you. You try twice as hard as anyone else to prove you’re just as good - better even - and you always win, but that doesn’t make you feel any better in the end, because you always end up feeling alone. It doesn’t matter how strong you try to pretend you are, you’re always frightened beneath it. You have a tragic backstory. This time it’s your brother. Maybe a parent who never loved you as well, or you were just misunderstood. Either way, you try and act like nothing touches you, like you’re all ice and hardness, but it does . You hurt deep down inside - more than you’d ever care to admit, but you do . And, you know, maybe one day it’ll hurt less, and someone will love you and make you feel special, and stroke your ego so you can feel like you are better than everyone else. Sorry that my article couldn’t quite give you that.”

 

            Each word was a low blow - mostly true, but painfully exposing - intending to prey on Lena’s vulnerabilities, with every piece of knowledge Kara had gleaned about the multitude of Lena’s she’d encountered over the centuries. Each one was different in numerous ways, varying slightly each time, but at the centre of each version of her, there were the similarities. The things that made Lena her . Kara hated herself for using those things to make Lena feel uneasy, and she had to bite her tongue to stop herself from apologising in the following tense moments of silence, but then Lena let out a strained laugh, her green eyes flashing dangerously as she smiled at Kara.

 

            “So … you think I’m pretty?”

 

            Furiously blushing, Kara clenched her jaw as she pressed her lips together in a hard line. It wasn’t a joke to her, and Lena didn’t sound like she meant it as a joke, but rather that she was trying to keep her temper in check by making light of the situation. That’s what she always did in her past lives. It made Kara feel even worse to think that she knew every little detail about Lena - about dozens of versions of her - yet when she looked up, staring into those hard green eyes, there was no flicker of familiarity. Swallowing the lump that rose in her throat, Kara felt ashamed of herself, desperately missing Lena - all the versions of her - as she met the cool stare of the woman across from her. Every time she thought it would get easier, but it never did. It all came back in flashes - sometimes something the latest reincarnation of Lena did something to remind her of an older one, sometimes it was something she’d forgotten about, or something so painfully her that it hurt to think about - but Lena never came back to her. Over and over again it was just the latest version of her. She just wanted one version of her to love her the way that Kara loved her - eternally, not just for a short while.

 

            There was a gaping hole where Lena had been, and each version of her that Kara lost chipped away at it a little more, leaving a void of loneliness where love used to reside. When she found the latest reincarnation, the hole would be filled back up, the cracks in her heart cemented and sealed, but it never lasted. Sooner or later Lena was gone again, and her heart spiderwebbed with new cracks and the love slowly drained, leaving behind the hole in her chest. It didn’t matter how many people she surrounded herself with - all of her friends and family - it was never enough, and the absence of Lena couldn’t be filled by any number of them by her side. It was only the latest reincarnation of Lena who could fill the void that the last version of her had left behind, but only for a short while.

 

            “I think … it doesn’t matter what I think.”

 

            “Doesn’t it? I thought you were entitled to your own opinion,” Lena said, a smirk playing on her lips as she stared back at Kara, her piercing eyes trying to uncover the hidden parts of the soft blonde woman, who was so intent on bluntly pushing her away, sitting across from her. Spinning slightly in her chair, Lena watched her carefully. “And you know me so well.”

 

            “If you live long enough, you start to see the same qualities in people,” Kara murmured.

 

            The same eyes too , she silently added, a dull ache in her chest as she looked into the sea green eyes, so familiar to her that it was like she was coming home for the first time in years. It was like this every time. After years of guilt and grief, and such deep mourning that seemed to turn everything grey and lifeless, Lena always came back, breathing colour and life back into everything, along with a flood of thousands of memories, each one a cherished warning of what was in stock for her again. In the end, it always came down to the fact that she could meet a hundred thousand people, and know their hearts and souls, but in the end, none of them would ever make her feel like home the way looking into Lena’s eyes and completely knowing her would.

 

            “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, but I was just doing my job,” Kara curtly told her.

 

            Letting out a sharp laugh, Lena smiled, “we both know that’s not true. Such obvious bias? No, that’s not it. Was it my brother? Did he hurt someone you care about? Or is it just me? Did I do something to offend you?”

 

            “No,” Kara murmured, her eyes prickling with the threat of tears, “it’s just the way it is.”

 

            “Right,” Lena said, picking up some reports on her desk and shuffling them to hide the flicker of hurt, even though her face wasn’t quite so impassive as to hide the wounded look in her eyes. “Well, I’m sorry to cut things short, but I’ve got a busy day. Do you need your parking validated.”

 

            Shaking her head, Kara climbed to her feet, slinging her bag back over her shoulder, “no, thank you.”

 

            “I’ll have Jess show you out then,” Lena dismissively replied, pressing a buzzer on her desk and waiting a few moments for her assistant to come in. The door opened and the young woman walked in, holding it open as she waited for Kara, who was hovering before the desk, having so much to say but knowing that Lena could never understand. Lena was still pretending to neaten up her desk, avoiding looking at Kara, but she could still hear the hurt in her voice when she spoke. “Thank you for your time, Miss Danvers.”

 

            “It’s Kara,” she replied, her voice low and uneven, wanting to hear Lena say her name just once before she left her.

 

            Nodding, Lena tossed the copy of CatCo into the bin beside her desk, a strained smile on her face as she looked up at her for a moment. “Right, Kara.”

 

            “Goodbye Lena,” Kara softly said, the words sounding final, and she shed all manner of formalities in favour of calling her by her name to her face, just once in this lifetime. That was all she could give her. She turned around and walked away without another glance back over her shoulder, listening to Lena’s unsteady pulse as it beat erratically at the sound of her name falling from Kara’s lips. She wished she could’ve given her more. She left without a moment’s pause. If she doubted herself, she’d never be able to leave.

 

---

 

            A knock on the door shook her out of her stupor, and Kara set down her glass of wine on the coffee table, pushing the blanket aside as she climbed to her feet. It was Alex - she could hear her familiar heartbeat - and Kara knew that she couldn’t pretend that she wasn’t home and wallow in her misery alone, because her sister would be able to so clearly hear her pulse too. Sighing, she crossed the apartment and pulled the door open, a weariness washing over her as she avoided meeting the other woman’s dark eyes.

 

            “Hey,” Alex murmured, “James told me ...how’d it go?”

 

            Shoulders sagging, Kara dragged her feet as she made for the kitchen, fetching another wine glass and carrying it over to the sofa, filling it up with the dark red that she was drinking. Handing it off to Alex, who flopped down beside her, Kara picked up her own glass and drank deeply. “Bad.”

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            “I hate doing this to her. I hate it every time I have to- she doesn’t deserve this. And I can’t even tell her why.

 

            Alex gave her a pitying look, a grimace on her face as she clutched her wine in her hand. She’d been through this with Kara numerous times, and Kara knew that her sister cared , but there was nothing she could do, so it didn’t make a difference. The only thing she could do was keep Kara company, and try and hold the pieces of her together whenever she lost the latest version of her lover. It was a source of comfort for Kara, to know that her sister was always there, but at the same time, it changed nothing. There was still the gaping hole in her heart, and the empty feeling where Lena used to be, but it was a relief to have someone look after her. Until she wanted to be alone. Every time, after losing Lena, she couldn’t bear the thought of looking into her friends’ eyes, seeing the sadness and pity there - they had all come to know various versions of Lena’s past lives, loving and caring for her in their own ways, so their sadness wasn’t solely for Kara’s pain - and Kara hated it. She just wanted it to be different. Just once.

 

            “Maybe this time it-”

 

            “Don’t,” Kara firmly cut her off.

 

            Alex reached out to gently rub her knee, a concerned look on her face, “then why do you do it? If it won’t make a difference, then why do you push her away?”

 

            Letting out a frustrated sigh, Kara drained her glass and set it down, clenching her jaw as she tried not to let her frustration at the situation make her temper flare up towards her sister. “You know why! We’ve had this conversation before,” Kara darkly said, “what use is it having it again?”

 

            “You should cherish your time with her!”

 

            “I do!”

 

            “No, you push her away. You push and push and push, but you fall in love with her anyway, so what’s even the point in trying? Just hold her close and don’t let her go - not until you have to - and treasure every moment. You should take every moment with her that you can get.”

 

            “You don’t understand!” Kara said, her voice cracking as she stared at Alex with wide blue eyes, swimming with an unimaginable amount of pain. “I love her … but if this is love, then I don’t want it. It costs too much - every piece of who I am - over and over again. She is chipping away at me, slowly, with every version of her, and soon … there will be no part of me left to love her. I have loved her in dozens of lifetimes, and I will love her in countless more. There’s no one else for me. This sadness ... it will last forever.”

 

            “We’ll find a way-”

 

            A slightly hysterical laugh bubbled up and fell from Kara’s lips, and she gave Alex a condescending smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “You don’t get it, Alex, there is no other way.”

 

            “Don’t let the past dictate your future.”

 

            “How can I not when I know what’s coming? I know I do this to myself. If I could just not fall in love with her … but how can I not? I look at her and it’s not- it’s not love at first sight, but I look at her and it’s like I’ve loved her this whole time. But she’s never the same. She’s different every time.”

 

            “Kara-”

 

            Abruptly climbing to her feet, Kara took off the cheap plastic frames and rubbed at her tired eyes, carelessly tossing them onto the sofa. Softly sighing, she ran a hand through her hair and looked down at the floor, knowing that Alex was just trying to help, and knowing that it pointless for her sister to even try. “I’m going to bed,” Kara mumbled after a few tense moments.

 

            Without another look, she walked through to the partitioned area of her apartment, collapsing onto her bed and burying her face in her pillow. She couldn’t stop herself when she started to cry, just a little, and she was grateful to Alex for giving her her space. Hugging her pillow, Kara waited for sleep to come, listening to the sounds of Alex gently clinking dishes as she washed them in the kitchen sink, double checking the windows were all shut and tidying up around the apartment while she left Kara to her troubled thoughts. It was late when she crept into the bedroom and tenderly drew a blanket over her sister, tucking it in around her and giving her a sad look in the darkness of the room. Leaning down, she kissed Kara on the side of her head, and Kara let out a shuddering breath, squeezing her eyes shut as a feeling of guilt rose up within her.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

 

            “So am I,” Alex murmured.

Chapter Text

Cadbury Castle - 541 AD

 

            She wanted to kill him. That was the only thing she could think that night, the bloody dagger that had been used to kill Elsa held tightly in her hand, her knuckles turning white as she clenched the jewelled hilt, the rusty blood drying on the sharp blade. Alex had picked it up before they left the deep underground cavern, handing it to Kara as a grim reminder, just like the bracelet she wore. Never had she felt such anger - not even when Morgana had been killed - and she did go in search of Vortigern with the intention of killing him. She would’ve done it as well, but when she reached the room he was in - Catia’s room - and froze at the sight of him cradling the little girl in his arms. He was crying, hugging his daughter to his chest while the palace was in turmoil, and it was startling to Kara to realise that this man loved his daughter. He’d killed his wife but he loved his daughter. Faltering as she stood in the doorway, an unnoticed shadow, she recalled her promise that she’d look after Catia. Would losing both of her parents be what was best for the little girl? Or was a murderous father, who seemed conflicted as he sobbed over his daughter, clearly protective of her, better than no parents at all? Kara could feel Alex’s eyes trained onto her back, waiting for her to follow through with her revenge. Her anger guttered like a flickering flame being extinguished, leaving her feeling hollow and heartbroken. This wasn’t her. She couldn’t kill him, not when Elsa’s daughter needed someone to raise her.

 

            Turning around, Kara left, listening to the echoing sounds of soldiers fighting, screams and shouts reaching her sensitive ears as she staggered down the hallway. She could still taste the bile on her tongue, and the skirts of her dress were soaking wet and coated in fine ash - the remains of Elsa - and Kara’s mind was reeling from the sharp turn the night had taken. The castle was already lost to Vortigern’s men, and there was nothing for her to do except return to her quarters. Alex followed after her, fetching a clean dress for Kara, who immediately stripped the one she was wearing off, tearing the dirty fabric in her hurry to get it off and her skin rippling with goosebumps at the sudden cold. She felt cold all over, and she could barely move her limbs as she pulled the clean dress on. And then she sank to the hard stone floor, trembling as she started to cry again.

 

            It felt like an eternity before she managed to drag herself out of the overwhelming darkness of heartbreak and painful suffering, and in that time, the whole city had changed. Vortigern had taken total control, and Kara had fled the castle with Alex, afraid that she would tear the building apart in her rage as she tried to come to terms with Elsa’s passing. The worst part was that he would’ve deserved it, but Catia didn’t deserve to be orphaned, so Kara had to bide her time, listening for word of the young princess’ fate as she worked as an apprentice to a healer near the castle. Every day was much of the same with her grinding herbs and taking trips out of the city to forage for them, before she brought them back to the elderly woman and helped her make tinctures and poultices, going through the motions autonomously as her mind was filled with thoughts of the dead women she loved. Alex worked at a blacksmith, a job that the burly man had given her despite his suspicions, and only after she’d impressed him with her strength to hammer the metal into shape, and together they scraped together enough money to live in the attic above a cobbler’s. If she wasn’t working, Kara didn’t leave their cramped room, listening to the sounds of the man making shoes as the smell of leather filled the whole building.

 

            She spent hours on end fiddling with the slender dagger, still coated with Elsa’s dried blood, brooding over her decision not to kill the man responsible for her fatal wound - not her death, because that burden rested on Kara’s shoulders, but he had been instrumental in it - and hating herself so much for being too weak to get revenge. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to stomach killing a man in cold blood, even one who had killed the woman she loved. First and foremost, she owed it to Elsa to keep tabs on her daughter and make sure she was safe, and with no threats now that Vortigern had taken the castle, she was as safe as she could be. Or so Kara thought.

 

            It was a late midsummer’s night and the city was still, and the castle stiller. She should’ve known that something was off by that alone, but she didn’t think anything of it as she fiddled with the dagger in the long hours of the night, the moon already high in the sky and her sister sleeping a few feet away from her. It was the frightened voice of a girl that caught her attention, just like it had all those years ago, and Kara slowly sat upright at the familiar sound of the girl’s voice. She’d spent years watching and listening from afar, and she could pick Catia’s voice out from across the city, and she could pick out the fear in it with ease, immediately knowing that something was off. Silently, Kara pulled on her boots and walked over to the attic window, barely big enough for her to squeeze out of with some twisting and turning, squeezing through it shooting off into the sky. Just this once, she would allow herself to give away her powers, just as long as she was able to reach the girl in time and find out what had frightened her so much. It was a dark night anyway, and she passed overhead like a silent spectre, making for the castle perched on top of the hill.

 

            It was easy to slip over the walls when you could fly straight over, and Kara was sneaking inside the castle within seconds, sticking to the shadows as she crept down hallways, keeping her head down when she passed guards, who saw her as nothing more than a serving girl on a midnight errand in her plain dress. There were more guards around than usual though, and that made her skin prickle with unease. Lately there had been talk of the old king’s son having been found, and Kara had kept a closer eye on Catia as the rumours circulated, knowing that she’d make a good bargaining chip to use against Vortigern if captured, which was why at the slightest hint of something wrong, she had shot off towards her. She followed the sound of the heartbeat through the castle, and her heart spasmed with fear at the realisation that she was going down - two sets of footsteps, and two familiar heartbeats - and she immediately knew where they were going.

 

            Redoubling her efforts, Kara quickly ran down spiralling flights of stairs with such speed that it was dizzying, descending through the deeper levels of the dungeons and other dank places beneath the castle. The booming sound of a bell being tolled echoed through the caverns and the thick layers of stone, and Kara knew what came next, wasting no time as she neared the locked doors carved with an assortment of gruesome images, punching straight through the heavy oak doors and splintering the wood as they were flung off their hinges. She jumped from the top step, right down to the ground, cracking stone beneath her heavy landing at the exact same moment she heard a small gasp of surprise. The metallic smell of blood reached her sensitive nose, and Kara saw red for a moment as she watched snaking tentacles wrap themselves around the girl, dragging her bleeding body into its clutches.

 

            With the thought of her breaking her promise knotting her stomach, Kara threw herself forward, cutting through the water like an arrow as she made straight for the writhing creature that had drawn Catia beneath the cold murky water. She was dimly aware of Vortigern watching her, dumbfounded by the appearance of this figure moving like a blur, but she paid him no notice as she wrestled with the giant squid lurking in the pool. All it took was a beam of heat from her eyes and a forceful punch, and she’d severed the tentacles binding Catia and killed the beast. She surfaced a few moments later with the bleeding girl cradled in her arms, hovering just above the surface of the pool as beads of water dripped onto the surface of the fading ripples. Kara brought them back down to the stony bank of the pool, lowering Catia to the ground and staring at the pale girl’s frightened face - so much of Elsa was in her that it was painful to look at her - and Kara’s eyes immediately found the stab wound staining the girl’s nightclothes red.

 

            Her mind was racing for ways to help her, thinking of all the herbs and healing she’d learnt over the past years, but Vortigern was still there, and he took advantage of her distraction to attack her for foiling his sacrifice attempt. The knife he plunged into Kara’s shoulder crumpled like paper, and he stared at the inhuman creature hunched over his daughter’s body with fear. Quickly falling to his knees, he mumbled a quick prayer, thinking her a god of an almost forgotten old religion, or an avenging angel of this new Christian God sweeping through the continents - Kara knew that they were really worshipping Rao - and she spared him a quick glance. There was nothing to redeem him now. He had tried to sacrifice his own daughter, as he had his wife, and her blood was staining Kara’s hands as she pressed against the wound, and she realised that there could be no mercy this time.

 

            “Shh, it’s okay,” Kara said, giving the girl a kind smile as she knelt in a pool of water.

 

            “You-”

 

            “Save your energy, Lady.”

 

            With a weak laugh, full of shock and fear, Catia gave her a bloody smile, “my energy is spent.”

 

            “No.”

 

            Kara knew it was a lie as soon as she spoke - her father had pierced her organs with his dagger - but she couldn’t do nothing . Clamping a hand over the young woman’s mouth, Kara tore a hole in the stomach of the nightdress with her other shaky hand, and then she cauterised it with her eyes, knowing that it was all she could do for now. The wound was deep and fatal, and the girl’s ragged screams couldn’t be muffled by her hand, but Kara kept going, sobbing slightly as she murmured quiet reassurances. The relief when she stopped screaming was overwhelming, and Kara held the girl in her arms, gently rocking her back and forth as she listened to her pitiful heart struggling as it tried to beat. It wasn’t enough. With grim resignation Kara used her cool breath to bring Catia’s temperature down, numbing her to the pain her body was enduring as she accepted the fact that she’d failed.

 

            Softly, she started to sing a lullaby that Elsa had used to sing to the girl when she was just a baby, and she watched as a flicker of surprise ran through Catia’s eyes, followed by the look of relaxation on her face as she let the comforting words she hadn’t heard in years soothe her. Kara didn’t stop singing until the struggling heartbeat failed, and then she sat there in silence, a deadened look in her eyes as she stared at the stone wall, feeling the body cool in her arms while Vortigern pathetically sobbed nearby.

 

            Alex was there not long after, already covered in blood from whatever attack the castle was experiencing - Kara wasn’t sure if was solely Alex’s doing, or whether her suspicions about the rightful king returning were to blame - and she entered the cavern with a sad look on her face. Dropping to her knees before Kara, she gently pulled the dead girl’s body out of her sister’s arms, and Kara was too numb to protest, shaking as she knelt in her soggy clothes. She didn’t so much as flinch when Alex picked up the rusted dagger used to kill Elsa and slit Vortigern’s throat, spraying herself with warm, coppery blood as he choked and gagged, before falling silent. She didn’t even move at the feeling of some of his blood splattering her own face, and the two living aliens were silent for a long while in the darkness, listening to the dying sounds of the battle upstairs and the slow plinks of water drops falling from the stalactites far above.

 

            Dawn was breaking when they slowly roused themselves and plodded upstairs. Kara had the dagger in her hand, staring down at the new blood drying on the sharp blade and thinking that her revenge had been gotten, but at a great cost. Alex went ahead, carrying the body of the young woman and laying her on a bed in a healing room, her bloody fingers closing eyelids over lifeless eyes while the healers burst into a flurry of activity, trying to save the long dead princess. She couldn’t bear to watch, and she turned around and walked out, her footsteps seeming loud in the empty hallway as she walked back through the castle, the numbing feeling of shock making her tremble all over. Loud footsteps chased after her and Kara closed her eyes, shedding a few tears as Alex caught up to her, hesitantly reaching out to touch her on the shoulder.

 

            “Kara-”

 

            “She’s dead,” Kara numbly replied, the girl’s death weighing heavily on her shoulders at the realisation that she couldn’t even fulfil her promise to Elsa. She couldn’t save anyone, and Alex’s attempts to comfort her fell on deaf ears. “I have failed her. Leave it be, I beg of you.”

 

            That was all that was said on the matter, and they returned to their attic, packing up their meagre belongings and leaving town before the sun had even fully risen. There was nothing tying Kara to the city now - no love or promises - and she never asked her sister to come, but she did anyway. They followed The Ridgeway, an old track that led from the River Thames in Londinium, where they had arrived in the sprawling mass of wooden huts and bustling people all those years ago. With the little money they had saved together over the years, keeping just enough to stay under the radar of the wealthy so they didn’t attract unwanted attention to themselves, and they used it to buy two horses, speeding their trip out of the city.

 

            For weeks they slowly followed The Ridgeway, taking the narrow track across banks and ditches across the uplands of the southern reaches of the country. Through the lavender lined path through Grim’s Ditch and the chalk downland hills of the Berkshire Downs at the northern borders of the kingdom of Wessex, where the new Saxon king, Cynric, had taken up residence. They ended up at a hillfort in Wessex, seeking out a place at Cynric’s court at Cadbury Castle, riding up the steep, grassy side of the hillfort as they crossed earthen and stone ramparts and passed by ditches as they followed the steep path up the side of the hill, making for the disorganised cluster of round wooden huts built on top of the plateau of the limestone Cadbury Hill. Lazy wisps of smoke drifted up from the buildings, filling the air with the rich, oaky smell of burning wood, mixed with the smell of horses and other farm animals. Heavy blocks of stone had been constructed into walls twice the size of men, held together by mortar of clay and straw, and they looked up as a man’s head peered over the edge of the wall, an arrow pointed directly at them.

 

            In the thick bur of the Saxon’s Breton, the man shouted down at them, and Alex replied in kind while Kara sat atop her horse, waiting for them to open the heavy oak gate at her sister’s persuasion. It didn’t take long - two seemingly human women weren’t much of a threat, even with swords - and their horses’ hooves gouged deep marks in the muddy path leading inside as the gates were hauled open. In the rural countryside, far from any of the major castles and holdings, Cadbury Castle was little more than a large brick house in the centre of the hillfort, sitting on top of a slightly raised area with a deep moat around it to give it more protection. It was far from the breathtaking abandoned Roman buildings in Londinium, but it was safe and secure, and far from the place they’d left behind. They presented themselves to Cynric in the Great Hall of the building, finding service in his household as they put down rushes on the earthen floor of the castle, milked goats tied up outside and dug carrots and potatoes up from the gardens. It was a simple life, exchanging fine dresses for coarse, drab ones, and the bustling city for the small Saxon army that had taken over the hillfort after the Roman’s had abandoned it. The routine was almost comforting in the sense that Kara didn’t feel as if she had any responsibilities. No promises and no one to look after. Just her and Alex, trying to remain inconspicuous. The first week passed by quickly, her days spent outside in the warm countryside air and her nights spent sleeping on the earthen floor of the Great Hall with the rest of the people at Cadbury Castle, and Kara almost convinced herself that it was better there, that the grief hadn’t followed her. But years had passed by, only making the ache for Lena grow stronger.

 

---

 

            The day she saw her again knocked her breath away. It was purely by chance that she stumbled upon her, kneeling in the middle of a narrow stone bridge crossing the small stream in the middle of the copse of trees, after deciding to take a walk through the land surrounding the hillfort and familiarise herself with the place. It was the middle of summer, the vibrant forest in full bloom as the gentle breeze stirred the leaves of the trees. Ducks glided across the glassy surface of the stream, ripples fanning out around them as they disturbed the water, and everything was so silent and still that for a brief moment Kara thought she’d strayed into a dream. It wasn’t the first time she’d dreamt of Lena, and the moment seemed so slow and tranquil that when she stepped onto the bridge, a hopeful look on her face as she stared at the figure dressed in white, she just knew it was Lena. She would’ve known her anywhere. She would’ve known her blind.

 

            She only made it a step onto the narrow bridge before she was noticed, her movement catching Lena’s attention out of the corner of her eye, and Kara froze as the dark bowed head came up and curious eyes landed on her, stopping her dead in her tracks. She was beautiful, in a gentle, familiarly warm way, a softness to her youthful face as she gave Kara a kind smile. The overwhelming yearning in her heart as she pined for the Lena she’d once known came rushing back to her, and Kara felt her hands start to tremble as she looked upon a face she hadn’t seen in years, but had dearly missed every second that they’d been parted. It shouldn’t have surprised her again, but it did. Lena was here. Kara knew that for all intents and purposes, this woman was a stranger to her, and she probably shouldn’t have stared, yet the sudden appearance of her made her eyes linger and her heart flutter. She couldn’t look away as she was bombarded by memories. First of Lena on Krypton, and then of Morgana, and then Elsa. All of their deaths replayed in her mind, and Kara stumbled backwards slightly as the woman rose to her feet, her thin white dress billowing around her as the wind clutched at it. To stay would be an awfully big mistake.

 

            Giving Kara a warm smile, Lena tilted her head to the side, “I don’t know you. Have we met before?”

 

            Yes.

 

            “No.”

 

            Letting out a melodic laugh that felt like a punch to Kara’s gut, Lena smiled, “no, I didn’t think so. I think that I would remember. Come, take a look. The duck eggs have hatched.”

 

            As if she was spellbound, helpless to stop herself from following the orders of the woman, Kara found herself putting one foot in front of the other, walking across the smooth stone until she reached her. Eyes widening as Lena reached out and grabbed her hand, dragging her down to her knees as she sank down to the stone, Kara willingly sank down into a crouch, staring at Lena with wonder as she watched the woman excitedly point out the baby ducks. Kara couldn’t even tear her attention away from her to even pretend to be paying attention, she was too busy drinking in the sight of her. She was the same as ever. There was the tiny scar beneath her eyebrow, the straight line of her nose and the sharp curve of her jaw. Her hair was shorter than Elsa’s, but tumbled down her back in gentle waves, and Kara had to resist the urge to brush it back so she could get a better look at her.

 

            Watching her with awe as she called to the ducks, laughing as they swam past, ignoring her, Kara felt a deep ache in her chest. It was startling just how much the sight of her filled her with such elation, such heartbreaking joy, and Kara could barely bring herself to breathe as she watched her with reverence, cherishing the chance to look upon her once more. And then Kara had a rude awakening as she stared at Lena, watching her laugh again, and realised that she was happy. This was the first time she’d met Lena and seen such unbridled joy on her face. It was a stinging blow to realise that she was happy, and Kara wasn’t the reason why. She was used to bringing happiness to her life, breathing colour back into the grey areas just like Lena did with her, but this version of her seemed so carefree and joyful compared to Lena’s melancholy, Morgana’s vengeful anger and Elsa’s seriousness. Lena was happy and it wasn’t Kara’s doing. And for the first time in over twenty years, Kara was happy, and Lena was the reason why. With a hesitant smile, she blinked back tears, a shining look of adoration on her face as she gave Lena such a loving look, watching her just be happy, in the simplest sense of the word.

 

            She started slightly when Lena abruptly looked up at her, a glowing smile on her face as she quietly laughed, dusting off her palms from where she’d been balancing herself against the mossy edge of the low bridge. “What’s your name?” she asked, a spark of intrigue in her eyes.

 

            “Kara.”

 

            “Kara,” she murmured, testing the name on her tongue before giving her a brilliant smile, “my name is Lena.”

 

            Stomach lurching at her name, Kara had to bite back a sound of surprise. This wasn’t her Lena, but this time she had the same name too, and it caught Kara off guard for a few moments. Stamping down the flicker of hope, Kara gave her a wavering smile, a bitterness to her words as she replied, thinking about how she’d been here before - more than once. “Well it’s … lovely to meet you.”

 

            And it was lovely, for a while. She was Cynric’s youngest child and a rare beauty among the castle occupants, charming fresh bread from the cooks and tales from the passing through vagrants in exchange for fresh flowers. She played the lute and was quick to laugh, always dancing and wearing finely made dresses, inspiring such liveliness in people, and Kara was completely enamoured with her. Lena was struck with Kara too, watching her carry baskets of herbs and chicken eggs and mend dresses by the fire. It was so clearly obvious, for the first time, and the young woman made no secret of her feelings, perhaps feeling them sooner than Kara did as she had tried to guard her heart this time.

 

            It didn’t work though, and one late summer’s evening, a year after her and Alex had arrived at Cadbury Caste, they sat out on the Somerset Levels, the endless patchwork of green fields surrounded by ditches of willow trees, dusk encroaching as the last vestiges of the sun slipped below the horizon, painting the sky lavenders and soft pinks. Stars winked into existence between thin wisps of dusky blue clouds and they both stretched out beneath a gnarled willow tree at the bottom of a ditch. Under the trailing branches of the willow tree Lena fell in love for the first time, and Kara fell in love for the fourth.

 

            With an almost wistful sigh, Lena peered up at the fragments of the darkening sky that she could see through the canopy, a soft smile on her face as she looked up at the stars. “How rare and beautiful it is that we exist at the same time, do you not think it so? The universe has perfectly aligned itself so that we could meet, and that … it is nothing short of a miracle.”

 

            A curse , Kara thought to herself, swallowing the lump in her throat at the other woman’s awestruck wonder at their newfound love for each other. “It is the work of God,” Kara said, giving her a tight, slightly bitter smile.

 

            “Yes, I should think so,” Lena beamed at her, her eyes dark in the low light of dusk. “Sometimes I like to come here and talk to him. I like to speak to the stars and tell him about you. I think he would be pleased that we have found each other.”

 

            Kara pitied the foolish naivety of the young woman, fighting back a hysterical laugh at her devotion towards a figure she had never known. She didn’t remember Rao’s cruelty, to tear them both apart in ways that Kara could not reconcile, and Lena only knew this new God which she had been raised to believe in and worship, much like Kara had been created for on Krypton. It made her sad.

 

            “Do you remember when we first met?” Lena asked.

 

            “I thought I had strayed into a dream,” Kara murmured. She didn’t tell her that she dreamt of her everytime she slept. All versions of her. Lena didn’t know that Kara had been afraid every day, dreading the moment she’d meet Lena again, or that her dreams were not things that offered her comforting sweet dreams. Lena hadn’t known her at all when Kara had stumbled upon that bridge near the stream, but there had been the look in her eyes, that she had looked at Kara and seen her soul and known that it was her .

 

            Lena quietly laughed, before softly sighing and falling silent. The sound of crickets chorusing from the surrounding fields and the sound of the wind rustling the leaves and long grass was a comforting companion as they both escaped the muddy, enclosed castle and its occupants. They knew they shouldn’t sneak off together so late, but these stolen moments were all they were allowed. It was all Kara could offer them both.

 

            After what felt like a long while, laying side by side, their fingers entwined as they revelled in the feeling of holding hands - Lena’s soft from her elegant pastimes, except for her calloused fingertips, and Kara’s rough and grimy from long hours working in Cynric’s household - before Lena sat upright and Kara sat up with her, giving her a curious look. Unclasping the silver chain of the necklace she wore, she bundled it up in her hand and reached for Kara’s hand, pressing the blue stone encased in silver into her palm.

 

            “This was my mother’s necklace,” Lena softly told her, even though Kara already knew that. It was one of the few things Lena had of her mother, who had died in childbirth with her. “I want you to have it. I would bind myself to you in any way I could, but I cannot so I would give you this instead.”

 

            Kara wanted to tell her that if she could, she would choose this lifetime to spend with her, but she knew she couldn’t. She would spend an eternity alone. This version of Lena was but a chapter in Kara’s long life, yet to this Lena, it would be her whole life. She wouldn’t live for long - the curse would make sure of that - and without warning, Kara felt like crying. It wasn’t fair.

 

            “I cannot accept this,” Kara quietly replied, gently pushing Lena’s hand back as she gave her a tender look, “it is too great a gift. It is all you have left of your mother.”

 

            “I never knew her,” Lena mumbled, “I cherish this necklace, but I cherish you more. There is no contest between you and the ghost of a woman I never knew that this necklace reminds me of. It pains me to say it, but it is true. I would like for you to have it.”

 

            Nodding, Kara finally closed her fingers around the necklace, holding the heavy pendant in her palm as she stared down at it. She murmured her thanks and Lena let out a delighted laugh, kissing her on the cheeks and startling Kara, whose cheeks turned pink at the hot press of her lips against her skin.

 

            They lingered until it was dark, all traces of sunlight gone, and it was with weary contentment that they climbed to their feet, gathering the skirts of their dresses up into their hands as they waded through fields of long waving grass, beads of water soaking through the thin material as they made for the distant flickering of torches atop the shadowy hill rising from the flat lowlands. It was easy to sneak out when you were daughter to the king, even if her disliked Lena wandering off alone, and Lena charmed her way back in with ease when they reached the towering wooden gates, while Kara silently followed behind in deference. Walking along the muddy path winding through thatched huts and pens of sheep and pigs, they talked in hushed whispers, their voices indistinguishable in the quiet night as they passed by the potter’s hut and the tanning hut, the deep rumble of men’s snores and the soft whickering of horses punctuating their quiet conversation.

 

            “Sister,” Alex called out, startling both women as they whipped their heads around to seek out the dark figure lurking in the shadows of a hut. Their smiles faded into slightly guilty looks, as if they’d been caught doing something wrong, and Kara hesitated slightly, before looking back at Lena.

 

            Dipping into a curtsy, Kara gave her a small smile, “goodnight, Lady.”

 

            Lena gave her a nod in return, sparing Alex a quick look as she glided towards the castle rising from the middle of the hillfort. Watching her go, Kara could feel Alex’s eyes boring into her and she turned to meet her sister’s hard stare, crossing the trampled earth between a smokehouse and a blacksmith’s to stand before her.

 

            “Sister,” Kara sighed, a knot forming in her stomach at the accusing look in Alex’s dark eyes.

 

            “You have fallen for her again, haven’t you?” Alex softly asked her. Blinking back tears, the muscles in her jaw working, Kara nodded, and Alex gave her a pitying look. “Then she will die again.”

 

            “No!” Kara loudly exclaimed, catching the attention of two soldiers standing guard near the gate. The intense feeling of sudden panic at Alex’s words struck true fear in Kara’s heart, and her eyes were wild and owlish in the dark as she stared at her sister’s ghostly face in the dark.

 

            Wrapping an arm around her and ushering her deeper into the shadows, where no one was around, Alex gave her a concerned look. “Your curse will not spare her this time.”

 

            Closing her eyes, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat, her voice barely a whisper in the still night. “I know.” With a deep, slow breath in, Kara opened her eyes and gave Alex a pained look. “I must leave, mustn’t I? If leaving will spare her life … then I cannot stay here. I cannot be selfish with my love.”

 

            “Then I shall leave with you, as always,” Alex murmured, giving Kara’s arm a gentle squeeze.

 

            “You don’t have-”

 

            “I will, nonetheless.”

 

            “Morning. Before the sun has fully risen.”

 

            Nodding, Alex gave her arm another gentle squeeze and turned around, the skirts of her dress trailing through the mud as she walked back towards the castle. Lingering outside, Kara breathed in the cool air, looking at the flickering torch lights from the men manning the walls and taking in the smoky smell of the summer night, laced with the smell of horses, the damp of the riverlands surrounding them, and the sweetness of snowdrops and buttercups carpeting the side of the hill she was standing on. The night had been so perfect, right up until the moment she realised that she couldn’t bear to watch the woman she loved die again. It would be an unimaginable pain, and she didn’t think she could do it all over again. Three times was enough, even if only two had ended in death. She didn’t know what had happened to the first Lena she’d fallen in love with, but that loss was like a stinging blow, every inch as painful as holding Morgana or Elsa in her arms as she killed them with a merciful kiss. She just wanted a goodbye where it didn’t feel like the end.

 

            She stayed up the rest of the night, staring up at the stars and the waxing moon as she fiddled with the necklace hanging around her neck, trying to build up the strength to leave Lena. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but she knew it was what was right. Kara had to do the right thing this time. By the time the blackness of night was lightening to a deep blue, she was slipping into the Great Hall, fetching her meagre belongings and changing into the riding clothes she’d worn into the hillfort over a year ago. The necklace was slipped into a pouch on the sword belt she wore around her waist, and she had a bag slung over one shoulder, walking towards the heavy oak doors of the castle. The sun was just a glimmer of yellow on the horizon as she stepped out into the cool, slightly foggy morning, and she breathed in the smell of the place once more, memorising everything. She had to leave Lena, but it didn’t mean she had to forget. She never forgot any of them. Steeling herself slightly, Kara took a few steps away from the doors, on her way to meet Alex near the gates and be on her way, wishing that she could see Lena one last time. It was almost as if Rao was purposely punishing her, and in a way, she supposed he was.

 

            “And where might you be sneaking off to?” a teasing voice came from behind her, and Kara slowed slightly, watching as a dark haired woman cut in front of her, a look of mirth in her green eyes as she widely smiled. “Did you think you could sneak off at first light without saying goodbye?”

 

            Kara couldn’t meet her gaze in the early morning light, the darkness receding as a grey sky was ushered in, and she hitched her bag up higher on her shoulder, her sword clinking as it shifted in its sheath. “I thought it would be better this way.”

 

            Letting out a confused laugh, Lena gave her a puzzled look. “What?”

 

            “I won’t be returning,” Kara firmly told her, a muscle in her jaw jumping as she finally looked up, giving Lena a blank look.

 

            Reaching out, Lena took Kara’s hands in her own, but let them slide out of her gentle hands a moment later when Kara pulled back, one handing going to the hilt of her sword so she could stop herself from reaching out and taking her hands back in hers. Giving her a puzzled look, a faint look of hurt in her eyes, Lena tilted her head to the side. “What do you mean?,” Lena asked her, “where are you going that would keep you from returning to me?”

 

            “Far away from here.”

 

            She carried on walking, and Lena walked backwards, her heavy brow furrowed, and she reached out to lay a gentle hand on Kara’s arm, bringing them to a stop. “What do you mean?”

 

            “I mean that … you have a chance at a life better than one I can give you,” Kara said, a lump forming in her throat as she spoke.

 

            “Why are you saying this?” Lena whispered, a look of shock crossing her face, as if she couldn’t quite believe the words coming out of Kara’s mouth.

 

            “It was a dream, Lena, you and I. Nothing more.”

 

            “I don’t believe you.”

 

            She watched as Lena’s eyes glistened with tears, her bottom lip quivering slightly, and Kara hated herself for having to break her heart. It was more than Lena deserved, but it was necessary. If she stayed, Lena would inevitably follow the same bath her past two lives had taken, and Kara couldn’t bear the thought of sticking around to watch that happen again. Reaching into the pouch on the sword belt buckled around her waist, Kara drew something small out of it, holding her hand out and uncurling her fingers to reveal the heavy silver necklace with the triangular blue stone set in it. Reaching out for Lena’s hand, Kara held it gently in her own for a few moments, feeling her heart break just a little bit more.

 

            “This belongs to you.”

 

            Lena gave her a tight smile, her eyes brimming with angry tears and sadness as she reached out and folded Kara’s fingers back over the necklace. “It was a gift. Keep it.”

 

            Nodding, Kara clenched her jaw as she tucked the necklace back into the pouch, stray locks of her blonde hair falling into her face as she ducked her head down. She felt too ashamed to look Lena in the eye - she couldn’t stand to see the look of betrayal in them - and she withdrew her hand from Lena’s warm fingers, a part of her yearning to prolong the moment, even though she knew she shouldn’t. Stepping past her, Kara carried on walking down the path, their interaction seemingly gone unnoticed by the trees and bushes growing just beyond the inner moat obscuring them from view. She wished that more people had been around, because she would’ve been more inclined to brush off Lena’s quiet begging as she tried to reason with her, but they were alone, and when her path was blocked by her lover once more, Kara stopped.

 

            “You have given up on us,” Lena accused her, her face all sharp angles in her anger.

 

            Giving her a pained look, Kara wanted to tell her that she’d never give up on them - that she’d never give up on Lena - that she would always love her, but it would have to be from a distance. She would love her even if she had to watch her be happy in someone else’s arms. Kara was always meant to fall in love with her - every version of her - but they were never meant to be together. That was something she had learnt quickly. The one thing she clearly knew, better than anything else, was that she loved Lena, and she would always love her - for the rest of time.

 

            “Yes,” Kara lied, giving in without a fight, knowing that it was better to brutally break her heart with a lie than risk telling her the truth and causing her to die once more. It was better, but it wasn’t easier . She just had to keep telling herself that it was worth it. She had Lena’s heart, and Lena had hers, and that was a torturous thought that Kara would have to carry with her, but at least she knew that Lena would live a long and happy life if she left now.

 

            “You lie,” Lena stubbornly insisted, a wounded look on her face as she reached for Kara’s hand, her pride stinging slightly. “How can you say that? I love you.”

 

            Kara tilted her head to the side, a curious look in her eyes that momentarily betrayed the fact that she wasn’t quite human, but it wasn’t an unkind look. “You love a lot of things. It’s one of the things I like most about you,” she said, a grim smile curling her lips. “You’re full of it.” She was full of love. Love for Kara, filled with love for her life, and love for the dreams she wished to achieve. Kara couldn’t take that away from her. She had a whole life ahead of her, and she’d been happy before Kara arrived. She’d move on and be happy without her. “There’s hardly room for much else.”

 

            “There’s room for you. Only you. Don’t go, tell me you’ll stay.”

 

            “No.”

 

            And with that simple word, Kara could see it in Lena’s eye, and realised that in that moment she lost her. The yellow rays of sunlight painted the sky a soft orange as dawn broke, turning Lena’s eyes a shade of green that Kara had never seen before, and for a moment all she could think was that it was unfair that a gentle kiss could extinguish such beauty, that Lena could vanish before her very eyes as if she’d never even existed, turned to nothing more than ash. It was better to lose her to a long life than to an early grave of her own creation.

 

            Pausing for a moment, she reached out and cradled the side of Lena’s face in a gentle hand, drinking in the sight of her for the last time as she tenderly ran her thumb over her cheekbone, and with a sad smile, Kara stepped closer and pressed a soft kiss to Lena’s forehead, closing her eyes as she felt Lena’s hand cover her own. Trying not to fall apart at the shuddering breath from the other woman, Kara pulled back, stepping around her and walking off without another glance back. She didn’t want to see Lena fall apart, she could hear it well enough as she walked off, her own eyes filling with tears that quickly spilled over and ran down her cheeks. Alex was standing near the gates, holding the reins of two saddled horses, and she gave Kara a pitying look. Shaking her head to stop Alex from saying anything, Kara pressed her lips together in a hard line, reaching up to wipe away her tears, before she swung herself up onto her horse, getting comfortable and taking the reins in her hands.

 

            They rode out of the hillfort without a moment of hesitation, passing through the heavy wooden gates and galloping down the beaten path, their horses hooves kicking up mud as they left the stronghold behind them. For the first time, she left with a goodbye that didn’t feel like the end. Lena was still alive, and Kara wouldn’t watch her die this time. It was a small consolation prize, and she cherished the stolen moments they’d had over the years, knowing that she would carry them with her forever. Her heart might’ve hurt, feeling like it was being tightly squeezed, but the knowledge that this goodbye didn’t signal the end of Lena’s life made the pain more bearable.

 

---

 

            They rode for days, time passing by quickly to Kara in her numbed state. She sat her horse like a rock, her whole body stiff and hunched as she tried to bury her grief deep down inside her. She’s alive , she told herself every time she thought of Lena, which was constantly, and that was enough to lessen the sharp ache in her chest, which had become a constant companion. Alex was silent, for the most part, letting her sister brood in peace while they crossed the downlands, endless stretches of lush green grass rolling by as they followed old hunting trails or the Old Ridgeway.

 

            They stopped at Barbury Castle, only intending to stay for a night or two and beg the hospitality of the Lord occupying the wooden hall built atop the hillfort, climbing the steep sides of the hill to the welcoming sight of a cluster of thatched buildings, the bustling sounds of the small village going about its life and the beckoning smell of pottage and freshly baked bread. Her movements jerky as she dismounted her horse, Kara followed after Alex, taking in her sister’s long chestnut hair as she led her own mare down the muddy path leading towards the centre of the hillfort, feeling so tired that she thought she could sleep for a week. The worst part was that it wasn’t a physical tiredness - Kara could ride her horse into the ground and still have the energy to run a hundred miles without tiring - and her mind was riddled with thoughts of Lena that she just wished would stop. Just for a moment. She so badly needed a moment where the blackening grief didn’t weigh down on her and make her feel like her whole body was made of lead.

 

            “We are looking for the Lord here,” Alex asked a boy running past, catching him by the arm and stopping him mid-stride. He pointed towards the stables, and Alex flipped a small copper his way, letting him go and jerking her head towards the building as she gave Kara a small smile. “We shall rest here tonight.”

 

            Nodding, not really caring where they stopped, because a ditch with a threadbare blanket was as welcome as the lord’s own bed of furs in all the comfort it would give her, Kara dutifully followed after Alex. She let her sister make the plans because it was easier that way, and Alex’s concern for her would guide her in the right direction, so Kara was happy to indulge her sister in whatever she wanted to do while they were far away from Lena. If Alex wanted to travel as far north as north could go, Kara would willingly go and know that every mile she put between her and Lena was another step towards her lover living a full and happy life. It didn’t make each step any easier, but the thought was comforting. Perhaps this time she would actually succeed in keeping her safe.

 

            She was still thinking about Lena’s safety when Alex stopped near the open doors of the stable, and Kara patiently waited for her sister to greet the Lord of the hillfort and beg a place at his hearth for the night. Her curiosity was piqued at the exclamation of surprise that came from her sister.

 

            “Catherine?”

 

            “Alexandra?” came the equally as surprised feminine voice, and Kara’s eyes widened slightly at the short blonde woman that stepped out of the stables, a vaguely disgusted look on her face that was overshadowed by her shock upon seeing Alex. Her blue eyes turned to Kara, and she choked on a sound of surprise, before giving her a wry smile. “Well if it isn’t the Morning Star. What brings you and the Strength of Rao to my castle?”

 

            “I’m no longer the Strength of Rao,” Alex cut in, a sharpness to her words as she eyed the Ambassador of Krypton, who had seemingly been banished alongside them in their fall to Earth. “And what do you mean your castle? Where is the Lord of these holdings?”

 

            With a weary sigh, Cat brushed an invisible fleck of dirt off the skirts of her dress, a simpering look on her face as she looked at the two Kryptonian’s before her. “My dear husband has since passed. With no heirs, I’m afraid that the mantle falls on my shoulders. Come, stable your horses. There is much for us to discuss. Perhaps over some wine.”

 

            Dumbfounded at the stroke of luck of stumbling upon another of their own kind, Kara let a stable hand take her horse away and was quick to follow after Cat. She had asked for a distraction and here was one more distracting that anything she could’ve imagined. While not as high up in Rao’s graces as Kara or Lena had been, Cat had been a force to be reckoned with, and both women followed the blonde towards the large wooden hall. It was windowless and dim inside, with the orange embers of a fire burning in the pit in the middle of the room glowing brightly in the smoky interior. A carved wooden throne sat at the far end of the room on a wooden platform, and Cat seated herself on it, beckoning for a serving girl to come forward with some wine. Kara and Alex graciously accepted the goblets of beaten silver and stood before the Lady, the strained silence between the three of them growing as they observed each other. Finally the tension broke as Cat burst into a flurry of Kryptonian, explaining her own dark fall to the foreign planet and the better past of half a century spent at the hillfort, wooing the old Lord and usurping his throne upon his passing. She seemed content with her lavish lifestyle of fine dresses, an abundance of food, and servants and soldiers at her beck and call. They were invited to stay there too.

 

            Treated with the same respect given to Cat, Kara and Alex were given a room at the back of the large wooden hall to share, the straw mattresses a luxury and the places by Cat’s side when the village crowded into the Great Hall an honour. They were shown the courtesies of any important guest, with the best food and wine to offer, the occasional hot bath to scrub the dirt from their skin, and dresses nearly as fine as Cat’s own ones. The ex-Ambassador of Krypton treated them as if she was their mentor, schooling them in the ways of the strict court she ran, and advising them on their lives. She had no curse, and was quick to enjoy anything that she desired. Kara only wished that she was able to enjoy it as much.

 

            Instead, she spent much of her time sitting outside once night had fallen, using her strength and flight to jump up onto the thatched roof of the Great Hall and carefully settle down to look up at the stars. She always hoped that Lena was doing the same. It was always in the darkest hours, where she was lost in the darkest thoughts, that she missed Lena most, and she’d stare up at the pinpricks of light and tell the stars about her, just like Lena had used to do about her. She was alone and empty inside, feeling torn apart, but just staring up at the stars made her feel a little bit closer to Lena. It didn’t make her miss her any less though, and the worst part was that she only loved her more with each passing day, and no matter how much time passed by, nothing changed. Not a day went by where she didn’t regret leaving, but also embrace the fact that she had done the right thing.

 

---

 

            A year slipped by in that fashion, and she was well on her way to two years at Barbury Castle when they were attacked one night. She was sitting on her usual perch atop the thatched roof when the first sound of a dozen horses and heartbeats reached Kara’s sensitive ears, and she was on the ground in a second. Alex and Cat were there too, and the three of them knew that it was an attack. There were too many of them for it not to be a small band of soldiers, and Alex was a blur of motion as she darted for their room, reemerging with both of their swords and Kara’s chainmail. She was already wearing her own, and she took off towards the gates, rousing the soldiers along the way with her loud shouts. Kara was already wearing a shirt and breeches, and she quickly donned the shirt of mail over the top, retying her red cloak around her shoulders and belting her sword and scabbard around her waist.

 

            Sparing a glance at Cat, who was busy giving orders, looking like she had no intention of helping with the fighting, Kara went off in search of Alex. It took her only a few moments to seek out her sister in the middle of the chaos as the sounds of dying men reached her ears. It had taken only a moment for Alex to cut them all down, while other soldiers were still stumbling from their huts or the inside of the Great Hall, blearily rubbing their eyes as they brandished weapons, waiting for the attack.

 

            “Lost scouts. Not intended for us,” Alex said, materialising out of the fog, blood and dirt streaking her face and her eyes filled with concern. “Their army is attacking the stronghold at Cadbury Castle.”

 

            In that moment, Kara had only one thought, and she shed all pretense of humanness, shooting off into the sky with her red cloak flapping out behind her. She was little more than a streak as she flew across the sky, covering miles within seconds and feeling the cold rain soak her through, even with her armour protecting her. It wasn’t long at all before she could see the flickering torches of the attacking army breaching the gate, the fire bathing their weapons and armour in an orange light, and she hurried towards it - towards the sound of Lena’s heart, which she could make out now - landing in the middle of the hillfort with a heavy thud that split the ground in the muddy courtyard with a loud crack, splitting limestone far beneath the ground. Everything seemed to slow down as she landed right in front of Lena and the approaching army, and as she slowly rose to her feet, her teeth bared and blue eyes blazing, she turned around, putting her back to the enemy as they fired arrows at her.

 

            Some of her ferocity diminished slightly at the look of terror in Lena’s eyes, and Kara felt as if her heart was going to burst out of her chest. The last two times it had been at least two decades before she saw the new reincarnations of Lena, but this time it was just shy of two years, and it was the same Lena. Kara couldn’t help but tear up at the sight of her, alive and well, looking as radiantly beautiful as ever. It was everything she had hoped for in her leaving, and the pure shock on Lena’s face was breathtaking. And then an arrow struck her back, and Kara whirled around, her red cloak swishing through the air as she rushed towards the soldiers.

 

            Her chainmail bristled with arrows that had pierced the metal and gotten stuck there, her skin unmarked at the assault on her, and she hacked at men with her sword or buffeted them backwards with her freezing cold breath, trying not to inflict too much damage but willing to do what was necessary to save Lena. Her red cloak hung from her shoulders in tatters, her face splattered with a red more vivid from the fresh blood of the men she cut down, and she was trying not to think about how much death stained her hands, because all she could think about was Lena. She wouldn’t let them touch a single hair on her head. She wouldn’t lose her this time. It didn’t matter it everyone saw her for what she was, Kara was past caring, and her inhuman powers would save the love of her life. It was over within minutes, the hillfort guards stabbing swords and spears through the bellies of dead or dying soldiers, and Kara’s only thought was of Lena as she let her bloody sword drop down to the muddy ground beneath her, her eyes seeking out the person she craved to see more than anything. And there she was, still standing exactly where Kara had last seen her, completely unharmed.

 

            “Kara,” Lena breathlessly said, her blood splattered nightdress billowing slightly in the cool breeze sweeping through the hillfort, her eyes wide with shock as she stared at the bloodsoaked woman before her.

 

            Taking a hesitant step towards her, Kara smiled slightly at the awe in Lena’s voice, and then she rushed towards her, gathering her up in her arms. “Lena.”

 

            “Kara, it’s you ,” Lena quietly exclaimed, pushing back to cup Kara’s face in her hands, her eyes roaming over her face with such adoration and surprise that it caught Kara off guard.

 

            “I’m here.”

 

            “It’s you .”

 

            Looking at Lena, Kara saw the understanding in her eyes, and she opened and closed her mouth a few times, before she let out a tearful laugh, her heart feeling lighter as she smiled at Lena. “You remember.”

 

            “I remember,” Lena murmured, her fingertips gentle as she traced Kara’s features, hardly daring to believe that she was there. “I remem-”

 

            With a gasp, her eyes widened with alarm, and Kara frowned slightly at the small gasp that escaped Lena, followed by a whimper of pain. And then a raging inferno engulfed her, and Kara let out a cry of surprise, holding onto Lena as she watched the flames consume her. Her first instinct was to breathe on her with her freeze breath, but it was almost pathetic to watch as the fire seemed to burn hotter while her breath did nothing but mist before her as the hot and cold collided. It was over in a matter of seconds, as always, and Kara was numbly left standing before a pile of ashes, her hands and forearms covered in a fine dusting of it while she stared at nothingness in shock.

 

            It felt long a long time before she collapsed to her knees, but it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, and Kara grasped at the fine ash on the ground, the fine dust slipping between her fingertips as a pitiful sob fell from her lips. She hadn’t kissed her that time. She hadn’t kissed her, so why had Lena died? The gut-wrenching sobs were awful to listen to, and no one approached Kara as she knelt amongst Lena’s ashes, her hands scrabbling at the powder as she sobbed, her whole body shaking with them as she cried.

 

            “No, no, no. You can’t- come back. Come back,” Kara sobbed, her tears cutting paths through the blood and muck on her face as she stared down at the ground with horror. The last words she murmured were heartbreakingly quiet, spoken to the handful of ash she cupped in her palms. “I told the stars about you.”

Chapter Text

            Kara hurried through the automatic doors of the children’s hospital, shrugging out of her coat with a pencil clamped between her teeth and her identification swinging from a lanyard hanging around her neck. She’d gotten a late start that morning after a night of tossing and turning, the same voice saying her name, but belonging to identical women with a variety of names. She could never quite forget how it sounded to hear her name fall from those lips for the first time, no matter how many times she’d heard it. Her sleep had been restless, and she’d snoozed her alarm one too many times, before realising that she was supposed to be reporting on the Red Cross charity event at National City’s Children’s Hospital. A hasty shower was followed by two outfit changes - she’d accidentally gotten toothpaste on the collar of her lavender shirt - and she’d all but flown out of her apartment in her rush to get to the chrome and glass building.

 

            Taking a deep breath as she walked inside, the smell of diesel and garbage was replaced with disinfectant, bleach and death. The last made Kara blanch slightly, the flicker of memories of all the death she’d encountered rushing back to her. It coated her tongue in disgust, and she had to swallow the lump in her throat when her gorge rose, making her feel faintly nauseous. She was given directions to the ward after flashing her identification to the bored secretary manning the desk, and she rushed over to the row of gleaming elevators, impatiently jabbing the button as she watched the numbers for the floors stay the same. It was a relief when it finally chimed and the doors parted, and Kara let out the breath she was holding as she gave the nurse walking out a swift smile and climbed in, pressing the button for the seventh floor. The doors started closing when a voice she’d hoped she’d never have to hear again in their lifetime rang out, the sound of heels clicking on the floor racing towards the elevator.

 

            “Can you hold it please?”

 

            Kara’s insides clenched and she hurriedly pushed the button a few more times, wishing it would close faster, when a pale hand came into sight, forcing the closing doors to recede, revealing the dark hair and trademark red lipstick of the love of her life. Lena’s green eyes widened with surprise at the sight of Kara, before settling into a stony look as she stepped inside. Shuffling into the corner, Kara averted her gaze, knowing that Lena knew she’d made no effort to hold the door open for her, and she pressed a cool hand to her flushed cheek, willing the pink to go away. She couldn’t help but sneak a glance at Lena though, taking in the narrow shoulders hidden behind the olive green blazer of her suit jacket, a pair of matching suit pants hiding her long pale legs. Heels gave her a few inches, but Kara was still taller than her when Lena turned and gave her a hard look. Kara evenly returned it.

 

            “I, uh, I didn’t expect to see you away from that office of yours. I-I heard you practically live there,” Kara eventually said as the elevator lurched and they started travelling upwards at a snail’s pace, much to her ire.

 

            Lena whirled around, giving her an affronted look as she held a black Birkin bag, a slim phone held in one hand while the other clutched a disposable coffee cup marked with red lipstick. The rich smell of the coffee mixed with the heady aroma of her sharp, flowery perfume, and Kara was struck once more by this new version of her. She’d seen this Lena before - the sophisticated, rich and cool type, with the vulnerable desire to be loved lying just beneath the surface. Brushing her off was a blow to her ego, and Kara hated to be so cold, but it was a necessary evil to buy the dark haired girl more time. More time to live her life before it was inevitably ripped away from her once more.

 

            “This is my hospital,” Lena replied, her tone frosty and leaving no room for misinterpreting her feelings for Kara. She had been hurt last time they’d talked. “I might ask you what you’re doing here.”

 

            “Oh … I’m just here to do my job,” Kara murmured, feeling stupid for not knowing that Lena owned the hospital.

 

            She should’ve researched the hospital more thoroughly, but there had been no need to when the article she was writing was more of a piece on the Red Cross fundraiser than about the hospital. And technically Lena wasn’t involved in it anyway, so it should’ve had nothing to do with her. Yet here she was again. Kara was beginning to wonder how she’d been in the city for months without bumping into her. These days, Lena was everywhere. It was the curse at work again, and Kara was still somewhat in denial about it being inescapable, even though she knew she was just fooling herself. In the end, it made no difference.

 

            The rest of the elevator ride was spent in tense silence, Kara standing rigidly in her corner while she eyed Lena from behind the fake lenses of her glasses. It felt like an eternity before they came to a shuddering halt, and Kara scarcely breathed the whole way up, feeling as if the walls were closing in on her while the thudding of Lena’s heart beat so loudly that it drowned out any other sounds. The sight of the doors sliding open sent a wave of relief washing over her, and Kara was brushing past her and out of the elevator before Lena could even move an inch. She heard the scoff behind her though as she hunched her shoulders and moved through the sterile hallway, weaving between the nurses, doctors and patients moving back and forth.

 

            The sound of laughter greeted her on the children’s ward, and Kara sidestepped a creepily happy looking clown holding a bunch of balloons as she made her way into the place, digging her notepad out of her satchel and pulling the pencil out of her bun, where she’d stowed it. The sight of the tall, dark man with a shaved head standing a head taller than most of the room’s occupants was a welcome sight and Kara swiftly made her way over to James. His deep purple shirt hid the immense strength in his arms, and she smiled at the kindly man, eyeing the camera in his hands before glancing at Winn. The latter had come along to volunteer and Kara made out a few other CatCo employees wearing red or grey t-shirts while they mingled with the kids, some of them playing with lego or drawing on casts. It wasn’t the ICU so they were less strict about being around the sick children, and Kara couldn’t help but feel warm inside at the happiness on the children’s faces.

 

            “You’ve got some good shots?” Kara asked James, knowing that her definitely would’ve. He’d been obsessed with cameras since their invention, and she knew his talent was undeniable. Sometimes she forgot that he could tear a whole city apart with his bare hands if he was in the mood for it, because she’d always known James as a gentle and kind man, more interested in his art than in conflict, unless it was necessary. She just needed someone to talk to her about anything but Lena right now, and she knew the photos for their article was a safe bet.

 

            Unfortunately Winn wasn’t on the same page, and his eyes widened as he looked past Kara, staring straight at Lena, who was walking in through the door to the ward. “Oh, it’s-” he trailed off, looking to Kara, who clenched her jaw as she firmly kept her back to Lena. “Did you know she would be here?”

 

            “No,” Kara murmured, “it doesn’t matter. I’ve driven a wedge between us already.”



            “Kara-”

 

            “Where do you want me? Talking to the doctors, volunteers or parents?” Kara interrupted, turning to look at James, raising her eyebrows slightly.

 

            He gave her a slight shrug, leaving her to her own devices, and Kara nodded, a determined look on her face as she turned around. With her notepad and pencil in hand, she started making rounds, talking to the people on the ward and occasionally stopping to talk to one of the kids, smiling as they showed her the toys they were playing with. The pages soon started to fill up with kind words about the organisation and their volunteer work, and satisfied that she’d gotten enough, Kara decided that she needed a break. The room was loud to her sensitive ears, and it was starting to feel stuffy and claustrophobic. Stepping out of the ward, Kara stepped to the side and leant against the wall, closing her eyes for a moment and drinking in the cool air, the strong smell of bleach seeming to coat her tongue as she cleared her head. Down the hallway with the row of elevators, the smell of coffee beckoned her, and Kara pushed off the wall, making her way towards the two vending machines. She inserted a few dollars into the coffee machine and almost regretted it instantly when the thick liquid started to drip into the paper cup, and she decided to make up for it with a packet of mini cookies from the one beside it bearing an assortment of junk food. The sugar seemed to reinvigorate her slightly, and even the coffee wasn’t so bad once she’d dumped four sachets of sugar into it. It wasn’t good , but it was better than nothing, and at least the cloying aroma chased away the sterile smell of the place, if nothing else.

 

            Reluctant to return back to the stuffy ward, Kara wandered around aimlessly, finding other volunteers working in other wards and rooms - just as full and stuffy - and she stopped at the first ward that wasn’t packed. The door was held open, revealing a row of chairs - mostly empty - and a few volunteer nurses milling around, looking bored as they squeezed red stress balls and chatted. Kara didn’t pay them any attention though, because one of the occupied chairs was holding the woman she’d been hoping to avoid. Hesitating slightly, she listened to Lena make a quip about her blood, and the coppery smell of the room made Kara’s eyes widen slightly, especially when her gaze landed on the vivid red winding through the tube connected to the needle in the crook of Lena’s elbow. A tourniquet had been tied around her upper arm, the sleeve of the grey Red Cross t-shirt she’d acquired throughout the day pushed up slightly, and Lena was reclined slightly, looking a little paler than usual if Kara was to judge her complexion. Blanching at the sight of the blood - she’d seen too much of that blood spilled over the centuries - Kara took a step backwards, her shoes squeaking on the tiled floor as she stumbled slightly, and Lena’s head whipped around, fixing her with a hard stare.

 

            “Come to donate to a worthy cause, Miss Danvers?” Lena coolly asked, arching an eyebrow while her eyes gave her a challenging look.

 

            Shifting uncomfortably as she hovered in the doorway, Kara shrugged slightly, “I can’t.”

 

            Scoffing, Lena gave her a patronising look, “don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little needle?”

 

            “No, I, uh, I lived in England about twenty years ago, around the time that mad cow disease was running around,” Kara civilly replied, which was a lie, but she couldn’t exactly explain that the needle would snap off if a nurse tried to pierce her skin with it. “I can’t, ah, legally donate, as much as I’d love to.”

 

            “Of course,” Lena said, giving her a tight smile as the needle was pulled out and a piece of cotton wool was taped to the inside of her arm. She carefully held the piece of cotton wool to the crook of her elbow as she gave Kara a bitter look. “You don’t seem like the kind of person who’d ever pass up the opportunity to help if you could.”

 

            Feeling embarrassed at the fact that Kara had been decidedly unhelpful in Lena’s own situation, perhaps even making it worse with her scathing article, she awkwardly cleared her throat, fighting back a blush. “Right. Well, I, uh, I’ll leave you to it.”

 

            She backed out of the doorway as fast as she could while maintaining her appearance of humanness, making a swift escape before she let herself linger too long and let Lena worm her way inside. In some ways she already had. Kara was incapable of thinking of anything else besides her, wondering what she was doing, listening for that familiar heartbeat, and thinking about all of her past lives. Her name was a constant echo through Kara’s mind. She could hardly take her mind off of her. People were starting to gather near the nurses’ station when Kara returned, and she slipped through the crowd, looking at the Red Cross woman standing before everyone. She was halfway through giving orders and Kara listened intently, aware of the familiar heartbeat behind her as Lena joined the crowd.

 

            “If everyone could partner up, that would be wonderful,” the woman in charge of the charity event called out, and dozens of people started gathering around, waiting for instructions as they instinctively gravitated towards people.

 

            Kara immediately went to James, giving him a smile as she crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes searching for Lena without her even meaning to. She watched as a dark, lean man cut through the crowd, a charming smile on his face as he fixed the cuff of his expensive Italian suit jacket, and a ripple of alarm shot through Kara. She knew him - Jack was one of them, of course - but she hadn’t seen him in decades. She hadn’t even known he was in town. Her eyes darted over to Lena, who was still partnerless, and then back to the man, who was weaving through the paired up couples and making a beeline straight for Lena. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Kara stayed silent, shooting daggers at Jack as he smiled at Lena, who gave him a warm smile back. Even worse, Lena seemed to know him, because she was giving him a hug, her face lit up with a smile, and Kara felt a twinge of jealousy well up inside. She’d always looked at Kara that way.

 

            And then Winn was there, cutting Jack off as he smiled at Lena, extending a hand and gushing about her latest creation at L-Corp. Kara felt a rush of warmth to her old friend for interrupting, having a long history with Jack that made her dislike him, despite his charming nature, and much to her relief, Winn’s persistence paid off because Jack made himself scarce at the sight of another Kryptonian. He would’ve spotted them all the second he walked in, but even Jack wouldn’t want to cause trouble in front of dozens of humans. A gentle bump against her shoulder tore Kara’s attention away from Lena, and she looked up at James, who was giving her a pointed look. Rolling her eyes, Kara tried to stop brooding, hugging her pencil and notepad to her chest as she listened to instructions on what was happening next.

 

            There were a few familiar faces in the crowd too, and Kara gave each of them a hard look when their eyes met, a silent warning not to mess with Lena. It wasn’t the first time they’d all been in one place - over the centuries they’d all come and gone as they pleased, like a large family - but when there was more than a few of them, and when Lena was around, things always seemed to become more difficult. She gave Maggie a lingering look before they all parted, not entirely distrusting of the other woman, but she didn’t really think she had Lena’s best interests at heart either, based on past experiences. For Kara, this whole scenario was centred on her and Lena’s love, and for everyone else they were the pieces that could tip the scales. Some wanted it to tip in one direction, and others in the other. Unfortunately for Kara, Maggie had always been against her.

 

            Forcing herself not to make a scene, Kara volunteered herself to join the group working out in the hospital parking lot, handing out pamphlets and trying to cajole passersby into donating blood of giving to the foundation to help the children at the hospital. It was the same group that Lena was in and she felt a little better about the closer proximity, despite her resolve about staying away from her. It was wavering - she knew she couldn’t keep it up forever - but she knew that she would rather give in and openly try and protect Lena than let one of the other Kryptonians try and mess with their relationship. It was a clear day outside, and they all milled around in the sunshine, the eggshell blue sky free of clouds and the sidewalks full of people rushing about, construction workers busy over near the west wing of the hospital as they drilled and hammered and worked on the building. It was easy work recruiting volunteers, and Kara was quick to give everyone a bright smile and pass on a leaflet, occasionally asking for a quote for her article.

 

            Almost as if tied to her by a thread, she could feel Lena at all times, focusing on her laugh and her heartbeat and keeping tabs on her even though she told herself not to stay away. Try as she might though, Kara couldn’t stop glancing over at Lena every few moments, watching her hand out flyers and smile at people who gave her distrustful looks, despite her obvious charitable nature, while Winn chatted away. She tried to pretend that she wasn’t keeping a watchful eye on her though, right up until the point she heard Maggie’s voice and froze to eavesdrop on the conversation.

 

            “It’s probably for the best that you stay away from her.”

 

            Kara’s eyes drilled into the side of Lena’s head as she waited for her reaction, watching her head shoot up and land on the short girl. There was no flash of recognition in those green eyes, and Kara safely assumed that they didn’t know each other. A look of confusion ran across Lena’s face as she puzzled over Maggie’s words. “Who?”

 

            She scowled as Maggie rolled her eyes, giving Lena a dimpled smirk, “trust me when I tell you that falling for Kara Danvers would be … not in your best interests.”

 

            Choking on a laugh, Lena gave her an incredulous look and Kara managed to turn away before Lena’s gaze landed on her, busying herself as she tried to pretend that she hadn’t been staring. “That’s unlikely.”

 

            “Sure,” Maggie dismissively replied, turning around and disappearing before Lena could say anything else.

 

            And then Kara was left staring at Lena, and green eyes met hers a moment later and Kara knew that she should turn away, but she couldn’t help but stare. The slight crease between Lena’s eyebrows made her look wary as she eyed Kara, her stubbornness kicking in as she lifted her chin slightly, a challenge in her steely eyes. There was the wariness again though, as if she knew she should look away, but couldn’t bring herself to either. They were, both of them, helpless when it came to each other. Kara had lived through this before, dozens of times, and knew that the pull she felt towards Lena was inevitable, and almost as if she was being drawn towards her. Her feet moved on their own accord, making a beeline towards Lena, and she saw the brief moment of panic, as if Lena was considering turning away and pretending that she didn’t see Kara crossing the parking lot, heading towards the construction site where Lena was standing. She was alone, seeing as the construction workers had decided to take a break, and it was too late for her to escape anywhere as she scrunched a limp handful of pamphlets in her hand and waited for Kara to reach her.

 

            “What did she say to you?” Kara asked, unsure why she wanted to hear Lena’s answer when she’d clearly heard Maggie from across the distance between them.

 

            Hesitating, a dark look crossed Lena’s face, as if she wasn’t sure how to reply. “Um,” she hedged, looking almost nervous. Kara could hear the helplessness in that one word as Lena came up empty handed, and she watched as the dark haired woman bit her lip, absentmindedly cracking the knuckles on her left hand.

 

            “I hate it when you do that,” Kara sighed, reaching out to cover Lena’s hand with her own.

 

            And then the hand was gone as Lena pulled away, a startled look in her wide doe eyes as her cheeks turned pink, embarrassed at her instinctive reaction to the touch. The touch had been fleeting, but Kara’s own heart was beating just as loudly as Lena’s, the same effect that they had on each other whenever they touched. Perhaps it was because for years in between, Kara lacked the chance to touch the woman she loved, and to touch her when she was back was such a thrilling experience, but she couldn’t be sure why Lena always behaved as if Kara had shocked her. There was also the mild surprise at Kara’s exasperation at her cracking her knuckles, and Kara realised that she’d said it as if it was something she’d seen Lena do a thousand times. She had. It was an old argument about an old habit that Lena and her multitude of variations had never quite been able to rid herself of, and Kara’s heart ached at the familiarity of the gesture.

 

            Almost as if she didn’t know what else to say, Lena blurted out the truth to Kara’s previous question. “That woman was telling me to stay away from you.”

 

            Lips quirking up into a slight smile, Kara tilted her head to the side and gave Lena a searching look, trying to gauge her opinion. “She’s probably right.”

 

            “You know her?”

 

            “Yes. Maggie. So are you going to do it?”

 

            “Do what?” Lena asked, her eyebrows rising slightly as she gave Kara an almost longing look. She felt that same longing inside, and Kara was helpless as she gave in, taking a step towards Lena, reducing the gap between them to a mere foot as the yearning inside took charge.

 

            Arms crossed over her chest, a curious look in her blue eyes as she levelly met Lena’s owlish stare, Kara’s gaze softened slightly. “Are you going to stay away from me?”

 

            She watched as Lena slowly took a step backwards. Kara wanted to kick herself, knowing that her tone was surprisingly flirty, a mistake that she would inevitably pay for, but it was so tedious being blunt and standoffish with Lena. Alex was right - she should stop trying to change things. She was always right, it was almost annoying. And everytime it was just as heartbreaking. There was still a part of Kara that was trying to hold her resolve, determined to still keep her at a distance, but that didn’t have to mean being unnecessarily cruel to a woman who couldn’t understand why.

 

            “I suppose,” Lena stammered, her voice so quiet that Kara wasn’t sure she would’ve caught it without her super hearing.

 

            Cocking an eyebrow slightly as she smiled, Kara took a step closer to her, ducking her head down slightly as if to make a point about how short Lena was. “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”

 

            Lena looked positively disarmed by the change in Kara’s attitude, her eyebrows raised in surprise and her lips parted slightly as she breathed shallowly. Stumbling slightly, she backed up against the sturdy scaffolding, and Kara watched as she let go of the pamphlets, letting them flutter down to the gritty asphalt beneath their feet and grip one of the cold metal bars of the structure as if holding on for support. Kara couldn’t stop her lips from twitching at the corners with amusement, until the haphazard metal structure groaned. Both of them looked up. For a second it was like nothing had changed, and they both just stood there staring up at the scaffolding, but then it groaned again and both of them knew it was going to collapse. Right on top of Lena.

 

            It was the wooden board that the workers would ordinarily be standing on, falling as the criss-crossing metal bars that should’ve supported it gave way, and Kara instinctively reached for Lena. She’d held her like this a thousand times - she’d protected her like this a hundred times - and she knew exactly where Lena’s body started and ended. Her arm protectively covered Lena’s head as she pushed them both down into a crouch, knowing that to whisk her away wouldn’t be very inconspicuous in the crowded parking lot. The board came crashing down at an angle, one heavy end slamming down onto the ground and forming a small triangle beneath it as the other end leant against the shuddering frame of the structure. The sound of some of the pipes clanging reached Kara’s ears as the structure partly collapsed, but in the little space behind the board, she was safely hunched over Lena. There were only a few inches of space there, and they were practically nose to nose, breathing heavily at the suddenness of everything that had just happened. Kara’s eyes were wide with fear and her skin startled to prickle with sweat as her heart sped up. Too many times had she seen Lena hurt. It never got any easier.

 

            “Lena?” she breathlessly murmured.

 

            Slightly dazed by how quick everything had happened, Lena numbly nodded, her eyes wide as she raised her head, Kara’s hand cupping the back of it as she kept her arms around her in the small space. And then a deeply tanned hand appeared, and the huge wooden board was moved aside, the clamouring voices overwhelming Kara’s sensitive ears as she tried to calm herself down. There were a lot of witnesses, and panicked volunteers came to move the debris, shouting orders for doctors to be fetched. The owner of the dark hand just shifted the board further across, until bright sunlight swept over the two hunched women and a tall shadow stepped into sight.

 

            “Are you okay?” a distinctly English voice asked, and Kara scowled as Jack helped pull Lena to her feet, uncurling from her position and climbing the rest of the way out from beneath their shelter. A toolbox that had been up on the structure lay dented on the pavement, tools scattered around it alongside bent pipes. Kara watched Jack dust Lena off and check for scrapes, with brimming irritation as her hands clenching and unclenching into fists, fighting the urge to reach out and knock his hands aside. “I saw it all about to come down and tried to come and stop but … well, it all happened so fast. You must’ve been terrified.”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, knowing that Lena was fine, Kara turned around and slipped through the gathering crowd. She could feel those green eyes burning into her retreating back. She could feel the eyes of a few others on her too, and as she waved off another person insisting that she go inside and get checked out, she met Winn’s alarmed expression and James’ somewhat more reserved look of disapproval. Behind her she could hear the rapid heartbeat and the breathless reassurances that she was fine, sounding dazed and somewhat wounded - Kara assumed it was at her quick escape - and listened to the feeble excuses that Lena tried to come up with to explain what had happened. Faulty construction sites weren’t that uncommon, and they shouldn’t have been near it anyway. Kara was just grateful that she’d been able to protect Lena. There wouldn’t have been a need to protect her if she hadn’t been there though, and Kara bitterly agreed with the smug voice she heard muttering in Lena’s ear.

 

            “Looks like you should take my advice,” Maggie said, and when Kara turned around to give her a cold look, she saw that the other girl was smirking, looking straight at Kara from over Lena’s shoulder.

Chapter Text

Celtic Sea - 566 AD

 

            “You shouldn’t blame yourself,” Alex broke through her thoughts, bringing her alongside Kara, who was numbly letting her horse guide her, feeling grateful for the fact that she couldn’t get bruises or feel stiff for her rigid riding.

 

            They were heading south-west, deeper into the current kingdom of Dumnonia, leaving behind the lives they’d made for themselves of the past couple of years, and leaving behind Cat. Their old acquaintance was quite happy to keep running her household from her new seat, and they said their goodbyes before being on their way, their saddlebags laden with anything useful they would need - courtesy of Cat. It made no difference to Kara - she could’ve been penniless and on foot for all she cared - as long as she had the few possessions that really mattered to her. On her left wrist was a silver bracelet, at her waist was a wickedly sharp dagger that had finally been cleaned of the dried blood once it had sought out the revenge Kara had promised herself, and now, the necklace swinging from her neck, the blue, almost triangular stone set into a lump of silver. Those were the only three things that mattered to her. Those and Alex.

 

            Her sister was as faithful as always, even to the point where she was intent on trying to ease Kara’s guilt for her. She hadn’t been quick enough, and she hadn’t been able to stop it, without even kissing her this time. Alex’s words rang true. It wasn’t Kara’s fault - this time - but it still filled her with unbearable anguish, and the whole thing left a bitter taste in her mouth, because of course it was her fault. She had let herself fall in love with Lena again, as was the nature of their curse, which shouldn’t have even been a thing because Kara should never have let herself fall for Lena in the beginning. They should’ve known better. Their ignorance had caused this, and Kara blamed herself, but as hot, angry tears prickled at the back of her eyes, she blamed Lena too.

 

            “Who else should I blame?” Kara sharply asked, grinding her teeth together as she blinked her tears away. “Her? Can I really blame a dead woman for my own foolishness? I have yet to learn from my mistakes. How can I when I love her with my whole heart? There should be no fault in such a pure thing, but I’m cursed, and it is my own doing. My own stubbornness. She could take a knife to her own heart and it would still be my fault. It would be as if I had plunged it into her chest with my own hands. I have cursed us both.”

 

            “We will find a way.”

 

            “He is a God, Alexandra. We cannot outsmart someone who created the universe. We are as insignificant to him as ants are to us.”

 

            Alex let out a quick laugh and Kara jerked her head around to frown at her, taking in the wry smile on her sister’s face. “That may be so, but I have heard from traders of the Siafu ant on the southern continent that can strip the flesh from a skeleton in four hours. I would think that might be of some significance, even to a God.”

 

            Turning back around in her saddle, Kara hunched her shoulders and let her horse plod onwards. Perhaps it would be possible, one day, but she could see no hope of beating Rao yet. Her only hope was that she could avoid Lena again. It would be unimaginably painful for her to never see her again but if she didn’t have to seen her die again, it would be worth it. Kara could live with the pain of not having Lena in her life, because at least it meant one of them got to be happy. Now, it was time for her to remove herself from any scenario that might put her in Lena’s path again.

 

---

 

            They wandered from village to village, travelling south-west for the most part and sleeping wherever they were when night fell. Sometimes it was in the barn of a farm, amongst the chickens and horses, occasionally it was in the great hall of a homestead, piling in amongst the lumpy shapes of figures sleeping on the earthen floor strewn with rushes, but most of the time it was beneath the stars. It was always worse sleeping outside, and not because of the cold wind and summer showers, or muddy bogs and swampy marshland in some areas, but the fact that on a cloudless night, the stars came out in full force, and Kara would be reminded of Lena. Sometimes, when she was sure that Alex was asleep, she’d whisper to them about Lena, just like she had the first time she’d left. Just like she had before she’d died again. It didn’t help.

 

            Years slipped by as they wandered the kingdom, leading lives as nomads, living off the land and not staying anywhere for too long, even though Kara knew Lena would only be a child. She had nothing to worry about running into her yet, but it was just easier to keep running. It was easier for her to avoid her grief if she didn’t let herself stop long enough for her mind to catch up with her. Alex picked routes for them, trekking across lumpy hills covered in thick carpets of grass and little buttercups and daisies, following rutted goat tracks through copses of trees, their black trunks gnarled and covered with moss, filling the air with the sweet smell of rotting plants, and sometimes they made it to the coast.

 

            The first time she fully saw the sea after decades in smelly, close cities or on the road with endless rolling hills, Kara was in awe. At the most westerly point of the kingdom, called Penn an Wlas by the native people, the peninsula gave way to an endless stretch of blue. They’d followed the path across the countryside, through fields of green, until the first hint of deep blue appeared on the horizon. And then the path had sloped down slightly, giving way to a granite cliff that dropped away to so much blue that Kara and Alex were left breathless. The wind carried the smell of salt and the strong briny sea with it, and they’d sat on what felt like the edge of the world, watching the waves roll in and smash against the rocks below. It was thrilling to watch, and Kara couldn’t stop herself from stripping off the ragged brown cloak she’d picked up a few months back, unbuckling her sword belt and throwing herself off the edge of the cliff.

 

            They’d always been cautious with their powers, lighting fires with their eyes or cooling down their horses on hot summer days with their breath, but on that day, they were carefree. Alex threw herself off after Kara. They spent hours, skimming the surface of the sea, a fine salty mist covering their clothes, and eventually, plunging beneath the shockingly cold water, holding their breath as they shot down to the seafloor, before pushing off the sandy bottom and shooting up out of the sea like an arrow. It was more mindless fun than either of them could ever remember having. It was why they decided to stay.

 

            In hindsight, Kara wished she’d kept travelling, but that one perfect day of freedom had lulled her into a false sense of security. They’d been wandering for nearly two decades, never settling, never getting close to anyone. Stolen moments with suspicious villagers and farmers were the only interactions they’d had, aside from each other, and although they weren’t lonely, it was a solitary life. Alex never suggested otherwise though, and Kara thought that perhaps she was content with their solitude, because it gave them the freedom to be themselves. They didn’t have to explain their youthful appearances to friends, moving around to avoid probing questions, or hack at branches for firewood when they could tear a tree out of the ground if they wished. They didn’t have to explain how they had a small boar roasting over a fire when none lived in the area - Alex would disappear, careful to stay small enough to look like a bird from a great height, and go hunting, lugging the animal back across miles if need be - or how they could provide hard labour, which should’ve worn them out, with ease in exchange for a bowl of stew. Nameless nomads made things easier for them.

 

            Until they settled. Not at Penn an Wlas, but along the north-western coast of the peninsula, stopping a few miles outside a village called Tre war Venydh. It held the same freeing beauty as the westernmost point, with the wild, weather-beaten land as the sea pounded against the cliffs and wind whistled in. They arrived on a warm day, the hint of summer in the air, looking out at the golden stretch of sand and the turquoise green of the sea from the copper in the slate and sand. They left their horses to graze, running down the sloping green hills dotted with wildflowers as they rushed towards the beckoning sea, the piercing cry of gulls mixing with the sound of the surf and the wind. They took their boots off at the bottom, leaving deep furrows in the sand as they left footsteps in their wake, finding rockpools at the bottom of the cliff, crabs and little fish darting through the clear water and limpets and molluscs clinging to the lichen covered rocks in clusters.

 

            “Here?” Kara asked, the sun catching in her golden hair as she gave Alex a smile.

 

            “Here is perfect,” Alex replied.

 

            They’d long since sold their chainmail to a blacksmith miles away, affording them both some money, which had barely been touched as they lived off the land, and regretfully, they sold their horses at the town, earning themselves enough take up tenancy at a small farm near the beach they’d fallen in love with. It was a small, circular wooden house, the thatched roof efficient at keeping the rain out, and the consistently earthy, smoky smell of it a comfort to them after so long without a home.

 

            They raised sheep, letting them graze on the endless stretch of grass leading away from the cliffs, herding them along beneath cloudy skies and sunshine, their skin turning bronze as they walked along old shepherd paths worn into the hills. It was difficult at first, with the task of shearing sheep unfamiliar and challenging, but in a few years, it was routine. They made cheese and butter from ewe’s milk, they had a few chickens scratching around the bare earth around their little house, keeping them in stock with fresh eggs. Alex took up spearing fish when they’d go down to the beach before the sun started to set, wading out into the water, her tunic tucked up into her belt. Kara had picked up information from a few other famers around whenever they went into town to trade their wares, learning how to care for hearty vegetables. Soon, a small patch of earth was flourishing with carrots, potatoes and beets.

 

            It was a good life - a simple one - and it numbed the pain for a while. Kara thought that she was safe in her farm in the middle of nowhere, with growing fields of sheep and endless chores to keep her hands busy. She was wrong. It didn’t happen the way she’d been expecting it this time. Usually she would stumble upon Lena when she moved somewhere new, trying to outrun the curse. A few miles from a small village which held no sight of her, at the edge of the world, Kara thought that she would know when Lena came, and would be able to outrun her again. Newcomers were few and far between - Kara and Alex had been the only ones in the five years they’d been living there - but they had visitors. And they didn’t always come from the land.

 

            It was a mild late summer’s day, just a little after midday, and Kara was knelt in the path of dirt behind their home, pulling carrots up by the leafy greens sprouting from the black mud. Her fingernails were dark half-moon crescents of dirt and she was baking in the surprisingly hot sun beating down on her. A basket of muddy vegetables were piled up in a woven basket, and she was wondering whether Alex’s snares had caught any rabbits yet to make a stew for their dinner. A distant scream was the first thing that alerted her to trouble.

 

            She was on her feet in a flash, wiping her hands on her tunic and rushing around the curved, rough-hewn wooden walls of the hut, staring off in the direction the scream had come. Her sensitive ears picked up more screams, mingling with hoarse shouts, and she realised it was coming from the village. The sound of Alex’s heartbeat reached her ears, and a flurry of wind followed by a small thud announced her arrival as she landed beside Kara, a panicked look in her brown eyes. She’d been off herding the sheep today, and there were no sounds of bleating nearby, and Kara felt a flicker of annoyance. Thieves would think they had hit the jackpot if they found a flock wandering around unsupervised by a shepherd.

 

            “What do you think it is?” Kara murmured.

 

            With a grim look on her face, Alex turned and picked up an axe used for splitting logs that leant against a neat pile of firewood beside the door. Hefting it in her hand, she gave Kara a determined look. “I suppose we shall find out soon enough.”

 

            With a curt nod, Kara pushed off the hard packed earth, shooting off towards the village with Alex close behind. Her sister had always been a warrior, first and foremost, and all Kara had as they set themselves down on the outskirts of the first few wooden huts was the small dagger used to kill Elsa. Villagers rushed towards them as they strode through the cramped pathways between houses and shops, some of them covered in blood, their faces white with fear as they nearly tripped over their feet in their haste to escape.

 

            The first sign Kara realised what was happening was the sight of an unfamiliar man materialising in front of her. His clothes were crusted with salt and bleached by the sun, his teeth crooked and rotten, a straggly beard covering his chin and twin long daggers held in his hands. The edges were notched and blunted, but they were still covered in blood and Kara froze for a moment as the realisation that they were under attack settled in. Alex’s reflexes were quicker and the head of her axe was jammed into his neck the next moment, spraying Kara with a fine mist of vivid red blood. It was hot as it dotted her skin and she wanted to gag at the thick, coppery smell hanging in the air. Watching as Alex yanked her axe out with a wet sucking sound, letting the dead man collapse to the ground with his neck at a wrong angle, Kara blinked, and then followed after her sister.

 

            A few dead bodies were strewn throughout the main square of the town, but many more of the villagers were alive, their hands and feet in the process of being bound with thick lengths of hemp rope. Alex leapt into action, splitting a man’s chest open with one heavy swing, her Kryptonian strength forcing the axe to carve through bone like it was paper, and Kara set to work cutting the captives free, fending off some of the foreign invaders with warning slashes of her dagger whenever they strayed too close. It wasn’t like any of them could hurt Kara or Alex, with their impenetrable skin and lightening fast reflexes, and Alex was making quick work of anyone who built up the courage to come too close to her whirling axe. It was going well until they saw a familiar face.

 

            One second Kara was cutting the bonds of a young boy, and the next she was aware of someone watching her with interest. It took her a moment to realise she knew the figure standing a few metres away - her first thought had been why they didn’t attack, but as soon as she looked up, shading her eyes against the sun, she realised why.

 

            “Alexander?” she exclaimed, her eyes widening at the sight of the broad shouldered man silhouetted against the blue sky.

 

            “Morning Star,” he said, a note of pleasant surprise colouring his voice as she smiled at her. He was far from the polished and golden figure of Rao’s Justice that he had been back on Krypton, with his long golden hair and radiant engraved golden armour. Alex had been more familiar with him than Kara, on a personal level, but as one of the most favoured of the Kryptonians, Kara was known to all. She realised with a small start than Lena had once befriended him too - they even had the same colour green eyes, Kara realised as she numbly climbed to her feet. The same colour, but not the same eyes. Just another ghost from her past.

 

            This version of him had become rougher for his time on earth, Kara noticed as things seemed to quiet in the square. His head had been shaved bald, and she realised with some confusion that he had swirling celtic tattoos covering his head in blue ink. His square jaw held the prickle of stubble, and his eyes were crueler than she remembered - another difference to Lena’s doleful eyes - and there was something vaguely brutish about him simmering beneath his polite familiarity. He had changed much since falling to earth. She shuddered to think what his justice looked like now.

 

            “You look as radiant as the day we fell,” he said, giving her a slight bow with a hand to his heart, “it gladdens me to see another familiar face. And you, Alexandra.” He turned, giving a sweeping gesture towards Alex, who was holding a slumped figure on their feet with one hand, a look of shock on her face as she stared at the man they’d known a million miles and a few decades ago. “I had not thought to find you here.”

 

            “Or us you,” Kara tightly replied, “indeed, we had not thought that we would be attacked here.”

 

            He let out a humorous laugh, giving her a charming smile as he shrugged, “when fortune presents an opportunity, one must seize it. Although, I am starting to think that it was not my fortune that brought us here. Come. I have a gift for you.”

 

            Heedless of the confused looks his thugs were giving him as they conversed in Kryptonian, he beckoned for her to follow. Sharing a glance with Alex, Kara assumed it would be safer for everyone involved if they went with him. Stepping around the kneeling humans, and shooting venomous looks at the armed, hard looking men and women milling about, wiping their old weapons clean and looting the dead bodies and pillaging the abandoned houses, Kara followed after the man.

 

            He was clearly in charge, if not because his clothes were made of better quality and less faded but because she knew he would never settle to take commands from someone who wasn’t a God, and he walked towards a narrow shale path cutting down the side of the cliffs. Scrambling down it, trying not to slip, Kara saw the mast of a boat beached on the shoreline. The sail was a faded red, furled for the time being at a mast made of heavy oak wood. The hull was made of the same, and the rest was made of what looked to be sturdy pine, and as Kara made it onto the small shingle and sanded shores of the cove, she realised that they weren’t alone. Already, prisoners that had been taken in the initial invasion of the village were being hoisted up into the bowels of the ship, and Kara felt a twisting feeling of anger well up inside her.

 

            “You can’t just take them,” Kara hotly hurled at the broad shoulders walking before her. “Piracy has been outlawed, Alexander.”

 

            Turning around in a flash, he loomed over her, a dark look on his face. “Lex. My name is Lex. And there are always those outside of the law.”

 

            She reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder as he started to turn back around, and he pulled her close by the front of her tunic. Alex took a threatening step towards him and Kara held a hand out to stop her sister, stubbornly meeting his cold stare as she jerked her chin up. He laughed, letting go of her and smoothing out her tunic with a quick tug of the shoulder, straightening the coarse fabric out for her.

 

            “You should be careful not to insult me. It would not bode well.”

 

            “Do as you please to me, I care very little about what happens to me.”

 

            Slinging an arm around her shoulders, he propelled her through a group of his sailors and leant in closer to quietly replied as he looked straight ahead. Kara followed his gaze, listening to his oily voice in her ear. “It’s not you I warn of ill fortune striking.”

 

            And there she was again, sitting on one of the jagged rocks at the edge of the sand, her knees drawn up to her chest and her bare feet firmly planted against the stone to stop the water running up the beach from getting her wet. She was wearing brown loose trousers rolled up to the knees, a salt stained faded navy shirt with an open leather vest over the top, and a floppy wide-brimmed leather hat jammed down on her matted, dark hair. A pair of boots were sitting beside her on her perch and she held a small knife in one hand, absentmindedly working at something in her hands. She looked up at the approaching footsteps, a bright smile on her face as she looked at the brutish man, and Kara felt a yearning in her chest, wishing that the same recognition would light up her face when she looked to Kara. Instead, those green eyes landed on Kara and she cocked her head to the side in a mannerism that was so Lena that Kara choked on a quiet sob.

 

            It had been easy for her to pretend that she was over the heartbreak of losing Lena multiple times already. It had been easy to push aside her grief and avoid and ignore the dull ache inside her that had become so constant that she forgot what it felt like to not feel it anymore. Anyone could run from and suppress their feelings. But to stumble upon this latest version of Lena, to watch her smile and hop down off the rock, walking straight over to them - almost as if she was going to go straight into Kara’s arms - it was a fresh blow to Kara, making her feel like the wind had been knocked out of her. She realised that she would never be over her - any versions of her - and she would never reach the point where she would be able to see her and say that she felt nothing. Part of her heart would always be a little bit broken where it considered Lena.

 

            “This one looks strong, Captain,” she said, appraising Kara as she stopped in front of her. The little knife was still in her hand and she reached up to gently drag the tip of the knife across Kara’s cheekbone. Her movements were careful, as if she actually thought that she could hurt Kara if she added too much pressure. “A pretty lass too. She’ll fetch a good price.”

 

            “I won’t be selling this one,” Lex laughed, giving Kara’s shoulder a quick squeeze. “I think we’ll keep her. She’ll be good on the oars when the wind dies.”

 

            Laughing, Lena gave Kara an appraising look, and Kara felt her heart beating in her chest as a hot feeling creeped up her neck and she found herself blushing slightly. Reaching out with the little dagger, Lena looped it through the necklace and pulled it out from beneath the neck of Kara’s tunic, humming as she looked at the blue stone set into the silver. She was wearing a few crudely made iron necklaces herself, as well as a few bronze rings on her fingers, but Kara knew that they weren’t as precious as the silver of her own necklace. She was almost tempted to unclasp it and give it to her - after all, in some way it had been hers - but then Lena reached out for Kara’s right hand, sending a jolt running through her at the touch, and raised it. Kara still had the dagger clutched in her fist, and Lena eyed the wickedly sharp edge and fine make of it with a spark in her eyes. Taking the dagger off her, Lena gave her an impish smile, her cheeks dimpling slightly.

 

            “I’m going to keep this one, lass,” she said with a wink, “for my oysters. Speaking of, I’ve got a gift for you, Captain.” Turning around, she darted across the sandy shore, leaving furrowed footsteps in her wake, and picked up her boots, before carrying them over to Lex with a proud look on her face. Each boot was filled with brown and black little closed shells, and Kara realised she’d been trying to pry one open earlier. “Cockles. Might make a good soup. I’m getting sick of that bastard dried cod.”

 

            “We’ll be having a hot meal tonight. A good fire. Get the rest of the crew off their arses and get them to setting up camp. We’ll rest here a few days,” Lex said, giving Lena an affectionate look.

 

            With a quick nod, the young woman brushed part him, her boots cradled in her arms and Kara’s dagger clamped between her teeth, her lips stretched into a smile around the metal as she glanced once more at Kara. Lex had his burly arms crossed over his chest as he turned and watched her leave, with Kara staring after her with a dumbstruck look on her face. This wasn’t her usual Lena, with the shy smiles, gentle kindness and lithe elegance. But as Kara watched her go, she couldn’t help but draw parallels between the other versions of her. The smile was cheekier this time, but it held the same warmth, and as she listened to her taunt the other sailors, there was a fondness to her teasing, and her movements were elegant in a different way - they were precise and measured, with a hint of danger beneath them. This was still her Lena. Her Lena, just a little bit different, that was all. She was never the same.

 

            “Dead ringer for Lena isn’t she?” Lex said, leaning down to speak in a low voice, breaking Kara out of her thoughts. “It’s not her though. She came to me four years ago, said her name was Ailis. I met her at Cé Bhréannain four summers past, on the western side of Munster. She had a stolen loaf of bread and a knife in her boot. I found her hiding with the barrels of salted cod on my ship, half-starved and looking like a drowned rat as she hugged that bread like it was the only thing keeping her alive. I thought I was seeing a ghost. I thought I was seeing Lena - I knew she was younger than Lena looked, but I still thought - and then I offered her a place with my crew. She’s really something.”

 

            “Ailis,” Kara murmured. It was Celtic - that much she knew - and she liked it. It suited her.

 

            Lex laughed, raising his eyebrows slightly, “you’re welcome.”

 

            Flinching slightly, Kara jerked away from him, a scowl darkening her face as her cheeks coloured faintly. “I should be going now,” Kara icily replied, “so should you.”

 

            “I’d been hoping you’d come with me. You’re the first of us I’ve found,” he said.

 

            “I don’t think I will. I wish you good fortune finding the others though.”

 

            An iron hard grip encircled her bicep as Lex took hold of her, his charming demeanour gone, replaced with something cold and sinister. Kara didn’t like this. Alex didn’t either, her knuckles whitening as she tightened her grip on the axe, so tight it was a miracle she didn’t pulverise the wooden handle into mere splinters of oak. Tugging her arm out of his grip, Kara turned away from him and started walking across the beach, but soon found her way barred by an ugly man with a nose that had to have been thrice broken to have been that crooked. He gave her a yellowed smile, his dark eyes darting down to the necklace dangling down the front of her tunic. He reached out with a dirty hand, crusted fingernails scrabbling for the stone.

 

            “That’s a pretty thing,” he said, his accent thick and making her skin crawl. “Think I might take it for myself.”

 

            Before he could snap the fine chain, Kara punched him square across the face, caught up in a moment of panic at the thought of losing her necklace. The only trinket she had left from a dead woman. Her lack of restraint got the better of her though, and her heavy handed swing was just a little too forceful. The sailor crumpled to the sand without a sound, the left side of his face caved in and split open, red blood seeping from the man’s head like a cracked jug of wine. Freezing as she looked at what she’d done, Kara reached up to touch the necklace, reassuring herself of its safety on its silver chain, before a pair of bare feet stepped into her line of sight, dragging her gaze away from the dead man.

 

            Ailis gave her a crooked smile, twirling Kara’s dagger between nimble fingers, “well I reckon I got off easy then, did I? I suppose you’ll be wanting it back?”

 

            Numbly shaking her head, Kara blinked slowly, aware of the golden sand being stained a deeper colour by the blood, still a little dazed by the quickness of the death. She hadn’t meant to do it, and she realised it was her first kill without a cause. It left a bitter taste in her mouth as she forced herself to swallow the bile that rose, and not for the first time did she wonder what she’d do for Lena - even just the memory of her, apparently. Her hooks in Kara’s heart ran deep. With each new life, a new one was added, just as deep, and just as impossible to remove. Soon enough, Kara supposed that her heart would be filled with those barbs, each one a painful thorn that her heart scarred around, never quite able to pull the thorn out, and never quite able to fully heal without leaving a mark.

 

            “Send him out with the tide,,” Lex said, waving a dismissive hand to the dead man.

 

            A hulking sailor came forward and grabbed him by a foot - not before a few others had come forward, stripping him of anything valuable, which included his boots - before dragging him towards the white surf foaming on the shoreline. A smudge of rusty coloured blood streaked down the beach, filling the air with the coppery smell, and Kara was grateful for the briny ocean breeze that chased it away. She hadn’t moved an inch during that time, and it was Alex’s gentle hand shaking her out of it that pulled her away from the depression in the sand.

 

            “Come. We should get back to the sheep,” she murmured.

 

            They wouldn’t go back to their roundhouse though - Kara knew that. It would take them all of a few moments to gather what they needed. With the village in the midst of being looted for all things valuable, they’d be able to slip away with no one to question where they’d gone, or for them to be of any consequence to the pirates. If they were lucky they might even be able to take advantage of the chaos and steal a couple of horses on their way home, to help speed their fleeing. Kara knew that Ailis wouldn’t be staying long, not if she was one of Lex’s crew, who were clearly not from around the area, and by all rights, she shouldn’t have to run if she’d never see her again anyway, but the thought of her returning one day, on another raid led by Lex, set Kara’s teeth on edge. She’d rather not be here next time.

 

            “Like I said, you won’t be going anywhere,” Lex said.

 

            With a wave of his hand to some of his sailors, Lex took a slow step towards her, and Kara reached up to touch Alex’s hand, a reassurance that her sister was still there. It would be easy for them to handle Lex between the two of them, and Kara was fairly confident that as the prior Strength of Rao, Alex could overpower him herself, golden kryptonian sword in hand or not. A group of witnesses would be an inconvenience, but this age was riddled with stories about gods and mythical creatures - three impossibly strong and fast people from a different planet wouldn’t be too unbelievable, and they’d never see Kara or Alex again afterwards anyway. All these sailors would have was a wild story from their seafaring travels, and most would think them too deep into their cups to be telling the truth. They’d be another fanciful tale.

 

            That was her logical reasoning. The reality was like some exotic tale in its own right, because as Alex pulled her away, with Kara stealing what she hoped would be her last glimpse of this latest reincarnation of Lena, four sailors hauled a massive chest off the ship, the salt-stained wood banded by thick, rusted iron, and Kara felt as if a silence descended upon the beach. Whatever was in that chest didn’t bode well for her - she could feel it. She should’ve listened to that gut feeling.

 

            Taking advantage of their distraction, Lex darted forward, his moments fast for a human but no faster than what was impossible for one of them, and he wrenched Kara out of Alex’s grasp. Lifting her he drove her into the hard packed sand, one foot planted firmly on her chest as he braced himself for Alex’s attack. Not stupid enough to charge straight in, Alex hesitated, her eyes darting back and forth as she tried to take stock of her surroundings, sizing up her opponents and calculating her chances. Then she tossed her axe at Lex, hoping to distract him with it, and he stepped off Kara to move out of the axe’s trajectory, and had to duck to avoid Alex’s heavy handed blow. Scrambling to her feet, Kara grabbed his arm and yanked it behind him, one hand pushing his head down and forcing him to hunch over as she twisted his arm at an almost painful angle.

 

            And then she felt a weakness she’d never felt before settle into her bones. It felt as if all of the energy inside her had been leached away, leaving her sagging to her knees as she fought back a wave of sickness. Her mind was reeling at the shock of it, having spent the better half of a century being invulnerable. There should’ve been nothing that could weaken her like this, but here it was, and it was affecting Alex too, and Lex. Whatever it was, it was only affecting them. She couldn’t even put up more than the feeblest of fights as she resisted the sailors, her skin growing hot and itchy as they approached, until they were locking heavy manacles they hauled out of the open chest around Kara’s wrists, and it felt like the metal was searing into her skin. Gasping for air as she tried to choke back her moans of pain. She’d never felt pain before, and the feeling of her skin being burnt and the leaden weakness of her limbs was frighteningly foreign. Apparently Lex had meant it when he said they weren’t going anywhere.

 

            As Kara’s feet were clamped together too, leaving her trapped and bound, as weak as any human - perhaps weaker - she shuffled into a sitting position, legs stretched out and a fine layer of damp sand clinging to her skin and clothes as she scowled up at Lex. He was still on his feet, looking a little peaky but otherwise fine in the presence of this strange metal. Alex just looked pissed. She was bound just like Kara, but was struggling against the thick bands of metal, hissing in pain and hurling black curses at the sailors as she rattled her chains in vain.

 

            A faint smile of amusement curling his thin lips, almost resembling a sneer, Lex gave them both a triumphant look, squatting in front of them and reaching out to pull them closer by their handcuffs. His face contorted into a look of pain, but he held fast, smiling through his discomfort.

 

            “I found my place in this world quite quickly after landing, you see. It came to me not too soon after I arrived, making me sick and weak, just like you’re feeling now. Of course, it’s much worse touching it, but you’ll have to forgive me for being cautious. I named it kryptonite. It’s the only thing I’ve come across that can weaken me. Us. I think it was brought here with us. A punishment for our betrayal. I suppose it’s justice of a sort.”

 

            “Don’t do this,” Kara murmured.

 

            He gave her a helpless look, “I’m afraid I must. You have condemned us all to this land, Morning Star, and I will not let you out of my grasp until you undo whatever curse has been laid upon us. I will have my justice for my banishment. You will fix your mistakes.”

 

            Letting out a heaving sigh, Kara gave him a pleading look, “I do not know how to undo it. I have tried- Rao is all-powerful. He will not be merciful. Not even for his Evening Light.”

 

            Her eyes slid unbidden over to the watchful figure standing a small ways off, a curious look in her eyes as she listened to the strange language, and she looked even more curious about who Kara was, and why she was so important. Lex noticed Kara’s lapse in concentration and glanced over his shoulder, giving Ailis a sharp smile, before he turned back to Kara.

 

            “Perhaps you need some encouragement,” he said, the threat evident in his voice.

 

            Alex let out a harsh laugh, a stony look on her face as she stared evenly at Lex. “Do it. Harm the girl and see the true extent of our curse. We shall not be freed so easily.”

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            Both of them were silent. Kara’s was a melancholic quietness as she recalled the last few versions of Lena, and wallowed in the helplessness of the knowledge that she was doomed to lose Lena over and over again. Alex’s was a stubborn silence, the muscles in her jaw working as she refused to give Lex the answers he so desperately wanted. Neither of them looked at him, or at anyone else, fixing their eyes on the horizon as they watched the slow-rolling swell of the sea, a deep blue with the surprising mild cloudless day. His impatience got the better of him and he pushed himself to his feet, a dark look on his face as he wrestled with the bitter feeling of his curiosity not being satisfied. He barked orders at his crew and stalked off to his ship, clambering over the side with little effort and busying himself far away from the effects of his so called kryptonite.

 

            Kara swallowed the lump in her throat, feeling miserable and uncomfortable as the manacles sucked the strength right out of her and left angry red welts encircling her wrists, and she ground her teeth together in frustration, looking up to take in the scene around her. With a start, she blinked in surprise, finding herself being watched by a pair of intrigued green eyes, while a knife was twirled between idle fingers. Feeling herself blush slightly, Kara ducked her head back down and tried to ignore the delighted laughter coming from the weather-worn sailor.

 

            They were left alone after that, the two women stretched out on the damp sand as they leant back on their elbows, trying to seek comfort in the warmth of the sun shining overhead while they felt like they could pass out, they were that weak. All around them, the sailors worked efficiently, some of them bringing all manner of wooden things taken from the village, from planks torn from the walls of buildings to the handles of axes and neatly split logs waiting to burn in the hearth of the main hall, to be used for their own bonfire that night instead. Others took anything of value they could find as they tore apart buildings, taking anything from the smallest scrap of metal to the people they found cowering in hidden corners of their houses. Some of them were bruised and bloodied when they were dragged to the beach and tied up alongside the rest, separate to Kara and Lena, but most were just pale and frightened, shaking as they huddled up together and prayed that they wouldn’t be killed by the pirates.

 

            Kara occasionally glanced up and watched Ailis, who seemed to do whatever she pleased. While barrels of pale ale and salted cod were hauled off the ship, and all of their loot was packed into chests and carefully stowed away, Ailis ran up and down the beach with some of the younger sailors, some of them still children, with her only a few years older. She laughed loudly and freely, collecting sandy handfuls of cockles, using her shirt as a basket, and taking them over to an empty, scarred wooden barrel. She tried to ignore her - she tried so hard - but Kara couldn’t help but look up everytime she heard that laugh, her chest feeling a little lighter each time.

 

            By the time the sun was starting to sink low on the horizon, bringing the tide in with it, the air had cooled considerably and there was a hollowness growing in Kara’s stomach where hunger started to gnaw at her. The pirates were all crowding around a massive fire that flickered with a warm orange glow, jostling each other for horns of ale and bowls of the cockle soup that Ailis had mentioned. Alex had barely said a word to her the whole time, both of them feeling too drained to so much as move, and after hours of idleness, Kara was starting growing accustomed to the raucous laughter, the bracing sea air as a stiff wind blew into the cove, and the sound of the seagulls crying out as they hunted for scraps. They hadn’t been paid any attention since Lex had left them alone, and Kara was beginning to think that they were going to be ignored entirely.

 

            And then as the sun hit the horizon, a ball of orange lighting the sky on fire just before it faded to inky darkness, a shadow fell across Kara’s lap, interrupting her preoccupation with the constant ebbing and flowing of the ride, which was just now starting to hit the bottom of Kara’s leather boots. Looking up, Kara stared up at the dark silhouette shadowed against the dusky sky, and then Ailis was stepping over her extended legs and sinking into a crouch in the gap between her and Alex. She had her arms full and she squinted at both women, a suspicious look on her face. Kara noticed that she had a new ring on her left thumb, right above the iron woven celtic band.

 

            “You don’t look much like sisters,” she said, her accent think and less refined than her usual polished way of talking that Kara was used to. This was the first time she’d met a reincarnation of her that wasn’t a Lady or a princess, and she was quite startled at the difference, but despite herself, found that she loved it. It was almost refreshing.

 

            “Same father,” Alex curtly replied, a wry smile on her lips as she spared Ailis a quick glance.

 

            Accepting the explanation with a careless shrug, she unloaded her armful of bowls and cups, an easy smile spreading across her face as she handed Kara a rough hewn wooden bowl and a stale crust of bread. “Captain said to make sure you’re fed.”

 

            Cupping her hands around the warm bowl, Kara stared at her, noticing the smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. She was far from being tanned, but Ailis had a weathered look from years spent on the sea, sitting beneath the sun and soaking up its warmth. Kara couldn’t stop the tender feeling of affection for the girl welling up inside her. “Thank you.”

 

            Nodding, Ailis tipped the floppy brim of her hat back as if trying to get a better look of her, a puzzled look on her face as her brow furrowed slightly. “Have we met before, lass? I’ve got the strangest feeling.”

 

            Stiffening at her words, Kara turned to stone where she sat, her shoulders taut and brimming with tension as she hardened herself against the other woman. “No.”

 

            Yet she could see it in Ailis’ eyes that she knew she’d experienced that feeling before, she didn’t know when, but she knew she had. It had taken a few glances and curious stares, but there was that flicker of familiarity that Kara had yearned for. She knew it was selfish of her to want it, and now that she had it, she wished desperately that Ailis didn’t have an inkling about their past. Still, it wasn’t enough to bring back the memories of her forgotten lifetimes, and Kara was glad for it, because she wasn’t ready to lose her all over again so soon. It would only make it more painful for her in the long run, and it would inevitably end badly when her life was cut too short by some tragic death caused by their curse, but for now, Kara just wanted to hear her laugh again. To watch her smile and know that there had been fleeting moments where she had loved a carefree girl brimming with happiness.

 

---

 

            They were put onboard with the rest of the captives, with the strong, able-bodied men and women being crowded into the dank belly of the ship, sitting on narrow wooden benches and pulling at the oars that slipped out of the side and into the heaving sea. Kara and Alex were seated side by side, both of them offering silent support as they fell into the rhythm of rowing alongside the other sweaty bodies, the smell of too many people crowded together strong in the close air. And then they were out on the open sea and the wind picked up, filling the sail as they lurched with the rocking of the ship, and then there was nothing to do but sit silently in the hold, huddled up with strangers. They were fed stale bread with seaweed baked into it and given mouthfuls of water that still held a slight salty tang to it. Occasionally they docked at a port or harbour, or just ran aground on a deserted beach, and some of the prisoners were taken above, with few of them returning, and sometimes new prisoners joined the motley collection down below.

 

            Neither of them could even begin to guess how long they were kept down there before Lex ordered them brought up one day. It was a cool day, with a slight bite to the wind as they emerged from the stuffy confines of the hold, and Kara gratefully inhaled, the salty fresh air a sweet reprieve from the stale air down below. The sky was overcast and the rolling waves surrounding them from all angles was a steely grey. She assumed it had been weeks since she’d seen the sun. Long enough for the last of summer to fade away at any rate.

 

            Heavy footfalls across the scrubbed wooden deck made her turn around, watching as Lex strode towards them with a slight smile on his lips. It didn’t inspire warmth, and his eyes were flat and cold as always. “It’s kind of you to join me,” he said with a roguish smile, finding humour in his own joke, “come, have a drink. Perhaps something to eat. You’re both looking a bit frail.”

 

            “It’s not the lack of food,” Alex bitingly replied, rattling her chains for emphasis.

 

            “Ah, well, you understand of course. I can’t have you flying off on me. Don’t worry, it’s not permanently damaging in this form. It’s worse in its natural form,” he told them, as if it was supposed to be reassuring.

 

            A few sailors watched the exchange, and Kara silently accepted some dried cod tossed her way, sharing it with Alex as they both stood in the middle of the deck. Ropes were being coiled, nets of freshly caught fish were flopping around with a wet smacking sound while a few sailors set about killing and scaling them for drying, others were playing dice or sharpening weapons with the slow rasping sound of stone on metal. With her dulled senses, Kara couldn’t find the one person she was hoping to catch a glimpse of.

 

            “What do you want?” Alex finally asked around a mouthful of fish.

 

            “Nothing,” he shrugged, “relax. Enjoy yourselves. I have ale and food. Sean over there is good at dice, maybe you can beat him. We’ll be docking sometime next week.”

 

            Hesitating slightly, waiting for the joke, Kara shifted where she stood, glancing around as she waited for someone to do something. Instead, Lex just turned away from them, returning to his business, and no one else paid them any attention. Looking at Alex, Kara waited for her sister’s judgement on the matter, and with a slight shrug, Alex walked over to a barrel of ale, taking an empty cup perched on top and filling it up. “Guess I’ll see about those dice.”

 

            With a small laugh of surprise, Kara shook her head and leant back against the thick wooden mast, realising that there was nothing else to be done. She couldn’t escape - the chains made sure she couldn’t fly and she wasn’t sure if she would be strong enough to swim miles to shore. She didn’t even know which way the nearest landmass was . The best she could hope for now was that Lex would leave them to their own devices, so long as they behaved themselves and didn’t try and escape. Until they could find a way to escape. Perhaps it would be at their next stop next week. Surely she could avoid Ailis for that long.

 

            Apparently not, because not a moment later did she hear a laugh that was as familiar to her as her own. She looked around for it, confused without her heightened senses, and frowned as she came up empty. A playful whistle from above her made Kara scramble away from the mast, shading her eyes as she craned her neck and looked up. She hadn’t seen her before, but sitting behind the sail, which ballooned outwards with the wind, the other woman sat along the yard, her legs gently swinging back and forth as she perched on the long piece of wood. With another laugh at Kara’s skittish surprise, she clamped the half-eaten apple she was eating between her teeth and swung off it, her fingertips clinging to the wood and her feet planted firmly against the mast. With practiced ease, she dropped down to the deck, landing in front of Kara in a low crouch, before fluidly rising to her feet.

 

            Reaching up she took the apple out of her mouth, biting a piece off, and smiled as she leant against the mast with casual contentment. Arching an eyebrow at Kara, she reached into a pouch hanging from her belt and procured another green apple, slightly bruised and battered, but still fresh, and held it out. “Apple, lass?”

 

            With a wary look on her face, Kara reached out and took it from her, noticing that her knuckles were split and bruised and her fingernails were half-moon crescents of dried blood. “Thank you.”

 

            She bit into it and found herself ravenous all of sudden, the apple a treat after weeks of nothing but stale bread, and she eyed Ailis with a wariness that she had never reserved for Lena’s past lives, unsure of what to make of the young woman. Careless to Kara’s cautious glances, Ailis stared back unabashed, her jade eyes full of curiosity once more as she took in Kara’s grimy appearance. Neither of them spoke while they ate their apples, Ailis finishing hers first and tossing the core over the side of the boat, before taking a tiny knife out of a pocket and setting about cleaning the dried blood out from under her fingernails.

 

            Once she’d finished - crunching the core and all in her unwillingness to waste a single bite - Kara wiped her fingers on her dirty tunic, tentatively clearing her throat as she peeked up at the other woman. “How old are you?”

 

            With a quick laugh and a flash of white teeth, Ailis vaguely gestured with her knife, “couldn’t rightly tell you. I reckon it’s been thirteen winters since me mam died. I remember I was about eight years old then. I’m not very good at my numbers.”

 

            With a gentle smile, Kara nodded. Twenty-one seemed about right. She still had the soft carefree wildness of youth about her, but there was the undeniable hardness of someone who had been thrust into a hard life and was used to it. She supposed that it came from years alone, raising herself with no family to care for her. Her blithe childishness came from her desire to cling to the childhood taken away from her too early. Kara had the strong urge to protect her, although the rough wildness of the girl reminded her that she didn’t need protecting. It didn’t stop Kara’s heart from softening slightly though as her resolve wavered once more.

 

---

 

            A week passed by and her and Alex were sent back beneath the deck when they docked, with Lex leaving strict instructions for their security once more. Feeling bitter at the fact that her opportunity to escape had been ripped away from her, Kara sulked in sullen silence as she listened to the ragged breathing of the other rowers, their feal palpable in the air around her. She was still brooding when she was brought up for fresh air again, taking in the sight of the pirates lugging new loot onboard and the new bloodstains on their worn clothing. The sight of Ailis clambering aboard made her bitterness recede slightly though, and even the sharp jab of Alex’s elbow in her ribs as a silent warning wasn’t enough for Kara to keep the look of relief off her face.

 

            It had only been a week, but she’d been unable to escape the young woman. It was like she’d acquired a new shadow. She’d tried to shake her off, of course, but the ship was only so big, and she didn’t want to retreat down below, which meant that she had resigned herself to the other girl’s attention. The questions were endless - she seemed to think Kara the most knowledgeable person to ever exist, asking her about anything she could think of and listening to the answers with an eager look on her face. She also liked to whistle - old sailing tunes, celtic songs, her own creations - and Kara found it hard to be irritated, especially when Ailis would flash her a wide smile before carrying on. And despite herself, Kara would watch her even when she wasn’t being pestered by her questions, learning that she could drink half of the sailors under the table, was an excellent cheat at dice and a brilliant strategist at a board game called Brandubh, and was somewhat decent at carving and whittling pieces of wood into little figures.

 

            The weeks passed by like that, with Kara and Alex being brought above deck when they were out at sea, letting the sun turn their skin a golden colour and bleaching Kara’s hair, while their hair became tangled and permanently crusted with salt from the spray of the sea. They were only ever taken down below deck when they reached ports and harbours, and as moons passed by, they lost the manacles around their ankles and were soon allowed to stay on deck when their ship docked. They learnt a lot too, having never spent so long on a ship before. With a deep mistrust of strangers, it took longer for the rest of the crew to warm to them, but slowly some of the younger ones did, teaching them how to coil the thickly woven hemp ropes, how they collected rainwater in empty barrels as the weather turned - although Kara would hardly say that the region they sailed in was ever a warm place - and how they trawled for fish and dried them out to keep through the long voyages at sea.

 

            It wasn’t a bad life. Kara would even say she grew to love it. There was a sense of peacefulness when they bobbed along with the sea on a still day, basking in the warmth as they lazed about, and a thrilling rush when they were battered by wild storms, riding up the side of massive waves as they were soaked through by the water, their hair and clothes plastered to them as they tried to stop the ship from taking on water. It gave her a feeling of adventure that she’d never felt before. But then they’d stop off somewhere, and the crew would butcher half a town or sell off some of the prisoners they’d captured in return for a barrel of apples or a cask of thick mead, and it would leave a bitter taste in her mouth. Every time she would fret about Ailis. She couldn’t stop herself.

 

            Before she knew it, they’d been prisoners on the ship for a year, surviving through the bitter cold of the winter, until their days were filled with the balminess of summer. They saw whales and dolphins, travelled to lush green lands and made camp for the a few days around a massive fire, and Kara found herself relishing the stolen moments with Ailis. She had forgotten her promise to herself in her assurity that it would be okay this time. They would sit together on the beach, or sit up on the yard, feeling the wind buffet them as it filled the sail they were silhouetted against, and Ailis would tell her how to navigate by the stars, and Kara would tell her what she knew about shepherding, farming, herblore and court politics. Her many lives had left her with stories and information that fascinated the younger woman, and in return, she told Kara about the legends and stories she’d grown up with in her small village. She painted a pretty picture of her time spent on the peninsula where Lex had picked her up, living in a clochán - the round, dry-stone huts common in the south-west - fishing and swimming in the nearby rivers and lakes, until a bout of the plague swept through and took out most of the village. She’d made for the coast then and gotten swept up in piracy. Kara couldn’t find it within herself to fault her for it. In spite of herself, she loved her for it.

 

            She loved her again. It was hard not to. Even Alex couldn’t do much more than let out a soft sigh when Kara admitted it to her one night when they were both wrapped up in their blankets, the hushed sound of the waves an accompaniment to the sound of snoring sailors as they stared up at the dark star-studded sky, talking in quiet voices. It was almost to be expected by that point. She had loved her four other times by then, and each time she resisted it, it made no difference. Even then she felt a knot of fear in her stomach, a lump forming in her throat as she choked out a quiet apology to her sister. Alex never blamed her for a second. She pitied her, and that was almost worse.

 

---

 

            “Did I ever tell you what my name means?” Ailis asked, a smile playing on her lips as she looked up at the full moon one late summer evening as they rocked along on the Irish Sea. “It means light of the sun. I’ve never cared much for the sun though, I’ve always preferred the stars.”

 

            Kara choked on her surprise at the meaning. She herself had always been the golden sunlight of Krypton, the Morning Star, with her shining blonde curls and golden skin. And then there had been Lena, the Evening Light, her polar opposite in every way, who was like a drop of night in contrast to Kara’s brilliant warmth. Yet she had always been Kara’s light, even if it hadn’t been the sunny warmth that she exhibited, and the fact that Ailis claimed to be the light of the sun was like a punch in the gut to Kara. Lena’s latest reincarnation was no less the light to Kara’s sun that her original counterpart had been, and it hurt to be reminded of the curse once more. It almost felt like an intentionally cruel joke.

 

            “Here. I’d like you to have this,” Kara murmured, unclasping the necklace and reaching out for the other woman’s hand in a spur of the moment decision. She pressed it into her palm, holding her hand between her her own for a few moments, allowing herself the small comfort of that at least.

 

            “Who gave it to you?” she asked in a quiet voice, knowing that it was something that Kara treasured, above anything except the bracelet - Ailis was still unaware of the sentimental value of the dagger stuck through her belt - and she lightly traced a finger over the teal stone set into the silver. The metal had started to tarnish slightly, and she tried in vain to polish it with her worn shirt.

 

            Kara gave her a tender look, her heart aching just a little. “Someone I loved very much.”

 

            “Then I can’t accept it.”

 

            “I want you to,” Kara murmured, pushing the hand holding it back out to her away. It had been Lena’s, and in some ways it still was, and Kara wanted to pass it on to someone she loved, just like Lena had with her. If she couldn’t tell her of her true feelings, then she could at least show it with this small gesture. Although, she had the sneaking suspicion that Ailis knew how she felt. Kara thought she might feel that way too.

 

            Ailis fastened the necklace around her neck, the blue stone disappearing beneath the neck of her shirt, and she gave Kara a lopsided smile, her expression softening slightly. “I have nothing to give to you in return.”

 

            “You’re alive,” Kara whispered, a look of pain in her blue eyes, “that’s enough.”

 

---

 

            And it was enough for the longest time. They were together for nearly five years, sailing south of Britannia into the mediterranean waters of foreign lands, and far up north where the ship was crusted with ice and they had to navigate treacherous floes of ice as they shivered. Eventually Kara and Alex were trusted to stay onboard the ship without their kryptonite manacles, feeling invigorated and lively again without the draining weakness of the strange rock.

 

            One night, Lex revealed that he had more of it, and that was how he’d gotten his tattoos. Any normal pricking of the skin wouldn’t so much as scratch their impenetrable skin, and so he’d taken a splinter of the green rock and had one of his sailors tattoo him with that as the needle. He said it was like hammering hot nails into his head, burning everywhere it touched and filling him with nausea. Still, the marks stayed - only for a short while, Kara learned, before they had to be re-inked - and despite his description of the pain, she asked him for a sliver of it. The next time they came ashore, she found herself stretched out on the sand, her dirty brown shirt abandoned and her golden hair brushed aside. Ailis watched with curiosity as Alex used the indigo ink provided to needle tiny runes into Kara’s skin. They were incomprehensible to all but three of them, although, the celts didn’t use written letters anyway, so the Kryptonian runes were as strange to them as their own writing. Laying on the sand while the sun warmed her bare back, she bit her tongue hard enough to fill her mouth with the coppery taste of blood as Alex slowly wrote out the characters in neat lines. Each row was different, and there were only four of them. She prayed that there was never a fifth. From top to bottom, they read Lena, Morgana, Elsa and Lena. One for each piece of her heart that she’d lost. She prayed that Ailis would never make the list, but she prayed in vain as their fifth year together neared.

 

            The first clue should’ve been the mild fever. Her forehead was warm to the touch, as were her hands, and she was always found dozing in a patch of shade, the wide brim of her hat protecting her face as she lay with her legs stretched out across the deck. Ailis was the only one who could get away with laziness, and the one to disturb her from one of her naps usually found themselves with a nick on their neck, beading with a drop of blood as the scowling young woman cursed them out with language so black that it was even surprising to the crass sailors. When Kara was sent to shake her awake one sluggish afternoon, to tell her they would be docking in at the next port, just for a few stolen moments of solid ground beneath their feet, the woman barely moved. No knife leapt into her hand, she just kept dozing, arms folded over her chest and ankles crossed. Shaking her a little rougher as she frowned, Kara roused her from her sleep, and eyelids flew open, immediately alert.

 

            Stretching as she shook off sleep, Ailis gave her a wide smile, “what do you think you’re doing, creeping up on a girl like that? You could’ve gave me a right fright, lass.”

 

            With a small smile, Kara wrinkled her nose slightly, “Captain’s orders. We’re docking in Leinster.”

 

            “Fuck me, I hate the Fothairt,” Ailis cursed, struggling to her feet and stumbling slightly. “Which port?”

 

            “Chill Mhantáin.”

 

            “Ah, well at least they’re insignificant folk. Nothing’ll be passing through those mountains, that’s for sure. The Uí Enechglaiss spent long enough retreating over them to let the Yellow Plague wipe them out when the Uí Néill couldn’t. We’ll be safe enough there for a few days.”

 

            It was true enough. They’d last stopped off at the harbour at Luimneach on the west coast of the island, part ways up the Sionna, before tales of another outbreak of the plague further up the river, on the western half of the kingdom of Breifne. They hadn’t risked staying in port any longer than it had taken for them to stock up on dried fish and ale, and they had travelled south again, hoping to outrace the sickness. She wasn’t to know that the rats that had managed to sneak onto their ship had managed to survive the burning of the ships that had sailed for Mohill, where the latest outbreak had started. Kara wasn’t to know that they were carrying infected fleas as they scurried through the bowels of the ship, clawing over the bare feet of the chained men and women rowing the boat, spreading the disease as they went. That had been a few days ago.

 

            She’d been sluggish for a few days now but it hadn’t seemed abnormal - they were all a little lazy with the sweltering summer sun beating down on them with no shade - and the same could be said of her high fever. Spending all day everyday out in the warmth, even with the cool spray of the ocean misting on their skin, left them all feeling hot and sweaty, and for all except the kryptonians, heaving thick lengths of damp rope and heavy barrels of their stock made for aching muscles the next day. If Ailis had been anyone else, Kara might’ve noticed sooner.

 

            As it was, none of them noticed their ship was riddled with the disease until one of the oarsmen in the bowels of the ship came down with it. They were just pulling into port when the first panicked shouts came from down below. The man they pulled up onto deck was sagging between two of the sailors, his skin covered in a sheen of sweat and his fingertips already blackening. Everyone instinctively backed away from him, and Kara looked straight to Ailis, darting over to her and grabbing her hands, staring down at the pink tips of her fingers. Letting out a sigh of relief, she gave her hands a gentle squeeze and tugged her further away from people.

 

            Watching as Lex crossed the deck, heading straight towards the man, Kara closed her eyes for a moment, knowing that the poor slave was a dead man. A gurgling sound, followed by a loud splash, indicated the man’s fate, and she opened her eyes to the bright sunlight, blinking back black spots as she let her eyes adjust. Nobody moved an inch. Some faces were white with fear, and Kara was surprised that people she’d seen laugh in the most gruesome scenarios were so frightened at catching the disease. If one of them had caught it, any of them could.

 

            “Nobody goes down there,” Lex quietly ordered, and no one had to ask where he meant.

 

            He would let all of his prisoners die in the sweltering depths of the ship, delirious and nauseous, their skin mottling with black spots and pus, until the disease had run its course. Kara had no doubt about it that it would be left up to her and Alex to rid the ship of the dead bodies. They were immune to it, like everything else human, and even with their cuffs on, they were still kryptonian. It wouldn’t be pretty.

 

            “What about docking?” Ailis asked.

 

            “We stick to our plan,” Lex said, a grim look on his face, “we’ll stay an extra few days. Hopefully Chill Mhantáin is still free from it and we can wait until this all blows over.”

 

            “You cannot risk infecting more people,” Alex hotly told him, her chains rattling as she stepped towards him. “You will condemn hundreds more to death. Perhaps thousands.”

 

            Lex shrugged, no emotion in his stony eyes, “so be it.”

 

            There was no other argument about it, they just sailed onwards, following the eastern coast northwards. It was hours later, as dusk was settling in, that they reached Chill Mhantáin and steered the ship into the port. They were unwelcome guests though, and with rumours of the latest return of the plague running rampant, the villagers were suspicious of them. The moment they stepped off the ship, spears and swords were aimed at them, trying to force them back on board. Lex had merely laughed, reached for the nearest spear and yanked it out of the man’s grasp, snapping the thick length of wood in half with ease and tossing it at the sandy ground at the man’s feet. It didn’t mean they didn’t resist still, and Kara squeezed her eyes closed as she listened to the screams and shouts as the pirates started butchering anyone who got in their way, until the air was thick with the hot smell of blood, and dark rivulets of black blood raced down to meet the surf as the world was plunged into shadowy twilight. Even the stars refused to watch such bloodshed, hiding behind a thin blanket of wispy clouds. Feeling sick - although that could’ve just been the cuffs - Kara opened her eyes again at the warm hand on her arm.

 

            Ailis gave her a hesitant smile as she hovered in front of her, and Kara could almost believe the smattering of dark spots across her face were just more of her freckles, but she knew they were flecks of blood, still wet to the touch. “Come on, lass, let’s get you something to drink.”

 

            Nodding, Kara swallowed the words on the tip of her tongue. She knew that this life wasn’t what she would’ve picked for Ailis, but it had been the one that saved her, and Kara knew it wasn’t her place to criticise her for finding a way to survive when all others had abandoned her. It made her sad to so easily kill though, and Kara couldn’t help but think of Morgana. Both of them had endured so much pain at young ages, and both of them thought that a sword in hand was the best way to solve things. If they had more time, Kara would’ve tried to change her mind, but she knew that she was on borrowed time, and it could be snatched from her at any time. Ailis was twenty-five now - Kara had been keeping track, although she doubted the other woman had even a clue about her own age - which meant that if Kara went off the previous lives of her, any day now she could be torn away from her. Even if she disagreed with the lifestyle of the young pirate, wasn’t it better to just enjoy her time with her? If she’d been able to leave, she would’ve left a long time ago and spared herself the pain of falling in love again, but she hadn’t been able to, and she knew now that it was too late. Kara would see this through, to whatever end.

 

            The chains connecting the manacles around her wrists quietly clanged in the sudden eerie silence of the evening, the sounds of screams dying, leaving just the sound of the sea and the creaking of the ship as the hull settled into the furrow it had made in the sand. Quietly tramping up the beach, the pirates found the nearest tavern and quickly overtook the place, chasing away any villagers with the sight of the hulking travel-worn sailors and the threat of the plague. The long wooden building was full of smoke from the square pit in the middle, a full boar cooking over the flames as its flesh slowly roasted and dripped grease onto the flames with a small hiss. The dank smell of the place didn’t help improve Kara’s mood, with the dampness in the air and the chill in the corner where she lingered with Alex, watching as everyone helped themselves to some beer. They were the only two who weren’t free sailors, too valuable to be left aboard the ship with no supervision, but not a part of the crew.

 

            Still, Ailis wandered over not too long later, three wooden cups in her hands, and handed two off to the women with a bright smile. “Guess we’ll be having a nice few days by a good fire, with plenty of beer and something not dried. So cheers to that.”

 

            Kara gave her an unimpressed look, raising the cup with her chained hands and taking a sip of the thick beer. It was strong and filled her with warmth, even though it did nothing to actually affect her, and even though she wasn’t particularly fond of the taste. It gave her something to do though, and it wasn’t like she would snub a kind gesture off Ailis, even if she wasn’t exactly pleased with her. “And what about when someone starts to show symptoms of the plague? And infects the whole village?”

 

            “You worry too much,” Ailis said, giving her an amused smile, “that man probably spread it around down below, but we’ll be fine, I reckon. Ain’t no one been down there except the captain, you and your sister. I don’t see you catching nothing.”

 

            Pressing her lips together in a thin line, Kara thought about how she couldn’t catch it, but how that didn’t mean no one else could. If she’d known it had been brewing in the bowels of the ship, waiting to make itself known in the black spots of blood pooling beneath the skin, she would’ve stayed far away from Ailis. She would’ve flown the other woman off the ship if it had meant isolating her from any sailors who could infect her. If only she’d had the foresight to do just that.

 

            When it became clear that Kara wasn’t in much of a mood to talk, Ailis huffed and stalked back off to the crew, leaving Kara alone with Alex. Neither of them were paid much attention for the rest of the night, except for one of the younger boys bringing them a few slices of boar, a sharp cheese and a few heels of bread to tide them over until the morning. Sitting on the hard-packed earthen floor, they slowly ate their meal, enjoying the taste of the roasted red meat, as opposed to the dried, salted cod they were used to - Ailis had been right that it was definitely not a bad thing to have something new - and listening to the sailors grow more drunk and unruly with every song they sang. Despite her irritation, she was never able to tear her eyes away from the other woman for longer than a few minutes.

 

            They slept on the floor of the tavern that night, growing sleepier in the smoky warmth of the room as the night grew late, until they’d fallen asleep against the rough side of the panelled wall. Dawn was just starting to break when Kara woke the next morning, her arms leaden with weakness from the kryptonite manacles, and her breath misting before her in the chill of the room. A weak light seeped in through cracks in the walls and through the chimney hole in the thatched roof, making everything look grey and drawn, and she slowly stretched her stiff joints and yawned widely. No one else was awake. It would’ve been a good chance to run, but she knew they wouldn’t get very far, not with the cuffs on, and she wanted to see to it that Ailis was protected.

 

            A part of her still didn’t trust Lex not to take advantage of the fact that she looked like Lena - he still didn’t know the truth of the matter - and she was hesitant to leave her with a man that was brimming with cruelty beneath the surface of his easy smiles. He only trusted Kara and Alex so much, giving them an inch of freedom on board his ship, but he didn’t trust them enough to let them go. He still held a tiny bit of hope that one day they’d share what they were hiding. Five years had not been enough to lull them into a false sense of security and loosen their tongues.

 

            Instead, Kara stayed in the corner, waiting for the rest of the tavern’s occupants to rouse themselves from sleep. When they did, they did so with grumbling and cursing, and the hall was soon filled with smoke as they rekindled the smouldering embers of the fire that had burnt through the night, the smell of flames licking at wood making a few of the others stir. Soon, Kara found herself cooking rashers of bacon over the fire, while a large iron pot had been filled with oats found behind the bar, making a thick, warm porridge. It was a welcome difference to their usual breakfast, and she hurriedly ate hers and stole some for Alex, who was still shaking away sleep in the corner.

 

            It was a slow day, with nothing to do but amuse themselves inside the stuffy tavern, or venture out into the mild day to terrorise the villagers. Kara played a few rounds of Brandubh, losing them all to Ailis, who gave her a triumphant smile and teased her each time, and otherwise sat with a mug of barely touched beer as she watched Ailis whittle away at a piece of wood taken from the stack waiting to be tossed onto the fire. Hours slipped by in that fashion, and she was left to her troubled thoughts as she brooded, only to be shaken out of them by a gentle nudge on her arm.

 

            “Here, lass,” Ailis said, giving her a warm smile as she held out the piece of wood. It was small, barely the length of her little finger, and had been carved with waves, celtic knots and a distinctively manly face. “Manannan. For good luck on the seas.”

 

            “What do I need luck for?” Kara asked, a bemused look on her face as she thumbed the edges of the carved figure.

 

            With a smile, the other woman shrugged, fiddling with her knife and dusting curls of wood shavings off her lap. Her hat was by her feet and she ran a hand through her knotty hair, a slight sheen of sweat on her forehead, highlighted by the orange warmth of the fire. There were dark circles under her eyes too, giving them a slightly sunken look, and it might’ve been Kara imagining things in the gloominess of the room, but it looked like her hand was shaking.

 

            “Who can ever have enough luck, eh?”

 

            Returning her smile, Kara nodded and murmured her thanks, safely tucking the wooden figure of the sea god into her pouch at her waist. They fell back into companionable silence after that, until Ailis asked her to tell her a story, and Kara was quick to oblige, mindful of Alex’s watchful gaze on them as she smoked a pipe with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. There was an almost suspicious look to her hard stare, but Kara ignored it, telling herself that Alex was just worried about Kara getting too attached, even though they were past that by this point. She couldn’t blame Alex for fretting over her though, because she was the one who always had to pick up the pieces of Kara’s broken, guilt-stricken heart when another one of her lovers died. It was taxing for both of them.

 

            It was all fine for the rest of the day, and the heavy drinking started back up once dusk fell, emptying barrel after barrel of different beers and ales, drinking themselves into a stupor. The room was filled with a smoky haze and Ailis couldn’t stop coughing as she sat by the fireside, laughing at a joke one of the grizzled old men was telling. Kara watched her with a faint smile on her lips, her heart feeling light and her eyes shining with her adoration.

 

            And then Alex appeared at her elbow, a serious look on her face as she stared at the other woman as well. “She’s sick.”

 

            Head whipping around to look down at the pitiful look on her sister’s face, Kara blanched slightly, feeling a flicker of irritation well up inside at the words. “What do you speak of? She is fine, Alexandra.”

 

            “Do not be offended so quickly,” Alex chastised her as Kara bristled slightly, using her full name in her annoyance. “You know I do not say it to wound you. I say it because I believe it to be true. Look. Look at her and tell me you think that she is well.”

 

            She looked back to Ailis, studying her closely in the firelight. The sheen of sweat was still there, and she was laughing despite the fact that her face was drawn. Thinking about how tired she’d been over the past few days, and her gift to Kara before, as if she would suddenly not be around to see her anymore, and wanted her to carry her luck with her, as if she knew , and Kara felt her stomach drop.

 

            “No,” Kara whispered, her eyes prickling with tears. “She has not been in contact with anyone below. It could not have spread to her.”

 

            “She has touched you,” Alex gently reminded her. “You might not have it but … I fear we may still carry it. Our touch might carry death within it for those who we come in contact with. We may had cursed the whole crew with our carelessness.”

 

            “No. I refuse to believe it.”

 

            “The timing is right, Kara. She is nearing her twenty-sixth year if I were to judge. We both know there is no end to this curse.”

 

            Whirling around, Kara stormed over to the door, roughly yanking it open and slipping out into the night. It was cloudy again, the stars veiled and a cold wind drifting in from the sea. No one stirred within the town - they had all abandoned their homes at the invasion and the threat of disease - and Kara closed her eyes, breathing in the briny smell of the sea as she listened to the muted sounds of laughter from inside. It grew louder for a moment as the door was opened, before it faded at the dull thud of it shutting again. Kara didn’t have to ask who it was, and she let out a heavy sigh as footsteps stopped beside her.

 

            “What is it?” Ailis asked, her hands clasped behind her back as she looked up at Kara with concern on her face. A little apprehension too, as if she was afraid of something.

 

            “Have you come down with the sickness?” Kara abruptly asked her, finding no way to hesitantly ask her. “Show me your hands. Do you have the black spots?”

 

            A smile split her face, and Ailis let out a laugh that was too loud in the stillness of the night, her eyes shining with a film of tears. “Aye, you’re right there, lass. I hadn’t wanted to tell you,” she said, her voice wavering slightly as she held her hands out and uncurled her fingers.

 

            Her skin was alabaster in the dimness of the latening hour, but her fingertips were darkened with the shadowy marks of the plague. Hands shaking slightly, she thumbed the tips of her fingers, her dark hair spilling around her face as she ducked her head down.

 

            “I had a mind to say my goodbye’s tonight. Thought it best to have it over with before it gets ugly.”

 

            “What?” Kara choked out, furiously blinking back hot tears as fear took hold.

 

            “Thought I’d let the sea take me,” Ailis murmured, a helpless smile on her face as she looked up at Kara and shrugged. Reaching out for her, Kara barely grazed the shoulder of the other woman’s shirt, before Ailis jerked backwards, her face visibly paling even in the dark at the thought of Kara touching her. “No. Don’t.”

 

            “I can’t- it doesn’t matter,” Kara said, the words coming out slightly strangled as she fought back a sob, reaching out for her again. This time the dark haired woman didn’t fight her as Kara wrapped her in a careful hug.

 

            And then she fell apart, her body wracked with silent sobs as she shook, burying her face into the neck of the shorter woman. She smelled of salt and sand and the sea. She smelled of freedom and wildness and Kara’s heart broke at the thought of losing her. But she was sick, and there was nothing she could do to save her, and all she could do was help ease the pain before it progressed too far. It hurt her to think of Ailis suffering, to think of the large boils sprouting up on her thighs, before bursting with puss while those fingers capable of knotting ropes and carving wood blackened and died. She didn’t want to watch her descend into madness before stiffening, growing cold as the ghost of her laughter faded from those lips that were so quick to smile. Making up her mind as she fell apart, Kara hugged her tighter, before pulling back and taking her hands in her own, running her fingers across the black marks and thumbing the bands of rings on each finger.

 

            “I can help,” she choked out, “let me help. I can- I can make it quick. You won’t have t-to suffer. Please. I love you. Let me help.”

 

            “Now,” Ailis said, giving her a slow nod, an unsteady smile on her lips. “In the sea.”

 

            Nodding, Kara gave her hands a squeeze, before she laced their fingers together and they wandered down to the shore, the water lapping up over their feet as she stepped into the white surf. Wading in up to their knees, they shivered as the tide ebbed and flowed around them, and Ailis looked serene as she stood amongst everything she’d ever known. She’d kicked her boots off on the shore, and her bare feet burrowed into the sand while the sea she’d sailed on for years soaked into her clothes and skin. It was how she wanted to go.

 

            “Look, lass, the stars,” Ailis murmured, looking up at the sky as the wisp of cloud shifted and revealed a patch of the sky. The dark area seemed to hold a thousand stars within it, and Ailis softly smiled, a peaceful look crossing her face as she looked up at the familiar sight she'd spent years navigating by, before she looked down at Kara. “Maybe one day I’ll find my way back to you by them.”

 

            “I’ll tell them about you,” Kara said, smiling through her tears, which spilled over and traced their way down her cheeks.

 

            Reaching up, Ailis brushed them away with her gentle fingers, before leaning forward to let their foreheads touch. Letting out a breathless sob, Kara closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat as she readied herself. It seemed even worse this time, because Ailis was choosing this. She was going to die anyway, but she trusted Kara to kill her quicker, not even knowing the way she was going to do it. Her heart was racing in her chest though, Kara could feel it through the thin shirt, but she didn’t look or sound frightened. A feeling of lightness washed over Kara then, filling her with strength and vigour, and her eyes flew open to look down at her bare wrists. The manacles were in Ailis’ hands, and she let them tumble into the water, the chains slithering with a clinking sound, and she gave Kara a loving smile.

 

            “To love you has been the best adventure of my life,” she whispered, her eyes shining in the dim light emitted by the stars as she pressed something into Kara’s hand. “I love you now and forever, Kara.”

 

            She didn’t even wait for Kara to say anything before she crushed her lips against hers, and Kara choked on her surprise, swallowing a sob as she listened to Ailis’ small gasp of surprise. And then she was burning up again, turning to ash in Kara’s hands, and within moments, Kara was standing in the water, the surface dusted with the cinders of the woman she loved, her hands empty and her heart broken. The ashes slowly drifted away with the eddying sea, until all remnants of her were gone, except for the memories. Those would haunt Kara for centuries. She fell to her knees in the water, shaking as she cried, loud, gut-wrenching sobs that she couldn’t hide, until her eyes were raw from the salt and she was soaked through up to her shoulders.

 

            It was hours before she waded out of the sea, her hair plastered to her face as water streamed off her, and she numbly uncurled her stiff fingers to stare down at the blue stone encased with silver, hanging on the fine chain which had used to hang around Ailis’ neck. Returning it to its place around her own neck, she dragged herself back to the tavern and all but pulled the door off its hinges as she opened it. All eyes turned to her as she stumbled inside, dripping wet and hollow-eyed and Alex was on her feet in a heartbeat, rushing over to her with concern and realisation on her face, wrapping her in a hug as she murmured reassuring things to her. Kara was brimming with grief, her emotions heightened with the return of her strength and she all but tore the kryptonite cuffs off her sister, just in time to turn and punch Lex across the face, full force and unhindered, sending him crashing into the firepit. He’d have some questions to answer for the way he batted out the smoldering flames on his shirt, picking himself up out of the blisteringly hot flames without paying them any mind, but Kara didn’t wait around to find out the answers he gave. She just grabbed Alex’s hand and whisked her away.

 

            On deck of Lex’s ship, which was already well on its way out to sea under the expert guidance of its new owners, leaving its crew and captain behind them, Kara sobbed as she lay flat on her stomach, shirtless and in pain, while her sister used the kryptonite she’d stolen from Lex’s chest left onboard to carefully needle a new tattoo beneath the old ones. Right there, at the bottom of the list, a new name was carved in Kryptonian runes; Ailis.

Chapter Text

            Two weeks later, Kara was wearing a deep red dress, her blonde hair curled and her matching red lips turned down slightly at the corners when she saw the figure cutting a path through the crowd. She was there on official CatCo business, writing a piece about Edge Global and their new real estate plans - the whole purpose of the party was to celebrate the new plans - and James had accompanied her to get some photos for the article. The fact that Lena might’ve been there hadn’t even crossed her mind, not until she’d been surprised by the arrival of a familiar heart beat a few moments ago. Trying not to be too obvious, Kara held a champagne flute in one hand, her notepad and pen tucked under her arm as she pretended not to notice Lena was there.

 

            Of course she knew though. It had taken her a split second to take in the elegant chignon, the expensive diamonds and the dark plum colour of her fitted dress - off the shoulders and exposing the gentle curves of her collarbones - and Kara felt her mouth go dry. Her evening was about to become a whole lot harder with Lena around, because for some inexplicable reason, Kara could never focus with her around. It had been that way for centuries. A part of herself thought that it was because she wanted to spend all of her time drinking up as much of Lena as she could, while she was still there, but then there was the hopeless romantic part of her heart - albeit a small part, because she’d learnt that there wasn’t much romance in the love of her life dying repeatedly, just the hopeless part - that whispered that it was because she was already in love with her. Yet Kara felt stupid thinking that she was in love with this Lena. She had pushed this Lena away enough times already, giving her the cold shoulder and her stiff words. Any chance of love between them had been snuffed out at the first spark, and Kara had every intention of keeping it that way. Still, the moment she heard a distinctly English accent cut through the din of the party, Kara wished for nothing more than to be able to whisk Lena away. Instead, she settled for eavesdropping.

 

            “Lena! I was hoping you were going to show,” Jack warmly greeted her. Kara snuck a quick peek and watched him kiss her on the cheek, while Lena gave him a smile.

 

            “Mm, well you know how well Morgan and I get along,” Lena laughed, an exasperated look on her face.

 

            From her tone and expression, Kara took it to mean that they didn’t get along very well, and she was even more irritated at Lena for showing up. Why would she have bothered accepting his invitation if she didn’t even like him? It wasn’t like she didn’t already have her own connections with countless businessmen, and she could easily have opted to not attend this one. Of all the nights for her to attend a party, of course it would’ve had to be the one that Kara was reporting on. It irked her even more that Jack was there too, standing a little too close for Kara's liking, and she would've written it off as plain jealousy if she didn't know that Jack had ulterior motives for his forceful attempts at charming and wooing Lena. 

 

            She didn’t even realise she was frowning until Lena cast her eyes around the room and locked eyes with Kara, oblivious to the fact that Jack was asking her what she’d liked to drink, waving over a waiter to fetch them for them. The brooding look on Kara’s face seemed to soften, although her stare was no less intense as she looked back at Lena. She was utterly breathtaking, and Kara melted a little at the sight of her, picking out a hopeful spark in her green eyes. For a few moments, Lena gave her a puzzled look, as if she was trying to decode the expression on Kara’s face, and the rest of the party faded to nothing,

 

            And then they were interrupted by the staticky sound of a microphone, and the smooth voice of the man standing on the small stage. Morgan Edge. Kara knew him on sight, in his expensively tailored suit, a smug smile on his face and a glass of champagne in his hand. He started giving a speech, and Kara juggled her glass and her notepad, scribbling down snatches of quotes while she tried to ignore the burning feeling of Lena’s eyes trained on her. It wasn’t until Morgan Edge directly called her out that Kara felt Lena’s attention break, and Kara in turn stared at Lena.

 

            “Okay, that’s enough from me,” he said, his smile seeming too forced as he played himself off as charming, although his shrewd eyes said otherwise. “I’ll turn you over to the band we’ve got here tonight, unless there’s any takers for karaoke? Miss Luthor? I hear you favour the Backstreet Boys. Maybe you’d like to entertain us all.”

 

            He got a good laugh out of the audience, and Kara watched as Lena stiffened slightly, a frosty smile barely curling her lips as she looked up at him. “I heard it was you who favoured the Backstreet Boys, Edge,” Lena called back, raising her glass slightly in a toast.

 

            Everyone laughed again and Edge’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he nodded and raised his glass to her, a charming smile on his face as he played along with her jibe. Kara bit back a smile, feeling just a little bit proud of Lena’s snark, even though she could sense that Lena was a little embarrassed at having been shoved into the spotlight Edge had purposely trained on her.

 

            “She’s got a point,” Edge shrugged, “how about we just leave it to the boys?”

 

            He walked off the stage a moment later and the sound of the band starting up filled the spacious room they were standing in. Slipping into the crowd, before she got too wrapped up in Lena, Kara lost herself in the crowd. She had a job to do, and she jumped straight into her list of questions, tracking down notable guests and other important people, asking them questions and writing down quotes while James took photos and Lena mingled with people she competed against in her line of work. It was hard not to keep track of her, and Kara found it almost overwhelming in the packed room, with the familiar heartbeat pounding non-stop, following her wherever she went. Being so close, yet being unable to broach the gaping distance between them, was so painful it almost physically hurt.

 

            Slipping away from the party, Kara made her way out into the foyer, the air cooling as she left the cramped room with its packed bodies talking loudly behind her, until the voices were a gentler hum to her sensitive ears and she didn’t feel quite so claustrophobic. A part of her wanted to go back in there and wander through the room, catching glimpses of Lena as she faked conversation with people she didn’t know and pretended to enjoy the champagne that did nothing to affect her at all. Just a few more minutes, Kara told herself. Surely she could give herself that much before she left, hopefully seeing Lena for the last time. Every time was the last time though, and there was a small part of Kara that knew that it was futile to think that she was in control of the situation. Even when their two worlds shouldn’t have collided, they were at the same party, and it was naive of her to even think that she wouldn’t be drawn to her again. It was almost like a physical string tied them, and Kara felt that pull, knowing that her willpower wouldn’t be strong enough to resist it for much longer. This Lena had her hooks in Kara’s heart just as deeply as the rest of them had.

 

            At the sound of familiar heavy footsteps, Kara looked up to watch as James walked towards her, unbuttoning his suit jacket and holding his precious camera in hand. A flicker of irritation ran through her at the sight of him, with his calm temperament and relaxed stroll, ever the gentle giant. “Where did you disappear to?” Kara asked, her tone a little sharper than she intended. “You were supposed to stay with me the whole time.”

 

            Waving the camera in the air slightly, James gave her a warm smile, “I was getting some photos of people arriving out front.”

 

            “You left me alone with her,” Kara said in a hushed voice, her words accusatory as she gave him a concerned look - not concern for him, but for Lena. “You know how bad things could’ve gotten.”

 

            “It won’t happen again,” James said, sobering up slightly at the look of panic in Kara’s eyes. They’d tried for centuries to beat this curse, and all of them who had fallen together knew the predicament that Kara was in. Long ago they had agreed to step between her and Lena, in the hopes that one day she wouldn’t die. “I promise-”

 

            At that moment, Kara heard Lena’s heartbeat approaching, just outside the door of the room where the gala was, but not close enough for her to be in sight, and she cut James off with her hurried words. “It’s fine. Please, just … promise me you’ll be there to help. I can’t do this without you.”

 

            She was talking about all of the Kryptonian’s in general, and he knew it, and she knew that they were all in this together, even if they weren’t all on her side. A few of them were indifferent to Kara’s curse, and just wanted to go about their lives on earth, unaffected by the endless cycle of life and death. Others were bitter they hadn’t been allowed to fall with Sam and join her in her plans of domination and freedom. Then there were those who had stuck by Kara’s side for years, helping her through her grief and trying to keep her away from Lena to help protect her. Those few were the only things that had held the threads of her together over the centuries, with their love and dedication and gentle reassurances that she would break the curse one day. All of them wanted to go home or find love. They were envious but loyal in their devotion to helping her break her curse, even if Kara was still hanging in the balance between picking Rao or Reign’s side in the hidden war. She was a deciding figure, and her indecisiveness made her powerful, and that power made her and Lena a target for more than one group of people. Kara needed all the help she could get to keep her safe.

 

            “Of course. You know I’ll always be by your side,” James softly reassured her, reaching out to give her arm a gentle squeeze, his dark eyes warm as he gave her a sympathetic look.

 

            Nodding, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat, giving him a wavering smile. She heard Lena’s heartbeat retreating back into the packed room and assumed that she’d gotten all the fresh air she needed. Closing her eyes for a brief moment as she considered making her escape, Kara drew in a deep breath. One more glance of her couldn’t hurt. Not now, at any rate. “I think I’ll finish my list of questions and then get out of here,” Kara murmured, and James gave her a quick nod, withdrawing his hand and leaving her alone in the foyer.

 

            Taking a few moments to collect herself, relishing the feeling of the cool air on her hot skin, Kara took a deep breath and drained her glass of champagne, carrying it back into the room with her. Depositing the flute on an empty waiter’s tray passing in front of her, she melded back into the fold of the party, slowly moving through the crowd as she nervously twirled her pen in her hand.

 

            She heard her coming before she saw her, that familiar heartbeat accompanying the clicking of her heels as she pushed her way through the crowd, and as Kara froze, she realised that it was probably a bad idea. Yet, her feet wouldn’t move. She wanted Lena to bump into her. She wanted to feign surprise and indifference while she drank up the few minutes of icy conversation, knowing that she could never allow herself more, but she could allow herself that much. It was a small consolation, a balm to ease her grief as the weight of all her lost loves pressed down on her, until she was barely able to carry the burden of her guilt. And then she was there, stepping past an elderly man, her eyes scanning the crowd as if she was looking for someone, until her eyes landed on Kara and she froze.

 

            There was only a few feet between them, closer than they had been in weeks, since they had huddled beneath the wooden board that had collapsed with the scaffolding, and Kara could hear her heart hammering in her chest, while Lena’s did the same. Neither of them spoke for a few moments, and Lena gave her an apprehensive look, as if she was wondering if she should speak or whether Kara would turn on her heel and walk off in a second. When it became clear that Kara was as rooted to the spot as she was, Lena gently cleared her throat, her grip tightening on the stem of her fresh glass of champagne, the pale golden liquid sparkling in the dim light of the room.

 

            “Hi,” Lena said in a small voice.

 

            “Hi,” Kara murmured in reply, at a loss of what else to say.

 

            Hesitating slightly, Lena gestured towards the notepad she was carrying, a tentative look on her face, “did you get what you came for?”

 

            With a small smile, Kara nodded, clutching her notes safely in her hands. “I did.”

 

            Pursing her lips slightly, Lena seemed to be chewing on her next words as she looked down, aimlessly brushing at stray wisps of hair, before she looked up at Kara, giving her a conflicted look. A gentle crease appeared between her eyebrows and she hesitated for a moment, biting her bottom lip. It was a familiar habit to Kara, and she had to stop herself from reaching out to touch her bottom lip and get Lena’s teeth to release it. “Listen, I-,” Lena started, letting out a heavy sigh as she struggled with her words, “I know you don’t like me, for … whatever reason, but you, uh, you left pretty quickly the other week and I didn’t get a chance to thank you. So … thank you. Thank you for saving me.”

 

            “Well you’ve always ...”

 

            “I’ve always what?”

 

            “I mean … you look like you’re the kind of person who’s always getting themselves into trouble,” Kara quickly covered her blunder, feeling a spasm of panic at the quickness at which Lena had latched onto her mistake, a glint in her eyes.

 

            Lena scoffed, a peeved look on her face as she scowled at Kara, looking like a petulant child. “That’s not what you were going to say. You said I’ve always …”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, Kara busied herself with putting her notepad and pen into the little purse she was carrying, before giving Lena a thin, almost condescending smile. “Yes, I didn’t mean you you. I meant that you rich lot are always getting yourselves into trouble, thinking that you can just buy your way out of it.”

 

            “Right,” Lena snorted, her laugh devoid of any amusement.

 

            Her green eyes were glistening, and for a moment, Kara thought she was going to start crying, and the thought of it broke her heart. “Oh Lena,” she softly sighed, her voice a whisper as she gave her a pitying look. She had been through this before, a few times, and it never made it any easier.

 

            There was a yearning look on Lena’s face at the sound of Kara saying her name, almost as if she wanted her to say it again, and Kara quickly looked away, realising that it had been a mistake to linger. She should’ve never come back into the room, and she desperately needed James to come and whisk her away before she did something stupid. Something like kiss her.

 

            Before she could even take a step, a warm hand landed on her arm, stopping her in her tracks, followed by the panicked exclamation from Lena. “Wait!”

 

            Turning slightly, Kara gave her an expectant look, her heart racing at the burning feeling of Lena’s hand on her arm. She hesitated slightly, looking so young in her uncertainty, her green eyes wide and her teeth worrying at her bottom lip again. “Do you- do you ever get the feeling …” she trailed off as she looked up into Kara’s blue eyes, an inkling of something brewing in her eyes, as if she was on the verge of puzzling the pieces together. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d broken through whatever curse had been laid upon them, only to be consumed by the raging inferno the moment she realised she knew Kara. With a huff of frustration, she gave Kara a wary look. “I could swear we’ve met before. Before you came to my office. Does that sound crazy?”

 

            There was a hopeful look on her face, and Kara stamped down her yearning to reach out and cup her face, to trace her prominent cheekbones with the pads of her thumb. “Crazy? I thought your brother was the crazy one in your family,” Kara flippantly replied, brushing her off with a cold laugh.

 

            Wincing, Lena stiffened as she gave Kara a haughty look. “Can you honestly say you have no idea what I’m talking about?” At Kara’s noncommittal shrug, Lena scoffed. “I don’t believe you. Look me in the eye and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me we’d never met before you came to interview me.”

 

            Stepping towards her, Kara placed her hands on Lena’s shoulders, ducking her head down slightly as she loomed over the shorter woman, so close that their noses were almost touching. Close enough that it would be the simple act of leaning down just a tiny but further to brush her lips against Lena’s to kiss her. As it was, she could feel Lena’s hot breath fanning across her jaw, and the smell of her perfume was dizzyingly intoxicating. Yet somehow, despite her inner turmoil, Kara was able to look her in the eye, taking in the blues and greens and slight yellows - all the colours that made an indistinct green from far away, but held so many more shades this close up - and she took a deep breath, enunciating slowly and clearly, so that Lena couldn’t misunderstand the words, even if they were a lie. Although, Kara liked to think that she was telling the truth, because she hadn’t met this Lena before that day in her office. Still, it was with some bitterness that she crushed Lena’s hopes.

 

            “You have never in your life seen me before I came to interview you.”

Chapter Text

            A few days later, Kara was at CatCo, discussing an article with James, lounging back in her chair with her notepad and other information scattered across her tidy desk, twirling a pencil between her fingers as she vented about the difficulty she was having putting the pieces of the story together. James was perched on the edge of her desk, his burly arms folded across his chest as he gave Kara a mild look of amusement, his kind eyes creasing slightly at the corners as he listened to her complain. Winn was at his desk near hers, leaning back at an almost alarming rate as he joined the conversation, mid-way through some of his I.T. work. The three of them had been working together since they’d all shown up in National City, but their friendship ran deeper than that, and even though they skirted around their centuries of history together, focusing on the trivial things like a difficult news article, Kara knew that they understood where her frustration really laid.

 

            She was irritated at herself too, knowing that she was spiralling down into the place of self-pity that she always ended up in with each reincarnation of Lena, but she couldn’t help it. There was always the dark part of her mind reminding her of how this would all play out, and the feeling of failure at the fact that she couldn’t help but fall in love with her. She’d tried it, countless times, and Lena had asked her not to, but she failed every time. It was a miracle that her friends had stayed by her side for this long, seeing her through each of her losses, although none of them had stayed as long as Alex had. Kara was grateful for all of them. She wasn’t sure she’d told them that lately, but she knew she’d be even more grateful soon. In a year or so, Lena would be turning twenty-six. She’d never made it to twenty-six before, and she never would. Kara would do her best to stay away from her, but the slight hope of saving her this time was slipping through her fingers, because this was how it always went. The stolen moments that Kara allowed herself were always a mistake, until Lena died again, and Kara was left heartbroken once more. If she wasn’t so blinded by her foolish optimism, she would’ve given up on undoing the curse a long time ago. As long as there was even the faintest hope that one day she’d be able to be with Lena, Kara would never give up on them. Still, she’d have to withdraw soon. She needed to give herself as much time as possible to figure out the curse, because the longer she stayed away, the longer she’d be able to keep Lena alive until her twenty-sixth birthday.

 

            Apparently Lena wasn’t so intent on staying away from her though, and Kara bolted to her feet in an almost too quick movement at the sound of a familiar heartbeat walking out of the elevator. At her sudden blur of movement, Winn overbalanced in his chair and crashed to the floor, and James muffled a laugh, while Kara went as white as a sheet. She was listening to the steady click of heels on the tiled floor, ignoring James’ laughter and Winn’s complaining, as Lena’s heartbeat grew closer and she came into sight, standing in the empty space amongst the desks and the employees milling about. Pausing, she looked at Winn, sprawled on the floor next to her overturned chair, James silently shaking with laughter on the edge of Kara’s desk, and Kara standing rigidly behind her desk, looking pale and angry.

 

            “What’re you doing here?” Kara numbly asked, feeling her heart pounding in her chest, almost deafeningly loud to her own ears.

 

            James slithered off the desk and walked over to Winn, pulling him to his feet and dusting him off, before picking up his chair. Both of them were silent, but Kara knew they were paying very close attention to the confrontation happening in the middle of the office. She rounded her desk and walked a ways away, listening to Lena follow after her with a determined sound in her brisk pace. They weren’t afforded much privacy in the office, but the desks they stood near were vacant, and at least Kara could pretend that her friends weren’t eavesdropping, although they surely were.

 

            Opening her mouth to answer, Lena paused as she looked at James and Winn, both of them standing with their arms folded across their chests, staring at them with disapproving looks on their faces. They would definitely be lecturing Kara later on, because they couldn’t exactly interrupt in the middle of work without making a scene, and they only ever made a scene when things became dangerously close to turning dangerous, which it hadn’t yet.

 

            “I think your boyfriend’s getting jealous,” Lena said, forgetting whatever she’d been about to say.

 

            Kara fought back a smile as she stared down at Lena. “Which one?”

 

            “I didn’t realise both of them were your boyfriend’s. How very modern.”

 

            “Neither of them is my boyfriend,” Kara curtly replied, “I don’t have a boyfriend. I meant which one did you think was my boyfriend?”

 

            Lena opened and closed her mouth a few times, and Kara detected a flicker of relief in her green eyes, quietly thinking that the jealousy was quite cute. She’d clearly been under the impression that Kara and James were dating, having seen them together on a few occasions, and Kara bit her lip to stop herself from smiling as she reached out and took Lena by the elbow.

 

            “It’s a little stuffy in here. How about we get some air?” she asked, avoiding mentioning that the real reason was that she wanted some privacy.

 

            It wouldn’t be much, with their sensitive hearing that could span miles, but hopefully it would afford them a little bit of alone time without the watchful eyes making Kara feel guilty for her own stupidity. It was easy for the others to judge her and her repeated mistake of getting close to and falling in love with each version of Lena, but none of them had ever been in love. They didn’t know how it felt to see the person who owned a piece of her heart and have to fight the urge to reach out and tenderly stroke her face, or hold her in her arms, just because they were unfortunate enough to be cursed. It was unfair, and Kara knew that she shouldn’t give in, as much as Alex insisted that she should get it over and done with, but she couldn’t help but steal what time she could.

 

            “Where?” Lena warily asked.

 

            “Someplace where we won’t be watched,” Kara said, turning to squint at James and Winn, giving them a pointed look, which set them scrambling about, pretending to work.

 

            She led them down a hallway, listening to Lena’s steady heartbeat following after her as they made their way through the top floor of the building in tense silence. Finding the door leading to the stairwell spiralling through the entire building, she tugged it open and stepped onto the small landing, choosing the set of stairs leading up. Lena didn’t speak as she followed after her, both of them making their way up to the rooftop. Opening the door and propping it open with a heavy brick, Kara stepped out into the blustery wind at the top of the skyscraper, her blonde hair being tossed around her face as the wind howled past her. Lena followed her out, somewhat more tentatively, a nervous look on her face as she was buffeted by a strong gust of wind.

 

            Walking further out, Kara glanced back over her shoulder at Lena, her expression softening at the wan pallor of Lena’s face, realising that she was afraid. If only she remembered how they’d flown on Krypton. She gave her a smile, gesturing to the city sprawled out before them, the tops of skyscrapers peeking above the edge of the building, the bright sunlight reflecting off a thousand windows. “What do you think?”

 

            Kara felt more relaxed away from prying eyes, although no doubt they were still listening, and she saw Lena relax slightly as Kara’s usual aloofness dissipated. “It’s amazing.”

 

            “Come on,” Kara said, jerking her head towards the edge of the building. She confidently walked across the empty rooftop, standing as close to the edge as it was safe to get, knowing that if she fell, she’d be safe, but she’d have to expose herself to be so.

 

            Following along at a much more nervous pace, gingerly creeping after her, Lena grimaced, and Kara watched her with interest. She didn’t know Kara, yet she blindly trusted that she wouldn’t hurt her on top of the massive rooftop, and was all too willing to stand near the lip of the roof, the wind wildly tossing her dark hair about her as the muted sounds of the city were almost non-existent that high up. Yet as Lena looked up at her, standing so close that Kara felt like she could almost feel the warmth of her across the few inches separating them, she saw the conflicting emotions swirling in her eyes. Giving her a kind smile, Kara tilted her head to the side.

 

            “What?”

 

            “Nothing,” Lena muttered.

 

            Reaching out to gently touch her arm, Kara gave her a reassuring look, “Lena.”

 

            “I can’t get it out of my head,” Lena softly sighed, closing her eyes as she shook her head. She couldn’t even look Kara in the eye as she spoke, or face her as she turned to look out at the city, and Kara slowly removed her hand. “The feeling that I know you. That I’ve known you for a while.”

 

            Kara was silent for a few moments, the feeling of regret creeping up on her as she realised that it had been a mistake to think that she’d be okay to talk alone with Lena, with no harm in it. “Haven’t we been through this already?” she asked, letting out a harsh laugh that made Lena wince slightly, her face spasming with hurt, and Kara hated herself for being so flippant and dismissive. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she pressed on, knowing that she had to stop this now, before it got worse and Lena remembered, because the second she did, she’d turn to ash. “Look, I’m flattered that you feel like we have this special connection, really, I am. But you don’t have to make up some forgotten history between us to get me to pay attention to you.”

 

            It was a cruel thing to say, and Lena flushed bright red with anger and embarrassment as her eyelids snapped open to reveal blazing green eyes. Gritting her teeth, Lena gave her a stubborn look, knowing that Kara was holding something back. It wasn’t too hard to tell, because while Kara’s words said one thing, the sadness in her eyes and the yearning in her heart said another thing entirely.

 

            “Why would I make this up?” Lena snapped.

 

            “You tell me,” Kara mumbled, shrugging slightly, before pausing and letting out a weary sigh, “no, actually, don’t. It won’t do any good. Look, I should’ve just told you the truth when I started to see the signs.” She saw a spark of interest in Lena’s eyes, a hopeful look softening the hard lines of her face as she looked up at Kara. “I got burned by a girl, someone I really loved, not too long ago. It’s- it’s nothing personal, and I don’t want to ignore you … but I also don’t want to get your hopes up. I’m not looking to get involved with anyone.”

 

            The look of hurt that flashed across Lena’s face hit her like a punch to the stomach, and Kara hated herself for doing it. She’d tried a few times already, but Lena kept coming back, and Kara needed there to be a wall between them. It didn’t have to be too high, because she was hoping to undo the curse, and she wanted to be able to fix things after that, but for now, she needed to keep Lena at arm's length. Just within reach, but not close enough to be any danger to her. It looked like Lena got the message loud and clear this time, because she looked peeved and humiliated as she took a step away from Kara.

 

            “You’re still not telling me the truth,” Lena said, her voice low and even with the effort to stop it from trembling, “I don’t care what excuses you make.”

 

            Silent for a few moments, Kara let out a quick laugh and gave her a sad smile. “Of course there’s things I’m not telling you. I barely even know you, and you don’t know me at all. I’m not sure why you think I owe you anything.”

 

            Bristling slightly, Lena gave her a haughty look, “you don’t. And I don’t owe you anything. I just came by to ask you to get your friend to back off.”

 

            Faltering slightly, Kara’s eyebrows rose in surprise, “my friend? Who?”

 

            “That detective that’s snooping around. Maggie Sawyer? She stopped by L-Corp this morning. Whatever games you’re all playing, leave me out of it,” Lena firmly said, a bit of iciness slipping into her words.

 

            Without another word, she stalked back across the rooftop, leaving Kara standing at the edge of the building alone, desperately wanting to call her back and apologise, but not wanting to make things worse. She owed her an apology, but she couldn’t give that to her. It was better for Lena to walk away on her own terms, but Kara hated to see it happen.

 

---

 

            That night, Kara found herself at a warehouse down by the docks, the chainlink fence rattling as she hauled herself over it, the barbed wire snagging at her clothes but leaving no marks on her impenetrable skin, and she landed cat-like on the asphalt. The dark building loomed before her, smashed windows boarded over with plywood, and broken glass littering the ground, reflecting the pale moonlight and the lingering light as the sun sank low in the harbour. The sounds of the city were faded this far out in the industrial sector, and she could hear a bunch of teenagers messing around a mile away, kicking glass bottles around and drinking alcohol by the sounds of their slurred laughter. Paying them no heed, Kara quickly crossed the courtyard and walked up to a large roller door, tutting at the sight of a dent, and unlock the three heavy duty padlocks on it.

 

            The door was too heavy for a human to lift it, but it rolled up with the shuddering sound of metal as she lifted it one handed, pausing to push the dent out with nimble fingers, before she ducked inside, pulling the door back down. She’d bought the warehouse as soon as she’d come to National City, spending a few weeks transferring centuries worth of belongings to the damp place and making special renovations. Walking through the large space, the high ceiling far above her and her slow footsteps bouncing off the walls, she listened to the sound of rats scurrying about, and breathed in the dusty smell of the cold building. Anyone would think it was abandoned from the outside, with the grimy bricks, busted windows and graffiti, but in the middle of it, a large room had been built. Its walls were five feet of solid stone and steel, with three different airlock doors, keeping the room perfectly pressurised and at a stable temperature to preserve the items inside. No one except Kara would be able to get into it, even if troublesome kids tried breaking in for fun. She’d taken every precaution possible.

 

            Punching in the number on the keypad embedded in the wall, she heard the loud click of heavy locks retreating, and the door opened outwards. Pulling it closed behind her, she stood in the miniscule space between the next door, pressing her hand to a scanner on the wall and watching the next door shoot upwards the moment the scanner glowed green. The next door was a large vaulted one with a combination lock, too heavy for anyone to turn it unless they were superhuman or alien, and Kara turned it this way and that, until the clinking sound of gears turning reached her ears, followed by the booming sound of the tumblers moving. The door opened beneath her touch with a gentle creak, and she stepped into a blindingly bright room.

 

            It was leached of all colour, with its white cement walls, ceiling and floor, the fluorescent lights overhead glaringly intense as the large room was lit up. It was a little bit on the cool side in the room, and Kara breathed in the stale air as she looked around. There were dozens of storage shelves neatly lined up in rows, and Kara walked to the back corner of the room, her footsteps muted in the almost suffocatingly quietness of the room, with its thick walls and stagnant air. She reached the very furthest shelf and floated a few feet off the ground to hover eye level with the occupant of the first shelf. Held inside a glass box, on a little pedestal, sat a silver and gold bracelet. Reaching out, Kara laid her hand against the glass and let out a shuddering breath.

 

            Dropping back down to the concrete floor, she looked at the item on the one below it. A wickedly sharp dagger similarly encased in a glass box. Below that, a twisted lump of tarnished silver sat. It was the original setting of the blue stone that hung in a new silver setting on a fine chain around Kara’s neck, and she briefly touched it as she looked at the lump of old metal. It had started to fall apart centuries ago, and Kara had found a way to preserve it in tree resin, and had since had it reset in new silver over and over again. It was all she had of that Lena. Reaching the next shelf, she found herself engulfed in a memory as she stared at a rusted arrow head, and felt her eyes burn with tears.

 

---

 

Burgundy - 591 AD

 

            They’d turned over the ship to the slaves they freed below deck, having had enough of sailing for a while, with the heavy reminder of Ailis hanging over them. Kara had numbly helped the other prisoners infected with the plague, and had sent a dozen dead bodies overboard with muttered prayers, until she couldn’t take it anymore. In the middle of the night, her and Alex had taken flight from the scarred wooden deck and that was the last they’d seen on that ship.

 

            Touching down on the north-western tip of Wales, they traversed the green countryside, keeping away from the wild country’s inhabitants so they didn’t spread the plague through there too, although from what they witnessed in a few abandoned villages, it had already swept through. It was hard for Kara to see the blackened bodies of the dead, knowing that it could’ve been Ailis’ fate if she hadn’t helped kill her quicker, but it still hurt her to think of the young woman she’d lost. She’d never had so much time with one of her Lena’s, and the grief of losing her weighed heavy on her heart.

 

            They had to leave the isles to get away from her grief. They boarded a ship on the coast of the kingdom of Sussex, having traversed the whole of Britannia, and they made towards a new land, one they had yet to explore. Kara had hoped to outrun her troubles, and they landed in the kingdom of Neustria, in Francia, sailing down the Seine river of the ship they’d crossed the choppy channel in. They settled in Paris for a while, begging on the streets and turning to pickpocketing to keep themselves fed, before they made the journey to the Loine region miles to the south. It was there that they found work at a vineyard, picking grapes for hours on end, feeling lucky that the skin didn’t peel from their fingertips like it did with the human labourers, while their skin bronzed in the sunlight from the harsh heat.

 

            A few years passed by at the vineyard, drinking cheap wine like it was water, and enjoying the sharp cheeses, exotic fruits and exquisitely baked bread the Franks created. They were content there, for a while, living by their stretch of the river, fishing on slow winter days and picking grapes from dawn till dusk during harvest seasons. Eventually they had to move on though, with the growing fear that she’d meet Lena again creeping up on her. They moved onto the war torn kingdom of Burgundy next, where the Merovingian rule was in turmoil at the death of the latest king, with no heir. Different factions of the family warred each other for the crown.

 

            They found work as healers in a war camp, with Kara as Alex’s apprentice, grinding herbs and bandaging wounded soldiers as skirmishes were fought. She spent her nights in a shabby tent, listening to the quiet groaning of dying men, and rest days where there was no fighting picking herbs and making poultices. It was there that she met Lena that time - her Lena - after a particularly nasty fight, where Kara was dragging wounded men off the battlefield. Through the hazy smoke of spreading fires from flaming arrows, the cloying smell of death almost overpowering her sensitive nose, a loud shout of surprise made her look up from the bloody mess of the man’s thigh, realising that he was already dead, her eyes wide with shock.

 

            “Kara!?”

 

            “Lena,” she breathlessly murmured, staggering to her knees as she wiped her bloodstained fingers on her ragged tunic.

 

            Her blue eyes were wide with shock, looking at the dark haired woman a few dozen metres away, running across the uneven battleground, wearing the deep blue colours of the opposing army, covered in the blood that let Kara know that she was a healer too. All this time, she’d been miles across the battlefield and Kara hadn’t even known it. The breath was gone from her lungs as she took a stumbling step forward, watching Lena sprint across the muddy battlefield, a look of awe on her face.

 

            Choking back a sob, a smile spread across Kara’s face, and she moved instinctively, her arms raising, ready to hold Lena in her arms. She was a few steps away when Lena stumbled, a small gasp falling from her lips as she caught her balance, staring down at the arrowtip protruding from the front of her tunic. Right through her chest. She took a few wobbly steps forward, and Kara met her halfway, a scream already tearing up her throat as she caught Lena, feeling the point of the arrow against her chest as she clutched her tightly, eyes wide with horror. She all but collapsed to the muddy ground, cradling the limp body in her arms as she started to cry.

 

            Lena’s face was pale with shock, tears trailing down her temple as her lips wordlessly moved, and they she gave Kara a heartbreakingly beautiful smile. She was covered in mud and blood, some of it her own, but she smiled, and Kara couldn’t do anything but press one hand to wound around the shaft of the arrow, vivid red blood staining her hand as she choked on a sob.

 

            “Lena.”

 

            “Kara. Kara. Is this real?”

 

            Letting out a breathless sob, Kara cupped her cheek in a shaky hand, “nothing is more real. It’s okay, it’s me.”

 

            “You’re here,” Lena thickly said, covering Kara’s hand with her own.

 

            “It’s been so difficult, Lena,” Kara sobbed, “so difficult without you.”

 

            She’d forgotten how easy it was to love her without having to go through the pain of falling in love all over again. With the other versions of her, it was never love at first sight, and she always had to go through the conflicting emotions of falling in love with her all over again. But this was her Lena, and she loved her with every piece of her heart. They weren’t strangers to each other this time, and the love that had always been in her heart blossomed to life. There was no stopping it.

 

            “Shh, it’s over now,” Lena said, her voice a soft sigh.

 

            “No,” Kara firmly said, her eyes darting down to the blood welling up.

 

            With a weak laugh, Lena’s pale lips twitched up into a small smile. “You know it is, my love. You must let me go. I can feel it … he has cursed us, hasn’t he? I remember. I can feel-”

 

            She let out a gasp of horror, her face contorting with pain, and Kara removed her hand from her chest, the blood flowing freely, and cupped her face in both hands, leaving a bright red handprint on one side of Lena’s face. Listening to her shuddering breath, Kara squeezed her eyes closed, the thought of watching her lose Lena again unbearable. Still, she couldn’t ignore the murmured sound of her name, cut off midway through as the featherlight touch against her cheek disappeared.

 

            When she opened her eyes, her lap was covered in a fine dusting of ash, and nestled in the middle was an arrowhead. She knelt there amongst the screams of men dying until a group of soldiers found her, followed by Alex, who angrily fought them back as they taunted Kara with lewd comments, ignoring her heartbreak.

 

---

 

            Snapping out of the memory, Kara removed a trembling hand and moved on to the next shelf. Nestled on its stand was a tremissis - a golden coin embossed with letters and the likeness of a man - and Kara felt a deep ache in her heart as she thought about the memories associated with her. It hadn’t been Lena that time, it had been Lucia, the daughter of a Greek merchant following the Silk Road.

 

            They’d left Francia behind, taking the trade route to Italia, learning Catholicism and artistry from the pious nobles and poorer painters and sculptors. It had been a peaceful recovery for Kara, with the sharp pain of losing her Lena making her grief almost unbearable. With the hospitality of the churches in the warm countryside, they were given food and shelter in each town they passed through, learning what they could from the locals or peddlers passing through. They stayed in Rome for over a decade, with so much history and knowledge that Kara imagined she could’ve stayed there forever.

 

            She became a scholar for a while, learning mathematics and reading old scrolls, learning philosophy and how to write in Latin. It was unseemly for a normal woman, but she showed her worth, and found it rewarding, climbing the ranks of the lower classes, until her and Alex were comfortably seated amongst the wealthier middle class. With her clever hands and the muse of her lost lover, Kara made statues and paintings, growing her craft and selling them to buyers when her works showed promise. It was enough for Alex to in turn start a small business with the merchants.

 

            They could’ve comfortably lived there for a while yet, but Kara had gone looking for Alex one day, knowing that she was trading her wares to a merchant down the docks. The silk trade with China was all the rage during that time, and Kara knew that Alex was making quite a bit of a profit from the superior silk she bought off of a merchant she’d come to trust. What Kara didn’t know was that the Greek merchant was the father of Lena’s latest reincarnation. Alex had conveniently forgotten to mention that part, and Kara would never have known if she hadn’t gone looking that day.

 

            It had been one of the worst fights they’d ever had, when they’d gone back to their villa, the balmy summer day ruined for Kara as she blinked back angry tears of betrayal. Half of her statues, and pottery pieces drying out on the terrace, had been destroyed in her fit of anger as she broke down over the dark haired girl with green eyes and tanned skin she’d found sitting on the edge of the docks, her bare feet dipped in the cool water while the skirts of her dress were rucked up to her thighs. Kara had been so surprised, she’d been roughly shoved out of the way when an impatient merchant trying to cart his wares past couldn’t get her attention. She taken a quick swim in the sapphire sea, resurfacing, spluttering and cursing, to find the young woman laughing at her.

 

            She was gone before Kara could see her again that time, only to return a few months later with her father’s ship laden with new wares. Kara had taken to strolling along the waterfront everyday, thinking about the girl and wondering if she had escaped the curse. The day she saw her again, Lucia had tripped, sending her money pouch skittering across the planks of the dock, the jingling of coins catching the attention of every thief in the area. Kara had snatched it up quicker than any of them and passed it back to the girl with an awestruck smile, drinking in the familiar features she’d yearned for. A golden coin had been pressed into her hands in thanks. She’d never been able to spend it, not even after she’d fallen for the young woman, and had a kiss stolen from her that she’d never wished to bestow. It was over all too soon, with the horror of the mistake she’d made dawning on Lucia’s face.

 

            Kara closed her eyes for a moment, as she tried to clear her head of the memories, withdrawing her hand and looking down at the next shelf. On and on it went, passing through a hundred years of memories of her lost lovers, until she reached a small terracotta figure she’d been gifted by the daughter of a Spanish trader who had sailed through the Byzantine empire to engage in trade in the Luoyang region of China during the Sui dynasty. After Rome, they’d travelled through the Byzantine empire too, passing through Dalmatia and Macedonia, until they’d come to Thrace, and then onto the capital, Constantinople. Each place was new and exciting, with different cultures and food and knowledge, and Kara soaked it all up to take her mind off of her heavy heart.

 

            Everywhere she went, there were other people - countless men and women - but she knew that they would never be enough to eclipse even the memory of Lena, let alone the real thing. Not all of them combined could achieve that. Sometimes she saw her in the daytime, just a trick of light of the glimpse of her slipping through a crowd as another woman’s face morphed into a pale imitation of Lena’s beauty. She heard her at nighttime too, her voice a gentle sigh, whispering words that she’d said to Kara once upon a time, in all of her lives. Three more times she found Lena, under various names and various circumstances, and each time she walked away from a pile of ashes with a new tattoo stinging on her spine as Alex etched the tiny Kryptonian glyphs into her skin with the sliver of green kryptonite.

 

            They met people they knew too during their travels. They met James at Constantinople, finding him in charge of his own small empire, with large holdings lavishly furnished. He’d become part of the senate, collecting his wealth and power over the centuries, until he’d found himself in a powerful position to come forward. They stayed with him for a long while, where Winn stumbled upon them by surprise, working as an alchemist in the bowels of the city. It was one of the happiest times of Kara’s life, with the four of them forging their friendship even stronger, drinking rich wines and playing checkers in the sun.

 

            If it wasn’t for the curse, she would’ve been happy to spend the rest of her life lazing around, eating figs and reading poetry, but when she wasn’t enjoying herself with people who she could reminisce about Krypton with, she was locked in dusty rooms of tomes and scrolls, reading myths and legends about curses and gods by candlelight or shafts of sunlight, hoping to find even the slightest bit of information that this planet knew about Rao. As far as she could find, they worshipped many gods and goddesses, with the new wave of Christianity taking hold, but all roads led back to the one creator, or the God of Gods. They all essentially worshipped Rao, and were baptised under his name, even if that wasn’t the name they used for him. It was frustrating work that left her irritated and grief stricken. In the end, her and Alex had left Constantinople and followed the Silk Road to China.

 

            Along the way, they met Veronica, passing them as she made to where they’d come from. Alex knew her more than Kara did, but it was another moment of pleasant surprise to find someone like them. She gave them what news she could and they carried on their way towards Luoyang at her guidance. They spent years trying to glean what they could about silkworms and reproducing the efforts of the high quality silk pouring out of China. They weren’t the only ones there for that reason, and that was how she met Lena again, before losing her.

 

            Tracing the outline of the terracotta figure behind glass, Kara brooded over the memory of her, tears tracing their way down her cheeks by that point as her heart fractured with each souvenir she’d kept from the woman she’d loved. There were dozens more, and she knew that she’d been even more upset by the time she reached the latest one, but she had to do it. She had to know everything she’d been through to know that it was worth it to keep going. Centuries of fruitless searching had yielded no results, but she knew she couldn’t stop. There had been dark times where she’d thought that she would rather end it all, because then she wouldn’t have to kill Lena over and over again. Their eternal torment would end. But nothing short of kryptonite would work, and Alex would never let her within an inch of anything more than the piece used to tattoo the length of her back. Then there was thought of one more glimpse of Lena was enough to make her second guess herself every time.

 

            Choking on a shuddering sob, she was about to crouch down to the next shelf when her ears, when the muffled sound of something exploding reached her ears. Startling slightly, Kara straightened up and moved through the rows of shelves in a blur. She was back out in the gloomy warehouse within moments, passing beneath the roller door and sparing just enough time to lock it when she pushed off into the air, her eyes scanning the city to find out what was wrong. Her spine prickled with unease, and a moment later, as her eyes were instinctively drawn towards L-Corp, she knew why, sucking in a surprised breath as she looked at the orange flames spilling out of the upper levels of the building. The only thing on her mind as she shot off towards the building in a blur was Lena.

Chapter Text

            Lena was sitting behind her desk, lazily spinning in her chair as she stared intently at the screen, a thoughtful look on her face as she stared at the coloured photo on it. It was her - Kara - without a doubt in Lena’s mind, but she was busy brooding over the date on the photo. It was taken a decade before, which would’ve made her seventeen, but she looked exactly the same. She was looking straight at the camera, a faint smile on her lips and a warm look in her blue eyes. It was a photo relating to a book that had been published by a Kara Zorel. Not Danvers. It was the only picture older than the recent ones from the reporter’s career, and Lena sat there with a thoughtful look on her face as she thought about what it meant.

 

            Shifting forward in her seat, Lena pressed a button on the phone on her desk, listening to it connect a moment later. “Astra, hi. I know this isn’t really in the archives department, but I need your help finding some information. Could you look into getting a copy of a book called The Watchers by Kara Zorel?”

 

            There was a brief pause on the other end of the line, before the head of her company’s archives replied. “Of course, Miss Luthor. I’ll try my best to have a copy waiting for you in the morning.”

 

            Smiling slightly, Lena thanked her and hung up. She was fond of the dark haired woman with the odd white streak in her hair who worked in the basement, keeping every document neatly organised and at Lena’s beck and call. It had taken some adjusting on her move to National City, but Astra had been more than happy to help her with schematics and old shipping orders. Between her and her assistant, Jess, Lena had found it comfortingly easy to make a new home there for her. Until Kara had swept into her office. That moment had made trouble for Lena in ways she couldn’t even begin to understand, only that there was something going on that she wasn’t aware of, but simultaneously stuck in the centre of. It irritated her to no end.

 

            Feeling her frustration welling up at the gaps in the puzzle, Lena slammed shut her laptop screen, hiding the image of Kara from sight. She didn’t know why it bothered her so much that Kara was keeping something from her. It was clear that the other woman didn’t want to be so much as friends with her, but there was the unspoken history between them too. No matter what Kara said, Lena couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew her. With a small sigh, Lena reached out and pressed the buttons on her phone again, calling her assistant sitting at her desk just outside the office, as faithful in her duties as she was to Lena. It didn’t matter what hour it was, Jess would stay until Lena dismissed her.

 

            Sighing, she picked up her phone, staring down at the messages off Jack that lit up the screen, feeling conflicted as she ignored them. He was nice, and she’d known him for a few years now, finding his friendship easy, even if he was clearly interested in something more. She didn’t want to brush him off too harshly when he was one of the few friends she had, but she knew that nothing would come of his feelings - not that she could tell in the foreseeable future - and the confused feelings towards Kara warring within her made her all the more torn about what she wanted. Tossing her phone back down onto the desk, Lena checked the time, and was considering calling it a night when a monotone robotic voice and blaring alarm droned over the intercom.

 

            “Alert. Alert. The fire alarm has been activated. Evacuate the building.”

 

            With a weary sigh, Lena reached out and called Jess again, hoping that the other girl hadn’t gone yet. They’d had a few malfunctions with the fire alarm before, as well as a faulty sprinkler, and she wanted to double check that it wasn’t anything serious. There wasn’t anyone else in the office building as far as she was aware - everyone would’ve been long gone, eager to get home and see their families or unwind after a long day at the office.

 

            There was no answer off her assistant, and Lena wearily climbed to her feet, her heels clicking along the tiled floor of her office as she made towards one of the doors. Stepping out into the hallway, she surprised to find herself coughing, and her eyes widened at the realisation that there was actually a thin, hazy layer of smoke at the end of the hallway. The acrid smell of it stopped her instantly, and Lena listened to the sound of the alarm as panic welled up inside her.

 

            “Jess?” she tentatively called out, seeing the other woman’s bag on her desk, clearly in the midst of leaving.

 

            A hot hand grabbed her, and Lena whirled around, her eyes wide with fear, feeling herself relax slightly at the sight of her panicked assistant, although her heart was still pounding in her ears. Jess was coughing too, the whites of her eyes in stark contrast to the dark pupils. “Miss Luthor,” she gasped, trying to muffle a cough, “we need to get out of here. There’s an exit this way.”

 

            Letting the dark haired woman drag her down the hallway, her heels skittering on the tiles as they fled around one corner, the smoke growing thicker as they delved deeper into the building, making for the nearest emergency exit. The elevator bank was just outside of Lena’s office, and she was cursing the fact that they couldn’t quickly take it down to the ground floor, feeling hot and panicky as the wisps of smoke thickened, pressing down on them. She was almost frightened that her assistant was leading them into the fire, but knew that Jess wouldn’t put her in harm’s way. She’d just come from this way, reeking of smoke and frightened for her life, but she knew the layout of the building better than Lena did, so she put her faith in her hands, her mind trying to piece together what could’ve gone wrong.

 

            Even ducking as they would through the hallways, it was hard to breathe, and they could barely see, coughing as they clung to each other’s sweaty hands. Lena wasn’t even sure which direction they were going. They could’ve gone in a circle for all she knew. Jess was barely visible before her, and Lena sucked in a searing hot lungful of smoke, knowing that they had to find the exit soon. Their pace slowed and Lena quickly took charge, dragging Jess after her as the woman coughed, staggering after Lena. She wasn’t even sure which way she was going, but soon the smoke thinned and they were able to breathe more easily. At the sight of a door at the end of the hallway, Lena hurtled towards it, bursting into the airy conference room on the other side, pulling her assistant inside and slamming the door shut behind them.

 

            The air was clean and cool inside, and she fell back against the glass door, breathing raggedly as she tried to catch her breath. Both of them were silent as they gratefully drank in the crisp air, coughing in between, until they dissolved into relieved bouts of laughter, their eyes streaming with tears from the stinging effects of the smoke. Yet even as they trembled with relief, wisps of smoke curled beneath the gap at the bottom of the door, and they sobered up, realising that they weren’t safe yet. They were cornered in the conference room, which was essentially a glass box - the dangerous smoke slowly drifting down the hallway in a wall of grey, while the other three sides showed the conference rooms on either side and a view of a couple of offices on the opposite side of the floor.

 

            There was no other door out, except the one they’d come in through, and Lena felt icy fear prickle her spine and coil in her stomach as she turned to Jess. She exhaled shakily, thinking about how they could outrun the choking fumes of the fire blazing in some unknown corner of the top floor, and set her shoulders in grim determination. “Come on, we have to keep going.”

 

            Jess straightened up, brushing soaked hair out of her red face, her wild eyes swimming with tears and a sheen of sweat covering her forehead. She looked like she could barely take another step, yet at the sharp hoarseness of the command falling from her boss’ lips, Jess straightened up.

 

            “You stay here,” she rasped, giving Lena a grim look, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. The smoke should stay out of here for a few minutes more. Here, put this against the bottom.”

 

            Jess pulled off her cardigan and handed it to Lena, before opening the door and ducking out into the smoky hallway before the other woman could protest. Lena shouted after her, a scared edge to her hard voice, but when she couldn’t spot her assistant, she assumed that she hadn’t obeyed, angrily shutting the door and stuffing the cardigan at the bottom of the door.

 

            Pacing back and forth like a caged lion, Lena counted the seconds, growing more anxious with each one that passed. She was as white as a ghost, a cold sweat covering her body as she ran a hand through her damp hair, drawing in a ragged breath. With each step, wisps of smoke weaseled their way into the room, until it was hazy and irritated her bloodshot eyes. Unable to sit still any longer, Lena let out a quiet snarl of frustration, grabbing the closest chair nestled at the long table spanning the room. Her hands were slippery against the plastic and steel, but she managed to get a good grip on it and banged it against the glass wall on the opposite side of the room to the billowing smoke pressing up against the door and walls in the hallway.

 

            Again and again, she whacked the glass with the chair, until fine spiderweb cracks radiated from the spot she’d struck it. With a heavy swing, she shattered the glass, the chair sailing through into the hallway on the other side and clattering to the floor. With a forceful exhale of relief, Lena clambered through the jagged hole she’d created, tinkling shards of glass grinding beneath her feet, and she looked up and down the hallway.

 

            “Jess?” she called out, her voice a harsh croak as she strained herself to be heard over the sound of the alarm, which was still blaring. The fire department was surely on their way already.

 

            There was no answering reply to her shouts, and Lena glanced up and down the hallway again, before turning right and making her way down rows of offices. Somewhere along the way she lost her heels, abandoning them in her haste. With the fresh air and faintest whiff of smoke behind her, Lena was holding out hope that it would all be fine, but she’d barely made it to the end of the hallway when an ear splitting blast rocked the foundations of the building. Falling to her knees in equal parts shock and from the force of it, her mind reeled as she slowly blinked, feeling a searing heat rushing towards her. Clambering back to her feet, Lena staggered around, blinking as her ears rang, and she looked back at the windows of every single office that had shattered at the explosion. It was so very clearly an explosion.

 

            Running down the next hallway, she came to a window revealing the twinkling lights and darkening city outside, and noticed a door beside it. A balcony. No matter what happened, if she was on the balcony, she wouldn’t suffocate or inhale too much smoke. She’d be okay. As she ran towards it, she couldn’t help but fret over Jess though. She should’ve tried harder to stop her, or at least gone after her. Splitting up had been a bad idea, but with the knowledge that there was little more that she could do for her assistant, Lena pushed open the balcony door and was hit by a wall of cold air as she emerged outside.

 

            Her eyes were still watering and the darkness outside of the bright office, lit with fluorescent lights, made it hard for her to see. All she was aware of was billowing clouds of black smoke flooding out of the building further along from where she stood, the acrid smell hanging heavy in the air, although the wind mercifully blew it in the opposite direction to her. And then there was a shadowy figure silhouetted against the backdrop of the city and the deep blue sky. Something that looked like a torso with lanky limbs hovering above her. Blinking back the smoky tears stinging her eyes, Lena rubbed at her temples, a throbbing headache making her head pound. For one long moment, she stood there in pain, having never felt anything as searingly intense, and she let out a cry of pain, falling to her knees. It all became too much for her and she surrendered to the darkness sweeping in and dragging her into unconsciousness.

 

---

 

            “Are you scared?” Kara asked. Her head was tilted to the side, her blonde hair ruffled by the wind, and she held Lena close. Arms encircled her waist, gently holding her within Kara’s embrace, while Lena had her arms wound around her neck, holding her close.

 

            She thought about the question, her mind slow and unconcerned as she was held by strong, wiry arms, the sweet smell of flowers clinging to Kara as she drew in a slow breath, letting out a sigh of content. Was she scared? Of course not. She was with Kara, in her arms, and Kara wouldn’t let anyone hurt her. But a darker question tugged at the back of her mind, a persistent troubling thought asking her whether she should be scared. Lena couldn’t be sure; she didn’t even know where she was. All that mattered was that she was finally in Kara’s arms.

 

            The air was filled with the smell of rain, that same gentle breeze tugging at her own hair and her clothes. Despite the smell of nearby rain, they were both bone dry, and Lena realised the wind was clawing at a long white dress billowing out around her. It wasn’t her dress. Not the one she’d worn to work. There was only a little light left in the day too, just the barest smudge of orange on the horizon, before giving way to an indigo sky. A stab of regret filled Lena, and a rush of sadness at the thought that she’d wasted her time. There was the rational part of her that knew there was nothing she could do to stop the sun from setting, but a part of her knew that the sliver of light on the horizon were more precious than anything else. With the final rays of sunlight disappearing as the sun sank below the horizon, her time would be up.

 

            “Will you stay with me?” she asked, her voice a gentle sigh, so thin and wispy that it was almost whisked away by the distant rumble of thunder.

 

            She felt arms tighten around her and Lena pulled back slightly, her lips a hair's breadth away from Kara’s, so close that they were almost touching. “Forever,” Kara whispered back, her voice soft and sad.

 

            Lena was mesmerised as she stared at her, feeling a warm hand cup her cheek, Kara’s forehead gently resting against her own. Lena tilted her head to the side, her whole body relaxed with anticipation as their noses grazed slightly. Finally, Kara’s lips came down on hers in an urgent kiss that took her breath away. Kara kissed her as if she’d done it a thousand times, and craved Lena’s touch more than she craved air. It was slow and sweet, as if they had waited a lifetime, and even as rain fell, soaking through their hair and clothes, they didn’t break apart. It was a warm rain and the kisses were so intoxicating that Lena wasn’t sure anything could tear her away.

 

            And then she was hot all over, pulling back as she gasped, her cheeks flushed as she looked up at Kara with wide eyes, taking in the blonde tousled hair, ruffled by a strong breeze, feeling breathless as her chest heaved. “Kara,” she gasped, her head hurting as she squeezed her eyes shut.

 

            Something about looking at the other woman was filling her with a searing pain, and disjointed flashes of memories assaulted Lena’s mind as she shook her head back and forth, trying to rid herself of them. Opening her eyes again, she looked anywhere but at the sorrowful ocean eyes looking at her with brimming tears threatening to spill over onto tanned cheeks. All she saw was the smudges of orange on the horizon, and the deepening blue of sunset. Until she looked down and took in one last thing. The weightless feeling of being suspended in Kara’s arms hadn’t just been that; the ground was thousands of feet below.

 

---

 

            The first thing she was aware of when she opened her eyes was that it was too bright. Her skin felt too dry and tight, stretched thinly over her bones, and there was a splitting pain at the back of her head. The dream was gone, taking the sky and Kara with it, leaving her with the sick feeling of desire at the lingering memory of the kiss.

 

            She was in a white-walled room, lying on a narrow hospital bed in an ill-fitting paper thin gown. A thin curtain had been dragged across, separating her from the rest of the room, where Lena could hear someone moving about. She gingerly shifted in the bed, a hand going up to touch the tender spot at the back of her head, and she hissed slightly in pain as she tried to get her bearings. She didn’t have a clue where she was, but the room and the smell clearly belonged to a hospital, and it filled her with relief to know that she’d been saved.

 

            The last remnants of the dream were fading away, the billowy white dress replaced with the scratchy hospital gown, the white walls a substitute for the dreamy sunset, and the feeling of Kara’s lips on hers a bright spark in her mind. Everything else was slipping away, but not the warm feeling of the urgent kiss. That had felt so real. Her stomach flipped at the thought of it, and she curled her hands into fists, feeling a hand touch hers and squeeze back.

 

            Jumping slightly, Lena blinked slowly in surprise, turning her head to the side to take in the cropped brown hair and warm eyes of a woman that she felt like she knew, although she couldn’t quite pin it. She’d thought she was alone, although for some reason, she was glad that she wasn’t, even if she didn’t know the woman. Lena wanted to pull her hand away, but the woman gave her a warm smile that made her feel safe, and she left her hand in hers.

 

            “How much of it did I dream?” Lena asked, her voice a raspy murmur.

 

            Letting out a quiet laugh, the woman squeezed her hand slightly. “That all depends on what you were dreaming about, but nevermind that, you need to rest more.”

 

            “Where are we?”

 

            “National City Hospital,” the woman told her.

 

            Nodding slightly, Lena swallowed the lump in her throat, before she turned to look at her again, a slight frown gracing her face. “Who are you?”

 

            Letting out another laugh, the woman gave her an easy smile, reaching out to give her hand a reassuring pat. “Detective Alex Danvers. I’m with NCPD. I’ve been ordered to keep a close eye on you.”

 

            “Danvers,” Lena murmured, realising where she knew the woman from. She’d been in recent photos with Kara, her hair long in some of them, but otherwise unchanged. It was her sister. Shaking her head again to clear her thoughts, Lena decided not to pursue that thread yet, and scrambled for another question. “How long have I been here?”

 

            Her body felt leaden, her throat raw and her eyes burned with every blink. She could’ve been unconscious for an hour or a week. She watched as Alex glanced down at the watch strapped to her wrist, before glancing back up at Lena and giving her a grim smile. “They found you passed out from smoke inhalation last night around six. It’s been about fourteen hours. You should be out of here soon though. Your mom is already-”

 

            “My mom is here?” Lena thickly asked.

 

            “And filled with concern for her daughter,” Alex said, a tight smile on her face. “She’s drowning in insurance paperwork. I told her I’d keep an eye on you.”

 

            Lena groaned, squeezing her eyes closed and pressing the heels of her palms against her eyelids. The last person she wanted to see right now was her mother, but of course she would’ve come to check up on her. She was always checking up on her, and always when Lena didn’t want her to. The last thing she wanted right now was her mom to come in with her aloofness while she prodded her for answers to questions Lena didn’t have answers for. She didn’t even know what had happened herself. There had been a fire, that’s all she knew.

 

            “If you don’t want to see her …”

 

            As nice as Alex was being to her, albeit a lot nicer than her sister was, Lena didn’t feel like sharing what she remembered of the fire, or the explosion. She didn’t even know her, and the fact that she was a detective for the police department wasn’t exactly comforting. It filled her with the uneasy feeling that she’d somehow done something wrong, although she had no idea what had happened. Her and Jess had been scared out of their minds as they frantically ran around the top floor of the building.

 

            “Where’s Jess?” Lena finally asked, the image of her fearful assistant rushing out into the smoke to try and find a way out.

 

            Before Alex could answer, the paper thin curtain was suddenly torn back, and a mousy man stood there, nervously wringing his hands as he gave them a sheepish smile. He was wearing a cardigan and a bowtie, but Lena knew him from CatCo. He was one of Kara’s friends.

 

            “Whoa, long faces. Am I interrupting something?” he asked, an innocent look in his eyes as he looked between the two of them.

 

            “Winn,” Alex tightly replied, “she’s been through a trauma . And yes, you’re interrupting the topic of Jess.”

 

            He winced slightly, “Jess as in the …”

 

            “As in the what?” Lena asked, her voice hoarse and her mouth dry. She could really use a drink, but the water was on the nightstand beside the bed, and she didn’t have the strength to reach out and get it, or feel like asking it of Alex.

 

            “Ah, well, you see, the thing is, Jess … she inhaled a lot more smoke than you did-” Winn started to say, before Alex cut him off with a sharp look.

 

            Turning to Lena, she gave her hand a gentle squeeze, before adding the other hand on top, and gave her a sympathetic look, her brown eyes doleful and sad. “She didn’t, she- there was a bomb. She got caught in the blast.”

 

            Lena opened and closed her mouth a few times, blinking back tears as they prickled her eyes. “Oh. So she’s …”

 

            “I’m sorry,” Alex murmured. “I’m sorry to tell you when you’ve just woken up too, but I think the truth is more helpful here, and you’ll find out yourself anyway.”

 

            Her eyes slowly closed and she drew in a long, shuddering breath, feeling a chill spread through her that had nothing to do with the frigid air in the hospital room. She recalled the sweaty hand dragging her down hallways, the voice full of false bravery as she pushed her cardigan into Lena’s hand and disappeared into the smoke, the whites of her eyes in stark contrast to her dark irises. She let out a shaky breath, opening her eyes and blinking quickly as she tried to keep the tears at bay, a feeling of grief welling up inside her.

 

            She was trembling beneath the sheets, and Alex poured her a glass of water, gently pressing it into her shaky hand and helping guide it to Lena’s lips when her hand shook so much that the water dangerously sloshed inside it. She numbly drank, the sweet coolness of it soothing her parched throat as she tried to piece her story together. The police would expect her to remember every detail, but of course she wouldn’t be able to. One minute she’d been at her desk, looking up information on Kara to satisfy her curiosity, and the next the fire alarm had been going off and an inferno had torn its way through her building.

 

            The door opened a moment later, and Lena looked up to see a woman walk inside, dressed in a sleek dress with her trademark red lipstick, her honey coloured hair elegantly swept up into a knot as she smirked, a balloon clutched in one hand. “I always did say working too much would kill you.”

 

            “Ronnie,” Lena wearily sighed, watching her friend edge nearer to the bed, either oblivious to the hard looks thrown her way or not caring.

 

            “One of her employees died last night,” Winn tensely told her, a look of disapproval on his face, “and Lena could’ve been really hurt.”

 

            Veronica gave him a sharp smile, and Lena had the unsettling feeling that they knew each other. Everyone in the room seemed far too comfortable around each other to not be acquainted - even Veronica, to her surprise - and she warily watched the exchange.

 

            “Well it’s a good thing Kara was there then,” Veronica said, and a jolt ran through Lena at the name, confirming her suspicions. Her friend had never mentioned Kara before - not that she would’ve come up in conversation - but it still took Lena by surprise that she knew these people too.

 

            “Kara?” Lena interrupted, before the conversation went elsewhere as they bickered. There was a tension in the room that she didn’t quite understand, and she was in no place to be trying to figure out how these three very different people had crossed paths and become tangled up with each other.

 

            She was unable to stop herself from asking about Kara, and she looked to Alex for an answer. With weary resignation, Alex gave her a grim look. “She’s the one who found you last night. She carried you down to the lobby.”

 

            The thought of Kara carrying her left her silent for a few moments as she tried to envision herself cradled in the arms of the reserved blonde woman. Then the dreams rushed back with the sensation of weightlessness as they floated overwhelming her. Her body was heavy and weighed down in the bed, but she could remember how light she’d been as they’d floated thousands of feet above the ground. It felt so real. She could almost feel warm lips against hers, and felt a slight flush creep up her neck as she thought about Kara holding her close and kissing her in the rain. But no, she’d carried her through a burning building, down to the lobby, and left her for the EMT’s to take care of.

 

            Even as she lay there, turning the piece of information over in her mind, trying to make sense of something that didn’t make sense, there was a gentle knock on the door. Alex was swiftly on her feet, going to the door and pulling it open. Lena’s view was obstructed, but still, she could hear the soft voice and she would’ve known it anywhere. It was her.

 

            “How is she?”

 

            “Congregating in my daughter’s room now, are we?” a contemptuous voice drawled, and Lena bit back a groan at the sound of Lillian’s voice outside. “Oh, flowers, how … quaint.”

 

            There was a flurry of movement inside as everyone moved towards the door, just as Lillian barged past Alex, and quick apologies and excuses were made as Winn and Veronica filed out, leaving a blue Get Well Soon balloon floating lonely in one corner. Lena watched as Lillian walked over to the nightstand, and deposited a bouquet of plumerias into the jug of water, giving Lena a once over before speaking.

 

            “These are from your friends,” she briskly explained, “who will be leaving now.”

 

            The door was wide open, and Lena was too busy looking at Kara leaning against the doorframe to care about what her mom was saying. Her chin was raised slightly, a slight crease between her eyes and her blue eyes swimming with concern. As their gaze met, her lips curled into a small smile, and Lena smiled back despite her current state. She couldn’t take her eyes off Kara, and she watched as she raised a hand in a tiny wave and mouthed something that looked a lot like I’m sorry , before they were all promptly shooed out of the room.

 

            “I hope they didn’t wear you out,” Lillian disapprovingly said, fussing over the blankets as she gave Lena a wary look.

 

            “Oh, no, I’m fine,” Lena mumbled.

 

            “Good, because visiting hours aren’t over,” her mom said.

 

            A few moments later, the small figure of a certain detective that had been bothering Lena for weeks now appeared, with Alex in tow, and they settled into two chairs. Behind them came Astra, and Lena’s eyebrows rose slightly at the appearance of her trusted employee. Her blue eyes were worried, and she gave Lena a curt nod, a faint smile on her lips.

 

            “I insisted on being here during the questioning, Miss Luthor,” Astra explained, “I thought that it might help to have an employee present, to answer any details about the company.”

 

            “Thank you,” Lena replied, her voice gravelly but filled with gratitude.

 

            Her lawyer showed up not too long later - Lucy Lane - and Lena managed to pull herself together, sitting propped up against the pillows while she answered as many questions as she could. Alex asked gentle prompting ones, studiously taking notes, while Maggie interrogated her with a long list of her own, her brown eyes unnervingly watching her closely the entire time. Astra gave the occasional input about schematics for the building’s fire alarm system, sprinkler system, evacuation plans and other such protocols that she’d memoried in her work in the archives, while Lucy shut down irrelevant questions and answered some for Lena. It all went rather smoothly and quickly, with Lillian quietly watching from the corners, which surprised Lena.

 

            Soon enough, everyone except her mom had gone, leaving her feeling limp with relief, and Lena let out a weary sigh, thinking about everything that had happened. She was more confused than ever, unsure what she was feeling, only that it was a dozen different emotions that she couldn’t quite pull apart. Right now, she just wanted to be alone and to not think. Sleep called to her, and she could feel it blurring the edges of her mind, and as her mom gave her a searching look, she gave her a grim smile, waiting for her to say what was on her mind so that she could leave Lena alone. Sighing, Lillian just shook her head slightly and then drew herself up to her usual height, with her haughty bearing, looking down at her daughter with hard green eyes.

 

            “Get some rest, Lena,” Lillian brusquely ordered her, reaching out to tenderly stroke her daughter’s hair, “you’ve had a long, hard night.”

 

            She was exhausted, and she briefly closed her eyes, opening them to find her mom hovering in the doorway for a moment longer. When she was gone, shutting her alone into her room, Lena reached for the bouquet of flowers and plucked a white flower from the cluster of blossoms, bringing it close to her face and admiring the perfectly formed petals and the sweet fragrance as she breathed in the smell of it.

 

            She tried to imagine the way they would’ve looked clutched in Kara’s tanned hand, and she tried to imagine where she’d gotten them from. They were rare flowers, and a strange choice to give, especially when Kara didn’t know they were Lena’s favourites. They didn’t grow around National City. They reminded her of something, or some other time, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Her mind was otherwise distracted as she thought about Kara. I’m sorry, she’d mouthed, but Lena couldn’t figure out what for.

Chapter Text

            Three days had passed since the fire and Kara had spent the whole time fretting over Lena from the inside of her apartment. She’d heard from Alex that she’d been released from hospital, which was a good sign, and she still had no idea who Kara really was, which meant that she was still safe from the curse. Kara had to see her again though. She had to know for herself that Lena was okay. It was no effort at all to find out the time and location of the assistant’s funeral, and Kara changed into a black dress and caught a bus out to the cemetery, lingering on the outskirts of the group gathered around the hole in the ground.

 

            It was a grey day, as if the colour had been drained out of everything, made all the more bleaker by the drab black clothes of the mourners congregating amongst the tombstones. The air was heavy, the smell of rain on the wind as it ruffled Kara’s hair, and she muttered a quiet prayer in Kryptonian for the dead woman. A flicker of movement caught her attention, and she looked up to see Jack staring intently at her. He was standing beside Lena, a slender hand on her back, a reassuring gesture for the rigid woman who refused to break down in front of the group of strangers. Kara knew the guilt and grief weighed heavily on her shoulders, but Lena kept it all locked up inside. Scowling at the slight smile on Jack’s lips, Kara ground her teeth together, jerking her head around to Alex, who gently elbowed her. Her dark look smoothed itself out into a blank mask and she swallowed the lump in her throat, giving Alex a small nod. She’d behave herself, although every fibre of her being wanted to tear Lena away from the clutches of the other man.

 

            A minister droned on, wrapping up the service, and then it was over. Kara felt hollow inside, feeling like the woman’s death was on her hands, although she wasn’t quite sure why. The fire and bomb was no accident - it all rubbed her the wrong way, and was too much of a coincidence for her liking - and she knew that one of her kind was behind it. She just wasn’t sure who. None of them had been present at the time. Even Maggie didn’t know, having been cornered by a furious Kara outside the hospital once she’d finished interrogating Lena. Alex and Astra had to pull her away, murmuring words about security cameras and making a scene. Kara could’ve torn the whole city apart if she’d wanted to. For Lena, she would. And for all of her dislike towards Jack, she couldn’t bring herself to think it was him. It just wasn’t his style. He’d tried to woo Lena in a dozen lifetimes, but he’d never hurt her. This hinted at something else - something more sinister - and Kara was brimming with tension as she let her senses tune into everything around her, reaching the limits of her abilities a few blocks away.

 

            “Hey,” Jack’s quiet voice reached her ears, and Kara’s attention trained on him and Lena again, a feeling of irritation welling up inside. He smoothed Lena’s hair in a tender gesture, and Kara took in the pallid look of Lena’s face as she looked up at him. “Do you want to go somewhere and talk?”

 

            Alex stepped away from Kara’s side and wormed her way through the crowd, interrupting them both to offer Lena her condolences and inquire about her health after being released from hospital. It wasn’t too outlandish to think that the detective who had been investigating her case for the past few days would want to check up on her, although Kara saw the wary look on Lena’s face, thinking that she was in trouble. It was a few moments of idle chit chat with Alex, before she asked to speak to Lena privately, and Jack was forced to graciously retreat, his dark eyes meeting Kara’s gaze across the space between them.

 

            “He’s wasting his time,” Maggie muttered beside Kara, her arms folded over the front of her leather jacket as she shook her head in annoyance.

 

            “You’re on the same side,” Kara reminded her.

 

            Scoffing, Maggie gave her a pointed look, “we’re all stuck in the middle, Kara. I’m just leaning more towards one side than the other. Maybe you should make up your mind so we can get this whole war over and done with.”

 

            Making a sound of disapproval, Kara gave her a stiff look, “I made my decision a long time ago.”

 

            “Love isn’t a decision,” Maggie said in a clipped tone, “you either side with Rao or Reign. It’s that simple.”

 

            “You say that because you’ve never been in love,” Kara quietly reminded her, before she stalked off without another word.

 

            This war had silently been raging for millennia, unseen for the most part as the people who had refused to side with Rao were sent to Earth to suffer their own fate. Not everyone wanted to side with Reign either though, with her plans to unleash chaos into the universe, but they’d all made their decision. All of them except Kara. She was the one keeping the scales from tipping in the favour of one of them, with her vote a hefty weight - enough to tip it in the favour of the one she chose - and she wasn’t sure she wanted to choose. She didn’t want to unleash unlawful chaos and destruction on everyone, but she didn’t want to devote herself to one God, who refused to let her love anyone but him. All she wanted was to be allowed to love Lena. Her refusal to pick was one of the things that had pissed off a few Kryptonians, keeping them trapped on Earth as she tried to break the curse, and while it was selfish of her, she wouldn’t choose unless she had no other options. None of them would be allowed back on Krypton after turning their back on Rao, even if they kept their faith with his ideals, and Kara wouldn’t side with Reign when the other woman wanted to keep them apart just as strongly as Rao did. There was no way she would win if she picked. She had to fix this mess on her own; it was just taking longer than she’d expected.

 

            Alex moved on from Lena at the sound of Kara’s approaching footsteps, and she gave her a warning look, which Kara ignored, quickly focusing on Lena’s back as she listened to her sister let out a weary sigh. She had Kara’s best interests at heart, and Kara knew it was always upsetting for Alex to lose Lena too - they’d been friends many times over - but it wasn’t the time to be cautious. Not when Lena’s heart was heavy with the loss of someone who clearly meant a lot to her, even if it was her assistant. Perhaps she blamed herself too.

 

            “Do you want to get out of here?” Kara quietly asked from behind Lena, her voice a low whisper in her ear as she gently reached out for Lena’s hand. Her hands were cold in Kara’s burning touch, and she gave the frozen fingers a gentle squeeze.

 

            As Lena turned around to look up at her, she’d looked ready to refuse, but at the sight of Kara, she seemed to sag slightly. It wasn’t quite relief, but Kara got the sense that whatever bottled up feelings that Lena was wrestling with, they dissipated for a moment. She was offering her a reprieve from the heavy grief hanging over the cemetery, and Lena desperately needed it. Giving Kara’s hand a gentle squeeze in return, she nodded. “Please.”

 

            Kara could feel Jack’s dark eyes burning into the back of her head, along with the stares of everyone else she knew. They would scold her for it later, but this was a purely selfless moment. Lena needed someone - she needed her - and Kara couldn’t let her suffer alone. She’d dry her tears and hold her close if that’s what Lena needed. If she’d even let her do that.

 

            They turned away from the headstone, walking along the cracked path leading through the cemetery, and Kara held tightly onto Lena’s hand, almost as if to reassure herself that it was happening. All the other times that they had touched, it had been accidental or brief, with one of them jerking away - usually Kara as she came to her senses - but not this time. This time, Kara held her hand and Lena clung to it like a lifeline, a heat spreading through them both just from the contact. It brought back a flood of memories for Kara, the simple act of touching Lena making her whole body tingle as they left the rest of the memorial service behind.

 

            They stopped near the wrought iron archway and brick columns marking the entrance to the cemetery, out of sight of the small chapel and Jess’ freshly dug grave, and Kara drew them into the shade of a gnarled oak tree, resting one hand against the scarred bark, her eyes roaming the rough bark as she tried to think of something to say.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she eventually mumbled, relinquishing her hold on Lena’s hand, even though she didn’t want to let go. She saw Lena shiver out of the corner of her eye.

 

            “You didn’t even know her,” Lena bitterly replied.

 

            The sound of footsteps approaching, and the quieter sounds of Alex and Jack wondering aloud where she was, reached Kara’s ears, and she took Lena by the elbow and urged her to keep walking. “Let’s go.”

 

            They set off down the sidewalk, their footsteps in sync as they matched each other’s pace, shoulder to shoulder in their black funeral garb. Kara’s feet set off on their own accord, passing by the shops and restaurants while Lena followed after her. The weak sunlight shone off the windows of office buildings and skyscrapers and they were silent for a few moments, passing by people going about their normal lives, while they were both wrestling with the urge to reach out and take the other’s hand again.

 

            “You and Jack,” Kara finally said, breaking the silence as she read the billboard on the side of a building to avoid looking at her, the words hanging in the air like a question, “you spend a lot of time together?”

 

            “You sound like you’re not very fond of that idea,” Lena said, letting out a quiet laugh, her words light despite the seriousness of the mood.

 

            Shrugging slightly, Kara turned to look at her, giving her a small smile. “He’s not good enough for you.”

 

            There was a split second of silence, before Lena let out a sharp laugh, her eyebrows rising in surprise as she gave Kara a look of disbelief. Swallowing the lumo in her throat, Kara gave her a serious look. The words were usually used dismissively, but Kara meant them when she said it. If she could keep Lena away from Jack, she would. He was trying to selfishly use her, to ruin everything for everyone else except himself, and Kara wouldn’t let it happen. Perhaps Lena would listen to her.

 

            “No that it’s any of your concern,” Lena said in a quiet voice, “but who is then?”

 

            Laughing, Kara’s eyes crinkled slightly at the corners and she pushed her glasses up her nose as she gave Lena a smile laced with sadness. “I don’t know. That’s a good question,” she finally replied.

 

            The expression that flickered across Lena’s face let her know that it was the wrong answer, and Kara watched as she stuffed her hands into her coat pockets, the wind ruffling her dark hair as the muscles in her jaw twitched. She had to resist the urge to reach out and tuck her hair behind her ear for her. “It’s not like it’s that hard to be good enough for me,” Lena stiffly replied, a bitterness to her words as a dark look crossed her face.

 

            “Yes, it is,” Kara murmured, her voice softening slightly.

 

            Breathing in the damp smell of the streets, with the lingering odour of car fumes and garbage in overflowing alleyways, Kara listened to the slow, steady thump of Lena’s heartbeat. After what had happened at L-Corp, she shouldn’t feel safe anywhere, but next to Kara, she was calm, breathing evenly as if she felt safe with her. It was more than Kara deserved after the way that she’d treated Lena, and she felt an ache in her chest for the blind trust that Lena had in her for no reason other than the fact that she thought she knew Kara. She’d been so convinced that she didn’t even question where they were going, she just trusted her. It was only to CatCo, which they arrived at not too long later, the silence between them growing uncomfortably awkward as they stepped into the elevator with a few employees from different floors and rode it all the way up to the top floor, before finding the emergency exit and going up to the rooftop.

 

            As they stepped out onto the concrete roof, the sound of pigeons cooing nearly chased away by the blustery wind, Kara gave Lena a small smile, holding the door open for her. “I guess it isn’t yours alone if you come to a place more than once with the same person.”

 

            Lena returned the smile at the knowledge that Kara had never brought anyone else up twice to her hiding spot on the roof, and she watched as Kara propped the door open with the brick, before they both walked over to the far corner, standing precariously close to the edge. Weak sunlight blinded them as it reflected off a thousand surfaces, shining so brightly white that it was dazzling. The whole city seemed to be radiating light, and Kara blinked back dizzying black spots as her eyes watered slightly. She fluidly folded her body beneath her, sitting cross-legged on the edge of the roof, leaving Lena to slowly lower herself down beside her, a few leaves and soft feathers skittering across the roof in the breeze.

 

            Sighing, Kara ran a hand through her hair, staring out at the city with a grim look on her face. “Do you ever think about getting out of here?” she suddenly asked. “Going somewhere else and starting over fresh. National City doesn’t seem like the best fit for you.”

 

            Lena paused for a few moments, before she sighed. “This is my fresh start.”

 

            “Come on-”

 

            “You don’t understand,” Lena interrupted her.

 

            Kara understood better than she thought. She’d done her research on Lena, and knew all about her family - or what Lena knew of her family - and she understood better than anyone how the need for a fresh start could help ease the pain a little. Not enough though.

 

            “There’s always somewhere new, Lena,” she murmured.

 

            She could almost feel the irritation radiating from Lena in waves, her teeth grinding together as her temper flared up. “Maybe for you. And if you’re so intent on getting rid of me, then what are we doing up here? No one asked you to drag me up to the roof with you.”

 

            Kara closed her eyes for a moment, swallowing thickly as she tried to stop herself from nastily pushing Lena away again. It hurt her just as much as it hurt Lena to be so casually cruel, but at least she knew why . Every time she pushed Lena away - all of the times she’d tried it, over countless years - she would have to watch the wounded look of betrayal and confusion well up in those green doe eyes, and it broke her just a little bit more each time. She was getting tired now. So tired of it all. But there was nothing and no one on this earth that could keep her from Lena. Their love was scattered throughout time, with the curse bringing them together over and over again, and no matter how much she fought it, it always wore her down, preying on the weakness within her heart. Loving her was difficult, but in the end, if she would do it anyway. Somewhere along the road, she had lost herself in looking for Lena, until it had consumed her and become her everything, hoping to find her again just for the chance to hear her say Kara’s name one more time. She lost herself in trying to find a way to break the curse too, hoping that with each new version of her she’d finally find something different, as if there would be a sudden moment where it all made sense.

 

            “You’re right,” she finally murmured. I just meant … you’re not like the people you know. Like your family and friends. There’s got to be a better place for you.”

 

            “When I moved here,” Lena said in a slightly wavering voice, “I told myself that I wouldn’t let my past get in the way of things.”

 

            “What I’m talking about has nothing to do with your brother,” Kara gently told her.

 

            She turned to look at Lena as she saw her visibly wince out of the corner of her eye, and a feeling of pity welled up inside, her expression softening slightly as she reached out and took Lena’s hands in her own. Staring down at the paleness of the slender fingers in her tanned hands, Kara ran her thumbs across the knuckles of Lena’s fingers, a grim smile on her face, before she looked up to meet Lena’s searching gaze.

 

            “Then what?”

 

            “It’s … other things,” Kara lamely said, wishing that she could explain why she wanted Lena far away.

 

            She could’ve left too - it went both ways - but she knew she couldn’t. The thrill of just one more second with her always tempted Kara, and she always gave into the temptation. She was kicking herself in her mind, wishing that she’d stayed in the cemetery. Wishing she’d left the moment she’d met her in her office for the interview with Clark. A part of her mind questioned the fact that Astra had been working for Lena and hadn’t even told her she’d found her. It wasn’t the first time someone had purposely kept the latest discovery of her reincarnated lover a secret from her, but it hurt just as much to know that people she had known for centuries didn’t trust her not to mess it up again. And they were right to, of course, but Astra had always had a soft spot for them both, and had taken up a position of guarding Lena on more than one occasion over the years.

 

            “How did you save me from the fire?” Lena eventually asked.

 

            Blinking in surprise at the question, Kara gave her a mild look of confusion. “I carried you down to the lobby.”

 

            “Why were you there?” Lena persisted.

 

            “I was coming to apologise for my behaviour,” Kara lied, although she had been feeling guilty about it. She couldn’t exactly tell Lena that she heard the explosion from across the city and had flew straight there and lifted her off the balcony though. For starters, she wouldn’t believe her, and second of all, that would lead to some uncomfortable questions, which could, in turn, lead to spontaneous combustion and a pile of ashes sitting beside Kara. Questions were a bad idea. “I was on my way up to your floor when the bomb went off. Luckily I wasn’t in between floors, but I had to pry the doors open, which wasn’t easy.”

 

            “And you just happened to know where to find me out of the entire floor of rooms … and carried me down the whole length of the building?”

 

            “Yes,” Kara calmly answered, knowing that she wasn’t supposed to be strong enough to carry her down endless flights of stairs, after supposedly running through a smoky maze of offices and conference rooms.

 

            “Why’d you save me?”

 

            Her gaze softened slightly and Kara gave the hands she was still holding a gentle squeeze, a smile curling her lips. “Because it was you.”

 

            Lena opened her mouth to reply when the rooftop door flew open and a man in a black suit stepped out into the wind. It was Jack, and Kara gave him a dark look, her blue eyes flashing a silent warning, as he casually strolled across the rooftop. He had an easy smile on his face and his hands in his pockets as he drew closer to them.

 

            “Lena,” he softly called out, “I came to see if you’re alright.”

 

            She staggered to her feet and Kara fluidly rose beside her, silent as she took a step closer to him, a protective stance hidden behind the casual movement, and Jack’s smile widened slightly at the warning. Every part of Kara was tense as she stared at him, waiting for him to do something, but he just held a hand out to Lena, who took a half-step towards him, turning to look at Kara with concern in her eyes. The tension between her and Jack was palpable, and Lena could feel it even if she didn’t know where it was coming from.

 

            “I’m fine, Jack,” she hesitantly assured him.

 

            “It looks like a storm’s going to hit, you should probably head back in,” he hinted, “do you need a ride home?”

 

            Biting her lip, she paused for a moment, before looking at Kara again, “no, I’m all good. Thank you. I’ll, um, stop by your office soon. I’ll let you know when I’m free, maybe we can do lunch?”

 

            His warm smile didn’t waver, but Kara saw the flicker of disappointment in his eyes, but he lazily shrugged, giving her a quick nod. “Sure. Get home safe,” he told her, his tone friendlier than Kara had expected. “One more thing.”

 

            Some of the tension bled out of Kara, and she hid a sound of disapproval as he stepped forward, arms reaching forward for a hug. Lena stepped into his embrace, and went to kiss him on the cheek when Jack’s hand cupped her face, stopping her so that he could turn his head and plant a gentle kiss on her lips. It was brief, barely a peck, but Kara felt her insides boil as her anger welled up. Lena was still blinking in surprise when Kara’s fist made contact with Jack’s jaw, his head snapping to the side with the force of the punch, and Lena jumped backwards, her eyes wide with alarm.

 

            “What the fuck,” she exclaimed, mouth open in surprise as she looked at Kara.

 

            “Keep your hands off her,” Kara snapped.

 

            Jack straightened up, rubbing his jaw as he smiled slightly, “sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

 

            He moved towards Lena, reaching out to grab her with one hand, and Kara swatted his arm away, blocking his path as she looked at him with blazing eyes. “I said keep your hands off her, you evil piece of shit.”

 

            Letting out a laugh of delight, Jack cocked his head to the side, taking in the way Lena hid behind Kara, her face ashen and hard with anger. Kara could hear her heart beating a mile a minute and hear her ragged breathing, and she fought to keep her temper in check so as not to frighten Lena. She was more than a match for Jack, but he could pack a heavy blow if he wanted to - Kara paused for a moment to consider whether he’d hit her in front of Lena - and she waited to see if he was going to back down or not.

 

            After a few long moments, he let out a breathless laugh, fixing his jacket and slicking his hair back, before holding his hands up in surrender. “My apologies. I should’ve asked first,” he said, his eyes trained on Lena. “Are you sure you don’t want my driver to take you home?”

 

            “Get out of here,” Lena snapped at him, her voice shaking slightly, although it held plenty of anger in it too.

 

            He gave her a wounded look but nodded, turning around and stalking off without another word, his head hanging down as he rubbed at his jaw. Neither of them moved as they watched Jack’s lanky form disappear back into the stairwell, the wind whistling atop the tall building while the distant city sounds drifted up to them, and then Kara turned to Lena, a sheepish look on her face as she had the decency to look ashamed.

 

            “Are you alright?” Kara quietly asked her.

 

            “Don’t,” Lena said, refusing to look at her as she pointed a finger at her in warning.

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            A hysterical laugh escaped Lena, and she glanced up, her green eyes hard with anger. “Sorry? What the fuck are you doing?”

 

            “I was trying to protect you.”

 

            “Protect me? I don’t need your protection,” Lena lashed out, her anger rising to the surface as her eyes shone with unshed tears, “I don’t need anything from you. You can’t just come in here and act like you know what’s going on in my life when you don’t. You have no right to think that you have any say in who I kiss, or who I’m friends with or where I live. None of this happened until you showed up. Can’t you just leave me alone?”

 

            A flash of hurt ran across Kara’s face as she flinched slightly, because of course she was right, she just didn’t know the full extent of it. “I’m trying to help-”

 

            “Just stop! I don’t need your help. A girl is dead, okay? A girl is dead and I don’t know what it is, but something’s going on and it’s to do with you . You’re everywhere, all the time, playing games with me. I don’t know what’s going on between you and Jack, or what scheme you’ve got going with your friends, but keep me out of it. I’m done. I’m just … I’m done, Kara. Leave me alone, and tell your friends to do the same, or I’ll have my lawyer file a restraining order against all of you.”

 

            She turned and walked off without another word, leaving Kara spluttering as she tried to apologise and explain herself. But she couldn’t explain herself, and Lena didn’t want to hear her lame apologies. If she’d been able to tell her the whole story, it would’ve made more sense, but it was more complicated than Lena knew, and the meagre facts she had did make it seem like Kara and her friends were meddling in her life, forming some scheme around her. If only Lena knew that they were trying to keep her safe. They were collectively trying to save her life, and Kara ran a frustrated hand through her hair as she watched Lena storm off.

 

            As soon as she disappeared from sight, her pounding heartbeat fading to Kara’s ears, she let out a shout of anger and pushed off from the rooftop, hard enough for spiderweb cracks to radiate out from where her feet had been. Shooting up into the sky like a rocket, air rushing past her, Kara broke above the clouds and hovered there for a moment, soaking in the peaceful quietness of the suffocating white noise of the wind, letting all of her anger bleed out of her as she hung suspended in the air, water beading on her clothes and hair as she took in a deep breath of thin, freezing air. With the slow exhale, she let the tension bleed out of her, and with the shake of her head to clear her mind, she shot off through the sky, seeking out something to distract her from the aching in her chest and thoughts of Lena.

Chapter Text

            Lena got a text of Jack the next day, asking her to meet him at a bar in one of the dodgier parts of the city, and twenty minutes before she was supposed to meet him, she found herself staring at her reflection in her bathroom mirror. She didn’t want to see Jack, not after he’d kissed her the day before, but she had something to say to him, and she fussed over her appearance in the mirror, trying to muster up something serious and professional. She was confused about the whole situation. Kara had slapped him, her anger brimming over, and Lena wasn’t quite sure why, but she had the nagging feeling like it was about her . Her friendship with Jack spanned years, and she’d never led him on, although she’d been aware of his feelings and had avoided his multiple advances. Today, she had to be direct with him.

 

            Eventually, she couldn’t put it off any longer, and she decided to walk to the address he’d given her so that she could clear her head along the way and sort out what she was going to say. Dusk was just settling in, painting the city in deep shades of blue, and she pulled her coat tightly around herself as she walked down the sidewalk, passing by the upscale bars and restaurants and moving further from the familiar inner city, with its towering office buildings and department stores. It didn’t take her long to reach the bar, but she was late as she came to a stop outside a dingy looking place, the windows thick with grime and posters for live music, cheap bear and karaoke nights. Gingerly pushing open the door, she stepping into the dim room, breathing in the smell of alcohol and smoke and glancing around the place. It was nearly empty and it only took her a moment to spot Jack at the bar.

 

            “Jack.”

 

            “Lena! You  came,” he said, giving her a relieved smile. His dark hair was slightly dishevelled and he had the sleeves of the blue shirt he was wearing rolled up to his elbows. A cluster of empty glasses were gathering in front of him on the bar, while he nursed a tumbler of amber liquid. “I thought you’d stood me up.”

 

            She gave him a slight smile. “I wouldn’t stand you up. I walked here.”

 

            He nodded, gesturing to the empty stool beside him, “have a seat. What can I get for you? I know you usually go for a martini, but I wouldn’t risk it in this place. The scotch is pretty good though.”

 

            Before Lena could protest, hoping to let him down quickly and gently and then leave, Jack had already signalled the bartender and ordered her a glass. Taking a seat on one of the stools, the leather cracked and the stuffing threatening to burst out, she wrapped her hands around the glass placed in front of her, ice cubes clinking as water beaded on the glass. She gave Jack a once over, taking in his appearance and the smell of alcohol clinging to him and made the assumption that he’d been there for a while, although he didn’t look drunk at all.

 

            “About last night …” he started, giving her an apologetic smile.

 

            “I wanted to talk to you about last night too,” Lena said, giving him a grim smile as she took in the hopeful look in his dark eyes.

 

            “I want to apologise,” Jack firmly said, a serious look crossing his face as he stared back at her, “I know I came on a little too strong, and I shouldn’t have kissed you like that in front of Kara. I was mad and I was out of line, but I care about you.”

 

            Knowing now was the time to be honest with him, but unable to make the words come, Lena picked up the scotch and took a sip, letting it burn its way down her throat as she silently prayed for it to give her the courage to break one of her only friend’s heart. Before she could even say anything, a burly guy covered in tattoos wandered over and stepped in between them, giving her a sleazy smile as he gave her a once over. Before he could even say more than a few words, using some cheesy pickup line, Jack put a hand on the guys chest and gently pushed him backwards, sending him stumbling, although the gesture had been as careless as swatting a fly away.

 

            With a quick eye roll, Jack gave her an easy smile, “sorry about that. You were saying about last night?”

 

            “I was saying-”

 

            She didn’t get to say much, because a moment later they guy was back, picking up one of the empty glasses and smashing it over Jack’s head. A shower of broken glass and the watery dregs of the alcohol rained down over his shirt, leaving wet marks on the fabric, and Jack shook his head out like a wet dog, before glancing up at the guy with a milk look of irritation on his face. Climbing off the stool, Jack rose to face the man, who was easily half a foot taller than him, and with a considerable amount of muscle, and Lena groaned as the shards of glass fell to the grimy floor of the bar. Ignoring the bartenders feeble attempts to get them to break it up, the burly man threw a punch at Jack, which he took solidly on the chin, with little more than a step backwards from the force of it, although the man cursed and flexed his hand, his eyes wide with surprise.

 

            They guy had a few friends, and Jack quickly took care of one of them with a quick punch, the sound of his fist solidly connecting making Lena wince. She slid off her stool, clenching her jaw with anger as she eyed Jack, who was smiling as he swatted punches aside and delivered his own with more success. Shaking her head, feeling her heart thud loudly in her chest, Lena stormed over to the door and tugged it open, stepping out into the gloomy dusk and straight into someone’s arms.

 

            “Are you okay?” Kara asked, her blue eyes wide with concern as she wrapped an arm around Lena’s shoulder and ushered her away from the door of the shabby bar and the muffled sounds of fighting.

 

            “How did you find me here?” she asked, feeling irritable as she blinked back angry tears.

 

            Kara ignored her question, towing her over to the edge of the sidewalk, a spot of heat from where she touched Lena spreading a warmth through her body, and Lena went along willingly. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here.”

 

            Much to her surprise, Kara threw a leg over a motorbike parked on the side of the road, and Lena accepted the glossy black helmet with a wary look on her face. Her only other option was to walk home though, and she didn’t feel like walking home alone in the dark, so she crammed the helmet down onto her dark head and climbed onto the bike behind Kara. The warmth that radiated off the blonde woman was surprisingly comforting, and Lena told herself that she was wrapping her arms around Kara purely for safety purposes.

 

            As soon as Lena settled behind her, the door to the bar banged open and Jack stumbled out, looking even more dishevelled than before, but thankfully not injured. His fists were clenched and he quickly jogged over to the motorbike, a pleading look on his face as Kara started the bike, the engine purring beneath them.

 

            “Lena,” he said, “don’t do this. Don’t leave with her . It’ll end badly. Please, I’m sorry.”

 

            “Goodnight, Jack,” Kara said, before pulling out into traffic.

 

            Lena had no choice but to silently stew as she clutched Kara tightly, feeling the taut muscles through the denim jacket the other woman was wearing, her mind reeling from the shock of Jack getting into a fight over her and bumping into Kara. She couldn’t even bring herself to tell Kara where she lived, she just let the blonde drive through the traffic of the city, confidently steering the bike while Lena held on tightly.

 

            The city was dark and studded with lights from the convenience stores, clubs and restaurants as they drove through it, and Lena was quiet as Kara drove them over the bridge spanning the inlet of the harbour, before bearing left and leading them down to the stretch of empty parking lots, neglected warehouses and docks where a few fishing boats were moored. They came to a stop at one of the parking lots, and the bike stilled beneath them as Kara switched it off, the headlight briefly illuminating the inky water lapping at the thin border of sand ahead of them, before it was switched off too. Kara climbed off the bike and helped Lena off, kicking the stand up and reaching up to take the helmet off Lena.

 

            Self-consciously running a hand through her hair, Lena gave Kara a tiny smile, before she cast her eyes around. It was cold down near the water, and the only sound aside from the wind was the distant sound of sirens and the muffled thumping of music from a nearby club.

 

            “Where are we?” Lena ashed, her voice hushed as if she didn’t dare to break the stillness of the night.

 

            “Nowhere,” Kara shrugged, “just away from that bar.”

 

            “You still haven’t told me how you found me,” Lena said. “Or how you knew I was meeting Jack. Or whose bike this is. I’m assuming it’s not yours - you don’t seem like the type.”

 

            “I borrowed it off a friend. Lucy Lane.”

 

            “My lawyer?” Lena said, giving Kara an incredulous look as she tried to figure out how Kara knew all of the people in Lena’s life, but Lena had no knowledge of her existence until she’d shown up with Clark Kent to interview her. Kara turned away from her and walked over to the litter-strewn beach, standing at the very edge of where the water lapped against the shore, plastic bottles and other garbage cluttering the shallows. “Kara, what’s going on?”

 

            Turning to look at her, her face and hair catching the moonlight, Kara gave her a defeated look. Her shoulders were tense and she looked angry and stiff, but Lena trusted her for some reason. Kara was agitated though, running her fingers through her hair and swallowing thickly as she avoided looking at Lena.

 

            “I just need some time to think,” she murmured, “what you did tonight … it could’ve been bad, Lena.”

 

            “It’s Jack. He would never hurt me.”

 

            “He’s not good for you. You shouldn’t be involved with him.”

 

            Lena spluttered, a haughty look on her face as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not involved with him, and I don’t need you telling me what to do or how to behave.”

 

            Letting out a pent up breath, Kara seemed to deflate slightly, giving Lena a pained look. “Sorry. You’re right. It’s my fault anyway.”

 

            “What do you mean it’s your fault?”

 

            Kara was silent, and the silence stretched on as they stood there across from each other, the wind tugging at their clothes while the water lapped against Kara’s heels. The faint smell of salt swirled around them in the breeze and the sharp cry of a seagull punctuated the quietness. Trying to fight back the urge to stamp her foot as frustration welled up inside, Lena clenched her teeth together, her fingernails gouging marks into her palms as she clenched her hands into fists, the prickling feeling of tears stinging her eyes.

 

            “Why come and find me then? Why bring me out here to snap at me and then ignore me?” Lena bitingly asked, before letting out a sharp, hollow laugh as she gave Kara a quick smile. “I mean, it’s not like that’s much different to how you usually treat me most of the time, but-”

 

            “You don’t get it!” Kara exclaimed, covering her face with both hands and shaking her head. “That’s the thing; you never do!”

 

            Despite her obvious distress, Kara’s voice was calm, and almost condescending in a way that made Lena bristle at the insinuation that she was too stupid to understand whatever it was Kara was vaguely hinting at.

 

            “I don’t get it?” Lena stiffly asked, her eyes narrowing slightly in anger, “you think that you’re smarter than me? I graduated high school when I was twelve. I have two PhD’s and I’m twenty-four . Two! I have a billion-dollar fortune and I run a global company. I’m not a fucking idiot.”

 

            Kara blinked in surprise at the ferocity of Lena’s words, retreating right up to the shoreline while Lena advanced on her, until Kara was standing in an inch of water, her eyes wide as she watched Lena pursue her. She probably looked crazy, but Lena was annoyed. They’d been doing this back and forth, hot and cold game for longer than she had the patience for, and enough was enough. Lena continued her rant as Kara stumbled backwards, water splashing over her shoes and soaking the cuffs of her jeans until she came to a stop, a distant look in her eyes as she stared at Lena.

 

            “Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid, and don’t tell me I don’t understand just because I can’t decode your hot and cold bullshit games, okay? Frankly, it’s hurtful, and I’ve done nothing to deserve the way you’ve been treating me.”

 

            “Shut up,” Kara softly said, her voice tender and meek, and it surprised both of them when Lena actually listened, her mouth closing as she breathed in deeply through her nose, feeling slightly out of breath from her tirade. “I don’t think that you’re stupid,” Kara whispered, closing her eyes. “I think you’re the smartest person I know. And the kindest.” Her eyes snapped open so that she was looking directly at Lena. “And the most beautiful.”

 

            Spluttering slightly as she took a step back, stunned by the words, Lena gave her a wary look. “Excuse me?”

 

            Letting out a heavy sigh, her shoulders sagging slightly as she turned to look at the smooth, glossy surface of the water, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat. “I’m just … so tired of this.” She sounded tired too.

 

            “Of what?”

 

            When she turned back around to look at Lena, she had the saddest expression on her face, as if she was grieving for something precious that she’d lost. It struck her as frighteningly familiar, and Lena was unsettled by the nagging feeling that she’d seen that expression before. That she knew this Kara and loved her. It was ridiculous though; they barely knew each other, and Lena wasn’t in love with her. She was undeniably attracted to her, on more than one level, and Lena wasn’t above admitting it to herself, but she didn’t even know her.

 

            Kara didn’t say anything as she stepped out of the water, the wet sound of sand crunching beneath her shoes as she moved closer to Lena, until she was so close that only a few inches separated them. Shaking her head, Kara was silent again, yet there was an intense look in her eyes. Reaching out with a trembling hand, Lena placed it against Kara’s warm cheek, watching as the woman’s eyes widened as she blinked owlishly, turning to stone beneath her touch. She’d half expected Kara to pull away, but she didn’t. Moving slowly, so slowly, as if she was afraid she was going to startle her, like Kara was a skittish deer, Lena leant in, her heart pounding loudly as the fear of being rejected nagged at the back of her mind. There was something alluring about the tenderness swimming in Kara’s eyes that just made her want to kiss her though. And so, she leant in, slowly, until their lips were a hair's breadth away, so close but not quite touching. And then she gently pressed her lips against Kara’s.

 

            It was the softest, featherlight kiss, yet it sent a searing heat through Lena, quashing her nerves as she melted into it, revelling in the feeling of how pillowy Kara’s lips were beneath her own. Kara was a statue beneath her, and for a moment, Lena was overcome with the embarrassing fear that perhaps she’d overstepped, and that Kara didn’t want to kiss her, no matter how much Lena had wanted to. But then a strong arm wound around her waist and one warm hand was cupping the underside of her jaw. Coming alive beneath her touch, Kara pushed back against Lena’s lips, taking control as she pressed up against her, until Lena tripped on a sodden branch washed up on the beach, and Kara dragged them both down onto the sliver of dry sand. She kissed her slowly, savouring the sweetness of the moment as their bodies lined up, hips pressed against hips and chests heaving as Kara straddled her. A soft sigh escaped Lena’s lips as Kara kissed the underside of her jaw, before pushing her dark hair back and trailing hot kisses down her neck.

 

            Lena caught a glimpse of the moon and a few stars through half-lidded eyes, before Kara was kissing her again, her hair tickling Lena’s cheeks, the kiss more intense and needy, with a desperate edge to it. All too willing to oblige, Lena kissed her back with the same fervor, finally unafraid to show how much she’d wanted to kiss Kara, the urge growing each time they’d crossed paths. She had sand everywhere, beneath her fingernails and in her hair, but Lena didn’t care as the heat coursed through her, making her gasp as she gently bit Kara’s bottom lip.

 

            It was a moment later when Kara pulled back, hovering over her with a look of awe on her face as she gently stroked Lena’s cheek, her bottom lip trembling slightly and a sheen of tears in her eyes. Lena gave her a gentle smile, reaching up to push Kara’s hair out of her face for her, and running her thumb along her bottom lip with her other hand. Letting out a choked sob, Kara sat upright, and Lena scrambled into a sitting position, her hands going to Kara’s waist as the blonde sat in her lap.

 

            “You’re still here,” she whispered, the words thick with emotion and wonder.

 

            “Where else would I be?” Lena quietly laughed.

 

            Scrambling out of her lap, Kara climbed to her feet, and the laughter died on Lena’s lips as she sobered up. The moment had passed, and the tension hung heavily in the air as she slowly climbed to her feet, dusting the sand off the back of her coat and running a hand through her messy hair. Kara paced back and forth, rubbing her forehead as she created a furrow in the sand.

 

            “What’s wrong?”

 

            She gently tugged at her sleeve, hoping to pull her into another kiss, and Kara stepped closer to her, reaching out to run her fingers over Lena’s face, her hair, her neck, her eyes roaming all over her as if making sure she was real. It was unsettling to see the fear etched into the lines of her face, and Lena frowned slightly, feeling uneasy and concerned.

 

            “Kara?”

 

            “Maybe it’s just running late,” Kara blurted out, slipping from Lena’s grasp again, running a hand through her hair as she gazed back at her intently.

 

            “What?”

 

            “It’s impossible.”

 

            “Kara, you’re scaring me.”

 

            “It’ll come.”

 

            She turned around and walked back up the sandy strip, and Lena scrambled after her, kicking up a flurry of sand in her haste. There was the nagging thought that what Kara was speaking of was true, but Lena had no idea what it was . She couldn’t say what the reason for Kara’s sudden panic was, but she had the faint memory that something bad should’ve happened. Like they shouldn’t have kissed. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it was the same feeling she had whenever she saw Kara, like she knew her but didn’t know how or from where.

 

            “Tell me what’s wrong,” Lena softly said, reaching Kara as they neared the sleek motorbike.

 

            “I don’t know how to stop it,” Kara choked out, “I don’t know what to do.”

 

            Before Lena could say anything else, Kara swung a leg over the bike and held the helmet out for her, gunning the engine as she turned it on. It was obvious that the conversation was over, and Lena swallowed her dozens of questions, jamming the helmet down onto her head and climbing on behind her, barely grabbing hold of her before Kara shot off. The frustrated feelings welled up again, but Lena’s whole body felt like it was alive after the kiss.

 

            They reached Lena’s apartment fifteen minutes later, and Lena didn’t ask Kara how she knew where she lived. She turned off the bike outside the apartment and climbed off it, pacing back and forth again as she warily eyed Lena, who was slowly unbuckling the helmet and setting it down on the leather seat, giving Kara a cautious look. It was like she was terrified of touching her or getting close, even though twenty minutes ago she’d been on top of her. Looking dazed, Kara murmured to herself, over and over again, and Lena caught a few snatches that sounded like something must’ve happened, while Kara gave her a pained look, looking jittery as she walked back and forth.

 

            With a weary sigh, Lena had walked over to the front of the hotel she’d taken up residence in, taking a seat on the steps leading up to the front doors of the lobby. It was a few moments before Kara walked over and joined her, sitting side by side as she muttered to herself. Lena fell asleep with her head on Kara’s shoulder as they sat on the front steps of the hotel, and when she woke up, Kara was carrying her through the door to her suite, gently cradling her in her arms. Lena was surprised to find that she’d fallen asleep, and she blearily looked up at Kara’s pale face, a small smile curling her lips as she nestled against her shoulder.

 

            She laid Lena down on the bed, pulling off her heels and coat, and Lena kicked back the covers of the bed, which Kara carefully pulled over her, tenderly stroking the brunette’s hair out of her face and placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Don’t disappear on me,” she whispered, a dark look on her face.

 

            Lena smiled, her eyelashes fluttering as she struggled to keep her eyes open. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            Holding onto Kara’s hand for a moment longer, clinging to the warmth, she gave it a weak tug, pulling Kara down to her. Cradling her face between her palms, Lena softly kissed her, cherishing the moment, and when Kara pulled back, she stared down at her for a long moment. Every time her eyes dragged themselves open, they landed on Kara, and the last thing Lena remembered before drifting back to sleep was the hunched figure perched on the edge of the bed, bathed in the soft yellow light from the lamp and watching her with a painful, yet tender look on her face, afraid that the love of all her lives would disappear on her again.

Chapter Text

            When she left Lena for the night, Kara couldn’t bear to actually leave her, and made her way up to the rooftop of the hotel Lena had taken up residence in. Leaving behind a handwritten note on the hospital stationary, Kara made her way up to the hotel rooftop and roosted amongst the pigeons, listening to them flutter around and coo while she listened to the far more important sound of Lena’s steady heartbeat in the room below her. She didn’t moved until the stars that her sharp eyes could pick out were gone, hidden by the approaching dawn as the darkness receded and yellow sunshine swept in. At the sound of Lena waking up, she climbed to her feet, feeling a little stiff after so many hours spent sitting on the cold rooftop, and walked over to the door.

 

            She was at Alex’s apartment before the sun had even fully risen, the rosy tinged sky seeming sweeter to her as she rushed through the city on the motorbike, her heart hammering in her chest and her cheeks flushed. Banging on the wooden door, accidentally splintering the wood as she broke the lock with the force, and pushed the door open, Kara slammed it shut behind her, dropping the bike helmet to the ground with a large, hollow thud. Alex was stumbling out of bed, looking alarmed at the forceful intrusion, and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as Kara anxiously started pacing back and forth in front of the kitchen counters.

 

            “Kara?”

 

            “Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong,” she rambled, running an anxious hand through her hair as she drew in a ragged breath, her cheeks flushed and eyes bright. “I kissed her. I kissed her, Alex.”

 

            Her voice cracked as she spoke, and Alex took it the wrong way as she let out a small, pitiful sound, a sorrowful look on her face as she padded barefoot across the empty space separating the two of them. “Oh, Kara. It’s okay, you’re okay.”

 

            She reached out, trying to draw her into a comforting embrace, as she’d done so many times before, but Kara batted her hands aside and grabbed her sister by the shoulders, a wild, frazzled look about her as she gave her a tearful smile. “I kissed her and she’s still here, Alex.”

 

            “Wait, what?” her sister spluttered.

 

            “I kissed her,” Kara said, her forehead creasing slightly as she spoke the words, not quite believing them herself. But Lena had been solid and real beneath her touch, so warm an soft and pushing back against Kara, that it had to be real. Too many times, Kara had felt the fragile body turn to ash beneath her lips, leaving her with a lap full of cinders and another fracture in her already broken heart. She knew what it felt like to have the fiery warmth fizzle out, her lips finding nothing but empty air, yet it hadn’t happened this time.

 

            Alex gave her a dumbfounded look, her brown eyes wide with unabashed shock. “She’s still alive?! No, no, no. There’s obviously a mistake. Go and kiss her again.”

 

            Spluttering, Kara gave her a look of indignation, “no! It’s not a mistake, Alex. Something’s changed. Something’s different this time.”

 

            “Well what now?”

 

            “I left her a note,” Kara pragmatically replied, a serious look on her face, “I’m going to tell her everything. I’m going to explain myself, and be honest, and hope that she believes me. And then, I’m going to figure out what happened.”

 

            Nodding in agreement, Alex bit her lip as a thoughtful look crossed her face. “I’ll get in contact with Astra. She’s been working at Lena’s company and is close to her. She might know something.”

 

            “Okay, great,” Kara breathlessly agreed, a flicker of excitement welling up inside her for the first time in what felt like forever. She had never felt like this after kissing Lena before. It was a foreign feeling, and she told herself not to get her hopes up at discovering something different this time around, because this was Rao and Reign, and they didn’t suddenly just decide to rescind their curses on a whim. There had to be a logical reason for this. “I need to go home and change. I’m meeting her in a couple of hours.”

 

            Alex gave her a warm smile for a moment, before she wrapped her in a tender hug, giving her a gentle squeeze as she heavily sighed. “I’m happy for you. You have no idea how nice it is to see you like this for a change. I’ve never- well, I’m sure you know that you’ve never been like this after- you deserve this happiness.”

 

            “Thank you,” Kara whispered, her eyes prickling with tears. “I know you don’t want to say it though, but you should.”

 

            Drawing back, Alex gave her a sheepish smile. “Please don’t … don’t get your hopes up. I know you want to believe that it’s not- that’s it’s different, but if it’s not …”

 

            “I’ll have my heart broken again,” Kara quietly choked out, a grim, knowing smile on her lips. “Yeah, I know.”

 

            “Well then, go and get ready. Go and get your lover,” Alex said, giving her a nervous smile as she brushed her hands over the shoulders of Kara’s coat, smoothing the fabric out in a motherly gesture as she gave her an encouraging look.

 

            Letting out a quiet laugh of delight, Kara darted forward and kissed her sister on the cheek. “Thank you. I love you.”

 

            “Yeah, you too,” Alex called after her as Kara sped out of the apartment.

 

            She resisted the itching urge to fly as she all but ran back to her apartment, taking a long, hot shower to try and unwind her taut muscles and help her relax. It was almost pointless, but it did waste time, and when she climbed out from underneath the hot water, her cheeks had a pink rosiness to them that wasn’t entirely just from the steamy heat of the shower. She dressed quickly in a lavender blouse and a prim skirt, running her hands anxiously over the pleats as she tried to steady her breathing, and downed three cups of coffee in an hour, feeling grateful for her fast metabolism, or else she’d be bouncing off the walls.

 

            By the time the designated hour of their meeting was approaching, she was pacing back and forth in the middle of her apartment, feeling almost sick with nerves, but excited with the glimmer of hopefulness inside. Grabbing a camel coloured coat, she shrugged it on and left, taking the longest route to L-Corp that she could think of - she’d chosen L-Corp for the pure reason that there wouldn’t be any other sensitive ears around, especially if Alex was going to be drawing Astra away from the office - and she arrived at the towering building with ten minutes to spare. It took almost that long to get inside and in the elevator, and then up onto the rooftop, but she still beat Lena, who she could hear sitting in her temporary office on one of the floors that hadn’t been impacted by the fire.

 

            Listening to the sound of the fluttering heartbeat make their way upstairs made Kara’s heart soar, and she turned at the sound of the rooftop door being opened, a bright smile lighting up her face as her stomach lurched with butterflies. Lena was as radiant as ever, even in her confusion, giving Kara a hesitant smile, as if unsure about where they stood. Especially after her mad rambling last night.

 

            “Good morning,” Kara softly murmured as Lena approached.

 

            “Hi.”

 

            “Thanks for coming.”

 

            With a quick laugh, Lena flashed her a bright smile, “I mean, this is my building.”

 

            Blushing slightly, Kara gave her a sheepish smile, “right.”

 

            “So, what did you want to talk about?”

 

            Blowing all the breath out of her lungs, Kara ran a hand through her hair, looking out at the city spread out below them in the early morning sun. “I’m not even sure where to begin. There’s so much that I- there’s a lot to talk about, and I have to make sure that I explain it all right.”

 

            She turned to look at Lena, who was looking at her with her head cocked slightly to one side, a curious glint in her green eyes as she gazed up at Kara expectantly. “It sounds serious. And … bad.”

 

            Cracking a small smile, Kara shook her head. “No, not bad. Not all of it.”

 

            “Well how about you tell me the bad news first, and then the good?”

 

            Reaching out for one of Lena’s hand, Kara cradled it in her own, running a thumb over the knuckles as she frowned, a brooding look passing over her face and darkening her sunny features. Biting her lip slightly, Kara looked up and met her gaze, a pained look in her eyes as she gave her a begging look. “Okay. Just … promise me you won’t leave before I get to the good news?”

 

            Lena let out a quiet laugh, her fingers curling in Kara’s grasp, as if she was trying to hold onto her, and she flashed her a bright smile. “I promise. You’ve had me nearly pulling my hair out trying to figure out what’s going on, so if I’m finally about to get some answers, I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            Giving her a weak smile, even as fear welled up inside, making her stomach twist and her mouth dry, Kara looked back out at the sparkling sunlight refracted by the hundreds of window panes. Drawing in a deep, shaky breath, she steeled herself and nodded.

 

            “I’m going to tell you the truth,” Kara firmly said, her jaw stubbornly set as she turned back to Lena. Bringing her hands to her chest, with Lena’s still clutched safely between them, Kara cradled it against her heart, just inches below the teardrop necklace hanging around her neck, and her voice low and urgent as she spoke. “You won’t believe me - hell, you’ll probably think I’m insane - but I’ve never been honest with you, but you deserve the truth this time. Even if it kills you. I-I’m going to tell you everything.”

 

            A wary look on her face, Lena let Kara draw her down to the dirty rooftop, both of them sitting cross legged across from each other, their knees knocking and Kara cradling Lena’s hand in her lap. “Okay,” she slowly said, her forehead creasing with concern.

 

            “See, the thing is, I’m damned, Lena.”

 

            “Damned?” Lena hesitantly said, “like … hell?”

 

            “Uh, sure, right, the Bible. So you know how in the Bible, God makes a big deal about how everyone should love him with all their soul? How it has to be unconditional, and unrivaled?”

 

            Shrugging carelessly, Lena quickly nodded, “never read it, but sure.”

 

            “Well I-I made a choice once, a choice that I believed in - one that I still believe in - and I’ve been paying for it ever since.”

 

            “I don’t understand.”

 

            Kara let out a soft laugh, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she gave Lena a sad smile. “Of course you don’t. I don’t have the best track record of explaining it to you either - it’s not like I’ve ever had the chance - but I can- I can try.” Drawing in a long, shuddering breath, Kara tightened her grip on Lena’s hands and looked her straight in the eye. “I fall in love. Over and over again. And no matter what I do, it always ends catastrophically.”

 

            She’d told Lena that she’d been burned by a girl before, but she hadn’t specified who, or what had gone wrong, of just how many girls it had been that had broken her heart - or more accurately, how many times the same girl broke her heart - and she struggled to find the words to explain. A flicker of hurt ran across Lena’s face, before a stony expression took its place and she carefully withdrew her hands, looking pale and angry as she avoided Kara’s gaze, her eyelids closing as if she was trying to pretend she wasn’t there. It was almost like she was angry that Kara would bring up other girls after their kiss the night before, and Kara grit her teeth as she stamped down her frustration. It would all become clear soon enough.

 

            “Look at me,” she whispered, her voice soft and pleading, “Lena, look at me, please. This is where it gets difficult.”

 

            Her voice was slightly strangled, full of different emotions as dozens of faces and words ran through her mind. Dozens of names and memories, gentle touches and tender gazes. She’d loved each and every version of her, no matter how fleeting the love might’ve been, and her spine bore the marks of all of them. Some of them she hadn’t even known that names of, but she’d loved them because they were Lena, and she added that name to her back in their place, biting back cries of pain as Alex carved them into her skin, over and over again. Half of the time, she wasn’t even sure if it was the pain of the green kryptonite, or the knowledge that she’d lost another lover, that made her cry out. Slowly, the list of names had grown, until it neared the bottom of her spine. Soon, she’d have no space left for them. Her skin would be covered in names, as eternity stretched on, along with the curse.

 

            But this Lena was still there. She was sitting there, the strong gusts of wind at their height tossing her dark hair around her face, her face as pale as fresh snow and her long lashes fluttering as her eyes snapped open at Kara’s gentle coaxing. Her green eyes held a spark of anger and a tinge of sadness, and Kara’s heart ached at the thought of losing her too.

 

            “The person I fall in love with each time … it’s you.”

 

            Lena had been holding her breath, her heart thudding loudly in her chest, and Kara was like a statue as she waited for her words to register in the brunette’s mind. And then Lena let out a cutting laugh, her pent up breath spilling out of her as she gave Kara a sharp look.

 

            Dusting her hands off on the knees of her pants, Lena started to climb to her feet. “Right. You really must be damned to fall in love with me,” Lena scathingly replied.

 

            Reaching up for her hand, Kara pulled her back down before she could get all the way up, her hands gently catching her and lowering her back down to the cement, before she could painfully hurt her fragile skin by falling. Her anger was starting to spike at Lena’s flippant attitude, although she could hardly blame her for not taking the news well when it didn’t make any sense.

 

            “Listen,” Kara said, her voice trembling as she gave her an urgent look. “I’m begging you to let me explain. The problem isn’t loving you .”

 

            Lena let out a shaky breath, meeting Kara’s frantic blue eyes with her own steady gaze. She looked remarkably composed, while Kara felt like she was unravelling where she sat, breaking down as she finally explained the secret that she’d kept locked up inside for so long. The only Lena that had ever known was her first love that occasionally appeared as she died, brokenly comforting Kara with her last breaths. It wasn’t easy for her.

 

            “What is it then?” Lena sharply asked.

 

            “I get to live forever.”

 

            Blinking in surprise, Lena stared blankly back at her as the day darkened around them. The sun had been shining overhead, warming their skin as they talked, yet clouds had swept in and hidden it, turning the day grey and making the strong flurries of wind a bit nippy as it swept past them, tugging at clothes and hair. The silence stretched on for a few moments, and Lena gave her a wary look, leaning closer slightly as if uncertain about what she’d heard.

 

            “Sorry, can you say that again?”

 

            Closing her eyes, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat, letting out a shaky breath. “I get to live forever. I get to live, and watch babies being born, and grow up, and fall in love. I watch them have babies of their own and grow old. And then I watch them die. I am cursed to watch it over and over again. Everyone but you.” She opened her eyes, a glassy sheen of tears in them as she gave Lena a tight smile. Her voice had dropped to a thin whisper, and she had to fight back the urge to cry. “You don’t get to grow old. You come along every few years - sometimes you’re barely eighteen, and sometimes you’re twenty-five - and we meet. We always meet somehow, and we’re thrown together, no matter where I go, or how hard I try to distance myself from you. It never matters, because you always find me, and you never make it to twenty-six.” She had her hands clenched into fists, her shoulders hunched slightly as she looked down at her lap, unable to meet Lena’s stunned stare. “And every time we meet, you fall for me, and I fall for you-”

 

            “Kara-”

 

            “I can resist you for as long as I can, or I can go willingly into your arms, but in the end, it makes no difference, because I fall for you and you fall for me.”

 

            “Is that so terrible?” Lena hoarsely asked.

 

            “And it kills you.”

 

            “Stop it,” Lena suddenly snarled, her patience wearing thin at Kara’s words, “what is it you’re trying to do? Scare me away?”

 

            Kara choked on laugh, which sounded more like a pained sob, and then let out a weak snort of laughter. “No. What’s the point? It wouldn’t work anyway.”

 

            She could hear the anger plainly in Lena’s voice when she replied, her tone cold and haughty. “If you don’t want to be with me, there’s more believable stories to tell. It was just one kiss; you shouldn’t flatter yourself too much to think that I’m that caught up on you after one kiss.”

 

            Nodding to herself, Kara smiled slightly, wiping at her teary eyes. “I know you don’t believe me, and that’s okay. It’s why I’ve never told you before, but now I have to, because I thought I understood the rules - I thought I know how this game worked - but then I kissed you … and now I don’t understand anything at all.”

 

            She looked up and saw a look of surprise on Lena’s face, assuming that she was putting the pieces of the story together with the events of the night before when Kara had been rambling to herself about how she shouldn’t have still been there. Opening her mouth, she paused for a moment, her eyebrows drawing together in a slightly frown, and then she let out a huff of frustration, her shoulders sagging as she finally understood. “Because you kissed me,” she murmured.

 

            Kara nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat.

 

            “You kissed me, and when we stopped, you were surprised.”

 

            She nodded again, looking a little sheepish.

 

            “You kissed me,” Lena continued, her voice slow as she tried to put it all together, “and you thought I wasn’t going to survive it?”

 

            Kara gave her a wry smile and hoarsely replied, “based on previous experiences; yes.”

 

            “That’s just … that’s just crazy,” Lena breathed, running a hand through her messy hair as she gave Kara a wide-eyed look of concern, “you understand that right? That you sound insane?”

 

            Rolling her eyes, Kara let out a shaky laugh, “yeah, I know. Believe me, I know .”

 

            They fell into silence for a few minutes, with Kara watching Lena closely, fiddling with her necklace as she stared at her, while Lena looked around, taking in the pigeons and the leaves skittering across the roof, the vents of the building and the rusted metal of twisted pipes. She could feel her brimming with the urge to ask a dozen questions, and before long, the itch became too much for Lena to ignore, and she turned her attention back to Kara.

 

            “How does it happen? When you lose me?”

 

            “It depends on you,” Kara quietly said, grimacing slightly, “I’m sorry, I know this is all a bit-” she gestured helplessly.

 

            “Crazy?”

 

            Letting out a quick laugh, Kara gave her a rueful smile, “I was going to say vague. I’m trying to be honest, but in the past, less than this has been enough to …”

 

            “Kill me?”

 

            “Break my heart,” Kara softly admitted, thinking about all of the times that she’d had conversations with Lena about their love for each other - and those hadn’t even been the full truth, just admissions of their feelings - and how unbearable the pain had been when she inevitably lost her again.

 

            “What are you?” Lena quietly breathed, her eyes wide and slightly afraid.

 

            Giving her a grim smile, Kara shrugged helplessly. “I wander the earth, always knowing at the back of my mind that you’re coming. There are times when I’ve been so lonely, missed you so much, that I actively sought you out, just to hear you say my name once more. Other times, I tried to avoid you at all costs, blaming you for making me fall in love with you, only to lose you again. But you always found me. It didn’t take me too long to realise that every twenty-six years, you die. I started hiding from you - from the heartbreak - but my eyes would always search for you, wherever I went. I used to think that you were it for me, the first time around, but then y-you died … and I fell in love with you over and over again, and each time it’s just as painful. I’ve looked at you in hundreds of different ways, and I have loved you in each of them. Loving you is difficult … but I would do it over and over again. And I do. And every time, it’s just long enough for me to have gotten over the last time - until the pain was bearable - so that I let my guard down, just a little bit.”

 

            “So you knew I was coming?” Lena dubiously asked. Kara could see the scepticism in her eyes, because she still couldn’t believe her, no matter how serious Kara was. Lena didn’t want to.

 

            Shaking her head, Kara gave her a sad smile. “No, it’s not like that. I don’t know the day you’re going to show up, or even the year. I just know that before twenty-six years have gone by since- since the last time … you’ll appear again. And for the first few seconds every time, I forget myself, and I’m so happy . Then I remember. But I’ve long since learnt that the only way to survive eternity is to cherish those little moments I get with you. To appreciate each moment.”

 

            “Make up a different excuse,” Lena blurted out, a hard look on her face, “tell me a different story. A saner one. Tell me something that makes sense, instead of … this.”

 

            “You said yourself that you felt as if you knew me.”

 

            Lena let out an incredulous laugh, loud enough to scare off the pigeons, the fluttering of wings breaking the tension of the conversation as they watched the grey, lumpy birds fly off. “Yeah, sure, from somewhere . Like a- a summer camp, or we were at the same college party or something. Not a fucking former life.

 

            She shook her head, leaning away from Kara, but Kara clasper her knees and looked her deeply in the eye, capturing her gaze. “But you know it in your heart that it’s true. You knew it was true when I followed you up through the Himalayas, when you wanted to climb the tallest mountain because no one ever had, but you got frostbite and … well, you weren’t the first person to reach the summit. You knew it when I carried you for miles to the River Jordan after you got sick outside Jerusalem because you ate all those dates when I told you not to. You knew it when I helped smuggle you out of Egypt during the Abbasid Revolution, when we spent days trekking through the desert with no water, and I thought you were going to die of dehydration so I carried you out. You knew it when I helped you escape Guangzhou when the port was shut down after Persian pirates raided it. When I danced with you in Charlemagne’s court before he battled the Saxons, drinking wine. You were the only woman wearing black and you looked stunning. You knew it when your father’s ship wrecked in Indonesia and we saw the Manjusrigrha together which had just finished being built. You turn up everywhere, always, and you always sense all the things I just told you. That we know each other, that we’ve known each other over and over again. You never let yourself believe it though.”

 

            There was an apprehensive look in Lena’s eyes, as if she had an inkling that Kara’s words were true, but her brain didn’t know what to make of them. She was still beneath Kara’s hands, still gripping her knees and sending a fire coursing through her, heart beating wildly as she barely dared to breathe. It was all too much to take in, yet there was the nagging feeling that Kara was telling the truth. The earnest look in Kara’s eyes was egging Lena on, telling her to believe her, to trust her. Leaning forward, Kara touched their foreheads together, feeling the tension bleed out of her body as her hands moved from Lena’s knees to cup her face between warm hands. Cradling her gently with her slender fingers, Kara sighed wistfully.

 

            “I did all of these things, because you’re my love, Lena. For me, you’re all there is.”

 

            Lena’s bottom lip trembled slightly, and her voice cracked when she replied. “Then why do you look so sad?”

 

            “Because I used to wonder what could ever be so terrible that it was impossible to survive it, and then I met you, and I lost you, and I figured out the obvious answer; you. Because I love you, and I always have, and it breaks me to lose you. You’ve chipped away at my heart, and I can’t live without you.”

 

            Her face was ashen when she withdrew from Kara’s touch, staggering to her feet as she opened and closed her mouth, trying to find words that wouldn’t come. Or wouldn’t. Lena looked like she might be sick, her face pale and eyes owlish and scared. Slowly rising to her feet in one fluid motion, her hands slightly outstretched in a calming gesture as she made no sudden movements, Kara gave her a worried look.

 

            “Lena?”

 

            “I think I- I need to go somewhere. I need to be by myself.”

 

            She looked faint, and Kara reached out to take her hand. “You’re not okay,” she said.

 

            “No,” Lena mumbled, closing her eyes and shaking her head.

 

            “I’m sorry,” Kara quietly apologised, swallowing thickly. “I shouldn’t have- it was too much.”

 

            Lena opened her eyes and stared at her for a long moment, the look of fear growing as if Kara’s words were taking hold, making sense to her, and that was frightening her. Tugging her hand out of Kara’s grip, the sudden emptiness making Kara’s heart ache, Lena stumbled as she turned around, taking a few hurried, unsteady steps towards the door leading back into the building. As soon as her hand fell on the door handle, she paused, turning back around as the wind played with her hair. Kara hadn’t moved an inch as she’d watched her go.

 

            “What is it?”

 

            She didn’t come any closer, but she paused for a moment. “I promised you I’d stay and listen to the good news too.”

 

            Kara’s lips twitched slightly, as if she was about to smile, and her expression softened as she gave Lena a yearning look. “The good news is,” she slowly said, carefully choosing her words, “I kissed you, and you’re still here.”

Chapter Text

            After leaving her conversation with Kara, Lena had fled back into her building, consciously aware of the woman still on her rooftop, and had gone into her temporary office and anxiously paced back and forth for a few moments, before sitting down on the leather sofa crammed into the room and putting her head in her hands. Taking a deep breath, she exhaled forcefully, trying to calm herself down as her mind ran over everything Kara had just told her. She couldn’t bear the thought of handling any meetings right now - she thought she’d go crazy having to keep everything bottled up inside, putting on a face for investors and clients - and she rose to her feet, pressing the button on her desk phone and calling in her new assistant. She was a dark haired woman called Alana, and while she was good at her job, Lena missed Jess.

 

            Still, Alana dutifully cancelled her appointments for the rest of the day, and Lena was left to her own devices in her office. On her desk, a cluster of plumerias were neatly placed in a vase, having stood there for a week now, since Kara had brought them to the hospital for her. They were Lena’s favourite flowers, but she couldn’t have known that. It made Lena’s spine prickle with unease. Gathering up her belongings, she rode the elevator all the way down to the lobby, climbing out into the marble foyer with light flooding in, and paused for a moment, before climbing back into the elevator and pushing the button for one of the sub-level basements.

 

            She couldn’t bear the thought of facing any of her business meetings for the day, but there was someone who she felt like might be able to offer her some insight into things with Kara. It had become clear to her that Astra knew Kara, just like most people in her life apparently, and Lena trusted the older woman enough to at least try and have this conversation without thinking that she’d be judged for sounding crazy. Surely if what Kara said was true, there would be some proof. Even if it was just the slightest scrap. The elevators parted on the floor leading to the archives, and she stepped out into the cold vault, suppressing a shiver as she wrapped her arms around herself and moved through the towers stacks of filing cabinets and shelves of old, dusty boxes. She rarely frequented the archives, with almost everything already digitally uploaded to their servers, so it was always a little daunting to come down there and see the sheer amount of paperwork filed away under Astra’s supervision.

 

            She knew that she had an office off to the left of the elevator doors, and Lena quickly made towards it, her heels clicking on the tiled floor and echoing in the vast room. There must’ve been a few other staff members about, making copies of files and making digital copies of things, but all the aisles she passed by were empty, and no one noticed her as she walked towards the closed door of Astra’s office. Knocking, Lena waited a few moments, to no avail, and impatiently opened the door, poking her head into the lit room and taking in the empty chair behind the desk. Frowning, she opened the door wider and stepped inside. It wasn’t lunchtime yet, which meant that Astra should’ve been in her office, and Lena assumed that she might’ve gone to find something in the towering stacks of information. Deciding to wait, she took a seat in the other chair set before the desk, primly crossing her legs as she scanned the neat shelves with their odd trinkets.

 

            Her wandering eyes ended up landing on a book set on her desk, to the right of the desktop computer, and Lena frowned as she tilted her head to the side to read the upside down title. Blinking in surprise, she reached out and turned the book around, running her hands over the cover of it as she made out the letters embossed on the front in gold. The Watchers by Kara Zorel. Her heart thudded loudly in her chest as she eagerly pulled the book closer, picking it up in her hands and running her hands over the rough cloth cover of the book. It was the book written a decade a go, under the name of an author with a different surname to Danvers, but the same face in the photos Lena had found. She’d asked Astra to get a copy for her a week ago, and she’d completely forgotten about it, but she’d gotten one for her anyway. Lena wondered whether it had been waiting down here for her the whole time, or if it had only just arrived. Surely Astra wouldn’t have kept it from her on purpose when Lena had specifically asked her to get her a copy.

 

            Trying not to get her hopes up, Lena cracked open the book and flipped the blank page at the front. She never made it past the title page. On the title page, there was her name, printed in black ink. For Lena, my love for you is eternal. Her stomach dropped as she looked at the photo printed on the page to the left. Kara’s words washed over her, dozens of comments she’d made sweeping over her and drowning out any other thoughts, as Lena stared down at the coloured photo, feeling faint and slightly nauseous.

 

            Unless every word out of Kara’s mouth had been true, it made no sense at all. A blonde woman with piercing blue eyes was wearing a plaid skirt with a blouse tied into a knot, baring a sliver of the tanned skin of her stomach. She was smiling in a way that was all too familiar to Lena, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners, without the plastic frames of glasses to hide behind. She was the spitting image of Kara - the Kara she knew now - although the book had been published a decade ago, and the fashion in the photo spoke of the nineties. It wasn’t only that that made Lena doubt herself for a moment, even though she could’ve just brushed the image of Kara off as some incredible likeness, or a relative, but it was the image of the woman in the photograph beside Kara. She was also alarmingly familiar.

 

            Poring over the image, Lena reached out to trace the pale face of the woman. She wore a pair of baggy denim overalls and a t-shirt of geometric patterns in a rainbow of colours, an easy smile on her face and her hand on Kara’s knee. Dark hair spilled around her shoulders in waves, and she was sitting on some steps beside Kara. It took Lena a few moments to remember to breathe, drawing in a ragged breath as she kept her eyes glued to the photograph. It was her. The woman in the photo, sitting beside Kara was her . But she had no recollection of that memory. Based on the clothes she was wearing, she wouldn’t have been born yet, or only just, but there she was, looking much the same as she did now.

 

            Kara and Lena did know each other, from an altogether different lifetime, and here was the proof she’d been needing to make her believe it. Yet she couldn’t. She couldn’t bring herself to admit that Kara was telling the truth, no matter how much she wanted her to be, because that just brought on a whole other slew of problems. With trembling hands, Lena tore the page with the photo out of the book, crumpling it in her hand as she climbed to her feet and turned around to leave. As she reached the door, Astra appeared a dozen feet away, returning to her office and pausing for a moment, before smiling at Lena.

 

            “Miss Luthor, what a lovely surprise,” she said, striding towards her. As she drew closer, she took in the ashen look on Lena’s face, and frowned. “Lena, are you feeling alright? You don’t look well.”

 

            Her mouth dry with fear, an icy sweat covering her whole body, Lena numbly nodded, trying to make her voice work. “No, I’m not well.”

 

            She curled one hand instinctively around the scrap of paper, the crinkling noise catching the attention of the other woman, and Astra’s eyes locked onto it, her eyebrows rising slightly as she reached out and took Lena’s clammy hand in her own. “What’ve you got there?”

 

            Letting her take the piece of paper, smoothing it out so that she could see what it was, Astra’s eyes widened slightly in surprise, and she glanced past Lena towards her office, realising that she must’ve torn it out of the book in there. With a grim smile, Astra gave her a knowing look, because Lena had been right, and she knew Kara. “You finally found it. Come, let’s have a talk.”

 

            With one hand on Lena’s shoulder, she steered her back towards her office, pulling the chair out and all but pushing her down onto it, before taking a seat behind her desk. She gave Lena a concerned look, her hands steepled as she leant forward in her seat.

 

            “You kept this from me,” Lena said, tapping a finger on the cover of the book, “why?”

 

            “I study these things. I’m an academic. I don’t get caught up in matters of the heart. You’re damned, Lena - both of you - and normally you coming across something like this would spell the end for, like that .” She snapped her fingers, a spark of something in her blue eyes as she stared at her intently.

 

            “That’s what Kara said,” Lena murmured, although her brow creased at the mention of them both being damned, because the way Kara had phrased it, it sounded as if it was only her who was.

 

            Blinking in surprise, Astra gave her a wary look, “you’ve talked to Kara about this?”

 

            “Well no, not exactly. We kissed last night - sorry, this is very unprofessional,” Lena said, fighting back a blush as she realised they were in the basement of her office building, speaking as CEO and employee, but Astra dismissively waved away her concerns, a look of unabashed shock on her face.

 

            “Sorry, did you say Kara kissed you?”

 

            “Yes, and then she started rambling about how it should’ve been impossible. How she was damned. How every time we kiss, I … die. It all sounded so crazy. She talked about Jerusalem, and Egypt, China, Indonesia.”

 

            Brusquely nodding, Astra impatiently hurried the conversation along, “yes, yes, and that all sounds crazy, so you don’t believe him. You’re not awake yet.”

 

            “Not at first,” Lena hedged, a confused look on her face as she tried to make sense of things. “And then I mentioned Hell because she was talking about being damned, and then she kind of went off on a bit about the Bible, which, no offence, I don’t really care about.”

 

            “Most people shy away from their religious upbringings,” Astra dismissively replied.

 

            Shrugging, Lena gave her a sheepish smile, “oh, my upbringing wasn’t religious. My parents never believed in any of that, so-”

 

            “Well surely you believe in something? Surely you were baptised.”

 

            “I was adopted when I was four. I never had a baptismal certificate and my adoptive parents never bothered. I mean, we still celebrated Christmas, and Easter, but we weren’t exactly church-goers. I’ve always preferred science to religion.”

 

            Astra was silent for a few moments, and an uneasy feeling grew in Lena’s stomach as the silence dragged on. A thoughtful look plagued the other woman’s face, and she had the crumpled piece of paper spread out in front of her, lips pursed slightly as she turned Lena’s words over in her mind. Eventually, she gave Lena a sharp look.

 

            “Do you know who Kara is?”

 

            “Do you?” Lena shot back, finding her patience wearing thin. These weren’t the answers she’d been looking for. All she’d gotten so far was the possible confirmation that Kara was telling the truth, and that Astra knew more than she was letting on.

 

            She didn’t get a reply, and Lena nervously bit her bottom lip, clenching her hands into fists to stop them from shaking as she leant towards Astra. “Last night Kara thought … when we kissed, she thought I was going to die,” Lena hesitantly said, a panicked look on her face, even though she tried to control her expressions, “but that’s crazy, right? I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            Astra sighed, rubbing at her tired eyes as she turned her attention away from the photo. “For now.”

 

            “Oh God,” Lena whispered, feeling sick as the weight of the truth fully hit her.

 

            This wasn’t some game, or a silly prank, this was real . But there was more, something that Kara was keeping from her, and she had to see her again, to coax the truth out of her. Abruptly getting to her feet, pushing her chair back with a grating scrape, Lena plucked the wrinkled photo off the desk, meeting Astra’s questioning look of surprise.

 

            “Where are you going?”

 

            “To find Kara.”

 

            Hastily climbing to her feet, Astra gave her an earnest look, “I’ll come with you.”

 

            “No,” Lena firmly, but politely refused, “I have to do this myself.”

 

            She expected Astra to object, and insist that she was coming, but to her surprise, she didn’t, she just nodded and sank back down onto her chair. Picking up her bag from where she’d limply dropped it to the ground, Lena shoved the photo into it, unable to bring herself to look at it again, and she strode out of the office without another look.

 

            Riding the elevator back up to the lobby, Lena realised that she didn’t have much of a chance of finding Kara, and she paused for a moment, before walking over to the security guard manning the door and asked him if he’d seen a blonde woman with glasses leave. He nervously told her that he hadn’t, a scared look in his eye as if he was about to fail a test, but Lena gave him a stiff nod, thanked him, and walked back over to the elevators. She’d left Kara up on her rooftop, and that was as good a place as any to go and look for her again.

 

            Within minutes, she was back up on the rooftop, stepping out into harsh sunlight and blinking back the dizzying black spots that momentarily blinded her, eyes streaming as she shaded her eyes and tried to look around. Taking a few steps away from the small building enclosing the stairwell, Lena looked around, seeing nothing but vents and pipes as she slowly wandered further out onto the rooftop, startling a few pigeons and being buffeted by the wind. Turning around to head back inside, she froze as she took in the sight of the lone figure perched on top of the building. She climbed to her feet in a lithe movement, staring down at Lena in surprise.

 

            “Lena,” she softly called out, “what’re you doing here?”

 

            There was no happiness to see her in Kara’s voice, and Lena fought back the urge to cry as she quickly walked towards the building, circling it to the side to find the ladder that Kara must’ve used to climb up it. I’m sorry , she wanted to cry out, I believe you, I believe our story. I’ll never leave you again. But she silently searched for a ladder, finding none and looking up at the top of the small building, her clammy hands pressed against the bricks that were too perfectly cemented together to offer any handholds to haul herself up. Frowning as she looked up, aching to climb up and see Kara, she jumped at the gentle tap on her shoulder, turning around to find the blonde standing behind her with a faint look of amusement on her face.

 

            The sky overhead was slowly darkening, the blinding whiteness of the clouds turning to an ashy grey, and the wind had a bite to it as she stared numbly at Kara, fighting the urge to throw herself at her and hold her close. She was still a little wary, a little skittish, as she stared at the golden haired woman in front of her. Opening and closing her mouth a few times, Lena plunged her hand into her handbag and fished out the crumpled piece of paper, holding it out with a trembling hand as she stared at Kara with wide, frightened eyes. She didn’t know what came next, and it scared her, but there was a sliver of proof, and she needed to know more.

 

            “That woman. She’s me. That’s you.”

 

            Kara’s hand shook as she took the piece of paper, her shoulders slumping as she exhaled sharply, her blue eyes swimming with tears as she tried to smooth out the image. “Jules.”

 

            “Jules?”

 

            With a sad smile, Kara drew in a shuddering breath. “An antiquities dealer from New York. Her sister and brother-in-law died and she was left to raise her niece and nephew alone. I met her in Europe. Her sister’s husband was the son of a Duke and she was taking the kids to go and visit their grandfather. She died in ninety-two.”

 

            “Did you kiss her?” Lena hoarsely asked.

 

            A flicker of pain crossed Kara’s face, and she swallowed thickly as she quickly nodded, the guilt written plainly on her face. “She was in a car crash. A bad one. I spared her a long death.”

 

            Letting out a shuddering breath, Lena ran a hand through her hair, watching as Kara pored over the photo, her shoulders hunched as she traced the image of the woman with a careful fingertip. The sad tenderness of the moment made Lena feel like she was intruding, although it occurred to her that this was technically her, and she silently watched as Kara tried to fight back the grief that was clear to see in the lines of her body. Twenty-four years had passed since she’d died, but Lena could still see that Kara mourned for the woman.

 

            “Tell me about the others,” Lena finally blurted out.

 

            Looking up, Kara let out a loud laugh, furiously blinking back tears as she carefully folded the paper and handed it back to Lena - she had the original, she didn’t need it - and she flashed her a quick smile, a look of love in her blue eyes as she stared at her. It was almost as if she was drinking in the sight of her living love to make up for the sad memories of a life she never got to have with Jules. There were countless other lives she never got to have either. Lena had died over and over again.

 

            “Oh Rao, you remind me of Lagertha,” Kara shakily laughed, wiping at her damp eyes.

 

            “Who?”

 

            Hesitating, Kara bit her lip and seemed to sober up slightly as she gave Lena a cautious look. “There’s somewhere I’d like to take you, if that’s alright with you.”

 

            Pausing for the briefest moment, Lena nodded and stepped into the stairwell, walking down to the top floor, still blackened and sootstained as men in hardhats knocked through destroyed walls in preparations of rebuilding the offices. They were silent all through the ride down to the lobby, although Lena’s hand itched to take hold of Kara’s, to apologise for not believing her, although it was perfectly reasonable not to. Still, she couldn’t help but pity Kara, let alone even begin to understand what she’d been through. It must’ve been a harrowing experience to lose the person you loved over and over again, and Lena couldn’t even think about it without feeling like she was going to be sick. She’d died. Again and again, she’d been kissed by the woman next to her, and it had led to her death because they were both supposedly damned.

 

            Keeping her lips pressed firmly together to stop herself from asking one of the dozens of questions threatening to fall from her mouth, Lena led them down, only breaking the silence once to answer Kara’s question about whether she had a car they could take. Wherever they were going, it wasn’t within an easy walking distance, and as they went down to the garage beneath the building, Lena felt her heart race increase at the thought of being shut inside a car with Kara. The reality was that much worse, with the tension so thick between them that Lena could barely focus on the road, constantly aware of Kara’s elbow resting on the compartment in the centre console, just a few inches away, or the heat radiating off her tanned skin as she sat in her seat, looking so beautifully ordinary with her legs stretched out before her, watching the city fly past outside the window. Looking at her, there was something ethereally beautiful about her, but you’d never suspect she had lived a hundred lifetimes, or at least Lena assumed it was something like that. A part of her had been afraid to ask how many times she’d died.

 

            They drove in silence, with the quiet purr of the engine and the low buzz of the radio making the silence less tense, although there was an almost palpable buzz of energy between them as they drove towards the location Kara had given Lena to put into her phone for directions. Slowly, they made their way through the busy inner city traffic, and once they were free of it, they sped down the roads the robotic voice directed them down, until she slowed in an industrial area near the water, rundown warehouses fanning out on both sides of the gravel road she drove down. At Kara’s quiet murmur to slow down, Lena stopped and watched as the blonde woman climbed out of the car, instructing her to wait, and unlocked a padlock chaining a gate closed. Dragging it open with ease, Kara waved Lena into the courtyard inside the chainlink fence, the large warehouse looming before her. Windows were boarded up, graffiti decorated the brickwork in colourful splashes and broken glass crunched beneath Lena’s heels as she climbed out of the car shivering in the cold.

 

            “Where are we?” she quietly asked, watching as Kara confidently strode towards a roller door where trucks would ordinarily be loaded and unloaded.

 

            Despite the eerie feeling of the place, with the darkening sky as a storm approached, Lena didn’t feel afraid with Kara. She trusted her. Kara looked up at her question, giving her a small smile as she unlocked the roller door and roughly jerked it upwards to reveal the impenetrable blackness inside the warehouse. Stepping inside, swallowed up by the darkness, Kara’s voice softly drifted towards her, and Lena could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she shivered at the words.

 

            “A place that holds answers.”

Chapter Text

            She confidently walked through the dark, her eyesight making it easy for her to maneuver her way towards the blocky building inside the warehouse, with Lena’s hesitant footsteps following after her. Still, she did follow, and Kara’s heart softened at how trusting Lena was, to blindly follow her into the darkness, all for the sake of the truth. They were silent as Kara unlocked each door in one way or the other, listening to Lena’s fluttering heartbeat and the quiet, rapid breathing that betrayed how nervous she really was. As they stepped into the blindingly white brightness of the room though, Kara was overcome with her own nerves. She’d never shown Lena this . All of this, from kissing her without her bursting into flames and turning to dust in her arms, to talking about her past lives, was all foreign to Kara, and she turned and gave Lena a hesitant smile as she shut the door behind her, sealing them both in.

 

            As she stared at Lena, Lena’s wide eyes darted around, taking in the rows of shelves with a single preserved item in a glass case on each one. The air was stagnant, but clean and cool, from the pressuriser making sure that all of the items were protected from the passing of time. Some of them were older than the colonisation of America, rusted and worn, and Kara was loathe to lose any of them. All she had of her loves were locked inside this room, as well as the deep well of memories - not all of them good - and she would protect the contents of the room with everything she had, wishing that she could’ve done the same for the woman the items had belonged to.

 

            “What is this place?” Lena murmured.

 

            Taking a wary step further into the room, she turned slowly in a circle, taking in the shelves stretching out in every direction. Kara gave her a strained smile, holding out her hand and feeling her heart skip a beat as Lena threaded her pale fingers through hers, so trusting and unguarded in the confines of the room. “Come.”

 

            Leading them through the twisting rows of shelves, Kara stopped in front of one of them and reached out for the glass container, her fingertip hovering a hairsbreadth away from the glass, staring at the bronze armband safely nestled inside. The metal had been dulled over hundreds of years, the twisted metal tarnished, and the serpent heads at each end having lost their shine. Kara felt a lump rise in her throat as she blinked back tears, her mind assaulted by so many memories all at once. She could feel Lena hovering behind her.

 

            “This belonged to Lagertha. She was a shield-maiden in Uppsala - well, it’s Gamla Uppsala now - a Viking warrior in the eighth century.”

 

---

 

Uppsala - 741 AD

 

            “Who are you?”

 

            The sharp words came from a dangerous looking woman, one side of her head shaved and tattooed with knotted lines, forming the image of a crow,  in blue ink. The rest of her raven locks were braided and fastened with tiny metal beads, wrought in other shapes and patterns. She had the point of a sword beneath Kara’s chin, urging her head up, and a worn blue and black painted wooden shield. Her clothes were boiled leather and heavy cloth, sturdy and worn, with a variety of charms dangling from leather necklaces, and tarnished rings on her fingers. She reminded Kara of Ailis, in more than one way, and she stared up at the woman with wide blue eyes, the sword at her throat all but forgotten as she took in the face that was more familiar to her than her own.

 

            The pommel of the sword struck her across the face, and Kara turned her cheek on instinct, so as not to break the bones in the woman’s hand, the blow was as soft as a caress, and she blinked quickly in surprise as a fistful of her blonde hair was grabbed in one hand and yanked down, so that she was forced to look up again. She hadn’t expected to see Lena so soon again, and her mind was stunned for a moment at the sight of the young woman. She was young, her face softened by youth, yet she seemed harder than any of the other versions of her that Kara had stumbled upon. A curved scar marred one cheek, and her fingers were criss-crossed with dozens more, no doubt the rest of her body as well. This Lena was a born and bred fighter, and no doubt was proficient with the iron sword she had pointed at Kara.

 

            Kara and Alex had decided to travel north, following the trade routes up towards the raiders in Uppland, seeking out the rich farmland in the valley of the River Fyris. They had heard from travelers that Uppsala was a large town, highly populated and a political centre of the surrounding Scandinavian lands. More importantly, it would be a good place for them to blend in for a time, finding some manner of work in a place where they’d never been. Kara hadn’t expected to stumbled upon Lena before even making it into the village. She hadn’t even reached for the dagger in her belt when she saw the band of warriors led by the brunette, because she’d been so stunned that she couldn’t even move. Alex had sighed and begrudgingly submitted as the two of them were encircled by the fair haired and the predominantly light eyed men and women, while Kara only had eyes for the dark haired woman that casually approached. She’d barked a few words at the other soldiers, and one of them had kicked Kara’s knees out from under her, sending her sprawling in the mud, and that was how she’d found herself at the end of her lovers sword.

 

            “I asked you a question, girl.”

 

            Suppressing a laugh at the haughty words from the young woman, Kara looked up at her with wonder. “I am a wanderer. I come with my sister. We’ve travelled far to come to the great village of Uppsala.”

 

            Given a shrewd look by narrowed green eyes, Kara swallowed the lump in her throat, wondering who this was. This version of Lena had asked who she was, but she was the same Kara she’d always been - it was Lena who had changed yet again, never quite the same, and always changing. Remaining silent as her fate was decided, although she wasn’t concerned at all about being killed by the flimsy metal of the sword, Kara concentrated of building her walls up around her heart. She wouldn’t be hurt again. Not this time.

 

            “Bring them. The king will be interested in travelers; they may have something useful to share with him. News of their travels. If he has no use of them, he may have use of them as thralls.”

 

            Roughly jerked to her feet, Kara’s mind balked at the thought of being a slave, for anyone, and she scowled as she was prodded forward. She hadn’t had the chance to get a good look at any of the fair folk that had been prowling the green hills an wooded area surrounding the city, and as she stumbled forward slightly, slipping in the mud as a fine mist soaked everything, she stiffened at the words that were muttered behind her. Blue eyes widening at the Kryptonian, she turned around to face the blonde with the amused smile curling her lips.

 

            “Morning Star.”

 

            “Gayle,” Kara breathlessly murmured.

 

            Turning her back around, the blonde gave her another push, a casual air of indifference radiating off her, although Kara had seen the spark of something that she wouldn’t quite call joy at seeing a piece of home, but more like satisfaction, as if Gayle was pleased to meet another of her kind. The more that Kara explored, the more she realised how vast this strange world was, and it was always a small miracle to bump into another of her kind. Apparently others shared her relief at their brief encounters.

 

            “How fares your curse?” Gayle dryly asked, and Kara felt her stomach lurch.

 

            Alex muttered a quiet curse, all of them speaking too quietly for the humans to hear, even if they could understand Kryptonian. It was clear that they shouldn’t pretend that they knew each other just yet, and Kara let herself be herded along with the group of warriors, taking in the sharpened axes and swords, all of them worn with use, with notched blades and chipped paint on their shields. They were a hardened lot, seasoned by the harsh conditions of the north, and Kara had heard tales of their fearless raidings further north-east, killing and pillaging as they went, plundering other towns and strongholds and taking whatever they could get their hands on. Apparently this Lena was one of them.

 

            “Much the same,” Kara bluntly replied, her tone flat and her jaw clenched.

 

            “Your love is quite the barbarian in this life. I had heard that she’d been a lovely Frankish lady the last you saw of her. It must be quite a shock.”

 

            “How do you know that it’s not her?” Alex sharply asked.

 

            Letting out a quiet laugh, Gayle smiled as Kara glanced over her shoulder at her. “Your love story has been making waves. I heard it from Imra, who heard it from Querl, who heard it from Kal-El. I must admit, it was still a shock to see the Evening Light as a mere human. So fragile and soft, but so determined and ruthless in her mortality. It’s quite refreshing, she was always so … delicate on Krypton.”

 

            Kara’s shoulders were stiff as they walked through the long, waving grass, her leggings wet with the early morning dew as the last wisps of pink clouds drifted away with the blue sky. Tiny yellow flowers dotted the meadow they walked through, an stretch of green giving way to towering trees, and in the near distance, the telltale curls of smoke signalling a village.

 

            It was half an hour of walking, listening to the guttural Old Norse language as they made flippant comments about their findings, casting her and Alex wary looks as they made their way towards the village. They heard the loud din of Uppsala before they could see it, with the sounds of loud voices, children laughing, metal being hammered and the sound of livestock all mingling with the familiar sounds of a community. The smell of smoke, food and horses was strong as they neared the outskirts of the village, slipping between a smokehouse and a large stable, the nickering of horses reaching their ears as the beasts shuffled in their stalls. It didn’t matter where they were, these were always familiar sounds in any town, city or village, and Kara was happy to stroll through the muddy street, taking in the new sights as people called out and children chased dogs, chickens and goats underfoot.

 

            They came to a massive longhouse in the middle of the village, and Kara supposed that it was where the king had taken up residence, the eaves carved with knotted patterns of snarling wolves and serpents, the walls made of rough hewn planks of wood and the high roof thatched with straw. Passing through the muddy courtyard in front of the main doors, they passed into the dark room, Kara nearly having to duck, being quite tall for that time period, and finding themselves inside the gloomy longhouse. It was hazy with smoke from the rectangular fire pit in the middle of the room, and the smell of fur and animal skins was heavy in the air, mingling with the sharp bitterness of ale and smell of fat cooking as a boar was being roasted over the fire.

 

            They were herded towards the shadowy dais at the far end, thin beams of sunlight finding its way in through cracks in the walls and the thatched roof, and Kara tried to catch a look of the man lounging on the throne as they approached, but a burly man in front of her was blocking her sight. “My king,” Lena called out as she approached, stopped at the foot of the platform. “We stumbled upon some travelers outside the village.”

 

            Kara’s expression darkened at the man sprawled on the throne, a scratchy beard covering his jaw and the sides of his head shaved. Dressed in dark leather and furs, he was a far cry from the clean shaven man in white and gold he’d been the last time they’d crossed paths. Alex muttered a gloomy curse under her breath in Kryptonian and Gayle quietly laughed from behind them.

 

            “Mon-El,” Alex curtly greeted him.

 

            “Magnus,” he replied, a hard look in his brown eyes as he stressed the name. It was an old Norse name, an alias for him, and Kara wondered what name this version of Lena would have. She’d had a few aliases of her own over the course of the years, depending on where they were and their status, all of them out of necessity to not be conspicuous, but Lena’s name was always different because of her parents. “It has been many years since we’ve seen each other. Much has changed since we parted.”

 

            His eyes slid to Lena as he spoke, and Kara heard his questions plainly in the words. There was gossip circling about the two of them and their curse, and Mon-El must’ve kept Lena close when he’d discovered her, knowing that eventually Kara would show up if what he’d heard was to be true. Leaning forward on the carved wooden throne, Mon-El smiled slightly, looking excited at the prospect of witnessing this curse firsthand, and he waved them forward. Gayle gave Kara prod in the back, and Kara turned to give her an exasperated look, while the blonde gave her a roguish smile, and she stumbled forward a few steps towards the king.

 

            Without looking, he gestured towards Lena, who was standing off to the left of the crowd gathering in the hall, a hand casually resting on the pommel of her sword. “Lagertha. Come.”

 

            She immediately walked towards the throne, bowing slightly as she stood a foot away from Kara. The name buzzed around in Kara’s mind, repeating over and over again as she tested the sound of it. Lagertha. It suited her well she thought. Resisting the urge to look at the raven haired woman, Kara raised her chin and stubbornly looked up at Mon-El, a warning in her blue eyes, that wasn’t quite as effective as she’d hoped.

 

            “This is Kara. An old friend. It would … please me greatly for you to protect her.”

 

            “With my life, Lord,” Lagertha said, her chin raising proudly as she pushed her shoulders back.

 

            And so Kara had found herself essentially imprisoned in Uppsala, with her old acquaintances watching her every interaction with Lagertha with bated breath. For her part, Kara showed Lena nothing more than casual indifference, and Lagertha was likewise stoic and serious in her duties ensuring Kara’s safety, assuming her to be some highborn daughter of a Jarl. As closely as everyone watched them, Kara watched Lagertha even closer, watching the woman fight with the other shield-maidens, practicing their brutal skills, throwing axes with deadly accuracy and inflicting cuts and broken bones with little thought. On more than one occasion, Kara had watched the woman be treated for shallow cuts on her arms, or a bloody nose, feeling her heart seize with panic at the vividness of the red blood, and each time it served as a reminder to her to keep her distance, knowing that Lagertha was still just as fragile as the rest.

 

            In the spring, there came the Thing, where hundreds gathered to discuss matters of politics and traveling, and Kara huddled in amongst the vikings in the smoky longhouse, drinking ale out of horns and eating meat roast on giant spits as boys became men, matters of law were discussed, such as whether a man that had killed his neighbour over a stolen chicken had been justified in his actions, and the decision about where they would raid in the summer was come to. Mon-El relished the power afforded to him as the kind, handing out punishments and rewards with the air of someone who enjoyed it, and Kara had come to witness just how much he revelled in his position in Uppsala. Whispers had reached her ears about how he’d killed that last king, no doubt with his speed and strength as a Kryptonian, and she was silent in her judgement of him, knowing that speaking out against him would only make things worse for her. Although she didn’t know it, Lagertha was bait for Kara to behave, and a wrong step from her could’ve spelled the end for the woman’s life.

 

            Months passed by in this manner, with most of the villagers going about their lives as farmers, blacksmiths, tanners and other such professions. Kara had taken up learning to fight with the other shield-maidens, as had Alex, who had bested them all the first time around, and it passed the time as she waited for the inevitable curse to come into effect. It would no doubt happen sooner or later.

 

            But summer arrived with balmy weather, the water of the nearby river sparkling a deep blue as the long ships with colourful sails and curled prows and figureheads were readied for the raids. Lagertha was in her twenty-second year, Kara had learned from Gayle, and the thought of her having so little time left made Kara’s stomach turn. She’d tried to worm her way out of the other woman’s keen attention, but Lagertha was vigilant in her guarding, and was an ever-present shadow, always following her around. Kara had thought that she’d sneak away during the summer, when Mon-El went raiding with his people, taking Lagertha with him, knowing that it would be her only chance to leave, before she did something stupid that got the other woman killed.

 

            Yet when the ships sailed, she found herself packed in beside Lagertha, wearing the coarse fabric shirt like they all wore, a round wooden shield at her feet and a sword through her belt. The thought of leaving her in Mon-El’s clutches made Kara feel uneasy, and despite her disinterest, she’d come to pick up a lot of things about the other woman in her months since arriving in Uppsala. Lagertha could drink any of the men under the table, was lucky in a game of runes, devoutly devoted to Thor and quick to laugh loudly. Kara couldn’t quite pinpoint when she’d picked up these trivial facts, but they had softened her heart nonetheless, and she felt foolish, knowing that she had trapped herself there as much as Mon-El holding Lagertha over her had. She wouldn’t leave without her love.

 

            They spent weeks raiding, and Kara found it hard to stomach the amount of death she witnessed at the hands of the vikings. Their horde of ships would beach on the shore of whichever land they came upon, the men and women painting their faces as they readied themselves for battle, and they’d tear through the nearby village, killing and burning as they went, taking anything of worth, including healthy people to be used or sold as slaves. Mon-El had no problem with keeping serfs - in fact, it was expected of him - but it made Kara’s blood boil to watch the bound people brought aboard their ships. It reminded her of Lex and Ailis. The similarities between them were so strong that sometimes Kara would catch herself about to call Lagertha the wrong name.

 

            Even when she was covered in blood and streaks of warpaint and mud, she was achingly beautiful, speaking fervently about the gods in the same way that Ailis would talk about her own after the pirates had pillaged a town along the coast of Brittany. It was hard for Kara to keep her distance, watching her laugh and smile, making bawdy jokes along with the rest of them, and offering the wounded encouraging words as she passed out salted herring. She was loud and outspoken, but sweet and kind, and she asked so many questions, about everything and anything. Sometimes, Kara felt like she was being interrogates, and she’d laugh and tell the brunette as much, feeling her stomach flutter at the smile it would elicit. It just made it harder for Kara to leave.

 

            In the end, she didn’t have to leave, because Lagertha left her. She ended up staying for over two years, raiding with the shield-maiden and her sister, stumbling across another of their kind - Astra, who took up the mantle as a seer for the superstitious norsemen, giving counsel on the will of the gods - and she grew to respect Gayle, and learn to live with Mon-El, who she knew didn’t bear her any ill will, but was just curious as to what Rao had done to them. In the end, he got his answers.

 

            It was during the summer raids, in Lagertha’s twenty-fifth year, and they’d sailed north-westerly, following the usual paths they took every year. Kara had become one of them in the years she had spent in Uppsala, learning the craft of building boats and how they farmed, braiding her hair in the same fashion of the women, weaving small metal trinkets into it and wearing an amulet of Thor’s hammer around her neck. She even found herself with an armlet, more specifically, Lagertha’s one, which had been given to her in the spring, a symbol of the other woman’s vow to her. Although Kara had rejected any physical advances from her, their love ran deeper than that, and the armlet was sacred to the dark haired woman, and Kara cherished it, finding herself feeling braver than she was whenever she’d lightly run her fingers over the crow heads at the ends of the braided piece of metal. In the end, it was all she had left of the woman, beside the memories.

 

            A kiss might’ve been a lovelier death, Kara thought in hindsight, her heart heavy with her bitter grief, but instead, it had been the knowledge of who she was that had torn her from her. A raid gone wrong had left Lagertha with her guts cut open, one bloodied hand pressed against her stomach as she cut down yet another man, her face twisted into a vicious snarl. Beneath the warpaint and blood, her face was deathly pale though, and as she hacked into the side of another man’s neck, her legs buckled, and she went down with him. Kara hadn’t been keeping as close an eye on her as she should’ve, a mistake she would regret for the rest of her life, knowing that Lagertha was more than competent in a fight, as vicious and skilled as the best of the fighters in Uppsala, and when she’d turned and found the woman kneeling in the mud, a red stained hand against her stomach, her heart had dropped.

 

            Eyes widened as she saw the hulking man come up behind her with his axe raised, and a scream tore its way up Kara’s throat a moment before her heat vision blossomed to life, the searing heat burning straight through the man as he stopped behind Lagertha, his axe falling from his lifeless hands as he crumpled to the ground, dead. She’d spent years suppressing her powers, although the urge to fly had occasionally overcome her and she’d snuck away with Alex to soar up in the nearby mountains, looking like nothing more than two distant birds, and in the heat of the battle, no one had beared witness to what she’d done, except for Lagertha.

 

            Slipping in the slick mud as she ran to her, Kara dropped down to her knees, sword and shield falling from shaking hands as she reached out to grip the shoulder of her love. The smell of burning flesh was chokingly strong, and Kara grimaced in disgust as she cupped Lagertha’s pallid cheek in her hand.

 

            “You’re okay,” Kara choked out, her other grimy hand going to the stomach wound. Letting her bloody hands fall away from it, Lagertha gave her a wan smile, and Kara choked on a sob at the warm feeling of blood coating her skin.

 

            “The valkyries have made their choice,” Lagertha gasped, one hand scrambling for her fallen sword, so that she would die with it in hand and allowed entrance into Valhalla. “I will feast in Odin’s halls tonight.”

 

            “No,” Kara sharply said, even as the viking woman listed forward, her forehead resting against Kara’s shoulder.

 

            Letting out a rasping laugh, Lagertha’s whole body shook, and Kara gently lowered her to the ground, so that she was flat on her back, the wound in her stomach pulsating as fresh blood poured out of it in protest at the movement. A gurgling sound fought its way up Lagertha’s throat, bloody spit foaming at the corners of her mouth as she ground her teeth together in a silent snarl, pain etched into her features. “You- you’re a goddess,” she spat out through clenched teeth. “Y-you killed him, with your-”

 

            “Shh, don’t talk,” Kara murmured, her voice shaking as she fought back tears.

 

            “I’m not long for this world, either way,” Lagertha laughed.

 

            “I can help,” Kara said, her voice cracking as tears leaked out of her eyes, “I can make it quicker. End it for you.”

 

            Shaking her head, Lagertha’s eyes were wide and alert, an insistent look in them as she stubbornly ground her teeth together. “No. I will die from combat and take my place in Odin’s hall. Do not take this from me. Promise me this, on your armband.”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, Kara reluctantly nodded, “I promise, I won’t-”

 

            And then Lagertha’s eyes were wide with surprise, her lips quirking up into a smile, “Kara.”

 

            It was like a punch to the gut, hearing the warmth in Lena’s voice, so loving and tender, her eyes filling with tears as she smiled with such joy at seeing her. Choking on a sob, Kara rested her forehead against the dying woman’s chest, feeling the shallow breaths and the gentle touch of Lena’s hand cupping the back of her head.

 

            “No, no,” Kara sobbed, “give her this, please. Let her die how she wants. Don’t take this from her,” Kara sobbed against the leather jerkin that Lena wore, begging to someone who wasn't there, and wouldn't listen even if he was watching.

 

            Weakly laughing, Lena let out a shuddering sigh, “he will not listen, my love. Come, lay with me a moment. I will be alright, even if my soul never reaches Valhalla. How could I not be, when I will come back to you again?”

 

            Almost collapsing as the fight drained out of her, Kara fell down beside her Lena, one hand still pressed against her stomach to prolong the moment, while she curled up beside her, her head resting against the dying woman’s shoulder. She felt the gentle brush of cool lips against her forehead and closed her eyes, her heart already breaking.

 

            “I love-”

 

            Lena never finished the sentence, and Kara could feel the heat of the inferno that ravaged her body as the knowledge of the truth ate Lena up. Her hand thudded down on the muddy ground, with ashes clinging to the wetness of Kara’s hand, and she let out a pitiful sound as she was left lying on the hard ground, the sounds of the battle raging on around her, while she curled in on herself, the loss as sudden, shocking blow.

 

---

 

            “You loved her.”

 

            The words tore her out of her memories and brought her back to the present, blinking back the onslaught of images and the heavy press of guilt and grief weighing down her heart. Lagertha had been one of the worst for her, partly because she’d broken her promise, and Kara had never been able to forget that, no matter how many years had passed by, or promises she’d kept for the other versions of her.

 

            “Very much,” Kara finally said, her voice cracking as she tried to keep her composure. Letting out a shuddering breath, she turned and gave Lena a tight smile. “You’re like her in some ways. So many questions, and so stubborn. ” A laugh bubbled up, and she gave her a soft smile, half of her heart aching for the woman she’d lost, and the other half swelling with love for the woman standing before her.

 

            Lena gave her an uncertain look, before casting her eyes around at the other shelves. “All of these things in here … they’re off them? Off me?”

 

            “Yes. All I have left, besides the memories. And these,” she turned and gathered her hair up in her hand, pulling the collar of her shirt down to expose a sliver of skin at the back of her neck, where the faded ink of the Kryptonian runes were tattooed on her golden skin. They hadn’t been touched up in twenty-four years, since Jules had died and Alex had gone over them all, before adding a new name at the bottom of the list.

 

            “What do they say?”

 

            “They’re … names.”

 

            “How-” she heard Lena gently clear her throat, her voice tense as she spoke, “how many are there?”

 

            Closing her eyes, Kara slowly breathed in, steeling herself before she let out a soft sigh, slipping off her coat and quickly unbuttoning her shirt. She let it drop to the floor and swept her hair up, hearing the sharp inhale from behind her as Lena took in the whole length of her spine, the thin column of runes running the entire length of her back and just disappearing beneath the waistband of her jeans. There was only enough room for a couple more. With her eyes squeezed shut, Kara grit her teeth together, a spasm of pain twisting her face as her mind was flooded with a variety of names.

 

            “Sixty-four,” she finally choked out.

 

            Lena made a small sound of surprise, and Kara couldn’t turn around to face her, to see the horrified look on her face as it dawned on her that Kara had let her die over and over again, selfishly unable to stay away, and foolishly unable to save her. Breathing hitching as she breathed in, Kara squeezed her eyes even more tightly shut as tears prickled at the back of them, and she stood rigidly before Lena, her back bared for her to see and her shoulders taut. At the gentle touch of warm fingertips, Kara jumped, her eyes flying open in surprise, and Lena delicately ran her fingers down the bumps of her spine. Despite the uncomfortable weight of the moment, Kara found herself relaxing beneath the careful touch of Lena’s fingertips, her muscles loosening and the knot of fear coiled in her stomach unwinding.

 

            “These runes … they’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. What language is it?”

 

            “Kryptonian.”

 

            Stopping her featherlight tracing of Kara’s spine, Lena pressed her hand flat against her back, a spot of warmth igniting a fire within Kara at the mere touch, freezing for a moment as Kara spoke the unfamiliar word to her.

 

            “You’re an alien,” Lena finally stated. It wasn’t phrased as a question, it was declared as if it was a fact that she already knew, and didn’t need any confirmation of, and Kara let out a breathless laugh.

 

            “What did you say?”

 

            Lena’s voice was hard when she replied, as if she thought Kara was going to tease her for such a ludicrous thought. “You’re an alien. I know it. Don’t  tell me I’m crazy, because I’m not. I’ve had dreams … dreams of you that felt so real , where you can fly and you hold me high up in a sky that I don’t recognise, but I know that I’ve been there. I just- I know it, just like I know you’ve held me in your arms a thousand times. And it explains so much.”

 

            There was the sound of distant footsteps growing louder, and Kara turned around beneath Lena’s touch, briefly touching her cheek before she scooped down and picked up her shirt, slipping it on and buttoning it up, before throwing her coat of the top. The sound of knuckles rapping on a metal door rang out loudly, and even Lena turned to looking at the way they’d entered. Quickly stroking her dark hair, Kara pressed a kiss to Lena’s forehead, a feeling of sadness welling up inside at the thought of what was to come. This was far from the ends of it all, and she wound their fingers together, leading Lena back towards the doors.

 

            Stepping out into the gloomy interior of the warehouse, Kara nodded towards Astra, who was standing a few feet away from the vaulted door, and she quickly towed Lena after her as they made towards the roller door that was open a few inches from the other woman’s intrusion. Weak sunlight filtered in through the gap, subdued by the cloudy greyness of the sky, and Lena blinked as Kara led her out into the small courtyard outside of the large doors of the loading bay. It was hard to reconcile the hundreds of years of history hidden within the warehouse when she was standing in the dirty, urban sprawl of National City, the ancient treasures of long dead civilisations seeming like something out of a dream. To have Lena there with her was like something out of a dream too, because she should’ve been ash blowing in the wind by now.

 

            “Our Lena has been doing her research,” Astra dryly said, giving them both a wry smile as she looked between them and at their joined hands. She had her hands on her hips, as if she had something to say.

 

            “I’m still afraid that any minute you might-” Kara said, looking down at Lena, “there’s so much that I’ve never been able to tell you. Even less has been enough for you to disappear on me, and I’ve had to wait so long to tell you the truth.”

 

            “How long?” Lena hoarsely asked.

 

            “Not so long that you haven’t been worth every single moment. Every sacrifice and hurt.”

 

            “Kara,” Astra murmured, her voice a low warning and her blue eyes flashing a more urgent one.

 

            Kara brushed aside the other woman’s cautions, looking down at Lena with an urgent expression on her face, her pale eyebrows pulling together in a frown. “It’s not going to be as easy as you think. Us being together.”

 

            Letting out a breathless laugh, Lena looked up at her in wonder, her eyes wide as a small smile of amusement played on her lips. “Well of course it’s not, you’re an alien , but now that I know-”

 

            “Lena Luthor,” Astra angrily interjected, “you’re allowing your heart to cloud your judgement. You’re not thinking properly. What she has to tell you, you don’t want to know.” The warning and Astra’s anger seemed to catch Lena off guard, and Kara gave her a yearning look, before Astra turned her attention to her. “And Kara, you have no right to do this. It will kill her-”

 

            Snorting, Lena gave her employee a dismissive look, her confusion clear in her eyes as she tried to figure out what role Astra played in all of this. “I think I can survive a little truth. It’s better than the lies, at any rate.”

 

            “It’s not a little truth,” Astra bitingly replied, stepping forward and taking hold of Lena’s shoulders, giving her a gentle shake that made her drop Kara’s hand. “And you will not survive it. You haven’t survived in in the hundreds of years since the Fall.”

 

            The confusion on Lena’s face deepened, her forehead furrowing and her eyebrows pulling together, and she looked to Kara with a questioning look on her face, seeming almost wary of Astra’s close proximity and intensity. “What’s she talking about? Kara?”

 

            Kara didn’t get the chance to reply, because a moment later, the asphalt cracked, sending fractures radiating outwards as someone landed on the ground. Reaching out to pull Lena behind her, Kara glared at the man in the suit as he straightened up, tugging down the cuff of one of his sleeves. Jack gave them a charming smile as he put his hands in his pockets, taking a casual stance as her eyed them.

 

            “Well isn’t this nice.”

 

            Aware of more heartbeats approaching, Kara’s eyes darted around, watching figures drop out of the sky and land on the surrounding rooftops and the far reaches of the courtyard within the chain-link fenced off area of her warehouse. Lena stepped out from behind Kara, a scowl on her face as she looked at the man she’d considered a friend.

 

            “Jack. What’re you doing here?”

 

            “He’s calling an end to the truce,” Kara softly said, a bitter feeling welling up inside as she stared down the man across from her. “Why?”

 

            “Oh, well, you know … desperate times. She’s still here. Not for much longer, but she’s here nonetheless, and she shouldn’t be. And this time, when your little love turns into that tragic little buff of ash and is scattered in the breeze, it’s going to be for good. See, everything’s different this time. Except for the fact that you’re afraid , Morning Star. You’re afraid, and I’m not.”

 

            “That’s because you have nothing to lose,” Kara hotly replied, her hands balling into fists even as she felt her face turn white. He meant to fight her properly this time.

 

            “Yes, well, I hear you have something much bigger to lose this time.”

 

            An uneasy feeling made Kara’s stomach twist, and she gave him a wary look. “What’re you talking about?”

 

            Off to her left, Astra started speaking in rapid Kryptonian, talking about how nothing made sense anymore, and Kara listened with wide eyes. Horror filled her at the thought of losing Lena for good, and she slowly drew the brunette back behind her, despite Lena’s insistent questions.

 

            “What is she saying?”

 

            A feeling of relief swept over Kara at the sound of a heartbeat coming to land a few feet away, spider-like fractures radiating out from her sister’s feet. Alex strolled closer to them, standing protectively beside her sister and Lena, and a few more of Kara’s friends arrived, all of them brimming with tension, serious looks on their faces as they stared at the Kryptonians gathered on the opposite side. They all knew each other, and under other circumstances, would have even called each other friends, but when it came down to it, between choosing Rao or Reign, friendship wasn’t enough to stop some of them from choosing the opposing side.

 

            “Allow us to translate,” Alex dryly told Lena, giving Kara a quick nod of encouragement. “Something’s different this time. The cycle could be broken this time, and not in the way we want it to. It could end.”

 

            “I don’t- someone tell me what’s different,” Lena huffed, the muscles in her jaw working as she tried to rein in her frustration. “Broken how? What’s even at stake here?”

 

            Lucy let out a laugh from behind them, and Lena whirled around to look at her, her face ashen and her eyes wide, and Kara was rigid as she stood with taut shoulders, staring at Jack with sadness in her eyes and anger boiling within. “What’s at stake? It would be hell on earth if they won.”

 

            “And if we win?” Lena choked out.

 

            “We don’t know yet,” James gravely replied, his deep voice gentle as he tried to soothe Lena.

 

            Kara’s heart leapt at the thought of how confusing and overwhelming it all must’ve been for her human mind, her fragile body so delicate and breakable, surrounded by so much danger. A small spasm briefly twisted her features, and she broke her stiff stance to whirl on Lena. An urgent look in her eyes, making her look almost unhinged, she cupped Lena’s face in her hands, giving her an insistent look as she tried to let her know just how serious this was. When Astra had just revealed that Lena hadn’t been baptised, it suddenly struck Kara at what this meant. She didn’t believe in anything. Every other version of Lena that she’d loved had believed in some sort of god, unknowingly paying homage to Rao, the creator of everything, but not this version of Lena. This version had never been dedicated to him, never believed in some higher power, or anything other than scientific proof. If she was killed or died because of Kara, there would be no more chances to break the curse, because she wasn’t Rao’s anymore. She didn’t belong to him. Fear gripped Kara’s heart so tightly that she thought her knees were going to give way beneath her, but she desperately held Lena’s face in her careful hands, putting all of her feelings into her look and touch.

 

            “You have to go.”

 

            “Wha- no!”

 

            “Listen to me, Lena,” Kara softly said, her bottom lip trembling slightly, “it’s not safe for you here. You can’t stay. I can’t risk you.”

 

            Lena’s skin was clammy beneath Kara’s hands, her skin feverish as she looked past Kara, her attention distracted, and Kara turned to find Jack’s eyes glowing with a blue light, gearing himself up to reign destruction down on them with all of his strength. The same blue light was echoed in everyone else’s eyes as they prepared to use their heat vision, and Kara put her back to them, shielding Lena as she gave her a frightened look.

 

            “It’s okay, we’ll take it from here,” Alex reassuringly told Lena, a hand on her shoulder as she tried to pull her away. Lena stumbled back unwillingly, her eyes wide with terror as they sky grew steadily darker. “Come on. You have to go. Now.”

 

            Stepping forward, Astra clamped a hand down on Lena’s shoulder, helping pull her even further away. “I’ll take her. I know a safe place.”

 

            Nodding, Kara gave Lena a piercing look. “Go. I’ll find you as soon as I can. Just promise me that you won’t look back.”

 

            “I don’t want to leave you,” Lena pitifully replied, her voice cracking even as her shoulders slumped in defeat.

 

            Winn stepped forward, giving her a friendly smile as he helped herd her away. “Sorry, Lena. I know you’re smart, and you want to help, but it’s time to leave this to us. We’re kind of professionals.”

 

            Astra was at her elbow then, towing her away as fast as she could, and a cold wind ruffled Lena’s dark hair, blown by Jack, who was now floating a dozen feet off the ground. Kara watched her go for a moment, and turned back around just in time to meet his beam of heat vision with her own, the red light casting an eerie glow on the rapidly darkening day. Pushing off from the ground, she pushed all thoughts of Lena to the back of her mind, throwing herself towards her enemy and tackling him to the ground with an ear splitting crack as the force of their landing formed a small crater.

 

---

 

            Lena’s chest was heaving as her heels pounded on the ground, quickly trying to keep up with Astra’s relentless pace as they ran to the edge of the courtyard, trying to put some distance between themselves and the brewing fight. A tiny stone made Lena stumble, her ankle twisting painfully beneath her and sending her sprawling to the ground, skinning her palms on the asphalt, and she swore as she picked herself up, gingerly putting pressure on her foot and wincing as pain lanced up her leg.

 

            “Come. We don’t have time to waste. We need to get far away from here,” Astra briskly replied.

 

            In one fluid motion she had Lena in her arms, leaving the younger woman spluttering at the ease at which the older woman carried her. Lena didn’t question it though, knowing that whatever Kara was, Astra was too. A moment later, the ground dropped away from beneath her completely, and Lena looked down, feeling a rush of adrenaline course through her body as she took in the sight behind them. Flashes of red light tore across the courtyard, loud cracks made it sound like peals of thunder and white gusts of cold wind blew across the open space. It was a riot of bodies as they were tossed about, locked in close combat, thrown to the ground or into the surrounding buildings and the fence. The destruction amassed in just a few short moments was jaw dropping, and Lena understood why Kara had told her not to look back.

 

            Astra landed lithely on the ground on the other side of the fence, not even pausing as she strode towards Lena’s car, pulling open the passenger door and unceremoniously dumping Lena on the seat. She was in the driver’s seat in an instant, the car purring to life, and Lena was still struggling to fasten her seatbelt when Astra floored the accelerator and they shot off down the street, the wheels screeching against the road.

 

            Lena didn’t even want to think about what the civilians were thinking at the light show going on down by the docks, with flying figures shooting across the sky as they flung each other into buildings, and she suspected that was why Astra had taken the car to avoid drawing more attention. They would think it was some sort of alien invasion, although they’d already been here for centuries, and they were fighting each other . Over her. The sudden fear of losing Kara slammed into Lena, and she turned around in her seat, one hand on the door, as if her mind had already been made up and she was going to fling herself out of the moving vehicle and run back to Kara.

 

            “Oh, no you don’t,” Astra said, reaching across the centre console and grabbing the collar of Lena’s coat, pulling her fully back into her seat.

 

            They barely even paused at traffic lights, regardless of the colour, and Lena felt her stomach lurch on more than one occasion, the sound of sirens blaring in the distance and horns honking as Astra ran more than one red. Weaving in and out of traffic - oncoming and those heading in the same direction - Lena couldn’t help but wryly think that perhaps she was in more danger with Astra’s reckless driving than she would be at Kara’s side, her eyes wide as she looked at the speedometer.

 

            She didn’t ask where they were going, but as they made their way further into the centre of the city, and the sight of her building came into view, she relaxed slightly, feeling safe with the familiar surroundings. Astra made her way to the garage beneath L-Corp, pulling into Lena’s personal space near the elevators, and was out as soon as the engine died, opening Lena’s door a moment later, before she could even acknowledge the fact that the car had stopped moving. She jumped a little at the speed at which her head of archives moved, unused to such alien behaviour from her, but Lena set her skittishness aside, trusting the woman she’d known since moving to the city. Climbing out of the car, she hurried after Astra and climbed into the elevator, feeling her tense muscles loosen as they sank further down to the sub-levels of the office building, far from where anything above them could hurt her.

 

            The elevator chimed as they reached the archives floor, and Lena hobbled along after Astra, her ankle throbbing slightly as she struggled to keep up, surprised when they didn’t take a sharp left towards the woman’s office, but delved into the shadowy, towering shelves. Glimpses of light from the large fluorescent panels overhead lit their way through years of files, and Lena had to bite her tongue to stop herself from demanding answers. She might’ve been the CEO of this company, but she wasn’t in charge at that moment, and she knew it. All of this was completely foreign to her, and she felt as ignorant as a child, her mind still reeling from the fact that she’d died sixty-four times at the hands of an alien.

 

            Making their way to the back of the vast storeroom, Astra produced a small key and set it into a tiny hole in the gap between two panels in the wall, while Lena watched on with mild surprise. She hadn’t even known there was a room back there, and she shivered slightly as Astra pushed the door open to reveal a narrow, dark space beyond.

 

            “Oh, Miss Luthor!” a perky voice said from behind, and Lena turned to look at the blonde woman smiling at her, her arms full with a stack of files. “And Miss Inze. I was just copying some files, I hope that’s okay.”

 

            Lena gave her a strained smile, trying to retain her composure as she looked at the familiar face, running through all of the employees in her company. “Oh, hello. It’s Eve, isn’t it? Up in marketing?”

 

            The woman brightened considerably, her smile growing as she happily nodded. “Yes, I-”

 

            “We don’t have time for this,” Astra bluntly replied, pushing Lena into the narrow space ahead of her and reaching out to pull the blonde in too.

 

            Eve stumbled at the rough tugging, dropping her files to the floor as Lena reached out to steady her. Letting out a nervous laugh, the young woman dropped to her knees, apologising as she scrambled for the paperwork, and Lena bent down to help her, gently reassuring her as she made a neat stack before her. Lena straightened up, watching as Eve picked up the last one, and straightened up too, and before she could even say anything, the light flooding in from the large room beyond caught the edge of a knife as Astra slashed as the pale throat of the woman. Eve didn’t even see it coming, and Lena was helpless as she watched it happen, a scream getting caught in her throat as she choked on it. Letting out a garbled sound, Eve clutched at her throat, her hands coated in slick blood that looked black in the gloominess of the narrow passage, and Lena reached out to catch her as she staggered, her knees buckling beneath her.

 

            As she lowered Eve to the ground, the light went out, and the sound of bolts being drawn into place thudded loudly as Lena listened to the ragged breaths coming from the woman in her lap. She couldn’t make a sound, her mouth dry with fear and the numbing shock making it hard to process what had just happened.

 

            “Messy, but necessary,” Astra sighed, her voice looming out of the darkness. “Foolish girl should’ve stayed upstairs at her desk.”

 

            A strangled sound tumbled from Lena’s trembling lips, and she felt something warm and wet drip onto her hand as she felt the rapidly rising and falling chest still beneath her touch. Scrambling backwards along the floor, Lena made a gagging sound, wiping her hand on her coat as she choked on a sob, trying to put as much distance between her and the dead woman, and the woman who, it had just occurred to her, had locked them in there. It wasn’t to keep anyone out, it was to keep Lena in.

 

            With an exasperated sigh and the cluck of her tongue, Astra moved towards her, the sound of her footsteps nearing as Lena’s hand hit the base of a wall, pushing herself up against it. The darkness was almost claustrophobic and she could feel her breathing turning ragged as the alien stepped over the dead body and neared her. The back of her neck prickled at the unnatural feeling of the woman drawing closer, none of Kara’s warmth in her, or the friendliness of the woman she’d thought was her loyal employee. For the first time, it struck Lena that these aliens were dangerous. Strong and fast, with otherworldly powers, and it made her heart seize with fear.

 

            “Oh, do get up,” Astra drawled, reaching down and dragging Lena to her feet in one easy movement. “I’ve waited a long time for this.”

Chapter Text

            The yawning blackness was suffocating, and Lena couldn’t so much as see, but feel Astra as she pulled her to her feet in one easy motion. Batting her hands away, Lena pressed herself up against the wall, feeling the cold seeping from the cement, even through her clothes as she tried in vain to put more distance between her and the woman she’d thought a loyal employee.

 

            “Don’t touch me, you sadistic fuck,” Lena hoarsely spat, the taste of bile coating her tongue as she tried to swallow her fear, blood rushing loudly in her ears as her heart beat erratically, but fast, in her chest.

 

            Astra didn’t reply, and Lena listened at the jingling of keys, followed by the dull, resonating click of a lock being turned, suddenly falling backwards as the wall swung inwards. Sprawling on the floor, Lena found that the darkness had somewhat lifted, if only a little, and she hissed in pain as her palms grazed the floor, craning her neck to look at the dull glow emanating from a lump of crystals clustered on what looked like a shrine on the furthest wall. Wincing, Lena pushed herself to her feet, hobbling slightly on her sore ankle, and was prodded into the room by an impatient alien.

 

            The door grated as Astra pushed it back into place, the quiet clicking of a lock signalling that it was closed properly, and Lena felt her skin prickle with unease. It was how she imagined it would feel to be locked in a cage with a lion, watching as the shadowy figure walked over to the shrine, skirting around a slab of dark stone which took up most of the space in the middle, and she knew that whatever Astra had in store for her, it wasn’t good.

 

            “Why’re you doing this?” Lena asked, her voice cracking slightly, “I trusted you.”

 

            “Well, that’s your fault, isn’t it,” Astra murmured, rounding on Lena, the edge of the blood slicked blade glinting slightly in the dim light from the crystal. “Be a good girl and lie down, would you?”

 

            She didn’t move an inch, and Astra sighed heavily, rounding the slab of stone with the knife pointed straight at Lena, the threat obvious even in the dark. The cold feeling of the knife sent a shiver down Lena’s spine, as did the wet feeling from Eve’s blood, and she had to clamp her teeth together and swallow thickly to stop herself from vomiting. Fingers gripped her arm tightly, with enough strength to leave bruises, and Lena tried not to trip over her own feet as she was led to the stone slab. Much to her amusement, she thought of Narnia in that moment, of Aslan being sacrifices on the stone table, and as she was jerked around and the back of her legs hit the slab, she was forced to sit down, a quick laugh slipping from between her trembling lips. Astra meant to slaughter her on that table, letting her warm blood soak the stone and drip off the edges, until the whole place was bathed in her blood. She had no doubt about it.

 

            Sitting numbly on the edge of the stone, Lena turned and watched as Astra searched around in the dark for something, and in the grey light, she made out the thick rope held in the woman’s hands. “Don’t move,” Astra quietly warned her, setting about looping one length of rope through a hole drilled into the corner of the slab.

 

            Lena let herself be forced down on the table, bound tightly with rope, leaving her skin raw as if chaffed, and it dawned on her that this was all too well thought out to be spontaneous. “You planned this,” she mumbled in surprise.

 

            Letting out a sharp laugh, Astra’s face loomed over her, dark hair tickling Lena’s cheek and making her stomach turn, and she jerked her head to the side. “I’d say it’s nothing personal, Lena, but that would be a lie,” she smiled, the faint light glinting off perfect teeth. Her smile had always been friendly, a kind face in a sea of serious businessmen, but Lena took no comfort in the sharp smile hovering above her. “I’ve waited a very long time for this.”

 

            “Why? What do you want from me?”

 

            Making a derisive sound, Astra smiled again, her lips pressed into a thin line as her eyes glinted wickedly, looking black in the gloominess. “You? I just want you eliminated. Out of the way for good. It’s Kara that I’m doing this for. I want to free her up. Killing you … well, that might just be the push that Kara needs.”

 

            “Push for what?”

 

            “To tip the balance. I’m going to bring an end to a centuries long war. For the better part of two millennia, we’ve been waiting for a decision, and she’s been a lovesick fool, mooning after you time after time. It’s laughably ridiculous that the fate of us all has lied in the hands of a pair of lovesick idiots all this time, but I’m finally going to end it. I’m one of the good guys, Lena.”

 

            Letting out a stiff laugh, Lena squirmed against the bonds, the smell of blood thick on her skin as she drew in a shallow breath. The air in the room was stale, heavy with dust and damp, and the cold was chilling her to her bones. “Do it. Go on, do it, you sick bitch. I’ll come back.”

 

            Even as she spoke it, the thought of losing Kara hit her hard, and she couldn’t even begin to imagine how it would feel for Kara. She would become another name tattooed onto her skin, a handful of memories and perhaps a trinket salvaged from Lena’s personal items to remember her fondly by, but she would cease to exist as she was. A sudden flutter of panic seized Lena’s heart and she didn’t feel quite as brave as she was pretending to be.

 

            With a sharp laugh, Astra shook her head, her dark curls writhing like snakes in the darkness, “oh you poor fool,” she tutted. “You won’t. Not this time. The first time I saw you, I saw something different in your eyes. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was there. See, I’ve met you many times before, Lena, and most of the time, you’re downright boring. Always mooning over Kara like she hung the stars in the sky. A stupid lovesick child, swooning over her with those lovely, innocent eyes, before they were burned out of their sockets and we could all catch a break for a few years. Well, this time, you had a genuine spark in your eyes, but it wasn’t until you told me about those agnostic parents of yours that it all clicked.”

 

            Spluttering as the needle point of the knife was pressed against the curve of her collarbone, Lena scowled at Astra, her eyes widening just a fraction in fear. “My parents? What’s this got to do with them?”

 

            “Well, my dear, the reason you come back again and again is because all of the other times you were reborn, you were ushered into religious belief. Catholic, protestant, pagan, jewish, muslim. Always religious. You never knew it, but you were always paying homage to Rao. But this time … not this time. When your parents opted out of baptising you, and your adoptive parents didn’t, the essentially left your soul wide open for the taking. No ritual to welcome you into religion means that there’s no reincarnation for little Lena. A small, but essential, loophole. Quite convenient for me, in this case. Rao knows that Kara’s been looking for one for centuries. I’m sure she’ll be quite upset to have found it a little too late, but oh well. It’s for a greater cause.”

 

            Her mouth went dry and her head throbbed with a dull headache, and Lena tried to puzzle together pieces of the few conversations she’d had about her past lives, trying to fit it all together with the tale that Astra was spinning. A handful of her hair was gripped in an iron fist, her chin jerked upwards with the held of a cold blade on the underside of her jaw, blood drying on the knife as time slowly ticked by.

 

            “When you die tonight, you die .”

 

            The quiet hiss of Astra’s voice seemed loud in the confines of the room, the words dark and ominous, and Lena’s mind was reeling as she felt bony fingers slide along her ribcage, looking for the gap that would let Astra plunge the knife into her heart. She couldn’t even move, the rope bound so tightly that it rubbed against her wrists whenever she tried to twist in her bonds, and Lena ground her teeth together as tears burned at the back of her eyes. As she waited for the sharp pain of metal piercing her skin, turning slick with her blood as it slipped between her ribs, her mind turned to Kara. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest, but as she thought of Kara, with her golden hair, soft blue eyes and sad smile, it slowed. It was with heartbreaking resignation that she closed her eyes to the world, letting thoughts of Kara consume her, filling her heart with lighthearted warmth, until she almost forgot she was lying on the freezing slab of stone, and she accepted her death. Her only regret was that she would cause Kara more pain. If there was one thing she could’ve spared her, it would’ve been thing.

 

            And then the knife pricked her skin, and Lena let out a small whimper, despite her best efforts to keep it behind clamped lips, at the exact same time that a booming thud made the walls shudder. A blast of freezing air hit her, and a blindingly bright red light tore through the dank room, and Lena squeezed her eyes shut, her eyelids painted orange as they watered from pain and fear.

 

            In her state of shock, Lena finally felt calm, the blinding brightness and numbingness of death feeling quite soothing after the dark, cold pain of that altar she had been tied too. It was hard to see anything, and she would’ve thought that her eyes were still shut - did she even have eyes in this place? - but dark spots were dancing across her eyelids. The rope bindings on her arms and legs were loosened, before she was released, and then she felt herself ascend to some higher place.

 

            And then at Astra’s screeching voice, insisting that it was too soon, Lena shook herself out of her shock. Her raw wrists were unbound, her body covered with a fine layer of dust and a few nicks, leaving beads of blood on her ashen skin. Tiny shards of rocks clattered to the floor as she moved, and she splayed her fingers, blinking in confusion as she looked down at the floor beneath her. Looking up, she stared into the shadowed face of Alex, and relief washed over her as she sagged in her arms, her head lolling to the side so she could see that the entire wall, with the door they’d came in through, had been demolished, rocks and chunks of cement littering the floor.

 

            As she processed everything, her mind too slow to keep up, she was removed from the dark room, a blinding whiteness thrust upon her as she was brought out into the archives and gently laid on the cold floor. Gentle fingers prodded at her, a soothing voice speaking unintelligible words to her, but calming her nonetheless as they washed over her, and Lena let her head loll to the side as warm bodies pressed in around her, all talking in hushed voices. Through a glimpse in the packed bodies, she watched as Astra staggered out of the wreckage of the hole in the side of the cavernous room, and Lena wanted to cry out for someone to stop her, but her voice was nothing more than a croak.

 

            Still, even as she watched, a blur slammed into the raven haired woman, ramming her straight through the solid concrete of the walls with enough force to shake the foundations of the sub-level basement. A moment later, a golden figure stepped out of the hole, amidst a cloud of dust, and Lena felt intense relief wash over her, her entire body going limp at the sight of Kara, and she struggled upright slightly, a small cry falling from her lips.

 

            Kara was there in an instant, kneeling by her side as the others stepped back, and she cradled Lena’s face with such tenderness, a frantic look in her sky blue eyes as they roamed over her, taking in the smears of blood - most of it was Eve’s, and aside from a few cuts and bruises, Lena was fine - and she brushed dusty locks of dark hair out of Lena’s face.

 

            “You’re safe now. I’m here,” she softly crooned, her thumb gentle as she caressed Lena’s cheek.

 

            “You found me,” Lena murmured, her voice barely a sigh as her eyelids fluttered closed for a moment. “You saved me.”

 

            “I did,” Kara said, her voice wavering slightly as she looked down at her in awe, some hidden emotion flickering in the depths of her eyes. “We’re going to get you out of here.”

 

            Lena jerkily nodded, her eyes flitting to the other forms. Alex and Winn were there, as were Lucy and James, and a few others. They all looked fine, considering the last time Lena had seen them, they were fighting outside a warehouse, shooting beams of lasers from their eyes and flying fast enough to plow someone through a brick wall.

 

            “Astra-”

 

            “She’ll have gone by now,” Kara said, her voice low with anger, her cheeks reddening slightly as the muscles in her jaw worked.

 

            Alex cleared her throat slightly, “someone needs to go after her. She can’t have been working alone.”

 

            “Is she on Jack’s side?” Lena quietly asked, her heart aching slightly for the man she’d thought was her friend. There were too many betrayals here, and it stung a little.

 

            Shaking her head, Kara gave her a serious look, eyebrows furrowed in concern. “No. We thought she was with us.”

 

            “She’s one of the seven priestesses. They call themselves the Cult of Yuda Kal. A respectable position, but they’re very ambitious,” Winn interjected, “she hid this part of herself well. I always thought they were more show than anything. No one took them seriously on Krypton, but they will now; what she did tonight was grounds for exile.”

 

            “So that whole fight out there …”

 

            “One of the many battles we’ve fought,” James grimly told her.

 

            “Well, who won?”

 

            A bitter look crossed Kara’s face as she gave her a tight smile. “No one. No one ever wins. It’s nearly impossible for one of us to kill another. It’s just … a lot of punching and throwing each other through things until we all get tired and call it a night.”

 

            A feeling of relief washed over Lena at that thought, yet she still couldn’t help herself as she ran her hands over Kara’s shoulders, cupping her face and eyeing her closely. “You’re not hurt?”

 

            With a weak laugh, Kara flashed her a smile. “No, I’m fine. Now, we need to get you out of here.”

 

            “Kara’s right,” Lucy gently said, “the truce we called for after the battle only stands for us Kryptonians. And now that so many know about the, ah, change in your mortality status, there are a lot of bad people out there who’ll be interested in getting ahold of you. A lot of good too, but … just as a precaution.

 

            Forehead furrowing as she frowned, Lena gave her a puzzled look. “I still don’t get it though. Why does it matter so much? Me . Is it because of our- our feelings for each other?”

 

            Sighing, Kara gave her a frustrated look, “that’s part of it, but it’s a long story. We can’t tell you it all at once, it’s- well, there’s a lot you’ll have to awaken on your own. Like the alien thing.”

 

            “But why? It’ll be so much easier if you just tell me it all now.”

 

            “It’s too dangerous,” Alex firmly told her, a stern look on her face, “if we tell you everything, then it could kill you.”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, Lena thought about the line of black ink down Kara’s spine and felt the fight drain out of her. She wasn’t going to become another tattoo. Not only for her sake, but for Kara’s too. As frustrating as it was, she would have to settle for ignorance for now, until she figured the rest out on her own.

 

            Kara traced the curve of her cheekbone, drawing Lena’s eyes back to her, and she gave her a sad smile as they stared at each other. “First, we have to get you out of here.”

Chapter Text

            Dawn was breaking over National City, soft pinks and oranges reflected off the thousands of windows of gleaming skyscrapers as the first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon, gentle wisps of clouds ambling across the sky as the city started to awaken. It was the last morning that Lena would spend in the city for the foreseeable future, the pigeons cooing softly on the rooftop of L-Corp as she stared out at the warren of buildings, the streets coming to life a dizzying distance beneath her. The wind was a soft caress as it tousled her hair, and she sighed wistfully as Kara gave her hand a squeeze.

 

            “I really thought this place would be a fresh start for me,” Lena murmured, her voice laced with regret as she broodingly stared out at the view, “I think I’ll miss it.”

 

            She looked different to how she had a few hours ago, bloodied and mussed as she was helped from the basement of her company by Kara’s strong arms around her waist as she limped. Much to Lena’s regret, they’d had to leave Eve’s body there, but Kara had assured her she’d see that the other woman was properly buried and everything else taken care of. It somewhat eased Lena’s guilt, but it also left her with the uncomfortable feeling that Kara had done this before, countless times, able to smooth over a death of disaster as if it was second nature to her. Perhaps her friends had even smoothed over Lena’s deaths before, coming up with excuses for her sudden disappearance and leaving behind no trace of her. This life was foreign to Lena, who had carried her past with her wherever she went, and there was a part of her that was slightly jealous that these Kryptonians were able to reinvent themselves so easily, blending in wherever they went, while she happened to stick out like a sore thumb.

 

            As soon as she’d been deposited back to her penthouse suite at the hotel she had taken up residence in, Lena had turned the hot water on in the shower, shed her dirty clothes, and stepped underneath the scalding spray, letting the water mist around her as it stung her chafed wrists from the rope. Scrubbing underneath her bloody fingernails, she was sick as nausea welled up inside, feeling drained and pulled apart at the seams. A good hour was spent in the shower, until her skin was raw from the complementary soap the staff stocked up on every day, and her grimy, dust-covered hair was clean. Only when she started feeling dizzy from the prolonged heat did Lena shut off the water, shivering as she stepped out into the tiled bathroom, the mirror fogged up and the tiles cold beneath her feet.

 

            Dressed in a fluffy bathrobe, she walked out into the vast bedroom, ignoring Kara, who was gingery perched on the padded desk chair in her torn clothes, waiting for her to appear. Crossing to the mini fridge, Lena helped herself to three tiny bottles of liquor, feeling numb by the time she’d added tequila to the vodka and whiskey in the trash. Sluggishly blinking at Kara, she gave her a shaky smile and collapsed onto the bed. She didn’t move until she was shaken awake an hour before dawn, Kara’s exhausted face looming above her in the soft yellow light from the bedside lamp. Lena had changed into dark jeans and a crisp white button up, a leather jacket thrown over the top and anything deemed casual enough tossed into a duffel bag that Kara had procured for her.

 

            And with a quick detour to L-Corp to clean out the important stuff in her office, that was how Lena found herself on the rooftop, a melancholy feeling welling up inside as she realised she didn’t want to say goodbye to the city. It occurred to her that it was less likely that she didn’t want to part with the city, and more likely that she didn’t want to leave Kara. They only had a few more hours together, and she wanted to prolong the moments for as long as she could. It was a strange feeling, to know that she was meant to love someone, destined to, in fact, and to feel the stirring of newfound feelings in her heart, but know that they’d never had the chance to even be together. It was confusing, to say the least.

 

            “How are we going to explain what happened here?” Lena asked after a few moments of silence, car honks and the general city sounds drifting up towards them.

 

            Kara sighed, running a hand through her hair, looking brassy in the early morning light. She was a beautiful sight, a denim jacket slung over a white t-shirt, her tanned skin and blue eyes speaking of summer, but there was the undercurrent of exhaustion, seen in the circles beneath her eyes and the slight sag in her shoulders. Lena gave her a searching look, feeling her heart twinge, while her mind was a little warier of the strange alien holding her hand.

 

            “Structural weaknesses,” Kara said with a small shrug, “a gas explosion. There’s a number of plausible explanations.”

 

            “And my absence?”

 

            There was a slight pause before Kara looked down at her, “you’re taking an extended vacation, skiing in France or sunbathing in Fiji, while your office is restored and the foundations fixed. There were more problems with the building than anticipated when you moved L-Corp out here. You have a CFO in Metropolis who’ll conduct your affairs from there. James will be happy to do it. He lived there for a while, he knows the inner social circles there. Lucy will act as your lawyer there too.”

 

            Realising it had all been planned out for her while she had been asleep, or possibly had even been plotted as a precaution the moment that she’d bumped into Kara, Lena accepted it without argument. This was outside of her area of expertise, and she knew that whatever happened, Kara had her best interests at heart, and was trying her best to keep her safe. It occurred to Lena that Kara wouldn’t hold L-Corp in the same regard of importance as Lena did, and would willingly disregard the company in order to protect Lena, but she was doing her best to cover all of their bases and ensure that Lena’s disappearance from the company wouldn’t arouse suspicion, for which Lena was grateful for.

 

            “I wanted to bring you up here before you leave,” Kara softly interrupted her thoughts, “it seemed fitting. Rooftops are kind of our thing.” Her lips twisted up into a wry smile as her eyes glimmered with amusement. “It’s also one of the places I’ve really wanted to kiss you. I had to stop myself, of course, but-”

 

            Lena cupped her face with her free hand and pressed her lips against Kara’s, cutting her off mid-sentence. The tender feeling of her soft, warm lips beneath her own made her feel hot all over, when every part of her had been so cold after the long day yesterday. It was soothing, and Lena’s eyelids fluttered closed as she pushed herself up against Kara, finding the blonde woman pulling back all too soon, a sad look of regret in her eyes as she gave her a grim smile.

 

            “I also brought you up here for another reasons. You have  a helipad that we’ll need to move you somewhere safe.”

 

            Nodding, Lena lowered her gaze. “Right.”

 

            Warm fingers gripped her chin, gently urging her head back up. “This isn’t goodbye forever, Lena - not even for long - but I just- I don’t know how things are going to play out from here. For nearly two millennia it’s been the same pattern, but now ... “ she let out a small sigh, reaching up to smooth Lena’s dark hair. “I don’t want you to worry though. I’ll always come back for you, I promise.”

 

            “Where are you taking me?” Lena asked after a moment, waiting with bated breath to find out what the future was going to hold for her.

 

            “A little island off the coast.”

 

            She nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat as a distant sound broke through the hush. A few blinking lights flashed far away in the distance, and slowly but surely, the sight of a helicopter grew larger, angling towards them. It wasn’t a news one, like the ones she was used to seeing circling above during the day, but a sleek, black one, unmarked and making towards the top of L-Corp. They were in the far corner of the rooftop, for away from the helipad, but they were still buffeted by the wind as it gently touched down on top of the building, circling around slightly, ruffling Lena’s hair, until she looked decidedly unkempt.

 

            Much to her surprise, it was Alex sitting in the pilot seat, a pair of aviators shading her eyes as she spoke into a small microphone attached to the massive headphones clapped over her ears. Shading her eyes against the steadily growing daylight, Lena made out another figure sitting beside her, and a few moments later, realised that it was Winn. She smiled slightly at the sight of them both.

 

            “This is our last chance to be alone,” Kara said, her voice barely audible over the sound of the chopper, and Lena suspected that Alex had left it on to offer them this small bit of privacy. “I have something for you.”

 

            She reached into the pocket of her jeans and fished out a silver chain, and Lena quickly glimpsed at her neck, realising that the necklace that Kara usually wore was no longer hanging around her neck. With her palm held up for Lena to see, Kara revealed the silver chain and the pendant hanging off it, a teal teardrop shaped stone set in silver.

 

            “It used to belong to you,” Kara told her, her voice unsteady as she unclasped it and stepped around Lena, putting the necklace around her neck and doing it up. “A very long time ago.”

 

            “It’s beautiful,” Lena murmured, reaching up to touch the stone, before turning around.

 

            “The memories of your past life are still inside you somewhere,” Kara said, a perplexed look on her face as she reached up to gently grip Lena’s upper arms, “it’s going to be confusing to hear about everything that’s happened, and it’ll take some time to explain it all to you, but … trust your instinct, Lena. Trust your gut. You might not understand it, but you’ll know . I’ll send as much word as I can, and try and visit when it’s safe to, but if something feels wrong to you, then stay away. Please.”

 

            Lena nodded, blinking rapidly as she tried to fight back the sad tears that pricked her eyes. “And where are you going?”

 

            With a grim smile, Kara gave her a sheepish look. “I need to find Jack. We have some things to take care of.”

 

            She didn’t sound excited at the prospect at crossing paths with the man she’d fought yesterday, and it made Lena’s spine prickle with uneasiness, yet she trusted Kara to do what she had to do, and silently accepted that Jack was a part of whatever was unfolding. She wished he wasn’t, that he had just been a normal man she’d befriended, but it seemed like her life was never going to be that boring, and Lena just hoped that Kara would watch her back around him. With wry amusement, it occurred to her that Kara would know that already, having known Jack for thousands of years, as opposed to Lena’s meagre few. Fighting back a bitter smile, Lena reached up to trace Kara’s face once more, drinking in the sight of her.

 

            “And after that you’ll come back to me?”

 

            “I’ll come back for you, I promise. I love you. I always have,” Kara told her, her voice strained as she struggled to keep it even, her eyes shining fiercely as she stared at her, cupping her face in her warm hands.

 

            They both turned to look as Winn hopped out of the helicopter, a friendly smile on his face as he nimbly landed on the rooftop, his clothes rippling from the force of the propellers as he walked towards them, his powers no doubt giving him the strength to oppose the gale force wind trying to knock him off balance. Lena supposed that it was for her benefit that he made his way towards them so slowly, and she gave him a quick smile. She barely knew him, having only interacted with him on a few occasions, but she was fond of him.

 

            “I came to see you off,” he shouted as he neared them, letting a backpack slide off his shoulder as he came to a stop. Pulling out a paperback and a thermos, he handed them over with another warm smile, and Lena reached out to take them. “Thought you could use something to pass the time. You used to like your coffee with a dash of milk and two sugars. Sorry if you don’t anymore.”

 

            Feeling touched by the gesture, Lena hugged them both to her chest and shouted her thanks to him, watching him perk up slightly. Winn hesitated for a moment, before rushing forward and wrapping her in a careful hug, and Lena froze slightly at the display of friendliness, before realising that he’d known countless versions of her. She meant more to him than she’d realised, because she’d thought of him as a stranger, perhaps a friendly acquaintance, but the truth was that she was Winn’s friend. Lena shook with surprised laughter, resting her chin on his shoulder for a moment, his gifts still tucked against her chest.

 

            “Thank you, Winn,” she softly replied, knowing that he’d hear her.

 

            Releasing her, he stepped back, giving her a reassuring nod, before he dashed towards the rooftop door in a quick blur, leaving them to it. With reluctance, Lena met Kara’s gaze and knew that it was time, letting Kara scoop her up into her strong arms and dash towards the helicopter. Blinking in surprise as she found herself inside the chopper, safe from the strong wind that had just moments ago stolen her breath and whipped her hair around in a frenzy as her eyes stung, she shook her head slightly, dazed from the speed at which Kara had moved. It was still unfamiliar, and she let out a breathless laugh.

 

            She let Kara buckle her into the front seat beside Alex, her movements quick and precise, as the impending goodbye loomed ever closer. It wouldn’t be too long before she saw her again, but it struck Lena as wrong to be parted from her, and she found herself fighting back a wave of sadness. Finally finished with the last strap, Kara pulled back slightly, giving her a once over, before sighing. Pressing her forehead against Lena’s, she cradled her face for a moment, and then kissed her, and Lena tried to hold onto every moment of it.

 

            “Be careful,” Kara murmured, “listen to Alex, okay? I trust her more than anyone - I trust her with you . Let her guide you until I come for you. And remember what I said.”

 

            “Which part?”

 

            With a quick laugh, Kara flashed her a sad smile, brushing a few strands of messy hair back into place. “As much as you can, but mostly that I love you.”

 

            Swallowing the lump in her throat, Lena nodded, knowing that she couldn’t say it back yet, her feelings so conflicted. Instead, she settled for reaching out to cup Kara’s cheek in a trembling hand and giving her the most convincing smile that she could, which wasn’t very convincing. With that, Kara climbed out of the chopper, landing on the asphalt and backing away in a blur, her hand raised to shade her eyes against the sun. Lena turned her attention to the dashboard of dials and buttons, watching as Alex confidently flipped switches in silence, while Lena blinked back tears and sniffed surreptitiously.

 

            “You know how to fly this thing?” she finally asked.

 

            Alex handed her a pair of headphones with a mic, like she was wearing, and slipped her a pair of matching aviators. Lena put them both on, finding the loud noise somewhat subdued, much to her relief.

 

            “U.S. Air Force, Three-hundred and Nineteenth Division,” Alex replied, giving her a roguish smile as she carried on flipping switches.

 

            With a nod, Lena looked out the window, her eyes trained on Kara as Alex maneuvered the helicopter into the air, Lena’s stomach dropping slightly as the rooftop disappeared from beneath them. Kara was a speck of golden hair in the sunshine, her hand raised in farewell, and Lena pressed a hand against the window, feeling it cool beneath her touch as the city receded below them, turning into a patchwork of skyscrapers and roads winding through them like veins. It hurt her more than she’d thought it would to say goodbye.

 

---

 

            That night, Kara watched her sleep from the rafters of the old log cabin, the dark haired woman tossing and turning on the narrow canvas cot, while a small lanterns hanging from the eaves illuminated her. In her sleep, she sighed, made small sounds that made her furrow her brows, and twisted the blankets around her legs. Kara wondered what kind of dreams she was having. She didn’t imagine they were good.

 

            She wanted to float down from her hiding place amongst the rafters, the dusty boxes piled high with supplies hiding her from sight, but she stayed where she was, listening to the sound of the sea lapping at the sandy shore outside. If it was up to her, she would’ve dropped down beside her and held her close while she slept, offering what little comfort her presence could, but Kara knew that Lena couldn’t know she was there. It was safer for her to think that she was far away.

 

            Lost in her thoughts of Lena, she nearly didn’t hear the approaching figure until they were almost outside the window set into the slanted roof. She could hear Alex a room away, watching the TV with the volume turned nearly all the way down, and she knew that she was listening for any signs of danger, including keeping an ear on the man that Kara had invited there. At the gentle tap on the window, Kara opened it and let the tall figure fold himself into the small space offered to him in the eaves of the cabin. It was raining outside, letting in a rush of bitterly cold air, before Kara closed the window again, while Jack shook off the rain, leaving a smatter of droplets on the cardboard boxes as he let out a sigh of content.

 

            Squeezed into the narrow space, they sat side by side, Jack in his impeccably cut navy suit, and Kara in her battered jeans and clean t-shirt. They were both of them different, yet they both stared down at the sleeping figure with shared fondness for her. “She’s so lovely when she sleeps,” Jack softly said, a wistful sound in his voice as his dark eyes watched Lena toss and turn.

 

            “Is that why you wanted her to sleep for eternity?”

 

            “Me?” Jack asked with mild surprise, scoffing as her batted aside Kara’s accusations, “never. And I would never have allowed that witch, Astra, get away. I would’ve killed her where she stood for her actions. I just want her.” He stared down at Lena with interest, shifting slightly towards the glow of the lamp to watch her closely.

 

            “Then I’m sorry, but you’ll end up disappointed.”

 

            He let out a quiet laugh, rubbing his jaw with its day worth of stubble, before turning his gaze on Kara. “Oh, Kara , your naivety surprises me. You don’t have her yet. You might think that you do, and so might she, but we both know how little she understands. She doesn’t even know what she is yet.”

 

            Kara ground her teeth together in grim determination, knowing that she had to succeed or else risk losing Lena for good. With a sigh, Jack cast the sleeping figure one last glance, before popping the window open and uncurling from his hunched position to ease himself back out into the rain. He hovered just outside, his hands gripping the window frame as cold air flooded in and raindrops pattered against the clapboard stretched across the rafters to hold all of the boxes. He extended a slender hand through the window, a smile twisting his lips as he gave Kara a hard look, no doubt thinking about the battle the night before, and the ones to come, just as she was.

 

            “The truce lasts twenty-one days,” he smoothly told her, “though I have a feeling that we’ll need each other before then.”

 

            With some reluctance and only a slight hesitation, Kara reached out to take his hand, giving it a quick shake, while Lena slept soundly and obliviously below.

Chapter Text

            Kara stared out at the bay, watching the roiling mass of grey waves break against the bottom of the cliff, the blanket of fog sucking the colour out of everything and dimming the piercing blueness of her eyes. It was a bleak sight, the salty spray of the thundering waves making the rocks slick, limp strands of seaweed caught on the craggy rocks. She tugged the edges of her navy peacoat tighter around herself, trying to stave off the biting cold of the howling wind, but she knew it was no good. It wasn’t the weather that was making her feel cold inside - she never really felt the cold - it was the killing. It always left her with a cold, sick feeling inside.

 

            The only thing that would be able to warm her was a thousand miles away, and it was for her sake that Kara had done it in the first place, to ensure her safety. She missed the way Lena fit in her arms, so warm pressed up against her, and how her hair tumbled down her back, and her pale neck was perfectly arched for kissing. But at the same time, she was relieved that Lena wasn’t there. What she would’ve seen would’ve horrified her. This version of her hadn’t been raised in death and bloodshed, like so many of her other past lives, and Kara was afraid that if she knew the whole truth about her, Lena would be repulsed. Instead, the only witness to her actions was a dark haired man kneeling on the cliffs beside her, the strong wind ruffling his hair as the muscles beneath his suit jacket worked.

 

            Jack was tying a rusty anchor around the midsection of a grey faced man with a red bloodstain blooming across his stomach, looking markedly unruffled at the sinistrous event that had taken place. Like always, he was impeccably dressed and perfectly composed, his dark eyes calculatingly calm as he went about securing the heavy weight to the soaking wet dead man. Despite the hollow ache inside, Kara looked just as composed as him, looking as if she’d been on a relaxing vacation with her lightly tanned skin and golden hair. No one would’ve accused her of recently murdering someone, and she suppressed a shiver, curling her hands into fists in her pockets.

 

            Finishing an intricate knot, Jack glanced up at her and gave her a wry smile. “Typical of you to leave the dirty work up to me.”

 

            “What to you mean?” Kara spluttered indignantly, “I’m the one who finished him off.”

 

            She ground her teeth together as a bitter feeling of guilt welled up inside, taking in the stain peeking out from beneath the old man’s heavy fisherman’s coat, his gnarled face slack and his eyelids mercifully closed over lifeless eyes. It made Kara feel cold all over again. If it wasn’t necessary for her to kill to ensure Lena’s safety, Kara would never wield a weapon again - never would’ve in the first place - and she prayed for a day when the lifetime of fighting came to a stop. She just wanted to be able to peacefully love Lena.

 

            “Killing them is the easy part,” Jack dismissively replied, “it’s seeing them off to sea that’s the hard part. Have to make sure they don’t bloody come back.”

 

            Kara nudged the bloodied end of the broken tree branch at her feet with the toe of one of her boots, a brooding look on her face as she did so. Jack had made a quip about her choice of weapon, but Kara knew that she could kill with anything, or with nothing. It made no difference what she used.

 

            “Will you just hurry up,” she grumbled, a feeling of unease making her squirm slightly. It wasn’t so much the fact that she’d killed, which always made her feel sick, although nowhere near as heart wrenchingly painful as it was to kill the love of her life, but it was something else. A feeling like something was wrong. “The tide’s nearly out.”

 

            Tutting, Jack rose to his feet with the limp man slung easily over one shoulder. “You’ve always been too impulsive, little sister. Unless you want our man here to be coming in with the morning tide, it would be in your own self interest to show some patience.”

 

            “Don’t call me that,” Kara muttered.

 

            He sketched her a mocking bow, “my apologies, Morning Light. I’ll take up our correct familial relationship next time I see dear old dad. Might be a while, unless you want to pick a bloody side so we can all leave this God forsaken planet.”

 

            Crossing her arms over her chest, Kara looked out at the sea, taking in the white crests of the rolling, steely waves, thinking about all the times she’d sailed on a dozen different seas with Lena in her past lives. Now, she could die, and everything was different, and she might never get to take her out on a boat again. This was the last shot for her to figure out a way to end this. It was everyone’s last shot at redemption. The thought of all the things Lena had yet to learn made her body tense up, and she ground her teeth together in frustration. Kara was never impulsive; she’d thought a dozen steps ahead, making multiple plans, trying to figure out how to save Lena.

 

            “You know I’m only here to talk about her.”

 

            Jack let out a chuckle of amusement, giving Kara a quick smile, before he stepped up to the edge of the cliff. “This one’s a little gristly, isn’t he? I’m surprised the priestesses didn’t send a more challenging hitman.”

 

            Then, Jack bent his knees, and, as if he was a shot-putter, spun around to gain some momentum, before launching the corpse out across the water, two hundred feet into the air. For a few seconds, the lifeless body arced across the bay, before the weight of the anchor pulled its trajectory down, and it splashed down into the grey water, a mile out to sea, with a splash that both Kryptonians could still make out amongst the surf. She turned her attention to Jack, who was wiping his hands on an embroidered pocket square,

 

            “That,” he said with some satisfaction, “might’ve been a record.”

 

            “You take human death too lightly,” Kara sharply warned him, her expression clouding over.

 

            He rolled his eyes, giving her one of his smiles that she’d seem charm countless women over the years. “And you, my dear, are too attached to them. They’re insignificant little things. Their lives are over before we can even blink. What use is our sentimental value to corpses? Besides, this man deserved it.”

 

            Making a sound of disapproval, Kara sniffed disdainfully, thinking about the man she’d known on Krypton. Jack had been a healer then, intent on saving them all from any ailment, although they were hard pressed to even be injured on their home planet, given their almost impervious nature, but over the course of nearly two thousand years on earth, he’d hardened into a man with little regard for human life. It seemed that he’d only cared about his own kind, and after being shunned by them, cared for little else. Like the rest of them, his fate hinged on Kara’s decision.

 

            “This isn’t a game to me,” Kara tightly replied.

 

            “And that’s precisely why you’ll lose.”

 

            She had the strong urge to grab him by the lapel of his jacket and push him over the cliff, like she’d just watched him do to the dead man, but a cloud drifted past the sun, the shadows darkening as the weak sunlight was momentarily hidden from sight, and Jack gave her a knowing smile.

 

            “You have plenty of enemies, Kara, but right now, I’m not one of them. Remember the truce.”

 

            “Some truce. Twenty-one days of people trying to kill her.”

 

            “Twenty-one days of us picking them off.”

 

            As the news of Lena’s newfound mortality trickled through the tiers of Kryptonian ranks, enemies had started coming out from their hiding spots, and Kara knew that every day, the number of enemies would double. Astra and the other sic priestesses were still after Lena, and they were the ones who had sent this man, but Kara had the nagging feeling like there was something more sinister at work than a human .

 

            She was still pondering the uncomfortable feeling when a shaft of sunlight pierced the clouds, and something green glimmered a ways down the cliffs. If it hadn’t been for the sunlight catching it, Kara didn’t think she would’ve seen it, and she moved in a blur, kneeling as she stopped before the speck of green, to find a single arrow hidden between the cracks of the cliffs. It was slimmer than a normal arrow, the shaft a dull silver colour and etched with Kryptonian runes, and Kara blanched slightly as a weak, nauseous feeling swept over her.

 

            Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the green arrowhead, and her fingers quaked as she reached out to gently pry the arrow from the crack, mindful of the wicked green arrowhead. It had been centuries since she’d last seen a kryptonite arrow. Now Kara knew where the other feeling had come from, and the news was grimmer than she’d first anticipated. Climbing to her feet, she turned to Jack, the arrow tip gingerly held away from her body as she tried in vain to distance herself from the poisonous effects of the green kryptonite.

 

            “He wasn’t acting alone.

 

            Jack stiffened at the sight of the arrow, crossing the distance between them in a blur, reaching out to touch it almost reverently, before he sagged slightly as weakness washed over him. It was a small amount of kryptonite, which was why neither of them had noticed it at first, given the fact that it wasn’t close enough to affect them either.

 

            “It’s a valuable weapon to leave behind. The Thorul must have been in a great hurry to get away. I know people that would pay millions to get their hands on this.”

 

            The Thoruls were a spinless bunch of Kryptonians that had decided to forgo choosing either Rao or Reign’s side, and were shunned by the followers of both - a sort of common ground for them - and their one great strength was Lex. Kara hadn’t seen him in centuries, and he was currently playing at being imprisoned, that last she’d heard, yet here was one of the arrows he had famously become renowned for amongst their kind. He was the only one who had mastered the art of turning kryptonite into weapons, and a green kryptonite arrow could do little more than bruise a mortal when loosed from a bow, but to Kryptonians, it could be the deadliest weapon of all, if the aim was good.

 

            Everyone wanted them, but barely anyone was willing to deal with the Thoruls, not wanting to be cursed by their association with them, which meant that bartering for the rare kryptonian weapons was left to their human allies. Which meant that the man that Kara had just killed was no mere hitman, sent by the Priestesses of Yuda Kal, but the middle man in a transaction. The Thorul, the real enemy, had no doubt taken flight at the first faint whisper of Kara and Jack’s arrival.

 

            “We killed the wrong guy,” Kara numbly murmured.

 

            “What wrong? Isn’t the worst better off without a man like this? Isn’t Lena? The only problem now is-”

 

            “The Thoruls.”

 

            Nodding, a brooding look crossed Jack’s face, “so now they want her too.”

 

            Kara was silent for a moment, struggling to suppress the fear welling up inside her at the thought of Lena being harmed. She had to keep her safe. She would do anything for her, but Kara wanted to make sure that she did it the right way, so she would be deserving of Lena. For now, she was safe in the cabin on that small island with Alex, but they would need to come up with a more long-term plan of protection.

 

            “We have to hide her somewhere safe,” Kara said, “there’s a college up north-”

 

            “The Cadmus College. I’m familiar. My side has looked into it as well. We think she’ll be happy there, and educated in a way that won’t endanger her. Most importantly, she’ll be shielded.

 

            Alex had already explained to Kara the type of protection that Cadmus could provide, with the best technology available to mankind at their disposal. Word would no doubt eventually get out, but Lena would be hidden away there for some time, essentially invisible to the outside world for a small time. Inside, a Kryptonian that they all knew, and who Alex was especially close to - Eliza - would look after Lena for them. There was also another Kryptonian that Kara knew that she'd heard was teaching at the college too. Outside, Kara and Jack would hunt down and kill anyone who dared to go near the school’s boundaries. It was the best that they could offer her at that moment. Although, it didn’t sit well with Kara that someone had also told Jack about Cadmus.

 

            “She can start as early as tomorrow, assuming you say yes.”

 

            Pressing a hand to the breast pocket of the shirt she was wearing beneath the sweater and coat, Kara felt the thin photograph, recalling the image of Lena sitting on the rooftop that she’d sneakily taken on one of their rare moments alone together. Usually, by the time she had a chance to get a picture of her in one lifetime, or some other memento of their time together, she had lost Lena again. This time she was still here.

 

            “Come on, Kara,” Jack sighed, “we both know that this is what’s best for her. We enroll her, and then let her be. We can’t do anything to speed up her learning and understanding of everything that she’s missing.”

 

            “Well I can’t leave her alone for that long,” Kara bitingly replied. “I can’t tell her anything, and it’s too risky to assume that she could take it all in without … I don’t want something to happen to her when I’m not there.”

 

            She closed her eyes, trying to banished the image of the red hot fire that she’d seen consume Lena’s body more times than she’d been able to stand. It was always a dull, throbbing memory at the back of her mind, an ever-present warning, and Kara was conscious of the fact that if she tikd Lena the truth, and killed her, then she’d lose her forever this time. And it would be her fault. Kara wouldn’t be able to exist without her.

 

“Do you really believe that she’ll be able to learn at this college?”

 

“I do. Assuming that we’re not interfering in her life. Leave her be for the duration of the truce, and let her uncover her past by herself.”

 

            Kara was hesitant to agree to stay away for that long, not only for her own selfish desire to be with Lena, but because she wanted to be there to protect her. They had only just found each other in this lifetime, and they finally had a chance to be together, and she doubted that Lena would willingly agree to being parted from her again. She wanted answers that could kill her, far too inquisitive for her own good, and she wanted them from Kara. Yet, if Kara tried to tell her herself, it would end badly, and she knew that the answers Lena wanted would have to be uncovered alone. To break free of this horrible, cursed cycle, Lena would have to do it herself, and Cadmus would be the best place for her to do that, while Kara kept all of her enemies at bay.

 

            “Let me take her there,” Kara insistently replied, an undercurrent of urgency in her low voice. If she was going to take her there, and leave her be for twenty-one days, it would be her last chance to see her again, and Jack gave her a strange look for a second, as if considering denying her the opportunity.

 

            With a sigh of defeat, Jack gave her a grave nod. “Fine. But I get the arrow.”

 

            Kara handed the weapon over without argument, feeling somewhat relieved at getting it as far away from herself as possible, even if there was a small part of her mind that was wary to give it to Jack.

 

            “Take her as far as the school and then find me.”

 

            “And then?”

 

            “You and I have some hunting to do.”

 

            Kara nodded to him, before she shot off into the sky, coming to a pause mid-air, a hundred feet above the dark haired figure standing on the edge of the cliff. Flying always made her feel more like her true self, and she relished the thought of flying back to Lena, and with a grim finality, she called down to Jack. “The truce begins at midnight tomorrow.”

 

---

 

            Kara met her at the airport a few days later, listening to the familiar heartbeats as Alex accompanied her charge on the cross-country flight. She was on her feet, a bright smile of relief on her face, as soon as Lena walked out of the arrivals gate. Swiftly pushing through the throngs of other arrivals, Kara scooped her up in her arms, feeling weak in the knees at the feeling of holding Lena in her arms again, and she kissed her on her temple, her solemn eyes landing on her sister as she mouthed her thanks. Relinquishing her hold on her love, Kara took Lena’s duffel bag off her and wound their fingers together as she gave her a once over. She looked more rested than the last time she’d seen her, dressed as casual as she could in her expensive clothes, her green eyes somewhat vaguely pissed behind all of the excited relief at seeing Kara again. She didn’t want to go to Cadmus anymore than Kara wanted her to go there. It was a necessity though.

 

            The three of them walked out of the little airport, and Kara made her way towards the inconspicuous black sports car she’d rented for the drive to the school, shoving Lena’s bag into the trunk with a slight struggle, before slamming it shut and turning on her sister.

 

            “Thank you,” Kara murmured, wrapping her in a grateful hug.

 

            “Be careful,” Alex sternly warned her, and Kara gave her a sheepish smile, recalling the angry rant in Kryptonian that Alex had given her two days ago when she’d called to tell her about her plans and the truce with Jack. Her sister was ever the protective worrier, but Kara knew what she was doing. Or at least, she hoped she did.

 

            Before Lena climbed into the passenger’s seat, she gave Alex a warm smile, awkwardly trying to say goodbye to the woman she barely knew, but was grateful for all the same. Alex’s eyes darted away, as if she couldn’t bring herself to meet Lena’s gaze, and she shifted slightly on the spot. “Don’t do anything stupid, like turning into a pile of ash. We need you.”

 

            Letting out a surprised laugh, Lena’s eyebrows rose, and she cracked a smile at Alex. “ You need me?”

 

            Shrugging, Alex brushed off Lena’s thanks, and her dark eyes gave Kara a silent warning, before she turned and walked off without another word. She’d no doubt fly back to wherever she was going to, one point of the far flung net Kara and her friends had created to try and keep Lena safe. She would no doubt be lingering in National City for a while yet, hunting those who tried to come for Lena’s previous place of residence. Kara trusted her sister to keep them away.

 

            They were still on the West Coast, the sky a brilliant blue, despite the recent stormy weather, and the weather a balmy warmth after the chilly nights Lena had just spent on the island. A line of mountains framed the view as they climbed into the car, a tawny brown dotted with scraggly trees as hills rolled into each other. They weren’t too far away from San Francisco, and as they exited the airport, joining onto the freeway, air rushed in through their open windows, and they made hesitant conversation, elated at being reunited, but with the uncomfortable awkwardness of not knowing what to say.

 

            She’d told Lena over the phone that she wouldn’t be enrolling in college with her, and she could see the brimming anger just below the surface at being dropped off to be babysat by another alien, but she didn’t say anything. They’d already exhausted that argument. Even Lena’s insistence that she already had two PhD’s hadn’t been enough to dissuade Kara from convincing her to stay at the school for just a few weeks. Kara was too easy to find, with her powers, and she didn’t want to draw anymore attention to Lena.

 

            Driving through the hilly city of San Francisco, each crest giving them a glimpse of the city, before the drove down the steep streets, tiny cars precariously parked along the edges of streets, where century old restaurants were crammed in alongside gleaming skyscrapers reflecting the brilliant blue of the sky. It wasn’t too far from National City, but Kara was hoping that by keeping Lena in the same state, her enemies would assume that she’d been taken elsewhere, because remaining in California would’ve been too obvious. They’d already heard that she’d been whisked away from National City, to the East Coast for a few days, so it would be most believable to think that she was in Maine, perhaps, or down in Georgia.

 

            They rode in silence for a while, the city fading behind them as they listened to the radio, and Kara didn’t know what to say. She was about to leave her again, and the thought made her want to cry, even though it was necessary. It was only as they passed through the redwoods, evening already having descended to reveal the first few stars, that she spoke again, the sliver of the moon shining down on a cluster of buildings.

 

            “See that trailer park up ahead? You used to live right there,” Kara softly said, her voice taking on a tender quality. “You lived there before it was a trailer park though. Your father in that lifetime brought your family out from Illinois during the gold rush. Used to be a really nice place. You had a two-room cabin and your mother was a terrible cook. You had these blue gingham curtains that I used to push aside when I climbed in through your window at night, after your parents were asleep.”

 

            Lena was silent, but Kara could hear how fast her heart was beating, and in the fading light, she could see that her eyes were closed, as if she was fighting back tears. It must’ve been hard for her to hear about a life that she couldn’t remember, to envision a house that Kara could so vividly see, but she couldn’t.

 

            “What was it like the first time you met me?” Lena hoarsely asked.

 

            Giving her a wobbly smile, Kara reached across the centre console to take hold of her hand, “I was doing household chores in exchange for meals back then. Alex, Lucy and I were three sisters, and Winn was our brother, and it was one of our … poorer lives. We’d pooled all of our money to hopefully strike gold, but so far our mines were empty. I was walking past your house one day, and stopped by to ask if your mother needed any help with the chores, when I saw you through the window, sewing. I couldn’t take my eyes off your hands. You sewed with such skill.”

 

            Shaking her head, although there was a softness to her face as she gazed at Kara, and a yearning for a thousand more stories just like that one, Lena gave her a determined look. “I want to know about the first time. The very first time. What was that like?”

 

            After a long pause, Kara gave her an apologetic smile, “it’s getting late and they’re expecting you at the campus.”

 

            Stepping on the gas, they hurried through the rest of the town, and it was another hour before they stopped at a diner. Kara bought them both greasy burgers and fries, and they sipped Cokes in the harsh light of the grimy place. Kara was on edge the whole time, her eyes frequently darting about to ensure that there was no one lurking about.

 

            “Why won’t you tell me?” Lena eventually asked as they split a slice of apple pie, prolonging their dwindling time together.

 

            With a sigh, Kara gave her an exasperated look. “It was a long time ago, Lena. It’s hard for me to remember those things. It’s … painful. The very first time I saw you, it wasn’t much different than any of the other times. The world was different, but you were just the same. Just as lovely. I was-”

 

            “Love at first sight?” Lena guessed with a wry smile on her lips.

 

            Kara nodded, giving her a somewhat sardonic smile at how it sounded. “Just like always. The only difference was, in the beginning, you were off limits to me. I was being punished, and I’d fallen for you at the worst possible time. Things were very violent on Krypton back then, and because of who I am - was - I was expected to stay away from you. The focus was supposed to be on winning the war - the same war that’s still going on.”

 

            “So … you were very high up in Kryptonian society?”

 

            “Sure,” Kara half-heartedly shrugged, “it was a fall from one of the highest seats.”

 

            Blinking in surprise, Lena sat back in her seat, giving Kara an intense, unreadable look. “You gave it all up for … me?”

 

            “I wouldn’t change a thing,” Kara whispered, giving her a crooked smile as she gently touched the back of her hand.

 

            “But you- you’re damned ,” Lena spluttered, “you gave that all up for me, and you’re cursed forever.”

 

            “It might not be forever,” Kara quickly replied. At the questioning look in Lena’s eyes, she climbed to her feet, placing a few folded pills on the table, and held her hand out. “Come on, let’s go for a walk.”

 

            She stopped by the car, pulling Lena’s duffel bag out of the trunk, and slung it over her shoulder, before taking Lena’s hand and pulling her into a patch of trees shrouding the diner in their protective darkness. Once beneath the cover of the canopy, Kara easily scooped her up into her arms, a sparkling glimmer of amusement in her eyes at the mild look of surprise on Lena’s face.

 

            “What’re you doing?”

 

            “Fly with me,” Kara whispered, “I’m not going to see you for a while. I have to give you something to remember me by.”

 

            Lena kissed her before she could say anything else, her warm fingers gripping Kara’s cheek as she pushed her soft lips against hers, and Kara’s eyelids fluttered closed at the feeling, before the bent her knees slightly and pushed up, bursting through the canopy overhead with a shower of leaves. Pulling away in surprise, Lena craned her neck to look down, her eyes wide with wonder as the nearby sea sparkled in the moonlight, and veins of lights wound through the darkness, the tiny orange streetlights mingling with the lights of hundreds of buildings and cars. Kara’s warmth kept the chill of the wind from numbing Lena, and she smiled at the look of awe on the young woman’s face as Kara sped out over the ocean, the blanketing quietness of the night making them feel entirely alone.

 

            Taking her time, letting Lena enjoy it for as long as she could, Kara ambled slowly southwards, the dark landmass visible below them from the lights that flashed by, and the occasional reflection from the moonlight, and all too soon, for either of their liking, she was touching down on the edge of a cliff. Feet burrowing in a cool patch of thick grass, she set Lena back on her feet and gave her a sad smile.

 

            “Where are we?” Lena asked, although Kara could tell by the look on her face that she knew.

 

            A large building loomed in the distance, a completely dark misshapen form in the night, and Kara held her close to her chest for a moment, her eyes damp with unshed tears.

 

            “I’ll do anything in my power to keep you safe, Lena,” Kara whispered, “and this is the best place for you at the moment. They can help you here. I love you, Lena, and I’ll be back for you soon. I promise.”

 

            Pulling away from her, Kara tilted Lena’s chin up to meet the forlorn look on the other woman’s face, and she gave her an encouraging smile as she let the duffel bag slide off one shoulder. Placing it carefully on the ground, she cradled Lena’s face in her hands, a single light in the distance flicking on as a silhouette appeared in the doorway.

 

            “It’s not for long,” Kara assured her, “I’ll come for you, as soon as things are safer.”

 

            Ducking her head down, Kara crushed their lips together, and Lena melted beneath her touch. Kara could almost feel her heart breaking, and she hated herself just a little bit for leaving her behind, although the dark figure cutting through the darkness would look after her. She would be okay . Pulling back all too soon, Kara let out a soft sigh, stepping backwards from Lena, who gave her a pleading look.

 

            “Don’t go,” she whispered, and Kara gave her an apologetic look, quickly glancing at the woman that neared them. She’d been expecting Eliza, but the other woman was no less of a surprise, with Kara having heard the rumours about her occupation here.

 

            Following Kara’s line of sight, Lena peered into the darkness, and she stumbled backwards, her face blanching slightly at the sight of the woman. “Mom?”

 

            Kara was gone with a gentle gust of air, leaving Lena in the custody of her adoptive mother, knowing that between Eliza and Lillian, they’d keep her safe. It didn’t make the pain any less easier to bear though as she flew upwards, Lena’s angry words following after her. Silently asking for forgiveness, Kara flew off in search of Jack.

Chapter Text

            “Mom?!” Lena spluttered, her face aghast as she looked up at the tall, elegant woman with unbridled shock, her green eyes wide and a deep stab of betrayal in her heart. “You’re a part of this as well?”

 

            Impatiently beckoning her, Lillian put an arm around her shoulders and started herding her towards the campus. “Come. We can talk inside.”

 

            Casting a forlorn look up at the sky, Lena’s heart sank when she couldn’t spot Kara, the loss hitting her surprisingly hard, considering the fact that she wasn’t even sure she was in love with the blonde woman. This was undeniable proof that there was something there though, and gritty-eyed and tired, Lena allowed herself to be led towards the beacon of yellow light, silently fuming as she tried to figure out how her mom was involved.

 

            They entered through a side door, and Lillian led them down a hallway, a typical college hallway, with posters about classes and extracurricular activities pasted on walls and cork boards, the light wooden floorboards worn with age, and the walls painted a pale blue. Fluorescent lights lit their way as they walked through the building, until Lillian opened a door to a staff common room, flipping on the light to reveal two comfortable leather couches, a row of kitchen cabinets with a battered coffee machine, and more light wooden floorboards covered in a thick navy rug. There were inspirational posters, somewhat lacking in their ability to inspire, and Lena was given a gentle push towards one of the sofas, obediently doing what she was told as she gave her mom a wary look.

 

            Lillian quickly pulled two mugs out of one of the cupboards and made them both some coffee, the rich smell filling the room and making Lena’s blood sing. She was so tired, she could’ve happily drank a whole gallon of espresso, and she begrudgingly thanked Lillian as she pressed a mug into her hand. Gently blowing on the steam rising from the swirling black coffee, Lena eyed her mother over the rim of her cup, watching as the tall woman folded her legs and smoothed a hand over her neatly ironed pants, her own cup perched precariously on the arm of the sofa.

 

            “You must have a lot of questions,” she began.

 

            Irritation welled up inside, and Lena let out a sharp laugh, her lips curling up into a bitter smile. “You could say that. Although, no one seems to want to tell me anything. In case I turn into ash.”

 

            “It’s happened before,” Lillian shrugged.

 

            “So you are one of them,” Lena said, a hard look on her face as she stared at the woman who had raised her. She’d always known she was adopted, but she never would’ve guessed that her mom was an immortal alien. As far as she was aware, her mom didn’t even like her much, and Lena gave her a contemptuous look as she took a sip of scalding coffee, burning her tongue in the process, but unable to form her thoughts into words.

 

            “Yes.”

 

            Some of her anger wavered a little at Lillian’s blunt honesty, and Lena gave her a cool look. “My real mom …”

 

            “An Irish woman. We took you from her when you were four.”

 

            “You took me from her?”

 

            “You have many enemies, Lena. It’s been a never ending race, over and over again, to see who could find you first and take you. Kara isn’t the only one who wants to break the curse, and we’ve all tried. There’s been a dozen fights to keep her away from you, but it’s never worked. You’ve always thought that I hated you, but the fact of the matter is, this isn’t the first time I’ve raised you. You might have been a means to an end, with breaking this curse, but to lose a child … it still hurts.”

 

            Lena was startled by the news that she’d known Lillian in multiple lifetimes too, had been raised by her before, and she gave her a dubious look as she stared at her. “When? When was the first time?”

 

            With the small curl of her lips, Lillian tilted her head to the side, looking at Lena, but her green eyes clearly far away from the sitting room. “Staraya Ladoga. Late in the eighth century. Well, it’s where Russia is now.”

 

---

 

Staraya Ladoga - 791 AD

 

            She’d lost Lena another two times since Uppsala, and had travelled east, following old Slavic trade routes and taking up residency in a few tribes, never staying in one place long enough to call it home. Still, she bumped into Lena, once as a sick woman being bounced along in the back of a cart as her ragged looking father tried to find someone that could heal her. The most that Kara could offer her was a burning kiss that would end the raging fever twisting the woman’s red face with pain. She wouldn’t have lived much longer anyway. It was a mercy, she told herself.

 

            The second time she’d been one of the devout followers of the early animism form of religion her tribe had practiced, believing in the spirit of nature. Kara had found her in the Balkans, where she’d been hiding, hoping the curse would pass her by in the remote reaches of Mount Musala, up in the Rila mountain range. She’d spent her days flying overhead, unnoticed by the tribes below, looking like no more than an eagle circling overhead. The mountain range was abundant in glacial lakes and hot springs, granite mountains rising towards the clouds, while deep valleys carved their way through them. It was the middle of winter when she heard the faintest whisper of a scream - not the usual screaming wind, which had become second nature to her in her isolation in the mountains. She hadn’t known it was Lena at the time, but she’d gone anyway, shooting off through the sky, in the direction she’d heard the sound coming from, until a familiar fluttering heartbeat made her falter for a second - just for a second - before Kara was swooping down in a blur, landing with a spray of snow as she took in the leg bent at a twisted, unnatural angle, and the scared face, taut with pain.

 

            Her name was Lina, and she’d been trying to climb Mount Musala to pay her respects to the spirit that lived inside the mountain. She’d slipped on an ice covered granite rock and fallen, landing badly on her leg. With tentative fingers, Kara pulled the layers of fur clothing she was wearing up to reveal a pale leg with a piece of yellowed bone sharply jutting through the skin, while blood trickled out of it. A wound like that in these times was almost a guaranteed death sentence, and Kara’s face with written with grief as she made eye contact with the young woman. She flew her back to her tribe, landing just far enough away that they wouldn’t see her, and carried her to the small collection of tents, while Lina stared up at her in awe. She didn’t burst into flames, not then. Handing her off to her healers, Kara was welcomed into the tribe, enjoying broth and the warmth of the smoky fire inside the strongly scented tanned hides, waiting to hear news of the young woman. Alex found her there, a look of frustration on her face as Kara helplessly explained what had happened.

 

            It didn’t matter, because a few days later, her broken leg was an angry red with infection, and the creeping, telltale signs of blood poisoning were evident. She was going to die. Kara had sat by the dark haired girls bedside the entire time, since the moment the bones had been poked back inside and sealed with gristly thread, a poultice and bandage all that they could do for her. The young woman had babbled about her being the spirit of the mountain, her cheeks flushed pink with a fever, but her green eyes full of wonder as Kara tenderly bathed her sweaty brow with cold water. Before a week had passed by, Lina was nearly delirious with the fever, her leg swollen to nearly twice its size, and Kara carried the burning hot woman out of the tent with grim determination, her shoulders set as she ignored the tribesmen who shouted at her in fear. She flew Lina to the top of Mount Musala, gently cradling her in her lap as she knelt at the peak, the cold air chilling her fever and Kara’s gentle words of encouragement making her lips curl in a brief smile. She was nothing more than ash after that, and it took Alex days to track her down afterwards.

 

            They went north after that, until they reached the Volkhov River. A few miles away there was a settlement that prospered through trade, with merchants sailing through the Baltic Sea, through Ladoga, and Novogod, and then on to Constantinople or the Caspian Sea. It was occupied by Scandinavians from various tribes, all come together in the emerging settlement and calling themselves the Rus’ people. Despite the closeness of the settlement, they didn’t take up residence there. The surrounding flatlands were rich for cattle farming, the lush green giving rise to thatches of forest and the winding blue river perfect for fishing. They lived in the woods instead, sleeping by the fire and hunting and foraging for what they needed. It was a year before they even crossed paths with other people, fishing on the shore, their pants rolled up to their knees as a boat of merchants hailed them as they passed by, pulling over to the riverbank and sharing some of their mead, while they plied the two women with questions about Staraya Ladoga. Kara was wary of being around people.

 

            She’d been betting on at least two decades to mourn her loss, before having to worry about Lena again, giving her time to let her heart heal over the scars left behind from Lina, before it was struck by love again. It was only nine years since the death of her past life before Kara was horrified to find Lena again, feeling sick to her stomach at the shocking sight.

 

            It was during spring, and she was plucking juniper berries from a bush when she heard the high pitched delighted laughter nearby. People rarely bothered to come into the woods bordering the river and the spread of rolling fields, a few miles away from the settlement, although some occasionally did, and Kara’s curiosity was piqued, having not heard childish laughter in such a long time. It was a lighthearted sound, and she found herself moving through the woods with a hunter’s skill, her feet barely making a sound as she carried a mound of berries in the makeshift basket of her shirt.

 

            It was only a few minutes before she stumbled upon the little girl. She couldn’t have been older than ten, kneeling at the base of a towering tree as she plucked blue flowers with tiny fingers. Kara watched her silently for a few moments, a soft smile on her lips as she listened to the child hum to herself, her dark hair plaited down her back and the fine weave of her pale blue dress speaking of wealth. She must’ve been the daughter of a wealthy merchant, passing through these parts as they made to trade at the outpost. Most likely, they’d come ashore on the sands of the massive lake a few miles north of where they were, and would be making south towards the trading post with their wares. Still, Kara didn’t see the child’s parents around.

 

            And then she found herself staring at the girl’s face as she climbed to her feet, one of the skirts of her dress hitched up to hold the multitude of flowers she’d plucked, and she froze at the sight of a ragged looking Kara watching her. Kara was likewise frozen as she found herself staring into a pair of eyes she would’ve known anywhere. They were set in a younger face, but she had looked into those eyes a thousand times, and her lips parted in shocked fear. It suddenly struck her that the girl couldn’t have been older than nine, because the little girl was Lena.

 

            “Hello,” the little girl said, her voice soft and curious as she gave Kara a wary look. “Do you live here.”

 

            Shaking herself out of her stunned silence, Kara gave her a hesitant smile, a feeling of unease coiling in her stomach. “Yes.”

 

            “Are these your flowers?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “Oh … so I can have them then?”

 

            Kara nodded, a wary look on her face as she lingered in the shadow of the tree she stood beside, unwilling to get closer to the child. She’d never seen Lena as a child before, and it was almost a sick joke for her to see her now, as if some new addition to her curse, to see the child who would grow up for her to kill. For now, she was picking flowers and running off into the woods, and Kara took a step backwards, about to turn and leave.

 

            “Linnae!” a voice called out, sharp and slightly anxious, and Kara turned to look in the direction the shout had come from.

 

            It was a few moments before the woman came into sight, and Kara found herself stunned for the second time in as many minutes. The tall woman had long dark down to her waist, a green dress of fine make dragging through the carpet of dead leaves and bracken, and her green eyes hard as they latched onto Kara. Lillian froze for a moment, before she gestured to the girl.

 

            “Mother, look! Blue flowers, just like my name!”

 

            Ignoring the child, Lillian protectively set her hand down on her shoulder, running a hand over the dark hair with a protectiveness that surprised Kara. It was no surprise that Lillian had sided with Cythonna in the fall, and here she was, with the key to all of their curse, no doubt trying to turn the tide of the war by getting to Lena while she was a child.

 

            “Linnae, go back to the horses, child.”

 

            She started to protest, but a gentle push by her mother sent her on her way, and Kara seemed to deflate slightly with relief, feeling even more so on edge than usual when she ran into Lena again. It didn’t sit well with her to see her as a child. She didn’t love her; it was just a cruel joke to taunt her with the knowledge that every other past life had been a child like her, until she’d grown up enough to cross paths with Kara and fall in love with her. They’d all been laughing little girls who loved flowers and dresses, horses and dancing, and Kara had been the one to curse them to never grow up and see their own daughter’s grow up. She turned and vomited against the trunk of an elm tree as Lillian stood there watching.

 

            “Ambassador,” Kara gasped a few moments later.

 

            “Morning Light.”

 

            “You found her,” Kara said, wiping a trembling hand across her mouth as she gave Lillian an accusing look.

 

            Giving her a curt nod, Lillian gave her an unreadable look, her expression blank but her eyes flinty. “And now I’ll leave with her. Do yourself a favour and stay here for the next seventeen years. I’ll make sure she never comes this way again.”

 

            Nodding, Kara let go of the bottom of her shirt, juniper berries raining down on her scarred boots, and she turned around and walked away, feeling weak with shock as she made her way back towards the river. She didn’t stop as she reached the crisp water, walking straight into the river, up to her chest, before she sucked in a deep breath and plunged underneath the water, the water cloudy as she kicked up silt and sand from the bottom. A torrent of bubbles trailed out of her mouth as she let out a muffled scream, lasers shooting from her eyes as she vented her anger. The water steamed around her, and when she surfaced again, steam rising from the surface as water ran down her face in rivulets, she saw Alex standing on the banks, a look of concern on her face as she waited for an explanation.

 

            “She’s just a child,” Kara said.

 

---

 

            “What happened?” Lena asked.

 

            Lillian let out a quick laugh, her lips curling up into a smile as she gave Lena a pointed look. “You grew up to be as stubborn as you are now. I took you south, and we travelled all the way to Greece, following the popular trade routes. When you turned nineteen, you ran away from home and boarded a ship. I didn’t know which one. I couldn’t stop you. You ended up back in Staraya Ladoga. It took me two years to find you again, and Kara had made good on her favour and stayed right there. You found her in the woods again, she was fishing along the riverbank, and you went to pick blue flowers. She fought it hard this time, probably because she’d seen you as a little girl, and couldn’t bring herself to kill the memory of that child. I had to forcibly drag you away from her, because you’d fallen in love in an instant. You ran away another four times, always managing to make it back to her, no matter how many times she gently let you down. She loved you, of course she did, but I don’t think she even admitted it to herself. The last time I saw you, you were blue in the face after you’d jumped overboard when you’d found out the merchant you’d paid to take you back to the settlement was going to sell you. You were so beautiful, men would’ve given up their whole fortune to buy you as their wife. It was the middle of winter, and you’d only been in the water for a minute, but your lips were purple and you were so cold . The shock of it made you swallow the water, and Kara was holding you in her lap - she’d pulled you out - and the only way to save you was to fill your lungs with air and get the water out. So she did. She put her mouth to yours and blew hot air into your mouth, and you coughed up a lungful of water, shaking from the cold as you looked up at her. You said her name, once, and then you turned to ash. It was easier to not get attached to you after that.”

 

            Numbly sitting on the sofa, her mug cradled in her hands as she leached as much warmth from the hot coffee as she could, Lena felt conflicted inside as she listened to her mom talk. It made sense as to why her mom had always been so aloof and removed, but it didn’t excuse the fact that she had been. It also made her heart ache for Kara. All she’d ever wanted was to save Lena, to keep her safe, and it must’ve killed her little more each time to fail.

 

            “So what? I’m supposed to forgive you for lying to me?” she snapped, feeling her anger flare back up, although she found that she was too tired to muster up the effort to argue.

 

            With a small sigh, Lillian gave her a dour look. “No. I’m not asking for your forgiveness, Lena, I just want you to understand. You were born into a war that’s been ongoing for centuries, and some of us have had to do things for our own sakes. You’re a pawn. I’m sorry to say it, but you’ve been used more times than I can count to try and tip the scales. Kara wants to keep you safe, and I might be on a different side to her, but that’s all that I want to. The vast majority of us do. Whichever reincarnation of you it is doesn’t matter, it’s your soul that matters, and sometimes that’s meant that we’ve done harsh things to keep you safe and contained. I’ll be honest, only Kara has been unable to stop herself from making it personal every time.” Lillian sniffed disdainfully, as if Kara’s weakness was an embarrassment.

 

            Reevaluating certain parts of her life, Lena’s eyebrows drew together in a frown, and her coffee cooled in her hands as she tried to piece everything together. There had been boarding school in Ireland, far enough away that no one would find her in the countryside. Their family estate had been crawling with guards, that it just occurred to Lena might not have been entirely human. Her mom had tried in vain to stop her from moving to National City. And Lex. Lena’s eyes widened slightly at the thought of her brother.

 

            “Lex-”

 

            “There’ll be time for talking tomorrow,” Lillian firmly cut her off, draining her coffee and climbing to her feet. “Drink quickly. I’ll show you to your dorm.”

 

            “Dorm?”

 

            “Classes start tomorrow,” Lillian told her, while Lena spluttered at the thought of actually having to masquerade as a college student.

 

            She was one of the frontrunners in technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, and she was going to have to pretend she was a nobody in a backwater college she’d never heard of, all so her alien girlfriend - she assumed Kara qualified as her girlfriend now - could hunt down people trying to kill her. Lena was less than impressed at the turn of events, and she had to swallow her pride as she drained the coffee, handing the mug off to her mother with a dark look, and was led through the building, back out into the cold, and towards another building with a few yellow lights on. A small silver key was handed to her as they made their way up to the second floor, stopping outside a door with the number 21 on the door, and Lillian quietly wished her goodnight, handing over Lena’s forgotten duffel bag and leaving her to let herself in.

 

            Unlocking the door, she pushed it inwards and flipped on looked at the dark bed the beam of light illuminated. Too tired to change into her pyjamas, Lena dropped her bag to the floor with a dull thud, shrugged out of her coat, kicked off her shoes, and climbed into bed without hesitation. She was asleep before long, although her sleep was troubled and she tossed and turned, restless as her dreams were filled with glimpses of Kara and hazy images her mind conjured up from the stories she’d heard about her past lives.

 

            She was woken by an itchy feeling on her face, her nose twitching as she let out an indistinct grumble, before it tickled again. Dragging open her eyelids, she found herself looking into a pair of hazel eyes and jolted slightly in her bed, a quiet yelp escaping her mouth as her heart hammered in her chest. The young woman smiled as she straightened up, having been tickling the end of Lena’s nose with one of the drawstrings threaded through the hood of her sweatshirt. “Good. You’re awake.”

 

            She was wearing a pair of running shorts, the grey sweatshirt bearing the Cadmus crest, and the ends of her brown hair was dyed blue and messily fell around her shoulders in slight waves. Lena struggled to sit upright, feeling groggy and disjointed from the long day yesterday. She already missed Kara so much that her chest ached, and she wasn’t in the mood to put up with other people right now.

 

            “Who’re you?” Lena groggily asked, rubbing her tired eyes as she fought back a yawn.

 

            “More like who’re you?” the girl laughed, her hazel eyes sparkling with amusement, “other than the stranger I wake to find squatting in my room.”

 

            Giving her a wary look, Lena realised that she was still a kid. Perhaps seventeen at the most, and harmless by the looks of things. Sitting up in bed, Lena glanced around the room, taking in the relative cramped size of it, but the comfort of the place. Light hardwood floors, a working fireplace, a microwave, and two wide desks. There was a built-in bookshelf above each desk too, and above her, Lena realised she was staring at the underside of a mattress on the top bunk. A private bathroom was visible through a partially cracked open sliding wooden door, and as she peeked out the window, she caught a glimpse of the sparkling blue ocean, reflecting the warm sunlight as white-crested waves swept in to the sandy shore.

 

            “No one mentioned anything about me having a roommate,” Lena mumbled, running a hand through her wild dark hair.

 

            The girl’s face fell slightly, some of her exuberance fading, and Lena felt slightly guilty, choosing instead to look around at the few decorations the girl had put up. A map of the stars was taped to one wall, alongside a few movie posters, a faded patchwork quilt was sliding off the top bunk, and there were a few potted plants neatly arranged along the windowsill, tiny colourful flowers doing their best to brighten up the place.

 

            “Sorry, they didn’t clear out the dean’s quarters because Lena Luthor arrived,” the girl halfheartedly joked.

 

            “How do you know my name?”

 

            “So you are Lena Luthor?” she asked, a look of excitement brewing on her face as she eyed Lena’s rumpled clothes and disheveled appearance. “My name’s Ruby.” Extending a hand, she gave Lena a bright smile, and Lena slowly reached out to shake her hand, unaccustomed to dealing with teenagers.

 

            Climbing up off the bottom bunk, Lena located her abandoned bag and rifled through it for a change of clothes and her toothbrush. Entering the small bathroom, she took in the small shower stall and slung her towel over the edge of the sink, turning to give the young girl a small smile, before closing the door. A quick shower reinstated some liveliness in her, and Lena stole some of Ruby’s toothpaste as she quickly scrubbed her teeth clean, before changing into a pair of black jeans and a short-sleeved buttoned shirt. Running a brush through her hair, she twisted it into a low bun, and decided that was as good as it was going to get that morning.

 

            Ruby was slinging a backpack over one shoulder, shoving her feet into a pair of flip-flops, when Lena walked out of the bathroom, shoving her laundry back in the bag. “It’s breakfast time,” she said with a nervous look of hopefulness on her face, “I can walk you to the mess hall, if you’d like.”

 

            She didn’t have any school equipment, being a CEO and not a college student, so she just stepped into a pair of slightly heeled boots and followed Ruby out of the dorm, already resigning herself to the fact that she was going to have to deal with the teenager following her around, and most likely being her own friend. She told herself not to let herself get irritated by it, because she remembered how it had felt to be a young kid in college, surrounded by older students who ignored her.

 

            Stepping out into the hallway, Lena took in the dorm in the daylight, taking in the oversized windows with stunning views of the ocean, built-in bookshelves crammed with colourful hardcover books, steep, curving staircases made from the same maple wood she’d seen everywhere else. It had looked like a normal, if somewhat remote, college in the night, but it could’ve been a relaxing beachfront retreat based on appearances. The smell of salt laced the air, gauzy curtains fluttered in the gentle breeze swept in through the windows, and the bright sunshine was a surprise after the stormy few days she’d had. A small part of Lena’s mind was optimistically telling her that maybe it wouldn’t be too bad at Cadmus.

 

            Descending the spiral staircases, catching glimpses of hallways splitting off into yet more hallways, Lena followed Ruby through a set of double-paned French doors and into the daylight. The sunshine was incredibly bright, and Lena slipped on a pair of sunglasses she was grateful that she’d slipped in her pockets, and the briny smell of the sea hit her full force, the quiet sound of the sea audible over the quiet hum of chatter.

 

            “Breakfast is served on the terrace,” Ruby quietly intruded on her thoughts, gesturing towards a broad expanse of green grass, bordered on three sides by hydrangea and weigela shrubs, pink and blue flowering bushes giving way to a steep drop, straight down to the sandy shore, giving way to the sea. Lena was struck by the beauty of the place, finding it hard to imagine that students would want to stay in class when they could be outside.

 

            The terrace was filled with whitewashed iron lawn furniture, and about a hundred of the most laid-back college students she’d ever seen. A large pavillion in the same maple wood rose from the terrace with a shingled roof and a small sign that read “MESS HALL” and Ruby led her towards it, bypassing barefoot students reading textbooks or chatting on phones, Belgian waffles topped with fruit, or Eggs Benedict with slivers of salmon set before them on the tables. All of them were sun-kissed and carefree, and Lena gave them suspicious looks behind the lenses of her sunglasses, taking in the unusualness of the scene as her spine prickled.

 

            Ruby led them to a free table beneath the shade of the pavillion, reaching for a jug of fresh orange juice in the middle of the table. A carafe of steaming coffee sat there too, and Lena reached out for it, pouring it into the small, fine china cup, adding a splash of milk as she watched a few students give her curious looks. She pushed her sunglasses up onto her head and was just about to take a sip when a warm hand landed on her shoulder, and Lena craned her neck back to catch a glimpse of her mother standing behind her. She was wearing a white linen dress, her hair swept up into a neat bun, her regal bearing and peep-toe heels making her feel even taller as she loomed over Lena.

 

            “Oh good, you introduced yourself.” Lena was stiffly silent, and Ruby gave Lillian a meek smile as she sipped her juice. “I think you’ll find it easy to adjust here. Most of our gifted students ease right in.”

 

            Lena wanted to ask what her mom meant by gifted, exactly, but she was still somewhat annoyed with her, and didn’t deign her with a reply or any acknowledgement that she’d heard her speak. With a small sigh, Lillian gave her shoulder a quick squeeze. “Well, I’ll see you both in class. Enjoy breakfast.”

 

            Striding off without another word, Lillian mingled with the students on her way past, her ability to be charming, yet aloof, unsurprising to Lena, before she vanished from sight. Hesitantly clearing her throat, Ruby informed Lena of the breakfast buffet, and they both climbed to their feet, walking towards the spread of food available to them. It struck Lena as odd that a breakfast of this magnitude was made for students, but she didn’t complain as she helped herself to freshly cut fruit and a Spanish omelette, stuffed with chives and chorizo, before she returned to her table with Ruby, watching the young girl devour the stack of pancakes she’d helped herself to.

 

            “What exactly did she mean by gifted?” she eventually asked.

 

            “Well some of the people here are just humans. It’s kind of an alternative college. Breakfast is made by the culinary students, all of the furniture is made by the carpentry apprentices, the gardens are looked after by the botany students. So, um, well, they’re all kind of … irrelevant. To us at least. All of their degrees are just there to make the campus run smoothly without the need for a lot of outside interference, and to gives the rest of us a bit of a coverup, so no one gets too suspicious about the school.”

 

            “Okay, but what is the gifted thing?”

 

            “We’re kind of … well, to everyone else, our course is history and religion, but really it’s just anyone with a drop of Kryptonian blood crammed into a fake degree to learn more about our inhuman side.

            Lena gave the teenager a shrewd look, trying to find any traces of the alienness she’d seen in the Kryptonians. They were human enough on the surface, but there was something about immortality and their unbridled powers that made them seem a little odd. Ruby didn’t have any of the unnerving vibes that Lena had occasionally gotten from Kara, that she wasn’t quite human, and she wondered what percentage Kryptonian she was. She seemed like a regular, eager teenager to her.

 

            “It’s an special powers school? How very ... X-Men,” Lena snorted, arching an eyebrow.

 

            “I mean … I guess? Everyone has varying degrees of power, depending on their family tree. Some are half-kryptonian, and some only have a drop of it from five generations back. But in your case …”

 

            “I’m just here because of Kara.”

 

            Ruby gave her a sheepish look, and Lena grimly ate her breakfast in silence. They didn’t talk after that, until their plates were clean, and they carried them over to the stack of empty dishes piling up. She’d been considering going to find a shady patch of trees and staring out at the water while she puzzled through her thoughts, but Ruby told her that class was about to start, and they had class together. Reluctantly, Lena followed after the short girl without much choice, knowing that her new shadow would probably want to come with her if she tried to ditch class.

 

            Instead, she found herself following after her down a path hugging the bluffs that dropped down to the sea, a small tawny stretch of side at the foot of the cliffs as the sapphire waves lazily rolled in. At the end of the path, they came to a large clearing in the middle of a pocket of shady redwoods, where a two-story cabin had been built. They walked across a carpet of pine needles covering the spongy grass, a few picnic tables dotted around, and Lena looked at the cabin with interest. Most of the front of it was made of large panes of glass, sliding doors and windows giving a sweeping view of blue skies and water over the edge of the cliff, and twin staircases on either side gave way to a deck on the second floor, where a few students lounged about.

 

            “Here we are,” Ruby announced, and Lena gave her a surprised look.

 

            “This is where you have class?”

 

            “Mhm,” Ruby beamed at her. It was like one of the ski lodges Lena occasionally vacationed at in the north of France, and nothing like the buildings at MIT that she’d sat through basic physics lectures in. “Oh, hi Eliza!”

 

            Lena turned to follow Ruby’s line of sight as she waved at a woman walking across the lawn. She had golden hair and kind blue eyes, a forget-me-not blue shirt rolled up to her elbows and a pair of faded jeans making her look right at home with the other laidback students. Eliza waved back to them, flashing them a sunny smile as she reached the doors of the cabin. “Morning, girls. See you in a few!”

 

            Leaning in close, Ruby gave her a smile, “that’s Eliza. She’s one of our teachers and is so nice. I mean, I love Lillian too, and they’re such a sweet couple, but she’s a little cooler than Eliza. I guess that’s the whole point in the balancing thing.”

 

            “Wait, what? Couple? My mom’s a teacher here and she’s dating her?”

 

            “Wait, your mom is Lillian?” Ruby spluttered, her eyes wide with unabashed shock.

 

            Making a faint sound of annoyance at the back of her throat, Lena sighed impatiently. “No. I mean, kind of. Yes. It’s not important right now. What the f- hell is this place?”

 

            Giving her a sheepish look, Ruby shrugged, “um, well they teach together. Our morning block is called humanities and we basically learn about everything Kryptonian. Culture, religion, society. Lillian and Eliza teach it together - all of our classes - as part of a deal here. They have a whole yin and yang thing going on, you know, so none of the students get … swayed.”

 

            They climbed the stairs and joined the crowd of students standing on the deck, everyone starting to file into the cabin, and Lena gave the girl a confused look. She was relieved to see that some of the students were her age or older, and she wasn’t quite so out of place. Ruby still seemed to be the youngest though. “What do you mean ‘swayed’?”

 

            “They’re both fallen, of course, but they picked different sides. Eliza sort of picked Rao, and well … Lillian picked Cythonna. I guess they love each other more than they-”

 

            “Okay, that’s enough,” Lena cut her off, not wanting to hear about how her mom was in some sort of relationship with the blonde woman she’d never even heard of, let alone met before. Her father had died when she was young, and she’d never thought much about her parents’ relationship, but now Lena couldn’t help but wonder if the whole thing had been a charade. Perhaps Lillian had been in a relationship with Eliza for as long as the curse had been ongoing. It was a mildly shocking prospect, and she gave her mom an accusing look as she filed into the room and met her cool stare.

 

            It was a broad classroom, with three tiers of desks, leading down to a few long tables at the bottom and a large chalkboard on one wall. Most of the light came in through skylights, and the high ceilings made the room feel even bigger than it was. The doors were left open, and the ocean breeze blew inside, bringing with it the comforting smell of plants and the woods. Lena took a seat at the back of the room, beside Ruby, ignoring the furtive glances cast her way as she watched her mom whisper with the blonde woman at the front of the room. It wasn’t so much that they were having an argument, but it seemed to be an intense discussion, and she had the feeling it was about her. In sync, they pulled apart, facing the class as they smiled up at the students, and drifted to their desks. One sat on either side of the room, as well as two trash cans, two laptops, two desk lamps. Eliza perched on the edge of her desk, while Lillian paced before her own.

 

            Her arrival was briskly addressed by her mom, and Lena scowled as she tried to slink down in her seat, unwilling to participate in whatever welcoming her mom was trying to pull off, and Eliza, seeming to take pity on her, announced that they were going to be doing an icebreaker. Class was suspended for the morning, which seemed to make everyone warm to her based on that alone, and they were all handed a sheet of paper with different boxes filled with things. Eliza placed one down on Lena’s desk, giving her a dimpled smile as she briefly rested a gentle hand on Lena’s shoulder, a cloud of floral perfume enveloping her.

 

            “I thought it might make it easier for you if you knew what kind of people you were dealing with here,” she whispered, and Lena found it hard to dislike the blonde woman, although she wanted to, based on principle alone. She reminded her of Kara.

 

            Looking down at the page, Lena’s eyes widened slightly as she took in the odd eccentricities of her classmates; can speak eighteen languages and can levitate were some of the few odd things on their. She supposed that some of them had inherited watered down versions of Kryptonian powers. Meeting her mom’s eyes across the room, she was given a curt nod and a pointed look, and with a sigh, Lena climbed to her feet and followed the rest of the students outside. Really, all she wanted was Kara.

Chapter Text

            For the first few days at Cadmus, Lena ignored everyone. She brushed aside her excitable, young roommates dozens of questions, avoided Lillian at all costs, except when she was slouched in her seat at the back of the class, listening to her and Eliza lecture the group of students on their physiology, powers and some history, and ignored the other students’ attempts to make friends with her. She didn’t care if they thought her rude; she missed Kara, and she wanted her to come and fetch her and whisk her away from the college. The worst part was that Lena didn’t even have a way to contact her, and Kara didn’t reach out. She could’ve been hurt, hunting down all the people coming after Lena, and she wouldn’t have had the slightest clue, unless someone deigned to tell her. Her frustration grew to new heights, and Lena took to following the winding path down to the beach, following the curve of the shore and sitting on a large rock as she let the ocean soothe her irritation. Other students would come down and dip their toes in, or play football on the strip of sand, but she stayed far enough away that they got the message not to approach.

 

            After a few days of moping around, feeling angry at herself, her mom and Kara, Lena found herself locked inside her dorm with a particularly chatty teenager. She felt bad for Ruby, clearly being younger than any of the other students, and thus, shunned to the side, and she tried her best to be nice to her, letting her down in a gentle manner, but Lena wasn’t used to being around teenagers, and didn’t have much patience with non-stop conversation.

 

            “You seem really down today. Is everything okay? Is it because of your girlfriend? Or your mom and Eliza. You should really talk to Eliza, she’s so sweet. I mean, just looking at them, you can see that they have such a strong connection. Kind of like you and Kara, right?” Ruby babbled, dangling over the side of the top bunk as she stared at Lena upside down, the blue ends of her hair dangling down as she held of carefully.

 

            Curled up into a little ball, sipping a cup of coffee she’d stolen from Ruby’s supply - she knew the young girl wouldn’t mind, especially not when she was trying to make Lena her friend - Lena listened to the chatter with growing annoyance. Staring blankly straight ahead, she held the steaming cup between two hands, gritting her teeth as she tried not to snap. Eventually, she couldn’t listen any longer.

 

            “I’m not talking to Kara right now!” she suddenly exclaimed.

 

            There was a loud thud as Ruby fell off the top bunk, surprised at Lena’s sudden outburst, and Lena crawled across her mattress to stare down at the grumbling heap on the floor. Rubbing her elbow, Ruby’s face crumpled slightly in pain, and Lena sighed, feeling guilt well up inside her. Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she set her coffee down on the floor and reached out to help pull the young girl to her feet, before patting the space beside her and picking up her coffee again.

 

            “You okay?”

 

            “Yeah, fine,” Ruby hesitantly laughed, her cheeks red with embarrassment as she surreptitiously tried to mask a wince as she rubbed at her forehead.

 

            “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Lena quietly apologised, a sheepish look crossing her face as she hesitantly reached out to give Ruby a pat on the shoulder.

 

            Giving her a small smile, Ruby shrugged slightly, “it’s okay. I just wanted to help. You’ve seemed a bit down since you got here.”

 

            Sighing, Lena ran a hand through her hair, grimacing as she stared down at the swirling coffee in the mug. “Yeah, well, it’s long, stupid and complicated.”

 

            Perking up slightly, Ruby gave her a wide smile. “Well if it’s girlfriend problems you’re having, there’s only one thing to do when you break up-”

 

            “No, we didn’t break up-”

 

            “Change your hair!”

 

            Lena cut off trying to interrupt her, blinking in surprise as she gave Ruby a surprised look of amusement. “Change my hair?”

 

            “Yeah! A fresh start. I mean, I dyed the ends of mine blue, and that wasn’t about a relationship, but it did help.”

 

            There was a small oval mirror attached to the dresser across the room, and Lena could see her reflection in it as she sat on the edge of the bed. Climbing to her feet, she slowly moved towards the mirror, placing her mug down on the dresser and reaching up to touch her dark hair. She’d never changed it. It had always been dark and long, even when she’d decided on a fresh start in National City. But she understood what Ruby meant about starting over. This time it was different. This wasn’t about a new city with the same past, it was about her whole life being turned upside down. Aliens and murder and a millenia old curse.

 

            Ruby appeared behind her shoulder, a soft smile curling her lips as her eyes lit up with excitement. “You’re really thinking about it, aren’t you? I’ve got a bottle of peroxide under the sink …”

 

            Lena ran her fingers through her dark hair, a small part of her wondering what Kara would think. But Kara wasn’t there, and it was about letting go of her past life. Not by going up in ashes this time. “Get the bottle.”

 

---

 

            She winced the next morning, taking in the bleached hair with some regret. It had been stupid to think that a bottle of hair dye would be able to wash away the events of the past few weeks, or fill the hole in her chest where Kara’s absence ached. It wouldn’t fix anything. It just made her appearance look weird, the blonde a stark contrast to her raven locks, and she pulled at bleached strands as she looked at herself in the mirror. Ruby had assured her that it looked good, but Lena regretted being so hasty to take the teen up on the offer, although she had to admit that she’d done a good job getting her dark hair to blonde without it turning orange.

 

            Pulling a dark cap on over her hair, as if that would help hide it, she dressed in her dark clothes and made her way down to breakfast, the mild heat making her glad for the cap. She earned a few stares from the other students, but they didn’t approach her as she got herself some juice and bacon and eggs, picking up a newspaper as she ate breakfast alone. Her roommate was still asleep up in their dorm, with Lena having been as quiet as possible so she wouldn’t have to put up with early morning babbling while she tried to wake up with her first cup of coffee.

 

            Ruby was there as they walked into class though, taking her customary seat beside Lena and giving her a bright smile, while Lena returned, if somewhat more subdued. Meeting her mom’s eyes across the room, she saw them widen slightly, and a slight sense of satisfaction filled her at the reaction. That was something at least. Lillian turned away though, shuffling some papers on her desk, while Eliza spoke to her in a quiet voice, her hand lingering on Lillian’s shoulder. The sight made Lena scowl, and she slunk down lower in her seat, arms folded over her chest, even though she knew that she was being childish. One thing she hated was lies, but she’d never been exactly close with her mother anyway, so she wasn’t sure why she felt like she’d been betrayed. Perhaps it was the nature of the lies; the fact that Lillian had completely withheld the fact that she was an alien, and Lena was cursed. Of course, she wouldn’t have told Lena anyway, on the off chance that she burst into flames, but Lena was still a bit put-out by all of the secrets. Stubbornly jutting her chin forward, she told herself that her irritation was valid, and resolutely sat there all lesson, taking no notes as she read the slides about Kryptonian DNA. It was fascinating, she couldn’t deny that, and she eyed the girl sitting beside her, wondering what percentage Kryptonian Ruby was, and whether her skin was as impervious as Kara’s.

 

            Although she’d found the lecture fascinating - something she was reluctant to admit to anyone else - she was glad when it was over, so that she could free herself from the stuffy classroom with the dozens of other students. She’d been sent here to uncover her own secrets, but so far, all she’d done was spend a few days learning about what Kryptonian’s could do, which was useless to her. Feeling frustrated, she went for a walk along the beach, before deciding to head back to the cabin in the middle of the clearing and demand answers from Lillian, or tell her that she was leaving. Lena was unsure of which she was about to do, just knowing that in her anger-fuelled state, she wanted to fight with her mom like she’d used to when she was younger.

 

            Reaching the top of the stairs, crossing the wooden deck of the cabin, she rounded the tiers of desks, making her way to the hallway with the few doors. Unsure which one was her mom’s, Lena hesitated for a moment, before realising that one of the doors was open, and she could hear voices inside. Inching closer, she eavesdropped, not feeling guilty in the slightest as she hoped to finally get some answers.

 

            “She’s ready!” she heard Lillian’s familiar voice insist.

 

            “Lily, I won’t sacrifice all the progress of an entire class, just because she-”

 

            “Don’t be shortsighted, Eliza,” her mom huffed, “we came up with an amazing curriculum. I know that as well as you. Our students outperform every other Kryptonian offspring program in the world . You did all of that, and you have a right to feel proud about it, but things are different now. We need to focus on her.”

 

            “Lillian’s right, Eliza,” a third voice replied, distinctly female and so vaguely familiar that it made Lena frustrated as she struggled to place the voice. “You might as well throw your academic calendar out the window. The truce between our sides is the only timeline that matters anymore.”

 

            Eliza heavily sighed, “you really think-”

 

            “If I know Kara, she’ll be right on time. We’ve got fifteen days left, and she’s probably counting down the minutes already.”

 

            “There’s something else,” Lillian said.

 

            There was a brief pause, the sound of what sounded like a drawer being pull open, then a gasp. Fighting the urge to move closer to the door and peek through the gap and see what it was, Lena listened, a flicker of irritation welling up at the thought of not knowing what they were all looking at.

 

            “Where did you get that?” the familiar voice asked, “are you trading with him?”

 

            “Of course she’s not!” Eliza spluttered, sounding offended on Lillian’s behalf, “Lillian found it in the forest during one of her rounds the other night.”

 

            “It’s authentic, isn’t it?” Lillian quietly asked.

 

            There was a soft sigh, and the voice wavered slightly as it replied. “Of course it is. I can feel the affects all the way from over here. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a green arrow that I almost forgot how sickening it feels.”

 

            There was a sound of the drawer closing again, and Lena was wondering how hard it would be to get into the office and have a peek when no one was around, when there was an exasperated sigh from her mom. The sound of heavy chair legs scraping along the wooden floor made Lena jump back, and she quickly scrambled into an alcove between two bookshelves, pressing herself into the recess of the wall as she silently thanked whoever the architect was for building so many nooks at the college. Still, when the door was pulled all the way open with a slight crease, she knew that she didn’t have much chance of staying hidden. Everyone in that room no doubt had superhuman hearing, and her heartbeat wasn’t exactly slow and steady right then.

 

            “Are you going to stop eavesdropping?” Lillian impatiently asked, a disapproving sound in her voice as she stood in the doorway.

 

            Slipping out of the shadowy alcove, Lena gave her mom a haughty look, trying not to look sheepish, and stood before her, a few feet separating them as Lillian gave her a reproving look.

 

            “Get out of here,” Lillian warned her, “go back to your dorm.”

 

            “I’m not a child, mom,” Lena snapped, “you can’t ground an adult.”

 

            “But I can enforce a curfew on a student.”

 

            She paused for a moment, stubbornly raising her chin and crossing her arms over her chest as she looked up at her mom towering over her. It was unsettling how the woman who’d scolded her, taught her how to read and had so carefully wrapped Christmas gifts for her every year growing up, stood before her with hidden superhuman abilities hidden behind the human exterior. Lena found that she didn’t really know her mom at all, and she wouldn’t put it past her to physically remove her from the building if the need should arise. Still, Lena was too stubborn and proud, a trait inherited from her upbringing, to give in so easily. Yet as she watched, a short woman stepped out of the office, dressed in dark jeans and a leather jacket, a knapsack slung over one shoulder and a slight smirk on her face as she stepped around Lena.

 

            Staring in shock at the sight of Maggie, Lena felt the fight bleed out of her, and Lena cast Lillian a sharp look, before stalking off, hurrying her pace as she tried to catch up with Maggie, who had slipped out of the cabin quickly and without pause. Slinking through the building, Lena burst out onto the deck, her eyes landing on the short woman strolling towards where the path ended and the bluff dropped down the craggy rocks below.

 

            “Maggie!” she shouted, hurrying down the flight of stairs, her footsteps loud on the wooden planks, and breaking into a jog, catching up to her where she’d paused at the end of the path. She was standing still, looking out at the water, and she slowly turned with a smile on her face, making Lena feel suddenly nervous.

 

            “So you discovered peroxide, huh?” Maggie laughed, the sound not unkind, but giving Lena the distinct feeling that she was teasing her as she reached out to fluff the hair with her fingers. “How … edgy .”

 

            Blushing, Lena quickly cleared her throat, a disgruntled look on her face as she stared at Maggie. They’d never exactly got on, but she was the closest thing to Kara right now, and outside news, and Lena was loathe to waste an opportunity. “What’re you doing here?”

 

            “Enrolling,” Maggie shrugged, “just picked up my class schedule and met the teachers. Seems like a nice place. Your mom’s a little tense these days though.”

 

            Ignoring the comment about her mom, Lena gave her a suspicious look. “You left National City. Why?”

 

            “Just needed a change of pace.”

 

            “What were you talking about in there?”

 

            “How much did you hear?”

 

            “Not much,” Lena hedged, an anxious look on her face betraying the truth.

 

            Laughing, Maggie shook her head and walked off, waving Lena to keep up with her. “Look, don’t worry about it too much. Kara’s got it all under control, okay?”

 

            Despite those words, Lena couldn’t help but worry. It seemed like all she did these days, and she went back to her dorm with Maggie in tow, parting ways as they entered the airy building and went to their respective rooms. She spent the rest of the afternoon reading the book Winn had given her, for the fifth time already, and by the time the sun had set, she was feeling trapped and antsy, pacing back and forth while her roommate typed away at her laptop, writing the essay that they’d been given two days ago. Lena didn’t plan on putting much effort into the coursework when it didn’t concern her, and had ignored it, but Ruby took the classes very seriously. Deciding that she needed a break from the stuffy room, Lena grabbed a worn sweatshirt and dragged it on over her t-shirt, shoving her feet into shoes and slipping on her cap, before mumbling an excuse to Ruby and slipping out.

 

            She ended up walking through the gardens, the fragrant smell of flowers keeping her company as she wound her way down to the beach, the briny smell of the ocean soon filling her senses as she listened to the hushed sound of waves rush up the sand. It was a cool night and she shivered slightly as the searching wind crept beneath the collar of the sweatshirt, burying her hands in her pockets and hunching her shoulders as she sluggishly moved through the soft sand trying to trap her feet. Making her way towards her usual secluded spot, she let her mind wander as the moonlight sparkled on the surface of the inky sea. The hand that gripped her arm almost made her scream, but a warm finger was suddenly placed against her lips and she found herself staring up into dark eyes, crinkling slightly at the corners as full lips curled up into a smile.

 

            “Shh,” Kara whispered, removing her finger and ducking down to press a soft kiss against Lena’s parted lips, her eyes wide with surprise as her heart thundered in her chest.

 

            “What are you doing here?” she breathlessly asked, the words almost sounding accusing instead of overjoyed and relieved. There were a dozen thoughts clouding her mind as she tried to process the fact that Kara was there when she shouldn’t have been. The truce was still intact, if Maggie was right, but Kara was standing right in front of her, her hands warm through Lena’s sweatshirt as she cradled Lena’s arms.

 

            Letting out a quiet laugh, Kara’s mouth quirked up into a lopsided smile, her eyes sparkling slightly in the dark. “I had to see you.”

 

            She thread her fingers through Lena’s and pulled her the rest of the way towards the large rock, sitting down beside Lena as they both smiled, a secret smile that spoke of the fact that Kara was breaking the rules, and neither of them cared. It was startling at how lighthearted and carefree Lena felt, just from having Kara there with her for a moment, and she clung to her hand as if she wasn’t quite sure that she was really there.

 

            Tilting her head up to kiss Kara, she was met with warm lips coming down on hers with an urgency behind them, as if they craved her as much as Lena craved Kara. Eyes closed, she felt the wind ruffle her hair as Kara pulled her cap off and undid her hair from its ponytail, the locks catching in the wind as she pressed herself up against Kara’s warmth. Feeling Kara turn to stone beneath her, she pulled back, a questioning look on her face as she took in the stark whiteness of Kara’s face, eyes wide as she stared at Lena, the cap held in her hand.

 

            “What did you do to your hair?”

 

            Her voice was soft, but it sounded like an accusation, and there was a hint of some hidden emotion behind the question, as if she was trying hard to keep her composure. Lena felt her cheeks warm, glad for the cover of shadowy darkness, and reached out to grab the cap back, slipping it on over her bleached locks, while Kara sat beside her, frozen.

 

            “Who cares about my stupid hair?” Lena dismissively replied, giving her a hesitant smile. Kara looked like she was seeing a ghost.

 

---

 

London - 1891 AD

 

            She had arrived in London a month beforehand, under the guise of an American heiress, the sister to the wealthy businessman, Clark Kent. Alex had come too, masquerading as their sister as well, although none of them particularly looked alike, and the three of them had taken up residence in a respectable house in Mayfair, living amongst the wealthy, while the city was crammed full of the poor, living in unsanitary slums. It was a far stretch from the life they lived, with their finely tailored long skirts and embroidered jackets, the high collared ruffled shirts a constant source of annoyance for Alex, who missed the days of billowing shirts and leather breaches, a sword at her waist and in the saddle as they travelled the world. This was a world of men, more so than usual, and they were thrust into the boring life of womanhood as they integrated themselves into London’s upper social class.

 

            Kal-El presented himself as the pioneer of an electrical company, a billionaire with big dreams to supply the rapidly growing city with power from the new company he’d set up upon arrival. Other were sceptical, more due to the fact that he was American, an outsider - although they had no idea how much so - but the money he brought with him was enough to allow the right doors to open to the Kent’s. Kara soon found herself muddling through tea parties with wealthy Lady’s, the stuffy talk of their husbands and the newest fashions in Paris much the same as it had been when they were residing in Washington, just a few months ago. Ever the perfect chameleon, Kara quickly charmed the women into adopting her into their circle, although they viewed Alex as an oddity, finding her snark and brash comments very unladylike. It helped them blend in though, as people of their new class should’ve, and Kara was prim and proper as she attended fencing matches, giving her favours to prissy men in white uniforms, or attending dinners at fancy restaurants, her ‘brother’ escorting his two sisters, while they toyed with the humans.

 

            It was only a month after arrival that Kara met Lena for the first time. Clark had insisted on a ball in their grand home, to help him make connections with the right people. Reluctantly agreeing, Alex had called in party planners, and with the help of Kara, had filled the extravagant house with fresh flower arrangements, bottles and bottles of expensive champagne and a retinue of chefs working tirelessly in the kitchens on the day of the ball. Kara had a new ball gown made, pale blue and white, with tiny embroidered flowers, and had her curled hair piled up and adorned with more flowers. Long white gloves covered her golden hands and arms, and she found that she quite liked getting dressed up, knowing that to the humans, she was remarkably good looking. Alex complained a bit more, but even she was found primping herself in the gilt mirror as she fixed the plum coloured dress and adjusted her jewellery. Her hair had grown out recently, and a maid had styled it much in the same fashion as Kara’s for the evening.

 

            By the time they made their entrance, their house was filled to bursting with women in a riot of colourful ball gowns, their shrewd eyes taking in the decor, and men in classic tails, talking business as they sipped champagne out of broad bowled glasses. Clark was in the middle as they entered the room on his arms, and Kara plastered a warm smile on her face as she let him escort her, her eyes sweeping the guests as she took in their faces. The smile faltered and she froze at the sight of a familiar face looking back at her, a wary look in her green eyes as she held a glass of champagne, her white and pink dress flattering her colouring. The most shocking thing was the blonde hair. Curled and piled up on top of her head, a matching accessory pinned in her hair as she looked Kara up and down.

 

            Clark had to give her a tug to keep walking, an easy smile on his face, although amongst the throng of heartbeats, Kara had heard his and Alex’s pick up at the sight of Lena. She numbly stood beside him, holding the glass offered to her as they paused before the crowd of guests, tuning out the sound of Clark’s good natured speech, introducing his family and thanking them for attending. The entire time, she just started at Lena, one thought circling her mind over and over again; s he’s blonde!

 

            It turned out her name was Lucy Westenra. Daughter of a wealthy family, eligible heiress with a string of flings trailing behind her as she led them on and ruthlessly dumped them. It was no surprise that all the men flocked to her; Kara watched her that evening, taking in the flirty smiles, the way her hand lingered on their shoulders as they asked to dance, teasing them, although the humour in her eyes let her know that she never meant a bit of it. It was a game for her, and Kara wanted to laugh as she pitied the poor men for their advances, but she couldn’t deny that a small part of her was jealous for Lucy even giving them a whit of attention.

 

            She made sure to circulate, introducing herself to dozens of guests, yet always aware of the blonde woman, catching herself off guard whenever she caught a glimpse of her amidst her crowd of adorers. It was a good thing the champagne never affected her, because Kara knocked back copious amounts that night, wishing that it would’ve numbed the panic, glad that her silk gloves hid her sweaty palms. The moment that she found herself face to face with Lucy, she almost turned and fled, but there was the striking thought that this time, she might be different. It had been the better part of two thousand years, and she’d never once met a blonde version, and excitement started to brew in Kara’s mind as she gave Lucy a genuine smile, foolishly convincing herself that this time it was different. This time, it wouldn’t end the same way. She wasn’t wrong, either, but it didn’t end well.

 

            After that evening, ending with Alex spluttering out a shocked comment about how she was blonde, Kara was surprised to have been extended an invitation by Lucy the next morning for some tea at her home. Eagerly accepting it, and begrudgingly bringing along an insistent Alex, who didn’t trust her to keep her distance - with good reason - they took a carriage to the sprawling house, and Kara felt herself fall in love again as she spent an afternoon laughing and getting to know this new version. She was surprisingly wittier than some of the other versions, a ruthless tease and flippant about a lot of the bachelors that her mother tried to stuff into conversations, much to Alex’s amusement. They had that click again, instantly, and Kara knew that she’d already let her judgement lapse. It was too late to take it back now.

 

            A year slipped by, with the two of them becoming the very best of friends, attending dinners in fancy marble buildings, the food cooked by French chefs, crystal goblets holding wine while they were draped in silk and diamonds. They attended the fencing matches together, with Lucy always foolishly giving her three favours to one man, toying with their feelings. They took trips to museums and libraries, sprawling gardens in the midst of summer, and weekend trips to the Westenra’s manor house near the shore in the south of England. They went riding together, danced together and fell in love together, although they never spoke a word of it. She’d stay at Lucy’s house after a night out, falling asleep beside the young blonde woman as if she’d done it every day of her life, waking up to the sight of her golden curls splayed across the pillows. More than once, Kara had to stop herself from reaching out to caress a flushed cheek, or tenderly stroke her hair, instead, silently watching her sleep, drinking in the sight, until those eyelids fluttered open and she was blessed with a sleepy smile as Lucy reached out give her a playful shove, insisting that she was never drinking again.

 

            It was the most perfect year of Kara’s life, with so much joy and laughter than previous attempts at being with her. There was no threat of wars and deadly diseases, and it was a much safer time for them both, although she would find herself anxiously pacing in the dead of night sometimes, worrying about Lucy being torn away from her again. She didn’t think she’d ever stop worrying. Still, the light outshone the darkness, and every moment with Lucy was cherished dearly, the mere thought of one of those memories never failing to bring a smile to Kara’s face. She was like a lovesick fool, lost in a daze half of the time, never heeding her sister’s gentle cautions. She didn’t have to; this time it was different.

 

            One year slipped into two, and then three, but one day, she was lounging on her bed, the dim candles bathing the bedroom in a warm yellow glow, with Lucy sitting on the floor, flipping through an issue of The Strand Magazine while Kara talked about Clark’s electricity and how it would revolutionise the city. Eventually, Lucy but the magazine aside and climbed on top of the covers beside her, laying face to face as Kara let out a quiet laugh, reaching out to brush a curled lock of hair in an absent minded gesture.

 

            “Sorry, you must find this talk of business terribly dull,” Kara said, her touch gentle as she softly smiled.

 

            “Not when you’re speaking of it.”

 

            Kara let out a quiet laugh, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “You’re kind to humour me,” she said, a nervous fluttering in her stomach as she took in the intense look in Lucy’s green eyes. The unspoken urge to say something. Kara prayed that she wouldn’t; she couldn’t bear to risk ruining this perfect thing that they had.

 

            “It’s not kindness, Kara,” she murmured. “Love.”

 

            Kara smiled, her expression softening slightly, and Lucy reached out to gently cradle her cheek, before moving in. Her lips were soft against Kara’s cheek, just to the right of her lips, and she froze as Lucy tilted her head slightly, leaning in to gently try and brush her lips against Kara’s. Pulling back, Kara let out a high pitched laugh of nervousness, a wavering smile on her lips as she faced Lucy, who was still cradling her cheek.

 

            “I love you, Kara.”

 

            “And I you,” Kara quietly assured her, a pained look in her eyes, “my dear friend.”

 

            “We could be so much more.”

 

            Pulling away from her, Kara sat upright, facing away from Lucy as she blinked back tears. She wanted it so desperately, but she couldn’t. She was too scared to find out if she was wrong about the curse being different this time, scared that she’d give in and kiss Lucy, only for her to turn to ash on top of the blankets.

 

            “I broke things off with Alistair,” Lucy urgently started talking from behind her, “mother begged to know the reason, but I couldn’t tell her - wouldn’t tell her. It was you. I’ve always loved you, Kara.”

 

            “Lucy-”

 

            “I realise it now, but I have since the moment we first met.”

 

            Kara was careful when picking her words, trying to let her down easily, but it made no difference. Lucy fled from the room in tears, with a broken heart, and Kara could never forgive herself for what happened after that. She’d thought to chase her away from such impossible desires, but the next morning, she was intruded on by an ashen looking Alex, her sister’s dark eyes wide with guilt and sadness as she gently perched on the edge of Kara’s bed, where she hadn’t slept a wink that night. Hollow eyed and miserable, her life was shattered as Alex shakily told her that they’d found Lucy’s body that morning in the bathtub. Kara blamed herself.

 

---

 

            Kara’s mouth was dry as she thought about Lucy. She was the only one of Lena’s past lives that hadn’t died from the curse, and it had haunted her for years. In hindsight, it would’ve been a mercy to have kissed her there and then, but she’d broken her heart and shut her out when her lover had needed her most. It had been difficult and cruel, and Kara would never be able to forgive herself for that, no matter how many years passed by. She couldn’t even tell Lena about it, about why she looked so horrified at the bleached hair, a painful memory of one of the best and worst times of her life. She was too ashamed.

 

            Reaching out, she wound a lock around her finger, swallowing a lump in her throat as she replied. “I just don’t understand why you did this. It’s not you.”

 

            Jerking away from her, a peeved look crossed Lena’s face. “Well I’m the one who dyed it, so yeah, it is me. Just maybe not the ‘me’ you want me to be.”

 

            “That’s not fair,” Kara murmured, her face crumpling slightly, “I don’t want you to be anyone other than who you are.”

 

            “Which is who, Kara? Because you’ve loved a lot of different versions of me, so tell me who I am. Which one of them do you want me to be? Because I’m trying to figure all of this out, but … I’m on my own here. You didn’t even tell me about my mom.”

 

            “I know, and I’m sorry, but-” she cut off as a shadow zipped overhead, and Kara felt her spirit sink at the sight, a regretful look crossing her face. “I have to go.”

 

            Lena let out a cold laugh, crossing her arms over her chest, “what a surprise. Turn up out of nowhere, pick a fight and then leave. This must be true love.”

 

            Carefully grabbing her shoulders, Kara rotated her slightly on the rock, until Lena met her eyes. “It is ,” she desperately assured her, a panicked look in her eyes, “you know it is.”

 

            She could see the pain in Lena’s eyes, the confusion and the concern, and she knew that she wasn’t really angry, just frustrated. Kara hated to leave her again, but she had no choice. With a soft sigh, she ducked her head down to kiss her, but Lena turned her head aside, embarrassed and trying to hide the glassy sheen of tears in her eyes. Instead, Kara planted a kiss on her cheek, before slipping off the rock and shooting off without another word, glancing down once more to take in the lone shadowy figure perching on the rocks.

Chapter Text

            With Kara’s abrupt departure leaving a bad feeling in Lena’s stomach, a mixture of guilt and irritation, she dyed her hair back to her usual brown and brooded at the back of her classes. Her mom and Eliza always seemed to be watching her, yet she never gave them the opportunity to close in on and corner her. She skipped classes for the next few days anyway, in a sullen mood after arguing with Kara, and took to venting her frustration by wandering along the edge of the cliffs and in the thin stretch of woods around the classroom. She never went far, not feeling like another scolding off her mother, and knew that she was always within earshot of the Kryptonian’s sharp hearing. The walks didn’t make her feel better, and she only further sulked, avoiding going back to her room so that she didn’t have to deal with an exuberant teenage roommate, and skipping meals so that she didn’t have to fend off questions from her curious classmates. Lena didn’t have enough answers to give them anyway.

 

            So far, all that she knew was that she was cursed to fall in love with Kara and die. Over and over again, until this time. She knew it was some war between Kara’s God, Rao, and another Kryptonian who had turned against him, seeking the help of a different God to create her own planet of chaos. Everything else besides that was a bit hazy, but she knew that a great war had left a large number of Kryptonians on earth when they’d been thrown out of their home planet. She didn’t know where she came into it. She didn’t know how she’d been cursed, except that Kara had fallen in love with her, and Lena with her, and that had kicked off this cycle of reincarnation and loss. As someone who spent her life chasing answers, creating solutions to problems in engineering and medicine, Lena hated being at a loss. There were too many gaps in her knowledge of Kryptonian history, and no one was willing to give her the answers.

 

            It was a blustery day, five days after she’d fought with Kara, and Lena was skipping class again, slowly meandering along the narrow path that hugged the rocky cliffs. The sea was a churning mass of white surf and greyish blue far beneath her, and she hugged her trench coat to herself, the mild sunlight partially blocked by the canopy of leaves from the towering redwoods looming overhead. She was so consumed by her own thoughts that she didn’t see the figure lounging in the shade of the tree at first. When she did, she started slightly, before freezing, her face hardening at the sight.

 

            Jack gave her a slow smile as he wiped at the gore covering his hands with a handkerchief, the sleeves of his salmon coloured shirt rolled up and his hair disheveled, a navy suit jacket hooked on a low hanging branch. “Lena,” he cordially greeted her, as if his bloody hands were an expected part of their meeting.

 

            “What’re you doing here?” she asked, a look of revulsion crossing her face, “what did you do?”

 

            “Saved your life. One of Alura’s this time.” He glanced behind him into the shadowy depths of the trees, and turned back to her, raising an eyebrow slightly. “Word’s gotten out about how you like to take walks through the woods. Don’t worry, I took care of them though.”

 

            He wiggled his bloodstained fingers at her as he gave her a playful smile, and Lena frowned in confusion. Why was Jack helping her? Why did he care about what happened to her? The last time she’d seen him, he’d been standing in front of a horde of Kryptonians that had picked Reign’s side in the fall.

 

            “You killed them?”

 

            “Of course. Just a few. Now, I agree that the woods are lovely, Lena, but please, do me a favour-”

 

            She took an angry step towards him, her eyes blazing with anger as she gave him a scornful look. “No, you don’t get to ask favours from me.”

 

            Waving aside her angry words, Jack tucked the handkerchief into the pockets of his pants and started to unroll his shirtsleeves, before slicking back his ruffled hair. He didn’t look like the sleek businessman she was used to, but he looked a right sight better than he had a few minutes ago, hands covered in blood and a rumpled air about him.

 

            “Don’t do it for me; for Kara then. Stay on campus. Go to your classes. I can’t always be around to watch over you, and neither can Kara.”

 

            Lena didn’t reply as she watched him pluck his jacket off the branch and slip it on. He shot off into the air without another word, a shower of bark and leaves raining down on Lena as he dislodged them, breaking through the canopy and soaring off into the sky. With a scowl, she slowly turned around and started walking back towards the cabin in the middle of the clearing.

 

            She took a seat at one of the picnic tables, elbows resting on the tabletop and dark sunglasses shielding her eyes as she looked out at the stretch of blue over the edge of the cliffs. Sunlight was beating down on her back, and she waited patiently for the approaching footsteps. Wind gently ruffled her hair, and muffled the sound of someone walking towards her, but eventually the sound of gentle footsteps on the carpet of grass signalled the arrival of someone else. She didn’t look up, or acknowledge them, until Eliza dropped down onto the bench on the other side of the table.

 

            Wearing a denim shirt, her blonde hair spilling around her shoulders, she gave Lena a kind smile, blue eyes crinkling at the corners in the same way Kara’s did. It struck Lena with a pang of loneliness and yearning.

 

            “Lena,” Eliza softly greeted her, a gentle smile curling her lips as she tilted her head to the side. “You’re not in class again.”

 

            “I didn’t feel like wasting my time with another lecture,” she curtly replied. It was hard to hate Eliza, but she wasn’t in the mood to be scolded by her mother’s girlfriend.

 

            “Wasting your time? These lectures are just as important for you as they are for everyone else.”

 

            Letting out a derisive snort, Lena gave the other woman a tight smile, gently shaking her head. “I’m not learning anything.”

 

            “You were hoping for some answers, I understand that, but there are things you’re not-”

 

            “I’m not ready for. Yes, I’ve been told.”

 

            Eliza cracked a smile at her the dryness of Lena’s reply, a quiet laugh falling from her lips. “You have your mother’s sarcasm.”

 

            “I suppose I had to get something from her. The only other thing I got was lies. I didn’t even know you existed; doesn’t that bother you?”

 

            Considering the question for a moment, Eliza shook her head as she smiled at her. “No. I’ve known you in many lifetimes, sometimes when you didn’t even know Lillian. We all do our parts to try and end this war, to keep you safe, and it’s different every time. This time … well, your mom got to you first, and it was easier to protect you by keeping you with your father. Kidnapping has never made for an easy task of keeping you safe, trust me.”

 

            Lena let out a surprised laugh at that, wondering just how many stories that the blonde woman had about her that she didn’t even know herself. Perhaps she’d acted as her mother in a past life. She could see her as a maternal type, soothingly uplifting and loving, and so very different to the kind of mother Lillian had been to her. Although, her mom had given her reasons for her aloofness, and although it didn’t change anything, Lena accepted the excuses as truthful. Lillian did love her, in some way, but she rarely showed it in such obvious ways. Keeping her alive was as grand a gesture as Lena could expect off of her.

 

            Reaching out, Eliza took one of Lena’s hands in her own, her touch calming and comforting as she gave Lena a look of concern. “Kara came to talk to me a few nights ago. She’s worried about you.”

 

            Fighting back a flicker of annoyance, Lena bit back a snarky comment and hunched her shoulders against any prying questions. Eliza continued, her voice low and soothing as she spoke. “I told her that you’re doing very well, all things considered. I told her I’d make myself available to you for anything you need. If you have any questions, you should come to me.”

 

            Lena met her steady gaze and saw the implication behind the words in her eyes. Come to me instead of your mother. She knew that Lillian had sided with Reign in the fall, made the decision to back chaotic freedom instead of orderly rules, and she knew that Eliza had sided with Rao, somewhat. Although they were both teachers at the school to give a truthful account from both perspectives of the opposing viewpoints, and coercing students into supporting one side or the other was strictly forbidden, for the sake of equality, but there was still the subtle biases. Eliza clearly wanted Lena to come to her so she could influence her to be more supportive of her side. Lena didn’t much care for either side at the moment; she just wanted to be left alone.

 

            Eliza stood up after that, rounding the picnic table and briefly resting her hand on Lena’s shoulder in a comforting gesture, before she moved back towards the wooden cabin. She didn’t instruct Lena to follow her, to go back to class and sit amongst the students while her mother lectured about the plant life of Krypton, so she stayed at the table instead. When classes finished for the day, she found Ruby, giving the young girl a friendly smile, and asked her if she wanted to get dinner. They made their way to the mess hall, sitting in the pavillion as they ate salmon and salad, and she listened to Ruby exciting recount the lecture that she’d missed out on. That night, she helped her with an assignment, working on her own in companionable silence.

 

            It was growing late by the time there was a gentle knock against the window, and Lena looked up from the brightness of her laptop screen. Ruby stretched over from where she sat behind her desk, twitching the curtain aside and turning to look at Lena. “It’s for you.”

 

            Pausing, a wary look on her face, Lena climbed to her feet, parting the curtains with a flourish to reveal a familiar face bathed in moonlight. Lena’s stomach clenched at the sight of Kara, a wave of relief washing over her as she pushed open the window, the blonde hovering outside as she waited. When the window was all the way open, Lena leant out of it, shivering slightly at the cool breeze that wormed its way through the fabric of her thin burgundy sweater, a puzzled look crossing her face as she found herself inches from Kara’s face.

 

            “What’re you doing here?” she murmured, the tension fading, although there was still some of the awkwardness of their fight hanging between them.

 

            “I just can’t seem to stay away,” Kara whispered with a smile, her eyes sparkling slightly in the light of the moon. “Here.”

 

            She held a hand out, and Lena trustingly took it, letting her pull her out, finding herself being cradled in Kara’s arms the way she’d been dreaming about. Her stomach plummeted as they shot up into the sky, the campus dropping away beneath them, until it was a tiny map of speck of light, the cloudless sky a blanket of starry pinpricks surrounding her. It was stunning, and Lena found her breath hitching in her throat as she listened to the hushed sound of the waves below, leaves rustling and the wind howling. She couldn’t even feel the cold with Kara’s burning heat enveloping her, and she nestled her face into the side of her neck, breathing in the flowery smell, cut through with a faint metallic smell and bleach. Whatever Kara had been up to, this hunting that she’d been doing, it hadn’t been without some casualties. Lena realised that Kara had possibly found herself in the same situation she’d found Jack in earlier on that morning. It didn’t exactly qualm her nerves.

 

            “I’ve missed you,” Kara murmured against her hair, lips pressing featherlight kisses against the side of her head as Lena held on tightly to her.

 

            She didn’t reply - she didn’t know what to say - and she just listened to the sound of Kara’s head pounding beneath her denim jacket. Strong arms gently squeezed her, and Lena let out a shuddering breath as she gave a half-hearted squeeze back. How could she explain that she missed Kara, but didn’t know why . That she loved her, but didn’t know how.

 

            “What’s wrong?”

 

            Lena felt a little bit sick, swallowing the lump in her throat as she kept her face buried into Kara’s shoulder, unable to look her in the eye as she confronted her feelings. “I feel like we’re strangers,” she whispered, “like I don’t know you any better than anyone else. Except, we’re supposed to be some great love story. But you keep so many secrets, and I’m stuck here because you want me to be here. What the hell is going on, Kara? I feel so lonely out here. I don’t belong here, and I just- I feel like I’ve been thrust onstage halfway through a play, and everyone else knows their lines, except me.”

 

            “Oh.”

 

            “Oh? Yeah, oh ,” Lena laughed, the sound cold and humourless. “I know you’re scared that I’m going to burst into flames if you tell me something, but you need to give me something . I love you, but I don’t know you enough to be feeling like this. Half of the time I think it’s because it’s expected of me, but it’s only been a couple of weeks since … and you have centuries worth of feelings for me. How can I trust that you do actually love me, and that it’s not just because you expect it too? How am I supposed to trust that anyone’s being honest with me, when they’ve all known a dozen versions of me? I’m suffering - me and everyone who loves me, because there’s been a lot of people I’ve left behind in those lives - and it’s for your curse. Because of you. I don’t even know how I got sucked into this. I’m a human, Kara. I don’t belong in your world.”

 

            She felt, rather than saw, Kara flinch, as if she’d struck her. “You want to go home.”

 

            Feeling angry tears prick her eyes, Lena clenched her teeth, keeping her head ducked down as she held on tightly to them as they floated above the school. It was the only privacy they could afford themselves, and she couldn’t even enjoy the thrill of flying, or the breathtaking view, because she was tired and confused, angry and upset. Too many things to be feeling at once.

 

            “I want to go back. I want you to take back whatever it was you did to get me into this. I want a normal life. I want to live and grow old, date someone and break up over something normal, like they eat loudly or put their milk in their cereal first. Not because of some fucking alien drama going on somewhere in the universe, that I know nothing about!”

 

            Kara jerked backwards, breaking Lena’s grip on her as she held her at arm’s length, as easily as if she was holding a baby, her face even whiter in the moonlight as she looked back at Kara with wide, panicked eyes. “Hold on, are we- are we breaking up?” Kara asked, her voice trembling and low.

 

            Letting out a snort of laughter, Lena gave her a pained look. “Are we even together, Kara? Because this isn’t what a relationship is like.”

 

            Crushing her back against her chest, Kara held her close, her cheek warm against Lena’s, and she wished she didn’t melt into her touch so easily, but she couldn’t help herself. Lena had come to the conclusion that all of her feelings were a part of Kara’s punishment. That she found herself being drawn to her, bound to Kara, to ensure that they would meet and fall in love. Missing her was like a magnetic pull, trying to force them back together. The love she felt in her chest was drawing her ever closer, no matter how logically Lena tried to reason with herself that she shouldn’t have those kinds of feelings for someone she barely knew. It was like the universe was conspiring against her. She shouldn’t have wanted Kara with every fibre of her being, but she just couldn’t help herself. More than anything, Lena just wished that it didn’t have to be so hard.

 

            “Well, I happen to put my milk in second,” Kara whispered in her ear, a note of amusement in her warm voice.

 

            A laugh escaped Lena’s mouth, unbidden, and she felt herself relax in Kara’s arms, her anger fading as quickly as it had come. Being caged inside the campus was making her antsy, and she hated feeling helpless, and she knew her frustration was getting the better of her, but she also had valid concerns. She was scared that if she let herself get too attached, that everything she was worried about would become too much, and she’d lose Kara anyway. But when they were together - together and not arguing - it was so easy to understand why it was perfectly reasonable to love her, to want to be with her all the time, and to miss her so strongly that it felt like a part of her was missing.

 

            “I just … I don’t know what I want,” Lena murmured.

 

            “I do,” Kara whispered, “I want you.”

 

            “I know, but-”

 

            “Nothing will ever changed that. No matter what happens.”

 

            Lena let out a small sigh. “I know that, but I need more that to just be wanted . I need us to be together. I need to know you, know everything that’s happened. I need to understand.”

 

            “Soon. I promised. This is just temporary.”

 

            “So you’ve said,” Lena dryly replied.

 

            They fell into conversation about school then, with Kara questioning her about multiple aspects of the college. What was she learning? Was she getting along with her mother? How about Eliza? Had she made any friends, was she staying on campus, was she doing okay? Lena glossed over the details about how she’d been missing class and avoiding everyone, and gave Kara the answers she needed to hear. She’d needed to hear them so much that her relief was visible when Lena assured her that she was doing okay, a wide smile stretching across her face as she looked down at her with a look of assurance in her eyes. Lena tried her best to give her a convincing smile.

 

            Even after they’d exhausted all topics of conversation, they stayed floating amongst the stars, pale moonlight glinting off the surface of the inky sea, silvery waves flooding towards the welcoming light of the school situated on the shoreline, and Kara held her close, one hand taking hold of Lena’s, and the other wrapped around her waist. They plummeted towards the sea, stopping mere inches above the surface of the lapping waves, and they danced above the sea for a while. Lena rested her head against Kara’s shoulder, listening to her heart as she was led in a slow box step, the sound of the sea in place of music, and she felt okay for the first time in days.

 

            Eventually, Kara had to go though. She was flown back up to the window of her dorm room, left open just a crack by Ruby, and Lena felt her heart sink at the inevitable goodbye. Kara’s lips were soft but urgent against hers as she kissed her goodbye, whispering quiet words of how much she loved her and how much it hurt to be away from her. As soon as Lena’s feet were safely on the hardwood floor of her dorm, Kara cradled her face in her hand, gave her another brief kiss, and was gone with a gentle stirring of wind. Locking the window behind her, Lena drew the blinds and fell into bed, feeling both miserable and happy at the same time as the tingling feeling of Kara’s last kiss lingered on her lips, and a piece of her heart was taken, leaving behind an empty feeling.

Chapter Text

            Lena stood amongst the cluster of students, arms folded across her chest and eyes shaded by sunglasses as she listened to the clang of metal on metal, trying not to look too impressed at the display of sword fighting. It was unlike anything she’d seen before, elegant and deadly, skillful precision as her mother darted forward and jabbed at Eliza. They were fencing, giving a demonstration with the willowy foils, one loosely dangling from Lena’s own fingers as she watched the graceful dance.

 

            “Sword fighting, whether it be with a foil or a broadsword, is an invaluable skill to have,” Lillian lectured. “The forces of Krypton rarely engage in battle, but when we do, we usually skip modern warfare. Guns? Too imprecise, even with Kryptonite bullets. Arrows … well, they’re not much better, but it’s a more impressive skill that many of us have clung to over the centuries. Swords with a Green Kryptonite edge are more useful. Rare to come by, which is why most of us use our enhanced abilities, but a great advantage if you can get your hands on one. For some of you, whose physiology leans more towards human, you’re doubly disadvantaged. Vulnerable to normal metals as well as the Kryptonite. Knowing how to block a sword could just save your life.”

 

            The demonstration was just for fun, all of the students dressed in matching white uniforms, black mesh masks tucked under their arms as they eagerly awaited their turn at fencing. Lena was bitterly struck with the realisation that her decade worth of fencing classes had been her mom’s subtle way of preparing her to defend herself. Lena just hadn’t known it at the time.

 

            “The idea is to present a small target,” Eliza called out, lunging forward, the tip of her foil catching Lillian on the shoulder, “touche.” Lillian rolled her eyes good naturedly, rocking backwards, giving the blonde woman room to pursue. “Set your weight on your back foot, and lead with your sword foot. You want a gentle rocking motion, into strike range and then a quick retreat.”

 

            In a rush of jabs and parries, they engaged in a flurry of exchanged hits, none of them landing as they batted blows aside with the tinny sound of metal on metal. When Lillian’s foil swept out to the side, Eliza lunged forward, taking advantage of her lowered guard, and with a smug smile, Lillian brought the foil  up to touch her on the wrist. “Touche.”

 

            Watching them fence had Lena feeling somewhat jittery, although she couldn’t quite say why. Sunlight glinted off their foils, as they expertly navigated through the deadly steps of their dance, each move perfectly matched as they wove patterns across the grassy field in front of the cabin. It was ten minutes without a hit, both of them laughing as they exchanged blows, their hair coming loose from upswept buns, both of them moving with inhuman speed, turning the foils into blurs. She blinked at the round of applause from the gathered students, realising that Eliza had the point of her foil pressed slightly above Lillian’s heart, stepping forward as the foil bent slightly in an arc.

 

            “Right through my heart,” Lillian mused.

 

            “As if you have one,” Eliza quipped, smiling as she stepped back, freeing the other woman from the point of the foil.

 

            They were all partnered up, Ruby with Maggie, the teen looking nervous as she slid her mask down over her face, preparing herself to face a full blooded Kryptonian. Maggie gave her an impish smile as she lowered her own mask, settling into a crouched stance with ease. Watching as they engaged each other, Lena eyed Maggie’s quick, precise jabs, clearly holding herself back, but showing hints of her obvious talent.

 

            Ruby was quick too though, and aside from the obvious fear in her tensed shoulders, she was fending off Maggie’s attacks with relative ease. Until a deliberate jab nearly caught her above her heart, and Ruby shot backwards and up, floating in midair as she held her foil out defensively. Blinking in surprise, Lena watched as the young girl lithely landed back on the grass, shuffling self-consciously as everyone froze, looking at her. From what Lena had gathered in her short time at Cadmus, most of them there traced their Kryptonian blood back generations. A few of them exhibited enough speed to warrant track scholarships, or had a sliver of their intelligence, becoming some of the most forethinking minds in different fields. But for most of them, they had nothing but an old claim to their Kryptonian side, used as pawns in the war between the two struggling factions. Lena was sure that no one else at Cadmus could fly . Looking at Ruby with wide, curious eyes, Lena watched her slink back to her side, their match having being declared ended by Eliza.

 

            Wandering a few feet away, Lena watched as Ruby removed her face mask, her cheeks red with embarrassment as she kept her head ducked down. With a look of amusement, Lena cocked her head to the side. “So … you can fly.”

 

            A troubled look briefly crossed Ruby’s face, and she gave Lena a small shrug, keeping her eyes trained on her feet. “Yeah.”

 

            “And how much Kryptonian blood do you have exactly?”

 

            “Half,” Ruby mumbled.

 

            “Half? That’s got to make you special here,” Lena quietly mused, a look of surprise on her face as she stared at her young roommate. “Why aren’t you in with the popular crowd?”

 

            Shrugging again, Ruby shifted uncomfortably. “No one likes my mom.”

 

            “Why not?”

 

            “Okay, that’s enough for today, class!”

 

            Lillian’s voice drifted across the clearing, the sound of metal on metal fading into distant rings as pairs disengaged. Masks came up, students grinning at the exciting lesson, and Lena couldn’t help but feel like Lillian had been listening to her question Ruby. She wasn’t sure what the young girl could’ve told her, but it irritated Lena anyway to be kept in the dark about everything. Making a mental note to question her roommate later on that night, perhaps coaxing an answer or two out of her, Lena dropped it for the moment, peeling off the white uniform and returning it to the crates they’d come out of.

 

            It was nearly the end of classes for the day anyway, and Lena was relieved for them to be over. The thought of relaxing after a day of being stuffed with knowledge about Kryptonian religion was welcome, and Lena even thought about taking a walk around campus after dinner to clear her head. Recently, she’d forgotten what normalcy felt like, her days spent learning about these aliens from a different planet, and her nights spent brooding over Kara, infrequent visits from her girlfriend, and the occasional argument with her mother in her office.

 

            Her life had taken on a routine, one that Lena found utterly boring as much as it was unhelpful. So far, she didn’t think any of her questions had been answered. It had been nearly three weeks since she’d been dropped off at Cadmus, yet she’d learnt nothing useful . She was sure that all of this information about Kryptonian’s was useful to her classmates, especially the more gifted ones who exhibited signs of their bloodlines, but to her, it was next to useless. Learning about their different guilds and their weaknesses wasn’t going to help her figure out why she had been roped into this curse in the beginning.

 

            Frustration growing, she slung her bag over a shoulder and stalked off across the perfectly trimmed lawn, the sound of the sea washing over her in a comforting blanket, trying to drown out her loud thoughts. It was a clear day, the sky a perfect azure blue, not even the faintest wisp of a cloud in sight, and the sunlight sparkled off the top of the deep blue sea, white capped waves slowly rolling in to shore. Walking a fair ways down the narrow, winding path, Lena took a seat on the edge of the cliff, dislodging tiny pebbles as she sat down on the rocky bluffs, long stalks of grass waving in the wind as it clutched at her hair and clothes. It was a steep drop, rock jutting up through the foamy seawater below her, but she wasn’t scared of falling. She was too preoccupied about other things.

 

            The sun traced its way across the sky, dipping towards the horizon, when Lena climbed to her feet, feeling no less frustrated for her stolen time alone, and walked towards the dinner hall, taking in the clusters of students crowding the pavilion. Finding Ruby, she took her usual seat across from her, after helping herself to garlic prawns and a fresh salad, giving the other girl a warm smile.

 

            “Hey, so that was impressive earlier on,” Lena started, striking up a conversation.

 

            “If it was a few centuries ago, you would’ve made a fine swordsman,” Maggie agreed, pulling out a chair and taking a seat, giving Lena a tight smile.

 

            Feeling a flicker of annoyance towards the other woman, Lena ground her teeth together. There went any chance of trying to coax answers out of Ruby tonight. Maggie was clearly there to dissuade any attempts, or to turn the conversation aside if Lena actually did try and ask anything too direct.

 

            Ruby gave the other woman a small smile, picking at her food with little appetite. “Yeah, well, it’s just luck.”

 

            Shaking her head, Maggie gave her a surprisingly sincere smile, “no, it was skill. You work hard at it, I can tell.”

 

            “Yeah, but I’m fast, and strong. No one else can beat me, no matter how skilled they are. Because my mom …”

 

            Waving aside her reply, before Lena could seize the opportunity, Maggie shrugged slightly, “an advantage is an advantage, kid, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. If you’re in trouble one day, you’ll be grateful for your powers.”

 

            “I know, it just … it feels like cheating. No one else here is half, so ...”

 

            “Well Maggie’s a full Kryptonian,” Lena quickly interjected, “I mean, she probably knows your mom too, right, Maggie?” Lena took in the tight look on the other woman’s face, the tautness of her shoulders and the look of warning for her not to push her luck. “I’m sure she’d agree that it doesn’t matter who your mom is, and everyone else is just jealous because they can’t fly.”

 

            Maggie was silent for a few moments, aggressively cutting her food into tiny bitesize pieces, her eyes trained on Lena the entire time. Eventually, she let her cutlery clatter onto her plate and gave Lena a slight smirk. “You’re right, of course. Most of us Kryptonian’s are of little consequence in the long game. There’s only a few who really matter.”

 

            “Like Kara?” Lena guessed.

 

            “Sure, you could say that. She might be the tipping point between Rao and Reign, but there are others. Most of us already know where our loyalties lie though. Some of us don’t need thousands of years to pick. I guess you can’t relate to that though, can you Lena. You picked so easily.”

 

            Abruptly climbing to her feet, Maggie picked up her plate and walked off with a faint smile curling her lips, having left Lena confused and with more questions. She wasn’t sure what the other woman had against her, although she’d always made a point of making snide remarks about her, and Lena quickly scrambled to her feet, trying to swallow her irritation as she followed after the shorter woman. Maggie clearly knew more than she was letting on, and was willing to stir up trouble just to leave Lena even more frustrated about her lack of answers, and this time, Lena was having none of it.

 

            “What’re you talking about?”

 

            Turning to glance up at her over her shoulder, Maggie arched an eyebrow, her smile growing slightly. “Oh … well, I suppose you should ask Kara. Or maybe Sam.”

 

            “Who’s Sam?”

 

            “Well that’s an answer I guess you’ll have to find out by yourself.”

 

            Making a sound of annoyance at the back of her throat, Lena bumped her as she brushed past, biting back a cry of pain as Maggie’s invulnerable skin didn’t give way to Lena’s deliberate jibe, and dumped her barely touched food on the stack of other dirty plates. Without another word, she stalked off, new questions bumping around in her head as she walked across the grass, heading towards the yellow warmth of the dorms. As she neared the open French doors, she suddenly veered left, deciding that perhaps she would take a walk. Not through the woods, Jack’s warning still lingering at the back of her mind, but through the campus.

 

            The sun was only just starting to set, giving her plenty of time to safely go for a walk and calm down, before returning to her room. The sky was turning pink off the coast, giving way to violet and a deeper blue far above as night slowly crept in, and the mild wind didn’t bother Lena as she burrowed deep into her coat, taking the stone path cutting down towards the administrative buildings near the entrance of the campus. The offices were still lit, teachers from the regular school, staff members and maintenance people finishing up their day’s work, before heading home to the town a few miles away.

 

            She passed a few people as she wandered about, exploring the outdoors of the campus on the opposite side of the cabin where all her lessons took place. No one bothered her, no one told her to go back to her room, or told her that she shouldn’t be there. It was peaceful. Lost in her own thoughts, she neared the edge of the campus, green lawn giving way to a parking lot, well lit, even though the last rays of sunlight still washed everything golden. She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she didn’t see the woman at first.

 

            She sat astride a black motorcycle, chrome gleaming in the waning sunlight, a helmet in her lap and a pair of dark sunglasses covering her face. One booted foot was firmly planted against the ground, the bike’s stand lowered as it sat silently on the edge of the campus. Pausing for a moment, Lena cast her an appraising look, wondering who the woman was, and why she was there. She was too old to be a student - a few years older than Lena, by the look of things - and there was something inviting about the soft curve of her lips, her long caramel hair ruffling in the breeze. Although she couldn’t be sure, Lena had the nagging thought that she was Kryptonian. Whether she was an ally or an enemy was another question altogether.

 

            “Lena.”

 

            “Who’re you?”

 

            With a dazzling smile, the woman cocked her head to the side, “I’m someone who can help.”

 

            “But who are you?” Lena asked, taking a wary step forward as her curiousness got the better of her.

 

            Kara had warned her against leaving campus, and so had Jack, which was surprising, seeing as they didn’t agree on much. Their warnings crowded Lena’s mind as she stopped at the edge of the curb, a few feet separating her from the other woman. No one else was around, and the woman looked harmless, despite the steely strength that Lena knew hid waiting beneath the leather jacket. She could just as easily be an enemy. Hesitating, Lena lingered back.

 

            “Sam. My name’s Sam,” the woman finally replied.

 

            A jolt ran through Lena at the sound of the name. Maggie had been talking about her only half an hour before, teasing her with the thought of answers. Biting her lower lip, Lena gave her a suspicious look, weighing the odds of this woman helping her or just leading her into danger and more questions. It seemed almost too coincidental that she had shown up not long after Maggie had been talking about her, and Lena wondered if perhaps it was the other woman’s idea of a joke. Or perhaps it was something else.

 

            “Maggie said you could give me answers,” Lena hedged, a hopeful note in her voice.

 

            A slow smile spread across Sam’s face. It was an innocent look, happy and bright, like she would be all too willing to help. Despite the warnings, Kara’s voice in her ear, Lena couldn’t help but feel like she could trust her. She looked vaguely familiar, as if Lena should know her. Perhaps she was another one of her friends from a past life.

 

            “Say the word, Lena. I’ll take you far away from all of this. I can show you the answers you so badly want,” the brunette said, a hopeful look on her face.

 

            She held the helmet out to Lena, an encouraging look on her face, and not a single part of Lena’s body felt any danger. With surety, Lena stepped towards her, reaching out to take the helmet. It reminded her of Kara driving her through the city, for a moment, before Lena grimly told herself that Kara wasn’t there. No one else wanted to give her the answers she wanted, Kara least of all, but this woman was offering them to her on a silver platter. It could be a trap, but at this point Lena was willing to risk it.

 

           "Okay."

 

            Jamming the helmet down over her dark hair, she stepped closer to the woman, who shifted forward on the leather seat, a smile playing on her lips as she looked at Lena from behind dark lenses. The hidden look felt scrutinising, and Lena warily climbed onto the seat behind her, winding her arms around the woman’s waist, holding on tightly. The engine roared to life beneath Sam’s touch, the stand kicked up, the bike tilted up, and Lena felt the warmth radiating from the woman through her leather jacket. It made her miss Kara. She almost asked to get off, that she’d changed her mind, but they were already moving across the asphalt of the parking lot.

 

            “Hold on tight,” Sam shouted over the wind and the engine, “we’ve got a long way to go.”

Chapter Text

            Steam curled up from the warm cup of coffee Lena clutched in her pale hands, and she huddled in the corner of the booth she was in. The strange woman on the motorbike had driven them through towering redwoods, the road winding through the darkness, a narrow beam of light from the headlights lighting their way through the night. A damp smell suffused the air, the rustling of leaves drowned out by the sound of the engine, and Lena shivered slightly, although the warmth radiating from the woman sitting in front of her was more than enough to take the edge off the wind.

 

            By the time Sam pulled over, slowing as she veered off to the left, coming to a stop before a dimly lit coffee shop in the middle of a small town, Lena felt stiff and sore, her arms locked tightly around the other woman’s waist and a weariness settling into her bones. The engine died with a low rumble and Sam broke Lena’s grip on her, swinging her leg over the bike and climbing off. Taking off the helmet, Lena ran a hand through her hair, the ends a tangled mess, and awkwardly climbed off, standing in the dark parking lot as she walked the brunette walk towards the door.

 

            With a backwards glance, Sam had given her a lopsided smile, “well, are you coming, or not?”

 

            Hurrying after her, Lena had stepped into the comfortable warmth of the coffee shop and followed her to a booth in a shadowy corner, the soft leather seats comfortable after the hard bike seat. She’d let Sam order her a black coffee, before the woman slipped into the seat across from her, her sunglasses gone. Her eyes were a warm brown. Lena trusted her, for some unknown reason. She suspected that perhaps she’d known her in a past life, and that maybe some leftover sense of the familiarity had stayed with her.

 

            A waitress brought over their drinks and Lena watched as Sam reached for the sachets of sugar, tearing three open and pouring them in, before taking a scalding sip. She didn’t seem to mind the heat. Holding her own coffee in her hands, Lena cast furtive glances at Sam, although they weren’t quite so secretive, because the other woman was watching her was an intense look in her eyes, never looking away for a moment.

 

            “Why were you at the college?” Lena finally ventured a question. “Were you- were you following me?”

 

            With a slight smile, Sam shook her head. “No. No, I had no idea you were there. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of my daughter.”

 

            “Your daughter?”

 

            “Ruby,” Sam said, her voice coloured with love as the intense look on her face softened for a moment.

 

            Blinking in surprise, Lena realised that was why she seemed familiar. There was something about the mouth, and the eyes too, now that she wasn’t wearing her glasses. Her roommate had inherited them from her mother.

 

            “You’re Ruby’s mom,” Lena murmured, more to herself than to Sam. “She said that people don’t like you.”

 

            Letting out a loud laugh, attracting a few stares from the other occupants - a guy with glasses typing away at his laptop, and a couple of high school kids drinking milkshakes down the far end of the room - and wrinkled her nose. “Well, I suppose that she’s right. Although I hope she thinks better of me than everyone else.”

 

            “Why do they …”

 

            “Oh, you know, you try and help make things better for everyone, someone gets offended. Let’s just say I’m on the wrong side.”

 

            “You sided with Reign?” Lena asked, a confused look on her face, “so did a lot of others, though.”

 

            A flicker of amusement ran across Sam’s face and she took a sip of her coffee, smiling around the rim, before setting it back down. “I guess you could say I did, in a sense. Although, it was more to do with Cythonna.”

 

            “Who?”

 

            “Think of her as Rao’s counterpart. He’s all order and strict laws, and she’s more … freedom and, well, not so much anarchy , but a little chaos never hurt anyone, right?”

 

            Lena smiled slightly, enjoying a frank conversation with someone for once. She warmed towards the Kryptonian, finally feeling like maybe she’d learn something here tonight. Two tidbits of information had already been dropped, and she was sure that she could get her to spill more. It wasn’t like she was manipulating her; Sam was willingly sharing these answers with her. Although, Lena wasn’t sure what was in it for her exactly.

 

            “So this whole big war thing … it was about freedom?”

 

            “Yes! Exactly. Although, some people seem to think that sticking to tradition, rules and laws, being told what to do by some omniscient man in the sky, who doesn’t know a thing about love. Some people are too cowardly to pick.”

 

            Eyes slowly closing, Lena smiled, before her eyelids fluttered and she opened her eyes to meet Sam’s hard stare. It wasn’t quite as kind now. There was a frostiness to the warm brown, an undercurrent of anger, and Lena’s smile faltered slightly. But then Sam’s expressions softened again, and she took another sip of coffee.

 

            “So you don’t get along with Kara?” Lena surmised, a wary feeling creeping up on her.

 

            Letting out a quick laugh, Sam laced her fingers together, propping her elbows up on the table and her chin on top of her hands. “Something like that. Me and the Morning Light don’t particularly have a good history.”

 

            “What happened?”

 

            “She stole something from me,” Sam lightly replied, a tight smile on her face as she reached out to pluck a few sachets of sugar from the pot.

 

            “Stole? Kara stole?”

 

            A wide smile spread across her face, an almost gleeful spark in her eyes as she paused. “Oh but that’s the least of her crimes, Miss Luthor. Theft, murder, arson, assault, forgery, fraud, embezzlement. The list is endless . All the years she’s lived through … so many crimes. None of us are saints, mind you, but then again, most of us don’t walk around all mighty and noble like she does.”

 

            The venomous tone of her words made Lena’s spine prickle with unease. For the first time, she wondered if perhaps she’d made the right decision coming with her. The possibility of answers had been so tempting that it had seemed worth the risk, but sitting across from the stranger, listening to her words about Kara, it made Lena feel unsafe. Perhaps the only thing Sam was hoping to get out of it was an even score by taking Lena in exchange for whatever Kara had stolen from her. But then the darkness passed, and Sam was lounging back in the booth, one foot up on the seat as she gave Lena a grin.

 

            “What did she steal?”

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Sam carelessly shrugged, her lips curling up into a contemptuous look for a brief moment, before relaxing into something a little more good-natured. “Something that belonged to me, is all. A long time ago. Back before she even met you.”

 

            “That’s a long time to hold a grudge,” Lena murmured.

 

            “I’m patient.”

 

            “Is it really that worth it? The thing that she stole?”

 

            “Undoubtedly. I’m sure she’d tell you the same if you asked her.”

 

            A wry smile curled Lena’s lips, and she half-rolled her eyes, “she’s not overly fond of answering my questions.”

 

            Shuffling the sachets of sugar in her hands, Sam gave her a warm smile, her brown eyes friendly as she tilted her head to the side. “What secrets is she keeping from you, I wonder,” she mused, her lips curling further.

 

            “I think it’d be easier to count which ones she has told me,” Lena hesitantly laughed. “There’s a lot less of them.”

 

            “The time you first met?”

 

            Lena drew her mug in close, hunching over it as she gently blew across the surface of the dark coffee, ripples radiating outwards as she ignored the question. It troubled her that there were things about herself that she didn’t know, about her past and her relationships, yet there seemed to be a long list of people who knew the truth. They all knew, and no one would tell her. It was frustrating, to say the least.

 

            “No,” Sam quietly laughed, an almost pitying look touching her eyes as she gave Lena a grim smile. “No, she’s never told you that one. In any life. She thinks it protects you, even though it never makes any difference. Foolish girl.”

 

            “How?” Lena hoarsely asked, “how did we first meet?”

 

            Raising her eyebrows slightly, Sam gave her a curious look. “You don’t want to wait for her to tell you in her own time? Don’t you trust her to have your best intentions at heart?”

 

            “Of course,” Lena quickly replied, before hesitating, biting her lip as she stared down at her cooling coffee. “But … I don’t think she’ll ever be ready to tell me. Every time I ask her something, she tells me that she can’t, that I’ll turn to ashes, and this time it’ll be the last.”

 

            “Do you believe her?”

 

            “Of course I do! Why would she lie to me?”

 

            A look of doubtful amusement flashed across Sam’s face, and she shrugged, “why would she, indeed. What would she need to hide from you? It’s obviously important though, if she isn’t answering it. But, then again, if it was that important, and it concerned you, you’d have a right to know. Perhaps you should ask.”

 

            Lena was quiet as she brooded over the suggestion. She did have a right to know, and it wasn’t fair for Kara to decide what secrets she got to keep, and Lena felt a flicker of irritation well up at the fact that she was being kept in the dark. How could she figure out a way to break the curse if she didn’t even understand it? How was she supposed to sit tight and stay safe when she didn’t even know why she was being hunted? All she knew was that people didn’t want Kara to be in love with her. It was forbidden. But there was surely more to the story than that . And it seemed like Sam knew. Taking a sip of coffee, Lena mulled over her thoughts, before she set her cup down and met Sam’s stare.

 

            “Will you tell me?”

 

            Raising her eyebrows, Sam gave her a pointed look. “Oh, I can do you one better than that, Lena. I can show you.”

 

            “How?”

 

            “I can take you there. Back to all of those times. I can show you so many versions of yourself. Show you the truth . Not these half-truths, unfinished stories, rose-coloured stories to placate you. I can take you back decades, centuries, back to the beginning. If you choose me, if you come with me, I’ll make sure there’s not a single question that’s unanswered. No more secrets. No more hiding from the truth.”

 

            She paused for a moment, wondering what the catch was, and even asked as much. “And what’s in it for me?”

 

            Spreading her hands, Sam gave her a coy smile, “maybe you’ll help return the thing that was stolen from me.”

 

            “But I don’t know what it is,” Lena said, her forehead furrowing as she gave her a confused look.

 

            “I’m sure you’ll know it when you see it.”

 

            “But how-”

 

            “All the wonders of the universe, planets where people fly, where they read minds, where people are born with wings like a hawk, or cyborgs rule … of course there’s a way to time-travel. It’s a simple act.”

 

            Spluttering, Lena gave her an incredulous look, “simple?”

 

            Letting out a soft laugh, Sam reached out, gently touching the back of her hand for a brief moment. “It’s quicker and easier than taking even one step. Perfectly safe. All you have to do is say yes.”

 

            Biting her lip, Lena deliberated for a second, before giving her a sheepish smile. “Thank you. Truly, thank you, but I think I owe her one more chance to tell me the truth. But if she doesn’t …”

 

            “It’s an open offer,” Sam reassured her. “Whenever you’re ready.”

 

            “And how will I let you know?”

 

            Waving a hand dismissively, Sam slid along her side of the booth and climbed to her feet, giving her a smile. “I’ll be around. Now that I know where you are, perhaps we can talk more. I can answer more of your questions, while you wait for the chance to ask Kara. Just look for me in the parking lot. I can’t come closer than that.”

 

            Sliding along her own seat, Lena rose to her feet, staring up at the taller woman as she stood in the aisle, giving her a small smile of gratitude. “Okay. Thank you.”

 

            Wrinkling her nose as she smiled, Sam reached out to give her arm a gentle squeeze. “I just want to help you make the right decision for yourself. It’s better if you know all the facts for that.”

 

            Nodding in agreement, Lena let herself be herded out of the coffee shop, back out into the darkness and the cold, the wind nipping at her cheeks as she hugged her coat to herself, walking towards the chrome bike gleaming in the dim yellow light spilling out of the building behind them. Sam silently handed over the helmet again, swinging a leg over the bike as it shifted beneath her weight, and Lena buckled it on, before climbing on behind her. Holding on tightly again, Lena let Sam’s warmth spread through her, and she felt less tense as they reversed the journey back towards the campus.

 

            It was pitch black when she got back, a few hours having passed in that time, office buildings dark and a few dorm windows brightly lit as students studied or entertained themselves for the evening. The bike quietly growled in the parking lot as Sam stopped, letting Lena climbed off and unclip the helmet, handing it back over to her. She gave her a hesitant smile as she watched the Kryptonian pull the helmet onto her own head, Sam’s lips curling into a smile as she watched her carefully.

 

            “Be careful, Lena,” Sam murmured as they paused for a moment, “things aren’t what they seem, and enemies might just as likely be friends, even if others would have you believe otherwise. Trust your mother, is my parting advice. She’ll protect you, and I’ll do my best too.”

 

            “Thank you, Sam.”

 

            “Hopefully I’m not wrong in hoping we’ll meet again soon.”

 

            “I hope not either,” Lena quietly replied, smiling despite herself.

Chapter Text

            As she made her way back towards the dorms, a shadow unfolded itself from a dark bench hidden amongst a cluster of perennial bushes, rising to its feet and quickly stepping into her path. Slowing, Lena warily neared the dark figure, a prickle of unease running down her spine, before the figure stepped close enough for her to recognise the face.

 

            “You’re back,” Eliza softly greeted her, an anxious look on her face as she gave her a faint smile. “Where did you go?”

 

            “For coffee.”

 

            Letting out a quiet laugh, Eliza gave her a reproving look, “I know, I can smell it on you. And redwoods, exhaust fumes, and grease. If you wanted a cup of coffee, I would’ve been happy to make you one in my office. They’re imported from Turkey. Better than anything you’d find in a diner around here.”

 

            Shoving her hands deep into her pockets, Lena hunched her shoulders slightly, feeling like a berated child in front of her mother’s … what, girlfriend? It seemed ridiculous. The kind woman seemed too passive to hold any authority over Lena, but there was a sense of disappointment that made her feel guilty as she scuffed a foot along the bricks of the path. It wasn’t often that she felt like she’d lived up to expectations, and once again, she felt like she’d failed. Her mother and Eliza had made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t allowed to leave campus. But then they’d also made it clear that she would have to find the answers she wanted on her own, and that was exactly what she’d done. Albeit, with Sam’s help, but no one had led her to Sam. She’d done that by herself. Still, she knew that Eliza wouldn’t see it that way, and neither would her mother.

 

            “I was with a … friend.”

 

            “A friend, huh? And does this friend go to school here?”

 

            Lena was silent for a moment, letting her gaze wander off into the darkness as the truth bubbled up to the tip of her tongue. “No,” she admitted, the words barely audible to her own ears, but clear as day to the Kryptonian.

 

            “And this friend, you can trust them?”

 

            “As much as I trust anyone,” Lena quickly replied, her face hardening slightly. “And at least they’re more honest.”

 

            “What was there name?”

 

            She paused, biting her bottom lip as she toyed with the idea of telling her who she’d been with. Lena knew that Eliza was on Rao’s side, albeit not quite entirely, which was how she’d ended up on Earth, and she knew that Sam didn’t exactly have a good reputation amongst the Kryptonian’s, and she was reluctant to admit that she’d been off campus with her. It would help if she’d known what Sam had done to piss off a large number of the alien population on Earth, or know what she’d stolen, if the whole thing came back to Kara - which it always seemed to - but seeing as she didn’t have all the answers, and it was unlikely anyone at Cadmus would be so frank with her, she kept the name to herself. Let them wonder where she’d been, who she’d been with, what she knew. Perhaps then they’d know how frustrating it was to be kept in the dark.

 

            Before either her or Eliza could say anything else, the ground shifted beneath Lena’s feet as a blur struck the path in the middle of the two women, the bricks rippling and fracturing as they were displaced by the force of the landing. Head bowed, Lillian fluidly rose to her feet, a dark shadow in the darkness, and finally lifted her head as she came to her full height, her green eyes dark and blazing with anger as she turned her fury on her daughter. Lena had the decency to slink back slightly, a lump of fear rising in her throat as she took in the sight of her mother standing before her. Dark spots flecked her alabaster skin and the coat she was wearing was torn and oddly patchy, as if different colours in places. It took her mom reaching out to pull her close by the collar of her coat, for Lena to realise that it was blood. Lillian’s hand was caked in it, still glistening slightly in the moonlight, and filling the air with a thick, coppery smell.

 

            “Do you have any idea how much danger you just put yourself in?” Lillian roughly asked, her voice low and barely controlled as she jerked her forward slightly.

 

            Lena couldn’t make her voice work, staring down at the bloody hand with wide eyes, her mouth numbly opening and closing as she wondered whose it was. Her mom seemed fine, but that begged the question of what had her mom done to the other person? Eventually she managed a small sound of surprise at the back of her throat, breathing through her mouth as the metallic smell turned her stomach, overpowering her sense of smell as Lillian kept a firm grip on her coat. It wasn’t until Eliza stepped up behind her, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, that her mom let go, some of her anger ebbing away as her shoulders went slack and she uncurled her fingers. Still, she kept her icy stare on her daughter, and Lena only met her eyes out of sheer pride, unwilling to fold beneath her mom’s hard stare.

 

            “Four! I had to stop four half-blooded Kryptonian’s bearing the mark of Reign. Do you know what they would’ve done if they’d gotten their hands on you? At best , you’d be handcuffed in the basement of a safe house right now.”

 

            “I thought you were on their side,” Lena scoffed, folding her arms over her chest, trying to ignore the dark smears on the collar.

 

            Grinding her teeth together, Lillian gave her a venomous look, her whole body rigid as she was somewhat held back by Eliza’s limp hand resting on her shoulder, a quiet warning to keep her temper reined in. “I am on Reign’s side in many regards, but not when it comes to you . You’re caught in the middle of this, and it has nothing to do with you.”

 

            “Clearly it does! You just won’t tell me.”

 

            “And, quite frankly, after tonight, I think that’s a good thing. You’re too reckless, Lena. You’re smart, but you throw yourself headfirst into danger. If you die this time, there’s no coming back! Telling you the truth would only make you behave more foolishly, and you’re walking a fine line as it is. No, until you learn to listen to what I say, and what Eliza says, you’re confined to your dorm and classes.”

 

            Spluttering, Lena gave her an indignant look. “You can’t ground me. I’m an adult!”

 

            “No, but as a faculty member at Cadmus, I have the right to enforce a curfew on you, and unless you’re in class or at the dining pavilion, your curfew is enforced. Now get back to your room and pray that Kara hasn’t-”

 

            A gentle thud sounded behind her and Lena stiffened. She didn’t have to turn around to know who was standing there, lightly landed on the bricks with barely the scuff of her shoes, an air of dismay, sadness and vexation radiating from her as she stood behind Lena. Staring at her mother for a moment longer, Lena took in the lips pressed into a thin line, a glimmer of something that was almost satisfaction in her eyes, and the stony look on the rest of her face. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she slowly turned.

 

            Kara looked anything but pleased, her forehead creased, her blue eyes sorrowful and a ruffled air about her. Not three feet behind her was Jack, having landed lightly on the grass, his suit jacket shredded, and Alex, looking far from impressed as she fixed Lena with a hard look.

 

            “Why did you go?” Kara quietly asked, her voice barely above a thin whisper as she tilted her head to the side, giving Lena a searching look, almost looking confused. “I asked you to stay here, to stay safe, so why did you go?”

 

            “Because I’m not your fucking pet, Kara! You can’t just lock me up here and expect me to be okay with it. You can’t just leave me in the dark and expect me to be a good girl and patiently wait for you to decide to come and see me when you feel like it. That’s not how a relationship works! If that’s even what this is.”

 

            “I’m doing my best-”

 

            “It’s not enough!”

 

            “It’d be easier if you weren’t getting yourself into trouble every two seconds,” Kara snapped, her cheeks visibly flushed with irritation, even in the dim moonlight. “You’re sneaking through the woods, or eavesdropping on Lillian, or leaving campus. I have enough to worry about besides you accidentally getting yourself killed by overhearing something you shouldn’t know, or being kidnapped by people who want to hurt you. I’ve been hunting them for days, doing nothing else, and all I’ve asked you to do is just stay here . And you can’t even do that!”

 

            Huffing with anger, Lena ground her teeth together, feeling her face grow hotter. “I wasn’t in any danger! If she wanted to kill me then she could’ve.”

 

            “She? Who’s she?” Kara asked, her anger fading slightly as a wary look crossed her face.

 

            Giving her an almost mocking smile, Lena arched an eyebrow, “what, are you jealous?”

 

            “Lena,” Lillian murmured, her voice edged with a warning.

 

            “It doesn’t matter who she is,” Lena dismissively replied, “but she’s been more honest with me than any of you have.”

 

            “The only people that are going to be honest with you are the people who want Reign to win.”

 

            Rolling her eyes, Lena gave Kara an exasperated look, “not everything is about your silly little war. There are more important things, like actually trying to have a real relationship, instead of worrying that I’ll die, so you just abandon me and wait until it’s safe. What if it’s never safe? What if I just die like all those other times, and then that’s it? There’s no later date , Kara. You can’t just keep putting us off. I’m not sure there even is an us. That there ever has been. It’s just- it’s wishful thinking. All those times … you can’t have loved me that many times.”

 

            Eyes shining with tears, Kara gave her an urgent look, “I did. In every life.”

 

            “But I wasn’t me in all of them. You said so yourself, I’m different in all of them, in some way. You just want me to be this person you’ve created in your mind. The first one you fell in love with. And all those times you knew me a day, an hour, a minute? You couldn’t possibly have fallen in love with me in that time. This whole thing is ridiculous.”

 

            “You say that because you weren’t there,” Kara sharply replied. “You didn’t see it. You didn’t live it like I did. You just- you died, and sometimes I never even got to say goodbye. You were just … gone. And I wasn’t. So don’t talk to me about things that you don’t understand, because if you’d been there, if you’d seen it, then you’d know.”

 

            Freezing, she thought about Sam’s open-ended offer. She would show her, take her back in time to all of those places, to all of those lives, maybe even back to the very first time. Pausing for a moment, filled with so much frustration, Lena considered it. No doubt Sam was still somewhere nearby, perhaps just out of reach of being easily noticed, and it would be a simple thing for Lena to call her back. She might even be able to tell Kara to come with her, to offer up the idea that they go together and see all of those past lives. An opportunity for her to show Lena the truth. Doubt crept up on her though, and Lena couldn’t help but feel a little bit guilty. Perhaps she owed it to Kara to have one more chance. One more chance for her to tell her the truth, and if she didn’t then she’d ask Sam to take her, whether Kara came or not.

 

            “Tell me,” Lena quietly blurted out, the tension hanging heavily in the air as the group of Kryptonians gathered in the night, looking on as Lena and Kara argued over the same old argument Lena had been having with everyone. “This is the last time I’m asking you, this is your last chance to tell me the truth, and if you don’t … I’ll leave. I’ll find them on my own, and you can’t stop me.”

 

            Taking a slow step towards her, Kara reached out, a sad look softening her features as she gave her a begging look. Carefully taking Lena’s hands in her own warm ones, Kara unfolded her arms and drew her closer, staring down at her with a look of defeat. “I can’t,” she murmured, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t, because if I lose you … I wouldn’t be able to live without you.”

 

            “You’ve done it before,” Lena quietly reminded her.

 

            Giving her a tearful smile, Kara shook her head, “but you were always coming back .”

 

            Frowning, Lena stared down at their entwined hands, swallowing the lump in her throat as she hoarsely replied. “If you don’t tell me, then I’m going to leave, and I’ll find them on my own, and I might not want to come back. I’d rather hear it from you. I’d rather you tell me, and risk dying and knowing that I could trust you, could love you, completely, rather than digging for things that might turn me against you, and make me not want to come back.”

 

            “If you don’t tell her, I will.”

 

            Everyone’s heads jerked up at the arrival of a new voice shouting across the parking lot, and Kara faltered for a moment at the sight of the brunette toeing the boundary line of the campus. Sam was well lit by a streetlight, a smile on her face as she stood in a circle of yellow light.

 

            “Samantha,” Kara snarled, “you’re not welcome here.”

 

            “Of course I am. Lena and I are friends. We had a lovely little chat about honesty earlier. I even offered to tell her myself, but she wanted to hear it from you. I have to admit, it’s so touching how she always puts her faith in you, lifetime after lifetime, when you’ve done nothing but let her die. It’s a pity. Such a tragic curse laid upon you both. Lena deserves so much better than that, don’t you think?”

 

            “Sam, what’re you doing here?” Lena asked, a puzzled look on her face.

 

            She took a step closer, but Kara’s hand clamped tightly around hers and pulled her back slightly, firmly holding her in place.

 

            “I heard a disturbance. I came back to see if you were alright,” she replied, her voice coloured with concern.

 

            Letting out a derisive snort, Kara gave her a scornful look, “you’ll not set foot within a hundred yards of her, you hear me? Leave. Now. I won’t ask again.”

 

            Cocking her head to the side, Sam pursed her lips slightly, before they curled up into a smile. “Well, that remains to be seen. Lena? Have you thought much about my offer? I mean, I know I only just offered it, but you can see how determined they all are to keep you in the dark. Even you, Lillian.”

 

            Jutting her chin forward, a haughty look crossed Lillian’s face. “It doesn’t matter what she knows. It’s Kara’s decision that will decide the fate of us all.”

 

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Lena asked.

 

            “Ah, see, another secret,” Sam mused, her dark eyes trained on Lena. “Say the word and you can be done with all of this.” She gestured vaguely at the Kryptonians gathered around her, squabbling over honesty.

 

            Before Lena could reject the offer, Kara’s hot touch vanished as the blonde woman moved as a blur, streaking towards Sam, who was smiling slightly, as if amused. It was the look of someone who knew they’d just won. She’d goaded Kara into attacking. Yet Lena didn’t think that she’d won anything as she watched the bonnet of a car crumple beneath the force of Sam being slammed down onto it by an enraged Kara. The screeching sound of metal buckling made Lena’s skin crawl, and she watched on with wide eyes, her lips slightly parted as she sucked in a sharp breath. This was different to the last time she’d gotten a glimpse of Kara fighting. This time it wasn’t self-defense, and she wasn’t holding back. And neither was Sam.

 

            Asphalt cracked as Kara was kicked backwards, striking the ground with enough force to do the parking lot some damage, before she rolled backwards and ended up in a crouch. Her back was to Lena, and although she couldn’t see her face, she knew that it would be hard with anger. Lena wondered if she’d recognise her as her Kara. The kind, calm Kara whose touches were always so gentle, her kisses so soft, and her eyes always filled with suppressed sadness. The golden haired blur was a completely different person, tearing a streetlight from the ground and swinging it with enough force to club Sam up into the air, a black shadow sailing above the towering redwoods, before she regained control of her flying and shot back down towards her.

 

            Lena watched with horror and fascination, until a scuffling sound broke her concentration. Turning, she took in the sight of Alex with Jack in a headlock, her whole body taut with the effort of keeping him from joining the fight. He elbowed her in the side of her knee and Alex’s leg buckled for a moment, giving him the opportunity to break her grip and tackle her down onto the spongy grass. They started to wrestle amongst clumps of grass and dark mud that were torn up from wide punches or a badly aimed kick. Turning to look at her mother, Lena watched the silent, still battle between her and Eliza. They were face to face, holding each other’s hands tight enough to surely be painful, and both of their faces were impassive. Neither of them would let the other join in, because neither of them were willing to fight each other, but that didn’t stop them from keeping a tight grip, a dull, throbbing reminder not to make a move. For some reason, that silent exchange filled Lena with more unease than Alex and Jack fighting across the lawn, snapping the branches of a redwood as Alex was flung into a trunk, bark peeling away in sheets, while Jack took out a few birds-of-paradise growing in a cluster.

 

            Kara and Sam had limited their own fighting to the car park, littering the asphalt with broken glass from empty windows and tail lights, dented fenders and car doors, the acrid smell of a fire flickering to life as one of them caught flame, lighting up the night like an orange beacon. Standing amidst the three fights, feeling somewhat like a spare part, Lena felt her throat close up with fear, a helpless feeling washing over her as she watched Kara slam her fist into Sam’s stomach, winding the other woman as Sam gasped for air. Lena’s stomach lurched as she took in the blood dripping from Kara’s nose, and the dark blood streaking down the side of Sam’s face, from her hairline.

 

            “Stop,” she heard herself murmuring, barely able to make her lips form the word as she watched on with a sickening feeling growing in her stomach. Licking her lips, she drew in a lungful of air and managed to force the word out louder the next time. “Stop!”

 

            No one paid her any attention, and Lena grit her teeth as she took a tentative step in the direction of the two fighting women. Step by step, she walked out into the middle of the parking lot, her skin bathed orange from the fire, the acrid smoke making her eyes water as she blinked back the stinging feeling, her throat going dry as she tried to shield her mouth and nose. Before she could speak again, a body came hurtling towards her, so fast that she couldn’t even comprehend what she was seeing, and had barely enough time to flinch and stumble backwards, tripping over her own feet in her haste, before Kara had grabbed Sam mid-air to stop her from slamming into Lena and shattering her bones.

 

            Skinning her palms on the asphalt, Lena let out a hiss of pain as she sat uselessly on the floor. Kara was there in an instant, reaching out to gently cradle the scraped hands in her own, a concerned look on her face as she looked up at Lena. She was worse off, blood dripping and mottled bruises already forming from Sam’s heavy handed swings, but she didn’t give a second thought for herself as she checked to make sure Lena was okay. Before she could even ask, the broken off street light smacked her across the face, and Lena choked on a scream as she watched Kara go sprawling a dozen feet away, face down on the ground as she whimpered.

 

            And then Sam was there, kneeling in front of her, an earnest smile on her face, warm eyes crinkling at the corners as she reached out to offer her a hand. Shrinking back against the bumper of the car behind her, Lena hunched her shoulders, trying to pull away from the woman in front of her. The woman who’d hurt Kara. But there was blood and bruises on Sam too, with her having gotten as good as she’d given, and Lena was torn with her concern. On the one hand, Sam was just defending herself from what Kara had started, but on the other, Lena loved Kara, and she instinctively felt wary about Sam, having seen Kara’s black and blue face.

 

            “Well I won’t hurt you,” Sam quietly laughed, sounding almost delightfully surprised as she cocked her head to the side, smiling at Lena. “I just want to help , Lena.”

 

            “You stay away from her,” Kara hoarsely shouted, pushing herself to her feet and swaying unsteadily as she steeled herself for the fight to continue. “She doesn’t need your help.”

 

            Heavily sighing, Sam gave Lena an apologetic smile, “will you excuse me, just for one second.”

 

            Rising to her feet in a fluid motion, she stalked towards Kara with an almost predatory stride, looking much better than the other woman as she walked steadily on her feet. Lena reached behind her, her hand finding cool metal as she scrabbled for something to help haul herself up. She never took her eyes off the fight, watching as Kara swung, going wide as she stumbled. Sam laughed as she swatted Kara on the back as she staggered past her.

 

            “You never could best me, Morning Light,” Sam taunted her, “and nothing’s changed.”

 

            Letting out a shaky laugh, Kara spat out a mouthful of blood as she turned. “But I still won though, didn’t I? I took what you treasured most. And you’re right, that hasn’t changed, because no matter how hard you try, it’ll always belong to me.”

 

            Expression darkening, Sam bared her teeth as she slammed a fist into Kara’s stomach, making her double over and fall to her knees. Their movements weren’t quite so quick now, and Lena leant back against the car, knees weak from the shocking sight before her, as she watched the fluid movements, able to keep track of them now.

 

            “You took it!” Sam snarled, her fist striking Kara across the cheek. “It belonged to me, and you took it. But I always have the last laugh, Kara,” she hissed, gripping a handful of blonde hair and yanking her head back as she loomed over her, “I’ll take it back. It belonged to me once, who’s to say it won’t again?”

 

            Hand closing around Kara’s throat, Sam lifted her to her feet, and then a few inches off the ground as Kara made a choked sound, her fingers uselessly scrabbling at Sam’s hand as she kicked her feet. Pushing off the car, Lena stumbled towards her, her heart in her throat as she moved towards them, her hand reaching out to wrap around Sam’s wrist. Turning to look at her, looking almost as if she was surprised to find her right there, Sam blinked owlishly, turning her attention to Lena’s slender fingers on her skin.

 

            “Please,” Lena murmured, “please, let her go. I’ll- I’ll go with you. You can show me whatever it is- I can help you get back what she took. Just … don’t hurt her. Please. Don’t hurt her anymore.”

 

            She felt completely drained, a hollow feeling inside as she stared up at the woman’s stony face, her breathing hitching in her throat, as if she was caught on a sob. Only a couple of hours ago, Lena had entertained the idea of trusting her, letting her tell her all of the secrets being kept from her, but she’d been so terribly wrong. Kara’s face bore the mottled marks of how wrong she’d been, and Lena felt her stomach roil with nausea as her shallow breathing sped up, worried that Sam would reject the offer. Perhaps beating Kara to a bloody pulp would be more satisfying.

 

            But then her grip slackened, and she let go, watching Kara drop to the ground as if she was a marionette with all of her strings cut. Falling into a crumpled pile of bruised limbs, Kara gasped and coughed, her whole body heaving with the effort, and Sam stood over her, giving her a look of contempt. Dropping to her knees, Lena gently rolled Kara over with shaking hands, her bottom lip trembling as she cradled her head in her lap, staring down at the bruised face and the bloody lips splitting into a smile. Tracing the gentle curve of her cheekbone, Lena returned the smile, if not a little more teary-eyed.

 

            “Don’t go,” Kara croaked her objections. “Don’t go with her.”

 

            Sniffing, Lena gave her a tight-lipped smile, softly shaking her head. “I have to.”

 

            “No.”

 

            “I don’t want to see you get hurt,” Lena replied, her voice wavering as her face crumpled slightly.

 

            Body shaking with silent laughter, Kara gave her a bloody smile, tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes as she went limp in Lena’s lap. “Finally, you’re starting to understand, just a little, what it was like for me.”

 

            “She’ll understand much more by the end,” Sam darkly interrupted, slowly easing her foot down onto Kara’s leg, firmly pinning her in place.

 

            Turning her eyes onto Lena, her expression softened, and Lena saw that warmth beneath the flat eyes, feeling like perhaps she’d been wrong again. It was so easy to think that the friendliness was genuine, and for a moment, she wondered if perhaps the violence was second-nature, just like it was for Kara. Not really who she was, but a necessity that rose to the surface whenever it was essential. But one glance back down at Kara’s face made Lena go cold all over. There was no mistake. Yet, even the thought of Sam hurting her didn’t make her recoil from hand that reached down for her, because at least it wasn’t Kara. Relief washed over Lena at that thought, and she beamed down at Kara, leaning down to place a featherlight kiss to her cheek, before carefully shifting her from her lap, down onto the cold ground. Feebly reaching out for her, Kara grabbed the edge of Lena’s coat, giving it a small tug, as she let out a quiet groan in protest.

 

            “I love you, Kara,” Lena whispered, stroking her hair as she blinked back tears.

 

            A hand gripped her upper arm with a strong, unbreakable grip, and Lena knew it was futile to resist, and let herself be pulled to her feet, Kara’s clutching hand falling away as her effort was spent. Pulling her close, Sam cradled her against her chest with surprising tenderness, wrapping her arms around Lena and holding her close.

 

            “No,” the feeble shout tore from Kara’s lips as she tried to push herself up, but Lena’s stomach dropped like a stone, the ground disappearing beneath her as the wind snatched at her hair and stole her breath, and her heart leapt in surprise.

 

            Two indistinct blurs raced towards her, but Sam was fast, and Lena was trapped in her steel embrace as the woman quickly whisked her away, the forest of trees a sea of darkness beneath them as they flew high up into the clouds. She didn’t have time to reconsider, and she wouldn’t have even if she did, but a deep sense of wrongness filled her as she let Sam bear her away from Kara. The yawning distance between them grew, until Lena was alone, her silent companion climbing higher and higher, while the cold seeped into her bones. Numb and frozen, she silently shivered, and was embarrassed to admit that not all of it was from the cold, but even with the burning heat radiating from Sam, she still felt the chill. It wasn’t like flying with Kara. Lena didn’t feel safe or protected. Instead, her whole body was humming with the tension of being so close to someone that potentially wanted to rip her apart.

 

            With the knowledge that it wouldn’t be Kara though, and a deep, newfound understanding of the kind of pain Kara had put herself through over the centuries, Lena held on tightly to Sam, setting her jaw and letting her eyelids flutter closed as her eyes grew heavy with exhaustion. They were flying above a web of orange streetlights when she slipped off to sleep, lightly dozing as her aching muscles stiffened, locked in position as she clung to Sam. She was unaware of the quiet lullaby the other woman sang to her, occasionally brushing her hair, her cheek, her back, with a slender hand, her eyes burning with bitter love.

Chapter Text

            She woke again as they were flying over a large network of orange lights, which Lena groggily assumed was a city, the sounds inaudible at the height they were flying, the biting wind roaring in her ears as it whipped her hair around in a frenzy. Her muscles were stiffly locked into place, joints aching as she held on tightly to the only thing saving her from an impossibly high fall. Each lungful of air was painfully sharp as it burned its way down her throat, the cold air making it hard to breathe as she felt like her chest was constricting. If Sam was aware of her awakening, she didn’t acknowledge it, and Lena was content to cling to her in silence, silently fuming as a fresh wave of anger rekindled the slow burning embers inside.

 

            Drifting back off to sleep, her cheek chafing against the collar of Sam’s leather jacket, Lena lightly dozed right up until they landed. She didn’t see the dark forest spread out below them like an endless sea, of feel the air grow frigid as they neared the north-east coast, didn’t so much as stir right up until the moment she was jolted awake by the jarring landing. A spray of dirt fountained from the furrows Sam left in the ground as she skidded to a stop in a clearing, a carpet of leaves rustling as tree branches creaked from the disturbance. The coppery taste of blood filled Lena’s mouth as she accidentally bit her tongue, instantly becoming alert as she grimaced, rolling the taste around her mouth, before she turned her stiff neck to the side as spat.

 

            Breaking the tight grip on her, Sam lowered her to the ground, waiting until Lena got her numb legs beneath her before she let go, exchanging her grip around her waist for one of Lena’s cold hands. Stumbling to keep up as Sam dragged her off into the dark, Lena scowled, breathing in the strong smell of pine cutting through the rotting scent of dead oak and ash leaves as she tried to keep her footing on the slick piles of them. Footsteps muffled, they wound their way through the trees, a few stray drops of water dripping onto their coats and exposed faces, and Lena shivered with a newfound chill burrowing deep into her bones as she trampled through bracken, keeping a tight grip on Sam’s hand, just in case she got lost. She figured that being with someone who could keep her alive was a better option than traipsing through the wilderness with no supplies and no clue where she was. Cursing herself for not staying awake for the journey, although given the speed, height and darkness, she wouldn’t have seen much anyway, she pressed her lips into a thin line and set her shoulders.

 

            Her breath misted before her, barely visible as her eyes adjusted to the dark, the night turning grey as indistinct shapes loomed out of the shadows. The merest hint of the moon led her to assume that it was just after midnight, and she wondered how long they’d been flying. No doubt Sam had taken a roundabout way to shake off anyone tailing them, and Lena’s mind turned to the two blurred figures chasing after them. No one had managed to catch them yet.

 

            A short while later, a yellow light cut through the monochrome night, a warm beam lighting up a patch of damp grass littered with leaves as a circle of trees enclosed the house. It was built of heavy blocks of stone, the open shutters clattering against the walls as the wind buffeted them, and Lena’s knees almost went weak with relief at the thought of escaping the snatching hands of the wind, her stiff legs eagerly crossing the distance separating her from the dark door. It stayed firmly locked, despite the fact that someone was clearly home, but all it took was Sam shouldering it open, the sharp crack of splintering wood rendering the hushed quiet of the forest, and then they were stepping inside.

 

            Blinking at the harsh brightness of the house, light seemingly streaming from half a dozen lights and lambs, Lena’s eyes watered as she hovered inside the doorway, peering past Sam, who had come to a stop just inside the narrow hallway. Lena realised that it wasn’t so much narrow, but filled with so many boxes, leaning stacks of books, and end tables covered with small mountains of junk, that it was like the walls were closing in on them. And standing at the bottom of the rickety wooden staircase was a woman with dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and a glowing green arrow notched in a silver bow. It was aimed right at Sam, but that wasn’t what caught Lena’s attention. It was the face. A familiar face that made her stomach turn and her lip curl with disgust as anger swept through her.

 

            You,” Lena snarled, pushing past Sam and feeling long fingers wrap around her upper-arms with a steel grip, before she could throw herself at the woman.

 

            “Ah, I see you’ve met my sister,” the woman replied, her tone warmer than Astra’s, and the snowy white streak missing from her hair.

 

            Pausing, Lena’s anger faltered for a second as she realised that she’d been mistaken. Or perhaps it was some elaborate plan to fool her. They were identical, if it wasn’t for the hair, but that could have easily been dyed. A wary feeling making her spine prickle with unease, Lena shrank back against Sam, away from the impending danger of the arrow. She didn’t like the nasty green colour of it.

 

            “Off with you both, if you don’t mind,” the woman stiffly told them, gesturing to the door with a movement of the nocked arrow.

 

            Letting out a comfortable laugh, Sam slung an arm around Lena’s shoulder and kicked backwards, sending the door slamming back into its frame. “Come on, Alura, put the bow down. We both know you won’t kill me. I’m too valuable.”

 

            They remained locked in the tense standoff for a few more minutes, before the arrow was hesitantly lowered, but kept nocked as the pointy head was aimed at the stone floor. Blue eyes glimmering with anger, the dark haired woman gave them both a hard look, her eyes widening slightly as her gaze landed on Lena and a shock of familiarity ran through her. Turning her attention back to Sam, she gave her an accusing look. They spoke in an unfamiliar language, one that Lena had heard Kara speak in before, which made her scowl as she came to the conclusion that they were talking about her. Feeling a bit put out, she hugged her arms to herself and stubbornly set her jaw, thawing slightly in the stifling heat of the house. Eventually, after a few minutes of arguing back and forth, they came to some sort of agreement, and the woman, Alura, jerked her chin towards the nearest door on the left.

 

            Dragging her into the cozy sitting room, Sam shed her leather jacket and moved a stack of heavy leather bound books off a sofa and sat down onto the sagging velvet cushions. Arm tingling slightly from where it had been held in a vice-like grip, Lena surreptitiously rubbed some feeling back into it, remaining standing as she looked around the room. It was chaos in there, much like the hallway, with every surface cluttered with everything imaginable. There were old tapestries fraying at the ends, covered in strange symbols wrought in colourful thread, old vellum scrolls tied with crumbling ribbon, yellows maps pinned to the walls, their corners curling up, and old clay vases, finely spun glass work figurines, a bowl of dried flowers. Lena had to fight back her curiosity, resisting the urge to go rifling through the treasures that spanned centuries, as she fixed her icy stare on Sam.

 

            Neither of them spoke as they waited in silence, the tension mounting with each passing second as they looked at each other - one with amusement and the other with anger - until the door shut behind Lena, and Alura brushed past with a tray in hand. Settling it on top of a stack of newspapers from the last decade, she moved a small potted cactus off a stool and sat down, quickly glancing up at Lena, before reaching out for the tarnished silver teapot and pouring a dark stream of liquid into a cup.

 

            “Sit,” she announced to the room, and Lena took the words to be aimed at her, considering the fact that she was the only one standing.

 

            Despite her reservations, and the shining hilt of a dagger sticking out of the woman’s boot, a clear warning sign not to test her, Lena sank down to the floor, carpets piled on top of one another, making it quite comfortable as she folded her legs and gave the woman sidelong glances, trying to figure out if she was being played or not. If it was Astra, she didn’t think she’d be so keen of playing nice again, not when Lena had already seen her true colours. That made this newcomer, her sister, no doubt, even more dangerous. Lena wasn’t sure whose side she was on.

 

            She accepted the cup of tea handed to her, inspecting the floral pattern decorating the fine china as she carefully held the saucer, blowing on the wisps of steam rising from the surface. Not trusting Alura, she didn’t drink it, unsure if it had been poisoned or otherwise tampered with. With wry amusement, Lena reflected on how strange her life had become in just a few short weeks. Never had she had to worry about being poisoned, aliens brawling at a school she was being secretly stowed away at, or uncovering the truth about her past lives. Yet that was all commonplace these days. Now, she was about to embark upon time travel, an even more so crazier prospect than she’d imagined. For the moment, she was glad of the reprieve from whatever Sam’s plans were, and was content to wait it out in the warmth of the cramped room. If she couldn’t drink the tea, its warmth offered her some comfort at least.

 

            Waiting for the tense silence to break, she eyed the two women sitting opposite each other, a hidden coffee table laden with objects separating them. Sam lounged as if she didn’t have a care in the world, and Alura sipped her tea as she gave her a shrewd look over the rim of her teacup. For all Lena’s presence was worth, she felt like a spare part. These women clearly knew each other, much like all the other Kryptonians knew each other, and it was just another puzzle piece added to the collection that she didn’t know how to fit together. So far, Sam’s promise had amounted to nothing. Although, Lena could hardly have expected results while she slept for most of the flight, but now it seemed that the two women would be content to sit in silence until the sun came up.

 

            Body aching with weariness, eyes gritty with sleep and the need for more sleep, Lena hunched her shoulders as she cradled her cup in her lap, letting the gentle patter of the rain that started up wash over her. She almost fancied that the sky was lightening outside when one of them finally spoke, but by that point, she was so tired that her mind was sluggish and her vision was blurring at the edges. Each blink was slower to reopen her eyes, the urge to let them close growing stronger as she fought back a yawn. The Kryptonians didn’t seem to feel the weariness, looking as sharp eyed and alert as Lena had ever seen one of their kind, and she stubbornly refused to sleep, on the off chance that she missed something. Her stubborn streak came to fruition.

 

            “Why’re you here?” Alura finally asked.

 

            “I need your help.”

 

            With a snort of laughter, although the sharp lines of her face and the frosty glint in her eyes bespoke of anything but humour, Alura evenly met her stare. “It’s been many centuries since we last crossed paths. Surely there are others that can help you?”

 

            Shaking her head, Sam gave her a grave look, “not with this. You have special, ah, knowledge that I need. And equipment. You’re still in possession of the Aether device, correct?”

 

            Stiffening, Alura gave her a suspicious look. “And what interest could you possibly have in that?”

 

            “Not me,” Sam corrected her with a soft smile, and Alura’s eyes drifted over to Lena.

 

            “No,” Alura firmly objected, “absolutely not. You think that I haven’t heard the rumours? Even hidden away here? The cycle’s broken. She’s a cat on her last life. I won’t be the one to undo millennia of effort to tip the balance.”

 

            Shifting forward in her seat, Sam braced her elbows on her knees and gave Alura a genial smile, although there was a hardness behind it that betrayed the undercurrent of warning beneath it. “I wasn’t asking .”

 

            “I don’t follow orders,” Alura scoffed, seemingly unbothered by the subtle threat, “not from you.”

 

            “I’m well aware you sided with Rao in the fall, well, as much as any of you did, but this is bigger than the war.”

 

            Giving her a derisive look, Alura let out a sharp laugh, “it’s a petty game, is what it is, Samantha. They’ve already been cursed. You’ve had your fun. Turn the girl over to me, and be off with you. She’s not yours to have.”

 

            “I’m nobody’s,” Lena tersely interrupted, “and I’m free to make my own decisions. I chose to come.”

 

            Pursing her lips, Alura gave her a scrutinising look, making Lena shift uncomfortably beneath the gaze, although she didn’t shrink away from it. She probably looked a mess, all tangled up from the wind, covered in blood and dirt, scraped palms and flushed cheeks. As much as she wanted answers, she would’ve settled for a bath and some clean clothes just as easily.

 

            “You want to go back in time?” Alura bluntly asked her, “to watch yourself die? Watch your lover’s heart get broken a tiny bit more each time? I’ve known her a long time, your Morning Star, back when she truly was radiant like the sun, and she is but a sliver of that person now. Losing you has carved away at her, leaving her hollow and small. Are you ready to witness that firsthand? Are you ready to risk never coming back? Being lost to the ravages of time? Burning to ashes the moment you encounter a truth that wasn’t yours to learn?”

 

            Feeling her throat close up with every word tacked on, Lena drew in a shallow breath, feeling her heart ache slightly at the thought of losing Kara, whether it be to time or distance. But she didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

 

            Shaking her head, Alura gave her a pitying look, “then I’ll do as you ask. On one condition.”

 

            An apprehensive look on her face, Lena slowly nodded. “What is it?”

 

            “Go back to the beginning. I don’t care how many lives you pass through, but just … make sure you go back to where this all started. Don’t trust everything you’re told.” Her eyes darted over to Sam’s for just a moment, so fast that Lena couldn’t even be sure that she had, an intensity in her blue eyes as she gave Lena an urging look. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss those that are trying to protect you. Secrets can sometimes be more merciful than the truth.”

 

            Pausing for a moment, Lena nodded, her voice barely audible as she replied, “I promise. Right to the very beginning.”

 

            Nodding, Alura rose to her feet in a fluid motion, beckoning for Lena to follow. “Come. You’ll need to rest first. It takes a bit out of you, and you look exhausted as it is.” At Sam’s objection, Alura shot her a sharp look, and the spluttering died off. “A good night’s sleep, some food and a hot shower will do you good once you get where you’re going. If not, you’ll be dead on your feet the moment you get there. Even you can surely see the logic in that?”

 

            Swallowing a retort, Sam nodded, rising to her feet and following the procession out of the cramped living room. Up the dark staircase, one hand trailing along the wall as she picked her way over stone ornaments, potted plants and mismatched pairs of shoes, Lena followed the shadowy figure ahead of her, and was led to an overflowing room with a sea of emptiness where a single bed stood. Fumbling in the dark, she listened to the sound of the door click shut behind her and shed her coat, kicked off her boots, and all but tumbled into bed. The mattress was soft and the pillows fluffy, and her muscles unwound as the tension bled out of her.

 

            Despite the hours she spent sleeping on the flight to the house in the woods, Lena found it surprisingly easy to fall asleep, oblivious to the conversation happening in the other part of the house as Sam scathingly argued with Alura. She didn’t wake until mid-morning, sleeping soundly in the old house, the creaks and bangs comforting sounds as the heavy curtains blocked out the sunlight.

 

            She rose to a set of clothes neatly folded at the edge of the bed for her, and Sam sitting on a stool, watching her like a hawk, as if she was afraid that something would happen during the night. Still feeling less than warm towards her captor, Lena gave her a stiff greeting and followed the orders to shower and dress. Finding her way to the bathroom, she did as she was told, relishing the feeling of scrubbing dirt and sweat from her skin, her palms stinging from the hot water, and felt a little more human as she changed into the jeans, shirt and sweater. Folding her coat over her arm, she left the rest of her things in the bathroom, knowing she’d have no use for them where they were going, and made her way downstairs.

 

            A stack of toast was waiting beside a cup of coffee, and despite her reservations the night before, she ravenously laid into the food, and gratefully drained the coffee, feeling the hum of caffeine singing as it spread through her body. Bright eyed and determined, she brushed the crumbs from her lab, shrugged on her coat, and declared herself ready. With a grim look on her face, Alura led her out of the kitchen, with Sam closely following behind, her presence looming, despite her slender frame, and they all crammed into the narrow hallway, watching as the alien opened a cupboard under the stairs and removed a box made of polished maple wood. Opening that, she bathed them all in a blinding purple light, giving their features an eerie look in the dim light.

 

            “Here,” she murmured, removing the device and handing it to Lena.

 

            Cupping her hands, she held the circular disk, surprised by its heavy weight, and looked up at the woman with wide eyes. “How does it work?”

 

            Smiling, Alura reached out to cup her hands in her own, “you hold it tightly, with your hand right on top, like this, and then you think of the year, and think of the place.”

 

            Her eyes were silently urging Lena, who had her hand pressed down on top of the glowing purple device, just like Alura had positioned it for her. With a shock of awareness, Lena clenched her jaw and gave her an almost imperceptible nod. She was telling her to go. To go now. Before Sam laid a hand on it, before she could control what Lena saw. This was her trip, and hers alone, and she quickly scrambled for a time, her mind latching onto the year nineteen forty-three and fixing the image of Kara in her eye. She didn’t know where she wanted to go, she just wanted to go to Kara. The place didn’t matter, only her.

 

            The glow of purple light intensified as realisation simultaneously dawned on Sam’s face, and as she reached for Lena, her eyes wide with shock, her mouth already forming a curse, she was suddenly gone. With a feeling much like vertigo, Lena found herself staggering slightly as her swirling vision steadied, and a blistering heat beat down on the back of her neck.

 

            Blinking at the harsh sunlight, she shielded her eyes from brightness and dropped the device to the ground. It was sand. Tiny grains of orange sand, as far as she could see, dusty shrubs and hardy cacti growing up from the hard desert earth. And then there, to her back, a cracked highway splitting the desert, and the flashing lights of cop cars surrounding a ramshackle building set off to the side of the road. Feeling weak with shock, surprise and nausea, Lena sank to her knees on the hot sand, grabbing handfuls of it as she braced herself and retched, vomiting up her breakfast as a cold sweat broke out on her forehead.

 

            Alone and in a time that definitely wasn’t the one she’d just left - she wasn’t sure how, but she knew it wasn’t - she wiped the back of her hand over her mouth. She hadn’t simply teleported, it  felt different there. The desert was too barren, too deserted, not yet turned into a strip of casinos, diners and dive bars, and she squinted towards the cop cars as she knelt in the sand. Somehow, she knew Kara was there. Whatever trouble there was to find in that time, she’d find it there, and Lena shakily climbed to her feet, drawn towards the flashing lights on top of the cars as she moved towards it in a daze. Moved towards Kara.

Chapter Text

            Shouts grew louder as she approached the ramshackle house, the flashing lights of the cars setting Lena on edge, and she took in the assembled cops and sheriffs, guns pointed towards the windows of the building as they ordered them to come out. A faded blue car was parked outside, and Lena hid behind a tall cactus, peering out from behind it as she listened to one of the sheriff’s shout. It was a long time coming, but the door eventually opened, and Kara stepped out with her hands up, much to Lena’s surprise. She wore a pale blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up, stained and worn, with a pair of navy plaid pants, the legs wide in the fashion of the forties. Her blonde hair was above her shoulders, limply trying to cling to the pin curls that had been brushed out, and she looked defeated, her shoulders sagging as she stepped out into the blistering heat.

 

            Immediately, cops rushed her and locked cuffs around her wrists, and she didn’t fight them, even though Lena knew she could snap the chain connecting the cuffs with no more effort than simply parting her hands. She watched with concern and interest as they prodded her towards one of the cars, but Kara was looking over her shoulder, watching as a small child was brought out of the house. Scruffy looking, but healthy, the young dark haired boy let a sheriff wrap a blanket around his shoulders, while Lena’s attention slid to the woman being led out. ]

 

            She felt the air race out of her lungs as her breath was stolen at the sight of herself. A dirty red and white striped shirt, grey slacks, long hair in tousled waves. She looked proud, stubborn even, as she was brought outside and cuffed alongside Kara. There was a hard look about her, and she didn’t so much as blink at the cops. It was almost expected. Lena - the current one - couldn’t help but wonder what she’d done, both her and Kara, to have warranted being arrested. They had a child together, and as scruffy and unkempt as they looked, they looked well . Lena felt confusion well up inside as she watched the scene unfold. Her heart ached slightly as she watched her former self bend down and kiss the little boy on the cheek, wondering where he had come from, and how she’d come to love him.

 

            He was whisked away after that, one of the cars pulling away from the house and speeding off, stirring up dust as it peeled away from the row of cars and sped off down the highway. They were still trying to get Kara into the car, but she was resisting now, and Lena could see herself fighting to get to her as well. It made her uneasy to watch, the love and desperation clearly etched on both of their faces, and she felt guilt well up at her accusations against Kara, that she’d never really loved her. It was plain to see. It suddenly struck her that it would’ve been illegal then, and she blanched slightly as she wondered whether they were the hardened criminals they looked like, or merely just in love.

 

            The wind caught a few pieces of paper littered around the cars, and one of them blew in her direction, a flurry of sand chasing after it as the wind picked them up, and Lena darted forward, hoping that she would remain unseen, snatching the papers up from the ground. They were black and white, and she stared down at her face on one of them, taking in the wanted sign and the reward price. It was a decent sum for the times. And then there was Kara’s, a soft smile on her face and an even bigger reward sum beneath. They were wanted for being a getaway driver and armed robbery, respectively, and Lena was taken aback. Surely her Kara would never have robbed someone at gunpoint.

 

            At a shout, she looked back up, watching as Kara finally used her strength to tear herself free from the officers, slipping on the sand as she rushed towards Lena. Both of them had their hands cuffed behind their backs, and she watched as Kara painfully broke her own arms, dislocated her shoulders, and righted them. Wincing, Lena covered her mouth with her hand, shrugging her shoulders slightly with discomfort. It should’ve hurt a lot, yet Kara didn’t so much as blink as she grabbed the old Lena’s face in her hands, standing nearly nose to nose, foreheads resting together, and paused for a moment. The feeling on anticipation grew, and Lena watched on with fascinated horror. She knew what came next.

 

            With the merest brush of her lips, Kara cradled Lena’s face as she caught on fire, engulfed by flames, and Lena flinched backwards from where she watched, her face ashen as the weight of the moment settled in. Within moments, she was left looking at a pile of ashes, blowing softly in the breeze as it mingled with the sand, and she felt her knees go weak as she collapsed to the hot sand. Eyes wide, a ghastly look on her face, Lena watched as Kara likewise sank to the ground, her whole body visibly shaking, even from this distance. Sheriffs shouted in confusion, looking around with bewildered looks on their faces as they wondered where Lena had gone. Even facing the truth, they couldn’t accept it.

 

            Pressing a hand to her mouth, Lena stifled a quiet moan as she watched Kara kneel in her dirty clothes, her whole body bent with grief, and tears pricked at her own eyes. She’d been so wrong. So terribly, terribly wrong, and Lena felt her heart break for the woman who clearly loved her with her whole heart.

 

            “Oh, Kara,” she sighed, her breath shuddering as she wiped at her wet cheeks, and she froze as she watched the blonde head snap up.

 

            Blue eyes locked onto her, and Lena realised that Kara had heard her. Scrambling behind the cactus she’d been using for shelter, she cursed as she fished the device out of her pocket, fingers fumbling as she held it tightly, out of sight of the blonde woman slowly climbing to her feet, a look of complete and utter confusion, and the smallest flicker of hope, and closed her eyes. She couldn’t stay - not now. She was supposed to be dead. But she didn’t know where to go to; only that she had to go back further, away from this time, to her Kara somewhere else. The last thing she heard was a broken cry that made her heart seize.

 

            “Lena?”

 

            And then she slammed down into a snow drift, the sweltering heat immediately replaced by a bone deep coldness that spread throughout her body, making her exposed fingers burn with the numbing cold as she scrambled to her feet. Her breath was visible before her as she frantically looked around, taking in the skeletal trees, the blanket of whiteness covering everything, and shivered as the wind bit at her reddening cheeks. She had no clue where she was, when she was, and not for the first time, Lena wondered if she’d made the right decision.

 

            Knowing that if she stayed there, she was as good as dead, but not wanting to skip out on this time, she set off through the woods. It was quiet, except for the creaking of the trees, the howling wind, and the rustling of tiny creatures burrowing down for the winter, and Lena hugged her arms around herself as she struggled through the snow drifts. Wherever it was, she made the safe assumption that it was far north, and just hoped that she was heading towards civilisation. She’d never been one for camping even during her own time, when gas stoves and thermal sleeping bags were a thing, and she didn’t fancy trying to start a fire with damp twigs and her own sheer will. Come morning, she’d be a block of ice for the wolves to come and pick at. The thought of wolves made her spine prickle, and she redoubled her efforts, the sky still light above, but for how long, she was unsure.

 

            On and on she walked, until her lungs were burning from the freezing air, her muscles were stiff and aching, and she had a stitch in her side. Starting to think that perhaps she would be spending the night outside, or admitting defeat and moving on, she came to a stop, letting out a heavy sigh, her breath pluming before her, and tipping her head back as soft flakes of snow started to spiral down around her.

 

            “Miss Carruthers,” a mildly surprised voice greeted her, and she whirled around to see a man lingering amongst the trees. He was covered in furs and thick clothing, a bag slung over his shoulder, and a quiver of arrows visible over the other. All she could see of him was his dark eyes and skin, and she paused for a moment, relief washing over her at the sight of another person. One who must’ve known her in this lifetime, if she was recognisable as a Miss Carruthers. “Are you alright?”

 

            “I was- I … got lost,” Lena lamely replied.

 

            Giving her a wary look, he slowly nodded, his eyes travelling over her jeans and sweater, “night’s about to settle in. I’ll guide you back to town.”

 

            “Thank you.”

 

            Quickly following after the hulking figure, she shivered as the cuffs of her pants grew sodden, her teeth quietly chattering, and her nose frozen. Abruptly stopping, the man turned on her, and Lena shrank away from him, the sudden thought that he could be a thief or murderer striking her, but he just removed the bag, curved bow and quiver, and slipped off the thick fur coat he was wearing, eyeing her up and down again as he held it out.

 

            “You’ll freeze, dressed like that,” he rumbled, “I’m not sure where you got those clothes, but they’re not suitable for a lady. Your husband will have your hide if he sees you out so undressed.”

 

            Taking the coat, which was surprisingly heavier than she’d expected, she slipped it on, snuggling up in the thick warmth of it, even if it did smell a little unpleasant, and gratitude welled up inside her, even as she tried to process the information. By the sounds and looks of things, she’d gone back further, where bows were common enough to be carried around and women were expected to be modest. That wasn’t very specific, but it was something at least, and Lena would take as much information as she could.

 

            “Then it would be best not to let him find out,” she brusquely replied, unsure of what kind of woman she was supposed to be. Was she meek and quiet in this life? Or a stubborn, proud woman who pushed at what was expected of her. Lena couldn’t imagine herself being walked all over in any lifetime, and went with the latter.

 

            Nodding, the man turned and carried on walking, and she struggled through the shin-deep snow drifts, following the path he carved through it, and was tired beyond belief by the time she caught the scent of a smoky fire, soon followed by the sounds of a town, and the sights of buildings through the gnarled tree trunks.

 

            As if sensing that there was something off with her, or perhaps just seeing her to the door so she could get inside with her modesty preserved and give him back his coat, the man walked her all the way up to a house, clearly a rich one in this time, and she awkwardly thanked him as she shed the heavy furs and turned them back over to him. Silently nodding, the man courteously dipped to her, before leaving her on the doorstep around the back of the house.

 

            Hesitantly pushing her way into the house, she found herself in the kitchens, dimly lit by oil lanterns, the flagstone floor swept clean, the wooden benches holding the beginnings of supper being prepared, and she quietly moved through the still house. Coming to a wooden door, she stepped into a lavish hallway, gilt mirrors, polished silver candlesticks on the cabinets, Persian rugs on the checkered tiled floors, and oil paintings hanging on the walls, and she paused for a moment. The thought suddenly struck her that it was entirely possible that her other self was home, and Lena paused for a moment, before ducking back into the kitchen.

 

            It was warm enough in there, and she sat by the burning coals in the oven to warm herself up, pinching slivers of cheese and a heel of a fresh loaf of bread, her damp hair curling around her as she stayed ducked down out of sight of the doors. It wouldn’t be much of a hiding place if someone was going to come in with the intention of staying in the kitchens, but if they were passing through, at least she had the chance to stay unnoticed, and could avoid any prying questions. Still, as soon as she could bring herself to leave the warmth of the oven, she darted over to the selection of coats hanging on pegs beside the door, wrapping herself in a patched fur trimmed one, and found a pair of leather boots that looked to be about her size. It would at least help her blend in somewhat, even if she apparently had a recognisable face.

 

            As night started to fall though, and the risk of being caught grew, Lena slipped back outside, braving the flurry of snow in order to find Kara. That was her only hope of finding the answers she’d come here for, and just the sight of her would put her at ease. Kara wouldn’t let anything happen to her, as long as she could prevent it. The biggest risk to Lena’s safety was a kiss from her lover herself, and she knew how wary Kara was about that. If she was still alive here, and didn’t need to be put out of her misery, Kara wouldn’t come within a foot of kissing her, even if she wanted to.

 

            Creeping through the muddy snow covered streets, Lena took in the fronts of the houses and stores, carts left outside, crates stacked in the alleyways between, a few drunks already in the gutter after a long day of drinking, and she kept her head down as she walked past them. It was a cold night, the wind finding its way beneath the thick coat, but she was determined, walking the streets with the confidence that Kara would find her. Surely she’d already found her in this life. She would’ve been somewhere in the town, and she’d hear Lena’s heartbeat. She would come.

 

            And then she was there, as Lena came to the edge of the town, a shadowy figure blending in with the dark trunk of the oak tree she leant against. She gave Lena a fright as she peeled away from it, the darkness of night hiding her features, but she nearly collapsed in relief as she stepped out from beneath the canopy of the tree and pale moonlight bathed her in dim light. A small cry escaped her, and Lena rushed across the distance, throwing herself at Kara and clutching tightly to her.

 

            “Elizabeth,” Kara quietly murmured, her warm breath fanning across Lena’s cheek, and she took it as her own name for this life, uncaring of what Kara called her, just as long as she held her, “is something the matter?”

 

            Pulling back, Lena rested their foreheads together, her cold fingers grazing Kara’s burning cheek and she sagged in her embrace, Kara’s strong arms keeping her steady. “No. No, everything’s exactly as it should be,” she breathlessly whispered.

 

            Gently pushing her back, Kara frowned down at her, a wary look in her eyes as her forehead creased slightly, “you’re not yourself. Your voice- you shouldn’t be so familiar with me, either. You know it’s not proper.”

 

            “I don’t care about what’s proper,” Lena quietly insisted, cupping her face in her hands, “I care about you . I love you, Kara.”

 

            Expression softening slightly, Kara smiled at her, but it was a sad smile, as if she knew how this would end. Lena knew it too, in some small part of her mind, but they were both there in that moment, and the other version of her - Elizabeth - was safe, probably shut inside with her husband, so what harm could it do? Leaning in, she quickly found herself reaching for thin air, a terrified looking Kara standing a few feet away, face hard and eyes wide. Lena let out a quiet laugh, a tender look on her face as she reached out for her.

 

            “Kara, it’s me. It’s Lena.”

 

            Blanching, the other woman stumbled back a few steps, a look of distrust darkening her features as she took it to be some sort of game. “No.”

 

            “Yes,” Lena softly replied, “I know the truth. You don’t have to hide from me. I know you.”

 

            “You’re a ghost.”

 

            “Has anything been more real than this? Listen. My heart is strong, and it’s full of love. I’m not going anywhere. I just- I want to talk. I want answers. The truth. Please, Kara.”

 

            Drawn towards her with a look of awe in her eyes, Kara reached out to touch her, jumping slightly in surprise when Lena didn’t vanish into thin air. “Where did you come from?” she breathlessly asked.

 

            “I’ve always been with you,” Lena told her, giving her a small smile, “and I know that I’ve always loved you. And you’ve always loved me.”

 

            “More than you could possibly know,” Kara choked out, tenderly stroking Lena’s cheek.

 

            Raising a hand to cover it with her own, Lena leant into the warm touch, her eyelids fluttering closed, a small smile gracing her face, and she let out a wispy sigh. “I want you to tell me about it. All of it. Please. From the very beginning of it all.”

 

            “I can’t.”

 

            Eyelids snapping open, Lena gave her a frustrated look, lips turning down at the corners as she frowned, “you can, you just won’t . I’m not going to disappear, Kara. Not this time.”

 

            “But you always do. You always leave, and sometimes- sometimes I don’t get to say goodbye. You just- you’re gone,” Kara choked out, her eyes shining with tears, “and I know that this isn’t really real. It’s my mind- it’s all becoming too much. I’ve lost you too many times and I- I don’t know how much longer I can bear it.” She closed her eyes, slowly shaking her head. “Go. You should go. You’re not here anyway.”

 

            “Kara-”

 

            “Go!”

 

            Flinching at the harshness of the word, Kara’s grief stricken face flushed with anger, she slowly reached into her pocket and drew out the device, knowing that there was nothing else here she could do. She couldn’t reach this Kara. She needed to go further back, to when she hadn’t lost her so many times, and still retained a sliver of hope. Her heart would be more whole then, and she might listen to reason, believe that there was a chance this time. If Lena found out the truth, she was sure that she could break the curse this time. They could be free, free and in love. It was everything that they could ever want with each other. But she wouldn’t find it there.

 

            “I love you, Kara,” she whispered, looking at the broken woman standing in the snow, before she turned her mind elsewhere and was gone a moment later.

 

            She didn’t stay to find out what had happened, and would never know that Elizabeth had angered the wrong man and gotten her head smashed in, left bleeding on the floor. She didn’t stay to watch as Kara sobbed over her, a pitiful moan falling from Elizabeth’s lips, before they were cut off by a merciful kiss that ended her suffering. Her eyes never knew the sight of a blood soaked Kara, her hands painted red as she brokenly sobbed, having torn the man to pieces with her bare hands. Revenge never made her feel better, but it was revenge nonetheless. Lena was gone before she could watch Kara tenderly stroke her grey, dead face and take a ring from her hand, a trinket to remember her by, before she left her behind, taking the memories with her.

 

            Instead, Lena found herself sweating in a desert, not too different from the one she’d been in hours ago. It was late at night, a small town nestled in amongst the yellow sands, canyons standing as dark shadows against the deep indigo sky, and Lena was left speechless by the sheer amount of stars. She’d never seen such a sight.

 

            There were yellow pricks of light in the windows of a few buildings, and Lena trudged down the hard packed road leading straight through the town. There were not more than two dozen buildings all crammed in together, looking like something out of a film about the Wild West, and the sound of a fiddle and a piano was pouring out of what she assumed was the local bar. Loud chatter washed over her as she neared the building, her footsteps inaudible over the sound spilling out as she climbed the steps, and she paused outside, looking in through the warped glass of the window. Kara was sitting at the piano, her fingers flying across the keys as she loudly sang along with the rest of the crowd, laughing and smiling all the while. And there, behind the bar, was Lena. She was smiling too, looking happy in a long skirt and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up, her skin tanned and a healthy glow in her cheeks. She was served drinks, and Lena watched as she took the hand of a young woman, giving her a coy smile as she ran a finger along the lines of her palms. Quietly laughing to herself as she stood outside in the warm summer evening, Lena realised that she told fortunes in this life, as well as being a barmaid.

 

            She turned towards the door, one hand pressed against the sanded wood, and was about to push it open when she paused. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she dropped her hand and took a step back, a look of regret flashing across her face. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t ruin the happiness that she saw between the two of them, not even if it meant that she’d get the answers she wanted. Blinking back tears, she stepped up to the window once more and looked in, taking in the blissful scene before her, and her lips quirked up into a small smile. Heartbreak would be soon to follow for Kara, and Lena couldn’t bring herself to hurry it along by confusing her. It was better this way. Bathed in purple light, she was gone again, nearly as quickly as she’d come.

 

            On and on she went, back through time, finding snippets of her and Kara, trying to talk to her sometimes, and more than once having to pretend to be the Lena that everyone thought she was. The device took her all over the world, to different times long since passed, to different seasons and different climates. She went from suffocatingly hot fields in South Africa, where she taught children and was married to a farmer, to the wintry northern reaches in Europe, where she got engaged to a prince. Kara was there in all of them, and Lena felt her heart break each time she saw her, or saw herself die. It was a harrowing experience, leaving her drained and empty the more she witnessed, and she was consumed by guilt the more she saw. Kara had survived centuries of this, and Lena hadn’t even seen the tip of the iceberg compared to her. It was a miracle that she had endured the heartbreak for so long, in Lena’s eyes. She wasn’t sure how much more she could take. Every time, she was tempted to go back, to tell Kara that the truth didn’t matter, that she’d love her anyway, and they could live this one life happy together. But she knew it wasn’t true. She didn’t know why, but she knew, deep down in her bones, that she had to keep going.

 

            So she did, searching for some signs, for answers that would help guide her, piecing little snippets of the story together with the scraps that she was given. Throughout the years, she found people she knew too. All of the Kryptonians that had become familiar faces to her were there, going about their lives as ordinary humans, as far as everyone was aware, and they were always politely indifferent to Lena, but she could see the flickers of recognition, and sometimes warmth, in their eyes whenever she found them. Sometimes it was surprise, as she was dressed in the garb of a different place, sticking out like a sore thumb, but when she stole clothes, walking about as if she belonged, they would make polite conversation, and she’d try her best to ask about Kara without revealing too much of herself.

 

            All of it was useless, until she found herself in France in the early thirteenth century. Travel stained and on the verge of collapsing, wearing the thick tartan of her Scottish clan that she’d just left behind, she sank into the reeds on the riverbank, sweat beading on her forehead as she trembled. Blood covered her hands, and she was sick into the slow running water, bile coating her tongue as her shoulders shook with the effort of the retching, and she frantically started to wash her shaky hands in the cold water.

 

            Quietly sobbing, she stared down at the hollow-eyed reflection in the water, recalling the feeling of plunging the knife into the soft stomach of the hulking man that had attacked her. Hot blood had spurted from it, filling the fresh air of the Scottish highlands with the coppery smell of blood, and Kara had been there a moment later, confused by the sight of her and the other version of herself, knocked unconscious amongst the purple heather. Lena had been trailing herself at a safe distance when she’d watched herself be set upon by the outlawed clansman, and she’d hurried to help, pulling free the small knife concealed within her tartan skirts. It was the first time she’d killed, and at the sight of Kara’s pale, stricken face, she’d left.

 

            And there she was, in the soft mud of the riverbank, a large fortress rising from the cliff on the opposite side of the water, alone and frightened. A flicker of movement caught her attention a little ways downstream, and she watched as a young woman collected herbs at the side of the river. Staying hunched down amongst the reeds, Lena spied on her for a time, taking in the tanned skin and chocolate hair, the kindly face, and hoping that she went unnoticed. But then a hand clamped down on her shoulder, a hand clapping over her mouth, muffling the scream trying to tear its way up her throat, and she was roughly pulled around to stare up into a familiar face.

 

            “Lex!” she hoarsely exclaimed, all but collapsing into the man’s arms, before she had time to pause and consider whether it was the man she’d known as a brother, and if so, if he was still the brother who didn’t want to hurt her. For years now, he’d languished away in prison, and she’d visited him a handful of times, but was unsure of what to make of it. He was Kryptonian too, and he could’ve escaped at any moment, which meant that he’d willingly stayed there. But despite the man he was, he was familiar and real, and he cradled her against his chest, pulling her free from the reeds and quickly into the damp confines of the dim forest on this side of the river.

 

            “Lena,” he said in a low voice, laced with relief and affection, before he pushed her back, ducking slightly to peer down at her, “are you alright?”

 

            Bursting into tears, she shook her head and buried her face into his chest, taking note of the fine silk shirt. It was Italian made, she’d wager, and definitely not the kind of fine quality to be found in this time. It was her Lex, and she sagged against him as her knees went out from beneath her. Gently lowering her to the ground, her tenderly stroked her hair while she shook, calming down quickly as she pulled herself together again.

 

            “How’re you here?” she croaked.

 

            With a quick laugh, he smiled down at her, his green eyes flashing with a sharp keenness, and he gave her ruffled her hair in a brotherly fashion. “You’ve got the majority of all the Kryptonians on Earth looking for you! We’ve been time jumping for weeks , but I finally found you! You’re safe now. I’ll get you home safe.”

 

            Pulling away from him, Lena shook her head, scrambling backwards and up to her feet. She knew she looked a mess, her tartan skirts torn, wet and muddy, her hands still somewhat caked with blood, her hair tangled and a few cuts and bruises, but she was still as stubborn as ever as she jutted her chin forward and crossed her arms over her chest, looking like a petulant child. “No, I have to keep going.”

 

            Pausing for a moment, with a dark look that made Lena wonder for a moment if he would just take her by force, Lex’s shoulders dropped in defeat and he gave her a wry look as he shook his head. “Alright, but I’m coming with you. You’re going to need a guide.”

Chapter Text

            Despite Lex’s insistence that he accompany her, they didn’t leave immediately. They were on the outskirts of a stronghold called Carcassonne, the warm spring air inviting as they hid out in the woods just beyond the river, and Lena was left alone with a tiny fire to take the edge off the chill from her shock, a cluster of blackberries nestled in the palm of her hand, which she nibbled at as she waited for her brother to return. He wasn’t gone long, and she suspected that he’d used his powers, returning with his arms full of items, which he dumped unceremoniously on the leaf strewn floor.

 

            “Disguises,” he proudly proclaimed, picking up an item of thick, plain cotton and shaking it out to reveal a roughspun dress. It was faded red and looked to be a size too big, but it would fit nonetheless, and it would help her blend in more than the thick Scottish tartan that she currently wore.

 

            He had cloaks for them too, and a tunic and leggings for himself, and they both moved away from their small, smoky fire to change in relative privacy. Ducking behind a wide tree trunk, Lena shed her clothes and changed into the clean dress, feeling somewhat refreshed without the bloodstained skirts, even if her nails were still stained by it. Wrapping the cloak tightly around herself, she made her way back to the fire, finding Lex already lounging in his new clothes, looking remarkably at ease and comfortable, his feet bare as he poked a stick at the blaze, which had grown in size. Spotting a leather shoe amongst the flames, Lena realised that he was burning his clothes. Evidence, she realised.

 

            Carrying hers over, she dumped it on top, sending up a shower of sparks and making the fire release billowing clouds of smoke. Coughing, she retreated a safe distances away and watched as Lex used his heat vision to engulf the smoking fabric in hot flames. Watching as the fabric was slowly eaten up by the fire, Lena watched the flickering flames, fascinated by the orange, reds and yellows, the smell of the burning wood oddly comforting, and let her mind wander. She didn’t know where they should go next, and a part of her was debating whether or not they should stay here and see her life in this time play out.

 

            Still pondering her choices, she jumped as something heavy landed in her lap, blinking owlishly as she stared down at the leather bag on her skirts. It took her a moment to realise that it was a skin, and she wondered if it was water or wine, secretly hoping for wine. Unstoppering it, she was rewarded with the smooth taste of a fruity red, and drank deeply from it, before throwing it back to her brother, who deftly plucked it out of the air. She met his gaze, taking in the familiar eyes, that looked so much like hers, even though she knew they couldn’t possibly have been related. They were full of worry and questions, and she gave him the barest hint of a smile.

 

            “Here,” Lex gently told her, handing a cloth bundle over the fire, “you should eat. All this travelling is taking its toll on you. You need to keep up your strength if we’re to keep going.”

 

            Slowly unwrapping the cloth, she looked down at the chunk of cheese, the heel of bread and a few strips of dried meat. Picking up the meat, she bit a piece off, finding it tough as she chewed, and Lex gave her a soft smile as he nodded. Eating in silence, she offered some up to her brother, who declined, and ended up devouring it all herself, washing it down with wine, before she curled up beside the warmth of the fire, heedless of the bright sunlight filtering down through the green canopy above, and fell asleep with her cloak wrapped tightly around her.

 

            It was dark when she woke, but there was a greyness to it, and she wondered whether the sun had just set, or was soon to rise. The warmth of the day was gone, and her breath plumed before her as she sat up, her muscles stiff and aching, the glowing embers of the dying fire illuminating the darkness in a soft orange light. Her brother was sitting exactly as he had been when she’d gone to sleep, his dark eyes watchful as he scanned the woods, turning to give her a shadowy smile as she rubbed at her tired eyes. He didn’t look like he’d slept at all, or needed to, and she picked up the wineskin and took a quick swig, before clearing her throat.

 

            “What time is it?”

 

            “An hour before dawn, I should think,” he said with such certainty that it surprised her.

 

            It suddenly struck her that he was another person that she didn’t really know. She hadn’t bumped into him in any of her trips through history, and she eyed him with a wariness, thinking of the man she knew, who had spent many years of her life behind bars, and wondered who he really was. He was a man who felt at ease walking barefoot across the land, stealing from peasants and using the moon and sun to tell time. He had lived through hundreds of years, and she realised that she didn’t even know who he was.

 

            “Lex?”

 

            “Mm?”

 

            “Why were you really in prison? You could’ve escaped anytime you wanted to.”

 

            He let out a quick laugh, flashing her a smile as he shrugged, letting out a sigh. “I could’ve, but it was better for me to stay out of the picture. When I heard that you were taken, I knew it was time to get out.”

 

            “Why? What did you do that you needed to hide from?”

 

            Pressing his lips together in a thin line, he paused, before giving her an almost sheepish look, “I have … I discovered a way to injure my kind, to kill us, put us through so much pain that death was almost preferable. I’m not exactly … well liked. Least of all by Kara, so it would seem. We’ve crossed paths before.”

 

            “And what about me? Have we met before?”

 

            His expression softened, before hardening, and he gave her a curt nod. “A few times. Sometimes only in passing, although there were times when you were something of a sister to me then too. The first time … I thought that it was you . You were still a child, and you joined me on my ship. That was the life I think I loved you most in. But I’ve protected you wherever I could, using the secret I’d discovered to hurt people who wanted to hurt you. You’d think that Kara would’ve seen that as a good thing, but what I found hurt people she cared about too. We were never close on Krypton to start with. I don’t think there’s anything that would make her trust me now.”

 

            “What was my name? In that first life we met?”

 

            Smiling slightly, a fondness softened his features, and a distant look crossed his face as the sky steadily lightened. For a moment, she didn’t think he was going to answer her, the silence stretching on. And then he spoke so softly that she almost didn’t catch it. “Ailis.”

 

            “And how did I die?”

 

            “The plague,” he said, wincing slightly, before elaborating, “well … in part. I had- you see, we … crossed paths with Kara. She, ah, stayed with us a while, and when you got sick, she- she was the one to … end it for you. I wasn’t there to see it, and I didn’t know that you were gone until after. You were a funny one in that life. Sharp and witty.” He let out a quiet laugh, a smile curling his lips as the glowing embers bathed his face orange, highlighting the fondness touching his features.

 

            Not knowing how to reply, what to say about the woman she had never been in her own mind, or how to comfort her brother over the death of herself that existed centuries ago, Lena let them lapse into silence. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but Lena found herself suddenly aware of the fact that she didn’t really know what to say. He’d been missing for a large part of her life, and she’d never stayed in touch, or visited, but there was still the fact that to her, he was her brother. Perhaps not in the way she’d always thought he was, but he’d been a brother to her when she was younger, and she loved him for that. And now, he was there with her, when she was all alone and starting to unravel at the edges. He was her brother when it counted most.

 

            They stayed around their smouldering fire until the sky was light enough for Lena to see by, and then Lex stamped out the embers with his bare feet, making Lena wince, even though he couldn’t feel it. Her brother set off through the trees after that, making barely any sound as he lightly stepped over leaves and branches, leaving Lena trampling after him, her cloak snagging on the brambles of bushes, her feet snapping twigs beneath her leather boots, leaves rustling and crunching with every step. Secrecy was definitely not their strong suit, but Lex could hear for miles around, and was relaxed as he ambled along, his long stride setting a quick pace for Lena.

 

            He started whistling as they walked, and Lena found herself surprisingly at ease, traversing the countryside with the company of another person for the first time in what could’ve been months. Lena wasn’t exactly quite sure how long she’d been gone, jumping decades at a time, spending days, sometimes a week, in the current lifetime, sneaking about and uncovering secrets. She’d amassed a wealth of knowledge about herself in her travels, from the smallest facts, to the most obvious truths to anyone that knew her. She watched herself from the shadows, seeing a laughing young woman, a solemn and serious girl, one who loved painting, another sewing, and another still, fencing. From one end of the earth to the other, she’d tracked herself down, and Kara was always quick to appear, making Lena’s heart leap at the sight, and stomach lurch at the thought of what happened next.

 

            But for the moment, she hadn’t caught sight of herself or Kara, and was happy to walk in the growing warmth as a clear spring day bloomed into its full glory, her brother whistling a happy tune as they followed the curved bank of the river and tramped across fields of swaying grass. Carcassonne lay to their left the entire time, a dusty path leading up to its stone walls, and she watched as a thin stream of people came and went, a constant flow in and out of the walls of the fortress. They didn’t go towards it, and Lena wondered where they were going. Surely Lex had somewhere in mind.

 

            “Who was I in this life?” she eventually asked, as they moved further away from the city, heading towards a small cluster of rocks on the horizon.

 

            Lex was silent for a while, and Lena almost thought that he hadn’t heard her, although of course he had. He would’ve heard her from a mile away. Suddenly stopping, he turned to look down at her, a hesitant look in his eyes, looking like a stranger to his sister in the strange peasant garb. Turning away from her, he looked out across the stretch of green, squinting slightly against the sunlight, and grimacing slightly.

 

            “Your name was Oriane. You were the daughter of the steward of Carcassonne. Well … the bastard daughter, although you didn’t know it. You had a sister, Alais. She was his favourite. You were always … angry. You bedded her husband, you didn’t like her very much, and then … you killed her.”

 

            Blanching slightly, Lena felt nauseous as she looked up at her brother with wide eyes, her bottom lip trembling as she tried to find something to say. Reaching out, Lex rested his hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze as he gave her an understanding look.

 

            “Things were different then. Now.”

 

            “What happened to me?”

 

            Gesturing towards the pile of rocks at the top of one of the rolling hills, scrub and plants growing around it as a dusty path cut through the lush greenness, his face darkened slightly. “You stabbed her, in a cave over in those rocks. And when you went to leave her to die, her husband - your lover - stabbed you. You exited the caves, and you collapsed outside, laid down to die. Kara found you there. She tried to save you - she always does - but you died in the end. You always do.”

 

            “Oh,” Lena mumbled, feeling oddly faint and hollow as she pictured it, almost able to see it playing out in front of her, over near the rocks, and she felt a lump rise in her throat. “Where are we going?”

 

            “To the cave.”

 

            Lena started slightly, turning away from the rocks to look up at him with surprise etched on her face. “Why?”

 

            “To wait. You want to see it, don’t you? Then this is where you’ll come. You’ll see.”

 

            So they lingered around the cave, the dirt floor making an uncomfortable bed, which Lena was growing used to, a smoky fire often filling the enclosed space, making her eyes itchy and her throat raw from coughing. Lex made frequent trips into the stronghold to steal food for them, keeping them both well fed on bread, cheese and fruit, and meat as often as he could steal of hunt it. A few weeks passed by, and Lena found herself becoming restless. Her brother brought her news of armies massing, hunts for the Cathars and heretics increasing, and even if he didn’t, Lena would’ve seen the signs for herself in the moments she was allowed outside. The fresh air did her some good, but still, she found herself growing impatient. Kara should’ve been there by now. And perhaps she was, already falling in love with this Oriane, but Lena wanted to see her.

 

            She almost regretted that wish by the end, when Lex’s words came to fruition, and she watched as the dark haired woman so identical in looks to Lena came stumbling out of the cave, her face ashen and her hands bloody from a wound to her stomach. And then Kara came, and Lena watched from her position crouched behind a boulder, her eyes burning with the urge to cry as she watched Kara cradle her dying body. Lena couldn’t help but feel like she didn’t deserve it in this life, more than in any other. If Lex’s words were true, she wasn’t a good person, yet Kara had loved her anyway. It hurt.

 

            Crouched behind the boulder, Lena numbly sat there for hours, long after Oriane had died and Kara had exhausted herself from crying amongst her ashes, the cinders gently blowing in the wind. Lex had stayed with her, sitting shoulder to shoulder, his arm around her while she shook like a leaf, her body growing stiff with the cold as the hours dragged by. She never grieved for herself, but for Kara, the wounds cutting deeper each time she watched her pour her heart out to her dying lover, her body wracked with sobs as she cried and screamed.

 

            The sun was rising again by the time she finally roused herself, eating the food and drinking the wine that Lex offered her. He was silent, as if he could sense the grief that weighed down her heart, and Lena didn’t even know what to say anyway. As the sky lightened from indigo to lavender, streaks of pink and dusky blue wisps of clouds slowly meandering across the sky, she climbed to her feet at the sight of a dark speck hurtling through the sky. It was too fast to be a bird, and she was drawn to it, some small part of her hoping that it was Kara.

 

            With a clumsy landing, sending the figure rolling across the grass, until they came to a stop, they climbed to their feet and dusted off sand and grass, a bright smile on their face as they came face to face with Lena. There, standing a few dozen feet away, was a teenaged girl that Lena had thought she’d seen the last off, but found herself pleasantly surprised to see, if not a little confused as to how .

 

            “Ruby?” Lena exclaimed, her eyebrows rising in surprise at the sight of the young girl. The last she’d seen of her had been when she’d been fencing Maggie back at Cadmus and had accidentally flown. Now here she was, in medieval France, wearing jeans and a pair of sneakers, her blue hair almost hilariously out of place. “What are you doing here?”

 

            “She followed me.”

 

            Whirling around, Lena’s knees buckled as the air raced out of her lungs, her whole body going slack with relief at the sight of Kara. She stood resplendent in the sunlight, her blonde hair golden, her skin tanned and her shoulders squared as she faced Lena. There was a softness to her face though, her blue eyes shining with love, a soft smile curling her lips, and she was there in a blur, helping Lena sink down onto the muddy ground, arms circling her and keeping her together as a sob escaped her lips.

 

            “Kara,” she said, the word coming out as a sigh, and Lena squeezed her eyes shut to keep her tears at bay, arms tightly wrapping around the other woman’s shoulders as she clutched at her for dear life. Long weeks had been spent missing her, feeling a part of her break each time she watched her fall apart from a distance. And now her Kara was here, really here. “You found me.”

 

            Burying her face in the crook of Kara’s neck and shoulder, she breathed in the floral smell, laced with smoke and earth, and an almost alarmy metallic smell that Lena placed as blood, although Kara was as solid as ever. Pulling back, she crushed her lips against hers, a small whimper escaping her lips at the feeling, and she melted beneath the gentle touch of Kara’s fingers stroking her cheeks, brushing her hair back. When they finally pulled away, Lena saw tears sliding down Kara’s cheeks as blue eyes stared at her with wonder, and Lena gently wiped them away, giving her a teary smile.

 

            “Of course I did,” Kara said, her voice cracking as she gave her a smile full of such heartbreaking love.

 

            Looking up, Lena noticed for the first time that they weren’t alone either. Alex was there, bristling slightly as she stood locked in a silent stand-off with Lex, both of them staring at each other with hard eyes and stony looks on their faces. Apparently there was no love between them either, and Lena wiped at her eyes and struggled back to her feet, watching as Alex’s fingers twitched near the hilt of a dagger in her boot.

 

            “What were you thinking , Lena?” Kara sighed, a sad look on her face as she reached out to touch her arm, recapturing her attention. “You could’ve been- I could’ve lost you again.”

 

            “I had to know. You know that I had to, and I’m sorry for trusting Sam, but she didn’t lie about this.”

 

            Pulling the purple device out of a pocket in the skirts of her dress, Lena held it up, giving Kara a solemn look, urging her to see it from Lena’s perspective. With a soft sigh, Kara wrapped her hands over it, closing her eyes for a moment, before she slowly nodded and her eyelashes fluttered back open. “I would’ve brought you myself, if I knew that you were going to go alone. I should’ve-”

 

            “It doesn’t matter,” Lena gently murmured.

 

            She knew now why Kara didn’t want to tell her about all of the things she’d witnessed. It was painful for Lena to watch, her heart full of empathy as she watched Kara’s grief. But she couldn’t quite understand what it had been like for Kara, and she knew it had been wrong of her to press her for details, having witnessed it first hand now. She deserved the truth, but she’d been painfully ignorant in what the truth would cost. It hurt her now to make Kara relive all of the pain of loving the dead women she’d chased through time to find Lena again, and she gave her a pleading look, reaching out for her hand.

 

            “You don’t have to come with me,” Lena told her, meaning it too. It had taken its toll on her, and that would be nothing to the countless memories that would be brought back for Kara. Already, Lena could see the differences she’d overlooked upon first seeing her. Her shoulders weren’t quite so solid, bowed slightly with grief, making her stand a little smaller. There was a hollowness to Kara’s eyes, ringed by dark circles, haunted by the memories of the other versions of Lena that she’d come across all over again, and Lena wanted to piece her back together, take away her pain and make everything right.

 

            “I want to. I want to be there when you know. When you finally realise. If it’s- if it’s too much for you, and you … I want to be there for the last time.”

 

            Nodding, Lena swallowed the lump in her throat, tightening her grip on Kara’s hand. The five of them stood around in a loose circle, all facing each other as they took in their new band of travellers. They were all in this together, or so it seemed, and Lena paused for a moment, before she looked to Kara for guidance.

 

            “Take me back to the beginning.”

 

            “I can only take you to the first reincarnation,” she said in a low, uneven voice, her face drawn with pain and a wary look in her eyes as she looked down at her.

 

            Nodding, although she didn’t quite know why Kara couldn’t just take her a couple of decades back further to the first time they’d met, Lena offered up the glowing device. Kara held it tightly in her hand, before nodding to Alex, who took hold of her, and Ruby too. Looking to Lex, Lena held out her free hand, taking her brother’s large one in her own, and even though Alex made a sound of disapproval, nobody objected. With a flash and a dizzying bout of nausea, they all slammed down onto the soft floor of a foreign forest, everything a dazzling shade of green or an earthy brown. The smell of damp and soil suffused the air, and Lena looked around with interest, wondering where they were.

 

            “England,” Kara said, her lips pressed into a thin line when she turned to look at Lena, “your name was Morgana. I didn’t know she wasn’t you at the time. I fell for her anyway.”

 

            There was a bitterness to her words, and she couldn’t quite Lena’s eyes, her shoulders tense with grief, and Lena softly sighed, reaching out to take her hand in hers, gently rubbing circles into the back of it. The sound of snapping twigs caught both of their attention as Alex shot up through the canopy, sending leaves cascading down at the disturbance. She landed back on the muddy ground in a crouch a moment later.

 

            “Dusk’s a few hours away. We should get a fire going and set up camp before nightfall.”

 

            Giving Lena’s hand a quick squeeze, Kara dropped it and turned away, walking in a slow circle as she surveyed the clearing they’d appeared in. The ground sloped slightly, ferns springing up from the ground and a carpet of leaves rustling in the gentle breeze, and the tweeting of birds rang out, tiny shapes flitting between the tree branches. Cocking her head to the side, Kara stood there with a look of concentration on her face, before letting her backpack fall to the ground. Crouching, she rummaged around inside and pulled out a metal canteen.

 

            “There’s running water nearby.”

 

            Alex had her eyes narrowed off in the distance, eyebrows furrowed over them in concentration, before the lines smoothed out and she turned to Kara. “There are rabbits nearby too. I’ll catch our dinner.”

 

            “I’ll guard the camp,” Lex volunteered.

 

            Letting out a derisive snort, Alex gave him a scornful look, her lip curling slightly as hatred darkened her features. “I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you.”

 

            “Lucky for you, you’ve got a good arm,” Lex shot back, a smile curling his lips as he bent down to scoop up a decent sized branch. No one found his attempt at humour particularly funny, and Lena let out a quiet sigh, hating the animosity between everyone, and Lex just rolled his eyes. “If I wanted to hurt her, I would’ve done it two weeks ago. In case you’ve forgotten, I was her brother for a few years.”

 

            There was a tense silence, filled with mistrustful glances, until Lena sighed, rolling her eyes as she walked over to Kara and took the dagger off her. “Go and fetch the water.”

 

            “But-”

 

            “He used to play chess with me, and help me with my homework, Kara. Whatever happened between the two of you, he’s no threat to me . I’ve spent two weeks holed up in a cave with him, surely he could’ve slit my throat and been done with it if he’d wanted to.”

 

            “And that, dear sister, is why you’ve always been the smartest person in the room,” Lex cut in, smiling as he picked up another branch and added it to the pile growing in his arms.

 

            “Yeah,” Lena grudgingly replied, waving the kryptonite dagger in his direction, “but I still have this though, so don’t try anything funny.”

 

            With a lingering look, Kara unwillingly left, taking everyones canteens with her, while Alex shot off in a blur, off to chase rabbits. Finding herself alone with Lex and Ruby, Lena gave the young girl a smile and started helping her brother collect wood for a fire. It was only a few minutes before Kara was back, letting the full skins tumble to the ground, taking in the pile of branches and twigs mounting, while Lex ripped a sapling up from its roots and tore it into smaller pieces for firewood.

 

            Alex wasn’t too long coming back, a brace of rabbits clutched in her hand as she stepped back into their clearing and took in the crackling fire they had going in the middle. Taking a seat on the side of the fire away from Lex, she silently started to skin the rabbits, making Lena feel queasy as she watched the fur peeled back from the pink flesh, while Ruby looked downright horrified at the sight, turning her gaze aside.

 

            It wasn’t long before the carcasses were turning over the fire, fat sizzling as it dripped down onto the flames, the meat browning as orange tongues licked at it, and when it was finally ready, none of them protested at the proffered meat, even if it hadn’t been a pleasant sight to behold. Still, Lena passed on the organs that were cooked on a rock that had been placed in the fire, the tiny hearts and livers cooking on the hot surface, and she burrowed under her cloak as night fell around them.

 

            It got dark quickly, the shadows deepening and the air holding a slight edge to it, making Lena inch closer to the burning heat of the fire, with Kara’s solid warmth pressed up beside her, and she took in the grave expressions on the three Kryptonians faces as they kept watch. Their sharp senses guarded them closely, and Lena slipped off to sleep a little while after Ruby had, both of them tired from the time travel and the events of the day, safe amongst the aliens as they protected them, even if they all didn’t trust each other.

 

            She woke to the first streaks of sunlight lightening the darkness of the forest, early morning birds twittering while slow animals blundered through the underbrush. Alex was keeping watch, poking at the fire, which was burning low, and she nodded at Lena, who slowly sat up, stretching as she blinked back sleep. Her breath misted before her, and she shivered as she wrapped her cloak tightly around herself, holding her hands out towards the small, flickering flames, flexing her fingers over the warmth of it. It was a quiet morning, the kind that Lena had come to appreciate after her time travelling through periods where the world hadn’t been completely colonised, obscuring the stars and polluting the air. She’d never been much of a nature person before, but she had a newfound appreciation for nature.

 

            And then Alex was suddenly on her feet, knives in hand, her eyes slowly scanning the trees as she stood coiled for action, anticipating something. Alertness chasing away the last of sleep, Lena scrambled to her feet, quietly trying not to wake the three sleeping figures laying beside the fire. “What is it?”

 

            Shushing her, Alex waved for her to sit back down, taking a slow step around the fire, her head cocked to the side as she listened to something far away. Doing as she was told, Lena sank back down onto the damp carpet of leaves, her skin prickling as she looked out at the shadows. Nothing moved, nothing made a sound, except for the trees and the small creatures. The sense that something was off only grew though, and although they were silent, with Alex carefully picking her way across the earthen floor, Kara and Lex both woke, the two of them quietly rising to their feet as they stared off in the same direction as Alex. The soft glow of green kryptonite bathed the trio in an eerie light.

 

            “Well you all took your time.”

 

            They all whirled around at the sound of the voice, Kara pulling Lena behind her and crouching slightly, a glowing green dagger in her hand, ready to protect Lena. Peering around her, Lena scowled at the brunette stepping into the clearing, having landed nearby, in the opposite direction they’d been expecting, a worn brown cloak wrapped around her and a mocking smile on her lips.

 

            “What’re you doing here?” Alex snarled, two knives in her hands as she stood her ground against the other Kryptonian. Apparently everyone had been quick to stock up on weapons after the last confrontation with Sam.

 

            “Well this is the end point,” Sam coyly replied, a smile on her lips as she gave them a playful look, obviously enjoying herself. “You’d have to come here eventually, so I waited. It’s been months. Your lovely predecessor is already making a turn for the worst.”

 

            The last words were aimed at Lena, whose forehead wrinkled with confusion. Close by, Ruby had been roused from sleep, rubbing at her tired eyes as she found herself facing her mother. Lena couldn’t help but pity the girl. She knew that she was never allowed to see Sam, and she wondered how long it had been since the young girl had been allowed to see her mother. How young had she been when she was sent to the campus? Ruby looked shocked to see her mother there, and her eyes widened as her lips parted. Sam started slightly at the sight of her, and the mocking smile faltered, but she didn’t outright acknowledge the fact that Ruby was her daughter.

 

            “It’s too late now,” Kara flatly told her, “we’re almost at the end. She’ll know everything soon. Just go. There’s nothing you can do now, you can’t change the past.”

 

            “No, but I can change the future.”

 

            Before Lena could blink, Sam had thrown herself at Kara, scattering ashes as she trampled the fire, tackling the