If someone had told Lena she’d one day be following an alien superbeing around her kitchen, begging her to dress herself…
… no, it wouldn’t even have fazed her. Life since moving to National City has literally been that strange.
“Please just put it on,” she says again, thrusting the boot toward Supergirl.
Supergirl turns from ransacking Lena’s rented cupboards. She’d moved onto them after experiencing actual, gasping-out-loud, comical-faced horror at finding the refrigerator completely empty. She’d continued to cast nervous glances at Lena until finding the package of crackers, which she now clutches to her chest like a teddy bear. “Why?”
“You do look ridiculous. You – no, no don’t take the other one off,” but it’s too late.
“They pinch,” Supergirl says, wrinkling her nose as she tosses the boot vaguely in the direction of the living room. It hits a decorative vase instead, and the crash makes her shoulders hitch. “Oops.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lena can afford to buy this condo – and all its contents – several times over, but how often does she find herself in Zürich, anyway? She’s saving herself another ten minutes of boredom whenever she has to see her accountant if she rents instead of buying.
The money isn’t the problem, the problem is Supergirl’s pale toes now flexing against the kitchen floor. It feels so… indiscreet, somehow. Lena knows she’s being ridiculous. She knows they have much bigger problems than Supergirl’s sudden complaints about her uniform – how is a person impervious to bullets made uncomfortable by her shoes? they have to be of some specialized material, which, oh, of course they are, she’s so stupid, otherwise it would never survive the elements or even the speeds Supergirl subjects them to – but somehow the sight of naked alien feet unbalances Lena even more than the fact that a Kryptonian followed her home like a puppy.
A cry of joy startles Lena back to the present. Supergirl holds out her bounty tenderly, like a mother displaying her newborn child.
It’s a box of pancake mix.
Lena sent her assistant out to a corner store for the milk and eggs they needed before handing her the list of takeout orders. She tells Supergirl the food won’t take much more than an hour, but there are almost tears in the other girl’s eyes. So Lena makes pancakes.
Supergirl hoists herself up onto the expansive marble countertop and watches. She offered to help, but she broke two bowls trying to get them down from the shelf and managed to lodge a mixing spoon in the ceiling above them, and afterward Lena demurred.
Lena is having wine.
“So you don’t remember anything?” she asks, ladling the batter onto the buttered griddle and listening to the hiss. “Not even your name?”
“Nope.” Supergirl doesn’t take her eyes off the cooking pancakes. “What is it?”
“I – I don’t know, actually.” Lena takes a sip, and then a proper swallow, of her white Burgundy. “It’s something you keep secret. You sure you don’t want me to contact the DEO?”
“You look really nervous every time you mention them.”
Lena sneaks a look at the alien, but she’s watching the pancakes bubble. “It’s nothing. They might think I’m involved in this, somehow.”
Because my brother is obsessed with your cousin, and I’ve had a lot more sympathy for the fact ever since you started flying in and out of my life with regularity. Not that she is… but then, Lex hadn’t been either, had he? Not in the beginning. Sometimes she could coax him to talk about it over the phone when she was in college: “An alien, Lena.” But not with disgust or fear. With wonder. “He makes me think we’re all capable of so much more.”
“My family doesn’t have the best history with yours. This one’s done, by the way. Careful, it’s –” Supergirl pops the entire thing into her mouth off the hot griddle, closing her eyes in bliss. “… right.”
The pancake disappears with a few chews and a swallow, and Supergirl kicks her naked feet in happiness. “Did you ever hurt me? Specifically, I mean, not just family stuff.”
Supergirl shrugs. “Okay, then.”
“I could be lying.”
“I think I’d be able to tell? Unless you can control your baseline biorhythms, but in that case I’m kinda helpless and doomed, anyway.”
Lena squares off, one hand on her hip, the one holding the batter-y spatula carefully away from her dress. “You can remember how to monitor biorhythms, but not your name?”
Supergirl looks slightly wounded. “I’m not picking and choosing, you know.” She points. “That one’s about to burn.”
“Fine, take it.” Lena ladles out more batter. “You’re not calling the DEO. Are you.”
“I don’t remember their number,” through a mouthful of pancake. “Do you?”
No, Lena isn’t exactly on the phone tree. She could leave a message at the front desk, but what if her phone has already been hacked? There’d been a small crowd at the scene when she shepherded the amnesiac alien into her town car. What if one of the many underground criminal organizations who’d love to get their hands on a Kryptonian were now monitoring her? She knows they exist. Her brother personally formed at least two of them.
“Okay,” she sighs, flipping this current round of pancakes. “Let’s establish our parameters. What do you remember?”
Major countries and their capitals. The existence of geographical phenomena like volcanoes and the Grand Canyon. Names of the current world leaders.
“Sprechen sie Deutsch?”
Lena frowns. Lex had theorized the Kryptonians would have mental abilities to match their physical ones, and of course coming from a culture that had mastered space travel… “How many degrees of freedom does a robot need to work anywhere in its work envelope?”
“What are Asimov’s three laws of robotics?”
Supergirl shrugs hugely, uses the pause in the interrogation to stuff three pancakes in her mouth in one go.
So. General knowledge – if a very broad use of “general” – intact. But specifics connected to personal experience, like reading a book or watching a movie, those were trickier.
Things Supergirl also does not remember: name, backstory, why no one ever made her a more comfortable pair of boots, how she gets in contact with the DEO, how she gets in contact with Superman when he’s several galaxies away, how to get to the Fortress of Solitude, what the Fortress of Solitude is, why she trusts Lena enough to get in her car and eat her pancakes.
“You seemed like you knew me,” is all she will offer on that subject. “You acted like we were friends.”
Lena glugs more wine into her glass before taking a long swallow. “I want to be friends,” she half-murmurs into the goblet.
This is true, if not exact. She wants… maybe she owes Lex a note of apology. He’d gone crazy and that was mostly his own fault, but she’d underestimated what it was like. Finding someone to whom the laws of physics and nature were like suggestions; seeing them defy almost everything known about the world, and treat it like it was nothing.
No: treat it as a gift they could give to mere mortals. Like watching the god-anointed kneel before the rabble and ask how they might serve.
Luthor children grow up jaded. They are read their company’s mission statement instead of fairy tales, driven to extra science tutoring instead of Sunday school. The world is something that can be dissected or distilled to its essential parts. Any issues left unresolved, after, you can throw money at: predictable, reliable money, with even more predictable and reliable affect. Very little is allowed to be sacred, or supernatural, in a Luthor childhood.
Her and Lex’s bad luck, then, that Kryptonians tend towards altruism as well as superstrength and flying. The impossible abilities are the lure, but the self-sacrifice is the snap of the trap. No Luthor child can look at all that power, all that possibility, and imagine someone who would help the world instead of rule it.
Someone who would prefer that.
Poor Lillian. If only she’d let them watch Disney movies as kids, maybe her son and heir wouldn’t have killed people trying to figure out Superman’s “secret,” convinced there had to be a darker motive, a hidden agenda, somewhere in that perfect hero act.
Lena is resolved not to follow in her big brother’s footsteps… for once. She is not going to become fascinated to the point of self-destruction. She’s not going to test the illusion, or peel off anyone’s primary-colored suit to try and find the flawed person beneath.
But she’s not above putting on a very nice dress and sauntering a few neighborhoods over when she hears Supergirl is in the area. It’s not like she came to Europe looking for Supergirl, she has a perfectly legitimate reason to be here, namely a tech convention, and… And, well, self-awareness is the safety net when one tightropes across madness, isn’t it? She knew what she was doing.
… she’s a little lost at the moment, though.
“I don’t think we’re going to hear from the DEO tonight, anyway,” Lena says, after Supergirl has eaten the orders from two Chinese restaurants, one French, and a New York-style steakhouse. Plus the majority of the zopf Lena asked her assistant to pick up as an afterthought, thinking the soft, white bread could tide an alien over through breakfast. Lena is not good at mornings, but it looks like she’ll have to brave tomorrow’s to find a local cafe. The care and feeding of an extraterrestrial is turning out to be a bigger investment than she ever could have anticipated.
Good thing she can afford it.
Lena looks up from her – listen, it has been a day, and whatever Lillian sneers about coping mechanisms, she is allowed one – wine to see Supergirl’s sheepish expression.
“I don’t want to upset you again,” she says from where she’s seated on the other couch, bare toes wiggling beneath her folded legs, “but, uh. I mean, if it’s an issue, I guess I don’t even have to sleep? I’m not that tired, so –”
It takes another half-second to click. “Oh, god, no, if you want to sleep, I’ll give you something to change into.” She rises to her feet. She does not wobble. It’s a good thing she kicked her own heels off a while ago, because she hasn’t been eating. Unlike her guest. “Right this way, let’s see what I can offer.”
Lena hasn’t packed her own luggage since that time she tried to run away from home, when she was eleven. She’d stuffed an extra shirt, jeans, and a jar of peanut butter into her backpack before being driven to school, and then tried to lose her bodyguard in the crush of private school uniforms as students swarmed the entrance. She did lose him – she managed to get seven whole city blocks away, flush with triumph, on her own for the first time in memory. And then she spotted the black helicopters branded with the Luthorcorp logo buzzing their way toward the school, and realized if she didn’t want a city-wide manhunt, she had to go back. Now.
She wasn’t running away to anywhere in particular, she’d told Lex later, when he’d forgiven her enough to sneak a dessert from the family meals she was now barred from attending for a month. She just wanted to see if she could.
“So now you know,” Lex shrugged in return. “We can’t.”
Lena doesn’t unpack her own luggage, either. Assistants were glorious things. And if you have to be the prisoner of a legacy, you may as well enjoy the perks.
“Everything’s in there, somewhere,” gesturing toward the bureau of the bedroom where she sleeps nights. Her wine sloshes in her glass, and she brings the other hand up around to cup it as if the soothing gesture will prevent any spills. “Just – oof,” as she encounters the edge of the bed and decides to sit down on it. “Just take whatever you like.”
Lena usually sleeps in either the previous day’s clothes, having dozed off in the middle of reading the latest brief or specs of a new project, or naked. She likes the feeling of cool sheets against her skin, but negligees are an acceptable substitute when she has someone to impress. But there’s always a pajama set or three included in her luggage, because heaven forbid the CEO of L-Corp suddenly feel the need for them, and that need had gone unanticipated.
Supergirl kneels to rummage, her cape pooling on the carpeted floor. She tucks her hair behind one ear before diving in, brow furrowed with intense concentration.
It’s… very cute.
Stop that, Lena tells herself as she drinks her wine.
An exclamation of delight drags her focus back to, well, where it wants to go, but she’s trying to mitigate those Luthor instincts. Supergirl turns from the dresser, holding up a pair of men’s-cut in dark navy, with white piping. They might be men’s pajamas – what kind of host would Lena be if she didn’t have a pair on standby for any male overnight guests.
“They’re yours,” Lena says, feeling expansive. What’s a pair of PJs in the face of countless last-minute rescues, of National City as a whole as well as Lena’s own person. “Did you figure out how to take off the rest of the suit? Let me know if I can help.”
… okay. Okay, no more wine. She puts the glass on the bedside table.
“I think I got it.” Supergirl looks down with a frown, fiddling at her hip. “There’s some kind of catch, I think, right — there.”
Lena has about a split second of warning. She snaps her head to the side so fast she feels a nerve twinge. Not fast or far enough: there’s still a glimpse of naked back in her peripheral vision, a soft curtain of hair falling across it as Supergirl strips off the top section of her suit. She tosses it aside in the same motion and it lands on the bed.
Lena stands up with a quickness that makes her vision go dark for a second. “I’ll put that someplace safe,” she says through the roar in her head. She snags the upper half of the suit with her fingertips as she makes a beeline for the door.
Lena doesn’t stop until she’s in the living room, although, she admits as she presses her hand to her sternum and forces her breathing to slow, Supergirl can probably hear the rapid beat of her heart from outside the city limits, much less several rooms away.
It’s not fair. If she just had a thing for girls with nice arms – well, she does, but she could find those, easily, if that’s all she wanted. She has found them. There was a reason she had an open invitation to any parties thrown by the women’s volleyball team in college.
If it was just that, she would deal with it. Identify the issue, isolate, and target. Either find some way to patch in a solution, or scrub it from the system.
She’s tried. Watching Lex slip further and further away from sanity had stripped all romanticism from the idea of befriending a Kryptonian, or becoming involved with them in general. If she didn’t think that embracing her anger about that would have been just as detrimental in the long run, she might have -– Lex is a murderer and a madman, but he’s her brother. There will always be a piece of her that wants to make Superman suffer as Lex has: slowly, and for all the world to see.
(She wonders, sometimes, why her own fascination never applied to Superman as well. Maybe because Lex claimed him so hard and publicly from the start, and Lena never wanted to test their relationship by encroaching on his hobbies, except with explicit permission. In the end, giving up polo and learning to lose at chess had been an easy exchange for at least one person in the family that loved her.)
But she knew obsession via hatred was no better than obsession via… other emotions. So she did the next best thing available, and buried it under polite smiles and genuine gratitude, forcing herself to say all the right things and mean them. Because she did, really. She believed in Supergirl – her intentions, her capability, the possible future she represented.
She was also still the same person who had watched the footage of Supergirl’s debut on repeat, pausing to scrutinize, rewinding, fast-forwarding, until she knew every angle of every shot of every channel’s coverage. And in the years since she still hasn’t managed to identify the source of how it’d made her feel: equal parts thrilled and longing, and a hunger that is possibly a feature, not a bug.
Lena shakes her head at herself. She’s just… overwhelmed. Anyone would be, faced with the events of the last twelve hours, and Supergirl getting naked in their bedroom. Even if those other people weren’t –
She should call Kara. She can’t talk about what’s happening, of course, it’s still too dangerous, but Lena suddenly craves something normal to ground her. Small talk with Kara feels like just the ticket: how was the flight, how was the conference, how fat are you getting on fondue.
(Maybe they should go to a fondue place for lunch tomorrow.)
And, she thinks ruefully as she digs out her phone, it might restore a measure of her self-respect to be reminded of her hopeless crush that’s at least based in knowing the other person.
No one picks up. It rings for quite a while until it hits voicemail, and on a whim, Lena redials. Still nothing.
“Hi,” she says, feeling awkward at the beep. “I was checking in. I, uh,” she looks down and realizing she’s still gripping the top half of the supersuit. The cape is twining around her ankle like a friendly cat. “Call me?”
It’s not the suavest message, but she hangs up at that. Frowns at the time. A six-hour difference means Kara should be finished with dinner and nowhere near ready for bed. There’s no good reason she wouldn’t –
Lena jumps and nearly drops her phone. Supergirl stands just behind her, looking uncertain with the bottom half of her suit in her hands. She looks almost disheveled out of it, her collarbones exposed by the cut of the button-down. Her blonde hair, more rumpled than ever, appears to know it’s off-duty.
“I’ll take that,” Lena says automatically. What are you going to do, a voice inside her head jeers, send it out for dry-cleaning? But there’s a principle involved, and guests aren’t expected to deal with anything. Even their own messes.
Supergirl hands it over, but it doesn’t clear up her clear unease. “Um,” she fidgets, pushing more hair behind her ear. “I think I should show you something.”
And she’s actually pushing her hair away from her ear – to exposed the DEO-branded device tucked behind it, safe and out of sight.
Lena is on it, no longer nervous about entering Supergirl’s personal space. She knows what to do with herself around unidentified tech, no matter who’s wearing it.
It’s a circular disc resting in the hollow beneath the mastoid bone, only a few millimeters thick and less than an inch across. Made of a translucent material, she can just make out the placement of the microchip inside. She can’t tell how it’s staying attached to the skin, unless…
“Do you mind?” she asks Supergirl, who lets her head fall further to the side in answer. The implicit trust of the gesture makes something uncurl in Lena’s stomach, but she ignores it to place her fingers on the disc.
It doesn’t budge when pushed, and then tentatively pulled at. Not when Lena pries at it, either. The skin beneath the device shifts with her effort, but doesn’t turn red with strain.
“I’m guessing there’s an adhesive of some kind,” Lena says, drawing back. “Something only you – or another Kryptonian – would be able to overpower.”
Supergirl touches tentative fingers to the edge of her ear. “Should I?”
Part of Lena wants to say yes. Part of her wants to strip Supergirl of everything and take it apart: the suit, the mysterious device, maybe even Supergirl herself.
Part of her used to look at the board during games with Lex and think: I could put him in check with ten moves.
She’s always been good at suppressing that part of herself.
“Let’s leave it for now.” She flashes a smile, even if it takes a little effort. “With any luck you’ll wake up with your memories, and you can tell me what it is then.”
Maybe Supergirl could pull it off, but Lena isn’t about to hold her breath.
A cloaking device.
Lena’s eyes open, and she’s completely awake.
She sits up, reaching over to turn on her bedside lamp. Supergirl is in the guest bedroom, but Lena reaches for the robe she’d draped over the foot of the bed, just in case.
Her laptop awakens from sleep as soon as she opens it, and she dives into her protected personal drive. Her hands are perfectly steady.
It was routine for her to have the catalogues of whatever tech conventions she’d attended scanned and saved to her personal files. Most of the inventions photographed and listed would be useless to her, or rendered obsolete by the constant leaps forward in programming, but she liked to have a record. Not of the devices themselves but the people who had created them – the minds that might one day shape the world she lives in.
There. Austin, Texas, five winters ago. A microchip embedded in a small, circular disc.
The inventor’s name is listed, but she can’t quite recall the details of his face. What stuck in her memory was his unabashed nerdiness: he happily admitted to being inspired by Star Trek and wanting to reproduce the technology of that imaginary world. No shame in that, considering how many others had followed the same inspiration and come up with cell phones, tablet computers, and natural language queries.
His ambitions had been a bit more niche. He’d long been fascinated by the cloaking technology used by the series’ bad guys: technology that bent the reflection of light to conceal the presence of massive starships. You could be staring right at them, and see nothing but stars.
But it didn’t have to render things invisible, he’d argued. Moving in a space more limited than the vastness of the open galaxy, why not make people see something else? That way they could bump into whatever you were trying to hide without getting tipped off.
Lena had passed on his device. For one thing, he’d been unable to demonstrate his improbable claims at the time, saying he was still working out the bugs. For another, he admitted he couldn’t seem to broaden its effect to anything larger than, roughly, a square foot, if he wanted to keep the device discrete. It would only be able to disguise, say, a safe embedded in a wall look like a painting, or a small package look like a stuffed toy.
Or make a face look like another face.
Lena sits back at her chair, staring blindly out over the top of her computer screen.
Apparently DEO funding had been very helpful in working out those bugs.
If she’s right, that is. It’s a leap. More intuition and instinct than hard proof.
But if she’s right…
Hadn’t that been Lex’s paranoia? Aliens slipping unnoticed into the human population. Everyone had laughed, because it wasn’t like the really dangerous ones were keeping quiet. And who’s going to forget a face once it’s been flashed for hours on the evening news? Aliens out themselves every day.
But what if it isn’t really their face?
Superman had been notoriously difficult to photograph at first. There was the prize-winning first picture of him in flight, of course, and other distant silhouettes. But he moved faster than a camera shutter, so all that was caught of his face was a hint of jawline or dark hair. He seemed to know instinctively how to angle himself so that even the most agile of cameraphone users didn’t capture anything above the neck. And then, mysteriously, he’d been happy to pose for a half-page picture accompanying Lois Lane’s profile on him.
Just over four years ago.
Lena closes her laptop. Sheds her robe and puts it back by the foot of the bed. Climbs under the covers, turns off the light, and stares blindly into the darkness.
If she’s right, then there’s a reason Supergirl and Superman wear the device along with the suit, instead of without. No technology was fail-safe. If your results were dependent on it working, you minimized how long the technology was in play.
Which means the majority of Superman and Supergirl’s lives were spent wearing their real faces. Living lives completely unconnected to their Kryptonian identities. Possibly – no, in all probability – based in the cities where they were most likely to be found.
Which means –
Lena doesn’t know when her fingers clenched into a fist. She presses it to the center of her chest, closing her eyes. Breathing in and out.
Praying for the second time this night that Supergirl can’t hear how her heart is pounding.
Because this means that Supergirl could be someone Lena knows.
It can’t be just anyone, Lena tells herself, sipping her cappuccino the next morning. What if the tech failed in public, ripped away in the middle of a fight? Supergirl suddenly having a different skin or hair color, years added or taken from her age – that would get noticed. That would get people asking questions.
No, the purpose of the cloaking wasn’t to hide. Just to deceive that littlest bit, provide the elbow room of anonymity for the wearer. So what if Supergirl seemed to have slightly different facial features from that one time you saw her up close? Human memory was worthless.
Meanwhile, whoever Supergirl lived as, that persona was safe. Did anyone ever tell you you look a little bit like Supergirl? Same hair color. Same physical build. But different around the eyes or mouth, completely different nose. And in her day-to-day life Supergirl would laugh and thank them for the compliment.
It makes Lena seethe. Even if it is genius.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Supergirl asks.
She’s on her sixth pastry. As Lena raises her eyes, the shoulder of Supergirl’s borrowed blouse shifts even further away from her neck, exposing a clavicle.
(It had been a bit of doing, finding clothes in Lena’s closet the alien felt comfortable wearing outside. “Why do you have so many v-neck shirts? Why are they all cut so deep?” They’d compromised with a loose-fitting number that fit her arms, and Lena cinched the neck a little higher with a safety pin.)
“I’m fine,” Lena says, automatic.
Who are you? she doesn’t say. Do I know you? Do you know me, would you want me to be the person with you when you’re like this, who are you?
Lena finishes off her drink and sets it back in the saucer with a slight clatter.
She should have insisted the alien put on, oh, a scarf or a hat or something. Those eye-catching primary suits do their own bit to distract from Supergirl’s face, but even in civilian clothing she’s. Well.
She’s stomach-churningly gorgeous. Hair loose in soft, dark amber waves, long muscled limbs – but it’s more than that. She glows.
… not technically, of course, but it’s close. It’s an overcast spring day, but every time the clouds part it’s as if the sun is aiming for the alien, and it hits her with an almost audible sparkle. It catches on her hair, her cheekbones, her hands and smile as she points out whatever’s grabbed her attention among the people walking past them in the street. Who are, to be fair, just as interested in her. Lena can’t blame them.
No one’s going to recognize her like this, but she’s still too conspicuous. Maybe… maybe if she put her hair up? That way she wouldn’t have quite the same air of louche, careless beauty. And something to cover the beaming enthusiasm of those blue eyes – a barrier between you and their fascinating pull. Sunglasses, maybe. Or –
Lena’s phone rings, displaying an unlisted number.
Luthors don’t need anything as pedestrian as a Do Not Call list; breathtaking amounts of money are required to have their personal numbers in the first place. So she knows exactly who’s calling.
“Took you guys long enough,” Lena says as she picks up.
A slight pause: “Good morning, Ms. Luthor.”
“Good middle of the night to you, Agent Danvers.” She’s been on her absolute best behavior when it comes to Kara’s sister… after that first five minutes. In hindsight, those minutes cost her. Alex Danvers is sharp, and trained to evaluate for threats. And Lena is usually better at hiding her… territoriality, when it comes to things and people she’s decided to claim.
But Kara’s always something of a special case, isn’t she?
“I assume you’re calling about –”
“The package,” Agent Danvers cut in. “That fell into your possession. Yesterday. The DEO package.” There’s the slightest hesitation. “We have sources in the city who saw your car at the scene.”
“Sources?” Spies. The DEO is not so much kissing cousins with the CIA as… well. Lena wonders how many American agents are set to specifically observe Supergirl and Superman whenever they touch down outside the United States. There’s probably a designated task force in every country with an embassy. “Did your sources relay back the package’s… condition?”
And she’s not happy about it. Even less so than having to call up Lena and make nice. Lena taps the table, waiting for any kind of follow-up, but there’s none. “Did your sources find any hints at the scene about what could have caused this condition?”
“That is classified information, Ms. Luthor.” (Lena mouths the words almost as Danvers says them, she’s not an idiot.) “Questions have also been raised as to why you didn’t contact us.”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude on your busy schedules.” Lena bites her tongue. She has to learn not to let Danvers under her skin, if just for the sake of – “And I wasn’t sure how to contact you safely. As you’ve pointed out, we were being watched. I had no idea of knowing who by.”
“… good point,” Danvers says, grudging, and Lena wonders how many non-American agents were tasked with watching Supergirl, as well.
“Mmhmm.” Lena sits back in her chair, directing the sardonic lift of one eyebrow down at the untouched Spanischbrötli on her plate. Slim fingers enter her field of vision, and she looks up to see Supergirl’s entreating eyes as she reaches across the table. Are you going to eat that? the alien mouths. Lena shakes her head.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.” Even over an international connection, Lena can tell Danvers is forcing it through gritted teeth. She wonders which supervisor is standing over the agent, likely with folded arms, making sure she behaves herself on this call.
“There was some. I’m just glad the package didn’t fall into the wrong hands.”
Another pause, and then, in a more genuine tone: “Thank you.”
It warms Lena for the split second before it can occur to her that Danvers, Danvers might know Supergirl’s civilian identity.
Or maybe not, she probably doesn’t quite have that level of security clearance.
But if she was selected to make this call, it might not be because of her prior connection with Lena. It might be because she knows.
And Lena doesn’t.
She has to shut her eyes against the hot wash of rage that inspires. What has gotten into her, why is she – Lena shakes herself and opens her eyes. Supergirl is chasing the last flakes of pastry clinging to her fingers, but absently, her eyes on the passersby. She has one knee bent to her chest with her foot resting on the edge of her chair, a posture Lena was trained out of before entering the first grade. She’s even humming to herself, completely unselfconscious.
It helps, somehow. It gives Lena that inch she needs to calm herself, and modulate her tone when she replies: “You’re welcome, but I didn’t do it for you.”
“… okay, was it really necessary to –”
“When are you coming to pick it up?”
The sigh Danvers lets out also helps. It speaks volumes about the past sixteen hours and how the DEO agent has not enjoyed them. “We can’t.”
“You – excuse me?”
“Not at the moment. The Swiss government is averse to the idea of DEO agents entering the country on official business.” A meaningful pause. “Without their knowing the reason.”
Ah. Ah. Yes that would definitely be. Tricky.
But even trickier would be alerting a foreign government to the fact that one of America’s beloved super-powered aliens was roaming around, unprotected and unaware, within its borders. You never know where that could lead.
“We were thinking, erm, you could mail it back to us? Air post?”
“No, I’m afraid I,” Lena pauses to stitch together the right phrasing: “I’m confused by the postal system in Zürich.”
“… do you need the address, or –”
“No,” Lena drags the syllable out. She glances at Supergirl, who is trading ridiculous faces with a child at the next table, both of them choking on giggles. “I used to know how to send things by air mail. I’ve forgotten.”
That had been an interesting discovery. Lena had mentioned offhand, while they were still in the apartment, about how in the worst case scenario Supergirl could just fly off the next night under the cover of darkness and return to National City on her own, where someone from the DEO was sure to meet her. Eventually.
“I can fly?” Supergirl had demanded, equal parts astonishment and delight.
As it turned out, she couldn’t. But she had a lot of fun bouncing on the couch cushions and claiming she could “feel something about to happen” before Lena made her get down.
“She forgot–” Danvers cuts herself off before she says something too incriminating. Neither of them can be sure if this line is truly secure. Lena can almost feel the anxiety radiating off her, even across the Atlantic. “There’s no… injury or anything, is there?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Damned if Lena knows why, but whatever’s happening with Danvers right now feels like… She keeps batting away memories of Lex’s voice over the phone when she first moved into the dorms at National City University. He refused to stop calling when he heard she had a teensy fainting spell, after she figured out the security code to the research lab and started spending her nights there instead of in bed. It didn’t matter how many times she told him she was fine, he got her security detail to camp out and make sure she stayed in her room each night by tripling their Christmas bonuses. But he also pulled strings and reserved the lab for her twice a week – “during regular hours,” and she’d rolled her eyes, because she knew for a fact he was in Beijing for a conference and it was 3 AM over there this very second – so she forgave him. Eventually.
There’s no relevance to their present situation, but the brain seeks connections, always. Speaking of.
“I don’t think the incident caused any damage,” she says. “As far as I can tell, she hasn’t lost any abilities.” They’re out of “package” metaphor territory, now, but Danvers started it. “She just doesn’t have her usual control.”
The mixing spoon embedded in the apartment ceiling was not an isolated incident, as they learned this morning. Supergirl, casually tossing one of Lena’s flats over her shoulder after finding it too narrow, had sent a spiderweb of cracks running through the bedroom window.
At least the shoe was safe. It was Ferragamo.
The whole thing made Lena burn with curiosity. Supergirl was acting like… well, like she thought she was human. Like there was a time in her life when she’d lived as human – or a better phrase for it might be “without Kryptonian abilities.”
Everyone knew by now that the aliens got their power from the Earth’s yellow sun. Controlling it should have been tied to muscle memory, spatial perception, self-regulation – Supergirl could still climb stairs and speak fluidly, super strength and launching herself into the air should have been grouped into those same neurological spaces. Should have been second nature.
But it wasn’t.
Which made Lena think she’d learned how to do those things after the crucial development phases.
It didn’t make any sense, because Supergirl was so much younger than Superman. Who told them all his planet was gone by the time he arrived on Earth.
None of this made any sense, which should have made Lena that much more eager to get an amnesiac alien off her hands.
Apparently neither of them were very good at “should.”
Another sigh from Danvers over the phone. “God. Why, out of everyone possible, are you – no, I’m sorry, forget I said that.” She must be even more tired than she sounds to make that slip. “I’m truly sorry. You’re being very helpful. I’m not sure how we’re going to thank you.”
“Have your sister return my calls.” Lena must be more tired than she thought. Or stressed, at least, frayed to the snapping point. No response to Lena’s voicemails – yes, she’d left another before going to bed – she could understand, maybe, Kara does get busy with projects she claims are work-related and therefore not up for discussion. But not even a quick text in return? Her social media accounts have been quiet, too. Not that Lena has notifications set up for each of them.
Across the table, Supergirl looks over with a slight frown.
Agent Danvers sounds like she’s choking on something. Well, Lena is being spectacularly unprofessional right now – but this isn’t her job. “Is she alright?” Lena asks. “I can’t get her on the phone.” And she’s an email away from sending a private investigator over to snap some photos through Kara’s window so Lena can calm her nerves. Not that she’s telling Danvers that. She’s not a Luthor, she doesn’t understand surveillance is one of many possible ways of showing you care.
“She’s fine. I told her not to take your calls.”
“Excuse me?” Lena asks, very, very quietly.
“I – I told her you were involved in a sticky DEO issue, and I would rather she stay out of it.” Danver’s light laugh is unconvincing. “I guess I barked a little too loud, I didn’t mean for you to get the cold shoulder, just… you understand. If this situation should go sour, I don’t want her anywhere near it.”
Lena is not going to sulk. She’s not going to protest that Kara is near danger every single day, like the rest of them, just for living in one of the two cities that house known aliens on this planet. She can see it’s a different situation when that do-gooder alien isn’t flying to anyone’s rescue any time soon. She is capable of being a reasonable adult.
“I understand,” she says, absolutely not in the tone of a kindergartner denied their favorite book at storytime. “But you should dial it down. She didn’t even tweet about the night’s takeout.”
If her second fake laugh is any indication of her subterfuge skills, it’s becoming clear to Lena why the DEO uses Danvers primarily as muscle. “Wow, yeah, she must really be busy! I will, uh, check on her in the morning, thanks for the heads up, I should really be getting some sleep myself now, so, uh, bye.”
Lena stares down at her phone as the signal goes dead.
The hell was that?
Lena looks up and reminds herself she has much more pressing matters at the moment. Whatever is going on with Kara will keep.
The amnesiac alien gives her a smile so much sunnier than the sky above them. “What are we doing next?”
Old Town in Zürich is like something out of a storybook: cobblestones and colorful buildings, streets that wind around each other in friendly companionship. Lena remembers a brief holiday spent in the city, shepherded around the Christmas village by nannies while the rest of the family went skiing. Lena was deemed too young. She hadn’t been upset – she knew to pick her battles, even then.
It’d been an unexpected victory for her father to come home early, claiming he’d twisted his ankle on the slopes. They’d gotten hot chocolate at a cafe for dinner. Then they’d taken the car out to these same streets. Her father had kept the secret until they arrived: a store of beautiful handmade and hand-painted toys, the workshop just beyond the showcase. It must have been after hours by then, but Luthors did not operate on any schedule dictated to them.
Lena always has a hard time conjuring the details of her father’s face. She has pictures, both from family photobooks and newspaper clippings. But in her memories he’s always looking to the side, or elsewhere – at some piece of business that has at least three-quarters of his attention. When she tries to think of him, the details are of that workshop: the soft-sharp smell of sawdust and the way it settled over everything in reach, the spin of the wood beneath the dowl, her father’s voice in her ear as he explained the process and its history. Not the words, she can’t conjure those anymore, but the cadence of his tone. The smile when she picked out which nutcracker doll she wanted and the reassuring weight of it in her arms, his hand on her shoulder, as they drove back to the hotel.
The toyshop is long gone, an upscale boutique in its place. That’s exactly what they need right now so Lena does her best, stepping into the clean and well-lit space, not to dwell on shadows and sawdust. The owner – an older woman with a soft wing of snow-white hair – greets them, and Supergirl responds with a flurry of what sounds, to Lena at least, like flawless Swiss-German. Lena only speaks a few phrases, herself. She waits until Supergirl is safely ensconced in a changing room with a her selections before exercising her grasp of the universal language, and sliding her credit card across the counter.
The owner tucks it away for future use with murmured thanks. She doesn’t leave the alien’s side for the rest of their visit, even as the doorbell chimes with new arrivals.
Lena divides her attention between Supergirl, trying on clothes, and the work emails softly pinging onto her phone. It takes her the better part of an hour to realize why this feels odd. She’s not unused to playing the role of the benefactor; it’s not her, it’s not how she likes to connect with anyone worth her time, but it’s a useful script. Some people are worth… other things, and offering Luthor largesse always unlocks that kind of person as smoothly as you please, tumblers thrown back and defenses down. Possibly because all they really crave is money and access, and so they imagine Lena sharing hers is a sign of acceptance instead of a pittance.
It’s a very different feeling this time. Lena doesn’t think she’s ever performed this scene with someone taking such unbridled joy in the process – the process, not what it means or how it’s Lena Luthor there to allow it. Supergirl can’t stop exclaiming over the colors, the textures, the options, switching fluidly between languages as she chats with the owner and then Lena. She’s very concerned about Lena’s input. Again, not like the others, not as if every nod of acceptance is a point scored, each expensive item a victory. Supergirl is very concerned about colors. At first she tries to buy everything matching, until Lena, smothering a smile, explains it’s more fashionable for tops and bottoms to have complementing colors. Given that freedom, Supergirl seems to have a thing for spring colors – greens, pinks, yellows, and now and again a deep navy.
Lena’s not sure what it says about her, that she finds the alien’s deep frown of concentration as she tries to match pieces so endearing. Whatever Supergirl values – or notices – in other people, it isn’t any of this: luxury, access, ease.
Which isn’t entirely unfamiliar. Yes, she’s played this scenario out many other times with very different people, but… there were times when it felt like this, before, weren’t there? Like it was fun? Maybe not on this scale, but when she’d given smaller things, smaller favors, and been rewarded with –
Red and blue, Lena remembers suddenly. Those were the colors she chose for her nutcracker doll, dressed smartly in his uniform and wearing a tall hat, the piping all in gold. Something about those colors has always spoken of order to her, and harmony.
Lena’s assistant is already waiting outside with a car when they leave, ready to take their purchases and drive them back to the condo. Lena isn’t reader to go back, however, and neither is her alien companion.
Supergirl turns her head in the middle of Lena’s question about lunch, eyes narrowed as she sends her gaze across – through? – the buildings surrounding them. And sniffs.
“Is there a body of water nearby?” she asks, and Lena is bemused to hear growing delight.
“The Limmat. It’s a river, it’s not that fa– oof.”
Her arm is almost yanked out of its socket (and for once, it’s dangerously close to not-hyperbole) as Supergirl grabs her hand and surges forward without warning.
She lets the alien find it for herself, which might be a little bit of payback for that. Plus it’s… fun, again. Watching Supergirl try to track her way through the historical buildings and centuries-old churches by scent alone. It’s like being walked by a puppy as it strains on its leash, only this one stops every few minutes to point things out – “Lena, look” – and it’s always something different, and always something you wouldn’t have expected to catch her attention. Simple things. The way the light slants through the clouds in segments. A little girl sharing an ice cream with an even littler girl Lena guesses is her sister, given from how she painstakingly allows the younger one two bites for each of her own. A flight of sparrows over the rooftops.
Lena takes advantage of one of these momentary fascinations to buy them lunch from a cart: two sausages, each a different flavor, and a roll of crisp white bread. Supergirl inhales her portion, and again, Lena feels like she should be paying attention to…
But Supergirl yanks at her hand and they’re off again, Supergirl catching at her whenever Lena’s heel slips in between the cobblestones. It’s only once or twice, but it leaves Lena breathless each time – the way Supergirl slips into her personal space, one arm around her waist to hold her up, sides pressed together, the quick smile she gives Lena before releasing her. Lena wants to say any other Luthor would have your bleeding heart in their hands by now, but also she. Doesn’t. Want to say that. Or whatever might cause that easy smile to slip. It feels safer to say hardly anything, and she feels the words build up to a pressure in her throat that aches, but almost sweetly.
Supergirl gives a little whoop of joy when they reach the river, releasing Lena’s wrist to stand by the bank, leaning onto the barrier with her face uplifted as she takes great gulps of air.
“Rao,” she exhales, and Lena’s skin prickles. The reverence in her tone is as if – “Your world is so new. All this moisture in the air, natural bodies of water still intact. It’s beautiful.”
Lena comes up to stand beside her. The Limmat is beautiful, but always by association in her mind: the history, the culture. She’s never been particularly refreshed by the sight of opaque, churning water, the scraps of froth and litter it sometimes carries. Supergirl looks downright intoxicated.
“We drilled deep into the core of Krypton ages ago,” Supergirl continues, and now the hair rises on the back of Lena’s neck. The alien is still breathing deeply, her eyes now unseeing as she looks out over the water. “Before the sun turned red, even. They hydrodamed everything with a current to load up the power grid. Nothing like this,” she says, softly, and Lena wonders if she’s even aware she’s still speaking. “Nothing free-flowing, untamed. The planet was practically a husk by the time I was born.”
How the hell would she know that? According to Superman’s timeline Krypton should have been long gone, how can she know their world, and even swear by what Lena is guessing is their deity? “That sounds…” Lena searches frantically for something to say when the alien falls silent, desperate to keep her on track, to not slip out of this groove of discovered memories. “Structured,” is the best she can come up with.
It charms an unexpected laugh from her companion. “It was,” Supergirl says, smiling. “But that was beautiful, too. Everything in orbitals and spirals. Earth-people really like angles, huh?” she asks, casting a quick look over her shoulder at the buildings behind them.
“I –” She’s never thought of it before in those terms. “I suppose.”
“Feels sloppy to me,” Supergirl says, candid, and shifts closer to look Lena in the face. “Did you know the Golden Age philosophers wrote twelve treatises on the mathematical perfection of the parabolic arc?”
See, this is why Lena does crazy things like rescue amnesiac Kryptonians wandering through picturesque European cities. She can’t remember the last time someone made her feel under-educated, and she might actually be enjoying it. “No.”
Supergirl nods before confessing, in an undertone, “My father made me read them. He said that everything of beauty could be found,” and she reaches to push away Lena’s hair where it’s fallen over her shoulder, one finger tracing the bared skin of her shoulder, “in the curves of the universe.”
Her palm comes to rest there. Lena stands stock-still – she doesn’t breathe – but the look in Supergirl’s eyes is light years away. Quite literally.
The strains of a violin drift over to them, and her expression brightens. She pulls at Lena once again, this time over to the street performer serenading passers-by. It’s too cloudy a day for many people to be out walking, and so his tips look slim. The joy on Supergirl’s face has Lena drawing out a twenty-euro note to slip into the upturned hat on the ground.
He nods his thanks and then, with quick look to the hold Supergirl has on her hand and a wink, changes over to a waltz. Because no good deed goes unpunished, Lena thinks sourly.
Supergirl in no way shares her displeasure, actually gasping aloud. “Do you have these kinds of songs?” she demands, and doesn’t wait for an answer before sweeping Lena into a practiced whirl, arms around her waist.
“Do you?” Lena manages, because her control of the situation is slipping and no, she’s not sure she likes that. But it’s hard to resist the open grin on Supergirl’s face, or the confidence in her hold. Her frame is perfect, like a student’s – no pressed-close seduction – and the rigid gap between them gives Lena the space she needs to breathe, to keep the world spinning on its axis. Because she is dancing with a Super, and also, there are people watching them. They’re smiling. This is a world she has no knowledge of.
She has no knowledge of the steps the alien is taking her through, either. But after two whole seconds of wrangling with her instincts Lena lets her cotillion training take over, submitting just that touch needed for Supergirl to move her however she wants.
“We danced like this on all the public holidays,” Supergirl says, still smiling. “They’d clear the city square–”
“So you had some angles,” Lena mutters.
“– and open the fountains. It wasn’t real water – just clear elastifuid – but they said it was wasteful even so to keep them running all the time. It was nice to hear them splashing, but they didn’t smell like water, not like this.” She swings Lena around, a hand moving to her lower back to keep her in place. “The grown-ups would open with a dance,” she said as she brought Lena back, “and then each of the adults would dance with one of the children, and then the children would dance with each other.”
Lena wonders if it’s something one would find across all sentient – and bipedal – cultures, to move your feet in triple time and tightly orbit each other in echo of the universe at large. “Your father taught you this, too?” she asks, and gives into a laugh as Supergirl deftly reverses their direction.
It brings the alien to a sudden halt. Lena stumbles and might have fallen, except for being able to catch herself on a Supergirl turned to stone. The violinist’s music stutters and then finishes with a flourish to save face, and Lena hears the scattered applause of observers.
If Supergirl notices any of this, it doesn’t show on her face. “No,” softly. “I would dance with my aunt.” Her grip tightens on Lena to the point of pain, but Lena doesn’t think she’s aware of how much strength she’s exerting, not for a second, as she brings up depthless blue eyes to meet Lena’s. “My family, my world. It’s all gone.”
– god, but Lena is not equipped to play grief counselor, not for –
She pushes all that aside, because this isn’t about her, swallows, and tells herself not to flinch. “Yes,” she says, and refuses to look away. “You’re remembering?”
“Some of it? I…” Supergirl’s brow furrows in confusion, tears welling up in her eyes. “I lost them, didn’t I? I lost it all,” in the tone of a child who expects to be punished, who thinks she’s somehow at fault.
Softly, so they can’t possibly be overheard: “Supergirl –”
But that, finally, is what get the alien to release her. She doesn’t push Lena away, but she comes close. “That’s not my name,” she whispers.
Lena puts her hands up, feeling helpless. “I know.”
“Did I lose that too?”
“No,” and Lena knows better than to make promises on things out of her control, but, “we’ll get you to remember. It will come back to you.”
Supergirl ducks her head so that her long hair falls over her face, and trembles.
Lena reaches out again to capture her hands. Uncurls them from their tight fists, and twines her own fingers through the alien’s. “Let me take you home,” she says, and it’s the same phrase that got Supergirl to climb into her car less than forty-eight hours ago.
It works again this time, and the other girl nods.
The alien is unnaturally quiet on the ride back. She’s quiet once they’re in the apartment as well, letting herself out onto the balcony to curl up in one of the chairs and stare out over the landscape as the light slowly, slowly fades from the sky. She doesn’t budge for the rest of the evening, even when Lena ventures out to ask if she’s hungry. She makes a plate for Supergirl when she quickly fixes something for herself – just eggs and vegetables, plus they picked up more zopf from a bakery – and leaves it out on the counter, just in case.
It goes cold. Supergirl has to be getting cold, too, sitting outside in Lena’s clothes, but she doesn’t show any sign of it. Lena watches her for long hours, sitting just inside the French doors and looking up from her computer every five minutes. She’s five hours past her initial scheduled return to National City and things are already piling up at work. Nothing she can’t manage from here, though.
(It occurs to her this isn’t too different from most nights she spends at home: reviewing emails, cross-checking reports, eating a quick supper. The only difference is the company… which is a pretty big difference. She doesn’t think she minds it. If Supergirl weren’t acting so out of character – well, it could almost be nice.)
Lena gives up and goes to bed around eleven. She changes into sweatshirt and shorts before climbing under the covers. Just… just in case something happens. In case she’s needed.
Lena shifts in her sleep, cotton-mouthed with dissatisfaction.
It takes her a second to find Supergirl – the alien is sitting on the floor by the bed, knees drawn up, chin on the edge of the mattress. She’s in her borrowed PJs, hair loose and streaming over her shoulders. She left the hallway light on and the door to Lena’s room cracked open, and the wedge of light falls over her like a benediction.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers as Lena’s eyes find her. “I can’t sleep.”
“What’s wrong?” Lena asks, struggling up onto her elbows. “You didn’t eat dinner, there’s food in the kitchen – or…” She’s not sure what she could find in Zürich to knock out a Kryptonian. That doesn’t mean she’s not capable of trying. “Tell me what you need.”
… oh, that’s dangerous. Fascination is one thing – even obsession, if she’s being honest – but that’s not… that, right there? That was instinct, that comes from a place inside Lena triggered by very few people. It’s not the objective inquiry of a scientist monitoring their subject. It’s not even the manipulation of a Luthor looking for cracks in the facade. That’s Lena, that’s the only thing she unreservedly loves about the wealth and power she was born into: the freedom to promise whatever you want is yours.
No matter that this is the person least likely to need someone else to give that kind of promise. What can’t Supergirl have?
Supergirl straightens so that she’s sitting upright. “Can I sleep in here? With you?”
Lena’s mind goes very carefully blank.
“If you think that will help,” she says after a pause barely worthy of the name. She reaches across to the other side of the bed, pulling down the corner of the coverlet. “I don’t snore, to my knowledge, but if you do I reserve the right to give you a shove.”
But Supergirl is already shoving at Lena, gently, not moving toward the obvious expanse of empty bed, instead tucking herself into the space on the mattress between Lena and the nightstand. She fits. It startles Lena to realize, but Supergirl is a lot smaller in reality than the figure that looms in Lena’s mind.
Not that there’s more than a centimeter of space left between them. Lena doesn’t need a ruler to measure it – she feels it in the buzz just underneath her skin, the lightheadedness she feels whenever Supergirl shifts.
What is wrong with her? Why does this feel like – do Kryptonians give off some kind of low-level electric charge, or has Lena seriously regressed to adolescence just because of an alien’s unflinching and absolute trust?
Supergirl gives a kittenish yawn of contentment and wriggles a little deeper under the covers, making Lena’s heart seize with ridiculous tenderness.
Tell me what you need.
If she turns her head on the pillow they’re now sharing, their noses will touch. So Lena stares up at the ceiling when she asks: “Is this helping?”
“I would fall asleep in my own bed,” Supergirl murmurs, mouth half against the pillow. Lena can believe it: her words are already slower and slurred. “But I had nightmares.”
She sighs out and Lena holds her breath. One long, deep breath, and then another, and then Supergirl says softly: “It’s dark and I can’t move. I think I’m supposed to be asleep, but – I can feel everything. I have to move, I have to be somewhere, someone is waiting for me, but it’s like the whole universe is pressing down.” Her voice gets smaller and smaller with each sentence, until she sounds very young. “It’s cold.”
She breathes out again, and presses forward – her nose bumps Lena’s shoulder, and then she angles her cheek against it. “You’re so warm,” she says, wondering.
Her eyelashes brush against Lena’s skin as she finally falls asleep.
It takes Lena a lot longer to follow suit. She’s tired. But she wants this – even if she’s not completely sure why – and so she savors it, forcing her eyes open as she listens to the alien’s deep and even breathing, focusing on the warmth that pools between them in the shared space.
She rises from her dreams to float near waking at different points in the night. She’s never slept all that deeply – her brain is too active even when she tries to take it offline, working and processing and trying to present her with its findings – but for the first time in a while she doesn’t wake up completely. She’s anchored: an arm thrown over her waist, a leg bent across her own, a pressure at her back and the sound of someone else’s breathing in her ear. Which shouldn’t calm her, or let her sink back down into stillness. It never has before.
But when her whispered name wakes her up all the way, it’s a gentle process. Like unfolding: opening her eyes to find blue ones inches from her own, breathing in the sunlight spilling in through the window over them both.
Lena feels heavy with lassitude. There’s no urgency, here. No anxious drive to get up and check her phone, her email, see what the world has done when she’s not awake to supervise. Not even the discomfort of someone else in her personal space as Supergirl shifts that much closer, biting her lip as she casts her eyes downward.
… oh. That’s dangerous, too.
“Lena,” Supergirl whispers again, still looking down.
Supergirl clears her throat. She lifts her arm from up under the covers – and Lena watches the sleeve of it fall away from her arm where it’s been ripped down the seam to the shoulder.
Blue eyes meet Lena’s again, and this time she’s awake enough to see the terrible remorse in them. “I, uh, I think I need a new pair of PJs.”
Lena leans forward until their foreheads touch, and laughs.
“So. You’re beginning to remember?” she asks Supergirl over a very late breakfast.
The alien, two-fisting the sausage rolls Lena ordered in, nods as she chews. Then shakes her head.
“Take your time,” Lena murmurs into her coffee cup.
Supergirl frowns in concentration as she swallows. “It’s like stepping stones in a river. They’re always there, beneath the water. But I don’t know where until the current shifts, and then… then it’s like I always knew where to place my feet.”
“It seems to only be memories from Krypton so far. Or..?”
“No, you’re right.” Supergirl reaches for a scone this time, liberally spreading jam on top. “I don’t remember landing on Earth, or,” with a deep sigh of longing, “flying. Sounds pretty nice, though.”
Lena puts her coffee down and worries her thumbnail with her teeth. “How old are you in your last memory of Krypton?”
“You mean, when did I travel here?” Supergirl considers it as she fits the entire scone into her mouth. Half of Lena wants to reprimand her table manners. The other half is weirdly fascinated. “Not too old. Maybe twelve? We have a celebration when you complete thirteen solar revolutions on Krypton. I mean,” A little quieter, “they had them.” She’s quick to shake off the melancholy this time, though. “I’d really want to be able to remember mine, but I don’t, so I’m hoping I just never got it. Why?”
“Just… trying to work things out.” What if Supergirl used to be older than Superman, but something slowed her aging process? Space travel could have been a factor, if she’d been forced to go a longer way around… “What kind of things help you remember? Maybe we can spark Earth memories once we establish a pattern.”
“Hmm,” Lena says, sitting back in her chair. Her phone rings. The number is listed, but it’s no one in her contacts. Which isn’t supposed to happen. “Hello?” she says as she picks up, hesitant.
“This is my personal number,” Alex Danvers’ voice crackles over the connection. “I’m not supposed to be calling you like this, but I – listen, this is taking longer than anyone could have anticipated. The Swiss are citing all kinds of legislature to keep us out of their borders, my boss was on the phone with the embassy for five hours yesterday and we’re not seeing any movement. You have every right to complain to my supervisors and try and get me suspended for using your private information, I just – I wanted you to have a way to contact me, contact us, as quickly as possible. Just in case.”
She delivers this tirade in a breathless rush. Each word has the clear-cut articulation that speaks of equal parts determination and desperation, as well as massive amounts of caffeine.
“Alright,” Lena says after a pause.
“… wait, seriously?”
“As they say: politics makes strange bedfellows, Agent Danvers.” She gets up from the breakfast (brunch?) table. Supergirl watches her, but seems content to continue her assault on the sausage rolls as Lena steps away. “I take it this is your backup plan after they denied giving me a direct number for DEO higher-ups.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” Victory won, the strain starts to seep into the agent’s voice. Lena looks at the clock – it’s not even six in the morning in the states. She wonders how much sleep Danvers is working on. “Apparently they would have to put it before a committee for approval. This was faster.”
“This could get you suspended, apparently.”
“It’s worth it,” comes the quiet reply. “She – you need to be able to reach me if something goes wrong.”
Maybe Lena’s been underestimating recruitment at the DEO. Danvers is brash and a bit of a strong-arm, but Lena knows for herself it’s loyalty to a company’s mission that really defines an employee. This is above and beyond. “She’s lucky to have you looking out for her,” remembering at the last second not to say name names (or aliases) over an open line.
Danvers’ reply, when it finally comes, is subdued. “She’s vital to the safety of the nation. We’re lucky to have her.”
Lena knows when not to push it. And besides, she’s hardly got the high ground when it comes to over-investment in Supergirl. Who knows how much worse it could be if they worked together. “So, how do we do this? What if something does happen?”
“You call me. And I…” A deep sigh. “I will make it work.”
“A truly impressive plan.”
Another sigh, this one with an edge of annoyance. “There are always emergency options, Ms. Luthor. They’re there because we save them for emergencies.”
“Good point,” Lena concedes. “But don’t you think we’re past Ms. Luthor if you’re calling on your personal line?”
She can almost hear the agent wrestling with it. “Lena.” Oh, so grudging.
“Alex,” Lena returns sunnily, because it’s taken her this long to get in good with the elder Danvers sister, she’s allowed a brief victory lap. “I’ll let you go. But,” why not, when her opponent is down for the count, “give my best to Kara, okay? When you can. Tell her not to worry about me.”
“Yeah,” Alex says, stilted, and Lena didn’t figure her for such a sore loser, but oh well. “I’ll – I’ll keep you updated. Bye.”
The weather today is full of spring bluster and showers, so Lena doesn’t feel all that bad about suggesting they stay inside. Supergirl seems a little relieved at the idea of staying in, and Lena wonders, despite her seeming nonchalance, how much the revelations from yesterday have knocked her off her stride.
There aren’t many books in the apartment aside from a few milquetoast best sellers, but there’s a nice big TV screen, speakers in the walls, etc. All Earth media might as well be new to the alien, in this state, so Lena picks something out. On a whim, she chooses one of Kara’s favorite movies.
“Try this out,” she says as the credits start. “But don’t feel like you have to watch it. We can switch at any time.”
The alien bounces down onto the other side of the couch and immediately stretches out, tucking her toes under Lena’s legs. Lena meant to set her up and then go off and do her own thing, to be honest, and she’s not sure… there’s nothing intrusive or presumptuous about how Supergirl moves into Lena’s personal space, just pure creature comfort. And she did have a rough night.
“Oh.” Supergirl looks over, blinking, as if it suddenly occurred to her: “Were you not going to watch..?”
“Of course I am,” Lena says, making a decision. “As long as my doing some work doesn’t bother you. Let me just get my laptop.”
They spend the next several hours on the couch like that, Lena trying to keep her typing sounds to a minimum while Supergirl is wrapped up in the movies. She loved the first one – laughing in all the same places Kara did, swooning for the love story – and so Lena lets Kara’s taste guide her with each new selection. Supergirl shows no signs of being bored, or wanting to move from the couch. She only switches her position a few times, or grabs more cushions. When Lena puts her work away for a break, Supergirl takes advantage by throwing one into her lap and following it with her head. Lena stiffens, but Supergirl lets out a small sigh of contentment as she curls up, and so Lena lets it stand.
And Lena doesn’t really mind. In fact, she hasn’t become so comfortable so quickly with another person since…
God, Lena misses Kara. It hasn’t been that long since they had a chance to hang out, but Lena feels it more keenly in the last few days than she has over longer periods where they were both slammed with work.
She knows why. She’s not obtuse, she can see the obvious: when off-duty and at loose ends, at least, Supergirl reminds her a lot of Kara. They both derive a deep joy from simple pleasures, and that joy is infectious. They both have an ease which makes other people comfortable. They’re both, uh, blondes.
Lena frowns. She can admit she has a type, but it’s unlike her to be… predictable.
Her phone vibrates. There’s a notification that Kara updated her twitter, and Lena smiles as she pulls it up, eager for even that low level of interaction.
You disaster, she thinks to herself.
Why isn’t there a loyalty rewards program for takeout? the tweet reads. Spend over 50 bucks, get a free appetizer? Come on, @dynastygarden_nc!
Lena feels the center of her go very cold.
It’s Kara, of course. Only Kara would come up with something like that and then say it without any sense of irony.
Lena knows that for a fact, because Kara already said it.
Quite a while ago. Months before Lena moved to National City – and Lena knows, because Lena is aware of her obsessive focus and her need to feed the beast when it raises its head. Which is why she spent hours looking deep into Kara Danvers’ social media history when they first became friends. Kara tweeted this exact thing, way back then.
That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. People repeat themselves. Even – especially – on social media.
Calling herself a paranoid idiot, Lena pulls up a program that allows her to easily access old tweets. Searches.
… it’s not there.
And she knows it was there. Lena’s memory isn’t photographic, like her brother’s, but it’s damned near impeccable. She didn’t get her doctorate by forgetting small details.
“Are there any snacks?” Supergirl asks suddenly, raising her head from Lena’s lap.
Lena looks at her, still tangled in her own brain. “Of course,” after a moment. She had the kitchen stocked while they were out yesterday. “Help yourself.”
The alien gets up, and Lena follows her almost blindly, lingering in the doorway to the kitchen as Supergirl rummages through the fridge.
Could it be a glitch in the site’s code? Maybe. But it’s a reach. And Lena knows better to look for complicated answers – the simplest being that someone copied and posted the old tweet to make it look like Kara was updating, and then tried to cover their tracks.
Lena closes her eyes. Stop that, she scolds herself. Not everything is a giant conspiracy or cover-up. Once she starts to assume everything is sinister, she might as well share a prison cell with…
Besides, why wouldn’t Kara be updating her own twitter? Maybe Danvers had let slip something about this thing with Supergirl, and Kara was so nervous about giving away sensitive information she over-corrected. Maybe she copied and deleted her own tweet.
Yes, that was the most obvious explanation. It was weird, but a lot of living in National City was weird. And besides, if Kara wasn’t updating her social media for some meaningful reason – if she was in danger, or being prevented – Danvers would know. And Danvers would not be calm about that; she would not ignore her sister in need to focus on work.
God, if anything ever happened to Kara, Danvers would be a wreck. She wouldn’t rest for a second until Kara was back home and safe. She’d move mountains. Call in every favor, cut every corner…
… break every rule…
Looking back to her phone is not a decision Lena makes, or not consciously. Her gaze is dragged, as if by high-powered magnet, to where she placed it on the table by the couch. The lock screen still displays the notice of a call from a new, unnamed contact.
“You know, I’m really glad I didn’t forget what I like to eat,” Supergirl says, sitting down at the kitchen counter.
Lena looks at her and thinks: same build, same coloring.
“Lena?” Supergirl frowns, leaning forward. “What’s wrong?”
no no no no no oh please –
“I’m going to be sick,” Lena forces out, before walking off to the bathroom to do just that.
Lena leans over the sink and takes deep, even breaths.
That’s what this is, right? Whatever flaw ate away at Lex’s brain and sent him off the deep end, she’s reached that sequence in her genetic chain. Maybe the famous Luthor breeding finally, truly fucked itself, and they’re all doomed to madness onset in their mid-twenties.
It would help explain Lillian.
… jesus, what if it’s something in response to Kryptonians? What if prolonged exposure is like radiation? Lex was openly enamoured of Superman before the break, and spent as much time as possible in his company. Maybe the effect is intensified by concentrated proximity, like close-dancing by a river and sharing a bed –
She unclenches her white-knuckled hold on the porcelain sink and turns on the water, splashes some on her face. Three more deep breaths, and then she sends a text to her first assistant to schedule her a full physical and genetic workup once she returns to National City.
Bases covered, she tells herself to start thinking like a scientist.
What was the popular cocktail party game? Who have you never seen in the same room with Supergirl.
It was a joke, of course. Everyone knew what she looked like, her face splashed across TV screens and accompanying newspaper articles. But it had started in Metropolis in the days when Superman was a camera-dodging cipher, and various iterations (Batman, Catwoman, she’s even played a round about Penguin) never quite died out.
There was only coffee in her stomach from this morning, but her mouth still tastes foul. She puts some toothpaste on her brush with shaking hands.
Kara works a job that doesn’t always require her physical presence at a desk. Kara works a lot, and often won’t say what on. Kara has intimate ties to the DEO. Kara is…
Lena stops in mid-brush, her mouth full of foam.
Kara is adopted.
It’s not something she often talks about, but it comes up in passing. The first time Lena heard about it was one of those bursts of serendipity, that surprising warmth of maybe this was meant to be.
Nothing is, of course. The universe doesn’t work like that.
Lena spits and rinses. Stares at herself in the mirror.
Kara… cannot be Supergirl. It can’t be true.
She doesn’t want it to be true.
Kara is important. If she’s been lying to Lena’s face this entire time – if she’s been a Super, an alien, this entire time –
She forces her breathing to slow and her neck to straighten from where she finds herself hunched, shoulders up around her ears as if in expectation of a blow.
Kara is something new, for Lena. A person who gives as much of herself as she thinks Lena needs and never demands anything in return, never trades on the possibility of withholding that care and attention. Lena didn’t know how to deal with it all, at first. The closest she’s ever come to a purely personal connection with other human beings has been in partnership, not friendship. Those were important, formative relationships – in sex, and romance, and business – but she always knew, conclusively, what the other person was there for. She knew what would make them stay. What would make them leave. She was, as much as anyone could be, in control.
Kara comes and goes freely. It had sent Lena into panic mode at first. She spent hours reading over Kara’s social media and trying to figure out what this girl wanted, what Lena could do or be to make her a sure thing. She would search strings like “grown-up friendship activities,” suggesting spa retreats and kale smoothies to Kara after it led her to a bizarre franchise involving several well-known charity matrons posing over credit sequences and reciting catchphrases. (“Have you seen this?” she asked her second assistant, who informed her that yes, everyone had. Lena made a mental note to take a deeper look into L-Corp’s media properties and what exactly they were; money is money, but some things are not worth the money.) Kara disliked kale and the mud baths made her giggle uncontrollably – but she was still here. Being Lena’s friend.
Before Lena knew it, the same quality that had first made her panic was now as indispensable as oxygen and water and a well-indexed internet. Kara rounded out her days and smoothed all the sharp edges Lena had taken for granted. Kara’s friendship was something Lena never even knew she wanted, until she realized how much she needed it.
(And yes, Lena is more than a little bit in love with her. But that’s such an easily-suppressible thing. Lena has lost count of the people she loved who couldn’t return it – or not in the same way, with the same intensity of feeling. But Kara likes her. And Kara likes her, not her name, her money, or her connections. What’s the sting of an unrequited crush, in the face of all that? Everything has a price. This one is more than worth it.)
… and that’s why she has to ask Supergirl to remove her cloaking tech.
It’s painfully obvious, what with this episode she had just now. She has no objectivity. She can’t be relied on to make any disciplined observations, or come to any worthwhile conclusions, until it’s proven that Kara is not Supergirl. There’s absolutely nothing to link them beyond coincidence, no reason to suspect they’re the same person. And yet here Lena is, trembling like a leaf in a rented apartment bathroom in Europe at the mere possibility.
Clearly, she’s compromised. She can’t move forward until that possibility is off the table.
It won’t be Kara, of course. Once the tech is disabled Lena will see a stranger’s face. She’ll call herself ten kinds of idiot. She’ll probably be investigated by the DEO when they find out she removed the tech, hell, they might even bring her up on some kind of charges. God, they might even – could they alter her memories? She’s heard rumors of magic, she wouldn’t put it past them to try.
(It will be worth it to be rid of this feeling. It’s not even suspicion, it goes too deep into her bones. It’s dread.)
It won’t be Kara.
“Supergirl,” she says, coming back to the kitchen, “I need to ask a –”
“Are you alright?” the alien interrupts. Which seems out of character, even in their limited acquaintance, but she’s searching Lena’s face with an anxious look.
Oh, right. Because Lena got… emotional. “I’m fine. I’m sorry if I worried you. But on another note, will you do something for me?”
The alien nods. Like it’s that simple.
“Can you,” and she takes a half-second, in which she looks down from the cliff of inevitability she feels like she’s falling from but she has to know, “remove the device we discovered behind your right ear from your skin?”
Supergirl stops chewing her banana. “You said it helped keep me safe,” she says through a mouthful. Lena had shared her theory about it earlier, fearing what might happen if Supergirl removed it on a whim in public.
“It does.” It does, what is she doing? “But I’m asking you to take it off, now. If you’re willing.”
She swallows her food. “Why?”
Half a dozen ready, easy lies come to mind. Lena breathes out and makes a leap for the truth. “Because I think I might know you. I want to be sure.”
Supergirl’s face brightens, and then dims. “Lena, if you can tell me who I am, that’s amazing, but…”
“I will keep you safe,” Lena promises. “Whoever you turn out to be, until you are back under the protection of the DEO I won’t let any harm come to you. I swear.” She means it. She does.
Supergirl’s face clears of tension. “Okay,” she says, reaching up under her hair.
Lena braces herself. It won’t be Kara.
There’s a faint tearing sound, like velcro coming apart, and Supergirl winces. Lena is already opening her mouth to tell her to stop, leave it, it doesn’t matter this much if it’s going to hurt –
The alien’s face flickers. The tech is in her hand.
And it’s –
It’s only a few steps to Lena’s phone. She brings up the last number to contact her and hits the call button.
“Is there a problem?” Alex Danvers picks up, frantic. “Lena, what happened?”
“Use the emergency option.” She’s proud of herself for speaking so clearly. Her face feels numb.
A pause. “Are you sure? I’d really hoped to have more time, a day or two at most, so if you could just tell me why you –”
“I know why your sister isn’t returning my calls, Agent Danvers.”
She hears a sound she thinks is the phone creaking in Alex’s grip. “I need a few hours make the necessary arrangements and fly over. I swear to god, if you even –”
“Do it now,” Lena says, and hangs up.
She’s in her bedroom. She hasn’t locked the door, but she’s sitting with her back to it. On the floor.
She hasn’t done this since she was a kid. A coping mechanism, which she could have guessed before several highly-paid therapists gave their highly-paid opinions on it. (She never lasted long with any of them. Inevitably she would feel like she was telling secrets which weren’t really hers. “This is common for survivors of toxic relationships,” the last one had told her. “Secret-keeping creates a closed system, and a feeling of emotional investment which keeps a victim tied to their manipulators.” Which was all well and good, except the line where Luthor family secrets ended and Luthor company secrets began was razor thin, and having a lawyer in the room with her therapist seemed to invalidate the whole exercise.) It was crudely metaphorical but satisfying: her own space was hers, and safe. The world outside it was not. But it couldn’t come through the door without going through her first.
Lena shuts her eyes.
Eventually something would force her to leave her room: school, meals, Lillian tiring of her “sulks.” Nothing was truly kept at bay, and Lena didn’t really have a choice in deciding when she was ready to join the wider world.
It’s a charade. But even the emptiest of rituals can have resonance.
“Lena, are you okay?” Supergirl asks from the other side of the door. It sounds like she’s also crouched low. Lena pictures her hand hovering at the spot where Lena’s head rests against it.
It’s Kara’s voice. There was some kind of buzz or distortion added by the tech. She didn’t notice at the time, but she knows this voice like… so there must have been something like that. For her to not recognize, before this.
She looks down at the device in her hands. She thinks the alien offered it to her right after, and she took it. She thinks. She’s having trouble on details.
It’s a beautiful piece of technology. Elegant. Efficient.
If Lena has the pleasure of meeting its creator again, she’s going to break all of his fingers.
But why stop there? Raze DEO headquarters to the ground. Kryptonite-salt the earth within the boundaries of National City. Strip the skin from the bones of everyone who knew she was being tricked, used, everyone who must have been laughing at her and her pathetic –
“You don’t need to come out. But can you tell me if you’re okay?”
Oh, yes, always so obliging. Guileless from day one. Just a sweet-as-cream CatCo representative on a ride-along to meet the latest Luthor with her Daily Planet… reporter… cousin.
Oh, fuck, she thinks in dismay: now she knows the secret identity of both Supers.
Lex would be so…
“Lena?” comes the soft whisper again, and it’s the combination of how dejected the alien sounds, and how pleased she knows Lex would be, that has Lena getting to her feet and opening the door.
Ka – Supergirl doesn’t rise from where she’s crouched on the floor, arms wrapped around the knees drawn up to her chest. She raises red eyes up to Lena. She isn’t crying, but her face is a picture of misery.
Lena has spent the last ten minutes in her bedroom shoring up her defenses. This tears through them like they’re wet paper.
Supergirl’s face, before, had been incredibly attractive – the kind of good looks that set you at ease and prompted immediate trust. Lena imagines now they tested different iterations on focus groups: if this face appeared to you in a burning building, would you climb into its wearer’s arms?
Kara’s forehead is a little rounder, the line of her chin and jaw not quite as strong. The device also made her hair appear a touch blonder. She’s amazingly pretty, of course – a normal kind of pretty, not walking and talking propaganda for truth, justice, and the American way.
But it’s Kara.
And so Lena is ten times more helpless to the instinct to sink down to her knees in front of her, putting her hands on the other girl’s shoulders. Somewhere deep inside her she dredges up the gentleness she knows is needed right now, even if the jury is still out on whether it’s deserved.
“It’s okay,” she says. “I’m sorry if I scared you. But everything is… everything will be alright. The DEO will be here soon.” And then this won’t be Lena’s problem. Then she can lick her wounds, and plan her next move, in private.
“You know who I am, don’t you?” Kara asks, soft, eyes searching.
Lena has a flash of insight where she gets it, she gets the over-the-top monologuing and the grandstanding, because the very last thing she wants in this moment is to be honest. She’d rather play a role, even that of a villain, if it meant she didn’t have to actually feel what she’s feeling. Much less talk about it.
So maybe Lillian did have a soul somewhere, or the remnant of one, if melodrama was her fallback. But Lena has wanted to be better and do better than that woman since since the moment she grasped that literally nothing on this earth was going to make Lillian love her.
It still takes a lot of effort. She takes her hands off Ka- Superg- Kara’s shoulders, ignoring the sad noise that inspires. She picks up Kara’s hands in her own, instead, chafing them a little. She’s not sure the slight friction is comforting to a Kryptonian, but from the way Kara clings her her maybe it’s the thought that counts.
“You name on Earth is Kara Danvers. I don’t know what it was on Krypton –”
“Kara Zor-El,” Kara breaks in. “Kara Zor-El,” she repeats in a tone of quiet relief.
Lena moves her mouth into something she hopes resembles a smile. “Another stepping stone?”
“Yeah.” She grips Lena’s hands so hard Lena can’t contain a wince. Kara’s hands immediately go limp. “I, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Lena murmurs, and resists the urge to flex and check she hasn’t lost any mobility. It hits her: Supergirl’s Kryptonian name. She knows that now. How many people know that?
Certainly Kara never intended for Lena to find out.
… god, the wealth of things Lena could get out of her, right now. She’s so vulnerable and lost. And trusting.
It’s another precipice. One that Lena looks down into and contemplates for what feels like a damning amount of time, but in reality she’s sure is less than a second. Still: a moment weighted with eternity.
Before she, mentally, steps back.
It makes things better. Her heart still feels like it’s rending into two parts, slow and excruciating, another meaty rip every time it strikes her fresh that Kara is Supergirl. She has been taken advantage of and taken from, and she will take back what she is owed.
But not from this girl. Not this version of Kara. This girl never decided to hurt Lena, and Lena… doesn’t want to hurt her. If she’s being honest.
“Come on,” she says gently, standing and pulling the other girl to her feet. Kara takes the excuse to resume her death grip on Lena’s hands, although not so hard this time. Her dart to Lena’s face, and then the floor, ducking her head so that she’s half-hidden under a curtain of hair.
“It’s okay,” Lena says again, and this time it really is. “Let’s go sit somewhere comfortable, and I’ll tell you all I know.”
She can afford patience. To wait. Eventually Kara’s full faculties will return, and then? Then she’ll be deserving of anything and everything Lena will throw at her.
They spend the next few hours on the couch huddled over Lena’s phone. Lena pulls up articles on Supergirl’s greatest hits to start them off, but she knows that’s not what Kara really wants to see. She has every photo Kara ever texted to her, which would be a lot more embarrassing if Kara could remember texting her, but she can’t. She just watches, wide-eyed with her hands in her lap, as Lena scrolls through candid shots of Kara’s workplace and apartment, the silly selfies with her friends sharing the frame.
“Is this helping?” Lena asks when she’s reached the last picture, of Kara’s chopsticks about to pluck a dumpling from the takeout container in her sister’s lap. Danvers is sitting on a couch with her head tipped back against it, eyes shut, mouth slightly open as she (Lena guesses) snores. The picture included the caption SHE WHO SNOOZES LOSES. “Are you remembering anything new?”
Kara shakes her head. “It’s not like the other stuff. It’s like there’s nothing there.” She pulls in a hard breath, and Lena can guess she’s holding back tears again. Kara still tries for a smile, though. “It’s nice? It looks like a nice life.”
“You seem very happy with it.” What does Lena know? Didn’t the last few hours prove she has no business, not business at all, in speaking with authority on Kara Danvers? It doesn’t matter how many stupid pictures she has saved to her phone.
“What about you?”
Lena’s head jerks up. “Me?”
“How do you know me?”
“I… we met fairly recently. I moved to National City to take over my brother’s corporation, and you –”
“Are we friends?”
Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on coaches for personal speaking, and Lena is made speechless by an alien with an impatience for social niceties.
“Because you know me, and you have all of – this,” Kara gestures at the phone, “but when you saw my face you got really upset.”
“I wasn’t that upset,” Lena says on autopilot: admit no weakness.
“Lena,” Kara says, with a look. “I know exactly how upset you were.”
“I was surprised,” Lena says, keeping her tone even. “I didn’t know you were… you,” she finishes, feeling idiotic but somehow unable to say it: you are Supergirl. Not to that face. Not yet.
Kara’s forehead furrows. “Why not?”
Lena looks at her helplessly.
She’s saved by a knock at the door. Lena barely has time to undo the chain before Agent Danvers is shouldering her way inside, at least five more DEO agents securing the hallway behind her.
“Where is she?” she demands, but Lena was anticipating this from the look on her face and she’s already pointing to the couch. Danvers doesn’t advance, careful not to put Lena at her back, but she directs a quick, intense scan at her sister. “Are you hurt? Is anything wrong?”
“No,” Kara says, standing. Her nonchalance at their reunion is jarring, compared to Danvers’ emotional intensity – the woman is practically vibrating – and their usual… connection. The same one that put Lena on edge when she first saw them together in the same room, the ease they had in sharing space. That’s gone, now.
“What happened to your dampener? Was there an attack? Was it damaged? Where is it?” Danvers asks.
It takes a moment to click. “Do you mean that device disguising her face?” Lena asks, reaching into her pocket. “I’ve got it here–”
She looks up and into the barrel of Danvers’ gun, and Lena can tell the agent has been longing to point it at her from the moment she walked through the door. Possibly before.
“That is DEO property, and if you do not hand it over I will shoot –”
A blur of motion and color, and the next thing Lena registers is the thud of Danvers’ gun striking the far wall. The damn thing fires, and the bullet blasts the TV screen into a volcano of sparks.
… with the cost of all these damages, Lena might just buy the apartment after all.
When she comes back to herself she’s pressed against the wall by Kara, who’s stretched out to shield her. Just beyond Kara’s shoulders she can see the DEO agents aiming their weapons, radios at the ready. Danvers as staring at them both with wide, wide eyes.
“Kara,” she gasps out. She’s holding her wrist in her other hand, where it hangs oddly.
Kara is facing away from her, so Lena can’t see her face. But she can see the muscles in the girl’s shoulders tighten and she can picture the accompanying expression: pinched and stubborn. She places a hand on Kara’s back.
“Kara,” she says softly. “I’m fine. She’s just looking out for you.”
Kara relaxes. It’s incremental, but it’s immediate. Lena can’t afford to be distracted by how that makes warmth uncurl in her chest.
“You don’t need to use guns,” Kara says firmly. “She doesn’t have any guns.”
The DEO agent doesn’t respond. She isn’t even blinking.
Lena feels a pang at that. Danvers looks like someone’s pulled the rug out from under her.
“And she’s coming with us when we go,” Kara adds.
… wait, what?
The DEO are more than happy to include Lena on their ride back to the states. She’s pretty sure they were planning for it, although she’s also pretty sure their scenario involved handcuffs, and maybe a bag over her head. They clearly hadn’t expected Supergirl to literally growl at them whenever they breached the two-foot radius around Lena’s person, but you weren’t recruited to work for the dealing-with-aliens-and-possibly-magic section of government black ops if you weren’t capable of thinking in your feet.
Lena is feeling less sanguine about the change in plans.
“I have a trillion-dollar international company to run, you know,” she tell Danvers, wedged up against the tinted window of their town car. Kara had insisted on taking the middle seat and place herself physically between Lena and the other agents. She apparently didn’t feel that Alex was a threat anymore. “I removed her gun,” she’d assured Lena, confident and a little smug. Lena hadn’t the heart to tell her that Alex probably had at least two more – along with various other weapons – secreted in her person. She figured one of them should get a win.
“We let you bring your phone and laptop,” Danvers replies.
Lena tries to stare her down. She had about seven minutes to send messages to her assistants re: the change in plans, with orders to pack up her things and make arrangements about the apartment’s damages. Kara had nothing to bring but her suit and the shopping bag of clothes they’d purchases yesterday at the boutique. Danvers had handled the latter with all the ceremony of a skunk carcass. Lena suspected she would have tried to chuck it out the window of their car on the way to the field just outside city limits, where the high-powered jet was waiting to whisk them out of Swiss airspace, except Kara had made a show of watching her store it in the trunk. “Yes. You put them in your bag.”
Danvers gives her a smile that’s nothing but bared teeth.
Superman is waiting for them when they arrive.
It brings Lena up short. She doesn’t like him. Oh, it’s completely irrational, and it puts her at a disadvantage, she knows that. Even as – especially as – a Luthor, it’d behoove her to cultivate something friendlier than outright distaste for the hero of Metropolis.
It doesn’t matter. She’ll never be able to hate Lex, and displacement is so human.
And that’s life without an irrational grudge against at least one superpowered alien, anyway? Downright pedestrian, is what. From the dark looks he shoots her as they’re escorted deep into DEO headquarters, passing several security checkpoints, it’s not as if she’s rejecting an olive branch.
“What are we doing about her?” he demands once they reach the bowels of the building.
Kara makes another growly noise, and he startles.
“Nothing yet,” Danver supplies. “Because of, well,” nodding toward her sister, “that.” She sighs. “The director called you back from Almerac?”
“As soon as I heard about Kara’s condition,” Director Henshaw says, entering the room. “If things went south, we needed backup that could put her in check.”
Danvers opens her mouth, but Lena finds herself beating the her to the punch. “She’s fine,” she assures the older man. “You don’t have to worry about her – you know, doing anything you don’t want.” She has a brief flash of Kara being dragged away in kryptonite-powered restraints, and her mind actually whites out for a second of unexpected… something. “Everything is fine,” she repeats.
Kara’s hand creeps up to intertwine their fingers.
“Be that as it may,” Henshaw says, “Alex radioed me with the update on Kara’s memory. I also thought, as a possible link between Earth and Krypton, Superman might be the one who could help spark the return of more recent remembrance.”
“He’s wearing my family’s crest.” Kara says. Her tone says she’s not sure how she feels about that.
“I am family, Kara.”
Lena thinks part of her must have always hated him, even before the business with Lex. That smooth, comforting tone, the boyish earnestness – something about him makes Lena itch to find the foundations of his world and shake them, just so he can stop being so sure of it.
But then, Superman never really been separate from Lex in her mind. Before the murders he was Lex’s newest fascination, the preoccupation that siphoned away the part of Lex’s focus he usually gave to Lena. Not that she wasn’t used it, as part of the cycle Lex went through every few years with a new patent or business merger. Once, even, with one of his (many) wives – and no surprise she’d turned out one of the few smart enough to leave him. All Lena ever had to do was bide her time. She’d get her brother back. She always had before.
Except that cycle had ended in a string of lifetime sentences, and now they would never be a family again.
Kara is shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize you.”
“Well, obviously,” Lena mutters. She puts one hand on her hip and cocks it, but the attitude is a little hard to pull off when Kara’s still holding her other one. “Don’t cover up on my account, Kent.”
Everyone else’s faces undergo a series of expressions she’d find funny if the circumstances were different. Superman is the worst of all. “I… don’t know what you –”
“Please,” Lena bites out. It feels good to be angry – she can be, about this trick and this person who played it. Not like – “Aside from being duped by a close friend, I am capable of putting two and two together.”
There’s a lot of anger in general, really.
“And we’ll deal with that later,” Henshaw says, with warning looks at the alien and Danvers. Lena is already making mental notes to record the past day’s revelations with – her phone? No, they have that. And her computer. They have to give it back eventually. If she can get ahold of a pen – or maybe just a sharp pin and the privacy she needs to scratch Morse code into her thigh – “You have permission to turn off your dampener, Superman.”
Superman doesn’t need to remove the device, apparently, he has the memories needed to reach up behind his ear and flip whatever switch there is.
It’s even worse seeing it confirmed, with Clark Kent’s head above the suit and cape. He hadn’t been an obsession. He and Lex had been friends. God, Lena might actually have pictures of them at one of Lex’s bachelor parties toge–
“Uncle Jor-El?” Kara breathes. It throws Lena off her train of thought and brings up the hair on the back of her neck. Because Kara’s eyes are wide and hopeful, but Kent’s are filled with sudden panic and, oh, Lena has no idea what the hell is going on, but she knows it’s going to hurt.
“No,” Kent forces out, bringing his hands up. “Kara, I’m not –” He swallows, throat bobbing. “I’m Kal-El. His son.”
Kara laughs. “Don’t be silly. How did you survive?” She steps forward, letting go of Lena’s hand in the process. Lena wants to yank her back like she would a child walking into traffic.
“Kara, it’s not a joke.”
Something in his tone must register through her wonder, because Kara halts a few steps in front of him. “No,” she says. “Kal-El was a baby. He can’t be more than a little boy by now.”
“There was an issue with your pod, Kara.” He takes in a deep breath. “It was knocked off course. You were trapped with it in the Phantom Zone. For twenty-four years.”
“The prison dimension?” Kara whispers.
I have to move, I have to be somewhere, someone is waiting for me, but it’s like the whole universe is pressing down, Lena remembers, and a pit opens up in her stomach.
“By the time you reached the Earth, I was… older.” He swallows again. “I’m sorry, I know this has to be disorienting –”
“So I failed.” The color has drained from Kara’s face. “You grew up alone, and I failed.”
“No, Kara – I know you were sent to protect me, but I was raised by a wonderful family, and they kept me safe. I was never in any real danger as I grew up, so even if you weren’t there, you didn’t fail –”
“Of course you weren’t in any danger,” Kara says, her hands curling into fists at her sides. “They sent us to a planet with a yellow sun – almost nothing in this system can harm us! You thought I was supposed to keep you safe? I was supposed to keep you Kryptonian.”
Lena sucks in a breath despite herself. Everyone else in the room is frozen and staring, with faces that say they’re just beginning to understand what a train wreck this will be.
Someone barrels in through the door – Winn Schott, she recognizes him. “Alright,” he announces, looking down at his phone, “I’ve isolated the isotopes from the kryptonite on the site Kara lost her memory, and –” He looks up to see the tableau and stops short. “… guys?”
“I am Kryptonian,” Kent says to Kara.
“Oh, are you?” Lena wants to reach out, pull Kara back from… she’s not sure what. But the pain radiating from the girl she thought was her best friend is so intense, she expects to feel it like heat when she raises her palm. “So you can explain to me the threefold symbolism of our house crest. You have to know the history of the House of El, of course, what am I saying – and you can at least tell me who you’re named for. And why. Right?”
Lena’s glad she’s not the only one staring in shock. She knew Kara was hiding a lot, but she never suspected this depth of resentment, this blistering judgement that seems as much directed inward as anything.
“No,” Kent finally admits. “I don’t know any of that. But I try to uphold the… the legacy of –”
“So you live like a Kryptonian?” Kara asks, too quietly. “You know our traditions and keep the rituals alive?”
“Do you light the rocks with me on summer solstice and sing the hymn for wanderers?” Kara’s voice begins to shake: “If I die, can you perform the seven rituals for seven days of mourning that will send me safely back to Rao?”
“I don’t know them, but I can find out,” Kent says. His tone as desperate, and god, Lena can see he means well. But Kara turns her head away, eyes closing, and Lena’s heart breaks. “The pods survived, and everything our family sent with them. They included a program that… it created a database, a massive computer, and every single piece of recorded Kryptonian history is on it. I promise you, we didn’t lose anything.”
That makes Kara open her eyes. “I lost everything,” she chokes out. “You were too young to remember. You don’t see their faces. You don’t dream in a language no one else speaks. It’s just a story to you – it isn’t real.” Her whole body is now shaking, Lena realizes, but even that isn’t enough to break the horrific spell that has them all paralyzed. “I was the one who gave it up. So that at least you and I, we would have each other in an alien world, surrounded by outsiders.” The look in her eyes is pure desolation. “But you might as well be one of them.”
The shaking intensifies, and she puts her hand over her mouth. She turns from him and walks out into the corridor, clearly needing to be somewhere else in that moment. Even with all those terrible words said, Lena feels like this is the most damning action yet.
“Woah,” Schott says, a beat later. “Uh. I take it this was a bad time.”
Superm- Kent is standing stock-still where Kara left him, staring sightlessly, chest rising and falling a little too rapidly for calm.
But he’s not her problem. That would be –
“I need to –” Danvers cuts herself off, swinging around and making as if to follow her sister. Lena’s stomach swoops, and she prays reason will outstrip protective instincts, but Danvers doesn’t seem to realize how this can only make things –
“Alex,” Lena says under her breath.
The agent stops at the door, takes a moment. Slams her closed fist against it.
Opens the door and stands aside, gesturing for Lena to step through.
“She needs someone she trusts,” Danvers says tightly.
Lena can only begin to guess how much that cost her, and so she does the polite thing by only acknowledging with a nod as she goes in search of Kara.
Kara hasn’t gone far. She’s found what looks like a break room, with couches and a coffee pot in the corner.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” she says as Lena walks inside.
Lena picks her way across the rough carpet, settles beside her on the couch. The upholstery is scratchy. Part of her really can’t wait to be back at L-Corp and far away from interior design on a federal budget. (Even a federal military budget.) “You had big a shock. I think he understands.”
“No, I’m not supposed to… I’m the older one, I –” She squeezes her eyes shut, rubs at them. “I used to be the older one. I’m supposed to take care of my cousin.”
Lena reaches to gently take her hand away from her face and hold it in her own, on the cushion between them. “It sounds like a lot of memories hit you all at once.”
Kara is silent for a long, long moment, until Lena is wondering if maybe Danvers would be the better choice for this. And then:
“It was supposed to be the two of us.” Kara is looking down, instead of at Lena, and her voice is almost too soft to be heard. “I would raise him in our traditions, and then we’d go and make our own families, raising them to remember, and this way, there would be an unbroken thread of living memory. It wouldn’t – Krypton is gone,” with sudden savagery, “I know that, we always knew it wouldn’t be the same. But between the two of us, we would make sure it was never truly lost.” She raises her head to look at Lena with eyes swimming with tears. “It’s just me, now. He isn’t – and I can’t do it alone. It’s too much, it’s too much to carry all alone –”
Lena opens her arms and Kara curls into them, shuddering, not quite crying, not yet. Maybe in shock from the seeming impossibility of this legacy, dropped in her lap out of the sky.
Lena remembers the day she received Lex’s shares of the company. Her first day as official CEO. The day she submitted the papers to change its name. Every single time it had taken the wind out of her, as it hit her anew how small she really was compared to the vastness of what was required. How much bigger she had to become to suit her purpose.
That was only in the face of one family’s legacy. A whole world…
Maybe, a voice whispered inside her, that would be enough to make you wary and hide your face even from your friends, knowing what was ultimately at stake.
She… doesn’t want to think about it right now. But speaking of.
“You should know,” she says, and allows herself to stroke Kara’s back, gently, “Krypton isn’t forgotten. People all over this world know where you came from and what happened to its people. They don’t always know much more than that. But the database your cousin mentioned – there are campaigns all over the world from professors and academics and specialists who want to know more about its language, and history, and culture. You remember those articles I showed you?” She waits until she feels Kara nod. “You and your cousin are heroes. The symbol of your house now stands for everything righteous and admirable.” Lena pauses, trying to find the right words. “You have a right to your grief. You have lost so much. Even your family’s legacy, in a way. But there is still a legacy.”
She feels Kara nod again, slower this time. “You’re right. I see what you mean, I… I understand.”
A quick, deep breath, and then another, as if Kara is now trying to hold back her tears. In a very, very small voice: “It’s not the same.”
When Lena was very young her father used to take her and Lex to tour the Luthorcorp factories. He’d introduce them to the workers, who’d grin and offer their hands, making jokes about how tall Lex was and how beautiful Lena would be. Lionel was the king of the castle, his children his prince and princess. “One day,” he would tell them on the ride home, “this company will belong to you both. Like being family, it will be something no one else can truly understand – but you will share it with each other.”
“I know,” Lena says.
Kara finally lets out a sob, and she presses even closer into Lena’s shoulder to muffle the sound of her crying. Lena holds on as tight as she can.
They all reconvened in one of the larger conference rooms. Kara was surprisingly calm by the time they return to the group, even making her way over to Kent and exchanging a few words before coming to sit by Lena. By contrast, everyone else jumpy and awkward. Lena is certain now they’ve never seen an outburst like that from Kara. The way Kent’s eyes keep flicking over to her, and the thoughtfulness when he does, only settles it.
“It’s kryptonite,” Schott announces. “Red kryptonite, actually.”
At this, everyone in the room except Lena and Kara exchanges charged glances. Kara, noticing, looks to Lena, who gives her a shrug.
“This is nothing like the effects of red kryptonite,” Danvers says flatly from where she’s leaning against the far wall.
“Well, it’s not exactly red kryptonite. It isn’t even red, really, it’s more of a blood orange. But I analyzed our sample,” here Schott turns to a whiteboard, picking up a marker and sketching out the model of a cell, “and it seems to be a variation of the established element. See, if green kryptonite looks like this… and red kryptonite looks like this…”
While everyone else – a little surprisingly, but Lena guesses organic chemistry is more intriguing for the layman when it has real-life application – is absorbed in Schott’s findings, Kara leans over to speak in Lena’s ear. “I’m really hungry,” she whispers.
“Do you want to go get something to eat? I’m sure they have a cafeteria. And that you have clearance.”
“I…” Kara wets her lips, eyeing the other occupants of the room. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”
“They’re not going to do anything to me knowing you’re around the corner,” Lena says, gently. Kara makes a moue, so she adds: “And if anything does happen, you have a ready suspect list. Which is the best anyone can ask for in this uncertain world.”
Kara raises her eyebrow, unimpressed. It makes Lena sad for a split second: usually that would shock Kara a little, and then make her tease Lena for being so… Luthor-like. Right now, Kara simply rises to her feet and informs their company of her intentions, and Henshaw radios for a guard to be her escort.
“This might be easier with her out of the room,” Schott says, as Kara shoots Lena one last worried glace and the door closes behind her. “We have to get a bit personal.”
There’s a pause while they all, very obviously, do not look at Lena.
Kent is the one to break the tension. “I think we’re well past that.” It’s not a rousing show of support, but Kent sounds less grim than anticipated. More tired than anything.
“Okay,” Schott nods. “Okay.” He drags out another whiteboard. “So, let’s try to develop the theory that these kryptonite samples are like different branches of the same tree. Hear me out. You guys familiar with Freud’s threefold sense of self? Yes, I know, he’s totally gross, but let’s just run with it.”
Henshaw nods. Kent looks thoughtful, and Danvers shrugs.
Schott pops a marker top and scribbles on the board: ID, EGO, SUPEREGO. “So, we have the me sense of self,” drawing several arrows to EGO, “and then we have the factors working on it. One of those is the id. That’s, like, all your darkest desires, the messy stuff. No scruples or limitations. Sound familiar?”
Lena is already lost as to what this has to do with anything, but the others are back to those significant looks. “Like the influence of red kryptonite,” Kent says.
“Exactly! So what if – I know it’s weird but what if – this new stuff, what if it works from the other end of the spectrum?” He taps the board just beneath SUPEREGO. “This is the rules and morality and ethics. Like, the fundamental understanding of right and wrong, and I’m talking early stuff, they think this worldview is established as early as three and four years of age.”
“Wait, wait,” Danvers puts up her good hand. She’d gotten her wrist splinted on the plane ride back, but refused all manner of pain meds. “Kara’s been exposed to red kryptonite, and there wasn’t any memory loss then.”
Lena blinks at her. Kara was..? What Lena would have given to see –
“Yeah, but that’s different! Look,” Schott says excitedly, “the id is selfish. It preserves the self, it’s with us from birth. So the superego is selfless and, when given full reign,” crossing out EGO to illustrate his point, “erases it. You can’t have ulterior motives if you don’t even know what you, as a person, want.”
“But her memories are returning,” Lena says.
“Yes! Exactly!” Schott says excitedly, waving his marker in the air. “But only Kryptonian ones!” He spreads his hands as he looks to each of them. “Don’t you guys get it?”
“Walk us through it, Winn. Slowly,” Henshaw says.
“I mean, what did Kara even do on red kryptonite? Showed an inch of bare midriff at work? Manhandled James? And yeah, let Cat Grant fall forty stories, but like… Come on, can you imagine what she could have done? What anyone else would have done with that kind of power and no restraints – I mean, we just have to look at the Luthors to… um…” He winces, throwing Lena an apologetic look.
“No, you have a point,” Lena murmurs.
“So what if it’s subject to an individual’s perception of right and wrong?” Schott continues gamely. “Red kryptonite had Kara doing the things that were personally abhorrent, even if on the sheer scale of possibility it was,” he snaps his fingers. “So when she’s exposed to the opposite flavor, the kind that evokes a of your ideal self? The self that’s way too demanding and difficult to actually live as on a day to day basis?”
“She’s Kryptonian,” Danvers says softly.
Schott nods vigorously. “I’ve asked Kara a lot about life on Krypton, okay. She doesn’t remember all that stuff! At least, not in the detail she was talking about. Who does? I mean, who is ever the same as they were, with the same ideals, as when they were a kid? That’s what we’re really dealing with here – not Kara as she would have grown up to be on Krypton, but the morality instilled in her back then. If red krypton is internally driven, this stuff works with the external, socially-imposed stuff. All those memories, none of the… compromise of growing up and realizing the world isn’t so simple. I think that’s also why she’s also so, uh, malleable.”
“Ah,” Henshaw says, grim. “So do we think someone was testing its effects? Making sure it would render Supergirl open to their influence?”
“No, wait,” Lena feels she has to interject, “she said she can tell when someone is lying. It doesn’t matter if she’s trusting because she believes everyone operates on the same moral code, she'd be able to know when they were trying to deceive her.”
“It doesn’t really work like that,” Kent says quietly, from the other side of the table. “It’s as fallible as any lie detecting machine, really – all we can sense is a change in heart rate or perspiration. That can come from any number of factors or false indicators. It’s only close to reliable when the response totally at odds with a person’s demeanor, because then we can guess they’re hiding something. If they’re in control of their responses – worse, if they don’t feel they’re acting in a way that deserves an anxious response – we won’t sense anything at all.” He meets her eyes, and she’s a little disturbed at the depth of sadness in his own. “Even those we know pretty intimately can end up fooling us.”
… oh. She’s an idiot, and she should have put it together before. If Superman had been able to catch Lex every time he lied, they would all be living in a very different world.
“But that proves my point, doesn’t it?” Schott resumes. “Kara’s seeing everything as black and white, lying or not lying. She’s not taking into account those other factors – just like she’s not living a sense of herself that has any fear of consequences. No room for second-guessing or self-protection. The image of your ideal self.”
“Kara’s best sense of self knocks my weapon out of my hands?” Alex asks.
Schott holds up his hands. “She’s working on a very rigid worldview, okay? Right is right, wrong is wrong. And you were pointing a gun at an unarmed civilian. Or so I heard,” he adds quickly. “At which point she came down on you like, well, like an avenging angel.”
“She fractured my wrist.”
“That shouldn’t be taken as a judgement against you,” Lena breaks in. “She doesn’t have her usual control. Remember?”
There’s a flash of what might be gratitude from Alex, but she ducks her head and nods too quickly for Lena to be sure.
“That,” Henshaw says, “worries me even more. She could potentially be very dangerous like this.” Uncontrollable, is the subtext, but Lena wonders if anyone else is picking up on that.
“I think we lucked out there. She doesn’t have the same finesse, and she’s way too trusting that the world around her is operating on the same level, until they don’t. But she seems to have developed an external dipstick to tell her when she’s taken things too far.” When they stare at him, he gestures to Lena.
Apparently they no longer feel a compunction against staring.
“I didn’t do a damn thing,” she says, just managing to make sure it’s not through gritted teeth.
“Well, you obviously did something. Not on purpose! We’re not thinking anything, like, nefarious,” Schott rambles. “But she seems to have, uh, imprinted on you? It would have happened easily enough, maybe something you said or did when she was first affected?”
Lena fights the urge to shrug. “I only walked over to say hello.”
“Well, I noticed something was wrong, and I said…”
“Is that my name? It doesn’t sound like a name.”
“I told her she should come home with me,” Lena says, dismissing the voices in her memory and the panic – completely disproportionate panic – she felt on hearing that response. She had panicked. When was the last time she allowed herself to do that – to act on impulse, on emotion? She hadn’t even considered the danger of placing herself in the alien’s orbit. She just… protected Supergirl.
The others look perturbed. Except – surprisingly – Alex Danvers. Who gives a long, slow blink and then relaxes, half the tension bleeding out of her frame in a breath.
Lena eyes her, but Alex turns her gaze to the floor, as if by coincidence.
Oh, she’s not going to escape that easily.
“So,” Henshaw sounds grim, “what do we do next? Introduce the concept of moral compromise?”
“Oh, yeah, that’s not going to do anything,” Schott says. “If this is like the red kryptonite, we can’t reason with her. If I’m right, we’re not really dealing with Kara – not like we know her. We’re dealing with Kara’s perception of her most lawful, moral self, and if we want to change that perception we have to access the,” he taps the board again, “core identity, which means reversing the effects of the kryptonite. That should bring everything back to normal.”
“So…” Kent starts up, “Kara doesn’t really think of me as… like that?”
“Of course not. I mean – well, part of her does, but –” Kent flinches, and Schott hurries on: “She can’t blame you. Even if she hadn’t been trapped for so long in the Zone – and that’s not your fault – this is just… assimilation is a part of all diasporas, right? Kara gets that, when she’s not so. Uh. Uncompromising.”
“But you think we can undo the effects,” Henshaw says. The three of them start talking about someone named Maxwell, but Lena keeps her attention on Kent, watching him out of the corner of her eye.
He looks gutted.
And a terribly small, terribly mean part of Lena thinks: Good.
“The only concern is if there’s any permanent brain injury,” Schott is saying. “Which isn’t likely, it’s much more probable she has all her memories stored in her subconscious and just isn’t accessing them, but without any solid proof so far that she can remember anything besides Krypton –”
“She dreams about the Phantom Zone, I think,” Lena says quietly. “She has nightmares about being cold, and unable to move.”
Danvers face creases in a deep frown. “She wouldn’t remember anything about that.”
“She might,” Schott says excitedly, tapping out something onto his phone. “Remember she was detoured for years. We say time stands still there, but it doesn’t actually, it just… well, it’s complicated. Kara wouldn’t have aged regardless, but she remained unconscious because of her pod, and the pod had finite resources. She might have woken up once or twice if it was conserving power.”
“But she’s never mentioned –”
“Oh, she’s repressed it, you know, that and childhood trauma go together like –” He catches sight of everyone’s faces when he looks up and stops, clearing his throat. “Anyway. It should mean everything is intact, brain-wise. So I just need to go back to the lab and reverse-engineer an antidote from the one for red that we’ve already got.” His eyes snag on Kent. “And maybe call my bubbe,” he adds to himself, before hustling out the door and down the corridor.
“We have one other problem,” Henshaw says when it’s just the three of them, after Kent also excuses himself. He says it to Danvers, really. “We can’t keep her here overnight.”
Danvers sends a glance Lena’s way. “Why not? We have a couple empty holding cells –”
“We cannot hold a citizen without due process,” Henshaw interrupts firmly. Not one with such a prominent public profile, anyway, Lena adds in her head. “And I wasn’t speaking of Ms. Luthor.”
Kara chooses that moment to re-enter the conference room. They all look at her.
She already has a protein bar unwrapped and in her hands, but at the attention she begins to pat her pockets, “I, uh, I think I have enough for everyone?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re going to keep her here,” Danvers says.
Henshaw presses his lips together, but Lena is guessing a sister’s amnesia gets you a free pass on an insubordinate tone. At least the first time. “I cannot have a Super at full powers and an unfettered conscience inside this building any longer than strictly necessary.”
… not just Super, but Super-morality… Lena’s eyebrows go up. Oh. Oh.
No, you wouldn’t want that wandering around your top secret base full of inconvenient government secrets, would you.
Kara plops down next to Lena, having realized she misread the room. She still offers a protein bar to Lena, though, shyly. Lena takes it with a smile.
“Superman can make sure she stays in her room –”
“And if it leads to a confrontation? Our job in this situation is to minimize risk, Agent Danvers. No, Kara needs to stay somewhere secure, where she’s safe from outside threats. But also someplace that won’t trigger her current… scruples. And, optimally, with someone who won’t be tempted to sue the DEO for damages, should she continue to struggle controlling her powers.”
Lena gets it almost right away, stops mid-bite of her protein bar. It takes Danvers another second.
“Oh, come on,” she protests.
Danvers at leasts insists on heading the team that sweeps Lena’s apartment of… well, their search parameters felt deliberately broad.
“They’re making sure I don’t have anything in here that could hurt you,” Lena says to Kara, as they stand together in her kitchen, before pitching her voice a bit louder: “Although I’m not sure what that might be, since I’ve just come home myself, and with completely unexpected guests.”
“Standard procedure, Ms. Luthor,” Danvers shouts back from another room. Lena thinks she’s itemizing the contents of the wine fridge. That ‘12 Chateauneuf du Pape better still be there when the agents leave.
Lena kills time by putting in take-out orders for dinner – the one thing that’s easier, now that Supergirl’s identity has been revealed. She already has menus from Kara’s favorites.
Lena puts in an order for the agents as well. 'Kill them with kindness' was never part of her childhood curriculum, but Lena’s not so set in her ways that she can’t pick up new tricks. It’s more than worth it for the way Danvers eyes a pizza slice like it’s radioactive before cramming into her mouth with bad grace.
Lena’s not the only one who notices. Kara levels the DEO agent with a look. “Say thank you.”
The two of them enter a wordless stare-off, neither of them moving a muscle for almost half a minute. Lena squashes the urge to rest her chin in her hand and start grinning like an idiot.
Danvers breaks first, nodding at Lena with her eyes downcast. “Thank you for the pizza. And,” she presses her lips together before prying the apart, “this,” indicating Lena, Kara, the situation Lena is learning to love more with every passing second.
“Any time,” Lena simpers, just to annoy her, but Danvers swallows it.
Lena has just enough time to wonder who all this good behavior is for as Danvers confers with another agent, and then turns back to Kara. “We’ll be back tomorrow at 7:30 AM sharp. If anything goes wrong – if you feel uncomfortable for any reason – use your panic button. Yeah, that,” as Kara holds up her arm and displays where it dangles on her wrist.
Danvers is silent for a moment, worrying her lip as Kara looks back at her, guileless. “Can I hug you goodbye?” she asks finally.
Kara nods. Danvers wraps her arms around the alien’s shoulders, Kara’s hold around her waist is loose, and relaxed, bending her head to the other woman’s shoulder. Lena only catches a glimpse of Danvers’ face, the sudden strain she allows to show on it as she holds on as if for dear life.
Lena looks away.
She escorts the agents to the door afterward, leaving Kara in the kitchen. “A word,” she says, just as Danvers is about to follow the rest of her team.
Danvers turns to face her, one eyebrow raised.
“I saw your face when Schott was talking,” Lena tells her. “You know what happened – why Kara…”
“Imprinted on you?” Danvers finishes drily.
“Listen.” She can’t help lowering her voice even as she knows it’s useless against superhearing. “She’s already too… open, like this. We don’t want to reproduce the effects and make her even more suggestible. Or leave her vulnerable to someone else.”
“Someone who isn’t been so closely monitored by the DEO?”
“I know what you think about me, but –”
“No, you’re right. And if I’d thought that was any sort of possibility, I would have brought it up at the meeting. As it was, I figured Clark’d already had an earful about failing to live up to family obligations.”
What the hell did Kent have to do with it? “If you don’t want to tell me –”
“You claimed her.” The agent steps away from the door and leans to press the button for the elevator. “She was lost, and alone, and you claimed her right away. If Winn’s right, and she has subconscious possession of all her memories? That would have… resonated.”
Lena watches her step into the elevator as it arrives. She’s not sure she understands. But Alex’s expression, for the first time all day, is surprisingly free of rancor. “Goodnight, Agent Danvers.”
“Good night, Ms. Luthor. Pull any tricks tonight, and they’ll never find your body,” as the doors close over her face.
She can’t sleep.
Lena pulls on a robe and goes down to the kitchen to make herself a mug of warm milk. She doesn’t drink, it. She lets it cool on the countertop as she thumbs through the emails on her phone. She forwarded the NDA the DEO made her sign before allowing her to leave the premises over to her lawyer, but she hasn’t heard anything back yet. She’s not that worried – they didn’t have time to sneak anything in there, from what she was able to see when she scanned the document. To their credit, they seemed first and foremost concerned with protecting Kara.
She puts her phone down and picks up the mug. It’s gone cold and she puts it down with a face.
“Can I have some?”
Lena looks over to see Kara leaning against the doorjamb, hair a mess. Like maybe she’s been tossing and turning on her pillow. “Did I wake you up?”
Kara shakes her head. There are lines of exhaustion on her face Lena has never seen before.
Mentioning how exhausting and overwhelming the past day has been feels like the utmost of inanity, so Lena simply moves to re-microwave the milk. She hears Kara pad across the floor behind her, and so manages not to jump when the other girl drops her head down onto Lena’s shoulder with a sigh.
They were never this comfortable with each other, before, not even with Kara Danvers at her most conciliatory. Lena wonders if she should have figured out how much of it went past amnesia before now. She also wonders if she should say something – make it clear to Kara that her emotional and physical comforts are historically found elsewhere. The endless amusement of Danvers’ hurt little face aside, wasn’t there some kind of boyfriend, of a sorts, for a while there? That male partner who’d tagged along on rescue missions and made puppydog eyes at Supergirl?
(Yes, she should remember his name, she was almost married to him. But he hasn’t been around lately and she doesn’t believe in hanging on to outdated information.)
She doesn’t even know why she’s so concerned. It isn’t her responsibility to maintain Kara’s status quo. She hadn’t even been part of that status quo, not where it counted. She angrily yanks the door open to the microwave as it dings.
The heat radiating from the ceramic has her yanking back before her fingers make contact, and the sudden movement makes Kara raise her head. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Lena mutters. “It’s too hot.”
“Here, let me.” Kara reaches past her easily, her arm coming in across from Lena’s side. Lena would turn and make her escape, but when she tries Kara’s other hand comes up to rest against the flawless metal sheen of Lena’s industrial refrigerator.
Lena knows when she’s been pinned in place, if not why. So she merely folds her arms and leans back against the refrigerator door with an eyebrow raised as Kara tips her head back and downs her milk.
“Question?” she asks as Kara finishes with a satisfied sigh, and pretends she wasn’t watching the movement of the alien’s throat the whole time.
“Yes.” Kara places the mug carefully back on the counter. “The ritual that woman enacted before she left, is it expected of intimate contact?”
It takes Lena a second. “You mean, when Alex asked you for a hug?” She frowns a little. “Not explicitly. I’m sure the two of you hug all the time without going through all that. But since you have no memory of giving previous permission, she was being… respectful.”
“So, permission is sought in first encounters?”
“If there’s any hope of follow-ups.”
Kara nods, once. “Can I kiss you?”
… she should have seen this coming.
And she knows there’s a dozen – just to start – reasons to say no. She’s not sure how ethical it is to kiss someone with no memory of their previous relationship, or any other relationships. Or even how she, Lena, feels about being kissed by Kara, who has been lying to her day in and day out with a smile.
But Lena hasn’t gotten what she wants so often in life that she’s about to start turning it down now.
“Yes.” She barely gets the word out before Kara’s mouth is on hers.
She’d be lying if she said she hasn’t thought about this.
She’d always imagined it to be tentative, though, shy and exploratory. Lena had no idea if Kara even liked women, and had to factor that into her calculations – where and why it might happen anyway, the negotiations after, Kara flushing and not quite able to meet her eyes.
Never – ever – being pressed firmly against the nearest flat surface and kissed like Kara was staking a claim. That answers that question, Lena thought, and then gave herself up to the feeling of it: one of Kara’s hands curved around her waist and the other cupping her jaw, thumb brushing against her cheekbone. Lena brings up her own hands to rest on the alien’s upper arms and, oh, mistake, miscalculation. The curve of muscle there and the awareness of leashed force is like a haze rising in her brain, and Lena can feel her control of the situation slipping.
Possibly Kara can, as well, because she angles Lena slightly, and deepens the kiss. Her mouth opens a little further and her tongue touches to Lena’s lower lip with a soft moan. Kara presses forward – Lena has nowhere to go (not that she wants to go anywhere) and this slots them together like puzzle pieces. Lena’s body lights up, it feels so fucking good, so of course that’s the shock she needs to break the kiss and gasp: “Wait.”
She turns her head to the side to catch her breath. Kara doesn’t go anywhere, probably because Lena’s still got her fingers firmly wrapped around her biceps. She just tips her head until her forehead rests against Lena’s temple, taking in deep breaths of her own.
Lena shuts her eyes. It would be so easy to not care. Not think about it. Just turn off her brain and – “Why?”
“Well, you’re beautiful.” Kara laughs, a little huskily. “And you’ve been so… you’re wonderful. You make me feel so good.” Her hand slips from Lena’s face down to where her neck meets her shoulder, in a caress. “I’d like to make you feel good.”
“That simple?” Lena makes her tone light, as if her heart didn’t feel like it might beat itself right out of her chest.
Fingers press lightly, teasingly, into the dip above her collarbone. “Does it have to be complicated?”
“I think the situation warrants it, yes.” She has to say it. “You never wanted this before.”
“Didn’t I?’ Softly contemplative. “Maybe I never said anything, but… this doesn’t feel new.” The following silence is expectant, and so Lena turns back so that their eyes meet. “It feels like I haven’t told you a lot of things I should have,” Kara says.
“You obviously had your reasons. You’ve just forgotten them.”
Kara’s face scrunches in frustration. “I just don’t get it. Why wouldn’t I trust… you’re amazing. You wouldn’t ever hurt me. You couldn’t,” she says, with a soft smile.
Dammit. If only she hadn’t… dammit.
Because whether Lena would or would not hurt Kara in the future, yes, that was up for debate. Lena understands being doubted, even if she’s not sure she’s ready to forgive it. Lena is ready for the argument she knows now for an inevitability: her ethics versus Kara’s, their differing priorities, what it means for them going forward. But whether or not she’s capable of hurting Kara? Or Supergirl?
Of course she is.
And that goes beyond the secrets she still hasn’t shared, the precautions she’s always known to take, or the formulation for kryptonite – just in case, just in case – she’s been working on since before she even arrived in National City.
She’s a Luthor. She’s capable of anything.
She releases Kara’s (gorgeous) arms with a sigh. A light push is all the other girl needs to step back and give Lena her space, although she doesn’t look thrilled about it. Lena’s not happy herself, but she’s even less so at the thought of being wanted purely for her altruism. That’s not even a thing she has, really, and Lena’s been fucked by people who thought she was someone else, before, but… No. Not here and now. Not acceptable.
“We should both try to get some sleep,” she says.
Kara tilts her head to the side. “Really?”
Kara’s smile is wistful, this time, but she doesn’t argue. She leans in a little with a question in her eyes and Lena offers her cheek in answer.
The kiss is right at the corner of her mouth, and soft, and it lingers. But Lena’s the one who said an amnesiac alien could kiss her in the first place, so now they’re even.
Or that’s what she tells herself as she stares up at her bedroom ceiling until the morning light creeps in.
“You’re still here,” Superman says.
Lena is watching as they hook Kara up to – actually she’s not sure what to, it’s some kind of contraption with electrode patches and a fast-blinking interface. Lena is allowed to watch the procedure, but is confined to the observation area behind a thick pane of translucent material, might be glass bonded with something extra for that edge when experiments go wrong. She understands the precautions, but she really wants to get a better look at whatever they’re using on Kara. She’s pretty sure some of those components are alien tech. She very badly wants to sneak it out of here and dismantle it in her own lab. Focus, she tells herself, but doesn’t look away. “Kara wants me here.”
She can feel his eyes on her after that, but he doesn’t say anything, so she imagines she’s headed off any excuse he has to hustle her out. Until:
“You really do remind me of Lex.”
Lena turns fully around to face him.
With anyone else, she would know what that meant: a hidden barb, a slap in the face, even the greasy slick of sycophancy. (Wherever he ended up, Lex made a lot of money. Most of the people she deals with on a daily basis respect that far above the death toll. Possibly because, if indirect action was held as accountable as direct action, they’d have their own.) For the half-second before she sees his face, Lena thinks it’s an accusation.
But it’s not.
“He used to talk about you all the time. Your grades in school, the projects you were working on – he was so proud of you.” He hesitates. “He told me you were adopted.”
It’s not a secret. The legal documents are public record, if you want to look, and even her father wasn’t able to suppress a few headlines when she first started appearing with them in public. There’s no reason for the wash of cold prickling all over her skin, as if Lex’s openness also left her vulnerable.
“He only brought it up after… well, he looked into my background as Clark Kent, and he found my adoption papers. I was pretty ticked off at first. And scared, I mean I had to wonder… but then he talked about you. He asked me what it was like, and what my parents had done that might have helped grow up like that. I figured he was just looking out for you, instead of investigating me.” He frowns. “I guess it might have been both.”
Oh, it had definitely been both.
“I always wondered how deep his suspicions ran,” he tells her quietly. “There were a couple times –” He cuts himself off by pressing his lips together. “Every time we talked about you, he would end it with: she’s nothing like me, you know.” He raises his eyes. “Any idea why he’d say that?”
A number of reasons. So that Kent wouldn’t damn her with his journalistic pen when reporting Lex’s inevitable crimes. To hold Lena in reserve, so that Kent would discount her as a force to be reckoned with if Lex needed someone else to do his dirty work. Hell, maybe it was part of a long-range plan of hypnotic suggestion, is he really asking her to explain Lex’s reasoning and internal motivations? Lex?
“Anyway, I think he was wrong,” Superman says, turning his focus back to where they’re still fussing with Kara. “You two are a lot alike.”
“You hated him,” Lena says flatly.
“No,” he looks at her, eyes wide. “No, I didn’t, I…” He closes his mouth and it twists, the muscles standing out in his neck. “He has the most amazing mind,” he says finally. “I kept thinking: if only he used it for something better. If he’d tried to make things better, instead of –” He stops himself. “My parents didn’t want me doing a lot of normal things when I was growing up, like joining sports teams. They told me, with my powers, I had to set different goals than other people. Hold myself to a different standard.” His mouth twists even deeper into his cheek. “Lex didn’t find that as inspiring as I had.”
No, he wouldn’t have. For the first time Lena feels something like a flash of pity for Kent. He had no way of knowing do and be better wasn’t a sign of belief, the encouragement of loving parents, to someone with her and Lex’s childhood. It was a flat statement of you have failed to be worthy as you are.
Of what? Whatever commodity was running short in the Luthor household that week. Whichever of Maslow’s fundamental needs Lillian had decided was a means to an end.
If that had been Kent’s way of trying to talk Lex down from the ledge… no wonder.
“And then, well. You remember what it was like.”
Oh, does she. That had been the story of her adolescence: which months would Lex be on bail for charges brought to the public’s attention by Superman? They were always false. Or that was the company and family line: a misunderstanding, a misapplication of justice, the perception of guilt but nothing that could be proved. Public prosecutors were no match for the sheer tonnage of expert and character witnesses Lex would bring to court. And their witnesses always had a last-minute change of heart.
“It’s bread and circuses,” Lex would assure her whenever they met. “They violate my constitutional rights, and why? Because I’m a rich man and therefore corrupt, and the city’s in thrall to an alien. Panem et circenses, Lena. A case of spectacle over substance.”
After all, none of the charges really stuck, or not in any meaningful way.
(After all, Lena would whisper to herself in the dark privacy of her thoughts: none of the prosecutor’s witnesses ever went missing.)
“I had hope, for a long time,” Superman continues, “that he would change. And I wonder if I…” He shakes is head slightly. “Lex is responsible for his own destiny. But I can’t help but wonder what else I could have done.”
Lena’s mouth drops open, just a little. He can’t seriously be saying… he can’t even be considering –
“I see you here,” he continues somberly, with that same look of noble self-sacrifice that cost Lena more than a few screens when he used it for the press junket after Lex’s lifetime sentences, “by Kara’s side, after everything. And I know you’re angry. I know it’s justified. But you’re still here, and you remind me so much of… You knew him better than anyone. Do you think – was it even possible..?”
Of course she’s angry. That hasn’t stopped, she’s still Lena Luthor, she can’t undo her nature in a few days. She’s only put it on pause. It’s a trick she’s learned: to save strong emotion for when feeling it didn’t reveal her weaknesses. She stores it deep in her body and prays she finds time to address it before it forces its own way out. It works, mostly.
But that anger is solid, controllable, compared to –
She wants to burn him. Pin him in place with a nice chunk of kryptonite and let the flames do their work.
Of course Lex would have kept his secret. Of course Lex would have forgiven him, eventually, for the lies and the deceit. Lex – well, Lex was never the best with moral high grounds, even before he turned a deaf ear to his better angels. Lex could forgive almost any crime, as long as he was your first call in covering it up.
… but would Superman’s secret have saved him? Prevented all those deaths?
Lena… honestly can’t say. Not even now.
She wants to think it. God, but she wants to throw it in Superman’s face: it’s all your fault, I lost my brother because of you. Even now, with him half-braced for it, it would be so deeply satisfying.
But she looks at his expression of sorrowful expectation and she… isn’t sure.
It was a lot easier to condemn him before all this. Before she knew Kara and Supergirl as one person; before she experienced Kara, as Schott explained, operating in the belief of a just world. Lena had been aware on a rational level what responsibilities a Super might deal with on a daily basis, even before she reached conclusive proof they lived under secret identities. But knowing is one thing; living with a truly unafraid, unfettered Kara over the past few days… she isn’t substantially different, not at the core. And yet Lena can’t help but do the mental calculations and figure out exactly how much self-restraint Kara must usually practice, what possible responsibilities and anxieties could tip the scales to that degree.
She’s still angry about all of it. But she’s not unsympathetic.
She can’t be the cold bitch she wants to be, either, looking at Kent now. She loves Lex. But she can’t, in good conscience, promise that his potential reform outweighs all the possible ways that his knowing Superman’s secret could have gone wrong.
(And if Superman cared for Lex as well, even the littlest bit, she’s not sure she wants to add that guilt to his scales. Not anymore.)
“No,” she says, her tone perfectly even. “It wouldn’t have been the same.” She manages a small shrug. “Lex really did want to conquer the world, you know. He planned for a willing surrender, but failing that? I’m not sure what resources he would have drawn on. Better off for everyone that he didn’t have a Super in his back pocket.”
Superman stares at her, eyes growing wider and wider. She has a moment to wonder what his problem is – why can’t he just be happy with what she said, isn’t that what he wanted – before remembering his explanation of the only real way to know if someone was lying.
Danvers opens the door to the observation area, sparing them both. “They’re starting,” she says breathlessly.
She joins the two of them – either for her own protection, or to keep watch, anyone’s guess – behind the not-entirely-glass. They peer through it, close as they can be to the barrier, as one.
There’s a weapon of some kind, emitting a low, steady beam of neon light. Danvers whisper something to Kent about lowering the intensity from last time in the hopes it won’t knock Kara out completely. Kara withstands the beam for thirty seconds, sixty. Lena counts out eighty-three seconds, and then Kara holds up her hand and the beam stops. Everyone holds their breath.
Kara hunches over, consumed with internal struggle. A fine, orangey-red mist rises from her in waves.
“Kara?” Henshaw was the only one allowed to remain in the room with her,something Lena doesn’t understand but has most definitely filed away for later speculation. “Do you know who I am?”
“Of course I do,” come that familiar voice, but more importantly in the familiar tones of warmth and underlying exasperation. Lena staggers a little bit, resting her forehead on the cool barrier in relief. “What – am I back in the DEO? What happened?”
“How much can you recall?”
Lena raises her head to watch Kara frown. “There was an emergency – in Zürich, right? I flew over, and then I… I…”
She stops. Her hand creeps up under her hair behind her hair.
And Kara turns to look directly at Lena on the other side of the glass.
In the next instant she’s gone, a wind tunnel and a trail of open doors as evidence that she super-speeded away and out of sight.
Everyone at the DEO is very nice about it.
So terribly understanding.
Henshaw takes a moment in the midst of escorting her out the door to press a card into her hand. “I understand Alex gave you her contact info,” he says. “I’d appreciate if you’d replace it with mine.”
“Are you asking me to forget her violation of DEO policy in exchange for access?” she asks, already tucking the card away.
“Yes.” He holds her gaze. “And it includes a one-time offer for any favor I can give you that isn’t illegal or immoral.”
The car she called for drives up. She ignores it. “And you’re hoping that will make me reconsider any petty revenges I might be considering in light of the past few days. Against Alex, or…” But her mouth dries up when she wants to say the name.
Henshaw might as well be carved from marble, for all he gives back to her in that moment. “Will it?”
Lena yanks the car door open and climbs in. “I don’t do petty,” she tells him, before closing it and telling her driver to take her to L-Corp.
The familiar sights and sounds of her work wash over her in a wave as she enters. It’s like a soothing balm, or a numbing swallow of alcohol, and she gives over to it: asking her assistants to prioritize her messages, reviewing her schedule, conferencing with three different department heads.
It’s almost seven before her second assistant says: “Oh, and Kara Danvers called just before you arrived.”
Lena looks up and the assistant blanches, stuttering, “I’m sorry, you – you’ve said before she’s only tier four priority, unless she specifically asks –”
“Did she leave a message?”
“Yes!” He taps through his tablet. “She, uh, you had a lunch scheduled later this week. She called to cancel.”
Kara cancels quite often. “Did she reschedule?”
(She always reschedules.)
More taps. A nervous glance at Lena, and yet more tapping. “No, I don’t see… should I call her back?”
“You’re dismissed for the day. Thank you.”
When she makes a motion the guard by her door closes it behind her assistant, and locks it from the outside.
Lena sits back in her chair. Considers. Her desktop monitor? No, she needs that. Her phone doesn’t feel solid enough. The chair is too solid.
She settles on an objet d’art on her bookcase: a Qianlong dynasty vase. One of the less valuable offerings from the Luthor vaults, but striking.
She picks it up and flings it against the far wall. It shatters, almost musically, into dozens of pieces.
It’s a childish gesture. It takes away whatever modicum of self-respect she felt with her parting words to Henshaw.
It’s still a relief to have a physical manifestation of the past few days: something incalculably unique and precious, now broken beyond repair.
1. Apparently there hasn’t been a canon statement about Lena’s degrees in "Supergirl," but considering her genius capabilities as listed in the wiki a PhD at least seems fair. Special thanks to lostchips and saunteringvaguelydownwards on tumblr, who pointed out a few other Arrowverse errors. Anyone is welcome to point out any that remain, but I can't promise I'll try much harder, I'm obviously kinda ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ with this canon in general.
2. Lex’s photographic memory is "Adventures of Superman" canon, while his propensity for quick, doomed marriages is from "Smallville."
3. I just, uh, want to make it clear I love Superman and he is literally one of my favorite superheroes? I know this might read like I feel otherwise. (I don’t! HE IS THE BEST. But you know... Lena POV... fyi this also applies somewhat to the approach to Lex, but we’re going to address that as well in the last chapter.)
4. Where is James? James is working overtime as Guardian; they’ve got not one but two Supers on the bench and he is putting out fires right and left. Once Kara checks her voicemail she is getting an earful.
Apologies for the wait, but this one was almost as long as the previous chapters combined.
And now the conclusion of what I am seriously tempted to re-name "Kara and Lena cry on each other a lot: the fic." Thank you for coming along on this weird little character piece with me.
Lena looks up at a knock on her window.
Kara can see her through it, obviously, so Lena doesn’t bother to re-do her ponytail or throw on a cover-up, and pads out onto the balcony barefoot. She’ll pull a power move out of sweatpants and a tank top if she has to. “Supergirl. What an unexpected pleasure.”
It’s been almost two weeks since they last saw each other, in the basement of the DEO. Kara hasn’t tried to contact her in any way, which made Lena only angrier and less available, refusing to be the one to blink first.
She might have reconsidered if she’d known Kara would resort to this. Seeing the familiar red and blue suit on her balcony isn’t so bad, but her face-cloaking tech is also activated.
And fuck that.
Supergirl raises her chin. If she was in a better mood, Lena would offer to schedule her some time with Lena’s Krav Maga instructor – being all but physically invulnerable is no excuse to give your opponent such a clear striking point. “I, um.” She clears her throat. “I won’t bother you for long. I just wanted to return this.”
She holds out a paper bag with waxed handles, the shop’s logo a discrete filagree in the corner. Lena doesn’t recognize it on sight, she’s busy wondering how the hell Supergirl sped across the city without wind resistance ripping it to shreds, and then it clicks.
“The clothes were a gift.” Her jaw is stiff with the effort to keep her tone even.
“I know, but I, uh. I can’t accept it.” She starts off strong, meeting Lena’s eyes, but ends up directing her gaze downward and tucking her hair behind her ear.
Fuck. Fuck, Lena hates her. No, it couldn’t have been this obvious, before. Lena was duped and she owns it, but she is actually capable of observation and evaluation – the similarity of mannerism wasn’t this strong previously. Couldn’t have been. Kara must have put on a persona: strong and unwavering Supergirl, untouched by the everyday self-doubts and anxieties of mere mortals.
… she hadn’t been like that without her memories.
But she hadn’t been quite like this, either. This is the Kara that Lena knows from the past months of… well, of full-throttle infatuation, she’s not proud. Softness, yes, and sweetness, but with that hint of steel whenever you push up against a boundary. Huh – she supposes that’s what the Supergirl mode is, really, just an inversion: a show of steel, hidden softness. Thesis and antithesis. And how she’d been with amnesia – or partial – was that the synthesis? That carelessness and openness – that had to be an essential part of Kara, too, didn’t it?
Lena wonders how many multitudes Kara holds.
She wonders if Kara even knows herself.
As Lena remains silent, Kara grows more and more visibly nervous. She takes a half-step forward, places the bag on the ground between them, shuffles back.
Lena looks down at the bag of clothes. “You can’t accept it,” she repeats.
“Well, I…” Supergirl swallows. “I don’t – you shouldn’t have had to – I’d return them myself, but you put them on your card. So I figured you’d work something out, if I. Brought them back.”
“You wanted to spare me the loss on several days’ worth of ready-to-wear clothing?” Lena brings her eyes back up to meet Kara’s. The alien has the grace to flush.
Kara knows exactly how much money Lena has. Makes. Has made, since stepping out onto the balcony. Probably enough to buy out the boutique owner’s entire business, plus start-up costs. Lena could buy up whole swathes of Zürich before going into debt.
No, this is because she doesn’t want to be indebted to Lena.
An impulse rises up, hot and huge. It’s odd, but not totally unfamiliar, and Lena feels around the edges of it until she figures out: it’s the urge to throw a tantrum.
She’s surprised at herself. She hasn’t had one of those since she was five years old – after long months in Lillian Luthor’s household taught her how badly they could backfire.
Well, Lillian isn’t here, is she? And this is Lena’s home.
“Fine.” Lena scoops up the bag. Takes a few swift steps away and over to the low ledge surrounding the perimeter of the balcony.
Kara reacts faster that thought: “What are you –” But her hands go around Lena’s waist, anchoring, which leaves Lena free to reach into the bag, grab a handful of expensive blouse, and fling it straight over the balcony and into the air.
Kara makes a sound that might have been an intelligible word, in a past life (oh, Lena is going to make it her mission to learn Kryptonian so fast, now) and lets go of Lena’s waist, zipping off. Lena ignores the lingering awareness of pressure just above her hip bones, and reaches deeper into the bag.
She’s unearthed a few more articles and tossed them overboard before Kara, plucking another blouse out of the air, rises back up to the level of the balcony. “What are you doing?” she demands, with a tone that speaks of exasperation and frustration and yes, more than a little hurt.
Good, Lena thinks: equal footing.
Or as close as they’re going to get while one of them remains airborne.
“What does it look like?” Lena throws out a pair of pants. Kara has to duck out of their way before remembering to dive for them. “These places don’t take returns, and you don’t see me wearing this, do you?” – as she holds up a light cashmere sweater between her fingertips. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it’d positively hang off Lena’s shoulders. Stupid arms, Lena thinks, and tosses the sweater with more force than required to clear the railing.
“You could – Lena, stop – you could donate them somewhere!”
“Oh, of course. I can just walk into any consignment shop and drop off the clothes of a woman who obviously isn’t myself?” Lena flings socks this time, and Kara nearly drops what’s in her arms trying to catch them. “That won’t attract attention. That won’t get written up as a blind item. The gossip columnists don’t track my activities, or those of my assistants, on the regular.” She tosses another pair of socks into the air before catching them again, considering. “This way there’s still a chance these items can find a forever home.”
“And this won’t get attention?” Kara asks, juggling her retrieved bounty. Some of those fabrics look very slippery. “Clothing raining down from the offices of L-Corp?”
“Lots of people work here, Supergirl. I can’t be held responsible for what they get up to during lunch hour.”
She can actually see the moment Kara snaps. The alien abandons all pretense and dumps the clothing in her arms onto the tiles of Lena’s balcony and lands there herself a second later, stalking forward.
“Stop,” she demands, which wouldn’t be a tenth of what’s needed to deter Lena from any determined course of action, except Kara then grabs at her, caging Lena’s wrists with her fingers. The bag is jostled from her grip, and Lena is forced to face her head-on.
She hates it. It doesn’t hurt – Kara keeps her fingers in a loose circle, doesn’t squeeze down – but it’s amazing, the rage it inspires to be pinned down and held in place by – looking like –
“If you don’t turn that damn face thing off,” she says, quietly, but with an edge of something wild she knows Kara can hear, “I will scream until someone hears me.”
Kara flinches. “I’m so–” She bites off whatever she was going to say and looks away. “I can’t,” she says finally, and Lena can feel the scream rising up. “Not when I’m wearing this,” she amends.
Lena lets her eyes fall shut and breathes until she can do this without hysteria. “You really think I don’t own any nearby building with a direct line of sight to where I live? Or have taken security measures against any space where you could aim a telephoto lens, or a rifle scope, in this direction?” She opens her eyes to find Kara looking atypically inscrutable. “No one’s going to see you up here.”
Slowly, slowly, eyes never leaving Lena’s face, Kara relaxes the grip of one hand and reaches behind her ear.
Her face – her real face – is an immediate relief to Lena. She hadn’t even taken stock of the nausea that was building in her gut up until this moment. It’s odd – if she could have even begun to guess at this labyrinthine deception, she would have thought it’d be the other way around: that the Supergirl persona would be a relief in opposition to the sight of Kara in the uniform, Kara’s face above the iconic red-blue-yellow. Instead, it calms her.
(Well, as calm as she gets with one wrist still contained in a superpowered hold, looking at the curve of muscle visible in the arm containing it. She really hates being this predictable.)
She’s not going to thank her for turning off the cloaking device, though. Or for trusting Lena about the lack of exposure.
They’re not there yet.
Which is why she has to give her hand a little shake, reminding Kara it’s still in her grip.
“Oh. I’m sorry, I – right.” Kara releases her, and if her fingertips linger to brush over the skin of Lena’s inner wrist… well, Lena used to let a lot of touches linger. If Kara developed a habit, maybe Lena’s to blame.
It’s awful, she realizes suddenly, the way they stare at each other now: awkward, defenseless. Silent.
She and Kara used to be so easy.
“I’d still feel more comfortable if we could go inside,” Kara says after a minute. Her voice is soft, but the rigidity of her shoulders betrays the strength of feeling behind it.
“I’d feel a lot more comfortable,” and apparently Lena is not done with her tantrum, “if I’d known exactly who I was allowing inside – into my home, my office, my life – for these past months.”
“That’s not fair,” Kara says. She whispers it, ducking her head a little.
You made her sad, a part of Lena wails, and she slashes its throat before kicking its useless corpse into the darker depths of her brain.
“Isn’t it?” she bites out. “We’ve just gone over the kinds of precautions I take, for my own safety, for the safety of those that depend on me, in every possible way. You didn’t think I’d want to know this? It never crossed your mind, somehow, that I would want to factor it in to the equation?”
“You mean that I’m an alien,” Kara says, head coming back up. Her eyes glitter, but if Lena doesn’t look directly at them she can pretend it’s with anger instead of tears. “It’s not just about being Supergirl.”
Lena’s lips are already curling in a sneer, but Kara shakes her head. “Don’t,” she says in a forbidding tone. “Don’t pretend it doesn’t change things.”
What things, Lena wants to scream, wants to demand specifics, wants to drag Kara by the scruff of her neck back into her apartment like it’s the scene of a crime and show her how it feels to be pushed up against a fridge and then ignored.
At the same time she wants… whatever is the exact opposite of that, whatever entails they never acknowledge that night, that kiss. That Lena even has a kitchen. There’s a fleck of fear in her soul that grows with every passing minute Kara is here, being honest, and they talk about this. She never really thought she’d been holding out hope – Kara’d never done anything, and then there’d been the boyfriend. But apparently there’s enough of a difference between knowing it’s hopeless, and Kara telling her it is – she’s not sure how, maybe I like women, but not you when I know who I am or even Krypton doesn’t have hang-ups about sexuality but let me tell you what a decade and a half of assimilation can do – to fill her with dread at the very idea. She’s not sure they’re up to discussing that, or when they will be, but Lena suddenly wants to find another door to put her back against.
“The first time we met, Lena,” Kara says, sounding oh, so tired, “you wanted to test for my humanity. Don’t pretend it doesn’t matter to know I don’t have it.”
Lena licks her lips. “That was – ages ago.” And, if she’s being candid with herself, she was mostly, um, flirting. Usually the press responds well to Lena flexing the newest Luthor tech. But she sees Kara’s point. “And even so, haven’t I proved myself since then? Haven’t I shown I’m not some kind of isolationist bigot?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t going to – Lena, what did you expect? You were… you were a stranger, and not exactly welcoming to alien integration, and…”
“And a Luthor,” Lena finishes for her. She swallows, and feels like she’s swallowing a stone: the weight of it settle in her gut. The every-present burden, the legacy, the goddamned name.
“It didn’t stop you from becoming my friend,” Kara says quietly. She’s standing straight now, if not tall, meeting Lena’s gaze. “It didn’t stop me from seeing who you really were. I just…” She draws a sharp breath. “It isn’t only my secret. And I. I couldn’t trust you. At first.”
“Okay.” Lena can accept that. She can accept without liking. She’s had plenty of practice. “And then?”
“And then I wanted to protect you,” Kara says, the words pouring out of her like she’s been keeping them at bay since her feet hit the balcony. “You don’t even know – Lena, people have been hurt, they’ve been tortured, and you’re already in so much danger. And I…”
“And you?” Lena has to prompt. She watches Kara’s hands curl into fists.
“I knew it would be like this,” Kara says, her voice cracking. “I knew how much it would hurt you, once I… I just couldn’t do it. I’m sorry, Lena, I know this is awful, and everything’s gone wrong. But I couldn’t hurt you like that. I still think I made the right choice.”
“Do you,” Lena says dully. There’s a roar of white noise in her ears, but not enough to drown out the echo of If he was a good man he would have told you the truth. “Do you know what I find funny? That to date, the person who holds the record for going the longest without lying about their fundamental relationship to me is still Lex.”
Again, Kara flinches. Lena tells herself she doesn’t care.
She burned the nutcracker the day Lillian told her about her true parentage. She’d kept it all those years – a reminder of that evening, the only memory of being alone in her father’s company for any meaningful stretch of time. She’d known she’d end up regretting it the moment she saw the paint start to bubble, watched the wispy cotton beard go up in a blaze from where she had the toy suspended over a bunsen burner in her home lab. But she hadn’t been able to stop herself. She’d wanted – needed – to destroy it, to rebuke the sheer helplessness of the betrayal. She’d watched the nutcracker turn to smoky ashes with dry eyes, and she didn’t need any of those fired therapists to decode the message she was transmitting to the uncaring universe: you can’t hurt me more than I can hurt myself.
Lena closes her eyes, struggling to breathe evenly. The universe is calling her bluff.
“Do you remember when you started thinking of me as your friend?” she asks.
She has her eyes closed, but she can imagine Kara’s slow blink accompanying her hesitation. “Not – not the exact moment.”
“But you remember when I stopped being just another Luthor.”
Lena, feeling ready to look Kara in the eyes, opens hers. “That was when you hurt me. Not when I found out you were Supergirl. Back then.”
Kara frowns. “I’m – I’m sorry, Lena, I don’t understand. I’m trying to, but…”
Lena pulls in a deep breath. She knows Kara’s trying. She’s trying, too, even if this feels like removing her armor, piece by excruciating piece, to reveal were she’s weak. Basically begging to be wounded.
But every time her eyes snag on the the empty space on her shelves where she used to keep the nutcracker it’s like taking a punch to the gut.
She can hurt herself worse than anyone else. She’s proven that. She can burn dolls, and bridges. She can cut herself free of any emotional snares and leave her heart bleeding. And that all might feel better, smarter, in the moment: she’s hurting, but at least she’s in control of it.
She’s so tired of hurting, though. Of loss, and retaliation, and… Kara’s not the only one who’s exhausted in this moment.
She has no idea how it might work – she’s never tried to make this work – but maybe there’s an option where if she gives up a little control, a little certainty, she can get the chance to hurt less in return.
Maybe she can find a way to trust that others also want her to stop hurting.
… which is hard, it’s a hard thought to encompass – if that’s what they wanted, why is it happening anyway? – but if there’s anyone she can believe it of… if there’s anyone who’s worth the risk of trying…
“You weren’t protecting me,” she tells Kara, and tells herself to stop trembling. “You were protecting yourself.”
She can see how much Kara wants to protest that. But as she watches Kara restrains herself and tilts her head down – a wordless I’m listening.
It makes Lena breathe a little easier, makes the next bit come smoother: “You hurt me when you decided I was good enough to be your friend, but not enough to trust with your secret. When you decided to let me take risks without knowing exactly what was at stake and who I was really fighting for. I didn’t feel hurt, yet, but you put it in motion. That was when it became inevitable.”
Kara ducks her head even farther. “Okay,” she says, voice hoarse. “I see that. But I… Lena, I promise I thought I was doing it for you. Not to protect myself.”
“Maybe you didn’t think of it that way.” She catches herself. “I know you didn’t think of it like that. But you had to know I would find out some day. And you avoided responsibility for it – when and how it happened. You let it happen.” The words spill out of her, hot and unguarded. She crosses her arms over her stomach, as if that will help keep them in. “You didn’t protect me.”
Slowly, slowly, Kara lets her eyes fall shut.
Lena braces herself.
“You’re right,” Kara says. “I’m sorry.”
Lena’s mouth opens, but nothing comes out. All she had left were more arguments, more pleading for her perspective. Without the need for them, she’s left feeling lightheaded.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing,” Kara continues. It sounds thoughtful instead of defensive, so Lena bites her lip and listens. “I just thought…” She swallows. “I was being selfish,” she finishes.
Hesitantly, Kara raises her eyes.
“Tell me what you thought.”
Kara’s mouth twists. Just a bit, but it’s the most cynical Lena’s ever seen her look. “I’ve had to give up a lot. That’s no one’s fault, I know, but…” Her expression softens into something more wistful. “On some level I guess I was thinking: for once, this whole thing, it works in my favor. I can be Supergirl. AndI can be Lena Luthor’s friend. I don’t have to choose, or give anything up – I can have both. I can have everything.” She shakes her head, once. “I’m sorry.”
Oh. Oh, that… doesn’t fix this. It doesn’t heal all of Lena’s hurt.
But it makes a lot of sense. It turns the bald fact of Kara lying to her over and over, in so many ways, into something that fits into her basic understanding of Kara – an understanding Lena was beginning to worry was fundamentally flawed.
It gives Lena her friend back.
“And I know what you’re going to say,” Kara says, “that I could still have all that if I’d told you – before – but I didn’t want to take the chance. That’s on me, I know, I just… if you already have everything you want, it’s hard to risk losing it.”
“Was it really everything, though?” Lena is careful to keep any kind of accusation out of her tone. “You… I wouldn’t think you enjoyed lying to me.”
“I hated it,” Kara bursts out. She turns her head away so they can both pretend she isn’t crying, and the rough way she wipes her arm over her face makes Lena’s heart clench. “I know that doesn’t mean as much as the truth. But it was really awful.”
“I think that might be a general problem with having ‘everything,’” Lena says. “There’s always a price. And the more you think you can escape that, the more people end up paying it, in the end.”
Kara’s face is mottled and still damp when she looks back. “Lena. I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s –” Unthinking, she reaches out. She remembers herself right before she touches Kara, but thinks, fuck it, and allows her hand to rest on the other woman’s wrist. Kara freezes in place. “You don’t have to keep saying it. I accept your apology.”
Kara looks as if she might say something, but presses her lips together and nods, instead.
“And we’re still friends,” Lena says. She squeezes Kara’s wrist gently. “If you want to be.”
Kara nods again, this time almost comically fast. She’s sniffing a little when she turns her hand over to grab Lena’s, holding on hard.
Lena just offers the other hand, and Kara grabs it in a blur. The motion makes the corner of her cape kick up, and a curious breeze lifts it farther in a gentle wave.
It’s a moment, the kind she can feel as it’s happening – solid, weighted, a known cornerstone even with the benefit of knowing what’s to come. Even the city has fallen into a bit of a hush, it feels, as Kara smiles at her wearing Supergirl’s suit.
And it’s the moment Lena realizes she’s a giant fucking hypocrite.
Because she’s not going to risk this. Not for the sake of her own, stupid heart, anyway. She’s not going to ask about the kiss, and she’s sure as hell not going to come clean about her own secrets in regard to their friendship.
It’s not the same, Luthor pragmatism whispers. This secret isn’t practical, this is emotional.
And, sure. She tried to make it rain designer sweaters over National City because she’d felt betrayed on a practical level.
“Listen,” Kara whispers. Her grip tightens that millimeter in circumference and Lena finally can’t hold in a wince. Kara’s fingers immediately slacken, and she rubs her thumbs softly, almost caressingly, over the backs of Lena’s. She doesn’t let go, though. Her look of apology is potent enough to make Lena feel almost drunk. You’d think no one had ever forgiven Kara before, her expression was… “besotted” is a stupid word, but –
“I know this doesn’t – that we aren’t… back, yet,” Kara says slowly, and Lena tells herself to focus. “I know it’s going to be an adjustment. It always is.” The absolute lack of self-pity in that statement is enough to make Lena swallow any resentment that there have been enough incidences to create a data spread. So to speak. “But listen, I… this is so important to me, Lena, I can’t even put it into words,” she says softly. “I can’t lose you. I know I screwed up, but please: I need you to tell me if you think I’m doing it again – if I’m making excuses, or being selfish. Please, don’t worry about me. Be honest.”
Lena has to curl her fingers to keep from reaching out and touching her face, wearing that darling look of determination. Her whole body aches with the desire.
She can tell her. She can give Kara the honesty she wants.
She pulls her hands out of Kara’s and takes the slightest half-step back, ignoring the flicker in Kara’s eyes.
She can, but… she won’t. Not today. They both need to retreat, regroup, and lick their wounds. They both need time – Kara to process her own actions, and Lena to try and loosen her white-knuckled grip on her survival instincts.
It can wait.
Or, that’s what she tells herself as they say their goodbyes, Kara explaining she’s supposed to be on patrol, anyway, and only took a few moments she didn’t think the DEO would notice to stop by Lena’s. Or that had been the plan. Lena guesses the cloaking device must also include some sort of rudimentary communication link, because as soon as Kara switches it back on she blanches. “Uh,” she says, with the look of someone about to be grounded, “they noticed.”
“Why didn’t it work that way in Zürich?” Lena asks, just to mess with Supergirl as she edges for the balcony. She knows Kara’s too polite to leave mid-conversation.
“Out of range,” Kara says – no, Lena really does prefer thinking of her as Supergirl with her face like that. “The device isn’t large enough to transmit or receive beyond city limits. I, um…” She gestures, a little desperately.
“Go,” Lena says as she holds back a smile.
Supergirl actually manages to turn fully away from her, before turning back. “Okay, maybe this is asking for too much, but –”
It takes three strides for Lena to cross the space between them, and throwing her arms around Supergirl’s shoulders feels… easy.
“Thank you,” Supergirl whispers.
Lena holds onto the hug for a few more seconds. If she closes her eyes and breathes in, there’s absolutely no confusion it’s the girl she loves in her arms.
But it can wait.
Just a little longer.
Kara’s right, they aren’t the same as they were. Well, Lena isn’t sure what it might look like from Kara’s end, but she knows her own: self-doubt where there used to be certainty and second-guessing when she used to run on instinct. She doesn’t like to dwell on the number of times she picks up her phone to call or text only to stare at the lock screen, feeling the edge of another precipice under her feet.
It doesn’t help they’re both busy. Or maybe that does help? They can hide behind the safety of their obligations, sending tentative texts and connecting briefly on the phone when they can. It’s not like that time she "borrowed" Kara from CatCo to put together a puff piece on L-corp's charity outreach -- or The Week of Three-Hour Lunch Dates, as she’s heard Kara refer to it wistfully -- but with every exchange Lena walks away feeling… lighter. Warmer. As if she’d endured an avalanche and now has stable ground beneath her feet.
It’s not everything, but it’s a start.
Then Lex escapes from prison.
He’s caught, and phenomenally fast. Lena only has a few hours between receiving notice – she has six prison employees letting her know Lex’s every move, and it still takes them until mid-afternoon to get her the message that he missed morning bed check, which means she’s bribing the wrong people – before the breaking news bulletins that the Luthor scion was discovered, and detained, within National City limits.
“You have to wonder what he was thinking, coming to one of the nearest cities with a metahuman,” the broadcaster says to her co-host. Lena listens with her eyes shut, one hand on her chest as she feels her heart rate decline to a normal rate. “Why didn’t he head for the border and regroup abroad? Why here?”
To see her, of course. Lena didn’t spend those scant hours going over panic room procedure with her security detail for fun.
She’s whipping out the card Henshaw gave her before they cut to the talking heads.
“I want to see him,” she says when he picks up. “I know you’re holding him overnight before transport back to Stryker Island. This is my favor.”
He gives a long sigh on the other end of the line. “Ms. Luthor –”
“I’m calling it in.”
The silence extends until she wonders if he’s hung up. “A car will be by to pick you up in twenty minutes.”
It’s not so much a car as a van, with tinted windows and what she suspects is bulletproof plating. When the door slides open, Alex Danvers is waiting for her inside.
“Henshaw has a sick sense of humor,” is all Lena says, once she’s seated and belted.
“I asked for this assignment.”
Lena looks at her. The seats wrap all around the edge of the interior, so while Lena is at the back, Alex is against the right ride of the vehicle. It’d be easy for her to turn and look Lena in the face, but she stares stoically ahead, instead.
“I don’t get it,” Lena says, as they start the drive. She has no idea who’s behind the wheel – the partition between them and the front seats is opaque and locked.
“My sister lives her own life, and she makes her own choices,” Alex says. Her arms are folded, her legs crossed. “It’s not always easy, but I accept that.”
“You mean her friendship with me."
“I accept that sometimes, we have different priorities,” Alex continues as if she hasn’t heard. “I wish she’d take fewer risks with her own safety. I wish she wouldn’t make friends with someone from a family with a generational history of attacking Supers. I definitely wish she’d taken a recent opportunity to cut that person out of her life completely.”
“See, this attitude is why I didn’t send you a Christmas present.”
Alex turns, finally, to face her, with a look of ‘nice try, but you can’t irritate me away from my point’ in her eyes. “But since I can’t sway Kara, I figure the next best thing, when I hear Lena Luthor wants to see her brother in detainment, is to come and ask her myself what the hell she’s doing.”
Lena shrugs and doesn’t look away. “He’s my brother.”
“And I have a right to know exactly who my sister is involving in her life.”
Lena can’t make a joke of it this time. “You think I’d allow him to hurt Kara?”
“You’re in her life. If he’s in yours, I don’t like the mathematical possibilities.”
Lena, very deliberately, does not roll her eyes. “He’s not in my life. He’s serving time in a maximum security facility. We don’t even write.”
“So why are you doing this?”
“Because I can.” Lena settles back in her seat. “He’s here, and he’s being held in secret by the DEO. If there was ever an opportunity to see him without putting myself, or my reputation, at risk, it’s now or never.”
“I’d vote never. He killed dozens of people –”
“I know that.”
“ – and given the opportunity, he’d do worse. He’s not just a bad guy, he is thebad guy.”
“I know that, too.”
“He doesn’t deserve your compassion,” Alex says, her voice diamond-hard. “And I don’t understand how you can give it.”
“Really.” Lena mirrors her body language, crossing her own arms and legs. “Big talk from someone whose sister threw Cat Grant off a balcony.” She watches Alex’s eyes widen, the agent momentarily speechless with anger. “What did Winn Schott say? A forty-story drop?”
“So Lex supposed to be a victim of red kryptonite, now?” Alex asks, tight and controlled.
“We’re not talking about my brother. We’re talking about Kara.” It’s amazing – Lena has been in mortal danger, oh, she’s lost count how many times. She’s been threatened by corporate billionaires, high-ranking government officials, and once, someone from black ops. It should take a more than an armed DEO agent with a certain look in her eye to make Lena feel like she’s taking her own life in her hands again. “What if you’d never found a counter-agent? What if she’d actually hurt someone before you had?”
“She wasn’t herself. That’s not the same as – that isn’t who she is.”
“How do you know? You grew up with her?” Lena keeps her questions rapid-fire, knowing she has to set Alex on her heels. “Please. A handful of years under the same roof, only six for her under your mother’s care until she went to college. That’s half the time she lived on Krypton, and those years were exponentially more formative according to any textbook on child psychology you can name. She was raised by strangers. By people you’ve never met, whose values you’ve never tested.”
“… I don’t see how this has anything to do with –”
“What if she turns out to share some of those values, in her heart of hearts, and they aren’t yours? What if she’s altered by something, and you can’t reach her? What if you can’t find a cure?”
Alex looks her right in the eyes. “I’d never let her hurt anyone else if I could prevent her. I’d never make excuses that put her safety above others.”
“Neither have I.” Lena catches her breath. “That’s not what I’m asking. I’m wondering what it takes before you stop loving her. How far she has to go before you abandon her completely. How bad does it have to be before the shame of being linked to them becomes more important than – than everything else?”
Alex doesn’t look away. She doesn’t answer, either. She doesn’t have to. As the silence lengthens, Lena can see it in her face.
Lena uncrosses her legs, lets her arms relax to her sides as she turns away to stare straight ahead. “He’s my brother, Alex.”
They don’t exchange another word for the rest of the journey.
There are no bars on the holding cell, just the near-translucent expanse of bonded plexiglass. She’s guessing this is where they usually hold human suspects; surely there have got to me more secure precautions for alien and magical beings, with force fields and energy depressors. They just don’t think her brother, a mere mortal, rates those precautions.
Lex is lying on a pillowless cot in the far corner when she enters, hands clasped under his head as he stares up at the ceiling. “Hello, Lena,” he says without looking over.
There’s a simple reason she doesn’t like to visit Lex: he doesn’t act crazy. It would be so much easier if he did. A little foaming at the mouth, even that unhinged look Lillian can get in her eyes, that’s all Lena asks. But no. No, Lex would share espresso doppios with her on a Sunday morning dressed in French tailoring and Italian loafers, laugh at her stories about college parties and professors, and – as she found out, much later – send orders on his phone that led to dozens of deaths in between questions about her thesis.
“Come to gloat?”
“No.” She’s pretty sure, anyway.
“Good. You have no grounds, from what I’ve seen of the quarterly reports.”
She feels like she should be surprised. She isn’t. “You get the Financial Times in maximum security?”
“It’s prison, Lena. An essential part of the capitalist machine, and if it weren’t for the bigger picture I would feel very much at home.” He looks over at her finally. His expression gives away nothing. “For the right price, I can get anything.”
Lena thinks about how John Corben crumpled to the pavement when she shot him. Right. “The FBI hasn’t given up the search for your hidden assets. They’ll find the source of your funds eventually.”
“They can try.” His lip curls, and she knows his contempt is for the petty mortals who follow the rules as handed down to them by unquestioned authorities, who dare to think they can clip his wings. Him, Lex Luthor, who challenges the laws of the universe every single day.
Or used to.
“Speaking of, you’re mistaken.” She can steady her voice and raise her head, here, she’s on much more solid ground. “The company pulled in record profits this period.”
His eyebrow quirks. “That’s not what you reported.”
“Leaving out crucial information on official papers is your thing, Lex, including the funds which used to be diverted into shell companies and filtered down to anti-alien terrorist groups. Now that those have been appropriately re-routed, we haven’t quite recouped what we lost with the investor exodus. But overall we’re up by six percent.”
He laughs. He laughs, and sits upright, bringing his ankle up to rest over the other knee, a pose so familiar from their mornings over breakfast Lena feels her throat close up. “So you found those. Clever girl.”
She has eighteen years of blind worship for her older brother behind her. Eighteen, and every single therapist tried to impress on her how long it takes to re-modify behaviors, especially those learned in childhood. The satisfied warmth that snakes around her heart, the immediate hunger for more – these things are not her fault.
“Are you sure you’re not here to lord it over me?” Lex continues. “Only it has been such a long time since your last visit.” He delicately brings his hand to his mouth in mock surprise. “Why, Lena, have you ever?”
“Do you know how close we came to going under when you were sentenced? Investors pulled out by the dozens. For three months you couldn’t give away our stock. The board attempted to exorcise me, claiming any Luthor in charge was just further damage. I worked eighteen-hour days to keep our legacy – Dad’s legacy – from being ground into the dirt by detractors and competitors. Did you think I'd take the chance of appearing sympathetic to you, in any way?” It isn’t like an afterthought, it is one – almost not worth noting compared to the anger she feels when listing the rest: “Also, you did try to have me killed.”
He holds her gaze for a breath and then shrugs, the barest hitch of his shoulders.
It was the same that day in court. He did act crazy throughout his court case – or crazy for Lex, anyway, rambling and disconnected, all his charisma bled away to nothing. When called on to testify his eyes never quite focused where they should, and sometimes his hands moved as if of their own accord: shaking, gripping, wandering. The sense of misalignment with reality was subtle, but there, and it bolstered his lawyers’ claims that at the time of the event, as they referred to it, Lex was not at full mental capacity. That he was suffering from alien-related post-traumatic stress: all the attacks of the last years, both internationally and very personal, had slowly undermined his reasoning to the point of not being able to appreciate his own actions. He wasn’t criminal, he needed counseling, and they urged the jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
And Lena had thought: maybe. Maybe?
Had prayed it, perhaps.
Those same lawyers forbade her and Lillian from appearing in court throughout the trial, both in the hope that it might cultivate sympathy for Lex, and in fear of anything they might say in earshot of the press. (That last was really about Lillian, but Lena was willing to stay home as well if it helped keep their mother away from reporters.) Nothing would keep Lillian from her son’s side the day of sentencing, however. Lena had sat with her, staring at the back of Lex’s head, heart sinking into her stomach as she listened to the call-and-response of judge and jury – charge of first-degree murder in the death of Amy Qing, how do you find? We the jury find the defendant guilty. On the charge of first degree murder in the death of – Lex had turned to meet her eyes.
Had looked at her with stone-cold sanity, and shrugged.
She had cried hysterically for the rest of the day. Lillian, white-lipped, sent Lena back to her apartment and bid her “learn how to control yourself.” Lena was happy to go – Jack was waiting for her, was ready to take her in his arms and promise he would stay by her side, always, even though they’d both known what was coming. He’d tried to assuage her: no one would hurt Lex in prison, he was too public a figure, no one would stop her from seeing him. Lena hadn’t known how to explain it. She wasn’t crying because Lex was going to prison. She was crying because it felt like someone she loved had just died.
And that’s another reason she doesn’t visit Lex. She wants to cling to that image of him cycled endlessly on the news: raving and unknowable. She doesn’t want to look at the man with so much blood on his hands and see her brother.
“Why now?” Lex continues, as if he can trace the arc of her thoughts. “How have I earned this unprecedented pleasure? Or,” his eyebrow shoot up, “is it you who are being rewarded? Tell me, how does it feel to be a DEO lapdog?”
“Fantastic,” she says. “Like a summer camp for moral superiority. Every time we avoid the end of the world I get a new friendship bracelet.”
He gets to his feet in one, impossibly fluid motion, and the back Lena’s neck prickles. Lex used to train five days a week to her three, and she distinctly remembers how he started going every day once Superman revealed himself: intent on gaining yet more muscle, yet more control. Sometimes he went twice a day.
She should have known prison wouldn’t curtail his regimen.
He moves closer to the bonded glass. She refuses to retreat.
“This isn’t something to joke about," he says. This close she can see a scab of dried spirit gum along his would-be hairline, where he would have worn the wig. She wonders what they did with the rest of his disguise before dressing him in a pocketless coverall and paper slippers. She’s never seen him less than immaculate, except for… “You are the famed, unfettered Luthor. The only one they haven’t managed to smear or send into hiding. You are the only one of us, essentially,” his eyes bore into her, “who is free.”
She wants to say something like I’m the only one without homicidal tendencies; these facts aren’t unrelated, but he’s right. She has to stop treating this lightly. Lex isn’t.
“Lena,” he says, very softly, “I’m not Mom. I know what this family means to you.”
He should. He’d been there for all of it. Those business functions they were both dragged to in uncomfortable clothes, children forced into the attitudes of adults as they circled the room with their parents, where someone would inevitably ask which side of the family gave Lena her dark hair. “Lena is our adopted daughter,” Lillian would always answer, with a smile that could cut glass and the ghost of emphasis on the penultimate word, so slight Lena would lie awake those nights wondering if it’d been real. Lex only heard about the schoolyard fights, but he’d come home for the aftermath even after he’d moved out. If he hadn’t been there – if he’d left her alone with Lillian, drink in hand and a cool “why are you so bothered by the truth?” – she doesn’t know what would have happened.
Lex was the one who held her hand at those awful parties, even when his mother tried to pull him aside. Lex came home during college to tell her: “They bullied me, too. Even at boarding school. It’s just because Luthorcorp is going to buy out their parents’ companies – if not soon, then someday. They’re all going end up working for us and they know it. It has nothing to do with…” Lex was the one who ordered an emergency appointment with his tailor to alter her new school uniform, since the old one had been ripped and dirtied beyond repair.
Lex knows what she endured in order to carry the name.
Even the assassination attempt – someone else, someone like Alex, would never understand, but he hadn’t meant it. Or, hadn’t meant it to kill her. Not… intentionally. If she’d fallen into his traps, been stupid enough not to have precautions in place, that would have been her own fault. They had both been raised better.
No, Corben had been a message. A phone call with a ringtone only she could hear: too close, and too far. She’d gotten too closely involved with the Supers. She’d gone too far in claiming the company as her own. Even if she wouldn’t come see in in prison, Lex made sure he was being heard.
If Lex wanted her dead, she would be. She has no illusions. There are no alien powers protecting her, no mythic invulnerability to her skin. She’s alive, which means Lex still has a role for her to play in this drama.
Or, as people from other families might put it: he wants her help.
Part of her wants to give it.
She thinks part of her has been planning for it. Oh, she wasn’t… she hasn’t lied to anyone, or deliberately deceived them. She never had an actual agenda. But there is always a part of her – she can’t help it – that stands apart, and analyzes, and taken note, of… things. What she could use. If it ever came to – if she ever considered –
Being a real family again. The two of them, reunited, standing back to back as they face off against the world.
She wouldn’t even have to do anything just now. Or the next day, or the day after that, or… She doesn’t have to say anything. Lex will just know. Lena can walk out of here with her life cleaved beautifully in two. Lena Luthor: trusted confidant to Supergirl, sometime aid to the DEO, her family’s saving grace. Lena Luthor: still a Luthor, and recognized as such by the only person truly knows what that means.
It wouldn’t last. Lex would make his move, eventually, and bring the two halves into direct conflict. But who knows how long she could persuade him to hold off, how long she could maintain that delicate balance. And as long as she can do that, Lena will have achieved the impossible: she would have everything.
There’s always a price – her own words, with the breeze snapping the edge of a cape as they stand in the open air of her balcony. Less of a memory and more of a touchstone: the sight of Kara smiling while she wears –
If it’d only been Lena who would pay that price, she might have risked it. Maybe. Accepting things as they are is not her forte, and she might have been tempted to see how much of herself she could sacrifice to buy back someone she loved.
But not Kara. She would never trade on Kara, not in any part. Even when she’d been at her angriest, stunned and planning payback, she would have never…
Is this what declaring an allegiance is like? She thought it would have been harder. But now that she has all the relevant information… no, it’s not hard.
There’s a soft sensation in her chest, a looseness, as if she’s been clutching tightly to something and has finally, finally, let it go. “I do have a reason for coming to see you now.”
Lex narrows his eyes. “Didn’t you hear me, Lena? If you truly wish to be a Luthor –”
“I am one,” she breaks in. “That’s what I came to tell you. Lillian, um,” she draws in a ragged breath, her heart suddenly hammering away in her chest. “She told me the truth. I’m not – well, I am adopted, formally. But we have the same father.” It shouldn’t matter. Genetics don’t bring nearly as much to the table as shared experience – she might have fought to be seen as a Luthor, but she never felt she was anything other than Lex’s sister. Despite that, ever since she found out she’s wanted to tell him: “We’re blood as well as family.”
Because they are family – because she is his sister – she can see the second when what she says registers.
She can see exactly what he doesn’t feel.
“You knew,” she says in the next moment, before he has a chance to gather himself and treat her like she’s stupid.
Lex takes a long look at her – judging, weighing – before lifting his shoulders in that same, sickeningly familiar shrug.
“How did you know?” She feels… strange. Like her head is so empty, so light, it might disconnect from her body and disappear into the sky at any moment. “Did Lillian – no, she didn’t tell you.”
If Lillian had been aware that Lex knew the secret, she wouldn’t have stopped at ruining the memory of Lena’s father.
Lex is placid as he gazes at her on the other side of the glass. “I had suspicions.”
Lena laughs. She can’t help it, it flies out of her, fluttering and desperate.
“Not when we were younger,” Lex continues. “Our parents were a persuasive performance as a team. But once Lionel…” His eyes flicker. “He always preferred you.”
“He didn’t,” Lena says. Her father had only tried to make Lillian’s hatred bearable. If he’d actually preferred her – if he’d cared –
“He did.” Lex holds up a hand in a clear signal he doesn’t want to debate. “And if I suspected before, then working with Mom for a year left absolutely no doubt that she would rather bring down the company herself than entail any part of it to someone who wasn’t, in any way, a Luthor.” He drops his hand. “I ran some tests.”
Of course. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t talk to her, don’t tell your sister that her whole life might have been a lie –
He won’t understand her anger even if she voices it. It isn’t who they are.
“How did you collect my DNA without my knowing?” she asks instead, but before she’s finished the question she’s remembering the slide of porcelain between her lips and the bitter burn of espresso. All those mornings together must have given Lex any sample he required, and then some. She holds up her own hand to stop him from answering, closes her eyes and takes a moment to try and suppress the fine tremor running through her, threatening to shake her apart.
Lex had known, he’d known and he hadn’t –
“Why didn’t you tell me?” She can’t stop herself from asking. If this were a chess match – and of course it is – she’d be on the defensive, scrambling.
He tilts his head to the side. God, is that… pity? She doesn’t think she can endure that. “Lena. You know why.”
Because any information he had, and she didn’t, was a commodity. Armies could topple empires, gold could give you hearts and minds, but secrets: secrets were what kept the world spinning.
For half a second – less – Lena gives into an impulse she’s fought against her whole life, and wishes she’d been born into some other family.
She doesn’t want to look at him.
“This is why Mom is so hard on you, you know.”
Her head snaps up like it’s on a marrionette string.
“You’re brilliant,” he offers. “Always have been. I think we can agree that, on some level, you’re smarter than I am.”
It shouldn’t terrify her to hear him say that. To be faced with how flimsy a facade it was, all those lost chess games and careful disinterest in everything he claimed, and think: he knows.
“But I’ve never thought of you as competition,” he says. “Do you know why?” He smiles, not waiting for her to answer, or even react. “You make yourself weak.”
He leans forward – not far enough to touch the transparent barrier, not even enough to fog up its surface. Just enough make her freeze in place, tricked into believing he could close the distance.
“Some things are cliche because they’re true: you’re weak because you care.” Their eyes are the same pale shade. That used to make her feel much better than it does now. “You ask for approval, for connection, from those who will only ever weigh and find you wanting. It makes you hesitate. It means you hold back. You could have greatness, and instead you circumvent yourself, looking for permission.” He shakes his head slowly, almost sadly. “No one will give it, Lena. Not to the extent that will allow you to be truly great, the true allowance of your capabilities. They’re too afraid of being eclipsed.”
The thing is, he believes every word he says. He thinks he’s helping.
No wonder she has a hard time believing people might stop hurting her if she asks.
“You used to look to me, or Mom, and now… the city? Those aliens?” His upper lip tics in what might be the urge to sneer. “As if a Super would entertain you as an equal – entertain the idea. Oh, they enjoy the contrast. Their inimitable perfection set against our weakness, our frailty. And they do love a Luthor.” His voice grates low and awful in his throat: “I’m not surprised they allowed you to at the edge of their good graces even with my crimes. They can’t resist letting the world draw its own comparisons: our secrets and their self-sacrifice; our brand of power, and how their own so effortlessly overtakes it.” He’s quiet for a moment. “But I will bet every penny of those hidden assets you can’t look me in the eye and say they trust you. That they don’t make you fight for every inch they grant, and sweat blood to prove yourself with each new day. Can you.”
He’s… wrong. It’s not like that. Kara didn’t tell her because – she had her reasons, and anyway it’s different, now. Even if it took weeks for Kara to come back to her. Even with that thing with Alex, in the car. It’s different.
“Can you, Lena?”
She clenches her jaw to keep from begging him, stop. He’s making his way across the black and white board, taking her pieces one by one. Each loss a slice at her, until she either succumbs or bleeds out.
She is so, so tired of hurting.
Lena finds it in herself to meets his gaze and realizes: it goes beyond that.
She’s tired of losing.
“I look weak?” she asks. Carefully, so as not to agitate the buzz of molecules she swears she can feel in her skin, threatening to dissolve her into atoms. “I don’t wake up every morning in a jail cell.”
“I’m adaptable, Lena. I think we both know prison ultimately won’t cramp my style.”
“Sure. But what put you there in the first place?” She forces her own attitude of pity. “Cowardice.”
“You think so.” He rocks back on his heels, folding his arms. “I pit myself against one of the most powerful beings in the solar system, and that’s what you take from it?”
“The kids who pick fights on the playground are the ones losing somewhere else. You taught me that.”
“This isn’t a children’s game. Aliens are infiltrating this world secretly and steadily. And the poster children of the invasion amass goodwill on an international scale, all while hiding the most basic facts of their identities –”
“Maybe you’re right,” reckless, “maybe they are. But that’s not why you hate them. That’s not why the vendetta.” She forces herself to take a few deep, steadying breaths. “That’s not why you made the Lexosuits.”
“They need to be contained –”
“We have kryptonite for containment. The suit,” biting off each word, “was about beating them at arm-wrestling. It was pointless, prohibitively expensive, and it exposed you as a fraud. You weren’t being a scientist, then, or even a good businessman – you let them make you feel small. They are fundamentally different, and ultimately all you took from that was that you couldn’t beat them at their own biological advantages.”
He slams his fist against the barrier so hard she would’ve jumped if she hadn’t seen it coming. “They have to be stopped,” he grits out. “What they can do, what people see in what they do – don’t you know what’s happening? What’s said in those articles, and on the streets? They are being further deified with each passing day. They are not gods.”
“Neither are we. The difference between us, Lex, is that doesn’t terrify me.”
The only sign she’s scored a hit is in the slight dilation of his pupils. It’s enough.
Ever since Lillian’s bombshell Lena has wondered why her father waited. He had to have known she existed – he would have kept tabs on Lena’s mother even after the affair, to make sure she couldn’t use it against him. Why hadn’t he claimed Lena? She doesn’t believe Lillian’s version was the whole truth. Lillian might have been jealous, but that was nothing compared to the knowledge of Luthor genetics allowed to roam free. If Lillian had known about Lena, she would have been inside the ancestral mansion within the week. So why hadn’t Lionel told his wife? Why postpone the homecoming until there was no other alternative? Why had he waited?
The obvious, unwanted answer is that he hadn’t ever loved her. Even beyond the lies about her adoption – which she can almost understand – the wait was a very convincing argument that she’d been nothing more than a nuisance, an obligation. That her father, like Lex, was capable of living his lies with an energy and commitment most people can’t muster for the truth.
Looking at Lex now, she wonders.
Maybe – maybe – her father had seen the seeds of destruction in his firstborn son, the nurture and the nature of Lillian’s gleaming ambition. Maybe he’d realized a smart, and yes, sensitive child like Lex would draw the wrong conclusions from being raised up so high up and yet be expected to ascend even higher – the inevitable lack of worlds to conquer giving way to a long, merciless fall. That the roots of Luthor dysfunction ran too deep, and even Lionel’s best intentions would only yield more fruit of the poisonous tree.
What had Winn Schott said? A worldview, an ethos, shaped in the first three to four years of life.
Maybe her father had been trying to give her a fighting chance.
“I might be weak,” she tells Lex, “if knowing I’m flawed and looking elsewhere to make up what I lack is weak. If it means I’m asked to prove myself in the face of my mistakes, I can be weak. Even if it means forgiving others for not having faith in me, I can do that. It’s better than being afraid of anyone and anything that reminds me of what I’m not capable of achieving on my own.” She finishes, soft: “I’d rather be weak than a coward.”
The set to Lex’s mouth is one she hasn’t seen since the last time she placed his king in check. It’s been years.
She’d really hoped she’d feel better to see it again.
“You disappoint me, Lena.”
It’s Lillian’s phrase, but he doesn’t sound like their mother. He doesn’t even sound like the stranger she used to see in a three-piece suit, way back when Lex Luthor, genius billionaire was worshiped on the front page of every print publication in town. He sounds like Lex. The real Lex, the one who’d arrive at the main house at two in the morning with rain still beading over the thick wool of his overcoat, saying I heard you had some trouble at school like he’d only had to go down the block and not halfway around the world to come back to her.
That’s why it cuts so deep, enough that she laughs. She can’t help it: someone fucked up when they built humans to be capable of feeling so much pain. How useless. How laughable.
“Yeah?” She walks over and punches the button to let them know they’re finished here. “Imagine how I feel about you.”
She startles badly. She’s halfway back to the transport vehicle and looks over to have her vision fill with red-gold-blue. There’s a second of panic – no, not right now, she can’t – until she processes the voice that called out, the body in that suit.
“Superman.” It clicks into place. “You’re the one that caught him.”
He nods, watching her. “I’ll stay with him until he reaches Stryker’s Island. He’s not the only threat,” as he casts a look back at the DEO facility, “we can’t risk anyone trying to, well. Procure him.”
He holds himself in the air differently than Kara does. When Supergirl hovers there’s a sense of… balance, grace, an awareness of overall effort in holding herself both aloft and motionless. It’s slight, but it’s there.
Superman makes it look as easy as breathing. He’s artless – not careless, but it speaks to such long practice it’s become second nature. As if he feels he’s exactly where he belongs.
Lena wonders if Kara’s ever noticed the difference. She hopes not.
Maybe Kara doesn’t mind? Maybe the comparisons are easier, being constantly linked is easier, when you weren’t raised to compete.
“I overheard the two of you talking.” His eyes meet hers. “Are you alright?”
Is she alright. Lena can study Kryptonian until she dreams in it – she’s already tackling verb complements – but she and Superman are never going to have anything like a shared language. Is she alright.
She knows all about the Kents. This alien traveled light years to Earth and managed to find a family like that. By accident.
She doesn’t hate him anymore. But she’s never going to know how to talk to him.
“How did you catch him so fast?” she asks.
His smile is rueful, as if he understands why she didn’t answer his question. “I listened for his heartbeat. We used to spend so much time together, I can pick it out if I’m listening. I’m tracking it now, until he’s safely back in prison – that’s how I heard. I’m sorry.”
The laughter bubbles up in her again, edged as broken glass. “Doesn’t he need a heart, for that?” She slips her fingers over her mouth immediately after, pressing. Self-pity is a weakness. So is melodrama.
Superman opens his mouth and closes it, looking like…
As long as she didn’t have to face the one other person Lex had betrayed, she could pretend she didn’t understand how much he’d left her in ruins. It’s easier not to know yourself without a mirror.
She puts her hand down. “Thank you,” she says, and she means it. “For stopping him.”
Alex doesn’t try to make any kind of conversation on the ride back to L-Corp. Maybe Superman sent her a quick message. Maybe all the information Alex needed was the look on Lena’s face.
Either way, her silence is the type of kindnesses Lena rarely gets to experience, and she’s grateful.
She comes back to herself in the elevator to the penthouse. There are texts on her phone she doesn’t remember sending, alerting her assistants that she won’t be back to the office tonight and to cancel tomorrow’s meetings. She’s pulled Kara’s contact information up without hitting the call button.
Her thumb continues to hover as the elevator carries her upward.
She wants to. So badly. Part of her is certain just Kara’s presence would be like balm on the aching wound that is this entire day.
At the same time, she feels almost desperate to keep Kara away. As if there is a creeping, noxious taint to it all. More than her presence, Lena wants Kara to remain free of it.
Too late for Lena, of course. Way too late.
She places her phone in her pocket, lets her head fall back against the wall. Maybe it’s better this way. Even the break in their friendship – they’re on their way to repairing that, but it’s nothing Lena can’t derail. A little more coldness and distance with every future exchange, and Kara will begin to suspect Lena will never really forgive her, or never really accept her alien identity. She might even confront Lena about it, but Lena can play that part as well: all smiles and reassurances, lacking any real warmth. That might make Kara angry enough to break it off on her own.
… Lena will probably think better of it in the morning. She’s selfish, is the real problem. Too selfish to give Kara up for good, but also too selfish to risk being rejected for being… She’s always made sure their friendship was easy, at least as far as she could control it. Kara’s secret betrayed all that work on Lena’s part – no wonder she was so, so angry. Lena doesn’t have a separate identity, but there are parts of her Kara has never seen: her real anger, her ruthlessness, her obsession. All the mess where bad impulses and good tangle together in dark corners of her soul.
She needs time, then, if she’s going to face Kara with the kind of honesty they’re both now trying for. She doesn’t want to lose Kara, but she needs… she needs a backup plan. An approach strategy.
Anything, she thinks as the elevator dings its arrival at the penthouse, that makes her feel less out of control. So raw and exposed, so –
“Hey,” Kara says from her perch at the breakfast bar.
– caught off-guard.
Lena stares with her mouth open. She’s too surprised to be embarrassed.
“I broke in,” the other girl says. “I heard you went to go see… I heard what happened, and. Well, I figured if I asked whether you wanted some company, you’d lie. So… I broke in?”
Lena open and closes her mouth a few times before she can make it work. “I have eight different alarm systems installed on this place.”
“You do,” Kara says. She smiles, a little nervously. “Want to hear all the cool ways I disabled them? Listen,” before Lena can respond, “I brought takeout, and like, my entire DVD collection.” She gestures at a bag that’s stuffed to overflowing on the chair beside her before tucking her hair behind her ear. “So we can watch something without those internet news pop-ups you keep claiming you don’t know how to turn off.”
“It’s my job to be informed,” Lena murmurs.
“I set up alerts on my phone. I’ll let you know if someone sets L-Corp on fire.” Kara’s half-grin fades. “Lena, I don’t want to be… I can go if you want.”
No – stay.
And Lena caught somewhere between, helpless and uncertain.
“But only if that’s really what you want.” Kara hops down, standing firm with one hand on the chair back. “We can just eat and watch stuff. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I just don’t want you to be alone. I mean, if you want to be alone, I’ll leave. But,” stumbling over her words, “if you’re worried about inconveniencing me, I’m already here? And I have to put all those alarm systems back online before I go. So really, you’d be doing me a favor to let me stay.”
There’s a tremble in the back of Lena’s knees like her legs might not hold her up for much longer. “Kara, I… I appreciate this. But I really don’t know if I can be a friend to you right now.” She swallows, dry-mouthed. “Or not a good one.”
That’s not her gift. She’s not like Kara, who yes, can lack perspective, fail to think things through and see the consequences of her actions – but who can check herself in the thick of it, who has enough self-control to stop when asked. She makes that look so easy.
Lena’s not sure if she can do the same, when things come down to it. She knows herself, she knows what a Luthor can do even to someone they love. She feels volatile, reactive, and who knows what element could make her spontaneously combust. What if she says something, or does something – what if it drives Kara way, what if Lena can’t find a way to coax her back –
“You don’t have to be.” Kara takes a step closer, and then another. “You don’t have to talk. Or even be nice to me.” She stops just short of entering Lena’s personal space. “You don’t have to act like you’re okay to make me feel better. I promise. And if you need time alone, then I want to give you that.” Her next words are very soft: “But please don’t send me away because you’re in pain, and you think that scares me.”
It’s the precipice again, the edge of it digging into Lena’s feet. But someone is hovering in the air over the drop, and holding out her hand.
“Can I stay?”
Lena squeezes her eyes shut, leaning forward in permission. Kara’s arms go around her. Lena can’t even bring herself to return the hug. She feels like if she moves too fast she’ll shiver into pieces. But she manages a nod where she’s pressed against Kara’s neck.
“You don’t have to be okay.” Kara tightens her hold. “Just be here with me.”
She falls asleep. When she wakes up all the lights are off except for the low flickering of the TV screen.
“Hey,” Kara says from the other end of the couch. She watches Lena sit up with a look in her eyes that Lena could almost imagine is... but she’s done kidding herself. Today was a hard bump in bringing herself back to earth, and she’s not going to risk another flight of fantasy, imposing on another person how much Lena wants them to --
It’s just the distorted light, its bluish cast giving a depth to Kara’s tenderness that Lena will only ever imagine in shadows when she asks: “How are you feeling?”
Lena takes stock. Not good, actually. Her whole body is sore, with a static-y feeling inside she knows is from hour three of their move marathon, when Lena just gave up, pressing her face into one of her couch pillows and crying. She probably ruined the damn thing, but that’s her fault for letting the interior designer upholster in a silk blend.
Kara has not budged from her end of the couch, during, and Lena had been grateful. She just felt so raw, scraped up one side and down the other. She couldn’t bear any closer proximity to another human being. Or someone who gave a convincing performance of one.
The tears had pulled the last resistance to sleep out of her. Just before she had drifted off, though, a gentle hand came down to rest on the top of her head. Lena doesn’t understand how Kara can know exactly what she can and can’t endure, does or does not need, in these moments. It doesn’t stop her from being grateful.
Case in point: she opens her mouth to ask for some water and Kara is already offering a bottle.
“Thanks.” It’s still cold from her fridge.
“Do you want me to go, now?” Kara asks after Lena’s taken a few deep swallows, her chest loosening with each.
“No.” Lena doesn’t even think about it. Maybe if she were in better shape, she could pretend better.
Kara just nods and settles back into the couch. She’s wrapped a blanket around Lena’s shoulders while she slept and thrown a second over them both, turning the curves of hips and bent knees into covered mountains between them.
Stop that, Lena tells herself sharply. You had a bad day, alright, but don’t wallow.
Don’t throw away a good thing just because it’s not everything you want.
“Do you want to talk?” Kara offers, tentative.
Lena thinks about it. “Not about Lex.” She feels like one of those sea creatures curled up tight in the darkness of its shell, nothing but eyes and pincers to the outside world.
“Okay.” Kara takes a deep breath. “Can I give you my apology?”
Pincers at the ready, eyestalks extending just that bit. “What for?”
“For not treating you like someone worth trusting.”
Lena massages at the headache building in her temples. “Didn’t we already do this?”
“I don’t think so? I apologized for lying, but not... this.” Kara directs her gaze at her lap and tangles her fingers together. “Maybe it’s not that important, in the end, but...” She takes a deep breath. “When Aex called to tell me what was happening, I was shocked to hear it from her, and not you. That hurt.”
Lena can’t have this fight right now. She just doesn’t have it in her to give any more. “So you’re apologizing because you want an apology in turn.”
“No!” Wide eyes, hands up in surrender. “That’s not -- oh, damn.” Kara palms her forehead, looking like she’s in pain. “I did that wrong,” she mumbles.
Well, to err is... human. Lena shifts so that she’s not so ensconced in her blankets and shakes a hand free, holding it out between them in neutral territory. Not expectant, but available. If wanted.
Kara takes it in hers, and she visibly calms down. “If we have a communication problem,” she starts again, “then I started it. You let me set the pace in almost everything, I know that. And I know this is a pattern I set, too. I just wanted to apologize for it. And ask what I’m still doing to make you think I’m still in that... mode.”
Lena watches Kara’s thumb sweep back and forth across her hand, soft and steady. “I could have just been preoccupied with seeing Lex again, Kara. It doesn’t have to be more than that.”
“Okay.” A brief squeeze. “Is it?”
Lena sighs. Now she can see why Lillian browbeat the urge to ask questions out of them as kids -- it makes it harder to lie. “Mostly.”
Another squeeze. “So, what did I do?”
“You didn’t --” Lena presses her lips together. “I trust you.”
“Yeah, of course you do. But you didn’t think I’d understand why you’d visit Lex.”
Back to the rhythmic caress. “Not really. But I... I was surprised when Alex freaked out. I knew it didn’t mean anything besides, you know. You wanted to see your brother.”
“I didn’t want you to tell me not to see him.” What she can’t say out loud is: she didn’t want to choose between them.
If a decision had been forced, in that moment? She’s not sure which way she would have gone. Even now.
“Lena,” unbearably soft. “What made you think I would ever..?”
“I didn’t want another excuse for you to cut yourself off from me.” Lena bites her lip; that slipped out.
Kara goes very still. “I... what?” she asks, carefully. “Another?”
Lena kneads her fingers deep into the blankets, twists them and grips so hard her wrists ache.
“Lena. I never tried to cut you out of my life. I never even thought about it. Not for a second.” She falls silent, as if waiting for Lena’s response, but Lena doesn’t feel like betraying any more than she already has. “Are you talking about when you found out, and I... I’m sorry about that, too.” Kara sighs and leans against the back of the couch. “This is not an excuse. But it was overwhelming, coming to in the basement of the DEO and realizing all these... these really important things had happened, and it was like I’d been asleep for all of it. I mean, it was me, I did all that, but it didn’t feel like me? It felt like someone else had made all these decisions for me, about things that I... I know I should have done those things on my own. Acted sooner. Talked to you.” Even quieter: “I should have talked to you about a lot of things.”
This doesn’t feel new, and Lena’s back against cold steel, her front pressed --
“I was ashamed, and angry, and I didn’t handle it well. But I thought you were going to reject me -- I was never going to cut you off.”
“You gave back the clothes,” Lena says, stiffly. Show no weakness, but facts are facts.
“I...” Kara blinks. “Because... you gave them to me when I... you know.” She gestures vaguely. “When you liked me.”
“When I liked you?”
“Yeah. When you didn’t think I was a liar and a terrible excuse for a friend.” Kara looks uncomfortable. “It’d be like taking advantage, if I kept them.”
Taking advantage of her. Lena has had people she previously trusted try to steal millions of dollars of stock, or potentially billion-dollar patents. Now her best friend gets squeamish over a gift -- a gift -- received with less than perfect transparency.
Forget Krypton: the middle-class values of small-town America are the true forces to be reckoned with.
“Also, it seemed like a good excuse to ask you to see me. Did you really think... Lena.” Kara sits up, reaches for her, and then hesitates. She slides off the couch instead, wriggling out from under the blanket and coming to kneel at the place on the carpet where Lena’s been mostly directing her gaze for the last ten minutes. “I want you in my life,” she says softly. “I can’t think of anything that would make me kick you out of it.”
A pit opens in Lena’s stomach. “Don’t be so sure.”
“Listen,” reaching for Lena’s hand, “this is our mistake. This is where we keep going wrong! We keep assuming things about the other person and, and keeping secrets. Your family is part of who you are, but not all of it. Stop acting like you’re a bomb that’s set to explode at any minute.”
But she is. She’s more like them than she ever imagined -- ever hoped to dream, growing up.
“And we both need to start coming to each other with this... stuff,” Kara says, steadying herself with a deep breath. “We need to be honest about the things that scare us.”
Yes. “I’ll start.”
Kara hesitates. “Oh. I mean, I... yeah, okay. Go ahead.”
Lena takes her hand away. “I’ve been using the labs at L-Corp to manufacture a secret store of kryptonite.”
It would have never worked, anyway -- telling Kara how she feels. That’s what she thinks, watching slow comprehension bloom over Kara’s face. The resulting flinch, like Lena had raised a hand to her. Maybe Lena’s as confused as the rest of her family about what love is, and how you’re supposed to treat the people you cherish.
She’s pretty sure you aren’t supposed to cause this kind of pain, if you love someone.
“W-what?” Kara asks, with a slight wobble to her mouth. Lena can tell she’s fighting the urge to recoil, curl in protectively. “Why?”
“Because it’s necessary.” It’s as if Lena is watching herself from a distance. She wants to feel panic, or desperation -- something that might indicate a remnant of hope this won’t end in disaster. She just feels empty. “You and your cousin are only governed by our laws because you allow it. Who will exercise authority over you if you decide you’re above them?”
Kara stands. “The DEO,” she says, her voice hard. “The -- the combined powers of the United States, Lena. Not some scientists at L-Corp.”
Not you. Not a Luthor.
Lena shrugs. “They don’t have kryptonite. But if they ever have a need...”
“There is no need,” Kara says, her hands curling into fists. “There will never --”
“Don’t you dare,” Lena says, cutting her eyes up at Kara, who looms over her. “Don’t ever make that kind of promise when you know you can’t keep it.”
“So what if someone breaks into your lab and takes it? What if it ends up in the hands of someone who wants to hurt us -- you want to take that chance?”
“Every scenario contains some amount of risk, Kara. Of course I never want to cause you harm.”
“Oh, sure, you’re just stockpiling the one thing that can.”
“Because someone has to,” Lena finally raises her voice. “Because no one else is preparing for the absolute worst case scenario. So I will. I’ll be the last defense between you and complete ruin, I’ll be the one who makes sure you never cross that line. And I don’t care if you hate me because of it. But don’t look me in the face and say you’ll never even come close. I trust you. You. But you and I know there are things out there that can make you into someone you’re not.”
The silence her words inspire is almost as startling as a shouted response, which Lena was expecting. Instead Kara just stares at her, breathing fast.
They stare at each other, and Lena thinks: I love this woman so much, it almost doesn’t matter that it means I’ll lose her.
“I know there’s no such thing as absolute certainty. Or complete safety,” Kara says quietly.
Yes, that’s true. But Kara lost a homeworld; her loved ones burned. She knows the universe is variable, and terrible, but to her the threats are external. She raises herself up and sets herself against any monster or machine that threatens her new world, her new loves. She makes herself a shield and promises: I will be your safety.
Lena is not afraid of dying planets, or random flaws in the fabric of the universe. She’s been kidnapped and shot at, but those memories don’t keep her up at night. Her nightmares -- when she has them -- are of the person who had once been her safety raving and covered in blood, or meeting her eyes in a courtroom with a look that lacked even the ghost of remorse. And now she can’t love anyone without knowing how badly it might one day hurt.
Without knowing her love alone can’t save them from themselves, and so makes preparations for everything, anything, that could.
She’s not sure she can tell Kara I love you enough to be your enemy, though. It might not make as much sense outside her head.
“I never want to use it,” she says instead. It’s ironic, but it’s harder to say things like this -- the plain, unvarnished truth -- than her usual half-truths and carefully edited admissions. Her throat thickens with emotion, and she has to force out the words. “Kara, even before I knew, I couldn’t imagine hurting you like that.”
“But you would. If you had to.” It sounds more thoughtful than accusatory. Kara sits back down, wrapping her arms around her knees and balancing her chin on top of them. Her profile doesn’t give Lena any hint on how to proceed.
“Of course I would.” With nothing else to go on, Lena is forced back, again, into honesty. “I... you can’t think I’d just stand back and... and watch, do you? If something went so horribly wrong that you needed someone to stop you from... whatever was out of your control to stop?”
The corner of Kara’s mouth quirks up. “You sure you don’t want to be the next person fitted for a hero suit? I’m sure James would be happy to show you the ropes, as a human, and Winn could help you with the specs --”
“Kara.” She has no idea what’s going on inside Kara’s head, but there’s something about her tone... She reaches out to put her hand on Kara’s arm before she can think better of it. The muscles bunch beneath her fingertips, but she doesn’t get shaken off, which she takes as a good sign. “This isn’t about... Listen, when I save the world, it’ll be from the inside of a lab. I’m not...” She’s hit with sudden insight -- improbable, laughable insight, but she ventures all the same: “I’m not saying you have to be contained, or, or watched. This isn’t because you’re an alien. Everyone has weaknesses, and every plan needs a fail safe. Or ten.” She squeezes Kara’s arm -- probably a little too hard, but she doesn’t think the other girl will complain. “I’m not saying you’re dangerous.”
For a long, long moment, Kara doesn’t respond. She doesn’t even twitch. Then:
“I could be,” she says, so softly Lena almost can’t hear it.
“Personality-altering radioactive rocks don’t count, Kara. Or magic,” she adds, just to be sure.
“I’ve done bad things without those excuses.” Kara swallows. “I’ve hurt people.”
“Yes, and your lack of remorse is terrifying.”
“Don’t joke. The things I’m capable of --”
“Everyone’s capable of harm. Being an alien doesn’t make you special.” Lena watches her shuttered expression for a minute. “Even if you make mistakes, I have faith in you to course-correct. The kryptonite is for when you can’t -- when you need something, someone, to bring you back to yourself. So that when you do, there’s enough to come back to.”
“What if when it happens, I don’t want to come back?” Kara asks, and Lena suddenly knows what’s behind the blankness: gripping, icy fear.
Kara turns her head -- just enough so she can look Lena in the eye. “What if I want to, but I can’t?” she whispers.
Lena sits upright, now gripping Kara’s arm with a force she knows is too much. She doesn’t care. This is important. “Then I will bring you back.”
Kara smiles shakily. “Kryptonite isn’t a cure-all.”
“I will figure out what you need and get it. I’ll invent it, if necessary.”
She would. She meant what she said to Lex: they weren’t gods, and they never would be. Fuck godhood, anyway. Even being anointed meant that someone, somewhere, had sat in judgement before she had been deemed worthy, which, hah. She’s not even sure she believes in a divine entity, but her conception of one is Promethean: I have given you the tools.
She doesn’t always use them well. Obviously, she can harm with them as much as she heals, and maybe Kara deserves more. Maybe you have to be raised with love to know how love properly.
But if she can’t have Kara’s love -- not the way she wants it -- she can still have this. Trust. To be one of the hands that holds the tether keeping her anchored: to Earth, to her purpose, to her (for lack of a better word) humanity. Lena isn’t the only one, which doesn’t sit completely right with her Luthorness. But she squashes that selfishness: she’s included.
“It also hurts a lot,” Kara says, rubbing the back of her hand against her nose, sounding suspiciously watery. It takes a moment for Lena connect back to: kryptonite, uses of.
“I know.” She gives into selfishness and pulls Kara closer, wrapping her arms around her shoulders, rubbing one hand up and down her back. “I know,” she soothes, and thinks: this is enough. She can live with this, this hopeless love for the most amazing, impossible, surprising creature of the entire galaxy. She can tuck away the sharp edges of her real desires if it protects her friend.
Kara sniffles into her shoulder. “I came over to comfort you, you know.”
“You did.” She tightens her hold and presses her cheek to the softness of Kara’s hair: this is enough. “You do.”
But no matter what she told herself about trust and “enough,” Lena still loves Kara.
So she falls into her usual pattern, and overdoes it.
Can we talk? About your family, not mine, she writes in an email.
“You know, the Daily Planet servers aren’t that secure,” Superman says when he touches down on her balcony. She has the irrational urge to tell him to change and use the front door. Her balcony is for... But that would be even less undercover, to have Clark Kent checking in with the staff at the front desk. “We’ve been hacked twice, actually.”
“Well, give me Martha’s email address, then, and we’ll create an electronic trail so that it checks out if anyone investigates.” She holds her thumb over her phone, expectant, and he blinks at her. “What?”
“Yes?” She raises an eyebrow back at him. “Didn’t she officially retire from her Senate duties? I’ve been meaning to see if I can get her on the board of one of my watchdog groups.”
He tells her, still looking bemused, and she saves the contact information before taking a slip of paper out of her pocket. “I figured we shouldn’t leave any kind of electronic evidence of this,” handing it to him.
He frowns as he scans it. “This is --”
“Yeah. Along with several subdirectories it might be filed under in the Fortress’s supercomputer.” She shakes her hair back from her face to expel a bit of nervous energy. “If you could look up the compound they used... if there’s any reason it’s dangerous to your kind, or exposes any other weakness, of course, forget it. It isn’t about that.”
He looks up. “This is for Kara.”
She tamps down her annoyance -- of course it is, what else would it be -- and tries for a genuine smile. “If you want to attend for yourself, she did mention --”
“No, thank you.” There’s the slight smell of ozone, and then the slip of paper is on fire between Superman’s fingertips. He lets it burn to ask without releasing it, smothering the flame at last as he closes his hand into a fist. Lena has a brief pang of... not envy.
But: flame-retardant skin, imagine how many people that could help -- firefighters, workers in hazardous conditions, those threatened by brush and forest fires. Even if effect was only temporary, imagine if they could bottle and ship that ability to be used all over the world...
“It’s a very kind offer,” and Lena looks at him sharply, but can’t find any obvious mockery in his expression, “but I think Kara might want to do this without me.”
That should be it. She should be able to say thank you, and goodbye, and they can be done.
Except she opens her mouth and what comes out is: “She didn’t really mean it.”
He gives her a somber look. Neither of them has to be explicit about what she’s referring to. Sometimes Lena will be in the middle of the most mundane, everyday thing, and the memory of the anguish that was suddenly exposed, that naked despair -- I was supposed to keep you Kryptonian -- will hit her, and she’ll have to fight to catch her breath.
And it wasn’t even directed at her.
“You think so?” Superman asks, and he’s not challenging, or sad. Contemplative: as if her words carry actual weight with him, and he naturally gives them consideration.
It makes it harder to lie to him. So she tries not to. “Not the way it seemed. Or how it must have felt. Not that I would presume --” She breaks off and tries again. “She’s disappointed. But she’s allowed to be, you have to allow people to feel...” She catches sight of his face and stops, reminds herself she’s not speaking to a Luthor. “She can be disappointed in how things turned out without being disappointed in you.”
He tilts his head to the side. “Not many people make that distinction.”
“I do.” She can still feel Jack’s arms around her as he tried to comfort her about all the wrong things. What she would have given -- what she wouldn’t still give -- to only have been mourning a jail sentence. “Kara does. Ask her.”
He smiles. She’s seen so many images of Superman smiling at this point: a controlled beam intended to project assurance and safety, an even showing of teeth that would do any politician on the planet proud.
This isn’t that smile. It’s slightly crooked, one side digging deeper into his cheek, and Lena has the suspicion that without his face-cloaking technology, there would be dimpling. The tech doesn’t flicker -- not even for a second -- but she feels like she catches a glimpse of Clark Kent beneath it, all the same.
“I think I will,” he says, and flies off into the night.
“So what’s the surprise?” Kara asks before her outstretched foot even finds the support of the balcony. Lena wonders if the Supers know they often descend to Earth in something akin to a dance position. “I cleared the rest of the day, like you asked.”
“Sure, but keep in mind -- we don’t have to do this. If it turns out you don’t like it...”
Kara laughs as if she’s made a joke, walking into the apartment without needing to be invited through the doors. It’s the first time she’s done that, and it makes Lena’s heart beat a little faster. She hopes Kara chalks it up to nervousness.
“Even if I hate it, it’s still an afternoon off.”
She doesn’t tack with you on the end, but the words... hover. Kara has been extra sweet and trying so hard, these past few weeks. They’ve shared some sort of meal almost every other day, even if it’s just dropping by each other’s workplaces for a quick bite between meetings. Lena’s fine with it -- she’s embarrassingly fine with it -- but Kara’s the one who makes it happen. Kara’s started to watch her with a new and slightly unnerving intensity whenever there’s a lull in the conversation. Not that Lena minds her looking. At all.
But she does remember the way that conversation on her tear-soaked couch had trending. “We need to be honest about the things that scare us.” She’s aware that Kara never got to speak her piece.
Half of her wants to put her hands on Kara’s shoulders and say, out with it. The other half really doesn’t want to tempt fate.
Not before she’s done this, at least.
“This way,” she says, and Kara follows her a little deeper into the building, past what she’s seen of the apartment before. Or, well, past what Lena had previously meant to show her. The realization of x-ray vision puts a new perspective on things.
“I wondered why there was another lead-lined section back here,” Kara says as they stop at the door in question. “I figured it was maybe another panic room.”
Lena taps in the 12-digit passcode, presses her thumb discreetly against the camouflaged print reader on the side. “... you don’t have any questions about that? Why the safest place in this apartment is prepped to hide its occupants from Supers?”
“Well, aside from the obvious: in case Lex or Lillian ever find a way to recreate Kryptonian abilities.”
The lock beeps its release, and the door opens, but Lena isn’t paying attention. She’s staring at Kara, who asks, “Right?” as if people prepare for absolute, end-of-world, worst-case scenarios involving their nearest and dearest every day.
“... right.” Lena has to hustle to get to the secondary alarm, waiting for the answering passcode that makes sure a silent warning isn’t sent downstairs. Kara is still waiting on the other side of the threshold when she’s finished. “Come on in.”
Kara steps inside, and frowns. She does a sweep, turning her head from shoulder to shoulder, and it wouldn’t be anything remarkable except they’re still in the foyer with blank walls as their sides and even ahead of them where the corridor turns. But Lena can see her, seeing things, and it makes her skin prickle with wonder.
And then Kara pins her with a look. “I’m pretty sure this building isn’t zoned for a clinical laboratory.”
Lena waves a hand as she shuts the door. “I submitted the necessary papers. Or someone did. It’s being processed.”
Lena avoids her eyes as she walks ahead. “It’s only a little one, anyway.”
There’s a soft snort behind her. Lena risks a quick glance over her shoulder. Kara is struggling to contain a smile, her eyes shining with fondness.
Lena has to clear her throat. “Anyway,” as they round the corner, “this is what I wanted to show you.”
The sample she managed to construct is under a dome that’s three inches thick and partially fused to to its base. Recreating the atmospheric gases of Krypton in the right balance had been. Eventful. (Happily, the cleaning crew managed to get all the charring off the walls.) The compound inside went inert without a steady stream of said gases to consume, and when exposed to their atmosphere went, well, gooey. With the texture and aroma of really overripe cheese.
This is her eighteenth attempt to stabilize the reaction. The final product is a lot smaller than she initially conceived, but what matters is the steady flame engulfing the rock itself: pale lavender, with flicks of paler orange every time it shifts.
Kara stops dead, her eyes only growing wider and wider as she takes in the sight.
“Happy summer solstice,” Lena says, leaning her hip against the table.
The look Kara gives her makes everything -- the late nights picking apart equations, the cleaning crew’s polite request she find another regular service, her fifth-favorite Chanel smelling like she she laid down on top of a brie platter and rolled in it -- worth it. Absolutely worth it.
“You... remembered what I said, and you...” Kara can’t seem to keep her eyes off the burning rock for too long, her gaze sliding reluctantly away from Lena. “How did you..?”
“Trial and error.” She can afford to be smug, now. “I did think there’d be some sort of combustion trigger, at first, so imagine my surprise when the thing just...”
“Salt brine,” Kara says, soft, but with a yearning in her voice that’s almost tangible as she watches the flame. “The quarry for these rocks was found at the bottom of an ancient ocean bed, and the salt cured the layer exposed to the air and kept them from igniting.” Her throat moves when she swallows. “Every midsummer they’d send people to the quarry to strike off new rock. It only burns for a day or so.” Her voice is even softer when she says: “We used to ring Kandor with them. We’d sing, but we wouldn’t go back home right away, once that was done -- people brought food and blankets, and tents, and we would sleep out under the stars. All the elders would have their own campfires, and talk about those who had --” She breaks off, biting her lip so hard Lena is afraid she’ll draw blood.
Lena reaches for her hand. “I didn’t mean for this to be... I wasn’t even sure I could do it, and then I just wanted to surprise you. But you don’t have to do anything you don’t want.”
Kara takes in a ragged breath, and then another. “We used to to make a circle, everyone holding hands. Will you..?”
It takes some maneuvering to get their arms around the dome, Lena standing on the other side of the table. But it fits easily inside their circle, and the dome is low enough that Lena has as unobstructed view of Kara’s face.
Kara stares down unblinkingly at the flame. The oddly-colored shadows it throws distort her familiar features just enough so that Lena isn’t sure what she’s thinking.
“I don’t remember the words.” She speaks in a hush, almost a whisper. “The hymn is in ur-Kryptonian. I know what it means, I just don’t remember how to say it. I only speak enough ur-Kryptonian to answer simple questions in ceremonies. I was supposed to start studying for my next birthday, but I liked calculus better.” The ghost of a smile flits over her face. “And dance classes.” She finally lifts her eyes to Lena’s. “There wasn’t any warning,” and she sounds so young. “If I’d known, if I could have prepared... I would have done things so differently.”
Lena rubs her thumbs along the backs of Kara’s hands. Her skin is almost eerily soft; nothing in this world to roughen it. When her father died, sometimes Lena craved -- needed -- something to pit herself again. A deadline, extra sessions at the gym, anything to distract her from the pain of knowing he would never be there again to greet her homecoming, or shield her from Lillian’s barbs. She was very careful not to hurt herself, since she knew Lillian would sniff out blood. But she doesn’t know how she would have gotten past it, without those nights she tired herself out and put her sore and aching body to bed, knowing she would at least have a sleep free of dreams.
“It’s just me and you,” she says. “You can sing it in Pig Latin, for all I care.”
It’s the wrong thing to say -- Kara pulls one hand free to cover her eyes, and Lena has to hang on for dear life to the other one. “Kara, Kara, I’m sorry,” she says. “I didn’t... I’m sorry.”
After a moment Kara shakes her head. “I’m sorry,” she says, voice choked with tears, and it’s clear why she’s still hiding her eyes. “I’m ruining your surprise.”
“I promise you’re not.”
Quietly: “I’m being stupid.”
And then, in a shaking whisper: “It’s not fair.” Kara sobs in a hiccup. “It’s not fair.”
“I know.” Lena wraps her free hand around the one of Kara’s she hasn’t lost. “Tell me what the hymn’s about.”
Kara wipes at her face, uncovering reddened eyes. “... I’m not sure I. I really appreciate you did this, but I think --”
“Kara.” Lena digs in, squeezing her hand harder, even letting her nails press against invulnerable skin. Just so Kara knows she means it. “Tell me. Please.”
Kara swallows and looks back at the burning rock, the flames conjuring lights in her shadowed eyes. “We were travelers,” she says finally, voice roughened. “We had embassies on foreign planets, investments in the markets of different worlds. Scientific missions into unexplored pockets of space. People were always about to leave or about to return. Even me -- I spent my ninth birthday on Atlantisia, my Mom dragged the whole family there for a political summit that lasted months.”
“Do I hear some residual bitterness?”
“It’s an oceanic planet.” Kara rubs at her nose with the back of her free hand. “It has constant storms eight months out of the year, and I was stuck inside for all of them. Plus I couldn’t have a party with my friends until we got back, and everyone knows a birthday party six weeks after your birthday doesn’t count.” She manages a shaky smile. “Not unless you get two cakes. I told my parents: that’s the rule.”
“Kryptonians had birthday cake?”
“I think it’s a cultural constant that if you celebrate the day you were born, you get cake. Or something like it. We soaked ours in syrup, though. I like frosting better.” The smile eases from her face, but she seems more relaxed than before. “Anyway: lots of comings and goings. So once a year, we gather and sing a blessing to those who are wandering far from home.”
“We. Um.” Kara draws in a breath, noisy and harsh, and her hand trembles in Lena’s grip. “We sing about, uh, the promise of homecoming, and joy. About the gratitude of their sacrifice, leaving safety and loved ones for the betterment of others.” Her breath catches in her throat.
Lena’s hands are going numb from holding on this tight, for this long. She looks away from the naked emotion on Kara’s face and into the purple and orange flame.
“About those who -- who will never return, because they are called to Rao. We wish them peace at his side and warmth in his shadow.”
The smell of sawdust and a piece of heaven in a small, dark workshop, across the ocean. The first time she beat Lex at chess, the way he looked at her: with pride.
“And we sing of those who can’t return. Who are lost, or locked away -- those who dream of a homecoming that will never be.” She struggles to get the next words out: “We hold them in our hearts, and we -- we forgive them for loving the new world that is now their home.” Her face twists.
Kara throws her free arm over Lena’s shoulders, drawing her into a hard embrace. The edge of the table digs into Lena’s hip hard enough to bruise. She ignores it, and the dull rush of blood to her hands as she puts her own arms around Kara, leaning as close to her as the table will allow.
Kara sobs openly, taking in great lungfuls of air as if she can breathe easily again. She presses her forehead into Lena’s shoulder so that the tears fall onto the dome’s surface like rain.
Lena leans her head into Kara’s shoulder so that they mirror each other, standing sentinel over the last ember of a fire that burned out decades ago, lightyears away.
“It’s not Clark’s fault,” Kara says, later.
They’re on one of the couches against the far wall. Lena made Kara sit while she dragged out a bottle of water from the fridge to rehydrate a crying alien. She’s not sure how they ended up like this -- Lena sitting, Kara sprawled out on her back with her cape draped over the cushions and her head in Lena’s lap. But she’s not complaining.
“It’s not even a memory, to him,” she continues. “When he thinks of Krypton, it’s a loss. But it helps him understand himself better, and his place in this world.” She blinks, and the tears find their way along her cheekbones before disappearing into her hair. “He’s sad about it. But it’s also a comfort.” She falls silent for a moment before adding: “Sometimes I’m jealous.”
Lena’s hand is tangled so deep into Kara’s hair, finger soothing her scalp, that she’s not sure she’s ever going to get it out. Or that she wants to. “It’s not like that for you.”
“Yeah.” Kara draws a ragged breath. “I’m -- I’m proud of where I come from. But when I think of it, I just...” Her face crumples, and she presses the heel of her hand against her temple as if to keep the memories at bay. “I miss it so much. When I was a kid I missed my parents because they were my parents. Now I have so many questions, and I’ll never get answers. They’ll never know who I am now. I’ll never know what they’d think of me.”
Here Lena could interject, give false assurances, make promises that cost her nothing. She doesn’t, because she refuses to insult Kara like that, but also because it’s not about soothing any particular anxiety on that front. She understands better than most that the pain comes from never being able to know.
“Eliza said the ache doesn’t go away, but it gets better. I feel like it just... changes, which I guess is the same thing when you’re trying to comfort an alien preteen that was dumped in your lap.”
She doesn’t sound at all bitter, but Lena searches her expression just in case. “The Danvers seem like a good family to grow up in.”
Kara smiles. It’s tired, but it’s not any smaller for it. “They were great -- it was me. I was the one who...” She trails off and shrugs, as much as she can lying on her back with her head in Lena’s lap. “I was part of the family. But for a long while, I also felt like I was just a guest who didn’t have any place to go home to.” She gives a watery chuckle. “Poor Alex. I took it out on her a lot.”
“She would have made a convenient target.”
“No, I meant --” Kara waves away the suggestion, absently. “I did everything I could to piss her off. I was, uh, a huge brat, actually. I think I figured on some level -- you know, Eliza had to be nice to me, even try to love me. She was an adult and it was almost her job. But Alex had every reason to resent me, avoid me, say we weren’t really family... if I could show her the worst of myself and she loved me anyway? Then it’d be real. And I needed something real.”
... there are very few words to encompass how much Lena’s can’t relate to that, but then, she wouldn’t wish her family’s dynamics on anyone else. “And is it?”
“Realest thing in my life,” Kara says, and the undercurrent of relief and gladness in her tone means Lena can’t even be jealous.
“You could talk to her? About Krypton?” she says, but Kara is already shaking her head.
“I mean, I do, a little. Pieces of it. But Alex... if she knew how I really felt, the whole mess of it? She’d try to fix it. She’d find some way to be amazing and, and do the impossible, and make it better, somehow. But I...” She turns her head enough to look back at the lab table. Lena follows her gaze: the compound is still burning, throwing odd-colored shadows over the table. It’s probably just her imagination that the flames look more subdued, now, like they’ve served their purpose and are now slowly fading out. “If this feeling is the strongest connection I have to all of them, and what I had,” Kara says softly, “I don’t mind being a little bit broken.”
Lena shifts her hand so that her palm is flush against the curve of Kara’s skull, her thumb rubbing against the bone beneath her ear. “I get that. But even if you don’t want it to go away, you should have someone you can talk to. Someone else that understands.”
Kara moves her head back, gives Lena a look. She reaches up and removes Lena’s hand but only to grip it in her own, fingers intertwined and sections of her hair caught between them like ribbons at a handfasting. “I have you.”
It’s a few weeks later that Lena is at home with that rarest of rarities -- a quiet evening -- ahead of her, and her phone trills a message from her security team downstairs.
“We understand Ms. Danvers has been given unrestricted access, ma’am,” and Lena sits up, because Kara is supposed to be busy at the DEO for the next few days, that’s why Lena is spending this lull in her schedule with a book, “but we can’t find any notes on Agent Danvers.”
Lena blinks, and wonders what Alex feels, overhearing her sibling’s privileges. “Send them up. But don’t amend the procedures.”
She’s waiting for them in the hall when the elevator to the penthouse opens its doors, arms folded. She can barely keep her foot tapping from anxiety. “What happened?”
Nothing’s wrong with Kara that she can see, although she looks a little ruffled, that much less comfortable in her own skin. Her shoulders hitch when she sees Lena and she grins awkwardly.
“Equipment malfunction.” Alex is the one who answers. Her pose is a little too close to Lena’s, and the fact of having every hair and place and not a single scuff against the black of her uniform doesn’t detract from the impression that she could use several rounds against the bag in Lena’s downstairs gym as stress relief. Lena is tempted to offer, before she remembers she doesn’t like Alex. “Someone,” the agent says from between her teeth, and Lena wonders if this someone is aware of what hell awaits them, “miscalculated in the calibration of a couple sensitive instruments, and now...”
She hesitates, looks over her shoulder at her sister. It strikes Lena that Alex’s pose is innately defensive, as well, but that doesn’t... why would Kara need to be shielded from --
Kara puts up both hands, waggles her fingers. “Special-edition action figure,” she says, still wearing that discombobulated smile. “No suit, and no, uh, extras.”
Lena’s eyes go so wide she feels the stretch.
“Why do you even have something that can do this,” she hisses at Alex while Kara raids the fridge. “God, it’s not permanent, is it? What are you doing to fix it?”
“Oh, nothing,” Alex says. She raises an eyebrow. “We’re just killing time, came for a snack.”
Lena curls her fingers under her hand where is rests on the countertop, using the bite of nails to control herself. It’s just Alex, anyway. But Alex has a knack. “Alright, but why bring her here? Not that I don’t want you,” she shoots over her shoulder at Kara. “But surely DEO headquarters were safe enough? And, well, I can’t speak personally to the abilities of their security team,” and the skin beneath Alex’s left eye tics, good, “but what they possibly lack in training they make up in numbers.”
“Please play nice, guys,” Kara calls out where she’s rooting around in the crisper drawer.
“It’s safer here,” Alex says, like the words are being dragged out of her: “We can’t be sure of leaks or spies inside headquarters, and we don’t want the wrong people noticing that Supergirl can be stripped of her powers, or deciding that whatever caused it might be in the building. There’s no missing abilities to notice if she’s out of the suit, but then those wrong people might question why my sister came to my work for a sleepover. However,” even more unwilling, “the extremely, unquestionably human Kara Danvers has every reason to crash with you. And you’re a paranoid megalomaniac with a security force a few squadrons short of a private militia and a personal shooting certification -- which is surprisingly up-to-date.”
“You’re welcome,” Lena says.
Alex bares her teeth. “I don’t have to like you to know this is the best option.”
Lena agrees, and it’s a little bit concerning that Alex came to that conclusion before she could -- but then, Alex has had more time. “For how long?”
“Not too long.” But there’s a bit of shadow lurking around Alex’s eyes as she refocuses on Kara, who has carried her exploration to the cabinets where Lena specifically keeps the things Kara likes. “When I said it was a calibration mistake, I meant it: her powers aren’t gone, just muted, kind of. Harder to reach and use.”
“Trying makes me feel like I’m a feedback loop,” Kara offers. “And like this, the resulting headache is ouchy.”
“This just dampened them more than expected, which means she won’t be back to normal for longer. But based on previous sessions it’ll take a day, day and a half tops.”
“Previous sessions?” Lena asks, letting a little bit of her anger seep into her tone. “Why is the DEO experimenting on negating the effects of Kryptonian biology?”
Alex looks her in the eye. “It was my idea. But you gave it to me.”
Kara’s wry smile as she walks over to join them is the only thing that keeps the ground steady under Lena’s feet. “I -- what?”
“Your little ‘human or alien’ test, this time in portable hand-held. Kara told me about it. And I figured...” For the first time, Alex hesitates. “I asked Winn to start working on something, just in case Kara ever has to hide.”
Lena’s stomach swoops. She’d halted production on that once she thought through how many violation of privacy suits might be brought against L-Corp, and their patent ensured no competing technology would hit the market for some time, but... “You should have just asked me for the tech. You could reverse-engineer a way to falsify results.”
“Oh, that was the first thing we did. But we both know there’s no such thing as too many contingency plans.” Alex wrinkles her nose at Kara, who is watching them both as she munches. “What are you eating?”
“Shrimp-and-mayo-flavored potato chips,” Kara says happily as her sister cringes, and offers the bag. “Come on, just try one.”
“If you two will wait here a moment, I’ll put my reserve security team on notice. Just in case.”
Kara protests -- “you know it’s not necessary, this place is already a fortress” -- but Lena catches Alex’s nod of approval before excusing herself and making her way to the study. She has her system set up so that any messages sent from one machine in particular are taken as verified orders, without going through any other rigmarole. She waits for the return message -- received, ten more security pairs ready on standby, awaiting orders -- and breathes a little easier.
“Shrimp and mayo, huh?” she hears Alex saying as she walks back down the hall to return to the kitchen.
“You’d like it if you gave it a chance.”
“No, I mean -- she doesn’t exactly get those down at the corner store, does she.”
“She orders them from Japan.” A beat, and then: “What?”
“She doesn’t strike me as a potato chip kind of girl.”
“She came back with them on a trip, once, as a kind of gag gift? But I like them. Lena’s big on being a good host.”
“Uh-huh. What did they say at the desk? Unrestricted access?”
Lena comes back to herself stopped dead in the hallway, the angle of the corridor keeping her hidden from those in the kitchen. She has an odd, out-of-body moment wondering why Kara would want her to hear this, before realizing: Kara can’t sense any of those tattle-tale biorhythms. She doesn’t know.
“Alex,” -- a clear warning.
“I’m just saying, I don’t think you have to worry about that little talk you have planned.”
“Alex,” in a furious hiss.
Which is the second Lena realizes this is one toe over a line she doesn’t want to cross, and brings her feet down heavily as she walks the rest of the hallway. She hears another burst of unintelligible whispers as she comes around the corner and back into the kitchen. “All set,” she says, and feels guilty at how glad she is Kara can’t hear how fast her heart is beating.
“Well,” Alex says, pulling out of Kara’s grasp, “I should get back.”
Kara shoots her sister a look Lena can’t decipher. It makes her want to soothe, and she gives into the impulse, placing a hand against Kara’s lower back. They’re back to this place, aren’t they? Of being the kind of friends who touch each other like this? “You’re welcome to stay if you like, Agent. Or to come back whenever you wish.”
Alex’s gaze snags on where Lena has her hand, and her expression sours. “No,” she says, “I really should just... go.”
“Text me when you go home,” Kara says. “And it better be before four AM. I don’t want you staying up all night to fix something that’ll fix itself. Alex.”
“Science never sleeps, Kara.” Alex doesn’t turn back from walking to the door as she waves goodbye. “And good luck,” she adds, cryptically, as it shuts behind her.
“Good luck with what?” Lena asks.
“Oh, um. Stuff. You know. While, uh,” Kara gestures at herself.
“Hmm.” Lena feels like she has an unfair advantage after the realization in the hallway, so she doesn’t press. “Speaking of, you’re really okay?” she asks, idly rubbing Kara’s back.
“Sure,” but her grin is a bit shaky around the edges, and Kara angles herself just out of reach as she clears her throat. “I, um... so what were you doing before we so rudely interrupted?”
“Catching up on some reading,” Lena says, ready to make a dozen different suggestions of how else they can send their time together, but Kara’s face brightens.
“Oooh,” sounding intrigued, as she beelines for the couch and the pile of books and scientific journals Lena has heaped on the table next to it. She managed to snag the bag of potato chips on the way over. “All of these in one day?”
“Not quite.” Lena makes her way over as Kara settles in at one end against the cushions. “I just like to have options close at hand if I get bored with something.” She watches Kara flip through to the journals’ tables of contents, one by one, making approving noises at some of the article titles. “Can I ask something? It might be a little insensitive.”
Lean leans over the back of the couch, elbows braced against it, to get a little closer to Kara. “When you only had your memories of Krypton, it was obvious the education there was... advanced. I’m surprised you didn’t go into some field of science or mathematics.”
“Don’t tell me you’re prejudiced against the humanities, Lena.”
Well, she might be. A little. “I just... why major in Marketing? It seems worlds away from whatever you were preparing for as a child.”
“Exactly.” Her smile is lopsided, and a little sad, as she looks over her shoulder to meet Lena’s eyes. When she returns her attention to the journals a section of blonde hair comes untucked from behind her ear, falling to obscure her face from Lena’s view.
Lena takes a few moments to think over how to phrase her next words. “A career is a lot to dedicate to avoiding painful memories.”
“Oh,” Kara looks up, a little wide-eyed, “no, that’s not -- hey,” she reaches back to latch onto Lena’s sleeve and give it a tug. “Come sit.”
Lena walks around to join her on the couch. It’s more than comfortable enough for the both of them, backs against the arms and facing each other. There are plenty of other couches and chairs in the room, but Lena’s not about to bring that up.
“Don't get mad about it,” Kara says, as soon as she sees Lena is settled in, “but you guys are... I don’t want to be rude, but it’s going to be a while before you catch up. I didn’t feel like spending years listening to lectures where half of it is stuff I’ve known since I was in creche, and a quarter of it is just wrong.”
Lena knows she’s going to be haunted by the urge to make her specify which quarter. But Kara has a point.
“You didn’t feel like being a prodigy in your field?” Lena asks, poking at Kara’s thigh with her bare toe. “You could have “discovered” all that was necessary to take humanity to a new phase of understanding.”
“Okay, first: stop, that tickles,” batting at Lena’s foot. “And second: yeah, that sounds like a great plan for keeping a low profile, what with being secretly from another, more advanced world.”
“Mmm.” Lena curls her legs under her. “Don’t you miss it?”
“Of course I do,” but she says it easily, no tension in her frame as she picks up another journal. “It’s one thing in a list, though. Not,” looking over the edge of the pages, “that I’m looking for pity right now. It’s just a fact.” She returns her gaze to the words in front of her. “It doesn’t mean I don’t really like marketing and journalism. I’m good at it, too. And... you know, it helped. Not just because it was something new to focus on, with no memories, but because I missed out on a whole childhood’s worth of cultural references and shorthand. Media studies made up the difference, and can I just ask, do humans even know how to talk to one another without referencing something from pop culture ten to twenty years ago? There’s a reason I didn’t make lasting friends until college.”
Okay, another good point. Lena picks up her own book, turns it over in her hands. “You don’t worry you’ve chosen a path based on something... I don’t know, arbitrary?”
“Are you trying to get me to quit my job? Figuring out what kind of company you can buy out and install me at next?”
“No,” Lena flushes. “I’m sorry, I’m just curious.” Greedy, really. For any and all scraps of insight, for better understanding.
Kara’s smile this time is reassuring. “Okay. Maybe it is, but it’s not like I’m the only one. You ended up in your job because you were born into it. Alex ended up at the DEO because of Jeremiah. Well,” stretching out her legs along the couch until they brushed up against Lena’s, “that, and she loves other people’s secrets like... is it dogs that do that thing, finding expensive mushrooms?”
“Truffle pigs.” Lena’s eyes narrow. “Is that why she knows when I renewed my shooting certificate?”
Kara rustles out the potato chip bag, which sounds nearly empty, before looking over and raising an eyebrow. “Wow, I didn’t think I had to tell you this, but Alex has probably read every single page of whatever information has been put to paper, or secret file that has been put together on you, by any government entity out there. Ours or otherwise.” She doesn’t seem bothered by the fact the chips she’s now pulling out of the bag are mostly shards, daintily licking at her fingertips. “So, uh, good luck keeping any secrets.”
Lena winces. “I’m not looking for a fight. But did neither of you think of the hypocrisy of that? Before?”
“Oh, sure. Or I did. Alex sees it differently.”
“That I’m a Luthor and don’t deserve any secrets?”
“Partially,” candid. “But mostly that it’s her job to protect me, and she doesn’t mind being a hypocrite if that’s what it takes.”
“... oh.” Put that way, it’s... still a violation of Lena’s rights, but. Understandable. Or more so.
“Hey,” crunching, “she doesn’t share any of it with me. I know this might sound weird in context, but she takes her job very seriously. I don’t have clearance for those materials.”
She doesn’t seem at all perturbed that despite being nearly all-powerful, and alien, there are areas where she doesn’t outrank her sister.
Not just unbothered: content. As if certain limits and constraints are a comfort.
What kind of existence would that be like, Lena wonders.
Well, she thinks, watching Kara finish with the journals and pick a book out from the middle of the pile -- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid -- and leaf through the pages, it could be worse.
... it could definitely be worse. The more private celebration activities after Sissy Peterson’s nineteenth birthday party wouldn’t be in those files, would they? She’s pretty sure.
“Well,” opening her own book, “if she ever mentions anything about a yacht on the French Riviera, just remind Alex of her professional standards,.”
“Oh, that time you got caught skinny-dipping? Public indecency charges don’t fall under government seal; she definitely told me about that.” And Kara then throws back her head to laugh when Lena squeaks in outrage.
“I have you.”
She did. She does. Kara can have anything of Lena that she wants.
So the question becomes how much she’s open to taking.
Lena knows she’s rationalizing. She can feel herself start to become small, fold herself tighter into whatever space she’s been given and pray that no one ever checks the fit.
She loves Kara. And she would do almost anything for her.
Including hide that very fact from her.
... isn’t that what she’s supposed to do? Sacrifice for the greater good: tuck away her feelings and make sure Kara never loses her support and her protection, never doubts what motives might be driving those things?
Or is she supposed to be brave? Stand vulnerable before Kara and say: this is everything, and whatever you choose to do with that, you deserve it?
She doesn’t know. She really, truly doesn’t know the right thing to do. Both choices seem equally hard, so that’s no help.
... this is her problem. Lena is good -- even gifted -- at reading the board. She can figure out what threats are looming, what dire mistakes have been made, and she’s exemplary at letting people know -- Kara, Lex -- exactly where they went wrong. Lena can always find where the pattern skips a sequence.
What she’s not good at is... this, whatever this is, this crisis between two equal options and no certain outcome. She can’t analyze, she can’t even anticipate. And she knows this is how most people operate. They don’t have her gifts, or her intelligence, and they simply choose. They deal with whatever consequences result.
That’s what she has to do. It’s what she should do, for Kara’s sake and her own.
But it goes against... everything. Everything she is, or knows how to be. This is not how she has survived Lillian’s household, helming a company that was both drowning and on fire, or the vagaries of life in National City. And Lena always survives: that’s the essence of her gift.
It’s not beyond her. She knows she owes it to them both to learn, and maybe if she had a teacher... But leaps of faith have never been Lena’s forte.
“You haven’t turned a page for the last ten minutes.”
Lena’s head snaps up. “What?”
Kara smiles at her from the other end of the couch. “Good book, huh.”
Lena gives up, lets it fall shut. “I was just... thinking.”
“Mmmhmm.” Kara draws out the syllables a touch too long, smiling around the beer bottle she brings to her mouth.
“That stuff is making you goofy.”
“Mmmhm.” She takes a long swallow. Lena kind of hates how good she looks right now, legs in a careless splay and one arm tucked behind her head. “It’s much nicer than what they serve at Alex’s bar.”
“It’s a Belgian fruit beer. I thought you’d like it.” Although Kara had been the one to ask if there was anything -- mildly -- alcoholic in the house that she could try, surprising Lena. But she was playing hostess, and Kara had seemed a little... nervous, almost, tension making her neck stiff. Not that Lena could blame her.
In retrospect maybe she should have chosen a beverage with a lower alcohol content for someone previously used to 24/7 sobriety.
“I do,” and if her slight lip smacking makes Lena feel lightheaded, well, Lena only has herself to blame. “I like all of this. So much nicer than the last time I lost my powers.”
“The... what? Wait, when did that happen?”
“Oh, gosh. Forever ago. You weren’t even in National City then.” Kara, looking a little flush, leans the side of her face against the glass bottle beading with condensation. “It’s a long story. I got a cold, there was an earthquake, I broke my arm, and there was the whole thing with James back then? And it was just awful. I mean, not him, James is the best. But being in love with him was awful, I was so unhappy.”
Lena makes a strangled noise she hopes comes across as sympathetic.
“And it wasn’t his fault -- he was with Lucy! It was my fault. Or, I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t really in love with him, then? It felt like it, but it also felt... like I wanted him to feel the same way because that would give me something. I feel like if it’d been about him, or loving him, I would have been happier. Even if he was dating someone else.” Kara chews at her thumbnail with a distant look in her eyes. “But I think I hoped that if he loved me back it would change... things. How I felt about myself. And so it was just painful, all the time, because I was really asking for nothing he could give.”
Lena clears her throat. “This time does sound much nicer, then,” she starts, hoping to guide them away from potentially volatile territory. “No earthquakes. I’ve got cough syrup in the bathroom cabinet. And hopefully you won’t find a way to break your arm just hanging out on my couch.”
“Yeah. Much nicer. Especially being in love with you.”
Lena fumbles, and the book slips entirely out of her hands. She doesn’t reach for it. She’s fixed on Kara’s face, her crooked smile.
“Yeah,” she says, in response to Lena’s look. “Sorry, I really wasn’t going to spring it on you -- like this.” She gestures to herself, and liquid sloshes in the bottle. “And you shouldn’t let it, um, influence your reaction.”
Lena’s mouth opens -- she isn’t formulating a response, so more like it drops open -- and Kara sits up suddenly, placing the bottle on the table before raising a hand. “Wait,” she blurts out, “wait a second. Before you do. I just... gimme a chance to say this the right way.”
Lena, still in a state of shock, nevertheless responds to the desperation on Kara’s face. She finds herself nodding, even as her brain catches up with her ears and she has to tuck her hands into her sides to keep from reaching out --
Kara’s smile of gratitude is enough to keep Lena where she is.
“I don’t expect anything from you,” Kara says, rubbing the back of her hand against her forehead. “I know I... I gave up that right when I lied to you for so long. This isn’t -- I just want you to know. Because you deserve to. You deserve all the honesty I can give.”
She looks tired. Exhausted. And for the first time it hits Lena what a strain it must be, even when all she has to do is relax on Lena’s couch, for her to be without her powers. Everything must feel different, require a different energy, and just processing all that new information must be overwhelming.
“It’s not a new thing,” Kara says. She keeps her eyes on her own lap, as if she’s afraid what she’ll see if she looks up. “I think, um, I kinda of told you that. Before. But I... it’s something I’ve felt for a while. I mean, you’re attractive,” flushing, and still not looking up. Part of Lena wants to ask for her attention. A bigger part is too much in awe of the delicacy of this moment, and she finds herself holding her breath. “Lots of people are, though, and not all of them are...” She frowns, scrubbing a hand across her eyes. “I’m saying this wrong.”
Lena stays silent. She knows it’s a little selfish, but she’s so hungry for this: the naked, open vulnerability, the unpolished truth.
“I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t tell you who I really was,” Kara says after a moment, a little calmer. “I never thought of it that way before, but... things change, once people find out. It’s hard for them to, um, incorporate that I’m two people, kind of. I don’t blame them? But James -- it was never the same with us after he found out. Supergirl was never as real to him as Kara Danvers. And Mon El...” Kara looks off to the side, trying to conceal the redness of her eyes.
Lena considers the technical specs of opening a wormhole to Daxom and shoving a load of stink bombs through it, straight into the royal palace. Maybe she’ll ask Alex for help.
“He knew almost from the beginning,” Kara says, voice rough. “But he thought Kara Danvers was a mask. He never took the life I’d built as her seriously. I thought,” and here she shrugs, “he was my best chance at someone understanding, and then...” Her mouth works. “Part of me didn’t want to lose the, the feelings you gave me. The comfort of pretending you’d be able to love me back. Even if you knew.
“And then you found out.” She laughs -- or it could be a sob. “In the worst -- I’m so sorry, Lena, I really am. And I’m not looking for another excuse. I just, I was being so careful, and that’s exactly why I almost lost you.”
“You didn’t.” She’s trying to let Kara say her piece -- she is -- but she has to say something, here. Kara has to know this. “You couldn’t.”
She feels that certainty like bedrock. If Kara hadn’t reached out, Lena might have done -- probably would have done -- something stupid. Maybe it would have been a lot of tragedy as a result: the intervening days or months (years?) filled with strife and confusion. And regret.
But she can see, now, that Kara is embedded deep within her. The shapes their lives take will be in reaction to each other, to accommodate each other, even to confront -- but never, ever without acknowledgement of the other. Never wholly separate.
Kara finally looks up to meet her eyes. “And then for a while I was waiting, to see how it would change things. I kept bracing for the moment when you...” She smiles shakily. “Nothing happened. Nothing changed, not really -- you were the same, and we were... and,” with a sigh of defeat, “I realized I had to tell you how I feel. I can’t ignore this.” She raises her hand, pressing fingers to her sternum, and Lena wonders if she even knows she’s doing it. “I can’t hide it. Even if I could -- like I said, you deserve more.” She looks almost resigned -- as if she didn’t expect to say this much without getting thrown out. “I’m so sorry if this isn’t what you wanted to hear. It doesn’t have to change anything. But I didn’t want this to be another lie I had to live around you.”
Here Kara bends her head, baring the back of her neck. With her powers intact it would have been a meaningless gesture, no real threats involved. Right now, though, something could always come along and take advantage -- could take aim at the delicate top knobs of her spine exposed in the unconscious gesture.
Because Lena is one hundred percent certain it’s unconscious. Kara isn’t computing how the attitude changes with the circumstances. She’s just always this brave.
Lena had enjoyed arguing with Lex, those mornings spent on a long, lazy breakfast. Sometimes she took a position just to see him counter it. Sometimes she’d been surprised to find how deeply their worldviews diverged.
“It’s can just be the powers,” she’d said once, for instance, half-eaten croissant forgotten on her plate and enough espresso doppios to make her blood fizzle. “Even a miracle will only impress people for so long. But Metropolis -- it loves him, Lex.” Like it never loved us, she didn’t have to add.
“Exactly.” Lex sipped at his own drink -- only ever water, even if it was filtered, fortified, ionized, and seltzered to try and explain the price tag. Her brother didn’t believe in altered states of mind, and for all the wild bacchanalia she’d seen him instigate, she’d never known him to be anything but stone-cold sober. “That’s why I think he should submit to testing. It’s possible part of his alien abilities include -- well, ‘super-charisma’ sounds laughable, but the press seems incapable of coming up with descriptions that aren’t pedestrian. Whatever they end up calling it, it’s unconscionable to influence others to this degree without their knowing.”
Lena had hesitated. It was dangerous to openly contradict Lex on this subject. Ever since the alien had arrived in his city, Lex seemed to think the two of them were acting out the first half of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
“I... wonder if it is that.” Her hand crept over to her neglected pastry and picked apart the layers. “Isn’t it possible this is more of a... a moral fascination?”
Lex crossed one leg over the other. His leather loafers that day had been dyed the color of antique jade. “Explain.”
Lena sat straighter, brushing the flakes from her fingertips. “Lots of people have natural gifts -- incredible ones. They don’t all become firefighters, or teachers, or even volunteer. Just look at our family. What better evidence do you need to support the idea that ability alone isn’t heroism?” She’d faltered there, but Lex had given no sign of anything but his utmost attention. “Maybe the reason he’s a symbol,” slower, feeling her way along, “isn’t just the... the trappings. The ridiculous outfit, even the cape -- maybe he gets away with those things because of the intention behind them.”
“What do you think that might be?”
“Someone like that,” she’d said, barely knowing what she would say until she heard herself say it, “they aren’t... it isn’t about what they can do. That might facilitate the -- the scope of the responsibilities they assume, but... Oh, I don’t know what I’m saying.” She sat back, frustrated. “If he wanted adoration, he could have it without putting himself in danger. If he just wanted to help people, he could do that without making himself a primary-colored target.” She pressed her lips together. “But it’s something more. Someone wearing the mantle, the title, there’s more to it than altruism. They’re making themselves into a symbol -- and symbols are only worth anything to the people observing them.”
Lex had wet his lips with his designer water. “Not a ruler, not a celebrity -- at least not on purpose -- but someone whose elevation is meant to inspire.”
“Exactly. That’s... that’s something beyond powers, Lex. The things he can do put him on display, but that’s not why they believe in him. Anyone who gives of themselves so freely, and trusts the world will not give them more pain than they can handle... that’s the kind of bravery that makes us all want to be better.”
“What are you trying to say, Lena?” Lex had asked. Chin in hand, watching her with intent -- back when the things she said to him were heard. “That Super is a state of mind?”
“Yes,” Lena says. She reaches out, slipping her hand along the side of Kara’s face and into her hair.
Kara raises her face at the touch, looking confused. “Yes... you’re okay with it? Or, yes, you --”
“Yes,” Lena says, and leans in to kiss her.
Kara’s surprise lasts maybe a millisecond. Then she grabs at Lena with a clumsy enthusiasm that tips her off balance and backwards, and Lena is more than happy to fall on top of her, angling so that they don’t even break the kiss.
Kara doesn’t seem to mind, even when their noses bump. She lets go of Lena’s shoulders in a slow, reluctant slide to push away the falls of dark hair curtaining them both, and when Lena pulls away Kara’s smile breaks her heart in the best way.
“Ask me out.” Lena kisses the tip of her nose in apology.
“What?” Kara asks, bemused. “Aren’t we -- I thought that was pretty clear, I gave an amazing speech and --”
Lena settles a bit more comfortably on top of her, fitting them together in a way designed to derail Kara’s train of thought. It works, and Kara goes in for another kiss before Lena stops her by softly placing two fingers against her mouth.
“Ask me out,” she says again, and then cheats her own good intentions by tracing Kara’s lips in a way that makes the other girl’s eyes darken. “Make sure it’s a date you can keep.”
“Are you saying I have to take you to dinner first?” Kara turns a little red at her own innuendo, but her hands are sure enough: one settling to tuck under Lena’s ear, fingers in her hair, the other sliding down and stopping low on her back.
“You’re going to break a lot of dates with me in the future.” She watches as Kara’s expression changes from surprise and joy to something deeper, almost a little frightened at the idea of all that future and the potential for happiness in it. “Anniversaries are a good time to remember that even if we struggle, sometimes, we started off on the right foot.”
... and she can see Kara’s about to get mushy on her, the adrenaline wearing off and the weepy aftermath of a good buzz fading in, and, no. Nope, Lena is ready to move on from that.
So she presses Kara further down onto the couch with a kiss, and then another, long and slow and luxuriating in this: the knowledge of the thing they made together, the time and space they carved of the noise and distractions surrounding. It’d been so much work, but god, it was worth it. For this.
Then Kara gasps into her neck “Lena I’m so sorry but I’m human and this feels amazing but also I can’t breathe,” and Lena rolls off of her, laughing, because even when she’s turning a little blue Kara doesn’t let her go too far.
“Weren’t you mad at me, at least a little bit?” Kara asks later in the twilight shadows. They haven’t moved off the couch, which is dumb, and Lena knows it. There isn’t quite enough space for them like this, and they have to fold into and around each other, hair twisted up and around and underneath, damp skin and breath overlapping the lines until they’re blurred, and she’s not sure where she ends and Kara begins. Totally dumb, and also, she may never move or exist anywhere else ever again. “Besides everything else, I mean. That I forgot you? Even if only for a couple days?”
“You didn’t, really. Maybe you lost all the details. But you treated me like...” Lena trails off, unsure of how to put it into words.
“Like you were important.”
“Important to you.” Emphasis where it’s needed most. “And it helped.”
“That I didn’t forget that part?”
“That even when you forgot everything else, you made me remember who I wanted to be.”
“Oh,” Kara says, soft. And then, a minute later: “Sooooo... would you say you... really admire me for it? Appreciate me? Some other word for... something like that?” She pokes her fingers softly into Lena’s sides. “Maybe something about liking me? A lot?”
“I’m not saying it.”
“Come onnn,” Kara cajoles, hands moving as if to find Lena’s ticklish spots, but ending up distracted and simply touching her with intent, instead. “I said it, it’s your turn.”
Lena refuses to let Kara see her grin. “I’m saving it. It can be a separate anniversary.”
Kara lets out a noise of pure frustration, letting her head fall against Lena’s with a force that -- from her surprised “Ow... oh, shoot, I’m sorry, did that hurt?” -- she didn’t calculate.
At which point Lena can’t help laughing, anymore, or grabbing Kara and kissing her again until she stops apologizing. And then puts her mouth against Kara’s ear and whispers, over and over, how and why and when Lena loves her.
So that she can never forget.