The pain wakes her.
It’s a blend of dull and sharp pins dancing across her skin and under. Running so deep she wonders if her organs are bruised, if her body is breaking on a cellular level. She feels like her body is a canvas of pain painted with the heaviest hand.
It takes her nearly ten minutes to open her eyes after trickling into consciousness, and another ten to hold them open against the harsh light from the nearby window.
She realizes that a woman is sitting curled beside her bed in an overstuffed love seat, asleep with her face against her knees. The woman is snoring softly, and she has half a mind to let her sleep more but the pain in her body and the desert in her throat demand relief so she tries her best to speak. All that comes is a frazzled croak.
Still, it’s enough. The woman jolts awake with a gasp, nearly falling out of her chair.
“Kara!” She breathes out like an ache, “you’re awake!”
My name is Kara, she thinks, and wonders why it feels new and long-known all at once.
Kara blinks slow and careful, every movement a battle, and gestures with her finger tips to the glass of water she sees by the bed. The woman practically leaps to grab it for her, stretching across her body and causing her shirt to ride up. Kara watches her move with lazy eyes, just catching a glimpse of deep, purpling bruising across her stomach. But then the woman stands straight and her shirt falls back into place and in this moment Kara really only has eyes for that water.
Desperate, she tries to sit up. Her ribs scream inside her in agony. The woman tries to help with her free hand, but they ultimately settle for her holding the water over Kara’s face and letting it drip down into her mouth. Most lands on target but some of it dribbles down her chin to pool in her hair.
It helps cool her tongue even as her entire body burns.
“I’m sorry,” the woman says once Kara taps out, “I’ll try and find you a straw in a minute. And a towel.”
Kara just gulps around the last mouthful and sighs back into her pillow. She blinks, finally clear-headed enough to look around.
She’s in a plain room with little to see. The walls are white, sterile. There’s a painting of a flower by the door, it’s purples and greens the only color in the otherwise blank room. She’s resting under a heavy white comforter pulled up high on her shoulders. What she can’t see of her body she can feel, a medley of agony from toe to tongue. There are security bars over the large window to her left, and their striped shadows that lay across the bedspread follow the curves of her body underneath.
She can’t feel her feet.
“Where am I?” she asks. The woman, who had thus far been a frenzy of jerky movements, goes still. Her words are slow and calculated.
“Our home. You’ve been asleep for a day now,” she says.
Our home. Kara doesn’t miss the implications there and she tries with all her might to remember, but the ache in her head and whole overpowers any notion of concentrating.
“Who are you?” Kara finally asks.
“Lena,” the woman fills in with a sad smile.
Unlike before, Kara remembers nothing at hearing that name, but the tug in her chest makes her think she’s seen that smile before.
“I’m sorry,” Kara says. There’s nothing else she can say. Lena just waves it off.
“It’s okay. The doctors said there would be memory loss. It’ll come back as you heal.”
“There was an accident. You were so hurt,” she shakes her head, drifts off for a moment before catching herself, “but now you’re awake and you can start to heal. Everything is okay now.”
Kara doesn’t remember this woman or the accident or how they came to live in this bland apartment, but there’s something in that tight smile she recognizes. A sign she can read in her watery eyes. Like the smile from before, Kara recognizes this new twitch of familiarity. She doesn’t remember Lena, nor does she remember this house or this bed.
But a part of her does remember the way Lena looks when she’s lying.
The days that follow are hard.
She wakes to migraines and bleeding - from her nose, from the cuts along her ribs. Sometimes she thinks she can feel her organs bleed, like they are dissolving in their own acids until they are nothing but blood and pulp. Feels like her eyes have blood pooling in them, sloshing behind her eyelids and dyeing her vision red.
“Hey, hey there,” Lena’s voice will bleed through the haze, and Kara can feel how gentle she is pushing her hair off her damp forehead. “You’re okay, sweetheart.”
It takes considerable effort to open her eyes, even more so to focus on the woman leaning over her. Nausea rages up and down her body.
“You still have a fever, but you being awake now is good.”
“Hospital?” she asks through gritted teeth. Things should never hurt this badly.
“No, no,” Lena insists. “You’re okay.”
Lena brings her soup and spoon feeds her, helps wipe her face with a cool towel when the fever becomes too much.
“It hurts,” she says, because there’s nothing else she can say. It’s all she says for days on end. Lena looks devastated but unmovable.
“I know, darling. I know. I’m working as hard as I can to make this all better.”
It doesn’t make sense, her words. A lot about Lena doesn’t make sense.
Kara slips back into the darkness.
She doesn’t know how long she sleeps or how frequent, but she feels like she’s half submerged in water, her ears full, mind disconnected. Consciousness floats in and out of her grasp for what may be days or hours or minutes, its in-betweens filled with panicked dreams and painful bursts. Sometimes she wakes to darkness with a sleeping body beside her while other times she’s alone in bed, her only company the stripes of sun filtering in through the bars. Her world is this bed alone, even as Lena comes and goes.
But always Lena returns, with a cool cloth or a bowl of broth she struggles to keep down. She’s there every single time until she isn’t, until the day that Kara wakes alone.
It’s dark outside and for the first time in ages she stays awake for more than a few minutes. The endless darkness that has encased her mind recedes bit by bit, and slowly Kara returns to herself.
The space beside her is empty. She can’t hear any movement nearby. The only light comes from the window’s stripes and she just manages to lift her arm and click on the lamp beside her. The sudden light hurts, but she adjusts.
With considerable effort, she pulls herself into a sitting position, pulls back the blanket, and finally, after days and days, sees what her body has become.
Her natural skin tone is nearly lost beneath the blues and reds and blacks bruising nearly every inch of her skin. The shirt she’s in was once crisp, she imagines, but nows sticks from days old sweat and gunk, the material stained with old browned blood around the areas she aches the most - her ribs, her side, the top of her thigh. Shoving the blanket down more she can see what she can’t seem to feel - a bulky, stiff plaster cast encases her right leg fully up past her knee. She attempts a toe wiggle but there’s just pain down to her ankle, and then nothing. There’s nothing.
“Lena!” she screams, voice thick from disuse and emotion, but no one replies.
She lays awake until the sun comes up and Lena comes home.
She can hear Lena moving around their home for a few minutes before she pops into the bedroom and glances her way.
“Oh! Good morning,” Lena says, surprised by the steady gaze that greets her.
“Where were you?” Kara asks. She doesn’t mean to sound accusatory, but she’s running on little sleep and even less information, and the way Lena seems to fold inward at her question certainly doesn’t help.
“You work all night?”
“Sometimes. How are you feeling?”
Kara wants to ask more but she’s stuck on that question - how is she feeling? - and she begins to tremble and her eyes begin to mist and that cold distance vanishes from Lena’s eyes as she nearly runs to wrap her arms around her. Gently, like she’s made of paper and glass. She might well be. Glass stained in reds and blacks.
“Want to try moving a bit?” Lena asks, gesturing towards the bedroom door. “I can set you up in front of the TV if you’d like.”
Kara thinks of these blank walls, the slotted window, the sad wilting flower.
“God, please,” she says.
Lena helps her to the living room couch. It’s a painful journey and by the time she’s settled on the couch her shirt sticks to her from sweat. Lena moves with practiced ease to brace her on all sides with pillows. She elevates Kara’s leg on to the coffee table and Kara gets a glimpse at her purpling toes.
Lena brings her some food and a remote. She has Netflix, a concept she can’t remember knowing about but breezes through without thought. Lena brings her a set of crutches and props them beside the couch, tells her she needs to sleep for a few hours before her next shift. She shuts the bedroom door behind her, leaving Kara to soak in her new environment.
The apartment is similar to the bedroom - small and bland. The furniture beige, the tables and shelves shades of brown. The only color comes from the drab light just above their front door which casts an almost eerie green light across the otherwise colorless room. It’s an odd color choice and not one Kara would expect, but part of her feels grateful to have some variety.
She’s most grateful for the television, though. It satisfies a craving she didn’t realize she had, one she can’t remember even experiencing - people. No people to talk to, sadly, but people to watch, to hear. Something other than her vague, secretive bedmate. She soaks the voices and faces in.
Yet not even four episodes in to some cooking show she vaguely recognizes Lena is trudging out of their bedroom in fresh work attire.
“You’re going already?” she can’t help but ask, “What kind of job has you working these hours?”
“The kind that keeps us in this apartment,” she mumbles almost under her breath, like Kara wasn’t meant to hear.
“I’ll be back by sundown,” Lena speaks clearer as she moves through the adjoined kitchen grabbing various things. “There’s food in the fridge here that you should be able to get to it using your crutches. I’ll see you soon.”
Kara watches her head to the solid metal door that must be their apartment’s entrance and press a keycard against the flat lock. A light above the handle flashes green, it clicks, and the door opens.
Kara stares at the door for half an hour after that.
Their life falls into a pattern of sorts.
Despite remembering so little Kara falls into what seems to be their routine easily. Most days Lena works when the sun is out. Kara wakes up, Lena helps her to the couch, they share breakfast. Lena leaves and doesn’t come back until the sun has set, usually eight or so episodes in to whatever show Kara watches. They eat dinner, watch a movie, and sleep. And every day a little of Kara’s strength returns, though her memories remain lost.
It’s a week later when she finally has the energy to do more than walk to and from the bathroom. She uses this newfound strength to explore the apartment in hopes of finding answers to the questions she’s still too afraid to ask, but the place does little more than stoke her concerns.
For a home they’ve seemingly shared awhile, the place feels empty of sentimentality.
The only sign of a life together is one photo of them pressed close and smiling set atop the fireplace mantle. Her smile looks genuine, she thinks, and that alone relieves some of her worry.
She finds the living room windows are barred as well, and frosted. All of the windows are frosted so she can see nothing through them but vague shapes and colors. She attempts to jimmy the lock open but it looks like it’s been welded shut. Even if she could get past the glass, the bars seem seamlessly attached. Her thigh brushes against the cool glass, and she is again aware of how short the shirt she woke up in all those days ago really is.
There’s a dresser in the corner of their room, beige like everything else, and in the top drawer she finds nothing but silk undergarments. Bras and gowns, silk thongs and briefs, all arrays of sensuality with little sensibility. None look comfortable or practical, yet she can’t find anything else there. She pulls open another drawer and finds it filled with-
she slams the drawer shut, face red and burning. She didn’t expect a drawer full of sexual toys all lined in a row.
She laughs nervously, looking around as if someone might have seen her. This is her home, she thinks. There’s no reason for her to be uncomfortable. Still, a lump is forming in her throat the more she looks. Everything is sterile, or sexual. There is no comfort, no in between. Her trepidation only eases when she manages to find a pair of sleep shorts that at least come to mid thigh, as well as a large t-shirt buried nearly out of reach. She lays them on the bed and goes to the bathroom.
It’s been longer than she can remember (which, admittedly, is not that long) since she’s cleaned herself, and the very idea of scrubbing away the crusted scabs has her salivating. She pulls her shirt over her head with a pained hiss and, with some effort, manages to slide her panties down her body and over the bulky cast. They need to be burned, she thinks in disgust, and takes a breath before finally looking in the mirror.
This is the first time she’s seen herself fully.
Not in her life, probably, but since she awoke. She has no point of reference for how a healthy her should look but she knows it’s not like this.
It’s a bit like the zombies on that terrible little horror show she’s been working her way through. Her skin looks sickly white under the fluorescent lighting and the valleys of her face fall deep. Shadows frame her bloodshot eyes and she’s painfully aware of the bones in her face and neck. Her torso contrasts greatly with the rest of her skin.
Even after days of rest she’s a patchwork quilt of pain, the blacks having faded to purples and pinks. They outline her ribs like a macabre painting. If she didn’t know better, she’d think some of the bruises look like finger marks, like a hand had gripped her too hard, everywhere.
Her eyes travel down to her leg then, still encased in a hulking cast. She pulls at the skin around the top, tries to worm her fingers between the plaster and her skin as if she might be able to peer down and see just how fucked she is, but the plaster holds firm against her and all she can see are her still purpled toes. Still frozen and ignorant of her commands to move, to wiggle, to do anything to show they’re alive. A panic starts to set in and all she wants in the world is to scrape off this layer of grime encasing her so she takes a breath, grabs a hand towel, and goes to the tub.
Thankfully the shower has a detachable sprayer that allows her to straddle the tub’s ledge with her cast sitting firmly outside and spray down what parts of her body she can. She loads the cloth up with soap and scrubs herself as hard as her weakened limbs can handle. It hurts, but it’s worth it to see the red and brown sludge to fall from her body and pool in the tub. This blood has been caked to her since the accident so long ago - how long ago? she has no idea, no sense of time in this apartment - and there’s something especially beautiful about seeing the mottled skin that lies underneath. She turns the water hot and washes it through her hair for a solid half hour. Hums a song she doesn’t remember.
For the first time since she’s woken up, she feels a bit okay.
She wanders into the living room after her shower, skin raw and slick against clean clothes, and takes notice of the door.
The front door is metal, which strikes her as odd. Large and metal and so thick it’s probably soundproof. She never hears any sounds coming from outside these walls at any rate.
She tries the handle and twists at the deadbolt lock, but nothing gives. Rather than a traditional locking mechanism she finds just that flat square with a few buttons framing it. She presses at them a few times but the little light above the lock flashes red. Whatever code it takes to open she’s clearly forgotten. She can’t get out.
Vertigo hits suddenly and she has to brace herself against the door. She can’t get out. For a moment, she imagines the door pressing back against her, the sounds the walls would make scraping inward, the loud eeeeekkkk of wood scraping wood as it presses into her, creaking and cracking, the window’s bars pinning her there to the door, suffocating-
Her eyes clear and she takes a deep, gasping breath.
The room is as it was. No crushing movements. No sliding walls. No changes at all.
She limps back to the couch and remains there until Lena returns.
She asks Lena about it later that night.
“Hey,” she calls to her from the couch as Lena cooks them stir fry. “Can you write the door code down for me?”
Lena pauses in her work for an unusually long time, and Kara strains on the couch to see her. She’s looking down at her stir fry with a panicked, distant look. Finally, she starts to stir again.
“The code doesn’t work, actually,” she says, scraping metal against metal in the pan, “You have to use a keycard. And yours was messed up in the accident. I haven’t managed to make you a new one yet.”
A perfectly reasonable explanation, probably, yet something about it makes her feel uneasy. She thinks about asking to use it now, about going outside and getting a taste of fresh air, but her leg is aching especially badly tonight and the thought of anything more than stumbling to bed exhausts her.
Life goes on. Days move forward and nothing changes. Kara feels nothing below her knee, remembers nothing before first waking. Nothing outside of these dreadfully bland walls and that solid, unyielding door.
Lena’s always stiff when she comes home. Moody, exhausted. She’ll slam cabinets in frustration sometimes so hard it makes Kara jump. When they fall asleep at night she’ll pull herself to the furthest end of the bed and curl away, refusing to touch or talk or engage at all. It’s lonely, even just laying beside her.
Kara doesn’t remember her. She doesn’t remember how they met, how they ended up here. If she loved her.
All she knows is she shares a bed with a stranger every night who has done nothing to ease the trepidation that gnaws like a rat at the back of Kara’s mind.
She doesn’t even mean to say it. Wasn’t thinking about it, certainly wasn’t planning on broaching the topic like this. Not after so long and so much discomfort between them. Yet the words bubble out of her like steam racing to escape a boiling bog.
“Will you tell me about the accident?” she asks while they sit and watch television, like that isn’t the most important question of her life and one they both have avoided for days.
She’s waited and waited with the question stirring within her begging for release, and now it’s out there. And she can practically feel the shift in the air. A tension cloud falls heavy over them.
“What do you want to know?”
It’s spoken like a question but feels like a warning. Nevertheless, Kara pushes on.
“I- I don’t know. What happened, I guess. What I was doing, why I can’t remember.”
The green light above the door flickers suddenly off, casting the room in darkness. After a moment it flickers on again, and she sees Lena staring at it with an intensity Kara can’t understand. She anticipates continued avoidance of her question, maybe some annoyance. She does not expect Lena to leap up from the couch with such force she nearly knocks the table over.
“Why are you asking so many questions, Kara?” She yells.
Yells. “I told you your memory will come back! I told you you were in an accident! I don’t need to fill in the details!”
Kara feels small, and scared. Lena is pacing their tiny living room and she’s so angry Kara starts to shake and stutter out a response only to be cut off.
“I slave away all day for you! And when I want to come home and just relax you give me the third degree? God, Kara!”
Any response on Kara’s part is cut off by her stomping to their bedroom and slamming the door hard enough to shake the television. The green light flickers for another few steady beats before going out.
Kara stares at the door, thinks of her bruised body, and trembles.
Lena comes out a few hours later looking cowed, and Kara is thankful. She wasn’t ready for a fight.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Lena says, “I just get so upset thinking about how bad your accident was. I care for you - so much, and it hurts to even talk about it. Please, don’t ask me again.”
That soft green light is on and flickering again and again, and the shadow it casts causing a stuttering shadow to drape itself across Lena’s form. When the light shone at its brightest she saw Lena as she is, a slight build and concerned eyes. Then the light fades out just as quickly, and all at once she seems a shadowed ghoul with eyes sunk deep into the darkness, the corners of her mouth dragging down into shadowed lines. Demonic, secretive, dangerous.
On and off the light flickers showing flashes of this woman who shares her bed.
The dread she’s felt pooling low in her chest for days fills her like a slow pour from a jug, a cold liquid fear that flows into her every inner crevice until it’s all she can feel. She wonders if she were to open her mouth, would the fear dribble out and stain the floor red? Or perhaps green, glowing like the flickering light above.
That thought alone stops her from speaking. So she nods, once, and looks down. She doesn’t look up again until Lena’s gone away.
It is a testament to the human spirit that one can survive and, at times, even relax into just about any situation no matter how distressing. It’s possible to live a life - to eat breakfast and watch television and crack stilted jokes - while the weighted blanket of fear rests heavy across every moment. To suffocate slowly and still live the monotony.
Kara feels herself melting but continues on.
She learns Lena’s schedule even with its irregularities. Every two days she will work a night shift suddenly, then switch to being home by sundown. It’s a terrible pattern and she can see the exhaustion weighing heavy on Lena’s face, in the droop of her shoulder, but the few times she’s tried to bring it up Lena becomes irritable. So she takes that knowledge and she plans.
She waits until a night shift and wakes up early to meet her at the door. The moment that electric lock clicks, Kara pulls the door open with as much force as she can muster, practically pulling Lena in with it.
For the first time in who knows how long Kara can see what is on the other side of the metal door. She sees the hallway of what must be their apartment complex, a sea of greys and cement. She sees a similar metal door across the hall highlighted by the soft green light shining beside the door. A similar light sits beside theirs, its glow casting across their own door with that haunting green cast. The look of it sends a nervous tingling down her spine and out through her finger tips.
Any further viewing is cut short when Lena shoves her bodily back into the apartment and slams the door shut. The sensation vanishes with the light.
“What are you doing?” Lena asks, sharp and a bit frantic.
“I just wanted to surprise you! I made you breakfast,” Kara had prepared for this moment, practiced her lines, “I was hoping we could eat together and maybe go to a park or something. I think I need some fresh air.”
Lena’s eyes flash to the food left on the table then back to Kara, distrust and paranoia practically palpable, but Kara just smiles as innocently as she can. After a moment, Lena accepts whatever it is she was struggling with and moves past her to the kitchen.
“It’s too cold today,” she says gruffly, taking a seat at the counter. “You’ll just get sick. Come here, eat with me.”
It takes a few moments for Kara to turn around as she battles back the tears of frustration pressing at the back of her eyes. She’d been so close. She’d almost made it out the door.
Once she’s calmed, she turns with a smile and takes a seat beside her.
She has nightmares that she never remembers, until the day that she does.
Everything is foggy in the way dreams tend to be, and she’s being held down by dozens of hands, all pressing and pulling and digging into her, until one of the hands pushes into her chest and she feels fire burning in and out through her veins, flooding her system until she’s engulfed in it. It’s like someone set her insides on fire.
There’s screaming but it isn’t her - it’s Lena, she knows, even though she can’t see her. Lena is screaming and Kara is burning and the hands are dragging her down and down and
She wakes to an empty bed.
It’s soaked, her clothes and the sheets, drenched in sweat but free from the horrors of the unconscious, so a preferable alternative by far. She blinks her eyes into adjustment, the darkness of the room slowly fading into recognizable shapes. It takes her another few moments to notice the soft whispering from the living room.
In that moment she uses more strength and focus than she’s ever had to to sit up quietly, drop her casted foot as softly as she can to the floor, and limp towards the threshold of their room.
She pauses, breath held, and listens.
Lena is whispering.
Lena is talking to someone and the sheer panicked excitement at the thought has Kara peeking around the corner without much thought to see that - Lena is alone.
She’s in a corner of their living room with her back facing Kara, hunched over in the dark, whispering quietly to herself.
Dread drips down Kara’s skin like a thick slime, crawling and twisting down from her spine to her invalid toes. Lena continues to whisper, seemingly in an argument with the wall. Her two hands are pressed to it by her head, no phone in sight.
With all the care she can muster she steps backwards, one by one, until her legs hit the bed and she sits.
She wraps the covers around herself tight and faces away from the door so she doesn’t have to see when Lena returns.
She dreads when Lena comes home as much as she craves it. It’s been weeks now, she thinks, and still she hasn’t gone outside or spoken to anyone or engaged at all with any living being outside of her - girlfriend? Wife?
They’re sitting on the couch half-watching some Netflix movie and Kara realizes she can’t not ask.
“So I-“ she says, clearing her throat and hoping her face isn’t bright red. “I found some… things, in the drawer.”
Lena goes instantly from a slight hunch to ramrod straight, her breath held. Kara waits a moment but it’s clear she doesn’t plan to say anything, so she continues,
“So we… we’re together, right? We’re dating?”
She can see Lena swallow, see her jaw clench over and over like there are words seconds from bursting out that she has to swallow back down.
The light above the door flickers off suddenly, unexpectedly, and they are engulfed in darkness.
“Yes!” Lena says, desperate and fast, “We’re together. We’re- we’re in love. We have been for years.”
The light flickers back on and the green lighting creates a ghoulish strobing across Lena as she stares at her, panicked. With a hesitating twitch, Lena reaches and puts a hand atop Kara’s own. It’s not a comforting gesture.
“Okay, I thought that was the case. But I- we never talk-“
“I know,” Lena says in a pained whisper. “I’m sorry. I just, you’ve been recovering and I didn’t want to add any stress.”
“Of course,” Kara says, like that makes sense at all. “I get it, I just. I want to know. About us.”
Lena’s eyes look sunken and sickly in the light’s glow, and her words seem almost mechanical.
“I have been in love with you since the day we met,” she says, sounding almost rehearsed. “I knew I shouldn’t love you, but I did. I couldn’t help it. I loved you so much I could hardly think straight.”
She looks at Kara with pure misery in her eyes.
“I still do,” she says with an edge of finality so strong Kara feels a shiver run down her spine. “Now, how about we get back to the movie?” She clicks it back on without waiting for a response.
The bulb above the door flickers briefly, but stays steadily lit.
Kara feels like she’s strong, or at the very least had been before the accident. There are muscles under her bruises and she’d be fit if not for the constant exhaustion and aches.
If she were perfectly healthy she thinks she could take down Lena.
The problem is she isn’t perfectly healthy, despite how long it’s been since the accident. Her bones aren’t healing. Her toes have grown a darker purple, the littlest turning black. The skin beneath the cast that she can feel itches, tingles constantly. The skin that touches the plaster has begun to flake off. The bruises that outline her ribs have remained as visible and painful as they had been that first night. Every day she wakes up and her body moves a little slower, hurts a little more.
Something is stopping her from healing.
It could be the food, or the water, or - hell, some secret mist Lena sprays her with while she sleeps, but something unnatural is keeping her from healing properly and she knows with a deep-set certainty that that something is going to kill her. She’s suffocating a little more every second and if she wants to live she has to get out.
She has to escape.
Lena really could be her lover, she thinks. She can see why she would have liked her. She’s beautiful even with her worry lines and exhausted, shadowed eyes. She makes Kara laugh when they watch movies, she smiles tenderly when she first wakes. She could be her lover.
But a lover wouldn’t prevent you from leaving, and that is something Lena is determined to do.
Kara mentions them going to see a movie in theaters instead of on their couch and Lena just laughs and shakes her head. When Kara prods, Lena gets agitated, saying movies are out of their budget right now. Kara suggests they go to a park, then. Says she’s getting a little stir crazy and she thinks touching some grass could help. Lena comments that the weather has been awful which, admittedly, Kara could observe through the window.
“Maybe just go stand in the apartment lobby,” Kara pleads, and Lena shuts down.
“You’re still sick, you need to rest.”
She turns the sound up louder to drown out whatever else Kara might say.
When she wakes up the next morning there’s a potted plant on the counter with a note that says “Some grass to touch - LL”. It takes all her self-control not to chuck it at the wall.
Kara mentions her accident again, mostly to remark on how slow her healing has been. Her body should be healing, and she should be remembering things, shouldn’t she? She should remember something from before she woke.
“It was a bad car accident,” Lena says, the first real clue she’s given. “You barely survived. You hit your head so hard.” Lena sounds so earnest but it’s wrong, everything she says is wrong.
Kara doesn’t feel like she was in a car accident. Her bruises are not shaped like a seatbelt, like a body thrown against a steering wheel. Her head doesn’t have any injuries other than its constant throbbing ache. Lena was bruised too, she knows. She saw her stomach.
This is all wrong.
“Oh,” Kara says quietly, and lets the topic drop. Her head throbs too much to push back.
There is a constant buzzing at all times in the apartment. Every moment, every day, she hears it hum around her. She searches the whole house, tries to pop open the thermostat, bangs the TV. Nothing seems to be making the noise, yet it sounds all around.
Her eye throbs. She stands in front of the bathroom mirror and stares. She can see slivers of silver and green slide over her pupils, dip in and around. She stares until her eyes bleed at the corners.
She dreams her fingers have fallen off.
Kara’s seen the sexy underwear. She’s seen the sex toys. They’re in love, Lena says. She knows Lena must lust for her, even as she stays at the furthest end of the couch, the bed.
If Lena liked her enough to hold her hostage, she might as well use that to her advantage.
She pulls the nicer underwear buried in her drawer out. It takes her nearly ten minutes to finagle her cast through the satin panties and pull on the silk teddy. She washes her teeth thoroughly, her hair, and sprays on some of the perfume she found in the drawer. She’s sitting there waiting when Lena comes home, sat innocuously on the couch watching Netflix.
“Hey, babe,” she says with a smile, pretending not to notice the way Lena freezes at the sight of her. It’s hard to pose sexy when your entire leg is encased in plaster, but she can still feel Lena’s eyes darting frantically over her. She adjusts to stick her chest out, sees the way Lena’s eyes snap there, then snap away.
“What’s going on?” Lena asks, and looks around the apartment like there might be someone else lurking about. As if Kara ever sees anyone but her.
“I just felt like doing something special,” Kara says with what she hopes is a convincing smile. Based on the pained look Lena gives her back it’s ineffective.
“Are you wearing perfume?” Lena asks. She sits as far away from Kara as she can on the couch. Kara shrugs.
“A little. Do you like it?”
She scoots closer, Lena shrinks back.
“You smell like my mother,” Lena says in the strangest voice.
Not the reaction she was wanting, but fine. Kara scoots closer still, until their thighs are pressed together and Lena would have to fall off the coach to avoid her touch.
“I’ve been going a little stir crazy lately,” she whispers, leaning in close. “And I miss you when you’re gone all day.”
“You do?” Lena whispers back in a tired sort of surprise. Kara nods, biting her lip purposefully and feeling a sense of both joy and trepidation at the way Lena’s eyes drop to it.
“Yeah. I get lonely.”
She traces her hand along Lena’s trembling thigh, traces up her arm to the back of her neck. Lena’s shaking, barely breathing, her eyes closed. Kara thinks about how easy it could be to press on her throat. If she’d be strong enough.
She knows she wouldn’t be.
“Let’s go out,” she whispers against Lena’s ear, “Maybe get dinner at a nice restaurant, see a movie. Get a hotel room.” Her fingertips creep along the neckline of Lena’s shirt, dipping briefly in. “I bet I can make it worth your while.”
Just like that Lena’s pulling away with a jerk, face red and hands shaking, and she nearly falls to the floor in her haste to put space between her and Kara. She sits there staring up at her with bewildered, horrified eyes. The green light flickers off. Then on, then off again.
Lena leaps to her feet in a huff and barks, “we’re not going out, Kara. Stop asking.”
She gets so angry and stomps away, and Kara can hear her slamming around in the kitchen. The light’s back on. Kara starts to cry softly.
“Am I your prisoner here?” she whispers.
“You’re my best friend,” Lena says instead of answering. “And I would do anything for you.”
“Would you let me go?”
Lena doesn’t say anything, just tells her she’s got an early morning and she needs to sleep.
Kara stays awake on the couch until sunrise. Eventually she nods off, and when she wakes she finds Lena already gone and a warm blanket placed over her.
Things are tense after that. There’s less pretense, less sidestepping.
“I want to make a call.”
“Sorry, but no.”
“Even prisoners get to make phone calls, you know.”
Lena doesn’t even dignify that with a response. Kara changes tactics.
"Please? I want to order a pizza.”
“You’re not ordering a pizza, Kara.”
“There has to be a phone here, I just need to make a call. Lena please. Please.”
Flicker goes the light.
“You’re not talking on the fucking phone!” An explosive panic again that leaves Kara cowed. She curls into herself, ends up crying softly into her hands. She’s so tired. Her bones ache, her leg burns. She still can’t feel anything below the knee.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” Lena says quietly. “But I need you to understand that you can never, ever use the phone. Do you understand, Kara?”
Her eyes are so intense, the constant redness surrounding her pupils seems to almost glow in the green light. All Kara can do is nod, and feel the tiniest bit satisfied because of what Lena inadvertently confirmed.
There is a phone to be used, then.
She figures it out, where the buzzing sound was coming from.
It’s not until later when she goes to clean herself that she really realizes.
It’s when she fills the bathtub with steaming hot water and then lays in it, when her dying leg is propped outside to keep it dry. That’s when she hears it.
It’s the cast.
The buzzing noise is coming from her cast.
She presses her fingers against the skin at the top of the cast and manages to wiggle her fingertips in. The skin underneath burns.
“What are we watching?”
“Misery. It’s about a crazy woman who kidnaps an injured man and holds him prisoner.”
Lena just gives her a look.
She tries to rush Lena when she comes home again and again.
She’ll stand poised, frying pan held high above her head, and wait there for minutes, hours. Every single time Lena foils it.
She either comes home too late, or too early. Or she’ll slam the door open when she enters so that it knocks Kara back and then easily pry whatever blunt object she has from her hands with a disappointed scoff. Kara’s so weak now there’s nothing she can do to fight back, just holding the item above her head was a drain.
Kara pushes Lena out of the bed during the night two days in a row, so she starts sleeping on the couch instead.
Someone knocks on the door.
It’s a shock, the loud thunderous banging tearing her attention away from the sitcom she’d been watching. The knocker knocks for a solid thirty seconds, just beating on the door, and she stumbles in her efforts to get to the door.
“Help!” she yells, banging back. “I’ve been kidnapped! Please, call the police!”
The banging matches up with hers, hitting harder and harder and harder until cutting off in a silence.
“Hello!?” she screams, banging back as hard as she can. “Please, come back!”
She sinks to the floor with a sob.
Nothing but silence greets her, and the constant buzz of her dying leg.
Kara dreams she’s trapped in a magician’s glass box on a theatre stage.
She sees Lena in the audience, eating popcorn and looking bored as Kara’s cage slowly fills with boiling water. Kara bangs the glass and tries to scream but there’s no voice, no sound, nothing but the sizzling fire-water crawling higher and higher around her until she’s drowning in it, until her lungs are filling with flames and her screams are just desperate gurgles and Lena sits and watches and waits for the screams to stop.
Kara wakes with a jolt, panting and sweat-soaked, in an empty bed. The emptiness is not a surprise; since their phone fight Kara has been strict - Lena can sleep on the couch. She’s not coming anywhere near Kara if she can help it. Surprisingly, Lena agrees, and the two have kept their amicable distance in their tense hostage situation.
So Kara wakes with a jolt in an empty bed.
She lays there gasping for a few long minutes until the ring of panic has faded from her ears. She hears whispering again from the living room.
Fucking Lena, whispering in a corner.
She gets up with an angry huff, adrenaline still rushing from her dream, and prepares to confront her captor when she realizes with a sharp clarity that Lena isn’t whispering to the wall this time.
She’s whispering into a phone.
Lena has a phone.
Kara ducks low in the doorway and watches as she hangs up and, standing on her tip toes, shoves the phone atop the book shelf behind a vase.
Kara is laying in bed, eyes closed heart racing, by the time she comes to peek in and make sure she’s asleep.
Kara’s getting worse. The skin beneath her cast feels like it’s sizzling every moment of every day, like a hot iron is held just beside her skin. Not close enough to touch, but close enough to feel the heat. The skin that touches the plaster cracks like the desert floor, and when she sits alone sometimes it seems like the cracks glow green. Her fingers fit up to her knuckles in the space between her skin and her cast. Her toes have all turned black.
She’s not getting better. She’s dying.
She’s also developed a cough these past few days, something deep in her chest that rattles her entire frame. Lena will place a comforting hand on her, will bring her cough medicines to choke down, and Kara will feel her touch like a burn.
Lena must be poisoning her. That’s the only logical answer in this illogical world she’s awoken to, Lena is poisoning her and every day a little more life is sucked out of her. It’s sucking out of Lena too, she thinks, though that may just be her mind playing tricks on her.
She has to escape soon, or she won’t have the strength to do it at all.
She tries to get the phone the next time Lena is gone. Tries to reach it on her tip toes, but the cast makes it difficult to balance. An attempt to climb a chair to reach it causes her to take a nasty fall, one that hits so hard she lays immobile on the floor for hours until Lena comes home and carefully scoops her up.
She’s running out of time.
Lena has medicine in the kitchen cabinet. She’s taken some out to tend to Kara, to sedate her during her fevers. It takes some digging but Kara finds a half-filled bottle of Melatonin.
She crushes all of the pills beneath a can of tuna, carefully scoops them into a pot, and makes dinner for Lena.
She sets it up to look like leftovers, like she’d eaten already and left some for Lena, who, after a long day of doing God knows what, seems rather thankful to come home to still warm food on the stove top.
“Thank you,” she says genuinely, plopping down next to Kara on the couch. Kara doesn’t look away from the screen, tries not to react in any noticeable way.
“Yeah, well, you haven’t been eating much lately,” she says, because it’s the truth, “and if you starve to death I’ll starve to death, too.”
She didn’t mean to say the last part. The plan is to act nice but unnoticeable, not be a dick. Not raise suspicion.
But Lena doesn’t seem phased by Kara’s words. She just seems sad.
She eats two helpings of the spaghetti.
Lena’s asleep before the episode ends. She’s out, hard. Kara snaps by her head, pokes her nose gently, but there’s nothing. A part of her wonders if it’s possible to overdose on Melatonin, and if that would be a blessing or a curse in this situation.
There’s no time to waste, of course, so she quickly drags her hands down Lena’s body, over the hidden pockets she’s seen her reach in before until finally she finds the keycard. It feels like a holy item, a magic pill. Lena snores loudly, her head thrown back at a strange angle. Kara shoves her over with the smallest push so she falls flat on the cushions in a more natural position.
Limping quickly with her crutches, she makes it to the metal door that’s held her captive and presses the keycard to it. The light flashes green. She yanks the door open with a triumphant grin. She can see the hallway, the sterile walls and concrete, and
An arm appears over her shoulder to slam the door shut with a thud and Kara is quickly shoved against it.
Lena is there, awake but barely, struggling to keep Kara pinned and the door pinned with her. Her eyes are rolling in their desperation to stay open, stay awake, and her mouth slurs to the side as she yells, “STOP!”
Kara may be weak in her condition, but she’s fully awake now and that alone is the advantage. With a screech Kara shoves Lena back, causing her to stumble over the coffee table, which cracks in half under her body. Kara slaps the keycard against the door again and rips it open, hobbles quickly out, and slams it shut behind her. She still has the keycard, which means Lena is the trapped one now.
High on adrenaline, she hobble-falls into the door across the way and bangs on it with all her might, screaming for help. Her eyes are throbbing, head racing. There is only silence, so she moves quickly on to the next one. She loses one of her crutches in the struggle but keeps going she has to keep going keep going but again the door is cold and silent, like the hall like the apartment like the world she has found herself in.
A wave of nausea hits her as she stumbles down the hall, the buzzing in her cast and in her head only increasing the more distance she put between herself and her prison. Every stuttered step she takes worsens the feeling, pain radiates from her leg and crawls upward to a debilitating level. Every step burns, feels like her skin is melting, she can’t think, can’t breathe. She falls to her knees and crawls just trying to get to the next door, trying to get help, but her arms give out beneath her and she falls face forward to the concrete floor. Blood is seeping from her nose, she can tell, and she can’t do anything but sob. Desperate and afraid and alone.
Then she feels hands grabbing at her legs. She looks down and there’s Lena, still so heavily drugged but somehow free of the apartment, and she’s trying with all her sedated might to drag Kara back.
“You have to come back inside!” she’s yelling, slurred and stumbling, “or you’ll die! Please Kara! You’re dying!”
She is dying, she realizes. She can feel it in the way her bones ache, the way her leg burns (does she see smoke? is her leg smoking?) and she lets herself be dragged backwards and oh, the throb in her head begins to lessen. So she moves just a bit more, just enough to start inching backwards towards the apartment. She feels less sick with every inch she slides and so she starts to use her hands to push back with Lena, to push and push until she can stand, until Lena can half carry her back into their apartment. The two fall to the living room floor in a heap.
The second the door slams shut behind them the pain falls back to its usual levels, the burning manageable and localized. She can breathe again.
“Don’t do that again,” Lena says, harsh, breath raged. “Don’t ever do that again. Please.”
Her face looks sunken and maniacal, offset in the green light above.
Lena does her best to stay awake after that, but she’s fighting a battle she has no chance to win. Kara sits with her patiently, waiting for her to fall back asleep.
“Please,” Lena whispers, sinking into heavy quiet, “please.”
Kara stares at her sleeping body for a long while just thinking. She could try again; she could take the keycard and take her time, move slowly down the hallway. But she can still remember the way her body burned from the inside out, the way her legs collapsed like a magnet dropped to a metal floor. How she felt her bones pulling at the joints, at the tissue.
So instead she grabs a long wooden spoon and systematically knocks everything off the top of the bookshelf, shoving vases and fake plants to the ground until finally the phone falls too. It’s a flip phone, a burner, but it lights up and seems to have signal so it’s the best damn thing Kara’s ever seen.
She types 9-1-1 and holds her breath. There is a moment of silence, and then a dial. It rings once before a man picks up.
“911, what’s your emergency?” he says, and Kara immediately breathes out a sob. The first new person she’s spoken to in as long as she can remember.
“Oh thank you thank you, oh. I’ve been kidnapped! I need help, I’m, she’s holding me prisoner-”
“Slow down, ma’am. Who is holding you prisoner? Can you tell me your location?”
“Her, her name is Lena! I don’t know where I am, I don’t know what’s going on, but she’s keeping me here. I can’t leave, please you have to help me-”
“Do you know Lena’s last name?” He asks in a gentle voice, and Kara is struck by the knowledge that she knows so very little about everything.
“I- no,” she sobs, “I was in an accident, I don’t remember. I don’t know anything. Please.”
“Well now,” he says, and his voice has lost some of its gentleness. “I’d say that’s not true. You know some things, don’t you, Kara?”
Her stomach drops. She didn’t tell him her name yet, she doesn’t think. She pulls the phone from her ear to check that yes, she dialed the emergency number. She presses the phone back to her ear and starts to stutter out a response, but the man cuts her off harshly, sneering,
“You know you aren’t allowed to use the phone, Kara.”
He hangs up.
They don’t talk about it.
Lena wakes up around noon on the living room floor groaning pitifully. It takes her so much effort to stand, to come to the bedroom where Kara had laid awake all night. She can feel Lena staring at her but she doesn’t look. She doesn’t have the energy anymore.
She’s so late for work. When she sees the time she flies into a panic, changing quickly and just barely splashing water on her face before racing out the door.
Lena goes to work and doesn’t come back for three days.
Kara runs out of food on the second day. She never realized how little food they kept in the apartment, how Lena brought home the next day’s meal each day. When she didn’t come home, there was no next meal.
The deep panic sets in.
She tries to break the glass window in the living room. It’s the largest, with the most space between the bars. If she were going to escape through a window it’d be this one. She swings a frying pan, a rolling pin, even manages to lift a kitchen chair once and throw it. It cracks but doesn’t shatter, and she realizes the space between the bars won’t fit her head anyway. She doesn’t have the strength to swing again.
She tries the plaster walling. Cracks it open, scratches it out like a rat borrowing to escape a burning iron. The first two inches are plaster but she quickly finds beneath it metal reinforcements. She digs by the door, in the kitchen, in the bathroom. The entire apartment is laced in metal.
She’s in a metal cage masquerading as a home, and her keeper has abandoned her.
She doesn’t have much strength after that. She eats the remaining crackers by the end of the day. She finds tea bags in the back of a cupboard and brews a pitcher. She sips it throughout the third day.
She wonders if she’ll die here.
If anyone knows to mourn her.
Lena comes stumbling in sometime after night fall, a big bag of groceries in hand and face pale in the green glow of the hallway’s light. The sight of her is nearly euphoric. Kara almost cries in relief. Despite herself she pulls the other woman into a tight hug, drags her hands all over like she might be dreaming, and the woman accepts it for a moment before gasping and pulling away, clutching her side. She coughs and Kara can hear a wetness in it she hadn’t before. Lena limps to the kitchen. Kara takes a good look at her and sees the flinch in her walk, the way she clutches her side. In the bright fluorescents she can see her lip is busted.
“What happened?” Kara asks in terror.
Lena slumps in a kitchen seat and pulls from her bag. Lays out some food. It’s not much - a few fruits, a bag of bread, some cans of soup. Kara has a fruit piece stuffed into her mouth before she can think straight.
“I’m sorry,” Lena says as an answer. “I got back as fast as I could. Here.”
She hands her some bread, which she bites into ravenously. She forces herself back on her feet and moves to the stove, pulls down a pot. Pours the soup in.
“Where were you?” Kara asks again between mouthfuls of stale bread and fruit. She doesn’t say anything for a long time, long enough that Kara thinks she maybe didn’t even hear her, then she sighs softly and says,
“I asked you not to answer the phone.”
Lena makes her two helpings of soup and Kara tries not to drink it down greedily. She makes a mental tally of what Lena’s brought her and wonders if she’ll have to make it last.
When it's time to sleep Lena sits on the couch with a pained groan. Kara’s heart races. She doesn’t want to leave the living room. What if she wakes up and Lena’s gone again? Her stomach still growls even after her mediocre feast.
“You can sleep with me if you want,” she says, “Please.”
And Lena must hear the fear in her voice because she comes with little protest. They lay beside each other, and Kara places a hand on her shoulder. Touching another person after so much isolation is a relief. All she can focus on is the fear that Lena will vanish, that her one lifeline will divert. She has to fix it.
“I’m sorry I was bad, before,” Kara says, voice small in the darkness, their only light the soft glowing green from the living room. “I’ll be better, I promise. Please, I swear. Just don’t leave me alone to die.”
Lena doesn’t respond, but Kara can tell by the shaking that she’s crying.
They both cry themselves to sleep.
Kara’s gums bleed. She vomits nearly every day, and her vomit is always red tinged. Her skin feels like it sags from the meat of her body. She can now shove nearly her entire hand into the space between her leg and the plaster cast. The skin there always burns to touch, the skin loose.
Her leg smells faintly of cooked meat.
She dreams things that feel real. Dreams of standing by water, smelling the salt in the air, feeling afraid. Begging Lena not to do something. Something big, scary.
Lena saying what did you expect? I’m a Luthor.
She wakes in a cold sweat to Lena staring at her. She whispers before she can think better of it,
“You’re a Luthor.”
The words don’t mean anything to her, but they mean something to Lena. She can tell. Lena turns and faces away.
Lena’s hurt. The man on the phone hurt her, maybe, though Kara’s having trouble remembering if he was real or just an imagined experience. There are bruises on her chest, around her ribs. A cut on her leg that Kara sees her bandaging in the morning.
“I’m fine,” she insists when Kara stares too long. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
Kara’s hair has started falling out in clumps.
She dreams her toes fall off, then her foot. Slowly bit by bit she falls away, melting into that constant buzzing heat, and off in the distance she hears a man’s laughter and Lena, always Lena, sobbing out in fear.
It ends unexpectedly.
She’s sitting on the couch, half-asleep as some show drones on in the background when Lena crashes through the apartment door.
She hits the floor with a yell, a smeared trail of blood shadowing under her. The door catches at her ankle and doesn’t close. Kara jumps up in alarm and limps over to her. She can see she’s bleeding, but the door is open. She pulls it open to look.
“Close it!” Lena screams, shrill and pained, “hurry!”
Kara looks down the hall at the trail of blood Lena left and sees a man.
There is a man, standing in the hallway just before an open door. The light behind him is blinding, burning, and his silhouette almost shimmers against it. He limps towards her with his leg dragging behind him, and he seems almost to glow in the shadows of the hall’s green light. Something in his hand is pulsing in bursts of green, sending scattered light fragments over his face and the darkness he hides within. Every pulse makes Kara feel sicker.
Lena is still screaming for her to close the door.
Nausea roils up in Kara and she steps back, back into the apartment, back into the puddle of red that grows beneath her. Willingly in her terror does she slam the door closed.
The nausea abates.
She turns to Lena and finds her dragging herself across the hardwood floors. Kara moves to help her and Lena cries out at the touch, but allows it. Kara realizes there’s a knife stuck between her ribs so deep she can only see the handle.
“Bathroom,” she says. The front door rattles behind them, like someone is hitting it with a battering ram. The door shakes down to its hinges and Kara drags Lena deeper into the house.
Kara drags her in and locks the door behind her, though she doubts it could stop someone able to go through the metal door. Lena tells her to run a bath, to hurry and fill it. Kara leans her up against the bathtub and turns the tub faucet to full blast. Lena is gasping and clutching at the area around the knife, her breathing wet and wheezy.
“Front pocket,” she gasps out, tapping at her pants. “Get the bag.”
Kara can hear the screams and banging from the living room and her hands are shaking but she digs in Lena’s pocket and pulls out a ziplock bag full of bright purple powder. Lena grabs it from her with a blood soaked hand and tears it open. She tosses the bag into the bathtub where it dissolves instantly, darkening the water into a hazy purple cloud. Lena gestures at the wash cloth by the sink and Kara hands it to her.
Lena shoves it into her mouth, pauses to breathe raggedly, and then without any further hesitation yanks the knife from her body with a loud wheezing squelch. She cries out in horror and pain and Kara recoils. The pounding from the living room has stopped. Lena presses her face against the knife’s handle, sobbing, and then after a few more moments of shock extends it to Kara. She spits the rag out and says,
“It’s killing you. Cut it off.”
She knows. She’s known, she thinks, since she first heard the buzzing, since she first woke up and felt fire encasing her leg. The cast is what’s draining her life away.
It’s surprisingly easy to cut off, though that may be thanks to the sharpness of Lena’s knife. The blood drips from the blade as it slices down her leg, mingles with the fresh blood springing as the cast peels away and takes that top layer of skin with it. Every inch of skin revealed is a nightmare, her skin practically falling from her body in shriveled chunks. Her body is raw, red, burning to the touch. It smells like cooked meat. After another few slices, the cast falls away, and it’s like a chain had been broken.
Kara can see the inner lining composed of wires and clamps connected to a small box that glows green, that has still sizzling chunks of skin hanging from it. She can see the whirring motor that’s buzzing had haunted her for so many weeks.
Lena kicks the cast away from them. Kicks it to the door. Blood escapes from between the fingers Lena has pressed to her ribs as she says,
“Get in the tub.”
There is an explosion from the living room as the door is breached, and she can hear the voices of many men pouring in. The timer on Lena’s wristwatch ticks down and begins to beep repeatedly, frantically, and despite everything she knows about Lena and this world she’s woken into, Kara climbs into the murky water of the tub. She can see a green cloud slinking in from under the door. Lena tells Kara to take a deep breath.
“Don’t come up until I pull you, okay?” She says, and then she shoves Kara beneath the surface.
Kara thinks this is how she will die, drowned in a tub of blood and chemicals. She feels the tub shake like an earthquake, feels Lena press down on top of her with all her body weight. She can feel Lena’s face knock carelessly against her neck, feel her entire torso pressing down against Kara. Lena’s drowning them both, she thinks, and the tickling panic is in her chest again as her lungs thirst for air, and she tries to push her off but she’s so weak now she can’t do it. They’re going to die here like she knew they would all along.
She feels herself slipping away with chemicals in her lungs, and she faintly hears Lena’s voice in the back of her mind whispering, “who would have thought, a Luthor and a Super.” The weight lifts from above her and she feels herself floating, then flying as she’s pulled from her water grave to gasp in the stinging air.
And then she’s drowning again in air, her lungs filling with the stinging burn of fire and death, and she tries to pull back into the water but firm hands hold her still long enough to slide a mask over her face. The next breath she takes expels the fire and replaces it with ice, the soothing air filling her. She can breathe.
She wants to wipe her eyes of the stinging chemical but her arms refuse her command. Whoever holds her lays her down on the tile and sprays something into her face and eyes and clears the sting away again. Vision comes slow and hazy, but she can see the woman above her smiling down with a love she doesn’t understand, a look so powerful she knows she’s dreaming.
“Am I happy to see you,” the woman says. Kara sees the blood on her face and hands, the blood that coats her bathroom, and she thinks of Lena.
The darkness takes her.
She sleeps for a week.
That’s the second thing they tell her when she wakes up, that she hasn’t so much as twitched in seven days before suddenly gasping into consciousness.
The first thing they tell her is a bit more complicated.
“What do you remember?” they ask.
All she can say is Lena.
The memories don’t come back easy, even with the visuals they give her: photographs, Instagram posts, a particularly embarrassing video of her doing karaoke. It will be much later that she remembers it all herself, but they tell her as soon as she’s awake. Despite not knowing them, she knows what they say is true. Despite their reality seeming so unbelievable.
She’s a superhero, apparently.
An alien who fights crime, who flies and shoots lasers from her eyes and has bulletproof skin.
“I’m not bullet proof,” she says, and gestures down at her body that’s still bruised, still sore. She hasn’t looked at her leg yet but she can feel the ache and phantom burning.
“You are usually,” the woman from before, the woman who pulled her from the tub and put a mask on her face, the woman who claims to be her sister, says. “But you have a weakness that hurts you. He exploited that to hold you prisoner.”
He was the man from the hall, the man from the phone when she tried to call for help.
“Lena’s brother,” she says, and Alex looks so relieved that she seemed to remember something.
“Yes! He’s the one who did this to you. To both of you.”
It’s a long story, and one they tell her in small, palpable chunks.
Lena is her friend.
Lena, who held her underwater until her lungs filled with burning chemicals, is her best friend.
And Lena’s brother hated that. He hated their relationship so much he broke out of maximum prison and kidnapped Lena, who went missing for three weeks. By the end of the third week, Kara was about to lose it, so Kara followed a lead against their advisement. Then Kara went missing, too.
It took another two months and thirteen days for the DEO to find them.
Lex wanted Kara to suffer because she is Kryptonian.
Lex wanted Lena to suffer because she dared to love one.
There’s footage. Of everything.
Lex believes strongly in history and that everything worthwhile should be documented for those who come after, so he takes footage.
There’s footage of her sleeping, screaming. Of Lena dragging her down the hallway and back to their cage. Of her crushing pills to poison Lena’s dinner. There’s footage beyond her prison, though, of Lena doing the work that apparently kept them both alive. Lena tied to a chair and interrogated, tortured. Told of her reward.
He had her tied to a chair when they bring Kara in and toss her at her feet. She’s never heard such a horrified scream as Lena’s as she takes in her beaten blue form. Kara doesn’t remember any of this, but looking at her beaten face in the footage she wouldn’t expect to.
“Never say that I don’t love you,” Lex says with mild annoyance. “If I didn’t, I’d have sent her head to Superman as a gift, but instead I have her for you. She’s your gift.” He kicks Kara, who barely reacts even as Lena lets out another scream. “She’s dying, of course, but she’s not already dead. That is a gift.”
One of the goons flips Kara over and presses the box to her leg, wraps it with wires. He then begins to wrap the bandages around it to build her cast. Lena’s swallowing and crying, begging him to let Kara go, but Lex keeps on like a teacher lecturing a petulant student.
“The device pumps out small doses of Kryptonite. It will kill her in time. It’ll take a while, but do rest assured it will kill her.”
What’s more, there’s aerosolized kryptonite in the ventilation system. With one click, the entire apartment would be flooded and Kara would be dead in minutes.
“As long as the light over the door is lit, she’s safe enough. When it’s off, the vents will be open. Do as I say always, and I will keep your air clean. Disobey and she breathes poison. The better you are the longer she lives. Understood?”
He got down in her face then, crouching in front of his tied sister with the sad smile of a disappointed sibling.
“I know you love her, sister. I know you,” he says indulgently, “So I’m letting you have her. Why not enjoy the time she has left, hmm? If you want her to last then you will behave.” He stands with a dramatic push that sends Lena’s chair rolling backwards with her still bound to it. A guard grabs her and moves to drag her to the apartment. Lex calls out,
“Of course if you don’t wish to prolong her suffering, feel free. Let her roam the halls and finish it quick.”
They put Lena into the apartment and they gave her rules.
She had to come work for Lex every day on his latest projects, do everything he said the second he said it.
She had to keep Kara in the dark. They did something with the Kryptonite in her cast to keep her foggy, to wash away her old self. If Kara started to realize who she was, if she remembered anything, it would be over.
If she followed those rules - obey and hide - she was allowed the reward of another day with her favorite alien.
Kara remembers the lingerie. The sex toys. The earnest way Lena insisted that she had always loved Kara when the green light flickered. Lena’s sad voice as she said, “I have been in love with you since the day we met."
“Lena spent hours everyday working on Lex’s networks, and somehow without him realizing she was able to get a message out to us. She helped us find you. When Lex found out she barely escaped with her life.” Alex laughs, shaking her head. “When she said she’d get a knife to you I wasn’t expecting it to be inside her.”
Lena is at home recovering, she learns. The knife did more damage coming out than going in, and it was a close call. They only just got there in time to save them both.
Lena had communicated with the DEO and initiated the raid. She stole a chemical from Lex that could protect Kara from the aerosolized Kryptonite and doused her in it in the tub, had shielded her there with her body even as she had passed out. Alex knew to bring a mask to clear Kara’s lungs the second she pulled her from the bath because of Lena’s warnings. Everything she did was to keep Kara alive just a little longer.
“I need to see her,” Kara says, and she doesn’t like the way Alex’s face falls.
“Kara,” she says softly. “She asked us not to let you.”
It takes another three weeks for Kara to go home.
Her body had never endured that much Kryptonite before for that long of a time. She’d lost weight, hair, skin. Her body was melting off of her and no amount of sun could just erase that.
They send her own with a silicon cast on her leg, one that’s more lightweight and fits under her pants. She only saw her leg for a moment when they lifted the blankets and slid it on, but even that glimpse was haunting. Her calf looked more like a shriveled up prune than a leg, all bones with little skin or muscle. She couldn’t put weight on it and had to walk with a crutch still. She’d heard whispers of amputation even though they tried to keep that from her.
Still, she has the leg and she has the cast and now she gets to go home. It’s been so long she almost has trouble picturing it, but it’s what she wants more than anything.
Well, almost more than anything.
Lena hasn’t taken her off of the guest list, thankfully, and she’s able to make it to her penthouse door with no issue. It’s getting through it that proves difficult.
“I know you’re in there,” she calls with her forehead resting against the door. “I can hear you breathing. I have superpowers, remember? Cause I do.”
“Please leave, Kara,” she hears Lena’s tearful whisper from where she’s sat on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. “I’m so sorry. Please leave.”
“Are you sorry you want me to leave or is it because of the whole kidnap brainwash thing?”
As expected, Lena immediately turns and gives the door an incredulous look, which in turn gets a giggle from Kara.
“It’s only gonna be weird if we never talk about it. Please talk to me.”
Slowly, painfully, Lena gets up and opens the door.
They sit on the couch together with a solid three feet between them.
“Jeez,” Kara says, itching at the skin just above her cast. “I haven’t felt this awkward since I tried to seduce you and you fell to the floor trying to get away.”
She expected an uncomfortable laugh, or even just a guffaw. She didn’t expect Lena to burst into a deep, desperate sob. She curls in on herself like a tightly wound wire that snaps.
“How are you here?” she sobs, “How can you stand to even look at me after what I did to you?”
Kara drags her hands softly down Lena’s arm to her hand. She turns it into her own and laces their fingers.
“You did what you had to do to save us, Lena,” she says, earnest. She was scared, coming here, about what she would see when she looked at Lena.
That she would see Lena the kidnapper. The woman who held her prisoner, who left her starving. Who screamed at her, slammed cabinets, held her underwater. The terror in her nightmares, and the reason she’s alive.
But she doesn’t.
She sees her best friend, and her dearest partner, and someone who has loved her for as long as she’s known her. Who fought to the final moments to keep her alive. Who she loves, just as much.
“Do you want to know what I see when I look at you?” she asks, and Lena finally meets her eyes with fear and sorrow shining in her own.
“I see everything.”
Lena buries her face into Kara’s neck, and she’s jolted with the memory of that same pressing feeling when Lena fell atop her in the bathtub all those weeks ago. Everything is much clearer now, and still she finds herself struggling to breathe.
“I’m so sorry,” Lena sobs into her shirt, “I’m so, so sorry.”
Kara just holds her until the tears subside.
They aren’t okay.
They both carry scars, literal and psychological, that are not quick to heal.
Sometimes, Kara will see an unexpected flash of green and it’s like she’s there again. The walls will close in, the air will burn, and she will look at Lena and see the monster she believed her to be.
She can see it in Lena’s eyes sometimes, that she looks at Kara’s still shriveled leg and sees the terror she once held towards her. She can see in her expression that she is burning herself, still. Always.
Still, things get better.
They learn, together, and they grow and they heal. Every day the path gets brighter.
That road they walk together, the growths and joys and fears they both face as they relearn how to feel safe again, will always bear the scars they formed in the shadow of that green light.