Kara stared down at the carton of potstickers in her lap. Slowly lifting one up to her mouth, she cringed as she bit into the bland dumpling. None of the usual joy of eating was present. Nothing tasted right. Forcing another bite down her throat, she spent no time chewing or lingering on the taste. Lately eating had become a chore, something to ease the ache in her stomach but useless in easing the ache in her heart. The next one felt heavy in her stomach.
Nothing tasted right.
Kara had a secret. One that not even Alex knew; the real reason potstickers were her favorite. Yes, potstickers were one of the best foods Earth had to offer, but the true reason was that they didn’t remind her of home. They weren’t like anything she had ever tasted before coming to Earth.
Many dishes weren’t like that. They might have something similar in the texture, or taste, or even the way they looked, but it was never close enough. No matter how much something might remind her of a meal back home, nothing tasted right. So despite a meal being well made, it would leave her feeling unsatisfied. It would leave her with an aching heart and nothing to show for it.
This had been weighing on her more and more recently, building slowly until suddenly she couldn’t handle it. She just wanted some Silten, was that too much to ask? Just one bite of a Tazeran sweet. She’d lost everything else. Why did she have to have lost something as basic as food too?
Tears pricked at her eyes. No. She wasn’t going to breakdown over food of all things. She was stronger than that. But even potstickers, her comfort food, something she didn’t have to compare against home, was too much for her.
Her pants were damp.
Looking down, she finally noticed the crushed container in her grasp. Sauce was spilled everywhere. It was too much . She couldn’t contain the shout of frustration that burst out of her. Standing up, she assessed the damage. Her pants were completely ruined, but, thankfully, the couch had been spared. Look for the silver lining right? Super-speeding into a new outfit, she dumped the rest of the food into the trash and cleaned up the mess. When the immediate needs were dealt with, Kara found herself with a still growling stomach and no food she could possibly bring herself to eat.
“I can’t handle this right now. I just need it all to stop .”
She needed to breathe, to get away from the overpowering smell of food in her apartment. Not even taking a moment to change into her suit, she took off through the window and up into the evening sky. Floating high above the clouds she took a deep breath and then screamed her frustration, her pain, her grief. It was just food. Why couldn’t she just-
She missed Krypton. She missed her family. She missed her friends. She missed the architecture, the view. She missed the music. She just missed.
Lowering herself back down, she gazed at the bustling city. They moved about their lives happily at home in the city. The humans were at home still. No matter how new they were to the area, it was still recognizable, still human. She caught sight of a blue alien heading into a shabby bar. She just wanted someone who understood. Humans simply couldn’t, not the way- a thought lodged itself in her mind- not the way an alien possibly could.
Before she could convince herself away, she landed softly in an alley near the bar and hesitantly made her way towards it. Alex would be angry at what she was considering. Kara Danvers was supposed to be human in all eyes, at all times. The alien near the entrance side eyed her as she walked in, but didn’t stop her.
The energy was alive but not overcrowded. There were plenty of patrons spread across the room, though still enough space to be comfortable. Kara felt starkly alone in that moment. As she took in the friendly atmosphere and saw aliens being comfortable in a way Kara never felt outside of Sister Nights. All desire to talk to anyone fled in the face of so many happy strangers. What had she been expecting, that she could walk in here and find some perfect stranger who’d experienced exactly what she had and would understand her?
She shuffled over to an empty booth and let her head thunk onto the table. She was just so tired. There was never any reprieve. She buried her head in her arms, just trying to escape the world if only for a moment.
“Are you alright ma’am?” The voice was soft, but clear. A gentle touch on her shoulder to get her attention.
A strained laugh escaped her. “Alright? No. Nothing’s alright. I miss home. I miss my people. I miss food. I just want some roasted babootch. But that’s not possible now is it. No one even knows what babootch are here.”
“Oh.” Their voice was contemplative. “To be honest I’d assumed you were a human who’d stumbled your way in here. I’m sorry. But, um, they actually sell roasted babootch here. It’s transported straight from Star Haven.”
Shock. Straight through her system. “What?!” She sat right up, looking at them for the first time. Their horns curved up tall, their green skin a lovely contrast to a neat red beard and hair. “Did you just say they had babootch?”
Despite their large stature, they stood slouched, acting small and nervous with their fidgeting. They reminded her of Clark. She mustered up a small smile, despite the emotions flooding through her.
They shyly returned her smile, standing a little straighter. “Yas ma’am. This is actually one of the three places in the city that offer foods of the, um, Off-Earth variety.” They paused, their face lighting up, and lifted a finger. “Just two seconds, I’ll go grab a menu.”
They rushed off, but reappeared moments later, placing a paper menu in front of her. They then sat down and abruptly stuck a hand out towards her. “My name is Jo’ak by the way.”
She shook the proffered hand. “Kara.”
Picking up the menu with trembling hands, Kara stared wonderingly at the options. Many were utterly foreign to her, but there were a few that were overwhelmingly familiar. She glanced at her new companion. Jo’ak was drawing shapes on the table. “What’s your favorite?”
“Hmm? Oh, it’s Babootch actually. That’s why I was so sure it was on the menu.”
“Roasted babootch used to be my favorite back home too. I haven’t had it in years,” she mumbled back. She wondered if it was as good as she remembered it to be.
“Great! I’ll go order us a few plates,” they said enthusiastically. Jo’ak was up and out of their seat before Kara could say anything.
She hid her worsening trembling under the table. She was actually going to have Babootch for the first time in, well, decades technically. Ok. This is happening. Was this really happening? Her new friend was gone for at least ten minutes before returning with a large platter of twelve heaping plates of meat.
“Wow, you ordered quite a few.” Kara said nervously. Was Jo’ak somehow aware of her gargantuan appetite?
Jo’ak glanced between her and the food. “Oh. I wasn’t sure how much you ate.” They sheepishly grinned, but then said pridefully, “but don’t worry, I can finish whatever you don’t.”
An alien of the same race approached them and casually kissed one of Jo’ak’s horns. “Are you trying to intimidate her zl’dka? That’s a lot of food, even for you.” Turning to Kara, the alien grinned mischievously. “Don’t mind him. On Janmaku an eating competition is how you make friends. I know that’s not how you humans do it here, so don’t feel the need to engage him.”
Jo’ak squawked indignantly. “I know that’s not how other species do it Talk’ak!” He waved his hands at Kara worriedly. “Please, I wasn’t trying to force you into a competition.”
Kara laughed full heartedly, feeling light for the first time all night. “Don’t worry. I can pack away a lot more than a human can.”
Talk’ak’s eyes widened at the admission, but their face softened in understanding and gave her a respectful nod. Kara herself could barely believe how open she was being about her alien identity.
“Alright, with that attitude, maybe you should challenge him,” they laughed, “Enjoy the meal then. Zl’dka remember, I need to be home by eleven.” With that, Talk’ak gave his horns a playful tug and strode back to where they came from. Jo’ak’s eyes followed them with a loving smile.
Kara’s focus fell back to the food, the light feeling turning more bittersweet. Hesitantly she picked up a fork and knife, cutting into the soft meat. The fork paused halfway to her mouth. What if it wasn’t wasn’t what she remembered? What if- “Kara, it’s ok. Try it.”
With a sudden burst of courage she took that first bite. Glorious flavor flooded her senses. A tangy taste that transitioned to sweet, then sour. The unique aspect of Babootch was the constantly changing flavor as it melted in your mouth. It was difficult to prepare properly, but when it was done well, it was beyond worth the effort. She couldn’t hold back the tears this time. They fell with a sudden intensity. It was better than she remembered. She quickly stuffed another bite in her mouth, then another. She was halfway through the plate within moments.
“”Woah, slow down there. It’s not going to disappear on you, don’t worry. You have to take the time to enjoy the taste!” Jo’ak laughed.
Kara nodded, mouth full, and slowed down… slightly. He rolled his eyes and dug into his own plate. Every plate Kara wiped clean, Jo’ak looked more and more impressed. Kara ended up eating seven plates to his five.
“I like you,” he said when she finished.
“I’m glad my stomach is big enough to pass the friendship test,” Kara joked.”Thank you though. I needed this. More than you could possibly imagine.”
He scratched the base of his horn. “Um, if you don’t mind me asking, how long has it been?”
Kara tensed, fidgeting with a fork. She tried to figure out the appropriate answer, but ended up blurting out “37 amzet.”
He choked on a drink. Kara went white. Why did she just say that? She doesn’t mention the phantom zone years, ever. Most people assumed she slept through the whole 24 years, so they didn’t count. Kara was fine letting them think that. Then they wouldn’t make her think about them, about sitting in that pod for two decades.
In total isolation.
The quiet was the worst part.
She felt herself slipping, and physically shook off the memories.
“How old were you?” His voice was soft.
Kara’s sight was blurry as he reached across the table to grasp her white clenched hand. A powerful wave of empathy and warmth flowed up to her heart. She almost jerked away in surprise, but instead she allowed herself to be comforted with the sensation. Her tense muscles relaxed.
“You are much stronger than I. I have only been away from Janmaku for a couple years and I don’t think I could have handled even that without my clan by my side.”
Kara just nodded. All the tiredness from before returned, but it was less desperate, more peaceful. She wasn’t the only one missing home. She wasn’t alone in this struggle. And she had Alex. She would always have people there to lean on.
He pulled his hand away. The warmth withdrew, but the cold emptiness did not return. “I am sorry Kara. But it is getting late, and I must leave with Talk’ak. But I am here if you need me. When I said I liked you I meant it.” He handed her a napkin with his number, but hesitated before leaving. “We got to support each other, yeah? Don’t be afraid to call. I hope I see you around.”
Kara grabbed his wrist before he was out of range. “Thank you Jo’ak.”
She ended up ordering a few more plates to go before flying home, feeling lighter than air at the possibility of sharing something from Krypton with her sister. She couldn’t wait.